August 31, 2006
Venice. Infamous."[T]he good news is that it's not a bad effort," announces Time Out's Dave Calhoun. "The bad news, though, is that Infamous, in its focus on the writing of In Cold Blood and Capote's ambiguous, varied motives for completing that work, is in many ways a carbon copy of the concerns and themes of Capote. Worse, it doesn't handle those same concerns as well as its predecessor.... All that was painted grey in Capote becomes black-and-white in Infamous. It's an inferior approach to a character as complicated, as multi-faced as Truman Capote." "[T]here was an integrity and character-complexity to the 2005 release that's missing from this glossier biopic," finds Variety's David Rooney. Still, "Sandra Bullock's understated performance as Capote's friend [Harper] Lee is a high point here." On the other hand, "The parade of famous names playing famous names - Sigourney Weaver as Babe Paley, Isabella Rossellini as Marella Agnelli, Peter Bogdanovich as Bennett Cerf, Hope Davis as Slim Keith - is diverting but they're like glamorous wallpaper in a slick package.... Toby Jones is a good physical match for Capote, getting his flamboyant mannerisms and creepy, nasal voice down. But unlike Philip Seymour Hoffman's Oscar-winning turn, there's no texture, no under-the-skin sense of the conflict between Capote's ambition for his book and his compassion for, and attraction to, Perry." Updated through 9/3. Updates, 9/1: There's hope yet. Lee Marshall in Screen Daily: "Infamous is a fascinating film, dramatically more rewarding than Capote, and anchored by a mesmeric performance from British actor Toby Jones which more than measures up to last year's Oscar-winning turn by Philip Seymour Hoffman." Both are "brilliant movies," insists the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt. Updates, 9/2: Blogging for the Telegraph, Hugh Davies raves. Boyd van Hoeij focuses on the contrasts between the duelling Capotes. So how did it come to pass that two films addressing the same chapter in Capote's life would be made all but simultaneously (the release of Infamous was withheld nearly a year)? Ray Pride pieces the story together at Movie City Indie. Update, 9/3: Jason Solomons interviews Toby Jones for the Observer. Guess what the first question is.
Telluride. Lineup.Got an email last night from a guy I like and respect chastising me for merely pointing to speculation as to what might be in the lineup for the Telluride Film Festival. The surprise is half the fun, he argued, making an analogy: suppose, a few days before Christmas, you told the kids what was in the gifts under the tree? I'm still of two minds on this, but at least for this year's edition, it's no longer an issue. Festival director Tom Luddy has unwrapped the packages and Eugene Hernandez reports in full. While you're at indieWIRE, you might check Brian Brooks's report on the official selection for the 54th San Sebastian International Film Festival and his report on the winners at the 12th Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films & Short Film Market (ShortFest).
Interview. Andrew Bujalski."I think I might actually be being filmed. Now. As I speak to you." If Hannah Eaves had to be interrupted during her talk with Andrew Bujalski about Funny Ha Ha and Mutual Appreciation, she couldn't have asked for a more appropriate disruption. Reviews of Mutual Appreciation have been accumulating ever since the film's premiere at SXSW in 2005, but the last round is as lively as any of them. "About the unlikeliest, most unassuming critical flashpoint imaginable, Andrew Bujalski somehow sparked an immediate and testy divide amongst the Reverse Shot critics when his rumpled first film, Funny Ha Ha, hit theaters last year after years with no distribution but a solid underground following." And Jeff Reichert opens another round at indieWIRE. It was Michael Koresky (pro) vs Nick Pinkerton (con) last time, and so it is again. As for Reichert, "Bujalski's a poor man's Rohmer to be sure, but this is, in my book, better than a host of Kevin Smiths or similarly untalented indie hacks." Meanwhile, Brian Brooks introduces iW's interview with Bujalski. Updated through 9/2. "Gently persistent in its ironies, Funny Ha Ha managed to be both charmingly lackadaisical and annoyingly smug; Mutual Appreciation, which Bujalski shot in grainy black-and-white in hipster Brooklyn (and is self-distributing), is even more so," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Variety's reviewer nailed the format: Bujalski turns a John Cassavetes camera on an Eric Rohmer talkfest, except that the camera is more relaxed and the actors less animated." In Slant, Nick Schager calls it "a modest step up from its assured predecessor in both content and form, revealing discerning truths about, and wringing deadpan humor from, post-college anomie through a carefully arranged narrative structured around casual ellipses and sly symmetries." An "A-" from Scott Tobias at the AV Club. Update: Anthony Kaufman: Justin Rice's "jittery, electric music performance at Williamsburg club Northsix... is worth the price of admission alone." Updates, 9/1: Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: "It's the sort of unassuming discovery that could get lost in a crowd or suffer from too much big love, and while it won't save or change your life, it may make your heart swell. Its aim is modest and true.... If Mutual Appreciation doesn't look like any film out on screens today, it does boldly look back at Jean Eustache's landmark of modern French cinema, The Mother and the Whore." This one, she adds, along with Half Nelson and Old Joy, are "hopeful signs of cinematic life from young American directors." Bilge Ebiri at Nerve: "It deserves the highest praise one can give such a unique film: It's hard to imagine this story being told any other way." Updates, 9/2: Daniel Kasman: "Mutual Appreciation often feels like a naturalistic Hong Sang-soo film. Because of that director’s highly structured way of directing his characters through rhythmic plot points, this unexpected comparison warrants a far closer look at the way Bujalski organizes his stories and his character portrayal than his aesthetic seems to ask from the audience." At Twitch, Peter Martin writes that Funny Ha Ha "engaged me on a subatomic level.... The beauty is that the film holds up to repeated viewings. Each time I saw it, I peered deeper into it, trying to figure out how Bujalski and his collaborators made something so substantial appear so lightweight, until I gave up and gave in to its gentle rhythms." Along comes Mutual Appreciation and... "And nothing clicked." The Reeler gets a microphone and a camera in front of both Joe Swanberg and Andrew Bujalski. Online viewing tip. Karina Longworth latest edition of "Netscape at the Movies."
Venice. The US vs John Lennon.Having screened in Venice, The US vs John Lennon will move onto Toronto before opening on September 15 in NY and LA before expanding on September 29. Martin A Grove, writing in the Hollywood Reporter, thinks the doc could be an Oscar contender. "It's a film that's likely to resonate with older Academy members, who lived through America's tragic involvement in the Vietnam War, as well as younger Academy members, who will view it in the context of today's tragic US involvement in the war in Iraq." Grove talks with directors David Leaf and John Scheinfeld. "[B]y getting Yoko Ono to cooperate and open the vaults, the storyline follows the Ono-approved bio that posits Lennon as saint, excising his dark periods and their years apart, which could have enhanced the portrait," writes Phil Gallo for Variety. Updated through 9/7. Earlier: David Leaf at Toronto's Doc Blog. Update: John Scheinfeld at the Doc Blog: "I do love gumshoeing my way into people's hearts, minds, data bases and closets in search of audio/visual material that has not been seen in a zillion other Lennon/Beatles-related documentaries." Update, 9/2: Jeffrey Wells lays out a few points on which he disagrees with Gallo's review and adds a few of his own: "In short, Leaf and Scheinfeld's movie celebrates what a brave and commendable guy Lennon was when he got into a standoff with the government, but doesn't even acknowledge that his abrupt withdrawal from this activity, from occupying his persona as Lennon-the-bold-and-outspoken, is what ended his life. They could have spoken to some friend or biogrqapher who could have at least mentioned this (without giving Chapman's motive any respect, I mean)... but the irony never surfaces. It isn't even breathed upon." Update, 9/6: "[S]nazzy, mawkish, and practically Pavlovian in recycling all requisite late-60s images," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Given its subject, though, this David Leaf-John Scheinfeld production is not only poignant but even topical." Update, 9/7: Ed Gonzalez in Slant: "[T]he film is pure fluff, a competently detailed catalog of Lennon's political ambitions told in the visual shorthand of the VH1 rock-doc."
Venice. The Black Dahlia."There will be a few less than favorable comparisons to LA Confidential and Chinatown: it goes with the territory," predicted Anne Thompson, and sure enough, Variety's Todd McCarthy obliges. The first film is "significantly superior" and: "Chinatown it ain't, not in any department. On its own level, however, new pic generates a reasonable degree of intrigue." Brian De Palma's The Black Dahlia is, for McCarthy, nevertheless a "lushly rendered noir." "During the first hour, the hope that the director has tapped into something really great mounts with each passing minute," writes the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt. But "the second half feels heavy and unfulfilled, potential greatness reduced to a good movie plagued with problems." Updated through 9/3. Lee Marshall for Screen Daily: "De Palma has nailed the queasy, menacing atmosphere of post-war Los Angeles and its obsession with violent death. Some classic De Palma themes - voyeurism, lookalikes, sexual ambivalence, shifting perspectives on the truth - are paraded, ensuring that fans of the love-him-or-hate-him director will be kept busy with the rewind button when the film comes out on DVD." James Ellroy's fine with it, reports Hugh Davies for the Telegraph: "Twice in my 27-year novel career I've been lucky with film adaptations. The first was LA Confidential, and now The Black Dahlia." Update: James Israel writes... oh, sorry, where was I? Updates, 9/1: "Typically these days, no studio would back a movie like Dahlia. After director David Fincher dropped out, De Palma patiently plugged away for three years at realizing Josh Friedman's adaptation of James Ellroy's Los Angeles novel," writes the Hollywood Reporter's Anne Thompson, who talks with the director. Two via Cinema Strikes Back, Derek Malcolm in the Evening Standard: "This is De Palma back to something like his best." And an "A-" from Emanuel Levy. Updates, 9/2: "De Palma stages some terrific set-pieces including a stunning crane shot over the roof of a house where a shootout is taking place, to a deserted field where Short's mangled body lies and the story really begins," writes the Telegraph's David Gritten. David Jenkins, blogging for Time Out, compares the film with Genesis. The band. (Infamous, by the way, would be The Strokes; "well produced and with many wonderful moments, but ultimately too derivative for long-term admiration.") Anyway, Genesis/Dahlia: "lumbering, overcomplicated and unfashionable like you wouldn't believe. It's his first film since 2002's Femme Fatale, which didn't make it to these shores for reasons of quality control, and it's average in a way that only de Palma could get away with." Ryan Wu points to Geoffrey Macnab's "Wagnerian" profile of Scarlett Johansson in the Independent. I'll let him explain what he means by that. Update, 9/3: Another Scarlett Johansson profile, this one from Alice Fisher in the Observer.
Towards Telluride.How do you preview a festival if you don't know what films will be shown there? Well, you can't. Instead, Jonathan Marlow reminds us why the anticipation's to be relished. Fall festival season rains down upon us in earnest, even for those in denial about the pending change of seasons. As Cannes is the first indication that the warmer months are about to begin, the Telluride Film Festival is the cinematic reminder that there are colder months ahead. But, for those four days over Labor Day weekend, if you're among the several hundred folks that make the journey to Colorado for one of the true highlights of the film festival year, there is little time to talk about the weather. Unlike most festivals, Telluride waits until the last possible moment to announce its schedule. Attendees are only informed of the screenings on the first day of the event, requiring some hasty scheduling to determine what to see and when to see it. It also requires a great deal of good faith to make a lengthy expedition into the unknown. While this might otherwise seem problematic, you are in good hands with their remarkable programming team. Of course, it makes a preview of the festival entirely pointless. Despite my intense dislike for the first person pronoun, the following paragraph will be peppered with them. For example, festival co-founder Tom Luddy telephoned me a few days ago. That, by itself, is not an unusual occurrence. I was quite pleased that TFF borrowed a few words from an entry that I wrote for the Daily in their Variety and Entertainment Weekly advertisements. It seemed, in that call, that Tom was about to tell me a few things about the forthcoming schedule. If he did, I couldn't tell you about it here. However, he didn't. Sometimes it is better not to know. But he hinted. I already knew that one of my favorite films of the year thus far would not be screening there. I even agreed with his reasons not to show it. I'll have to tell you about that one later. I presumed that a few other titles that were well-received at Cannes would finally get their state-side debuts at Telluride. No surprise there. He confirmed as much, discretely. Outside of these scant crumbs, I'll have to wait until Friday. Just like you. Fortunately, I suspect that it will be worth the wait.
Glenn Ford, 1916 - 2006.Glenn Ford, a laconic, soft-spoken actor with an easy smile who played leading roles in many westerns, melodramas and romantic films from the early 1940s through the 60s, died yesterday at his Beverly Hills home. He was 90. Richard Severo in the New York Times. Another screen legend has passed away before the Academy ever got around to lauding him with an honorary Oscar. Edward Copeland. Updated through 9/1. He was a journeyman actor of the finest kind, working in an impressive array of genres: Everything from gritty Westerns (Budd Boetticher's The Man from the Alamo, Delmer Daves's 3:10 to Yuma) to hardboiled film noir (Charles Vidor's Gilda, Fritz Lang's The Big Heat), from family-friendly comedies (Frank Capra's Pocketful of Miracles, Vincente Minnelli's The Courtship of Eddie's Father) to edge-of-your-seat thrillers... My favorite of his many first-rate performances: His chronically boozy, increasingly desperate small-town doctor who fears he has contracted rabies in a remote desert community, and who's repeatedly detoured by distractions (like the va-va-voom Stella Stevens) while on the road to seeking aid, in Gilberto Gazcon's Rage (1966). Joe Leydon. His son, Peter Ford, is writing a biography. Update: Online listening tip. Clips from NPR. Update, 9/1: Ronald Bergan in the Guardian: "The hairstyles signposted Glenn Ford's long and active career; from the full and wavy to the sleek, dark gigolo look, to the short back and sides, to a severe crewcut that gradually shrivelled like dry grass on the prairie. His face, that began boyish in prewar B films, hovered somewhere between the rugged handsomeness of William Holden and Tom Ewell's Thurberesque one, allowing him to be extremely dour in films noirs or to display the righteous nobility of a lone western hero, while also being able to play perplexed characters in comedies."
August 30, 2006
From France."Eric Rohmer has become my favorite filmmaker in just the way that Eric Rohmer would prefer - without my even noticing," writes Stephen Metcalf in Slate. "Apprehensive over its status as a new art form, film had generated its own vocabulary, inward and semi-mystical, of mise en scene, a vocabulary that cut itself off from other cultural antecedents. Rohmer re-sutured it to Pascal and Balzac and Melville and Kant and Moliére, to the writers from the literary and philosophical past he cared for, on the one hand, and to conversation, to simple human speech, on the other." For the Guardian, Hannah Westley meets Agnès Varda to talk about a bit about the past ("They called me 'The Ancestor of the New Wave' when I was only 30") and about her current exhibition, L'Ile et Elle, at the Fondation Cartier in Paris through October 8: "[I]n many ways Varda's exhibition is a return to the very beginnings of her career, when she started out as photographer-in-residence for the Théâtre National Populaire." "For those who (perhaps wrongly) measure Chabrol to Hitchcock, however, one comparison seemed obvious: if La Cérémonie was Chabrol's Frenzy, then The Swindle was his Family Plot," writes Ray Young at Flickhead, where he points us to The Claude Chabrol Project and to My Gleanings' collection of "Chabrol's thumbnail critiques of Robert Aldrich, John Brahm, Edward Dmytryk, Philip Dunne, Martin Ritt and William Wyler from the Dec63/Jan64 special 'American Cinema' issue of Cahiers du Cinema." Marc Caro, who co-directed Delicatessen and City of Lost Children with Jean-Pierre Jeunet, will be coming back with Dante 01; Brendon Connelly tells us what's known so far about this dark sci-fi thriller. Michael Guillén talks dream theory and The Science of Sleep with Michel Gondry. Related: The Reeler's report on Gondry's SoHo appearance last night. Eugene Hernandez has a clip. "Dumas amuck..." in the thoughts of David Jeffers at the Siffblog. "Playtime has been likened to Joyce's Ulysses; in the sense of the cityscape and its noise and mutterings, are as essential to the picture as the lost figures wandering on it," writes Richard von Busack at Cinematical. "Lately, in films as different as Magnolia, Amores Perros and Crash, there were attempts to link city dwellers through mutual suffering, Tati suggests mutual pleasure might be just as valid a way depicting our connection."
From Japan.Acquarello on Carmen Comes Home: "Filmed in 1952 at the end of American occupation, [Keisuke] Kinoshita presents a thoughtful, humorous, and (still) relevant commentary on the legacy of cultural imperialism enabled by the Occupation." Todd at Twitch: "[Sogo] Ishii's films will simply not be for everyone. In fact, the large majority of people will likely outright hate them. He spurns standard ideas of narrative, opting instead for raw sensory experience but for those open to that change he is an experience not to be missed. Play them loud." David Austin at Cinema Strikes Back: "In Teruo Ishii's final film, Blind Beast vs Killer Dwarf, famous fictional detective Kogoro Akechi states that 'There is only a fine line between genius and insanity.' No more apt words could ever be said about the career and films of Teruo Ishii, of which BBVKD is a perfect exemplar." Andrew at Lucid Screening: "At a time in Japan's history when revolutionary violence was on a lot of (young) people's minds, Funeral Parade of Roses ensured that subversive sex couldn't be ignored."
Shorts, 8/30.There are fresh Opening Shots and just a whole lot of other great things going on at Jim Emerson's scanners again. Maysoon Pachachi set up a documentary course at the Independent Film & Television College in Baghdad in 2004; it was to have run three months, but it took a year. "The violence in Baghdad - criminal, political and sectarian - has increased exponentially in both quantity and brutality over the past two years, and like everyone else in the city, our students are burdened with physical and psychic traumas," writes Pachachi in the Guardian. "Many have had relatives kidnapped, injured or killed. And just getting to the school is a challenge. As one student said, 'every morning, I say a prayer, make up with my parents if we've rowed - just in case - and then leave the house. You can't just sit at home - afraid all the time.'" Their films have been made and will be seen. Also in the Guardian:
Joseph Stefano, 1922 - 2006.Joseph Stefano, 84, who after leaving Philadelphia as a young man to pursue a career in show business ended up writing the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and becoming a co-creator of television's seminal science fiction anthology series The Outer Limits, died of lung cancer Friday at Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks, Calif. [...] His 1993 movie Two Bits - about an 11-year-old boy who tries to scrape together a quarter to go to a movie - recounted the hard times he and his family faced. The movie was filmed in South Philadelphia, and starred Al Pacino. Gayle Ronan Sims for the Philadelphia Inquirer, via Ed Champion. Updated through 9/5. He also wrote a romantic drama called The Black Orchid, for which Sophia Loren won a best actress prize from the Venice Film Festival. Adam Bernstein in the Washington Post. Updates, 9/2: As he notes in the comment below - and thanks! - Marc Savlov interviewed Stefano for the Austin Chronicle in 1999. Online listening tip. NPR's Scott Simon. Briefly. Update, 9/5: C Jerry Kutner on the origins of Norman Bates in Bright Lights After Dark.
Fests and events, 8/30."Sundance has swag, Cannes has yachts, Toronto stars. Telluride has class." In the Los Angeles Times, John Horn previews this weekend's edition of the festival that really is all about the movies and nothing else - and risks a few predictions as to what might be in the lineup, usually a secret right up to opening day. Which is Friday. The fest runs through Monday. And Jeffrey Wells is sure Severance will be there. The Venice Film Festival is open and running through September 9; the Guardian and Time Out have previews and the AP's Colleen Barry already has what seems to be the first press conference report with lots of Black Dahlia quotage. Hollywoodland, also screening at the fest, and Dahlia are both are set in mid-20th century Los Angeles. And, as Borys Kit notes in the Hollywood Reporter, both were shot outside the US. Euro | topics rounds up a dossier on the Venice vs Rome feud: "The European press has already declared Venice the cinematic winner, but nonetheless sees great potential in its rival in Rome." Matt Dentler follows up on Tom Hall's and Eugene Hernandez's thoughts on the "how many is too many" question when it comes to festival lineups. Also, a reminder for Austinites as to Surviving the Blacklist: Joseph Losey in Europe, a series running September 5 through October 10 at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown. In the run-up to its month-long series London on Screen, Time Out runs an extract from a 1971 interview with Mick Jagger, in which he talks about Performance. For the Independent, Charlotte Cripps previews the Bird's Eye Film Festival, "devoted entirely to the work of international female filmmakers" (September 15 through 17 at the ICA in London). Back in the Guardian, Ronald Bergan looks back on the Sarajevo Film Festival. The award-winners at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, which wrapped on Sunday: the Michael Powell Award for Best New British Feature Film goes to Brothers of the Head (Joe Bowman's take); the Standard Life Audience Award to Clerks II; the Best Documentary Feature Award to The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief; the Skillset New Directors Award to London to Brighton. Brian Brooks has more at indieWIRE and Trevor Johnson files an overview for Time Out. Related: "On opposite sides of Edinburgh... two grand septuagenarians - each, in his different way, a British cultural icon - were taking the opportunity to vent their respective spleens." Charlotte Higgins reports in the Guardian on comments from Sean Connery and Harold Pinter. Mark Swed caught "A Tribute to the Sounds of Forbidden Planet" last Friday and reports for the Los Angeles Times.
TIFF + Toronto.Pedro Costa's Colossal Youth will be screening at the Toronto International Film Festival (September 7 through 16) and Andy Rector is among those who are hoping this will drum up interest in his work in North America (e.g., Cinema Scope). In the first of a series of entries at Kino Slang aimed at just that, he offers a translated transcription of a talk Costa delivered to young filmmakers in Tokyo in 2004. As Zach Campbell writes in his comment on the entry, "Whew, that's some read!" "Throw Another Blog on the Fire." J Robert Parks launches framing device, just in time for Toronto. Doug Cummings has his schedule worked out; Girish is hosting a discussion of the lineup. Fresh entries at the Doc Blog come from Andrea Picard (on experimental docs), Lucy Walker (a journal entry written while shooting Blindsight), Liz Mermin (on the origins of her Office Tigers), Hoabam Paban Kumar (on A Cry in the Dark) and Amy Berg (on the already feted Deliver Us From Evil). "If you think Australian films have felt a bit safe lately - often dark, yes, but nothing like the art house films made overseas - it might be time to think again." Garry Maddox in the Sydney Morning Herald on three films screening in Toronto: The Book of Revelation, Macbeth and the controversial 2:37. Via Movie City News. At Twitch, Todd unveils seven titles to be screened at Toronto After Dark (October 20 through 24). Only somewhat related, but interesting anyway: Michael Barclay in Exclaim!: "This is Torontopia." Via Chromewaves.
SFBG. Fall Arts.As The Black Dahlia opens the Venice Film Festival tonight, it also leads Cheryl Eddy's list of ten most anticipated films of the fall season. Also part of the San Francisco Bay Guardian's "Fall Arts" package are Johnny Ray Huston's detailed guide to upcoming series and retros throughout the Bay Area (dates, URLs, the works), Midnites for Maniacs programmer Jesse Hawthorne Ficks's picks and an annotated calendar. Related: Dennis Cozzalio catches the winds of De Palmania in his sails and steers them to his own defense of the director. And Slant's "Auteur Fatale" grows a little each day; plus, they've got a titles-only but excruciatingly complete fall release schedule. As for Venice, Roderick Conway Morris has a preview for the International Herald Tribune; Filmz.de gathers German press coverage. Updates: Brian Darr has a massive roundup of fall goings on in the Bay Area, including word of when San Franciscans will get their first look at Bong Joon-ho's The Host. Speaking of which, at Twitch, Todd's found a new trailer. David Pratt-Robson on Carlito's Way: "De Palma is almost certainly the only director who has consistently been able to give tackiness the pathos it usually aspires to."
Naguib Mahfouz, 1911 - 2006.Naguib Mahfouz, who became the first Arab writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature for his novels depicting Egyptian life in his beloved corner of ancient Cairo, died Wednesday, his doctor said. He was 94. Lee Keath for the AP. Everything to do with dramatisation interests me; it has been my career.... I used to watch a lot of films. I would go every week to at least one foreign film and one Arabic film. I loved action and crime in particular and was a fan of Hitchcock. Mahfouz, talking about his screenwriting career, as recorded by Mohamed Salmawy for the Al-Ahram Weekly. See also: Bio, bibliography, Nobel lecture and more at Nobelprize.org; Wikipedia entry; Books and Writers. Updates: Lee Smith in Slate and Robert D McFadden in the New York Times (a sidebar points to related pieces as well). Update, 9/2: Laila Lalami in the Nation: "With the death of Mahfouz, Egypt has been deprived of its greatest living writer and of its last icon of the twentieth century, and the world has lost one of its most humane literary figures." Update, 9/5: A dossier in the Al-Ahram Weekly.
August 29, 2006
New York and everything."Glenn O'Brien's TV Party - which featured appearances by Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Klaus Nomi, Debbie Harry, John Lurie, Tuxedomoon, DNA, David Byrne, Jean-Michel Basquiat, hip-hop pioneers Fab Five Freddy and Funky Four Plus One, among many other guests - ran for four years, from 1978 - 1982," Steve Gallagher reminded us in the Filmmaker blog when Danny Vinik's TV Party screened at Tribeca last year. O'Brien, former editor of Interview, contributor to the Voice and so on, naturally has a million stories to tell, and he tells more than a few of them to Charlotte Robinson in PopMatters. "A lot of the people who were my contemporaries, the artists, were in bands.... That was what you did, a little bit of everything." The interview's accompanied by two clips. Ric Burns has completed his four-hour Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film and it'll screen at Film Forum from September 1 through 14 before airing on PBS later in the month. Ed Gonzalez in Slant: "More light is shed on the culture vulture's personal life than ever before, and though we are told over and over again why Warhol and his art still matter, the documentary doesn't shill for the man." Updated through 9/3. "Laurie Anderson narrates, and Jeff Koons reads Andy's voice when needed (a slyly apt bit of casting, since Koons's entire career could be seen as a vast Warhol quotation, and his own press face is as calculatedly plastic)," writes Ed Halter in the Voice. "The result is an intellectual history of Warhol, bucking the trend toward the star-studded VH1-ization of biodocs and constructed with a mission to dispel the artist's own self-created image as high-fashion hobnobber in favor of a more profound depiction. Burns argues for a cogitating, agitating Warhol: deep thinker, cultural barometer, and world changer.... Warhol's advice to other artists is suitably cited: 'Do everything.'" Updates, 9/1: Bilge Ebiri has a fun, long talk with Burns at Nerve. "Ric Burns's solemn four-hour hagiography Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film may set a record for the number of times the label 'genius' is applied to its subject," writes Stephen Holden. "The label sticks." The film "assures us that Warhol was the greatest artist of the second half of the 20th century, just as Picasso was of the first half." More from Salon's Andrew O'Hehir in Salon, who's hesitant to buy just that. Update, 9/2: "'There is no artist as famous as Andy Warhol who is held in as much contempt,' Burns told The Reeler," who remarks of the doc, "Like Warhol's most accomplished work, it manages fastidiousness and cleanliness - even austerity at times - without being antiseptic." Update, 9/3: IndieWIRE interviews Burns.
Interview. Joe Swanberg.Even as Joe Swanberg's first feature, Kissing on the Mouth, comes out on DVD, his second, LOL, is screening at the Pioneer Theater in New York through September 3, his webisodic series Young American Bodies rolls on at Nerve - and he's just completed shooting yet another feature, Hannah Takes the Stairs. Just up at the main site: Andrew Grant, whom we all know and read as Filmbrain, asks Joe about all this hyperactivity, his influences, the state of indies, and of course: what's next. Earlier: "Online viewing tip. Young American Bodies. Updated through 9/2. Update, 8/30: Don R Lewis on LOL in Film Threat: "Swanberg continues to grow as a filmmaker and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next." Update, 8/31: Michael Tully's seen Hannah. And says only so much as he can. At this point. Updates, 9/2: Michael Tully snaps shots on Joe's 25th. The Reeler gets a microphone and a camera in front of both Joe Swanberg and Andrew Bujalski.
August 28, 2006
Date Number One.Few online evangelists for DIY filmmaking and distribution have been as zealous as Sujewa Ekanayake. Besides spreading the good word on MySpace and indieLOOP, he also blogs, naturally - DIY Filmmaker Sujewa, just as naturally - and hosts Indie Features 06, where around 20 indie filmmakers swap hard-earned tips. His campaigning skills, then, can hardly be called into question. But eventually, put-up-or-shut-up time rolls around: What about the film? Does Sujewa's first feature, Date Number One, warrant all the noise? New Yorkers will be able to judge for themselves this Thursday, August 31, when DN1 screens at the Two Boots Pioneer. I don't doubt that verdicts will vary, but, after struggling with DN1 during its opening stretch, its clumsy but genuine charm eventually won me over. A series of loosely interrelated vignettes that will likely draw more warm smiles than out-n-out laughs from the endless comic potential of an all but unavoidable ritual, the first date, DN1's appeal has something intangible to do with its no-budget aesthetic. Intangible, undefinable, because not all no-budget aesthetics are alike. Watching the work of Andrew Bujalski, for example, or Joe Swanberg, two filmmakers who also tell stories about relationships among 20-somethings, suspension of disbelief, forgetting the distance between the characters and the actors, is easier. The atmo of DN1 reminds me a bit of a few 60s-era underground films or post-punk works like Downtown 81 or Liquid Sky, though DN1's cast of characters are a lot friendlier and live a few stories higher on the under/above ground scale. But in all three films, you never forget for a moment that the actors are trying, that there's a camera in the room, that the lines were written before spoken. The resulting sense of reality is neither Brechtian nor Godardian; the spell of the stage or the screen never needs to be broken in DN1 because it's never convincingly established in the first place. Not necessarily a bad thing, of course. There's a sentence in Jerry Brewington's review of DN1 for Hollywood Is Talking that I find rather telling: "Story 2, 'A Romantic Dinner for Three,' was my favorite because I have to admit, I found the characters and the premise sexy, sexy, sexy." They are, but would Brewington have made the same observation in quite the same way in a review of, say, Two Girls and a Guy? The relatively slick aesthetic (emphasis on "relatively") of James Toback's film keeps us on our side of the screen, Robert Downey, Jr, Heather Graham and Natasha Gregson Wagner on theirs. In DN1, we feel we're getting to know Kamal, Sunshine and Rupa and Shervin Boloorian, Jennifer Blakemore and Dele Williams, the actors who portray them, at the same time on two parallel tracks that never quite meet. We suspect that we could, any day of the week, run into any of the six - perhaps in that inviting Kensington, Maryland bookshop where most of the film's characters hang out. As refreshing, intentionally or not, as this reality effect is, the edges of DN1 are so rough that - and this may sound harsh, but I mean it in the best possible way - watching, I couldn't help wonder here and there whether Sujewa is something of an Ed Wood of the handheld digital DIY era. Does a joyous love of movies and their making blind him to a shot in which the camera, barely keeping up with a dialogue for all its ping-pong pans, settles on a frame that slices off half a profile? Or are such choices made precisely with the aim of retaining what's real about the scene as it plays out? Regardless, the screenplay is witty (I particularly like the recurring references to a band's unlikely popularity in Ohio), often inventive (the story in which the first date isn't really the first date at all is particularly well-written and performed) and, even better, airy: characters are given time and space to spell out their views on abortion, Buddhism, quantum physics or the ongoing war in Sri Lanka, views that never bear the artificial markings of a Hollywood screenwriter's compulsion to reduce them to sound-bites. Chuck Tryon's pointed out another aspect I appreciate: "I think Sujewa Ekanayake's Date Number One offers an image of urban culture that might be understood as the anti-Crash depiction of life in the city. Instead of a city or community marked by distrust and hostility between racial and ethnic groups, Sujewa's film depicts a comfortably multi-ethnic community." Don't let the touch of quirk (to which so many us who seek out indies have become downright allergic) put you off right from start. The ninja outfit, I mean. Mark, the guy inside it (played by John Stabb Schroeder), has his reasons for wearing it and, as you come to understand them, you learn not only that DN1 has its own rhythms worth shifting gears for, but also that the other characters pulling for him to get that first date right in this supportive community are way ahead of you.
New York. Fall preview."We wanted to take Marty's genre, the gangster thriller, and find a way to flat-out do it differently, and to push the envelope. And, well, we pushed it." Jack Nicholson tells Logan Hill about cooking up a role meaty enough for him to join The Departed. Hill also talks with Steven Shainberg about Fur, in which Nicole Kidman plays Diane Arbus: "This is not a biopic at all. It's an imaginary portrait that tries to capture the otherworldly, hallucinogenic, mythological quality of her photographs." And Hill blurbs a few more upcoming highlights. "In prospect, The Black Dahlia is a disturbingly perfect marriage of filmmaker and subject," writes David Edelstein. For one thing, "De Palma is a kindred spirit to James Ellroy, the traumatized romantic who wrote the novel." For another, "no director this side of David Lynch has the potential to bring out all the meanings in the haunting image of that severed, 'smiling' corpse in that empty Hollywood lot." Related, and via Ray Pride at Movie City Indie: Ellroy in the Los Angeles Times Magazine on leaving LA - and coming back. Also, Infamous: "As Capote, Toby Jones is dandy; I'd be praising him to the heavens if not for you-know-who." But: "The problem with [Douglas] McGrath's writing is that there's no subtext." Emma Rosenblum asks Maggie Gyllenhaal about Sherrybaby, about the fallout from those comments she made during the Tribeca Film Festival and about how tough it is to get an indie picture out there. Also, a chat with Cate Blanchett about The Good German: "Steven [Soderbergh] would say, 'If it doesn't feel bizarre, then it's not right.'" And then, the big, slightly annotated calendar. Related: Via Anne Thompson, Premiere's fall preview in a slide-show format. Earlier: Entertainment Weekly and Time.
Offscreen. Vol 10, Issue 7."In recent years, Iranian cinema has become the yardstick of cultural, social and political progress in Iran," writes Najmeh Khalili Mahani in the first of two pieces in the new issue of Offscreen, which focuses to a great extent on films distributed by Women Make Movies. The world knows Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen and Samira Makhmalbaf and Jafar Panahi, and that's all well and good, but, as noted a few days ago, Iranians, like moviegoers the world over, are making lighter fare much more popular. Mahani sets out "less to debate the artistic or cinematic merits of this type of Iranian cinema, than to examine the efficacy of its particular mode of narrative in bringing about social reforms," and particularly for women. Also: "Although different in style and in form, Iranian Journey and The Ladies Room overlap in one message: that the Iranian women seek the sources of their strength from within." Donato Totaro: "In Sentenced to Marriage and Highway Courtesans women of vastly different social, cultural, racial and economic background similarily suffer hardship under unjust and archaic patriarchal social custom and law." For Gilda Boffa, Time of Love "is very important in understanding the shift that [Mohsen] Makhmalbaf made artistically and ideologically" as he shifted into his "third phase" in the early 90s. David Durnell on Anatomy of Hell: "[Catherine] Breillat's feminist salvation is to make what is deemed impure beautiful, and to make what is sin - what is filth - a work of art, of righteousness, a Nietzscheian transvaluation."
August 27, 2006
Shorts, 8/27."When we meet Griffin this time... he is suitably consumed with dread," writes Seth Greenland, reviewing Michael Tolkin's new novel. "It is one of the achievements of The Return of the Player that it utterly captures the most salient quality of life in Hollywood: the bowel-shaking fear that underlies everything." "[T]he Ballards' 'pathology' in Crash seems oddly healthy, their marriage a model of well-adjusted perversity." Mark Fisher explains. "I think if you wanted to be doctrinaire about it, the ultimate test of what animation might be would be life that is created rather than just photographed." John Canemaker won an Oscar for The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation just this year, but he's been writing about and making animated films for decades now. Michael Guillén has a terrific talk with him at the Evening Class. Satoshi Kon's Paprika "may very well be his finest work to date," writes Todd at Twitch. "Nobody captures the shifting reality of dream life better than Kon, the peculiar logic that rules there, the unsettling way that dreams can turn from pleasant to terrifying seemingly without warning." Also: "While it shows many of the growing pains that you would expect from the first ever martial arts film to emerge from Chile, Ernesto Espinoza's Kiltro also shows a great deal of promise." Slant's Ed Gonzalez: "In spite of its improvisational roots, Le Petite Lieutenant feels a little too cleverly thought-out, but this is still a rare police film that uses work to illuminate life." Also, with Red Doors, "all [director Georgia] Lee has done is rip pages from the same Alan Ball Playbook filmmakers Arie Posin and Mike Mills used to pander to hip movie trends that nowadays guarantee a distribution deal." And: Alfonso Cuarón's 1991 feature debut, Sólo Con Tu Pareja is a "little one-note perhaps, but consistently funny and sexy." Also in Slant: Nick Schager has a long talk with Kirby Dick about This Film Is Not Yet Rated and gives Hollywoodland two out of four stars. "Infidelity, in a Lubitsch movie, barely registers on the sin-o-meter. The worst crime of all is to be a bore." The Self-Styled Siren on Heaven Can Wait. Writing for Cinetext, Daniel Garrett finds in The New World "a film in which profundity can be read on its surface, in its images, dialog, and meditations, a film in which being as much as doing, perceiving as much as desiring, are important... Terrence Malick] makes being - the luminescent fact of existence - vivid." MS Smith on Zhang Yimou's Raise the Red Lantern: "I've seen few films in recent years that are this coherent in their visual style and narrative, that rapturously fulfill the visual potential of cinema while simultaneously offering a thoroughly devastating social commentary." For Newsweek, Lorraine Ali talks with Alejandro González Iñárritu and a few of his cast members about Babel. In the New York Times Magazine, Deborah Solomon asks CC Goldwater the doc she's produced, Mr Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater. And Catherine Keener poses for the NYT Style Magazine; Lynn Hirschberg takes on the accompanying interview. Miranda Sawyer interviews Owen Wilson for the Observer. Also, Killian Fox talks with Laurie David, co-producer of An Inconvenient Truth, about her efforts to raise awareness of global warming issues and another rave for Volver, this one from Philip French. The adaptation of Michael Chabon's The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay looks to be stalled again; Kim Voynar has details at Cinematical, where Scott Weinberg notes the nominations for Spike TV's Scream Awards and for Fangoria's Chainsaw Awards. Via Joe Leydon, fall movie previews in the New York Daily News: the short overview from Jack Mathews and the film-by-film rundown from Mathews and Elizabeth Weitzman. BBC: "Leading Indian filmmaker Hrishikesh Mukherjee has died in hospital in the western Indian city of Mumbai." Canadians: Avi Lewis will begin hosting The Big Picture on CBC on September 13. Online browsing tip. Black Dahlia: The Story As It Was Originally Reported by the Los Angeles Times. Via Film-Fatale. Related: Peet Gelderblom presents his "contribution to what seems to have become another unofficial Blog-A-Thon" and That Little Round-Headed Boy watches De Palma's "great, unsung comedy," Phantom of the Paradise. Online viewing tip #1. Brenda Ann Kenneally's "Children of the Storm" in the New York Times (click down to the "Interactive Feature"). Online viewing tip #2. Richard Lester's Running Jumping & Standing Still Film at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger..., where Tom Sutpen reminds us that Lester "would soon have as defining an impact on the development of Cinema in the 1960s as anyone you can name." Online viewing tip #3. Everyone's talking about the trailer for Todd Field's Little Children; Jeffrey Wells gets word from Mark Woollen & Associates on the thinking behind its conception. Online viewing tips, round 1. Christopher Arcella's Crime Scene Greenpoint, via Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker, where he's also pointing to Nash Edgerton's video for Toni Collette's "Beautiful Awkward Pictures." Online viewing tips, round 2. At Twitch, Todd's got a trailer for John Cameron Mitchell's Shortbus, another for a thriller from Russia, Obratnyy otschet, and another for Michel Ocelot's Azur et Asmar.
Fests and events, 8/27.The latest entries in Toronto's Doc Blog come from David Leaf (The US vs John Lennon), Ron Mann (Tales of the Rat Fink) , Michael Tucker (The Prisoner, or How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair; a helluva post: "a few observations from what turned out to be 72-hour ten-kilometer ride into Baghdad") and host Thom Powers, who surveys the fictional features by "directors who have notable backgrounds in documentary" screening at this year's fest. Meanwhile, tiffreviews.com keeps finding items on films heading to Toronto (September 7 through 16). Das Fräulein, which took the top award at Locarno just two weeks ago, has won two more at the Sarajevo Film Festival: Best Film, awarded to director Andrea Staka, and Best Actress for Marija Skaricic. You'll see a pretty strong showing in the full list of award-winners for films from countries that were once part of Yugoslavia. The Amnesty International Film Festival runs September 14 through 16 in Washington DC. European Independent Film Festival, set for March 2007 in Paris, is accepting submissions.
August 26, 2006
Weekend shorts."Conventional wisdom would paint Wong Kar-wai as a stylist and Hong Sang-soo as a naturalistic filmmaker," writes Chris Stults. "However, despite their matter-of-fact cinematography Hong's films are as far removed from realism as Wong's are, and his style is as every bit as distinct and definable. In all likelihood, no one working today thinks as consistently and complexly about form in narrative film as Hong does. As he has said, 'People tell me I make films about reality. They're wrong. I make films based on structures that I have thought up.'" Also at Koreanfilm.org, Kyu Hyun Kim on Yim Dae-woong's debut, To Sir With Love, "an unapologetically gory throwback to the 80s slasher formula." Half a century after Giant was filmed there, coincidence brings two productions - Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country for Old Men, with Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones, and Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood, with Daniel Day-Lewis - to Marfa, Texas, population 2400. Whitney Joiner checks the scene and finds Marfans taking it in stride. Also in the New York Times:
Weekend fests and events.Filmbrain blurbs his picks for the New York Korean Film Festival (through September 3). Much more than a gimmick aimed at drumming up buzz for the documentaries program at this year's Toronto International Film Festival (September 7 through 16), Thom Powers's Doc Blog has, within just a few days, turned into a lively and wide-ranging celebration of the genre. Scan the list of contributors, dozens of filmmakers - they're actually posting. Fur, featuring Nicole Kidman as Diane Arbus, will open the Rome Film Festival, reports Reuters. The Guardian notes that rivalry between Venice and Rome is all but inevitable. For Cineuropa, Vitor Pinto surveys the lineup for the 54th San Sebastian International Film Festival (September 21 through 30). Ongoing: Short Attention Span Cinema, a series of shorts at the IFC Center featuring the music of Will Oldham. Johann Hari has an Edinburgh International Film Festival wrap-up in the Independent; SF Said has another in the Telegraph. The fest itself wraps tomorrow.
August 25, 2006
Interview. Jamie Babbit.You know Michael Guillén from The Evening Class (and if you don't, do see his wonderful and quite personal entry in the Friz Freleng Blog-A-Thon and his latest, on Kenji Mizoguchi's Ugetsu). Today sees his first interview for GreenCine, in which he talks with Jamie Babbit not only about her latest feature, The Quiet, but also about what makes the closet such a resilient fixture in Hollywood. Most critics have found The Quiet frustrating. Cinematical's Martha Fischer, for example, finds it "a movie seething with unrealized potential." Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: "Neither ambitious enough to take seriously nor sleazy enough to enjoy, The Quiet flirts with the trappings of exploitation cinema without going all the way." Ella Taylor (LA Weekly/Voice): "The Quiet has an excellent supporting cast in Edie Falco, Martin Donovan, and Katy Mixon, in a minor but more interesting role as the school vixen, and is competently, even lyrically, directed in high definition by Babbit (with input from students at the University of Texas). But thematically the movie never reaches beyond the ready-for-prime-time mentality that specializes in psychological shorthand." Leading a furious round of Reverse Shot reviews at indieWIRE, Lauren Kaminsky seems pretty ticked off: "[T]his film somehow manages to surpass even American Beauty (to which the filmmakers no doubt hope their effort will be compared) in hateful representations of women, dopily sympathetic men, and heaps of misplaced misogyny." Yikes. The AV Club's Scott Tobias: "Abandoning the garish hyperactivity of her previous effort, the camp comedy But I'm a Cheerleader, director Jamie Babbit here employs a chilly ambience that makes the film seem weightier and more substantial than it turns out to be." Ed Gonzalez in Slant: "Babbit goes for the perfume-commercial chic of an Adrian Lyne film while her writers push for the sexual frankness of The Slumber Party Massacre. This mismatch of intentions produces a misshapen curiosity at once impossible to dismiss because of its rich ideas but difficult to defend because of its slapdash execution." "Director Jamie Babbit has a certain gift for gloomy atmospherics that might work in a flat-out horror film," suggests Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "But The Quiet wobbles around between genres, a terrible example of what can happen when the wrong sets of talented people get together." Justin Ravitz in the New York Press: "This is an absurdly sordid B-movie that doesn't follow its own whispered suggestions about moral responsibility and human empathy." For SuicideGirls, Daniel Robert Epstein also talks with Babbit. Updates: Steve Erickson at Gay City News: " didn't think it was possible, but The Quiet beats Michael Cuesta's Twelve and Holding for the coveted crown of 2006's most smug assault on American suburbia." indieWIRE's interview.
August 24, 2006
Shorts, 8/24.Tom Tykwer's Perfume, the Bernd Eichinger-produced adaptation of Patrick Süskind's novel, doesn't open in the States until December 27 and doesn't even open in Germany until September 14, but Die Zeit's Katja Nicodemus has seen it. I honestly wish I could report that she likes what she's seen. But: Perfume is the work of an assiduous illustrator who doesn't know how to use the novel as a gateway to a world of his own imagination.... Tom Tykwer may be a fount of invention and enthusiasm, ideas and visions, but his problem is that the images for all this completely escape him. He's the painter who, equipped with all the paints and brushes, stands in front of his easel, the scene before his eyes, and dreams of transcendence but ends up painting by numbers after all. Anthony Kaufman on Michael Haneke's forthcoming remake of his own Funny Games with Tim Roth and Naomi Watts: "I can't imagine the English language version will be as cold-hearted and subversive as the original version, but then again, with popular, mainstream films such as Hostel and Saw and the US government making torture an accepted aspect of everyday life, maybe Haneke has an even greater licence to upset than he did in 1997." Charlotte Higgins talks with Charlize Theron about the doc she's produced, East of Havana: "You have to ask: would I take the free healthcare and education and accept being a prisoner in my soul?" Also in the Guardian, Paul Arendt reminds us that two Philip K Dick biopics are in the works. Plus news of two forthcoming features from Trey Parker and Matt Stone and news that Chiwetel Ejiofor has been cast in Ridley Scott's American Gangster. Edukators director Hans Weingartner is shooting Free Rainer with Moritz Bleibtreu, reports Bénédicte Prot at Cineuropa, where the new "film focus" is The Wind That Shakes the Barley. "Taken together, Culloden and The War Game, the film that followed it, represent an important first strike in a career of film and television work that radically challenges conventional modes of historical representation in the mass media," writes Leo Goldsmith at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. Related: "The Radical Histories of Peter Watkins." "Apocalypse Now? Child's play - everything Coppola tried to do in his film on violence and imperialism and cinema, Hopper has already done - better - by 1971." Zach Campbell on The Last Movie. Film by film, Aaron Aradillas argues the case for Oliver Stone at the House Next Door. The Quays' The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes is "a tragic fairy tale drenched in otherworldly visual splendor," writes Nick Schager. The film's "pulse-pounding passion is derived not from narrative plotting - which, though more linear than [Institute Benjamenta], is obscure and lethargic by design - but from stunning close-ups of their cast's expressive countenances." All in all, it's an "unsettling descent into dreamlike imaginativeness." Also, well, Beerfest, "gorging at the trough of raunch resulting in moments alternately insipid and inspired." And the "poignant and often humorous" So Much So Fast. And also in Slant:
Fests and events, 8/24."No wonder the upcoming series at the Museum of Fine Arts refers to Bohemian cinema as 'rare,'" writes Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix. "But not non-existent. In recent years there's been a renaissance of sorts. I would suppose that this movement is being carried out by a small cadre of committed artists, if only because the same actors keep cropping up in different films in different roles, kind of like a Mike Leigh movie or a recurrent dream." At Toronto's Doc Blog, programmer Thom Powers not only notes that Michael Moore will be bringing a teaser for Sicko to the fest but also has early word on another doc Moore's been editing, "a scrappy road trip movie following his two months of daily campaigning against George W Bush in the 2004 election." "[A]nyone who thinks Almodóvar has lost his subversive edge should take another look at the last half hour of Talk to Her (2002), which suggests that only a gay man knows how to love a woman, while implicating that same nurturing man in the rape of a comatose young woman," writes Ella Taylor, previewing the Viva Pedro series. "What has changed is Almodóvar's tone... More than anything, and this is why I have yet to encounter a woman who regards Almodóvar as a sellout, the later movies extend this generous director's ongoing redefinition of femininity within melodrama, a form that has fallen so far off the Hollywood cliff that, aside from Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven), it's hard to think of an American director working successfully in the genre." Also in the LA Weekly: "Welcome to the Roger Corman dream factory, where schlock is the business and business is still good." Scott Foundas tells his story and has a good chat with him, too. Roger Corman In Person: The Early Years: tomorrow through Sunday. Susan King previews more Mods & Rockers for the Los Angeles Times. The Audience Award-winners of the Melbourne International Film Festival were announced today and Matt Riviera's got 'em.
Biz and tech, 8/24."Cruise Goes Indie" is precisely the phrase I'd decided to use here when I saw all those blazing headlines yesterday morning, but Anne Thompson beat me to it. Eugene Hernandez, though, thinks she's serious. Now I'm confused. Regardless, in case you haven't heard, even if you run a major Hollywood studio, your ass is not your ass as long as a global media conglomerate is calling the shots. Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone aimed one at Tom Cruise yesterday, firing him, basically, and Paramount chairman Brad Grey has so far been very, very quiet. In Variety, Michael Fleming and Chris Gardner look into the matter of what'll happen to the projects Cruise and his producing partner Paula Wagner had been developing with Paramount. In short, it's too early to tell, but: "Negotiations could get very complicated." They explain. Via Movie City News, also recommending the piece as the most substantial story yet. Updated through 8/27. Oliver Burkeman reports for the Guardian, which considers this a front page story; the New York Times team gets quotage, plus commentary from Caryn James; the Los Angeles Times sees a decline in A-list clout and notes that Wall Street approves; the Hollywood Reporter's Nicole Sperling hears that it's all about DVD sales. For fun: Nikki Finke roars at the Huffington Post and Deadline Hollywood Daily; the Wall Street Journal's Marisa Marr, who broke the story, does not on NPR. "We started with Tom Cruise and we end with Tom Cruise... ah, the horror of symmetry." David Poland looks back on the summer. "In the most expensive summer season ever, studios were hit by the harsh realization - which started becoming clear 18 months ago, when Christmas DVD movie sales disappointed - that they could lose a shitload of money." But in Iran, the movie business is booming. Alireza Ronaghi reports for Reuters. Iranians are flocking to "a greater number of homegrown romantic comedies." "In many ways, Apple is uniquely positioned to transform the home AV space the way they transformed the music industry," writes Steven Johnson at Slate. Related: At GigaOM, Robert Young suggests that Apple buy YouTube. But that was before Sony bought Grouper. Business Week's Catherine Holahan surveys other potential online video acquisition targets. Stephanie Kang reports in the Wall Street Journal on a forthcoming videogame "set in the period between "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope, during the rise of the rebellion against Darth Vader and the Empire. Jim Ward, president of LucasArts, the videogame unit of Lucasfilm, says players will discover new pieces of the Star Wars story that help fill in the blanks." Update: Doug Ireland argues that Redstone fired the wrong guy. Updates, 8/25: "As the drama took on almost Shakespearean proportions, here's how the major players emerged." Anne Thompson in the Hollywood Reporter: "Redstone was sending a message: We are no longer coddling talent. There were many in Hollywood who applauded his bravado.... Grey now has several fires to put out." As for CAA, "the whole episode is illustrative of how studios are taking back power from the agencies." And Cruise? "Freeing himself from a studio like Paramount could be the best thing to happen to him." Jon Healey rounds up coverage in the Los Angeles Times. Neal Gabler chimes in in the New York Times. Updates, 8/26: Online viewing tip: David Poland. David Usborne profiles Redstone in the Independent. The Los Angeles Times presents a "Tom Cruise Week-In-Review" quiz. Also, Cam Simpson reports on Cruise's efforts to enlist the State Department "in Scientology's battle for legitimacy in Europe under the banner of religious freedom." Update, 8/27: "If we're lucky the movie industry will go the way of the record industry and the world will find itself back in a frenzy of DIY creativity where artists can control their own destinies." Ann Magnuson at Papermag, via the Filter.
August 23, 2006
On these notes.MTV's James Montgomery talks with Michael Azerrad, author of Come As You Are, and director AJ Schnack about Kurt Cobain About a Son, "a documentary only in the loosest sense of the word. Rather, through Cobain's own, unguarded conversations, the film weaves a personal, haunting bio of the man very few knew." Slated to premiere in Toronto; via Matt Dentler. "Directed by Steven Cantor and Matthew Galkin, [loudQUIETloud] is a bit like a Pixies song itself. It is film where simmering tensions erupt into primal storms, where high tragedy goes cheek-by-jowl with low comedy, and where the drummer goes mad and won't finish his solo." The Guardian's Xan Brooks talks with Cantor and with Frank Black, who has a few bones to pick with the portrayal of the Pixies reunion tour - and who, as it happens, appears in Schnack's Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns.
Fests and events, 8/23."These films take you back to the stories and shine new light on them." Owen Richardson revels in the Australian Centre for the Moving Image's "Focus on Robert Altman & Raymond Carver," through September 3, in the Age. At Facets Features, Dan Mucha notes the highlights of the first half of the Chicago Underground Film Festival, wrapping tomorrow. For the London Times, Wendy Ide surveys the contenders for awards at the Edinburgh International Film Festival (through August 27). Related: Filmstalker's ongoing coverage and Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian on Sommer '04: "The spirit of Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water is revived in this engrossing and disquieting film from Germany, directed by Stefan Krohmer." Time Out's Nigel Floyd previews London's FrightFest (August 25 through 28). On September 8, Exhumed Films and the Philadelphia International House will be presenting Valerie and Her Week of Wonders with a new soundtrack performed live by members of various bands representing the new folk movement. Via Todd at Twitch. In the Voice:
Idlewild."It's not a condemnation to note that Idlewild has a lot in common with Prince's first film flop," writes Ann Powers in a consideration of both the film and the album for the Los Angeles Times. "Both projects followed a breakthrough moment for a forward-thinking act who'd made it deeper into the mainstream than anyone expected." As for the film at hand, "the dance sequences alone make Idlewild worth seeing." Even so: This isn't what we need from OutKast. With hits like "Hey Ya!" and "Rosa Parks," the duo has come closer to confronting the troubling hyperboles of black American culture - the legacies of blackface and coon song - than virtually any other hip-hop-era artist. OutKast's seriously comic take on black eccentricity speaks volumes about the historical weight of notions like "freakiness." Their film needs more of that freakiness, instead of the three-hankie sentimentality that dominates. "Idlewild has a sober, loving respect for history and the old South, and thereby grants itself a measure of distinction," writes Michael Atkinson in the Voice. "The film is so cornpone that class and poverty aren't even issues." Updated through 8/27. Earlier: Jonathan Dee in the New York Times Magazine and Nick Schager in Slant. Updates, 8/24: "Under the Graffiti Bridge in the Purple Rain" pops up fairly early in Ernest Hardy's review for the LA Weekly; in short, he argues that the movie has its moments but never really comes together. Armond White in the New York Press: "Despite its grinning fascination with the Jazzbo style of past eras, Idlewild takes such a flashy approach to African-American showbiz history that it winds up being absolutely ahistorical - and unsatisfying." For Cinematical's Kim Voynar, it's "a fantastically creative film that could - and should - garner a bevy of Oscar nominations." "Idlewild has moments of sticky sentimentality and stretches of dull exposition, but you've got to give it this: It's unpredictable." Slate's Dana Stevens finds "the world of Idlewild is so heterogeneous, so devil-may-care about shifts in mood and tone and genre, that it winds up feeling like six different movies elbowing for space on the same screen." Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: "The narrative compression that works so well for [director Bryan] Barber in his music videos for OutKast, particularly in pastiches like 'Hey Ya!' and 'Roses,' damages Idlewild beyond repair." Updates, 8/25: Teresa Wiltz in the Washington Post: "For all its shortcomings, Idlewild also has something that few films can pull off: moments of such cinematic fabulousness, breathtaking dance sequences and idiosyncratic 3-D animation flourishes that we are more than willing to forgive it for all of its sins." Online viewing tip. Karina Longworth for "Netscape at the Movies." Updates, 8/26: Stephanie Zacharek in Salon: "Idlewild is a wild, sprawling movie, one that's bound to be underestimated and misunderstood. But maybe the best way to read it is to treat it as a dream history, as a testament, to borrow [Stanley] Crouch's words, to the ways that inventing, borrowing and refining can bring us closer to the lives we want to lead - yet even within that framework, there's no guarantee of happiness." Joe Leydon: "When it comes to Idlewild, there is good news, and then there is great news, because the last big blast of the summer - or, if you prefer, the first great movie of the fall - also happens to be one of the very best movies of the year." "[I]t's too easy for critics to be reductive about Idlewild," argues Alex P Kellogg in the American Prospect. "I'd encourage them to think of Zora Neale Hurston's plays [which] were notable more for their celebration of the language, music, dance, and humor of everyday people than their neat dramatic arcs." No, writes Will Doig for Nerve, "there are too many inexcusable moments in Idlewild to simply look the other way." Updates, 8/27: "Does it jell?" asks New York's David Edelstein. "Hell, no! But a lot of invigorating American pop-culture epics are mishmashes - genre-bending follies that end up being more than the sum of their incongruities. Idlewild aims high and sends out lots of entertaining sparks." Cinematical's James Rocchi: "Idlewild challenges two worlds - Hollywood and Hip-Hop - that can, in their way, be hidebound by conservatism and convention and gives them both a good shake. That alone makes Idlewild exciting; that alone makes Idlewild worth seeing; that alone makes you wonder what Outkast and Barber might try next."
DVDs, 8/23.As a followup on the entry on Double Indemnity, DK Holm gathers voices from the DVD 'xperts on a few other releases this week. Does it seem to you as it does to me that all of a sudden we have seen some great DVD releases? Last week we had Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier and the Rohmer set, preceded by Roma Citta Libera and such novelties as the Mr Moto series, plus A Canterbury Tale and some Louis Malle box sets, and with Arrested Development, a Mel Brooks box set, more Fox noirs, The Death of Mr Lazarescu, Amarcord, Playtime, and the new three-disc Criterion Seven Samurai in our near future. Besides Double Indemnity, the other prestige item of the week is Noah Baumbach's Kicking and Screaming, which received the Criterion treatment. At the DVD Journal, Dawn Taylor notes that Kicking and Screaming "was one of a number of popular independent pictures that paved the way for the faux-indie movement of the late 1990s," and praises Baumbach for not trying to make "any of his characters especially sympathetic in their slacker journey. He leaves that to the actors, who make these layabouts lovable," and finds that Criterion's disc "does justice to this charming film." Gary W Tooze at DVD Beaver proclaims that it "has the same stylish wit as Baumbach's more mature The Squid and the Whale, also exposing some of the ironies of academia." DVD Talk's DVD Savant, Glenn Erickson, notes that "Criterion's disc... presents the handsome independent film in a sparkling enhanced transfer that flatters its unfussy visuals." Otherwise this week, though, we have TV and Lindsay Lohan. Don't get me wrong. I love Lindsay Lohan, despite, or maybe because of her off-screen reputation. But her film Just My Luck breezed in and out of theaters so fast that, though in a fashion otherwise customary these days, it did bespeak a lack of zeitgeist flowing in her veins. Gregory P. Dorr, however, reviewing Fox's DVD release of Just My Luck at the DVD Journal, found that Lohan "hits all the right notes in this kind of material." On the other hand, the controversial and ubiquitous Eric D Snider, here at DVD Talk, snidely calls the film "this summer's real disaster movie," noting that the film "doesn't even adhere to real definitions of luck. Most of the 'unlucky' events in the film are the result of the person being clumsy or stupid." And the anonymous reviewer at CurrentFilm.com (are they really anonymous, or am I just not seeing their bylines?) finds that the "real surprise here is Lohan, who, for the first time, really seems disinterested [i.e., uninterested] and gives little effort in the performance. " Finally, even the enthusiastic "Fusion3600" at DVD Authority was disappointed: "As frequent readers know, I, along with most males in the world, have an obsession of sorts with Lindsay Lohan, so of course, I have to see all of her movies. I actually like most of her flicks, as they're usually fun and brisk... Even so, I wasn't too thrilled about Just My Luck, as the previews made it seem like a second rate Trading Places." All of the writers more or less pass over the supplements as negligible. Also this week, all the new network television science fiction shows - Surface, Invasion, Threshold - that were canceled mid-season popped up on DVD. Dawn Taylor at the DVD Journal deemed Warner's Invasion: The Complete Series to be "arguably one of the best dramas of the 2005-2006 television season - smart, creepy and addictive," adding that William Fichtner is... [O]ne of the finest character actors working today, and his ability to evince charm, menace, confusion, subterfuge, and bravery - sometimes all in the course of one episode - made [his role as] Underlay the show's most fascinating character. Invasion was exceptional in that it examined all aspects of the alien insurgence - the effect on the community as the unchanged residents viewed their altered neighbors with suspicion, fear, and even jealousy; the question of whether a forced evolution of the human species was a threat or an improvement; and the emotional complications that come when a loved one isn't the same being that they once were, even though they retain all of the same feelings, memories, and ideals as they did before. CurrentFilm.com's reviewer duplicates Taylor's views: "It still provides a good deal of surprises and plenty of creepy (often thanks to Fichtner's eerie performance) moments." At DVD Talk, John Sinnott contemplates Threshold, which aired on CBS for nine episodes, now released by Paramount on DVD with four additional un-aired episodes and numerous extras. Sinnott seems to come down on the side of the network for canceling the show, complaining about the program that "it never found its voice - episodes would jump around from genre to genre - a lot of subplots were dropped" and that "the characters also were a bit on the thin side," but he still found something to praise: "The horror aspects worked more often than they didn't." Finally, consumers might have been excited at the prospect of the R3 two-disc Syriana but "bradavon," commenting after Gary Couzens's review at DVD Times, notes that the only difference between the R3 and the earlier releases of this film is but one extra: "A Conversation with Matt Damon."
Interview. Craig Baldwin."Where did Spectres come from?" Andy Spletzer asks in our latest interview. Craig Baldwin replies, "I guess you could say Panama. It's oversimplifying to say that there is a seed behind all these films. It really had to do with this alternative history, and again, all of my films are really all about imperialism. After a while you say, 'Look, it's easy to make these horror movies.'" Easy and yet not so easy. It's a long talk, covering Baldwin's beginnings as a filmmaker and early works such as Tribulation 99; Sonic Outlaws, which you can watch immediately, as it's part of our VOD library; Other Cinema screenings, DVDs and zine; and the film he's working on right now.
August 22, 2006
Streep/Brecht.Ben Brantley in the New York Times: "If you ever wanted to watch one willowy human being lift a 12-ton play onto her shoulders and hold it there for hours, even as her muscles buckle and breath comes short, join the line of hopefuls waiting at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park for cancellations to see Meryl Streep burning energy like a supernova in the title role of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children." Hilton Als presents his take in the New Yorker. Here's the part Ed Champion likes: "While it is no shock that Streep and [director George C] Wolfe are faithful to Brecht's theatrical philosophy, it comes as a pleasant surprise to see Kevin Kline invest himself to a similar degree. Kline - who was the terrifying Nathan in Sophie's Choice, and Trigorin to Streep's Arkadina in Mike Nichols's 2001 production of The Seagull - is, quite possibly, the best partner Streep has had onstage or onscreen." David Edelstein in New York: "This is the summer of Streep." For Deutsche Welle, Linda Csapo talks with Berliner Ensemble director Claus Peymann about Brecht's legacy.
Toronto. Lineup.The Toronto International Film Festival will open on September 7 with Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn's The Journals of Knud Rasmussen and close on September 16 with Michael Apted's Amazing Grace. That much we knew. Today, though, the full lineup was unveiled and among the publications that've got the full list of 352 films from 61 countries is indieWIRE. Eugene Hernandez: "The massive film festival, considered one of the most important in the world (second only to Cannes), will feature a roster offering 91 percent world, international or North American premieres, according to the festival. 62 features are directorial debuts."
Double Indemnity."The most important film noir ever made is Double Indemnity. Don't even attempt a counter argument - there isn't one," declares Eddie Muller, author of several books as well as our primer on film noir, in a new piece up at the main site. Dave Kehr, undoubtedly aware of such claims, seems determined to let the air out of them a little in his review for the New York Times. Nonetheless, Universal's new double-disc release features "a very good transfer... and it comes with a wealth of supplementary material, including commentaries by Richard Schickel, Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman." Related: Kevin Jack Hagopian's entry in noir special from Images, where you'll also find an excerpt from Robert Porfirio's 1975 talk with Billy Wilder from Film Noir Reader 3. Update: Online listening tip. John Powers on NPR. Updates, 8/23: Looker: "Too many critics say Neff is supposed to be weak-willed, and that MacMurray perfectly embodies weakness. Nice try, but I don't buy it." At Slant, Dan Callahan calls this a "disappointing disc for a shallow but well-loved film."
August 21, 2006
Shorts, 8/21."Movie history is rife with tales of genius thwarted, trashed, traduced (DW Griffith, Erich von Stroheim, plus dozens of lesser talents), but the story of Orson Welles has become central to a core myth, beloved by passionate cinephiles and the ever-contemptuous literati, that Hollywood wantonly, inevitably destroys its most gifted creators. I think that notion is nonsensical." For the Los Angeles Times, Richard Schickel reviews Simon Callow's Orson Welles: Hello Americans and Joseph McBride's "more personal and passionate" What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?: A Portrait of an Independent Career (coming in October) and argues that "Welles was the primary auteur of his own misery." Also in the LAT, Susan King previews Buzz, a doc about AI "Buzz" Bezzerides: "[H]e became one of the major writers of film noir in the 1940s and '50s, penning such movies as Thieves' Highway (which he adapted from his own novel), On Dangerous Ground and Kiss Me Deadly. His first novel, The Long Haul, was adapted into the 1940 film They Drive by Night, starring George Raft and Ann Sheridan." New York's David Edelstein on the films of Andrew Bujalski: "These free-floating comedies of manners - of rudderless young people who can't articulate their feelings to themselves, let alone others - turn out to be shapely, cunning, and indelibly strange." Also: Catch LOL when it screens at the Pioneer for a week beginning on Wednesday. Scoop. The Illusionist. The Prestige. Clarence Carter: "We at Reverse Shot try to avoid silly cultural-moment analyses; though I could argue that the perfect storm of war malaise, terrorism fears, and waning belief in the credibility of our government necessitates the introduction of the magician character into popular fictions (always a ready mirror of our collective unconscious, of course) that would be, well, stupid." What does Eisenstein's run-in with the Left Front circle have to do with Art Since 1900. Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism? Konstantin Akinsha explains in springer|in. Will Mel Gibson's AA meetings mess up Terence Malick's shooting schedule? Jeffrey Overstreet has been looking into it. Among the other things we learn in Jonathan Romney's interview with Pedro Almodóvar is that the turned down the opportunity to make Brokeback Mountain because was afraid he wouldn't be given the freedom to make it his way. Also in the Independent, David Thomson on Alan Arkin and his 1971 film, Little Murders, "exactly what you need to see if you don't yet credit how outrageous and bold American filmmaking could be at that moment." Sunday-length interviews in the Observer: Sanjiv Bhattacharya with Toni Collette, Sean O'Hagan with Joan Didion and Barbara Ellen with Sigourney Weaver. Also:
Fests and events, 8/21.What's Jonas Mekas been up to lately? Lots. Logan Hill fills us in in New York: "For Apple's video iPod, he'll be filming 365 short videos and releasing one a day, beginning September 15. Plus, he'll be curating a downloadable series of classic shorts by experimental filmmakers and videos by the likes of Martin Scorsese, John Waters, Jim Jarmusch, and Abel Ferrara. 'Life is beautifully, beautifully busy.' Go to jonasmekas.com for updates, or hear Mekas speak after the screening of Letter From Greenpoint at the Museum of the Moving Image, on August 25." Jason Solomons has a big Edinburgh International Film Festival roundup, including takes on the "enjoyably strange" Colour Me Kubrick and the "dense, claustrophobic and compelling" Killing of John Lennon; London to Brighton, "an iron-hard film of almost unbearable intensity," and five more. The fest runs through August 27. In Ft Worth: Tutto Fellini, a retrospective running through September 3. Via David Lowery. Invisible Cinema has the program for Nouvelle Vague: Submerged Scientific Films at the Anthology Film Archives on Friday evening. Camillo De Marco at Cineuropa: "Twelve young European directors will be able to meet potential investors for their second films during the first edition of the Rome Film Festival (October 13 through 21)."
Twitch. Recently.Twitch is always essential reading, but in just the past few days, they've had one helluva run. Besides the trailers and the posters and such that you'll always find there before anywhere else, a remarkable string of reviews warrants sampling in a separate entry. "It is incomprehensible that [Edgar] Reitz's work has been ignored in this country for over 20 years. If the 52+ hour saga proved daunting to critics, it will not seem long enough to viewers watching it at home," writes Jon Pais, reviewing Heimat: Eine deutsche Chronik. "Now that the trilogy is at last being released on DVD in the UK, France, Belgium, Germany and the US, film lovers will be able to judge for themselves whether critics have been fair in burying in silence a filmmaker as worthy of our esteem as are Wenders, Fassbinder and Herzog." Todd, in the meantime, perhaps in preparation for his trip to Moscow, has really been cutting loose. For example: "It is apparently a rather good year for Russian war films. While the stellar 9th Company stands as a timely answer to Platoon, Bastards turned heads with its story of criminal youth forcibly conscripted for suicide missions, and now Transit has arrived with its sprawling tale of life on a remote air base." Related: "With our own Afghan conflict stretching on interminably with no appreciable gains made, seemingly daily reports of new clashes with Taliban forces that just refuse to fade away, and no end in sight, big budget Russian blockbuster 9th Company is a remarkably timely piece of film." And: "Much like Refn's Pusher films or Kitano's Sonatine, Bimmer is a crime film far more concerned with the criminals and criminal culture than it is with the crimes themselves." More from Todd:
Friz Freleng Blog-A-Thon."Welcome to the Friz Freleng Blog-A-Thon, in celebration of the late animation master's 100th (or is it 101st, or 102nd?) birthday," writes Brian Darr. "I hope I have something to contribute to a discussion of cartoons, if only an expression of my passionate belief that the best are as essential as the acknowledged great works of the cinema." He does. After arguing that Freleng has been underappreciated as an animator, Brian offers a close reading of "High Diving Hare" before, of course, gathering links at the bottom of the post to the dozen or so participants in the Blog-A-Thon so far.
Primer. Mockumentaries.There's more to the mockumentary than Christopher Guest. Not that there's anything wrong with Christopher Guest, by any means, but the genre has a longer history than you might remember and carries on evolving and thriving in the medium perhaps best suited for it: television. Liz Cole surveys the highlights in our latest primer: "Mockumentaries."
August 19, 2006
Weekend shorts.Roger Ebert sends an email from the hospital. It sounds like it's been a tough series of weeks, but it also sounds like he's in great spirits. And that's what we want to hear. "The original score, featuring John Cage and Paul Bowles, is quite good, but it is obvious that Richter was more interested in the visual image than the music." Stephen Coates of The Real Tuesday Weld explains how their alternative score to Hans Richter's Dreams That Money Can Buy came to be. Also in the Guardian: Mark Lawson races through a history of docs and concludes: "More than 60 years after the Ministry of Information began the genre, Oscar-hunting documentaries remain a branch of propaganda." "Since arriving in Los Angeles, I'd discovered that the place was crawling with Brits hoping to become screenwriters." Toby Young relates his adventures once he'd joined their ranks in an extract from The Sound of No Hands Clapping, running at the Telegraph. The Queen, you know, will be opening the New York Film Festival. Gerard Gilbert talks with Helen Mirren about becoming Elizabeth II. Also in the Independent, Liz Hoggard meets Patricia Arquette. Up-n-coming news from Martha Fischer at Cinematical: The White Hotel; Susan Sarandon and Helena Bonham Carter in Eleanor and Colette; an update on Be Kind Rewind (that's the Michel Gondry with Jack Black). James Urbaniak: "The audition for the Michel Gondry film was smooth as silk. Your move, monsieur." Now Playing's Brent Simon talks with Justin Theroux about David Lynch's Inland Empire. Or at least what he knows about it, having only seen the pages of the screenplay for the scenes he's in. Via Brendon Connelly. Related: An early PSA from Lynch. Via Screengrab. "What single movie image or moment do you think of more often than any other?" asks Matt Zoller Seitz at the House Next Door. His own: "Terry Malloy's bloodied walk to the warehouse at the end of On the Waterfront. Pretty much any moment from when he first stands up to when he stops in front of the foreman and drops his hook." Dozens of others chime in with theirs. "I'm fortunate to have made it in other industries, like the resort industry and the wine industry, so I could finance a small film myself every couple of years and have my dream come true. And that's what I aspire to do," Francis Ford Coppola tells Rebecca Winters Keegan in Time. Via Movie City News. Coppola recently appeared on stage in Los Angeles for a Q&A; notes from David Poland and, at AICN, Marty McSkywalker. "This is the Howard Dean School of Film Funding, very Net-rooty, very social-networky, very now.... You have an idea. You have an affinity group. You have e-mail addresses. You ask for money. And, as William Booth reports in the Washington Post, it's working for Jim Gilliam and Robert Greenwald as they prepare Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers. Via Chuck Tryon.
Brian De Palma."In anticipation of The Black Dahlia's release, fresh off of its premiere at Venice, Slant Magazine is presenting a symposium of De Palma fanatics to present a look back at a turbulent career," writes Eric Henderson. "Check back every day for a new review and, just maybe, a fresh dose of abuse against shortsighted critics too genteel to admit they get off on De Palma." Peter Nellhaus: "What importance The Wedding Party has is largely based on its being the first film for several participants in the cast. Cast primarily with actors and friends from Sarah Lawrence College, the film includes Jill Clayburgh, as well as three actors who would collaborate several more times with De Palma - Jennifer Salt, and William Finley, seen above [see Peter's entry] to the left of Charles Pfluger and future De Palma star Robert De Niro. Had none of the actors or the co-writer/director gone to greater acclaim, The Wedding Party would probably be another forgotten student movie." Earlier: Girish. Update, 8/20: That Little Round-Headed Boy on Mission to Mars. Update, 8/21: Robbie Freeling at Reverse Shot: "Slant, we begrudgingly, and in true solidarity, admit that if someone was going to beat us to the punch, at least it was you guys."
The Illusionist.Bet you thought we'd sent The Illusionist packing on Thursday. So did I. But just look...
Weekend fests and events.First, quickly, if you're in Chicago, Jonathan Rosenbaum is recommending this afternoon's benefit screening for Lebanese war relief. "A satirist is necessarily a moralist, and for all of the fun Tashlin had with the exaggerated imagery of American pop culture, he insisted on the importance of rejecting the illusions of consumerism for the reality of human emotion," writes Dave Kehr in a piece for the New York Times previewing the series of Frank Tashlin movies at Film Forum (The Girl Can't Help It! runs August 25 through 31; the rest from September 1 through 7). "The most absurd figure in Tashlin's films is not the heavy-bosomed blonde but the pathetic male in a pure, helpless state of arousal, continually provoked by the eroticized environment that surrounds him." Earlier: Fernando F Croce in Slant. "Anyone who has given up hope of seeing an enjoyable, well-made British comedy will be much cheered by Driving Lessons," writes Sheila Johnston, who talks with director Jeremy Brock. Also at the Edinburgh International Film Festival for the Telegraph is SF Said, who offers quick takes on The Flying Scotsman, Brothers of the Head and The Killing of John Lennon. Nick Pinkerton at Reverse Shot: "As the sixth and final week of MOMI's well-stocked overview of Frank Borzage's career arrives, it's worth taking a look back to survey the terrain that's been covered so far." Kevin Thomas writes up a primer for the Viva Pedro for the Los Angeles Times while Kenneth Turan talks with Almodóvar about Volver. Also, with Roger Corman In Person: The Early Years slated for August 25 through 27, Susan King meets the "King of the Bs." At Twitch, Todd hints ever-so-coyly at what's in the lineup for the Toronto After Dark Festival (October 20 through 24). In Austin? Jette Kernion has recommendations at Cinematical. San Francisco? Brian Darr. Holland Carter visits On Photography: A Tribute to Susan Sontag, at the Metropolitan through September 4. Curator Mia Fineman "accompanies the 40 pictures, all from the museum's collection, with Sontag quotations, placed high on the walls, and leaves the play of images and words allusive rather than illustrative, free to generate mood as much as meaning, as Sontag would have wished." Also in the New York Times, Ken Johnson on Elizabeth Peyton, Prints 1998 - 2006 and Andy Warhol, both at the Guild Hall Museum through October 22. The Oakland Museum of California is showing four newly acquired video works by Bill Viola from August 26 through December 31. The National Gallery's Portrait of an Artist Film Season runs from September 23 through November 11: "All the films in this season engage with techniques Velázquez employed to establish personality, from his use of light and colour, and a vivid range of facial expression and body language, to his unconventional approach to composition." Via Richard Gibson. Online browsing and viewing tip. The site for Moving Pictures: American Art & Early Film, 1880 - 1910 (at the Grey Art Gallery from September 13 through December 9) offers a mini-tour with clips.
August 18, 2006
Weekend snakes."I'd urge anyone who's even remotely interested in Snakes on a Plane to see it this weekend, when the curiosity level will be at its highest, and with the biggest, rowdiest audience you can find," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "Because while Snakes on a Plane barely stands up as a movie, it definitely qualifies as an event. A fellow critic present at the same showing said that afterward, he couldn't quite tell if the crowd actually liked the picture. But everyone sure liked being there." "It was... a perfect night at the movies." Harry Knowles caught it at the Alamo Drafthouse South with Quentin Tarantino and the cast of Death Proof. At AICN, he describes in mouth-watering detail the snake handler pre-show, the menu, the Samuel Jackson Badass Ale... yep, does sound fun. Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: "As it happens, Snakes on a Plane isn't just about rubber reptiles and [Samuel L] Jackson spewing pearls of profanity; it's also a solid, B-movie-style entertainment crammed with 'boos!' and lightly scented with a whiff of social metaphor." So many Manohla Moments are crammed into the fistful of paragraphs that follow, you can't help but suspect she had a blast, too. Updated through 8/21. Updates, 8/19: Watch Brian at Dumb Distraction watch it eleven times. In a row. Really. Meanwhile, Micah's review. Two points from Film Threat's Pete Vonder Haar:
NYFF. Lineup.IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez has the official descriptions of the 28 features to be screened between September 29 and October 15 during the New York Film Festival and a quote or two from Richard Pena, program director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and chair of the NYFF Selection Committee. At the IFC Blog, Alison Willmore's got links for the films and their makers. The Reeler points out a few surprises. Take a good look at that list, though. These are films we're going to be hearing quite a bit about in the fall and throughout 2007. A glance at the 2005 program will remind you that heavy coverage in New York-based media, both old and new, can do a lot for a film's endurance.
Roundtable. Svankmajer."With Lunacy, the latest picture by Jan Svankmajer, opening at the Film Forum last Wednesday, then the Nuart today and Bay Area cinemas next week (and a variety of venues through September, into October and November), we were faced with a challenge," writes Jonathan Marlow. "How do we spread word about this unconventional feature to our regular readers?" Jonathan's found a way. He presents a Q&A moderated by Simon Field at the International Film Festival Rotterdam last fall. Among the topics: the screenplay as a mere guide to be quickly forgotten, letting a thousand interpretations bloom, a unique approach to actors, music (forwards and backwards) and the new "censorship of money" (as opposed to the old "censorship of thought"). Earlier: "Lunacy.," updated through 8/23. Update, 8/20: Online viewing tip. Michael Guillen's Svankmajer YouTube gallery.
Interview. Bent Hamer.For a conversation with Bent Hamer about casting Matt Dillon as Henry Chinaski, alter-ego of Charles Bukowski, in his new film, Factotum, you want someone who hosts a radio show called Drinks with Tony. You want Tony DuShane. Related: "Like the film itself, Mr Dillon's performance works through understatement," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Factotum is a film about the horrors and occasional comedy of work, as well as gutting through life on your own terms, which in Bukowski's case meant turning both that horror and that comedy into literature.... Subversive might not be the right word with which to characterize his commitment to his art, his muse, his hip flask and the Big No, as in no to the straight and narrow, no to the clean and tidy. But it does have a nice ring." Updated through 8/24. "The go-to point of comparison for Hamer's film is [Barbet] Schroeder's 1987 Barfly, from an original screenplay by Bukowski, which likewise attached a contemporary A-list name to the role of Henry Chinaski, alter-ego navigator of Buk's hiccupped autobiographical aggrandizements," writes Nick Pinkerton, opening Reverse Shot's round on the film at indieWIRE. The comparison, he argues, "only serves to remind us how the expectations of what independent film culture can accomplish have diminished through the last 20 years, and highlight the banal superfluity of Hamer's movie." Justin Stewart and Nicolas Rapold follow, and they're far more willing to cut the film some slack. Melissa Levine in the Voice: "[N]one of it goes anywhere. It's just stylized alcoholism with a tired wink." Back in June, when he caught it at the Seattle International Film Festival, Sean Axmaker wrote here, "Hamer's sensibility is distinctively not American, and maybe that's what makes this askew look at rumpled dignity in a most undignified existence come through with a subdued, modest grace." Jennifer Merin also meets Hamer and chats him up for the New York Press. Online listening tip. Amy Reiter talks with Matt Dillon for Salon. Updates, 8/19: "Dillon, now 42, has grown up into one of the most resourceful character actors in American movies," writes AO Scott in the NYT. The Los Angeles Times's Kenneth Turan finds Factotum "a surprisingly satisfying film, true to Bukowski and itself, a work that manages to make the man and his profane world more palatable without compromising on who he was and what he stood for." Jürgen Fauth: "Factotum Jeremiah Kipp in Slant: "[U]nlike Bukowski's character, who always makes a big deal out of living life to the fullest no matter how much life kicks you in the teeth, the film never really goes for it." Update, 8/24: Dennis Harvey presents "a rundown on the major features about or derived from Bukowski to date" at SF360.
August 17, 2006
Shorts, 8/17."Black Snake Moan, Craig Brewer's follow-up to last year's Sundance sensation Hustle & Flow, comes as close to exploitation heaven as any studio based film made in the past 20 years," writes Mike D'Angelo for Esquire. "You watch it unfold - detonate, more like - with giddy incredulousness, stunned that somebody actually had the guts to put such supercharged images on the screen. That doesn't automatically make it a great movie, but it does make it a valuable one, especially in a culture given to endless hand-wringing over dull, mealymouthed Ron Howard versions of airport novels." That's via Bilge Ebiri at Screengrab, where, noting that his piece on Keith Gordon's The Chocolate War has generated lots of reader interest, he follows up with a batch of related links. Screengrab is now nestled into Nerve's Film Lounge, by the way; here are Laura Davies's first impressions at Filmmaker. "Despite the unusual visibility of his sumptuous Proust interpretation Time Regained (1999), even DVD representation is lagging far behind in bringing together the pieces of [Raúl] Ruiz's puzzle-in-progress, the oeuvre as single work, alluring in its vast inaccessibility. Yet two new additions to the catalogue, while hardly promising Ruiz broader recognition, serve to illuminate a few shadowy corners in his singular cinema." José Teodoro for Stop Smiling on Three Crowns of the Sailor (1982) and That Day (2003). Up-n-coming:
Online viewing tips, 8/17.Lens on Lebanon is "a grassroots documentary initiative formed in response to the Israeli bombardment," as Anthony Kaufman puts it at the Daily Reel, recommending From Beirut to... those who love us (referred to earlier) and Dead Time. Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay has more. Keith Olbermann: "The Nexus of Politics and Terror." Via Joe Leydon. Onnazuri (or Men, Women and Capitalism), a finalist for the 2006 Student Academy Awards, via no fat clips!!!. John Pilger's New Rulers of the World. Via wood s lot. At Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow finds some very funny clips from Talking to Americans. Tom Sutpen places The Town, "the only film directed in its entirety by Josef von Sternberg between 1941's The Shanghai Gesture and 1953's Anatahan,... alongside similarly artful propaganda evocations such as John Ford's Battle of Midway and William Wyler's The Memphis Belle." Twitch's Todd has found a trailer for Hong Sang-soo's Woman on the Beach. Credit sequence from Don at ScoreBaby Annex. At AICN, Merrick points to a Japanese trailer for Clint Eastwood's The Flags of Our Fathers and Red Sun, Black Sand. That's right, two films, one trailer. Jeffrey Wells comments - and finds an English translation. Lenny Bruce's Thank You Mask Man, via ticklebooth. The Royal House of Hangover. Related: Thomas Logoreci's interview. In a similar vein, the Lincoln Assassination, as interpreted by "Al Pacino" and "Christopher Walken."
Fests and events, 8/17.The Residents have issued a call for submissions to The River of Crime (see details there; you've got until September 15); and The Residents: Re-Viewed will survey their video and film work at MoMA (October 19 through 23). "The Last Movie, the exhilarating cinematic outrage that incinerated Dennis Hopper's career in 1971, might also be known as The Lost Masterpiece," declares J Hoberman in the Voice, and "the 35mm print showing for a week at Anthology Film Archives could be the only complete version in existence." Hoberman tells the film's story and notes that "coincidentally Anthology is screening [Kid Blue] Thursday as part of its Warren Oates retro." Also in the Voice: Elliott Stein previews The Huston Family: 75 Years on Film (tomorrow through September 22 at MoMA). Related: Jeremiah Kipp at the House Next Door on John Huston's performance in Chinatown: "Knowledge of Huston's filmography and private life complicates an already fascinating character." "Sound Unseen [through August 24] has been a vital part of the Twin Cities alt-culture landscape ever since entrepreneurial curator-turned-organic farmer and freelance stonemason Nate Johnson planted it here in 2000," writes Rob Nelson in the City Pages. "But I believe this is the first year that the festival of music and film has given its parties equal prominence on the bill. And this is a good thing." Also: Lindsey Thomas on the rock docs, Amy Taubin on Old Joy and Peter S Scholtes on The Monks. Eugene Hernandez previews the Chicago Underground Film Festival (through August 24) for indieWIRE; also, Brian Brooks breaks down the program for the Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films and Short Film Market (ShortsFest), set for August 24 through 30. "'We're teaching kids from at–risk communities... to express themselves in a non-formal way,' says [LIFT Project coordinator Chris] Langer. The program culminates on Monday, August 21 with a screening of the teen's creations at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater. Last summer's screening, Langer says, sold out." Sushil Cheema watches the teens work for the New York Press. Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian: "The Edinburgh International Film Festival [through August 27] got off to a dull start [Monday] night with its opening film [The Flying Scotsman]: a true-life underdog sports movie about Graeme Obree, the champion cyclist from Scotland." Meanwhile, Richard Brunton is all over the festival. Charlotte Cripps previews the Zone Horror Frightfest (August 25 through 28) for the Independent. Robert Abele for the Los Angeles Times: "The International Documentary Assn's DocuWeek returns to the ArcLight on Friday, and the selection of films this year - 12 features and four shorts - is especially strong (if mostly chilling) in the stories they tell and the issues they lay open, from the struggle to get a fair price for poverty-stricken coffee growers (Black Gold) to the efforts of fundamentalist Christians to mold young evangelists (Jesus Camp)." At Slant, Fernando F Croce previews a week's worth of Frank Tashlin movies at the Film Forum (September 1 through 7). Wiley Wiggins will be on the jury at this year's Fantastic Fest (September 21 through 28 in Austin). The Salzburg Festival and the American Friends of the Salzburg Festival are at odds over Tony Palmer's documentary, The Salzburg Festival: A Short History, reports Anthony Tommasini: "The festival has disavowed the film, partly because of what festival directors consider Mr Palmer's overemphasized and sometimes inaccurate account of the festival's intertwined relationship with the Nazis." Stephen Holt submits his Viva Pedro recommendations at Movie City News. Matt Riviera wraps the Brisbane and Melbourne International Film Festivals. Mitch Davis is the Director of International Programming for Montreal's Fantasia Film Festival and Film Threat's Jeremy Knox highly recommends the DVD collection of shorts Davis has hand-picked, Small Gauge Trauma. István Szabó will head up the jury of the 11th Pusan International Film Festival (October 12 through 20), reports the Chosun Ilbo. Online listening tip. The Ottawa International Animation Festival (September 20 through 24) is podcasting. Via Kino Kid at fps.
August 16, 2006
The Pusher Trilogy."Your first impression of this five-hour-plus underworld trilogy is that director Nicolas Winding Refn is an engineer of epic scale and structural ambition, and that the tiny kingdom of Denmark is apparently a snake pit of narcotic squalor and homicidal chaos," writes Michael Atkinson in the Voice. "But the Pusher movies play less like features than like the nastiest hit TV series HBO never made."
Critics (again)."If we don't champion our critics, who will?" asks Patrick Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times. "We need to reinvent their roles to combat the $40-million mass-hypnosis marketing that occurs every weekend a big movie opens." As Anne Thompson notes on her must-read Risky Biz Blog, Goldstein breathes new life into a dead horse (the "are critics relevant?" question) by suggesting what might be done about critics' widely perceived waning influence. It's a suggestion she "heartily endorse[s]: major news outlets should give their critics blogs and encourage them to weigh in before the official studio review dates." She then takes it another step further by explaining how "various influential movie sites like Movie City News and Hollywood Elsewhere" are already part of Hollywood's marketing cycle (David Poland responds; Jeffrey Wells is thinking about it). This, she feels, could be short-circuited by shifting the moment long-established print and broadcast media critics weigh in on a film far earlier than when they do now, "on opening day. Which admittedly now seems very late in the day. I love this idea! And it will drive the studios nuts." But will it? Updated through 8/19. Media companies know what they're facing; they've read The Long Tail. They've proven themselves to be faster on the uptake than many major newspapers and magazines. As Katrina Longworth, former Cinematical editor and now a Lead Anchor at Netscape.com, explains in an entry at her new blog, the studios rewire those cycles pretty quickly now. New Line, for example, which, with Snakes on a Plane, has produced what Matt Dentler calls "a first of its kind, a 'user-generated movie' in the age of a 'user-generated' media revolution," now has, as Karina notes, "an internet marketing division, which first came out in full force earlier this year during the promotion of Take the Lead. On the one hand, New Line were rightly commended for reaching out to teens by inviting them to create online mashups of footage and music from the film; on the other hand, eyebrows were definitely raised when their publicists started sending out invites to a 'blogger junket' - an all-expense paid trip to Los Angeles, where attendees were shown the film and given 'face time' with the stars." In short, as that vague nebula known as critical consensus spreads wider and thinner, studios are laying on the bribes wider and thicker. Above and beyond all that is an entirely different set of questions. Should every critic blog? What makes a great critic isn't necessarily what makes a great blogger, and lord knows, vice versa. Then there's the question of how many critics even want to blog. Do they want a closer relationship with their readers? Do we, the readers, want them stealing from time they usually invest in their reviews so they can tend to yet another movie blog? Don't get me wrong. If, say, Manohla Dargis were to launch a blog, that'd be the first feed I'd read each morning (and anyone who remembers the "Ask Manohla" columns for the LAT and the Cannes Journal of 2005 for the NYT will certainly understand). And there are plenty of other critics I'd love to read more often; I'd be intrigued to know what their voices sound like when they relax a little. But we should be careful what we wish for. First, because blogs won't throw a wrench into the works of the "$40-million mass-hypnosis marketing"; instead, they're only likely to feed it. And second, because, with 50 million blogs already out there - and counting - no one should be forced to add to the noise. Updates, 8/19: DK Holm's modest proposal: "I for one think that the studios should drop all critics and not screen their films for any of them. Let the critics pay and see the films the first weekend like everyone else. Ban Snider, and all the rest of us, too." In the Los Angeles Times, Carina Chocano surveys "the smoldering landscape of the critics-versus-audiences wars."
Sight & Sound. 09/06.The Edinburgh International Film Festival is off and running through August 27 and Sight & Sound spotlights ten top events while noting that the "jewel in the crown" of the fest's 60th anniversary is They Might Be Giants: Other Voices From the New American Cinema, "a fulsome program of great but now overlooked US films of the 1970s." David Thomson scans the program: "You may realise already - even if your personal sense of cinema began in 1977 with the disastrous Star Wars - that there were fascinating things coming out nearly every month in the years beforehand. I'm not sure that anyone in Edinburgh wants that many masterpieces, but among the films that have impressed the selectors are Save the Tiger (1972), Hal Ashby's The Last Detail (1973), Karel Reisz's The Gambler (1974, screenplay by [James] Toback), Monte Hellman's Cockfighter (1974) and many others including one that does stand a chance in the masterpiece game: Arthur Penn's Night Moves (1975)." Reviews:
Bruno Kirby, 1949 - 2006.Bruno Kirby, a veteran character actor known for playing the best friend in two of Billy Crystal's biggest comedies When Harry Met Sally and City Slickers, has died. He was 57. Jeremiah Marquez for the AP. [M]y favorite Kirby performance, I must admit, is one of his more obscure credits, a 1993 episode of the noirish Showtime cable series Fallen Angels. In "I'll Be Waiting," adapted by scripter C Gaby Mitchell from a short story by Raymond Chandler, he was shrewdly cast against type (by director Tom Hanks) as a seemingly stolid hotel detective who is underestimated by just about everybody... "When I was casting this role," Hanks told me years later, "I wanted someone who looked like he was a shoe salesman - but who could break your thumbs if he had to." Joe Leydon. Updated through 8/19. [I]t's his film work that most people, including myself will recall. From his appearance as one of the students in the supremely goofy and dated The Harrad Experiment in 1973 to his role as the young Clemenza opposite Robert DeNiro's young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II. [...] For me, my favorite film role of Kirby's is as Marlon Brando's nephew in the great comedy The Freshman, so in a way you can say Kirby played opposite both Vito Corleones. Edward Copeland. Update, 8/17: An appreciation from Barbara Serrano in the Los Angeles Times, where Dennis McLellan writes the paper's obit. Update, 8/19: A 1990 interview on Fresh Air.
August 15, 2006
ATTN: Wes Anderson."The muse is a fickle mistress at best, and to leave her high and dry, with just a 'lick and a promise' of the greatness of which one is capable - well, sir, it's just plain wrong. It is an Art Crime© of the first magnitude and a great sin against your talent and your Self. We just don't want to see it go down that way." And so, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker - yes, Steely Dan - offer Wes Anderson two alternative strategies aimed at a fuller realization of the filmmaker's talents. Via Coudal Partners, naturally. Update, 8/16: Fox Searchlight has picked up Anderson's next, The Darleeling Limited, note Nicole Sperling and Borys Kit in the Hollywood Reporter. Update, 8/17: Looker: "Aside from being the funniest thing I've read since Mel Gibson's apology, it's also the finest critique of Anderson's oeuvre I've seen anywhere." Update, 8/21: David Poland reads the Darjeeling screenplay.
DVDs, 8/15.The big releases this week are Criterion's splendid six-disc Eric Rohmer set and a not-quite-definitive but almost-there re-release of Apocalypse Now. DK Holm listens in on the critical reaction. Each week, there are the few self-evidently "important" DVDs released, and then below them a whole bunch of others, the films maudits of commercial entertainment: nostalgic revivals as studios ransack their catalog, actor- or other-themed packages, straight-to-video entries that no one has ever heard of, vids for kids and discs for exercise nuts, music junkies, smut hounds (sometimes all at once) and so forth. I'd be curious to know which end of the taste scale sells more, the two or three DVDs that everyone reviews, or the kid videos, exercise tapes, etc., that get ignored. The self-evidently important discs this week are led by Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now. This Paramount package is the studio's third iteration of the title, but you can't call it a triple dip. The first release was the 1979 version of the movie. The second was Apocalypse Now Redux, Coppola and Walter Murch's more surreal 2001 re-edit. Now, Paramount has paired them in Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier, but with the addition of an audio commentary track by Coppola and some deleted scenes, among other supplements. Ty Burr at Entertainment Weekly struck the mainstream note by complaining that the new set's title is "a misnomer, actually, since this two-disc set doesn't include Hearts of Darkness, the essential 1991 documentary about the filming of Coppola's surreal 1979 Vietnam War epic." At the other end of the journalistic scale is Ain't it Cool News's Moriarty, who, in his multi-DVD round-up, put AN at the top of his list: "Is there anything coming out this week that's even close to the greatness of Francis Ford Coppola's hallucinatory masterpiece? I. Think. Not." Moriarty went against conventional wisdom by adding, "I'm glad Hearts of Darkness isn't here, because that starts to bleed into this film when I watch them together. It's like they're one big movie at this point. That's why I love the option of being able to simply put on the 1979 version of the film, crank it up, and have it look better than it has ever looked in any home video format before. A marked improvement from the original release of the theatrical cut and a step up from the remastered Redux a few years later." "Is this what Vietnam was truly like?," wonders Jon Danziger of Digitally Obsessed. "Almost certainly not, but the movie is about a whole lot more than verisimilitude, and ultimately it's a reminder that what matters is not the destination, but the journey." Danziger then reminds us yet again that the "most glaring absence is of course Hearts of Darkness, George Hickenlooper's documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now, one of the great portraits of a filmmaker at work in crisis." Preston Jones of DVD Talk gives the most thorough account of AN and of The Complete Dossier's supplemental material. "One of the most discussed, dissected and debated films of the last 25 years, Coppola's surreal, vivid meditation on the Vietnam War is as impenetrable and masterful in 2006 as it was upon its initial release, when Coppola infamously declared his film not merely about Vietnam, but, in fact, the very celluloid incarnation of that conflict." Jones then goes on to note the differences between the extras then and now, noting that "this third release, The Complete Dossier, does not include the compound destruction footage, the theatrical trailer or the re-release trailer, so Apocalypse Now completists will want to hang onto those first two DVDs. But what is here? Plenty, all of which was lovingly assembled by producer Kim Aubry - the main objective of the supplemental material seems to be two-fold: demystify one of Hollywood's most legendarily mythic creations and also rightfully trumpet Apocalypse Now as a cinematic technological watershed, with its dense, complicated sound design and reliance upon multi-channel stereo sound." Jones is the only reviewer who attempts to explain why Hearts of Darkness isn't on the set, quoting Aubry, who appears to have written Jones after his review first appeared. Writes Aubry, "The story with inclusion of Hearts is complex and legal. When the rights situation gets straightened out (with that wonderful film), I am sure it will become available again as it must. It just couldn't happen in this time window for our set." Warner Home Video has issued a big box of Jimmy Stewart movies, of which DVD Journal chooses to review only a couple, one of them being Billy Wilder's The Spirit of St Louis. Writer JJB concludes that "neither the film nor [Stewart's] performance rank with, say, Vertigo or It's a Wonderful Life, though Stewart "turned out to be a durable choice - the sort of Hollywood icon who could portray a historical legend.... The somber proceedings leading up to the flight itself, with its nail-biting takeoff, are offset by Wilder's mischievous sense of humor in other scenes, particularly with Lindbergh's flashbacks to his early days in aviation." Glenn Erickson, the DVD Savant, also likes the film's "convincing period atmosphere and a true sense of the spirit of aviation," and links it to other Wilder films: "Lindbergh undergoes a personal ordeal not unlike Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend," and observes that Wilder recreates a scene he originally wrote for Hold Back the Dawn. Finally, "the telltale mirror from The Apartment makes an early appearance when an anonymous young woman in the crowd of well-wishers (Patricia Smith) offers it to Lindbergh just before he leaves." Meanwhile, Moriarty corrects himself. "I said there was nothing even close to Apocalypse Now on the list this week. Of course, I forgot about... this exceptional collection from Criterion, six films from Eric Rohmer. This is as big a deal as when they released all the Antoine Doinel films together last year. These films aren't directly related like they're sequels to one another, but what Rohmer does is explore variations on themes and ideas over the course of many different films." The DVD Journal chose to review two films from the box, Claire's Knee and Love in the Afternoon. Regarding Claire, DSH notes that, "In other episodes of the Moral Tales, the idea of infidelity is a fine line for the characters to walk, but perhaps because the subject matter here revolves around younger women and older men, the sexuality is staid, and the tone is lightly comic. Nonetheless, as an insight into imaginary relationships, it's unparalleled." On Love, DSH finds "the details are what sets it apart. Frederic is much like his other brethren in the 'moral' cycle - they all have a wandering eye, but are mostly moral people.... But when the film (and the cycle) concludes, it's on a brilliant emotional note that suggests that the moment this character re-enters the reality of his life, he has no choice but to be true to his character." Jeff Ulmer of Digitally Obsessed gives a detailed summary of Rohmer's career and of the six films and the set's supplementary material, concluding that "fans should be thrilled with the wealth of supplements found in this set, which do a superb job of illuminating the many talents of this exquisite filmmaker." Finally, Dave Kehr at the New York Times passed on Apocalypse Now to savor the Rohmer Films, harking back to a time 40 years ago when an "austere little comedy about a Roman Catholic intellectual (Jean-Louis Trintignant) struggling with the temptation represented by a sensual divorcée (Françoise Fabian) became a success on the art-house circuit. That film, My Night at Maud's, seemed to represent something new: an unabashedly conversational cinema, in which the action was largely confined to a single, snowbound apartment. The camera work had a classical invisibility, and the dialogue emerged in fully wrought phrases, impeccably enunciated by stage-trained actors who seemed never to have heard of the mumblings of the Method." Of the set as a whole, Kehr asserts that "the movies themselves, of course, remain as seductive as ever: elegant minuets of mind and matter, spirit and body, love and sex, in which language itself, by the end of the series, carries an erotic charge."
Interview. David Zucker."You could argue that David Zucker is one of the most influential movie comedy directors of the past few decades," writes Sean Axmaker, introducing his interview with the writer, director and producer who, often in collaboration with his brother, Jerry Zucker, and Jim Abrahams, has ensured the movies keep a sense of humor about themselves, from the 1980 landmark comedy Airplane! to the latest to hit DVD, Scary Movie 4.
August 14, 2006
Fests and shorts.The Reeler: "The folks at the Film Society of Lincoln Center just kicked a note under the door naming Volver, Pan's Labyrinth and Reds as the Centerpiece, Closing Night and Retrospective selections of the 44th New York Film Festival starting Sept 29." That means we'll be seeing quite a lot of cogitation on these films and their makers this coming season (you might want to catch the recent updates to the "Viva Pedro" entry now), but why wait. Volver is "not unlike Talk to Her" in that it's "an exceptionally well-crafted work that never threatens to fabulously and spontaneously combust before our eyes like his transgressive masterpiece Law of Desire," writes Ed Gonzalez. Still: "This is clearly the performance of [Penélope] Cruz's young career." Also, Black Gold is "a startling story of a continent excluded from world trade and wanting to wean itself off foreign aid." And Rocky Road to Dublin: "The sardonic eloquence of the film may be a kindred spirit of the French New Wave but it also shares roots with the electric humanism of Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon's films, which similarly evinced the capacity of art to document life." Also in Slant:
Early fall previews.Entertainment Weekly's already got a big, browsable fall preview. Via Movie City News. Richard Corliss and Richard Schickel write up Time's. Via Anne Thompson, David Katz's piece for Esquire on Daniel Craig: "Spend some time in London and you realize that the new James Bond is debated here not as a simple casting choice but as a matter of national pride." "Borat is unsettling not because his opinions are outlandish but because he reveals how many ordinary people share them," writes Naomi Alderman in the Guardian in advance of the November 3 release of Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Jeffrey Wells wants to know, "Hey, how come Toronto Star critic Peter Howell didn't include The History Boys among his top 12 fall films? Does he know something?"
Hitchcock.Yesterday was Alfred Hitchcock's birthday; he would have been 107. As it happens, the last two "summertime" entries are, among other things, appreciations of films by Hitchcock: Dennis Cozzalio on Notorious and Michael Guillen on Vertigo. The two titles pop up quite a few times in answers to Anne Thompson's "Hitchcock birthday quiz." She posted her ten questions just today, but already, just look at those terrific answers. "Do you think he may have seen a little bit of himself in you?" That's one of the questions Joe Leydon asked Anthony Perkins back in 1985. Later in the interview, Perkins remarks, "Actually, it's an honor to be associated with a movie that has lasted and gone on through a generation, and is still able to quicken the pulse." Earlier: "Hitch." Online listening tip. Tom Sutpen introduces "The Hitchcock/Truffaut Tapes #10" at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger...: "[T]he recording bears every sign of a man trying very hard to restrain himself as his ego tries to digest what is to it an undigestible morsel. And what better way to push it through than finding in the moment occasion to bring forth... God help us, but it was inevitable... The MacGuffen." Update: Tim Lucas. Update, 8/16: At Zoom In Online, Annie Frisbie's answers for Anne Thompson's quiz.
Spike Lee's Requiem."Spike Lee is not the warmest guy in the world," decides Ariel Levy in a long profile for New York. "He cares about people, but it's unclear how much he likes them." The piece delves into aspects of Lee's life we rarely glimpse: his wealth, his wife, the "Blackistocracy." And then, finally, a visit to New Orleans: It's all so insane, so bad, so unsubtle. Black people waiting on their roofs in the liquefying heat for rescue that never comes. Children drowning in the streets. Old women left to rot on the steps of the Convention Center while the director of FEMA announces on national television that he's somehow unaware of the 25,000 people waiting there for help. Condi at Ferragamo. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police showing up on horseback in New Orleans before the National Guard. Massive crowds herded into the Superdome and left for days on end without food or water or sewage. And the fat, rich, white mother of the president saying - actually saying! - "This is working very well for them." It's all so over-the-top. It's like a Spike Lee movie. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts premieres on HBO on August 21 and 22, and Allison Samuels has a backgrounder in Newsweek: "In Lee's devastating film, [Phyllis] LeBlanc is a frequent, and frequently hilarious, presence, a fuming Greek chorus of one who still can't believe that, for nearly a week, her country left her and her neighbors for dead." Earlier: Felicia R Lee in the New York Times. Update, 8/15: Larry Blumenfeld in the Voice: "Lee's film deftly tells a story on a personal level: We grasp the human cost of this crisis in ways simply not conveyed through headlines and soundbites. And beyond analysis of government inaction and faulty levee policy, Lee forcefully reminds us that the culture of New Orleans - the music and food, patois and attitude we celebrate as our nation's soul - is imperiled." Updates, 8/17: For the Times-Picayune, Michelle Kruppa reports on last night's screening in New Orleans. More from the AP's Stacey Plaisance and, in the Houston Chronicle, Eric Harrison reports on how Lee is responding to some critics claiming "that the movie focuses too much on black people in the Ninth Ward and not enough on other ethnic groups in other parts of the city." Belinda Acosta in the Austin Chronicle: "I'm not sure if this could be called the definitive documentary on the subject, but if not, it comes very close.... [T]he film - like the disaster itself - becomes a bellwether, confirming what had been suspected but not fully visible: that an underclass is alive and not so well in the US. In New Orleans, at least, it seems that underclass is kicking." Robert Abele in the LA Weekly: "[I]f you think the first two hours - the hurricane, the floods, the convention center, the absent FEMA - is the disturbing part, brace yourself for the stories in the last two hours: dispersed families, stagnant rebuilding efforts, people finding the dead bodies of their loved ones in houses that were carelessly marked by search teams as having no corpses, the special hell of dealing with insurance companies, etc." Updates, 8/20: Cynthia Joyce was at the screening in New Orleans and evocatively conjures the scene for Salon. As for the film, it's "a sort of Cliffs Notes to Hurricane Katrina, Volume 1, and though the subject is dense, the conclusions drawn are as simple and straightforward as Kanye West's 'George Bush doesn't like black people' comment (which also gets full treatment here): Louisiana needs to stop being an oil colony for the rest of the country. And, oh yeah - somebody ought to go to jail over this." Joe Leydon in Variety: "Spike Lee's extraordinary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts renders the worst natural disaster in US history... as a perfect storm of catastrophic weather, human error, socioeconomic inequity and bureaucratic dysfunction.... [T]he real 'stars' of the documentary are the locals who witnessed, reported and/or endured the devastation." And at his movingpictureblog, he adds, "In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I am a New Orleans native. I should also add that if I have offended anyone with my remarks about the Bush Administration's response to the devastation of New Orleans - well, as Edward R Murrow once said in a completely different context, I'm not the least bit sorry." Updates, 8/21: Nicholas Kulish: "There are two Spike Lees. One is an artist capable of directing exceptional films, the other a public personality who suffers from flare-ups of foot-in-mouth disease and a fondness for conspiracy theories. Both sides of Mr Lee's personality express themselves in his new HBO documentary about Hurricane Katrina and the destruction of New Orleans, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts. As a result it is by turns powerful and frustrating." Also in the NYT, Stephen Holden: "What breaks your heart is the film’s accumulated firsthand stories of New Orleans residents who lost everything in the flood after Hurricane Katrina, and the dismaying conclusion that a year after the disaster, the broken city has been largely abandoned to fend for itself." "[T]he film has a warmth and affection that leavens the many heartbreaking images of dead, bloated bodies and immense destruction," writes Patrick Goldstein, who talks with Lee for the Los Angeles Times. John Rogers: "And keep telling yourself, when a loose nuke goes off in your city, that the government response will be much faster. It will." For Matt Zoller Seitz, writing in the Star-Ledger, it's "one of Lee's greatest and most deeply personal works." A "monument of oral history," writes Troy Patterson in Slate. "Without fanfare, Lee orchestrates a multivoiced blues for the common man." Updates, 8/22: "[A]n essential new chapter in the unfinished story of the struggle for civil rights in America," writes Sheerly Avni at Alternet and Truthdig: "Lee's team devotes a great deal of time and craft to the argument that the devastation resulted from an event in political history - not an event in weather." Alex P Kellogg makes a vital point in the American Prospect: [E]ven given the film's critique of the Bush administration, blame can be placed at everyone's feet. Though Lee's film doesn't address this, the nation's Democratic leadership stood on the sidelines and said little other than inconsequential niceties. What's more, Governor Blanco, a Democrat, appeared hardly up to the task throughout the ordeal. Where were Al Gore and John Kerry, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton when it was clearly time to criticize the Bush administration's response? By the official count, over 1,300 people lost their lives. More than 500,000 people were displaced. An entire city was nearly wiped off the face of the earth. Yet Lee seems to have heard more outrage from the Reverend Al Sharpton and Harry Belafonte than I've ever heard from prominent Democrats. And we wonder why race is invoked when the birthplace of jazz and the hometown of Mardi Gras felt abandoned by the nation. Updates, 8/23: Edward Copeland on Acts I and II and on Acts III and IV. A "moving, righteously upsetting, heart-afire experience," writes Tim Lucas.
Locarno. Awards.Andrea Staka's debut feature, Das Fräulein (Cineuropa special), won the Golden Leopard at the Locarno International Film Festival this weekend. As Thomas Stephens reports for swissinfo, it was a dramatic fest both on screen and off. Two members of the jury stepped down: Barbara Albert, who co-wrote Das Fräulein with Staka "and hadn't considered it necessary to alert anyone to the fact," and Emmanuelle Devos, who "stood down citing personal reasons." The capper: "Frédéric Maire, the festival's artistic director, was watching the [awards] ceremony from his hospital bed, having collapsed on stage in front of 8,000 people on Friday night." Other awards:
A summertime question for Michael Guillen.As you may have guessed, I asked a lot more questions that I ever hoped to see replies to a few weeks ago. Again, I'm overwhelmed and deeply grateful for the responses. I leave it to Michael Guillen, whose Evening Class has, in a phenomenally short period of time, become an outstanding font of views, reviews and interviews, to wrap the series and, for GreenCine, to bring it all back home: "What film, more than any other, says, 'San Francisco'?"
August 13, 2006
A summertime question for Dennis Cozzalio.Dennis Cozzalio has considered changing the name of his blog, Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, but last I saw (and I hope it's true), he's sticking with it after all. An advocate for the drive-in experience, Dennis is also seeped in Hollywood lore, so I started pondering a question... "Actually, it's hard to think of one as good as any of the 30 in Professor Julius Kelp's Endless Summer Chemistry Test [and since contacting him a couple of weeks ago, Dennis has offered up his own set of answers]. But speaking of chemistry. When you think onscreen chemistry, you think of..." The first person I think of is Cary Grant, the leading man of all leading men, one to whose standard I'd bet even Paul Giamatti aspires deep in some dark, secret recess of his character actor's heart. But "chemistry" implies two or more elements mixed together to create a unique or unexpected force - Grant may be the leading man, but without a leading lady to play off of, to become intermingled with, and with whom to create a memorable and distinct aura, he might as well just be plain old Archie Leach. Grant's effortless charm, physical grace (and knack for slapstick) and cool sophistication (which often, in romantic films, masked a much warmer, often smoldering intensity) allowed him to match up well with an awe-inspiring variety of Hollywood ingénues and veteran leading ladies, and they were often never quite as beguiling, or at least were beguiling in a completely different sense, apart from what happened when they shared the screen with Grant. Can any other leading man in Hollywood boast of sharing so much time and space with so many unique and talented actresses to such memorable effect? (Of course, the notable exception in Grant's chemistry set was Mae West, who hired him twice - for She Done Him Wrong and I'm No Angel. The actors were not well-matched, either in temperament, acting style or presence - on screen, West steamrolled Grant, who had yet to make a major impression in Hollywood, as if he were just another stock player, and the actors' disregard for each other once the cameras stopped rolling was no secret.) But of all the women who exchanged loving glances, warm kisses, hearty laughter and profound pain with Cary Grant on the silver screen, of all the women who could be said to have had unusual chemistry with him, none merged with his palette of responses as an actor, or into our collective memories as viewers, with more sensuousness, grace and radiant sexuality (as well as an accompanying insecurity about the ends to which that sexuality might play) than Ingrid Bergman in Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious. This is probably the Hitchcock film I hold in the highest regard, without so much as a moment's reservation concerning its greatness, largely because it seems to me it is the Hitchcock film that is as dependent on the depth and sensitivity and subtlety of the actor's responses - not only to the melodrama of the material, but to each other scene by scene - as it is to the director's undeniable personality and technical mastery. I can think of no sexier sequence in Hitchcock's filmography - indeed, it's one of the most erotic in all of cinema - than that celebrated kiss, which lasts several minutes, between Grant and Bergman as their mutual attraction is finally given full rein. But that rein is to be pulled back soon enough as Bergman begins employment by the agency for whom Grant works as a mole in order to insinuate herself into the life of suspected Nazi agent Claude Rains - she must rekindle an old relationship and eventually marry him. As soon as the assignment commences, Bergman finds herself navigating an intense struggle to keep her connection with Grant - and her sense of her self - while attempting to preserve the elaborate and dangerous charade under which she lives. All the while, through suspicious, and then outright hateful, glances and outbursts whenever they clandestinely meet, Grant comes to think she's enjoying the ruse and that she's little more than the whore he once suspected her of being, and perhaps even a Nazi sympathizer herself. (Her father was once intimately connected with Rains in just such a capacity.) The path from mutual suspicion and disdain to tentative regard to erotic attraction to subjugated romantic impulses to muffled, and soon enflamed, hatred that these two take through the course of the film, culminating in Bergman's ever-weakening physical state and the horror that dawns on Grant of her true situation and the degree to which her life truly is in danger, is an astonishing one to follow. It plays out in an electrifying feature-length procession of stolen glances, malicious stares and desperate moments of failed emotional expression that fire between these two like a very personal thunder and lightning storm. And it's a testament to the palpable connection these two actors, through two brilliantly drawn characters, make with each other that even in the time spent apart on screen, time which takes up a major portion of the middle of the film, we're still haunted by the passion that remains unresolved between them. It is the silent drama that plays out whenever we gaze into either Grant's or Bergman's eyes when they are separated and slip into a reverie of what it was that the one saw in the other, and make that connection between the two of them for ourselves, even as we wonder with increasing desperation if they'll ever actually gaze into each other's eyes again. It's a haunting, haunted emotional empathy that Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman engender in Notorious, and it is the gold standard of what I think of when I think of chemistry in the movies.
August 12, 2006
Weekend shorts."[F]or three sweltering days, in a stuffy gymnasium and stifling heat, kids who live in and around a Nashville housing project had one of the hottest new directors in Hollywood all to themselves. And while he might have been the shot-caller on set, the words, the performances and the story were theirs." For the Nashville Scene, Jim Ridley watches Craig Brewer work them out. "Portland director Gus Van Sant has almost everything he needs to make his next movie: a plot, a setting, a hip subculture," writes the Oregonian's Shawn Levy in a piece on Paranoid Park. "Now all he needs is the actors. And he's asking Portland to provide them." Meanwhile, Mindsplinters Films is looking for zombies. "[M]y story and my journey started like any other Ethiopian Jew. I started to walk from my village with my family to the capital city of Ethiopia. Our journey lasted one year." Michael Guillen has "one of the most engaging conversations I have had with anyone anywhere" with actor Sirak M Sabahat. "[E]normous, derelict ships, whose twisted metal parts and oxidized colors feel like a sci-fi director's conception of life on another planet," are the setting of both the allegorical narrative Iron Island and a segment of Michael Glawogger's Workingman's Death, notes Nathan Hogan at Facets Features.' "Who would win: Ripley or Columbo?" asks Mark Fisher. "The question is not an idle one, since there is a perfect structural symmetry between the two characters: Ripley, the leisure elite fake, who outwits all the cops who suspect him but who can prove nothing; and Columbo, the implacable hunter/haunter of the wealthy and privileged, who uses the very arrogance of his prey to trap them." "[T]hroughout his life, Hitchcock never tired of manipulating our ambivalent responses to violent death," writes Joe Leydon. "In doing so, he shamelessly pandered to our baser instincts, implicating us in the machinations of his characters by exploiting our voyeuristic impulses. "Still, diehard Hitchcockians (and I count myself among that number) will want to set aside several hours this weekend to watch the Encore Mystery cable network during its ongoing marathon of Hitchcock classics, timed to celebrate the master's Aug 13, 1899 birth date." At the Whine Colored Sea, Ben previews Billy Ray's Breach: "If you've seen Ray's previous film, Shattered Glass, you have an idea of what you're in for: a competently shot, impeccably edited, precisely written, perfectly acted piece of entertainment." Also, a key to Mulholland Drive. Kathy Fennessy talks with Brothers of the Head co-director Keith Fulton. Also at the Siffblog, David Jeffers isn't particularly impressed with Hollywoodland. Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay found news some time back of Joe Swanberg's latest project: "In Hannah Takes the Stairs, he's cast folks like Mark Duplass, Andrew Bujalski, Todd Rohal, and Ry Russo-Young who are known for their own indie films (The Puffy Chair, Mutual Appreciation, The Guatemalan Handshake, and Orphans, respectively) as actors. The film has a MySpace site and on it's own website, Swanberg is running a production journal/photo blog." Where you'll see they've just wrapped today. Darcy Paquet at Koreanfilm.org: "For me, The Host will not displace Memories of Murder as my favorite Korean film of this decade. Every scene of the latter work is golden, and the more you watch it, the more it resonates as a haunting, brilliantly-shaped composition. The Host is more of a spectacle film, a sensual burst of inspiration that picks us up and carries us along on a harrowing ride (this must be seen in the theater if at all possible). It is perhaps unfair to expect Bong [Joon-ho] to come up aces two films in a row; what is surprising is that he came so close to doing just that." Also, Duncan Mitchel reviews Shin Sang-ok's 1964 film Red Muffler. "Fresh off the massive success of the Infernal Affairs trilogy and his adaptation of popular anime Initial D director Andrew Lau was arguably one of the hottest properties in all of Asia and poised to make a major impact worldwide. His chosen vehicle to make that move was Daisy, an action romance with an all star Korean cast and set - somewhat inexplicably - in Amsterdam." And according to Todd at Twitch, it just doesn't work. "Whereas a few years ago [Chinese filmmakers] might have compared censorship to a stone in a river and film to the water that finds its way around it, today they will say that much has changed within the censorship authority, and that the two sides have started to talk." For signandsight, Toby Axelrod translates Susanne Messmer's piece for die taz.
Weekend fests and events.Jean-Pierre Gorin has joined the Telluride Film Festival (September 1 through 4) as the 33rd Guest Director, a perfect opportunity to point to Matthew Clayfield's recent entries on Gorin: 1 and 2. Telluride's Special Medallion this year goes to David Thomson, weekly columnist for the Independent and author of The New Biographical Dictionary of Film and The Whole Equation. And the fest will dedicate Telluride's latest handcrafted theater to producer, director, distributor and fest advisory council member Pierre Rissient. "Among the many films competing for attention at next month's Toronto International Film Festival [September 7 through 16] will be one whose subject, the charismatic salsa singer Héctor Lavoe, all but demanded big screen treatment." Lewis Beale talks with Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez about El Cantante (The Singer) for the New York Times. More on the Toronto lineup from Etan Vlessing in the Hollywood Reporter. One spot to watch continually for news is tiffreviews.com. Shane Danielson, departing artistic director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival (Monday through August 27), has a fine piece in the London Times in which he recalls the highs and lows of five years on the job. Matt Riviera has been posting dispatches from the Melbourne International Film Festival, which wraps tomorrow. "Shocked by the arrogance and brutality of the current US-backed Israeli assault on Lebanon, myself and Gabe Klinger have hammered out a screening of two films by Lebanese filmmakers whose work is of great interest." Andy Rector has details and dates, and if you're in Chicago next weekend, it's something you might consider. Lance Weiler, co-director of The Last Broadcast, is taking his new one, Head Trauma, on the road. It'll be screening in 15 cities between August 18 and September 22. Check that terrific site for dates and locations. The Machinima Festival, slated for November 4 and 5, is accepting submissions. Via Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing. Ten curators and 150 artists from around the world will take part in Too Much Freedom?, the 10th biennial festival of film, video and experimental new media taking placing throughout LA and on the Web: Freewaves. Rhizome is ten and will be celebrating throughout the fall. Tribeca and the Rome Film Festival have announced a partnership. Cinematical's Martha Fischer has details.
Conversations With Other Women.AO Scott presents the set-up in the New York Times: "In Conversations With Other Women, his debut feature, Hans Canosa splits the screen in two as he observes a man and a woman - their names are never supplied - talking themselves and each other into a one-night stand." Ultimately, he decides, "the film is too studied, too forward in its conceits to be entirely satisfying - but [Aaron] Eckhart and [Helena] Bonham Carter approach their roles with intelligence and conviction." But Michelle Devereaux, writing in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, finds the film "surprisingly effective," adding, "if you want to pick sides - jerky corn-fed schmo or beautifully bruised cynical sophisticate - place your bets on Bonham Carter." For the LA Weekly's Ella Taylor, "though the movie is occasionally too clever-talky for its own good, it has the authentic ring of an elegy for love lost when one partner grows up while the other runs in place." Gary Dretzka scopes the film's chances and talks with Eckhart and Canosa: "Turns out, the story of Canosa's personal journey from a missionary posting in Singapore, to New York and Hollywood, is every bit as fascinating as any picture released in the months since the last limousine carrying a freeloading celebrity rolled out of Park City, Utah. It would make a terrific movie... that is, if anyone would believe it." Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times: "It's sad and funny, satisfying and frustrating, totally familiar. What their sly teasing and gentle baiting reveals, aside from an arch understanding of the self-imposed but still seemingly unpassable romantic roadblocks we throw in our path as we age, is a yearning for a time before accumulated experience completely obscures the view." "Ordinarily, I might be disinclined to like a film that relies on no less than three gimmicks to carry its weight, but when gimmicks actually work as well as they do in Conversations With Other Women, I'll cut it some slack," writes Cinematical's Kim Voynar. It's "smart, sexy," writes Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle, so "enjoy it, because this is not a trend that's about to catch on." indieWIRE sends its questions to Canosa.
Candice Rialson, 1952 - 2006.Ted Cogswell was among the first within virtual reach to spot the news at the Code Red DVD Blog: "Candice Rialson's been dead for over four months and no one in Hollywood seemed to notice." Word spread fast and Dennis Cozzalio began gathering what info he could find; Ted Cogswell stayed in contact with Code Red to get the full story. Tim Lucas gathered remembrances from Allan Arkush and Joe Dante, who directed Rialson in Hollywood Boulevard. Dante: "Though out of the public zeitgeist for over two decades, it should be remembered that Candice was a very hot personality in the drive-in movie world.... [S]he set many an ozoner heart aflutter."
Tideland."Tideland, with its gleeful nastiness, recovers a little of the spirit of the earlier TV genius," writes Peter Bradshaw, who has not been a fan of the post-Python work: "For the first time in ages, Terry Gilliam has shown he can deliver the snakebite." Also in the Guardian: Stuart Jeffries talks with Gilliam, and from the same page you can download Gilliam's chat with Mitch Cullin, author of the novel on which the film is based. Philip French profiles Jeff Bridges. After calling the critical faculties of the BBC's David Mattin into question, Brendon Connelly takes Nina Caplan to task for her review for This is London. Connelly reports that Gilliam's next film will be The Owl in Daylight, "blending a biopic of Philip K Dick with an adaptation of his last, unfinished work." As it happens, Philip Purser-Hallard has a piece in the Guardian on the writer's later visions. More talk with Gilliam from Wendy Ide in the London Times (plus a brief review) and SF Said in the Telegraph, where Tim Robey writes, "Gilliam's ghoulish provocations and long passages of inertia can make the whole thing feel like an overextended asylum visit: however unique and strange the surroundings, eventually you just want to leave." Update, 8/16: Mark Sinker in Sight & Sound.
A summertime question for Greg Allen.Greg Allen's greg.org is one of the original "Bloggish" links in that right-hand column over there, and I still look forward to each and every entry. True, Greg's got a lot more on his mind than movies these days, but I've always shared his interests and enjoyed his finds (such as this one). I couldn't resist asking... The artist. But the catch is actually calling yourself an artist. I find that if they're any good, artists usually call themselves painters or say they "make videos" or whatever. The prerogative is theirs, but they know when to exercise it. For films especially, though, declaring your own work art is too often an attempt to inoculate it against criticism or to rationalize some kind of known shortcoming.
August 11, 2006
NCTATNY. Chick Flicks.The first thing that'll hit you about Not Coming to a Theater Near You's new feature, "Chick Flicks," is the exquisite design. Not only does it look scrumptious, it actually works. Click the corner of the cover and the book opens. Click a title and the pages breeze past and stop at the article you've requested. Wonderful work, so I'd hate for you to access the following pages via the links below - unless you're in a hurry, in which case, you have to promise to return to the virtual book and browse through it over the weekend. Introducing the feature, Beth Gilligan and Jenny Jediny naturally trace the history of the term "chick flick" and where its "derogatory connotation" came from, listing exemplary films along the way, and then noting that "more contemporary chick flicks remain largely ignored. This is not an uncommon trend with the 'women's picture'; an inordinate number of films now lauded within cinematic study and criticism, particularly those within feminist and queer studies, only found recognition through such revisionist study and new generations of filmgoers." This feature aims, then, to push things along, to reveal in recent candidates a "substance beneath an often romantic, sentimental surface." "Single city girl doesn't want a relationship with a stable and sturdy man, she wants to wander the streets free, in couture outfits, only to realize she really does want him." Jediny cracks open the myth at the center of Breakfast at Tiffany's. Also:
"It had to come out."The Wikipedia entry on Günter Grass has already been amended. Can you spot the change in this excerpt? "Grass was born in the Free City of Danzig on October 16, 1927. His parents had a grocery store in Danzig-Langfuhr (now Gdansk-Wrzeszcz). Grass attended the Danzig Gymnasium Conradinum. He was drafted into the Arbeitsdienst and later the Waffen SS in 1944 and was wounded in 1945 and sent to an American POW camp." If you did a double-take at "Waffen SS," you have a good eye. In an interview with Frank Schirrmacher and Hubert Spiegel for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature (1999) confesses, "This has been weighing on me. My silence all these years is among the reasons I've written this book," referring to a memoir to appear in just a few weeks, Beim Häuten der Zwiebel (Skinning the Onion). In the interview, he explains that he didn't volunteer for Waffen SS, but was drafted into after he'd volunteered for the Marines, "which was just as crazy." Updates, 8/12: Anne Padieu for the AFP, the BBC and Lee Glendinning in the Guardian. Updates, 8/14: Grass is all over the feuilletons in the German papers and signandsight translates the gist of several arguments - and adds mention of weekend activities recognizing the 50th anniversary of Bertolt Brecht's death (watched a televised broadcast from the Brecht Fest last night - what an event!). A euro | topics dossier. Updates, 8/15: "Who will Grass the man become to us, his readership? Can art redeem the man?" wonders Tom Hall; and signandsight translates Roman Bucheli commentary for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Updates, 8/16: Samuel Loewenberg in the Guardian. Liz Lopatto, blogging at the Kenyon Review, reminds us that Grass is an author, not a politician. Few authors, though, have come as close. Carter Dougherty reports in the International Herald Tribune: "Taking advantage of the ferocious controversy around Grass's admission that he was briefly a member of the Waffen SS in the waning months of the war, Grass's publisher on Wednesday released the book weeks before the planned publication date of Sept 1." Updates, 8/17: In the New York Times, Alan Riding gathers critical and supportive voices from across Europe. Signandsight translates a clip from Volker Schlöndorff's open letter to Grass in die taz: "Someone as experienced with the media as you are, dear Günter, doesn't do such a thing by mistake, and certainly not because you underestimated the consequences or in an attempt to strategise: providing the rope as well... Once you had started to write beyond fiction, it was only a matter of time, and a question of style, until you would remove the skin, and not just of the onion. As an author you subject your own story, like your fictive heroes, to the only law that is sacred to you, that of art. And if this means that the public monument that is your lifework crumbles, it's not your fault. The monument is the victim of the same demons that have always being preying on you." Perlentaucher lays out a chronology (in German). Speaking up in defense of Grass: John Irving and Salman Rushdie. Updates, 8/19: Another euro | topics dossier. John Irving in the Guardian: "Grass remains a hero to me, both as a writer and as a moral compass; his courage, both as a writer and as a citizen of Germany, is exemplary - a courage heightened, not lessened, by his most recent revelation." "Please, no more confessions! Are there no other topics?" Signandsight translates Eva Menasse and Michael Kumpfmüller's plea in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. Updates, 8/20: "When even the most outspoken German moralist wore the uniform of murderers, one might ask whether there is a single guiltless German in this generation," writes Daniel Kehlmann. Even so, as for the early novels, "which tell of the deep corruptibility of human beings, of the coexistence of mendacity and greatness and of the infinitely complex nature of guilt, will be with us for as long as people read books." Also in the NYT, Peter Gay: "If he had come out of the Nazi closet earlier, say, in 1959 with his triumphant novel just published, people would have understood, and his own life would have been easier.... But it seems to me that he failed to come forward all these years simply because he was too ashamed. And if I am right, the affair will have a useful consequence: it will be a reminder, more than 60 years later, that his country had a great deal to be ashamed of." Updates, 8/21: John Berger in the Guardian: "The righteous moralists are proposing that Grass should renounce all the honours that his life's work has received. Their proposition only shows that, by systematically refusing to acknowledge his experience, they have forgotten what honour consists of. He has not." Spiegel Online translates an excerpt from a recent television interview with Grass. And another dossier at euro | topics. Updates, 8/22: Lawrence Van Gelder reports in the NYT on reactions from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Nobel laureate José Saramago. In Slate, Christopher Hitchens lays out the case against Grass with a somewhat surprisingly reasonable level of sobriety - until he drops the mask at the end and slips back to his usual growling and slurring. Elizabeth Kiem in the Morning News: "For anyone to be shocked to learn that Grass was once less controlled in his embrace of ancient calls, fabulous and taboo, is to display an ignorance of his work or of human nature or both." Update, 8/24: John Powers in the LA Weekly: "Mercifully, books take on lives of their own, so Grass' slipperiness in no way diminishes the quality of his best work; even now, I'd love to have written Dog Years or From the Diary of a Snail. Still, the Grass affair reminds us that an authorial persona is itself a fiction - the style is not necessarily the man - and it underscores the literary dangers of writers flaunting themselves as cultural monuments."
Bunny vs Thalluri.Energizer Bunny began, obviously enough, as a parody, but for the past few months, the blog's been seeing to a more serious matter. First, it should be noted that Murali K Thalluri's 2:37, which screened in the Un Certain Regard section of Cannes this year and at the Melbourne International Film Festival, is controversial enough as a film. For background on the debate over whether it might encourage or discourage teenage suicide, see Eleanor Hall's report for ABC. But the filmmaker himself is now the subject of an entirely different sort of controversy. Energizer Bunny has raised questions as to whether he has been faking reviews and exaggerating the film's generally positive reception at Cannes and, most recently, inadvertently revealing that the logic of his version of how he obtained his material in the first place doesn't seem to add up. There may be legitimate explanations behind each of these questions, but even in his efforts to provide them to Energizer Bunny, Murali K Thalluri hasn't yet come up with any that are particularly persuasive. Update, 8/17: The Bunny's gone.
Interview. Andrucha Waddington."I had a dream of the images in Woman in the Dunes and the images [producer Luiz Carlos Barreto] described. So I woke up the next day with this thing in my head and I called him and I said, 'Listen, Carlos, let's make this movie, can I come to your house now?' He said, 'Okay, come on!' And I came to his house. He cancelled all the things he had scheduled, and then we started to talk about the film. We cleaned the table and we said, 'Okay let's go.'" Andrucha Waddington not only tells Hannah Eaves about the making of his House of Sand, but also about the past, present and future of Brazilian cinema. Related: Andrew O'Hehir in Salon: "The House of Sand is without doubt the most prestigious production to emerge so far from Brazil's booming film industry, and I have to say I have mixed feelings about it.... Think Antonioni and Kurosawa, with liberal dashes of The Piano and Woman in the Dunes. Hell, there are worse things." Updated through 8/14. Rob Nelson in the Voice: "The current scarcity of art-house cinema that favors poeticism over plausibility works to the great advantage of a film that's old-fashioned even in its thematic concerns." Eric Kohn in the New York Press: "Andrucha Waddington's subtle direction creates a moving multigenerational tale of stray souls destined to wander the barren Brazilian desert in hopeless search of civilization. There is lyrical profundity in nearly every frame, conveyed with broad strokes of glittering humanity." "[S]tunningly beautiful, but it has the whiff of a vanity project for all concerned," notes the AV Club's Tasha Robinson. Update: Fernanda Montenegro and Fernanda Torres "undertake not just two performances, but a suite, the harmonies and counterpoints of which are both subtle and breathtaking," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "At first House of Sand may seem like a stark tale of survival, but a surprisingly lush and colorful romance blossoms in its bleak and gorgeous desert setting." Updates, 8/12: "As visually lush as it is existentially Beckettian, House of Sand is essentially a story of things not happening, and Áurea is a study in what happens to even a protean human will when it's chastened by larger forces," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "Heartbreaking and strange, House of Sand is as original as it is lovely." "[A]bsolutely wonderful," declares Christopher Campbell at Cinematical. Update, 8/14: Michael Guillen said he would and he did: a Q&A. "Andrucha explained again that the film was about the place these women had come to, not where they had come from. The seminal idea revolved around Áurea originally not belonging to this place, to this house of sand. By the time she accepted her destiny, she had become part of this place and there was no reason for her to leave anymore. "So that's why," Andrucha concluded, shifting to the next question."
A summertime question for David Poland.Talk about living and breathing movies. Three times a week, David Poland writes The Hot Button, tracking trends in Hollywood and Indiewood and offering rapid-fire first impressions of films most of us won't be seeing for weeks. He regularly draws flurries, sometimes storms of commentary from all over at his Hot Blog and, perhaps most vitally, oversees Movie City News, an essential source of news to be checked not just daily but several times a day and a hub for columnists and bloggers who know their stuff. Anyone who's ever read David Poland wonders what he must be like in person. Watch Lunch With David, slow things down just a tad, and there you go. Fun, relaxed, sharp. David's just posted a list: "The Ten Great Movies of Summer," so how fitting it is that I asked him, "What movie are you most looking forward to in the summer of 2007?" Anticipating next summer's movies is not for the faint of heart. I mean, it's tough to resist a stupid sequel title Life Free or Die Hard for a film to be directed by the stylish hack who will surely force the Fox marketing department to use the phrase "From the Director of Underworld and Underworld: Evolution" in ads. This could be the biggest laugher in years. Or what about the idea of Amy Adams acting against an animated Underdog? And dear God, what if Transformers does not make us all laugh until we choke on our own vomit? What will we do? Most importantly, what will Mel Gibson do when he realizes that he didn't have to be so angry at Julia Roberts because her niece Emma is starring in Nancy Drew... DRew. The movie currently scheduled for Summer 2007 that I most look forward to in a positive way is a sequel, though. The Bourne Ultimatum. Paul Greengrass is back. Tom Stoppard has joined in on the screenplay fun. Bourne is the most adult studio mega-series right now. So, I am excited. Of course, by next April, some great indie film will be scheduled for summer and I will be more excited about that. But for now, assuming that Adam Sandler and Kevin James pretending to be gay is not a sequel to Shortbus, I'll go with Bourne 3.
August 10, 2006
Half Nelson."Half Nelson is that rarest of marvels - an American fiction film that wears its political heart on its sleeve," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "[W]hat makes Half Nelson both an unusual and an exceptional American film, particularly at a time when even films about Sept 11 are professed to have no politics, is its insistence on political consciousness as a moral imperative." "Ryan Gosling, 25, is the best actor of his generation," declares Robert Cashill. "Gosling has made the most of good parts in questionable films; what he needs is for one of them to reach his level of energy and discipline. Half Nelson isn't it." "The audacity of making an inner-city drama in which the white-male authority figure is the crackhead finds its equal in Gosling's already legendary performance, a high-wire act that's gutsiest for its unconscionable charm," writes Rob Nelson in the Voice. Ultimately, the film "asks whether genuine uncertainty - the vague sense that modern life is too complicated to address or even understand - is going to cut it as the world burns." Updated through 8/14. "It's not a stretch to read it as a comment on the sorry state of the American left," proposes Dennis Lim in the NYT, and director Ryan Fleck agrees. David Edelstein in New York: "Downbeat as it is, Half Nelson is a genuinely inspirational film - a terrifically compelling character study and a tricky exploration of the links (and busted links) between the personal and the political." The Reeler hosted a screening the other night, "following which filmmakers and local heroes Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden joined the film's producers Jamie Patricof and Alex Orlovsky for an audience Q&A. Between the spirited debate on dialectics, hope vs hopelessness and teacher/student relations, we actually did get some nuts and bolts insights from the Half Nelson gang." More from Fleck at indieWIRE, where Michael Koresky leads Reverse Shot's round: "This film is not without its limitations... Yet if there are quite a few pulled punches in Half Nelson, the film remains smartly dialectical and unencumbered by the rigid formalities of the genre it's attempting to bust wide open." For the New York Press's Armond White, "Half Nelson represents the latest, post-wigger version of Norman Mailer's White Negro formulation in which hipsters project their anxieties and lusts upon figures of black deprivation." "Just when the melodrama seems ready to come to a boil, Fleck and Boden pull back the reins and resist the expected payoffs," writes Scott Tobias for the AV Club. "[T]hey've ended with a denouement that's funny, touching, and in every way earned." More from Kim Voynar at Cinematical. Earlier: Matthew Ross's interview with Fleck for Filmmaker. Updates, 8/11: Half Nelson "may be remembered as the movie that finally made Ryan Gosling the movie star he deserves to be," writes Dana Stevens in Slate, and she proceeds to sing his praises. As for the film, it "seems fully poised to become a movie we've seen a million times, The Blackboard Jungle with a dash of Stand and Deliver, or Dead Poets Society in the ghetto. But it keeps surprising us, mainly by being consistently smarter and sadder than inspirational-teacher movies usually let themselves be." NPR's Michele Norris talks with Fleck. Updates, 8/12: Marcy Dermansky calls Half Nelson "a startling and unexpectedly moving surprise," Cinematical's Kim Voynar takes note of Kevin Smith's rave and Anthony Kaufman wonders how the film will stand up to competition from Little Miss Sunshine. Updates, 8/14: David Poland: "Beautifully made... beautifully acted... and in spite of many, many people wanting to see it otherwise, false to its very core." "I must profess a slight bewilderment at the widespread critical praise Half Nelson is currently enjoying," writes Travis Mackenzie Hoover for Reverse Shot, calling it "just a bit of low-stakes liberal hand-wringing."
Lunacy.Jan Svankmajer is, of course, a "master" of animation; Salon's Andrew O'Hehir has always recognized that much, but: "I haven't been a huge fan of Svankmajer's forays into live-action feature films. Or not until now... Lunacy which blends the plots of a couple of Edgar Allan Poe stories with the philosophy of the Marquis de Sade, is a satirical masterpiece, as rich, dark and sinful as the chocolate cake several characters eat during a blasphemous and memorable sex scene." It is, overall, a "morbid, extravagant and hilarious film" and "a signature work of these terrible times." Manohla Dargis wouldn't go quite that far. She writes in the New York Times: "Svankmajer's provocations skew toward the intellectual and the shivery rather than the pop and the visceral, and at his best, he doesn't just get under your skin, but also deep in your head, too. Here, unfortunately, he does neither." "Lunacy may be an ideological argument, but this cavorting, copulating chorus of mindless meat puppets provides the full Svankmajer flavor - as well as a comic metaphor for human existence itself," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. Slant's Ed Gonzalez: "The film seems designed to jolt the seen-it-all-type and could be considered Svankmajer's The Phantom of Liberty, a milky way of episodic narrative and razor-sharp humor, though the encroaching madness of its main character and the way it doubles back on itself brings to mind a stream of unconsciousness from a greater work by another modern-day surrealist: Mulholland Drive." The IFC Blog's Alison Willmore finds it "neither frightening nor particularly lurid. It's merely reassuringly Svankmajeresque." The AV Club's Tasha Robinson gives it a "B+". Update, 8/11: Steve Erickson for Gay City News: "Sade was a hero to the original surrealists, but Svankmajer seems a little more ambivalent. It's noteworthy that his libertinism has its limits - women are always objects, whether tied up against their will in orgies or used as human canvases at the asylum, in his games, rather than equal participants. In Salò, Pasolini went further, linking Sade's fantasies of torture to the Nazi concentration camps. For Svankmajer, though, the worst thing about the Marquis' ethos is the reactionary response it provoked." Update, 8/12: Cinematical's Ryan Stewart calls it " a fascinating, confusing and ultimately head-spinning mash-up." Update, 8/17: Eric Kohn in the New York Press: "Svankmajer's artistry conjures entertainment value from the more unsettling aspects of human woes. Viewing the film walks a fine line between exhilaration and humiliation, but overall it's a blast." Update, 8/19: Mark Olsen in the Los Angeles Times: "For all its visual surprises and visceral shocks, Lunacy is still the kind of film that is easier to admire than it is to actually like." Update, 8/20: Michael Guillen: "Frankly, I found it disturbing enough that tongues and eyes and slabs of meat would be wiggling around, sloshing through mud, and fornicating, but what I found most disturbing was the film's final scene of pieces of meat trapped under supermarket shrinkwrap (a pun, perhaps, on psychology itself?). As if to say all of us have become packaged goods or, at the least, that surrealism commodified has lost its freedom." Update, 8/23: Earlier: Leo Goldsmith at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.
Docs and their makers."61 years ago this week, the United States became the first and (to this day) only nation ever to use a nuclear weapon." At the Huffington Post, Why We Fight director Eugene Jarecki examines the ways Truman's decision "haunts the crisis in Lebanon" and "the ongoing crisis in Iraq, which, though temporarily knocked off the front page by other events, continues to deepen." Matt Zoller Seitz highly recommends Anytown, USA: "It's a dazzlingly accomplished and complex movie: a straightforward record of a particular time and place, a frank but affectionate portrait of small-town life, a satire on American hypocrisy, a bruising drama about ambition and ethics, a mostly wry but sometimes ruthless comedy, and - most surprisingly - a dialectical drama about the tension between the crude iconography and childish hostility that invariably erupts during tight political races, and the deep human desires that make low tactics irresistible." Click the title and watch that trailer. David Byrne on Jesus Camp: "I can see future suicide bombers for Jesus - the next step will be learning to fly planes into buildings.... When one sees religion perverted - in the US or in Israel, Pakistan, Afghanistan or India, one wonders if the spiritual seeds, planted by visionaries and enlightened prophets like Jesus, Mohammed, Marx and others, are just too volatile for large societies to deal with." Related: Brian Newman on the dust-up between the film's distributor, Magnolia, and Michael Moore's Traverse City Film Festival: "[I]t strikes me as another example of what's best for the distributor not always being what's best for the filmmaker, the film, the support system (festivals) or the audience." Meantime, Moore's got other things on his mind: "Let the resounding defeat of Senator Joe Lieberman send a cold shiver down the spine of every Democrat who supported the invasion of Iraq and who continues to support, in any way, this senseless, immoral, unwinnable war." "'Women are as immoral as men,' says Aury in American filmmaker Pola Rapaport's fascinating documentary Écrivain d'O (Writer of O), newly released on DVD. 'But,' she continues, her eyes twinkling with girlish mischief, 'no one has noticed.'" A review in Bookforum by Toni Bentley. For the New York Times, Felicia R Lee talks with Spike Lee about his four-hour Hurricane Katrina documentary, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts: "Like him or not, Mr Lee, 49, is an artist many people feel they know. People, black and white, approached him and the Levees crew here, he said, imploring: 'Tell the story. Tell the story.' 'It becomes like an obligation we have,' he said." Gary Hustwit is making the first full-length feature film about a font. Helvetica, via Typographica and Jason Kottke. The Corporation, argues Nick Davis, is "an emblem of leftist cinema at its most honest and effective. Indeed, The Corporation does a magisterial job of raising all sorts of urgent alarms about the traumatic effects of modern capitalism, without privileging reductive cant over concise, illustrated argumentation, and without preaching only to the pre-converted." John McElwee at Greenbriar Picture Shows: "Hollywood: The Dream Factory is included as an extra on the Meet Me In St Louis DVD, and it's well worth the price of the disc just to get this documentary." Anthony Kaufman points to Kirby Dick's petition to the MPAA. Online viewing tip. Jim's got a few for you at Listology.
My Country, My Country."[Laura] Poitras, an experienced progressive doc-maker, has made the definitive nonfiction film about the occupation, and as a counterpoint against acres of corporate-spun non-news, it is indispensable," declares Michael Atkinson in the Voice. Salon's Andrew O'Hehir agrees that it's "probably the best documentary so far to depict the Iraqi side of the current conflict." Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times: "My Country, My Country may appear to be strictly observational, but its images and structure inevitably question the legitimacy of democracy at gunpoint, leaving us with the feeling that this particular mission is far from accomplished." Updated through 8/12. More from Cinematical's Ryan Stewart and Eric Kohn in the New York Press. indieWIRE has sent its questions to Poitras; and an online listening tip: Poitras was a recent guest on the Leonard Lopate Show. Somewhat related: In the NYT Book Review, Noah Feldman reviews Fouad Ajami's The Foreigner's Gift: The Americans, the Arabs and the Iraqis in Iraq (first chapter) and Peter W Galbraith's The End of Iraq: How American Imcompetence Created a War Without End (first chapter). Update, 8/12: "Intimate, nuanced, complex and devastating," writes the Nation's Stuart Klawans. "Witness the film's continual sense of discovery, its endless unfolding of emotional complications and Poitras's near-miraculous conjuring of a whole story out of six months' chaos. What you see is a remarkable filmmaking achievement - and an indispensable record of one man's war."
Quinceañera."Quinceañera, a portrait of a Mexican-American family in Los Angeles, is as smart and warmhearted an exploration of an upwardly mobile immigrant culture as American independent cinema has produced," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. Slate's Dana Stevens: "It's a story that could easily have given way to victimist clichés (the pregnant teen, the gay pariah, the poor, oppressed Mexican-American community). But instead it allows every character the chance to surprise us." Chuck Wilson had a terrific idea realized for the LA Weekly last week: "It struck me as a most unusual occurrence: two movies - Quinceañera and Brothers of the Head - opening on the same day, each of them directed by two men working together as a team, men who happen to be partners in life as well. I got to wondering what would happen if each couple were to watch the other's film and then meet to talk as a group about the perils and joys of being a duo, on the set and off. And so it came to pass..." Updated through 8/12. Also, Ella Taylor notes that Quinceañera is "intended as a tribute to 1960s English kitchen-sink drama, particularly to Tony Richardson's 1961 A Taste of Honey, whose plot it freely plunders. But [directors Richard] Glatzer and [Wash] Westmoreland... are congenitally incapable of the gray suffering that defines that doggedly realist era of British cinema. Besides, they have a delightful weakness for showy happy endings." "That such an utterly bland movie can inspire enthusiasm from jurors and audiences gets at a deeper malaise in independent cinema." Elbert Ventura opens Reverse Shot's round at indieWIRE. "Well-meaning and earnest, Quinceañera is almost a parody of the literal-minded Sundance movie: it's just like something Hollywood would make, except with lower expectations, fewer dollars and no stars." Still, indieWIRE sent its questions along to Glatzer and Westmoreland. Michael Guillen has a far more personal talk with directors Glatzer and Westmoreland and he talks with stars Emily Rios and Jesse Garcia as well. "Quinceañera takes the mantle from 2005's Junebug as the hugely satisfying little late-summer movie amid so many bigger ones worth skipping," notes Dennis Harvey in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. But Salon's Andrew O'Hehir counters, "Quinceañera is exactly the kind of unambitious, faintly didactic indie film with redeeming social values - I'm sure I won't be the first to call it 'My Big Fat Mexican Birthday Party' - that audiences flock to and critics grumble about." Gary Dretzka chides the Los Angeles Times for all but hiding its review. It's short, too, but here's Kevin Thomas. Update, 8/12: The Nation's Stuart Klawans finds it "lovely and lovable." The "great thing about familiar tales"? "Paint on the local color, and they become a fresh pleasure."
The Night Listener."An atmospheric Hitchcockian thriller (more Vertigo than Psycho), featuring some of [Robin] Williams's subtlest work as an actor, The Night Listener is supposedly inspired by something that actually happened to its screenwriter, Armistead Maupin, author of the addictive Tales of the City stories and the novel on which this movie is based," writes Jim Emerson at RogerEbert.com. "I don't know how much of it is true, but the movie makes this twisted tale believable, moment by moment." "The intentions behind The Night Listener are solid," concedes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. But: "It strives to explore the way we feel betrayed and confused when we form a connection with people that's based on deception - and the way we often yearn to hang onto the connection even after we know the truth. But on the way to exploring those kinds of subtleties, The Night Listener takes the most thuddingly obvious routes." Steve Erickson in Gay City News: "The Night Listener raises questions about identity and trust fairly bluntly, but it taps into a potent sense that the world is populated with sock puppets. In order to go further, it would need to be hewn closer to the thriller's form or completely abandon it. As it stands, the threat of violence that pops up late in the film is ludicrous." It's a "well-meaning, flat-footed screen adaptation," writes AO Scott in the New York Times, "shrink[ing] a rich, strange story to the dimensions of an anecdote." "[A]t only eighty-two minutes long, the film zips along - and keeps you guessing," finds Marcy Dermansky. Nick Schager at Slant: "Patrick Stettner's mystery fails to replicate the exploitative tawdriness of [JT] Leroy's phony work or compensate for this deficiency with rational suspense." indieWIRE interviews Stettner, Peter Howell interviews Robin Williams for the Toronto Star (via Movie City News) and David Fellerath talks with Maupin, who's originally from Raleigh NC, for the Independent Weekly. Meanwhile, good on Williams for catching a problem and nipping it in the bud. So to speak. Related online listening: Toni Colette and director Patrick Stettner are guests on the Leonard Lopate Show.
The Descent."Neil Marshall's The Descent is by many degrees the best wide-release film I've seen in a theater all summer," writes Nick Davis before delving into its many filmic allusions. "Finally, a scary movie with teeth, not just blood and entrails - a savage and gripping piece of work that jangles your nerves without leaving your brain hanging," writes Jim Emerson at RogerEbert.com. "And so, for a change, you emerge feeling energized and exhilarated rather than enervated, or merely queasy." Joe Bowman calls it "truly the most exhilarating horror film that's come out this decade." "The Descent is a smart, almost flawlessly crafted genre piece, the kind of summer confection nearly all journalists dig," admits Paul Schrodt at the Stranger Song. "But something foul is afoot in The Descent, which I expected most critics to gloss over." It is, he writes, "Horror without a heart." For Gay City News, Steve Erickson notes, "The fact that the cast is all-female suggests feminist intent but The Descent is no ode to female bonding. At its most ambitious, it leans towards a blood-soaked exploration of women's power dynamics and resentments." "If The Descent boils down to little more than the survival of the fittest (and nastiest), a Darwinian soap opera for the Just Do It generation, it is also indisputably and pleasurably nerve-jangling," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog: "As odd as it sounds, a pervasive sense of economy is the strongest aspect of the film. Made on a relatively lean budget of around $6.5 million, with no big names stars and no swing for flashy special effects, The Descent gets by on sheer filmmaking craft." Raves from the Hollywood Bitchslapers: muwhobbit, Rob Gonsalves, Jason Whyte and Peter Sobczynski. Cheryl Eddy talks with Neil Marshall for the San Francisco Bay Guardian; so does Jennifer Merin, for the New York Press; and indieWIRE. Michael Guillen talks with Saskia Mulder, who plays Rebecca, "the 'safety girl' of the film's ensemble of women."
Fests and events, 8/10.First, a quick note: Manhattan, Kansas sees its New York premiere tonight at the Walter Reade. The San Francisco International Festival of Short Films opens today and runs through Saturday. In the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Johnny Ray Huston recommends Samantha Reynolds's Back to Life: "There are no Norman Bates types in this doc, just bereaved pet owners, artists dealing with their lot in life, and businesspeople doing their job - a job that just happens to involve sawing off the legs and heads of dead pets to make molds, a task that Reynolds herself joins in on with a grimace." At SF360, Robert Avila notes that the SF Underground Short Film Festival celebrates its fifth edition on Saturday, August 19, and writes, "it's worth asking how such festivals see themselves fitting into the lay of the land in a city burgeoning with film fests." "Few high-powered legacies are as alien to us as the rarely screened fantasy cinema of the Soviet kingdom, with its ambitious-but-chintzy visual trickery and folkloric-yet-ideological stories," writes Michael Atkinson, previewing From the Tsars to the Stars: A Journey Through Russian Fantastik Cinema (tomorrow through August 24) for the Voice. Movie City News has the latest update on features to be screened at the Toronto International Film Festival (September 7 through 16). Alison Willmore's got helpful links at the IFC Blog; Darren Hughes has developed a system for selecting which films he wants to see which, he admits himself, is "Impossibly, Even Scarily, Geeky." IndieWIRE has opened its special section. Anthony Kaufman: "At this fall's festivals, a tantalizing collection of new auteur cinema hits screens, and while most studio specialty divisions have largely left foreign-language films for dead, some of us are still excited. To help sift through the hundreds of new films on display, here is a sampling of 14 far-flung fest premieres that indieWIRE will be tracking." Also at iW, Brian Brooks previews the Sarajevo Film Festival (August 18 through 26) and the Venice Film Festival (August 30 through September 9); and Thom Powers looks back on the Traverse City Film Festival. Rhode Island International Film Festival is currently celebrating its tenth anniversary; it runs through the weekend. Also ongoing: The Portobello Film Festival (through August 22). The Edinburgh International Film Festival opens next Monday and runs through August 27; in the Independent, Victoria Durham previews one of the films to be screened, The Killing of John Lennon. John Hurt will head up the jury, reports the Guardian. "The award-winning Israeli film director Yoav Shamir tells me he is considering withdrawing, following pressure from organisers to stay away," reports Oliver Duff in the Independent. Via Christopher Campbell at Cinematical. And the Guardian again: "The Last King of Scotland, a bizarre and brutal account of the reign of the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, will open the 50th London film festival on October 18." More from the BBC. Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers will open the 19th Tokyo International Film Festival (October 21 through 29) and Ken Ichikawa's Murder of the Inugami Clan will close it. The New York Korean Film Festival (August 30 through September 3) is looking for volunteers. Definitely of note on the calendar Pioneer Theater in NYC: Joe Swanberg's LOL (August 23 through 29) and Sujewa Ekanayake's Date Number One on August 31. Brian Darr rounds up tips galore for those in the San Francisco Bay Area. Elizabeth Mixson for RES: "From nightfall on Saturday, July 22nd to the following Monday evening, the Animation Block Party Summerfest brought together animators, fans and fun lovers as it showcased some of the world's best animated shorts and hosted concerts and wild after-parties in its hometown of Brooklyn, NY." Also, Kate Schmier previews ZeroOne San Jose (through August 13). Related: SF360's Susan Gerhard offers "0 ZeroOne-related reasons to find your way to San Jose." More from Jori Finkel in the New York Times. Cinema Chic, an exhibition of movie posters highlighting film and fashion, runs at Posterati in NYC from August 23 through October 25. "Join Design Within Reach, in conjunction with the Eames Foundation and Herman Miller for the Home®, as we celebrate the Eameses' film legacy. We'll be screening seven films at Studios across the country." The Eames Film Festival, via Michael Sippey. Global Lens 2006 showcases films in the interest of promoting "cross-cultural understanding through the medium of cinema," as the Global Film Initiative puts it. The program will be touching down throughout the Bay Area in September and Michael Guillen previews one of the eight features, Li Shaohong's Sheng si jie (Stolen Life). In the LA Weekly, Ella Taylor looks back on the Karlovy Vary Film Festival. Online listening tip. Joan Allen and Jennifer Reeves discuss NYC's "Now that's HIP! film series on the Leonard Lopate Show.
THR. Indies."For independent film producers and distributors, the future never has looked more expansive - nor the distant horizon more hazy," writes Anne Thompson, opening a special section in the Hollywood Reporter. "Even as many companies and filmmakers experiment with ways to navigate the digital future, the reality of the present can be downright harsh." How harsh? Stephen Galloway reports on "a remarkable 16-year journey to bring the story of famed children's author Beatrix Potter to the screen - a trek that has involved financiers as far-flung as Japan, Los Angeles and the United Kingdom." Chris Noonan's Miss Potter, with Renée Zellweger will finally make it to screens on December 29. Galloway also has background on how The Black Dahlia (new posters), Southland Tales and Stranger Than Fiction (do watch that trailer; Pirandello goes mainstream) got their budgets cobbled together. Harsh, yes, but at the same time, writes Paula Parisi, "The film industry is experiencing an unprecedented influx of fresh capital, a result of hedge funds and other private equity sources as well as institutional investors staking claims in Hollywood." And Nicole Sperling sees "a new way of thinking about exhibiting art house fare domestically" among distributors. "After indie releases such as Brokeback Mountain and March of the Penguins outgrossed such high-profile studio films as The Interpreter and Memoirs of a Geisha last year, industry insiders began to realize that so-called specialty films can have serious mainstream appeal." "Despite the squabbles between Wagner/Cuban and IFC, both insist that their day-and-date programs are not going away anytime soon," reports Scott Tobias. Also, how "the Netflix phenomenon has been a great equalizer, not only in expanding the reach of indie films beyond a handful of major cities but in allowing the buzz to finally catch up." Rebecca Ascher-Walsh reports on how indie distributors are using the Internet to reach their target audiences - who fast-forward through TV ads and don't read the papers. Kevin Cassidy wraps the section with a preview of "some of the fall season's most important indie cinema showcases," with notes on the back story, lineup, juries and buzz on Venice (August 30 through September 9), Telluride (September 1 through 4), Deauville (September 1 through 10), Toronto (September 7 through 16), San Sebastian (September 21 through 30), New York (September 29 through October 15) and AFI (November 2 through 12).
A summertime question for Matthew Clayfield.Filmmaker, writer/blogger, thinker (and who knows, maybe budding activist) Matthew Clayfield has often addressed information overload, its impact and how we may be coping with it, voluntarily or involuntarily, and, in his "Week in Review" series at his Esoteric Rabbit Blog shows us just what he's up against. My question: "What is the one piece you've read so far this year that you'd whole-heartedly recommend to a non-cinephile?"
Henri Langlois."François Truffaut called him 'the best film programmer on Earth.' Jean-Luc Godard wrote: 'Langlois has written a non-stop film called La Cinémathèque française.' He was a pioneer of film preservation and a godfather of the French New Wave. And for lovers of classic and silent cinema the world over, he is something of a madcap saint." As Henri Langlois: Phantom of the Cinémathèque comes out on DVD, Sean Axmaker looks back on the legacy of the man AO Scott has called "one of the most important figures in the history of film and therefore in the history of 20th-century art."
August 9, 2006
The Bridesmaid."The Bridesmaid certainly presents a looser, more relaxed Mr Chabrol, in both intellectual and formal terms, than do midcareer masterworks like Les Biches and later successes like La Cérémonie," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, where Terrence Rafferty profiles the director, calling him "a master of free-floating anxiety... Mr Chabrol has suffered, in a sense, from the sort of anxiety of identity that he has so often visited on the nervous middle-class people in his films. He has a reputation, a position: the world knows who he is, and what a movie with the Claude Chabrol brand should be. He isn't always so sure." Salon's Andrew O'Hehir finds The Bridesmaid to be "a prickly, twisted, mean-spirited, borderline crazy and highly seductive picture." Updated through 8/14. For Daniel Kasman, though, it "successfully walks the line between inspiring eroticism and thrills from its situation and prodding snickers out its audience... the film remains entrenched in its own low-keyness and seems to have little desire to be anything other than successfully amusing." Meanwhile, for signandsight, Toby Axelrod translates Katja Nicodemus's piece on Chabrol and Isabelle Huppert for Die Zeit. Update, 8/11: "[I]n a Chabrol film, and notably in The Bridesmaid, conversations almost never reach a comfortable plateau," writes the San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle. "There's always something hanging over, some veiled hostility, some subtly expressed disdain. The suggestion of trouble is there, and then it evaporates, to become part of the gathering cloud hanging over the characters." Update, 8/12: For the Nation's Stuart Klawans, it's "arguably a slight and anecdotal film by Claude Chabrol, but it comes all the same from the old master's hand." Update, 8/14: "Going to a new Chabrol film these days is like sitting down with an old friend who will tell you another one of his stories," writes Stanley Kauffmann for the New Republic. "The Bridesmaid ranks high in the Chabrol roster."
World Trade Center."A celebration of authority, God and President Bush, World Trade Center doesn't feel like an Oliver Stone movie," writes Anthony Kaufman at Alternet. "If conservatives were worried that Stone, the director of anti-establishment touchstones Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July and JFK, would turn this 9/11 movie into a platform for personal politics, he has proved them resoundingly wrong. Instead, Stone delivers the Bush base a jingoistic, All-American all-you-can-eat buffet on a silver platter." But for AO Scott, writing in the New York Times, "feeling transcends politics, and the film's astonishingly faithful re-creation of the emotional reality of the day produces a curious kind of nostalgia." Higher up in the review: "[T]he point of the movie is not so much to construct a visual replica as to immerse you, once again, in shock, terror, rage and sorrow. And also in the solidarity and concern - the love - that were part of 9/11." "The key to converting disaster into entertainment is uplift," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "You may not be convinced by the suggestions of divine intervention - Stone doesn't seem to have been - but then World Trade Center obeys a more crucial show business commandment. By focusing on two of the 20 people pulled alive from the pile that crushed some 2,700, the movie employs the Schindler's List strategy: Spectators can invest their emotions in the handful of individuals miraculously chosen to survive the disaster rather than the overwhelming anonymous multitude who perished." Updated through 8/16, and do note the must-read by Jonathan Rosenbaum. It's a point critics are zooming in on, but they aren't always agreeing. "When Stone's movie is at its best, it simply ignores the temptation to say everything about 9/11, instead keeping its focus tightly trained on the two domestic dramas at its center," writes Dana Stevens in Slate. "It's when Stone tries to get all world-historical on us that the movie stumbles." But writing in New York, David Edelstein is "disturbed" to see a "sudden shift in the movie's scale... A true story of courage and survival, yes. But viewing the destruction of the World Trade Center - in a film called World Trade Center - through this kind of prism represents a distinctly Hollywood brand of tunnel vision." "Dealing with the event directly is impossible; it's like staring at the sun," insists Salon's Stephanie Zacharek, still infuriated by United 93 and not at all convinced that this one's necessary, either. "It is a disaster movie and a feel-good inspirational movie - both based on true stories - and that is why I am of two minds about it." Jim Emerson explains at RogerEbert.com. Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times: "The problem is not so much that World Trade Center is an attempt to make a feel-good movie about a ghastly situation, it's that the result feels forced, manufactured and largely - but not entirely - unconvincing." Ryan Stewart at Cinematical: "The screenplay for World Trade Center was obviously a maudlin affair, saved by Stone's natural directing talents, so there's a question as to why he wanted to save it." The film has drawn "9/11 Truth seekers" out into the open, a phenomenon Ed Halter explores in a cover story for the Voice: In the half-decade since 2001, as a loose congeries of varied political fringe groups and conspiracy hounds melded with a newly radicalized crop of Bush-burnt Americans to form a growing network of like-minded skeptics, the movement has fostered a robust filmmaking subculture of its own.... And the audience is out there - more than you might think. An oft quoted May 2006 Zogby poll found that 42 percent of Americans believed that "there has been a cover-up" about 9/11 on the part of the government and the 9/11 Commission. For Movie City News, Ray Pride talks with Stone: "People say, why don't you do an Iraq story? Well, it would be a dramatist's answer to say, let me see what's happening and what will happen through time. And see if it is a Trojan War like Vietnam was, or not." The Oregonian's Shawn Levy also has a long talk with Stone. In the Independent, David Usborne recounts the ways marketers on this one have shown their savvy - conservatives have been won over - and the ways they've been caught by surprise. Somewhat related: Dexter Filkins's rave review in the NYT of Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (first chapter). Updates, 8/10: Paul Cullum has a long conversation with Stone for the LA Weekly's cover package; Ella Taylor turns in the excellent review: "Stone may be the bluntest instrument in Hollywood's arsenal, but watching his new film about the collapse of the Twin Towers, I found myself nostalgic for his chutzpah.... World Trade Center is just another ritual rehearsal, and, like all endlessly repeated images of apocalypse - and I include the vastly superior, terrifyingly realistic United 93 - however respectfully brought off, it threatens to return as pornography." "[O]ne of the most plodding disaster flicks ever made," declares Stephen Beachy in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "Turning historical events into heartwarming allegories is a problem generally, because it creates meaning at the expense of complexity; it's also a problem specifically, because America didn't actually pass through hell on Sept. 11 but settled in and began vigorously exporting hell." Cheryl Eddy isn't quite as hard on the film: "By focusing so intently on just the McLoughlins and the Jimenos... the film leaves the door open for countless Sept 11-related movies to come. It's just a question of whether future filmmakers will hew to Greengrass's example and go raw or create movies like Stone's World Trade Center: a bit overcooked." "It's as if doing a 9/11 project gave [Stone] license for cheap moments," remarks the Keith Phipps at the AV Club. "It's mawkish, corny and brutally effective. I liked it more than I feel comfortable admitting," confesses Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix: "In his quest to make an apolitical movie, Stone played right into the hands of the people he once despised." More, plus Paul Babin's Oliver Stone file. "The movie's first 30 minutes are so tautly, expressively shaped that they remind you what a terrific craftsman Stone is," writes Godfrey Cheshire in the Independent Weekly. "And then, quite literally, the roof caves in." Well, Armond White likes it. After bashing United 93, he offers the ultimate Armond White accolade: "As film fiction, World Trade Center offers an interpretation of history. So it must operate just as Spielberg's War of the Worlds did - turning real-life experience into symbol and metaphor. This is the proof of Stone's intelligence and artistry." Also in the New York Press, Jennifer Merin talks with Stone. Annie Wagner in the Stranger: "Oliver Stone's movie (written by Andrea Berloff) is exactly what everyone was terrified United 93 was going to be. It's crass, lazy - and worse - it represents a distinctly evangelical form of pro-American fervor." "Whatever the filmmakers' reasons, they missed one of the more remarkable aspects of this rescue story," writes Rebecca Liss, who first told Jimeno and McLaughlin's story in a piece she produced for 60 Minutes II in October 2001. Also in Slate, Steve Coll, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, discusses The Looming Tower with author Lawrence Wright. Filmbrain: "Though I'm willing to admit to a heightened subjectivity when it comes to any film about September 11, Stone's film is little more than an overly sentimental cliché-laden bit of Hollywood manipulation. Waking up this morning to hear about a planned attack of US-bound airplanes only strengthens my belief that World Trade Center is exactly the film we don't need right now." Robert Keser at Bright Lights After Dark: "The 21st century's Pearl Harbor continues to ripple out circles of catastrophe, but instead of a grown-up inquiry into the harsh, dark post-9/11 reality, Stone has produced a celebration that buries the tragedy's meaning and disturbing legacy much as Hollywood initially employed digital trickery to erase the twin towers from the Manhattan skyline." "I find it fascinating that the positive reviews and the negative reviews are saying essentially the same things," notes Jim Emerson at Scanners, adding that "it's not as easy as you'd think to distinguish the favorable notices from the unfavorable ones." Slant's Nick Schager gives the film three out of four stars, praises Stone's "subtle artistry" and notes that WTC finds him "deftly balancing director-for-hire genre responsibilities with his own distinctive auteurist impulses." "You'd have be a statue not to be moved by all of this," admits Christopher Kelly in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "But that doesn't make it any less manipulative or cheap." For Cinematical's James Rocchi, it's "a silver-lined story of salvation that comes wrapped in a cloud of induced amnesia to block rational thought." "On the whole, the movie works on the level it operates," decides Jim at Twitch. Mike Russell: "Despite its rough and/or maudlin patches, it does honor the very real heroism and suffering of these rescue workers, building to a simple observation by McLoughlin at film's end: 'I saw a lot of good that day.' It's never too soon to point that out." Updates, 8/11: Aaron Hillis for Premiere: "Underscored by the fragility of a plinking piano and well-timed flourishes to uplift, this heroic heartstring-tugger is still frequently and unexpectedly affecting, so much that it's able to hide its true face as a glorified movie-of-the-week." "Why reprise this story without the hindsight of Afghanistan, Iraq, Madrid and London?" asks Desson Thomson. "One of the only allusions to the post-9/11 world is a Marine's passing comment that we should avenge ourselves - which feels oddly ironic, given our failure to capture Osama bin Laden." Also in the Washington Post: Ann Hornaday profiles Stone and Ellen McCarthy meets Maria Bello. "I've always seen Stone as an authoritarian demagogue, and World Trade Center hasn't changed my mind," writes Jonathan Rosenbaum in a must-read review for the Chicago Reader. Not only does Rosenbaum swiftly and expertly dissect Stone's filmography, he quotes at length from a bone-chilling piece for the National Review by Kathryn Jean Lopez and notes that "the blinkered worldview [WTC] promotes only encourages the worst instincts of people like Kathryn Jean Lopez - insularity and xenophobia - even as they congratulate themselves for what they call Americans' essential generosity of spirit." Meanwhile, fair warning from Alessandra Stanley in the NYT: "Over the next four weeks the only way to avoid seeing images of United Airlines Flight 175 plough into the south tower or office workers running through the streets of Manhattan coated in plaster, dust and blood is to turn off the television." The San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle: "[N]othing [Stone] does can cover up the film's single but overarching weakness: The personal story he uses to portray the larger event is limited in scope and impact." Updates, 8/12: "[L]et this liberal film critic state that I would happily applaud a good film about heroic action against Islamo-fascists," declares Sudhir Muralidhar in the American Prospect. But: "Oliver Stone has taken an inspiring, true story of heroic rescue and turned it into a plodding, unfocused film that aims to jerk tears but fails even to engage viewers." At the WSWS, David Walsh explains why he believes the film is "artistically crude and politically dishonest." Updates, 8/14: David Denby in the New Yorker: "Stone bulls his way into our emotions with his usual force but with greater clarity, sanity, and measure than in the past, and he is better at violent spectacle and at capturing the stages of dying than any other director. This square movie, at its best, is very powerful." "What If 9/11 Never Happened?" John Heilemann offers a "counterhistory" in New York. Eugene Hernandez: "While many have criticized the director for making a movie about September 11th with a happy ending, it was in fact rather refreshing to find a compelling story of survival amidst the tragedy and terror." Chuck Tryon (who later adds an update agreeing with the Anthony Kaufman review that launches this entry): "I remain convinced that the best films 'about' September 11 are those films such as Spike Lee's 25th Hour and John Touhey's September 12th that deal with its aftermath, with our attempts to live in the world after the attacks instead of obsessively revisiting and reliving the events of that horrible day." Andy Bowers introduces Slate's "Spoiler Special" in which "Dana Stevens and Bryan Curtis discuss what happened to Stone's politics, the intriguing character of the Marine who helped in the rescue, and much more." "[Q]uintessential reassurance cinema," finds Robert Cashill. "World Trade Center is William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives, brought up to date by 60 years, and condensed to a single day." "In our hearts, it was a Frank Capra type of movie." Patrick Kennelly recalls this quote from Stone and writes, "But unlike Capra's greatest work, it skims over most of the harder issues while teetering on the brink of fantastical wish-fulfillment. While World Trade Center may be the most rousing, value-driven patriotic film created post 9/11, it is one that is uniquely thin and dull, two of the last adjectives one would ever attach to a Stone film." Updates, 8/16: Andrew Sarris: "World Trade Center is an unusually strenuous and taxing exercise in summer entertainment, and I would not recommend it at all were it not for the exquisite performances of the four principals, and the sincerity and conviction with which Mr. Stone has directed them." Also in the New York Observer, Mitchell L Moss: What makes World Trade Center such a powerful film is the way in which it captures both the beauty of New York before the attack, the horror of Ground Zero and the selflessness of rescue workers, who fought horrendous conditions and long odds to save those trapped in the rubble." And Charles Taylor reviews The Looming Tower.
Avant followup.How's that for an oxymoron? At any rate, one week after the Avant-Garde Blog-A-Thon, a few loosely related items for those still in the mood. What Experimental Cinema, found via filmtagebuch, is about is clear enough, but there's more than immediately hits the eye. There are three sections: the main site, where anyone can read and where registered users can post news and reviews; same rules go for discussions on the board and the blogs. So far, most of the news is in English and most of the blogs are in Spanish, since the site's created by Spain-based Marcos Ortega. "I used to think Godard was not as radical as video activists during the same period who 'went out to the people,' including them in the process of production," writes Joanne Richardson. "In hindsight, he seems more radical for having posed the questions that went to the root of the problem. Godard drew a distinction between making a political film and making film politically." Also in Art Margins, Sergei K Kapterev: "Towards a New Archaeology of Russian Cinema." "Manon de Boer records people in the act of remembering their past experiences, their own words or memories of others' words," writes Christy Lange in Frieze. "The resulting films and sound-pieces sometimes testify not to the strength of memory but rather to its flexibility." Two of the films discussed: Sylvia Kristel - Paris (yes, she of the early Emmanuelle films) and In Resonating Surfaces: "This time the narrator is Suely Rolnik, a former student of Félix Guattari and a lover of Gilles Deleuze who left her native São Paulo for Paris after being imprisoned as a dissident." Also: Catrin Lorch on recent work by Clemens von Wedemeyer. Art Daily reports on the September 26 release of Brian Eno's elaborate DVD release, 77 Million Paintings, "which sees the continued evolution of Eno's exploration into light as an artist's medium and the aesthetic possibilities of 'generative software.'"
A summertime question for Eugene Hernandez.The first time I met Eugene Hernandez, he and Brian Brooks were soaking up as many films as they could at the Berlinale before rushing off to what seemed like an endless series of festivals that immediately followed. Suffice it to say, as Editor-in-Chief of indieWIRE, Eugene sees a lot of films. So I had to ask, "What movie has surprised you most this year?"
August 8, 2006
Online viewing tips. The Daily Reel.The biggest news of late in online viewing is the launch of the Daily Reel, "a new website devoted to finding the best video work online," as Anthony Kaufman describes it at his own blog, adding that the site aims to "sift, comment and highlight - which seems to me a much more useful model than just one more myspace-youtube-video-free-for-all. Since we, as a culture, continue to drift further online, I think it's time to look at this new media format in a serious way." Scan the list of contributors and you'll see they stand a damn good chance of doing just that. Elsewhere... DVblog posts a video letter from Beirut, "made on July 21, 2006 at the studios of Beirut DC, a film and cinema collective which runs the yearly Ayam Beirut Al Cinema'iya Film Festival" and "produced in collaboration with Samidoun, a grassroots gathering of various organizations and individuals who were involved in relief and media efforts from the first day of the Israeli attack on Lebanon. It was also broadcasted at the Biennial of Arab Cinema, organized by the Arab World Institute in Paris." More: "Beirut Letters." Also, DVblog meets Jon Jost. Spike Lee's White Lines... starring a young Laurence Fishburne? The Wilhelm Scream Compilation. Via Coudal Partners. Colin Farrell and Gong Li learn how to dance for Miami Vice; watch Farrell when Michael Mann takes Gong Li for a quick spin. Thanks, Toby.
The Believer. Soderbergh.Scott Indrisek has a fun, free-wheeling interview with Steven Soderbergh in the Believer. After talking about porn and politics and before getting into dreams and why Soderbergh thought Schizopolis would be bigger than Sex, Lies and Videotape, Indrisek asks, "Are you offended by bad movies?" "It's not that I'm offended," Soderbergh replies, "it just makes me sad. And there's a difference between failures and things that are bad. I'd like to think that I've made movies that were failures, creatively and otherwise." Next question: "Which? Any you would take back?" Soderbergh: No, just ones I'd do differently. They were sincere attempts. I think Kafka was a failure. King of the Hill. The Underneath is a failure. I should have done that very differently. I've made movies since then that don't work for people - there are a lot of people that don't like Full Frontal, don't like Bubble. But I feel like I got what I was after with those films, I understood what I was trying to do. They succeeded on their own terms. But the earlier films, I just hadn't hit the next level yet. More full texts from the August issue: Jenny Davidson meets Toni Schlesinger, Pete L'Official reviews Gautam Malkani's debut novel, Londonstani, and Phyllis Fong reviews Jane Yeh's Marabou.
DVDs, 8/8.Once again, DK Holm rounds up the most interesting takes on the most interesting new releases. You'd think that assembling a weekly roundup of DVD reviews would be easy. After all, when there is an average of 30 new discs a week, and at least 50 notable websites dedicated to DVD reviews, you'd think that there would be too much to read on any given disc. Au contraire. It can be a bit of a chore just to find one review of a new disc, especially if it is from a small label, but even "big" films can be greeted with an awesome silence. If reviewed at all, a disc's publicity can be way too early or much too late. And it is not for want of publicists sending out screeners, as I know to my own shame, being several-score discs behind in my own reviews. Plus, the casually written tone of most reviews and their consumer-advocacy orientation, not to mention their tendency to be personal without being interesting, militate against the kind of in-depth analyses that most serious film students prefer. Thus, this Tuesday, the curious DVD fanatic was blessed with only two reviews of Italian film specialist NoShame's R1 release of Marcello Pagliero's Roma Citta Libera, from 1946, and never before distributed in the United States. The New York Times's David Kehr led the charge into unknown territory with his Tuesday review, finding Pagliero's post-Open City tale of unrelated strangers experiencing degrees of change and grace in the course of one night to be an interesting transitional work, one that sees the resurgence of melodrama into the neorealist project: "While this movie's locations in the depressed, underpopulated city seemed devastatingly authentic, the screenplay, by six writers including the dean of neorealism, Cesare Zavattini, was already creeping back toward the smoothly manipulative romances that were a specialty of the Italian cinema between the wars." At the same time, DVD Talk's Svet Atanasov found the film's most intriguing feature to be "the manner in which all of the main protagonists manage to remain crucial to the story. Unlike the films of Michelangelo Antonioni, Luchino Visconti, and even Alessandro Blasetti where one (very strong) character will often eclipse everyone else, in Roma Citta Libera it is rather difficult to pinpoint exactly who the most enigmatic character is. Marcello Pagliero appears to have structured his film in such a way that until the final credits roll it is virtually impossible to single out any of the main characters - they are all overpowering in their own unique way." But it's Spike Lee's Inside Man that has been greeted with abundant attention, as if it were the only film to come out today. Mark Zimmer at Digitally Obsessed was pleased to see that in general the "heist genre just never quite seems to run out of possibilities," and is happy with the supplements on the Universal disc, especially the five deleted scenes "running nearly half an hour. The bulk of these consist of additional witness interviews, which help flesh out the story and the details of the caper, covering a number of matters that might raise questions in the viewer's mind." Matt Brighton at DVD Authority found the supplements "worth the price of admission." He likes Lee's commentary track, but determines that "with the movie being 2-plus hours already, it's clear why [the 25-minutes of deleted scenes] were left out of the final cut." Still: "There's a lot going on in Inside Man, but Lee manages to make it work." JJB at DVD Journal praises Lee's versatility. "Lee appears comfortable with his budget - despite shooting quickly, he mixes Stedicam, verité, and crane cameras, uses high-contrast exposures in the interviews, and enhances a documentary flavor by encouraging a great deal of improvisation," and the writer also singles out Lee's commentary track, in which "he reveals his homages to Sidney Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon (he brought in two cast members for bit parts) and motifs borrowed from his own films." The most detailed review comes from Preston Jones at DVD Talk: "[Russell] Gewirtz's amateur screenplay - an exercise in yanking the rug from beneath viewers - coupled with Lee's seeming incapability isn't worth the energy it takes to finish off a box of Milk Duds." Nor is he happy with the yak track from the "notoriously loquacious Lee." Jones also gets super-exact about those deleted scenes and other features: "There are five deleted scenes included, playable separately or all together in anamorphic widescreen, that run for about 19 minutes (not the 'over 25 minutes!' advertised on the DVD case)." Meanwhile, "the 10-minute 'The Making of Inside Man' [featurette] is pretty routine EPK fluff and the 10-minute 'Number 4' is a fun, relaxed conversation between Lee and Washington about the four films they've collaborated on." Jones is much more fond of Rian Johnson's Brick, a "tough slice of film noir that's impeccably constructed, deliciously convoluted and one of the most original American films of thus far in 2006." For Jones, Universal's disc of Brick is "worthwhile" and a "chance to more fully appreciate what Johnson has wrought" via a "kitchen sink commentary" along with "eight deleted and extended scenes, playable separately or all together for an aggregate of 22 minutes, [featuring] introductions by Johnson, who explains that more scenes were trimmed than deleted outright." Chicks, meanwhile, dig Prison Break. The DVD Journal's Betsy Bozdech says that "when it comes to addictive, escapist television, you can't beat Prison Break," and the Fox set's supplements are pleasing, "particularly the tattoo-centric [featurette], which reveals the intricate planning process that went into creating the show's signature work of art." Holly Beeman at DVD Talk asserts that Prison Break "works for a number of reasons, but perhaps most importantly, because of the writing, much of which can be accredited to creator, executive producer, and writer Paul T Scheuring. The writers and creative staff have obviously put a great deal of thought into each and every aspect of the show, down to the last gritty detail." And Beeman too takes a fancy to "Beyond the Ink," a "16-minute featurette which takes a look at Michael Scofield's amazingly ambitious tattoo, an entity in and of itself, as well as the artist behind it, Tom Berg. It focuses on the design, the symbolism, the execution and basically all the thought that went into the creation of Michael's faux-tattoo, which takes about four to five hours of application each time. We find out that the Devil within his tattoo was actually supposed to be Jesus (something brought up in the commentaries a number of times), but had to be changed due to events which take place in Riots, Drills and the Devil (Parts 1 & 2)." At almost the same time as the release of The Descent in theaters in R1, otherwise known as America and Canada, the R2 two-disc of Neil Marshall's horror film hit the shelves in the UK. Gabriel Powers at DVD Active is skeptical: "Some British magazines have slightly over-praised this film, even calling it one of the best horror films of all time. I'm going to disagree with these exaggerated analyses, but still strongly recommend the film, especially to horror genre fans." Once past that lukewarm endorsement, Powers goes on to note that "the DVD itself is nothing earth-shattering, but presents some satisfying extras and a squeal-inducing soundtrack," with special emphasis on the deleted scenes, "all rightfully deleted for pacing purposes, with the possible exception of a few that reveal an actual sister relationship between two of the girls. With these snippets missing from the final feature, I had no idea that any of the characters were suppose to be blood related." As is well known, the ending of The Descent was altered by Lions Gate for the American market, but that should be the least of a R1 resident DVD fan's worries about the film, especially if the distributor's record remains consistent with past imports, such as its version of Lars von Trier's Dogville, so pallid in comparison with the famous two-disc Danish edition, which Noel Megahey at DVD Times called "a magnificent DVD."
A summertime question for David Lowery.When I saw the unique collaborative feature Deadroom at SXSW last year, I was intrigued, I thought about it for weeks and months, but even so, in no way did it prepare me for Some Analog Lines, a beautiful and thought-provoking meditation, a short by one of those collaborators, David Lowery. It'll be screening at the Dallas Video Festival (today through August 13), and David's made note of a few other films to be featured: James Johnston's GDMF, Joe Swanberg's LOL, Kat Candler's jumping off bridges, Frank Mosley's Holy the Sabbath and Kyle Henry's ROOM. David's Drifting: A Director's Log has been a bookmark (and then an early feed) for ages. Click here and you'll see why I asked David, "Does Kevin Smith get Star Wars?" I think he does. Notwithstanding the fact that his appreciation of the films was validated by George Lucas himself on the Episode II: Attack of the Clones commentary track, I feel that he gets the trilogy - or, indeed, the sextet - in the same way that I do, which as far as I'm concerned is as got as getting gets without getting scary. When I hear him talk about the films, I feel like I'm listening to myself (or, rather, a more vulgar version of myself). It's really rather discomfiting; that rare sort of connectivity one sometimes finds in conjunction with a person who is otherwise on an almost entirely different plane of existence. Okay, that's a bit of an overstatement. I've told more than my fair of filthy jokes in my time; I used to not know who Eric Rohmer was; I loved Chasing Amy when I was a heartsick eleventh grader. My point, though, is that I won't go out of my way to defend Kevin Smith in regards to much of anything but his getting of Star Wars. He gets it in a way that is, I think, sincere and genuine, with room for neither illusions nor apologies (unlike his own work, which I find rife with both). Smith has written at length about the films, but there was one piece in particular that I wanted to bring up here - only to discover that it's apparently no longer available online (if anyone has it or can find it, please link to it in the comments below [I remember it; it was amazing and should be archived somewhere; anyone? -dwh]). It was a transcript of a conversation that ran in Empire Online last year. The participants were Smith, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg (both of Shaun of the Dead fame), and they riffed for over an hour (and many, many unedited pages) on nothing but their love of Star Wars. It was a beautiful thing.
Interview. Wim Wenders."So the day I found out that Poisonville actually was Butte, Montana, and that everything described in [Red Harvest] came from [Dashiell Hammett's] experiences when he came to Butte as a [Pinkerton] detective in 1924, that day, I got into my car and I drove there.... [W]hat I saw blew my mind." With Don't Come Knocking now out on DVD, Calvin Souther and Jonathan Marlow talk with Wim Wenders about its setting - and much, much more. Related: Wenders has not only designed the Summer 06 issue of Zoetrope: All-Story, he's also contributed an essay: "About Butte."
August 7, 2006
MovieMaker. 63 and 64.Suddenly, two issues of MovieMaker are up: 63, a special "Future of Filmmaking" issue, and 64, the regularly scheduled Summer 06 issue. Add the online selections to the new "Hands-On-Pages," and there's a lot to catch up with. David Roos revisits the clash between Comcast and Mark Cuban which, as he puts it, put IFC and Caveh Zahedi "in the crossfire." The bottom line: "Even in Indiewood, sometimes show business is show business." Even so, "many feel indies are reaching a new pinnacle," writes David Sterritt. "Every major studio now has an indie or 'classics' branch to serve the growing number of moviegoers frustrated by the sameness of big-money tentpole pictures." But hold on; he talks with a handful of filmmakers and others in the industry who sound a series of cautionary notes. Mary Harron, for example: "It was much easier 10 years ago to work with low budgets and non-Hollywood actors." Or the Balboa Theater's Gary Meyer: "I predict that theatrical screens could shrink from about 37,000 now to less than 10,000 within the next decade. Movies with lowend budgets will be hit hardest." David Fear talks with Michel Gondry about The Science of Sleep: "The visuals are important, but without a narrative, they're just pictures." Bob Fisher looks at how Kevin Smith and Richard Kelly implemented "a digital intermediate, or DI process, whereby a conformed negative is scanned and converted to a digital file," on Clerks II and Southland Tales, respectively. Matthew Power has advice for those looking to move from MiniDV to HD and more for those in search of convincing costumes on a tiny budget. Roos and Jennifer Straus are convinced Hollywood's going green. Straus: "Finally, a Hollywood trend with some redeeming value. It seems that everywhere you look, another starlet is using her overexposure to promote an earth-friendly cause." Jason Guerrasio talks with Michael Winterbottom about shooting The Road to Guantánamo. And, in grand MM tradition, Winterbottom offers a list of "Things I've Learned as a Moviemaker." "Curtiz and Bogart. Kurosawa and Mifune. Herzog and Kinski. Scorsese and De Niro. Coraci and Sandler?" Jennifer M Wood asks Frank Coraci about working with his college bud. Coraci's "Things." Also, talks with novelist and screenwriter Matthew Waynee (Waynee's "Things") and editor Alan Oxman (about his own experience, but also about The Edit Center; Oxman's "Things"). Lily Percy talks with actor Donal Logue about The Groomsmen. Logue's "Things."
Daniel Schmid, 1941 - 2006.Swiss filmmaker Daniel Schmid, whose movies competed at the Cannes and Berlin film festivals, has died after a battle with cancer at the age of 64. The BBC. He appeared in front of the camera in a number of films, including alongside Dennis Hopper and Bruno Ganz in Der Amerikanische Freund (The American Friend). Schmid also directed documentaries, the most notable, Il Bacio di Tosca (Tosca's Kiss), about ageing opera singers who live together in a retirement home for musicians and who remember their lives and careers. Swissinfo. At the official site, you can read pieces on Schmid and his work by Amy Taubin, Barbara Scharres, Gary Indiana, Stefan Zweifel and Bernhard Giger. Via filmz.de, appreciations in German by Hanns-Georg Rodek in Die Welt, Christiane Peitz in Der Tagesspiegel and a brief report in the Frankfurter Rundschau. And in French, Judith Silberfeld for Têtu and, most interestingly, if you can read French, Pascal Villa's interview for 360° Magazine, Schmid's last, in which he talks about his work with Fassbinder. (Thanks, Doug.)
Offscreen. Vol 10, Issue 6.Neil LaBute's remake of The Wicker Man, opening September 1, will at the very least generate interest in the original. You may not have guessed, though, how much interest there already is out there. In the latest issue of Offscreen to go online, Donato Totaro reviews Constructing The Wicker Man: Film and Cultural Studies Perspectives, the first of two collections of essays to emerge from an academic conference on the film held in Glasgow in 2003. "Scholars are never one to shut the door on a subject," writes Totaro, "hence the editors conclude with the claim that the two volumes do not represent 'the final word on The Wicker Man.'" This is a book-heavy issue (one of my favorite kinds), and, in two essays, Daniel Garrett writes about five books; in the first: Charlie Chaplin: Interviews, edited by Kevin J Hayes ("a portrait of an artist, and an outline of twentieth-century film history"), the Library of America's James Agee: Film Writing and Selected Journalism ("Agee's essays on Chaplin are among Agee's finest words and works") and John Wranovics's Chaplin and Agee: The Untold Story of the Tramp, the Writer and the Lost Screenplay ("most noteworthy for chronicling the significant friendship that developed between Charlie Chaplin and James Agee after Agee's published defense of Monsieur Verdoux, and for the book's inclusion of the story-screenplay Agee wrote for Chaplin and his little tramp character about the world after nuclear devastation"). In the second, Garrett reviews George Alexander's Why We Make Movies: Black Filmmakers Talk about the Magic of Cinema - "It seems strange to describe a book as friendly but this book is" - and Michele Wallace's Dark Designs and Visual Culture, "an anthology of her commentaries that spans more than two decades [that] strikes me as a fundamental, though flawed, work of our time." You'll find more Garrett in cinetext (a longish piece on "Popular Film Art" and a review of Friends With Money). Ryan Diduck interviews Jenni Olson, "perhaps the hardest-working and most humble Lesbian in the film industry." Ok. Michael Guillen spoke with her last week as well. At any rate, Diduck also has a far gnarlier piece on handbags and luxury automobiles that begins with the premise that Marnie "is an apt subject to bisexual critical readings."
A summertime question for Filmbrain.Filmbrain is one of the few must-read bloggers I've met up with for a period any longer than the usual how-do-you-do, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Readers of Like Anna Karina's Sweater probably won't be surprised to hear from me that he's got a lot more than film on his brain, too. As it happens, the day I headed out on vacation, summertime questions already sent, answers already received, the New York Times Magazine ran John Hodgman's piece on the impact of Asian horror on Hollywood. What a fine little intro it would have made for my question: "If Hollywood's going to insist on remaking Asian films instead of distributing them, what film would you suggest they try their hand at?" As someone who has spent thousands of words railing against the Hollywood remake machine, I was initially put off by the request to suggest an Asian film that would be ripe for remake. Yet as I've learned, no amount of chest thumping is going to change matters any, so why not play along for the fun of it. What troubles me most about American remakes is the tendency to sanitize the material for the masses. Will the Oldboy remake contain the same surprise twist? Will the Americanized Battle Royale dare to venture where Fukasaku did? Seems doubtful. In that regard, as much as I'd love to see a big-budget (faithful) remake of In the Realm of the Senses starring Scarlett Johansson, it seems at best an impossibility. For the most part, remakes have been limited to high-concept product: the horror film (Ringu), the rom-com (My Sassy Girl), the action pic (Infernal Affairs), etc. What about going after a domestic drama? One that's a real gut-wrenching sternum kicker that breaks taboos and leaves you shattered - namely, Im Sang-soo's A Good Lawyer's Wife. When was the last time Hollywood delivered a powerful film centered around a crumbling marriage with devastating effects? Exactly. A philandering husband, a wife having an affair with an underage boy, a dying father, and a drunk-driving postman are but a sampling of the characters in this devastating but daring dive into domestic disintegration. It's been far too long since Hollywood gave us an adult drama with characters this rich, and with an uncompromising sense of tragedy and its consequences. I know the old saw about how audiences don't want to leave a film feeling bad, but isn't there even a hint of room for reflection or contemplation amongst all the mindless feel-good product out there? Done well, it has the potential to be huge, even though it isn't directly targeted towards the all-powerful 18-34 demographic. I see James Urbaniak and Naomi Watts in the lead roles... In an age where Crash is heralded as a dramatic masterpiece, there's no better time for something like this.
August 6, 2006
Viva Pedro.Sony Pictures Classics is re-releasing brand new prints of eight films by Pedro Almodóvar - to theaters, mind you - and they're calling the series Viva Pedro. Indeed. Consider this a sort of online browsing and viewing tip. The trailer is... okay (and here's a QuickTime version). I would have preferred to see five or six minutes of clips from the films rather than artwork floating around for a minute and a half, but if you click on "The Films," you'll see that Sony does seem to be planning to add trailers for each of them. And they are, by the way, evidently in order of their re-release: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988; to be re-released on August 11), All About My Mother (1999; 8/25), Talk to Her (2002; 9/1), Flower of My Secret (1995; 9/8), Live Flesh (1996; 9/15), Law of Desire (1987; 9/22), Matador (1986; 9/29) and Bad Education (2004; 10/6). Updated through 8/12. Volver, in the meantime, Almodóvar's latest (Cannes reviews), is slated for a November 3 release in NY and LA, opening wider in the rest of the country over the year-end holidays. But it's just opened in Germany (I hope to catch it within the next few days), and Der Spiegel translates its review. On August 25, it'll open in the UK; the Guardian's Simon Hattenstone interviews Penélope Cruz. Updates, 8/8: Richard Gibson posts a photo at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger.... There are two Pedros, argues Michael Atkinson in the Voice, and it's hardly surprising that this retrospective is cuddling up to the safe one. And, via Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog, New York's breakdown of the series into "The Okay," "The Good" and "The Superior." Updates, 8/9: Charlotte Cripps previews an Almodóvar mini-season in London for the Independent. Writing for Movie City News, Stephen Holt finds the series a blast. Updates, 8/12: Writing at Zoom In Online, Reid Rosefelt has several bones to pick with Michael Atkinson. David Gritten has a feature-length interview with Almodóvar in the Telegraph. With "Viva Pedro," Reverse Shot launches a new "Retro" series, beginning with James Crawford's take on Women on the Verge.
Reverse Shot. Take One.Past Reverse Shot symposiums have focused on a single filmmaker, but with "Take One," editors Michael Koresky and Jeff Reichert introduce a new "ongoing series of symposiums in which our writers will tackle the whole of a film through some fundamental piece of cinematic construction: an edit, musical cue, color, and so on." And they begin with: "Just one single shot - from any movie, whatever genre, whatever period." This opportunity comes once in a lifetime, yo. Taking it up:
Akin crosses a T.The police in Hamburg have opened a rather silly investigation. They're taking a close look at one of Fatih Akin's T-shirts. Yes, the shirt's got a swastika on it; but the swastika replaces the "s" in the word "Bush." So it's not a fascist statement, as Spiegel Online reports, which, of course, would be a no-no in Deutschland, but rather, an "anti-American signal."
A summertime question for Matt Dentler.SXSW is a major highlight of my year - every year. That goes for many I've met there as well. What's more, as you can see in the film programming, choice of venues, scheduling of events, Conference and Festival Producer Matt Dentler and his team know how to keep it that way. Granted, they have a lot to work with: Austin's one of America's greatest cities and in March it's damn near idyllic. My question for Matt: "'As we say, the only thing wrong with Austin is that it's surrounded by Texas,' Richard Linklater recently told Salon. Agree? Disagree?" I've made a habit lately of saying something along the lines of, "The day I move out of Austin, is the day I move out of Texas." It's a fairly childish and uninformed statement, but I keep saying it. I love Texas, I've lived here all my life and don't regret that fact for one minute. But, I can honestly say that when I visit other, bigger cities in this state (Houston, where I was born, and Dallas), I cannot wait to get back home. But I am proud to be a Texan. I think we have a rich, deep and vibrant culture that exists throughout this state. I mean, let's not forget that Wes Anderson and Paul Wall are both from Houston. Kris Kristofferson is from Brownsville. Renée Zellweger is from Katy. The Flatlanders are from Lubbock. Steve Martin is from Waco. Daniel Johnston lives in Waller. There's a fascinating artistic history in Texas, one that runs deeper and edgier than many people may realize. With all that said, there is something very special about Austin. But I think Austin wouldn't be Austin without Texas around it. It's sort of a chicken-and-egg scenario: would Austin be what it is if other parts of Texas weren't sitting there reinforcing it? Geographically, Austin is like this drain in the middle of the shower... where all the elements and people unwanted in other parts of the state eventually flow towards each other in a central community. It may not be the most diverse city in Texas (in terms of sheer per capita, Dallas and Houston have it beat), but I'd argue it's one of the most culturally-blended towns the state has to offer. And I'm not just talking about ethnicity. You have entire generations of young Americans that circulate between the giant public university, the dysfunctional state government offices, the overpowering live music venues, the unconventional cinemas, and the beautiful hills and lakes. Austin is one of the only communities where a person will regularly eat heavy, Texas barbecue for lunch and then some vegan Mexican dish for dinner (trust me, I've done it). But the thing about Austin is, so many of the residents here are from other parts of Texas. So, without those amazing communities in El Paso, Denton, Marfa, and the like, there would arguably not be an Austin. Does that sound a bit confusing and muddled? Exactly the point, and exactly why you have some of the best filmmakers of the last 20 years not only embracing Austin, but also setting up shop. This is just as much Terrence Malick's homebase as it is the home of Robert Rodriguez. This is the town where Richard Linklater can make A Scanner Darkly one minute, and Fast Food Nation the next. And, as a result, Linklater has become, in my opinion, the most daring American filmmaker working today. He loves baseball and football, just as much as he loves Buñuel or Godard. And that right there, is Austin. Austin is where a film like Mike Judge's Office Space can be made and become a cult classic, and then Judge can continue making episodes of King of the Hill from the comfort of his office here. This is the place where Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith regularly hold court, because they know that audiences here get "it," whatever "it" is. This is the town where the University of Texas can produce internationally renowned documentary filmmakers, as well as produce a teen gothic flick like The Quiet through the newly-formed Burnt Orange Productions. In short, it's a city full of bizarre, creative juxtapositions. Because, at the end of the day, Austin is a bizarre, creative juxtaposition within the Lone Star State. And, I wouldn't want it any other way.
August 5, 2006
John Huston @ 100.John Huston would have been 100 today, and Slate celebrates with a series of photos: "His dramatic style and classic edge in films like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Moulin Rouge earned him respect from audiences worldwide. His friends Robert Capa, Eve Arnold, Inge Morath, and other Magnum photographers captured intimate moments of his life." Richard Gibson also posts one of those terrific shots (Huston confers with Arthur Miller during the making of The Misfits) at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger.... Via filmz.de, a few appreciations in the German papers: Peter W Jansen in Der Tagesspiegel, Daniel Kothenschulte in the Frankfurter Rundschau, Bert Rebhandl and Verena Lueken in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Gerhard Midding in Die Welt. The New York Times has Peter B Flint's 1987 obit. More linkage at Classic Movies. Updates: That Little Round-Headed Boy's "100 Reasons to Remember John Huston." Michael Guillen's got nifty background on the friendship between Huston and Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias, including the story of how Covarrubias, along with Diego Rivera, made it possible for Huston to carry on shooting The Treasure of Sierra Madre in Mexico. Update, 8/7: Pat Dowell on NPR.
Rouge. 9.Look to the bottom right-hand corner of each new issue of Rouge lately and you'll find "RougeRouge," a breakdown and analysis of a film sequence accompanied by a series of stills that flicker in a rough approximation of that sequence; the effect is dangerously hypnotic. This issue, Adrian Martin, frequently referencing Jonathan Rosenbaum, has a wonderful read on Fritz Lang's Spione (Spies). Already in 1928, Lang was counting upon his audience's capacity to assume, deduce and associate on the basis of a swift sequence of often enigmatic and disembodied gestures - a sketched or notional sequence of actions and sensations assembled and cohering as much as a result of the spectator's reactions (at various conscious, half-conscious and unconscious levels) as of anything in the film itself. In a striking formulation that captures this dream-like interlocking of text and spectator, Rosenbaum describes the film as structured upon "irrational continuities." Adrian Martin's piece on the essay films of Robert Kramer is as fine a segue into the issue proper as any: "The challenge thrown out to the spectator is: orient yourself." Hironobu Baba "delves into the relationship between Kramer's Jewish background and his life and work." Related: Keja Kramer and Stephen Dwoskin discuss the making of their film, I'll Be Your Eyes, You'll Be Mine. A second pair: Nicole Brenez and Michael Witt's introduction to Jean-Luc Godard: Documents, the catalog to the exhibition Alex Munt writes about in the current issue of Senses of Cinema, and Dominique Païni's contribution to Documents, an assessment of what Godard originally had in mind for the event. A third pair, and again, the echoes reverberating between recent issues of film journals are remarkable. Felipe Furtado introduces and annotates two essays by Jairo Ferreira, "a frequent collaborator of many of the most obscure and inventive names of the Brazilian film scene, as a writer, assistant or actor," the first on the state of cinema in general as well as in Brazil, the second on Shohei Imamura. A fourth pair, this one pairing Abbas Kiarostami and Víctor Erice twice. Alain Bergala argues that their personal histories (they were born just one week apart) are "inscribed within the more painful History of their respective countries." And yet: "They share the same conviction that cinema is first and foremost an art of singularity, that of the human beings whose story they tell and the actual world around them: their house, their neighbours, their landscape, their way of life. They are obviously aware that these modest, ordinary lives (the only ones in their eyes that are worth taking the trouble to recount) are partly determined by the overall situation of the society in which they are active." Miguel Marías addresses the occasion for the pairing, the exhibition Erice-Kiarostami: Correspondences, "inviting the curious visitor to think about a series of urgent and serious issues that each year fewer directors stop to wonder about." Yvette Bíró considers the "new suspense" conjured by the "Fullness of Minimalism": It is not only the already paradigmatic films by Wong Kar-wai (In the Mood for Love, 2000, Days of Being Wild, 1991, "The Hand" in Eros, 2004), Hou Hsiao-hsien's delicate Café Lumiere (2003) and Three Times (2005), the solitude of Tsai Ming-liang's protagonists, the wise irony of Kiarostami, or the newly met Koreans, Kim Ki-duk's Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring (2003), and 3-Iron (2004) and Hur Jin-ho's April Snow (2005), that address us in this same quiet, purified voice. Even sensitive European or American filmmakers, like the Dardenne brothers, Aki Kaurismäki (The Match Factory Girl, 1990), the unexpected Kazakh Darezan Omirbajev, or the young New Yorker Lodge Kerrigan< venture to use this method and the force of their restricted language became truly strong. Thierry Jousse argues for "the superiority of cable" over the DVD, which is "on the side of fetishism and reification, but also - perhaps above all - on the side of knowledge and materialism (which is not entirely free of idealism)." Another pair: Roland Fischer-Briand examines a storyboard by Dziga Vertov: "To date, no comparable example is known in which the glowing champion of documentary film made a preparatory list of camera shots, picture contents and compositions and extensively commented upon them." And Barbara Wurm introduces Dziga Vertov: The Vertov Collection at the Austrian Film Museum. Related: the Ukrainian poster for Entuzijazm: Symfonija Donbasu (Enthusiasm). Donald Phelps reflects on Eddie Albert: "Not only Albert's image, but his performances – one might say, his corporate performance - riveted the eye with an apologetic complexity." And finally, a 1981 piece from VF Perkins on several remarkable choices directors have made - and why.
A summertime question for Anne Thompson.Why is it a relatively big deal when writers already established in print launch a blog? Because, whether it's Dave Kehr, Joe Leydon, Jami Bernard, or for that matter, Neil Gaiman, William Gibson and so on, we know their particular beat, area of expertise or insight, their style, and we know they're about to take it one extra step closer to their readers. In the case of Anne Thompson, who's been blogging since late last year, a recent example: it's easy to laugh or scowl at Mel Gibson right about now, but Anne Thompson explains why, for those who've spent time with him, it's not that easy at all. My question: "Has blogging turned out to be what you'd hoped it'd be?" Good question. My entire career, I have sought to be able to write what I want, when I want. The closest I ever came was my weekly "Risky Business" column in the LA Weekly. I didn't have to get approval for what I would write about. I could roam around different areas of the business, be responsive to what was going on. I moved on to EW and Premiere, where I felt much more constricted, and became intrigued by the sites Ain't It Cool News, Dark Horizons, and those written by Jeff Wells and David Poland. When I left Premiere in the summer of 2002, Poland, Wells and I had a meeting about what would become Movie City News. At the time, I needed to make a living wage, as did Wells, so with our early input, Poland went on alone. I also visited the blogs of Cathy Seipp and Jackie Danicki, among others, and when I joined the Hollywood Reporter, I asked them to not only let me write a weekly "Risky Business" column again, but to mount their first blog.
August 4, 2006
Filmmaker. Summer 06.The most blogged feature of the new summer issue of Filmmaker so far seems to be "25 New Faces of Independent Film 2006," the annual survey. You may recognize a few of them, such as Linas Phillips (Walking to Werner), Astra Taylor (Zizek!), Alex Karpovsky (The Hole Story), Michael Tully (Cocaine Angel) or Todd Rohal (The Guatemalan Handshake), but given Filmmaker's record, it's best to go ahead and familiarize yourself with all 25 right now - you'll likely be seeing those faces again. "It's fitting that we're covering Half Nelson in our summer issue, the time of year when we publish our annual 25 New Faces survey," writes Matthew Ross. "That's because the film's writer-director (Ryan Fleck [whom he's interviewing]), writer-editor (Anna Boden), star (Ryan Gosling) and cinematographer (Andrij Parekh) have all appeared on the 25 earlier in their careers." See what I mean? On a related note, Anthony Kaufman blogs: "What a good month for American indie cinema: Patrick Stettner's captivating second feature The Night Listener and the Duplass brothers' The Puffy Chair finally debut in New York City, while one of the strongest debuts in recent memory Half Nelson... opens next Friday. All three films reflect completely different styles and tendencies in US independents, but they're all worth seeing." Scott Macaulay talks with Dito Montiel about adapting his own memoir, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints: "I like the struggle of films. I think that's what makes them good. I mean, I love Martin Scorsese as much as anyone, but I think that they should have given him $5 million to make Gangs of New York." Also: a chat with Neil Marshall about The Descent (possible spoilers). Anthony Kaufman introduces his interview with Kirby Dick: "This Film Is Not Yet Rated vividly exposes the Hollywood favoritism, hypocrisies, sexism and homophobia of the organization as well as the Byzantine, Kafkaesque rules its ratings board follows.... The documentary is also, in Dick's words, his first 'comedy.'" Mary Glucksman checks in on five indies in production: Cherry Crush, Cthulhu (not to be confused with The Call of Cthulhu), Elvis and Annabelle, Fugitive Pieces and Dorothy Lyman's first feature, The Northern Kingdom. "The growth of the MySpace film channel is happening concurrent with the major studios' sudden acknowledgement of the site's power as a marketer to young audiences," writes Alexandra Delyle's piece. "We spoke to several filmmakers - independents without major distribution - who are promoting their films on MySpace, and their reactions run the gamut." On the same page, Liz Cole offers a bit of advice on how to make the most of the free service. Richard Press took his Virtual Love to Cannes and kept a diary; Howard Feinstein looks back on Cannes as well, while, further down that page, Jason Guerrasio remembers Tribeca. For five years, Jeff Sumerel's been working on a doc that has the potential to be... something else. Jim Pitt Harris introduces his subject: "[Theodore] Gottleib, dubbed Brother Theodore by Merv Griffin, was a monologuist known for streaming rants of sardonic debauchery concerning the cosmic entropies of the human condition. Stripped of a family fortune, survivor of the Holocaust and set free unto America by family friend and chess partner Albert Einstein, Theodore spent 17 years on a stage performing a tightrope act between sanity and genius."
Bright Lights. 53."There's nothing like a round of phosphorus-laden mega-bombs (even thousands of miles away, hitting somebody else) to rouse a person," writes editor Gary Morris, introducing the latest issue of Bright Lights Film Journal. "The question is, what do you do about it?" Indeed. "To address this pesky problem, your pals at Bright Lights have taken a leaf from R Crumb's too-timely comic, Despair: 'Why dwell on it? Let's have a party!' Or in this case, 'Let's go to the movies!'" Let's. Alan Vanneman picks up where he left off his "Occasional Series on the Art and Life of Charlie Chaplin"; add earlier pieces on the Mutuals, the Keystone and Essanay days and another on the great silent clowns as a bunch, and he's got the makings of a pretty nifty book, though I suspect he might want to put one together on Fred Astaire first. More Alan Vanneman in this issue: merciless takes on The Da Vinci Code, District B-13, The Devil Wears Prada, Mission Impossible III, Comedy Central's Pam Anderson Roast and Jürgen Flimm and Brian Large's Don Giovanni: "This video of a 2001 performance of Mozart's masterpiece has an immediacy and transparency that far surpasses any opera video I've ever seen." Great stuff: Lesley Chow looks back to the Hollywood of "an era of people doing and saying wondrously contradictory things: being, for instance, strangely likeable, romantically selfish, or capable of making intelligent compromises" and delves into the examples of Holiday and The Razor's Edge. Also: "William A Seiter's You Were Never Lovelier (1942) shows us the kind of familiarity with which foreignness was depicted at the time.... And Hayworth brings us back to a time when a Latin actress didn't always sizzle." Ian Johnston: "[Lucile] Hadzihalilovic has given us a strange, fascinating, mysterious, if slightly disturbing film. Her first feature, it demonstrates a near-perfect integration of story, theme, mood, composition, colour, lighting, camera-placement and -movement, and sound: simply, Innocence is one of the best films of recent years." Also: "It's hard not to look at Cronaca di un amore with the hindsight of Antonioni's later films, reading into the film the early signs of what was to come: the exploration of failed or failing relationships, the anomie of modern life (in particular of the upper classes), the formal interest in the architecture of space." DJM Saunders thinks locally, writes globally. Or something: what's explored here is why certain films from certain parts of the world break through to international audiences. Megan Ratner: "Though Caché, The Child and Paradise Now all recognize that the accident of birth still determines far more than even the most active enterprise-zone can promise, 13 Tzameti takes the marketplace-as-value-system to its starkest extreme." Brian Grady: "Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant is a Christian odyssey of appetite and giving." Gordon Thomas: "Photographed and cut as a visually elegant horror movie, Hour of the Wolf feels woefully personal." Andrew Hedden argues that "The Garbage Pail Kids Movie is as close a filmic adaptation of Duchamp's Fountain as there has yet to be." "In Army of Shadows, the characters not only have no future, but virtually no past." A Jay Adler's review makes an interesting companion piece to Pedro-Blas Gonzalez's in Senses of Cinema. Victoria Large recalls "one of the hidden treasures of 80s fright flicks," Near Dark and examines the "unique cynicism" of Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen's It's Always Fair Weather. Match Point isn't just another "offensively bad" Woody Allen movie, argues Jake Horsley; it's a "freak creation." Interviews:
Mel Ville.If, like me, you've just returned to the mediasphere and are wondering why Mel Gibson's face is all over your computer screen (the papers I'd been reading were concerning themselves with a few other goings on in the world), Evan Derkacz has a fine explanation at Alternet: "Mel Gibson, director of Jesus gore-fest The Passion of the Christ, was pulled over for drunk driving early Friday morning, launching almost immediately into a Jew-hating tirade of, well, biblical proportions." Hundreds of comments follow. People do care. The most fun to be had with all this, especially if your time's on a tight budget, is Todd Levin's fresh piece at the Morning News. Still, if you're tearing yourself up over the moral implications, relevance to current events and pundit egos, you can watch Slate's Christopher Hitchens and the New Republic's Lee Siegel have it out or turn to Mark Lawson in the Guardian or to Arianna Huffington and Bill Maher at the Huffington Post. Maher: "The World is Mel Gibson." Ah. Updates, 8/9: "The swift and dramatic public denunciations of Mr Gibson's words has prompted discussion in the public relations industry about the best way to handle such occurrences," reports Dennis McDougal in the New York Times. The pile-on's mounting too high, argues Lee Siegel: "Gibson has become a scapegoat for all the hateful, 'unaddressed' thoughts and feelings some people have deep inside them. The actor is now a screen onto which increasing numbers of people are projecting their dirty little secrets. How strange. Mel Gibson has become a Jew."
Senses of Cinema. 40."And so, Senses of Cinema has reached its 40th issue," announce editors Rolando Caputo and Scott Murray. "To celebrate this milestone, the journal has collaborated with ten artists from the prominent dotmov media arts collective to pay tribute to ten of the world's most important film directors as voted for by readers of the journal.... The idea behind the project titled Either/Auteur... was to take the directors associated with the Top Ten most-voted films and match them with an artist who would in turn create a short experimental film 'inspired' by the chosen auteur's œuvre." Follow the links for more info. Alex Munt tours and reflects on the exhibition Travel(s) in Utopia, Jean-Luc Godard 1946 - 2006, In Search of a Lost Theorem, the must-discussed summer-long event in Paris open at the Centre Georges Pompidou through August 14: Travel(s) can be read alongside Godard's eight-part Histoire(s) du cinéma (History/Histories of the Cinema, 1988 - 98) video collage commissioned for television - in particular, as an extension of the final episode, Les signes parmi nous (The Signs among Us). However, here Godard moves beyond the screen, toward the "construction" of a series of spaces in which to house his "signs." This exhibition provokes two main questions: What is the relationship between the moving image and the gallery? And what is the status of the moving image in contemporary (digital) culture? The timing is perfect, then, for "On Painting and History in Godard's Histoire(s) du cinéma," Sally Shafto's follow-up to her piece in Issue 39 on the dialogue between Godard's work and painting. A second section is devoted to "Three Auteurs":
A summertime question for Ray Young.You can get hooked on certain blogs or zines, but it's not too often that you find yourself wanting to actually sit down with the person behind them in the hopes of hearing the full story. Ray Young intrigues me that way; scan the TOC at Flickhead and you might get an idea as to why I felt compelled to ask, "What film strikes you most as a weapon?" A loaded question, to be sure (sorry, I couldn't resist). Since motion pictures can sway opinion and shape thought, if not shoot down a preexisting belief, the medium in general could be interpreted as a weapon. And if a film manipulates its viewer into thinking a certain way, one normally at odds with the spectator's reason or values, couldn't we consider that an act of violence or aggression? The "trick" Don Siegel uses in Dirty Harry (1971) is a good example. On the surface, we're watching Harry fight the bleeding heart liberals at City Hall who berate him for his violent tactics in tracking down a serial killer. But rather than remain focused on Harry, Siegel shows the killer toiling away (he's a giggling, sweaty madman fresh from central casting), thereby manipulating the audience into applauding the fascist killer cop. Harry's a lunatic, determining the law as he sees fit. And Siegel's a fraud - at least here, in his rightwing glory - by duping us into cheering the Nazi on. After seeing Claude Chabrol's La Cérémonie (1995), I felt that it seamlessly assaulted the bourgeoisie, on a par with anything by Luis Buñuel. (Yes, Buñuel is obviously responsible for a great deal of cinematic weaponry; but I demur his inclusion here on the grounds that Don Luis was just too playful.) Surely the rich family got what it deserved; surely the maid was a metaphor for generations of downtrodden workers beaten (in her case, into illiteracy) by the fat cats in control. But discussing it with others afterward, I was shocked to discover they were sympathetic to the family, and, as they interpreted it, the scenario served as an attack against blue collar miscreants. Go figure... My admiration for Chabrol's film prompted a friend to lend me a few movies about duos of crazy women in feverish situations. Most of them were dross, but Fernando Di Leo's humorless and sadistic Avere vent'anni (1978) was particularly offensive. Here, the film became a weapon against women, tenderness and pleasure - to say nothing of (what's left of) my own morals. The women are self-serving and abrasive cockteasers, overwritten and overacted to the extreme, eventually meeting their fate at the hands of angry, repressed and closeted gay men who cram tree trunks into their vaginas. (It was the first time I'd ever taken a video from the player and threw it directly into the trashcan.) It sent me into a depressed state for days, a case of homevideo warfare. Whether cinematic weaponry can have any viable impact on society as a whole is doubtful. The Catholic church never fell from Buñuel, and Bush got reelected after Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004). Therefore, with this being more of a subjective arena, the two films that worked best as a weapon against my own sense and sensibility were Myriam Alaux and Victor Schonfeld's documentary about animal abuse, The Animals Film (1981); and Pasolini's Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom (1975). Pasolini's is a rough picture, insane even. While watching folks dine on excrement, I felt that humanity had been reduced to its lowest ebb, where the beauty of life vaporized as a vague memory. I had trouble eating for weeks. After The Animals Film, I was vegetarian for nearly a decade.
August 3, 2006
A summertime question for Chuck Tryon.Chuck Tryon is, as he writes right there on the front page of his chutry experiment, "an assistant professor of film and media studies at Fayetteville State University." He also regularly explores the political, social and technological impacts film and the real world have on each other. My question for Chuck: "What's the doc of the year so far?" Choosing what I regard to be the "top" documentary of the year is both an exciting and mildly overwhelming prospect. Exciting because it allows me to revisit the many fine documentaries I've already seen in 2006. Overwhelming because I find it almost impossible to choose one film from so many diverse documentaries that I truly appreciate while also fully aware that I've probably missed at least a dozen others that are equally deserving of a wider audience. Some of the documentaries that left me most energized after seeing them included Tara Wray's low-key and deeply insightful Manhattan, Kansas, which explored the filmmaker's tenuous relationship with her eccentric mother; Frank Popper's Can Mr Smith Get To Washington Anymore?, which offers one of the most insightful explorations of American politics I've seen in a long time; Davis Guggenheim's An Inconvenient Truth, which may be most important for its effect on US environmental policy; and James Longley's Iraq in Fragments, which provides us with a compelling portait of the conditions Iraqi citizens continue to endure during the occupation. But if I had to choose one documentary, it would likely be Gary Tarn's Black Sun, which I had a chance to see at Silverdocs earlier this summer. Tarn's film can best be described as an experimental documentary in the spirit of Chis Marker's Sans Soleil (in addition to directing the film, Tarn also composed the music). Black Sun is based on the writings of Hugues de Montalembert, a visual artist based in Manhattan, who was blinded during a mugging in his apartment when one of his attackers threw paint thinner in his eyes. De Montalembert narrates from his own descriptions of blindness, recalling the attack and conveying how it changes his experience of the world while Tarn's camera restlessly records these images, often pixelating the images or using other effects to convey the ways in which we use vision to apprehend the world. Like the imagined filmmaker in Sans Soleil, De Montalembert chooses to travel the world, his stories becoming cinematic postcards representing the places he visits, which include Indonesia, Iceland and India. I tend to resist choosing a single film as the "best" of any category, but because Black Sun tapped into so many fundamental questions, about identity, memory and experience, that are crucial to my academic research, I'm confident that it's a film I will be thinking and writing about for a long time.
August 2, 2006
DK Holm follows up on his previous column with a roundup of takes on the latest DVD releases - in what is admittedly a quiet week for new discs. Still, with V, Olivier, and Lorre, there are a few treats here for cinephiles. Or are they? Read on.
Of the 35 or so DVDs released on this Tuesday, August 1st, in Region 1, James McTeigue's Wachowski Brothers-produced adaptation of Alan Moore and David Lloyd's serialized graphic novel V for Vendetta has received the most commentary - as if the original theatrical release hadn't already burned up a few thousand gallons of ink and several billion megabytes. Dawn Taylor of the DVD Journal liked the movie and felt "it's too bad that Moore dislikes the picture so much, because it's the best, most faithful film adaptation of his work yet - it's dark, stylish, and slick." Glenn Erickson, the DVD Savant, liked the extras, noting that they are "better and more thoughtful than the EPK filler that often clogs new release special editions." Rich Rosell at Digitally Obsessed does the service of quoting from the supplements, contrasting director McTeigue in one making-of speaking "delicately of having to condense Moore and Lloyd's original work to 'make it more film-y'" with producer Joel Silver "who not so eloquently refers to the graphic novel as 'a mess.'" One of the few dissenters was the reviewer at Current Film.com, finding that McTeigue hadn't "fully created the kind of grim, oppressive mood and atmosphere that the movie truly needed."
Norman Foster, who directed six of the eight films in the series and contributed to the screenplays of several. Foster, whose rich and fascinating life story is recounted by a documentary by John Cork included in the box set, was a world traveler turned Broadway actor who came to Hollywood with his wife, Claudette Colbert, and worked as an actor for several years ... He became a director after a severe beating left him feeling too disfigured for front-of-the-camera work. As a visual stylist, he liked crowded, busy frames, full of décor details and animated by the constant crossing of background extras. If he isn't always able to lift the stock characters into more fully developed human figures, he is able to negotiate his way through complicated, occasionally illogical intrigues while maintaining a quick rhythm and a clear line of action.
In addition, Gary Tooze of DVD Beaver offers some helpful information about the set, including the fact that "Fox spent over $2 million restoring all of their Charlie Chan and Mr Moto films," and pointing out that the Moto prints "were not in as bad a shape as the Chan ones and look quite good."
While he's at it, Kehr settles the hash of Laurence Olivier, author of the three disc set from Criterion, Olivier's Shakespeare, asserting that "Olivier might have been a great actor, but he was one of the klutziest directors who ever lived, and seeing these films, with their static arrangements of actors, pointlessly peripatetic camera movements and bizarre framing, makes one appreciate again the deep commitment to cinema represented by the work of Edward D. Wood." Kehr's views are echoed by Jon Danziger at Digitally Obsessed who says of Henry V that "Olivier has no use for subtlety."
In perhaps the wittiest review of the day, Eamonn McCusker, over at DVD Times, pauses in mid-review of Tanit Jitnukul and Sathit Praditsarn's Thailandian zombie film Hell (Narok) to enunciate a disquisition on two wholly different directors:'Hell is only a word...the reality is much, much worse!' Paul W.S. Anderson may have had something else in mind when he brought those words in Event Horizon but, as fate would have it, he was quite correct. Hell may only be a word but this film is utter bollocks, much, much worse than any evidence the prosecution may wish to bring to the court as regards Anderson and Uwe Boll. Indeed, coming after a viewing of Hell, I have to hand it to Uwe Boll. Much as I was somewhat derisory towards his Bloodrayne, his film, in comparison to this, masterwork [sic], the outstanding creation of a mind unparalleled in modern cinema and a moment of particular genius in a career littered with them. Granted, his extras do tend to loiter and hack rather disinterestedly at the corpses and one particular effect was, shall we say, haphazard but nothing, absolutely nothing in Bloodrayne is as woefully unimpressive as Hell. Not even Billy Zane!
Short shorts, globally warmed edition.
David H. will be back sometime over the weekend (although, thanks to modern technology, he is still a presence here); meanwhile, just catching up on a few things as I can to keep the flame flickering until his return.
Eric Kohn's fascinating Leni Riefenstahl essay is worth a read if you find yourself with extra time on your hands. "The record of this debate represents the ongoing dialogue surrounding Riefenstahl’s work. [Peter] Sellers’ defense of Riefenstahl as an artist suggests that her propaganda achievements retain an aesthetic value separate from their ideological impact."
The second installment in ScreenGrab's biweekly "Forgotten Films" column continues with a fine account of the nearly forgotten film adaptation of the existential classic: "More people should know about the existence of an adaptation of Albert Camus's seminal novel The Stranger (L'Etranger), starring Marcello Mastroianni and Anna Karina, and directed by the great Luchino Visconti (Rocco and His Brothers, Death in Venice) at the height of his career. That such a film has gone largely unseen for so many years kind of boggles the mind. I've never been able to understand why it has been impossible to find on video - as far as I know, only some bootleg VHS copies show up on eBay now and then - but I can only assume there is some kind of catastrophic rights dispute preventing its release."
David Jeffers is trying to get the word out about the silent film Sparrows, starring Mary Pickford, and the "beautiful Library of Congress print we've managed to get for the August 21 screening at the Paramount" in Seattle. David adds, in an e-mail, "I am interested in any suggestions regarding print or broadcast media I might approach about this film."
Chuck checks out Mystery at Mansfield Manor: "There's quite a bit to like about Mystery, which is an ambitious, entertaining experience, but after viewing the movie (if that's the right phrase), I still have questions about what constitutes interactivity and a truly interactive cinema."
Is there any film this year more likely to disappoint audiences than Snakes on a Plane? Once the excitement around the title + Sam Jackson and the concept of "motherf----n' snakes on a motherf----n' plane" wears off, we're left with an actual movie to sit through. Chuck Klosterman [in Esquire, via the Telegraph, by way of IFC's blog] is certainly not impressed with the push behind it: "I suspect Snakes on a Plane might earn a lot of money, which will prompt studios to assume this is the kind of movie audiences want. And I don't think it is. Snakes on a Plane is an unabashed attempt at prefab populism, and (maybe) this gimmick will work once. But it won't keep working, and it will almost certainly make filmmaking worse."
Almost as disturbing as snakes on a plane, Mel in a car: Defamer's got a little wrap-up of Mel Gibson-related news. (Gibson is trying to smooth things over and atone - Cinematical has more - though perhaps Joy Behar's suggestion of "a public circumcision" is a bit much.)
NP Thompson: "Here's my vivisection of Woody Allen's Scoop. Brutal, nasty, and delightful!" (Whereas I wondered aloud, Why such a quiet release of the Woodman's latest - bad sign, or to be expected?) Jonathan Rosenbaum's not a huge fan of the film: "One form of low-rent showbiz Allen depicts in Scoop is Fleet Street journalism, but it's depicted with none of the witty rancor or intelligence of Evelyn Waugh's 1937 Scoop. Allen doesn't have too much affection for this trade, certainly not as much as he does for magic."
About two years ago I jotted down an idea for a film in my mostly illegible notebook: "Scary movie about people trapped in a cave which is inhabited by an otherworldy presence." Pure genius! Claustrophobia abounds, and no one had done a good cave movie before, or, any, really. Well, two years and several cave movies later and never mind. But The Descent seems to be the one that stands out from the others. indieWIRE's put up a short n' sweet interview with Neil Marshall, the film's director. The SF Bay Guardian's Cheryl Eddy - who called the film "2006's scariest" - also spoke with Marshall:
"Obviously Deliverance [was] a massive inspiration. The Shining, just as an exercise in watching somebody go insane — it's brilliant," Marshall explains. "Alien [was] hugely inspirational in creating a realistic environment, which is what I wanted to do with the caves: treat them in the same way Ridley Scott treated the inside of the Nostromo. Once you believe that, then you've got the world in which to set your story."
Meanwhile, FilmThreat's Jeremy Knox found the film scary enough. "All in all, this is an accessible art house horror film whose trailer and premise do not do justice to the end result. I will fully admit to the fact that the film probably affected me more because it plays on some deep seated fears of mine, so maybe you wouldn’t rank it as high as I did."
Lastly, speaking of scary, on Bright Lights Film Journal, Andrew Hedden reconsiders The Garbage Pail Kids Movie - managing to bring both Jean Vigo's Zéro de Conduite and Marcel Duchamp's Fountain into the discussion.