October 31, 2006

Shorts, 10/31.

Fast Food Nation Just up at the Mother Jones site is the feature-length interviewer's extended cut of Rob Nelson's conversation with Richard Linklater, three times longer than what you may have already seen in print. Related: Matt Dentler on what's in store for the Austin premiere of Fast Food Nation.

David Lynch's self-distributed Inland Empire is slated for a two-week run at the IFC Center in New York starting December 6. "That was quick," notes Anthony Kaufman.

The Rules of the Game. There it sits at #3 in the most recent Sight & Sound Critics' Poll, #9 for the Directors'. And now that it's been restored from a master print, it's seeing a rerelease. J Hoberman: "It is required viewing, if only to understand the ideal that filmmakers from Robert Altman to Woody Allen have been after. And even if you think you know it, see it again for its newly rediscovered depth of field, and even more, for its infinite wellsprings of character and empathy."

Also in the Voice, Wondrous Oblivion "not only vacillates between innocuous fancy and real menace, sometimes awkwardly, but also maintains a rather nervy balance between a light coming- of-age drama for children and a darker, more adult story of deferred passions," writes Jim Ridley.

One of the projects Stanley Kubrick never got around to making was Lunatic at Large, based on a treatment he commissioned in the late 50s from Jim Thompson. Charles McGrath reports that not only have Kubrick's widow and son-in-law found the manuscript but producer Edward R Pressman and director Chris Palmer plan to realize the film. The story? "It's a dark and surprising mystery of sorts, in which the greatest puzzle is who, among several plausible candidates, is the true escapee from a nearby mental hospital."

Also, Dave Kehr on a collection from Paramount: "Audiences loved the Freudian conflict between [Dean] Martin's slicked-back, self-assured embodiment of adult sexuality and the explosive id of [Jerry] Lewis's little-boy character, as artfully uncontrolled as Mr Martin's polished charm was the product of self-conscious calculation." Related news from the BBC: "EMI Music have signed a deal with the estate of late singer Dean Martin to use his name, image and likeness."

Che Guevara Variety's Michael Fleming reports that Steven Soderbergh is set to shoot not one but two films with Benicio Del Toro as Che Guevara. The Argentine "begins as Che and a band of Cuban exiles (led by Fidel Castro) reach the Cuban shore from Mexico in 1956. Within two years, they mobilized popular support and an army and toppled the U.S.-friendly regime of dictator Fulgencio Batista. The second film, Guerrilla, begins with Che's trip to New York, where he spoke at the United Nations in 1964 and was celebrated in society circles."

Production Weekly: "Brian De Palma is set to direct The Untouchables: Capone Rising, a prequel to his 1987 hit film about lawman Eliot Ness' takedown of Al Capone."

Robert Keser on the new Will Ferrell movie: "This certainly counts as director [Marc] Forster's best work yet, as he deftly achieves and sustains all the fanciful notions with a much lighter hand than he used in Monster's Ball and Finding Neverland, but in the end Stranger Than Fiction suggests far too many other films for its own good."

Also in Slant:

The Magic Gloves

"Few experiences are stranger than sitting in a cinema and seeing an almost exact recreation of your teenage bedroom." David Nicholls watches the adaptation of his novel, Starter for Ten. "I'm also struck, frequently and painfully, by the realisation that things I experienced as a young adult now constitute a period movie. Many of the film's cast can't remember a time when Nelson Mandela wasn't free, and I'm still processing the fact that the Smiths bear the same relation to 2006 as Gerry and the Pacemakers did to 1986."

Also in the Guardian: "Jackie Chan and Jet Li, the two biggest stars of Hong Kong action cinema, are to face off in a film." More from Wolf at Twitch. So, with all that talk about retiring from martial arts after Fearless, Li must have been referring specifically to Wu Shu after all.

Owen Hatherley has a suggestion as to why Daniel Frampton's Filmosophy "falls short."

Since the purge of arts writers at the Village Voice, Michael Atkinson has appeared in the Stranger, at TCM and now has a new DVD column at IFC News to boot. This week, he reviews Down to the Bone and Hands Over the City.

"A number of influential film critics, including the <Ford scholar Tag Gallagher and Chicago Reader film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, consider 7 Women to be one of the director's finest films.... Why, then, the widespread indifference to 7 Women?" asks Bilge Ebiri at ScreenGrab. "Perhaps because it seems, on its surface, such a departure from the prototypical Ford film." Related: An Anne Bancroft recollection from David Ehrenstein.

Hombre Kabuki "In Hombre Kabuki, a short film directed by Leo Age, some dude tries to convince his significant other that her wearing a Mexican wrestling mask may spice up their dull sex life," writes Mike Everleth at Bad Lit. The film "subverts the notion of fetish sex by shifting the power from one partner to the other."

"Hollywood is always being accused of having a pernicious influence on our personal values, of preferring to promote sex, violence, moral equivalency and other horrible perversities," writes Patrick Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times. "Yet two of the fall's best films - Flags of Our Fathers and The Queen honor an especially timely traditional value: people who choose reticence over shameless exhibitionism."

Chris Tilly: "The TOMB attended the Breaking and Entering Blackberry gala screening and after party on Friday, both of which were rather lacklustre affairs."

Erin Torneo sends a dispatch into indieWIRE from the Hawaii International Film Festival.

Online viewing tip #1. Via Coudal Partners, Peter Greenaway harrumphs.

Online viewing tips #2 and #3. Moscow 1908, via Mark Frauenfelder at Boing Boing, where he's also pointing to John Kricfalusi's NSFW video for Tenacious D.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:23 PM

Docs, 10/31.

Die Grosse Stille The European Film Academy has announced that this year's documentary award (Prix Arte) goes to Philip Gröning's Die Grosse Stille (Into Great Silence). "As the jury explained, 'for almost three hours, we were taken into another world - Into Great Silence. And we appreciated it.'" The European Film Awards ceremony will be held December 2 in Warsaw.

It's been fascinating watching a documentary as personal and moving as Tara Wray's Manhattan, Kansas move from production (when I interviewed Tara) through its first screenings (when I reviewed the film) through to this latest stage: self-distribution: "Each DVD comes packaged in a limited edition hand-made origami case." Recommended.

Absolute Wilson Paddy Johnson for the Reeler on Absolute Wilson: "Maybe I'm asking too much from a documentary that is essentially done in collaboration with its subject, but I would have liked to have seen more critical analysis of the work; in the end, you have to put aside the limitations of filmmaking and evaluate the film on its own terms. And I, for one, can't pretend that a cold documentary pairing a lineage of the artist's productions and his superficial personal biography is the same as a portrait of the artist, his life and work." Related: Robert Wilson's video portrait of Brad Pitt. At Vanity Fair via Alex Ross.

"Art docs are the new black," suggests Ed Gonzalez, opening a review of Who the $#%& is Jackson Pollock?. More from David D'Arcy.

At IFC News, Dan Persons notes "The Rise of the Fanumentary," e.g., 95 Miles to Go, The Outsider, Sketches of Frank Gehry and Wrestling with Angels.

Time's Richards Corliss and Schickel offer their takes on some of the most interesting docs out there right now: S&Man, 49 Up, Jesus Camp, Deliver Us From Evil and, in general, Werner Herzog (at the end of last year, Corliss named The White Diamond the best film of 2005; Schickel, Grizzly Man).

In the meantime, the "Jesus Camp" itself, that is, Kids on Fire, is closing down following acts vandalism and threats to safety directed at the organization. Pointing to an AP report, Jessica Barnes has more at Cinematical.

"A case study in documentary dialectics," suggests J Hoberman: "In opposition to the death cult of Stanley Nelson's sensational Jonestown, we have the positive vibes of Jonathan Berman's mellow account of Black Bear Ranch, Commune."

Also in the Voice:

Romántico

Brian Brooks has an overview of the Sheffield Documentary Festival at indieWIRE.

How are all these docs doing at the box office? An overview from AJ Schnack.

Online listening tip. For NPR, Christopher Johnson talks with James Spooner about Afro Punk.

Online viewing tip. The trailer for What is Said About Arabs and Terrorism.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:12 PM

Horrors, Halloween.

The Call of Cthulhu "We are gathered here at the final end of what Bradbury called the October Country: a state of mind as much as it is a time. All the harvests are in, the frost is on the ground, there's mist in the crisp night air and it's time to tell ghost stories." And Neil Gaiman whispers a few in the New York Times.

"As a Halloween special, Cinema Strikes Back brings you a double dose of scary HP Lovecraft goodness - a review of The Call of Cthulhu and an interview with co-creator Sean Branney."

Dennis Cozzalio offers an "attempt to guide the discerning horror film aficionado, as well as the average viewer in search of a good movie, whatever the genre, toward some favorite titles that haven’t really seen their share of the limelight over the years," a list of "13 Underrated, Ignored or Forgotten Horror Movies," followed by honorable mentions of 13 more and a list of "10 Under-Appreciated Horror Films" from writer-director Don Mancini. All these titles are generously and smartly annotated, too.

Wisit Sasanatieng's The Unseeable has, in fact, been seen. Wise Kwai's caught a sneak preview: "Though Wisit restrains the colorful style he displayed in Tears of the Black Tiger and Citizen Dog, this intelligent, spooky ghost thriller still oozes old-timey Siamese atmosphere, and for that alone, it's a beautiful film to watch." Via Grady Hendrix, who points to another trailer.

Bill Gibron's been sprinting these past few days at PopMatters:

  • A horror top ten, "films that function as both macabre as well as a mirror on the modern world."

  • On Ganja & Hess: "When we hear it was supposed to be a combination of blaxploitation and bloodsucker, we settle in and expect the worse - or perhaps Blackula Part 2. Instead, we get a devastating art film that raises more intriguing philosophical questions than hairs on the back of one's neck."

  • "Now more than ever the suffering category of scares needs jaded jesters like James Gunn. Slither is the perfect cure for such cinematic stagnancy."

  • "Dead Heat is an inventive, inviting horror comedy that avoids formulas while it deconstructs clichés to make what has to be the first action-adventure-living-dead comedy ever conceived."

  • On Plaga Zombie: Mutant Zone: "Here it is, all you home-movie hopefuls - 100 percent proof positive that epic entertainment can be crafted out of a camcorder, a cast and crew of friends, and a great deal of cinematic creativity."

Dementia "The kind of film Maya Deren would've whipped up for Sam Arkoff, Dementia began as a ten-minute short by novice director John Parker," writes Flickhead. "Although dismissed by the New York Times for its "lack of poetic sense, analytical skill and cinematic experience,' John Parker snagged a plug from Preston Sturges, who called it 'a work of art. It stirred my blood and purged my libido.'"

Quint visits the Prague set of Eli Roth's Hostel 2 for AICN.

Michelle Le Blanc and Colin Odell have a horror top ten at Kamera. Nice touch: each film comes from a different country.

Tony Kay on Jack Clayton's The Innocents: "As a horror tale, as a psychological study, and as a work of art, it rivals anything produced by any major studio at the time. Only Robert Wise's nigh-peerless The Haunting comes close." As it happens, that's Edward Copeland's pick for the day: "It takes some skill to make a film this creepy when very little concrete happens, but director Robert Wise accomplished it, even with an overuse of strange camera angles and an overblown musical score by Humphrey Seale. Two factors though make The Haunting more than worthwhile: the exquisite black and white cinematography by Davis Boulton and a great performance from the legendary Julie Harris."

Scott Weinberg: "Probably best recommended only to those who already like Saw and Saw 2, Saw 3 delivers more of the same mayhem, plus an appreciable dose of dark chills, morbid thrills, and just enough in the 'ultra-sick morality tale' department to keep the brainier horror geeks happy."

Also at Cinematical:

"Fred M Wilcox's 1956 sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet may seem an odd addition to our Halloween spectacular," confesses Reverse Shot's clarencecarter. "But I'll proudly stand up and say that my regular childhood viewings, even those on sunny weekend afternoons, were marked with liberal doses of sheer terror."

Looking for even more suggestions as to what to watch? Robert Cashill suggests that "you could do worse than watching the films listed in the 'Science Fiction' song" that opens The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

"I think watching Tim Burton movies is one of my favorite family activities. Epecially in a house decorated with cobwebs and skeletons and such, which I find pernnially comforting," writes David Lowery.

Those fluent in German who also happen to have an interest in both German media law and Dario Argento are encouraged to read Thomas Groh's tip in his filmtagebuch - and catch Suspiria on arte tonight.

Online viewing tip. "It's Halloween, Charlie Brown!" At ticklebooth.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:20 PM

NCTATNY. "Neverending Nightmares."

Freddy vs Jason Not Coming to a Theater Near You wraps its "31 Days of Horror" series with an all-encompassing retrospective of the Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street movies, 18 features in all.

A "a foolproof formula the engine driving each, they begin to veer in wildly different directions, before - to the delight of many fans - merging in 2002's Freddy vs Jason," writes Rumsey Taylor, introducing the survey. "One has as its routine slasher killer a durable, taciturn and deformed son, who forever seeks vengeance for not only his mother's death, but his own. The other has a maniacal, effeminate, and outspoken child molester, burned alive at the hands of angry parents, and who vows to forever torment their children in their sleep. Each character has made for a great, even if critically derided, variety of scenarios, illustrating the very extent of a subgenre over the course of the past quarter-century."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:25 AM

Interview. Matt Kennedy.

Panik House "As president of Panik House Entertainment, a Chicago-based DVD distribution company specializing in obscure Asian horror films, sexploitation epics and notorious Pinky Violence shockers, Matt Kennedy is a disarmingly cheerful aficionado of nightmarish visions and unspeakable acts," writes Steven Jenkins, introducing a conversation that touches on the appeal, the packaging and the future of the extreme.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:48 AM

October 30, 2006

Shorts and fests, 10/30.

Durgnat on Film Girish reminds us of what else a blog can do and introduces "a new feature called Archiveology devoted to unearthing valuable writing on the web that is not brand new. Today: an homage to five voracious cinephiles whose curiosity, open-mindedness, energy, intelligence and appetite I find truly inspirational."

When he saw The Matrix in the spring of 1999, Darren Aronofsky asked himself, "What kind of science fiction movie can people make now?" For Wired, Steve Silberman traces the seven-year-long evolution of Aronofsky's answer, "The Fountain - equal parts sci-fi, swashbuckling adventure, and medical thriller - [it] tries to be three blockbusters in one." That much you may already know. But there's more: "The Fountain - an allegory about the promise of eternal life - died several ugly deaths on its way to the screen. The inside story of the film is a classic tale of a prodigy tempted to excess by Hollywood megabudgets and the commercial potential of boldface names. But in the end, Aronofsky's determination to reinvent sci-fi without CGI helped save The Fountain and his own indie soul."

"Iranian artist Shirin Neshat plans to shoot a film about the United States overthrowing a democratically-elected government in Iran to gain control of the nation's vast oil supplies," reports Marguerita Choy for Reuters. "The project is not based on the West's ongoing standoff over Tehran's nuclear program but rather on the US Central Intelligence Agency's first overthrow of a foreign government, 53 years ago."

At Koreanfilm.org, Darcy Paquet reviews Jang Sun-woo's 1996 film A Petal, dealing with the Gwangju Massacre in May 1980: "Ultimately this event more than any other would come to shape the future political development of Korea.... Despite the intensity of many scenes, what stands out most from A Petal is a black-and-white flashback at the film's end, which has to rank as one of the most powerful, heartbreaking moments contained in any Korean film."

In its fourth year, the Morelia International Film Festival has already become "the most important fest in Mexico," writes David Wilson at indieWIRE. "Though Mexico is in the midst of an especially creative and prolific film renaissance, there is still relatively little money to fund feature films. Thus, short films have become the dominant form of expression for young Mexican filmmakers looking to make their mark. Many function as 'calling cards' for commercial work, but plenty offer fully realized, pocket-sized visions of Mexican life."

Also: an interview with Cocaine Cowboys director Billy Corben.

Rain Dogs "The Kuala Lumpur depicted in Ho Yuhang's Rain Dogs is bustling, seedy, unfinished, on a slow brew threatening to boil over," writes The Visitor at Twitch. "This is the underbelly of KL rarely seen in local productions."

Studs Lonigan, notes Zach Campbell, "isn't avant-garde or experimental, it isn't a profoundly subversive take on the H'wood narrative - it simply wants to render it less invisible, less taken for granted."

Nick Davis: "Illusions, though it lacks any trace of [Daughters of the Dust's] dazzling visual palette, and though it concentrates on a smaller and simpler cast of characters, clearly prefigures the pliable and critical perspectives on history that would characterize [Julie Dash's] justly famous feature."

"Eugène Green seems ideally suited to interpret Flaubert's La Première éducation sentimentale (the first version of L'Éducation sentimentale), re-adapting the themes of first love, the intoxication of desire, and failed ideological revolution (that culminated in the Revolution of 1848) to the May 68 generation through a chronicle of the parallel lives of a pair of childhood friends," writes acquarello in a review of Toutes les nuits.

In the Independent, David Thomson shifts his gaze to Isabelle Huppert, "one of the great actresses on the screen, and one who has steadfastly pursued the best and the most daring of directors."

"'[W]atch borderline personality decompensate over course of two hours' isn't on my to-do list anywhere, but I can't un-know what it looks like now." Sarah D Bunting can't help but revisit five performances by Jennifer Jason Leigh at the House Next Door.

Two movies that have been talked about, blogged about, feted, festival-circuited, online-clipped, previewed, reviewed, the works, practically all year long, finally see their theatrical releases this week. But of course, that won't be the end of it. As noted yesterday, awards season, now stretching out to a full half-year, has only just begun. We will be seeing more of Volver and Borat. For today, know that David Edelstein reviews both for New York (where Logan Hill has a brief talk with Pedro Almodóvar), and so does Anthony Lane in the New Yorker.

Shawn Levy adds one childhood story from Todd Field to his piece in Sunday's Oregonian on Little Children.

SF360's Susan Gerhard talks with Stanley Nelson about Jonestown: The Life and Death of People's Temple.

Online browsing tip. Making Sense of Marcel Duchamp, via Coudal Partners, also pointing to the Newspaper Movie Ad Archive.

Online viewing tip. On the Edge of Blade Runner, hosted by Mark Kermode. Via Waxy.org.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:11 AM | Comments (1)

Blog-a-Thon: Vampires!

House of Dracula Last month, Nathaniel R called for a Blog-a-Thon on my own favorite cinematic creatures of the season, vampires, and we can look forward to watching it seep along today. Update: That's not seeping, that's gushing. Halloween Update: 53 participating blogs so far. Fantastic.

Halloween Update #2: Nathaniel's drawn up an index of the Blog-a-Thon that looks like the Table of Contents to an excellent anthology on vampire movies. Extraordinarily well done.

Introducing write-ups of half a dozen vampire movies, Flickhead notes that "the age of AIDS has lent a stultifying nihilism to the genre, making the contemporary vampire pictures seem less concerned with simple-minded escapism than harrowing and incurable diseases."

Richard Gibson has a string of entries related to his "Dream Double Bill #17": Martin and The Addiction, "the two most interesting modern day Vampire films."

"There are no brides. There is no Dracula," writes Peter Nellhaus. "Looking past the misleading title, this is one of my favorite Hammer films."

Updated.

As it happens, the subject of today's entry in Not Coming to a Theater Near You's "31 Days of Horror" extravaganza is a vampire movie. Chiranjit Goswami returns to The Hunger "without much anticipation only to be surprised at how the film's shamelessly sumptuous style remains so utterly absorbing and expertly effective. It also made me realize I had become somewhat of a biased blockhead. Though the claim that [Tony] Scott's film lacks sufficient substance may hold merit, The Hunger constantly displays itself to be crafted remarkably well."

Updates: Nick Davis: "For me, Bram Stoker's Dracula distills and sacralizes a form of aestheticized passion, the kind that insists on both the virtuosity and the foolishness in artistic experiment and self-exhibition. The film finds its director living on the outward edge of his mind's eye and inviting a plethora of fellow artists to join him there, all of them enraptured with the arts that constitute the cinema if also a bit skeptical, maybe even a bit cynical, as regards the final product.... It's as though Coppola, his own career all but scuttled and his chosen medium increasingly eulogized, is throwing every new and old inspiration he can find at the screen, and saying, baying, crying, laughing, joking, fuming, declaiming, 'Here, for better and for worse, is a movie that's alive.'"

At european-films.net, Boyd van Hoeij reviews "a rollicking ride that is funnier than it is scary, though the tone of Frostbiten remains admirably on the spooky side of Scream and Scary Movie, never stopping to knowingly wink at the audience."

And Nathaniel's tracking dozens more.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:38 AM

Horrors, 10/30.

Rosemary's Baby On the eve of All Hallows' Eve, viewing recommendations trickle on in, with the most recent rounds coming from Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas and the staff of Film Threat, where Don Lewis recommends Rosemary's Baby; so does David Jeffers at the Siffblog.

After plugging Slither, Vince Keenan points to Tony Kay's Pop Culture Petri Dish, "where he's in the midst of his second annual Horrorpalooza. He's got you covered from A (Argento, Dario) to Z (Zombies, Nazi)."

From a highly entertaining primer-like piece by Jeffrey Hill at the House Next Door: "From about 1940-48 - the prime years for mummy movies - if you were a young woman who, through coincidence, was the spitting image of Princess Ananka and happened to be near the Universal lot, chances were that you would end up on the sacrificial table of one of these looney birds."

Thomas Scalzo at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "A splatter-generation take on the reviled-monster tale, Basket Case modernizes the gothic locales of Frankenstein, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and the like with scenes of the grimy city, transporting the maltreated centerpiece from crumbling castle to dingy New York City hotel. And while Basket Case's Belial is cut from the same cloth as the classic horror showstoppers, writer/director Frank Henenlotter brings the idea of the abhorred abomination to a new level, weaving a tapestry of cruelty that rivals anything endured by the fiends of yore."

Also, Teddy Blanks on Shivers: "In retrospect, it's almost too perfect that this was David Cronenberg's first widely-seen picture, but its intense exploitation of deep human sexual desire and angst must have been quite shocking at the time. Which is not to say that it doesn't still shock. The mere idea of a building terrorized by sex zombies is taboo, even - no, especially - in today's horror landscape, which is gore-and-dismemberment friendly, but still treats sex as something that happens only to girls with boob jobs right before they get stabbed."

Häxen is "one of the most visionary - and lethally pointed - horror-comedies ever made," writes brotherfromanother at Reverse Shot, where, for Robbiefreeling, Poltergeist is "something like a particlarly gruesome Little Golden Book; it could be subtitled 'My First Horror Movie.'"

Peter Lorre in Mad Love "Horror movie fans will take it on faith that an evil transplant has a life of its own; which is why the Hands of Orlac story has been done again, and again," writes Richard von Busack at Cinematical. "A scholarly round-up by Kinoeye's Ruth Goldberg notes the various versions, except the one she neglects, the satire, 'My Bloody Hand' on SCTV. Mad Love is the best, because of the way [Peter] Lorre fleshes the bizarre fable out."

"Just in time for Holloween come two erotic horror films from Jesus Franco, with a greater emphasis on the erotic." Peter Nellhaus reviews Macumba Sexual and Mansion of the Living Dead.

"Tobe Hooper inaugurates the second season of Showtime's Masters of Horror by rotating, whirling, and shaking his camera with what feels like desperation," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

Chris Tilly for Time Out: "The world's first made-for-mobile horror series hit the very small screen this week in the shape of When Evil Calls."

Jonathan Marlow at the Guru: "Over a two-year period (1971-2), [Robert] Fuest released among the most original pair of horror pictures ever made, both starring the legendary Vincent Price as Anton Phibes: The Abominable Dr Phibes (amazingly, Price's 100th movie appearance), and the less successful Dr Phibes Rises Again."

That Little Round-Headed Boy is no fan of horror, but that won't keep him from appreciating Boris Karloff.

Online viewing tip. Jerry Lentz's Security Cam Ghost.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:05 AM | Comments (1)

Interview. Wendy Flower.

This is Gary McFarland This is Gary McFarland "is easily one of the best music documentaries of the year," wrote Jonathan Marlow in the Daily this summer.

Before he died mysteriously in 1971, musician, composer and arranger Gary McFarland collaborated with the likes of Gerry Mulligan, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Stan Getz, Bill Evans, Clark Terry, Cal Tjader - and Wendy & Bonnie.

Filmmaker Kristian St Clair talks with Wendy Flower about her memories of "the jazz legend who should have been a pop star."

Cabinetic and GreenCine present a screening of This is Gary McFarland on Wednesday night, November 1, at 7:30 pm at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Kristian St Clair will be there and, if you can make it, you should be, too.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:50 AM

Interview. Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet In its fourth edition of the series On Set with French Cinema, UniFrance is sending seven directors to the two American coasts to speak and present films in university film departments this and next month and then in January as well. Click those green italics for a schedule.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet will be at Stanford University tonight for a screening of The City of Lost Children, and tomorrow, he'll screen his own print of Amélie along with the charming, complimentary short Foutaises, at the Smith Rafael Film Center. He was an honoree at last year's Mill Valley Film Festival, which is when and where Hannah Eaves and Jonathan Marlow spoke with him and found him to be a lively, generous and often humorous talker.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:27 AM | Comments (2)

October 29, 2006

Sunday shorts.

North by Northwest Todd McEwen in Granta: "North By Northwest isn't a film about what happens to Cary Grant, it's about what happens to his suit." Via wood s lot. Related: GQ presents the "25 Most Stylish Films of All Time," a list better than it has to be.

"British filmmaker Peter Watkins' nearly six-hour film, La Commune (Paris, 1871), made in the year 2000, is without a doubt one of the best and most important films of the decade," writes Doug Cummings. "Watkins offers a bracing critique of mass media by imagining how Commune life would have been represented by competing modern news sources, the National TV Versailles and the independent Commune TV. The result is a multilayered and thoroughly absorbing work that is as informative and thought-provoking as it is feverishly dramatic, suspenseful, and surprisingly brisk despite its length."

Nicholas Wood reports from Sarajevo and the set of Spring Break in Bosnia, "a black comedy loosely based on an actual attempt by a group of journalists to track down [Radovan] Karadzic. The filmmakers say they hope the movie, due out next year, will shame the international community into making his arrest a higher priority, so that he will finally go on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity." Richard Shepard directs Richard Gere, Terrence Howard, Diane Kruger and Jesse Eisenberg. More from Ian Traynor in the Guardian.

Also in the New York Times:

Harsh Times
  • Sharon Waxman reports on how Harsh Times has fallen through the cracks. First-time director David Ayers, though, is described by MGM chief operating officer, Rick Sands, as "the next Quentin Tarantino."

  • John Leland visits the set of Ridley Scott's American Gangster, "based on the real-life heroin kingpin Frank Lucas [Denzel Washington] and the detective-turned-prosecutor Richie Roberts [Russell Crowe]," and contemplates the evolution of the genre: "In a nation of immigrants, the movies pit audience sympathy for the new immigrant against fear of the unassimilated ethnic clan. They are epics of nonassimilation: no one is more Italian than an Italian Mafioso and his kin."

  • David M Halbfinger on the consequences of last week's weak opening for Flags of Our Fathers: "For Paramount, which inherited the movie when it bought DreamWorks last year, the combination of a weak opening and good reviews made for a problem that has become all too familiar to major studios offering big dramas at awards time: it now will have to mount a costly Oscar campaign, but it hasn't yet made the money to pay for it."

  • Halbfinger again: "Hollywood appears to have hit upon a fail-safe strategy for getting attention for just about any kind of film: get someone, anyone, to try to suppress it, and then rush to the news media with breathless warnings about the First Amendment coming under attack." The problem with this approach: if, for example, ads for Shut Up & Sing had run on NBC, tens of millions of people would have seen them. I seriously doubt tens of millions have heard that they aren't running.

  • "The universal Bollywood hit is becoming increasingly difficult to pull off," writes Anupama Chopra. "A decade ago, the Hindi film market was largely considered a homogenous monolith. What worked in one town was likely to work in another. But over the years the business has splintered dramatically, forcing industry pundits to create new labels for films."

  • "When the 30-year-old singer Jeff Buckley, best known for his haunting 1994 album Grace, walked into a Memphis river fully clothed in 1997, he wrote a Hollywood-ready end to a brief but compelling life story." Mary Guibert, his mother, has turned away several film projects that would tell that story. Now, she's "working with a young producer, Michelle Sy, and an even younger screenwriter and director, Brian Jun, to develop a film she plans to call Mystery White Boy." Kimberly Brown reports.

  • It's time to assess just how very good an actor Leonardo DiCaprio actually is, argues Caryn James.

  • Jeannette Catsoulis endures Saw III: "The most depressing thing about this series is not the creativity of the bloodletting but the bleak view of human nature, specifically our talent for ruining the present to avenge the past. In the opening scene, a man frees himself from an ankle restraint by pulverizing his foot with a brick; fortunately, all we have to do is get up and leave." More from Richard Corliss in Time. Related (and recommended) online listening: the BBC's Mark Kermode.

  • Laura Kern on 20 Centimeters, "a brash, vivacious concoction of dark comedy, light drama and musical performance written and directed by Ramón Salazar."

  • Conversations with God, writes Andy Webster, is basically "a feature-length commercial for a popular series of inspirational books, ostensibly depict[ing] the life story of the series' author, Neale Donald Walsch."

"There are feel-good films and feel-bad films," writes Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman. "And then there are feel-downright-uncomfortable films that leave you squirming and gasping for two hours. The British thriller Red Road belongs in the latter category: it's a wonderful surprise that's full of nasty shocks." More from Tim Robey in the Telegraph: "[Andrea] Arnold's film is laced with an ambiguous menace that sets it apart - it's one of the most impressive films of the year, and certainly the strongest British debut." And more from Philip French in the Observer.

Fred Astaire Happy Feet vs Fred Astaire? "Let's see how tap dancing looks with legs," suggests Colin Giles. Via Amid at Cartoon Brew, who comments, "It's a testament to Astaire's talent that using only a cane as a prop, he can outdance $100 million worth of flashy CG effects."

"[F]or roughly 15 minutes we follow Clive Owen as he navigates three blocks of intricately choreographed urban warfare in a deconstructing British society, circa 2027, as envisioned in director Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men." Sheigh Crabtree describes the difficulty of pulling it off, especially given the unusual choices Cuarón and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki made going in. Related: Nathan Kosub in Stop Smiling on Sólo con tu pareja: "In short, there is none of Y tu mamá también's spark or discovery, none of its reserve or humility."

Also in the Los Angeles Times:

  • Josh Kun: "If all arts aspire to the condition of music, as Walter Pater once wrote, then [Penélope] Cruz's art, most recently on display in Pedro Almodóvar's Volver, aspires to the condition of flamenco."

Alpha Dog

Awards season, now so long (October through March!) and repetitive (the number of awards handed out each year now surpasses the number of films being made; this is a verifiable fact) that the coming months can only be greeted with utter dread, has begun. The British Independent Film Awards has announced its nominations. Meanwhile, at indieWIRE, Anthony Kaufman rounds up reactions from industry types to the already-controversial shortlist of nominees for the Gotham Awards. Example: "'I am confused about what the Gothams are supposed to represent,' agreed Gary Meyer, new co-director of the Telluride Film Festival and a co-founder of Landmark Theaters. 'I am a big fan of both The Departed and Marie Antoinette, but was quite surprised to find them as nominees in a competition I thought was to celebrate independent films." Related: Reid Rosefelt's modest proposal at Zoom In Online.

Cynthia's got the nominations for the Golden Horse Awards at Twitch.

"2006 has proved to be the year of the concert film," writes Jason Jackowski.

The Guardian launches a slew of arts blogs, one of them, of course, devoted to film. If I can get the feed to work for my reader, it'll be perfect. Meantime, in the Guardian and Observer:

Bowie as Tesla

Geoffrey Macnab talks with Isabelle Huppert for the Independent.

George Wayne interviews Carrie Fisher for Vanity Fair. Via ScreenGrab.

"Is there some sort of a Jedi master of auto-fellatio?" Jason Shawhan talks with cast members of Shortbus for the Nashville Scene.

Peter Smith interviews Crispin Glover for Nerve. Related online viewing at ScreenGrab: Glover on Letterman in 1987 and 1990.

Michael Guillén talks with Deliver Us From Evil director Amy Berg.

Up-n-coming:

Fantastic Mr Fox

"It may say something wild about present times that the gravest constitutional business can best be played out as situation comedy, but there are enough laughs in The Queen to make you think so," writes Andrew O'Hagan in the New York Review of Books. "If one chose two dysfunctional families struggling with image problems, big appetites, and tearful neighbors, it would be difficult to slide a cigarette paper between the Windsors and the Simpsons, yet [Stephen] Frears's movie pays Britain's first family the supreme compliment of taking it seriously, and it's hard not to feel that the results will enjoy a long and fruitful reign in the affections of moviegoers."

MS Smith on Marie Antoinette: "[T]he real question about the value of this film does not center on its historical specificity, but on its emotional specificity."

Gautaman Bhaskaran in the Lumière Reader on The Wind That Shakes the Barley: "Loach never loses sight of the fact that his stories are essentially of ordinary men and women, and though socio-economic events may engulf and overtake them, it is the personal that triumphs over the political."

Exiled Matt Riviera on Johnnie To's Exiled: "[T]he film's saving grace is its refusal to take itself too seriously."

In the New York Press, Eric Kohn reviews Conventioneers and Jennifer Merin finds Sleeping Dogs Lie "at considers the question of whether complete honesty in a relationship is a good thing or will cause disastrous confusion and hostility between lovers."

Cinematical's Kim Voynar talks with Augusten Burroughs about seeing his bestselling memoir, Running With Scissors, become a movie.

"As for The Bridesmaid, it isn't Chabrol's best film, but it may be the funniest," writes Kathy Fennessy at the Siffblog.

Filmbrain on Pauline Kael on John Cassavetes: "That the realism in Cassavetes's films is not [to] her liking is acceptable, but her attitude towards those genuinely moved by them is nothing short of condescending."

Who Wants to Kill Jessie? "Forty years before Michel Gondry shot The Science of Sleep, Czech New Wave director Vaclav Vorlicek unleashed what may be the greatest film ever created about dreams intruding on the real world," writes David Austin at Cinema Strikes Back. "Who Wants to Kill Jessie? truly has something for everybody – the arthouse crowd, fans of science fiction and fantasy cinema, political junkies seeking coded criticisms of the faltering Communist regime, and those just looking for a superior piece of light entertainment."

Nick Davis: "[M]aybe [Boyz in the Hood - scripted, shot, acted, and edited with a clenched and gathering force that excuses its occasional gracelessness - derives its very potency from [John] Singleton's first-timer energy, and the proper response is therefore not to mourn the disappointments that followed but to preserve our marvel at the might and the moment that Boyz so definitively embodied."

Dave Kehr spells out what makes Michael Curtiz's The Lady Takes a Sailor worth catching if you can.

Gabriela-Sylvia Zabala and Ismet Redzovic at the WSWS: "Anna Kokkinos's first feature Head On - an adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas's novel Loaded, although also heavily relying on 'shock tactics' of explicit sex and drug taking (like the novel itself) - while quite flawed, nonetheless had certain endearing qualities, in particular the treatment of the migrant Greek family life in Melbourne and the difficulties facing the gay son. The Book of Revelation seems a step backward."

As Tower Records closes down, taking its video outlets with it, Craig Phillips recalls his days as a clerk.

Yesterday, Tom Sutpen celebrated what would have been Don Siegel's 94th birthday at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger....

Robert Cashill sees five lessons to be learned from this fall's releases; Nathaniel R's got a top ten for 2006 - so far; Matt Riviera lists the top ten dance scenes ever in non-musicals.

Just out: Volume 5 of the Journal of Short Film.

Online viewing tip. Morgan Spurlock on the CBS Evening News. Via Ed Champion, who has a few sharp words for Spurlock in reply.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:45 AM

Review. Off Limits.

David D'Arcy reviews a documentary about why photography may become a less potent art form than it was in the 20th century.

Off Limits If the restrictions on freedom of expression are just behind Iraq as a concern for people these days, the news in a new film from Canada will not be encouraging. Off Limits looks at "image rights" (droit de l'image) that are being asserted by people who have their pictures taken on the street. The film begins to write the obituary of a rich field of photography.

One of photography's virtues has been its ability to bear witness to the human landscape. Some of the best photographers to do that have come from France - Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Doisneau, William Klein, Willy Ronis and Marc Riboud are a few of those who have documented France and Paris. Their pictures are part of the visual record of the last hundred years. If one application of photography was to document and celebrate powerful men, another involved putting the means of documenting ordinary men in the hands of these ordinary men and women, and in the hands of photographers who took pictures of everyday life. Our images of our times come from them, from what we call street photography or humanist photography.

Off Limits (La Rue: Zone Interdite), a 61-minute documentary by Gilbert Duclos, examines the new clash between the right to take a picture and the right of the person being photographed to control that image, regardless of how the image is being used. The film was shown in New York last week at the Dahesh Museum as part of a selection from the Festival International du Film sur l'Art (FIFA), an annual festival in Montreal of films about art, architecture, photography and almost any related field. FIFA is a festival that should get far more attention than it does.

This is Gilbert Duclos's first film, but it looks anything but amateurish. After years of shooting still pictures, he knows how to compose a shot, and he knows how to tell a story. He begins with his own.

Gilbert Duclos In 1988, Duclos published a photograph of a girl sitting in the street in the journal, Vice/Versa, which is based in Montreal. When the girl in question saw her picture, she claimed that her school friends had laughed at it. She and her parents sued Duclos for violating her right to her own likeness by publishing the picture without her consent. The case went through three levels of the legal system of Quebec, and Duclos lost. The plaintiff's right to her image was affirmed - over the opposition of the news media of Quebec, who rallied to Duclos's side - and, Duclos argues, the field of photography called street photography or humanist photography was put at risk. Duclos's own contributions to this field can be seen in his book, Gilbert Duclos: Photographies, 1977-2001, which can be sampled at www.gilbertduclos.com.

He's not the only one who feels that way. Judgments affirming the droit de l'image, or the right to one's image, have been handed down in France, with even broader effects than have been felt in Canada. In Paris, Duclos looks at the impact of those rulings, interviewing photographers like Marc Riboud, the American William Klein (also a filmmaker) and the nonagenarian Willy Ronis, all of whom are deeply pessimistic. Duclos, who is also a character in his film, goes out on the street to test the willingness of the public to sign releases to be photographed. He gets nowhere, proving the point made by his colleagues that the medium has been damaged.

As a result, French photojournalism now removes the faces of people in the street or in any other public setting, or pictures are simply staged. Editors at major magazines tell Duclos that they simply avoid publishing pictures that might trigger lawsuits, which means publishing far fewer pictures, which means that the street photography which has documented much of the 20th century has nowhere near the vitality in the country where it once seemed strongest. Duclos begins the film with scenes of people on the street or in public parks wearing paper bags over their heads. It's corny, but accurate. Add a few opportunistic lawyers, and you've really got an industry - and a problem.

The response by some newspapers and other media has been to stage pictures of public events in public places. It's cheaper and more convenient, one editor says, but it's not life, which is exactly what street photography captured. "We're in quicksand," one photographer tells Duclos.

At a time when Americans are concerned about threats to freedom of expression, Gilbert Duclos sees the United States as a crucial protector of the freedoms that he sees threatened in France. In the US, the use of candid photographs for commercial purposes can be restricted, but editorial use comes under the umbrella of the First Amendment. You don't have to ask for permission to take a person's picture on the street, and you don't have to get that person's permission to publish that picture, as long as that picture is not being used to sell something. The right to privacy that keeps coming up in Off Limits is extremely limited in the US. Should the soldiers whose misdeeds were revealed by the picture of Abu Ghraib have been permitted to sue their fellow GIs who made them public?

Not so in Europe, where the droit de l'image is balanced with free speech. Bear in mind that support for the right to privacy was bolstered by an appalled reaction to the death in a car crash of Princess Diana as she was being pursued by journalists. Add to that the growing exaggerated fear of pedophile voyeurism and the exploitation of adolescents' images on the internet, and you have an atmosphere in which broad decisions can be made that make broad restrictions on press freedoms, especially for photographers.

Duclos joins the ranks of still photographers who have gravitated toward the moving image - Raymond Depardon, Albert Maysles, Abbas Kiarostami, Robert Frank, Robert Benton and others. Yet he also has a gift for storytelling, and for letting other storytellers speak. Photographers like Willy Ronis are eloquent when they (and their pictures) demonstrate how important photography has been for our memory of recent history. "We liked to set out to record life's happenings at random," Ronis tells Duclos. It's not about simply taking a photograph, but publishing a photograph. It's the sharing of the image that is crucial, and it is the sharing of images that is now most under threat.

Think about that the next time you see pixilated faces in the news coverage of a public place.

As of now, Off Limits has not been distributed theatrically in the US or in English-speaking Canada. You can obtain the DVD through www.virage.ca.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:58 AM | Comments (1)

Weekend books.

Neal Gabler: Walt Disney "Neal Gabler steps into a biography of the legendary Walt Disney with substantive credentials," writes Fred Schruers in the Los Angeles Times. "His An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Created Hollywood (1988) was a signal achievement in art-versus-commerce storytelling that still resonates, as does his 1994 biography of Walter Winchell and, to a lesser extent, his 1998 book Life: The Movie, How Entertainment Conquered Reality. In Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination, Gabler confronts long-standing suspicions that Disney was a Red-baiter (yes, though ineptly and ineffectually, he writes) and an anti-Semite (a much more complicated answer, though he says it is largely 'guilt by association')." In the end, "part of the author's formidable achievement is to take the intricacies of Disney's devoted artistry and intertwine them with his ultimately rather forlorn life."

The London Times runs an extract from Brian Sibley's biography of Peter Jackson, the bit where the director and Fran Walsh meet Bob Weinstein.

Updated through 11/1.

Allen Barra in Salon: "The Return of the Player is about the anesthetizing mind-set that Hollywood has inflicted on the country, blurring both intellect and instinct and leaving us vulnerable to men skilled in selling us the simplistic version of reality that they know in their hearts we all yearn for - bland, amiable predators whose moral sense is akin to cancer cells, men like Griffin Mill who can rationalize murder in the name of the great audience. 'I know who you are,' Griffin tells us at the end, 'because I know what you want.'"

William Cook on Michael Palin's Diaries 1969 - 1979: The Python Years: "Palin calls his diary an antidote to hindsight, and it's amazing how a show that looms so large today seemed almost incidental at first ('John and Eric see Monty Python as a means to an end - money to buy freedom from work')." Also in the Observer, Geraldine Bedell reviews Ian Buruma's Murder in Amsterdam.

Ray Young at Flickhead on David Thomson's "odd but heartfelt homage": "It may be a sign of impending breakdown when, scattered throughout the pages of Nicole Kidman, he invents imaginary scenarios for her to act in, as if he were playing with dolls."

Online listening tips. Ed Champion talks with Joe Eszterhas and Nora Ephron about their new books. Related: "The time has come for a Jade Special Edition," argues Vince Keenan.

Update, 10/30: An online listening tip. Neal Gabler is a guest on Fresh Air.

Update, 10/31: "But if Walt Disney was made for Hollywood, he himself questioned whether Hollywood was made for him." Salon runs an excerpt.

Updates, 11/1: Gabler's is "an ocean liner of a book - bulky and a trifle slow," writes Scott Eyman in the New York Observer. That said, "I think Neal Gabler is right to characterize Walt Disney's life as a triumph, and a quintessentially American one at that. In his relentless, grinding allegiance to work, in his preference for a brilliantly processed metaphorical gloss on reality rather than the thing itself, Disney was a man - and an artist - absolutely in the American grain."

Gabler's next radio appearance is on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:16 AM

October 28, 2006

Weekend online viewing.

Scenic Highway "Due to the recent unpleasantness, Baton Rouge has eclipsed New Orleans as the largest city in Louisiana. Is the city destined for greatness?" asks Evan Mather, whose Scenic Highway is now viewable online. For Matthew Clayfield, it "remains the best I've seen this year."

At If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger..., Tom Sutpen introduces Max Linder's Max reprend sa liberté (Troubles of a Grass Widower): "Though never as wildly successful in the States as the pantheon comics (Chaplin, Arbuckle, Keaton, Lloyd, etc), each of these eminences nevertheless took away something from Linder's work, without which their work, indeed the soul of American screen comedy itself, would have assumed a very different, possibly less charming form."

Amid at Cartoon Brew's got YouTubery of Fleischer Studio artists at work in the 30s.

Tetris: From Russia With Love. Via Coudal Partners.

Svankmajer: Lunch Jan Svankmajer's Food trilogy: viewable at WFMU.

At panopticist, Andrew Hearst posts "a screen test some talentless young actor sent in when Stanley Kubrick was casting Full Metal Jacket in 1984. The hubris on display here is magnificent and awe-inspiring."

Vincent Gallo, Republican. At ScreenGrab.

Meanwhile, Comedy Central takes a page from the current administration's playbook and drops its bad news bomb late on a Friday: No more CC content on YouTube. Xeni Jardin's gathering commentary at Boing Boing.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:48 AM

Weekend fests and events.

The Tokyo International Film Festival? It's got a blog, and a very fun browse it is, too.

Magnani in Italy

Open City "is the ideal film with which to launch LACMA's Mamma Roma: The Films of Anna Magnani, a 14-film retrospective featuring numerous unfamiliar titles - and running through Nov 24 - that will reveal why Magnani remains one of cinema's greatest actresses," writes Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times.

In conjunction with Enduring Myth: The Tragedy of Hippolytos and Phaidra, an exhibition at the Getty through December 4, Gregory Markopoulos's Twice a Man and Jules Dassin's Phaedra will be screened next week. David Ehrenstein previews the pair for the LA Weekly.

Miklós Jancsó Previewing Resistance and Rebirth: Hungarian Cinema, 50 Years after '56 (through November 15) for the L Magazine, Mark Asch catches three films by Miklós Jancsó: The Round-Up, The Red and the White... "But Electra, My Love, made nearly a decade later in 1974, tops 'em both for direct-address didactics and stylistic exceptionalism."

Before delving into another extensive guide to what all to see and do in the San Francisco Bay Area, Brian Darr urges you to vote for the Roxie.

In the Independent Weekly, Zack Smith has an overview of the Masters of French Cinema Series at the North Carolina Museum of Art (Fridays through December 15).

Kira-Anne Pelican blogs for the London Times on A Portrait of London, the project overseen by Mike Figgis: "For the most part, this was an event to remember. Less because of the individual nature of the shorts, which when viewed together resembled a Ken Livingstone, 'We are London' style promo, but more because watching film, in the magnificent setting that is Trafalgar Square, with all the spontaneity of the comings and goings of a live crowd, was in itself something to celebrate."

At Twitch, Todd's got the list of award-winners coming out of Toronto After Dark, plus a wrap-up press release.

The Heartland Film Festival, wrapping today, "is a thematic festival, one focused on the human spirit." Steve Ramos reports for indieWIRE.

At Twitch, Canfield wraps the Chicago International Film Festival: "Bottom line? A less than stellar lineup, as noted by many critics, was simply one of several reasons to feel less excited about covering what should be the local film event of the year."

Screenwriter William Martell lambasts what he sees as the film festival racket. Via Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:18 AM

Climates.

Iklimler "Although the film's provenance and the calamitous distribution climate for foreign-language cinema in America mean that it's destined for eye-blink runs at a handful of art-house theaters, Climates isn't difficult or obscure," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Its metaphors are transparent, its narrative structure uncomplicated. It's a satisfyingly adult film about men and women and relationships that might seduce audiences more easily if it were French, though in that case it would probably be three times as chatty."

Anthony Kaufman: "[T]he film is a quiet stunner, and for me, most likely the best movie of the year."

"[W]hat's exciting about it has more to do with Nuri Bilge Ceylan's inventive use of high-definition video than the rather familiar plot," writes Steve Erickson in Gay City News. "His work suggests that he's intimately familiar with the current canon of festival auteurs, to the point where some cynics have suggested he's deliberately making films for the international arthouse circuit."

Updated through 10/30.

Nick Pinkerton at Reverse Shot: "Ceylan is not Pialat, not Antonioni, and certainly no 'master.' But he is a diligent artist who squints and picks and digs and waits for tonal specificities in scenes (aided by hyper-crisp foley sound), he has a fine eye for dolorous landscapes, and he has more of a sense of humor than you might expect... And if you're willing to drift out and get a little lost, you may find his very sad, slack movie inhabiting you for some time to come."

"[T]he messiness of the world intrudes only rarely," notes Bilge Ebiri in Nerve.

"Ceylan's work must be seen in a theater, because its tactile quality couldn't be reproduced in the average household," pleas Scott Tobias at the AV Club, so if you get the chance...

Earlier: Cannes reviews.

Update, 10/30: "It is fair to ask if Climates would be as effective if it were set in a country from which we expect films of this tenor," writes the New Republic's Stanley Kauffmann. "Admittedly, the setting does heighten interest, but this film is much more than an ideational travelogue. Like all good art, it evokes a supranational affinity. And there is an unsurprising paradox: this drama of personal uncertainties is lodged in a certainty of form."

Posted by dwhudson at 10:45 AM

October 27, 2006

Weekend horrors.

Deathdream "Maybe it isn't an accident that Halloween and national US elections fall in such close proximity. Fear is a powerful driving force for both," suggests the AV Club, segueing into a list of eight horror movies for left-wingers and four films and an entire subgenre for right-wingers.

Also: Noel Murray and Scott Tobias discuss the current state of horror. Tobias: "I find that even bad horror movies often have more to say about the times - or least, they reflect the times better - than their more respectable counterparts in other genres." And Murray agrees that "the most relevant-to-American-youth horror films today are torture-fests like Saw and Hostel, and I agree that the relevance is tied to 9/11, but I think it goes beyond the fear of unexpected tragedy. If you look closely at Hostel - and Wolf Creek, for that matter - what they're really about is what happens after everything goes to hell."

The LA Weekly's Scott Foundas has an admiring profile of Tobin Bell, who plays John "Jigsaw" Kramer in the Saw series. Related: Nicole Sperling in the Hollywood Reporter on Lionsgate's high hopes for Saw III's opening weekend.

Dennis Cozzalio: "[I]t is a pleasure to report that screenwriter Leigh Whannell and director Darren Lynn Bousman, well aware of the temptation to amp up the violence to the exclusion of all else, have fulfilled the potential Saw II by creating, with Saw III, not a perfunctory sequel but a superior piece of shock entertainment that takes the series off into yet another narrative direction while expanding on the second film's impulses to enrich the back story of Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) and his demented, self-loathing assistant Amanda (Shawnee Smith)." And he interviews Smith a second time, too.

But for Nick Schager, writing in Slant, "Saw III simply peddles gruesomeness of a disgusting rather than frightening order, its intricate deathtrap set pieces only barely complemented by the tense rapport between Jigsaw and Amanda, and eventually impaired by the filmmakers' desire, through furious flashbacks, to link all three Saw movies together into a grand Jigsaw-masterminded plot that's elaborate to the point of absurdity."

"Dark and mysterious are the twin paths Italian director Dario Argento travels on. It’s a duality that has come to define, and in some cases, confine, one of macabre’s most meaningful artisans," writes Bill Gibron for PopMatters. "[P]erhaps the most telling argument against his later works is the abject brilliance of the movies he made in the past." Also: the "Top 10 Worst Horror Films of All Time."

"Zhang Bingjian, with his first feature length film, may believe that elements of a diegesis are indistinguishable from elements arising from a character's psychological projections, but it's a disingenuous approach to storytelling and induces mistrust in any attentive viewer, to say the least," writes Marlin Tyree. "On the other hand, there is so much visual artistry to Zhixi (Suffocation, as it's called here in the States) that one may dispense with narrative logic and proceed with delight, all while the main character is hounded by demons of his own devising."

Catching up further with Not Coming to a Theater Near You's 31 Days of Horror: Jenny Jediny on Return to Oz and Beth Gilligan on Witches.

Robbiefreeling at Reverse Shot on Creepshow: "The quick-witted, fleet comic book storytelling is a perfect match for Stephen King's dime-store sense of vengeance and tidy resolutions, which in turn provide a neat little stage on which Romero can hone his comic gross-out skills."

Monsturd director Dan West lists his top five horror films and the film critics at the San Francisco Bay Guardian each make a recommendation.

At SF360, Dennis Harvey offers "a partial survey of the scary unreelings available on [San Francisco] screens - and a list of recommended rent-ables if you're really hellbent on staying in whilst goblins, ghoulies, and over-excited inebriates are roaming about."

For those of us who've never slogged through the sequels, Joe Leydon has a terrific primer on the Halloween franchise.

"What movie ad really got you spooked?" asks Wagstaff at the House Next Door.

The Chicago Reader has a terrific guide to Halloween movies screening in the area.

In the Los Angeles Times, Alex Chun reports on the making of the 3D version of A Nightmare Before Christmas and Scott Timberg takes Tim Burton's "tour of frightening spots in Los Angeles."

In the New York Times, Neil Genzlinger reviews a remake of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari: "[W]hat David Lee Fisher has accomplished in his unusual semi-remake is rather startling: he has out-disoriented the original. Probably not in the way he intended, but still, interesting, and kind of dizzying." More from R Emmet Sweeney in the Voice.

Da Cabinet of Dr Caligari Peter Nellhaus catches up with the Caligari remake, but not that one; Roger Kay's 1962 version.

NYT advertising columnist Stuart Elliott: "Madison Avenue is dreaming of a white-knuckle Halloween, just like the ones we used to know." Also, Virginia Heffernan on the second season of Showtime's Masters of Horror anthology and the Sci Fi Channel's Pumpkinhead: Ashes to Ashes.

Cinematical's James Rocchi's got a guilty pleasure: David Cronenberg's Shivers.

For guides to the scary stuff recently released on DVD, turn to Glenn Abel in the Hollywood Reporter and Jen Chaney in the Washington Post.

Online viewing tip. Brendon Connelly's got Tim Burton's video for The Killers. Update: Well, he did. Now, as DeK points out, you can catch it at Shots Ring Out.

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

Docs and hybrids.

Independent Intervention Sara Schieron in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: "Building on the ideas explored in Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media and Why We Fight, Tonje Hessen Schei's documentary Independent Intervention is the single most staggering doc yet made about the unholy matrimony of the military-industrial complex and the media."

Jonny Leahan at indieWIRE: "With the midterm elections less than two weeks away, a crop of documentaries are collectively trying to get a message across that has largely been passed over by the mainstream media - your vote might not actually be counted. Or it could be counted several times over, depending on which county you're registered in, and which type of electronic machine you'll be using to cast that vote." Among the docs discussed: Stealing America, Vote by Vote, So Goes the Nation, Hacking Democracy, Eternal Vigilance: The Fight to Save Our Election System and American Blackout.

"Mark Becker's Romántico may be the documentary of the year," declares Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "This sensitively detailed surveillance of one man's personal misfortune illuminates a national crisis, complementing Carlos Reygadas's Battle in Heaven; though both films share the same social setting, it's their vigilant aesthetic that most unites them."

God Grew Tired of Us Also in Slant: "[D]espite an uplifting coda, the tragedy of God Grew Tired of Us comes from the sense, conveyed by the determined yet still haunted eyes of its admirable survivors, that the horrors of their tragic past may never be fully overcome," writes Nick Schager. And: "Fuck mainly serves as the latest example of the atrocious devolution of mainstream documentary filmmaking into hollow aesthetic flash and superficial sensationalism."

It's nearly all docs this week for Andrew O'Hehir's "Beyond the Multiplex" column in Salon: Death of a President, Absolute Wilson and Cocaine Cowboys, with a few quick words for The Wild Blue Yonder.

Though it isn't exactly, Armond White, writing in the New York Press, claims that Blue Yonder is "[e]ssentially a documentary - comprised of mostly factual, almost reportorial footage - [and] it comes at the right time, when the documentary feature is in disarray." What's more, "Werner Herzog's self-proclaimed 'science fiction fantasy' is one of his very best films." Manohla Dargis, writing in the New York Times, finds that it "works better as an experience than it does conceptually." Even so: "There is pleasure in such useless beauty, of course, and pleasure too in drifting with the jellyfish amid the wild blue yonder of a great filmmaker's imagination." More from Nick Schager in Slant and Noel Murray at the AV Club.

Also in the NYT:

  • Stephen Holden finds watchnig the "somber" Exit: The Right to Die "like visiting a funeral home and being bombarded with the soothing voices of salesmen spouting euphemisms that obscure the fact of death as surely as the scent of lilies obscures its smell." More from Rob Nelson in the Voice.

  • Again, Stephen Holden: "The Bridge an eerie and indelible documentary about suicide, juxtaposes transcendent beauty and personal tragedy as starkly as any film I can recall." More from Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times, Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle and Jim Emerson at RogerEbert.com. Cheryl Eddy interviews director Eric Steel for the SFBG.

  • AO Scott on Absolute Wilson: "It is curious, but perhaps also inevitable, that someone who is so willing to dispense with conventions of realism and narrative continuity in his art should inspire such a conventional film." More from Ed Gonzalez in Slant.

  • Jeannette Catsoulis: "Overlong, overexcited and over the top, Billy Corben's bottom-feeding documentary, Cocaine Cowboys, would be more enjoyable if it weren't so impressed with its subject matter and so devoted to pictures of dead bodies." The AV Club's Noel Murray disagrees.

Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly on Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple: "In the photos and footage of clapping, singing members, you can see an epitaph being written for the brief utopia of the 60s counterculture... But the larger lesson of Jonestown is that its leader, who billed himself as a socialist, stepped into a breach left by an American antipathy to socialism so profound and generalized, it readied a space for that ideology's most perverted expression." More from Kenneth Turan in the LAT.

Clare Hurley at the WSWS: "Primarily made up of interviews with returned Iraqi veterans, Patricia Foulkrod's documentary, The Ground Truth: After the Killing Fields, unflinchingly exposes one of the human costs of the US occupation of Iraq."

For the Guardian, Helene A Aasen asks a human rights campaigner, an academic, a Jewish writer, a donkey expert, a Kazakh and a black journalists for their thoughts on Borat. Critic Peter Bradshaw finds it "so funny, so breathtakingly offensive, so suicidally discourteous, that strictly speaking it shouldn't be legal at all." More from Alf Garnett and Sukhdev Sandhu in the Telegraph and Nick Schager at Slant.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:55 PM

LFF midway.

This is England For the Independent, Kaleem Aftab tracks the London Film Festival so far, finds it's going well and notes a running motif: Africa. James Christopher has another half-time report in the London Times, very upbeat as well. There, too, Richard Owen enthusiastically previews Shane Meadows's This is England.

"Shane Meadows is Britain's greatest living filmmaker," declares Tom Huddleston at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "This is England marks some sort of culmination, drawing together disparate threads from throughout Meadows' filmography and weaving them into something brave, distinctive and powerfully personal." Also, Paul Verhoeven's Black Book (more from Kira-Anne Pelican, blogging for the London Times) and Anders Gustafsson's Percy, Buffalo Bill & I.

More praise for England from Time Out's Chris Tilly.

Screenwriter and novelist Budd Schulberg knew RFK and, as Bobby screens in London, he recalls a few conversations for the Times: "'Bobby, if you don't make it here in Washington, I think I may be able to get you a job as a screenwriter in Hollywood,' I told him. 'I hear you have to be a pretty good politician for that,' he said. I found he had an understated and delightful sense of humour. Self-deprecating. Of all the negatives I had heard about Bobby Kennedy, I was finding not one of them to be true."

James Christopher quite likes the film, by the way. Good thing, too, because the Times has a big gala screening tie-in package.

For the Guardian, Will Hodgkinson talks with Mike Figgis about A Portrait of London, "the latest in his series of attempts to prove that cinema need not be a costly, lumbering beast. Only this time, he's also setting out to see whether a movie can be fused with theatre and turned into a live show." Also, Katrina Onstad meets an entertaining talker, Kenneth Anger: "All totaled, his oeuvre amounts to less than three hours of footage, and his films can be hard to find, but UCLA Film and Television Archive recently completed 35mm restorations of four Anger shorts, set to screen at the London film festival."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:21 PM

Shut Up & Sing.

Shut Up & Sing "[W]atching Shut Up & Sing, you're always aware that [Barbara] Kopple and [Cecilia] Peck are painting a portrait for us, in brushstrokes of words, music and pictures, as opposed to telling us what to think. As a piece of political filmmaking, Shut Up & Sing pulls off the feat of being subtle and direct at once," writes Stephanie Zacharek, introducing her interview with Kopple for Salon. And indieWIRE sends its list of questions to Kopple.

Harvey Weinstein reacts to NBC's laughable refusal to air ads for the doc, as quoted by Pamela McClintock and Josef Adalian in Variety: "It's a sad commentary about the level of fear in our society that a movie about a group of courageous entertainers who were blacklisted for exercising their right of free speech is now itself being blacklisted by corporate America.... The idea that anyone should be penalized for criticizing the president is profoundly un-American."

The doc "offers a revealing case study of the relationship between politics, celebrity and the media in today's polarized social climate," writes Stephen Holden.

"The filmmakers' respectful distance from their subjects never evolves into the voyeuristic intimacy of Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, a much more revealing look at superstars working through a crisis," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "[Natalie] Maines' big mouth and winning candor got her into trouble, but Shut Up & Sing suffers from filmmakers who are intent on playing it safe."

Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly: "Truculent, effortlessly funny and congenitally mutinous, Maines is a bull in a china shop with the voice of an angel, and you can’t help but cheer her fuck-you to a kow-towing music industry, and to all the bullies who picketed her concerts, wanting her dead."

Earlier: Kevin Haher in the London Times and, here, David D'Arcy.

Updates: Rob Forsyth, blogging for the London Times: "The film runs disappointingly short on documenting the period in which the band made the comments - the political climate, for example, is almost entirely reduced to tee-shirt slogans. Rather, the piece works best as an insight into the three band members and their collective working method."

If there's one area where the film trips up, it's the decision to give short-shrift to the mechanics that go into managing a group in the middle of a publicity storm," writes Ryan Stewart at Cinematical. "The film is a little eager to get back to the personal drama. Also, some direct interviews might have added something to the film's fly-on-the-wall format."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:41 AM

Arthur Hill, 1922 - 2006.

Arthur Hill
Arthur Hill, who brought engrossing complexity and understated intelligence to hundreds of roles on stage, screen and television and won a Tony Award for his performance in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, died on Sunday in Pacific Palisades, Calif. He was 84.
Douglas Martin in the New York Times.

[If you] remember him from such movies as Harper, The Andromeda Strain and A Bridge Too Far... well, you may wonder: Hey, where has he been all this time? Alas, Alzheimer's disease kept him from working in his chosen field for several years.

Joe Leydon.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:17 AM

Interview. Noyce, Robbins, Slovo.

Catch a Fire "Patrick Chamusso's story - one of a political awakening of will - resonates with such vigor that, when the credits roll, it may take a while before you realize that not only have you just watched a 'message' movie, you've also had an incredibly good time," writes Chris Wiggum, introducing his interview with Catch a Fire director Phillip Noyce, screenwriter Shawn Slovo and supporting player Tim Robbins.

Related: In the Stranger, Annie Wagner takes note of "two inflammatory theses. One: Terrorism is not an absolute evil; it's an extra-military tactic that can be put to noble use. And two: Oppressive governments create terrorists by imprisoning and torturing innocent men. The folly - or perhaps the commercial capitulation - of the film is that it tamps down these fiery ideas with pretty, docile cinematography, shallow characterizations, and by-the-numbers action sequences that would put even the most inquisitive mind to rest."

"It's a film that wants to play as if it were ripped from today's headlines, but has been shredded into near incoherence," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, where Noyce narrates a fine audio slide show.

"Though the drama plays out with Biblical justice - a weak man and his people grow stronger, while a bully and his regime are fatally weakened - Chamusso is no cardboard hero, and his oppressor's cruelty is complicated by insufficiently suppressed doubt," writes Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly.

Salon's Stephanie Zacharek: "Catch a Fire has everything going for it: a smart director, good actors, a writer who's a proven storyteller and who has a deep emotional stake in the material. But scene by scene, Catch a Fire just doesn't spark."

But for Kenneth Turan, Derek Luke saves the picture: "The young American actor gives such an intense, passionate performance as South African Patrick Chamusso that he just about dares you not to be involved with the tale he is telling." Also in the Los Angeles Times is Susan King's profile of Luke.

"Although Noyce manages a persuasive picture of South Africa in the last throes of apartheid, including some sterling battle scenes, Catch a Fire doesn't have the impact of Rabbit-Proof Fence," writes Gerald Peary in the Boston Phoenix.

Jennifer Merin talks with Noyce for the New York Press.

Earlier: Robert Wilonsky in the Voice and Robert Keser in Slant; Scott Foundas's interview with Noyce for the LA Weekly.

Updates: Scott Tobias at the AV Club: "The problem with Tim Robbins' dreadful turn as a South African 'anti-terrorist' official in Catch A Fire - and it was also a problem with his sniveling Bill Gates impersonation in Antitrust - is that he can't hide his distaste for his own character."

Marc Savlov disagrees in the Austin Chronicle: "Robbins, despite the fact that he's playing a man who easily could have come off as a sadistic bastard (the torture of both innocent and not-so-innocent South Africans plays an emotionally critical role throughout the film), imbues chilly [Nic] Vos with the vagaries of self-doubt, however slight, ultimately rendering him as ensnared in history's pull as his quarry. It's always odd to see Robbins, a political activist in his own right, playing at villainy (see Arlington Road, Bob Roberts), but here he descends into the role so thoroughly that the lopsided smile becomes less a notation of cockeyed boyishness than a treacherous Cheshire smirk."

"The tragic pull of the story is hard to resist," writes Jürgen Fauth, but the film "comes up short compared to the more ambitious Paradise Now, which raised the bar on showing the inner struggles of men who confuse caring for their families with setting bombs."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:06 AM

Interview. Gabriel Range.

Death of a President "Death of a President, the documentary-style speculative fiction about the assassination of the 43rd President of the United States, is seamless, intelligent and maybe even necessary to an understanding of George W Bush's role in the world today, and his place in the wider scope of history," wrote Jim Emerson last month. Now at the main site, John Esther talks with director Gabriel Range.

Related: "The idea provokes, the computer tinkering of archival images startles, but the overall impact, argument, and narrative are as dithering as the past six years of Democratic opposition," writes Peter Keough, who also interviews Range for the Boston Phoenix.

Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader: "Death of a President wants to function as a mindless thriller that eventually makes us think - and only after the film is over question the form that encouraged us to be mindless. These are incompatible agendas, and in the end neither is fully successful."

AO Scott in the New York Times: "The best that can be said about Mr Range's opportunistic little picture is that, at least in its first half, it faithfully recreates the tone and rhythm of a second-rate American television program."

"In a way, it's as much an advertisement for allowing Bush to finish out his term as the words 'President Cheney,'" writes Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper. "Range begins with an outlandish premise and works steadily back toward the center.... The movie's biggest problem isn't what it imagines, but what it fails to."

"When Fipresci (The International Federation of Film Critics) gave a prize to Death of the President at this year's Toronto Film Festival, citing 'the audacity with which it distorts reality,' it was a film journalism catastrophe," declares Armond White in the New York Press.

Andrew Wright in the Stranger: "When judged against the real-life outlandishness piling up on a near-daily basis, this what-if scenario can't really measure up. Bring on the ray-gun-toting aliens."

Writing at Guru, Craig Phillips finds the film "convincing but not exactly radical.... Perhaps its overall lack of impact is the scariest aspect: The scenarios presented here are all too believable."

"Range turns out to be a painfully weak political filmmaker," finds Nerve's Bilge Ebiri.

Earlier: Filmbrain and David D'Arcy.

Update: Robert B Reich hasn't seen the film, but writes in the American Prospect nonetheless: "I'm a libertarian when it comes to what people can see or hear but this film tests my libertarian principles. This is exploitive trash. To release it just days before a mid-term election is shameless."

Daniel Robert Epstein talks with Range for SuicideGirls.

In the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Cheryl Eddy recalls past presidential assassinations in the movies.

At Slate: "Dear Prudence, I am a twentysomething American musician living in Europe.... I'll meet a group of people, we'll chat about two minutes, and someone will make some comment about how my president should be killed (really!).... I'm still not sure what the best response is to this statement. I don't want to share my politics with a complete stranger, and I don't want to do anything to further any American stereotypes they already have. However, I want to convey how this statement is inappropriate and makes me uncomfortable."

Ray Pride at Movie City Indie: "[W]hile DOAP proposes the existential quandary of a fear of 'terrorists' dictating entirely the course of a country's decisions, the film's follow-through, while compelling, never reaches the heights of irresponsibility attained by numberless politicians and business leaders."

Slate's Dana Stevens: "It's the Joe Lieberman of fake documentaries."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:52 AM

October 26, 2006

Interview. Guillermo Arriaga.

Babel With Babel seeing a limited release this weekend, we're running a slightly altered version of Michael Guillén's summertime conversation with screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga about this final installment of the trilogy (also his final work with director Alejandro González Iñárritu), about The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada and about adapting his own novels. Look for a second part when Babel opens wide in two weeks.

Related: "Babel has an undeniable power, even (or perhaps especially) when it's at its most contrived and implausible," writes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. "[T]he most provocative thing about Babel isn't its cacophony of foreign tongues or those funny little words on the bottom of the screen, but rather Iñárritu and Arriaga's aggressive suggestion that we Americans and white Europeans are something less than exemplary citizens of the world, particularly in times of crisis."

Updated through 10/29.

Earlier: Jim Ridley in the Voice, Ed Gonzalez in Slant and the first round of reviews when Babel screened at Cannes.

Updates, 10/27: AO Scott in the New York Times: "Babel is certainly an experience. But is it a meaningful experience? That the film possesses unusual aesthetic force strikes me as undeniable, but its power does not seem to be tethered to any coherent idea or narrative logic. You can feel it without ever quite believing it."

"All those who were smart enough to avoid Syriana and The Constant Gardener should brace themselves for another wave of nauseating political arrogance in Babel," growls Armond White, and he's off again in the New York Press.

In the LA CityBeat, Andy Klein offers a "Make Your Own Alejandro González Iñárritu Movie kit!"

Andrew O'Hehir in Salon: "Our actions may have consequences we can't imagine, halfway around the world; when a butterfly bats its wings a baby is born, and all that. OK, but in the case of Babel what that produces is two powerful and intriguing mini-films whose only connection to each other is a third one that's barely half as good."

"The beauty of this film is in its lapidary details, which sparkle with feeling and surprise," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "González Iñárritu and Arriaga... are particularly attuned to the vulnerability of the foreigner abroad - whether that vulnerability is real or imagined.... Clearly, González Iñárritu knows his Weltschmerz, and he burrows deep into the existential loneliness of each character to create a kaleidoscope of cumulative human sadness and grief over the state of the world."

Dana Stevens in Slate: "Things in this movie's world happen because of physics, economics, and individual bad decisions, not because of fate. And unlike many movies with multiple-thread plotlines, Babel handles all of its storylines equally well."

Nick Schager: "[T]here isn't a second when Iñárritu's film feels as if it's replicating life's coincidental nature; rather, it just comes off as another of his beautifully shot, evocatively scored multi-character ventures in which his sincere interest in probing grief and tragedy... takes a back seat to his pseudo-profound, oh-so-convenient plot manipulations."

Marcy Dermanski: "Unrelentingly, unremittingly sad, excruciatingly painful, all for no valid reason, Alejandro González Iñárritu's Babel is a movie to avoid at all costs."

A Cinematical collection of reviews.

Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog: "You can't fault Babel for its ambition - the far-reaching film ties together storylines in Morocco, Mexico and Japan to reassure us that we are all united in our human misery. Here's what you can fault it for: grievous self-seriousness and self-importance, and the squandering of some of the year's finer performances."

Michael Guillén reports on a Q&A at the Mill Valley Film Festival. His question, naturally, concerned Arriaga:

Iñárritu looked me straight in the eye and graciously responded that their's has been a very beautiful and provocative nine-year relation, a strong and intense collaboration, that began with Amores Perros. Every film, he conjectured, is made in different stages and the first stage—which is so great—is when you dream and theorize about what film you can make. At that stage, Iñárritu offered, Guillermo has been an extremely amazing collaborator because of their shared vision. Even when they obviously saw things differently, when they argued about things, about what was good or what was wrong for one character or one story, that intensity ultimately was of benefit to the story itself. It's an intense interminable exchange of ideas and processes that has been good. Iñárritu added that Arriaga is now interested in producing a film, and wants to direct, so from now on he will explore that while Iñárritu explores stories he has been working on independently for some time and which now he can pursue more thoroughly. "But we are very proud, both of us, of what we have accomplished in this relation."

At Slate, Doree Shafrir sketches out a bit of historical background, re: Terrence Rafferty's NYT piece on the tiff between the writer and the director.

Update, 10/28: Sorina Diaconescu profiles Rinko Kikuchi for the LAT.

Update, 10/29: Peter Sobczynski talks with Alejandro González Iñárritu for Hollywood Bitchslap.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:36 PM

Filmmaker. Fall 06.

Filmmaker Fall 06 Bit by bit, the Fall 2006 issue of Filmmaker seeps online.

So far, Scott Macaulay talks with Todd Field about not wanting to talk about Little Children, Annie Nocenti talks with Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady about Jesus Camp.

Rebecca Leffler reports on the making of "the raw, harrowing and unforgettable documentary Ghosts of Cité Soleil."

DW Leitner answers the question, "Who would be interested in low-cost uncompressed HD capture and post, if such a thing were possible?"

Posted by dwhudson at 12:55 PM

Iraq & Pollock.

David D'Arcy considers a feature and a doc screened recently in the Hamptons.

The Situation I wasn't at the Hamptons International Film Festival, but I did get the chance to see two of its premieres on tape, The Situation, a grim drama set in Iraq by Philip Haas; and Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock?, a doc by Harry Moses about a woman who makes a purchase in a thrift shop of what people tell her is a painting by Jackson Pollock. Neither of these is a masterpiece - far from it. But each sheds light on its subject in a way that merits our attention.

The Situation, which refers to the mix of confusion and corruption that defines the US-led occupation of Iraq, follows Anne, a pretty blonde journalist (Connie Nielsen), as she struggles to probe the complicated ties between US intelligence and the local insurgency, while dead bodies keep piling up in the town of Samarra. The "human" side of the story is a love triangle involving Anne, her CIA agent sometime-boyfriend (Damian Lewis), and an Iraqi photographer (Mido Hamada) with whom her platonic relationship risks becoming a lot more physical. Things get even more complicated. She doesn't just lose a close friend who tries with the best of intentions to build ties between the insurgents and the Americans. She loses at love after an attack on Samarra that has the futility of Vietnam written all over it, complete with helicopters.

The film begins with an element of what looks like a subplot, but ends up as the painful truth about US attitudes toward Iraq that can't be avoided.  Two Iraqi men crossing a bridge in violation of a curfew are thrown off the side by young soldiers, who have all the charm of racist cops in the 1950s in Mississippi. One of the young men drowns. An investigation follows; the soldiers say they never harmed the men, a rogue major backs them up and things move on. For the US army, it's just another dead Arab. When Iraqis start talking about revenge, you begin to see the grudges and jealousies that divide and unite factions in the insurgency, the tribal leadership and the corrupt police. Everything that starts out badly just gets worse. It's timely, just as Bush and his advisers have abandoned "stay the course" for talk of the Iraq-isation of the war.

Shot on location in Morocco, with a production design that seems far too clean for the chaotic landscape of war, The Situation looks like a composite of film stereotypes intended to depict a place, a "situation," that's beyond being shaped or even endured under the best of intentions. We have tough young soldiers with all the attitudes of corrupt cynical cops from urban American detective films. We have a well-intentioned earnest CIA officer with some of the well-meaning awkwardness that we got in films about the Cold War and Vietnam. We also get bureaucratic villains, like a bow-tied competitive CIA underling, new to the country, whose youthful arrogance is at the level of his ignorance.

Yet the film that seems most echoed in Wendell Steavenson's script is Chinatown, the Roman Polanski/Robert Towne collaboration about a detective, finally liberated from the terminal corruption of Chinatown, who finds himself in a scandal involving wealthier participants whose relationships are just as labyrinthine and whose emotions are far more base. Our good CIA guy enters the story as he tries to pressure his military peers to install incubators for the hospitals in Samarra. It's nation-building, after all. At first, it seems logical enough. The people of Samarra fit into another film template; these are the "villagers" that have populated Hollywood films for decades, families in some exotic place just trying to live their lives, if only the US soldiers, the insurgents and the police would go away. Of course, that never happens, and more bodies pile up. And the bodies waiting to be born in the miserable town seem destined to be nothing more than part of the same mess. (A former Baathist informant makes sure you don't miss the point, trading information that will kill a man for a promise that he'll be posted at the Iraqi embassy in Sydney. He says the Foreign Ministry is run by Kurds who hate him, and Baathists just can't get a break without help from the right American.)

The parallels aren't as literal as they could be and the situation here, no pun intended, is different enough from Los Angeles of the 1930s to ensure that the audience will see something more threatening. Iraq, as it appears, in The Situation, is a poisoned landscape taken down a few more notches by the Americans who have disdain for the place that they've forgotten about building and are now occupying. Verisimilitude aside for the moment, this is a deeply anti-American film, with murderous soldiers, CIA agents who are either credulous or just nasty, and Iraqis who, however opportunistic themselves, are portrayed as victims of the United States. When the Americans invade Samarra in humvees and tanks, guess whom the audiences in the United States will be rooting for? It won't be their friends in the National Guard.

Haas and Stevenson have created a context, in which, if you follow the logic of the story, it is near-impossible to have much empathy for any of the Americans. It doesn't help that armed, uniformed, helmeted young American men seem uniformly faceless, while the Iraqis don't. It's just fiction, the filmmakers might say. In this world where cinema about "real" events is as close to that reality as most of the audience will come, it becomes the audience's reality.

And that's the point. This picture of chaos and despair is getting to be the way that most Americans view Iraq. Whatever you think of what appears to be the film's partisanship in its depiction of events on the ground in Iraq, you can't help but view The Situation, an entertainment crafted from hopelessness, as a sign of something broader - that the filmmakers think they can draw the public to a story of an un-winnable war (or an un-winnable peace), made more un-winnable by American arrogance and incompetence. They are not just making this argument, they're selling it, and the audience seems ready for that perspective on the war.

Two years ago, the view of Iraq as a hopeless place (and the image of Americans as indifferent occupiers) might have been received differently, with some disputing the unflattering depictions of soldiers. Haas's film is scheduled to be released early next year. By then, hopelessness could old news. Remember just a few years back, when the Bush White House described the invasion of Iraq as an experience that seemed a lot like winning the lottery for Iraqis. Iraq was invaded by the Americans, so it was only logical that soon would come prosperity, democracy and baseball (which soldiers taught to uncomprehending children for the cameras.)

Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock?

Something like this syndrome is going on in Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock?, in which a truck-driving grandmother in Southern California has an epiphany that promises to be a lot like winning the lottery. The doc, directed and narrated by the former actor and current 60 Minutes producer Harry Moses, is something of a fable about the inevitable complications of what looks like good fortune. Teri Horton buys an abstract painting for $5 at a thrift shop, and a local art teacher tells her it looks a lot like a Pollock. Teri doesn't even know who Pollock was, and she says she thought paintings were supposed to be beautiful (which she thinks this one isn't). Yet believing is seeing, especially when money is involved, some $50 million of it if the "Pollock" is real, and her presumed good fortune snowballs into a campaign to determine whether the picture was really made by the master of abstract expressionist drip painting.

The roguish Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is a doubting expert. So is Ben Heller, the dealer/collector who bought and sold Pollocks decades ago. Try expressing doubt, though, to someone who thinks she's won the lottery. Teri finds a scientist who claims that he's found Pollock's fingerprint on the back of the canvas, and a fast-talking dealer, Tod Volpe, just out of prison for an art-scam conviction, who champions the Pollock attribution and tries to put a group of investors together to buy it. (These investors are too smart for that, or at least most of them are.) The strongest believer in the picture's authenticity is Teri Horton, who didn't know Pollock from Paris Hilton when it all started. She turns down $2 million in cash, because she's convinced she's entitled to the $50 million.

The film never delivers. We never get a determination that the unsigned painting is by Pollock, and we're not told at the end of the film where the painting is. But we do see another eager American seduced by the dream of a windfall.

Tales of Americans getting rich overnight (The Beverly Hillbillies, Christmas in July, etc) are a staple of Americana and American films. Part of that myth is the notion that the recipients of good fortune come to believe that they deserve it, or that they earned it somehow. It also tells us something about art. The appreciation of Pollock's drip technique has not percolated down into the general population, but the fact that these paintings are worth many millions has. This shouldn't come as a surprise; people can read price tags better than they can analyze a work of abstract art. And why not? After all, the gambling magnate Steve Wynn, arguably the most important art collector in America, just put his elbow through a Picasso painting valued at $139 million, because Wynn is blind from retinitis pigmentosa. How does this art expert know which Pollocks to buy?

Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock? is a Picturehouse film. Perhaps we'll know more about the painting's fate when the film gets closer to release.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:48 PM

October 25, 2006

DVDs, 10/25.

DK Holm has been watching DVD 'xperts react to major releases over the past several weeks; it's high time to catch up with the highlights.

Billy Wilder Speaks It's not like he's Garbo or anything. Billy Wilder, especially in his later years, would just as soon talk to reporters, students, panels, fellow filmmakers and whomever else as anything. But in Billy Wilder Speaks, he does so, most often in German, and fellow director Volker Schlöndorff was there to catch it.

The time-frame was during two weeks in Los Angeles in 1991 and the then-85 year old director apparently felt so comfortable chatting with Schlöndorff in his original language that he began to speak "out of school," violating the oath of omerta that rules over Hollywood, even decades after events. Schlöndorff vowed to release the resulting film only after Wilder's death, which occurred in 2002. Schlöndorff edited the material into six 30-minute episodes for German television collectively called How Did You Do It, Billy?. Later it was broadcast on British television in three one-hour episodes, and this version is a reduction by half of that broadcast. Kino has released the film on DVD (the street date was October 17), with about 70 minutes of extra footage and other materials.

Karasek: Wilder DVD Savant Glenn Erickson, as is his wont, explains how the film came about. "Wilder was working with another documentarian in his little writing office in Beverly Hills when Schlöndorff piggybacked his camera for a 'rehearsal' for a possible interview. He ended up getting two weeks of excellent on-camera reminiscences from the great director." Writer Hellmuth Karasek was also interviewing Wilder on for of his future biography. Erickson goes on to say that the "71-minute film is a delight." The interview proceeds chronologically, "right through his career from Germany to his early days in Hollywood, skipping over ground covered too well by others," with "even the Cameron Crowe book [stacking] up as a compendium of old stories compared to the freshness of the content heard here." There is some "breaking news" in the chat: "Wilder offers a number of observations not heard or read elsewhere, such as his description of Jack Lemmon's work ethic and Shirley MacLaine's doubts that The Apartment will be a success."

Jon Danziger at Digitally Obsessed begins by saying that there's "nothing quite like listening to a master talking shop, and that's exactly the opportunity we're given with this documentary," but finds that many of Wilder's anecdotes are "familiar, especially if you've read Conversations with Wilder." Adding that the "most intriguing part of the film, in some respects, is Wilder's discussion of Death Mills, which he directed for the Department of War in 1945, a look at the concentration camps that killed most of Wilder's family along with millions and millions of others," Danziger concludes that the film is "a modest disappointment that this is only just over an hour long - but then, nobody's perfect." Also, the transfer is "workmanlike" though "the clips from Wilder's films actually look pretty slick."

Conversations With Wilder Fernando F Croce at Slant is the most negative, dubbing the disc a "surprisingly thin session" and that it is "surprising, for all of Wilder's puckish volubility, is how slight this series of interviews feels, providing bite-sized movie-buffish info but little insight and even less of the intergenerational portrait and 'aural history of the movie business' promised by interviewer Volker Schlöndorff." For Croce, the film "feels as wispy a project as Cameron Crowe's softball book with Wilder in the mid-90s." On the transfer, Croce finds that the "interview footage offers a variety of faded tones, but movie footage remains sharp and clean. The sound is a bit better, though subtitles struggle to keep up with Wilder's energetic language-hopping."

The extras on this Kino disc include 17 trailers for Wilder's films (The Major and the Minor, Five Graves to Cairo, Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend, Sunset Boulevard, Love in the Afternoon, Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, One, Two, Three, Irma La Douce, Kiss Me, Stupid, The Fortune Cookie, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, Avanti!), plus two TV spots (one for Sunset Boulevard, the other of Jack Lemmon summoning extras to Cleveland's Municipal Stadium on behalf of The Fortune Cookie), and 21 "deleted scenes." Also included in the package is an essay by Schlöndorff. Writes Croce, "Most fun is a nearly complete gallery of Wilder trailers, which taken together suggest the smarmiest filmography of all time."


It's one of the most long awaited DVDs, and one of the most unusual examples of a typical "important" Hollywood movie. Reds, Warren Beatty's biopic of radical journalist John Reed, the only American buried in the Kremlin, and his relationship with Louise Bryant, arrived in Region 1 on October 17 with an excellent transfer of Vittorio Storaro's superb, classical imagery in a fine 25th Anniversary Edition package consisting of a double-disc set with a short array of extras (about an hour's worth of "making of" material, broken up into seven discreet thematic units). Upon original release, the $36 million dollar movie garnered twelve Oscar nominations and won three, one to Storaro, one to Maureen Stapleton for best supporting actress and one for Warren Beatty for best direction. The DVD itself appeared to an explosion of reviews.

Reds For Karen Valby of Entertainment Weekly, Reds is "political, educational, provocative, difficult, and long (clocking in at well over three hours). It is also intellectually stirring and emotionally soap-operatic in the best sense of both those terms, and stars three actors at the very top of their game." Digitally Obsessed's Jon Danziger concludes that "Reds, like its hero, is courageous almost to the point of foolhardiness - it's politically committed, culturally knowing, historically relevant, and almost unimaginably poignant. It's got a vibrancy that comes only from art of the first order, and features actors and filmmakers of the highest rank turning in some of their very best work. Rejoice, comrades - finally it's on DVD, and it looks spectacular."

At DVD Beaver, Yunda Eddie Feng, after a thorough summary of the movie's history (and pointing out that "there is a thematic reason why Reds is being released in October rather than in any other month"), settles down to one of the site's characteristically detailed analyses of the transfer. "A few years ago, Paramount restored the Reds film negatives, though the studio and Warren Beatty decided to put off the DVD release until 2006. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image is impressively free of debris such as dust and scratches, and it is generally sharp and clear. However, I saw a few defects that appeared briefly, sometimes for only one frame."

At the DVD Journal, the acronymal JJB asserts that Reds's near banishment from Oscar achievement by Chariots of Fire marked "the end of the New Hollywood," going on to say that Reds was "the last of its kind - a lavish, highly detailed, over-budget, epic-length historical drama shot in multiple countries for millions of dollars, and yet a singular artistic vision." After a detailed account of the film's political background, JJB notes that Reds "becomes a story that isn't about a singular mass of people, but just two - Jack and Louise - who find that their love for each other sustains them more than art, writing, or political ambition."

Deeming it a "handsome, unsatisfying DVD of a handsome, unsatisfying epic," Slant's Dan Callahan argues that the movie is at odds with itself: "There's an attempt to correlate the 'free love' theories of the 1910s with the ethos of the swinging 70s, but this parallel is mitigated by the mushy home life scenes between John and Louise, where it always seems to be Christmas or someone's birthday and cute puppies clamor to watch them make lingering love in silhouette."

John Reed: Ten Days That Shook the World In a feature story at the New York Times, AO Scott chatted about the DVD release with Beatty, who maintained that Reds was "the last Hollywood picture to be released with an intermission," with Scott adding that the film "does, in retrospect, seem to come at the end of a line of grand, sometimes grandiose movies that stretches back from the Godfather series, through Lawrence of Arabia, to Gone With the Wind." Scott concludes that Reds "remains a superior history lesson, thanks to Mr Beatty's thorough command of the material and to his inclusion of real-life 'witnesses' to the life and times of Reed. Their faces and voices give this romance some documentary ballast, and make it, now that they are gone, a moving archive of faded memories."

Ah, the witnesses. If there was one thing that Reds fanatics yearned to have on the DVD, it was the unedited footage of the remarkable interviews with such historical figures as Henry Miller, Rebecca West, Hamilton Fish, George Jessel, and Adela Rogers St Johns, among others. Unfortunately, the viewer gets only a small taste of the unedited footage in the course of Laurent Bouzereau's typical talking-heads-and-clips "making of" job. Entertainment Weekly finds that the "biggest treat of this special edition, though, is [Jack] Nicholson," who "explains [Diane's] Keaton's absence from the extras. 'She would find probably a lot to find fault with in this particular approach to making a documentary and getting poopsy about the period,' he says admiringly. 'Too much of this "Ooh! You made a movie!" blah.' Viva Diane."

DVD Beaver finds that "though very polished, Bouzereau's bonus materials are usually sterile and superficial; this explains why filmmakers with fragile egos like to work with him. He makes everyone look like a heroic, visionary artist struggling against incredible odds, which is essentially dishonest considering that even Beatty himself acknowledges that all of the major Hollywood studios were willing to finance his movies back in the late-1970s and early-1980s (and considering that the only odds that Spielberg faces nowadays are ones that he creates for himself)."

Digitally Obsessed complains that "one feature that's not included but that would have been very welcome would be identifying the witnesses." Callahan at Slant also complains that "using these 'witnesses' as a framework was an inspired idea, but the John Reed we hear about in these testimonies is not the one we see on the screen," and adds further that the extras are "fairly unilluminating, and mainly feature the near-70-year-old Beatty looking great and revealing little."

One of the biggest advocates of a Reds DVD release is Jeffrey Wells, and the writer got a chance to interview Beatty for his site, Hollywood Elsewhere. Beatty has become a real advocate for DVDs, which may be a harbinger of the future (as Beatty seemingly always is) as other directors such as Steven Spielberg still remain disdainful of the medium. Wells quotes Beatty: "DVD releases and the obviously long shelf life that comes with the DVD market are the replacement for the long theatrical life that films used to have in theaters, plus it saves the audience from having to experience the mall experience, which is largely a hormonal matter these days."


A Prairie Home Companion Mid-October saw the release of Robert Altman's adaptation of the American public radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, slaking the veteran filmmaker's thirst for audio games and big and varied casts (Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Lindsay Lohan, Kevin Kline, Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson, John C Reilly and Garrison Keillor among them), and Terry Zwigoff's collaboration with comic artist Daniel Clowes, Art School Confidential, which provided the dyspeptic director with another platform from which to rail against human mediocrity.

Tanner Stransky at Entertainment Weekly gave A Prairie Home Companion short shrift, but noted that "Altman and a tour-de-force cast elevate A Prairie Home Companion's dreamy elegy about an antiquated radio variety show into a twangy, rewind-worthy lullaby." Ed Gonzalez at Slant found that "Altman's graceful camera, the movement of characters across the frame, and the overlapping voices collectively convey a genial sense of place," but had to admit that "in spite of its lovely and limber exoskeleton, Prairie Home Companion is lighter than Light FM. Altman drops in and out of his character's lives as if he were switching between radio stations, but the transmission he picks up isn't always deep, the hee-haw music that dominates the film doesn't profoundly connect with the off-stage drama as it does in the director's little-seen gem A Perfect Couple, and the acting is off-center." Meanwhile, Dawn Taylor at the DVD Journal noticed that A Prairie Home Companion was "an interesting choice for Altman to make in his twilight years, being a film overwhelmingly about death," but also warns that both Altman and Keillor are "artists who inspire either passionate adoration or intense loathing of their work - just as there are people who can't stand Altman's pictures, there are those who find Keillor's particular brand of folksy entertainment to be corny and overly sentimental." For Taylor herself, though, the film is "a delight - a gentle, thoughtful, warm visit with people who are passionate about what they do."

Art School Confidential Taylor also pulled the Art School Confidential card at the DVD Journal, concluding that the film, "while very funny, doesn't succeed at either the sort of deeply wrought characterization that marks the rest of Clowes's work nor at the pitch-black, suffering-based humor of Zwigoff's. Unfortunately, the entire film just feels like an extended, very mean joke about how silly art school students are." Preston Jones at DVD Talk also traces a decline: "What begins as a scabrous satire devolves into ham-handed clichés that sabotage an otherwise darkly humorous work... Art School Confidential is a flat, overlong exercise in taking down those smarmy art kids a peg or two. While it might be fun for Clowes and Zwigoff, it's downright dull for those in the audience." But Jeremiah Kipp and Ed Gonzalez at Slant scrape away the surface to find that Art School Confidential is really "a tale of demolished idealism appropriate for any creative job market," and asserting that the "matter-of-fact filmmaking style is made up for by the vitality of the all-around fantastic performances, the striking use of color (much of the movie looks like an eye-popping comic book panel), and dialogue that's as tasty as an Ernest Lehman/Clifford Odets cookie full of arsenic." They add that the Sony disc's image is "pristine, boasting pleasant, film-like textures, smooth skin tones, excellent color saturation, with no evidence of edge haloes, dirt, or flecks."

Hail Mary Slant was also one of the few websites to cover the New Yorker Video release of Jean-Luc Godard's Hail Mary, made in 1985 but still controversial. Fernando F Croce finds the film to be a "profoundly felt, gravelly beautiful work of faith, where the potentially parodist aspects of the premise (the Nativity story recast in modern-day Geneva) are consistently tempered by august contemplation." However, Croce goes on to say the "sensuousness of Godard's images is not quite damaged by the somewhat slapdash transfer, though the full-frame dents the supernal quality of the framing. The sound almost makes up for it, capturing the dense aural mosaic of voices, music, and the murmurs of nature."

Letter to an Unknown Woman What Region 1 lacked, though, Region 2 made up for with Second Sight's recent release of Max Ophuls's Letter from an Unknown Woman, one of four films in its Max Ophuls Collection. In a lengthy review at DVD Times, Gary Couzens tracks the director's career, his critical standing, and his all-too-small DVD filmography. Couzens's analysis is that Letter from an Unknown Woman is "very much Lisa's story, and it's a measure of Ophuls's stylisation that we accept it totally, when looked at from another angle her behaviour becomes highly dubious - egotistical and deluded at best, that of a stalker at worst. [Joan] Fontaine gives a remarkable performance, aging from early teens to thirties and is utterly convincing. There's a self-belief matched with a vulnerability that Hitchcock had seen earlier in the decade in Rebecca and Suspicion which Ophuls makes full use of. This was, by the way, Fontaine's favorite of her own films." Couzens also observes that the film enjoys a "generally good transfer, though some scenes are a little too dark. Otherwise it shows all the shades of grey in [DP Franz] Planer's photography, and there's a pleasingly film-like grain." The disc also includes a 23-minute video essay by film historian Tag Gallagher. "Gallagher is an eloquent speaker, and it's a sure bet that you will find out things you didn't know about this film, however familiar you may be with it - I certainly did."


"Not just anyone could turn a slick, glib tobacco industry lobbyist into a sympathetic character," begins Betsy Bozdech in her review of Thank You for Smoking at the DVD Journal, before going on to announce that the film succeeds at that task admirably. Thank You for Smoking is, of course, the political satire that is also the coincidental product of scions. It's based on a novel by Christopher Buckley, son of the conservative columnist and author William F Buckley, and adapted and directed by Jason Reitman, son of director Ivan Reitman, shaper of Bill Murray's early screen persona (Meatballs, Stripes). Buckley's 12-year-old novel concerns a tobacco industry lobbyist kidnapped and abused with nicotine patches ostensibly by anti-smokers, but the movie is somewhat different, with a focus on the relationships between the lobbyist, Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), and his son (Cameron Bright) and a reporter, Heather Holloway (Katie Holmes).

Thank You for Smoking Bozdech goes on to ask, "How does Nick sleep at night? Very well, thank you; he's a champion debater with a self-described 'moral flexibility' that allows him to find satisfaction in doing what very few others would be able to (or, for that matter, would want to). For Nick, it's the easiest thing in the world to stand up for smoking as a personal choice - who is he to tell anyone else what they should or shouldn't do?" For Bozdech, the high points of the film are Naylor's occasional meetings with fellow lobbyists (Maria Bello and David Koechner) representing other despised industries, alcohol and firearms, who informally call themselves the M.O.D. Squad (for Merchants of Death).

Preston Jones at DVD Talk prefers to approach Thank You for Smoking (by the way, shouldn't that title be Thank You for Still Smoking, to more better match the rhythm of the catch phrase it is refuting?) as an Aaron Eckhart film, first summarizing his career before asserting that "Eckhart hasn't found another part that gave him as much to sink his teeth into as the one crafted by [Neil] LaBute [in In the Company of Men]. Say hello to Eckhart's triumphant comeback role: Nick Naylor, Big Tobacco's chief lobbyist, a slick sonofabitch," before concluding that "Thank You For Smoking is a razor-sharp satire that swipes at Hollywood, lobbyists, parenting and half a dozen other topics with the faintest whiff of conscience - whip-smart and hysterically funny." And Ross Johnson at Digitally Obsessed lobbies for the movie, which he found "brisk, and moves through its relatively short running time without ever really slowing down... There's a charmingly light touch throughout."

The anonymous reviewer at Current Film emphasizes the performances, noting that they are "absolutely terrific," and that "Bright and Eckhart are believable as father/son," but avers that the film "doesn't hit its targets as fiercely as it could have (partially due to the fact that it plays things a little too safe at times)." And Kirven Blount at Entertainment Weekly complains that Reitman "undercuts the satire by hard-pedaling Nick's relationship with his son."

Christopher Buckley: Thank You for Smoking Thank You for Smoking garnered some attention at the Toronto Film Festival because of a bidding war, won by Fox Searchlight over Paramount Classics (which subsequently shed two of its executives), and then more at Sundance, where a sex scene between Eckhart and Holmes was cut. The DVD Journal's Bozdech, in discussing the supplements, which include a solo commentary by Reitman and his participation in a group chat, notes that "in both, Reitman discusses the circumstances surrounding the Eckhart-Holmes sex scene, which caused a stir at the Sundance Film Festival when it was accidentally dropped from the screening print and speculation about Scientology censorship ran rampant." Jones at DVD Talk calls the supplements a "veritable bonanza," and finds Reitman "candid, engaging," while Verdict's Masri rules that Reitman's solo commentary is an "amiable affair." But Obsessed's Johnson finds that the extras contain "more quantity than quality," and EW's Blount shows impatience with the supplements: "Reitman heaps profane abuse on those looking to point out continuity gaffes, and says he introduced himself to Buckley as 'the guy they hired to f--- up your book.' In another, he repeats himself, Eckhart quietly watches the film, and David Koechner (gun lobbyist Bobby Jay) tries to liven things up."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:23 AM | Comments (3)

October 24, 2006

Shorts, 10/24.

Adrian Martin: Phantasms A must-read: Matthew Clayfield's appreciation of Adrian Martin - as well as the discussion that follows.

Kristin Thompson offers what for many, myself included, will be an introduction to the work of self-described "aca/fan" (i.e., an academic who's also an in-there-with-all-four-feet fan) Henry Jenkins. One of his books, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, "is unusual, perhaps unique, in offering an overview of the entertainment industry from the perspective both of the big corporations that control popular media creations and of the fans, who often appropriate those creations for their own purposes."

"Don Hertzfeldt is one of my favorite short filmmakers." And so, David Lowery interviews him.

"Jean Harlow scares me when she shouts, and she shouts a lot." John McElwee at Greenbriar Picture Shows, parts 1 and 2.

Thomson: Suspects "To some degree, both ideas remained as I worked: the encyclopedia and the novel. I had this image of a library, where the characters resumed their life after ours. But the Biographical Dictionary of Film had already made me see the inadvertent beauties in alphabetical order." With his novel Suspects seeing a re-release, David Thomson talks with Kamera's Antonio Pasolini.

"Death of a President is really a movie about 9/11 - an essay on a national tragedy used to create an even greater tragedy." Even so, J Hoberman notes, "There's a far more subversive political mock-umentary coming next week. I invite President Bush, Senator Clinton, and all politicians to get down with Borat." Also: "A terrific movie in the Antonioni tradition, Climates confirms 47-year-old Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan as one of the world's most accomplished filmmakers."

And also in the Voice, Ed Halter seems disappointed with Werner Herzog's The Wild Blue Yonder and Jim Ridley, reviewing Babel, suggests: "Time perhaps scrambling it's for Alejandro González Iñárritu to stop his narratives."

Geoffrey Macnab reports on Nicole Kidman and director Steven Shainberg's ideas going into Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus.

Also in the Guardian, Peter Bradshaw on YouTube's lure - for viewers, other companies and for filmmakers: "Documentaries like Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man and Andrew Jarecki's Capturing the Friedmans have YouTube qualities, in that the footage was shot by the participants themselves, but needed a professional cinema practitioner to bring it to light. If the unhappy heroes of these films were making their videos now, they would probably bypass these directors and take them straight to YouTube."

Meanwhile, I've only just noticed that the Hollywood Reporter has an online viewing blog, Reel Pop. The new design is working. Steve Bryant's entry today: "The 2006 Midterms According to YouTube."

"The long and winding road that Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain took on the way to the big screen, where it opens Nov 22, reveals the challenge an independent filmmaker faces when he encounters a big studio's moviemaking process," writes Anne Thompson. Also in THR, Greg Kilday: "Ryan Fleck's Half Nelson led the list of nominees for the 2006 Gotham Awards, announced Monday in New York by the Independent Film Project and its executive director, Michelle Byrd."

Gothams Right. And the other four films nominated for best feature are: Old Joy and... Little Children, The Departed and Marie Antoinette. Anthony Kaufman comments: "While it may help bring in the bucks for the humble nonprofit, the studio choices are an embarrassment to New York's independent film community." More from ST VanAirsdale.

At Twitch, logboy reflects on the state of the "cult" film and, in general (as well as quite specifically), all things Twitchy. New reviews: Marco on Giuseppe Tornatore's La Sconosciuta (The Unknown Woman) and logboy on Herman Yau's Hack Bak Do (On the Edge).

If you skipped Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker piece on computers predicting what in any given movie will make for how much in returns at the box office, Vince Keenan's got the gist in a fun entry.

"Syrian cinema, although characterized as a progressive one that tackles social and political issues, still cannot be compared to the Egyptian film industry," writes Nazim Muhanna in Asharq Alawsat. "To the present day, despite the changing times, Syrian cinema is still monitored and controlled by a 13-member intellectual committee that receives screenplays to read and access in advance. Provoking the anger of many in the field, their main objection being that some of the committee members have no background or knowledge of cinema."

Also via Perlentaucher's "Magazinrundschau," Hani Mustafa in Al-Ahram Weekly on "the fabled Ramadan soaps watched by millions."

Catch a Fire For IFC News, Dan Persons talks with Phillip Noyce about Catch a Fire and what it shares thematically with The Quiet American and Rabbit-Proof Fence. Related: Robert Wilonsky's review in the Voice.

A "difficult, human, and powerful film" or a doc in tandem with "the worst shock tactics of desperate filmmakers"? A Reverse Shot trio clashes over The Bridge at indieWIRE. More from Robert Cashill: "This should have been a pro-barrier advocacy picture, one that I think would have had a greater galvanizing effect on the legislature (and would have doused discussion that the movie, which does not take a strong editorial stance, perpetuates suicidal ideation by susceptible viewers)." Related: For SF360, Michael Fox interviews director Eric Steel.

Production Weekly: "Andre Benjamin, Woody Harrelson, Ray Liotta and Martin Henderson are set to star opposite Charlize Theron in Battle in Seattle."

Ed Champion: "It's telling that a slightly lesser Scorsese mob film, sizzling with the kind of punch and life that few contemporary films seem capable of these days, stands so distinguished against its multiplex brethren."

Infamous? It's "not half bad," writes Alan Vannemann. Also at Bright Lights After Dark, C Jerry Kutner adds three monologues to Edward Copeland's five.

Among the DVDs Dave Kehr reviews this week for the New York Times is Hands Over the City, Criterion's "fine treatment of an overlooked film."

Gabriel Shanks on The Last King of Scotland: "No English-language film released this year, with the possible exception of United 93, has offered such exhilarating performative tension."

Over 25 years, Body Heat has aged quite nicely, argues Christopher Orr for the New Republic.

Had a rough day? Take solace. You are not in James Urbaniak's shoes. Some actors have stalkers; he's got Karen Strang.

Jeffrey Overstreet bestows the first "If Jesus Came Back..." Award to Stephen Baldwin.

Another trailer roundup at ScreenGrab. This time it's John Constantine pitting what the studio wants you to think against what you're actually thinking.

Peter Falk: Just One More Thing Online listening tip. Leonard Lopate talks with Peter Falk about his autobiography, Just One More Thing.

Online viewing tip #1. Nearly a dozen trailers for new films at european-films.net.

Online viewing tip #2. Ian McKellen reveals the secrets of acting to Ricky Gervais. Ajit at ticklebooth.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:49 PM

Fests and events, 10/24.

Tokyo International Film Festival "Tomorrow, Malaysian filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad leaves for the Tokyo International Film Festival [through October 29], where a retrospective of her work is being presented, as well as the world premier of her new film, Mukhsin." The Visitor interviews her at Twitch.

For Time Out, Ben Walters talks with Kenneth Anger, who's seeing four of his films being screened at the London Film Festival.

Kira-Anne Pelican, blogging for the Times from the fest: "Whilst The Namesake doesn't have the same individuality and flair that [Mira] Nair showed in Salaam Bombay and Monsoon Wedding, it's an enjoyable watch all the same."

Tom Huddleston from the fest for Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "For Your Consideration makes one important alteration to the [Christopher] Guest formula - instead of the usual fake documentary this is a straight comic fiction (albeit with occasional to-camera interviews, for old time's sake). But in every other aspect, absolutely everything, this is business as usual."

Focusing on The Fall, Kathy Fennessy previews the Northwest Film Forum's Peter Whitehead retrospective (November 3 through 12).

Hof International Film Festival The 40th Hof International Film Festival opens tonight with Marcus H Rosenmüller's Schwere Jungs.

Tiffany Shlain's The Tribe will be screening this weekend at Stanford as part of United Nations Association Film Festival; Michael Guillén previews the "entertaining, satisfying and - frequently - laugh out loud funny" short.

For the Independent, Ben Walsh previews the UK Jewish Film Festival, starting its trek across London next month before touring the UK early next year.

Among the things Grady Hendrix learned at the Asian Film Market in Busan: "Horror sells" and "Cluelessness is pandemic."

R Emmett Sweeney for IFC News on Guy Maddin's The Brand Upon the Brain!: "Like Alain Resnais's superb [New York Film Festival] entry Private Fears in Public Places, which is diametrically opposite stylistically, it is an adult story about loneliness that leaves its characters adrift in the final scene, enclosed in Spartan spaces filled only with regret. Resnais opted out of the cannibalism scene, though."

Michael Buening wraps NYFF coverage at PopMatters.

At Bad Lit, Mike has the winners of the Coney Island Film Festival.

The Byron Bay Film Festival issues a call for entries.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:00 AM

Horrors, 10/24.

Making Mischief: The Cult Films of Pete Walker "[E]very once in awhile - even at this time of year, when all's I wanna do is mainline candy corn and park my ass at every dang midnite-movie spook show in town, and god bless San Francisco, there's a living-dead army of 'em - I get the urge to raid my bookshelf for some supplementary reading." The San Francisco Bay Guardian's Cheryl Eddy offers a few seasonal suggestions.

The "month of horror, terror and general mayhem" at the Pioneer Theater in NYC reaches a shrieking cresendo this weekend with an "all night cinematic seance of witch and warlock movies."

Robbiefreeling at Reverse Shot: "[W]hat Roeg and Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie were able to accomplish in Don't Look Now still feels unmatched in the horror genre: the ultimate coupling of love and death, both represented in their extremes."

At Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Chiranjit Goswami explains why Ghostbusters is "a tremendously nerdy film.... Ivan Reitmans buddy-comedy innately exudes an inordinate amount of anxiety regarding a variety of qualms and insecurities that are thought to typically hound frequently obsessive, often introverted, intellectual males."

For two nights only, October 30 and 31, Halloween returns to the big screen. Via Brendon Connelly.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:37 AM

October 23, 2006

Shorts, 10/23.

Filmosophy "If we begin to understand how film 'thinks' we will start to understand how moving images affect our life and being," writes Film-Philosophy editor Daniel Frampton, who's got a new book out, Filmosophy, from Wallflower Press. "As the Hungarian film theorist Béla Balázs wrote back in 1945: 'We must be better connoisseurs of the film if we are not to be as much at the mercy of perhaps the greatest intellectual and spiritual influence of our age as to some blind and irresistible elemental force.'"

Also in the Guardian:

If you think you're going to get a shot at seeing I Saw Ben Barka Get Killed - and how you would in the foreseeable future, I have no idea - you need to read Philip French's review, which is more than just a review, actually. More like a historical primer. Also in the Observer, Killian Fox profiles Vera Farmiga and Jason Burke reports that a French distributor has picked up The Schoolgirl's Diary, a film from North Korea for which Kim Jon-il himself is credited as an advisor.

On first viewing, David Bordwell has eight notes on Satantango.

Split Screen "It is interesting to note that throughout the evolution of Belgian cinema, the reality captured on film is not only rooted in the physical, but also in the interiority of the imagination." Acquarello reviews Philip Mosley's Split Screen: Belgian Cinema and Cultural Identity.

Shi Guori turns a truck into a camera obscura; Jori Finkel tags along for the New York Times as he photographs the Hollywood sign.

David Edelstein: "Ryan Murphy's jaunty screen version of Running With Scissors proves that nothing consecrates one's depiction of a narcissistic mother like having her embodied by Annette Bening." Also in New York, the magazine: "New York may be in the middle of a Hollywood moment, but when it comes to the X-rated-movie business, the city will never rival the Valley," writes William Van Meter. "We have few porn kings living among us, much to the chagrin of just about no one. In fact, now that Bob Guccione has been stripped of his townhouse, we may have only one bona fide member of porn royalty, self-styled emperor though he is: Michael Lucas, age 34, the president of New York's largest gay-adult-film company, Lucas Entertainment, and its biggest star, and a man perfectly incapable of keeping his inner monologue to himself."

David Thomson remembers Gillo Pontecorvo - and of course, The Battle of Algiers, "one of the seminal films about purposeful violence in the 20th century." Also in the Independent, Tom Rosenthal on the two adaptations of All the King's Men.

Nick Schager in Slant on Death of a President: "[Gabriel] Range's aesthetic trickery isn't nearly as seamless or as clever as that found in Kevin Willmott's CSA: Confederate States of America, but it's his project's total lack of ingenuity that dooms it to irrelevance."

At Twitch, James Maruyama recommends Tetsuya Nakashima's followup to Kamikaze Girls, Memories of Matsuko.

Burn Before Reading Production Weekly is reporting that George Clooney and Joel and Ethan Coen will be reuniting for an adaptation of Admiral Stansfield Turner's novel, Burn Before Reading: Presidents, CIA Directors, and Secret Intelligence. Via Chris Ullrich at Cinematical. Also: "Kathryn Bigelow has been tapped to helm the Iraq-set action drama The Hurt Locker which follows the exploits of an elite bomb disposal unit."

"The Subversive Nub was started in Nov 2005 by Philip Hood as an easily accessible place to find the films from Amos Vogel's influential book on film as a subversive art." Via filmtagebuch.

"What makes a great movie monologue?" asks Edward Copeland. Whatever your definition, he offers five of the best at the House Next Door.

Both Daniel Robert Epstein (SuicideGirls) and Aaron Hillis (IFC News) talk with Bobcat Goldthwait about Sleeping Dogs Lie.

Jaspar Rees meets up with Peter O'Toole for the London Times.

A week ago, Variety unveiled its new site; today, it's the Hollywood Reporter's turn.

Online browsing tip. Vintage tech via Coudal Partners.

Online viewing tip #1. Jack Black on piracy. Via Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing.

Online viewing tip #2. James Israel's got the first four minutes of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:38 AM

Horrors, 10/23.

Saw III "[Darren Lynn] Bousman and [Rob] Zombie are both members of an emerging and collegial band of horror auteurs - unofficially known as the Splat Pack - who are given almost free rein and usually less than $10 million by studios or producers to make unapologetically disgusting, brutally violent movies," writes Rebecca Winters Keegan in Time. "If they get it right, there's a fervid fan base, composed mostly of people far too young to take death seriously, who will send those movies into almost gruesome profitability (some of the films have made more than $100 million). The group is loose knit, and other members include the director of the first Saw movie, James Wan, and his co-writer, Leigh Whannell; Hostel writer-director Eli Roth; The Descent's Neil Marshall; and Alexandre Aja, who remade Wes Craven's 1977 cannibalistic film, The Hills Have Eyes."

"So how did it happen, actually?" asks Bill Gibron at PopMatters. "Where indeed did Tobe Hooper go wrong?"

Joe Leydon on The Cabinet of Dr Caligari: "[N]either director [Robert] Wiene nor producer Erich Pommer felt altogether comfortable with the ramifications of the original script. They feared retaliation by any powerful people who might interpret the allegory as a personal attack. More important, they worried that audiences would respond unfavorably to anything that reminded them, even indirectly, of the everyday horrors lurking just outside the movie theater."

At Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Ian Johnston considers each of the four stories of Kwaidan. Also, Teddy Blanks: "Frenzy is funny. Something about dry British wit launches Hitchcock's ever-present dark humor to laugh-out-loud status. Or maybe he was just having a hell of a time."

Robbiefreeling at Reverse Shot: "[T]here's really no finer example of Carpenter's elegance than... The Fog. A more effective example of how setting and composition can make a scary movie than even Halloween, The Fog is one of just a handful of horror films I would call 'beautiful.'"

Posted by dwhudson at 9:48 AM

Fests and events, 10/23.

The Boss of It All "Taking a break from his sermonising trilogy on American values, The Boss of It All finds Lars Von Trier in amiable and comedic mood, spinning out a plot that explores several of his favourite hobbyhorses: following individuals attempting to escape from reason, poking fun at group dynamics, and deflating actors' egos." Rob Forsyth blogs from the London Film Festival for the Times.

The Observer's Jason Solomons offers an overview of seven films at the festival; and at Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Tom Huddleston reviews Venus and Stranger Than Fiction.

"The LFF's 'Treasures From The Archives' strand brings newly-restored prints back into circulation. And while it's always wonderful to see classics like Dr Strangelove or Great Expectations on the big screen again, it's more thrilling that the BFI and equivalent archives around the world breathe new life into half-forgotten gems that could have been lost forever," writes Sarah Cohen for Time Out. "Distant Voices, Still Lives is one of these rescued treasures."

Uso Justo E Steven Fried interviews Coleman Miller for the Siffblog: "The words 'funny' and 'experimental film' are not often found in the same sentence, but his latest piece, Uso Justo, transforms a Mexican medical melodrama into one fucking funny experimental film. The 87-minute program will be presented at the NWFF Tuesday evening at 8 pm."

Follow Toronto After Dark at Twitch.

At Cinema Strikes Back, Blake's found the lineup for Portland's Grindhouse Film Festival (November 4 and 5).

Adam Hartzell's full review of Kim Dae-seung's Pusan International Film Festival opener Traces of Love is up at Koreanfilm.org; indieWIRE's Brian Brooks surveys the awards and trends at this year's PIFF.

Similarly, Eugene Hernandez from the Hamptons.

At WSWS, David Walsh carries on looking back at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Online viewing tip. David Poland on the beach.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:09 AM

Jane Wyatt, 1910 - 2006.

Jane Wyatt
Jane Wyatt, who reigned as America's ideal suburban mom during the 1950s when she starred with Robert Young in the television sitcom Father Knows Best and who nearly lured Ronald Colman away from diplomacy and into a lamasery in Frank Capra's 1937 film Lost Horizon died on Friday at her home in Bel Air, Calif. She was 95.

Robert Berkvist in the New York Times.

Wyatt... disagreed with latter-day critics who complain that Margaret Anderson was always subordinate to her husband. "She was the power behind the throne," she said. "She helped her husband out. Mother always knew best, too."

Dennis McLellan in the Los Angeles Times.

See also the Wikipedia entry.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:56 AM

October 21, 2006

Busan Dispatch. 5.

An invaluable retrospective, a documentary and an intriguing story feature in Koreanfilm.org contributor Adam Hartzell's final dispatch from the Pusan International Film Festival.

Pusan International Film Festival "Japanese imperialism stuck a knife in old Korea and twisted it, and that wound has gnawed at the Korean national identity ever since. That is the fundamental reason why so little modern history is written: and that is what so dignifies those few Koreans and Japanese who have stood outside this death urge toward silence and written good history anyway." (Bruce Cumings, Korea's Place in the Sun, p.140).

Korea's Place in the Sun This year's retrospective on older South Korean films at PIFF focused on films from the Japanese Colonial Period (1905-1945). Before 1989, there were believed to be no extant films from this period, but some vault-digging still needed to be done. The Japanese company Toho Film provided the Korean Film Archives with three films from this period in 1989, whereas the Russian National Film Archives Gosfilmofond provided another one in 1998. But in 2003, that extant number was almost tripled when seven were unearthed from the Chinese National Film Archives. Of the eleven films available from this time in Korea's cinematic history, the following were shown at PIFF: Sweet Dream (Yang Joo-nam, 1936, the oldest Korean film in existence and a sort of pre-Madame Freedom about a woman who begins to appreciate the opportunities emerging for women at the time), Military Train (Suh Kwang-je, 1938, a film produced by the Japanese colonial government to encourage greater train security), Anchor Light (Ahn Chul-young, 1939, about a country girl being taken advantage of in Seoul), Angels on the Street (Choi In-gyu, 1941, about boys at an orphanage), Spring of Korean Peninsula (Lee Byung-il, 1941, a self-reflexive film on the film industry of the time), Volunteer (Ahn Sug-young, 1941, about a Korean soldier anxious to be allowed to enlist in the Japanese army) and Straits of Chosun (Park Ki-chae, 1943, about a soldier enlisting to prove his manhood). What the re-discovery of these films offers scholars of film and multiple other fields is truly priceless.

I was able to catch three of these films, Anchor Light, Volunteer and Straits of Chosun. Although it could be explained as the effect of seeing over 20 films at PIFF, I still had trouble differentiating what happened in the latter two when reflecting back on my experience with them before re-checking my notes. However, released in the early 40s as the Japanese colonial government began to exert more and more control over the populace, it makes sense that I'd have trouble discerning differences between the two because the intent the Japanese colonial government had with them was the same: Get Koreans in a locked mindset to fight for the Japanese empire. Cho Young-jung, program coordinator at PIFF, noted in the program produced along with the retrospective, The Time of Change and Choice: Discovery of films from Japanese colonial period, "While watching films from the Japanese colonial period, Koreans instinctively try to look for traces of national resistance." At first glance of these two latter films, however, one sees only a lockstep view. I recall no character stepping up against the mass mindset imposed by the film that everyone from Korea would aspire to fight for the Japanese empire; even mothers are proud to send their children off. We don't even have a character who expresses doubt or disagreement in order to provide symbolic punishment. Everyone is of one mind in Volunteer and Straits of Chosun because if they weren't, those associated with the film would have a deadly price to pay from the Japanese colonizers.

Anchor Light

Anchor Light, produced much earlier, is a very different film that actually never mentions the military, let alone the Japanese as far as I could tell. Part of its immense value to scholars are the depictions of life in Seoul at the time and documentary footage of bus systems and other bits of street life, demonstrating how film is so much more than just narrative and how writing about film is so much more than upward or downward thumbs.

The only intended documentary I saw while at PIFF was Hwang Yun's One Day on the Road. If you think it's all been done before in the world of cinema, how 'bout a film about roadkill? Seen that? Well Hwang applies a deeper focus than you realized could be spent on roadkill, such a ubiquitous sight on our roads that we begin to ignore its everyday presence. Hwang seeks to see what this snapshot of these everydays says about us.

We follow three men who have been commissioned by the South Korean government to study the roadkill on three roads, part of a nexus that surrounds the Jiri Mountains to the point of making this region a literal island for the ecosystem that resides within the manmade borders. The documentary does a good job of answering the questions that might be forming in our heads, such as, "Um, how do birds become roadkill? Can't they fly away?" Hwang and her subjects show us how speeding, big trucks can suck away the flight paths of birds and how the ignored roadkill of important insect species entices the birds to stop on the road for a nibble, much to their peril. (And then the insects return to these carnages, which they then join as roadkill, and the unending cycle goes on.) We see the carnage grow each day as more than little bits of data on a computer-generated map. What the film concludes is that there is no pattern. The tiny red dots that represent the findings of roadkill along the roads become the road itself. Roadkill happens because of roads. It's that simple.

One Day on the Road

An added extra of this documentary is that it was the first one I've seen chronicling animal species indigenous to South Korea, making this even more of a perfect film for your environmental film festivals out there. Although I could do without the cutesy displays of anthropomorphizing, I know I have friends who would love that very aspect of the film and this does allow Hwang to underscore her points. Such is the challenge of documentary. Do you go for beauty and subtlety or do you insure the information is conveyed to the audience however clumsy and lacking in subtlety? To Hwang's credit, she left me with the thoughts and feelings with which she intended me to leave. She even had me empathizing with snakes!

Strangely enough, it is a Belgian, Canadian and French co-production that provides the best note of closure on the 11th edition of PIFF for me, Congorama, helmed by Quebecois Philippe Falardeau. Michel (Olivier Gourmet) is a failed inventor and failed man who lives in the light of the success of his father. Discovering he's adopted, he heads to the barn of his birth in Sainte-Cecile, Quebec on a whim to find anyone still connected to his birth family. Finding this search more challenging than he's up for, he heads home but not before he becomes part of an incident from which he won't be able to completely run away. While in Sainte-Cecile, Michel meets Louis (Paul Ahmarani), and his story is intertwined in this larger story about colonialism, intellectual property, family, nationality and all the history connecting the in-betweens.

Congorama

Congorama had me thinking about the intersubjectivity of all knowledge. It underscored for me the need to credit my sources and to remember that all I wrote here is due to the visible and invisible talent that makes all these festivals happen, from the volunteers who humor my weak attempts to transact in Korean, to the cars racing around corners that didn't run me over in the crosswalk, to the availability of kim bab franchises that provide a healthier alternative to fast food in burrito-like form, to all the film laborers who keep providing fascinating and not so fascinating films to sift through. I am not an island on this peninsula. I am a product of all the histories that rush passed barely noticed, walk up briefly to try their English, and to stay imprinted within my head and heart for years to come over conversations late into the night accompanied by the score of the seashore. I'll come back for all that and more.

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

Weekend shorts.

Terence Davies "He is a lovely man, but a gruelling interview." Evidently, but Terence Davies's rants do make for a highly entertaining read. "You're up against people who know nothing, who have done a media degree or, worst of all, have done the Robert McKee lectures."

"Why is that worst of all?" asks Simon Hattenstone (probably while ducking). "Because they've done a great deal of damage. Who can turn round and say it's good to have a climax on page six? Who said so? Robert McKee, and his theories are based on Casablanca, which was being written as it was being shot. So you're up against that level of philistinism. It beggars belief."

The man may or may not be a pain, but his films are unique and vital experiences and it is an all but literal crime that he hasn't been able to get a film off the ground in six years.

Also in the Guardian:

  • "All the King's Men, as one early reviewer noted, posed the question of the age: 'Can the man of ideas work with the dictator in the interests of historic change?'" J Hoberman tells the eventful story behind the first adaptation: "[Robert] Rossen's All the King's Men makes no specific references to Louisiana or even the south. But in its combination of rough populist politics, orchestrated hoopla and a hypnotised electorate, the movie comes closer than any other in imagining a fascist America."

  • "You think the plot revolves around Iraq or the culture of corruption or the botched response to Katrina, and then - poof! - it turns out that the Republican Congressional majority achieved in 1994 by Newt Gingrich will now be swept away not for all its real and quantifiable sins, but because of some minor elected representative feeling up the Congressional page boys," writes John Patterson. "The Mark Foley scandal sends me back to the first bona fide Washington DC bestseller, Allen Drury's Advise and Consent, published in 1957 and filmed, very well indeed, by Otto Preminger in 1962." He's also reminded of "Gore Vidal's political melodrama, The Best Man, made in 1964, in which Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson vie for the presidential nomination." Also: "It's time to persuade humorless actors like the ones listed below that they have no place in the serious realm of comedy."

  • "From making one or two feature films a year throughout the 1990s, Colombia has almost 70 on recent release or in the pipeline," reports Maya Jaggi. "After decades of civil war involving the army, paramilitaries and guerrilla groups, the military 'solution' pushed by President Alvaro Uribe has made the cities, and main corridors, safer."

I Saw Ben Barka Get Killed

Christopher Frizzelle unveils the "2006 Stranger Genius Awards." One of them's going to James Longley, and Annie Wagner writes up the profile - and the Film Shortlist.

Debating the auteur theory is one thing, but the tiff between Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo Arriaga "is shaping up as something more like one of those ugly, acrimonious rock-band breakups. Or a dogfight," writes Terrence Rafferty. "[T]his particular snarlfest seems more interesting than most because it might actually illuminate something about the mysterious (and terribly fragile) nature of collaboration in the movies."

Also in the New York Times:

Jerome Liebling: Minnesota Photographs

  • Randy Kennedy has a piece on the influence of Jerome Liebling on "a generation of nonfiction filmmakers - what [Ken] Burns describes as 'all of us coming within Jerry's radiational sphere," including "Roger Sherman, Kirk Simon, Karen Goodman and Amy Stechler, who have several Emmys and Academy Award nominations among them. Sometimes called the Hampshire Mafia, they all attended Hampshire, the experimental college in Amherst, Mass, which has produced an unusual number of successful filmmakers and photographers." And Burns has a solemn video tribute.

  • Roberta Smith on Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer's Life, 1990-2005, at the Brooklyn Museum through January 21: "In the show's introductory wall text, Ms Leibovitz is quoted as saying: 'I don't have two lives. This is one life, and the personal pictures and the assignment work are all part of it.' But saying it doesn't make it so. This exhibition ends up refuting the premise on which it seems to be built: that an artist's life is as interesting — or in the end, even as personal - as her best work."

  • James R Oestreich on Bruno Monsaingeon's Glenn Gould: Hereafter: "The film will carry you deep inside Mr Gould's musical mind: an awesome place to be, and not always a comfortable one."

  • In a terrific backgrounder on Absolute Wilson, Sylviane Gold talks to both the subject, Robert Wilson, and the director: "[Katharina] Otto-Bernstein was a Wilson fan, but not by any means a scholar. And she thinks a lot of the intellectual constructs that have been proffered to explain his work are, well, hooey. 'The missing link between Dada and contemporary, the continuation of Artaud, the Wieland Wagner of the present time, tra-la-li, tra-la-lo,' she says. 'I think a lot of things were happenstance. Jacques Derrida was working with the deconstruction of language. I'm sure Bob was aware of it. But he didn't go, "Oh, deconstruction of language - let's put that on the stage."'"

  • Mark Russell talks with Daniel Gordon about his third documentary about North Korea. This one, Crossing the Line focuses on four American soldiers who defected to the North decades ago: "Three of the four... came from broken homes, with missing or abusive fathers. They made homes in the most extreme totalitarian state in the world, where Kim Il-sung is portrayed at the ultimate father figure for the entire nation."

  • Dennis Lim on The Bridge, Exit and a few others: "To varying degrees, these films grapple with heightened versions of a question that vexes all filmmakers, not least documentarians: What are the limits of what can be filmed and shown? They point to a new development that not long ago may have seemed unthinkable: the respectable snuff film."

  • The "problem" with Running With Scissors, suggests AO Scott, "is that the efforts of the actors don't add up to much more than a series of uncomfortable, funny-horrible vignettes in a scattered, shapeless movie." The LA Weekly's Ella Taylor agrees, finding it "[s]tudded with stars giving their all to nothing very much." More from Robert Cashill. Related: Rob Kendt profiles Brian Cox for the Los Angeles Times, where Maria Elena Fernandez talks with director Ryan Murphy.

Hair High
  • Neil Genzlinger on Bill Plympton's "gleefully outrageous" Hair High: "Plympton nicely walks the border between ridiculously gross and outright offensive." More from Brian D Schiller at Slant. ScreenGrab has the trailer.

  • Stephen Holden: "Sleeping Dogs Lie doesn't pretend to be more than it is: a blunt, provocative comedy sketch whose visual look is almost as bare as that of an episode of the underappreciated Home Box Office series Lucky Louie." More from Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog.

  • Jeannette Catsoulis: "Balancing [Sandra] Hüller's astonishingly physical performance with an intimate, naturalistic style, Requiem is a moving study of a tortured young woman more at peace with medieval ritual than with modern medicine. Throughout, [Hans-Christian] Schmid remains agnostic, suggesting that Michaela's problems, whatever their origin, prove only that a mind in torment is a terrible thing." Also, Sweet Land.

  • "[T]he achievement of [Conventioneers] has less to do with guerrilla tactics (Haskell Wexler pulled the same thing off in his 1969 landmark, Medium Cool) than with its shrewd interface of the personal and political," writes Nathan Lee.

  • Laura Kern on Masai: The Rain Warriors: "[T]he boys, like the film, come off as very human: flawed, frequently awkward, but full of goodness at the core."

  • Anita Gates: "Jaan-E-Mann (the title means 'beloved') has many of its genre's shortcomings, including a shaky hold on the line between farce and stupidity and a soapy, melodramatic denouement.... Still, there is something good-natured about Jaan-E-Mann that makes it possible to forgive its many faults."

In this month's Prospect, Frederic Rafael, co-writer of the screenplay for Eyes Wide Shut, tears David Thomson's Nicole Kidman to itsy bitsy, teensy weensy pieces.

"What would [Diane] Arbus have made of [Nicole] Kidman in Fur?" asks Dan Callahan in Slant. "My guess is that she would have recognized a Vogue fashion model when she saw one and sent Kidman over to be photographed by her husband." 2½ out of four stars anyway.

Also in Slant, Ed Gonzalez finds Commune "loose-limbed and not at all artful - which is to say, it's scarcely bourgeois and just as the Black Bear Ranch people would like it." And, in As the Call, So the Echo, "we're reminded that there are doctors out there who pride charity above payback."

Nick Schager: "What ultimately gives Inland Empire its dark enchantment, however, is Lynch's combination and reconfiguration of aesthetic and narrative components until what remains... is a sense of hidden, inextricable connections intertwined in ways both clear and obscure - an impression that lends this, the director's most challenging and rich work, a through-the-rabbit-hole mystery saturated with endless interpretive possibilities."

Matt Riviera on Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men: "A bleak and gritty political thriller disguised as a blockbuster, this is a relentlesssly depressing work whose narrative restraint is frustrating and admirable in equal measure."

Death of a President "All the King's Men, The Last King of Scotland, The Departed, The Queen, Marie Antoinette, Death of a President, Apocalypto - these are not movies in which a Republican administration and Congress could find much comfort," writes the Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix. "Rather, they chart deep and growing discontent, the dismay of a people who have suffered patiently through years of deceit, incompetence, abuse of power, and arrogance. On the surface, perhaps, their outrage has been muted, even silent, because that is how good Americans behave in times of trouble. But on a deeper level, in those places where doubt and anger grow, places explored by dreams and movies, changes are already under way."

Also: Gerald Peary on Time to Leave.

Filmbrain: "With a twist ending that somehow manages to be both poignant and maudlin at the same time, Death of a President can best be described as an opportunity wasted. Neither polemic nor satire, it's a film that will only offend those who refuse to see it. The decision by Regal Entertainment Group and Cinemark to ban the film outright from their cinemas says more about life in Bush's America than the film itself."

The San Francisco Bay Guardian's Johnny Ray Huston actually goes back a while with Jon Raymond, who wrote the original story and co-wrote Old Joy with Kelly Reichardt. And so they talk. Todd Haynes's name comes up here and there, it should be mentioned. Then, at SF360, Huston writes about another acquaintance from his Portland days, Miranda July.

Owen Hatherley: "Safe is the edge of hysteria in Joan Didion's neurasthenic LA teased out and emphasised to the point of total psychosis, which shouldn't obscure the fact of how prevalent its mysterious 'environmental illness' has become." Via Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay.

"There are few great filmmakers - and Fellini certainly was one - who went so wrong so resolutely," argues Charles Taylor. It was La Dolce Vita, "one of those enormous critical and commercial successes that, as 2001 did with Stanley Kubrick, set a director on a path that negates everything that had been good about his work." Heavens. That said, "in Amarcord, for once, Fellini's self-indulgence doesn't overtake the movie, doesn't wear you out. You can see everything that's wrong with the picture and it remains a pleasure to watch."

Roger Ebert talks with Michael Apted about 49 Up.

"What would you do if asked by a well-known film director to re-create a musical scene for which the fate of the whole project hinges?" asks Mark Rubin. "How about hiring and rehearsing a band, working out a musical arrangement long distance, then booking the recording date at a studio you've never even heard of while not being able to tell anyone who's on the session? How about setting up said recording session with a vocalist you've never heard sing, with no chance of rehearsal, and no one to tell you what key she likes to sing in? That's precisely where I found myself the first week of January 2005." The movie was Infamous and the singer, of course, Gwyneth Paltrow. Also in the Austin Chronicle, Liz Welch Tirrell interviews Douglas McGrath.

The Hamster Cage "It's always a shame to see revolutionaries spinning their wheels, stuck in a shallow groove," sighs Brian Gibson in Vue Weekly. "Back in 1963, Larry Kent made Canada's first indie film, The Bitter Ash. Now, more than four decades later, he's made The Hamster Cage, a stale slice of dark suburban comedy."

Tom Sutpen at Bright Lights After Dark on Sleazoid Express: "[T]his book could not be a more crucial document in the canon of film writing. I mean, perhaps it's only me, but there's just something fundamentally American about troubled individuals in a vast urban setting gathering together in a falling-apart movie theatre originally designed to look like La Scala and watching Cannibal Holocaust on a screen the size of a midwestern liquor store."

Up-n-coming:

"What has happened that has made images (and by image we mean any sign, work of art, inscription, or picture that acts as a mediation to access something else) the focus of so much passion? To the point that destroying them, erasing them, defacing them, has been taken as the ultimate touchstone to prove the validity of one's faith, of one's science, of one's critical acumen, of one's artistic creativity? To the point where being an iconoclast seems the highest virtue, the highest piety, in intellectual circles?" Bruno Latour on the "Iconoclash." Also via wood s lot, Kurt Easterwood makes a personal recommendation: My Country, My Country. The recommendation is recommended.

Adam Hartzell profiles Indian-Canadian documentary filmmaker Ali Kazimi at Hell on Frisco Bay.

Out of the Blue "Certainly the most hardened New Zealand film to emerge since Once Were Warriors, Out of the Blue is signposted by a series of innocuous coastal panoramas that belie its underlying trauma," writes Tim Wong for the Lumière Reader.

"Which other great American director has reached a point in his career where we’re this damn grateful for a half-decent movie?" Tim Robey explains why he doesn't get The Departed.

Michael Helke for Stop Smiling: "In The Sacrifice, we see the lasting benefit Tarkovsky got out of his tentative collaboration with the West in the form of his working relationship with many of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman's own associates: cameraman Sven Nykvist (who died last month at the age of 83); the actor Erland Josephson, who portrays Alexander; and designer Anna Asp, responsible for the film's interior sets. The film itself, perhaps as a consequence, is in many respects Bergmanesque."

"The Clay Bird, [Tareque] Masud's memoir of 1960s Bangladesh—a land about to be torn apart by civil war—is an engrossing and at times touching film. But its sensibility has more in common with Richard Attenborough's epics than classical cinema," writes Nelhydrea Paupér at Flickhead.

"[I]t is tempting to assert that Herzog's theses in Aguirre are completely realized in the film's opening and closing scenes," suggests Dan Jardine at the House Next Door. "Of course, to do so would be to underestimate the power, magnificence and importance of the film's intervening 90 minutes, but still, the temptation remains. As I am, like Oscar Wilde, able to resist everything except temptation, why not explore it?" More from Martha Fischer, who's back at Cinematical.

Blondie of the Follies Blondie of the Follies "has been overshadowed by [Edmund] Goulding's other film of 1932, Grand Hotel (and Blondie contains a sequence in which Jimmy Durante sings a song of Goulding's composition, 'Don't Take Your Girl to "Grand Hotel"' and [Marion] Davies offers a deadly Greta Garbo impersonation)," writes Dave Kehr, "but it's a far livelier picture than that overcrowded star vehicle."

"With a DVD viewing of Mr Klein last night, I think I'm finally starting to get Joseph Losey," writes Zach Campbell.

Leo Goldsmith at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "Scream proved a number of things about [Wes] Craven to critics and audiences alike: that he knew a great deal about horror films, and how and why they work; that he knew how to manipulate and recycle generic mainstays and to use them to great effect in spite of their conventionality; and that all of this can be highly profitable and can spawn a seemingly endless chain of sequels. But in fact, Craven had already proved this with A Nightmare on Elm Street, a film that, when viewed today, may strike one as among the most originally unoriginal films ever made."

Time Out's Geoff Andrew talks with Nuri Bilge Ceylan about Climates.

Grant Rosenberg talks with Rachid Bouchareb about Indigènes (Days of Glory) for Time Europe. Via Propagndin at Twitch.

James Christopher of the London Times talks with Christiane Kubrick about her husband and about Dr Strangelove.

In the Independent, James Mottram talks with Paul McGann about Withnail and I and his new one, Gypo, which sees generally positive reviews from Anthony Quinn and the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw.

For Twitch, Jon Pais translates a generous swatch of a DVDrama interview with Satoshi Kon.

Michael Guillén talks with Chris Hegedus and Nick Doob about Al Franken: And God Spoke.

Arianna Huffington notes that Democrats are incorporating Robert Greenwald's Iraq for Sale into their campaigns.

Chuck Tryon: "Anytown, USA offers an important, refreshing, and sometimes humorous glimpse into local political campaigns and their implications for the communities where they take place."

Everyone Stares For the Telegraph, Andrew Perry talks with Stewart Copeland about Everyone Stares - and about Sting.

Mark Andersen and Mark Jenkins, authors of Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation's Capital, talk with Paul Rachman and Steven Blush, the director and writer, respectively, of American Hardcore, for the Washington City Paper.. Via Sujewa Ekanayake, who, as it happens, has been talking with GreenCine's Jonathan Marlow about the future of VOD.

Ray Pride: "The world's stroppiest actors."

Reid Rosefelt at Zoom In Online: "The best performance I have seen by an actor so far this year is Jackie Earle Haley as the child predator in Todd Field's Little Children."

"Sid Adilman, Sid Adilman, the long-time Toronto Star entertainment writer widely regarded as one of the greatest champions of Canadian movies, music, books and television, died yesterday," wrote Isabel Teotonio in the Star on Sunday. Moving remembrances come from Joe Leydon and Leonard Klady.

"Nina Saxon. Main title and title designer for feature films and television. She also designs company logos." Susan King profiles her for the LAT. Also, Valerie J Nelson remembers Spoony Singh, who built the Hollywood Wax Museum.

Online browsing tip #1. "Last month we asked you to choose 10 artists from the web for a unique reader-curated exhibition," writes the Guardian. "As it opens, Jonathan Jones introduces the finalists."

Online browsing tip #2. Do You Want Lies With That?

Cartoon Modern

Online browsing tip #3. Flickr photoset for Amid Amidi's Cartoon Modern.

Online listening tip #1. An excerpt (accompanying a full transcript) of Geoff Andrews's conversation with Gael García Bernal at the National Film Theatre.

Online listening tip #2. The Hitchcock/Truffaut Tapes #11 at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger....

Online viewing tip #1. Rick Silva's trailer for Recap, "a remix of the cult classic graffiti movie Wild Style (1982) where every piece of graffiti in the original film has been digitally crossed out and tagged over with the Recap tag." Via Michael Szpakowski at DVblog.

Online viewing tip #2. Various people talking at the New Yorker Festival.

Online viewing tip #3. Borat's Friday press conference. Via Anne Thompson.

Online viewing tip #4. Michel Gondry's video for Beck's "Cell Phone's Dead." Via Fimoculous.

Online viewing tip #5. "Sean Smith, the Guardian's award-winning war photographer, spent nearly six weeks with the 101st Division of the US army in Iraq. Watch his haunting observational film that explodes the myth around the claims that the Iraqis are preparing to take control of their own country."

Online viewing tip #6. Frontline: The Lost Year in Iraq.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:34 PM | Comments (4)

Weekend fests and events.

Izobrajaya Zhertvy "The Best Film Award at the RomeFilmFest has gone to Izobrajaya Zhertvy (Playing the Victim) by Kirill Serebrennikov."

"This weekend is Crispin Hellion Glover weekend here in Frisco," writes Brian Darr. "Not only is the multifaceted artist bringing to the Castro Theatre three evening presentations of his controversial, finally-complete experimental film What Is It?, accompanied by his slide show presentation and a question-and-answer session with the audience, but there will also be an eight-film retrospective of his acting work matinees and midnights." So Brian talks with him: "Do you feel you're part of a tradition of oppositional cinema?" Absolutely. Glover talks extensively about Fassbinder and Buñuel.

Toronto After Dark Film Festival is off and running through Tuesday, and Mack opens Twitch's coverage with his take on Special.

The Chicago Reader's JR Jones previews the touring Resfest, making its local stopover for the weekend; Also, the Chicago International Children's Film Festival, running through October 29.

IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez has been filing dispatches from the Hamptons International Film Festival, which runs through the weekend.

Susan King previews From the Tsars to the Stars: A Journey Through Russian Fantastik Cinema, opening tonight and running through October 25, for the Los Angeles Times. Also, The Blood Is the Life: Vampires on Film, from Wednesday through Saturday, and... the Nihilist International Film Festival? Yep. Robert W Welkos meets organizer Elisha Shapiro.

The Hollywood Film Festival? Not really. Anne Thompson explains.

Robert Avila recommends ten to catch at the United Nations Association Film Festival at Stanford (October 25 through 29).

Kira-Anne Pelican, blogging for the Times from the London Film Festival, on The Lives of Others: "In this exploration of those who manipulate and the world at their hands, Henckel von Donnersmarck creates a taut thriller with a devastating conclusion. Not the easiest watch at midday on the first full day of the festival, but if it sets the standard of this year's programme, we're in for something very special." Also: Rob Forsyth on Taxidermia.

In the Guardian, Blake Morrison reflects on In the Face of History: European Photographers in the 20th Century, open at the Barbican in London through January 28.

Brian Darr was not alone in Lone Pine. Dennis Cozzalio presents a diary with lush pix.

Acquarello files the last round of reviews from the New York Film Festival, noting in a comment that...

  • "Coppola's visual style" in Marie Antoinette "gives a kind of (blatantly) artificial, candy colored glazing to Marie Antoinette's environment, a bit like the way a child (since she was only 14 when she came there) would see this baroque wonderland of Versailles."

  • Insiang: "[W]hile there is the temptation to characterize Lino Brocka's cinema through facile comparison with the works of contemporary filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder through the commonality of incorporated elements of melodrama and kitsch..., there is also a stark divergence in Brocka's more classical aesthetic of gritty, social realism and subversive politicization that eschews the overt stylization and formalism intrinsic in Fassbinder's critical, yet introspective cinema."

  • And Pan's Labyrinth "is an intelligently rendered, provocative, and incisive cautionary tale on barbarism, repression, narcissism, rigid ideology, blind obedience, and inhumanity."

The Nation's Stuart Klawans wraps NYFF as well with notes on Marie Antoinette ("the concoction goes a little flat"), Climates ("the film's most memorable images, by far, are its faces; its most powerful forces are confused, unstoppable desires"), Little Children ("[Todd] Field's effortlessly fluent, impeccably timed direction moves the film along as if it were all freshly observed, while [Kate] Winslet and [Patrick] Wilson, in a triumph of nuanced, unshowy acting, bring the shadow of desperation and dangerousness to the surface of good, normal people") and: "The wonder of 49 Up is its unfolding, within a little more than two hours, of so many specific lives: the taxi driver, the librarian, the barrister, the college professor, the mother on disability, the recovering madman. They've mostly followed the paths you might have predicted in 1964; and each of them is a surprise."

At Cinematical, Scott Weinberg has a fun talk with Colin Geddes, who programs the Midnight Madness program for the Toronto International Film Festival, and they're joined by filmmaker JT Petty.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:47 AM

The Prestige.

The Prestige "The Prestige is a triumph of gimmickry, a movie generous enough with its showmanship and sleight of hand to quiet the temptation to grumble about its lack of substance," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. Director Christopher Nolan narrates an accompanying slide show.

"Anyone who has followed Nolan's career can see both why he was attracted to the book and why he has changed it in this manner," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "The film's thematic concerns are similar to those in all of his earlier films (excluding Insomnia, which is the closest he has come to an impersonal work for hire): the definition of identity, which is the very center of Memento and also crops up in Batman Begins; play-acting and showmanship (in Batman Begins and Following); multiple betrayals and layers of deceit (in all three). There are many interesting implications about these issues within The Prestige... almost none of which can be discussed without committing numerous sins of spoilage."

Updated through 10/22.

"In its first half, The Prestige works as a clever diversion, a darkly glittering, if mechanical, showpiece," writes Stephanie Zacharek, but it turns out to be "a trick box with too many false bottoms. Ultimately, the last one simply gives way - leaving us with a hole, and a little residual darkness, but not much else." Also in Salon, Andrew O'Hehir has a stop-n-go conversation "with the guy who, even after just five feature films, looks like the premier cinematic sleight-of-hand artist of our time."

Zack Smith in the Independent Weekly: "The Prestige pulls a few narrative rabbits out of its hat at the end that leave the audience with much to think about, but these magicians would be better off if more of their secrets had been revealed."

The Stranger's Annie Wagner: "There's no sleight-of-hand here, just sick magic (not slick, mind you, sick), and it's tremendous."

"Part factual, part fictional, part fantastical, what results verges on being too tricky, on mixing too many genres, but the filmmaking is of such a high order it is hard not to be impressed and entertained," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times.

At the Reeler, Michelle Orange finds it "a ridiculously, almost uncomfortably engaging film; you can almost hear the sizzle and pop beneath excellent editing, and the humdinger pace and constant switcheroos weave the film's heftier ideas seamlessly into the breathable fabric of a great thriller."

Cinematical's Ryan Stewart didn't find guessing the film's secret all that tough.

Online viewing tip. ScreenGrab has Nolan's early short, Doodle Bug.

Earlier: Scott Foundas in the Voice, Nick Schager in Slant and John Horn's profile of the Nolan brothers in the LAT.

Updates, 10/22: Mike Russell: "[I]t's a little strange that Nolan has finally made a movie about magicians, a film about the trickery that clearly obsesses him... and it contains the sloppiest misdirection of his short career."

"To be perfectly honest, The Prestige is wildly overplotted and it contains a final gimmick that you're going to kick yourself for not recognizing sooner," writes Richard Schickel in Time. "Yet for all the film's murky misdirections, it is very enjoyable."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:58 AM

Flags of Our Fathers.

Flags of Our Fathers "Flags of Our Fathers concerns one of the most lethal encounters on that distant battlefield, but make no mistake: this is also a work of its own politically fraught moment," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "If Flags of Our Fathers feels so unlike most war movies and sounds so contrary to the usual political rhetoric, it is not because it affirms that war is hell, which it does with unblinking, graphic brutality. It's because [Clint] Eastwood insists, with a moral certitude that is all too rare in our movies, that we extract an unspeakable cost when we ask men to kill other men. There is never any doubt in the film that the country needed to fight this war, that it was necessary; it is the horror at such necessity that defines Flags of Our Fathers, not exultation."

"The stink of Crash hovers over Flags of Our Fathers," fumes Ed Gonzalez at the House Next Door, sparking a quite a conversation already. "If Clint Eastwood's personality barely shines through it's because [Paul] Haggis's cartoon politics strongarm the director's vision." Rob Humanick, writing at the Stranger Song, agrees: "Flags of Our Fathers is a sad witness to a great director's vision being slowly strangled by the work of a hired hack."

Updated through 10/23.

But there's another problem that probably has nothing to do with the screenplay, reports Dan Glaister in the Guardian: "While the film's battle scenes show scores of young soldiers in combat, none of them are African-American. Yet almost 900 African-American troops took part in the battle of Iwo Jima."

"For an American icon, Clint Eastwood makes movies with some very un-American sentiments," notes Rick Groen in the Globe and Mail. "In the land that trumpets the pursuit of happiness and the dream of self-invention, his best films — Bird, Unforgiven, Mystic River — are dark odysseys where free will chafes in the shackles of the past, a burdensome past that weighs down the protagonists as heavily as in a Faulkner novel, saturating their present and circumscribing their future.... [I]n a time when the flag-waving of the sons is wreaking no small havoc in the world, it was intriguing to wonder what Clint would do in Flags of Our Fathers. Answer: Some fine things, but not nearly enough to make a fine film."

The Stranger's Andrew Wright finds it "a rather puzzling misfire. The canvas here may be too large, or the history too weighty, for the director to find an in. Whatever the reason, as both war epic and historical character piece, it feels weirdly insubstantial."

In the Independent Weekly, Neil Morris finds Flags "an earnest, informative tome on a military and cultural touchstone.... It is most unfortunate, then, that this potential gets eroded by a torrent of over-editing and the chronological hop-scotching in an obtrusive screenplay credited to William Broyles Jr and Paul Haggis."

"The flaws in Flags of Our Fathers are at least partly attributable to Eastwood's attempts to do too much," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "Still, even when he overreaches, he somehow hits the mark."

"A narrative like this requires a measured, classical style to be most effective, and it couldn't have found a better director than Clint Eastwood," counters Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. Also, Tony Perry reports on vets' reactions - overwhelmingly positive.

"Eastwood's film succeeds more fully in asking profound questions than providing any satisfying answers," writes Jeffrey Overstreet for Christianity Today.

More from James Rocchi at Cinematical, Eric Kohn in the NYP, Matt Singer for the Reeler and, in the New York Observer, both Andrew Sarris and Rex Reed.

Earlier: Scott Foundas in the Voice, Richard Schickel's talk with Eastwood for Time, Michael Koehn in the LAT on Letters From Iwo Jima and the Siren on "The Gym Class School of Film Criticism."

Update, 10/22: "[A]nother mature, tempered work by Eastwood," writes That Little Round-Headed Boy, "somewhat cool on the surface but raging with fiery conviction underneath.... If Eastwood is using his pulpit to tell us something about our foreign blunders in Iraq, it is just that: We never learn. We make war and then hide from its bloody consequences beneath a rippling flag of patriotic imagery and political cravennness."

Updates, 10/23: David Denby in the New Yorker: "Flags of Our Fathers is an accomplished, stirring, but, all in all, rather strange movie. It has been framed as a search for the truth, yet there isn’t much hidden material to expose.... The movie has a fine, sensitive temper, but it lacks an emotional payoff."

David Edelstein in New York: "A director known for his casual approach (little rehearsal, few takes, setups that summon comparisons to a jazz musician's affectless cool), Eastwood has never directed anything this fluid or upsettingly beautiful."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:54 AM

Marie Antoinette. Yes, again.

Antonia Fraser: Marie Antoinette Ready or not, here's more on Marie Antoinette. I'd have ignored this round if there weren't a few fresh angles here; the Los Angeles Times in particular has come up with a couple of new ways to exploit interest in the film and its subject.

"Although the book, Marie Antoinette: The Journey, was published five years ago, [Antonia] Fraser's take on one of history's most reviled women is again attracting attention," writes Rachel Abramowitz who goes off to pay the Lady a visit in her "cozy, English sort of house," and we learn about how she served as something of an advisor to Sofia Coppola.

Updated through 10/23.

Charles Taylor picks up several historical novels set in Versailles and finds their writers furiously swatting down one myth after another about the reviled queen.

And then there's Carina Chocano's review: "The movie is at its strongest when it focuses on Marie Antoinette's private, sensual world, which - as she drifts into her much-mocked Rousseau-inspired pastoral phase, in which she attempts, in her inimitably artificial way, to connect with her natural self - becomes ever more abstract and cut off from reality. [Kirsten] Dunst's sleepy, detached quality is perfectly suited to the character. What Marie Antoinette wants is to lose herself in a dream."

Also, Roger Ebert has a review; it's good to see him back and with a fresh approach to boot: "Ten things that occurred to me while watching Marie Antoinette."

Michael Atkinson has crossed coasts, even if only virtually, to write a review for the Stranger: "Inadvertently, Coppola has painted a pathetic portrait of a spoiled kitten not unlike herself, born into unlimited resources and without a thought in her pretty head, before she lost it entirely."

"Like licorice, Marie Antoinette is a confection you either love or hate, and both affects seem tied to your feeling about the director herself and her apparent identification with Louis XVI's bride," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "For my part, I can definitely say that I love licorice and hate Marie Antoinette. But I'm still wrestling with the enigma of Sofia Coppola."

The LA Weekly's Ella Taylor finds it "has none of the high spirits that lent Lost in Translation its goofy charm."

Steve Erickson for Gay City News: "Coppola lets the music carry most of the burden of her film's social criticism, but unfortunately, it can only go so far to redeem this muddled project."

The Brits: Gill Pringle in the Independent, Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian, Wendy Ide in the Times and Sukhdev Sandhu in the Telegraph.

And more from Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper (pro) and Armond White in the New York Press (con); and from Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat and Matt Singer for the Reeler.

Meanwhile, Cinematical overhears some pretty off-the-wall questions at a recent press junket stopover.

Earlier: "Marie Antoinette. Again."

Updates, 10/23: Deborah Netburn in the LAT on the making of a scene: "With 10 actors and 250 extras sporting well-powdered, tightly curled, seven-inch high coiffeurs the masquerade ball scene is less about plot and more about a dizzying display of period fabulous hair."

Rob Humanick at the Stranger Song: "[I]t questions our attitudes towards history and how what once was has been interpreted and re-interpreted over time, it equates an otherwise unfamiliar environment with more relatable cultural norms of the moment, and it corrects the misguided, stuffy attitude that often permeates the genre of the historical character study. It's also fucking cool. Sofia Coppola may be the greatest living feminist filmmaker."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:50 AM

Weekend lists.

The World So the Academy's whittled its list of contenders for Best Foreign Language Film down to a lean and manageable 61. The best way to browse this round is to head to Nathaniel R's excellent chart, with its links, synopses and various countries' histories with Oscar all laid out perfectly clearly. Anne Thompson: "Here's my sense of the top ten contenders based on festival buzz and reviews." At Twitch, Todd takes a look at the five entries from Arab countries.

"I'm going to watch every last DVD in the Criterion Collection." Matthew Dessem is now up to #61, Monty Python's Life of Brian.

The Independent presents "the best (and worst) lines in the history of film," which seems to be an extract from Paul Wellings's Sex, Lines and Videotape: Famous Film Quotes.

At the AV Club, Tasha Robinson lists "8 Films Illustrating That Oral Sex And Cars Don't Mix."

ScreenGrab offers an annotated list of "five movies in which magic, real magic, is awesome."

At Twitch, Toffy's got a list of the top Thai films at the box office so far this year.

Online viewing tip. YouTube's on Slate's collective mind. Paul Boutin offers a "video history," basically nine greatest hits; Josh Levin explains how YouTube "reveal[s] what we're losing when we watch games on television"; and Troy Patterson: "Web video is the ideal medium for a world populated by instinctual exhibitionists who double as full-time voyeurs."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:14 AM

Pinter/Beckett.

Krapp's Last Tape "The old man rose painfully as the performance ended. The applause built slowly from a single clap of hands to a tumult. Harold Pinter, playwright and actor, weakened by the years and by illness, had just performed Krapp's Last Tape, by his friend and fellow Nobel laureate Samuel Beckett." Alan Cowell reports from London for the New York Times.

This is one of two events marking "the most momentous week of this [centenary] celebration for the finest, funniest and wisest dramatist-novelist Ireland has produced," writes Paul Taylor in the Independent, the other being a set of productions directed in Paris by Peter Brook. "That's the measure of the momentousness. The greatest living English playwright and the greatest living English director are concurrently celebrating the greatest dramatist of the 20th century." Also, more on Pinter's performance.

Updated through 10/22.

The Guardian's Michael Billington finds that Pinter "offers the harshest, least sentimental reading of Beckett's play I can recall." It is a performance "that will be written up in theatrical history," writes Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard.

"[I]n every key respect this is surely a performance that would have delighted Beckett," writes Benedict Nightingale in the London Times. "And all along Pinter makes you feel the gravity, the meticulousness, the sheer power of his endeavour. This is an old man's last-gasp search for a meaning that he knows he'll never find."

Update, 10/22: "Here is the playwright often thought of as Beckett's inheritor giving a new life to his words," writes Susannah Clapp in the Observer. "The audience laugh - it looks for a minute as if Pinter has suddenly blasted his way out of Beckett, and is using his own script - before recognising this as Beckett to the letter."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:17 AM

Busan Dispatch. 4.

We've got some catching up to do with Koreanfilm.org contributor Adam Hartzell's dispatches from the Pusan International Film Festival. The highlight (and overriding theme) of this one: No Regret.

Pusan International Film Festival I am rocking two computers at a Descansso Caffe in the Busan turf claimed by both Kyungsung and Pukyong Universities. I have my laptop in front of me and a computer on the wall to my right. South Korea is one of the most internet connected countries. (Last I checked Iceland ruled.) And the wall unit beside me that allows me to verify the knowledge I drop here at GreenCine underscores not only how South Korea is where the internet is headed - which is why Google is headed here to open up a research and development office, and yes, I googled that just to make sure I'm correct - but it also underscores the public culture that abounds here.

Just as I go to coffeehouses to read in public, in South Korea I can also surf the net in public, this wall placement allowing everyone to see exactly what I'm surfing like the cover of the book I'd normally be reading while sipping a sweet potato latte. I'm a total city mouse, itching to be out in public with the rest of the public, which is why I prefer my films in the theater than on DVD. Part of what I love about South Korea is how all ages are out throughout the day and late into the night. But as much as South Korea has a vibrant public culture, there are still some things that aren't permitted public expression.

No Regret

For example, Queer culture. In spite of the fact that I've been told by my friends, that "everything Queer is hot right now," what they mean is that commodified forms of Queerness, such as Queer Eye, are hot right now. For the most part, Queer culture is still hidden away in select neighborhoods. You won't see it as part of the public conversation of bodies out the window of the cafe I'm in right now. But if upon the release of No Regret the theaters stay as packed as the screening I attended where the aisles were filled with an excited audience, things just might be changing for the better here in that regard, thanks to director Leesong Hee-il and the amazing cast of his feature debut, No Regret.

I would have missed this incredible film if it weren't for a conversation I had with Italian critic Paolo Bertolin, who urged me to rework my film schedule for the next day. And I'm glad he convinced me to do just that. No Regret follows Su-min (played expertly by Lee Han) as he leaves his country orphanage to find a space in the extra-large city of Seoul. Financial circumstances result in Su-min taking a gig as a host at a club for men. (The way class is dealt with in this film is part of what makes this film so refreshing.) This host club is full of well-developed characters that refuse to cliché away your day with caricatures. The film is hilarious without requiring the sharp tongue of the queen so demanded of gay characters on US mainstream sitcoms. Some of the jokes will slip by non-Korean audiences, but the film will entertain nonetheless. Plus, it's the type of film that makes you want to know more about the inside jokes and references. It is universal without removing itself from not only the local, but from the even deeper subculture from which it arises. Yes, the self-loathing mixed in might frustrate the Western audience which is beyond that in their Queer film, but there are enough different characters here to permit the occasional character to hate themselves. Plus, don't give up on the film, it's not headed to the cliché of all clichés of Queer film you think it is. This film shouldn't just be on the radar for Queer film festivals, it should be on the shortlist for every festival.

Such as all the festivals I'm sure Ten Canoes is paddling its way towards. Narrated in English by the great David Gulpilil with the characters speaking Ganalbingu dialogue, Ten Canoes takes us on several tales in one towards endings we weren't and were expecting. I love the cinematic portraits of the characters when they are introduced. I love how the black and white is used to represent the closer past while color is used to represent the past passed the closer past. And I simply love that this film was made. Big ups to all involved.

Falling

I was hoping to catch Aki Kaurismäki's latest, Lights in the Dusk, but it sold out fast and I wasn't in the mood to sit in the aisle as all the young adult Koreans were for No Regret. (Guess the fire codes are different in South Korea.) But no complaints, because this just enabled an opportunity to see the latest by Austrian director Barbara Albert, Falling, before it comes (I hope) to a German film festival near me in January. Falling has a lovely beginning that caused me to emit sustained laughter that I'm sure annoyed my neighbors. A funeral brings five female schoolmates back together after a significant absence. Failed dreams float amongst them like the cinders of the campfire they surround, but this only serves to re-meld a bond of adult friendships. Some of the scenarios seem too outlandish for me and a bit too quickly stepped away from, but there is enough here that intrigues me, especially the first German song played in the car by the one character's younger daughter.

A Soap

It was my third chance to catch the Danish film A Soap, and it finally worked into my schedule here at PIFF, so I figured I'd pocket the charm in its third appearance. Charlotte (Trine Dyrholm) makes a dash for a new life and leaves her live-in boyfriend for a new flat below which resides Veronica (David Dencik), a transgender who is awaiting approval for her sex reassignment surgery. Both Charlotte and Veronica have a lot to learn about each other, that "other" being their respective selves, and each is the unfortunate object of some transference of each other's issues. But the story that transpires transfixes and transcends the self-loathing that presents itself initially.

...Just like No Regret, which is exactly what I felt about my selections of what was on offer on this Thursday at PIFF, no regrets.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:07 AM

October 20, 2006

Interview. Stanley Nelson.

Jonestown: The Life and Death of People's Temple "This is a movie to make you shudder," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "How many of us are so desperate for a charismatic leader claiming to have the answers that we will surrender our basic instincts for survival, along with our reason?... [T]he horror of Jonestown was caused by people's willingness to surrender their reason to a madman who was also a charismatic manipulator. And that can happen anytime and anywhere."

Jonestown: The Life and Death of People's Temple, which has been playing to sold out audiences on the festival circuit, now begins its theatrical trek throughout the country. Michael Guillén talks with director Stanley Nelson.

Updated through 10/21.

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, who also talks with Nelson, saw the film months ago at the Tribeca Film Festival: "I knew it was a powerful film when I saw it, and it's stuck with me more than any other documentary this year." People's Temple, he reminds us, "did not begin as a creepazoid apocalyptic cult," though most don't remember that aspect of the tragedy. "The idea that 909 brainwashed wackos followed their nutjob leader into death in a South American jungle is easier to swallow, perhaps, than the idea that those people were a group of essentially normal, loving, idealistic Americans who tried to build a realm of hope in the aftermath of the civil rights era, and ultimately surrendered to despair."

Online listening tip. Nelson has also been a guest recently on the Leonard Lopate Show and Annie Frisbie spoke with him in May for Zoom In Online.

Earlier: J Hoberman in the Voice, Jeremiah Kipp in Slant and Aaron Hillis in Premiere.

Update, 10/21: QuickTime trailer.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:18 AM | Comments (3)

Interview. Ron Mann.

Tales of the Rat Fink "The career of Ed 'Big Daddy' Roth is a perfect fit for pop-culture documentarian [Ron] Mann, whose previous work includes titles such as Comic Book Confidential, Grass, and Go Further," writes the Austin Chronicle's Marjorie Baumgarten.

Another great fit: ArtCar Fest co-founder Philo Northup and Mann for a speedy exchange on Tales of the Rat Fink.

Updated through 10/21.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian's Cheryl Eddy has long fun talk with Mann as well.

The doc "speculates too much, and perhaps credits Big Daddy more than necessary," suggests Omar Mouallem in Vue Weekly. "To say that his work inspired Bart Simpson, Chewbacca and iMacs is a bit of an overstatement. It is an essay turned opinion article."

Earlier: Jeanette Catsoulis in the New York Times and Ian Sands in the Boston Phoenix.

Update, 10/21: "You've got to give props to any documentarian who steps outside the Ken Burns box of archival footage + omniscient narrator + soporific soundtrack = high-minded hagiography," writes Kathy Fennessy at the Siffblog. "Further, Tales of the Rat Fink corrects a problem I have with many documentaries and docu-dramas - it provides context."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:16 AM

October 19, 2006

51 Birch Street.

51 Birch Street AO Scott calls 51 Birch Street "one of the most moving and fascinating documentaries I've seen this year." Doug Block "confirms what the best novelists know: that marriage, among the most common of human arrangements, is also among the most complex and mysterious.... At the same time, a window opens onto the history of the postwar American middle class, as its placid suburban idyll is buffeted by the cultural upheavals of the 60s and 70s: feminism, psychotherapy, drugs, the sexual revolution.... Mr Block has put his parents' life, and his own, into this film with such warmth and candor that it may take more than one viewing to recognize it as a work of art."

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir: "I found myself reflecting on the peculiar, half-hidden stories of pain and betrayal in my own family, and you will too. Although there's a tremendous current of sadness and loss in Block's film, which extends, perhaps unconsciously, to the way he presents himself, learning the truth (or as much of it as he can) turns out, at least in this case, to be both liberating and redemptive."

Michael Tully finds it "filmmaking at its most enthralling and provocative, non-fiction or otherwise."

Updated through 10/21.

Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog: "As the film progresses through a series of increasingly heart-rending and crushingly candid interviews with the older Mr Block, it draws out a compassionate portrait of the man that seems unexpected even to the filmmaker, who in the end finds the camera turned, touchingly, on himself."

"On one level, 51 Birch Street is a well-made, if somewhat conventional, autobiographical documentary," writes Paul Harrill. "But the movie is about looking beneath the surface, and on that meaningful score 51 Birch Street succeeds."

Earlier: My own first take and interviews with Doug: John Anderson in the NYT, Anne S Lewis in the Austin Chronicle and indieWIRE.

Update, 10/21: Gary Dretzka at Movie City News: "Some critics have compared 51 Birch Street to Capturing the Friedmans, but that's a stretch. Mostly, they share a style that leans heavily on family photo albums and home movies; a Long Island setting; and similar ethnic backgrounds for the key players. The Blocks' secrets are unnerving, but no where as profoundly creepy as those of the Friedmans. Both are, however, compelling in their patient explorations of family dynamics."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:26 PM

Horrors, 10/19.

The Return of the Living Dead "Wicked, sexy, utterly out of control, she epitomized proto-goth bloodlust, and I dug it like it was my own gorgeous grave, with a satin-lined casket built for two. I mean, which boneyard did this erotically rotting babe-thing come from?" Linnea Quigley is coming to Austin, and the Chronicle's Marc Savlov recalls when he first saw her in The Return of the Living Dead.

Bill Gibron at PopMatters: "In a career that has spanned three decades, several sensational films, and a genre-defying approach to narrative, Cronenberg has managed to locate the fear inside the most fundamental aspect of existence – life itself – and as a result he created a canon where being human is the most potentially precarious thing a person can do."

Also: An annotated list of "craftsmen who found a way to make their sole scary movie attempt effective," five films that "stand out as perfect examples of horror's 'one hit wonders'."

"[T]he combination of Nightbreed's monumental scope, superb production design, and amusingly forgivable flaws warrant its reevaluation," argues Brian Elza at Facets Features.

Slant's Ed Gonzalez on Imprint: "Everything you've heard about this Masters of Horror episode, which was too violent for Showtime to air on cable television, is true, though I imagine some of its carnivalesque gore may even come as a shock to Miike cultists."

"Braindead is the magnum opus of Peter Jackson's early career, retaining the stop-motion and bloodletting of Bad Taste and the puppetry and slapstick sexual exploits of Meet the Feebles," writes Rumsey Taylor. "The film's craftsmanship is ingenious, but the enterprise is not in service to thrill or frighten (as, I say very generally, Jackson's films that follow are) in as much as it is to separate more callow viewers from their lunch." Also at Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Jenny Jediny on The Wizard of Oz: "Has there been a better death scene for a fantasy villain? The Wicked Witch shrieks like a banshee as soon as the water hits, and she is angry."

At Cinematical, Scott Weinberg has the winners of the Fangoria Chainsaw Awards.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:12 PM | Comments (1)

Philip Strick, 1939 - 2006.

Philip Strick: Science Fiction Movies Tim Lucas notes the passing of critic Philip Strick, author of Science Fiction Movies and frequent contributor to Sight & Sound: "Here, for your reading pleasure, are links to The Matrix, The Ninth Gate, The Sixth Sense, Mission to Mars, What Lies Beneath and A.I. Artificial Intelligence, as reviewed for Sight & Sound by Philip Strick - clearly one of our most thoughtful and eloquent explorers of speculative cinema."

See also Strick's notes on Bergman's Persona, Port of Call and The Silence.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:36 PM

Chronicle. AFF.

AFF 13 The Austin Film Festival opens tomorrow and runs through October 26. Naturally, the Austin Chronicle runs a hefty preview package this week.

Toddy Burton talks with Mike Akel and Chris Mass about their "Austin-produced microbudget Chalk."

Then, briefly:

The Hip Hop Project

And the shorts programs are previewed by Kimberley Jones, Sofia Resnick, Darcie Stevens and Jeremy Martin.

The festival's got a blog, by the way, and MySpace page loaded with trailers.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:06 AM

Brooklyn Rail. 10/06.

Robert Gardner: The Impulse to Preserve "Now, you know the title of the book is The Impulse to Preserve," filmmaker Robert Gardner tells Brooklyn Rail interviewer Brian L Frye. "And the rest of Philip Larkin's line there is 'lies at the bottom of all art.'... And we can never share exactly our experiences. You can't have my experience, I can't have your experience. I may be able to experience you having an experience, but what good is that? I can't get inside your skull. And this is the dilemma of all filmmaking."

From October 26 through 29, Film Forum presents Soros/Sundance Documentary Fund: A Tenth-Anniversary Film Festival, and Williams Cole, for one, is celebrating: "Since it began, the Fund has supported films like the Academy Award-nominated Long Night's Journey Into Day, about South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Committee; Calling the Ghosts, which considers the plight of Bosnian women who were victims of rape during the war in Yugoslavia; and Life and Debt, an examination of the IMF's negative impact on Jamaica."

Thomas Micchelli: "Only after cinema has freed itself from linear narrative can it do justice to the multifaceted, fluid and metacritical phenomenon we define as reality. Or so goes the premise of the alternately frustrating and fascinating book, Broken Screen: Expanding the Image, Breaking the Narrative: 26 Conversations with Doug Aitken."

Erin Durant traces the lines between Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe" and Old Joy.

Sarahjane Blum: "The Black Dahlia isn't about The Black Dahlia, and it isn't about sex."

Nora Griffin on Andy Warhol: A Documentary: "Critical analysis has never resembled a cheerleading squad quite so distinctly as in [Ric] Burns's film."

Sara Mayeux: "The hard-boiled, creepy Capote of Capote deserved whatever he got. The Capote of Infamous is harder to fault. Barely hiding his insecurities beneath a caviar-and-scotch veneer, this Capote doesn't stand a chance in negotiation with the devil."

"The Protector seems content with recycled ideas," writes David Wilentz of Panna Rittikrai's actioner with Tony Jaa, "often informed by Jackie Chan's later, less inspired films."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:41 AM

October 18, 2006

Times. S&S. LFF @ 50.

50th London Film Festival The full title of the festival opening tonight and running through November 2 is The Times BFI London Film Festival, so it's only natural that the Times has an elaborate special section devoted to the fest and that the November issue of the BFI's Sight & Sound offers its recommendations and a few related pieces. Let's start there.

Red Road

  • Hannah McGill: "Red Road doesn't just team the social-realist douleur of the Dardennes with the convoluted plotting of the girl-on-top revenge thriller. At times the relationship between Jackie and Clyde steers the film towards such classic melodramas as Douglas Sirk's Magnificent Obsession... If Red Road sometimes seems generically jumbled, this may reflect its unusual development process." Related: Stephen Dalton talks with Kate Dickie, who plays Jackie, for the Times and Danny Leigh talks with director Andrea Arnold for the Guardian.

  • Nick James on Abderrahmane Sissako's Bamako: "it's the trial that provides the real drama and the glimpsed shards of lifestyle only illustrate, even if they're filmed with all the quiet attention of a Kiarostami."

  • McGill on Times and Winds: "If the fourth feature from Turkish writer-director Reha Erdem covers some not-unfamiliar territory - rural families misalign, local conflicts flare and die, and children wrestle with the mysteries of puberty while goat bells clamour and seasons slip by - it does so with sufficient grace and forthrightness to render its content breathtakingly fresh."

The Last King of Scotland The Last King of Scotland opens the 50th LFF tonight and Times reviewer James Christopher greets it with four out of five stars. More from Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian. Related in the Times: Kevin Maher talks with Forest Whitaker and a profile of James McAvoy.

The festival "is hosting the world's largest surprise screening to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year," reports Amber Cowan. "On the evening of Sunday, October 29, 50 cinemas and venues across all boroughs of the capital will be unveiling a mystery film, which could be a movie from the Festival itself, or simply a classic."

"Is Austria the new Denmark?" asks Ian Johns. Features at the fest in which Austrians have a hand at least if they haven't directed them: Falling, Fräulein, Esma's Secret, Taxidermia, Babooska, Our Daily Bread and Slumming.

More profiles and pieces:

Breaking and Entering

The paper also looks back on the highlights of 50 years, offers eleven trailers, a chat with artistic director Sandra Hebron, recommendations from Christopher and Ben Hoyle and a blog.

Non-LFF-related pieces in this month's Sight & Sound:

Sight & Sound: November 06

Posted by dwhudson at 2:48 PM

SFBG @ 40.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian The San Francisco Bay Guardian turns 40, and publisher Bruce Brugmann and editor Tim Redmond have more than a few words to say about it, to which we'll add one: Congratulations!

Tommy Amano-Tompkins surveys 40 years of arts coverage.

Also:

  • Dennis Harvey: "The Last Movie isn't the balm for stoner egos that Easy Rider offered. It incriminates everybody - colonialists, swingers, industry suits, the greedy (like our hero's covetous Indio girlfriend), and filmmaking itself. Periodic 'scene missing' titles help make this a deconstructive metamovie well ahead of its time. It's an antiaudience picture, now more breathtaking than ever in sheer gall."

  • Also, Running With Scissors: "[Ryan] Murphy's "first directorial feature is a tad uneven... But overall it does a pretty fine job with tricky material, especially within the all-important area of casting.... It's particularly cheering to see [Jill] Clayburgh, who hasn't had this significant a big-screen part in 20 years - and owns it."

I Like Killing Flies
  • Julien Poirier on I Like Killing Flies: "[Matt] Mahurin's film makes this clear: genius has something to do with food if the cook is a genius and everything to do with doing what you must do."

  • K Tighe talks with Crispin Glover about What Is It?, which "he describes as 'being the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are snails, salt, a pipe, and how to get home. As tormented by an hubristic racist inner psyche.' However tenuous a tagline that may seem, it hits the mark dead-on."

  • Chuck Stephens: "Few American independent features in recent memory have seemed as truly capable of turning something old into something surprisingly new as Old Joy."

  • Cheryl Eddy on Marie Antoinette: "Coppola is 100 percent sure of herself, her vision, and her eye for hipster glamour... it's pretty, but pretty vacant." More from Max Goldberg at SF360 and Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:41 PM

Busan Dispatch. 3.

Fresh takes on seven films at the Pusan International Film Festival - take it away, Adam Hartzell.

Pusan International Film Festival I realized I had reached the point of film festival sensory overload when I was reading "The Promise of Beauty," an an excellent article written by Pico Iyer about director Terrence Malick in the September 06 issue of the Walrus. At least I'm sure it was an excellent article, this is Iyer I'm talking about here. But I can't fully verify its excellency because my mind could only process blurbs as I rushed through the bowels of Busan on the hour-or-so subway ride from Haeundae to Nampo-dong for my three screenings Monday. Iyer was commenting on the importance of the mystical resting space Malick provides, where nothingness and silence are anything but that. I wasn't able to appreciate Iyer's words as much as I should have because I wasn't rested, I wasn't still. My mind was racing as fast as the subway train.

But there was hope for a calmer mind because my first screening Monday was Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century. I was sure that Weerasethakul would take me to the place that bypasses "the realm of words and sense entirely, to speak to something deeper," wherein Iyer writes both Malick and Sigur Ros reside. And, indeed, that hope was realized.

Syndromes and a Century

Weerasethakul provided exactly what I needed midway into PIFF, a marker to appreciate all that resonates around me. As soon as the screen expanded with the fields of green behind the doctor, my mind was settled. Each time the camera floated around the statues and multi-colored uniforms, I had a content little smile on my face. Like Filmbrain, I smiled a lot during this film even though I'm not clear if I "get" what Weerasethakul wants me to get. Regardless of whether I understand Weerasethakul's intent, the repeating country and city mice of doctors, monks, patients and staff of this film were the cinematic herbs my racing mind needed to calm down from the heightened visuals in the theatre and the neon-ing and bustling outside. Jazzercise has never looked so lovely.

Sound Barrier My racing mind from earlier in the day was well visualized by Sound Barrier. Amir Naderi, an Iranian director (who has since moved to New York) I was unfamiliar with until now, was one of the featured directors in the Asian Auteurs section of PIFF. The festival notes claim his continuing subject matter is "...psychologically unsettled individuals who compulsively pursue the object(s) of their obsession," and that indeed occurs in Sound Barrier. A young deaf boy whose mother has died has the key to the locker of one of her obsessive listeners who has recorded the boy's mother's shows (along with many other local radio personalities) on tape and carefully catalogued each with a brief commentary. Filmed in black and white with rushed images and often dampened noise, the editing ups the frantic factor considerably as the child scrambles to find a particular show his mother made that is dear to him. The purpose of the Asian Auteurs series is to "discover, introduce and support directors in Asia who are little known abroad." Although I don't know if PIFF has "discovered" Naderi here, they've definitely introduced him to me and I'll be looking for other chances to see his films based on this effective bit of minimalism in Sound Barrier.

I'm going to make a guess, considering the speed that blogging requires prohibits a full survey, but I believe my experience with The Host was very different from the experiences linked up here at GreenCine. I'm assuming the theaters at NYFF, MVFF and Toronto were packed, whereas my screening was sparsely filled. I'm being generous when I say that about a tenth of the theater was full. Over 13 million South Koreans have seen this film already, so the screening I attended at PIFF was more for foreign guests than the Busan populace. Such a dearth of people affected the energy of the film. The merging into one mass of being that happens when a crowd watches such thrills on screen was missing here in Busan. I still liked The Host, but this is the type of film as spectacle one wants to share with a community larger than a handful of people.

But back to packed houses. Just Like Before by Filipino director Mike Sandejas is included in the New Currents Award series. It is a fictional film about the real-life Filipino new wave band from the late 80s and early 90s, The Dawn. Sandejas begins at the end with the band, several years after their lead guitarist was murdered (which indeed happened in real life), when their star had faded. Lead singer Jett Pangan experiences a head injury that causes him to forget everything after 1988 before the band lost their lead guitarist and mass popularity. The film follows Pangan as he revisits his rockstar devils, a common theme of all rock biopics and fictional films.

Just Like Before

Sandejas was not working in an industry that has access to high production values like South Korea and the United States. So the film is filled with aspects that would be filtered out of more well-funded works. Room noise buzzes and dubs are often poorly positioned. In spite of this, I still greatly enjoyed the story. Yes, the acting is sub-par at times, but as my day job colleagues in the Philippines would say, "it's so heart," that is, it is sincere in its hope for better ways. And although some might say the film drags at the end, I was happy to see that time was permitted for a fuller reconciliation with wife and child rather than a typically quick, falsely wrapped-up resolution. I doubt Just Like Before will end up winning the New Currents Award, but it definitely deserves to be here.

While I didn't really "get" Syndromes and a Century yet thoroughly enjoyed the film regardless, Suh Myung-soo's Butterflymole I simply don't get. (Although I like the title, but, as if to underscore my point, I don't see how the title relates to the film.) This debut on digital video follows two subway conductors as they struggle with their romantic and familial relationships while emotionally dodging suicides on their tracks. The film does a good job presenting the weariness of such work, and for someone like me who loves riding subways throughout the world, you might appreciate the visuals of rushing through tunnels and the sounds of thock-thocking across tracks. But the film leaves me no better stationed as to where I'll arrive at life's next stop than when I stepped onto to this train in the theater.

My Friend and His Wife

Shin Dong-il's Host & Guest was one of the highlights of last year's PIFF for me. And Shin returns to PIFF with his second feature, My Friend & His Wife. Ye-joon (Jang Hyun-sung) and Jae-moon (Park Hee-Soon) established their adult friendship where many Korean men do, during their required military service. The two are so close that Jae-moon's wife Ji-sook (Hong So-hee) sometimes wonders whom Jae-moon loves more. A good thirty minutes into this film, I was unclear where this film was going to take me. But then the turning point arose and I realized Shin was going to force me to face my worst fear. I'm not going to say exactly what happens. Not because I'm worried you'll blackmail me with that knowledge, but because it will ruin the shock the incident causes when watching it yourself. I'll just say that the incident confirms whom in this triangle Jae-moon truly favors. Shin wrote the screenplay here as well and, although it's not as impressive as his debut, Shin's work still intrigues me as he continues to explore visions of hope found sifting through pits of despair.

Before the Summer Passes Away

I almost passed on Before the Summer Passes Away, but I managed to fit it into my viewing schedule at the last minute and I'm very glad I did. This debut feature for director/screenwriter Sung Ji-hae is a well-constructed tale of a woman who wants something bad for her because there's something good for her in it. So-yeon (Lee Hyun-woo) is juggling romances with two men, one she's willing to lie and reschedule plans for; another she's willing to see when the other isn't available because she knows she "should" see him. Sung could have presented us with easily caricatured props in place of the ambivalent, complicated individuals we see here. So-yeon's handsome-to-lie-for lover isn't a complete ass with all his requirements surrounding their clandestine meet-ups but he's still a jerk. And So-yeon's willingness to meet his demands doesn't play her out as a victim lacking agency. There is something powerful she gets out of her lack of power in this relationship. Even though everyone around here sees her lover as wrong for her, she doesn't find herself fully desiring the "Mr Right" who desires her. When lesser directors and writers would require punishment of a flawed character like So-yeon for making the "wrong" choices, Sung allows her character to be alone to think things through, to reflect on what direction she'll choose next. Although So-hyeon would claim such reflection is not "Korean," it's exactly what's had me following South Korean film so intently for the past ten years. It is nice to see that it's still there as I begin my next decade.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:10 PM | Comments (1)

UNAFF. Preview.

Back across the Bridge from Mill Valley, Hannah Eaves previews another Bay Area event starting in San Francisco today, moving on to Stanford next week and then out across the country.

UNAFF 06 Our world is run by organizations, from nefarious behemoth multinational corporations and nefarious national governments right down to tribal committees meeting out in grass fields. Each time we work with others, a new group of personal rules is improvised, established and rapidly institutionalized. Beneath the overt themes covered by the United Nations Association Film Festival, such as women's rights and the war in Iraq, lurks an engaging subtextual inquiry. How exactly do organizations of various sizes work? The power of these documentaries is that they emphasize the individual personalities working within the rules and conditions of these organizations.

The UNAFF has no direct relationship with the United Nations other than that they have decided to bring the philosophical concepts of the UN to a local level and operate internationally through chapters. But the festival, featuring 31 documentary films of vastly varying lengths dealing with issues from all around the world, almost seems as if it were the result of some UN mandate. A sampling of a handful of films suggests an exceptionally well-curated group. It is also refreshing to see that the UNAFF has happily decided to make no programming distinction between a film that is eight minutes long (Beyond Iraq, Tom Eldridge and Annalia Hodgkins) and one that is 100 minutes long (Thin, Lauren Greenfield, RJ Cutler, Amanda Micheli, Ted Stillman). Films also play in programmed groups, rather than in the usual short-then-feature or featurette-featurette festival formula.

The Peacekeepers

One of the longest entries is The Peacekeepers, a glacial but important Canadian examination of the UN's mission (MONUC) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The Peacekeepers focuses on the UN's efforts to secure the eastern, mineral-rich Ituri region which remains unstable thanks to the ceaseless efforts of regional war lords and an illicit arms trade with neighboring Uganda. When crises arise like the war in the Congo (the bloodiest since World War II), we often wonder, "Where is the UN? Isn't this what the UN is for?" Such questions were also at the crux of 2005's under-distributed Canadian film, Shake Hands with the Devil. As in Rwanda, the DRC's troubles have some basis in the tribal class system institutionalized by Belgian rule, and in the DRC this has mutated into an incredibly complex struggle for precious mineral resources. Shake Hands with the Devil traced the consequences of the UN's inaction in Rwanda and also in the psyche of that mission's leader, Lieutenant-General Roméo Dalliare. The Peacekeepers approaches its subject from the other end: the offices of the UN and their struggle for financial support from unwilling member states. Beyond this, the only real understanding the film offers of the conflict is that, like the bureaucracy of the UN itself, the problem too big and messy to for one film to take in. But what is essential, beyond bringing the mechanics of the UN to light, is the portrayal of the people within the bureaucracy who continue to hold true to their moral compass within the stifling flood of indifference that surrounds them.

Beyond the Call

On the opposite end of the spectrum, bringing aid relief down to a manageable, tangible level is what the subjects of Beyond the Call are all about. In 1995, Ed Artis, Jim Laws and Walt Ratterman formed Knightsbridge International, whose mission is to bring aid directly to manageable groups in dangerous areas, often where other aid organizations fear to tread. When clipboard-wielding people harass you on the street and ask you to give money to some organization you haven't had the chance to research, take this documentary as an antidote. Just watching it will make you want to give to Knightsbridge. The founders do not take salaries and give all they can to the projects they fund, delivering the goods personally. They are self-admitted eccentrics in America's best tradition of kooky well-meaning compassionate entrepreneurs. Ex-army, isolationist, they are what you think of when you think of what the liberal elite is not. But this is a life-affirming documentary in the least saccharine sense. While the subjects of Beyond the Call are no doubt in search of adventure and some sense of emotional gratification, they are good in the way that we often dream all regular Americans could be, with no sights set on glory or riches - just on helping others.

Baghdad ER.jpg

Another portrait of "good" Americans can be seen in Baghdad ER, an absolutely essential film to which everyone should bring at least one handkerchief. Filmmakers Jon Alpert (laden with Emmys) and Matthew O'Neill were given unlimited access to the 86th Combat Support Hospital for two months in 2005 and pretty much recorded exactly what they saw before coming back to do a reverent and tasteful edit. The cases they focus on are largely the result of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), a reflection of the war itself, and are at times gruesome, giving the audience little time to look away. But there is no sensationalism in these operating room scenes, just the genuine desire to create a portrait of a place and the good people working within it. Wounded troops in Iraq have a 90 percent chance of survival, the highest rate in US history. If the US is going to fight an insane war, at the very least the soldiers should be able to trust in and respect the people they will be delivered to if the worst happens.

In the Tall Grass

A country that never had that chance is Rwanda, where neighbor hacked neighbor to death in a three-month-long genocide that killed between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Rwandans, largely Tutsis, the previous "upper class." In some cases these neighbors still live next door to each other and it is this seemingly impossible reconciliation that is the subject of In the Tall Grass. The title is a reference to the informal community courts, gacaca, that have developed in Rwanda. Roughly translated, gacaca means "justice on the grass." These outdoor courts are based on traditional tribal methods of law enforcement and aim not only at weeding out which genocide cases should be passed along to regular criminal courts, but also at uncovering the truth of what really happened within villages so that perpetrators and victims who continue to live together can be reconciled and witnesses may come forward before their friends and neighbors. In the Tall Grass focuses on one particular case where a survivor, Joanita Mukarusanga, has accused her neighbor of killing her husband and four children. Joanita's husband was hacked to death with a machete in front of her and her children were beaten with nail-studded clubs and buried alive. Like many other survivors, Joanita wants to be able to find and bury her dead children just as much as see the confession of their killer. Unfortunately, In the Tall Grass lets itself down with an obnoxious narration, which could easily have been replaced with interview footage from officials and the other articulate English-speaking witnesses that already pepper the film with relevant commentary.

Throughout all these films, organizations - and particularly the good individuals within them - strive to do their best in tenuous, war-ravaged circumstances. What they make clear is that humanity houses people capable of both outrageous horrors and certain moral fortitude.

There will be screenings in San Francisco starting today at the Delancey Screening Room and on Sunday, October 22 at the Roxie. The UNAFF officially runs from October 25 to 29 at Stanford University in Palo Alto, with films grouped in the themes "Women's Issues," "War and Peace," "Health and Environmental Issues," and "Securities and Liberties."

Many filmmakers will be in attendance, including the directors of The Peacekeepers, Beyond the Call (by local director Adrian Belic whose Genghis Blues won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award) and Baghdad ER.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:10 AM

October 17, 2006

Online viewing tip. MVFF.

MVFF 29 The past couple of weeks have seen a slew of dispatches coming in from around the world - NYC, Pordenone, Vancouver, Busan, Lone Pine - and yet, since the preview was posted, you've seen next to nothing from a festival running concurrently right next door to GC HQ, the Mill Valley Film Festival. Why? Because those same previewers, Hannah Eaves and Jonathan Marlow, were busily working on video rather than textual coverage of the festival - because, to paraphrase Sofia Coppola, they could.

Now you can watch Robin Wright Penn and Sydney Pollack talking about Breaking and Entering, Rob Nilsson about his Direct Action Cinema, Douglas McGrath about Infamous and Christopher Quinn about God Grew Tired of Us.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:38 PM

Shorts, 10/17.

Aguirre, Wrath of God Reverse Shot's cnw does an fine job of spelling out what's so sadly legible between the lines of the Voice's call for a new film editor. ST VanAirsdale piles on.

With or without a film editor, this week's issue is out, and J Hoberman's got an interesting pairing: Aguirre, Wrath of God, "not just a great movie but an essential one," and another jungle story, Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, which is "both the death rattle of 60s utopianism and - predicated on the desire to found a New Jerusalem in the wilderness - a very American saga." In between, mention is made of Werner Herzog's "longtime champion, former Voice critic Mike Atkinson." Klaus Kinski, by the way, would have been 80 tomorrow; Jochen Förster marks the occasion in the Berliner Morgenpost (and in German).

The rest of the reviews are written by people from all over the country. Scott Foundas's LA Weekly review of Flags of Our Fathers, for example, appears two days earlier than it will in print on the west coast. It's not difficult to imagine all Village Voice Media titles being, in the relatively near future, identical in the middle with local wraparounds (local stories in the front, local classifieds in the back). And of course, being published on the same day. The story of the alternative weekly is a chapter in American media history coming to a close faster than most of us imagined it would, but as Jonathan Rosenbaum and many others have suggested, the hole it leaves is being filled just as quickly - online.

At any rate, the movie: "To an extent, Flags of Our Fathers is to the WWII movie what Eastwood's Unforgiven was to the western - a stripping-away of mythology until only a harsher, uncomfortable reality remains." In short, it's "one of his best films - a searching, morally complex deconstruction of the Greatest Generation that is nevertheless rich in the sensitivity to human frailty that has become his signature as a filmmaker." But for Slant's Nick Schager, this is one "creaky history-class lecture" bearing here and there, as he sees it, "[Paul] Haggis's Crash fingerprints."

The Prestige Back to Scott Foundas: "[W]here most stories that are this narratively sliced and diced leave you wishing they'd simply been laid out from A to Z, you don't long to see [Christopher] Nolan's Möbius strip movies any other way.... The Prestige, filmed with a minimum of digital chicanery, is at once a lament for the loss of the manual and analog and an awestruck marveling at the possibilities of electricity and mechanization." Back to Nick Schager: "[C]cinema's most compelling trick isn't simply superficial deception, but the ability to elicit emotional engagement in something that's inherently artificial - a feat The Prestige, for all its razzle-dazzle duplicity, never pulls off."

Besides the "Tracking Shots," what's left in the Voice is Rob Nelson's review of Running With Scissors: "[T]one is everything in a dark-comic farce, and [Ryan] Murphy pulls it off. Like the book, this deadpan celebration of neurosis makes a valiant effort to repress its comedy - which of course makes it funnier."

"Here's my nomination for best film composer of all time," announces Jan Swafford in Slate. He takes a while getting there, but it's such a fine tour, I won't tell you who it is. Start from the top.

At Midnight Eye, Nicholas Rucka talks with Takashi Yamazaki about "his first non-science fiction film to date - and coincidentally his most popular and critically successful work," Always: Sunset on Third Street.

IFC News has redesigned its site and currently features Aaron Hillis's interview with Terry Gilliam.

Recently up at cinetext: Joerg Sternagel's two pieces on acting, "Sensations of a Breakthrough Performance: Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line" and "Weight Watching: Method Acting as a Label and Subtext in The Machinist"; and Daniel Garrett offers "A reading of Elizabethtown: Ruining plans; reconciling aesthetics and life."

David Austin at Cinema Strikes Back: "Exiled is not a true sequel to Johnnie To's 1999 fan favorite, The Mission, but it is a follow-up in spirit."

Sean Uyehara at SF360: "With only two issues under its belt, Wholphin is already making itself known as an eclectic collection of works you've always wanted to see, but were never sure how to find."

Stories going round and round and round: what's next for Oliver Stone and Martin Scorsese.

At Cineuropa, Camillo de Marco explains how legislative reforms, "inspired by the so-called 'French model,'" might be good news Italian cinema.

Online browsing tip. "Haunted When It Rains," Victorian post-mortem photography (à la The Others), via Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:54 PM | Comments (1)

Horrors, 10/17.

Ganja & Hess 'Tis the season. Ray Young at Flickhead on a new special edition of an indie landmark: "Bill Gunn's Ganja & Hess is an oddity, often maddening, frustrating, fascinating, riddled with both flaws and beauty, and bursting with revelations."

Dave Kehr reviews a slew of new horror DVDs in the New York Times. More from Bill Gibron at PopMatters, where he also writes, "There probably isn't a more unique filmmaker in the genre of horror than José Mojica Marins."

Writing for the Evening Class, Michael Hawley finds Calvaire and 13 Tzameti "each deliver a unique vision of Hell on Earth, marking the emergence of two very promising filmmaking talents."

Marlin Tyree explains what a review of Lars von Trier's Medea is doing in Not Coming to a Theater Near You's "31 Days of Horror" extravaganza.

Peter Nellhaus on Lucky McKee's The Woods: "Look past the story, and McKee reveals himself to be one of the more interesting visual stylists working in film today."

Grady Hendrix gets all Halloween on us.

Jette Kernion presents Cinematical's list of seven funniest horror movies.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:20 PM

Fests and events, 10/17.

CineKink For the Reeler, Lauren Wissot previews CineKink NYC, opening tonight and running through Sunday.

The Hamptons International Film Festival opens tomorrow and also runs through Sunday.

IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez looks back on the Woodstock Film Festival and Brian Brooks files another dispatch from Busan, focusing on the first annual Asian Film Market.

Still coming in from the New York Film Festival:

  • Aaron Hillis wraps his coverage at Premiere with his takes on Pan's Labyrinth, that "magnificent and moving horror-fantasy for adults," and Inland Empire, "my favorite film of the entire festival and the year (thus far)... a viscerally unrivaled love letter to the transformative powers of cinema that can't be controlled nor comprehended."

  • Acquarello on Poison Friends, "an intelligent and insightful, if oddly sterile and empirically rendered chronicle of academic life as seen through the perspective of a loose knit group of university-aged students." Also, "Climates exquisitely (and indelibly) maps a spare, elegiac, and achingly intimate meditation on the ephemeral seasons of the human heart."

  • At Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Leo Goldsmith on Our Daily Bread and The Journals of Knud Rasmussen.

At Midnight Eye, Eija Niskanen looks back on this years edition of the Pia Film Festival, "one of the most important channels of nurturing new talent for Japanese cinema."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:01 PM

CIFF. Awards.

Chicago International Film Festival Fireworks Wednesday has won the Gold Hugo at the Chicago International Film Festival. Says the jury: "The creative energy of the director, Asghar Farhadi, sweeps us into the heart of paradoxical humanity."

The Silver Hugo, Special Jury Prize, goes to Rachid Bouchareb's Days of Glory, the other Silver Hugo to György Pálfi's Taxidermia. Jürgen Vogel picks up another award for his courageous performance in The Free Will and the Silver Hugo for Best Actress goes to "Darya Moroz, Victoria Isakova and Anna Ukolova (Russia) for their portrayals of Moscow prostitutes in the Russian film The Spot."

"Plaques" go to the Israeli film Aviva My Love, Kim Ki-duk's Time and, making another appearance on an awards list, Requiem.

FIPRESCI jury members have honored Day Night, Day Night in the New Directors Competition.

Iraq in Fragments scores another award for James Longley: Gold Hugo for Best Documentary Feature. Silver: Exile Family Movie; Special Jury Prizes: The Trials of Darryl Hunt and Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing.

And here's a full list. So far. The audience awards will be announced when the fest closes on Thursday.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:31 AM

Interview. Lodge Kerrigan.

Keane / Clean, Shaven Both Clean, Shaven and Keane focus on men teetering on the edge of mental stability in search of their daughters. And yet the point of view of that focus is radically different.

Sean Axmaker talks with Lodge Kerrigan about these two unique features and the film he shot in between, Claire Dolan.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:48 AM

October 16, 2006

Shorts, 10/16.

Requiem "Humanism" is the key word in both Kristi Mitsuda and Michael Koresky's reviews of Hans-Christian Schmid's Requiem. Only two takes from the Reverse Shot team this time around at indieWIRE, but they're embracing ones.

Also: indieWIRE's interview with Doug Block as his moving 51 Birch Street begins its trek across the country and a dispatch from the Pusan International Film Festival from Brian Brooks.

For SF360, Michael Fox talks with Joseph McBride about his new book, What Ever Happened to Orson Welles? A Portrait of an Independent Career, in which he "catalogs Welles' amazing output in the last 15 years of his life, demolishing the widely held perception of Welles as a debauched clown."

"[W]hat makes Reign of Terror great isn't necessarily how well it adheres to, or shakes up, various genre conventions," writes Bilge Ebiri at ScreenGrab. "It is, quite simply, an incredibly well-put-together, gripping film - a true showcase for the visual and narrative expertise that would serve [Anthony] Mann so well in his later career."

Peter Greenaway Matthew Clayfield ruminates on Susan Shineberg's recent profile of Peter Greenaway in the Age: "Greenaway seems to me to be the perfect excuse for distinguishing auteurism, which is about films, not directors, from dead-end fascination with authorial rhetoric, which is an entirely different, far more limiting, thing."

David Bordwell recommends Backstory 4 and selects a few choice bits from the interviews.

Substantial discussion of The Departed going on over there at scanners.

Grady Hendrix: "Shochiku has announced the next Yoji Yamada film and - surprise! - it's a period piece. But what's genuinely surprising is that it's set not in the distant past like Twilight Samurai or The Hidden Blade, but in the 1940s."

Douglas Coupland will be creating a sci-fi series for television, reports Todd at Twitch. Also: Asia Argento's online video project.

The Fly In an appreciation of The Fly at Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Tom Huddleston notes, "Cronenberg is consistently undervalued as a writer."

David Brusie talks with Justin Rice about Mutual Appreciation at music (for robots).

Amos Posner at PopMatters: "In terms of quality, 2006 is on pace to be the slowest since 2000, which was so bad that Chocolat and Erin Brockovich could be passed off as two of the year's best efforts. But no matter how much this year needs autumn to redeem it, it's worth examining the previous nine months, and shedding light on the hidden gems, dreck, and mundanity found within. After that, it will be easy to see why Oscar season is more crucial this year than any in recent memory."

Suddenly, MS Smith presents the third installment of his reflections on Toronto with his takes on Abderrahmane Sissako's Bamako and Jia Zhangke's Still Life.

Brian Liloia has a good long talk with Sujewa Ekanayake about making Date Number One.

In the Independent, Andrew Gumbel asks Eric Steel why he made The Bridge.

Logan Hill profiles Christian Bale for New York.

Variety's redesigned its site, and they've done an outstanding job. So many different categories of information, and yet it's clear, clean, easily navigable and loads several times faster than it used to. Bravo.

NYT

Meanwhile, the Gray Lady lets her hair down a tad more.

James Wolcott remembers CBGB's.

Roger Friedman's reporting that Scarlett Johansson's going to be recording an album of Tom Waits covers. Via Waxy.org.

Online viewing tip. Erik Davis has your Hot Fuzz teasers and more at Cinematical.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:26 PM

New York Dispatch. 12.

Ok, so we're not quite through with the NYFF. For one thing, Jamie Stuart has posted his fifth and final episode of video works, this one built around Guillermo Del Toro's and Sofia Coppola's press conferences. For another, David D'Arcy has a thought-provoking take on Pan's Labyrinth. Update: Filmbrain's posted an excellent wrap-up: "Interestingly enough, my top three picks of the festival - Syndromes and a Century, Woman on the Beach and Climates - all contain a bifurcated narrative structure."

NYFF 44 Even if Pan's Labyrinth were not a poignant fable, the New York Film Festival should be commended for showing it as the festival's closing film, if only for the purpose of washing out the taste of Marie Antoinette. Guillermo Del Toro's film is anything but blithe, nor is it nostalgic in the vein of another NYFF period celebration, the revival of Reds.

Del Toro hasn't only made a fable, a delicate story of fantasy within the larger landscape of the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War; he's made a moral tale about childhood and innocence. Too put it mildly, that's not the easiest thing to do these days. To understate the matter, Del Toro has done it magnificently. (Pan's Labyrinth will be released a few days after Christmas.)

Pan's Labyrinth

The story is simple enough. Ofelia, 12, is traveling with her mother and a contingent of army troops to an old mill that has been converted into a house in a forest in the north of Spain. Her mother is pregnant with the child of Ofelia's adoptive stepfather, a captain in the fascist forces. He is a man known for his cruelty, much of which we will see. We can only imagine what he was like in a war. Outside, the forest has a life of its own, as you might expect from a forest in a fable. In part of that life is a band of partisans who are still resisting the fascists who fought their way to power at the end of the 1930s, in a bloody war that was watched by the rest of the world. Yet also in the forest is an imaginary life that Ofelia creates for herself, an alternative world that she has willed into existence, having seen the sacrifices that her own mother has made to survive under the worst of circumstances. Those circumstances will get much worse before the film ends.

This is a fable, but it's a fable that is not completely given over to fantasy. The mill where the family has taken refuge (or which has been occupied by the soldiers) is real enough to be terrifying. Think of the castle of a villain whose fist you can feel. So is the captain's brutal tactile control over Ofelia and her mother, Carmen. The fantasy world of the forest is just as tactile, oozing with mud from the endless rains. Del Toro has populated it with odd creatures - Pan, for one (Doug Jones). Yet this isn't a film overloaded with special effects. The creatures seem mechanically constructed, rather than created with computers. Ofelia's fantasy world is always rooted in her own emotions, ultimately posing the question of whether the power of imagination has a chance against the power of guns. See the film to probe that question further.

Del Toro has many talents. In a field ruled by overstatement, he can give you the delicate gesture and elicit the same from his actors. He can mix palettes of realism and fantasy to bring plausibility to a story that you might otherwise find outrageous. In his world, the fabulous creatures are struggling as much as anyone else.

Guernica

Bear in mind that this story is set against the background of a war that was won by Spanish fascists, killing millions of civilians and forcing many more into exile, all with the support of Hitler and Mussolini. (We'll have to wait for Sofia Coppola to make a lavishly-costumed saga about those lonely misunderstood fascists.) This is not a film into which you can escape. Purists (if there are any left out there, especially in the world of commercial cinema) might wonder whether a subject as serious and little-known among Americans today as the Spanish Civil War should be addressed through the lens of horror. Picasso certainly thought so. Remember Guernica, Picasso's monochromatic look into the hell of a village literally torn apart by a German bombing in 1939. The Nazis were all too happy, not just out of ideological kinship, to put tanks, bombers and troops in the service of Spanish fascism. This was the testing ground for the horror that was to come. And Guernica, horrifying as it is and certainly was at the time, is just the most famous of those images. Picasso deliberately chose grotesquery as the way to portray what was happening in Spain at that time, even in obscene cartoons that he drew of Francisco Franco. It would be a prelude to the palette and the imagery of his work during the darker times of World War II.

In other words, Guillermo del Toro has company, not just in his signature grotesquery mourning the loss of innocence that he shares with (among others) Picasso. The fabulously rich popular culture of Republican Spain drew on the same visual vocabulary. (Use the occasion of Del Toro exhuming this moment in history in Pan's Labyrinth to discover it.) This was the land of Salvador Dalí, ever the opportunist, who made image after transgressive image scorning and ridiculing the Church, and then chose the side of power when he sensed which way the wind was blowing. Dalí only painted what he thought was the edge. He didn't live there.

Even before Picasso painted Guernica, the Spanish Republicans (remember, these Republicans were the anti-fascists) printed posters by the thousands showing the post-mortem faces of children killed in fascist bombings and demanding the world outside Spain act on its moral revulsion. A Mexican working in Spain, making a child his protagonist, in a country ravaged by war but not fully defeated, Del Toro is well within the tradition of that visual (and) moral war for hearts and minds. What he seems to be saying here, is that, after losing the war on the battlefield (for the most part), all that the moral survivors in Spain were left with were their hearts and minds. For Ofelia, and for Del Toro, that's still quite a lot.

More on Del Toro and a lineup of NYFF favorites in a final dispatch.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:25 AM

Busan Dispatch. 2.

Koreanfilm.org contributor Adam Hartzell reviews several shorts, two features and a couple of worthwhile conversations at the Pusan International Film Festival.

Pusan International Film Festival So far the best film I've seen is a short, BomBomBomB!!! by the dynamic directing duo of Kim Gok and Kim Sun. You may have caught University of Irvine Professor Kyung Hyun Kim writing a bit back about these guys in his contribution to the Film Comment issue focusing on South Korean Cinema. The Kims did a fascinatingly weird film titled Capitalist Manifesto: Working Men of All Countries, Accumulate! (They seem to like exclamation points in their titles!), a film of repeating motifs that's available on DVD if you're curious. BomBomBomB!!! is their contribution to the third installment of the If You Were Me series. (Actually, there have been four in the series, but one featured animators, so, technically, this is the third live action installment.) Commissioned by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, the series asks directors of note to create a short film around various human rights issues.

If You Were Me 3

This year the shorts focused on illegal immigrants, teen-headed households, unequal labor between married partners, racism, Queer rights, and contract workers. (The latter was a topic of two films in If You Were Me 2 which screened at last year's PIFF. Obviously the treatment of these workers - poor pay, little leverage for time off, job insecurity, and other exploitative practices - is a heightened concern these days amongst Koreans and I'm curious to find out what changes are being made to better their conditions.) Jung Yoon-chul's short on illegal immigrants, Mohammed, the Diving King, was an inspired contribution with a nice performance by Chaiyan Koolsak as the illegal Thai immigrant who is capable of holding his metaphorical breath throughout his entire journey of dangerous labor conditions. Unfortunately it fails where Kim Hyun-phil's The Girl Bitten By Mosquito (about teen-headed households) and Hong Ki-seon's An Ephemeral Life (contract workers) fail, including too much didactic dialogue that diminishes the power the statements could have.

Lee Mi-yeon's GaP appears to know of the disempowering nature of didactic dialogue, because she brings it in at the end of GaP (about unequal labor between married partners) in the purposely humorous, kitschy style of a public service announcement, helped along in its effect by the performance of the PIFF-ubiquitous Kim Tae-woo (his third appearance on screen at PIFF this year, performing in Woman on the Beach and Sa-kwa as well). Noh Dong-seok's A Tough Life tackles Korean prejudices towards people of the African diaspora. (Thankfully, this topic received a greatly needed public discussion when Hines Ward made his appearance in South Korea following the Steelers' Super Bowl win. Ward's mom was quick to take Koreans to task for the racism her son would have faced had she stayed in South Korea to raise Ward.) Noh provided his child actors with some witty dialogue within a clever structure, but it falters a bit due to the need to direct too many child actors who aren't completely up to the task.

BomBomBomB!!!

BomBomBomB!!! is definitely the short to write home about. Centered around a teen who begins to feel for his classmate, a gay teen who is the object of ridicule, threats and other verbal tortures, the film depicts this teen's solidarity (or love, it's never really clear nor need it be) shifting back and forth with regard to this fellow outcast. The Kims orchestrate a tight short that never drags as it drives towards a wonderful crescendo that rocks out like any teenage dream beyond the wasteland in which teens often find themselves stuck.

Director Noh Dong-seok didn't just contribute a short to If You Were Me 3 this year, but also had a feature screened, his second, Boys of Tomorrow. His first feature, the black and white My Generation, was one of the few films that impressed me from South Korea in 2004, leading me to hope that Noh might be yet another director to watch in a widening field.

Boys of Tomorrow

I can't say I was disappointed, but the day after seeing Boys of Tomorrow, I realized I will come to Noh's next film with less anticipation. Venturing into color, the story follows another brother taking care of his brother, although in My Generation it was a younger brother financially saving an older brother, whereas the roles are reversed here, an older brother swooping in to rescue his younger brother from further physical harm. This younger brother has a penchant for getting himself in trouble. This has something to do with the younger brother having lost a testicle, but I'm not really sure about that. And speaking of lacking testicles, Noh is showing himself as someone who might have some trouble with developing stronger female characters, because the mother is caricatured in her craziness and the other female character is presented even more meekly than Noh's female protagonist from My Generation.

Hopefully this will simply be a wrong turn on Noh's part, similar to director Lee Yoon-ki's trajectory. After his lovingly crafted This Charming Girl, deservedly winning that year's New Currents Award at PIFF, Lee appeared to rush too fast into an awkward film about the Korean ex-pat community in Los Angeles, Love Talk, screened at last year's festival. This PIFF feature by Lee isn't a full return to the competent character study of his debut, but Ad Lib Night shows the possibility for a return to form.

Ad Lib Night

An excellent incident of mistaken identity begins this film based on a Japanese novel. A young woman named Bo-kyoung is approached by two strange men who think she is someone from their past, a schoolmate whom they are trying to locate since her father, from whom she's been estranged, is on his death bed. Realizing they are mistaken, they continue to push for Bo-kyoung to come anyway since, well, she resembles the woman and the father is so far gone on morphine, why not pay her to pose as the long lost daughter they haven't found. The highlight of Love Talk was the bitching session that arose during the obligatory (for a Korean film) drinking session. Such re-appears in Ad Lib Night as well, but isn't the highlight since there is much more to see here, too, such as the delightfully feisty dialogue when Bo-kyoung resists propositions from the family's representatives. I'm back in Lee's corner with this effort, hoping Love Talk was the fluke in his quickly emerging oeuvre (three films in three years at three consecutive PIFFs).

These all night drinking sessions carry over from the screen into the non-diegetic spaces of the bars and restaurants at the Haeundae beach area and Nampo-dong commercial strip, for these scenes in the films reflect a reality that exists in South Korea itself. But it's not all drunken banter and dishing. My own drinking time with friends has been tempered in libations, instead fully drunk in the discussions of film. Saturday night I stayed up until 4 am with my friend and her friends talking passionately about the films and filmmakers we admire and those we don't. It all proved for me how much film is not just an escape but can be as much a social lubricant as alcohol.

What was great about this conversation, besides the fact that it gave me pleasant flashbacks of college years gone too far by, is that none of us made false claims about the other's preferences, setting up straw points to blow down again. One woman couldn't stand one of my favorite films (Hong Sang-soo's The Power of Kangwon Province) and another woman was a strong advocate for oeuvre of Kim Ki-duk, a director I can't stand. The discussion took as many different turns as one finds one taking in the Haeundae beach area to get back and forth from the Megabox multiplex to one's hotel to the non-stop parties (of which I've attended barely ten minutes' worth) and events without forgetting to stop by the beach for a spell. But each direction was taken with a respect for each individual present. See, like I said, for the most part, I can't stand Kim Ki-duk's films. I only watch them because I have to, having committed myself to South Korean cinema. But this new friend sees so much to praise in his work. I don't agree with her viewpoint, but I don't have to hate on her to challenge her arguments. Nor does the woman who'd be hard pressed to check out another Hong Sang-soo film feel a need to ridicule me for finding treasure in the roughness of Hong's characterizations. She and I would find out later as the conversation rolled on, including yet another conversation Sunday night, this time until 2 am, that she hates a lot of the films I like. But we could still talk fully engaged in the interests of the other without a need for fusillades of personal attacks on the other's preferences.

I guess this is important to me because, after six years of focusing my writing on film, I've been getting a little jaded. There's a necessary asocial slant to writing about film, and it can lead to anti-social perspectives where we forget about the real people in the audiences. The commercial conditions that seek out the witty pull-quote for the poster parallel a critical condition that enables the clever put-down. Sometimes such is warranted on both ends; the film inspires us to sincere poster-worthy praise or demands harsh, principled responses. But sometimes it seems to be more of that alpha-male mounting in verbal or written form that has always made it difficult for me to connect with many of my fellow males. Most writers about film are, like me, men, and these fascinating conversations I'm having here in Busan are with women, a point that can't be ignored. Thankfully, there are some men with whom I can have such conversations but there often seem to be more with whom I can't.

Again, it may be because I've gotten a little jaded over the years. But just as there are films like those by Kim Gok and Kim Sun that make the time inside the theater worthwhile, there are the new friends and conversations with them that give me hope about the world outside.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:21 AM | Comments (2)

Pordenone Dispatch. 4.

Sean Axmaker wraps the Giornate del Cinema Muto.

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto The Giornate straddles the scholarly and the celebratory in its survey of silent cinema every year. On the one hand, it is cinema archeology on display, bringing the lost and neglected back to life with the light of a projector and the home of a screen and an audience (and always accompanied by live music). On the other, it is a gathering of silent film-lovers eager to experience the good, the great and the transcendent films of our beloved pre-sound era, when movies told stories with a different language and sensibility.

The consensus this year was that the latter gave way to the former. Many programs were more interesting as historical revelations than as cinematic art, notably the Danish retrospective - and discovering that Griffith spent much of 1919 just coasting through uninspired stories done up with his not inconsiderable talent (but not his passion) isn't exactly the kind of revelation that makes you stand up and cheer.

Way Down East But there were joys, great and small, throughout the festival, and one of the greatest was simply being plunged in purity of silent film storytelling for a week. Griffith's cast-off films such as The Idol Dance (1920) and Scarlet Days (1919) had their moments (most of them involving the delightful ball of fire Clarine Seymour, who died soon after shooting The Idol Dancer), and the final-day showing of Way Down East (1920) was a reminder that Griffith was a master when he was engaged with his material. It also is an illustration of the importance of restoration, and not merely in the case of missing scenes (identified and described in intertitles). The quality of some of the scenes in the print (from the Museum of Modern Art) and some dubious editing distractions demand a comprehensive look for sharper source material and a serious look at the choices made in the reconstruction.

The Silly Symphony showings, played in front of the nightly "Musical Events," were also a revelation of Disney's animation at its most creative and graceful and, in shorts like the 1939 The Ugly Duckling, rich and emotional. The sheer creative ingenuity of Music Land and its war of musical instruments blasting rival kingdoms (a Classical and a Jazz kingdom, with the Sea of Discord between them) with musical notes, was terrific fun. These shorts were produced with a rich soundtrack of music and sound effects, but no dialogue, creating not so much a link between the silents and soundies but an animated choreography of dance, slapstick and drama.

The Big Parade

It's said that it is possible to see every program. I don't believe that's the case, but even if it is, you sacrifice leisurely meals, animated conversations, sleep and the time to digest it all in order to made it happen. I don't think it's worth it, so I make sacrifices, in some cases literally. By all accounts, I missed the highlight of the festival, a screening of a newly restored print of King Vidor's brilliant The Big Parade (1925). The glory of that hour (or rather, 2½ hours) was shared with Neil Brand, the beloved festival pianist whose inspired accompaniment brought the audience to their feet for a five-minute standing ovation (the only such display in the festival). Where was I? Writing up a dispatch, I'm embarrassed to say, and taking a break from an otherwise non-stop day of screenings.

My musical highlight was the rollicking score that the high-energy fourteen-piece combo The Flat Earth Society brought to Ernst Lubitsch's burlesque of a social satire The Oyster Princess (1919), a frenzied farce that spoofs the vulgarities of the nouveau riche and the pretensions of the penniless aristocracy. The match of music and movie was perfect; the combo's mix of swing, music hall and circus sounds matched the attitude and the pace of Lubitsch's runaway comedy, notably in an extended dance sequence that spins out of the ballroom scene to the entire mansion during an impromptu wedding party. It's silly and absurd and often hilarious, and directed at such a clip that it sweeps up the audience in its knockabout insanity. Sadly, the promised 35mm print of the film did not arrive and their live blast of a performance accompanied a video projection that lacked the intensity and contrast of a film print.

Louise Brooks

When it comes down to it, this is why I come to the fest. The masterworks stay with me forever, but these glimpses of silent cinema at its most purely entertaining keep me going between the peaks. Tod Browning's gypsy carnival melodrama The Show (1927) with John Gilbert as a rogue of a carnival barker, Louise Brooks's final silent film performance in Prix de Beauté (1930, France), William Wellman's unfortunately titled circus romance You Never Know Women (1926) with Clive Brook as a dour magician and escape artist and Lowell Sherman in his patented role as the glibly seductive millionaire whose sense of privilege is topped only by his arrogance, and even the New Zealand romantic adventure A Bush Cinderella (1928), an unexpectedly deft little production with a rich sense of place and spirited comic relief - these are the films that keep me coming back to the festival. Beautifully crafted, inhabited by performances attuned to the art of silent acting, directed by pros whose grace and visual sensitivity add layers of details to otherwise simple stories, they are artifacts of a cinematic storytelling tradition developed to perfection by the mid-1920s and long lost in the sound era. For a few short days every year, Le Giornate brings the tradition alive once more.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:41 AM

Robert Aldrich Blog-a-Thon.

Robert Aldrich Dennis Cozzalio is hosting "the day-long celebration of one of Hollywood’s true mavericks, a director who rarely hid the rough edges of his films or his sensibility, whose films teem with vitality and power even when they stumble and fall, who deserves a whole lot more recognition 24 years after his death than he has managed to muster among all but the most dedicated cinephiles," and notes that Robert Aldrich will be getting a bit of that recognition when the Torino Film Festival stages its retrospective next month. Dennis's own contribution: an appreciation of Emperor of the North, "a movie I loved unconditionally when I saw it upon its initial release back in 1973."

Updated through 10/21.

That Little Round-Headed Boy offers his takes on 4 for Texas, The Flight of the Phoenix, Vera Cruz and Hustle.

Hustle

Peter Nellhaus has more on that one, "something of an homage to Aldrich's film noir roots," but also overtly political: "If film was to do more than entertain, it allowed Aldrich to speak on behalf of those people for whom the American Dream seemed elusive."

On the other hand, John McElwee on The Dirty Dozen: "Oliver Stone missed the boat when he had Born on the Fourth of July's Tom Cruise watching Sands of Iwo Jima before rushing off to enlist. If he'd substituted The Dirty Dozen, I might have found the scene more convincing. John Wayne makes a softer target for post-60s filmmakers scoring political points, but the truly insidious pied piper might well have been Robert Aldrich. No wonder viewers still have to make excuses for liking this movie."

More on the Last Supper tableau in that film from Andy Horbal.

Check Dennis's Aldrich Blog-a-Thon Central for more as it appears throughout the day.

Related: Profiles from RJ Thompson in Screening the Past and Alain Silver in Senses of Cinema.

Updates, 10/17: Tom Sutpen: "There's absolutely nothing elegiac about Attack. Setting its central conflict deep within the American Army's officer class during the least controversial military engagement in its history, exploring the underlying insanity at the heart of all warfare, seeing it as an institution virtually designed to exploit the absolute worst in everyone it touches, Robert Aldrich emerged with nothing less than the most radical war picture of the 1950s." More from Wagstaff at Edward Copeland's site.

C Jerry Kutner at Bright Lights After Dark: "While the rest of the blogosphere is celebrating director Robert Aldrich, I thought I'd put in a word for one of my favorite - and least discussed - Aldrich films, The Flight of the Phoenix."

Brian Darr: "[N]othing could really have prepared me for the utter preposterousness of seeing Apache's stars Burt Lancaster and Jean Peters in Technicolor 'redface' makeup for ninety minutes."

John McElwee recalls what went wrong with 4 for Texas.

David Lowery on Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte: "Bette Davis is Bette Davis, of course, but Joseph Cotten turns in a pretty sly turn and Agnes Moorehead pretty much steals the entire movie."

Updates, 10/19: Michael Guillén: "I thought it would be fun to explore a bit why Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? has had such an impact on 'gay sensibility' and why - even for [former] Advocate [arts] editor Alonso Duralde - it required inclusion into his 101 Must-See Movies For Gay Men."

"Calling Kiss Me Deadly one of the darkest detective thrillers ever made, or the ultimate film noir, doesn't do it justice," writes Matt Zoller Seitz at the House Next Door. "Director Robert Aldrich and screenwriter AI Bezzeride's 1955 version of Mickey Spillane's novel - in which our thug hero chases a mysterious, all-powerful "Great Whatsit" in pursuit of fortune and glory - doesn't merely exemplify those two genres and identify the places where they overlap. It defines the difference between cynicism and nihilism, then throws down with the nihilists, if for no other reason than to show you what it means to live in a world where nothing matters."

Update, 10/21: Girish on The Grissom Gang: "Aldrich is examining institutions—family, parenthood, romantic union—that have been represented in countless other films. Well aware of this, his view of these institutions is unconventional, distanced and sardonic but nicely complicated by sympathy. In this sense, his eye is not unlike Chabrol's: a touch entomological, although not, I would argue, misanthropic." Also, notes on Hustle.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:29 AM

Lone Pine Dispatch. 2.

Following up on his first dispatch, Brian Darr looks back to the Lone Pine Film Festival.

Lone Pine Film Festival

Spending Columbus Day, a.k.a. Indigenous Peoples Day, weekend attending a film festival comprised mostly of Westerns may strike you as a tad unseemly given these films' long, well-documented and usually not-so-pretty history of representing images of Native Americans to mass audiences. While at the festival, I tried to keep this history in mind, as I always have while exploring the genre. It seems Western film treatments of the original inhabitants of this continent usually fall into one of a few categories. Some films present them as morally and culturally inferior villains out of a dime novel, others as noble savages requiring the aid and protection from "good guy" whites against "bad guy" whites or "evil" rival tribes who mean to do them harm. And whether or not Native Americans are central to a film's themes, or just used as a war-whooping plot device to endanger the white characters, it's been rare for much more than perfunctory research to go into lending authenticity to their portrayals.

Then there are the Westerns in which Native Americans' unacknowledged absence can seem like a clue to genocide. The Lonely Man, starring Jack Palance as a reformed gunslinger trying to reconcile with his embittered son (Anthony Perkins) by teaching him to capture mustangs, could be seen as an example of the latter. A black-and-white oater with Oedipal echoes, it illustrates the toll frontier life took on white settler families, but does it without raising the specter of the civilization formerly occupying the land. Stage to Tuscon, like many Westerns set in the Southwest, has no Indian characters but its cast, in support of Rod Cameron, Wayne Morris and Kay Buckley's juvenile love triangle, is seasoned with a few Chicanos.

Randolph Scott Seven Men From Now, another festival film in which Inyo County stands in for Arizona, uses encounters with Chiricahua Apaches to move the plot along, but ascribes to the Randolph Scott hero a perspective on their extermination that makes for an interesting contrast against the most enduring cinematic Indian fighter, Ethan Edwards of The Searchers (originally released in 1956, the same year as Seven Men From Now). Where John Ford and John Wayne portray Edwards as an unquestionably, virulently racist figure, a brief encounter with the US Cavalry reveals Scott's Ben Stride to be a very different sort of protagonist. When a lieutenant (Stuart Whitman) warns him of the dangers posed by Chiricahuas on his intended route, Stride feels he's overestimating the threat of a band so devastated that they're reduced to eating horses, and he breaks his usual silence to say so, rather caustically. This gesture seems intended to shift the blame for tribal depopulation away from ordinary settlers onto a military structure dependant on conflict in order to justify its existence. I don't know how familiar the average audience fifty years ago might have been with this concept, but it's what I got out of the scene and of the Stride character, consumed as he is by the idea of atoning for the sin (pride, arguably the same one that drove the concept of Manifest Destiny) of his past.

Actually, the Chiricahuas play a relatively small role in the film's narrative. The thrust of Burt Kennedy's story is that Ben Stride is on a revenge mission, going after the seven men who killed his wife in a bank hold-up. This is the first of the seven Randolph Scott Westerns filmed by the great director Budd Boetticher. Like the other films I've seen so far in this series (all but The Tall T, which also played this year's festival, unfortunately before I arrived, and Westbound). Seven Men From Now feeds on Scott's mythic image as a spotless white hat hero, in this case masking his inner struggle to live up to his own ideal. He's brought out of his shell just a bit by a Gail Russell who happens to be traveling in his direction with her forceless husband (Walter Reed). Lee Marvin plays a charismatic vulture hoping Stride will lead him to the killers' loot. Jim Kitses and other critics have marked the four Boetticher/Scott Westerns with writing credits for Kennedy as the best of the director's career, but I suspect it may be their Lone Pine locations as much as their scripts lending the distinction. The action scenes shot amongst the crags and crevices of the Alabama hills just outside town certainly bring forth Boetticher's eye for unique compositions reflecting his characters' states of mind. The inevitable final shootout is an incredibly economical slice of visual storytelling. Actually, that could describe the entire 78-minute film.

When I wasn't watching movies, I spent my time exploring the area, including the aforementioned Alabama Hills. The festival program guide encourages first-time guests to take at least one of the guided bus tours into the hills for a chance to actually stand in the spots where famous scenes were filmed. You can come any time of year and explore the area yourself, but only during the festival weekend are special explanatory placards placed among the striking boulders to make comparisons between reality and the photographic evidence easy and fun for all. I picked the Cooper Rock tour because it was said to involve the most walking (nothing onerous, but bring sunscreen) and found it an absolute delight. In keeping with the previous night's screening, I took particular note of the locations for Boetticher films. It must not have been easy for him to get a crane up through the rugged trails while shooting Ride Lonesome, but a placard showing him setting up a shot using one proves he did it. I was especially thrilled to stand in the middle of the trading camp from the beginning of Comanche Station, a spot which earlier stood in for South Asia in Kim and King of the Khyber Rifles. British India was a running theme of this particular tour, named for a perch for snipers to try to pick off Gary Cooper in Lives of a Bengal Lancer.

And if these tours, developed by the festival's late co-founder Dave Holland, have been the heart of the festival, the brand new Beverly and Jim Rogers Museum of Lone Pine Film History, open year-round starting this weekend, might be called the brain. Crammed with posters, props, costumes and other souvenirs from films made in the area (not just Lone Pine but greater Inyo County, including films shot in Death Valley like Greed and Zabriskie Point) and outfitted with a screening room of its own, it's the kind of place that will keep most movie buffs fascinated for hours.

Flashier items on display include the 1938 Plymouth Coupe driven by Humphrey Bogart in High Sierra and several of the original puppets used in Tremors. I think my favorite corner to explore was the one devoted to the William "Wild Bill" Wellman film Yellow Sky, including the director's chair and his original script marked up by his pencil scrawlings, like a note marking where to instruct actors to no longer wet their lips with their tongues, to indicate a change in the temperature. I suppose some might find exposure to such an artifact to be too much of a demystification of cinema. Indeed some might find the festival's emphasis on people, places and things other than films themselves to be incompatible with their brand of cinephilia. But anyone interested in the ways a natural environment might influence films and filmmakers should definitely make a detour to Lone Pine some time if they find themselves in the general vicinity.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:01 AM | Comments (2)

October 15, 2006

New York Dispatch. 11.

Following up on last week's dispatch focusing on the archival restorations in the NYFF's Views from the Avant-Garde sidebar, Michael Sicinski turns his attention to the new experimental work.

NYFF 44

The 10th annual Views from the Avant-Garde presentation of the New York Film Festival succeeds year after year in cutting a wide swath through the experimental film and video world, and not just because its typical two-day screening schedule allows for a quick, intensive fix of new, often hard-to-see material. (Although this short, sharp shock, weekend-retreat approach does have its advantages - notably for those of us tied to the academic calendar - it's also sometimes difficult to get a proper sit-down meal in there.) The main attraction is an abiding faith in the event's curators, avant-garde programmer Mark McElhatten and Film Comment editor Gavin Smith, to assemble an instructive, impressive cross-section of experimental filmmaking now, not only a representative sample but also a complex, multi-layered art event. In this regard, Views 2006 didn't disappoint. As my reviews below will attest, it wasn't difficult to find stark beauty, conceptual rigor, and/or vibrant challenges to conventional perception in this year's programs.

For sheer visual sumptuousness and emotional power, no film in Views 2006 could compare with Nathaniel Dorsky's Song and Solitude, a film that world premiered at this year's Toronto International Film Festival but had its US debut at the NYFF. I wrote about Dorsky's film - a near-masterpiece and a significant breakthrough in his oeuvre - in my Toronto wrap-up. But several new works by established avant-garde filmmakers solidified their standing as major artists of our time, figures whose work should be much better known even in the rarefied realm of cinephilia.

Silk Ties New York's Jim Jennings has produced some of the loveliest, most sensually acute films of the past decade, and his latest, Silk Ties, expands on his visual vocabulary. The film's staccato editing lends his city-symphony a jaggedness that recalls abstract animation. Street scenes, thick and dark and shot with the f-stop way down low, alternate with shots of skyscrapers and the negative space between them. The pulses in editing seem to make the buildings dance, and create little jumps in the life of the streets, strangely enough lending this activity a kind of stately poise rather than heightening its implicit kinetics.

Vincent Grenier, another mid-career a-g veteran, is an artist whose shift to digital filmmaking has consistently been characterized by a rigorous investigation of the specific aesthetics and formal parameters of his adopted medium. This, and This is no exception. Thematically, Grenier's piece is a conversation with nature in both its raw and culturally mediated forms - for example, the rushing waters from Ithaca Falls juxtaposed with the spray of a rain puddle traversed by a steel belted radial. The piece is in many ways a meditation on the power of the straight cut, as opposed to the fades and image-alternations so common in recent video work. As the video progresses, Grenier implies that non-mediation doesn't exist. But on an even more basic level, This, and This pits vertical against horizontal movement, as well as pushing digital video to the limits of its comfort zones, as swirling forms begin to pixilate or produce visual feedback. Grenier's medium is indeed the lion's share of his message.

Two neo-structural works in this year's program were highly inventive and original even as they harked back to earlier styles and procedures from the 60s and 70s. Robert Fenz's Crossings originated in response to the filmmaker's involvement in the production of Chantal Akerman's experimental documentary on the US/Mexico border, From the Other Side. Akerman's film shows life and culture on both sides of the border, emphasizing the viewer's inability to tell just by looking which side of the border we're on. Fenz takes this principle and runs with it, constructing a cinematic interweaving of the two nations at the site of their artificial separation. Shooting film down both sides of walls along the border, Fenz uses opposing 45-degree angles and rapid-fire alternating views to create a series of whizzing, bowtie-shaped hyperforms, melding the firm boundary into a kinetic, dialectical event. Crossings heightens the vertigo by introducing panning near the end, a move that recalls Michael Snow's <--> while putting that film's perceptual challenges to radically different ends.

Likewise, David Gatten's placid, comically lyrical new Film for Invisible Ink case no. 71: Base-Plus-Fog calls to mind the self-referential hijinks and bone-dry textual wit of Owen Land. But Gatten's approach is in some ways more classically minimalist than Land's. Invisible Ink is largely composed of a series of sprocket-hole outlines that seem to materialize from the white screen, the "image" consisting of clear leader and its dust granules until one of the rounded rectangles dips down and floats forward into the frame of reference. They each occupy pretty much the same position and, although they are mostly identical, the ongoing procession gives us time to notice their differences - a smudged lower boundary, say, or an unstable corner. In between, Gatten silently presents texts from a Kodak manual, detailing what I can only assume to be film-developer hazard that we're observing - problems in base-plus-fog density. (Don't ask me. For all I know, this could refer to an ambiance-management conundrum at a discotheque.) Gatten has been working for years now with the particular juncture at which text and image become indistinguishable, but Film for Invisible Ink displays an impressive recommitment to the less-is-more aesthetic that lent such subtlety and refinement to his earlier What the Water Said series. The new work is as delicate yet muscular as an Agnes Martin canvas or a Fred Sandback string sculpture.

Isahn Several of the most vibrant films in Views 2006 involved the manipulation of found footage, another time-honored avant-garde technique that continues to be put to provocative new ends. Soon-Mi Yoo is a relative newcomer to the experimental film and video world and, while her 2004 Views entry Isahn showed some promise, her contribution to this year's program, Dangerous Supplement, demonstrates Yoo's remarkable growth as an artist in a relatively short time. Working with footage of Korea shot by members of the US military during the Korean War, Yoo presents these images, saturated with power relations though they may be, and allows them room to breathe, to assert themselves as counter-narratives to their own creation. Slow camera movements (further slowed by Yoo) around mist-covered mountains and waterways take on the sturdy, luminous quality of Cézanne, while daily images from Korean life in the 1950s bely any possible surveillance aim. The passages are too quotidian and poetically observant to serve any obvious tactical function, but clearly they did, and that is the discrepancy Yoo explores. This lyrical content is presumably the "dangerous supplement" of her title, a plangent excess that creeps into the margins of a one-way military operation.

In a similar vein but with a much more aggressive, propulsive approach, Luther Price adapts mass media material to his own skull-rattling ends. His Turbulent Blue is a throbbing formal study in midnight blue and shadow black, as well as the staging of an embattled tension between total abstraction and recognizable content. I could not discern the exact source of Price's material, but it looked like segments from Die Hard (exploding buildings and cat-and-mouse shoot-'em-ups) or possibly an episode of The Shield. What's indisputable is that the footage carves out certain formal and graphic commonplaces of the action/cop-drama idiom - a lurking, bald-headed white man striking medium-range, gun-toting poses against an icy environment filled with the alienated dread of architectural modernism - here, as if cutting out the middleman, done up in blueprint blue. Price frequently presents the images upside down but consistently segments them horizontally, resulting in a stuttered frame divided into thirds, these fraught masculinized spaces reduced to interpenetrating surfaces. (In fact, Turbulent Blue clarified for me a possible connection between Price's work and that of Michele Smith. What she does to mass-cult images horizontally and temporally, Price does vertically and spatially.)

Finally among the image-reprocessors, we find Scott Stark, remaking his own earlier version of a remake of Jane Fonda's best-selling workout tape (now available in its original form for $1 at Salvation Army stores coast to coast). Stark's More Than Meets the Eye: Remaking Jane Fonda was, by the artist's own admission, something of an indictment of Fonda in its previous form, an interrogation of how a vocal feminist and anti-war activist takes on a second life as a fitness guru. But, as Stark explains in his "Letter to Jane" (calling to mind, of course, Godard and Gorin's cinematic excoriation of Fonda the Hollywood Radical), upon reading Fonda's autobiography, his viewpoint changed, seeing the later Fonda not necessarily as a "remake" or a betrayal but as a personal evolution, a way to understand female embodiment as a significant site for issues of patriarchal power and control of the sort that, in slightly different guises, carpet-bombs Hanoi, not to mention Kabul and Baghdad. Like the first More Than Meets the Eye, Stark tapes himself doing the Jane Fonda Workout in various public and private locations, a shrewd enough gender-reversal in itself. But in the new version, Stark includes Fonda's own words as superimposed text, forming a running dialogue between multiple "Janes" that perhaps turn out to be more or less integrated and fully empowered. At first, I wasn't sure that these texts improved on Stark's first edition, but MTMTE2 won me over to the cause. Stark is to be commended not only for his satirical acumen (the piece is hilarious) but also his willingness to revise himself, to make his own socialist-feminist retraction a matter of public record.

Block Sometimes the experimental short form allows artists to explore spaces and activities that offer suggestions of narrative without lapsing into over-explanation, freeing mood and timbre to affect the viewer outside of a goal-oriented context. (Ariana Gerstein's film Alice Sees the Light, a short that played in the NYFF main program, is a fine example of such work, and might have been nestled into one of the Views group shows to strong effect.) This was the case with two of the most interesting international contributions to Views 2006. Britain's Emily Richardson is one of the more evocative new filmmakers to emerge in recent years, and her new film Block was a standout. An eleven-minute examination of a London apartment building, Block uses fixed-frame tableaux and the disembodied point-of-view of surveillance cameras to take this brutalist domestic space and make it strange. Low-angle exteriors and harshly lit fluorescent elevators provoke that quality Walter Benjamin found in the photographs of Atget; Block looks like the scene of a crime. This is partly because Richardson's visual vocabulary recalls architectural ghost stories like The Shining and Dark Water, but also because her commitment to casing the environment with the camera's impassive eye - an "establishing shot" establishing nothing - provokes a primal dread.

On the other hand, Hungary's Gulya Nemes has created a fragmentary documentary of a space under erasure, its inhabitants holding out and making an existence at the margins of society look pastoral, almost desirable. The Dike of Transience is composed of shots around the Kopaszi Dam, an area slated for demolition. As a bit of reportage from a post-socialist "modernization" effort and its human toll, The Dike of Transience bears comparison with the latest Jia Zhangke films, but Nemes's visual style is deliberately far grottier. We see elderly inhabitants in dilapidated lean-tos and hovels, cooking out and sleeping rough in the thick blanket of the surrounding woods. Nemes also plays with sound/image relationships, cutting these images to the sound of an orchestra rehearsal trying to get its Beethoven together. Occasionally image and sound will match perfectly - a man's ax swinging down and spitting a log, against a sharply triumphant orchestral flair. But mostly we are privy to two seemingly incompatible cultural projects (creating art and eking out a living) in a mutually complicating dialogue.

The General Returns from One Place to Another Finally, an admission. One of the great joys of any film festival, but especially an avant-garde showcase such as Views, is the discovery of new talent. Without question, this year's major discovery was the work of Chicago's Michael Robinson. Although his two films were absolute highlights of the weekend, I must confess that I did not entirely understand them. Apart from the usual hazards of festival fatigue - so many films, so little time, etc - I think that Robinson's work has left resonances in my mind, as opposed to concrete details or firm ideas, because he really appears to have hit upon something new. Whereas even the best of recent experimental cinema and video works with and against the burden of history, sussing out the available moves and finding a new approach to those problematics, Robinson's work struck me as sui generis, unlike anything else I'd seen. His video work The General Returns from One Place to Another alternates excerpts from Frank O'Hara's titular play (about a thinly-veiled Douglas MacArthur whom history has forgotten) with extreme close-ups of vibrant flowers against a hazy green background, and slow-motion pans around a mysterious woman in a dress. His sound design uses looping, extended cadences to heighten the tension until Robinson allows the chorus to break through - The Hollies' "The Air That I Breathe." There are several remarkable aspects to the piece, one of them being Robinson's masterful deployment of disparate informational fragments. Too often, text in experimental film explains too much, and even more commonly (and anyone who's slogged through student work knows this all too well), a popular song is a cop-out, a way not to think about composing the audio track. Robinson's success may actually lie in the fact that he plunges into these danger zones, even flirting with outright melodrama, and manages to pull it all together into a remarkably satisfying, original whole.

Likewise, his 16mm film You Don't Bring Me Flowers, turns an examination of National Geographic magazine images into a landscape study at a third-degree of remove, the gutter of the two-page spreads serving as a kind of vortex, turning the spaces of the world into objects to acquire. While The General weaves fragments into an aesthetic totality, Flowers takes a single procedure and slowly spins it out of control. Or so I think. Robinson's works demand close attention, and I hope to be able to see them again. In the meantime, they offered the most exciting experience of Views 2006 - the chance to get completely lost.

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

Sitges. Awards.

Sitges 06 Hans-Christian Schmid's Requiem cleaned up at the Sitges Festival Internacional de Cinema de Catalunya last night, winning Best Motion Picture, Best Actress for Sandra Hüller and the Jose Luis Guarner Critic Award. Grimm Love did quite well, too, winning Best Director for Martin Weisz, two Best Actor awards for Thomas Krestchmann and Thomas Huber and Best Cinematography for Jonathan Sela.

So the Germans did well, but here's the odd thing about Grimm. It's based on the true story of Armin Meiwes, known around the world as the "Rotenburg Cannibal." Earlier this year, Meiwes filed a complaint that resulted in the film's being banned in Germany. Even so, it's slated to open in Spain later this year, and if it does well or even picks up a few more awards, perhaps all of Europe will be able to see it - except for the Germans.

Also worth mentioning: Joe Dante's Homecoming picked up a Special Jury Award and Best Script (Sam Hamm). Here's the full list of awards.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:08 PM

New York Dispatch. 10.

The more I read about Marie Antoinette, both pro and con, the more I suspect I'm going to fall on the pro side when I get the chance to see it in a couple of weeks. Even so, the con team has a fine prosecutor here in David D'Arcy. Also: a reply to Sturla Gunnarsson.

NYFF 44 What's a princess to do? She has a chubby shy husband who can barely manage sex after years of resisting physical contact, even if he is destined to become the king of France. She's the daughter of a successful mother, an Austrian queen who practices the art of wielding power with exquisite refinement. She has no education, and she's bored. She has also become the lightning rod for the growing public contempt for the French monarchy.

Some characters make their own history. Some, as we see here, have history thrust upon them. Sooner or later, that becomes the dilemma in Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, which screened at the New York Film Festival this weekend.

I've already gone on record noting the inanity of this film and its mission to show the fate of a teenage princess who rebels against the French court that she's married into with a peevish contrariness. Only too late does she learn that there's another rebellion going on outside. Will the public that sees this film feel any empathy for her? Not when they realize that the clothes Marie Antoinette wore may have survived the beheading.

PBS: Marie Antoinette As others (including myself) have pointed out, there is another film about Marie Antoinette out there, this one by David Grubin, which was shown on PBS just before the NYFF opened. (As they say, check your local stations for the exact broadcast times.) The doc is true to the PBS template - interviews with the usual gang of experts, zooming shots in and out of archival material, even a weepy solo violin a la Ken Burns - yet it also gives you enough context for Marie Antoinette's pre-guillotine ordeal to make sense. Rent it or buy it for a reality check before you see the dramatic feature.

You learn about Louis XVI's love for hunting and his apprehensions about physical intimacy. "Some say he cannot get it up. Some say he cannot get it in," a note from the time reads. Marie Antoinette herself has the ailment of the over-privileged: boredom. "I'm tired of being bored. I must have some distraction, and I can only find it in increased amusements." Eventually, we learn that Marie Antoinette became the target of much of the resentment that ought to have been directed at her husband, partially because of a wave of obscene drawings featuring her with other men that were distributed throughout France and beyond. When all else fails, blame the media that spreads the rumors.

Back to Sofia Coppola's film, which critics have defended, not in the name of history (they're not that stupid), but in the name of pleasure. It sort of goes like this: The frustrations of a pleasure-deprived teen (played by Kirsten Dunst) seeking pleasure in the confinement of opulent Versailles will provide pleasure for the audience that just sits back and enjoys it. Sounds like a 21st century translation of "let them eat cake." But calling the film decadent is like calling Saddam Hussein cruel.

Marie Antoinette's dilemma seems to have been just the opposite of that of Diana, Princess of Wales, who was loved by the public (far more than her mother-in-law, Elizabeth II can imagine in The Queen which opened the festival) and despised by the House of Windsor. Misunderstanding Diana's appeal to the public meant misunderstanding the public and hastening the pace of the monarchy's irrelevance. Diana, of course, is not there to defend herself, probably another asset for her reputation. For Marie Antoinette, loathed by the public who saw her and everyone else royal as an icon of indifference, the "let them eat cake" quip, which she never made, was an epithet that crystallized the public's ire. Don't feed the hand, and it will bite you, or just behead you.

Marie Antoinette

By the end of Marie Antoinette, you feel that you're being pushed into a "queens are people, too" chorus of sentiment. Imelda Marcos would be happy to explain it to you. I can understand the queen envy operating here, although I'm still having trouble understanding why so much of it is emanating from the New York Film Festival. Just look at the royals on the magazine covers at newsstands with Euro-pretensions, and you'll notice the perennial appeal of the life-styles of royal and fatuous.

Also, everything gets revised sooner or later, and why not Marie Antoinette, and why not at a time when the rich have gotten richer than they've ever been, thanks to our president's policies? Not only is the lonely suffering of a blithely indifferent monarch worthy of our attention, we seem to be told, but it's worth the many millions that it takes to make such a film. How does one get away with such an idiocy - Marie Antoinette as martyr? By dressing it up in magnificent clothes. Here the film is real spectacle, yet even if the terminal shoppers who envy those gowns won't be able to buy them, they'll be able to buy the magazines that put them on page after page. Obviously, a period film, especially one like this, has little to do with the period depicted and a lot to do with ourselves. If we don't choose our heroines, we choose to approve the choice that others like Sofia Coppola have made. In other words, we get the heroines we deserve.


On another note. Sturla Gunnarsson took issue with some of the points that I made in my review of Wrath of Gods, a documentary about the making of Beowulf & Grendel. The doc by Jon Gustafsson premiered at the Reykjavik International Film Festival. I stand by what I wrote. See Beowulf. Then see the very entertaining doc if you can find it. (You can email Jon at artio@artiofiolms.com.) Make up your own minds.

Sturla's letter seemed to contradict facts that the documentary puts right before your eyes. The making of Beowulf looked like a painful experience. Who knows? People (and that includes film directors) tend to forget the specifics of pain. The doc shows a lot of it. I was reporting what I saw on the screen.

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

NYFF. Pan's Labyrinth.

Pan's Labyrinth Aaron Dobbs: "Even as difficult as it is for me to say that I liked or disliked Inland Empire, it is quite simple for me to shout hosannas expressing my immense love for and awe in both Korean director Bong Joon-ho's phenomenal The Host and Guillermo del Toro's post-Spanish Civil War fantasy fable Pan's Labyrinth."

But at Reverse Shot, Andrew Tracy writes, "No one's going to argue with the elaborateness of this fantasy bric-a-brac (God bless production designers), but elaborate is a poor substitute for imaginative—except for those cheerleader critics who are laboring to make them synonymous. It's precisely because del Toro's film has none of the texture, mystery, and surprise of actual imagination that it's garnered the plaudits it has."

"Del Toro's imagery is so vivid and concrete that it's likely to change the color of your sleep," counters Salon's Stephanie Zacharek, praising this "ambitious, glorious and harrowing adult fairy tale."

Mark Asch in the L Magazine: "But for the depth of wonderment that's present in Del Toro's films, they're remarkably tidy creations, models of screenplay construction with collision-course subplots and copious first act plant/third act payoff business."

At the IFC Blog, Alison Willmore finds it "a splendid intersection of genre and arthouse, which may, like The Host, make it appealing to no one in our compartmentalized moviegoing public. Not that we imagine Del Toro cares - much of what is exhilarating about Pan's Labyrinth is that it seems to be exactly the film he wanted to make."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:47 AM

NYFF. The Host.

The Host "Reverse Shot offers its writers a comfy venue for dissent, but be warned: if you're trolling for a takedown of The Host, you won't find it here," writes Adam Nayman. "Sometimes it's good to be part of the mob, and so I'm pleased - rather than pained - to say that I like Korean director Bong Joon-ho's marvelous monster movie about as much as everyone else. Which is to say: a whole lot and without reservation."

Grady Hendrix: "[Y]es, it's everything you've heard. It's really that good. Not the movie I expected, but much better than I would have ever thought possible."

"[B]eyond the film's less than subtle jab at the (pointedly American) arrogance and abuse of authority that lead to the environmental disaster, the film is also a wry commentary on the culture of conformity and unquestioning deference to authority," notes acquarello.

Slant's Nick Schager finds it "delivers high-octane thrills while cannily exploiting contemporary political fears, with some inspired visual humor amplifying its overriding mood of popcorn-movie excitement."

"It's either the funniest scariest movie I've ever seen, or vice versa," smiles Jason Bogdaneris in the L Magazine.

More from Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog and Jenny Jediny at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:38 AM | Comments (1)

NYFF. Inland Empire.

David Lynch Rob Nelson in the City Pages on Inland Empire: "Shot in the chintziest-looking digital video, starring Velvet's Laura Dern and a half-dozen other familiar figures from the director's oeuvre, the new film is at once Lynchian and not Lynchian at all, which maybe helps explain why this borderline inexplicable movie about Hollywood and psychosis seems to have split the critical establishment right down the middle. Me, I've seen this three-hour movie twice and I still can't resolve my conflicted feelings about it - which may well be the director's desired effect."

In Reverse Shot, Michael Joshua Rowin emphasizes that "it's an experiment - and I don't mean of the Lars von Trier variety, where the end result is strongly predetermined - having more to do with improvisation, texture, and a complete overthrow of cinematic law. Thus, while Lynch's recurrent motifs and themes are recognizable in Inland Empire, they're fragmented, dispersed, and frenetically jumbled in such ways that allow them to take on new shapes and meanings, quite different than just about anything we've seen from Lynch, or anyone, before. Let's put it this way: all those exclamations about the narrative and temporal puzzles of Mulholland Drive now seem just a little laughable in the face of Inland Empire's complete decimation of convention."

"[B]ecause of its entrenched irresolvability, Inland Empire, like Claire Denis's L'Intrus (albeit not as thematically distilled and compact), is the kind of film that becomes more intimate and intuitively - albeit abstractly - coherent with (temporal) distance and osmotic assimilation," writes acquarello.

Mark Asch in the L Magazine: "It bears mentioning (though it usually isn't): from the Elephant Man's mother being crushed by Victorian industry, to naked, damaged Isabella Rossellini wailing 'I love you, love me!' to the Typical American Boy who indulged his dark side with her for a while before abandoning her for blonder pastures in Blue Velvet, to Bobby Peru trapping Dern in his hotel room and demanding that she beg for it in Wild at Heart, Lynch is a director preoccupied by the victimization of women. It's not exactly feminism - it's maybe closer to an admission of guilt over his complicity in the almost implicitly misogynist enterprise of moviemaking."

Tom Hall: "I think that a clear story emerges, one that is structured not unlike Mulholland Drive's dream world." More from Alison Willmore, who sees it as "the David Lynch remix project."

Howard Feinstein, opening the pages of his notebook for indieWIRE, finds it "the hermetic, nearly incomprehensible product of a man who has been in Hollywood too long... On the plus side, the last half hour is superb." Notes on a slew of other films follow. Meanwhile, iW's Eugene Hernandez reports on the reception of Inland Empire (and points to iW video of the press conference) and The Host.

And, as you've probably heard by now, David Lynch will be self-distributing Inland Empire. Paul Harrill comments.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:30 AM | Comments (1)

Wrapping NYFF.

NYFF 44 Considering the honed selection, the New York Film Festival surely sees more online coverage per film than any other festival, so there's plenty to catch up with on this, the closing day - including two more of our own dispatches, going up shortly.

First, though, mention should be made of probably the most discussed assessment of this year's edition, appearing as it did in the #1 publication of the nation's media capital. "There are reasons for including The Queen, Marie Antoinette and Little Children in the lineup this year," acknowledges Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "But it is harder to justify programming all three in a festival with just 25 slots in its the main section... [I]f the New York Film Festival is going to remain relevant in these difficult movie times, it needs to work harder to secure the best, and it needs to nurture a new audience, not just dine out on the faithful. Whether it scales up or retains its modest proportions, it needs to embrace the very exclusivity that makes it occasionally maddening and generally indispensable."

The piece generated links throughout film blogdom, and when indieWIRE editor Eugene Hernandez pointed to it, adding, "she's often at her absolute best when reporting from an international film festival," he drew a slightly quibbling but respectful comment from Dave Kehr, though we can probably assume he agrees with the gist of the piece.

At any rate, Manohla Dargis also had an overview of Views from the Avant-Garde, with particular emphasis on Saul Levine; more here from Michael Sicinski - and Stephen Holden noticed this: "'The ladies will save us.' Those quaint words, spoken by an old man in Henry James's Portrait of a Lady, evoke the formidable resilience of many of the female characters who dominate the 44th New York Film Festival and the matching talents of the actresses who portray them."

For those of us not there, once again, the most fun to be had during the NYFF is to be found in Jamie Stuart's video pieces and, with four episodes up, we can look forward to one more.

So some films generated either so much or simply particularly noteworthy reaction since the last roundup around here that they'll get - or have already gotten - entries of their own. But of course, it's not always the most controversial films that are most worth noting.

Poison Friends Andrew O'Hehir in Salon: "I'm not sure anybody has quite captured the overheated intellectual intensity that can arise between college friends who all believe they're about to change the world the way Emmanuel Bourdieu does in his new film Poison Friends. Maybe it takes a Frenchman." Also, Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Climates is "a meticulous study of a crumbling relationship, marked by many luminous small moments and a startling interruption of violent eroticism," while "the gruesome climax of [Johnnie To's] Triad Election [Election 2] is not to be forgotten. To can be grateful that Chinese authorities have left Hong Kong's movie biz alone; I don't think his portrayal of corrupt, criminalized mainland authorities will be playing in Beijing anytime soon."

"So while everyone else was off taking in Scorsese's new film, I was watching (among other things) a film by one of the director's cinematic scions, Johnnie To," writes Leo Goldsmith at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "Triad Election benefits from a good deal of cultural and historical specificity in a way that (one presumes) Scorsese's film distinguishes itself from Infernal Affairs by importing its plot to Boston. For all its emulation of American gangster films, Triad Election is first and foremost a portrait of Hong Kong, painted in great swaths of black and red, with a surprising formality and lack of glibness." More from Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog and Mark Asch in the L Magazine.

Robert Cashill jots down notes on the films he's caught at the festival.

Paprika In Paprika, acquarello finds "a bold, provocative, mind-bending, and fiercely intelligent exposition into the nature of terrorism, the demystification of the subconscious, and the psychology of fetishism and objectification." Nick Schager gives it an A-.

Tom Hall's got capsule reviews of Poison Friends, The Host, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen and Falling, "one of my favorite movies at the New York Film Festival." Acquarello finds that one "a thoughtful, elegiac, and sensitively rendered zeitgeist portrait of passage, regret, community, friendship, and survival." Alison Willmore was "pleasantly surprised"; more from Nick Schager in Slant.

"Coeurs is perhaps [Alain] Resnais's most satisfyingly cerebral film since Mon Oncle d'Amerique," declares acquarello. Nick Pinkerton, writing in Reverse Shot, is not seeing it that way; he finds it "a work which shows no designs on being anything more than faint filmmaking - or 'gentle,' if you're feeling generous. Its tone is benevolent and melancholy, it features a cast of firmly controlled, careful performances, and it takes an earnest, gawky stab at humor that, while never good for more than a ripple of polite titters, is certainly affable enough." More from Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog, Jenny Jediny at Not Coming to a Theater Near You and earlier, here, Andrew Grant.

Volver "is part noir-comedy, part ghost story, but it's mostly a potent reflection on how where we come from shapes us, in ways we can't understand until we've been away for a long, long while," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "The picture is so full of life that it seems less a product of the imagination than of the soil."

Blank Screen has pix of the Volver press conference. The Reeler's taken notes. Related: The Boston Herald's Stefan Schaeffer listens to Pedro Almodóvar's thoughts on Penélope Cruz's relationship with Tom Cruise: "It was very difficult for me to see, not just in the American press but also in the Spanish press, how they saw her as an arriviste."

"Pedro Almodóvar's incomparable eye for detail and delightfully subversive dark humor suits his recurring paean to the strength, resilience, communality, nurturing, intuitiveness, and ennobled beauty of women especially well," writes acquarello. More from Leo Goldsmith at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

El Topo Jeff Reichert in Reverse Shot: "If cinema's highest, most proper calling is as the ultimate repository for images, dreams, and mad, unkempt visions, then El Topo could well be argued as the most quintessentially cinematic film ever made." Even so: "Welcomed with 'whistles, catcalls, and cheers' at its Cannes premiere in 1973, The Holy Mountain is Chilean-born auteur Alejandro Jodorowsky's greatest and most ambitious midnight movie, a wickedly outrageous masterpiece that towers over its better-known precursor El Topo," writes Aaron Hillis, where he was also recommending another revival, Mafioso.

In Reverse Shot, James Crawford, too, calls for more attention to be paid to Mafioso, "a bifurcated drama amused by the sudden, frequent, and subtle switchbacks made between comedy and tragedy. To wit: [Alberto] Lattuada plumbs material that a director like Visconti would mine for social realism, and takes a much more lighthearted view." More here from David D'Arcy.

Acquarello on Offside: "Structured in the framework of a situational comedy, the film's deceptive facileness proves to be its most irresistibly potent weapon in a brewing (and perhaps, inevitable) ideological revolution, upending the laws of inequitable social convention into a rote reflection of its own incomprehensible - and untenable - contemporary absurdity." More from Keith Uhlich at Slant, Chris Wisniewski at Reverse Shot and Nick Schager.

"The flipside of girl power is weak masculinity, which the Turkish drama Climates rains down with the subtlety of a monsoon," writes Aaron Hillis for Premiere. "Written, directed and starring Nuri Bilge Ceylan as a contemptible professor whose passive-aggressive ego makes him impossible to date, Ceylan's follow-up to 2002's Distant continues to showcase an existential tranquility and slow burn that might make Tarkovsky proud. However, where Distant deepened from a drollness that underscored the contrary dynamics of that film's lead city boy and country-cousin roomie, Climates grimly centers around flat, unknowable characters who brood before a perfectly still camera, sometimes without understanding why." More from Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog.

Syndromes and a Century "may well be [Apichatpong Weerasethakul's] most assured, complex, and rewarding film to date," writes Jeff Reichert at Reverse Shot. "I hate to praise a director I love with such milquetoast terms of approval as 'gentle' and 'lulling' ('visionary' and 'bold' are certainly much sexier), but Weerasethakul's films approach a level of calm hugely unfashionable in a culture attuned to the hyperactivity of Park Chan-wook." More from acquarello.

The Journals of Knud Rasmussen Filmbrain on The Journals of Knud Rasmussen: "[T]his quiet, moving portrait in all of its digital beauty is one of the festival's real treasures, and a film that finds tremendous warmth in the coldest of climates." It "may not be as coherent or accessible as The Fast Runner but it is still a fascinating and deeply compassionate film," writes Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog. More from Michael Joshua Rowin at Reverse Shot and Aaron Hillis at Premiere, where he also considers the "eccentrically lovely and frequently horrifying" Our Daily Bread. More on that one from acquarello.

"In the Bedroom worked as pulpy melodrama because [Todd] Field worked small and made smart choices," writes Matt Singer for the Reeler. "In Little Children, he takes chances that rarely pay off."

Keith Uhlich at Reverse Shot: "Best not to go into Reds expecting anything but the most superficial insights into its social movements of choice: early 20th-century America's bohemian culture and the correspondent Bolshevik uprising in Russia. Beatty pitches everything at the same tenor, illustrating artistic and political discourse on both sides of the Atlantic as a series of perpetual, unintelligible shouting matches. The case could be made that he's attempting immersion in distinct milieus, but for that to take, Reds would have to be something other than the Warren and Diane show." Anne Thompson has more Warren Beatty Q&A quotage.

In the Independent, David Thomson talks with Stephen Frears about the festival's opener, The Queen.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:03 AM | Comments (2)

Sunday shorts.

Forbidden Games Guy Maddin lists and annotates his top ten Criterion DVDs. Related: Twitch's Todd talks with Maddin about Brand Upon the Brain!

"[W]hen people ask me today where I live, I am often tempted to say instead of Chicago, I live on the Internet," Jonathan Rosenbaum tells Jeremiah Kipp in a terrific, wide-ranging interview for the House Next Door covering past and future writing projects. "That has affected who I am and how I function at least as much and maybe more than my grounding in the 1960s. I also see the Internet as a tool that has allowed me to implement some of my 1960s values."

In the London Review of Books, Michael Wood traces the argument for charity as it evolves throughout the work of Carol Reed.

"Crucially, Linklater withholds the urge to make fun. And that's precisely why Fast Food Nation hurts," writes for the Lumière Reader.

Fur "As capably as an MC Escher study on shifting perspective, the thematic tropes burrow in and out and through each other in Steven Shainberg's Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus," writes Michael Guillén. Meanwhile, daughter "Amy Arbus's own work has been enjoying something of a renaissance in recent weeks," and Christopher Turner meets her for the Observer, which has also pulled up Sean O'Hagan's piece on Diane Arbus's work from last year.

Nick Pinkerton grew up in Cincinnati; in Stop Smiling, he writes, "Larry Yust's Homebodies, aside from being an idiosyncratic, unpretentious, slightly dotty, and sharply made suspense film, has the distinction of being the only fully good movie lensed largely within that city of my youth; appropriately, it's a grim little urban ghost story — though one in which the ghosts happen to be not quite dead."

Noirishness is on the minds of the Bright Lights crowd these days. Andrew Grossman examines the question of whether or not Bergman might be considered to have made a few noir films and what that very question implies for a definition of noir, while C Jerry Kutner revisits "the most anti-noir of classic noirs," The Lady From Shanghai.

Speaking of Bergman, in PopMatters, Chadwick Jenkins offers the first part of a piece entitled "The Profound Consolation: The Use of Bach's Music in the Films of Ingmar Bergman."

According to Anthony Kaufman, writing for indieWIRE, these are the "Sure-Fire Contenders" in the race for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film: "Pedro Almodóvar's Volver (from Spain), Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth (Mexico), Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's The Lives of Others (Germany), Deepa Mehta's Water (Canada) and Daniele Thompson's Avenue Montaigne (France). Other heavy-hitters that could muscle their way past the first cut include Chinese-director Zhang Yimou's latest martial arts romance The Curse of the Golden Flower, Emanuele Crialese's much-loved Italian entry Golden Door, Paul Verhoeven's Dutch-language WWII romp Black Book, Susanne Bier's Danish drama After the Wedding, and Lee Sang-il's Japanese crowd-pleaser Hula Girls."

Jonah, Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 Sheila Johnston in the Telegraph: "Alfonso Cuarón admires Jonah, Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 - and he has gone to exceptional lengths to demonstrate it. 'When I knew my girlfriend was pregnant, my reaction was immediate: "The boy will be called Jonas" [after the French-language original].' Fortunately the mother had seen, and also liked, Cuarón's favorite film."

Bet you weren't expecting this: Martyn Bamber inducts Spielberg's Empire of the Sun into Slant's collection of "100 Essential Films."

Also:

Ella Taylor on Old Joy: "If you must have plot, motive and payoff, Kelly Reichardt's exquisite new film about an ambiguous reunion between two old friends may not be up your alley. See it anyway: It contains the whole world." (More from Dennis Cozzalio). Also in the LA Weekly, Scott Foundas also talks with Phillip Noyce about Catch a Fire. More background on that one from Kristin Hohenadel in the New York Times.

Entertainment Weekly: Borat Borat is "hilarious, but how did [Sacha] Baron Cohen get people to participate?" asks Devin Gordon. "Newsweek tracked down many of the unwitting costars. Some are angry, some amused. But to varying degrees, all of them feel foolish." For lighter fits of Borat-mania, turn to Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times and a photo gallery (no, really) at Entertainment Weekly.

Time's Richard Schickel talks with Clint Eastwood about Flags of Our Fathers: "They came back to a million people at Times Square, and climbing these paper mache mountains, all this Hollywood kind of stuff.... The propaganda machine is our subject matter." Related: Michael Koehn has the background story on Letters From Iwo Jima in the LAT.

Also in the LAT, John Horn: "Despite all their obvious differences..., the Nolan brothers [Chris and Jonah] speak with a distinct and unified screenwriting voice. Their collaborations - Memento, Batman Begins and its upcoming sequel, and Friday's The Prestige - have accomplished what few screenwriters and directors manage: They wowed moviegoers and critics simultaneously."

"Hollywood was created by Hungarians (Hungarians will tell you). And it's true their presence was formidable," writes Tibor Fischer. "The second world war changed all that. Hungary took a real pounding. The Nazis. The Holocaust. The Russians. The communists. After the war, only one decent feature film was made, Somewhere in Europe (by Geza Radvanyi, brother of the novelist Sándor Marai and, as he was, forced to emigrate). Then comes a 40-year cloud of propaganda and gloom." Nonetheless, "a spate of films seeking to be the definitive 1956 film" make for an article worth arguing with.

Also in the Guardian and Observer:

Michael Palin: Diaries

Dylan Hicks in the City Pages: "Sweet Land, an independent film from first-time feature-maker Ali Selim, has been a 16-year labor of love for the St Paul-based director, so perhaps it can't be credited with punctuality. It is, however, both timeless and timely."

David Gritten talks with Andrea Arnold about Red Road.

For Deutsche Welle, Rachel Ryan asks director Madhusree Dutta about how Bollywood squelching other genres in India.

Chris Sullivan has a career-spanning talk with Ridley Scott for the London Times, where Jasper Rees interviews Samantha Morton.

Ben Walters interviews Christine Vachon for Time Out.

Up-n-coming:

Pope Joan

"If The Departed had any hope of being a really sharp and successful - albeit blithely soulless - entertainment, it should have been helmed by some supremely skillful hack like Tony Scott," suggests Geoffrey Cheshire in the Indepedent Weekly. "With Scorsese at the controls, we get a movie that falls between the barstools - not really a Scorsese film, yet not a lean, mean, brutally efficient thrill machine either." More in Vue Weekly from Paul Matwychuk and Brian Gibson. The film is in the crossfire of another duel at Reverse Shot. "Shot": Justin Stewart; "Reverse Shot": Vicente Rodriguez-Ortega. As with many other reviewers, the film calls the work of another director to the mind of Matt Riviera: "Lighter in tone than Michael Mann's brooding thrillers, The Departed shares many similarities with Heat, a tragedy featuring men pitted against one another in a world where women are either accessories or liabilities."

In the NYT:

Quality of Life

  • "Nearly 25 years ago the documentary Style Wars, directed by Tony Silver, helped make the nascent graffiti movement a subject of fascination around the world," writes ST VanAirsdale. "And now a fresh crop of movies about graffiti culture, including Infamy and the fiction feature Quality of Life, are attracting audiences with intense, moody depictions of street art in action. Meanwhile do-it-yourself franchises like Videograf have enjoyed a DVD revival since their heyday in the early 90s, introducing 'bombers' and other outlaw artists to an international audience."

  • Charles Solomon on the troubles of Goro Miyazaki. His animated feature debut, Gedo Senki (Tales From Earthsea) is a hit in Japan, but neither his father, Hayao, of course, nor Ursula K Le Guin, who wrote the story on which the film is based 40 years ago, approve of his work - which, to top it off, might not see US distribution for years to come.

  • Dave Kehr greets a new line of DVDs from cinefilipino.

  • Ross Johnson meets Jack Black to talk about the upcoming Tenacious D in 'The Pick of Destiny', a film "highlighting once again the risks, and potential rewards, of that Hollywood perennial, the passion project."

  • Stephen Holden on Driving Lessons: "The screwball aging diva genre isn't the only formula guiding this stubbornly old-fashioned movie. Driving Lessons belongs to the silly feel-good mode of The Full Monty, Calendar Girls, Billy Elliot, Kinky Boots and dozens of other celebrations of Britons defying convention to become free, whatever that means. Since any connections between Driving Lessons and the real world are tangential at best, it's a faux liberation: the easiest kind." Related: Interviews with Julie Walters from Emine Saner in the Guardian and Susan King in the Los Angeles Times.

  • AO Scott: "In a pre-election season full of drama, contention and surprise, Man of the Year arrives on the scene with the blistering impact of a spoonful of cold mashed potatoes." Related: Mary McNamara talks with Barry Levinson and Robin Williams for the LAT.

  • Jeannette Catsoulis: "A novel teenage comedy with an astute understanding of adolescent sexual confusion and the nebulous nature of desire, Zerophilia suggests an elastic view of gender that's alternately gleeful and terrifying."

  • Lynn Hirschberg meets Annette Bening for the Magazine; Sofia Sanchez and Maruo Mongiello snap shots. Related: Bening talks with Newsweek's Sean Smith and Ed Gonzalez in Slant: "Punishingly snide and unfunny, Running With Scissors, the story of a pubescent queer boy sent to live at a zany psychologist's house after his parents divorce and his mother goes nuts, is a hissy fit of gargantuan self-involvement."

  • "It is a neat coincidence — perhaps a wrapping up of things by the fates — that YouTube had its big payday exactly half a century after it was found that a sequence of action could be documented cheaply and easily, viewed immediately, disseminated widely and replayed endlessly." David Hajdu has an amazing story about Jonathan Winters and the first uses of videotape; I hadn't known about that. Anyway, related: Richard Siklos on Google's purchase.

  • The sleeper hit is the sort of phenomenon "disappearing from a business where marketing has become increasingly sophisticated and Internet buzz quite deafening," writes Stephen Farber.

  • Sharon Waxman reports on an innovation that "could usher in radical change in the making of entertainment. A tool to reinvigorate the movies. Or the path to a Franken-movie monster. The Image Metrics software lets a computer map an actor's performance onto any character virtual or human, living or dead."

  • Campbell Robertson: "The Coast of Utopia, Tom Stoppard's sweeping three-part epic that will be populating Lincoln Center for the next six months, contains, among other things: 35 years of 19th-century Russian intellectual history; more than 70 roles; discussions of Hegel, Schelling, Pushkin and Kant; adulterous affairs, both secret and permitted; the revolution of 1848; scenes in Moscow, Paris, Nice, London, under a large chandelier, at a picnic, beside an ice skating rink."

  • Caryn James: "No one understood or manipulated her own celebrity better than Diana, whose cultural legacy — transforming royals into pop stars — is the template for two new films, The Queen and Marie Antoinette, and a boomlet of lesser works about royals."

Armond White in the New York Press on The Last King of Scotland: "To single-out [Forest] Whitaker's Idi merely justifies the black stereotyping that Whitaker had avoided ever since his breakthrough in Clint Eastwood's 1988 Charlie Parker biographer, Bird."

David Lowery: "The Science of Sleep is a deceptive bit of whimsy; it often feels light as a feather, but has undercurrents which run deeper and darker than the romantic melancholy which made Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind so affecting." More from Jeffrey Overstreet.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley Writing at the WSWS, Paul Bond has two questions about The Wind That Shakes the Barley: "to what extent is [Ken] Loach's film-making artistically successful, and to what extent are the historical-political positions he advances tenable?"

Amir Motlagh on Date Number One: "The film is very specific to its location, and its quirks and ticks represent the feelings and moods of the particular area, which I find almost exclusively missing from Hollywood films... There is only a positive through line in this film, and that is rare to see, especially when dealing with characters in their late to early thirties."

David Austin calls La Moglie Più Bella (The Most Beautiful Wife) "one of NoShame's best releases so far" - "engaging from start to finish, and never falls into the trap of the dull 'message picture.'"

Ray Young at Flickhead: "Rarely do I find much of interest in the ghetto of DVD bonus material, but with New Yorker Video's new edition of Mai Zetterling's The Girls (Flickorna, 1968), we've been rewarded with Christina Olofson's Lines from the Heart (I rollerna tre, 1996), a joyful celebration of these three exceptional Swedish actresses [Gunnel Lindblom, Harriet Andersson and Bibi Andersson], of Zetterling's picture, of Zetterling herself, and that spark of creative genius or madness that compels the artistic soul."

The latest Stop Smiling DVD roundup: Seduced and Abandoned, The Loved One, On the Edge: The Femicide in Ciudad Juarez and Jigoku.

Tim Lucas is mad about Ladislas Starewitch.

The "intersection of the divine and carnal" is the primary concern of Godard's Hail Mary, writes Steve Erickson at Nerve. More from Fernando F Croce in Slant and from Joe Bowman.

The Otolith Group lists "some of the films that inspire and provoke us" for Frieze.

To the AP's David Germain's list of the dozen best WWII movies, Joe Leydon adds Guadalcanal Diary.

James Surowiecki in the New Yorker on the next generation DVD standards wars: "The most important rule is that, as the economist Hal Varian says, 'the product that people expect to win will win.'"

Online browsing tip. "Hollywood may be panicking over its business prospects these days, but New York film hasn't felt this robust in years," writes Logan Hill, introducing a slide show highlighting films shot in NYC for New York.

Online listening tip. RU Sirius interviews Neil Gaiman. Via Waxy.org.

Online viewing tip #1. "Fast Film (2003) by Virgil Widrich is one of those films that reminds me why I love animation in the first place: it's a medium in which you can literally do anything you want," writes Amid at Cartoon Brew (click his name).

Online viewing tip #2. The trailer for Grindhouse.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:55 AM

October 14, 2006

Weekend docs.

Ian Thomson: Primo Levi Ian Thomson, author of a biography of Primo Levi, recalls in the Guardian the many attempts to bring Levi's The Truce to the screen. Davide Ferrario, "the latest Italian director to take an interest," also seems to have been the most successful with his documentary, Primo Levi's Journey.

"Enthusiasm for 51 Birch Street by widely divergent viewers at festivals around the world may seem curious, but the explanation is simple: The gap it bridges is not really ethnic, religious or geographic. It is generational. Everyone has parents. Fewer can really claim to know who they are. Or were." John Anderson talks with Doug Block for the New York Times. So, too, does Anne S Lewis for the Austin Chronicle.

Slant's Ed Gonzalez: "51 Birch Street's compassion for generational divides is starling, and it blows the theory that ignorance is bliss, illustrating that knowing is living - a means of understanding where we've come from and correcting the wounds of the present."

Roman Polanski Marina Zenovich is at work on a documentary "which promises to shed new light on one of modern Hollywood's more perplexing episodes," reports Charles Lyons in the New York Times. That episode: the Roman Polanski case, which went to court in 1977.

Also in the NYT, Neil Genzlinger on The Ritchie Boys, "an affecting group portrait," and Catsoulis again: "So Much So Fast coalesces into a perceptive portrait of an entire family in revolt against fate." In the Voice, Jim Ridley finds it "an absorbing account of fraternal love and obsession."

More Catsoulis: "Ron Mann's Tales of the Rat Fink, a paean to the custom-car designer Ed Roth, plays like a rambunctious merger of personal history and automobile pornography." More from Ian Sands in the Boston Phoenix.

"Just across the border from El Paso, Juárez holds countless secrets." In the Austin Chronicle, Toddy Burton recommends On the Edge: The Femicide in Ciudad Juárez: "A major center of drug trafficking and the scene of hundreds of unsolved femicides in the past 13 years, the industrial hub of northern Mexico is a nest of corruption. Producer/director Steev Hise takes an international perspective on this localized tragedy with his low-budget documentary."

"Why are all documentary filmmakers liberals?" wonders Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix, opening a conversation with David Leaf, co-director of The US vs John Lennon.

As An Inconvenient Truth opens in continental Europe, its message will undoubtedly be well-recieved. But as Patrick Goldstein points out in the Los Angeles Times, the film was primarily a hit in blue-state territory. Too bad, because environmentalists have allies in the red states as well. "[D]espite being against abortion and gay marriage, [Rev Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals] vehemently opposes the [Bush]administration's efforts to gut environmental protection laws, notably the ones that govern emissions that contribute to global warming." This is the constituency flocking to The Great Warming, made carbon neutral with green certificates from sponsor Krystal-Planet.

Anthony Kaufman in Slate on the spate of Iraq docs: "With the war in Iraq becoming an increasingly hot topic to Americans, why aren't these films finding an audience?" Theories are explored, and then, at his blog, he adds quotes from filmmakers who are "using grassroots ways" to work around the hurdles, "ranging from the sheer number of titles to the lack of major institutional support to the apathetic American populace."

The San Francisco Bay Guardian's Cheryl Eddy has a good long talk with director Paul Rachman and writer Steve Blush about American Hardcore.

David Schmader talks with Jesus Camp directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady for the Stranger. More on the doc from David Fellerath in the Independent Weekly.

Black Gold Movie Jim Ridley in the Nashville Scene: "Coffee runs second only to oil as the world's most commonly traded commodity; at times Black Gold could pass for a caffeine-fueled Syriana, its implication being that every consumer choice has a butterfly effect that raises or capsizes people on the other side of the earth."

Bilge Ebiri talks with Kirby Dick about This Film is Not Yet Rated.

Nick Schager in Slant: "Billy Corben's documentary Cocaine Cowboys is that rare film that truly warrants the designation 'guilty pleasure'—not because it's lousy yet likeable, but rather because its wanton glorification of Miami drug-running and murder during cocaine's 70s and 80s heyday elicits feelings of guilt over being so compulsively entertaining." Related online viewing: the trailer, via Movie City News.

Also: "A brief but haunting window into a tragic world, These Girls captures [homeless Egyptian] young women in all their persevering strength and marginalized wretchedness, with its abrupt ending devastatingly conveying the sense that for these discarded females, the struggle to survive remains an unfinished, ongoing undertaking."

Further into Slant, Ed Gonzalez on Exit and Keith Uhlich on The Bridge: "[S]omething is inherently rotten at the movie's core."

In the Guardian, Rick Moody talks with Neil Young and Jonathan Demme about Heart of Gold.

Online viewing tip #1. 8 BIT is "a documentary about art and video games" and the DVblog has the trailer.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:41 PM | Comments (1)

Weekend fests and events.

The Iron Giant The San Francisco International Animation Showcase runs through Sunday; for last-minute recommendations, see Johnny Ray Huston at SF360 and the San Francisco Bay Guardian's Cheryl Eddy.

"It's often remarked that artists aren't sufficiently appreciated in their homeland, but [Bruce] Baillie's relative anonymity seems especially ignominious (and unfortunately all too typical of a widespread indifference toward experimental film)," writes Max Goldberg, previewing Early Baillie and the Canyon CinemaNews Years, Sunday at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. It's the first of two related pieces in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the second being Michelle Silva's interview, introduced by Johnny Ray Huston, who notes that Baillie's "visions of San Francisco are just as brilliant and uncanny, if not as famous, as Alfred Hitchcock's - to a movie screen in the city. Contemporary filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the director making the most revelatory commercial features today, cites Baillie as his favorite experimental filmmaker." More from Johnny Ray Huston at SF360.

The Chicago Reader reviews highlights of the second week of the Chicago International Film Festival. For Facets Features, Phil Morehart adds several recommendations. And don't forget Mike Hertenstein's fine reviews at Flickerings.

Jonas Mekas's The Destruction Quartet 2006 is on view at the Darren Knight Gallery in Sydney through November 4.

frieze: Fischli & Weiss As Fischli & Weiss - Flowers & Questions: A Retrospective opens at the Tate Modern (through January 14), Frieze co-editor Jörg Heiser talks with the Swiss artists about the work they've done together over the past three decades (related: Nicolas Trembley's entry in Artforum's "Diary"). Also, Matthieu Laurette reviews Travel(s) in Utopia, JLG, 1946 - 2006 and explains why it is "possibly the first large-scale, institutional retrospective that is officially self-curated, self-managed and embedded in an autonomous structure of decision-making - institutional critique at work."

Cinema Strikes Back descends on the Sitges International Film Festival (through Sunday) with a camera.

In Cahiers du cinéma, Jean-Michel Frodon praises the Venice Film Festival for including films in its competition other large festivals pass over for more crowd-pleasing fare; but Frodon worries the festival may be in as much trouble as Libération and Il Manifesto, two papers that "stand for critical spaces of freedom, spaces that tend increasingly to be limited." Also: François Bégaudeau on Bamako.

Frodon also takes a quick swipe at the Rome Film Fest, which is now underway, and Peter Kiefer, reporting for the New York Times, finds the city's mayor, Walter Veltroni, trying to contain his excitement and maintain an appropriate demeanor. But as Kiefer notes, "he has championed the Rome festival from its inception two years ago; during its planning phase, the event was unofficially dubbed the Veltroni-Fest."

Meanwhile, Fabien Lemercier talks with the actual festival director Giorgio Gosetti for Cineuropa, which is all over the goings on.

Made in Mexico: The Legacy of Mexican Cinema opens tomorrow and will be on view at the Academy through December 17; Susan King has a preview in the Los Angeles Times.

Louise Brooks Also, Robert Abele on the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, through Sunday, and Kenneth Turan on A Centenary Tribute to Louise Brooks, through October 21 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art: "Louise Brooks was not just a Jazz Age actress, she was a drug that went right to your head, a performer of phenomenal presence who jumped to icon without a lengthy stay at earthbound stardom. The written word cannot convey her qualities, but to see her is to immediately understand." More from Hazel-Dawn Dumpert in the LA Weekly.

"Six years later, 1950, in Preminger's desperate Where the Sidewalk Ends, Tierney and [Dana] Andrews more or less reprise their career-defining roles, even as the 30-year-old actress stumbled toward electroshock therapy and her iron-jawed leading man began peeling his grimace off a bottle. End of the line for Laura Hunt and Mark McPherson." Raoul Hernandez riffs on Gene Tierney and then annotates the schedule of the Austin Film Society's retrospective, running Tuesdays, beginning October 17.

Also in the Austin Chronicle, Marjorie Baumgarten welcomes the Viva Pedro series to Texas. Meanwhile, in the Independent Weekly, David Fellerath does the honors for North Carolina.

The London Film Festival runs from October 18 to November 2. The Guardian offers its recommendations. Time Out's got more.

As if taking a cue from Doug Cummings, Peter Keough, previewing the Krzysztof Kieslowski retro at the Museum of Fine Arts (through October 29), writes in the Boston Phoenix, "I think the seldom seen documentaries offer a clue to what makes Kieslowski different from his imitators."

Meanwhile, well, Doug Cummings: "I attend a lot of film related events in Los Angeles, but last night's sold-out lecture, "Magic Lanterns and the Evolution of Film Narrative" at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (co-presented by the estimable Filmforum) was an exceptional one."

Lubitsch at San Sebastian The piece on the Lubitsch retrospective at San Sebastian that Ronald Bergan was hoping he'd write has appeared in the Guardian: "Seeing the films chronologically, one was able to follow the evolution of the artist and the development of his constant themes. Immediately from 1918, in the seven films he made with the exotic Pola Negri such as Carmen, Madame DuBarry and the Arabian Nights tale Sumurun, in which she leads a harem to revolt against their master, Lubitsch created complex female characters who were assertive, unsentimental and able to express their sexual desires, while refraining from offering conventional moral judgements. Another illuminating aspect of the retrospective was that many of his silent films tended towards the condition of the musical."

Version animée is the seventh biennial new media festival hosted by the Centre pour l'image contemporaine Saint-Gervais Genève and, from October 17 through December 17, it "will explore the field of animation in contemporary art, highlighting some 30 international artists with installations and screenings."

Drkrm. Gallery in Los Angeles presents Nevermore: a photographic exhibition of the Edgar Allan Poe films of Roger Corman, October 21 through November 18.

Manhattan, Kansas Manhattan, Kansas opens the Tallgrass Film Film Festival, running in Wichita from October 20 through 22.

SXSW conference and film festival producer Matt Dentler is justifiably pleased, maybe even giddy to report: "Joe [Swanberg] has just wrapped production on his third feature, Hannah Takes the Stairs. While on the set, he and the cast made a handful of hilarious SXSW trailers that embody the crazy spirit of making a low-budget film. The cast of the trailers will mirror the cast of the film, a dream team of indie-film talent, including: Andrew Bujalski, Mark Duplass, Kent Osborne, Ry Russo-Young and Todd Rohal."

At indieWIRE, Brian Brooks looks back on the splendid time he had at the Reykjavik International Film Festival. The Boston Phoenix's Gerald Peary had a fine time as well.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:43 PM

Deliver Us From Evil.

Deliver Us From Evil The LA Weekly's Ella Taylor: "When a major distributor like Lionsgate releases a documentary on an inflamed social issue like child molestation, one expects the worst kind of pandering to the public hysteria so skillfully exposed in Andrew Jarecki's Capturing the Friedmans. But Amy Berg's Deliver Us From Evil, which begins as a portrait of a damaged monster and skillfully fans out to his many victims and enablers, lifts the subject clean out of private pathology into the realm where it belongs: the rampant and systematic abuse of theological and institutional power."

"It is a numbingly familiar story for Bostonians," sighs Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix, where Tom Meek has background on its making. "But Deliver Us from Evil should renew the outrage and the incredulity."

Updated through 10/21.

Nick Schager in Slant: "Bolstered by O'Grady's commentary, which he delivers with a mixture of candor and smiling, 'let bygones be bygones' hideousness, as well as damning video deposition testimony from Church bigwigs who blatantly lied about their enabling of [Father Oliver] O'Grady's actions, Deliver Us From Evil proceeds with a sober clarity that lends credence to its devastating case."

"It almost goes without saying that no one from the church agreed to be interviewed in the film," notes AO Scott in the New York Times. "That silence... cedes the floor to the church’s critics.... Deliver Us From Evil makes the case that justice remains undone." More from Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times and Michelle Orange for the Reeler.

Related: Director Amy Berg in the Huffington Post: "One of the most important dimensions of this on-going crisis is the continuing cover-up by the Catholic establishment. And it's not working." Also, the indieWIRE interview.

Update, 10/21: Gary Dretzka at Movie City News: "Last week, photos of Bush showing his support for House Speaker Dennis Hastert - accused of covering up knowledge of Foley's behavior - were splashed across the front pages of newspaper across the US. Having just seen Deliver Us From Evil, it was impossible not to fear for the safety of children entrusted to adults who have more compassion for the predator than its prey."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:55 PM

Weekend horrors.

To Sir, With Love Movie-lovers embrace no other holiday quite like Halloween, and if we had our way, it'd rave on throughout October. And actually, as Gary Dretzka points out at Movie City News, we're just about there. "This year, too, Hollywood will scare up even more holiday-related revenues, thanks to the proximity of Friday the 13th to Halloween." He offers "a sampling of this season's spine-tinglers."

"Who'd have thought that the best slasher pic to come along in a while would hail from Korea?" asks Grady Hendrix in an appreciation of To Sir, With Love: "By the time the credits roll, reason and logic have gone out the window and what you're left with is a most excellent horror flick that has no pretensions to any greater goal than to sit comfortably in the video store between Ticks and Tourist Trap."

Updated through 10/15.

Bill Gibron, blogging for PopMatters: "No one is writing [John] Carpenter off completely - his oeuvre is too overpacked with potential to toss it aside forever - but it does look like a once prominent personality is falling further and further down the horror hierarchy. Here's hoping he recovers before reaching rock bottom. After all, Tobe Hooper has the utter has-been angle covered quite well."

As it happens, the Telegraph's Marc Lee talks with Kevin Smith about Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Yes, the second one. "'It's a kinda out-there choice,' he says. 'But it's a movie I do love dearly and one that I appreciate even more having done Clerks II. You're talking about a sequel to a much-loved, no-budget original that was perceived as not nearly as good. I totally feel Hooper's pain.'"

Catching up with 31 Days of Horror at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: Jenny Jediny on The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth; Adam Balz on The People Under the Stairs and Teddy Blanks on The Last House on the Left; Thomas Scalzo on Grizzly and The Last Man on Earth; Tom Huddleston on Faust; Marlin Tyree on Onibaba; Leo Goldsmith on Demon Seed; and Rumsey Taylor on Friday the 13th.

The Los Angeles Times is running a Halloween package that includes "LA R.I.P.," a "Hollywood Terror Tour"; pix from "some of the greatest suspense/horror films of all time"; and a piece from Hugo Martin: "Tucked away in the rocky canyons, the serene neighborhoods and the steep hillsides of Southern California are the creepy settings to some of Hollywood's most frightening moments."

"What makes The Grudge 2 so bad?" Jeffrey M Anderson counts the ways at Cinematical. Related: Lesley O'Toole talks with Sarah Michelle Gellar for the Independent.

Online browsing and viewing tip. Poltergay, via MCN.

Roommates Updates, 10/15: Kyu Hyun Kim finds Im Kyung-soo's Bystanders, "a halfway decent effort gutsy enough to lay all its cards on the table in the first twenty minutes." Also at Koreanfilm.org, Darcy Paquet on Kim Eun-kyung's low budget Roommates: "[O]f all the horror films to debut this summer, this one is the most consistent in its vision, and for me the most memorable."

For Laura Kern, writing in the New York Times, Frankensteins Bloody Nightmare is "a 1970's-style horror oddity that could pass for a perverse experiment masterminded by a mad scientist." In the Voice, Joshua Land finds that it "sadly fails to live up to its title."

"[W]hile horror films are rarely successful at being both mischievous and smart, The Barber is somehow both and neither," writes Adam Balz at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

Online viewing tip #2. Toxic Mango, via Todd at Twitch, where he wonders how it got slapped with an X in the Philippines: "This is a pretty straightforward morality tale that plays on the Garden of Eden story - albeit a modified version with a sludge zombie and fatal intercourse - and is not explicit in the least. It boggles the mind."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:45 PM

Two docs on Edward Said.

Out of Place: Memories of Edward Said "In America, the left has been on the ropes for decades, so when an individual of [Edward] Said's intelligence and influence is lost, the continent of thought is significantly eroded. Thus, if for no other reason than it will stir memories of a man whose life was dedicated to the pursuit of humanitarian causes, Out of Place: Memories of Edward Said, a documentary by Japan's Sato Makoto, is a welcome arrival on the scene," writes Dan Jardine at the House Next Door.

The doc "is less a picture of Said himself than of the environments that shaped him," notes Ed Halter in the Voice, and Rob Humanick, writing in Slant, agrees. Edward Said: The Last Interview, on the other hand, is "a film with a setup so simple it shouldn't engage as deeply as it does," adds Halter.

Writing in the New York Times, Jeannette Catsoulis finds the second film "[f]ar more satisfying."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:26 PM

Marie Antoinette. Again.

Antonia Fraser: Marie Antoinette In the run-up to the release of Marie Antoinette (October 20 in the US and the UK), Sean O'Hagan talks in last Sunday's Observer not only with Sofia Coppola but also with Antonia Fraser, author of the biography of Marie Antoinette on which the film is based: "'I love it,' she trills, 'It doesn't deviate from the story, but nor does it copy the book slavishly. It's Sofia's vision of Marie Antoinette. My vision was within the covers, hers is in the images on the screen. I enjoyed it enormously and so did Harold [Pinter, her husband].' This is indeed the case. 'He liked the film. He wrote me a sweet letter,' says Coppola, smiling.... 'It's like, if it turns out that nobody else likes it, I can still say, "Well, at least Harold Pinter did".'"

Fraser has a new book out, by the way, Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King, which Megan Marshall reviews in the New York Times Book Review - just a click away from Liesl Schillinger's review of Caroline Weber's Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution and Sena Jeter Naslund's Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette.

Updated through 10/15.

Via They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?, another interview with Coppola: For the Sunday Herald, Craig McLean breaks the ice by pulling out a nine-page fashion spread for The Face dating back to 1997 - and shot by Spike Jonze.

Like most critics, the Voice's J Hoberman can't help but read Marie Antoinette as part-autobiography and finds it "a graceful, charming, and sometimes witty confection - at least for its first hour."

"This is one of the most immediate, personal costume dramas ever made, and so it's not unseemly to consider how the writer-director and her heroine overlap," insists David Edelstein in New York, and though he's cautious about saying so, he clearly likes this movie.

"It may be tempting to greet Marie Antoinette with a Jacobin snarl or a self-righteous sneer, since it is after all the story of the silly teenager who embodied a corrupt, absolutist state in its terminal decadence," writes AO Scott in the NYT, "But where's the fun in such indignation? And, more seriously, where is the justice? To say that this movie is historically irresponsible or politically suspect is both to state the obvious and to miss the point."

"[T]he movie's a veritable junk drawer of mismatched ideas," grumbles Nick Pinkerton in Reverse Shot (and in direct reply to Scott's review). Still, he does seem to have an awfully good time explaining why "there isn't much here to nourish the soul, film culture, or human understanding."

"[T]his is not - as you might have believed if you trusted the reviews out of Cannes, scrawled by critics from the garretlike confines of their hotel rooms as they clutched their Mao jackets tighter to protect themselves from the threat of beauty, pleasure and decadence - a movie about shopping," fumes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "It's a humanist comedy-drama decked out not in sackcloth but in ribbons - instead of flattering our ideas of our own virtuousness, it asks our sympathy for this doomed queen even as we can't help envying her privilege. And that, right there, is the challenge of Marie Antoinette."

"[M]uch of the way Coppola depicts Marie Antoinette is quite in line with the facts," argues Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times.

Earlier: Cannes reviews.

Updates, 10/15: Killian Fox in the Observer on a reprint: "If the film is gossamer thin, the book, at 629 pages, is anything but. It does grip, however, from the Hapsburg princess's faltering start to her sad and gruesome end at the guillotine, injecting pace as well as substantial detail into one of European history's great tragic tales."

"The most curious aspect of Marie Antoinette is not the speed with which she became the image of all that was wrong with France, but how various her different images are," writes historian Frances Wilson in the Independent.

Online viewing tip. Jürgen Fauth and Marcy Dermansky have video of Friday's NYFF press conference with Coppola, Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman and producer Ross Katz.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:58 PM

Tideland. Again.

Tideland "Not to put too fine a point on it, but what Terry Gilliam's latest creation elicits from its first moments is that most unsubtle of reactions, for which not even the notoriously negative word-of-mouth quite prepares you, namely: 'WTF?'" Kristi Mitsuda opens the Reverse Shot round at indieWIRE. "Reducing the work of the director responsible for such heady contributions to cinema as Brazil, Twelve Monkeys, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to that single expression may seem glib, but there's no other way to encapsulate the utterly baffling experience of Tideland."

For Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, Tideland "marks the final, ugly implosion of a one-time maverick's career."

"[T]he borderline between fantasy and reality" is "familiar territory" for Gilliam, writes AO Scott in the New York Times, "but this time he has stumbled into a different no-man’s land, the one between the merely bad and the completely indefensible."

Slant's Nick Schager finds the "unrestrained inventiveness is both the blessing and the curse of Gilliam's wack-job of a film, whose anti-conventionality (and anti-commercialism) is a breath of eccentric air even as its narrative and stylistic lack of self-control ultimately results in something of a catastrophe."

Related online viewing: Terry Gilliam hits the streets, begging folks to see Tideland. Also, Tasha Robinson talks with Gilliam for the AV Club, and so, too, does Daniel Robert Epstein for SuicideGirls.

Earlier: Critical reaction in the British press.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:42 PM

Busan Dispatch. 1.

Following up on last year's coverage, Koreanfilm.org contributor Adam Hartzell sends his first dispatch from this year's Pusan International Film Festival.

Pusan International Film Festival Quite an interesting time to be at a film festival in South Korea, isn't it?

As the Bush II administration shifts from a PR campaign of doubt as to whether North Korea actually pulled off a nuclear test to dealing with evidence that it indeed detonated a bomb deep inside a mountain up there, Seoul and Busan "feel" no different than when I last visited the Pusan International Film Festival. (The city goes with the legislated "B" transliteration whereas the festival sticks with the "P" transliteration to maintain the brand established before the legislation.) Of course, I should no more trust my "feel" here as I should North Korea or Tony Snow. However, there are no visible signs of heightened alert. I still find the people I meet similar to people I meet everywhere, incredibly friendly and kind to a foreigner making a foreigner's mistakes or incredibly rude to a foreigner who poses an obstacle for them in their efforts to reach point B from point A, or all the variations of interaction in between. South Koreans have adapted to the threats all around them in this theoretical island - you can't go north, so it might as well be part of the sea that surrounds the rest of it - they live happily and not so happily on, like the rest of us attuned to a world more dangerous, thanks in large part to the failed foreign policies of my country.

That said, am I scared? I've been asked this in many different ways by various people. I can honestly say that I am not. As the Korean scholars I trust say about the Korean population, I don't worry that an attack is imminent. And even if it were, I'm a lucky guy who has lived a wonderful life. I've made great friends, had great conversations, read great books, and seen great movies. I've been able to negotiate some blissful romantic relationships regardless of how brief. And I've been able to financially negotiate some lovely trips abroad like this one, again, however brief. As an agnostic, I have no maker with whom to make amends, I merely have worldly ethics as the tools to assess my life and the effects I've had on others. Of course, I can't say what I will feel if I find myself in Seoul again and hear the sirens of the regular air raid drills that require everyone and all vehicles to stop in their tracks until instructed to move. Such will probably resonate differently than simple annoyance about needing to get across the street to catch my bus. But I live with no regrets, and will keep living that way until means beyond my control stop me.

Pusan International Film Festival And nothing I could control could stop me from coming to PIFF again this year. I'm as excited as I was last year because again there are quite a lot of fantastic offerings, from established auteurs such as Aki Kaurismäki, Tsai Ming-Liang (in attendance), Apichatpong (Joe) Weerasethakul and Kore-eda Hirokazu and rising talents such as Noh Dong-seok, Shin Dong-il, Lee Yoon-ki and Min Boung-hun. I will again learn much from the Window on Asian Cinema series, this year featuring India's Rajaram Vankudre Shantaram and Iran's Amir Naderi. And then there's the ever wonderful old school is new again experience of the retrospective of early Korean Cinema. This edition, we have seven films from the period of Japan's colonization of South Korea that were found gathering dust within the Chinese Film Archives in the past three years.

This year's opener was Kim Dae-seong's Traces of Love. Kim's first feature was the poorly titled Bungee Jumping of Their Own that followed the South Korean theme of un-crossable barriers to love represented in the recently Keanu-ed fare Il Mare. Kim brought his male main character's dead female lover back in the form of a young man, opening South Korea up to more direct queer portrayals. (Speaking of Queer Cinema, along with the documentary Fabulous! The Story of Queer Cinema and the South Korean feature No Regret, PIFF is featuring a tiny series of Queer Chinese Cinema and a talk about said cinema by director Cui Zi'en and film critic Tony Rayns.) Kim decided to return to this barriers-to-love theme again, but this time alluding to a tragic incident in South Korean history, the collapsing of the Sampoong Department Store on June 29, 1995 in which 501 people were killed. Hyun-woo (Yu Ji-tae of Old Boy) loses his fiancé Min-joo (Kim Ji-soo of This Charming Girl) in this fictionalized collapse and finds his life void of direction afterwards. A package comes his way via his could've-been father-in-law, a package which provides him with a map that he didn't know he was looking for, a map his fiancé intended they follow on their honeymoon. While following this path, he meets Se-jin (Uhm Ji-won), a woman mysteriously following this path apparently not the least traveled by.

...Or not so mysteriously. See, Kim's film here is constructed in the tested waters of "If there's a gun on the wall, it has to go off." We know things such as that the notebook Min-joo holds still for the camera will return with greater significance later in the film. Although there may be logical leaps in Kim's playing around with time frames in this film (I'd have to revisit it to confirm my suspicions about some confusions), I don't find the connections that follow throughout the film contrived. This is a melodrama that occasionally steps from a more tempered display, but it's well-grounded enough by the middle of the film that I feel I can forgive the missteps.

Driving My Wife's Lover

Director Kim Tai-sik's debut Driving My Wife's Lover was part of the New Currents awards series for new directors. Aware that his wife is cheating on him, Tae-han (Park Kwang-jung) hires the "simple cabbie," Joong-sik (Jung Bo-seog), that his wife is vigorously bonking. Quite a long cab ride, in fact, one that finds them in surreal moments of a waterfall of watermelons and helicopters approaching at an inopportune time. Keyhole close-ups of Tae-han allow for further dork-ification of this pathetic character who we're concerned might make some immoral choices himself. Cho Eun-ji makes an appearance as Joong-sik's wife and, although she stays in her somewhat ditsy typecast, director Kim Tai-shik allows for a much more subdued performance rather than the more histrionic efforts demanded of Cho in films such as Bizarre Love Triangle.

Speaking of bizarre love triangles, Hong Sang-soo continues repeating himself in Woman on the Beach and I still don't want him to stop. The sizably filled house was laughing throughout this exposition of two separate triangles. (Should we add one more triangle here? I'm of course thinking of the one Joong-rae [Ko Hyun-Joung] draws for Moon-sook [Song Sun-mi] that had me flashing back to that freaky moment in Imelda where the eponymous Marcos gets all spirography crazy with her New-Age-y self.) The crowd, made up of mostly women, particularly responded to Moon-sook's willingness to hyperbolically "cut off" hypothetical parts of herself that aesthetically displease her, laughter that presents ambivalence towards the popularity of plastic surgery amongst their fellow countrywomen. This film will flow in and out of my mind and I'll think ever greater things about it as I have of every other Hong film. (And again, I love the score that accompanies the credits. This year PIFF released an Official Soundtrack for the festival consisting of prominent films from the past festivals, including songs from Hur Jin-ho's Christmas in August and April Snow. May I suggest Hong put out a soundtrack of all the songs from his films so I can listen to the song featured in this film along with that lovely xylophone ditty from Tale of Cinema, the bossa nova number on the official website for Turning Gate, and that shoegazer-y track from the trailer for The Power of Kangwon Province that a friend and I have been looking to get a hold of for years?)

Pruning the Grapevine

I've been following Hong for a long time, traveling to LA to see Turning Gate and to Busan last year to see Tale of Cinema. I would have traveled further to see Min Boung-hun's debut Flight of the Bee, co-directed with Tajik Jamshed Usmonov and championed by none other than Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Sadly, I still haven't had the opportunity to see it nor his second feature, Let's Not Cry!, but I did get to see his third feature here at PIFF, Pruning the Grapevine. Considering the prominence of Christianity in South Korea, it's interesting how rarely the topic extends into South Korean films. This appears to be changing. Last year's PIFF saw Shin Dong-il's Host & Guest respectfully portray a Jehovah's Witness. (Shin is returning to PIFF this year with his latest film, My Friend & His Wife.) And the double definitions of the film Sa-kwa (it means both apple and apology in Korean, thus exploring the significance of the apple from the Tree of Knowledge in Genesis along with exploring the power of forgiveness) parallel its double appearance at PIFF, showing during media screenings last year and featured again this year since it still hasn't snagged an official South Korean release. Pruning the Grapevine allows for a Catholic exploration of the spiritual. Soo-hyeon (played tenderly by Seo Jang-won) is studying for the priesthood and must struggle with various attachments to the secular world in the process. Heavily bright, heavenly light illuminates throughout this slow, appropriately meditative film. Seo's exemplary performance is accompanied by other great performances, such as the neophyte monk Stefano, a character portrayed in a complicated rather than caricatured manner when revealing his stunted social growth. Min Boung-hun's name doesn't come up much when reciting exciting South Korean directors. Hopefully this film will make the greater festival rounds and his previous works will make it onto DVD so that that might change.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:21 AM

Pordenone Dispatch. 3.

At the Giornate del Cinema Muto, Sean Axmaker surveys an array of landmark Danish silent films.

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto The retrospective celebrating the 100th anniversary of Denmark's Nordisk Film is a sampling of genres and styles that is heavy on the variety and light on the exclusivity. The program is designed to show the popular fare along with the art, the simple entertainments in their rudimentary form as well as the sophistication of the studio at its best.

Frustratingly, there is more of the former than the latter in this determinedly broad survey. The films in the "White Slavery" and "Lure of the Orient" programs (with films dating from 1907 to about 1917) are essentially the same abduction-and-rescue tale told in varying degrees of elaboration and stylistic development, but little else, with none of the creative invention (not to mention surreal charge) that Louis Feuillade brought to his thrilling and always unexpected cliffhangers in France at the time (such as Les Vampires and Judex). Atlantis is a stuttering drama with a few mesmerizing images and an exciting disaster at sea, but all the action is otherwise related in intertitles. Curiously, in a number of the pre-1916 films, you can see the fog of the performers' breath; what conditions exactly were they shooting in?

Klovnen

Klovnen (The Golden Clown, 1926), a circus drama turned tragic romance that became the studio's biggest hit ever, justifies the effort expended on the rest. A model of the elegance and sophistication of Danish cinema at its height, AW Sandberg's production is exquisitely photographed and marvelously designed, wringing high tragedy from the kind of tortured romantic mistakes and emotional spirals into depression and suicide that marks the most base kinds of melodramas. Superb performances by Gösta Ekman as the singing clown whose song makes him a superstar (his performance alone conveys the beauty that his song is said to carry) and Karina Bell (a beauty with a modern look who also appears in the final episode of Dreyer's Leaves From Satan's Book) bring it alive even as Sandberg's meticulous direction makes a fine production of every moment. And just when you think the tragedy is about to swallow you alive in doom, a spark of hope rescues the audience from suicidal depression.

Sandberg also directs the earlier The Hill Park Mystery (1923), a light-fingered comic mystery about a crime reporter suffering from exhaustion deliriously on the trail of a murderess he's falling helplessly in love with. It's as brisk and deftly droll as Klovnen is dramatically deliberate, a charmer with a delightful performance from Gorm Schmidt as the dogged reporter who becomes increasingly incoherent as he pursues his case and his romantic interest right down to the inevitable revelation that clears the way for a happily ever after. Sandberg's eye for compositions and clear, clean images is evident even here, and his pitch-perfect pacing matches the tone of the silly but endearing lark. Sandberg's direction lifts the lightweight entertainment beyond expectations. Both films, restored to a handsome sheen (Klovnen especially is pristine, so gorgeous the light glows off the screen), have also been remastered for DVD by the Danish Film Institute (along with a few other offerings) on a disc featuring both Danish and English intertitles.

Leaves From Satan's Book

On the dour and austere side is Carl Theodor Dreyer's Leaves From Satan's Book (1920), the Danish answer to Intolerance with an otherwordly answer to man's inhumanity to man. To wit: The devil made them do it. This early Dreyer is exquisitely photographed and almost unbearably deliberate (okay, it's slow, so much so that it sparked whispers that it was projected at the incorrect speed), and the blocks of text it takes to set it up almost extinguish the narrative before it begins. For festival audiences, the dramatic lethargy and the painfully inadequate and confused English translation made the experience too much to endure, and they streamed out before the beat-the-devil pay-off. True to Dreyer, even that is a tragic sacrifice.

In a more popular vein, a pair of genre spectacles offer their own minor pleasures. A Trip to Mars (1918) sends a crew of humans to a utopian society that looks like ancient Greece as interpreted by an episode of the original Star Trek, where the message of nonviolence and vegetarian love infects them with a passion they are determined to bring back to Earth. With the horrors of the First World War hovering over the film, such pacifism feels more like a desperate cry than the preachy idealism that sometimes comes through.

The End of the World (1916) is for the first two-thirds an indifferently directed social drama that weighs heavier on the manipulations of a corrupt newspaper publisher who uses a comet scare to make a killing on the stock market. But the comet that hangs in the sky, growing ever bigger in each succeeding scene, has its effect, notably in an uprising by the working class during an ill-conceived "end of the world" party where the guests thoughtfully remembered to pack heat under their tuxedos for a class struggle shoot-out. And then it becomes a nuclear holocaust film without the atomic bomb, where images of a scorched Earth, a devastating flood and the charred remains of a village are all the explanation we are given to the surreal depopulation, until only two are left to repopulate an Earth cleansed by an Old Testament God disgusted by the corruption of the human race.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:03 AM

October 13, 2006

Books, 10/13.

Marc Eliot: Jimmy Stewart "If as a teenager I attempted to imitate him at parties, it was partly because it seemed deceptively easy, but also because to impersonate Stewart was to become him for a few moments, and that felt quite satisfying, as one's own shyness and awkwardness were redeemed by Stewart's heroic versions of the same traits." For the New York Review of Books, Geoffrey O'Brien reads Marc Eliot's Jimmy Stewart: A Biography and realizes: "The scandal of Stewart's life is the absence of scandal."

That doesn't make his life any less interesting, of course: "In his father's fulmination, recollected by his son years later - 'No Stewart has ever gone into show business!' - we catch an echo of an earlier American horror of the theatrical, a near-biblical sense of taboo attaching to theatrical representation and, by association, to the presumed moral laxness of 'show people.' No doubt Stewart carried a good deal of the nineteenth century around with him, and that he seems at home in the small-town Wild West of, say, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is not just acting."

For the Los Angeles Times, Glen David Gold, author of Carter Beats the Devil, reviews John Bengtson's Silent Traces: Discovering Early Hollywood Through the Films of Charlie Chaplin, "a delightfully obsessive piece of artistic detective work. It's an aggressive act of deconstruction, performed in such a loving, relentless, mindful way - no theory, only practice - that it would make the ghost of Jacques Derrida weep with pleasure." Related: Marc Weingarten on Ivan R Dee's The Essential Chaplin.

Thomas Mallon: "Cecil Beaton, who dressed them both, found the older Hepburn to be 'the egomaniac of all time,' whereas the younger one possessed, he thought, a 'waifish, poignant sympathy.' Beaton was better equipped temperamentally to spot the first type, but readers of William J Mann's Kate and Donald Spoto's Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn will be hard pressed to argue with the essence of the designer's appraisals." Related: David Thomson on Kate in the New York Observer.

Also in the New York Times Book Review: Pankaj Mishra on Bruce Wagner's Memorial and Rick Marin on Michael Tolkin's The Return of the Player.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:45 PM | Comments (1)

Sex, 10/13.

Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival Shortbus opens this year's Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival tonight (the fest runs through October 22) and, after singing the film's praises in the Stranger, Christopher Frizzelle writes, "Elsewhere in the festival, I can't recommend much." Oh. But he does manage to mention a few titles that might rouse the interests of this or that niche.

"Shortbus opens on the image of a lovingly animated Statue of Liberty, holding her torch high into the New York sky, welcoming the huddled masses to her teeming shore. The only difference is that, in Shortbus, the masses huddle a little more snugly than usual." Scott Foundas introduces his conversation with John Cameron Mitchell. Also in the LA Weekly, Judith Lewis on what's actually sexy onscreen and Ella Taylor's meeting with Helen Mirren, who "sees her sexual allure as more Simone Signoret than Brigitte Bardot, more Anna Magnani ('My goddess of acting') than Claudia Cardinale."

Updated through 10/14.

Sean Burns talks with Mitchell for the Philadelphia Weekly, where he gives the film an A. Meanwhile, Dan Savage all but turns his "Savage Love" column over to Mitchell this week.

More on Shortbus from Cindy Fuchs in the Philadelphia City Paper. Earlier: "Shortbus."

Watching Mitchell's films, writes David Lowery, "I don't have to chose between laughing and crying - I have to figure out how to do both simultaneously." And then he's got a terrifc conversation with Mitchell to boot.

Update, 10/14: Anne M Hockens has a few SL&GFF recommendations at the Siffblog.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:51 PM

Plays, 10/13.

Time Out: Bennett "The History Boys, Alan Bennett's hugely successful 2004 play about a cadre of precocious sixth-form schoolboys prepping for a special exam that might result in a place at Oxbridge, made a very happy transition from the National Theatre to Broadway, where it won six Tonys earlier this year," writes Sukhdev Sandhu in the Telegraph. "Now, starring much the same cast, and steered by director Nicholas Hytner, who also shepherded Bennett's The Madness of King George to the big screen, it has been turned into a jolly, occasionally moving and slyly thoughtful movie."

Updated through 10/17.

But for Ryan Gilbey, writing in the New Statesman, "In cinematic form it is no more than a gay Dead Poets Society, or The Breakfast Club with A-levels." Two out of five stars from the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw.

For Time Out, Dave Calhoun talks with Alan Bennett. So, too, does David Gritten for the Telegraph. Related: Alex Rayner on British schools onscreen in the Guardian.

"If you spend time in the company of loss, in its dark woods, it may lead you to interesting places. I was brought to read about and remember a time when the political life of America seemed charged with possibility, nuance, complexity, electric contradiction and the dawning of a new kind of democratic pluralism." Caroline, or Change is a musical at the National Theatre in London through early January. Tony Kushner recalls its gestation. Related: Leonard Jacobs in the New York Press on Wrestling With Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner.

Sam Shepard's got plays running on two coasts. Andy Propst reviews The Tooth of the Crime for the Voice and Robert Avila reviews The God of Hell for the SFBG. Also in the Voice, Joseph Mccombs found Mikel Rouse's The End of Cinematics "a technologically stunning production, with filmed projections on the scrim that are more real than holograms, but his destruction (it's not just deconstruction) of plot is ultimately isolating."

Online listening tip. On Fresh Air, Neil LaBute talks about his new one-play play, Wrecks, starring Ed Harris. It's at the Public Theatre through November 19.

Updates, 10/15: Tristram Hunt in the Observer: "The brilliance of Bennett's play - now opening as a film - lies in its deft needling of that liberal bugbear: the descent of education from the lofty transmission of knowledge to the racket of essays and exams. But despite the mesmerising script, award-winning performances and sheer cultural indulgence of The History Boys, its satire is misplaced."

And Philip French has a generally approving review of the film.

Update, 10/17: John Crace interviews Bennett for the Guardian.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:39 PM

Gillo Pontecorvo, 1919 - 2006.

Gillo Portecorvo
Italian filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo, who directed The Battle of Algiers, has died at the age of 86.... Twice an Oscar nominee, Pontecorvo also directed Marlon Brando in Queimada.

The BBC.

Pontecorvo directed only a handful of feature movies in a career that spanned decades, earning the nickname of "lazy director." But he remained involved in the world of cinema, directing documentaries and heading the Venice Film Festival for several years.

Alessandra Rizzo for the AP.

See also: Doug Cummings on Algiers, Maria Esposito's 2004 interview with Pontecorvo for WSWS, Gerald Peary's early 90s interview and the Wikipedia entry.

Updates, 10/14: Elisabetta Povoledo in the New York Times and Joe Leydon.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:40 AM | Comments (2)

Vancouver Dispatch. 4.

From the Vancouver International Film Festival, Tom Charity reviews the New Crowned Hope, which includes "the most astonishing film" he saw at the fest, and reports on the retirement of Tony Rayns.

New Crowned Hope I've now seen five of the six features commissioned under the banner of Peter Sellars's New Crowned Hope project in honor of Mozart's 250th birthday, and I'm bowled over by their quality.

None of these films concern Mozart directly, and save for a few bars in Tsai Ming-Liang's I Don't Want to Sleep Alone, you won't hear his music, either. Taking their cue from Sellars, the filmmakers celebrate the composer as a prodigious progressive life-force, an artist profoundly engaged with the changing world around him. When I mentioned this series to a certain broadsheet arts editor the other day, he responded dismissively, "It's Sellars hijacking Mozart to his own ends." Which is true, I suppose, but when those ends are all about sponsoring artistic expression across the globe, I'm not sure what the problem is.

Producers Simon Field and Keith Griffiths have cast their net far and wide for this project, backing Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, from Chad; Bahman Ghobadi from Iranian Kurdistan (neither represented in VIFF for logistical reasons); Tsai's film from Malaysia; Garin Nugroho, from Indonesia; Apichatpong (Joe) Weerasethakul, from Thailand; and Paz Encina, from Paraguay.

All the films are worth seeing (the Ghobadi picked up a prize at San Sebastian, so I take that one on trust), but Apichatpong's Syndromes and a Century is a rare pleasure, an experimental feature that is warm and playful, and every bit as strange and mysterious as you would expect from the director of Tropical Malady. Like that film, it is split into halves. The second part functions as a kind of crazy mirror image of the first, featuring some similar but not identical scenes played out in a different, more urban setting. An act of imaginative remembrance dedicated to the filmmaker's mother and father, Syndromes and a Century is resolutely personal and idiosyncratic, but never remotely hermetic - Joe is a filmmaker who keeps opening up new doors that nobody even noticed before.

Paraguayan Hammock

At first blush, Encina's debut feature, Paraguayan Hammock, looks much more stark and minimalist, comprising long, static shots of a peasant couple in a clearing, and an overdubbed circular conversation about a barking dog, the possibility of rain, and (its true subject) the boy who has gone off to war perhaps never to return.

This thoroughly assured first film doesn't put a foot wrong. The Beckett-like digressions assume more anguish with repetition and every cut counts. I was reminded of what Pedro Costa had said earlier in the week about how shot duration is the big question for filmmakers today. It's the internal music of film structure that reverberates so deeply here, in a movie that finally justifies the epithet "requiem."

That description also applies to Garin Nugroho's Opera Jawa, the only musical in the series, and quite simply the most astonishing film I saw at VIFF. Based on a traditional love story from the Ramayana, and featuring a (sometimes synthed-up) gamelan score, Opera Jawa is a love triangle about a beautiful wife, Siti, her (impotent?) husband, Setio, and a passionate admirer, Ludiro. Nugroho has shifted the context from a royal court to a peasant village, with Ludiro standing in for rapacious businessmen (a workers' uprising is percolating in the background), though in truth his courtship is more akin to amour fou: obsessive, ecstatic and extravagant.

To seduce Siti, he lays a red silk carpet at her doorstep and spreads it out across the fields to guide her to his bed. In another extraordinary sequence, Seito, a potter, literally puts his wife up on a pedestal - or at least, his potter's wheel - and bastes her head to toe in clay.

Opera Jawa

With its erotic choreography, saturated colours and rhapsodic, surreal folk imagery, the film might be compared to Powell and Pressburger or the kind of musical Paradjanov might have made in these circumstances.

Nugroho is a new filmmaker to me, but VIFF also screened Serambi, a 2005 non-fiction film on which he is credited as supervising director alongside three documentary makers. Beginning with appalling home movie footage of the December '04 tsunami pouring into and over Aceh, the film communicates the terrible aftermath of the disaster through the broken lives of the survivors. It's a heartrending and sometimes inspiring spectacle and, although the films are quite separate, it can't help but deepen our understanding of where Opera Jawa is coming from - just as Jia Zhangke's documentary Dong sheds new light on Still Life.

All these films (with the exception of Paraguayan Hammock) screened in VIFF's Dragons & Tigers section, which has been programmed by Tony Rayns since 1992. Rayns retires this year. There's every hope and expectation that he will be back next year in some capacity (he's staying on as programmer for the much smaller London Film Festival Asian selection) but it won't be the same: he won't be devoting four months of the year to panning for gold throughout East Asia, where he's long since become a regular fixture not only at festivals and film centers but at film schools, too.

A polemical programmer with a yen for originality, transgression and the offbeat, Rayns would make no apology for playing favorites (fans of Johnnie To, Park Chan-wook and Kim Ki-duk had best look elsewhere). If you doubt his taste, look at the careers he championed right from the off: for starters, Kitano Takeshi; Edward Yang and Wong Kar-Wai (one of these days we're going to get to read his "Wong on Wong" book). And before them, Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige.

Earlier this week in conversation with The Host director Bong Joon-ho, it emerged that Rayns had subtitled Bong's graduation film, a short that he wanted to show at Vancouver. He's shown everything he's done since, too. That story is hardly atypical. He was the first to bring Kore-eda to North American audiences; Lee Chang-Dong; Wisit Sasanatieng; Takashi Miike, and so on and so forth. Gratifyingly, many of the directors he has encouraged and supported have excelled themselves this year: Hong Sang-soo with Woman on the Beach; Tsai Ming-Liang; Bong; Jia Zhangke, and of course Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who also served on the D&T jury this year (awarding the prize to Todo, Todo, Teros, from the Philippines).

There's nothing with the depth and the range of the Dragons & Tigers program anywhere else in the West (it generally shows in the region of 40 features each year). With its large Asian population and multicultural sensibility, Vancouver has proved a fertile ground for this venture. The problem for VIFF director Alan Franey is that Rayns is irreplaceable, an impossible act to follow.

My own fondest memory of this year's festival will surely be the sight of Tony reluctantly cajoled into a spot of early morning karaoke, growling through "House of the Rising Sun" with harmonizing from New Crowned Hope producer Simon Field, VIFF programming consultant Jack Vermee and sundry reprobates. Talk about the music of cinema. It was enough to bring tears to a grown man's eyes.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:08 AM

VIFF. Awards.

Another dispatch from the Vancouver International Film Festival will be up shortly, but as it wraps today, the festival has announced this year's awards:

Mystic Ball Audience Awards:

Juried Awards:

Earlier: The Dragons & Tigers Awards were addressed on Wednesday: "VIFF, 10/11."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:58 AM

Interview. Douglas McGrath.

Infamous "Since multiple literary lives are the norm in book publishing, why not in the movies?" asks AO Scott in the New York Times. "There is no reason to choose between Bennett Miller's Capote, which came out almost exactly a year ago, and Douglas McGrath's Infamous, which opens today... [B]oth stand out above the biopic pack. Infamous, the picture under consideration here, based on [George] Plimpton's book, is well worth your attention. It is quick-witted, stylish and well acted.... No wonder [Truman Capote] has proved so attractive to filmmakers and ambitious actors: he was, supremely and enigmatically, his own invention, and now he's theirs to reinvent."

The comparisons, of course, are inevitable, but in her talk with Douglas McGrath at the main site, Hannah Eaves leaves those questions for others and instead focuses on the implications of the director's original title for his film, "Every Word is True."

Updated through 10/16.

Related: Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly: "As many have noted, Infamous is almost certain to play to a smaller audience than Capote, the market for screen biographies of gay 20th-century literary icons having already been effectively tapped out. But the makers of Infamous should rest assured that even under less competitive circumstances, they wouldn't have had to worry about having a hit on their hands. Theirs is the better Capote film, yes, but also the less easily digestible one, the more eccentric one and - yes - the gayer one.... [I]t's the one closest in spirit to Capote himself, the fabulist whose very conception of In Cold Blood as a 'nonfiction novel' stemmed from the wisdom that reality is rarely as tantalizing as fantasy."

"I can't deny that Infamous has dramaturgical strengths, whether or not it gets the facts right," writes Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader. "As a statement against capital punishment, the final execution sequence is devastating. And as a portrait of Capote's New York jet-set milieu, the movie offers loads of cruel fun, though it could have been even more critical.... Ultimately, as a cautionary tale about fictionalized journalism, it's a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black."

"The sense in which the movie really shines is in its portrait of milieus," writes the Austin Chronicle's Marjorie Baumgarten.

In the Stranger, Andrew Wright discovers that "Infamous quickly establishes its own rhythm, shuffling with ease between an amusing look at New York social butterflyism and the darker, sardonic Kansas segments, aided by stellar performances from Daniel Craig and Jeff Daniels. Even better still - somewhat surprisingly - is Sandra Bullock as Harper Lee, whose unpushy, Southern-fried minimalism proves an ideal sounding board for the flamboyance of the main character."

The Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan finds "the picture gives off a tone of arch stylization that plays as artificial, overwrought and off-putting."

"[I]f the tragedy in Capote was austere, here it's sentimental," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat.

For the AV Club's Tasha Robinson, "it's impossible to avoid seeing it in light of its Oscar-winning predecessor, and as the less-timely runner-up, it can only come off badly by comparison."

Earlier: Kristin M Jones in Film Comment and "Venice. Infamous."

Updates, 10/14: "[M]ore Answered Prayers than In Cold Blood, writes writes Jim Emerson. "That in itself is fine, and for the first half hour or so of "Infamous" I found myself thinking: "Why not?'" But: "In the end, Infamous turns out to be the third-best movie built around the murders of the Clutter family of Holcomb, Kan, in 1959."

"What a rotten, rotten movie," growls Ray Pride at Movie City Indie. "Infamous reeks of curdled cosmopolitanism, with the co-writer of Bullets over Broadway taking a succession of eccentric potshots at his protagonist. McGrath's got a callous, jaded eye for the complicated writer and a patrician disdain for the motley on parade in his fourth feature. (Call it 'Bullets over Holcomb.')"

"Infamous is not only a much more searching take, but also at times a more visually imaginative one, too," counters Kenji Fujishima at the House Next Door. "[F]or all its unwieldy qualities, Infamous is ultimately the richer movie."

In the NYT, Ginia Bellafonte talks with McGrath and Sigourney Weaver about "The Lighter Side of Capote, and the Ladies He Lunched With."

Update, 10/16: "In coming up with a game plan to sell Infamous, the handful of executives at Warner Independent, which is part of Warner Brothers Entertainment, walked a fine line between two conflicting strategies: piggybacking on the success of Capote and emphasizing the differences between the two films," writes Jeremy W Peters in the New York Times. "So commercials for Infamous flick at Capote, telling audiences that 'There's more to the story than you know.'"

Posted by dwhudson at 5:54 AM

October 12, 2006

49 Up.

49 Up "My own attachment is proprietary, nostalgic and narcissistic," writes the LA Weekly's Ella Taylor in the best piece yet on Michael Apted's series. "I grew up in London at roughly the same time as and in similar circumstances to some of the 7 Upsters who fell on the wrong side of what were then rigidly defined social tracks," but that alone only partially explains the insight of this:

In the end, whether you see the Up series as a great humanistic experiment, an exercise in cultural domination or, as John ruefully puts it, another episode of Big Brother, its pleasures are narrative and emotional rather than sociological. There's something deeply satisfying about watching life spans play out in all their banality and drama, with all their surprising left turns and leaps out of character, and their shedding of early miseries. In its way, the series is more refutation than confirmation of the Jesuit motto that guided its first episode: "Give me the child until he is 7, and I will show you the man." Yes, the rich stay rich, but if ever there was living proof of the limits of privilege in determining happiness, it's these films.

In the New York Times, AO Scott calls 49 Up and the series as a whole "one of the most remarkable experiments in the history of cinema." Turns out, the subjects' "lives reveal less about the British class system than about marriage, family relations and the slow turns of the life cycle.... Rarely has ordinary existence seemed so multifaceted and enigmatic, even in its banal everyday details."

Carina Chocano, writing in the Los Angeles Times, finds it "more than a deeply satisfying movie; it's a reminder of the wonder contained in ordinary lives." More from Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper and Aaron Hillis at Premiere.

At Cinematical, Ryan Stewart interviews Apted; Erik Davis writes the review. The Reeler listens in on Apted's NYFF press conference.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:16 PM | Comments (4)

CIFF, 10/12.

Chicago International Film Festival The Chicago International Film Festival has been rolling along for a week now and rolls on for another, through October 19. Jonathan Rosenbaum isn't exactly playing the Chamber of Commerce role many critics feel the need to slip into once the hometown festival opens. On Friday, he wrote in the Chicago Reader that the fest's "programming this year seems to suffer, as usual, from minimal clout, bad timing, disorganization, and the tendency of its better programmers to move on." Nonetheless: "Among the films in the festival I've seen that I can highly recommend - apart from Stranger Than Fiction, showing opening night, with Dustin Hoffman and Will Ferrell scheduled to attend - are Oliveira's delicious Belle Toujours, Chabrol's timely Comedy of Power, the startling yet charming Shortbus, the mysterious Slumming, and two provocative Thai films, Syndromes and a Century and Invisible Waves. And there are undoubtedly some things I don't like that you will."

Meanwhile, Mike Hertenstein has been blogging furiously at Flickerings. Taking his amusing ratings system into account, it does seem, as you read his sharply written reviews, that most of the films he's caught so far - about three a day - have been worthier viewing experiences than a Bears game. And that's saying bunches.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:12 PM | Comments (1)

Critics. Good news, bad news.

Roger Ebert "The good news is that my rehabilitation is a profound education in the realities of the daily lives we lead, and my mind is still capable of being delighted by cinematic greatness," writes Roger Ebert at his site. He's written his first review in months (of The Queen) and he plans to cover the Oscars and Cannes and stage his Overlooked Film Festival in between. Very good news indeed.

The bad news isn't really news anymore (it's been an odd week for the Daily), but bears noting nonetheless. "[I]t's come time to realize that for those who want a truly alternative newsweekly, throw in the towel, accept the end, the Voice is dead." Last week, Anthony Kaufman recalled some of Dennis Lim's finest moments as film editor and critic at what was once a vital read. More from Ed Park, who asks, "What is this grand scheme that the Voice's new(ish) owners have that involves getting rid of the most talented writer-editor I've ever worked with?"

J Hoberman hangs on, and we find him this week reviewing Terry Gilliam's "courageously repellent" Tideland, a film that "seems to have been made for rubbernecking. Gilliam has suffered more than his share of butchered projects, but with this exercise in kamikaze auteurism, he appears to have made exactly the mess he wanted." Fortunately, there's more from J Hoberman, too, to point to in other entries coming up shortly.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:15 PM

Nobel. Orhan Pamuk.

Orhan Pamuk: Istanbul Orhan Pamuk, "who in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures," has won this year's Nobel Prize in Literature.

The New York Times has collected its reviews of Pamuk's books as well as related articles and an interview on one handy page.

More browsing: an excerpt from the Paris Review interview, his page at Random House, the Wikipedia entry, this summer's brief "Time 100" profile and the complete review's link-laden pages on Istanbul, Snow and My Name is Red.

One film-related note: Pamuk wrote the screenplay for Ömer Kavur's 1991 film, Gizli Yüz (Secret Face, 1991).

Updated through 10/15.

Updates, 10/15: Robert Crum in the Observer: "Rarely in modern times has a novelist found the voice to tell his people the daring, possibly transgressive, stories about themselves that they crave. Not since the days of dissident literature in the USSR has a writer been so much the spokesperson for a generation. In Turkey this has brought the adulation of the young. This is all the more remarkable because Pamuk is hardly an easy writer."

Mary Jo Murphy illustrates this point with excerpts from Pamuk's work. Also in the NYT: Charles McGrath's profile.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:31 AM | Comments (2)

New York Dispatch. 9.

From the New York Film Festival, running through Sunday, Andrew Grant on the latest film from Alain Resnais.

NYFF 44 It's a shame that Alain Resnais's producers have chosen to release his latest film stateside under the ever-so-British moniker Private Fears in Public Places, especially when Resnais's preferred title, Coeurs, is as succinct and poetic as the film itself. This is Resnais's second interpretation of an Alan Ayckbourn play, though, unlike 1992's five-hour double feature Smoking/No Smoking, which took great pains to capture its Yorkshire roots, screenwriter Jean-Michel Ribes has managed to transpose this English comedy of manners into a decidedly Gallic drama.

A dark doppelgänger to 1997's On Connaît la Chanson, Coeurs also follows the lives of loosely connected Parisians worrying about real-estate and relationships, but without the recourse of having the same old songs to fall back on. This is a portrait of loneliness - of six melancholic characters desperate to connect, but trapped by obligations, illusions and their own long-standing solitude. It's somehow apropos that the film is set in Bercy, the vastly renovated and modernized Paris district that lacks the sense of history one normally associates with the city of love. It's an area where new walls divide old spaces - factitious separations that serve to keep people apart. A chilly environment rendered even colder by a never-ending snowstorm.

Coeurs

Of the six actors in the film, all but two have a history with Resnais, and the film is a reminder of his strength as a director of actors. A true ensemble piece, no one performance outshines another - even the often-stiff Lambert Wilson turns in a remarkable performance as a career soldier whose relationship is crumbling due to alcoholism and malaise. As his forty-something fiancée who is unable to comprehend (let alone accept) the gravity of her situation, Laura Morante brings a heartbreaking sense of pathos and desperation to the role, which more than once resulted in some serious welling up.

Renais regulars Pierre Arditi and Sabine Azéma surpass their performances in Smoking/No Smoking, here portraying a stoic bartender caring for his dying father, and a seemingly chaste Bible-reading real estate agent who also works as a night nurse for the dying man. She seeks strength from her religion, but her loneliness leads her to a unique interpretation of Christian charity. Veteran actor Claude Rich plays Arditi's father, though we never actually see him - as if Resnais is refusing to accept his own mortality. Rounding out the cast is André Dussollier and Isabelle Carré as a brother and sister who seemed destined to fail at finding romance.

Though an adaptation of a stage play, there's an undeniably cinematic quality to Coeurs, even if the action is contained to a small handful of sets. Resnais's camera moves gently and gracefully through scenes, and cinematographer Eric Gautier's use of Cinemascope in such tight spaces is masterful. The dissolves to snow at the end of each scene (with fades to black saved for act changes) give us a sense of omniscience - as if we were viewing these characters in a massive snowglobe.

Coeurs

At 84 years old, it's hard to say how many more films Alain Resnais has in him, but Coeurs shares the same elegiac tone as John Huston's cinematic farewell, The Dead, which similarly ends with a snowstorm. His best director nod at Venice this year is a perfect bookend to his 1961 Golden Lion for Last Year at Marienbad. Alain Resnais, once a purely idea-driven artist, has now become a master of la comedie humaine.

The gaggle of young 'uns I saw the film with had little use (and borderline contempt) for the film, and found themselves lacking empathy for the woes of a half-dozen forty- to sixty-somethings. (In their defense, I must admit that fifteen years ago I might have found this equally as insufferable.) Yet is it an age thing? I can't say for sure, but Coeurs is the only film at the festival that managed to provoke tears, and it left me emotionally drained. This is Resnais at the top of his craft - a somber, beautiful, mature work that ranks among his best.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:52 AM | Comments (1)

Pordenone Dispatch. 2.

At the Giornate del Cinema Muto, Sean Axmaker's been enjoying DW Griffith's forgotten players and one of cinema's first muscleman heroes.

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto My "discovery" this fest is a pair of Griffith performers largely lost in the shadows of Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess. Robert Harron, best known as the boy in the modern section of Intolerance, is the shy boy turned country minister in True Heart Susie, and the delightful Clarine Seymour is the conniving flirt from Chicago who lures him from Gish with wiles not lost on the audience. Both actors died young, before their careers had a chance to catch fire - Seymour from an emergency operation, Harron from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, both in 1920. But before that they were featured in a handful of Griffith features, often together, and they make a great team.

Robert Harron Griffith's war propaganda drama The Girl Who Stayed Home (1919), a pro-draft film ostensibly starring Carol Dempster and Richard Barthelmess, is dominated by Harron (as Barthelmess's wise guy younger brother, a college lady killer nicknamed "The Oily Peril") and Seymour (as his sometime Cutie Sweetheart, a proto-flapper who lives off the presents of her often older admirers). Given the billing, it seems odd that the actual girl who stays home is Seymour, who has a complete change of character (though not personality - her feet still tap out jazz and ragtime while knitting socks for the boys on the front) when her boyfriend Harron transforms from a fop to a hero in basic training. Their energy brings the film alive and Dempster (as a French-raised daughter of a Confederate veteran) just disappears into the background while the Huns menace her purity.

Harron is unexpectedly effective as a charmer of a Mexican bandito - the good bad guy that silent westerns loved so much, though in this case, he's more of a rogue than an actual bandit - in Griffith's Scarlet Days (1919), an otherwise routine western melodrama starring Carol Dempster as the eastern girl come west to find her mother, who has supported her from afar as a hearty barmaid in a rowdy frontier town, and Ralph Graves (looking like the lost Duke cousin from Dukes of Hazzard) as the wholesome Virginia boy destined to be her boy. But Harron dominates and Seymour is a firecracker as the feisty little Mexican barmaid (and little she is - so diminutive you wonder how she can pack so much energy) who loves the bandit.


Maciste in Cabiria Cabiria didn't just launch a thousand lavish historical epics, it launched the cinema's first muscleman hero. Maciste, the loyal slave of the ostensible hero, was by far the most endearing character in the film. Played with jolly passion by Bartolomeo Pagano, he was spun off into his own series of films, playing a kind of proto-Santo (the Mexican wrestler turned movie icon) who is the same person onscreen and off, a big teddy bear of a hero who jumps to the rescue of citizens in distress.

In the first solo outing, Maciste (1915), he's all but called down from the screen by a desperate young woman and, outfitted in a suit that just makes his chest and shoulders and timber arms look so much bigger, he launches into a kind of "Perils of Pauline" adventure, full of cliffhangers and decidedly creative escapes from the repeated ambushes and captures launched by the bad guys. In the later Maciste in Love (1919), the lovesick lug falls for the daughter of a millionaire and goes off to search for her when she's kidnapped by enemies of her industrialist father. Through them all, he radiates warmth and joy, as if nothing gives him greater pleasure than getting the upper hand on a gang of thugs, or concocting an escape that involves butting his head through the ceiling of his prison - while he's still bound head to foot!

This is the real birth of the muscleman genre that made a comeback with the 1958 Hercules with Steve Reeves. In fact, while the unending peplum knock-offs arrived stateside under the Hercules name, in Italy, most them were actually Maciste films, reviving this beloved character. However, none of the subsequent actors succeeded in recapturing the big kid charm of Pagano.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:08 AM

October 11, 2006

VIFF, 10/11.

VIFF 25 Jurors Robert Koehler, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Jessica Winter have announced that the winner of the Dragons & Tigers Award at this years Vancouver International Film Festival goes to John Torres's Todo Todo Teros, with special mentions going to Kim Kyong-mook's Faceless Things and Kim Gok and Kim Sun's Geo-lobotomy.

David Bordwell's got notes on five terrific Asian films he's seen so far, including Faceless Things: "Kim Kyong-Mook is only in his early twenties, but his ambition and daring make him a filmmaker to watch." Also, an appreciation of Tony Rayns as he steps down as as coordinator of the Dragons and Tigers competition.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian's Johnny Ray Huston: "The weekend is a time for perversion and penance, so what better way to begin mine at the Vancouver International Film Festival than with The Pervert's Guide to Cinema, a Slavoj Zizek-guided psychoanalytic tour through the works of Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, and others? And what could be a more monastic way to end the weekend than with the devotional cinema of Jacques Rivette's 12-plus hour long Out 1: Noli me tangere? In between, I caught Shortbus and witnessed the full frenzy of a Beatlemania-like response to Bong Joon-ho and his totally awesome monster flick The Host." Related: Gareth Evans interviews Zizek for Time Out: "'I have not seen it,' Zizek declares. 'I'm just terrified by myself on screen...'"

The War Symphonies More VIFF interviews at Hollywood Bitchslap: David Lammers (Northern Light), Rajko Grlic (Border Post), Daniel O'Conner (Run Robot Run), Larry Weinstein (Mozartballs and The War Symphonies), Paul Yule (The Photographer, His Wife, Her Lover), Anne Makepeace (Rain in a Dry Land), Greg Hamilton (Mystic Ball) and Jasmine Dellal (When the Road Bends).

Posted by dwhudson at 3:12 PM

New York Dispatch. 8.

In his first dispatch from the NTFF's Views from the Avant-Garde sidebar, Michael Sicinski focuses on the archival restorations.

NYFF 44 Some longtime New York cinephiles have told me that the New York Film Festival's ten-year-old Views from the Avant-Garde sidebar was originally conceived so that lovers of experimental cinema (including those who make it) wouldn't be subject to abuse from festival-going "movie buffs" who couldn't abide the stuff. Before the inauguration of this annual weekend jamboree in the Lincoln Center's well-appointed Walter Reade Theater, unsuspecting patrons heading to Alice Tully Hall to sample the latest from Claude Chabrol or the Taviani brothers might be treated to a pre-feature short from modernist masters like Robert Breer or Stan Brakhage. Apparently, some people didn't appreciate these thoughtful lagniappes from the Film Society. (A popular story among NYFF veterans describes near-riots during 1983's screening of Ericka Beckman's You the Better. If the stories are true, I humbly request a 25th anniversary revival at Views 2008, as a marker of how far cine-civilization has come.)

So now we find Views from the Avant-Garde in its tenth year, and although it's always all about the screenings (I'll get to those in just a second), one thing that becomes clearer with each new edition is that Views serves an invaluable social function for the experimental film community. There are festivals and screenings throughout the calendar year (although formally edgy cinema could always use more screening opportunities), but in terms of taking the temperature of the experimental media scene(s), bringing 30- and 40-year master filmmakers into dialogue with fresh new voices, and as an excuse to see most of your friends from around the world all gathered in one spot for a single hectic weekend, Views serves as a vital yearly punctuation mark for the a-g field. And whether or not it's true that Views came into being in order to keep seemingly incompatible cine-worlds (and their partisans) safe from one another (and I suspect this is just a story certain New Yorkers like to tell just because it sounds good), Views itself is catholic and capacious, just as open to new work by Godard and Guy Maddin as new work by Stephanie Barber or George Kuchar. Calling this jam-packed two-day film orgy a "sidebar" hardly makes sense anymore. Under the stewardship of Mark McElhatten and Gavin Smith, there can be no doubt that Views has, as they say, "arrived." It is, at the very least, the premiere showcase for experimental film and video in North America. So, ten years on, the question becomes, how do you keep it fresh and exciting once you're an "institution"?

Anger: Kustom Kar Kommandos The answer in 2006 was rather simple: history and context. Although previous editions of Views have highlighted older works by established filmmakers, usually in conjunction with the films' archival restoration and preservation, Views 2004 and 2005 have provided increased screening time to freshly restored and/or underseen avant-garde masterworks, affording them pride of place and allowing them to implicitly set the terms for understanding the newer work on display. And lest this sound like some dutiful kowtow before the canon ("to know where we are going, we must look at where we have been, yadda yadda yadda"), let it be said that this year's restorations provided the most exciting, revelatory, and all-round mind-expanding cinematic experiences in this year's festival. An evening devoted to UCLA's 35mm archival prints of four key films by Kenneth Anger was a rousing, crowd-pleasing experience. Anger, wearing a New York Rangers jersey with the R and the S removed (think about it), was a consummate showman, but the films were the real stars. Scorpio Rising (1963) and Kustom Kar Kommandos (1965) have never looked or sounded better, but the true revelation was Rabbit's Moon (1971), restored and reprinted from the original, seldom-seen 35mm nitrate master. With its icy clarity, its deep blacks and midnight blues, it seemed less like a film than emanation from another world. If you've seen this film in the available 16mm prints only, you truly haven't seen it.

Saul Levine Restored Even more inspiring for me were the Super-8-to-16mm blow-ups of five key films by under-acknowledged master Saul Levine. Levine's work marries the camera-stylo intimacy of Super-8 with a busy, meticulous editing style, resulting in gently throbbing, fragmentary images that treat the movie screen like a bi- and trifurcated expressionist canvas. This dialectic is the source of the perceptual and emotional power of Levine's work, the tension between the jewel-like and the expansively rough-hewn. Several films in the program, such as Note to Pati (1969) and Note to Poli (1982-83), are small cine-letters whose energy implies an opening outward, connecting the personal and the social. This is nowhere more evident than in Levine's medium-length New Left Note (1968-1982), a deeply personal document not just of the various liberation movements of the late 60s and early 70s, but of the struggle to find a new representational language adequate to the utopian desires those movements articulated. Levine, a leading member of SDS at the time, uses cinema to literally articulate the various social-justice struggles of the day (Democratic Socialist, anti-war, Black Power, Women's Liberation, AIM), to connect them through editing to display not only the necessity of their political solidarity but also the shared gestures, the common comportment, how bodies resisting their subaltern position move through the world in similar ways. As Levine's introduction made clear, New Left Note and all of his films have continued relevance. If power functions in part by keeping people and ideas isolated and apart, Levine's pulsating cement splices serve as a bracing rejoinder.

Brakhage: Cat's Cradle Other classic works and rediscovered gems were sprinkled throughout the group shows, often resonating with the contemporary films and videos in surprising, revelatory ways. This past weekend audiences were treated to three new preservation prints of films by Stan Brakhage, part of an ongoing film-by-film restoration project at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. (And you thought their only function was handing out Oscars to simple-minded treatises on race relations!) Two of the films on display are among Brakhage's thirty or so best-known films. 1959's Cat's Cradle exemplifies Brakhage's first major phase, with its rhythmic, lyrically fragmented group portraiture (it features Stan and Jane Brakhage, Carolee Schneemann and the late James Tenney), its glow of domestic intimacy, and its searing reds and oranges. The Riddle of Lumen from 1972 represents a somewhat expanded palette, as well as a seemingly free-form montage structure that is itself the riddle. Over the course of viewing Lumen, its complex rhymes, counterpoints and gentle collisions reveal the web of associations Brakhage has constructed. Calling to mind the later films of Warren Sonbert (on which the film was no doubt an influence), Lumen is a compendium of all manner of luminosity, from the faintest, most transient shadows across a wall, to the densest nighttime blacks pierced by a lone headlight or a distant star. As such, it's a film we're lucky to have preserved, since it would barely register on video. Finally, Brakhage's 1981 Nodes is a hand-painted work that reveals the early gestures and tonalities that would evolve into the final phase of his career. Light pastels collide and maintain relative transparency; instead of the thick impastos of his later painted films, Nodes weaves a delicate skein not unlike stained glass or a series of abstract watercolor works.

Paolo Gioli: The Perforated Operator If the "revivals and rediscoveries" segment of Views 2006 had a low point, it would be program six, a collection of films by Italy's Paolo Gioli. Having seen three of the five films presented, I think I can safely say that, while Gioli is a figure of interest, his presentation here does not represent the discovery of an unknown master. While his film The Perforated Operator (1979) evinces an engagement with the materiality of the filmstrip (in particular, the sprocket holes that punctuate the now-obsolete 9.5mm film gauge when it is introduced into 16mm), Gioli is no cousin to Owen Land or even Austria's Sixpack crew. The closest relative to this film would be the media-excavations of fellow Italians Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi, although Gioli's hodgepodge imagery has more in common with the Surrealists. His 1989 film Quando l'occhio trema [When the eye trembles] is an explicit homage to Luis Buñuel's masterpiece Un Chien Andalou, but while that earlier film trades in nightmare logic and gender anxiety, Gioli's work tediously fixates on the human eye in distress, resulting in a film that is both overly literal and inadequately rigorous. The most recent Gioli film on the program, 1992's Filmarilyn, appropriates images from one of Marilyn Monroe's final photo sessions and animates them with staccato montage. While the film could have served to temporarily bring the tragic icon back to life, Gioli's actual approach is flippant and even sadistic, emphasizing Monroe's cheesecake poses as a kind of cheap flirtation. Perhaps Gioli wants to say something about how images of sex symbols serve to objectify rather than empower them, and wants to critique Monroe's complicity in this objectification. But Filmarilyn seems hypocritical, trading on Monroe's sex appeal to infuse Gioli's work with interest value while mocking her "dumb blonde" posing. (Compare with Bruce Conner's melancholy Marilyn Times Five, a complex meditation on a woman trapped by her own image.) Clumsy, undisciplined, and really quite ugly, these three Gioli films didn't entice me to stay for the remaining two, although consensus seems to be that the program's longest film, 1970's Images Disturbed by an Intense Parasite, was in fact the best.

Sharits Among the other revivals and restorations of note, the final program in Views 2006 showcased one preservation print each by Paul and Greg Sharits. Anthology Film Archives preserved these films, and although Paul Sharits's standing as one of avant-garde film's all-stars should need no further defense, his brother's work remains little-known. In his introduction to the final program, McElhatten noted that Paul was a tireless champion of his brother's work, and based on Greg's Untitled #9, this was for good reason. This deceptively lyrical handheld Super-8 film treats abstraction as a kind of willed event, a deliberate use of the camera as an active tool for preventing objects from optically resolving into their familiar forms. This, of course, is the dictionary definition of "abstraction," as true in painting as in cinema. But Greg Sharits's film uses the camera as a kind of microscope, getting way too close to its intimate surroundings in order to break up our understanding of them. Many filmmakers use personal cinema to release the pure color and texture of the everyday world, but Sharits's Untitled #9 somehow seems to dramatize this process as a kind of struggle, one we are a part of over the course of the ten-minute running time and not a predigested, aestheticist fait accompli. Greg Sharits is without a doubt a "subject for future research," to borrow Sarris's nomenclature and, thanks to Anthology's efforts, that research can be conducted. (Unfortunately, I had to catch my flight home, so I was unable to see 1975's Apparent Motion, the Paul Sharits film in the last Views program.)

Ernie Gehr: Serene Velocity Finally, the Museum of Modern Art offered Views the New York debut of its 35mm blow-up of Ernie Gehr's masterpiece Serene Velocity (1970), whose rich colors and increased depth of field (particularly the back end of the hallway, with the sunrise through the Binghamton University windows now, well, clear as day) further belie the film's reputation as "austere." It is a feast for the senses and, paired with Gehr's criminally underseen 1976 masterwork Table, reaffirmed the purely aesthetic pleasures to be gleaned from Gehr's so-called structuralism of the 70s.

The Gehr program also featured two new digital works. Having now spent several years exploring the possibilities of DV, one senses that Gehr has attained a new level of comfort and flexibility with the new medium. The Morse Code Operator (or, The Monkey Wrench) is a slyly comic, arguably turntablist remix of a segment of Griffith's 1911 short The Lonedale Operator, or more accurately, of the National Film Preservation Foundation's DVD of that film. Working with the specific problems and properties of watching a film (particularly a "distant early movie") in the DVD format, Gehr not only jumps, skips and pauses around the blurred microseconds of the film, he also treats the NFPF disc's piano accompaniment as a tactile material to manipulate, resulting in a fractured, clanking soundtrack not unlike Steve Reich playing a toy piano. Although the video bears more than a passing resemblance to the stutter films of Martin Arnold, Gehr's exploration of "home video" as a moving-image epistemology sets the new work apart. And while individual film preservationists certainly deserve to be singled out for their contributions to Views 2006 - UCLA's Ross Lipman for the Angers, Bill Brand for his work on the Levines, Mark Toscano of AMPAS for his painstaking work on Brakhage's films, and Anthology Film Archives' Andy Lampert for the Sharits brothers' films - Gehr's appropriation of the Treasures from America's Film Archives disc reminds us of someone whose unwavering commitment has resulted in so many preservation projects in the experimental film world, and whose contributions to Views 2006, while not readily apparent, were in fact paramount. Of course, I refer to Jeff Lambert of the NFPF, whose yeoman efforts on behalf of avant-garde film preservation will mean future generations will have the opportunity to marvel at these astonishing, consciousness-altering achievements. With all apologies to Wong Kar-wai, I eagerly await Views' 50th anniversary in 2046.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:23 PM

Lone Pine Dispatch. 1.

In the first of two dispatches, Brian Darr samples the offerings at this past weekend's unique Lone Pine Film Festival.

Lone Pine Film Festival

Living in a densely-packed city like San Francisco, it can be easy to lose sight of just how physical geography shapes the communities that humans have built. But spending a few days in a town like the tiny Lone Pine, CA, nestled deep in the Owens River Valley between the glacier-capped Sierra Nevada mountain range to the west and the lower and dryer but just as rugged Inyo Mountains to the east, I feel I'm constantly being reminded of the power of landscape. Everything seems to originate in these mountains: their streams provided the water for agriculture here back when no one but the Paiute Indians were practicing it, until 1913 when the Valley's ranchers and farmers (whites who'd by then driven out most of their Paiute neighbors) lost the battle to prevent the Los Angeles Aqueduct from transporting it to another county 230 miles to its southwest. You know the story, sort of, if you've seen Chinatown, and somewhat better if you've seen Los Angeles Plays Itself.

Enabled partly by this grab, Los Angeles County increased its population and swiftly became a less and less appropriate place to shoot an outdoor film like a Western or a British military adventure. In 1920, Paramount filmed a Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle feature called The Round-Up in the Alabama Hills at the foot of the Sierras just outside Lone Pine. Since then, hundreds of Hollywood productions have been shot in and around the town, enough to inspire a one-of-a-kind film festival devoted to showing only films shot in a single location. The Lone Pine Film Festival is now in its 17th year and going strong.

The mountains also brought me, indirectly. I first heard of this festival ten years ago when visiting the area with my dad, an avid Sierra backpacker for whom Lone Pine was often the site of a first taste of civilization (i.e., pizza) after a week or more in the mountains. Neither of us had traveled to the festival (or any festival that takes much more than crossing a bridge to travel to) and we decided to make this the year to finally go, at least to the final day and a half of the three-day event. Being used to seeing Lone Pine in the sleepy summer months, it was eye-opening to see the town with its motel rooms filled up (as they had been for months; we camped), its streets packed with parked cars, and its sidewalks bustling with people, a good portion dressed as if they'd just walked out of Buffalo Bill's Wild West show.

Bad Day at Black Rock It's clear that not everyone who descends on the town this weekend is here to see any films. With organized activities including tours, a parade, an evening concert, celebrity panels and book signings, a memorabilia hall, a museum and even a closing campfire, the festival also functions as one of the region's biggest annual parties. And given the gorgeous weather and panoramas, the idea of sitting in a theater watching 16mm prints and DVD projections has limited appeal, even for a cinephile like myself. I only saw four feature-length films, far fewer than I'd anticipated. One of them, Bad Day at Black Rock, is apparently a perennial festival favorite, perhaps because it so vividly recalls an important piece of history located twenty miles to the North, the Manzanar war relocation center that imprisoned more than 10,000 Japanese Americans (mostly US citizens) between 1942 and 1945.

At the time of its release, Bad Day at Black Rock was one of the most expensive films to have been made in the Lone Pine area, as an entire street set was built outside of town. If you haven't seen it, Spencer Tracy is a war vet on a mysterious and very personal mission to an off-the-map outpost called Black Rock, where he's met with aggressive inhospitality from certain of the inhabitants (Robert Ryan, Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine) and overwhelming apathy from most of the others (Walter Brennan, Dean Jagger.)

Revisiting this phenomenally cast Super-Western, I was reminded of the ways in which it doesn't feel much like a Western at all. A complaint from certain purists is that it's too modern, as it is set in late 1945 and deals not with the physical frontier of American manifest destiny but the psychological frontiers of a bigoted society. The time period is less alien to my conception of a Western, though, than the way that it resembles a constricted chamber piece. Opening and closing shots showing off the scenery stand in contrast to director John Sturges's choices in staging the majority of the film (lots of medium-to-long shots in indoor locations), which combined with the diction of the dialogue creates something feeling like an Arthur Miller play in Cinemascope. None of the characters truly live in the landscape, like the typical nomadic gunslingers found in so many Westerns. Instead, the topography and vast stretches of wilderness painted by the mountain ranges in the distance mainly serve to cut Black Rock off from civilized society, perhaps to reassure cinema audiences of 1955 of their moral superiority to the xenophobes in the "stix," or to chastise viewers about any narrow attitudes they might hold within themselves but feel ready to isolate and let wither.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:35 AM | Comments (1)

Pordenone Dispatch. 1.

Sean Axmaker is loving it. Here are a few highlights from the event informally known as the Pordenone Silent Film Festival, with more to come tomorrow.

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto "I've said it before and I'll say it again: Welcome home!"

David Robinson's benediction at the opening night event of the 25th Giornate del Cinema Muto felt especially welcoming after a five-year absence from my favorite film festival in the world. Robinson played the host all opening day, darting from post to post at the Giornate headquarters and greeting almost all who walked through the door, and his enthusiasm is indicative of the spirits around him. It does feel like a return home for so many who make the trek year after year, and I too have been reacquainting myself with folks I haven't seen since I returned home after my last festival.

In the past 24 years, Le Giornate has established itself as the most impressive, most influential and most prestigious silent film festival in the world. Sacile is a lovely little burg with a gorgeous old-town center, where the festival venues are situated. Walking between theaters, or uptown to the bustling book and memorabilia sale at the Film Fair, takes you along cobblestone streets, past centuries old buildings, over two rivers which cut through the town like shallow canals from its namesake, and through narrow old town city streets.

The guests largely bus in from Pordenone about 12 km (8 miles) away every morning and bus back late at night, leaving little time for sleep for the diehards. Top notch live piano accompaniment accompany almost every screening, with special musical events every night featuring more elaborate musical offerings. Prints come from archives all over the world and intertitles are in a multitude of languages, depending on the source as much as on the country. (One American film I saw was saved from a French print and featured Dutch intertitles.) The language barrier is solved with radio headsets offering live English and Italian translations of foreign language intertitles. An inspired solution, even if the translations are at times clumsy and rushed.

The 25th Edition may be the last in Sacile - the old flagship theater has finally been rebuilt - but no one is committing to anything yet. Problems with a trial screening in the new theater are the buzz of fest, and if those glitches (which involve terrible sight lines and obstructions, among other issues) are not solved by the next fest, we'll surely be back in Sacile.

The silent cinema's penchant for idealizing the innocence of women through characters whose naïvete borders on idiocy was represented in the opening night Musical Event, DW Griffith's True Heart Susie (1919). Griffith helped transform ingénue Lillian Gish into the epitome of American purity (if not Puritanism) but also, in their finest collaborations, made her a figure of pluck and perseverance and fortitude. Susie is a sentimental nothing compared to Way Down East or Orphans of the Storm, due in no small part to a rather mundane script, but it has its charms even as Gish plays the sweet, dreamy country girl as an eternal child oblivious to the social realities around her. Even the intertitles have a tendency to mock her blithe obliviousness, as if Griffith were tired of the sentimentalizing cinema he does so well.

Mary Miles Minter But such a simplistic heroine is nothing compared to Mary Miles Minter in The Innocence of Lisette (1916), a featherweight farce that begins as an orphan fairy tale, with Minter adopted by a bent, grieving millionaire widower, and then takes an abrupt turn into the kinds of bizarre misunderstandings that form the basis of too many comedies. She finds a baby on the doorstep and blankly tells all it is hers, leading to unsurprising consequences. Minter, notorious for her role in the death of William Desmond Taylor a few years later, is mostly forgotten as an actress. Despite the silliness of the script, she proves to be a charismatic and appealing young actress, the teenage girl-woman so prevalent in silent cinema.

Masterpieces were in short supply this first weekend, where cinema archeology was more on order than cinema hierarchy. Even the second night Musical Event, Safety Last!, is hardly the most original or the most endearing Harold Lloyd film to screen, though the musical portion of the event - an ensemble improvisation by the Prima Vista Social Club (an ad hoc quintet led by festival pianist Neil Brand) - was quite the treat.

The closest the opening weekend came to "masterpiece" was the latest restoration of the Italian landmark Cabiria (1914), Giovanni Pastrone's lavish historical epic that launched a thousand spectacles. More pageant more than drama, it lacks the narrative drive and storytelling sophistication found in America, Scandanavia and France at the time, using intertitles to explain and images to illustrate in single-shot scenes that are almost without exception static (the exceptions are a couple of effective dollies in to a main character, a nice flourish that is terribly underutilized). Yet it is nonetheless a big screen experience and the new restoration - its fourth - offers some stunning high quality footage and comes close to recovering the entire original release footage.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:59 AM

Danièle Huillet, 1936 - 2006.

Danièle Huillet
Danièle Huillet, one of the world's greatest, most sensitive and demanding filmmakers died [Monday] night. She was 70 years old, born on May Day, 1936.

[...]

For me, at this moment, there's no point in trying to delineate what was Huillet and what was Straub in their films. They worked together on every film, including the early ones where only Straub is credited. One look at Pedro Costa's film on Huillet/Straub's work ethic Ou git votre sourire enfoui? (Where Lies Your Hidden Smile?) will show you that while Jean-Marie is a raging current, Danièle also drives the turbines and maintains the power station.

Andy Rector.

See also: Doug Cummings; Huillet and Straub in conversation at theory kit; Barton Byg: Landscapes of Resistance: The German Films of Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub; an obituary in today's Libération.

Updates, 10/12: Mubarak Ali has a clip from Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie?

Dave Kehr writes in the New York Times that the Straub-Huillet "aesthetic, grounded in the philosophical materialism of Marx and Engels, was one of extreme realism that resisted superfluous embellishments and editing effects.... Even as they became institutions on the festival and museum circuit, they projected the brash, provocative aspect of eternal Young Turks, always willing to upset any and all apple carts in the immediate vicinity. In a tribute published yesterday in the French newspaper Libération, the critic Olivier Seguret expressed the fears of many admirers of Straub-Huillet: 'Dead, Danièle Huillet kills us twice, because her passing probably means that Straub will never film again.'"

Posted by dwhudson at 6:05 AM

Interview. Gary Graver.

welles-graver-gcd.jpg "We're sitting at the table talking, he's in a bathrobe, and all of a sudden he grabbed me by the shoulders and threw me down on the floor and jumped on top of me and held me down. I thought, 'Oh, my God! What have I gotten myself into? Here I am, alone in a hotel room with Orson Welles, I didn't know if the guy's gay, he's over 300 pounds and he's pressing me down and won't let me get up.' I said, 'What's the matter?' He says, 'Shhh! Quiet! Quiet!'"

Sean Axmaker talks with Gary Graver, Welles's devoted cameraman and occasional one-man crew, about the chaotic last 15 years of Welles's career.

Related online viewing tip. In an entry topping off a series of Welles-related items at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger..., Tom Sutpen writes, "Maybe the shortest Shaggy Dog story ever committed to film, Vienna finds Orson Welles' filmmaking at its most delighted, its most giddy."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:12 AM

October 10, 2006

Interview. Mark Duffield.

Ghost of Mae Nak More of a "haunting love story" than a bone-rattling "scary movie" (Michael Guillén at Twitch), Mark Duffield's Ghost of Mae Nak is remarkable for at least two reasons. First, because this is the second instance of a British cinematographer turning writer and director and filming a ghost story in Thailand with Thai actors aimed at a Thai audience (the first was P), and second because this continuation of a legend brought to the screen nearly two dozen times has been so well-received. See, for example, reviews in Variety and Firecracker.

Jonathan Marlow talks with Duffield about how he's pulled it off.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:37 PM | Comments (1)

October 6, 2006

All-Story. Vol 10. No 3.

All-Story Francis Coppola - signing here without the "Ford" - introduces the fall issue of All-Story, exploring "through storytelling, the aspects of life that have most engrossed me—food and wine, art and adventure, my family and my friends... This special issue is the result of long conversations about what such a magazine might look like, what it might contain."

The issue's designed by Chip Kidd: "I've been trying to finish writing my second novel and had been turning down design commissions left and right in an effort to complete it this year. But then something occurred to me. Namely, the photographs of Thomas M Allen..."

Stories and pieces fully available online: Kathryn Harrison's "Cat Fancy," RT Smith's "Where I Come from a Hushpuppy Is Not a Shoe," Daniyal Mueenuddin's "Our Lady of Paris," Daniel Alarcón's "Abraham Lincoln Has Been Shot" and Elizabeth McCracken's "An American in Paris," a sidebar to two other pieces in the issue.

Noteworthy teasers: Mike Figgis's "German Incident," Jonathan Baumbach's intriguingly titled "The Filmmaker's Father Prepares" and MJ Hyland's "A Boy, an Ex-Orphanage, and a Trapped Dog."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:48 PM

New York Dispatch. 7.

In his latest dispatch from the New York Film Festival, David D'Arcy reads The Host as political allegory - and poses a few questions about that last chapter.

NYFF 44 At the NYFF, sometimes it's a genre film - a scary movie with laughs - that puts everything back into perspective.

If you thought that South Korea was a resolute ally of the United States, see The Host, the horror thriller by Bong Joon-ho for another view. The film begins with a frightening scene in which an American civilian working for the military orders a Korean subordinate to dump bottles of toxic chemicals down the drain. The chemist objects, since the poison will end up in the Han River, which passes right through Seoul. Soon we see the camera tracking across hundreds of empty bottles, an environmental crisis in the making. It's the future, down the drain. The new Korean Frankenstein's monster is spawned, not by a deranged scientist, but by an arrogant American and by a Korean who followed his command. It calls to mind Godzilla, who was "conceived" in an American nuclear blast at sea. Bear in mind that the version of Godzilla that initially played in the US had the uncomfortable section excised for American audiences.

What's even more frightening about the opening scene is that it's based on actual crimes, for which the American who ordered the dumping of formaldehyde on February 9, 2000, has never been punished. The US initially refused to hand him over to Korea for prosecution, citing a treaty that gibes the US sole jurisdiction over the man, Albert McFarland. Even after he was tried and convicted in absentia, and later tried and convicted by another Korean court in his own presence, McFarland has never served a day in prison. You can thank your government for that. It's a surprise that the North Koreans haven't publicized the crime for propaganda purposes - without playing the film for its own citizens, of course.

The Host

In The Host, we soon see the effect of the toxic dumping, a huge amphibious fish-like monster that can swim, run and hold a victim in its tail. The mutant creature (which began as grotesque tadpole) makes his first appearance in downtown Seoul, where the industrious Park family operates a food stand in a riverside park where young people go to drink beer after work. It turns out that the giant fish also has a monstrous appetite. Soon the family is thrust onto the front line of resistance. It's them against the creature, who seems to thrive in the gray habitat of urban rivers, sewers, and in the tunnels where he hides his prey.

Law enforcement, which attempts to fight the monster by spraying another toxin, Agent Yellow, is ineffectual, suggesting a parallel to the government's ineffectiveness in resisting the Americanization that has made South Korea the country that it is today. Once the poison is spilled, its legacy can't be controlled.

Or can it? The Host sometimes has the look of horror films of the 1950s, when monsters of terrifying size terrified citizens who were already straitjacketed into bleak skyscrapers or marooned in harsh and intimidating stretches of concrete. Today's Seoul can look just like those kinds of urban wastelands where residents are up against the wall.

There's not much of a horror tradition in Korean cinema, although Bong Joon-ho, with three features now under his belt, is a fan who has educated himself broadly and deeply in the American lineage. (He's also a self-described admirer of Guillermo del Toro.) One genre that Koreans seem to like is the gangster comedy that dishes out the foibles of its ensemble of wise-guy characters. In the The Host, the ensemble is the family, with a bumbling wastrel of a son, Kwan-Du, who can dye his hair blonde but can't even fry a proper squid, much less take care of his daughter. His sister could have been the national archery champion, but she chokes in the finals. When the black sheep's daughter is carried away by the monster, family feuds - but not family bumbling - are put aside for the sake of rescuing the child. How can you not like a movie which makes a joke of human bones tumbling out of a man-eating creature's jaws?

The Host

Here we have a paradox. The monster is the creation of an unconscionable American-ordered toxic dumping, but the family's battle against the monster looks like the work of an American militia. Forget about Big Government,  as brothers and sisters pick up weapons and try to shoot the evil thing to death, like any good arms-bearing American might. Or am I wrong? Should I be seeing their "insurgency" as inspired by another kind of opposition to the long reach of American power? Sometimes you just have the take the bull by the horns.

I won't give the ending away, but I will say that a young girl's cell-phone does play a crucial role. This darkly funny tale was a tremendous hit in Korea, where the kids who go to the multiplexes are looking for anything but deep political truths. In The Host, they'll get them anyway. A sequel is already in the works, but Bong Joon-ho won't be directing it. Be fore-warned - an American remake is also said to be planned. Will Albert McFarland be a Frenchman in that version?

Posted by dwhudson at 1:45 PM

Vancouver Dispatch. 3.

Tom Charity reports on another highlight of the Vancouver International Film Festival: a screening of one of the most debated films of the year and a Q&A with its director.

Pedro Costa VIFF programme associate Mark Peranson has been flying the flag for Pedro Costa's Colossal Youth ever since Cannes. He devoted ten pages of Cinema Scope magazine to a retrospective interview with the Portugese filmmaker, with more to come, and even produced a limited edition Vote for Pedro T-shirt. (Full disclosure: I have one myself.)

Apparently, Costa took a dim view of such fripperies when he spotted a couple of festival volunteers sporting them. Nevertheless, here he was, this dour-looking man, on hand to introduce a 9pm screening of what Peranson promised would be "a film like no other in the festival." "For me, it is like a silent film. Only with talking," Costa said. Adding: "We will talk about it after - if you're still here."

Two hours and 35 minutes later, most of us wanted to hear more, and the subsequent Q&A went on until 1am. It was almost as stimulating as the movie itself.

Colossal Youth

Colossal Youth (the English title comes from an album by Young Marble Giants) takes place in the same slum neighborhood as Costa's previous Ossos and In Vanda's Room. Vanda herself reappears here, and apparently there are other familiar faces for those in the know. But the film is dominated by the tall, graceful black man Ventura, an emigrant from Cape Verde who came to Portugal as a laborer 30 years ago.

Costa's scenes generally consist of a single, static take, each a discreet vignette, a piece in the puzzle which only reveals its meaning(s) as things fall into place over time. Fact and fiction, memory and rumination commingle as Ventura tries to put his broken family back together. I'd describe the style as magical neo-realist, as long as we can agree to expunge any whimsical connotations from that term. What I'm getting at is, how else can you describe a ghost story inspired by a social housing project?

Ventura will soon take up an empty room in this new apartment block, but he wants to ensure there is space there for his children. The housing officer is confused. There is nothing on the form about Ventura having children. How many does he have? "I don't know yet," the old man replies.

Colossal Youth

In the film's most touching episodes, Ventura composes a letter home for his illiterate friend to memorize, a love poem that grows longer and more regretful every time we hear it.

So: you could call this film a meditation on post-colonialism; a work-force that is an underclass; families living apart... but it's hard to think of another filmmaker who has taken the old saw about the personal being political so much to heart as Costa.

The film took more than two years to shoot, he said afterwards. "Every filmmaker in this festival will tell you it's hard to get the money to make a film," he said. "But it's bullshit. It's not true." He paused and rebuked someone at the front. "You shouldn't laugh," he said. "It's the whole problem."

Costa shoots on DV (the results are as sculpted as anything by Tarkovsky) in actual locations with a crew of five or six and actors who respond to and share in his commitment. "The trick is getting the weight right, the balance between the people in front of and behind the camera," he said. "They must be the same weight." Filmmaking has become lop-sided towards the production crew, in other words. It wasn't that way for John Ford or Jacques Tourneur, he said. When did you ever pause to think how much My Darling Clementine cost to make? Tourneur was a master of sensitivity and discretion.

Costa might take a week to get a single take, honing and reducing the scene. A shot could take a month to get it just so - sometimes they would shoot up to 80 takes. And then, after some three months have passed, they might reshoot the scene again. "I find the actors subconsciously edit out the sentimentality the second time around," he said.

Composing a shot was easy for him. If you cannot do that, what business do you have making films? "The problem for me is how long [to hold the shot]. It is the problem for films today - the good ones: durée. Finding the music of it."

It was, as I say, a stimulating discussion, and it brought out the best in the Vancouver congregants, many of whom I suspect came out converted - and looking forward to the Costa retrospective the Vancity Film Centre is scheduling sometime next year.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:20 PM

New York Dispatch. 6.

Andrew Grant follows up his reviews of Woman on the Beach and The Queen with a rigorous defense of Bamako.

NYFF 44 Didactic. Preachy. Dogmatic. Words I keep hearing when discussing (or reading about) Bamako, Abderrahamane Sissako's latest film, a political fiction that stages a mock trial between Africa and the IMF/World Bank. Yet to flippantly reduce the film in this manner is to ignore its passion, beauty and powerful sense of urgency. The film gives a voice to those directly affected by the unjust policies of these organizations - voices that speak, cry, and sing their lamentations - and they deserve to be heard. As if anticipating this reaction, one villager in the film, when asked to record his thoughts on the matter, responds with, "Don't waste your time, no one will hear it."

Set in a poor neighborhood of the Malian capital, Bamako is similar in style and tone to Sissako's wonderful La Vie sur Terre, itself a statement on colonialization. Both films brilliantly capture a steady rhythm of village life unaltered by outside events, be it the arrival of the new millennium, or by a trial being held right outside their doorstep.

Bamako

Sissako provides no context for the trial - we have no idea why judges and barristers have appeared in this makeshift courtroom in a courtyard that connects several homes. Though some have been unwilling to buy into this conceit, it actually serves as a powerful device, bridging fact and fiction. As has been noted elsewhere, there is something very Brechtian about it all, particularly the way in which village drama unfolds around and, at times, directly through the trial - one relationship disintegrates while another begins, a man lies dying, and a gun goes missing.

The plaintiffs in the case come from all walks of life, including workers, writers and former public servants. Some provide the court with statistical and historical information, while others deliver passionate outpourings of indignation ("Poverty is not Africa's curse. On the contrary, Africa is a victim of its wealth!") In what is easily one of the year's most powerful and memorable cinematic moments, an elderly man delivers his testimony in song - untranslated, but with no question as to its sentiment.

While it's true that the arguments presented are familiar to anyone who has read their Chomsky or Catherine Caufield, it's a bit unfair to simply write it off as mere didacticism. African culture has a rich history of oral tradition, and its use here is entirely appropriate, especially if Sissako intends for the film to reach the African general public. (As Acquarello recently pointed out in a comment on Girish's blog, this approach is an endemic part of the aesthetic of African cinema.) While there may be nothing new to the arguments, it is a decades-old problem with no sign of resolution. Is it fair to criticize Sissako for not taking an allegorical or purely intellectual approach?

It would be all too easy, given the film's subject matter and the devastating results of the policies it condemns, to paint a very bleak portrait of Mali (one of the poorest nations on earth). Instead, we see a village with an incredible sense of harmony, community and resourcefulness, even if future prospects are questionable. (One man is studying Hebrew in anticipation of a coming Israeli embassy.) At the same time, the villagers acknowledge the futility of the trial and the unlikelihood of change, as evinced by the occasional requests to disconnect the speakers that are broadcasting the trial to the rest of the village. Even they don't want to hear it.

Bamako

Putting aside the film's politics, we are still left with a work of tremendous beauty. Many of Bamako's strongest (and lasting) moments are the simplest - a child's squeaky shoes, a wedding that interrupts the trial, a judge buying sunglasses, and an old metallic fan - a simple object that will have greater meaning by the film's end. The televised Spaghetti Western that the villagers watch (Death in Timbuktu), which includes a multi-ethnic cast (featuring Danny Glover and directors Elia Suleiman and Jean-Henri Roger) seems at first little more than a diversion, but is in fact Sissako's effort at laying some of the blame on Africa itself. It's a metaphor that doesn't quite work, but an interesting scene nonetheless.

Bamako might not be a masterpiece (though it's close), but it is definitely one of the most important films of the year. Responsible for a fair share of arguments among fellow bloggers, it's one that simply must not be missed. For added fun, be sure to bring your favorite neocon buddy.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:41 PM | Comments (4)

Interview. Todd Field.

Little Children Little Children is one of those rare films that transcends its source material," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "Firmly rooted in the present and in our current frame of mind - a time and frame of mind that few artists have shown interest in really exploring - the movie is one of the few films I can think of that examines the baffling combination of smugness, self-abnegation, ceremonial deference and status anxiety that characterizes middle-class Gen X parenting, and find sheer, white-knuckled terror at its core."

Five years after In the Bedroom, David D'Arcy asks director Todd Field what it is he's got with adultery in the suburbs and about adapting an admired novel with the author.

Updated through 10/11.

Earlier: Critics are, as they say, split. For example: AO Scott in the New York Times (pro) and James Crawford at Reverse Shot (con).

Updates, 10/11: Slate's Dana Stevens: "You know from the get-go that it's beautiful, but it takes time and patience to discover that it's also funny, sexy, and sad."

David Denby in the New Yorker: "Field works with such fluid grace and perception that the movie goes right to the top of the suburban-anguish genre. The picture is not as aggressively designed or as witty as American Beauty; nor is it as malicious as Todd Solondz's Happiness. It's smarter, tougher, closer to the common life."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:48 AM | Comments (1)

Interview. Thelma Schoonmaker.

The Departed "In The Departed the camera work and cutting feel faster, lower to the ground, more urgent than they have in [Martin Scorsese's] recent films," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, adding, "(Michael Ballhaus shot it; Thelma Schoonmaker edited.)" Yes. "The speed and Mr Scorsese's sureness of touch, particularly when it comes to carving up space with the camera, keep the plot's hall of mirrors from becoming a distraction."

In his latest interview, Jonathan Marlow talks with Schoonmaker about her many years of collaboration with Scorsese and about what both she and Scorsese learned from the man he introduced her to, the man who would become her husband, Michael Powell.

Related: "The Departed.," an entry that'll continue to be updated over the next several days. (Now updated through 10/12.)

Posted by dwhudson at 5:48 AM

October 5, 2006

Reykjavik Dispatch. 2.

Editing these dispatches, I don't usually laugh much. Late into this one, I did. Lots. Take it away, David D'Arcy.

Wrath of Gods

I only saw one Icelandic film at the Reykjavik International Film Festival, a documentary about making a film in Iceland. If Iceland had much of a documentary tradition outside of television, I wasn't aware of it.

The "making of" documentary has become a genre of its own, with enough differentiation so there's space for a whole range of subgenres. At one end, there's the worshipful infomercial about how technicians make a monster or how a star gains fifty pounds. Then there's the disaster film, the doc about the failed project, the backstage farce. I would never have expected to find one of the latest installments of this genre in Iceland at the Reykjavik International Film Festival.

Wrath of Gods It's not typical for the flagship film festival in a very small country (fewer than 300,000 inhabitants, where people know each other and are listed in the telephone book by their first names) to disclose uncomfortable truths - albeit cinematic truths - about the country. Isn't it the goal of the festival to promote Iceland, and at least by extension to promote it as a potential location for filmmaking? That's just what the RIFF is doing, issuing a message of caution in premiering Wrath of Gods [site], by Jon Gustafsson, about the ill-fated making in 2004 of the ill-fated co-production with epic aspirations, Beowulf & Grendel.

Having seen the 70-minute doc once in an unfinished version on a DVD, I can still recommend that film schools show it to their students. Wrath is a "making of" in which everything goes wrong, and I think that I'm safe in assuming that only a fraction of what went wrong got into the documentary.

It begins with foolhardiness on the part of the Canadian director Sturla Gunnarsson and others. The idea seems to have been to film Beowulf in an "authentic medieval" setting, hence Iceland, which has endless radiant sunlight in the summer that can shift in an instant into storms that seem to rise from the wrath of Thor. It would have been easy enough to film the adaptation of a Norse epic in Canada, Scotland, Ireland, Spain or northern Minnesota. Making the film in Iceland was the first mistake, but it was a colossal one. Iceland, while a beguiling island of breathtaking rugged beauty, happens to be one of the most expensive places on earth, a place than can make your income feel medieval. The makers of Beowulf have the receipts to prove it. As the saying goes, if you want to ruin a man who can't handle money, just force him to spend some.

Another mistake before shooting began was the production team's failure to get their financing into place with their despised British producers, which meant that they did not start shooting until September, when the days had already begun to get shorter. Both money and light turned out to be in short supply, and that was just the beginning.

In the spirit of Iceland's pagan tradition, someone got the idea that the production should begin with a blessing. It turned out that the film's music composer, Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, was also a shaman in a neo-pagan cult, and he was happy to oblige. Once he pronounced a blessing, however, he turned around and fell on his face, cutting his head open. Crew members swear that he had turned to the wrong page in his book of pagan incantations, and pronounced a curse instead. The evidence seems to bear out that theory.

Wrath of Gods The filmmakers thought that one of the advantages to being in Iceland, in spite of the weather, was the labor force - highly educated, trained in cinema professions, near-universal fluency in English - but they couldn't find young students to drive cars for the production at a price within the budget. Then there was the "authentic" ship. The filmmakers and the screenwriter expected that they would be able to work with a replica of a Viking ship, which would sail into a harbor with warriors, slaves, animals and arms on deck, just like in the rape-pillage-and-burn days. Once the ship was built, however, it could not be brought to the shooting location because no bridge on the roads leading there was wide enough. Once they found a bridge (which they barely crossed) and put the boat in the water, it "leaked like a sieve," as one of the producers put it. We're not just dealing with a figure of speech here. Water was rushing through thousands of little holes. The actors had to wear life jackets.

Then there's the scene of Vikings on horseback galloping across black-sand beaches, except that the waves were so fierce that the spray scared the horses away. It didn't help, the assistant director explained, that all the riders (skilled Icelandic horsemen) were drunk, and that no one else on the island could replace them. The scenes were supposed to be shot with a special lens, flown in from Canada and brought to the water's edge on a jeep. The crew hadn't anticipated that a huge wave would engulf the jeep and the camera. That's on camera, too, thanks to the intrepid Jon Gustafsson.

The list goes on with one Biblical (or pagan) plague after another - rain, cold, mud and constant shortages of money that ensured that the crew went unpaid; at one point, a driver says he just plans to keep the truck that he's driving, since he hasn't been paid. Toward the end, when another crew member smirks that at least a volcano hasn't erupted, you can guess what happens.

Every loss for the film seems to be the gain for Jon Gustafsson, whose camera is there at every disastrous moment. The final version of Wrath of Gods reflects a composure and competence. This young filmmaker knows how to tell an entertaining story, but I wonder about his documentary as journalism. Many of his subjects never appear - the stingy and perfidious British producers, the Icelandic producers who lured the production in, the actors Stellan Skarsgard and Sarah Polley (whom we don't see except in scenes that are filmed when they're shot for Beowulf). Did their agents or their contracts forbid anything more than that, and demand that any incriminating footage be destroyed?

The director Sturla Gunnarsson and the actor Gerard Butler (Beowulf himself) are remarkably good sports - Butler, who wore chain mail in conditions that the Guantanamo torturers only wish they could recreate, is particularly game with joke after joke at the most desperate moments. Where are the rest? Were they afraid, after the fact, to be associated with a project that none of then could control? Let's not forget, after all that hardship, that the critics just savaged the movie, pointing to a conclusion that many must have feared when making it - that all the work was indeed going for naught. (I should note that I'm one of the few who doesn't condemn the movie outright.)

In fact, Wrath of Gods may be just what Beowulf needs right now to ward off is own forgettability. I'm sure that some of those who see the doc (whenever it's shown outside Iceland) will go back to the original in search of a seam that's off a bit or looking for signs of inebriation on a horseman's face.

Ultimately, the audience doesn't care if you almost drowned in river rapids to shoot a scene about Vikings fighting demons, and it really doesn't care whether you managed your budget so incompetently that the crew which took the risks was always late being paid. Credulous and incompetent, maybe, but these guys who made Beowulf weren't outright villains, either. We don't know enough about them to say for sure. But we do see that they were hopeless lightweights, struggling with forces far beyond their control. To blame Iceland for the travails of the film is like blaming water for drowning a man who can't swim. We just wonder who the real villains were, and why there's not more about them on the screen.

Perhaps Jon Gustafsson wanted it that way, out of self-preservation. He's clearly got talent, and probably wants to make another documentary some day, or perhaps something more ambitious. This is clearly a man who has some stories to tell.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:03 PM | Comments (2)

Tamara Dobson, 1947 - 2006.

Tamara Dobson as Cleopatra Jones
Tamara Dobson, the strikingly statuesque stunner who became a blaxpolitation icon during the 1970s, died Monday. But thanks to the camp classics Cleopatra Jones (where she tangled with an ultra-butch Shelley Winters) and Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold (which featured a va-va-voom Stella Stevens as a lipstick-lesbian villianess), she remains immortal.

Joe Leydon.

More from the AP and Brian's Drive-In Theater.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:30 PM | Comments (1)

Pordenone. Preview.

One of the world's great festivals of silent cinema runs from October 7 through 14 in Sacile, Italy, and Sean Axmaker has just landed.

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto There is nothing in the world like Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, known informally as the Pordenone Silent Film Festival. It's a festival that only a diehard lover of the pre-sound era and its unique tonal textures and dramatic visual and narrative convention could love.

Pordeone 06 And they do. Year after year, hundreds of scholars, scholars, professors, archivists, collectors and silent film fans from all over the globe converge on the biggest, longest and most prestigious film festival dedicated the glory of silent cinema. The films, shown in archival or restored 35mm prints and all accompanied by live music from some of the finest accompanists in the world, are (with the exception of opening and closing night events) free to attendees, but for a small registration fee. The atmosphere is collegial (I've made friends from all over the world during past two festivals) and low key, the pace is at a stroll, and the setting is amazing: the old town center of tiny Sacile in northeastern Italy (moved from its original home of Pordenone almost 10 years ago, when the festival's flagship theater was closed down). There are only two screens - the flagship Zancanaro, the town's performing arts center which screens morning to midnight and features all the festival's major showings, and the smaller Ruffo, a lecture hall-styled venue where repeats, documentaries, and video projection showings take place in mornings and afternoons as alternatives to the Zancanaro showings. There are also lectures and symposiums and the book fair in the town hall, and you can find the local restaurants full of attendees in animated conversation at almost all hours of the festival.

Each year, the festival picks a central retrospective program - a national cinema, a studio, a director - and supplements it with smaller programs running through the eight-day event. This year, the festival celebrates its 25th Anniversary with a more varied program of retrospectives, spreading the spotlight over an array of directors, themes and countries. As of this writing, many of the programs are merely collections of titles with few if any descriptions, but even that carries a promise of the unknown discovered and forgotten rediscovered.

The centerpiece presentation for the 25th Anniversary is a tribute to the centenary of Nordisk Film, featuring works from the golden age of Danish cinema in twelve programs of features and shorts, from comedies to melodrama to science fiction, the latter represented by Holger-Madsen's recently rediscovered Himmelskibet (A Trip to Mars). Carl Dreyer is limited to a single feature - Leaves from Satan's Book (1920) - the better to introduce audiences to his lesser known colleagues.

Verdens undergang

Verdens undergang (The End of the World)

August Blom and Viggo Larsen in particular will be revived in multiple offerings spread through such intriguing thematic programs as "Catastrophe" (with Blom's The End of the World, 1916), "Lure of the Orient" and "White Slavery." Based simply on title alone, it's hard to tell if these are serious dramas or early hysterical exploitation melodramas (I'm betting on the latter), but the mere lurid lure of such titles as The White Slave (Viggo Larsen, 1906) and The Maharajah's Favorite Wife (Robert Dinesen, 1917, followed by the imaginatively titled 1919 sequel The Maharajah's Favorite Wife, by Blom) is too much to pass up. Blom's 1913 Titanic drama Atlantis is also featured in a separate program.

True Heart Susie

True Heart Susie

The opening night presentation is a new restoration of DW Griffith's True Heart Susie, with a new score by Giovanni Spinelli. It's also the spotlight presentation of the festival's exhaustive Griffith Project, their systematic presentation of every single film directed by the father of American feature film storytelling. The project is a chronological spotlight and its tenth year brings us to 1919 - 1920 and his first features for his newborn company United Artists. Along with two of his most celebrated features, Susie and Way Down East, the festival unearths such neglected and unseen films as the intimate melodrama The Greatest Question with Lillian Gish and his exotic melodramas The Love Flower (shot in the Bahamas) and the South Seas-set Scarlet Days, both with Richard Barthelmess. The reputations of these features are hardly stellar, but their neglect makes them all the more curious, especially as they bridge two of Griffith's most celebrated films. Amidst the features is a short promotional film, A Great Feature in the Making, highlighting the only film footage of Griffith actually directing (on the set of Way Down East).

Thomas Ince was almost as important a director/producer in American cinema's formative teen years, when the feature was born and Hollywood along with it, and a selection of six features (each paired with a one or two-reeler) spanning his career, from the 1911 short The Forged Dispatch to the 1921 feature Hail the Woman, showcase his career. His anti-war classic Civilization (1916) is part of this survey, as is the William S Hart western Branding Broadway. As I've neglected Ince in my own survey of silent cinema, this program is of special interest to me.

Cabiria

From the archives of Bologna, Turin and the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, come six new restorations of Italian classics, including Turin's monumental restoration of the two versions of Giovannni Pastrone's Cabiria, the original 1914 epic and sound version prepared for its 1931 re-release. The closing night film is the little-known Neapolitan production Sole! (1919), a romantic drama of a freewheeling girl with a savage response to would-be seducers.

Houdini The program of Magic and Cinema explores the close relationship between stage magic and screen magic, from the early special effects spectacles of George Melies and his cinematic descendents to the exploits of legendary escape artist Harry Houdini, who cagily exploited the new medium as both a documentary record of his feats and a vehicle for dramatic roles. The program features examples of both sides of Houdini's screen appearances, as well as Tod Browning's rarely seen The Show (1927) with John Gilbert as a magician's assistant who reveals the tricks of the trade to paying customers; Paul Fejos's expressionist The Last Performance (1929), with Conrad Veidt as a magician and hypnotist; and collections of shorts from Melies, fellow magician Walter Booth and others exploring the possibilities of magic and the cinema of fantasy and wonder in the medium in its infancy.

Two animation collections - the silent Felix, Oswald and Friends and Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies, sound films defined not by dialogue but by music to, in the words of the series curators, "illustrate the Symphonies' link with the classic silents," are also included, while the "Goodight, Silents" is the festival's wily way of closing each day with a short program of late-night of oddities (some of them a bit naughty).

El Husar de la Muerte And then there are the rediscoveries, rarities and revivals that stand alone through the festival as well as the "Musical Events," the high-profile films slotted in the prime time slots, each of them accompanied by a special musical offering, whether it be a small chamber orchestra, jazz band, experimental electronics or something else unique. Some are as well-known as Harold Lloyd's Safety Last, the festival's second "Musical Event," and others as rare and exciting as El Húsar de la Muerte (1925), a landmark from the rarely screened silent cinema of Latin America, a historical adventure about war hero Manuel Rodríguez, who fought in the Chilean War of Independence. Also promised are the British documentary feature The Battle of the Somme (1916), Benjamin Christensen's melodrama of the Russian Revolution, Mockery, starring Lon Chaney, and a reconstruction of Rudolph Valentino's long-lost The Young Rajah. As of this writing, there are no press notes available from Le Giornate, so they remain tantalizing promises of riches to be screened.

And that's why I make the pilgrimage, if only every few years. Where some might find digging through the silent past akin to cinematic archeology, it is to me a treasure hunt and I walk away with unexpected jewels every year.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:29 AM

Mill Valley. Preview.

Hannah Eaves introduces her conversation with Jonathan Marlow, looking ahead to the Mill Valley Film Festival, opening tonight and running through October 15.

MVFF A quick trip to Wikipedia, the great fact-ish site for lazy online journalists and everyone else, provides a few pieces of trivia on Mill Valley, a town in the heart of ritzy, scenic Marin County, just half an hour north of San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge. Unlike traversing the other urban bridges that lead away from the city, crossing the Golden Gate immediately lands you in a national park, and then into the rolling countryside beyond. In the Star Trek universe, Starfleet trainees hung out at the 602 Club in Mill Valley. As well as being "home" to famous musicians, high-end American Zoetrope, Lucasfilm and Pixar employees and other moneyed entertainment notables, it was the pre-Korea address of M*A*S*H's BJ Hunnicutt, straight-man to Alan Alda's Hawkeye.

Updated.

The Rafael Scroll a little further down and you'll see that the population is over 90 percent white, with a median household income of a little beyond $90,000. It's no accident that it was the setting of Jack Finney's 1954 novel Invasion of the Body Snatchers. What later became, in the 1970s, a hippie backwoods chill-out zone, has since been highly gentrified. With gentrification comes money, and they've managed to restore some impressive cinemas, including the California Film Institute's Smith Raphael Film Center, which presents challenging and diverse programming year-round. The festival itself screens several hundred films from many different parts of the world, with strong documentary, emerging filmmaker and local film focuses.

To preview the festival, now in its 29th edition, we've taken another "journalistic" shortcut and opted for an installment of our widely loved (ha!) film dialogues. Several high-profile screenings were left out of my recent conversation with Jonathan Marlow, including the announcement that Mill Valley will be screening Mark Fergus's First Snow, starring Guy Pearce, which screened earlier this year at Tribeca.

We will be following this dialogue early next week with an in-depth look at MVFF's ever extensive shorts program.


Marlow: Mill Valley is unique in several respects but perhaps no more so than the fact that they have two opening night films screening at two different theaters at the same time. Oddly enough, I've seen them both. One appeared at Toronto and the other at both Telluride and TIFF.

Eaves: It seems a little bit strange because The Last King of Scotland is already out in New York. But I actually like that there are two screenings. Everyone comes together for the party and gets to compare notes.

MVFF: 4 Films Marlow: Of the two, The Last King is the one to attend. Breaking & Entering is an immensely mediocre and implausible film, albeit with a few good performances. It's the cinematic equivalent of water-boarding.

Eaves: Those are fighting words! I hope you find some defenders in the comments section. I haven't seen it so I can't take you on. It's bringing a few high-profile guests with it. I liked The Last King of Scotland, but I think it's one of those films that won't stick with me at all. Great performances. I'm interested to hear what Forest Whitaker has to say about portraying Idi Amin. It has a great rollicking feel which makes you fall for the premise, which you might not do without it. Being an "immigrant" myself, I've known a lot of people like the main character Dr Garrigan (James McAvoy) who finds himself in a totally foreign country, in a unique and brilliant position, so amazed that unusual things are happening to him that he just constantly says, "Yes," without thinking about the consequences.

Marlow: Whitaker's take on Amin will likely be remembered come Oscar time. It's the sort of portrayal that justifiably wins awards. Another strong candidate is Kate Winslet in Little Children. I have mixed feelings about the film itself but no issue at all with her role. I was particularly fond of Todd Field's use of an omniscient narrator to hold the film together. Normally, I have a bias against such choices but it works here. If only the film had a more rewarding third act...

Eaves: Speaking of the Academy, I wonder if we will have another Truman Capote nomination for Toby Jones. Again, another film that's about to hit theaters. It's impossible to avoid comparing Infamous to Capote, mostly because they deal with the exact same period in Capote's life, the same places and incidents. They are very different films, though. Infamous deals more, I think, with the artistic process, the personal perils of writing a great work, for both Truman Capote and Harper Lee. Peter Bogdanovich does a great turn; he's already such a brilliant anecdote teller and he's a natural in this. [Douglas] McGrath really knew how to take advantage of the natural leanings of the actors behind the characters, particularly Bogdanovich, Gwyneth Paltrow and Sandra Bullock.

Marlow: It seems that the caliber of films in the program are somewhat "higher profile" than previous years. Babel, for instance, or Stephen Frears's latest, The Queen. Of course, there are plenty of works by criminally little-known directors like Dorota Kedzierzawska (I Am) and Rolf de Heer (Ten Canoes), along with two new works from Rob Nilsson (Pan and Opening). Something of a Mill Valley tradition to premiere at least one Nilsson film at the festival. Few other fests have such a consistent and rewarding relationship with a filmmaker.

Eaves: Yay! Ten Canoes and The Queen are both great films. Incidentally, what a year for screenwriter Peter Morgan [who also wrote the script for The Last King of Scotland]. In fact, I think this really has been a good year for cinema. Ten Canoes and The Queen are both getting distributed. There are heaps of smaller local films playing that might not, though - close to twenty narrative and documentary features, and even more shorts, all from the Bay Area. That's a huge block. I haven't seen any of them yet, so I can't comment on them except to note that they're there, which is notable enough.

Marlow: That won't stop me. I've heard a number of tales about Full Grown Men and Drifting Elegant that would encourage me to see them. We're fortunate here that "local film" doesn't imply that it is on the schedule for that reason alone. I suspect that the best film in the program with Bay Area roots is the documentary Orozco: Man of Fire. I suppose that reflects a certain interest in the subject.

Orazco: Man of Fire

Eaves: You're just saying that because you know I love Orozco. I used to always stay in a Quaker-owned hostel in Mexico City that was once Orozco's studio. He was a very dramatic, violent painter, one of Mexico's greatest muralists. In Mexico City, you can see several of his works alongside Diego Rivera's. Man of Fire is a reference to a ceiling mural in Guadalajara that gives the illusion of a man standing on the roof, as though the dome he's standing on is made of glass. And he's, you know, on fire. Or made of fire. There's another amazing Orozco fire mural in Guadalajara, in the Government Palace, of Hidalgo waving a flaming torch over the bodies of the oppressed.

Marlow: I'm not simply dropping a reference to the film for that reason, but it certainly plays a part. The documentary selection at MVFF is quite commendable. Walking to Werner, which I caught at the Seattle International Film Festival in June, is a better idea for a movie than the resulting doc, but it still has a certain charm that sustains its duration. Perhaps, because it is a clear journey from one location to another, it has an easily comprehensible beginning and end. All of the rest is merely middling with momentary diversions in-between. A half-dozen other highlights seemingly include Deliver Us From Evil, Three Women and a Chateau, Cine Manifest, The Short Life of Jose Antonio Gutierrez, Dr Bronner's Magic Soapbox and Cinematographer Style. Of course, I haven't seen any of them yet. They could all be horrible. I doubt it.

Eaves: Locally, I've also heard good things about China Blue. Beyond our fine borders, Black Gold has garnered quite a bit of attention this year. We shouldn't forget to mention that the great Dame Helen Mirren will be here as a tributee. Everyone's already written about The Queen, but I would add that combining it in a Peter Morgan double feature with The Last King of Scotland would make for a great study in contrasts between extremely benign and extremely malignant heads of state. All in all, the festival seems to be an even-handed mix of larger films with numerous local highlights. I'm certainly willing to watch films at the beautifully restored, comfortable Christopher B Smith Rafael Film Center in pretty, fog-free Marin County, where the trip back to San Francisco affords you the best Golden Gate Bridge reveal in existence.

Marlow: Despite all of the above, I am most curious about two debut features - Milarepa, directed by Neten Chokling, and Lam Tze Chung's I'll Call You. These actors-turned-directors previously starred in the well-respected football films The Cup and Shaolin Soccer respectively. Granted, the descriptions can occasionally steer you wrong. I was surprised to discover The Mystery of the Sardine in the program, a film that we stumbled into nearly two years ago in Rotterdam. It sounds great on paper, like so many things, but the reality is something else entirely. It's unfortunate that the MVFF Focus on the Netherlands doesn't include my favorite undistributed Danish documentary of last year, Alias Kurban Saïd. You can't have everything.


Updates: More MVFF previews: Michael Guillén and, at SF360, Dennis Harvey.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:02 AM | Comments (2)

October 4, 2006

Reykjavik Dispatch. 1.

That David D'Arcy, he gets around.

Reykjavik International Film Festival In its third year, the Reykjavik International Film Festival is thriving. It has survived a challenge from a competing festival organized by local distributors to show off their wares in Iceland, a tiny market with a total of less than 300,000 inhabitants. This year, its guests include Atom Egoyan, Bahman Ghobadi, two of the Tipton Three (former detainees whose stories are told in The Road to Guantanamo, the shy Aleksandr Sokurov and Yoko Ono (traveling with the official documentary The US vs. John Lennon). Reykjavik means "smokey harbor," and Iceland is a magical place. Who wouldn't want to come here?

One revelation there for me was the documentary Out of Bounds (Hors les Murs) by Pierre Barougier and Alexander Leborgne, a look inside the prison camp of Iwahig, an institution that for decades has attempted to rehabilitate minimum security criminals by giving them near-total freedom within the boundaries of a prison farm cut out of the jungle and bordered by mountains. Men who were convicted of robbery and murder tell their stories as they work on the farm with their families gathering coconuts and herding cattle. Children of prisoners attend school with the families of prisoners and guards. Imagine that in the US.

Out of Bounds Some prisoners don't take to the tolerant environment and are sent back to more harsh conditions of confinement, but many commit themselves to change and tell their stories on camera. Utopian? It isn't exactly Club Med and it is an anomaly even in the Philippines, where prisoners explain that gangs control most other prisons and enforce discipline savagely - with murder. It doesn't work for everyone, but it would be hard to argue that this approach is any less effective that the Club Fed lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key school of prison operation that seems to be in vogue in the US these days. We can also assume that the Philippines are not putting its many politically threatening Muslim prisoners from the south of the country in anything like this prison.

Out of Bounds couldn't have been more different than Michael Winterbottom's prison saga The Road to Guantanamo, also playing at Reykjavik, which filled the halls wherever it played with young audiences who were eager to share their contempt for George W Bush and the American war in Iraq. (If there are Icelandic supporters of the US in this war, they haven't shown themselves publicly at the festival.) The stars of this show were two of the Tipton Three, Rhuhel Ahmed and Asif Iqbal, the young English-born Asian men who were arrested by the Northern Alliance forces in Afghanistan and then handed over to American troops. The three men were held in Guantanamo and interrogated brutally for two years before their release without charges.

In conversations with Ahmed and Iqbal, who seemed a lot more like young men from England than the kind of murderous prisoners whom George W Bush calls "the worst of the worst," a few things were clarified. The young men took pains to note that, while their treatment was abusive (although far less abusive than the interrogators, especially the female US interrogators intended it to be), some of the Guantanamo guards treated them decently. Korans, they said, were indeed flushed down toilets there, long before the disputed story about that practice appeared in Newsweek. Koran abuse was a regular tactic used to demoralize the prisoners, said the young men, who noted that their religious faith grew during their confinement.

The Road to Guantanamo The young men also confirmed that they were far from the youngest at the camp. Young boys who were 12 and 14 arrived - and are still there, they said. The well-publicized suicides, they argue, were not so clearly cases of prisoners taking their own lives. (The US military has called those deaths acts of "asymmetric warfare," intended as public relations maneuvers.) Guards passed through the corridors between cells every two minutes, the young men noted, which would have made it difficult for a prisoner to hang in his cell for two hours before being discovered, as has been alleged in some of the cases.

When asked about their integration back into British society, Ahmed and Iqbal said they were working full-time to promote the film, traveling to festivals where it plays and to countries where it's opened. No news of when they will allowed to visit the US, although the Bush adminstration seems to be doing its best to keep their story alive. (The young men have a suit pending against Rumsfeld and company.)

Seeing the unlikely young film stars there in Reykjavik, alongside Atom Egoyan and other filmmakers, certainly made them look anything but threatening. The president of Iceland, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, greeted the young men warmly at a reception for Egoyan that took place at the president's house yesterday. It goes without saying that American Embassy staff were nowhere in evidence. (Winterbottom was unable to attend the festival, according to Ahmed and Iqbal, because he is filming A Mighty Heart, the story of Daniel Pearl, a Brangelina Pitt/Jolie project, with Angelina Jolie playing Marianne Pearl.)

In a panel with two of the Tipton Three that had young Icelanders standing in the aisles of an old theater, it was revealed by a local representative of Amnesty International that Iceland was a transit site for secret CIA flights, perhaps flights involving prisoners, she suggested. The investigation that Amnesty and other Icelandic group demanded on this issue was never conducted adequately, the Amnesty rep said. No surprise, the Tipton Two told the indignant crowd. "All governments lie," Rhuhel Ahmed noted.

Matthew Barney: Hoist Also represented in the festival was Matthew Barney, who is something of an adopted son here. As Björk's partner, it might be more accurate to call him an adopted son-in-law. On the program, Barney's work can be seen in Destricted, in which seven filmmakers explore the relationships between pornography and popular culture. My reaction to the compilation reel at Sundance was that artists have now proven that they can make boring pornography like everyone else. Yet Icelanders, especially Icelandic artists, don't seem to think that Barney's work is at all boring. At the Hafnarhus, a massive fish warehouse in the center of town that has been converted into a contemporary art space - something of a Kunsthalle - artists paid unacknowledged tribute to Barney with installations: a collapsed house, a ruined banquet scene complete with crushed eggs, and the piece de resistance, by Magnus Arnason, a hairy starfish on the ceiling from which gelatinous fluids seeped down. Barney's fans might be pleased with this creation, which seems to overlap with the local folky spirit of pagan ur-earthiness.

So far, Barney's influence is harder to spot among Iceland's filmmakers. More about their work in a later dispatch.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:54 PM | Comments (2)

Shorts, 10/4.

Raúl Ruiz: The Poetics of Cinema Girish has been reading Raúl Ruiz's Poetics of Cinema and learns how a moment of boredom might become a "privileged moment."

Perlentaucher points to a "beautiful" essay by Belá Tarr in the Hungarian publication Élet és Irodalom on filmmaker Gábor Bódy. The occasion is an exhibition at the Ludwig Múzeum in Budapest, and of course, I can't read a single word. But Perlentaucher notes that although Tarr doesn't even mention that Bódy cooperated with the Stasi, he does write that Bódy "saw people not just as social creatures but also as beings of nature, as a part of the cosmos... He put an upside down world back on its feet. He was seen as someone who 'thought differently,' as a 'marginal' artist (or as a drunken pig, even if he hadn't been drinking for weeks. It was wonderful to see the state-approved directors and their studio brigades freeze in fear when Bódy entered a café wearing his tuxedo with its yellow buttons). From the moist and warm sheep stalls of their security, they held him in contempt without realizing that, over time, it was they who were becoming marginal."

Perlentaucher also points to a special dossier in L'Express on Rachid Bouchareb's Indigènes and a piece by Dorota Mas?owska in Polityka. The gist: "It's extraordinarily difficult for a Pole to watch 20 Polish films about Poland in Poland!"

Doug Cummings offers a second round of brief reviews of documentaries by Krzysztof Kieslowski.

Romance "Tear-jerking melodrama or sinpa (originally meaning the "new style" theater, a term imported from Japan during the colonial period) is arguably not only the most significant cinematic genre in Korean cinema today, but also Korea's unique contribution to the global media culture. Disparaged as vulgar and tasteless only a few decades ago, like so many popular Korean artforms, melodrama has stoutly weathered insults and derisions, to claim the position of a commercial and artistic force to be reckoned with." Kyu Hyun Kim reviews Moon Seung-wook's Romance.

Also at Koreanfilm.org, Adam Hartzell on Jang Sun-woo's Bad Movie: "Due to its portrayal of violent and obnoxious resistance to authority and disregard for basic human decency, standard film narrative, and high production quality... one can see justification in Kyung Hyun Kim's claim that 'The film is quite possibly the most controversial and ruptured film text in the history of Korea' (The Remasculinization of Korean Cinema, p.187)."

Michael Guillén has a good long talk with David Thomson - about Nicole Kidman, of course, but also about the state of American cinema and how he got started writing about film.

Dave Kehr on the new Maltese Falcon DVD package: "Though the Huston remains the definitive version - thanks as much to the miracle of casting that brought together Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Elisha Cook Jr as to Huston's direction - the two other versions have striking merits of their own."

Also in the New York Times:

  • Stephen Holden: "As informative as it is, Wrestling With Angels doesn't have time to do more than scratch the surface of its fascinating subject." More ffrom Phyllis Fong in the Voice. Related: The Hollywood Reporter's Martin Grove talks with Freida Lee Mock about the year in docs: "It's just a great renaissance for the form. Basically, the public has discovered how entertaining and interesting and engaging documentary films can be." Plus, the indieWIRE interview.

So Goes the Nation
  • Jeannette Catsoulis: "A 'what went wrong?' documentary bristling with answers, ...So Goes the Nation is a clear-eyed and utterly ruthless dissection of the battle for Ohio in the months leading up to the 2004 presidential election.... It's not pretty, but it is instructive." More from Michael Atkinson in the Voice.

  • Nathan Lee: "A wordless stop-motion-animated feature shot on 16-millimeter film, Blood Tea and Red String is wondrously obsolete, a scruffy rebuttal to the digital suavity and celebrity shenanigans of the Pixar era." More from R Emmet Sweeney in the Voice. Trailer.

  • Laura M Holson: "With more than a dozen computer-animated movies being readied for release by next summer, Hollywood is facing viewer fatigue worthy of Sleeping Beauty."

Anthony Kaufman spots news at Gawker that the Voice has fired Michael Atkinson: "J Hoberman and Dennis Lim are the last remaining film staffers from the old regime. It's hard to believe they've lasted this long."

But Atkinson's still around for this week's issue, writing of the Up series, on the occasion of the release of 49 Up, "[Michael] Apted's achievement is one of essential humanity.... Try to think of another movie project that endeavors to capture in some fashion the entirety of a life's experience." More from Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. Related: Apted is a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

"I enjoy the Miike films I've seen, but it's hard to criticize them using the kind of criteria that you'd apply to narrative cinema by just about anyone else," writes Bryant Fraser. "Instead, I tend to judge his films on how apeshit they are - the more, the merrier. Imprint is pretty apeshit."

Nick Schager revisits Aguirre: The Wrath of God: "If Herzog and Aguirre are kindred spirits, so too are both with Klaus Kinski, the infamously eccentric thespian and favorite of Herzog's who, in his first of five collaborations with the director, embodies the Spanish explorer with a bestial ferocity that's breathtaking in its enormity." Also in Slant, Schager on Poison Friends and 1/3 and Ed Gonzalez on Maria Ramos's Justice: "The film brings to mind the good and bad of two other courtroom documentaries, Raymond Depardon's rigorous 10th District Court and Kim Longinotto's good-hearted Sisters in Law."

Overlord

Dennis Harvey at SF360: "Beautifully shot in a rainbow of grey tones by John Alcott - who the very same year shot Barry Lyndon, a major candidate for Most Gorgeously Photographed Movie Ever - Overlord was duly complimented by Stanley Kubrick, who reportedly told [Stuart] Cooper, 'The only thing wrong is it's an hour and a half too short!'"

At Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Tom Huddleston suggests finding The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, "a discarded relic of socially conscious 70s cinema, a forgotten salvo in the generation wars, and a unique, vividly haunting experience." Also: Matt Bailey on The Curse of the Crying Woman, "resolutely Gothic, full of the genre's characteristic tropes: an inherited curse, pervasive madness, a decaying old castle, a blurring of the line between life and death, mirroring and doubling, a persecuted ingénue, and an overpowering sense of impending doom."

At the House Next Door, appropriately enough, Wagstaff offers an appreciation of The Old Dark House.

Cinema Panopticum "The eponymous Cinema Panopticum is a penny arcade in a forlorn carnival. One day, a little girl parts the curtain and wanders in to watch its five macabre, short films in succession - alone." In Boldtype, Andy Warner reviews Thomas Ott's Cinema Panopticum.

Bob Rafelson's Mountains of the Moon "seems to be, on its surface, a classic prestige picture of the kind David Lean and Richard Attenborough excelled at - handsome locales, historic pedigree, period recreations, epic running time," writes Bilge Ebiri at ScreenGrab. "But look a bit closer, and it becomes clear that Mountains is a darker, more bracing film than most others of its ilk."

Darren Hughes: "I'm nowhere near deciding yet whether or not The Black Dahlia is good, but it's certainly among the strangest and most fascinating Hollywood films I've seen in quite some time."

For Cheryl Eddy, writing in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, The Last King of Scotland "never answers the essential question it raises: why do we need a white guy as a ViewMaster in the first place?"

"The characters in Jesus Camp hardly represent a fringe movement," argues Anthony Kaufman in In These Times. More from Rob Nelson in the City Pages.

The Spiderwick Chroncicles Time Out's Chris Tilly: "Mean Girls helmer Mark Waters is currently assembling a stellar cast for this forthcoming fantasy flick The Spiderwick Chronicles." So far: Mary-Louise Parker, Joan Plowright, Nick Nolte and Martin Short. Also, Rafe Spall on his favorite Londoner, his dad, Timothy.

Maria Elena Fernandez spends a day with James Woods. Also in the Los Angeles Times, Scott Martelle finds Steve Zaillian "shellshocked" in the debris of All the King's Men bombing and Jay Fernandez hears that collaborators Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo Arriaga are spatting.

Sally Vincent interviews Brenda Blethyn for the Guardian.

Spiegel Online reports (in English) on the premiere in Berlin of Germany. A Summer Fairy Tale, drawing the chancellor et al.

This week's list at the AV Club: "19 Terrific Midnight Movies From The Last 10 Years."

Online viewing tip #1. Via Grady Hendrix a trailer for Wisit Sasanatieng's The Unseeable.

Online viewing tip #2. Via Todd at Twitch, a trailer for Satoshi Kon's Paprika.

Online viewing tip #3. The trailer for For Your Consideration at Time Out.

Online viewing tips, round 2. The Guardian's Kate Stables has seven political shorts for you.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:47 PM

Shortbus.

Shortbus "As utopian visions go, it doesn’t get much better than Shortbus, a film in which all you need is love - and sex, lots and lots of mutually, sometimes collectively, pleasurable sex," sings Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "An ode to the joy and sweet release of sex, the film manages to be a sincere, modest political venture that finds humor where you might least expect it, notably in a ménage à trois featuring a cheeky rendition of 'The Star Spangled Banner.'"

"The sex is the most unremarkable thing about it," notes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "What surprised me most about this gentle-spirited sprawl of a movie, set in post-9/11 New York City, is what I can only call the friendly, Midwestern quality of the filmmaking. It's as if [John Cameron] Mitchell - the thoughtful, mischievous faun behind Hedwig and the Angry Inch, one of the only truly swinging rock musicals ever made - were calling out to one and all, 'Come on over, kids - we're having a sex party!' This may be a movie made by a New Yorker (albeit a Texas-born one), yet it's anything but insular. Gregarious, neurotic, maybe a little guilty of oversharing: Shortbus is American right to its nonexistent short shorts."

Updated through 10/6.

Michael Koresky opens Reverse Shot's round at indieWIRE: "Mitchell's cinematic instincts - so musical, so grandiose, so spectacularly queer yet attempting to be hetero-friendly - are so dead-on (Shortbus contains the most humane, compassionate use of the close-up of any American film this year) that it will be easy for many to overlook Shortbus's slightly faulty wiring and precarious plot pivots." Also: the iW interview.

Jürgen Fauth: "Shortbus has the potential to become one of the films that redefine audience expectations, a watershed that divides other movies with similar themes into before and after. It's that good."

Jim Ridley: "It's a triple-X midnight movie with a heart of squarest gold." Also in the Voice, Tricia Romano: "The after-party for the New York premiere last Tuesday at Angel Orensanz was like a continuation of the film's lush, anything-can-happen multi-sexual vibe."

The film "knows exactly how anomalous it is and where it fits into the current zeitgeist," writes Dennis Harvey in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "(The most quotable line occurs when one character surveys an orgiastic scene: 'It's like the 60s but with less hope.') Mitchell is defiant enough to create hope, even his own zeitgeist if need be."

At Movie City News, Stephen Holt calls it "a magnificent, joyous queer romp and a milestone achievement, a real breakthrough film."

Time Out New York: John Cameron Mitchell Earlier: "Cannes. Shortbus." and A summertime question for Eugene Hernandez."

Just saw that John Cameron Mitchell is guest-editing Time Out New York's annual sex issue, opening it up with a first-person making-of: "[T]his ain't no one-night stand of a movie. If you're gay, it's gonna make you straight. If you're straight, it's gonna make you gay. If you're in the middle, it'll push you to the edge. If you're on the ledge, it'll pull you back in through the window."

Update, 10/5: In the New York Press, Armond White hails "a bright, impudent new chapter in New York bohemian cinema. A comical S&M scene in front of a penthouse view of Ground Zero says more about the Big Apple mood than the 9/11 Commission Report. Yet Shortbus avoids the usual hometown gloating by Hollywood-financed mascots Woody Allen and Spike Lee or even Andy Warhol's self-distancing party games. It succeeds because writer-director Mitchell's freaky-deaky social observations balance what's funny and what's cutting."

Updates, 10/6: Aaron Dobbs: "Although it has its flaws - most notably a final sequence that seems to undermine everything that has come before it in the film - Shortbus is no sophomore slump. Rather, it proves that Mitchell is one of the most creative, daring and innovative filmmakers on the scene today, indie or otherwise."

"If only the film seemed more up to the high-minded, well-meaning goodwill it inevitably attracts," writes Mark Olsen in the Los Angeles Times.

Dan Parsons talks with Mitchell; also in IFC News, Michelle Orange offers "A Brief History of Real Sex on Screen (Well, Without the Porn).

Posted by dwhudson at 12:52 PM

The Departed.

The Departed "The Departed is a wildly commercial project, but let no one imagine it a work for hire," writes J Hoberman in a Voice review that opens with a reminder: "No studio director was a greater hero to the Hong Kong new wave than Martin Scorsese." Further in, Hoberman sees Scorsese "staking a claim to QT's turf" before coming to what will, for many, be a surprising conclusion: "Overwrought as The Departed may be, it's nothing that wouldn't have been cured by losing Jack (and maybe half an hour). Too bad the bottom line meant Scorsese had to sell that hambone Mephistopheles his soul."

"How did America get so small?" asks Tom Scocca in the New York Observer. "Infernal Affairs, a brooding and intricate cops-and-mobsters thriller, set box-office records on its home soil and swept the Hong Kong movie awards. It quickly added a prequel and sequel, expanding into a multigenerational crime trilogy - The Godfather of Hong Kong cinema. That's not quite the same as being The Godfather, but we haven't been making The Godfather over here lately either." Now then: "Martin Scorsese, it turns out, is a great Hong Kong movie director... The Departed is hot-blooded, throbbing with rock music and ethnic rage and scabrous dialogue (written by William Monahan) where Infernal Affairs is cold."

"A white-knuckle potboiler with a surrealistic edge of mania, this propulsive, astoundingly vulgar pop entertainment finds a reenergized Scorsese back on the mean streets he understands better than any other filmmaker," writes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "It's a snarling, magnificent beast."

Matt Dentler: "The Departed is what we hoped Miami Vice would be. But, as this new film proves, Michael Mann is great but he's no Martin Scorsese."

Jim Emerson on the oeuvre at MSN: "Watching certain Scorsese pictures today (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, GoodFellas, Casino and others), you can appreciate the ways they both reflect and question the prevailing moral climate in early 21st-century America."

Cinematical's Erik Davis has notes from the press junket.

Earlier: David Edelstein in New York and Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer.

Updates, 10/5: "Scorsese seems to have abandoned his Gollum-like quest for golden trinkets, and the result is the best thing he's done in ages - an exhilarating pulp entertainment," heralds Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly:

Some will inevitably claim that The Departed is nothing more than a kind of greatest hits collection for Scorsese, who is certainly no stranger to stories of urban jungles seething with the ambitions of hot-blooded Guineas and Micks. Even I wouldn't rush to call the movie one of Scorsese's best - it doesn't dig deep under the skin of its characters in the way of a Mean Streets or a Taxi Driver, and as a study of undercover police work, it rarely ventures more than ankle-high into the muddy psychological waters of this summer's Miami Vice. But like the blaring classic rock ballads he has long favored for his soundtracks ('Gimme Shelter' and the electrifying Van Morrison cover of 'Comfortably Numb' are among the highlights here), Scorsese's hits are nothing to sniff at. Indeed, the very vibrancy of this movie is tied to its familiarity, to the thrill of seeing 'Marty' shrug off his yen for enshrinement in some ersatz canon and rekindle the old razzle-dazzle - the pulse-quickening energy, the restless zooms and tracking shots, the explosions of gory violence - that once made every young film student in America want to be him (before they decided they wanted to be Tarantino instead).

"The film remains true to the genre and authentic in atmosphere and details nearly to the end before blowing it all with a few too many bullets to the head," writes Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix, in other words, more or less in the film's hometown. "Scorsese isn't about plots; he's about people, places, and times, and until he departs from that, this film is a return to genius." Also, Brett Michel listens in on a press conference.

For Eric Kohn, writing for the Reeler, the film "sports Scorsese's flair for technical tomfoolery while betraying his previously stalwart sense of justice. Substance loses footing to style in a big way, creating a gleefully morbid crime story that navigates nearly every turn in the Sopranos playbook."

The Guardian's got a Scorsese quiz.

Updates, 10/6: In the Nation, sounding at first a bit like Woody Allen on the couch in Manhattan, Stuart Klawans opens by comparing the feeling of watching "a sequence of great filmmaking" with other superlative experiences of the arts (substitute Velázquez for Cezanne's apples, and you get the basic idea). Then:

Scorsese introduced this feeling many years ago, in Mean Streets; but since then he has ventured far from the Little Italy that served as a platform for the emotion. He went to Las Vegas and Tibet, 1930s Hollywood and ancient Judea, testing and stretching himself as great artists do. In so doing, he left behind the mood that was initially so striking, and so peculiarly his. I thought it was missing even in GoodFellas. I hadn't expected to encounter it again.

Yet here it is once more, revived for two and a half hours nonstop in The Departed. You might be surprised that Irish Catholic South Boston should have provided the opportunity for this stunning return, but I tell you the range of emotions would be characteristically, authentically Scorsese's even if The Departed were set in Kowloon.

The Guardian: Scorsese Ed Pilkington interviews Scorsese for the Guardian. The primary focus: directing Leonardo DiCaprio and the crucial turning point on the set of The Aviator. Also, Peter Bradshaw: "Martin Scorsese has got his groove back, or most of it, with what is arguably his best picture since GoodFellas: a big, brash, splatteringly violent mob opera starring Jack Nicholson giving it the full Pavarotti, with an outrageous and outrageously enjoyable performance that doesn't so much go over the top as go over the ionosphere."

Stephanie Zacharek in Salon: "Scorsese didn't need to remake Infernal Affairs, but what he has done with it is a compliment rather than an affront to the original: The Departed reimagines its source material rather than just leeching off it, preserving the bone structure of the first movie while finding new curves in it."

At Cinematical, Jeffrey M Anderson: "[Scorsese] has ceased fighting the personal demons that haunted Taxi Driver (1976) and Raging Bull (1980). Now he's here to demonstrate the sheer infectious pleasure of making cinema, a glorious symphony of motion in the key of violence." More from James Rocchi.

James Christopher in the London Times: "Nicholson's unsavoury grin and seedy menace are a joy to behold... The flurries of unspeakable violence - as much implied as seen - are vintage Scorsese. The way his film plays tricks on the senses long after the final credits roll adds another thoughtful dimension to the gripping magic."

Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat: "For all its links to the Scorsese films cited above, The Departed, as a project, actually seems more in line with his 1991 thriller, Cape Fear. As a star-heavy genre remake, it feels like Scorsese is running for cover after a series of high-profile projects that were commercial failures and only moderate critical successes, at best.... Nineteen times out of 20, I find remakes inferior to their sources. But, like Cape Fear, this is from the other 5 percent."

"Scorsese hands Nicholson so many grandstanding scenes that the film's emphasis is rarely where it should be," complains Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman. Even so, "It's brave of Scorsese to forgo his stylistic mannerisms for much of The Departed; for once, he doesn't direct as if he were being paid per zoom-shot."

"[S]wiftly crosscutting between multiple subplots, Scorsese's film, for much of its 150 minutes, rocks violently, passionately, urgently," writes Nick Schager at Slant. Nevertheless, he also finds it "alternately scintillating, silly, and distended."

Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times: "Frequently excessive but never dull, The Departed is a little too much of a lot of the things that define Martin Scorsese films but it's also almost impossible to resist. Too operatic at times, too in love with violence and macho posturing at others, it's a potboiler dressed up in upscale designer clothes, but oh how that pot does boil."

"[M]ore often than not The Departed looks like a movie any of his legion of imitators could have made," harrumphs the Independent's Anthony Quinn.

"If ever a Scorsese film was one for the fans, The Departed is it," proposes JR Jones in the Chicago Reader. "You can just imagine him lining up the next head-splat gunshot scene, muttering, 'Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!'"

Sukhdev Sandhu in the Telegraph: "[E]ven though the criminal milieux and visual tics are familiar (cat-and-mouse chases along steam-filled Chinatowns?), and the storyline unoriginal, Scorsese makes the material his own, injecting it with his own torrential, viscous intensity. Infernal Affairs spawned a couple of sequels; suddenly, The Departed II seems a pretty attractive prospect."

Bradley Steinbacher in the Stranger: "[T]hough the story isn't a particularly deep one - scratch the surface and you'll quickly strike bone - Scorsese and lifelong editor Thelma Schoonmaker have crafted the film with such determination, and move it along at such an impressive clip, that you're constantly catching your breath as you watch it unfold."

The Washington Post's Ann Hornaday finds the film "crackles right along, stopping only long enough for Scorsese's signature bursts of explosive violence. Those brawls feel a bit rote, but what's different here is a newfound playful humor."

Jason M Jackowski suggests that it might have been called A History of Violence: "But, unlike Cronenberg's movie, Scorsese's picture fails to resonate as one of the auteur's greatest works."

That Little Round-Headed Boy rounds up "The 10 Greatest Lines of Jack Nicholson Dialogue."

Updates, 10/11: "Finally and at last Martin Scorsese gives a shit about his indispensable moviemaking talent rather than the Oscars," writes Ray Pride at Movie City Indie. "atch for a shot in a foot-chase scene on a Chinatown side street that holds on a lamp made from vertical fingers of mirror, capturing multiples of DiCaprio’s eyes in foreground while the figure of Damon runs into the distance, in perspective the same dimensions as the long strips of mirror. Dazzling. Just dazzling."

"It's not news that Scorsese is a great director, but it's been so long since you've seen him produce something where he obviously feels so confident, that a fan leaves the theater practically giddy with excitement for both him and the medium again," writes Edward Copeland. "Still, of all aspects of The Departed that seemed most revelatory to me, it has to be Mark Wahlberg's role as Dignam, one of DiCaprio's police supervisors. Wahlberg truly has grown over the years into a fine actor, starting in films that were better than he was (like Boogie Nights and Three Kings) until he gave performances better than the films he was in (as in I Heart Huckabees). With The Departed, Wahlberg finally plays a role at the same quality level as the film he's in."

Slate's Dana Stevens: "It feels like the kind of movie critics might overpraise, if only because it's nice to see Scorsese back in the saddle and a treat to find a cops-and-robbers thriller with some energy and wit. But even so, it's a stylish head rush of a movie that flies by, even at two-and-a-half hours, and keeps turning the knife (and your stomach) up to the final scene."

David Denby in the New Yorker: "The Departed is not one of [Scorsese's] greatest films; it doesn't use the camera to reveal the psychological and aesthetic dimensions of an entire world, as Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas did. But it's a viciously merry, violent, high-wattage entertainment, and speech is the most brazenly flamboyant element in it."

Online viewing tips. Scorsese, De Niro, the guys in shorts, commercials, parodies and more, rounded up by Ajit at ticklebooth.

For Dave Kehr, The Departed "has a bored, dutiful feeling, as if Woody Allen had been forced to remake one of his 'early, funny ones.'"

"I'd love to join the applause that welcomes Scorsese back, but for [the many reasons he lists and expounds on], I have to sit on my hands," writes David Bordwell. "For me, the inventiveness of the Asian tradition still reigns supreme in the crime genre."

Update, 10/12: Ed Caesar in the Independent on Scorsese and the Catholic Church, the guys, the Academy, Vietnam, women, NYC, trademarks, violence, advertising and his cameos.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:42 PM

NYFF, 10/4.

J Hoberman's highlights of the second week of the New York Film Festival in the Voice: Belle Toujours, Syndromes and a Century and The Journals of Knud Rasmussen. At indieWIRE, James Israel and Eugene Hernandez measure viewer response to Little Children and Bamako.

Reds

Reds "may be less nostalgic now than it was in 1981," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "And the reason for this, [Warren Beatty] believes, is that Reds is, in large part, a movie about American politics during wartime, and about the opposition to American hegemony at an earlier stage of its development." More from Robert Cashill: "'It's rather a sad movie, because it really isn't very good,' sniffed Pauline Kael, a Reds-baiter. But it's rather good enough. I'd go with David Thomson: 'Still a fascinating picture with passages of greatness.'"

The Reeler probably has the most fun entry, a longish report on what all Beatty said at yesterday's press conference about Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Maureen Stapleton and Jerzy Kosinski. On Keaton: "She can go light and dark, and I always felt that Diane and her subtleties and her sense of humor and her beauty and her intensity pretty much held the story together, because the story is a story that holds the politics and the dialectics of the thing together in the romance between a man and a woman."

Acquarello: "Ostensibly an homage to the principal creators of Belle de Jour, filmmaker Luis Buñuel and screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, Belle Toujours is, nevertheless, a quintessential Manoel de Oliveira film: formalist, dramaturgic, contemplative, and discursive."

At Reverse Shot, James Crawford: "Gardens in Autumn shares a lot of the same genetic material as Buñuel's later, for a lack of a better word, 'surrealist' films, which perhaps are better thought of as feverish works where nothing happens at a furious pace."

At Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Inland Empire calls for not one but two reviews. Leo Goldsmith: "Lynch wishes to establish a connection between a world that is astonishingly familiar and deceptively immediate with one that is utterly, horribly alien." Jenny Jediny: "It is simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting to watch Inland Empire, but it is also genuinely revitalizing; with at least six more films to see at the NYFF and a fall/winter release schedule that is barely holding my attention, this is already ranking as the most engaging film I will see all year."

Also, Beth Gilligan on The Queen. Related: For the Los Angeles Times, Rachel Abramowitz meets Helen Mirren.

And more from Aaron Dobbs, who also reviews Little Children: "Todd Field's film shouldn't come as a surprise. It possesses many of the same problems that existed in his breakthrough picture, the also-good but wildly overpraised In the Bedroom. But maybe Field should work on adapting more short stories before he moves on to the longer form of the novel."

The Journals of Knud Rasmussen

Keith Uhlich at Slant: "It takes a long while to adjust to Journals' somnambulant rhythms, but this is a different kind of dull from Tian Zhuangzhuang's failed biopic, The Go Master, where a most intriguing clash of cultures is drowned in a prettified sea of stately pageantry. Tian isn't interested in illumination; [Zacharias] Kunuk and [Norman] Cohn are, and they're willing to take their time penetrating, at least to these culturally biased eyes, Journals' seemingly inexplicable veneer."

Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog on Volver: "This is beyond the director's standard adulation of women; this is mythologizing a concept of femininity constructed from idealized maternal memories, Douglas Sirk, Sophia Loren and a touch of camp. That's not so much a criticism (though it does chafe a bit) as an observation; Volver is more indulgent and inward-looking than it first appears, a journey into Almodóvarian fantasyland."

More from Vicente Rodriguez-Ortega at Reverse Shot: "If Bad Education was a poor, excessively self-reflexive and indulgent remake of Law of Desire, Volver may be the same in relation to All About My Mother. After the layered humanism and supreme craftsmanship of that Academy Award-winner, Volver feels slightly redundant."

Anne Thompson spoke with Sofia Coppola before Marie Antoinette premiered at Cannes.

The New York Observer's Sara Vilkomerson was mingling last Friday, then asked Peter Morgan how he liked the party: "'The opening night in New York befits the city,' he said. 'You feel it's a more discerning, sophisticated and yet somehow violent experience. Just the business of getting to the New York Film Festival - I'm not a religious man, but I always privately mouth 'Thanks' when I arrive anywhere in New York.'"

Posted by dwhudson at 11:55 AM

Fests and events, 10/4.

Tonight, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, Cabinetic and GreenCine present Karel Zeman's 1961 film, The Fabulous Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

Josephine Baker Patrick O'Connor talks to Kamera about the Josephine Baker season he's curated at London's National Film Theatre. Through October 15. Related: Mark Brown in the Guardian: "Plans to transform the National Film Theatre from a place few people know about hidden under a dark and dingy bridge on the South Bank were revealed yesterday."

At Hollywood Bitchslap, Peter Sobczynski previews the 42nd Chicago International Film Festival (October 5 through 19) for Hollywood Bitchslap.

For the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Sara Shieron picks out a few highlights of the Mill Valley Film Festival (October 5 through 15): Cine Manifest, Dr Bronner's Magic Soapbox and Walking to Werner.

In the Voice, Elliot Stein surveys the Otto Preminger: Notorious series running at MoMA through October 29.

Cursed: The Head Trauma Music Project offers an alternative soundtrack to Head Trauma (here's a video clarification), and there'll be a party on Saturday celebrating the launch at Johnny Brenda's in Philadelphia.

51 Birch Street Austinites: Matt Dentler recommends catching 51 Birch Street next Wednesday; I'll second that.

Tom Huddleston clears space at Not Coming to a Theater Near You for reviews from the London Film Festival (October 18 through November 2).

"The Fountain is a rhythmic love letter to death and eternal love that spans all religions, space and time," writes Blake Ethridge at Cinema Strikes Back. He's also got an MP3 of Darren Aronofsky's Q&A at the recent Fantastic Fest.

More Fantastic Fest reviews at Twitch: Peter Martin on Unrest, Abominable and Frostbite.

Todd at Twitch: "It's the Big TIFF 2006 Wrap Up." Yes, it is. Then there's David Walsh, continuing WSWS's survey of this year's edition.

For the Lumière Reader, Melody Nixon previews the Cathay Pacific Italian Film Festival, roaming through New Zealand all season long.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:30 AM

VIFF, 10/4.

Thin In Vancouver, the San Francisco Bay Guardian's Johnny Ray Huston catches Thin, "an angry other side of Todd Haynes's Superstar and Safe, and a female 'nuthouse' rendering much more nuanced and harshly honest than Girl, Interrupted," Jennifer Reeves's short film Shadows Choose Their Horrors, Lutz Dammbeck's "extraordinary" documentary The Net, and John & Jane, "a cool study of six call-centre workers in India who spend most of their waking hours on the phone adopting American accents (and identities) to sell products to red-staters in the US."

"People have every reason to be fired up about this festival. After five days here, I'm awash in fine movies." David Bordwell capsule-reviews several.

Jason Whyte delivers Hollywood Bitchslap's VIFF 06 questions to Acts of Imagination director Carolyn Combs and screenwriter Michael Springate.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:45 AM

Borat vs Kazakhstan: The Sequel

Borat Robert Saunders, "World's Leading Borat-ologist," comments for Harper's on Borat's threat, uttered in the name of Kazakhstan, to "commence bombardment of [Uzbekistan's] cities with our catapults": "[Sacha Baron] Cohen's Boratistani burlesque will likely provoke quiet outrage in official circles, but wary of further undermining 'Brand Kazakhstan,' it is unlikely that the Nazarbayev government will once again publicly respond to Cohen's taunts. Uzbekistan, however, is a country with an abysmal human rights record, and a paranoid despot for a ruler. It may not be as restrained as Kazakhstan now that Cohen has called for war with the ruling Karimov regime."

He's already been proven wrong on that first point. "While it is clearly not permissible in modern Britain to caricature certain ethnic groups or to ascribe racist or sexist views to them, it is apparently permissible to present the people of Kazakhstan as a bunch of rabid Jew-haters and serial sexual molesters," fumed Erlan Idrissov, Kazakhstan's ambassador to the United Kingdom, in the Guardian just last night - and predictably, the comments are pouring in.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:18 AM | Comments (3)

October 3, 2006

Vancouver Dispatch. 2.

Tom Charity catches three Canadian films at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Douglas Coupland: City of Glass For all its natural beauty, Vancouver is famously non-descript in the numerous Hollywood movies that shoot here on the cheap, invariably relegating the city to a stand-in for Anytown, USA (recent examples include the X-Men films, Firewall, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and the remake of The Fog).

While the locals rather like having movie stars in their midst (and you can be sure the local media resent their absence from VIFF), there is something belittling about this enforced anonymity. Gallingly, Hollywood is making jokes about it: "Why would we want to shoot in Vancouver?" someone rails in the pilot for Aaron Sorkin's new show, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. "Vancouver doesn't look like anywhere. Vancouver doesn't even look like Vancouver."

Everything's Gone Green Well, Vancouver never looked more like itself than in Everything's Gone Green, based on the first original narrative screenplay by the novelist and multi-media artist Douglas Coupland. Coupland is Vancouver born and bred, and several of his books take place in the immediate vicinity (Life After God, Girlfriend in a Coma and Hey Nostradamus!, for starters); he even wrote a typically gnomic A-Z of his hometown, City of Glass.

Everything's Gone Green might be City of Glass: The Movie for the way it goes out of its way to foreground the location. It even begins with a bike ride around the Seawall. But this is not mere travelogue; Coupland is exploring the way the environment conditions a certain culture, in this case a psyche of west coast capitalism that is at once attractively laid back and morally inert (not to say corrupt).

Directed by Paul Fox, the movie is a comedy about Ryan (well played by Paulo Costanzo), a twentysomething slacker who fancies himself a photographer and an idealist, but allows himself to be sucked into a money-laundering scam at his day-job with the provincial lottery.

Taking in such local touchstones as the booming real estate market, "grow ops," and, yes, the movie industry itself, Everything's Gone Green is a deft, witty piece of work marred by a woolly ending and some occasionally tentative filmmaking. Thom Anderson, who made Los Angeles Plays Itself, is on the documentary jury here this year. I hope he gets the chance to see this witty riposte to Hollywood outsourcing during his stay... it probably goes without saying that only a tiny fraction of Canadian movies find theatrical distribution south of the 49th Parallel.

Monkey Warfare

BC Bud gets a featured supporting role in another notable Canadian movie which screened Saturday, Reg Harkema's Monkey Warfare. The inevitable Don McKellar stars alongside Tracy Wright (the snotty art curator in Me, You and Everyone We Know) as Dan and Linda, two ex-Vancouver revolutionaries, now living under the radar in Parkdale, Toronto. Jaded and cynical, they are forced to reexamine their political credentials when Dan meets Susan (Nadia Litz), a sexy dope dealer who wants to learn how to mix a Molotov cocktail.

I remember David Fincher saying you could do Fight Club one of two ways, big budget or bargain basement. This would be the bargain basement option. Harkema wrote, directed and edited the picture before Telefilm Canada agreed to kick in any subsidy, and makes a virtue of his limited resources, which chime with his characters hand-to-mouth existence (they survive by reselling garbage on eBay and a spot of opportunistic recycling). The spirit of Godard and 60s radicalism is never far off - an editor by trade, Harkema splices in agit-prop style cutaways as the spirit moves him, and gives plenty of spin to Dan's record collection, which includes Sun Ra, Weird War and Comets on Fire. At 75 minutes, Monkey Warfare knows exactly when to quit. It's a provocative, politically astute movie that redeems that much abused term, "independent."

Away From Her Away From Her has landed a US distribution deal (with Lionsgate) and has reportedly sold well overseas, too. Not bad for a "small" film about an elderly married couple coping with the onset of Alzheimer's. Of course, it helps that first-time director Sarah Polley has a following as an actress, but what makes the movie "sexy," in industry terms, is the pairing of local hero Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie.

Adapted by Polley from Alice Munro's short story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain," Away From Her doesn't stray far enough from tastefully conventional TV disease-of-the-week treatment. A flash-forward structural device doesn't entirely come off, either. But it's easy to understand why Pinsent's Grant is still entranced by Christie's Fiona after 40 years of marriage, even as she slips deeper into senility and transfers her affections to another patient at the nursing home (Michael Murphy). There is a palpable tenderness here that is genuinely moving.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:45 PM

Online listening tip.

Museum of the Moving Image The site for the Museum of the Moving Image's Pinewood Dialogues has been revamped and it's now much easier to see an overview of the 40 conversations now online, ranging date-wise from a transcript of the talk with Sidney Poitier in 1989 through the MP3 of David Schwartz's discussion of The Last King of Scotland with Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy and director Kevin McDonald. A few filmmakers have been interviewed twice; eleven years separate the conversations with David Cronenberg, for example.

You can now also subscribe to the podcast.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:43 AM | Comments (1)

Frank Beyer, 1932 - 2006.

Frank Beyer When director Frank Beyer (more) died on Sunday, a few German papers were just able to work slightly tweaked wire stories into their Monday editions (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) or hectically round up a few quotes from those who knew and worked with him (Die Welt). Today is a national holiday in Germany and the papers aren't publishing, but I'd be very surprised if tomorrow's editions aren't full of obituaries and tributes to one of the most important filmmakers to work for what was once East Germany's Defa Studios.

Abroad, Beyer is probably best known for his 1975 film Jakob, der Lügner (Jacob the Liar), which was nominated for an Oscar. In Germany, though, it's Spur der Steine (Trace of Stones, 1966) that's left an indelible mark on the culture, partly because it cranked Manfred Krug's stardom up several notches, but mostly because, of all the films the East German state banned, this was the most notorious - and probably the most fun, too.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:44 AM

Interview. Jason Reitman.

Thank You for Smoking Thank You for Smoking, starring Aaron Eckhart, Maria Bello, William H. Macy, Robert Duvall, Katie Holmes, Sam Elliott and Rob Lowe, is "a decidedly non-PC slash-and-burn satire of social politics, media exploitation and the culture of spin," writes Sean Axmaker, introducing his conversation with Jason Reitman about his feature debut.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:18 AM

Interview. Fabrice du Welz.

Calvaire "Fabrice du Welz's Calvaire (The Ordeal) marks the high point so far of Eurohorror," wrote Salon's Andrew O'Hehir this summer. "Calvaire offers an archetypal setup, in which a handsome but naive protagonist winds up in the rural backwoods, at the hands of some natives who are much, much too friendly. Du Welz rips off more movies than I can count, from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to The Shining, Deliverance, Misery and Psycho, but the results are so insane, so blackly hilarious and, yes, so horrifying, that I can't object."

In his talk with the Belgian director, Jonathan Marlow hears that du Welz's next film will take him from the European flatlands to the jungles of Far East Asia.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:16 AM

October 2, 2006

Shorts, 10/2.

The Departed New York's David Edelstein has praise all around for the cast of The Departed. What's more, "William Monahan's dialogue is Mamet-speak played at Alvin and the Chipmunks speed with a broad Boston accent. While characters spit yahmuthahfuckedme expletives into one another's faces (along with peculiar citations of Shakespeare, Freud, and James Joyce), Scorsese and his fab house editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, drive the action brusquely." All that said, this is a 2½-hour film: "Classical conductors speak of the ability to 'sustain the long line' - to stay measured, to resist the impulse to break a passage up into too many climaxes. Scorsese, brilliant as he is, isn't a long-line kind of guy."

Dan Callahan: "This rather unnerving opening is emblematic of Infamous as a whole: it's risky, emotionally raw, maybe not entirely successful, but always searching and intuitive." Also in Slant, Robert Keser: "Given that screenwriter Shawn Slovo's white parents both played pivotal roles in the national struggle," Catch a Fire ought to do just what the title suggests. Keser suggests it doesn't. "Why does her script fail to dramatize the emotional grit of a father's heady decision to abandon his family for exile at military training camps in Mozambique and Angola?"

Hail Mary "Godard has made a career out of donning a staggering variety of masks: from existentialist raconteur in the early 1960s and anti-imperialist provocateur in the late 60s to Maoist radical in the 1970s to his 'return to form' in the early 1980s, and onward to the increasingly gnarled, self-referential, and autobiographical filmmaker of the 1990s. Not all masks have been equal." In Slate, Saul Austerlitz argues that Hail Mary (1985) was Godard's last great film. "[T]he thrill of Godard is gone, long since replaced by moody musings and willful obscurantism." This leads to a set of criteria that make for a good movie; unfortunately, they shut out the essay film.

"Everything in The Science of Sleep cuts against the sleek, cyborgian look that is now the cliche of contemporary culture at its most supposedly forward-looking and innovative; but also against the distancing nostalgia that has been the unchanging look of dystopian speculation for almost a quarter century now (ever since Blade Runner)," writes Steven Shaviro. "Gondry creates a new look, which isn't the future, any more than it is the past - it's rather a kind of displacement-in-place - can I say a displacement-in-time-in place? - a rupturing of the present, something that tears apart the present moment, multiplies it within itself, yet without pushing it either towards an impending future-as-potentiality or a hauntological past. In this way, The Science of Sleep is sort of the flip side, or the riposte and counter-statement to, the deeply hauntological Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)."

Related online viewing via Coudal Partners: Buzz Image creates the seamless effects for Eternal Sunshine. And just plain related: Kathy Fennessy winds up her interview with Gondry for the Siffblog.

The Forsaken Land For the WSWS, Richard Phillips talks with Vimukthi Jayasundara, whose The Forsaken Land, "set in rural Sri Lanka following the 2002 ceasefire of the 20-year ethnic war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)," won a Camera d'Or at Cannes.

Stanley Kauffmann, writing in the New Republic, is impressed with the subject of Wrestling With Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner: "He talks about current politics and its stench, but mostly about ways to live and choose.... Always he is briskly articulate (the Taliban are 'theocratic thugs') and irrepressibly genuine. What especially distinguishes his talks is their transmuted anger; the loathing of what he sees around him is transformed into concern for other people. And below that concern is a fear of despair."

More from Robert Cashill: "The inescapable flaw with Wrestling With Angels is that filming ended a year too soon. I wanted to hear from Kushner on Katrina, not to mention the 2004 election; we see him at the polling stations but there's no followup on the crushing day after. And his script for Steven Spielberg's Munich was a lightning rod for controversy on the left and the right."

MS Smith: "Whatever ingenuity the film's plot might lack, it proceeds with such delicacy and just enough detachment to make it involving. In Clean, tone is everything."

At Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Adam Balz revisits James Whale's The Old Dark House: "[W]hile Frankenstein will undoubtedly stand as his crowning achievement, it's this short, overlooked gem that created its own subgenre and a niche for those who followed."

John Lahr profiles Helen Mirren for the New Yorker.

For In Focus, Mike Russell has a fun talk with Christopher Nolan about recent, current and future projects.

SF360's Susan Gerhard talks with John Cameron Mitchell about Shortbus. Related: Robert Cashill's review. Related online listening: The Reeler's talk with the director.

"Home for the Holidays is a tottering but strangely durable object, just like the Larson family it chronicles," writes Nick Davis. "The Time Out Film Guide dismisses Home as 'a modest film (in every sense),' but I take exception on two grounds: that the film's modesty is just as much a credit as a demerit, and that the structural detours, lopsided gags, and vastly disparate tones in this film are often quite immodest."

The Onyx Project The Onyx Project, about a colonel on an unauthorized mission to Afghanistan, seems to be a pretty interesting indie for two reasons. First, it's got David Strathairn as its star. And second, it's interactive. That is, it's a straight-to-DVD release because it's no ordinary DVD. You can guide the storyline or even click shuffle. Richard Siklos has more.

Also in the New York Times, Michael White reports on what the good people of Margate, a town of around 60K on the southern coast of England, were up to this weekend. Evidently, they reenacted Exodus "in modern terms with a cast of several thousand local people, a phalanx of film crews and assorted news media and cultural celebrities to help out with the locusts, flies and lice."

In the Independent, David Thomson remembers Roy M Brewer, "probably the second most important trade-unionist in the history of Hollywood" and mentor to Ronald Reagan: "As much as anyone, he created the cold climate of those days [the late 40s and early 50s] and set the example - still there for nervous souls - that the US is not the country in which you want to go against the grain."

Belinda Olas picks a few favorites from notstarring.com, which "lists the famous film roles that might have been cast very differently. Emma Thompson in Silence of the Lambs anyone?" Also in the Guardian, a Turner Prize 2006 slide show; and editors celebrate the 80th birthday of a terrific writer, Jan Morris.

"But if you had to mention just one of his 400 movie and TV roles, you'd name Scarface with Al Pacino." Peter Larsen profiles Pepe Serna for the Orange County Register, highlighting film being discussed even now by Ian P and k-punk.

Kristin Thomson has been working on her next book, The Frodo Franchise: The Lord of the Rings and Modern Hollywood, and "there’s suddenly a lot of updating that needs to be done."

At the House Next Door, Andrew Dignan explores the implications of the fact that, before the novelty wore off, Project Greenlight made for better TV than movies.

"Focus on Hastert," advises Alec Baldwin in the Huffington Post.

Online browsing tip. New Yorkers, even if only temporarily, at home in New York, introduced by Amanda Fortini.

Online viewing tip. Time Out's got a clip from The History Boys.

Online viewing tips. Rex Sorgatz points to some "totally good and totally new music videos."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:49 PM | Comments (2)

NYFF, 10/2.

First, the second episode of Jamie Stuart's New York Film Festival video series is up. And more online viewing: New York offers five NYFF shorts.

Inland Empire "Mulholland Drive, possibly the greatest work of American film art since Altman's Nashville, is an impossible act for Lynch to have to follow, but the bug-eyed director—pupils dilated and imagination tripping in almost inconceivable directions—has made the Atlas Shrugged of narrative avant-garde films, compulsively watchable and insanely self-devouring," writes Ed Gonzalez in a four-out-of-four-star review of Inland Empire for Slant.

Jürgen Fauth: "Some of the shivers are all too real, and I'll admit that the film contained moments of subconscious recognition that frightened me to the core. At the end of Inland Empire, prostitutes lip-synch Nina Simone's 'Sinner Man' while a pet monkey frolicks and a man in a red wool cap saws a log. I have no idea what it means, but I'm glad that as unique a visionary as Lynch can still get funding (in Europe) to make exactly the movie he wants. A fertile and overwhelming work of art."

Paprika

"While Satoshi Kon's Paprika couldn't be called the film with the most emotional depth at the festival (or of Kon's career), it's probably the most deliriously pop fun," writes Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog, where she also reviews Syndromes and a Century.

Grady Hendrix: "It's too bad that Paprika is basically a sci-fi flick, because this is a movie that would appeal to a far wider audience than sci-fi fans or anime heads.... And the entire flick is practically an anthem for working woman, doing far more for the professional gal than Melanie Griffith did in Working Girl.... It's a movie that manages to dissect the state of the world completely and totally, and you don't even realize that's what it's done until you're walking out of the theater. If I was some kind of freakish mutant with three hands Paprika would get all three thumbs up."

"Smart, electrifying, and proudly unhinged, this Japanimated gem definitely belongs in the fold, and might even win over a few older art-house patrons with its very adult, transhumanist premise of interactive dream therapy run amok," writes Aaron Hillis for Premiere, where he also reviews Woman on the Beach.


In Bamako, acquarello finds a "critical, impassioned, caustic, and uncompromising approach to examining the repercussions of globalization and subsidized trade on the developing nations of post-colonial Africa."

Also: "Marc Recha channels the spirit of Lisandro Alonso's primitivistic, metaphoric journey of interiority in Los Muertos (a derivation made all the more transparent by an extended river exploration sequence) to a visually sublime, but soporific and tediously unoriginal effect in Days of August." But there's praise for Gardens in Autumn.


At Reverse Shot, James Crawford rages against "the abjectly awful Little Children, which is neither insightful, nor so shabby and low that its generates grotesque interest. However, in being infernally—bewilderingly—certain of its own profundity and moral rectitude, it does accomplish a rare feat: as a point of comparison, it turns Sam Mendes's indefensible American Beauty into a creature of poise, subtlety, and gracefully executed revelations." More from David Edelstein in New York.


Tom Hall has been given a homework assignment: Revisit Lady in the Water, "that colossal failure of a film in the context of [Guillermo] Del Toro's success," Pan's Labyrinth. Also, capsules: Belle toujours, Gardens in Autumn and El Topo.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:58 PM | Comments (5)

Midnight Eye. Tetsuro Tamba.

Tom Mes remembers Tetsuro Tamba:

Tetsuro Tamba

They say Tamba had two quirks as an actor: one for never refusing a role and another for never memorising his lines. As far as the former goes, the figures say it all: the Japanese Movie Database counts 301 films; Tamba's own website chalks up 350, but stops short in mid-2002. When it comes to the lines, the one memory that pops up was seeing him on stage in Tokyo in 2004, playing multiple roles in the Miike-directed adaptation of Kyoka Izumi's novel Demon Pond (Yashagaike). One scene, a lengthy exchange between the female demon and her underwater vassals, saw Tamba installed on a comfortable chair on the far right, with the text of the scene propped up in front of him and in plain sight of the audience. Only Tamba could have gotten away with it, and he did.

Earlier: Tetsuro Tamba, 1922 - 2006. Meanwhile, new reviews:

Funeral Parade of Roses

  • Jaspar Sharp heralds the Eureka Video / Masters of Cinema release of Funeral Parade of Roses, hoping it will "hoist its director Toshio Matsumoto's name up to a higher level on the totem pole of internationally visible filmmaking greats than it hitherto has been and lead to more widespread releases of his other films. Because on the evidence of this kaleidoscopic view of Tokyo's vibrant gay countercultural scene of the late 60s, his work represents something of an undiscovered treasure trove for the Western viewer."

  • Mes: "Gamera the Brave will strike many seasoned monster fans as a Kaiju 101. They, however, are not the target audience of this new instalment, which is clearly pitched at the under-12s."

  • "When Kaze Shindo's debut film Love/Juice arrived on the scene in 2000, people sat up to take notice," writes Mes. The she disappeared; now, she's back with Princess in an Iron Helmut. For Mes, the promise of that debut still remains unfulfilled.

  • Mes: "Featuring [Shintaro] Katsu's first ever turn as a blind masseur, it's tempting to look at this film as merely a precursor to the Zatoichi series. This would be selling Secrets of a Court Masseur short by a long mile, however."

Posted by dwhudson at 10:59 AM

New York Dispatch. 5.

Andrew Grant finds Hong Sang-soo's latest cynical yet not pessimistic, confessional, though maybe not as honestly as it seems.

NYFF 44 With his seventh feature film, Woman on the Beach, South Korean director Hong Sang-soo has created a complex yet lighthearted film that will no doubt please long-time fans as well as potentially win over former detractors. Like all of Hong's films, it's one that I feel requires multiple viewings before fully grasping the myriad of ideas at play, though on the surface it's his most straightforward (and funniest) film to date.

Many of Hong's trademarks are present - multiple triangular relationships, male inadequacy, and a narrative doubling that is less a mirror-image reversal (as in Turning Gate) than it is a variation on a theme. Like The Power of Kangwon Province, the bulk of the action takes place in a popular vacation spot, this time an out-of-season beach resort on Korea's west coast.

Woman on the Beach

There's always been a hint of the autobiographical in Hong's work, and it's grown with each successive film. His protagonists are often affiliated with the arts - writers, actors, art professors - and both Tale of Cinema and Woman on the Beach have film directors at their core. Tale of Cinema ends with the inevitable death of one director, while Woman on the Beach opens with news of the death of another. Is Hong killing off his alter egos, making a statement about the future of cinema, or is it merely coincidence? That both directors in Woman on the Beach share the same name is somewhat ironic, for living director Kim Joong-rae (Kim Seung-woo) is currently working on a screenplay (entitled About Miracles) that deals with this very type of random coincidence.

Joong-rae is convinced that a trip to Shinduri Beach will provide him with the needed inspiration to complete the screenplay. He makes the journey with his production designer Chang-wook (Kim Tae-woo) who, though married, insists on bringing his not-quite-mistress Moon-sook (Ko Hyun-joung) - a quintessential dynamic for a Hong Sang-soo film. The trio will soon find themselves caught up in arguments, petty jealousies, and games of seduction, thanks, in part, to the liberal consumption of Soju. The film's second half will find Joong-rae at the apex of a different triangle, complete with thematic and situational repetition, though for the first time in a Hong film there will be a convergence of the two distinct halves.

Woman on the Beach

Noticeably different this time around is that Hong has created characters who are active rather than passive, and who speak directly to things, as opposed to around them. The men in his films are often at career lows, yet they refuse to admit failure and turn to women as either a crutch or a surrogate for accomplishment. Though Joong-rae is in the midst of a directorial slump, he does manage to complete his screenplay, even while embroiled in an awkward romantic triangle. There is also a directness between characters that is rare for his films - a woman declares (repeatedly), "I will not have sex with you"; a man asks a woman outright about which of the two men she likes better. Then there are the lines that sound self-critical, such as when Moon-sook tells Joong-rae that he's not at all like his films, and that he's "actually just another Korean man." The territory is familiar, but the approach feels quite different. That's not to say that Joong-rae isn't a typical Hong character. In the film's second half, believing he's lost Moon-sook, he goes through the charade of interviewing a woman he meets because, as he tells her, she reminds him of a character in his screenplay. He concocts this situation out of a need to be recognized (and admired) by another woman - the fragile ego that is a staple of many of Hong's male characters.

Those who have criticized Hong in the past for paying short shrift to his female characters will no doubt find that Moon-sook is easily the most developed and independent of his female leads to date. Though initially her role seems as agent to Joong-rae's lack (either artistic or romantic), she takes a more active role in the events that transpire, such that Hong employs a change in narrative focus by the film's end.

Though perhaps more cynical than his past films (almost every marriage in the film has ended, or is in the process of ending, in divorce) Woman on the Beach is at the same time quite optimistic. A film that says much about the act of creation and the lasting power of images, it can easily be viewed as Hong at his most self-reflexive, and his most confessional, though it's nearly impossible to say that with full confidence. As a character in the film points out, "I'm honest only as much as I want to be."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:09 AM | Comments (5)

Vancouver Dispatch. 1.

12½ hours. In the New York Times, Dennis Lim suggested it's the "movie equivalent of reading Proust or watching the Ring cycle." And, in Vancouver, Tom Charity's joined the self-chosen few who've seen it.

Out 1 Three days and 100 movies into the 25th Vancouver International Film Festival, it's hard to know where to start. With the official Opening Gala presentation, Volver? Or perhaps with the first film to unspool Thursday morning - the unofficial opener - The Pervert's Guide to Cinema?

But for sheer historical and cultural importance, it's doubtful anything could compete with the screening of Jacques Rivette's 12-and-a-half hour marathon Out 1 this weekend. What's more, it's a perfect symbol for the defiantly unfashionable cinephilia that dominates North America's second most popular film festival.

Thirty-five years after its premiere in France, Out 1 finally screened in North America for the first time. Is there another major film by an auteur director that has languished in such obscurity? Even after watching it, it's virtually impossible to come up with a precise plot synopsis, arrive at a definitive running time (it was projected here at 24fps, but shot on 25), or even agree on the title. Save for the efforts of the redoubtable Jonathan Rosenbaum there is virtually nothing in the English language on the film (look it up on the IMDb and you find no external reviews at all, and only three user comments).

In part, this state of affairs may be Rivette's fault. When his original version was rejected by the French TV station that commissioned it, he cut the film down from eight feature-length installments to a 225-minute theatrical version, which he dubbed Out 1: Spectre. (According to Rosenbaum, it is a radically different and more difficult work.) It wasn't until 1989 that the original was shown again, at the Rotterdam Film Festival, by which time it had accrued the (ironic?) subtitle Noli Me Tangere - "Touch Me Not." This subtitle doesn't appear anywhere on the print itself.

Earlier this year, the British Film Institute showed Out 1: Noli Me Tangere with (soft) English subtitles for the first time as part of the NFT's Rivette retrospective. Last weekend, I was among the two dozen hardy souls who watched a run through at the Vancity Theatre for the trio pushing the subtitles (an unpredictable live element which gave these screenings some extra-textual frisson). I went back this weekend to hear Jonathan Rosenbaum introduce the film in person to an audience numbering upwards of 30.

Jean-Pierre Léaud Out 1 has four main strands. Two involve different experimental theatre companies, led by Michel Lonsdale and Bernadette Lafont, each in the early stages of rehearsing plays by Aeschylus. Then there's a deaf-mute (or is he?) played by Jean-Pierre Léaud, who is primed to suspect the existence of a secret society, "the 13," inspired by Balzac's Histoire de Treize. In the fourth strand, Juliet Berto is a hustler, a con artiste who will also come across evidence of a conspiracy. But who are the 13, if they really exist, and what might they be up to?

At least half the running time consists of exhausting acting exercises in the Living Theatre style of the day. In his introduction, Rosenbaum quoted Rivette explaining that the film is about "play" in all its senses - as in English, the French word "joue" also connotes "act." The entire film was improvised, but these sustained, real-time acting studio sequences may have been intended as a kind of absolute vérité: what could be more true than actors acting? Or more boring, the philistine in me is bound to add... which begs the question, why we are so much more compelled by the hollow intrigues enacted by Léaud and Berto?

Of course there is a political dimension here, but ultimately the conspiracy, or "plot," stands in for all story: the impulse to join the dots together, to seek out patterns that often aren't obvious in real life. Watching the film, we do the very same thing. This is how we make sense of the world, why we appreciate art, and why we make it. But what if the grand design is an empty sham... what if all the world's a stage but no-one's written the script?

This monumental film's greatest surprise is that in the thirteenth hour a revelation is forthcoming, though as a fully paid up member of the Companions of Duty, it's nothing I can share with you here. Is Out 1 a masterpiece, "the key film [about] the 1960s" and "Rivette's most accessible movie," as Jonathan Rosenbaum claims? Yes, maybe and definitely not (but not necessarily in that order). It is clearly the central film in Rivette's development, a staging post on the way to Celine and Julie Go Boating, and a tremendous, tumultuous, somewhat torturous work. No self-respecting cinephile should miss it.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:43 AM | Comments (1)

October 1, 2006

Shorts, 10/1.

Big Trouble in Little China 31 Days of Horror. It's back at Not Coming to a Theater Near You, and today, October 1, Rumsey Taylor opens this year's series with, interestingly enough, Big Trouble in Little China, "which some twenty years after its initial release remains difficult to posit firmly within Carpenter's career. For one, it's certainly not a singular genre film, whereas Carpenter's others are nearly archetypal genre efforts. A meld of action, horror, comedy, romance, and even wuxia, this film isn't adequately housed by any single, familiar category. 'We take what we want and leave the rest,' says the magician Egg Shen of his culture. 'Like your salad bar.' His observation describes the distinctiveness of the film."

"Maybe people are finally getting it," suggests David Bordwell. "The most celebrated director in the US has to get his career back on track with The Departed, the first Hollywood remake of a Hong Kong film (Infernal Affairs). Although Scorsese evidently claims he never saw the original (must be the only film he hasn't seen), the point is clear. With the exception of smarty-pants B films (Torque, Running Scared, Crank), which are all good dirty fun, Hollywood genres have been severely blandified. Asian filmmakers, from India to Malaysia, have understood our genres better than we have, and they have given them a new visceral force and emotional edge."

"The history of Italian cinema in the mid-to-late 20th century can be summed up in two words. Dante Ferretti," writes Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times. "The history of Italian-American cinema in the 21st century - and for a few years before - can also be summed up in two words. Dante Ferretti." Andrews meets the set designer who "styled the looks of The Decameron, Salo, And the Ship Sails On, City of Women and Ginger and Fred. Later, he did the same for Casino, Kundun, Gangs of New York and, last for Scorsese and Oscar-winningly for himself, The Aviator." Via Ray Pride at Movie City News.

Doug Cummings reviews a set of Kieslowski's documentaries: "Many of the films are highly-edited montages collating people and ideas in provocative ways."

"No director has ever dealt more insightfully with the offhanded, snide, and potentially suicidal aspects of bigotry than [John] Ford," writes Stanley Crouch in Slate. "This sets him above almost all other directors because he could understand and make art of the tragedies that attended bigotry, one of the most pernicious forms of superstition. Beyond that, Ford recognizes how community acts as a protection against the inevitable meaninglessness of human life, which is no more than anarchic energy unless put in a story of some sort."

At WSWS, Richard Phillips talks with Iranian director Tahmineh Milani about The Hidden Half - and about being arrested for making it.

"During a meeting, they came to the conclusion that, at the same time as they were drinking tea, a number of air planes circled the earth, ready to drop the atomic bombs on a given command." And "they" were Alain Resnais and Marguerite Duras and the film they made was Hiroshima mon amour. Ulf Zander reviews Criterion's edition. Also in Film International: "The Bombay Film Poster: The Journey from the Street to the Museum," Ranjani Mazumdar argues that "while contemporary publicity and television fare have brought about major transformations in the look and financial value of the poster, it has also triggered off a nostalgia for the former hand-painted poster."

Putney Swope "The chance to reassess it shouldn't be missed by anyone who cherishes the lost movies of a tumultuous era in American history and American cinema." John Patterson meets Robert Downey, now "pushing 70," on the occasion of the return of his 1969 Putney Swope. The film, writes Patterson, is "what happened when a New York Jewish absurdist comic sensibility like Downey's, far harsher and more cynical than the cuddly version being purveyed by at the time by mainstream contemporaries like Woody Allen and Mel Brooks (who in fact has a nanosecond-long cameo in Putney Swope), collides with a revolutionary African-American worldview."

Also in the Guardian and Observer:

  • Ken Williams: "The question needs to be asked: are the words 'authentic' or 'authenticity' in regards to black film or culture simply bywords for mad, bad and dangerous to know?... The problem is that this interpretation of authenticity is completely uninterested in seeing the pride our youth take in themselves." Related: In the Independent, Matilda Egere-Cooper looks ahead to the next films of Britain's "black new wave," Life and Lyrics, Sugarhouse Lane and London State of Mind.

    Will Hodgkinson chronicles the end of an era: "The factory in Lausanne, Switzerland, that processes Europe's supplies of Kodachrome - grainy, colour-saturated frames of 8mm film that have convinced a generation that their 60s and 70s childhood and adolescence was spent leaping through flowers in a Technicolor haze - is shutting its doors on Saturday."

  • "In watching a film on video or DVD on a television screen we are simply receiving information about a film," argues Fred Kelemen. "It's like looking at a postcard showing a reproduction of a painting."

  • Oliver Burkeman profiles Richard Griffiths.

  • Paul Harris on the challenge of marketing Mel Gibson's Apocalypto.

  • Novelist and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi: "If we can say the east envies the west while wanting to distance itself from it - 'they' refuse to integrate; why don't they want to be like us if they want to live here? - we can say that the self-disgust of the west conveys a profound confusion about the way we view ourselves now. From this point of view the Muslim is telling us what we already feel about ourselves but cannot yet own up to."

"Movies, and our expectations of them, remain so much in thrall to outmoded conventions of the novel and theater that Broken Sky may seem flagrantly precious. It is no more contrived than Keats," argues Nathan Lee in the New York Times. "[Julián] Hernández doesn't always grab what he's reaching for - his talent soars untethered by discipline - but the thrust of his effort lights up the sky." More from Keith Uhlich at Slant.

Also in the NYT:

Laura Dern and David Lynch

  • Dennis Lim opens his profile of David Lynch by noting how much the director will miss film now that he's gone digital, though he'll probably never go back, and then we get to peek around in his LA home: "One room has the signature red curtains. Propped against one wall is an Abstract Expressionist canvas by Mr Lynch, a brown expanse with a violent splotch of blue and the inscription 'Bob loves Sally until she is blue in the face.' A photograph of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Transcendental Meditation guru, sits on a conference table, sunlight illuminating a single cobweb that hangs from its gold frame."

  • With Jon Jost, Mary Harron and Errol Morris as a few of the guideposts and producers Ted Hope and Christine Vachon as guides, John Clark maps "the mostly sideways career path followed by many of the generation of independent filmmakers who made a splash in the late 1980s and early 90s. When these directors, mostly now in their 40s and 50s, got started, the indie business was full of mom-and-pop operations with nickel-and-dime aspirations. Now the corner stores have been edged out by studio specialty divisions with far larger appetites and needs." Related: CNN's Catherine Andrews on the slippery definition of "indie." Via the SXSW "Newsreel."

  • Sylviane Gold asks the director and subject of Wrestling With Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner a few questions: "Why, exactly, would someone who is often described as shy, who is palpably 'an