February 28, 2006

Shorts, 2/28.

Blue Velvet "The last real earthquake to hit cinema was David Lynch's Blue Velvet," writes Guy Maddin in a short piece for the Village Voice that resonates all over the place, the vortex of that resonance being, of course, Isabella Rossellini. A must-read, naturally.

Also in the Voice:

Kinda Hot Ben Slater's book about the making of Saint Jack has got a cover and a blog: Kinda Hot.

"It comes as no surprise that the recent resurgence of neo-nationalist thought in Japan would find expression in cinema," writes Aaron Gerow for Japan Focus. Via Blake at Cinema Strikes Back, where David Austin reviews Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Loft - and finds the director's "heart is no longer in J-Horror" - and Lupin III: Strange Psychokinetic Strategy, a film that "simulates, with live-action and special effects, the world of a cartoon," albeit without the benefit of CGI, as it was made in 1974.

Adrian Martin writes a letter to WSWS, responding to Richard Phillips's piece appearing a little over a week ago, "'Progressive' Australian film critics denounce Spielberg's Munich": "[M]y stated reasons for disliking the movie are not at all the same as your average 'pro-Israel opponent.'" And Phillips replies.

Assaf Gavron has a good long talk with Terry Gilliam about the state of the film industry, and what's more, the state of the world in Haaretz. The occasion: Gilliam will be co-directing a show called Diabolo with Russian artist-clown-performer Slava Plolunin, playing for ten in Jaffa next month. Thanks, Ed!

Liza With a Z To hear Liesl Schillinger tell it, you'd better not miss the restored Liza with a "Z" when it's broadcast on Showtime in April: "It has not been rebroadcast since 1973, and it amounts to a missing Fosse-Minnelli-Kander-Ebb (also the team behind Cabaret) classic." Of course, if you do miss it, it'll be out on DVD at more or less the same time. Also in New York, a Sopranos cover package.

Adam Green meets the Marble Faun of Grey Gardens. Also in the New Yorker, David Denby on Street Fight, Our Brand Is Crisis (more below) and Darwin's Nightmare.

James Wolcott: "V for Vendetta may be - why hedge? is - the most subversive cinematic deed of the Bush-Blair era, a dagger poised in midair." More from Devin Faraci at CHUD, via Jason Morehead.

Steven Snyder of the Downtown Express asks Matt Zoller Seitz about his feature debut, Home, screening at the Pioneer in NYC Thursday through March 8. Via Sujewa Ekanayake, whose own review is here.

Ryan Stewart: "Good Girl [directed by Sophie Fillières and featuring Emmanuelle Devos], like some other recent French comedies, focuses on the choices of a quirky, Rubenesque female who must run a gauntlet of even quirkier men in the hopes of discovering the bliss of urban couplehood."

Catherine Breillat is set to direct Asia Argento. Todd has details at Twitch.

"After eight features and more than 100 shorts that have made him a favorite of museum and underground festival programmers, James Fotopoulos is embarking on his first commercial production," writes Ed M Koziarski for Reel Chicago. Via Ray Pride at Movie City Indie; and if you've never read Ray's 2003 profile of Fotopoulos, do.

Harry Knowles gets a phone call from James Cameron: "Jim has been constructing a Virtual Production Studio completely unlike anything anyone has ever seen before. Within that space are two separate teams concurrently prepping and getting ready to shoot back to back essentially over a 3 year span, Battle Angel Alita and Avatar."

Boyd van Hoeij at europeanfilms.net: "Greek-Italian actress Valeria Golino keeps herself busy: she has no less than six new films in the pipeline for 2006, many for first-time directors."

The Collector "The 2006 Eagle Awards ceremony, which took place in Warsaw yesterday evening, did not bring any surprises," writes Dorota Hartwich. "Six Eagle statuettes (out of eight nominations) were awarded to The Collector (Komornik) by Feliks Falk, for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor (Andrzej Chyra), Best Actress (Kinga Preis), Best Screenplay (Grzegorz ?oszewski) and Best Costume Design (Anna Wunderlich)." Also at Cineuropa, Fabien Lemercier has the list of winners of the Czech Republic's Lions. Festival favorite Something Like Happiness picked up seven, including Best Film, Best Director (Bohdan Slama), Best Screenplay, Best Actress (Tatiana Vilhelmova), Best Actor (Pavel Liska) and Best Supporting Actress (Anna Geislerová).

Outlook India reveals the winners of its Follywood Awards. Also via Perlentaucher's "Magazinrundschau," Erica Silverman on Paradise Now in Al-Ahram Weekly.

At Movie City News, Gary Dretzka argues that "a new sub-genre of crime movies has been built on the backs of 'feral' youths condemned at birth to life sentences in shanty towns, housing projects and barrios, from Glasgow to Rio de Janeiro."

Amina Taylor in the Guardian: "Manderlay was a litmus test of the film industry when it comes to black representation. The industry failed. It underlined the fact that black voices need to be more in control of telling their own stories if there is ever going to be a shift in celluloid stereotypes."

Stanley Kauffmann in the New Republic: "Among its virtues, it is an assurance to those of us who may fear that the Holocaust is becoming a film genre. A film as truthful, in every sense, as Fateless bursts through genre bounds to become itself."

"A History of Gay Cowboys," by Nathaniel R, via Gabriel Shanks.

In the New York Times:

Lady and the Tramp

  • Dave Kehr: "The most beautifully rendered and emotionally resonant of the postwar Disney features, Lady and the Tramp arrives on DVD in a '50th Anniversary Edition' that does full justice to this classic of hand-drawn animation."

  • Laura M Holson: "In what is the boldest venture yet by an established media company to insinuate itself into millions of cellphones, the News Corporation has created a mobile entertainment store called Mobizzo and a production studio to focus exclusively on developing cellphone entertainment in much the same way that 20th Century Fox creates movies and television." Rupert Murdoch "wants Mobizzo to be a global brand by the end of the year." Related yet 180 degrees different: The Mobile Content Festival.

  • Sharon Waxman reports on Stacy Snider's move from Universal to DreamWorks.

Kim Morgan and Kevin Canfield are now blogging at MSN's movies filter.

An Apple bid for Disney? Probably not, say the 'xperts. Ellen Lee reports in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Online listening tip #1. Neda Ulaby on NPR: "Naomi Watts Wuz Robbed!"

Online listening tips #2 and #. Tsotsi director and star, Gavin Hood and Presley Chwenegayae, are guests on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Online viewing tips. Coudal Partners's "Film Feed," "links, mostly without comment, to interesting short films, musicvids, spots, trailers and the like. Think of it as CPTV for those who share our brutally short attention span."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:07 PM | Comments (4)

Fests and events, 2/28.

Yuri Norstein Tomorrow night, 7:30, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco: Marlow's Cabinet of Curiosities, in which GreenCine's Jonathan Marlow screens rare, fantastical works by Yuri Norstein, Ladislas Starewicz, Georges Méliès, Jirí Trnka and other legendary filmmakers.

Women with Vision goes for its 13th run from March 2 through 18 at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis; Jessica Winter previews the highlights for the City Pages.

Paul Auster and Jonathan Letham were talking about movies the other night; The Reeler was listening.

In the Voice, J Hoberman in the previews the Anna May Wong series at the Museum for the Moving Image, March 4 through April 16.

The Washington DC Independent Film Festival opens on Thursday and runs through March 12.

Eugene Hernandez reports from the just-wrapped True/False Film Festival at indieWIRE.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:02 PM | Comments (1)

From Korea, 2/28.

My Generation Filmbrain on Noh Dong-seok's My Generation: "Though neither revolutionary nor groundbreaking, it's an impressive debut that manages to put a unique spin on a subject that has become the de facto standard for indie films - the woes of twenty-somethings."

"Ssunday Seoul is an omnibus consisting of three short stories and hilariously bizarre opening and closing sequences, taking the stale genre of comedy momentarily away from 'funny' gangsters and feisty lovers," writes Tom Giammarco at Koreanfilm.org. "Bizarre is the operative word when describing the film and the characters running through it, and most of the movie takes on the atmosphere of a light-hearted Twilight Zone." Also: Adam Hartzell on Lee Myung-se's The Duelist: "[I]f you were fascinated with how Lee orchestrated emotions out from hiding behind the shells of bodies in Nowhere To Hide, you will be equally treated to a visual concert that will send you home with dreamy images of bodies in chaos and control."

Michael Atkinson in the Voice on Woman is the Future of Man, from Hong Sang-soo, "the love child Antonioni and Hou Hsiao-hsien never had."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:50 PM

Our Brand is Crisis.

Our Brand is Crisis Juan Forero in the New York Times: "Like The War Room, a 1993 film about Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign, Our Brand Is Crisis takes viewers behind the scenes where strategists, ad men, pollsters and press advisers breath life into a faltering campaign." The star's the same, too: James Carville. Only the campaign's in Bolivia.

J Hoberman in the Voice: "[A]s impoverished, colorful, and remote as Bolivia is - and as obvious as the conflict between the indigenous masses and the Spanish elite may be - [political consulting firm Greenberg Carville Shrum] strategy brings our own brand of democracy into bold relief." Also: Laura Sinagra meets director Rachel Boynton.

More from David Edelstein in New York and from the Reverse Shot team in indieWIRE. Reminder: Stuart Klawans in the Nation.

Online listening tip. Boynton on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:24 PM

Oscars, 2/28.

Oscar For your convenience, these latest Oscar-releated bits have been funneled off to an entry of their own so you may ignore or indulge in them all at once.

Slant's slant and Cinematical's predictions. More from Todd at Twitch.

When David Edelstein left Slate for New York, he took his annual pre-Oscar chat with Lynda Obst with him.

The Mod Fab Six pick the should-wins rather than the will-wins.

In a similar vein, Stephanie Zacharek: "Part of the fun of the Oscars is the way they free our own sense of indignation.... What follows is a list of my own personal favorites, including some performances that might have been recognized but weren't, and quite a few others that would never have a snowball's chance in Hollywood." Also in Salon, Andrew O'Hehir, while he's generally happy with the nominees for Best Picture, notes how each might qualify for a Liberal Guilt Award.

Zach Barangan, writing for We Want Media, the group blog written by NYU's Digital Journalism class, is impressed with David Carr: "Although his Carpetbagger movie awards season blog is supposed to go dark after the Oscars, he said that he might consider continuing to blog for the Times as an add-on to his regular media column." And in his latest, Carr writes about how, come Oscar Night, the nominees "will be sticking it to the man. Except, of course, they are the man."

Also in the New York Times, Stuart Elliott notes that advertisers are confident viewers will tune in and Allison Hope Weiner presents "a guide to Hollywood merrymaking during Oscar week."

Flak staff chat and distribute the Steak Knives, awarded to those "worthy of accolades" but have nevertheless gone unrecognized "by the Oscars, the Golden Globes, the Independent Spirit Awards or in the top tier of the Village Voice Take Seven Critics' Poll."

Crash "There are whispers that Paul Haggis's Crash might take Best Picture from Ang Lee's gentle-spirited presumptive frontrunner Brokeback Mountain," worries Matt Zoller Seitz. "I really hope it doesn't, because if it does, I'll be so angry that I'll have to retire my long-term posture of benign condescension towards the Oscars and start hating them on general principle."

"When was the moment that you felt the Oscars betrayed you?" asks Edward Copeland.

In the Guardian, Paul Harris tells potential overseas viewers who in the world Jon Stewart is.

Jim Emerson's wishlist.

Oscar party? Fesser offers serving suggestions. Via the cinetrix.

Online listening tip. For NPR, Bill Wyman explains how the voting works.

Online viewing tip. Oscar-nominated shorts on iTunes. Mathew Honan points to those and more at playlist.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:22 PM | Comments (1)

February 27, 2006

Dennis Weaver, 1924 - 2006.

Dennis Weaver, the slow-witted deputy Chester Goode in the TV classic western Gunsmoke and the New Mexico deputy solving New York crime in McCloud, has died. The actor was 81.


He appeared in several movies, including Touch of Evil, Ten Wanted Men, Gentle Giant, Seven Angry Men, Dragnet, Way... Way Out and The Bridges at Toko-Ri.

Weaver also was an activist for protecting the environment and combating world hunger.


Weaver appeared in dozens of TV movies, the most notable being the 1971 Duel. It was a bravura performance for both fledgling director Steven Spielberg and Weaver, who played a driver menaced by a large truck that followed him down a mountain road.

Bob Thomas for the AP.

The official site. See in particular "From the desk of Dennis Weaver..."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:43 AM

Offscreen. Maddin.

The Saddest Music in the World It was at They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? that I saw that the new issue of MovieMaker is up, and the same goes for Offscreen. Volume 10, Issue 1 is a Canadian special, beginning with David Church's in-depth interview with Guy Maddin in which the filmmaker talks not only about the projects he's currently working on, his audience the his current flirtation with DV but also dips a bit into his childhood. Church also has a piece entitled "Brief Notes on Canadian Identity in Guy Maddin's The Saddest Music in the World."

Editor Donato Totaro: "My Dad is 100 Years Old is an odd choice for Maddin in some respects, even though it has all the stylistic earmarks of a Maddin film."

Ryan Diduck considers what the Canadian television hit comedy Trailer Park Boys, "certainly the most significant in a long line of 'hosers, boozers and losers' to originate from north of the 49th parallel," might have to offer in terms of insight into the nation's character - and film industry.

Ben Dooley: "The genres of both comedy and musical can have the effect of claiming a 'universal' vision of society. While Mervyn LeRoy and Busby Berkeley's Gold Diggers of 1933 uses this effect to promote a socialist collectivism, Chaplin's The Immigrant uses it for a very different purpose." To round things out, Totaro notes on the homepage that Berkeley "happens to be one of Maddin's favorite filmmakers."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:46 AM

MovieMaker. 61.

When offering their "Golden Rules," the lessons they've learned as filmmakers, to MovieMaker, past contributors have usually settled on around ten. Wim Wenders goes for 50.

The Seventh Cross In 1996, an Italian television network broadcast a colorized version of Fred Zinnemann's The Seventh Cross (1944). Zinnemann complained, but passed away the following year. His son took up the case, suing TV Internationale for breach of his father's moral rights and an Italian court ruled in his favor, even ordering all colorized versions be destroyed. Dave Roos examines the implications of the case and notes that "American moviemakers are better protected against unauthorized alterations to their films abroad than here on their native soil."

Robert M Goodman, with Matthew Power, take a detailed look at the latest HD cameras and Randee Dawn offers "10 rules for making it through post-production without going broke."

Those are the features on offer online from the Winter issue; but there's also a fresh batch of "Hands-on-Pages," interviews with filmmakers actually about filmmaking rather the usual profile fodder. Lily Percy, for example, talks with Brick writer-director Rian Johnson; each of these pages is, again, followed by the interviewee's "Things I've Learned as a Moviemaker." Here are Johnson's.

Jennifer M Wood asks writer-producer Bobby Moresco about collaboration with Paul Haggis on the screenplay for Crash. Moresco's "Things."

MovieMaker 61 Jennifer Strauss talks with editor Meg Reticker, who's worked with James Mangold, Michael Moore and, most recently, Joey Lauren Adams, about why she sticks to indie projects. Reticker's "Things."

Alexis Buryk meets the director of administration and two deans at Columbia College Hollywood. Page Two here is MovieMaker's list of film education resources.

"Those lush mountaintops, spacious skies and vast American landscapes, all filmed in Calgary," notes Percy, referring to Brokeback Mountain. She meets Calgary Film Commissioner Beth Thompson. Page Two: MovieMaker's list of Film Offices.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:49 AM

February 26, 2006

Shorts, 2/26.

The Beat That My Heart Skipped The BBC has the list of this year's César winners, leading with The Beat That My Heart Skipped, picking up best film, best director (Jacques Audiard) and six more awards. "Best actor was Michel Bouquet, for his part as late president Francois Mitterrand in Le Promeneur du Champs de Mars [yes!], while best actress was Nathalie Baye in Le Petit Lieutenant, a tale of a recovering alcoholic detective." Also noteworthy: Hubert Sauper won a best first film award for Darwin's Nightmare.

Cinematical's Martha Fischer has found an early review of the first 30 minutes of A Scanner Darkly by IGN's Chris Carle.

Gerald Clarke, whose biography of Truman Capote is the basis for, yes, Capote, traces the writer's love of films through to his writing for them and adds a note on his own take on the new film. Meanwhile, Simon Garfield interviews Philip Seymour Hoffman and Philip French reviews the film.

Also in the Guardian and Observer:

  • David Rose, the first journalist to interview the Tipton Three when they returned to Britain from Guantánamo, finds Michael Winterbottom's The Road to Guantánamo "an object lesson in the way that film can clarify and magnify a story's impact... [I]t cannot but evoke a sense of outrage at the behavior of the world's most powerful nation and self-proclaimed custodian of legality and human rights." Also, a quote from a "senior US Defense Intelligence Agency official": "Maybe the guy who goes into Guantanamo was a farmer who got swept along and did very little. He's going to come out a fully fledged jihadist. And for every detainee, I'd guess you create another 10 terrorists or supporters of terrorism." Precisely what I was thinking while watching the film: The is camp is a terrorist factory, contributing to a policy that all but guarantees Orwellian perpetual war.

  • "The campaign against Paradise Now is gathering pace," reports Emma Forrest. "The nomination [for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film] probably won't be rescinded, but with 70 being the median academy voter age, and Judaism the predominant religion, it is something of a surprise, even to insiders, that the film has been nominated at all, let alone that it is a strong prospect to win."

Guerrilla Girls Billboard
Mad, Bad and Dangerous?

Moviehole's Gossip Monkey hears that "UK actor writer Simon Pegg's eagerly awaited follow up to his Rom Zom Com hit Shaun of the Dead is titled Hot Fuzz and will begin shooting in a few week's time. The pic is a comedy that pretty much sends up the buddy buddy cop pics of the 80s and 90s."

Water That's via Blake at Cinema Strikes Back, also pointing to Stephen McGinty's talk with Neil Gaiman for the Scotsman and Robert Williamson's assessment of the year in Thai cinema (that'd be 2005, of course) for the Bangkok International Film Festival - naturally, Blake has the award-winners there. Winner of the Golden Kinnaree: Water, whose director, Deepa Mehta, as AFP reports (via Kim Voynar at Cinematical), claims Gandhi's pacifism is falling out of favor in India.

David Thomson in the Independent: "It may not mean too much to many at first sight, but Richard Bright was killed in New York a few days ago... Richard Bright was one of the great assassins from the movies. He was Al Neri in the Godfather pictures."

Micki Krimmel at WorldChanging: "I'm a few weeks behind on reporting this but I thought it was worth mentioning briefly anyway. Early this year, production wrapped on the first ever feature film to be shot entirely with cell phone cameras.... Check out [director Aryan] Kaganof's blog for updates." Thanks, Ed!

In the Los Angeles Times: Susan Carpenter on David Lehre's MySpace: The Movie and Kevin Crust on the Oscar-nominated documentary shorts.

DK Holm reviews eight Renoir films on DVD for Movie Poop Shoot.

Mike Russell caught Art School Confidential at the just-wrapped Portland International Film Festival.

"Blue Velvet looks as odd and as beautiful as ever, and it's still a shock," writes Terrence Rafferty. "What's tough to handle, particularly if you aren't used to it, is the volatility of the film's tone — the abrupt, unsignaled alternations between teen-movie sweetness and splatter-movie depravity, between brazenly sophomoric humor and abject horror, between innocence and the direst kind of experience."

Also in the New York Times:

The Moon and the Son

In PopMatters, Shaun Huston explores the less obvious ways Brokeback Mountain redefines the Western. Related: Peter Bowen at Filmmaker.

Noy Thrupkaew reviews Caché for the American Prospect.

Over at Flickhead, something's turned Nelhydrea Paupér off Béla Tarr's Werckmeister Harmonies.

Jump Cut's Ekkehard Knörer is already in Austin, notes Thomas Groh.

Hot Tin Roof Decollage Online browsing tip #1. Mimmo Rotella's movie poster décollages, via Sean at Bitter Cinema.

Online browsing tips #2 and #3. French film journal covers, via Flickhead. Related: Ciné-romans, via PCL LinkDump.

Online listening tip. NPR's Andy Trudeau discusses two more Oscar-nominated scores: Munich and Brokeback Mountain.

Online viewing tips, round 1. Dozens of them. Lukas at WFMU's Beware of the Blog sorts through quite a collection.

Online viewing tips, round 2. Shorts by Jerry Lentz.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:44 PM

Darren McGavin, 1922 - 2006.

Darren McGavin as Mike Hammer
Darren McGavin, 83, a film and television actor who appeared on an almost limitless number of television series and shows and set a standard for cynical and hard-boiled gruffness as a reporter in The Night Stalker and a detective in Mike Hammer, died yesterday in California.

Martin Weil, the Washington Post.

He lacked the prominence in films he enjoyed in television, but he registered strongly in featured roles such as the young artist in Venice in Summertime, David Lean's 1955 film with Katharine Hepburn and Rosanno Brazzi; Frank Sinatra's crafty drug supplier in The Man with the Golden Arm (1955); Jerry Lewis's parole officer in The Delicate Delinquent (1957); and the gambler in 1984's The Natural. He also starred alongside Don Knotts, who died Friday night, in the 1976 family comedy No Deposit, No Return.

The AP.

The official site.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:28 AM | Comments (3)

Don Knotts, 1924 - 2006.

Don Knotts
Don Knotts, the saucer-eyed, scarecrow-thin comic actor best known for his roles as the high-strung small-town deputy Barney Fife on the 1960s CBS series The Andy Griffith Show and the leisure-suit-clad landlord Ralph Furley on ABC's 70s sitcom Three's Company, has died. He was 81.


As he grew older, Knotts became a lodestar for younger comic actors. The new generation came to appreciate his highly physical brand of acting that, at its best, was in the tradition of silent-film greats such as Buster Keaton, Stan Laurel and Harold Lloyd.

Scott Collins, Los Angeles Times.

The official site.

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

February 25, 2006

A Good Day for Doris

It's not just economically that the Swedes are ahead of the curve. Moira Sullivan, a member of the Swedish Film Critics Association who covered the Venice Film Festival for us in September, reports on efforts to achieve a greater degree of gender equality in the Swedish film industry.

Göteberg Film Festival The Göteborg Film Festival (January 26 through February 6) has long been recognized as the most ground-breaking festival in Sweden, and there was ample justification for its reputation this year in the impressive line-up of both Nordic and international films. As the festival is the annual industry meeting place for directors, actors, producers and distributors, it's an excellent place to stir things up and to try to steer them in the right direction. Last year, festival director Jannike Åhlund took aim at the Swedish entry in the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar category, As It Is in Heaven (2005) directed by Kay Pollak. After so much discussion of gender equality, she asked, how could a script from 2005 create "a New Age Jesus" who does not report a case of spousal abuse? In addition, film critics and filmmakers attacked the state system of film financing in Sweden in which only a handful of women receive funding for features. The Swedish Film Institute shortly thereafter amended the state film agreement to include "a gender directive." Within three years, 40 percent of the scripts slated to become "national" films "should" be written by women.

Authentic scripts for women's roles and gender equality for film financing are the greatest demands women have been making of the Swedish film industry. A national chapter of Women in Film and Television actively works to help achieve these goals. At this year's festival in Göteborg, a special seminar was held to discuss how to increase the participation of women in filmmaking, with the inauguration of Sweden's first cinema manifesto. This eye-catching initiative comes from Doris Film, a group of Göteborg-based filmmakers who have written their own Doris Manifesto for filmmaking without any "shoulds": all films must be written by women, all films must have at least one female leading part, all original music must be composed by women, and women must fill all the major artistic and decision-making roles. To achieve this, Doris presently holds a script competition in which three films a year are chosen for financing. The latest winners were presented at the seminar and the filmmakers and scriptwriters invited on stage: Shoot Me, from Anna Hylander; Susanne Goes Single, Lena Hanno Clyne; and Mon 3, Lena Koppel.

"There is one problem with the Doris Manifesto", said Swedish filmmaker Miko Lazic (Made In Yugoslavia, 2005). "They should be making features, not shorts!" Well enough. But Doris, named for Doris Day, by the way, is working in the right direction.

Nina's Journey Particularly good news this year for Swedish women in film: director Lena Einhorn took home the most prestigious award for Swedish film, the Guldbagge (Gold Bug), the Swedish equivalent of the Oscars, for best film and best screenplay. Nina's Journey is about her mother's survival in the Warsaw ghetto during WWII, a film brilliantly interwoven with interviews with her mother, Nina, documentary footage and recreations of the events. Shot entirely on DV, it has the look of a finely crafted film and never loses momentum. Einhorn also won a newly established award, the Mai Zetterling Award, named for one of Sweden's most renowned actors who made a career in Hollywood and later became a director whose films were screened at Cannes and Venice (Loving Couples, Wargame, Night Games). Zetterling, a pioneer for Swedish women working in film, helped start the first organization of women working in film.

The Göteborg Festival also acknowledges international women in the film world. One of the festival's master classes was given by the British documentary filmmaker Kim Longinotto, who focuses on the conditions of women around the world. She presented her latest doc on women working in a court for the disadvantaged in Cameroon, Sisters In Law, an award-winner at Cannes in 2005, and a special retrospective of Longinotto's work was featured.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:51 AM | Comments (4)

February 24, 2006

Shorts, 2/24.

Wired: A Scanner Darkly "[Richard] Linklater began to fear that his vision of the film might never get translated into animation. He knew how to capture the story with a camera, but with a digital pen it was infinitely harder." How hard? At one point in Robert La Franco's piece on A Scanner Darkly, "A security guard was posted at the door, the locks were changed, and their workstations were seized." Yikes. But as we know now, the trailer's looking good and the release date seems definitely set this time: July 7.

Also in Wired, Matt Brady's "How Digital Animation Conquered Hollywood." Thanks to Blake at Cinema Strikes Back for spotting the new issue. He's also pointing to Tadanobu Asano's snapshots taken at the Berlinale (scroll down a tad) and Neil Smith's BBC report on what Terry Gilliam may be up to next.

Clive Stafford Smith, legal director of the charity Reprieve who has represented forty Guantánamo prisoners, has a blow-by-blow account in the New Statesman of actor Rizwan Ahmed's detainment at Luton Airport when he and others involved in The Road to Guantánamo returned to Britain from the Berlinale: "The very foundations of our justice system are under threat as legal safeguards and even the notion of the protection of the law are ignored or mocked." Related: David Ehrenstein on Morrissey being questioned by the FBI and British intelligence after expressing an opinion.

"The existing audience for foreign films has helped to kill its potential audience." What does Grady Hendrix mean by that? He explains what he means quite clearly in an entry sparked by David Ansen and Ramin Setoodeh's piece in Newsweek.

Eugene Hernandez takes a long look at indieWIRE at the ramifications of the shut down of Wellspring. As an example of how reactions have varied, compare Amy Taubin's comment ("This... is another example of the pernicious Weinstein approach to competition: just don't let those pesky great art films (the kind that the Weinsteins would never distribute unless their directors allowed them to be mutilated, and these days, probably not even then) get released in any theaters whatsoever") with that of ThinkFilm's Mark Urman ("One company comes, another goes. This is the way it is and has always been. Logos change; Renoir, Bergman, Godard and the like are eternal!"). More commentary: The Reeler.

Scott Roxborough for Reuters: "German multiplex giant CinemaxX has pulled the Turkish action blockbuster Valley of the Wolves: Iraq from theaters after accusations that the film, which stars Billy Zane and Gary Busey, is anti-Semitic and anti-American."

Fred Astaire There's a marvelous piece in Slate from Stanley Crouch on what Fred Astaire and Louis Armstrong share and what they don't. These comparisons come later, but what an opening paragraph:

Black people are usually smug about their supposed superiority to white people in all things physical, from the boudoir to the dance floor, but Fred Astaire seems to transcend all stereotypical discussion, with no carping or resentment. Given the racial history of American entertainment, that is quite rare. Astaire looms not because he seems more masculine than anybody else or more handsome or less corny. He remains more pure than all categories because of his ability, in motion, to transform all things through grace, which is the fundamental dream beneath the gaudy exterior of American civilization.

"Twenty years ago Dave Kehr aptly noted in this paper that Late Chrysanthemums 'is a masterpiece of narrative construction,' yet paradoxically many of the things that register most indelibly aren't essential to the story," writes Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader in a piece noting that Mikio Naruse's "utter lack of sentimentality has stylistic consequences." Also: Andrea Gronvall on Forgiving Dr Mengele.

"The problem explored in Our Brand Is Crisis - vividly, though far from completely - does not lie in individuals but in the accepted definition of 'democracy,' whether peddled in Bolivia by [political consulting firm Greenberg Carville Shrum], in Iraq by Paul Bremer and the Lincoln Group or in (you supply the name) by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund," writes Stuart Klawans in the Nation.

Girish finds The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach "simultaneously both documentary-like and self-consciously artificial. By embracing these two (seemingly) diametrically opposed natures, the film finds one nature in the other: documenting involves artifice, and vice versa."

Ray Pride posts seven quick and to-the-point reviews at Movie City Indie.

Don't Tell "No woman has ever won an Oscar for best director," Anne Thompson reminds us in the Hollywood Reporter. "On the foreign-language side, however, German director Caroline Link directed two nominated films, including the 2003 Oscar winner Nowhere in Africa. It followed the 1996 win by Antonia's Line, directed by Marleen Gorris of the Netherlands. This year, the sole female director among all the Oscar-nominated feature films is Cristina Comencini, the Italian writer-director of Don't Tell." And Thompson meets her.

Today's up-n-coming items from Cinematical's Martha Fischer, who's got more details: Zoe Cassavetes is to direct Gena Rowlands, Parker Posey and Jeanne Moreau in Broken English. And: Michael Winterbottom will adapt former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray's memoir, Murder in Samarkand.

Harry Knowles found out today who'll be playing him in the Weinstein Company's production of Fanboys - and heard, too, that Philip Seymour Hoffman will be playing Roger Ebert in a Russ Meyer biopic. Update: See comments below and Roger Ebert's note at Cinematical.

Caryn James in the New York Times on Elaine May: "The films themselves deserve to be seen again with the extraneous details and the dust of received opinion brushed away." And they will be this weekend at the Walter Reade.


Little Fish
  • Stephen Holden on Little Fish, a "dry-eyed assessment of heroin and its stranglehold on people who stay in its vicinity, even after they've stopped using," Workingman's Death, with its "structure and tone of an epic historical poem," and Dirty, "a nasty little genre film... a facile exercise in nihilism posing as an indie Training Day with street cred. Don't believe it." More from Ed Gonzalez in Slant.

  • Jeannette Catsoulis on Trudell, "a fascinating account of its subject's most turbulent crusades."

  • Neil Genzlinger on the live-action and animated Oscar-nominated shorts: "There are throwaways in each batch, but all in all it's a package that makes you wonder, in this age of reduced attention spans, why these little gems aren't more widely circulated."

  • Nathan Lee, briefly but satisfyingly, on Casino.

Bradford Nordeen inaugurates Flukiest's film coverage.

Focusing on clarinettist Selim Sesler, Fiachra Gibbons gets the background story on Fatih Akin's Crossing the Bridge, "a Buena Vista Social Club of the Bosphorus." More from Andrew Pulver.

Also in the Guardian:

Steve Erickson reviews Sophie Scholl: The Final Days for Gay City News. See also John Esther's interview with director Marc Rothemund and Julia Jentsch.

For SuicideGirls, Daniel Robert Epstein interviews Michel Gondry.

In the Independent, James Mottram meets Catherine Keener.

Catherine Keener Jonathan Kiefer in Maisonneuve: "Great Movie Theatres I Have Known."

Matt Zoller Seitz's current "5 for the day": "[M]ovies or TV shows that contained scenes or images that branded themselves onto your imagination, disturbing or moving you and profoundly altering your view of entertainment and/or life. Interpret that however you wish." And so far, many, many have.

"An Astronomer in Hollywood is a quite extraordinary, dreamy, and reflective blog, written with such patience and a tactile sense of the fragility of nature and of imagination," writes Jennifer MacMillan at Invisible Cinema.

Online viewing tip #1. Screenhead points to the trailer for Project 15, a silly yet... well, silly feature due in April.

Online viewing tip #2. Joseph Beuys "sings" at DVblog.

Online viewing tip #3. Corey Boutilier talks with Street Fight director Marshall Curry at independentfilm.com.

Online viewing tips. Trailers at/via Twitch: Bastards, a Russian film "that looks to be the love child of The Dirty Dozen and Battle Royale" (Todd); Takashi Miike's Waru; and Goro Miyazaki's Gedo Senki (Tales from Earthsea).

Posted by dwhudson at 3:57 PM | Comments (8)

Fests and events, 2/24.

Tomorrow, Electronic Arts Intermix in New York will be screening over forty of Nam June Paik's video works from 10 am to 10 pm.

Lights in the Dusk Cineuropa has two pieces on two films heading to Cannes: Annika Pham on Aki Kaurismäki's Lights in the Dusk and Vitor Pinto on Albert Serra's Honor de Caballeria, slated for the Director's Fortnight.

Acquarello at Cinemarati: "The Film Society of Lincoln Center website decided to link directly to the online ticketing system for the Rendez-vous with French Cinema series, so I thought I'd post the film schedule here."

Traumfrauen Why did Hans Helmut Prinzler choose as his last Berlinale Retrospective the "Dream Women" of the 50s? Geoffrey Macnab asks him for the Independent.

I'd disagree, but Ekkehard Knörer argues at signandsight argues that, as a result of a "forced concentration on artistically rather uninteresting would-be political arthouse cinema," the Berlinale "has, in truth, been hollowed out beneath its outwardly thriving surface."

At Hollywood Bitchslap, yet more SXSW interviews.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:49 PM

SF Indie Fest. Awards.

The San Francisco Independent Film Festival wrapped on Valentine's Day, but the awards have just been announced.

SF Indie Fest Audience Awards:

Staff Prize for Best Feature: Jimmy and Judy. Site.
Staff Prize for Best Short: Dirty Mary. Site (coming soon).

Posted by dwhudson at 11:43 AM

February 23, 2006

Shorts, 2/23.

Dirty Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly on an LA movie: "Less a story of good cops and bad cops than of bad cops and worse cops, Dirty walks the razor's edge between cautionary apocalyptic fable and nihilist fever dream - in short, don't look for an endorsement from the Convention and Visitors Bureau anytime soon. Like the best pulp, though, it gets its hooks into you faster than you can start to wonder why you should possibly care about what happens to any of its despicable characters, and, before you know it, you've been pulled deep into its Dantean vision."

Also, Ella Taylor on Tsotsi (more on that one in a moment) and, insightfully, on Sophie Scholl: The Final Days: "The movie isn't dry — [Julia] Jentsch is utterly harrowing as Sophie, barely out of girlhood and struggling to maintain her composure and her sense of self under unspeakable pressure. But the script is so intellectualized that I couldn't help feeling I was witnessing not two complex people locked in struggle, but the opposed souls (and classes) of Germany: Sophie, emblem of the cultured, tolerant and enlightened humanism of the middle classes duking it out with [interrogator Robert] Mohr [Alexander Held], resentful member of a disenfranchised proletariat from whose ranks sprang Hitler's most loyal quislings."

Foundas interviews Street Fight director Marshall Curry - related: independentfilm.com's Corey Boutilier interviews Rosie Perez - and Holly Willis, briefly, on Peter Brinson's No Animals Were Hurt: "Part of an emerging form known as computational or database cinema, in which the computer makes film viewing dynamic and mutable, Brinson's project deftly shows us our own role as viewers in completing, and supporting, the media."

Remixing the Magic Remixing the Magic is a group show at Gallery 1988 in which 50 artists reinterpret Disney classics. Alex Chun takes a look. Also in the Los Angeles Times, Cecilia Sanchez and Reed Johnson on Ambulante, the documentary festival traveling through Mexico, backed by Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, Kevin Crust on the short docs nominated for Oscars and Susan Carpenter on Tsotsi.

Russell Scott Smith takes a good long look at the Tyler Perry phenomenon, the fans and dissenters, and notes that studios besides Lions Gate "are starting to look for their own Tyler Perrys." Also in Salon, Andrew O'Hehir reviews Tsotsi, whose Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film is "richly deserved," Our Brand is Crisis, about American consultants to Bolivian presidential candidate Gonzalo Sánchez de Losada, and Sorry, Haters: "I wouldn't call it a great movie, but it'll keep you guessing about its characters and it has an intriguing mean streak."

Tom Hall: "I consider the closing of Wellspring's theatrical distribution arm to be a death knell for foreign film distribution in America."

Brian Brooks has the lineup at indieWIRE for this year's New Directors / New Films series, complete with blurbs for each film. In other festival news, keep in mind that Hollywood Bitchslap is still interviewing directors with films screening at SXSW and acquarello is still filing reviews from the Film Comment Selects series.

"I enjoyed watching their brains explode trying to process it all." The cinetrix corrupts the youth of America. With Hollywood musicals.

Les Saignantes

"Les Saignantes is a Cameroonian-French science fiction satire with Godardian intertitles that is as fascinating as it is obscure around these parts," writes Marjorie Baumgarten in the Austin Chronicle; filmmaker Jean-Pierre Bekolo will attend tomorrow evening's screening. Also: Raoul Hernandez on the Criterion release of Kind Hearts and Coronets and Joe O'Connell warms up for SXSW.

For the Boston Phoenix, Peter Keough considers the work of Algerian filmmaker Merzak Allouache ahead of a three-day retro at the Harvard Film Archive starting tomorrow and reviews Zizek!. Also, Gary Susman on Night Watch.

Sisters in Law For the Vue Weekly, Brian Gibson reviews Alireza Raisian's Deserted Station, Florence Ayisi and Kim Longinotto's Sisters in Law and Keif Davidson and Richard Ladkani's The Devil's Miner.

Boyd van Hoeij's got two Elementary Particles-related interviews at europeanfilms.net: Franka Potente and Moritz Bleibtreu.

Today's Robert Altman item: Part 2 of Dennis Cozzalio's personal retrospective.

Examining the co-evolution of horror and special effects, Marco Lanzagorta picks up where he left off at PopMatters.

Olivier Assayas's next film, according to Cinema Strikes Back by way of europeanfilms.net, will be Boarding Gate with Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Asia Argento, Michael Madsen and Michelle Yeoh. Related: Martha Fischer has possibly, hopefully more Tony Leung Chiu-wai news at Cinematical.

Jette Kernion alerts Cinematical readers to the 1977 oddity Chatterbox.

Speaking of 1977, the Boston Globe's running Ty Burr's essay from The X List: The National Society of Film Critics' Guide to the Movies That Turn Us On on Young Lady Chatterley. Via Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog.

Princess of Baghdad The Japan Times has a brief item on the newly restored Princess of Baghdad, the first animated feature made in Japan after WWII.

WFMU's Mark Allen: "Using GoogleEarth, I captured these current satellite images of locations where eleven of my favorite movies were filmed."

Online viewing tip. "Loose Change [site] directed by Dylan Avery, is the first time I've found myself glued to a 320x240 window for a feature length running time (I guess it is possible)," writes David Lowery.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:38 AM

February 22, 2006

Shorts, 2/22.

Pauline Kael Yes, there she is again, but for good reason: Tom Sutpen's got one helluvan online listening tip over at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger..., namely, a "recording of Pauline Kael delivering a talk at (get this) San Fernando Valley State College sometime in 1963 [which] closely follow[s] her essay Circles and Squares (the Squares being hero-worshipping auteurists, for those of you playing along at home). But even if you're familiar with the work in question, her tone of voice and formal delivery... hovering in some demilitarized zone betweeen Edna May Oliver and Victoria Regina... make these 55-minutes a genuinely nasty, invective-laden eye-opener."

She begins with a brief assessment of what she saw as the generally rotten state of cinema at the time, and it makes you wonder what her response might be to a week of news as bad as this one's been for indie and world cinema and for film criticism. As Eugene Hernandez reports at indieWIRE, the Weinsteins are essentially chopping off Wellspring's theatrical distribution arm. Chances are, if you're looking forward to the next Desplechin or Solondz, Godard or Sokurov, your only shot at it will be the DVD. To an extent, we have to keep in mind that this is probably the future, near or distant, of all cinema but the occasional "event" film, be it DVD or some other form of digital delivery to your home screen. Even so, this strikes a sad and sour note.

On the criticism front, a reminder that we may soon be turning to anything but fishwrap for something worth wrapping our heads around. Celebrating its 50th anniversary and merging with McAlt-Weekly chain New Times all but simultaneously four months ago, the Village Voice, inadvertently or not, drew a thick line between what it once was and what it was about to become. Little wonder that J Hoberman's brief and personal history of the film section in that 50th anniversary issue read more like a eulogy than a tribute.

Voice: Shall We All Die of Boredom? Now Anthony Kaufman spots the first changes and, while you might argue that he's overstating his case - and as a periodic contributor himself, he'd have little reason to - he argues that the entrance of New Times film critics into that section represents more than just a "whittling away of the Voice's edge"; if its film criticism begins to resemble that of Luke Y Thompson in particular, indie film is going to get hurt. Kaufman's got the evidence and it does not bode well.

Meantime, sorting through this week's issue:

  • Hoberman on Elaine May's four features: "Taken as a sustained utterance, they are an ongoing and largely unprecedented comic riff on the abjectness of women and the idiocy of men. Each, however, has its own particular formal brilliance." And: Little Nemo in Slumberland: Splendid Sundays and The World on Sunday: Graphic Art in Joseph Pulitzer's Newspaper (1898 - 1911). Also, Unknown White Male: "If it's a hoax, [Doug] Bruce is a fantastic actor (but then, the movie suggests, so are we all)." Roger Ebert's been tracking clues as to whether it's doc or mock. More from the Reverse Shot team in indieWIRE.

Woman in the Dunes

EU parliamentarian Cem Özdemir for Spiegel Online: "The criticism I leveled at Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten - that it consciously published the Muhammad caricatures to provoke and divide - is the same criticism I have for the people who made Valley of the Wolves." If you're anywhere near as interested in this topic as I am, this is one of the few must-reads to appear in English so far.

Lions Love Dennis Harvey: "With Lions Love, [Agnès] Varda duly tips her hat to Warhol (and has the characters react to news of his shooting), but her filmmaking is far more playful, alive with visual, editorial, and musical jokes."

Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Max Goldberg's overview of the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival (in the Bay Area through February 26), Cheryl Eddy on Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea and Harvey on Tristram Shandy.

"Perennially atop the list of films long overdue for DVD exposure, the seven films [Budd] Boetticher made with Randolph Scott, in the span of a mere five years, are the summit of his unspectacular but superb career." Jared Rapfogel celebrates the release of Seven Men From Now in Stop Smiling.

In what's left of the New York Press, Armond White reviews Ryan's Daughter ("[David] Lean saw the political in the personal before that phrase gained currency") and Manderlay, "so ignorant of authentic American behavior that the calculated outrageousness of its premise is dull rather than scandalous." Also: Final Destination 3 ("essentially humane because it recognizes dismay as an honest response to death") and London, a "minor film, but worthwhile for the depth of its stars' exhibition."

CSA Then Matt Zoller Seitz reviews Firewall and The Pink Panther, "the sorts of films for which critics can start mentally composing their pans en route to the screening room." Problem is, both "are entertaining, well crafted, often surprisingly eccentric Hollywood movies." Also, CSA: The Confederate States of America, "the first great American film of the year."

What's more, Jennifer Merin interviews Roger Donaldson and Albert Brooks.

Bidisha Banerjee tries her hand at machima and displays the results at Slate. Also: Andy Bowers and Mark Jordan Legan announce the Slate Bad Movie Award nominees and Edward Jay Epstein explains that Hollywood's mission on Oscar Night will be "misdirecting the audience's attention from reality to a few brilliant aberrations."

Tom Scocca argues that it all goes back to the Miramax campaigns of the 90s, when "a self-reinforcing cycle was born: Newspapers were the new vehicle for Oscar promotions, and Oscar promotions were news. And where the Academy once sought only to flatter itself, it now flatters the press as well: This year's Best Picture finalists are pitched to a stereotypical coastal-metropolitan journalist's sympathies - both explicit (Good Night, and Good Luck, Capote) and implicit (Brokeback Mountain, Crash, Munich)." So... when it came to nominating their faves, members of the Academy were already thinking ahead to where they'd be placing those "For Your Consideration" ads? Granted, Oscar coverage in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times has gone way overboard this year, but that's quite a stretch. Related, and also in the New York Observer: Scocca on the NYT Magazine "Great Performers" thing.

Alice Munro: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage Ray Pride notes at Movie City Indie that Sarah Polley "is writing and directing Away With Her in rural Ontario, a feature based on fellow Canadian Alice Munro's short story 'The Bear Came Over the Mountain,' which Polley calls her 'favorite short story.' A diverse cast includes Julie Christie, Olympia Dukakis, Michael Murphy and über-Canadian Gordon Pinsent. Atom Egoyan, who showcased Polley in The Sweet Hereafter, is executive producer; it's being shot by Saddest Music in the World DoP Luc Montpellier."

Cinematical's Martha Fischer has news of a fictional feature based on David and Albert Maysles' Grey Gardens starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange. Not a joke, far as I can tell.

Like Korean historical epics? Hope so, because here they come, notes X at Twitch.

If you haven't yet caught up with Jean Renoir's The River, perhaps either or both Campaspe and/or Roger Ebert will spur you on.

An antidote to the monotony of a single-voiced blog: Dan Jardine and Ben Liviant have been conversing at Cinemania.

It'd be easy to say that the fun bit in The Reeler's review of The Film Snob's Dictionary is the opening disclaimer - one of the book's authors, Lawrence Levi, is a friend - but nope, it's just as enjoyable all the way through.

Robert Altman To wrap, mark your calendars: "After being egged on by the proprietors of Girish and Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, I'm calling for a blogathon on Robert Altman for March 3, in advance of his receiving an honorary Oscar on the evening of March 5." Matt Zoller Seitz explains how you can join in.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:56 PM | Comments (3)

February 21, 2006

Shorts, 2/21.

Derek Jarman "Convention - in every sense of the word - was anathema to Derek: the enemy of life, promise, love, all that he held dear. What he valued was convention's opposite, the more neglected corners of existence, exploring what others might ignore, and - of course - doing this entirely on his own terms." Kamera reprints an eloquent remembrance of Derek Jarman (far right) by the filmmaker's biographer, Tony Peake.

Also, an excerpt from Barry Forshaw's Italian Cinema: Arthouse to Exploitation and Antonio Pasolini on Perry Ogden's Pavee Lackeen.

With Metropolitan just out on DVD from Criterion, Josh Horowitz figured it'd be a good time to call up Whit Stillman in Paris. He figured well and, though he's friendly about it, he wonders, just like everyone else, whatever happened: "It is noteworthy I think to realize that Terrence Malick has released two films in the time since you released your last one." Stillman takes it in stride and explains that he's actually been cultivating several screenplays at once: "So in one sense I have been working on something that could be seen positively as an orchard although it could be seen less positively as a patch of weeds."

A Grin Without a Cat "Watching Chris Marker's Le Fond de l'air est rouge (A Grin Without a Cat) last week made for a somewhat ambivalent experience," writes Mark Fisher. Further in: "If Marx and Marker's fear was that revolution would only be a spectre, our suspicion is that it will not turn out to be even that, that the stricken ghosts have been put to flight once and for all."

Auren at SuicideGirls reports that Michel Gondry is set to direct Jack Black in a Daniel Clowes adaptation of a Rudy Rucker novel. Got all that? Via Fimoculous.

Anthony Kaufman surveys the possible contenders for this year's Cannes lineup: "Lynch? Loach? Coppola?" And a follow-up: Béla Tarr is working on The Man From London again and hoping for a Cannes 2007 premiere.

Days in the Country Acquarello's posting reviews from the Film Comment Selects series, beginning with Raúl Ruiz's Days in the Country, "a witty, incisive, and ingeniously crafted meditation on mortality, regret, memory, and the iterative process of artistic creation." More: Serik Aprimov's Saratan, Michael Glawogger's Workingman's Death, Billy O'Brien's debut feature, Isolation and Yorgos Lanthimos's Kinetta.

Michael Tully's just unleashed well over two dozen reviews of films he caught in Rotterdam - but they're short and to the point.

Peter Brunette files another excellent entry in his "Critic's Diary" from the Berlinale for indieWIRE. The gist: Yes, the German films really are that good.

During the last few days of the Berlinale, German papers started making room for think pieces on another cinematic phenom going on, particularly in the cities. Valley of the Wolves: Iraq, a blockbuster back home in Turkey, was becoming a hit in Germany as well. "The film has drawn excited enthusiasm among Turkish viewers and harsh criticism from elsewhere. Both are exaggerated," argues Baha Güngör in a piece for Deutsche Welle.

Cinematical's Ryan Stewart calls up Julia Jentsch in Munich to talk about Sophie Scholl: The Final Days. Related: The New Republic's Stanley Kauffmann finds the film "not as devastatingly moving as [Michael Verhoeven's] The White Rose, but it, too, evokes awe in lesser beings."

en Soap At europeanfilms.net, Boyd van Hoeij talks with Pernille Fischer Christensen about her double award-winning feature, en Soap.

Alessandra Mammi talks with Luc Besson about Angel-A in L'espresso (and in Italian). Also via Perlentaucher's "Magazinrundschau," Samir Farid in the Al-Ahram Weekly: "As [Annette K Olesen's] 1:1 deals with the relationship between the Danish people and Arab Muslim immigrants and refugees in Denmark, it has become one of the [Berlinale's] major cultural and political events, with its news-making headlines on the front pages of German and international newspapers." Reviews, though, were tepid.

Paul Hoggart meets Nick Broomfield to talk about His Big White Self, a follow-up to his 1991 portrait of South African white supremacist Eugene Terre'Blanche, The Leader, the Driver and the Driver's Wife, to be broadcast on More4 (lot's o' clips). The piece features probably the most delightful sentence you'll run across all day: "Now he is busy editing his first original drama, based on the death of Chinese cockle-pickers in Morecambe Bay, which is due to screen later this year."

Also in the Guardian:


Michael Guillen: "Just as Caravaggio implicates the viewer into his paintings, [Carlos] Reygadas does the same with his roving camera in search of a host; Reygadas also shows how inanimate objects draw our attentions into them, pulling us into their 'orbit,' as described by poet Mark Doty."

Robert Altman Dennis Cozzalio offers a personal take on the career of Robert Altman.

For the Oregonian, Shawn Levy talks with both Jonathan Demme and Neil Young about Heart of Gold - and America, actually.

"If you put all the elements of the [Anthony] Pellicano story in a movie pitch, they would laugh you out of the bungalow," writes David Carr. If you've been trying to ignore this LA story, now's the time to give in and catch up, and Carr's piece is the quickest and most entertaining way of doing so. What's more, "If the case has legs, it could become a concern for the giant New York media companies that now own the movie business."

Also in the New York Times, Jacques Steinberg on how Jon Stewart and his team of writers are prepping for Oscar Night and Dave Kehr on new DVDs.

Bill Gibron traces the slasher's lineage back to the era of exploitation for PopMatters.

A Man's Castle Responding to Girish's pop quiz, Peter Nellhaus lists not one but ten films he'd love to see if only they were available on DVD or tape.

"In viewing The Holy Girl before La Cienaga, I've come to [Lucrecia] Martel's work in reverse order," writes MS Smith. "But, even then, I believe that this film heralds the arrival of a significant talent, one who is freed from the prescriptions of mainstream cinema and who listens attentively to the rhythms of her culture." Also among the Cinemarati, lylee considers Felicity Huffman's performance in Transamerica.

Lekha Shankur interviews Leslie Caron for ThaiDay. Via Blake at Cinema Strikes Back.

Another take on The New World: David Essex for Flak.

Perfume Online viewing tip #1. At AICN, Quint points to the first teaser for Tom Tykwer's Perfume. Cinematical's Martha Fischer has more detail on the film if you haven't been keeping up and David Lowery's been thinking about these literary adaptations that seem to take forever to get realized.

Online viewing tip #2. The trailer for Special, via Coudal Partners.

Online viewing tip #3. Hello Dean, via The Reeler, who has an email chat with director Matthew Fogel.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:50 AM

Guantánamo actors harassed.

The Road to Guantanamo Straight from the WTF Dept, Vikram Dodd reports in the Guardian that the actors who portray the Tipton Three, that is, when they were still four, in The Road to Guantánamo were "questioned under anti-terror laws, alongside two of the former terrorism suspects they play on screen" when they returned to Britain from the Berlinale. To back up, in the film, Silver Bear-winning directors Michael Winterbottom and Matt Whitecross cut back and forth between the actual Tipton Three telling their stories to the camera and reenactments of these events.

According to a statement by Rizwan Ahmed, one of the actors in these reenactments, a policewoman asked him at Luton airport, "Did you become an actor mainly to do films like this, to publicize the struggles of Muslims?" Dodd adds, "Mr Ahmed alleged that he had a telephone wrestled from his hand as he tried to contact a lawyer and was later abused. He claimed that one police officer had called him a 'fucker'." Evidently, his views on the war in Iraq were also required before he was released.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:05 AM | Comments (2)

February 20, 2006

Sight & Sound. 3/06.

The Proposition The online offerings from the March issue of Sight & Sound are modest, but who's to complain - they're free. In the first of two features, Nick Roddick talks with director John Hillcoat and writer Nick Cave about The Proposition, which whipped up a little positive buzz when it screened here in Berlin last week.

"Nicolas Winding Refn's international reputation has been strangely slow to catch fire," notes Jonathan Romney in a piece on the Pusher trilogy, "one of the most distinctive exercises in recent crime cinema - although in fact, Refn insists, 'The Pusher films are about people in a criminal environment, not about crime.'"


Sight & Sound 3/06

  • Edward Lawrenson on The Squid and the Whale, "refreshingly matter-of-fact about the practicalities of family break-up, in contrast to the (implicitly conservative) Hollywood tendency to 'blame' one of the partners (cf Kramer vs Kramer, 1979)."

  • Tim Robey on Capote: "Any suspicions that [Philip Seymour] Hoffman's performance will turn out to be a bit of skin-deep, virtuoso grandstanding are laid to rest by how it progressively deepens."

  • Ryan Gilbey: "The audience's familiarity with the stylistic devices of Manderlay should allow the film's more reflective screenplay to shine through."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:13 AM

Berlin Dispatch. 12.

If you've followed my own dispatches from the Berlinale, you'll see that David D'Arcy and I don't always agree, which makes caffeinated discussions between screenings all the livelier and better. What follows are David's takes on The Road to Guantanamo, Golden Bear-winner Grbavica, Jafar Panahi's Offside, Requiem and L'Ivresse du Pouvoir.

Berlinale Although it only won a second prize at the Berlinale, a Silver Bear for direction, Michael Winterbottom and Matt Whitecross's new film certainly won the exposure award. As soon as The Road to Guantanamo screened in the Competition, the film and its emphasis on the fact that some 500 prisoners are still held at Guantanamo without charges were all over the media. The film tracked the cases of three British citizens of Pakistani origin (a fourth disappeared in Afghanistan and hasn't been heard from since) who were traveling into Afghanistan when the US invasion began, and, unable to cross back into Pakistan, found themselves in a war zone, where they were arrested, imprisoned and sent to Guantanamo. The three were released after years of interrogation and torture. These are your US tax dollars at work.

People are calling the film a semi-documentary - with interviews with the Tipton Three, as the young men are called, plus dramatized sections of their journey and their confinement. If you've seen Winterbottom's films, you know that they all tend to look like documentaries.

The Road to Guantanamo As the United Nations knows too well, investigators (including the International Red Cross) are not allowed to talk to prisoners at Guantanamo. UN investigators never went there when they were told they'd never get near any of the prisoners, none of whom have been charged. Winterbottom didn't lack for witnesses. He had his released prisoners to question. The position of the Guantanamo apologists in the US government is that prisoners are trained to say that they've been tortured. This has been US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's response to the UN Commission's recommendation to close Guantanamo. From what I've seen, it's a response that doesn't require much training.

The attacks on Winterbottom and his co-director Matt Whitecross have run largely parallel to those directed toward the UN Commission. A critic at one of the German dailies faulted the film for looking too much like a CNN report, an odd reproach, since Winterbottom's films always have a collage element to them, and coverage of events that we have seen only on television seem to be a natural part of that palette.

Another complaint that I heard at the Berlinale was that the film should have been about the much greater evils of the Taliban. Those films have been made, I thought, although the investigation into Guantanamo, up to now, seems to have been denied the visual dimension that was so essential to it. We have it now, and we have to assume that the fact that the actual Gitmo sections of the film were shot in Iran must have been infuriating to the flag-wearers. No doubt it was intended.

The Road to Guantanamo Winterbottom and Whitecross render the urgency of central Asian bus travel turning desperate - from traffic jams to the fog of war in a day or so, all the more tactile thanks to the handheld camera and clouds of dust and smoke that make you distrust your eyes. The camera races to keep up in Afghanistan, and it watches mutely when the ritual of prostration, interrogation and humiliation repeats and repeats in Guantanamo. We also saw some of the same visual storytelling in In This World, which showed in Berlin two years ago and won the Golden Bear. The filmmakers are also right on target once the three travelers enter the bureaucratic black hole of the system, hoods and all, only to be released without charges in 2004. You've seen the same hoods in the Abu Ghraib photos.

Other attackers, and there will be many more, say the film (and the UN) avoid crucial facts that might show Guantanamo to be a far less gruesome place than Winterbottom would have us think. Let me guess. Was it the fact that, while prisoners are being treated brutally, the lasagna on Mondays really isn't too bad?

The power of Winterbottom's film doesn't come so much from the facts, but from the drama. You don't see this semi-documentary as a documentary, but as a feature. Seeing it through might be the better term. You can come out of Guantanamo feeling as if you've been in a war, or as if you've been through torture. Of course you haven't, but that's the power of cinema. It's also the willingness to believe that the delivery of feelings is the thing itself. Yet the mere fact that you've stayed in the theater for 90 minutes will probably give you more information on the reality of Guantanamo than you knew before.

I've written a lot before on documentaries these days (and semi-documentaries, I suppose) as crucial substitute journalism at a time when media have retreated from their responsibility to report accurately and critically. This is one benefit that comes from concentrating the human attention - getting information in depth, or getting your feeling immersed in a story so deeply that information also seeps in. If another argument were needed in favor of seeing films in theaters without interruption, this could be it. I'd like to show this film to teenagers, to as many as possible.

Perhaps Winterbottom will be accused of treason by his British critics for showing the "coalition" effort that Britain contributes to torturing prisoners. Bear in mind that these prisoners are, given the circumstances, the lucky ones - they are those who survived confinement in shipping containers in Afghanistan and indiscriminate shooting. If an American had made this film, the charge of treason would certainly follow. Is that reasonable? Yet what's more American than the story of a man or of men wrongly accused and wrongly imprisoned - for better or worse, it's the gift that keeps on giving, the staple of American documentaries, like The Thin Blue Line and like the excellent new film, The Trials of Daryll Hunt, directed by Rickie Stern and Annie Sundberg, the story of a decade-long fight in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to exonerate an innocent teenager convicted of rape and murder, which played at the European Film Market.

In Daryll Hunt, the conviction and sentence of an innocent man stood, even when testimony was shown to be false, a DNA test cleared him, and the real murderer confessed. In the "war on terror" that justifies the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo, people are rounded up indiscriminately in Afghanistan. Once in confinement, many are told repeatedly that they can escape mistreatment if they just admit membership in Al Qaeda, and none has been charged with anything. The closer you look at Guantanamo, the more compelling a story you have, and the larger the holes become, like the WMD myth.

Grbavica The "war on terror" was foregrounded by virtue of the attention Winterbottom's film got throughout the festival, but the effects of a vastly different war were localized in the film that won the Golden Bear, Grbavica, the mother-daughter story set in Sarajevo, directed by Jasmila Zbanic. As everyone must know by now, given the plot summary that you tend to get in the coverage of a film that wins the major prize at a major festival, a single mother (Mirjana Karanovic) fights her own grief and her restless teenage daughter to keep the identity of her daughter's father a secret. The daughter was conceived when her mother was raped in a Serb prison camp, and she is one child among more than we can count. Some wars never end, a persistent truth in Sarajevo - and in a city like Berlin, where thousands of "Germans" who are now approaching retirement were conceived by Russian liberators in 1945. Some people create their own destiny, and some have destiny thrust upon them.

Grbavica is a modestly conceived film, shot under mostly rainy skies, where ordinary people vent personal frustrations in cramped apartments, or in the nightclub where strippers dance for $100 Euro tips from the local Mafiosi who seem to be running things these days. The effects of the war remain tragic years on. Men and women who made huge sacrifices work at miserable jobs, some of them hoping for hard-to-get work permits anywhere in the West. Surviving for them is getting out. The black marketeers who thrived during war scarcities are thriving again. And this was a moral war, a war worth fighting.

Close to Home From Israel, the longest war that we saw at the Berlinale was shown in some of its rarely-seen details in Close To Home, directed by Dalia Hager and Vidi Bilu. It's a story of soldier girls, and I mean girls, since these are teenagers who patrol the streets of Jerusalem, asking Palestinians (and only Palestinians) for identification. Racial profiling is alive and well. This is also a modest film, where the camera never strays too far from an army post or from the stones and streets of Jerusalem. Obviously, not too much was spent on costumes. You don't have to dress Jerusalem up to make it cinematic.

There are at least two stories here. One is the understandable inside portrait of girls under extreme authority, an obligation that Israeli women have had since the 1940s, but a duty that has hardened as the post-1973 occupation, post-Lebanon invasion, post-intifada realities have accumulated. I'm sure that for some potential viewers, inside the barracks promised to be as good as inside the harem. Of course, it wasn't that, but it was the perennial private's perspective on the army experience that few people cherish at the time, army nostalgia notwithstanding. We see petty punishments and petty rebellions. If you've been anywhere near the military, you've seen a version of it. We call it chickenshit.

The second story is the story of young soldiers, even girls, hardened into occupiers with small annoying powers over everyday life. They can stop any Palestinian on the street for any reason, and they do. It's all humiliation, all the time, and all this is happening as hormones are running strong. Does this make for good relations, or good judgment? Let's just say that if Dick Cheney can shoot the wrong person, these teenagers might.

Jump Cuts

Offside In Offside, by Jafar Panahi, one of my favorite filmmakers, diehard soccer fans who happen to be girls (dressed as boys) find themselves shut out of an important match by soldiers who catch on to their disguise. Their mania for sports becomes a metaphor and a window onto Iranian society. The soldiers who will talk to them try to explain why women are not permitted inside the stadium. One reason is that these girls, who curse shamelessly themselves at the soldiers, might see curses written on the walls. It gets even more absurd as the film evolves with the discussion over why they can't go in. As always, Panahi draws extraordinary performances out of amateurs, so natural that you can't believe that there's a real script. When you watch girls who have been rounded up and detained by soldiers dance and shout "Long live Iran" when a goal is scored, Iranian nationalism becomes a complicated thing to define.

Requiem, one of the most anticipated films at the Berlinale, is a perplexing movie - a drama about a woman who leaves her religious family home and oppressive mother and enters a university, only to be stricken with what looks like epilepsy. It looks like something else if you're the Catholic priests who were attending to her. When the smart and ambitious Michaela stops taking her medication in order to complete her coursework, her condition worsens. She seeks counsel from priests, and they finally decide that she's possessed. What follow are a family meltdown and preludes to exorcisms (this is all based on a true story), which look like religious shock therapy. And then the film by Hans-Christian Schmid ends, telling us that Michaela eventually died from these treatments. Am I missing something, or did this lopsided story end where it should have begun the ascent to a crescendo? This should have been treated like a murder, not half of a character study.

L'Ivresse du Pouvoir The subject of L'Ivresse du Pouvoir (A Comedy of Power) by Claude Chabrol is government corruption, and the difficulty faced by those who want to stop it. Isabelle Huppert plays - what else? - a cold, work-driven judge determined to punish government officials who are on the take from corporations. Sound familiar? The problem with this ultra-French tale isn't that it's generic, although it is - the sexless Huppert stares down decadent cynical male crooks (for a while, at least) and also endures the inadequacies of a scientist husband who can't accept the fact that she works hard and gets more attention than he does, to the point where he jumps out the window, literally. Subtle enough for you? The problem also isn't that the film has no visual style, unless white interior walls and grey corporate offices turn you on. The real problem is that we never get an adequate explanation of exactly what she's fighting. Perhaps the French know their leaders so well that their official misdeeds don't need to be explained. Tell that one to the judge.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:33 AM

February 19, 2006

The Baftas.

Well, the official site seems to be overloaded at the moment, but Sky News does have the full list of Bafta winners and a report.

BAFTA Though The Constant Gardener, with its ten nominations, was seen to be the front-runner, it didn't turn out that way. Brokeback Mountain took best film, best director, best adapted screenplay and best supporting actor (Jake Gyllenhaal). Best actress: Reese Witherspoon; best actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Sky: "Flying the British flag, Thandie Newton, in fine, pink frills, took the best supporting actress accolade for Crash, and James McAvoy beat the likes of Michelle Williams and Rachel McAdams to take the Orange rising star award."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:31 PM | Comments (4)

Shorts, 2/19.

Pauline Kael: Deeper Into Movies At Matt Zoller Seitz's The House Next Door, Charles Taylor tells Jeremiah Kipp why he was fired from Salon last year, why Pauline Kael will remain important, and why publicists, working in tandem with "news people"-type editors, are currently the greatest threat to serious film criticism.

Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman: "The temptation to dab the eyes with a handkerchief and declare that 'It was all art-house around here when I was a lad' is strong, and should be resisted. However, it remains the case that home-grown cinema has altered beyond recognition since the mid-1980s, when British art-house filmmakers had a significant, if embittered, presence in the cultural landscape."

There's good reason for everyone pointing to "Be Not Afraid," Rosecrans Baldwin's "Occasional Diary Entries of German Director Werner Herzog" in the Morning News.

The Film Snob's Dictionary Looker outs himself: "I'm Lawrence Levi, co-author of The Film Snob's Dictionary."

Sujewa Ekanayake unveils an indie filmmaking manifesto of sorts.

Steven Leigh Morris talks with Brian Flemming about his self-distribution model. Also in the LA Weekly: Scott Foundas on Battle in Heaven and David Thomson on Stanley Cortez.

Martha Fischer at Cinematical: "Polish legend Andrzej Wajda, who recently received a lifetime achievement award at Berlin, has announced that his next film project will address a very personal issue, a Soviet massacre of 15,000 Polish soldiers (including Wajda's father) in 1940."

The Reeler talks with Vladan Nikolic about Love, which Jeannette Catsoulis, writing in the New York Times, calls "a mournful thriller about the myth of assimilation and the way nurture - or, more precisely, the lack of it - fashions identity and character."

Lynne Hirschberg introduces 26 shots by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vindoodh Matadin, the annual "Great Performers" feature in the New York Times Magazine. In the paper:

Robert T Self: Robert Altman's Subliminal Reality

Jeffrey Wells: "I've seen LBJ three times now, and there's no question of it being one of the greatest American history docs ever made."

Naisu No Mori: The First Contact "There is nothing that can prepare you for the weirdness that is Naisu No Mori: The First Contact," writes Jungwhan Lah for Twitch.

Kenneth Turan: "As an actor and a person, on-screen and on his own, Lon Chaney, the celebrated Man of a Thousand Faces, haunts my dreams, disturbs my sleep and troubles my waking moments." Also in the Los Angeles Times, Richard Schickel on George Stevens, Jr's Conversations With the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood's Golden Age: At the American Film Institute and Ian Buruma's Conversations With John Schlesinger and Lorenza Muñoz: "Having shown that black churchgoers can also be filmgoers, [writer and producer Tyler] Perry - inspired by the likes of Bill Cosby before him - is out to introduce himself to mainstream white America."

Second Chance Jim Ridley for the Nashville Scene: "The Second Chance becomes the latest film to test the commercial power of an audience Hollywood still regards somewhat warily: church groups. Released by Triumph Films, a subsidiary of Sony Pictures, the Nashville-shot feature opens in 35 cities, with more to come if its opening weekend shows a mandate."

Zach Campbell puts forth a hypothesis on the "Imagistic Geneology" of Cassavetes's The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.

Racy reading in the Austin Chronicle: Melanie Haupt on The X List: The National Society of Film Critics' Guide to the Movies That Turn Us On, edited by Jami Bernard, and Kate X Messer on Seth Grahame-Smith's The Big Book of Porn: A Penetrating Look at the World of Dirty Movies.

In the Observer, Jason Solomons has a few key questions about Caché for Michael Haneke.

Bosta And in the Guardian: Armando Iannucci on Buster Keaton, John Patterson on Truman Capote (more from David Thomson in the Independent and Bryan Appleyard in the Times of London), Rory McCarthy on the Lebanese hit Bosta and nominees for the Bafta first-timer award chat about how they got there.

Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper: "Interviewing the stars of Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story is disconcertingly like being part of the movie."

Interviews in the Independent: David Benedict with Neve Campbell, Matt Wolf with Patricia Clarkson and Roger Clarke with Morgan Freeman.

Also: Rhoda Koenig previews the Kay Kendall season at the National Film Theatre and David Thomson remembers Moira Shearer. And : "[I]t is not [Aleksandr] Sokurov's take on Hirohito [in The Sun] that is stirring up controversy in Japan, but that an actor has dared to depict the emperor at all."

"Will you be doing a 'Hollywood Confidential' at some point?" Steve Appleford asks Daniel Clowes, who replies, "Not a movie one, but that's certainly a sort of master plan. It's a subject that I feel like I know." Also in the LA CityBeat, Andy Klein on non-superhero comix adaptations.

For SuicideGirls, Daniel Robert Epstein talks with Chris Gore about My Big Fat Independent Movie.

Marc Lee in the Telegraph: "'I'm a bit nervous about this,' says Paul McGuigan as he considers the prospect of discussing In the Mood for Love. 'Talking about something so amazingly great and so beautiful, and whether it's reflective of my own work...'"

"Does microcinema actually have what it takes to make good on its promises? Can microcinema films serve as a means of social and personal transformation? Do they really open up a path by which political change can be brought about?" asks Kyle Conway and Elizabeth Galewski. "In the context of this Bad Subjects issue on intermedia, we would like to consider these questions in light of Jürgen Habermas's conception of the ideal public sphere in The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere."

Jason Kottke tracks down the source of the term "hyperlink movie."

Scott Kirsner attended the Academy's Scientific and Technical Awards ceremony last night.

Online listening tip. For NPR, Andy Trudeau begins a three-part series on the Oscar-nominated scores.

Online viewing tip #1. At Twitch, Todd points to a new, better trailer for Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly.

Disarmed Online viewing tip #2. Two shorts by Nick Fox-Gieg at DVblog.

Online viewing tip #3. Jeffrey Overstreet gathers a collection of Steve Bridges's George W impersonation clips.

Online viewing tip #4. Worldchanging slideshow by Edward Burtynsky.

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

Fests and events, 2/19.

SXSW XX The full schedule for films and panels at this year's SXSW Film Festival (March 10 through 18) went up at the site this week. Trailers, too!

Hollywood Bitchslap's Scott Weinberg has been collecting answers to his questions from directors with films screening at the fest - 17 already.

"The 56th Berlinale accomplished something memorable: It kept critics from griping." That is an accomplishment. Derek Elley does the summing up for Variety, and you'll see links to more Berlinale news and reviews in the left-hand column. The Hollywood Reporter, too, has a robust Berlinale special section. And so does signandsight.

Berlinale Boyd van Hoeij has been blogging the fest all the while at europeanfilms.net; very nice photos, too.

Tim Robey came in for a few days and offers his take on half a dozen films.

Natalija Vekic writes up a batch for Scene and Unseen. More from Cineuropa, Kaleem Aftab in the Independent and Lizzie Francke in the Observer.

Maja Zuvela for Reuters: "Bosnia's rape victims hope a moving drama about their wartime traumas that won the Berlin film festival's top prize will relieve them from stigma and push the state to start dealing with this hushed-up issue."

Whitecross and Winterbottom At Spiegel Online (and in English): Susan Stone talks with Michael Winterbottom and Matt Whitecross about The Road to Guantanamo (more from Clive Stafford Smith and Geoffrey Macnab in the Guardian) and Damien McGuinness surveys the LGBT-themed films at the fest.

Read German? Besides having blogged the fest himself, Thomas Groh's also collected a handful of other blogs that've followed the fest; look in the upper left-hand corner.

Slant presents an overview of the Film Comment Selects fest in NYC through February 28. More from Steve Erickson at Gay City News.

For the Boston Phoenix, Peter Keough previews the African Film Festival, through February 26.

SFIAAFFF "The San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival is proud to sponsor a new place to talk about Asian American Film: the Asian American Film tribe. This is a key opportunity for members of the Asian American and film community to connect and collaborate around our common passion." The fest's got various sets of dates in mid-March for SF, Berkeley and San Jose.

Brian Darr rounds up many, many more Bay Area goings on.

"The ninth annual Floating Film Festival disembarked last night from the port of Caldera in Costa Rica. I’m filing this from on board the ship Crystal Symphony, where the FFF is cruising until February 18." And indeed, Jim Emerson kept on filing all the way through.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:37 PM | Comments (2)

Lists, 2/19.

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance It may be February going on March, but it's never too late for a best-of-05 list, especially it's as fun to browse as X's overview of the year in Korean cinema. There is a top ten, a countdown, and, at Twitch, X explains how this one was compiled, but Park Chan-wook's Sympathy for Lady Vengeance has landed on top.

David Wong's "Top Ten Sci-Fi Films That Never Existed." Via Fimoculous.

Marcy Dermansky and Jürgen Fauth select their "Top 10 Independent Romances."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:24 PM

February 18, 2006

Berlinale. The Bears.

The Berlinale's trying to put a little pizzazz into its awards ceremony, primarily by not announcing the winners beforehand, but also by adding musical numbers - sung by Nina Hagen, no less; 20s-ish ditties, mostly - and highlights reels and so forth. But to cut to the chase:

Berlinale Best debut film, a new award, goes to Pernille Fischer Christensen for en Soap.

The Alfred Bauer Prize, "for innovation in filmmaking," presented by Matthew Barney, goes to Rodrigo Moreno's El Custodio.

Silver Bear for best soundtrack, presented by Fred Roos, goes to - they've got to be kidding - Isabella.

Silver Bear for artistic contribution to cinema, presented by Janusz Kaminski, goes to Jürgen Vogel for co-writing, producing and starring in Der Freie Wille (The Free Will).

Silver Bear for best actor, presented by Lee Young-ae, goes to Moritz Bleibtreu for his performance in The Elementary Particles.

Silver Bear for best actress, presented by Armin Mueller-Stahl, goes to Sandra Hüller for Requiem.

Grbavica Silver Bear for best director, presented by Marleen Gorris, goes to Michael Winterbottom and Matt Whitecross for The Road to Guantanamo.

The last Silver Bears, the Jury Grand Prizes, presented by Yash Chopra, go to en Soap - naturally, Pernille Fischer Christensen was nearly in a state of shock - and to Jafar Panahi's Offside.

And the Golden Bear, presented by jury president Charlotte Rampling, goes to Jasmila Zbanic's Grbavica. A grateful Zbanic issued a plea to capture the war criminals still on the loose, years after the Bosnian conflict has resolved.

All in all, a big year for small movies with small budgets.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:12 AM | Comments (5)

Berlin Dispatch. 11.

Chatting over coffee with all sorts of folks who might not be in town again for while has taken precedence over dispatching in the past couple of days, so there's a lot to catch up with now that the Berlinale Competition has wrapped. The bullet points for what follows after the jump:


Valeska Grisebach In case you've missed just how elegantly simple the tale told in Sehnsucht is, Valeska Grisebach takes us to a playground at the end, where we find children retelling it as if it were already a local legend. Man loves wife. Man falls in love with another woman, too. Man can't deal with loving two women at once; takes drastic measures.

The "local" here is a small town in Brandenburg, the vast and mostly rural state in eastern Germany with, oddly enough, a city-state - Berlin - plopped right in the middle. But there's no hint in the film that Berlin is anywhere near. It's out on these flat green fields that Markus, a locksmith, discovers a wrecked car by the side of the road. Because Markus is also in the volunteer fire brigade, he knows who to call. When his buddies arrive, you marvel at Andreas Müller's performance as Markus relates what he's found, at Müller's ability to convey a spontaneous confusion of disbelief and fascination when he hears that it looks like a husband-and-wife suicide pact and that the husband, who was driving, has survived.

Sehnsucht And here's the thing: Neither Müller nor anyone else in the film is a professional actor. Every member of the cast is appearing in a film for the first time in their lives. And yet, thanks to Grisebach, her casting director and evidently just the right balance of rehearsal and improvisation, the three leads in particular are perfect. This is not a Bressonian exercise, though; they truly inhabit their characters. At the same time, while this approach does wonders for this film, it probably wouldn't work in just about any other genre or if the story called for the characters to display any sort of emotional state foreign to these novice actors' real lives. But within this deliberately paced telling (and this certainly isn't the only time during the fest this year that I thought, Who knew festival programmers, who see who-knows-how-many films a year, had so much patience?), Griesebach's method slices her story to its hard, realistic core and you leave the theater knowing you've just seen something unique.

The same can't be said for Romanzo Criminale. Kids, about the same age as the boys in Once Upon a Time in America, steal a car, race through a roadblock and, hiding out, choose nicknames for themselves: Lebanese (like the hash he smokes), Ice, Black, Dandy and so on. The police find them, the chase is on, and we'll be flashing back to this scene periodically over the next two-and-a-half hours. Cut to the gang as young men, moving from kidnapping to narcotics to the ruthless wiping out of all rival gangs in Rome over a period stretching from the late 70s to the early 90s. Along the way, entangled and mutually exploitive relations between the Italian Republic, the Mafia and the Red Brigades are strongly implied without ever being specifically exposed. Within the context of the Berlinale, the film unreels like a widescreen made-for-TV movie, which isn't to say, for all its clichés, that it's not without its mildly engaging passages here and there.

Particularly at a festival, and particularly when awards and first reviews and all are at stake, you (or at least I) begin each screening really rooting for the film up there. During the first ten or fifteen minutes of Candy, I was getting excited. The music, the camera, Ledger, Cornish, Rush - things were meshing beautifully. All too soon, though, you realize that this story of a pair of junkies trying to shake their habit has nowhere to go, or rather, thinks it has nowhere to go. After all, as Trainspotting and Requiem for a Dream have proven, there actually are fresh things to be said about the one-way downward spiral of heroin addiction. Sadly, though Candy is based on the novel by Luke Davies, all Armstrong has to add is a dose of maudlin sentimentality.

Isabella Leong and Pong Ho-cheung At least the soundtrack is bearable, which is more than can be said for the grating and repetitive and loud violin and piano nonsense in Isabella. Kind of strange for a movie that serves more or less as a vehicle for a pop star. Interestingly, the Macau of Isabella has the drenched palette - if not the otherworldly beauty - of Christopher Doyle's work for Wong Kar-wai, whereas the Macau of Invisible Waves, for which Doyle actually was behind the camera, is drained and drab by comparison. Nothing wrong, really, with the decisions in either case, but it does suggest why the German papers have taken to calling Isabella "Wong Kar-wai Lite."

Chapman To plays a corrupt cop, a womanizer, a downright lecher, as he himself admits not too far into the story. Takes home a teenager but conks before he gets around to sleeping with her. Good thing, too! Once he sobers up, she tells him she's the daughter he never knew he had. Flashback: Sure enough, as a kid, he impregnated a girl and unceremoniously dumped her. It's one of the few flashbacks that actually serves the story.

So. What do you think happens? Can Isabella make him a better man? Might he finally grow up to be the father she never had? Can they be father and daughter and fast friends? Right. Even so, there are a few genuinely fun scenes and, like I say, Isabella looks terrific even if it sounds terrible.

Claude Chabrol and Isabelle Huppert Well, one friend doesn't care for Isabelle Huppert to start with and a few others argue, sure, she's great, but we've seen this before, and that goes double for Claude Chabrol. Perhaps if Chabrol's technique were more extreme or if he had a flair for extravagance, the critical refrain might be different. Rarely do you hear, for example, Wong Kar-wai and Tony Leung again? Scorsese and De Niro? Been there, done that.

But A Comedy of Power (originally the French title as well until it was changed to something like "The Drunkenness of Power") is a brisk and, yes, dammit, refreshing outing, even if the directorial moves ring a bell and Huppert has done balls-to-the-wall before. It opens with a long shot of Paris, over which you read, "Any resemblance to persons living or dead is, as they say, coincidental." As Chabrol was quick to point out at the press conference, that's meant to get you immediately connecting the dots to the Elf Aquitaine affair, which, in 2001, the Guardian's Jon Henley called "perhaps the biggest financial scandal in a western democracy since the end of the second world war." Enron, a scandal of a very different nature, might have it beat, but in Europe, anyway, this is still the big one.

Huppert plays Jeanne Charmant-Killman (this is a comedy and nearly all the characters' names are puns), a judge determined to unravel this mess and bring down its players all but single-handedly, if she has to, and all for the sake of the nation. She says. This toppling of the high and mighty is actually a personal obsession, an almost deranged drive which, though she's willfully blind to its side effects, threatens her marriage, her health and, for a moment or two, you suspect, her life.

The French legal system grants her the power to subpoena just about anyone or anything and conduct her own private hardline of questioning. It's in these verbal cat-and-mouse chases that Jeanne - and Huppert - excels and nearly always triumphs. The string-pullers strategize: How to stop her? She turns each of their challenges into her own advantage - until they come up with the lowest, dirtiest trick of all: Give her more power.

All the while, you're in sure hands with Chabrol, even if they do seem familiar. The opening credit sequence, for example, follows a CEO from a power call at the top of a glistening corporate building through his arrest, his escort down to the bottom floor of a penitentiary, where's he told to undress ("Do you know who I am?!"), coat off, and now the pants, please: They drop, revealing flowery underwear, fading (and as with all his fades, a second or two before you expect it) to: "A Film by Claude Chabrol." I had a marvelous time.

By yesterday evening, festival exhaustion was beginning to set in, so the formulaic and utterly undemanding Find Me Guilty was just fine. What, did you sleep through it? a friend asked the next morning. No, not at all. What separates this courtroom drama ever so slightly from all the rest certainly isn't the narrative structure but the circumstances. Based on the actual longest criminal trial in US history, Guilty compresses 21 months of "Your witness" and "No more questions, your Honor" into a couple of hours with few excursions elsewhere. And yet things bump along pretty smoothly.

Find Me Guilty The real question at the heart of the project is, Can Vin Diesel pull it off? As Giacomo "Jackie Dee" DiNorscio, the only one of 20 members of the Lucchese family who decides to forgo an attorney and defend himself (putting the other 19 at considerable risk, since the verdict on all 76 charges will turn on whether or not they've conspired to commit various crimes), the film rests on his doughy shoulders. You sense it's not much of a stretch for Diesel, but yes, he pulls it off. Jackie's robust gut tells him to win the jury over with his corny and slightly racy humor and then, what d'ya know, slip just enough smarts out from under the just-a-guy act to outwit the prosecution. Three performances, though, are particularly worth mentioning: Alex Rocco is chilling as, basically, the godfather; Peter Dinklage, as the first on the family's team of lawyers to realize that, while Jackie's a loose cannon, he may also be their best shot; and Ron Silver is so winning as the judge he had me forgetting all about the Republican Convention. For a few minutes there, anyway.

As with Sehnsucht, the cast of Jafar Panahi's Offside is strictly non-professional. The difference, frankly, is that, here, the seams are showing. No matter. Panahi and fellow screenwriter Shadmehr Rastin have come up with such an uplifting story laced with comedic lines that hit you so unexpectedly, it's difficult to imagine a more rejuvenating way to begin the final day of Competition screenings.

That said, the first sequence is a little pedantic, though it does get us up to speed quickly enough: Women aren't allowed to attend soccer matches in Iran. The line of reasoning seems to be that men get so caught up in the game, they curse and generally behave in ways women shouldn't be exposed to, a line called into question in various amusing ways later in the film. We're following a young woman trying to smuggle herself into the stadium, disguised rather unconvincingly as a guy, and soon learn that other women have been more creative in their get-ups. The best at it, in fact, we never see, because we can assume they're in that stadium, watching the face-off between Iran and Bahrain, a game that'll determine who gets to go to World Cup in Germany later this year - and a game we catch only distant glimpses of, because we're sticking with the drama in a different sort of face-off, that between the women who've been caught and the soldiers in charge of arresting and holding them until they're brought to downtown Teheran to face charges. Saying much more would give too much away, but the payoff is as unexpected and welcome as the humor.

Jafar Panahi Questions in the press conference naturally focused on the film's prospects in Iran, but Panahi couldn't say more than that he'd tried to keep the production as quiet as possible, that its first screening was right here on Friday, so we'll see, and that the Berlinale is the most suitable forum for its premiere. Otherwise, the record is hit and miss. The White Balloon and Crimson Gold, two of the most internationally lauded of his films, have yet to screen in his home country.

Interestingly, though Panahi insisted he would never cut a single scene from any of his films to satisfy Iranian censors, when the question of the current protests in some Muslim countries against political cartoons run in a few western papers came up, he insisted that such offensive drawings "should not be allowed." Hm. While I'd agree that most of the offending cartoons are unnecessary, unfunny and just plain stupid, "should not be allowed" is hardly the appropriate response.

With Requiem, the Competition ended on a rock solid note. Intentionally or not, it was as if the festival were punctuating its program with an anti-Hollywood exclamation. The film is loosely - very loosely - based on the case of Anneliese Michel, the same case on which last year's The Exorcism of Emily Rose is based but the approach and results could hardly be more different.

In Michaela Klinger, screenwriter Bernd Lange, director Hans-Christian Schmid and the astounding Sandra Hüller have simultaneously created an amalgam of competing forces in German society at a crucial point in its history and a full-blooded, living, breathing, empathetic character whose choices might be the last we'd make ourselves even as we see perfectly well that they seem to follow the only logic available to her.

Sandra Hüller and Hans-Christian Schmid Michaela has been struggling with epilepsy all her life and, at 21, sees a shot at breaking out of her stifling family home when she's accepted at the university in Tübingen. Her mother is over-protective and in the worst possible way, throwing a cold wet blanket on Michaela's every attempt at transitioning into adulthood; her father secretly supports Michaela when he can. Early on, a pilgrimage to northern Italy establishes the family's strict Catholic faith.

The actual case took place in the 70s and Lange and Schmid never seemed to have considered setting their story in any other period. All the better. The impact of the 60s was felt immediately in American and European cities, of course, but we tend to forget that it took a while for the effects of that social upheaval to seep out to the burbs and even longer to the small towns of the rural countryside, and the film captures the look and feel of that moment perfectly without ever drawing undue attention to the set design or costumes. At any rate, as a university town, Tübingen is a whole new world for Michaela.

She arrives a bit late for her first class and, as she searches for a seat, the lecturer asks, "You - What do you believe in?" A little thrown off, but without hesitation: "In God." The entire hall breaks out laughing. The lecturer addresses all the students: "Alright then. What do you believe in?" Silence. "You see, that's the problem."

Requiem I very much appreciated that, in the press conference, Schmid gave voice to what I sensed while watching, namely, that the film is not a harangue against the Church. Whether her specific faith, with its emphasis on the martyred saints as role models, has been a help or hindrance to Michaela all her life is debatable, but it is certainly not the cause of her epilepsy nor of the resulting mental and physical instability. That said, faced at a crucial moment with a choice between seeking psychiatric help and exorcism, Michaela - herself - makes the infamously fatal wrong decision. Even so, Schmid says he respects the consolation faith gives the family when they do lose their daughter, perhaps inevitably.

And by the way, we are spared the histrionics and green soup of the exorcism itself, an admirable decision which focuses us entirely on the conflicting tensions leading up to Michaela's choice. She is, in a way, a battleground on which Germany's tight-lipped postwar conservatism and the ripples of a secular humanist revolution from afar meet.

So Requiem turns out to be the third strong entry from Germany in the Competition (along with Der Freie Wille and Sehnsucht). No one is more critical of German cinema than the Germans themselves, yet over and again, I heard, "I can't really believe it, but I'm really liking the German films this year." And not just in the Competition. There's been positive buzz for Detlev Buck's Knallhart (Tough Enough) and Vanessa Jopp's Komm Näher (Happy As One), among others.

At the same time, there seems to have been widespread disappointment in the entries from Asia, and again, not just in the Competition. Hard to say how much this reflects overall trends, but I would guess that German cinema really is in a lively and healthy state right now while the lack of news from Asia may be due to bad timing or simply the Berlinale programmers not knowing where to look.

Telegraph: Guantanamo

One last note about Michael Winterbottom's The Road to Guantanamo, an example of the very opposite of bad timing, what with the UN report just out. A reader sent email suggesting that I was too harsh on Britain in my comments on the film, pointing out that Tony Blair had "damned" the camp early on. I can get pretty riled up at the mere mention of Blair and sent back a firm (yet, hopefully, polite) reply. In the constructive exchange that followed, I became convinced that the reader does have a few very good points and I feel compelled to mention that the British government, which, of course, never set up the camp in the first place, did indeed strive to get the Tipton Three released as well as five prisoners before them.

Meantime, we'll see tonight whether the jury blows even more wind in Winterbottom's sails. For myself, it'd be my second choice for the Golden Bear. My first is still Der Freie Wille.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:12 AM

Berlin Dispatch. 10.

David D'Arcy on three documentaries and Raúl Ruiz's Klimt.

Berlinale As this year's Berlinale enters its final days, one sign that the festival was satisfying is that I find myself making lists of the films about which I heard good things, but never ended up seeing. The list isn't finished yet - another good sign.

Looking through the catalogs of a week or more that has been dominated by glamour and by the issues raised in Michael Winterbottom's extremely valuable and timely The Road to Guantanamo (more about that one in a final dispatch), I also find myself noting films that were surprises, like Babooska, an Austrian documentary in the Forum about a family of nomadic circus performers in Italy.

Babooska Babooska is a thirty-ish woman who holds three generations of the family together as they tour towns that you've barely heard of which seem to have missed much of the beautification of Italy for the last three thousand years. She looks like a harlequin straight out of Picasso's Blue Period. When Picasso drew and painted these figures, the mood of the pictures stressed their loneliness and poverty. There wasn't much romance.

Yet in this bare-boned documentary by Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel, there's nostalgia for a kind of life that seems destined for extinction. The fringes of Italian society are not supporting these troupes as they once did, thanks to cars and television. You get the sense that the children of Babooska will have another life when they are adults.

Another character in the documentary is the landscape of a foggy cold Italy in winter. The landscape was also a character in Nights of Cabiria, which followed an androgynous young woman through episodes in a country that was stumbling to recover from the horrors of war, in which people were living in caves dug out of the ground, eating whatever they could get from charity. It was a struggle then to get to one's knees, much less one's feet. It looks magical now, more than fifty years later.

In Babooska, the landscape is mostly grey and surprisingly empty. Everyone must be inside watching television, except for the lucky few who come to see the traveling show. We're lucky that this film has preserved some of that vanishing experience.

The Last Communist Another work of preservation on the margins of center-stage is The Last Communist, Amir Muhammad's documentary about Chin Peng, the Malayan communist leader who led an insurgency against the British for decades in the jungles. He now lives in Thailand because he hasn't been permitted to live in Malaysia. We never see him, although we hear about the years from 1930 to the present from his peers, from those who live in the same locations now, and from singers who perform musical numbers that bring a satirical tone to nationalistic boosterism. It's an odd mix, but it suggests that they all might be better off if the communists had won.

The documentary is not alone in raising the issue of just how one goes about making a documentary today. At the core of this film is an absence. The leader who devoted most of his life to winning independence is excluded from the building of an independent country. The former "insurgents" don't seem to have all the vices that we ascribe to terrorists. How would we know them if it weren't for this film?

Au Dela de la Haine The same could be said for Au Dela de la Haine, the French documentary in the Forum by Olivier Meyrou about the brutal killing of a gay man, François Chenu, by skinheads and the toll of that killing on the Chenu family. François is killed by thugs who start out the evening wanting to kill a foreigner but settle for a homosexual. They beat him, and then throw his body in the river; he drowns.

The filmmaker talks to everyone but the killers as the family and lawyers on all sides prepare for the trial, which put the three skinheads in prison, and also punished the parents of one of the thugs, who was a minor. This is a film about pain and punishment, but also about the feelings of the aggrieved, dignified family as they suffered through the reconstruction of the crime and François's own suffering, a reconstruction that is necessary for any trial.

Ultimately, the Chenu family wants to ensure that a crime like this never happens to anyone else, but they see that the cultish worship of violence could easily lead another such killing. Although it ends as the parents of François write to the prisoners, hoping that prison will be a time of reflection for them and proposing future correspondence about those reflections, the sense of loss remains. Had the three not decided to throw François in the river as their punishment for his calling them cowards as he resisted them, François would be alive today. The randomness of the killing suggests that it could happen to you; the extended scrutiny of the Chenu family asks how you might respond to such a tragedy.

Klimt: Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer As spotlighted events go, Raúl Ruiz's Klimt, with John Malkovich as the Viennese painter, seems to have stayed on the margins, playing as it did in the market, although the screening that I attended was quite full. If any time was right to make and distribute a movie about the life, works and loves of Gustav Klimt, the time should be now, given the high profile now being given the Austrian Gallery's return of some of Klimt's best-known paintings to the Jewish family from whom they were confiscated ("aryanized") during the Nazi era. The paintings, including the shimmering gold Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, belonged to a wealthy family which included a woman, the subject of that portrait, who had been a patron of Klimt and is rumored to have been one of his many intimates. Nazis seized the family's real estate and art collection, as they did with the property of all Jews. Eventually some of that war loot turned up on the walls of the Belvedere, a branch of the Austrian Gallery. After years of opposing claims brought by the heirs in Austria and in the US (which went all the way to the Supreme Court), the Austrian government agreed to enter arbitration, and the arbitrator ruled that the paintings should be returned to the Bloch-Bauer heirs.

The understandable excitement about Klimt has not made a smooth transition to Klimt, although the production design does recreate an aesthete's fin-de-siecle Vienna (complete with the stuffed-shirts whom Klimt was out to shock), and John Malkovich looks very much like the Klimt that we have seen in well-traveled photographs. It's another drama set in Europe - whether and where it was made there I don't know, since the sales agent was too busy to talk to me when I dropped by his booth. All the actors speak Euro-English with varying "European" accents. Much of the story focuses on Klimt's prodigious love life and seed-spreading which resulted in lots of children. During one discussion with smirking top-hatted bourgeois, Klimt notes, "I'm on my way to a romantic assignation." The film is full of pronouncements like that one to nude models and shocked patrons. It's hard for us to know from this film what was so shocking about Klimt then. Let's assume that it's his brazen sexuality and the even more brazen sexuality of his work, since most of the women he meets do take their clothes off for him. Klimt doesn't give us much more than that, despite Malkovich's efforts to play him as a witty irresistible rebel. Perhaps that's why no one is distributing it.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:33 AM

February 16, 2006

Berlin Dispatch. 9.

David D'Arcy steps up in defense of two French films and adds a note on a Polish find.

Berlinale The best things about a film festival are the surprises, and I have been surprised by two films from France in the Panorama section at this year's Berlinale. One of my favorites this week is Camping Sauvage, a melodrama about a teenage girl's thunderous summer love affair with an older man that turns fatal. If this twist on the coup de foudre is not French, I don't know what is, and I'm pleased to announce that Catherine Breillat has not exhausted this subject.

The setting is a colony of campers, the kind they call caravans in Europe, which families in August drive to campgrounds for a month, with the same families usually going to the same ones every year. In one of these trailers, at close quarters, are parents Antoine and Edwige, plus a dotty grandfather who's almost deaf, and a angry, libidinous and voluptuous daughter, Camille (Isild Le Besco), who spits out obscenities at her parents most of the time, especially when guests are in earshot. This is trailer trash, albeit summer trailer trash, à la française. She quickly takes up with the bartender, Fred, who already has another girl in mind. (Yes, there's a catfight.) All these ingredients add up to melodrama, and that is exactly what this is.

Camping Sauvage Enter Blaise (Denis Lavant), a brooding loner and step-brother to the camping boss, Eddie, whose John Waters moustache and humorless mien remind you that this melodrama is not to be taken seriously. The luscious teenager is enough to get Blaise to cheat on his wife, not that it takes much, (this is a French movie) and, once the angry wife gets him back, to abandon her and his small child when Camille comes calling. The errant Blaise is fired from his job as a sailing instructor, and Camille is chafing at her parents' apron strings, so the two get an idea that seems right for any amour fou melodrama - they take off for the seashore, with Camille recording everything on videotape just to make absolutely sure that her parents are insane with fury. Next comes a suicide pact, and at least one of them ends up dead, shot with a Nazi Luger, stolen from Antoine, who had shown it off with pride on Blaise's first visit. How's that for a detail?

If the story of Camping Sauvage sounds extreme, the acting is even more over the top, with Le Bresco snorting out abuse at her parents and Lavant fuming like dynamite that's about to explode. The rest of the ensemble adds the right unnerving gestures at the right moments. The actors play broadly, but deadpan is the rule, and the tactile camera goes for a sweat and skin grossness that makes a lot of us dread the summer holidays. The gorgeous Le Bresco is shot to make her look like a grimacing sex monster, which is exactly what her character is. This is not your warm-spirited Jacques Tati vacation. This is a comic book, only more exaggerated. Christophe Ali and Nicolas Bonilauri made it even better, answering questions after the premiere screening, when they explained that they modeled the death pact story on real events at a camping site, in part, because they could lodge their actors, crew and technical team in trailers on the site - one-stop filmmaking. Team members got to know each other quite well in the communal showers, the filmmakers said. So that's what it takes. Now the secret's out.

Camping Sauvage The two confessed in French to the German audience, through an excellent translator, that they had made one near-feature, a fifty-minute film called The Rat, which they said seemed to get the mania for making experimental cinema out of their system. I think they've hit their stride here.

This is a story that David Cronenberg would love. I have a suggestion for a sequel - or for an American or Canadian remake, if Cronenberg is free. The aggrieved couple adopts a troubled teenager, and takes her to a camping site in the US to start life afresh. The camping manager: Ex-Vice President Dick Cheney. Lock and load.

Quatre Etoiles The other French film that I enjoyed against all my expectations was Quatre Etoiles (Four Stars), a grifter farce by Christian Vincent that takes its title from its setting, the Carlton Hotel in Cannes. My friends sneered at me when I even mentioned the film. It's not the first time they've been wrong, and it won't be the last.

Franssou (Isabel Carré) is a schoolteacher who's just come into a small inheritance and wants to enjoy it. Stephane (José Garcia) is a short con man who knows every employee at the hotel by name and also knows how to avoid paying his bills. After a rough back-and-forth to determine who each other really is, Stephane launches a con job against a race car driver, who takes a shine for Franssou, as the con man tries to sell him an overpriced residence. Once the lady and the driver seem ready to spend a wild weekend at his house, Stephane throws a wrench into the works, and we get the confusion that's usually the crescendo of a farce.

Quatre Etoiles This isn't much of a story - caper films rarely are. But the acting in Quatre Etoiles is what makes you stay with the film. Isabel Carre plays her role with more awkwardness than guile, yet still a step ahead of the hapless Garcia, who, like most struggling con men, tries and fails to seem a lot smarter than he turns out to be. As Rene the race car driver, François Cluzet is the boiler-plate comic figure, fitting the formula that most of this film manages to rise above.

Another obstacle that the film transcends is industrial-strength product placement. It's not just the Carlton that's shown shamelessly. Carre drives everywhere in a Volkswagen. There's even a scene in a dealership where she buys the convertible. VW just happens to be a sponsor of the Berlinale and a provider of VIP cars for anyone important. Pure coincidence.

This is the kind of comedy that could make American producers rethink their allergy to buying the remake rights for French comedies, a strategy pushed very profitably by the late Daniel Toscan du Plantier of Unifrance that seemed reasonable once but never worked. But think of the exposure. Plenty of hotels in the US would prostrate themselves for free. Yet it's the acting that makes Quatre Etoiles something more than a French farce made with a cookie-cutter. And it's the acting that's almost impossible to replicate.

The Collector Another find was The Collector the new dark comedy by Feliks Falk of Poland. Falk's protagonist is a well-groomed but ruthless repo-man in Warsaw, which has become a feeding ground for the greedy, more than a decade after the fall of communism. So much for solidarity in this vision of defenseless people at the mercy of predatory bankers and their hatchet-men.

No one whom I've talked to disputes the film's grim accuracy. As the oddly-pure collector who can't be bribed, Andrzej Chyra looks like a Polish Daniel Craig, but he manages to develop a conscience after stripping families, octogenarians, and even a hospital of anything sellable. Everyone else seems to be for sale. The bodies end up stinking here, a blunt but true enough metaphor for contemporary Poland that's being repeated in other Polish films, like the must-see The Wedding by Wojciech Smarzowski (2004), which takes its orgy of greed and deceit in a rural setting to the limit and then some.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:15 AM

February 15, 2006

Short shorts, 2/15.

Deadroom Indie Features 06 is a new group blog "where filmmakers will talk about their films in distribution in 06 and other related topics," writes Sujewa (Date Number One). Contributors so far include Chris Hansen (The Proper Care & Feeding of an American Messiah), David Lowery (Deadroom) and Rick Schmidt (Feature Filmmaking at Used Car Prices), with more filmmakers posting entries soon.

At the Film Experience, Nathaniel R is hosting an "Oscar Symposium": "We're here to amuse you whilst making peace with our feelings about this year's race; what it means and doesn't mean, its cultural detresis. And so on..." The "we" here are NR himself, naturally, Drew, Gabriel Shanks, Joe Reid, Josh Timmermann, MaryAnn Johanson and Nick Davis.

SFBG: Johnny Ray Huston on That Man: Peter Berlin.

Voice: J Hoberman on Night Watch and CSA (see also: David D'Arcy's interview with Kevin Willmott); Michael Atkinson on Battle in Heaven (see also: Jonathan Marlow's interview with Carlos Reygadas) and Film Comment Selects; Leslie Camhi on Sophie Scholl: The Final Days; B Kite on Raúl Ruiz.

City Pages: Matthew Wilder on Robert Towne.

Berlin dispatches will resume tomorrow, but I can already tell you that today was neither terribly disappointing nor particularly spectacular as far as the Competition is concerned. If you're following the Berlinale, you know where to get your fix: indieWIRE.

New blog of note from Jason Jackowski: You Know, For Film.

Online listening tip. DVD Talk's Geoffrey Kleinman talks with John and Janet Pierson about Reel Paradise.

Online viewing tip. Now complete, Jamie Stuart's Sizing-Up Lebowski.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:10 PM | Comments (2)

February 14, 2006

Berlin Dispatch. 8.

Berlinale Competition-wise, the event of the day at the Berlinale was clearly the world premiere of Michael Winterbottom's The Road to Guantanamo, so let me go on a bit about that one before turning to Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Invisible Waves and Rafi Pitts's Zemestan (It's Winter).

The Road to Guantanamo actually gave the festival two events today, the film itself, very enthusiastically received, and the packed press conference that followed, particularly due to the presence of Shafiq Rasul and Ruhel Ahmed, two of the "Tipton Three," the subjects of the film.

Shafiq and Ruhel A bit of background: Originally, there were four. In the fall of 2001, Ruhel was 19; Shafiq, 23; Asif Iqbal, 19; Monir, 22. They'd grown up together in the town of Tipton, near Birmingham, England. Asif was to be married in Pakistan and, as the four were planning the trip, they heard an Imam in a mosque speaking about the danger Afghans were face as the US prepared to bomb the country. They'd need all the help they could get. The guys decided that, since they'd be over there anyway, why not cross the border, do what they could and get back in time for the wedding before heading back home?

By the time they actually get into Afghanistan - we see all these recollected events reenacted in the film, and I'll get to that in a moment - they realize there's not a whole lot they can do. One of them is sick, too, and just as they begin arranging their trip back across the border, the bombing begins. Chaos. Men, women and children are burned, blown apart and the ones who still can run around aimlessly. Mass confusion. People are leaping on trucks to get out of there. Kabul, Konduz, they're taken from town to town, trying to steer clear of both the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. At some point, they lose Monir. He's never seen or heard from again.

Eventually, the remaining three are captured by the Northern Alliance who are rounding up all foreigners suspected of supporting the Taliban. The threshold for suspicion is very, very low. The jails are crammed. Dangerously. The Americans come in and the three are handed over to them, and that's when their genuine hell begins.

In January 2002, the three are flown to Guantanamo Bay, locked up in cages at Camp X-Ray and later moved to Camp Delta, where they remain until March 2004. During this time, they are subjected to constant, asinine interrogation ("Where is Osama bin Laden?" "I don't kn--" Wham!), searing heat in the day, freezing temperatures at night as they sit in the outdoor cages you've no doubt seen in the papers or on television, physical stress (hands bound tightly between the ankles, ear-shattering noise, strobes) and any number of degrading means of verbal and symbolic abuse straight from a proto-fascist's wet dream.

The combined efforts of the men's lawyers and Amnesty International eventually convince the British government to get them out of there, but as the two at the press conference today were quick to point out, no one has officially admitted their innocence.

Michael Winterbottom Michael Winterbottom put it this way: Imagine someone told you five years ago that the US would set up a prison outside its own borders - in Cuba, no less - in which they held hundreds of detainees (and there are around 500 still there right now), filing no formal charges, denying the right to any trial, never mind a fair one, and flying in the face of any definition of basic human rights. You'd laugh. But we've long since grown used to the idea that there is such a thing as Guantanamo Bay. The aim of the film, paraphrasing Winterbottom, is to get those who see it unused to the idea again.

When asked what the reactions of the US and UK governments might be to the film, he answered, "I don't know, and I don't really care, to be honest." In other words, these two governments have dug a whole for themselves so deep they're unapproachable on the subject of Guantanamo (even when a newly elected conservative German chancellor, otherwise aiming to mend relations, demanded the prison's closing), so the film is directed to the people. In the UK, it will be shown on Channel 4 in early March, followed the next day by a DVD and possibly theatrical release as well.

The Road to Guantanamo is a quick-cut, info-packed film whose ferocious emotional impact arouses anger - fury - as opposed to the deeper, sustained note of sorrow aroused by Winterbottom's Golden Bear-winning In This World. Interviews with the actual Tipton Three punctuate reenactments of events, and this may be where Winterbottom and producer Andrew Eaton may be leaving themselves open to criticism from those who argue, with Bush, that Guantanamo is making America safer: it's not a real documentary, see, so how do we know that these guys' version of how they got there, and what it was like once they were in, can be trusted? But then, those making such arguments aren't going to be convinced anyway. The chance that Winterbottom's unconventional approach will get many, many people unused to Guantanamo again is well worth the risk of having to hear Bush's talking points all over again.

Meanwhile. I suspect Invisible Waves isn't quite the film Pen-ek Ratanaruang, cinematographer Christopher Doyle and screenwriter Prabda Yoon set out to make and doesn't measure up to their previous work together nor, hopefully, to the three future sequels they mentioned playfully today (we'll see whether or not they actually pan out). At any rate, if I'm capable of reading atmo at all, going by the mood on the panel of these esteemed filmmakers and the press at the conference, I'm not alone.

Invisible Waves

Christopher Doyle dominates the proceedings; Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Asano Tadanobu and Ken Mitsuishi arrive

Briefly, Asano Tadanobu plays Kyoji, a chef's assistant in Macau who's fallen into an affair with his boss's wife. The boss has struck a deal with him: kill her and I'll set up a new life for you in Phuket. He does the deed, sets out on a cruise ship and, wracked by guilt, begins to realize that his string of bad luck is no coincidence. He decides to take matters into his own hands.

Pen-ek Ratanaruang professes to love film noir "and anything with Robert Mitchum," which he'll watch again and again. The idea here is to do something along this line, only, as he told die taz, whenever he sees a Hollywood film, he always wonders what the scenes that are cut out look like. That's one way of approaching Invisible Waves; another is to see it as an anti-thriller that isn't nearly as pretty to look at as Doyle's other work and that has its moments. For me, those moments are a little too few and far between.

Zemestan One of my favorite scenes in a Woody Allen film is the bit in Love and Death when he parodies a filmmaker he dearly loves, Ingmar Bergman. The profile of one woman is layered over half the face of another as they speak of their angst. I don't remember their lines exactly (the IMDb attributes one of them to Boris, actually: "Wheat... lots of wheat... fields of wheat... a tremendous amount of wheat..."), but I think that at some point, one of the characters actually says, "Life is so terrible."

I thought of this scene on the S-Bahn coming home this evening after seeing Zemestan for two reasons. One: if audiences for world cinema were large enough today to warrant such parodies, they might be made about Iranian films; Boris thinks he knows from wheat, but he never saw The Wind Will Carry Us. Two, I realized what was throwing me off a little about Rafi Pitts's film. The imagery is familiar from so many other films from Iran but the structure, pace, composition, theme and tone are all strictly art-house European. Old school, you might say.

Severe recession in an industrial town. A husband leaves his wife, her mother and daughter to find work elsewhere. They don't hear from him for months. A new guy arrives in town. Falls for the wife. The police tell the wife the husband's dead. The new guy makes his move. Loses his job. The film opens with a sad song, and it's all well-done, though it leaves me neither over- nor underwhelmed, and it ends with a suicide (not who you might suspect) and another sad, sad song. And snow. Lots of snow. A tremendous amount of snow.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:59 PM | Comments (6)

Berlin Dispatch. 7.

David D'Arcy's caught two related documentaries in the European Film Market at the Berlinale.

Berlinale The Berlinale is usually a place where you can get current on screen and television treatment of the Nazi era. So far I haven't seen the period as a subject for a dramatic features even though the market (EFM)  headquarters this year, the Martin Gropius Bau, is next door to the old Gestapo headquarters, which has been converted into a makeshift museum of Nazi atrocities. A real museum devoted to the same subject will be built there eventually.

Germany's uneasiness with the past was the subject of a feature documentary destined for television, The Unknown Soldier: What Did You Do in the War, Dad? and a British doc, KZ. The first documentary, by Michael Verhoeven, examines the role of the German army (Wehrmacht) in the atrocities and extermination campaigns of the Nazis.

The Unknown Soldier: What Did You Do in the War, Dad? Since the war, the prevailing story has been that the army was filled with ordinary citizens doing their duty, like any other soldiers, fighting when they were required to, mostly just trying to survive. Yet volumes of scholarship now show that the Wehrmacht was an integral part the Nazi campaign against "Jewish Bolshevism," and that Wehrmacht soldiers were crucial to roundups of Jews, executions of Jews and prisoners, mass killings and other war crimes, especially on the Eastern Front. These are what we now call uncomfortable truths for German veterans and their millions of descendants, and for the politicians who make careers on telling these constituencies what they want to hear. The Unknown Soldier looks at how these truths have divided German society since the debate over the army's role in the war (and its presumed innocence) began some 25 years ago.

For some context, a movie like Das Boot represents the prevailing opinions, with non-ideological German sailors just trying to survive and return home with their friends. The assumption is that all soldiers are alike, all armies are alike. The Unknown Soldier tells the other story.

The Goebbels Experiment At the market screening which I attended last Saturday, since the film was not part of any of the festival's official programs, fewer than five people were in the large screening room. Had they just tired of seeing Nazis murdering Jews again and again? Last year at the Berlinale, when a marathon-length documentary of the Goebbels diaries was shown, and the German directors explained the absence of any reference to the Shoah by saying that they would just have had to use the same stock footage again, we saw an unfortunate example of Holocaust fatigue resulting in the omission of some crucial information. They also admitted that Goebbels had visited Auschwitz. One of the aims of The Unknown Soldier was to ensure that these truths are at the core of the story.

As always, the soldiers themselves give some of the best testimony. As happened in the US in the late 19th and early 20th century, when bystanders who formed the huge crowds at public lynchings took photographs of those killings as souvenirs, Wehrmacht soldiers photographed themselves and their friends rounding up Jews and humiliating them. They also took pictures of piles of bodies and of firing squads shooting groups of Jews who were standing in the mass graves that they had just dug. The Wehrmacht photographs which were distributed so widely among family and friends were documenting a practice and a policy that the Nazis wanted to keep secret in the West. Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS, ordered that no more pictures be taken, but enough of the evidence was already out there so it could not keep from surfacing. Film was taken of children being separated from their parents by Wehrmacht soldiers.

Veterans and their children say that no such atrocities happened at the hands of ordinary grunts, but that the SS did the ideological killing, as was assumed. Other soldiers who witnessed Wehrmacht massacres say otherwise. As we have come to expect, mountains of documentation won't do much to persuade people who chose to believe otherwise. Believing, after all, is seeing. The shrine of the Unknown Soldier, wherever it may be, whether in Washington or in Paris or in Berlin, is a monument that reaffirms the belief in the citizen-soldier just serving his country, the belief that we, as citizens, would not commit atrocities. (It dates from the early 20th century, especially from the grim fact of modern war fought by huge armies; the remains of many thousands soldiers in the killing fields of World War I could not be identified.)

Reagan in Bitburg Ronald Reagan laid a wreath in 1985 on the grave of the unknown soldier in Bitburg Cemetery, where thousands of SS were buried. He was told by historians, Auschwitz survivors and all sorts of reasonable people that these soldiers were not worthy of honor, but Reagan went to Bitburg and laid his wreath nonetheless, making a pro forma nod to Holocaust victims when word got out that the cemetery contained the graves of Waffen SS veterans, some of whom were responsible for the massacre of US prisoners during the Battle of the Bulge.

As the years ago by, war criminals who are not held accountable, like Henry Kissinger, become venerable old men. Films like The Unknown Soldier make sure that the crimes and those who committed them are not forgotten, even if those who committed them are our grandparents. The audience who watches these films can decide whom they'll honor.

KZ In another film that played in the Berlinale market, KZ, Rex Bloomstein looks at Mautthausen, a Nazi concentration camp in Austria that has become a tourist site - not a Disney-fied family entertainment destination on the American model, but a tourist site just the same with a bar (the Inn at the KZ, or concentration camp) that has a band and dancing. The landscape is stunning, mute as a guide tells you that thousands of prisoners were marched here from death camps in the East, and thousands died from exposure to the winter cold.

Mautthausen was a horrific place, like all the camps were, but it has some special characteristics. Prisoners were forced to work in a quarry there, which involved carrying stone up a long steep staircase. Many died from that work. Prisoners at the large camp in the countryside were also outsourced to local farms and homes, where they worked as slaves. Townspeople who watched those prisoners walk to and from the camp couldn't say they didn't know what was going on. There is plenty of photographic documentation, yet Bloomstein chooses to focus on today, so we don't see archival images or the staircase of death.

KZ, which also played at Sundance, has a different expositional approach than The Unknown Soldier, a different perspective on the burden of accountability for future generations in Austria, where the official view of the country that welcomed Hitler is that it was a victim of the Nazis. We begin to see things differently when the young Austrian tour guide who looks like a concentration camp survivor turns out to be the grandson of an SS officer. The young man volunteered to work at the camp. Atonement, finally?

Posted by dwhudson at 12:00 PM

February 13, 2006

Berlin Dispatch. 6.

Der Freie Wille For the second time during this year's Berlinale, I've been walloped and walloped hard at 9 o'clock in the morning. Of course, in the case of The New World, I was more or less braced for the experience; but Der Freie Wille (The Free Will) snuck up from behind and waylaid me. If I were on the jury, I'd begin lobbying now in earnest, but of course, we still have films from Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Michael Winterbottom, Claude Chabrol and Jafar Panahi to go, to name but a few.

Speaking of which, we're now at about the halfway point through the festival and as of last night, according to informal polls taken by Screen Daily and Der Tagesspiegel, international and German critics are really going for that Prairie Home Companion. To which I say, Really?! I mean, it's fun and all, but...

Well, to the films at hand. Director Matthias Glasner says he spent six years working on Der Freie Wille and the characters are mapped so deeply that this hardly comes a surprise. There was a screenplay, co-written by Glasner, Judith Angerbauer and Jürgen Vogel (who plays the lead), but the team, a tight little cast and crew, also filmed chronologically and allowed themselves to take the story where they felt it needed to go. Which, evidently, they did.

Theo (Vogel) is a dishwasher. Seaside restaurant. The others are slacking off. Theo explodes, gets fired. Stomps off to his car, races down the road. Passes a woman on a bicycle. Turns around, stops the car, prepares himself, gets out, knocks the woman off the bike and rapes her. The scene, played out in real time, is simply one of the most excruciating I've ever sat through. Theo is ferocious, methodical, cruel. This is not fantasy violence. It is not thrilling. It is pure horror.

Cut to a few years later. Theo pleads his case to a board. He looks different now, but having just seen what you've seen, you hope they'll deny him. But he is released to a sort of halfway house, a communal apartment where, with the help of an overseer who becomes a friend (André Hennicke, excellent, as always), he will try to begin a new life. At this point, the storytellers don't necessarily need us to like Theo; they just need us to want him to succeed, even if only for the sake of any woman he might meet. The storytellers have time - the film is just over two-and-a-half hours - and they take it.

Der Freie Wille

Jürgen Vogel, Sabine Timoteo and Matthias Glasner

Theo seems to be winning the battle against himself, but you're not sure, and to Theo's credit, he admits he's not either. Eventually, he meets Nettie (Sabine Timoteo, an absolutely unique actress who turned heads in last year's Gespenster [Ghosts]). This brings us to the point I consider a highlight of the press conference. In separate, private conversations, Glasner asked Vogel and Timoteo, Can love save a life? Vogel shook his head, no. Timoteo answered, Sure! Of course!

These are the parallel tracks we follow along Theo's struggle toward redemption (a critic this morning said Wille is like the best of Ferrera, only without the coke; hm, sort of), all the way to the end station, where he's either achieved it or not. You know that either way, there will be one camp or the other that will object. Can rapists be rehabilitated? Glasner insists that the film does not seek to answer that question, but rather, tell the story, specifically, of Theo and Nettie. Right as he is, the arguments will flare up regardless.

Let me approach Rodrigo Moreno's El Custudio like this: Imagine it's a joke. I don't mean this to come off as belittling in any way. But imagine it's a joke with a single punchline, punched in the last few minutes with a 90-minute build-up.

El Custudio

With effective understatement, Julio Chavez plays a bodyguard who quietly, and invisibly to just about everyone but us, shadows Spain's Minister of Planning. Not much of a life to speak of and not much of one at home for him, either. The camera, the compositions, excellent. But might the film be more suited to a length of, say 20 or 30 minutes? Or is the full feature treatment part of the point? I'm not sure. I'm glad to have seen it, though. Once.

I skipped V for Vendetta, which will be around and isn't competing (and besides, the trailer really doesn't do it for me), and chose instead, based on Adam Hartzell's review here and at Koreanfilm.org, Shin Dong-il's debut feature, Host & Guest.

Host & Guest

The poster reads, "Host believes in Humans, Guest believes in God." It isn't quite that simple, and the film's better for it, too. There's a lot more than a realist vs idealist, pessimist vs optimist conflict going on here; it's the story of a friendship between two very different sorts who, you might say, meet cute, but very creatively cute, and recognize immediately that they need each other. Yet Host & Guest is neither corny nor predictable.

One's a film professor, which opens the door to a slew of cinephile jokes that naturally went over very well for this festival audience; the other's a young tutor and evangelical Christian (and certain tenants of his sect may be as new to you as they were to me). Again, you know we're working towards the point where each spills a bit of himself into the other in a positive way, but Shin Dong-il has taken a fresh and entertaining route.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:17 PM | Comments (6)

Blog-A-Thon: Code Unknown.

Code Inconnu Once again, a Blog-A-Thon has been cooked up over at Girish's place. Following last month's Showgirls "Blog Orgy," the attention of about a dozen film bloggers (as of this writing) has been turned to Michael Haneke's Code Unknown.

Girish is gathering links to all those entries in one place, which is a good thing, because I look forward to catching up with them as soon as this festival is over. Not that I'm in a hurry for that to happen, by any means, but it's good to know there'll be something to look forward to when the red curtains fall for the last time this year.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:56 AM | Comments (1)

Berlin Dispatch. 5.

David D'Arcy sees a theme running through many of the films screening in the Forum section of the Berlinale: Border Crossings.

Berlinale Now that I've been covering the Berlinale for a decade or more, I can say that Berlin seemed to be the poster city for the late 20th century notions that borders were coming down and cultures were mixing. And they did in Berlin, but now we're seeing that the notion of borders collapsing was as utopian - albeit far more naïve than cynical - as the public argument for building the wall in the first place.

But who needs walls when you can fight a culture war over cartoons, or when every airport that I seem to visit has an immigration jail? The downside of globalization isn't just that European manufacturing workers are losing their jobs, but that people who believed in crossing borders to find peace or security are being proven wrong. The US is a prominent offender, despite the public rhetoric extolling free trade, but the films in the Forum that I've seen target the problem elsewhere.

Conversations on a Sunday Afternoon Conversations on a Sunday Afternoon addresses border anxiety in one of the places where that anxiety is felt most acutely, South Africa. The director, Khalo Matabane, turns his film into a quest, the search for a Somalia woman named Fatima who has fled to South Africa rather than stay in a country torn apart by war. (Remember the US "invasion" that led to a botched Marine mission followed by high casualties, bodies of dead GI's dragged through the streets and a quick retreat, and all of it on television. Read Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden, a book that is even better than the respectable film made about the US Somalia gambit.)

In Matababane's repetitive quest, a journey that seems in love with its own process at times, he has the chance to talk to plenty of refugees. Some have been in South Africa for a decade or two, yet they admit that that don't consider it home - home, sadly, is often the place where the killing is, but it's still home. Refugees from Sudan, Zimbabwe and Bosnia say the same things. Some are themselves killers. A former soldier from Zaire who's now in South Africa recalls ordering troops to fire on a crowd. If that isn't grim enough, Matabane, a natural charmer, goes to camps where women from Mozambique and elsewhere have taken shelter. Some talk, but some won't even show their faces. Is it to avoid being found by police and deported, or is it the shame of rape that keeps them from looking at the camera? Most show the pain of displacement, and these are the ones who were lucky enough to get out.

Conversations on a Sunday Afternoon Ultimately, Matabane finds Fatima, and has another conversation with another refugee. It's revealing as an additional chapter in the story of refugees seeking protection in a country that produced its own refugees less than twenty years ago, but before that we see a troubling extended scene. Matabane visits a holding jail where illegal aliens are detained. They come from all over sub-Saharan Africa. All they have are the clothes on their backs, and they talk of unbearable conditions that they fled, only to be be rounded up and jailed before deportation. Their testimony to Matabane makes the unconscionable conditions of US immigrant jails seem humane. The men, appalled at their treatment by police in a Black country, are sick from conditions in confinement, and there is absolutely no sign that things will change. Just before the door to the holding pen clangs shut, we see a crowd of men inside. Given horrendous political and economic conditions in Congo, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Sudan and any number of other places, that crowd will probably grow.

Inattesto Conversations on a Sunday Afternoon is not cinematic. It is a series of conversations, evidence of just how many refugees are struggling to keep from being sent home from South Africa. Just as revealing and just as raw technically is Inatteso (Unexpected) by Domenico Distilo of Italy, which follows immigrants who are seeking asylum in there.

The title is never explained. We can assume from what we see on the screen that the refugees never expected the cold treatment they receive upon arriving. When they arrive, in this film, it involves being taken off ships by Italian agents, lined up like prisoners of war on the ground or the deck of another ship, and marched to detention camps. So much for free borders. Those of us who have watched Italians behave like other Europeans towards immigrants - bureaucratically and begrudgingly, at best - will find nothing unexpected. Suffice it to say that the Pope doesn't raise his voice in support of these victims of poverty and oppression. Chilling stories of torture and mistreatment don't convince examiners, who turn down requests from three different asylum seekers.

Inatteso Once again the documentary approach to these stories is to turn on the camera and let it roll. There isn't much editing here in this Distilo-tion, although we have to assume that Distilo shot much more than he is showing. (Why pay an editor when he or she costs money?) Sometimes the technique contributes unexpected dramatic effects - the film's title is Unexpected, after all - when the mayor of a small Italian town where the immigrants have turned up holds the microphone as he responds to the filmmaker's questions.

I'm not sure what's going on here. Is this a new ultra-vérité style, or is it a new primitivism, or are the filmmakers so overwhelmed by their information that editing is barely necessary? The crudeness of the filmmaking, so far, doesn't make these films any less watchable.

Congo River: Beyond Darkness The same is the case for Congo River: Beyond Darkness, a documentary by Thierry Michel of Belgium who shoots from the deck of a barge on the Congo. Perhaps the slow tracking camera is the appropriate observer of Michel's subject, modern river life as compared with the images of that life under the colonial power in the first half of the 20th century. Michel is not new to the Congo, and he's well aware of Belgium's rape of the place.

There's a lot to be discovered here in these crates that barely float, and some that simply don't, especially in the wake of the Egyptian ferry sinking just last week which caused a thousand deaths. The Congo boats are far less seaworthy. Perhaps the presence of life-threatening danger helps explain why those who speak are so passionately religious. There's more preaching here than you'll find on a riverboat on the Mississippi. (They gamble on those riverboats now.) But in Africa, where the material standard of living that we see is as precarious as the boats on the river, these seem to be problems that only God will solve in the short run.

Congo River: Beyond Darkness The film's title needs some clarification. Most of the voyage that we observe sails down a wide river rimmed with fog and abandoned shrinks, like the river that leads us to the Conradian destination that the title implies. Rain is pouring down most of the time. There's no romance here. Constant sorrow? Yet we're told that this film is taking us beyond the darkness. The darkness begins on the shore, and flows up the countless tributaries that feed the river. We never enter that darkness, in which most of the people who live their live their lives. Another film? We can guess what its style might be.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:29 AM

February 12, 2006

Berlin Dispatch. 4.

Why today's a short day is a long story, but I'm glad to have finally met someone I'd been meaning to meet for some time now, and besides, the week ahead will be intense. So just two films on this Sunday, beginning with Grbavica - now don't read that Berlinale synopsis since it reveals too much. This one's got all you need to know plot-wise.

Grbavica Set in present-day Sarajevo, Grbavica is both an effective character study and a window-onto-a-world sort of film; for context, I'd like to translate just a bit from the Q&A with director Jasmila Zbanic in the press material:

Q: "Grbavica" is a word that will likely be a tongue-twister for most foreigners. What is "Grbavica"?

A: Grbavica is a district not far from the house I live in. During the war, this area was occupied by the Serbian-Montenegran army and turned into an army depot in which the civilians were tortured. When you walk through Grbavica today, you see buildings typical for the period of the socialist regime, stores, children, dogs... and at the same time, you sense that there's something unspoken, unspeakable, invisible, this strange feeling you get when you're in a place where there's been great human suffering. Grbavica is a microcosm in which Esma and the other characters live.

Grbavica Esma (Mirjana Karanovic) is a single mother; her daughter, Sara (Luna Mijovic), is twelve and looks like Nena might have looked at that age, though I'd guess Sara's got a mean streak that runs a bit wider and deeper. Both actresses are utterly convincing.

Esma and Sara are tight, but there's also friction. As we get to know them, we're rapidly approaching a point at which Esma will no longer be able to keep the secret from Sara that's been fermenting inside her all these years. The notion that the atrocities of war reverberate from one generation to the next is, of course, not new, but the telling here is both engaging and vital.

A Prairie Home Companion If you like A Prairie Home Companion, the radio show, you'll probably like A Prairie Home Companion, the movie. Or, if you're like me, and you like the idea of the radio show but can somehow never bring yourself to actually listen to more than about ten minutes of it, you may end up enjoying the film anyway, as I did.

There was just something about reentering the world of Robert Altman again this afternoon that brought on a smile. The overlapping dialogue, the simultaneous slow pans and zooms, the actors taking their characters and running off wildly with them. The set-up: the show's been sold to rich Texans who plan to shut it down. Tonight's the last broadcast, and we follow it pretty much in real time. Oddly, Garrison Keillor and Ken Lazebnik's screenplay doesn't stick to that simple realist notion, though. We get two subplots, one with Guy Noir (Kevin Kline, "really hamming it up," as David D'Arcy noted this afternoon) and one with an angel. Yes, an angel (Virginia Madsen). Both wander around in separate movies of their own.

A Prairie Home Companion The fun's to be had with Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin as Yolanda and Rhonda Johnson, sisters, the remains of what used to be a family act, reminiscing up a seemingly improvised storm; John C Reilly and Woody Harrelson as Lefty and Dusty, singing cowboys with a number about bad jokes you can't help laughing at; Keillor's actually surprisingly intriguing as himself; Lindsay Lohan holds her own as Yolanda's daughter; Tommy Lee Jones swoops in as the rich Texan and reminds you what "presence" means; LQ Jones has a sweet turn as an aging songster getting his last kicks from an affair with the lunch lady (Marylouise Burke); and Maya Rudolph is the only one of the bunch to actually underplay her role, as a sort of Ms Fix-it.

All in all, an amusing 100 minutes, ranking neither with the best nor the worst of Altman's work.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:42 AM

February 11, 2006

Weekend short shorts.

Firecracker 15 Random pickings, nabbed quickly between Potsdamer Platz and Dreamland: Issue 15 of Firecracker is up and running with emphases on Philippine cinema, Park Chan-wook, and of course, oodles more.

Gabe Klinger wraps his Rotterdam coverage at Elusive Lucidity.

Hubert Sauper and Darwin's Nightmare double feature at the LA Weekly from B Ruby Rich and Ernest Hardy.

A special issue of First Monday: "Urban Screens: Discovering the potential of outdoor screens for urban society."

Stuart Klawans reviews four new ones for the Nation.

Outlook's "Follywood Film Awards."

Online listening tip. The Santa Barbara International Film Festival (through tomorrow) has been posting audio and video (you can subscribe to the podcasts) of its panels, tributes, even a party here and there. You'll especially want to catch the "Directors on Directing" panel with Hany Abu-Assad, Thomas Bezucha, Mike Binder, Paul Haggis, Bennett Miller and Duncan Tucker.

Online viewing tip #1. Miguel Arteta's short, Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody?, with Miranda July, at Salon.

Online viewing tip #2. 12 x 5, five documentary shorts from Ray Pride. Have you made a short? PBS might want it for its Independent Lens series.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:55 PM | Comments (4)

Berlin Dispatch. 3.

zitty: Wege zum Film Before turning to today's batch of films, a few news items first. "After years of stagnancy, German film has staged a comeback, with Oscar-winning films and domestic box office blockbusters," writes Daryl Lindsey for Spiegel Online. The German papers have been full of this sort of thing for days and weeks now, and there's more going on besides mere self-congratulatory celebration. As Lindsey points out, this resurgence is happening in the midst of a major restructuring of the financing system.

It's been fun getting daily editions from both Variety and Screen International this year. Two items in particular, both from Variety, have leapt out at me, and I've found them online.

tip: Franka Potente

Today, Katja Hofmann reports that producer Bernd Eichinger (more on him in a moment) will be working with Spiegel editor Stefan Aust on an adaptation of his Der Baader-Meinhof Komplex. This is big, big news and, as Hofmann writes, "the subject matter is likely to ruffle even more feathers than Downfall," which Eichinger produced as well. Discussion in the feuilletons as to whether Eichinger is really the right man for the job, whether Aust's version of those crucial years ought to be seen as definitive and so on is bound to begin shortly, dribble on over the next few years and explode when the film finally comes out.

Second item. Patrick Frater reports that Park Chan-wook will be heading Korean filmmakers' protests here at the festival against the South Korean government's decision to cut the quotas (cinemas in the country have been required to show Korean films 146 days a year) which many feel are considerably responsible for giving the recent Korean wave room to rise and crest.

And then it needs to be mentioned again that indieWIRE is all over the Berlinale, doing their usual bang-up job in terms of news, views and pix.

Q'Orianka Kilcher

Q'Orianka Kilcher talking; escort

Now then, to today's trio. For those who've seen it, it'll be obvious that The New World is not the sort of film you want to walk out of and straight into two more films afterwards. Words like "stunning" and "astonishing" and "astounding" are peppered onto film posters all too often, but yes, yes and yes. I'll have to see this another day when I've got an evening afterwards to relish the experience, but there was no way I was going to miss my very first shot at seeing it. I don't have much to add at this point to all the other material I've been pointing to over the past several weeks other than a few very minor points.

I may have missed it, but I haven't seen much mention of the two credit sequences, the way the map is filled in like bleeding veins in the opening sequence and the horrifying images of the slave trade that would follow the events depicted in the film in the closing sequence. Well done. Then, second time around, I'll have to think about the music. I saw one critic snicker that Wagner and Mozart wouldn't even be born until centuries after 1607, which is ridiculously beside the point; what concerns me is whether or not they're overused (a concern probably amplified by the fact that most films are screened too loud in the Berlinale Palast). I do recognize that the score helps lift the immediacy of the images into realm of memory, but there were times when those Wagnerian horns would roll around and I'd think, Heavens, here we go again.

At any rate, from the reviews, I didn't realize how much time we'd be spending in England and I simply loved that entire segment and the turn of the princess when she finally sees Smith again. I also didn't realize how very much this film rests on the shoulders of Q'Orianka Kilcher. At the press conference (and no, of course, Terrence Malick wasn't there; he's supposedly hard at work on his next screenplay), producer Sarah Green mentioned that the casting team spent 80 days looking for and eventually finding her. She's perfect for the role, so it was all the more jolting to see and hear her rattling away just like any other American kid afterwards. Professionally, of course, and courteously, but still.

The Elementary Particles

Christian Ulmen, Franka Potente, Martina Gedeck, Nina Hoss and Moritz Bleibtreu

Well, what a tremendous disappointment The Elementary Particles turns out to be. Here we have this powerhouse cast, a usually lively and exciting director, Oskar Roehler and material that would seem to fit him like a third glove, the international bestseller from Michel Houellebecq. The first scene falls flat, then the next, then the next, and you keep thinking, Surely this'll kick in. Any moment now. It never does.

The problem is, there's no Roehler here! This is a Bernd Eichinger picture - big production, slick, everything in its place and instantly forgettable. It makes you realize and appreciate how much Oliver Hirschbiegel and Bruno Ganz did for Downfall - just as it makes you hope that Tom Tykwer will be able to push through the Eichinger filter as he wraps up his production of Perfume.

The third film was ultimately a disappointment as well, but not as painful. Michel Gondry really should have set out to tell a story far and away from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Who can possibly watch The Science of Sleep and not make the comparison? And come to the immediate conclusion that the new one falls way, way short? It's not just that Gael García Bernal seems miscast whereas Jim Carrey was so perfect it was almost inevitable that his performance would go under-appreciated. Nor is it just that the animated dream sequences wear thin after the first half hour or so. (Someone somewhere mentioned Pee-Wee's Playhouse; spot on.)

The real problem is the story. It takes a while before you realize Bernal's character's confusion of dream and reality is an actual disability and not some figurative mental state. And, again, reminiscent of Sunshine, the essential question is, Will the He and the She (Charlotte Gainsbourg, quite nice but not more) overcome their recent history and the resulting distrust in each other to open up and let themselves love each other? Since we can guess the answer pretty early on, it's a fatal flaw that it takes seemingly forever to get there. That said, there are moments of fresh humor here and there and Alain Chabat's performance as Bernal's co-worker is a joy. Too bad the film isn't about him.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:44 PM | Comments (5)

February 10, 2006

Berlin Dispatch. 2.

All in all, a fine day at the Berlinale, beginning in the morning with en Soap (A Soap), hardly overwhelming but noteworthy nonetheless for its juxtaposition of melodrama and post-Dogme realism; the delightfully over-the-top political farce, Bye Bye Berlusconi! in the afternoon; and in the evening, Michael Glawogger's new feature, Slumming, somewhat reminiscent structurally of a stream-lined Magnolia but far, far darker.

en Soap

Frank Thiel, David Dencik, Trine Dyrholm and director Pernille Fischer Christensen

Setting out to make her first feature, Pernille Fischer Christensen was determined to keep things as simple as possible. Perhaps she could construct a film around just one character in a single room? No, she realized, she'd need another for interaction. With the exception of two minor supporting roles a few glimpses of peripheral characters, she pretty much stopped there: two characters in two rooms. Veronica (David Dencik), a transsexual once known as Ulrik, waits for the go-ahead from the Danish state for her final operation. She's the crux, the inspiration for the film. Christensen spoke this morning of meeting someone like Veronica and being thrown off, not knowing how to address her and suddenly sensing all her notions of gender shifting.

So Charlotte (Trine Dyrholm), who moves into an apartment one floor up, might be seen as a sort of surrogate for the director - intrigued by Veronica, then disturbed when she finds herself attracted to her as well. What's unique about en Soap, though, isn't so much the story as a clash of styles. Chapters are introduced with black-and-white stills as a narrator asks, What does Charlotte really want? Or, How will Veronica react to the news that... and so on.

Christensen admires the work of Sirk and Cassavetes and wondered if she couldn't draw on the work of both; what's more, she says, there are strains here of both television soap operas and what she calls the "anti-soap," Scenes From a Marriage being a prime example. In soaps, everything's on the surface; in Bergman, everything is underneath. That's a lot to bite off and chew for a little story, but, while en Soap doesn't measure up to previous Berlinale entries from Denmark, it does signal a new talent eager to do anything but play it safe.

Bye Bye Berlusconi! So I'm following the Competition when, next on the program is Syriana, which isn't actually competing and will open relatively soon here in Germany anyway. I opted to wait and catch instead Bye Bye Berlusconi!, whose title alone is all but irresistible. The clincher: it's the directorial debut of Jan Henrik Stahlberg, an actor who's worked with a few rowdy German comedians and who co-wrote Muxmäuschenstill.

BBB! begins in chaos before settling down to rambunctiousness and lapsing only now and then into hysteria. Italian children laugh and eat ice cream (that's another thing: the cast is all-Italian, and naturally, that's the language of the film as well), when: an explosion. A van races off. Newscasters announce that the prime minister has been kidnapped. We're cutting all over the place - inside the van, the street, the video, the flames. And cut, cut, cut - says the producer. We've been watching a film within a film.

And faceless someones are making it very hard for the team to proceed. The cast, which doubles as the crew, has to slip clandestinely from location to location; the story is rewritten as circumstances demand; and the deeper into it they work, the more ominous the signs that they may be stopped - by any means necessary - before they ever wrap.

I hate having had to miss the press conference for this one, because I was intrigued: To what degree do Stahlberg and his own Italian cast and crew believe in this invisible threat to the film-within-the-film's cast and crew posed by a right-wing alliance of shady business interests, remnants of the old fascist regime and the Mafia? Regardless, this is a quick and fun ride I'd recommend to anyone who hasn't given much thought in the past few years to the alarming developments we'd be hearing a lot more about if Italy weren't a western democracy and a staunch ally.


Michael Glawogger

I may be wrong, but I sensed that Slumming wasn't particularly liked by the crowd I saw it with; regardless, despite an ending that dissolves rather than resolves, I was swept along and can well imagine that actress Pia Hierzegger was won over to the film for the reason she said she was: reading the screenplay, she simply couldn't stop, wondering what would happen next.

We begin following three trajectories: a filthy rich yet sharp and curious young bastard (August Diehl) and his roommate (Michael Ostrowski), a middle-class teacher (Hierzegger) and a ferociously aggressive drunk (Paulus Manker, disturbingly brilliant). It's from the two ends of the economic spectrum that the greatest challenges to the audience arise. The drunk is the narrator, abusing us nastily and mercilessly; the rich kid gets his kicks playing expensive and cruel practical jokes that, unfortunately, are also pretty funny. Once these loose ends clash, it's Pia (her character's name as well) who winds them into knot as she tries to set things right. So does she? We'll never know, and I don't mind. I do know this: each trajectory is steered in a better direction.

Of all the people who've stepped up to the mic for the press following their screenings so far, the one who'd far and away make for the most engaging after-hours conversationist is Michael Glawogger. My scrawled notes from the press conference are far too thick to dip into here, but: it's been twenty years since an Austrian film screened in competition at the Berlinale. I'm glad it's Glawogger who's quenching the drought.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:16 PM

February 9, 2006

Berlin Dispatch. 1.

"Exceptional performances can exist in mediocre films," wrote Jonathan Marlow right here just the other day, and it goes double, maybe even triple for Snow Cake, which officially opens the 56th Berlin International Film Festival tonight. This isn't to say that first-time screenwriter Angela Pell hasn't constructed a terrific set-up and then, in some scenes, taken it to wonderful places. Only that it tips over into sweet sentimentality a few times too often, squandering nearly all the good faith the audience has invested in the story up to those cringe-inducing slip-ups. A more discerning director might have been able to set it upright again, but you can't help suspecting that Marc Evans has done the double-dipping in the sugar bowl here.

Sigourney Weaver and Lee Young-ae

Left: Sigourney Weaver and Snow Cake co-producer Niv Fichman
Right: Lee Young-ae at the press conference for the Berlinale International Jury

Still. Those of us who enjoy watching - and listening to - Alan Rickman conjure all the sour weariness of the world are treated to a performance we haven't seen in a while, a full-bodied character with room to stretch, grow and even reveal strains of genuine humanity. He even flashes a smile now and then, and early on, too, when, as the introverted Englishman Alex Hughes, he's yanked from the obscure novel he's reading by a vivacious teenager (a winning turn from Emily Hampshire). Something terrible happens, compelling Alex to a small town in Ontario, where he meets and, as fate would have it, must stay for a few days with Linda.

Who's autistic. Which brings us to Sigourney Weaver's performance, and for the most part, it is a deft, studied piece of work along the lines of what we saw in Gorillas in the Mist and only occasionally - rarely, really, but often enough - teetering into Nell territory.

No, they do not fall in love, thank heavens. That story is reserved for Carrie-Anne Moss, and it's a different story entirely. In fact, a few journalists at the press conference suggested that it's a story that's got no business in the movie at all, but it does handily illustrate that as the snow melts in Ontario, well, hearts do, too. Evans insists that he didn't want to make a "social realist" film. If that is indeed a pitfall, he's certainly steered wide and clear of it.

All that said, given a shot, Snow Cake will find its audience, cinematographer Steve Cosens does fine, mood-capturing things with the winter light, and festival openers are aimed at crowds, not at a theater full of cynical critics offering demonstrably lukewarm applause.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:50 AM | Comments (1)

February 8, 2006

Shorts, 2/8.

Boyd van Hoeij has been following up on his coverage of Rotterdam with more reviews and interviews; the most recent stand-out has to be his talk with Raúl Ruiz: "I do not have something against American cinema per sé, but there is one thing that really bothers me, which is the presupposition that their films tell universal stories. Cinema is not universal... The reason I often jump from one genre or type of setting to another is that I fall in love with the setting; with Klimt, I fell in love with the Vienna of that time and wanted to tell a story set there. In order to be universal, a filmmaker should be very specific about the culture he portrays."

The Stars As Peter Bowen at Filmmaker points out, the new issue of Bookforum features an enticing batch of reviews of new books on film, but unfortunately, only one is online. Still: Tom Holert outlines the biographical and philosophical development of Edgar Morin, who, besides writing more than thirty books and "countless articles," made Chronique d'un été (Chronicle of a Summer) with Jean Rouch in 1960. Six years before, he wrote The Cinema, or The Imaginary Man, "now translated for the first time into English by Lorraine Mortimer... [T]he book plays an important role in the author's theory of the evolution of (Western) humanity in the age of mass-cultural engineerings of the soul." Also reviewed: The Stars.

As it happens, acquarello has just posted a review of Chris Marker's Le Joli Mai, inspired by Chronicle of a Summer, made just after the end of the Algerian War and imbued with "the elusive promise of peacetime following years of political agitation and terrorist insurgency... [T]he film serves, not only as an encapsulated document of the spirit of the times, but also a prescient prefiguration of the social turmoil - and ideological revolution - to come."

Signandsight notes that the Hungarian press is full of background pieces on István Szabó's collaboration with the secret police during the days of the communist regime. Also: Joseph Massad in Al-Ahram Weekly: "To a considerable extent Munich is having the same impact on American audiences, and is playing the same role, as Exodus did in legitimizing Israeli policies and the Zionist project."

Valley of the Wolves Iraq "Valley of the Wolves Iraq, which is set to break Turkish box-office records, shows U.S. soldiers in Iraq as they raid a wedding, machine-gun the guests, and take survivors to a prison where a Jewish doctor removes their organs for rich people in the West. Subtle it ain't," writes Pelin Turgut in Time, "but Turks are in a frenzy over it." Via Movie City News. Grady Hendrix has found a full review on a listserv.

David Thomson in the Independent on the rivalry between the Mankiewicz brothers: "Joe was elated at winning directing Oscars for A Letter to Three Wives and All About Eve in successive years. But it ate away at him that history might still remember Herman as the Mankiewicz because Herman had written Citizen Kane."

In the New York Times:

  • For Dave Kehr, Warner Home Video's release of Ryan's Daughter "is simply one of the most spectacular video presentations I have ever encountered, a marvel of pinpoint resolution and stable, saturated color." More on new DVDs from Susan King in the Los Angeles Times.

  • Caryn James sees a trend: movies depicting ordinary people turned killers.

  • And Nate Chinen sings praises of Dianne Reeves's performance on the soundtrack for Good Night, and Good Luck: "[I]n the spirit of cinéma vérité, she and her band recorded much of the soundtrack in character, while cameras rolled. The result, oddly enough, is the leanest, most instantly gratifying album of her career."

Which segues nicely into Kevin Jagernauth's piece on a few of the soundtracks the Academy is considering this year. Also at PopMatters, Mark H Harris: "[N]o film has retained my enduring ire like The Green Mile."

The Silence Ian Johnston at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "[F]or all the estimable Iranian films that have centred on child protagonists - take as examples The Mirror (Jafar Panahi), The Apple (Samira Makhmalbaf), the first story of The Day I Became A Woman (Marzieh Meshkini), or A Time For Drunken Horses (Bahman Ghobadi) - it's true that there's a host of others (the likes of Children of Heaven) that simply milk the sentimental potential of putting a poor little mite on the screen. And I have to say that there's a strong sense that this is what Mohsen Makhmalbaf is up to in The Silence."

At Koreanfilm.org, Adam Hartzell writes that, following Desire, "Kim [Eung-su]'s new film Way To Go, Rose! continues exploration of such 'dirty love' by further deconstructing several tropes of the romance genre."

At Twitch, Todd reviews Peter Chan's latest, with cinematography by Christopher Doyle: "The images on screen are simply stunning. Unfortunately, Perhaps Love is littered with so many other flaws that, pretty pictures or not, the film verges on unwatchable."

Andrew Huang in the International Edition of Newsweek on Jet Li's Fearless and the state of kung fu cinema in general: "In an age when talented mainstream actors like Chow Yun Fat and Ziyi Zhang can dance their way through spectacular action scenes with the aid of wire work and computer animation, action stars like Li and Jackie Chan - who made their names through sheer physical prowess - are being crowded out." Via Jason Morehead.

Jeffrey Overstreet: "The next movie that I will be raving and raving about, and exhorting everyone to get out and see, is the Oscar-nominated film out of Germany: Sophie Scholl: The Final Days."

Zach Campbell remembers Walerian Borowczyk: "[H]is cinema at its greatest is as mysterious and inscrutable, as keen and singular, as Bresson."

In the Village Voice:

  • Michael Atkinson on Firewall: "The post-Die Hard genre is on its last legs, and the movie is as tired in its bones as [Harrison] Ford, who at 63 has crossed the line from robust, no-nonsense manliness to doughy-creepy grumpster."

  • Tom Charity on Neil Young: Heart of Gold: "It's a sentimental show, sure, but Young's pantheistic hymns to family, friendship, and 'the time we share together' are nothing if not heartfelt. Turns out it's better to fade away after all."

A Year Without Love

At indieWIRE, the Reverse Shot team takes on London, "a spittling, frothing, wallowing exercise in idiotic self-congratulatory pity screaming at the top of its lungs like a terrible toddler who wants his mommy's attention in a crowd" (Michael Koresky). More from Ed Park in the Voice and Ed Gonzalez at Slant.

Nilsson Schmilsson Jeffrey Wells on Who Is Harry Nilsson... (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him): "[Director John] Scheinfeld does an excellent job of telling Nilsson's life story - I can't imagine a more comprehensive job - but so many rock 'no rollers have bought the farm early on due to drugs and booze that there's no tragic dimension to it."

Bryant Frazer runs a column of reviews his paper struck down.

Susan Gerhard on Why We Fight: "I know I get booed off the stage every time I offer up this idea; however, [Michael] Moore's short, sentimental damnation of democracy gone empire-mad in Bowling for Columbine — the Louis Armstrong "What a Wonderful World" montage — is worth a million minor moments of talking head confession. But please: If you are in any way unclear about the reason we are in a state of perpetual war for perpetual peace, don't let me dissuade you from seeing this film."

Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian:

Variety vs Blogs: The Reeler reports and opines.

Cabaret / Berlin Stories Book vs Movie: Edward Copeland's scoreboard.

Craig Mazin vs Josh Olson: Mazin explains. Seriously, though, this is a meaty debate about the role of the screenwriter in the industry. Part II.

"Have we reached the point where a mastery of basic film grammar just doesn't matter?" asks Dave Kehr.

"The best rock documentaries are entirely fake, as anyone who has seen Spinal Tap will agree," writes Bob Stanley in the Guardian, where you'll also find these news items: re-teaming will be Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, playing lawyers "who toiled for 15 years to save a wrongly convicted murderer from death row," and Nicole Kidman and Baz Luhrmann, this time with Russell Crowe, too; and: "Catherine Hardwicke is to make a biopic of the Virgin Mary."

Peter Nellhaus remembers the movies he grew up with.

Nominations for the Skandies are in. Mike D'Angelo explains.

The Chlotrudis Society announces its nominations for the best indies of 2005.

Cinematical's Mark Beall interviews Bruce Campbell.

Ron Russell in the SF Weekly: "Six months into Al Gore's experiment to turn twentysomethings into TV news junkies, the former vice president's San Francisco-based cable channel - Current TV - appears to have hit a snag."

Among the articles I would read if I were an Atlantic subscriber: Benjamin Schwarz's review of American Movie Critics: An Anthology From the Silents Until Now, edited by Phillip Lopate, and Clive Crook's "Capitalism: The Movie." The teasers for both tease well.

Lots of film news and interviews in the German papers today. See signandsight.

Online browsing tip #1. Sylvia Ballhause: Kino(T)räume.

Online browsing tip #2. Bombsite Boudiccas, Ken Russell's 1955 photo essay on London's Teddy Girls, via Screenhead.

8 1/2 Online listening tip. Criterion Collection founder and prez Peter Becker talks about Fellini's on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Online listening tips. For DVD Talk Radio, Geoffrey Kleinman interviews Right at Your Door director Chris Gorak, The Descent director Neil Marshall, The Aristocrats director Paul Provenza and talks with Gilbert Gottfried about Gilbert Gottfried: Dirty Jokes.

Online viewing tip #1. At Gpod, Anton Giulio Bragaglia's Thaïs, "possibly the only surviving full-length Futurist film with a copy allegedly preserved (although, alas, all but unseen) in the Cinémathèque Francaise."

Online viewing tip #2. "I should have known that inviting Tom Ford to oversee this year's Hollywood Issue would create a chorus of office lore many octaves higher than the shrill solos that form the usual monthly soundtrack." Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter introduces a surefire seller. At the site, video from the cover photo session. The real star here, of course, is Annie Leibovitz. Commentary: Anthony Kaufman.

Online viewing tip #3. Drawn! points to a page at United Airlines featuring their Super Bowl ad, Dragon and a making-of clip featuring director Jamie Carliri, "who also brought us the brilliant closing credit sequence from Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events."

Online viewing tip #4. Sleepless in Seattle. The thriller. Via Anne Thompson.

Online viewing tips, round 1. Spike Jonze's Miller Auditions, six in all, full-length. Via Coudal Partners.

Online viewing tips, round 2. Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay points to Jim Helton's Blue Coup D'Etat and the site for BorderLine Films; both call for a bit of time to explore.

Online viewing tips, round 3. Scenes of Provincial Life. Michael Szpakowski: "A couple of years ago, I started making tiny QuickTime movies, as a kind of moving image dream diary... I guess I was a vlogger avant la lettre so it seems appropriate to present them now as a vlog." Via Nathaniel Stern at Rhizome.

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

Fests and events, 2/8.

Following a flurry of quotations on the work of Peter Tscherkassky, Johnny Ray Huston, writing in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, decides "random thought collage doesn't come close to the Tscherkassky effect, which these days completely transforms a single source. Tscherkassky has built at least two films — the comparatively sedate 2001 Freud-out (and Man Ray tribute) Dream Work, and his amazing 1999 masterpiece, Outer Space — from shots within Sydney J Furie's 1981 The Entity, about a woman (Barbara Hershey) who is repeatedly attacked and raped by an invisible force." Alternative Visions: Films by Peter Tscherkassky is scheduled for Tuesday, February 14, at the Pacific Film Archive Theater.

Outer Space

Just because Sundance is long over doesn't mean the reviews aren't still coming in. Take a look at Hollywood Bitchslap's collection, for example.

IndieWIRE fires up its Berlinale section. Related: Ray Pride made me laugh.

And for Screen Daily, Lee Marshall previews festival competitor Crime Novel: "Though dogged by problems of pacing, especially in its second hour, this Italian Goodfellas has a confidence that comes through in quickfire editing, a peppy pop soundtrack, and fine performances by Kim Rossi Stuart, Pierfrancesco Favino and Claudio Santamaria."


Home, the directorial debut of New York Press critic and blogger extraordinaire Matt Zoller Seitz, will be screening at the Pioneer in NYC March 2 through 8.

The "Show Me" Missouri International Film Festival will be taking place for the first time at the Moxie Cinema in Springfield (that independent cinema with the blog chronicling its establishment through its opening to current goings on) from March 2 through 5.

"In preparation for the 2006 SXSW Film Festival, some filmmakers are making the rounds with the media." Matt Dentler spotlights a few appearances.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:18 PM | Comments (2)

February 7, 2006

Fests and events, 2/7.

SF IndieFest SFist reviews SF IndieFest: Eve Batey on the live action Initial D and The Proposition, Rita Hao on Fuck, Jeremy Nisen on These Girls, Emily Cox on Pirates of the Great Salt Lake, Rain Jokinen on Blood Tea and Red String, Cheshire Dave on Twitch and Krissy Teegerstrom on Danielson: A Family Movie.

Carol Reed's The Fallen Idol screens at the Film Forum from February 10 through 23. J Hoberman: "Reed is less ruthless than Hitchcock in directing the viewer. Thanks in part to Graham Greene's script, however, he does create an atmosphere of free-floating, audience-implicating guilt."

The Ister More NYC events written up in the Voice: Hoberman on The Ister, "[t]he headiest, head-scratching-est, damnedest, most demanding movie opening this week in New York" (Anthology, February 10 through 16); and Michael Atkinson on Documentary Fortnight Expanded (MoMA, February 9 through March 13), "as ripe a place as any to examine what's gone drearily wrong and, occasionally, poetically right with the form since the salad days of vérité."

Godard's Histoire(s) du cinema will be screening at UCLA on Friday and Sunday, introduced by Robert Koehler. In the Los Angeles Times, Kevin Crust offers his take.

Mark Rabinowitz files two dispatches for indieWIRE from Rotterdam, the first on the general tone of the films this year - "dark" - and the second on Cinemart, the "highly successful international co-production market."

Peter sends a Rotterdam wrap-up to Twitch with an emphasis on the Japanese films. Look for a few more reviews sent into Ain't It Cool News.

Coming to Berlin for the Berlinale? The Guardian's Matthew Tempest has a few tips on what to do if you get the urge to wander out of the "soulless Potsdamer Platz," which, by the way, is recommended if you'll be here long enough. Meanwhile, Spiegel Online's ready for Thursday's opening and filmz.de gathers a collection of here-we-go! articles in the German papers.

SXSW XX Cyndi Greening, who will be on the same panel at SXSW I'll be on, is posting leeohhhhts of video from the Q&As and panels at Sundance.

Jette Kernion has a quick and fun entry at Cinematical that might be called, "Which SXSW attendee are you?"

The Reeler looks ahead to the Israel Film Festival (February 23 through March 9 in New York) and to what's next in the ongoing Brooklyn Independent Cinema Series.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:57 PM | Comments (5)

The New World, 2/7.

Ask Manohla: So Manohla Dargis is answering New York Times readers' questions about the Oscars and writes that, while Crash is "a consummate Hollywood fantasy," "there is only one possible explanation for why Terrence Malick's glorious film, one of the most aesthetically and intellectually ambitious, emotionally devastating and politically resonant works of American art in recent memory, was overlooked by the Academy: with the exception of my few dear friends in that august body, they are idiots."

The New World

NP Thompson: "The 'critics' who are either impervious to or openly contemptuous of the movie strike me as being a good deal worse than mere idiots - they are monsters who are indifferent to art, to poetry, to life, to the air we breathe, to the trees in the forests, to the pleasure of all that, and perhaps even to sunlight. They are victims of television."

More from DK Holm, for whom The New World is "the first great film of 2006," and who also suggests that "an enterprising grad student should take on the task of tracking down and analyzing all of Malick's ghost assignments and see how they figure into the gestalt of his own directing career." By the way, Movie Poop Shoot is evolving; the word from Kevin Smith.

Meanwhile, guess who's rounding up more linkage. Why, it's Matt Zoller Seitz.

Update, 2/8: Stanley Kauffmann in the New Republic: "Malick continues to float along the edge of the American film world as an unusually intelligent personage who occasionally delivers the fruit of his meditations. But his role as adjunct philosophe is better than the films he eventually gives us."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:25 PM | Comments (2)

Up-n-coming, 2/7.

Harmony Korine and Werner Herzog Can't help but note yet another Werner Herzog item, this one once again via Wiley Wiggins, this time by way of Harmony-Korine.com. For the TOMB (that's the Time Out Movie Blog; cute), Kaleem Aftab interviews the German director and reconfirms that he'll be acting in Korine's next film, Mister Lonely - playing, the fan site adds, an Abraham Lincoln impersonator. Naturally.

At Cinema Strikes Back, Blake points to Michael Fleming's piece in Variety on David Cronenberg's next film. Two interesting things here. First and foremost, of course, is the film, which will be Maps to the Stars, "a Bruce Wagner-scripted darkly comic drama about Hollywood excess and intrigue." The second thing is that, online, Variety seems to be going the Salon route, meaning that previously inaccessible pieces to us non-subscribers if we're willing to watch an ad. I, for one, am.

Ciao! Manhattan Sienna Miller will soon be portraying Edie Sedgewick in George Hickenlooper's Factory Girl. Andrew Wilson retells the tale in the Independent.

More up-n-coming news from the Hollywood Reporter: ThinkFilm will be releasing Strangers With Candy (Gregg Goldstein), Steve Buscemi will likely star in We're the Millers (Borys Kit) and Magnolia's got the North American rights to Nicolas Winding Refn's Pusher trilogy (Goldstein).

And Cinematical's Jay Allen has the latest on the next Pixar project, Ratatouille, "about a rat who lives in a French restaurant."

At Twitch, Wolf has found a sneak preview of Flushed Away, a collaboration between Aardman and DreamWorks Animation. Also: Todd's not sure what The Three Trials is, exactly.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:04 PM | Comments (1)

Biz, 2/7.

Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing: "On The Long Tail blog, Chris [Anderson] has posted a great, crunchy, stats-rich piece on the death of the Hollywood blockbuster."

Chart Detail

"The key to a movie's success is the level of awareness that exists for the project well in advance of the advertising blitz that takes place in the week or so preceding the actual release date." Hence, all the remakes, adaptations and sequels, explains Edward Jay Epstein. Also in Slate: Seth Stevenson on the best and worst Super Bowl ads.

"All of these online only - no broadcast." At Fimoculous, Rex marvels at all the big guys producing TV for the Internet.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:43 PM

Walerian Borowczyk, 1923 - 2006.

Walerian Borowczyk
Walerian Borowczyk, the renowned Polish animator and director of live-action erotic films steeped in the bizarre, has died of heart failure at the age of 82.


I found some of Boro's work a bit dry for my liking, but there is no denying that his was one of the most distinctive personalities to emerge from the world of Eurocult in its "Silver Age" (say, 1967-84). One of my favorite descriptions of the special flavor of his work can be found in Phil Hardy's Aurum/Overlook Film Encyclopedia: Horror. In an entry about the Jekyll picture (as Docteur Jekyll et les Femmes), the author writes: "Borowczyk's imagery, here fed by his fetishistic fascination with all things antiquarian, is often stunning and the film becomes a sort of still life in which familiar yet alien objects - an ancient dictaphone, a treadle sewing-machine, a book of remembrance - seem imbued with a secret significance all their own, and in which a glimpse of a whalebone corset or ruffled petticoat carries a heady whiff of eroticism."

Tim Lucas, Video WatchBlog.

The Animation World Network has an online exhibition with an essay, art gallery, filmography and two clips.

Writing in Senses of Cinema in 2001, Joe Ruffell argued the case that Borowczyk is underrated as a director of live action features.


Posted by dwhudson at 1:25 PM | Comments (46)

February 6, 2006

Sci-fi in Seattle.

Sean Axmaker sends along the following disclaimer with this dispatch from Seattle: "In the interests of full disclosure, let me reveal that I am a member of the Film Advisory Board of the Science Fiction Museum, but I was not a judge nor was I involved in the creation or the presentation of this film festival. I just joined the sold out crowd to see some fine examples of short filmmaking."

SFSFF "I love movies," confessed science fiction author Terry Bisson as he introduced the 7 pm program of the inaugural Science Fiction Short Film Festival, presented by the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame and the Seattle International Film Festival on Saturday, February 4, at the Cinerama Theatre in Seattle. "They're like a time machine. They let you know what was going on 10 years ago." There was polite laughter until he got to his point: short films, especially the short science fiction films, are a much more accurate reflection of the contemporary zeitgeist. And while so many tend to fall in to the same narrative gullies as their feature counterparts, the best are usually more adventurous, ambitious, experimental and unique than the Hollywood product.

The program of 20 films on this one-day event bore out his claim. While many of the films lacked polish and a few showed a conceptual laziness, most of them showed no shortage of imagination, from Welcome to Eden, Erin Condy's clever take on theoretical physics and religion via a rocketship tale executed in a creatively eccentric mix of animation styles, to Stephen Plitt's Super-Anon, a mock-umentary on a support group for ego-embattled relatives of superheroes.

With luminary author Greg Bear presenting, the nine-member jury (which included award-winning science fiction novel/short story author and screenwriter Vonda McIntyre and director and visual effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull) awarded the grand prize to They're Made Out of Meat, directed by Stephen O'Regan, an Irishman based in New York, from a short story by Terry Bisson. It's a single-concept premise with adequate execution but lacking in the imagination others displayed.

Cost of Living My favorite of the fest took home the audience award: Jonathan Joffe's Cost of Living. A minimalist piece with two actors (including X-Files icon William B Davis) in a single room, it's so focused and dramatically honed on issues of life and death made immediate, along with a deal with the corporate devil you can't refuse in order to hold on to life, that you might miss the sophistication of the perfectly integrated special effects, the sharpness of the script, and the acute direction of actors.

A special "Douglas Trumbull Award for Best Special Effects" award went to the inventive David Sanders's Microgravity, another minimalist piece in the claustrophobic environment of a one-person space capsule, this one directed and shot with a Kubrickian precision. Sanders makes the experience tactile, which is what Trumbull always aspired to. And of the many honorable mentions, let me single out the carnivalesque Circus of Infinity, Seattleite Sue Corcoran's portrait of human life as a brief entertainment for a distracted God, and Omri Bar-Levy's Heartbeat, a delightful piece that combines musical performance and animation into a unique take on Genesis with music and rhythm as the seeds of life. And let me give a shout out to Andy Spletzer, the founding film editor of Seattle's alternate weekly, The Stranger, and a longtime friend of mine, for Wireless, a techno-paranoia thriller by way of old school private eye mystery. Douglas Trumbull was impressed enough with Spletzer's work to send him a personal note praising the film.

The festival has some bugs to work out before it returns next year - there was a huddle before every winner was announced, as if they were deciding on the spot - but the projection and presentation of the films themselves was a dream. Both the DV and the 35mm film shorts looked magnificent on the Cinerama screen. Just seeing their film bigger than life while a sold-out audience watched on may well have made every contestant feel like a winner.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:48 AM

Senses of Cinema. 38.

The Killer is Loose The first thing to hit you in Issue 38 of Senses of Cinema are 80 names. Eighty. With a list behind each one. Yes, it's the 2005 World Poll, SoC's sixth. "Then, as now, it was not to be a conventional '10 Best Films' list - too reductive a format to allow for the myriad encounters people have with films and film culture over the course of twelve months of viewing experiences," write editors Rolando Caputo and Scott Murray.

The second thing to hit me is the shot of Budd Boetticher right up there at the top. It's Sean Axmaker's, flagging his in-depth biographical and critical analysis, "Ride Lonesome: The Career of Budd Boetticher," years in the making, you might say, and a companion piece of sorts to Sean's interview with Boetticher, which we ran back in December.

More features in #38:

  • Frankfurter Rundschau film editor Daniel Kothenschulte on Pensão Globo: "Matthias Müller's films are always about both the eternal and the volatile qualities of cinema."

  • Nathan Andersen on the work of the "young and prolific independent Indonesian filmmaker," Faozan Rizal: "The overlap of different art forms is unsurprising in the work of a man who studied and practiced traditional Javanese dancing in his youth, who studied painting before attending film school at La Femis in Paris, and has worked as an actor, director of photography, screenwriter and director."

  • Abel Gance's Napoléon, "a super-production if ever there was one... seems immediately comparable in scale to Napoléon's own ambitions," proposes Dean Bowman, adding that this is just the first half of the story. The restoration has been nearly equally epic, with three versions now competing in the courts; what's more, "The story of its difficult reconstruction reminds us of the urgency of film conservation."

There are two interviews in the new issue: Damon Young and Gilbert Caluya talk with Gregg Araki about Mysterious Skin and Maximilian Le Cain talks with Carlos Reygadas about Battle in Heaven.

And there are two pieces on Australian Cinema. Carol Hart "considers [The Proposition's] representation of settler portraits in relation to its themes of indigeneity, family and landscape," and director and producer John B Murray recounts "The Genesis of The Naked Bunyip" and the whole 60s and 70s scene in Australia.

Nicholas Ray Another pair of articles focus on Nicholas Ray, with Sam Wasson reading Bigger Than Life up close and Carloss James Chamberlin going long and deep on the director's style.

Following up on her pair of pieces on screenwriter Robert Towne in Issue 37, Elaine Lennon turns to Bonnie and Clyde: "It is Towne's work on this film that created his legendary role as Hollywood’s leading script doctor."

A section on "Movies, Music and Soundtracks":

  • Direct cinema "(sometimes referred to as 'cinéma vérité')... had a special relationship to the accelerated swirl of celebrity culture in the fresh media, political and popular cultural landscape of the 1960s," writes Tim O'Farrell in an examination of how the work of DA Pennebaker and others shape No Direction Home.

  • John Lars Ericson: "Because the realist cinema in its contemporary form is one of the most debated, my analysis of Last Days is meant to serve on the more foundational level of basic realist theory, for the purpose of providing broader critical context in which this film resides in."

The Royal Tenenbaums Soundtrack

Then, to tide us over for the next three months, there are nine festival reports, eight book reviews, more annotations and top tens and four new profiles added to the "Great Directors" database: Roger Corman, Yoshimitsu Morita, Phillip Noyce and Steven Spielberg.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:51 AM | Comments (1)

Criticine. 2.

Criticine "No political films please, we're Singaporeans" is the name of a blog associated with Martyn See's short film Singapore Rebel (evidently viewable online, but not, as far as I can tell, outside the US, or at least not in Germany). "This is the film Singapore's censorship board doesn't want people to see," reads the description at Google Video, which is pretty straightforward: "It's the story of opposition politician Chee Soon Juan, who has been imprisoned twice for championing democratic change in the city state." The censors pulled it from the Singapore International Film Festival in April and See, now under investigation, will not be attending screenings at the New Zealand Human Rights Film Festival and the Amnesty International Film Festival.

For Vinita Ramani, writing in Criticine, the situation is a little more complex: "Interestingly, and with the greatest respect to See, it appears that the Film has itself, consciously or subconsciously, undergone some self-censorship."

Critic After Dark "Cinema Regained: Noel Vera" is a special section of this year's just-wrapped International Film Festival Rotterdam based on Vera's book, Critic After Dark: A Review of Philippine Cinema, and here, Vera (blog) writes about the programming experience.

One of the films is Jesus the Revolutionary; Criticine editor Alexis A Tioseco interviews the director, Lav Diaz.

Tioseco's other new interview is with Ato Bautista, whose first feature, My Awakening From Consciousness is "shocking, not just for its imagery, themes or potent filmmaking, but for announcing - seemingly out of nowhere - the arrival of a young voice with both talent and a message."


  • "Are there indeed possibilities for new ways of writing about Southeast Asian cinema?" asks Benjamin McKay.

  • Paul Augusta: "Indonesian cinema saw an eventful year in 2005, with more than fifty titles either being released or produced this year, making it the most prolific year in Indonesia's film history in almost a decade."

  • The second entry in Raya Martin's journal, kept as part of the Résidence du Festival de Cannes.

And the new reviews:

Singapore Shorts

Posted by dwhudson at 5:20 AM | Comments (3)

SXSW. Features lineup.

SXSW XX Austin's SXSW Film Festival (March 10 through 18) has made its full features lineup a few hours ahead of schedule: 115 in all, including 50 world premieres. IndieWIRE's Brian Brooks gets a quick word with festival producer Matt Dentler: "We considered many more films this year, and I think the program stands among our best."

Scanning the list, besides the titles already mentioned here, a few catch my eye. Not necessarily because their actually more promising - just more eye-catching.


And there's a handful in there fresh from Sundance; wonder how hot a ticket Old Joy will be now that it's picked up critical accolades and an award in Rotterdam.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:55 AM

February 5, 2006

Rotterdam Dispatch.

Returning from the International Film Festival Rotterdam, Jonathan Marlow reflects on the current state of cinema.

Rotterdam Arguably, the most rewarding element of travel is the one rarely noted - the time for quiet reflection. In twenty-odd days, taking in festivals in Park City and Rotterdam (and sadly missing Palm Springs and, more importantly, the Berlinale for the first time in years), I was afforded a long overdue opportunity from one plane to another to read Rebecca Solnit's insightful River of Shadows, chronicling the life of Eadweard Muybridge and, by extension, the very birth of this industry in which I find myself... involved. I think particularly of the motion studies that, by their nature, evoke a necessary level of repetition in the movements (like the Zoetrope before them). I've thought it difficult these past five months to properly explain my problems with American Cinema and here, in this book, the problems reveal themselves. Motion pictures, the first new art form to emerge in centuries, or perhaps less an art form than a synthesis of arts already in existence, are returning to their roots. The cinema of repetition.

Rivers of Shadows At least as far as narrative films are concerned, back in September at Telluride, marveling at the splendor of the location, I couldn't help but be disappointed with the selection of films. It wasn't as if the programming team could be faulted with their choices. Capote, Walk the Line and Brokeback Mountain all received their North American premieres at the festival and all three have since been justifiably recognized with awards and nominations for the performances in these films. However, I must stress that exceptional performances can exist in mediocre films. Audiences have found it difficult to detach these performances from the rest of the film. Reese Witherspoon? Fantastic. Heath Ledger? Amazing. Philip Seymour Hoffman? Absolutely impressive. Good movies? A series of good moments, good scenes, and little more. These three conventional, predictable attempts at storytelling are the best that this country has to offer? Visually, stylistically, they emerge from the same juggernaut, fully formed to appear not unlike every other film that is released in this country. One hundred years along and we can do no better?

I exhume Telluride because it explains, in part, similar difficulties that I found with Sundance. Lucky Number Slevin, which I've slagged previously? Slated to be one of the Weinsteins' first releases, scheduled to open in March, but hardly worth the effort. 13 (Tzameti), the Dramatic World Cinema award-winner, is tinged with American influence, wanting desperately to be a latter-day Melville film. It ends up empty, hollow and pointless. These are the best films that the Sundance programming team can find?

After so much disappointment, perhaps you wonder why I bother. Granted, my opinions are clearly in the minority. Most audiences seemingly love these aforementioned pieces of trifle. Still, one makes any festival pilgrimage in the hope of some discovery (and, in my case, for the sake of business). At Telluride, for instance, this pallor of predictability, where even Haneke's Caché and Hou's Three Times seemed to be covering familiar ground (although I still quite enjoyed much of both), provided an opportunity to discover the work of Eugene Green - an experience that made the entire lengthy expedition entirely worthwhile. At Sundance, the redemptive effort was a chance to see new, if not entirely successful, sophomore works by Carlos Reygadas and Christoffer Boe, both experimenting with form in ways that few others of their generation seem willing to explore (and both extremely likeable individuals destined, I wager, to make great films in the years ahead).

Lunacy Rotterdam, to the contrary, exists seemingly as a showcase for outside work. It therein makes it a must-stop on the annual festival tour. It was, quite literally, the notion that the festival would premiere legendary Czech filmmaker Jan Svankmajer's latest, Lunacy, that pushed me over the "Should I? Shouldn't I?" edge. The fact that Stephen and Timothy Quay's latest, The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes (which I had seen on video a few months earlier out of desperation), and Terry Gilliam's relatively low-budget Tideland would be presented made it an unexpected epicenter of surrealistic visionaries. Yes, but what about the work? Lunacy is Svankmajer's masterpiece, surpassing even Faust in pure inventiveness. Not wishing to spoil the experience, I will spare you any specifics about the plot. The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes, despite rumblings to the contrary, is the Quays' best feature effort to date, expanding on the palate of Institute Benjamenta. While perhaps not as narratively thorough as the latter, Piano Tuner is appropriately dream-like in its construction and realization. Tideland? I tried, but failed, to see it.

Writing on the Earth A number of first-timers populate the program as well. The Iranian oddity Writing on the Earth deserves an audience if only for folks to stare in disbelief as this hybrid of Paradjanov and Kubrick fills the screen, as if the reels of Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors and The Shining had somehow merged into the same film. If that reads like a criticism, it most definitely is not. The screening I attended concluded with the only heated Q&A I have ever witnessed in the Netherlands. The audiences here are usually so polite.

Sangre, directed by the former AD of Carlos Reygadas (him again, who also produced) was a simple, enjoyable film about a series of deadbeats in Mexico. The resemblance to Reygadas' work is unmistakable but the form is used to different ends.

My Dad is 100 Years Old Much of the rest of the program was devoted to names that you'd recognize or names that you should (or eventually will). Guy Maddin's short, My Dad is 100 Years Old, is written by and starring Isabella Rossellini and about, naturally enough, her father, Roberto. Sixteen unusual minutes for a documentary, but it works. Raúl Ruiz's latest, the biopic Klimt, screened in "distribution cut" and "director's cut" versions. Thanks to a misprint in the schedule, I witnessed the former and was never able to make it back for the full version (which seemingly will disappear after this rare presentation). Regardless, I can only wonder: John Malkovich as Gustav Klimt? I suppose it was necessary for the financing of the project, but he never, otherwise, justifies his presence in the picture. Like any Ruiz film, it has numerous wonderful moments. Unfortunately, like several of his projects, these parts do not unite to make a whole. Perhaps the longer version fares better.

Citizen Dog I had high hopes for Citizen Dog after Wisit Sasanatieng's impressive debut feature, Tears of the Black Tiger (sadly better-known in North America as the film permanently shelved by Miramax). It starts well, with the Amélie references in the program not entirely off-base. However, it devolved into a series of incidental and increasingly frustrating vignettes. On the other hand, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's featurette, Worldly Desires, is seemingly a hacked-together piece "for memories of the jungle" (the film's subtitle) collected between 2001 and 2005. It should feel haphazard and forced and yet, like his features, is miraculously engaging from beginning to end. Everyone seems to appreciate Sukurov's The Sun. Except for me. The Russian director continues to be the most uneven and unreliable of contemporary filmmakers, pulling unconvincing, contrived and mannered performances from his actors. Some would argue that is his point. Some point.

Mughal-e-Azam Revivals, as well - Mughal-e-Azam, lovely in its restored-and-colorized state, although overlong even by Bollywood standards. The music, however, ranks among the best in any film from this period. Signori Giurati, the lone silent in the program, is a particularly merciless work and would fit nicely on a double-bill with Pandora's Box. Beware the tempting ways of manipulative vamps.

Ultimately, however, I departed the festival still wishing to see a greater quantity of films that I can even count as seen. Old Joy (which I now have the displeasure of missing twice), Mutual Appreciation, The Death of Mister Lazarescu, Interkosmos, The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael, Madeinusa, Takeshis', The Great Yokai War, Les Amants réguliers - the list continues and I haven't even touched on the many shorts, experimental and otherwise. I'll be looking for them, and others, at festivals to come. Meanwhile, I only ask that any aspiring filmmakers that have read this far into a rant to merely quit aspiring to make Hollywood films on Indiewood budgets. Make something else. Anything else. Take chances. It might be the only chance that you have.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:25 PM | Comments (5)

Shorts, 2/5.

Everyone's favorite story this past week has to be the one Joaquin Phoenix told about flipping his car, and then, as the wires have it, "As he lay, disorientated, in the wreckage, he heard a gentle tap on the passenger window." 'Twas Werner Herzog, telling him to simply "Relax." Phoenix found the voice "calming and beautiful... I got out of the car and I said thank you. And he was gone."

Werner Herzog: Incident

But wait, there's more. WENN is reporting that Herzog was shot during a recent interview with the BBC. "[A]s if it was the most normal thing in the world, [he] said, 'Oh, someone is shooting at us. We must go.'" And a little later, "It was not a significant bullet. I am not afraid." Via Wiley Wiggins, who writes, "I fully expect a headline tomorrow to read, 'Director Werner Herzog travels back in time to best Napoleon Bonaparte in an arm-wrestling match.'" At Contact Music, we learn that it was an "air rifle," but still.

Flickhead recalls going to the movies in San Francisco in the 70s: "Located on Market Street in a section touching the squalid end of town, The Strand opened its doors late in the morning, and if you got there before noon the admission was one dollar and twenty-five cents." Terrific entry.

New York has a new, cleaner site, making it much easier to find features such as Phoebe Eaton's "Revenge of the Weinsteins," in which we learn, "These days, the motivation is all about the IPO."

Also, David Edelstein: "Explicit scenes of torture and mutilation were once confined to the old 42nd Street, the Deuce, in gutbucket Italian cannibal pictures like Make Them Die Slowly, whereas now they have terrific production values and a place of honor in your local multiplex. As a horror maven who long ago made peace, for better and worse, with the genre's inherent sadism, I'm baffled by how far this new stuff goes—and by why America seems so nuts these days about torture."

The Desert of the Tartars "Like other Italian filmmakers who emerged in the 1950's, between the neo-realism of Rossellini and the New Wave exuberance of Bernardo Bertolucci, [Valerio] Zurlini is somewhat overlooked today," writes Dave Kehr. But NoShame's DVD release of The Desert of the Tartars "should by itself be enough to motivate a re-examination of his work."

Also in the New York Times:

The Insurgents At indieWIRE, Jason Guerrasio reports on five indies in production.

At PopMatters, Violet Glaze luxuriates in the beauty of John Ford's Monument Valley.

Craig Phillips: "All one has to do to understand why Greta Garbo is still talked about today and why she became an instant sensation in the late 30s is to watch her first few moments in Lubitsch's Ninotchka."

In the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Johnny Ray Huston recommends catching two docs in you can: Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt and Trudell.

Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix: "Hollywood studios looking for movie ideas should check out Jessica Sanders's After Innocence."

So The New World won't be a hit. That's to be expected. "More disheartening is to see a certain cache of movie writers come swarming out to greet Malick's latest as an exercise in how arch and unimpressed they can act in the face of a work that — whatever one's opinion of its qualities — shouldn't be denied its singularity," writes Nick Pinkerton in Stop Smiling. "An American history written in intimate, undistilled emotion; an attentive, tonally precise work with blockbuster-big outer margins - trying to place it in the context of contemporary American cinema is like hanging a JMW Turner canvas in a coffee shop art show."

Via Grady Hendrix, Mark Schilling in the Japan Times on Kiko Mitani's The Uchoten Hotel: "It's entertainment as an ingeniously staged, tightly orchestrated three-ring circus, minus the rings - though there is a magic act, not to mention a lost duck and a clownish elderly gent in white makeup."

At Koreanfilm.org, Kyu Hyun Kim reviews Jang Jin's Murder, Take One: "A crackling murder mystery plot combines with drop-dead hilarious comedy, social satire and a dash of romantic fantasy to create an intimidatingly fizzy but immensely intoxicating witch's brew. Think Lieutenant Columbo wandering into Twin Peaks, with characters speaking lines written by Neil Simon." And Darcy Paquet on Kim Tae-kyun's A Millionaire's First Love: "Let's cut to the chase: if you've watched a fair number of Korean movies aimed at teens, then there will be nothing the slightest bit unusual or unexpected in this story."

Acquarello looks back to Trinh T Minh-ha's first digital feature, The Fourth Dimension.

Todd at Twitch on Hou Hsiao-hsien's Three Times: "Hou's typically minimal style, with dialogue held to a bare minimum and A Time For Freedom actually set as a silent with dialogue delivered via intertitles, is best suited to his first two pieces."

A Moment of Innocence "A Moment of Innocence, Mohsen Makhmalbaf's fifteenth film, returns to a defining event in the director's life," writes Ian Johnston at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "In fact, Close-Up seems a pretty clear precursor to and model for A Moment of Innocence."

MS Smith on Lucrecia Martel's The Holy Girl: "The film's artistry only makes its relative neglect in North America all the more troubling."

"Virtually unremarked, cinema-goers are enjoying a golden age," announces a lead editorial in the Observer. A slow news week? Not necessarily. Evidently, the editors simply felt someone should come out and say, "highly entertaining, serious films have come out of the draughty uncomfortable art-house and into the mainstream. And we should all celebrate that."

Ok. Also:

  • Why wasn't Caché nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar? "[I]t is - how the heart sinks at this - merely down to bureaucracy," explains Rachel Cooke.

  • "They were all saying, 'He's so amusing. Why wasn't he more like that when he was running?'" Amen to that. Geraldine Bell exaggerates Al Gore's newfound celebrity status in the wake of An Inconvenient Truth - of course it played well at Sundance - but the profile's a good one nonetheless.

  • "Can you think of any good movies without smoking in them?" asks Lynn Barber. A "diet of non-smoking films would be almost unwatchable."

  • James Robinson reports on the Lexington Film Fund, which "will enable 'high-net-worth individuals' to invest at the development stage of several [British] films," replenishing to some extent the funding that was lost when Gordon Brown closed up a tax loophole.

  • Susannah Clapp a production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Apollo: "Kathleen Turner, last seen on the London stage in The Graduate, gives a performance of huge gusts and guts." More from Paul Taylor in the Independent. Also: Robert Lepage's The Andersen Project: "He switches from theatre to film and back again as easily as he swaps hats."

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir: "Part of me wants to give The Tenants some water and light, as if to let it grow a little. But the fact is that this paranoid racial fantasy of early-1970s New York doesn't understand what it's really about." A bit more from Mark Holcomb in the Voice.

Writing at indieWIRE, a trio of Reverse Shot reviewers is none too impressed with A Good Woman. More from Jessica Winter in the Voice and Slant's Ed Gonzalez.

Also at Slant: Nick Schager on Something New (more from Mark Holcomb in the Voice) and Gonzalez on The Tollbooth. More on that one from Pete L'Official in the Voice.

Murmur of the Heart The Vue Weekly on Louis Malle: Josef Braun on Murmur of the Heart and Carolyn Nikodym on The Silent World.

Sean Spillane posts a massive 2001 entry at Bitter Cinema.

When Jack Abramoff hit the headlines, many decided it was time to rent Red Scorpion. "But even savvy movie-watchers may have missed Red Scorpion 2," note Michael Signer and Ryan Chiachiere in the American Prospect. "If Red Scorpion is the Hollywood manifestation of the Reagan Revolution, then the straight-to-video Red Scorpion 2 captures some of the intellectual emptiness, opportunism, and crassness of today’s Republican Party."

Richard Foreman "can never wholly renounce the theater: He knows, as all of us who work there know, that the theater is an eternally alluring temptation; film is only an industry," writes Michael Feingold. Nevertheless, Zomboid! "is literally a 'film performance' in that it plays film and performance off against each other, while challenging both with its complex audio track. One of the most densely cerebral pieces Foreman has ever created, it's also, intriguingly, one of his most aggressive, though its abstractness mostly keeps its aggression from threatening the audience."

La Scorta Also in the Voice, little bits left behind by other entries here: J Hoberman on The War of the Worlds (the 1953 version, that is), Michael Atkinson on Corpse Bride, La Scorta and the Bleep!? sequel, R Emmet Sweeney on Tamara and Phyllis Fong on Blossoms of Fire.

"Filmbrain can only hope that [Asia] Argento had no doubts about [JT] LeRoy and his story, for what other possible defense can there be for making this utterly repulsive film."

Tristram Shandy roundup: David Edelstein in New York, Dana Stevens in Slate and Andrew Sarris in the NYO.

Also in the NYO, Scott Eyeman:

My favorite moment in Marshall Fine's new biography of Cassavetes comes when Martin Scorsese, no demon for structure, is watching Cassavetes edit a scene from Minnie and Moscowitz (1971).

"Come on, John," said Mr Scorsese, "get to the point of the scene."

"Never!" Cassavetes shot back.

John Malkovich and Naomi Campbell star in a ten-minute ad for an Italian tire company premiering online in March. Eric Pfanner reports in the International Herald Tribune.

Gothic "[R]esearch for Tate Britain's exhibition Gothic Nightmares has revealed a parallel story: the many connections that exist between Gothic paintings of the late-18th century and the design or visualisation of horror films," writes Christopher Frayling. And Audrey Niffenegger reviews the exhibition.

Also in the Guardian:

"What makes The Office so important?" asks Ed Champion. "When was the last time, for example, that you saw any show dramatizing the way a corporation keeps its workers baited for life with impossible dreams (such as the graphic arts training program or the 'human' face of a meeting in which extremely personal questions are asked and it’s really more about reporting these things back to HR)? Of course, in a world where you can be downsized tomorrow, these long-term prospects are little more than prospects."

Grind House Gleaming Cinematical for news of up-n-coming films; click the bloggers' names for details: Sean Penn's signed to adapt Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild (Martha Fischer); Grind House (Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez) to roll (Mark Beall); the Coen brothers will adapt Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men (Fischer).

"[T]here really aren't too many Anglo-American filmmakers who really care about the concept of having a visual style," argues Peter Nellhaus.

"The Siren adores the Marx Brothers." The Siren has excellent taste.

And Guysterrules has a nice Shelley Winters story.

"If my personal moviegoing history has taught me anything, it's that you shouldn't get unduly excited over an advance rave, because when you finally do get to judge for yourself, you will probably be disappointed," writes Matt Zoller Seitz. "That said, Jeffrey Wells's overwhelmed response to Robert Towne's Ask the Dust, starring Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek, automatically pushes the film to number one on my list of Movies I Can't Wait to See."

Anne Thompson in the Hollywood Reporter: "[M]ore than 90 percent of the target moviegoer demographic ages 13 - 34 go online to get their movie information."

"Are you an apologist for the Disney-Pixar deal?" asks Matt Palmquist in the SF Weekly. "Take our quiz and find out!" Acquiring Pixar is actually a pretty risky move on Disney's part, argues Edward Jay Epstein in Slate.

Jim Ridley in the Nashville Scene: "Great news about those Oscar nominations for Walk the Line, huh? Not long ago, a Fox executive told Tennessee's film commission chief to enjoy the movie's success - since it would be the last one the studio shot here."

Dennis Cozzalio takes his three-year-old daughter to a movie. Suddenly, a "gotcha!" moment: "But before I could say anything, she looked up at me and said, 'That scared me!' And then I noticed she was grinning. And then I heard she was laughing. And then I knew that this truly was my daughter, and that I loved her so much more than I could understand, and I began to hope that someday she and I would be looking at scary movies together and laughing as our hearts got caught in throats time and time again."

Curious George In the Los Angeles Times: Robert W Welkos on the making of Curious George and Susan King on phones in the movies.

Daniel Mendelsohn in the New York Review of Books: "[T]o see Brokeback Mountain as a love story, or even as a film about universal human emotions, is to misconstrue it very seriously - and in so doing inevitably to diminish its real achievement." Related, and via Movie City News: David Graham in the Toronto Star: "[A]t least one psychologist who counsels gay men in Santa Fe, NM, is convinced the tortured relationship between farm hand Ennis del Mar (Heath Ledger) and rodeo cowboy Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) represents a psychological condition that exists in many gay men today." And Ryan Wu writes a spoilerific appreciation of the film.

Why see Throw Momma From the Train again? "Early in Danny DeVito's comedy," remembers Vince Keenan, "Oprah Winfrey lavishes praise on the author of a searing autobiographical book. It turns out said author is passing off her ex-husband's manuscript as her own."

Volume 2 of the Journal of Short Film is out.

Online snicker tip. Mike Russell's "Postcards from Park City."

Online listening tip #1. Metropolitician Michael Hurt interviews Koreanfilm.org's Darcy Paquet (who most recently reviews The King and the Clown, "a rather different sort of Korean blockbuster").

Online listening tip #2. Film School's "On & On."

Renaissance Online viewing tip #1. Christopher Walken: Space Traveler. Via Screenhead.

Online viewing tip #2. In case you haven't seen it yet, Brokeback to the Future, via Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing.

Online viewing tip #3. Daragh Sankey's Ninja and Zombie, a new serial about, that's right, a ninja and a zombie. Who happen to be roomies.

Online viewing tip #4. "Flickeur (pronounced like Voyeur) randomly retrieves images from Flickr.com and creates an infinite film with a style that can vary between stream-of-consciousness, documentary or video clip." Via filmtagebuch.

Online viewing tip #5. Matt Singer talks to your favorite film bloggers for IFC News.

Online viewing tips #6 and #7. Todd at Twitch: "A second trailer for Christian Volckman's sci-fi animation Renaissance has just come online and it is every bit as stunning as the first." Also: The trailer for Ayassi's Vinzent.

Online viewing tip #8. From the front page of Movie City News, find "A Video Chat With The Director Of Sundance Entry Journey From the Fall." That would be Ham Tran and the video's by Rose Kuo and Mitch Marcus.

Online viewing tip #9. Harmony Korine's video for Cat Power's "Living Proof," via Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker.

And of course, online viewing tip #10. Jack Black. Trailer. Poster. Ain't It Cool. Nacho Libre.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:56 PM | Comments (1)

Interviews, 2/5.

Zeki Demirkubuz: Fate "Turkey has changed more in the past year than it has in the past 70," writes Fiachra Gibbons in the Guardian, meeting up with Zeki Demirkubuz, "one of the utterly unclassifiable talents Turkish cinema has quietly produced to surprise, delight and challenge the world. Like his friend Nuri Bilge Ceylan, responsible for such masterpieces as the Cannes-winning Distant, he seems surprised that his serious films have struck such an international chord. Yet he is one of a select club of directors to have had two films competing at Cannes at the same time, and probably the only one who credits the generals who threw him into prison for turning him into a filmmaker."

Also in the Guardian:

The Telegraph's Benjamin Secher goes to Seoul to meet Park Chan-wook, who selects his five top scenes in Korean film.

Also: Sheila Johnston gets Anand Tucker talking about Peter Weir's Fearless and Tim Robey meets costume designer Jacqueline Durran.

Vue Weekly: Kevin Smith "I've had all sorts of people come up to me and say, 'I don't really care for your movies but I love that DVD,'" Kevin Smith tells the Vue Weekly's Paul Matwychuk. The DVD is An Evening with Kevin Smith and a sequel is due later this year.

AICN's Quint talks with George Clooney, who lets on that he'll be in another Coen brothers film to be called Burn After Reading.

Slate culture editor Meghan O'Rourke talks with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Bryan Curtis has a fun meet-up with Penn Jillette.

Mike Russell has a long talk with Taggart Siegel, director of The Real Dirt on Farmer John, "a documentary about his pal, the hard-working, proudly eccentric artist/writer/farmer John Peterson."

Scott Foundas talks with Roger Donaldson about The World's Fastest Indian. Also in the LA Weekly: Ella Taylor meets Bryce Dallas Howard.

At Hollywood Bitchslap, Jason Whyte talks with Christopher Warre Smets, director of The Overlookers.

Alix Sharkey meets David LaChapelle for the Observer. Also: Simon Garfield talks with Rosanne Cash about her problems with Walk the Line (Philip French reviews the film) and Killian Fox asks Nick Clooney about his influence on his son, George.

For indieWIRE, Michael Gibbons reports on a recent iChat session: "During a half hour discussion with critics and fans, [Lars] von Trier reflected on his career and responded to questions in a relaxed, self-deprecating, and witty tone, with only a slight hint of mockery."

Annie Wagner introduces Stranger readers to Adam Sekuler, the new programming director for the Northwest Film Forum.

For the Independent, James Mottram meets Josh Hartnett.

Stop Smiling's running an excerpt from James Hughes's interview with doc-maker Steve James.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:13 PM

Fests and events, 2/5.

SF IndieFest IndieWIRE's Brian Brooks surveys the offerings at the San Francisco Independent Film Festival, running through Valentine's Day. Jeffrey M Anderson has a few suggestions if you'll be in the neighborhood.

Cheryl Eddy in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: "More than any other local fest, IndieFest exists to bring films made by show-biz outsiders to the forefront; this year in particular, many of the films seem to be about outsiders as well. In other words, this fest couldn't be more in tune with its multiplex-allergic audience." Also: "Is a minifest with an Asian focus next? Judging by this year's stellar lineup of crowd-pleasers from Japan and Hong Kong, I wouldn't be surprised."

The Austin Chronicle sneak previews SXSW: "The official, full-fledged list of films will be released early next week, but we've got a credible source on the inside that was able to supply some titles." Also, Marc Savlov previews the Texas Frightmare Weekend (tonight's the last night) and a pointer to Marching On: Independent African American Films From 1935 to 1950, through March 4.

Anticipating Film Forum's week-long Boris Karloff series, timed for the 75th anniversary of Frankenstein, Terrence Rafferty writes in the New York Times, "The scary-but-sympathetic mode was often effective for Karloff, whose eyes were rather sensitive, whose voice was soft and sonorous and whose lisping diction was always touchingly precise." More from David Edelstein in New York, Elliott Stein in the Voice and Martha Fischer at Cinematical. Greenbriar's got pix.

In the Independent, Alice Jones previews the Pavel Jurácek at the National Film Theatre in London and Geoffrey Macnab celebrates the series Italian Kings of the B's: Secret History of Italian Cinema, 1949 - 1981 at the Tate Modern through February 10.

Lili Taylor: Independent Spirit is a retrospective running at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis through February 19. In the City Pages, Terri Sutton considers a unique career.

Jean Seberg in Lilith Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times: "The tragic Jean Seberg brings considerable style to a pair of 1960s dramas being shown as part of UCLA's Columbia Restorations series."

The Boston Phoenix's Gerald Peary anticipates a few selections in the On All Fronts: World War II on Film, a series running at the Harvard Film Archive through February 27.

The Vue Weekly's Paul Matwychuk previews the Edmonton Film Society's winter screening series of Great Romantic Films, Mondays, through April 10.

David Lowery's been having second thoughts about self-distribution. "Second" as in a second round of thoughts rather than a change of heart. But new channels are opening up, so he's contacted Andrew Bujalski, Kyle Gilman (Possible Films) and Caveh Zahedi, gathered their thoughts and is coming to the conclusion that his original notion of complete self-autonomy as the ultimate goal might need "one simple addendum": "Do whatever you feel is right for your film." Related: Sujewa Ekanayake has details on evenings in DC featuring David and Kelley Baker.

On Wednesday night, "Owen Gleiberman, David Edelstein, Lisa Schwarzbaum and moderator David Sterritt bounded from Oscar chat to best-of/worst-of meditations to the narrowing theatrical release window within breaths of each other, only getting dangerous long enough to indict William Hurt's performance in A History of Violence," and The Reeler was there.

Online viewing tip. The CellFlix Festival. Via DVblog.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:40 AM

More awards, more lists.

Sunnyvale Sunnyvale has won the first annual Golden Groundhog Award as Best Underground Film of 2005. Ray Young at Flickhead: "Lacking the poseur cynicism of Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino and what now passes for 'smart; dialogue, the conversations of Sunnyvale resonate with the cliquey banter of a campus rathskeller on Saturday night."

The Writers Guilds, east and west, have announced their awards, with best original screenplay going to Crash and best adapted screenplay for Brokeback Mountain.

And via at Cinematical, the International Animated Film Society: ASIFA-Hollywood has announced that Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit has won the Annie Award for best animated feature.

Save the Green Planet Josh Ralske posts "The World's Last 2005 Top Ten Movies List." We'll see, we'll see. Mark Pfeiffer, for example, has also just named his bests, honorable mentions and worsts.

At Cinemarati, lylee calls on contributors and readers to write up their favorite "movie moments" of 2005, and there are over two dozen responses so far.

Tasha Robinson presents a new list at the AV Club: "Nine Classic Instances Of Animal Snuff For Kids."

Matt Zoller Seitz picks five movies that made him laugh very, very hard. For example, Raising Arizona: "Midway through we were both laughing so hard that we were kneeling on the floor, holding onto the seats in front of us, gasping and crying. We looked like we'd been tear-gassed in church."

Christianity Today's "10 Most Redeeming Films of 2005." Via Jeffrey Overstreet, who points to Muhammed Abdelmoteleb's review of The Chronicles of Narnia at IslamOnline.

Online listening tip. Andy Bowers announces Slate's Bad Movie Awards: "We assigned our bad-movie expert Mark Jordan Legan to come up with three categories representing some of the richest veins of cinematic slime. On the podcast we reveal the categories, play clips from some potential nominees, and let you know how you can submit your nominations."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:15 AM

Al Lewis, 1923 - 2006.

Al Lewis
Al Lewis, the cigar-chomping patriarch of The Munsters whose work as a basketball scout, restaurateur and political candidate never eclipsed his role as Grandpa from the television sitcom, died after years of failing health. He was 82.


In 1998, a ponytailed Lewis ran as the Green Party candidate against incumbent Gov George Pataki. Lewis campaigned against what he said were draconian drug laws and the death penalty, while going to court in a losing battle to have his name appear on the ballot as "Grandpa Al Lewis."

He didn't defeat Pataki, but managed to collect more than 52,000 votes.

The AP's Larry McShane.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:06 AM | Comments (4)

February 4, 2006

Rotterdam. Awards.

"The 35th International Film Festival Rotterdam winners will sound familiar to those who worked the nooks and crannies of the Sundance Film Festival," blogs Anthony Kaufman, who's written about two of them for indieWIRE. "I guess props should be given to Sundance's programmers for plucking these estimable titles first. But, then again, how many Sundancers actually saw them?"

Old Joy

At least the LA Weekly's Scott Foundas saw one: "Kelly Reichardt's exquisite, achingly beautiful Old Joy, after having first been considered for a slot in the official competition, found itself relegated to the festival's Frontier sidebar, which is commonly reserved for works of the avant-garde variety.... Evidently, sparse dialogue and a slower-than-Bruckheimer tempo are considered 'experimental' nowadays."

From Rotterdam, brotherfromanother writes at the Reverse Shot blog: "Another critic has already written that he fears discussing Old Joy for fear of overwhelming through his expressions of admiration. He's right. It is a whisper of a film, suggestive without being declarative."

The full list of awards, accompanied by jury statements, is here; a few highlights:

VPRO Tiger Awards

Walking on the Wild Side

NETPAC Award (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema)

Madeinusa FIPRESCI Award: Madeinusa (Claudia Llosa).

And a few catch-up-type items: Throughout the fest, Boyd van Hoeij has been blogging with dedicated energy at europeanfilms.net, Gabe Klinger's blogged the fest at Zach Campbell's Elusive Lucidity and even got an interview with Hou Hsiao-hsien.

And one more review. Jonathan Romney for Screen Daily: "Though often extremely beautiful, Klimt never hits the delirious heights of [Raúl] Ruiz's best work."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:25 PM

Park City. Rearview, 2/4.

Well, the old "Park City. Roundup" is so chunky it seems to be getting chewed up with each new site rebuild. I'll restore it periodically, but we're moving into a new phase of coverage anyway, the annual whither-indies phase, the thanks-for-the-memories phase.

Sundance 06 One newsy item, though: "Ryan Fleck's Half Nelson - and its stars - topped indieWIRE's first poll of critics and journalists who covered the Sundance Film Festival," reports Eugene Hernandez. And on his blog, Eugene comments: "It's fairly clear to me that Newsweek's David Ansen and Variety's Todd McCarthy, Sundance festival old-timers, got together in Park City and planned their tandem tirades against the festival." More on the one-two punch from Anne Thompson: "[I]t's clear that Variety's lead critic is experiencing one of those Who Moved the Cheese? moments."

"Despite seeing several very good movies, I don't think I ever found the grail at this year's Sundance," writes Marjorie Baumgarten in the Austin Chronicle, a publication which deserves an extra and enthusiastic holler for devoting another piece exclusively to Slamdance. Spencer Parsons: "Founder Dan Mirvish likes to characterize Slamdance as 'more than a festival and less than a movement,' noting proudly that not much has really changed during its 12-year run. 'The stories are still the same... You might lose half your friends making the film, and then make a bunch of new ones when you come here. And, from there, it's like a year-round network of filmmakers helping each other out.'"

In Between Days "Sundance 06 seemed about average," decides Dennis Lim, "fewer discoveries, but also less dreck." He offers three "case studies": Old Joy, Man Push Cart (Cinematical's Kim Voynar interviews that film's makers) and In Between Days.

Also in the Voice:

Neil Young: Heart of Gold Rob Nelson was busy, also writing for the City Pages, "Speaking as a longtime and often merciless critic of this festival's contradictions, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised to find myself not only tapping my foot throughout [Jonathan] Demme's film, but nodding my head at his point: that Sundance, though it acts like a hooker, has a heart of gold." He also had a chat with Factotum producer Christine Kunewa Walker.

"The annual trek up the mountain to Park City felt different this year, with the powerful spirit of Brokeback Mountain haunting the new crop of queer films on offer," writes B Ruby Rich in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "After all, Sundance is the festival where the early glimmerings of a 'new queer cinema' were first nurtured, starting with the jury award to Poison 15 years ago."

The Stranger's Andy Spletzer: "The hope was to unearth an undiscovered gem or two, or to spotlight the birth of a new filmmaking talent. Unfortunately, I was able to find nothing of the sort." Still, "Once again, the documentaries outshone the narrative features."

"[F]or those of us who see Sundance primarily as an annual opportunity to hold a mirror up to the nose of American independent cinema to see if it's still breathing, this year's edition was not without its vital signs. Provided, that is, one knew where to look," writes Scott Foundas. Also in the LA Weekly, Ella Taylor highlights the best of the docs and Holly Willis talks with festival director Geoff Gilmore.

Nathan Rabin presents the AV Club's take on about a dozen films at the fest.

Lisa Rosman wraps up Flavorpill's coverage: "By far, the documentary categories proved strongest, whereas the American dramatics largely buckled under the weight of their own, ill-advised quirkiness and dime-store psychoanalytical revelations."

Jim Ridley reports in the Nashville Scene on how Nashvillians fared in Park City.

Ray Pride posts a series of terrific photos at Sharkforum.

New York's Logan Hill learned a few lessons.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:07 PM

Glomming the noms.

Oscars "I've been intrigued by the recent discussion of what might be called the 'Politics of Oscar,' the ongoing discussion of the films that have been nominated for Academy Awards and how they might serve as a barometer for whether Hollywood is liberal or conservative or whether the nominated films reflect the values of this mysterious heartland that I keep hearing about," writes Chuck Tryon. Which leads us directly to John Rogers taking on Jason Apuzzo of Libertas, "the wee conservative film movement," point by point. That is one amusing and exhilarating read.

So, catching up with a batch of initial reactions earlier week, let's begin with David Poland: "In the absence of a full-blown push by Universal, the strongest contender to upset Brokeback Mountain will be Crash." Also at Movie City News, where you'll find a collection of reactions from several nominees, Kristopher Tapley: "The single greatest moment of the morning for this viewer was hearing Terrence Howard's name mentioned in the short list of Best Actor contenders for his ground-shattering performance in Hustle & Flow." And the biggest snub? Grizzly Man, writes Gary Dretzka.

And via MCN, Larry Gross at Truthdig: "As the crescendo of Hollywood's award season builds toward the climax of Oscar night, only the resolutely oblivious could fail to have noted that this is the year of the queer."

Nikki Finke argues in the LA Weekly that Brokeback is by no means a shoe-in. Because she's heard too many Academy members won't even look at it.

Ryan Wu grumbles smartly.

Gabriel Shanks will meet you in the "World's Biggest Oscar Pool." A smaller pool means a better shot at winning something: Hollywood Bitchslap.

Mary McNamara for the Los Angeles Times: "Depending on how you look at it, Tuesday's nominations are either a fitting way to cap one of the worst box-office years ever or a wake-up call, a reminder that small, character-driven films have fueled the entertainment industry since it began."

More from John Horn and Susan King (message movies), Rachel Abramowitz (not a good year for women), Tom O'Neil and Steve Pond (the odds), Patrick Goldstein (outsiders), Richard Rushfeld (watching the announcement), Elizabeth Snead (who's wearing whom), Kenneth Turan (indies), Carina Chocano (quips), Chris Lee (no box office winners), King (Clooney), McNamara (Futterman), Robert W Welkos (Crash producers credits mixup), comedians on Brokeback Mountain, online forum snippets and Jim Bates: "All you need to know about how hard it will be to get people to watch the Oscars is that a nominated documentary about penguins has been watched by more moviegoers than any of the five best picture contenders."

"Politics have never been more front and center," writes Anne Thompson in the Hollywood Reporter, which has spruced up its Oscar Watch section.

Sharon Waxman sees "mainly small films with deep political and social themes, from gay romance to the abuse of government power to racial relations to the cycle of vengeance in the Middle East." David Carr, who, as the Carpetbagger, is all over this story, of course: "[T]here is already one clear group of victors: the independent production companies and specialty divisions." Also in the New York Times, Caryn James's audio slide show. And James watches the trailers for the Best Foreign Language Film nominees.

IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez rounds up reactions from Indiewood movers and shakers while Brian Brooks calls up some of the nominees themselves.

Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle: "In trying to make sense of the Oscar nominations, it always helps to remember one thing: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences likes movies that are socially liberal but artistically conservative."

Aaron Dobbs: "As disappointed as I am in the Capote, Crash and Munich overhyping, I'm equally ecstatic about the Best Documentary nomination that went to Street Fight."

Oscars Dennis Cozzalio sorts the hits from the misses in his own predictions.

More reactions? Nick Davis has a slew of them. And more from Matt Zoller Seitz, Craig Phillips, Edward Copeland, Vince Keenan, Marcy Dermansky and Jürgen Fauth and Jeffrey M Anderson.

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir places his bets. So does Tom Hall.

Even the World Socialist Web Site has a take. David Walsh: "[C]ertain realities are making their presence felt."

In the Independent, David Thomson presents "five nominations in the major categories for films, directors, actors and actresses whose reputations have endured but who were not even nominated in their day." Also: Geoffrey Macnab on the freshest guest at the party, Participant Productions. Related: Michael S Malone talks with Jeff Skoll for Wired.

The Washington Post has set up an Awards section. So, too, the Times of London.

Tom Breihan in the Voice: "[S]omething pretty incredible happened on Monday afternoon when the Three 6 Mafia, my favorite rap group, was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Original Song category."

The Guardian offers its take, focusing on the Brits, and opens its special section. Also: Patrick Barkham explains where the name "Oscar" came from and Marina Hyde offers advice to nominees on how to draw even more attention to themselves.

And girls! Want an Oscar? Kira Cochrane suggests nabbing a role as "a gritty, complicated, working-class heroine who takes on the establishment, aka 'the man,' and wins. It worked for Sally Field in Norma Rae (1979), Meryl Streep in Silkwood (1983), Jodie Foster in The Accused (1988) and Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich (2000). A stellar line-up. And now comes Charlize Theron in North Country, the gleam of a second Oscar nomination surely twinkling in her eyes."

Online listening tip. For NPR, Bob Mondello on who got shut out.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:40 PM

Who Gets to Call It Art?

Henry Geldzahler Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: "It's unclear what exactly Peter Rosen's documentary Who Gets to Call It Art? is about, much less why it was made. Clocking in at 80 minutes, this glib, largely uninformative and poorly organized précis of the post-World War II art scene, with its emphasis on New York in the 1960s and the curator Henry Geldzahler, succeeds neither as history nor as art history."

Ed Halter in the Voice: "[P]oor Geldzahler, crowded out of his own documentary by the showboating Warhol clips."

Ed Gonzalez at Slant: "[W]hat the film lacks in depth it more than makes up for in zeal."

Geldzahler & Co "The sensibility would be a mismatch, but modern art really needs one of those comprehensive, 10-hour Ken Burns documentaries," writes Noel Murray for the AV Club. Actually, it's had one, though not from Burns: Robert Hughes's The Shock of the New.

At any rate, let me point to David D'Arcy's review here in November, then:

Online listening tip. Rosens and James Rosenquist were recent guests on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:12 PM

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada "There are elements in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada that I tend to distrust when they crop up in other movies," writes Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader. "There's the theme of redemption, which can all too easily lead to a Hollywood cop-out, even (or maybe especially) when it's tied to some notion of religious transcendence. There's the taken-for-granted dysfunctional social context, and there's the visceral macho unpleasantness, which feels dishonest in movies such as Henri-Georges Clouzot's The Wages of Fear (1953) and Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (1969) and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974). I have to admit I still like those three films a lot, and I suspect that what I appreciate most in this movie is the nuance Jones gives these and other shopworn notions."

Susan Gerhard in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: "Set in the gorgeous, thirsty landscapes of West Texas-Chihuahua, a story that should be something of a race against time turns into a patiently morbid meditation on place."

"[Tommy Lee] Jones directs with all the grit that's associated with his onscreen persona," writes the AV Club's Scott Tobias, "but Peckinpah would never allow this degree of sentimentality to slip into one of his Westerns."

The LA Weekly's Scott Foundas heads out to Florida to meet Tommy Lee Jones, who tells him, "I never use the term Western... Call it pornography - it's got a naked woman in it. Call it a travelogue. Call it horror - I've got a dead body, after all."

Call it what you like, Roger Ebert gives it four stars.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:01 PM | Comments (2)

Moira Shearer, 1926 - 2006.

Moira Shearer
Moira Shearer, a luminous star in the galaxy of British ballerinas who brought the Royal Ballet to international attention and whose dramatic portrayal as the doomed heroine of the 1948 film The Red Shoes was searingly impressed on generations of moviegoers, died in Oxford, England, on Tuesday. She was 80.

Anna Kisselgoff, the New York Times.

Her coloring made her ideal for the Powell-Pressburger film's incomparable Technicolor, and her grace and charm always helped to make up for any lack of acting technique.... Something about her romantic looks and delicate dancing always seemed ephemeral, even in Peeping Tom, when a close-up reveals how time had altered her face since she played Victoria Page.

Campaspe, Cinemarati.

The Red Shoes will always stand as the most immediate testimony to her gifts, but for those of us who knew her art in the ballet theatre there are vivid memories of the extraordinary grace of her dancing: light, brilliant, exact, shining. She was very beautiful.

Clement Crisp, the Financial Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:49 PM

February 3, 2006

Rouge. 8.

Thom Andersen has a wonderful piece on Warhol's silent and sound films that moves from Sleep to this: "Warhol's movies expressed the openness and exuberance of the 60s without compromise, but they insisted on struggle as an inescapable part of the era. That is why they record and reveal the 60s like nothing else." Rouge also runs a 1969 text by Omar Diop, whose biography is related briefly before he opens with, "Whether you consider Andy Warhol's Chelsea Girls (1966) to be fiction or document, it is an event, a rupture in the history of the cinema and an attack on the morality implicit in the image."

An Affair to Remember

"Why does a movie like An Affair to Remember (1957), which apparently mixes comedy and drama, end up being a tale of mystery about a door that keeps a secret with an ambiguous meaning?" asks Carlos Losilla in "RougeRouge," the DVD extra-like bonus feature of recent issues of Rouge, with its slide show and close analysis of a single scene.

Georgia Lea has a short but sweet appreciation of Shelley Winters.

Jacques Rancière explains "why the art of moving images can overthrow the old Aristotelian hierarchy that privileged muthos - the coherence of the plot - and devalued opsis - the spectacle's sensible effect."

Red Psalm Along with a collective interview with Raymond Durgnat, which took place in 1977, this issue features two more previously unpublished texts by Durgnat, a 1988 letter to Jean-Pierre Gorin and an essay on Miklós Jancsó's Red Psalm.

Three pieces by Donald Phelps are also appearing for the first time: one on "Ken Russell's Portraits of Elgar, Delius and Mahler," another on Val Lewton's The Ghost Ship and the third on two films by Sam Fuller, I Shot Jesse James and Park Row.

Adrian Martin: "The many subsequent parodic takes on the image and story of Kong speak volumes about our inability to take this material seriously - and about our unease concerning where to place and contain this creature who is neither human nor animal."

Then, resonating all too frustratingly, a piece by Serge Daney that appeared in Libération in April 1991, "The War, the Gulf and the Small Screen."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:52 AM

Midnight Eye. Best of 05.

To finally catch up with this one, the latest issue of Midnight Eye itself catches up with 2005, running best-of lists from editors and contributors Tom Mes, Jaspar Sharp, Nicholas Rucka, Alex Zahlten and Adam Campbell. Besides explaining their choices for the best and worst of the year in Japanese cinema, they do the same, to a lesser degree, for films from the rest of the world. Which is helpful; you can see a bit where they're coming from in their approach to the Japanese films.

Survive Style + / Tony Takitani And the readers are given a chance to vote or click straight on to the results and comments so far. As of this writing, Survive Style + and Tony Takitani lead with 10 votes each.

This issue's interview: Mes talks with Yoshinori Chiba, a producer of 90s-era V-cinema. "In those years of quick-cash filmmaking, Chiba's films stood out from the pack of genre flicks for their unconventional takes on genre and solid dramatic weight," writes Mes. "Fudoh: The New Generation (directed by Takashi Miike), Another Lonely Hitman and Onibi: The Fire Within (both by Rokuro Mochizuki) still count as three of the best films made in Japan during that particularly fertile decade."

The Round-Up is an Akira Kurosawa special.

The Flashes of Capital The book review: Luc Lafleur on Eric Cazdyn's The Flash of Capital: Film and Geopolitics in Japan, analyzing "the relationship between capitalism and culture in the modern Japanese society [which is] especially noteworthy because film and capitalism in Japan are contemporaries."

The reviews:

Posted by dwhudson at 5:08 AM

February 2, 2006

Bright Lights. 51.

Bright Lights Film Journal Many issues of Bright Lights Film Journal might be described as eclectic, but this one really is all over the place. Even Gary Morris doesn't attempt any umbrella moves in his editor's note, but instead, simply leaps right in. A cue worth taking.

Two books spur a close, almost celebratory look at the man once known as "the fairy godfather of Hollywood" from Robert Keser: "Robert Hofler's The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson is bursting with impressive research and remarkably frank interviews with surviving veterans of the dreamboat factory, while Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star by Tab Hunter (with film noir historian Eddie Muller) gives a unique inside glimpse at the dilemmas of living a double life, straight leading man by day yet conducting a lively after-hours affair with rival idol Anthony Perkins under the very flashbulbs of the publicity machine."

Reestablishing Austria's deep cinematic tradition before addressing the remarkable revival of Austrian film in the late 90s, Robert von Dassanowsky comes off a little defensive at first; the EU's "boycott," if a diplomatic shut-out can be called such a thing, following Haider's ascendancy was not "over reactive," for example. But, as he notes, this friction between the ultra-conservative government and the somewhat radical minority is partly responsible for the recent burst of creativity.

Olivier's Hamlet Alan Vanneman considers - at length - nine cinematic adaptations of Hamlet.

And those are just the features. To the articles. Lesley Chow: "[W]hen the motion of a film corresponds with its music, it's an exceptional moment - and I'd argue there's no director who makes it happen more often than Bertolucci." Also, a close reading of Flirting with Disaster.

DJM Saunders has something to say about the demonization of Others, and then: "The point is that global culture - hard as it is to define - gets harder by the day to dismiss; indeed, some of us argue that seeing Culture as a universal phenomenon is fast becoming the only realistic way to approach the subject."

The Human Stain Halfway into his piece, Robert Castle declares he doesn't want to write about adaptations in general, though that is, more or less, what he's done up to that point, and engagingly, too. No, he wants to write about The Human Stain and "the failed attempt to bring [Philip] Roth's book to the screen." Interestingly, that's what Darren Hughes decided to write about, too, a couple of weeks ago. A click away, Castle writes even more engagingly on another adaptation, this one from Raúl Ruiz: "[E]ven before Baron de Charlus enters the film, I found Time Regained acting on and stimulating me in a way unlike any other film I could remember."

Jayson Harsin on Manderlay: "Some will walk away calling it racist and anti-American. Others will find it a condemnation of Bush's war in Iraq. Yet... it is mostly a critique of American liberal politics."

"How could it have gotten to this point?" asks Tom Sutpen. The point is this: Sergeant Madden, 1939. "The way [Josef von] Sternberg told it in his marginally reliable autobiography, Fun in a Chinese Laundry, [Wallace] Beery's indifference to the role, to the film, to damn near everything on earth drove the filmmaker to lodge a complaint with the front office, who told him to get his ass back on the set, keep his mouth shut, and leave Wally alone. Beery was the star and Sternberg - in case he hadn't been paying attention the last few years - was nothing." Also, another look at Frederick Wiseman's "immensely distressing coming-of-age film," Juvenile Court.

There's a new "Conflict Corner" in the house of Bright Lights in which Megan Ratner and A Jay Adler face off over A History of Violence (she's pro, he's contra) and Matthew Kennedy and Vanneman butt heads over Brokeback Mountain (same order).

Reviews of more recent movies, without the conflict:

Don't Come Knocking
  • Ian Johnston: "Don't Come Knocking shares all the flaws and weaknesses of Wenders's recent fiction films - in essence, the inability to create characters, themes, or a narrative structure that can truly engage the audience. Such a contrast with his work from the 70s and 80s!" Also: "L'Enfant [The Child] may not have the same force, nor offer the sense of excitement that audiences got from the discovery of Rosetta (1999), but it is still a superb addition to a body of work - La Promesse (1996), Rosetta, Le Fils (The Son, 2002) - that counts as among the very best in contemporary cinema."

Scott Thill talks with animator Peter Chung (see a sampling of his work here).

Gary Morris reports on a slew of films he caught at the Portland Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and, while pointing to a sampling of his terrific briefs, now's a good time to note that "Little Stabs of Happiness (and Horror): Random Short Reviews of the Worthy and the Worthless in Recent and Old-School Cinema" is back.

Lillian Gish Dan Callahan writes a fine appreciation: "In a career that spanned seventy-five years, she was a girl of 19 who seemed like 90 and at 90 she seemed like a girl of 19. Lillian Gish was eternal."

Matthew Kennedy has "pity on The Return of the Soldier... Though a bit of a slog at the end, it is worth the considerable effort required to find it."

Gordon Thomas: "[T]here's lots to admire in Cecil B DeMille's 1927 film, The King of Kings: its energy, its range of terrific performances, and, really, just its considerable beauty as a superbly crafted silent film."

And once again, Alan Vanneman: "[Harold] Lloyd's sunny personality, his acrobatic skills, and his attention to comic detail make his best films a continual delight... Yes, there's plenty of Harold Lloyd. But we still don't have enough."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:58 PM | Comments (2)

Munich, 2/2.

Leon Wieseltier Leon Wieseltier, literary editor at the New Republic, was an early and ferocious critic of Munich. His attack on the film was indeed so vicious it earned him quotes and references in countless print media articles and blog entries (such as this one) and there can be little doubt that, for those who follow these sorts of things, his opinion has been duly recorded.

Sadly, that's not the end of it. Paging through Newsweek recently, as so many literary editors are wont to do, Wieseltier ran across this from Steven Spielberg: "So many fundamentalists in my own community, the Jewish community, have grown very angry at me for allowing the Palestinians simply to have dialogue and for allowing Tony Kushner to be the author of that dialogue." Naturally, Wieseltier assumes that Spielberg is replying to him, Leon Wieseltier, directly: "Since I was one of the children of darkness who wrote cruelly about the film, and since I do not take kindly to being called a fundamentalist, theologically or politically, a few more cruel words may be in order." And he quite clearly enjoys supplying them. If his first piece was about the film, this one is strictly personal, and calling Spielberg "an intellectually confused individual" is about the nicest thing he has to say. Expect another piece in TNR in a couple of weeks entitled, "And his little dog, too."

Note: The detail is from a portrait of Wieseltier by Avigdor Arikha.

Update, 2/3: For signandsight, Nicholas Grindell translates Tobias Kniebe's piece in the Süddeutsche Zeitung on the film and critical reaction to it.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:04 PM

Iraq in Fragments. 2.

Iraq in Fragments If these article roundups really are to be monthly, it's a little too soon for another (the last one popped up just two weeks ago). But Iraq in Fragments has just picked up prizes for best Documentary Directing, Excellence in Cinematography and Documentary Film Editing at Sundance, so you need to know now about Hannah Eaves's interview with director James Longley, a follow-up to her interview with co-producer John Sinno and, in a way, too, a follow-up to David D'Arcy's review of the film.

To round out the roundup, with The Aristocrats just out on DVD, we've also recently run Sean Axmaker's punchy interview with director Paul Provenza.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:44 AM

Online viewing tips.

You Tube Arthur Magazine's Magpie suddenly posts a whole string of them, odds and ends, featuring, among others, Kenneth Anger, Neil Young, John Lydon, Miles Davis and John Coltrane.

Notice how much you've seen this sort of thing lately? What's going on? At Fimoculous, Rex put it this way: "So I had been away from the blogging world for a few weeks and I come back to see embedded video everywhere via You Tube. Looks like this could quickly become what Google Video and Current.TV and Brightcove (and several others) wanted to be overnight."

Update: Bob Dylan (1965), by Andy Warhol. Via Coudal Partners. You Tube then forwarded me to a stunning Braniff commercial with Warhol and Sonny Liston. "They like our girls," intones the voice-over... followed by Warhol's rendition of the airline's slogan at the time, "When you've got it, flaunt it," leaving no doubt whatsoever that Braniff's girls were the farthest thing from his mind. Braniff was an amazing chapter in the annals of corporate identity.

At any rate, just look at all those clips at You Tube tagged Warhol.

Update, 2/4: Steve Rosenbaum comments on Ben Ratliff's piece on You Tube in the New York Times: "Ratliff would have done well to talk to Larry Lessig."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:43 AM | Comments (2)

February 1, 2006

Debord in Artforum.

Guy Debord "As interest in the Situationist International and [Guy] Debord has grown, the absence of Debord's films has been keenly felt. And while unauthorized versions based on the French and Italian broadcasts have circulated in the interim, there have been no authorized copies of high quality in distribution. Until now." Keith Sanborn's is the first of two features in the February issue of Artforum on one of the few DVD releases to have its own website, Guy Debord Cinéaste. "The achievement represented will have an immediate impact on the perception of Debord's work within France. And later, outside it. The works likely to receive the most immediate and lasting attention are The Society of the Spectacle and In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni (1978)." But Sanborn examines the full set, particularly in relation to the films of Warhol and Godard.

Greil Marcus is probably best known for reading Dylan a little too closely, but he ought to be better known for his Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, which, among other things, connects the dots between the Situationists and punk. Here, he has less to say, but still: "The tone of the first twenty minutes or so of In girum is so sour, bitter, and malign that it seems cultivated... It doesn't work - or rather it works perfectly."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:55 PM

Bold Type. Film.

The February issue of Flavorpill's book mag, Bold Type, is devoted to film and features brief, breezy and link-laced reviews of half a dozen essentials:

Buñuel: My Last Sigh

Then, before the book news, a "quick look at some of the adaptations headed for the big screen this year — plus a smattering of some of our favorite books that have been made into films."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:54 PM

Park City Dispatch. 7.

Well, of course, David D'Arcy has long since returned home from Park City. Here, though, he wraps our coverage with a last look at a few films that made an impression: Iraq in Fragments, Ground Truth: When the Killing Ends, This Film Is Not Rated and Alpha Dog.

Sundance 06 With the glow of the 2006 Sundance Film Festival fading, I'm convinced that the documentaries carried the day, although I stress that I make this judgment without having seen all the dramatic features.

Iraq in Fragments tells more than one story just in its title. The documentary is composed of fragments of scenes and landscapes seen through the eyes, first of children, then of Shias, then of Kurds. The fragments are also the city of Baghdad torn into fragments by war, but they could be the fragments of any city in Iraq. If these kids are the future, we're not taking any large steps forward. Like all children, they learn day by day of the gulf between their fantasies and the world in which they live.

In this trilogy - we should really call it a triptych, since the three-part film deals with images more than with stories - information itself is fragmentary. So is wisdom. So, surprisingly, is the nostalgia that even children feel.

Iraq in Fragments

The word critics will be tempted to use is "impressionistic," the vague fallback deployed to describe just about anything that challenges accepted story logic. "Atmospheric" might be better.

There is even humor here. A principal tells the students who are going back to school as the city rebuilds slowly that they will not be able to bribe their way to good grades. Why not? Bribes seem to accomplish everything else there. It all adds up to a task that is more difficult than the loftiest of ambitions, and images from the landscape of the war that we are not getting from everyday media.

I write all of this as the media reports on the wounding of Bob Woodruff, an ABC news anchor who was injured by a bomb that struck the vehicle in which he was riding, a Soviet-era truck of the sort used by Iraqi soldiers, which means that it was less armored than a vehicle that would have been used to transport American soldiers. Something seems fishy here. Woodruff was embedded with a US unit - usually a way to get nothing more than the war seen from the perspectives of his hosts. It's incomplete, but at least it's safe. The fact that he got more than anyone anticipated - and who but a fool anticipates anything but danger in Iraq - is a tragedy for him and his family, yet it makes you wonder why ABC News sent an anchor out to pose as a reporter. Ratings, we're told. Was it to give street credibility to a guy who will spend most of his career in makeup, behind a desk, reading copy that someone else wrote for him? I can't help thinking of the plane flown by a young girl that crashed and killed its young pilot a number of years ago, as the girl and her family were trying to meet a deadline set by the Today show. Exposure is everything.

Yet one American casualty to a news reader pushes the many deaths of the week out of spotlight, whether these are deaths of US soldiers (who are paid far less than a TV newsreader) or of the countless numbers of Iraqis killed. Who knows how many they are?

The Shias here aren't predisposed to mourn any misfortune that befalls an American. As they see it, in between prayers and self-flagellation, the Americans have come in conquest, even though those same Americans have overthrown the regime of the Shias' most hated enemy, Saddam Hussein. Amid all the war lyricism of a film that was elegantly shot under tough circumstances that have gotten a lot tougher (just witness what happened to Bob Woodruff), we're reminded that Iraq isn't the slam dunk that former CIA director George Tenet told White House officials it would be. Now Tenet has the National Medal of Freedom, and we have more bodies to bury.

Ground Truth: When the Killing Ends A less lyrical perspective on the war comes from Patricia Foulkrod in Ground Truth: When the Killing Ends. Foulkrod focuses on the sell-through military that hypes adventure and college tuition in the recruiting pitch, without much emphasis on killing until basic training sets in. Then, of course, comes the adjustment when troops who took part in that killing come home. If those soldiers are wounded, it's even worse. Now-neglected soldiers who Foulkrod follows talk frankly about killing civilians in Iraq, lots of civilians. Let's hope they won't be attacked as John Kerry was when he talked about the killing of civilians in Vietnam. One again, we're looking at the documentary form as substitute journalism, the kind of coverage that the "support our troops" media should be doing.

To be fair, the New York Times recently ran a long inquiry into the new kinds of wounds that soldiers in Iraq are suffering. C-SPAN has gone into Walter Reed Hospital and talked to wounded soldiers with missing limbs and faces burned off. Ground Truth gets them by themselves, and they speak candidly about their wounds, and about calling in fire on "ragheads" and "hajis" that they knew to be civilians. If this doesn't sound like Vietnam, what does?

This Film Is Not Yet Rated On the Home Front, Kirby Dick made one of the best films of the festival, This Film Is Not Rated, an investigation into the ratings process for films that might as well be called "The Censorship Office That Dare Not Speak Its Name."

Dick rounded up young independents like Kimberley Peirce (Boys Don't Cry), Kevin Smith, John Waters, Mary Harron and Matt Stone to explain from experience how the MPAA ratings affected them, with relevant clips from their offending films. All those "morally objectionable" scenes are far less offensive to me than the violence that gets by, but we all know that. Usually the end effect for the directors involves making a choice - either cutting out scenes to get an R rating or better, or limiting the release of their film, since many theater chains or video stores won't carry a film with an NC-17 rating. Dick also has Bingham Ray, founder of October Films and former president of United Artists, denounce the system as "fascist." I'd love to hear the MPAA's response.

The film gets funny - very funny - when Dick decides to do some of his own research, and hires a team of two private eyes, a lesbian couple in Hawaiian shirts who track down the raters and identify them by taking license plate numbers. They also get a photo of the MPAA's phone list when a security guard leaves his post. This part of Dick's probe is more anticlimactic than might be expected, although the investigation-lite tone keeps you laughing. The raters turn out to be middle-aged parents. No surprise that their conclusions are what they are. No surprise also when Kirby Dick gets stonewalled in the appeal phase after his film gets an initial NC-17 rating. It reminded me of dealing with an insurance company, except this one is committed to protecting your mind and soul. Dick makes sure you know by the end of the film that the MPAA is committed to ensuring that the studios' interests are protected in Congress and all over the world.

Forget Jack Abramoff. The other Jack, Valenti, the old Lyndon Johnson operative, stroked lawmakers for decades. There's nothing illegal about that. It brings us back to the boiling frog analogy; if the boiling takes place slowly, the frog in the water never notices that anything is wrong. As Hollywood's emissary, Valenti boiled frogs in Washington for years at a low heat that ensured thorough cooking - that the studios got all they wanted and that initiatives which the studios opposed, like government regulation in the form of a government ratings system, were never implemented. The problem, we see, is that it's all legal, all perfectly legal, including harsh penalties for using any trademarked materials that belong to the studios. Dick lists the penalties, and they're severe. If you ever wanted to see how a mindless unaccountable bureaucracy (albeit a private one) can be a gatekeeper that decides what you can and can't see, see This Film Is Not Yet Rated.

Alpha Dog Back to fiction for a moment, since this was supposed to be one of Sundance's strengths, and is has been in the past. I saw Alpha Dog, by Nick Cassavetes, set among the drugged and gangster-ized privileged youth of Los Angeles, specifically in Claremont, California. I should preface any discussion of the setting with an admission that I was a huge fan of the unintentional humor in the inane moralism of Beverly Hills 90210, that ridiculous TV show that launched far too many acting careers. I'm suspicious of raunchy tales with lots of posturing and teen sex that pass themselves off as "cautionary."

In this one, the son of a hoodlum has set himself up as a drug lord, complete with a harem, a crew of teen hoods and a male house-slave (who owes him money, we assume). When another young gangster, this one Jewish, can't raise the money to pay his debt, the brawling and revenge plots are set into motion, and the young brother of our Jewish hood becomes a hostage. In a promising twist, the young boy gets a wild initiation into teen debauchery from some beautiful girls before meeting a grim fate. Cautionary? Yeah, bring condoms... and a gun.

Alpha Dog Alpha Dog is the ultimate title - think Alphaville and White Dog and Reservoir Dogs. There's a dream-team cast here, with solid acting by everyone from Justin Timberlake, Bruce Willis and Sharon Stone, and the gauzy permissiveness of the atmosphere is convincing. I only wish the script were better. To be fair, fewer civilians are killed in Alpha Dog than in Ground Truth.

Why wasn't there more fiction at Sundance that you wanted to see? For one thing, making fiction is hard, unless you're James Frey - who remains on top of the non-fiction bestseller list even though his memoir has been exposed as a fraud. (Has the author's notoriety boosted the price of the inevitable movie deal in the works, whether you call the book memoir, fiction, or fraud?) But why not better fiction? It seems that many of the films in the festival were "developed" at Sundance labs, nothing if not a head start. Maybe it's a seasonal problem.

There are reasons to doubt my analysis, or at least to reserve judgment. I'd love to be proven wrong next year. I missed the highly-praised Quinceañera, by Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer. I also missed Son of Man, the South African version of the Jesus story.

One more thing. Sundance has now signed to remain in infrastructure-challenged Park City, Utah, until 2018. Now that's a challenge. I'm sure the deal benefits the festival and Park City. I'm at a loss to see how it benefits the filmgoers.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:48 AM

FYC. 2.

Koreanfilm.org contributor Adam Hartzell has recently seen half a dozen films submitted to the Academy in the Foreign Language category. Over the weekend, we ran his take on three: Say Good Morning to Dad, On the Other Side and What a Wonderful Place. In this second part, he considers Shop of Dreams and Ahead of Time and two he would like to have seen nominated, The Ruins and Gie.

Rafael Film Center As commonly happens around Oscar time, acquaintances will ask me for my picks. I try my best not to disappoint them while still speaking truthfully. I try to tell them the Oscars don't interest me much so I don't really care who wins, whose nominated, what so-and-so's wearing, what so-and-so said, etc. But I also understand the economic impact it can have for some compelling films that very much need the PR. It's not the answer people expect, as if when asked, "How are you?," I went into a litany of physical and emotional complaints or a theoretical discussion about how the question confines you to one state rather than simply answering with the obligatory, "Fine."

Or even more, it's like in Me and You and Everyone We Know when Christine asks Richard what happened to his hand and he presents a long and short story. Long version: "I tried to save my life but it didn't work." Short version: "I burned it." The "long" and "short" here are not meant to measure the length of time it takes to tell the story, but depth of experience. The long gets at the heart of the matter whereas the short gets at the facts. When people ask me about my Oscar picks, they don't want to hear a long dissertation about the Oscars, they just want to know the short picks.

So why am I, someone who doesn't watch the Oscars, talking about the submissions for the Best Foreign Language Film category? Well, because I care about the long version. I care about the depth of experience I have with a film. And presently, I'm having that type of experience with subtitled cinema. So since the San Rafael Film Center has allowed me to play Academy member for a weekend with its selection of submissions from around the world, I figured I'd take advantage of this rare opportunity. And this second installment addresses two films that I'd love to have seen nominated.

Shop of Dreams But let's get rid of some of the chaff first. The worst of the bunch I saw was Estonia's submission, Shop of Dreams, directed by Peeter Urbla. This film follows three women who start up a costume rental business. But "follows" is really being generous because the primary problem here is that the film jumps around what barely exists as a swatch of a plot. What emerges is a story as jittery as the camera work of the poorly laid out side-plot involving an unethical documentarian, or as hodge-podged as the clashing contrasts of patterns worn by the make-up artist. (Although I do love the shawl of stuffed animals stitched together reminiscent of the pants Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea used to wear.) The dialogue suggests the possibility that the costumes the women rent were actual costumes from films of Estonia's past. But I haven't been able to confirm whether that is indeed the case, so its only saving grace falls as limply as these costumes tossed across the screen. To say any more about this film would be to distract from the films truly worth the Academy's attention.

Ahead of Time Perhaps Shop of Dreams should have been a musical like Iceland's entry, Ahead of Time, directed by Águst Guðmundsso, because its jumping around might then have been justified by genre conventions. (Astute readers will note that I didn't mention Iceland in my first report. Correct. In the middle of the week, I decided to take the ferry back to the North Bay to catch one more film in the series.) The land that has gifted the world with Björk, Sigur Rós and Múm (and punished us whenever Einar stepped up to the mike for The Sugarcubes) submits a musical comedy to the Academy. This is a follow-up to a sequel of another musical comedy directed by Güdmundsson in 1982, so the band that has re-formed here are quite old for the teeny-bopper competition they enter, which is the basis of much of the comedy, finding humor in the uncoolest of hipsters. I'm not a fan of musicals, so it says something that I found myself smitten by the general absurdity of the ditties at the beginning, but then the usual musical tropes got old for me. I liked the chorus of random Icelanders in the first few numbers and the lovely self-ridicule of Iceland's recent hot status as the land that will help us 12-step away from our addiction to oil by investigating the energy potential of hydrogen, but the film drags too much in the middle for me to recommend it.

The Ruins Whereas, Slovenia's entry, The Ruins, by Janez Burger, reaches a fever pitch at its golden end. The Ruins is my kind of film, very heady and revolving around heightened social discomfort. A Croatian director is helping Slovenia get globalized by bringing a long lost Icelandic play to the stage. The director makes the mistake (or was this intended?) of casting his wife and his best friend, and the romantic tension required for the role begins to pull the director onto the stage along with his actors. As is often the case with films about actors, the film brings up questions about how we perform in our "real" lives and how we might purposely put ourselves in situations that allow for exits and entries from our own personal stage. Speaking of performances, the primary players here weave together some powerfully primal portrayals. The film disturbs me not on a shock-for-shock's-sake level, but for how viciously manipulative people can be with each other. In the audience, I can sit back and ask, "Why does it have to be this way?" But when you are out there in the world performing the roles you've taken on for yourself or the roles you think you've been assigned, it's more difficult to get the distance of perspective that watching a film allows. As I said, these are the kind of films I prefer and I find myself itching to see this film again to see if my impressions hold up. But I'm well aware that my interests can be peculiar to most, so as much as it's my favorite of the films, I would have deferred a nomination to a wonderful film that is much more accessible to a wider audience.

And that would be Indonesia's entry, the excellent biopic Gie, from Riri Riza. The film takes a look at a significant chunk of the life of Chinese-Indonesian activist Soe Hok Gie. Gie grew up in the time of the Sukarno government and is presented to us as a sensitive young man who was an avid reader of great books. Yet his sensitivity does not preclude him from taking solid stands to advocate for democratic reform. Gie sees democracy in artistic forms such as literature and film and seeks an independent voice rather than one associated with the warring political parties forming around him at university.

Gie I knew nothing of Gie before watching this film, so I don't assume I'm being told the whole story anymore than Riza did himself, saying as much at the beginning that Gie the film is an interpretation of Gie the life. But I respect that Gie is presented here as complicated, showing his faults along with his triumphs. Apparently Gie had trouble conveying his affection for the woman who most mattered to him. And as for his feelings about a prostitute his friends arranged for him to meet, it's a little disappointing that a young man so adamant about identifying with the lowly pedi-cab driver couldn't find himself relating equally to the eternally marked sex worker. But that's what makes this biopic different from the ones that show us inhuman saints. Gie is a human figure whose strengths far outweigh his failures. We are given more than a glimpse at what he accomplished, what he would have been capable of later in life, and what work still needs to be carried on by us. And never do we find the spectacle of the film overriding the work of all the individuals involved in this stage of Indonesia's history. More than anything, this film made me want to know more about Gie, his contemporaries, and Indonesian history. And that is the lasting impact of quality world cinema that truly transcends its time and place while remaining rooted there at the same time. Even though I prefer The Ruins out of all the films I saw, choosing a "Best" film in any award category at festivals is all about negotiation. And I would be willing to fold all my cards to have Gie selected as a nominee.

Sadly, Gie didn't make the cut. I haven't seen any of the films that did make the nominees list. Perhaps they are interesting films, but I'm still disappointed. We have a primarily European contingent, such as Germany's biopic Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (Marc Rothemund). (In another case of submission serendipity, Gie makes admirable mention of Sophie Scholl as a role model for political action.) And the two non-European nominees have already been distributed, Paradise Now (Hany Abu-Assad), or have already been guaranteed distribution, Tsotsi (Gavin Hood).

The Academy missed a great opportunity by not selecting Gie. For once the Academy could have been ahead of the game rather than following a trend considering that Southeast Asian cinema looks to be on the verge. In marketing speak, "It's the New Korea!" - "The New New Hong Kong!" If only they had ignored the long running time like I did the parking ticket that resulted from its length; for once the Academy could have been part of the introduction rather than a note in the epilogue of the story about a region's vibrant cinema. If only the United States would stop looking for comedy in the Muslim world and just honor this excellent film created indigenously. (At least, there's still a chance for Paradise Now to make that happen.)

Yet again, the Academy has refused to garner my interest. On Oscar night, you won't find me watching a TV. You'll find me watching a film in a theatre instead. I'm sure I won't be alone.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:44 AM | Comments (3)