September 30, 2006

Weekend NYFF roundup.

NYFF Trailer "The classic tug of war between tradition and modernization is quite apparent as the 44th New York Film Festival heads into opening night," wrote indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez on Thursday. "'For 44 years we've been accused of being demanding, inflexible and insanely selective,' states the trailer for this year's festival, adding the punchline, 'Remarkably like our audience.'" Now at iW: Howard Feinstein's quick critical tour of what all's been screened so far.

"Film festivals crowd the calendar and circle the globe, but New York's is different," notes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Instead of hundreds of films, it presents a few dozen, and it presents them, for the most part, one at a time, rather than in a frenzy of overscheduling. It is neither a hectic marketplace nor a pre-Oscar buzz factory, like Cannes or Toronto, or a film industry frat party, like Sundance. Its tone tends to be serious, sober, and perhaps sometimes a little sedate, even when the movies it shows are daring and provocative."

"Clearly, the ideal NYFF film is one that combines artistic ambition, social relevance and some degree of sexy marketplace sizzle (last year's centerpiece, George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck, being a perfect example)," notes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "But as well as showcasing those pictures most likely to seduce upscale audiences during the cold-weather months, the NYFF also has a nobler, and more old-fashioned, mission. It programs several films each year with near-zero commercial appeal, hoping to focus the attention of New York's perennially distracted culture vultures, if only for an instant, on unexpected and unpredictable works with no bold-type names attached. It's a charming and paradoxical notion, but I'm delighted to play along."

"Many of the NYFF's most intriguing choices lie on its fringes," notes Steve Erickson in Gay City News, though he does offer his takes on many of the entries in the main program.


As Andrew Grant notes below, the opening film on Friday night was, of course, The Queen, which the NYT's Manohla Dargis calls "a sublimely nimble evisceration of that cult of celebrity known as the British royal family.... Actors need to be loved, but one of [Helen] Mirren's strengths has always been her supreme self-confidence that we will love the performance no matter how unsympathetic the character.... This toughness is bracing, at times exhilarating, and it also reminds you of just how very good a director [Stephen] Frears can be... The new film serves as a return to form for the director not only of Dangerous Liaisons and The Grifters, both of which share with The Queen an interest in toxic tribal formations, but also of more freewheeling ensemble entertainments like Sammy and Rosie Get Laid." So glad she mentioned that last one; how many friends I dragged to the theater to see it all those years ago... Where's the DVD?

At any rate, in an accompanying audio slide show, Stephen Frears talks about his "cheeky" project and how pleasantly surprised he is that it hasn't upset anyone in Britain.

The Queen

Acquarello sees "a trenchant, elegant, and compelling exposition into the nefarious role of the media as both creator (and self-generator) of news and manipulator public sentiment. By juxtaposing Diana's death within the framework of Tony Blair's recent election to the office of prime minister under the Labor Party platform of initiating a wide-range of sweeping reform ever to be instituted in the country after decades of Tory government (with visibly lackluster results), filmmaker Stephen Frears and screenwriter Peter Morgan contextualize the atmosphere as a symptom of a broader social angst - a synchronicity that intrinsically transformed a family's private grief into a disoriented public's search for leadership and direction in a time of crisis."

Responding to a comment on his own review, Dave Kehr writes that he finds The Queen "distinctly reactionary, and like too many British movies these last few years, aimed at American audiences who have an affection for the English monarchy and class system that those of you who live under it may not share."

Almost as if in reply, Stephanie Zacharek in Salon: "I suspect plenty of moviegoers - Stateside but maybe especially in the UK - will read The Queen as an apologia for the monarchy. But I think that's giving the picture only its most superficial reading. As many of the detractors of Sofia Coppola's upcoming (and wonderful) Marie Antoinette have failed to grasp, being a humanist doesn't automatically make you a royalist."

Nick Pinkerton at Reverse Shot can't resist the pairing, either: "Side by side, the films are a study in demographic gap; Marie, overtly gaga for royal pomp and festooned with post-punk nuggets, betrays its biopic function, acting largely as a solipsistic 'poor little rich girl' fantasy of excess, a confectionary binge of a movie set between the dark chocolate Hapsburg court and puff pastry Versailles.... The Queen, by contrast, examines rather than exhorts.... its stodgy, solid craftsmanship suits its subject like one of Elizabeth II's crisp Burberry trench coats."

Then there's Tom Nairn at openDemocracy: "The 1997 revolution was weird, but real, and is now showing itself to be irresistible in another disconcerting form. Today, the adroit saviour of the crown from post-Diana wrath finds himself the victim of much greater popular resentment, his party torn apart by implausible successors fighting madly to (once more) restore a dying régime."

Richard Corliss in Time: "I hope it finds a wide and receptive audience - for beyond the tattle, it tells a parable of political wisdom: knowing when to listen to the people, and when to lead them."

The Reeler got a few questions in at the press conference. More on the film from Nick Schager in Slant, Erik Davis at Cinematical and, as noted below, Philip Kemp in Sight & Sound.


Back in the NYT, AO Scott reviews another NYFF title that's seeing its (limited) theatrical release all but simultaneously with its showcasing here, Little Children. Scott calls it a "superb film adaptation of the novel by Tom Perrotta" and "a rigorous study of adult behavior": "[Todd] Field, with his second feature - his directing debut was In the Bedroom - proves to be among the most literary of American filmmakers, one of the few who tries to find a visual language suited to the ambiguous plainness of contemporary realist fiction."

Little Children

"It's very Short Cuts, very Magnolia, a little American Beauty. That's exactly the problem," proposes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "Why did I come out of Little Children... feeling so profoundly dissatisfied? Because Field has made a type of movie rather than an individual movie, an upscale formula picture that announces its own moral seriousness rather than something built organically from mind and heart."

Ed Gonzalez, blogging for Slant: "Expertly groomed for Oscar, this laughable concoction barely passes for satire - it is, nothing more nothing less, than the most pretentious film ever made about the problems festering in our suburban neighborhoods."


Acquarello finds it "refreshing to see Hong [Sang-soo] crystallize his now familiar flat structured, mirroring triangulations on the ephemeral nature of human desire with Woman on the Beach."

"All the fuss that's been made in these pages and elsewhere about Andrew Bujalski and his sensitivity to the nuances of urban courtship could have been easily redirected to Hong," writes Jeff Reichert at Reverse Shot. "Something like Korea's answer to Eric Rohmer, Hong makes films that match the French master's in wry knowingness about sex, desire, and humankind's complicated maneuvering to achieve the former in order to satisfy the latter, but their outlook is more melancholy, their gaze often more cold and predatory."

Woman on the Beach

"[M]y favorite film at the festival so far," announces Jürgen Fauth.

"[I]t's Hong's largely stationary, yet deftly composed, camerawork that gives Woman on the Beach its discreet power," writes Nick Schager in Slant, "working in tandem with the writer-director's dry, naturalistic dialogue to create an alternately humorous and forlorn mood situated somewhere amidst the collision between idealism and reality."

At the IFC Blog, Alison Willmore reminds us that this is "a comedy, and it is very funny, if also threaded with a sense of despair at the apparent futility of human connection."


"[I]t is interesting to see Tian Zhuangzhuang's cinema converge towards the aesthetics of Hou Hsiao-hsien," notes acquarello. The Go Master is more impressionistic than biographical, allusive than anecdotal."

But for Keith Uhlich, writing at Slant, it's a "dull n' stately Zentenary."


At Reverse Shot, Michael Joshua Rowin reviews Bamako, "a painful indictment of Africa's plunder at the hands of the West." The Hollywood Reporter's Gregg Goldstein has good news: the film's been picked up for the US by New Yorker Films.

Alison Willmore finds it "profoundly didactic, and while we don't fault Bamako's message or the passion behind it, we also can't recommend it as a film." And of course, below, you'll find David D'Arcy's review.


For Slant's Ed Gonzalez, Offside is "the highlight so far" of the fest, "another cyclically crafted jewel in the spectacular crown of Iran's national cinema - a sterling example of grace resonating from grueling cultural pressure."

Alison finds it "lighthearted, optimistic, even kind of cute(sy)." Below, David D'Arcy's review.


"Alberto Lattuada irreverently - and uproariously - explores the nurtured regionalisms, preconceptions, and ethnic stereotypes between the more progressive, industrialized north and more conservative, old world traditions of southern Italy - and in particular, Sicily - that continue to pervade and shape the social attitudes between the two divergent cultures of contemporary Italian society in his underseen comic masterpiece, Mafioso," writes acquarello.

But Keith Uhlich harrumphs in Slant: "Mafioso is many things, but a good movie ain't one of 'em."


At Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Otar Iosseliani's Gardens in Autumn leaves Jenny Jediny disppointed in its "ineffectualness."

Jürgen Fauth on Paprika: "Japanese anime director Satoshi Kon (Tokyo Godfathers, Millennium Actress) always struck me as overrated, and this new film is no exception."

At Slant, Keith Uhlich reviews Marc Recha's "doc-fiction hybrid" August Days, which brings us back to Howard Feinstein, who calls the film "sublime... the revelation of the festival."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:08 PM

Weekend docs.

...So Goes the Nation "Sorry, Ken Blackwell fans," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon, "but Adam Del Deo and James D Stern's mole's-eye view of the 2004 presidential race in Ohio, ...So Goes the Nation, is not about how the Republicans gamed the system and stole the White House. (You can certainly find that perspective elsewhere.) This is a conventional political documentary with a conventional view of what happened in the Buckeye State and why, but it's no less fascinating for all that."

More from Ed Gonzalez at Slant: "You will never again hear this many Republicans admit to Bush using fear to regain control of the White House.... In expertly tracing how Republicans play a better game of politics than Democrats, it also provides the party of Kerry and Clinton with a handbook to switching the tables around in 2008."

O'Hehir again: "Even if you already know, or think you know, what a massive bonanza the Iraq war has been for private contractors like Halliburton and Blackwater, Robert Greenwald's latest guerrilla-distribution muckraking effort, Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers, will disturb you profoundly."

Jesus Camp "Jesus Camp doubles as a perfectly entertaining horror flick for secular progressives - or anyone outside the evangelical community, for that matter. But to leave it at that would be wildly off the mark and just as parochial as the triumphalist evangelicals depicted." And so, for Alternet, Evan Derkacz talks with directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. A torrent of comments follow. More on the doc from JR Jones in the Chicago Reader, James RocchiJames Rocchi at Cinematical, David Jeffers at the Siffblog and Richard Schickel in Time: "Jesus Camp seems to me most interesting (and poignant) as a portrait of denied and even desecrated childhood." And more on the "furore" it's unleashed from Dan Glaister in the Guardian.

Jeffrey Overstreet objects to Jeff Sharlet's review in The Revealer: "If this is 'the best work of journalism' on the subject, perhaps that says more about the state of journalism than it does about the subject of Christianity. Where is the great journalism about the kind of Christianity that I've encountered in a lifetime of Christian education, Christian community, and, yes, for all of its ups and downs, Christian conservativism? So far, I haven't seen it in the mainstream press."

Back at Slant, Jeremiah Kipp reviews Jonestown: The Life and Death of the Peoples Temple: "The film not only asks what went so maniacally wrong in Guyana, but more revealingly what were the good intentions that drove people there."

Michael Guillén has a good long talk with American Hardcore director Paul Rachman and screenwriter Steven Blush. Rachman: "Most importantly, this is the story of this generation that fell between the cracks. We weren't Baby Boomers. We weren't Gen-exers.... The hippies had Woodstock. My parents had Frank Sinatra. We had this and it hasn't been acknowledged."

The latest indieWIRE interview: Steven Cantor and Matthew Galkin's doc loudQUIETloud: A Film about the Pixies. "Boring people who made extraordinary music, the Pixies are inexplicable," notes Nathan Lee in the New York Times. "The 'where are they now?' question is answered: nowhere very interesting."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:02 PM | Comments (2)

Idiocracy.

Idiocracy "Idiocracy is easily the most potent political film of the year, and the most stirring defense of traditional values since Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France," argues Reihan Salam in Slate. "Rare is the movie that challenges your beliefs. Rarer still is the movie that tells you you're a fat moron, and that you should be ashamed of yourself. The unmarried adultescents swarming the cities, the DINKs who've priced families with children out of the better suburbs, the kids who never read - these are Hollywood's most prized demographics, and Mike Judge has them squarely in his sights. Is it any wonder 20th Century Fox decided Idiocracy would never be boffo box office?"

But people are wondering (still), and today on Weekend Edition, Elvis Mitchell was invited to explain why so few people have even heard of the film, much less seen it. He calls it "hilariously, horrifically ugly" and cracks up thinking about it right then and there on NPR.

Related: Drew and, via David Austin at Cinema Strikes Back, Joel Stein's story in Time on why Fox dumped the movie. Reviews: IMDb.

Update: Lots of email on this one. Clearly, Dennis Cozzalio argues for many when he wrote not all that long ago, "it deserves an audience. It's a simple as that."

Posted by dwhudson at 10:50 AM | Comments (2)

San Sebastian. Awards.

San Sebastian 06 The jury for this year's Donostia-San Sebastian International Film Festival, headed up by Jeanne Moreau, has made its choices, splitting the Golden Shell for Best Film between Bahman Ghobadi's Niwemang (Half Moon), which also picked up the Jury Prize for Best Photography for Nigel Bluck and Crighton Bone, and Martial Fougeron's Mon fils à moi, which also scored the Silver Shell for Best Actress for Nathalie Baye.

Tom DiCillo's done well with his new Delirious, winning the Silver Shell for Best Director and the Jury Prize for Best Screenplay. The Special Jury Prize goes to Carlos Sorin's El Camino de San Diego, while the Silver Shell for Best Actor goes to Juan Diego for Vete di mí.

See the fest's homepage for all the awards in all the sections.

Update: The BBC notes that several critics booed and "shouted 'No, no' and made thumbs-down gestures when it was announced that Mon fils à moi, or My Son, had won a Golden Shell. A second recipient, Half Moon by Kurdish-Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi, proved a more popular winner."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:19 AM

Brothers of the Head.

Brothers of the Head "The book version of Brothers of the Head was published originally by Pierrot Publishing in 1977," novelist Brian Aldiss notes wryly in the Guardian. "It came decorated with startling illustrations by Ian Pollock. So immediate was it that Pierrot went bust. I cannot recall how many film options have been taken out on it since." Aldiss tells of being filmed, then winding up on the proverbial cutting room floor. But he still admires "this remarkable and artistically successful British movie." On Wednesday, Jeremy Kay interviewed directors Louis Pepe and Keith Fulton.

The Telegraph's SF Said also talks with the team behind Brothers, including screenwriter Tony Grisoni, as well as with Harry and Luke Treadaway, who play the twins.

Reviews: IMDb and MRQE.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:03 AM

New York Dispatch. 3.

In this latest dispatch from the New York Film Festival, David D'Arcy reviews Mafioso and Bamako.

NYFF 44 When in doubt in Sicily, just remember the following terms - baciamo le mani (we kiss the hands), cornuto (horned one or cuckold), picciotto (little man or enforcer). Mafioso, by Alberto Lattuada, barely known today, is a warm dark satire about the dark customs of Sicilians.

There's a somber gritty neo-realist look to the 1962 film, as there was to much of what was filmed in the south of Italy through the early 1960s, as if these regions were foreign territory to the Northern Italians making the movies. They were indeed another world, and the film plays with the longstanding divisions and prejudices that separated Italians from each other.

Mafioso The veteran actor Alberto Sordi plays the everyman Antonio Badalamenti, a soldier in the army of Sicilians who migrated to Milan and other Northern cities for work and a better life in the days when Sicily was a ruin of war. Antonio works in an automobile  factory, measuring efficiency - the notion of a Sicilian in such a job would have amused Northern Italians at the time, given the widespread prejudice that their southern compatriots were lazy and unreliable.

Antonio is the average guy, trying to be modern, alternately bumbling and showing off, with a blonde wife, two blonde daughters, and one foot still stuck in Sicily. He's all set to impress his family on his first visit home to the seaside town of Calamo, with its crumbling pavement and his sister who has a thick moustache. All his old friends are still there, most of them "sitting down," the local tern for unemployed. His gaunt father still wears a hat to bed. His stern mother rarely smiles, and certainly not at her blonde daughter-in-law, who looks like she arrived from another planet. Culture-clash jokes take you through at least a third of Mafioso. Even though the script exploits the clichés of the time in a way that would be politically incorrect today, the camera surveys the landscape as if it's on an ethnographic expedition, and you laugh. There's never a false note from the cast, thanks of course to Lattuada's hand with the ensemble, many of whom were native Sicilians.

We soon learn that the real power in Calamo is the local mafia don (played by Ugo Attanasio, Sordi's brother-in-law). Like any good local boy, Antonio kisses Don Vincenzo's hand, and more. Once it's clear that the Sicilian émigré never lost his skill at marksmanship, he's given a job: hit man. (The distributor of Mafioso has requested that certain details not be divulged.) Suffice it to say that Antonio does his job well; with a little reluctance, he's as good a killer as he's a pleasant employee in the Milan factory and a loving father to two girls. One's upbringing is hard to shake, even on a two-week vacation. Shooting a gun is sort of like riding a bicycle - so natural that you and your friends can make jokes about it.

Mafioso is a mordant tale about mob vassalage, never overplayed and always funny - long before Hollywod cashed in on mob stereotypes. As Antonio, Sordi is jolly and obliging, which makes his dutiful act all the terrifying when it happens. It's even more terrifying when the family man goes right on with his life after the crime. This is a film that Hitchcock would have loved, for its taut exquisite comic timing as much as for its cold look at local customs. After all, a hit man is a kind of terrorist, and Antonio is the kind of killer whom you'd invite home.

Bamako

Bamako is an altogether different kind of journey, a journey home to the capital of the West African country of Mali, a return to the town of his birth for the filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako. The occasion is a trial, but as in Mafioso, understanding the trial means adjusting to some local customs. The courtroom is a courtyard into which children and chickens wander. A ram is tethered to one of the walls. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are on trial. We're not told how the court was formed, and the defendants are not there to argue on their own behalf. Yet while we don't hear from the accused, we hear about their crimes - economic ruin, the privatization of essential services, impoverishment of an entire continent, and the erosion of hope for the future. From time to time, a witness cries out in anger about sinking downhill after a life of struggle, or an old man just sings his testimony.

These are desperate charges, yet the film doesn't send a simple message of despair. Two scripts are wound together in the courtyard, one of high-minded rhetoric about suffering in the colonial and globalized worlds, another about people just going about their lives - marrying, separating, singing, raising children, living in spite of the bigger picture.

There's a lot of eloquence in Bamako, especially when witnesses raise the issue of indebtedness that requires countries to pay more to the banks than they pay for education or health care. When one witness raises the issue of the war in Iraq, she points out that a fraction of the resources that were poured into that war could accomplish extraordinary things in a place like Africa. Another reason not to have been there in the first place.

Ultimately, Bamako is more like an opera than a trial, a series of arias or jeremiads repeating the same chorus. The austere courtyard looks like a stage set, with the cameras and children and animals visible, as if to remind you that we're dealing with something painfully real. If the film audience is hearing it for the first time, it should listen carefully. But the grievances and denunciations have all been aired before. You get a sense of the power of cinema to bring drama to cries of help, and you're reminded of the futility of cinema to do much more.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:13 AM

Sight & Sound. 10/06.

Sight & Sound 10/06 Pro or con, the votes have pretty much been cast in the US with regard to Oliver Stone's World Trade Center, but it's just now crawling across Europe, opening in Germany, for example, just the other day. American audiences didn't exactly embrace it, as B Ruby Rich notes in a piece for the new issue of Sight & Sound that raises all sorts of questions, among them, one that's bound to resonate quite differently abroad than at home: "[I]s it remotely possible to return the imagination, even in a movie theatre, to a time before the US government destroyed world sympathy with its invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, before one disaster became many disasters?... Stone even reminds viewers of that time when the whole world felt for us, inserting a brief montage of ordinary people the planet over weeping in front of their TV screens as the news is announced in a multitude of languages. Ah, those were the days."

In an online-only interview, Ali Jaafar asks Stone, "To paraphrase Nixon, to what extent did 9/11 stop Americans seeing themselves the way they want to be?" Stone: "Ironically, I'm not so sure it did. I think there's a defiance about it.... If they hate us, then fuck them.... If I was al-Qaeda, George Bush is my best friend. What a crazy world."

Philip Kemp considers The Queen in light of screenwriter Peter Morgan's Frost/Nixon, the play Ron Howard will be adapting for the screen, and The Deal, the teledrama, about the stormy relationship between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown that became Morgan and Stephen Frears's first collaboration. And then talks with him about it. "'I like writing about powerful people,' says Morgan, 'and the inner lives of powerful people. I always think my stuff is about friendship and betrayal, but it's also about unlikely love stories between unlikeable people.'"

Reviews:

Zidane

  • Richard T Kelly on on Zidane: A 21st-Century Portrait: "[T]he mystique of Zidane probably deserves a film as elusive and taciturn as [Douglas] Gordon's and [Philippe] Parreno's, one that polishes his enigma rather than penetrates it, now that he has trudged from the pitch and into the pantheon for keeps." More from Paul Myerscough in the London Review of Books: "The point is made: the galáctico, like any modern celebrity, is available to us only through his mediation, and the more pervasive his image, the more frustratedly we recognise that he remains finally opaque, unreachable.... This may be the idea the film starts out with; it is not what makes it compelling." And yet more from Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian.

  • Tim Lucas on Six Moral Tales: "Rohmer's brand of morality is subjective and non-judgemental; his characters include students and petits bourgeois and the idle rich, Catholics and atheists, singles and marrieds-with-children, and their standards vary. The point is 'to thine own self be true' as the series depicts the ways in which thoughtful people can meet themselves in the mazes of their own stratagems, and how their true selves are sometimes at odds with the people they think they are or aspire to be."

  • Liese Spencer on The Devil Wears Prada, "in which the fun is all to be had on the slippery slide into corruption." More from Daniel Garrett in the Compulsive Reader.

  • Tom Charity compares cuts of Keane: "Soderbergh's structure is arguably more rational, while [Lodge] Kerrigan's is both more demanding and more powerful." And then, Keane with Kerrigan's earlier feature: "Almost unwatchable at times, Clean, Shaven is a more extreme, expressionist exercise in paranoia, but it's also inherently schlocky and sensationalist, a bit of a cheap trick."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:51 AM

September 29, 2006

Online viewing tip. Meetin' WA.

Must viewing. No kidding.

Meetin' WA

Tom Sutpen at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger...: "One of the least remarked upon attributes of Jean-Luc Godard is how thoroughly he mastered the medium of video production... The chat itself is amiable enough... It is, perhaps, the only occasion where Woody Allen seems as neurotic as the persona he wrote for himself was always said to be."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:17 PM | Comments (3)

New York Dispatch. 2.

David D'Arcy, who's seen Offside three times now, offers his observations before noting that the NYFF "opens as a political farce in New York threatens to upstage it."

NYFF 44 As the New York Film Festival begins, I'll recommend one film rather than weigh in on the opening night gala or any general themes.

The title of Offside by Jafar Panahi conjures up a sports metaphor. On the most literal-minded level, the metaphor is apt - Panahi is looking at girl soccer fans disguised as boys at a Tehran stadium, detained by soldiers who prevent them from watching a game between Iran and Bahrain that eventually takes Iran, the victor, to the World Cup. It's literally apt and poignant as it follows those girls from their cleverly conceived (and concealed) entry into the stadium, to their confrontation with the soldiers who detain them, to their celebration of the team's victory as a bus takes the "offenders" to a jail run by the Vice Squad. It also reveals layers of insight into the Iraq regime's domination of its citizens, and into the rationalizations that citizens make for their own circumstances.

Offside

Panahi is working here the way he has in The Circle, about women working as street prostitutes, and Crimson Gold, about a pizza delivery man turned robber and murderer - no stars, no professional actors, no shooting permits. As always, his stories are about outsiders whose very lives violate the rigid laws of the Islamic Republic. In this case, girls are banned from attending soccer games. It's as simple as that - until they start asking their enforcers questions about it and an oblique political conversation begins. Most women dutifully stay away. The intrepid ones dress as boys with baseball caps and paint their faces in the colors of the national flag. Some make it in after scalping tickets at extortionate prices. We meet the ones who never see the game, or those who are arrested when someone spots them. They're kept outside by soldiers who pen them into a small corner of concrete on the perimeter of the stadium for the duration of the game. One who wore a soldier's uniform and found her way to seats for officials is in handcuffs the entire time. (Why not just take them away?)

Panahi begins his film on a bus traveling grey monotonous streets to the game, where an anguished father is searching for his daughter and planning to give her a beating for breaking the rules. (He doesn't find her, but he will later.) We follow that girl (unnamed, as all the characters are) through the boisterous crowd outside the stadium where she's arrested and taken to the detention pen.

Then the battle of words begins. The girls ask a soldier guarding them to explain why they can't be allowed in. The young man from the provinces is no match for the city girls who laugh at his comments. Once he's ridiculed for his response that women simply shouldn't attend games with men, he simply admits to them that he would rather be back in his village, caring for his mother and taking cows to pasture. From time to time, there's the reminder that a good beating will keep girls and women in line. The girls are undeterred and emboldened. They point out that Japanese women were permitted to watch when Iran played Japan, and note that women can sit in cinemas - dark rooms! - with men.

Not to overplay the obvious metaphors, but Panahi is presenting Iranian women unveiled. Not uncovered, since they're in boys' clothes. No one's claiming that these fans represent all Iranian women - a claim that would be far too abstract or didactic for a filmmaker of  Panahi's refinement - yet there's a determination and a women's solidarity here that the regime surely isn't going to welcome. You'll be struck by the earthiness of what they say. There's nothing like the right jeer to deflate pomposity.

Of course, what's really unveiled is also Iran, especially its interior divisions between urban and rural, men and women, old and young, military and civilian, religious and irreverent. No mention is made of the government, of God, or of the United States. The enemy here is Bahrain, on the field. The enemy is also the network of strictures that rule Iranians' lives which force Iranians to persecute themselves and each other.

Offside

That persecution is also a joke much of the time, even for the film's aggrieved girls, who do end up heading to jail, albeit singing on the way. It's best seen in a sequence where one of the detained girls begs to go to the bathroom. A soldier leads her to the men's room (there's no ladies' room), but not before he puts a mask over her face and he empties the toilets of one couple that seems to be gay, plus a long-haired man and a grandfather in a wheelchair who is suspected of doing something sinister in one of the stalls. The soldier then worries that his prisoner will be corrupted if she reads obscenities on the bathroom walls (what else would be up there, quotations from the Koran?), and he forces her to close her eyes, while a crowd of angry young men barred from toilet forms. If law breaks down into a free-for-all in the bathroom, what's next? Most of the long sequence is shot without a single edit - a masterful turn in an un-cinematic space, even for a director like Panahi who is drawn toward locations that seem anything but cinematic.

I've seen Offside three times now - in Berlin, Toronto and New York. Those who saw it in Berlin and Toronto were fortunate to have Jafar Panahi there to discuss his film. He won't be in New York, because he couldn't get a visa to visit the US. It's a pity. On an earlier passage through JFK airport, Panahi refused to be fingerprinted and was detained. This visible mistreatment which got him lots of press coverage may well endear him to the Iranian government. Let's hope that means his film will have a wide audience there. I'm not holding my breath. None of his films has been released in Iran so far.

NY Daily News: Love Tangle Another note. The NYFF opens as a political farce in New York threatens to upstage it. Just yesterday, the press revealed that Jeanine Pirro, the Republican candidate for New York State Attorney General, is being investigated for planning to wiretap the boat of her husband, whom she suspected of having an affair. The alleged plot was discovered in another wiretap, this one on the phone of Bernard Kerik, the former and now-discredited NYC police commissioner, who withdrew from consideration as Bush's nominee for Homeland Security Secretary when news came out that Kerik had not only misused funds in the past, but also had mob ties. Kerik may now be best-known for his sexual trysts with the book editor Judith Regan in hotel rooms in lower Manhattan reserved for exhausted 9/11 firefighters. He's still under investigation. (Pirro has called for an investigation of the leaked information.) Their listening gambit already has a cinematic name, "The Love Bug." Remember, this woman is running for Attorney General of the State of New York.

Sound complicated? It gets messier. Pirro's libidinal husband, Al, with his own mob connections, already did prison time for tax evasion and fathered a child with another woman while married to his wife. Her opponent, Andrew Cuomo, is another cuckolded candidate, having been abandoned in full tabloid glare for another man by his ex-wife, Kerry Kennedy. Welcome to the cock fight.

Add the Republican public nostrums about the sanctity of marriage (even from the wronged Jeanine Pirro herself) and about the sanctity of wiretaps and torture, and this story has Mel Brooks written all over it. (It's probably too commerfcial for a future New York Film Festival.) Barring some other cataclysm or new sex scandal, there should be a Pirro sequel on the tabloid front pages every day for the whole festival.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:31 PM | Comments (3)

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints.

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly: "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is like a piece of naif art - a movie by someone who scarcely seems to have seen a movie before, let alone made one. And perhaps for that very reason, it's forceful and alive and spilling over with crazy poetry."

"What sets the film apart, and makes it one of the more remarkable American directing debuts in recent years, is [Dito] Montiel's passionate, almost reckless engagement with the possibilities of the medium," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Adapting his impressionistic, often rambling memoir for the screen, he demonstrates an autodidact's exuberant self-confidence and the eye of a born filmmaker. Working with a large, mostly young cast, he has made a picture so full of life and feeling that the screen can hardly contain it."

Updated through 10/5.

Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times: "There's a quality of daring in Montiel's approach, trusting that the intensity of his feeling for his characters can become contagious, and in the distinctive way he backs into his story and its scenes, moving from jagged, intimate moments to large-scale images that imbue the film with a sense of the beauty and magic of memories."

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir dissents: "I suspect this guy can make a good movie if he learns the right lessons; he's made about half of one here. But the praise heaped upon A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is way too much, way too soon."

Earlier: Scott Macaulay's interview with Montiel in the summer issue of Filmmaker.

Update, 9/30: Michael Guillén talks with Montiel and - this is a welcome twist - his editor, Jake Pushinsky.

Update, 10/2: Online listening tip. Montiel, producer Trudie Styler and Chazz Palminteri are guests on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Update, 10/5: Jennifer Merin interviews Montiel for the New York Press.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:16 AM

The Reeler.

The Reeler The Reeler, known to many who read, say, the New York Times or Filmmaker as ST Van Airsdale, has, after camping out at indieWIRE for a while and then Movie City News, set out on his own on a freshened-up site with a clean layout and one snazzy font. "[N]othing much has changed," The R writes in a "Welcome Back" message, "except that I have accrued extra piles of crap that I will never get done." He means the new blogs, the new spaces for reviews, festival coverage and so on. "But it all still pertains to the sphere of New York cinema that you have (hopefully) been following here for a while now, where the city's films, filmmakers and events will receive an increasingly comprehensive look as the site accommodates extra contributors and content." Hear, hear!

Posted by dwhudson at 8:39 AM

NYT. Janus Films.

Janus Films There'll be more on the New York Film Festival as the day wears on, but for the moment, you've got to browse this: Manohla Dargis introduces what I suppose you might call a special featurette on the remarkable sidebar, 50 Years of Janus Films. No matter how often you've seen however many of these before, she writes, "it's time to discover them again, where they belong: on the big, bright, beautiful movie screen."

So each title on these pages is accompanied by showtimes, naturally, but also by a quote from the director regarding the film. Ingmar Bergman, for example, on The Seventh Seal: "I believe a human being carries his or her own holiness, which lies within the realm of the earth; there are no otherworldly explanations. So in the film lives a remnant of my honest, childish piety lying peacefully alongside a harsh and rational perception of reality."

Updated, 9/30.

Click the title and you land on a page which in turn directs you to the trailer, reviving all those memories of seeing that starkly essential imagery for the first time, and to the NYT's original review, in which Bosley Crowther, writing nearly half a century ago, 1958, proclaimed that the film was "as tough - and rewarding - a screen challenge as the moviegoer has had to face this year."

Good thing the weekend starts this evening. Earlier: Michael Atkinson in the Voice on the series and Ray Pride here on The 400 Blows, "uncut, Janus Films logo and all, on late night TV."

Update, 9/30: An audio slideshow in which Manohla Dargis, AO Scott and Stephen Holden talk about a few of their favorites in the series.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:46 AM

Austin Chronicle. aGLIFF.

The Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival opens today, runs through October 8, and the Austin Chronicle has a nifty package:

Gypo

  • Marc Savlov talks with Jan Dunn about her first feature, Gypo, which has "secured a UK theatrical release, a feat near-unheard of in British indie cinema," been short-listed for a Bafta and "is, simply put, a stunner."

  • Carson Barker emails Darryl Stevens (who's just undergone throat surgery), appearing in two aGLIFF features, Boy Culture and Another Gay Movie, about which Jeremy Martin writes, "For all the gross-out body-fluid gags, gerbil stuffing, and vegetable-drawer raiding, the movie manages to tap some of the same sexi-/sweetness as the American Pie series."

Short takes: Sofia Resnick on Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds, "a fun commentary on reverse psychology and hormonal rivalry," and Loving Annabelle, "inspired by the 1931 German film Maedchen in Uniform"; Martin on For the Love of Dolly, which "will probably ruin the songstress's sleep for quite some time"; Barker on Mom: "[Director Erin] Greenwell takes the palette of a small, bland cityscape and draws it out with in-depth characters, provocative dialogue, and real personalities"; and Mark Fagan on Saint of 9/11: "Like its subject, it leaves a positive impact."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:46 AM

New York Dispatch. 1.

We're going giddy over the NYFF this year, with not one, not two, but three dispatchers. Andrew Grant (Filmbrain), who recently interviewed Joe Swanberg for us, launches the run with his take on The Queen.

NYFF 44 For the New York City cinephile set, autumn is heralded not by crimson foliage or a hint of chill in the air, but rather by the arrival of the New York Film Festival. A "best-of" fest, it's a chance to catch the films you first heard about at Cannes, Berlin, Rotterdam, etc. Back for its 44th year (and my own personal 20-year anniversary), its lineup includes many familiar faces, and a surprising number of titles arriving with distribution deals intact. And while it's wonderful to see films like Belle Toujours and Offside at the festival, I'd gladly trade them for titles that might never find their way here - such as Still Life, Dong or Colossal Youth. Still, it is a remarkably solid year, and save for some obvious Oscar bait (Little Children), the majority of the sixteen films I've seen so far have been impressive.

One of the most impressive (partly due to lowered expectations) is this year's opening night film, Stephen Frears's The Queen. Quite frankly, I imagined this would be another bog-standard biopic, where a stellar lead performance is mistaken for a good film - i.e, this year's Ray or Capote. Yet The Queen is anything but - it's a masterfully written acerbic dramedy that is less about individuals than it is institutions. And though it's clear which side of the political divide Frears and screenwriter Peter Morgan reside, they cleverly avoid easy targets and clichés.

The Queen

The film opens with the Blair landslide that ushered in the dream of new era and a more modern Britain. (Remember Cool Britannia?) Buckingham Palace is displeased from the outset, and the Queen is quick to correct a staff member: "He's only the Prime Minister-to-be. I haven't asked him yet." Blair (spitting image Michael Sheen) is portrayed as the young overzealous idealist who forgets nearly all protocol on his first formal meeting with Her Royal Highness, and who speaks to her on the phone while wearing his number 10 rugby jersey, his Stratocaster just inches away.

The death of Princess Diana becomes Blair's first challenge as Prime Minister, and the bulk of the film focuses on the events that transpire in the days following the accident, and the right royal nuisance her death becomes for Elizabeth Regina & Co. The growing resentment by the public towards the Queen for her refusal to return from her hideaway in the Highlands or to issue a public statement is immediately seized upon by Blair's people as an opportunity to curry favor with the masses.

Morgan's deft handling of the characters provides the film with a certain vitality that doesn't let up for a second. Though the private faces of these public figures is based on little more than speculation and conjecture, he's not working in a satirical vein, but rather striving for the all-too-human moments, even from those who believe their sovereignty to be by the grace of God. We see Blair as a reluctant leader with mommy issues, while his wife Cherie (Helen McCrory) is a borderline Lady Macbeth who likens the royals to a group of "freeloading, emotionally retarded nutters." His shifting loyalty is most interesting, especially in light of his current situation.

The Queen

Far from the image of the dainty lady in the black hat mechanically issuing her trademark cupped-hand wave, Helen Mirren's Queen is a headstrong, cellphone-carrying, Range Rover-driving monarch for whom compromise is a last resort. It's the rest of the royal family that are the nutters, including her slightly deranged mother (Sylvia Syms), socially awkward, paranoid son (Alex Jennings) and dangerously antiquated husband (James Cromwell), who believes anything can be solved with a good walk.

Mirren's performance is the one to beat this year, and it will be a surprise if she doesn't walk away with a gold statue next February. Daring for its depiction of a living monarch and sitting Prime Minister, and bound to stir up controversy, The Queen is an endlessly entertaining peek into a 1200-year-old institution that was nearly brought down by the power of the media.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:37 AM | Comments (1)

Interview. Bader Ben Hirsi.

Bader Ben Hirsi A New Day in Old Sana'a, a tale of magic realism and the first full-length feature from Yemen, has been winning over audiences and juries at festivals around the world. Now, it hits a big one: the just-opened Vancouver International Film Festival, which runs through October 13.

Harvey F Chartrand talks with British-Yemeni writer and director Bader Ben Hirsi about the difficulties of making a film in a country highly suspicious of cinema and with next-to-no industry of its own as well as about his documentary, 9/11 Through Saudi Eyes, and his next feature project.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:22 AM

September 28, 2006

Operatic.

Oper in Berlin Meanwhile, the Idomeneo hoopla in Berlin. For all that's been written over the past several days, Alex Ross sums it up best: "The situation is idiotic to the core, but, yes, [Hans] Neuenfels must be defended; millions have died fighting for democracy so he can put his pap onstage."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:06 AM

Vancouver. Preview.

The Vancouver International Film Festival opens today and runs through October 13. Jay Kuehner, most recently spotted in "GreenCine: Telluride 2006," offers an overview. A note about film titles: click one, accept the cookie and you'll see VIFF's info for all the other films thereafter.

VIFF 25

Decamping from this year's Telluride Film Festival (September 1 through 4), the salutory refrain among critics and industry was, "See you in Toronto." While the North American feast of festivals warrants compulsory attendance each fall, it's that other Canadian film destination that inspires rabid devotion among cinephiles. The 25th annual Vancouver International Film Festival runs over two weeks and the program reads like a rejoinder to cine-lamenters anywhere.

Jia Zhangke To wit: here you can see not one but two films from the formidable Chinese director Jia Zhangke (whom Vancouver practically introduced to the world after his Xiao Wu won the coveted Dragons and Tigers award in 1998), the documentary Dong and the Venice Golden Lion-winning feature it inspired, Still Life; new films from the symbiotic Taiwanese duo Tsai Ming-Liang (I Don't Want To Sleep Alone) and his muse Lee Kang-Sheng (My Stinking Kid, co-directed with Tsai); a new film from Pedro (Portuguese maverick Costa, that is, although Almodóvar's Volver is here, too), the critically-annointed Cannes fave Colossal Youth; two medium-length shorts from directors I personally couldn't live without, Signes by Eugène Green from France and About Love by Darezhan Omirbayev from Kazakhstan; slices of South American minimalism in Fantasma by Lisandro Alonso (Argentina) and Paraguayan Hammock by Paz Encina (the first Paraguayan feature in over 30 years); the highly awaited Host (Bong Joon-Ho, whom VIFF has been faithful to since screening his 1995 short Incoherence); the hotly anticipated Shortbus by John Cameron Mitchell (with its star and CBC personality Sook Yin-Li introducing the film, this could prove to be the, uh, hardest ticket to come by since the mob scene for Wong's In the Mood for Love years back).

Hong Sang-soo The list goes on. Obviously, consummate programming is chief among VIFF's attractions. Many consider the Dragons and Tigers program, "the largest showcase of East Asian films outside of Asia," to be a festival unto itself and travel here for that purpose alone. The Dragons and Tigers Award for Young Cinema has become a virtual role-call of who's who in Asian film (Kore-eda Hirokazu, Jia Zhangke and Hong Sang-Soo were all feted here), and who won't soon forget last year's winner, the astonishingly economical Oxhide by Chinese director Liu Jiayan? You can prod programmer Tony Rayns to tip you on the short list, but he remains equivocal about the wealth of talent he unearths annually. Perhaps a documentary about Yokohama Mary, a Japanese hooker who prowled the streets until she was 83, may not make it on to your card of must-sees, but the pleasure of Dragons and Tigers is all about the act of discovery. In an instance of reaping what it sows, this year VIFF has the pleasure of screening new films from Kore-eda Hirokazu (Hana - yes, it's a samurai film!), Hong Sang-Soo (Woman on the Beach) and Miike Takashi (Big Bang Love, Juvenile A - yes, it's a prison movie!).

As the largest survey of Canadian films anywhere, VIFF's Canadian Images program is sorely without Guy Maddin's The Brand Upon the Brain! (snatched up by the New York Film Festival) but includes other highlights such as Monkey Warfare, Reginald Harkema's Jury Award-winner at Toronto, and Manufactured Landscapes, Jennifer Baichwal's portrait of photographer Edward Burtynsky as he documents the wages of globalization in China's unprecedented capitalist thrust (Burtynsky's vision is complemented by the estimable cinematographer/director Peter Mettler [Gambling, Gods and LSD]).

Claude Chabrol The Spotlight on France section features new films from Claude Chabrol (A Comedy of Power, with Isabelle Huppert in her seventh role for Chabrol), Benoît Jacquot (The Untouchable, teaming again with the luminous Isild Le Besco), and Xavier Beauvois (the sleeper policier Le Petit Lieutenant, with an unforgettable turn from Nathalie Baye). The anthology film Paris, je t'aime features 18 world-class directors paying homage to the city of lights. As a producer's wet dream, such films are always a mixed bag, but with names involved such as Christopher Doyle, Olivier Assayas, Gus Van Sant and Suwa Nobuhiro, who can resist a little vicarious travel? Crowning the French selection is a special presentation of Jacques Rivette's 743-minute New Wave opus, Out 1: noli me tangere, never before screened outside of Europe. The film screens over the course of two days and will be introduced by film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum. "Like reading Proust or watching Wagner's Ring cycle," extol the program notes; the film's phantom life 35 years later gives new context to the notion of "target audience."

Laura Poitras Given the state of global politics as defined by US interests, where better for an American to get perspective than Canada? The VIFF online program guide even has an interests menu that includes Terrorism and War, and the list is heady (as Paul Arthur notes in a recent Film Comment piece, "[O]ur most cogent representations of the Iraq conflict are clearly taking place on the big screen"). That James Longley's plangent and poetic Iraq in Fragments has languished this long without distribution is criminal; here you can catch it alongside Laura Poitras's My Country, My Country, "The definitive non-fiction film about the Iraq occupation" (according to the Village Voice). Not only the stuff of documentary, the topic of terror is examined in visceral minutiae by Julia Loktev in Day Night Day Night. Mining similar territory as Paradise Now, albeit wholly stripped down, Loktev's film tirelessly follows a young girl on a suicide-bombing mission in Times Square. Physically detailed but ideologically abstract, Day Night Day Night should ignite debate well into the film year. See it at VIFF before the rhetorical smoke clouds your view.

If the aforementioned isn't compelling enough, consider the context in which VIFF unfolds. Asked what makes VIFF special, associate programmer Mark Peranson (editor of Cinema Scope) doesn't hesitate to single out the festival's prosaic virtues: "In short, a moviegoer truly gets his or hers money's worth at the VIFF, and in a convivial atmosphere; most of the theaters are within walking distance of each other, with numerous options of filmgoing available at any time, from 10 am to 10 pm." If you factor in the post-screening after-hours cocktail with a first-time Russian director of an experimental black comedy, that clocks your film day in at around seventeen hours. In the dream logic of festival time, one can conceivably still get a good night's rest.

Nuri Bilge Ceylon Peranson confirms VIFF's reputation as both populist and uncompromising. "It's a festival for the people that manages to straddle the lines of high art and popular entertainment, and attempts to program with an eye on what its audience wants, as well as present the best artistic achievements of the film year." This means having whatever you consider your cake - from Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Climates to a sneak preview of Todd Field's Little Children; from Aki Kaurismäki's Lights in the Dusk to Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain. As for eating it too, VIFF is well-attended, but seats are not impossible, nor ticket prices prohibitive. The new Vancouver International Film Centre is a plush state-of-the-art theater and optimum viewing venue; both Claire Denis's L'Intrus and James Benning's 13 Lakes, which screened at last year's festival, took on new life in this setting.

Valeska Grisebach It's a good sign for VIFF 06 that the number of eagerly anticipated titles far exceeds those that, probably not for the festival's lack of trying, couldn't make the trip. Among the myriad on my list to see are Jafar Panahi's Offside (Iran), Manoel de Oliveira's Magic Mirror (Portugal), Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century (Thailand), Ulrich Köhler's Windows on Monday (Germany), Valeska Grisebach's Longing (Germany) and Albert Serra's Honour of the Knights (Spain). These ought to allay my curiosity for the few missing in action: Barbara Albert's Falling (Austria), Pablo Trapero's Born and Bred (Argentina) and Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno's Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (France). Still, this is mere grumbling. Summarizing the Vancouver experience, I'm reminded of an encounter with a European critic (who writes better in a third language than I can ever hope to in my first) at last year's edition. His description of a film I was about to see struck me as a gesture of deference: "It is quite okay," he said, which I took to mean "middling." But the film in question, Michael Glawogger's Workingman's Death, was rather staggering. That's when I understood that quite okay meant just that. Similarly, VIFF's modest profile belies its continued depth and sense of purpose. Upon departing VIFF's two-week immersion in Same Planet. Different Worlds, it's now common to say to the filmgoers you've met here, "See you next year."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:38 AM

September 27, 2006

Shorts, 9/27.

The Departed "Martin Scorsese's The Departed, from a screenplay by William Monahan, based on Andrew Lau and Alan Mak's 2002 Hong Kong crime thriller Infernal Affairs, provides an electrifying entertainment for this fall moviegoing season in its police-mobster machinations and deep undercover penetration by both sides of the law," trumpets Andrew Sarris. "In this respect, The Departed strikes unexpectedly deep chords of tragic poignancy with the emotional fallout from an atmosphere of perpetual paranoia so characteristic of our post-9/11 world. No one can completely trust anyone else." Also reviewed: Le Petit Lieutenant and Marie Antoinette. As for The Departed, Tim Robey gives it a "C+."

But also in the New York Observer: "It is very important that we as a free country don't become what we despise in an age of such palpable threats," Ken Burns tells Rebecca Dana. "There's always a tendency that in trying to eradicate evil in the world, we sometimes come to resemble the thing we're trying to eradicate." The issue at hand: out of fear of the FCC, PBS is preemptively censoring itself. Update: Dick Kreck reports in the Denver Post that Rocky Mountain PBS has cancelled the documentary Marie Antoinette. RMPBS prez James Morgese says the questionable scenes, 200-year-old drawings of nekkid people, are "nothing worse than what you see on TV elsewhere, but in this era of heightened sensitivity by the FCC, fines are pretty stiff."

Rachid Bouchareb's Indigènes "opens in Paris [today] amid a furious row over France's racist treatment of colonial troops and a political battle over pensions worth millions of euros that surviving veterans are still owed," reports Angelique Chrisafis. Related: Cineuropa's "film focus" features interviews with Bouchareb, producer Jean Bréhat and the cast.

Also in the Guardian:

  • Natasha Walter: "Of all the statistics that show that the world is still weighted towards the boys, there are few quite as telling as the percentage of major feature films that are directed by women - we're still talking just 7 percent."

Brothers Grimm

Intimate Lighting "[P]erhaps no film sums up the spirit of the Czech New Wave as Ivan Passer's light and breezy masterpiece, Intimate Lighting," writes Ian Johnston at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

Michael Gibbons at indieWIRE: "The survival of Brazilian filmmaking largely depends on government incentives, and politics inevitably enter into an already complicated debate about how to consolidate a market that is vulnerable yet full of potential." Plus, an interview with American Hardcore director Paul Rachman.

Speaking of which, Rob Harvilla: "The flick succeeds in lending 80s hardcore punk some gravity and importance but not, by any means, aesthetic beauty or mass appeal. You would most likely have not enjoyed this in person."

Also in the Voice, Michael Musto talks with John Cameron Mitchell about Shortbus (more from Ed Gonzalez in Slant) and Ella Taylor finds Little Children an "verly long movie, made sluggish by a superfluously novelistic narrator, [which] feels divided against itself, driven by opposed impulses of tragedy and dark humor that make it impossible for us to identify with these lost souls' break for freedom or wait for them to grow up."

"In the course of covering Fantastic Fest, I've seen 25 features so far, with more to come," writes Peter Martin at Twitch. "My mind feels like it's reaching capacity with blood, body parts, savage killers, and psychic traumas doing battle within my cranium. Yet I keep coming back to Head Trauma as one of this year's touchstones."

Grady Hendrix on Dragon Tiger Gate: "Stupid and shallow but really, really hot and crammed with hard bodied action." Makes for a good drinking game, too, evidently.

"The Black Dahlia doesn't seem like work for hire - I don't think De Palma is capable of hack work," writes Dennis Cozzalio in a long, considered entry. "It does feel like the work of a man who hasn't quite figured out how to realize those desires to take his filmmaking in a different direction."

"Fascinated disgust and aghast amusement are two feelings I don't experience often enough," writes the San Francisco Bay Guardian's Cheryl Eddy. "Jesus Camp elicits both in spades." she interviews directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, who, along with the now-(in)famous Pastor Becky Fisher, are also guests on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Back in the SFBG, Johnny Ray Huston talks with video and audio manipulating artists Bryan Boyce (full interview), Derrick Beckles, Animal Charm (full interview) and Gregg Gillis, while Cheryl Eddy meets documentary filmmaker Aron Ranen - and Andrew Bujalski.

Jason Clark in Slant on Copying Beethoven: "Will there ever be a decent movie made about any part of Ludwig van Beethoven's life?"

Cleopatra That Little Round-Headed Boy indulges in Cecil B DeMille's 1934 Cleopatra, "which quickly reminds you how the word "lavish" has disappeared from Hollywood's dictionary. This film is a calling card for the pleasures of the old studio system and its irrepressible craftsmanship. To paraphrase Norma Desmond, 'They had sets then!'"

What, Frankenstein and Dracula again? Yes, and as Dave Kehr writes, "For collectors it's a good news/bad news moment. The new transfers are the best yet, with grain and contrast much improved, but you'll have to shell out for them one more time, $26.98 each." Also in the New York Times, Caryn James on bad buzz.

"The fact that audio in motion pictures is often overlooked can be largely explained by its abstract nature," argues Peet Gelderblom. "You can point out the lipstick on a husband's collar, or spot the bad guy holding a gun in the crowd, you can freeze a frame and enlarge it, but it's hard to put a finger on the disturbing effect of a faintly detectable bass drone accompanying a sequence of seemingly ordinary shots."

Michael Fox at SF360: "While the cinema is recognized - nay, embraced - as a catalyst for discussion of political and social issues in France, England, Israel, and throughout the developing world, any American movie that exposes the rotten parts of our system is considered in bad taste. These days the subject of politics has been relegated to documentary makers, with mixed results."

Matthew Clayfield addresses "the ongoing noise (can it really be called a discussion?) surrounding the unnecessarily prickly question of what a videoblog actually is, a question with a very straightforward answer that shouldn't be nearly as controversial as it continues to be."

"Memories of some movies are inseparable from where you first see them," writes Ray Pride at Movie City News. "My prime Chicago example: Oak Street's 70-year-old deco dowager, the Esquire." It "closed last Thursday: as the developer who's bringing the wrecking ball phrased it to the Sun-Times, the up-up-upscale environs of Prada-era Oak Street are missing 'a restaurant component.'"

In the Los Angeles Times, Jay A Fernandez profiles screenwriter Allan Loeb; and Dennis McLellan: "Edward Albert, the actor-son of the late screen veteran Eddie Albert who first gained fame co-starring with Goldie Hawn in the 1970s film Butterflies Are Free and later became an outspoken environmental activist, has died. He was 55."

Always great fun: another trailer roundup from Gwynne Watkins at ScreenGrab.

And my, just look at some of the DVDs coming out over the next several weeks, hand-picked by Joe Bowman.

"On principle, The AV Club hereby refuses to do a fall movie preview. Oh, all right, fine, we'll do one. But we aren't going to try very hard."

Kamera.co.uk has redesigned and has fresh reviews of theatrical and DVD releases.

It has next-to-nothing to do with film, but I can't help but chime in on Andreas Tzortzis's piece in the NYT on Berlin's retiring building director, Hans Stimmann. If anyone's proven that urban planning can have a severely detrimental effect on a city's economic prospects, it's Stimmann. I wish Tzortizis had been able to work in a little more quotage from Niklas Maak, as he's currently one of the best and most forward-thinking writers on architecture and design in Germany.

Online gazing tip. "There can never be enough Pre-Code at the Greenbriar!"

Online browsing tip. At Radar, Michael Musto introduces a collection from Warhol's World, " a tubby little book featuring snapshots of his countless acquaintances, all taken by the alleged social-phobe himself." Via Jason Kottke.

Online viewing tips, round 1. The best of August at no fat clips!!!

Online viewing tips, round 2. A slew of new trailer finds at Twitch.

Online viewing tips, round 3. Antonio Pasolini: "The organisers of the Rio de Janeiro film festival have teamed up with the popular Porta Curta streaming site to show 17 of the competing films from the festival's Première Brasil section. You can also vote for your favorites."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:46 PM

Fests and events, 9/27.

Zefiro Torna: Scenes from the Life of George Maciunas George Maciunas, 1953 - 1978: Charts, Diagrams, Films, Documents and Atlases: at the Maya Stendhal Gallery in New York through October 28. Related online viewing tip. Jonas Mekas's Zefiro Torna: Scenes from the Life of George Maciunas.

The work of Harun Farocki is the focus of an exhibition at Index, the Swedish Contemporary Art Foundation, through November 5.

Recent New York Film Festival previews:

Belle toujours

  • But Uhlich stayed for another, and for THND: "Buñuel tears the gates of perception asunder; de Oliveira, at least in Belle toujours, keeps us decidedly earthbound. This might be part of the point: to show, essentially, how the characters' unhinged fantasy lives have been tempered by age, with all the resultant hemming and hawing about lost youth that, placed within a slightly different framework, might well be entitled Trip to Bountiful."

  • Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog on Marie Antoinette: "here's no way around it - it just looks so good."

And from the Fantastic Fest, wrapping tomorrow, at Twitch, Peter Martin offers quick takes on Roman, The Woods, Wilderness and Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:45 AM

Up-n-coming, 9/27.

Destricted "An explicit still image is a nude, but an explicit movie is hard-core," notes Jim Lewis as he opens his consideration of Destricted in Slate. Before the disclaimers - he knows just about everyone involved - he argues that "if Destricted proves anything, it's that art is more powerful than porn (and that artists, thankfully, don't take well to assignments), for each of the seven participants simply enlarges his or her own concerns just far enough to include concupiscence." Did you know: there'll be a Destricted 2.

Which leads us to news of the up-n-coming: Grady Hendrix has news of Feng Xiaogang's next film, The Assembly, "a war flick set during the end of China's civil war and the start of the Korean War about a commander who is ordered to fight until he hears the assembly call... but the call never comes."

Screen Daily - I don't have a link because I don't have a subscription - reports that Lars von Trier will be turning from comedy (The Boss of It All) to horror by picking up his Antichrist project again. Shooting starts in the summer of 2007. Christopher Campbell has more at Cinematical.

Carter: Palestine Screen Daily's also reporting that Jonathan Demme will making a film based on Jimmy Carter's forthcoming Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.

Paul Arendt in the Guardian: "Nick Broomfield is making a film about the alleged massacre of Iraqi civilians and insurgents by US marines in Haditha."

Variety: Gavin Hood will direct Jake Gyllenhaal and Reese Witherspoon in Rendition, a "Middle East political thriller."

Empire reports on Invisibles, a portmanteau film to feature the work of Javier Bardem, Wim Wenders, Fernando León, Isabel Coixet, Mariano Barroso and Javier Corcuera: "Their various entries will tackle the world's overlooked conflicts and the human suffering they cause. The subjects include sleeping sickness in Africa, Uganda's young soldiers, a documentary about displaced Columbians and Wenders' film about violence against women in the Congo."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:30 AM

Books, 9/27.

Christine Vachon: A Killer Life Introducing an excerpt from Christine Vachon's A Killer Life: How and Independent Producer Survives Deals and Disasters in Hollywood and Beyond, Eugene Hernandez pronounces it a "must read." Eugene's got more recommendations at his blog.

There's a chapter in A Killer Life that's "an hour by hour account of a day at Cannes," notes David Lowery, and so, from the set of Yen Tan's Ciao, "I thought I might give a similar breakdown of an average shooting day, from the editor's perspective."

Spoto: Enchantment In the New York Observer, Scott Eyman reviews Donald Spoto's Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn, whose "performances in Funny Face (1957), The Nun's Story (1959), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), Two for the Road (1967), Robin and Marian (1976) and, yes, Love in the Afternoon have a luminosity that's nowhere to be found in this book." Well, except on the cover. Related: Dan Glaister reports in the Guardian that "Audrey Hepburn has been reincarnated as the latest muse for Gap, brought back to life to help sell one of the clothing chain's staple products - skinny black pants."

DK Holm at Quick Stop Entertainment on David Thomson's Nicole Kidman and Lee Server's Ava Gardner: Love is Nothing: "Thomson's Kidman is a happy narcissist who loves the camera. Gardner was a woman with animal charisma who personally didn't know what all the fuss was about. Once Mickey Rooney introduced her to sex, her life was changed, and she appeared in movies primarily to fund her hedonism and work in political causes. She rejected America, hated the movie business, and was kicked out of more European hotel bars than a drunken sailor on a binge." Heavens, no wonder God doesn't want us having sex. And probably especially not with Mickey Rooney.

At Zoom In Online, Annie Frisbee talks with Blake Snyder about his Save the Cat!, "a screenwriting book that goes beyond the same old reworkings of three-act structure to get to the heart of the matter: what is the movie about?"

Posted by dwhudson at 9:00 AM

The Last King of Scotland.

The Last King of Scotland Michael Joshua Rowin opens Reverse Shot's round on The Last King of Scotland at indieWIRE: "What starts out as an awkward, wide-eyed bildungsroman and travelogue transforms (through more untamed verve than directorial precision) into a frantic, disorienting tragedy about the seduction of power, one that would make proud this film's not-so-unlikely pair of guardian angels, Joseph Conrad and Oliver Stone." Neither Keith Uhlich nor Nicolas Rapold agree.

Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: "Furiously paced, with excellent performances by Forest Whitaker as Amin and James McAvoy as the foolish Scotsman who becomes the leader's personal physician, the film has texture, if not depth and enough intelligence to almost persuade you that it actually has something of note to say."

More from Ella Taylor in the Voice and other alt-weeklies across the country, from Stephanie Zacharek in Salon, Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times and David Denby in the New Yorker.

Earlier: David D'Arcy from Toronto.

Update, 9/28: Dana Stevens considers two films written by Peter Morgan, The Last King of Scotland and The Queen, in light of each other: "He's interested in the way tradition and sycophancy shield the powerful from criticism, and how reality eventually finds its way through that shield. Both movies remind us of the simple but easily obscured truth that politics, in the end, always comes down to people: not just 'the people' but real, living individuals, with their appetites, histories, fears and desires."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:35 AM

Fresh air.

Paris, je t'aime One of the things we try to avoid in interviews for GC is the standard junket effluvia such as "What was it like working with...?" which inevitably leads to pained and painful replies hinging on the words "great" and "a real privilege" or any other question that might get a mention of a character's "journey." With a few welcome exceptions, links to interviews elsewhere around here are usually brief simply because, well, you've read one... But how's this for an opener:

Ferenc Varga for Filmklub: "Most of these omnibus-films that look interesting beforehand turn out to be pretty horrible. Why do you think Paris, je t'aime works and the others don't?"

Olivier Assayas: "I'm not so fond of Paris, je t'aime. To me a lot of the stuff in the film is very conventional and I'm not so fond of the postcard side of Paris it presents. I'm perfectly okay with being part of it but I can't say that the film is some kind of spectacular achievement."

Merci.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:19 AM | Comments (1)

Online viewing tip. Jamie Stuart: NYFF. Episode 1.

Jamie Stuart: NYFF. Episode 1 One of the highlights of each year's New York Film Festival for those of us who can't be there is the series of video reports/diaries/essays Jamie Stuart makes and lets us watch - and this is the amazing part, given their quality - for free.

Episode 1 opens with echoes of Adaptation., Manhattan and previous series and segues through not-quite-snide (but pretty funny) remarks on a few other DIY filmmakers into comments on Little Children and snippets from the press conference.

The man knows how to frame and when to hold his camera steady. Looks like this is going to be another great run.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:40 AM

DVDs, 9/27.

Hard Candy DK Holm gathers DVD specialists' takes on Hard Candy.

One of the most controversial films of 2006, or at least potentially controversial, has been David Slade's Hard Candy, from a script by former teacher Brian Nelson. Essentially a two-person play, Hard Candy recounts what happens after a 14-year old girl (Ellen Page) in a red hoodie goes home with a slick 32-year old photographer (Patrick Wilson) whom she first encounters on the Internet. The film's guileful trailer suggests that Hard Candy is a slasher or horror film but it turns out to be a psychological drama in which the teen is on an intricate revenge trip.

Surprisingly, Hard Candy did not provoke the sort of protests one usually associates with films that tread the ambiguous terrain of adolescent sexuality. Now out on DVD, Hard Candy receives a brief review at Entertainment Weekly in which Jeff Labrecque lauds the film's "visual ferocity" and the way it "craftily tests the audience's sympathies for an Internet pedophile and a seemingly helpless 14-year-old," adding that a "superb making-of explains how a then-bald Ellen Page beat out 300 other girls for her role by interpreting Hayley as Joan of Arc."

Brett Cullum at DVD Verdict kicks off with the admonition that "Strangers should never talk to little girls," before praising Hard Candy as the "slickest sick thriller to come along this year." Noting that the film "got a limited run and disappeared quickly," Cullum points out that Slade craftily "lets you wonder who the predator and the prey is every step of the way, and it ends exactly how it should. It's a film about vigilantes, sexual justice, and hard questions.... You'll question, you'll debate, and you'll find yourself writhing all the way."

At DVD Talk, Francis Rizzo III begins confessionally by rightfully praising the film's merchandising: "When I saw the trailer for Hard Candy, I knew I had to see this film. It's not that I'm a big fan of movies about pedophiles, but the look of the preview (and the poster) was so striking and the concept so intriguing, that I couldn't wait to check it out. Unfortunately, it didn't get a wide release and never made it to a theater near me. Now though, I've experienced Hard Candy, and I'm glad I did." He goes on to add that the "best aspect of this intimate film (there [are] only four speaking roles, including Sandra Oh's inquisitive neighbor), is the lack of a hero." The extras also summon up praise: "Considering the controversial topic at the heart of the film, it's ripe for some bonus material, and Lionsgate didn't let anyone down, giving the DVD a good spread of extras," especially that hour-long making of, which constitutes "a very engaging look at how the film was made," while an additional nine-minute short, "Controversial Confection: The Soul of Hard Candy," "goes deeper into the movie's content and everything that goes into making a movie about such a topic."

Finally, there is Mike Russell at the DVD Journal. Russell is relatively silent on the supplements but praises the films opening sequences, especially the first scene, depicting what we soon learn is the first meeting between Jeff and Haley. "Their coffee-shop conversation is one of the more skin-crawly interactions to be seen in a movie in a good long while, and everything - from Jeff's too-smooth manner to Hayley's woman-child naiveté to the brightly lit close-ups of faces and forks cutting cakes - is designed to unsettle." But at the 25-minute mark, "the movie changes into something tricky and merciless. The remainder of Hard Candy deals in wince-inducing surgery, revealed secrets, power struggles, surprise twists, and no-win ultimatums. As in the original permutations of another, older story featuring a girl in a red hood, the lines between predator and prey blur when both parties turn out to be cunning." But, unlike the other reviewers, Russell is not uncritical. "Unfortunately, the story does lose quite a bit of its queasy power as the revelations start piling up, and there's so much monologuing by Hayley and Jeff that you wonder if Nelson's script wasn't first written for the stage," but nevertheless concludes that Hard Candy "still works as a smarter-than-usual cat-and-mouse deathmatch."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:08 AM

September 26, 2006

Other fests and events, 9/26.

Blood Tea and Red String October will be "a month of horror, terror, and general mayhem" at the Pioneer Theater in lovely New York City.

"Who, with the exception of its creator Leonard Schein, could have guessed that Vancouver's nascent film festival would grow from a one venue event showing 40 films in 1982 into one of the largest festivals in the world?" asks Greg Ursic at Hollywood Bitchslap in his preview of the 25th Vancouver International Film Festival.

Shawn Levy: "The 26th Cans Film Festival, a benefit for the Oregon Food Bank Network, will be held on Thursday, September 28, at all Regal Cinemas in Oregon and Clark County, Washington."

Ed Halter in the Voice: "[Su] Friedrich is one of the most accomplished avant-garde filmmakers of her generation, with a career of films and videos whose masterful construction and precise beauty attest to the positive aspects of her self-criticism, and her stature only makes the humbling existential crises in Seeing Red more poignant." MoMA's series runs through Saturday.

Brian Brooks previews the 14th Raindance Film Festival, opening in London tomorrow and running through October 8. Also, Kim Adelman has notes and links on "Ten of the Most Buzzed-About Films from Two of Southern California's Largest Shortfests."

Brooklyn Information and Culture's Rotunda Gallery and New York Magazine launch a free series on October 5 as Logan Hill moderates a discussion with Steven Shainberg (Fur) and Dito Montiel (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints). Don R Lewis has a rave for Saints at Film Threat; more from Rob Nelson in the Voice.

International Rome Film Festival Camillo de Marco at Cineuropa: "There will be 20 female directors throughout the various sections (four of which are competition) of the International Rome Film Festival." October 13 through 21.

More new lineups, these via Grady Hendrix: The Pusan International Film Festival (October 12 through 20) and the Chicago International Film Festival (October 5 through 19).

"Of the eight TIFFs I've attended, I think this year's was probably the strongest," writes Girish, introducing his reviews of Jia Zhangke's Still Life and Dong, Lisandro Alonso's Fantasma and Tsai Ming-liang's I Don't Want to Sleep Alone. More on Toronto from David Walsh at the WSWS.

The Animated Films That Got Away made for a "somewhat disappointing" weekend for Doug Cummings.

Wanna be in a movie? Talk to Jerry Lentz.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:57 PM | Comments (2)

NYFF, 9/26.

The Queen The New York Film Festival opens on Friday and runs through October 15. Besides highlighting three films to be screened during the first week - Mafioso, Woman on the Beach and Bamako - J Hoberman reviews the opener, The Queen, finding it "more fun than any movie about the violent death of a 36-year-old woman has a right to be. It's also as exotic an English-language picture as the season is likely to bring."

Also in the Voice, Michael Atkinson previews the 31-film sidebar, 50 Years of Janus Films, "a crash-course Cinema 101 of international masterpieces. Many are available on lovely Criterion DVDs already, but a substantial hunk remains, in this century, rarely screened and all but forgotten in modern film culture."

Tom Hall has sampled two: "Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water (in a stunning new print) followed by a screening of Ingmar Bergman's little-seen (by me anyway) Summer With Monika. Seeing both films back to back, projected in luminous black and white on the Walter Reade's screen, was quite a shock if only because of they felt completely modern and relevant; neither film has lost an ounce of timeliness."

Aaron Hillis opens his across-the-board preview for Premiere by noting that this year's edition "might be one of their richest line-ups in years based on the sweeping diversity of its 35 hand-picked features."

Daniel Kasman has set up a special section and has reviews of Marie Antoinette, Syndromes and a Century, Little Children and: "How unexpected is it that Belle Toujours, ostensibly a sequel (although called an homage) to Luis Buñuel's surreal classic about an posh Parisian wife up-and-deciding to work in a brothel in her spare time, would not only work, but work simply, sweetly, warmly, and wisely?" More on that one from Ed Gonzalez in Slant.

In his preview of the Views from the Avant-Garde series for Slant, Keith Uhlich focuses on Saul Levine and Paolo Gioli.

Jürgen Fauth has first impressions of August Days, Mafioso and Belle Toujours.

Jenny Jediny at Not Coming to a Theater Near You on Marie Antoinette: "Coppola's interpretation is so simple it threatens to fall apart at any moment, and never congeals into anything beyond a beautiful, hollow sketch."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:19 PM

Fantastic Fest, 9/26.

Bug "William Friedkin's Bug is a brilliant, unsettling, perfectly timed film that checks the pulse of a rapidly disintegrating national consciousness," writes Wiley Wiggins of the film that ranks, along with The Host and Funky Forest, among his favorites at the Fantastic Fest so far. Also wild about Bug is Blake Ethridge at Cinema Strikes Back: "Michael Shannon is at the driver's wheel. It's the best acting performance I've seen in 2006 and careens off all roads of sanity."

At Cinematical, Jette Kernion gets a kick out of Frostbite and also reviews Tideland and The Hamster Cage.

Peter Martin's quick run-downs at Twitch: The Host, Broken, Venus Drowning and Northville Cemetery Massacre (Director's Cut).

At Slackerwood, Chris Holland's got some quick notes and photos.

Allison Hope Weiner reports on Mel Gibson's controversial (deservedly or not) comments in Austin; related: Harry Knowles.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:04 PM

Telluride. Video review.

Cabinetic presents "GreenCine: Telluride 2006."

Julia Loktev

The video report not only captures the overall air of the festival but also features the likes of new co-director Gary Meyer, writers Scott Foundas and Jay Kuehner and of course a few filmmakers, too, talking about what makes the festival unique.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:52 AM | Comments (1)

Tetsuro Tamba, 1922 - 2006.

Tetsuro Tamba There don't seem to be too many reports out there yet, but Tetsuro Tamba died a few days ago at the age of 84. Japan Today has a brief item and, because he was in You Only Live Twice, so does MI6 News.

Tetsuro Tamba's IMDb pages testify to an amazingly prolific career; his Wikipedia entry may be brief but does a fine job of noting the highlights, including performances in Masaki Kobayashi's Harakiri and Kwaidan, Yoji Yamada's The Twilight Samurai and several films by Takashi Miike, including The Happiness of the Katakuris, Yakuza Demon and Gozu. He was also the voice of the Cat King in Hayao Miyazaki's The Cat Returns.

Update: Just saw that David Austin has a very fine remembrance at Cinema Strikes Back.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:22 AM

Interview. Raúl Ruiz.

Raúl Ruiz With the release of Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting on DVD, the vast and vital oeuvre of Raúl Ruiz, seemingly so far out of reach for most of us, is brought one small but welcome step closer. Jonathan Marlow met the Chilean director in Rotterdam.

Also: A talk with Elsa Zylberstein about working with Ruiz on Time Regained and That Day.

Related: Rouge 2, an annotated Ruiz filmography.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:25 AM | Comments (2)

September 25, 2006

Shorts, 9/25.

"Why this bizarre insistence that any attempt to show any World War II leaders as less than stainless somehow represents an insidious left-wing all-American-wars-are-imperialist agenda? After seeing a trailer, for heaven's sake." The Siren is stunned by Libertas into writing one helluvan entry on WWII movies and "The Gym Class School of Film Criticism."

Jesus Camp Three terrific entries from AJ Schnack, right in a row, addressing three questions: Is Jackass Number Two a doc? Is Magnolia screwing up Jesus Camp's chances? Is the MPAA the Vatican's poodle?

More on Jesus Camp from Annie Nocenti at Filmmaker, where KJ Doughton has a piece on American Hardcore.

Jesus Camp "has split the Christian community and horrified those who fear the ascendance of the religious right on the national stage." That much you probably knew. But Gina Piccalo tracks the film's impact so far on its key players.

Also in the Los Angeles Times:

Updated.

  • "What do people who didn't live through the late 1940s and the 1950s make of these noir movies?" wonders Thomas de Zengotita. "I have a hypothesis: They make pretty much what I make of them, only at one remove - a very interesting remove."

  • Peter Rainer on Brian De Palma: "He's imprisoned by his own legend, but I'm betting he has the Houdini moves to escape and astonish us - astonish himself - once again." Related: That Little Round-Headed Boy on Scarface.

  • "Fuji, which, in addition to being Japan's biggest commercial TV broadcaster, has become a prolific producer of the live-action feature films that are seriously cutting into Hollywood's share of the box office," reports Bruce Wallace. What's more, "Fuji is not alone. All four of Japan's powerful TV networks have entered the movie business, creating a new source of domestic film production that is changing the economics of Hollywood's biggest market outside the US."

  • Having Disney, but only Disney in its movie store could be a problem for both Apple and the studio, argues Joseph Menn.

Nosferatu Nathaniel R calls for a Blog-a-Thon on October 30: Vampires.

John Hughes, argues Michael Weiss, "was never quite the antagonist of the status quo he made himself out to be. He was actually a political conservative, and his portrayals of down-and-out youth rebellion had more to do with celebrating the moral victory of the underdog than with championing the underprivileged. In Hughes' hormonal vale of tears, snobs and elitists were the ones who ruined wealth for everybody else."

Also in Slate, Dana Stevens on All the King's Men and: what "literary jujitsu" has George W Bush picked up from Harold Pinter's Betrayal, Martin Amis's Time's Arrow, Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along and Christopher Nolan's Memento? Michael Kinsley explains: "If you trace the concept of 'victory' in his remarks on Iraq, and those of subordinates, you discover a war that was won three and a half years ago, and today has barely started."

"The sex that cast members had in the service of the movie seemed to stay in that context; intimate scenes didn't appear to complicate relationships among the cast members. And [John Cameron] Mitchell asked as much of himself as he did of his cast. For a scene that shows writhing bodies in a sort of sexual mosh pit, he jumped into the fray." Frank Bruni has a longish backgrounder on Shortbus in the New York Times. David Amsden profiles Mitchell for New York.

Also in the NYT:

  • Sarah Lyall calls up Stephen Frears and Helen Mirren to talk about The Queen. Related: David Edelstein calls the film "a small masterpiece" in New York.

  • Lynn Hirschberg visits "Sofia Coppola's Paris."

  • "In a wave of films now reaching the screen, digital elements are woven together with the real, vastly extending the filmmaker's reach and leaving the audience to guess where one ends and the other begins." Take Flyboys, for example, suggests Bryan Reesman.

  • "[A]s Fred Turner points out in his revealing new book, From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism, there is no way to separate cyberculture from counterculture; indeed, cyberculture grew from its predecessor's compost," writes Edward Rothstein.

  • Sharon Waxman on why Jim Carrey's breakup with manager Nick Stevens is indicative of a "tectonic movement going on in the entertainment industry."

Funny Face London Fashion Week's just over, but The Devil Wears Prada is about to open in the UK. In the Independent, Vera Rule highlights landmark moments in the history of fashion at the movies while David Thomson, who also writes a bit about Funny Face, worries about all those thin girls.

Emma Brockes has a long, spicy talk with Meryl Streep. Also in the Guardian:

In the Observer, Paul Harris notes how TV's becoming more like the movies while Mark Kermode argues that the movies are becoming more like TV. Also, Philip French on Children of Men and Peter Conrad on David Thomson's Nicole Kidman; more on that one from Peter Bradshaw, who also has a few words on Iain Johnstone "simply rounding up the known facts" in Tom Cruise: All the World's a Stage.

3 albums Tim Lucas takes PBS to task for "censoring not only [Ric] Burns, but Warhol's art itself."

Nelhydrea Paupér at Flickhead on Bob Dylan 1966 - 1978: After the Crash: "Not to oversell it - this is mainly for Dylan fanatics or Psych majors interested in fanaticism's celebrity-related manifestations - but it's smart and fun and interesting and ridiculous and insightful and definitely—definitely—well worth the price of admission." Related: Via Coudal Partners, outtakes from the Freewheelin' sessions at Aquarium Drunkard.

Jonathan Kiefer at Maissoneuve on Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man: "Cohen is so good that even an untimely, mediocre movie about him—in which he barely performs any of his own music—is going to resonate, and this one does."

Filmbrain: "Based on Wallace Markfield's cynical novel To an Early Grave, Bye Bye Braverman is one of the most New York City-specific films I've come across - where Manhattan neighborhoods are used to draw subtle distinctions between four nearly identical characters, and where a working knowledge of Brooklyn is virtually a requirement to fully appreciate the film. It also happens to be the most Jewish of New York comedies, to the extent that it makes Woody Allen look like a sheygets."

Enough with the "Madagascar knock-offs," writes Aaron Hillis for IFC News. "Finding life along the major festival circuit and even some noteworthy theatrical releases across the country, a fresh crop of animated features are demonstrating darker, more mature, and downright arthouse sensibilities."

For whatever reason - does he need a reason? - Jack Sommersby offers a lists of the best films of 1980 through 1986, ten for each year, at Hollywood Bitchslap.

James Flynn is working his way through the WGA's "101 Greatest Screenplays."

The BBC: "Composer Sir Malcolm Arnold has died in hospital after a brief illness at the age of 84." And tributes have been coming in for the man who scored Bridge on the River Kwai.

See the Banskys Angelina Jolie just bought at CityRag. Via Anne Thompson.

Online viewing tip #1. Tom Sutpen introduces Berthold Bartosch's L'Idée, a 1930/32 adaption of "a 1920 volume by Belgian graphic artist Frans Masereel" and "one of the most poignant expressions in all animated film."

Online viewing tip #2. John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Variations V at the DVblog.

Online viewing #3. David Bowie on Extras. Via Ed Champion.

Updates: Viewable at Crooks and Liars, "Bill Maher and his panel - which included a Muslim (Reza Aslan), a conservative Christian (Sandy Rios), and a liberal Episcopalian (Bradley Whitford) - discussed the underlying issues of [Jesus Camp] and the notion of raising and teaching 'Christian soldiers' to fight in God's army."

And via Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker, Jeffrey Overstreet in Christianity Today: "Some Christian media personalities are speaking out against the movie, but for differing reasons. A few accuse the filmmakers of trying to discredit Fischer and her camp, and they rush to the defense of the film's subjects, saying that their methods of worship and education are to be celebrated. Others are criticizing the film by saying that this documentary footage severely misrepresents Christianity, and that it has been framed to draw viewers into viewing Christians as lunatics."

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

Fests and events, 9/25.

The Films of Su Friedrich "[T]he one thing of which Su Friedrich is incapable is thoughtlessness," writes Stuart Klawans in the New York Times. "Her video diary has now grown into a piece called Seeing Red, and when it has its New York premiere on Wednesday at the Museum of Modern Art, part of a four-day retrospective of Ms Friedrich's work, viewers will discover that she has mulled over her pained monologues until they have taken on a musical form."

From the ongoing Fantastic Fest in Austin:

In the run-up to the SF360 San Francisco City Movie Night on Wednesday, Susan Gerhard talks with Ian Inaba about American Blackout.

Never mind the Century 9, Brian Darr's got ten other cinematic goings on more deserving of San Franciscans' attention.

New York Film Festival previews:

  • Acquarello on Saul Levine: Notes from the Underground, October 7.

  • Tom Hall: "I don't know if there ever was a time when America didn't feel compelled to stand at the intersection of celebrity, gossip, envy and art in our culture, but what I do know is how weary I am of the way in which people's real lives become fodder for the interpretation of their work, and no recent example is as striking as the completely unjustified smear campaign being waged against Sofia Coppola and her wonderful Marie Antoinette."

  • Nick Schager at Slant on Little Children, "a piece of melodramatic malarkey that carries itself with an air of profundity unjustified by its contrived, pedantic, and phony narrative and aesthetic spine."

In the Guardian, Ian Jack surveys the offerings of the series Stop! Look! Listen! he COI & 60 Years of Public Information Film-making in Britain at the National Film Theatre through October 17.

More from Toronto:

Posted by dwhudson at 5:24 AM | Comments (2)

September 24, 2006

Online viewing tip. Clinton vs Fox.

Clinton on Fox Utterly riveted, I was preparing an online viewing tip for the next batch of "Shorts" ("If only anyone, anyone at all, in the current administration had half the grip on reality this guy has"), when I saw that this thing is burning faster and brighter than anything since Steven Colbert's roast.

Ray Pride's lead-in to his link is particularly nice: "I don't have a stock phrase to describe the fifteen minutes... but former President Clinton's reaction to a set-up by Fox News' [Chris] Wallace is the most dramatic thing I've seen anywhere in too long. (Maybe Clinton should have advised Steven Zaillian on All the King's Men instead of James Carville.)"

Posted by dwhudson at 4:10 PM | Comments (9)

Rouge. 9+.

Agnès Varda: L'Ile et Elle Though Issue 9 went up in August, there are two new additions definitely worth noting. Yvette Bíró visits Agnès Varda's installation in the Fondation Cartier in Paris on view through October 8, "L'Ile et Elle - 'The Island and She,' a pun on Il et elle or 'He and She.' Knowing her rich work it is, not surprisingly, full of emotion-filled ideas and original observations."

Michael Witt has quite a collection of photographs taken at that other widely discussed exhibition in Paris this summer, Voyage(s) en utopie, Jean-Luc Godard, 1946-2006.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:36 AM

Fantastic Fest, 9/24.

Apocalypto "Wow," yelps Matt Dentler. "No one ever expected that tonight, audiences at Fantastic Fest would be treated to the first public screening of Mel Gibson's latest release, Apocalypto." Gibson was on hand for a post-screening Q&A as well (Blake's got an MP3 at Cinema Strikes Back), a departure from his approach to screenings earlier in the week in Oklahoma, according to reports in the AP that have him in a mask and wig so as not to be noticed by the public. But in Austin, Matt writes, "The 200+ audience members at tonight's screening seemed to shrug off any politics or scandal, in favor of simply experiencing Gibson's latest work.... [S]candal or no, Mel Gibson has delivered a highly entertaining and suspenseful action film. Properly positioned, it could be a big success."

Updated through 9/25.

Tim Basham's having a grand time: "You take the number one moviehouse in the country, throw in talent from SXSW programming and Ain't It Cool News [where you'll naturally find oodles of reviews of oodles of films] and let them hand pick films from around the world. How could that not be fantastic?" Quick takes on The Hamster Cage, Abominable, Tideland and Gamerz follow. Earlier: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning.

"I'm enjoying watching movies with people who know how to watch movies," writes Peter Martin at Twitch. His quick takes: Abominable, Unrest, Renaissance and Zhest. Also, The Living and the Dead and The Hamster Cage.

Meanwhile, Jette Kernion and Chris Holland are all over the festival at Slackerwood.

Wiley Wiggins is posting lots of pix and quick comments as well.

Updates: First impressions of Apocalypto from Peter Martin (Twitch), Scott Weinberg (Cinematical) and Harry Knowles and Darla Hood (AICN).

Update, 9/25: Blake Ethridge at Cinema Strikes Back: "It's Wages of Fear with the pulp adventure feel of the old serials and westerns. It's a lyrical powerhouse of epic proportions that harks back to the days when Hollywood made films on the scale of Ben-Hur. Decadent, rousing and rife with a macabre message of doom for civilizations that are ruled and controlled by fear."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:28 AM

September 22, 2006

Shorts, 9/22.

"[Lars] Von Trier being Von Trier, The Boss of It All has one very perverse twist: it was made without a cameraman." Geoffrey Macnab explains: "The director was using a new process, 'developed with the intention of limiting human influence,' which he has called Automavision. This entails choosing the best possible fixed camera position and then allowing a computer to choose when to tilt, pan or zoom." Not only is the new film a comedy, he's written another: Erik Nietzsche: The Early Years.

Children of Men Also in the Guardian:

  • Peter Bradshaw on the "explosively violent future-nightmare thriller," Children of Men: "[D]espite the stylisations and grandiloquent drama, there is something just so grimly and grittily plausible about the awful world conjured up here, and the full-on urban warfare scenes really are electrifying." More from Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman, where he finds it "makes silly errors in its treatment of non-English-speaking cultures... It's a disappointing oversight in a film that has much to recommend it, not least the proof it offers, as if any more were needed, that Alfonso Cuarón is one of the most visually inspired directors working today." And: Tim Robey's intriguingly mixed review in the Telegraph, Anthony Quinn in the Independent and James Christopher in the London Times. And Time Out gets Cuarón talking about the film.

  • "To conquer racism in the present, we first need to admit its absolute cultural primacy and acceptability in the past." John Patterson argues against revisionist histories of cinema.

  • "Blacking up has become acceptable in the same way that pole dancing is now sold to women as an empowering thing to do," fumes Hannah Pool; also, Patrick Barkham on the history of blackface.

  • The editors remember Paul Robeson.

  • Richard Williams on Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait: "[I]f their film tell us nothing about football, at least [Douglas] Gordon and [Philippe] Parreno give us a compelling study of the stillness that erupted into an historic crime passionel."

  • Michael Hann talks with Cory Edwards about the unique animation process that resulted in Hoodwinked.

Signandsight translates a passage from Volker Hummel's talk with Jia Zhangke about Still Life for die taz: "Above all [the censors] didn't like the fact that the words 'Three Gorges' occur in the title ('Sanxia Haoren' means 'The good People of the Three Gorges' - ed). But when I asked what they had against the film taking place there, they didn't say. So the title remained. They also wanted to change one scene in a factory. Huge portraits of Marx, Lenin and Mao hung on the wall, and they wanted them to be cut because they suspected an ironic undertone. This shows how clueless the people in the censorship authority are about film. That they're just plain old party cadres. When I said I'd found the portraits there and asked if the three men were now frowned upon politically, the scenes were allowed."

Jack Nicholson "So I came in the next day and Jack's hair was all over the place. He was muttering to himself and the prop guy tipped me off that he had a fire extinguisher, a bottle of whisky, some matches and a handgun somewhere." That's Leonardo DiCaprio, telling one of several stories John Hiscock gathers for the Telegraph about the making of The Departed.

Erik Hedegaard has an odd conversation with Nicholson for the cover of the Rolling Stone.

The Bicycle Thief tops DiCaprio's annotated list of top ten film of all time.

Also in the Independent:

  • James Mottram: "[W]hat is remarkable about The Long Good Friday is just how fresh it remains. It's also prophetic. Set on the cusp of the 80s, as [Bob] Hoskins puts it, 'What was extraordinary about it was that we were just on the verge of Thatcherism. It hit the nail so firmly on the head, of where the 80s were gonna go.'"

  • Andrew Gumbel profiles George Clooney.

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger on the agreement California has signed with the UK to tackle global warming.

  • An excerpt from Ashley Judd's diary: "Today I have begun to see beyond Madagascar's physical beauty and into its extraordinary poverty."

  • Lesley O'Toole interviews Adam Sandler.

Gary Oldman has quite a bit to say about Nil By Mouth in Time Out, where Dave Calhoun talks with Lodge Kerrigan about Keane.

"With stories ranging from 15th-century Central America to 18th-century France, from the early 20th century to World War I, World War II, post–World War II, the early Cold War, and the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, filmmakers seem to be turning their gaze from the present day. Who can blame them for not wanting to get involved in its ongoing confusion, controversy, chaos, and fear?" asks Peter Keough in his preview of the fall movie season for the Boston Phoenix.

Flags of Our Fathers "A big, booming spectacle that sprawls across oceans and generations, Flags of Our Fathers, which opens on Oct 20, was anything but a simple undertaking," reports David M Halbfinger, who maps the network of players involved, some of them competitors, with this one and Letters From Iwo Jima. But also:

Above all it is a study of the callous ways in which heroes are created for public consumption, used and discarded, all with the news media's willing cooperation. And it is imbued with enough of a critique of American politicians and military brass to invite suspicions that Hollywood is appropriating the iconography of World War II to score contemporary political points. Yet just when it verges on indicting the people responsible for exploiting the troops, the movie comes round to their point of view.

Also in the New York Times:

  • AO Scott on All the King's Men: "Nothing in the picture works." Related: In the LA Weekly, Ella Taylor explains why Steven Zaillian is the wrong director for an adaptation of Robert Penn Warren's novel; in the Boston Phoenix, Peter Keough talks with Zaillian and pans the film. More from Stephanie Zacharek in Salon.

  • Stephen Holden on American Hardcore, "a toned-down cinematic equivalent of the music: fast and loud, but not too loud." Also, Kelefa Sanneh: "Whereas punks sneered at a broader society, hardcore kids grappled with a narrower one." Related: Though he was "more Sonic Youth than Black Flag" at the time, Salon's Andrew O'Hehir is "profoundly grateful for this film." More from Eric Kohn in the New York Press. Also: indieWIRE's interview with director Paul Rachman.

  • Holden on "the riveting documentary" Jesus Camp: "It wasn't so long ago that another puritanical youth army, Mao Zedong's Red Guards, turned the world's most populous country inside out. Nowadays the possibility of a right-wing Christian American version of what happened in China no longer seems entirely far-fetched." More from Andrew O'Hehir at Salon, Gary Dretzka at Movie City News and Pete Aleska at Blank Screen.

  • Nathan Lee on Jackass Number Two: "It is also too exhilarating to spoil. Debased, infantile and reckless in the extreme, this compendium of body bravado and malfunction makes for some of the most fearless, liberated and cathartic comedy in modern movies." More from Salon's Stephanie Zacharek.

  • Holden on Renaissance: "Effectively moody as it is, the style makes a convoluted story of corporate greed, high-tech espionage and science run amok even more difficult to follow. This is a plot that goes on as many tangents and wild goose chases as The Big Sleep."

  • Lee: "Despite its empty head and arduous length, Flyboys is ever so nice, in the manner of a Norman Rockwell illustration.... In another context, such politesse might feel tonic. Given the state of things, it's nearly toxic."

  • Lee finds that Nathan Lopez's "effortless charisma buoys [The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros] even when it goes heavy with contrivance."

  • Jeannette Catsoulis: "Train Man wants us to get off our computers and get out of the house; in a country as technocentric as Japan, the suggestion that it may be time to replace the cyber with the real is not just subversive, it's downright revolutionary."

  • Catsoulis: "Few things in a democracy are more sacrosanct than the right to vote, and in his furious documentary American Blackout, Ian Inaba assembles compelling evidence to support his claim that African-Americans - who are traditionally more likely to vote Democratic - are being deliberately and systematically excluded from the political process."

  • Neil Genzlinger dismisses Los Lonely Boys: Cottonfields and Crossroads as "a prolonged promotional video."

  • Laura Kern: "A boxing tale, an interracial love story and a prison/mob drama devoid of suspense, spark or grit, the ambitiously genre-crossing yet disastrously executed They're Just My Friends is hands down the most excruciatingly inept film to creep its way into theaters in some time."

Paoli Gioli "My entry into Paolo Gioli's sublime cinema was through the infectiously exuberant, ingeniously constructed, and irresistibly seductive Filmarilyn, an elegant and mesmerizing film that remains one of my favorite experimental works." Acquarello reviews the entries in the Giolo program at the New York Film Festival's Views from the Avant-Garde sidebar. October 8.

Marie Antoinette gets a "B+" from Nick Schager. Also, at Slant, Syndromes and a Century "boasts an unanticipated measure of droll, deadpan humor... Nonetheless, it's the film's belief in the act of remembering as essential and ongoing that remains its most enduring and poignant characteristic."

According to Monkey Peaches, early reviews of Curse of the Golden Flower in Beijing are quite positive.

"Emerging Bosnian filmmaker Danijela Majstorovic addresses this crisis of women's lives - and the troubling lack of choices - in two films which premiered at the Bosnia-Herzegovinian Film Festival in New York City." Danielle Jackson talks with her for PopMatters.

"A Hollywood movie being shot in Bosnia about the hunt for a genocide suspect tries to ask the wider question of why wanted men like Radovan Karadzic and Osama bin Laden are still free, its director said on Wednesday." Nedim Dervisbegovic reports for Reuters on Flak Jacket, directed by Richard Shepard and starring Richard Gere.

"You Kill Me leads to what I have always thought about [John] Dahl," writes Steve Ramos about the mob comedy due next year. "He consistently makes the opportunity for one more triumph."

Chalk Don R Lewis interviews Joe Swanberg for Film Threat. Also, Eric Campos recommends Chalk, a mockumentary based on the idea of explaining why so many high school teachers - 50 percent? - call it quits within three years.

Jennifer Merin talks with writer-director Frank E Flowers about his first feature, Haven. Also in the New York Press, Mark Peikert finds Keeping Mum "much darker than the usual Brit comedy exports."

In Half Nelson, Ryan Gosling plays "the most believable protagonist in any American movie I've seen this year," writes Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader. More from David Fellerath in the Independent Weekly.

"Volver does not rely on mystery to sustain our interest," writes Vincent Deary in the Times Literary Supplement. "Rather, it provides an intensely compelling, rich and mythic vision of women." Related: Jeff Reichert on Law of Desire at Reverse Shot.

Though he's seen it three times and will likely see it again, Arthur C Danto explains his frustration with Ric Burns's Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film in the Nation: "[T]he breakthrough period of creative genius, (1961-65)... That period was really the 'Exploding Plastic Inevitable,' to use Warhol's name for his famous East Village nightclub - a condensed renaissance in which contemporary art was invented and the history of Western art up to that point definitively ended - and it calls for an equally innovative cinematic format."

Jenny Jediny at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "Aside from appreciating the film's love for Gotham, Shortbus is one of the most optimistic films discussing - not simply depicting - sex and relationships that I have seen in some time."

"As the talkies and the Depression hit Hollywood practically simultaneously, an old vaudeville trouper named Marie Dressler found the greatest success of her spotty career. Large, rumbly and rubber-faced, able to pile triple-take onto double-take, Dressler was a queen of schtick who was also able to create a disciplined sort of deep-seated pathos." Dan Callahan surveys a career at the House Next Door.

"Does anyone else share my longstanding affection for this show?" John McElwee at Greenbriar Picture Shows on David O Selznick's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

"1956's Street of Shame, which was to be [Kenji Mizoguchi's] last film, will seem a curious work for those viewers only familiar with more majestic films like Ugetsu and Sansho the Bailiff," writes Leo Goldsmith at Reverse Shot.

Peter Nellhaus: "While The Quiet Duel can be categorized with Kurosawa's other socially concerned films, looking beyond the narrative is a critique of Japanese manners, especially the custom of indirectly addressing a concern in conversation, as well as the misplaced sense of shame."

The Man Who Changed His Mind Tim Lucas on The Man Who Changed His Mind: "The most surprising aspect of this mind-boggling melodrama is its keen and immediately apparent sense of fun."

Jim Emerson explains why he feels "the most exciting place for film criticism, and an informed film community, these days is on certain Internet blogs - where each individual blogger can write in detail (with digressions and tangents into other areas of related knowledge) - but that is just the beginning of the conversation, since others can post comments, continue the discussion, and elaborate upon the original post. The blogger also has the opportunity to clarify, refine, and move the discussion into a fruitful direction."

Chris Cagle recommends Passport to Hollywood: Hollywood Films, European Directors, "a fun and thought-provoking read.... [James] Morrison is interested in reading larger socio-cultural formations (high culture, the art film, modernism) in certain key films, which if not representative moments are at least moments pregnant with significance."

C Jerry Kutner offers a "Brief History of Noir" at Bright Lights After Dark.

Eric D Snider presents a list of his top 50 films of the last ten years.

Andrew Krucoff has a few questions for Sydney Pollack about LA for the 92Y Blog.

European-films.net is tracking European submissions to the Academy as they're announced.

Online viewing tip. The dance of the ghosts sequence from Satyajit Ray's Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne at TickleBooth.

Online viewing tips. The Flash Animation 10, the most influential online Flash animation shorts, compiled by Aaron Simpson, with commentary, interviews, the works. Via Cartoon Brew.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:55 AM | Comments (4)

Fests and events, 9/22.

Fantastic Fest 06 "To say that this year's Fantastic Fest is a monumental, orders-of-magnitude, leapfrog-the-unicorn, severed-head-and-shoulders bypass of Fantastic Fest 2005 is zero hyperbole: 58 feature films, 30 shorts, and enough special guests (including Darren Aronofsky, who'll be premiering his ultra-anticipated The Fountain) to qualify it as fanboy (and -girl) heaven." Marc Savlov talks with co-programmers Harry Knowles, Cinemuerte Festival founder Kier-La Janisse, SXSW Film "overlord" Matt Dentler, Alamo Drafthouse co-owner Tim League and then picks a top five he's going to try to catch before the fest wraps this coming Thursday. Peter Martin has a quick rundown of the first day of screenings at Twitch.

Back in the Austin Chronicle: "When the People's Choice votes at this year's Toronto International Film Festival were tallied, University of Texas graduate Alejandro Gomez Monteverde's Bella was deemed the audience favorite." And Marjorie Baumgarten tracks other Hill Country successes as well.

More Toronto postscripts:

  • Dave Kehr admires Jia Zhangke's use of HD in Still Life and finds Offside "probably Jafar Panahi's most light-hearted movie since he jumped on the world stage with The White Balloon in 1995 - though that's 'light-hearted' in a strictly Iranian context."

  • Tom Charity for Time Out. "Most memorable night? Has to be the world premiere of Guy Maddin's delirious silent, Brand Upon the Brain!... Surely this is the sort of night film festivals were invented for?"

  • Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Pages: "The festival's most exuberant shock... was Paul Verhoeven's Black Book, his first film since 2000's dismal Hollow Man. Less a return to form than a rebirth, the return to Verhoeven's native Holland cross-breeds the director's scatological cynicism with the World War II thriller, producing an ever-shifting examination of wartime morality which is, first and foremost, a cracking good yarn."

Sleeping Dogs Lie
  • Gerald Peary in the Boston Phoenix: "The best film of Toronto 2006? Jia Zhangke's Still Life... The best American feature at Toronto? Studio pictures came and went, but the film that stayed with me was Sleeping Dogs Lie, the scandalous and also unexpectedly sweet American indie written and directed by ex-Boston comedian Bobcat Goldthwait." Also, Peter Keough and Paul Babin's list of assassination movies.

  • Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly on The Lives of Others and Deliver Us From Evil and then, briefly, I Don't Want to Sleep Alone, Grbavica, Private Fears in Public Places, My Best Friend and Little Children.

  • Scott Foundas on the New Crowned Hope series.

  • "If moviegoing is dying, you'd never guess it from the pushy throngs trying to see any and everything here during the last week and a half," observes Josef Braun. A pick from the overview: "Manufactured Landscapes, tightly controlled to emphasize scale in [Jennifer] Baichwal's work, might be this year's most vital and illuminating documentary, yet I wonder if it won't also limit readings of Baichwal's rich and multifaceted work to its environmental significance for many years to come."

  • David Walsh at the WSWS: "One felt at the 2006 edition of the Toronto festival a far more substantial connection between world reality and cinema reality than was the case in 1994 or 1998."

  • Many didn't spot a running theme in Toronto but the Toronto Star's Peter Howell certainly did: "the loss of American idealism." Via Movie City News.

  • And for MCN, Stephen Holt for Movie City News: "The Toronto Film Festival, the undisputed greatest festival in North America, has now also become a queer touchstone par excellence."

Ella Taylor recommends Unshown Cinema: The Animated Films That Got Away, through Sunday, but don't take the kids to tonight's "Dangerous Visions" programm, "a terrific but disturbing collection of international short films that cover everything from family disorder to the death of the planet."

Michael Guillén talks with Susan Weeks Coulter, "chairperson of the Global Lens Initiative, about the Initiative's various aims and its ongoing traveling film series."

Michael Fox at SF360: "Fests, and touring programs such as the currently unspooling Global Lens series, cannily promote themselves as community events deserving of media attention. As such, they can attract press coverage that would never accrue to an individual film from Burkina Faso or Brazil by an unknown director with unknown actors. Forgive me for taking a marketing angle, for the great thing about the films in the Global Lens collection, as well as most of the movies in any festival worth its 501(c)3 status, is the way they value authentic cultural expression above commerce."

Film Pop "Pop Montreal has a film festival buddy, and its name is - shockingly! - Film Pop." The imaginative lineup includes a series of shorts from local filmmakers paired with local bands. October 4 through 8.

For the Korean Film Commission, Nigel D'Sa reports on the lineup for the 11th Pusan International Film Festival (October 12 through 20). Writing in the Korean Times, Kim Tae-jong sees a PIFF challenger in the new Rome Film Festival (October 13 through 21).

"Putting my screenplays aside this past weekend, I attended the Northwest Documentary Association's DocFarm 06," writes Greg Brotherton at the Siffblog. "I wasn't sure what to expect, but the retreat exceeded my wildest expectations."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:52 AM

Interview. Jet Li.

Fearless "The philosophy, honor, responsibility, what kind of person learns martial arts, how to use martial arts to help people. It's more important than just kick ass, beat up somebody... I put everything already in this movie, so I having nothing to say in the future. That's why it's my last martial arts film." Jet Li tells Sean Axmaker about Fearless.

Related: Grady Hendrix not only interviews Fearless director Ronny Yu, he also reviews the film, finding it "a red-blooded, full-on, go-for-broke throwback to Hong Kong moviemaking of the early 90s" but also "one of those movies with a limp" - and points to yet more reviews.

"Li - as well as many of his martial arts contemporaries - is usually misinterpreted as a tough guy, a superbad fighter that can kick any behind in the room," writes Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical. "But in reality, he's a poet, a dancer with the grace and sophistication of a Fred Astaire. Moreover, Li shares the same critical reception as most dancers or comedians, or artists who accomplish their cinematic work through physical means; he is ignored. But I maintain that in Fearless he has given performances worthy of awards." At Combustible Celluloid, Jeffrey interviews Li.

Updated through 9/24.

The LA CityBeat's Andy Klein likens Li's retirement from onscreen martial arts to "Gene Kelly permanently giving up dance for dramatic roles." As for the film, "I've seen Bergman films with more comic relief.... Leaving issues of tone aside, Fearless is, not surprisingly, beautifully crafted."

Andrew Wright finds that this film "serves as a rousing, philosophically high-minded reminder of the actor's glory days. If the subject matter occasionally cries out for a longer length - and how many action movies can you say that about? - it still feels like an appropriate capper to a career routinely defying the laws of physics." Wright also talks with Li.

"For the moment, the notion of a Chinese freedom fighter defending the honor of his nation against a seven-foot Yankee muscleman named Hercules O'Brien (Nathan Jones) remains more or less credible. But tomorrow?" asks Nathan Lee in the New York Times. "Such narratives may lose their punch when China rules the universe."

Steve Lillebuen, writing in Vue Weekly, finds Fearless "a satisfying swan song" though it's "not Li's best or most memorable performance."

And Kimberley Chun, too, has a quick chat with Li in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Earlier: Reflecting on Li's career in the NYT, Terrence Rafferty is also reminded of "sitting through a Hollywood studio musical of the 30s or 40s: you wait for Astaire and Rogers, or the Nicholas Brothers, or Donald O'Connor to take the stage, and you learn to endure the witless banter and clunky farce that fill the long minutes between numbers."

Updates: Yes, it's "a genre picture, with all the energy and life the adjective genre implies (it's never a pejorative in my book)," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "Fearless is also one of the most beautifully made pictures of the year: The story is told so simply and clearly, and in such striking visual terms, that I can already hear people carelessly accusing it of being clichéd - although sometimes the things we so comfortably identify as clichés are also the very things that give us our purest movie experiences, allowing movies to reach us in the deepest and most essential way. And Li's performance - both in terms of its physicality and its emotional pitch - puts much of what's lauded as great contemporary movie acting to shame."

Nick Schager at Slant: "Beginning as a polished, visually ravishing capper to Li's illustrious action career, it ultimately sermonizes itself into something of a bloodlust-denigrating wet blanket."

Mike Russell: "It's simple stuff, but - and this is crucial - it's not dumb simple stuff."

Update, 9/24: Mike Russell not only has a good long talk with Jet Li, he's also got a good loooong talk with Ronny Yu.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:37 AM

Interview. Michel Gondry.

The Science of Sleep Following a slew of already-classic music videos, the remarkable Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and the rousing Dave Chappelle's Block Party, French director Michel Gondry's playfully surreal new feature, The Science of Sleep, finally opens in US theaters. Sean Axmaker's got several question for him and, in turn, Gondry's got one for him.

Related: For AO Scott, writing in the New York Times, this new film, "for all its blithe disregard of the laws of physics, film grammar and narrative coherence, strikes me as perfectly realistic, as authentic a slice of life as I've encountered on screen in quite some time."

"Sweet, crazy, and tinged with sadness, Michel Gondry's new feature The Science of Sleep is a wondrous concoction," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Crosscutting between Stéphane's dreams and reality, reprising material in a variety of different contexts, The Science of Sleep is an extraordinarily playful movie. The mood is borderline fey. But no less than its hero, the movie is too strange and even infantile to be whimsical."

Todd at Twitch: "Those who get it... are likely to get it hard and so, while unlikely to further the cult of Gondry, The Science of Sleep should further cement his status among already existing acolytes."

Updated.

"A Gondry film has normally been a destination date for its dogged innovation and sui generis worldview," writes James Crawford, opening Reverse Shot's round on the film for indieWIRE. "[I]t pained me, then, to see that while it has craft in spades and a smattering of quietly charming moments, Gondry's latest is ragged and overfull - an undeniably singular, personal statement that paradoxically lacks any manner of focus or bearing, a mundane endeavour from one of contemporary cinema's most febrile and astonishing minds."

Brett Michel in the Boston Phoenix: "Unkempt pastiches of narrative transgressions threaten collapse, but Gondry wills his balancing act to work... a one-of-a-kind original."

"How can a film as witty and imaginative as The Science of Sleep be so unsatisfying?" asks Steve Erickson in Gay City News, where he finds the film "filled with concepts that would be dazzling - if they only lasted for three minutes."

NYP: Michel Gondry Though, for whatever reason, he has to slap down Andrew Bujalski - twice - along the way, Armond White eventually gets to his point: "These days, given the (ironic) dumbing-down of technologically advanced digital-cinema, few films can equal Gondry's homespun craft.... He's what Tim Burton would be if Burton had never bonded with monster movies or gone Hollywood."

Eric Kohn writes the New York Press cover story on Gondry, but at his Screen Rush, he adds, "I've got more to say about this quintessentially quirky artist than the published piece might lead you to believe. So here's my extended version, which I think tells a much stronger tale of success and frustration in the limelight."

At AICN, Gondry talks with Quint not only about Science but also about Be Kind, Rewind. He's going to be taking a rather surprising approach to all those remakes.

"Much of Michel Gondry's talent derives from his being completely undisciplined as a filmmaker," observes Bradley Steinbacher in the Stranger. Nonetheless, here: "Beneath all the visual trickery is a beating heart - unfortunately, Gondry is all too eager to send that heart into palpitations."

"Gondry's visual imagination could be the liveliest in movies today - and can you think of a more alluring vessel for that imagination than [Gael García] Bernal?" asks Johnny Ray Huston in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Earlier: Lynn Hirschberg's profile of Gondry in the NYT Magazine.

Updates: "This movie walks a fine line, and it's going to drive some viewers absolutely bats," warns Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "I think that's because, underneath its layers of fancy and confection, it cuts pretty close to the bone. But if you were ever a Stéphane or a Stéphanie, passionately in love but trapped in your own head - and if you're at peace with that part of yourself now - The Science of Sleep may hold you suspended in magical space, up there near the ceiling."

Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times: "The Science of Sleep isn't as intricately plotted as Eternal Sunshine, nor does it rush to quite as satisfying an end. It doesn't have anyplace in particular to go, and it takes its time not getting there. But the sightseeing is fantastic."

Matt Singer talks with Gondry for IFC News.

"Michel Gondry's work is so hip that it's easy to forget what a romantic he is," writes Marcy Dermansky. "[I]t's no surprise that The Science of Sleep is unduly clever. The cleverness, fortunately, comes off as fresh."

Robert Keser at Bright Lights After Dark: "As a cultural record, The Science of Sleep usefully brings to the surface a robust yet barely acknowledged undercurrent of American cinema, the Peter Pan conception of manhood as a Long Adolescence that dates back to the Star Wars movies but now powers pop hits like The Break-Up, Failure to Launch, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and all Jackass movies of the past, present and future. When Stéphane dream-broadcasts from his corrugated cardboard TV-studio, he's his own Anchorman, mining an emotional self-indulgence that prioritizes the individual while it shuts out responsibility to the community. For all this movie's charm, isn't it time to explore the art of being fully awake?"

Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog: "[L]ike Stéphane, the film can't seem to get out of its own head, and it rambles along like a disjointed anecdote that makes more sense to the teller than the tellee. Why does Stéphane ram his head into the door? What the hell does Stéphanie want, anyway? Who let Gondry write the script for his next film, Be Kind Rewind?"

Posted by dwhudson at 12:21 AM

September 21, 2006

Cinema Scope. 28.

Norman McLaren: The Master's Edition "Perhaps it's out of some unconscious will to put off new readers, but it's not from some misguided nationalism (and certainly not to please the funders), that I present a very modest 'Canadian Spotlight' in this issue," writes editor Mark Peranson, introducing the new issue of Cinema Scope. Two of those pieces are online, and we're in luck: in the first, Robert Koehler examines "Some Aspects of Norman McLaren."

These aspects include the currently ongoing canonization of McLaren, propelled by the National Film Board of Canada's "elaborately presented, meticulously realized, and exhaustively presented survey," Norman McLaren: The Master's Edition, the full impact of which is "like some kind of national holiday gone berserk." But as you read Koehler's history of McLaren's reception outside of Canada, you'll find that fairly easy to understand.

Adam Nayman talks with Ron Mann about his "terrific, up-tempo documentary Tales of the Rat Fink. The title refers to [Ed] Roth's most famous creation, a drooling, degenerate, pea-green rodent who was, briefly but genuinely, the most successful anti-establishment cartoon character of all time."

Two more interviews have little to do with Canada. Bug is the occasion for Andrew Tracy's talk with William Friedkin, though the conversation ranges far wider.

Critical Cinema 5 A Critical Cinema 5, Scott MacDonald's latest volume of interviews with experimental filmmakers, may (or may not) be the last of the series. Michael Sicinski sees an appropriate moment to "a good time to turn the tables a bit and interview the interviewer," Scott MacDonald.

Just what is this New Crowned Hope series we first heard about when Hamaca Parguaya screened at Cannes, then again all through Venice and culminating in Toronto? Christoph Huber lays out Peter Sellars's thinking and then takes a look at the films in the program.

"Sharing the designation which [Raúl] Ruiz frequently ascribes to himself, [Georgian filmmaker Otar] Iosseliani can be called 'the best known of the unknown directors,'" writes Quintín. "Both are considered minor masters in the French nomenklatur, and they share a sense of subtlety, irony, a love of long shots and a hatred for explanation, psychology, and conventional storytelling.... Iosseliani's films are far from being optimistic. On the contrary, they convey a deep sadness that has been especially apparent in his last few films."

Tom McSorley on a "New Wave from Slovenia": "[O]ne of the most exciting developments in contemporary European cinema in the last decade is the very impressive arrival and persistence of a distinctive, accomplished body of work from this country of two million people."

Blissfully Yours Jonathan Rosenbaum once again tells you how to get your hands on DVDs you might not have known even existed. Among the stars of this column: Oskar Fischinger, John Berry, Michel Brault, Miklós Jancsó, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Ken Jacobs, William A Wellman, Nagisa Oshima, Jean-Luc Godard, FW Murnau and Sam Fuller.

Andréa Picard: "[Josef] Dabernig's short films have concurrent themes and motifs, each recognizably, unmistakably his. A cross between Béla Tarr, Jacques Tati, Samuel Beckett and Aki Kaurismäki, these works ranging in length between seven and 24 minutes rely on minimalism to fashion portraits of modernist decay and the banal scenarios that occur amidst their structures."

Jerry White focuses primarily on Swiss cinema in his report on the Locarno Film Festival.

Andrew Tracy: "Babel's globetrotting is nothing but the rankest, bloated provincialism, all the more unfortunate in that [Alejandro González] Iñárritu and [Guillermo] Arriaga, artistically adrift on their sea of international co-production dollars, no longer have a province, or a universe, to hail from."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:01 AM

DVDs, 9/21.

Once again, DK Holm checks in with the DVD specialists..

Spirit of the Beehive Among a relatively light load of DVD releases this week are Criterion's discs of Victor Erice's highly esteemed Spirit of the Beehive from 1973 and Nobuno Nakagawa's maudit horror film Jigoku from 1960. Reviewer Fusion3600 at DVD Authority comes to the conclusion that the "genesis of the fear and dread" in Spirit of the Beehive "is Frankenstein's monster from the movie, but this movie doesn't focus on a monster, the real focus is death. The subject is dealt with in an honest fashion, but still a quite childlike fashion. There is fear to be sure, but there is also deep fascination, as the children delve deeper to try to uncover the truth." Fusion also found the supplements light but effective.

At the DVD Journal, Mark Bourne, in a lengthy consideration of the film, determines that "looking for Erice's coded subversive critiques of the Franco government is one of the film's headier pleasures," and that the film is "a visually striking sketch of childhood at the place where childhood fantasy and bullet-hard reality come together. How those two opposites blend and shape one another gives us a graceful, lyrical masterpiece wound around one of the most natural and engrossing performances by a child actor we've ever seen."

Jigoku For Jigoku, DVD Verdict's Brett Cullum traces the film's influence on later J-Horror films. "This film defined Japanese horror for many years to come. Strange camera angles, spiritual torture, and crazy narrative edits are all in place as the reels unfold. Westerners may find the symbols and subtle clues impenetrable, but interests will pique once the torture begins," adding that "Jigoku is entertaining and completely over the top. Anyone expecting a slow-paced, classical-feeling foreign film will be shocked to find out that the plot writhes and turns at an almost breakneck pace." DVD Talk's Glenn Erickson, the DVD Savant, determines that "Nakagawa's Hell is an almost random array of ghastly, garish visions laid out in widescreen tableaux," and notes that the film actually predates similar gore films such as those by Herschell Gordon Lewis. Erickson also helpfully tracks the history of the Criterion disc: "Disc producer Marc Walkow began work on the title over two years ago, when Criterion was planning a second branded label called 'Eclipse' to handle genre cinema. The focus was eventually changed to include more general overlooked and lesser-known cinema, a category for which Jigoku certainly qualifies. Eclipse hasn't been abandoned altogether, but both this film and Equinox were re-routed to the standard Criterion banner."

And finally, over at the DVD Journal, Gregory P Dorr takes a look at The Devil and Daniel Johnston, calling it "one of the best recent musical documentaries," adding that director Jeff Feuerzeig "fashions an exceptional profile of this most bizarre character - whose cult-fueled career has been defined by his severe bouts with mental illness - in a portrait that should deeply touch Johnston's fans while also relating to the uninitiated why this offbeat and troubled performer is held in such high esteem by his peers."


Earlier: In Rouge 9, Alain Bergala and Miguel Marías on Erice and Kiarostami; in Rouge 4, Erice himself; in the Voice, Michael Atkinson on Spirit; Peter Lennon's 2003 interview for the Guardian.

And then there's David D'Arcy's interview with Jeff Feuerzeig.

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

September 20, 2006

Toronto. Wrap-up.

Michael Sicinski wrote some of the sharpest short reviews out there throughout the Toronto International Film Festival. Here, he closely considers a few highlights and one "failure... worth arguing with and against."

TIFF: a few directors

Over the past few years, the Toronto International Film Festival has worked noticeably hard to shed its former "Festival of Festivals" mantle, striving to feature more world premieres alongside the expected titles from Cannes, Venice and, to a lesser extent, Sundance, Berlin and Karlovy Vary. Although this strategy has produced mixed results in the past, it seems to me that somehow TIFF 06 got the balance right. Brand new films from major artists shone forth alongside gems from the "weak" Cannes line-up which, in a different, less rarefied context, could be judged again on their own merits. Throw in a "secret," last-minute Venice winner, and some timely dispatches from the avant-garde, and this year's TIFF actually started looking a bit like one for the ages.

First things first: among those lucky enough to have made time in their cramped schedules for the fifth "Wavelengths" experimental program, consensus seemed to form almost immediately. Nathaniel Dorsky's new film Song and Solitude was probably the best film in the festival overall, and a major breakthrough in the development of his art. After making the leap with his 1999 film Variations from formally mediated abstractions into observational slices of poetic time, linked by a non-associative editing style, Dorsky spent nearly a decade making, well, variations on this style. Lovely as they were, they lacked the revelatory power of the first film in the series, the sense that the artist was developing a new way of seeing, allowing it to slowly detonate in his viewers' consciousness.

Variations

Variations

Song and Solitude, which world premiered at Toronto (and will play in October at the New York Film Festival "Views from the Avant-Garde" sidebar), finds Dorsky expanding his visual vocabulary once again. As with his earlier films, Dorsky's latest is presented in pure silence and projected at 18 frames per second. But although Song does contain recognizable images of daily life, Dorsky has produced a film predominantly composed of shimmering registrations of fleeting light, the sun peering through dense foliage or patterns of color and texture glinting off a glass surface. In short, Song and Solitude captures the momentary visual phenomena that define the interstitial moments of our lives, those that hover in the unconscious, fragile and half-perceived. The only real point of comparison for this film is the work of Stan Brakhage, and even then, Dorsky is working in the realm of Brakhage's least-compromising, most intensely materialist efforts, such as the Arabic Numeral Series (1981) and The Text of Light (1974). But in terms of unique qualities of luminosity and density that Dorsky manages to capture, Song and Solitude is a singular achievement.

Several films in the festival were notable for shifting our usual concepts of what counts as "political art." Like Dorsky's films, these features are committed to exploring the formal boundaries of cinema, but in addition their cumulative impact provides a different set of arguments on behalf of the subaltern and the underprivileged. One such film was Abderrahmane Sissako's Bamako, which had its North American premiere at the festival. I'll admit that I felt some trepidation regarding the film's premise - the citizens of Bamako, Mali, conducting a trial to prosecute the World Bank and the WTO -, not because I disagree with Sissako's political agenda (I wholeheartedly agree that neo-liberal economic policies have been disastrous for the developing world), but because the premise led me to suspect that the film would be an artless piece of well-intentioned agit-prop. As it happens, my fears were completely unfounded.

Bamako

Sissako does stage a mock-trial of recent Western intervention into African affairs, but deftly enfolds it into the fragmentary observational style that characterized his previous film, the lovely Waiting for Happiness (2002). Through gentle rhythms and repetitions, the earlier film gradually provided a picture of day-to-day life in the West African nation. Stylistically, the film resembled early Kiarostami, but with a more disbursed narrative framework. In Bamako, Sissako takes his game to a new level, making the trial into one among many events marking daily life, albeit an important one whose impact is felt on all concerned.

The trial itself allows the rehearsal of some familiar arguments regarding African debt forgiveness and Western hegemony. But Sissako's "witnesses" deliver their testimony with such passion that it is as though we are really hearing these arguments (and the voices who make them) for the first time. (One of Sissako's biggest formal gambits is in the final third of the film, when an elderly Malian delivers his testimony as a mournful folk song. Sissako doesn't bother with subtitles, since the plangent musicality tells us everything we need to know.) So, instead of dryly educating his audience about African politics, Sissako employs the poetic skills of his earlier work in order to give these political arguments greater social force. He shows us what Malian society is, and what is at stake if the West allows unchecked capitalism to assimilate or even destroy it.

Two other films used the power of the aesthetic to allow their political interventions to reverberate well beyond mere reportage. Scott Foundas and Mark Peranson have already ably defended Pedro Costa's Colossal Youth, but it bears repeating that this film is an engrossing immersion into lives most of us know nothing about. In the rubble of a Lisbon public housing bloc, Costa's non-professional actors live out their lives, with dignity as well as mental and emotional turmoil. "Ventura," the tall Cape Verde immigrant with the depressive yet regal demeanor, struggles to find a place in the material world, just as his wife has opted to leave him behind. Costa employs long takes and highly stylized framings to allow his viewership adequate time in the presence of the Lisbon underclass, but his is not the usual "kitchen sink" cinema of liberal reform.

Colossal Youth

Instead, Colossal Youth affords its subjects greater dignity by allowing their beauty to emerge unscathed. Usually, "Ventura," "Vanda" and the other denizens of the Fountainbas housing project are shot in the classical, almost holy light one associates with religious icon painting. And yet, these shafts of hieratic illumination are usually present because of gaping holes in the subjects' ceilings. Likewise, what Costa's grainy videography loses in crisp definition is more than gained in intimacy, as well as an ability to register light as a slowly shifting, almost sculptural phenomenon. Costa's is a Heideggerian cinema, allowing society's outcasts to shine forth in their full human presence rather than slotting them into the standard categories that both cinema and bureaucracy customarily reserve for them.

In a somewhat different vein, Jia Zhangke's Venice prize-winner Still Life also used formal invention to register the seismic shifts in the lives and geographies of his homeland. Using documentary footage shot in and around the area rapidly being destroyed by the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, Jia has not only recorded and dramatized the major changes in Chinese topography under accelerated capitalist development. He has achieved a subtlety of scale that allows Still Life to represent lives disrupted by social forces without reducing those lives to mere epiphenomena of those larger shifts. (To my mind, Jia was moving in this direction with Unknown Pleasures [2002] but backslid into somewhat deterministic schemas with 2004's The World.)

Still Life

Adequately unpacking Still Life would require more space and attention than I can expend here. But suffice to say that Jia's patient portraiture of his two protagonists - Han, the miner returning home years later only to find it submerged, and Shen Hong, a woman seeking out her husband to obtain a divorce - attains a new level of richness and complexity. Jia's characters achieve depth through cumulative details, a Cubist composition of interstitial moments. Venice was wise to reward Jia's finest film since his 1997 debut, Xiao Wu.

Of course, despite the generally high level of the films I encountered at this year's TIFF, not everything was rosy. The latest work from two of world cinema's masters, Aki Kaurismäki's Lights in the Dusk and Guy Maddin's silent feature Brand upon the Brain!, both find their directors treading water, rehashing themes and formal procedures better explored in earlier films. But perhaps the most interesting failure on display was Bruno Dumont's Flandres. After the Antonioniesque Twentynine Palms (2003), with its abrupt helter-skelter coda, where Dumont would go next was anyone's guess. As it happens, Flandres is Dumont's most conventional film, and his most wrongheaded. A story of rural French shlubs who sign up to go fight an unnamed war in a foreign land, Flandres attempts to delve into universal questions of war, violence and xenophobia, but does so at a moment when any such intervention will inevitably be measured against the invasion of Iraq. After a series of masterful tableaux depicting his leads' daily lives on and around the farm, Dumont heads to war, recycling images and gestures from Full Metal Jacket but in the director's awkwardly Bressonian mien. As a parallel to his rednecks' adventures abroad (which include torture and rape), Dumont shows how the local boys use the town "slut," a young woman so inured to her social position as to almost reflexively drop her pants in the presence of the menfolk.

Flandres

There's much to admire formally about Flandres - Dumont's control of framing and figure / ground relationships is graceful as always, and in terms of narrative pacing, this is Dumont's most compulsively watchable film. (And I say this as someone who considers 1999's L'humanité a flat-out masterpiece.) But in the end, Flandres' view of the human animal admits of two rather unsatisfactory conclusions. Either Dumont is formulating a simpleminded, uninstructive parallel between woman and the ethnic Other (both unthinkingly abused at the hands of men), or else he is putting forward a doggedly ahistorical representation of human conflict ("mankind had always been a warlike creature") that, in the present circumstances, is rather unconscionable in that it serves to bolster social and political forces Dumont no doubt opposes. Perhaps more troublingly, from the standpoint of Dumont's art, the latter orientation is airily abstract and contravenes his cinema's greatest strength, its deep materialist immanence.

At any rate, like Mike Judge's rather incoherently neo-conservative comedy Idiocracy (not in TIFF proper but seen in Toronto by many, since its commercial run there was one of its few anywhere), Flandres is a political film worth arguing with and against, since its simplistic formulations still evince more intellectual rigor than those currently guiding our foreign policy. Poets and filmmakers, pace Shelley, may in fact be the unacknowledged legislators of the world, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be voted out of office every now and then.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:26 PM | Comments (2)

Sven Nykvist, 1922 - 2006.

Sven Nykvist
Oscar-winning Swedish filmmaker Sven Nykvist, who was director Ingmar Bergman's cinematographer of choice, has died after a long illness, his son said. He was 83.

The AP.

Their pioneering work concentrated on the emotional impact of lighting and color levels, Winter Light (1963) and Cries and Whispers (1973) being perhaps the most obvious examples of this approach. Having won an Oscar for best cinematography with the latter film, Nykvist, who had worked abroad only sporadically since the 1950s, found himself in increasing demand outside Sweden. The many celebrated directors with whom he worked include Louis Malle, Roman Polanski, Paul Mazursky, Volker Schlöndorff, Peter Brook and Woody Allen.

[...]

His work with Bergman continued parallel to his international career, and it was another Bergman film, Fanny and Alexander (1982), that won him his second Oscar.

Ingmar Bergman Face to Face.

Updated through 9/22.

See also: Chris Fujiwara in the Boston Phoenix (2000) and the ASC Lifetime Achievement Award citation.

Updates, 9/22: Ronald Bergan in the Guardian: "Nykvist lit the sets and worked the camera himself. Scenes From a Marriage (1974), shot with only one camera held by Nykvist, included 10-minute takes with as many as 20 zooms per take, plus complex camera movements. 'When you are operating the camera, you forget all about the other people around you. You just see this little scene and you live in that and you feel it. For me, operating the camera is a sport and it helps me do better lighting. I prefer to shoot on location because in the studio you have too many possibilities, too many lights to destroy your whole picture.'"

Stephen Holden in the New York Times: "In his films, especially those with Mr Bergman, light assumed a metaphysical dimension that went beyond mood. It distilled and deepened the feelings of torment and spiritual separation that afflicted Bergman characters. But in scenes of tranquillity filmed outdoors, the light might also evoke glimpses of transcendence."

More from Edward Copeland, cnw at Reverse Shot and Joe Leydon.

From signandsight daily feuilleton roundup, Bergman as quoted by Daniel Kothenschulte in the Frankfurter Rundschau: "Sometimes I mourn the fact that I no longer make films, and more than anything else I miss working with Sven Nykvist. Perhaps because we were both so obsessed with the problems of light, this tender, dangerous, dreamy, alive, dead, misty, hot, fearful, naked, sudden, spring-like, falling, straight, slanting, sensuous, muted, poisonous, calming, sallow light."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:14 PM | Comments (4)

Shorts and fests, 9/20.

Blood Diamond "The diamond industry has begun a campaign to safeguard its lucrative Christmas trade from what it fears will be a blitz of negative publicity resulting from a forthcoming Hollywood film about the trade in African 'conflict diamonds'," reports Jeevan Vasagar in the Guardian. "De Beers, the world's biggest diamond company, plans to spend £8m on publicity this autumn, in advance of the release in December of Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, which threatens to make diamonds as unfashionable as fur." A diamond industry FAQ follows. And via Movie City News, the film's trailer.

Also via MCN, Camille Paglia in the Chronicle of Higher Education: "The Marie Antoinette saga presents daunting problems to any adapter. Where should our sympathies lie: with the plucky, fun-loving 14-year-old girl torn from her home at the Habsburg court in Vienna to serve as a broodmare for French royalty - or with the impoverished French proletariat whose taxes underwrote the ostentatious luxuries of a parasitic aristocracy?"

Marie Antoinette Meanwhile, Jürgen Fauth finds Marie Antoinette "caught up within the bubble of decadence it describes. There's plenty of cake and champagne, but there is precious little news about aristocracy, wealth, history, celebrity, pleasure, revolution, or anything else."

But the "prissy disdain for the vintage of [Sofia] Coppola's films in some circles could be described as an act of sexual terrorism - the kind that has conveniently spared Wes Anderson, another maker of eccentrically hermetic cine-artifacts," suggests Ed Gonzalez, awarding the film three-n-a-half out of four stars: "Marie Antoinette compares favorably to The New World and, more so, to The Lost City - two tales of Edens stripped of their fruit." Also in Slant, Nick Schager on Feast and Gonzalez on Conversations With God.

Perfume In die taz, Dietmar Kammerer asks - and signandsight translates - director Tom Tykwer about the general perception that Perfume is primarily producer Bernd Eichinger's film. Tykwer: "This is about the hundredth time I've had to answer this question, because obviously everyone believes there's a conflict between us. To that I can only say, you've all seen the film. I can't imagine that Perfume looks like the result of compromises. It's a film that I identify with one hundred percent."

Charles Taylor previews the fall festival, theatrical and DVD season for the New York Observer.

Leo Goldsmith and Jenny Jediny clear space at Not Coming to a Theater Near You for New York Film Festival Coverage. Also, Chiranjit Goswami: "In sketching an unreliable account of his personal past, Brand Upon the Brain! is yet another work within [Guy] Maddin's oeuvre which attempts to envision an imaginary history and clings to the prospect that these memories could be reliable enough to replace reality. However, what makes the experience a memorable, nearly unforgettable, event for the viewer is that each live performance of Maddin's silent film can hardly ever be created with such satisfying results in any other time, place, or medium."

Doug Cummings offers his takes on the docs he caught in Toronto: Manufactured Landscapes, Blindsight, Dong and Remembering Arthur.

"Politically - and, sadly, aesthetically - the 12-month American film distribution forecast calls for pain from some of the fest's highest-profile titles, whose social conscience is as admirable as the films themselves are regrettable." In the City Pages, Jim Ridley looks back to Toronto.

Jason Morehead recaps his Toronto experience; Cinematical's Kim Voynar recalls "Five Gorgeous Films and One Ugly One."

AFI Dallas: March 22 through April 1. Details from Peter Martin at Twitch and Eugene Hernandez at indieWIRE. Joe Leydon wonders how this'll effect SXSW, which wraps in Austin just days prior to this one's opening: "It's hard to believe there won't be some extremely intense power-playing and backroom-dealing when the two festivals start competing for world premieres of major inide and mainstream movies."

That Little Round-Headed Boy reviews Matt Zoller Seitz's Home, "the kind of movie that makes you wonder why more movies can't be like this. It's got that shimmering quality, and cool observational tone, of Matt's obvious inspiration, Robert Altman."

Up-n-coming:

Heavens, look at this. Nathaniel R isn't just tracking the many ways in which the Foreign Language Oscar may shape up; he's got easy-on-the-eye tables, links and news.

William Friedkin "is not a name commonly associated with opera. But since 1999, he has been quietly developing a second career, directing productions in Tel Aviv, Florence, Turin and Los Angeles." Geraldine Fabrikant talks with him.

Also in the New York Times:

  • AO Scott on Alfonso Cuarón's first feature: "Mr Cuarón never quite finds the tone that would allow him to fuse belly laughs with the horror of illness and death, but then perhaps Pedro Almodóvar is the only filmmaker able to mix darkness and light in that way... The promise [Cuarón] showed in Sólo Con Tu Pareja has already been realized and exceeded, but there is something gratifying about witnessing such talent in its fledgling state."

Home

"[David] Thomson has long assumed the role of critic/stalker, a perpetual outsider who imagines himself an insider, who fantasizes himself an intimate of the people he writes about and makes few distinctions between them as movie characters, public figures, or actual human beings." And this bugs Jim Emerson.

What's bugging Matt Zoller Seitz is Thompson's characterization of Brian De Palma. And the AV Club's Noel Murray takes you on "Brian De Palma's World Tour."

Nathan Hogan at Facets Features on Henning Carlsen's Hunger: "[Knut] Hamsun's landmark 1890 novel - about a starving writer who wanders the streets of Kristiania (Oslo) in a delirious, ravaged state - is a radically subjective work whose action occurs largely within the mind of its irrational hero. I... discovered that Carlsen does a serviceable job of tackling the book's first-person challenges, but it's the lead performances, set pieces, and photography that make the work exceptional."

PW: Screw Hollywood "Thanks to MySpace, YouTube and lots of lesser-known new media channels, anyone with an idea now has the ability to communicate it to millions of people around the globe," writes Cassidy Hartmann in a cover story for the Philadelphia Weekly. "Add to that the proliferation of technology like digital video and photography, recording equipment and computer editing software - all of which have made it possible to create a fully realized product for little cash - and you have all the makings of a revolution."

Also, Matt Prigge on the Viva Pedro series and Sean Burns on All the King's Men and The Black Dahlia.

Don't you know Jay A Fernandez is loving the hoopla? Also in the Los Angeles Times, Stuart Silverstein reports on the $175 million George Lucas is giving USC.

"[T]he Pioneer I encountered this year was a well oiled machine, easy to work with and very responsive," writes Sujewa Ekanayake. "The Voice should be celebrating the Pioneer instead of publishing sloppy articles that unfairly criticize a valuable member of the US indie film scene." More from The Reeler.

"Russell Metty (1906-78), one of America's outstanding cinematographers, was born 100 years ago today," notes Tim Lucas. "He's perhaps best known for executing the most celebrated sustained shot in movie history: the opening "bomb in the trunk" sequence of Orson Welles's Touch of Evil, but he has much, much more to his credit."

Online browsing tip. Celebrating Sophia Loren's 72nd, a Magnum Photo collection at Slate.

Online viewing tip #1. Borscht Belt Horror. A trailer at Heeb.

Online viewing tip #2. Back and Forth Films showreel.

Online viewing tips. TCM and Hermès present Behind the Camera: The Shorts Circuit, with homages to classics by Griffin Dunne, Peter Gilbert, E Elias Merhige, Mario Van Peebles, Mary Sweeney and Floria Sigismondi. Via Erik Davis at Cinematical.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:14 PM

Toronto. Conversation and postscript.

Looking back at the Toronto International Film Festival, GreenCine's Jonathan Marlow and producer and writer Shannon Gee compare notes; Shannon adds a postscript.

Big Bang Love, Juvenile A

Gee: I was completely baffled by the Takeshi Miike film Big Bang Love, Juvenile A. It's a real set piece about two convicted murderers who meet in prison and one is found over the other's dead body. It also has Mexican pyramids, a space ship and tattoos that seem to disappear off of one of the character's skin.

I'm getting ahead of myself when I say it's the companion piece to Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain (which has a Mayan temple and a space-bound bubble rising to a dying star) but I think it is: it's got the same sort of mystical mumbo jumbo dry-walled around an impossible love story within a questioning of political conscience. I might have cut both films a break if I hadn't seen Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, which sets the bar pretty high for combining fantasy elements with interpersonal relationships and political climes. Pan's Labyrinth is the new guide post for phantasmic metaphor in filmmaking of this type.

Syndromes and a Century

Marlow: I'd go one further and claim that Lisandro Alonso's Fantasma operates in the same space, although without any of the special effects that dominate the other three. I suspect that some folks would disagree, since it finds the fantastic in the absolutely ordinary. It, Andrea Arnold's Red Road and Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century are easily among the finest films that I was able to see at Toronto. I'd include Zidane: un portrait du XXème siècle but we were able to see that a few months prior to the festival.

Conversely, the Miike film and The Fountain were among the worst. It might be worth mentioning that Johnnie To's Exiled was the most entertaining of the two dozen films that I caught in the TIFF program (either there, at Telluride or elsewhere) and quite in contrast to his two Elections, also at the festival and similarly worth seeing. Exiled was a real throwback to the John Woo HK films of the late-1980s/early-1990s. Of course, if I'd seen Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, my "favorite" might be different.

Gee: Borat was a favorite of at least two critics I talked to. The festival seemed light on the comedy for the most part - I guess we don't feel like making funny films so much these days.

Marlow: Or, in the case of Severance, the inclination is to gravitate from comedy to horror and back.

Gee: I did catch the wedding send-up Confetti and For Your Consideration, which felt like Christopher Guest-lite (Is Hollywood too easy a send up? Can you even send up Hollywood anymore?) but was enjoyable after a day of grim film.

Fay Grim

Speaking of grim, Toronto always gives us a chance compare actors against themselves. Parker Posey was in Consideration and Hal Hartley's sequel to Henry Fool, reprising her role as the title character in his latest, Fay Grim. The story picks up fourteen years later with Henry possibly dead and Fay scooting from New York to Paris to Turkey to try and find him. It's a Hal Hartley espionage film, complete with an explosion at the end. It's not quite a return to form, but Posey is an easy watch and pitch perfect with the Hartley patter.

James Urbaniak is back in his role as Simon Grim and he also appears in the hot button film of the festival, Death of a President. Honestly, his casting (along with Becky Ann Baker, aka the mom from Freaks and Geeks) as a forensic scientist questioning the evidence in this imagined documentary of President Bush's assassination, blew the illusion of the film for me. That and the way the film was made (too many narrative techniques in what is supposed to be "archival footage" and an ending that doesn't ring right to me). Some audience members applauded after the film and it won the FIRPESCI prize "for the audacity with which it distorts reality to reveal a larger truth." I'm not sure if a larger truth was revealed... I'm beginning to think the point of the film is that, at least policy-wise, it wouldn't make a difference whether Bush is president or not as long as Dick Cheney is in power.

Other multiple actor appearances include Martin Freeman in Confetti and Breaking and Entering, Jacinda Barrett in The Last Kiss and The Namesake, and the Three Gorges area of China in Jia Zhangke's Venice Golden Lion winner Still Life and the accompanying documentary Dong.

Marlow: Outside of multiple appearances by certain actors and locations, were you aware of any themes that coincidentally connected the various films? A certain dislike and/or distrust of the US of A was on evidence in DOAP, Day Night Day Night and The Prisoner, or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair, among others. Granted, the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth provided the conceptual starting point for I Don't Want to Sleep Alone and Syndromes and a Century.

Mon Colonel

The inevitable, questionable actions in the midst of war were well noted in Bruno Dumont's Flandres and Laurent Herbiet's Mon Colonel, a satisfying first-time feature directorial effort written by Costa-Gavras and produced by the Dardenne brothers. I suppose that you could even claim a thread of youthful discovery from Guy Maddin's latest, Brand Upon the Brain! and Alexis Dos Santos's Glue. Or its opposite, Belle toujours, a case of "mature discovery" in an homage to Belle du jour 38 years later.

Gee: Theme-wise, yes, there were links. Ideas and images were literally taken from other works (or in addition to other works?) and put into others. Dong and Still Life shared shots that appear in both films, which made the experience of watching the narrative film much richer for me (I saw the documentary first) in terms of what the film was saying about urban development. James Longley's documentary short Sari's Mother was crafted from footage he shot while making the feature length Iraq in Fragments - was it a story that didn't make it into the final feature doc?

Marlow: From what I understand, yes.

Build a Broken Mousetrap

Gee: Jem Cohen had three films in the festival, the shorts Blessed Are the Dreams of Men, NYC Weights and Measures and Build a Broken Mousetrap. Though Mousetrap was essentially a concert documentary of the band The Ex, it incorporated footage from the 2004 Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden (which was happening at the same time), various shots in front of a New York City electronics store and construction cranes littering the skyline. The short films all incorporate cityscapes and city scenes with people sleeping on trains as the scenery whizzes by in Blessed, and a ticker tape parade visually stimulating us in a quite different way in this post-9/11 age in NYC. These themes, of having a constant political backdrop in your neighborhood, catching a few blissful moments of sleep-induced ignorance of the outside world, reexamining the image (where paper flying through the air once meant celebration, it now also means disaster) and gentrification seemed to run deep with everything from the epic Babel to the slow-burning I Don't Want to Sleep Alone to the improbable Breaking and Entering.

Marlow: Volver, which screened at both Telluride and Toronto, could easily fit on that list as well. What Almodóvar effortlessly achieves with coincidence, Minghella squanders. He is not among the most subtle of directors, clearly. The kindest word that I have for Breaking and Entering is that, between this and The Departed, the talented Vera Farmiga appears to be getting a more substantial per-film pay-day. Of course, she had to suffer through a relatively thankless part, a slight step forward (or a side-step) from her role in Running Scared.

Gee: In the world of audio, Kurt Cobain About a Son created its entire narrative voice from over 25 hours of interviews with Cobain, initially for Michael Azerrad's 1993 book Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana. The film is quite an experience in itself. What did you think of it?

Kurt Cobain About a Son

Marlow: I wager that I'm too close to the subject matter. I lived in Seattle for a decade and spent a few years of undergraduate study in Olympia, two of the three locations. I have an emotional connection to these images that would likely be lost on most people. Besides, it was as if they borrowed my music collection to make the soundtrack! I was ultimately impressed with their choices. I could say the same for most of the documentaries that were there. Remembering Arthur, about the unfortunately little-known-outside-of-Canada NFB filmmaker Arthur Lipsett. I wasn't all that familiar with him myself, outside of the brilliant Very Nice Very Nice, until an ATA/Other Cinema mini-retrospective in March of this year. I don't believe you can consider Zidane as a documentary, exactly.

Gee: Possibly not, but it definitely documented something. I get interesting reactions when I describe Zidane to people. Many think the idea of filming 17 angles of our generation's greatest soccer player over the course of one match is intriguing. It truly does "document" a person at an event. It's somewhat fetishistic, but that's a lot of film in general, not just this single focus on one person. Reactions have ranged from slight disagreement to total enthusiasm. The thing I like about it is the way it shows just how good Zidane is - even though the soccer action is mostly at the other end of the field (and we never see it). I also liked how the supporting "characters" (Beckham, Ronaldo, the whole Real Madrid club) barely register in the frame. I don't know if a talking head doc or a verite-style doc could do the same thing. Between Zidane and Cobain, with its painterly compositions of the three cities Cobain lived in, these docs are presenting a new way to experience hearing a subject's voice and seeing a subject's actions, which I can appreciate.

Shannon Gee: A Postscript

The process of watching a movie is odd to begin with. In its mechanics, you're paying a fair amount of money to sit in a row of chairs and stare at a wall for a couple of hours... but magic happens when the images moving in front of you are funny, transporting, revealing, surreal.

When you're at the Toronto International Film Festival as press and industry, things are even odder than a Saturday evening at the movies.  Each screening is like opening night - there is a lot of energy in the line to get in, every seat is packed and people are bristling. Folks working on their fourth film of the day are sucking down coffee rather than munching on popcorn. We're all wearing identical lanyards and badges around our necks. There are more cell phones glowing in the theater before the lights dim than at these rock and roll concerts kids go to these days.

After the first four days of the festival, these become regular, everyday images and routines. Sometimes, in this wacky arena, there are stranger moments in and out of the theater.

The Brand Upon the Brain!

Take for instance, the gala world premiere screening of Guy Maddin's Brand Upon the Brain! This silent, black-and-white story about a mysterious orphanage, a brother and sister and the teen detective that divides their affections, played to a packed house and was backed by members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, three foley artists, a castrato, and a narrator (this time Maddin regular Louis Negin - Isabella Rossellini will have the honors when the film mounts at the New York Film Festival.) It had that signature Maddin quirkiness, humor and expressionistic jump cut style. It's full of the stuff that people say alienates "general" audiences, but this audience laughed at every beat and delighted at the old-timey ways of generating sound and music for a silent movie.

I didn't think anything could top an evening like that, but when I met with Maddin the next morning for an interview, I was greeted at the hotel suite by a large armed guard with a large assault rifle in hand. It was puzzling and a little unnerving until Maddin and I asked what the deal was... and then we saw the jewelry on loan (for red carpet events) displayed in the corner. Maddin then launched into a true account of a jewel thief and grisly murderer in his hometown of Winnipeg that sounded like something straight out of one of his films. My interview questions seemed paltry at best after such a lead in, but I did get to talk to him about Brain! and the other film he has in the festival. Nude Caboose is his latest short film, shot entirely with a cell phone. It's a three-minute film that took two hours to make and lists four writers in its credits. "And here I was following around a naked woman with a cell phone pointed at her," he described, holding my tape recorder up at around ass level.

I Don't Want to Sleep Alone

Next odd encounter: I was eating dinner with a fellow film reviewer and, as we were comparing the day's movie fare (All the King's Men? Looks like they delayed its release for all the reasons we feared), and we started to reminisce about Tsai Ming-Liang's The Wayward Cloud, which we both saw together last year and were suitably traumatized by (in a good way). I got up from the table and headed for the front door to make a phone call when I was stopped short in my tracks. Outside was a man crouched over a busted open watermelon; he scooped out the flesh with his bare hands and was eating it as fast as he could. Now anyone who's seen The Wayward Cloud can attest to how freaky it would be to see such a thing right after invoking Tsai Ming-Liang. I don't suspect I will see any mattresses floating on lakes later (although maybe if I trek over to Lake Ontario I might be surprised) but if I did, the images and messages in this year's entry, I Don't Want to Sleep Alone, would help keep me from freaking out. They might actually soothe me.

In Sleep Alone, a group of men have found a discarded mattress and are hauling it across town. Meanwhile, a young man (played by Tsai regular Lee Kang-Sheng) is beat up by a gang of con artists and passes out in front of the mattress haulers. One of them takes him in and nurses him back to health on the mattress he has carefully cleaned and nested up. In the same building, a paralyzed man (also played by Lee) is cared for by a young woman (Chen Shiang-chyi). Once she and the now healthy man meet, an odd love triangle/quadrangle/quint-tangle ensues between them, the paralyzed boy, the boy's mother and the mattress hauler. The last image of three of the characters sleeping on the mattress is one of the more uplifting endings of Tsai's films. Make no mistake though - the world he creates here is still on the brink of crumbling, from an abandoned, half-built cement tower to a choking haze that permeates the city. People may find love and comfort in I Don't Want to Sleep Alone, but it sure looks weird.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:08 AM

September 19, 2006

Old Joy.

Old Joy At Reverse Shot, Vicente Rodriguez-Ortega talks with Kelly Reichardt about what remains one of my favorite films of the year so far, Old Joy.

J Hoberman, writing in the Voice, calls it "a diminished, grunge Easy Rider.... Coming in the same year as Andrew Bujalski's similarly understated and character-driven Mutual Appreciation, it attests to a new strain in Amerindie production - literate but not literary, crafted without ostentation, rooted in a specific place and devoted to small sensations."

Adam Nayman opens the Reverse Shot round at indieWIRE: "It can be read as many things: as a sorrowful account of liberal alienation, as a gentle rebuttal of weekend-warrior movie tropes, or as a muted tragedy of unrequited affection. Old Joy is complex, but it is not a carefully attenuated Rhorshach test like Gus Van Sant's Gerry, one of several films to which it will inevitably be compared (the others are Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Blissfully Yours and, more tenuously, Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain)."

Updated through 9/25.

Dave Kehr, by the way, has a fine piece on Old Joy in the print version of the current issue of Film Comment.

Update, 9/20: A "triumph of modesty and of seriousness that also happens to be one of the finest American films of the year," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "[I]f Mark and Kurt’s excursion resembles any number of classic adventures across time and space, the film is also insistently about this specific moment in time and space. Namely, an America in which progressive radio (actually, snippets from Air America) delivers the relentless grind of bad news that Mark can only listen to without comment and with a face locked in worry, a face on which Ms Reichardt invites us to project the shell shock, despair and hopelessness of everyone else listening in across the country."

Updates, 9/22: Alison Willmore: "[T]he film accomplishes more in its subdued 76 minutes than others have with casts of dozens and globe-spanning sets."

Armond White in the New York Press: "Old Joy's gentility could be called a woman's take on Deliverance, but it's really just indie persnicketyness. Old Joy stays high-minded about human behavior, and yet one walks away thinking, 'I have no idea who those people really are.'"

"Some viewers may well be bored, or monumentally irritated, by this," warns Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "I found it masterly, riveting."

Michael Joshua Rowin interviews Reichardt for Stop Smiling: "I know I'm not capable of making an out-and-out political film, but I did think there were elements in the film of what I was experiencing - ineffectualness - and I saw in the characters' relationship a metaphor: two lost liberals trying to find their way. But I concentrated on the friendship - the other stuff were ideas for myself, ideas that make you feel like you're doing something relevant."

Daniel Kasman: "Director Kelly Reichardt lets the film drift too much on standard cinematic tropes of buddy films and pastoral getaway narratives (towards the end I began to wonder if Old Joy was leading up to a murder), and the well-composed but unsatisfying look of the film further drains away a texture of realness from an already gaseous scenario."

Dan Persons talks with Reichardt for IFC News.

"Why aren't we seeing more independent films like these? Are there more Bujalskis and Reichardts in hiding somewhere?" asks Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "After the studios co-opted the independent movement with their specialty divisions (Fox Searchlight, Warner Independent Pictures, Focus Features, etc.), has the door completely closed for true independent films? Are directors who could be making low-key films such as Mutual Appreciation and Old Joy having to tailor their art in order to appeal to these studio divisions?"

Update, 9/25: It took forty years, argues Stanley Kauffmann in the New Republic, but the literary Beats finally found their cinematic equivalent in what he calls the "Listless Film," the first of which would be Slacker. A "good Listless Film carries a double melancholy for all: it makes us sad for its characters and sad for the world that has thus affected them. Old Joy is such a film... About [Reichardt's] directing, after praising her simplicity, one has to praise her daring. To make this film took considerable conviction - and, for an artist, conviction usually entails courage."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:12 PM | Comments (1)

Shorts, 9/19.

FW Murnau "Phantom, made in 1922 immediately after Nosferatu, has never been considered among [FW] Murnau's major films, but the superb new restoration created by the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation in Germany, and now transferred, with uncommon care and skill, to DVD by the American distributor Flicker Alley, should go quite a way toward restoring its reputation," writes Dave Kehr. "If every silent film could look like this, the notions of that period's 'primitivism' would be put permanently and deservedly to rest. Here is one very happy marriage of 20th-century art and 21st-century technology."

Also in the New York Times, the "Books" pages carry news of the return of both Dr Hannibal Lector and JRR Tolkien. Motoko Rich sees Thomas Harris's Hannibal Rising on shelves just in time for the holiday shopping season and Lawrence Van Gelder has a brief item on Tolkien's son reconstructing and editing The Children of Hurin, begun in 1918 but unfinished at the time of the storyteller's death. Houghton Mifflin's bringing the book out in the spring.

Michael Wood in the London Review of Books on Volver: "It's a long way from Buñuel to Almodóvar, but I thought of Buñuel several times as I watched this film. Both directors are interested in an idea of Spain, which they see as a place caught between myth and history, or more precisely as a country trying to enter history without fully taking the measure of myth."

"The artfulness of The Road to Guantánamo lies in its implicit acknowledgment that neither the directors, nor the audience, nor the American inquisitors are in a position to get to the bottom of what 'really' happened," writes Jonathan Raban in the New York Review of Books. "Yet the Tipton Three's version of events has one enormous strength: in the end, it holds together better than the rival narrative that is told by their captors at Guantánamo."

The History Boys

"The eagerly awaited movie adaptation of Alan Bennett's world-beating, Tony-winning play is finally here, and it's... okay," notes Tom Huddleston at Not Coming to a Theater Near You, briefly, on The History Boys.

Michael Atkinson in the Voice on All the King's Men: "Pitching a fit over the lost idealism of the American machine seems a little thin once you realize, as [executive producer James] Carville surely has, that the Huey Longs were aberrations, and the massive scale of corporate wrongdoing easily overshadows, in cost and blood and influence, any governor's graft habit or blackmail schemes."

Tim Wong in the Lumière Reader: "A French-animation sensation touted as the must-have accessory to A Scanner Darkly's colouring book malaise, Renaissance is, rather deflatingly, a die cut of razor-edged silhouettes inked by a Frank Miller wannabe."

"If The Last King of Scotland doesn't tell us anything we don't already know about monsters, it certainly provides a vivid snapshot of Uganda (the film was shot on location) and a tour-de-force portrayal of a creature who is all the more horrifying because his evil is so recognizable, and so chillingly embracing and warm," writes Jeremiah Kipp.

Also at Slant:

Tickets
  • Fernando F Croce: "More benign than Three... Extremes and less uneven than Eros, Tickets offers a triptych of slender yet genuine delights." Also, The Girls.

  • Rob Humanick on The Guardian: "[N]early every other line of dialogue is a carefully calculated bit of wisdom into the value of saving lives, sacrifice, and teamwork, and every one of them rings with the dull thud of an overcooked movie tagline."

At SF360, Susan Gerhard talks with co-directors Vicky Funari and Sergio De La Torre about Maquilapolis and with Georgia Lee about Red Doors.

The latest entry in Bilge Ebiri's "Forgotten Films" series at Nerve is Bertolucci's Luna, "a film perhaps even more sexually daring than Last Tango, and in its own way even more controversial than 1900. It was also, perhaps, one of the most personal, raw films Bertolucci ever made."

"When the Polish would-be director Roman Polanski met the French would-be screenwriter Gérard Brach in 1959, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship," writes Ronald Bergan. "They shared a love of surrealism, a pessimistic view of life and an absurdist humour that is evident in the 10 films they made together." Brach died on September 9 at the age of 79.

Also in the Guardian, Sally Vincent interviews Derek Jacobi, Maddy Costa meets Vanessa Bauche and Miranda Sawyer has a very quick chat with Quinceañera co-director Wash Westmoreland.

David Austin at Cinema Strikes Back on Rusian and Ludmila: "Part epic mythology, part tongue-in-cheek fantasia, the film delivers on all scores - it's a true crowd-pleaser in the best sense of the term. Director Aleksandr Ptushko, the master of Soviet fantasy, pulled out all the stops for this, the last film (in fact, a film in two parts that took four years to film) that he would make before dying in 1973."

In the New Republic, Stanley Kauffmann considers the worlds conjured by Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles and Le Petit Lieutenant. More on Lieutenant from Daniel Kasman.

Jon Wiener, author of Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files, at Truthdig and Alternet on The US vs John Lennon: "The story of Nixon's attempt to deport Lennon is relevant today because deportation, and the larger issue of immigrants' political rights, has become a central problem in American politics."

In Cahiers du cinéma, Cyril Neyrat recommends two viewings of Michael Mann's Miami Vice: " The first, to make a list of its disappointed expectations and weaknesses, and the second, to attend to what it does do: exploit the aesthetic possibilities of high definition and to draw all the consequences for the narrative."

Edward Copeland on Simon Callow's Orson Welles: Hello Americans: "[I]t's not the gossip that makes this biography worthwhile, it's the detailed rendering of how project after project in the post-Citizen Kane era were taken away from Welles, often caused just as much by Welles' short-attention span as studio interference." Related online listening tip. Callow on the Leonard Lopate Show.

For the Daily Reel, Dahamu Rumin talks with Stevie Ryan, "a beautiful actress and director of nostalgic black and white silent films on YouTube."

Voice Media "One of the more depressing ongoing stories is the impact of The New Times takeover of weeklies around the country," Anne Thompson. "Not only has the Village Voice been gutted - word is, even veteran film critic Jim Hoberman is on the block - but the LA Weekly is targeted next, even though it is still profitable.... For the LA Weekly and the trades, at least, movie reviews drive a lot of site traffic. Gut your movie reviews and you sacrifice one of your prime assets."

Meanwhile, Bilge Ebiri at Nerve: "The folks at the Pioneer Theater in New York's East Village are not very pleased with a recent article by Jessica Winter in the Village Voice, and frankly, I can't blame them."

Fox "is expected to unveil plans today to capture the gargantuan Christian audience that made The Passion of the Christ a global phenomenon," reports Lorenza Muñoz in the Los Angeles Times. "The home entertainment division of Rupert Murdoch's movie studio plans to produce as many as a dozen films a year under a banner called FoxFaith."

Christopher Orr for the New Republic: "For decades, television has been slowly killing Americans' desire go out and see movies at the theater; now it's killing their desire to watch them at home as well."

Online browsing tip. The Chicagoist's Get Well Roger Flickr group.

Online browsing and viewing tip. Divya Srinivasan's portfolio. Via Wiley Wiggins.

Online viewing tips. Netscape and Cinematical at the Movies interviews: Mira Nair (The Namesake), John Scheinfeld (The US vs John Lennon) and Phillip Noyce (Catch a Fire).

Posted by dwhudson at 2:06 PM

Fests and events, 9/19.

The Gods of Times Square Blank Screen: "Richard Sandler makes New York proud. An experimental photographer and filmmaker (he recieved a Guggenheim fellowship for filmmaking this year!), Sandler's films' subject is often this crazy city, particularly the fringe elements of some touristy areas. He will be screening 5 of his films at this Monkeytown series," tomorrow through September 27. If you're nowhere near New York, you can watch The Gods of Times Square online.

At Reverse Shot, Robbie Freeling urges New Yorkers to see the Kenji Mizoguchi series at the Film Forum (you'll have to hurry; offer ends Thursday!): "[E]ach film is a revelation."

"Bradford is fast becoming an unlikely trailblazer in world cinema," writes Sarah Birke in the Independent. "Its National Museum of Photography, Film and Television is the only venue in Europe enabled to screen every film format under one roof, and this month it plays host to the seductively named Bite the Mango film festival." Friday through September 28.

Red Road MS Smith's first entry on the Toronto International Film Festival focuses on the Wavelengths series and Andrea Arnold's Red Road.

In the Voice, J Hoberman touches on the media sensations Borat and D.O.A.P. but allows himself enough room for compact takes on Guy Maddin's Brand Upon the Brain! and The Pervert's Guide to Cinema. Dennis Lim offers capsule reviews of Black Book, Still Life, I Don't Want to Sleep Alone and Monkey Warfare.

More quick takes from James Israel.

"In Between Days is 'first love is beautiful hurt' Korean-style." Following his appreciation, Michael Guillén presents notes taken during the Q&A that followed the screening in Toronto.

How does a residency at the Harvestworks Digital Media Arts Center in NYC sound, artists? Deadline for applications is November 1.

"Let's say it right away, since it is so obvious: mourning is at the root of both projects; mourning for a beloved who would be a man in Varda, the cinema in Godard." In Cahiers du cinéma, Jean-Michel Frodon looks back on Travel(s) in Utopia, Jean-Luc Godard 1946 - 2006, In Search of a Lost Theorem and L'Ile et Elle is at the Fondation Cartier, still open through October 8.

Online viewing tip. David Poland in Toronto.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:38 PM

Interview. Michael Tucker.

The Prisoner
[T]he photographs taken at Abu Ghraib really obscure everything else that happened there. The Army and the government got off quite easily. They can say, "We handled that, we're punishing those soldiers, everything else is ok." And meanwhile, detainee operations went on. I believe now that there are between 14,000 and 16,000 detainees being held. At various times, over the last few years, Army officials have said that up to 70 percent of those people could be innocent. Of course, they are releasing people, but the process is quite slow. They've got massive detainee issues that the media hasn't looked into.

Michael Tucker, in conversation with David D'Arcy.

Back in the summer of 2004, I met with Michael Tucker to talk about a documentary he was editing, Gunner Palace, which would go on to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and become widely regarded as one of the best depictions of what day-by-day, hour-by-hour life is actually like for American troops serving in Baghdad. Of the many scenes that struck me, one stood out: "an Iraqi journalist speaks directly to the camera, claiming his innocence, as a soldier forces him at gunpoint to squat down, keep his hands behind his head, and above all, 'Shut up.' 'Yes, "shut up,"' the journalist tells the camera. 'You see this. You see what's happening.'"

Nearly two years later, this journalist, Yunis Khatayer Abbas, and Tucker met again, this time in Jordan. Abbas and his two brothers had been at Abu Ghraib and other facilities for nine months. The Prisoner, or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair, premiering at TIFF this year, tells his story. David D'Arcy spoke with Michael Tucker in Toronto.

Earlier: Michael Tucker's post to TIFF's Doc Blog.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:52 AM

September 18, 2006

TIFF, 9/18.

Colossal Youth The backward glances and Toronto International Film Festival wrap-ups roll on. The LA Weekly's Scott Foundas sees in Pedro Costa's Colossal Youth "a brave and nightmarishly beautiful achievement, in which marginalized people who so rarely have a voice in cinema are give one, unbound by the shackles of sanctimony or self-important 'social realism.' This is something close to the cinematic equivalent of blank verse, a new language of expression to which we must constantly readjust as the movie is playing across the screen."

That it screened at Toronto and probably won't at most other festivals on the continent is "a compelling reminder that, despite the easily gotten impression that it is little more than a glam press junket for some of the Hollywood's highest-profile fall releases, Toronto remains the largest and most important film festival in North America." He then turns his attention to Larry Fessenden's The Last Winter, "a horror movie with many inconvenient truths to tell about the ways in which we are willingly destroying our planet. Oh, and it's also scary as fuck."

"I can't tell you how many women in their 60s I saw taking sandwiches out of their purses and eating in line, because those were their only free minutes for the next 12 hours - if I'm doing that when I'm 65, my grandkids damn well better realize how kickass their grandma is." At Cinematical, Martha Fischer looks back on her Toronto experience and revisits her five favorites. As you'll see, she's kickass now.

Like Martha, Tom Hall kept hearing that this was an "off-year"; but it certainly wasn't for either of them. Tom looks back at seven films.

Transylvania "Modest" and "sedate" are among the first words to hit you in Jason Clark's Toronto roundup for Slant, but then, he doesn't seem to have caught the films winning raves at sites like Twitch or from the likes of Doug Cummings, Darren Hughes et al. But he has seen a few "weirdo pics, none stranger than Tony Gatlif's Transylvania, which pairs possibly the looniest actor and actress in current cinema, Head-On's Birol Ünel and Asia Argento, as a pair of self-destructive gypsies wandering the Romanian countryside finding adventures in the small details of life. A defiant wackjob of a movie, it's also one that you may find yourself referring back to at the most peculiar moments, which is better than letting it fade from memory."

The festival has the AV Club's Noel Murray thinking about "the characteristics that would allow anybody who knows my taste to say, 'This would be right up your alley.' I came up with a list of ten."

Movie City News points to wrap-ups from Peter Howell and Geoff Pevere in the Toronto Star.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:44 PM

Newsblitz.

It's The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen). And not, for example, Perfume (Das Parfum). The trade association German Films announced today that Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's feature debut, winner of seven Lolas (German Oscars, more or less), an audience award at Locarno and much positive buzz in Telluride and Toronto, will be sent to the Academy as the country's entrant into the Best Foreign Language Film sweepstakes (full story in German here).

The Lives of Others

Sony Picture Classics looks set to release the film in the US on February 23, just three days before Oscar Night - in other words, when all the attention will be on what the American and British stars will be wearing - and a full month after the nominations are announced. I hope that's smart. Of course, gearing the release to the Oscar schedule would be a crap shoot anyway; it has to get nominated in the first place for any such speculation to matter.

Meanwhile, plenty of consolation for Perfume producer Bernd Eichinger, whose Downfall (Der Untergang) was in the running two years ago (it lost to Alejandro Amenábar's The Sea Inside [Mar adentro]). Downfall's opening weekend drew just over 480,000 Germans to theaters; Perfume's opening weekend: 950,000.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:20 PM

Midnight Eye. Returns.

Kagero-za Tom Mes has a long talk with set designer Noriyoshi Ikeya, "whose career spans everything from Ultraman to Rampo Noir." And in between: "There were several ideas I suggested that Seijun-san used in the films. The scene in Kagero-za where Michiyo Okusu is in the bath and the flower appears from her mouth, that was my idea. The director liked it and decided to do it. We only did one take and nailed it straight away."

"When Jasper Sharp invited me to write something 'personal' for Midnight Eye as it hit the 5-year mark, I decided it would be the perfect place to review Nippon Connection," writes Abé Mark Nornes, author of Japanese Documentary Film: The Meiji Era Through Hiroshima and editor of the University of Michigan Center for Japanese Studies Publications Program's Motion Picture Reprint Series. "Both the German event and Midnight Eye itself are symptomatic of exciting shifts in film culture, shifts that I will narrate in my own experience of Japanese film as a distant observer of sorts."

Reviews:

Anime Perdute

And Mes, author himself of a book on Miike, Agitator, reviews Anime Perdute, a collection of essays published in conjunction with a Miike retrospective at the Museo Nazionale del Cinema in Turin in April. The book is "entirely in Italian, but then, you're never too old to learn."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:36 AM

Shorts, 9/18.

Camille Paglia: The Birds Wiley Wiggins on Camille Paglia's entry in the BFI Film Classic series, The Birds: "Paglia completely sidesteps the academic circle-jerking of most film theory and bites right into the meat of the film, getting her hands dirty in it without ever compromising or hiding her formidable intellect."

Michael Guillén talks with Renaissance director Christian Volckman about, among other things, Hinduism. At Twitch, Opus admires the film's look but wishes it were cloaking a better story.

Also at Twitch, where reviews of films screened in Toronto keep pouring in, Mathew Kumar talks with Shane Meadows about This is England.

Cinematical's Martha Fischer: "The problem with [Kim Ki-duk's] Time is that every character in the film is so fundamentally repulsive it's impossible to care about any of them."

Anne Thompson profiles Todd Field for the Hollywood Reporter.

Bret Easton Ellis: The Informers Josef Adalian in Variety: "Producer Tony Krantz (24) is teaming with scribes Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) and Erik Jendresen (Band of Brothers) to turn Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation into a weekly series for ABC." Also, Michael Fleming reports that Nicholas Jarecki will adapt the Bret Easton Ellis story collection, The Informers. Jarecki and Ellis are writing the screenplay.

"Infamous is funnier and gayer than Capote, and it also shows a lot more of the author's New York life amid his society-lady 'swans,'" writes John Seabrook, who talks with Douglas McGrath. Also in the New Yorker, Judith Thurman: "No other queen, except perhaps Cleopatra, was more intent than Marie Antoinette on dressing for history." Don't miss the gruesome snapshot of Versailles. And Anthony Lane reviews The Science of Sleep and Renaissance.

More on Science from David Edelstein: "[Michel] Gondry has devised a loopy and original language for portraying a soul in ferment.... But in the great madcap love stories (among them Eternal Sunshine), the magic carpet flies over the abyss: You get a great view, but you don't take the plunge. Gondry loses faith in his carpet—which is to say, his own artistry. He drops you like a stone." Also in New York, Logan Hill has a few questions for Alfonso Cuarón.

Lynn Hirschberg has a long profile of Gondry in the New York Times Magazine. And, via Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker, a series of Photobooth self-portraits that Gondry's done for Jamie Stuart.

"If you thought Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant touched the bottom of the long dark well of corrupt cop movies then [Kinji] Fukasaku's two police flicks will show you that you merely reached the top of the layer of scum on the bottom of that particular pond." Grady Hendrix on Cops vs Thugs and Yakuza Graveyard. Also, "a typical week in the life of Kaiju Shakedown so you can see that it contains all the thrills and drama that you, the American people, want to see on TV." Funny because it's... well, you know.

"Even on the attack, you make me want to see more of Nicole." David Thomson and Shane Danielsen debate the merits of Nicole Kidman in the Independent, where, of course, Thomson has his own column to see to, and this week he suggests that Peter O'Toole and Vanessa Redgrave may score Oscar nominations for their performances in Venus. Movie City News has come across a trailer.

Richard E Grant: With Nails Also, Liz Hoggard maps the slow-burning success of Withnail and I and gets a few words with director Bruce Robinson, Richard E Grant, Paul McGann and Ralph Brown.

The cinetrix takes in two films set in New Orleans, By Invitation Only, "a sort of bayou Born Rich," and Happy Here and Now: "[Michael] Almereyda gets the locations and the local legends in various roles just right, but even though the action is unfolding in the city that care forgot, the film feels a little too langorous and elliptical."

Richard Corliss in Time on Shut Up & Sing and The Ground Truth: "I wouldn't for a second equate losing airplay for your new CD (which went platinum anyway) with losing a limb, your innocence, your mind or your life in a war. But both docs trace a similar journey: the awakening of political activism among young folks from the heartland who feel they must speak out against the war, come what may." Related online viewing. Ground Truth director Patricia Foulkrod discusses her film at Alternet.

At Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow posts a rave for This Film is Not Yet Rated.

At the Siffblog, Kathy Fennessy talks with Lynn Shelton about We Go Way Back.

"Modern viewers are generally uneasy with Mae West," writes John McElwee at Greenbriar Picture Shows. "She's harder to warm up to with each passing generation. There's an unearthly quality about her appearance and personality that belongs to an era and mindset our culture will never again embrace."

Bookends? Sujewa Ekanayake watches Cassavetes's Shadows and Andrew Bujalski's Funny Ha Ha.

"Much attention has been focused on the economics of selling digital versions of Hollywood movies (like in Amazon's new Unbox service) as an alternative to DVD sales and rentals and to stem piracy," notes Richard Siklos in the NYT. "But what has yet to be exploited - what Google, Yahoo and many other aggregators are vying for - are pieces of the $60 billion or so that will be spent on television advertising in the United States this year."

Online viewing tip #1. Three clips from Christopher Guest's For Your Consideration at the Risky Biz Blog.

Online viewing tip #2. The Race, an anime mashup. Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing: "It's characters from over 100 cartoons participating in a rotoscoped 'Whacky Race,' while high-octane music jabbers in the background."

Online viewing tip #3. sMull's 1K Project II. Dazzling machinima via Greg Allen.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:49 AM

Fests and events, 9/18.

With seven of the films already reviewed, Slant clears a corner for its coverage of the New York Film Festival, opening September 29 and running through October 15.

Iraq for Sale Nikki Finke: "Robert Greenwald is in Washington today for Senate Democratic oversight hearings on Iraq war profiteering, and the DC movie premiere of his latest documentary, Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers."

New Yorkers: The Reeler hosts a preview of Jesus Camp, followed by a Q&A with directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, tonight and a screening of Heights, followed by a discussion with Chris Terrio, tomorrow night.

Global Photography Now is a weekly series of discussions beginning this Friday at the Tate Modern - and online.

Also on Friday: Alexander Kluge Film Night at the Serpentine Gallery in London.

Schostakovich Still in London: Schostakovich on Film opens Saturday at the Barbican and runs through December 10. Ed Vulliamy: "What these scores unveil above all is a mercurial, ambivalent, sometimes mischievous, sometimes romantic, often humorous and always human side to Shostakovich's character and working life that is so often missing - sometimes by didactic design, or out of hunger for misery - from the way he is usually portrayed in the West."

Also in the Observer, Justine Elias looks back on Toronto.

Darren Hughes arranges the films he saw in Toronto into groups. "Stand Outs," for example, or "Frustrations and Disappointments." At the top are two "Masterpieces," both of which "will likely end up on my short list of favorite films of the decade": Jia Zhangke's Still Life and Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century.

Logan Hill has a few capsules in New York.

Back to London: October 15: Film-Philosophy founding editor Daniel Frampton in conversation with Harmony Korine.

Then, on October 16, Bringing Pictures to Life: Japanese Animation and the World of Koji Yamamura at the Japan Foundation.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:01 AM

Toronto Dispatch. 7.

Focusing primarily on Deliver Us From Evil, David D'Arcy offers a few parting thoughts on the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival.

Deliver Us From Evil Deliver Us From Evil in the Real to Reel section is that rare film about the topic of priest abuse of children in which the filmmaker actually gets the priest who abused those kids to talk. In this case, the priest is Oliver O'Grady, an Irish cleric who worked in parishes in California in the 1970s and 1980s. He is interviewed in Ireland, where he has gone presumably to avoid having charges brought upon himself, and to avoid having attention brought to the superiors who enabled him to stay in parishes for so long while they knew he was abusing children. In this case, the abuse victims were girls.

What we have is a case history, or case histories, with a spectrum of elements that add up to a troubling story - a priest who violates a position of trust; teenage girls, now women, whose lives were taken from them; devout parents who resisted for a long time in believing that priests could be the predators that so many of them turned out to be; and a church hierarchy, including the present cardinal of Los Angeles, Roger Mahony, whose priority still seems to be escaping any kind of accountability.

Deliver Us From Evil Why Father O'Grady chose to talk to the filmmaker, Amy Berg, is a mystery that only his confessor must know. But the fact that he speaks frankly about sexually abusing girl after girl doesn't explain the reasons why he did it in the first place. Everyone has sexual urges. Not everyone is a rapist. The account of encounter after encounter with vulnerable parishioners is a trail of tears when you hear the victims talk about it. As much as we hear about the same abuse from O'Grady himself - who has been described as "charming" in a few of the reviews that I've seen - the mystery of predation still remains a mystery. (It's also a mystery in Little Children, Todd Field's drama in which a convicted pedophile lives under siege from a man who wants him dead.)

There is no film about priest abuse that's gotten this kind of access before. The only parallel, imperfect as it is, was Twist of Faith, Kirby Dick's film of two years ago, which looked at the effect on a young firefighter, now a father in Ohio, who was preyed upon by priests. Dick got access to the victims, poignant access. But the priests avoided him, as did the bishops who supervised them. What they couldn't keep him from was a videotaped deposition in which priests discuss their misdeeds under oath. It's rare.  In most cases that are settled out of court, these depositions are closed and locked away, if not destroyed. So we're often left just with the victim's version of things and language often fails when a person is talking about a tragedy that's ruined his or her life. In Deliver Us From Evil, the sinner speaks and forgiveness won't come quickly.

It was pointed out by a friend of mine, who went to the Galway Film Festival, that news of the doc and of the priest's name was published in the Irish press just as the festival opened. The Irish, who had resigned themselves to being powerless as priests abused their power, were appalled. I imagine Father O'Grady's phone is still ringing, if he hasn't disconnected it.

See Deliver Us From Evil if you want to get deeper into the details of yet another crisis that's been pushed off the front page as each crisis of the week usurps that media space. Be forewarned that the film includes a sanctimonious trip by the victims to the Vatican to hold the church hierarchy accountable, to no avail. If you're still interested in finding out more, go to the Boston Globe, whose investigative team led by Walter Robinson broke open the story of priest abuse and the tolerance of that abuse in Boston. The newspaper coverage shamed the church. It helped sustain lawsuits by victims that broke the bank of the archdiocese and drove Cardinal John Law out of town to Rome, where he was given a comfortable job by the Pope.

Zwartboek A brief note on Black Book, Paul Verhoeven's thriller about duplicity and survival in war-time Holland under the Nazis. I've heard from people - who didn't see the film, of course - that Verhoeven's melodrama is just another exploitation film. That seems to be the conventional wisdom out there. The cliché of choice is that this is one Holocaust film with a lot of nudity. You can't expect people who haven't seen a movie to be anywhere close to accurate when they start trashing it and its director, but I'll warn any of you that, if you think you're going to see Shoah Girls, you'll be extremely disappointed, although you've probably already heard through the rumor mill that there is a scene in which a character dyes her pubic hair blonde to avoid being detected as a Jew.

You'll certainly be disappointed with the Dutch, if you think most of them behaved admirably either during the Nazi occupation or during the months immediately following the liberation. Verhoeven can expect to make about as many friends in Holland as he has in Hollywood these days. Yet I still think Verhoeven has made an admirable film. As for my colleagues who take issue with the nudity, this is a film about a Jewish woman who uses sexuality to survive, going undercover into an affair with a Gestapo leader. The improbable element here is that she falls in love with him. The sexuality and the nudity that we see from time to time are part of that story. (Funny that these prudes aren't squeamish about horrifically violent scenes of mass murder in Black Book.) I'm sure there's a more prudish version of the same story that could be made. There always is, once the studios, the MPAA raters, and the critics have something to say about it. It would not be as worth watching as Verhoeven's drama. Let's hope it gets distributed in the US.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:25 AM | Comments (2)

September 17, 2006

Toronto Dispatch. 6.

David D'Arcy looks back on murder and assassination at TIFF, onscreen and off.

Bobby Out of the many messages in the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival, there was the limp assurance that, even if you can't protect (or elect) leaders like Robert F Kennedy or John Lennon, at least you can mourn them on the screen.

If you're tempted to think that Robert F Kennedy was not a special politician, just try to name another politician these days who is known by his or her first name. Hillary? That says it all. She's risen through hard work and icy calculation. Charisma is not the word that comes to mind.

RFK had charisma, and unlike his brother Jack, he seemed to have developed a sense of integrity along the way. It took him a while to get to that point, having served as a hatchet man for Senator Joseph McCarthy (at the bidding of his father, the monstrous power broker Joseph P Kennedy), as a vindictive anti-union investigator, and as sergeant at arms for his president brother. After John Kennedy's death, RFK became a senator from New York State, even though, like Hillary, he probably didn't even have a driver's license from the state that he wanted to represent.

By 1968, RFK had become the "Bobby" that Emilio Estevez admires in his worshipful film. (I use worshipful here as a description, not a reproach.) This RFK marched with Cesar Chavez and the farm workers. He called for an end to poverty and racial inequality in the US. He condemned the war in Vietnam. He might well have been elected president if he hadn't been assassinated on the June day in Los Angeles during which Bobby takes place. Would the charisma ever turn into leadership? We would never have a chance to know. The promise of Bobby Kennedy has been the stuff of TV docudramas for years.

Bobby

And Martin Sheen, a rich retiree in this one, has played a politician or two. Estevez's competently made ensemble drama stands above the TV movie stuff, although there's schtick and some real preaching here and there. Between bookends of archival footage with  voice-overs of Kennedy's speeches, some of which are eloquent (especially given the poverty of oratory in our time), we see the lives of people brought together simply because they are in the same hotel at the same time, whether it's in the kitchen or the bridal suite. We start in the kitchen, where Mexican busboys complain about working double shifts, and we end in the kitchen, where RFK is shot by Sirhan Sirhan when the candidate goes in on a victory lap to shake hands with the staff after winning the primary.

There are homages to Grand Hotel here, as Estevez weaves between the trivial and the universal among retirees who can't leave the place (Anthony Hopkins and Harry Belafonte), Kennedy volunteers introduced to LSD on the premises, a drunken cabaret singer and her frustrated husband (Demi Moore and Estevez), a good hearted manager (William H Macy) who's cheating on his manicurist wife (Sharon Stone) and sleeping with a cute telephone operator (Heather Graham) who hopes screwing the boss will get her a promotion. As the Kennedy crowd fills up the hotel, also staying there is a young girl (Lindsay Lohan) who is about to marry a draftee (Elijah Wood) in an arranged deal to keep him from being sent to Vietnam.

Bobby

Even the humble roles are played well. Given the number of stars who signed on to this project, there don't seem to have been divas in this dream-team cast. Laurence Fishburne leads the way as a sous chef (working for a bastard of a boss, Christian Slater) who's dealt with his racial anger, and lectures his angry younger co-workers about it. Of course, in the larger scheme, anger triumphs, putting a bullet in RFK's head.

The production design takes you back to the feel if not the premises of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, an enclosed world unto itself, or so we thought. You feel nostalgic for the times and for the fashion, or at least the style that Sharon Stone, Heather Graham and Joy Bryant can bring to it. Yet films that reconstruct history are more about our time than about the history that they reassemble. In Bobby, set in a time that we associate with political upheaval, most of the characters in the hotel are looking at politics obliquely, if at all. Perhaps they're looking for leadership beneath the charisma.

Every era looks to another time for wisdom and leadership. Few eras have found so little of either in the leaders that we have before us now.  This longing for leaders or even for slogans that sound right may help explain why John Lennon's congenial nostrums in The US vs. John Lennon sound as good as they do, more than 30 years later, even though the authorized documentary that premiered in Toronto was a missed opportunity to analyze Lennon's gentle politics and the venality of the campaign against him. (See the doc anyway - part of the Lennon story is a lot better than nothing, and there's music.)

Stand this longing for the dreamy 60s on its head, and you'll see at least part of the appeal of Death of a President directed by Gabriel Range, which won the FIPRESCI award in Toronto. Having seen the film about the gunning down of Bush and the killing's aftermath (and liked it much more than some of those who now deplore it), I find it's not the kind of film that usually wins an award at a major film festival. The film is a thriller with a tactile volatility to its scenes of a street demonstration that flies out of control (and a believable integration of archival footage and dramatized scenes) - but it's the kind of project that gets downgraded into sub-cinema as it's lumped in with journalistic docs and TV movies. I admire the refinement of a project that could have been crude, yet I'm still surprised that critics are honoring it as cinema, out of so many films from which they had to pick. Bush antipathy has to play a role here somewhere. When you see the film, you see that there's nothing out-for-blood or exultant about it. Its real concern is the Bush legacy of fear-mongering and reduced civil liberties. Notwithstanding the friends of Bush who are condemning the film - without seeing it, I'm sure - it's a legacy that Bush will be defending (or ignoring) into his old age. The film ends on a mournful note - not for Bush, but for the country that his presidency diminished.

Another odd reflection on Toronto this year. Eclipsed by the gun-fest in Montreal was a triple murder at the Delta Chelsea Hotel. When details were even sketchier than they are now, it was announced that three tourists were dead on the 19th floor, with blood on the walls. Two were Swiss, and one was German, and the bloodbath seemed to be a revenge-killing on the part of the Swiss man, who found his companion in bed with the German. The killing was achieved, in a ghoulishly appropriate way, with a Swiss Army knife, the same tool that was used for the killer's suicide. Soon a rumor emerged, printed by the Toronto Globe and Mail, that all three of the dead were deaf - hence, no screams. These were plot twists that some of the scripts in the program could have used, but the story seemed to die in all but the tabloid Toronto Sun. Were the other papers fearful that news of three murders would send other tourists packing? The front pages featured threesomes of actresses on the red carpet who had no doubt played murderers and murder victims in films. Once again, cinema won out over reality.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:55 AM

September 16, 2006

Weekend shorts.

Bookforum: Shakespeare "Do you like Hollywood?" Kera Bolonik asks Michael Tolkin. He does. When he arrived, "I felt like I understood that Shakespeare didn't need to know anything more than show business to understand rivalry, envy, and feelings of failure." Also in the new Bookforum, James Shapiro on, as it happens, Shakespeare and on how the wars over how to interpret him have pretty much simmered down; and Alex Abramovich reviews Ian Buruma's Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance.

"It's easy to be a fan; to really appreciate literature takes a stronger temperament. So I confess it was with some skepticism, too, that I turned my attention to a recent documentary, Shakespeare Behind Bars, directed by Hank Rogerson," writes Joseph Campana at the Kenyon Review's blog. Of course, he's won over: "The movie is a kind of gift to its audience, and the gift it gives us - in an age in which almost no one wants to make strong claims for the power of literature - is painful relevance."

"On the eve of its 10th anniversary, RES is shutting down. Is it a victim of its own success?" asks Anthony Kaufman.

Before he abandoned his film canon, Paul Schrader must have been aware that, by taking on Harold Bloom's model, he would also be taking on criticisms of the exclusionary elitism inherent in Bloom's approach to the very idea. Zach Campbell opens a few early rounds of fire. By the way, you've seen the cover of the new Film Comment, yes? Have you seen the ad on the back cover? Now, I love the magazine and the Coppolas as much as the next cinephile, but this does give one pause.

"[T]he announcement that [Fernando] Meirelles will direct a film adaptation of Blindness by José Saramago was big news [on Wednesday] in Brazil," writes Michael Gibbons, who translates a short interview with the director focusing on the project.

Grady Hendrix not only interviews Thai action choreographer Panna Rittikrai, he also reviews The Yakuza Papers: "It's a 634-minute movie, split into five parts, that teaches an alternate history of post-War Japan: one where honor died in one mushroom cloud and humanity died in the other."

Bruce Robinson in Time Out on Withnail and I: "A week later, we're in New York for a screening and they all come in, lots and lots of Americans, a harsh audience and it's, 'Does comedy travel?' I had no idea. We put the film up and they start laughing. Not immediately, but ten minutes in. There's that sense of, 'Oh this is a funny film.' 'Is it funny' 'Yeah.' There were two girls in front of me. By about 30 minutes in, they were standing up to laugh, hanging over the seats in front of them. I thought they were going to choke to death and it was the best noise I've ever heard."

Filmbrain: "Pan's Labyrinth is a perfect, wholly remarkable film - an uncompromising, emotionally moving adult fairytale that reminds us that the scariest monsters are the human kind. Be sure not to miss one of the great cinematic pleasures of 2006." More from Opus at Twitch. Related online viewing tip. Cinematical's James Rocchi talks with Guillermo Del Toro.

Rumsey Taylor at Not Coming to a Theater Near You on Playtime: "This film (due in accordance with its very failure) is a masterpiece of post-modern cinema."

"Reds, Warren Beatty's massive portrait of John Reed, the man who documented the Russian revolution with his book Ten Days That Shook the World, caused a stir at the time of its release and won Beatty the Best Director Oscar," Dan Callahan reminds us. "[T]hough it has been absurdly over-praised by some, there are a lot of enjoyable things in Reds aside from the use of the witnesses." It's "finally just an appealingly conventional epic movie-star romance with radical trimmings, but it contains several sharper elements that suggest the colorful period it seeks to recreate."

Also in Slant:

The Decay of Fiction

Jeffrey Wells: "Esquire has finally put up [John Ridley's] delicious making-of-Bobby piece on its website."

"Welcome home, Paul Verhoeven!" exclaims Peet Gelderblom. "Zwartboek, Verhoeven's first Dutch film in over twenty years (if you include 1985's Euro-pudding Flesh & Blood), is the work of a director doing exactly what he wants, and nothing else. So it's good, then? Oh yes. I'd go so far to say it's Verhoeven's best."

The New York Times. Let's start with the book reviews this weekend:

The Greatest Story Ever Sold
  • "Remember that White House aide, quoted by Rich in his introduction, who said that a 'judicious study of discernible reality' is 'not the way the world really works anymore'?" asks Ian Buruma in his review of Frank Rich's The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth From 9/11 to Katrina. "For him, the 'reality-based community' of newspapers and broadcasters is old hat, out of touch, even contemptible in 'an empire' where 'we create our own reality.' This kind of official arrogance is not new, of course, although it is perhaps more common in dictatorships than in democracies."

Also in the NYT:

  • "An actor's task of course is to become what he is not, and [Adrien] Brody... does that better than most. But in playing a Spanish bullfighter, he may have found, on and off screen, his most complicated role yet," writes Geoff Pingree, reporting on Manolete: "Mr Brody's dedication earned him uncommon respect from the matadors who tutored him, and his willingness to immerse himself in the role, coupled with his startling resemblance to the actual Manolete, led to a warm reception by ordinary Spaniards."

  • "[I]t's fairly alarming news that [Jet] Li is calling his new picture, Fearless (set to open Friday), the 'conclusion to my life as a martial arts star,'" writes Terrence Rafferty. "Going to the movies seems a little less exciting already."

  • Regarding The Departed, "it is the Nicholson-Scorsese match-up that catches the eye, and reminds us how much the game has changed in the last decade," notes Dennis McDougal, who then wonders, "will it simply provoke nostalgia for an era when Nicholson and Scorsese together would have been a sure thing?"

  • Stephen Holden: "Amid the continuing deluge of documentaries about the war in Iraq, Patricia Foulkrod's film The Ground Truth stands out as an especially pointed indictment of the American military's treatment of its own people on and off the battlefield." (More from Dana Stevens in Slate.) Also, Keeping Mum.

  • Mark Olsen on the comeback of Jackie Earle Haley.

The LA Weekly's Ella Taylor on The Last Kiss: "[Screenwriter Paul] Haggis can write a good one-liner, but he has a bad habit of shouting at the audience, and what worked for the over-the-top hysteria that was Crash feels like too much information, too loudly offered in a putative chamber piece. As for [Zach] Braff, on whose performance the movie's drama and its comedy depend, he has schleppy charm to burn but no range whatsoever." (More from AO Scott in the NYT and Andrew O'Hehir in Salon). Also: "Despite its title, Confetti, a chaotic mockumentary in the finest tradition of English vulgarity, has nothing whatever to say about marriage."

Gimme Some Truth And John Payne: "[I]llustrating in vivid pictorial the remarkable detective work of Jon Wiener's book Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files, The US vs John Lennon is a gripping and moving homage that brings in some new-old faces to flank the usual suspects in telling the story of Lennon and his badgering by the FBI: Mario Cuomo, George McGovern, John Dean, a comforting Walter Cronkite, a scarily unrepentant G Gordon Liddy and a surprisingly cogent Geraldo Rivera." More from AO Scott in the NYT, Andrew O'Hehir in Salon and Gary Dretzka at Movie City News. Related online listening tip: Fresh Air reruns a 2000 interview with Jon Weiner.

Johnny Ray Huston in the San Francisco Bay Guardian on This Film is Not Yet Rated: "Documentaries have begun reaching more viewers in recent years, but few take on the many-fangled foibles of the Bush era in an imaginative manner. Dick's new film does, in addition to providing a lesson about the intersection between film history and American history, a convergence that isn't as petty or easily dismissed as one might think." He's also got an extensive talk with Kirby Dick. Related online listening tip. Kirby Dick is a guest on Fresh Air.

Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones: "Disney was one of the great American visual artists, ranking with Andy Warhol and Edward Hopper. But where their art is local, his has conquered the world, apparently for all time, or as long as children watch moving images. Does this scare you? It honestly doesn't scare me."

Also:

The History Boys

"Why is a British film as good as The Queen such a depressing rarity?" asks Robert Hanks in the Independent. Also, Elaine Lipworth talks with Meryl Streep about The Devil Wears Prada and Gill Pringle talks with Armistead Maupin about The Night Listener.

More raves for The Queen: Sukhdev Sandhu in the Telegraph and James Christopher in the London Times.

Oriana Fallaci "Oriana Fallaci, the veteran Italian journalist best known for her startling interviews with some of the most famous politicians of the twentieth century, has died," observes the London Times. "She published her first book, an examination of Hollywood's ills, in 1958." More and more. See also Judy Harris at Direland, Ian Fisher in the NYT, John Hooper in the Guardian, Brendan Bernhard in the LA Weekly in March and Margaret Talbot in the New Yorker in June:

For two decades, from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, Fallaci was one of the sharpest political interviewers in the world. Her subjects were among the world's most powerful figures: Yasir Arafat, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Haile Selassie, Deng Xiaoping. Henry Kissinger, who later wrote that his 1972 interview with her was "the single most disastrous conversation I have ever had with any member of the press," said that he had been flattered into granting it by the company he'd be keeping as part of Fallaci's "journalistic pantheon." It was more like a collection of pelts: Fallaci never left her subjects unskinned.

One more obit. Gabriel Shanks remembers Ann Richards.

We last heard word on the restoration of Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz just over a year ago (from Franziska Prechtel in the Berliner Morgenpost); now Bavaria Film International has released an update with technical details and news that it "will be finished in early 2007" - but no mention of whether or not it'll be ready in time for the Berlinale, as was planned earlier.

Ray Young: "Directed by Michel Deville, with Dominique Sanda and Geraldine Chaplin at their prime and on screen for nearly all of the picture, Le Voyage en douce is a pastel reflection on memory, aging, sexuality, nostalgia, infidelity, dreams and dashed hopes, all in the guise of a summery, erotic confection."

Darcy Paquet at Koreanfilm.org: "Kim Ki-duk has been known to occasionally drive home an obvious point - The Coast Guard perhaps being the best example - but in Time his film remains balanced enough to undermine easy conclusions."

NP Thompson in the Northwest Asian Weekly: Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles "functions as a comedy of errors, yet the movie cuts much deeper than that subgenre typically allows, because the things that go wrong are so tied up in the emotional pain of the characters."

Film & Video's Debra Kaufman gets "Five Minutes With Werner Herzog," just after he'd returned to the US from Germany: "Briefly detained by Homeland Security, Herzog has a new classification to enter the country: 'alien with extraordinary abilities.'" Via filmtagebuch.

In the Austin Chronicle, Marc Savlov talks with Ron Mann about Tales of the Rat Fink and Joe O'Connell profiles "Austin's busiest and happiest movie extra," Odell Grant.

A "red meat crime cycle"? There's no such thing, argues Gerald Peary in the Boston Phoenix.

"Transvestite Filipinos sing and dance in Tel Aviv!" Eric Kohn reviews Paper Dolls. Also in the New York Press:

Kamera runs an extract from Don Shiach's Great British Movies and Colin Odell and Michelle Le Blanc's review of The Films of Tod Browning.

IndieWIRE interviews Sherrybaby director Laurie Collyer and Man Push Cart director Ramin Bahrani.

Is lonelygirl15 this month's Snakes on a Plane? Ryan Wu thinks not.

"The Wire, which has just begun its fourth season on HBO, is surely the best TV show ever broadcast in America," declares Slate editor Jacob Weisberg. "This claim isn't based on my having seen all the possible rivals for the title, but on the premise that no other program has ever done anything remotely like what this one does, namely to portray the social, political, and economic life of an American city with the scope, observational precision, and moral vision of great literature." More from Shaun Huston at PopMatters.

"Will iTV rock your world?" asks Paul Boutin in Slate. "Not in the form I saw on Tuesday." Related online listening tip. A Macworld roundtable.

Meanwhile, IDG's Dan Nystedt reports that BitTorrent will be opening an online movie store for foreign films.

Online browsing, listening and viewing tip. The San Francisco Film Festival turns 50 next year, and they've just unveiled a History Site. Though it's still growing, it's already quite a browse.

Just a sample from the Great Moments section. Miguel Pendás sets the stage: "The Sixth Festival was unique in that the Cuban Missile Crisis was happening simultaneously." Would the films invited from the USSR and the Soviet bloc be allowed into the country? Surprisingly, just days after the crisis unwound, yes. "At a press conference, a man sitting at the end of the table, his chin resting on his hand, looked pensively at the floor. He was an unknown filmmaker whose first feature was about to be screened: Andrei Tarkovsky... The Soviets started by announcing that a film about the Cuban Revolution was being shot at that very moment in Moscow. 'It's not anti-American,' Soviet delegate Mikhail Romm rushed to say. Instead, it was being made because, 'There is a deep feeling for the Cuban Revolution.' We now know that the film was I Am Cuba."

And there's video and audio in the Close Ups section.

Online listening tip. Elvis Mitchell and Scott Simon wonder what's become of the musical.

Firelight Online viewing tip #1. Matthew Clayfield's disturbing Firelight, an "essay film about images, the people who make them, the people who collect them, and their potential uses and limitations in a world that's been inundated with them."

Online viewing tip #2. The trailer for We Go Way Back (it's at the site). The Slamdance Grand Jury prizewinner sees its theatrical premier in Seattle this weekend; Kathy Fennessy wrote about it at the Siffblog in June.

Online viewing tip #3. "Currie Ballard, a historian in Oklahoma, has just made what he calls 'the find of a lifetime' - 33 cans of motion picture film dating from the 1920s that reveal the daily lives of some remarkably successful black communities." Carla Davidson introduces a series of clips at American Heritage. Via Ed Champion.

Online browsing and viewing tip. The Shark is Still Working: The Impact and Legacy of Jaws. Roll over a face, click and watch an interview clip. Great fun.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:46 PM

Weekend fests and events.

A Kid for Two Farthings "The Jewish East End attracted curious, censorious and sentimental writers almost as soon as the Jews started arriving in the 1880s, but Carol Reed's 1955 film A Kid for Two Farthings - showing this weekend at the NFT - is one of the few movies set in the area," writes Matthew Reisz in the Guardian.

The Mill Valley Film Festival (October 5 through 15) has announced its lineup; Brian Darr makes his lists.

Grace Glueck reviews the "wonderfully engrossing" exhibition Moving Pictures: American Art and Early Film, 1880 - 1910 in the New York Times. At the Grey Art Gallery through December 9.

The LA Femme Film Festival: October 5 through 8 in Beverly Hills.

"Fifteen entries made it into competition for the second year of The Stranger's amateur-porn festival," reports Christopher Frizzelle. Capsule reviews follow.

"The European Film Academy (EFA) announced the selection of the European Film Awards." Cineuropa opens its special section.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:49 PM

TIFF's last weekend.

There's no competition at the Toronto International Film Festival, but there are a few awards; indieWIRE's got a list and here's a news release with more. Meanwhile, though reviews will probably trickle on over the next few days, another sampling...

Though he saw better films - in his opinion, of course - "standing in line at midnight for The Host in a torrential downpour with lighting crashing around us was an atmospheric high point of the festival" for Doug Cummings. Also, Hamaca Paraguaya is "easily among the most intensely beautiful and moving films I've seen all week," while Still Life "is a profound, multi-layered dramatic examination of the irretrievability of the past."

Opera Jawa

"My last film of this five-film day is probably the strangest movie I’ll see this festival," writes J Robert Parks. "Opera Jawa is exactly what it's title suggests - an Indonesian opera. But in addition to the music and singing, it's also full of ritual dance, art installations, puppets and mannequins, costumes, and myth."

"Lake of Fire is one of the most important documentary films ever made," declares Tom Hall in a long and thoughtful entry on the film. More from David Poland: "This is a powerful, patient, serious film that should be seen by every high school junior and senior and college student in America, not to mention the adult world. It is not fun. It is not funny. It is going to be hard on you, no matter where your sympathies lie." Turns out, too, it's the festival favorite for the AV Club's Scott Tobias.

The Los Angeles Times' Patrick Goldstein talks with Macky Alston about The Killer Within, "a riveting documentary" about "Bob Bechtel, a mild-mannered University of Arizona psychology professor, now in his 70s," who, in 1955, "as a student at Swarthmore College... armed with a cache of guns, went on a rampage, killing a fellow student and shooting up his dormitory before he turned himself in to police." Also, a talk with Emma Thompson about Stranger Than Fiction.

This Is England Martha Fischer at Cinematical: "Apart from its sharp screenplay, [Shane Meadows's] This is England derives its power from a pair of extraordinary performances. As Shaun, [Thomas] Turgoose is all loss, ego and cocky desperation.... Opposite Turgoose is a deeply impressive Stephen Graham."

At Twitch, Todd finds it "a masterful film: vibrant, complex, full of life, remarkably unsentimental and unflinchingly honest." Also, Mathew talks with S&Man director JT Petty, Opus finds The Island "fascinating," and Todd reviews Big Bang Love, Juvenile A: "Once again [Takashi] Miike has crafted a film that utterly rejects conventional narrative and film making conventions to instead try to break new ground while asking big questions about the destructive nature of humanity."

Matt Riviera: "Every year here in Toronto I come out of one screening where I just know the film's going to be a huge crossover success. It happened with Sideways two years ago, with Brokeback Mountain last year and with Penelope this morning." Also, Kim Ki-duk's Time "is a little too neat and clever for its own good, it's a solid addition to this auteur's impressive body of work." More from Todd at Twitch.

The New Crowned Hope program originally played Venice; signandsight translates Katja Nicodemus's piece for Die Zeit on Daratt, I Don't Want to Sleep Alone and Syndromes and a Century.

Jim Emerson on Little Children: "[A]t Toronto people seemed to either love it or hate it. I know I did. It just depended on the scene."

Peter Knegt and Brian Brooks report on an onstage chat between John Waters and John Cameron Mitchell, in town for Shortbus and This Filthy World, respectively, "an event that rivaled the films themselves, at least in entertainment value." Also at indieWIRE, Jonny Leahan surveys the music docs and Anthony Kaufman offers his takes on Sarah Polley's Away From Her, Paul Verhoeven's Black Book and Jia Zhangke's Still Life and Dong.

The latest iW Discovery interviews: Reprise director Joachim Trier, Takva: A Man's Fear of God director Ozer Kiziltan and London to Brighton director Paul Andrew Williams.

Blogging for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, B Ruby Rich describes a few of her favorite moments at the fest.

Anne Thompson and Gregg Goldstein put the finishing touches on the Hollywood Reporter's Toronto coverage. Anne Thompson has more at the Risky Biz Blog, but, "To sum up: Borat killed. Nothing else came close." More on the Sacha Baron Cohen juggernaut from John Hiscock in the Telegraph and Kevin Maher in the London Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:15 PM | Comments (1)

September 15, 2006

Furor in Venice.

Jean-Marie Straub Note: Andy's still gathering more information and has updated Kino Slang several times now, and so, accordingly, I've tweaked this entry ever-so-slightly.

At Kino Slang, Andy Rector has been following a story few of us have heard about, though, as Tag Gallagher explains, it "caused a furor at the [Venice Film] Festival and in the Italian press." In lieu of their attendance, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet sent the actors of their new film, Quei loro incontri (Those Encounters of Theirs), along with three messages. The first is a string of quotes from Cesare Pavese, from whose Dialoghi con Leucò (Dialogues with Leuco) the dialogue of their new film is derived; the second recounts memories of the festival, most of them not particularly pleasant; the third's the one that set off the sparks: "Besides I wouldn't be able to be festive in a festival where there are so many public and private police looking for a terrorist - I am the terrorist, and I tell you, paraphrasing Franco Fortini: so long as there's American imperialistic capitalism, there'll never be enough terrorists in the world."

Gallagher: "Nonetheless the jury wanted to give a special Roaring Lion to the Straubs 'for invention of cinematic language in the ensemble of their work.' But one jury member, American Cameron Crowe, objected such an award was inopportune on the eve of the anniversary of 9/11 and consented to it on an understanding that the Festival would 'distance' itself from Straub's 'anti-American' message. (Apparently it's anti-American to oppose imperialism.)"

Posted by dwhudson at 10:13 AM | Comments (9)

Fall Blog-a-Thons.

Kiss Me Deadly Dennis Cozzalio not only calls for a Robert Aldrich Blog-a-Thon on October 16, he's also sent along word of a few more coming up this season:

  • At the Film Vituperatem, Hitchcock will be on the mind of Squish throughout October, and then, on November 15: the Blog-a-Thon.

  • "To commemorate his ninetieth birthday this November 24, Flickhead proposes a Forrest J Ackerman Blog-A-Thon, a/k/a ForryThon."

  • Andy Horbal calls for a "Film Criticism Blog-a-Thon" for December 1 through 3. He's even got a FAQ: "Q: Film Criticism - isn't that a little broad? A: Yes, intentionally so," and he explains.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:24 AM

Scriptland.

Reading Log "I have the new Charlie Kaufman screenplay on my desk," announces Jay A Fernandez in the Los Angeles Times. "Ambitious doesn't even begin to describe the sublime and scary head-trip that is 'Synecdoche, New York.'" Sneak peaks at James Vanderbilt's screenplay adapting White House counterterrorism expert Richard A Clarke's Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror and William Monahan's screenplay for Martin Scorsese's The Departed follow.

And Nikki Finke thinks its stinks: "This may be the single worst idea in the history of the Los Angeles Times' Calendar section.... If you wanna get all artsy about it, you're reviewing a work-in-progress akin to the sheet music for a Sinatra song, or the first draft for an Updike book. If you wanna get all Hollywood about it, then you need to know which draft you are reading.... [T]his fanboy foolishness smacks of something that Ain't It Cool News does... I predict 'Scriptland' will soon become the most made-fun-of feature since the NYT's Style section became obsessed with LaLaLand."

Similarly put off are David Poland, Ryan Wu (though he is intrigued by the Kaufman project) and Jim Emerson, who writes, "I hope that movie critics, and actual journalists, will protest. Loudly." But Jeffrey Wells doesn't see what all the hoopla's about.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:19 AM | Comments (4)

Interview. James Ellroy.

James Ellroy "After November of this year, I will never discuss the Black Dahlia murder case, Mr De Palma's movie, Mr Curtis Hanson's movie or my mother's murder again. I write big political books now, that's all I want to talk about." But it's still mid-September, and James Ellroy's still willing to talk with Hannah Eaves about which theory seems the likeliest key to the mystery of the 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short, an "ambitious and flawed" documentary about him and the case - and the moral system governing his work.

"Once De Palma's movie vanishes from theaters, Elizabeth Short, dead white woman par excellence, may find her tenure as a literary and artistic inspiration is finally coming to an end," suggests Seth Mnookin, who weighs the fruits of that inspiration in Slate. But The Black Dahlia's just arrived and the critics, for the most part, understandably can't help setting it for comparison next to Hanson's adaptation of LA Confidential or the other recently released LA story, Hollywoodland, or both.

Updated through 9/19.

Manohla Dargis, who wrote a book on LA Confidential, the film, for the BFI's Modern Classics series, writes in the New York Times that "De Palma has a flair for the frenzy of violence, specifically when visited on the female body... Blood runs through his work, but so does juicy life. In The Black Dahlia, though, that life has been drained from the filmmaking, much as the blood was drained from the victim's body."

Four out of four stars, though, from Keith Uhlich at Slant: "This is a fever dream vision of the City of Angels, the shared nightmare of its principal players whose every move, we realize in retrospect, is helplessly preordained."

Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical: "Brian De Palma arrives in the final third of 2006 with one of his best films, and yet no one will realize it for years to come."

"It's an ideal match of director, writer and subject, and The Black Dahlia has so many of the right moves, you wish the whole thing were better," sighs Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly.

Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix: "[O]nce the body turns up, the film turns into, well, a De Palma movie, with its narrative absurdities, its stylistic excesses, its hammy acting, and your uneasy sense that the whole thing might be a big joke."

"The sad thing about [The Black Dahlia and Hollywoodland] is that so much obvious talent, care and money were expended on results that are beautifully crafted but dramatically clotted and sometimes gratingly tedious," writes Godfrey Cheshire in the Independent Weekly. "The weird thing about them is that they are so similar. Like freak show twins, they could be wearing signs emblazoned 'Bastard Sons of LA Confidential!'"

Matt Zoller Seitz: "At first the film plays like Chinatown-style modern noir, in which the investigation of a singular horror reveals corruption within families, institutions and communities. But The Black Dahlia soon reveals itself as something more: the story of a young man discovering his moral code, then realizing how useless it is in the face of society-wide indifference, greed and cruelty."

Armond White, writing in the New York Press, also makes his LA Confidential and Hollywoodland references, but only to claim they "look like child's play" in comparison. Even so, "The Black Dahlia feels like a two-hour trailer featuring chopped-up highlights of De Palma's entire oeurve.... [M]uch of The Black Dahlia's disappointment owes to the triumph of DePalma's previous film, Femme Fatale (2002); it was the most exhilaratingly avant-garde mainstream movie of the new century (rivaled only by Mulholland Drive)."

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw: "There is some gobsmackingly melodramatic thesping and the final revelations, when they eventually arrive, are at the wrong end of the bang-whimper continuum."

"With so much to wrap up in so little time, the film's central mystery - just who killed the Dahlia, and why - can only be presented in a form of half-assery, rushed to a conclusion that would ring hollow if it weren't so comical," adds Bradley Steinbacher, who talks with Ellroy for the Stranger.

"Ellroy's prose can be overheated, but it's also gripping, which is more than can be said for De Palma's film, which sits on the screen, mysteriously inert and uninvolving, no matter the amount of sound and fury," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat.

But the "film is full of De Palma's staple ingredients: wonderful camera lifts, body doubles, women dressed to kill, period pornography, and references to Hitchcock that will make film buffs squeal," writes James Christopher approvingly in the London Times.

The Telegraph's Tim Robey calls it "Brian De Palma's strongest since Carlito's Way and quite the best period noir since the (admittedly superior) LA Confidential. The sheer narrative muscle of that film isn't here, for sure, but it has its own virtues, and they're big ones."

Earlier: Venice reviews.

Update: "I could go on about the ratio of De Palma's fat to Ellroy's bone, but the hell with it. Let's hear what Ellroy thinks about Dahlia, LA, all of it..." The Reeler talks with Ellroy.

Updates, 9/16: AO Scott in the New York Times: "[O]ften the combativeness of Mr De Palma's committed admirers reveals more about the nature of cinephilic ardor than it does about the filmmaker himself. Rock stars have fans; opera singers have worshipers; but movie directors have partisans. Liking a given director's movies can feel like a matter of principle, not of taste; failing to appreciate them is therefore evidence of cretinism or, at best, a serious moral and intellectual deficiency." Further in: "No longer the playful postmodernist, he is now, in the eyes of his admirers, something of a classicist, his critical enemies not high-minded squares but soulless philistines."

Stephanie Zacharek in Salon: "It gives me no pleasure to say that The Black Dahlia is a listless, surprisingly dispassionate picture: With the exception of a few scenes, there's something glassy and glazed about it."

To its Black Dahlia special, the Los Angeles Times adds Carina Chocano's review:

  • "[D]espite some amusing distractions, watching the big picture coalesce is not unlike watching someone complete a jigsaw puzzle. It all comes together eventually, but you already saw the image on the box."

  • Larry Harnish's "Black Dahlia Primer."

  • And Ellroy himself on "three incandescent minutes of Mia Kirshner as Elizabeth Short."

Jim Emerson: "By the end, lots of people are getting shot (in pretty unimaginative ways for De Palma), just so it seems the filmmaker can get the movie over with. Things fall apart. I didn't feel like De Palma cared about the movie anymore at this point, and so neither did I."

Michael Joshua Rowin at Stop Smiling: "Both J Hoberman and a friend/colleague have expressed disappointment that the film, to use Hoberman's words, 'rarely achieves the rhapsodic (let alone the delirious).' One can't dismiss that point, and it's even least among the film's flaws. And yet there's so much to admire in this gorgeous, ridiculous, irreverent, disturbing, incoherent mess of cinematic brilliance."

DK Holm notes "a mark of the difference between Curtis Hanson, who wants you to believe his films, and De Palma, who is essentially drawing a cartoon and thinking about the set pieces."

Daniel Kasman: "It is a revisionist neo-noir, which is not a redundant statement, for De Palma's film is undercutting pristine productions like LA Confidential by way of its own sloppy, inconsistent, and dissatisfying result, a hollow and hollowing film that seems to call the bluff of the attraction of everything it is - or at least tries to be, and fails - and its kind represents. These latter qualities are what make The Black Dahlia all the more interesting - its failings - because sometimes a troubled production and an awkward final product can leak fascination from all its odd holes, bulges, and depressions."

Pete Vonder Haar at Film Threat: "The Black Dahlia isn't a return to form for De Palma who, let's face it, hasn't had anything approaching 'form' for almost 20 years. It looks stylish, sure, but the script is laughable and the acting is ridiculous. If Hollywood decides to adapt Ellroy's American Tabloid, hopefully they'll coax Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland back to take the reins."

Mike D'Angelo at Nerve: "The Black Dahlia can't match the legendary ineptitude of Bonfire of the Vanities, but it's certainly not for lack of trying."

Online viewing tip. Karina Longworth's review for "Netscape at the Movies."

Updates, 9/18: Nick Davis: "Days later, you may find yourself revisiting this stunted and often foolish film with an almost haunted interest—exactly the sort of gravitational pull on both memory and conscience that the film means to describe, and which, despite being something of a mangled corpse itself, the movie powerfully recreates." The full review.

Richard Schickel in Time: "The Black Dahlia is tired when it is not self-parodying, and it suggests that our nostalgia for its genre tropes has become idle and a vacuous waste of our time and of our filmmakers' energies."

David Edelstein in New York: "A critic often has to play the role of coroner, dissecting a work to find out why it died (or never lived), but I'm frankly stumped by the Brian De Palma thriller The Black Dahlia; I can't tell you how it ended up such a stiff."

Updates, 9/19: C Jerry Kutner at Bright Lights After Dark: "The Black Dahlia is a far from flawless film, but as a whole, significantly greater than its dismembered parts. I was thrilled, chilled, and, ultimately, moved."

Online listening tip. Slate's "Spoiler Special."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:23 AM

September 14, 2006

Other fests and events, 9/14.

"Hollywood is all over Lever House! On Sept 12, artist Sarah Morris's Robert Towne installation, inspired by the famous screenwriter of mysterious, shadowy Chinatown and the dank, sequiny Shampoo, opened at the glassy modernist skyscraper on 53rd and Park."

Sarah Morris: Robert Towne

For the New York Observer, Toni Schlesinger talks with Morris about, among other things, a chat with Warren Beatty in the restaurant.

Graham Fuller on the Josef von Sternberg retrospective at the Museum of the Moving Image through October 8: "Cinema's Great Artificer built a world in seven Marlene Dietrich movies that reflected the bitter knowledge that love pined for is more exquisite than love requited - and that the torch of eroticism always outlasts the cigarette glow of romance." Also in the Voice, Elliott Stein previews Pola Negri: Life is a Dream, at MoMA from September 18 through 25.

"Like so many culture vultures who shouldered the weight of the 60s, Peter Whitehead burned out quickly, mostly abandoning documentary in favor of writing and a mysterious obsession with falcons," writes Max Goldberg in the San Francisco Bay Guardian (and he's got more at SF360). "Although his legacy isn't as canonical as those of contemporaries Michelangelo Antonioni and Godard, his work still provides an important counterpoint to those comfortably established giants of 60s cinema." The Word and the Image: The Films of Peter Whitehead is a series beginning tonight and running through September 28. Also: Cheryl Eddy's overview of the MadCat Women's International Film Festival, through September 27.

In the Independent Weekly, David Fellerath previews Spark Con, "Raleigh's celebration of its creative class that will take place all weekend long in venues all over town."

Armond White in the New York Press: "Film Forum's current retrospective-salute to Japanese director Kenji Mizoguchi reaches its peak with Sansho the Bailiff on September 15-16. This couldn�t happen at a better time. The rarely screened film initiates the new movie season with a reminder of why the art form matters." Downtown Locals

Also, Eric Kohn: "Downtown Locals screens September 15 at Williamsburg's Automotive High School as part of the Rooftop Film Festival. Seeing it is practically a civic duty for the commuting New Yorker."

"A longtime fan of Cinematexas who has written about Austin's hometown festival for the Voice and other publications, [Ed] Halter was a logical choice to be the series' first-ever guest artistic director." So Josh Rosenblatt talks with him for the Austin Chronicle, where Marrit Ingman previews the fest's retrospective of the work of experimental animator Mary Ellen Bute. Cinematexas runs September 20 through 24.

In the Los Angeles Times, Robert Abele has an intriguing preview of Unknown Cinema: The Animated Films That Got Away, September 22 through 24.

"The blockbuster-packed programme for The Times BFI 50th London Film FestivalSimon Crerar, writing in the Times, is quite happy with it. But the Guardian's Xan Brooks seems pleased as well. The fest runs October 18 through November 2.

Stephen Holt looks back on the Montreal Film Festival for Movie City News.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:28 PM

TIFF, 9/14.

Lake of Fire The LA Weekly's Scott Foundas on one of the best he's seen so far at the Toronto International Film Festival: "The movie is Lake of Fire, and it represents the culmination of some 15 years spent by the British commercials and music video director Tony Kaye canvassing the US abortion debate.... Make no mistake, Kaye suggests, we are living in times of civil war, and if you don't believe him, just look into the eyes of Emily Lyons, a nurse blinded and disfigured in the 1998 bombing of a Birmingham abortion clinic, and - whether you pity her or feel that she got what she deserved - try to feel otherwise."

Death of a President is "all setup and no payoff," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. Fortunately, she was able to catch Jia Zhangke's Still Life: "What makes the film not only a formal but also a human triumph is the filmmaker's insistence on the primacy of the individual in even the most dehumanizing of contexts."

B Ruby Rich sends a dispatch into the Guardian, and she's far, far more impressed with DOAP, arguing that it's "centrally concerned with the death of civil liberties, the dangers of the Patriot Act, and the certainty with which secret investigations and round-ups can only find the wrong people, misunderstand every situation, focus on the wrong subjects, and, in the end, lead to a near-fascist government that endangers everyone.... Its other, equally important, agenda is to demonstrate how efficiently technology can be used to misinform." More from Jim Emerson and the San Francisco Bay Guardian's Cheryl Eddy.

Cinematical has pulled together a mighty helpful index to its extensive Toronto coverage so far. Seems unfair to highlight any one entry, but many will want to know about Scott Weinberg's interview with Bong Joon-ho, director, of course, of this year's gotta-see, The Host.

Half Moon Following up on his review, Michael Guill�n talks with Bahman Ghobadi about Niwenang (Half Moon) and with Tsai Ming-liang about I Don't Want to Sleep Alone (review).

J Robert Parks catches a "magnificent short film that played before Daratt. 'Meokgo and the Stickfighter' is an incredibly rich, visually striking 19-minute short set in Lesotho that uses African oral tradition and the Hollywood Western in equal measure. I know I could take 15 minutes from Times and Winds or I Don't Want to Sleep Alone which would compare favorably to 'Meokgo,' but I can't imagine I will see a better self-contained work this fest."

"Big Bang Love, Juvenile A is not likely to appease his J-horror fanatics who eagerly anticipate the thrills of [Takashi] Miike's more sadistic work, and certainly is not targeted towards kids awaiting another comic-book adaptation, especially given its mature content," writes Chiranjit Goswami at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "Instead, Miike's film feels like a brooding existential mystery, frequently kinetic but also periodically pensive, where young men grapple with questions concerning identity and connection."

Dave Kehr on Exiled: "[Johnnie] To keeps the suspense flowing on several levels at once, as the film moves from one impeccably executed action sequence to the next, and still finds room for rich characterizations (the insolent, imperturbable [Anthony] Wong may be the only authentic heir to Bogart) and plenty of humor."

At Twitch:

Prague

Fay Grim "As a hard core [Hal] Hartley fan who's seen the early films enough times to be able to quote from them as a Jesus freak might from the Holy Book, there was no way I'd skip [Fay Grim, a] sequel of sorts to the 1997 masterpiece Henry Fool," writes Matt Riviera. "I couldn't help being disapointed, however, by a story which sacrifices the wonderful indiosyncratic intimacy of earler films to clumsy and clunky political satire." Eugene Hernandez disagrees, calling it a "highlight of my moviegoing here."

Matt Dentler: AJ Schnack's Kurt Cobain About a Son "is unlike any music-related documentary you've ever seen. In many ways, it's unlike any documentary that's being made these days. For that, AJ is sure to find some challenges, but as pure cinema and history, it's a revelation."

The Fountain, The Half-Life of Timofey Berezin, Trapped Ashes, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, Fay Grim, Still Life - for the AV Club's Scott Tobias, a "losing streak," finally put to an end by Paul Verhoeven's Black Book.

David Poland didn't just hate Bobby.

Look who's in Toronto for the New York Observer: Rex Reed. Also, Sara Vilkomerson tracks down Sacha Baron Cohen.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:48 PM

More fall previews.

Philadelphia Weekly: Fall 06 "The Fall must make up for a previously mediocre eight months at the movies," demands Bill Gibron as he introduces PopMatters' "Fall Movie Preview: A Season of Musts." That's "Must See," "Must Wait" and "Must Rent."

Sean Burns takes on the movie section in the Philadelphia Weekly's, where Matt Prigge tells tales of sneaking among the screens at the multiplex: "You come up with bizarre double and triple features, often including films you've no interest in or even outright dread. I've seen Terrence Malick's three-hour The Thin Red Line right after imbibing Varsity Blues. Scorsese's Bringing out the Dead once preceded the Tara Reid boob-a-thon Body Shots, and Apt Pupil was squeezed in between Pleasantville and Rush Hour."

Philadelphia City Paper / Independent Weekly The Philadelphia City Paper sweeps movies out if its fall preview, but the Independent Weekly blows them right into its. David Fellerath adds a piece on the season's special series.

The City Pages has been allowed to blurb a few items on the Twin Cities fall schedule, a job someone realized couldn't be outsourced to the coasts.

The Nashville Scene goes for an interesting twist, with Jim Ridley recommending "movies for an autumn night’s romantic entertainment, whether your taste runs toward shared sniffles or cinematic foreplay." From All That Heaven Allows through The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

Earlier: The weekend fall preview project and "SFBG. Fall Arts."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:29 AM

Port Townsend. Preview.

The Port Townsend Film Festival opens tomorrow and runs through Sunday. Critic and notorious feather-ruffler NP Thompson previews a few of the highlights.

Port Townsend Film Festival This year, Orthodox cineastes on the Olympic Peninsula won't have to make a choice between atoning for their sins on the High Holy Days or further profaning G-d by going to the movies: The seventh annual Port Townsend Film Festival has been moved up by two weekends so as not to conflict with Yom Kippur. If this Victorian seaport's status as an epicenter of old-time hippies, New Age mystics, and more massage therapists per capita than anywhere else in the Pacific Northwest hadn't preceded itself, this appeal to Tradition would nonetheless speak volumes, even among the uncircumcised.

Since the Festival began in 2000, it has centered on a featured guest who attends an archival screening of one of his or her old classics, then fields questions from a packed house of filmgoers. In seasons past, the guests of honor were actors whose careers came of age in the 1950s, the last living vestiges of a more glamorous era, including Tony Curtis, who came packaged with Sweet Smell of Success, Eva Marie Saint with All Fall Down, Jane Powell with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and my favorite, the still wonderfully salty Patricia Neal, who said to me before a presentation of Hud, "Oh, I just love Eva Marie Saint - she's a gorgeous kid!" But as stars from that time grow fewer and fewer, the guests have been of more recent vintage: Debra Winger and Arliss Howard arrived last year with their seldom seen chunk of Deep South surrealism, Big Bad Love. And this year, somewhat incongruously but no less delightfully, it is Alex the Droog's turn. 70s icon Malcolm McDowell will take the stage, and while there's a midnight screening of the ubiquitous A Clockwork Orange, the real treasure here is the chance to see Lindsay Anderson's 1968 masterpiece If... on the big screen, a film that Paramount has thus far failed to issue on DVD.

If...
Filmed at Cheltenham College, Anderson's alma mater, If... draws upon the director's experiences (unhappy, of course) in what he called "the strange sub-world" of the English public school system. Anderson and the scenarist David Sherwin never specify in which era their movie takes place. The students at this all-male institution of learning dress in Edwardian suits with high collars, yet a Che Guevara poster hangs on the junior boys' dormitory wall.

If... so thoroughly succeeds at sending up sacred cows that one British ambassador termed it "an insult to the nation." Rollickingly funny and starkly serious at the same time, the film today testifies to what a confident moviemaker Anderson was. His choice of shots, the preciseness of the cuts in how they enhance our understanding of the school's rituals, the provocative ease with which Anderson weaves between shooting in color or black and white, the way he seems wholly at one with his editor David Gladwell and his cinematographer Miroslav Ondrícek, all of this abounds through every frame.

If... And there's another, equally important quality: Anderson's great humor, by turns boisterous or understated. Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell), who has plastered his dorm room with photos of military action figures, looks up from his reading and announces, "There's no such thing as a wrong war. Violence and revolution are the only pure acts. War is the last possible creative act." What I love about this scene is that I never knew whether these college freshman-esque statements are Mick's own ideas or if he's parroting what he's just read, and in either case it hardly matters to his roommate Wallace (a handsome Richard Warwick) who preens before a mirror during Mick's speech, deeply worried about the prospects of going bald or having bad breath.

Gay energy pulses throughout If..., despite McDowell's tiger-ish tussling with Christine Noonan on a café floor. "This homosexual flirtatiousness is so adolescent!" shrieks one of the upperclassmen, dismayed by his fellow prefects' obsession with the younger boys who act as their "slaves." In one extraordinary sequence, a gymnast repeatedly twirls around a bar, capturing the attention of a junior who stands above him on a landing, transfixed by the masculine grace of the acrobat's physique. Gavin Lambert describes this passage as "One of the most lyrical homoerotic episodes in any movie," and its details, once observed, are difficult to forget: the agape expression on the boy's face, the white cables of the fisherman's sweater he's trying to pull over his head, and the way his blond hair sticks straight up once he finally does, so that he resembles a miniature fashion model.

Even after 38 years, If...'s anti-establishment satire remains fresh and painfully relevant. When the school chaplain, prior to commencing war exercises, bellows at the altar, "Jesus Christ is our Commanding Officer!" it isn't tough to imagine George W Bush muttering a near-verbatim sentiment. If... screens once at the festival, on Saturday evening, September 16, at Broughton Auditorium, with McDowell on hand to talk about this, his debut feature, and about his late mentor Lindsay Anderson.

The Port Townsend Film Festival has a history of programming distinguished documentaries: Ballets Russes, Robb Moss's The Same River Twice, Bruce Weber's A Letter to True, and Home of the Brave, regarding the martyred civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo, all had screenings here before opening on the art-house circuit. The best of the new documentary films this time around is Linda Hattendorf's The Cats of Mirikitani.

Tsutomu Mirikitani at 25 When Hattendorf began shooting footage in January 2001 of Tsutomu "Jimmy" Mirikitani, the then 80-year-old Japanese-American artist was living on the streets of SoHo, spending his days and nights under the awning of a Korean grocery. Hattendorf tosses out the talking heads approach to making a documentary; she favors medium and wide shots, showing us the entire person, saving her close-ups for Mirikitani's intricate, brightly colored nature paintings of jungle cats and persimmon blossoms. She depicts the artist, bundled up for winter, sketching with crayons or red pencils, pausing occasionally to introduce himself as "Grand Master Artist." Mirikitani - it's hard not to want to call him Jimmy - sports silvery Fu Manchu-like whiskers; he reminisces, at one point, on having worked briefly as a sushi chef for Jackson Pollock in East Hampton; he stashes his life's work in a box labeled "Imperial Art Treasures Department"; and he tenaciously (and admirably) refuses all forms of public assistance. Hattendorf not only does justice to Jimmy and his art - which would be accomplishment enough - she has a New Yorker's eye for her own city. In the early wintry scenes, there are exhilaratingly gloomy shots of lower Manhattan's gray light, of brownstone façades as snowflakes flurry; a hazy sunset burns its reflection in a few apartment windows, and radio reports on the soundtrack warn of weather advisories.

Several of Jimmy's paintings are workings out of the demons he harbors, even decades later, of his three and a half year internment at Tule Lake during World War II. The camp pictures are pastoral on the surface. The artist accentuates the looming mountain in the distance, the surrounding desert landscape, or the jackrabbits underfoot; only the barracks give away that we're seeing memories of prison.

The Cats of Mirikitani

Life goes on, and the World Trade Center towers crumble on 9/11. In a radically loving gesture, Hattendorf invites the homeless Jimmy to stay with her, and she documents their burgeoning friendship to earned emotional effect. There's a montage in which Jimmy listens in silence as clips of news coverage from the immediate aftermath of the blowback blare on his host's television set. A newscaster's smooth intonation, "A Gallup poll finds almost half of all Americans favor special IDs for Arabs, including those who are US citizens," segues to a comparison of how political might treated Japanese-descended Americans following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and this prompts Jimmy's remark: "Stupid American government."

The Cats of Mirikitani, a film of immense charm and considerable bite, presents us with two Jimmies: the irascible old man he's become, and in still images, the beautiful idealist he was at age 25. Hattendorf never forces connections between then and now - it's all there in the material and in history, the way our government routinely uses the guise of "security" to justify any manner of cruel, aberrant behavior.

The Camden 28 Governmental wrongdoing - and the efforts of good citizens to combat it - lies at the heart of Anthony Giacchino's The Camden 28. A powerful and necessary account of the Catholic Left's opposition to the Vietnam War, this documentary retraces an August 22, 1971 raid on a draft board office made by two priests, a minister, and more than two dozen church-going liberals. The movie is necessary, in part, because it's a much-needed slap in the face to the Christian Right. It is powerful for more reasons than I can enumerate here, although I wonder why a story this rich and strong has never yet fired the imagination of one of our brooding Catholic filmmakers, a Scorsese or a Coppola. The terrain here seems well-suited to their sensibilities: the Camden group was betrayed by one of their own, who turned into an FBI informant, and in a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction twist, the betrayer's nine-year-old son was soon thereafter fatally injured - he fell from a tree onto a spiked fence - and who should say Mass for the boy's last rites but one of the priests his father had set up.

"The money that's spent on bombs could be spent on buildings - that was our point we were trying to make," says Father Michael Doyle, in his lilting Irish brogue, "and it's still true." As the camera pans over images of this New Jersey town's boarded-up, bombed-out brick rowhouses, he continues: "In fact, it's more true today. And we're still wasting the money on the weaponry, and we still have Camden the way it is. So there is no vision [in the government], and the people are perishing here because there's no vision." This testimony, in tandem with Giacchino's deft inter-cutting of Vietnam-era footage with the present, creates a hall of mirrors effect, in which we see that corrupt administrations - from Johnson to Nixon to Bush - are no different from one another.

There are dozens of films squeezed into this three-day festival, including the Uruguayan Carnival fantasy Adios Momo and Isabella Rossellini's homage to Roberto Rossellini, My Dad Is 100 Years Old, which plays as part of the shorts collection "Jackson Pollock Was An Alcoholic (But He's Alright By Me)." And it isn't all movies: West Coast Live, "San Francisco's Radio Show to the World," returns to the Upstage for a third consecutive season. Since I first heard the show back in 1994, the year it went from local to national, I've always thought West Coast Live was one of the best possible uses of the radio medium, even on those occasions when I didn't cotton to one of the interviewees or hated the band that was playing. This time, Sedge Thomson interviews several Festival guests including McDowell, Hattendorf, and Robert Osborne, the urbane host of Turner Classic Movies. Osborne will hold court at two screenings: first, Otto Preminger's film noir Laura, which he's programmed in the "Formative Films" series; then, Lindsay Anderson's 1987 The Whales of August, the director's final theatrical release, which gave Lillian Gish and Bette Davis the best roles of their respective old ages. Last but not least, a number of filmmaking panels dot the calendar this weekend at Port Townsend, and the one I can hardly wait to attend is "Why Film Critics Matter," moderated by the formidable Kathleen Murphy. I'm eager to know why myself.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:20 AM

Interview. Nick Doob and Chris Hegedus.

Al Franken: God Spoke "If you like Al Franken, you'll love this movie," Jonathan Marlow wrote when he caught Al Franken: God Spoke at SXSW earlier this year. "While I have no attraction for canned comments of this sort, the documentary entirely redeems such a clichéd phrase since it frankly portrays Franken as quick-witted and charming, taking any mild feelings you might have for the man to an entirely new level of appreciation (unless you're a humorless conservative, not unlike several of the folks he belittles in the film)." Now Jonathan (<--interview!) talks with Chris Hegedus and Nick Doob not only about this new one but also about how the nature of documentaries has evolved over the decades and about their early work with Hegedus's husband and partner, D.A. Pennebaker.

Related: Writing in the New York Times, AO Scott suggests that God Spoke is "perhaps best viewed as an investigation of the phenomenon of ideological celebrity, with Mr Franken as a willing case study. But to the extent that the ferocious polarization of which his fame is a symptom extends into the moviegoing public, the film is more likely to attract or repel viewers according to the sides they've already chosen."

Updated through 9/18.

Franken's "story really starts on Nov 2, 2004 - when America rejected John Kerry and when the comic made the wrenching if necessary decision to pursue political change from the inside," writes The Reeler. "By that point in the film, Hegedus and Doob are just winding down. Thus the paradox of God Spoke and of most contemporary liberal activism, really: It loses the plot." So he asks the filmmakers and their subject about this.

For the New York Press, Jennifer Merin talks with Hegedus and Doob as well.

Earlier: Reviews from David D'Arcy, Aaron Hillis and Gabriel Wardell. SuicideGirls' Daniel Robert Epstein interviews Franken.

Updates: From Andrew O'Hehir in Salon: Based on my conversation with Franken two weeks ago, I'd be very surprised if he didn't end up running against Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn) in 2008."

Also, Air America may be in trouble. Again. Franken tells Radar's John Cook he hasn't been paid in a while.

Updates, 9/16: IndieWIRE interviews Doob and Hegedus and, for the Guardian, Nicholas Lezard reviews Franken's The Truth, With Jokes.

Update, 9/18: Jeffrey Ressner has ten questions for Franken in Time.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:27 AM

September 13, 2006

Cineaste. Fall 06.

Orson Welles: Hello Americans In addition to four features from the current print issue, Cineaste offers twice as many "Web Exclusives," a first. Because it's sampled from a hefty supplement on "Acting in the Cinema," let's start with Patrick McGilligan's "reflections on what is 'great' screen acting, why there is so little of it, and how the topic is inseparable from the sad state of Hollywood today." They eventually lead to a list of "criteria for 'great' acting."

Jonathan Rosenbaum reviews the second volume of Simon Callow's Orson Welles biography, Hello Americans: "[T]his is a far better book in the depth of its sympathetic understanding of Welles. Without ever discussing it, Callow has responded so well to criticisms regarding his first volume - notably his inadequate treatment of Welles's leftist politics and some unwarranted slurs on his ethics, flaws that are in fact interconnected - that some of the most solid strengths here derive from his thoughtful and conscientious attention to these issues."

Sandy Flitterman-Lewis reviews Jean-Pierre Melville's Army of Shadows: "This is his signature: the gritty masculine universe of ambivalent heroes, of heroic ambivalence."

"One of the most confounding of film cultural mysteries is the neglect shown in this country to the work of Maurice Pialat, a filmmaker revered in his native France but barely known in the US." Jared Rapfogel: "Pialat made only ten features in his lifetime, all of them essential, but À nos amours is in some ways the ideal place to start, thanks to the unforgettable performance by a young Sandrine Bonnaire as Suzanne, but above all because of the presence of Pialat himself in the crucial role of Suzanne's father - it seems appropriate that those unfamiliar with Pialat should begin with a film in which he is doubly present."

The "Web Exclusives":

François Truffaut and Friends

Thanks - again! - to Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog for the heads up on the new issue.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:45 PM

"Sylvan Village and Film Noir City"

Greil Marcus: The Shape of Things to Come The new issue of the Threepenny Review features an essay taken from Greil Marcus's The Shape of Things To Come: Prophecy and the American Voice. The subject is Twin Peaks, the series, the songs, the movie and the book, and the range - for those who read Marcus, this hardly comes as a surprise - is quite wide: Hawthorne, the Blue Sky Boys, several films noir and the novelists that created their iconography, all before Marcus returns to the beginning of David Lynch's tale, the body of Teresa Banks floating down the river as Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me opens.

Evocative Americana, via Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog. Earlier: Mark Rozzo's review of the book for the Los Angeles Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:13 PM

Toronto Dispatch. 5.

Politics and song: David D'Arcy on Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing and Black Book.

Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing Remember the Right Wing's war against the Dixie Chicks for a comment that their lead singer, Natalie Maines, made in 2003 about being ashamed that George W Bush was from Texas? You'll see much of it again in Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing, the documentary by Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck about the group and their recovery from a smear campaign.

It wasn't the most delicate of comments, but war isn't the most delicate of topics. Kopple and Peck show the group wrestling with attacks against them, confused about how to respond in public when the media-savvy wolf pack goes after them, confused about the confusion of the sponsor of their world tour, Lipton Tea, whose consultant wonders whether the company wants to be associated with a "brand" like the Dixie Chicks.

The group eventually loses its country audience on country radio, which resolutely won't play their songs. Congress won't listen to critics who say this is a monopolistic reaction, and therefore illegal, although John McCain seems to think so. Who cares about the fine print when you have witches to burn? It takes more than two years, but finally the Chicks have a new recording and a new tour, and a new audience that puts them back on the top of the charts. Maines, who sticks to her guns throughout, is as tough as ever. She's smart, honest, and a crucial example of holding a moral position under fire. The music just keeps getting better, although more topical and autobiographical, as Kopple and Peck show, pairing songs with the events that inspired them. How many groups could do that and have the dignity of not backing down? Their new fans certainly don't mind. The Chicks are a lot less alone than they used to be.

EW: Dixie Chicks The doc is another example of a film exhuming and addressing a subject that the media have left behind. I'm sure editors will now say, "That's old news." But no book-burning or CD-burning ever is - as we also saw in The US vs. John Lennon. Imagine what would have happened if the Dixie Chicks had brought up Jesus Christ.

This isn't your typical music film. So much ground is covered that few songs are played in their entirety. One thing I would also have liked to have seen from Shut Up and Sing would be interviews with some of the opportunistic politicians and media personalities who piled on and stoked the antipathy toward the Dixie Chicks. Remember, for a while, attacking he Dixie Chicks looked as if it would be as useful a weapon for the Republicans as condemning gay marriage. For those of us who remember the late 1970s and early 1980s, the architect Maya Lin was excoriated in obscene and racist terms for her design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which turned out to be one of the most stirringly popular sites in Washington, and a great work of art. You'd be shocked to hear what people said about her and her work then. Let's remind the venerable people who attacked her of what they said.

Who came up with the term, "shut up and sing"? We know that the talk show host Laura Ingraham used it for the title of her book, a screed about actors in politics. Ingraham and others fed the fury that turned into disc-burning and a death threat at a concert in Dallas. I can't recall anyone on the Right condemning the threats or the equivalent of book-burning by children. George W Bush certainly enjoyed the witch hunt for a while. The attackers should have been on camera and held to their words now that it's much harder to gang up on critics of a war that most of the public opposes.

Black Book

Black Book is Paul Verhoeven's melodrama about a Jewish singer's survival during the Nazi occupation of Holland in World War II. To say that this story is dark is a bit like saying war is bad. First Rachel is sheltered where anti-Semitic Dutch peasants feed her every day, begrudgingly, after she recites a verse from the New Testament from memory at the table. After that farmhouse and its fervently religious inhabitants are bombed to bits by a German plane, Rachel connects with the rest of her family on a barge that the Dutch Resistance has told them will cross the border into Allied-controlled Belgium. Once the refugees are out in a wide canal, the Germans appear on a gunboat and slaughter everyone except Rachel, who hides in the marshes. The Nazis loot the dead bodies of jewelry, diamonds and cash. This is all in the first twenty minutes.

This is Verhoeven's first Dutch film in decades. The picture of the Netherlands is anything but flattering. There are few heroes in the dark period that, as everywhere else is Western Europe, is portrayed as a time of heroic resistance to the Nazis. More accurately, survival is shown as what survival usually is, saving oneself by reaching some accommodation with the enemy. The more threatening the circumstances, the more accommodating one's relationship with the Germans tended to be.

Black Book Rachel hooks up with the Dutch Resistance and changes her name to Ellis de Vries and her dark hair to blonde. Soon she's at the core of the movement, which sends her undercover when their leader's son is captured to plant a bugging device in Gestapo headquarters. She does so, after initiating an affair with a Gestapo captain, planting the bug underneath a huge framed oil painting of Heinrich Himmler. Holding her nose, she sings at drunken Nazi gatherings in perfect German and dances with the Gestapo brass. There's betrayal after betrayal in the Resistance where militants have a deep mistrust of Jews. Bodies pile up after a botched attempt to free Resistance captives from jail, thanks to someone in the Resistance tipping off the Gestapo. Yet by the end, at the Liberation, turncoats are acting as if they had been patriots, and the Dutch are settling wartime scores among themselves with guns and humiliation fueled by anger and alcohol. A British officer who witnesses some of this frenzy says they're worse than Nazis. It's ugly, but the film is a first-class thriller. Rachel survives with her integrity intact, which may explain why she leaves Holland for Israel.

Verhoeven was the Dutch guy who went to Hollywood many years ago. His films in America had traces of what might be called a European style in a studio container. (Let's not talk about Showgirls. [Oh, but David, a lot of people will want to - dwh]) What he's done now is return to the Netherlands and put some Hollywood style, rare among Dutch directors, in a World War II epic. The infusion works. The acting is extraordinary, especially by Carice van Houten as Rachel and Sebastian Koch (also in The Lives of Others, a German entry at TIFF) as her Nazi lover. So is the script, from what I could tell from the subtitles.

A Dutch acquaintance scolded me for my enthusiasm about Black Book, saying that these stories of wartime collaboration and ambiguous (to put it mildly) morality, all too familiar, are just being warmed over again. They weren't being warmed over for me, or for the audiences in and out of Holland who will welcome Black Book for its intrigue and for its truth-telling about morality bending (all too often willfully) to circumstances.

The public doesn't know these facts too well. It can't, buried as they are by the official self-celebrating versions of history. You could say the same about the Resistance in France or Belgium or anywhere else. Yet bear in mind an important fact: a higher percentage of Jews were deported from Holland than from any Western European country that the Nazis occupied - not a badge of honor. I bet you didn't know that either. There's talk of US distribution of Black Book. Sounds good to me.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:19 AM | Comments (2)

Dragon wings and billowing sails.

Naomi Novik: Temeraire "Peter Jackson has chosen the next tale he'll be adapting after Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones. Naomi Novik's Temeraire is "a terrific meld of two genres that I particularly love - fantasy and historical epic,' Jackson told the Hollywood Reporter. 'I can't wait to see Napoleonic battles fought with a squadron of dragons. That's what I go to the movies for.' Jackson is also planning to turn Temeraire into a computer game franchise." That's what he goes to the bank for. At the Risky Biz Blog, Borys Kit, who wrote the THR story, has more on Naomi Novik.

Back in January, Quint reviewed the first novel of the trilogy, His Majesty's Dragon, and, though he admits he's not much of a fan of contemporary fantasy, he was pretty well caught up with it, adding: "I wouldn't be surprised if we see this series snapped up by the studios... If handled with a respectable budget and with any degree of seriousness, this would make a fucking great film series." You can hear the pitch: "Master and Commander meets Dragonslayer!"

Nine months on, Quint finds himself talking with Jackson about just that - and more: the second installment of what'll eventually be a five-part interview focuses on The Lovely Bones.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:51 AM

September 12, 2006

TIFF, 9/12.

Freud @ TIFF Let's begin a highly unscientific sampling, more like an aimless evening stroll through some of the reviews and such coming out of the Toronto International Film Festival with Tom Hall on The Pervert's Guide to Cinema: "[Director Sophie] Fiennes and Zizek are a perfect match for each other, the former making the wonderful decision to place her subject on the sets and locations of the various films he is discussing and the latter an often hilarious, exhilarating and engrossing intellectual who isn't afraid to show us the subconscious meanings of some of our favorite movies.... I can't think of a brisker, happier 150 minutes."

Then, Brand Upon the Brain!: "Having just sat through a 2.5 hour film on Freudian interpretations of cinema, it was not hard to be completely floored by one of the most definitively personal, touching, and hilarious examples of Freudian self-analysis ever comitted to celluloid. [Guy] Maddin's film is at once extremely personal and incredibly accessible, retaining both the wit and unique vision of his previous films but somehow transcending his earlier work."

Slumming More on Brand from Kurt and Opus at Twitch; also Kurt on Michael Glawogger's Slumming, "a fascinating character study," Todd on György Pálfi's Taxidermia, "like nothing you have never seen before," and on Pan's Labyrinth: "[T]his is not a coming of age but the end of one. It is masterful, heartbreaking and his finest work to date." Michael Guillén: "Pan's Labyrinth is a film I will return to over and over again when I am feeling most real and have lost hope."

Q&A notes at Twitch: Hirokazu Kore-eda and Bong Joon-ho. Kurt: "One big surprise at this years festival has been from Manuel Pradal's wintry New York set film Un Crime." And another review from Todd: "Too smart by far for the multiplex, The Fountain is almost certainly doomed to fail at the box office yet is is almost equally certain to be looked at five and ten years down the road as a watershed moment, a film like 2001 and Blade Runner that changed understandings of what the genre was capable of, a film that redefines the language of science fiction."

Jim Emerson writes that Darren Aronofsky's "grand mythical fantasy that interweaves three tales about the fear of death and the quest for eternal life, is a terrifically ambitious spectacle that Aronofsky commits to completely... [I]t's exhilarating to see somebody go this far out on a limb for his vision." More from Tom Hall.

Dave Kehr on Coeurs: "This is Resnais' darkest and most moving film since Mélo in 1986... At 84, the eternally elegant, emotionally reservered Resnais seems to be allowing the mask to slip a bit: this is the quietly devastating testament of a deeply lonely man."

Woman on the Beach Noel Murray at the AV Club: "Woman on the Beach isn't as slow or obscure as some of Hong [Sang-soo]'s earlier work, but it's no less assured and artful." More from Victor Morton: A "precisely observed, finely-detailed miniature of a romantic comedy on the battle of the sexes."

Michael Sicinski on Song and Solitude: "Without a doubt, [Nathaniel] Dorsky has produced his best and most visually enthralling film since Variations, the masterpiece that placed him at the forefront of avant-garde cinema." The only other film he's given a "9" to so far is Bamako.

"Superior middlebrow political drama, mildly frustrating because it might have been a masterpiece in the hands of a true stylist," writes Mike D'Angelo of The Lives of Others. Even so, "this is a reasonably complex and relentlessly gripping portrait of unsought empathy, as well as the rare crowdpleaser that genuinely earns its optimistic opinion of human nature."

For J Robert Parks, Times and Winds "is certainly one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in several years."

NOW: Cruz The latest big browsable TIFF special section comes via a tip from Eugene Hernandez and Brian Brooks's entries on The Last King of Scotland, Shortbus and Volver at indieWIRE: In NOW Magazine's "Film Fest Guide," you find features, profiles, daily reviews and commentary and, if you're actually in Toronto, plenty of practical info as well.

The most recent interviewees in iW's Discovery series: Bliss director Sheng Zhimin, DarkBlueAlmostBlack director Daniel Sanchez Arevalo, Maati Maay (A Grave-Keeper's Tale) director Chitra Palekar, Griffin & Phoenix director Ed Stone, Family Ties director Kim Tae-yong, The Silly Age director Pavel Giroud and Vanaja director Rajnesh Domalpalli.

Also at iW, Anthony Kaufman: Emanuele Crialese's Golden Door "is unflinching in its depiction of both the rocky Sicilian hillside town where his poor protagonists come from and their brutal experiences during the Atlantic passage and stranded in Ellis Island," Tsai Ming-liang's I Don't Want to Sleep Alone is "surprisingly hopeful," Asger Leth's The Ghosts of Cité Soleil is a "thrilling hip-hop chronicle" that "speeds along at such a swift MTV-like clip that it doesn't stop and unearth the complicated relationships on display." Also, "Next to World Trade Center, [Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn may very well be the most patriotic movie of the year. And that doesn't mean it's necessarily bad, either."

James Israel: "Like Ken Loach's The Wind That Shakes the Barley (also at Toronto) which is about the British oppression of Irish right after World War I, Rescue Dawn shows in minute detail how war impacts and destroys individual lives as they struggle with the cruelty and absurdity that armed conflict brings."

The Bothersome Man But for Cinematical's Martha Fischer, "Rescue Dawn is a terrible waste of a brilliantly talented man's skills, and a profound disappointment as a result." Also: "The Bothersome Man is a dark, nasty little movie that's never quite as deep or as clever as it imagines itself to be."

"If there is a single theme at this year's Toronto Film Festival, it's disappointment," writes David Poland. "It's not the festival's fault... But the bottom line... there just aren't enough festival films to fill the schedule with quality right now."

"It is not that the films are bad; just not exciting," writes Peter Bowen at Filmmaker. "For me, the festival has begun to feel a bit like a Christopher Guest comedy, with the films, guests and city playing out their chiches with perfect pitch."

Matt Riviera: "In many ways this Festival for me feels like a flashback to 1996: there's the resurgence of Queer Cinema (Shortbus), the Australian feature film revival (Jindabyne, Ten Canoes), and with Diggers, a return to heartfelt US indies about men's mid-life breakdowns in small-town America."

At fps magazine, Madeline Ashby reports on the Norman McLaren retrospective.

Gregg Goldstein has an odd tale at the Risky Biz Blog about trying to get the Death of a President team to tell him how much the film actually cost: "With all of the blurring of fact and fiction in DOAP, I suppose the question over the authenticity of its budget is a fitting coda."

Online viewing tip. Cinematical's first roundtable: James Rocchi, Kim Voynar and Martha Fischer discuss the atmo at public vs press screenings and several of the films they've caught so far.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:28 PM | Comments (4)

DVDs, 9/12.

United 93 Though festival fever flares on, it's high time to catch up with the format on which, let's face it, most people actually see movies. DK Holm rounds up what the DVD specialty sites have been saying the past couple of weeks.

As the United States approached the weekend preceding the fifth anniversary of September 11, the media was shot through with news reports, specials, TV movies, protests over those TV movies, and sentimental news bits commemorating, analyzing and recreating the events of that day.

So, too, in the world of digital video discs. The DVD of United 93 was slated for release on September 5, but several websites postponed their reviews so they'd run closer to 9/11/06. And the results are what you would expect for a film that received a 90 percent approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes (Stanley Kauffmann was one of the few dissenters from the "prestige" press, quoted as saying that the film's "limitation in source material has had a peculiar effect on the script. Never is there a moment of repulsive sentimentality or exploitation, but neither is [director Paul] Greengrass able to realize an ultimate purpose"). Most DVD reviewers, like their theatrical release predecessors, pulled out the usual vocabulary: "powerful," "sensitive," "touching," "respectful," "tribute." Several of them started out with or at least made allusions to Pearl Harbor (DVD Journal, DVD Beaver), the most recent movie version about an attack on the US, which was released in spring of... 2001.

Gregory P Dorr of DVD Journal takes Kauffmann's observation but turns it into a positive, writing that by "keeping his film so lean, and sticking as close as possible to the known unfolding of events, Greengrass maintains an unbelievable level of gut-wrenching empathy throughout the entire 111-minute running time."

United 93 The succession of events concerning Flight 93, and indeed the whole of September 11, brought out the timetable geekdom (a close cousin of military geekdom) in many reviewers. For example, Randy Miller III's review at DVD Talk revels in the flight numbers, the plane numbers, take-off times, the heights, the fall, the distances, before concluding that though "it's not the first film to re-enact the fate of that doomed flight, United 93 is perhaps the most self-aware and affecting." Of the supplements, Miller notes that, in his commentary track, Greengrass "candidly discusses the extreme difficulty in approaching such a sensitive subject."

Yunda Eddie Feng at DVD Beaver starts off addressing the already way beyond tiresome "too soon" issue, before making the interesting point that "11 September 2001 is a very American experience, yet ironically, the two best movies about that terrible day - the documentary 9/11 and United 93 - were directed by non-Americans," before adding that "United 93 has the same intense immediacy as Bloody Sunday and The Bourne Supremacy," Greengrass's previous features.

DVD Authority's Matt Brighton takes the personal approach: "Of the nearly 5,000 reviews on this site, there are only a handful that have a true personal meaning to me. I mean, let's face it - we're reviewing works of fiction here and hardly any of the movies we look at aren't something we can directly relate to. And that's the situation with anything having to deal with September 11. The thing is, that day affected us all and any movie dealing with any of the events leading up to or occurring that day will be a little hard to put into words." Brighton goes on to be critical of Universal's transfer on the disc, calling it "hit and miss throughout."

United 93 Kirven Blount of Entertainment Weekly concentrates helpfully on Greengrass's commentary track, though observing, as have so many others, that Greengrass "opted for an unadorned presentation that stresses elucidation over entertainment. As he says in his commentary, the event 'didn't belong to a rarefied world of movie stars where you expect exceptional things to be done.'"

The anonymous reviewer at CurrentFilm.com begins by announcing that United 93 "is a very difficult picture to watch, but director Paul Greengrass has made a very powerful film that chooses to portray the events of the day in docudrama form." Unlike reviewer Brighton at DVD Authority, however, this writer finds that the transfer's "sharpness and detail are exceptional, as the picture remained sharp and well-defined throughout, with small object details often clearly visible."

Finally, Colin Polonowski at DVD Times covers the simultaneous R2 release of the film, but unfortunately, "Universal only sent us a screener with a permanent 'Property of Universal' message so we can't give a full review of the disc's picture quality. However, the transfer presented here is adequate but not noteworthy. Greengrass chose to use handheld cameras for the most part and the quick cuts and shakiness are a challenge for MPEG2 to handle and thankfully there are only a few glitches as a result." Universal's policy inspired poster minister_x to complain that "Universal are over-concerned about piracy of their UK DVDs. To be honest, I think they would be better tackling the problem by actually making the UK DVDs worthwhile (i.e., transferring all the extras from the US versions across - or, in the case of Inside Man, transferring any of the extras across)... Piracy really isn't the problem - it's the cheap effort put in on Universal's behalf; even more of a pity as they have come out with some absolute quality recently, and it's getting ruined on DVD (in terms of overall DVD-package)."


At least once a month, Criterion releases on the same day several highly anticipated films, thus slaking the thirst of serious film fans and slightly dignifying the list of the 200-plus other films released on DVD each Tuesday and Wednesday. Last week was a big one, as Criterion released its much-anticipated new version of Seven Samurai in a three-platter set, superseding its earlier release (the very first DVD from Criterion, despite bearing spine label No. 2), as well as Jacques Tati's Playtime and Fellini's Amarcord, in two-disc sets each.

Seven Samurai At the DVD Journal, writer Damon Houx took an interesting and elaborate look at Seven Samurai and its creator, making an imaginary series of "cases" against the film (Akira Kurosawa is not the best Japanese director; Kurosawa is the most "western" of Japanese directors; Seven Samurai is not the best film by Kurosawa; Seven Samurai is just an action film, etc), pondering, playing with, and in some cases refuting the points. The essay also explores the influences on Kurosawa and the film's influence on the rest of cinema. As for the transfer itself, Houx finds it "simply breathtaking - the full frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) appears cleaner, brighter, and more vivid than ever before," and concludes in general that "few DVDs have been as essential as this one."

At DVD Verdict, reviewer Dan Mancini makes the interesting point that Seven Samurai represented a big shift in Kurosawa's career. He was:

...an established director of art films. He'd made fourteen pictures, including 1950's Rashomon (which introduced the world to Japanese cinema by winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival), and the first of his top-shelf masterpieces, 1952's Ikiru. Nearly all of his pictures were set in contemporary Japan. Most had a contemplative, literary style. For most Japanese living in the early Fifties, the idea of Kurosawa making an action picture would have been nearly as anathema as Yasujiro Ozu making a crime-thriller. But Kurosawa was determined to employ his flair for camera movement and gift for writing taut screenplays in an entertainment spectacle. The resulting film - 1954's Seven Samurai - shattered the formulas of the jidai-geki (period film) and chambara (swordplay film) genres by offering a rich, epic landscape peopled with complex characters; by deconstructing and reassembling the samurai code of Bushido; and by peering through the lens of history at Japan's postwar struggle toward democracy, capitalism, and a new social and cultural identity. In the process of bending Japanese genre forms to his own proclivities, Kurosawa also managed to irrevocably change international cinema by making one of the most influential movies of all time - a movie many critics consider the greatest ever made.

Mancini is also smitten with the transfer, writing that the "improvement in audio-video quality on this release is so startling, it would be worth the price even if this set weren't packed with magnificent supplemental material." Dave Kehr of the New York Times adds to the hosannahs over the transfer, noting that it is "a little miracle of digital technology: amazingly sharp and clear, free from any perceptible surface blemishes."

Amarcord Criterion also released an update disc of Fellini's Amarcord, and DVD Verdict's Bill Gibron finds the film not only "one of the director's most delightful films, it's that true cinematic rarity - a movie that utilizes all styles of memory to make its remarkable magic." He goes on to say that "it's an industry given, but it never hurts to repeat such praise: Criterion consistently delivers some of the finest, more expertly realized DVD packages in the history of the medium," adding that "one would be hard-pressed to improve on this cinematic preservationist's flawless presentation," and the praises the supplements as a "near-perfect amount of considered context provided."

At the DVD Journal, Dawn Taylor says that the film virtually defines the "Felliniesque": "weird, sexy, funny, crude, beautiful, political, and in all ways marvelous." Taylor elucidates the supplements, which start with "an interesting, if a bit dry, commentary track by film scholars Peter Brunette and Frank Burke," and continues, on disc two, with "a wonderful featurette, 'Fellini's Homecoming,' about the director and his home town," among numerous other short films.

Playtime Criterion's third re-release of the day, Jacques Tati's Playtime is, for Glenn "DVD Savant" Erickson, "uniquely ambitious" and "a gigantic and somewhat indescribable near-silent comedy that spreads out across the wide screen like a gigantic magazine illustration." He goes on to write that "Playtime has to be the most elaborate experimental film ever made, a mime-driven silent comedy on a lavish scale," before focusing on the transfer. "Criterion's new and improved transfer reflects the work of a 2002 70mm restoration project that returns five minutes of recovered material; a half-hour of the original movie is still unaccounted for. The extras for this new edition are a show-and-tell session explaining the sometimes-incredible particulars of the filming and Tati's subsequent career troubles." Jeff Ulmer of Digitally Obsessed reminds us that by the time Tati came to make the film he had "grown tired of his character [M. Hulot]. As he had started to do in Mon Oncle, he wanted to tone down on any central character to create more of an overview of a group of people," and concludes that "Tati's brilliance lies in his powers of observation." Dawn Taylor of the DVD Journal defines the film as "an awesome work of intricate choreography and hysterical tableaux."


By curious coincidence, another Japanese hit from 1954 was released on DVD the same week: Gojira, released by Sony as Gojira: The Original Japanese Masterpiece and presented side by side with its Americanized version, Godzilla. Dave Kehr, writing in the NYT, was excited by the prospect of comparing the two versions. "Generations of critics who have congratulated themselves on decoding the pacifist, antinuclear message of King of Monsters will be startled by the explicitness of the Japanese version, in which Gojira (as the Japanese transliterate his name) is repeatedly identified as a result of testing in the Pacific and the embodiment of the nation's nuclear trauma."

Gojira RL Shaffer of DVD Future determines that "Gojira isn't a film about a nuclear-charged dinosaur. It's a film about the ramifications of war and the horror of future weapons," and observes that the full frame transfer "looks pretty good. The film is very scratchy in spots, but given the fact that this film hasn't seen the light of day for several years, it looks better than it could have." James A Stewart at DVD Verdict notes that the "modesty of the filmmakers' aims is seen in the opening credits - or implied by what is not seen, since the Toho logo doesn't include the word 'Toho' in English at this time, as it surely would have if they'd expected a global monster hit," and adds that "the scene in which [Gojira] crashes through a field of high-voltage wires, while the authorities are waiting to see if they've managed to cook a giant lizard, retains its suspense as a classic monster movie moment." He agrees that the "picture quality of the Japanese original loses something with age, despite preservation efforts." Meanwhile, the DVD Savant muses that Godzilla/Gojira has been "more of an adolescent joke than a serious film subject," before going on to write an insight-filled 3000-word essay on the topic:

Gojira's outlandish donation to 20th Century mythology is to materialize the abstact concept of Atom-age anxiety as a Golem-like monster we can see with our own eyes. Plot-wise, it's a bald rip-off of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, in which the nuclear origin of the monster was developed little further than a convenient gimmick. Gojira's towering horror is only Atomic by association, starting as a radioactive embodiment of what really might have wiped out the crew of the good ship Lucky Dragon. No explanation is given for Gojira's origin, what he wants, or why he's trampling Tokyo into the mud. He just is. Gojira is a new kind of implacable atomic enemy: A mobile natural disaster, a typhoon in the form of a firestorm. The film grabbed the Japanese public at a gut level - revealing a horror that had been living with them intimately for ten years, only they never knew it.


As Neil LaBute's remake of the British cult classic The Wicker Man was opening in America, a new three-disc set of the film was released on DVD in England by Optimum and DVD Times's Gary Couzens was one top of it. Couzens, who has been following the film's complicated career for years, concludes that The Wicker Man "has been, and can be, overrated. Yet there is something unique about it, something intangible that lurks within its sprocket holes - a film with a strange, distinctive atmosphere," and then picks his way through the bramble of new and old extras compiled onto the set, the short version being that "Optimum's edition is much the same as Warner's, with some minor extras deleted, one significant extra added, with the third disc being the soundtrack CD."


Way back in 1998, when I first became dimly aware of DVDs and the new websites reviewing them, I was initially puzzled. Why re-review movies that had come out a year or six months earlier, as if the product were new? Then, when I became a DVD fanatic myself, it occured to me that a second go-around with a movie can make for better, well-considered reviews, and that the extras required individual and detailed treatment.

But hardly anyone reviews the extras. In fact, it is obvious from too many reviews that writers often have little time or inclination to tackle them. There is at least one good reason for this, though. If the studios don't care - and, going by those discs supplied with little beyond the EPK material distributed with the theatrical version, they often don't - why should the reviewer?

But with the rise in prestige of such companies as Criterion, which invented the audio commentary track and carried forth the tradition of detailed and informative extras from their laser discs onto DVD, extras began to require as much attention from reviewers as the image and sound quality. What's surprising is that so few DVD reviews, which theoretically benefit from both the time and the leisure that DVD reviewers presumably enjoy, don't go into consumer-advocate level detail about the supplements.

Shock A good test case for reviewer dedication can be found with the films noir that come out periodically, mostly from Fox (about three discs every couple of months), but also from Warner (in annual box sets), and Universal (periodically). August 29 saw Fox releasing three more entries in its Fox Film Noir series, Shock (1946), Fourteen Hours (1951), and Vicki (a 1953 remake of I Wake Up Screaming). Noir discs tend to be laden with supplements, and this trio is no exception.

Gary W Tooze of DVD Beaver opines in general that the Fox Noirs "have all been 'blind-purchases' as far as I am concerned and don't really require a review. The price gives ridiculous value and I'd probably pay double." Moving on to Shock, Tooze writes that "many will not succumb to the incredulous plot twists and matter-of-fact dramaturgy that Alfred L Werker's 1946 Shock exports." He praises the transfer ("the image is of usual Fox standard for their Noir series. Acceptable sharpness, progressively transferred and strong contrast levels"), and notes that "John Stanley's commentary is quite humorous - his knowledge of minor stars of the film - their discovery, casting, careers and post careers is quite remarkable. He rarely discusses Shock but he is informative, smooth and prone to excitement in his voice. Really this was refreshing - he appears to be a horror film buff (amongst other attributes) and hence focuses on Vincent Price."

Glenn Erickson, the DVD Savant, finds Shock to be "an under-budgeted and thinly scripted psychological thriller that appears to have been inspired by the previous year's sleeper hit My Name is Julia Ross," and then goes on to sort of talk himself into liking the yak track by Stanley, who "provides a lively commentary that may connect with the more enthusiastic fan types. He heralds the first appearance of Vincent Price as would a big-league sports announcer, and even does a Peter Lorre imitation. Who says commentaries need to be dry and academic?"

Fourteen Hours / Vicki

Of Fourteen Hours, Tooze (DVD Beaver) notes that the "title and credits give an indication of a hazier transfer but the feature portion looks fine right from past that." But he has harsh words to say about the audio commentary track, finding it "comparatively weak - slow-talking Foster Hirsch appears to do more narration, with gaps, imparting less information than those of his colleagues' commentaries."

The DVD Savant, in a detailed and thoughtful overall review, is much more generous toward Hirsch's commentary, writing in an extensive footnote that the "Savant tends to frown when film analysts detect gay subtexts in everything projected on a screen. Mr Hirsch's arguments in this case are pretty darn convincing. [Paul] Douglas's [character] Dunnigan tries to coax [potential suicide] Cosick [Richard Basehart] to 'come out' (to his place for Sunday lunch) with masculine talk of baseball and beer. Cosick declines the invitation, unable to voice his reason why. We're also given no reason to feel that Cosick and his girlfriend Virginia [the late Barbara Bel Geddes] have any chance of getting back together. Contrast this with the crazy situation 23 years later in Dog Day Afternoon, when a man in a similar siege situation tells the cops that he has robbed a bank to finance a sex-change operation for his trans-sexual (is that accurate?) boyfriend!"

Posted by dwhudson at 10:09 AM | Comments (2)

Interview. Caveh Zahedi.

Caveh Zahedi Over the past few years, we've asked Caveh Zahedi to interview Amos Gitai, Larry Gross, Christopher Munch and Henry Jaglom. Now, with I Am a Sex Addict out on DVD, we've asked Caveh to interview... Caveh Zahedi.

Earlier: Darren Hughes, Hannah Eaves and others on I Am a Sex Addict.

Update: DVD Talk TV has the trailer for and an unedited behind-the-scenes clip from Addict.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:12 AM | Comments (4)

September 11, 2006

More shorts.

Summer Palace "There was never any doubt that the authorities would be angry. So why did he do it?" Jonathan Watts asks Lou Ye why he made a sexy movie set against the backdrop of the massacre at Tiananmen Square and then took Summer Palace to Cannes without seeking permission - and what he's going to do now that Chinese authorities have banned him from making another film. "'I will oppose the ban,' he says, without hesitation. 'My work is to make movies. And I will do so until someone stands in front of my camera and tells me I must stop. It is my fundamental right.'"

Also in the Guardian:

Southland Tales "Could this film, in the end, wind up conquering the naysayers or, if the audience built for this film due to the success of Donnie Darko embraces it, show how out-of-touch critics are with the films they're watching?" In Film Threat, Mark Bell segues into a quick conversation with Richard Kelly about Southland Tales. The points Kelly would like to get across: He and Sony are fine; the final cut will be his. And the comic book is the "set-up that delivers you right into the film." From which there's a clip on the same page.

David Thomson in the Independent: "Black Dahlia Avenger is a dogged re-examination of the case in which a son begins to realise that his father killed the Black Dahlia... No, it's not proof. But the suggestion won't go away: that just as Los Angeles invented film noir, there were men in the city who treated murder as an art or a game to be played. It's a lot more interesting than the De Palma picture."

"It's been a good year for [John] Ford appreciation, what with Sam Pollard and Kenneth Bowser's very fine American Masters docu John Ford/John Wayne: The Filmmaker and the Legend and the 50th anni DVD edition of The Searchers having already spurred Ford partisans and detractors into a new round of debate." Variety's Todd McCarthy saw Peter Bogdanovich's revamped Directed by John Ford at Telluride and notes, "This retooling runs 13 minutes longer, the most notable difference being the addition of fresh interviews with contempo admirers Clint Eastwood, Walter Hill, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, along with thesp Harry Carey Jr and interludes with Bogdanovich himself.... It's not for nothing that the best story from one of the film's newcomers is Spielberg's account of his teenage encounter with the intimidating old master.... Bogdanovich shot all the original interviews on film using a dolly, which gives them a vibrant look as well as an elegant mobility rare in docus; the newly shot material, shot on video, looks mundane by comparison." At any rate, it'll air on TCM in October.

David Pratt-Robson on Six Moral Tales: "No other director has been more obsessed with the particulars of intellectual/performative characters and beautiful/natural settings, and while Rohmer qualifies as an auteur (a term he helped to define) for a common theme and style (lots of dialogue and plants), these deeply philosophical works express anything but a singular, common, philosophical position."

Ray Young at Flickhead: "A documentary photographed and directed by Brett Ingram, Monster Road (2004) takes a close, personal and darkly comic look at animator Bruce Bickford, his once-brilliant father and this haunted backwoods area, all of it apparently out of fascination and a touch of admiration for the simple, reclusive lifestyle." Also: Jerzy Stuhr's The Big Animal, "an engrossing meditation on society, pressure and the stifled individual based on a story ('The Camel') by Kazimierz Orlos from a screenplay adaptation by Krzysztof Kieslowski."

Seagulls Are Dying in the Harbor Acquarello on Seagulls Are Dying in the Harbor, the first feature from Belgium's to be screened at Cannes (in 1956): "[B]eyond the film's noteworthiness as a trailblazer in the history of cinema (as well as its incisive, broader commentary on the human travails of war), the film is also a unique, intimate, and incisive window into the country's indigenous experience, not only with the isolative reality of cultural pluralism in contemporary Belgium, but also with the collective toll of occupation, displacement, and exile caused by the war."

That Little Round-Headed Boy is thrilled to rediscover Alan Rudolph's Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle.

Ernie Kovacs. At PopMatters, Bill Gibron presents both sides of the "Nairobi Trio" debate.

Up-n-coming:

David Thomson is singing Nicole Kidman's praises again, this time in the London Times, but there's an interesting exchange here with Jonathan Glazer about Birth. The Times also runs an extract from Thomson's Nicole Kidman - which Tara Ison reviews for the Los Angeles Times: "[T]his is a book of multiple personalities, part astute analysis of our relationship to the film image and our cultural fixation on celebrity and part insightful film criticism, pedestrian celebrity bio and starry-eyed love letter."

Docufictions: Essays on the Intersection of Documentary and Fictional Filmmaking. Sounds suddenly relevant, doesn't it. Chris Cagle finds it "a worthy starting point, but one that suggests there's still a lot of valuable work to be done."

In the New York Times:

And book reviews:

Murder in Amsterdam

Susan King talks with My Country, My Country director Laura Poitras for the Los Angeles Times.

"Right at Your Door - gritty, jangly, cautionary - makes a potent case for itself," writes Tim Robey in the Telegraph, where Marc Lee talks with director Chris Gorak about Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later.

Camillo de Marco has two quick interviews at Cineuropa: Emanuele Crialese (The Golden Door) and Gianni Amelio (The Missing Star).

SuicideGirls' David Robert Epstein talks with Al Franken about Al Franken: God Spoke.

Nick Pinkerton carries his anti-Andrew Bujalski campaign to Stop Smiling.

Good heavens. MaryAnn Johanson has been the Flick Filosopher for ten years now. Congrats!

What are they looking forward to in the fall? At Cinematical, Christopher Campbell, Mark Beall, Dani Leo, Jeffrey M Anderson and Richard von Busack pick a few each; Aaron Hillis reveals three of his own. Well, two and a half.

John Lurie picks his top ten Criterion DVDs.

Campaspe beckons you to a round of "Humiliation," cinephile edition and among the Cinemarati to boot.

Rhythmus 21 Online viewing tip #1. Jonas Mekas introduces Hans Richter's Rhythmus 21.

Online viewing tip #2. The History of Hacking. Via Jason Kottke.

Online viewing tips. Via filmtagebuch, quite a collection curated by metacontemplation.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:59 PM | Comments (4)

Other fests and events.

Raindance 06 Chris Tilly scans the freshly unveiled Raindance Film Festival lineup for Time Out. September 27 through October 8 in London. More from Xan Brooks in the Guardian.

"Four films by Mexican directors were in competition at this year's Cannes Film Festival [in different sections, but okay], all of which massively overshadowed their big-budget US counterparts, and now there is a six-week season of Mexican movies at London's National Film Theatre. How could such a country, once regarded as an unsophisticated Third World backwater, suddenly upstage its reputedly super-sophisticated superpower neighbor?" asks Chris Sullivan in the Independent. Related: "Far from competitors," writes Anne Thompson in the Hollywood Reporter, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Guillermo Del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón, "all born in the early 60s, are close friends who lend each other the kind of support that recalls the 70s era when filmmaker pals Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Brian De Palma candidly critiqued one another's films."

Susan King has overviews of The Ballad of Blood Sam: The Films of Sam Peckinpah (through Wednesday) and Dressed to Kill: The Stylish Thrillers of Brian De Palma (tomorrow through September 30) in the Los Angeles Times.

Documentary Films 1970 - 2006 is a series running through September 21 in London of films by John Pilger, who, in the New Statesman, he recalls a time when docs made for TV didn't have to pretend to be objective: "We believed that journalism informed by no opinion, no irony, no humor, no compassion and no commitment lacked a very serious dimension. Our inspirations were James Cameron's One Pair of Eyes and Edward R Murrow's See It Now."

Susan Gerhard on the eve of the MadCat Women's International Film Festival (through September 27): "When I spoke with her last week, MadCat's founder, Ariella Ben-Dov, was excited about the varieties of showmanship the women of MadCat are bringing audiences in the month of September - live musical accompaniments to silent films, the requested/expected participation of crowds in a variety of 3D and View-Master shows, even a documentary film (Maquilopolis, Thurs/21, Grand Lake, Sun/24, YBCA) in which the subjects themselves help create the art. Ten years after inventing the festival, Ben-Dov offered SF360 a little background on where these experiments are taking us."

Frederick Wiseman "FutureTense: Frederick Wiseman in Conversation with Michael Krasny," an event scheduled for Wednesday, September 20 in San Francisco. More on the event from Brian Darr.

The Golden Age of Performance: A video trip through the seventies opens tomorrow at the Bâtiment d'art contemporain in Geneva and runs through Thursday.

The 11th Milano Film Festival opens on Friday and runs through September 24.

At Cinematical, Jette Kernion has news for Austinites: "Let the Fall Fests Begin."

Richard Rush was in Austin the other night, and Blake has details on what all was said and done at Cinema Strikes Back. Jon Lebkowsky was there, too.

In the Observer, Jason Solomons looks back on what were for him the highs (The Queen, Children of Men) and lows (Inland Empire, The Fountain) of this year's Venice Film Festival. More overviews in the German-language papers: Cristina Nord in die taz, Marli Feldvoss in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Daniel Kothenschulte in the Frankfurter Rundschau and Michael Althen in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Solace in Cinema wraps a four-part review of August's Frightfest.

Current TV's "Seeds of Tolerance" contest is still open to submissions. The deadline is October 2. Grand prize: $100K, plus two runners-up ($10K). "Guest judges M Night Shyamalan, Edward Norton, Paul Haggis, Melissa Etheridge and Margaret Cho along with a panel of Current and Third Millennium staff will help select our five semi-finalists. The final vote will be cast by viewers via our website."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:17 PM

Catching up with TIFF.

Coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival is torrential, so first, to tick off some of the main hubs, nodes and special sections before sampling a few bits from other spots below:

TIFF 06

Updated.

And thanks to Ryan Wu, a few more:

I thought I'd added...

  • framing device: Days' viewings smoothed into essays by J Robert Parks.

... but hadn't yet. Til now.

One more:

Climates "It's like a filmbloggers convention over here, and we've been convening in restaurants, subway trains, and sidewalk ticket lines," writes Girish, listing (and linking to) nine he's run into so far before offering his takes on Climates ("a solid kick-off"), 12:08 East of Bucharest and Lights in the Dusk: "As a Kaurismäki fan, I want so badly to get and like this new film. But from what I have to go on so far, it's frustrating."

Darren Hughes has caught the first two and also Hamaca Paraguaya ("a stunning piece of filmmaking") as well as These Girls ("a difficult film to watch"), Toi, Waguih ("the kind of political movie I like best: a meditation on memory and on the waves of personal consequence that ripple through history") and Un Pont sur la Drina, a film he's still thinking about two days "and six film programs later."

Abderrahmane Sissako's Bamako reminds Michael Guillén "why I chose The Evening Class as the name for my film blog. It is right in league with Sembene's assertion that African cinemas are the evening class for adults who approach cinema as a means to focus on the issues of their lives." Also, "The Host was worth being rained on while waiting in line and every exhausted step home!"

Rescue Dawn Jim Emerson: "For the first half of Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn, the fictionalized movie based on his documentary 1997 Little Dieter Needs to Fly, I wasn't sure if Herzog had tamed the commercial feature or if it had tamed him. By the end, I felt it was the most harrowingly realistic and unsentimentalized P.O.W. film I'd ever seen." Also: "At 150 minutes, in three parts, The Pervert's Guide to the Cinema (catchy title, no?) is probably the fastest-moving, most shamelessly enjoyable film I've seen in Toronto so far this year." Plus, Shortbus, Volver and Babel.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian's Cheryl Eddy: "Believe the hype: Borat rules." Plus, a slew of docs, a question - "Why can't every morning for the rest of my life begin with a Johnnie To movie?" - and B Ruby Rich: "The Lives of Others could be a lesson to US filmmakers on how to create complex characters that lead an audience through complex issues - to learn how to think and feel at the same time, as [director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's] compatriot Fassbinder once put it."

Salon's Stephanie Zacharek catches Suburban Mayhem, "one of those overly clever little movies that isn't sure what it wants to be: black comedy, potent drama, punk rave-up, exploration of the femme fatale as a convention"; Jia Zhangke's Dong, which, "at just 66 minutes, is filmmaking that feels expansive and compact at once. And it makes just a half-day of moviegoing feel incomparably rich."

Dave Kehr on the film Jia Zhangke made before Still Life: "It's a beautiful and lovely and fascinating film in itself, though Dong will probably reveal its deeper character only when it stands... side by side with its sister work." And, The Host: "Bong is not in Park Chan-wook's league as a visual stylist, but knows how to draw an audience into a story."

Jade Warrior Frank at chromewaves: "[W]hile I don't know that Euro-Asian martial arts hybrids will be the next big thing in international filmmaking, based on Jade Warrior it is definitely a concept that's worth investigating."

The festival "has been all but overrun with films attacking President Bush or the protracted war in Iraq — in subtle ways and like sledgehammers, with vitriol and with dispassionate fly-on-the-wall observation," claims David M Halbfinger in the New York Times.

Patrick Goldstein talks with Venus director Roger Michell for the Los Angeles Times.

Matt Riviera catches Fido, Shortbus, End of the Line and Venus.

Online viewing tips. Video at the Risky Biz Blog: Werner Herzog and Sacha Baron Cohen.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:12 AM | Comments (4)

Toronto Dispatch. 4.

David D'Arcy on the already-controversial Death of a President and Christopher Guest's new comedy, For Your Consideration.

Death of a President

Forget Brad Pitt, Russell Crowe and even Michael Moore. The most eagerly awaited film at this year's Toronto International Film Festival was Death of a President the British fictional documentary set on October 19, 2007, about the assassination of George W Bush. If you've read press reports that ran in the US during the last two weeks, in which exhibitors who hadn't seen the already-stigmatized film were asked whether they wanted to play it, you might have thought that DOAP, as it's called, was either a cookbook for terrorist killers or the anti-Christ, or both.

It's neither. It's doc-fiction, a dramatic feature that follows the documentary format, except that all the "facts" are made up.

In around 90 minutes, you see a demonstration in the streets of Chicago get out of the government's control - "hatred for Bush" is the term that cops keep using - giving the stunned Secret Service a sense of foreboding if Bush is left too exposed. After a speech to a friendly business crowd on the economy, Bush insists on walking the red carpet to greet people who have been searched for weapons, much to the Secret Service's chagrin. Suddenly two shots hit him in the chest. In the chaos, he's rushed to the hospital, where doctors find that his lung and aorta have been hit. Soon after the feds determine that the shots came from an upper floor on a tall building nearby (sound a bit like the JFK scenario?), and not from the small crowd that Bush greeted, the president dies. President Cheney, from an undisclosed location (sound familiar once again?) takes the reins of power and immediately asks the FBI on the scene to look hard for a Syrian connection.

Presdent Cheney - that's got quite a ring to it. Can you imagine a fictional doc about the assassination of George Bush Sr that left Dan Quayle as president?

This is not your American TV network docudrama. I can't imagine that an American network in these days of Couric-corporate media control would think of such a project, much less dare to show it, even though the theater where the film premiered last night was packed with US distributors who were eyeing DOAP for eventual, perhaps inevitable, delivery to an American audience. It also has cinematic ambitions, mixing ersatz news footage with a tactile hand-held camera that chafes against the huge crowds and throws you back and forth convincingly between demonstrators and police. All this is inter-cut with surveillance camera images of "suspects" entering or fleeing and "interviews" with officials, law enforcement agents and suspects - all actors, obviously. No stars, obviously. It's sober, rather than apocalyptic. Real Bush footage from Chicago is mixed with computer-generated imagery - just the way Hollywood does it, only cheaply and more believably. The budget was about $2 million. Logistically, it's a hell of a job.

Death of a President The filmmaker calls the film that he made "in the style of retrospective documentary... a dramatic device looking at how things have changed since 9/11," which may explain the narrative twists that follow the fictional assassination of Bush. In Gabriel Range's story, the FBI agents round up hundreds of suspects, taking over from the Secret Service (who allowed the breach of security by letting the commander-in-chief press the flesh with a select public). They look for Arabic (they say Islamic) names among the employees of the buildings nearby, and soon settle on a Syrian man who visited Afghanistan sometime before the event. They even find a picture him during his military service carrying a gun. Eventually the man is charged, tried, convicted by a jury and sentenced to death, yet certain agents aren't sure that he did it. Another suspect emerges, a black Chicago military veteran with two sons - one killed in Iraq and another, back from the Iraq war, who's first suspected, then cleared - who is found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot. A sniper's rifle is also found. He has a motive, vengeance for the death of his son. This man seems to have been the real killer, but the film ends with the convicted Syrian man still on death row. Is this "Rush to Judgment II," a fictional sequel to the alleged cover-ups in JFK assassination investigations?

In the response to Bush's assassination in DOAP, the story becomes a tale of the broad toll of the fierce US response to 9/11, which leads in the film to stiffer versions of the Patriot Act and, eventually, to  what looks like a cover-up of crucial evidence in the killing by officials who seem to want a man to hang (or fry), and seem to want that man to be a Muslim. Left unexplored are the political implications of a black American presidential assassin. Now there's a sequel for you. As Gabriel Range told his audience after the film was shown, "I was struck by the profound ways that the country seemed to be changing." Indeed. The killing of Bush is eclipsed by the way that the America which Bush shaped deals with that killing.

Is the film anti-Bush? It's anything but celebratory. I can't imagine that Bush has too many friends at Channel 4, which made the film. He certainly doesn't have too many in Toronto, or anywhere in Canada, but there was no applause to the shooting in the film, or at the announcement of Bush's death.

I've heard paranoid reactions suggesting that DOAP, if shown widely, could spawn all sorts of copycat crimes. Who's to say for sure? Like paranoids who never lacked for enemies, killers have never lacked for scenarios for how to do it, and this one seems to have borrowed from the JFK killing for its modus operandi. Should we blame Oswald, or Oliver Stone, or the Warren Commission? If the Secret Service sees DOAP, they'll surely watch these fictional events in the same way that they have scrutinized dozens of films about terrorism in the last five years. But smart criminals tend to be original. And it's probably safe to say that crimes have a better chance of succeeding if they're not following the best-known recipes.

For Your Consideration What we probably will see more of is doc-fiction. It's sheer coincidence, but an illuminating one, that Christopher Guest's comedy For Your Consideration screened for press and industry yesterday (Sunday) morning. The Hollywood spoof follows Internet Oscar buzz about an actress's likely nomination for her role as a Jewish mother with Alzheimer's Disease in "Home for Purim" (later renamed "Home for Thanksgiving" by execs who feared it might be too "ethnic"). It's not his best. The dialogue is filled with Jewish jokes that only a Red State audience would consider funny, and its lampooning of showbiz rumors gone wild is softball, rather than hardball - no killer instinct in this one.

Yet Guest has been mocking docs for twenty years, and both films (For Your Consideration and DOAP) are examples of how directors of feature projects are using the documentary format to tell invented stories. (In contrast, United 93 and Bloody Sunday by Paul Greengrass retell history doc-style. So do the two features retelling stories from African politics in this year's TIFF, The Last King of Scotland and Catch a Fire, both commendable for their drama and detail, but not for their invention.)

DOAP is a more ambitious application of the doc-fiction approach on a broader canvas. To make his film believable, Gabriel Range choreographed huge street demonstrations in Chicago that he then filmed with armies of extras. In the discussion after the screening, he hesitated when asked whether his team had told Chicago authorities specifically that their film about a presidential assassination was really a film about the killing of George W Bush. Did he, as we used to say, get away with murder? It's too late to split hairs over that now.

There was plenty of security in staid Toronto during the screening - not in the anticipation that the filmmakers might be attacked or mobbed by adoring Bush-haters, but that DOAP might be filmed illegally from the audience, and then pirated. Then there was a tiff in the house when the security hulks tried to stop a journalist (Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail) from taping the discussion after the film on a small tape recorder. Baz, not a guy to be threatened, stood his ground. Fortunately, the filmmakers came in on his side and an embarrassing confrontation bordering on censorship was avoided.

You're left with a "can it happen here?" feeling after seeing DOAP.  Looking at grim footage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the broader "war on terror," there's enough human error to go around for a hundred film scripts. (Most of them are too comical to inspire anyone but the guys who end up on America's Dumbest Politicians.) Still, the Secret Service answers to the president, as we saw in the film, and this president is far from what anyone would call infallible. The concerns raised by the film about the implications of stiffer versions of the Patriot Act are real enough. Just wait. You'll see the film being used as a weapon in debates by both sides in Congress - that is, if and when it shows in the US. For now, those are the copycat crimes that should concern us.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:34 AM | Comments (1)

9/11. 5.

NYT 9/11 David Cronenberg on curating Andy Warhol / Supernova: Stars, Deaths and Disasters, 1962 - 1964 at the Art Gallery of Ontario:

It's fitting that this show will be running on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. I think Andy would have thought the attacks an obvious thing to do. The assault on symbols, the way they combined death and disaster - what could have been more Warholian? In his era, it would have been the Empire State Building. He would have understood the symbolism; he would have seen that much more than buildings were being attacked. The images of people jumping out of the buildings - he had already done paintings like that. It was a bizarre prophecy. He was very prophetic and accurate in his understanding of America, of commercialism, of capitalism, of its flaws and strengths.

As for United 93 and World Trade Center, "the political message of the two films resides in their abstention from delivering a direct political message." In a consideration of how the world's changed in the last five years, Slavoj Zizek, also in the Guardian, begins where he so often begins - at the movies.

Updated.

"When it comes to frivolity, escapism and a lack of moral gravity, we haven't lost a step, have we?" asks Patrick Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times.

Also in the LAT, Tom Rutten: "Surveying the smoking ruin that is ABC's reputation after the The Path to 9/11 debacle, it's hard to know whether you're looking at the consequence of unadulterated folly or of a calculated strategy that turned out to be too clever by half." That, as well as Tom Shales's skewering of the docudrama in the Washington Post, via Joe Leydon.

"The papers face the daunting task of marking September 11 by saying something that hasn't already been said over the past week, to say nothing of the past five years," begins Joshua Kucera in Slate, though he does find at least two significant pieces: Deborah Sontag epic story of what has not come to pass at Ground Zero in the New York Times and Ahmed Rashid's "Losing the War on Terror" in the Washington Post.

Updates: "In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the news was peppered with comments about, thoughts about and references to films," writes Tom Engelhardt in a cover story for the Nation, "9/11 in a Movie-Made America": "In our guts, we had always known it was coming."

Online viewing tip. 7 Days in September, via Anthony Kaufman at the Daily Reel.

Eugene Hernandez remembers that morning and points to indieWIRE dispatches from 9/12, 9/14 and columns by Ray Pride and Anthony Kaufman.

Nick Rombes.

Edward Copeland: "United 93 revisits a horrifying day and presents it with respect and serves as a celluloid monument to that plane's heroic passengers and crew."

The House Next Door.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:59 AM

September 10, 2006

Sketch for a sketch.

Beauvoir et Sartre Susan Sontag, a diary entry from 1965. But doesn't it sound a bit like Woody Allen, around the same period?

Sept. 17 (on plane to NY)

Sartre: "When people's opinions are so different, how can they even go to a film together?"

Beauvoir: "To smile at opponents and friends alike is to abase one's commitments to the status of mere opinions, and all intellectuals, whether of the Right or Left, to their common bourgeois condition."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:53 PM

Fall previews. September.

a leaf With the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times running their big fall preview packages this weekend, I thought it might be a good idea to reshuffle them a bit and rearrange the offerings in order of the release of some the more interesting films coming up this season, adding links to earlier previews, festival reviews, etc.

Frankly, this thing got a little out of hand and, though the list is far from complete, I had to split the soon-unmanageable entry into four, one for each month.

September 13

Al Franken: God Spoke

September 15

September 20

Old Joy

September 22

September 27

September 29

Be With Me

September 30

Click on to October, November or December.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:15 PM

Fall previews. October.

Posting backwards...

October 4

Wrestling With Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner

October 6

October 11

October 13

Copying Beethoven

October 20

Flags of Our Fathers

October 27

Absolute Wilson

Click back to September or on to November or December.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:09 PM

Fall previews. November.

...makes the entries at least appear to be...

November 3

Borat

November 8

November 10

God Grew Tired of Us

November 15

  • Wild Tigers I Have Known. "In its ultimately unsuccessful quest to elicit emotional sincerity from mannered stylization, the film comes across as the work of a director who - similar to his budding, bewildered protagonist - is still engaged in a process of self-discovery and definition." Nick Schager (Slant). Trailer at the site.

November 17

The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes

November 22

Click back to September or October or on to December.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:03 PM

Fall previews. December.

...in chronological order.

Update, 9/11: The Reeler reviews the fall previews in the New York media. Fun stuff.

December 1

The Nativity Story

December 8

December 15

Maugham: The Painted Veil

December 20

December 21

December 22

Family Law

December 25

December 27

  • Perfume. More than a review, Urs Jenny's lengthy piece for Der Spiegel (translated by Christopher Sultan) tells the story of its making, or rather, the long delay in its making, which itself was the subject of another film in 1997, Rossini, with a screenplay co-written by Patrick Süsskind himself: "[T]he protagonist is an eccentric, notoriously publicity-shy author of a global bestseller who is even unimpressed by the prospect of a seven-figure Hollywood movie deal. The character's name is Jakob Windisch, and a producer named Reiter, a dead ringer for [producer Bernd] Eichinger when it comes to ambition, is determined, come hell or high water, to convince the reluctant author to sign a film contract." Jess Smee sums up critical reaction so far in Germany (Guardian). Trailer.

December 29

Pan's Labyrinth

But wait, there's more. Dave Kehr's got the full calendar of theatrical releases while Stephanie Zacharek and Charles Taylor whet our appetites for the most notable DVD releases all the way to Christmas.

Also in the NYT, Alan Riding has a piece on Indigènes (Days of Glory), opening in France on September 27 and headed to the US, though I can't seem to find out when. Cannes reviews.

The LAT, too, of course, has an annotated calendar. Also, Susan King sees naked people and John Horn notes that a few films this season were shot on locations that have little to do with their settings.

Jim Emerson has collected Roger Ebert's first takes on several fall films.

The Guardian's got an across-the-board arts preview for those in the UK.

Earlier: Richard Corliss and Richard Schickel (Time), Jack Matthews and Elizabeth Weitzman (New York Daily News), Steven Rosen (indieWIRE).

Click back to September, October or November.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:56 PM

Toronto Dispatch. 3.

From Canada to Africa to Louisiana: David D'Arcy on Monkey Warfare, The Last King of Scotland, Catch a Fire and All the King's Men.

Monkey Warfare The Toronto International Film Festival has the broadest range of Canadian films that any non-Canadian is likely to have access to at any time of year. Few visitors take advantage of that opportunity - it's their loss. Monkey Warfare by Reg Harkema returns us to a theme that's at the center of the doc The US vs John Lennon: the price paid for radical political action. Here we're not dealing with a witty songwriting legend and martyr who was on the humane side of the battle over war and peace. In this Canadian drama, two former radicals (Don McKellar, Tracy Wright) have sentenced themselves to a life on the extreme margins of society for a firebombing back in the glory days. Now they're scavenging furniture, toys and anything that they can sell from the garbage cans of Toronto, addicted to the pot-smoking that numbs them every night, always looking back to see if the cops are following them.

Aging, anonymous and just a few dollars above homelessness, they're still smug about their politics until Susan, a pert dope dealer, replaces their old one whom the police have nabbed, and a new generation with its own self-destructive rejection of the mainstream enters the picture to scorn the tired couple's counterculture as "hippie shit."

The generation gap on the margins, often hilarious as the skanky characters scrape by on weed and trash gleanings, gets a lift from a production design that piles on details of desperate slackerdom. McKellar's Fu Manchu moustache makes him look like Bucky Phillips, the fugitive cop-killer in western New York State whom cops arrested a few days ago. Tracy Wright plays her role with a haggardness of someone who's been on the lam so long she can't remember much about the politics that got her there.

Pain is always a helpful ingredient for humor, and there's plenty of it here in hellish no-budget Bohemia, with zinger lines in Harkema's script to bring you along. No nostalgia, no sentimentality.

The Last King of Scotland / General Idi Amin Dada Toronto has always been a forum for the grand historical docudrama, usually tending toward the politically correct. Two this year deal with Africa. The Last King of Scotland, directed by Kevin Macdonald, adapts the novel of the same name about a young Scottish doctor who journeys to Uganda to avoid the life of his father and becomes an adviser to the dictator Idi Amin Dada after a chance encounter with the mercurial and brutal tyrant. Forest Whitaker plays Amin as a vain pompous ruler with an ego to match his huge frame. James McAvoy is the young doctor who falls into the depraved and decadent life at Amin's grotesque court and takes stock of what he's done only when it's too late.

Dramas like The Last King of Scotland (a terrible title that tells you nothing about the subject of the film) face the same risks that documentaries do. They are often overtaken by events, forgotten as history moves on inevitably to newer and greater tragedies. Amin, who ruled Uganda from 1971 to 1979 after shooting his way into power with British acquiescence, if not support, was a bit like the Osama bin Laden of his day: the murderous dictator who embodied everything in a villain that everyone could hate. In Amin's case, it wasn't militant ascetic Islam, but lavish proto-Babylonian excess, cannibalism, and pompous moralistic rhetoric. In his day, he was certainly hyped by the US as a monster, but also viewed as a curiosity in the doc General Idi Amin Dada by Barbet Schroeder. There were early Saturday Night Live skits about him. Whitaker's Amin, a character who defies any notion of overplaying, is sometimes terrifying, but still smaller, just a threat to his own population. These days, the AIDS epidemic is killing Ugandans more systematically than Amin ever did. Across the border in either Congo or Sudan, innocent people are being slaughtered even faster.

Catch a Fire South Africa under apartheid is the horror that frames Catch a Fire, Phillip Noyce's look at a black man led by unbearable circumstances to become a militant for the African National Congress. Thanks to nuanced acting and a true story that resists formulizing, it's surprisingly un-didactic, as it traces an ordinary man's treatment at the hands of the police - from harassment, to persecution, to torture. The film also succeeds at what hasn't been shown before, the sophisticated workings of the South African secret police at the time, complete with Black informers who were essential to the perpetuation of white rule. Derek Luke plays Patrick Chamusso, who transforms from a middle class refinery foreman to a terrorist in response to the brutality he endures. Tim Robbins plays the steely Afrikaner agent who makes his life miserable. The film is more of a thriller than a hagiography. Chamusso's life, with two families, was too complicated for that. Despite a celebratory ending, Noyce avoids the kind of triumphalism that seems to come with these kinds of projects. Let's hope Catch a Fire finds more of an audience than there was for Stander, the underappreciated 2003 thriller (and another true story) about a South African policeman who turns against the regime and robs banks.

All the King's Men All the King's Men was supposed to be in theaters a year ago. It makes its world premiere in Toronto, with Sean Penn as Governor Willie Stark, the Louisiana politician modeled after Huey Long who turns from populist to demagogue - never too long a journey in the best of times. It's the second adaptation of the 1946 novel by Robert Penn Warren, an American classic if there ever was one. When you answer why Columbia held the film back for a year, you can then explain why it was made in the first place.

This monotonous and ponderous film violates what should be an important rule - never undertake the adaptation of a major literary work if you're only being driven there by your own ambition, and definitely don't do it because you think your star in this "serious" project will appeal to Academy voters. You'll be judged against another author's creation that's far greater than what you're likely to produce. In this case, Penn talks corn-pone class consciousness, but never captures the warmth that charms the voters into electing you. This is why potentates like Huey Long and buzzards like Strom Thurmond stayed in office for so long. They didn't just emerge from smoke-filled rooms like Minerva from the head of Zeus. The larger problem with the film is the directing. Steve Zaillian makes pre-Katrina Louisiana look as grey as New England, and he makes the shameless circus of Cajun politics as dull as dust. An ensemble cast with Anthony Hopkins, Jude Law, Kate Winslet and Patricia Clarkson doesn't save the movie from the swamp of its own making. Classics like the novel All the King's Men are on the shelf for a reason. They've stood the test of time. We go back to them again and again, for entertainment and for insight about ourselves. This screen version, which was in the drawer for a year, will be headed right back there. For a better bet on Lousiana, see Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:09 AM

Venice. Awards.

Venice The wires are calling it a surprise, but the clips on the BBC last night from Jia Zhangke's Sanxia Hoaren (Still Life) and from Catherine Deneuve's announcement were indeed winning. Here's the announcement from the festival, garnished with a few notes and links.

Official Awards of the 63rd Venice Film Festival

VENEZIA 63

The Venezia 63 Jury of the 63. Mostra Internazionale d'Arte Cinematografica, chaired by Catherine Deneuve and comprised of José Juan Bigas Luna, Paulo Branco, Cameron Crowe, Chulpan Khamatova, Park Chan-wook and Michele Placido, having viewed all twenty-two films in competition, has decided as follows:

GOLDEN LION for Best Film:
Sanxia Haoren (Still Life) by Jia Zhang-Ke

Jia Zhangke As Grady Hendrix was as surprised as anyone to find out on Tuesday, this was the "secret, last-minute addition" to the Competition people had been buzzing about. He might have preferred Shelly Kraicer on this one again, but nonetheless, Screen Daily's sent Dan Fainaru: "With even less of a narrative than his previous work like The World, and more than a little too faithful to its English title, this sedentary look at a key social-economic moment in modern China plays like a documentary interspersed with fictional ingredients. As such it feels very much like a companion piece to Jia's other Lido entry this year, the documentary Dong, which screened in the Horizons section." As it happens, Dong will be screening in Toronto.

"[A]lmost zero plot but molto mood," writes Variety's Derek Elley.

Earlier: Valerie Jaffee and Kevin Lee at Senses of Cinema and Jonathan Rosenbaum on Jia Zhangke.

SILVER LION for Best Director:
Alain Resnais for the film Private Fears in Public Places.

Reviews. Toronto.

SILVER LION REVELATION:
Emanuele Crialese for the film Nuovomondo - Golden Door

Nuovomundo

"Emanuele Crialese prefers legend to realism 'because it leaves more room for the imagination,'" notes Camillo de Marco at Cineuropa. "Yet the images of the humiliating intelligence tests to which US immigration officials subject Italians, Greeks, the French and Spanish in his new film The Golden Door... have a painful historical concreteness."

"An imaginative, intelligent and attractive Italo pic precisely when the country needs it most, Emanuele Crialese's Golden Door reps a solid piece of cinema that neither panders nor preaches," adds Variety's Jay Weissberg.

SPECIAL JURY PRIZE: Daratt by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun

Reviews. Toronto.

COPPA VOLPI
for Best Male Actor:
Ben Affleck in the film Hollywoodland by Allen Coulter

Reviews.

COPPA VOLPI
for Best Female Actor:
Helen Mirren in the film The Queen by Stephen Frears

Reviews. Earlier: Graham Fuller in Film Comment.

MARCELLO MASTROIANNI AWARD
for Best Young Actor:
Isild Le Besco
in the film L'intouchable by Benoît Jacquot

L'intouchable

"Resembling a vehicle for upcoming young French star Isild Le Besco, The Untouchable, the latest feature from veteran writer/director Benoît Jacquot, follows an actress who leaves Paris for India to locate her lower caste biological father," writes Dan Fainaru for Screen Daily. The film "aspires to tackle a wide range of issues - including the generation gap, artistic integrity, racism and discrimination - but fails to go beyond simple acknowledgment."

Variety's Deborah Young calls the film a "strong candidate for empty French art film of the year."

OSELLA
for Best Technical Contribution:
Emmanuel Lubezki
Director of Photography for the film Children of Men by Alfonso Cuarón

Reviews.

OSELLA
for Best Screenplay:
Peter Morgan
for the film The Queen by Stephen Frears

SPECIAL LION:
Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet for innovation in the language of cinema

Acquarello and Ed Halter on Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet.

Online viewing tip. Video Data Bank.

HORIZONS

The Horizons Jury of the 63. Mostra Internazionale d'Arte Cinematografica, comprised of Philip Gröning (President), Carlo Carlei, Yousri Nasrallah, Giuseppe Genna and Kusakabe Keiko, has decided to award:

HORIZONS PRIZE to:
Mabei shang de fating by Liu Jie
The Horizons Prize is supported by Groupama with a cash prize of 10,000 Euro.

HORIZONS DOC PRIZE to:
When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts by Spike Lee

Reviews, interviews, comments.

Premio Venezia Opera Prima "Luigi De Laurentiis"
The Opera Prima Jury of the 63. Mostra Internazionale d'Arte Cinematografica, comprised of Paula Wagner (President), Guillermo Del Toro, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Andrei Plakhov, Stefania Rocca, has decided to award the:

LION OF THE FUTURE - Premio Venezia Opera Prima "Luigi De Laurentiis" to
Khadak by Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth
Aurelio De Laurentiis and Filmauro award a cash prize, of 100,000 USD, to the winning first film (50,000 to the director, 50,000 to the producer). To the director, an additional film voucher for 40,000 Euro will also be awarded, offered by Kodak.

Khadak

Bénédicte Prot at Cineuropa: "Khadak takes us through the looking-glass, for the ethereal universe in which the shaman seems to be the only escape from this unnatural, modern world where everything and everyone has to be 'redressed.'" More from Variety's Felperin, who notes that the filmmakers' "deep regard for the Mongolian culture and folklore is manifestly evident. And yet pic has a more European than Central Asian flavor, particularly when it comes to the Philip Glass-y/Michael Nyman-ish score."

Toronto.

CORTO CORTISSIMO

The Corto Cortissimo Jury of the 63. Mostra Internazionale d'Arte Cinematografica, comprised of Teboho Mahlatsi (President), Francesca Calvelli, Aleksej Fedor?enko, has decided to award:

CORTO CORTISSIMO LION for Best Short Film to:
Comment on freine dans une descente? by Alix Delaporte

PRIX UIP for Best European Short Film to:
The Making of Parts by Daniel Elliott

SPECIAL MENTION to the film
Adults Only by Yeo Joon Han

Posted by dwhudson at 4:46 AM | Comments (3)

September 9, 2006

Toronto Dispatch. 2.

David D'Arcy reviews The US vs John Lennon and examines the questions it raises for our own dark days. Earlier: First impressions and reviews from Venice.

The US vs John Lennon

The filmmakers of The US vs John Lennon, David Leaf and John Sheinfeld, say that they tried to make this film for at least ten years, without much interest from producers. Now it's here in Toronto, with a commercial distributor and lots of hype.

True to its title, the film looks at the price Lennon paid for his activism - surveillance and wiretapping by the FBI and a prolonged legal fight with the US government, which tried to extradite him on the grounds that a marijuana bust for two joints in England made him ineligible to live in the United States. He won, and he's lucky that he was rich enough to persevere in a legal war of attrition that most would have lost. All the while, Lennon and Yoko Ono were campaigning for peace, in bed before news cameras and on television. Richard Nixon, stung again and again by Lennon's wit, thought he had something to fear from this entertainer, and he tried hard to eliminate the threat.

There's a heavy archival dose of Lennon's times along with his life here in this slick authorized doc that moves from Lennon the childhood rebel (abandoned by both parents) to Lennon the "genius," to Lennon the rebel again, to Lennon the martyr. The Yoko-approved production often has an airbrushed quality, with re-mixed Lennon songs from the time as a constant accompaniment - polished in spite of the gruesome footage of the Vietnam War and police brutality. We're reminded again and again by talking heads that Lennon was not just a martyr, but a pure one. You find yourself imagining that things were a bit more complicated. Where were the drugs, the anger, and the other Beatles who were anything but Yoko's fans? Don't let the hagiography keep you away from this one - this is not the definitive story, but there's still plenty of real history in it.

The drama took place in the 1960s and 1970s, when Lennon and his new love, Yoko Ono, decided to live permanently in the United States (where the US-educated Yoko had been working as an artist for years). It was also at a time when Nixon was not just making enemies, but listing them systematically, and sending government agents to watch them and audit their taxes. Entertainers who supported groups like the Black Panthers or the Yippies (or who opposed the Vietnam War publicly) were a gnawing annoyance, as we hear in a telling video clip from Nixon acknowledging that show business figures who take political positions can have a huge influence. Nixon did deploy Sammy Davis, Jr at the 1972 Republican Convention. (Lennon's good-natured mocking was yet another reason for the resentful man to be jealous of someone.)

Bear in mind that the Republicans would throw it all back on their enemies eventually, putting the actor Ronald Reagan in the White House in 1980. But as the old saying goes, Ronald Reagan was no John Lennon, although the two did share a public congeniality, even a way with the right zinger line at the right moment. Lennon was around thirty when all this was happening - when Reagan was that age he was fighting World War II on the Celluloid Front, safe in Hollywood from everything except the gossip columnists.

The US vs John Lennon At the time, John Lennon was just what the Left thought it needed, a celebrity who gave a cause instant visibility, although here he was something of the gentle renegade, appealing for peace from his hotel bed with Yoko in Amsterdam or Montreal, doing an entire week on the Mike Douglas Show. We hear from witnesses to the whole thing like Yoko Ono and the former Black Panther Bobby Seale, who appeared on Mike Douglas with Lennon, and from former FBI agents who discuss the reasons for wanting Lennon neutralized. Lennon's humor cut through everything. All the more reason for Nixon to have felt threatened.

G Gordon Liddy, the Nixon henchman, is the film's right-wing heavy, playing into the predictable Nixon demonology as he recalls with bald-headed intensity how masses of young demonstrators struck fear into well-meaning cops with guns and clubs - what else could they do but shoot? We also hear extensively from Geraldo Rivera (now a Lennon expert?) and from Mario Cuomo, who gives his opinions on Lennon's significance. I guess you can never have too many celebrities in a movie, no matter what they say.

It takes the film a while to get to the direct confrontation between Lennon and the government - there's more than half an hour of "Lennon for Dummies" on the way there - but more illuminating is the venom from Strom Thurmond at the time, who denounced Lennon in writing and demanded his extradition. Piles of government documents hammer away at the same goal.

Those of us who felt the tragic loss of John Lennon will feel it again watching the documentary. (I'm assuming that the young audience born after Lennon's death in 1981 will be learning much of this for the first time. Better late than never, and better the official biography than nothing at all.) Lennon was candid when talking about his fear of being followed and watched, but he seemed fearless when he called for an end to the Vietnam War or when he defended his peaceful, satirical mode of calling for peace on TV or on billboards that he paid for all over the US. There were plenty of critics and skeptics at the time who wanted to skewer a star. Yet the man who was soft also sued to Justice Department - and won - when documents showing harassment and improper interference into his immigration case were made public. All during this legal fight, he would perform at benefit concerts and then gab for hours for the benefit of the TV heartland with Dick Cavett or Mike Douglas. Where are the entertainers like Lennon now? Where are the talk show hosts?

The doc makes you wonder about artists' politics and about artists in politics, and whether activist artists can accomplish much. Lennon could mobilize the daily press and the TV shows, and he could galvanize vast crowds at demonstrations who chanted "Give Peace a Chance," yet Richard Nixon, the man who persecuted him, was returned to the White House in a landslide in 1972. Had the showman achieved anything?

A similar question is posed by the New York Times reporter Gloria Emerson, an opponent of the Vietnam War, when she asked Lennon, with mocking incredulous condescension, whether the mass chanting and the happenings with Yoko in bed before the cameras were just silly and ineffectual. Lennon stands his ground, maintaining that an entire generation was talking about peace. Instead of peace, as we all know, we got an American withdrawal from a bloody war, and we got Watergate. Those turns of events troubled Lennon, yet his position wasn't based simply on results, but on the conviction that he was doing the right thing. Try to find public figures doing that today.

The US vs John Lennon Throughout the doc, Lennon says again and again that he is an artist, not a politician - you'll see that the politicians on both sides of the battle didn't buy that argument at the time. The film gives context to those who think they're in the trenches of a culture war, that these battles began long before the National Endowment for the Arts stared giving grants to controversial performance artists. Lennon first came under attack in the mid-1960s, when he smirked for eternity that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ.

To be fair, it was a wild provocation from a man who knew how to play to an audience, although if you had asked teenagers at the time, they would probably have given you the same answer, and they wouldn't have needed Lennon to tell them. It was just the fuel that Lennon's enemies needed to rally innocent kids to burn their Beatles records - there are scenes of the Lennon-bashing and the bonfires, stoked by Ku Klux Klan men in hoods and robes. If you couldn't burn a Beatle, at least you could burn the anti-Christ's work.

You get a sense, watching The US vs John Lennon that those were vastly different times - not just that the players were different, but that the audience was, too. It's clear that the preachers calling for the burning of Beatle records then were extremist reactionaries on the fringe, and everyone knew it. Aren't these the people with "faith-based initiatives" who visit the White House regularly now? Aren't the illegal surveillance and wiretapping that helped get Lennon's extradition case dropped the kinds of weapons in the "war on terror" that Bush and Cheney want to keep in our arsenal? After 9/11, hadn't most of the country rallied behind a strategy to rush troops to Iraq as Bush, already faced with weakness of any evidence for Iraqi aggression, urged us to "give war a chance"? John Lennon wouldn't have fallen for it.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:02 AM

Film Comment. Sept/Oct 06.

Film Comment Sept/Oct 06 Magazines face a wide range of choices when it comes to deciding what to do with a website. See, for example, the very different approaches taken by Wired, the New Republic or the Atlantic Monthly. One of the least popular choices to make is to simply dangle tidbits in the hopes that readers will snap the bait and buy the print version, but in the case of the new issue of Film Comment, it's awfully damn effective.

FC is running the Preface and Introduction to "one of the longest published in Film Comment history" at its site, Paul Schrader's "The Film Canon." So, look, it's the weekend. We'll wade back into the buzz emanating from ongoing festivals and fall previews in a bit, but for now, stop, take a few moments, read, take a few moments more, think, and then, yes, when you get the chance, go out and find and buy this issue.

Ray Kurzweil: The Singularity is Near In brief, Schrader explains how the idea for a book constructing a possible film canon, based on the model of Harold Bloom's The Western Canon, came about and then dried up and blew away. In the course of his research, reading books, taking courses, contemplating life, the universe and everything, his horizons, like those of fellow film critic Mike D'Angelo, were blown wide open by the idea of the technological singularity, and he now sees several narratives coming to a close: cinema, art, humankind itself. His heart was no longer in the book, so he's evidently handed the project as he abandoned it to FC and hopes someone else will come along and complete it. A must-read.

Also online from this issue:

Insiang

And the online exclusives:

PiFan 10

Posted by dwhudson at 5:07 AM

September 8, 2006

TIFF, 9/8.

After the Wedding Dave Kehr is in Toronto. And blogging. Nothing against the trades - after all, we can be glad there's still a branch of movie journalism that gets reviewers to festivals outside of Cannes and Sundance - but spend a while deciphering Variety-speak and slogging through the prospects of any given film in ancillary markets, and Dave Kehr's diamond-sharp takes, along with the wide range of just plain human voices you'll see sampled below, come as exquisite relief.

So he's got two entries from Toronto so far, the first an approving note on After the Wedding: "They make an odd but effective couple: [Anders Thomas] Jensen is a specialist in concocting outrageous conicidences and shamelessly sentimental situations; [Susanne] Bier is a bone-dry realist, who favors a shaky-cam documentary approach and scrupulously tamps down her performances." More on that one from Todd at Twitch.

The second: "Manoel de Oliveira's supposed 'sequel' to Luis Buñuel's Belle de jour turns out to be another of the great Portuguese director's memory films, perhaps the most beautiful since his undervalued Porto of My Childhood of 2001." More from Venice and Vitor Pinto at Cineuropa, who notes that Oliveira, too, insists that Belle toujours is not a sequel, but an homage.

The Host "Day one. The madness has begun," announces the San Francisco Bay Guardian's Cheryl Eddy. "As far as I was concerned, the main event of the day was Korean director Bang Joon-ho's The Host, which anyone who's talked movies with me lately knows I can't shut up about, even before I saw the thing. Well, it's about to get a lot worse, folks - I was so not disappointed."

Jim Emerson caught it, too: "Director Bong Joon-ho shifts tones with quicksilver dexterity, cannily keeping the audience (and the film) just on the edge of losing its balance and splashing into the Han. Humor turns to horror and back again in a flash, while generic requirements are both fulfilled and cleverly overturned. Even the pathos works, because it's a little bit cock-eyed." Also, 2:37.

Opus at Twitch: "Hirokazu Kore-eda's latest film, HANA, may have all of the usual trappings that one associates with the samurai genre, and yet it thoroughly, and enjoyably, subverts them time and again." More from Michael Guillén, who also offers his take on Ten Canoes, "visually stunning as it shifts between real time and dream time through strategic shifts between color cinematography and black and white cinematography."

Also at Twitch, Todd: "Make no mistake about it, Syndromes and a Century is purely an arthouse film with no concessions made to mainstream sensibilities but it is also a film that demonstrates once again that Apichatpong Weerasethakul is one of the world's most distinctive and talented voices, gifted with a light and playful touch, an incredible eye, and a true gift for observation." And, "Jens Lien's The Bothersome Man is a clever, darkly humorous, deeply absurd critique of Scandanavian social engineering. Sure, we've made our society nice Lien wants to argue, but we've also made it terminally bland."

Ghosts of Cité Soleil Asger Leth, whose Ghosts of Cité Soleil was widely lauded when it screened at Telluride, has an entry at the Doc Blog on the work he's put into it.

David Poland's got no-holds-barred first impressions of 2:37 and London to Brighton.

Jeffrey Wells: "The Lives of Others is a political thriller with compassion - a movie about spying and paranoia and the worst aspects of Socialist bloc rigidity and bureacratic thug- gery, and yet one that delivers a metaphor that says even the worst of us can move towards openness and a lessening of hate and suspicion." Also: Stranger Than Fiction is dead."

For Cinematical, Scott Weinberg talks with JT Petty, director of the "nearly indefinable horror documentary," S&MAN. James Rocchi reviews the film.

Also, the broken projector at the late night screening of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is practically legend already. Kim Voynar tells the full tale.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:38 PM | Comments (2)

Tiger Eye Firecracker Showcase.

Firecracker Showcase They've got the lineup, they've got the trailer, they've got the sponsors. Firecracker Magazine presents the Tiger Eye Firecracker Showcase, "London's Asian Film Festival," from September 14 through 24.

What's up at the site now isn't so much a new issue of the magazine as a brochure for the festival, but it's an interesting browse, with pages on...

Posted by dwhudson at 1:30 PM

Venice. Fongchuk.

Exiled "Strongly recalling some of his late 90s work, like The Mission and A Hero Never Dies, Johnnie To's Exiled plays like a lazy-day, Mexican-set Western that happens to take place in Macau," writes Variety's Derek Elley. The film "makes no apologies about aping spaghetti Western conventions - from positioning protags dramatically within the widescreen frame (as in The Mission), through operatic, Latino-flavored music, to twilight heroes givin' it one final, do-or-die shot for an honorable cause."

Screen Daily's Dan Fainaru finds To "[l]ess concerned than ever to tell an actual story, and more interested in exploring the possibilities of cinematic language... The result is an orgy of unchained violence in which a small group of professional hitmen join forces against the rest of the world, with the police looking the other way."

Grady Hendrix comments: "ScreenDaily sometimes seems to encourage a more philosophical and less aesthetic contemplation of Hong Kong movies, but I wish they'd gotten Shelly Kraicer to review this one. He brings a terrific grounding in Chinese film to his reviews, and there's something slightly off about this review. Maybe it's the focus on violence which seems misplaced (sort of like pointing out all the music in a Bollywood movie)..."

Screens in Toronto next week.

Updates: Grady Hendrix has the trailer.

Todd, at Twitch, from Toronto: "Suffice it to say that To is on a hot streak right now. A very, very hot streak."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:10 AM | Comments (2)

Venice. The Magic Flute.

The Magic Flute Kenneth Branagh "takes Mozart's The Magic Flute off the stage (where it remained in Ingmar Bergman's 1975 film) and on to the killing fields of the first world war," writes Lee Marshall for the Guardian. "But at the same time, he makes war itself a play, turning the kookily esoteric opera into a metaphor of the struggle between dark and light in a Europe undergoing a loss of innocence.... Stephen Fry's liberally translated English-language libretto sometimes comes on all Gilbert and Sullivan ('I can end the pain I'm feeling/ Just by swinging from the ceiling')... But the sheer visual verve of Branagh's peppy direction turns this into that rarest of beasts: opera you can eat popcorn to."

But "adopting a hard-edged approach that worked for Hamlet but squeezes most of the lightness and fun out of Mozart's featherlight masterwork, Branagh has wrought a Flute for high-end aficionados only," counters Variety's Derek Elley.

"She was cast straight out of university without a professional performance to her name. But last night Amy Carson, 23, was the belle of the ball at the Venice Film Festival," enthuses Louise Jury in the Independent.

Marshall considers the film's prospects in Screen Daily. In short, it'll make a great DVD.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:21 AM | Comments (1)

Interview. Rick Stevenson.

Expiration Date "I love Seattle. I think the future of indie filmmaking is everywhere else from New York and LA, unless you're from New York and LA, because what makes good films and original films is the voice that you develop by being from somewhere."

The black comedy Expiration Date has been winning over audiences at festivals across the country. Director Rick Stevenson (blog) tells Sean Axmaker about his highly unusual distribution model - example: the film opens in LA at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery on September 14 - and why he believes regional filmmaking will play a major role in the future of indies.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:52 AM | Comments (5)

September 7, 2006

Shorts, 9/7.

Austin Chronicle Two alt-weeklies, two new issues, two anniversaries observed. Austin Chronicle editor Louis Black looks back on 25 years, and the truly indie weekly, a rapidly dying breed, celebrates with a photo album. Also: Joe O'Connell rounds up news from the local film scene and Kimberley Jones reviews Kicking and Screaming.

Independent Weekly The Independent Weekly marks a far grimmer date. Though we know him as a film critic, Godfrey Cheshire writes the cover story, "Five years later: We're defeating ourselves." A must-read. Related: David Fellerath on American Shadows an online multimedia piece by Rodrigo Dorfman in which his father, Ariel Dorfman, reflects on two September 11s: 1973 and 2001.

Jim Ridley in the Nashville Scene on Broken Bridges: "As cornball and CMT-contrived as the movie is, it may be the only mainstream American movie since the Iraq War started (unless you count Joe Dante's horror comic Homecoming) to depict the conflict purely in terms of coffins, folded flags and grieving families."

"Pan's Labyrinth is a fancy retooling of The Devil's Backbone," writes Ed Gonzalez: "the political context is the same, except a girl replaces a boy, a forest subs for a vast desert plain, fantasy usurps horror, and escape is a more prominent obsession than revenge." Also in Slant, Nick Schager: "The Protector isn't a sequel to Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior but it is a thinly disguised retread, allowing Thai martial artist Tony Jaa to ass-kick his way through yet another slight story."

Today's fall previews: Steven Rosen for indieWIRE; and at Cinematical, Matt Bradshaw and Ryan Stewart picks three films each that they're looking forward to this season.

Adrian Tomine has been let down by Wong Kar-wai, albeit indirectly. "It was a weird, exhausting experience." Blank Screen has details.

Sherrybaby "Alongside Ryan Gosling's equally strong performance as a coked-out junior-high teacher in Half Nelson (another Oscar possible), [Maggie] Gyllenhaal's turn in Sherrybaby makes this look like the season of the Downwardly Mobile White Folks," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "These are very different films, with different strengths. Don't miss either one."

Also: "Rolling Family has been a favorite around the world at film festivals, but it's just too eccentric and hard to classify, I guess, for anyone to gamble on theatrical distribution. It'll be on DVD shortly; invite your mom, your best friends and the neighbors you want to impress. This family's secrets deserve to become yours." And Le Petit Lieutenant is "an impressive film, but don't expect any warm fuzzies." Plus quick takes on Paper Dolls and Saint of 9/11 and a recommendation to New Yorkers: Catch the Kenji Mizoguchi series at Film Forum.

"[A]t a time when everyone is saying (and has been saying) that there are too many movies being made, fewer people going to see them and ever-more-ridiculous costs involved in producing them, [Disney's Dick] Cook is the one guy who actually seems to be doing something about it," writes Scott Foundas. "And his reasoning is sound: If you make only 10 pictures a year, and every one of them is either a Pirates- or Narnia-size behemoth, or a profitable sleeper like Eight Below and the teen dance drama Step Up, who's really going to miss all those Ice Princesses and Hidalgos and Stay Alives and Stick Its that you're not making instead?"

Also in the LA Weekly, Ella Taylor profiles Anthony Mackie, Paul Malcolm reviews Murnau's Phantom and Foundas appreciates Mutual Appreciation and talks with Andrew Bujalski.

Which leads us to Armond White's opener this week: "Two movies couldn't be more alike than Preston A Whitmore II's Crossover and Andrew Bujalski's Mutual Appreciation.... Guess which one received virtually unanimous cultural cachet.... Let's hope the two directors' different racial identities are not the issue and realize this media acclaim merely - confoundingly - signifies class approval." Next page: "No one involved with This Film Is Not Yet Rated thinks intelligently."

Elsewhere in the New York Press, Eric Kohn finds in Red Doors "the sort of balanced sentimentalism the world wanted so badly from Little Miss Sunshine" (related: indieWIRE's interview with Doors director Georgia Lee) and Jennifer Merin talks with Sherrybaby director Laurie Collyer and takes a quick look at Looking for Kitty.

"If you want to put a name to the 'demons' [Jon] Krampner constantly refers to, why not call a spade a spade and say that [Kim] Stanley's chief demon was named Lee Strasberg?" asks Dan Callahan in a very review of Female Brando at the House Next Door.

In Vue Weekly, Josef Braun offers a brief history of sex in the movies and Susan King offers a quick guide to Claude Chabrol in the Los Angeles Times.

Vince Keenan on The Big Combo: "Now this is the B-movie in all its wild, unfettered glory. Crazed energy, raw emotion, and plot twists that make you question what you just saw."

Nathaniel R comments on the results so far in his best high school movie poll; look at those candidates. You knew high school was a rich mining field, but this is a mighty tough choice.

With Perfume set to open in Germany next week, Jochen Kürten notes the "ambivalent" critical reaction so far for Deutsche Welle.

The Guardian reports that Oliver Stone may make a second film about 9/11.

True Confessions That Little Round-Headed Boy reopens John Gregory Dunne's True Confessions, "one of the best modern novels ever written about the Dahlia case. This is no knock on James Ellroy's book, which the De Palma film is based upon.... In fact, it's odd that nobody is talking about the Dunne book anymore, since Ellroy's later novel clearly owes it more than just a passing debt."

"Coming soon to your multiplex in the mall: bel canto fireworks and bass-baritone rumbles, love duets and orchestral colors, divas, tenors and trills," announces Daniel J Wakin in the New York Times. "The Metropolitan Opera announced yesterday that it would begin broadcasting live performances into movie theaters across the United States, Canada and Europe, rubbing shoulders with professional wrestling and rock concerts." Related: Charles T Downey's fall opera preview for ionarts, via Alex Ross.

The BBC is anticipating Kenneth Branagh's Magic Flute and the Los Angeles Opera's Ring Cycle.

While Playlist's Christopher Breen ponders the directions Apple might take its iTunes movie store, David Byrne ponders the near future of music downloads.

Online browsing tip. Toei Yakuza Movie Posters. Via Coudal Partners.

Online listening (and viewing) tip. Charles Solomon on Oskar Fishinger on NPR.

Online viewing tip #1. Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing: "ZeroTV has re-enacted a series of Mary Worth daily newspaper comics in black-and-white video, recreating the exact poses and adding an eerie whistling wind soundtrack that turns the whole affair into something like a Bergman film."

Online viewing tip #2. Like the 60s. But without hope. The uncensored trailer for Shortbus, via David Poland. NSFW, etc.

Online viewing tips. The Guardian's Kate Stables has seven of them.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:59 PM

Other fests and events, 9/7.

Peter Whitehead "It's a promising school year that begins with these." AS Hamrah previews a series of films by Peter Whitehead at the Harvard Film Archive. Tomorrow through September 14. Also in the Boston Phoenix, Peter Keough previews the Boston Film Festival: "The quantity is still low, but the quality of the programming has improved." Tomorrow through September 15.

Charles Wilson previews the André Téchiné films screening at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art tomorrow and Saturday night.

Updated.

Also in the LA Weekly: "Is there another contemporary American director who more sharply divides critics and audiences alike than Brian De Palma?" asks Scott Foundas. "Chances are, the 12-film De Palma retrospective that kicks off this week at LACMA (and which includes a preview screening of his latest, The Black Dahlia) will do little to convert the unconverted... But to dismiss De Palma as a mere stylist is akin to deeming Andy Warhol a mere silkscreener." September 12 through 30.

NYP: Warhol "September is Andy Warhol Month," announces Viola Salzedo-Gramm in this week's New York Press cover story. "By coincidence, cultural collusion or hand of God, (we cannot say), Andy is in the air, shining brightly like a silver floating pillow. The month began with a two-week engagement of Ric Burns's Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film, which is showing for free at the Film Forum until September 14th. On September 8th, Perry Rubenstein's 24th Street space opens with an exhibit Warhol's Skulls & Hammer and Sickles, a show originally scheduled to open in Italy in the late 1970s, but then cancelled due to political anxieties triggered by Red Brigades activities. Both POPism: The Warhol Sixties and The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again are in reprint, and at 9 pm on September 20th and 21st, the documentary will unfurl itself on PBS." Related: An excerpt from POPism.

In the Independent Weekly, David Fellerath looks ahead to festivals and series coming up this season in and around Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.

The Film-Makers' Cooperative is calling for contributions to For Life, Against the War, an evening to be kicked off with an excerpt from the original 1967 collective project. September 25, via Invisible Cinema.

Think Galactic will screen Shriek: An Afterword, a short film based on Jeff VanderMeer's novel, in Chicago on September 26. At the BLDGBLOG, Geoff Manaugh about "English cathedrals, 'fungal technologies' and architectural infections, the Sydney opera house, Vladimir Nabokov, 'The Library of Babel,' Monsanto, giant squids and geological deposits, nighttime walks through Prague, and even urban security after the attacks of 9/11." Via Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing.

Mark A Altman looks back on Telluride for Film Threat. And at Cinematical, Kim Voynar has pix.

The New York Korean Film Festival has come and gone, but the Not Coming to a Theater Near You feature, gathering seven reviews, is still a terrific read.

Update: "One of the greatest thrills for a cinephile (or at least this cinephile) is "discovering" the films of a heretofore unheard of master." Filmbrain on Lee Man-hee.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:25 PM

Toronto Dispatch. 1.

Previewing a music doc and a studio confection, David D'Arcy files the first of our dispatches from Toronto.

TIFF 06 There's a lot to look forward to at the Toronto International Film Festival as it opens - Death of a President, the curtain-raiser The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, and the whole new series packaged as Mozart's Visionary Cinema: New Crowned Hope.

Updated.

If there's a new quality among many in Toronto that might be differentiated from the rise and fall of the general pool of movies out there, it is what looks like TIFF's greater commitment to documentaries in the Real to Reel section. The most-awaited film in this section is The US vs John Lennon, a look back at the US government's public and clandestine campaign against Lennon and Yoko Ono, part of a broader maneuver against the Left in general that peaked in the late 1960s and early 1970s [more]. Does it sound familiar, as the Bush administration deploys the fear factor to defend warrant-less wiretapping and stigmatize critics as traitorous and lily-livered?

American Hardcore The doc that's caught my eye as the festival begins is American Hardcore, one of the few docs on the program that is not a premiere. (It played at Sundance 2006.) The subject of Paul Rachman's perceptive film is the rise and fall of hardcore punk, the pounding, relentless outsider music that was an un-commercial, anti-aesthetic and unapologetic reaction to mainstream punk (you can call it "parlor punk")... and mainstream everything else.

The groundswell began more than 25 years ago, when the Sex Pistols had already spewed their songs out on England, which helps explain why hardcore's veterans now look like relatively respectable men (yes, they're mostly men) as they recall spitting out lyrics and brawling on the stage. We hear of their contempt for Ronald Reagan at the time of his election in 1980, and of their despair when he was re-elected overwhelmingly in 1984. Reagan became a demonic icon for the hardcore guys, who seem to have competed to turn out the most grotesque effigies of the Great Communicator on no-budget signs for their shows that they photocopied and stuck on walls. (There's plenty of imagination in this guerrilla advertising - enough for a small book.) The names said it all - Black Flag, The Adolescents, Millions of Dead Cops, The Circle Jerks, Jerry's Kids, DOA.

In more than 90 minutes, I can't remember hearing a single song played in its entirety as the film moved from interviews to archival footage. Most of the musicians admit to not being particularly adept at playing their instruments, not that it mattered much. The songs have at most three chords, but plenty have two, or just one. (The Sex Pistols, who started the whole thing, were frank about barely being able to play.) Performance was crucial, since this was more theater than music, which may explain why so many of these performances were filmed.

American Hardcore The exception to the rule in this field - where every rule seems to have been broken - were the Bad Brains, a black punk band from Washington DC. They were virtuosos, and they were admired by the world of hardcore for their virtuosity. Group members, who describe these wild times with remarkable composure, given the frenzy of their performances, noted that fans felt betrayed when they converted to Rastafarianism over time and started playing reggae.

By the late 80s, other bands collapsed and disbanded, mostly from burnout and from the other weaknesses that come with age. The politics that helped fuel the anger that got hardcore going hadn't changed - Iran-Contra compromised any Reagan administration claim to integrity for all but true believers, and George Bush Sr. would soon invade Iraq.

Hardcore was a suburban sound, huge in Los Angeles, where almost everything is a suburb. (Remember that the majority of the US population lives in suburbs now.) Yet the epicenter of the brawling and the raging was Orange County. American Hardcore punctuates segments by cutting away to a map of the US, as it moves from one city's scene to another's. Funny how so much of the archival footage looks the same. And why not? These guys slept on each other's floors, shared garages, made their own records, which they stuffed in record sleeves that they designed and assembled. These rebels knew they would never "break through," and never wanted a part of what they wouldn't break through to - all of which makes the film refreshing, since they still seem to feel (and dress) that way. Of course, the doc is being distributed by Sony Classics, not exactly the garage band of film companies.

Hip Hop, which had far humbler beginnings, was a lot better at providing a ladder of economic opportunity to climb than Hardcore was, unless you count anomalies like Courtney Love. The veteran hardcore musicians don't mention it, but they must have felt some predictable chagrin at seeing suburban kids eat up gangsta rap, as the overnight-millionaire rappers taunted, "Be rich, be very rich."

A Good Year Being rich is a central theme of A Good Year, a gala premiere at Toronto, and in no way representative of anything on the program. Sir Ridley Scott's uncharacteristic romance is about the Alpha Male Scumbag who has everything, and then leaves all that he might someday earn in the London world of finance for the serenity of an estate he inherits, with all the wine he can drink and a luscious French restaurateuse. By the way, if you didn't see that ending coming, there's probably a job in the CIA for you. It's a bit like not seeing the TGV coming. The star in this studio voyage to Arcadia is Russell Crowe, who plays Max (ballsy name, of course), a stock trader in the mold of Gordon Gecko. I'm not sure it's intentional, but Norman Foster's Gherkin, the upright phallus of a building that dominates the skyline of the City, is silhouetted in the background of the half of the shots of Max and his suspendered minions savaging their way through questionable and profitable trading. The London palette here is all in metallic blue. Get it? No nature, please, just Darwinian man.

There's a parallel plot in A Good Year, as Max and his devilish Uncle Henry (Albert Finney) play games and sip wine on their huge estate in what seems to be the Luberon, north of Aix-en-Provence. It's a nice life, but not nice enough for Max to abandon the City when he hears that the uncle he hasn't seen in a decade has died and left him everything. He's more interested in cashing in on the real estate boom. But then there's the dark-eyed proprietress (Marion Cotillard) of a local restaurant (as ballsy as Max) and the arrival of an American girl with Uncle Henry's nose (Abbie Cornish), who shows up looking for the man who fathered her on his romp through a Napa vineyard some years back. As tensions flare over Max's Treo (a product placement?), and regulators ban him from the City for unethical trading, Max twists and turns before settling for the good life. The scumbag turns out to have a heart of gold. It's a Hollywood movie.

If this isn't a studio formula (mixing Wall Street, Under the Tuscan Sun and Chocolat), I don't know what is, but it is a little unlikely to get it from the director of Gladiator and Blackhawk Down. I have to wonder whether executives at 20th Century Fox debated whether it was worth courting disbelief by trying to humanize Russell Crowe, given what the guy can do to you with a telephone if provoked. But consider this - A Good Year is a studio confection calculated to make money by telling a moral tale about the hollowness of a life devoted to making money. Choose poverty for two hours, and you'll make us money.

There's more. Who wins Max over in the end? The French, our enemy, the evil French, who are branded as "weasels," if not worse, on a daily basis, in the New York Post, the tabloid that's part of the empire of Fox's parent company, News Corp, which is controlled by none other than Ruppert Murdoch.  It seems odd. This film's protagonist is a defector, a turncoat, a man who has fled a profession devoted to maximizing his earnings, and gone to the other side, to the French world of lavender and license. If Bush and Cheney were true to their principles, wouldn't they already be denouncing this movie as pernicious propaganda that seeks to corrupt and weaken real men? Or, at least, Murdoch and his employee Bill O'Reilly (leader of a boycott of France and all things French) would be sounding the alarm. Instead, Fox is selling it. Aux armes!


Update: Paul Rachman has note at the Doc Blog about who all will be showing up for the American Hardcore screening.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:26 PM

Docs and a docudrama.

The Ground Truth Patricia Foulkrod's The Ground Truth is "a genuinely upsetting call to action that remains apolitical in its message," writes Tim Greirson, who talks with Foulkrod for the LA Weekly. "Foulkrod uses Iraq as a leaping-off point for a larger conversation about the consequences of America's military mindset - how prospective soldiers naively romanticize the notion of combat heroism, and how the same civilians who buy patriotic decals to 'support' the troops refuse to help them once their service ends."

In Slant, Ed Gonzalez writes that the film "is barely a work of art, visually unseemly and struggling for a significant throughline, but as a polemic it has the urgency of stray sniper fire."

Updated.

Iraq For Sale "Democrats looking for another way to nationalize the midterm elections need look no further than their movie multiplexes and DVD players," writes Arianna Huffington at her Post. "Robert Greenwald's latest film, Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers (coming soon to a theater - and a living room - near you) is a devastating expose of how the Bush administration and the Republican-led Congress have allowed private corporations free reign in Iraq, leading to billions of dollars in profits at the expense of American troops, American taxpayers, and the people of Iraq."

And she's not even part of the Media Consortium running pieces on or related to the doc today. Do see these: Joshua Holland at Alternet, Tara McKelvey in the American Prospect, Pratap Chatterjee in ColorLines, Bill Scher for In These Times and Martha Burk for Ms.

...So Goes the Nation is "the story of macro-level political strategy," as observed specifically during the Bush vs Kerry face-off of 2004, and, as the film's makers, James D Stern and Adam Del Deo, write at Toronto's Doc Blog, "brings to mind a looming question: what new strategizing has each party done to win or retain seats?"

"A right-wing film timed to make the Democrats look weak on security in an election year? You don't say," sighs Ryan Wu. More from Dan Glaister in the Guardian and, via Craig Phillips, Media Matters.

"With great relief and keen anticipation, I can finally write about the machinations involved in getting 51 Birch Street to a theater near you," announces Doug Block, who's going Truly Indie. "If you're going to Toronto, you'll get the chance to hear all about it on a panel devoted to a case study of 51 Birch Street, called, appropriately enough, 'The Long Road to Distribution.'"

The Trials of Darryl Hunt screens in Austin this coming Wednesday. In the Austin Chronicle, Anne S Lewis introduces a statement from directors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg.

Update: For Harper's, Ken Silverstein talks with writer and filmmaker Robert Young Pelton "about the growing use of private contractors by the armed forces of the United States and other nations."

Posted by dwhudson at 10:07 AM

TIFF, 9/7.

TIFF 06 "Launched in 1976 as the 'festival of festivals,' the Toronto International Film Festival has grown into the greatest film event in North America, rivaled only by Cannes as a leading showcase, market, and discovery zone for international cinema." Eugene Hernandez issues his first dispatch, revving up indieWIRE's special coverage in earnest. The fest of fests opens tonight with Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn's The Journals of Knud Rasmussen and runs through September 16.

Also: "Every day through the end of the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival, indieWIRE will be publishing interviews with filmmakers in the Discovery section of the festival, which TIFF describes as 'provocative feature films by new and emerging directors.'" The first interviewee is Thicker Than Water director Árni Ólafur Ásgeirsson.

J Robert Parks previews his track through the festival.

Updated.

Girish does his considerable bit to rouse interest in Pedro Costa, whose Colossal Youth will be screening next week.

As Movie City News launches its special coverage, Leonard Klady examines a certain Toronto anxiety.

Cinematical's James Rocchi is looking forward to the next week-n-a-half as well.

In the New York Times, Sharon Waxman previews Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, screening at the fest at midnight tonight. "[I]n a world in which resurgent anti-Semitism has become - sometimes literally - an explosive topic, the movie may well hit a particular nerve, especially in Europe." Yes, she really wrote, "in a world."

Robbie Freeling at Reverse Shot: "I won't deny that Babel represents an improvement on Amores perros, but that doesn’t necessarily make it worth 142 minutes of your time."

"Meanwhile, in the parallel festival that buyers and sellers inhabit, distributors are eyeing the menu just as hungrily, looking for a few choice dishes." Gregg Goldstein in the Hollywood Reporter.

Update: Anne Thompson: "On the eve of the Toronto International Film Festival, here's the Q & A I did in Cannes with Alejandro González Iñárritu.

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

Rémy Belvaux, 1967 - 2006.

Rémy Belvaux
Belgian filmmaker Rémy Belvaux, whose sole feature Man Bites Dog became a cult hit, has died, his family said Wednesday. He was 38.

[...]

Despite the movie's impact, Belvaux never shot another feature, instead turning to directing commercials for which he won several industry awards. "He leaves us one masterpiece and tons of regrets," his family said in their statement.

Charles Masters for the Hollywood Reporter.

French Wikipedia entry and AlloCiné file.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:23 AM | Comments (3)

Venice. Inland Empire.

David Lynch Ok, so we knew David Lynch would be receiving a lifetime achievement Golden Lion award in Venice, and that he did, but what we've been dying to hear about is Inland Empire. So far, all critics seem able to agree on two things: the new film is enigmatic as hell and it's three hours long.

"David Lynch's latest opus is a Russian doll of a film with stories inside stories inside stories," writes Geoffrey Macnab in the Guardian. "Laura Dern (who also co-produced) stars as an actress who has just landed a part in a new film. What the producers have neglected to tell her is that the movie is a remake and that the two original leads were murdered. Now, history looks set to repeat itself." Sounds straightforward enough, but "we are never quite sure whether we are watching the film-within-the-film (being directed by Jeremy Irons) or the film about the film-within-the-film.... Two hours in, you begin to realise it is pointless trying to unravel the mysteries of the plot. The best way to enjoy the film is to succumb to its warped, dream-like logic."

Updated through 9/11.

Dalya Alberge has a fairly amusing piece in the London Times on the confusion that struck the film's first audiences: "Lynch clearly had no intention of enlightening them, even when one critic said: 'I have to ask you with a certain concern, how are you these days?' 'Thank you, I'm doing really well,' Lynch replied." The Times' James Christopher calls it "one of the most impenetrable films ever made."

"There was never a complete script, so thesps turned up each day with a new set of lines and no idea where they were going, making Dern's central turn even more remarkable for its coherence," remarks Jay Weissberg in Variety. Writing in Screen Daily, Lee Marshall agrees that she "commands the screen despite the fact that she doesn't seem to have a clue what's going on either."

Marshall adds another note of common concern among critics: "Perhaps one of the biggest let-downs, though, is the director's conversion to digital filmmaking, which he enthused about on the Lido. Though the format has undoubtedly allowed Lynch greater creative freedom, the result for much of the film is a poor TV-quality image that bleeds color, and lighting that even a Dogme director would blush at. There are exceptions - notably some striking black-and-white moving collages that take us back to Eraserhead and German Expressionist cinema."

In the German papers, die taz's Cristina Nord predicts the film's imagery will enter our dreams, but the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung's Michael Althen accuses Lynch of self-parody.

Updates: The Guardian: "Speaking ahead of the screening, Lynch attempted to reassure the audience. 'It's supposed to make perfect sense,' he said. 'Every film is like going into a new world, going into the unknown. But you should be not afraid of using your intuition, and feel and think your way through.'"

Online viewing tip. A teaser Lynch made for a collection of "short films" (music videos) promoting Michael Jackson's Dangerous. Via Matthew Ross at the Daily Reel.

Update, 9/8: "[A]n interminable bore," declares the Hollywood Reporter's Ray Bennett. "The annoying thing is that it starts quite well.... Angelo Badalamenti's music does all the heavy lifting. If it weren't for the extraordinary range and texture of his underscore, much of this film would sink without trace."

Update, 9/9: Brian Logan in the Guardian on a few bafflers of art history.

Updates, 9/11: "[T]he most miserable three hours I've ever spent in the cinema," writes the Observer's Jason Solomons.

Brendon Connelly posts a few images.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:16 AM | Comments (5)

September 6, 2006

Christine Vachon's Killer Life.

Christine Vachon: A Killer Life Via Sheigh at the Risky Biz Blog, an excerpt from Christine Vachon's A Killer Life: How an Independent Film Producer Survives Deals and Disasters in Hollywood and Beyond; a few snippets:

It's been almost ten years since I wrote my last book, Shooting to Kill, a nuts-and-bolts guide for first-time producers... As the head of Killer Films, an independent film production company based in New York, I've managed to endure longer than many colleagues and friends. This book is an attempt to explain why... Independent film has changed considerably in ten years. Killer Films has changed and will keep changing. But what is changing the most is the way people think about movies. For one, audiences are smarter, savvier... [A]s I get older, my autonomy means more and more to me. Outside is a good place for artists, and it's where I feel comfortable.... Audiences respond to that singularity of vision. Every now and then, people will recognize me on the street, and they'll say, "You made one of my favorite movies ever," and I never know which movie they're going to say: Safe, Happiness, One Hour Photo, Velvet Goldmine, Go Fish, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. I love that. A lot of the movies Killer makes aren't loved by everybody - not even mostly everybody. But each one can be somebody's favorite movie because of its clarity of vision, because of the distinctiveness of what it's saying.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:18 PM | Comments (1)

Venice. O Céu de Suely.

O Céu de Suely "Four years after Madame Sata thrust Karim Aïnouz into the limelight as one of Brazil's hottest new directors, Suely in the Sky takes a step back with the far less exciting tale of a young woman from the great Northeast," writes Variety's Deborah Young.

"Aïnouz is part of a 'young generation' of Brazilian filmmakers who come from an intellectual background: 'the fields aren't very defined, there are a lot of critics who become filmmakers - it's more fluid here, for better or worse,' Aïnouz explained. He collaborates quite a bit with other rising talents Marcelo Gomes (Cinema, Aspirin, and Vultures) and Sérgio Machado (Lower City) and with the already well-established Walter Salles," writes Michael Gibbons. "What is interesting to me about Aïnouz's work is that his politics are quite radical... Considering Aïnouz was the director of Mix New York and worked on some of the queer classics of the 1990s (Poison and Swoon) before starting his career as a director, it seems he is still very much engaged in the tradition of untraditional cinema."

Suely will also screen in Toronto.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:43 PM

Venice. Paprika.

Paprika "Satoshi Kon proves again with the teen- and adult-oriented feature Paprika just why he is one of the most interesting anime Japanese directors right now," writes Lee Marshall for Screen Daily. "[W]hat Kon adds to the genre is a post-modern sense of how the visual warps that animation allows can be complemented by a new sort of dissolving, multi-layered story that plays mind games with its audience." Not only is it superior to "the more conventional Tales of Earthsea - directed by Hayao Miyazaki's son Goro," but even taking A Scanner Darkly into consideration, Paprika, he adds, is "one of the more refreshingly original animation titles we are likely to see this year."

"As in other sci-fi pics featuring technology that can record thoughts, such as Kathryn Bigelow's Strange Days or David Cronenberg's eXistenZ, the borders between reality and imagination keep getting blurred, creating a narrative Chinese box of dreams within dreams," writes Variety's Leslie Felperin. "Playful use is made of movie allusions and general cinematic imagery, building up to a reasonably nightmarish climax where, natch, Tokyo is nearly destroyed."

But David Jenkins grumbles at the Time Out Movie Blog: "Coherence and narrative are a definite no show, making this one of the more underwhelming prospects of the festival so far."

Earlier: Todd at Twitch.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:01 PM | Comments (1)

Shorts, 9/6.

Taiyou No Kizu A Takashi Miike "Double Whammy" at Twitch: logboy has news of a feature version of promo that served as a sequel to the PS2 game Ryu ga Gotoku (if I understand all that correctly) and a trailer for Taiyou No Kizu, opening soon in Japan.

Lou Ye says he'll go on making films despite a ban imposed on him by the Chinese government. The BBC reports.

This month's indies-in-production report from Jason Guerrasio at indieWIRE covers suspense thriller Among the Shadows; Zoe Cassavetes's debut feature, Broken English, with Gena Rowlands and Parker Posey; the scary Dismal; Brad Mays's OperaWorks; and the romantic comedy Sellin' Helen.

Matt Forsythe's got a "Norman McLaren mega-post" at Drawn!.

In The Devil's Guide to Hollywood: The Screenwriter as God!, Joe Eszterhas has nasty things to say about Liv Tyler, Val Kilmer, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone, Warren Beatty, Edward Norton and Madonna, and you can read them in the New York Daily News. Via Shawn Levy.

Donald Crafton: The Talkies Chris Cagle has a book recommendation that might be more up your alley: Donald Crafton's The Talkies.

Scott Eyman on David Thompson's Nicole Kidman: "'I don't say she's the greatest actress ever, or even the best of her time,' he writes. He does, however, believe her to be 'the bravest, the most adventurous' actress of her era. This is a fair assessment, and it also gets to the heart of Ms Kidman's identity crisis. Half of the time she wants to be Liv Ullmann; the other half of the time she wants to be Michelle Pfeiffer. Deep-dish art movies alternating with Hollywood slop doesn't give an actress much middle ground on which to stand." Also in the New York Observer, Charles Taylor on Double Indemnity.

Matthew DeBord talks with Michael Tolkin about The Return of the Player. Related: "The Rapture is not ostensibly a horror film, but I found it deeply frightening, and it is so on a purely conceptual level," shudders Rumsey Taylor at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

Also in the Los Angeles Times, Booth Moore on noir fashion.

Michiko Kakutani reviews Bruce Wagner's Memorial.

Also in the New York Times:

  • Dave Kehr on the re-release of All the King's Men: "It's sad to see Sony treating one of its crown jewels in such a shoddy manner, but the company has not been known for handling its vast library of Columbia films with conspicuous respect." Also, Gojira and Seven Samurai. More on that one from DK Holm at Quick Stop Entertainment.

  • The Brave One, due next fall, was shooting in New York this summer, and Charles McGrath watched Jodie Foster "turning into a kind of Travis Bickle."

  • Sharon Waxman reports on a course at Arizona State University, "the start of a new program to grant an undergraduate certificate, and eventually a master's degree, in the nascent field the university calls EnterTech - where entertainment meets technology - with the idea of preparing young professionals to work in the warp-speed world of a changing Hollywood."

  • AO Scott: "Shot on video and mingling interviews with observations of daily life, Paper Dolls is a modest film, less interested in advocacy or analysis than in sympathy." More from Ella Taylor in the Voice.

  • Stephen Holden would like to have seen a little more levity in Saint of 9/11. More from Michael Atkinson (Voice).

  • Jeanette Catsoulis: "A Cantor's Tale is more concerned with singing praises than with arguing over orthodoxies." More from Matt Singer (Voice).

  • Monica Corcoran with Jason Statham at the Los Angeles Gun Club.

"[P]rior to Marlon Brando and James Dean, no major Hollywood star played the 'obsessed outcast' with 'dark visions' as well as [James] Stewart did," writes David Haglund at Slate. "Stewart had an unmatched ability to project 'vision,' as the scholar Dennis Bingham has written, and his characters frequently see things others can't. This ability can convey madness as well as idealism - and in his best movies, we see just how entwined those two conditions can be."

"[E]ven my Oscar Season picks are pretty genre-intensive," admits Scott Weinberg at Cinematical, highlighting three he's anticipating most. Erik Davis and Jette Kernion pick three each, too.

"This is the story about the little Jeep that dreamed, an Orlando animator who dreamed him up, an industry that's all about dreams, a local studio that sold them - and the nightmares that now haunt them all." And it's told by Scott Powers in the Orlando Sentinel. At Cartoon Brew, Amid Amidi has the trailer for Tugger: The Jeep 4x4 Who Wanted to Fly and a bone to pick with the paper: "I find it odd that the Sentinel decided not to discuss the obvious religious aspect of the scam."

"So, The Wicker Man is, on the whole, an insistence that we are the meaning-makers, that nothing is intrinsic or given. Reach for the Nietzsche," writes Adam E Dobson in a comparison of the original and the remake. Related: Michael Atkinson in the Voice.

"A long-shelved, not-screened-for-critics, high-concept science-fiction comedy that's being released in a handful of cities with all the fanfare of a CIA black-ops mission, Idiocracy gives viewers many reasons to be suspicious," admits Nathan Rabin, who gives the film an "A-" from the AV Club. "There's a good chance that [Mike] Judge's smartly lowbrow Idiocracy will be mistaken for what it's satirizing, but good satire always runs the risk - to borrow a phrase from a poster-boy for the reverse meritocracy - of being misunderestimated." More from Ray Pride at Movie City Indie.

Also: "The AV Club presents our second annual Fall TV preview, a badly researched report on shows we haven't seen. Put it away. Pull it out at the end of the season. You'll see, we were right all along."

The Reeler catches Cocaine Angel.

Man Push Cart "Coming armed with a small battery of festival awards, Man Push Cart is a diminutive film, finally—vying for a neorealist vibe, it lacks the Italian history makers' narrative urgency, and the sociopolitical conflict at the heart of the immigration "issue" is hardly engaged," notes Michael Atkinson. Related: Writer and director Ramin Bahrani on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Also in the Voice, Silke Tudor on Monkey Town - dinner and a movie in Williamsburg.

J Robert Parks: "Long-time readers know that I appreciate movies that portray and reveal something about the world we live in, and Half Nelson is one of those." Related: Matt Prigge interviews Ryan Fleck and Shareeka Epps for the Philadelphia Weekly.

Little Miss Sunshine is a "sometimes amusing farce gives me the opportunity to plug a few far greater comedies that it echoes," writes Waggish.

A "signpost film" for MS Smith? Breathless.

"The American Film Institute officially proclaimed Sunday evening something most of us already knew: Singin' in the Rain is the greatest movie musical ever made." Joe Leydon comments.

At Greenbriar Picture Shows, John McElwee looks back on Raoul Walsh's swan song, A Distant Trumpet.

"What is interesting about Living in Oblivion is [Tom] DeCillo's ability to rove between dream and reality without drawing undue attention to himself." Irene Dobson in ArtsEye in 1995 - with postscript that's longer than the review, at Flickhead.

"Scriptwriting in Bollywood is a rather bizarre profession," notes Namrata Joshi in Outlook India. "In the hierarchy of credits, they figure lower than lyricists and singers and are amongst the lowest paid of the 'technicians.' It's also a profession where men have always mattered more.... So are Bhavani [Iyer] and Venita [Coelho] and the half dozen other women now writing Bollywood scripts making any difference, or is it just more of the same?"

There's a twist to the AV Club's latest list: "Is the Devil Good or Evil?"

The Journal of Short Film has issued a call for submissions.

Brian Flemming admits to Anthony Kaufman, over at the Daily Reel, that he's receiving loads of attention due to all the speculation, but no, he is not lonelygirl15.

Dawn C Chmielewski reports on Amazon's and Apple's movie download plans for the LAT.

"Internet video is the new Top Forty radio," argues Mark Netter at the Daily Reel.

Online viewing tip #1. The trailer for Fur, via the IFC Blog, where Alison Willmore's rounded up news on all sorts of up-n-coming films.

Online viewing tip #2. This Iranian American Life. Via Chuck Olsen.

Online viewing tip #3. Ajit Anthony Prem's Blurring Fat.

Online viewing tips, round 1. Alien-themed shorts, hand-picked by Erik Davis at Cinematical.

Online viewing tips, round 2. Clips from Michel Gondry's The Science of Sleep.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:20 AM

Hollywoodland.

Hollywoodland Neither the Voice's J Hoberman nor the San Francisco Bay Guardian's Cheryl Eddy can resist noting that the summer's been bookended by Superman. Hoberman: "If Superman Returns attempted to resurrect the Man of Steel as mythic hero, the season's other Superman movie wants to disabuse us of any such childish illusions.... Like its protagonist, Hollywoodland has an easy, sleazy appeal - a languid descent into the mystery's murky depths. The truth turns out to be unknowable, but Hollywoodland does have a knowing look."

Eddy: "Hollywoodland's savviest ploy is casting [Ben] Affleck as [George] Reeves. Yes, it offers the actor a shot at regaining his credibility, but more important, the Reeves character benefits from the extra dimension only Affleck's inflated matinee idol persona can provide."

Updated through 9/8.

Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly: "Unable to decide if it wants to be a mystery or biography, [feature film] first-timer Paul Bernbaum's screenplay settles for doing both badly."

"It's high concept but low energy, a notorious tragedy awkwardly forced into a half-hearted whodunit wedged haphazardly into yet another story of fathers and sons," finds Michael Koresky, kicking off Reverse Shot's round at indieWIRE.

So who did kill Reeves? At Cinematical, Richard von Busack finds all sorts of sites where you'll hear all sorts of theories espoused.

Online listening tip. Adrien Brody, whose performance has generally been praised, and director Allen Coulter on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Update: "Yes, the early filmmakers came from radio, from the age of radio, and they used sound in that way. People say that movies became more visual, but it's not entirely true," Coulter tells Ray Pride at Movie City Indie.

Updates, 9/7: Ella Taylor, writing in the LA Weekly, is one of the few to laud Affleck, calling this "his finest performance yet." Then, after the rest of the pluses and minuses, "If nothing else, Hollywoodland will blanch the cheeks of unrecognized actors, screenwriters and directors biding their time all over this town, anxious victims of the pipe dream that keeps promising stardom and riches just around the next corner, if only they'll keep the rest of their lives on hold just that little while longer."

Bryant Frazer: "There's got to be a fascinating yarn in here somewhere, a character study in quiet desperation and a look at how a man kissed by celebrity can still be tormented by the fame he never achieved and disillusioned by the promise of a Hollywood that turned out to be little more than a tease. What we get is more like a TV movie."

For David Fellerath, who recalls novels and films that have far better told "the story of burnout, failure and death in Hollywood," Diane Lane's performance is "the best and virtually only reason to see Hollywoodland."

A "Tinseltown story without the tinsel, a whodunit that has little mystery," grumbles Marjorie Baumgarten in the Austin Chronicle.

Coulter "keeps trying and trying to make it more of a story," writes Duncan Shepherd for the San Diego Reader. "And failing, failing."

Justin Ravitz in the New York Press: "This is the perfect role for Affleck: a blandly handsome, kinda-talented actor whose better performances embrace, rather than deny, his mediocre aspects."

Ryan Stewart at Cinematical: "Hollywoodland seems giddy over the fact that it's beaten James Ellroy to the punch on a story that would fit snugly into his peek-under-the-skirt-of-post-war-L.A. milieu.... Had Ellroy actually written this work, the hitman angle would sing."

Jette Kernion: "Ultimately, Hollywoodland does not quite deliver what its suspenseful premise and lovely visuals promise, but the performances help make the film worth a look."

Updates, 9/8: "George Reeves was a sad case, but not every sob story or even every suicide has the makings of a tragedy," notes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Even the filmmakers don’t seem especially convinced on this count, since half of Hollywoodland involves a dead-end pseudo-noir about another hustler, a private eye named Louis Simo, whom Adrien Brody fails to shape into a character of interest despite much aggressive eyebrow raising."

Jonathan Rosenbaum surprises with a recommendation in the Chicago Reader: "The period details and performances are uniformly superb (Bob Hoskins is especially good as MGM executive Eddie Mannix), and the major characters are even more complex than those in Chinatown."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:23 AM | Comments (1)

Fests and events, 9/6.

Lech Kowalksi "Blame it on a weak Cannes, the demise of Wellspring, a generalized cultural malaise, or just the law of averages asserting itself after the banner years of 2004 and '05, but there's a definite sense emerging that 2006 may wind up being a down year for art movies," writes Joshua Land. So, while nine films coming up this season are selected and blurbed by Voice staffers, Land focuses on the festivals, retrospectives and revivals New Yorkers have to look forward to. Ed Halter focuses on one, The Fabulous Art of Surviving: Lech Kowalski, at the BAMcinématek September 12 through 26, Michael Atkinson on another, the Mizoguchi series at Film Forum running Friday through September 21.

"International critics of the Fipresci yesterday awarded their Grand Prix for the Best Film of 2006 to Pedro Almodóvar's Volver," reports Fabien Lemercier at Cineuropa.

Updated.

The Alternative Film Guide has the winners of the Montreal Film Festival, which wrapped on Monday.

"San Francisco's Arab Film Festival turns 10 this year," notes Robert Avila, "an auspicious birthday in an otherwise bleak period of nearly unmitigated bloodshed and destruction in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Palestine." Avila talks with fest exec director Bashir Anastas. Also in the SF Bay Guardian, Jason Shamai previews the local edition of the Global Lens Film Festival (through October 4) and Johnny Ray Huston has a couple of quick recommendations for the MadCat Women's International Film Festival (September 12 through 27).

Will Johnston in the Independent: "New digital technology has enabled the chain to screen the UK's first Adventure Film Festival at 55 locations, in an all-out attempt to inspire the adventurer in everyone." September 11 through 23.

"The Independent Feature Project unveiled plans for its 28th annual IFP Market, which will take place post-Toronto International Film Festival, running from September 17 - 21 in New York City." Brian Brooks reports for indieWIRE.

Not Coming to a Theater Near You preps for Toronto.

Mohammed Naqvi describes securing pickup shots via email for his film, Shame at Toronto's Doc Blog.

San Diego Asian Film Festival (October 12 through 19) has announced its lineup, adding links for each of the films when possible. Via Peter Martin at Twitch.

Cinematical's Kim Voynar wraps Telluride with a few thoughts on Fur and Jindabyne.

Bert Stern: Marilyn Monroe Marilyn Monroe "has finally caught the French imagination, not as a sex symbol, not even as a symbol, but as a work of art: beautiful, tragic, forever 36 years old," writes Alan Riding in a piece on The Last Sitting, at the Musée Maillol in Paris through October 30. Also in the New York Times, George Gene Gustines on Geppi's Entertainment Museum in Baltimore, which aims to be "a cultural institution that children must be dragged out of rather than into."

"Bob Dylan's coming to Broadway via Twyla Tharp, and the New York Film Festival actually has good movies for the first time since Pulp Fiction - more 1994!" Sara Vilkomerson introduces the New York Observer's September calendar.

Webcuts.06, slated for October 12 in Berlin, has issued a call for submissions. Deadline: September 15.

Updates: Matt Dentler announces that the full schedule for Austin's Fantastic Fest is up (September 21 through 28).

"Alternative cinema has always been made in India - just think of the films of Satyajit Ray, Guru Dutt, Ritwik Ghatak, Shyam Benegal - but they remain largely unseen and unknown, mostly because Indian audiences, domestic and foreign, traditionally don't like seeing the reality of their daily lives portrayed on screen," writes Anil Sinanan at Time Out Movie Blog. "To redress the balance, next weekend Tate Modern's Cinema of Prayoga season offers features, shorts and documentaries of such 'parallel' cinema." September 15 through 19.

Also, Edward Lawrenson previews Stop! Look! Listen! The COI & 60 Years of Public Information Film-making in Britain (at the National Film Theatre in London from September 21 through October 17) and Wally Hammond looks back on this year's Sarajevo Film Festival.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:09 AM

Brooklyn Rail. September 06.

Brooklyn Rail 09/06 Ken Jacobs "is one of the most lauded experimental filmmakers America has ever produced, which is quite something for a blue-collar kid from Brooklyn," writes Jim Knipfel. "Over the past 50 years, he's crafted a body of work that focuses less on storytelling than on the mechanics of film itself - 'mining,' he says, the way images on the frames interact in the hopes of revealing a hidden truth. Hoping to alter, too, the way people look at the world." Knipfel visits the "4th floor walkup in Lower Manhattan" where Jacobs, now 73, lives with his wife and partner, Flo, and talks and listens.

Also in the September issue of the Brooklyn Rail:

Olivier's Shakespeare
  • "[I]t's hard to make movies out of plays, especially Shakespeare. Criterion Collection's new box set Olivier's Shakespeare brings together the three films with which Laurence Olivier proved it could be done," writes Sara Mayeux.

  • Further down the same page, David Wilentz reviews Shogun Assassin, "an ultimate example of violent, mind-bending movie-making, a postmodern artifact that foretold the future of exploitation and world cinema."

  • David N Meyer: "The Illusionist is absurdly enveloping and satisfying, rendered with beauty and originality, never dull, never full of shit, credible 90 percent of the time, in spite of its subject matter, and rigorous in maintaining a self-aware tone of high-minded craft."

  • Jenny Schlenzka, who's just completed her master's thesis on Miami Vice, the TV show, indulges in the aesthetics and maps the male dynamics of Michael Mann's world.

  • Ioannis Mookas looks back on From the Tsars to the Stars: A Journey Through Russian Fantastik Cinema, a series that ran a few weeks ago: "At the August 12 panel, [curator Robert] Skotak screened the trailer for his documentary Red Fantasies, pieced from sixth- or seventh-generation dubs of fantastika classics never aired in the West, gathered over decades of termite research. Karen Shakhnazarov, attending in his role as current director general of Mosfilm, took one look and, like a riddle from Zero City in reverse, threw open the vault without explanation or ceremony, pledging Skotak full access to Mosfilm's archive. With that sort of result, the Walter Reade might want to try sponsoring this kind of husbandry more often."

  • Tom McLoughlin's "Begrudging Tribute" to Mickey Spillane.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:17 AM

Venice. Bobby.

Bobby It's not just the cast that has people in Venice buzzing about Emilio Estevez's Bobby, writes the Boston Herald's Stephen Schaefer: "Estevez manages a look not so much at a lost era but one that mirrors RFK's vision of what American can be." The film "has amazing similarities to our own time" and "left me stunned."

"True, it is not one of those auteurist multi-strand films like Magnolia that provokes and challenges its audience; rather it's better thought of as a hipper, more politicised take on the Grand Hotel genre," writes Lee Marshall for Screen Daily, and I doubt it's much of a spoiler to note how the assassination is handled: "The chaos of the moment is conveyed by jerky handheld camera movement, while the loss to the nation is brought home by the original campaign speech that plays out over these scenes of panic and desperation, in which Kennedy talks about the violence, the income gap, and the ethnic divisions that plagued his country. Few audiences will resist the obvious hint that Kennedy's words apply equally well to the USA in 2006."

Updated through 9/7.

Variety's Deborah Young is also reminded of Grand Hotel and takes note of "one of the starriest casts in recent memory: Anthony Hopkins (also an executive producer), Sharon Stone, Demi Moore, Harry Belafonte, Laurence Fishburne, Lindsay Lohan, Martin Sheen, Helen Hunt, Christian Slater, William H Macy, Elijah Wood and Estevez himself." But perhaps what's most notable about this "deeply involving" film is that, "Though Estevez's script predates 9/11, it carries an eerie topicality that makes many of its insights instantly click."

Mike Collett-White reports on the press conference: "'The nation changed that night,' said Estevez, who recalled shaking hands with Robert Kennedy when he was a boy aged five. 'It was the third strike. It was the turning point. I believe we went into a free fall after that... (Richard) Nixon was elected president... and we became cynical and resigned and it was the death of decency, it was the death of hope.'"

Update: "Estevez obviously is one of the many who believe that Bobby Kennedy traveled from his bullying younger days via the Damascus road, picking up an epiphany along the way that made him America's last great hope following the death of Martin Luther King Jr," writes the Hollywood Reporter's Ray Bennett. "Whether or not Bobby Kennedy was the man his supporters believed him to be, the film makes a persuasive case that something important in America was silenced when he was gunned down."

Update, 9/7: Estevez's "attempt to shoehorn what he sees as the grand themes of the period into his choppy, unsubtle script are embarrassing, and never more so than when he tries - and fails dreadfully - to recreate the experience of an LSD trip," fumes Time Out's Dave Calhoun. "The flaws of Bobby are so horrible that you couldn't care less about what RFK has to say as one of his speeches rambles over the hysterical closing scenes."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:08 AM

Venice. Fallen.

Fallen "Nine years after Nordrand (Northern Skirts), which won actress Nina Proll the Marcello Mastroianni Award, Viennese filmmaker Barbara Albert returns to the Venice Film Festival with Fallen (Falling)," announces Boyd van Hoeij at europeanfilms.net. This new one follows five women who haven't seen each other in 14 years for 36 hours. "'There is a small shock in bridging those 14 years,' explained the director in Venice, 'And this shock allows the characters to consciously evaluate what has become of them in those years.'"

"[W]ell-played, cleanly shot but spectacularly empty," writes Variety's Derek Elley. "Dawdling script has none of the rigor and metaphysical depths of her previous Northern Skirts and Free Radicals, and makes no case for spending time with such uninteresting characters."

The Hollywood Reporter's Ray Bennett: "It's all quite noisy, but there doesn't seem to be very much going on as the shared confidences and female bonding are not especially convincing."

But Cristina Nord, writing in die taz (and in German), is impressed. "Desires and disappointments, coincidences and plans, private and political concepts of good, right lives, striving and failing: Albert allows all these to flow into beautiful sketches of womens' designs for their lives." More praise from Jan Schulz-Ojala in Der Tagesspiegel.

"[A]miable, if slightly meandering," writes David Jenkins for Time Out, "heartfelt and thought-provoking stuff."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:26 AM

September 5, 2006

Venice. Lettere dal Sahara.

Lettere dal Sahara "Lettere dal Sahara is the title of a collection of essays/articles on Africa by Alberto Moravia, published between 1975 and 1981," writes Camillo de Marco at Cineuropa. 25 years on, "the great Sicilian documentary filmmaker Vittorio De Seta has used the same title for a film suspended between fiction and reality."

De Seta returns with his first film in 13 years "with a long, heart-felt, but ultimately uninvolving story about an African youth struggling to survive in Italy," writes Deborah Young in Variety. "Despite pic's good intentions and De Seta's still keen eye for capturing striking images, Letters From the Sahara is likely to disappoint those who discovered the 82-year-old director through his powerful neorealist-inspired shorts of the 50s and such milestone fiction films as Bandits of Orgosolo and Half a Man."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:04 PM

Venice. Ye Yan.

The Banquet "Announced as China's opulent version of Shakespeare's Hamlet and originally expected to surface at Cannes, Feng Xiaogang's The Banquet finally emerges three months later as an out of competition screening at Venice," writes Dan Fainaru for Screen Daily. "Staunch in its belief that bigger is better, The Banquet piles up enough condiments for a dozen meals but never really tries to cook them into one satisfactory repast." The film "is a case of the sum being very much less than its very tasty parts: a convoluted tale of love and treachery, desire and death, set in the 10th-century Beijing court. As such it plays out lamely, crossing a second-rate House of Flying Daggers with the artificiality of something like Kingdom of Heaven.

Updated through 9/8.

"First and foremost, The Banquet is a tragedy, not an actioner," writes Derek Elley in Variety. "Final half-hour, set during the banquet, is certainly gripping, as the pieces come together and slaughter of Jacobean proportions ensues. Till then, however, pic only comes alive spasmodically, not helped by the principals' slow, pregnant delivery of their lines, lack of acting chemistry (normally a strength of Feng's pics), and the unremittingly gloomy look."

Update: Grady Hendrix has found an interesting angle on the film taking hold in the Chinese press.

Also: Jia Zhangke's Still Life is a "secret, last-minute addition to the Venice Film Festival."

Update, 9/8: Todd at Twitch: "The Banquet is a curious blend of competing and seemingly self-contradictory elements - at once larger than life yet tightly restrained, both shockingly beautiful and shockingly brutal - and that Feng is able to pull it off is a testament to his very talented cast, his range of gifted collaborators, and his own skills as a director. Reportedly frustrated with his reputation as a purveyor of fluff, Feng has intended The Banquet as proof that he is capable of more and prove his point he has."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:30 AM

Wrapping Telluride, 9/5.

Das Leben der Anderen Variety's Todd McCarthy looks back on the Telluride Film Festival: "[O]ne film was far more frequently mentioned by people as their No 1 favorite than any other - Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's East Germany-set political thriller The Lives of Others, which was confoundingly rejected by the Berlin and Cannes film festivals but picked up for the US by Sony Classics. Werner Herzog, not known to often praise pictures from his native country, said it was the best German film he's seen in ages." (Earlier: "Germans. Films. Awards.")

At indieWIRE, after noting that this year's edition "will also be remembered as the final festival for event co-founders Bill Pence and Stella Pence," Eugene Hernandez mentions that The Last King of Scotland "was informally hailed as the best of the fest by numerous attendees" and has notes on the reception of Infamous (including a bit from "A Tale of Two Trumans," a chapter in producer Christine Vachon's forthcoming memoir, A Killer Life), Fur and Little Children.

Updated.

Succeeding Bill Pence will be Gary Meyer, a choice with particular resonance for the San Francisco Bay Area. For SF360, Hilary Hart writes, "the inspired programmer and dedicated operator of the beloved neighborhood theater, the Balboa, said that this new position was both exciting and scary, but that he wouldn't have taken it without the amazing support team of staff and volunteers that keeps the festival running smoothly. No major innovations are expected for next year, just the necessary tweaks."

Mike Goodridge on Little Children in Screen Daily: "An unsettling and richly-drawn portrait of dysfunction in affluent suburbia, it sits somewhere between American Beauty, Douglas Sirk's 1950s period and Todd Solondz's Happiness in tone, style and content but it is unique in its characterisation of the purposeless ennui rampant in contemporary America." More from Variety's Todd McCarthy, who pinpoints a Kubrick connection.

Also: "The team behind The Mother - director Roger Michell, writer Hanif Kureishi and producer Kevin Loader - reunites for Venus, another portrait of an old character being revitalised by love for a younger.... The film emerges triumphant... The 74-year-old [Peter] O'Toole is a class act by any standards and his work here can’t fail to draw attention from awards voters and audiences."

And: "The Last King of Scotland is a compelling, well-made film but the fact that it is more fable than real life story will soften its impact with critics and audiences..... For all its awkward blend of fact and fiction, the film’s glimpse into the soul of such a man is perhaps more germane today than it was 30 years ago."

Updates: "Among the films that lacked distribution, only thrill-seeking documentarian Asger Leth's Ghosts of Cite Soleil generated any interest from buyers," notes Anne Thompson, who calls it a "shocking cinema vérité." Earlier: Anne's big wrap-up; and Hollywood Reporter subscribers can read this one.

Kim Voynar at Cinematical: "Venus is a sublimely directed and acted film, handling what could be seen as a rather controversial storyline - an octogenarian man hitting on a twenty-something girl - with ease and finesse."

Also: "There are filmmakers who make good films, even great films, and then there are filmmakers who take making a movie to a whole new level of artistry, so far above the mean as to be incomparable to anything else. Alejandro González Iñárritu is such a filmmaker, and with Babel he tells his story with such power and control that by the end of it you are at his cinematic mercy, utterly exhausted and spent, and yet fulfilled on a soul level in a way that is almost indescribable."

"[T]he best new film I've seen in Telluride this year isn't new at all - or, rather, it isn't all new. It's called Directed By John Ford and it's a revision by director Peter Bogdanovich of his 1971 documentary of the same name, about the life and work of the great American filmmaker," writes Scott Foundas. "Even at its most conventional, when Bogdanovich relies on talking-heads appreciations (retained from the 1971 version) from veteran Ford collaborators John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart, the film has an extraordinary vitality and intimacy... That in itself is fairly remarkable in a day and age when most celebrity interviews seem the product of so much well-oiled publicity machinery and nobody has a critical or unkind word to say about anybody else."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:41 AM

Venice. I Don't Want to Sleep Alone.

I Don't Want to Sleep Alone "Static plans, musical moments introduced as a resonance of the characters' inner world, very few dialogues, suggestion privileged over a straightforward plot, Tsai Ming-Liang's style remains incomparable, proving once again the filmmaker's capacity to thrill us with his unique aptitude to be grotesque and poetical at the same time," writes Vitor Pinto for Cineuropa, and we may not get a much clearer picture of what to expect from I Don't Want to Sleep Alone, set in Tsai's native Malaysia, until it screens in Toronto.

Updated through 9/6.

Screen Daily's Dan Fainaru pretty much sounds one note - if you like Tsai, you'll like this one, and if you don't, you won't - but does add that, unlike most of the New Crowned Hope projects, this film's actually got a nod to Mozart.

For Reuters, Mike Collett-White has a bit more, noting that Alone "explores poverty and alienation among foreign workers in Malaysia who were left jobless and homeless by the late 1990s Asian economic crisis" and "centers around a mattress that is lugged from one place to another and where many of the scenes of care and intimacy occur. Tsai said he used the mattress because it reminded Malaysian viewers of the mattress produced in 1998 as evidence in the corruption trial of former Finance Minister Anwar Ibrahim."

"A highlight of the festival so far," declares Cristina Nord, writing in die taz (and in German).

Update, 9/6: "There's more genuine tenderness in I Don't Want to Sleep Alone than in perhaps any of Tsai Ming-Liang's previous films," notes Jay Weissberg. "Perhaps it's the new locale, but there's more of a sense of solidarity here than in Tsai's past films. For years the foreigner in Taiwan, now he's filming foreigners in Malaysia, capturing their sense of being cut off from the society around them and making the intense sexual drive - never love, but a need for companionship - more meaningful."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:17 AM

Venice. The Fountain.

The Fountain "[R]oundly booed," as Jonathan Brown reports in the Independent, Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain has evidently been met with a brutal reception in Venice.

The Hollywood Reporter's Ray Bennett: "It has big names in Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz and Ellen Burstyn; fantastical sets featuring Mayan warriors, the tree of life and a bubble space ship that travels amid the stars; and a frame of reference that draws from the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. There's a biblical puzzle that needs deciphering, so if Warner Bros Pictures in the US and 20th Century Fox internationally can somehow tie a Da Vinci Code reference into their marketing, they might snag a quick box office return. Otherwise, Zardoz anyone?"

Updated through 9/7.

Variety's Leslie Felperin goes so far as to fire a few retroactive shots at Pi and Requiem for a Dream before launching into this "hippy trippy space odyssey-meets-contempo-weepy-meets-conquistador caper." The Fountain "shows onscreen all the wear and tear of a personal project that has suffered from production fits and starts and reportedly has been cut down from a longer running time to a still tedious and repetitious hour and a half."

Even AICN's Moriarty might not be able to save this one, but who knows? If reporters like the Boston Herald's Stephen Schaefer, just one example among many, keep writing about the sex scene that didn't make the final cut...

Updates: Lee Marshall for Screen Daily: "[I]t's one of those works guaranteed to split audiences down the middle: anyone with an aversion to woolly pop-Buddhist philosophising or who has a well-honed sense of the ridiculous is likely to pass the point of no return and lose patience with the whole exercise well before the end.... Aronofsky has a prodigious visual imagination, and we are initially dazzled by the sheer look of the thing while trying to work out the connection between the three stories, which dip in and out of one another in a way that sometimes illuminates but more often than not frustrates."

Jeffrey Wells reminds us that he liked The Fountain when he caught it in July, calling it "the most beautiful and best-crafted cosmic head-trip movie since I don't know what. 2001: A Space Odyssey? Fight Club? The first half of Altered States?"

Update, 9/7: "Two days on from its world premiere, the film has already divided audiences: at the press screening, it was booed; at its public screening the following evening, the film was given a 10-minute-long standing ovation," notes Geoffrey Macnab in the Guardian. That second event hasn't been reported quite as widely, has it. Macnab talks with Aronofsky and Weisz: "'Requiem got slaughtered by the press,' Aronofsky cheerily recalls. 'We had a 30-minute standing ovation in Cannes and the next day Variety said I should go into therapy instead of making movies. The New York Times trashed Pi. I am totally used to it."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:42 AM | Comments (14)

Interview. Michelle Goldberg.

August in the Empire State The documentary August in the Empire State focuses on three people caught up in the storm sparked by the Republicans descending on New York City for their National Convention in 2004. Michelle Goldberg, covering the story for Salon and Rolling Stone and author of Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, is one.

Hannah Eaves asks her what that summer portends.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:32 AM

September 4, 2006

Jump Cut. Archives.

Jump Cut Jump Cut has sent out a message announcing that all its issues now, from the first in the summer of 1974 through the latest, Winter 2006, are online. This truly is an amazing resource (and a fun browse as well). Navigating the archives can be a little... jumpy, but this might help:

Indices 1, 2 and 3; and then, Issues 44, 45, 46, 47 and the most recent, 48.

I was just looking at a 2004 entry on Jump Cut's archives and was discouraged to see that Otrocampo's site is down. Hopefully that really is only temporary.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:46 PM

Shorts, 9/4.

Lou Ye The BBC: "Director Lou Ye has been banned from making films in China for five years for submitting an entry for the Cannes festival without government approval." More from Reuters.

On the eve of a retrospective "celebrating his 'first 30 years'" as a producer, Sheila Johnston talks with Jeremy Thomas about a favorite - two favorite films, actually, Abbas Kiarostami's Ten and 10 on Ten. Via Ray Pride at Movie City Indie.

For the Independent, Neil Norman meets Thomas as well: "Among the selection of films that Thomas has produced are movies by cinema's dark masters - Nicolas Roeg, Bernardo Bertolucci, David Cronenberg. For the man once dubbed by Bertolucci 'a hustler in the fur of a teddy bear,' it is an impressive legacy. And nor is Thomas living off past glories - in an age when Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan of Working Title are producing British hit films, Thomas represents an altogether more fearless approach. He recently produced Terry Gilliam's Tideland: 'Jeremy is the last of the breed,' says Gilliam. 'An endangered species. Because he loves film. Tim and Eric have made the money. Jeremy has made the difference.'"

Ed Gonzalez in Slant on 49 Up; in general, the films in Michael Apted's Up Series "affect their subjects not unlike they do their audience, serving not only as reminders of our mortality but as instruments to measure how much, or how little, we've accomplished in our short lives or struggled against the notion that we are all born slaves to an indestructible birthright."

"Nearly twenty years after Harun Farocki paid homage to the profound influence of Straub/Huillet's cinema by filming their exhaustive rehearsal process during preparations for the shooting of their film Class Relations for the documentary Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet at Work...," writes acquarello, "Pedro Costa captures their equally exacting process of editing their feature film, Sicilia!, in Where Has Your Hidden Smile Gone?."

John McElwee tells Ida Lupino's story at Greenbriar Picture Shows and notes, "She should have received a special Academy Award for all she accomplished, but why would they do something right all of a sudden?"

David Thomson: Nicole Kidman For SF360, Michael Fox asks David Thomson, "OK, but why Kidman? What is iconic about her?" Related: Thomson's latest column for the Independent; it's on the whole Tom Cruise thing.

CSA: The Confederate States of America is "a remarkably interesting, smart, and disturbing take on the history of race in the United States," writes Chuck Tryon, and actually: "I didn't intend to write such a long review of the film, but as I began writing, I became taken by [Kevin] Willmott's attentive critique of the role of images and icons in constructing national identity and wanted to highlight this remarkable little film."

That Little Round-Headed Boy has 25 thoughts on Blow Out. Related: Slant's "Auteur Fatale" rolls on.

Newly inducted into the Hollywood Bitchslap Hall of Fame: Ray Harryhausen.

"Parisian arts cinemas are having a hard time," writes Mark Zitzmann in a piece for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung translated at signandsight by Abby Darcy. After a primer on the cinema d'art et d'essai, Zitzmann describes the funding structure (some cinemas receive up to 40 percent of their income from the state) and describes an initiative aimed at reversing "a trend which has seen nearly 50 cinemas disappear over the last few decades."

At Cinematical, Scott Weinberg talks with Howard Haas about saving Philadelphia's Boyd Theater.

Two more takes on The Illusionist: Stanley Kauffmann in the New Republic and David Walsh at the WSWS.

Peter Nellhaus on two by Volker Schlöndorff: "Coup de Grace and The Ogre are in some ways complimentary, if reversed stories about Germans in war."

In the Guardian, Austin Mutti-Mewse remembers Lois January, 1912 - 2006.

The administrators of Ingmar Bergman Face to Face have sent out word that there's new content in English up there, in particular info on Bergman's work currently being performed On Stage around the world.

Charles McNulty in the Los Angeles Times: "Of all the things to note about the Pasadena Playhouse's starry revival of August Wilson's Fences, surely the happiest is that Laurence Fishburne has once again found a stage role big enough for his husky talent."

Caveh Zahedi waves adieu to readers of his blog: "I have a lot of new projects that I'm working on simultaneously, and there just aren't enough hours in the day for me to make all of the films I would like to make, so I feel I really need to prioritize."

Online viewing tip. The trailer for John Madden's KillShot, an adaptation of Elmore Leonard's novel, exec-produced by Quentin Tarantino and starring Diane Lane, Thomas Jane, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson and Mickey Rourke. Via Brendon Connelly.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:52 AM

Other fests, other events.

Dropping Knowledge Let's start with an online browsing, viewing, pondering tip. Dropping Knowledge promises to be a rather unusual event taking place this coming Saturday in Berlin. Seated around "the world's largest table" will be 112 thinkers - artists, writers, scientists, philosophers - to discuss 100 questions, which have been selected from thousands. Laurie Anderson has a question, for example, and you can watch her pose it. The very next day, "a freely accessible Copyleft knowledge portal and dialog forum" will be launched. Explore the site.

Peter Bradshaw has a Venice-so-far piece in the Guardian.

Kevin Smith's Movies Askew Film Festival is set for Wednesday night in Hollywood.

Star-Telegram film criticStar-Telegram film critic Christopher Kelly has hand-picked the lineup for the Modern Cinema: Great Movies You Haven't Heard of... Yet series at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. September 29 through October 1.

Curator Bruno Girveau "is about to do something that will almost certainly bring the wrath of the French cultural Establishment - maybe of all France - down on his head," writes Charles Darwent in the Independent. "He is opening an exhibition, a decade in the making, called Il était une fois Walt Disney (Once Upon a Time There Was Walt Disney), and he is doing it at the Grand Palais."

At Solace in Cinema: A report on last week's Frightfest.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:52 AM

Anticipating TIFF, 9/4.

Everything's Gone Green At Twitch, Todd unleashes a slew of reviews of films slated to screen at the Toronto International Film Festival, opening on Thursday and running through September 16: Hirokazu Kore-Eda's Hana (TIFF), Kim Chapiron's Sheitan (TIFF), Paul Fox's Everything's Gone Green, based on Douglas Coupland's screenplay (TIFF), Bong Joon-ho's The Host (TIFF), Peter Schønau Fog's The Art of Crying (TIFF) and five Canadian shorts.

Moriarty at AICN on Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain, screening in Venice and Toronto: "The greatest miracle of this beautiful, human science-fiction story is that he's managed to make a film about infinity that pays full service to the subject while managing to only run 98 minutes. Not many films can blow your mind and break your heart at the same time, but this one will.

Checking in with an esteemed panel, Peter Howell rounds up "49 buzzed-about movies" for the Toronto Star. The paper's critics then submit their own choices. Via Movie City News. Matt Dentler adds a slew of titles to the three he suggested to Howell.

"Election 2 is equal in precision to its predecessor, exuding a perpetual sense of danger," writes Slant's Ed Gonzalez. (TIFF).

Jason Morehead's got his schedule together and has a note or two on each film he's chosen.

Darren Hughes: "I'm going to use TIFF to bury myself under experimental and formally-inventive films."

Update: Jennifer Kwan has a brief backgrounder on the opening night film, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:02 AM

Telluride, 9/4.

Telluride 33 Scott Foundas revives Foundas Blog with two dispatches from Telluride: "In a mere three-and-a-half days, one can take a more extensive cinematic tour - from the very birth of cinema to neglected modern masterpieces to the very latest from the world’s leading directors - than is possible at most festivals that run two or three times as long."

Also, a quick profile of Pierre Rissient: "One of the storied film buffs who inhabited the hallowed halls of Henri Langlois' Cinémathèque Française in the 1950s, Rissient has gone on to work as a filmmaker (he was assistant director on Godard's Breathless), distributor (of many neglected classics of American cinema that had never been released in France), publicist (in partnership with future director Bertrand Tavernier) and festival consultant (a capacity in which he has been responsible for discovering and/or popularizing the work of such disparate filmmakers as Jane Campion, Abbas Kiarostami and Hou Hsiao-Hsien)." Variety's Todd McCarthy is working on a doc about the 70-year-old spotlight-shunning legend.

Updated.

Cinematical's Kim Voynar files a second dispatch from the fest and reviews The Last King of Scotland, "a somewhat uneven film.... What makes the film compelling in spite of the utter irrationality of [young doctor Nicholas] Garrigan's actions is [Forest] Whitaker, whose presence as [General Idi] Amin is unbelievably commanding."

Sheigh rounds up two dozen or so Telluride links at the Risky Biz Blog. Lots, lots there. And: "Somehow Telluride Fest's Bill and Stella Pence, Tom Luddy and Gary Meyer managed to keep the news of the Pence's retirement and Meyer's new job as festival co-director under wraps until [Sunday]," writes Anne Thompson, who has the press release with details.

AJ Schnack on "the annual 'you say premiere, I say preview' shell game": "What's with the crazy word games? For one thing, members of the press seem to like it. They can catch the big movies at Telluride and focus on the undiscovered jewels to be unearthed in Toronto." For another, "It seems to work for the distributors."

Online viewing tips. Eugene Hernandez gets Fur director Steven Shainberg talking on video for a few minutes; and a talk with festival director Tom Luddy; and a clip of Douglas McGrath talking about Infamous - and that other movie. Also - to read - quick takes on William Wyler's Dodsworth, "one the highlights of my festival so far," Christopher Smith's Severance and Roger Michell's Venus and more thoughts on The Last King of Scotland, "one of the more engrossing historical/political thrillers to come along in quite some time," Paul Fejos's 1928 Lonesome and Infamous.

Updates: Kim Voynar's third dispatch.

It's a wrap for Anne Thompson, who offers quick takes on Little Children, Mira Nair's The Namesake, Venus, The Last King of Scotland, The Lives of Others (they showed that at Telluride? Wunderbar!), Phillip Noyce's Catch a Fire and Infamous.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:45 AM

Venice. Children of Men.

Children of Men "[P]robably the best film in the Venice festival competition so far," declares the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. But hold on...

Compare and contrast: "Unwrap the fascinating dystopian vision of the near-future in Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men - based on the sci-fi novel by British literary baroness PD James - and you find a fairly ordinary movie with stock characters," writes Lee Marshall for Screen Daily. But for the Hollywood Reporter's Ray Bennett, "Cuarón takes the classic movie formula of a cynical tough guy required to see an innocent party to safe harbor, and shoots it to pieces."

For Marshall, who praises the film's "sheer imaginative verve" and "terrific chase and battle sequences," its "urban future vision is not obvious multiplex material, particularly in the US," but Bennett sees "a winner at the box office in all territories."

For Variety's Derek Elley, the film "suffers from cold lead playing by Clive Owen but gains some heart and soul from a wonderfully eccentric perf by Michael Caine that's awards-season-worthy." But for Bennett, Owen is "in top form."

The lack of consensus only piques curiosity, doesn't it? Meanwhile, via Joe Leydon, Dalya Alberge interviews Caine for the London Times.

Update: Time Out's Dave Calhoun writes that the film "is testament to the growing influence of Mexico on current world cinema. Together with fellow director Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams, Babel), screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga (The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada) and actor Gael García Bernal, Cuarón is both revitalising the domestic Mexican industry with films such as Y Tu Mama Tambien and injecting new spirit into English-language film with Hollywood-produced fare such as this latest movie.... It's a film which easily could have been ridiculous. In Cuarón's hands, it emerges as quite some achievement, both technically (look out for the one-shot take that graces a battle scene late on) and dramatically."

Update, 9/11: While it "doesn't even advertise itself as overtly political," writes the Telegraph's David Gritten, it "succeeds in saying more about the way we live now than [The Queen and Bobby] put together."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:43 AM | Comments (2)

September 3, 2006

Venice. Offscreen.

Offscreen "Turning away from the pyrotechnics that made his first two films - Reconstruction and Allegro - so distinctive, Danish helmer Christoffer Boe opts for a scruffy, ultra-realist look in Offscreen," writes Variety's Leslie Felperin, who finds it ultimately "feels like an empty aesthetic exercise or filmmaking in-joke."

"In the film, a director called Christoffer Boe is called upon to create a film using the footage left by actor Nicolas Bro, who has gone missing," explains Boyd van Hoeij At europeanfilms.net, where he alos takes down a few quotes from Boe: "I love to explore who controls fiction, who is telling the story, and this is a first person narration from another person than me." Van Hoeij: "The film's final scenes show in what kind of genre you might end up if you start relying too much on a film to sort out your life. Hint: it is not pretty to look at."

Update, 9/8: Cineuropa interviews Boe and Bro.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:08 PM

Venice. Coeurs.

Coeurs "What struck me the first time I read Alan Ayckbourn's play, on which the film is based, is the characters' relentless determination to liberate themselves of their loneliness and the obstacles it brings. The sense of solitude is irreversible. There is no cure for the desire to not be alone." Alain Resnais, as quoted by Paolo Menzione and Camillo de Marco at Cineuropa. De Marco also has a one-on-one interview with Resnais.

Updated through 9/6.

Toronto International Film Festival director Piers Handling, in his program note: "The common terrain of the entire film is Bercy, an area of Paris that has been largely renovated and modernized. The particular spaces are the ultra-modern apartments, offices and bars owned and inhabited by the various characters that people the narrative.... Resnais is not just a consummate technician of the cinema; he is also one of its greatest directors of actors. As his films have become more theatrical and interior, they have also embraced a deepening sense of human frailty."

For Reuters, Silvia Aloisi notes the critical acclaim so far: "Le Monde newspaper wrote on Saturday that the director was 'at the top of his art.'"

Update, 9/4: For Dan Fainaru, it's "a splendid picture which is sad, funny and compassionate at the same time; faithful to its theatrical origins and yet eminently suited to the big screen.... The veteran filmmaker masterfully reigns over proceedings, keeping things inside the fictitious studio universe he has created while reminding the audience of its nature by emphasising how we are watching a story unfold on a set. Having already indulged several times in similar stage adaptations, such as L'Amour à Mort, Mélo and of course Smoking/No Smoking - also based on Ayckbourn - he feels completely at ease with the genre and its details."

Update, 9/6: "Despite a perfect cast of Resnais regulars plus the master's own impeccable crafting, the characters fail to grip, and with approximately 50 short scenes, development comes in fits and starts," writes Jay Weissberg for Variety.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:48 PM

Venice. Daratt.

Daratt "Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (45), who studied film in Paris and journalism in Bordeaux, already a prize-winner at Venice for his 1999 directorial debut Bye Bye Africa," writes Camillo de Marco at Cineuropa, "has made a dramatic and tense film, which appears like a landscape after the storm, starring a sublime Youssouf Djaoro (can we hope for a prize for the actor?)."

"Using a simple storytelling style that grows stronger with each passing scene, Dry Season draws the viewer into its small two-character drama set in post-war Chad, while it offers a deep reflection on injustice and frustrated revenge," writes Variety's Deborah Young of "the only African film competing in Venice."

Another one also heading to Toronto.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:16 PM

Venice. Farval Falkenberg.

Farewell Falkenberg "A coming-of-ager made with no money but plenty of heart and cinematic smarts, first-time writer-helmer Jesper Ganslandt's Falkenberg Farewell is by turns funny, tragic and nostalgic," writes Gunnar Rehlin for Variety of the Swedish film that'll also be screening in Toronto.

Bénédicte Prot in Cineuropa: "What presents itself as a scrapbook is, in fact, a collection of memories from the happy youth of the director and his hometown cronies, which mixes old 8mm films, photographs, music, and digital images, and supports the 'narrative (or lack thereof) with titles and a voice-over-read diary." The result is "a truly interesting work which gives him a promising future as a director."

At europeanfilms.net, Boyd van Hoeij calls it "a freewheeling dive into the hermetically sealed world of all-male friendships that, though the film's storytelling technique is quite impressionistic by way of Gus Van Sant, feels natural and true."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:04 PM

Venice. Quelques jours en Septembre.

A Few Days in September For Cineuropa, Paolo Menzione sets up screenwriter Santiago Amigorena's directorial debut, A Few Days in September: "With an all-star cast that features French actresses Juliette Binoche and Sara Forestier alongside John Turturro and Nick Nolte, the film is a countdown to September 11." Ultimately, it's "more of a psychological rather than action thriller."

Updated through 9/4.

"Deeply cynical about world financial and political affairs, the film suggests that curious activity on the stock market in the period before the attack on the World Trade Center meant that a few investors were able to exploit it ruthlessly," writes Ray Bennett in the Hollywood Reporter. "[T]he film combines intrigue, suspense and black humor."

September "walks the fine line between thriller and thriller satire, sometimes taking small detours left and right of the line before rejoining the ranks," writes Boyd van Hoeij at europeanfilms.net. "It is a tough balancing act but Amigorena mostly pulls it off, most likely because as a screenwriter he learnt how to judge individual scenes in relation to the whole."

"Peculiar caper," finds Variety's Lisa Nesselson, "marbled with conceptual clunkiness verging, in places, on laughable... a love-it-or-hate-it European art movie."

Update, 9/4: A "peach of a screenplay," grins Dan Fainaru in Screen Daily. "The thriller... never pretends to be anything realistic. But its final conclusions are not necessarily that imaginary.... Above all, Amigorena, working from his own script, knows how to spin a yarn and how to spice it up with witticisms that not only sparkle but hit close to home."

Also heading to Toronto.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:50 AM

Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles.

Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles Something similar happened with The Illusionist. I'd have thought Ella Taylor's review of Zhang Yimou's Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles was pretty much the best-expressed version of a verdict passed far and wide, but no.

For Andy Klein, writing in the LA CityBeat, it's "every bit as great as Zhang's last two films, Hero and House of Flying Daggers, though in ways that may not connect with fans who only know him through those two high-octane action flicks. Zhang's career has had (roughly speaking) three phases: Red Sorghum, Ju-Dou and Raise the Red Lantern are beautifully crafted melodramas; Not One Less, The Road Home and Happy Times are far rougher in style, more realistic and even sentimental; and finally Hero, House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower are lavish, expensive martial-arts period pieces." At any rate, Riding "is the most deeply moving film of the year, and certainly one of the best."

Michael Guillén argues that Zhang "achieves a striking and direct truthfulness in the film's performances. Teetering on the edge of melodrama, the film manages to maintain its balance and to achieve an effect of deep understated heartfulness."

"You'd roll your eyes if they weren't so dazzled." Nathan Lee cringes in the New York Times as the film "drives melodrama right off the map. Cynics are in for a very long haul.... But for all its schematic hyperbole, the film is warm and affecting. Deriding the heart on its sleeve is as pointless as complaining about snakes on the plane: that's the deal, take it or leave it."

Armond White in the New York Press: "Riding Alone is a cerebral tear-jerker. Zhang has gone from gaudiness to a rigorous display of universal emotions."

"It's the male equivalent of a Lifetime weepie," counters Steve Erickson at Nerve. For Jeremiah Kipp, writing at Slant, "This one's a long, slow ride down an all too familiar road."

More from Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times, Andrew O'Hehir in Salon, Sean Cunningham at Reverse Shot, Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog and Ryan Stewart at Cinematical.

Related: At Twitch, Todd's got a second trailer for Curse.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:46 AM

Critics, books and shorts.

Pauline Kael "Emily Gordon has found an avalanche of Pauline Kael reviews," notes Ed Champion. Related: Laura Miller at Critical Mass. Update: Tom Sutpen, at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger..., with a recording from 1963 for KFPA.

"You could write a real tragedy, a Greek tragedy, about September 11 and what it has led to - a story with a true Aristotelian arc, a drama with a beginning that leads organically to a middle that leads organically, reasonably, to its inexorable end," writes Daniel Mendelsohn in the New York Review of Books, arguing that neither United 93 nor World Trade Center tell that story quite as well as Aeschylus' Persians.

Rob Sharp reports that Stuart Townsend and Charlize Theron's plans to make a "documentary-style film" about the protests in Seattle in 1999 that brought the World Trade Organization's meeting there to a halt have "bitterly divided activists who were there at the time."

Also in the Observer:

The Sound of No Hands Clapping

  • Lynn Barber profiles Toby Young, whose second book, The Sound of No Hands Clapping, "is basically about his Hollywood career which, like his New York one, crashed in self-stoked flames."

  • Jason Solomons covers the highlights of the Venice Film Festival - so far.

  • And Rachel Cooke: "It seems to me, though, that the real battle is not between studios and critics... but between critics and bloggers." Oh, sheesh, not that again. Maybe two years ago, but surely by now, we've come to understand that this is like arguing that there's an ongoing battle between painters and photographers or between poets and lyricists. Rembrandt vs the wedding photographer or Leroy Neiman vs Henri Cartier-Bresson? James Merrill vs Chris Martin or Rod McKuen vs Bob Dylan? It's a waste of time.

Erik Childress, ferociously, at Hollywood Bitchslap: "Criticwatch: The Whores of Summer and the Embargoes They Break."

Mike Russell has been known to turn an interview into a comic; in an entirely different style, Rick Trembles renders his reviews as comics, Motion Picture Purgatory, for the Montreal Mirror. The latest: Sins of the Fleshapoids.

"[B]ecause in Britain film has never been fully accepted as an art form, we're deemed content to be influenced in our cinema-going habits by anyone sufficiently famous to have been given the nod by an editor whose own knowledge of cinema probably extends only as far as the next blockbuster," writes Geoff Andrew. Even so: "It's not all hopeless. There are superb critics around, keeping an eye on what's happening around the globe, seeing things within the larger context of history, art, politics, economics or ethics. They don't just write what the industry wants them to write - nor, conversely, do they bemoan the death of cinema."

Also in Frieze: Ronald Jones on the work of Jesper Just, its indebtedness to Kubrick and Hitchcock and its challenges to neo-conservative ideas of "manliness." Earlier: Holly Willis in the LA Weekly.

Memorial Bruce Wagner "is about as close to being a Hollywood insider as a writer of complete sentences can get," writes Meghan Daum in her review of his new novel, Memorial. Also in the Los Angeles Times, Mark Rozzo on Greil Marcus's The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice.

For the Sacramento News and Review, Jonathan Kiefer has a good long talk with Carl Boggs and Tom Pollard, authors of The Hollywood War Machine: US Militarism and Popular Culture. Kiefer: "Part of what you're saying is that America is culturally addicted to war?" Boggs: "Yes. Absolutely."

David M Halbfinger talks with Michael Tolkin about Griffin Mill's new world in The Return of the Player: "'I don't think America's had a good movie made since Abu Ghraib,' Mr Tolkin said, before clarifying that he's talking about big movies, not the minuscule ones that have met the industry's quotas for unembarrassing award nominees. 'I think it showed that a generation that had been raised on those heroic movies was torturing. National myths die, I don't think they return. And our national myth is finished, except in a kind of belligerent way."

Also in the New York Times:

  • "What is it about Orson Welles that drives his chroniclers around the bend?" asks Gary Giddins in his review of Simon Callow's Orson Welles: Hello Americans that recounts previous, how shall we say, not quite successful attempts at getting the life right before addressing this ongoing biography, "the elephant in the room." Giddins then heads off in the opposite direction from Richard Schickel two weeks ago: "[T]he Welles debate has shifted ground. It used to center on the cause of his decline: Was the fault in Welles, the stars, the system? Now the decline itself is in question."

  • Dwight Garner: "[Leonard] Maltin's books have essentially cornered the movie guide market."

Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough
  • Motoko Rich reports on "a move that decimated the senior ranks of its arts staff" at the Village Voice. "In an interview, Tom Robbins, a longtime reporter and union steward at The Voice, said: 'We've been looking forward to this new editor coming on and then all of a sudden we get hit with these very deep cuts and firings, including people like Bob Christgau, who helped put The Voice on the map. It cuts the heart right out of the paper." Related: Robert Christgau sends out a note: "Bless the union, my severance is substantial enough to give me time to figure out what I'm doing next."

  • Matthew Hayes reports on this summer's Peace It Together Camp. Ten Israeli, ten Palestinian and ten Canadian teenagers came together to make films. How did it go? "David Ozier, a Vancouver filmmaker who worked as a mentor, said those who attended appeared to be affected by the experience. 'Both the Palestinian and Israeli teenagers learned to work together and formed some very strong friendships,' Mr Ozier said. 'True to stereotype, the Canadian kids were often the ones who were filling a diplomatic role when there was conflict.'"

  • Lynn Hirschberg's profile of Vera Farmiga begins with her unusual method of trying on a character before auditioning.

  • Jeannette Catsoulis: "Like the best kids' movies, Lassie is exquisitely tuned to the way a child sees the world." More from Slate's Dana Stevens. Related: Jennifer Merin talks with director Charles Sturridge for the New York Press.

  • AO Scott on the new Wicker Man: "A movie like this can survive an absurd premise but not incompetent execution. And [Neil] LaBute, never much of an artist with the camera, proves almost comically inept as a horror-movie technician." More from Peter Vander Haar at Film Threat and Nick Schager in Slant, where he also reviews Jesus Camp. Meanwhile, Joe Leydon gets an email from LaBute in response to his review in Variety.

  • Laura Kern on Looking for Kitty: "Even by [Edward] Burns standards (he's still best known for his charmingly unpolished 1995 debut, The Brothers McMullen), this is a modest film on various levels, in terms of budget, length, cast size and technical craft."

  • Nathan Lee: "Crossover is a decent example of Sidekick Cinema: a movie to glance up at from time to time while you download ring tones or text-message your friends."

  • John R Quain on "the 'last 10 feet' problem": getting movies to your computer is easy; getting them from your computer to your TV is still the big obstacle.

Violet Glaze at PopMatters on Erich von Stroheim: "He wanted to be supreme and autocratic dictator of a reality he nurtured from the tiniest blade of grass into a multitudinous, multifaceted portrait of existence. Hollywood, however, just wanted movies."

Joe Leydon has a terrific story about Horton Foote.

J Robert Parks: "Be with Me is one of those rare films that's both rigorous and deeply moving."

X makes a brief return to Twitch to review the Korean drama Alone in Love.

Kim Tae-jong, writing for the Korea Times, finds Woman on the Beach "takes a much lighter approach than Hong [Sang-soo]'s previous works."

Forbidden Floor Forbidden Floor, the second film in a series of low-budget horror movies released and broadcast on TV nearly simultaneously in a diversified-marketing strategy, makes clever use of the fact that many buildings in South Korea have no fourth floor, since the Chinese characters for "death" and "four" are homophones in Korean pronunciation," writes Kyu Hyun Kim at Koreanfilm.org. What's more, it's "not the tedious, lugubrious bore it could have been."

New Opening Shots at scanners: Jim Emerson on Greetings and Raw Meat and Schuyler Chapman on Repo Man.

"A barebones production with obvious technical limitations but crafted out of love and dedication, Film Geek taps into the fantasy-based reality that movies nurture through their actors, themes, editing, and photography which so many of us carry from the theater into everyday life, subconsciously or not," writes Ray Young at Flickhead. "At the same time, writer-director James Westby is in tune with the callousness of the outside world and its numbing effect on a vulnerable, friendless but goodhearted junkie hooked on cinema."

Crank is "truly fresh, riotously funny, and stands a chance of making a bona fide cult hero out of Statham," writes Tim Robey in the Telegraph. More from Nathan Lee in the NYT, Peter Nellhaus, Aaron Dobbs and Cinematical's Martha Fischer, who finds "the film has a terrible case of ADD: Scenes are chock-full of unnecessary visual touches that, while striking and interesting if used judiciously, quickly lose their power when they show up in every scene - several times."

Jessica Winter's piece on Keane is cast as a profile of its star, Damian Lewis, but there's background on Lodge Kerrigan here, too.

Stop Smiling's latest DVD roundup: The Naked Spur, Let's Scare Jessica to Death, London and Wanda.

DVD reviews at Slant: Ed Gonzalez on The Notorious Bettie Page and Kinky Boots; and Paul Schrodt on Romancing the Stone.

Raoul Hernandez visits Italy, courtesy of Criterion: Seduced and Abandoned (more from Logan Hill at Nerve), Fists in the Pocket and Amarcord. Also in the Austin Chronicle, Marc Savlov talks with Jamie Babbit about The Quiet. More from Steve Ramos in the Milwaukee Journal and Jonathan Kiefer in the Sacramento News and Review.

Overlord "Having Stuart Cooper's World War II meditation Overlord show up in theaters right now, some 30 years after it was made, is like skipping back in time twice," writes Noel Murray in the Nashville Scene. First, it's "a lost artifact of 70s art-cinema, to file between Stanley Kubrick, Ken Russell and Terrence Malick. The second time-skip comes courtesy of the stock footage, which shows how war really looked in Europe in the 40s."

The IFC's Alison Willmore tells three stories of self-distribution: Andrew Bujalski and his Mutual Appreciation, Sujewa Ekanayake's Date Number One and Lance Weiler's Head Trauma. Related online viewing tip. A Head Trauma making-of at independentfilm.com.

Sujewa, in the meantime, has launched Indie Features 07, a "group blog for certain independent filmmakers (art/lo-budget indie/DIY/comedy/drama mostly I think) who have a film in distribution (DVD, theatrical, VOD, festivals, whatever - as long as the flick is available for public viewing) in 2007. The sexy child of Indie Features 06 blog."

The Telegraph's SF Said talks with directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris about their Little Miss Sunshine. Chris Tilly talks with Greg Kinnear for Time Out.

Gill Pringle interviews Kiefer Sutherland for the Independent. In the Black Dahlia entry, I've noted Ryan Wu's comments on Geoffrey Macnab's "Wagnerian" profile of Scarlett Johansson; I mention it again here simply as an excuse to hope you'll savor this entry. Related: James Urbaniak's Siegel Files.

"The most interesting thing about the original Trek is the character of Spock, one of TV history's most complex and melancholy outsiders; the second most interesting thing about it is its time capsule quality - the fact that it is, in every sense, a product of its era: the Johnson/Nixon years, when reel-to-reel tape players, punchcard computers and color TVs seemed state-of-the-art," writes Matt Zoller Seitz at the House Next Door. "Unfortunately, I suspect the second quality will be obliterated, or at least undermined, by CBS and Paramount's decision to "update" the show's special effects and sets for High Definition TVs when the series re-enters syndication September 16." Related: Alan Vanneman at Bright Lights After Dark: 1, 2 and 3.

If ghosts could walk, they couldn't walk through walls. And if there were such a thing as vampires, they'd have sucked up all of humankind within two-and-a-half years of the first vamp's appearance. Scientists are no fun, reports ABC's Judy Skatssoon. Thanks, Jerry. For that and for the Femtroopers.

At Zoom In Online, Andy Beach points to Ronald Grover's piece in Business Week on Wal-Mart and Apple facing off in Hollywood. As Wal-Mart pressures the studios to lower DVD prices, the studios, in turn, are pressuring Apple to raise its projected price structure for the iTunes movie store.

Online browsing tip. Neatorama's "Wonderful World of Early Photography." Via wood s lot.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:21 AM | Comments (3)

Venice. The Queen.

The Queen "Peter Morgan's well-researched screenplay, which the ever-versatile director Stephen Frears has meticulously brought to vibrant life, zeroes in on the traumatic week in August 1997 following Princess Diana's death in a Paris car crash," establishes Kirk Honeycutt in the Hollywood Reporter. "The film, a fascinating mix of high-minded gossip and historical perspective, examines the clash of values - of ritual and traditions versus media savvy and political ambition - that leads to a crisis for the British monarchy."

"I don't imagine Her Majesty cares much about the altered fortunes of the people's Prime Minister," muses Mary Riddell in the Observer. "She has watched nine worn-out leaders, from Churchill onwards, shuffle from her presence and, besides, she is not the sentimental sort. In Frears's film, she sheds no tear for Diana, but weeps for a Balmoral stag, an emblem of the mighty slain. The Queen's horror, wonderfully conveyed by [Helen] Mirren, was that she no longer knew her subjects. She had believed them stoical, decorous and resilient, only to see them burying west London in Kleenex and carnations while baying for her presence or her blood.... Frears's film could be more than a fine insight into a royal family at bay. It may be the first epitaph to the House of Windsor."

Updated through 9/4.

David Poland finds The Queen "so simple and so complex and so polished to just the right degree of shine that [Frears] makes something so few can do look effortless.... This is a small movie. But what seems to be specific turns universal at some point. And that is the wonder of it. A really compelling story, terribly well told."

"There's no need to disturb Freud to say that Queen Elizabeth II is part of my subconscious. In 50 years, she has penetrated the depths of all English people." For Cineuropa, Camillo de Marco gets an eerie quote from Frears and adds: "To those expecting a vitriolic portrait of the leader with the Cheshire Cat-like smile and a caustic view of the royal family, we can say that the director's view is indulgent even if inexorable in emphasising the absolute anachronism between the royal presence and Blair's determination and ambition." De Marco also notes that the producers aren't expecting any legal hassle from either the royal family or Downing Street 10.

"Deliciously written and expertly played," declares Variety's Derek Elley. Mirren's performance is "socko"!

Updates, 9/4: Tobias Buck talks with Frears for the Financial Times. Via Ray Pride at Movie City Indie.

Geoffrey Macnab for Screen Daily: "Despite an occasional tendency toward mannerism and caricature in the early scenes, Frears steers a deft line between satire and sycophancy, creating a work that is ultimately complex and moving."

At europeanfilms.net, Boyd van Hoeij recalls a relevant scene from Prick Up Your Ears.

The Telegraph's David Gritten: "The Queen is not merely the year's best British film, it is one of the year's most intriguing, provocative films from anywhere."

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw: "Helen Mirren, as the Queen, gives the sort of barnstorming performance that our unwritten constitution decrees must be rewarded with a shower of awards."

Elisa Bray outlines Mirren's career, decade by decade, from the 60s to the present, for the Independent.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:45 AM

Online viewing tip. Maddin's Brain.

Brand Upon the Brain! Guy Maddin has to be one of the most needlessly yet refreshingly humble filmmakers around. In an 8½-minute preview of Brand Upon the Brain!, talking over footage that suggests this may be his best feature yet, he quietly explains the very personal nature of the film, referring to it as something of a companion piece to Cowards Bend the Knee.

We have David Poland to thank for this. Click his name and get that press kit, a downloadable PDF and a keeper. David also notes that Brand Upon the Brain! "will be shown only once during the [Toronto] festival... no press screening... no follow-ups... because this 95 minute black + white opus - 'a remembrance in 12 chapters' - will be shown with a live narrator, two on-stage foley artists, a castrato, and an 11 piece live orchestra at the Elgin at 6p on the first Friday." That's September 8, this Friday.

Earlier: The Heart of the World.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:22 AM

September 2, 2006

Two Pedros.

Two Drifters The San Francisco Bay Guardian's Johnny Ray Huston calls up João Pedro Rodrigues to talk about Two Drifters and hears, among other things, that the director's no fan of Catherine Breillat or Gaspar Noé.

John McMurtrie on Two Drifters for the San Francisco Chronicle: "An overwrought weepie, it may be inspired by the recent dramas of Pedro Almodóvar, but it comes off as Almodóvar Lite - muy lite."

Chris Fujiwara in the Boston Phoenix on Almodóvar: "His unobtrusive skill with staging and camera movement keeps tasteful garishness from turning into cloying.... He shares with Fassbinder, Chabrol and Ruiz the gift of speed, though he lacks other qualities - including, respectively, brutality, corrosiveness, and a luxuriant imagination - that make them great filmmakers."

"Funny that the current standard critical line about Almodóvar seems to be that the Spanish auteur's subversive streak has been increasingly nullified in recent years," writes Michael Koresky at Reverse Shot. "I would venture that All About My Mother, and certainly Talk to Her, as well as passages of Bad Education and Volver, have the ability to cut deeper, burrow at terrifying truths with more wisdom and alacrity."

More on Almodóvar's leitmotifs from Brendan Kiley in the Stranger and more in general from Neva Chonin in the San Francisco Chronicle and Nathaniel R, who, in his "Pedro Watch #3," offers a roundup of nifty Almodóvaria.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:18 PM | Comments (1)

Long weekend online viewing.

Kapitaal Studio Smack's Kapitaal, via Coudal Partners, where Jim calls it "a brilliant vision of the world stripped bare of everything except corporate identities and signage."

Sharpeworld is on a roll. Oskar Fishinger, Harry Smith and more.

Tom Sutpen introduces Leon Prochnik's The Existentialist at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger...: "No film of its time or any other encapsulated so neatly, so lyrically, the attitude lurking in the heart of what used to be known as The New American Cinema."

At No fat clips!!!: "Psychedelic visual interpretation of Kraftwerk's "Autobahn" produced in 1979 at Halas & Batchelor by John Halas and directed by Roger Mainwood."

Style Wars. All 70 minutes. Via popnutten.

An old skating short from Spike Jonze at Blank Screen.

Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay points to