May 31, 2006
Shorts, 5/31.Pierre Morel, the cinematographer for Luc Besson whose directorial debut is District B13, picks seven favorite European action films for the Los Angeles Times. In Slant, where Ed Gonzalez reviews his film. Among the other new reviews in Slant is Nick Schager's take on Coastlines. More from Stephen Holden in the New York Times: "Like its two forerunners in the trilogy, Ruby in Paradise, which pushed Ashley Judd toward Hollywood stardom, and Ulee's Gold, which won Peter Fonda the best-actor award from the New York Film Critics Circle, Coastlines features detailed performances that offer unusually intimate glimpses into its characters' mood swings. But if the acting captures their emotional ebbs and flows, the screenplay has discrepancies and lapses that can't be acted around." Roger Ebert meets Al Gore; as for An Inconvenient Truth: "You owe it to yourself to see this film. If that sounds overdramatic, I understand. I could not have imagined writing that before seeing the film myself." More from Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. Related: Jonathan Freedland interviews Gore in the Guardian and Jim Emerson gets a kick out of the Competitive Enterprise Institute's anti-Gore ads. Panini Wijesiriwardane opens the WSWS interview with Sri Lankan filmmaker Asoka Handagama thusly: "To begin this discussion could you explain the nature of the government witchhunt against you and your film?" "[Rick] Popko and [Dan] West hope Monsturd's cult notoriety will aid RetarDEAD, which happens to be its direct sequel," writes Cheryl Eddy in her profile of the DIY filmmakers in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Popko describes the new one as Flowers for Algernon meets Night of the Living Dead. Cheryl Eddy (also the author of our Italian Horror primer, by the way) writes on another page: "No San Francisco-set discussion of reanimated corpses should go without mentioning Bad Date, a work-in-progress by locals Sadie Shaw and Alison Childs." Girish doesn't mind at all admitting that he finds two or three things to admire about A Woman, Her Men, and Her Futon, "a kick-ass little movie that I encountered years ago on cable one insomniac night when the moon was high and the neighbor's mutt wouldn't shut up." Stop Smiling chats with Richard E Grant. Amelie Gillette interviews Paul Rudd for the AV Club. The BBC: "Disney is to start selling films over the internet via CinemaNow, including new films on the day they come out." Online listening tip. Simon Winder talks about and reads from his book, The Man Who Saved Britain. That man would be Bond, by the way. James Bond. Online viewing tip. Ron Rosenbaum in the New York Observer on Autism Every Day: "It's less than 15 minutes long, but it's a killer. It will break your heart; it will make you cry - I guarantee it. It's skillfully done, in a low-key way that recognizes there's no need to hype the emotionalism. The matter-of-fact-ness is enough, almost too much. The dailiness is the point." Online viewing tip #2. 2 Monkeys - interesting show! - review I Am a Sex Addict. Via Caveh Zahedi, naturally.
Fests and events, 5/31.The Los Angeles Times scans the lineup for the Los Angeles Film Festival (June 22 through July 2). Bilge Ebiri isn't in Seattle, but will be following the festival via "the ridiculously thorough and prolific musings of film-buff and filmmaker Ken Rudolph. Ken also happens to be a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences - so his opinions matter in all sorts of ways." In the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Dennis Harvey previews As Sure as My Name is Boris Karloff... at the Balboa, June 2 through 22. Michael Guillen talks with Mitchell Altieri and Phil Flores, whose The Hamiltons will be screening in the Another Hole in the Head fest (June 8 through 15).
Wrapping Cannes, 5/31.Salon's Andrew O'Hehir caught the jury's press conference following the awards ceremony: "It was as if the questions we really wanted to ask Wong, Roth, Jackson, Leconte, Suleiman, Monica Bellucci and company were: Why have you ignored our expert advice? Or: How dare you remind us that all our hard-earned gossip and punditry don't mean anything?" In the City Pages, Rob Nelson runs through the highlights and then takes a stand: "Pointedly dumb (and deeply, disarmingly poignant), Southland Tales may be the most plausible work of film futurism ever made in the United States. Most Americans here hated it." Iklimler (Climates) tops Anthony Kaufman's list of favorites; Eugene Hernandez's got a list, too: "On second viewing, Volver is even more emotional." J Hoberman follows up his dispatches in the Voice with a shorter roundup of comments on the awards.
May 30, 2006
Shorts, 5/30.Jonathan Rosenbaum segues into a review of Army of Shadows for the Chicago Reader: "Melville is best known for his eight noir features, all of them stylish and artificial in a way that seems utterly foreign to the more physical and neorealistic surfaces of Bresson's work. But these differences are ultimately superficial. What the two filmmakers have in common is much more important: the styles, themes, and philosophical positions of both can be traced directly to their experiences during World War II."
Fests and events, 5/30."If watching the stars at Cannes has made you long for a red-carpet experience of your own, you don't have to fly to the South of France." For Time, Lisa McLaughlin briefs you on ten festivals in the US. Via Movie City News. In a similar vein, New York's Logan Hill.
Wrapping Cannes, 5/30."So: a good Cannes, but not a great Cannes," decides the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "For my money, the best films were out of competition: Paul Greengrass's magnificent United 93, about the passengers who fought back on 9/11, body-slammed every film in the competition. And Douglas Gordon's gloriously funny and audacious Zidane: A 21st-Century Portrait, following the footballer over 90 minutes, was the most purely enjoyable event at the festival." Also, Stephen Moss looks into Ken Loach's clenched fist. Cahal Milmo has a fine long profile of Loach in the Independent: "[E]xperience shows that efforts to paint Loach as a dour realist with a messianic zeal to raise the portrayal of proletarian toil to an art form often fall on stony ground. For a start, his films are more free-form than many would imagine." "Every film festival produces its quintessential film," writes J Hoberman. "For Cannes 2006, it was Alejandro González Iñárritu's Babel. Maximalist cine-globalism, Babel was shot in four languages on three continents by a Mexican director with an international cast, including Hollywood top dog Brad Pitt.... Cannes's 2006 competition may not have been the strongest in recent years but it was certainly the most relevant." Also in the Voice, Rob Nelson talks to Richard Linklater about his Cannes double bill. Kenneth Turan looks back in the Los Angeles Times: "Perhaps the best of the slighted films was Pan's Labyrinth, the latest work by the most accomplished fantasist in contemporary film, Guillermo del Toro." Roger Ebert, too, is evaluating the fest: "But what about another much-touted film, Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette? No other film was so loved by the French critics, although of course they are not the jury. And as the festival came to its close, I found the film growing in my memory and appreciation." Matt Dentler lists his top 7. For Mike D'Angelo at Nerve, "it seems clear that this jury wanted to make a statement about an artist's responsibility to grapple with his or her times." And Bilge Ebiri argues that the Palme d'Or matters more than its currently fashionable to admit. For example, "To say that Tarantino wouldn't have happened without the Palme would be silly, of course. But it would be equally silly to argue that Pulp Fiction's explosive debut at Cannes, capped off with its Palme win, did nothing for its stateside prospects."
Shohei Imamura, 1926 - 2006.Japanese filmmaker Shohei Imamura, a two-time winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes, has died at the age of 79.... Imamura, a pioneer of his country's New Wave movement, won the Cannes Film Festival's top award for The Ballad of Narayama in 1983 and The Eel in 1997. His other films include 1989's Black Rain, which depicted the aftermath of the Hiroshima atomic bombing. The BBC. In nineteen feature films over 45 years Imamura has probed the lower depths of Japanese society and "the Japanese consciousness." Not for him the tourist-friendly vision of Japan as the post-war economic powerhouse of Asia, the land of kimono-clad elegance, Zen serenity, and harmonious Confucian social hierarchies. Instead he has put onscreen a world populated by prostitutes, pimps, and petty thieves, peasant farmers and middle-class pornographers, serial killers and shamen. This is the irrepressibly "real" Japan of his bawdy, ragged, sensual films. Nelson Kim at Senses of Cinema. Updated through 6/2. As great as Ballad of Narayama is, I've always felt that his true masterpiece is The Profound Desire of the Gods (aka Kuragejima - Legends from a Southern Island). This epic portrait of the near-primitive and incestuous lives of the inhabitants of one of Japan's Southern Islands is Imamura's most powerful and disturbing work, and easily one of the ten greatest (and most unforgettable) films of all time. Filmbrain. [T]wo of his early movies, Stolen Desire and Endless Desire, are two of my favorite Japanese movies of all time. Grady Hendrix. See also acquarello's reviews and Richard Phillips's interview for WSWS. Updates, 6/1: Pigs and Battleships "contains most of the seeds of Mr Imamura's mature work: the black-and-white widescreen frames throb with an animalistic vitality, and his protagonists are unabashedly amoral and self-centered, concerned only with personal survival," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "For Mr Imamura, these were the positive traits of an island nation of limited resources." The Japanese New Wave "explored the link between eroticism and violence, and challenged the moral values of postwar Japanese society," writes Ronald Bergan in the Guardian. "Imamura went deeper and further into these areas than his contemporaries, but took longer to become accepted in the west as the most important director of his generation." "As far as I know, he's the first major post-humanist to emerge in Japan, getting his feet wet just before the other great rebel of Japanese cinema, Nagisa Oshima, went into feature filmmaking," writes Ryan Wu at Pigs and Battleships. "While his peers busied themselves telling classical humanist tales with such lofty titles as The Human Condition and The Burmese Harp, Imamura picked at our festering scabs." Update, 6/2: "Like the veteran director Kenji Mizoguchi, he was a champion of women's rights. Many of his films, from The Insect Woman (1963) to The History of Japan as Told by a Bar Hostess (1970), were searching studies of what it meant to be a woman in a society in which she was required at all times to be subservient to her husband and walk several paces behind him," writes the Telegraph. "He tackled subjects the authorities would have preferred to be left undisturbed - such as the fate of atom bomb victims in Black Rain (1989) and, obliquely, suicide in The Eel (1997); and, alone among his contemporaries, he emphasised the unbroken line between modern Japan and its often barbaric past."
Cannes. Index.As the individual entries on films continue to slip off the front page, I thought a simple, stripped-down index might be helpful. Opening Night:
May 29, 2006
Cannes. Review orphans.Though a slew of new entries went up throughout the Cannes Film Festival, each devoted to an individual film, I certainly didn't get to all of them. Below the jump: an attempt to find all those missing pieces for you. Before getting into the actual festival lineup, a few mentions of films that screened either in the Market or were special previews, etc. I've already mentioned the upbeat receptions given to opening sequences of Oliver Stone's World Trade Center and the showreel for Dreamgirls, but perhaps the most spectacular response - if Kevin Smith is to be believed, as we're all sure he is - has to have been the eight-minute standing ovation for Clerks II. I also found this, from George the Cyclist, worth noting: "My foraging in the market place was amply rewarded with Unknown, an American production starring Barry Pepper, Greg Kinnear and Jim Caviezel.... It was most gripping and exhilarating film-going experience." A week ago, I pointed to Rob Sharp's piece in the Observer on the controversy kicked up by Provoked. When Kiranjit Ahluwalia, the Sikh woman whose story the film tells, and Aishwarya Rai, who plays her, arrived in Cannes, Karl Rozmeyer had a talk with them for Premiere. Variety's Derek Elley caught one you probably want to hear about: "South Korean maverick Kim Ki-duk takes a scalpel to the local obsession with appearances in Time, in which a young couple resort to plastic surgery to perk their relationship - with unexpected results. Though typically centered on a high-concept idea, film is more of a conversation piece than Kim's usual pics, recalling recent works by fellow Korean helmer Hong Sang-soo, with its coffee shop meetings and ironic playfulness." The film will open the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival on June 30. All the films in Competition got entries, and of those screening Out of Competition that didn't, I'm primarily sorry I missed Ici Najac, A Vous la Terre (Najac Calling, Over to You Earth) and Chlopiec Na Galpopujacym Koniu (The Boy on a Galloping Horse) since they're the ones most of us know the least about. I did point to Bernard Besserglik's in the Hollywood Reporter, but without mentioning that he wrote, "As the title suggests, Najac purports to be a call to arms against globalization. In fact it is a celebration rather than a manifesto, a wry shrug at the contradictions involved in living off the land in the digital age, and all the more enjoyable for that." As for The Boy, it's only just yesterday that Anne Feullère's brief review appeared at Cineuropa - the only one I've seen so far: "Filled with silence, lengthy still shots and close-ups, dreamlike sequences and dialogue that frames two characters at a time, The Boy is a film deeply inspired by the cinema of Ingmar Bergman." Looking at the list more closely now, I'm only just now realizing that Wenders's Chambre 666 was screened this year.
Wrapping Cannes, 5/29."This year he got lucky"? Surely Manohla Dargis and AO Scott, reporting on Sunday night's awards ceremony in Cannes for the New York Times, mean that only in the best sense. Regardless, they do conclude, "Coupled with Mr Loach's victory, Ms Arnold's made this an unusually strong year for British filmmakers, though their harsh portrayal of their country's past and present are not likely to please the tourist board." An "exceptional year for the British film industry," write Charlotte Higgins and Mark Brown, who go on to quote Loach in the Guardian: In Britain we have a really rich film culture which rarely gets on to cinema screens. Our writers, dramatists and visual culture are much stronger than people think. We are limited by what the Americans want us to do. We need film distributors, and especially exhibitors [cinemas] to put our films on the screen. We need to be seen as part of European and world cinema, not as an extension of America. "Was Loach a compromise choice?" asks Peter Bradshaw. "Or a 'lifetime achievement' award for a Cannes favorite who has been in the running for the big prize on seven previous occasions? Such speculation is by the way, and perhaps churlish. Loach has made a fine and powerful film... [and] has toughly pursued an unfashionably political, engaged cinema." "What does this tell us?" asks the Telegraph's David Gritten. "Well, it's not that 'the French adore Ken Loach,' as one report put it this morning," he blogs, referring to Hugh Davies's report in his own paper, the Telegraph. No, "what this victory tells us is that Loach is hugely respected in the world's film community, but a prophet with insufficient honour in his own country. He has a niche following in Britain who admire his work, but he has found it hard to reach a broader audience with his left-of-center films, most of which are outstanding." Exactly. "Lucky"?! Roger Ebert calls Loach's win "a surprise and a delight in about equal measure." "We can't begrudge the Palme d'Or," blog Mary and Richard Corliss at Time. "If only Loach's movie had been as sharp and powerful an his acceptance speech." Cineuropa's Fabien Lemercier gathers quotes from all the winners. Meanwhile, the Australian reports on the winner of the Jury Prize handed out as part of the Un Certain Regard section, Ten Canoes. Mike D'Angelo, blogging at Nerve, compares this year's Competition lineup with those of years past - and finds it wanting. Jonathan Romney, writing in the Independent, agrees. If you had other things on your mind this past couple of weeks, the Telegraph runs Sukhdev Sandhu's diary, a fine and quick way to snap up the gist and move on, if you're so inclined. There you'll also find David Gritten arguing: "Big-bucks movies are killing quality at Cannes." "Cannes can turn all that attention into a harsh red glare when a movie does not deliver," warns Anne Thompson in the Hollywood Reporter. "With the speed of the Internet, movies are declared winners and losers within moments of their final closing credits." David Poland responds. "[T]o look at the American movies represented in Cannes is to see politics everywhere," wrote AO Scott in the NYT a few days ago. Anthony Kaufman: "Of the nine films I most anticipated seeing at Cannes, two exceeded expectations (Volver, Red Road), another three delivered about what was expected (Taxidermia, Climates, Babel), a couple fell short (Fast Food Nation, Flandres)." From Jason Solomons's overview in the Observer: "The stylistic tics of Italy's Paolo Sorrentino in The Family Friend drove me barmy; Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Climates, from Turkey, is self-obsessed art cinema at its most cold; Nanni Moretti's The Caiman was over-reliant on the director's self-regarding charm. Richard Kelly's Southland Tales was so bad it made me wonder if he'd ever met a human being." And he decides that "the new hotbed of cinematic invention is Belgium." As he left a few days ago, the Guardian's Xan Brooks reflected on the highlights: "In the cafés and bars people have been raving about titles such as The Host (a Korean monster movie), John Cameron Mitchell's sexed-up Shortbus and the Raymond Carver adaptation Jindabyne." More highs, more lows from Dave McCoy at MSN Movies. Matt Dentler's got pix. The latest indieWIRE L'Atelier du Festival interview: Buick Rivera director Goran Rusinovic. "Cannes is a curious thing," writes Caveh Zahedi. "It's vulgar, it's phony, it's rubbish, and yet, it is the still the highest honor that a filmmaker aspires to." Via They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?, Simon Haupt scopes his highs and lows in the Globe and Mail, Geoff Pevere finds the Americans talking politics and the AP's Angela Doland admires the Latin American entries. Movie City News gathers takes on the fest from Gautaman Bhaskaran in the Seoul Times, Simrat Ghuman for India's IBN and Turkey's Zaman.
Seattle Dispatch. 1.The segue from obsessing over Cannes to obsessing over the Seattle International Film Festival now begins in earnest with this first dispatch from Sean Axmaker, whose latest interview over at the main site is with screenwriter and storyteller extraordinaire, Stewart Stern. Here, Sean presents his takes on the opening night film, The Illusionist, as well as on A Prairie Home Companion, The Proposition, Conversations with Other Women, The Death of Mr Lazarescu and special presentations of silent classics, The Scarlet Letter and Au Bonheur des dames. The Seattle International Film Festival is a brambly garden of delights and frustrations for local audiences, a festival so determined to be all things to all people that you have to search for the adventurous and the challenging amidst the crazy-quilt programming, and 2006 is no different. Good, bad, whatever, it's SIFF, the most well-attended film festival in North America, and I guess we wouldn't have it any other way. Case in point: SIFF audiences lulled into a false sense of opening night delights with last year's uncharacteristically shaggy and individualistic opening night film, Miranda July's idiosyncratic and unpredictable Me and You and Everyone We Know, were brought back down to earth on Thursday, May 25, with this year's gala opening film, The Illusionist. Crafted with a budget-minded luscious sense of period detail to distract from the rudimentary direction and clumsy screenwriting (both from Neil Burger), the film was apparently chosen for its art-house star power (Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti) and pleasant visuals (sets, costumes, Jessica Biel caressed by soft lights).
Courtesy of L'Iconoteque La BiFi a Bercy The newly restored print of Julien Duvivier's late French silent Au Bonheur des dames (1929) made its North American premiere (with a new score by Sosin) and it was an eye-opener, a mix of poetic realism and expressionism in a story set around a corporate department store that is crushing its competition by design, and the tiny shop across the street holding on by sheer will while the buildings around are literally razed to the ground. The montage effects have been compared to the Russians, but I see Walter Ruttman's Symphony of a City in its portrait of urban destruction and renewal, presented with a sense of loss as well as a sense of the unstoppable force of progress by Duvivier. No word on whether the beautifully restored print (which was a 'pre-opening' event at Le Giornate del Cinema in Italy last year) will get a DVD release, but it is playing in the upcoming San Francisco Silent Film Festival in July. And don't forget to keep up with the most comprehensive SIFF coverage every weekday in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
May 28, 2006
Cannes. Awards. Competition.I doubt all that many people were betting Ken Loach's The Wind That Shakes the Barley would win the Palme d'Or, but there you go.
Cannes. A fost sau n-a fost?."Sixteen years after the revolution that freed Romania from Communist rule, there is still debate about whether it delivered all that was promised," writes Deborah Young in Variety. "The buoyant little comedy 12:08 East of Bucharest puts its finger on the problem in the best tradition of East European humor, savvy but concrete, gentle but sharp as a knife." It screened in the Directors' Fortnight section and has won the Camera d'Or, the prize for a first film, presented this year by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne and Sandrine Bonnaire. Earlier, it won the Label Europa Cinéma award; related: Anne Feullère and Vitor Pinto for Cineuropa.
Cannes. Awards. Fipresci.The International Federation of Film Critics jury announced its awards yesterday (thanks, Ronald Bergan!):
Cannes. Nocturnes pour le roi de Rome.When Jean-Charles Fitoussi took up residence at the Villa Médici late last year, he made Nocturnes pour le roi de Rome (Nocturnes for the King of Rome) on his mobile phone. "Overflowing with music and evanescent images, the film is an overwhelming meditation on memory," writes Anne Feullère at Cineuropa. An "old musician is full of wonder: 'Everything is perfect,' he says. The same grace marks the film from start to finish." But Variety's Lisa Nesselson finds the Critics' Week special presentation "an experimental gamble that quickly falters."
Cannes. You Am I.You Am I "does not lack for metaphorical punch, but both the filmmaking and characters are so dramatically inert you long to take a snooze in [Andrius Bialobzeskis's] inviting dwelling above a babbling brook," sighs Kirk Honeycutt in the Hollywood Reporter. Variety's Leslie Felperin finds the Un Certain Regard entry a "[p]erplexing but agreeable fable... Sophomore outing for Lithuanian writer-helmer Kristijonas Vildziunas (The Lease) goes off in all kinds of kooky directions, creating impression script was cooked up after a wild night of partying."
Cannes. Drama/Mex."An unerring compositional eye plus firm control of an inventive structure keep Drama/Mex well within the attention span, even when the script wanders without seeming to know why," writes Jay Weissberg in Variety of the Critics' Week entry. "In his sophomore feature, helmer Gerardo Naranjo has honed his skills and begun to fulfill the promise he showed with Malachance, crafting a deceptively complex tripartite character study of love, despair and unexpected compassion." "[D]idn't get the love it deserved," protests Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "This is a sexy, sultry, sharply observed picture, well worth watching out for."
Cannes. El Violin.Variety's Justin Chang on Francisco Vargas's writing-directing debut and Un Certain Regard entry: "Stark but absorbing drama follows an aging musician, beautifully played by Don Angel Tavira, who fiddles his way into the front lines of Mexico's peasant revolts during the 1970s." Salon's Andrew O'Hehir finds El Violin "both a passionate tale of violence and music and a beautifully crafted work of black-and-white cinema." "Expanded from a 2005 short film, El Violin takes time to find its momentum with a few clumsily handled early scenes, but you can see why Vargas was given the greenlight to expand it," writes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE.
Cannes. Den brysomme mannen."For office drone Andreas, suicide is preferable to a world where everything is spotlessly clean, everyone's nice, and every home looks like an Ikea showroom," writes Leslie Felperin in Variety. "The Bothersome Man, the delightfully droll sophomore feature by Norwegian helmer Jens Lien (Jonny Vang) creates a surreal dystopia that's only a taupe-colored shade from a realist depiction of contempo Scandinavia." As noted earlier, the Critics' Week feature won the ACID Award and Salon's Andrew O'Hehir writes, "[O]n first viewing I thought it was great, or at least highly original, or at least funny and creepy and highly worth seeing."
Cannes. 2:37."You get six troubled-teen movies for the price of one in 2:37, a queasy exploitation picture masquerading as a serious dramatic treatment of teen suicide from Australian writer-helmer Murali K Thalluri," writes Variety's Justin Chang. Ray Bennett in the Hollywood Reporter on the Un Certain Regard entry: "The buzz of school life can easily obscure alienation and loneliness, the film observes, and if its depiction is a little too pat, it's nonetheless worthwhile."
Cannes. Juventude Em Marcha.Mike D'Angelo at Nerve on Pedro Costa's Colossal Youth: "[P]erhaps the kindest thing I can do is note that most viewers will find it an endurance test, and then just move on. There's a tiny, self-selecting audience for this sort of ultra-austere art film." At Time, Mary and Richard Corliss pluck the best bit from Justin Chang's review in Variety, the part where he calls it "a numbing, nearly three-hour fusion of documentary and dramatic essay that will hold the Portuguese director's coterie of fans in rapt attention while proving a colossal bore to everyone else." The Hollywood Reporter's Ray Bennett agrees that "its lack of narrative pace will exhaust the patience of most audiences."
Cannes. Quand j'etais Chanteur."It probably won't happen this way, but wouldn't everyone be pleased if Gérard Depardieu won the best actor award at Cannes this year," writes Roger Ebert. "Depardieu received a tumultuous ovation Friday as the star of Quand j'etais Chanteur, or The Singer.... The film, directed by Xavier Giannoli, is sentimental but not soppy, showing the singer as a specialist in romantic ballads at mixers for middle-aged single people 'afraid of discos.'" "It's got a lot going for it," offers Glenn Kenny for Premiere. "Depardieu gives an engaging and intelligent performance... and the world his character inhabits is worth visiting and examining. Still, early on in the picture I found myself praying to the cinema gods, 'Please, don't let this turn into Limelight,' and the film did not... but it concluded on a pretty unsatisfying note nonetheless." Cineuropa's Fabien Lemercier interviews Depardieu.
May 27, 2006
Cannes. Awards. Critics' Week."Europe made a clean sweep at this year's 45th International Critics' Week awards ceremony yesterday evening," Fabien Lemercier happily announces at Cineuropa.
Cannes. Awards. Directors' Fortnight.The Directors' Fortnight has announced its awards:
Cannes. El Laberinto del Fauno."Hands down the most exciting and original film I've seen here," announces Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, "and the one that had me in tears during its final scenes. Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro is best known as the director of such fanboy classics as Hellboy, Mimic and Blade 2, which are cool enough in their way. Pan's Labyrinth [site] is something else again, and something far more powerful and original." Updated through 5/28. "[R]educing Pan's Labyrinth to its sparkling visual display would not be doing the film enough justice, as it is the story's intrigue that truly keeps audiences on the edge of their seats," writes Fabien Lemercier at Cineuropa. Mike D'Angelo, blogging at Nerve, calls it "a more fanciful (but just as sadistic and pretentious) counterpart to director Guillermo Del Toro's The Devil's Backbone - magical underground kingdom as haven from the horrors of Franco's Spain." Updates, 5/28: "Terrific," declares Mary Corliss at Time's site. "Lewis Carroll meets Luis Buñuel." "Definitely not for children and in fact more of a horror film," writes Ray Bennett in the Hollywood Reporter, noting particularly the film's "extraordinary fantasy sequences." A "richly imagined and exquisitely violent fantasy," writes Justin Chang in Variety. "Del Toro's taste for matter-of-fact surrealism inevitably means that some of the story's metaphorical and mythological underpinnings remain elusive, though for the most part the story's flow is so relentless that explanations feel almost unnecessary." Cinematical's James Rocchi: "[A]dult fantasy fans will find it a glorious, gripping feast for the eyes that not only creates stunning images but also has the story and characters to make it penetrate past the visual cortex and linger in that place where you keep nightmares and dreams."
May 26, 2006
Cannes. Cum mi-am petrecut sfârsitul lumii."Catalin Mitulescu's debut feature is the first of two Romanian movies screening here on successive days that dwell on the events surrounding, or leading up to, the overthrow of that country's Stalinist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu on Dec. 23, 1989," notes Bernard Besserglik in the Hollywood Reporter in a generally positive review. "But where the second of these, Corneliu Porumboiu's 12.08 East of Bucharest, is a shoestring affair, financed largely out of the director's pocket, The Way I Spent the End of the World (Comment j'ai fete la fin du monde) comes with major French backing and Martin Scorsese and Wim Wenders credited as associate producers." Updated through 5/28. And "it largely lives up to its credentials, which include winning the 2005 Sundance/NHK award for best European project," finds Variety's Deborah Young, even if "this warm story does have a tendency to ramble." Screening in the Un Certain Regard section. Update, 5/28: "Sweet and likeable, the movie quietly captures the young innocent love inside a poor rural village during a time of upheaval," writes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE.
Cannes. Guisi."An Asian ghost flick without one decent scare in two hours, Silk is way too smooth for its own good," grumbles Variety's Derek Elley. "The movie has enough plot for three good movies, or at least three better ones than this," blogs Richard Corliss for Time. Ray Bennett in the Hollywood Reporter: "Set in Taipei but featuring actors from various Asian countries, the film relies heavily on dramatic music for its thrills and some of the effects are a bit cheesy, but it appears to be so well meant that these flaws are easily forgiven." Screening Out of Competition.
Cannes. Z Odzysku."This grim depiction of the squalor of provincial, modern-day Poland has plenty of heart," writes Duane Byrge in the Hollywood Reporter. "Yet, most powerfully it does not stoop to maudlin story punches. It's a gripping eye-opener of the quagmire of life in contemporary Poland."
LA CityBeat. Summer 06.In the Los Angeles CityBeat, Andy Klein's got your quick rundown of the summer; he also places A Prairie Home Companion within the context of the Robert Altman oeuvre and reviews District B13, X-Men: The Last Stand and The Da Vinci Code. Brent Simon considers the Snakes on a Plane meme and talks with Bryan Singer about Superman Returns, Rebecca Epstein talks with Sydney Pollack about Sketches of Frank Gehry and Steve Appleford talks with Larry Clark about Wassup Rockers.
Criticine. 3."Representation is a huge issue in Southeast Asia, and while it encompasses cultural diversity, it certainly isn't limited to it." Criticine editor Alexis A Tioseco outlines the issues addressed in the third issue - and interviews filmmaker John Torres. Filmmaker Thunska Pansittivorakul talks with Bioscope Magazine editors Suparp Rimtheparthip and Thida Plitpholkarnpim, with Kong Rithdee, "film festival explorer and English-language film critic... a vital character in the Thai film scene," and with Tropical Malady director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. "The words 'video,' 'documentary,' 'experimental,' and 'Singapore' are not usually selling points in Singapore," writes Tan Pin Pin. "This article is not about the video, but about the meandering journey Singapore GaGa took around Singapore before it came to have this successful run at the Arts House." Raya Martin files a third and final journal entry documenting his stay at the Résidence du Festival in Cannes. "I am an accidental filmmaker," writes Teng Mangansakan, who blogs here. Philip Cheah curated the series, Whose Terror is it Anyway? and is interviewed by Shaheen Merali. Reviews: Gaik Cheng Khoo on Ho Yuhang's Min, Hassan Muthalib on the work of Malaysian filmmaker Aaron Chung and Noel Vera on Mario O'Hara's Uhaw na Pag-ibig (Thirst for Love).
Midnight Eye.You may have noticed I've been a little preoccupied with the Cannes Film Festival this past week and a half or so, during which time a few new issues of notable publications have appeared, namely, Midnight Eye, Criticine, and just today, the "Summer Film 06" issue of Los Angeles CityBeat. But they're certainly worth running through now and taking notes for when things calm down a bit, perhaps over the long weekend. Starting with Midnight Eye, Tom Mes interviews Kankuro Kudo, "the current golden boy of Japanese film," and reviews Takashi Miike's Big Bang Love, Juvenile A and Shion Sono's Strange Circus: "Ero-guro is back." Jasper Sharp reviews Akira Mizuta Lippit's Atomic Light (Shadow Optics), which seems like a fascinating read, and Norifumi Suzuki's 1974 nunsploitation flick, School of the Holy Beast. Jonathan Clements has a feature on voice-acting in anime and Adam Campbell reviews Kentaro Otani's Nana.
Cannes. A Scanner Darkly."'Darkly' is right," writes Peter Bradshaw. "Everything about this movie from director Richard Linklater is murky, mysterious and confusing - but intriguing and often weirdly gripping, too. It is playing in the Un Certain Regard sidebar, and is certainly a lot more interesting than Linklater's other film here at Cannes, in the main competition - the anti-burger drama Fast Food Nation." "[T]here is nothing animated about this animated feature," growls the Hollywood Reporter's Duane Byrge. A Scanner Darkly [site] "is static. Scene after scene of verbose fiddle-faddle: Characters orate at each other, while sitting in cars, sitting at dining tables, sitting in living rooms, sitting at office desks. The film might be better titled 'The Big Sit.'" Updated through 5/27. Time Out's Geoff Andrew finds it "so verbose as to be somewhat dull and soporific." Variety's Justin Chang: "Though it shares some obvious chromosomes with Waking Life, Scanner's dystopian tale is light years removed in temperament from the earlier film, whose delirious verbiage and constantly mutating palette radiated a sense of boundless optimism and possibility." Earlier: robbiefreeling at Reverse Shot, still highly recommended. Update: Over at Time's site, Richard Corliss praises Linklater for underlining "the similarities of two decades marked by governmental snooping into its citizens' business and brains: the 70s, when the Nixon White House amassed a long Enemies List and used the FBI and its own resources to get dirt on suspected troublemakers, and our own, when anyone's telephone chats and email messages are in danger of winding up in a printout on the desk of a National Security Agency cybersleuth." Update, 5/27: Salon's Andrew O'Hehir: "On one hand, Scanner Darkly is a paranoid futuristic thriller, but on the other it's a pitch-perfect portrait of life in deadbeat slackerdom and Linklater's funniest, loosest movie in years."
May 25, 2006
SIFF and other fests."This year the largest film festival in the United States will screen more than 270 features - more than ever before," writes Annie Wagner, introducing the Stranger's appropriately monstrous new site dedicated to all things Seattle International Film Festival (through June 18), featuring a blog, naturally, but loads more, too. But the Stranger's isn't the only blog covering the fest; Tablet may be defunct, but its Siffblog thrives. Earlier: A preview of the lineup. A Work in Progress: The Films of James Mangold, a series running June 4 through 29 at MoMA, was preceded Tuesday night by an onstage interview with the director - and The Reeler was there. Ed Gonzalez previews the Flaming Film Festival (through May 31) for the City Pages. Open Roads: New Italian Cinema is a series running from May 31 through June 8. Cinematical's Martha Fischer previews Gabriele Salvatores's Quo Vadis, Baby? "In spite of the expansion of the European Union, films from Central and Eastern Europe are yet to make much of an impact on cinema audiences throughout the rest of the continent," writes John Gorick. "The Trieste Film Festival offers one of the best opportunities to see the developing trends in cinema from the Baltic to the Balkans." Also at Kamera, Antonio Pasolini looks back on the European Media Art Festival, which took place two weeks ago in Osnabrück.
Politics and shorts.Five years ago, Mark Cousins argued that, no matter how liberal Hollywood enjoyed perceiving itself, its films delivered an essentially right-wing point of view. In the current issue of Prospect, he explains why he sees that changing, as Hollywood's narratives move away from loners and toward collectives. Steve Ramos at indieWIRE: "Non-fiction filmmakers Steven Bognar and partner and co-director Julia Reichert spent years filming inside and around Cincinnati Children's Hospital for their film A Lion in the House and the result is an epic, engaging journey and a rare opportunity to experience what families undergo when one of their children is facing death." "Given that Secuestro Express delivers a forceful message about the corrosive effects of social inequality, it is difficult to understand why a left-wing government would object to it so strongly," writes Alice O'Keefe in the New Statesman. In fact, Venezuelan director Jonathan Jakubowicz voted for Hugo Chávez, he tells her: "But all this has shown me that his revolution is based on social hatred. Secuestro Express promotes social evolution, based on dialogue and understanding between social classes. Chávez knows that the moment the rich and the poor get together to work for a better Venezuela, that's the day the revolution is dead." Girish on Sauve Qui Peut (La Vie), also known as Every Man for Himself: "Late Godard is often referred to as his 'transcendental period' and this movie is where that period begins." It's Jacques Tati Day at Dennis Cooper's place. Via Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker. Michael Tully: "Werckmeister Harmonies is, objectively speaking, a towering work of art, a portrait of humanity so tender, so striking, so profound, that I had to watch it again the very next day in order to prove that I hadn't hallucinated it." Tom Huddleston at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "Nightmare Alley is an obscure post-war thriller, a noirish tale of circus fakes and con men every bit as crafty and exploitative as the characters it depicts, and just as much fun." Also, Teddy Blanks on Luis Buñuel's The Phantom of Liberty. "No word on what it means for the unreleased product from Miramax days such as Tears of the Black Tiger, or the recent acquisition of distrib rights to the Tartan USA Asian-themed catalog, but Weinsteinco's introduced at Cannes a whole new pile-up of a label they're dubbing 'Dragon Dynasty,' 'the dynamic new label under which all The Weinstein Company's Asian titles will be released,'" writes Ray Pride at Movie City Indie before running the release with the details, most prominent of which is Quentin Tarantino. And at Movie City News, Ray reviews The Proposition, "simply the most astonishing released film I've seen so far this year" (related: James Parker talks to Nick Cave for the Boston Phoenix), The Da Vinci Code, Lady Vengeance and X-Men: The Last Stand. More on X-Men from Armond White in the New York Press, Michael Agger at Slate, Nathan Rabin at the AV Club, Ryan Stewart at Cinematical and Nick Schager at Slant, where you'll also find Ed Gonzalez on Cavite, Stagedoor, Shem and La Moustache. "If L.I.E. was about the warping of children's love for their parents, 12 and Holding is a form of child abuse all its own," writes Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly. "It may reek of contrivance and that irrepressible urge to shock for shock's sake, but 12 and Holding is downright deep compared to the reflexive sadism of Dead Man's Shoes, a putative black comedy with lofty pretensions to Greek tragedy by British director Shane Meadows." "In one year's time, the number of Austin-based production companies listed in the Texas Film Commission's indispensable 2006 Texas Production Manual has more than doubled," notes Marc Savlov in the Austin Chronicle, where he goes on to profile several, "all, by definition, production companies, but they're also each as unique in their aim and approach as the films and filmmakers they seek out or who seek out them. In a very real sense, they're the backbone of Austin's burgeoning film community, as essential - and as essentially varied - as the medium itself." Also, Toddy Burton: "Once upon a time, the economy collapsed. Laid off from his tech job in 2001, [Jeffrey] Travis decided to try his hand at filmmaking." Maybe you've heard of Flatland? And Raoul Hernandez enjoys Criterion's release of Dazed and Confused. Meanwhile, Richard Linklater's saying his next project will be "a small jazz movie" about Chet Baker, notes Cinematical's Martha Fischer. She's also got news of Spike Lee's next one. In what ways is 4 an inversion of Hostel? Johnny Ray Huston, writing in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, can think of a few. Jim Ridley in the Nashville Scene: "'In August 2003, a group of hairdressers from America opened a beauty school in Kabul.' That's the kind of opening line that makes you lean forward in your chair, and Liz Mermin's documentary The Beauty Academy of Kabul doesn't disappoint." "What's a good laugh worth in Hollywood these days?" asks Sharon Waxman in the New York Times. "Apparently, less than $112 million." A report on the demise of Used Guys. Commentary: David Poland and Nikki Finke. Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan? Michael Billington looks back on a plethora of actors messin' round with gender roles in film and theater history. Also in the Guardian: "The Da Vinci Code raises the question of whether printed and broadcast opinion matters at all." From a slightly different angle, Mark Lawson asks once again: "Has our culture now created a sort of genetically modified turkey - the critic-proof product?" Nick Rombes wonders what Walter Benjamin would have had to say about YouTube. David Poland compares and contrasts the domestic and international trailers for Ghost Rider. Speaking of trailers, at Back of the Trailer, Aaron Goranson reviews, yes, trailers. And speaking of new blogs, New Guy director Bilge Ebiri is now blogging at Nerve: ScreenGrab, it's called. If you're in LA, Kevin Crust's got a recommendation for you in the Los Angeles Times: "The New Bev has gotten a bad rap in recent years for its unabashedly down-market decor, but the theater's sound and projection have been upgraded and it retains much of its uniqueness as the city's only true revival theater." Online browsing tip. The site for Bret Wood's Psychopathia Sexualis. Via Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker. Online listening tip. At Slate, Andy Bowers and Mark Jordan Legan talk about the so-bad-they're-good movies in which animals run amok. Online viewing tip. Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Foutaises (Rubbish) at ticklebooth and No Fat Clips!!!
Cannes. Shorts and shorts."The likes of Walter Salles (Motorcycle Diaries), Alexander Payne (Sideways), Alfonso Cuarón (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and Gaspar Noé (Irréversible) would not look out of place in the main competition line-up. Jane Campion, Gus Van Sant and the Coen brothers are former Palme d'Or winners. All of them have short films in this year's event." Xan Brooks talks with Campion about her short, The Water Diary. Cinematical's Martha Fischer has news about Campion's next feature, Bright Star, which, according to Reuters' Stuart Kemp and Winnie Chung, "revolves around the three-year romance between Keats and Fanny Brawne, which was cut short by Keats' untimely death at age 25 in 1821." Also in the Guardian: Jeremy Kay chats up 50 Cent and Andrew Pulver asks Whit Stillman how the fest's been going for him and hangs with a film buyer, Eve Gabereau of Soda Pictures, who "surveys the floor of the Cannes Marché" and tells him, "'In the end,' she says, 'it's no different from selling plastics.' It's a humbling thought. Those used to thinking of cinema as a noble endeavour, gilded by the twin gods of star lustre and intellectual ambition, would do well to take a stroll around the Riviera conference centre." And today's "Le wrap" features Mike Figgis and Catalina Sandino Moreno. Roger Ebert checks the odds on who'll win the Palme d'Or with the Guardian's Derek Malcolm: "'Pedro Almodóvar is now the front-runner at 9 to 4,' he told me. 'Next best chance is Babel, by Alejandro González Iñárritu, at 7-2. Marie Antoinette is 5-1.'"
Cannes. Indigènes."This morning's press screening of Days of Glory [site], by French/Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb, was greeted with grand applause," writes Fabien Lemercier at Cineuropa. "Featuring four top actors - Jamel Debbouze, Roschdy Zem, Sami Bouajila and Samy Nacéri - the moving war epic reveals the truth behind a dark event in French history: the active participation of North Africa soldiers during the 1944-1945 Liberation from Fascism and Nazism."
Cannes. La raison de plus faible.Mike D'Angelo, writing at Nerve, finds The Right of the Weakest "quite impressive... it's a strange, deliberate riff on a well-worn genre that I'd rather not name, simply because the film plays much better if you don't know in advance what direction it's going to take."
Cannes. L'Amico di Famiglia."Handsomely filmed, in a rich style that enhances both the comedy and the pathos, A Friend of the Family is the best film in the current Cannes session," declares Time's Richard Corliss. "To me, [Paolo] Sorrentino is the young hope of Italian cinema. He doesn't turn 36 until next Wednesday, and I couldn't imagine a happier or better deserved birthday present than a Palme d'Or." Eric J Lyman talks with Sorrentino for the Hollywood Reporter. Updated through 5/28. Fabien Lemercier at Cineuropa: "A post-modern, rock & roll homage to Fellini, the 35-year-old Neapolitan director’s new masterpiece is a real gem of his tragicomic style that has mesmerised audiences." But the Hollywood Reporter's Ray Bennett calls it "a murky and morally dubious film... A misogynistic male fantasy that presents a bleak view of life in Italy, the movie argues that ugliness is beautiful, beauty is ugly and greed consumes everyone." Time Out's Geoff Andrew: "Some find [Sorrentino's] technique flashy or his narrative needlessly fragmented; go with it, however, and at the very least you're left with a clutch of intriguing questions and some of the most memorable images produced by the Festival." Updates, 5/26: Mike D'Angelo at Nerve: "I can't think of another movie so doggedly determined to dazzle you with each and every shot - the film opens with an eye-popping attention-grabber, cuts from there to an image that could comfortably nestle itself into one of Matthew Barney's cinesculptures, then moves on to a credits sequence that plays like the most demented soft-drink commercial ever made... if the cumulative result can be a trifle exhausting, that doesn't change the fact that I watched a lot of The Family Friend with a big goofy smile plastered on my face." "Like the futurist artist Giorgio de Chirico, Sorrentino limns a sparsely populated world of stark architecture in which figures form a structural, depersonalized element that's equally architectural," writes Variety's Jay Weissberg, evidently suddenly realizing he's leaving France in a day or two and hasn't checked out a single museum yet. "Really a surrealist," he continues, "Sorrentino uses realism and minimalism to achieve his aims, and, with a painter's eye, he tries to capture the iconic moment, be it of pleasure or pain." Update, 5/27: Salon's Andrew O'Hehir: "Giacomo Rizzo gives an unforgettable if not precisely enjoyable performance." Updates, 5/28: Jonathan Romney in the Independent: "I can't begin to say how crazy and inspired this film is... a sometimes baffling narrative of corruption, exploitation and sexual betrayal. Visually and narratively, it's popping with ideas." Cineuropa's Fabien Lemercier interviews Sorrentino.
Cannes. Jindabyne."Jindabyne is a stunning Australian film in the Director's Fortnight section from Ray Lawrence, a psychological drama based on a short story by Raymond Carver," writes Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian. "Laura Linney and Gabriel Byrne give superb performances... for over two hours, I was on the edge of my seat." Updated through 5/27. But Robert Koehler (and where has one of Variety's best been all this time?) finds that the film "never obtains the full impact of its potentially powerful inner core." Update, 5/27: For Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, "it's a powerful, compelling blend of thriller and character drama that should have long legs and a broad reach."
Cannes. Suburban Mayhem.The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw calls Paul Goldman's Un Certain Regard entry, Suburban Mayhem [site], an "icily nasty movie that, incidentally, exploits the sadistic potential of text messages." "If you're going to spend 89 minutes with a wild animal, something about that character should engage or intrigue you," counters the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt. "Nothing here does." For Variety's Jay Weissberg, "What starts as a predictably enjoyable ride through the hothouse world of suburbia unexpectedly loses steam half way through."
Cannes. Salvador."The waning years of the Franco regime don't so much come alive as drag slowly by in Manuel Huerga's Salvador, an earnest, well-intentioned biopic of middle class leftie Salvador Puig Antich, the last person executed by the garrote in Spain," writes Jay Weissberg in Variety.
Cannes. Bihisht Faqat Baroi Murdagon."This film is a rare find," announces the Hollywood Reporter's Duane Byrge. "It's generally hard to come across a production as dunderheaded as To Get to Heaven, First You Have to Die (Bihisht Faqat Baroi Murdagon), even on the festival circuit." "[A]n artfully lensed but psychologically unpersuasive initiation tale from Tajikistan," writes Variety's Deborah Young of the Un Certain Regard entry.
Cannes. Azur et Asmar.Xan Brooks finds Michel Ocelot's Directors' Fortnight entry, Azur et Asmar, "a likeable jaunt through a land of muezzins and souks; warm-hearted and beautifully designed," but decides to ask the target audience what they think, for example, "seven-year-old Hugo, who says that he liked the beginning, and Annicke (also seven), who preferred the end. Four-year-old Salima is visiting the cinema for the very first time but clams up like Garbo when I ask her about it."
Cannes. Volevo Solo Vivere.Lee Marshall in Screen Daily: "Mimmo Calopresti's homage to the almost 6,000 Italian Jews who died in Hitler's death camps, and the 837 who returned alive, Volevo Solo Vivere spins a moving story out of sensitively sifted and edited archive material." Variety's Jay Weissberg calls it "a simple, straightforward and devastating portrait of nine Italian Jews deported to Auschwitz, each recounting wrenching memories with searing clarity." Screening Out of Competition.
Cannes. Zidane, un portrait du 21st siecle."Ill-conceived," declares Ray Bennett in the Hollywood Reporter. Philippe Parreno and Douglas Gordon's doc follows the soccer star, and only the soccer star, throughout. Bennett: "There's an arrogance about [Zidane, a 21st century portrait; site] that suggests only the cinema could do artistic justice to what most of the world regards as 'the beautiful game.' But the grammar of football coverage has been refined over decades of telecasts in which TV cameramen and directors have arrived at an unbeatable artistry of their own." Updated through 5/28. The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw's had a better time: "By the end, Zidane has achieved the charisma and mystery of the hero from some lost Shakespeare play." Variety's Leslie Felperin notes that it "could easily play galleries... However, those who come seeking a traditional docu about the sport or Zidane will be sorely disappointed." Screening Out of Competition. Earlier: Gary Younge in the Guardian. Update: George the Cyclist at Rashomon: "Any American who does not appreciate the game will use this as evidence to prove how boring it is, as Zidane spends a lot of time just shuffling about. But for the soccer fan, this could be pure bliss." Update, 5/28: "For me, the finest film at Cannes," declares Jason Solomons in the Observer: "[S]ublime, the only film to lift me out of my seat and inject that buzz of discovery for which Cannes is usually so cherished. It's the greatest film about football ever made (I admit the competition in that field is not strong) and one of the great films about sport.... There was no more soulful an examination of the human condition to be found at Cannes than in watching Zidane at work."
Cannes. Daft Punk's Electroma."If auds thought Gus Van Sant's Gerry and Vincent Gallo's The Brown Bunny were slow and pretentious, they should get a load of Daft Punk's Electroma," groans Variety's Leslie Felperin. Andrew Pulver in the Guardian on the Directors' Fortnight entry: "[T]he Punks have an eye for an arresting image: their simple tale of two robots who make themselves human faces out of wax is beautifully filmed, and occasionally very funny. But they have not quite worked out the importance of having a narrative: an incredibly dull mid-section in which our two electric pals stumble metronomically through the desert had the audience fleeing in droves."
May 24, 2006
Dylan @ 65.Maybe it was a coincidence, maybe it was planned, but it was today, Bob Dylan's 65th birthday, that Sheigh Crabtree and Borys Kit got to write in the Hollywood Reporter: "Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams are joining the all-star cast of the Bob Dylan biopic I'm Not There, written and directed by Todd Haynes." Also cast: Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale, Julianne Moore and Richard Gere. Recent and related: Flickhead for the past days and weeks; David Yaffe at Slate; TLRHB; Edward Copeland on Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. Online listening tip. If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger... celebrates with Alan J Weberman.
Freebie: Trapped by the Mormons."If you only see one Mormonsploitation flick in your lifetime, make it this one!" Gawker has exclaimed. The Washington Post calls Trapped by the Mormons a "sexy, hilarious, Grand Guignol of mesmerism, vampirism, and physical stirrings, wrapped up in a flickering black-and-white bow." And, if you're in the San Francisco Bay Area, or plan to be, tomorrow, Friday or Saturday evening, and if you're lucky, you can see it for free. Yes, free. The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is making a limited number of tickets to each of the three 7:30 pm screenings available to those reading these words who then drop a line to email@example.com in the hopes of catching this clever and amusing indie - for free. There are no trick questions to answer, no further hoops to jump through. But again, there is a limited number of free tickets available. Click, request one, maybe even a pair, hit send. Good luck.
Cannes. Marie-Antoinette.Decidedly mixed. Here we go... "Coppola's basic idea here is at once simple and remarkably poignant," writes Mike D'Angelo at Nerve. "She makes us feel the bewilderment and alienation of a young girl ejected from the world she's always known and thrust into a position of great power and stifling regiment by taking bubbly, vivacious Kirsten Dunst - playing more or less the same wholly contemporary mall denizen we've seen in films like Bring It On and Elizabethtown - and trapping her in a stately historical drama. The result is something like The Princess Diaries as it might have been conceived by... well, by Sofia Coppola." Ultimately, he finds it "so much more ambitious and interesting than a conventional biopic - even a fairly decent one, like the Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth - that I found myself rooting for it in spite of its thinness and clumsiness." Updated through 5/28. "As a study in surface, it's quite impeccable. Soon, though, this flippancy begins to grate and it becomes more and more apparent that Coppola has failed really to grapple on any meaningful level with her subject," writes Time Out's Dave Calhoun. "Ultimately, considering Coppola's attempt to shoe-horn the French revolution into the film's last ten minutes, her disengagement is more than lazy; it's a little offensive. It may be hip, but it ain't history." "When Marie Antoinette focuses on the mores and manners of the 18th century French court, it's interesting stuff; those moments, though, come few and far between," writes Cinematical's James Rocchi. "Much of Coppola's film is given over to sequences of dancing, trying on clothes or relaxing - all of which may have been important elements of Marie Antoinette's life, but they hardly make for thrilling cinema." The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt draws parallels with Lost in Translation but then notes: "The problem Coppola confronts is that Marie Antoinette is a protagonist to whom things happen.... Coppola's solution to this dramatic handicap is to conspire with her star to achieve an empathetic portrait of a life spent in a gilded, vast prison." More plus points for the cast, the cinematography; in the end, Coppola "achieves a harmonious blend of history and contemporary perceptions." Jeffrey Wells: "This will certainly rank as a stain upon Coppola's reputation, as she has arguably made the shallowest and dullest historical biopic of all time." The Hollywood Reporter's Anne Thompson interviews Sofia Coppola and Kenneth Turan profiles Coppola in the Los Angeles Times. "'Let them have eye candy' pretty much sums up Sofia Coppola's approach to her revisionist and modernist take on the famous royal airhead who in the end lost her head," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy, adding that the "follow-up to her breakthrough second feature, Lost in Translation, is no more nourishing than a bonbon. Anne Thompson: "Any critic demanding intellectual content will wind up hungry for nourishment. I suspect that this will play best for young women. My 16 year old daughter will love it." Matt Riviera: "Sofia Coppola's talent is undeniable, but one can't help but hope that she will soon get over her spoilt brat syndrome and perhaps work in collaboration with screenwriters who have spent a little more time outside the gilded cage." Premiere's Glenn Kenny: "I'll say right up front that I'm pro. Very pro. This is a witty, inventive, modernist-skewed look at girl power and the lack thereof, a view of bubbled life from inside the bubble, a story of how ignorance is bliss until the thing you're ignorant of starts biting you in the ass." Updates, 5/25: Manohla Dargis and AO Scott present their takes in the New York Times. Ms Dargis: "Her youth and apparent ignorance locked the future queen in a welter of self-indulgence from which she had no reason to escape, or so Ms Coppola vainly tries to suggest... This is Ms Coppola's one idea, and it isn't enough." Mr Scott: "[H]ungry peasants and restless city dwellers who ultimately brought down the French monarchy are mainly a distant rumor, as the action takes place entirely within the hermetic world of the Bourbon court, with its intricate codes of behavior, its curious blend of idle hedonism and solemn purpose, its pervasive gossip and its obsession with fashion and appearance." This "description of the courts of Louis XV and XVI," he writes, "could just as easily apply to 21st-century Hollywood, a parallel that, in Marie Antoinette, is both transparent and subtle." Ultimately: "I for one am happy to lose my head over Marie Antoinette." Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian: "Ultimately, it makes for a baffling and historically obtuse film, in which the inner lives of Marie and Louis remain opaque. But it is carried off with tremendous visual and dramatic style: a movie that shimmers like a beguiling mirage." But for Xan Brooks, "If ever a movie deserved to be thrown to the mob, it is this one. The fact remains, however, that booing at Cannes tends not to make a blind bit of difference to a film's chances." For Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, "the general feeling is very Danceteria 1988.... Coppola lacks the committed, demented genius Baz Luhrmann brought to Moulin Rouge, and when Marie Antoinette isn't being crazy and decadent it becomes a bit too pretty, proper and trivial for my taste." As Coppola chats with journalists, indieWIRE's Brian Brooks listens in. Matt Dentler: "Dunst is okay, but Jason Schwartzman steals the show as Louis XVI." George the Cyclist at Rashomon: "There is not a hint in the world that the guillotine awaits her." Updates, 5/26: "[T]he boos may have helped Coppola's film, creating a controversy that demanded the taking of sides," suggest Mary Corliss for Time. "If the film wins a big prize here at Cannes, Coppola can thank the naysayers." As for her own take, "Coppola's approach is piquant, and it could be fun in a five-minute Saturday Night Live sketch, but it does not sustain a two-hour treatment." "[F]abulously frothy," writes Sheila Johnston in the Independent. "It's pure eye candy, a dazzling mood piece with little historical analysis, and drew boos and cheers in almost equal measure. I loved it." Roger Ebert on the boo-ing controversy: "So did those who boo perhaps have a Yankee accent? Or British, Italian, or Austrian? Who can say? The important point is that the film was not hated. The daily 'critics' jury' of Screen International, a cross-section of nine international critics, gave it 2.44 points out of a possible 4; it’s tied for fifth out of 14 films. In another poll, Michel Ciment rated it worthy of the Palme d'Or." Update, 5/27: In the Los Angeles Times, Deborah Netburn rounds up reactions from American bloggers and French papers. Updates, 5/28: Jason Solomons in the Observer: "This is a funny, beautiful and, yes, cool film, blending fashion and pop with subtle comments on celebrity, emptiness and excess.... In its fin-de-siecle mood and beauty, it reminded me of Gus Van Sant's Last Days. In terms of pure, lavish enjoyment, it stands apart in this unremarkable competition." A "metaphor for contemporary stardom, or for la Coppola's own position as pampered Hollywood royalty?" asks Jonathan Romney in the Independent. "But as an essay on the dangers of conspicuous expenditure, the film was something of an own goal - the cake budget alone must have been astronomical." Gary Meyer, blogging for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, had a splendid time. Meanwhile, Ronald Bergan notes that Mops, the dog, has won an award. Andrea Feldman worries that Coppola's "protagonists' continued muteness - and by extension, her own - is looking more and more like an unfortunate combination of artistic limitation and sheer directorial laziness."
Love Streams @ NWFF.NP Thompson attends a special screening of Love Streams at the NWFF, where it plays through tomorrow. John Cassavetes's 1984 masterpiece Love Streams, his final independent film (and not available on DVD outside France), opened last Friday for a rare theatrical engagement at Northwest Film Forum in Seattle's trendy Capitol Hill. On the first night of the week-long run, Richard Jensen of Clear Cut Press introduced the movie; guitarist Calvin Johnson strummed a couple of offbeat songs, relating a charming anecdote along the way about making prank phone calls to Leonard Maltin's house (to protest Taxi Driver's receipt of a mere two-star rating); and in a curious decision, there was NWFF Executive Director Michael Seiwerath branding Love Streams as a movie "that can only be thought of as a failure." More on this last detail in a moment. Toward a definition of why he considers it his favorite film, Jensen spoke of the "uncharacteristic rhythms" of Love Streams, of "the way the music moves the movie." Jensen acknowledged the songs of composer Bo Harwood, all unpublished apparently, as seminal contributions, but most of Jensen's pre-screening talk consisted of holding his cell phone up to a mic, and playing back a saved voice mail message from the Cassavetes connoisseur Ray Carney, who had called Jensen earlier in the day to say that, on such short notice, he couldn't locate contact information for Harwood. And so those of us gathered listened to Carney's disembodied voice sing the praises of this "completely untutored" songwriter who can't read music, but whose haunting, odd melodies perfectly accompanied the late auteur's visions. It was impossible to hear most of what Carney had to say, but given how many months had elapsed between programming Love Streams (it was announced as far back as February) and the opening, Jensen's introduction was a bit too fly-by-night. Wouldn't it have been a richer experience to have a statement from Harwood on the process of making music with and for Cassavetes? In the past, Northwest Film Forum has hosted Hal Hartley, Guy Maddin, Michael Almereyda - to name a few. How difficult, with some advance planning, could it have been to bring Harwood in for this event? It's what's on the screen, of course, that ultimately matters, and in this regard, Love Streams was no letdown. I had seen the film a handful of times before, but always on television, never in a movie theatre. If its faults are less obscured within a larger canvas, the movie's virtues are heightened that much more as well. Although Cassavetes, in such works as Opening Night, Faces, Minnie and Moskowitz, had long been a master of shifting disparate tones with the greatest of ease, here he pushes further in alternating passages of slapstick comedy and domestic tragedy. And not least among the writer-director's accomplishments, Love Streams gives Gena Rowlands the funniest, most powerful film role she has ever had. As Sarah Lawson, a middle-aged beauty who does everything to excess, whether in the amount of luggage she takes to Europe, or in choosing a pet for her brother, or - perhaps best of all - in wearing a black evening gown with red high heels for a night at a bowling alley, Rowlands taps into comic wellsprings that none of her subsequent directors have utilized.
Cannes. Yongseobadji Mothan Ja."Two friends find the bond forged during military service doesn't mean much in civilian life in The Unforgiven, a fresh, if overlong, indie debut by writer-director Yoon Jong-bin," writes Derek Elley in Variety of the Un Certain Regard entry that's already picked up awards in Pusan. "[T]hose who stuck with it were rewarded by a film that, much like Roman Polanski's Pianist, shows how individuals can be broken by systems of power bit by soul-crushing bit," notes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt finds it "contains moments of insight and unexpected humor, for the most part it's tedious going." Earlier: Erika Franklin in Firecracker.
Cannes. Serambi.Serambi, screening in the Un Certain Regard section, documents the struggle of the people of Aceh, Indonesia, to recover from the tsunami that hit at the end of 2004. "When a world has been turned upside down, the reaction, even two months later when most of the film was shot, is still one of stunned disbelief," writes the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt. Even so, "At 75 minutes, the film feels like an unfinished sketch. One can imagine either a follow-up film or an expansion of this one into a larger, more detailed work as time goes by." In Variety, Justin Chang notes that the doc "scrupulously avoids milking tragedy for easy tears or pity."
Cannes. Bamako."Writer-director Abderrahmane Sissako is to be admired for not giving up on a film that features many African voices that do cry out to be heard," writes the Hollywood Reporter's Ray Bennett. Bamako, screening Out of Competition, depicts a trial in which the plaintiff is the African nation; the defendant is the West. Debt cancellation is hardly enough. "The sentence being sought is community service, for all mankind, for eternity. It seems the least to ask for." "On paper, Sissako's film might sound dry and heavy-going," writes Time Out's Geoff Andrew. But "Sissako creates a richly varied film of considerable poetry, wit, wisdom and power." Updated through 5/25. "A strong candidate for African film of the year," declares Variety's Deborah Young, noting that Bamako "brilliantly rises to the challenge of presenting a serious discussion of globalization, African debt and the World Bank in a lively, entertaining feature film. Rather miraculously, pic succeeds in painlessly educating its viewers about global politics and economics while it describes contemporary Africa with freshness and clarity." The Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu: "No mere documentary, Bamako is full of sly humour, and even includes within it a small comic film: Death in Timbuktu - a mock western which has walk-on parts for Danny Glover and Divine Intervention director Elia Suleiman as gun-slinging cowboys."
Cannes. Jiang cheng xia ri."Mainland Chinese helmer Wang Chao finally attains an almost perfect balance between style and content in Luxury Car, a tightly written and beautifully played drama centered on a karaoke bar escort girl and her elderly father who visits from the sticks," writes Variety's Derek Elley. Updated through 5/27.
Cannes. Bled Number One.Bled Number One, "Rabah Ameur-Zaimeche's follow-up to his well-regarded debut Wesh-Wesh (What's Going On?) in 2001, translates roughly as Hicksville," explains Bernard Besserglik in the Hollywood Reporter, going on to call it "a finely observed slice of life shot in a low-key semi-documentary style. The latest in a run of French-made movies dealing with Franco-Algerian cross-currents, it speaks volumes about the conditions of life in today's Algeria." For Time Out's Geoff Andrews, this Un Certain Regard entry is "a tad meandering but generally compelling until its final 20 minutes or so, when it loses both plot and all sense of purpose almost completely."
May 23, 2006
Critics and shorts.With few exceptions, critics lambasted The Da Vinci Code pretty much across the board. Hours later, the movie enjoyed a massively successful opening weekend. So how much influence do critics wield after all? asks Philip French in the Observer. AJ Schnack takes a long hard look. Most American movies are made for and marketed to the very young, and yet, as Carlye Benedict points out in a comment Dave Kehr contextualizes, most of the major critics (and supposedly, majorly influential critics, but who knows) are around 60 or so. What's up with that? A possible partial answer: Many of the critics Benedict cites appear on television programs watched primarily by a demographic skewed toward the golden end of the scale. Meanwhile, in the New York Times, Dave Kehr reviews the Cecil B DeMille Collection and three films by Richard Fleischer just out on DVD. Related: John McElwee at the remarkable Greenbriar Picture Shows and That Little Round-Headed Boy on Four Frightened People. Michael Guillen talks with Amir Muhammad about Malaysia's banning his film, The Last Communist. Movie City News: "Norah Jones In The Next Wong Kar Wai, My Blueberry Nights, Is Old News, But The Film Being In All English And Casting of Rachel Weisz, Natalie Portman & Jude Law Is A Hot Variety Break." John Woo's heading back to Hong Kong, reports the Guardian. Ray Pride has news of Ang Lee's next one at Movie City Indie. Cinematical's Sandra Lim: "John Malkovich is replacing Ralph Fiennes as the lead in Disgrace, the big-screen adaptation of JM Coetzee's Booker Prize-winning novel." "A paragon of guerrilla resourcefulness and a model citizen of the global village, Cavite is a more anxious and vivid experience than most movies with budgets literally a thousand times bigger," writes Dennis Lim. "Despite its indie ingenuity, Cavite is a blockbuster at heart, a no-budget relation to screenwriter Larry Cohen's beat-the-clock contraptions Cellular and Phone Booth; the filmmakers have proudly cited Speed as a key influence. But the movie's documentary elements are its selling point." Also, what's left of the Village Voice that isn't already strewn out across the Cannes entries:
Other fests, etc.Movie City News has the CineVegas lineup. It'll open with Strangers With Candy on June 9 and close on the 17th with Lies and Alibis, "a drama/comedy-tinged romance from Matt Checkowski and Kurt Mattila" featuring Steve Coogan, Rebecca Romijn, James Marsden, Selma Blair, James Brolin and Sam Elliott. At Twitch, logboy's found a trailer. The schedule for the eighth annual San Francisco Black Film Festival (June 6 through 11) is up; so, too, is Frameline's, more formally known as the SF International LGBT Film Festival (June 15 through 25) - Update: Susan Gerhard offers quick takes at SF360 - so, too, is the SF Silent Film Festival's (July 14, 15 and 16). SFist's Rita and Wendy: "We were back at one of our favorite SF theaters, the Roxie, for the SF debut of Annabelle Gurwitch's Fired! at Docfest on Friday night. It turns out that there were so many eager sympathizers, a second show had to be added." Update: "There's a subculture of women in Japan who go bonkers for dudes with the Ziggy Stardust look," writes SFist's MiHi Ahn. "Or at least that's what we concluded after we saw the West Coast premiere of The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief" at the Docfest. The Reeler: "Three of New York's biggest film festivals made a flurry of newsworthy announcements Monday, with Tribeca and New York setting their respective festival dates while the lovely folks at the Hamptons announced producer Ted Hope as the recipient of their annual Industry Toast." In the Voice, Ed Halter previews Tomorrowland: Cal Arts in Moving Pictures (Thursday through August 13).
Cannes. Half-time.There's quite a bit of stock-taking going on right about now, just past midpoint for the Cannes Film Festival, but little consensus. "Maybe this is just an off-year for international cinema," suggests Time's Richard Corliss, whereas the Hollywood Reporter team decides this year's edition "is shaping up as the best Competition since the much-celebrated 2002 vintage." Updated. (Yes, already. But I think you'll agree this is worth the rush.) "There are entries that have been liked and even loved, but the 2006 Cannes Film Festival reaches its halfway mark looking like a fairly lackluster year," writes Roger Ebert, opening his overview. "Only Pedro Almodóvar's Volver, a high-spirited memory inspired by his childhood in La Mancha, has been embraced by critics and audiences." The Guardian's Xan Brooks notes that bookies are betting on this one, too: "The reasoning is that jury boss Wong Kar Wai is a long-time admirer of Almodóvar and Almodóvar has never actually won before and two and two make four (or in this case d'Or)." Meanwhile, "the average-age of US filmmakers in Cannes must be its lowest in years," notes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE. "Is this a positive sign for American cinema? One thing's for sure; they're taking risks and breaking the rules." He then offers his own takes on Shortbus and Southland Tales. Andrew O'Hehir comments on the American presence as well: "[Al] Gore and John Cameron Mitchell may not have much in common besides their nationality and (perhaps) their party affiliation, but both were received here as representatives of 'l'autre Amérique,' the republic of freedom, tolerance and progress that so inspired earlier generations of Europeans." Roger Ebert gathered nine American filmmakers together for a chat on Sunday; Eugene Hernandez and Brian Brooks were there; they've also got notes from Gena Rowlands's talk and a few parties. Also at indieWIRE, the latest L'Atelier du Festival interviews: Shiver director Christina Andreef and Dau director Ilya Khranovsky. Update: In the Voice, J Hoberman not only comes out in favor of Southland Tales, as Mike D'Angelo suspected he would (two out of three so far; the case for the film has been faintly suggested in a newspaper, argued in a weekly, and now, only Amy Taubin's left to take the stand in a magazine) - but he also writes, "Two years after Michael Moore won the Palme d'Or with Fahrenheit 9/11, social agendas have returned - at least on-screen."
Cannes. Babel."Tense, relentless and difficult to watch at times, Alejandro González Iñárritu's Babel is an emotionally shattering drama in which a simple act of kindness leads to events that pierce our veneer of civilization and bring on the white noise of terror," writes the Hollywood Reporter's Ray Bennett. "Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Gael García Bernal give committed ensemble performances alongside seasoned character performers and non-actors as the story ranges from Morocco to San Diego to Tokyo." For Jeffrey Wells, it's "a lock to win the Palmes D'Or. Everyone seems to be feeling this, spreading it around. If it doesn't win, fine - it'll still be an incredibly vivid and brilliant film - but I'll be greatly surprised." Updated through 5/28. Meanwhile, the AP knows why Pitt was a no-show. Update: Time Out's Geoff Andrew is the first dissenter I've spotted; he "can't help feeling that [Iñárritu and screenwriter Guillermo] Arriaga are reaping diminishing returns from their particular style of interwoven narratives. Occasionally the script feels a touch contrived in its efforts to keep all the balls in the air at once, so that although you are left admiring the film's often brilliant technique, you're also aware that it lacks the freshness and visceral power of Amores Perros." Variety's Todd McCarthy: "Effectively building dread and emotional tension as tragic incidents triggered by human stupidity and carelessness steadily multiply, this film, like 21 Grams in particular, employs a deterministically grim mindset in the cause of its philosophical aspirations, but is gripping nearly all the way." Updates, 5/24: For Time, Mary and Richard Corliss "offer a he-said-she-said appraisal of this important and contentious movie, between two film folks who have been in Cannes, loving movies and arguing about them, for 33 years." She's pro; he plays devil's advocate. Together, they prove dialogues can make for great reviews. Mike D'Angelo at Nerve: "For about an hour, while various balls remained suspended in midair, I found Babel completely engrossing... "But the film's second half, alas, is something of a letdown, as each strand devolves into contrived, self-important melodrama." "Each story is full of the intensity of feeling — an unsettling and often potent combination of naturalism and melodrama — that is one of Mr González Iñárritu's hallmarks," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "The vision of Babel is a kind of tragic universalism, which its director summed up by revising Tolstoy. 'What makes us happy is different,' he said, 'but what makes us miserable is very, very similar.'" The Hollywood Reporter's Anne Thompson interviews Alejandro González Iñárritu. Cinematical's James Rocchi: "Babel may seem unfocussed and uneven at first, but in time you realize that every piece clicks - the three stories connect, the people in the stories connect, the actions of the present are explained by revelations about the past - with smooth elegance." Premiere's Glenn Kenny: "[T]he picture is as overdetermined in its bleakness as any Hollywood blockbuster is in its putative kick-assness." Updates, 5/25: Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian: "It is a bold film made with style and sweep, but it is also outrageously contrived, and some of the narrative is so offensively unreal it's almost in the Lars von Trier league." "[D]ramatically involving and visually arresting," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Underlying this complex, ingenious story is a plea to acknowledge global inter-dependence," writes the Telegraph's David Gritten. "This troubled, tangled tale leaves victims and ruined lives, but somehow Iñárritu and Arriaga pluck resolution from it." Updates, 5/26: Sheila Johnston in the Independent: "Iñárritu essays big, self-important themes about cultural difference and miscommunication but, for all its doomy overtones, it's a contrived, unconvincing work." Geoff Pevere in the Toronto Star: "Dedicated to his own two children, Iñárritu's movie struck a common chord even with a crowd as culturally dispersed as the one in Cannes. 'The problem is not language,' Iñárritu said of the motivating concept behind the film. 'The problem is the preconceptions we have of one another that keep us apart.'" Updates, 5/28: Jason Solomons in the Observer: "None of it rings true, and the Tokyo storyline is particularly tenuous. Yet the film is dazzling in its technical virtuosity, shot on various film stocks by Rodrigo Prieto and underlined by Gustavo Santaolalla's score... But I didn't feel anything here. There's such a level of artifice at play that the messages about nations misunderstanding each other, jumping to conclusions about terrorists and guns being generally bad come clumsily." For Jonathan Romney, writing in the Independent, it "feels manipulative and forced. One French critic complained that the film summed up the current parlous state of world cinema; indeed, this self-important exercise is world cinema in the same way that Peter Gabriel is world music." Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE: "Some critics are beginning to tire of the Iñárritu/Ariaga model: the mixed narratives all linked by a single tragedy (Perros, 21 Grams) and the 'profound' human themes and fragmented story that eventually emerges whole like a self-satisfied light-bulb in the viewer's mind. Still, there is no denying the power of Babel, the assured photography and editing, the gripping stories, and the full commitment of the actors (Cate Blanchett and a wrinkled Brad Pitt as tourists in Morocco deliver fine, anguished performances)." "[O]f all the movies I have seen in the festival, particularly the American and English-speaking ones, "Babel" is the one that will matter in the American and international movie market, when it is released in the fall," writes Emanuel Levy. Via Jeffrey Wells.
Cannes. Flandres."If you're looking for a movie that depicts all of humanity as rutting, vicious, unthinking Neanderthals held captive by their animalistic urges, Bruno Dumont is your man," writes Mike D'Angelo for Nerve. "Flanders may well be a fine motion picture, but like all of Bruno Dumont's work, it made me feel assaulted rather than edified."
May 22, 2006
Cannes. Gue Mool."Best known for his remarkably grim police procedural Memories of Murder (widely considered one of the finest films commercially released in the US last year), Bong [Joon-ho] here demonstrates a facility for virtuosic mayhem to rival Spielberg's; despite special effects that were state-of-the-art around 1993, the first appearance of the monster ranks among the most thrilling and imaginative action sequences in recent memory," writes Mike D'Angelo at Nerve. "I can only hope to see a Competition entry this impressive."
Cannes. Il Caimano."[Nanni] Moretti's [Il Caimano] adopts a daring mix of satire, light comedy and family drama to ease the passage of his serious political purpose, which is to lampoon Berlusconi personally and politically and, more subtly, to convey something of the crisis of the little man when faced with a corrupt governmental power such as Berlusconi," writes Time Out's Dave Calhoun. "What emerges from all this is a satire on both the film industry and filmmakers such as Moretti himself who wish to deal with politics but first have to overcome their own and other people's prejudices towards such a pursuit." Updated through 5/26. The Hollywood Reporter's Duane Byrge finds it "overly ambitious" and "strongest when it is least on its political soap box." Cineuropa's Camillo de Marco caught Moretti's press conference. Earlier: Cineuropa's "film focus" Vanja Luksic talks with Moretti in L'Express (and in French); site. Earlier: Il Caimano. Updates, 5/23: Mike D'Angelo for Nerve: "To the extent that The Caiman concerns Berlusconi and the impotence of left-leaning filmmakers, it's fairly sharp and nimble; Moretti utterly fails to integrate the personal and the political, however, and the divorce-related scenes, while not ineffective per se (though Moretti alter ego Silvio Orlando, an able clown, lacks the chops for real pathos), seem to belong to a different movie altogether." AO Scott in the New York Times: "Mr Moretti's movie, an expression of outrage, is equally a study in frustration. (It is also, rather remarkably given its charged subject, a gentle and bittersweet comedy.) How, it asks, can you use film to expose a leader about whom everyone seems to know the worst, and whose opponents sometimes seem to lack any program other than loathing him?" "In years to come The Caiman could be seen as the film that lost Silvio Berlusconi the election," suggests Xan Brooks, quickly adding that "the director refused to take credit for the result: 'Cinema, politics and the election campaign are all very different things.'" Still, Peter Bradshaw finds it "tricksy and politically feeble while telling us nothing very interesting or insightful about the people supposedly making the film.... With postmodern half-heartedness, Moretti has dug himself into a hole with this film." The Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu: "It tries to fuse the personal and the political, although the shift in gear, from the more humorous early scenes to Bruno's near meltdown in the second half, is so great that some viewers complained that it had turned into another film. Even if that were so, we get two great pictures for the price of one." "The Caiman suffers from an uneven tone and, buckling under the weight of its ambition, eventually fails to achieve a coherent form," writes Matt Riviera. "What remains are some fantastic scenes where Moretti's generous characters interact with a great deal of humanity, portrayed as they are by some tremendously gifted actors." Update, 5/26: Sheila Johnston in the Independent: "Crackling with ideas, it's full of brusque changes of tone, yet it is robust enough to intrigue even after its ostensible target has been zapped at the Italian elections."
Cannes. El-Banate Dol.Duane Byrge in the Hollywood Reporter on Tahani Rached's El-Banate Dol, screening Out of Competition: "A rousing documentary on the street children of Cairo, These Girls is an agonizing and uplifting depiction of street survival at its most daunting."
Cannes. Il Regista de Matrimoni.In the Hollywood Reporter, Duane Byrge calls Marco Bellocchio's Un Certain Regard entry, Il Regista de Matrimoni (The Wedding Director), featuring Sergio Castellitto, "a filmic being whose overriding deceptions and flaws give ample cause for an early annulment with discerning viewers." Updated through 5/28.
Shorts, 5/22.The phenomenally engaging browse, Ingmar Bergman: Face to Face, is now browse-able in English. "At the moment, it comprises just over half of the original Swedish material," write Jon Asp & Anna Håkansson as they work on translating all the way through. Alice Jones riffs on Alain Silver and James Ursini's LA Noir: The City as Character: "While the giant, wonky white letters high on the Hollywood hills act as a secular Mecca for wannabe starlets who flock to the city of dreams where human Barbie dolls skate down palm-lined boulevards, silicone-enhanced shopaholics stalk Rodeo Drive and legions of unfeasibly good-looking waiters and waitresses await their break, filmmakers have long been more interested in the seamier side of life in the 'city of flowers and sunshine.'" Also in the Independent, Kevin Jackson talks with Whit Stillman about his past and future and David Thomson still can't seem to shake Orson Welles; this week, he focuses on the missed opportunities. Having just taught a class in film history, Caveh Zahedi has revisited a set of titles widely regarded as required viewing and picks out the films that "struck me as the most unassimilably strange and therefore as the most canonical." Peter Nellhaus presents "Ten Reasons Why 1958 Was the Best Year for American Film." The latest entry in Roger Ebert's collection of Great Movies: Army of Shadows. Ian Johnston at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "Prix de beauté is a minor, and in some ways rather odd film, but it's worth a viewing simply - almost, only - because of Louise Brooks." That Little Round-Headed Boy on Renaldo and Clara: "Frankly, I've never seen so much arty noodling, numb preciousness and overall wanking-off. I love Dylan... But even worship has its limits." Nollywood - the Nigerian film industry, that is - carries on booming, reports Frank Bures in the Los Angeles Times. David Edelstein in New York: "X-Men: The Last Stand is, like The Da Vinci Code, undermined by impersonal direction, but this time it isn’t fatal: There are still lots of neat-o special effects." Related: Anne Thompson in the Hollywood Reporter on how producer Lauren Shuler Donner is stirring up interest in the film in Cannes. Online listening tip. The Hitchcock/Truffaut Tapes #6 at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger.... Online viewing tip. DVblog: "Realityfilm and Tate Modern present a psychoanalytical, cinematic cabaret with live music by The Real Tuesday Weld with a new original score for the film Dreams That Money Can Buy (1946), by Hans Richter and some of the greatest names in the Dadaist/Surrealist movement, including Man Ray, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Leger and Alexander Calder." May 27.
Cannes. Views and previews."A standing ovation greeted the arrival of Gena Rowlands, who was in Cannes to deliver the 'leçon d'actrice,' the festival's pompous appellation for an onstage interview." And Andrew Pulver was there to hear it. He got a sneak peak at Factory Girl, the Edie Sedgwick biopic starring Sienna Miller, too. Also in the Guardian, Natalie Press, in Cannes with Red Road, writes about all the goings on. In the Los Angeles Times, Robert W Welkos reports that the 20 minutes of Oliver Stone's World Trade Center previewed at the fest was "received with thunderous applause by a packed audience." Simon Crerar was there, too, for the Times of London: "Even with unfinished special effects, this is powerful stuff: the sheer panic and horrific destruction as the tower collapses is brilliantly captured." Woo-hoo? The Boston Herald's Stephan Schaefer prefers to focus on the celebration of the 20th anniversary of Platoon. A bit of Dreamgirls has been shown, Mary Corliss was there, and blogs for Time: "Twenty minutes, even the 20 shown at the Martinez, do not make a movie. There's no telling how the entire film will play. But the Friday-night tastes were savory.... As someone who saw the original show five times, I would not have thought that a movie could have equaled my Dreamgirls memory, but what I saw might just be its cinematic equal." Roger Ebert had a rough time getting in - Roger Ebert! - but once he did, he found, "Those were 20 terrific minutes." Via Movie City News, Richard Brooks previews Marie-Antoinette in the London Times. Related: Laurent Rigoulet and Louis Guichard profile Sofia Coppola for Télérama (in French). Todd at Twitch: "Apparently Choi Min-Sik and Bong Joon-Ho have been leading nightly vigils in from of the Palais Lumiere every night at eight, just on time for the big nightly galas. The duo are there protesting, once again, the reduction of the Korean screen quota system." A "group of London campaigners have poured scorn on Provoked, an all-star film [Aishwarya Rai, Miranda Richardson and Robbie Coltrane] that premiered in Cannes last week, which they claim is riddled with 'factual and legal inaccuracies,'" reports Rob Sharp in the Observer. "When you see Cannes on the news, it's all the red carpet stuff and the films in competition; the reality of Cannes is very different," writes Cinematical's James Rocchi. "Cannes is like a half-inch layer of wedding cake icing layered over a buzzing, humming beehive - class over commerce, couture garments over the bone-and-sinew reality of money, marketing, business." David Gritten fills you in on a "dirty little secret." Most parties at Cannes "simply aren't very good."
Other fests, other events.For SF360, Dennis Harvey previews today's Icelandic Film Festival. Michael Guillen previews The Hamiltons, screening at Another Hole in the Head in mid-June. The Reeler was there last night to listen in on the "Four Independents That Turned the Tide" panel with Allison Anders, Hal Hartley, David O Russell and John Waters. Lots of fun quotage. In the Guardian, Jonathan Glancey previews Future City: Experiment and Utopia 1956 - 2006, opening at the Barbican in London next month: "[C]inema remains the best place to experience the architectural imagination at full flight." From Joanne Laurier, the third part of WSWS's overview of the San Francisco International Film Festival.
Cannes. Laitakaupungin Valot."Lights in the Dusk, though leavened with [Aki] Kaurismäki's usual deadpan humor, treads closer to miserabilism than his other recent films, with a sad sack protagonist who's used and abused so relentlessly that he might as well be in a Fassbinder flick," writes Mike D'Angelo at Nerve. "At a mere 80 minutes, the film doesn't wear out its welcome, but those waiting patiently for some culminating act of self-determination will do so in vain." Updated through 5/28.
Cannes. Avida."If Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kervern's take-notice debut Aaltra was cinema of the absurd, their sporadically exhilarating Avida heads toward the heights of experimental theater," writes Deborah Young in Variety. "Somewhere between Monty Python, Jacques Tati and a slideshow of New Yorker cartoons, this critique of life's cruel inconsistency confirms the French co-directors' gift for reinterpreting surrealism in a humorously modern key." The Hollywood Reporter's Duane Byrge: "Much brainier than a John Waters opus, Avida eructs with deadpan hilarity through a series of nonsequential comic set pieces. Shot in black-and-white (befitting its metaphysic), Avida is highlighted by cinematographer Hugues Poulain's mordantly funny compositions, fractured oddity most resembling a Gary Larson cosmos." For Time Out's Geoff Andrews, it "certainly stands out as one of the most genuinely out-there efforts in the Festival so far." Screening Out of Competition.
Cannes. Selon Charlie.The Hollywood Reporter's Ray Bennett on Nicole Garcia's "complex and rewarding story," Selon Charlie (Charlie Says): "Set in a breezy unnamed Atlantic French town, the film takes a while to get going but turns into a penetrating examination of the way people's lives can veer off track and how hard it can be to find the way back." Updated through 5/28.
Cannes. Iklimler.In the New York Times, Manohla Dargis calls Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Iklimler (Climates; site) "one of the finest films to play the festival in competition." Mike D'Angelo at Nerve: "Shot for shot, this is the most visually evocative film I've seen so far; unfortunately, Ceylan has written a fairly banal scenario." "A by-the-numbers Man from Mars/Woman from Venus relationship story slogs through its predictable paces in this Turkish Competition entrant," sighs the Hollywood Reporter's Duane Byrge. "In traditional romantic movies that begin with a break-up, the audience usually roots for the couple to get back together. Not here. Filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan has ambitiously broken that formula but in so doing, he has also forfeited his hold on our attention." Updated through 5/28. Variety's Derek Elley: "Stylistically, there's little new here that hasn't been seen in his two previous color films, Clouds of May (2000) and the 2003 Cannes prize winner, Distant.... [T]he quality of the images is remarkable, with only one brief night shot hinting at pic's HD origins... However, as in Distant, all this technique is in the service of very little at the end of the day." Time Out's Geoff Andrews finds Iklimler "as subtle, substantial and sublimely beautiful as was his previous Uzak (Distant)." It displays "such wit, intelligence and exquisite artistry – if the Festival comes up with more visually stunning film than this, I'll be very surprised – that the film confirms him as one of the most exciting cinematic talents to emerge in recent years." Update, 5/23: Mary Corliss, blogging for Time: "[Distant] was enthralling or infuriating, depend on your threshold of love or pain for emotional minimalism. Climates was much more involving, perhaps because it's simply a better, more human film." Update, 5/24: Jonathan Romney for Screen Daily: "Ceylan's growing reputation as a contemporary classic is confirmed by the immensely satisfying Climates, which is certainly as personal as anything we’re likely to see in Cannes, or anywhere else, this year." Update, 5/27: "It's unquestionably a powerful and absorbing work for those with patience, and it's stunningly photographed," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. Update, 5/28: Jonathan Romney in the Independent: "It's a small film, which often counts as a criticism in Cannes, but it's intensely personal, and confirms Ceylan as one of today's real auteurs - one of those film-makers who, as they say here, has a signature."
May 21, 2006
LAT. Hollywood @ 125."Why did the distant burg of Los Angeles become to the movies what Mesopotamia and Athens were to ancient civilizations?" asks Patt Morrison, the opening question in a bulging "Hollywood Commemorative Edition of the Los Angeles Times, a survey of 125 years of glamour, criticism, film and TV milestones, moments in studio and mogul history, gossip and parties and, of course, much, much more. Fun browsing, but probably an edition worth finding in print, too.
Cannes. Shortbus.The AP's David Germain talks with John Cameron Mitchell about his famously explicit Shortbus, screening Out of Competition. In the Hollywood Reporter, though, you'll find Gregg Goldstein's longer, more substantive chat with JCM: "I wanted to create something through improvisation with the actors and explore sex as a cinematic language in a way that I hadn't seen, where it wasn't trying to be erotic or horrifying or negative or dreary."
Cannes. Southland Tales."I must quickly gawp in astonishment at the sophomore-jinx train wreck that is Richard Kelly's Southland Tales [site]," jots Mike D'Angelo at Nerve. Despite Donnie Darko, "This is a potential career killer, I suspect..." "There's a lot going on in Southland Tales; the problem is that it all goes nowhere," writes Cinematical's James Rocchi. "You could make the argument that the only way to satirize modern life is through the lens of bad science fiction; the problem with that technique is that at the end of the day, you've still got a piece of bad science fiction." Updated through 5/25. Jeffrey Wells calls it "a very long throw of a surreal wackazoid football - a stab at a great, sprawling GenX apocalyptic nightmare about an Orwellian police state running things a couple of years from now.... I'm not saying all younger people will like it, but you can definitely scratch the boomers.... [I]t's too dense and complex and ambitious by half.... Reservations aside, this is one of those films you have to see just to see how much you can get on the first take. I'm definitely going to take Kelly's advice and see it a second time." Gregg Kilday talks with Kelly for the Hollywood Reporter. "I wanted to write a black comedy about Los Angeles, and ultimately about the end of the world.... I sort of really dug in - dealt with issues of domestic surveillance and homeland security and alternative fuel. I just started to make it something more political - but first and foremost a comedy." IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez: "The showing was met with applause but at a press conference this afternoon, Kelly was pressed to react to the mixed reactions." Updates, 5/22: Mike D'Angelo elaborates on his initial comments, but not before hearing rumors that some critics - some of whom you may read and admire, as I do - are going to come out swinging for Southland Tales. Names are named. We'll see. In the meantime, he adds: "Yes, Kelly addresses a handful of hot-button topics - the growing infringement of civil liberties in the name of the war on terrorism; the increasingly symbiotic relationship between politics and entertainment - but only the most shallow, simplistic, name-checking kind of way. Which would be forgivable if the movie were remotely funny, but it just plain isn't, despite the painfully labored efforts of the entire cast." "Rarely has a picture been so self-consciously designed to be a culturally meaningful touchstone, and fallen so woefully short, as "Southland Tales," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "What's a shame is that there was no one involved on the project who could give Kelly brutally honest advice about the mess in the kitchen before the dish was served - who could save him from himself. It's the sophomore jinx with a vengeance." Ray Bennet in the Hollywood Reporter: "The film strives to rank alongside such classics as Brazil and Blade Runner but falls more into the category of Mars Attacks! and 1941." Actually, both of those movies, even if widely regarded as failures, noble or not, do have their merits. If Southland Tales is the dud, or even the disaster it's made out to be in this first round of reviews, to what extent, I wonder, does it have to do with its delivering only the fourth, fifth and sixth chapters of a story begun in graphic novels? Creating an entire mythology with Star Wars-like complexity seems to work best when the introduction to that parallel universe is as simple and accessible as Star Wars IV itself - or for that matter, the first Matrix, as opposed to its overcooked followups. Donnie Darko, too, attracted a crowd first (albeit slowly, of course), and then some of that crowd followed Kelly further into the realm he'd created. At the moment, it doesn't sound like Southland Tales is going to have the sort of popular appeal that'll encourage more than a very few to bother wandering around in it once the credits roll. Meanwhile, the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw calls it the "festival's real clunker." But Manohla Dargis calls it "a sprawling, periodically dazzling, often funny pop-and-politics mash-up" in the New York Times. SXSW producer Matt Dentler is "very disappointed," and what's more, "after chatting with some distributors last night, it seems like it would need a fair amount of trimming for anyone to consider releasing it." Time Out's Geoff Andrews: "Morally and metaphysically confused, unfunny, heavy-handed, and as prone to waste, excess, idiocy and decadence as the emphatically allegorical world it imagines, it comes across as the dopehead nerd hipster's alternative to The Da Vinci Code." Updates, 5/23: Mary Corliss, blogging for Time: "So far, Kelly hasn't been able to wrestle his madly imaginative material to the mat. It's controlling him. But I hold out hope that he will find a way to corral the riot of ideas and characters and astonish us with a great movie." The Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu: "It might conceivably work as a website or as a cult cable show; as an entertainment, it feels so protracted that, given the choice, most of the Cannes audience would have opted for the end of the world." "I might not care about the incomprehensible plot, larded with biblical quotations and unspecific intimations of doom, and I might be willing to accept that Kelly has some kind of Godardian pomo deconstructionist hoo-ha in mind, if I ever believed he were in control of his material," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir: But I think back to the pitch-perfect suburban surrealism of Donnie Darko and just feel sad. This is an overamped, lumpy, jumpy film that never establishes either its plot or its characters clearly, and the dialogue is often cringe-inducingly bad. Yes, there are moments of pure visual magic here, and the scope of imagination and ambition at work in Southland Tales is everything you would expect. If Kelly recuts this, takes out all the nonsense and releases it as an experimental, almost wordless, nonnarrative film (at, say, 90 minutes) it might become a rare and beautiful thing. As it is now, it's about the biggest, ugliest mess I've ever seen. Meanwhile, Jim Emerson is, shall we say, suspicious of Jeffrey Wells's take on the film. Here's what we were waiting for, J Hoberman in the Voice, arguing the case for "the most audacious, polarizing, and to my mind, enjoyable movie in the competition thus far: Southland Tales.... Essentially, Southland Tales is a big-budget, widescreen underground movie.... There hasn't been anything comparable in American movies since Mulholland Drive." Update, 5/25: "[U]nbearably smug, staggeringly self-indulgent, supremely terrible," an "astonishing exercise in juvenilia," marvels the LA Weekly's Scott Foundas: "Southland Tales is a movie that believes that to merely mention the words 'Iraq War,' 'Patriot Act' and 'alternative fuel' - or to name a bank after Karl Rove - is to make a bold political statement, and it's already clear that, despite overwhelmingly negative reviews, there are some who feel that Kelly has accomplished exactly that."
Cannes. Ten Canoes."If the moral of Ten Canoes [site] is familiar, the getting there is anything but," writes Scott Foundas. "To watch this movie (shot in breathtaking widescreen by cinematographer Ian Jones) is to enter into a whole new language of symbols and meaning, the likes of which I have rarely encountered in cinema outside of the African tribal films of Ousmane Sembene." "Anthropology and entertainment are marvelously married" in Rolf de Heer's Un Certain Regard entry, finds Richard Kuipers in Variety. "Remarkably original," says George the Cyclist. Earlier: Megan Lehmann in the Hollywood Reporter. Updates, 5/28: Gary Meyer, blogging for the San Francisco Bay Guardian: "Ten Canoes is an impressive accomplishment on many levels. Though its austerity may be off-putting for some audiences, the fascinating stories, stunning visual delights, and truly unique experiences make it worthy of distribution." "[O]ne of the festival's simple delights," writes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE. "As [David] Gulpilil's narrator declares, evoking a sentiment that could apply to many of Cannes's distinctive and alluring pleasures, 'It's a good story - not like your story - but a good story all the same.'"
Cannes. Boffo! Tinseltown's Bombs and Blockbusters.FX Feeney calls Boffo! Tinseltown's Bombs and Blockbusters, screening Out of Competition and at the Seattle International Film Festival in June, "a feel-good movie about failure" and adds right away: "Full disclosure: Variety assigned this review to an impartial non-staffer since editor-in-chief Peter Bart co-wrote and co-produced Boffo, inspired by his own forthcoming book. That duly confessed, this critic's job was made easy by the film's sharp-witted swiftness under the direction of Bill Couturie, and by Bart's own implicit candor." Army Archerd, the world's first film blogger, got a kick out of it, too.
Cannes. An Inconvenient Truth.Since it premiered at Sundance (and is screening Out of Competition in Cannes), An Inconvenient Truth, documenting Al Gore's presentation on global warming, has already been reviewed here and there. Nonetheless, as notable new commentary appears, it might as well be noted here, especially since, as the BBC reports, Gore's appearance at the fest turned out to be something of an event. Mark Frauenfelder at Boing Boing: "I especially like the fact that the film offers a way out of the frightening path we're taking. There's plenty to be scared about, but with smart (and expensive) work, Gore believes we can reverse global warming." Via Movie City News, a piece from Jerry Seib in the Wall Street Journal. Jeffrey Wells covers the press conference. Earlier: David Remnick in the New Yorker and Karen Breslau in Wired. Update: "[B]oth terrifying and inspiring," writes indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez, nabbing a few quotes at the press conference as well: "'I don't have any plans to be a candidate again,' Gore said, 'I was in elective politics for 24 years, I have found that there are other ways to serve and I am enjoying it. I know from my experience in the past that what I can most valuably do is try to change the minds of the American people, and people elsewhere, about this planetary emergency.'" Updates, 5/22: Andrew C Revkin has a general backgrounder in the New York Times. John Heilemann on the "Un-Hillary" in this week's New York cover story: "Suddenly, the former vice-president no longer seems an entirely tragic figure but a faintly heroic one. Suddenly, many Democrats are wondering if he will run again in 2008 - and reaching the improbable, nay astonishing, conclusion that it might be a good idea." David Roberts interviews Gore for Grist. Via Jason Kottke. Updates, 5/23: The NYT's Michiko Kakutani reviews the accompanying book. Rob Nelson in the Voice: "Suffice it to say that the Al Gore concert film ain't exactly Dave Chappelle's Block Party. Onstage, pointer in hand, the pedant Gore mounts a hydraulic lift to follow the climb of carbon dioxide literally off the charts—a dramatic high point of his presentation. More effective in attention-getting terms are the Cameronian computer images of the ocean engulfing Lower Manhattan (the projected result of the Greenland ice sheet's shrink by 2050) and Gore's commentary: 'Is it possible that we should guard against other threats besides terrorists?'" Updates, 5/24: "Appearances to the contrary, [Davis] Guggenheim's movie is not really about Al Gore," writes AO Scott in the NYT. "His presence is, in some ways, a distraction, since it guarantees that An Inconvenient Truth will become fodder for the cynical, ideologically facile sniping that often passes for political discourse these days." That said, "As unsettling as it can be, it is also intellectually exhilarating, and, like any good piece of pedagogy, whets the appetite for further study.... An Inconvenient Truth is a necessary film." So how many people are actually going to go see it? AJ Schnack emails David Poland, Paul Harrill, Agnes Varnum, Fenton Bailey, Jonny Leahan and Sarah Jo Marks - and asks. Salon's got two pieces on the film today. Andrew O'Hehir writes, "I'd like to believe that a public figure can speak truth at this level - including the discourse-rotting fact that politicians of both parties are so stuffed with corporate money that they've preferred to ignore this issue - while remaining politically viable. But I'm not sure that's possible now, if it ever was." And from Grist, Amanda Griscom Little takes a look at one of the beneficiaries of the film and book, the Alliance for Climate Protection. Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times: "Rather than alarmed, Gore comes off as poised, relaxed and confident. Guggenheim sets up Citizen Al as part rock star, part eco-Buddha." Gregg Easterbrook has two related pieces today, one in Slate, in which he quibbles up a storm, and one in the NYT, in which he opines, "I have a long record of opposing alarmism. But based on the data I'm now switching sides regarding global warming, from skeptic to convert." George the Cyclist: "[Gore] cites one alarming trend and statistic after another, but in such a buoyant manner, it doesn't convey the sense of doom and catastrophe that it ought to. Nor does he take the American consumer to task for the peril it has placed the planet. It is much more of a feel-good experience than it should be." Jürgen Fauth suggests that conservatives would love to keep the focus on a possible Gore run rather than on global warming. Meantime, "anybody who takes a long-term interest in the state of the planet - say, more than next hurricane season - would do well to see An Inconvenient Truth." "Where was this man in 2000?" asks MaryAnn Johanson. Updates, 5/25: At Slant, Jeremiah Kipp calls it "a must-see for two key reasons: it addresses the science and politics of a worldwide problem in clear, accessible language, presenting a miscellany of reasons why the human race needs to prioritize the issue; and Al Gore presents his case in an intelligent, dynamic, and often humorous way, really diving into a subject matter he feels passionate about." The LA Weekly's Judith Lewis, who blogs at Another Green World, gets only 25 minutes with Gore - but they're a substantive 25 minutes.
Cannes. La Tourneuse de Pages.Cinematical's James Rocchi finds Denis Dercourt's La Tourneuse de Pages (The Page Turner), screening in the Un Certain Regard section, to be "a careful, subtle handling of material that could have been sensationalized or phony that, instead, stays real and subtle - and, by doing so, becomes even more suspenseful." Updated through 5/22.
Cannes. Red Road.Anyone who's seen Andrea Arnold's Oscar-winning short, Wasp has been anxious to hear how her debut feature, Red Road, has turned out. In the Hollywood Reporter, Kirk Honeycutt explains the background here: Lone Scherfig and Anders Thomas Jensen have developed a set of characters for three films by three different directors. "All stories must be set in Scotland and the roles will be cast with the same actors in each film. The first film, Red Road by Andrea Arnold, is a nervy and taut thriller in which a woman stalks a man whose past sin is only made clear at the end of the film. Where the series goes from here is anybody's guess, but Red Road certainly gets this intriguing project off to a rousing start." Updated through 5/27.
May 20, 2006
Weekend shorts.Criterion's new look is kicking in and so is its release schedule. Tim Lucas explains why he's sure the box set collecting Eric Rohmer's Six Moral Tales is the "sure-fire contender for the most important box set of the year." As more people turn away from newspapers, and yes, alternative weeklies and look instead to their favorite blogs for movie reviews, Paul Matwychuk wonders in Vue Weekly what the tone of future film criticism will be like: "I'm not sure, but I hope it looks a lot like the criticism being done by a pair of internet bloggers named DK Holm and Dennis Cozzalio, who are quietly turning into two of the best regular movie critics in North America." Meanwhile, Dennis Cozzalio writes that "what shocked me in reading [Jeremiah Kipp's] interview [with Film Freak Central reviewer Walter Chaw] was the insistent thread of vitriol and exhaustion that seemed to characterize Chaw's attitudes toward films, fellow critics (most of which are apparently as deserving of hatred as the lowliest junket whore) and those who disagree with his withering observations." "My new movie is a kind of sequel to - or riff on - Happiness, and to some extent, Welcome to the Dollhouse," says Todd Solondz, according to Gregg Kilday. "Many of the characters from these movies unexpectedly beckoned to me, and so I have explored new ways of developing and enlarging their stories, with the intent to recast them from a fresh perspective." More up-n-coming news from the Hollywood Reporter: Scott Roxborough reports that "Naomi Watts has signed on to star alongside Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises, a crime-flavored drama from Canadian director David Cronenberg" and Sam Andrews hears that "Colin Firth, Rachel Weisz, Ian McKellen and Susan Sarandon have signed to star in Katselas Films' Boer War political thriller The Colossus." Jette Kernion: "So the film Grind House is alive and kicking after all. For those of you who haven't been following this film, Grind House is the brainchild of filmmakers Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, both big fans of the grindhouse genre (think Sixties/Seventies exploitation drive-in flicks). The movie will be made up of two short films, one by each director, that will be bundled back-to-back for release along with some fun fake trailers." Cinematical's Martha Fischer notes that Tristán Bauer, whose Blessed by Fire won the best feature award at Tribeca, will make a doc about Che Guevara. Zach Campbell ponders and then goes ahead and writes an amazing ten underrated movies list: "Should I write about a film I chanced upon that very few people may know, or should I use the space to defend some oft-maligned film maudit? Highlight relative classics from cine-realms generally overlooked by the wider film geek scene I consider myself part of? In the interest of breadth, I figured I'd do a little of each." John Patterson: Today, US television is where cultural debates are sparked, and where popular culture renews and reinvigorates itself. Over the past 10 years, TV has slowly seized the creative initiative from the movies and run with it, all the way to the Emmys - and to the bank.... And it is because of the sudden upsurge in TV drama, along with the immense fortunes to be made in it, that so many names we associate with the cinema are moving to television. Further down that same page, Gareth McLean talks about this development with Wentworth Miller (Prison Break), David Shore (House), Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars) and Neil Baer (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) and writes up a list of movie people with TV plans. Also in the Guardian:
Cannes, 5/20.More entries devoted to individual films are lining up, but in the meantime, a few general items, starting with a list of blogs to bookmark or feed your RSS reader throughout the festival in Cannes:
Other fests, other events.The Nation's Stuart Klawans caught The Road to Damascus: Discovering Syrian Cinema, the series now on its way to Chicago, Boston, Berkeley, DC and Portland: "In short, we are looking at the work of a classic avant-garde: a congeries of artists living in internal exile, thrown back on their own resources and determined to stay true to their personal visions. To quote another guest of honor on the Lincoln Center panel, the fiction filmmaker Oussama Mohammad, Syrian film is 'a cinema free of its audience.'" In the New York Times, Manohla Dargis previews Tomorrowland: CalArts in Moving Pictures, an exhibition at MoMA (May 25 through August 13) which "showcases some of the knockout film and video work to emerge over the last 30 years from a school generally better known for nurturing artists like David Salle and Mike Kelley than filmmakers." Michael Guillen: "Hot on the heels of DocFest, San Francisco's Indie Film Festival officially announced their program line-up at today's press conference for (Yet) Another Hole In the Head Festival (aka HeadFest) - eight nights of Sci Fi, Fantasy and Horror, June 8 - 15, 2006, at the Roxie Film Center." Michael also previews Ghost of Mae Nak. SF Docfest: SFist's Rita reviews The Future of Pinball and Pizza! The Movie. Silverdocs (June 13 through 18) will be honoring Scorsese this year, reports Randall Mikkelsen for Reuters. At Slant, Keith Uhlich preps for Farewell: A Tribute to Elem Klimov and Larisa Shepitko (through May 30). Meanwhile, Ed Gonzalez carries on reviewing the B Noir series (through June 15). The Sydney Film Festival runs June 9 through 25. If you happen through Bremen before June 25, catch Pleased to Meet You, Kenneth Anger's exhibition at the Künstlerhaus, recommends Antonio Pasolini. At the WSWS, David Walsh submits the second part of his overview of the San Francisco International Film Festival; meanwhile, Tribeca reviews are still coming in from Charlie Prince at Cinema Strikes Back.
May 19, 2006
Cannes. Les Amities Malefiques.Bernard Besserglik on the film that opened the International Critics' Week in Cannes, Les Amities Malefiques (Poison Friends): "[Emmanuel] Bourdieu, the son of a noted academic and formerly a writer for directors Arnaud Desplechin and Nicole Garcia, convincingly portrays the tensions of university life, particularly the role-playing and testing of limits among students. However, the movie, absorbing rather than gripping, does not really deliver on the promise of malfeasance contained in the title." In Variety, Lisa Nesselson finds it "a movie so unrepentantly French that viewers who enjoy truly Gallic pics can start (tastefully) salivating now. Miraculously, pic explores the pretentiousness of the Paris-centric literary scene without pretension." Update, 5/22: Lee Marshall in Screen Daily: "Timeless in its best sequences, dated in its worst, the film has good dramatic bone structure but lacks a certain punch."
Cannes. Paris je t'aime."That largely unloved genre, the portmanteau film, no doubt works best in specialised slots - such as that of the opener in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes," writes Jonathan Romney for Screen Daily. "Fitting the bill as a light, generally celebratory section curtain-raiser, Paris je t'aime is a postcard-like, sometimes genuinely charming, whistle-stop city tour, undertaken by 18 international directors or directing duos." "Paris je t'aime may be small and slight (and already embroiled in a lawsuit between two of it's producers), but it's a lovely, romantic treat whose episodic, ephemeral nature doesn't detract from its exuberant, elegant charm," writes Cinematical's James Rocchi. Variety's Lisa Nesselson finds it "uneven but quite pleasant as a two-hour experience that acknowledges the idealized Paris people carry in their heads while wisely veering off the beaten track." Earlier: Ray Bennett in the Hollywood Reporter. Updates, 5/21: Mary Corliss and Richard Corliss for Time: "It reminds us of the power of the short story — the movie is like a volume of De Maupassant tales — and the grace that can coincide with conciseness. It also made this aging movie couple feel, for two hours, like young lovers in Paris." The Observer's Jason Solomons: "Four are good, six are OK, five are ropey and three plain dreadful." Update, 5/26: Sheila Johnston in the Independent: "Paris je t'aime is a compendium film that constantly threatens to drown in the irreducible naffness of its central theme - love in the City of Lights - but has stand-out segments from Walter Salles, Gena Rowlands and Alexander Payne."
Cannes. Election 2.Elizabeth Kerr in the Hollywood Reporter: "For anyone who saw Election, Johnnie To's masterful, modern reworking of the Hong Kong Triad drama and its mythology, Election 2, isn't so much a sequel as a logical extension of the story." Back in April, Variety's Russell Edwards found it "distinguished by intelligence, wit and violence but... it won't quite knock the original off its perch." SB Toh in the Malaysian Star: "This new film is, by comparison, less mysterious, more contrived, its politics tending to overwhelm its story. Election 2 isn't To's best work, but - strident and relevant - it is, all the same, quite a film. A must-see." At LoveHKFilm, Kozo calls it "a quick but astoundingly effective sequel that logically extends upon the storylines and themes presented in the original film." Screening Out of Competition. Earlier: Grady Hendrix at Kaiju Shakedown and, right here, Saul Symonds.
Cannes. Bug.Duane Byrge in the Hollywood Reporter on William Friedkin's Bug, screening as part of this year's Directors' Fortnight: "With his vigorous camera compositions and a talented cast, he manages to straddle a wickedly fine line between taught portrayal of paranoia and parody of paranoia." "Unfortunately the material itself leaves you wondering if it was worth all the effort as it seeks to fuse together a messy saga of domestic abuse, loneliness, paranoid delusions, violent murder and bugs," writes Allan Hunter for Screen Daily. Update, 5/20: Mike D'Angelo at Nerve: "If you enjoy being harangued by the mentally ill at the local Greyhound station, see this film. If not, not so much." Update, 5/22: Variety's Todd McCarthy: "A ranting, claustrophobic drama that trades in shopworn paranoid notions, William Friedkin's overwrought screen version of Tracy Letts' play assaults the viewer with aggressive thesping and over-the-top notions of shocking incident, all to intensely alienating effect." Update, 5/23: Roger Ebert talks with Friedkin, Letts and one of the two leads, Michael Shannon (the other is Ashley Judd), and adds, "The film is lean, direct, unrelenting.... Friedkin is often called a master of horror, but for him most modern horror films are really just violent comedies." Update, 5/25: For the Telegraph's David Gritten, it's "a surprise out-of-competition treat." Update, 5/27: Friedkin was a "perfect" candidate "for a Gallic rediscovery," admits Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, "but I can't claim he didn't earn it."
Cannes. Princess."Princess, this year's Directors Fortnight opener, reps Death Wish divided by Hardcore plus anime: Unfortunately, these equal a distasteful sum total," Variety-speaks Leslie Felperin.
Cannes. Hamaca Paraguaya.Lee Marshall reviews Hamaca Paraguaya for Screen Daily: "With a Cannes appearance (in Un Certain Regard) that makes it the first Paraguayan film to screen in the official selection of a major festival - and the only Paraguayan feature shot on 35mm in the last 30 years - Hamaca Paraguaya will delight those self-flagellating cineastes who believe, like the albino monk in The Da Vinci Code, that 'pain is good.'"
Cannes. Taxidermia.Roger Ebert on the Un Certain Regard entry: "Taxidermia [site] is by György Pálfi, the Hungarian director of Hukkle (2003), a sort of wonderful movie almost entirely without human sounds except for hiccups. I am sure Taxidermia is an important film and certainly a brave one, but I doubt if I know anyone who would thank me for recommending it."
Cannes. Volver."The Festival de Cannes loves Pedro Almodóvar and audiences seem to love his new film," writes Eugene Hernandez for indieWIRE, where the director kept a production diary last year. Eugene's got a good, tight summary of Volver and some fresh quotes from the man himself, but the gist comes up high: "If attendees were waiting for a favorite film to emerge early in the festival, many may just have found one."
Cannes. Summer Palace."Sex and politics are on full boil in Lou Ye's Summer Palace, an engrossing, estimably ambitious epic about the generation of Chinese students who came of age brutally in 1989 when army tanks took aim at protesters agitating for democratic reforms," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times (and yes, it does look like I'm going to have to quote that piece at least four times today. If I were on the Pulitzer committee...) "It would be a shame," she continues, "if this behind-the-scenes wrangling got in the way of the film, which beautifully blends the political with the personal much as Flaubert does in Sentimental Education, his moral history of a generation set against the backdrop of revolution, and Philippe Garrel does in Regular Lovers, his film about May 1968 and its aftermath." For more on that wrangling, though, see Robert W Welkos in the Los Angeles Times and Grady Hendrix. Allan Hunter in Screen Daily: "The fourth feature from Suzhou River director Lou Ye is easily his most accessible, although not necessarily his most accomplished as a sprawling narrative threatens to evade his control." Variety's Derek Elley calls the film "an occasionally involving but way over-stretched tapestry that plays like a French art movie in oriental dress." The Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandu: "Thirty minutes too long, this is still a raw and unsettling new work." Earlier: Xan Brooks in the Guardian, Geoff Andrew in Time Out and Kirk Honeycutt in the Hollywood Reporter. Update: "A snooze and a half," declares Mike D'Angelo at Nerve. "Lou has a sharp eye, but narrative economy and compelling characterizations continue to elude him." Update, 5/20: George the Cyclist saw the film with a programmer for Facets: "[W]e were both riveted." Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE: The movie's first half is its strongest.... If Chinese censors demand cuts to the film, unfortunately, they probably won't be the ones that Summer Palace needs." Updates, 5/21: Gary Meyer for the San Francisco Bay Guardian: "The film is often powerful, vibrant and involving, if a bit difficult to follow at times." The Observer's Jason Solomons: "Although it's over-long and meandering, I enjoyed this stylish, atmospheric, often tender film immensely and, given that Wong Kar Wai was speaking of his pride at being the first Chinese Jury President and how much it meant for his nation, one can reckon on an award for this." Updates, 5/23: Time's Richard Corliss: "Hao Lei, the young actress who plays Yu Hong, has an urgent eroticism that mesmerizes the audience (or at least this member of it). She made me think both of the young Joan Chen, who was a teen idol before coming to the West in the early 80s, and of the divine, androgynous Leslie Cheung, best known for his role as the female impersonator in Chen Kaige's Farewell to My Concubine. In other words, she's hot and she's cool." A "fascinating mess," comments J Hoberman in the Voice. Update, 5/26: For Sheila Johnston, writing in the Independent, "it runs out of steam as the characters go their separate ways and become mired in self-pity."
Cannes. Fast Food Nation.Not only is there a site for Richard Linklater's Fast Food Nation now, and a trailer, there's also a blog. This "most essential political film from an American director since Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, "proves that when it comes to critiquing America, few do it better than outraged Americans." But the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt finds the Fast Food Nation "disappointing" and "punchless." Via Movie City News, Janet Adamy and Richard Gibson report in the Wall Street Journal (this one's freely accessible) on how "an array of US food companies are sharpening a campaign to rebut the allegations in [Fast Food Nation] and a new book that fast-food chains contribute to the nation's obesity epidemic and other problems." Roger Ebert: "The film produces a great sadness and a greater queasiness." Earlier: Kent Jones in Film Comment. Updates: Mike D'Angelo, blogging for Nerve: "Like Linklater's other film here at the festival, A Scanner Darkly (which I saw several months ago), Fast Food Nation is at its best when it's at its least pointed and its most shaggily digressive." Jeffrey Wells: "Traffic with meat." Time Out's Dave Calhoun: "[I]t demands an unacceptable level of unquestioning support from the audience and doesn't come close to translating [Eric] Schlosser's analysis into successful, persuasive drama. Something of a factory-processed turkey, if you will..." Updates, 5/20: Charlotte Higgins in the Guardian: "Schlosser said: 'I can't stress how important it was to make this film outside the normal system.'" The Independent's Louise Jury quotes Linklater: "It's a little interesting. I have never made a movie that is suddenly threatening somebody's corporate bottom line." Salon's Andrew O'Hehir: "Whether the net effect is total incoherence or "the Nashville of meat" - as Linklater jokingly put it - will very much be in the eye of the beholder. One can imagine this film becoming a campus sensation, or sinking without a trace." The Hollywood Reporter's Scott Roxborough and Anne Thompson list the distributors who've already picked it up for Germany, France, the UK/Ireland, Australia, Scandanavia, the Benelux, Hong Kong and Brazil. Todd McCarthy's review for Variety, which DK's mentioned below in the comments, is available to non-subscribers after all. Cinematical's James Rocchi: "Linklater can show us the motions of every gear in his story; regrettably, what's missing is the sense of wholeness and interconnectedness you get in a film like Traffic and Syriana, where the actions and choices of each individual affect every character, even if those characters never meet." Premiere's Glenn Kenny: "The picture's star studded cast (Ethan Hawke! Bruce Willis! Wilmer freakin' Valderama!) mostly mouth a bunch of talking points whose themes go way beyond gustatory matters (rather like the dreaded Crash, only, believe it or not, less artful), and by the time Avril Lavigne shows up, the movie is giving off a stench of Check-Out-Me-And-My-Cool-PETA-Friends self-righteousness conceivably more noxious than anything you'd smell on the killing floor of a mass-meat-packing plant." Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE: "Linklater may be lauded for the film's subtlety, sympathetic characters and meandering narrative, but the story feels soft, requiring more of the bile of Tape and less of the slipperiness of Slacker." Updates, 5/21: Time's Richard Corliss: "The movie means to be a mix of the sardonic Thank You for Smoking (this would be Thank You for Poisoning Yourselves) and the plaintive exposé Maria Full of Grace (but with the illegal immigrants forced to slaughter meat instead of serving as mules for hard drugs). But in fictionalizing McDonald's as Mickey's while still trying to make all the points the book does, Schlosser and Linklater can't breathe life into any of the characters, content to create stick figures." The Observer's Jason Solomons: "While images of cow slaughter may put even a Frenchman off his steak tartare, the dialogue is trite and the acting (from Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Bruce Willis and Kinnear) barely acceptable." Updates, 5/22: Allan Hunter for Screen Daily: "Amusing and informative but also hectoring and didactic, the wide-ranging film is not as tasty as one might have hoped and consequently will struggle to win hearts and minds." The Guardian's Xan Brooks talks with Linklater and Schlosser. Updates, 5/23: The Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu: "It doesn't channel or hone its admirable energy half as effectively as Super Size Me or Maria Full of Grace." J Hoberman in the Voice: "Linklater's panorama is overflowing with good intentions... What it lacks is satiric energy." Updates, 5/26: Sheila Johnston in the Independent: "The whole feels a little like an especially proselytising John Sayles movie, where declamatory speeches and sketchy characters replace real red dramatic meat to chew on." Geoff Pevere in the Toronto Star: "In this sense, the fast food industry is merely a metaphor for a number of issues both Linklater and Schlosser believe are ailing contemporary North America: We're all ground beef." Updates, 5/28: Jonathan Romney in the Independent: "Linklater might have done better with a documentary: this was contrived, shapeless and laden with sophomore slacker polemic." Gary Meyer, blogging for the San Francisco Bay Guardian: "Though trying to reach a wider audience with a narrative film is a noble idea, it doesn’t succeed as either entertainment or piece of muckraking."
Cannes. The Wind That Shakes the Barley.Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times: "Two things set this powerful film apart from most of [Ken] Loach's work: It's only his second (after Land and Freedom) set in the past, in this case Ireland in the early 1920s. And it stars not Loach's usual nonprofessionals but the gifted Cillian Murphy, an actor 'at the top of his game,' in the director's words, as one of two Irish brothers involved in the struggle for independence against Britain and the dread Black and Tans military forces." "The story's contemporary undercurrent, specifically the birth of political extremism as a direct consequence of foreign occupation, is duly noted," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. Loach has readily admitted "parallels between the British in Ireland more than 80 years ago and the situation in the Middle East today," reports the Independent's Louise Jury, who finds, as so many have before, that Loach gives good quote: "My view [of Iraq] is that it was an illegal war. It has breached the Geneva convention, it has broken the UN charter, it's based on lies and it's completely indefensible. It's resulted in the most appalling destruction of Iraq. It's an appalling scar, certainly on the British Government's record and clearly on America's." Back to the film, though. Geoffrey Macnab for Screen Daily: "For all the intelligence and craftsmanship the director brings to his material, the film conspicuously fails to tug at the emotions in the way that might have been expected." For Variety's Derek Elley, "the human drama increasingly gets lost in the political," and the Hollywood Reporter's Ray Bennett finds it "atmospheric but pedestrian." The Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandu: "Some audiences will take issue with the film's pro-Republican sentiments; still, this is a challenging film from a director who has lost none of his ability to create tough, intelligent fare." Updates: Mike D'Angelo at Nerve: "This is a harrowing and sorrowful film, unafraid to cast its lot with a group that many consider - certainly in its modern incarnation - to be terrorists. (Expect plenty of huffing and puffing from the Brits, depicted here as little better than Nazis in training.)" Time Out's Dave Calhoun calls it a "moving and intelligent historical play that explores divisions on the left on an intimate level and succeeds in presenting the prevalent ideas of the time without ever losing sight of the personal stories that Loach and his regular screenwriter Paul Laverty have decided to explore." Updates, 5/20: Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian: "[A]n intelligent, powerfully acted, handsomely photographed film, summoning up the period with limited resources. But it leaves a nagging question behind - is it telling us anything new?" George the Cyclist: "From the very start of his latest offering of social realism, Loach maintains a boiling tension and does not relent." Premiere's Glenn Kenny: "Loach's commitment to his ideas and ideals, while commendable, eventually leads him to an artistic compromise." Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE: "[O]ne of [Loach's] more successful films of late." Update, 5/21: The Observer's Jason Solomons: "Loach balances political history lessons with human heartache, although towards the final stages the political debates seriously weaken the emotional impact of a story of two brothers divided." Update, 5/23: Cinematical's James Rocchi: "Loach's film has all the suspense of a wartime film - ambushes, lever plots, daring escapes - but it also has a kind of gut-punch realism that's hard to shake.... The Wind that Shakes the Barley may be a departure for Loach - it's got professional actors, it's a period piece - but in many ways it's a film that best demonstrates what makes him one of our greatest living directors." Update, 5/26: For Sheila Johnston, writing in the Independent, Barley "commands respect rather than enthusiasm, though Cillian Murphy has a stellar presence as the watchful, idealist doctor involved in the struggle." Update, 5/28: "The first half is exciting, playing like a grand adventure with a political conscience, just as we have come to expect from Loach," writes Gary Meyer, blogging for the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "The second half slows a bit but still worked for me."
May 18, 2006
Online viewing tip.So the Times of London and the Telegraph have their special Cannes sections, too (thanks, DK!), and the Times is luring its readers with a free download (or, for Mac users, a free stream). The story behind the film on offer is more interesting than the film itself, and once you read about the connections between its makers and the paper and other fine British institutions such as the BBC and the Film Institute, you realize why The Peaches - a 15-minute short that screened at Cannes in 1964, mind you - is being presented with a straight face. Yes, some of the humor in this "mostly forgotten gem of Sixties cinema" is intentional (it's narrated by Peter Ustinov, after all), but a lot more isn't. If it were a fairly recent project from, say, Cindy Sherman, I can imagine myself seated in some white-walled gallery viewing it with a perfectly contented and contemptible smirk on my face. Somewhat disturbingly, though, it actually is what it is.
Shorts, 5/18.First the Road to Guantanamo poster, now Baghdad ER. The Guardian's Suzanne Goldenberg reports that Army Secretary Francis Harvey "demanded last-minute changes to the film." Mission Impossible III, Poseidon, The Da Vinci Code... the summer's off to a pretty rotten start. Next up is X-Men: The Last Stand, which reviewers in New Zealand and Australia have already gotten a peek at. Is it at least entertaining? Yes, writes Caleb Starrenburg for the Lumière Reader, "It's just that The Last Stand could have, and should have, been so much more. And that's why it ultimately disappoints." You'll find more positive takes from Louise Keller and Andrew L Urban at the Urban Cinefile. "What is the essential list of gay movies?" asks Frameline. Via Jason Kottke. "Lemming shares a lot of similarities with Michael Haneke's Caché. Both films have these perfect French couples living in their perfect homes, leading perfect lives, and suddenly something unsettling happens. In Caché, it's the strange video tapes and threatening drawings. In Lemming, it's Charlotte Rampling." Jürgen Fauth and Marcy Dermansky chat about Dominik Moll's latest. More from Robert Cashill, who finds Rampling "quite literally haunting the picture." More than noting that Over the Hedge is "deftly held together by bags of good humor and zany action sequences, tethered to a heartfelt conviction that green is good and family is better," Ella Taylor lists some of the better experiences gathered over "the four or five years that my mini-critic and I have been faithfully attending studio children's movies" and at this year's Sprockets children's film festival - and puts out a call for more screenings of children's films from abroad. Also in the LA Weekly, Scott Foundas: "[N]o matter how many dozens of movies we've seen about junkies trying to go straight or how the death of a loved one can spark survivors to re-examine their own lives, the emotional truthfulness of Clean enters into our bloodstreams with its muted vigor, and we find ourselves getting hooked by this tale of getting unhooked." David Lowery finds Steven Soderbergh's alternate cut of Keane "fascinating not because it's a minor failure - which I think it is - but because it goes to show how inseperable inent is from the quality of a film." Gregg Kilday in the Hollywoood Reporter: "David Strathairn is set to star in Challenger, a drama about Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman's investigation into the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger that Philip Kaufman will direct from a screenplay by Nicole Perlman." More up-n-coming news from The Reeler features Martin Scorsese, Lynne Ramsay and Abel Ferrara. Three separate projects, that is. The Austin Chronicle's Joe O'Connell squirms with the University of Texas Film Institute students pitching movie ideas to industry pros. Also: Wells Dunbar on Carlos Reygadas's Japón and Battle in Heaven. In the Philadelphia City Paper, Sam Adams calls Eran Riklis's The Syrian Bride "the closest thing to a Middle Eastern Nashville, a social diagnosis masquerading as a domestic melodrama," and Cindy Fuchs is fine with Down in the Valley until it "turns in on itself." Fresh takes on L'Enfant: David Fellerath in the Independent Weekly and Rob Nelson in the Nashville Scene, where you'll also find Jim Ridley on I Am a Sex Addict: "[Caveh] Zahedi's movie - a funny, inventive, ground-shifting hybrid of essay film, mea culpa and pathological real-life romantic farce - aims for truth by wrecking its own verisimilitude." Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, Jonathan Cecil finds Lee Server's Ava Gardner: Love is Nothing "as sensational as its subject merits without being gloatingly prurient... a gripping study of an elusive character, and a sizeable contribution to the history of mid-twentieth-century cinema." Michael Wang files an entry in Artforum's Diary: "'When I first started out in the art world in the 70s, the whole idea of a self-respecting artist waiting in line to be in a TV show would have been ridiculous,' asserts Jeffrey Deitch in the opening minutes of the first episode of Artstar, Deitch Projects and VOOM HD Networks' reality television series set in the New York art world." Online viewing tip #1. The trailer for Richard Linklater's Fast Food Nation. Via Jeffrey Overstreet. Online viewing tip #2. Kevin Smith fills us in on the future of Movie Poop Shoot.
Cannes, 5/18.The Guardian's Xan Brooks: "Last night I attended the press screening of Summer Palace, Lou Ye's epic, elegiac tale of youthful dreams and adult disillusion, set against the backdrop of Tiananmen Square and the fall of the Berlin wall. It's a torrid romance with a sharp eye for the details of Chinese life, evoking a culture where cool, lusty teens dance the conga to cheesy state-sanctioned pop records before slipping out back, tugging off their nerdy cardigans and screwing each other senseless.... [A] first-rate drama that cast a curious spell over its audience." But Time Out's Geoff Andrew finds "that Lou's over-extended blend of troubled romance and existential meditation on the almost inevitable loss of erotic and political idealism comes over as a severe disappointment from the writer-director best known in the UK for the very fine Suzhou River." More from the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt. Also, Gary Younge: "Artist and filmmaker Douglas Gordon's latest work, Zidane, a 21st century portrait, which premieres next week at Cannes, reveals why the connection [between soccer and philosophy] for some is second nature. Gordon, 39, trains cameras on the star of France and Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane, and then follows only him for the duration of an entire Real Madrid-Villarreal game." The LA Weekly's Scott Foundas has arrived in Cannes and revived his blog. Jeffrey Wells: "The first profoundly good film of the 2006 Cannes Film Festival screened early this morning - Ken Loach's The Wind That Shakes the Barley." Related: In the Hollywood Reporter, Stuart Kemp talks with Loach and reports on his next project. More HR reviews:
Fests and events, 5/18.Should have mentioned this yesterday, when David D'Arcy's interview with John Waters went up at the main site: New Yorkers have through Sunday to catch the director's exhibition Unwatchable at the Marianne Boesky Gallery in Chelsea. "They were a study in contrasts — in personal styles, in modes of masculinity, in American musical-comedy legacies." For the Boston Phoenix, Steve Vineberg previews a series at the Brattle featuring Fred Astaire, "a natural aristocrat, movie musicals' closest equivalent to Cary Grant," and Gene Kelly, "a prole, an athlete, a two-fisted Irishman like Jimmy Cagney." Tomorrow through May 25. Also, how about a Graham Greene film festival, asks Gerald Peary. In the meantime, The Fallen Idol, opening tomorrow at the Kendall Square, is "a pretty good suspense tale, and its central concern - an amity threatened because of the secret, suspect life of the more-idolized friend - looks forward, a year later, to The Third Man." SFist's Jon on Diameter of a Bomb: "We've been to Israel, albeit in less troubled times than when the movie was filmed. We know plenty of people who have been there and we have family members who lived there. We have also read and seen our fair share of news stories about what it's like over there, but it wasn't until we watched the movie that we really got a feeling of what it's like to live there at it's worst." Max Goldberg at SF360: "Early on in Kidlat Tahimik's visionary, comic documentary Perfumed Nightmare - screening this Sunday at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts courtesy of SF Cinematheque - the director offers a striking metaphor for his filmmaking process." Neil Morris previews Sunday's Triangle Jewish Film Festival for the Independent Weekly. Online viewing tip. The Now Corporation's PSA, with Oliver Platt and Stanley Tucci, for the CANS Film Festival (May 22 through 24 in NYC). Via Screenhead.
May 17, 2006
Bannings, sackings, shorts.You've got to be kidding. The MPAA has banned this poster for The Road to Guantanamo, reports Philip Kennicott in the Washington Post. Via Posterwire.com: "Like most forms of regulation and censorship, the guidelines the MPAA follows are not always clear, but big no-nos for one-sheets include 'depictions of violence, blood, people in jeopardy, drugs, nudity, profanity, people in frightening situations, disturbing or frightening scenes.' We're pretty sure that the actual Gitmo doesn't follow those same guidelines, however." Many - most notably, Chris Barsanti and Anne Thompson - have pointed to and commented on Dave Kehr's entry on the dismissal of movie reviewer Jami Bernard by the Daily News, where he once worked alongside her, and the demotion of Michael Wilmington at the Chicago Tribune. In three fierce paragraphs, Kehr conjures a dire picture of the state of film criticism in US newspapers. Further down in this batch of "Shorts," you'll see evidence of a thinning out in the alternative weeklies as well. I suspect these developments are less a reflection of editorial ignorance, as Kehr and others suggest, than of the financial squeeze straining all print media. Peek over the cubicle barrier: are other departments really faring all that better? Readers looking for sharp, substantive, and yes, quick takes on the films now playing in local theaters, at festivals or just out on DVD are doing what sports fans, bookworms, political junkies, day traders, what have you, are doing: reaching for the mouse rather than trekking to the newsstand. At the House Next Door, Jeremiah Kipp talks with Film Freak Central reviewer Walter Chaw. Chuck Tryon: "The wide-ranging inteview is particularly valuable in addressing some of institutional factors that shape film criticism as it is practiced on the internet by both professional and amateur critics. In particular, I found insightful Chaw's discussion of the process of screening films for critics, a process that he regards as 'undemocratic and essentially corrupted.'" Do Armond White's "American Eccentrics" (Wes Anderson, Spike Jonze, David O Russell, Alexander Payne, Paul Thomas Anderson, Sofia Coppola) really turn out movies more slowly than the "entertainment specialists" (Quentin Tarantino, M Night Shyamalan, Bryan Singer, Michael Bay, Brett Ratner, John Moore)? Do we really want them making more movies faster? In the New York Observer, Jake Brooks reviews James Mottram's The Sundance Kids: How the Mavericks Took Back Hollywood, noting that he "pushes hard with his 70s/90s, New Hollywood/Sundance Kids parallel." Mottram is "certainly not the first person to make the connection," but he is "the first to make a sustained argument based on the content of the films. He mostly leaves out the morass of industry deals, behind-the-scenes tussles and box-office grosses, the insider dope expertly peddled by Peter Biskind in Down and Dirty Pictures (2004) - and again by Sharon Waxman in Rebels on the Backlot (2005)." But then Brooks goes on to point out two areas where the 70s- and 90s-era filmmakers diverge: money and courage. Antonio Pasolini talks with François Ozon about Time to Leave. Also in Kamera: Michelle Le Blanc and Colin Odell begin telling the story of Coffin Joe. One fell swoop: Ray Pride talks with Chen Kaige, Jeff Feuerzeig, Wim Wenders and Nicole Holofcener, plus takes on a full handful of movies. Also: 5 new DVDs. Bravo: Kino's picked up Old Joy, reports indieWIRE. Also: Kim Adelman's "Shorts Monthly" column focuses on the Brothers Quay and their influence. Girish catches a program of avant films at the George Eastman House: "[T]he revelation of the evening (of the year, even?) was the work of Austrian filmmaker Martin Arnold. No overstatement: An electrifying experience." Perhaps you've seen the new trailer for World Trade Center and would concur with J Hoberman: Disaster movies are no fun anymore. In 2004, they took on "pretensions to responsibility" (The Day After Tomorrow. Now, "New disaster is experiential and communal. Explicit in its use of real time, United 93 is designed for audience participation." Also in the Village Voice:
Cannes openers.The "point and the glory" of Cannes, write Manohla Dargis and AO Scott in the New York Times, is that it has always "mingled the lofty and the crass with particular Gallic flair." In the Guardian, Xan Brooks launches a Cannes diary and Fiachra Gibbons talks with Ken Loach about The Wind that Shakes the Barley. Kenneth Turan opens the special section in the Los Angeles Times. More special sections: indieWIRE and Cinematical; the Guardian, Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. Grady Hendrix has the latest on the Summer Palace brouhaha. Related: Dave Kehr hears the Chinese are confiscating and burning promotional brochures for Johnnie To's Election 2. "The apparent reason: To's 'director's statement,' in which he draws a parallel between the fictional Triad power struggle he depicts and Chinese politics." In Cahiers du cinéma, Jean-Michel Frodon reflects on the festival's selection process and Emmanuel Burdeau reviews Pedro Almodóvar's Volver. Mike D'Angelo has begun rating the offerings. Anthony Kaufman's got a list: "[H]ere's hoping some of these nine films will turn out as good as they sound on paper." Matt Dentler's been snapping shots. The Telegraph's David Gritten is blogging from the fest. Eugene Hernandez and Brian Brooks file a first Market Daily report at indieWIRE. Filmz.de rounds up coverage in German. Online browsing tip. Magnum Cannes photos at Slate. Online listening tip. The Guardian launches its Arts & Entertainment podcast and the very first edition has Xan Brooks and Claire Armistead previewing the festival.
Fests and events, 5/17.Christopher Kelly previews Fort Worth's QCinema festival (tomorrow through Sunday) in the Star-Telegram. SF Docfest: Michael Guillen interviews City of Mermaids director Leah Wolchok and SFist's Rita reviews Punk Like Me. Brian Darr explains why the awards presentations and the retrospective programs they inspire are among the most vital aspects of the San Francisco International Film Festival. The San Francisco Bay Guardian's Max Goldberg looks ahead to this weekend's Jazz/Noir Film Festival at the Balboa. In the Voice, Michael Atkinson previews Farewell: A Tribute to Elem Klimov and Larisa Shepitko (Friday through May 30). Also: Ed Halter on China's Cutting Edge: New Video Art From Shanghai and Beijing (Friday through 21). B Noir at Film Forum (through June 15): Ongoing coverage from Slant's Ed Gonzalez and Ryan Stewart at Cinematical on Thunder Road. Self-described "huge Bergman fan" Ang Lee will be on the island of Fårö at the beginning of July to show The Ice Storm and talk about his favorite Bergman film, Wild Strawberries. The Göteborg Film Festival reports. Thessa Mooij files a Tribeca report for Kamera.
Online viewing tip.Great fun. Turn it on and keep it hovering in the background through May 28: Le Cannes Cam. IFC has set up a live webcam with a grand view "overlooking the famous 'Marches', the Red Steps at the 59th Cannes Film Festival." What's more, the sound's eerily crystal clear. When the stars march, listen to those paparazzi scream.
The Da Vinci Code.Gotta grudgingly admit it's an event, but I think we'll be glad to have reviews and stories funneled off from the Daily's usual fare and dumped here over the next few days. Variety's Todd McCarthy: "A pulpy page-turner in its original incarnation as a huge international bestseller has become a stodgy, grim thing in the exceedingly literal-minded film version of The Da Vinci Code." Mike Goodridge in Screen Daily: "The problem is that the preposterous particulars of [Dan] Brown's one-night chase across French and English monuments become markedly silly when depicted with such sombre portentousness as [Ron] Howard adopts here." Kirk Honeycutt in the Hollywood Reporter: "The movie really only catches fire after an hour, when Ian McKellen hobbles on the scene as the story's Sphinx-like Sir Leigh Teabing. Here is the one actor having fun with his role and playing a character rather than a piece to a puzzle." Jeffrey Wells: "[I]t's a fairly flat sit." R Kinsey Lowe rounds up a few more initial reactions in the Los Angeles Times. More from Reuters and the AP. In the New York Times, Sharon Waxman addresses the question Kim Masters raised the other day in Slate: Why didn't Sony show it to anyone before its premiere? Again, related: Peter J Boyer in the New Yorker. Online browsing tip. The Guardian's got a gallery with fat captions. Updates: Anne Thompson: "[T]he movie errs on the side of caution in every way.... It's as if the film's religious content drove the fun out of the movie." The Telegraph's David Gritten: "Well, it's handsome-looking, professional, with the highest production values Hollywood megabucks can buy. But mistakenly, it tries to be tasteful and takes itself all too seriously." AO Scott in the New York Times: "[O]nce it gets going, Mr Howard's movie has its pleasures. He and [Akiva] Goldsman have deftly rearranged some elements of the plot (I'm going to be careful here not to spoil anything), unkinking a few over-elaborate twists and introducing others that keep the action moving along." Eugene Hernandez: "Bored, and surprised by just how mediocre the film is, I maintained occasional interest as the story unfolded." Filmz.de rounds up reviews in the German papers. The Boston Herald's Stephen Schaefer: "In a way this is a Cannes tradition, that the opening night film be a bust." Moira Sullivan finds "few instances of cinematic magic" but more than a few odd moments to chew on. Updates, 5/18: The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw: "It was like Spamalot without the jokes, though the revelation at the end got a storm of incredulous laughter and the owl-like hooting that French audiences use to express derision. It was a very bizarre, very silly beginning to the festival." Also, Charlotte Higgins calls it "one of the most turgid and swollen pieces of dullery I have ever had the misfortune to watch" and demands action: "Code haters unite!" Owen Gleiberman for Entertainment Weekly: "The surprise, and disappointment, of The Da Vinci Code is how slipshod and hokey the religious detective story now seems." Oh, look, a positive review. Roger Ebert: "Dan Brown's novel is utterly preposterous; Ron Howard's movie is preposterously entertaining.... The movie works; it's involving, intriguing and constantly seems on the edge of startling revelations." Greg Burk in the LA Weekly: "Howard and cinematographer Salvatore Totino have turned the book's encyclopedia asides into nice visual abstracts of blood and conflict, with arty dissolves, grainy textures and Renaissance pigmentations; Hanks's solo spiel about the Emperor Constantine is a classy bit of fireside storytelling. The problem is the pace, which suffers when demands of explication force Howard to pull his foot off the gas." Also, Scott Foundas finds it "spectacularly awful in ways that I suspect even the most cynical appraisers of Brown's novel couldn't quite have anticipated." Time Out's Dave Calhoun: "If ever there was a movie marriage made in hell it was that between novelist Dan Brown and film director Ron Howard." Christopher Kelly in the Star-Telegram: "[C]ompetently made but resolutely unexciting... It takes an unprecedented cultural phenomenon - an addictive thriller that somehow manages to speak equally to highbrows and lowbrows, teenagers and senior citizens, true believers and die-hard atheists - and makes it seem like no big deal at all." Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Though it's tempting to deal in extremes when talking about the year's most anticipated picture, the truth is that The Da Vinci Code is a pretty-good-but-who-cares effort, a moderately interesting diversion that will hold audiences in the moment but leave them unmoved and unchanged." James Christopher in the Times of London: "Yes, the film is a cat’s cradle of lunatic ideas with lashings of religious psychobabble, but it's infinitely easier to forgive than the book that begat it." Updates, 5/19: Dana Stevens in Slate: "Ron Howard... has squandered an opportunity to treat us to a big, dumb summer movie that could have combined the occult frisson of The Exorcist with the paranoid energy of All the President's Men." Annie Wagner in the Stranger: "Everything about this movie is boiled until tough." In the Guardian, Jonathan Gibbs finds a few good reviews, but admits the overwhelming majority are pans. Even so, "Critics don't kill films, and for the cast-iron combination of Hanks, Howard and Brown to fail at the box office it would require some level of conspiracy that not even the combined forces of the Catholic church and the liberal press could muster." Stephanie Zacharek in Salon: "There's nothing assaultive about The Da Vinci Code; because it isn't loaded with noisy action, you get the sense that it was at least made for grownups. But its aura of stiff dignity works against it, too. The picture just doesn't have enough zing - it's so stately that it almost seems to be apologizing in advance for any potential controversy it might cause." Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post: "The most controversial thriller of the year turns out to be about as exciting as watching your parents play Sudoku." Michael Atkinson in the Voice: "The book may've magnetized readers with explications of Christian lore that draws too much uninterrogated devotion as it is, but the movie ends up feeling like a long-winded History Channel special with movie stars and car chases." Updates, 5/20: Julie Bosman measures the reach of the Da Vinci Code "brand" in the NYT. Chuck Tryon: "Brandeis University American studies professor Thomas Doherty has a timely op-ed article in the Washington Post drawing connections between the release of The Da Vinci Code and the old Hays Code that imposed constraints on the content of Hollywod films." Jim Emerson has a damn serious rant: "If 21st Century Christians still aren't aware of what, exactly, makes them Christians to begin with - what beliefs differentiate them from other Abrahamic religions - then, I'm sorry, you can hardly blame 2003's or 2006's The Da Vinci Code for that." "Did Cannes kill the Code?" asks Sandy Mandelberger at Fest21. Update, 5/21: So everyone went anyway. The news is all over, but Nikki Finke had it first: "Sony Pictures told me exclusively this morning that Da Vinci Code earned $224 million worldwide, making it the second biggest opening weekend of all time worldwide." Mary Magdalene makes the cover of Newsweek. Meanwhile, have you noticed that the backlash against the backlash has begun? Not just in Newsweek, where columnist Jon Meacham admits he "kind of liked" the movie. But elsewhere, too. Even among the Cinemarati, low iq canadian writes, "Yes, the film is pedestrian, but more of a power walker than the slow shuffler I had expected." Update, 5/25: David Walsh at WSWS: "The argument that popular conviction is 'what really counts,' not rational argumentation, is pernicious. 'Countercultural' myth is not preferable to right-wing myth. Brown's followers simply engage in wishful thinking: 'This is how we wish things were, so let’s invent a fable that comforts us.' It is rather pathetic. This approach encourages self-indulgence and laziness, and blocks anyone from a genuine understanding of history as a law-governed process."
May 16, 2006
Film Comment. May/June 06.There are a couple of ways to approach this one. Head directly to the TOC of new issue of Film Comment as it's put together in print or to the homepage with its "Online Exclusives." With Cannes opening tomorrow, let's go through Door #2. Besides Mark Cummins's talk with Cristi Puiu, which, like Gavin Smith's piece on United 93, has already been mentioned here, and details on an event (Pine Flat, May 25), Kent Jones offers a "First Look" at Fast Food Nation, one of two films Richard Linklater is taking to Cannes. Just a reminder, so you can brace yourself: Criterion's edition of Dazed and Confused is out on June 6. Take a look at Wiley Wiggins's advance copy - a thing of beauty. A Scanner Darkly is in theaters on July 7; Fast Food Nation in October. Alright then. Jones: "I'm not sure if [Greg Kinnear's] ever been as touching or as believably human as he is here, in Richard Linklater's casually insightful and terribly, terribly sad fictional version of Eric Schlosser's best-selling book.... The keynote moment of this unassuming film, one of the most politically astute to come out of this country in quite some time, might be Kinnear stopping by the side of a road and gazing off into the vast western expanses." To the selections from the print version:
Reverse Shot. Spring 06."In this issue of Reverse Shot, we asked our writers to tell us how we can reapply overused words like 'subversive' or 'transgressive' or 'shocking,'" write editors Michael Koresky and Jeff Reichert. "We didn't really want to hear any more about those films that are generally identified as epochal moments (i.e., Psycho, Easy Rider); instead we asked for something more personal—a film that shook, shocked, or socked us right in the gut." The first "Reverse Shock" to hit the reader is going to be the redesign. The advantage: from each and every page, you can see the latest the latest blog posts and RS reviews at indieWIRE, those weekly rounds in which three RS writers offer their takes on a single new theatrical release. As it happens, today's Tuesday, and there's a fresh round up: Koresky, Kristi Mitsuda and James Crawford are all left slightly dissatisfied with Michael Cuesta's 12 and Holding. Back to the heart of the new issue, the "Reverse Shock" symposium:
Sight & Sound. 06/06 + Next generation critics.June's is Sight & Sound's Cannes preview issue. In print, you'll find pieces on the Nanni Moretti and the Ken Loach, but, lucky us, they've selected Paul Julian Smith's on Pedro Almodóvar's Volver, which "means 'going back' or 'coming home.' And after the rigours of the male-dominated Bad Education (2004) the new film stages at least six returns: to comedy, to women, to his native La Mancha, to his actress-muses Carmen Maura and Penélope Cruz, to the theme of motherhood in general, and to his own much mourned mother in particular. Almodóvar himself goes further, claiming that this return to his roots is also a celebration of a 'bright, light Spain' where a funeral can be a fiesta." Toshirô Mifune got the "showier" parts in Akira Kurosawa's films, but the actor Alex Cox appreciates here, film by film, is Takashi Shimura. Reviews:
May 15, 2006
Shorts, 5/15.Look who's blogging: Victor Carroon, the lone survivor of Britain's doomed first manned spaceflight. You might have seen him last in The Quatermass Xperiment. He hasn't been doing too well recently. Related: Tim Lucas remembers screenwriter, director and producer Val Guest, 1911 - 2006. Chuck Tryon: "Sujewa Ekanayake's Date Number One offers an image of urban culture that might be understood as the anti-Crash depiction of the city. Instead of a city marked by distrust and hostility between racial and ethnic groups, Sujewa's film depicts a comfortably multi-ethnic community, recalling for me the "sidewalk ballet" described by Jane Jacobs in her wonderful book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, rather than the sidewalk mosh pit imagined by [Paul] Haggis." In other news of GC friends faring well, Parvathi Nayar talks with Ben Slater about his book, Kinda Hot: The Making of Saint Jack in Singapore for the Business Times. "Progress is a fine thing, but this is regression in everything but the naked profit motive." That's Martin Hoyle, writing in the Financial Times, mind you, about Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. Also via Ray Pride at Movie City Indie, Marc Lee's talk with Robert Greenwald in the Telegraph. At Flickhead, Ray Young notes that the themes of Swept Away, "the clash of Catholicism and Communism in Italy, the gulf separating the poor from the rich, the liberals from conservatives - seem especially relevant now in America as the political right has effectively polarized its people by economics, class and an unyielding, chip-on-the-shoulder variation on Christianity." Distantly related: David Lowery's notes on Abel Ferrara's Mary. "One of the Russian army's most haunting defeats at the hands of Chechen separatists has been turned into a patriotic war film on the Kremlin's orders." Andrew Osborn reports on Proriv (Breakthrough) for the Independent. Related: Anne Nivat in Le Monde diplomatique. "Before Jim Jarmusch was Jim Jarmusch, he was this tall and intimidatingly cool guy who lived near me in Little Italy in the early 80s. He was so disgustingly cool that he made me feel ashamed of myself. I would literally cross to the other side of the street to avoid his towering coolness." Reid Rosefelt looks back more than 20 years. Via Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker. Charlie Kaufman, writes David L Ulin in a profile for the Los Angeles Times Magazine, takes us to "where subjectivity becomes a kind of freedom. Here we have the great theme of both modernist and postmodernist writing, and it's no stretch to argue that these are the traditions in which Kaufman belongs. That he's working in film, rather than in literature, only offers more proof of his standing, because what else do such traditions tell us than that form and genre are irrelevant, that they are arbitrary constructs?" Via They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?. Filmbrain finds Rules of Dating "an occasionally humorous but somewhat provocative essay on sexual politics and gender inequality in contemporary South Korea that still manages to be romantic, but in an uncomfortable way. It's Hong Sang-soo by way of Nora Ephron, with a touch of David Mamet thrown in for good measure." David Thomson in the Independent on Orson Welles: Hello Americans: "There are many books on Welles (I admit that I am the author of one of them, Rosebud) and I have said before that we are still waiting for a dull one. But Simon Callow's thoroughness is as unrivalled as his credentials: he is an actor, a director, a showman, and an immense enthusiast in his writing... [He] has the drive still that comes from the belief that he is telling us about a genius, a phenomenon and a devil." Richard Schickel clearly admires Ava Gardner but not Love is Nothing. He writes in the Los Angeles Times, "To read this life, especially as it is presented in [Lee] Server's book - all plodding reportage, without meaningful critical or psychological insight - is to court ennui and then depression. Affection without irony, a taste for stale gossip unmediated by the way blind fate toys with the lives of certain people unprepared for public lives just won't do." "Of all studios that should be doing 2-D animation, it should be Disney," John Lasseter tells Time's Richard Corliss. "We haven't said anything publicly, but I can guarantee you that we're thinking about it. Because I believe in it." Oh, and Corliss declares Cars "an instant classic." Also, the Richards' Web-only items: Schickel on Sketches of Frank Gehry (related: Mary McNamara talks with Sydney Pollack for the LAT) and Corliss: "All the 21st century fashioners of musical comedy are marching in the footsteps of the Gershwins and [Johnny] Mercer." Richard Phillips talks with Deepa Mehta for the WSWS, where Panini Wijesiriwardena and Parwini Zora review Water. At the House Next Door, Keith Uhlich offers "a numbered, point-by-point subjective breakdown of The New World's two versions." Tim Lucas wishes Jess Franco a happy 76th like perhaps no other American critic can. The Siren presents an annotated list of "Ten Underrated Films." The latest Stop Smiling DVD roundup: Vidas Secas (Barren Lives), The Children Are Watching Us, La Bête Humaine and Edvard Munch. Jack Gardner at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "Among the many unverifiable firsts in movies is the possibility that Rouben Mamoulian's Applause is the first 'grown up' talking picture." Cinematical's Erik Davis hears Robert De Niro might want to snap up the New York Observer. Warner Brothers just might make Yucatan, a project Steve McQueen was working on when he died. Paul Cullum takes a peek at the "16 leather-bound notebooks full of drawings, photographs from period magazines, and a detailed script continuity - a screenplay without dialogue - written in a kind of hyper-stylized poetry" he left behind. Also in the New York Times: Christopher Noxon explains that how the summer movie "has become the preserve of films made for neither the old nor the young, but rather for the child in the adult and the adult in the child. That exercise is far more complex, in its way, than telling a love story about gay cowboys, or creating R-rated horror." And two Da Vinci Code tie-ins: Alan Riding on adapting novels and Doreen Carvajal on the Louvre's plans to cash in. Related: Rachel Abramovitz talks with screenwriter Akiva Goldsman for the LAT and Luke Crisell profiles Paul Bettany for New York. Whether or not you could give a flip for The Da Vinci Code, Peter J Boyer's piece in the New Yorker on how Sony has been dealing with an all but total turnaround in the perception of the project from the time it acquired the book until now, the week of the film's opening, is a very engaging read. Also: Mark Singer takes a flight from Teterboro Airport, NJ, to Minnesota with Robert Altman and Kevin Kline and David Denby reviews Poseidon and Russian Dolls. Back in the LAT, Tina Daunt retells the story behind An Inconvenient Truth. Related: Peter Martin's review for Twitch, and of course, Al Gore on Saturday Night Live. Brian Braiker talks with Giuliani Time director Kevin Keating for Newsweek. Via Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay. "In any age, in any country, people have wanted art - song or poem or dance or drama - to deal with tremendous events in their lives. 'Deal with' here means transmuting such an event into some kind of availability, even though it may at first be too large to comprehend," writes Stanley Kauffmann in the New Republic, beginning to explain why he feels United 93 "does not and could not succeed." Johnny Ray Huston introduces a few Qs, a few As at SF360: "If you care about movies and San Francisco, you care about - and you're eagerly awaiting - Christian Bruno's documentary STRAND: A Natural History of Cinema, and Julie Lindow's and RA McBride's book Left in the Dark: Portraits of San Francisco Movie Theaters." At PopMatters, Bill Gibron thinks through the decades horror has appealed to kids. Related, sort of: Eleanor Cooney in Mother Jones on Homecoming: "If Hollywood is the hotbed of liberalism it's ballyhooed to be, then where are the unambivalently anti-Iraq-war films that'll sear themselves onto our fright receptors and fry us in our seats? Are we chicken? Can't look the monster in the face? Calling all filmmaking geniuses: Bring 'em on." MS Smith considers "the battle between opposites" in Spirited Away. Related: Quiet Bubble on Porco Rosso. Up-n-coming: Jane Birkin's autobiopic, via André Soares at the Alternative Film Guide, and Chris Rock's remake of Rohmer's Cloe in the Afternoon. Declining attendance? The least of our problems, argues Vince Keenan: "We are becoming constitutionally incapable of giving ourselves over to an experience." Spain's Competition Court has fined five Hollywood distributors a total of 13 million euros for "monopolistic" practices. Expatica reports. Seth Stevenson for Slate: "The brief, bounded format of a commercial plays to [Wes] Anderson's strengths and hides his weaknesses." Xan Brooks in the Guardian: "The $25m (£13m) asking fee is at once Hollywood's most cosseted and unstable club. Membership is hard won and easily lost." Online musical interludes. Dylan at Flickhead, Miyazaki among the Cinemarati, Will Oldham and Harmony Korine at DVblog and six drummers at Blogumentary. Online viewing tip #1. 20 short films by Fritz Lang, 19 of them shot on 16mm as he travelled the American West between 1938 and 1953. Via Coudal Partners. Online viewing tip #2. Deviation, "shot using an online game engine with the virtual actors and director never having met one another." Via filmtagebuch. Online viewing tip #3. Anna and Bella, pointed to and commented on by Mark Mayerson. Online viewing tip #4. Must Love Jaws. Thanks, Jerry! Online viewing tips #5 through #12. No fat clips!!! gathers the best of April.
Cannes, fests, events, 5/15.Ed Champion's found a translation of Les Inrockuptibles' interview with Sofia Coppola, a nifty pictorial and textual preview of Marie-Antoinette. Jeffrey Wells talks with Alejandro González Iñárritu about his Cannes entry, Babel. You won't be surprised to learn that a Palme d'Or doesn't hold much sway at the US box office, but John Anderson looks up the numbers anyway for the New York Times. Anthony Kaufman argues he's reading those numbers all wrong and David Poland takes another look at them from a different angle and concludes, "The truth is, Cannes has become far worse than Sundance in terms of selling out." Eugene Hernandez takes a quick break from packing his bags to defend the fest, while, in an earlier entry, Anthony Kaufman writes, "As my conflicting duties covering the fest for indieWIRE and the [Wall Street] Journal, I will be a living embodiment of Cannes's art-commerce contradiction. If I have any self-respect, I will do my best to find the right balance." A DVD box set of Norman McLaren's animated work will appear in France, then Canada, following a retrospective in Cannes, reports the Globe and Mail. Also via They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?, Galina Stolyarova's piece in the St Petersburg Times on an exhibition during the fest of 40 erotic drawings by Eisenstein. Jason Solomons notes in the Guardian that "the jury will be starrier than most of the film casts heading up the steps" before offering a "Rough Guide to Cannes." Also, Punk Cinema's taking The Gigolos and their hopes are up, and Sean O'Hagan talks with Paul Laverty, the screenwriter behind Ken Loach's Cannes entry, The Wind that Shakes the Barley. The Independent runs another guide, this one from Jonathan Romney. Michael Guillen previews another entry in the SF Docfest: "There have been over 75 Palestinian suicide bombings since the renewed Intifada began in September of 2000. Diameter of the Bomb tells the story of one: the bombing of Bus 32A in the Gilo neighborhood of Jerusalem on June 18, 2002, which killed 20 people (including the bomber) and injured 50 more." Ed Gonzalez adds a bit to Slant's B Noir feature, previewing seven film in the series running through mid-June at Film Forum. The Reeler: "BAM's Sundance shorts series unspools one final time Tuesday night at 9:30, and I will say it again: There is really not a stinker in the bunch." Brian Brooks previews NewFest (June 1 through 11) for indieWIRE. New York's David Edelstein recounts what it was like to be a juror for Tribeca's New York Loves Film Documentary Feature competition. SXSWclick!, "reated to showcase short-form storytelling via mobile devices and the web," is calling for entries. Matt Dentler 's got details.
Online listening tip.1963. Roger Rosenblatt moderates a discussion to be broadcast over San Francisco's KPFA. Tom Sutpen, who's got the recording for you at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger..., introduces the round: "[F]ormer Partisan Review editor and recidivist Trotskyite, Dwight MacDonald; Pauline Kael, then a freelance art-house veteran and latter-day flapper; and John Simon, someone whom a friend of mine once referred to rather unkindly as the Slobodan Miloševic of arts criticism." A distracting question to try to keep out of mind while you're listening: If you were to go out with just one of them for a drink or two afterwards, who'd it be?
May 14, 2006
Bright Lights. 52.Where to begin, where to begin. I'll certainly not be offering a better way into the new issue of Bright Lights Film Journal than Gary Morris's, but I've been spending the weekend paging through it and can't help telling you that the first item to catch my eye was Bo-Myung Seo's argument that "there is a definite connection between the new attitude in Korean movies toward North Korea and the United States and the success of the South Korean movies. But I think this connection is a complicated one, which can only be explained by giving an account of the history of division in Korea in general and the subsequent history of cinema in South Korea in particular." See, that's a read you need. In the other two features, David L Pike takes a long hard look at Atom Egoyan's "recent turn to the popular" and Gordon Thomas peers deeply into that "1959 phenomenon," Ben-Hur. Alan Vanneman is all over the new issue again, turning in another piece on a Fred Astaire movie, Three Little Words, "lots of snappy tunes, a fair amount of good dancing, but nothing great," and "skewerings" (Gary Morris) of Brick, Transamerica and Thank You for Smoking. "Kay Francis movies can become an addiction," writes Dan Callahan, reviewing Lynn Kear and John Rossman's Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career. Also: "Audiences lucky enough to see [Mikio] Naruse's cutting, comic, valiant defeatism in action have recognized his body of work as an essential film experience. When his movies are made more available, he will take his rightful place with the masters of the medium." Gary Morris reviews Chris Vermorcken's Leonor Fini: Portrait of an Artist and Marilyn Rivchin and Kells Elmquist's short, Kay Sage, and argues that both women were "major visual artists wrongly lumped in as minor lights of the surrealist movement." Also: "Red Beard illustrates some of Kurosawa's weaknesses alongside his obvious strengths." And: "[T]o separate or assimilate?... The ground-breaking documentary Word Is Out, produced by filmmaker Peter Adair and directed by Rob Epstein, is considered by some a key work in the assimilationist canon." Robert Keser offers his takes on the films he caught at the 9th annual European Union Film Festival. Also, Moments Choisis des Histoire(s) du Cinéma, "less a summary than a tasting menu of the greater work, [Godard's] attempt to place cinema 'against the unfeeling vastness of time.'" "An order to the sequels universe can be found and clung to," writes Robert Castle, "Until you consider The Exorcist sequels." Also, a definition, with illustrative examples, of the "Un-Movie." Following a list of actresses who can switch on the sex "on demand," Lesley Chow celebrates Sigourney Weaver in Heartbreakers, "one of the finest screwballs of the last decade - certainly the dizziest and most exhilarating." Also: "Watching Dance of a Dream led me to think about the way male stars act: how do they move back and forth onscreen - what kind of charge are they expected to bring?" "Still living in his beloved New York City, [James] Bidgood [Pink Narcissus] is finally coming into the limelight as a recipient of a Guggenheim grant that will allow him to continue his photographic work which is just starting to garner attention as an overlooked and influential part of gay iconographic history." Sean Fredric Edgecomb gets him on the phone. Matthew Kennedy on the Busby Berkeley Collection: "Has any such collection held up better for sheer entertainment value? Nowhere will you find a more paralyzing succession of archetypal 1930s pop culture moments." Also: "I confess a strange affection for Ryan's Daughter, not because it's Lean's red-headed stepson, but because of its intersection with my life." Tom Sutpen: "God's Angry Man is neither an exposé nor a malediction, and [Dr Gene] Scott is never branded a crackpot - which is not only the easiest road [Werner] Herzog could have gone down but also the most decrepit... The only meaningful difference between the missions of Dr Gene Scott and, say, Klaus Kinski's Don Lope de Aguirre is one of scale, that's all." Into the The Aviator and back out again via Jour de fête? DJM Saunders gives it a go. Erich Kuersten has had more than enough of Cameron Crowe, Wes Anderson and Zach Braff's "mix CD movies." Victoria Large revives The Pirate, "alternately hailed as an underappreciated gem or written off as a dismal financial and artistic failure for its stars and for director Vincente Minnelli. Like the other Garland-Kelly pictures, this one’s far from perfect." Andrew Culbertson revisits Sunset Boulevard, the "film about Hollywood without the Hollywood ending." Glory Road "shouldn't work," notes Tony Macklin, "But in the latter parts of the movie the power of the event takes over. There's racism, conflict, and emotion. Even Bruckheimer can't ruin that." Jayson Harsin "was thoroughly entertained" by Walk the Line, even if he finds the narrative too neat and tidy.
SIFF. Lineup.The marathon is just over a week away. The Seattle International Film Festival, running May 25 through June 18 and billing itself as "the largest and most highly attended festival in the United States," has unveiled the highlights of its lineup. World Premiere Features - all descriptions from SIFF: Little Fugitive, directed by Joanna Lipper (USA) A nearly absent father and an overworked mother leave two young brothers to their own devices for 24 hours. When a vicious practical joke goes awry, seven-year-old Joey flees to Coney Island in this skillfully updated version of the landmark 1953 film. Mom's Apple Pie: The Heart of the Lesbian Mother's Custody Movement, directed by Jody Laine, Shan Ottey, Shad Reinstein (USA). An important document of GLBT history, Mom's Apple Pie looks at Seattle-based Lesbian Mothers Defense Fund, founded in the early 1970s as a resource for mothers whose children were being legally removed from their care based solely on the fact that they were lesbians. Narrated by Kate Clinton. The Standard, directed by Jordan Albertsen (USA). Taking place in the time just before high school graduation, Dylan Anderson isn't sure what his future holds. Shot on Whidbey Island, this dreamily realized reflection on Gus Van Sant's Elephant is an intimate peek at friendship, young love and loss. This is Gary McFarland, directed by Kristian St Clair (USA). Seattle director Kristian St Clair explores the life and times of self-taught jazz musician, composer and arranger Gary McFarland, who, before his mysterious death in 1971, collaborated with such notables as Gerry Mulligan, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Stan Getz, Bill Evans, Clark Terry, Gabor Szabo and Cal Tjader. Urban Scarecrow, directed by Andrew McAllister (USA). The second feature from Seattle filmmaker Andrew McAllister (Shag Carpet Sunset) tells the bittersweet story of a quiet and detached teenager who, in the six years since his mother's death, has been living with his father in a small motel amid the landscape of abandoned buildings and old signs of Highway 99. North American Premiere Features 1:1, directed by Annette K Olesen> (Denmark). 4 Barefooted Women, directed by Santiago Loza (Argentina). A Side, B Side, Seaside, directed by Wing-Chiu Chan (Hong Kong). Beyond Hatred, directed by Olivier Meyrou (France). The Birthday, directed by Diane Kurys (France). Container, directed by Lukas Moodysson (Sweden). Four Stars, directed by Christian Vincent (France). Frostbite, directed by Anders Banke (Sweden). Gambler, directed by Phie Ambo (Denmark). Garpastum, directed by Alexey Guerman Jr (Russia). Gradually, directed by Maziar Miri (Iran). Gravehopping, directed by Jan Cvitkovic (Slovenia). The Great Match, directed by Gerardo Olivares (Spain). Happy As One, directed by Vanessa Jopp (Germany). Host & Guest, directed by Shin Dong-il (South Korea). Isabella, directed by Pang Ho-Cheung (Hong Kong). The Line of Beauty, directed by Saul Dibb (United Kingdom). Liviu's Dream, directed by Corneliu Porumboiu (Romania). Los Aires Difíciles, directed by Gerardo Herrera (Spain). Love Sick, directed by Tudor Giurgiu (Romania). Molly's Way, directed by Emily Atef (Germany). The Nightly Song of the Travellers, directed by Chapour Haghighat (Iran). Requiem, directed by Hans-Christian Schmid (Germany). Round Two, directed by Daniel Cebrián (Spain). Shinobi, directed by Ten Shimoyama (Japan). Slumming, directed by Michael Glawogger (Austria). Starfish Hotel, directed by John Williams (Japan). Tertium non datur, directed by Lucian Pintilie (Romania). Tough Enough, directed by Detlev Buck (Germany). A Trip to Kharabakh, directed by Levan Tutberidze (Georgia). What Are You Going to Do When You Get Out of Here?, directed by Saso Podgorsek (Slovenia). US Premieres 49 Up, directed by Michael Apted (United Kingdom). Ahlaam, directed by Mohamed Al-Daradji (Iraq). Au Bonheur des dames, directed by Julien Duvivier (France). Early in the Morning, directed by Gahité Fofana (Guinea). Every Other Week, directed by Måns Herngren, Hannes Holm, Felix Herngren, Hans Ingemansson (Sweden). The Fish Fall in Love, directed by Ali Raffi (Iran). The Horizon of Events, directed by Daniele Vicari (Italy). Isolation, directed by Billy O'Brien (United Kingdom). Itinéraires, directed by Christophe Otzenberger (France). ...More Than 1000 Words, directed by Solo Avital (Germany). Pierrepoint, directed by Adrian Shergold (United Kingdom). Pusher III: I'm the Angel of Death, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (Denmark). Seven Swords, directed by Tsui Hark (Hong Kong). Ski Jumping Pairs - Road to Torino 2006, directed by Mashima Riichiro and Kobayashi Masaki (Japan). Suicidals, directed by Juan Villegas (Argentina). A Summer Day, directed by Franck Guérin (France). We Shall Overcome, directed by Niels Arden Oplev (Denmark).
May 13, 2006
Germans. Films. Awards.The German Film Awards were given out last night, but before I sort through the names and numbers, let me push along the slow but sure leaking of what, up to right about now, has been one of the better-kept secrets in cinema: the Germans are making some of the best films around these days. German cinema is now healthier and livelier than it has been since the advent of the so-called "New German Cinema" of the late 70s and early 80s. True, if you held the Cannes competition lineup as the ultimate guide to the best and brightest in international film, you'd have no idea. But Cannes is (in)famous for snubbing the Germans every year as it has snubbed - with the exception of a single film, Lou Ye's Summer Palace - all of Asia this year. Besides the films themselves, what's most remarkable about the current state of German cinema is that the German press is celebrating it. Remarkable, because German critics have usually been exceedingly hard on German films, almost as a matter of course. If Robert Hughes's debatable tag "culture of complaint" could be applied anywhere, I'd pin it on German film criticism of the past decade or so up to just these past few months. It wasn't just the films, either. The whole system of financing them, the tastes of a lazy public, the hegemony of Hollywood, the theaters, the schools, it was all terribly, miserably wrong. But what a turnaround. In the run-up to last night's ceremony, the papers began running glowing assessments of the current state of German film, all but tumbling over themselves for the most laudatory proclamations. The winner, of course, was the one who went too far, Hanns-Georg Rodek, who wrote in Die Welt this week, "2006 is to German cinema what 1939 was for world cinema." This naturally led to a few snappy rejoinders (a "Holla!" from Michael Althen in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, for example). Sure, it's an absurd claim to make in May for any year, but there's something to his overall argument: Not only are the Germans producing the sort of films that win prizes at festivals and raves from critics, but they're also making silly comedies that lure butts to seats, retelling fairy tales, in both animated and live action versions, that the kids are actually going for and, in the occasional Bernd Eichinger production (Downfall fairly recently, and just around the corner, Tom Tykwer's Perfume) or X-Filme comedy (Good Bye, Lenin!, Go for Zucker!), breaking out into the international market. Focusing on just that first category, though, the festival and critical favorites, the films that actually do something fresh and substantive for the art, what's doubly remarkable is that, at least in a few nooks and crannies, the rest of the world is beginning to take notice. Die Zeit did a very smart thing this week, almost as an assurance to feuilleton readers that German critics aren't getting carried away in some frenetic feedback loop. The weekly paper asked four critics from four countries for their own assessments. In general, all agree that these are halcyon days. More specifically, Libération film editor Gérard Lefort praises German filmmakers for tackling the dark sides of "the past of a nation that experienced the two worst forms of totalitarianism in the 20th century: Nazism and Communism," when, "with few exceptions," French filmmakers have proven "unable" to even approach the Vichy regime and the Algerian war. The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw worries, though, that the very idea of a German film set in the Nazi era is the sort of "selling point" Germany doesn't need in Britain, especially when films like Oskar Roehler's Die Unberührbare (No Place to Go) or the last three films by his personal favorite, Christian Petzold, go unseen on the Isles. Like Lefort, El País film critic Mirito Torreiro admires the ways Germans deal with the past without falling into the "same old clichés and moral judgments" Spanish filmmakers do when treating the Civil War, but at the same time, suggests that the current generation has yet to produce a Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Filmbrain and I were talking about this point just the other day; I don't think the current crop needs identification figures like RWF, Herzog or Wenders just so they might be pegged as some sort of movement. Whatever factors are contributing to this sudden and unexpected flourishing - and they would be interesting to forage out - a school (not even a "Berlin School") or a manifesto are not among them, and that's probably all for the better. Variety's Eddie Cockrell wins points with me for mentioning another chapter of Germany's recent past that's been dealt with onscreen recently, the Red Army Faction years, and, after naming a few highlights, writes, "It's simply a disgrace American audiences are kept ignorant of all this variety. They know of a few 'big' titles: Run Lola Run, Rosenstrasse, Downfall, Sophie Scholl, and that's it. But that's only the tip of the iceberg." If there's a Gladwellian tipping point at work in this slowly dawning realization, it's surely this year's Berlinale, for which festival director Dieter Kosslick programmed four German films in the Competition - in other words, about one out of six films in the running for the Gold and Silver Bears were German. What's more, three out of four of those films were awfully damn good (The Free Will, Requiem and Sehnsucht), while even the fourth, the disappointment (Elementary Particles), was more or less acceptable as an event, if not as a film, what with its star-strewn cast and all (Franka Potente, Moritz Bleibtreu and Martina Gedeck, for starters). The good news is that the film that pretty much swept the German Film Awards last night appeared after the Berlinale. In other words, things are still on the up and up. Das Leben der Anderen (The Life of Others) won Best Film (Gold), Best Screenplay and Best Direction (Florian Henkel von Donnersmarck, and this is his debut feature, mind you), Best Leading Male Performance (Ulrich Mühe, and it is one of the most unique performances I've ever seen), Best Supporting Male Performance (Ulrich Tukur), Best Cinematography (Hagen Bogdanski) and Best Set Design (Silke Buhr. What makes The Lives of Others an extraordinarily effective thriller, albeit a thriller of intense and terrifying silence, is that, at its core, the story is actually quite simple, while at the same time, there are countless small surprises along the way from A to B to C. I don't want to give too much away because the screenplay is rock solid and I hope readers in the States will get a chance at some point to experience its full effect, but briefly: mid-80s East Germany. Mühe plays Gerd Wiesler, a stone-cold Terminator of a Stasi interrogator who's lured by his superior's dangling of the carrot of advancement in the Party to spy on a playwright, Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), and his lover, Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), the lead actress in his new play. But Wiesler's faith in socialism is no match for Dreyman's naive idealism and, as the inexorable machinations of State grind away, the battle lines are redrawn and redrawn again and again. As I've mentioned here before, the film is a stunning reality check to the wave of Ostalgie that hit German screens in the late 90s, but it's also a sober warning to any nation's people whose government is beginning to show even minor totalitarian tendencies such as, oh, I dunno, collecting records of millions of its citizens' phone calls. A little linkage before moving on, all in English: Damien McGuinness talks with Florian Henkel von Donnersmarck for Spiegel Online and, once again, former dissident Wolf Biermann on the film's astonishing authenticity. The two Best Film (Silver) awards, the runners-up, went to Hans-Christian Schmid's Requiem and Detlev Buck's Knallhart (Tough Enough), both of which will see their North American premieres at the Seattle International Film Festival in a few weeks. Requiem also picked up Best Leading Female Performance (Sandra Hüller, who won a Silver Bear for this one at the Berlinale), Best Supporting Female Performance (Imogen Kogge), Best Costumes (Bettina Marx) and Best Sound (Lars Ginzel, Dirk Jacob, Marc Parisotto [hey, I know that guy] and Martin Steyer). Tough Enough won Best Editing (Dirk Grau) and Best Film Music Bert Wrede). I wrote about Requiem here, so I'll simply add that I'm glad to see it forging on. I remember meeting Hans-Christian Schmid briefly at the premiere of his 23 when I wrote a bit about it for Wired News, and in retrospect, I realize that the best of what he learned about honing a narrative plus the stylistic freedom he discovered with Lichter (Distant Lights) have both gone into Requiem. If this trajectory continues, his next film may be too good to bear. As for Tough Enough, I'm anxious to see how it plays outside Germany. To an extent, it's a universal story of teenage violence. But it's also very specifically rooted not just in Berlin but in one district in particular, Neukölln, the very neighborhood, in fact, that I lived in with my family for several years up until a little over a year ago. We thoroughly enjoyed the liveliness of it all, but if you see the film, you'll realize why we were also glad to get out. Just a few weeks ago, for the first time in Germany, a principle at a high school in Neukölln had to make a 911-sort of call to the police, asking them to come in and take over; they'd lost control of the building entirely. Linkage: Daniela Sannwald interviews Detlev Buck. Other notable winners: Lost Children, Best Documentary, and Die Höhle des gelben Hundes, a gorgeous, nonchalantly informative but ultimately lightweight work, Best Children's Film.
New York Dispatch. 6.In the last of his dispatches from Tribeca, David D'Arcy reviews two docs, When I Came Home and MAQUILAPOLIS: city of factories. Also, just up at the main site, is David's interview with Fernando Solanas, whose The Dignity of the Nobodies screened at both Tribeca and the San Francisco International Film Festival. Looking back almost a week away from the event itself, a recurring theme at the Tribeca Film Festival was poverty, an odd theme in the limo-locked gilded ghetto of Tribeca at an event that gets so much money from New York State and from private sponsors, but a theme well worth exploring nonetheless. There's the old line, "God must love poor people, because he makes so many of them," and poverty in this country comes in many forms, most of them invisible in the mainstream media. Dan Lohaus looks at the problem of homelessness among recent army veterans in the doc When I Came Home. Lohaus shows us a number of veterans living from hand to mouth, but the one we see the most is Herold Noel, who came back from the recent gulf war with a chest full of commendations and not much else. He has a car and a child and an angry wife who yells at him over the phone. We don't know how he makes payments on his red SUV, but it doesn't leave him with much else to spend. Noel is one of at least 100 homeless vets in New York City, by this film's reckoning, and that's just counting the homeless vets from the recent Iraq invasion, so we can probably assume that there are more. In a cold gray New York winter, we follow Noel from office to office, to housing project, and back to the street, all filmed in TV news style, with lots of emotion in between visits. He's prescribed drugs by the Veterans Administration for Post-Traumatic Syndrome Disorder. He avoids the homeless shelters to avoid crime. He meets other vets, particularly a woman with a child who is angrier than he is, and ends up refusing to talk to reporters about her situation because nothing's improving. Eventually, much of that anger, and there's plenty to share, goes into booze and spousal abuse. No surprise. And this is just the beginning. Noel is more determined than a lot of his peers. He also has some guidance. With the help of a veterans' group called "Operation Truth," he starts a media campaign which succeeds in getting his story to the newspapers and network television, and eventually to politicians. This not your typical soldier's story. What is all too typical is the atmosphere in which Noel is forced to seek help. Agencies created to help veterans are under-funded and bureaucratic. Well-wishers like the rapper Chuck D, whom Noel meets, leave him with the advice to get out of New York and move to place that's less expensive. When all else fails, Noel considers the unthinkable - re-enlisting in the army. He's told that he won't qualify, since he suffers from PTSD. There are other veterans in the film from earlier wars who tell the same stories. "It's thirty years later - half of us are dead," says a Vietnam War vet who has watched other veterans spend years in neglect. A clip from a speech has W saying solemnly, "We will always honor their sacrifice." I'm sure that "Deferment Dick" Cheney would have a similar nostrum for the cameras. If you doubted that the wars being fought by the US today have a socio-economic balance, When I Came Home should clarify that. There are some 500 homeless Iraq war vets now, we read on the screen at the end of the film. Multiply that number a few times over the next year or so. The number of homeless vets from previous wars runs to 500,000, someone pointed out. That sounds high, but it's certainly not as inflated as the "support our troops" rhetoric. As the election gets closer, you'll hear more of it.
May 12, 2006
Shorts: Slouching toward the weekend.The Hayao Miyazaki Blog-a-Thon is underway. Ground zero: Quiet Bubble. "[T]he Catholics were on to something with Baby Doll," suggests Annie Wagner in the Stranger. "Watch that 1956 film now. I triple-dog dare you. Baby Doll, part of a new box set of works written by [Tennessee] Williams, is utterly, horrifyingly, wonderfully, indisputably obscene. All this with no nudity and exclusively offscreen sex." "The complete, uncut Greed has become something of a 'Holy Grail,' a Hollywood urban legend that somewhere out there is a copy, waiting to be discovered." Welcome to Silent Movies tells the story of Erich von Stroheim's long lost masterpiece. Via Coudal Partners. "William Klein is the ultimate post-war incarnation of that very twentieth-century beast: the American in Paris." Time Out's David Calhoun meets him. Richard von Busack at Cinematical: "Modern Romance, a vintage Albert Brooks comedy of 1981, demonstrates the man's unsurpassed gifts in the comedy of excruciation." "Just as the seed for The Last Days of Disco came from the 'beautiful women in discos' scenes in Barcelona, the idea for what I hope will be my next film came from the early Jamaican music we tried to use in Disco's non-club scenes. Justin Hinds & the Dominoes' song "Carry Go Bring Come" - used during the semi-climactic taxi escape scene - fell into my life like the Coke bottle in The Gods Must Be Crazy." Whit Stillman explains what he's been up to lately - and why he's going to Cannes. Also in the Guardian: Laura Barton talks with Paul Bettany about The Da Vinci Code (related: Will Lawrence with Audrey Tautou in the Times of London; and Peter Keough for the Boston Phoenix: "No matter how you look at it, the Church can't lose"); and Kate Stables has half a dozen online viewing tips for soccer fans. Peter Nellhaus: "If there is a reason why Violent Summer and Girl with a Suitcase should be made mandatory viewing for virtually all contemporary filmmakers, it is to study how Valerio Zurlini uses popular music in film." Art School Confidential is "an inspired, fascinating, and revealing mess," writes Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader. For more, see Tony DuShane's interviews with Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes, just up at the main site, and this entry, which is still being updated. John Rockwell introduces a New York Times critical guide to ballet on DVD - or cut straight to the list. Also:
Cannes (and other fests and events), 5/12."[N]o matter how many times you go, or how far inside you get, Cannes never loses its aura," writes the Toronto Star's Geoff Pevere. Via Movie City News. Richard Brooks pooh-poohs the aura. Also in the New Statesman), Jason Wood: "That two Mexican films are competing for the most prestigious prize in world cinema is a measure of how far the Mexican industry has come in the past six years." Todd at Twitch on the only Asian film in Competition: "The Chinese government is now saying Lou [Ye] has broken the law by submitting [Summer Palace] to Cannes before submitting it to them and Lou has responded, bizarrely, by saying he never submitted the film to Cannes in the first place and doesn't really know how it got there... All the details on Kaiju Shakedown." Also: a trailer for Jens Lien's Den Brysomme Mannen (The Bothersome Man). Sheila Johnston sorts through the lineup for the Independent, David Gritten for the Telegraph. Boyd van Hoeij at Cineuropa: "A meagre selection from the Netherlands this year in the official 2006 Cannes line-up is offset by a strong presence on the market and a total of ten titles that were supported by Rotterdam's CineMart and Hubert Bals Fund." In the New York Times, Neil Genzlinger previews "a jazzy triple bill of anime offered at the ImaginAsian Theater." In the Austin area? Jette Kernion's got you covered at Cinematical, where she also looks back at the Best of QT Fest. DC? Check with Chuck Tryon. NYC? The Reeler. San Francisco? How about the 10th annual Mission Creek Music & Arts Festival. SF360's Susan Gerhard presents "24 Reasons Why to find yourself in the Mission this Sunday and the rest of the week for the 10th annual music and arts festival." Wilhelm Hien: Perfekt! in London next weekend. Via Antonio Pasolini. "What would you do if your wife was killed by a US patriot missile?" Charlie Prince catches up on his Tribeca reviews at Cinema Strikes Back: Civic Duty.
Online fiddling around tip.A Scanner Darkly. Trailer Remix Contest. Prizes: Travel and/or hardware.
May 11, 2006
Shorts, 5/11."He will run, and when he runs, he will present himself not as a nice guy but as a necessary bulwark against the forces of barbarism," writes Stephen Metcalf at Slate. "But a principled opposition to the American Churchill is not only possible, it's necessary. It rests on an assertion even the comrades behind Giuliani Time won't venture: that in the near term, 9/11 may have made Rudy Giuliani a hero; in the long term it has only amplified what makes Rudy Giuliani an abominable human being." The New Republic's Lee Siegel: "I love movies with a passion. But I'm convinced that we need a world-uprising against movie-tyranny. Just to maintain a certain emotional balance. Cinematic, or televised images - I'm lumping them together - flood our days with an alternative reality that shifts the boundaries of our actuality this way and that." Why is The Last Communist banned in Malaysia, its maker, Amir Muhuammad, wants to know. Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly: "I urge you to see the ineffably beautiful Three Times however you can, lest you go on thinking that Hou [Hsiao-hsien]'s greatness is merely the supposition of obscurantist critics intent on reserving their highest praise for those films that nobody else can actually see." Also, a meeting with David Jacobson to talk about Down in the Valley (more from Daniel Robert Epstein for SuicideGirls). What a bookish sort of day this turned out to be. While the cinetrix contemplates teaching a course on adaptations, Film International announces that Issue #20 is out, "a special issue devoted to the world of film literature, guest edited by Richard Armstrong." Gawker: "And the hemorrhaging continues at the Daily News features department, where today we hear that movie critic Jami Bernard was informed her contract will not be renewed." "Throughout Sketches [of Frank Gehry], Irony stands as high as the world's tallest building in Shanghai, because this film about architecture has been made by a director with one of the least distinguished pair of eyes in Hollywood," writes Armond White. Also, there's no "pizazz" in The Death of Mr Lazarescu, White argues: "[Director Cristi] Puiu shows no absurdity that wasn't already dramatized in Lawrence Kasdan's murder film I Love You to Death and no hospital farce not tickled in Blake Edwards's Micki & Maude." Also in the New York Press: Jennifer Merin talks with Garry Marshall about the family comedy (and family project) Keeping Up With the Steins and with John Hillcoat and Nick Cave about The Proposition; and Susan Reiter on Bringing Balanchine Back. Alonso Duralde poses an interesting question on the cover of the Advocate. Via Jeffrey Wells. In the NYT:
Fests and events, 5/11.The series Angry Young Cinema: The Original British New Wave opens today in Los Angeles and runs through May 24. Ella Taylor celebrates in the LA Weekly: "Having lived now for going on 28 years in America, whose passion for moving on up precludes all but the most grudging attention to the lives of its worker bees, I consider it a treat to be brought back to a time and place when a vigorous brew of class pride and shame was bred in British blood, bone and sinew, onscreen and off." "Does the success of Ang Lee's Oscar-winning, box-office-busting tearjerker mean that the mainstream has embraced gay characters and narratives? Or has it merely absorbed them and reduced them to its own common denominator?" asks Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix. "This year's Gay & Lesbian Film/Video Festival at the MFA doesn’t so much confront these issues as it embodies them." Even if you don't read French, you've got to see the shot of Godard (not the one here) that accompanies Jean-Louis Kuffer's piece in 24heures. Is just it me or is Godard becoming Groucho? Anyway, as euro|topics explains, the piece heralds the exhibition Voyages en utopie, Jean-Luc Godard, 1946 –2006 at the Centre Pompidou in Paris through August 14. At SF360, Susan Gerhard talks with founder Jeff Ross about the DocFest, opening tomorrow and running through May 21. Related: Michael Guillen previews Letters From the Other Side. One of the most talked about films at the Tribeca Film Festival was Jesus Camp, which, writes Brian Brooks, "steps into the right end of America's cultural divide, profiling a group of Evangelical Christians who home school their children, evangelize on the streets, and use their considerable political clout to promote their conservative ideals." He talks not with the directors but with one of the subjects of this special jury prize for outstanding achievement in documentary, Pastor Becky Fischer. Also at indieWIRE, Sarah Keenlyside looks back on the Hot Docs fest. As he preps for Cannes, Andrew O'Hehir delivers a final verdict on Tribeca: "Too many damn movies. A lot of dark and rich documentaries (The Bridge, Jonestown, Jesus Camp, The War Tapes), but not nearly enough decent narrative films to justify a festival of that size. One of the great advantages of Cannes is that they've whittled down an entire year of new films to 61, and whether you like their selections or not, you can actually see most of them while still sleeping and eating meals." Also, takes on Giuliani Time, Russian Dolls and Refuge. More Tribeca: Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper and Michael Beuning at PopMatters. Fernando F Croce has a fine overview of the recently wrapped San Francisco International Film Festival in Slant. Cinematical's Martha Fischer: "Despite rumors to the contrary, Clerks II will, in fact, be debuting at Cannes." And Grady Hendrix reports that, though Time wasn't invited, Kim Ki-duk is taking it to Cannes anyway. Felicia R Lee previews the Sundance Institute at BAM "series of film screenings, musical performances and theater, as well as discussions with filmmakers and other events" in the New York Times. The Austin Chronicle has the schedule for the Paramount Summer Classic Film Series.
NYT Book Review poll.This may not be directly movie-related, but we do get a preview, in a roundabout sort of way, of the book AO Scott was working on during those weeks he went missing from the movies section of the New York Times: "Early this year, the Book Review's editor, Sam Tanenhaus, sent out a short letter to a couple of hundred prominent writers, critics, editors and other literary sages, asking them to please identify 'the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years.'" The results are in, Scott has sorted through them, offers various takes from various angles and concludes: "[L]ate-20th-century American Lit comprises a bustling menagerie, like Noah's ark or the island of Dr Moreau, where modernists and postmodernists consort with fabulists and realists, ghost stories commingle with domestic dramas, and historical pageantry mutates into metafiction. It is, gratifyingly if also bewilderingly, a messy and multitudinous affair." Again, if you're wondering whether this really is hefty enough as a cultural event to warrant its own entry on a film blog, scan the list of voters. Update: Elif Batuman for n+1.
May 10, 2006
Shorts, 5/10."Italy, Australia and Romania are the hotbeds of world cinema, with Spain and Mexico not far behind, while Middle Eastern and Asian movies have lost their luster," writes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE. "That is, of course, if you believe the films chosen to screen at next week's Cannes Film Festival can be taken as a sign of cinematic prosperity." Acquarello: "Invoking Rainer Werner Fassbinder's irreverent, artful kitsch, Federico Fellini carnivalesque grotesquerie, and Werner Schroeter's impenetrable, autobiographical self-evidence, Ticket of No Return encapsulates the highly stylized, funny, frustrating, offbeat, decadent, intoxicating, and fevered delirium that is Ulrike Ottinger's cinema." Charles Taylor in the New York Observer: "It would be nice to think that with the release of the new extended cut of Casualties of War, Brian De Palma's masterpiece and one of the greatest of all American movies, would finally get its due." Over at Hollywood Bitchslap, lucky Marc Kandel meets Richard E Grant. Stephen Holden: "Russian Dolls belongs to a long line of airy French films that induce a pleasant buzz of Euro-envy." More from Cinematical's Christopher Campbell. Also in the New York Times, Dana Stevens on the Cartoons: No Laughing Matter? series and Kim Severson talks with Eric Schlosser, who'll be heading to Cannes to see the premiere of Richard Linklater's adaptation of Fast Food Nation. Terri Sutton in the City Pages: "Part dyke's own Sex and the City, part documentary, and all collage, The Joy of Life provides a lover's look at the pain and bliss of desiring, whether the desired be a beautiful woman, a dead friend, a place called San Francisco, or film itself." Johnny Ray Huston reviews Drawing Restraint 9, "[p]erhaps the most expensive wedding video ever made." Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, local recommendations: San Francisco Documentary Film Festival (starts Friday; site), San Francisco Cinematheque's Questions Concerning Technology program and Other Cinema's CounterCorp benefit on Saturday. Ron Hanson tells the story behind Veialu Aila-Unsworth's animated short, Blue Willow at the Lumière Reader. Elizabeth Bernstein and Kia Simon write at SF360 about realizing their indie feature, Alice. Besides Cruise fatigue, another problem audiences may be having with Mission Impossible III, argues Julia Turner in Slate, is that TV vet JJ Abrams "recycles [his own] setups, gimmicks, and gags with abandon." Jim Ridley: "The hot topic in Nashville's film community is the Visual Content Act of 2006, which is scheduled to go before the state Senate tomorrow. This is Tennessee's overdue attempt to put an incentives package in place to lure lucrative film and TV production to the state. It stands a good chance of passing, and if it does, expect it to get a lot of attention outside Tennessee." Scott Tobias introduces this week's list at the AV Club: "10 Character Actors Who Should Be In Every Movie." In the Guardian, Anne Rowe remembers Phil Brown, whose career "was bound up in the Hollywood anti-left witchhunts of the late 1940s and 50s." 1916 - 2006. Online viewing tip #1. The trailer for Tears of the Black Tiger via filmtagebuch. Online viewing tip #2. The trailer for Rampo Noir, via the Gomorrahizer at Twitch.
May 9, 2006
Shorts, 5/9.Matt Dentler selects his top ten Criterion titles. Plus, "check out The Criterion Collection's new MySpace page. Talk about stepping into the new age. As they're saying, 'New look, new line... coming this fall.'" David Byrne finds The Road to Guantanamo "absolutely amazing... [A]s the decision was to recreate everything in scrupulous detail as described by the boys it comes across as one gripping super bad trip rather than as a dogmatic anti-Bush diatribe." More from Karina Longworth at Cinematical. James Marsh's The King fails to win over any of the three Reverse Shot reviewers at indieWIRE. Speaking of RS: They're getting into the distribution business, picking up the award-winning doc, A Lion in the House. Sarah Lowndes in Frieze on Pilgrimag from Scattered Points: "Like his previous films What You See is Where You're At (2001), an exploration of the work of maverick Glaswegian psychoanalyst RD Laing, and The Way Out (2003), a fragmented portrait of enigmatic musician and Homosexuals front-man Xentos Jones, [Luke] Fowler's most recent project is not a documentary in the conventional sense. However, this kaleidoscopic and enigmatic view of [Cornelius] Cardew's life and work, realized through unconventional juxtapositions of first-person interviews, recent and archive footage, still photographs, short animated sequences and predominantly unreleased music, is entirely appropriate to the subject matter." "Giuliani Time is best considered an incisive portrait of power seizure and class combat as it was performed, by the numbers, on the municipal level," writes Michael Atkinson. Also in the Voice, the "Tracking Shots": Rob Nelson on Sketches of Frank Gehry and Wah-Wah, Luke Y Thompson on Dead Man's Shoes, Joshua Land on Light From the East, Drew Tillman on Revoloution, Bill Gallo on Russian Dolls, R Emmet Sweeney on Refuge and Ben Kenigsberg on Mendy: A Question of Faith. At Koreanfilm.org:
Disasters, 5/9.Ed Gonzalez in Slant on the new Poseidon: "The essential problem with the film isn't its inadequately dramatized story, artless CGI (the last shot suggests Land of the Lost's opening credit sequence), MacGyver-like acts of ingenuity, or banal death scenes performed by stunt people who obviously can't act—those are givens for a film of this kind—but how it latently and dangerously advances the notion that the will to survive is a white person's province." Michael Atkinson, writing in the Voice, finds it "an utterly empty-skulled genre mechanism and nothing more." Michael Guillen didn't have all that bad a time, though. Meanwhile, Dave Kehr in the New York Times on the old one: "The epitome of square when it was first released (other 1972 releases: The Godfather, Deliverance, Aguirre: The Wrath of God, Last Tango in Paris), The Poseidon Adventure has aged surprisingly well." That Little Round-Headed Boy picks ten "essential stars" for an imaginary "all-star 70s disaster flick." Jeffrey Wells finds it odd "that of all people, FX Feeney, easily one of the most brightest and most insightful film critics of our time," is delivering audio commentary through all 160 minutes of The Towering Inferno. Updates, 5/11: Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly: "If the prospect of expiring horribly strikes you as a rather extreme way of growing backbone and getting life plans back on track, you should know that Poseidon is a movie with absolutely no sense of humor." And the word from Roger Ebert: "Perfunctory." Catch the IMAX version, recommends Stephen Schaeffer.
Fests and events, 5/9.Cahiers du cinéma has begun its coverage of the Cannes Film Festival, though the fest doesn't actually get underway until about a week from now (May 17 through 28). Still, here's an online browsing tip: Past onscreen incarnations of Marie-Antoinette. And for those who read French, Emmanuel Burdeau reviews Almodóvar's Volver. IndieWIRE announces it'll be covering Cannes daily, naturally - but not only online: "13,000 copies of the English-language Cannes Market News print daily will again be distributed this year in all festival venues, hotels and throughout Cannes." The Bicycle Film Festival opens tomorrow in New York and runs through Sunday. The Voice's Dennis Lim previews the Sundance Institute at BAM series (May 11 through 21). Also: Michael Atkinson on the Cartoons: No Laughing Matter? series (tomorrow through May 23). Via Acquarello, the schedule for the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival in New York (June 8 through 22). The Reeler has the schedule for the HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival (Mondays, June 19 through August 21). During an hour-long Q&A at the San Francisco International Film Festival, Werner Herzog was "a fragrant garden of raised-finger pronouncements, self-effacing demurrals, and unsolicited rebuttals well worth a replay." Robert Avila passes along the best bits at SF360. More Hot Docs reviews from Mathew at Twitch: 37 Uses for a Dead Sheep, Black Gold and An Unreasonable Man. Somehow I missed the fact that Nerve was all over the Tribeca Film Festival the whole time. Still good scrolling. Cinematical's Christopher Campbell reviews the winner of the narrative feature award at Tribeca, Blessed by Fire. In a word: "Stunnning." More from Aaron Hillis at Premiere, where he also wraps up his coverage with an overview. Why weren't there more Asian films, wonders Filmbrain. "Still, the few East Asian films I did catch were interesting, with one of them (Hanging Garden) turning out to be a highlight of the festival." Josh Ralske begins his look back at Tribeca, noting that the most "important" film he caught was The Road to Guantanamo. "The message is clear, that there is growing demand for explicit sex that empowers individuals to make their own decisions and choices free of social stigma." The 1st PORNfilmfestivalBERLIN runs from October 18 through 22. Via filmtagebuch.
May 8, 2006
New York Dispatch. 5.Artists and performers of all sorts figure prominently in this latest roundup of films David D'Arcy caught at Tribeca. The Tribeca Film Festival came to an end last night after the awards were announced on Saturday. Art and artists kept coming up in odd places in the program. I suppose this shouldn't be such a surprise, given that Julian Schnabel designed the festival's poster and Jeff Koons, another celeb, designed one of the awards. (Strange, though, in a festival that's committed to free expression. Didn't Schnabel keep a post-9/11 documentary about him from ever being shown?) One documentary film about an artist that won an honorable mention was Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis, by Mary Jordan. The bio-doc, four years in the making, seeks to introduce the influential filmmaker and performer to a broader audience. The result is a review of Smith's life and work on the model of the PBS doc, only a bit more stylish and a bit more louche with penis shots that are likely to be spliced out if public television has anything to say about it. It's part celebration of a character who was nothing if not flamboyant, part lamentation that Smith was not better known during his lifetime for work that touched film, fashion, theater, photography, and anything that can be described as queer culture. If you know Smith, you know this material. Smith, who died of AIDS in 1989, made lots of "underground" films (acted in a lot more), mostly during the 60s, but he's most famous for Flaming Creatures, a deliberately overexposed orgiastic celebration/satire of epic exoticism that he shot on the roof of a theater in 1962. The denunciations of that movie turned a small film into a scandal, into an art world epiphany. Smith's film goddess was the 1940s tropical epic star, Maria Montez. Her acting-impaired performances were all part of the fun and fantasy. In his own films, he almost always worked with amateur actors whom he called "superstars." Sound familiar? Bear in mind that Andy Warhol's appropriation of that term and of Smith's celebration of lavish kitsch reflect Warhol's skills as a packager, rather than an original thinker. Smith was also a practitioner of the "work in progress," fitting costumes and editing films as he showed them to friends at late-night screenings in his Soho loft. Since his works were unfinished, they could not be sold and exploited, Smith argued. In the doc, Smith sets out to become infected with AIDS, which he thought would be a dramatic way to die. Only the few friends that he had left at the time were around to take notice of that performance. The drama of the documentary ends there, with tributes to an underappreciated muse and genius. Yet Smith's legacy was material as well as mythological, and that's another drama - an unfinished one, appropriately enough, given the man whose work is at its center. He left an apartment filled with pictures, films and costumes, piled high with all sorts of other personal property. It turned out that Smith did have money, thousands of dollars in bonds. What he lacked was a signed will. Sadly, the landlord took over the apartment that Smith had decorated as an orientalist shrine and destroyed the murals there. When Mary Sue Slater, the sister whom he hadn't seen since 1956, arrived in New York after Smith's funeral, she took some bonds, a table and other objects, and returned to Texas. Her son, Smith's nephew, who had shown some interest in his uncle's work, was also incommunicado. Smith's friend, Penny Arcade, and the film critic J Hoberman set about conserving and preserving what Smith had left behind, which would have been thrown away without their intervention. (Earlier, Hoberman did obtain consent from Smith's nephew to represent him "in matters of artistic development concerning the cataloging, transporting, and storing.") Arcade and Hoberman formed the Plaster Foundation, named for the loft where Smith presented his performances. One result of that long project was an exhibition held at PS 1 in Queens in 1997, which revived interest in Smith's work but stirred no interest from his family. A few years later, when the documentary was underway, Arcade and Hoberman heard unexpectedly from Mary Sue Slater, who claimed to be Smith's legal heir and demanded control of the estate. A New York court ruled for the family, whose lawyer says that Smith's sister would like the body of work to be sold to a museum. (Earlier efforts to place works held by the Plaster Foundation in a museum found no takers who were willing to pay.) The Plaster Foundation has asked to be compensated for the cost of its conservation work, and has also sued the filmmaker's production company for unpaid licensing fees for the use of images in the film. What we saw at Tribeca (and will soon see at the many festivals that want to show the film, according to the director's responses to questions after screenings) was the conventional wisdom on Jack Smith, selectively presented. The filmmaker says she'll also be publishing a book. There's far more to the story - the assessment of Smith's influence among younger generations and the ongoing battle over Smith's estate, involving the family that scorned him and his homosexuality. Stay tuned. Other films had more harmony with their subjects. In Leaving Home Coming Home: A Portrait of Robert Frank, Gerald Fox journeyed with Frank from New York, Frank's adopted city, to stark, windblown Nova Scotia. At every step of the way, there's a delicate interplay between Frank's life and work, with the grey fragmentation that seems right for its subject. The early influential photographs are shown and praised; the later work reveals a troubled subject, with a depth and a poignancy that we rarely see in any film about any artist. Frank seems not to have approved of the film - perhaps he spoke too frankly, if I can use that adverb - with the result that it can be shown theatrically once a year - the same penalty that the Rolling Stones imposed on Cocksucker Blues, Frank's 1972 film about the group. If you ever have a chance to see this extraordinary doc, see it. Who knows when that next chance will be. Another doc about artists that captured the creative spirit and the atmosphere that nourishes it is When the Road Bends... Tales of a Gypsy Caravan. Jasmine Dellal goes on a North American tour with five Gypsy bands. These are not typical groups - a brass band, a band of Indians from Rajasthan performing in the same tradition that finds echoes in flamenco, which we also see. Dellal's film is a road movie and a concert film, but it's also a study of origins and the persistence of those origins in a world determined to eliminate them. Albert Maysles, now 79, shot the doc with the same skill that he has brought to filming performances for five decades. The filming of the village in Romania that keeps the tradition alive is just as compelling. So is the sound. When the Road Bends could have quite a life in the theaters, which it has earned, if the response at Tribeca was any indication. Note, 5/23/06: A bit of clarification on the complex and at times confusing case involving Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis. In the above, appearing as it originally ran, it's stated that Jim Hoberman and Penny Arcade, operating as the Plaster Foundation, were suing the film's production company for unpaid licensing fees. It should have read that the Plaster Foundation, an organization founded to preserve and archive Smith's work, is being sued by the film's producers who charge that they were not given access to works that their contract with the Plaster Foundation provided. In court papers, the film's producer, Kenneth Wayne Peralta, states in an affidavit that this lack of access prevented the producers from completing the film, which premiered at Tribeca. Hoberman and Penny Arcade maintain that the access to the Jack Smith materials exceeded what was allowed in the contract, and that the producers, Tongue Press LLC, have not paid their contractual fees for the use of that material.
Shorts, 5/8.Peter Nellhaus: "Day Watch is almost like watching a film with all of the action sequences of a Joel Silver production as reimagined by Terry Gilliam with the retro-future of Brazil and Twelve Monkeys, with bits of Luc Besson's Fifth Element, the cold weather fashions of Aki Kaurismäki, and a moment of soft-core lesbian porn reminiscent of Russ Meyer." Girish ponders Damnation - "it is the form of this film that is truly revelatory" - and the intriguing case of Béla Tarr in general. "[O]ne of the fascinating things about Vampyr," writes Zach Campbell, "is not only its aesthetic circularity (that it fundamentally refers back to itself, its own time, its own materials, rather than the projected fiction [the Symbolic?]), but that in so doing, it can pull apart the object of identification (the protagonist) in a really fascinating way." Before you watch Knife in the Water, watch Polanski's early shorts, suggests Ronald Wilson in Film International. "David Holzman's Diary is a good portrait of the 60s and of filmmakers in New York who were giddy with the influence of the French New Wave, and it's a movie you owe it to yourself to track down," writes David Thomson, who wonders whatever happened to Jim McBride. Also in the Independent: Chris Sullivan meets Gael García Bernal. José Teodoro for Stop Smiling: "Fox's new four-disc Robert Altman Collection looks conceived as a clearinghouse tie-in to A Prairie Home Companion, but with any luck it will remedy the unjustified neglect of three forgotten works forged in a genuine spirit of adventure." At Koreanfilm.org, Kyu Hyun Kim reviews Bloody Tie, "one of the most harrowing criminal thrillers to come out in Korea for some time." Producer Robert W Cort opines in the New York Times: "Hollywood's continued insistence on a theatrical release window does not make economic sense." Also:
Fests and events, 5/8.Brian Darr previews the summer for those in the San Francisco Bay Area who won't be seeing these. Slant's Ed Gonzalez previews the eight darkish shorts of the Cartoons: No Laughing Matter? program at the Film Forum (May 10 through 23). The Sundance Institute at BAM series runs from May 11 through May 21; New York's Logan Hill interviews Robert Redford. Sujewa Ekanayake's "very happy about the premiere happening in DC, regardless of who shows up & regardless of the crazy amount of work that needs to get done now until 7 PM on Sat 5/13." That's Date Number One at the Goethe-Institut. Silk Screen: Asian American Film Festival runs May 12 through 20 in Pittsburgh. The Invisible Film Series, May 20 at the Millennium Film Workshop in NYC. Posterwire.com points out that the exhibition Coming Attractions! 80 Years of Cinematic Science: Movie Posters From Around the World runs at the New York Academy of Sciences through June 30. Acquarello among the Cinemarati: "For those living in the DC area, June will be a great opportunity to see several of Theo Angelopoulos's films on the big screen at the National Gallery of Art." At Koreanfilm.org, Darcy Paquet looks back on the just-wrapped Jeonju International Film Festival, which has to rank as one of the most pleasant filmgoing experiences in Korea (if you're into independent/arthouse film, that is)." Michael at Twitch, straight from Hot Docs: Dear Pyongyang and Darkon. A few more reviews from the Tribeca Film Festival: At Cinematical, Karina Longworth on The Treatment and Christopher Campbell on Close to Home; and at Cinema Strikes Back, Charlie Prince on Flock of Dodos. A reader tells The Reeler all about the surprise midnight screening on what was basically the last night of the fest: "The only bigger surprise than the fact that I really like Mary is that Abel Ferrara is still alive. He is a certifiable 'handful,' and his personal flamboyance is not to everyone's taste." And another San Francisco International Film Festival review from Michael Guillen: Adam's Apples.
Rossellini @ 100.Caryn James on My Dad is 100 Years Old in the New York Times: "In her own voice Isabella Rossellini looks at the camera and says she thinks her father was a genius, but not everyone agrees. 'Indeed, they are very slow,' she says of his films. 'Yet their simplicity and starkness move me profoundly.'" If it weren't for Isabella and Guy Maddin, Roberto Rossellini's 100th might have gone unremarked in the US papers; in the German press, Georg Seesslen writes an appreciation in Die Zeit, Daniel Kothenschulte, writing in the Frankfurter Rundschau, credits recent restorations, a retrospective at the Viennale and Tag Gallagher's The Adventures of Roberto Rossellini with a revival of interest in the filmmaker (well, in Europe anyway) and Peter Zander has a piece in Die Welt on a collection of Rossellini's films on DVD. To celebrate in English, though, you might turn to Hugo Salas's profile in Senses of Cinema, Acquarello's reviews at Strictly Film School and Megan Ratner's primer on Italian Neo-Realism. Listen to Rossellini talk (in English) about directing a crucial scene in Open City.
May 7, 2006
BAFF. The wrap-up.Juan Manuel Freire isn't finding it easy to see this year's Barcelona Asian Film Festival close. Sadly, time's up. Though there are re-runs today and a masterclass with Christopher Doyle, BAFF 2006 ended on Saturday with the screening of Wuji (The Promise) by Chen Kaige. The jury for the Official Section - multimedia artist Carles Congost, writer and film director David Trueba, film and literature critic Sergi Sànchez, actress Konkona Sen Sharma and SFIAAFF director Chui Hui-yang - have decided unanimously to grant the Durian de Oro (and with it, 6000 euros courtesy of Casa Asia) to Zhang Lu's Grain in Ear for "its special visual composition, its narrative economy and the impact of its emotional nudity." It's Only Talk didn't slip away empty-handed; it warranted a special mention for "the richness in the construction of its characters." The complete list of winners will be listed soon on the festival site. The numbers aren't in, but BAFF organizers think that attendance this year could surpass 20,000, even more than last year. Many screenings were sold out and incredibly long lines formed in front of doors wherever BAFF was being celebrated. This success offers hope for the distribution of Asian films in Spain and, by extension, all of Europe. We're used to reading about all these enigmatic and intriguing films and then waiting impatiently for them to appear on DVD. Let's keep our fingers crossed in the hope that we'll be seeing them sooner - and on the big screen.
May 6, 2006
Barcelona Dispatch. 8.At the Barcelona Asian Film Festival, Juan Manuel Freire revels in Be With Me. Urban loneliness is one of the most recurrent issues in Asian cinema today, at least going by BAFF's selection, and the beautiful Be With Me, the third film by Singaporean Eric Khoo (Mee Pok Man, 12 Storeys), presented as part of the Asian Selection, addresses this illness of modern life from a singular, poetic and moving perspective. The memories, biography and everyday life of Theresa Chan, a blind and deaf and wise woman, inspire a meditation on love that can shatter heart and soul. Like Manohla Dargis, I was in tears by the end. So was film-meister Tsai Ming-Liang: "Through Eric Khoo's camera lens, we can see his mission: finding a way out in a lonely metropolis for the downtrodden, the fragile, and the defeated, who are both among us and like us. Watching the old man's face and his embrace with the blind lady, I am deeply moved." The story of that old man is one of three surrounding the real character of Theresa Chan, apparently all within a certain distance. Here is a man who's lost his desire to live since his wife died - his way to happiness (or something like it) comes from reading the memories of Theresa Chan and meeting her personally, an unforgettable encounter. Then there's the needful Fatty, a borderline security guard who lives only for feeding himself avariciously and spying on his object of desire, a beautiful executive living in his block of flats. Finally, and mainly for this viewer, who was crushed by their story, there are two teenage girls called Ann and Jackie who have met via the Internet and live out a romance, though not for long, as one of them will quickly turn her head to a guy and will leave the other to sink into depression - sad SMS, angst, and ennui abound, without happy consequences. The stories are great, but what makes Be With Me incredibly special is the way they are told and woven with the craft of a poet. Or maybe essayist, as the film's unique blend of fiction and reality, image and text, is that of someone analyzing the means of cinema and a way of translating emotions to the screen with an absolute fidelity. Dialogue is minimal and images and actions are simple and resonant; everything punctuated by the words of Chan in voiceover, subtitles or as the center of film (those marvellous epiphanies written with an old typewriter covering the image with spleen). Anyone who missed it at Gijon should check it now at BAFF - this is a bittersweet symphony which has not only the smarts to make a step forward for the medium, but also the heart to make it all a worthwhile experiment. Can we expect anything else from a film? Not me, at least. A complicated but beautiful classic.
Senses of Cinema. 39.For many, the centerpiece of the new issue of Senses of Cinema will be the section devoted to Hou Hsiao-hsien:
Tribeca, 5/6.Alison Willmore writes up five more films at the IFC Blog: the "extremely effective" The Road to Guantanamo; Lonely Hearts, "a distinctly glossy affair"; the "awkward and formulaic" East Broadway; the "wholly unremarkable" First Snow; and Colour Me Kubrick: "More a collection of sketches than a film, but gleefully enjoyable sketches." Introducing his second roundup, Filmbrain writes, "At half the size, the festival would still be large enough to be classified a 'big' event, and would have forced the selection committee to pare down the selections - some of which, quite frankly, didn't belong in an international film festival." Eugene Hernandez has overheard similar murmurs, but also notes that most agree that the docs are particularly strong this year. He focuses on Toots and Rock the Bells. A tad more on his blog. Aaron Hillis for Premiere: Men at Work, "a wonderfully offbeat comic allegory"; Hanging Garden, which "rests in a compelling balance between frank cynicism and black magic realism"; and The Road to Guantanamo, "a scathing critique of military power that brilliantly merges documentary with thrilling dramatization." Chris Barsanti is following the fest for filmcritic.com. Online listening tip. A Cinematical podcast with Jeff Garlin, the writer and director of I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With.
Wrapping SFIFF.A "typical" Robert Altman moment, as described by Lily Tomlin: Shooting Nashville, "I told him, I said, y'know, I don't think Linnea can go to bed with Keith Carradine's character. And he said, 'Well, if the time comes she has to go to bed with him and she can't do it, she just can't do it.'" Michael Guillen took notes at during the Q&A with Tomlin and Virginia Madsen as the San Francisco International Film Festival showed A Prairie Home Companion as its closing night film. Also: The Nordeste (Northeast) Q&A. Catch-up SFIFF reviews from SFist: Rita and Wendy on Play and MiHi Ahn on The Bridge. And Charlie Chan has three brief reviews at East Bay View. At Cinematical, Jeffrey M Anderson reviews The Wayward Cloud.
Youth Without Youth.David Poland has just made my weekend: "Francis Ford Coppola is back from Eastern Europe and Walter Murch is hard at work cutting together FFC's first film in nine years, Youth Without Youth." Commentary ensues at the Hot Blog. From the press release: "The film is written, produced and directed by Coppola, marking his return to personal filmmaking. The screenplay is adapted from a novella by legendary Romanian author Mircea Eliade." The cast features Tim Roth, Alexandra Maria Lara, Bruno Ganz and Marcel Iures. Score: Osvaldo Golijov (site). Coppola kept a diary going on the site for two weeks last September and so far, pix-wise, there's a marvelous gallery of 15 gorgeous photos of "Old Bucharest," seemingly taken around mid-20th century.
Summer. NYT/LAT.So both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times plunk down their summer movie preview packages this weekend. Before shuffling them together and laying them out again, movie by movie, I just wanted to note that besides Dave Kehr's annotated release calendar (NYT) and the LAT's, Hugh Hart's got one in the San Francisco Chronicle. See also yesterday's entry. Otherwise, lucky AO Scott and Manohla Dargis (NYT) get to phone in a few comments on the ones they're looking forward to and have done with it. The rest: Mission Impossible III (already out, around the world). John Burlingame (NYT) on Michael Giacchino's score audio slide show. Poseidon (May 12). Robert W Welkos (LAT) on the logistics. The Da Vinci Code (May 19). Alan Riding (NYT) on what it's like to film in the Louvre. Rachel Abramowitz (LAT) pulls some quotes together. Over the Hedge (May 19). In the making for ten years now; Charles Solomon explains (NYT). A bit more from John Horn (LAT). An Inconvenient Truth (May 24). Tina Daunt (LAT), briefly. X-Men: The Last Stand (May 26). Martin Miller (LAT) talks with Brett Ratner. The Break-Up (June 2). Susan King (LAT) briefs you. The Omen (June 6). Susan King (LAT) hears John Moore's pitch. A Prairie Home Companion (June 9). Susan King (LAT) gets a few words with Robert Altman. Cars (June 9). John Horn (LAT) profiles John Lasseter. Superman Returns (June 30). Geoff Boucher (LAT) profiles Brandon Routh. The Devil Wears Prada (June 30). Mimi Avins (LAT) has a brief intro. The book. Little Man (July 5). Chris Lee (LAT) catches Marlon Wayans. A Scanner Darkly (July 7). Susan King (LAT) chats with Richard Linklater. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (July 7). Martin Miller (LAT) meets Bill Nighy. Heading South (Vers le sud; July 7). Leslie Camhi (NYT) calls up Laurent Cantet. Lady in the Water (July 21). David Carr (NYT) profiles Paul Giamatti. Rachel Abramowitz (LAT) talks with M Night Shyamalan. Miami Vice (July 28). Robert W Welkos (LAT) on the "Michael Mann School." Little Miss Sunshine (July 28). Sharon Waxman (NYT) talks with Toni Collette. A bit more from Mary McNamara (LAT). Trust the Man (August 18). Susan King (LAT) meets Bart Freundlich. Snakes on a Plane (August 18). Susan King meets "snake wrangler" Jules Sylvester. Idlewild (August 25). Chris Lee (LAT) on the Outkast movie. Crank (September 1). Jay A Fernandez (LAT) talks with debut writer-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. Pathfinder (September 8). Mark Olsen (NYT) on "How to Build a Viking. A Very, Very Big Viking." Also:
May 5, 2006
Shorts, 5/5."It is often interesting to see a work considered a classic and to ask, Why?" Daniel Garrett delves into Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc for Cinetext: "I know that some people, many people, see Joan's accusers as grotesque, as inhuman, but I do not. They are formidable in their focus and fury, and in their determination of her fate, but what makes them so terrible is that their logic is understandable, their suspicions not far from the usual suspicions society has of individuals who claim a great destiny, and their sacrifice of her for the maintenance of authority, doctrine, and communal peace is the typical rending of a scapegoat." Garrett's recent reviews for the Compulsive Reader: Jacob Thuesen's Anklaget (Accused), Heather Rae's Trudell, Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront and Michael Winterbottom's Tristram Shandy. "It saddens me that Roberto Rossellini's twin daughters, Ingrid and Isabella, are feuding over Isabella's tribute to him," writes Looker, who hears Ingrid's complaint and addresses it. Also: Enough with the mockumentaries, already. "Werner Herzog saw [What Is It?] - there are influences from some of his work in this film, especially Even Dwarfs Started Small and Fata Morgana - and he's said that there's no such thing as independent film. And of course that's true." Crispin Glover takes questions from the AV Club. David Lowery's recently caught Edmond: "Stuart Gordon was also at the screening. I presume that most people are aware of Gordon first and foremost as the director of Re-Animator and other Lovecraft adaptations; I thought this was a fascinating change of pace for him, until he informed the crowd that he'd been working with Mamet on the stage for thirty years, had been one of his earliest champions, and had directed the very first production of Sexual Perversity in Chicago." "Like many intellectuals of the Arab West, the French-educated, Paris-based [Nacer] Khemir has an equivocal relationship with his cultural identity," writes Youssef Rakkha in the Al-Ahram Weekly, introducing the profile. Also, Hani Mustafa on Syriana. Via Perlentaucher's "Magazinrundschau." Jason Guerrasio's monthly check-up on five indies in production is up at indieWIRE: Love and Mary, Sisters ("Douglas Buck remakes Brian De Palma's 1973 thriller for his feature debut, starring Chloë Sevigny, Stephen Rea and Lou Doillon"), Solstice, Urban Explorers: Into the Darkness and We Own the Night, James Gray's followup to The Yards. Stuart Klawans in the Nation: "[A]s Three Times plays and replays in memory, it keeps deepening, expanding, growing more complex, as one of those rare films whose life truly begins not on the screen but in your mind." Salon's Andrew O'Hehir talks with Nick Cave about The Proposition. At Slant, you'll find Nick Schager's very favorable review, and in the Voice, J Hoberman: "[A]s primal, savage, and downright miserablist as all but the greatest of Hollywood's terminal oat operas." More from Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Press, Steve Erickson for Gay City News, Noel Murray at the AV Club, Martha Fischer at Cinematical and The Reeler. Also in the Voice, Michael Atkinson: "Coming closer even than Zhang Yimou's Hero and House of Flying Daggers to resembling the Chinese cover art for a vintage Iron Butterfly album, Chen Kaige's The Promise is psychedelia extremis." More from AO Scott in the NYT, Armond White in the NYP, Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper, Nick Schager at Slant and Tasha Robinson at the AV Club. For the Stranger, Charles Mudede interviews Kaige. And the "Tracking Shots": Jim Ridley on Crazy Like a Fox (more: Jeannette Catsoulis, NYT; Ed Gonzalez, Slant) and An American Haunting (Nathan Lee, NYT; Nick Schager, Slant; Jim Ridley, Nashville Scene; Grady Hendrix, Slate); Rob Nelson on Down in the Valley (Schager; Stephen Holden, NYT; Stephanie Zacharek, Salon; Christopher Campbell, Cinematical); and Matt Singer on Kiss Me Again. More on that one from Neil Genzlinger in the NYT. Deepa Mehta's Water is slated to open this summer in India, "riots or no," reports Elizabeth Bumiller, who talks with the director about her many run-ins with Hindu fundamentalists. Also in the New York Times:
Barcelona Dispatch. 7.From the Barcelona Asian Film Festival, Juan Manuel Freire recommends This Charming Girl. The first re-runs are a sign that the festival's slowly coming to the end - on Saturday, the jury will give its verdict and Chen Kaige's The Promise will screen as the closing picture, while on Sunday, there'll be more repeats and a masterclass with Christopher Doyle. There are hints of melancholy but happily it still feels like Saturday, and not like a Morrissey-like Sunday. Thursday saw, again, as did Wednesday, an almost overwhelming batch of titles on the screens of this year's BAFF, and possibly the best, too, though the films in the Official Section have not always lived up to expectations (but is there any film fest, except for maybe Cannes, where it doesn't happen with regularity?). There was the option of catching Kathapurushan, an sampling of cinema from of the guest country India, a dramatization of Kerala's story since the struggle for Independence. Or the competitive films - sadly, not very competitive: the overlong, muddled Gie or Grain in Ear. Or a documentary on pinku eiga, Pinku Ribbon or the delirium of Rampo Noir... Too many attractions, too little time. And a final option to beat all of them - in the Asian Selection, the remarkable This Charming Girl. (So the previous Morrissey reference wasn't really so gratuitous.) Maybe this dispatch will wind up being more a flashback than a flash forward, but there's still a lot to celebrate in this fragile depiction of the impossibility of love, one of the best since Claude Sautet's Un coeur en hiver, that sad love triangle. Like It's Only Talk, it's a minor-key character study of a woman who lacks the complete emotional resources to live a happy life, enter a healthy relationship, relate to the others, give way to light. There's a main reason behind all of her behavior, one that oversimplifies the whole film instead of improving it in any kind of way, but that's a minor failure given all the emotional nuances the movie subtly offers. The heroine lives in a cloud and the images seem also to float, almost silent, depicting daily routine, daily sadness, daily drama, with clarity and crudity. If you feel like dancing, think twice.
Fests and events, 5/5.Brian Brooks has the list of the San Francisco International Film Festival award-winners at indieWIRE, where Cheryl Eddy wraps the fest's closing days. Also: "Since 1969, the French Directors Guild has programmed a selection of films in Cannes from around the world, known as the Directors' Fortnight that is independent from the Cannes Official Selection." Brian Brooks introduces this year's lineup (May 18 through 28). The Guardian opens its Cannes 2006 special section, where Mark Brown previews Free Jimmy, an animated film about an elephant on drugs, set to close Critics' Week. Acquarello posts a slew of reviews from the New York African Film Festival. Michael Atkinson, who also previews the series The Road to Damascus: Discovering Syrian Cinema (May 5 through 18 at the Walter Reade), on the appeal of the B Noir series at Film Forum, running through mid-June: "With only a fraction of an A's studio control and budget, a B could afford to risk expressionism, nihilism, subtext, and other uncommercial indulgences." Also in the Voice, Elliott Stein on the real star of the series, John Alton, "film noir's major cinematographer, a great creator of shadows and foreboding images." Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times: "Beginning [last night] and running for eight days, VC Filmfest 2006: The Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival continues to chart the rise of Asian American filmmakers, reflecting the increasingly diverse presence of the community in the Southland. With more than 140 films, including 16 Asian American features, the festival offerings vary in scope from the intimate to the epic." The European Media Art Festival: May 10 through 14 in Osnabrück. Lech Majewski: Conjuring the Moving Image, at MoMA through May 14. The Reeler comments. The San Francisco Documentary Film Festival runs from May 12 through 21. Posterwire.com has details on Bond, James Bond, an exhibition opening on May 23 at Posteritati. Zach Campbell offers his impressions on a few of the films screened over the weekend's Aerodynamics of the Hovering Hummingbird evening. Jim Ridley in the Nashville Scene: "The box-office verdict on last week's Nashville Film Festival is in: high on celebrities and Tennessee, mixed on Central Europe and cancer." At Twitch, Paolo Gilli offers quick takes on the nearly twenty films he caught at the Udine Far East Film Festival. Online viewing tip. The International Herald Tribune's Joan Dupont previews Cannes.
Tribeca, 5/5.Filmbrain turns in a first report from the Tribeca Film Festival: "I'd have to say the docs have an edge over the narratives, many of which were disappointing, or downright awful. That said, there have been a few strong narrative features," and he writes up two: The Free Will and Backstage. IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez listens in as a "panel discussion aimed at exploring the changing distribution platforms for movies quickly expanded into a talk about some of the challenges facing the future of the film industry, from day-and-date distribution to rising star salaries." Jason Silverman (Wired News) was there; Premiere's Aaron Hillis was there, too, which brings us to:
Art School Confidential."Hilarious," declares Artforum contributing editor Rhonda Lieberman. Not everyone agrees, not everyone disagrees. Nick Pinkerton opens the Reverse Shot round at indieWIRE: I'm betting more than a few critics will write Art School Confidential off with the facile pan that it's muddled or disorganized - true, sure, it's all over the place - but when there's plenty of tidy, totally DOA flicks out there, it's stupid to undervalue such a sly, richly romantic, and rather unprecedented movie. The nearest point of comparison I can think of for Art School Confidential might be Hal Hartley's Henry Fool, located as that film is in a cross-century limbo between blue-collar Queens and Baudelaire's Paris - I love the awed way these movies treat Great Art as incomprehensible, vampiric, something to live, die, and kill for. AO Scott, returning to movie reviewing for the New York Times, finds this one "as muddled and hectic as a student art project pulled off in a single, desperate, caffeine-fueled all-nighter." For J Hoberman, Confidential "isn't quite as gross as Bad Santa, but it's no less ugly and equally confrontational, not to mention a good deal funnier. (There's more than one joke.)" Also in the Voice, Dennis Lim talks with Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes. In the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Kimberly Chun has a long profile of Clowes, who tells her, "It's not necessarily the feel-good movie of the summer. But I don't know if I'm the guy to write the feel-good movie of the summer." Three out of four stars from Jeremiah Kipp at Slant. Stuart Klawans in the Nation: "Maybe this material isn't entirely fresh, but Zwigoff delivers it with the snap of a quick punch to the face - which is, in fact, the first image in the film, and a model for innumerable excellent sight gags to follow." For SuicideGirls, Daniel Robert Epstein meets Zwigoff. Online listening tip. Zwigoff and Clowes on the Leonard Lopate Show. Update, 5/6: Brief takes from Anthony Kaufman and Alison Willmore; and Jennifer Merin talks with Zwigoff for the New York Press. Update, 5/8: Michael Fox interviews Zwigoff for SF360. Update, 5/9: NPR's Robert Siegel talks with John Malkovich. Update, 5/10: Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly: "Raunchy as hell and unapologetically profane, Terry Zwigoff's Art School Confidential is one of the great disappointments of this movie season." Updates, 5/11: Gerald Peary in the Boston Phoenix: "Friends, read the comic book. Zwigoff’s movie is a sour disappointment, a callow, nasty, and downright unfair indictment of art school." Cindy Fuchs in the Philadelphia City Paper: "As the movie has it, all roads lead to corruption. The greatness Jerome seeks so fervently is precisely what he cannot see and embodies perfectly, an other-bludgeoning, relentlessly self-involved assessment of 'art.'" David Fellerath in the Independent Weekly: "However little respect art schools deserve, Clowes' script is a cheap-shot special, with the annihilation of one easy target after another at Cheney-esque range." Nick Schager gives it a B-. Justin Ravitz in the New York Press: "PoMo Confidential lacks potency as visceral entertainment or intellectual fodder—too confused to be satire, melodrama, mystery or much of anything for mainstream or indie audiences. Worse, its broadsides about the state of creativity and creative communities in 2006 are as pessimistic as they are cliched." Updates, 5/12: Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader: "Clowes's somewhat nihilistic world is even more psychologically and even less socially determined than Crumb's. (Crumb's work expresses a deeply felt nostalgia for an earlier American era that can't help but encompass a social vision.) Jen Graves in the Stranger: "Art School Confidential feels like a teen flick compared to Ghost World." Paul Matwychuk in Vue Weekly: "[R]ight around the time the fairly tedious serial-killer-on-campus subplot takes over the action, it feels as though Jimmy’s misanthropic spirit has infected the entire movie." And, courtesy of Tony DuShane, we've got our own interviews with Zwigoff and Clowes up now, too. Canfield at Twitch: "Zwigoff seems to be saying we can hide from it all we want, the truth is most people spend a lot of time pretending for others and ultimately themselves. What gets lost besides our time and energy is the reason we ever had to live in the first place. Pretense in art then may be far more dangerous than it is in real life." Mike Russell: "The movie has bitterly funny and terribly unsubtle things to say about art-world groupthink and our obsession with surfaces. Individual moments are hilarious... But the movie, as a whole, doesn't hang together." Four stars (that's good!) from Peter Sobczynski at Hollywood Bitchslap. But: A "C" from the Star-Telegram's Christopher Kelly. Updates, 5/14: Chuck Tryon: The film disappoints in part because Jerome is a relatively uninteresting character, a generic suburban kid who naively stumbles into the weird world of art school. Perhaps I'm too close to the jaded older student, Bardo (Joel Moore), wanting to make wisecracks from the back of the classroom - and yes, I'm a teacher - than I am to the ultra-sincere Jerome." William Goss at Hollywood Bitchslap: "Zwigoff knows what he wants to say, but he misses the big picture, failing to fuse his shifting tones with a more complete theme." Update, 5/17: For Andrew at Lucid Screening, the ending is "a last ditch effort to laugh with us, but it fails to overcome the overwhelming feeling that, by and large, it's mostly just been laughing at us."
French. And of a certain age.Daniel Kasman: "After viewing a restored print of [Jean-Pierre] Melville's opaque ode to Résistance frustrations and tragedies, Army of Shadows (1969, finally getting its first release ever in the US), I come up with the same reaction I had to the director's 1970 film Le Cercle Rouge. Namely, that Melville cannot, or perhaps does not want to, tell a story." For Filmmaker's Matthew Ross, it's the film of the year so far. Related: Dan Persons talks with cinematographer Pierre Lhomme for the IFC. Duncan Shepherd in the San Diego Reader on Classe Tous Risques: "If the film ultimately amounts to no more than a master's thesis, the mastery is no misnomer, no mere hyperbole. [Claude] Sautet would thereafter demonstrate it time and again." MS Smith on Elevator to the Gallows: "Jean Seberg's walk down the Champs Elysees in Godard's Breathless, Jean-Pierre Léaud's close-up at the close of Truffaut's The 400 Blows, Anna Karina's weeping while watching Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc in Godard's My Life to Live are all unforgettable, to be sure; but they're still not quite as enigmatic as [Jeanne] Moreau passing through the night." Peter Nellhaus onother Louis Malle: "The first hour of Viva Maria is fairly entertaining. Bardot is totally gorgeous and Moreau looks the best she ever has on film. With the talent involved, one would expect a better film." Related: Glenn Abel in the Hollywood Reporter on Criterion's Malle box set. "A pain in the arse would be one way of describing the films of Jacques Rivette," writes Christopher Bray in the New Statesman, where, of course, he goes on to argue: no pain, no gain. Matt Clayfield offers first impressions of three films by Jean-Pierre Gorin.
Summer: And they're off."Why Bother?" asks the AV Club right there in the headline of its big summer preview, each of the movies broken down by: "What it's about"; "Why it's probably a waste of time"; "Why it might be worth seeing anyway"; and helpfully, "Suggested alternate activity." But here we are, with Mission: Impossible III opening the season already, and Salon's Stephanie Zacharek finds it "serviceably entertaining." More from Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly, Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post, Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian, the Times of London, Sukhdev Sandhu in the Telegraph, Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times, Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times, James Rocchi at Cinematical, Keith Phipps for the AV Club, Brett Michel and Peter Keough the Boston Phoenix, Andrew Wright in the Stranger, Sheri Linden in the Hollywood Reporter and Rob Nelson in the City Pages. "With Snakes on a Plane and World Trade Center opening on the same day, this summer won't be offering the usual escapist fare," writes Peter Keough, introducing the Boston Phoenix's preview package. David Gritten does the Telegraph's; and the Washington Post has its special section up and running. Which ones are teens looking forward to? Patrick Goldstein has the data in the Los Angeles Times, and Anne Thompson notes that they've done well picking box office winners in the past. None of these movies will bust blocks unless they get the marketing right, argues David Poland. Tireless SuicideGirls interviewer Daniel Robert Epstein talks with Bryan Singer about Superman Returns. Cinematical presents a "Pre-Poseidon Guide to 70s Disaster Flicks!" Garth Pearce has a Da Vinci Code backgrounder in the Times of London. Online viewing tip. Movie City News has found quite a nice version of the trailer for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. Now that looks like it could well be a fun summer movie.
Barcelona Dispatch. 6.Catching up with Juan Manuel Freire at the Barcelona Asian Film Festival; for more on It's Only Talk, see Ben Slater's dispatch from Singapore. Film festivals are wildly hectic experiences and sometimes the most difficult thing to get done is actually seeing films. Yesterday I only was able to see one film, but what a film. It's Only Talk is the best film presented so far in Official Section, no contest. The man behind Vibrator, Ryuichi Hiroki, offers here an intimate, perceptive, delicately and ultimately moving portrayal of a woman under the influence of depression. The film was praised when it screened at Sundance and it's easy to see why - this is subtle, natural cinema, all truth and beauty, a gem. Shinobu Terajima plays Yuko, a 35-year-old single woman who takes a variety of medications to battle her manic depression. She sees many men but seems to find no cure in the contact with them (only sexual, occasionally friendly), finding at the end of most of her encounters only the sensation of having no true relations at all with anyone. There's an old university classmate who suffers from impotence. And an old pervert (simply called "K") who suffers from lack of empathy. A third man is a young gangster, Yasuda, who's not really brave, but maybe the opposite - he breaks down at the slightest provocation. The man to change her life is her cousin, Shoichi, who left his family to go with his mistress and found that she wasn't interested in him whatsoever. Yuko and Shoichi seem to complement each other well. He has some of the authority needed to bear, carry and reconcile all her impulses, the patience to keep going every day, and love enough to leave it all and start all over at point zero. In their relationship is the center of the story and the most absorbing moments of a film full of epiphanies. Everything seems fine at last, but things might take another turn. If there's justice in this world, It's Only Talk should carry away the Durian de Oro (if not, please leave the prize for another little treasure, Reflections). Hiroki follows his female character with such delicacy and care that you can't help but be affected by every little turn of her luck. The camera is lightweight, but always focused where it has to be, and there are many intimate long shots where you can feel life blossoming in front of your eyes - e.g., that moment when Yuko and Shoichi choose names for their goldfishes. A beautiful discovery of a movie.
May 4, 2006
SFIFF, 5/4."A Letter to a Boy from His Mother." SF360 runs Tilda Swinton's "State of Cinema" address in its entirety. The photo comes from a series by a generous Steve Rhodes, who comments here. As the San Francisco International Film Festival wraps, there'll surely be reverberations to note over the coming days, but for now, you can best measure its seismic impact in the features and "Bits" at SF360. Michael Guillen talks with Alicia Scherson about Play. Also: Sólo Dios Sabe director Carlos Bolado. SFist reviews: Rita on Favela Rising, Drawing Restraint 9, Encounter Point and Jonestown: The Life and Death of the People's Temple; and Matt on Romance & Cigarettes. Gabe on Jonestown and Al Franken: God Spoke. The San Francisco Chronicle's G Allen Johnson on Vincent D'Onofrio's Five Minutes, Mr Welles. Jeffrey M Anderson reviews Sokurov's The Sun at Cinematical.
Bests.After a more than understandable delay, Edward Copeland has reopened virtual ballot boxes for a poll deciding which of the winners of the Best Picture Oscars are better than the rest - that is, the best of the best. Dennis Cozzalio's already voted; so has Anne Thompson. You can, too, til tomorrow at midnight. Related: The students in the cinetrix's class award their own Oscars. Update, 5/6: The Siren's annotated ballot. And: Edward Copeland is counting the ballots, from the bottom to the top: The Unloved, the Also-Rans and 20 through 11. Another update: And now, the counting's done. The full list.
San Francisco Dispatch. 4. (And New York Dispatch. 4. And IFFBoston. 2.)Occasional GreenCine contributor Tamara Lees and frequent GC miscreant Jonathan Marlow last debated the merits of the San Francisco International Film Festival at the opening of the 48th event. They've decided to put aside their past differences and discuss the closing of number 49 and the 50th ahead, along with mentions of the Tribeca Film Festival and the Independent Film Festival of Boston along the way. Lees: By the standards of last year, Graham Leggat and team have easily accomplished their agenda of producing and presenting a better festival. Marlow: At the Addictive TV show last night, Graham was shaking it along with Paula Cavagnaro and the rest of Hilary Hart's excellent publicity staff. I cannot imagine that [former Executive Director] Roxanne [Messina Captor] would've found herself on the dance floor. These folks are enjoying themselves and why not? "Mission accomplished," so to speak. Lees: Do you truly believe that the Film Society has all that it needs to return to its former status as a world-class film festival? The programming department could still use some work and, with the overlap of Tribeca, some of the best work is being stolen away to the other coast. Marlow: I suspect that's a case of perception more than reality. What, exactly, does Tribeca have that SFIFF needs? Mission Impossible III? Poseidon? Granted, I would've liked to see the Chris Marker film here (although it supposedly had a recent under-publicized local screening, sans subtitles, at ATA's Other Cinema) or Chabrol's Comedy of Power. It is admittedly odd to have the premiere of The Bridge in New York instead of San Francisco or locally-produced films like The Tribe and Full Grown Men appearing at Tribeca and not at SFIFF at all. Lees: New York can have The Bridge, as far as I'm concerned. Marlow: It's definitely one of the most poorly crafted documentaries that I've seen in ages. [David] D'Arcy and I agreed to disagree on that one. [Director] Eric Steel smugly answered a few questions after the screening a few days ago. He talked briefly about the suicide barrier and the mental health issues, none of which are addressed in the film. Jenni Olson's The Joy of Life addressed this topic much more gracefully in every respect. Lees: She has the distinct advantage of making a much better film. Marlow: If Steel thinks he gets at some greater truth by exploitatively displaying the lowest moments in these individuals' lives, he is entirely mistaken. Like many people in the audience, I was surprised and troubled that the cameras were not fixed and were not photographing these moments at a distance. We see these people relatively close. The camera crudely follows their descent. Then, to only increase the disturbing nature of what we're seeing, Steel has the temerity to foley a splash as they hit the water. The man has no tact. Lees: As for films that played at both Tribeca and SFIFF, Backstage had its US premiere over there. I was beginning to think that you disliked everything but then I noticed a few of your comments about the film. Marlow: I attended the screening on Tuesday only expecting to watch the first ten minutes but stayed through to the end. My first viewing was on the flight over to the Independent Film Festival of Boston. I don't usually gain much from a second viewing but, since I uncomfortably fast-forwarded over the sex scenes so as not to arouse the attention of the other passengers on the airplane, it was good to see those sequences in real-time. Not for the reasons that you might expect. There are a few things happening in the editing of those scenes that, ultimately, are rather important. There are also a number of little details in the art direction, such as photographs in the background, that I missed on the small screen. Regardless, I hope that Strand produces a soundtrack when the film is released theatrically. It should be noted that SFIFF had a fair share of films that weren't at Tribeca. The documentary award winner, the beautifully photographed Workingman's Death, for instance, or the exceptional One Long Winter Without Fire, although I believe that both films have already screened in New York at other events. Lees: This leads me to wonder, with so many film festivals occurring in this country, how do they all compare? Marlow: To limit the comparison to only these three - IFFB, Tribeca and SFIFF - they each address different needs. With Boston, [Program Director] Adam Roffman has been trying to convince me to attend since we first met at Sundance a few years ago. I finally gave in and, thankfully, was able to meet Michael Tully and Alex Karpovsky. I was able to talk with Todd Rohal and Patty Kim and Chris Sheridan again. Patty claims to have some incriminating photographs of me dancing there but I have nothing to be ashamed of. I finally saw a few films that I missed at other events, such as The Proposition and The Puffy Chair. Both great in different ways, by the way. I'd say the real difference between Boston and Tribeca is that Adam and [Executive Director] Jason Redmond have created a festival that truly feels welcoming to guests and audiences alike. Tribeca, by contrast, seems to be Sundance's uglier step-brother. It appears, on the surface, more delighted by celebrity than a real passion for film. Granted, I was only there for a few days and there are clearly people working on this festival that care about bringing great films to lower Manhattan - and, this year, to Midtown. I've heard a number of stories about Peter Scarlet's predatory tactics in snatching titles for his festival. I don't believe that it helps anyone to be a "premiere" hound at the expense of other regional festivals. I expected more perspicacity from Scarlet, honestly. Lees: And SFIFF? Marlow: I told Graham that he had one year of immunity. I don't think he needs it. I'm encouraged by what he's done thus far and I'm optimistic, perhaps cautiously optimistic, about his plans for 2007. If the 49th edition is merely a sliver of what to expect from the "golden" anniversary, film-lovers should start making their travel plans now.
New York Dispatch. 3.In what's also something of a dispatch from San Francisco, David D'Arcy writes about The Bridge and Cocaine Cowboys. At Tribeca and at the San Francisco International Film Festival, The Bridge had just what distributors of a film tend to want, a chilly frisson that comes with presenting a forbidden subject: suicide. More proof that anything can be marketed. The topic was all the more alluring since the suicides in question occurred when the victims jumped from the elegant Golden Gate Bridge, silhouetted in all its beauty against the San Francisco Bay and the green hills behind it. Trouble in paradise? Rumors were that the film had been rejected at a number of festivals. I couldn't substantiate that. In San Francisco, a few demonstrators (some say they were paid homeless people) stood in the street in front of the Kabuki Theater, sold out for the show last Sunday, with signs that bore a picture of the filmmaker, Eric Steel, tagged: "Unwanted."
May 3, 2006
Barcelona Dispatch. 5.From the Barcelona Asian Film Festival, Juan Manuel Freire writes of a strange mess and a strange beauty. A few days ago, I remarked that Midnight, My Love is Thailand's own Lost in Translation. Well, it is, nearly, but not entirely. Because this romantic drama by Kongdej Jaturanrasamee is like nothing else you've seen before - and that's not a compliment. Presented in the Official Section at BAFF yesterday, this impossibly messed up artifact follows the relationship between Sombat, a middle-aged taxi driver working the night shift in Bangkok, and Nual, a young and pretty massage girl looking for someone to care for her. Up to this point, everything seems perfectly normal, and the comparison with Lost in Translation is somewhat logical. But then comes the shock, the flash-back, a revelation which draws vengeful and nasty lines through the beautifully lonesome story. The logical and rational response to this late development in Midnight, My Love seems to be laughter - the awkwardness was palpable in the audience when the action moved to a dreamlike spaceship with a Lynchian secondary character playing Destiny (or something) with poor Sombat. The movie still packs a few surprises - there's not a single "The End" here, but a lot of them, and all of them look forced, futile, never coming off the way they're evidently intended to. The final result is a whimsical razzmatazz of Western influences without any true interest. Presented in the Asian Selection, a non-competitive section, Shinji Aoyama's Eli, Eli, Lema, Sabachthani? is also like nothing you've seen before, but in a positive sense. Indeed, it could be the most stunning film projected at BAFF so far, a powerful defense of sensorial cinema. It's publicized as sci-fi but it truly doesn't belong to a particular genre, just to one of its own. The plot? Well, there's one, though it's not really the point. In 2015 AD, a virus has spread over the world, a sad disease which first invokes fear and despair and then suicidal instincts. The media calls the disease the "Lemming Syndrome," and its only cure seems in the hands of a duo of experimental musicians who look like they've come straight from the Acid Mothers Temple collective. They save people by making a beautiful noise. The idea is naïve and also powerful, especially because it comes wrapped up in a dreamlike series of images which remind us that cinema doesn't always have to run through the same set of rules, the roads we all know. It's a film made of image, but also of sound, whose main intention is not to tell a story in classic terms, but to search for innovative languages to revitalise the deepest emotions. The epidemic of the sci-fi plot is real - as is our actual epidemic of the boredom, conformity and fear surrounding people and the arts. The only solution to this is noise. If Eli, Eli, Lema, Sabachhtani? were to be summed up in two words, a somehow difficult task, to tell you the truth, they could only be: "Wake up." I'm still dreaming with it.
Singapore Dispatch. 2.Kinda Hot author Ben Slater wraps his coverage of the Singapore International Film Festival with his takes on Heremias, A Short Film About Indio Nacional, Todo Todo Teros, Taking Father Home, Gie, The Last Communist, 4:30 and Aku Mahu Hidup. One of SIFF's annual tasks is to provide a glimpse of the future of Asian cinema. This year there was an unofficial spotlight on the Phillipines, which, in the second week, began with a brace of distinctive films. Like the Kuala Lumpur "indie" scene, it seems that Manila has fostered its own close-knit band of DV-carrying outsiders - shooting what one of the gang, Khavn, calls "filmless films." The previous Sunday, I sat (amongst a handful of other worshippers) and endured/enjoyed over a fifth of Lav Diaz's latest anti-epic Heremias, which, at 540 minutes, is about 50 minutes shorter than his last one. In stark black and white compositions, Diaz incrementally builds a story about a quiet salesman, riding around rural Phillipines selling nick-nacks off a horse-driven cart. After nearly two hours, he decides to abandon his traveling companions - the first narrative incident. Rather than get restless, the longer you watch a Lav Diaz movie, the more you adjust to his pace and rhythm. Time changes. You become more patient, less demanding, and it's actually therapeutic. As I left, someone assured me, "The last five hours are more dramatic." Diaz's influence is apparent on Raya Martin, whose haunting A Short Film About Indio Nacional, was in competition. After a color prologue depicting a female insomniac's demand for a story, it shifts into a monochrome "silent movie," complete with intertitles. Scenes glide by elusively, depicting the life of a young boy growing up in the countryside on the cusp of revolution against the Spanish. The formal presentational style (wide shots, long takes) allows for unexpected humor, pathos and several indelible moments, in particular a sequence in which a group of children stand in the middle of a field to witness an eclipse. Hands out, eyes heavenward and mouths agape, it's as if they are opening up their souls. Technically and visually a pole apart, but connected in less tangible ways, was John Torres's Todo Todo Teros, a dazzling mind-trip collected from loose fragments of "home movies" (a touching encounter with a Russian woman in Berlin), specially reenacted sequences, and plenty of footage of Manila's late-night alternative scene (including a memorable car journey chat with Lav Diaz). Torres's narration explores the notion of artists-as-terrorists. The heavy, metaphorical stuff slipped over my head, but it's surprisingly watchable and packed with ideas. Todo Todo Teros saw its world premiere at the festival and was rewarded with the Netpac-Fipresci prize, shared with Ying Liang's debut, Taking Father Home, a Sichuanese village-boy-hits-city picaresque, which, although shot on low-grade video, is an extremely assured piece of storytelling, not least because the prevailing serio-comic tone gives way to a startling, redemptive finale. The two big-hitters prize-wise were both richly nuanced character studies - Ryuichi Hiroki's It's Only Talk (Best Film) and Riri Riza's Gie (Special Jury Prize). Hiroki, who makes Pink films as well as "dramatic" ones, was last in Singapore with Vibrator, also starring Shinobu Terajima, an actress with a formidable gift for playing women on the verge. Here she's bipolar, and split between several, unsuitable men - a married "pervert," a sad gangster, an impotent politician, and her swaggering, ne'er-do-well cousin. Surprisingly, it's the latter that ends up nursing her through a serious down cycle and, while they get close in unpredictable ways, deep emotional wounds are not so easily healed. Places and spaces of the shabby Tokyo district Kamata are woven into the story, and the cinematography is fresh and luminous. Why Hiroko isn't better known in the West is a mystery to me. The tragic student firebrand Soe Hok Gie, as played by Indonesian heart-throb Nicholas Saputra, remains the enigmatic center of Riri Riza's Gie, an epic reconstruction of 1960s Jakarta. Gie reads Camus, climbs mountains and helps little old ladies across the road, but unlike the soon-to-be ousted Sukarno, he can't bed his female admirers, and may or may not be a revolutionary. Gie's words and life allow Riza to encompass crucial years of civil unrest, Suharto's power-play and the atrocious massacre of suspected communists. Several episodes are left open and ambiguous (the staged coup for instance), but this ensures that the film is far more than a point-by-point history lesson. Pace never flagging, it's a superbly crafted story of the personal struggle that lies at the heart of major public events. The clash of ideologies and personalities is also tackled by Amir Muhammad in The Last Communist, but the approach couldn't be more of a contrast. Continuing in the vein of Amir's The Big Durian, The Last Communist is ostensibly a "documentary" about Chin Peng, the now-exiled leader of the Communist Party of Malaya, and the controversial role his comrades played in the founding of Malaysia. But despite the depth of his research and scores of talking heads, Amir is not the type to play it straight. Firstly, Chin Peng is purposely not interviewed. Instead, a portrait of the man is generated by hearsay, rumor and digression. Secondly, archive images are out the window. Refusing to let his audience stray into the comfort zone of mediated history, Amir uses well-matched contemporary footage to illustrate places, periods and moments from the past. Thirdly, it's a "semi-musical," featuring interspersed song and dance routines that act as an ironic chorus to the narrative. Parodies of cheery government propoganda, they raise smiles at first but aren't quite able to transcend their mock-badness. Those aside, it's a truly fascinating tale, and Amir deftly uses this "lost history" to raise pertinent questions about modern "Malaysia" and the post-9/11 specter of the terrorist. Along with Singapore GaGa, which recently employed similar strategies, we may be seeing a trend towards a new type of cool, playful and implicitly political filmmaking in this part of the region. Royston Tan's 4:30 is, as the title suggests, a film about time. Singaporean Tan has followed his censor-baiting speed-driven boy-gang debut 15 with something completely different - although his signature command of cinematography and art direction is here in spades. Child actor Xiao Li Yuan (who was 13 during the shoot, but looks younger) is given the burden of carrying the entire film as the antic Xiao Wu, a boy left to live in a crumbling "walk-up" apartment by his absent mother. His loneliness (which is the core of the film), is partially relieved by the mysterious, suicidal Korean lodger (Kim Young Jun, not to be confused with the director of Bichunmoo). Rebelling against sleep, Xiao Wu has literally too much time on his hands - to feel bored and sad, to devise intricate games, plans and diversions, to obsess about the man, and to retreat further into the makeshift world of the apartment. His quasi-erotic fetishism for his flatmate, as well as the suggestion that he is literally dreaming him up, add other levels of ambiguity and unease. Certainly, there's a sense that Tan is working through the tropes of his Asian auteur heroes (as Juan Manuel Freire observed on this very site) but the result is quietly impressive. Unlike 15's raw assault on the surfaces of society, 4:30 all about the interior, and now I'm looking forward to Tan stepping outside again. Finally, as the general election in Singapore rapidly enters its climactic strokes (the poll is on Saturday), the festival offered a salutary blast from the past in the form of a three-film flashback to the final gasp of the Malay film industry in Singapore, and the singular catalogue of M. Amin, a lesser-known Cathay studio workhorse. I caught one of these, Aku Mahu Hidup (I Want To Live), a sojourn into the back-alley red light districts of the Lion City circa 1970. Despite stodgy melodramatics, didactic plot-turns and a whole LP of John Barry bootlegs, the movie was as relentless and perverse as the sweaty, pimping stepdad who chases the shapely anti-heroine all over the island. This was my personal "closing" film. (Thanks to Philip Cheah and Lucy Friedland for discussions that have undoubtedly influenced this piece.)
Los Angeles Dispatch. 2.John Esther follows up on his report from the Indian Film Festival with notes on the highlights and lowlights of another festival in the general neighborhood.. Screening over 300 films from a reported 35 different countries between April 20 and 30, and with all its symposiums and parties, the Newport Beach Film Festival (NBFF) lived up to its tagline: "A Scene for Everyone." In light of the city's politically conservative bent, it was no surprise that the audience award for best feature film went to Dan Ireland's Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont. Joan Plowright plays a lonely widow who pretends a young writer (Rupert Friend) is her grandson in order to suppress rumors spreading among her eclectic neighbors at the Claremont Hotel. While seemingly harmless, the subtext of the film is an elegy to the past as intellectually vapid as any floated in the Reagan era at its most nostalgic. Equally shameful was White Space. For all its never-before-seen snowboarding footage, directors Kip and Kern Konwiser have made a 27-minute commercial for a snowboarding company posing as a film. Slightly better was Shirley Cheechoo's Johnnie Tootall. Set in Canada, this muddled, if sincere, effort finds a discharged veteran, Johnnie Tootall (Adam Beach), returning home at the beckoning of the wolf spirit. Bearing deep secrets from before and during the war, Johnnie gets caught up in logging, tribal and romantic issues that are incredulously intertwined, thanks to poor acting and an awful script by Cheecho and Andrew Genaille - all the more disappointing since films about indigenous people are so few and far between. Another big disappointment was Terry Zwigoff's Art School Confidential. With a cast featuring the likes of Steve Buscemi, John Malkovich, Jim Broadbent and Anjelica Huston, the film follows an art student, Jerome (Max Minghella), and his rise to fame through luck, violence and implausible circumstance. Mildly funny in the beginning, the film slowly but increasingly takes a deplorably contemptuous turn toward art students, art professors, art dealers and art itself. Slightly less disappointing is Larry Clark's Wassup Rockers. Still hung up on youth and sex, the director of Kids and Bully ventures to a working class neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles where his camera infatuatedly caresses Latino boys. Unlike their hip-hop and gangsta counterparts in the film, these boys wear their hair long, their clothes tight and move around town on skateboards. Girls dig them. Guys hate them (unless they're gay). A mixed bag of authentic moments and hyped-up drama, the film is at its strongest when Clark lets the kids formulate their ideas about their outsider identity and at its weakest when two adults die separate, freakish deaths. In contrast to the grittiness of Wassup Rockers, Tom Collins's Dead Long Enough is a softcore melodrama from Ireland. A film about two seemingly different brothers (Michael Sheen and Jason Hughes) who harbor secrets and love for a woman they once knew, the weaknesses of the script are compensated by the actors' playfulness. Speaking of grittiness, it is unlikely any film this year will be as downright gritty as John Hillcoat's The Proposition. Written by musician and novelist Nick Cave, the film is set in the brutal Australian outback of the 1880s where Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) is told to murder his older brother, Arthur (Danny Huston), if he wants his younger brother, Mike (Richard Wilson), to live. Featuring Cave's excellent music score, supported by a cast including John Hurt, Emily Watson and thousands of flies, shot through with blood, sweat and spears, this very good film is not your grandparents' - Australian or American - idea of a western. Last but certainly not the worst feature was Ham Tran's Journey from the Fall. Inspired by true events, the film follows the lives of a Vietnamese family who split apart after April 30, 1975. One member decides to stay in Vietnam while the rest flee for the United States. As bleak as any film in recent memory, this powerful effort by newcomer Tran reminds us that sometimes migrating across international waters in search of a better way of life is only slightly easier than remaining in a war-ravaged country where bitterness, propaganda and ideology run deeper than compassion for fellow human beings. On the documentary side, NBFF screened three highly entertaining films with oh-so-charming titles. Joe Angio's How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (And Enjoy It) is a loving and sophisticated tribute to American counterculture icon Melvin Van Peebles. As a maverick filmmaker, an options trader on the American Stock Exchange, just to name two of his vocational adventures, Van Peebles has forged his own unique identity in an America that hasn't taken much notice - making this documentary all the more important. Not as important, per se, as Agio's documentary, but certainly as amusing, is Steve Anderson's deconstruction of the F-word in his fucking funny documentary, Fuck. Chronicling the etymology of the word and its evolution (or devolution), Anderson talks to all sorts of thinkers, writers and artists about what the word means and has meant from time to time. In many ways, the doc is a welcome supplement to last year's The Aristocrats. Taking a more somber tone than Angio and Anderson is director Ben Strout in his documentary, Fire and Ice: The Winter War of Finland and Russia. Proving once again that the will and skill to fight is ultimately more important than any amount of firepower, Strout's riveting documentary focuses on the little known fact that when little Finland stood up to the big bad USSR in November 1939, it would change the course of World War II on many fronts. Finally, someone at NBFF needs to sort out the way shorts are projected. Because of their varying size, shorts frequently bled onto the curtain or walls during screenings. It is irritating enough for a festival attendee, but I can only imagine how livid the filmmakers - the ones who bothered to show up - would be to see their films marred and scarred by bad projection.
MovieMaker. Spring 06."Note: The following 'rules' are from the unbalanced mind of a relatively novice moviemaker." Steve Buscemi offers 13 golden ones in the new issue of MovieMaker. #10: "Find the back issue of MovieMaker that lists the rules (or non-rules) of Jim Jarmusch. He rules." Jarmusch's rules. "If your only goal in making a film is getting a distributor to buy it, you're almost undoubtedly in for a rude awakening," warns David Fear, who then looks into the nuts and bolts of DIY distribution. "Is the success of Brokeback Mountain changing mainstream moviegoers' attitudes toward gay cinema? Or had society altered its mindset already, with Brokeback fever simply confirming the change? Will actors be more willing to 'play gay' in future films? Most importantly, will the picture's hit status make Hollywood more open to gay subjects in the future?" David Sterritt asks around. James Gunn, who's directed Slither, recalls "one perfect moment when Iris surprised us all with a horizontal fountain of crimson blood splattering wondrously onto Tania's face." The David Lean bit is particularly amusing. And then there are the "Hands-On-Pages":
May 2, 2006
Online viewing tip.Filmshi talks with Guy Maddin on the eve of his receiving the Persistence of Vision award at this year's San Francisco International Film Festival.
Barcelona Dispatch. 4.In his latest dispatch from the Barcelona Asian Film Festival, Juan Manuel Freire elaborates on the ways AV and Loach is Fish Too disappoint. Sometimes reminiscent of the forgettable Elisha Cuthbert vehicle The Girl Next Door, Pang Ho-Cheung's AV follows four young airheads' odyssey as they set out to make a fake porn movie with a real porn star, Manami Amamiya (playing herself with little charisma). The Hong Kong film has some wit but not enough to entertain all the way through, and sadly disintegrates into sappy melodrama when its raunchy element should become attractively ambiguous, or uncomfortable, or creepy, at least for a narrow-minded audience. There's another main problem - the refusal to delve deeper into the social framework, which could have made this a Trainspotting. All in all, this popcorn product's not really better than your average raunchy comedy from the US, and it falls far short of reaching the surreal intelligence of recent examples such as Old School, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle or The 40-Year-Old Virgin - or even The Girl Next Door. This won't be remembered as one of the most valuable entries at BAFF 2006, but it can't be entirely dismissed, either, at least in terms of learning about what makes the box office swell over on far horizons - and of enjoying a good joke or two about Tarkovsky and Sarah Jessica Parker. There was little to enjoy about Loach is Fish Too, presented in Official Section by its producer, Nan Guang-cheng. Not only because this movie about Chinese migrant workers is a relentless series of tragedies, but also because the film itself is made with a certain lack of rigor. Yang Ya-Zhou forces hystrionics, loses all control of the camera and messes his narrative up as he follows two migrant workers, a woman and an older man, in search for some kind of dignity in Beijing. Good intentions don't always pave the way to interesting movies and, sadly, that's the case for Loach is Fish Too, which cannot be compared with the best examples of social Chinese cinema, such as the early works of Zhang Yimou. A minimal detail can do a great damage, and in the case of Loach is Fish Too, that detail is the melancholic tinkling of a piano underscoring every little drip of blood, sweat and tears. The director seems not to believe that the crude - and continuous, and complete - exposition of human discouragement is enough to get audience on its knees.
Filmfest DC. Awards.Winners for Filmfest DC 2006, which wrapped on Sunday:
Special Jury Award: Three Times, Hou Hsiao-hsien (Taiwan).