September 30, 2006
Weekend NYFF roundup."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.
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."
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."
"[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."
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Weekend docs."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 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."
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."
San Sebastian. Awards.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."
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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.
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New York Dispatch. 3.In this latest dispatch from the New York Film Festival, David D'Arcy reviews Mafioso and Bamako. 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. 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.
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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:
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September 29, 2006
Online viewing tip. Meetin' WA.Must viewing. No kidding.
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." 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.
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.
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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!
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NYT. 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.
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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:
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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. 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.
Interview. 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.
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September 28, 2006
Operatic.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."
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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.
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September 27, 2006
Shorts, 9/27."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:
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Fests and events, 9/27.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:
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Up-n-coming, 9/27."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. 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."
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Books, 9/27.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." 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?"
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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.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.
Online viewing tip. 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.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.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. 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.
NYFF, 9/26.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."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."
Tetsuro Tamba, 1922 - 2006.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.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.
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." 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.
Fests and events, 9/25."[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:
September 24, 2006
Online viewing tip. Clinton vs 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.)"
Rouge. 9+.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.
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Fantastic Fest, 9/24."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. Also in the Guardian:
Fests and events, 9/22."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:
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Interview. Jet Li."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.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." 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."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. 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." 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."
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DVDs, 9/21.Once again, DK Holm checks in with the DVD specialists.. 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." 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.
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."
Sven Nykvist, 1922 - 2006.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."
Shorts and fests, 9/20."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?" 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. 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:
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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.
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September 19, 2006
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."
Shorts, 9/19."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."
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Fests and events, 9/19.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. 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.
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Interview. Michael Tucker.[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.
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September 18, 2006
TIFF, 9/18.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. "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.
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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).
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Midnight Eye. Returns.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:
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Shorts, 9/18.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. 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. 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.
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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. 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. 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.
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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 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. 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. 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.
September 17, 2006
Toronto Dispatch. 6.David D'Arcy looks back on murder and assassination at TIFF, onscreen and off. 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.
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September 16, 2006
Weekend shorts."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:
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Weekend fests and events."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.
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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."
September 15, 2006
Furor in Venice.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.)"
Fall Blog-a-Thons.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:
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Scriptland."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.
Interview. 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:
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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."
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TIFF, 9/14.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. Following up on his review, Michael Guillï¿½n 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:
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More fall previews."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." 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."
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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. 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.
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Interview. Nick Doob and Chris Hegedus."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 () 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.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":
Posted by dwhudson at 1:45 PM
"Sylvan Village and Film Noir City"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. 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. 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.
Dragon wings and billowing sails."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.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." 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." 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." 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." 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.
DVDs, 9/12.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." 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." 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. 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." 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. 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." 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. 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?"
Interview. 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.
September 11, 2006
More shorts."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:
Other fests and events.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." "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."
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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:
Toronto Dispatch. 4.David D'Arcy on the already-controversial Death of a President and Christopher Guest's new comedy, For Your Consideration.
9/11. 5.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.
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September 10, 2006
Sketch for a sketch.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."
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Fall previews. September.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
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Fall previews. October.Posting backwards... October 4
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Fall previews. November....makes the entries at least appear to be... November 3
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Fall previews. December....in chronological order. Update, 9/11: The Reeler reviews the fall previews in the New York media. Fun stuff. December 1
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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. 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. 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. 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 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.
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Venice. Awards.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 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
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
for Best Technical Contribution:
Director of Photography for the film Children of Men by Alfonso Cuarón Reviews. OSELLA
for Best Screenplay:
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.
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
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.
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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. 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:
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September 8, 2006
TIFF, 9/8.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. "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." 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.
Tiger Eye 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...
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Venice. Fongchuk."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."
Venice. 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.
Interview. Rick Stevenson."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.
September 7, 2006
Shorts, 9/7.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. 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. "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. 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.
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Other fests and events, 9/7."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. "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.
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Toronto Dispatch. 1.Previewing a music doc and a studio confection, David D'Arcy files the first of our dispatches from Toronto. 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? 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. 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." 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.
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Docs and a docudrama.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. "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."
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TIFF, 9/7."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.
Rémy Belvaux, 1967 - 2006.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.
Venice. Inland Empire.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.
September 6, 2006
Christine Vachon's 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.
Venice. 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.
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Venice. 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.
Shorts, 9/6.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. 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:
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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."
Fests and events, 9/6."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. 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.
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Brooklyn Rail. September 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:
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Venice. 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."
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Venice. 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."
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September 5, 2006
Venice. 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."
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Venice. Ye Yan."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."
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Wrapping Telluride, 9/5.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."
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Venice. 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."
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Venice. 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."
Interview. Michelle Goldberg.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.
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September 4, 2006
Jump Cut. Archives.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.
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Shorts, 9/4.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?" 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.
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Other fests, other events.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.
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Anticipating TIFF, 9/4.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.
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Telluride, 9/4.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.
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Venice. 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."
September 3, 2006
Venice. 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.
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Venice. 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.
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Venice. 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.
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Venice. Farval 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."
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Venice. Quelques jours en Septembre.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.
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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.
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Critics, books and shorts."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:
Venice. 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.
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Online viewing tip. Maddin's 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.
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