November 30, 2006

Appreciation. Werner Herzog.

Werner Herzog "It seems that now, finally, recognition has arrived at Werner Herzog's feet, and for an inveterate, lifelong Herzogian (alright, since adolescence), his current presence in the cultural forebrain is something of a vindication."

So begins an appreciation of one of cinema's great and true iconoclasts from Michael Atkinson: "I've never been shaken in my belief that he is the most vital, mysterious and righteous moviemaking voice on the globe."

Earlier: Michael Atkinson on The Wild Blue Yonder at IFC News.

Update, 12/3: On a related note, Reid Rosefelt recalls his days working with Herzog at Zoom In: "I'm one of the few people who thinks Kinski was saner than Werner."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:03 PM | Comments (2)

Tokyo Dispatch. FILMeX.

Chris Fujiwara was a jury member this year and sends along the following impressions.

Tokyo FILMeX

Generally regarded by cinephiles as the more important of the city's two major international film festivals, TOKYO FILMeX follows its rival, the Tokyo International Film Festival, by just a few weeks in the calendar. It's the smaller of the two: this year (its seventh), FILMeX showed 34 films. At many festivals, you pick 30 or so films you think you might want to check out, and after scheduling conflicts, socializing and fatigue take their deductions, you manage to see about 15 of them. At FILMeX, you want to see them all (since they have the blessing of festival director Kanako Hayashi and program director Shozo Ichiyama), and you can.

The festival's highlights included Jia Zhangke's Still Life (the opening film); Jafar Panahi's Offside, which won the audience award; a tribute to Daniel Schmid (who passed away in 2006) with screenings of Shadow of Angels and Violanta; and the Japan premiere of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's latest, Sakebi (Retribution), which was rightly welcomed as a return to form for the director, though I couldn't help wishing that he would find something else to do with his talents besides this kind of clever genre-twisting exercise.

To Get to Heaven, First You Have to Die The competition section featured nine Asian films, including two world premieres. The jury (led by Pusan International Film Festival director Kim Dong-Ho), of which I was a member, gave the Grand Prize to To Get to Heaven, First You Have to Die, by Djamshed Usmonov, from Tajikistan. A quiet and passive young man, Kamal (Khurched Golibekov), finds himself impotent with his wife. He visits his cousin in the city, where he tries unsuccessfully to make contact with various female strangers. His luck changes when he meets textile worker Vera (Dinara Droukarova, who played the daughter in Julie Bertucelli's Since Otar Left), with whom he spends a night - an adventure that, though it doesn't immediately cure his impotence, leads to his becoming involved with the woman's husband, a sociopathic criminal. Cool and controlled, Usmonov's film observes its protagonist and his world with dark humor and detachment. In its final sections, the film takes a number of turns that justify (metaphorically) its title while also clarifying Usmonov's wry statement on sexual difference.

The Other Half We gave the Special Jury Prize to The Other Half by Ying Liang, a Chinese director who had received the same award at the previous FILMeX for his first feature, Taking Father Home. The Other Half intersperses scenes in a law office - where a succession of complainants in domestic-dispute cases address their woes to the camera - with a story about a young woman's ill-fated relationship with a shiftless young man. An oblique, even tricky film (despite the directness of the shooting style in the scenes in the law office), The Other Half is impressive for the restraint and compassion with which the director surveys his large cast of characters and for the amount of sociological detail he accumulates about their difficulties. Since the Special Jury Prize includes 35mm Kodak film stock, the fact that The Other Half was shot on DV lent Ying's two consecutive FILMeX wins a certain irony, to which the Kodak representative who presented the award at the closing ceremony alluded gently.

Among the other films in the competition, the Iranian film Have You Another Apple?, by Bayram Fazli, an absurdist parable about the mechanics of hero-making and political oppression, stands out for its narrative audacity and for the relentless vigor of its camerawork and mise-en-scène. The Filipino film The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, by Auraeus Solito, is vivid and refreshingly low-key in its recounting of the unlikely friendship between two people: a 12-year-old boy who sometimes cross-dresses and who appears to be regarded (and accepted) by everyone who knows him as gay, and a policeman investigating the criminal activities of the boy's father and older brothers.

FILMeX offered Tokyo premieres of five of the seven films coproduced with Austrian funding (to celebrate Mozart's 250th anniversary in 2006) under the banner of New Crowned Hope. The five included two great films, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century and Tsai Ming-liang's I Don't Want to Sleep Alone, and a quite good one: Paz Encina's moving and tender Paraguayan Hammock, an extended experiment in the dislocation of sound and image. The Indonesian entry, Garin Nugroho's Opera Jawa, though greeted with enthusiasm by many, seems to me a late and displaced hangover from the "postmodern" theater - all vapid exoticism, cyclical music and contrived tableaux - that intoxicated the West during the 1980s and 1990s (I soaked it up far past my limit at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts). Bahman Ghobadi's Half Moon, a magic-realist road film about Kurdish musicians trying to cross the border from Iran into Iraq, also comes off as somewhat overcalculated, hinting, like Opera Jawa, at the pitfalls of the New Crowned Hope commission.

Procurer of Hell As in past years, a highlight of the festival was its Japanese retrospective. In the West, Kihachi Okamoto is known mainly for the samurai classics Sword of Doom and Kill!, but, as became clear through the 12-film tribute FILMeX presented at the National Film Center, the director made his mark in a variety of genres. Okamoto can even be said to have systematically disrupted the divisions among genres by directly and iconoclastically addressing a popular audience in films about low-level criminals (the engaging Procurer of Hell), cops and yakuza (The Last Gunfight, featuring the imposing duo of Toshiro Mifune and Koji Tsuruta), and the absurdity of war as experienced by both common soldiers (Desperado Outpost; Nikudan [The Human Bullet]) and the decision makers (Japan's Longest Day, a.k.a. The Emperor and a General).

Two random notes to close. Since this FILMeX was mostly low on glamour, the appearances of Zhao Tao (in a black dress) to help open the festival and Chen Shiang-chyi (in a white one) to help close it were all the more welcome. Finally, this was the first film festival at which I saw two films with scenes of assisted urination: one was I Don't Want To Sleep Alone; the other was Okamoto's Nikudan, in which the beneficiary is a kindly, armless used-book seller played by Chishu Ryu.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:15 PM

Shorts, 11/30.

The Lives of Others "How, The Lives of Others asks, could anyone read Brecht, or hear the emotive strains of Oscar-winning film composer Gabriel Yared, and not understand the value of individual liberty over nationalistic conformity?" asks Scott Foundas. "And judging by the film's success in Germany and its enthusiastic reception at this year's Telluride and Toronto film festivals, it's a good bet that many moviegoers will feel similarly moved. Personally, it gave me the creeps." Ah, well. I'm still bullish on both the critic and the film. Meantime, you'd think it wouldn't be too difficult to come up with a decent, never mind terrific poster for this movie, but so far neither the Germans nor the Americans have.

Also in the LA Weekly: Paul Malcolm on Tribulation 99.

David Poland lays out seven "studio movies, not independent films. And all seven filmmakers are highly creative, highly respected, and responsible for movies that their studios will consider fiscal failures that will be leveraged by some to avoid making similarly challenging films in the future. In other words, they got the shot... and now, others will have to wait a while before the opportunity comes up again." It really does seem to have been that kind of year.

Alison Willmore has a big batch of up-n-coming news at the IFC Blog, but the most intriguing bit comes from MTV's Larry Carroll's conversation with Richard Linklater, who's in the fifth year of a 12-year project: "Every year, Linklater has a quasi-family reunion with aging A-listers Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette and, along with a skeleton crew of behind-the-scenes loyalists, shoots scenes that will someday be pasted together to create an exploration into adolescence."

More news of films on the way from Bilge Ebiri; remakes and sequels, too.

Nightwatching At Time Out, Chris Tilly reports that Peter Greenaway is working on a videogame to accompany his next feat-... well, multimedia extravaganza, Nightwatching.

Matt Austin is hoping John Hughes will agree to be interviewed for Don't You Forget About Me, a documentary he's shooting that's already secured chats with stars and fans of The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and so on. Shanda Deziel meets Austin for Macleans. Via Jessica Barnes at Cinematical.

Variety: "George Clooney is booked solid through 2009." Also: "Meryl Streep is joining the cast of New Line's Middle East political thriller Rendition alongside Jake Gyllenhaal and Reese Witherspoon."

"Recently, I did on-camera commentaries for a Droopy DVD collection, a Ray Harryhausen DVD collection, and Ted Thomas's new doc, a work-in-progress on the 1941 Disney artists' trip to South America." Part 2 of Ward Jenkins's interview with John Canemaker, via Cartoon Brew.

Girish: "Along with Renoir's The River, Rossellini's 1958 documentary India, Matri Bhumi (India, Motherland) is the probably the best film I’ve seen about India made by a Western filmmaker."

Jason Rhode at Metaphilm: "There was something of the same memorial spirit, I think, behind Buffalo Bill's Wild West show and Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven. The West and the Western had both died abruptly, too. Yet Unforgiven lives on. Fifteen years on, its power has not diminished, but increased with age. It has not mellowed, but ripened."

Reflections in a Golden Eye That Little Round-Headed Boy: "For some reason, I've never considered John Huston a painterly director, but a viewing of the newly refurbished Reflections in a Golden Eye will change your mind about that."

Acquarello reviews Time, Kim Ki-duk's "flawed, but impassioned observation of contemporary society's inherent dysfunctionality in the wake of facile, economic privilege: a lost generation foundering in a youth-oriented culture of vanity, rootlessness, excess, and disposability."

"Serge Gainsbourg is a singular presence in French pop or pop in general," writes E Steven Fried at the Siffblog. "As Beck noted, he combined an unlikely assortment of musical and personal qualities. The most typical image of him is a mondaine hedonist, coolly sucking on a Gitane while caressing a ravishing doll. A sort of French James Bond, if you will. The less typical image of him is a polite, gracious, self-deprecating, funny, shy, philosophical, nervous man. A sort of French Miles Monroe, if you will. Displaying the evolution of his persona, D'Autres Nouvelles des Etoiles presents Gainsbourg in his complexity."

Neil Morris profiles documentary filmmaker Cynthia Hill for the Independent Weekly.

The Holiday "To list all the contrivances strewn throughout The Holiday would require more words than are warranted by Nancy Meyers's latest batch of cinematic maple syrup," writes Nick Schager. Also at Slant: Ed Gonzalez on Reminiscing in Tempo.

For Slate's Dana Stevens, "The Fountain's tragic flaw - and to this untranscendent critic's eye, the movie is pretty tragically flawed - is already present in Pi, as well as in the second of Aronofsky's three movies, Requiem for a Dream." More from Eric Kohn in the New York Press.

Also in the NYP, Armond White on Bobby: "It may seem soap opera-ish (one character even name-checks the classic 1932 Hollywood movie-star melodrama Grand Hotel), but by paralleling anonymous lives with the famous slaying of a political hero, [Emilio] Estevez revives more than a genre; he resurrects a marvelous but forgotten cultural ethos." And: "[Irwin] Winkler's Home of the Brave presents both Jacksons in roles that redefine their humanity and all our citizenship."

Plus, Justin Ravitz: "With your uninhibited sense of grandeur and sweet, barely-ironic silliness, Jack Black, you're kind of timeless." Jennifer Merin talks with Catherine Hardwicke about The Nativity Story.

"This, we can recognize, is how wars begin," writes Duncan Shepherd, reviewing Shut Up and Sing for the San Diego Reader. "It is not a simple story, straightforwardly inspirational. It is a complex one, about, among other things, the difficulty of courage (especially when big money is at stake) and the possible attainment of it along a path of regret, hurt, anger, bitterness, resignation, and finally the absence of any other choice. Tortuously inspirational."

"Woody Allen's Manhattan, released in 1979, is perhaps the finest example ever of a motion picture insulated from cultural obsolescence by the shunning of contemporary music," argues Joe Queenan. But lately, "the Woodman has conclusively run out of steam, ideas, and any semblance of self-perception," sighs Andrew Pulver.

Also in the Guardian: "Wenders's youthful infatuation with the States, which lasted 50 years, has ended," writes Ronald Bergan. "As a character in Fritz Lang's Clash By Night says: 'Home is where you get when you run out of places.' We can only hope that his next film to be made in his homeland with an all-German cast will silence those who suspect that his bright future is now behind him."

And David Thomson has two lists of films for kids, ten each, the first batch "about a child's experience of the world, and of family," and the second "about adult experience but which involve children."

For the City Paper, Sam Adams recommends a handful of films now on DVD that never made it to Philadelphia.

Michael Guillém talks with "one of the brightest young talents of queer cinema," Jed Rosenthal Bell.

Time Out's Chris Tilly talks with Simon Pegg about Big Nothing.

Monte Hellman At Cinema Strikes Back, David Austin has a generous report on the Monte Hellman Q&A that took place in NYC in October.

Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick has been inducted into the Legion of Honor.

Criterion goes to Paris.

Rex Sorgatz, in full, at Fimoculous: "Now that the 2006 lists of lists is growing to a respectable size, I'll mention that you should email me lists that fit in that genre: about 2006. Occasionally, people send me lists that have nothing to do with 2006, such as one of my recent favorites, Top 10 Servers In Movies. Yes, that's computer servers, not the ones who tell you to watch out for the hot plates at restaurants. Anyway, it's an excellent list."

"Apparently, we broke the story and didn't even know it." Yep. Towards the end of a "Three-Minute Interview" with Jonathan Lethem, Mark Sarvas becomes the first to hear of the Library of America's plans for the canonization of Philip K Dick. Via the New York Times, interestingly, which is also reporting that the "next novel for Philip Roth, Exit Ghost, will be the ninth and last centered on Mr Roth's protagonist Nathan Zuckerman."

TLS And: "The 10 Best Books of 2006."

The Times Literary Supplement gives us a peek at its "Books of the year" issue, with selections by Alberto Manguel, Marina Warner, Paul Muldoon, Craig Raine, AN Wilson and Elaine Showalter.

Online gazing tip. Coudal Partners, with what "might just be the best motion picture production still ever."

Online browsing tip. Christopher Benfey's slide show at Slate introducing Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination, the first major retrospective in 25 years.

Online listening tip. "[T]he network hated both the special and the music." For NPR, Felix Contreras reports on Vince Guaraldi's now-classic soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Online viewing tip #1. A screen test: Paul Newman and James Dean. Via ticklebooth.

Online viewing tip #2. As if editing Filmmaker weren't enough, Scott Macaulay is also a producer. The latest film he's worked on is Off the Black, starring Nick Nolte, Trevor Morgan and Timothy Hutton. And here's the trailer.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:01 AM | Comments (18)

Fests and events, 11/30.

Otto Preminger Dennis Harvey at SF360 on the occasion of a Bay Area weekend with Otto Preminger: "For at least 25 peak years out of the 40-plus he spent in the Hollywood coal mines, he delivered popular entertainments that were profitable, often prestigious, savvy reflections of their moment in public taste and 'daring' subject matter. If his artistic value remains argued over 20 years after his death - as it was during much of his career - there's still no doubting his importance as a maverick producer, a censor-defying trailblazer, and a guy who simply refused to be ignored."

"As seen in the Harvard Film Archive's From the Tsars to the Stars series of excavated Russian epics [tomorrow through December 13], the Soviet sci-fi films are uniquely conflicted — futurism and technological progressiveness were axioms of the kingdom, but since sci-fi is inherently a form of social critique, the films struggle with their own tropes," writes Michael Atkinson for the Boston Phoenix.

For the Reeler, Peter Hames surveys the series Czech Modernism: The 1920s to the 1940s, tonight through December 10 at BAM.

Ernest Hardy previews Fusion 2006: The 4th Los Angeles LGBT People of Color Film Festival (tomorrow through Sunday) for the LA Weekly.

Peter Nellhaus sends word that the Bangkok International Film Festival, slated for January 26 through February 5, may be in trouble. Kong Rithdee explains in the Bangkok Post.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:22 AM

Awards, 11/30.

This is England "Busiest day ever?" wondered Eugene Hernandez out loud last night as he raced from the airport to an awards ceremony to indieWIRE's 10th anniversary party. And that was just some of the action stateside. While many of us were still scanning the lists of Indie Spirit Awards nominations and the Sundance lineup, Brits gathered in London for their Independent Film Awards. Click and you'll see that This is England won best feature, Kevin McDonald best director (for The Last King of Scotland) and that Red Road took the top two acting awards (for Kate Dickie and Tony Curran).

"Half Nelson took home a trio of prizes at the 16th annual IFP Gotham Awards," reports Lily Oei at indieWIRE. "Along with the best feature prize, the film also nabbed honors in the other two categories in which it was nominated - a director's prize for Ryan Fleck, and a breakthrough actor award for newcomer Shareeka Epps." Best doc goes to Iraq in Fragments, and Lily Oei has more highlights of the evening.

Updated through 12/1.

Updates: "A huge New York cheer went up for Half Nelson when it won at the end of the night, reflecting the excitement over an indie film conceived, cast and shot in New York. A heaving crowd of folks affiliated with Half Nelson assembled on the stage, but most, given the late hour, mercifully stayed away from the microphone." David Carr has a full and fun report. Naturally.

More from Gregg Goldstein for the Hollywood Reporter.

Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay notes that you can send questions to Half Nelson filmmakers Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden via the Daily Reel's "Ask the Expert" section.

ST VanAirsdale has a few thoughts after his evening at the Gothams: "If, as IFP executive director Michelle Byrd has been at pains to stress of late, 'independence' is more abstraction than brand name, awards like Babel's and [Edward] Norton's and Kate Winslet's likely confused the relative values of each quantity beyond calculation.... IFP cornered itself into the unadulterated disgrace of stiffing the Shortbus cast, which staked its careers on a movie (a New York movie, by the way) that literally had no precedent before sitting and watching the derivative, deep-pocketed globe-trotter [Alejandro] González Iñárritu walk away with their rightful recognition. What's left after that but a shrug and a yawn?"

Update, 12/1: David Carr's got Gotham Night video.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:34 AM

November 29, 2006

Sundance. Lineup.

Sundance 07 "Citing what he defines as 'a new maturity' in the indie movement, a more complex way of looking at the world and a bracing fusion of the personal and the political in much of the work, Sundance Film Festival director Geoffrey Gilmore said that selecting the 64 entries in four competition categories for the 2007 fest was more difficult than ever," writes Todd McCarthy in Variety, which follows his report with the 2007 lineup.

At indieWIRE, Anthony Kaufman welcomes "an enormously diverse collection of American independent films. The seen-that coming-of-age New York stories and dysfunctional family comedies are scarce, say festival organizers, replaced with complicated storylines and unexpected settings." His Gilmore quote: "I feel like we're on the cusp of a new era, where the old ideas of independent film - that insularity, that narrowness of subject matter - are no longer the case. We're beginning to witness work that is really expanding the horizons of what American film is and can be, work that is both enormously innovative and strikingly different than what we've seen in the past."

Updated through 12/1.

Updates: "Sexual oddities and sexual abuse, the ravages of war, the challenges of immigration, human disabilities and the writer's life: all will be recurring themes at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, Jan 18 to 28," writes David M Halbfinger at the New York Times, and he's lined up titles for each of those themes.

More first impressions from Anthony Kaufman, who's glad to see the renewed interest in the truly new and independent in both the Indie Spirit Awards nominations and this lineup - but he remains cautious all the same.

At the Reeler, ST VanAirsdale picks out the titles with NYC connections, including "Andrew Wagner's follow-up to his Sundance '05 alum The Talent Given Us (Wagner... wrote about Evening on The Reeler last August)."

Updates, 11/30: The BBC: "The war in Iraq is a strong theme at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in the US for the second year running."

Shawn Levy has a note of local interest: on the list is Hear and Now, a documentary by Portland director Irene Taylor Brodsky, which tells the story of her deaf parents, who chose to receive cochlear implants in their 60s and then heard the sounds of the world for the first time."

"Forget Mr Ed, forget Equus. Seattle director Robinson Devor's upcoming documentary concerns what has become known locally as the Enumclaw Horse Case. Scheduled for release by THINKfilm sometime in 2007, Zoo (formerly In the Forest There is Every Kind of Bird) draws inspiration from the poor unfortunate - part of a tight-knit ring - who died in 2005 from injuries sustained after engaging in carnal relations with said creature." And now, it'll be screening at Sundance. Kathy Fennessy: "The Cinema of Robinson Devor: From Girl Watchers to Horse Fanciers."

Today sees more lineups announced and, once again, at indieWIRE, Anthony Kaufman has an overview of "the event's other feature sections, from the glitzy Premieres and catchall Spectrum to the cult-ish Midnight and avant-garde New Frontier section." And commentary.

Updates, 12/1: More on the Premieres from Kirk Honeycutt in the Hollywood Reporter.

Michael Tully: "I'm fortunate enough to have already seen two of the Spectrum films, both of which I consider to be absolute must-sees: Craig Zobel's Great World of Sound and Zack Godshall's Low and Behold. You heard it here first."

Scott Kirsner has some advice for you if you're planning to attend.

Brendon Connelly has ten recommendations.

The Reeler notes that "Adrienne Shelly's film Waitress... will indeed premiere in Park City. Not so coincidentally, her NYC-gone-Berlin auteur mentor Hal Hartley will share the program with his latest, Fay Grim, which will have its US premiere at the festival."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:19 PM

Thessaloniki Dispatch. Exhibitions.

Ronald Bergan looks back on a highlight of the recently wrapped film festival.

Thessaloniki International Film Festival 47 For the last decade, the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, now in its 47th year, has embellished its official program with video installations, painting and art exhibitions, revealing another side of movie directors. In the past, visitors to the festival have revelled in paintings and collages by Sergei Paradjanov and Peter Greenaway and photos by David Cronenberg, John Boorman and others, often related to tributes and retrospectives.

This year, the festival excelled itself with eight different exhibitions, including a video musical, The Rape of the Sabine Women, by New York-based Eve Sussman, and work by Chinese video artist Cao Fei. Despina Mouzaki, the Director of the festival, put it aptly: "With these exhibitions, not only are we honoring the complete work of cinematic creators, but also highlighting the close relationship of the seventh art with its 'sister' visual arts and the continuous way they replenish each other."

Wim Wenders As Wim Wenders was being given an almost complete retrospective of his films, and was himself extremely present throughout the festival, giving master classes, press conferences and introducing his films, it wasn't surprising to find a large exhibition devoted to his photographs and those of his German photographer wife, Donata (née Schmidt). Called Still Images of Moving Pictures, the exhibition featured mostly stills taken on the sets and locations of his films from 1993 after marrying his sixth wife, 20 years his junior. The fact of her relative youth (she is 41), seems to have given Wenders, whom many consider has a bright future behind him, a new lease of life, and perhaps is partly responsible for his decision to return to Germany after ten years in America.

Nevertheless, what the photos show is that Wenders has always been continually on the move as much as his characters in his motion pictures or pictures in motion. "Sometimes I think my true profession is a 'traveller'," he explained. He took to becoming the still photographer on his films because he feels that actors dislike or don't respond to some strange photographer arriving on set. Both he and Donata, whose photos are much more "artistic" than practical, have already won the confidence of the cast. Yet some of the best photos are the more personal ones - an amused Kurosawa watching Wenders and a corpulent Francis Coppola bathing in a river in Nevada; a partly paralyzed Antonioni directing Beyond the Clouds, and a raddled Nicholas Ray, close to death, warmly embracing Wenders with a tearful Dennis Hopper looking on.

Jan Svankmajer Another husband and wife collaboration was seen in an exhibition entitled Imaginative Eye, Imaginative Hand, paintings, objects and scenes from films by the Czech surrealist Jan Svankmajer and his designer wife Eva Svankmajerova, who died just over a year ago. Needless to say, especially to those filmgoers who admire the weird and wonderful films, there is much to delight in the paintings, sculptures and marionettes and tactile art.

However, the exhibition that stood out from all the others, for its setting almost as much as the photos, was Turkey CinemaScope: The World of Nuri Bilge Ceylan, displayed in the Bezesteni, a 15th-century Turkish market building with six domes, restored during the 1990s. Those who know Ceylan's films, mainly Clouds of May (1999), Distant (2005) and the recent Climates (2006), will not be surprised that the Turkish director has a great eye.

Nuri Bilge Ceylon All in color and the shape of a CinemaScope screen, the photos capture eerie landscapes, which one critic appropriately compared to the paintings of Pieter Breugel, the Elder and spectral cities, with isolated people unchanged from medieval times peering at the camera. It's the sort of exhibition that can only make one return to cinema with an awakened visual appreciation.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:28 AM | Comments (3)

Shorts, 11/29.

The Clockmaker "He was a friend, a brother, a father. I owe everything to him." Bertrand Tavernier remembers Philippe Noiret in the LA Weekly. Via Movie City News.

As many of you reading this will have already heard by now, the Village Voice's annual "Take" polls - surely the most valuable best-of list each year - will live on. Just not at the Voice. The Reeler has details.

"It's theirs to lose,' declared a veteran industry insider, of a Best Picture contest that is fast shaping up to be yet another battle between the elites of Los Angeles and New York (like Crash versus Brokeback Mountain last year): big fistfuls of Dreamgirls stardust flung against the gangster grit of Martin Scorsese's The Departed," writes Sara Vilkomerson in a cover story for the New York Observer. "But even jaded New Yorkers, judging from the unabashed applause that followed The Song last week [Jennifer Hudson's rendition of 'And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going'], seem to be in a receptive mood for a little old-school, feel-good Hollywood bada-bing. It is wartime, after all."

At indieWIRE, Jonny Leahan finds Oscar's shortlist of 15 docs to be "a timely snapshot of where we are as a country, mirrored in both the subject matter of the films and in who directed them. Remarkably, of the 20 directors represented (due to co-director titles), 15 are female - signaling that it wasn't just Congress that was ready to see women better represented."

"Technically, [Steven Soderbergh's] latest cinematic experiment is some kind of minor triumph, authentically capturing the smoky, shadowy look and feel of the period's noir-ish melodramas," writes Nick Schager at Slant. "Yet there also isn't a moment when The Good German's artifice - so self-consciously 'faithful' that it borders on stilted, suffocating parody - isn't as depressingly hollow as a spent bullet casing."

Bong Joon-ho At Twitch, Jon Pais translates Aur�lien Dirler's interview with Bong Joon-ho for Cinemasie in which the directors talks about The Host, of course, but also about Park Chan-wook and Kim Jee-woon; Kim Ki-duk; Hou Hsiao-hsien and Edward Yang; and about preferring Japanese directors these days, such as Shohei Imamura and Kiyoshi Kurosawa.

Also: Mack reviews Tsui Hark's We're Going to Eat You.

Brendon Connelly: "[T]ipsters are telling me that Criterion are to reissue Salo: 120 Days of Sodom in 2007." Related: Joe Bowman looks ahead to some of the most promising future releases.

Greg Allen on David Ng's review of Christine Vachon's A Killer Life: "Not that the Voice is the fount of filmic credibility lately, and I'm not one to begrudge someone's weariness of artistic suffering, but for some reason, I did kind of hope Vachon would always be a scrappy pioneer. Or that she'd keep fighting for new generations of filmmakers not her own, which seems to be the root of the sellout issue."

"Believe it or not, Paul Newman's directorial debut, while hardly ever mentioned today, was a hit back in the day." And now, Rachel, Rachel is one of Bilge Ebiri's "Forgotten Films."

George Saunders knows to fight fire with fire; David Walsh, writing at the WSWS, doesn't: "This is the irony: a film purportedly dedicated to mocking stereotypes largely ends up confirming and reinforcing them."

By the way, ever heard of "Self-Borating"? Ron Rosenbaum explains the concept in the NYO. Also:

The Coast of Utopia

  • John Heilpern: "It's a surprise to find that, at two and a half hours in length, part one of The Coast of Utopia is shorter than Mary Poppins. I expected it to be longer and weightier. My reluctant disappointment in the opening Voyage, however, has as much to do with my own excited expectations as with Mr Stoppard's strangely un-Stoppardian play."

  • Andrew Sarris recommends Flannel Pajamas.

  • Sean Howe: "If [Warren] Beatty's reputedly leftist Reds is a voice of dissent, it is - surprisingly - dissent from the idea that personal travails are secondary to collective struggles."

Marcel Berlins rails against the "essential cruelty" of Borat.

Also in the Guardian:

  • Randeep Ramesh: "One of Bollywood's biggest stars, Sanjay Dutt, was convicted yesterday of illegally possessing weapons" - and here's the news - "but is unlikely to be sent to prison for a long period - sending a sigh of relief through the film industry, which has more than 1,500bn rupees (�20m) riding on his return."

  • Ryan Gilbey: "For an industry that bangs on about the importance of satisfying your inner child, Hollywood is becoming scandalously neglectful of actual children."

  • A Christmas movie quiz.

Peter Jackson vs New Line: Sharon Waxman sums up the rift so far. Also in the New York Times, Jeannette Catsoulis on Invisible, "a moody thriller with more emphasis on mood than thrills."

In the San Francisco Bay Guardian:

Broken Sky

C Jerry Kutner at Bright Lights After Dark: "Bobby, surprisingly, works."

"[I]nstead of the easily mockable surface idiocies, let's burrow down to the deep and offensive idiocies at its core." Reverse Shot's brevitytheenemy tears into The Fountain.

"His inventiveness came in a big burst and dissipated pretty quickly, but he made an indelible mark on his era, leaving behind a tricky trail of movie movies, stylized, unrealistic, yet always managing to allude to the problems of real life that will resume when the double feature is finished." Dan Callahan on Preston Sturges: The Filmmaker's Collection. Also at Slant, Ed Gonzalez reviews Verdict on Auschwitz and Forgiveness.

How to avoid a sequel to Valley of the Wolves Iraq? At Harper's, Ken Silverstein and Sebastian Sosman wonder: "Did Special Envoy [Joe] Ralston lobby on behalf of Lockheed Martin during his encounters with Turkish officials?... It's hard to understand how the Bush Administration could appoint a special envoy with so many conflicts of interest, but Lockheed's corporate slogan says it all: 'We never forget who we�re working for.' Neither, it seems, does General Ralston."

"When The American set out to choose the ten best business movies of all time, we looked for three qualities: (1) a great movie, (2) a relatively realistic picture of business, and (3) an attitude not openly hostile to capitalism as we know and love it." Which makes for a few surprising choices. Via Fimoculous.

Chris Dahlen's got a list at the AV Club: "9 Recent Attempts to Save the Romantic Comedy."

Online viewing tip #1. More. Via Metaphilm.

Online viewing tip #2. Karina Longworth's got a Clara Bow clip reel.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:20 AM

Fests and events, 11/29.

CounterCorp Film Festival "[I]t's timely that two expansive film and video events have arrived in the Bay Area to shed light on some of the more dimly lit but important aspects of where we are now and why," writes Dennis Harvey. "This weekend sees the first ever CounterCorp Film Festival at San Francisco's Victoria Theatre, while over the next few weeks the San Francisco Cinematheque and Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive will host programs of (largely) Middle Eastern works curated by visiting Lebanese video artist and author Akram Zaatari."

Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: Todd Lavoie can't wait for "A John Waters Christmas with Wanda Jackson," this Monday evening at the Fillmore.

Underplayed: A Mix-Tape of Music-Based Videos is a series running at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts through March 4. For SF360, Max Goldberg offers an overview.

Let Them Eat Rock "Sounds like a hoot." Mike at Bad Lit recommends the Boston Underground Film Festival's Saturday night screening of Let Them Eat Rock.

"A number of films have stirred audiences and industry alike here at IDFA this year and based on informal surveys of insiders attending the festival, the taste of general attendees seems to be in line with that of the professional," report Eugene Hernandez and Brian Brooks at indieWIRE. "Perhaps the most buzzed about title at mid-week is Paul Taylor's debut feature We Are Together, a crowd-pleaser that has just secured a deal."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:52 AM

November 28, 2006

Shorts, 11/28.

Here's the writer of "Phil in the Marketplace," a story that's actually four stories about Philip K Dick in the Fall 2006 Special Fiction Issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review. Via David Peskovitz, who notes at Boing Boing that Jonathan Lethem will also be a featured commentator on the A Scanner Darkly DVD due next month.

Tribulation 99 "A radical anti-establishmentarian, [Craig] Baldwin is less pedantic than he is pulp-satiric, and the movies are endlessly unpackable," writes Michael Atkinson for IFC News. "His most famous film, Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America, is also his masterpiece: a breathless, fevered screed in 99 chapters that details the tapestry of 20th century history as it has been influenced and manipulated by the inner-earth-dwelling Quetzals."

Somewhat related is Max Goldberg's interview for SF360: "Other Cinema.... has invited [Rick] Prelinger to show some of his favorites at Artists' Television Access on the occasion of the new book, A Field Guide to Sponsored Films. I spoke with him on the phone as he readied for the ATA event."

"Ellen Kuras operates like a perpetual-motion machine," writes Jamie Stuart in a newsy profile for Filmmaker. "One moment she's photographing Michel Gondry's latest feature. The next, shooting The Rolling Stones for Martin Scorsese."

"Some of the best movies you've never heard of—produced in a nation that no longer exists—screen in Brooklyn this weekend and next," writes J Hoberman. "BAM's Czech Modernism isn't so much a full-scale survey as a selection of films produced in Czechoslovakia between the wars, but these 12 archival prints give ample evidence of a surprisingly worldly world-class cinema."

Also in the Voice:

Blood Money

Meanwhile: "Word just into Reeler HQ confirms that interim Village Voice film editor Allison Benedikt is no longer 'interim' - she has indeed accepted the position full-time."

Acquarello takes a deep breath, and then: "Incisively anticipating such sobering and indelible agricultural documentaries as Hubert Sauper's Darwin's Nightmare, Nick and Mark Francis' Black Gold, and Nikolaus Geyrhalter's Our Daily Bread (as well as the dysfunctionality of big business economics as presented in Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbot's The Corporation), and infused with Luc Moullet's irrepressibly droll, tongue-in-cheek humor that has been further crystallized within the filmmaker's socially critical, if not revolutionary, gaze, Genèse d'un repas (The Origins of a Meal) is a thoughtful, acerbic, contemporary, and profoundly relevant exposition on the indirect, wide-ranging repercussions of globalism on industrial food production, international commerce, and the local economy."

"Whatever its faults or virtues, Babel seems to me to typify several trends in current cinema." David Bordwell maps three lessons.

The Fountain Though I haven't yet seen Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain, Matt Zoller Seitz's review - analysis, really - seems to be pretty much the definitive take. A must-read, including the thoughtful comments that follow at the House Next Door - where Sean Burns and Andrew Dignan have a bit more to add. Earlier and updated: "Interview. Darren Aronofsky." Related: Gabriel Shanks; and just launched in conjunction with the release of Ellen Burstyn's Lessons in Becoming Myself is her official site.

Back to the NYT:

  • Dave Kehr on Pandora's Box: "Part of [GW] Pabst's aesthetic strategy is to begin the film on a tone of strict social realism (unable to pay her electricity bill, Lulu bribes the meter reader with a shot of schnapps) and gradually smuggle in a whole range of expressionist elements.... This superlative package is one of the finest Criterion releases in quite some time - a definitive edition of a seemingly inexhaustible film." More praise from Gordan Thomas at Bright Lights After Dark.

  • Charles Solomon meets the four women of Clamp, the studio that's produced "22 popular manga series, many of which have been adapted to animation, including X, Chobits and Cardcaptor Sakura." Somewhat related: Scott Green's "Anime AICN" column is up; also: winning interpretations of Serial Experiments Lain.

  • Ben Brantley on the new "exhilarating" production of the first installment of Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia: "As directed by Jack O'Brien and performed with freshness and vigor by an immense and starry cast led by Ethan Hawke and Billy Crudup, Voyage pulses with the dizzying, spring-green arrogance and anxiety of a new generation moving as fast as it can as it tries to forge a future that erases the past." Related: Slate reruns AO Scott's 1999 assessment of Stoppard's work.

Outlook: Bollywood "Bollywood's Best Year Ever!" exclaims the cover of Outlook India. Namrata Joshi: "One big blockbuster is not enough to get Bollywood smiling. But this year there have been so many that the industry has been laughing all the way to the bank. There haven't just been more hits but bigger hits with bumper collections - 2006 has been a year that boasts three blockbusters (Krrish, Lage Raho and Fanaa) and an assortment of superhits and hits."

Also, Smruti Koppikar has ten questions for Rahul Bose, the first being, "Why your own NGO?"

Meanwhile, the BBC: "Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt has been found guilty in connection with India's deadliest series of bomb attacks." An accompanying profile: "Bollywood's bad boy."

Boyd van Hoeij at "Before the official awards ceremony on December 2 in Warsaw, Poland, the European Film Academy has announced two prize winners: the Prix Fipresci and the new award for Best Production Design." The winners, respectively: Les amants réguliers and The Science of Sleep.

"The last year of the twentieth century is regarded as the annus mirabilis of modern American cinema, to which every subsequent year has been compared." But should it be, wonders David Lowery.

"I was disheartened when someone who knows I'm a James Bond fan showed me something about Bond from a recent Atlantic and it was riddled with the kind of careless mistakes only a barstool blowhard would make while he pulled things out of his ass," writes Chris Kelly at the Huffington Post. "And then I saw it was by Christopher Hitchens, and at least that made sense."

"Hilary is the reason why Freedom Writers got made," Richard LaGravenese tells Daniel Eagan. What's more: "The director is working with Swank again in his next film, an adaptation of Cecelia Ahern's novel PS, I Love You, about a young wife's efforts to resume her life after her husband dies of a brain tumor. (Ahern is the daughter of the current prime minister of Ireland.) Along with Swank, the cast includes Kathy Bates, Gerard Butler, Harry Connick, Jr, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Lisa Kudrow, and Gina Gershon." Via Brendon Connelly.

The Hollywood Reporter's Gregg Goldstein: "Willem Dafoe, Bob Hoskins and Matthew Modine are set to star in writer-director Abel Ferrara's Go Go Tales, a screwball comedy that has taken a circuitous path to production."

The Tiger and the Snow "The Tiger and the Snow is another objectionable romantic comedy from Roberto Benigni, a con man who treats war as his comedic playground," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant, where Keith Uhlich picks up coverage of the Rivette retrospective at the Museum of the Moving Image.

"The acting career of Phyllis Kirk, who has died aged 77, likely suffered because of her plain speaking and opposition to capital punishment, particularly her campaign to save Caryl Chessman - convicted on 17 counts of kidnapping, robbery and sexual assault." Ronald Bergan remembers the actress who was "not interested in becoming the Fay Wray of my time." Also in the Guardian: With Jay McInerney's approval, Dan Aykroyd will launch a new line of wines in Canada. Ed Pilkington.

Michelle Orange for IFC News: "Lionsgate's marketing chief Tim Palen has been quoted as calling the current torture genre craze 'a gold mine' and Fox Atomic was created with the expressed intention of cashing in; their first release, Turistas, opens this week, their second release, the Wes Craven-penned The Hills Have Eyes 2 in March and 28 Days Later sequel 28 Weeks Later in May. Peter Rice, the head of the division, has made his mandate clear: low-budget teen comedies and torture flicks that rely almost exclusively on online and 'viral' marketing to create a brand around not just the films but the studio itself. You know a trend has reached saturation point when a whole studio is devised in its service." More from Nathan Lee in the Voice.

10 Items or Less in "10 points (or less)" from Robert Cashill. More from Nathan Lee for the Voice and Matt Singer for IFC News.

3 Needles Kristi Mitsuda at indieWIRE on Thom Fitzgerald's 3 Needles: "Why the focus on only the most sensationalistic stories to come out of the AIDS crisis? And why are women sexually humiliated in every episode?" More from Rob Nelson in the Voice.

Catherine Bisley for the Lumière Reader: "In these days of Good and Evil where any resistance to invasion or occupation is branded terrorism, The Wind That Shakes the Barley presents a predicament that resonates beyond Ireland's borders and beyond war."

"Mutual Appreciation is the indie rock version of the feature film," writes Kathy Fennessy, who even reaches for the perfect analogy at the Siffblog.

From Governor Bill Richardson's office a few weeks ago: " The New Mexico State Film Office announced today that New Mexico will initiate a Green Filmmaking program in order to promote environmentally sustainable film and TV production."

Scott Small has a bit of fun at the BBspot: "The MPAA is lobbying congress to push through a new bill that would make unauthorized home theaters illegal. The group feels that all theaters should be sanctioned, whether they be commercial settings or at home."

A friend of Annie Frisbie's is looking for a few good German films. Leave your recommendations at Zoom In Online.

Patti Smith: Auguries of Innocence Online listening tip. Patti Smith is a guest on Start the Week.

Online viewing tip. David Lowery: "The Theater Fire music video I wrote about making here and here is now on YouTube."

Online viewing tips. Steve Bryant's got clips from five of the first late talk show hosts. Including Dick Cavett's interview with Woody Allen.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:33 PM

Independent Spirit Awards. Nominations.

Filmmaker: Ryan Gosling Alison Willmore's got the full list of Independent Spirit Awards nominees at IFC News. At first glance, the front runners appear to be Little Miss Sunshine and Half Nelson.

Updates: Blogging for Filmmaker, Jason Guerrasio's "very happy to see Ali Selim's Sweet Land nominated for Best First Feature and Best Female Lead for Elizabeth Reaser."

Anne Thompson notes that the nominations shine "the spotlight on deserving low-budget movies that may not have gotten the attention they deserved during the year," put them in the running for the slew of year-end best-of lists and "help several Oscar campaigns." For example, "ThinkFilm's push for Ryan Gosling for Best Actor now actually has a chance."

Updated through 11/30.

Cinematical's Erik Davis: "And hey, check out Four Eyed Monsters - this little indie film (directed by Arin Crumley and Susan Buice) managed to snag two nods, one for Cinematography and one for the John Cassavetes Award (otherwise known as the best feature made for under $500,000), despite the fact that it never found a distributor.... Go see this film. Pretty please." For more, see Caroline Palmer in the Voice on this "fresh, witty, and contemporary take on the perennial boy-meets-girl story."

At Slackerwood, Jette Kernion notes that local favorite Chalk is also up for the Cassavetes Award. She caught it at the Austin Film Festival "and thought it was a lot of fun to watch, especially in an audience full of teachers."

After watching Sarah Silverman host last year's ceremony - and she'll be back this year - the Bagger's got "a soft spot for the event."

Nathaniel R on the acting categories.

"It would appear that Film Independent took last year's gripes, that the noms had become too mainstream, very, very seriously." The first of Karina Longworth's seven initial observations.

Gabriel Shanks: "We're pleased to see the nominations for Catherine O'Hara (lead actress) and Neil Burger (best screenplay), even though neither of their films scored in other categories."

Updates, 11/29: David Poland notes that the list is "more 'indie' than it has been in a loooooong time" and, for contrast, points to Gregg Goldstein piece in the Hollywood Reporter: "'I don't think the Gotham Awards are about independent film,' says Independent Feature Project executive director Michelle Byrd, the leader of her group's 16-year-old awards ceremony. A surprising statement - some would say admission - coming from the head of one of the largest independent film organizations in the country, but it might help explain some of the controversy that has enveloped this year's awards."

Susan King talks with Dawn Hudson, executive director of Film Independent, for the Los Angeles Times: "We saw a lot of first-time filmmakers. As more and more filmmakers have access to the tools of filmmaking, you see a lot more talent and diversity of talent. It's an incredibly exciting time for film. I think it is the strength of the Spirit Awards that many of the films have gone unnoticed by the mainstream press or are not in theaters for long - a lot of these films deserve a wider audience."

Eugene Hernandez at indieWIRE: "Film Independent also announced the presentation of a Special Distinction Award to David Lynch and Laura Dern for their work on Inland Empire."

Reverse Shot congratulates Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, whose A Lion in the House is nominated in the Best Documentary category.

The Reeler doesn't have to look far to see "a ton" of "New York-linked" nominations.

Joe Leydon: "At the risk of sounding presumptuous at best, paternalistic at worst, I must confess to stirrings of pride as I see Michael Kang's The Motel listed among the five nominees in the Best First Feature category of Film Independent's Spirit Awards. I wrote one of the earliest reviews for this excellent indie when I covered it for Variety at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. And I've been raving about it ever since to anyone willing to listen."

Jim Emerson's biggest disappointments: "No documentary nominations for 51 Birch Street or The Bridge. The former may have been too deceptively simple and artless (in truth, it's a complex work of art) and the latter too cold and disturbing for many in the Indie tent-party crowd."

Michael Guill�n offers his thoughts on nearly every category.

AJ Schnack: "On a personal note, I want to say how very honored I am to be a representative of nonfiction filmmaking at this year's Independent Spirit Awards and how proud I truly am to be part of this community of filmmakers. Congrats to all the other nominees."

Anne Thompson highlights the nominees without distribution.

Update, 11/30: Salon's Andrew O'Hehir: "All in all, it's a diverse and invigorating list. I've been gearing up to write a year-end column about 2006 as a down year for indie pictures, simultaneously commercially chilly and aesthetically low-wattage, but now I'm not so sure it's true."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:26 AM

Fests and events, 11/28.

Amazonas Film Festival "While most of the big festivals - Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Sundance etc - get nearly all the column inches, it's often the boutique festivals that are the most fun to attend," writes Kaleem Aftab for Time Out, having just attended one that goes a little beyond boutique: the Amazonas Film Festival.

Ronald Bergan decided to focus on the Greek offerings when he went to cover the Thessaloniki International Film Festival for the Guardian. "It proved a bad move." There was, however, one exception, Angeliki Antoniou's "extremely powerful and moving" Eduart.

Hugo Perez has a wide-ranging wrap-up at indieWIRE: "After a week of breathing in the Aegean breeze, dipping in and out of standing room only screenings, alternately sipping wine and espressos late into the night with an international assembly of filmmakers and cineastes, it is hard to sum up the Thessaloniki experience. Lili Taylor was asked how she would describe the festival using just one word. After a moment of reflection, she answered 'Celebration.'"

Also at iW, a tour of the world via the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam from Eugene Hernandez. Matt Dentler's got more pix.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:13 AM

More on Altman.

Filmmaker: Robert Altman With this entry about to fall off the front page and tributes and related news items still coming in, it's time to open up another one for Robert Altman, and Michael Atkinson's career assessment for IFC News is a fine way to start: "His lapses in judgment seem to flow from the same source as his wisdom. Compare the surgeon's grace inherent in Gosford Park to the soused baboonery of Prêt-à-Porter (1994), and you glimpse a restless and conflicted intelligence plunging into the combat of cultural intercourse without the benefit of superego."

Also: The IFC News team looks back on their favorites.

Letters to the WSWS.

Updated, 12/4.

Then, of course, there's Lindsay Lohan's "adequite" eulogy.

Christopher Campbell reports on last night's screening of A Prairie Home Companion at the Film Society of Lincoln Center for the Reeler.

The cinetrix's take on that one: "[T]hanks, Mister Altman. I thought the bits with Virginia Madsen were mostly awful, but you got me with Chuck's passing. And I needed it right then, Garrison Keillor be damned."

Update: The Voice brings back Andrew Sarris and Molly Haskell's dialogue on Nashville. Haskell, the Southerner, is the more enthusiastic of the two.

Updates, 11/29: "Although Robert Altman is being justly celebrated for the great movies he left behind in his large artistic wake, it‘s worth remembering that the maestro had established himself as a major force in television long before the breakthrough success of M*A*S*H." But trying finding that work on DVD, writes Gary Dretzka for Movie City News.

Altman on "What I've Learned," as told to Esquire's Scott Raab in 2004. Via Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog.

Time Out's Geoff Andrew reflects on "on four decades of 'knowing' Altman one way or another." Interviews, set visits, casual meetings over the years.

A remembrance for Newcity and a Cookie's Fortune-era interview from Ray Pride.

Updates, 11/30: Jim Ridley in the Nashville Scene:

Watching Nashville now... it's hard to see why the movie bitterly polarized people here 31 years ago - a reaction that had as much to do with Altman's not hiring the city's hit mill to provide the soundtrack as with any perceived slight. The director allows his alleged "rubes" to surprise us again and again with new facets of feeling and depth, as when Barbara Baxley's hitherto comic character delivers a tearful, sincere reminiscence of the fallen Kennedys. Henry Gibson's Haven Hamilton may be a pompous elder statesman of country, but he's also quick to shout down a heckler's racist taunts (in a plausibly complex way) and to stand up bravely when an assassin's bullets riddle the Parthenon at the climax.

Altman may have loved to come on like the maverick outsider who knew more about the inside than the insiders - a tone that gives his 1992 Hollywood expose The Player its edge of breezily nasty score-settling. But his best movies convey the bitter indignity of being on the fringe, and none does so more painfully than Nashville.

Steve Vineburg in the Boston Phoenix:

He was my hero, from the time I saw McCabe & Mrs Miller, his rapturous vision of the final days of the Old West, with its mix of poetry and vaudeville, in 1971. Not the first time I saw it, when it eluded me, but the second time, when I returned to catch it again at the urging of a friend and fell into its cockeyed lyricism, its unorthodox way of building character and narrative, and especially its melancholy, wintry mood. And I never fell out again: after three and a half decades and countless viewings (I teach it every year to my film students at Holy Cross), I still find that opening pan of the drenched-green Pacific Northwest landscape, as Warren Beatty's McCabe rides into the scrappy, burgeoning town of Presbyterian Church to the lonely strains of Leonard Cohen's vagabond music, as stoning as Mrs Miller's opium. And since Altman was devoted to keeping his filmmaking fresh - not only by continually shifting genres but also by burrowing underneath their conventions, by experimenting with new approaches to unfolding a story and bringing us into the world of the characters, and by marrying and clustering disparate tones - I've had that second-time-revelation experience far more often with him than with any other director.

Update, 12/1: "[A]long with Peckinpah and Jean Renoir and a very, very few others, his special ability, when he was working at the top of his game, was to make movies that seemed to be pulsing, living things, movies that were alive and going on right in front of you," writes Phil Nugent. "In the end, I'll stand by what I wrote in that piece I did for the Hat: his movies just feel more alive than most. To the end of his life, he kept trying to capture, in an image, whether it was of a crowd singing along at a vast outdoor concert or a bitter little man ranting alone late at night in his study, everything he felt and thought about life. Not comment on it or categorize it or reduce it or label it: but, capture it."

Updates, 12/3: In Stop Smiling: Michael Joshua Rowin on A Wedding, Nick Davis on 3 Women, Nathan Kosub on McCabe & Mrs Miller and James Hughes tells a story from 1976.

Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat: "Altman represented the indie spirit, before 'indie' was even a word."

"How can two critics see (or remember) the same movie, and have such contradictory interpretations of how it works and what it means?" Fascinating entry from Jim Emerson contrasting two reviews of Bobby that measure it against Nashville.

Update, 12/4: Altman "began his career in television," Alessandra Stanley reminds us in the New York Times, "perhaps most memorably bringing his cinematic style and dark vision of war to the first season of Combat!... On Monday AmericanLife TV, a cable network that caters to baby boomers, will begin showing five of Mr Altman's Combat! episodes as a tribute."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:43 AM | Comments (3)

Joe Dante Blog-a-Thon.

Joe Dante "Today is Joe Dante's 60th birthday, strange as that may seem," begins Tim Lucas, launching the Joe Dante Blog-a-Thon. "It's hard to think of another filmmaker whose outlook has been, and remains, so perenially youthful; his protagonists are often children or child-like, and his projects have leaned toward stories of conflict between childlike idealism and the oppressive realities and counter-ideologies that would place barriers in the path of imagination in full flight."

Quite an appreciation follows, tied up at the end by links to "other promisary participants."

Related: Martyn Bamber's profile for Senses of Cinema.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:05 AM

Interview. Nick Krasnic.

CoSM: The Movie The name Alex Grey might not ring a bell, but you've likely seen his work on the covers of albums by the likes of David Byrne, the Beastie Boys and Nirvana. He's also the artist behind the mind-blowing Chapel of Sacred Mirrors in New York.

Tiffany Harker talks with Nick Krasnic about capturing the spirit of the work in CoSM: The Movie.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:00 AM

November 27, 2006

Shorts, 11/27.

The Borat backlash may be in full swing, but you haven't yet seen a lash sting quite as sharply as George Saunders's in the New Yorker. Related: Perhaps we'll soon be seeing Garry Trudeau's take. And, as Lorenza Muñoz reports in the Los Angeles Times, Universal, having already bet $42.5 million on Sacha Baron Cohen's followup, Bruno, "may already be feeling buyer's remorse."

Touristas David Edelstein in New York: "The awful, offal-ridden Turistas - textbook torture-porn - would be too disgusting to discuss were it not for its efficiency at exploiting the fear that haunts our post-Iraq American dreams, and that can be discerned in works as various as the Oscar-bait ensemble drama Babel and the cringe comedy Borat: how our combination of arrogance and ignorance has left us hideously vulnerable in a world that hates our guts."

More from Nick Schager at Slant, where he also reviews 10 Items or Less and Ed Gonzalez reviews The Nativity Story and The Architect.

Steven Soderbergh "got the Bronx cheer at a DGA New York screening of The Good German followed by a Q&A Saturday night," reports Sheigh Crabtree at the Risky Biz Blog.

Might Orson Welles's The Other Side of the Wind see a theatrical run before airing on Showtime? Wellesnet, introducing an interview Filmihullu's Kari Elovuori conducted with Oja Kodar in 2003, outlines the possibilities.

Perhaps what makes this week's "Supporting Actress Smackdown" over at StinkyLulu's place particularly fun is that the pickings are so slim. The year is 1974.

Rhonda Lieberman catches a talk by "everybody's favorite Slovenian Hegelian reader of Jacques Lacan, Slavoj Žižek," and writes an entry in Artforum's Diary.

In the New York Times:

  • "In the entertaining and very funny new book The Man Who Saved Britain, Simon Winder - publishing director at Penguin UK - gives us a rollicking tour through Bondland, even as he artfully deconstructs the appeal of Agent 007," writes Michiko Kakutani. "His central argument is that Bond arrived to uphold the British ego at the very moment when Britain's planet-spanning empire was breaking up and the once-great power was trying to come to terms with its diminished post-World War II role."

Dhoom 2

Bryan Curtis at Slate: "[W]hat's most important about comedy is whether or not it's funny, and I would argue that [Christopher] Guest's method often begets a kind of dullness. He's content with his actors 'jamming' when tireless preparation - the tedious writing and re-writing of scenes and gag lines - would have served him better. When the Guest method doesn't work, it's like watching one long deleted scene on a DVD."

Bill Gibron: "For every cinematic stocking full of shiny bright goodies, there are large filmic lumps of dirty old coal." Also at PopMatters: "Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman is the luckiest untalented son of a bitch in all of Hollywood."

Wild Swans Christopher Hampton will be writing the screenplay for an adaptation of Jung Chang's international bestseller Wild Swans, reports Time Out's Chris Tilly.

For SF360, Justin Juul talks with Adrian Belic about Beyond the Call, a doc that "follows the three renegade activists who make up Knightsbridge International."

Belinda Luscombe counts Kate Winslet's Oscar nominations and nude scenes for Time.

Online viewing tip. Gianluigi Toccafondo's La Coda at No fat clips!!!.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:17 AM

Fests and events, 11/27.

Family Ties Kim Tae-yong's Family Ties has won the Golden Alexander, the top award at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival; here's the full list of award-winners. Related: At Twitch, Todd reviewed Family Ties back in September.

The International Film Festival Rotterdam has named the first three titles lined up for the Competition: How Is Your Fish Today?, a debut feature from Xiaolu Guo blending documentary and fiction, Love Conquers All, another debut, this one from Malaysian filmmaker Tan Chui Mui, and Ex-drummer, Koen Mortier's adaptation of Herman Brusselmans's novel. Also, jury members will include Lou Ye and Toronto director Piers Handling.

IndieWIRE's Brian Brooks sends a dispatch from the 19th International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), which "offers hundreds of movies, provocative discussions, and late-night dance parties for the 2,000 attending doc insiders from around the world." Matt Dentler's got pix.

First Generation: Art and the Moving Image, 1963 - 1986 is on view at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid through April 2.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:25 AM

November 26, 2006

Shorts, 11/26.

Nordrand "[T]he salient quality of Austrian film's new wave is its willingness to confront the abject and emphasize the negative," writes Dennis Lim. "In recent years this tiny country with a population the size of New York City's has become something like the world capital of feel-bad cinema. State of the Nation, the Film Society of Lincoln Center's survey of new Austrian film (which runs Wednesday through Dec 7), sheds some light on the complex realities underlying the stereotype."

Also in the New York Times:

"Hindi cinema's response to globalisation has been far more transformative than Hollywood's," writes Amit Chaudhuri. "Globalisation has made Hindi cinema slicker but also more surreal; in the exuberance and awkwardness peculiar to the genre, and in the way it seeks out the pulse of the Indian 'diaspora' as well as the municipal school dropout, it mirrors, strangely but compellingly, the world of conspicuous excess and extreme poverty we now live in. Hollywood's response to globalisation has been to close ranks artistically, to become determinedly simpler, more suburban, more white."

Also in the Observer's special issue of the Magazine devoted to India, Neil Spencer meets Amitabh Bachchan in York.

And in the Observer itself:

Caitlin Macnamara and Dylan Thomas

Who are the most influential American filmmakers? For the Atlantic, David Thomson picks five, but non-subscribers may only read his blurbs on DW Griffith and Orson Welles. Thanks to William Kennedy for noting that the other three are Howard Hawks, Alred Hitchcock and Andy Warhol.

Vince Keenan: "Normally by this point in the year I've seen at least one movie I can clutch to my breast and call my very own. Not so in 2006. I've seen plenty to like, but not much to love. And then came El Aura, the second and sadly final film from Fabián Bielinsky, who died of a heart attack earlier this year at 47."

Hugo on Lars von Trier's The Boss of It All: "His musical film is less about the magic of musicals than a Bergmanesque annotation of that magic and its place in our filmic mind. It is competent, intelligent stuff. But there is no space for us, from the first frame you know there is an agenda that the story will follow, and friends, there is no magic in that."

At Slant, Ed Gonzalez reviews Isabel Coixet's The Secret Life of Words. "This is a conventional story where a building in the sea and its existential connection to oil and water becomes a metaphor for the relationship between Hanna and Josef, two people who seem to exist for no other reason than to meet each other halfway in order to take whacks at each other's bullshit meters." Hanna's played by Sarah Polley, "the greatest actress of her generation." Also: Hermanas.

Cremator Jeff at Cinema Strikes Back: "The Cremator is a deeply disturbing film that examines how and why people accede to totalitarianism and genocide, a topic that unfortunately is as timely now as it was in 1968."

"It was clear, even in the early stages of the invasion, that imposing American democracy on a radically different cultural and political establishment will ultimately tear it apart," writes Eric Kohn at Primarily. "So now comes Iraq in Fragments, a documentary that fulfills that neglected prophesy, elucidating the inevitable conclusion that we've lost control and run out of room."

The San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle calls Bobby "one of the best films of 2006."

In the Los Angeles Times, Deborah Netburn tells us "10 things you probably you didn't know" about Jean Reno.

As The Last Train opens in Germany, Deutsche Welle profiles producer Artur Brauner: "A survivor of the Holocaust, over 20 of the producer's movies have focused on this dark period of Germany's history."

Around the World in 14 Films is an independent film festival in Berlin that'll see prominent German directors presenting films from 14 different countries from December 1 through 9. Wim Wenders, for example, will be introducing Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures (Brazil), Tom Tykwer, Last Life in the Universe (Thailand) and so on.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:58 PM

November 25, 2006

Shorts, 11/25.

The Dead "The reissue of The Dead accompanies a two-month retrospective of Huston's work at London's National Film Theatre; the early years are represented by a re-release of the 1950 heist thriller The Asphalt Jungle." Sheila Johnston celebrates in the Telegraph while, for the London Times, Catherine Philp talks with Anjelica Huston about when she was finally "ready to make her peace with her 'beautiful, volatile, brilliant' father."

Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader: "Emilio Estevez's Bobby, set in LA's Ambassador Hotel on the day Kennedy was shot, June 5, 1968, is so keenly felt and so deeply imagined I couldn't help but be moved, even grateful for its bleeding-heart nostalgia - which winds up feeling rather up-to-date." But the real surprise comes in the second half of the review when Rosenbaum explains why "I defended its guts and intelligence to a French critic who described it as 'sub-Altman.' I see it as 'sur-Altman,' especially if compared to Nashville."

"Notes on a Scandal is perhaps the greatest pedophilia-meets-lesbian-spinster movie ever made. It may be the only one, but it's still the greatest," writes Gabriel Shanks in a spoilerific entry.

Can't Jail the Revolution Ever since it was announced that Brett Morgan's documentary Chicago 10 would be opening Sundance in January, many of us have been hoping to hear just a tad more about the film than, as Eugene Hernandez reported at indieWIRE a couple of weeks ago, that it's "about the 1968 protests around the Democratic covention in Chicago." Now John Anderson's gone and met Morgan to ask about why and how he's using animation to depict the trial of the Chicago Seven.

Also in the New York Times:

  • "'I'm obsessed with treating filmmakers and architects as artists,' [Peter] Sellars said recently, sitting in the Cafe Sperl, an artists' hangout of long standing, on an unusually balmy morning. 'To commission a film the way you would commission a piece of music or a painting, that's a beautiful thing to do.'" In Vienna, Anne Midgette meets Sellars to talk about the "festival within a festival," New Crowned Hope.

  • Robert Ito talks with Frank Miller and Zack Snyder about 300, and he seems pretty impressed by the footage he's seen, too.

Back in the in the London Times: "[T]he greatest sign that bona fide film criticism is truly dead is the emergence of a populist and puerile strain of anticriticism. Already prevalent in the foam-flecked ravings of the blogosphere (where 'this movie sucks!' is the mot juste du jour) and within the glossy pages of some men's magazines, anticriticism has finally reached the formal establishment with the book 101 Movies to Avoid," writes Kevin Maher, who needs to browse that right-hand column over there.

Cautiva "In his sobering drama Cautiva..., [Gastón] Biraben, who wrote and directed, tells the story of Cristina, an Argentine teenager in a well-to-do family in Buenos Aires. The girl's life is suddenly upended when she is plucked out of her classroom and taken to the offices of a judge, who tells her that her parents aren't really her parents." Robert W Welkos talks with Biraben for the Los Angeles Times.

"Care to go into excruciating detail about your Oscar experience?" Ward Jenkins interviews animator John Canemaker. Via Cartoon Brew.

"What is at stake in Milan is immense. It is not just that his production of Verdi's Nile opera will launch the Scala season at a gala night due to be attended by the Italian and German prime ministers. A triumphant return to the theater with his first new production in 14 years would seal a very personal victory in the battle for the soul of Italy's most fabled opera house." John Hooper meets Franco Zeffirelli, now 83, not in the best of heath, but giving it his all to stage "the Aida of Aidas" at La Scala.

Also in the Guardian:

Casino Royale (and GoldenEye) director Martin Campbell tells the Telegraph why he always takes another look at The Wild Bunch before revving up another project.

Perhaps Love Peter Chan's Perhaps Love has won best film at the Taiwan Golden Horse Awards, "the most coveted Chinese-language film prize in Chinese cinema," in the words of Reuters, which has a bit more - but not much - on the winners. Correction: Thanks to Escher for catching this: Peter Chan won Best Director, but Best Film honors were awarded to another Hong Kong film, After This Our Exile directed by Patrick Tam. Update, 11/26: Jon Pais has the full list of award-winners at Twitch.

Writing in the New Statesman, Ryan Gilbey addresses his disappointment with Pan's Labyrinth: "Since his startling 1993 debut Cronos, [Guillermo] del Toro has been an enthusiastic tour guide through fantastic realms. But before his next film, he needs to acquire a more intimate knowledge of the real world."

Adds Tim Robey in the Telegraph, where Will Lawrence talks with del Toro: "When we're not roaming around the disturbed, inventive and lurid recesses of its heroine's mind, Pan's Labyrinth gets as grimly simplistic as bad Ken Loach."

Tim Wong for the Lumière Reader on The Departed: "It's a robust, standalone beast that rightfully discards the hairspray, gun-cocked posturing, and Canto-pop gleam of Andrew Lau and Alan Mak's original triad fiesta, settling for the blue-collar starch of the Irish in working class Boston, MA. And what it lacks in the taut, conceptual realisation of the original's undercover conceit it makes up for in its sizeable mean streak."

Le cinema expressionniste allemand Via, Gerhard Midding in epd Film (and in German) on the exhibition Le cinéma expressionniste allemand, which is on view at the Cinématheque français through January 22.

Online viewing tip. At Focus, vintage German TV ads. Via Coudal Partners.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:56 AM | Comments (3)

November 24, 2006

Shorts, 11/24.

The Good German "[E]ssentially, The Good German is a parallel universe version of Casablanca, which both makes the film interesting and ultimately lends it a certain hollowness," writes Drew Morton at Dr Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope. "The film finds itself so massively indebt towards the superior films of Curtiz and Carol Reed that one senses an overcomplicated plot as a means of compensation." That said, "Soderbergh's Berlin is beautifully haunting, amazingly constructed out of Hollywood backlots and found footage, full of images that linger in the viewer's mind. Mise-en-scene aside, the film's main attraction is its stars."

"Jean Renoir stands on his own: the greatest of European directors: very probably the greatest of all directors—a gigantic silhouette on the horizon of our waning century." Orson Welles in 1979 for the Los Angeles Times, now at Wellesnet.

"Next Tuesday, November 28, marks the 60th birthday of Joe Dante." Tim Lucas proposes a Blog-a-Thon.

Boris Karloff Yesterday, John McElwee saluted Boris Karloff on his 119th. Today, part 2.

"'I don't know what it is about this town,' she says, with a deep, rich chuckle. 'We're all trapped in its golden arms!'" That's Barbara Steele talking to David Ehrenstein at the end of a lovely holiday weekend read on British ex-pats in Los Angeles. Somewhat related: Liam Gowing in the Los Angeles Times on the sounds of Britain in LA clubs.

Also in the LA Weekly, Scott Foundas: "Flannel Pajamas is probably one of the worst date movies ever made, and I mean that as a compliment to [Jeff] Lipsky, whose storied career as a movie distributor includes stints with such maverick independent filmmakers as John Cassavetes, Mike Leigh and Victor Nuñez, and who is clearly after the kind of emotional honesty and candor that permeates those directors' work."

Behind the Mask "One of the most disarmingly clever genre deconstructions I've ever seen is Scott Glosserman's Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon," writes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "So here's some good news: Not only has Anchor Bay purchased Behind the Mask for distribution, but they'll be doing it in a theatrical capacity!"

The numbers are staggering, admits Darcy Paquet. In September, Korean movies represented nearly 83 percent of the country's box office, and Japanese movies, too, sold more tickets that Hollywood could. "But you'll have to forgive me if, despite the numbers, I feel a lack of energy in mainstream Korean cinema these days." Related: Jon Pais at Twitch. But also at No Regrets offers "an engaging story, equal parts melodrama, social commentary, comedy, and treatise on hope for us all," writes Adam Hartzell.

Ray Young on a film by Yoichi Sai from the manga by Kazuichi Hanawa: "By reversing our expectations of prison and the trappings of the prison film, Doing Time satirizes the society that squanders its freedoms and subconsciously desires the security of a police state." More from Tom Mes at Midnight Eye, where we find more new reviews:

  • Paul Jackson on an anthology of work by Koji Yamamura, "not a typical animator, not in the Japanese mould or any other."

  • Jaspar Sharp on Splatter: Naked Blood, "[Hisayasu] Sato's much-celebrated gore title from the mid-90s."

  • Tom Mes on the "first Toho fantasy film to be shot in widescreen and in color... The visual upgrade is precisely where much of the beauty of The Mysterians lies. The combined impact is, to put it simply, a feast for the eyes."

Reading a Japanese Film

Nick Schager at Slant: "Days of Glory (a title strangely reconfigured from Indigènes) was made with the not-so-implicit goal of compelling the French government - which froze the pensions of all North African soldiers who fought on France's side during World War II, and which has dragged its feet since consenting in 2002 to reimburse the men - to finally pay up. That Jacques Chirac has now reportedly agreed to do so makes Rachid Bouchareb's film something of a political success, a fact that nonetheless doesn't correlate in any way, shape, or form to its artistic merits—of which, it turns out, there are few."

"Something disastrously dangerous is going on in Russia, a post-Glasnost, post-USSR, mythical variety of collapse." And it's seeping over into London, too, evidently. David Roth in Your Flesh: "The recent film-festival favorite 4, embraces that breakdown." Also, George Pelecanos on three by Jack Hill.

MovieMaker Along with the new blog, MovieMaker has a few selections from its fall issue up: Peter Weed presents a list of essential films noir, Matthew Power suggests a few ways filmmakers can compress their films for streaming online and James L Menzies has a holiday preview.

"A Casa Nostra is essentially a film about money, about what it can buy and what people will do to get their hands on it (out of necessity or greed), whether it is selling their bodies, their possessions or their souls," writes Elisabetta Povoledo. "It is also about Italy today as [director Francesca Comencini] sees it, a cinematic final curtain on the capitalist myth and this country's transmutation from postwar prosperity to the widespread venality she says has taken root in the national soul."

Also in the New York Times:

Wings of Desire
  • Donna Kornhaber and David Kornhaber tell the story of the American Repertory Theater's adaptation of Wings of Desire (through December 17).

  • "There are few better illustrations of that still useful distinction between actor and star than [Rock] Hudson, who never claimed any particular acting talent and seldom strayed from the square-shouldered, straight-talking character he perfected in the early 50s," writes Dave Kehr.

  • "Déjà Vu is more removed from reality than most of their collaborations, which makes their exploitation of Sept 11, Katrina and Oklahoma City (which earns a couple of vague mentions) less offensive than it might in a film that bore some relation to the real world," writes Manohla Dargis. "Yet Déjà Vu is so wildly divorced from the here and the now of contemporary politics, policy and people that it's impossible to get worked up by its invocation of these three calamities, though a throwaway shot of a decimated New Orleans neighborhood used purely for some atmospheric flavoring is certainly vulgar in the extreme." More from Nathan Lee in the Voice.

  • "Our Daily Bread could do much more [than Fast Food Nation] to catalyze the move toward Slow Food nation," writes Christine Muhlke. It's also "as much an art film as a political statement." For Manohla Dargis, the documentary "can be extremely difficult to watch, but the film's formal elegance, moral underpinning and intellectually stimulating point of view also make it essential. You are what you eat; as it happens, you are also what you dare to watch." More from Jürgen Fauth.

  • Stephen Holden on Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny: "In this jolly rock 'n' roll comedy, sprinkled with amusing one-liners and hilarious sight gags, [Jack] Black is more teddy bear than grizzly. Six decades ago, this movie might have been called 'Abbott and Costello Go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.'" More from Matt Zoller Seitz at the House Next Door: "The movie doesn't just invite and exceed low expectations; its half-assedness is woven into the fabric of its screenplay which, one can only presume, was printed on hemp-based paper. Paying to see it is the moviegoing version of ordering Domino's when you're baked; just as the cost of a ticket won't yield a real movie, the late-night phone call won't deliver an actual pizza, merely a pizza-flavored circular object cut into triangles." Related: Liam Gowing talks with the boys for the AV Club.

  • Neil Genzlinger: "Those who think of the director John Waters only as a sicko, a wacko, a pervert, a psycho, a multi-fetishist, a deviant, a menace and/or a nut job will be surprised to discover, through This Filthy World, that he would also make an excellent dinner-party guest." Related: ST VanAirsdale meets Waters. More Genzlinger: Sun Kissed.

  • Jeannette Catsoulis: "Opal Dream is a sickly sweet tale of deep dysfunction masquerading as family solidarity." But writing at indieWIRE, Michael Joshua Rowin recommends it. More Catsoulis: Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds.

  • AO Scott on Deck the Halls: "Like garish snowflake sweaters, Christmas movies are a regrettable, disposable part of the season. This one is worse than most."

Children of Men Via Jeffrey Overstreet, Kristopher Tapley on Children of Men: "[I]n manifesting one of the most horrific visions of the future yet committed to film, [Alfonso] Cuarón has given us his masterpiece, the crowning achievement of 2006."

"You see, she wasn't a natural, or a great talent - except in Pandora's Box and there, coming right at the end of the silent era, she is so good that she makes us ashamed at giving so much patience to fatuously archaic versions of womanhood as were offered by Lillian Gish, Mary Pickford and Janet Gaynor." David Thomson on Louise Brooks.

Also in the Guardian:

  • "Sex on the cinema screen, it seems, only mattered when it wasn't there." A brief history from Matthew Sweet.

  • Patrick Barkham on the Borat backlash. All jokes aside, Timothy Garton Ash reminds us that "Kazakhstan is a hugely corrupt dictatorship with a dismal human rights record; a supine judiciary; controlled or intimidated media; and elections that do not, to put it very mildly, come up to the standards of Europe's leading election monitors."

  • Barbara McMahon on why Franco Zeffirelli's upcoming autobiography is already generating coverage in the Italian papers.

  • Xan Brooks: "While [Peter] Jackson was the right man for The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit is a different beast and requires a different sensibility.... I'd like to see what a film-maker such as Michel Gondry or Guillermo del Toro could bring to the material." Related: Harry Knowles has the latest twist at AICN.

  • James Silver on "celebrity" critics in the UK who skip out on screenings of the movies they review.

  • Ryan Gilbey: "Hollywood's sequel machine has lowered our expectations to the point where the sound of the barrel being scraped becomes almost soothing, like a lullaby."

Now here's a title for an entry. Steven Boone at the House Next Door: "Quiet miracle: James Longley's Iraq in Fragments is the future of the movies."

Letters From Iwo Jima Bruce Wallace reminds us that Letters From Iwo Jima will be coming out soon.

Also in the Los Angeles Times:

"Are there any film classics that are truly great solely for the acting? It's hard to think of any." Nonetheless, Kristin Thompson recalls a few of her favorite performances and then segues into a review of The Queen. Related: Chuck Tryon finds it to be "one of the smartest and most emotionally compelling films I've seen this year."

"Volver disappoints," sighs Stanley Kauffmann in the New Republic. "After all Almodóvar's interview talk about returning to his roots (some of the film takes place in a village), the three months of rehearsal with his cast (no better ensemble playing than what we can see in any well-made picture), the very serious shopping and hair-styling (the usual amusing Almodóvar glitz), and the hints of spiritual depth, we get a porridge-consistency story, full of explanations rather than drama." Ryland Walker Knight disagrees at the House Next Door. So does Roger Ebert.

Emanuele Saccarelli at the WSWS: "[T]his reviewer expected to welcome Marie Antoinette with an outburst of plebeian hatred. Imagine the disappointment when the film not only failed to stimulate a vigorous Jacobin response, but proved to be relentlessly and irrepressibly boring."

Jason Morehead finds that Ikiru "feels vaguely biblical at that, as it takes on topics and expounds upon themes that could have easily come from that most existential of books: Ecclesiastes."

"It's a Wonderful Presidency." Frank Cammuso and Hart Seely imagine a different George, a different Clarence, at Slate.

Philadelphia Weekly "The lack of theaters in Center City is a fairly recent phenomenon, and would appear to run counter to the urban revitalization that's characterized the city for more than a decade now." Cassidy Hartmann opens the Philadelphia Weekly's cover package. Also: Mike Benner interviews Bernard Nearey, owner of the Roxy Theater, Sean Burns's "most profound movie theater memories," Andrew Repasky McElhinney on the best theaters in the 'burbs and Matt Prigge: "In its winter 2006 issue MovieMaker magazine listed Philadelphia as the nation's fifth-best city for filming, beating Miami and even Los Angeles. Last year it was No 3."

E-flux video rental has arrived at the Arthouse and in the Austin Chronicle, Robert Faires explains why this is very good news.

"Hollywood, it seems, is ready to give God his close-up." But there are many different ways of doing that; Rebecca Winters Keegan checks out a few. Also for Time, Simon Robinson looks into how the diamond industry is prepping itself - and its message - for the release of Blood Diamond. Related: Jeffrey Ressner interviews Leonardo DiCaprio.

Scott Eyman in the New York Observer: "The essence of New York is that it's too big to be one thing - it's the city as schizophrenic, with something for everybody, in any mood. So it's appropriate that Scenes from the City is sufficiently varied, and luscious enough, to melt the heart of the fiercest partisan of pastoral pleasures."

Preston Sturges David Haglund in Slate on Preston Sturges: The Filmmaker Collection: "These movies display a satirical intelligence unmatched in American cinema - and they suggest that, if Sturges is underrated, it's because his movies are like no one else's."

Stephanie Bunbury profiles Robert Downey Jr for the Sydney Morning Herald; via ScreenGrab, where John Constantine has another trailer roundup.

Justin Juul at SF360: "The Redwood City-based startup InDplay is like an online dating service for the film industry." He talks with director of marketing and business development, Julie Baumgartner.

VHS may have been officially pronounced dead, but it lives on at Girish's place.

The Film Panel Notetaker recommends Phil Hall's Independent Film Distribution: How to Make a Successful End Run Around the Big Guys.

Online browsing tip #1. Clip/Stamp/Fold: The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines 196X - 197X. Via Rashomon.

Online browsing tip #2. Penguin's DIY book covers. Via everywhere.

Online browsing tip #3. USSR posters. Via Coudal Partners.

Online viewing tip #1. Expanded Cinema. Via James Petrie at Rhizome.

Online viewing tip #2. Via Truthdig and at the Largest Minority, Richard Dreyfuss on civics. Parts 1 and 2.

Online viewing tip #3. Ed Champion's found Rex Reed talking about the Oscars with Dick Cavett in 1971.

Online viewing tips, round 1. The Guardian's Kate Stables has seven festival winners.

Online viewing tips, round 2. That Little Round-Headed Boy lines up the recent impressionist guests on David Letterman. Yes, Kevin Pollack's Christopher Walken is in there, but it's his Alan Arkin that slays me.

Online viewing tips, round 3. Alternet's Evan Derkacz rounds up some holiday videos.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:08 PM | Comments (3)

Interviews, 11/24.

Goya's Ghosts The freshly designed signandsight translates Ralph Eue's conversation with Milos Forman for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung about Goya's Ghosts.

Jason Gray talks with Satoshi Kon about Paprika for Midnight Eye.

In a back-and-forth with Sujewa Ekanayake, publicity consultant Reid Rosefelt relates a few stories starring Jim Jarmusch, Fassbinder, Herzog and others. Also, a good long talk with Dance Party, USA director Aaron Katz, starting with his next project.

Mark Kermode has a good long talk with Guillermo del Toro for the Guardian.

Jessica Hundley talks with Alejandro González Iñárritu about Babel for MovieMaker.

The Hero With a Thousand Faces "'I honestly see no difference between the essential elemental story of, let's say, The Road Warrior, Lorenzo's Oil and Babe,' [George] Miller told me earlier this month during a visit to LA to promote his latest film, the animated musical Happy Feet," reports Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. "That story, Miller says, is the archetypal hero's journey — the one canonized by Joseph Campbell in The Hero With a Thousand Faces and a source of inspiration to storytellers from Homer to Tolkien to George Lucas - in which a reluctant warrior leaves home and embarks on a quest that is less about the journey's end than about the gaining of personal wisdom."

Lee Hoo-nam interviews Park Chan-wook for JoongAng Daily; there's a bit in there on his upcoming vampire movie, Bat. Via Jon Pais at Twitch.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian's Johnny Ray Huston calls up Phil Collins, "allegedly one of the ten most important artists in the world, according to Flash Art. I know I count him as a current personal favorite, partly due to his Baghdad Screentests (2002), a rare example of Andy Warhol-influenced, attracted but not embedded contemporary reportage."

Ben Walters talks with John Cameron Mitchell about Shortbus for Time Out.

Elaine Lipworth interviews Danny DeVito for the Independent.

In the New York Times, Allison Hope Weiner asks Sylvester Stallone why he's insisted on making Rocky Balboa. Well, indirectly.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:20 PM | Comments (4)

Grimly reaping, 11/24.

Singin' in the Rain What a dark season. "Betty Comden, who with her longtime collaborator Adolph Green wrote the lyrics and often the librettos for some of the most celebrated musicals of stage and screen, died yesterday in Manhattan," reports Robert Berkvist in the New York Times. "Their Hollywood credits included the screenplays for two landmark film musicals, Singin' in the Rain and The Band Wagon. Through the years they worked with composers like Leonard Bernstein, Cy Coleman, Jule Styne and André Previn, creating songs like 'New York, New York,' 'The Party's Over,' 'It's Love' and 'Some Other Time.' They were adept at making their lyrics fit the mood, whether it was rueful ('Lonely Town'), raucous ('100 Easy Ways to Lose a Man') or romantic ('Just in Time')." More from Edward Copeland: "What a career."

"Georgian film director Levan Zakareishvili, who has died aged 53 after a heart attack, cast a searching look over his country in the late Soviet era and early years of independence, dramatising the personal tragedies caused by its political upheavals," writes Matthew Collin.

Also in the Guardian, Ronald Bergan remembers Elizabeth Allen, probably best known for starring opposite John Wayne in John Ford's Donovan's Reef.

All the Sad Young Men "There was too much sadness in the life of jazz singer Anita O'Day, dead at 87," writes Alan Vanneman at Bright Lights After Dark. "In the fifties, Anita's albums for Verve, like All the Sad Young Men, were classic exercises in vulnerability. Tormented by drugs and alcohol, the frailest of the frails, Anita made every other girl singer look wholesome."

Richard Gibson remembers Ruth Brown at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger....

Posted by dwhudson at 11:45 AM

DVD. The Double Life of Véronique.

Opening on a slightly contrarian note, DK Holm surveys DVD reviewers reactions to one of this week's most anticipated releases.

The Double Life of Veronique There appears to be some kind of intimidation factor when it comes to so-called art films on DVD. The enthusiasm of the youngsters is rash but can be rather charming, as neophytes avail themselves of non-Hollywood material through their favorite playback medium. You feel a sense of gratitude that "mature" stories and characters really can be seen on the screen, and that gratitude can nullify the finer critical edge. Take the Criterion Collection's release of the late Krzysztof Kie?lowski's The Double Life of Véronique (La Double Vie de Véronique), from 1991.

Surely there are greater films, such as White or Red in his Three Colors trilogy, not to mention some earlier films that form a part of his Decalogue. Véronique was one of those "web of life" films that began to appear in the 1990s (others in this genre include Sliding Doors, from 1998, and Lawless Heart from 2001, and in fact we aren't quite done with the genre if the Crash is any measure). The stolidly bifurcated Véronique is opaque, confusing and ambitious far beyond its achievement as it tells the parallel stories of two women (both played by Irène Jacob), one a musician in Poland, the other an aspiring singer in France, who never meet but whose lives mirror or mystically interact with each other.

The Double Life of Veronique Disappointing as Véronique might be to some viewers, however, one can't deny the intensity of Kie?lowski's palette. Kie?lowski was one of the last great directors in that high European super-serious Bergman/Antonioni mode, i.e., he was a beautiful cinematic craftsman ambitiously attempting to tell us who we are right now. Among living directors, only Michael Haneke and Theo Angelopoulos share a similar general style and critical renown. So grouse as one might, it's better than not to have another Kie?lowski film available on DVD.

But typical of the uncritical swooning is DVD Verdict's Rob Lineberger, whose enthusiastic review ends, "I've reviewed a lot of movies and been burned out on careworn themes and genres. The Double Life of Véronique made my spirit sit bolt upright. It flared my nostrils and widened my eyes. It made me ashamed that I have never before experienced a Kie?lowski film. Don't let my shame become yours. See this." Linebgerger, however, does go into detail about why the film had such an impact on him. "Slawomir Idziak's cinematography and Jacques Witta's editing are powerful reinforcements of Kie?lowski's themes. The use of yellow-green filters gives the film a unified air of mystery and spiritual warmth. It is hard to put my finger on why the filters have such a powerful effect, but they transform what we see subtly and thoroughly."

Jamie S Rich, one of the 10,000 reviewers at DVD Talk, is equally exultant, finding Véronique to be a "mysterious little movie. While it does tell a story in a semblance of conventional narrative, it's also an emotional jigsaw puzzle, a feat of storytelling agility that puts a lot of trust in its audience," adding that "it's never pretentiously obtuse. The master's touch that Krzysztof Kie?lowski gives to the film is to invoke our power of intuition. He is an expert at showing and not telling, but showing us in a way that makes us feel the events rather than intellectualize them." He concludes that the "movie digs into its viewer and takes root, and it will draw you back again and again. The more you watch it, the more you will like it, and Criterion's new two-disc set opens up the artistic endeavor to reach new levels of understanding. A bravura performance from beginning to end."

The Double Life of Veronique For Phillip Van at DVD Fanatic, The Double Life of Véronique "has a delicate, hazy atmosphere that revels in the sad and sensual. It's an artful labyrinthine mystery with the resonance and power of a well told ghost story, calling to mind the works of author Henry James and the fictional puzzles of Borges. The story is told not so much in conventional narrative form, but in hints and intimations." He concludes that "those who like Kie?lowski are attracted to his subtly uncanny ruminations on life and human connections as they pertain to the spirit. Those who don't like Kie?lowski often suggest that his work is more a totem of bourgeoisie ennui than true spiritualism. The Double Life of Véronique seems to avoid the critical pitfalls of his later work by presenting a tone and mood that are undeniably haunting and that compellingly inform the world he creates, leaving us with the idea that our own world is far more mysterious and wondrous than we had imagined." Van also took time out to praise Criterion's presentation. "As with most Criterion Collection DVDs, the packaging and layout for The Double Life of Véronique are a work of art in themselves. A special multi-folding box for the two-disc set depicts Irène Jacob's sleeping face, broken into two equal parts by the fold, suggesting the split lives of her characters. The images, fonts and box cardboard are delicately chosen. There is nothing here that Criterion didn't artfully select for the DVD release."

Leave it to the DVD Journal, the New Yorker of DVD review sites, to piss on the parade. Clarence Beaks begins his review promisingly, writing, "When the wonder goes out of the world, watch a Krzysztof Kie?lowski film and reconnect to all that is ecstatic and ineffable about human existence." But he quickly makes some qualifications, and notes that The Double Life of Véronique "is a mess of near spirituality, bizarre contrivances, and incomplete metaphor. On a literal level, Véronique is utter nonsense, but on a spiritual level, it is resoundingly, if inexplicably, true, standing apart from The Decalogue and Three Colors due to its lack of clear purpose," going on to say that there is "no simple accounting for what transpires in The Double Life of Véronique; at every turn, it frustrates attempts to arrive at an authoritative deconstruction of its events, symbols and, perhaps, post-Communist allegory." Beaks also gives a thumbnail sketch of the double-disc set's supplementary material, which include an alternative ending, a "dependably erudite" commentary track from Annette Insdorf, three short short docs by Kie?lowski plus a short film by Kazimierz Karabasz, the director's teacher, two documentary or video interviews with the director, and interviews with the cinematographer, composer and lead actress.

The Double Life of Veronique This is not the first DVD release of Véronique, however, as Gary W Tooze of DVD Beaver is always sure to know. Beginning by noting that the film is Kie?lowski's "international breakthrough" that remains "one of his most beloved films, a ravishing, mysterious rumination on identity, love, and human intuition," he goes on to weigh the Criterion transfer to its predecessors, concluding that it "appears sharper, slightly brighter and has less of the greenish/golden hue. I see no prominent signs of cropping. Subtitles are the same - generally the NTSC edition is best, but it's not overwhelming (depending on your system), but it does look superior. I will assume Criterion have minutely boosted the black levels to bring up the sharpness."

The Criterion set appears to resemble greatly the earlier R2 disc Artificial Eye, which Noel Megahey at DVD Times points out is itself a "port of MK2's recently released French 2-disc set." Back in his R2 review, Megahey noted that Véronique held "a unique position in Kie?lowski's career, straddling the director's early Polish work, where in films like Blind Chance, No End and his groundbreaking Dekalog series, he explored various themes of chance, fate, free will that draw people together and the social, moral and political circumstances that bind them together - and leading towards his later French work in the films of The Three Colours Trilogy, where he reworked many of those themes, refining his complex ideas and filmmaking techniques to a remarkable level of precision. In between those two periods of Kie?lowski's tragically brief filmmaking career lies La Double Vie de Véronique, and it sees the director at his most challenging, demonstrating the rigour and attention to detail that we would come to expect from his later films, setting up an intriguing dual situation that allows many of his favorite themes to be explored."

Posted by dwhudson at 10:43 AM | Comments (1)

Forrest J Ackerman Blog-a-Thon.

Forrest J Ackerman's World of Science Fiction "An author, magazine editor, movie memorabilia collector, part-time actor and notorious punster, Forrest J Ackerman enters the new millennium with a website (Forrest J Ackerman's Wide Webbed World, presented in 'DracsCape' 5.0), an entry on Wikipedia, and a museum's worth of memories."

Flickhead celebrates Ackerman's 90th birthday by launching the Forrest J Ackerman Blog-a-Thon.

C Jerry Kutner at Bright Lights After Dark: "Forry made liking monster movies respectable. Forry made writing about monster movies respectable." More from Joplin John.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:14 AM | Comments (1)

November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving lists.

Delicatessen At the main site, Craig Phillips: "Giving Thanks: Top 10 Formerly MIA DVDs." On a similar note, Salon's Andrew O'Hehir presents a "completely subjective list of the best, and least appreciated, independent films of 2006 that are already available on video (or will be released by Christmas)."

Having voiced his criticisms of Paul Schrader's canon here and here, Zach Campbell offers a list: "These are companions to Schrader's sixty canonical films. Complements; supplements. These don't operate as a canon; they are a counter-canon; they are intended to be watchtowers pointing out towards the parameters."

Updated, 11/26.

"Ah, Thanksgiving... In honor of the holiday, the IFC News team presents a look back at some of their favorite dysfunctional family moments in film."

Grady Hendrix has quick takes on "a big ol' batch of new titles" due from Tartan next year.

David Poland's got his "Tenth Annual Things I'm Thankful For" list up.

The Oregonian's Shawn Levy's "Reasons to be Thankful."

Kevin Kelly has a holiday list at Cinematical: "Films for Foodies."

The NYT Book Review's "100 Notable Books of the Year" is up and out.

Update, 11/24: Justin Juul at SF360: "I asked Mike Rotkin, lecturer and field studies coordinator for the Community Studies department at UC Santa Cruz, to offer a list of his favorite political films." He obliges, with ten.

Update, 11/25: Writers and critics pick their books of the year for the Guardian's Review.

Updates, 11/26: More writers and more critics pick the best books of 2006 for the Observer.

Harry Tuttle offers another "anti-canon, an alternative breech into offbeat cinema territories, the favorite milestones from my subjective journey through cinephilia."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:27 PM

Germans, 11/23.

Mein Führer "German cinema breaks new ground in January with its first comedy about Hitler," reports David Crossland for Spiegel Online. "Jewish director Dani Levy is following in the footsteps of Charlie Chaplin, maker of The Great Dictator, with a decidedly unsympathetic portrayal of Hitler as a bed-wetting drug addict who is making the world suffer for his beatings as a child." The film is Mein Führer: Die wirklich wahrste Wahrheit über Adolf Hitler (The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler) and, though it sounds silly, considering those involved - Levy, Helge Schneider, Ulrich Mühe, X-Filme - it's probably... well, silly. But potentially in a good way.

Tom Tykwer has taken his Perfume to San Francisco, where Michael Guillén's met him and taken notes during a post-screening Q&A.

Updated, 11/24.

Emily Schultz for the Walrus: "Song for Herzog and the Dancing Chicken."

"A mock-doc in format, but a film that actually finds its strangest epiphanies in genuine non-fiction footage, [The Wild Blue Yonder] is science fiction, and not all that different from Herzog's apocalyptic tone poem Fata Morgana filmed 35 years earlier," writes Michael Atkinson, who also reviews "[a]nother German sine qua non," Pandora's Box. More on that one from Audra Schroeder in the Austin Chronicle.

Wally Hammond writes up an excellent preview of the UK's German Film Festival (through Sunday) for Time Out.

Cineuropa's new "Film Focus": Requiem. Also, Thilo Wydra asks Dagmar Hirtz about the state of German cinema.

A brief note to close this entry. To the Süddeutsche Zeitung and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. If you're going to be that backasswardly stupid as to go to court to try to put a stop to free PR and branding, just shut down your new media departments. So what if Perlentaucher earns a euro or two promoting you at their expense and not yours? Just get off the web right now and save yourselves the time, trouble and money. You never got it, you still don't and you never will. Get off. And good luck with your paper papers.

Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920s Update, 11/24: Roberta Smith on Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920s at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through February 19: "Organized by Sabine Rewald, curator of 19th-century, modern and contemporary art at the Met, this exhibition creates an indelible, psychologically charged picture of Weimar Germany as it teetered between World Wars I and II. In a larger sense it is a humane hall of mirrors whose representation of individuals and types, of the quick and the deluded, the knowing and the devouring, has a sharpness that still cuts."

In the accompanying slide show, which is well worth clicking through, the first painting labeled "Count St Genois d'Anneaucourt (1927) by Christian Schad" is actually An die Schönheit (Hommage to Beauty) by Otto Dix. It's the final slide in the show that's correctly labeled.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:07 PM | Comments (2)

Long weekend fests and events.

Canyon Cinema A little (but vital) history lesson from Holly Willis, who, for the LA Weekly, meets Chick Strand, "who will be the subject of a November 27 REDCAT tribute (at which she is scheduled to appear), was born in San Francisco in 1931 and discovered filmmaking through her friend Bruce Baillie, who started making experimental films in the early 1950s. Because Baillie had nowhere to show his efforts, he and Strand screened them at his house for friends, gradually augmenting the programs with work by other avant-garde filmmakers, including Bruce Conner and Kenneth Anger. This effort eventually became the seminal experimental-film venue Canyon Cinema."

Janus Films Not only are the Janus films out and about in that lovely DVD set, they're on screens here and there from coast to coast, too. For, well, IFC News, R Emmet Sweeney writes, "The IFC Center begins their series on November 22 with a new 35mm print of Agnès Varda's Cléo From 5 to 7, a French New Wave wonder from 1961 - also the year of François Truffaut's Jules and Jim and Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad."

More from Ed Halter in the Voice, where Nathan Lee recommends the Rossellini and Rivette retrospectives. Also: "Running from November 22 through 29, Give Thanks for John Ford puts the emphasis on westerns, the quintessential Ford genre, with special focus on the most monumental film ever shot in Monument Valley."

André Salas has another long weekend tip for New Yorkers at Filmmaker: "'Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You' Gotham Nominee Screenings."

The New Italian Cinema series has wrapped, but Michael Guillén has notes from a Q&A with Marco Bellocchio and a review of Good Morning, Night.

Dennis Harvey previews the Hiroshi Teshigahara mini-retro (at the Castro from Monday through Thursday) for SF360: "A couple of the films are world classics that have never been too difficult to track down. But the two others are rarely seen, and all remain fascinating testament to a distinctive, unpinnable talent."

Mix 14 Michael Gibbons at indieWIRE: "Turning 14 years old, the Mix Brasil Film and Video Festival of Sexual Diversity has grown from a fringe showing of alternative Brazilian cinema to a popular international queer film festival. Its flagship showing was Nov 9 - 19 in Sao Paulo, but the event will also tour to Rio de Janeiro, Niteroi, and Brasilia, with the sort of ambition that seems impossible with the shockingly low budget typical of a niche film festival. Logistical pressures alone make Mix Brasil a success worth celebrating, but the creative focus of its 2006 program - an expert balance between experimental and crowd-pleasing - is surely the festival's greatest strength."

Ray Pride's been snapping pix in Thessaloniki.

For the Austin Chronicle, Sofia Resnick surveys Sublime Lines: Japanese Anime, a series running on Tuesdays through December 19.

Peter Nellhaus sends a dispatch from the EU Film Festival in Thailand.

A mixed review at the Reeler from Paddy Johnson for Christian Jankowski's Us and Them, at The Kitchen through December 9.

"Film director and all-round renaissance man David Lynch will be the subject of a major exhibition at the Fondation Cartier in Paris next year," reports the Guardian. "Entitled The Air Is on Fire, the show will feature painting, photography, sculpture and sound installations - and, of course, film."

"Cerith Wyn Evans's artistic career goes back to the London underground scene of the late 1970s, when he worked closely with the British filmmakers Derek Jarman and John Maybury and was a protagonist in the avant-garde film movement known as the New Romantics. During the 1980s, Evans worked on a number of experimental 8mm and 16mm films, in which he broke with the ascetic language of conceptual film and introduced a new form of visual opulence, theatricality and symbolic physicality into film discourse." The exhibition Cerith Wyn Evans... in which something happens all over again for the very first time is on view in Munich through February 25.

Online listening tips. Choosing from over 50 podcasts recorded during the Denver Film Festival, SpoutBlog selects just over a dozen of the best.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:40 PM

Philippe Noiret, 1930 - 2006.

Coup De Torchon
French film star Philippe Noiret, whose trademark hangdog face delighted cinema audiences, has died, French authorities said on Thursday. He was 76.

Noiret was one of the most prolific and successful actors of his generation, starring in a string of cinema hits over the past five decades, including the hugely popular 1988 Franco-Italian comedy Cinema Paradiso...

Noiret made his film debut in 1955 in Agnès Varda's La Pointe Courte but did not really make his mark until 1960 where he played the downbeat uncle in Louis Malle's classic Zazie Dans Le Metro.


Updated through 11/29.

Well, since no one else out there has yet, let's add mention of Bertrand Tavernier's The Clockmaker and Coup De Torchon.

See also: the Wikipedia entry.

Updates, 11/24: Now this is more like it. Joe Leydon's must-read appreciation: "I count among my most prized memories an afternoon during the 1989 Cannes Film Festival when Noiret - looking grandly natty in a cream-colored suit - joined me for a long lunch on the patio of a posh hotel.... I tried very, very hard not to gush, and I think I may have succeeded."

Also, Fabien Lemercier for Cineuropa.

Update, 11/25: Alan Riding in the New York Times: "Noiret had a down-to-earth view of his own long career. 'When I think back, I see someone who has correctly executed his trade as an artisan,' the Paris daily Libération quoted him as saying. 'I have done a few difficult films as well as some not demanding enough. The average is not bad. I am a popular actor and I like that idea.'"

Update, 11/29: "He was a friend, a brother, a father. I owe everything to him." Bertrand Tavernier remembers Philippe Noiret in the LA Weekly. Via Movie City News.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:01 PM

November 22, 2006

Interview. Isild Le Besco.

Backstage "Emmanuelle Bercot has crafted one of the most self-assured debut features that I've seen in years," declared Jonathan Marlow in May. "The cast is remarkable. Emmanuelle Seigner is quite exceptional as the troubled singer and Isild Le Besco's performance as an adoring fan is believably overwrought." In September, he got a chance to grab a quick chat with Le Besco about Backstage and more at the Toronto International Film Festival.

"The 24-year-old French actress Isild Le Besco has one of the most exotic faces in movies," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "An enjoyably overwrought meditation on the consequences of celebrity and the vicissitudes of fandom, Backstage stars Le Besco as the schoolgirl acolyte of Emmanuelle Seigner's pop diva, a singer-songwriter and high priestess of cheese."


Stephen Holden in the New York Times: "Backstage, above all, is a showcase for Ms Seigner, who is quite a good singer, and Ms Le Besco, the fearless young French actress who specializes in playing naïve, headstrong girls derailed by passion."

Earlier: Filmbrain and Aaron Hillis.

Update: Nick Schager at Slant: "Depicting the thorny relationship shared by pop star and fan, Emmanuelle Bercot's Backstage radiates not the nostalgic sentimentality of Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous but raw, pathetic, obsessive desperation.... Bercot's over-the-top representation of Lauren's frazzled hotel-room existence benefits immensely from DP Agnes Godard's grimy, underlit cinematography, which quietly mirrors the moral miasma engulfing artist and admirer."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:22 AM | Comments (3)

Interview. Darren Aronofsky.

The Fountain Drawing on the roundtable discussion with Darren Aronofsky that Michael Guillén recorded in mid-November, Sara Schieron maps a few possible entryways into the radically independent director's most challenging film yet, The Fountain.

"As early festival rumblings suggested and the final product confirms, you're either with The Fountain or you're against it," writes Nick Schager at Slant. "The Fountain certainly doesn't lack for ambition, a fact that frequently gets it into trouble but which also, ultimately, stands as its most endearing quality. The film's trippy melodrama is, at its core, an intensely grandiose and sincere rumination on the nature of love as the universe's only eternal element, as well as a poignant portrait of the inherent cyclicality of existence."

"'Pretentious' isn't inherently a bad word," insists Aaron Hillis at the Reeler. "Thus, to dismiss writer-director Darren Aronofsky's hyper-ambitious third feature The Fountain - a heady fusion of science fiction, metaphysics and a melodramatic quest for immortality both romantic and spiritual - for simply believing in its own sentimental grandiloquence is to deny one of the most exquisite and strangely moving trips to the multiplex this year."

Updated through 11/28.

"By the time the hero's 26th-century self levitates through the deliquescing woods between the worlds and the layers of the cosmic onion to the golden birth canal, Izzi's injunction to 'finish it' has taken on a new, and not particularly occult, meaning," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. Even so, "What The Fountain lacks in coherence it makes up in ambition."

"Like a story by Jorge Luis Borges, The Fountain dispenses with everyday assumptions about time, space and causality and tries to replace the prose of narrative cinema with a poetic language of rhyming images and visual metaphors," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "I wish I could say that it succeeded. At his best - which is to say as a maker of gorgeous, haunting compositions (exquisitely rendered in Matthew Libatique's cinematography) - Mr Aronofsky can achieve an eloquence that suggests a blend of Andrei Tarkovsky (speaking of rhymes) and comic books. But his commitment to conveying meaning and emotion through painstakingly constructed images also gives the movie a static, claustrophobic atmosphere."

"It's a story of overreaching that itself overreaches, but that might have been impossible to avoid. Any film that concludes with an explosive demonstration of the universe's incomprehensible vastness wouldn't feel right if it felt perfect," writes Keith Phipps, giving it a "B+" at the AV Club, where Tasha Robinson talks with Aronofsky.

Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly: "I'll concede this is a deeply silly, rather awful movie. But The Fountain is also so passionately sincere and heartfelt about its own silly awfulness that it eventually grows somewhat pitiable. It's tough to kick a mewing kitten, even one this stupid and ugly."

The tale of the film's making, from conception to opening, is unusually long and twisty, which is what justified features by Steve Silberman in Wired, and now, Michael Idov in New York.

"I might not have liked it, but I certainly respected it," writes Matt Singer at IFC News, where - online listening here - Alison Willmore and Matt Singer disagree at IFC News.

"With its disjointed narrative and experimental touches, The Fountain is not going to rock the masses or even thrill the majority of the art-house crowd like his Requiem for a Dream did," writes Cheryl Eddy in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "But, puzzling though it may be, it's a truly original film."

Capone talks with Aronofsky, a big AICN fan; and Jeffrey Overstreet interviews Aronofsky for Christianity Today.

Earlier: "Venice. The Fountain."

Updates. Anthony Kaufman talks science with Aronofsky for Seed.

"These days, nothing is as easy to deride as dead-serious romance." Time's Richard Corliss comes out: he's pro-Fountain.

Jeffrey Overstreet in Christianity Today: "Aronofsky shouldn't be punished for his seriousness. The film's solemnity is appropriate for its subject matter, and it reflects the artist's sincerity. It's not often that moviegoers have such a tangible sense of the storyteller's own struggle to work through personal experiences, questions, and fears.... And in a time when few films have the courage to say anything more than 'seize the day,' isn't it refreshing to find someone willing to take cosmic questions seriously?"

Updates, 11/23: David Lowery: "For all its empyrean visuals, I found The Fountain curiously earthbound. I don't actually think that this is the fault of the film; I think it was an inherent side effect of the idea becoming a film. In other words, it's as good as it could be in this form, but it's never as good as it could be before it became physical - a common disparity, perhaps, but one exacerbated by six years of treacherous and fairly public development."

"Part dewey-eyed paperback romance, part acid-trip planetarium show, this extravagantly silly movie comes on like the second coming of 2001, and there are enough fancy shots of Hugh Jackman seated in a yoga position while floating through the solar system inside an embryonic bubble that you can imagine the superlatives soon to appear in the movie's ad campaign: 'Brilliant!' 'Visionary!' 'A mind-blowing sci-fi head trip!'," writes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. "In truth, The Fountain is closer to one of those vomitous fantasy romances, like Somewhere in Time or this past summer's The Lake House, where the two lovers are so destined to be together that neither time nor space nor plain old common sense can keep them apart. The only viewers who risk having their minds blown are those who didn't have much of one to start with."

"Yes, The Fountain overreaches on every level, and that's exactly what I like about it," insists Jim Emerson at "Big subject, big canvas, big ambitions. A young director's ungainly and overwrought folly? By all means, in the sense that Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia or Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho or New York, New York or Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900 are follies."

"It looks like the trippiest yoga video you ever saw, or something out of What the Bleep Do We Know?," suggests Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "But for all the fancy effects and the elaborate costuming, all I was left with — what with the tree, the sap, the soil and the regenerative powers of death and decay ('What if death were an act of creation?' flaky Izzi asks her brain surgeon husband) — is that it all comes down to fertilizer."

"You'd be within your rights to guffaw at all this, as most of my colleagues already have," writes Sam Adams in the Philadelphia Weekly. "But disbelief is not a mark of sophistication any more than belief is a mark of simplicity, and The Fountain is a movie worth believing in."

"[A]t once overblown and underwhelming," declares Godfrey Cheshire in the Independent Weekly.

Mike Russell: "It's an ambitious, passionate, grief-stricken work of film art. It's probably going to tank at the box-office, but I think cult audiences will be discussing it for years."

"[S]urely the foolhardiest commercial venture in the genre since Steven Soderbergh's Solaris," adds Duncan Shepherd in the San Diego Reader.

"Could this yet be one of those films that split critics and fans?" asks Ben Child. "Could one man's obtuse and over-intellectualised mess be another man's cult tour-de-force? US audiences, at least, are about to find out."

On another note, Adam Balz at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "The Kronos Quartet returns with their astounding strings, marking one of the few instances where original music outdoes the film; until The Fountain's last half hour, I was viewing the film as a series of interrelated music videos rather than genuine cinema."

Update, 11/24: Chuck Tryon: "[T]he attention to atmosphere simply served as a reminder that there really wasn't much going on in the film to begin with."

Update, 11/25: Peter Sobczynski interviews Aronofsky for Hollywood Bitchslap.

Updates, 11/28: "I don't doubt it was a deeply personal project for Aronofsky; he spent six years struggling to get it made. But what's onscreen too often struck me as theoretical and not lived-in." Matt Zoller Seitz's review - analysis, really - seems to be pretty much the definitive take. A must-read, including the thoughtful comments that follow at the House Next Door.

Gabriel Shanks: "When all of most trusted moviewatching friends are losing their minds over one single film, you better buy a ticket, pronto.... And yes, it's as good as they say... maybe not the best film of 2006, but as Nick says, 'it goes a long way toward redeeming the year.'"

Just launched in conjunction with the release of Ellen Burstyn's Lessons in Becoming Myself: an official site.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:01 AM | Comments (4)

November 21, 2006

Robert Altman, 1925 - 2006.

Robert Altman
Robert Altman, the caustic and irreverent satirist behind M*A*S*H, Nashville and The Player who made a career out of bucking Hollywood management and story conventions, died at a Los Angeles Hospital, his Sandcastle 5 Productions Company said Tuesday. He was 81.

David Germain for the AP.

This is one instance in which we can quite concretely measure how much a loosely connected community of cinephiles values the work of a filmmaker as singular and significant as Robert Altman. In March at the House Next Door, Matt Zoller Seitz introduced a Robert Altman Blog-a-Thon, and it's from that entry and the comments that follow that I would advise anyone to begin exploring Altman's impact on the art.

See also: Robert T Self in Senses of Cinema, Nick Pinkerton's interview for Reverse Shot and the Wikipedia.

Updated through 11/26 - and back to 1975, too, with Pauline Kael.

Updates: Rick Lyman in the New York Times: "A risk-taker with a tendency toward mischief, Mr Altman is perhaps best remembered for a run of masterly films - six in five years - that propelled him to the forefront of American directors and culminated in 1975 with what many regard as his greatest film, Nashville, a complex, character-filled drama told against the backdrop of a presidential primary.... Unlike most directors whose flames burned brightest in the early 1970s - and frequently flickered out - Mr Altman did not come to Hollywood from critical journals and newfangled film schools. He had had a long career in industrial films and television. In an era that celebrated fresh voices steeped in film history - young directors like Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich and Martin Scorsese - Mr Altman was like their bohemian uncle, matching the young rebels in their skeptical disdain for the staid conventions of mainstream filmmaking and the establishment that supported it."

Dennis Cozzalio: "Robert Altman taught me how to see movies, and I went into his classroom kicking and screaming.... I can't even get a meaningful grip on the emotions that are churning in me this morning as I try to grasp the fact that Robert Altman is gone. He lived an amazing life, and he had a career that might be a model for any director, were it not for the fact that the very iconoclasm and individualism that informed it, his irreverence for the bean counters and the powers that be, coupled with the artistic highs and lows that marked his brilliant journey, his particular stretch on the timeline of film history, couldn't possibly be repeated."

Scott Macaulay reminds us of Matthew Ross's cover story in the Spring 2006 issue of Filmmaker and adds, "[W]hile many younger directors complain about the inequities of Hollywood and their inability to get their movies made, Altman remained both philosophical and wiley, committed to testing the boundaries of both the system and society with his sly, fast-footed dramas."

Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door: "It's hard for me to write through shock - in some ways the death of a beloved artist hits me as deeply and profoundly as the loss of a close relative. In a more tempered frame of mind, I might be able to expound on the importance of Popeye and The Player to my own development as a writer and movie critic. Of the glories and frustrations, as a young college student, of seeing Kansas City in a near-empty theater where, to my retroactive delight, an elderly patron audibly told off Jennifer Jason Leigh (in one of her finest performances) every five minutes. Of the thrill of watching a restored print of Images with Altman himself in attendance - embodying contradiction, he hobbled up to the front of the auditorium (the outward stereotype of an old man), then let loose with a giddy and energetic series of recollections (a true conquistador, looking inward to discover the fountain of youth). At the moment, I can only list these experiences and hope they convey - in microcosm, anyway - what Altman means to me."

The Voice collects quotes and links from reviews spanning nearly 20 years.

Robbiefreeling at Reverse Shot: "Even if he wouldn't have it, we would call him something of a genius: his genius lay in his ability to let his cast riff, sparkle, shine, and flutter, and in his own refreshing inability see how exacting his camera was in allowing them to accomplish this."

Eugene Hernandez at indieWIRE: "Introduced as having worked with "every actor from Lillian Gish to Lindsay Lohan," by critic Peter Travers (who moderated last month's Hamptons conversation), Altman was asked what still excited him about making movies. 'The cast,' Altman responded immediately, 'It's always the cast.' He added, 'As you pull a layer off, you realize they are really courageous, really gutsy... I admire them for what they bring to me (and) to the audience.'"

Anne Thompson: "Oh dear, I thought Robert Altman would keep making movies forever." Amen. "I will treasure my last memory of him, at Picturehouse's Oscar party at the Four Seasons: Meryl Streep, John C Reilly and Jennifer Jason Leigh all sat at the same table, leaning in to listen to Altman. Actors always did adore him." has a great photo snapped by Fabrizio Maltese at the Berlinale in February.

Craig Keller offers an annotated list: "I'd take this tiny Tuesday-afternoon moment to single out a few of the maybe less-spoken-about Altman films that have meant a lot to me, and which I'd rate among his best works."

Filmbrain on Prairie: "After watching the film, itself a meditation on death, I emailed a friend and commented that should this be his last film, it would be a fitting, perfect, and graceful exit. And indeed it was."

Harry Knowles at Ain't It Cool News: "The Sadness in losing Robert Altman isn't that the filmmaker who made great films in the 70s is dead. No, the sadness is that one of the most unique and vibrant filmmakers of TODAY has passed." Quint's comments follow.

Edward Copeland: "I'm grateful that Academy gave him his due, albeit honorary, last year before it was too late because film lovers are unlikely to know a true original like Robert Altman ever again.... Now that Altman's entire career is before us, it's a good time for those of us who loved him and those unfamiliar with much of his work to take the opportunity with the prolific body of work he's left us."

Dan Jardine calls the Cinemarati: "Rather than bury him, why not praise? What are your favourite Altmans and why?"

The cinetrix points to Gerald Peary's 2001 interview.

Matt Dentler: "He, and his gift for storytelling, will be missed forever."

David Poland offers a personal top ten and adds, "Altman continued to push the envelope in his third act, though for me, he never quite found the answer to the complex puzzles he tried to solve. But there is some magic in each of the films, whether as broken as Cookie's Fortune, as close to greatness as Gosford Park, or as simple and clean with just a touch of Altman with A Prairie Home Companion."

Jeffrey Wells: "He was a beautiful ornery man, occasionally touched by genius. That's how genius is - it visits, whispers, flutters down and lights you up... and then it's gone."

Robert Cashill: "Whatever the late director felt about 'the industry' (The Player gives us a strong hint) Altman was a giant whose missteps and failures were as interesting as his unqualified successes.... Celebrate his legacy with a commemorative screening. My pick: McCabe, a dirty, ornery, beautiful, wonderful film. Farewell Robert Altman."

Aaron Dobbs: "He's one of the few filmmakers to work in the last half-century who truly epitomized the idea of independent filmmaking and could honestly be called a maverick."

Chuck Tryon: "I never tire of teaching The Player, especially that tour de force opening shot, in my introduction to film courses."

Cahiers du cinéma.

Karina Longworth has an online viewing tip.

James Urbaniak: "As Henry Gibson says at the end of Nashville: 'Somebody sing!'"

More: Fresh Air revives a 1990 interview.

Tom Sutpen at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger...: "As one of a small number of artists in mainstream American filmmaking whose methods could justly be called revolutionary, he left a mark on all Cinema that is at once indelible and enigmatic to the point of critical frustration.... If we can look upon his labors, good and bad (and his films could reach extremes of both conditions), there is at least one thread running through all of it: Altman's aesthetic was, at bottom, one of constant examination. The dreamlike slow zooms and pans so omnipresent in his filmmaking were merely the immediate visual manifestations of an endless process; one that sought to discover within a given project those elements which might, in the end, prove most transcendent. He was both drawn to and repelled by mainstream Hollywood filmmaking, and in the 1970s it resulted in one of the greatest flourishings any artist in Cinema has yet managed."

Ed Champion: "Now that Altman is gone, I'm hard pressed to name another living filmmaker as playful or as fiercely devoted to depicting humanity in its simple yet multifaceted form. Mike Leigh comes to mind, but his subject matter is more committed to the caustic. Wong Kar-Wai is also close, but Wong's visuals are as potent as his subjects. Jean-Luc Godard is still alive, but his pugnacity has overtaken his innovations. I must turn back to Altman as sui generis: his perverse amicability, his love of jazz, and his incessant though unobtrusive experimentation. He was one of the best cinematic realists we had. And I don't see any emerging filmmaker coming close to Altman's accomplishments."

Nathaniel R: "The cinema needed this man and I'll miss him as a movie fan."

Janet Pierson: "The life cycle is finite. Thank God. Because otherwise how could we appreciate anything?... It's with that in mind that I think so fondly of the dearly departed Robert Altman."

And more: Jeffrey Overstreet gathers a "few words about Robert Altman from his friends and colleagues..."

Jim Emerson's compiled Roger Ebert's "Altman Home Companion."

Richard Corliss for Time: "His fugue format, pouring dozens of plots into a post-ethnic melting pot, gave everyone a brief grab at movie immortality. On the great plains of Altman's precious wide screen, America bustled, hustled and tussled. His searching telephoto lens, focusing on this micro-event or that, suggested the eye of a man who is always interested, was rarely impressed by all the milling. This was the director, of course, whispering to his characters, 'Go on, make fools or heroes of yourselves. Don't let me stop you.'"

Updates, 11/22: AO Scott in the New York Times: "Altman thrived on the shapelessness and confusion of experience, and he came closer than any other American filmmaker to replicating it without allowing his films to succumb to chaos. His movies buzz with the dangerous thrill of collaboration - the circling cameras, the improvising actors, the jumping, swirling sound design - even as they seem to arise from a great loneliness, a natural state that reasserts itself once the picture is over. A makeshift tribe gathers to produce a film, or to watch one, and then disperses when the shared experience has run its course. Everyone is gone, and the only antidote to this letdown is another film.... At the moment, signs of his influence are everywhere: in the overlapping dialogue and interlocking scenes of a television show like The Wire, for example, or in the multiple narratives drawn together around a theme or a location, in films like Babel, Bobby, Crash and Fast Food Nation. And in the last year of his life, the Hollywood establishment, which had often treated Mr. Altman like a crazy old uncle, hailed him as a patriarch, presenting an honorary Academy Award as compensation for the half-dozen he should already have had." Also, an audio slide show and more slides without the audio.

Charles Michener in the New York Observer: "The death of my old friend Robert Altman, at 81, marked the passing of the most inclusive American artist that any medium - film, theater, music, literature, art - has known.... Working at the margins of a system whose reliance on formula he loathed, he was Hollywood's Whitman - hearing America not only singing, but loving, screwing, celebrating, cheating, praying, hustling and, above all, dreaming. In this world, he was the biggest dreamer of all."

In the Guardian:

The Guardian: Robert Altman

  • "It is tempting to think that the definitive Altman films might have been the many never made - EL Doctorow's Ragtime, from which he was fired by producer Dino de Laurentiis, outraged by Buffalo Bill; a long-cherished adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions; a biopic of Rossini; revisits to Nashville and Short Cuts; and a plan to make two films from Tony Kushner's Aids drama Angels in America," suggests Jonathan Romney. "Altman's wavering fortunes have conferred on his career a sort of quixotic nobility."

  • "Robert Altman is the only truly independent American movie director who had a sustained career - 40 years, nearly. Griffith and ,a href="">Preston Sturges managed it for about 10 years. Orson Welles for less, and intermittently," writes David Thomson. "He made his films and reckoned that if he was on, there were a few million Americans ready for them. If you're a novelist, a few million readers is glory."

  • Dan Glaister gather tributes from actors and writers; so does the BBC.

"Over the course of his venerable, glorious career, he worked in seemingly every genre, but he left such an unmistakable imprint on each of his films that the 'Robert Altman movie' became a genre unto itself." Nathan Rabin introduces a series of tributes at the AV Club, where Noel Murray interviewed Altman in 2004 and Keith Phipps spoke with him in 2000.

"It was my good fortune to meet Robert Altman more than a few times; Nashville is one of the key reasons I got interested in movies." Ray Pride offers a "few outtakes from a bromide-rich 2000 interview for Filmmaker's IFP/Gotham special issue."

In the Hollywood Reporter:

  • Gregg Kilday "Nominated for five Oscars including best picture, [Nashville] won just one for [Keith] Carradine's deceptively simple song 'I'm Easy.' That tune, along with Nashville's ironic sing-along 'It Don't Bother Me,' might as well have served as Altman's own theme songs, because when he was in his element on a film set, he did make it look easy."

  • Kirk Honeycutt: "Altman's best works have a marvelous chaotic flow that seems to arrive at a startling, revelatory conclusion almost by accident. Because of this and his notorious popularity with actors, the myth about Altman's working method is that much of his films are improvisational. 'Totally wrong,' Altman told me. 'Nashville, for instance, was the most amazing movie because there were no surprises in it. It grew into exactly what our initial view of it was.'"

  • Martin A Grove: "Altman's well received last film, A Prairie Home Companion, which opened last June via Picturehouse, could put him back in the Oscar race for one last time this year and give Academy members a last opportunity to honor him."

Tom Hall: "I was thrilled to have been able to meet him, to be able to host him, and to talk with him a little and share my appreciation for his work. There are not many opportunities in life to tell a great artist how you feel about what they have given to you, but I am luckier than most to have been given the chance to tell Robert Altman how much his films mean to me."

In the Los Angeles Times:

  • Patrick Goldstein: "However prickly, Altman had something many of his peers lacked: an original cinematic mind. In America, so many directors have become commercially minded that you have to look abroad for comparisons. As with Fellini, Godard or Almodóvar, you only needed to see five minutes of an Altman film to know who was behind the camera."

  • Dennis McLellan: "As testament to Altman's reputation as an actor's director, more than 60 celebrities, including Jack Lemmon, Bruce Willis, Cher, Lily Tomlin, Burt Reynolds, and Anjelica Huston agreed to work for scale playing themselves in cameos in The Player."

  • An annotated list of personal favorites from Peter Rainer; more recommendations from Susan King.

Andrew Gumbel for the Independent: "One critic, Scott Foundas of the Los Angeles Weekly, remarked a few years ago that he still directed with the enthusiasm and inventiveness of a young man. Altman himself liked to tell interviewers that nobody had had a better time of it in the movie industry than he had - never making a movie over which he had anything less than total control, from the script to the final cut."

Jack Lechner in the Voice: "Robert Altman was the great cynical humanist of movies. He was less sentimental than Capra, but just as entertaining; less intellectual than Godard, but just as incisive; less show-offy than Spielberg, but just as virtuosic; less forgiving than Renoir, but just as full of life. Full of life, that was Robert Altman - and that's why it hurts to have to refer to him in the past tense."

And the Telegraph.

Online viewing tip. Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin presenting the honorary Oscar.

Via Guy Dammann, blogging at the Guardian:

  • Sean is back at Bitter Cinema and recalling Altman's days as a dog tattooist.

  • Jeffrey Middents R: "Perhaps more than any other contemporary director... Altman's work has connected with me on a personal level for quite a long time.... [T]he first visceral joy of going to the movies? That belongs to 1980's Popeye."

  • Stylus Magazine's recommendations plus remembrances from Dave Micevic and Alfred Soto.

Jim Emerson: "Like hundreds, thousands (millions?) of cinephiles and cinephiliacs, I found life (and, paradoxically, shelter) in Robert Altman's movies. Nashville is my church, to which I return again and again for joy, insight, inspiration and sustenance. (I haven't written about it for years, but I also know that I'm almost never not writing about Nashville.)"

"Altman's critique of genre, linked to scathingly satiric social criticism would not matter as much as it does, were it not for the fact that, primarily in his studio triumphs, he was a relentless innovator in cinematic form," writes Larry Gross at Movie City News. "When the history of post world war II American cinema (till now) is written I suspect that the two artistically decisive figures - the last men standing if you will - will be Stanley Kubrick and Robert Altman."

Salon's Stephanie Zacharek: "Altman didn't hit the mark every time, but then, his movies were never about hitting marks: At their best and greatest, they were semi-improvisatorial flights of free-flowing precision - in other words, they were moving contradictions, and you had to be flexible enough to move with them, to grab onto their weird poetry, which seemed to be forever ambling just out of our grasp. His most wondrous picture, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, a dream unfolding in a snow globe, is the most perfect example of Altman's poetic gifts."

Stop Smiling is running James Hughes's complete 2005 interview.

More online viewing. Alternet's Evan Derkacz has the trailer for Nashville and a clip of Altman recalling the troubles on the set of M*A*S*H - which he only heard about later.

"The death Monday of Robert Altman has put into jeopardy Picturehouse's feature based on the 1997 docu Hands on a Hard Body, which Altman was to direct and produce," reports Steven Zeitchik. ""It's going to be very tough," [Bob] Berney told Daily Variety. "This was conceived as a Robert Altman film, and I'm not sure there can be any other way to do it.'"

Slate's Dana Stevens: "As Garrison Keillor said earlier this year in A Prairie Home Companion, a fictional imagining of that radio show's farewell broadcast that turned out to be Altman's own farewell: 'I don't do eulogies.' I just want to be sad for a moment, in print, that the man is gone. He was a singular figure in film history, a bohemian craftsman who was also a satirist of American manners on the order of Mark Twain."

Online listening tip. Elliott Gould remembers Altman on NPR. (About four minutes.)

Joe Leydon tells a few stories recalling Altman's rockier side and then adds, "Even if you don't think each one was a great film, you must agree that each was made by a great filmmaker. Robert Altman will be missed, to be sure, but he also will be celebrated - today, tomorrow, for as long as people care about cinema. A director may die, but his movies remain forever in the present tense."

Chris Barsanti: "He shot too quick and too rough, moved too fast, and artistically never stood still; his greatest virtue as it was his vice."

Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door: "In keeping with the spirit of the moment, today's links are dedicated entirely to Robert Altman-related essays." Five very good choices.

"We don't often commemorate amid our regular editorial coverage the deaths of national artists, entertainers, and other personalities who figure prominently in the public eye." But Shawn Badgley explains why, in this case, the Austin Chronicle most certainly will.

"Before M*A*S*H and The Player, Altman had forced his fierce honesty onto unsuspecting television characters. It marked the beginning of a forgotten march through America's cherished archetypes, challenging one beloved hero after another." A roundup of the unheralded early work, Altman's "7 Secret Wars," from Destiny at 10 Zen Monkeys.

New York's David Edelstein: "Altman certainly didn't direct the way others did. He assembled ecosystems (platoons of gifted actors with vast histrionic reserves), set them in motion, and then pointed a camera (often two cameras) and a microphone (always many microphones) at them. He would sift through his hours of vocal tracks for the words he wanted you to register — Bob Balaban, his collaborator on Gosford Park, marveled that Altman made choices in seconds that would have taken someone else months. He was a Zen director. His camera stood coolly back from the exhibitionists — sometimes contemptuously (if the characters were right-wingers or snobs), more often with wonder.... Don't leave us, you marvelous bastard."

Looker: "I miss him already."

Vince Keenan: "Years ago I instituted a three-strikes policy for directors. Make three movies I don't like and I never have to see another one.... But I made one exception to the rule from the outset. That was for Robert Altman."

Ed Gonzalez, blogging at Slant: "No filmmaker understood our human value so acutely and complexly, and the power of his unique vision - seemingly casual but, in truth, meticulously detail oriented - was such that to watch a film like McCabe and Mrs Miller was not unlike experiencing the birth of our great nation, and his last film, the almost alien A Prairie Home Companion, suggests its death."

AJ Schnack: "But for me it was, and will always be, about Nashville."

Updates, 11/23: Via Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker, Ira Deutchman, who helped distribute some of Altman's films, recounts several stories at Emerging Pictures' new blog. A recurring theme: "Once you were in Bob's orbit, it was hard to break away."

"I vividly recall being a UNC freshman and seeing his 1970 breakthrough, M*A*S*H, at the Varsity Theater on Franklin Street," writes Godfrey Cheshire in the Independent Weekly. "With the Vietnam War raging, Altman's acerbic comedy had the force of revelation not just for its dazzlingly innovative style and determined antiwar stance, but for something that embraced both: the presumption that its audience was smart enough to see through the US government's murderous lies about Vietnam, smart enough to understand new variations on film language as carrying political as well as aesthetic meaning."

"He would tell Ciment and Tavernier in the early 1970s, 'So we have this abject war that we are conducting in Vietnam. Our government only fights for purely economic, capitalist principles. It's a commercial war,'" recalls David Walsh at the World Socialist Web Site. "Something about his history and personality made Altman the appropriate chronicler, up to a point, of the growing economic and political uncertainties that beset the US in that period."

Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian: "The very idea of Altman as indie ancestor is possibly an illusion, created by his image as a grey-haired but robust survivor: craggy, rugged, with piercing eyes, and much more gaunt and haunted-looking in his final years than the rounder, more approachable Altman of the 70s. The dinner-jacketed Altman photographed with his lifetime achievement Oscar is a severe icon; the younger man is amiable, chubbier, academic-looking, but the late-period Altman is the sort of American who should be written about by James Fenimore Cooper or pictured with a rifle, like the statues of the Minutemen at Concord and Lexington."

Also: tributes from Julian Fellowes, Elliott Gould, Julie Christie and Mike Leigh. And Matt Malloy recalls "running away with the Altman circus."

Matt Langdon: "Like a true master he showed the actors the door and they found out how to walk through it."

Tributes in the German press.

The Robert Altman Collection Updates, 11/24: "Stanley Cavell, John Cassavetes, and Robert Altman have had some of the same things on their minds with regard to the medium of film, the question of human identity, the possibilities for human interaction, the state of America and its hopes. Specifically, the film genre Cavell has described and named as the melodrama of the unknown woman, seems to have preoccupied Cassavetes and Altman in their work as filmmakers." Film International runs an essay from Issue 22 by Charles Warren.

"Mr Altman's accomplishment does not rest solely on his great films. At his worst, he is still fascinating, surprising, up to something no other filmmaker would have thought to try." AO Scott revisits the oeuvre to indulge in a little ranking: "Masterpieces," "The 70s," "The Plays," "The Third Act" and "Catastrophes, Conversation Pieces and Curiosities."

At Hollywood Bitchslap, Peter Sobczynski "takes time out from the usual nonsense to offer up yet another tribute commemorating the passing of one of American's finest directors."

Via Joe Leydon, Peter Gilstrap's story in the Tennessean on how Nashville was originally received in Nashville.

Updates, 11/25: Online listening tip. A tribute podcast from the 92Y Blog.

The Telegraph's John Hiscock recalls his last conversation with Altman.

The Criterion guys ask Karen Stetler, "the producer who had worked with him most over the years, how she remembered him, and she sent us this..."

"Here's nine reasons why Altman mattered." From the Toronto Star's Geoff Pevere, via Jeffrey Wells.

Updates, 11/26: Philip French in the Observer: "Altman was a stoic with a tragic sense of life, a humane cynic, a showman, a shaman, and at times a charlatan. And above all an honourable survivor." Further down that page, Kristin Scott Thomas recalls working for Altman on Gosford Park.

Besides the fictional version of Hands on a Hard Body, two other projects Altman left unfinished, according to Rick Lyman in the NYT, are an autobiography and a film set in the art world.

Garrison Keillor in the Los Angeles Times: "He died in full flight, doing what he loved, like his comrades in the Army Air Force who got shot out of the sky and vanished into blue air - and all of us who worked with him are left with the clear memory of seeing an old man doing what he was passionate about and doing it at the top of his game."

Newsweek's David Ansen: "A cool, iconoclastic customer, he scorned sentimentality, upended the rules of genre, spurned happy endings. Why, then, did his best movies produce in me a happiness unlike any others?"

Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times: "No director did more to bring American cinema into the modern age."

At Cinematical, Jeffrey M Anderson chooses "seven representative works."

Ben Nuckols for asap on California Split: "No high-concept Owen Wilson vehicle could hope to match the energy of the interplay between [Elliott] Gould and [George] Segal as they try to remember the names of the seven dwarves."

The New Yorker's running Pauline Kael's 1975 review of Nashville: "Is there such a thing as an orgy for movie-lovers - but an orgy without excess? At Robert Altman's new, almost-three-hour film, Nashville, you don't get drunk on images you're not overpowered - you get elated. I've never before seen a movie I loved in quite this way: I sat there smiling at the screen, in complete happiness. It's a pure emotional high, and you don't come down when the picture is over; you take it with you."

Further updates will be happening here.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:04 AM | Comments (14)

Interview. Alan Bennett.

The History Boys Alan Bennett's smash Broadway hit, The History Boys, now arrives in movie theaters with its winning team, director Nicholas Hytner and the solid ensemble cast, intact. David D'Arcy talks with Bennett about England in the 80s, performance vs truth and the state of comedy today.

Related: "[T]he film version of The History Boys is a lesser thing, more fixed in space and time and rendered almost unbearably 'cinematic' in patches by Hytner's gymnastic camerawork," writes Scott Foundas (Voice, LA Weekly). "Yet the ideas and feelings of the piece remain so rich that it almost doesn't matter."

"A few of the early reviews complained that the movie version is no more than a filmed play, which is beside the point," insists David Denby in the New Yorker. "Bennett's conceit is that the classroom is a theatre.... [T]he movie advocates the limited but powerful truth-telling of poetry, as well as ordinary decency and plain speaking. Auden, Larkin, and Orwell are its gods, but only Alan Bennett could have melded the spirit of those three into an entertainment about education. If pleasure is the ultimate teacher, Bennett and his faithful director, Hytner, are superlative pedagogues."

Updated through 11/23.

"The History Boys is both a fine addition to the hoary old tradition of inspirational schoolteacher movies and a startlingly enjoyable subversion of it," argues Alison Willmore at IFC News, where Dan Persons interviews Hytner.

"[T]he film retains the play's quicksilver pace along with an airiness and cheek that vaguely recall the 60s films of Richard Lester," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. While it's "ferociously engaging," it "is not a world-changing work of art. It is exactly what [young tutor] Irwin calls history: entertainment, a scintillating contrivance that is only as good as its epigrams. Below the surface lies a gooey custard filling."

"The movie is brilliant and infectious, much like Bennett's voice: English-deadpan but never snide, and generous to a fault," writes New York's David Edelstein.

The History Boys "The material has crackle, but its vibrancy feels far off and muted, like a fireworks display going off in a neighboring town," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "That seems to have little to do with the actors... and everything to do with the director, Nicholas Hytner. Hytner, whose other pictures include The Madness of King George and The Crucible, directed The History Boys onstage, which means, theoretically, he's as intimately attuned to the material as anyone could be. But the picture feels static and listless, as if the brightness had been polished right out of it."

"[Richard] Griffiths makes Bennett's erudite soliloquies on poetry, history, and the liberation of the liberal arts not only credible, but deeply moving," writes Leo Goldsmith at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "Credible and moving, in spite of the fact that Bennett's film has extremely complicated, rather preposterous, and mildly distasteful things to say about the platonic ideal of men teaching boys."

Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times: "A lively and entertaining disquisition on the purpose and uses of knowledge in a world that cares less about scholarship than quantifiable results, The History Boys asks us to ponder the moral consequences of reducing education to a tool for personal advancement, positing history as the infinitely malleable interpretation of recent events."

Earlier: Jason Clark for Slant; "Plays, 10/13."

Updates, 11/22: "[O]ne of the year's most purely entertaining films," declares Vadim Rizov for the Reeler; "its last-second curveball ending makes it among the most poignant as well."

Online listening tip. A "Spoiler Special" from Slate.

Richard Schickel for Time: "[I]t seems to me that we have been too often in these classrooms, once again asked to be amused by restless lads and to admire their odd-ball teacher. But director Nicholas Hytner's film version of a play everyone thought was 'cinematic' (mostly because it contained some film pieces) is an improvement on the original.... The History Boys remains what it has always been - watchable, mildly witty, not particularly gripping."

Update, 11/23: It's Armond White in the New York Press: "Bennett peddles a none-too-subtle yet specious theory about sexual orientation: Every student is gay or else is a poofter-in-training."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:59 AM

November 20, 2006

Interview. Turk Pipkin.

nobelity-gcd.jpg "When Turk Pipkin, an Austin-based writer and character actor (The Sopranos, Infamous), had to start answering his two daughters' growing questions about the greater world, he began to realize that he just didn't have answers to arrows like, 'Why are millions of people in the world starving?'"

Hannah Eaves asks him about taking such essential questions to Nobel laureates and recording their surprising answers and speculations in Nobelity.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:38 PM

Shorts, 11/20.

Miike-Tarantino Screen Daily is reporting that Takashi Miike's first English-language film will be Sukiyaki Western: Django, starring Quentin Tarantino. Updates: Brendon Connelly has a bit more. More. And more, too, from logboy at Twitch. Much more from Grady Hendrix.

Fabien Lemercier has news at Cineuropa on the next two features from Claire Denis. White Material, based on the novel by Marie NDiaye, who's written the screenplay, and starring Isabelle Huppert and Christophe Lambert, begins shooting this winter in Cameroon. 35 Rhums, a tale of a father and daughter co-written with Jean Pol Fargeau, will follow.

Congrats to AJ Schnack: "[L]ast night in the mile high city, our own Kurt Cobain About A Son took the Maysles Brothers Award for Best Documentary Film, at the 29th Denver Film Festival."

Jason Reitman will direct Rainn Wilson in the ninja comedy Bonzai Shadowhands, according to Borys Kit and Nicole Sperling in the Hollywood Reporter.

Crisis in the Shire. "We got to go there - but not back again..." Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh explain why they won't be involved with any of the proposed Hobbit projects. Via Jeffrey Overstreet initially, though the anguished sounds of gnashing teeth and garment rending can now be heard quaking across the hemispheres. Update: Get Alfonso Cuarón, suggests Jeffrey Overstreet: "Guillermo Del Toro can do fantasy brilliantly, but he's too dark and strange. The Hobbit needs to be whimsical. Terry Gilliam's fighting to convince even his fans that he can still make a good movie, after the disastrous Brothers Grimm and the reportedly misguided Tideland."

Anne Thompson is sensing that Universal is writing off Children of Men because it "simply cost too much money (between $72 and as much as $90 million, I've heard) to make a profit," and she has two questions, the first rhetorical, "So what if it makes money or not?" and the second not: "But what made the movie so frigging expensive?"

"Is Mary Poppins a family entertainment or a tragedy with musical numbers?" asks The Little Round-Headed Boy.

"Tony Scott doesn't even wait for Déjà Vu to properly begin before employing the spastic visual stylings that are his calling card," writes Nick Schager.

Yaji and Kita Also at Slant: Schager on Opal Dream and Deck the Halls; Rob Humanick on Let's Go to Prison; Ed Gonzalez on This Filthy World and Yaji and Kita: The Midnight Pilgrims; and Keith Uhlich, reviewing Paris Belongs to Us, has the latest addition to Slant's coverage of the Jacques Rivette series at the Museum of the Moving Image.

Jonathan Bernstein in the Guardian: "More than a disappointing weekend at the box office, more than being omitted from the guest list of the current hot spot, more than being punk'd or papped, young Hollywood fears Perez Hilton." Who's having a big day. Robin Abcarian profiles him, too, in the Los Angeles Times.

Bobby tie-ins: Jimmy Breslin remembers the night RFK was shot (LAT); and Shane O'Sullivan claims the CIA did it (Guardian).

The Guardian: "Jeremy Slate, co-writer and star of the cult biker film Hell's Angels '69 died yesterday of complications following cancer surgery. He was 80."

In the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (and in German), Ralph Eue talks with Milos Forman about Goya's Ghosts and - bet you didn't expect this - the Spanish Inquisition.

Online listening tip. At Dinosaur Gardens, Cary Grant sings the FCC station identification regulations. Once again, that's: Cary Grant. Sings. The FFC. Station identification regulations. Via

Posted by dwhudson at 5:45 AM | Comments (1)

Francis Girod, 1944 - 2006.

Francis Girod
A wealth of homages were paid yesterday to director Francis Girod following the announcement of his death from a heart attack in Bordeaux early Sunday morning.... Girod started his directing career in 1974 with The Infernal Trio (starring Michel Piccoli and Romy Schneider) and went on to make 14 features, including 1980's The Woman Banker (also starring Schneider), 1984's Le bon plaisir (starring Catherine Deneuve and Jean-Louis Trintignant), L'Enfance de l'art, which was selected in official competition at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival, and 1990's The Elegant Criminal with Daniel Auteuil, who also starred in 1996's Death in Therapy.

Fabien Lemercier at Cineuropa.

In the French papers, Valérie Duponchelle has a piece in Le Figaro; most others run wire stories today.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:06 AM

November 19, 2006

Shorts, 11/19.

Curse of the Golden Flower Michael Guillén: "Sumptuous as embroidered brocade, Curse of the Golden Flower outdoes [Zhang Yimou's] last two [wuxia] entries in spectacle but is most noteworthy for avoiding the politically confusing obfuscations of Hero and the vertiginously saccharine sentimentality of House of Flying Daggers. Its elegance is not only in its production design, but in the stark lines of its dark story: a brooding meditation on the corrosive heart of gold."

"I can recognize a cultural turning point when it smacks me in the kisser. Griffith has been trounced. Chaplin rules." Click his name to find out what in the world Stuart Klawans is going on about in the Nation.

At the House Next Door, Matt Zoller Seitz points to Issue 7 of The High Hat: "The latest edition of the pop culture magazine includes 12, count 'em, 12 articles on Robert Altman, including Short Cuts, California Split, Thieves Like Us, A Prairie Home Companion, Popeye and Secret Honor. Not to mention articles on 'The Existential Paradox of Technical Death Metal,' the rivalry between Marvel and DC Comics, and a piece on institutions as represented on HBO's The Wire and Deadwood, written by frequent House commenter Hayden Childs."

Joy Division

"Is Nazi Germany a fit subject for sympathy?" asks Nick Hasted. "In the case of individuals caught up in the conflagration of the Second World War's final days, three upcoming films suggest that the answer may be a careful yes." The three: Paul Verhoeven's Black Book, Steven Soderbergh's The Good German and Reg Traviss's Joy Division.

Also in the Independent, Mark Hooper: "It's been an extraordinary few months for Hollywood's A-list actors: embarrassing outbursts, drunken tirades and - here's the real issue - their films tanking spectacularly at the box office. Are we witnessing the last generation of true movie stars?" And Roger Clarke tells the story behind the everybody-in-bed scene in Performance, "one of the most groundbreaking films in British cinema."

For the Latino Review, Dan Schubert visits the set of The Screwfly Solution to talk with Joe Dante. Via Brendon Connelly, who hears "that the eventual DVD of Inland Empire is to feature the first ever audio commentary by David Lynch. Wow."

"The consecration of a fleeting, fugitive moment is one of [Wong Kar-wai's] specialties," writes Dennis Lim, following a visit to the set of My Blueberry Nights, where Jude Law and Norah Jones have kissed around 150 times. "Perhaps more than any filmmaker since Alain Resnais, his great subject is time - or more specifically lost time. His rhapsodic movies, haunted by voice-over ruminations and swathed in lush regret, seem to transpire in the realm of memory. People and places are mourned even as they are captured on camera."

Also in the New York Times:

  • Kristopher Tapley: "At 61, [Eric] Roth belongs to a tiny fraternity of senior screenwriters — Akiva Goldsman, Paul Attanasio, William Broyles Jr and a few others come to mind — who work squarely at the crossroads of art and commerce, on big dramas for big studios. It is a hard piece of turf, which demands grit from those who would defend it." The Good Shepherd opens December 22.

  • "As one of the titanic figures of Western culture... Ludwig surely deserves his own Amadeus. Why has no movie captured the imagination of the masses on his behalf?" asks Daniel J Wakin. "Maynard Solomon, a biographer of both Mozart and Beethoven, said Amadeus tapped into a 'fundamental myth' about the jealousy of Salieri, a mediocrity, over the genius of the 'eternal child' touched by God. Beethoven's myth is altogether different. 'The heroic myth never really reaches us on a personal basis,' he said, 'but the Amadeus myth does.'"

  • "In the wake of Ray and Walk the Line, musical biographies that did well in recent awards seasons, filmmakers have lined up to portray Marvin Gaye, Charley Pride, Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan. Now, with a pair of potentially competing projects, it's Miles Davis's turn," reports Pat H Broeske.

  • "Much like [George] Miller's excellent Babe: Pig in the City and his dystopian Mad Max trilogy, Happy Feet presents a vision of the world seen through a glass darkly," writes Manohla Dargis. "One of the most underrated films of the 1990s, Pig in the City was a terrible commercial disappointment, an animal-farm noir that hewed closer in apocalyptic tone and feel to the Mad Max films than to its sunnier, much-beloved predecessor, Babe. Happy Feet is Mr Miller's first film in eight long years, and while compromised by the uplift and affirmation that mainstream animation regurgitates like a mommy penguin, it also shows a remarkable persistence of vision. Even in a story about singing-and-dancing fat and feather, Mr Miller can't help but go dark and deep." Related: The LA CityBeat's Andy Klein talks with Miller.

LA CityBeat: Bobby
  • "With Bobby, Emilio Estevez, writer and director (as well as one of a huge ensemble of actors), sets himself a large and honorable task. It is important to appreciate this in spite of his movie's evident shortcomings," writes AO Scott. More from Stephanie Zacharek in Salon and Vadim Rizov at the Reeler. Related: For the LA CityBeat, Andy Klein meets Estevez and Christian Slater.

  • AO Scott: "In both Nine Queens and his second (and final) film, The Aura, [Fabián] Bielinsky made use of a familiar film noir vocabulary, but not for the usual young-fimmaker-in-a-hurry purpose of showing off his facility with genre tricks. Rather, his movies restore some of the clammy, anxious atmosphere that made the old noirs so powerful to begin with." More from Martha Fischer at Cinematical.

  • "[S]tories about heroin addicts are all alike: they shoot up, they nod out, they jones.... it's always the same story, always," laments Manohla Dargis. "The Australian film Candy doesn't add anything substantively new to that story, though it has been nicely directed by Neil Armfield, known in his country for his theater work, and features striking performances from Heath Ledger and Geoffrey Rush." More from Robert Cashill. Related: For the Reeler, Clémentine Gallot watches Ledger hold up under a barrage of silly questions.

  • Anita Gates: "It isn't often that you see a film about Israelis and Palestinians that can be called hopeful, but Ronit Avni's assured, thoughtful and clear-eyed Encounter Point certainly qualifies." Much, much more from Annie Frisbie at Zoom In Online.

  • Laura Kern on Shinobi: "[D]espite a wealth of magical and visual splendor, the film's obtrusive resemblance to a video game, in appearance and (lack of) emotion, cannot be easily glossed over."

  • Maurie Alioff's backgrounder on The Journals of Knud Rasmussen: "In creating this unconventional film, [Norman] Cohn and [Zacharias] Kunuk were driven by one purpose: getting the complexities of the native experience right."

  • After 22 years renting videos to New Yorkers, Movie Place is being forced to close by its landlord. Alex Mindlin has a colorful report and a graphic charting other video outlets in the city that have passed on accompanies the piece.

"Bette Davis, Liza Minnelli, Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand - too unattractive to be stars, at least by Hollywood standards. Cher, Dolly Parton, Carmen Miranda, and yes, Tammy Faye Baker - too over the top. Madonna, Mae West, Marilyn Monroe, Joan Crawford - too trashy for their respective times. Yet, all have succeeded, and in their success, they have earned the admiration of homosexuals worldwide. And it doesn't hurt that, for the most part, they have embraced their gay fans, in turn." And so, Michael Abernathy poses a few questions to explore at PopMatters: "Why is it that older gay men are attracted to such tortured souls? Why don't gay women share the same list of icons? And why don't young gay men share the same attractions for these legends?"

Sweetie "A major elision in the global DVD catalogue is at long last amended, and gorgeously so, with the Criterion Collection's new transfer of Jane Campion's Sweetie," writes Nick Davis for Stop Smiling.

"Like its setting, [Iraq in Fragments] presents too many ruptured ideals and bruised lives, too few exits and settled truths - which is precisely why Americans cannot afford the luxury of looking away," writes Noy Thrupkaew for the American Prospect. "Poetic rather than prescriptive, allusive rather than allegorical, James Longley's guerilla masterwork brings us to where we should have started in Iraq: the humble regard of people whose problems cannot be fixed in a month, much less in the blink of an Iraq-fatigued eye." Related: Tony Perry asks Longley about the making of the film for the Los Angeles Times.

Harry Sheehan on The Cave of the Yellow Dog: "While it's too bad [Byambasuren] Davaa can't quite control her pedagogical side, the young filmmaker displays formidable abilities nevertheless." Also in the LA CityBeat: Brent Simon: "Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny captures with such full force of personality the swagger, unchecked id, and playtime allure of music that it reminds you - albeit in garish, heightened strokes - of why one falls in love with music in the first place."

"The black exploitation film as a tool in the process of social control? - better for a dominant white class to peddle fantasies of black power to black audiences after so many of its political leaders had been assassinated, than to have said leaders making real strides." This is what Zach Campbell is setting out to explore at Elusive Lucidity.

Tears of the Black Tiger Magnolia Pictures has bought the North American rights to distribute Wisit Sasanatieng's Tears of the Black Tiger from Miramax, reports Todd at Twitch. A theatrical release is planned for early next year with a DVD to follow.

Filmbrain reviews Im Kwon-taek's Chang (Downfall), "a flawed but earnest melodrama from 1997 that tackles Korean history from the rise of industrialism in the 70s to the economic slump of the 90s, as viewed from the underworld of brothels and prostitutes."

Wolphin interviews the directing team behind Funky Forest: First Contact; via Blake at Cinema Strikes Back.

Guillermo del Toro opens the pages of his notebooks for the Guardian, while Jonathan Romney interviews him for the Independent.

Also in the Guardian and Observer:

  • "Curious to investigate the incongruity of black American soldiers fighting a war for George Bush when the president had abandoned their community, [George Gittoes] accompanied [Elliot] Lovett back home," reports Sarfraz Manzoor. "Rampage, the eventual result of the time the director spent in Miami, is a terrifying and compelling dispatch from an American war zone."

Bollywood: A History

"Look up Michael Arndt on the Internet Movie Database and you'll find just one credit: Little Miss Sunshine. So how did a rookie screenwriter hit a classic comedy home run his first time up?" asks Anne Thompson in the Hollywood Reporter. "Simple, it took only one year to write and 100 drafts - and another five years before it went into production."

Nevermind the celebrity couple toodling around Italy. Paul Cullum meets Darren Aronofsky and Rachel Weisz. Also: Why Now, Voyager pops up in The History Boys and For Your Consideration.

Also in the Los Angeles Times:

  • "[T]he old rules of childhood engagement are rapidly evolving," write John Horn and Chris Lee. "Instead of consigning children to the periphery of horrific realities, these films are dragging kids - preteens to toddlers - right into the middle of the mayhem."

  • Lisa Rosen: A "funny thing happened to London's hit play The History Boys on the way to the multiplex: Its cast of 12 relative unknowns remained defiantly intact."

10 Items or Less
  • Susan King talks with Paz Vega about 10 Items or Less.

  • Kenneth Turan on the new Preston Sturges DVDs: "The first Hollywood writer to segue to solo directing, winner of the first Oscar given for best original screenplay, Sturges combined slashing wordplay with chaotic slapstick and completely unhinged plots in a way no one has even come close to duplicating." Notes on more new releases from Susan King.

The Oregonian's Shawn Levy, pointing to his interview with Kate Winslet: "See Little Children, and prepare to share my wonder at its quality and my simmering outrage at the raw deal its getting from the studio that should be supporting it."

Time Out interviews: Wally Hammond with Patrice Chéreau and Ben Walters with Tim Burton.

The Big Lebowski Dennis Cozzalio presents his response to Jim Emerson "request for a personal list of real laughers, augmented by the 12 other picks that I left off in an attempt to at least appear to be playing by Jim's rules. As the wise guy once said, dying is easy, comedy is hard... and whittling down a list of comedy favorites to five choices may be even harder."

Film Threat's annual "Frigid 50: The Coldest People in Hollywood" list is up, "detailing the least-powerful, least-inspiring, least-intriguing people in all of Tinseltown. Before celebrities fall off the face of the Earth, they get one warning, and the Frigid 50 is it." Via Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog.

Wagstaff lists five favorite title sequences at the House Next Door.

The Weinsteins and Blockbuster. Can they do that? Legally? A discussion rages at Ezra Klein's blog, via Chuck Tryon.

Online listening tip. This American Life on the civilian casualties of the war in Iraq.

Online viewing tip #1. YOUTUBERS. Brilliant. Via ticklebooth.

Online viewing tip #2. David Poland on the holiday season as LA sees it.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:29 PM | Comments (1)

Fests and events, 11/19.

Honor de cavalleria Albert Serra's Honor de cavalleria and Todd Rohal's The Guatemalan Handshake have both done quite well at the Torino Film Festival. Serra's debut has won the Lancia Prize for Best Film, Rohal's won the Prize for Best Director and the two films share the Special Jury Prize. El Duderino, who took in the next round of Masters of Horror while he was there, has the full list of award-winners at Twitch.

For most of us, it'd be a rather harrowing experience, but, writing in the Nation, Max Blumenthal almost seems to relish his days bopping around the Liberty Film Festival.

"Like Godard, Rivette works like an analytical reverse engineer, picking apart the cinema and leaving its parts strewn about. Godard's weapon of choice is a grenade, which rents the mechanism asunder, leaving only charred, unrecognizable fragments behind, which are insanely difficult to reassemble, which he does with patchwork bits of homage, dialectic, and blatant formal transgressions, all colliding, ricocheting, and generally jostling for space. Rivette, by contrast, works with the delicate touch of a clockmaker, removing the cogs and springs of his medium such that, at a later point, they can be put back together in skewed configurations (with respect to the canon)." James Crawford opens Reverse Shot's coverage of the Rivette series at the Museum of the Moving Image (through December 31).

"For decades, film festivals have reliably delivered films to audiences seated in theaters. Now at least two - Sundance, included - are bringing them to audiences in their own homes." At SF360, Susan Gerhard hails Cinequest's innovations.

Justin Peters in the New York Times on Withoutabox: "Many in the film industry praise the company for introducing independent filmmakers to a robust, if not necessarily lucrative, alternative distribution system. But Withoutabox has also helped foster low-budget anarchy, contributing to rampant growth in the number of festivals — 181 new ones in the last year alone — and flooding the market with entries from novice filmmakers whose confidence is often matched only by their inexperience."

Joe Leydon: "As he faced a full house on opening night at the 2006 Denver Film Festival, preparing the hundreds gathered at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House for the regional premiere of his coolly intelligent and subtly allusive Breaking and Entering, Oscar-winning filmmaker Anthony Minghella seemed – well, almost apologetic." Now's a good time to catch up with the Denver podcasts at SpoutBlog.

San Franciscans: Time once again to check in with Brian Darr.

Ray Pride heads to the 47th Thessaloniki International Film Festival.

Edgar Neville Acquarello has the lineup for this year's Spanish Cinema Now series, "a tantalizing and nicely balanced slate of debut films from several first-time filmmakers along with what is perhaps the first US retrospective of Edgar Neville's work." December 8 through 26 at the Walter Reade.

"At times Tezuka's work seems to strive towards a kind of no-nonsense (if certainly heightened) realism; at others it embraces no-holds-barred abstraction, Impressionism, or—my personal favourite—Surrealism." Matt Clayfield on Tezuka: The Marvel of Manga at the National Gallery of Victoria through January 28 (the exhibition arrives in San Francisco in June).

Posted by dwhudson at 1:18 PM

Remembering Basil Poledouris.

Composer Basil Poledouris (site) passed away on November 8. What follows is a tribute from Robert C Cumbow.

Basil Poledouris News of the death of Basil Poledouris hit me like a body blow. It was like losing someone I knew. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was losing someone I knew. Oh, I've had favorite movie composers over the years, starting with a mania for Miklós Rósza in my teens, then a passion for Ennio Morricone and the whole school of spaghetti western composers, and along the way the occasional fling with John Barry, Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein, and a lasting admiration for Bernard Herrmann. But I never felt I knew any of those guys. I don't talk to them while listening to their music.

I do that with Basil Poledouris. The first time I heard the "Battle Montage" on the recently released enhanced edition of Farewell to the King, I said right out loud, "Oh my God, Basil!" And at the crescendo of Cherry 2000's "Lights On": "Basil, you magnificent man, how do you do these things?"

I've lost a friend - even though I met him only once, ever so briefly. That was at a reception at the Seattle International Film Festival right after the premiere of Flesh + Blood. I already knew his work from Conan the Barbarian, and having just heard the Flesh + Blood score for the first time, all I could think of was how it out-Rószas Rósza. Fear of gushing kept me from doing anything more than shaking his hand.

Conan the Barbarian But talking to a guy's music, having a dialogue with him, is possible only when the music is personal, and that's what Basil Poledouris's music is - in spades. Andrew Wright, in a superbly insightful four-sentence Poledouris obit, writes of the composer's "gloriously large, blissfully unironic work in the action genre." This is what I mean by personal. Honest. What you hear is what you get. To those who expected Conan to be a comic-book movie, it was Poledouris's score that announced that this was the real thing, no goofing around (notwithstanding Arnold punching a camel), a whole-hearted celebration of the days of high adventure. When people who know of my admiration for Morricone ask about my favorite film score, expecting it to be one of his, they're always astonished when I reply Conan the Barbarian.

That score more than any other displays the range, majesty and passion that characterizes Poledouris's best work. With roots as diverse as Rosza and Prokofiev, and unapologetic choral bombast, the Conan score wrote a new page in movie music history. What a rich, seemingly endless variety of melodic ideas and orchestral innovations! Every new cut on the Conan the Barbarian recording holds new discoveries. Scarcely a theme is repeated. The film's score is a timeless treasure. Even when he turns to that most overworked of musical clichés, the Dies Irae, for the brooding aftermath of Conan's final revenge ("Orphans of Doom"), it's as if no one had thought of it before. Other composers' uses of that theme wax eye-rollingly tiresome, but Poledouris makes it fresh and new.

He always gave a score everything he had, no matter what the movie was. Even the goofy sequel, Conan the Destroyer, gets a lush, magical score that makes one think, at least momentarily, that the movie is actually better than it is.

But all of this is not to say that Poledouris wrote only straightforward, earnest music that asked you to completely trust the film around it. When the circumstance called for it, he was capable of high irony, and sometimes laugh-out-loud comedy. Witness the marches and logo tunes for mock-TV broadcasts in Paul Verhoeven's satirical futuramas, such as "Nuke 'em" from Robocop, or the "Fed Net March" that opens Starship Troopers. Or the send-up newsreel fanfare "Movietone" from Cherry 2000. Or the sitar number ("Cosmic Indifference") in Big Wednesday, with which Poledouris caricatures the holistic vegan deli where Matt has lunch with his wife and wonders what's happened to the world he knew.

Big Wednesday That last score was his first big success and deserves some special comment. It would have been so easy for Poledouris - or John Milius without him - to have opted for "surf music" to score this gentle tale of a generation, of friendship lost and regained and of what surfing means to those who live it. Instead, Poledouris created a hauntingly beautiful full-orchestra score that balances two main themes, one a humble, simple tune celebrating friendship, the other a slow, stately march that, in a seemingly infinite series of variations, captures the changing moods and rhythms of the waves (and of riding them), the bright and dark sides of the sea in different seasons. And, as if to emphasize the importance of the musical choice he and Milius made for the film, Poledouris includes in the score one of his best, and darkest, musical jokes: "Liquid Dreams" lampoons what passes for surfing music in a documentary that, under the guise of celebrating the great surfers, compresses Matt's life to a footnote.

Speaking of dark jokes, listen to Farewell to the King for a British military march that could so easily have punctured the naïve enthusiasm of Capt Fairbourne's Zed Force but instead celebrates that same enthusiasm, and turns out to be the best, most infectious military march composed for a film since Maurice Jarre's "Voice of the Guns" in Lawrence of Arabia. And then contrast it with the oh-so fragile and precise little "Imperialist Waltz" that underscores the clean, out-of-harm's-way lifestyle of the British high command.

Farewell King If Conan the Barbarian remains Poledouris's defining work, I am partial to Farewell to the King as his masterpiece - not only for the subtle ironies noted above, but also for the straightforward, heartfelt power and beauty of the main theme ("South China Sea"), the majesty of "Night of the Living," the exuberance of "Battle Montage" and its stirring evocation of "Rising of the Moon," and the elegiac "This Day Forth" and "The War is Over." If it doesn't moisten your eyes, you're made of stone.

Once I'd recovered from a few days of shock after hearing the news of Basil Poledouris's death, I thought I should do something special to commemorate him. Maybe I'd spend the week listening to all of my Poledouris recordings. Then my other voice said, "Don't be silly, Bob. How would that be different from any other week?"

I have recordings of eleven of his scores. That's not enough, and for that I am grateful. There are still scores I don't know, still discoveries to be made. Farewell, my king. I'll see you - or rather hear you - tomorrow.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:20 AM | Comments (1)

November 18, 2006

Weekend books.

Tennessee Williams: Memoirs It's a terrific weekend for readers, for cinephiles who are also readers or simply for people who enjoy book reviews. "Bad Boys, Mean Girls, Outlaws, Revolutionaries and Beautiful Losers" - maybe in that order, I'm not sure - is the theme of this week's New York Times Book Review, and it could just as easily be the title of a month-long film series, a Hollywood exposé or a study of underground filmmaking in just about any country in any given decade.

But there are more immediate cinematic tie-ins here, starting with John Waters introducing a new edition of Tennessee Williams's Memoirs. Related online listening tip: Dwight Garner calls up Waters to ask what he means by the very first sentence: "Tennessee Williams saved my life."

Other connections to the movies aren't as direct, but what the hell:

Updated through 11/22.

Up is Up But So is Down

  • From Meghan O'Rourke's on Brandon Stosuy's Up is Up But So is Down: New York's Downtown Literary Scene, 1974 - 1992: "The collective portrait here is of a startlingly visceral New York, where physical squalor contributes to a pervasive sense of strangeness, captured in Laurie Anderson's 'Words in Reverse': 'I went to the movies and I saw a dog 30 feet high. And this dog was made entirely of light. And he filled up the whole screen. And his eyes were long hallways. He had those long, echoing, hallway eyes.'"

  • Bill Morgan's I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg and Ginsberg's own Collected Poems, 1947 - 1997 get Walter Kirn riffing: "Ginsberg, the hang-loose anti-Ike. Ginsberg, the Organization Man unzipped. The vulnerable obverse of the Bomb. He had the belly of a Buddha, the facial hair of a Walt Whitman and — except for the ever-present black glasses that hinted at a conformist path not taken — he was easier to imagine naked than any Homo sapiens since Adam." Related: "In 1948, Allen Ginsberg's father wrote him a two-word letter: 'Exorcise Neal.'" James Campbell reviews David Sandison and Graham Vickers's Neal Cassady: The Fast Life of a Beat Hero.

  • Stacey D'Erasmo on Sleeping With Bad Boys: A Juicy Tell-All of Literary New York in the Fifties and Sixties by Alice Denham, who was "an occasional lover" of James Dean's.

  • Emily Nussbaum on Dirty Blonde: The Diaries of Courtney Love (first chapter): "[H]ere it is: all that cathartic keening, curated for your coffee table... The slotCourtney Love filled nearly 20 years ago — the big-mouth punk lunatic feminist rocker, the bad girl as role model — is still open. But it's nice to know the original candidate hasn't stopped auditioning."

  • Reviewing Ralph Steadman's The Joke's Over: Bruised Memories: Gonzo, Hunter S Thompson and Me, Will Blythe prefers to concentrate on the illustrations rather than the writing: "Splattery explosions of ink, detonated in the presence of politicians and stolid middle-class citizens, they stand as the mangling visions of a 20th-century Hogarth."

Free Press

Roger Ebert: Awake in the Dark Roger Ebert, in his new book, Awake in the Dark: The Best of Roger Ebert tells us," notes Tara Ison in the Los Angeles Times: "'Writing daily film criticism is a balancing act between the bottom line and the higher reaches, between the answers to the questions (1) Is this movie worth my money? and (2) Does this movie expand or devalue my information about human nature?' So this reviewer will heed his good advice and report: (1) Yes; this is a meaty and comprehensive collection of 40 years' worth of impassioned film writing — not merely reviews but profiles and essays as well; and (2) Yes; Ebert indeed expands our knowledge of human nature through his incisive analysis of the 20th century's (arguably) primary form of artistic expression, of its evolution and its lure."

Further down the page comes praise for Kenneth Turan's Now in Theaters Everywhere: A Celebration of a Certain Kind of Blockbuster.

The London Times has a Stephen King special going on, podcast and all.

Then, as if the appearance of a new novel from Thomas Pynchon weren't enough of an event, I can also point to the Modern Word's "Pynchon in Film & TV" page to justify a few notes here. Against the Day is due on Tuesday, and you'll want to keep an eye on Ed Champion's site, where he'll soon be staging an extravaganza along the lines of the roundtable he ring-led to greet Richard Powers's The Echo Maker.

Reviews and general hoopla are already underway:

Thomas Pynchon: Against the Day

  • Christopher Sorrentino in the LAT: "'[N]ews travels at queer velocities and not usually even in straight lines,' one character observes, and that seems a fitting rubric for the Byzantine workings of this book."

  • Also, Emily Barton: "Zak Smith, with uninhibited bravado and exactly the right kind of insanity, has done something remarkable in Gravity's Rainbow Illustrated: created a series of images that approach the richness of their source. He draws a lurid and intoxicating netherworld, complete in its own right and, at the same time, an illuminating companion to the novel. Since all editions of Gravity's Rainbow seem to be printed from the same plates, each one of Smith's illustrations will correspond to one page of the foxed copy you've been trucking around since college." You can browse this project and read much more about it at the Modern Word.

  • In the Guardian, Ian Rankin tells the long tale of his immersion in the world of "Thomas Pynchon, the greatest, wildest and most infuriating author of his generation."

By the way, "A less 'thinky' Voice." has been updated with a few notes on The Village Voice Film Guide: 50 Years of Movies from Classics to Cult Hits.

Update, 11/20: Uh-oh. Against the Day reviews: Louis Menand in the New Yorker and Michiko Kakutani in the NYT.

Updates, 11/21: John Carvill in PopMatters on Pynchon; Laura Miller in Salon and Ron Jacobs at Counterpunch on the new novel.

Update, 11/22: Tom LeClair in Bookforum:

Gravity's Rainbow is the most important novel I've ever read. I've taught nearly all of Pynchon's novels to unwilling undergrads and grads. And I once wrote, "Nothing succeeds like excess." That is to say, I'm not James Wood, waiting to gouge anything by Pynchon (or DeLillo or just about any postmodern writer). But Against the Day lacks the ferocity and fear of Gravity's Rainbow, the long-developed characters and the comedy of Mason & Dixon (1997). The only readers (besides responsible reviewers) I can imagine finishing Against the Day are the Pynchonists, the fetishizing collectors of P-trivia. I hope I'm wrong.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:56 PM | Comments (1)

Gary Graver, 1938 - 2006.

Gary Graver "Gary Graver died at home on Thursday, November 16th with his wife Jillian, son Sean and other family by his side following a long battle with cancer," reads the announcement at his official site. "Gary's passion for movies started as a teenager when he saw Orson Welles's, Touch of Evil and knew that he wanted to make movies with that kind of excitement and quality."

Just over a month ago, we ran Sean Axmaker's wide-ranging conversation with Graver, who, Jonathan Rosenbaum writes in a post to the a_film_by list, "virtually made the last third of Orson Welles's filmography possible... I think it'll be years before many people realize just how much he did for Welles - which means how much he did for all of us."

"He worked with everyone from Ed Wood to Billy Wilder in an astonishingly wide-ranging career that encompassed more than 300 films," writes Joseph McBride in a tribute at Wellesnet. "And he was a great guy. I've never met anyone in the film business who was better liked by everyone he knew."

Update, 11/19: Lawrence French presents the second part of his interview with Graver and Oja Kodar at Wellesnet.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:37 PM | Comments (3)

Interview. Eugene Levy and Christopher Guest.

For Your Consideration The film is For Your Consideration, the inteviewees are director Christopher Guest and co-writer and star Eugene Levy, the interviewer is John Kovacevich and the format is, appropriately, fun. Consider this an online viewing tip and enjoy.

Related: The film "may take place in Los Angeles, but its imaginative provenance lies somewhere between the la-la lands of Entourage and Mulholland Dr," writes Nathan Lee in the Village Voice. "Hoopla in Hollywood isn't the real subject here, merely the pretext for another oddball ode to lovable losers."

"The good news," announces New York's David Edelstein, "is that For Your Consideration gooses you even in its barren patches and gets fresher and funnier as it goes along. It builds to a shriekingly funny (and scary) revelation and a dénouement so brilliant it's almost demonic. And the movie must be seen for Catherine O'Hara, who has never been so physically daring and emotionally open."

Updated through 11/19.

"[T]he picture is casual and good-natured, and it grooves on the same kind of brainy absurdity that the earlier pictures did," finds Salon's Stephanie Zacharek.

"For Your Consideration is by far the broadest comedy Mr Guest and company have made," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Despite its merriment, it is also the flimsiest."

"Christopher Guest indulges the very vainglory and networking smarminess he should be exposing," complains Armond White in the New York Press.

Vadim Rizov for the Reeler: "Claims that this is "insider" humor are nonsense: everyone knows that the tropes that agents are slimeballs, PR people shallow, actors vain, directors neurotic, writers protective and shy. It's the same comic principle that instantly damn cinematic portrayals of lawyers, used car salesman and insurance agents; For Your Consideration is doomed to sitcom purgatory within minutes of its beginning."

Jim Emerson disagrees at "The movie features some big laughs, a lot of modest ones, and performances so exquisitely fresh and precise that they make laughter almost irrelevant - in a way that only genius can."

Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times: "It's funny in parts but not half as inspired as past efforts."

"It's not a problem in and of itself that Guest's latest movie is not a fake documentary, but it is emblematic of its larger flaw: a total lack of authenticity," finds Matt Singer at IFC News. What's more, "At just 85 minutes, there just isn't enough time for most of Guest's cast to make an impression, much less a meaningful contribution."

"[T]he troupe's efforts feel dispersed and imbalanced this time," writes Nicolas Rapold for the L Magazine, "the film's rhythms not as effortlessly maintained."

Nick Schager: "The omnipresent sense of having already been here and done this... permeates For Your Consideration, a feeling only accentuated by unfunny anachronistic jokes about stuffy Old Hollywood melodramas and people not knowing what the Internet is."

For the LA CityBeat, Andy Klein talks with Guest and much of his ensemble.

Updates, 11/19: Ray Pride: "I don't like Christopher Guest's movies, the bitterness of which feels largely curdled and glib. For Your Consideration may be his lamest effort yet, a malnourished small wean, but it does have the courage of its cruelty."

"A safe and silly comedy from Christopher Guest and gang," writes Jürgen Fauth, "a less satisfying film than usual."

Online listening tip. A podcast at the Reeler.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:02 PM

Primer. Bond. James Bond.

The Man Who Saved Britain You may have heard there's a new James Bond movie out. 'Strue. It's called Casino Royale and it stars - hold on, what's this - a new Bond, Daniel Craig. In general, people who follow these things are saying the movie's pretty good, and what's more, Craig is downright great.

So we thought we'd mark the occasion with a new primer: two parts, even, spread over four pages. Walt Opie begins at the beginning and takes 007's story through 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me; Craig Phillips picks it up from Moonraker and runs with it through Die Another Day.

"In the wake of such a welter of exploding vehicles, smirking and physically memorable henchman and flawed plots for global domination, over so many books and so many films, how has Bond maintained this appeal?" asks Simon Winder, author of The Man Who Saved Britain: A Personal Journey Into the Disturbing World of James Bond in the New York Times. "Perhaps it is as simple as the original idea being a very good one: a secret agent for a nuclear age rooted in a global myth of Britishness."

Updated through 11/22.

Casino Royale Now then. Casino Royale, 2006: "[T]he whole thing moves far lower to the ground than any of the newer Bond flicks," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Successful franchises are always serious business, yet this is the first Bond film in a long while that feels as if it were made by people who realize they have to fight for audiences' attention, not just bank on it. You see Mr Craig sweating (and very nice sweat it is too); you sense the filmmakers doing the same."

"Whatever your personal poison, even the most ardent of fans would have to admit that following the exploits of 007 hasn't always been the most pleasurable of assignments," writes Andrew Wright in the Stranger. "Speaking as one of the aforementioned diehards, it gives me great relief to say that Casino Royale is good. Really, really good. Maybe, in fact, the best entry since 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service."

"Right away, everything about this 007 feels a lot leaner and a good deal meaner than we've come to expect from the series in recent decades," writes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "The controversial casting of Daniel Craig as Bond has sent a lot of rabid fans with entirely too much time on their hands into an online tizzy, and I look forward to watching them eat their words in the coming weeks."

In the New Statesman, Ryan Gilbey is rattled by "the impassive expression that Bond wears as he watches the woman who was caressing him the night before being zipped into a body-bag. You can see him mentally crossing out her name in his little black book, for ever. It's a characteristic touch in a film that strips most of the glamour and escapism from Bond, but remains the truest and toughest instalment yet."

"[H]e's what Bond hasn't been in a quarter-century, since a certain rugged Scot said, 'Never again.' He's fascinating," writes New York's David Edelstein. "This Bond is haunted, not yet housebroken, still figuring out the persona."

Similarly, Robert Wilonsky for alt-weeklies coast to coast: "Absolutely it goes on too long, clocking in at 144 minutes, and absolutely half of the damned thing makes no sense at all, but beneath all the gimmicks and gadgets... is an actor who brings to Bond all the things he's lacked since Sean Connery fought the Cold War in a toupee."

"As it turns out," Scott Foundas chimes in for the LA Weekly, "everything that seems 'wrong' about Craig (who was last seen as one half of the oddball jailhouse romance between Truman Capote and convicted killer Perry Smith in Douglas McGrath's superb Infamous) is exactly what makes him right for this incarnation of Bond."

Casino Royale "Daniel Craig is the first Botticelli Bond," proposes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "Craig is Bond reinvented and reborn, a creature so unexpectedly distinctive that even though we all think we know what we want in a Bond, we could never have dreamed this one up."

"Along with Brutal Bond, Casino Royale offers Hyper Bond, a character more muscular and kinetic than before. So is the movie," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "[T]his is a Bond with great body but no soul."

But Zoe Williams and Paul Flynn swoon in the Guardian, where, again, they've got a special section going.

For the London Times, Kevin Maher talks with Barbara Broccoli, "the film's legendary producer. The 46-year-old Bond heiress, daughter of Albert 'Cubby' Broccoli and bona fide producer of the four previous blockbusting Bond movies." Wendy Ide, by the way, gives the film four out of five stars.

Sukhdev Sandhu in the Telegraph: "[M]uch against expectation, and purely because of Craig and [Eva] Green, Casino Royale is the best Bond film for decades."

"[W]hile you buy Craig's cocky Bond as implacable and impervious to danger, someone who can convincingly say 'Do I look like I give a damn?' when asked the famous 'shaken or stirred' vodka martini question, you also believe him, and this is crucial, as a flesh-and-blood human being who can be physically hurt," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times.

Ray Pride interviews Craig for the Reeler.

"The action scenes are great; Craig makes a very interesting hero; the plot is generally logical. So what could be wrong?" asks Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "Well, the one real problem here is the dramatic structure (and the length it demands)."

That Little Round-Headed Boy remembers production designer Ken Adam: "Have there ever been such rooms as Strangelove's war room, Dr No's subtropical lair, Goldfinger's Fort Knox and rumpus room and You Only Live Twice's eye-popping volcano missile launch site? Has Frank Gehry really got anything on Ken Adam?"

Casino Royale As for the direction, Armond White tackles that angle in the New York Press: "[Martin] Campbell breaks the genre into components - almost Godard-style - where each action set-piece takes on an almost self-analytical precision and zest.... Unlike every other opening showpiece in a Bond film, that tongue-in-cheek, 60s bemusement (a discovery of how buoyantly silly and extravagant action scenes could be) is replaced with a contemporary knowingness; the audience's now-jaded expectations are squarely met."

"We go to Bond films precisely because the characters possess things the proletariat can never have: at worst it's cynical, at best pleasing and playful (as a colleague observed, the difference in quality between a good Bond film and a bad one is damn-near negligible)," writes Keith Uhlich at Slant. As for Craig, "I'm almost prepared to call him my favorite and I wish him a much-deserved longevity in the role, even though I suspect he'll never be able to top the frayed, jangled-nerves characterization he pulls off here."

"Sensationally successful," declares Godfrey Cheshire, who muses in the Independent Weekly on "why this four-and-a-half-decade-old spy fantasia remains cinema's most durable franchise."

"The film actually plays a bit like The Bourne Identity (although more slickly lensed)," finds the San Francisco Bay Guardian's Cheryl Eddy.

David Berry agrees in the Vue Weekly: "[T]he newest Bond owes almost as much to the Bourne series as it does to its own heritage, borrowing on the other series' messy, gritty, cuffed-across-the-face aesthetic and putting it in a tailored tux. But hey: replacing a mostly bland protagonist with a man who has ice vodka running through his veins and melts slinky cocktail dresses with a raised eyebrow? Top drawer."

"Every era gets the James Bond it deserves," proposes Gary Susman in the Boston Phoenix. "Ours gets a Bond who's strong and forceful but also reckless and arrogant, who blunders into tricky situations in Third World countries and makes a bloody mess of things. Okay, no one goes to a James Bond movie for its geopolitical insights, but Casino Royale is still the meatiest Bond movie in ages, not just because of its real-world resonance but also because it strips the franchise of its credibility-defying excess to focus on character." Also: "Why Pierce got booted."

Cinematical's kinda been going nuts over the past several days. In a good way, of course:

Matt Singer surveys the "Many Lives of James Bond" for IFC News.

Favorite Bond songs? Dennis Cozzalio's got a list.

At Cinema Strikes Back, Mike Malloy reports on how the very first adaptation of Casino Royale, "a black-and-white live-television episode of CBS' Climax drama anthology series on October 21, 1954," was saved from oblivion.

Anthony Lane in the New Yorker: "I cannot prove it, but I suspect that God may have designed Craig during a slightly ham-fisted attempt at woodworking." And so on.

Updates, 11/19: "Casino Royale and Daniel Craig are the best choices the Bond franchise could have made at this time," argues Andrew Tracy at Reverse Shot.

Matt Singer for the Reeler: "Any sense that 'this is how it began' really comes from Daniel Craig, who makes a distinct impression distancing himself from his predecessors and bringing a freshness to the character even when the material does not."

Anthony Quinn also breaks from the crowd in the Independent: "I've liked Craig as an actor since Our Friends in the North 10 years ago, and his brooding, troubled air has been the making of several decent movies since. But I remain unconvinced by his Bond, not least because 'good acting' is wasted on such a fantasy role; what's really required is a presence, an ability to look the part and to carry off its essential foolishness."

For the Observer's Philip French Craig'll "do. But then I'm one of those people who thought George Lazenby wasn't so bad and that On Her Majesty's Secret Service was one of the best in the series, an opinion shared, I'm happy to say, by Kingsley Amis, Fleming's most discerning admirer."

Bright B Simons for OhmyNews: "A Manichean ethics operate in Bond's Universe. There is good and evil, and one has to choose. But the right choice is almost always bound up with patriotic sentiment. Given the relative lack of focus on state-sponsored evil, Bond leaves open the possibility that all patriotism is good. He is an unflinching patriot, who will go to any height, or sink to any depth, to serve his country."

At Cinematical:

Craig is fine, but he's no Connery, argues Peter Nellhaus.

Updates, 11/20: Dennis Cozzalio: "This week at the Drive-in Trailer Park it's James Bond week."

Online viewing tip. Karina Longworth for Netscape at the Movies.

Cinematical's James Rocchi picks his seven favorite Bonds.

Wagstaff chimes in at the House Next Door: "[T]his Bond is a step in the right direction, and for the first time since I was a kid, I'm looking forward to the next one."

Craig Phillips, having wrapped the primer: "[S]eeing the latest incarnation of James Bond, Casino Royale, on the heels of watching all these other recent 007 films made it easier to see clearly how superior it is to most of them."

"Bond as Bond Girl? Audacious," offers That Little Round-Headed Boy. "Craig is the best thing about Casino Royale, although it's not a bad film. Unfortunately, it's a fairly predictable one. It's what I was afraid it was going to be: Another ramped-up, big-sequence, action extravaganza, full of needless, over-the-top stunts."

Update, 11/21: Martin Campbell for Stop Smiling: "After one weekend it's already a cliché to remark that the Bond movie is actually very good. It has a good cast, a sensible plot and (at last) a good script. So I am content saying this: Whatever the production team might have set out to achieve, Casino Royale did exactly what I had hoped for - it gave James Bond his balls back."

Updates, 11/22: For Andrew Sarris, writing in the New York Observer, this is the first Bond picture "that I would seriously consider placing on my own yearly 10-best list. Furthermore, I consider Daniel Craig to be the most effective and appealing of the six actors who have played 007, and that includes even Sean Connery."

Rob Humanick at the Stranger Song: "Casino Royale's polish makes for a sublimely cool viewing experience, but it's also comforting to once again be taken into conventions by able hands."

Vince Keenan: "Loved it."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:25 AM | Comments (3)

November 17, 2006

Interview. Stephen and Timothy Quay.

The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes Stephen and Timothy Quay's first live-action feature in eleven years, The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes, is, among many things, "a tragic fairy tale drenched in otherworldly visual splendor," as Nick Schager has put it for Slant. Jonathan Marlow spoke with the Quay Brothers at their London studio in February, and today, we're presenting the first part of their conversation, focusing on their early work. As Piano Tuner opens wider, more will follow.

"The long wait was distressful, but The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes repays forbearance astonishingly, and anyway, shouldn't cinephiles lusting for jaw-dropping filmic tropes endure, if necessary, Time's painful passage with all the indefatigable patience of animators?" asks Guy Maddin in Film Comment. "It's not as if you can count on pictures this original coming along very often."

Updated through 11/22.

"Piano Tuner manages to walk a line between fable-like simplicity and complex avant-garde storytelling - seen here as perhaps not the oddest of bedfellows after all," writes Jeff Reichert at indieWIRE.

"Flaunting elements of Phantom of the Opera and The Island of Lost Souls, the movie, with its haunting, claustrophobic environment, allows the living and the merely lifelike to interact with an eerie beauty," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times.

Alison Willmore talks to the Quays for IFC News.

Reviews in the German press.

Earlier: Todd at Twitch.

Update, 11/19: "The endless, unsettling repetition and referentiality, arduous visual trials, and near-totemistic attention to detail make the Quay Brothers and The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes distinct oddities in the landscape of contemporary cinema," writes Leo Goldsmith at Reverse Shot. "[U]nlike the executive producer of this film, Terry Gilliam, they seem utterly immune to the encroachment of meddlesome studio executives, or are at least able to bend them to their own wills and thereby to navigate the treacherous seas of international film distribution. Hopefully, this method will keep their dusty atelier unviolated by intruders, and their endlessly refractive universe hermetic and intact."

Update, 11/22: Karen Wilson, briefly, in the Voice.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:07 AM

Interview. Eric Schlosser.

Fast Food Nation In our newest interview, Eric Schlosser tells Susan Gerhard how he worked with Richard Linklater to turn his bestselling exposé Fast Food Nation into what Film Comment's Kent Jones calls an "unassuming film, one of the most politically astute to come out of this country in quite some time."

Related: The Voice's J Hoberman sees the film as "an anti-commercial. It's designed to kill desire and deprogram the viewer's appetite. A more materialist (and successful) ensemble film than the mystical Babel, in that everyone is connected through the same economic system, Fast Food Nation is exotic for being a movie about work.... Linklater is following in the Sinclair tradition: The Jungle, which also focused on immigrant workers, was intended not so much as an attack on the meatpacking industry as a socialist jeremiad against capitalism itself."

Updated through 11/19.

"Fast Food Nation, while it does not shy away from making arguments and advancing a clear point of view, is far too rich and complicated to be understood as a simple, high-minded polemic," argues AO Scott in the New York Times. "It is didactic, yes, but it's also dialectical. While the climactic images of slaughter and butchery - filmed in an actual abattoir - may seem intended to spoil your appetite, Mr Linklater and Mr Schlosser have really undertaken a much deeper and more comprehensive critique of contemporary American life."

FFN "sees 99-cent hamburgers in much the same way Nashville saw country music," writes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly, "as a conduit into the heart of American life, and as the connective tissue holding together seemingly unrelated ideas about immigration, consumerism, the demise of the counterculture and the rise of strip-mall suburbia."

"I have two wishes," announces New York's David Edelstein. First, everyone should see FFN "because it penetrates to the feces-ridden heart of the vile, gruesome abomination of nature that is the average burger-chain burger, but also because it dramatizes the ways in which the industry has permeated, desecrated, and poisoned everything in this culture, from the economy to the environment to the treatment of animals to the health and lives of its workers. My other wish is that it were a better movie."

Michael Koresky, writing at indieWIRE, disagrees, calling FFN "[p]robably Linklater's best film not contained within a limited time frame." Also: "Usually, this kind of film, showing the 'underbelly' of American society, tries to stun audiences into submission. Instead, Linklater gently sways us with the harsh truths of everyday living; it's telling that he and his screenwriter cite as a major influence Sherwood Anderson's intricate, rambling novel Winesburg, Ohio rather than the increasingly mundane Crash-Babel-Traffics of the ever-more-globalized, and ever smaller-minded, movie world."

Alison Willmore, writing at the IFC Blog, finds it "a flat film, one with a fine heart and no pulse."

"Synthesizing Stanley Kramer's preachiness and Robert Altman's laid-back, free-wheeling structures may be some kind of accomplishment, but it's hardly a positive one," writes Steve Erickson for Gay City News. "It's sad to see one of the best American directors of the generation that emerged in the late 80s and early 90s settle for the mediocrity of a John Sayles."

Via Ray Pride at Movie City Indie, the San Francisco Chronicle's Joe Garofoli talks with Schlosser about how "a coalition of a dozen food, cattle and potato organizations" are fighting back with a site called Best Food Nation.

More Schlosser interviews: Wayne Alan Brenner for the Austin Chronicle and Scott Tobias for the AV Club.

Jennifer Merin has a quick talk with Linklater for the New York Press; for the Philadelphia City Paper, Sam Adams talks with both Schlosser and Linklater.

"I still haven't eaten meat since I saw the scene in which a cow's skin is stripped off its body with a chain and a winch, a process more befitting an offshore oil rig than a slaughterhouse," writes Amanda Witherell in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Online listening tip. For IFC News, Matt Singer and Alison Willmore discuss FFN as a part of a "recent surge of didactic films."

Online viewing tip. Just for the hell of it, Hamburger America and its trailer. After all, Sam Adams writes, "As for Linklater, he hasn't eaten meat in decades. But he and his daughter recently sampled the garden burger at a fast-food joint in his native Austin, Texas, called P Terry's, where the food is healthy and the workers earn a living wage. 'This place is catty-corner to a McDonald's, and there's a line out the door,' he says. 'It cost a little more, but it was good.'"

Earlier: First impressions from Cannes.

Updates, 11/18: Stephanie Zacharek in Salon: "That slaughterhouse climax is bluntly effective; I walked out of the movie feeling wobbly and a little faint. The problem is that it makes almost everything that comes before it - every thread of the meandering, shapeless story of human greed, folly and misfortune that Linklater and Schlosser have laid out for us - feel like nothing more than overworked fiction, regardless of the facts and realities it's based on."

"For Linklater, the term 'Fast Food Nation' applies to more than just burger and taco chains. It represents a gradual, complicit shift from reality to permanent reality displacement," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "If Linklater regards the fake culture that has replaced real places with horror, he has nothing but respect and affection for his characters, and the movie is rescued from nihilism by his humanistic view."

But for Slate's Dana Stevens, the film "never really brings together its two reasons for existing: to make us think, in nauseating detail, about the food we eat, and to tell the stories of some of the people who make it, market it, and sell it."

The Stranger's Annie Wagner talks with Schlosser, and it's a fun talk, too, though a little gruesome towards the end there.

Updates, 11/19: "Richard Linklater's Fast Food Nation isn't technically a horror film, but it's brought me the closest I've come to nauseated dread at the movies this year," writes Elbert Ventura at Reverse Shot. "The spectacle of a cow being disemboweled and skinned may be a new sight in multiplexes, but the America Fast Food Nation maps out is terrifyingly, depressingly familiar."

"[I]t's Bresson with a side of fries," writes Ray Pride. "There is attention to sound and image here that produces some of the most quietly sophisticated work that Linklater has done yet, and in some ways, it is a dour masterpiece, examining the terrorism, the emotional and moral mastication of a food chain gone very, very wrong. The film's not at all depressing: it's just very, very serious and gratifyingly thoughtful."

"How is it possible that in dramatizing the anecdotes and vignettes presented in Schlosser's damning and highly entertaining book, and with the advantage of a very solid cast, including Greg Kinnear, Patricia Arquette and Bobby Cannavale, what results is essentially another lecture - and a fairly banal one at that?" asks Michelle Orange at the Reeler.

Kim Voynar at Cinematical: "The book struck a chord with so many readers because it was real, because in reading it, we cannot escape the truth of what we're learning. The film, though it tries had to do the same thing, just falls short of reaching the viewer in the same way."

David Lowery has a good, relaxed conversation with Linklater. You wonder if there's any other kind.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:53 AM

November 16, 2006

Shorts, 11/16.

Film: A Critical Introduction There aren't too many individual blog entries worth bookmarking for keeps, but Chris Cagle's got one. It's a survey of nine "Introduction to Film textbooks," each evaluated for its pros, cons, publishing concerns and a final note on "who should use it." In short, wow. And as if that weren't enough, he's also got a recommendation for "those who are interested in a detailed social history of the movies or in a closer look at film's role in American Culture": Peter Decherney's Hollywood and the Culture Elite.

Neil Gaiman confirms that he's collaborating with Penn Jillette on an adaptation of EH Jones's The Road to Endor, a novel that, as Brendon Connelly describes it, "details oiuja board fakery and mentalist scams on the battlefields of World War I."

Discovered seven years ago, William Faulkner's only un-produced feature-length screenplay turns out to be a vampire movie and, as Jay A Fernandez reports, producer Lee Caplin plans to bring it to the screen. He'll change the setting, though, from Eastern Europe to the American South. Also in the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan: "Think of Sweet Land as a gift, the kind of delicate but deeply emotional love story, both sincere and restrained, that, like love itself, is more sought after than found."

Post Mortem

Signandsight translates a crucial passage from Roman Pawlowski's piece in the Gazeta Wyborcza: "More historical films have been shot in Poland in 2006 than ever before: from Andrzej Wajda's Post mortem to a Popieluszko biography, various stories about the Polish and Russian secret services to Schlöndorff's 'Solidarity' epic. That doesn't just have to do with a political boom; since the public film subsidies have been increased, historical films, which are more expensive by nature, can be shot in much greater quantity."

Also, Hanns-Georg Rodek in Die Welt on the so-called Berlin School, whose "directors don't make polemical films, they observe. They don't use a magnifying glass to reproduce, ironize or psychologize about reality. Instead they create a certain artificiality with which to sift through reality until it reaches its purest possible form. And their sieve is reduction."

Radio On Great news from André Salas at Filmmaker: "Not a second too soon, Christopher Petit's Radio On (1979) finally finds it's way to DVD, courtesy of Plexifilm."

Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing: "The IT Crowd DVDs have just shipped - with subtitles in leet!"

David Lowery has seven initial thoughts on seeing Sátántangó.

At 24 Lies a Second, Robert C Cumbow writes that David Lynch's "emphasis on the static over the kinetic is not so remarkable in an artist who, after all, began his career in - and remains committed to - the compositional rigors of painting, collage, and sculpture. But to see how it relates to folding space, we must further illuminate this concept of traveling without moving."

"[Peter] Morgan's work suits the sophisticated conservatism of our age," argues Andrew Billen in Prospect on the writer behind The Queen and The Last King of Scotland. "His well-made plays provoke laughter more often than tears, but it is the laughter of affection, not ridicule. We are moved to sympathy for our rulers, not rebellion."

Bilge Ebiri's latest "Forgotten Film" is one that won John Boorman a director award at Cannes: "If it wasn't so damned cinematic, Leo the Last could have probably made for an insane stage musical."

Through a Glass Darkly Focusing on Through a Glass Darkly, Chadwick Jenkins follows up on the first part of his study in PopMatters of Bergman's use of Bach.

"Here are advertisements for America that no one could resist." Dave Kehr reviews releases of six Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals from Fox and Flower Drum Song, featuring "I Enjoy Being a Girl," "a showstopper ripe for postfeminist revival," from Universal.

Also in the New York Times:

  • Michiko Kakutani reviews Neil Gabler's Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination.

  • Laura M Holson on Disney's cost-cutting - even Jerry Bruckheimer's feeling the squeeze!

  • Louise Story: "Nielsen Media Research is to announce today that it will release video-on-demand ratings, similar to its famous TV ratings, starting in December." Related: Charles Isherwood: "Spend an hour or two trolling through YouTube looking for high art... and you come away amazed at the volume (and sometimes the quality) of material available for instant viewing."

  • An AP story on the Weinstein/Blockbuster deal that not only makes no sense for all parties involved, particularly the filmmakers, but also may very well face legal challenges.

Were women neglected in Sunday's comedy issue of the NYT Magazine? Rebecca Traister critiques a critique at Broadsheet.

Anthony Kaufman: "Just weeks after the tragic death of actress-writer-director Adrienne Shelly, her husband Andy Ostroy has set up a foundation in her name and memory to help cultivate women filmmakers."

Think of it as Slate's "Movie Club" revived, in a way, as a weekly column, only at the House Next Door: Sean Burns and Andrew Dignan launch "Navel Gazing" with a discussion of Babel, Stranger Than Fiction and Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus. Related: In the Philadelphia Weekly, Sean Burns looks ahead to the holiday season.

In the Voice: Jim Ridley on Bobby, "an Airport movie with the assassination of Robert F Kennedy as the central calamity and an all-star cast deployed like multiple George Kennedys" (more from Ron Rosenbaum in the New York Observer) and a four-point review of 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her from Nathan Lee. Related online viewing tip. ScreenGrab's got a longish clip from a 1964 interview in which Godard discusses his attitude toward critics.

Candy "It's cult-movie week here at Beyond the Multiplex world HQ." Salon's Andrew O'Hehir reviews The Aura, Candy, Flannel Pajamas and 2 or 3 Things.

Back to the NYO for a moment. "Having experienced their own youth, Gen Xers keep selling us - and themselves - a secondhand version of it," writes Christine Smallwood. "They've successfully packaged what it means to be young, and we keep buying - even when what we're buying is a ticket to the awful, treacly, terrifically annoying X-trickle-down Garden State." In other words, they're the new Boomers. Meanwhile, Suzy Hansen remembers Ellen Willis.

Dave Shulman spends quite a while with Tenacious D for a cover story for the LA Weekly. Jack Black on Hollywood: "[T]here's no real club or industry, or any rhyme or reason. Everyone's just floatin' around, doin' weird jobs, and it's a very fuckin' random, Nietzschean universe of fuckin' endless, empty, mindless destruction. Sometimes there's good shit in there too. There're some rainbows."

Also: Paul Malcolm on The Fallen Idol; more from Josh Rosenblatt in the Austin Chronicle. And then, not film-related, really, but it should be noted that the LAW is running Dave Eggers's introduction to a new 10th anniversary edition of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest.

Anne Thompson: "The Good German is as experimental in its way as Soderbergh's Schizopolis, Kafka, Solaris, Full Frontal or The Limey." Meanwhile, Soderbergh's project prompts more thoughts from David Bordwell, these on "editing technique in classic and contemporary film."

Peter Nellhaus: "Children of Men makes for an interesting bookend to V for Vendetta. Both are big budget films from major studios that as slightly disguised science fiction attack the politics of George Bush and Tony Blair."

Jon Pais at Twitch: "Kim Jong-il, North Korea's Stalinist leader who once threatened to turn the United States into a 'sea of fire', gave his seal of approval to The Host on Thursday, praising the blockbuster's critical stance toward US troops stationed in South Korea and dubbing them the 'monster of the Han River.'"

In My Friend & His Wife, Shin Dong-il raises questions as to "how to survive extreme moral tragedy, pondering if forgiveness is indeed ever possible considering the nature of certain humanly-wrought calamities," writes Adam Hartzell at

Marvin D'Lugo: Pedro Almodóvar Boyd van Hoeij reviews Marvin D'Lugo's Pedro Almodóvar, "an insightful look at the parallel trajectories of Almodóvar's cinematic output and the cultivation of the Almodóvar persona."

Steve Rose meets Isabelle Huppert and Lindesay Irvine talks with Romanzo Criminale director Michele Placido.

Also in the Guardian:

  • Dan Glaister: "A study by the University of California Los Angeles shows the film and television industry to be the second largest polluter in the Los Angeles area."

  • Josh Appignanesi: "Speaking as a director, I'd prefer to make films for a huge silver screen watched communally, rather than for a tiny pixelated one watched alone, probably in small interrupted bits."

  • Jean-Baptiste Andrea on switching from horror (Dead End) to comedy (Big Nothing).

  • "[F]ew are the comedy careers that don't one day take a detour into serious drama." Brian Logan is sure that's always a good idea.

Today's Crispin Glover interview: Capone at AICN.

Jim Emerson offers "a few relatively obscure, underappreciated or, at least, off-the-beaten-path comedies that I think are hysterically funny" and invites more suggestions.

In Slate, Sean Cooper presents four solid reasons why both HD-DVD and Blu-ray are already dead.

David Pescovitz at Boing Boing: "This year, the Webby Awards are holding a separate ceremony to honor outstanding film and video that's made for the Internet. The nominees and winners will become part of the Museum of Moving Image's collection of artifacts."

Online browsing tip. The site for Confession of Pain, the new film from Andrew Lau and Alan Mak (Infernal Affairs) and starring Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Takeshi Kaneshiro. Via Grady Hendrix, who'll also point you to a slew of reviews of new films from Asia.

Online feed subscription tips. Lunchfilm. Via Mike at Bad Lit. And via Matt Dentler, Janet Pierson's Friends Are My Artform and Dana Harris's The Knife.

Online listening tip #1. Cinematical's James Rocchi talks with Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing as they prep the DVD for Jesus Camp.

Online listening tip #2. DVD Talk editor Geoffrey Klein gets Kevin Smith on the phone.

Online listening tip #3. Time Out talks with Jack Black and Kyle Gass.

Scenes from the City Online listening tips. Recent guests on the Leonard Lopate Show: George Miller talking about Happy Feet, David Hare talking about The Vertical Hour and James Sanders, talking about his book, Scenes from the City: Filmmaking in New York.

Online viewing tip #1. Malcolm McDowell presents an interactive history of British Free Cinema at Screen Online. For the Independent, Geoffrey Macnab asks him about it - and about Lindsay Anderson.

Online viewing tip #2. At Cinema Strikes Back, Blake's got a clip from Pom Pom and Hot Hot.

Online viewing tips. The shorts in KQED's weekly series, Truly CA, written up by Justin Juul at SF360.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:26 PM | Comments (3)

Fests and events, 11/16.

Wenders in Thessaloniki At Cineuropa, Natasha Senjanovic has a preview of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, "whose particular focus this year is on the digital wave of Greek filmmakers (a competition section with a €15,000 prize), the Balkans (through its Balkan Survey) and Wim Wenders (with a complete retrospective, masterclass, photo exhibit and Golden Alexander Career Award)" - and there's a followup, too. The fest opens tomorrow and runs through November 26.

"This is a filmmaker who might very well show up to a murder if he could still stand his subject." For the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Jason Shamai previews two docs by Kazuo Hara screening at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts tonight and Sunday. Also: "Finally, a horror movie that can be called both subtle (despite gleeful bloodletting) and refreshing." The Hamiltons screens as part of this weekend's After Dark Horrorfest and Cheryl Eddy talks with one of the directors, Mitchell Altieri.

If you're anywhere near the North Carolina Museum of Art tomorrow evening, the Independent Weekly's David Fellerath recommends catching L'Atalante.

In the LA Weekly, Holly Willis previews Saturday's two-part, 16th annual PXL This showcase.

Laura Irvine grew up watching To Kill a Mockingbird about once a year. For SF360, she gets to talk to one of its stars: "Mary Badham, who played the memorable tomboy, Scout, believes as long as racism, bigotry, and intolerance exist, the film and the book provide a starting point for discussion and self-examination." Badham will be at the Castro on Sunday, where she'll be interviewed by Armistead Maupin.

Monte Hellman, superheroes, musicals and more: Susan King covers local goings on in the Los Angeles Times.

Charlotte Cripps previews the London Children's Film Festival (November 18 through 26) for the Independent.

Gabe Klinger: Still dispatching from Torino for Elusive Lucidity.

For the New York Times, Sharon Waxman meets Carrie Fisher to talk about her one-woman show, Wishful Drinking, running through December 23 at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. Sample line: "If my life weren't funny, it would just be true. And that would be unacceptable."

Posted by dwhudson at 10:39 AM | Comments (1)

Docs, 11/16.

It's been a newsy couple of days for documentaries. The latest from Eugene Hernandez at indieWIRE: "The 2007 Sundance Film Festival will open with the world premiere of Brett Morgen's Chicago 10, a new documentary about the 1968 protests around the Democratic Convention in Chicago."

Chicago 10

And just yesterday, Eugene Hernandez reported: "Fifteen documentary films have been selected for the "short list" of titles competing for one of five nominations for the 79th Academy Awards." Best commentary so far: AJ Schnack. Also, Anthony Kaufman picks seven favorites; Chuck Tryon's got a few favorites as well.

Our Daily Bread

"Without needing a word, [Nikolaus] Geyrhalter gives new meaning to the species paranoia dramatized in those gore-soaked scenes of human harvesting in War of the Worlds or The Matrix," writes J Hoberman. "Our Daily Bread is quietly radical in showing creatures whose existence is solely and inexorably a preparation for death."

At the heart of the "entertaining documentary" Who the $#%& is Jackson Pollock? is "the debate between connoisseurship and science as a culture war," writes Stephen Holden. "By the end of the film, you have the unpleasant sense that... [the] smooth-talking guardians of an insular world that enriches itself through a kind of legal insider trading are deeply threatened by the intrusions of forensic science. The movie calls into question the determination of provenance, in which a history of a painting's ownership is used for certification." More from Jessica Grose in the Voice and Eric Kohn in the New York Press. And indieWIRE interviews director Harry Moses.

Cheryl Eddy tells you what to expect from The Beales of Grey Gardens: "It doesn't flow as well as the first film (which hardly has a narrative), but its jumble of off-the-cuff moments offers more quotables (Little Edie, spontaneously: 'I'm mad about the Maysles!'; Little Edie, flipping through a magazine: 'Not another article on Jackie!'), more subject-filmmaker interactions, deeper insights into the lives of both Beales, and more of teenage gardener Jerry Torre, whom apparent Nathaniel Hawthorne fan Little Edie memorably nicknamed 'the Marble Faun.'" Johnny Ray Huston looks back to the original.

Doug Block, whose 51 Birch Street is now in its fifth week, offers "a few more notes on Truly Indie."

For Film Threat, KJ Doughton interviews Deliver Us From Evil director Amy Berg.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:07 AM

Alfred Hitchcock Blog-a-Thon.

Alfred Hitchcock Some time back, Squish at the Film Vituperatem called for an Alfred Hitchcock Blog-a-Thon and yesterday was the day.

Now's the time to catch up with many of Squish's own reviews and over 20 other entries spread out across the World Wide Web.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:19 AM

Borat. Just When You Thought You'd Had Enough Edition.

Rolling Stone: Borat "We keep telling everyone that Borat is on the new cover of Rolling Stone (on stands everywhere Friday) and that the cover feature includes an interview with Sacha Baron Cohen. And people are like 'yeah, so, he's been everywhere' and we're like no, Sacha himself is talking to us, not as Borat, but about Borat (and other things)."

A sampling from the sampling, Baron Cohen on "Throw the Jew Down the Well":

[I]t revealed something about that bar in Tucson. And the question is: Did it reveal that they were anti-Semitic? Perhaps. But maybe it just revealed that they were indifferent to anti-Semitism.

Updated through 11/19.

I remember, when I was in university I studied history, and there was this one major historian of the Third Reich, Ian Kershaw. And his quote was, "The path to Auschwitz was paved with indifference." I know it's not very funny being a comedian talking about the Holocaust, but I think it's an interesting idea that not everyone in Germany had to be a raving anti-Semite. They just had to be apathetic.

In Slate, Christopher Hitchens responds to Ryan Gilbey's piece on Borat in the New Statesman: "Oh come on." For Hitchens, it's Americans' "attitude of painfully maintained open-mindedness and multiculturalism that is really being unmasked and satirized by our man from the 'stan."


  • Now the Romanians are pissed, too.

  • "The Bagger gets the joke, it just doesn't make him laugh."

  • At PopMatters, Amos Posner: "Anyone willing to take the movie or themselves seriously enough to take offense is immediately folded into the gag."

Updates, 11/19: Slate's got the filmmakers "Standard Consent Agreement." David Poland thinks it's possible that the "form was a lot more reasonable than any of the accusations suggest."

Jim Emerson replies to Hitchens and David Brooks.

The "Black Carpet" advertising campaign worked, argues RyanCarrigg at Compete.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:48 AM

November 15, 2006

A less "thinky" Voice.

The Village Voice "For everyone fretting about the changes sweeping the vaunted film section of the Village Voice, you can relax: Jim Hoberman is staying." So begins ST VanAirsdale's well-reported, all-known-bases-covered piece at the Reeler on just what the hell is going on at whatever it is that remains of the beacon of film culture Hoberman himself eulogized on the occasion of the alternative weekly's 50th anniversary.

Updated through 11/18.

Emphasizing Hoberman's sticking it out, come what may, the Reeler reveals why all parties involved are so insistent on emphasizing it themselves: "The interim replacement for fired section editor Dennis Lim may have lasted only two days before giving his notice, the budget may roughly amount to just a third of its size prior to last winter's merger with the New Times chain, the popular year-end critics' poll may have been cancelled, a number of respected freelance critics and feature writers may have disappeared from its pages and its de-emphasis on local independent and repertory releases may end up alienating some of its advertisers, but at least you have that one institutional continuity to bank on."

Talking to the departed and the newbies alike, ST VanAirsdale then investigates each item on this list of ailments. For anyone even remotely interested in the state of film criticism in the US, this is a must-read. For a whole slew of disparate reasons; in fact, the number of issues raised here just begging for immediate comment - complaints from other New Times papers, for example, that the section that had cultivated a relationship with its readers over half a century was "too 'thinky' and 'dense'" - I want to just briefly add a word about one: "[R]eaders have not surged to the barricades in the paper's defense. And whatever their level of distress at a system that can single-handedly wreck a film with the same negative review splashed across 17 markets, New York's industry insiders have yet to mount even a semi-organized campaign - behind the scenes or otherwise - summoning an alternative."

As someone who's been reading and deeply appreciating the Voice, all its sections, for most of my adult life, I'll nonetheless suggest that perhaps industry folk aren't complaining because no alternative needs to be summoned. Alternatives abound. From studio publicists all the way down to the loner DIY filmmaker, the challenge is no longer finding a way to get word out about this or that film; it's whittling down the almost overwhelming array of choices to some sort of coherent strategy for reaching an audience most likely to be interested.

Consider, for example, new staffer Nathan Lee's favorite film of the year so far, according to the Reeler piece, Syndromes and a Century. You don't have to think too far back to remember a time when the only way most of us industry outsiders would have even heard of such a film's existence would be, first, via a report from Cannes or Toronto in an alternative weekly or, weeks, probably months later, in a film journal. Then, in this lucky instance, since it also screened at the New York Film Festival, maybe another hundred words or so in the New York Times. Then the long and perhaps futile search for a VHS copy would begin.

I don't have to point out to anyone reading these words here how radically that game of Chinese whispers has changed all up and down the line in just a few short years. As a loyal reader over here in Berlin, I'm glad to know where I'll be able to find J Hoberman's reviews each week. But given the state of the Voice's film section at the moment, it wouldn't be terribly rattling to read them via a click on some other address.

Voice Film Guide Updates, 11/18: "If the Voice can't be thinky and dense, then who can?" asks Bilge Ebiri. "A significant part of New York film culture is an esoteric one, and a significant part of New York's film readership happens to be comprised of pointy-headed nerds who happen to like thinky, dense pieces."

In the print version of the current issue of Film Comment, Dudley Andrew reviews The Village Voice Film Guide: 50 Years of Movies from Classics to Cult Hits, edited just in time by Dennis Lim: "I'm one of those who take Paris to be cinema's first city, but New York looks like a rival when 50 years of the Voice's film pages are stacked up. Like no other source, the Voice has kept up a buzz among films, filmmakers, theaters and audiences specific to the city."

In his editor's letter introducing the issue, Gavin Smith is more critical of Dennis Lim's selections, but the mere fact that he's chosen to devote his entire column to the upheaval in the weekly's film pages speaks all our concerns, as does his opening sentence: "In the annals of modern American film criticism, three periodicals have traditionally held sway as opinion builders: The New York Times, The New Yorker and The Village Voice." If that's so, we've only got one left until another one, two or more emerge - probably online.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:12 PM | Comments (1)

Rossellini @ MoMA.

Roberto Rossellini With the Roberto Rossellini retrospective opening at MoMA this evening, Fernando F Croce opens Slant's special section: "Today, even with Rossellini securely standing next to the likes of Renoir, Ford, Dreyer, and Mizoguchi, the various disconcerting aspects of his work remain stubbornly in place, refusing reductive tidiness. Rossellini was a genius for sure - one whose searching aesthetic should be experienced in its many phases in order to be fully assessed."

Today, too, Mike Hertenstein does something rather extraordinary at the Flickerings site. This summer, they celebrated the centennial "with a program featuring several of Rossellini's films, paired with a series of seminars the notes of which I now post here." And those notes so far are extensive: Germany: Year Zero, The Flowers of St Francis, Europa '51, The Miracle and Stromboli, with more to come.

Updated through 11/19.

Earlier: Manohla Dargis in the New York Times.

Update, 11/19: Blogging for Reverse Shot, scrumtrelescent argues that Germany Year Zero "is the most sublimely empathic vision ever committed to the screen." Also, Paisan is "a film primarily of healing, an expression of regeneration and hope now that the long nightmare has come to an end - yet tempered by the legacy of rampant material and social destruction."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:59 AM

DVDs, 11/15.

DK Holm on what the DVD review sites are saying about a hefty package and a light comedy.

Paul Newman If it's a typical week in DVDs, then there's something old and something new out on those five-inch discs (and in a different part of the video store, something no doubt borrowed and something explicitly blue). This week on Tuesday the old was Paul Newman and the new was Strangers With Candy.

Paul Newman is the now-82-year-old actor with a string of many interesting if few great films. Linked to the Actors Studio and its school of emotional self-dredging machines, and in his early years slightly resembling Marlon Brando but without the on-set turmoil, Newman became a "sexiest man alive" in the 1960s with films such as Hud and Cool Hand Luke. But his screen career soon devolved into showcase pop culture roles, such as Butch Cassidy, while in his private life he balanced a Bud-swilling life on the auto track with forays into liberal capitalism.

After its release of five Brando movies last week, Warner Home Video follows up with seven Newman films. Warner is in an enviable position, since it can draw "product" from numerous studios, including MGM and RKO. Unfortunately, DVD review websites have a hard time processing big sets like these. The DVD Journal managed to cover four of the movies this time around. The acronymal JJB finds that Somebody Up There Likes Me, which is adapted from boxer Rocky Graziano's autobiography, "accepts one of drama's most daunting challenges - it asks us to accept a selfish, violent, misfit head-case as the film's sole protagonist," while DSH finds The Mackintosh Man, a spy film credited to director John Huston, to be "curiously mute in a post-Bond universe. Sequences that could sing with tension and excitement are done in perfunctory fashion." Dawn Taylor discerns that the Billy the Kid biopic The Left Handed Gun is a "bit of a mess," while the Ross MacDonald adaptation Harper proved to be hobbled by "unimaginative-but-serviceable direction by Jack Smight." The other three films in the set are The Drowning Pool, Pocket Money and The Young Philadelphians.

But leave it to the DVD Beaver, a site with seemingly unlimited time for film geekery, to dive in head first. Gary W Tooze offers detailed critical commentary and close technical specs on all seven films, admitting that "I'd remembered how much I had enjoyed Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), The Young Philadelphians (1959) and The Drowning Pool (1975) - and re-watching has reinforced those entertaining memories," before concluding that the set "is as well done as you might have anticipated - I was anticipating a lot and my wishes were fulfilled."

Strangers With Candy Strangers With Candy was the short-lived cult TV show that aired on Comedy Central from 1999 to 2000. It was apparently popular enough to inspire a feature film version, which gives the backstory behind main character Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris) and how, as a 46-year-old adult (according to the Wikipedia), she came to be installed amid the Blank family and attending Flatpoint High School. The brainchild of Stephen Colbert, who plays bitter history teacher Chuck Noblet, and Paul Dinello, who directs, the film also features Dan Hedaya, Matthew Broderick, Ian Holm, Sarah Jessica Parker, Allison Janney and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Ed Gonzalez at Slant finds that Strangers with Candy "shows considerable wear after being dumped by Warner Independent Pictures and picked up by THINKFilm earlier this year. The film ran 97 minutes at Sundance; now it clocks in at 87 and the excessive cuts show around many scenes, suggesting limbs hacked off at their joints." But he goes on to say, "Much of the film's fine details have been lifted almost verbatim from the original Comedy Central show, but Colbert, Sedaris, and director Paul Dinello make repetition seem sublime, expanding the jokes by turning them against their audience," concluding: "No matter how long the film runs, it's still a funny addition to the Strangers With Candy universe."

Francis Rizzo III at DVD Talk also wrestled with disappointment, confessing, "Excitement is not the emotion I, a fan of Strangers with Candy, felt when I heard the series was being converted into a feature-length movie. Only when the original source material is reimagined or used purely as inspiration, like the satirical The Brady Bunch Movie, does the transition from TV to movie usually work. The differences between the two mediums are too substantial to overcome easily." He sadly concludes that "there's nothing in this film they couldn't have done in the series, including the guest stars, which they had regularly. To be honest, I can't figure out why this movie exists," reserving praise only for the DVD's audio component: "The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is actually pretty impressive for a film that wouldn't seem to need it. However the sides and rear speakers get a lot of work building atmosphere and enhancing music, while the dialogue comes across crystal clear. It's a surprisingly dynamic mix for a film that's mainly about people talking."

The anonymous critic at Current Film, on the other hand, finds Strangers With Candy to be "bizarrely funny.... The bits are hit (a running of the bulls in gym class)-and-miss, but the film's best comic creation is Blank herself, which sees Sedaris buried under make-up and a bad wig. The character's pricelessly weird appearance and Sedaris's demented facial expressions and off-beat sense of timing result in a character that's such a complete mess that it's difficult to look away."

Betsy Bozdech at the DVD Journal admits that "Jerri Blank isn't everyone's cup of tea (or should that be hit of reefer?). Suspicious, mercurial, horny, and casually racist, the buck-toothed 47-year-old ex-con/former prostitute certainly doesn't scream 'average high school student.'" Bozdech informs us that Strangers with Candy was originally created to "mock that peculiarly over-earnest genre, the after-school special," though that genre never "had a heroine quite like Jerri. With her relentlessly gelled hair, unending stream of turtlenecks, and propensity to react to every perceived threat as if she's still in jail (like when she sticks a fork in her half-brother's hand during a family dinner, for example), Jerri is a character unlike any other. It says a lot about Sedaris's talent that Jerri is in any way appealing, but it really is hard not to sympathize, at least a little bit, with the world's oldest - and strangest - high school freshman." Bozdech concludes that Strangers with Candy will "resonate most with fans of the TV series, but even the uninitiated will enjoy its cracked sense of humor and jabs at teenage life. Those who can't get enough of Jerri will enjoy the close to 20 minutes' worth of deleted scenes on ThinkFilm and Lionsgate's DVD."

Related: This summer, Andy Spletzer spoke with Sedaris, Colbert and Dinello, both before and after their switch to THINKfilm.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:54 AM

Dance Party, USA.

Dance Party, USA I hope (and I think) David Lowery will forgive me for quoting at such length but, especially as we emerge back out again from the musty halls of Schrader's canon, it's doubly refreshing to find such a well-stated assessment of one current line of development in cinema:

I've been reading Movie Mutations, edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum and Adrian Martin, which was born out of the realization that cinephiles the world over are simultaneously and of their own accord being drawn to the same films and filmmakers; and I've been thinking about how there are similar traits noticeable in the films themselves; artistic sensibilities born of and in response to cultural impressions, political climates, generational ennui and what have you; and I've focused these thoughts on one particular microcosm of cinematic development, that being the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, where a certain type of filmmaking seems to flower above all others, and the filmmakers, inadvertently or otherwise, form a sort of self-propogating clique.

I'm thinking of the Duplass Brothers' The Puffy Chair, Andrew Bujalski's Mutual Appreciation, Joe Swanberg's Kissing on the Mouth and LOL and now Aaron Katz's Dance Party USA. These are all films made independently of each other, but they all have a sort of shared formal aspiration, a blurring of form and content (or, rather, a crystallization of Susan Sontag's belief that form and content should be inseparable, indistinguishable) and an alluring, incisive sense of naturalism.

There's more, and David follows this entry with an interview with Aaron Katz and Dance Party, USA producer Brendan McFadden. The film begins its run at NYC's Pioneer Theater tonight.

In the New York Times, Jeannette Catsoulis finds that DP, USA "is an admittedly slight movie, but one that is given heft by a yearning tone and a camera fascinated by the emotional shifts and shadows on a young person's face."

More from Jordan Harper in the Voice and Sujewa Ekanayake.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:46 AM | Comments (2)

Film Comment. Nov/Dec 06.

Paul Schrader Before breaking open the November/December issue of Film Comment, it should be noted that people are still talking (or typing) about the last issue in which Paul Schrader presented what he had so far on a film canon he'd since abandoned. Not only has the topic been revived on the a_film_by list, but FC is running a handful of readers' responses - and Schrader's response to that response.

While he may be giving up on his particular project, Schrader is sticking to his elitist guns: "The idea of an exclusive Canon (the dreaded antecedent to High Art) is to leave things out. Film studies have been swamped by inclusiveness and nonjudgmental standards." What's more, "'Eurocentrism?' Damn straight."

Right, then. On to the magazine, starting with the great Geoffrey O'Brien: "If Nine Queens was a comedy of urban streets and suites, The Aura is a dream journey into the wilderness—slower, more open-ended, less obviously satisfying in its manipulation of plot turns yet creating a more insidiously lingering emotional effect." Ultimately, "The Aura is the more ambitious film." Related: Kristi Mitsuda at indieWIRE and Jean Oppenheimer in the Voice.

Film Comment: Nov/Dec 06 For Your Consideration (along with Stranger Than Fiction and Borat) has Andrew Sarris thinking in the New York Observer about what's funny; similarly, here, Kent Jones: "As entertaining as the Ben Stiller-Will Ferrell-Owen Wilson movies are, they’re dogged by a tiring self-satisfaction and showboating.... By contrast, [Christopher] Guest and crew are less interested in being number one than in creating viable characters who suffer real disappointments and setbacks.... Maybe the loveliest quality of these movies is the fact that they’re such winningly democratic ventures."

Chris Chang calls out for a distributor for Julia Loktev's Day Night Day Night.

Now here's very fine editorial choice: Guy Maddin on the Quay Brothers' The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes: "[T]hey've never made anything like this before!"

Posted by dwhudson at 8:53 AM | Comments (3)

Sight & Sound. 12/06.

Isabelle Huppert Im Porträt In print, the focus of the December issue of Sight & Sound is on fantasy; online, it turns out to be Isabelle Huppert. Ginette Vincendeau surveys the biography and onscreen and onstage career: "She once said to Positif that 'The greatest books and films are those that mix distance and emotion' - an observation that goes to the heart of her own performance style." At the same time: "Opacity, intellectualism and authenticity have characterised Huppert almost from the start - and apply equally to the auteur cinema she has served so well."

Robin Buss reviews Patrice Chéreau's Gabrielle, noting that Huppert "brings particular expectations to any role she takes" and that "it is hard to forget that Huppert is Huppert."

With Pan's Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro, "this latterday Welles," Mark Kermode calls him, "has created a Citizen Kane of fantasy cinema - a modern masterpiece made entirely on his own terms."

More reviews:

The Big Animal

Posted by dwhudson at 5:55 AM

November 14, 2006

Online viewing tips, 11/14.

Manifestoon First, a bit of YouTubery via Boing Boing: Manifestoon, The Communist Manifesto, illustrated via vintage cartoons, and "9 great old punk videos."

Todd, Twitch's big advocate for Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain, has found nine clips from the film.

And Francesco Vezzoli's (in)famously star-studded Trailer for a Remake of Gore Vidal's Caligula is online. Via Monika Bartyzel at Cinematical. And of course, NSFW.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:19 PM | Comments (1)

Flannel Pajamas.

Flannel Pajamas "Indie-film exec Jeff Lipsky's sophomore feature as writer-director shares with his distribution work a desire to restore some of the untidier virtues of 70s American film," writes Rob Nelson in the Voice.

For Nick Schager, writing in Slant, Flannel Pajamas is "a series of scenes from a love affair whose insightfulness slightly outweighs its sluggishness... [T]he film's perceptiveness is frequently bracing, capturing the way starry-eyed proclamations and promises can foreshadow uglier truths, and - as in a sterling underplayed scene - the means by which simple gestures such as asking a girlfriend to call your relatives on your behalf can signal a momentous shift in trust and togetherness."

For Sunday's New York Times, Nancy Ramsey spoke with Lipsky about tonight's opening: "My whole future is going to be carved out in 96 hours."

Updated through 11/19.

Online listening tip. Lipsky, Justin Kirk and Julianne Nicholson are recent guests on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Update, 11/15: "The twin specters of Ingmar Bergman and Woody Allen hover over this talky history of a relationship between two New Yorkers," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Flannel Pajamas nevertheless maintains a stubborn integrity, and its comfortably lived-in lead performances feel authentic."

Update, 11/16: Salon's Andrew O'Hehir: "[I]t is so truly and exceptionally fine, a spiny and dispassionate little masterpiece of a marriage movie, that I don't want to expend energy groaning over the fact that it's doomed to reach (I suspect) a very small audience."

Update, 11/19: Jeff Lipsky writes about the relationship that inspired the film for indieWIRE.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:15 PM

Jenni Olson and the Cinemaniacs.

The Joy of Life You remember Cinemania. So Jenni Olson's looking over the DVD and: "I realize that the woman on the cover is the woman who harassed me Saturday night at the Museum of Modern Art premiere of my film, The Joy of Life!" So begins a truly terrific entry; Q's and A's are exchanged, and then:

If only I had known I was being provoked by sublebrities!... I would have been flattered, rather than annoyed, by their presence. As Museum of the Modern Image curator David Schwartz points out in Cinemania: "There are some film buffs, like Roberta... where if I see them in the audience I feel really proud 'cause I know that they think that what we're showing is the best thing available today in the city. So, it's like the stamp of approval."

I hereby want to publicly thank Roberta and Bill for coming to my screening.

And there's still time for all you other cranky New Yorkers to come see my movie: Catch it this coming Thursday night, Nov 16th at 6pm at MoMa, and Monday November 20th at the IFC Film Center.

Related: Tamara Lees spoke with Jenni Olson about The Joy of Life last summer.

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

Louise Brooks @ 100.

Louise Brooks: Lulu Forever Today's the day. It'd be fun to celebrate with a viewing of Pandora's Box, but we'll have to wait just two more weeks. In the meantime, on DVD so far, we do have Diary of a Lost Girl, Prix de Beaute and the documentary Looking for Lulu.

Related and recent: Sean Axmaker on Peter Cowie's Louise Brooks: Lulu Forever, Dan Callahan in Bright Lights, Michael Guillén at the Evening Class, Dennis Harvey at SF360 and John McElwee at Greenbriar Picture Shows.

Related and not so recent: The Louise Brooks Society, the galleries at Silent Ladies & Gents and an essay by Kenneth Tynan which appeared in the New Yorker in 1979.

Updated through 11/16.

Via, in German: Claudia Siefen in film-dienst, Verena Lueken in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Hans Schifferle in the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Updates: Words fail Tim Lucas, but he finds a few nonetheless. And Jonathan points out a few more appearances on DVD in the comment below.

Time's Richard Corliss: "She always found responses that were as subtle as they were powerful. She respected, or just assumed, the intelligence of her audience - to intuitively infer the thoughts and emotions running across that gorgeous face, percolating in that active mind."

Update, 11/16: John Davidson interviews Peter Cowie for PopMatters.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:42 AM | Comments (1)

Filmmaker. Sundance @ 25.

25 Years of Sundance As noted here and in other items sprinkled throughout "Shorts" ever since, the Fall 06 issue of Filmmaker has been dribbling online bit by bit. Now, in one big plop, comes quite a special section, a couple of dozen pages celebrating "25 Years of the Sundance Institute," downloadable as a PDF file.

It opens with an overview by Amy Taubin; Scott Macaulay talks with Executive Director Ken Brecher and several other Institute figures; Holly Willis, with Film Festival Director Geoff Gilmore. But for those more interested in filmmakers in front of and behind the cameras than in institutional nuts and bolts, plenty of indie stalwarts are on hand to recall how their Park City epiphanies have either launched, anchored or redirected their careers. All in all, it's a magazine within the magazine.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:10 AM

Interview. Keith Fulton.

Brothers of the Head This summer, Salon's Andrew O'Hehir called Brothers of the Head "a work of powerful atmosphere and significant mystery. Plus, it rocks."

Sean Axmaker talks with Keith Fulton about making the one-of-a-kind mockumentary with his directing partner Louis Pepe - and about the years they've spent chronicling the triumphs and defeats of Terry Gilliam.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:03 AM

November 13, 2006

Interview. Michael Apted.

Michael Apted In his conversation with Michael Apted, Jonathan Marlow naturally asks about 49 Up and the Up series in general. But he also notes, "Whether intentionally or not, you seem to challenge the notion of an auteur more than anyone else working today. In other words, your work is unpredictable and lacks an easy definition."

They cover Coal Miner's Daughter, the rock-n-roller Stardust, Incident at Ogalala, the Sting concert film, Enigma and Apted's Bond movie. Apted also explains why, "Being a lawyer and being a film director, in some areas, isn't all that different."

Earlier: "49 Up."

Update, 11/15: Michael Atkinson for IFC News: "Almost by definition, this epic project... keeps getting larger, more expansive and more profound with each entry."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:13 PM

Shorts and fests, 11/13.

Red Road Andrea Arnold's Red Road swept the Scottish BAFTAs last night; Annika Pham reports for Cineuropa.

David Bordwell is intrigued by Steven Soderbergh's intentions "to reproduce the look and feel of a 1940s movie" in The Good German and comments at length on several the director told Dave Kehr about for a weekend piece in the New York Times.

Louise Brooks "got to be the hottest woman in the room, if not the universe, for a handful of years until that attitude of hers brought down the curtain and exiled this most self-destructive gal in the whole of American show-business to a menial life unworthy of such an instinctive acting genius," writes John McElwee at Greenbriar Picture Shows. "Well, there's a mouthful, but how else do you sum up the object of such fervent cult enthusiasm?"

Gabe Klinger is filing dispatches from the Torino Film Festival at Elusive Lucidity.

Waggish on God Walks Backwards: "It is the most effective presentation of Debordian spectacle in film that I have ever seen, and more remarkable given that [Miklós] Jancsó abandoned his more classicist leanings to adopt an uglier, harsher contemporary style, all electricity and hum."

Whether or not you agree with Stanley Kauffmann when he calls Absolute Wilson an "excellent documentary," his piece in the New Republic most certainly is excellent.

The hype machine's always had a taste for youth. Karen Maeshiro reports in the LA Daily News on a high school senior his "movie-production teacher" is raving about, Andre Felix. Via Brendon Connelly.

Vince Keenan: "I'm sure I'm missing the point here, but I haven't seen a movie that filled me with such love of country since The Right Stuff. The U.S. and A. isn't perfect, but a boob like Borat can work his way from one end to the other without being arrested or beaten to a pulp. That is something to be proud of." Related: Borat may be heading to Russia after all.

Sujewa Ekanayake asks 51 Birch Street director Doug Block how Truly Indie truly works. Doug's got great things to say about it. Besides, "Getting your film distributed is like having three full-time jobs at the same time, none of which pay."

Eugene Hernandez wraps the AFI Fest at indieWIRE. Also: An interview with Crispin Glover.

Carnegie Mellon's Faces of Democracy International Film Festival runs November 29 through December 10.

In the Guardian, Mark Ravenhill hopes to break the DVD extras habit.

Online listening tip. SpoutBlog: Podcasting up a storm from the Denver Film Festival. Some of the people they've talked with so far: legendary cinematographer Vlimos Zsigmond, indie icon Robert M Young, Kurt Cobain About a Son director AJ Schnack and more.

Online viewing tip #1. A trailer for Dynamite Warriors. Via Jason Morehead: "It's like a Thai kickboxing western, only with men surfing on missiles!"

Online viewing tip #2. At Alternet, Evan Derkacz has a montage of late night comedians' reactions to the mid-terms.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:23 AM

Santo Domingo Dispatch.

Focusing on El Violin, David D'Arcy sends word from the just-wrapped Dominican Republic Global Film Festival.

Dominican Republic Global Film Festival There seems to be a film festival everywhere now, so why not in the Dominican Republic? They've already got the best parties. It's an easy flight away from New York or Miami, or Havana or Mexico City. I've just returned from the first Dominican Republic Global Film Festival in Santo Domingo, an event founded by the Dominican president Leonel Fernandez, and programmed by Nicole Guillemet, formerly of Sundance and the Miami International Film Festival. With fewer than 20 films, the focus of the program was on politics and current events, with a bit of a Latin American tilt (Babel, Crónicas de Una Fuga, Maquilapolis, El Violin, among others), no surprise given that the festival is the creation of the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development, an organization founded by Fernandez in 2000.

Full disclosure: I wrote an article about the political evolution of American documentaries for the foundation's magazine, hence the invitation.

The festival was not just about the expansion of film culture, although there's as much work to be done on that front in the Dominican Republic as there is in any Latin American country where the weight of Hollywood's boot on the throat of local cinema is, to put it mildly, heavy. The fact that Fernandez is a movie fan can't hurt, but there's a lot of work to do. The Dominicans may eventually want to be part of a campaign for film literacy - a more urgent goal is to bring filmmaking and filmmakers to locations in the Dominican Republic, a sultry, friendly island, with a growing tourist industry that draws mostly Europeans and that now wants to be an alternative to more expensive places to shoot. The Lost City was shot in the DR (Santo Domingo as Havana) by Andy Garcia, who was a guest last week. Miami Vice was another recent production. I'm told that commercials are shot by the dozens in Dominican locations. At panels, of which there seemed to be almost as many as films, Dominicans and experts talked endlessly about "incentivizing" and offering tax breaks. Let's say that the country as a place to shoot or make films is a work in progress. Progress becomes a much more complicated notion when you factor in the eventuality that Cuba, just next door, looks likely to become everyone's favorite location once Fidel Castro is gone. And that could be soon, very soon.

El Violin

In the festival's recent greatest hits program, which included far too few documentaries (probably following the assumption that regular people wouldn't want to watch them), I caught up with El Violin, Francisco Vargas Quevedo's first feature about the toll that military reprisals in a guerrilla war take on a family in the 1970s. I had been told by people who saw El Violin at Cannes and Toronto that its filmmaking was as strong as its politics.

Shot in black and white, with actors who speak only when they need to, the film has the look of inexpensive American films of the early 1950s that looked at World War II and Korea. Those films were terse and tactile, as were the westerns of the time that built on fatalism and impossible choices. El Violin begins with the torture of a man taken captive by soldiers who then rape women captives. Vargas Quevedo then takes us to the events that got us there. Three generations of a peasant family have witnessed soldiers burn their village to the ground and murder some of the men. Plutarco Hidalgo, an aged farmer, travels to a nearby town with his son and grandson. The son is with the rebels in Guerrero state, and he's making a deal to buy some rifles. Stoic to the extreme, Plutarco plays the violin, even though he has a stump instead of a hand at the end of this right arm, so he straps on the bow with a leather strip. We can only guess how he lost his hand. Plutarco decides to return to his village under the guise of checking the condition of his cornfield, and soon wins over the skeptical captain with his scratchy violin.

El Violin We're not talking about a nostalgic Ken Burns soundtrack here, but notes that scratch across a mute landscape from which most of the population has fled. Eventually Plutarco, who's been driven from his land, will have his own confrontation with occupying soldiers. It's not a happy ending, certainly not after his son is captured by the soldiers, but at least Plutarco's grandson knows where his family has stood on questions of right and wrong. The very futility of it all takes you away from the facts of this insurgency during the 1970s. The black and white images could take you back to post-war Italy. So could the long silent sections of the film. The Mexican government can't be happy to see this film. Nor can the tourist board.

It's a shame that El Violin does not have a US distributor yet. As they say, there's cinema, and then there's cinema. I witnessed some of the latter at Casa de Campo, two hours' drive from Santo Domingo, where Sammy Sosa of the Cubs and Orioles celebrated his birthday last Saturday. Sosa grew up dirt poor on the streets of San Pedro de Macoris, but every politician and his mistress (and the US ambassador, Salma Hayek and Julio Iglesias) showed up to toast the baseball star who now seems like royalty. After all, he lives in a palace, with armies of vigilant security guards never too far away. Sosa's place by a swampy lagoon is so enormous that it didn't even feel crowded. Yet the sight of rich men and their well-dressed companions crawling over each other to pay tribute to a baseball player had its surreal side, surreal enough to keep the crocodiles in the lagoon by Sosa's house stay in the water. Hospitable and courteous, Sosa himself welcomed everyone at the door personally, then endured the endless encomiums. Now that's staying power.

The first band to play was Los Ilegales - The Illegals - a great name, given the US paranoia about being overrun by Mexicans in the West, and Dominicans in the East. US diplomats applauding - perhaps even dancing to - The Illegals. It doesn't get much better than that.

Does Sosa have a film in him? Salma Hayek seemed to think so, as she entertained Sammy and the crowd with a less than perfect singing voice, which still must sound better than the voice of Madonna or Julie Delpy might before they put it through the equalizer. Back to baseball. The program included The Republic of Baseball: The Dominican Giants of the American Game, directed by Dan Manatt. More on that in a later dispatch, and more on a former pro American pitcher's efforts to make a feature about Dominican baseball.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:57 AM

Pittsburgh Dispatch. 2.

An "impromptu thematic trilogy" from Andy Horbal.

Three Rivers Film Festival

In his overview of the Olympia Film Festival here at the Daily last week, Sean Axmaker observed that "most small city film festivals are much like any other, a tasteful but undifferentiated mix of international festival standbys, American indies and documentaries, most of which would otherwise bypass the town entirely." This does describe the Three Rivers Film Festival to some extent, and I'm grateful to the festival for providing me with my first, and possibly my only, chance to see films like Requiem and Ten Canoes (to name my two favorites so far) on the big screen that they were made for.

What makes the TRFF unique, though, is that it's presented by filmmakers - Pittsburgh Filmmakers, specifically, an organization touting itself as "one of the largest and oldest independent media arts centers in the country." Every year, TRFF showcases films made by local artists, featuring local talent, often with the help of funding, cooperation, and equipment from Filmmakers. In years past, many local productions, like Melissa Martin's The Bread, My Sweet and Brady Lewis's Daddy Cool, have used their Three Rivers debuts as a springboard to future commercial and/or festival success. But there's nothing quite like seeing a film in its home town, surrounded by the very people who helped make it.

Home Front The most high-profile local film to play at this year's festival was the verité Iraq War doc Home Front, which screened here in advance of its cable debut on Showtime this past weekend. The directorial debut of Richard Hankin, who edited Capturing the Friedmans, Home Front documents wounded Iraq vet Jeremy Feldbusch's return to his hometown of Blairsville, Pennsylvania and his attempts to adjust to life there, a tall order considering that he has been blinded and brain-damaged by a piece of shrapnel.

In the Q&A session that followed the film, Hankin mentioned that his inspiration for this project was the similarly-themed World War II film The Best Years of Our Lives, and that's an excellent lens through which to examine Home Front. With a controversial and divisive conflict as a backdrop, it cannot help but be political, but politics take a back seat to a humanist portrait of Feldbusch's struggles to attain some semblance of normalcy. The film's greatest strengths are the surreal vignettes in which Feldbush tackles activities like hunting that one would think were impossible for someone who cannot see. A scene in which Feldbusch practices with live rounds at a shooting range for the first time since his injury is truly something to see.

A slight anti-war sentiment does come through in subtle directorial touches (a storefront sign that reads "God Bless America" reappears later in the film missing the 'G') and in Feldbusch's brother's taciturn allusions to his dissenting political beliefs. But this is balanced by Feldbusch's adamant and oft-repeated support for the conflict that claimed his sight. Ultimately, Home Front refuses to take sides, and that's to its advantage - ultimately, this well-crafted, affecting film is simply about the price of war, a nonpartisan subject if ever there was one.

Robert M Young Somewhat less politically charged is José Muniain's An Independent Portrait, which documents three days that local artist Félix de la Concha spent painting a portrait of independent filmmaker Robert M Young in de la Concha's Pittsburgh studio. Another debut feature, An Independent Portrait is an ambitious, conceptually fascinating exploration of the relationship between artist and subject.

Asked afterwards what his biggest challenge was in making this film, Muniain replied, "It's an hour in a room." His solution is to sporadically cut away from said room to clips from Young's films, including hard-to-find works like Caught and even harder-to-find films like Alambrista! and Cortile Cascino. The result is a sort of nested doll effect as the myriad subjects and artists (Muniain, de la Concha, Young, Young's subjects) register in the master Portrait to varying degrees. Though only an hour long, An Independent Portrait is possibly the most complex film that has played at the festival this year. It's no accident that close-ups of human faces figure heavily in some of the most moving films ever made: observe the lasting impact of Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc or Fellini's La Strada. By cutting scenes from Young's films next to scenes of his portrait being painted, Muniain invites us to reflect on the impact that this man's life and work has had on his visage, on what shapes a face. That is, to my mind, an attempt to grapple with nothing less than the power of cinema.

Bob Golub Bob Golub's Dodo, an autobiographical portrait of the artist as a member of a dysfunctional family, completes this impromptu thematic trilogy. The film, like the one-man show that it's adapted from, takes its title from the nickname of Golub's abusive, alcoholic, beloved father. Golub, a stand-up comedian from Sharon, Pennsylvania, has constructed his film out of the fragments of a life-long effort to come to terms with his upbringing. Dodo imaginatively and skillfully combines home video footage that Golub took over many years of family gatherings (selected from over 50 hours of material), clips of his stand-up routines and one-man show, and scenes from an incomplete fictionalized film version of his life into a surprisingly cohesive narrative.

The resulting film is dramatically different from "quirky" dysfunctional family comedies like this summer's Little Miss Sunshine. I suspect that Golub's film, which looks back on the past with equal parts affection and pure horror (there are some graphic accounts of real physical and verbal abuse), will ring more true for many. And because it earns its humor by refusing to shy away from the contingent pain, I suspect that many people will, like me, find it funnier, too.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:41 AM

November 12, 2006

Shorts, 11/12.

Buddha's Lost Children The AFI Fest jury has awarded top prizes to Grbavica (narrative) and Buddha's Lost Children (documentary); indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez has more.

From Lynn Hirschberg's cover profile of Will Ferrell through Deborah Solomon's chat with Chris Rock and AO Scott's piece on the persistence of sight gags, comedy is the focus throughout this week's special "Movie Issue" of the New York Times Magazine.


Allow acquarello to introduce you to the cinema of Robert Todd and Patrick Bokanowski.

David Hare: The Vertical Hour David Hare's 24th play, The Vertical Hour (extract), opens on Broadway on November 30, the occasion for a lengthy profile in the Observer, for which Gaby Wood also speaks with director Sam Mendes and stars Julianne Moore and Bill Nighy.

Also in the Observer:

Todd at Twitch: "Nominally a gangster film but really a lushly realized character drama A Dirty Carnival is blessed with a detailed script, a host of realistic and fully fleshed out characters, and a charismatic and complex lead performance from Jo In-Seong." Also, Funky Forest: The First Contact: "How to describe the indescribable?"

Prime Suspect 7 While Prime Suspect: The Final Act garners raves (John Leonard in New York, for example, or Alessandra Stanley in the NYT), for Tim Lucas, it's an opportunity for a career-encompassing appreciation of Helen Mirren.

Sarah Sands celebrates the true star of Casino Royale, Daniel Craig's torso, all "functioning muscle." Also in the Independent, Kevin Jackson visits Industrial Light and Magic. Related, and via MCN, Ian Johns in the London Times on the future of animation.

David Gates: "If you've ever hankered for the real lowdown on Mickey Mouse's creator and alter ego - it's worth the hankering, since he was one of America's most influential mythographers - Neal Gabler's Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination has it, sort of." Also at the Newsweek site: Sean Smith on the "Christian Movie Boom" and Malcolm Jones's remembrance of Adrienne Shelly.

Many will argue that In the Bedroom isn't just a better film than Little Children, it's crucially better; that is, it works, while the followup doesn't. Back in 2001, Ray Pride spoke at length with Todd Field about his feature debut and the interview's online now for the first time.

For Primarily, Eric Kohn talks with Conventioneers director Mora Stephens and producer Joel Viertel.

El Aura Robert Cashill on The Aura: "[Fabian] Bielinsky's attempt to create the fugue-state experience of an aura is admirable; to judge from my experience, it may have worked too well."

Dennis Cozzalio at Flickhead: "Go for Zucker has a fascinating subject at its heart - the pull of Jewish tradition in a modern German culture where it was once all but obliterated - but in the end that heart, as good and well-intended as it is, turns out to be a little too soft."

Richard Goldstein in the Nation: "A dexterous delivery allows Baron Cohen to deny his race and class - which in turn allows his audience to do the same. This suspension of disbelief may free up the yuks, but the laughter is just as primitive as Borat's barbaric ways. And that's no joke."

For those already making notes for your year-end best-of lists - and boy, who can possibly wait to see every last one of those - Joe Bowman's got a long list that might serve to jog a memory or two.

Designers: How fast can you work? Palm Pictures is accepting submissions to its "Design the 13 Tzameti DVD Cover Contest" through noon (EST) tomorrow.

Online viewing tip. Run Wrake's Rabbit. Via several channels, and no wonder.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:59 PM

The other Pelosi.

A Pelosi and GW Bush I count watching the premiere of Alexandra Pelosi's Journeys With George in the spring of 2002 just blocks down Congress Avenue from the Texas State Capital among the most fun moviegoing experiences I've ever had. The Austin crowd at the SXSW screening whooped and cheered as they rediscovered the W who'd slipped behind the curtain of America's renewed reverence for the presidency in the wake of 9/11 - which, remember, was just a few short months behind us at the time, though, in many ways, it already felt like years. The man Pelosi recorded in her video diary of the 2000 presidential campaign was, depending on your politics and tolerance for a grown-up making silly faces at a camera, a buffoon or a charmer; either way, he was an actual human being whose idea of a joke hadn't yet taken on the hubris of reenacting Top Gun.

At any rate, Pelosi is, of course, the daughter of Nancy Pelosi, and shots of the Speaker-elect's fireside chats with W on the news have more than a few of us thinking back to Journeys. Steve Rosenbaum, for example, who's posted the trailer and a few thoughts. And the editors at Time, who've asked Pelosi for a few words on her mother and her prez: "They actually have a lot in common."

Update, 11/13: Matt Dentler's got a great post on how premiering Journeys helped make 2002 a "tipping point" year for SXSW.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:45 PM

Brooklyn Rail. November 06.

2 or 3 Things I Know About Her "It's a measure of Godard's influence that his fragmented narrative - interrupted by long shots of consumer products, epic tableau of building construction and meandering portraits of cars in traffic - proves easy to follow," writes David N Meyer, reflecting on 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her, slated to run November 17 through 30 at NYC's Film Forum. "Forty years ago it might have been confusing. Since then, the larger world of cinema has not caught up to Godard, but it has cannibalized what it can digest."

Also in the November issue of the Brooklyn Rail: David Wilentz on Jigoku and two New York events, the Japan Society's Lolita in Full Bloom series (through next week), featuring "five popular 'idol movies' from the 80s, [and] offering a revealing look at what makes Japanese pop culture tick and what 'kawaii' really looks like," and last month's New York City Horror Film Festival, a fest that "helps sustain a genre that's not exactly thriving."

Williams Cole talks with James Longley about Iraq in Fragments and reviews Shut Up & Sing! and The Bridge.

Matt Peterson reviews Godard's Hail Mary and Wim Wenders's Land of Plenty and Tokyo-Ga.

Like many reviewers, Tessa DeCarlo is impressed with The Queen but disappointed in Marie Antoinette.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:39 PM

November 11, 2006

Weekend shorts.

Robin Wood: Hitchcock's Films "The 1965 publication of Robin Wood's Hitchcock's Films is a landmark of film criticism." So begins Armen Svadjian's introduction to an interview with Wood for Your Flesh, "conducted at Wood's apartment, over a few hours and much wine," and covering his youth and education and views on Hitchcock now, Arthur Penn, Bergman, Chabrol, Andrew Britton, "the most brilliant person I have ever come in close contact with," Hawks, Ray and more.

A few more wrinkles need to be ironed out of the system before new issues of vital journals can once again be given the attention they deserve, but for now, do note that a new symposium's up at Reverse Shot. "[W]hy De Palma?" ask editors Michael Koresky and Jeff Reichert. "Perhaps because he represents a particular type of personal filmmaking that continues to divide film watchers: A cinephile's aesthetic or intellectual identity can be formed by his or her resistance to or alignment with De Palma's sensibility."

Related: Roger Clarke on the making of Carrie in the Independent, where, in a piece on The Pervert's Guide to Cinema, Sophie Fiennes tells Liz Hoggard, "I agree with Zizek when he says the true cinematic pleasure resides in the 'libidinal density of cinematic form itself', and it's actually very mysterious."

Issue 4 of Criticine, "elevating discourse on Southeast Asian cinema" and featuring reviews (of books, too) and interviews, is up.

Dave Kehr reminds us that Steven Soderbergh's sex, lies and videotape "might have been the final blow to the shaky edifice known as the Hollywood studio system.... Now, 17 years later, Mr Soderbergh is back with a movie that means to make amends.... The Good German, which Mr Soderbergh directed for Warner Brothers, reimagines what it would be like to make a movie under the studio system of old." What's perhaps most surprising about the piece is Soderbergh's praise for what Bazin once called "the genius of the system": "I often think I would have been so happy to be Michael Curtiz... That would have been right up my alley... making a couple of movies a year of all different kinds, working with the best technicians. I would have been in heaven, just going in to work every day."

Also in the New York Times:

Stranger Than Fiction

A Room for Romeo Brass "Shane Meadows could be British cinema's best-kept secret - a poet of pratting about, lippy banter, and boys doing what they're best at, which is being hopeless." That said, for Tim Robey, A Room for Romeo Brass is "still his best feature to date," while, with This is England, "his canvas is too small for the points he wants to get across."

In the LA Weekly, Nick Bradshaw talks with Richard Linklater about Fast Food Nation. So, too, does Howard Feinstein for Filmmaker. Related reviews: Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine (pro) and Preston Jones in Slant (con).

"What might cause a crew revolt on a Hollywood set is really at the center of the brothers' filmmaking philosophy: They'd rather stop the machine than use it to make something that doesn't feel right." Bryan Poyser spends a night - working - on the set of the Duplass Brothers' followup to The Puffy Chair. Also in the Austin Chronicle:

"An epic tale by the celebrated Soviet-era author Mikhail Sholokhov - And Quiet Flows the Don - is being shown on Russian TV for the first time," reports the BBC. "It took more than 10 years for the film to return to Russia, after long negotiations with the Italian partners."

Waggish on Winter Wind: "The brilliance of it lies in how [Miklós] Jancsó communicates the abstract conflict between the idealists and the realpolitik sorts with pretty much no explicit political speech."

JG Ballard: Drowned World Simon Sellars asks Geoff Manaugh, "Which Ballard book would you like to see filmed?" Answer: "You're going to think I'm out of my mind, but I'd like to see Steven Spielberg direct The Drowned World - as long as he didn't add any kids to the screenplay. Or Danny Boyle film Concrete Island. Or, for that matter, Wong Kar-wai could film Concrete Island, in Chinese, set in Hong Kong. Or Shanghai - a nice bit of Ballardian symmetry there." Via Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing.

"Seconds is very ominous the first time you watch it – its whole style is very foreboding, and just builds through the whole movie," Christopher Nolan tells the Telegraph's Philip Horne. "The second time you see it, when you know where it's going, it becomes really quite unbearable at times."

Durs Grünbein recently received the Premio Internazionale di Poesia Pier Paolo Pasolini and Signandsight translates a bit of his acceptance speech: "The major question posed by Pasolini is: what does it mean to be a poet in a post-humanist world? That question is still pressing today, and eats away at every individual."

The San Francisco Bay Guardian film Goldies go to James T Hong and Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer.

"Do screenwriters really matter?" Keith Phipps and Scott Tobias discuss at the AV Club.

With an appreciation and reviews of Casino Royale from Peter Bradshaw (pro) and Tim Adams (con), the Guardian opens a special section on James Bond. Related: In the Independent, Andrew Roberts rounds up many of those who were not cast as Bond. Claudia Eller assesses Sony's gamble for the Los Angeles Times, where Mimi Avins profiles Daniel Craig. More on him from John Hiscock in the Telegraph. And a first impression from Anne Thompson.

Back in the Guardian:

  • "[Ridley] Scott, [Christopher] Nolan and [Anthony] Minghella have all become in effect American or international cinematic figures, in the way that their great predecessors Charles Chaplin (from Walworth, south London) and Alfred Hitchcock (born in Leytonstone, east London) did," notes Mark Lawson. "But is this chameleon achievement to be welcomed - an expression of cultural free trade - or is it a kind of submission to an artistic superpower?" Related: Anthony Horowitz in the New Statesman: "It is strange that while we worry about literacy and the need to read, an entire generation is growing up in complete ignorance of a rich and varied part of its own cultural heritage. How many teens could name one film by David Lean, Lindsay Anderson, Ken Loach, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock or Michael Powell - or even explain, with any degree of accuracy, what their involvement with that film actually was?"

  • Ken Russell offers his answer to the question, "What makes a good short film?"

  • Jonathan Jones : "Again and again, it is the dark side of the Disney landscape that you know him by, from the early black and white Egyptian Melodies, in which a spider crawls down a highly realistic tomb shaft beneath the Sphinx to be terrified by the spectacle of mummies having a midnight party, to the skull-shaped island, inspired by King Kong, in Peter Pan."

  • "Even for those who wonder if life might perhaps be too short to follow the fortunes of a spoof rock band, Tenacious D in 'The Pick of Destiny' is a hoot," suggests Dorian Lynskey, who asks Jack Black and Kyle Gass for "the seven steps to rock-movie success."

The Zombie Survival Guide
  • Max Brooks, author of The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead and curator of the Festival of the (Living) Dead, explains why zombies, like the poor, will always be among us.

  • "[W]e can put ourselves in the place of human beings who kill themselves or die for love," writes Perfume author Patrick Süskind. "If it were not so, how could we read The Sorrows of Young Werther, Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary or Effi Briest unmoved? Yet the point where empathy and understanding end and interest wanes, giving way to outright repugnance, is reached when Eros throws himself violently into the arms of Thanatos as if to merge with him, when love seeks to find its highest and purest form, indeed its fulfilment, in death."

  • Simon Callow on Gay Life and Culture: A World History: "Read Robert Aldrich's excellently edited, authoritative, accessible, highly informative and blessedly jargon-free book: weep and rejoice."

  • AL Kennedy reviews Box 18: The Unpublished Spike Milligan, edited by Norma Farnes, and Graham McCann's Spike and Co: Spike, Eric and the Golden Age of British Comedy.

  • John Patterson: "The success of Borat and the ubiquitous high-profile presence of Brits in contemporary US comedy simultaneously suggests that Americans who are able to search online for alternate, offshore sources of laughter have for a long time now been turning to the Brits. Finally, film and TV producers have caught on." Related: Kevin O'Flynn and Nabi Abdullaev in the Moscow Times on Russia's ban, Kasia Boddy at openDemocracy (spoilers galore). And "how many of Sacha Baron Cohen's gags are real, and which ones are staged? Which of Borat's victims were legitimately goofed, and which ones just played along for giggles?" David Marchese and Willa Paskin set out on a quest for Salon.

  • Ryan Gilbey interviews Hugh Jackman.

  • "[W]hy does Scarlett Johansson keep getting work?" wonders Joe Queenan.

Bill Gibron, blogging at PopMatters on The Year of the Yahoo: "[I]f you took a smattering of Elia Kazan's A Face in the Crowd, mixed in a smidgen of standard exploitation, and sprinkled the entire enterprise with a heaping helping of hominy and hambone, you'd have Herschell Gordon Lewis's long lost masterpiece of down home despotism and the media's unpardonable ability to influence events. With a narrative fresh out of today's headlines and a tone as cynical as a grad student's weblog, Lewis lifts the lid off the muckraking ridiculousness that is our political process, and even provides a few toe-tapping musical PSAs along the way." Also: an appreciation of Vertov from Violet Glaze and an interview with Flushed Away directors Sam Fell and David Bowers from Scott Thill.

Dance Party USA Ed Gonzalez at Slant: "A film of easy set ups and resolutions, Dance Party USA is best when observing how crisis is metabolized. The actors are great, but they don't just nail that teenage language of likes and whatevers that remains elusive to anyone old enough to remember the Nixon administration, they invest in it." Also, Highway Courtesans and, at the blog, Children of Men, "worth seeing, mainly for the way [Alfonso] Cuarón directs the mother-fucking shit out of a flimsy script."

Kristi Mitsuda: "Come Early Morning is neither a cinematic achievement nor is it highly original; but if you look closely, it's less middling and more provocative than it first appears." Related: Susan King has a backgrounder in the Los Angeles Times. At Hollywood Bitchslap, Peter Sobczynski talks with Joey Lauren Adams. New York's Logan Hill meets Ashley Judd, who's almost made Marcy Dermansky happy with this one.

You've probably heard that Park Chan-wook's next feature is a romantic comedy, I'm a Cyborg, But That's Okay. For Yonhap News, Kim Hyun listens to Park talk about it a bit: "Somehow I wanted to return to my childish dream. I wanted to make a movie that is as fresh as them and that smells like fruit. An age 12-rated movie that I can watch with my daughter."

The Weinsteins have snapped up all US rights to Wong Kar-wai's Blueberry Nights (the one with Jude Law, David Strathairn, Rachel Weisz and Natalie Portman).

"Hail, Mary is a film of often extraordinary feeling and tenderness—only errant flashes of which could be found in earlier Godard - but I question those critics at the time who saw the shade of orthodoxy in his approach to this material," writes Tom Sutpen at Flickhead, where Ray Young reviews Mini's First Time.

The Stop Smiling DVD roundup: Peter Bogdanovich's They All Laughed, Grigory Kozintsev's Hamlet, Warren Beatty's Reds and Harun Farocki's The Interview and Indoctrination. More on that second one from Doug Cummings: "Kozintsev sees the play as a dramatic conflict between two systems embodied by Hamlet's beloved Wittenburg, the site of his university and the center of Renaissance enlightenment, and Elsinore, the setting for the drama's corrupt and oppressive court."

Chris Sullivan talks with cinematographer Jack Cardiff about John Huston for Time Out, where Trevor Johnston talks with Bong Joon-ho.

The Philadelphia City Paper's Sam Adams talks with Kelly Reichardt and reviews Old Joy.

The Stranger's Andrew Wright talks with Amy Berg about Deliver Us From Evil.

In the London Review of Books, Michael Wood reflects on gangsters, Scorsese and Nicholson.

In the New York Review of Books, Daniel Mendelsohn considers "the many attractions, and ultimately the fatal weaknesses" of Marie Antoinette.

Filmbrain: "With the beauty of La Notte combined with the brutal honesty of films like 5x2, Climates is a masterpiece of the breakup genre (is there such a thing?), and without question one of the best films of 2006."

Following up on this, more Louise Brooks: Dan Callahan in Bright Lights, Michael Guillén at the Evening Class and Dennis Harvey at SF360.

"Jimmy Stewart deserves better than he's gotten," argues Scott Eyman in the New York Observer. "And after Marc Eliot's dismal biography, he still does."

"The resounding refrain at Digimart, held for the second year in Montreal, was that the traditional model of independent film and video distribution was dying." At SF360, Sean Uyehara presents three case studies of indie filmmakers dreaming up innovative ways of getting their films out there.

At Zoom In Online, Annie Frisbie offers three examples of the coming-of-age genre, plus a favorite, but she's looking for more.

StinkyLulu is calling a Supporting Actress Blogathon for Sunday, January 7, 2007: "You are invited to write a post about one Supporting Actress performance from 2006 that you love or find especially noteworthy."

ArtDaily: "More than 50 years after his death in 1955, James Dean is being honored with an official museum and a Performing Arts Center."

Deadline for the Slamdance Horror Screenplay Competition: December 15. Prize: An "upfront advance of $10,000 against 5 percent of the film's budget, as well as 'net' profit participation and payments for future sequels," reports Reuters.

Great new tools: Thomas Groh's Movie Magazine Search Engine and Movie Blog Search Engine.

Online browsing tip. Ray Pride has a John Fante-inspired LA portfolio at Sharkforum.

Online listening tip #1. Gottes Letztes Interview, in German, via poputten.

Online listening tip #2. A 1989 interview with the late Ellen Willis on Fresh Air.

Online listening tip #3. Jeffrey Wells talks with Lives of Others director Florian Henckel-Donnersmarck.

Online viewing tip #1. Two guys (happen to? It's hard to know what to believe these days) stumble across David Lynch's Oscar campaign for Laura Dern. Bilge Ebiri has the clip at ScreenGrab.

Online viewing tip #2. Actually, I just checked this to make sure it isn't a remake of this. It isn't.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:43 PM

Weekend fests and events.

Pere Portabella "The first North American retrospective of Catalan filmmaker Pere Portabella started last week at the Gene Siskel Film Center, and it's one of the year's biggest cultural events," declares Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader, where he offers a primer of sorts.

"If it's time to take the pulse of the Iranian new wave, from a distance, with all sneaky Western prejudices accounted for, and almost two decades after the initiation of Abbas Kiarostami's Koker trilogy, then the prognosis suggests a hardening of the arteries — complaisance, exhaustion, even a touch of Alzheimer's." For the Boston Phoenix, Michael Atkinson previews the Iranian Film Festival (through December 3).

Europa 51 "The retrospective of Rossellini's film and television work that opens on Wednesday at the Museum of Modern Art may not revive the director's reputation, but it's wonderfully welcome nonetheless, an instant, essential event," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. Related: Girish on Europa 51.

"Rivette's films don't so much move as imperceptibly invade," writes Keith Uhlich, introducing Slant's coverage of a series at the Museum of the Moving Image running through December 31. More at the House Next Door and more from Dennis Cozzalio, who comments on what he found there, Frédéric Bonnaud's Senses of Cinema, in which Rivette delivers his quick takes on umpteen films, including this one: "Every time I make a film, from Paris nous appartient (1961) through Jeanne la pucelle (1994), I keep coming back to the shock we all experienced when we first saw Europa 51."

"The relationship between intellectualism and passion is a distinctly Italian concern, and it propels this year's edition of 'New Italian Cinema,' the weeklong showcase of first- and second-time directors presented Nov. 12 - 19 by the Istituto Italiano di Cultura and the San Francisco Film Society," writes Michael Fox ay SF360. More from Michael Guillén: Giorgio Diritti's Il vento fa il suo giro (The Wind Blows Round) and Marco Bellocchio's I pugni in tasca (Fists in the Pocket).

Robert Redford will star on a panel discussing All the President's Men and tells Susan King that he was the one who convinced Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to write their book not from the point of view of the five Watergate burglars but from their own.

Lubitsch: Ich möchte kein Mann sein The Retrospective at the Berlinale in February: "City Girls. Images of Women in Silent Film."

The LA Weekly's Scott Foundas looks back on the Pusan International Film Festival.

IndieWIRE's Brian Brooks: "[T]his year's AFI is screening over a dozen best foreign-language Oscar contenders, of which four of the group's filmmakers met with journalists at a panel last weekend." Peter Martin's been sending in reviews to Twitch.

Chris Hansen took his The Proper Care & Feeding of an American Messiah to the Virginia Film Festival and caught several movies: 1, 2 and 3.

You've heard it before, but David Thomson will tell you again in the Guardian: there are too many film festivals out there and not enough good films.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:22 PM

Essential Art House.

Janus: 50 Years Dave Kehr opens his overview in the New York Times of the Essential Art House: 50 Years of Janus Films collection - 50 DVDs, handsomely bound with "a 240-page book of notes, credits and stills on all 50 titles," all for a reasonable yet, for most of us, prohibitive $850 - with a comparison Charles William Eliot's 50-volume set of world literature published in 1909, the "five-foot shelf" which "found a place in countless American homes as it was published and republished over much of the 20th century." He notes that "it says a lot about the central role Janus has played in American film culture that the selections made by a modestly staffed for-profit distribution house have come to assume almost as much canonical authority as Mr Eliot's choices."

Updated through 11/15.

Janus: The Seventh Seal Time's given Richard Corliss space for a full appreciation, and it's a fine read, tracing his initial conversion to the worship of the "sacred, rarefied, demanding goddess of cinema" to that evangelist to a generation, The Seventh Seal. There's space, too, for the story of the company that takes us from the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge to the Criterion Collection, an arc that also happens to map foreign films' journey in the US pop cultural landscape from the theater to the DVD player.

And there's more from John Powers on NPR, but while we're on the subject of Criterion, Richard Lacayo has a generously annotated top ten from the Collection for Time - and at the site itself, Peter Cowie, who's written an essay on Janus for the Essential box, has another: "These are not necessarily my favorite films, nor the best DVDs that Criterion has published. (What, no Kurosawa, no Renoir, no Fellini!?) They are, though, films that continue to surprise me each time I watch them."

Update, 11/15: Max Goldberg at SF360: "American film culture as we know it - university departments, the serious criticism found in magazines like Film Comment and increasingly on the web, the repertory programming which makes organizations like the Pacific Film Archive institutions in their own right - is unthinkable without Janus's spark."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:10 AM | Comments (2)

Jack Palance, 1919 - 2006.

Jack Palance
Jack Palance, a coal miner's son who spent most of a long Hollywood career playing memorable heavies in movies like Shane and Sudden Fear, only to win an Academy Award in his 70s for a self-parodying comic performance in City Slickers, died yesterday at his home in Montecito, Calif.... Throughout his career, Mr Palance, an imposing presence at 6 feet 4, was instantly recognizable for his rugged profile, deep-set dark eyes, high cheekbones and, when the part called for it, which was almost always, a deliciously sinister sneer. It was put to use over and over as he played crooks, murderers, maniacs, barbarians (like Attila the Hun), uncouth lovers and at least one violence-prone carrier of pneumonic plague.

Richard Severo in the New York Times.

Updated through 11/13.

[E]ven if his style in his later years could somewhat lend itself to parody, [it] was much more multi-faceted than that, whether it be as a struggling actor in Robert Aldrich's 1955 potboiler The Big Knife or his work for Aldrich the following year in Attack, which Wagstaff recently wrote about during the Aldrich Blog-a-Thon, "Jack Palance's performance in Attack is a revelation. What kid scared out of his wits by Palance's portrait of an evil killer in Shane would ever guess that the actor could show the kind of tenderness and anguished vulnerability that he does here."

Edward Copeland.

See also: the Wikipedia entry.

Update: Tim Lucas: "To me, Palance was always one of the top tier movie grotesques, and I use that term with great respect and affection. I loved his panting delivery, his hardy yet feline quality, the way dialogue burbled from his lips like wine expressed from swollen grapes, his peculiar pronunciations (the way he said 'Beelly the Kid' when name-checking history's greatest desperadoes in a Time/Life Legends of the Old West book commercial), his poetical stance, his divine eccentricities."

Update, 11/12: In the Observer, Philip French calls Palance "one of the most striking screen presences for half of the cinema's history.... His greatest performance is reckoned to be as the washed-up prizefighter in the 1956 TV film Requiem for a Heavyweight."

Update, 11/13: "[I]n 1988 he made a spectacular return in the lively western Young Guns and the German director Percy Adlon's cult comedy Bagdad Cafe," Brian Baxter reminds us in the Guardian. It's that second one that's been mentioned as often as City Slickers in the German media.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:55 AM | Comments (2)

November 10, 2006

Interview. Steven Shainberg.

Fur "How you feel about this film may depend on how you feel about using an imagined story to explain the life of a real person, or to explain anything else," writes David D'Arcy, introducing his interview with Steven Shainberg, whose new film, starring Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey, Jr., is entitled - pay attention - Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus.

"Fur has little interest in making the normal seem freakish; unlike Arbus, the movie benignly does the opposite," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "The photographer suggested that the camera gave her permission to transgress. Kidman's choice of roles follows the same logic, without the same success."

"Fur is a folly, though not a dishonorable one," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Erin Cressida Wilson, who also wrote Secretary, twists the classic Freudian concept of sexual fetishism, having apparently decided that the best way to explain Arbus's singular perspective on the world is to transform her into a fetishist.... This sounds more promising than what materializes on screen largely because Mr Shainberg and Ms Wilson have turned Arbus's life into a neurotic fairy tale."

Updated through 11/11.

For New York's David Edelstein, Fur is "a double downer. You'd expect a conventional biopic to be bland and overly telescoped. But Arbus's life and work ought to inspire something more than the generic tale of a repressed fifties doll wife who runs off with the circus."

"Fur is a movie for the kind of people who liked Capote," proposes Armond White in the New York Press. " It is made with that same, truly freakish fascination with unknowable dead celebrities to whom they can condescend."

"[T]he film's fantasies are more labored and oppressive than liberating," finds the AV Club's Scott Tobias.

Earlier: Michael Guillén's talk with Shainberg; Karin Durbin's profile of Erin Cressida Wilson in the NYT; David Lowery's first impression.

Updates, 11/11: Mia Fineman in Slate: "In Secretary, Shainberg and Wilson handled the theme of sexual submission as a paradoxical form of liberation with ease and aplomb. But applied to the life story of a well-known artist, the device falls flat. We watch as Arbus abandons her role as an obedient wife and mother, only to fall under the erotic spell of an enigmatic outsider who hands her her life's work on a platter; any sense of Arbus as an independent agent with her own artistic vision is lost."

Salon's Stephanie Zacharek: "Fur is intended to be a tribute to Arbus, but it's more a fancifully embroidered tapestry of wishful thinking: The movie asks us to believe that the woman behind the camera was actually a nice person, which is a lovely idea, until you actually look at her pictures."

ST VanAirsdale asks Shainberg to respond to Richard Schickel. And he does. And then, there's the podcast.

Peter Bowen interviews Shainberg for Filmmaker.

Alison Willmore at IFC News: "It's a mess, but such an odd and unrepentant one that I left halfway won over."

Martin Grove interviews Wilson for the Hollywood Reporter.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:38 PM | Comments (2)

Interview. Agnieszka Holland.

Copying Beethoven As Agnieszka Holland's second collaboration with Ed Harris, Copying Beethoven, opens, Steven Jenkins talks with the director about true stories and spiritual dimensions.

Related: "The presentation of the Ninth is reason alone to see the film," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Ms Holland's filmmaking in this scene is so sensitive that only quibblers will notice if the bowing doesn't match the sound. With her cinematographer, Ashley Rowe, and editor, Alex Mackie, she orchestrates bursts of images and metronomic camera pans that become a visual counterpoint to the music's propulsive and flowing tempos, its rushing violins and soaring voices. Every so often the camera focuses on one of Beethoven's hands, the fingertips stirring the air as if rustling the notes. The world falls away, blissfully."

Updated through 11/11.

After listing all the reasons he shouldn't, Salon's Andrew O'Hehir admits, "I liked it.... [S]o many of the films I see lack any obvious passion, or sense of theatrical flair, and whatever its flaws, Copying Beethoven does not stint on those."

But the AV Club's Nathan Rabin finds Beethoven "profoundly silly"; it "belongs squarely in the 'Aren't geniuses crazy?' school of cinematic biography."

For the Boston Phoenix, Joe Garelick asks Harris to compare troubled artists: "Pollock's work deteriorated in the last five years of his life, and Beethoven kept putting it out there, until he couldn't breathe anymore. Beethoven wasn't defeated - mentally, emotionally." But for Brooke Holgerson, "Stuck between [Diane] Kruger's blankness and Harris's overemoting, the film never finds a balance."

"[W]hat sinks the film - almost to the point of risibility - is the combination of the preposterous script and the casting of Kruger," argues Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat.

Update, 11/11: Clara Rose Thornton talks with Holland for Stop Smiling.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:52 AM | Comments (2)

November 9, 2006

SFISAFF. Preview.

Bay Areans: Hannah Eaves has a suggestion for the weekend.

The 3rd Annual San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival

There are so many film festivals in San Francisco that sometimes a definition, just a simple definition, helps. The 3rd Annual San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival (SFISAFF), taking place this weekend November 10 through 12, will showcase films from the region encompassing Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, The Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Tibet, including all the people who have come from this area to live elsewhere. It is put on by 3rd I, which is a national collective focused on promoting a diverse understanding of these listed groups through ongoing film programming and networking resources. 3rd I has chapters in Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Washington DC, but only San Francisco is lucky enough to get a film festival.

Screening times are consecutive rather than concurrent so, like several other great San Francisco-based festivals, it's possible to just camp out and see every film over the weekend, getting a public transport-friendly whirlwind tour of some of the better venues in town - Friday at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Saturday at the majestic Castro Theatre and Sunday at the Roxie.

Outside of Opening Night, which sees screenings of the featurette Foundation and Empire: Asian Dub Foundation, as well as a shorts program of local South Asian shorts, this year's SFISAFF program is India-centric.

Forsaken Land

Saturday's first film is an exception - The Forsaken Land, co-winner of last year's Camera d'Or (with Miranda July's Me, You and Everyone We Know), comes from Sri Lanka. My best advice is: bring in your coffee. It is an unrelentingly meditative portrait of rural life during a ceaseless, vague and distant civil war, punctuated by non-sequiters. Doubtless, some people will find it emotionally stunning, others boring as all get out, in which case there's plenty to do around the Castro if a leg stretch is required.

The Forsaken Land is followed by a snappy documentary: I for India tells the story of Dr Yash Pal Suri, who moved to England from India in 1965 and decided to keep in touch with his family through Super 8 films and reel to reel tapes. The recordings make for a remarkable testament, chronicling his mixed feelings as an Indian ex-patriot building a new life for himself in the West while his extended family and bouts of homesickness constantly tug at his sleeve. I for India is directed by Suri's daughter, Sandhya Suri, who saw her family's archive for the treasure trove of shared experience it was, before skillfully combining it with contemporary footage. Following I for India will be the Othello adaptation Omkara, then the popular Bollywood hit Kabhi Alvido Naa Kehna (Never Say Goodbye) starring heartthrob Shah Rukh Khan and Rani Mukherjee.

Filmmakers Valerie Kaur and Sharat Raju will be present for a Q&A after their Sunday screening of Divided We Fall, a road trip documentary that captures stories of loss and division in the US after 9/11. This will be followed by Bombay Calling, which is less an outsourcing "issue" doc than a look at a group of call center employees who dream of a powerful India with a solid middle class while trying to meet their sales quotas. No matter who's overseeing it or wherever they happen to be, the culture inside a call center sucks. What's interesting is the subjects' real drive for a materialistic culture at home combined with the pressure of an industry rapidly flooded with local competitors. Professor Angana Chatterji from the California Institute of Integral Studies will introduce a screening of Between the Lines: India's Third Gender, and the festival will wrap up on Sunday night with a restored new print of 1976's cult classic curry western Sholay.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:48 PM | Comments (2)

Reading season.

Peter Cowie: Louise Brooks Besides that slew of new issues of hefty film journals to catch up with: books. We've got reviews of about a dozen of them in one of the most wide-ranging extravaganzas we've run yet at the main site.

One of those reviews needs mentioning right away because there'll be a couple of related events in the Bay Area this weekend. Peter Cowie has a new book out, Louise Brooks: Lulu Forever - Sean Axmaker reviews that one and Joseph McBride's What Ever Happened to Orson Welles, too - and Cowie will be at the Rafael Film Center on Saturday evening to introduce a screening of Pandora's Box; then, on Sunday, he'll be at the Balboa Theater for what looks like nothing less than a full-blown Louise Brooks Party. Lucky San Franciscans.

More books:

Posted by dwhudson at 10:57 AM | Comments (2)

November 8, 2006

Fereydoun Hoveyda, 1924 - 2006.

Fereydoun Hoveyda "Fereydoun Hoveyda, a former Iranian ambassador to the United Nations during the reign of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and an expert in Middle Eastern affairs, died Friday at his home in Clifton, Va," writes Dennis Hevesi in the New York Times. "He was 82."

While it's certainly understandable that this is what he'll be remembered for (as well as for being the brother of Amir Abbas Hoveyda, who was prime minister of Iran for 13 years before being executed during the revolutionary fervor of 1979), cinephiles will be particularly interested to know that he was an early contributor to Cahiers du cinéma (Bill Krohn quotes him in a survey of the publication's most influential years), co-wrote India: Matri Bhumi with Roberto Rossellini and appeared in Eric Rohmer's The Sign of Leo. He'd most recently been writing about global politics - and occasionally, about film as well - at

Posted by dwhudson at 8:33 AM

Interview. John Sinno.

Late last year, Hannah Eaves spoke with producer and distributor John Sinno as he prepared to take Iraq in Fragments to Sundance, then with director James Longley after it scored top prizes there.

Iraq in Fragments

Now that the film is set to make its theatrical run - it opens at New York's Film Forum tonight and in six other cities on Friday, and in LA a week later - Shannon Gee talks with Sinno about the challenges of attracting audiences to another documentary about Iraq - even one as excellent as Iraq in Fragments.

Updated through 11/14.

Related: "[T]he movie is more than the sum of its fragments," writes New York's David Edelstein. "The montages are intense, the images ravishing. The movie is tactile. When you finally feel this place, you understand just how little you understand."

Nathan Lee in the Voice: "Whether or not James Longley's boldly stylized reportage breaches public indifference, its enduring value is assured: When the war is long gone, this deft construction will persist in relevance, if not for what it says about the mess we once made, then as a model of canny cinematic construction."

"From 300 hours of material, Mr Longley has created a collage of images, sounds and characters, an intimate, partial portrait of an unraveling nation - a portrait that gains power partly by virtue of its incompleteness," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Since Iraq in Fragments was finished, the fragmenting of Iraq appears to have accelerated, but the film is not easily summarized as a text of hope or a brief for despair. It is instead an invitation to look again and afresh at a country many Americans may be tired of thinking about, and to be reminded of the complicated human reality underneath the politics."

Earlier: Robert Cashill and, in Slant, Fernando F Croce.

Updates, 11/11: Salon's Andrew O'Hehir: "There hasn't been much audience for Iraq docs so far - who wants to see a film about a place we all wish we'd never heard of? - and I don't know that Longley's film will change that. But it's head and shoulders above the rest in its clarity, intimacy and poetry, and it illustrates the dreadful predicament America has created in Iraq, which drove so many angry people to the polls on Tuesday."

Annie Wagner in the Stranger: "It's hard to count the ways this movie departs from the standard photojournalistic techniques for documenting a war.... Iraq in Fragments bears more relation to the close-range reporting of Washington Post Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Shadid (whom Longley met while they were both in Iraq) than it does to any of the other documentaries about the war."

Update, 11/12: The Brooklyn Rail's Williams Cole talks with Longley.

Update, 11/14: Longley is a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:43 AM | Comments (3)

November 7, 2006


Oz/Zone As Kino releases a fresh version of Stalker, Andrej Tarkovsky's 1979 masterpiece of metaphysical science fiction, Cory Vielma traces its perhaps surprising similarities to a classic Hollywood musical: The Wizard of Oz.

Related: a new issue (#5) of Intersection and, at Nerve, Steve Erickson on the Kino DVD.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:30 AM

Issues. November blowout.

Bright Lights Film Journal An unfortunate collusion of diversions and duties precludes the usual thorough reading (notice I didn't type "in depth"; simply "thorough") of new issues of two of the most important online publications on film out there, Bright Lights Film Journal and Senses of Cinema.

Senses of Cinema If your time is as limited as mine at the moment, for heaven's sake, don't hang around here reading newsy "Shorts." Head for these issues, as I will, ASAP.

Also more than worth noting: a new issue (#3) of Undercurrent, a special issue of Scan on "Cinematic Scriptwriting," an "All-Festival" issue of Offscreen and new reviews up at Midnight Eye.

Update, 11/8: Add another to the list of journals to catch up with: Scope, Issue 6.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:49 AM | Comments (5)

SXSW. News.

SXSW Film First, even if you think you might not make it to SXSW in March, you might nevertheless be interested to know that the three-pronged festival is streaming news and linkage via an array of blogs; and in one of them, we read a reminder that Lonelygirl15 (YouTube; Wikipedia) "recently made waves in the media when it was revealed to be a work of fiction." But here's the news: "The three creators - Miles Beckett, Mesh Flinders, and Greg Goodfried - will attend SXSW for a 'Lonelygirl15 Case Study' on March 11, 2007." And there's more: I'll be on hand to moderate the discussion. Any questions or issues you think I ought to raise, drop a line or a comment.

But wait, there's more!

The great John Pierson will be interviewing the great Richard Linklater, both presumably live and in person.

Karina Longworth will be talking with Eamonn Bowles of Magnolia Pictures, Chris Hyams of Bside Entertainment and Jim Miller of Brave New Foundation, asking, "Which Niche is Which?: Finding the Target Audience."

The already-legendary Harry Knowles will be moderating a "Panel of the Dead: Horror Films of Today." One of the panelists will be Cinematical's Scott Weinberg, who wrote just yesterday, "I've said it 328 times, and I'll say it again: I cover a solid amount of film festivals, and SXSW is by far my favorite. If you can make it to Austin next March, you absolutely should. You'll thank me later."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:36 AM

DVDs, 11/7.

DK Holm listens in on what the DVD specialists are saying about the restoration of a British classic from 1948.

Fallen Idol "Old," contrary to the seeming belief system of some small DVD distributors, doesn't always mean "good." The Fallen Idol, re-released theatrically earlier this year by Rialto Pictures, and now on DVD by Criterion, coasts on the contemporary or posthumous status of director Carol Reed, but his great films, which include The Third Man, Odd Man Out and Outcast of the Islands, came to be overshadowed by his last works, which include Oliver!, the screen adaptation of the Oliver Twist musical, and Flap, a "comedy" about Native Americans starring Anthony Quinn. This "fall" of the one-time cinematic idol is what led Andrew Sarris to famously note (in his catalog of directors, The American Cinema, where he ranked Reed as "Less Than Meets the Eye") that "the decline of Carol Reed" is "too obvious to be belabored." Reed, he wrote, "steadily lost control of his medium as his feigned objectivity disintegrated into imperviousness. Reed's career demonstrates that a director who limits himself to solving technical problems quickly lapses into the decadence of the inappropriate effect." The Fallen Idol he deemed "too fastidious."

Widely regarded as one of his great films, The Fallen Idol proves, in the experience, to be stagy, confined, contrived and burdened with one of the more annoying child actors, or at least child characters, in the history of cinema. Still, it is a Carol Reed film and, as Jeffrey Anderson writes at Combustible Celluloid, regarding the theatrical re-release, though there are other films worthier of restoration, The Fallen Idol is "far more entertaining than most new movies." What's more, as the first collaboration between Reed and Graham Greene, it is of important historical interest; and it is one of Ralph Richardson's few major films.

For Andy Dursin at the Aisle Seat, The Fallen Idol is a "memorable British film that many critics rank with the decade's finest." Meanwhile, the acronymal DSH at the DVD Journal begins his review by comparing Reed to Martin Scorsese, who, he predicts, will receive his eventual Oscar for a minor film, just as Reed did. "Few directors have had such a run of brilliance" as Reed, DSH writes, adding that this film about a murder seen through the eyes of a pampered ambassador's kid (Bobby Henrey) enamored of the butler (Richardson), eventually accused of killing his shrewish wife, "is a sneaky, great film. The plot is modest, but every performance is outstanding and Reed's control of both the child actor (which the supplements describe as being hard to wrangle) and framing is never less than outstanding." Of the transfer on this Criterion disc, DSH notes that "the source-print has some missing frames and wear, but the transfer, given the source issues, is excellent and highlights the stunning black-and-white cinematography by Georges Périnal."

Fallen Idol DVD Talk's running competing reviews. Glenn Erickson, the DVD Savant, is also high on The Fallen Idol calling it "a brilliant murder thriller," deeming it a "shrewdly moralistic, complicated 'Boy Who Cried Wolf' story that investigates the way children and adults misinterpret and misunderstand each other," adding that the transfer offers "a picture perfect presentation of this handsome B&W film." In a typical footnote, Erickson adds that "The Fallen Idol may have inspired the filming of Ted Tetzlaff's The Window of the following year. Never as naturalistically convincing as Reed's film, The Window nevertheless works up considerable tension when a tenement kid witnesses a murder but cannot get any of the adults in his life to believe him because of his habit of telling fibs."

Also at DVD Talk, Jamie S Rich goes against the grain of the "murder seen from the viewpoint of a child" notion. "Actually, to reduce The Fallen Idol to being a movie that is exclusively from a child's point of view would be to do it a disservice. Yes, its particular charm is that its plot ebbs and flows on the whims and dubious interpretive skills of an elementary school boy. Simultaneously, however, Reed and Greene also unlock the door to the rarefied world of a foreign embassy, an existence within regular society and standing apart from it. It's a world where anything can happen because it is beyond the gaze of normal citizens, and the true trouble comes from when a reality where anything is possible butts heads with a child's imagination, another pocket universe where anything can be perceived as possible."

Characteristically, DVD Beaver compares the current transfer of The Fallen Idol to the Regiion 2 version. Commenting on the film itself, Henrik Sylow sees the film continuing Reed's "coming of age theme from Odd Man Out, where Reed suggests, that man only can achieve self-control and maturity [through] overcoming life's challenges, and dealing with motifs their later stories also would touch upon, as believed perception versus actual perception, the voyeur element of spying and most importantly the hypocrisy of our leaders / idols / society," concluding that The Fallen Idol is, "while small and simple... One of the great films of British Cinema." Of the R1 Criterion, Sylow asserts that "Criterion have created the definitive digital version of this fine film and a perfect keepsake to add to your DVD library."

Earlier: David Lodge in the Guardian.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:01 AM

Interview. Nicolas Winding Refn.

Pusher III "Nicholas Winding Refn's Pusher films may just be the best trilogy of crime films ever made," wrote Todd at Twitch this summer. Many would agree and yet Refn himself insists: "I don't make crime films."

See what he's getting at in Sean Axmaker's interview. There's a fine swath in there, too, on the film that fell through the cracks, Fear X, plus a few words towards the end about Valhalla Rising.

Earlier: "The Pusher Trilogy."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:21 AM

November 6, 2006

Olympia. Overview.

Sean Axmaker surveys a unique festival in Olympia, Washington.

Olympia's Capital Most small city film festivals are much like any other, a tasteful but undifferentiated mix of international festival standbys, American indies and documentaries, most of which would otherwise bypass the town entirely. The festival becomes a big city art house calendar crammed into a marathon lasting a week or so, sacrificing personality for public service.

The Olympia Film Festival, produced by the Olympia Film Society and based in their historic Capitol Theater, has a distinctive sensibility which distinguishes it from the usual formula. The annual festival, now in its 23rd edition, includes some the usual suspects, of course - it opened on Friday, November 4 with the warm, audience-friendly festival favorite C.R.A.Z.Y., the French-Canadian coming-of-age drama set in 1970s Quebec that swept the Canadian Genie awards, and ends on Sunday, November 12 with the music documentary When the Road Bends, a portrait of Romani bands on tour and in their native lands.

Give the festival credit for emphasizing the "independent" in its selection of American indies: Andrew Bujalski's acclaimed micro-budget comedy Mutual Appreciation, the San Francisco homegrown Colma: The Musical (set in a city of graveyards), and the Washington State indie Walking to Werner. But mixed in with such notable (if somewhat tardy) art-house staples as Iron Island from Iran and Ye Lou's dreamy Suzhou River is a decidedly idiosyncratic mix of offbeat contemporary features (the Quay Brothers's The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes and Jan Svankmajer's Lunacy), a section of "Fringe" cult items and an unpredictable collection of repertory titles.

Contemporary cult offerings include midnight screenings of Bong Joon-ho's modern monster movie The Host, currently the buzz of international genre cinema; Geo-Lobotomy, the latest genre mash-up of horror film and political commentary from avant-garde filmmaking twin brothers Kim Gok and Kim Sun; and Christopher Smith's Severance, a British gore fest with a stab of black comedy.

Classe Tous Risques Such classy retrospective screenings as Fritz Lang's early sound masterpiece M, Claude Sautet's cool French crime thriller Classe Tous Risques and Akira Kurosawa's meticulous High and Low are joined by such funky choices as the three-hour-plus Bollywood "curry western" classic Sholay, about a pair of petty thieves hired to protect small town from a vicious bandit, and the Mexican melodrama In the Palm of Your Hand. The 1924 silent Peter Pan, a stage production suddenly transported to a genuine Neverland of tangled forests and clear blue seas, movie Indians and storybook pirates by Betty Bronson's plucky, androgynous playmate Peter, will be presented with a live score by Lori Goldston (of the Black Cat Orchestra), Andy Crow and Duneul Phurul. In an age when repertory screenings of cinema classics and international oddities, once a staple of big city schedules, have become events to seek out, this is my idea of a cinematic public service.

The "Kid Flicks" program includes the Nathan Juran-directed Ray Harryhausen production 7th Voyage of Sinbad, a blast of mythological fantasy and stop-motion monster craft, and the DIY special effects celebration The Wizard of Speed and Time, a charmingly innocent Hollywood romance made pretty much single-handedly by director/star/writer/animator/etc, Mike Jittlov.

Mr Sardinicus The festival's defining event is easily All Freakin' Night, the midnight-til-morning marathon of exploitation cinema that tests the limits of festival diehards in the wee hours before the festival's final day. It's typically a free-for-all collection that tosses in genre classics with curious crap and this year is no different. William Castle's Mr Sardonicus, the director's entry into gothic weirdness, kicks off the festivities. Though the plot is less gimmick-laden than other Castle productions, the director is on screen for his interactive "Punishment Poll" in the closing minutes.

Future direct-to-DVD horror hack Ted Nicolaou's Terrorvision, a Charles Band production starring Diane Franklin, Gerritt Graham, Mary Woronov and a voracious garbage monster from outer space is up next, followed by Fred Dekker's high school zombie comedy Night of the Creeps and (according to the festival's notes) the American bastardization of Amando de Ossorio's Spanish horror classic Tombs of the Blind Dead which dubbing and recutting transforms into Revenge of the Planet Ape!

Survivors of this exploitation assault are rewarded with the Freakin' finale, Boarding House, John Wintergate's shot-on-video slasher film which (again, according to the festival notes) is the only such production from the 80s to get an actual 35mm transfer and a theatrical release. And that's what the festival promises here: Boarding House, like every film in the marathon, is projected from a 35mm print.

The 23rd Olympia Film Festival opened on Friday, November 3 and runs through Sunday, November 12 at the Capitol Theater in Olympia, Washington, with satellite showings of experimental shorts and other programs at The Mark, The Olympia Community Center, and The ABC House.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:26 AM | Comments (1)

New York Dispatch.

Fuck David D'Arcy caught a doc at the CMJ extravaganza and has a few words to say about it, many of them more than four letters long. The Reeler will be presenting a screening tomorrow evening at NYC's Pioneer Theater: "After the movie, eat, drink and watch the election returns. Will the election be 'fuck yeah!' or 'fuck no!'?"

A film called Fuck at the CMJ Film Festival in New York, along with Borat and Stranger than Fiction. What's not to like, especially since the film's title is also its subject.

I suppose that the very existence of a film entitled Fuck about the word "fuck" is a phenomenon in and of itself. It forces you to consider how far we've come (the strides that we've made, as the cliché goes) from the time, not so long ago, when this word, whose taboo status gave the film a reason to be made, was actually a taboo. As I recall, "fuck" used to be the one word that could always get you into trouble as a teenager - funny how adolescence comes to mind whenever the word "fuck" comes up.

Updated through 11/11.

And it's not just that Americans or even Anglophones are such prudes. When the film Woodstock was first shown and immediately subtitled for world consumption, I can remember seeing it in France. There's a memorable moment when David Crosby looks out from the stage at the crowds that have assembled as far as he can see, and says, "Far fucking out." The French translation is "c'est tres interessant." ("It's very interesting.") I'll let my French friends explain how the subtitle folks were dealing with taboos here.

I'm sure this has been said plenty of times, but it's best to think of Fuck, directed by Steve Anderson, as The Aristocrats II, except that here we simply have reflections from celebrities, conservative would-be guardians of culture (pop and otherwise), a porno star or two (people who fuck for a living, so don't fuck with them) and a few linguistic scholars - not-so-cunning linguists who admit that they can't explain the origin of the word.

Minus its subject and the wonderfully inventive animated sections that punctuate the observations of its talking heads, Fuck could have been made for PBS. Who knows? Maybe in a push for edginess, the documentary will show there.

The Aristocrats Let's look at The Aristocrats again for a moment. The film is built on the inherent rivalry among comedians to tell the same dirty joke better than anyone else. (In the business, that means telling the joke better than the guy who was on stage before you. Given the joke in the film, which I won't ruin for anyone who hasn't seen it, it's literally a fuck-fest.) And then there's the film's message for the ages - that the drama (and even the truth) of a story is in the telling. If you think that's obvious, think of it again the next time you're bored by a movie, a political speech, or anything else.

Yet Fuck has its moments, especially provided by the conservatives who are asked to reflect on the toll that the liberal use of the word "fuck" has inflicted on society. Dennis Prager, the talk show host, links it to a general decline in civility and civilization. From Alan Keyes, the prodigious orator and one-time Republican presidential candidate, we're advised (really warned) that words do indeed have meaning, and that the use by reflex of "fuck" reflects a retreat from a carefully considered use of language. We've heard this before, of course, and Keyes is right, but "fuck" is far from the only word that can help illustrate the problem that he's identifying.

And then there's Pat Boone - who knows where they found this prehistoric pop icon, or why he agreed to talk to the filmmakers. Remember that Boone was present long ago in a helicopter with Republican president Gerald Ford's agriculture secretary Earl Butz, when Butz declared - for eternity, it turned out - that all that Blacks ever aspired to were "tight pussy, loose shoes, and a warm place to shit." I guess Boone is a man who still knows his obscenity. In the film, Boone is the kind of guy who reminds you of your high school teachers - back to adolescence again - who tell you that people like the rest of us who use the word "fuck" do so because they lack the imagination to say anything more imaginative. That's an old saw, but here Boone sets himself apart from his conservative brethren with a novel idea. For the word "fuck," he suggests substituting his own name - "Boone!" - for an exclamation, and encourages others to do the same. Somehow I don't think it will catch on. Is he Boone-ing with us?

This Film is Not Yet Rated There no crescendo, no orgasmic release in Fuck, which suggests the broader truth that the mere utterance of obscene words is like so much else in society, i.e., it isn't what it used to be. Remember the telling scene in Louis Malle's underappreciated drama, Le Souffle au Coeur (Murmur of the Heart), about a kid who literally does fuck his mother? Schoolboys are getting together, planning mischief, and one of them suggests something sacrilegious. Our young hero's modern response is, "No, blasphemy doesn't interest me any more." You can say the same thing about Fuck, unless if you're submitting something to the ratings board of the Motion Picture Association of America. Then you really do have to turn the clock back. See Kirby Dick's wryly entertaining This Film Is Not Yet Rated for its clever riff on "fuck" and its implications for ratings.

Ultimately, Fuck is trivial. There are lots of dirtier words - "Iraq" and "Bush" are two of them. Let's keep track of who is fucking whom here.

Update, 11/9: IndieWIRE interviews Steve Anderson.

Updates, 11/11: AO Scott: "Mr Anderson's movie is staged as a talking-head culture-war skirmish between embattled upholders of propriety (or repression, if you prefer) and proponents of free expression (or filth), but its real lesson is that the two sides depend upon each other."

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir: "[I]t's essentially a mishmash of random ingredients, not very systematically presented and skewed to flatter its audience's presumed enlightenment. Steven Bochco, Chuck D and Janeane Garofalo are in favor of 'fuck.' Alan Keyes and Pat Boone are against it. What else do you need to know?"

"[T]hink of it as the history lesson most educators lack the cojones to propose," suggests Eric Kohn in the New York Press.

Dan Persons interviews Anderson for IFC News.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:15 AM | Comments (1)

Pittsburgh Dispatch.

Andy Horbal files a first dispatch from the Three Rivers Film Festival.

Three Rivers Film Festival

Pittsburgh is in the midst of an identity crisis. Since Steel left town, taking with it half of the city's population, this former capital of industry still known as the Steel City has struggled to reinvent itself as a regional center for commerce and the arts. Playing a significant role in this effort is the country's oldest media arts center, Pittsburgh Filmmakers, which kicked off the 25th edition of their Three Rivers Film Festival this weekend.

As usual, the slate of 40 films is as exciting and diverse a line-up of movies as you could hope to find. But the festival organizers deserve extra congratulations this year for selecting films that directly engage with this search for identity. It's practically a theme of the opening weekend, which featured a number of movies with local ties that brought back to the city an eclectic mix of actors and filmmakers from the Pittsburgh arts diaspora.

The fest kicked off on Thursday with an opening night presentation of Chris Bradley and Kyle LaBrache's mock-documentary Pittsburgh, which follows Pittsburgh-native Jeff Goldblum as he returns to his hometown with his then-fiancée Catherine Wreford to appear with her in a regional theater production of The Music Man. Though based on actual events (Goldblum really did appear in a 2004 Pittsburgh production of The Music Man), the film cleverly blends fact and fiction. Goldblum, for instance, plays a stylized version of himself based on his jittery, fast-talking screen persona.


As the title suggests, the city functions more as a character than as a mere setting. Unfortunately, this is one of the areas where the film falls short. Goldblum, who hadn't appeared in a musical in more than 20 years, is set up as something of a con man like his character, Harold Hill, who's using the gullible citizens of a small town with big city ambitions for his own ends (by agreeing to appear in the production himself he guarantees that Wredford, a Canadian actress who needs a work visa to remain in the country, will also be cast).

The dramatic tension should derive from the questions as to whether he can pull off the con and what lessons he will learn from and teach the small town. But aside from shooting a lot of footage on bridges, the filmmakers do a poor job of fleshing out the parallel between Pittsburgh and River City. Exteriors shot here and in New York are virtually indistinguishable from each other and the city's character is never firmly established. Meanwhile, like Goldbum with his twitchy mannerisms, the film never stops moving, never slows down long enough for any one scene or theme to resonate as particularly important.

Pittsburgh is just an acting exercise for Jeff Goldbum, a fact that was reflected in the Q&A session that followed the film. Despite the presence of numerous cast and crew (including Goldblum's parents), the questions focused almost exclusively on what it was like to work with a movie star. Mr Goldblum is a particularly magnetic screen presence and Pittsburgh is a pleasant enough film, but it is a shallow and forgettable light entertainment.

Old Joy

The same can't be said for another opening weekend film starring a hometown hero, Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy. If film festivals are a feast for movie lovers, then Old Joy is the ultimate palate cleanser - fresh, rejuvenating, and a perfect companion to almost any other film. Where Pittsburgh is so busy that no scene registers as poignant, Old Joy lingers restfully on life's in-between moments and elevates the everyday to the level of art. I saw it next to another very good film, Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Climates, and I was delighted with the contrast between the two: Climates is saturated with symbolism and it constantly challenges the viewer to make sense of the film based on its framing and mise en scène, while Old Joy allows the audience the room to simply drift.

Lead actor and Pittsburgh native Daniel London introduced the film and was on hand for a Q&A afterwards. He talked at length about the collaborative nature of the project, about how it was shot in just two weeks with a crew of only six people. It was a welcome reminder to a city too obsessed with projecting a cosmopolitan image that our region's greatest strength is its talent and its strong sense of community. Old Joy is an example of the kind of small, idiosyncratic productions that I'd like to see more of.

The Guatemalan Handshake

Films like Todd Rohal's The Guatemalan Handshake, which like Old Joy also features indie film star Will Oldham. The Guatemalan Handshake, a meandering, Lynchian (Twin Peaks is directly cited in one lovely close-up of a traffic light) tone poem about forgotten people, was the opening weekend's most direct treatment of that theme of identity. Beautifully shot in nearby Harrisburg, Pennsylvania by former Pittsburgh Filmmakers teacher Richie Sherman, The Guatemalan Handshake is set in a rural world characterized by junk food, TV dinners, broken technology (it culminates in a demolition derby) and broken lives.

It looks at America like an archeologist from the future or a visitor from another planet might, taking the objects that we produce and consume and constructing a world from it. The Q&A session that followed the film was the most fun I've had at the fest so far, with a mob of cast and crew fielding a volley of disparate questions from an enthusiastic audience. As they laughed and joked with the crowd about the different ways to interpret their quirky film, blurring the lines between those who make movies and those watch them, I realized that an identity is what you make of what you've got. It's precisely in contradiction and contrast that character is born, and this is why I look forward to the Three Rivers Film Festival every year: for these two weeks all of the faces of Pittsburgh are on display.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:09 AM | Comments (3)

Paris Dispatch.

Moira Sullivan looks back on a Parisian highlight which took place October 27 through 30.

Cineffable The Paris Cineffable Feminist and Lesbian Festival is a pearl of a festival, an international "non-mixte" event exclusively for women. Since 1989, it has been held during what can be seen as the (unsuccessful) attempt to bring Halloween to France and just before la Toussaint (All Saints Day). This year the 18th edition took place at the legendary Trianon Theatre, built in the late 19th century and a former venue for Jacques Brel, and at the folklore museum Halle Saint Pierre, both situated just below the Sacré Coeur. The Trianon conveniently accommodates everyone who buys an adhésion or membership fee for €8, and the entire program of nearly 80 films can be seen for €45. Attendance is up 23 percent over last year, so there will most certainly be a 19th edition. The festival also features several "non-mixte" film events during rest of the year in Paris. Run by approximately 50 volunteers, Cineffable is sponsored in part by the city of Paris and one of its best and most eclectic radio stations, Radio Nova. This year's trailer featured a smart collage set to Brigitte Bardot's 1967 classic "Harley Davidson."

Cineffable's success is partly attributable to the vision of the selection committee, which culled the 7000 short films submitted to come up with an excellent package featuring the best in lesbian global cinema. The committee regularly travels San Francisco's LGBT festival, Frameline, and maintains contact with many other gay and lesbian film festivals around the world. While all the films need to be translated into French, the team as a whole is fluent in six languages. The program includes a screenwriting award with support for production and features debates at Halle Saint Pierre. This year there were discussions on same sex parenting, racism and discrimination; eleven photographers, engravers, sculptors, poets and writers discussed and displayed their work; and there was a presentation from the French group, Slam O'Féminin. Modeled to some extent on Créteil Films de Femmes, Cineffable weaves political activism with eroticism, poignant stories with humor.

Besides a concert by Nawal, a vocalist from the Comores archipelago in the Indian Ocean, opening night featured The Journey, the story two young upper class Indian women who attend a private school in a small village and later fall in love. This brings problems to Kiran, as Delilah will soon enter into an arranged marriage. Filmmaker Ligy J Pullappally was born in India, grew up in Chicago, became a lawyer and then returned to India to make this film. Several other directors represented at the festival seem to be living in countries other than their homelands as well.

Left Lane Slam poetry was one of the main themes of the films of this festival. The audience award for best short documentary went to Krudas, a film on Cuban lesbian rappers beautifully executed by Sandra Boero-Imwinkelried from Argentina who studied cinema at the University of Cordoba. Left Lane, by Samantha Farinella, founder of One Angry Woman Productions, won the award for best feature documentary. The doc, not as brilliant as Boero-Imwinkelried's, follows a year on the road with Alix Olson, a spoken word poet.

The theme same sex marriage was evident in other recent work. In The Attack of the Bride Monster by Vicky Boone, a woman uses all of her energy to convince her partner to marry her. The same theme is explored in Floored by Love by Desiree Lim, who grew up in Malaysia and Japan and now works in Canada. Two Asian-Canadian partners, one from Japan and the other from China, want to tell their parents about their relationship and their plans to marry. Meanwhile, their Jewish neighbors have a son who is just coming out.

Two feature films that won prizes at the Créteil festival last spring were featured at Cineffable this year. Both is a compelling drama that explores the life of a bisexual stuntwoman. San Francisco-based and Peruvian-born Lisset Barcellos directed the feature. The other film, Sévigné by Marta Balletbò-Coll, is about a famous theater director who falls in a love with a playwright. It stars Anna Azcona as well as the director herself.

The audience award for best feature film was tied between Sévigné and Fremde Haut (Unveiled) by Angelina Maccarone from Italy, a film about an Iranian woman who is forced to take on the identity of a deceased man in order to survive in Germany. As the festival wrapped, several French spoken word poets performed, followed by the presentation of "the best of the 18th," featuring several short films. The fabulous "Cineffablians" are planning a gala festival to commemorate the 20th edition with a Greek theme.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:32 AM | Comments (1)

November 5, 2006

Hawaii Dispatch.

Surely the swiftest and most effective way to leave the Voice behind is to head straight for Hawaii. Dennis Lim saw a slew of films from Asia there, some good, some very good, some not.

Hawaii International Film Festival

The Hawaii International Film Festival kicked off its 26th edition with Babel, Alejandro González Iñárritu's multi-part paean to multi-cultural misery. But a rather more convincing - not to mention utopian - brand of internationalism could be found in the festival's programming philosophy. HIFF has several obvious advantages over its mainland counterparts: an idyllic setting, terrific hospitality, suitably laid-back scheduling (no morning screenings!). Above all, though, the festival's defining quality is its proximity to the Pacific Rim. This is an event that fully reflects its crossroads locale and the diversity of the local population.

Though not as expansive as Pusan or as focused as Vancouver (the two other major fall pitstops for Asian film fans), HIFF pulls off an impressive balancing act. Broadly speaking, the something-for-everyone program breaks down into three main components: a generous harvest of Asian hits, the best of the year's Asian American independents and a strong focus on emerging names and movements in Asian art film - which increasingly means keeping close tabs on developments in South East Asia.


Unavoidably, there's also plenty of attention heaped on Lost, the Oahu production turned local industry goldmine. HIFF '06 devoted a "seminar" to the TV show, grandly titled "Is Television the New Cinema?" (The question was barely raised, let alone answered, at the event, which more closely resembled a fan convention, with stars Jorge Garcia, Michael Emerson and Henry Ian Cusick in attendance.) Lost was also given a special Hawaii Film Office award at the closing ceremony. Even the festival trailer, a long and perplexing ramble featuring sponsor-emblazoned aquatic life and inexplicably set to "Ballad of a Thin Man," was the brainchild of Lost executive producer Jack Bender.

Dirty Carnival The Asian blockbuster contingent was led by this year's odd pair of South Korean juggernauts: Bong Joon-ho's ubiquitous The Host and Lee Jun-ik's The King and the Clown. But the real surprise was Dirty Carnival, the fourth feature from writer-director Yoo Ha (still largely unknown outside his home country). At once propulsive and ruminative, Yoo's gangster epic recalls Goodfellas not just in scope but also emotional weight and complexity (the Korean title translates as "Mean Streets"). Punctuated by periodic outbreaks of ultra-violence involving baseball bats and sashimi knives, the movie follows a low-level, 30-ish hoodlum (TV star Jo In-seong) up the ranks of the criminal underworld. In a neatly reflexive framing device, the anti-hero's fate is unwittingly sealed when he agrees to serve as a consultant for the gangster movie that his childhood friend is directing.

The would-be crowd-pleasers from Japan were less on the mark. Kenta Fukasaku's Yo Yo Girl Cop, based on the popular manga, proved shockingly tedious for a movie about schoolgirl law enforcers wielding all-powerful yo-yos. Which left the "Best Japanese Teen Flick With 'Yo' In Its Title" honors to Rieko Miyamoto's Check It Out, Yo!, an amiable Okinawan hip-hop goof featuring Hawaii-born sumo wrestler Konishiki in a cameo.

HIFF's "Extreme Asia" section served mainly as a reminder that the continent's horror film output is, not even a decade after the first Ringu, mired in creative bankruptcy. The slick, nonsensical APT, in which residents of a Seoul highrise are driven to suicide during a nightly blackout, and the amateurish, pseudo-folkloric Filipino Canadian ghost story Ang Pamana: The Inheritance, are symptomatic, obliviously proceeding through a checklist of hoary genre ingredients. The white-smocked girl with the face-obstructing curtain of unwashed hair remains unconscionably popular.

Nightmare Detective By comparison, Shinya Tsukamoto's Nightmare Detective seemed a minor miracle. Fresh off its Pusan world premiere, this is one of the Tetsuo auteur's most accessible efforts and easily the most inventive J-horror film in some time. Investigating a wave of grisly suicides apparently committed during sleep, the cops call on the titular sleuth, who specializes in infiltrating the dreams of others (he's played by Ryuhei Matsuda, best known as the pretty young thing in Oshima's Gohatto). Tsukamoto works with familiar tropes - the horror is technologically rooted, triggered by dialing "0" on a cellphone - but he doesn't breathe life into the genre so much as mock, sully, and dismantle it. The handheld camerawork has a rattling immediacy and the queasy mood is tempered by a rude wit (the Girl With the Hair is dispensed with, hilariously, in the first scene).

To mark the centenary of Filipino immigration to Hawaii - and the resurgence of independent film production in the Phillipines - HIFF '06 assembled a "Filipino in Focus" sidebar. Notable entries include the languid family melodrama Summer Heat and Just Like Before, in which members of the 80s new wave band The Dawn (whose singer was killed at the height of their popularity) enact a fictionalized version of their midlife crisis. Best of the Filipino crop was Jeffrey Jeturian's The Bet Collector, which focuses, with Dardennes-like tenacity, on the daily activities of the titular queen bee, Amy (a remarkable Gina Pareño), a hustling, chattering big momma who runs numbers and collects alms in her slum neighborhood. There's barely any plot, but the inimitable Amy, fond of gossip and prone to magical thinking, is a narrative motor unto herself.

Rain Dogs HIFF also paid tribute to Focus: First Cuts, the new transnational production company founded by Hong Kong star Andy Lau and run by Malaysian producer Lorna Tee. The first six Focus productions were on show; at least one, Ho Yuhang's Rain Dogs, should be a career-maker. A constant presence on the festival circuit since premiering in Venice, this is the most mature and satisfying film yet from this linchpin of the Malaysian new wave (who previously directed Min and Sanctuary). Ho has never attempted to disguise the influence of Hou Hsiao-hsien - here, he even works with Hou's regular editor, Liao Ching-song - but the uninflected observation and musical sense of time and space go far beyond homage this time. A steady accumulation of suggestive, even poetic details, the film is an intensely melancholic portrait of a young man adrift - between adolescence and adulthood, between the rural and the urban, and among a set of flawed parental figures - a state of suspension potently crystallized by the film's unofficial theme song, Odetta's version of "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child."

Another Malaysian highlight took top prize in the shorts competition. Directed by Azharr Rudin (editor on Amir Muhammad's The Last Communist), the 15-minute, single-take Majidee is part of the young director's Amber Sexalogy: six connected shorts that mostly pertain to the relationship between two recurring characters (one of whom is played by a different actor each time out). Walking from a bus terminal to a train station in downtown Kuala Lumpur, a college student is approached by an older man; the ensuing conversation, like the film, is both simplicity itself and fraught with ambiguity.

Two of the best films in the small, well-curated feature competition (five fiction, five docs) concerned the disintegration and reconstitution of family in modern Asian societies. Family Ties, the first solo effort from Kim Tae-yong, co-director of the Korean horror hit Memento Mori, tells three related stories involving two extended clans, sundered and realigned by adultery, divorce, remarriage, adoption and death.

The main jury - which consisted this year of SXSW director Matt Dentler, critic Elvis Mitchell and actor Kal Penn - awarded top prize to Nia Dinata for Love for Share, a scathing, often comic attack on the polygamy epidemic in increasingly Islamic Indonesia. Told, like Family Ties, in three overlapping parts, Love for Share is a personal film: Dinata says that the first story, in which a female doctor stoically bears her husband's decision to take several more wives, is loosely based on her parents' experience. But it's unmistakably political, too: Dinata locates subversive comedy in the polygamous complications (in one story, two wives fall for each other), but the humor only hardens the anger and disgust at the film's core.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:19 PM

Shorts, 11/5.

Snow Angels George Ducker introduces his interview with David Gordon Green in the Believer: "When we spoke, Green had just finished the sound mixes for Snow Angels, his adaptation of the novel by Stewart O'Nan. Financed independently and featuring Sam Rockwell, Kate Beckinsale, and Amy Sedaris, the film is the story of a young man's disintegrating family, his old babysitter, and a murder set against the brittle winter of a suburb of Pittsburgh. We met on a conspicuously cloudy Saturday morning in West Los Angeles, early enough to avoid competition with the serious brunchers."

"'Do you know what the essence of movie-making is?' Stanley asked me. 'It's buying lots of things.'" Coudal Partners have found a full version of Ian Watson's recollections, a memoir that bounced around editorial offices for a while before, eventually, a shortened version appeared in Playboy. "[I]t's evident to me that I regarded the episode of working with Stanley as a surreal comedy - for which I surely had the very best director."

Joe Eszterhas to screenwriters: "In musical terms, you are the composer; the director conducts the orchestra." David Bordwell responds: "This idea poses a lot of problems." Somewhat related: Chris Cagle recommends Kristin Thompson and Bordwell's Film History: An Introduction.

On Five: "Unofficial information about the Criterion Collection from the people who are officially in charge." Via Sujewa Ekanayake, who's seeding an "Agricultural Theory of Film Distribution."

The Diatribe, "a Los Angeles-based military officer who enjoys science fiction and military films, and works in the entertainment industry in an undisclosed location," writes at the House Next Door, "Unfortunately, sci-fi is written in our time. Our gender stereotypes continue to influence how our futuristic counterparts behave, even in a setting where you'd think women might finally have a shot." Related: Asghar Qadir in AmeriQuests: "Science Fiction and Popular Science from Ancient to Modern Times: Scientists Versus Laymen." Via wood s lot.

Also, Matt Zoller Seitz asks, "When did you first realize that movies were directed?"

Topsy Turvy "[F]or all his appearance as the very model of conservative respectability, his merciless lampooning of the heartless constraints of laws and etiquette reveal him, underneath it all, to have been a genuine free spirit and a true anarchist," writes Mike Leigh of Gilbert. "Sullivan's frustration was that he never had time to write proper music: he was convinced that he frittered away his life and his talents on the trivia of the Savoy Operas. How wrong he was."

Also in the Guardian and Observer:

Jim Emerson revives the Opening Shots Project with a look at The Girl Can't Help It.

It's almost as if, as the days grow shorter, Death has decided to get to work on filmmakers. It's "one of those times when 'these things come in threes' feels more like three dozens, and makes me want to go back to bed and wake up on a different day," writes Tim Lucas. All the more reason to "make an effort to acknowledge reasons for joy where they can be found."

Matt Mazur, blogging at PopMatters on Country: "It is a somewhat straightforward story by cinematic means, but the subversive ideas are epic in scope." More "Forgotten Gems": The Emigrants, Mary Queen of Scots (amen!) and Elizabeth.

"I've watched the movie with my father, now 80, and my son, who is 14; both were on the floor gasping for breath." Christopher Buckley reviews Chris Miller's The Real Animal House: The Awesomely Depraved Saga of the Fraternity That Inspired the Movie (first chapter): "His book is sophomoric, disgusting, tasteless, vile, misogynist, chauvinist, debased and at times so unspeakably revolting that any person of decent sensibility would hurl it into the nearest Dumpster. I couldn't put it down. I make this self-indicting admission with all due trepidation, but there it is. For better or worse, this an utterly hilarious book."

Also in the New York Times:

Christine Ebersole in Grey Gardens

  • "[T]his is an experience no passionate theatergoer should miss," proclaims Ben Brantley. Grey Gardens "opened last night like a full-blown, petal-dropping peony," and as for Christine Ebersole, "Watching this performance is the best argument I can think of for the survival of the American musical."

  • "To anyone who takes Jewishness seriously, David Mamet's 1991 film, Homicide, was confusing. On the one hand, it was refreshing, even exhilarating, to see how openly Mamet dealt with issues like Jewish identity and anti-Semitism.... But there was a slight problem with Mamet's Jews: They were unrecognizable." David Margolick reviews Mamet's The Wicked Son: Anti-Semitism, Self-Hatred and the Jews.

  • Frédéric van Coppernolle, now executive chef at the French Consulate in NYC: "For one tempestuous, sometimes baffling summer, I worked for Brigitte Bardot in St Tropez." Recipes follow.

  • Jeannette Catsoulis: "Form and content fight to the death in Wondrous Oblivion, Paul Morrison's defiantly gauzy tale of racial friction in 1960s England."

  • Andy Webster on Umrao Jaan: "The whims of men can be terrible to live by, but too many scenes exploit [Aishwarya] Rai's tearful, screen-engulfing eyes. Bathos and weak dubbing don't help."

  • AO Scott: "[I]t strikes me as unlikely that any British action picture released this year will surpass Flushed Away." More from Fernando F Croce in Slant.

  • Can something good be found to say about The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause? Here's what Manohla Dargis came up up with: "[Martin] Short is the kind of Christmas ham everyone can enjoy." More from Rob Humanick in Slant.

Kelly O: "I saw a work-in-progress version of What Is It? eight years ago and it is still absolutely the most uncompromising and original thing I've seen."

Also in the Stranger: Annie Wagner on Babel: "The filmmakers don't argue much of anything, in fact, except look here, look there. It's a movie about images and textures and film grain; the acting, while strong, is merely an infrastructure for beauty and feeling.... It isn't an intellectual film, but it will make you dissolve under the weight of its simple, ineffable ideas." Plus, a talk with Alejandro González Iñárritu.

Michael Guillén introduces an Evening Class roundtable discussion with Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation and co-writer on the screenplay for the film.

Unknown Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE on Columbian director Simon Brand's English-language feature debut: "While one would like to report that Unknown has some veiled political message to impart about the blurred line between good and evil, victim and criminal, first-time screenwriter Matthew Waynee is too consumed with tough-talking dialogue, testosterone-filled strutting and one-too-many plot twists that are not only derivative of, but inferior to Unknown's most obvious precursor, Reservoir Dogs." More from Laura Kern in the NYT.

That Little Round-Headed Boy: "I watched Eric Rohmer's La Collectionneuse last night and I was struck by a question: Is Eric Rohmer porn?"

Liz Hoggard attends a screening of Mischief Night, "a new race-based comedy set in Leeds" - in Leeds. "The audience was encouragingly mixed (white and Asian, young and old), the feedback essentially positive." Also in the Independent, Kaleem Aftab interviews Juliette Binoche and five "intrepid reporters" survive Saw III.

J Robert Parks, a pair of reviews that pair movies: "49 Up and Old Joy are not only designed for an older audience, they're also about the process of growing older." And: "The Queen, from director Stephen Frears, is the more polished of the two, but both it and The Last King of Scotland offer fascinating, almost voyeuristic portraits of rulers in the midst of crisis."

Interviews in the Telegraph: Tom Charity with Anthony Minghella, Sheila Johnston with Isabelle Huppert and Jasper Rees with Benedict Cumberbatch.

Mack at Twitch hears that Ryuhei Kitamura will be directing an adaptation of Clive Barker's story, "The Midnight Meat Train."

Stuart Kemp in the Hollywood Reporter: "Lindsay Lohan, Chris Evans, Ellen Burstyn, David Strathairn and Ann-Margret are attached to bring a long-forgotten Tennessee Williams screenplay, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, to the big screen." Also, producers Elizabeth Stanley and Joe Dante have acquired the rights to an English-language remake of Alante Kavaite's Ecoute Le Temps (Listen to Time).

Carlos Gardel Production Weekly: "Rodrigo Santoro, Paz Vega and Shakira will star in Alfonso Arau's romantic epic Dare to Love Me, set in 1930s Paris about the life of Argentinean tango legend Carlos Gardel." The entry's outfitted with online viewing.

Online browsing tip. The work of poster designer Jeremy Saunders. More than just posters; see, for example, the case study for Little Fish. Via Matt Riviera.

Online listening tip #1. Michael Tolkin is Michael Silverblatt's guest on Bookworm.

Online listening tip #2. For NPR, "Andrea Shea explores the history and influence of Janus Films from where it was born - the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Mass."

Online viewing tip #1. Ajit at ticklebooth explains what moves him about his favorite scene in Raging Bull.

Online viewing tip #2. "I don't know why I find this simple, two minute 1957 short by Roman Polanski, made presumably when he was a student, so unsettling... but I do." Bilge Ebiri's got Teeth Smile at ScreenGrab.

Online viewing tip #3. "Until some ballsy distributor decides to wage a 'fair use' battle against studio copyright holders, it may be that the Sophie Fiennes doc The Pervert's Guide to Cinema, in which the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek discourses about film, politics, desire and theory, will be little seen in the U.S," writes Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay. "Here is Zizek talking about Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation and Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:09 PM | Comments (2)

Fests and events, 11/5.

Chicago The San Francisco Silent Film Festival announces a special event for December 2: "[T]he original filmed version of the great Broadway hit Chicago (1927), starring Phyllis Haver as tough-as-nails Roxie Hart; and a rarer-than-rare 35mm presentation of Walt Disney's pioneering Silly Symphonies - great cartoons, and great examples of how a silent-era filmmaker met sound head-on in a dazzling display of music, creativity and imagination."

Chris Holland has the Austin Film Festival Audience Award-winners at Slackerwood.

The Chicago Reader writes up the highlights of Reeling: The 25th Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival (through November 12).

New Yorkers: You may now pick up your schedule for November from ST VanAirsdale at the Reeler.

IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez is sending in dispatches from the AFI Fest.

The Lone Star International Film Festival: November 8 through 11 in Fort Worth.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:24 PM

Docs, 11/5.

Iraq in Fragments Robert Cashill: "A restless account, filmed with an eye toward the poetic, Iraq in Fragments is by turns discomfiting and moving - for as much as we have let these people down, inflaming distrust and disturbance, they go on. They are part of our story now. For their sake as much as our own, we need to send a clear signal on Tuesday. It's not the economy, stupid. It's Iraq."

More from Fernando F Croce: "Style in Iraq in Fragments comes occasionally close to taking precedence over its heartfelt humanistic intentions, yet the film's deep respect for human resilience and hope ultimately renders cynical accusations of touristy condescension moot." Also in Slant, Ed Gonzalez: "Though less artful than [Steven Okazaki's] The Mushroom Club, [Robert] Richter's [The Last Atomic Bomb] is more ambitious, pitched as it is as a wake-up call."

Kurt Cobain About a Son Daniel Nemet-Nejat talks with AJ Schnack about Kurt Cobain About a Son, in which Cobain "talks about where his story's going in ways that maybe he doesn't even realize. That's certainly not a light and jubilant idea, but I think that it's still hopeful, maybe because, I hope, it's a different and more complete understanding of him in some way." Meanwhile, AJ Schnack notes that the International Documentary Association has announced five finalists for its awards ceremony to be held December 8.

Melissa Silverstein at Alternet on Shut Up & Sing: "The least discussed piece of this story is how the continuing consolidation of media into the hands of a few large corporations created a situation that allowed the Dixie Chicks to be literally erased from the airwaves." Secondly, "The hate pouring onto these women was clearly sexist."

Joanne Laurier at WSWS: "Deliver Us from Evil underscores the deeply reactionary character of the Catholic Church as a social institution and its mega-wealthy officialdom, hypocritically preaching against sin and vice and forcing its believers to confess 'that I have sinned exceedingly, in thought, word and deed: through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.' Clearly, Church officials and priests like O'Grady, as 'God's representatives on earth,' feel empowered to abuse their inferior flock. After all, they are part of a feudal structure presided over by an infallible pope, a dictatorial quasi-deity."

"[T]he Mafia has been a movie subject at least since 1912's The Adventures of Lieutenant Petrosino." Dennis Harvey lists a few landmarks for SF360. Related: Mick LaSalle on Excellent Cadavers.

More docs reviewed in the San Francisco Chronicle: Ruthe Stein on Doug Block's 51 Birch Street, a "hypnotic documentary, among the finest of the year" (more from Jim Emerson at, and G Allen Johnson on Stanley Nelson's "riveting" Jonestown: The Life and Death of People's Temple.

Stephen Holden on the founders of the Black Bear Ranch as depicted in Commune: "However weatherbeaten they appear, they still have a light in their eyes, and they exude the hardy spirit of pioneers who are older and wiser but unbowed." Also in the New York Times, Neil Genzlinger on Deeper Than Y: "For $600, it turns out, you can make a short documentary about aging recreational swimmers that has just enough winning moments in it to let viewers forgive that it’s little more than a glorified home video."

And Laura Kern: "The Great Warming, a straightforward, quietly persuasive primer on the climate-change crisis, provides both an abridged history and science lesson (delivered through the narration of Keanu Reeves and Alanis Morissette and some clunky computer graphics) and a vital briefing on where we stand today."

Sonata for Viola Nathan Schiff reviews Aleksandr Sokurov's "haunting and somber documentary" on Shostakovich, Sonata for Viola, for Flickhead.

Hunter Davies, who knew John Lennon, is surprised by the claims made for the singer-songwriter's political conscience in The US vs John Lennon, but writes nonetheless in the New Statesman: "The most extraordinary thing about this film, for me, is the evidence of how Lennon's influence has grown over time."

Chris Cagle: "[F]ake and hybrid documentary studies seem to have gained a new vitality now, driven from twin directions of documentary critique of the real and the proliferation of reflexive and mock documentary production itself. But I do worry that a critical circuitry between the two lapses into a facile critique of documentary as ideology and merely ideology."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:14 PM

From Korea, a mostly Bong Joon-ho edition.

La Transperceneige Patrick Frater for Variety: "The ambitions of South Korean helmers know no boundaries: The country's two best known, Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook, are teaming to attack the US mainstream and work in the English language." The project: an adaptation of Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette's graphic novel, La Transperceneige. Via Jon Pais at Twitch, where Kurt has news of Kim Ki-duk's next film. Breath will star Chen Chang as "a convicted prisoner who 'slowly falls for a woman who decorates his prison cell'."

Hot, hot, hot! In the Los Angeles Times, Lorenza Muñoz and Josh Friedman have the numbers on South Korean cinema.

"Roy Lee, king of the remake deals, has set up a remake of The Host over at Universal pictures." Grady Hendrix has details. Also, "The latest incarnation of Korea's comedy action series, My Wife is a Gangster, stars Hong Kong's very own Shu Qi." He's got the trailer, too.

John Patterson in the Guardian: "It's amazing that every multiplex in the world isn't stuffed with movies like The Host. It's not like there's a shortage of material. We might see the side effects of depleted nuclear ammo in Iraq accidentally breeding a race of glow-in-the-dark fanatics bent on destroying our precious western way of life (oh, wait...)."

Darcy Paquet, who's got a new page on Bong Joon-ho up at, on a 1958 classic from Shin Sang-ok: "Few Korean films of this era present the hard realities of day-to-day existence with such honest force as A Flower in Hell."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:50 AM

Leonard Schrader, 1944 - 2006.

Leonard Schrader
Leonard Schrader, who earned an Academy Award nomination for his adaptation of Kiss of the Spider Woman and co-wrote the critically praised Mishima, has died. He was 62.... He was born in Grand Rapids, Mich, to a family of Dutch Calvinists who forbade the brothers to see any movies. "That was a church edict," [brother] Paul Schrader said. "What they called worldly amusements were prohibited."

Robert Jablon for the AP (via MCN).

Paul was a sickly child, and Leonard's mission in life, drummed into his head by his parents, was to take care of him, make sure he survived the vale of tears that was life on earth, particularly in Grand Rapids.

Peter Biskind in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.

See also: The official site.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:48 AM

November 4, 2006

European Film Awards. Nominations.

European Film Awards The European Film Academy has unveiled its nominations for the European Film Awards 2006. Scanning the list, you'll notice right off that two strong contenders for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar lead the pack with six noms each: Volver and The Lives of Others; The Wind That Shakes the Barley is close behind with five.

Nominated for European Film 2006:

More Directors: Susanne Bier for After the Wedding and Emanuele Crialese for Golden Door.

More Actresses: Nathalie Baye for Le Petit Lieutenant, Sandra Hüller for Requiem and Sarah Polley for The Secret Life of Words.

More Actors: Patrick Chesnais for Not Here to Be Loved, Jesper Christensen for Manslaughter, Mads Mikkelsen for After the Wedding and Silvio Orlando for The Caiman.

More Cinematographers: Roman Osin for Pride and Prejudice and Timo Salminen for Lights in the Dusk.

One more Screenwriter: Corneliu Porumboiu for 12:08 East of Bucharest.

Two more Composers: Dario Marianelli for Pride and Prejudice and Tuomas Kantelinen for Mother of Mine.

And eight more awards will be announced; the ceremony's on December 2 in Warsaw.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:05 PM | Comments (2)

NYT & LAT. Holiday previews.

The Good German David Carr, known to us last awards season (and evidently this coming awards season as well) as The Carpetbagger, opens this weekend's "Holiday Movies" package by noting that, as the studios' various Oscar campaigns get underway now, "the center of gravity shifts" to New York, "home to the culture-and-celebrity media, where momentum or certain death can be bestowed with a few keystrokes."

Carina Chocano sets the tone for the "Holiday Movie Sneaks" package in the Los Angeles Times: "After a couple of lackluster years for women, the last one topped with the rancid cherry of a ho-larded Oscar stage to celebrate 'It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp,' the rest of this year promises to be one of the fat ones. Already, the year has yielded a wide variety of noteworthy performances by actresses in leading or ensemble roles, some of them in surprisingly womanly milieus."

What remains is tied to one release or another slated for the coming weeks and, going by Dave Kehr's calendar, here're the plugs in more or less chronological order, with a few extras tossed in.

November 8

  • Iraq in Fragments. Stuart Klawans in the Nation: Without apology, [James] Longley offers you his fractured, subjective view of Iraq under US occupation. What justifies the film, and makes it compelling, is the corresponding subjectivity of its Iraqi narrators, who lend this movie not only their voices but their eyes and ears."

November 10


November 15

November 17

Casino Royale

November 21

November 22

Déjà Vu

December 1

December 15


December 20

December 21

December 22

December 25

Notes on a Scandal

December 27

December 29

What else: As she does with each one of the NYT packages, Karen Durbin highlights a handful of performances (this time around: Sergi López in Pan's Labyrinth, Carmen Maura in Volver, Richard Griffiths in The History Boys, Jodie Whittaker in Venus and Paz Vega in 10 Items or Less) and Stephanie Zacharek and Charles Taylor look ahead to some of the season's better DVD releases.

And the LAT has a photo gallery.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:10 PM

November 3, 2006

Interview. Kat Candler and Stacy Schoolfield.

jumping off bridges "Work with who you are and what your film is telling you where it needs to go." Sage words from a professional distributor to director Kat Candler and producer Stacy Schoolfield. They've discovered that their feature, jumping off bridges, wants to go, as David Lowery puts it, introducing his interview, "a more iconoclastic route than most self-distributing indies."

That route is taking jumping off bridges to the Pioneer Theater in New York tonight and tomorrow night and then to Los Angeles next week. Click here to see if it might be coming to a theater near you.

Normally, this is where the string of review snippets would begin, but Candler and Schoolfield have already collected the quotes and the links right here.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:43 PM | Comments (2)

Essay. Almodóvar.

Pedro Almodóvar "His films are not so much about sexual orientation as they are about purposeful sexual disorientation." As Volver and the Viva Pedro! series roll out across the land, Michael Guillén tracks the ways in which Pedro Almodóvar "has fetishized the gendered body and glamorized gender variance, all in the name of Spain."

Related: "Count me in the minority, but it wasn't until Volver that I really began taking Pedro Almodóvar seriously as an artist," writes Jeff Reichert at indieWIRE. "[T]he central paradox of Volver is this: how a film so wholly ornate and unlikely ('neoclassical' seems somehow apropos) ends up the director's most vibrantly immediate work. This immediacy is due in no small part to another artist I'd never really taken seriously enough: Penélope Cruz. Her Raimunda is a wholly inhabited creation; comparisons to Sophia Loren and the ladies of classic Italian paisan cinema, have been frequent, and are apt, as there hasn't been such a full-blooded woman to grace screens in quite some time."

"Drawing on influences ranging from Latin American telenovelas to classic Hollywood weepies and on an iconography of female endurance that includes Anna Magnani and Joan Crawford, Mr Almodóvar has made yet another picture that moves beyond camp into a realm of wise, luxuriant humanism," writes AO Scott in the New York Times.

"If I had to explain the themes in general terms, I'd say they concern the sin of not seeing what's before your eyes," writes Stuart Klawans in the Nation. "Volver is about invisibility as a just punishment for this sin; about the false visibility, or self-exposure, promoted by a degraded form of show business; and about the revelations made possible, by contrast, through a true performance, which can be public and personal at the same time. Most of all, though, Volver is an exciting crime story, comedy and tear-jerker about the ways these themes may loop back through generations of women. Which just goes to show you: To explain Volver in general is to explain nothing at all."

Rob Nelson in the Voice: "Channeling Hitchcock even in this, the slightest work of his 16-film career, Almodóvar isn't what he used to be (who is?), but he's a master of the medium nevertheless, deploying color and light and shadow not merely to express emotions but to tap into ours, directing the blood flow of the audience as much as he directs the movie."

Scott Foundas finds Volver "the slightest thing he's done in years, impeccably crafted of course - with lush, Sirkian compositions and the kind of intensely primal hues that make most other movies seem colorphobic - yet ultimately something of a tiny amuse bouche following the full-course meals that were Bad Education, All About My Mother and Talk to Her." And so, the LA Weekly sweeps you right along to Ella Taylor's conversation with Cruz.

"[C]oming off of three masterpieces in a row... Volver is not quite on their level - it's merely very, very good - which may make it sound like a disappointment. Few directors indeed ever find themselves in this pickle," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat.

Jennifer Merin talks with Almodóvar for the New York Press.

Online listening tip. The Reeler talks with Almodóvar and Cruz.

Earlier: Cannes reviews and many more.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:38 PM | Comments (1)

Adrienne Shelly, 1966 - 2006.

Adrienne Shelly
Adrienne Shelly, the petite actress best known for her roles in the Hal Hartley films Trust and The Unbelievable Truth, has been found dead in her office by her husband, her agent said Thursday.

Colleen Long for the AP.

A true original in the world of American independent film, she projected a fascinating, low-key charisma on screen and, in Hartley's work in particular, captured the essence of a brainy and slightly lost young generation trying its hardest to figure out the mysteries of life. She went on to act in many other movies, including this summer's Factotum, and as well as to direct two features.

Scott Macaulay, Filmmaker.

Updated through 11/7.

She was the personification of the "indie-film muse" during the beginning of the 1990s. She set the standard that half-a-dozen other actresses (Parker Posey, Joey Lauren Adams, Julie Delpy, Uma Thurman, etc) would soon follow and bring to Hollywood.... Adrienne Shelly's latest endeavor in the world of film directing (a feature called Waitress) is in the can, and awaiting festival premiere dates. That will be a very sad and emotional premiere, indeed.

Matt Dentler.

Updates, 11/5: Richard Harland Smith: "It's an actor's craft to develop backstory for a character, to fill in details and history that the audience will never know but which inform the author's text with a subtext and give the drama wholeness and weight. Of course, all real people have backstory and subtext... and that we can never know anyone's full story is what makes life so hard and what drives us to the movies where, even if it all ends tragically, we are left with some understanding of why it had to be."

Anthony Kaufman recalls a talk he had with Shelly in 1999 and writes, "When someone in the independent film community dies suddenly and unexpectedly, when someone who moved us through their art (whether Sarah Jacobson or Katrin Cartlidge or Garrett Scott), I remember how small and close-knit our little film family is. I think about all the people I know who must be devastated by her demise, and how shocking it feels to have someone so talented no longer with us."

"I also must admit to equal measures of aching melancholy and wistful nostalgia, as I think of the eternally waifish actress as the poster girl for a specific period in indie cinema - call it Early Sundance, late 80s to the early 90s - that now seems almost as distant as the Hollywood renaissance of the 1970s," writes Joe Leydon.

MovieMaker: Adrienne Shelly MovieMaker's only just launched its blog, and now this. Tim Rhys, who interviewed Adrienne Shelly for Issue #20 in 1996, writes, "I'd spent a couple of days with her that spring, getting to know her a bit for that piece. She struck me as so different from most actresses I'd met. She was focused on her career, yes, but not driven to do anything that didn't fall in line with her definition of creative fulfillment. It was obvious that Adrienne walked to the beat of her own drummer."

11/7. A gruesome, saddening and infuriating update. It was murder. CBS reports.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:23 AM | Comments (25)

November 2, 2006

Shorts, 11/2.

Tacita Dean: Sound Mirrors "[Tacita] Dean's fidelity to 16-mm film and its bulky, outmoded apparatus, as digital technology quickly renders them obsolete, defines her art and her outlook; the materiality of the medium seems a bulwark against a fast-advancing future where imagery is insubstantial, endlessly transmutable, there but not there," writes James Quandt. "Dean is no loon or Luddite in her lost-cause allegiance to celluloid. As the poet of imperiled sites, abandoned dwellings, defunct technology, and architectural relics, she is at once an English romantic, an aesthetic descendant of Turner, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Michael Powell, and a recalcitrant materialist."

Also in Artforum, Tom Vanderbilt: "Our Daily Bread is quite shocking, though not, as might be expected, for scenes of horrific carnage and the squeals of dying animals; nor for the plight of the workers, who do not seem to suffer unduly; but rather for the bloodless sterility and antiseptic hush that prevail.... In the realm of the wordless visual essay, [Nikolaus] Geyrhalter is the anti-Godfrey Reggio: instead of sweeping shots of epic, backbreaking human labor set to an urgently pulsating minimalist score, he gives us confined shots of clinical work enveloped by a claustrophobic silence."

Blood Diamond "All along, the real question behind the scenes of Blood Diamond - an action-adventure pic set against the backdrop of civil war and chaos in the diamond-mining center of 1990s Sierra Leone, starring Leo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly and Djimon Hounsou, directed by Ed Zwick and produced by Paula Weinstein - is not whether it will be an Oscar contender (probably) or a critics' favorite (possibly)," writes Nikki Finke. "It's just how much mud the World Diamond Council and its flacks and flunkies and friends are planning to throw at the well-intentioned film and its too-liberal-for-the-room credits. Now the answer is clear: a lot, more than enough to dirty its awards chances."

The Films of James Broughton Also in the LA Weekly, Paul Malcolm: "The three discs that make up Facet's collection, The Films of James Broughton, reveal the work of a film poet whose passions - spiritual, carnal and aesthetic - grew stronger and wilder over the course of a 40-year career." And Tom Charity recommends The Pusher Trilogy.

"It only takes a few minutes of watching Iraq in Fragments to recognize that the film stands apart from the Iraqumentary pack: dazzling cinematography in place of the dull visuals of the evening news, slice-of-life narration instead of talking heads," writes Max Goldberg, who interviews director James Longley.

Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian:

David Lowery: "What Steven Shainberg has set out to do with Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus is free the biopic from the shackles of literal history. Within the limits of that end, the film is an unqualified success. Beyond the confines of grand intentions, one runs into some problems - but nonetheless, I've done enough damning of the traditional biopic (no need to name names) that I can't help but embrace this picture."

Perfume Nathan Rabin at the AV Club Blog: "Perfume is a terrible, terrible film that everyone should see and will haunt me until the day I die."

How Capote broke Bogart's arm and more at SF360. Also, Dennis Harvey: "Excellent Cadavers opines that Italy is now sunk as deep as ever in Mafia business - an 'organic part of the political order' which the current State allows to (quietly) flourish anew by simply ignoring. This documentary has its flaws, but it's still an education."

"Some critics argue that she is always playing the same role: neurotic, chain-smoking, put upon farm wife with a penchant for carnality, or some variation on this type, but for my money, [Jessica] Lange is arguably the finest living actress of our time." And Matt Mazur forges straight ahead into making that argument. Also at PopMatters, Ian Murphy: "The King is Alive may well represent the most successful and overlooked Dogme outing to date."

Two fresh Old Joy interviews:

Old Joy

  • For Filmmaker, James Ponsoldt asks Kelly Reichardt: "When people talk about the politics of Old Joy, they tend to speak about the left-wing talk radio broadcasts the characters listen to in the car. But do you think the aesthetics of your film - the minimalism of its design and execution, or the fact that it's simply a depiction of two men - is equally 'political' in its content?"

  • And for Stop Smiling, Michael Joshua Rowin asks Will Oldham: "The scene at the campfire, when Kurt relates his theory of a 'tear-shaped universe' and then forlornly tells Mark that he misses him and that there's something between them - this is the most emotional moment of the film to me, and one of the most emotional moments I've seen in a film in some time. How did you prepare to get to the energy of that scene?"

Also just up from the Fall issue of Filmmaker: Sandi Dubowski talks with John Cameron Mitchell about Shortbus, Chris Campion introduces us to Dutch filmmaker Cyrus Frisch, "a reluctant enfant terrible," and Laura Davies meets the founders of Withoutabox, which "has simplified the festival-submission process in just a few years of operation, saving filmmakers hundreds of hours of laborious envelope-stuffing and form-filing."

Doug Cummings on Who's Camus Anyway?: "For a story as simple as a film student project and as sugar-coated for cinephile consumption as it is, [Mitsuo] Yanagimachi remains true to his career-long propensity for asking questions rather than offering answers, and the film's disquieting climax lingers long after it ends."

Wiley Wiggins on Manhattan, Kansas: "It's such a wonderful example of a person picking up a camera, asking for technical help and emotional support, and then stepping out of their comfort zone to heal themselves and invite viewers into their life. I think it should be on everyone's viewing list. It's honest, full of life."

Ray Pride at Movie City Indie: "The only movies that are 'downers' for me are ones that are badly mad or poorly observed, and while dealing with hopelessness and haplessness, Down to the Bone is uplifting for its minor-key yet majestic feats of empathy.... [Debra] Granik's movie is a feat of listening, and a feat of watching as well."

The Rules of the Game "If you imagine a world where the films of Bergman, Truffaut, Altman, Mike Leigh and Woody Allen (among others) don't yet exist, you can begin to understand the prodigious influence of this movie," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "I think that describing Rules of the Game as an angry indictment of the pre-war European class system, as many critics do, is a little misleading.... [T]he experience of watching the film is not didactic, and it never feels laden with heavy-duty social commentary.... Renoir was able to transcend his own perspective, his own prejudices, and glimpse something of the terror and wonder of human life, the pain of misapplied or rejected love, for rich as for poor." More from Armond White in the New York Press.

And more O'Hehir: Soap, "latest in a parade of gender-bender romantic comedies from the current generation of European directors," Unknown and: "You may well decide that the back-to-the-land hippies who founded the Black Bear Ranch in the late 60s, deep in the remote forests of Siskiyou County, Calif, were nuts. But, at least in Jonathan Berman's film Commune, there's no disputing their courage."

indieWIRE interviews Romántico director Mark Becker. Related: Stephen Holden's review in the New York Times.

Also in the NYT, Jeannette Catsoulis on As the Call, So the Echo, "Keir Moreano's muted yet moving record of his father's experience as a volunteer doctor in Vietnam, documents a journey that's substantially more philosophical than medical."

"Given the rapid changes in attitudes towards homosexuality, and film culture's apparent influence on and reflection of that evolution, talking to queer film-makers about their unique perspective seemed a great idea for a book," writes Matthew Hays. "My publishers agreed." Hence, The View from Here: Conversations with Gay and Lesbian Filmmakers.

Also in the Guardian:

West Wing

  • Mark Lawson tracks the amazingly rapid rise of the TV show on DVD box sets. More from Lucy Mangan: "Confessions of a box-set binger."

  • Patrick Barkham: "An array of cheery incidents in the film Saw III could have induced the fainting fits among cinema-goers in Stevenage, Peterborough and Cambridge this week that led to 999 calls and ambulance crews racing to the scene. 'As well as collapses, we have had reports of people running screaming from the cinemas,' said Matthew Ware of the East Anglian Ambulance Trust."

  • What's an "ex-director's cut"? As Ryan Gilbey explains, it would be a version of a film by a director who was sacked during the shoot and who returns to present what would have been. Examples: Richard Donner's Superman II, Paul Schrader's The Exorcist: The Beginning and Brian Helgeland's Payback.

"First rule of box office prognostication is that it's a lot easier to predict [a film's] potential after you've seen it. And even then it's still a bitch." Nevertheless, Eric Childress gives it a shot at Hollywood Bitchslap, pinning daringly specific numbers on the full slate of releases through the end of the year.

Mike Russell talks with George Miller about Happy Feet.

You probably haven't heard of Sixty Six yet, but given how caught up Americans were this summer in the World Cup, you just might eventually. In the Independent, John Walsh talks with director Paul Weiland about the story from his childhood he was compelled to tell. More from Time Out's Chris Tilly.

Alison Willmore has news of Spike Lee's sequel to Inside Man at the IFC Blog.

Todd's got an official announcement regarding a "definitive version" of Wong Kar-Wai's Ashes of Time.

News of the up-n-coming from the Hollywood Reporter:

Speed Racer

And then there's this little order of business from Anne Thompson: "In a bold move to bolster the status of the newly configured MGM, chairman and CEO Harry Sloan announced today that he has pacted with star Tom Cruise and his Cruise Wagner Productions partner Paula Wagner, who recently left their production deal at Paramount Pictures, to take over the dormant film label United Artists."

"The point of the enterprise is to cast light on work that might not otherwise be published, and to present artists' work as it was intended to be seen." In other words, Perceval Press does what many independent publishing houses set out to do. What sets Perceval apart is that it's run by Viggo Mortensen. Janet Maslin talks with him for the New York Times.

Cineuropa's current "film focus": The Lives of Others.

Armond White on Shut Up & Sing: "There's talk about courage and death threats, and lead-singer Natalie Maines doesn't hide her loud-mouth arrogance; still, these commissioned filmmakers try maintaining truth by showing the price that is paid for audacity." Also in the NYP, Eric Kohn on Directed by John Ford: "Although there's hardly enough information to get a sense for Ford's life, Bogdonavich provides so many excerpts from the movies that the directorial talent is unmistakable."

Credit where credit's due: Comedy Central "has confirmed that it wants to find some way to keep the clips available, and has apparently given the green light for YouTube to put the material back up," reports Nate Anderson for ars technica.

Online viewing tip #1. ScreenGrab's found a 1982 horror roundtable featuring John Carpenter, David Cronenberg and John Landis.

Online viewing tip #2. Alan Smithee (him again!), reviewing Let's Get Frank for Flickhead: "In this simple four-minute clip, Barney Frank reveals himself to be the opposite of everything most people profess to hate about politicians."

Online viewing tips, round 1. Entries in the Night of the Living Dead Speed Remix Competition. Via Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing.

Online viewing tips, round 2. "When every campaign moment lands online, every regional candidate is subjected to a national referendum, and the art of audience-targeted persuasion becomes obsolete," writes Eve Fairbanks for the New Republic. "Of course, we're a long way from that dilemma. And, on the flip side, the YouTubification of politics brings local politicians who are fabulous, visionary speakers more national attention." Examples are strewn throughout the piece.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:16 PM

Fests and events, 11/2.

Vienalle There's more to a good film festival than films, Ronald Bergan reminds us, and relates experiences such as seeing the Northern Lights in Reykjavik and listening to Viva, Kenneth Anger and Peter Whitehead reminisce about the 60s in Vienna.

Global Visions Film Festival opens tonight in Edmonton and runs through Saturday. For the Vue Weekly, Carolyn Nikodym talks with Milena Kaneva, director of the opening film, Total Denial.

Michael Atkinson for the Phoenix: "The 'being Jewish' wrestled with in the [Boston Jewish Film Festival, through November 12] knows nothing from Jewish gangsters or Jewish superheroes or Jewish vampires - it's all about the sensible-shoes-on-the-ground grit and warmth of global life as it is now and has been in the last century. Which is to say, history experienced not by rulers but by citizens, something Jews know the way field mice know predator birds."

Blogging for the London Times, Rob Forsythe and Kira-Anne Pelican pick their favorites from what all the London Film Festival has had to offer.

Sita Sings the Blues

Michael Guillén: "This coming Saturday, November 4th at 8 pm I'm anticipating Oddball Film's presentation "Myth and Music: Sita Sings the Blues," a screening of Nina Paley's mythic, animated work-in-progress opus plus animated gems. Sita Sings the Blues is a unique combination of the ancient Indian epic Ramayana, the 1920s torch vocals of the great Annette Hanshaw, and classically informed and inventive, eye-popping animation."

"How fitting that the Sao Paulo International Film Festival, or the 'Mostra' (short for Mostra Internacional de Cinema), celebrated its landmark 30th year as Brazilians went to the polls to elect their next president," writes Michael Gibbons at indieWIRE.

In a longish survey for WSWS, David Walsh looks back at the political docs that screened in Vancouver.

For the Los Angeles Times, Susan King previews tonight's Centennial Tribute to Otto Preminger, hosted by Peter Bogdanovich (more from David Thomson), and this weekend's Fabulous Versailles series.

Darcy Paquet looks back to Pusan at, where Adam Hartzell writes, "Perhaps it's because So-yeon took the same trip I did to attend the 11th edition of PIFF, from Seoul to Busan via the bullet train, and even stopped in at the same perfume/cologne store I did that ennabled me to relate so well with Sung Ji-hae's debut film, Before the Summer Passes Away. Or perhaps it's because I've had recent conversations with friends about desiring that person who, in all intense intents and purposes, is wrong for you."

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

AFI Fest. Previews and guides.

Peter Bogdanovich: Who the Hell's In It "First, the good news," announces Scott Foundas. "In its 20th year, the American Film Institute's AFI Fest film festival has taken a turn for the better." This sounds like a highlight: "[A]n extraordinary evening Thursday, November 9, when filmmaker and consummate raconteur Peter Bogdanovich performs Sacred Monsters, a series of monologues about the legendary actors and directors (Cary Grant, John Wayne, John Ford, Howard Hawks) he knew in his early days as a movie journalist. I've seen Bogdanovich do this show twice before and can attest that it's a kind of alchemic happening in which, for 90-odd minutes, the 'golden age' of Hollywood shines as brightly as if it had ended only yesterday." As for the bad news, "For starters, the omissions are staggering."

Even so, the LA Weekly's got eight "Critics' Picks" and a fairly extensive guide.

For the Los Angeles Times, Rachel Abramowitz previews the fest, which opened last night and runs through November 12. Plus: Chad Lowe's Beautiful, Ohio, and: Will The Host upset some Americans? Bruce Wallace thinks it might and asks Bong Joon-ho about it.

For the New York Times, Sharon Waxman talks with Emilio Estevez about festival opener Bobby.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:38 AM

Visconti @ 100.

Luchino Visconti "Luchino Visconti occupies a singular position in film history," wrote Maximilian Le Cain in Senses of Cinema nearly five years ago. "He was instrumental in the creation of modern cinema by being the first to throw down the neo-realist gauntlet with Ossessione (1942) and later contributed one of the movement's canonical cornerstones, La Terra Trema (1948). Of the three giants of the first wave of post war neo-realists, he was the only one to maintain his position at the forefront of art cinema into the 60s, when Rossellini had moved to television and De Sica was making more commercial films. Visconti's later career was devoted to the creation of a series of period movies including Senso (1954), The Leopard (Il Gattopardo, 1963) and Death in Venice (Morte a Venezia, 1971) that are still without parallel in terms of atmosphere, detail and sheer dramatic force. It was in these that his genius, although often evident from his earliest work onwards, developed fully."

Visconti would have turned 100 today; Emanuel Levy marked the centennial a few weeks ago: "As with Antonioni, and later Pasolini and Bertolucci, there's an unresolved tension in Visconti's best work between his social Marxist perspective and the commitment to sheer cinematic aesthetics and the beauty of the image as a legit value in its own right, further complicated by his growing awareness of his homosexuality and its impact on his films."

Otherwise, there isn't much in English marking the event other than a translation of a story from the Deutsche Presse-Agentur at Monsters and Critics. But the BFI's fine feature with essays, stills, posters and such, is a good commemorative browse and you can watch Franco Zeffirelli and Maria Callas talk about Visconti at the BBC.

In other languages, an official site in Italy is tracking news of an exhibition and more, while, in the German press today, you might read Bernd Kiefer in film-dienst, Marli Feldvoss in the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger and Peter Zander in Die Welt.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:22 AM | Comments (7)

William Styron, 1925 - 2006.

William Styron
William Styron, the novelist from the American South whose explorations of difficult historical and moral questions earned him a place among the leading literary figures of the post-World War II generation, died yesterday on Martha's Vineyard, Mass, where he had a home. He was 81.


Sophie's Choice rose to the top of The New York Times best-seller list, won the 1980 American Book Award for fiction and was made into a successful movie, starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline, and an opera by the English composer Nicholas Maw. And once again, a Styron project aroused controversy.

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in the NYT.

See also the Wikipedia entry and George Plimpton's interview for the Paris Review.

Updated through 11/7.

Update, 11/3: An appreciation from Michiko Kakutani in the NYT: "All his novels, Mr Styron once observed, focused on one recurrent theme: 'the catastrophic propensity on the part of human beings to attempt to dominate one another.' He speculated in a 1982 interview that this theme found him, as a result of being a young soldier in World War II, contemplating 'the forces in history that simply wipe you out'... Although Mr Styron's ouevre seems somewhat slender in retrospect, each of his major novels built upon its predecessor's achievements, working variations on earlier ideas, while amplifying them through the echo chamber of history. Mr Styron observed after Sophie's Choice that he no longer saw a writer's career as 'a series of mountain peaks' but rather as a 'rolling landscape' with vistas perhaps less spectacular, yet every bit as resonant as those 'theatrical Wagnerian dramas with peak after peak.'"

Update, 11/4: A 1990 interview on Fresh Air.

Update, 11/5: Robert McCrum in the Observer: "With his departure, the long aftermath of the Second World War seems almost concluded."

Updates, 11/7: Lawrence Downes in the NYT: "William Styron's accomplishments as a novelist were justly praised after he died last week. His unorthodox achievement in medicine, as the author of an invaluable primer on clinical depression, got less attention, but is no less worth celebrating."

Nell Casey in Slate: "Styron was certainly not the first celebrated writer to produce a personal account of his own emotional plunge.... But Styron described his illness with a distinct lyrical clarity. He offered up the secrets of his despair but also maintained a degree of formality - occasionally trading the word I for one, as in 'one does not abandon, even briefly, one's bed of nails but is attached wherever one goes.' This choice gave his words a sense of restraint but not withholding - an elegant high-wire act."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:21 AM

November 1, 2006

DVDs, 11/1.

Daughters of Darkness Sort of a Halloween Hangover edition of DK Holm's roundup of DVD reviews this time around - we movie-lovers do hate to see our favorite holiday go - with a special focus on a single, covetable release.

When is a horror film not a horror film? One of the interesting aspects of Harry Kümel's 1971 film Daughters of Darkness is that, despite the classification, it appears to have no components that qualify it for the genre. Officially it is a member of that small sub-set of the genre, the lesbian vampire film, one that includes Blood and Roses and The Vampire Lovers, but this one lacks castles, protruding teeth, diaphanous gowns, or last-minute wooden stake or dawn light-ray rescues. Indeed, Daughters of Darkness takes place in a off-season resort hotel and the traditional dark torch-lit hallways of horror film castles are here exchanged for long well-lit Antonioni-esque corridors.

1970s exploitation specialists Blue Underground have released Daughters of Darkness once before, back in 2003, that disc itself a replacement for a 1998 Anchor Bay disc. Back then, DVD Maniacs said of the Blue Underground release that...

this picture is aimed at an older, more sophisticated audience, so don't expect some mindless, exploitative slasher project here. Yes, you'll see ample sex, violence, and gore, but this isn't the usual horror product, the kind of stuff pushed toward teenagers and what not. The premise is solid, with roots in well-known vampiric lore and some nice twists are kicked in, to keep things fresh. If you're squeamish or easily offended, this one is a lock to knock you off the deep end, as Daughters of Darkness is bathed in depraved moments. I hold this movie in high esteem, as it never holds back its own perverse nature. So if you're a fan of horror or exploitation cinema, this new edition is a must own release.

At the same time, DVD Authority also deemed it "a must-have for both Euro genre and horror movie enthusiasts."

Le Fanu: Carmilla The new release is a special two-disc edition, but the second disc consists of another horror film, Vicente Aranda's 1972 The Blood Splattered Bride, which has some contemporary currency by lending snatches of music to Tarantino's Kill Bill. Daughters of Darkness is a modern version of the legend surrounding the Hungarian countess Elizabeth Bathory, while Bride is a loose adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu's novel Carmilla, transcribed to the screen seven other times. The DVD Journal's Gregory P Dorr rather prefers Bride to Daughters, finding Kümel's film to be "relatively dull" but Aranda's to be "far more entertaining." With its inert pace, Dorr finds Daughters of Darkness, which stars John Karlen (later of Dark Shadows) and Danielle Ouimet as newlyweds, with Delphine Seyrig as the predatory Countess Elizabeth Bathory and Andrea Rau as her companion, to be "incoherent nonsense" with an only "adequate atmosphere of languor and decadence." Bride, on the other hand, transcends its "incoherence amplified by poor technique" with some "inspired moments of faux-perversion."

Rich Rosell of Digitally Obsessed is much more impressed with Daughters of Darkness, asserting that "this isn't your standard issue fang-in-the-neck vamp saga," adding that the "flow of Daughters of Darkness is more about sexual magnetism and control, and damn if it doesn't look good." He is also impressed with the new 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer which "puts the old Anchor Bay version (as well as the 2003 Blue Underground issue) to shame," and notes that most of the supplementary material concerning Daughters of Darkness appeared first on those earlier discs. Of the second feature of the set, Rosell writes that it is "a bit slow-moving, typical of the period, but it carries a beautifully gothic look to it, and waffles between moody and sensual without being particularly frightening."

Ian Jane over at DVD Talk <><> is also impressed with Daughters of Darkness. While complaining about the story line, Jane still asserts that it is "so well-directed and unfolds with such dreamlike pacing and atmosphere that it's hard not to get sucked into the strange world that Daughters of Darkness lays open in front of us." Jane also reminds us that "this is the full strength uncut version of the film which runs approximately ten minutes longer than butchered counterpart which contained a lot less nudity." The Blood Spattered Bride, on the other hand, is "a pretty twisted film with a lot of nice atmosphere and a considerable amount of weirdness going on." Still, it "makes for a great double feature with Daughters of Darkness as it has a similarly dreamlike atmosphere and a really weird vibe going on."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:42 AM

Nigel Kneale, 1922 - 2006.

Nigel Kneale
Pioneering British screenwriter Nigel Kneale, best known for the Quatermass TV serials and films that began in the 1950s, has died at the age of 84.... The writer has been cited as an influence by filmmaker John Carpenter and author Stephen King.

The BBC.

Kneale's work remains rare in my experience of, shall we say, speculative screenwriting in that it has never become old-fashioned. Even when his stories date from another era, such as the time when we stood on the threshold of space travel, they hum with urgency - an urgency of discovery - and take us through experience that leaves us brighter, more aware and speculating of all the mysteries about us that remain to be clarified by the avatars of art and science.


Updated through 11/2.

Science fiction mourns Nigel Kneale because he was one of the genre's most illuminating humanists - not a sentimentalist like Bradbury, or a myth-maker like Frank Herbert, but a confrontational writer in the tradition of Orwell and Huxley, who used the genre as a metaphor for the problematic times in which we find ourselves.
Tim Lucas

See also: Robert Simpson's tribute for HammerWeb, Jack Kibble-White's 2003 interview for Off the Telly, clips from the BBC's interview for the 2005 documentary, The Kneale Tapes and the Wikipedia entry.

Update, 11/2: Mark Gatiss in the Guardian: "Hating the tag 'science-fiction writer,' he preferred to think he used the genre to explore his personal concerns. It's ironic that, although he can lay claim to having invented popular TV, the fact that he wasn't known as a 'straight' writer has forever kept him in the 'cult' bracket, legendary to some but never considered alongside Dennis Potter, David Mercer and Alan Plater.... A true pioneer has passed - and the light of Mars will shine a little brighter tonight."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:54 AM | Comments (1)

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan You've seen the clips, you've heard the raves, you've followed the debates. What you want to know now: Is Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan a good time? Is it actually funny? Yes, J Hoberman establishes right off in the Voice: "[T]he audience with whom I saw the movie wasn't laughing so much as howling." Then come the various anecdotes and so forth - and then:

As sociologist John Murray Cuddihy notes in The Ordeal of Civility, his classic account of newly enlightened Jewish thinkers assimilated into the modern world, Marx, Freud, and Claude Lévi-Strauss were all similarly obsessed with "the raw, the coarse, the vulgar, the naked" and exposing the way in which these things were sublimated by the civil "niceness" of Western culture. So too, Borat (who might add the superstitious, the stupid, the sexist, and the xenophobic to that list).

Indeed, the man who invented Borat is a masterful improviser, brilliant comedian, courageous political satirist, and genuinely experimental film artist. Borat makes you laugh but [Sacha] Baron Cohen forces you to think.

Updated through 11/5.

"[I]t's the rare and elusive film that makes me laugh so hard I snort Diet Coke out of my nose," declares the San Francisco Bay Guardian's Cheryl Eddy. As for Fox halving the number of theaters for Borat's opening, "Apparently, someone's worried that America can't take a joke - a notion that, if proven correct, is indisputable evidence that we're even more fucked up than we thought." Interesting parenthetical throwaway in there, too: "[T]he closest comparison [to Baron Cohen] I can think of is Paul Reubens in Pee-wee's Big Adventure - another road trip movie about a guy in a really awful gray suit."

The Philadelphia Weekly's Sean Burns calls the film "most appalling and original comedy in years - if not decades... The movie has a little something to offend everybody... and believe it or not, it's on the side of the angels."

Why does the film "feel so lazy?" wonders Ed Gonzalez, breaking away from the pack at the House Next Door. "For one thing, it fails to substantiate its unwieldy title."

Anthony Lane just doesn't get it, argues Eric Kohn, though, of course, this would not be the first time.

Online viewing, listening and reading tip. Matt Singer talks with Borat for IFC News, Alison Willmore has mixed feelings about the film, Singer and Willmore talk about it and about Volver and write reviews of both as well.

Online viewing tip. Borat on CNN. Video at Crooks and Liars.

Earlier: David Edelstein in New York, Helene A Aasen and Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian, Alf Garnett and Sukhdev Sandhu in the Telegraph, Nick Schager in Slant.

Updates, 11/2: "On my laff-o-meter, it registered a solid 'very funny'," writes Godfrey Cheshire in the Independent Weekly.

Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix: "Although I knew it was dishonest, cynical, and the ultimate in cheap-shot humor, I laughed more at Borat than at any other film this year. So I guess the joke is on me."

Armond White makes one good point in the New York Press: "Cohen doesn't dare risk offending the markets where his checks are signed." But the rest is all "He's down there in the pits with Andy Kaufman and Neil LaBute, flashing crassness as entertainment," and that sort of thing.

"There is no question that I laughed as much (and as loudly) at Borat as at any film of the several thousand I've seen in my life," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "Does that make Borat the funniest movie ever? Probably not. It's possible, even probable, that I laugh more at, say, Hot Shots! Part Deux than at Ninotchka or any other great romantic comedy. There is a certain kind of humor that provokes laughs louder, more uncontrollable, and more infectious than some other kinds that are just as funny (or funnier) in a softer way."

Yes, it's a comedy, confirms Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper, "But it's also the most outlandish studio-funded conceptual prank since Gus Van Sant's Psycho, a nonstop mindfuck that turns the documentary form, not to mention traditional setup-punch line comedy, inside out."

The film "can teach Americans a thing or two about gross-out comedy and how political incorrectness works when done with pinpoint perfection," writes Steve Ramos in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Adam Doster for In These Times: "Borat examines how the anti-Semitism, racism, sexism and homophobia of Westerners are perpetuated, often through conformity rather than hatred.... As conceived by Baron Cohen, Borat's behavior pointedly calls attention to the cruel realities of American's divisive social relations and ignorance of other cultures.... While Baron Cohen originally set out to satirize bigotry, the comedian unintentionally ended up highlighting the emptiness of the Bush administration's foreign policy rhetoric.... How can Bush disregard the major tenets of democracy when discussing the 'free nation' of Kazakhstan? Simply put, the squashed Kazakh democracy is in the administration's best political interest. Yet with no engagement around these issues, the Bush administration appears insincere in its calls for 'democratization.'"

Eric Kohn for the Reeler: "Validating the closet racist's worst nightmare, he reveals that the biggest monsters aren't overseas - they're hidden in plain sight, shielded by the exclusive dogma of American aristocracy and rampant xenophobia. Cultural learnings, indeed."

"Over the last few weeks, journalists have descended on Kazakhstan," reports Ilan Greenberg in Slate. "Their assignment: Find Borat-like people in Kazakhstan or, failing that, find Borat-like things in Kazakh culture.... This hunt for a phantom movie character is amusing, but it also strikes a nerve."

Updates, 11/3: "[I]t seems instructive to note how discussions of Borat, including the sympathetic and the suspicious, often circle over to the issue of Mr. Baron Cohen's own identity," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Commentators often imply that Borat wouldn't be funny if Mr Baron Cohen were not Jewish, which is kind of like saying that Dave Chappelle wouldn't be funny if he were not black. For these performers, the existential and material givens of growing up as a Jew in Britain and as a black man in America provide not only an apparently limitless source of fertile comic material, but they are also inseparable from their humor. But no worries: Borat makes poop jokes and carries a squawking chicken around in a suitcase."

"They botched the joke," argues Ron Rosenbaum in Slate. "What happened? If you ask me, it was the double-Larry whammy - the heavy hand of director Larry Charles (best known as a Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm director), the guy who managed to turn Bob Dylan's appealingly elusive persona into a leaden, ham-handed, phony-profound parody of itself in the awful Masked and Anonymous. I don't know how much Charles was personally responsible for turning Borat's subtle touch into lead-pipe gag-worthiness (in both senses of the word), but the parallel is suggestive."

Updates, 11/4: This movie really seems to have struck a nerve with the Slate constituency. The most recent additions: Eric Weiner, who's recently adopted a baby girl from Kazakhstan, offers "a rundown of the many things Borat gets wrong about Kazakhstan, and the few things that he gets right." And Jody Rosen argues that "Borat is a throwback to the crudest kind of vaudevillian ethnic burlesque, the stuff that we thought was smoothed out of pop culture long ago. The essence of Borat's act is the same as the dialect comics of 1910: the slapstick story of a greenhorn immigrant, bumbling his way across America, mangling the English language, misapprehending the native customs, and looking ridiculous in a big cowboy hat." What's more, "There are precedents... for 'Throw the Jew Down the Well,' an anti-Semitic song bellowed heartily by a Jew."

"[S]creamingly, hysterically, laugh-through-the-next-joke, laugh-for-the-next-week funny," writes Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle. "It's so inventive, so rich with comic moments, so outrageous, so shocking and unexpected, and so blithely willing to be offensive that it consistently leaves viewers off balance - and howling. This is a film by an original and significant comic intelligence."

Steve Erickson for Gay City News: "I'm not sure that Borat adds up to brilliant satire, rather than a scattershot but highly effective series of jabs. Still, it makes its points without succumbing to the blandness that all too often accompanies good intentions. It may be glorified television shot on extremely low-grade video, but it's a great deal more entertaining than most would-be cinematic American comedies."

FishBowlNY rounds up more linkage.

Updates, 11/5: Finlay Mackay in the NYT Magazine: Borat goes to Hollywood.

Salon's Stephanie Zacharek finds in the film "a pure example of the way good satire can never be clean, either for the perpetrator or for the viewer."

"There are plenty of Jews in comedy, but how many keep strictly kosher and won't use a phone on the Sabbath?" Devin Gordon profiles Baron Cohen. Also in Newsweek, David Ansen: "I haven't laughed so hard in a movie since the world's fattest man reached for an after-dinner mint in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.... Borat paints a portrait of the American subconscious that would give you nightmares - if you weren't laughing so hard."

Annie Wagner in the Stranger: "It's hairy, balls-out humor—but behind the seemingly random spray of political incorrectness, it's very carefully calibrated."

Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman: "Baron Cohen is such a kamikaze performer that he whips up a taste not just for the tears of the clown, but for his bruises and broken bones, too."

Ray Pride at Movie City Indie: "No, it's funnier, much funnier than you've heard, no matter what you've heard."

"I know there will be purists out there questioning my labeling of the film as a documentary, but I think the distinction is true enough," writes Tom Hall: "What makes Borat such a loaded comedy is that no matter when you laugh, and you will, it will always be for the wrong reasons. The hope is that maybe, just maybe, the joke sinks in and we all realize that it's on us because frankly, if we weren't laughing, we'd probably want to cry."

Borat has "made glorious returns at the box office, surprising Hollywood with a #1 debut." $26.4 million. David Germain reports for the AP.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:49 AM