December 31, 2006

Interview. Guillermo Del Toro.

Pan's Labyrinth "They're not ironic," Guillermo Del Toro says of his films. "Not even a thing like Blade II, not even a thing like Hellboy. I believe in these things. I love these things. I'm not being postmodern about it."

David D'Arcy's conversation with the director of Pan's Labyrinth touches on the Spanish Civil War, Mexican film today, the books Del Toro reads (and rereads), the art he collects and the filmmakers he admires.

Related: "If this is magic realism, it is also the work of a real magician," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Fairy tales (and scary movies) are designed to console as well as terrify. What distinguishes Pan's Labyrinth, what makes it art, is that it balances its own magical thinking with the knowledge that not everyone lives happily ever after."

Updated through 1/3.

Michael Koresky dumps on the film twice before he even gets to this: "Ensconced in reassuringly Hollywood-cribbed CGI and offering the kind of black-and-white moral dilemmas and historical simplifications that should rightly make any rabid anti-Spielberg polemicist bear his fangs, Pan's Labyrinth is this year's Am�lie, the prototypical Foreign Film for Dummies."

At, Jim Emerson calls it "one of the cinema's great fantasies, rich with darkness and wonder. It's a fairy tale of such potency and awesome beauty that it reconnects the adult imagination to the primal thrill and horror of the stories that held us spellbound as children."

"Guillermo del Toro's amazing gift for fantasy, as exhibited in his two previous films, Hellboy and The Devil's Backbone, reaches new heights in Pan's Labyrinth, a film in which this brilliant cinematic auteur catapults the horror genre into the realm of mythology," writes Jennifer Merin, introducing her talk with the director in the New York Press.

It's "a dark and disturbing fairy tale for adults that's been thought out to the nth degree and resonates with the irresistible inevitability of a timeless myth," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times, where Susan King profiles Doug Jones, who's played more than a few creatures for Del Toro.

"If Pan's Labyrinth has some classic children's story trappings, don't be fooled into thinking it deserves anything milder than its R rating," warns Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "There are a few moments of sudden, wince-inducing violence; and the tone, on the whole, is very dark."

"What do you say about the best movie you saw all year?" wonders Jette Kernion at Cinematical. "It's happened to all of us: that rare movie that completely knocks you over and blows you away, that takes you somewhere else for two hours or so and returns you wide-eyed and slackjawed, leaving the theater quietly and slightly stunned at having to return to mundane life. How can you write clearly and critically when you just want to say, 'Damn, that was good.'" Also: Kim Voynar talks with Del Toro.

But Vadim Rizov, writing at the Reeler, finds "it doesn't hold a tapered candle to his terrific blockbuster work (Blade II, Hellboy)."

Online listening tip. Del Toro's been a recent guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Earlier waves of reviews: Cannes and NYFF (including David D'Arcy's).

Updates, 1/1: ST VanAirsdale asks Del Toro whether or not it really is a good idea to take the kids.

Marcy Dermansky: "Guillermo del Toro's vision has created a film that will last: an enduring fairytale that resonates and offers new interpretations with every viewing."

Sara Schieron interviews Del Toro for the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

"Don't take your kids to this bloody, nightmarish tale," warns Jeffrey Overstreet in Christianity Today. "It's disturbing and often terrifying. But it's also heartfelt and deeply meaningful."

Updates, 1/3: Both New York's David Edelstein and the New Yorker's Anthony Lane start the year with reviews of Children of Men and Pan's Labyrinth.

Another pairing from Matt Singer at IFC News: "The world of Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth is just as bleak as Perfume's and even more sumptuously adorned. Its frame is infused with equal parts beauty and death, and sometimes the two blend together in fantastic creatures that are amongst the most terrifying I've ever seen in a movie."

The AV Club's Noel Murray gives it an "A-".

C Jerry Kutner explains why he's underwhelmed at Bright Lights After Dark.

Owen Hatherley, on the other hand, explains why "a serious political fairytale wouldn't use the fantasy as myth, but would be totally faithful to the child's eye. This is part of what makes Pan's Labyrinth so intensely powerful, that there's never a moment where the fantasy is debunked."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:18 AM

December 29, 2006

Random bullet-point-fire. 2006.

Except for the death of Robert Altman, not a whole lot rattled my cage this year - probably because many of the films garnering the most raves I take seriously haven't yet opened in Germany. On a variety of film world fronts, though, 2006 seems to have been a year of slow but sure evolution rather than revolution, of barely detectable tectonic shifts that, who knows, may be tightening up for a good and loud crack in 2007. Not that there weren't engaging films to see, stories to blog and criticism to read, of course; but nothing that immediately rearranged the landscape pops to mind. But there's more than that to be said for 2006. From the POV of a media junkie living overseas, a few items I've found worth noting:

Showgirls / Code Unknown

The Da Vinci Code / Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
  • I'll stray from the meta in a bit, but 2006 was a year in which critics - professed, self-professed or neither - did a lot of fretting about the state of film criticism. In the mainstream media, the story crested twice: in May, when anyone who could tap a keyboard demolished The Da Vinci Code and yet the unwashed masses flooded theaters to see it anyway; and again a month later, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. What's more, the masses rubbed salt in the wounds by making both DVDs mega-sellers. They wanted to see it again! And again! And they still don't care what you think about that, either.

    The wounds were hurting. Papers were letting name critics go. There was an ugly shake-up at the Voice. Overall, and taking into account all the obvious exceptions, the printed press, undergoing a long hard squeeze, has tended towards streamlining arts coverage budgets by running essentially outsourced consumer reports rather than actual criticism written from a local point of view for a local readership. The alarms went off this year when it finally sank in that this downsizing would inevitably take some of the stalwarts of what used to be the alternative press down as well.

    But all in all, I'm not as worried as others seem to be. As I've argued here before, good writers and good readers will find each other, and if there's some sort of perceivable value going on where they do, economics will catch up. Yes, it'll be rough going for a while, maybe even a long while. But I remain optimistic that it'll be easier to find good writing and to get good writing read than it was before the advent of the new media that have put this long hard squeeze on the old.

    One slow development I've been happy to see is a fading out of the sort of haughtiness and disregard old media critics used to show the new just a few years ago. It was borne of a willful ignorance in the first place, really, and that ignorance, save for a few dark and faraway corners, is dissipating fast. Most old media critics understand by now that there's more to writing about film online than Ain't It Cool News (not that those guys aren't great at what they do), and perhaps the last of the dinosaurs will take a look at the names participating in the indieWIRE Critics' Poll and count the number who blog or who have written for blogs or other online publications - and maybe even sample a bit of that writing - and concede that there's room in the vast reaches of cinephilia for all of us.

    Can't leave this bullet-point without recalling one of Jonathan Rosenbaum's replies to a question posed by Jeremiah Kipp for the House Next Door a few months ago: "[W]hen people ask me today where I live, I am often tempted to say instead of Chicago, I live on the Internet. That has affected who I am and how I function at least as much and maybe more than my grounding in the 1960s. I also see the Internet as a tool that has allowed me to implement some of my 1960s values."

The Queen / Volver
  • Not only are film publicists already well aware that the eyes of film lovers are turning online as well as to what remains of solid film criticism in print, but so are filmmakers - and, you'd almost suspect, producers as well. I know nothing about what all went into the campaigns for The Queen and Volver, the two most obvious examples, when these films were in the planning stages. But given the systematic changes in film coverage - or, from a producer's POV, film PR - if you can get a film into one of major European festivals in the spring or summer and into the New York Film Festival lineup, you're practically guaranteed wall-to-wall coverage for six or seven months, counting even a limited release after the NYFF, and in the case of these two films, on through awards season stretching into the beginning months of the following year. That's a PR campaign several times longer than the actual shoots.

    Now, I haven't seen The Queen (it opens here in Germany in January). I quite like Stephen Frears (I can hear some of you groaning, but I'm ignoring you) and, like everyone else, adore Helen Mirren. What's more, I'm a true sucker for any film playing in the intersection of the personal and the political. But for all that, I expect to enjoy The Queen, though I seriously doubt it would be possible for almost any film to move me in a way that warrants all this. As for Volver, I have seen it, and I have also seen much better Almod�var. With each passing festival, accolade and award, with each rumination on the filmmaker's "return," Volver appears more and more like some calculated play for something - canonization? You're already there, Pedro, relax - above and beyond, or rather, outside what a filmmaker usually aims to do with a single film, namely, make a good one.

    The point at this bullet, though, is New York: If your film can make a theater there, it can be blogged about anywhere, it seems. How much does this actually help? Naturally, it depends on what sort of audience a film needs. For the truly scrappy DIY indies, it's just about all they can hope for, whereas Ron Howard probably couldn't care less and doesn't need to, either. The interesting cases lie somewhere in between, and anyone dreaming up a package aimed at a Queen/Volver sort of audience has just seen how to badger that audience into feeling absolutely obliged to see the film, however much that audience might or might not want to see it on the film's merits alone.

The Host / Der Freie Wille
  • Hollywood actually fared better overseas than it did in 2005, but there were signs all over of its slippage on a variety of fronts at home and abroad. With the exception of the two already mentioned, not too many blockbusters busted blocks this summer; and when the studios took risks, they were not rewarded - David Poland had some interesting insights on this last month when he saw seven films deliver bad news to future risk-takers: "Great young filmmaker. Tough idea. A supportive studio. And when these films flop - or are perceived as flopping - that is when the price is paid."

    If there were something like a Time magazine for cinema, surely Alfonso Cuar�n, Alejandro Gonz�lez I��rritu and Guillermo Del Toro would appear on the cover as "The Three Amigos of the Year." Of course, none of their 2006 films - Children of Men, Babel and Pan's Labyrinth, respectively - are Mexican films; instead, they represent the forefront of a new international cinema that's livelier and more invigorating than, say, many of the Europudding productions of the last couple of decades.

    If I recall correctly (and I could be wrong), South Koreans not only saw more Korean films than American films this year - many commented that The Host is a better genre flick than any Hollywood's come out with in years - they saw more Japanese films as well. And, as noted the other day, Japanese films dominated the Japanese box office for the first time in 21 years.

    As much as I understand Ronald Bergan and others growing sick and tired of hearing about what a great year it was for British cinema, Brits did have a good year on screen, no matter what the nationality of the various production companies involved have been. Besides all the swooning over Helen Mirren, a Brit became the most talked about comic of the year and Bond was back - some say, better than ever. Myself, I'm looking forward to Red Road, London to Brighton and This is England when they come around.

    Back in May, I went on quite a bit about the year as it was going for German cinema - very well - and I'm happy to report that the good news simply kept on rolling right through to the end. 20 percent doesn't sound like much of a showing at the box office for homegrown films, but for Germany, it makes for a pretty good year indeed. Some of those percentage points can be chalked up to Perfume, of course, a massive hit here, though, for me, a film Tom Tykwer co-produced rather than directed betters it considerably. While Perfume concentrates on one half of novelist Patrick S�sskind's formula, vividly conjuring samples of sensory experiences, it either ignores or simply never deigns to grasp the other half, the deeply cynical yet cheerfully grotesque comedy. Ein Freund von mir (A Friend of Mine), on the other hand, knows exactly what it's about: it's a buddy picture, merrily racing through nearly every clich� imaginable on its way toward proving that, in the right hands, it can work regardless. Those hands: Sebastian Schipper, the daring yet confident writer/director, and a superlative cast: J�rgen Vogel as the extrovert, Daniel Br�hl as the introvert and the exquisite Sabine Timoteo as the woman they love.

    How odd and refreshing it was to see Vogel and Timoteo as a couple again - in a comedy. Since I saw it at the Berlinale in February, Der Freie Wille - not a comedy by any means, and the first film to pair Vogel and Timoteo - remained my #1 film of the year, but, as it's simmered in the back of my mind all these months, I have to say Requiem's been giving it a run for its money. In the end, both films are practically built from the ground up on what are unquestionably the two best performances I saw this year, Vogel in Wille and Sandra H�ller in Requiem. I was pleased to see both honored at festivals outside of Germany throughout the year as well.

    The best reason for optimism with regard to German cinema right now, and a reason we can hope without feeling foolish that 2006 has not been some fluke, is that successes have been spread all up and down the scales, from the box office smashes made by populist entertainments like Perfume and the World Cup documentary Deutschland. Ein Sommerm�rchen to the international recognition garnered by the solid thriller The Lives of Others to critical accolades for the likes of Wille and Requiem to the first murmurs heard outside of Germany of new names, ideas and approaches to cinema coming from what some are calling the Berliner Schule.

Time: The Personal Computer and Ted Turner & CNN
  • YouTube was the biz-n-tech film story of 2006, just as surely as the video iPod was in 2005: we don't yet know what either of these technologies are going to mean in the long run, specifically, but we do intuitively sense that both are big, big deals. In YouTube's case, of course, quite literally: Google forked over $1.65 billion for it, and I'm not sure anyone inside or outside Google knows exactly why. But both innovations suggest, however vaguely, significant steps toward the viewing experience of the future, namely: what you want to watch, when, where and how you want to watch it.

    The video iPod addresses questions of access and portability; as long as it keeps evolving towards a sort of glorified USB stick for video (albeit one with a preview window), it'll stay in the running. YouTube addresses questions of creativity and choice. That's quite a different and ultimately more fascinating field to be exploring. Within a few short months, YouTube became a widely popular companion to libraries such as the Internet Archive, UbuWeb and the Video Data Bank, only much more eclectic and user-friendly. But it's also, of course, a haven for moonlighting curators of pop culture, collagists, mash-up artists and vloggers, one of whom, Lonelygirl15 became a star, then an international mystery, then a Wired cover girl. By the way, if I were drawing up a top ten this year, besides Wille and Requiem, YouTubers would be in there somewhere.

    YouTube was also undoubtedly at least an inspiration for Time's choice of "Person of the Year," i.e., "You." The moment I saw that cover, I recalled two other, earlier abstract choices, the personal computer as "Machine of the Year" (for 1982) and Ted Turner as "Man of the Year," which was shorthand for saying that the big story of 1991 was actually CNN. In a way, each represents a powerful, gravity-like pull on the culture at large, each opposed to the other. In the early 90s, we thought we were witnessing CNN act as a catalyst that would bring about, for better and worse, a global culture. The better part had to do with a community of shared values and the focus of the eyes of the world on trouble spots, ensuring that would-be bad guys would behave themselves under all those lights. The worse part had to do with the suffocation of traditional cultural identities.

    Funny thing is, we assumed that the Internet would only speed up this process; more connectivity for a smaller world. Instead, the Internet, all these personal screens and advances in technology across the board have made for not a smaller world, but many smaller worlds - millions of them. We didn't factor in the rise of so many other 24-hour news networks or the fact that a few would take on ideological bents of their own; or that cameras and editing equipment would become sophisticated and cheap enough to make a career in filmmaking a feasible option for millions; or that the Internet would come up with a way to make their work viewable for next to no cost, should they choose to go that route; or that like minds would virtually cluster so intensely that there would be no time to run across anyone with different points of view. I wouldn't be the first to note that this severe nichification is at least partly responsible for the so-called red state/blue state divide in the US to the extent that the bundles of niches on either side don't just disagree; they genuinely do not understand each other.

Old Joy / Young American Bodies
    The proliferation of media and the niches that glom onto them has, in fact, led to the dissolution of the sort of community, at least on a national scale, that Stephanie Zacharek addressed in Salon the other day and which, as Susie Bright notes in a comment, is an all-media "avalanche." At the same time, even as we lament the loss of the sort of phenomenon that would have everybody talking about, say, The Godfather not just for one weekend but for months, how can we not also celebrate the fact that word on a film like Old Joy - and yes, that would have made the list, too, as it was my favorite American film of the year - can spread to proverbial Kansas even if it never screens there, so that, when it comes out on DVD, the proverbial Kansan cinephile will be sure to see it?

    Or that a filmmaker like Joe Swanberg can do what he does - which is his real home, by the way, Chicago or the Internet? Regardless, as much as I admire LOL, for all the reasons I wrote about here, Young American Bodies is the one that would be on that list, too. I would simply add that, for all the frustrations people assume are inherent to the online viewing experience, YAB reminds us that it can also intensify an element of intimacy between you, the single and private viewer, and the work on the screen.

  • Some have suggested in the past, and again this year, that I write up a top ten somewhat in tune with what I do day in and day out here at the Daily - blog posts, movie reviews, articles, or simply, the best film writing of the year. Lord knows, I'd love to read such a list, but unless you're consciously tending to such a project from January through December, I don't see how it could be done, or at least done right. I did, in fact, start clicking through the archives here a few days ago and realized... this glut is insurmountable.

    Even so, more than a few items have left a lasting impression, and I thought it might be a good idea to choose just one. The choice is an easy one: Matthew Clayfield's entry on Adrian Martin. Naturally, I'm hoping you'll read the full entry from top to bottom, but as we slip from 2006 over to 2007, the closing thought there - especially in context, I reiterate - is one I hope we can all hold onto. Adrian Martin writes to Matt:

    [T]here is life apart from cinema, and sometimes climbing a mountain, going on a trip, doing intensive yoga or being in love is entirely more important than watching and writing about another one hundred movies!

Posted by dwhudson at 3:10 PM | Comments (18)

Shorts, 12/29.

Bullets Over Broadway Delightful holiday reading: David Rakoff has been watching the Essentially Woody series and writing marvelous entries about what all these films conjure for Nextbook. Related: cnw at Reverse Shot on Bullets Over Broadway.

Not at all delightful: "Kyoko Kishida, who starred in the landmark film Woman in the Dunes as a young widow consigned to a life of isolation and Sisyphean labor at the bottom of a sand pit, died on Dec 17 in Tokyo. She was 76," reports Stuart Lavietes for the New York Times.

So the Chicago Reader's had a film blog since mid-November and I've only found it just now? A mention here might not be a bad idea.

"It's a shame that Ciao! Manhattan!, which incorporates [Edie] Sedgwick's passing into its action, is better known today than her Warhol efforts," writes David Ehrenstein in the LA Weekly. "But as hapless as it is, it's still preferable to Factory Girl, a film whose current notoriety stems from Bob Dylan threatening to sue its makers. He has a point. Maybe even a case."

Mrs Waggish presents her "best effort at making sense of" Inland Empire and points to three more "compelling interpretations": Brian Holcomb at Beyond Hollywood, Patrick's Thoughts on Stuff and Dan Eisenberg at Cinemathematics.

"Now that three and half years of futile war and repudiation at the polls have punctured most of the administration's neo-con fantasies, Hollywood feels safe enough to deal with realities the government and media have been spinning fairy tales about for so long," writes Peter Keough, opening a preview of what'll be on offer in early 2007 for the Boston Phoenix.

Darcy Paquet has a few predictions for the year in Korean cinema at

Running Wild "Running Wild is more proof that some of the most stylish action films are currently made in Korea," writes Peter Nellhaus.

Joe Leydon wishes cinema a happy birthday.

Kristi Mitsuda at indieWIRE on The Dead Girl: "As with her first feature, Blue Car, [Karen] Moncrieff exhibits an admirable sensitivity in her earnest regard of her subjects and textural feel for images; she has a way of visualizing the female form - especially when nude - in a manner that attributes rather than strips personhood, as so often happens in American film. But this thoughtfulness is often undone by a disappointing narrative predictability." More from Stephen Holden in the NYT: "If the concentrated bile is bracing to a point, I don't totally buy it." And from Justin Ravitz in the New York Press.

Also in the NYP: "It would be callously simple-minded to reject We Are Marshall as just another piece of Jock Uplift," writes Armond White. "This movie does something special: It confronts the problem of America attempting to heal itself." And: "The Painted Veil fails largely because modern filmmakers have lost faith in how stories convey emotional longing and are powered by erotic impulses (the Sternberg secret)."

Andy Klein on Arthur and the Invisibles: "It may not all be derivative, but it feels that way."

"A film gives the broad sweep; but accumulated detail is what makes a biography." Miss Potter gets Valerie Grove ruminating in the London Times. More from Salon's Stephanie Zacharek: "[T]he picture skips along with surefooted grace; there are times when it seems headed straight for a sticky saccharine trap, but [director Chris] Noonan and his actors always manage to swerve out of danger."

"Luckily, moral lessons are largely irrelevant in an action thriller, and when Children of Men gets going, about halfway through, you'll be more concerned about catching your breath than figuring things out," writes Annie Wagner in the Stranger, where she also talks with director Alfonso Cuar�n. More from Kurt at Twitch: "It is fair to say that Cuar�n has possibly made the best directed film of 2006." Related: Caryn James in the NYT: "[W]hile this Alfonso Cuar�n film is inspired by the 1992 [PD] James novel, the movie is so purely cinematic, and its plot departs so widely from the book's, that the screen version may obscure how wonderfully rich and unlikely that novel is."

City of Men Josh Rosenblatt reviews City of Men, "a 19-episode series about two young men growing up in one of Brazil's most notorious slums" produced by Fernando Meirelles; also in the Austin Chronicle: Joe O'Connell's local news roundup.

Peter Daniels at the WSWS on Fast Food Nation: "It's not every day that a major American film depicts 'illegal' immigrant workers sympathetically, with dialogue about the worthlessness of the Democratic and Republican parties and 'the machine that's taken over the country.'"

Casino Royale "takes considerable pains to suggest that this womanizing and shrewd, instrumentalizing persona is a rational response to - or escape from - his dehumanizing line of work," notes Brian Cook at In These Times, but: the film "may attempt a meaningful pursuit of what makes Bond tick, but in the end, it's all too willing to accept being a mere disposable pleasure."

Matt Zoller Seitz: "To say that the new film version of Charlotte's Web doesn't dishonor its source sounds like a backhanded compliment, but it's actually the highest praise."

Joan Dupont profiles Grbavica director Jasmila Zbanic for the International Herald Tribune.

Back in the NYT: If Savion Glover hadn't agreed to dance for Mumble, there'd have been no Happy Feet. Maybe. John Rockwell looks into it; and Roberto Benigni's The Tiger and the Snow is "a scorching affront to Italians, Iraqis and the intelligence of movie audiences everywhere," declares Jeannette Catsoulis. More from Vadim Rizov at the Reeler.

Online browsing tip. "Magnum photographers at the movies at Slate.

Online listening tip. New Yorker Films founders Daniel and Toby Talbot on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:04 AM | Comments (3)

Lists, 12/29.

Agnes and His Brothers "The term 'independent film' has hovered on the edge of meaninglessness for many years," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, "and 2006 might be the year it finally fell off the cliff." The two-page introduction to his annotated list smartly maps the lay of the land at the moment. Is all well in Indiewood? Depends on where you've set up shop. His #1, by the way, is Pan's Labyrinth; the surprise is his #2: Agnes and His Brothers.

"Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris's Little Miss Sunshine was far from 2006's worst film, but it was the most depressing," writes Steve Erickson at Gay City News. "If 'Indie' has come to mean regurgitating 80s Hollywood comedies like National Lampoon's Vacation, and cosmetic attempts at edge like having an old man snort heroin and read porn, it's better off dying. To be sure, other films offered more promising models of what American independent cinema can accomplish, but most of them struggled to find an audience, and all but the very best suffered from a small-scale, anecdotal focus. There are many Raymond Carvers among our filmmakers, but I'm waiting for a Thomas Pynchon." His #1: A Scanner Darkly.

indieWIRE rolls out another big batch of lists, this time polling industry insiders and bloggers. "We also encouraged participants to consider adding a sidebar of a few favorite undistributed films, to help us when we determine the participants in our next Undiscovered Gems series."

ST VanAirsdale posts the first part of his "Top 10 of Top 10 Lists of 2006," guaranteeing hate mail and appreciative snickers alike from across the 'sphere. One who snickers: David Carr.

Jia Zhangke, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Pedro Costa. Girish posts his top ten.

They have faces now, too. The Lumi�re Reader's Tim Wong praises ten.

El Aura "You want the best new movie of 2006?" asks Vince Keenan. "Fine. Fabien Bielinsky's El Aura bewitched me when I saw it and haunts me still. A heist film, a character study, a brilliantly directed exploration of isolation mental and physical, self-imposed and otherwise. It's one of a kind."

"[I]t wasn't much of a year for the medium or its message," sighs Sam Adams. "In a decade of year-ending, I've never had a harder time compiling a list of films I was genuinely enthusiastic about." But he's got one, and The Death of Mr Lazarescu tops it. Also in the Philadelphia City Paper: Cindy Fuchs finds that " war stories - documentaries and features - made for some of the most gripping, provocative and outraged offerings of 2006." Her #1: Cavite.

At SF360, Susan Gerhard introduces a series of "observations, appreciations, thoughts and complaints on film" from members of the Bay Area film community: Danny Plotnick, Rod Armstrong, Max Goldberg, Marcus Hu, Justin Juul, Sam Green, Michael Fox, Gary Meyer, Sean Uyehara, Joel Shepard, B Ruby Rich, James T Hong, Joel Bachar, Caveh Zahedi and Susan herself.

Eye Weekly presents a "2006 List to end all lists" - and top tens from Jason Anderson, Adam Nayman and Kieran Grant.

"This critic's been carping for decades about feel-good cinema, how lousy it makes me feel, and this year I got the misery I begged for," writes Gerald Peary in the Boston Phoenix. "In 2006, director after director signed in with downer bummer movies, yet I felt no uplift at all. These were EMPTY downer bummer movies, depressing and tortured tales signifying nothing, specious at the core, vacuous at the unhappy endings. Yuck!" He did like at least ten, though, starting with Flags of Our Fathers.

The film critics groups keep announcing and Movie City News keeps tabulating the results.

The Wild Blue Yonder "Wild Blue Yonder is part of a new wave of independently produced, idea-driven science-fiction films. These lo-fi sci-fi movies aren't, in Hollywood parlance, 'toyetic,' and they won't be playing at a theater near you." At Wired News, Jason Silverman presents "four you probably missed in 2006."

At Twitch, Peter Martin lists his top ten viewing experiences.

Jette Kernion and Chris Ullrich unveil their top tens at Cinematical, where Erik Davis picks his favorite trailers.

Capone's #1 at AICN: Children of Men.

Bill Gibron lists "The Top Ten Films of 2006 That You've Never Heard Of" at PopMatters. Also: the top ten Criterion releases.

Mick LaSalle looks back on "ten movies that are not great but that I look back on with particularly fondness."

"MPs yesterday voted Casablanca, the 1942 movie set in the second world war, as their favourite film of all time," reports Paul Lewis in the Guardian. "There was cross-party support for the Oscar-winning epic, which received by far the largest proportion of votes in the survey."

For Variety, Ted Johnson looks back at ten predictions for the year that never panned out.

In the Washington Post, Curt Fields presents "one slightly bewildered DVD watcher's opinion on the best ones to cross his desk in 2006."

Online viewing tips, round 1. At 10 Zen Monkeys, Destiny posts "Ten Video Moments from 2006" and Lou Cabron tags the "Worst Vlogs of 2006."

Online viewing tips, round 2. Erik Davis lists ten favorite shorts at Cinematical.

And finally for today, to be named once as one of the best blogs of the year was the very definition of Modern Fabulosity; but now that Gabriel Shanks is calling the Daily the "Best Movie Blog" of 2006... in the words of one unsung lieutenant, "Well, cover me in eggs and flour and bake me for 14 minutes!"

Posted by dwhudson at 6:32 AM | Comments (6)

Fests and events, 12/29.

The Overture In the Austin Chronicle, Josh Rosenblatt talks with Chale Nafus, the Austin Film Society's director of programming with the encyclopedic mind, about South by Southeast: Films of Thailand and Vietnam, which "will feature six Southeast Asian films over six weeks, a rare opportunity, Nafus says, for Austin audiences to experience the burgeoning yet still unfamiliar film culture of a world halfway around the world." January 9 through February 13.

"Although he was a master of his medium at least as early as 1933, Mizoguchi kept renewing himself," writes Chris Fujiwara, previewing a series at the Museum of Fine Arts for the Boston Phoenix. Through January 14.

Susan King checks up on the American Cinematheque's fourth annual Screwball Holidays series (through January 1) in the Los Angeles Times.

The 50 Years of Janus Films series hits Nashville just after New Year's and runs through February. In the Nashville Scene, Michael Atkinson surveys the list of 30 films on offer, "a crash-course Cinema 101 of international masterpieces," and makes a few recommendations.

Ian Johns previews January's Bogart and Bacall season at the National Film Theatre for the London Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:47 AM

December 28, 2006

Independent Weekly. DVDs and a list.

Independent Weekly: DVD RIP? "What a Rolls Royce is to car fanciers, the recently released Essential Arthouse: 50 Years of Janus Films is to cinephiles," writes Godfrey Cheshire, opening an Independent Weekly cover package on the past and future of the DVD and updating, in a way, his 1999 essays, "The Death of Film/The Decay of Cinema." "I would venture, however, that all announcements of the DVD's death are very premature at best, for two interrelated reasons that are well illustrated by Essential Arthouse. First, people like to watch all sorts of movies, certainly, but they also like to own certain movies, and DVDs provide an attractive way of doing that.... Secondly, classic movies increasingly occupy a place in the culture akin to that of literature."

Zack Smith checks in with local brick-n-mortar video stores. It's been tough going, but the inventive and resourceful ones (e.g., pre-pay policies and stocks of titles not available on DVD) are actually doing fine; Neil Morris briefly looks into the technology that may do in the DVD as we know it; and the IW team then offers "a sampling of the year's most interesting DVDs."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:26 PM | Comments (1)

Lists. LA Weekly.

Army of Shadows "Of the more than 500 new feature-length motion pictures released in Los Angeles (and reviewed in these pages) over the past 12 months, among the very best of them - at least according to this paper's two house critics and the results of the LA Weekly's First Annual Film Poll [of 72 film critics] - were a 37-year-old French wartime drama (Army of Shadows) never before distributed in the US and a three-hour-long Romanian gallows comedy (The Death of Mr Lazarescu) that grossed all of $80,000 during its North American theatrical run," notes Scott Foundas. "Such statistics will, I fear, do little to disabuse people of the idea that movie critics are elitist scum fatally out of touch with the concerns of the general moviegoing public. But remember that these same critics have rallied en masse behind Martin Scorsese's The Departed and a little comedy called Borat - both of which rank among the most commercially successful studio releases of the year."

Ella Taylor, too, puts Army of Shadows at the top of her list and adds a slew of runners-up, a "Turkey of the Year," "Great Moments for Great Dames" and "Unsung Performances."

And Robert Abele's got a "best TV of 2006" list. Also definitely worth noting: Paul Malcolm turns in his final "Video Store Burnout" column.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:58 PM

December 27, 2006

Interview. Tom Tykwer.

Most filmmakers that I know, and actually most film critics that I respect, for them, film really has a drug-like dimension. And it is something that to a degree also makes us these obsessive collectors. I very much relate to Grenouille as a collector in the most traditional meaning and, of course, in the most obsessive, compulsive meaning - that he just wants to have, he wants to know every scent existing. I don't know about you, but I know you're going to Italy to go to some weird silent film festival, so I totally know that you know what I'm talking about. It's about picking out flavors that you haven't had yet. The problem with us, of course, being these film nerds that we are and having seen so many films, is that it gets more and more interesting and you get more and more ambitious to pick one of those flowers you haven't had yet in your collection. I totally understand that this is the similarity between Grenouille and at least film lovers and filmmakers.

Updated through 1/3.

If you find yourself, while watching Perfume, relating to the murderer a little more than you're comfortable dealing with, Tom Tykwer may have an explanation for you in Sean Axmaker's interview.

Related: AO Scott is not alone in his mention of John Waters's "divinely vulgar Polyester, filmed in 'Odorama' and originally released in 1981 with a scratch-and-sniff strip that was handed out to theater patrons to provide a smell track." Tykwer, he writes in the New York Times, "asks to be taken much more seriously than Mr Waters ever has, which has the unfortunate, predictable effect of making his new movie all the more ridiculous." The crux, of course, lies in what to make of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille's gift: "Whereas [novelist Patrick] Sskind portrayed this condition in ripe, sarcastic prose, Mr Tykwer's method is one of stupefying literalism."

In what'll be rather a shock to many, Michael Koresky, writing at indieWIRE, compares Perfume, "a brilliantly designed retreat into an imagined past," to Pan's Labyrinth and finds the latter wanting. "Perfume, for all its ethereal whimsy, feels the infinitely more humane film. This is even its central focus: an allegory about human nature, the desperate need to be loved, and more problematically (though it's a terrifically gonzo gambit) the inherent destruction in artistic creation-miraculously Tykwer makes it work, by heightening and overloading all the viewer's senses at once."

Tykwer, producer Bernd Eichinger and fellow screenwriter Andrew Birkin "have faithfully adapted the plot but willfully missed the point of the story," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "The shame is that as a story about a monster, it had a lot to say about humanity. As a story about a guy with a passion for virgin scents, it really doesn't say anything at all."

"With the help of [Ben] Whishaw's extraordinary performance, and a heavily allegorical climax that is so extraordinary and, if you haven't read the book, so unexpected, Tykwer nearly pulls it off," writes Andrew O'Hehir, who intersperses snippets of a conversation on the phone with the director throughout his review. At the very least, "Tykwer is one of contemporary cinema's great perfectionists, and his re-creation of 18th-century Paris, along with Grasse, the famous 'perfume capital' of Provence, is nothing short of amazing."

"[T]he olfactory theme is pursued with costumed gravitas and whispered awe," writes Ed Halter in the Voice. "Despite dealing a few unintentionally silly moments, director Tom Tykwer (best known for the rave-era novelty Run, Lola, Run) avoids whimsy, opting instead for a dead-serious brand of magic realism."

The film is "just an excuse for Tykwer to wallow in harlequin muck - sometimes thrilling but mostly tacky," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant - before he really gets angry at it.

"It's a film you can wallow in. Marie Antoinette seems like an Adam and the Ants video by comparison," writes Nicholas Barber in the Independent. "But its emotional deadness makes it a bit like a real perfume. It's a sensory treat, but it doesn't take long to fade away."

"Tykwer has woven a darkly unique fable that offers audiences, if they dare, the opportunity to come along for a most intriguing ride," enthuses Kim Voynar at Cinematical; she talks with Tykwer, too.

The Guardian's Stuart Jeffries profiles Whishaw, the newcomer who plays Jean-Baptiste Grenouille.

For Time Out, Chris Tilly talks with Tykwer and Whishaw.

James Crawford talks with Tykwer for Reverse Shot.

Update, 12/29: For the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Sara Schieron talks with Tykwer.

Update, 12/30: Stephen Applebaum interviews Tykwer for the Independent.

Update, 1/1: "I could never imagine myself doing a film without doing the music - or at least being involved in the writing of the music," Tykwer tells the Chicago Tribune's Richard Knight Jr.

Update, 1/3: Brian Brooks introduces indieWIRE's interview with Tykwer, which wraps with a list of his 30 all-time favorite films.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:38 AM

Lists, 12/27.

Inland Empire / Out 1 Critics are forever prefacing their top tens with disclaimers and precautions: Ask me on another day, and I'll give you a different list altogether. Well, they're not kidding. Case in point. Compare and contrast Dennis Lim's ballot for the indieWIRE Critics' Poll and his annotated "Best of 2006" just posted at the main site. Interesting, yes? Maybe more critics should float a top ten towards the end of December and then again in early January, once the year-end storm has calmed.

At any rate, two more lists at the main site: Iraq docs, listed by GCers' ratings, and Calvin Souther and Tiffany Harker list the top seven most F*d-up films to hit DVD in 2006.

If you're still working your way through the iW Critics' Poll, brace yourself. Here comes indieWIRE again with top tens from iW editors, writers and contributors. Also: Jonny Leahan: "2006 spawned a wealth of excellent documentary films, a high percentage of which dealt with either matters of music or politics - and many even combined the two themes."

These are the days when the jostling for position on the Top Tens chart and Awards Scoreboard at Movie City News begins to suggest something like consensus. List junkies: you know where to keep an eye.

Applause Dave Kehr: "Here are the 25 films named by the Librarian of Congress, James Billington, to the National Film Registry for 2006."

"Some of the most interesting art/indie movies that I saw or heard about this year were self-distributed movies," writes Sujewa Ekanayake. "In celebration, here are some lists."

"There's such an uneasy, nervous collection of films, with all sorts of wartime anger and confusion spilling outside the frame," writes Sean Burns, introducing his top ten for the Philadelphia Weekly. "On the surface these pictures might seem an eclectic bunch, but underneath the hood they've all got moving parts date-stamped with the year 2006." His #1: Children of Men.

Cinematical editor James Rocchi also has Children up there; and Cinematical's Christopher Campbell 'fesses up to his "Top 10 Guilty Pleasures of 2006."

With none of last year's fanfare or introductory warm-ups, Time's Richards Corliss and Schickel post a curt top ten. Their #1: Letters From Iwo Jima.

Bad Lit's "Movie of the Year": Waiting for NESARA: "The NESARA referred to in the title is a bizarre cult that believes that George W Bush is a space alien preventing the return of Jesus Christ in his spaceship to save us all."

You'll have to scroll down a bit, but when you do, you'll see that Howl's Moving Castle tops Anime Talk's 10 at DVD Talk.

Among City Pages' "Artists of the Year": Sweet Land director Ali Selim, television writer David Simon (The Wire), Friends with Money director Nicole Holofcener, David Lynch, Neil Young and Robert Altman.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:26 AM | Comments (3)

Notes on a Scandal.

Notes on a Scandal "What is Notes on a Scandal?" asks Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. Rhetorically, of course. "Well, for starters, it is a painstakingly classy package. The film's director, Richard Eyre, ran the National Theater in London, and the screenwriter, Patrick Marber, wrote the play Closer, which became something of a bigger cultural event when Mike Nichols decided to transpose it to the screen. (The composer for this film, doodle-doodle-doodle, is Philip Glass.) The actors in Notes on a Scandal are equally distinguished: [Judi] Dench and [Cate] Blanchett are among the finest on the market today, and each can deliver expert performances, even when, as is the case here, their roles are false and hollow. The performers sell the goods, but the goods are cheap."

Updated through 1/3.

Michelle Orange at the Reeler: "Fans of Dench or Blanchett or both will have an absolute shit fit watching the actresses grab their roles, and each other, with both hands (and in Dench's case, possibly a foot); the even better news is that the material they have to work with is more than up to the challenge, and the film itself a measured and yet gloriously overblown study of desire, entitlement and the twists we experience while shuttling between the two."

Jason Clark in Slant: "Dench is the best thing about this deliciously overheated melodrama, directed with too-brisk economy by Richard Eyre (Stage Beauty) and scored with typical whiplash by Philip Glass, whose orchestral headaches actually work in this context."

"Whatever Heller is lampooning in her wickedly smart exploration of unequal female friendships - those strangely ubiquitous associations based on the tacit agreement that the less fortunate friend will validate the feelings of martyrdom of the more fortunate friend - Marber and Eyre couldn't be less interested," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "What they go for is maximum bombast... Sexy, aspirational and post-politically correct, Notes on a Scandal could turn out to be the Fatal Attraction of the oughties."

And again: it's "a grim piece of work - Fatal Attraction for the art-house crowd, shorn of its predecessor's fearful misogyny," writes Robert Wilonsky in the Voice.

Updates, 12/29: "One thing that marks the dark brilliance of Notes on a Scandal is the level of the acting, but that is just part of a larger issue: its vision," writes the Washington Post's Stephen Hunter. "I can't remember a film that sees the here and now more precisely, one that offers total believability in the tone and motive of its characters and then goes further, showing us a whole and completely recognizable world."

Marcy Dermansky talks with Cate Blanchett.

The Reeler meets Marber.

"Chris Menges, the soft-spoken cinematographer who also shot Dirty Pretty Things, The Killing Fields and North Country says it was the screenplay that first drew him to the project," writes Deborah Netburn in the Los Angeles Times. "To get that feeling of spontaneity Menges shot most of the film with a handheld camera that weighed about 36 pounds. 'It was quite heavy, but the actors could move as they felt inspired to because they didn't have to hit marks and they were not locked down to routines,' he said. 'And if you are using that kind of camera you respond emotionally and physically to their performance. It is more like a dance.'"

Update, 1/3: "[T]he book's subtler sapphic undercurrent here risks curdling into a retro evil-predatory-lesbo vibe," writes Dennis Harvey in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "Still, the movie's minor flaws are more than compensated for by a gold-plated cast."

Posted by dwhudson at 10:05 AM

Shorts, 12/27.

James Brown: I Feel Good "Spike Lee has signed on to direct a feature on the life of James Brown for Paramount and Imagine Entertainment," reports Michael Fleming in Variety. "Brian Grazer is producing, and the pic could be in production by late next year, though 2008 is more likely."

In the Los Angeles Times, Jay A Fernandez previews Jake Kasdan and Judd Apatow's music biopic parody, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, to star John C Reilly.

"The reputations of both Douglas Sirk and Samuel Fuller are secure among today's more serious film buffs - and even among some not-so-serious ones, thanks to high-profile homages from the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Todd Haynes," writes Bilge Ebiri at ScreenGrab. "So it's a bit of a surprise that 1949's frazzled noir Shockproof, directed by Sirk from a screenplay co-written by Fuller, is so little known."

"Magic realism leavened with moral seriousness, Pan's Labyrinth belongs with a handful of classic movie fantasies: Cocteau's Orphée, Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter, Neil Jordan's The Company of Wolves," suggests J Hoberman. (Related: Mark Olsen profiles Ivana Baquero in the LAT.) Also: "Revived for a week at the IFC, Jack Garfein's Something Wild, an independent production first released during the Kennedy administration, is an urban fairy tale in several senses."

And also in the Voice:

The Dead Girl

  • Jim Ridley: "It's easy to overpraise a movie like the showily acted, arty Dead Girl because it offers an antidote to Turistas' zipless bloodletting - just as it's easy to cop a knee-jerk pose of moral superiority to the torture-porn genre, which can fiddle with our sympathies and taboos in illuminating ways. But [Karen] Moncrieff's glum, somber film is something of a needed corrective at the moment, when horror movies are turning into weightless exercises in morally sanctioned sadism." But for Slant's Ed Gonzalez, it's a "ousy traffic jam of a movie." Related: It's Mark Olsen again, this time profiling Moncrieff for the LAT.

  • "Haven't the people of Iraq suffered enough?" asks Ed Halter. "Nearly four years of destruction, torture and chaos, a monumentally botched occupation and reconstruction, and now a new indignity: serving as collective straight man to spasmodic Italian actor-director Roberto Benigni in his bafflingly obtuse The Tiger and the Snow."

  • Ella Taylor: "Blackness may have lurked within the Potter heart, but you'd never know it from Miss Potter, which shifts the burden of ill humor onto the lady author's petit bourgeois mother (the excellent Barbara Flynn), thus freeing Renée Zellweger to perk up Beatrix into a chipper cross between Bridget Jones and Mary Poppins." For Jason Clark, writing at Slant, it's "dreadful... Perhaps the most pointless film bio of all time." Related: Vadim Rizov talks with the cast and director Chris Noonan for the Reeler.

"Luc Besson's Arthur and the Invisibles clears the smog left behind by the year's dubious family entertainments," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant. Also: "Ellen Bruno has spent almost 20 years making films about chaos and renewal in Southeast Asia, all rarely seen. Playing for one week at New York City's Film Forum, a program of three films by the documentary filmmaker lays bare her ballsy humanitarianism but exposes her sketchy lyricism."

Clara Rose Thornton talks with Edward Norton about The Painted Veil for Stop Smiling. Related: Dennis Harvey in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Manhattan Murder Mystery Manhattan Murder Mystery has "a surprisingly sturdy plot; though it moves along via wild coincidences and slapdash logic gaps, it's full of enough twists and turns and has so many virtuoso surprises up its sleeve that it could have stood on its own without having to go all mega-meta hall of mirrors-ish in that Lady from Shanghai climax," finds Reverse Shot's robbiefreeling.

"[T]he reality of Italian politics goes way beyond the most fertile imagination," writes Richard Phillips in a WSWS piece on Nanni Moretti's The Caiman.

Mark Schilling in Variety: "Japanese pics will grab a majority share of the local B.O. in 2006 - the first such victory in 21 years - according to figures released by the Motion Picture Producers Assn of Japan, also known as Eiren."

Online browsing tip. "Today's Pictures" at Slate: "The Miraculous Marlene Dietrich."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:56 AM | Comments (2)

Lists. SFBG.

SFBG The San Francisco Bay Guardian's annual end of the year film issue "gives ideas and opinions precedence over bogus math," writes Johnny Ray Huston. "Antiauthoritarian up through the last second of every December, we've discovered that if you collect commentary from a varied group of imaginative people, certain patterns of creative resistance emerge that are a lot more revealing than any number one spot."

This is most immediately visible in "Cinema 2006," a monster list of lists featuring titles and/or commentary from Craig Baldwin, Bong Joon-ho, Bryan Boyce, Michelle Devereaux, Sarah Enid Hagey, Jesse Hawthorne Ficks, Sam Green, Dennis Harvey, Rian Johnson, Jonathan L Knapp, Joo Pedro Rodrigues, Joel Shepard, Sean Uyehara, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Pinky and D Eric Beckles of TV Carnage.

Pan's Labyrinth

"Mamma mia, was there ever a year crammed with more bad mothering run stealthily amok, far from most of the multiplexes and the real-life broodies dragging their spawn to the latest animated feature?" asks Kimberly Chun. Topping her "Lady Feast 11": "Ivana Baquero in Pan's Labyrinth and Ko Ah-sung Ko in The Host.

"If the movies generally reflect how the public wants to see itself, then 2006 suggested to a large extent that few viewers see the point of happy traditional-family portraiture, even as fantasy material," proposes Dennis Harvey. "Thus it shouldn't have been such a surprise, maybe, that the year's big sleeper was Little Miss Sunshine - a family road trip movie in which everybody who's old enough to have an opinion loathes everyone else, mostly for good reason. Saddling each relationship with maximum dysfunction, winking at attempted suicide and the appearance of pederasty, the smugly clever script allowed audiences to feel superior to the hapless Hoover clan even as they bought into caring about them." His #1: Quinceaera.

Chuck Stephens cuts straight to the list, annotated and entitled "Eleven patriot acts," and topped by Syndromes and a Century.

"In my seven months in Mexico, I went to a grand total of one museum, one cathedral, and zero ancient pyramids. Mostly, I just watched movies," writes Jason Shimai. His fitting #1: Battle in Heaven.

Battle in Heaven

More from Sergio de la Mora: "In 2006 the global media blitz continued to focus on the three Mexican directors - Alfonso Cuarn, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Gonzlez Irritu - who've been lured by Hollywood. But a new generation of auteurs, whose approaches to filmmaking range from minimalistic to baroque, are redefining and reinvigorating film and generating debate about a genuinely new Mexican cinema." Besides Battle, seven more Mexican features are highlighted.

Criticine editor Alexis A Tioseco looks back on the year in Philippine cinema: "Today independent - and its many synonyms - has become a hot buzzword in the Philippines. Young filmmakers, students, festivals, even commercial studios are beginning to use the word, defiling the purity that was once associated with it." Somewhat related are Raya Martin's "twin cinema peaks of 2006," but only because they're Raya Martin's. Pedro Costa's Colossal Youth "felt like a rebirth of new cinema," while "(Re)Discovering" Philippe Garrel is the other.

Max Goldberg vs Cheryl Eddy! Goldberg argues that it was "a good year for boy-men at the movies"; not at all, counters Eddy. Max Goldberg's #1: Old Joy; Cheryl Eddy's: Borat.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:13 AM | Comments (5)

Lists. Salon.

Whether or not you're up for another list, Salon's Stephanie Zacharek bears quoting at length right here:

Robert Altman

[W]hatever opens big this week will be nearly forgotten by the next anyway, which is one of the saddest things about living in a time when several hundred movies, from tiny indies to monster blockbusters, are released each year. There's no time to savor anything, to compare notes with our friends, to catch wonderful things we might have missed - smaller movies, in particular, often disappear from theaters before anyone can even register their presence. The loss of an artist like Robert Altman would be difficult to bear in any year. But his loss cuts even deeper because he came of age as a filmmaker in an era when people could still be galvanized by movies, when there was time to refine our likes and dislikes, to parse our passion for or ambivalence about a picture before the next weekend's wave would roll in. We don't need more movies in our lives. We need more time, a commodity that's in short supply for almost everyone I know, to be able to catch at least some of these movies on the fly and define for ourselves which ones really matter.

And Salon picks its top A&E stories.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:42 AM | Comments (2)

Gerald Ford, 1913 - 2006.

Former President Gerald R Ford, who was thrust into the presidency in 1974 in the wake of the Watergate scandal but who lost his own bid for election after pardoning President Richard M Nixon, has died.

James M Naughton and Adam Clymer in the New York Times.

Updated through 12/30.

John Updike: Memories of the Ford Administration

(Sex still had a good name during the Ford Administration. Betty Ford had been a footloose dancer for Martha Graham and announced at the outset of the administration that she and Gerald intended to keep sleeping in the same bed.... The paradise of the flesh was at hand. What had been unthinkable under Eisenhower and racy under Kennedy had become, under Ford, almost compulsory. Except that people were going crazy, as they had in ancient Rome, either from too much sex or from lead in the plumbing. Ford, a former hunk, got to women in a way Nixon hadn't. Twice, I seem to remember, within a few weeks' time, a female went after him with a gun; Squeaky Fromme was too spaced to pull the trigger, and Sara Jane Moore missed at close range...)...

In that dear dying movie house, whose name was Rialto, with its razored plush seats and flaking gilt cherubs, my three fuzzy-headed cherubs and I saw The Godfather: Part II and Jaws. Both terrified me and Daphne, though the boys pooh-poohed us. By the time of Jaws, Andrew was big enough, with a driver's license, to be humiliated by going to the movies with his father. And though Jaws packed them in, up into the raised loge seats and the precipitous balcony, the Rialto's fate was sealed; within months it went X-rated.

John Updike's narrator, Alfred Clayton, in Memories of the Ford Administration.

Update, 12/29: Mr Fish: "Pardon Envy."

Update, 12/30: Writing in Slate, both Christopher Hitchens and Timothy Noah (twice) call for an end to the hagiography.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:28 AM | Comments (1)

December 26, 2006

Cinema Scope. 29.

Still Life Shelly Kraicer, who's just updated the Chinese Cinema Site, celebrates Jia Zhangke's Venetian Golden Lion for Still Life in the new issue of Cinema Scope: "His works advance the art of cinema in ways that are dazzlingly innovative, while also being precisely attuned to the radical new demands of 21st century society. Each of Jia's films articulates an abstract structure of time and space, and a more sensual structure of feeling, through which we can see and feel our way to coming to grips with a new, changing world."

In his editor's note, Mark Peranson remembers Danile Huillet: "Her death must be considered the most significant film event of 2006." Olaf Mller on Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub's Quei loro incontri: "its lucidity, serenity, and talk of man's mortality - and the folly of it all - make it feel like a testament, a quintessential last film."

"At times, [Abderrahmane] Sissako's films seem to simply appear, processing the problematics of return without ever establishing a home base they are traveling from," writes Michael Sicinski. "In Sissako's work the traveller tends to emerge on the scene in media res, and not without a degree of befuddled alienation; in this regard the characters' experiences mirror the logic of the commodity form."

As always, Jonathan Rosenbaum reminds us of the vast and varied treasures to be found outside of Region 1. Is this his longest "Global Discoveries on DVD" column yet? Regardless, it's busting out all over.

The Last Winter And again, as always, Cinema Scope features interviews you won't find anywhere else: Kevin B Lee talks with Hong Sang-soo about Woman on the Beach and Adam Nayman talks with Larry Fessenden about The Last Winter.

Jay Kuehner: "If Cristi Puiu's quotidian epic The Death of Mr Lazarescu (2005) merits the declaration of a Romanian new wave, then Corneliu Porumboiu's modest debut, the Cannes Camera d'Or-winning 12:08 East of Bucharest, stakes out the studiedly minimalist end of the scale; it's no less of an achievement, just a different species of the same genus."

In the indieWIRE Critics' Poll, we saw a preview of Christoph Huber and Mark Peranson's furious defense of Dj Vu, in which they argue that Tony Scott's "themes and structures cry out for old-school auteurist appreciation."

"Just as the structure of Mulholland Drive (2001) - with its decisive fault line and eureka epiphanies - reflects its evolution from open-ended TV pilot to stand-alone feature, Inland Empire is also shaped by the conditions of its creation," writes Dennis Lim. "What's 'beautiful' here is the relative absence of barriers between the director's unconscious and what he puts onscreen."

"Scorsese has become less a going concern than a public trust, his secular sainthood guaranteed even further by his laudable contributions to film preservation and restoration," notes Andrew Tracy. "The crucial defect of The Departed is that it is about nothing - which, in other hands, needn't be a weakness." But that's just for starters: "[W]herefore anoint Scorsese virtuoso in the absence of virtuosity?"

Posted by dwhudson at 7:57 AM | Comments (1)

Brooklyn Rail. Dec 06 / Jan 07.

Brooklyn Rail: Dec 06 / Jan 07 In the new issue of the Brooklyn Rail, Matt Peterson places The Case of the Grinning Cat within the context of Chris Marker's oeuvre. The film "comes from an artist who continually challenged himself to make sure his mastery of craft - which could range from ground-breaking to mesmerizing - never overshadowed the work's content, which was often political with an unapologetically subjective commentary (and a love of cats)." Also: reviews of Michael Haneke's The Seventh Continent and Lars von Trier's Manderlay.

David N Meyer on Casino Royale: "The message is clear: when white folks have policy goals, the Third World will just have to bear the consequences." Also, the "Leone-Sirk-O-Rama (In Thai)," Tears of the Black Tiger.

For Sara Mayeux, The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes " is not so much a movie. The earlier term 'moving picture' better captures Piano Tuner: a series of images tied loosely together by a narrative idea."

David Wilentz: "An air of simmering perversion permeates the 1968 thriller-cum-social commentary Pretty Poison."

Williams Cole: "It remains to be seen if the Borat fallout will only make people more wary than they already are to participate in documentary film. Hopefully it won't. But if it does it will be a loss that far outweighs any Cultural Learnings of America that Borat provides."

Related online listening tip. Publisher Phong Bui's been a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:49 AM

Shorts, 12/26.

2 or 3 Things I Know About Her "Jean-Luc Godard's 1966 Two or Three Things I Know About Her not only is as timely as ever but also exudes the blistering force of prophecy," writes Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times:

Everything that intrigued yet repelled Godard about modern urban life 40 years ago - the increasing disenfranchisement of the working class, the challenge of sustaining a sense of self in a relentlessly depersonalized, dehumanized consumer society, the erosion of freedom and opportunity in a rapidly evolving technological universe - has only intensified over the decades. Godard's protest of the American quagmire in Vietnam applies to the US invasion of Iraq with tragic accuracy. There seems no question that Two or Three Things stands among the finest achievements of one of the cinema's greatest iconoclasts.

"With 2 or 3 Things... he is exploring film... as an explicit method of analysis - in this case to study and critique the suburbanization of Paris and the growing middle class," notes Darren Hughes. "In this context, the apocalyptic violence and decay of Weekend is downright sublime. 'End of film. End of cinema.'"

Back to Kevin Thomas: "Only now has it become possible to see Rules of the Game as it looked upon its July 7, 1939, Paris debut. That's because Criterion Films has undertaken a complete digital restoration of a fine-grain master print located in Paris after a painstaking search."

Also in the LAT: Irene Lacher profiles Ken Watanabe, Richard Covington has a backgrounder on Miss Potter and Megan Garvey talks with screenwriter Patrick Marber and novelist Zo� Heller about the adaptation of What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal.

Notes on a Scandal

"Notes on a Scandal is another squirm-und-drang movie: too creepy-sad to be a comedy, too intense to watch quietly, without letting out frequent whoops," writes David Edelstein in New York.

"Favorite blog of the moment: Armond Dangerous, dedicated solely to 'parsing the confounding film criticism of Mr Armond White,'" writes Alison Willmore in an entry at the IFC Blog, in which she offers quick takes on several films out and about right now.

"Catching up with several of the fall's films, I was struck by how often they played quite self-consciously with the overall shape of their plots," writes David Bordwell.

"Edward Norton is smart, talented and more invested than most working actors in the final cut of his movies." In the Hollywood Reporter, Anne Thompson looks back on his "astonishing trifecta" this year: Down in the Valley, The Illusionist and The Painted Veil.

Erik Eckholm reports on a documentary screening in February as part of PBS's Independent Lens series, Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes: "What concerns [director Byron] Hurt and many black scholars is the domination of the hip-hop market by more violent and sexually demeaning songs and videos � an ascendancy, the critics say, that has coincided with the growth of the white audience for rap and the growing role of large corporations in marketing the music."

Also in the New York Times:


  • On view at the [Museum of the City of New York] through Jan 3, Willing to Be Lucky: Ambitious New Yorkers in the Pages of Look Magazine presents 130 photographs of artists, dancers, actors, architects, showgirls, boxers, and eccentrics culled from the museum's collection," writes Philip Gefter. "One of the standouts turns out to be the photographer rather than the subject: Stanley Kubrick, who was born in the Bronx and sold his first picture to Look in 1945, when he was just 17... With his series on boxers and showgirls, Kubrick emerges as the dark heart of the show, [curator Tom] Mellins said."

  • From Paris, Alan Riding reports on Fr�d�ric Martel's book Culture in America, in which he "challenges the conventional view here that (French) culture financed and organized by the government is entirely good and that (American) culture shaped by market forces is necessarily bad."

  • Stephen Holden reviews Night at the Museum (related: Lesley O'Toole meets Ben Stiller in the Independent and Sheigh Crabtree has two pieces on the visual effects in the LAT) and We Are Marshall.

Jeanine Plant at Alternet on Home of the Brave: "Depoliticizing a deeply political topic is nothing new for a mainstream Hollywood film. But political aversion at this moment in time is practically spineless.... But for all of its evident cowardice, the film is nevertheless instructive."

Also at Alternet: "My identity, in part, has been shaped by the effects of a culture of violence and apocalyptic war best found not so much in the stuff of [Mel] Gibson's Mayan epic, Apocalypto, but in the stuff of his Christian epic, The Passion of the Christ," writes Roberto Lovato. More on what Gibson got both wrong and right from Louis EV Nevaer for New American Media.

Michael Guill�n talks with Patrick Galloway about his book, Asia Shock: Horror and Dark Cinema from Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and Thailand, and with Molly Haskell "about her collaboration with Robert Osborne on Turner Classic Movies."

Liberation: M Chat Steve Erickson in Gay City News on The Case of the Grinning Cat: "While some of [Chris] Marker's fascination with protests clearly stems from their evocation of the 60s counterculture, he champions revolt in a way that goes beyond a narrow definition of politics." More from Daniel Kasman.

Barry Levinson will be directing Robert De Niro in an adaptation of producer Art Linson's What Just Happened? Bitter Hollywood Tales From the Front Line. Via Monika Bartyzel at Cinematical and Production Weekly.

Oscar Levant would have turned 100 this month. You might remember the pianist, composer and actor best for An American in Paris, but for Misha Donat, writing in the Guardian, "The best of his films was The Band Wagon, the Minnelli musical made in 1953, starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse."

"Picnic at Hanging Rock is the exemplary study of disapparition in cinema," writes k-punk. "I know of no other major film which deals with unexplained disappearance."

At, Adam Hartzell is left unimpressed by Rewind and Darcy Paquet profiles Baek Yoon-shik.

Peter Nellhaus on Kon-Fai-Bin (Dynamite Warrior): "[S]adly, it doesn't live up to the promise of the posters or preview."

New reviews at Slant: Nick Schager on Tears of the Black Tiger and Night at the Museum and Ed Gonzalez on Comedy of Power and Coffee Date.

"Flags of Our Fathers is touched by greatness," argues the Observer's Philip French.

Did you know that Borat's actually speaking Hebrew? The AP's Aron Heller in Jerusalem: "The irony of a Hebrew-speaking anti-Semite is not lost on the admiring Israeli audience, which has made the movie a huge hit here."

Shoot the Piano Player John Adair on Shoot the Piano Player: "Fran�ois Truffaut's 1960 comic-noir offering both defies and fulfills genre expectations."

"Thanks to films like The Descent and 28 Days Later, I believe that over the course of the next year horror films will be coming into a renaissance not seen since the days of Scream," submits Drew Morton at Dr Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope.

The International Film Festival Rotterdam has announced its first eight competition titles for its 2007 edition," reports

"Several well-known Magnum photographers will be present when the Berlinale screens 33 films by and about the agency's great photo reporters during this year's special series Magnum in Motion."

Online browsing tip. The site for Grindhouse. Via Brendon Connelly, who's got tips for making your way around in there.

Online listening tip. Christine Vachon talks about A Killer Life: How an Independent Film Producer Survives Deals and Disasters in Hollywood and Beyond on Fresh Air.

Online viewing tip. Ray Pride has CNN's quick interview with Spike Lee talking about what's been added to the DVD version of When the Levees Broke and his plans to stick with this story "over the years."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:08 AM | Comments (1)

Lists, 12/26.

Vajra Sky Over Tibet "In keeping with our mission to celebrate independent and underground cinema, Film Threat would like to offer an encore appraisal of the best films that never received a wide release in 2006." Topping that list is Vajra Sky Over Tibet, "an extraordinary achievement at every possible level."

"If there is a consistent thread in my selections for this year's Senses of Cinema: 2006 World Poll," writes acquarello, "it is that these films in one or another define the complexity of human memory, whether alienating in its inescapable persistence, inerasable in its architectural concreteness, frustrating in its grawing consciousness, haunting in its recursive irresolution, and quietly tragic in its sad, consuming delusion." A top ten, plus ten honorable mentions.

"Memories of Matsuko is the best movie of 2006. From any country," announces Grady Hendrix.

Why stop at ten? Kathy Fennessy's got a top 30: "Anything beyond 30 seems like overkill, so I list most docs and re-releases separately. In other words, it's really a top 50, although I try to pretend otherwise..." And then there's the year in music.

At the top of Paul Matwychuk's top ten: CSA: The Confederate States of America.

Observer critics look back on 2006. So do the Sunday paper's readers.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley British cinema is "in the midst of a boom," proclaims the Telegraph's David Gritten: "The evidence is everywhere: a remarkable number of acclaimed British releases this year; several obvious British contenders for the forthcoming awards season; a handful of genuinely talented new filmmakers; and even some box-office successes.... Even more heartening has been the range of estimable films coming from these shores: The History Boys, adapted from the stage; the ingenious fact-fiction construction of The Queen; the riveting reconstruction of awful events in United 93; The Road To Guantanamo, a provocative documentary; Red Road and London to Brighton, two gritty urban dramas by first-time filmmakers; angry historical polemic in The Wind That Shakes the Barley."


Empire looks back on 2006, not just listing its top 25 but reviewing them as well and submitting over a dozen more top fives (e.g., Cameos, Comebacks, Characters and so on). Their #1: United 93.

Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum tops her list with Letters From Iwo Jima, while Owen Gleiberman goes for Casino Royale. EW readers vote for The Departed.

Jeffrey Wells has got a top eleven and a slew of winners in brand new categories. His #1 is Children of Men, and that goes for Kim Voynar at Cinematical as well.

Pan's Labyrinth / Paperhouse

Jim Emerson draws up an intriguing list of double bills, "suggestions for fruitful ways of viewing some of the year's best movies, alongside some of the best of past years." He also, of course, edits, where Roger Ebert sends a year-end message. "Onward to a Victorious 2007!" Right back at you, Mr Ebert.

Matt Riviera, who saw over 200 features this year, has got lists for nearly two dozen separate categories.

Chuck Tryon: "My list is, once again, dominated by documentaries, but living in DC for much of the year and attending Silverdocs focused my attention much more heavily on docs than other categories." His #1: Black Sun.

More lists from Time Out: Chris Tilly and David Jenkins.

J Robert Parks is posting ten of his favorite reviews of the year, one each day, as a sort of run-up to his top ten, which'll appear on January 1.

Premiere highlights the "24 Finest Performances of 2006." You'll find 18 more lists, some still relevant, some not, here.

Tim Wong selects "the ten best poster designs of 2006" for the Lumi�re Reader.

Scott Kirsner has a different sort of top ten at CinemaTech: "Here's how I'd frame the list: as the worlds of technology and entertainment increasingly overlap, what were the most significant happenings of 2006? And what sort of future do they point toward?"

Matt Dentler's posting "Film Folks' Five Favorite Albums for 2006."

Amitabh Bachchan Amitabh Bachchan's been voted Indian of the Year in a Times of India poll. Reuters reports.

Garry Maddox recalls the highs and lows for the Sydney Morning Herald. Via Movie City News, where Larry Gross points out that three news stories of the year went underreported.

Online listening tip. Judd Apatow talks about his five favorite DVDs on NPR.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:38 AM

DVDs, 12/26.

Following a list of lists from DK Holm, who's recently gone on a holiday viewing binge for Quick Stop Entertainment, a few more lists and DVD-related items.

Stagecoach: Special Edition Though a host of DVDs are still coming out, if indeed not flooding the Christmas-decorated Borders and black-wreathed Towers, some of the better review web sites, such as the DVD Journal, are taking a holiday break, no doubt exhausted by the sheer achievement of covering over 500 new platters in the past year (the Journal will be back in action on January 2). So this becomes a time for catching up, for reflection, and for adding one's voice to the croaking chorus of year-end reviews.

To the lists mentioned here at the Daily so far - Dave Kehr's for the New York Times and DVD Savant Glenn Erickson's for DVD Talk - the DVD Journal's, posted unsigned on the homepage, is a mix of the conventional and the unexpected. Top pick: Stagecoach: Special Edition ("Perhaps the year's most significant DVD release was the debut of a film that defined an entire cinematic genre"), followed in descending order by Double Indemnity: Legacy Series, Pandora's Box (in which Louise Brooks gives a "deft, restrained, effortlessly erotic performance") and an unexpected showing from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Notable comments: Junebug ("This little-seen indie comedy deserves more attention than it got, and not just because of Amy Adams's ambrosial charms in the role that earned her an Oscar nom for Best Supporting Actress"), Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby ("alternate materials on the DVD" show "just how hard the cast worked with their setups until they got it so perfect it's almost sublime") and Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party (in which the character actor proves to be "a naturally affable raconteur at ease telling his friends funny, epiphanal, moving, and often bizarre tales from his life").

Entertainment Weekly is the only mainstream magazine to thoroughly cover DVDs for its readers, and the magazine's reviewer, Ken Tucker, offers his list, not yet available online. It commences with Sam Peckinpah's Legendary Westerns Collection ("presents a wider, more inclusive vision of this genre than any other filmmaker's") and continues with Cary Grant: Screen Legend Collection ("the classiest act from the movies' classiest male star") and eight more.

If Entertainment Weekly's list is the most streamlined and TV oriented, the DVD Savant's list is the most thorough and comprehensive of the lot. As with Kehr and the DVD Journal, Erickson mentions runners-up, but his list consists of over 100 additional titles - enough to keep any viewer fully occupied throughout the next year.

Equinox Tim Lucas introduces the Video Watchdog staff favorites: Rebecca and Sam Umland go heavily for Italian classics; Kim Newman's glad Adam Adamant Lives!; Richard Harland Smith picks several Hollywood horror classics; David Kalat's list is quite a mix; and Sheldon Inkol's #1 is Equinox, which "was the only title to appear on three different primary lists," TL adds, "followed by Sony's The Passenger, Paramount's The Conformist and 1900, and Criterion's The Complete Mr Arkadin, each of which scored twice."

Tim Lucas's own list, or rather, collection of lists is quite extensive and is topped by Criterion's release of Eric Rohmer's Six Moral Tales.

Dennis Lim in the Los Angeles Times on Essential Art House: 50 Years of Janus Films: "[T]here's hardly a film here not worth getting to know intimately."

Dave Kehr on the first results of Warner Home Video and Amazon's "DVD Decision": "Film buffs are certainly an eccentric lot, as I can personally attest, but somehow I suspect that the Warner nominees are based less on pent-up demand from video consumers than on which films with good negatives the company still has sitting around."

"In many ways Bullet in the Head is the quintessential John Woo film, a picture he not only directed but also wrote, edited and produced for his own company thus giving himself a level of direct control that he had never had before and would never have again." At Twitch, Todd reviews "the new digitally remastered, all region edition from Hong Kong's Fortune Star - the very first opportunity for those outside the UK to see the film with a crisp, clean transfer and the much talked about alternate ending intact."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:10 AM

December 25, 2006

Holiday viewing.

The Bishop's Wife "Most Christmas movies are tales of redemptive hysteria - witness the stuttering ecstasy of Alastair Sim in A Christmas Carol or Jimmy Stewart's desperate happiness in the last scenes of It's a Wonderful Life." But for Verlyn Klinkenborg, writing in the New York Times, a family favorite for years has been The Bishop's Wife, "a modest movie, but it has its exaltations."

"At a time when secularism is being blamed for the erosion of Christian values, cinemagoers should perhaps ask themselves whether the true spirit of Christmas can indeed be found in such flawed fare as The Nativity Story. Or whether, as has so often been the case, we should look outside of the evangelical canon for films which best embody the values of peace on earth and goodwill to all men," suggests Mark Kermode in the Observer. "Happy Christmas!"

At Cinematical, Erik Davis presents "24 reasons to watch all 24 hours of A Christmas Story on Christmas Day."

Remember the Night The Siren catches up with Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck in an unusual Christmas movie, Remember the Night: "The screenplay was written by Preston Sturges, but this is a sentimental romance, not one of his trademark farces. Biographer Donald Spoto says Remember the Night was written soon after Sturges's marriage (his second of four, but a honeymoon's a honeymoon), and it carries the gleam of newfound love."

Salon's TV critic Heather Havrilesky presents "a holiday viewing guide for the whole dysfunctional family, one that gracefully sidesteps anything remotely wholesome or heartwarming, dodges any and all gratefulness and hand-holding, and veers recklessly into the realm of bad attitudes, heavy drinking, filthy sex, gratuitous violence and tragic endings, preferably peppered with a glib disdain for all that is sweet and lovely and joyful in the world. What could be more festive?"

At Facets Features, Brian Elza picks nine holiday viewing faves "for cool kids": "A few of these films aren't necessarily Christmas movies, but each brilliantly captures some of the feelings associated with the holidays in one way or another: Cold, lonely, anxious, bloated, sick of the saccharine sweetness, and so forth."

David Lowery's definition of a Christmas movie is fairly open as well. Wes Anderson, Pedro Almodvar...

Online browsing tip. Greenbriar's "Five Days of Christmas."

Online viewing tip #1. Season's greetings from Jamie Stuart.

Online viewing tip #2. The Little Matchgirl at TickleBooth.

Online viewing tip #3. Ray Pride reminds us of Judy Garland's eye-moistening rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

Online viewing tips. "Cybercinema's Christmas goodie rules are simple this year : if it's quirky, twisted, blackly comic, bleakly wintry, or frankly just in the worst possible seasonal taste, then it's fuel for our Yule."

Updated: "It's a Wonderful Life."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:59 AM | Comments (4)

James Brown, 1933 - 2006.

James Brown: Funky Christmas
James Brown, the dynamic, pompadoured "Godfather of Soul," whose rasping vocals and revolutionary rhythms made him a founder of rap, funk and disco as well, died early Monday, his agent said. He was 73....

Along with Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and a handful of others, Brown was one of the major musical influences of the past 50 years. At least one generation idolized him, and sometimes openly copied him. His rapid-footed dancing inspired Mick Jagger and Michael Jackson among others. Songs such as David Bowie's "Fame," Prince's "Kiss," George Clinton's "Atomic Dog" and Sly and the Family Stone's "Sing a Simple Song" were clearly based on Brown's rhythms and vocal style.

Updated through 12/30.

If Brown's claim to the invention of soul can be challenged by fans of Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, then his rights to the genres of rap, disco and funk are beyond question. He was to rhythm and dance music what Dylan was to lyrics: the unchallenged popular innovator.

The AP.

NPR has a full-blown live concert available for download.

See also: Godfather of Soul, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Augusta Chronicle, American Masters and Wikipedia.

Updates, 12/26: As if by public demand, the New Yorker is running Philip Gourevitch's 2002 profile.

The BBC gathers tributes.

Jon Pareles in the New York Times: "His music was sweaty and complex, disciplined and wild, lusty and socially conscious. Beyond his dozens of hits, Mr Brown forged an entire musical idiom that is now a foundation of pop worldwide." And Alan Feuer in the City: "They mourned James Brown the James Brown way yesterday: took his promotional poster and turned it into a shrine."

Robert Hilburn in the Los Angeles Times: "If anything, Brown's impact on modern pop music is underrated, partly because he did most of his defining work on secondary record labels that didn't have massive publicity machines and he never really embraced the mainstream the way, say, Ray Charles did. Yet, you could build a case that Brown was also the 'Godfather of Disco,' the 'Godfather of Rap' and the 'Godfather of Funk' because his electrifying beats powered so many genres."

Updates, 12/27: "With ['Papa's Got a Brand New Bag'], Brown created funk and laid the groundwork for disco, hip-hop, techno, and virtually every other style of modern popular music that has come since. He taught the world to wring percussive noise from every instrumentto hear drums everywhereand to treat every song as the occasion for a riotous party," writes Jody Rosen at Slate. "But Brown's achievement is larger than his own oeuvre and the genres that it begat. Flip on the radio virtually anywhere on earth today, and you will hear the sound of the Brown Revolution, the blare of propulsive, polyrhythmic dance music. Beats have conquered the world, even the West, where polyphony was born and melody and harmony have traditionally held sway. No other musiciannot Louis Armstrong, not Elvis Presley, not Bob Dylancan claim so central a role in this momentous cultural shift. 'Make It Funky,' James commanded, and from Boise to Berlin to Bangkok, they have."

Time's Richard Corliss: "I first saw Brown's act in Philadelphia, probably at the Uptown Theatre, in the late 50s. He came on, and the place instantly got hotter.... Brown's show was a kind of musical play, ending with the (literally) show-stopping 'Please Please Please' - his death and resurrection as a comic-opera Calvary. The life story of a man was enacted in song and dance, with Eros as the main course and Thanatos for dessert."

"I don't think any other one person could be said to have changed (hell, revolutionized) the world of music and the art of live performance to the extent that James Brown did," writes Tim Lucas at the Video WatchBlog. "James Brown may be dead, but I guarantee you he's not resting in peace. Somewhere, he's dancing with the renewed energy of a newborn and already scoping out the thangs ain't never been done."

"He was black and proud, he was a sex machine, but he was also a brilliant conductor, known for coaxing great performances out of the singers and musicians behind him," writes Kelefa Sanneh in the New York Times. "So celebrating the James Brown sound also means celebrating the musicians who created it. When he delayed the fourth and final beat of a measure, the drummer Clyde Stubblefield warped time in a way that helped inspire a whole constellation of rhythm-obsessed genres. Bobby Byrd (he of the famous 'Yeah!' and 'What?'), Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, Bootsy Collins<, Lyn Collins, Vicki Anderson: to love James Brown is to love them too. And not enough has been written about Jimmy Nolen, the visionary guitarist whose spidery licks helped inspire two generations of post-punk bands. (When people talk about 'angular' guitars, they often mean 'Jimmy-Nolen-ish.')"

"Spike Lee has signed on to direct a feature on the life of James Brown for Paramount and Imagine Entertainment," reports Michael Fleming in Variety. "Brian Grazer is producing, and the pic could be in production by late next year, though 2008 is more likely."

Update, 12/30: The Los Angeles Times gathers tributes from a slew of high-profiles musicians and critics.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:56 AM

December 23, 2006

Lists. NYT.

Army of Shadows Manohla Dargis looks back in the New York Times on a "disappointing year," a year with "nothing as sublime as Terrence Malick's New World, as thrilling as David Cronenberg's History of Violence." Studio fare? Forget it. Worse: "The studio dependents seemed more timid than ever, with few, outside Sony Pictures Classics, even bothering to release foreign-language films." And "the best film of the year" was made in 1969: Army of Shadows.

The waning days of 2006 find AO Scott slightly more upbeat: "It's always fun to mope and pine, but I find myself, for the most part, grateful to be alive at a time when so many first-rate filmmakers, from all corners of the world, are pressing against their own limits and those of the medium." He's got not only a top ten list, topped by Letters From Iwo Jima, but "an 11-way tie for 11th place" as well.

For Stephen Holden, "the emergence this year of two major 9/11 films, United 93 and World Trade Center, attests to a sober facing of reality in the movies." And then there were Clint Eastwood's let's-get-real WWII movies: "So goodbye for now to Private Ryan and traditional Hollywood notions of American go-it-alone heroism and 'the good war' fought by 'the greatest generation.'" His #1: Babel.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:41 AM

December 22, 2006

Interview. Hanif Kureishi.

Venus "What distinguishes Venus is that it strips the May-December cliché to the most basic equation, and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi isn't one to take the power of sex lightly," writes Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE, quoting parenthetically, "('The only pleasures that are possible as you get older are... under the aegis of death')." At the main site, David D'Arcy talks with Kureishi about lust and life's "last lap" and about how to ensure that films studios don't want get made.

Updated through 12/26.

Related: "In most regards, this funeral wreath of a film about a dying thespian in lust-struck twilight is made-to-order Oscar bait: a gift-wrapped vehicle for a screen legend, full of reverential nods to the craft, with reminders of the star's mortality delivered over loudspeakers from a running hearse," writes Jim Ridley in the Voice. "What keeps Venus from sinking ass-deep in Golden Pond is its sexual reverie - and a star who couldn't play a cutely neutered grumpy old man if commanded by God."

"As Venus moves casually along, a deep sadness starts to gather around its edges, casting a shadow over the mischievous good humor that is Maurice's default mood," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "His mortality portends a larger loss, the eclipse of an approach to life and art that the great British actors of the mid-20th century, from Laurence Olivier to Michael Caine, embodied with such ease and charisma. It is not easy to define that special, paradoxical glamour [Peter] O'Toole wears like a well-worn, perfectly tailored jacket - he is a self-made aristocrat, a genuine pretender, a selfless narcissist - but whatever it is, he still has it."

"Maybe the alleged shallowness and vanity of actors is really a kind of pagan worship: They're in love with the graven images they've created, knowing better than we do that those images are an illusion, an elaborate, celebratory mask for their true, everyday selves," ruminates Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. At any rate, "O'Toole and [Jodie] Whittaker are wonderful in their scenes together, partly because Kureishi has written good dialogue and partly because [Roger] Michell - whose last picture was the 2004 Enduring Love - avoids sentimentalizing their fragile friendship (a friendship whose unfolding, with its cruel betrayals, is at times incredibly painful to watch)."

The LA Weekly's Ella Taylor finds it "elegiac, filthy-minded, unsparing, and as deeply moving as you'd expect from any de facto story of Peter O'Toole's life." Related: John Patterson makes a delightful call to London to talk with Leslie Phillips.

"It's about aging and what keeps you alive, about the getting and passing on of the wisdom of a lifetime," writes Kenneth Turan. "And it is done with such surpassing skill on both sides of the camera that we can't help but marvel at it all." Also in the Los Angeles Times: Chuck Culpepper profiles Whittaker.

"[T]he movie belongs to O'Toole," argues Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical. "This great, dazzling actor has been shuttled to the sidelines for too long, having appeared in un-releasable junk or unnoticed in small roles. This is his best performance since My Favorite Year (1982), and he's unquestionably in top form."

"[I]f Roger Michell's film never quite musters the energy to be more than a placid hybrid of Nobody's Fool and Lolita, it nonetheless provides a satisfactory showcase for Peter O'Toole," argues Nick Schager.

"It's 'Ewww' and then 'Ahhh' and then 'Ewww...,'" writes David Edelstein in New York. "But Venus is worth seeing for the scenes between O'Toole and Vanessa Redgrave as the woman he abandoned�the mother of his children. Her anger at Maurice for putting his pleasure first is still there, but you can see in her eyes that she knows he's dying, and so even her criticisms come out tenderly, less to get a piece of her own back than to let him know she understands the pain he's feeling now."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:22 AM

Lists, 12/22.

Cafe Lumiere "There were so many good films this year that picking just ten was hard, so I opted for ten pairs instead, all of films shown in Chicago in 2006 that I'd seen by mid-December." Jonathan Rosenbaum introduces his list, topped by: "Two masterpieces by Hou Hsiao-hsien, both profound meditations on the past and present: Caf� Lumi�re and Three Times." Further down that same page at the Chicago Reader is JR Jones's list. His #1: United 93.

And huzzah! Ronald Bergan's posted his list in a comment right here. His #1: The Death of Mr Lazarescu.

It's a big day for DVDs, or at least for DVD lists. Dave Kehr's got a list of "the year's most notable releases... And rather than simply concede the field to the Criterion Collection and Warner Home Video, which lead the pack in presentation and breadth of selection, I've tried to spread things out among several companies striving for quality, whether linked to major studios or operated as labors of love out of basements and back rooms." You'll want 'em all.

Pandora's Box Glenn Erickson, DVD Talk's DVD Savant, got an eclectic list of the "Most Impressive DVDs of 2006," topped by a not-so-eclectic but nonetheless wise choice, Criterion's release of Pandora's Box.

Masters of Cinema is taking your vote for the "DVD of the Year Award," but you've got to get it to them by tomorrow.

The Guardian has opened up a special section collecting the major film-related stories of the year.

Meanwhile, Kim Masters assesses the Oscar race at Slate. Basically, it's still wide open.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:13 AM | Comments (1)

December 21, 2006

Interview. Alfonso Cuarón.

Children of Men Children of Men conjures a world without children, which may seem a radical departure for the director films about young people: A Little Princess, Y tu mam� tambi�n, even a Harry Potter movie. But as Alfonso Cuar�n tells Sean Axmaker, there's a fundamental approach to telling these stories that connects them.

Related: "[T]his superbly crafted action thriller is being treated like a communicable disease," protests J Hoberman in the Voice, noting that it features "the year's most brilliantly choreographed action sequence" and calling it a "more resonant and gripping movie" than The Departed, Flags of Our Fathers, Blood Diamond, Apocalypto and The Last King of Scotland. The final two paragraphs of this rave are pullquotable to max, but I'll simply insist that you read this one top to bottom.

Updated through 12/26.

"Unlike so many directors making movies about the future, Alfonso Cuar�n (together with the immeasurable aid of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and production designers Jim Clay and Geoffrey Kirkland) doesn't offer us a radically new vision, but rather one distinctly rooted in the present, and he doesn't go out of his way to explain how we got there from here," writes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. "Indeed, the most terrifying thing about the coming dystopia proffered by Cuar�n's Children of Men is how familiar it seems." What's more, it's "one of the year's most imaginative and uniquely exciting pieces of cinema." Related: Jim Ridley on one terrific sequence.

J Robert Parks calls it "an intense, exceedingly intelligent thriller that mines present-day concerns and reminds us of the power of cinema."

"Children of Men is a great movie and I plan to see it again, soon and often. But nothing will compare to my first viewing, when I didn't quite know what to expect and didn't realize the raw power of the movie I was about to watch." Who knows, you might want to stop reading Matt Singer's rave for IFC News right there and come back to it after you've seen it, too.

"Hollywood stands rightly convicted of whitewashing previously published material, but Cuar�n and his Children of Men creative team are not ones to follow show business precedent," writes John Horn in a backgrounder for the Los Angeles Times. "The director didn't just want to make Children of Men more visceral, he also tried to make it additionally prophetic. And that's when Cuar�n and his collaborators found that the more suffering they invented, the more credible they believed their movie became."

Update, 12/22: Slate's Dana Stevens: "Alfonso Cuar�n's dense, dark, and layered meditation on fertility, technology, immigration, war, love, and life itself may be the movie of the still-young millennium. And I don't just mean it's one of the best movies of the past six years. Children of Men, based on the 1992 novel by PD James, is the movie of the millennium because it's about our millennium, with its fractured, fearful politics and random bursts of violence and terror."

Updates, 12/24: Michael Joshua Rowin for Stop Smiling: "Children of Men is almost too convincing in the loving (if that's the word) detail that it sketches about where we might be headed.... Cuar�n is implementing a verisimilitude that both matches the film's edge-of-your-seat escalations and demonstrates a new understanding of blockbuster realism."

Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat: "[T]he political aspects that reflect the current world - the immigration upheavals, the xenophobia, the instinct toward a repressive, fascist solution - constitute only one of the levels on which Children of Men operates. Even more interesting are the cultural/psychological aspects � the ways in which one simple but monumental change impinges on literally every aspect of our lives."

Elbert Ventura for Reverse Shot: "With its Biblical intimations and political trenchancy, Children of Men achieves an allegorical grandeur that obliterates misgivings about narrative plausibility - you can imagine its epic journey as a pop origin myth repeated to future generations (should they come, that is). Its twists and turns a tad convenient, the movie's symbolic narrative nonetheless gathers unstoppable velocity as Cuar�n takes us on a tour of infernal England. Teaming with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubeszki, whose work here can only be described as heroic, Cuar�n has given careful thought to the cinematic expression of his ideas."

Online viewing tip. Jeffrey Overstreet notes that you can watch Cuar�n, Guillermo Del Toro and Alejandro Gonzalez I��rritu on the Charlie Rose Show about their friendship, fantasy and reality, and of course, their movies.

Updates, 12/25: Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: "Merry Christmas! Seriously. Children of Men may be something of a bummer, but it�s the kind of glorious bummer that lifts you to the rafters, transporting you with the greatness of its filmmaking."

It's "the bleakest movie I've ever wanted to see twice," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "Cuar�n at first seems like an odd choice to direct a pessimistic meditation on a world without children. But Cuar�n is really the perfect choice: A filmmaker so responsive to joy and pleasure is our best guide to a world in which those essentials have gone missing. (If the picture had been made by, say, Lars von Trier, a filmmaker who fears for humankind but doesn't care much for people, a dystopia would just be business as usual.) Children of Men is a solemn, haunting picture, but it's also a thrilling one, partly because of the sheer bravado with which it's made. It left me feeling more fortified than drained. Cuar�n, the most openhearted of directors, prefers to give rather than take away."

Eric Kohn at the Reeler: "[T]he movie crams a fascinating sci-fi premise into acutely crafted action tropes without sacrificing its livid virtuosity. That it should receive such muted publicity goes beyond being an unfortunate fluke, or forgivable byproduct of end-of-the-year overload: It's a crime against art to suppress this accomplishment, a great work but also an important one."

Updates, 12/26: Kim Voynar interviews Cuar�n for Cinematical, where James Rocchi writes, "This is what you go to the movies for: A piece of filmmaking so majestically well-made, so unerringly committed to being what it is, so full of ideas and adrenaline that it makes your mind and heart race."

And Ray Pride talks with Cuar�n for the Reeler.

"The problem with Children of Men is that it's too much of a performance and not enough of a movie," argues Matt Zoller Seitz at the House Next Door. "It's a compelling pastiche, and that's not nothing, but I wanted it to be great rather than just proficient and gripping; it never quite gets there, and it suffers in comparison to earlier classics in the same vein."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:54 PM

The Good Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd The New Yorker's David Denby calls The Good Shepherd "one of the most impressive movies ever made about espionage... This movie, which the screenwriter, Eric Roth, struggled to get made for years, is a sharply knowing social history of the CIA and also a melancholy account of the hollowing out of one of its key players.... Moving backward and forward in time, and netted with an intricate array of hints, secrets, warnings and echoes, the story of Edward Wilson is the narrative embodiment of paranoia."

For Godfrey Cheshire, writing in the Independent Weekly, Shepherd "offers the most capacious dramatic account of America's intelligence service I've ever encountered in a movie." Furthermore: "With its muted cinematography (by Robert Richardson), dense, oblique plotting, and welter of complicated characters played by superb actors, the film recalls - very deliberately, I think - a number of great movies from three decades ago, the likes of Francis Coppola's The Godfather and The Conversation, Alan Pakula's All the President's Men, Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist and Sidney Lumet's Serpico, to name just a few." And, even though it "fails to add up in the final analysis," if espionage or "the cinematic reference points just mentioned excite your interest, you should definitely see The Good Shepherd." Will do.

"At once a prequel and sequel to The Good German, Robert De Niro's The Good Shepherd taps into the inexhaustible vein of American political paranoia with a drama that reaches back to the formation of the CIA in the 1920s and forward to the botched 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion that failed to overthrow Fidel Castro," writes Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly. "Though rooted deep in Cold War history, this rambling saga of closed-door international shenanigans bristles with object lessons for our current administration, with its pugnacious contempt for keeping open books. That's if they can sit through it."

"Every awards season, a superb film gets lost in the shuffle of pseudo-prestigious releases and holiday junk; this year the casualty is The Good Shepherd," writes Armond White in the New York Press, adding that the film "is serious in ways most people have forgotten movies could be."

"Reviews are sure to be pretty mixed for Shepherd, which just might be the longest and least-merry holiday release since Oliver Stone's take on Nixon 12 years ago," writes Dennis Harvey at SF360. "But it deserves credit, at least, for serious treatment of a subject mainstream cinema has seldom approached." What follows is a quick overview of the CIA's portrayal in the movies.

"[M]uch of the credit for [the film's] pungent air of authenticity goes to Milton Bearden, the film's technical advisor and a 30-year veteran of clandestine services in the CIA," writes Patrick Goldstein in a profile for the Los Angeles Times.

"Despite successfully creating the illusion of forbidden glimpses, The Good Shepherd slogs through most of its lengthy running time," writes Marjorie Baumgarten in the Austin Chronicle.

Robert Wilonsky in the Voice: "As long as it is, Shepherd speeds through its leading man's life, cramming in 30 years without elaborating on any of them."

De Niro "really should've acted with [Matt] Damon in The Departed instead of clocking a cameo in his own flick," argues Cheryl Eddy in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Updates, 12/22: "Who rules the drones in The Good Shepherd?" wonders Manohla Dargis out loud in the New York Times. "Who is IT? The president, the people, American mining and banana companies, the ghosts of fathers past, the agency itself?... These are hard questions, but they are also too big, too complex and perhaps too painful for even this ambitious (2 hours, 37 minutes) project, which can only elude and insinuate, not enlighten and inform."

Salon's Stephanie Zacharek: "This is a somber, weighty, gray picture, one that pays clear tribute to the Godfather movies as it tries to scale some very rocky moral territory. But it's so unsatisfying to watch that even its biggest, most meditative right-and-wrong quandaries come to seem puny."

The Stranger's Annie Wagner finds both The Good Shepherd and The Good German "pastiches of better movies, set at danger-ridden historical crossroads that are meant to remind us of our own times." But: "The Good German is much more fun."

"An unwarranted 160 minutes' worth of epic impassivity," sighs Aaron Hillis at the Reeler: "Trust, honesty, democracy and patriotism are the words - as opposed to the ideas - set forth in a film that confirms the brilliance of an old Talking Heads lyric: It talks a lot, but doesn't say anything."

Updates, 12/24: "De Niro's film is a long and tricky thing to sit through, as are most movies about true espionage, as opposed to movies about blowing stuff up," writes Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post. "It helps if you've read John le Carre and Charles McCarry, and it helps if you're a kind of Agency groupie (I am), who brings to the experience a nostalgia for the bad old days of the Berlin Tunnel and the coups of South America, when spies wore narrow-brim hats, Brooks Brothers suits (then patriotically made in America and never sold in outlet malls), Florsheims and horn-rims. Do you know who Dick Bissell was? What about William Harvey? Lacking that knowledge, you may find yourself lost in a hall of mirrors. But what helps best is seeing it twice."

"If you think George Tenet's Central Intelligence Agency was a disaster, wait until you see Robert De Niro's torpid, ineffectual movie about the history of the agency, The Good Shepherd," opens Jim Emerson at "Once again, responsibility for the large-scale failure does not lie with the valiant and hard-working operatives in the field (or the actors on the screen), but with the mismanagement of the director himself."

Ray Pride finds the film "has a patience and command that accrues to a devastating conclusion.... While the near-autistic reserve of Wilson's intent powers of observation may put off some viewers - Damon, often shielded behind large horn-rims, is playing the most passive of characters - yet the power of the central dilemma grows from the analysis of how power can emanate more from concealment than display.... De Niro's film might have gained from a different approach to momentum as the picture moves past its second hour, but it's still a fascinating, fully inhabited world, weaving a vision or our own and never descending to mere conspiracy theory."

Update, 12/26: Josh Gajewski profiles Matt Damon for the LAT, where Kenneth Turan writes, "Damon, in his second major role of the year (after The Departed) once again demonstrates his ability to convey emotional reserves, to animate a character from the inside out and create a man we can sense has more of an interior life than he is willing to let on."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:17 PM

Grindhouse. Chapter One.

"He was as tough and romantic as the city he loved." No, no, no... This is Chapter One of Eddie Muller's Grindhouse: The Forbidden World of Adults Only Cinema here, and its focus is the 30s. Earlier: "Serialization. Grindhouse."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:04 PM | Comments (5)

Lists, 12/21.

The Fountain "Children of Men contains at least two shot sequences of a complexity and riskiness that make Andrei Tarkovsky look like Stephen Frears, and made my mise-en-scene-loving heart race," writes Dave Kehr as he revisits what he sent into indieWIRE and Film Comment. "Looking over the list, I see that my taste remains centered on similar directorial audacities, from the depth compositions of Steven Soderbergh's hi-def Bubble to the sheer delirium of Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain - the first Minnellian science-fiction movie."

"Given the past year's headlines, it can't come as a surprise that some of the best films of 2006 had an edge of darkness to them." Peter Keough presents an annotated top ten in the Boston Phoenix. His #1: Inland Empire.

Besides top tens, Noel Murray and Jim Ridley have a thematic breakdown of the year in movies at the Nashville Scene.

Anne Thompson posts a top ten-plus (#1: The Lives of Others).

Time Out's Geoff Andrew expands his list a bit.

1: Inland Empire Aaron Hillis illustrates his top 20.

Darren Hughes picks his "Songs of 2006."

Critics and curators assess the year in art for frieze.

Stephen Colbert is the "2006 Media Person of the Year"; read comments from Ken Auletta, Tina Brown, David Carr, Craig Newmark and others at I Want Media.

At Zoom In, Andy Beach looks ahead to what's like to happen audio-visual tech-wise in 2007.

Online viewing tips. Jeffrey Wells points to iFilm's collections of the best and worst trailers of the year.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:47 PM | Comments (2)

Letters From Iwo Jima.

Letters From Iwo Jima AO Scott finds Letters From Iwo Jima "unapologetically and even humbly, true to the durable tenets of the war-movie tradition, but it is also utterly original, even radical in its methods and insights." What's more, the New York Times critic pretty much claims it's the best American film of the year and "might just be the best Japanese movie of the year as well."

"What [Clint] Eastwood has accomplished here is not as simple as 'capturing the other side's point of view' or creating the 'Japanese counterpoint' to his earlier 2006 Iwo Jima film, Flags of Our Fathers, both of which would infer some sort of gimmick," writes Michael Koresky at Reverse Shot. "The amount of dedication and historical and humanist fascination that has gone into creating Letters from Iwo Jima reveals not only where the filmmaker's sentiments lie but also that the fragmentary nature of Flags of Our Fathers was perhaps a necessity Eastwood had to work his way through."

Updated through 12/26.

"Eastwood is so busy humanizing Japanese soldiers that he ends up rewriting history," argues Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "He wants to make the case that in wartime, people who are essentially good can do horrible things. But downplaying the horror of atrocity has the unintentional effect of making it seem almost reasonable, a way of saying, 'See? People sometimes have a reason for doing very bad things.' It's a reduction that absolves humans of responsibility rather than challenging them to accept it."

"Eastwood changes his approach to history itself with this film," writes Aaron Gerow at Japan Focus. "Flags is about how to remember the war, giving a new view on an incident everyone knows; Letters is about listening to those who fought it, trying to create a memory tableau of something most people, including Japanese, know little about."

And, as Dave McNary reports in Variety, the film's doing very well in Japan indeed.

Scott Foundas in the Voice: "The second film completes and deepens the first, yet to view them side by side is to see not two sides of a coin but rather two distinct panels in a diptych - one rendered with the disquieting Americana of an Edward Hopper canvas, the other with the patient brushstrokes of a byobu screen." He also talks with Eastwood for the LA Weekly.

Daniel Eagan: "As in Flags of Our Fathers, the core message is the futility of war. It has rarely been told in such powerful terms."

"Individually and as a unit, these films are a cry against the awful, horrifying futility of war, a cry made all the more poignant because it is made by a man who has been an avatar of on-screen mayhem," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times

Jeffrey M Anderson, writing at Cinematical, finds Letters "significantly more interesting than its predecessor, not only because it's more focused, but also because it raises some interesting issues of cultural representation."

Andrew Sarris, writing in the New York Observer, hopes the film "may help modify our thinking about our present enemies as a monolithic mass of malevolence, as we were once conditioned to think of the Japanese people as a whole."

Writing for the Reeler, Matt Singer finds Letters "nearly as effective as its predecessor."

Eric Kohn, writing in the New York Press, finds that it "shoots a menacing scowl at Flags of Our Fathers and never lets up�like watching a showdown between Schindler's List and Shoah."

"Letters From Iwo Jima is the true keeper and the one that will really stand the test of time long after Flags of Our Fathers fades from our memories," counters Edward Copeland.

Update, 12/24: Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat: "In nearly every regard, Letters is better than its predecessor - more interesting and more complex in its worldview... not to mention better made.

Update, 12/26: In the first hour, the "groupings are stiff, the dialogue (in Japanese) expository, and there's little in the way of context: no mention of why the Japanese joined the war, no hint of the atrocities they routinely committed against their demonized foes, and no attempt to dig into the myth of the heroic Japanese warrior - which is more potent than its American counterpart," writes New York's David Edelstein. "It's when the characters start to die that the movie comes alive.... The slow pacing begins to pay off: You get a sense of what it felt like to be trapped in that mountain, parched, starving, on the verge of being killed by men you couldn't see for reasons you'd forgotten, with officers vowing to behead you if you tried to surrender and anthems on the radio (sung by a chorus of children) that celebrated you as your country's last, best hope."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:24 PM

Shorts, 12/21.

Syndromes and a Century "Every aspect of Syndromes and a Century is so tense that the film seems almost overloaded with philosophy and formal ideas," writes Bert Rebhandl. "As with all of his films, [Apichatpong] Weerasethakul leaves a lot of room for interpretation, but one possible reading is that the second part is somehow under the spell of the first. Or, to use a term that has figured prominently in his work, it is haunted by it."

Also in frieze, Rebecca Warren on Far From Heaven, "artificial and exultant, but so cruelly truthful it made me feel sick and afraid for three days," two by Bu�uel, two by Bresson, two more by David Lynch and so on - a fine list.

Ella Taylor talks with Cate Blanchett about The Good German, Notes on a Scandal, Babel - and The Aviator: "And then I got off the phone and said to my husband, 'He's just asked me to play Katharine Hepburn in a film about Howard Hughes.' And he went, 'Oh my God, that's gonna be tough, playing Hepburn in color.' And I said, 'Oh shit.' I sat down in a chair and stared at the floor for a long time. And as it sank in, I thought, you just get on with it."

Also in the LA Weekly:

Two or Three Things I Know About Her
  • Scott Foundas recommends Two or Three Things I Know About Her, at the Nuart for a week from tomorrow: "For anyone who still wonders what 'the big deal' was about Godard in the 1960s, this is one ticket you can't afford to miss."

  • "Two new Web-based endeavors are greatly expanding public access to some of the premier works from the history of avant-garde film and video." Holly Willis reminds us to keep checking UbuWeb and Jonas Mekas's site.

In the New York Press, Jennifer Merin talks with Chris Noonan about Miss Potter.

More quick tours through the holiday season: Robert Cashill - the good and the bad - Dennis Harvey at SF360, Duncan Shepherd in the San Diego Reader and Sam Adams and Shaun Brady in the Philadelphia City Paper.

The Berlinale announces the first six titles in its Perspektive Deutsches Kino section. Related: HanCinema confirms that Like a Virgin will be screening in the Generation 14plus section: "The film recently won Best Screenplay at the 27th Blue Dragon Awards, Korea's year-end film awards ceremony. It also grabbed a Best New Director award, shared by feature debut-duo Lee Hae-yeong and Lee Hae-joon."

When the Levees Broke "Whatever its effect on the world at large, the Bush administration has been a boon for America's documentary-makers," note Guardian editors. "[A]rguably the most mature, measured and sensitive of these films comes from Spike Lee, a director not previously known for exhibiting these qualities." Their praise for When the Levees Broke draws a torrent of comments, naturally.

Also: Playwright Steve Waters argues the case against story guru Robert McKee: "The most lethal fallout from McKee's approach comes in his proposition that good stories must be engineered in advance like municipal car parks, thus ushering in the stultifying world of 80-page story treatments where the improvised life of the narrative is nailed dead before a line of dialogue is written."

And Richard Luscombe reports on the "many Tinseltown secrets in a treasure trove of documents belonging to 20th Century Fox that are to be auctioned in New York next month to benefit an actors' charity."

"Hollywood has long been in the wish fulfillment business." Great piece on the set designs in Nancy Meyers's movies from Mimi Avins in the Los Angeles Times.

Per Schreiner, the screenwriter behind The Bothersome Man, sees another script go into production. Annika Pham reports at Cineuropa.

"The gravitational pull of the need to canonize Kennedy damages Bobby as an art work beyond repair," argues David Walsh at the WSWS.

Ray Young at Flickhead on three films by Henry Jaglom: "At times his work appears to be a mixture of the varying moods and techniques seen in the films of John Cassavetes, Eric Rohmer and Woody Allen... until the reality hits that, no, it isn't, not at all. If anything, Jaglom's work is truly original."

Time's Carolina A Miranda talks Little Sunshine with Alan Arkin. Related: The Reeler reports on the tribute to Arkin at the Film Society of Lincoln Center Tuesday night.

"I realized recently that my attitude toward DVDs is very much like the attitude I once had, during a certain season of my youth, for baseball cards." Tim Lucas.

Go-Betweens Big, big music DVD roundup in this week's Austin Chronicle. Also: Joe O'Connell's elegy for VHS and a list of out-of-print VHS titles that may never reappear on DVD.

Online browsing tip #1. Joe Bowman's found some shudder-inducing faux Criterion covers.

Online browsing tip #2. Bitter Cinema's 2001 photoset at Flickr. Via Coudal Partners.

Online viewing tip. The trailer for Factory Girl. "In a time of transformation..." No, really.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:12 PM

Curse of the Golden Flower.

Curse of the Golden Flower "In Curse of the Golden Flower, [Zhang Yimou] achieves a kind of operatic delirium, opening the floodgates of image and melodrama until the line between tragedy and black comedy is all but erased," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "Zhang piles on the intrigue, adding a forbidden love affair, a vengeful first wife and two varieties of incest. His actors respond in kind, straining their facial muscles with silent-movie enthusiasm and doing everything but shooting flames from their eye sockets.... [Zhang] aims for Shakespeare and winds up with Jacqueline Susann. And a good thing too."

Rob Nelson in the Voice: "Like his Hero and House of Flying Daggers, Zhang Yimou's third global-market gigaproduction makes little sense in narrative terms even after two screenings, but the sets, costumes, and cinematography are so intoxicating that it doesn't much matter."

"[T]his eye-popping spectacle, with its high-flying fight choreography, color-coordinated battle scenes, phantasmagorical interiors and rows upon rows of deliciously costumed extras, is not going to strike anybody as a rip-roaring good time," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Still and all, good Lord, is this an impressive motion picture."

"All told, Zhang's latest is a lavishly overdecorated period melodrama with a lot of meaningless, bustling energy," writes David Chute in the LA Weekly. "It tries frenetically hard to convince us it's overheated and thunderously emotional, but it has a cold heart."

"Curse pf the Golden Flower may be the worst movie Yimou has ever made," asserts Vadim Rizov at the Reeler. "What's disheartening about Yimou's failure isn't its impersonality as a visual spectacle - Yimou's best work as a character-driven director is far behind him - but that it's such an uninspired one."

"For years, Gong [Li] served not only as Zhang Yimou's favorite actress to film, but also as the central figure of the Fifth Generation filmmakers, working with award-winning directors like Chen Kaige and Wong Jing and establishing herself as the most prolific and best-known Chinese actress in the West, displaying a potent combination of explosive talent and exceptional beauty," writes Christopher Bonet, who offers a guide to some of her best work at IFC News.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:35 AM | Comments (1)

Lists. iW Critics' Poll.

The Death of Mr Lazarescu "Welcome to the first annual indieWIRE film critics' poll," announces Dennis Lim. "If you're experiencing deja vu, it's because this national survey is a direct descendant of the Village Voice poll, which I conducted from 1999 to 2005 ('Take One' through 'Take Seven') with the help of my former colleagues J Hoberman and Michael Atkinson. Recent developments at the Voice have left that poll without a home and the good folks at indieWIRE have graciously stepped in to adopt it."

And thank goodness, too. It'd be an awfully dreary list-making season without it - and its Passiondex. So: on to the results. Way out in front of all the others, The Death of Mr Lazarescu takes the #1 slot and, looking all up and down the final list, Dennis offers several possible - and intriguing - extrapolations.

Updated through 12/24.

"Is Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo the must unsung auteur in the US marketplace?" wonders Anthony Kaufman as he introduces the Best Undistributed Film poll - topped, of course, by Woman on the Beach.

Now here's your reading for the weekend: an avalanche of critics' comments - on the good, the bad and the orphans, those films that scored one lone defender.

Update: Tom Hall's been rousing up a parallel, open-to-all poll and draws up his own fine list, topped by Climates. Joining in so far...

Update, 12/24: Bilge Ebiri has sharp and extensive commentary at ScreenGrab.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:41 AM | Comments (3)

Out 1 and Spectre.

Back in October, Tom Charity caught the North American premiere. Now, Benjamin Strong reports on a remarkably successful run in New York.

Out 1

To call Jacques Rivette's Out 1 an experience is not to fall back on a clich, but merely to face facts: with its marathon 743-minute running time, the film asks you, once you've factored in multiple intermissions, to hand over somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 to 15 hours of your life. This isn't a movie you can simply watch; it's something around which you have to plan basic tasks - meals, ablutions, sleep.

Filmed in the spring of 1970, Out 1 - or Noli Me Tangere as it is sometimes known - was rejected as an eight-episode serial the following year by the French television authorities who had commissioned it. It eventually aired in the 1990s on cable, but it was never released anywhere theatrically and, aside from its original one-time 1971 screening and rare alleged festival appearances (e.g., Rotterdam in 1989 with 40 minutes lost from the soundtrack in the sixth episode), there have been virtually no opportunities to see it. As a result, Out 1 has become a unique kind of cult classic, a movie a small group of people would absolutely love if they ever had a chance to see it.

Then, last year, new soft titles in English were made so that the print - there is only one - could be viewed in London, Vancouver and, two weeks ago, at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, NY, where I caught it. The museum's marathon two-day showing, an event which constituted Out 1's belated US premiere, inspired unusual rhetorical machismo among local critics: "the cinephile's holy grail" (Dennis Lim), "a trophy of privileged pride" (Aaron Hillis), "men from the boys, people" (Nathan Lee). The screening also sold out, prompting the museum to schedule it again in March.

It is with good reason that any essay I've ever read about Out 1 inevitably begins - just as this one has - by addressing the issue of its scale. But at the very moment when this film might at last reach a devoted audience, I have to wonder if the focus on Out 1's obscurity will give the impression that it is a little too precious for anybody but, you know, the real men. Along with his close friend Jean-Luc Godard, Rivette has always been among the more avant-garde of the ex-Cahiers critics who launched the nouvelle vague. But Out 1 is actually a lot more accessible, and enjoyable, than its reputation implies. To an audience in 2006 - practiced at gorging themselves on entire seasons of their favorite television shows on DVD over the course of a weekend - the pleasures of Rivette's endurance contest ought to be more obvious and enticing than ever.

Out 1

Out 1 has an intricate plot that, after one viewing I've only begun to grok, but the situation is fairly easy to describe. Two rival theater companies are rehearsing two different Aeschylus plays, Seven Against Thebes and Prometheus Unbound. Meanwhile, going about their days in Paris are two apparently unrelated individuals: Colin, a deaf-mute panhandler and Frederique, a petty thief/short-con artist, played respectively by New Wave icons Jean-Pierre Laud and Juliet Berto (the latter was a regular Rivette muse until her untimely death). Aside from occasional cuts to Laud and to Berto, which provide well-needed comic relief, for the first four hours, most of what we see is nothing but documentary footage of the two rehearsals. It's putting things kindly to say that if these rehearsals are any indication, not even the cast's mothers are going to want to watch the public performance. In an early and notorious passage, one of the troupes writhes together moaning, their bodies entwined for what Rivette himself described as "three-quarters of an hour of hysteria." He added that this "can be done only under these conditions."

By "these conditions," Rivette was not referring to improvements in technology (as Jonathan Rosenbaum has pointed out, the newly increased size of the 16mm film magazine permitted that sequence to be shot more or less in one long take). Instead, Rivette was talking about serialization, the conditions that make this movie an experience. "It is obvious that the first two hours of Out," Rivette said, "are bearable only because one knows one has embarked on something that is going to last for twelve hours and forty minutes." Rivette, incidentally, puts his money where his mouth is. A prodigious moviegoer, he told an interviewer in 1998 that a "film has to be incredibly bad to make me want to pack up and leave."

What this all means for the audience in the early hours of Out 1 is that before you can familiarize yourself with the principle characters as they are in their private lives, you must first see them - for the length of two standard feature movies - as actors playing people other than themselves. It is possible, as a result, that you may think you know these characters before you actually do know them, or can. On the other hand, it is equally plausible - you realize this much later - that you see these actors as their true selves only when they are performing - that is, as liars. Rivette pulls the same trick in L'Amour fou (1969) and Les Bandes des quatre (1988), but the extended length of Out 1 makes all the difference. Here, Rivette's career-long interest in the relation of play-acting to his recurrent themes of deceit, betrayal, and conspiracy, can really stretch its legs. Colin and Frederique each independently discover evidence of a secret left-wing cabal called "The Thirteen," which has been dormant since the failures of May 1968 and whose members include actors in the Aeschylus productions. Colin wants to join them; Frederique wants to blackmail them. The mystery thickens, and the potential layers of intra-subterfuge multiply. Everyone in Rivette's world is a double agent.

And in a sense, Out 1 itself has more than one identity. After the serial original was rejected, Rivette brought in a different editor, cut the movie down to four and half hours, and released it in 1973 as Out: Spectre. (In 1991, the director did the same for La Belle noiseuse, which he shrunk to a Divertimento.) Both Outs share the same footage, yet corresponding scenes in Spectre are not only abbreviated or split up, they are also frequently rearranged to alter chronology. And whereas 1 wields the long take like Warhol, Spectre necessarily relies on montage.

What's most striking about the differences between 1 and Spectre is the questions they raise about how to tell a story in cinema. For example, one reason Rivette could so easily change the order of events in Spectre is that the characters mostly wear the same one or two outfits for the whole picture (presumably because the improvised six-week shoot was done on a limited budget). It may sound silly to talk about costume changes, but they are a theatrical convention by which we judge the passing of time and understand sequence as well as character in movies (just ask David Lynch). The all but total lack of them in the Outs matches Rivette's interest in disrupting the most fundamental vocabulary of film montage as it has existed since Griffith. It is not possible to overstate the number of subtle ambiguities based on the manner in which the film is cut. Anyone who tells you they know exactly what is going on in Out 1 or in Spectre is as dishonest as any of the characters.

Is it reductive or insulting to say that Rivette has constructed the most elaborate and politically engaged soap opera ever? For a serial, Out 1 is not particularly episodic, and it's telling that the length of the chapters vary (the shortest is 70 minutes and the longest 105). However proficient television has become in the last 35 years at sustaining a narrative arc, it remains committed to a structure of discrete and uniformly-shaped installments at the end of which things must be wrapped up for the sake of order, continuity and next week's episode. Rivette's masterpiece, delighting in spontaneity, indeterminacy and chaos, proves just how far the medium has yet to go. The odds that Out 1 will finally be distributed have to look better in the DVD era, but in the meantime, it is indeed a specter haunting our screens.

Photos: Photofest, courtesy of Museum of the Moving Image.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:35 AM

December 20, 2006

Lists, 12/20.

Sommer vorm  Balkon Scroll down a tad and you'll see that today's been flush with lists, and tomorrow will see another virtual tsunami as well, cresting at indieWIRE. Looking over that ballot, I came this close to drawing up my own first top ten ever, but soon realized that a couple of criteria - features, released in the US, during 2006 - make perfect sense, of course, but also skew the list of a moviegoer in Berlin too severely to make the ballot worth much to either iW or me. That realization has sparked an interest in me, and hopefully other Daily readers, in lists drawn up outside the US. If you run across any, please do drop a line or a comment.

Example: zitty, the better of two city magazines here in Berlin, runs 21 individual lists from its contributing film writers and a collective poll in the issue that came out today. Unfortunately, none of all that is online, but I can tell you the poll's got The Lives of Others at the top, a film most Americans who care to see it won't be able to until early next year. Tied for the #2 slot are Sommer vorm Balkon, which most Americans will probably never even hear of, much less see; and Brokeback Mountain, which, for those of us in Region 2, was a 2006 film. This checkerboard pattern is repeated all the way down that list.

Time Out London You'll see something similar even in Time Out London's list, which opens with Geoff Andrews's endorsement of The New World.

At any rate. Back to our old new world. One item I missed when I was pointing to Jim Emerson's and MSN Movies' lists is a wonderful revival of an old Film Comment favorite from Richard Jameson and Kathleen Murphy, former FC editor and contributor, respectively, "Moments Out of Time."

In one finely laid-out column served up as a single image, the L Magazine presents the "Best Films of 2006" as chosen and commented on by Michael Joshua Rowin, Jason Bogdaneris, Mark Asch, Jesse Hassenger and Nicolas Rapold.

Meantime, we've got three new lists at the main site:

Little Miss Sunshine "Is Little Miss Sunshine the best movie of the year?" asks Paul Thomas Anderson. "I think so." Via bigscreenlittlescreen. Sledge, listing at film ick, agrees.

The Queen has swept the Toronto Film Critics Association's awards. By the way: "What you've heard about Helen Mirren's performance is true," insists A Mary Murphy at identity theory.

"The Year in Movie Music." Sam Smith's list goes to 21.

"Some of the best books are the ones we haven't read. Some of the most cherished volumes in my library are titles that have gone untouched since the day I bought them, no less loved for that." Mark Dery. A reading list. Film-related? Well... Luis Bu�uel's My Last Sigh is in there, how's that.

Online listening tip. John Powers recalls the cultural highlights of the year on Fresh Air. For nearly half an hour, by the way.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:16 PM | Comments (3)

Shorts, 12/20.

Matthew Barney: No Restraint "After years of art world professionals and laypeople alike complaining about the incomprehensibility of [Matthew] Barney's work, No Restraint (opening Wednesday at IFC Center) neither finds the meaning of his work obscure nor simplifies it to the point of becoming art pablum," writes Paddy Johnson at the Reeler. For Jeannette Catsoulis, writing in the New York Times, "After a meager 72 minutes, the man who once stretched an obsession with testicles into a five-film cycle remains as unknowable as ever." More from Michelle Orange in the Voice. Related: indieWIRE interviews Chernick.

Why is it that I find Europe so "holy",
as soon as I see it from a distance,
and why does it appear so profane, humdrum, almost boring,
as soon as I am back?

For signandsight, John Bergeron translates a speech delivered by Wim Wenders at last month's conference "A Soul for Europe."

"While many still produce at a level that would put younger colleagues to shame, an elder generation of film critics that has held a powerful influence in the field is gradually, very gradually, passing from the international film scene." That's going to seem like a rather alarming, perhaps even gruesome piece from Variety's Robert Koehler, particularly during the holiday season, but as he surveys the work of ten giants, you realize he's pulled this off with the utmost respect. Via Ray Pride.

The Films of James Broughton James Broughton "was a representative figure of San Francisco's arts and experimental film scene from the Renaissance of the postwar years through the Beat era and on into the 1980s," writes Robert Avila at SF360. "Yet the serenely individual tastes and concerns of this California native also helped to cast him as ever outside the fashions and categories of his day."

"Quintessential [Chris] Marker, The Case of the Grinning Cat is a digressive, serendipitous city portrait," writes J Hoberman. "Marker's epic 1977 essay on the French new left is called Grin Without a Cat; this sequel might be the latest installation in the filmmaker's ongoing project, as halfway through, the cat disappears, leaving Marker to his grin: documenting the public life of early-21st-century Paris." Marker, "whose best-known works remain his films La Jet�e (1962) and Sans Soleil (1982), has a way of shooting in video that makes you think he's probably had a camera embedded in his head," observes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. More from Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE and Eric Kohn at the Reeler.

Oldboy In a seasonal edition of his column, Dave Kehr reviews a slew of box sets for the NYT. A few choice pullquotes: Waterloo Bridge is "a welcome rediscovery, particularly for its commanding lead performance by Mae Clarke, a gifted actress best remembered for having a grapefruit ground in her face in The Public Enemy." 20 Bonds have been "digitally scrubbed down." Oldboy? "Probably not suitable for Christmas Eve viewing, but some kind of a masterpiece." Preston Sturges is "the Mark Twain of American movies," while Wim Wenders "remains, paradoxically, one of the most intellectually rigorous as well as one of the most air-headedly romantic filmmakers working today."

The cinetrix has a typically brilliant idea for a movie.

At IFC News:

  • "We didn't want to end up with one of those films where you are forced to admire a set decorator's achievements, totally overproduced. You need to be a master of proportion, and I wanted it to be completely driven by the narration and protagonist," Tom Tykwer tells Aaron Hillis in a conversation about Perfume - and the smells of New York and Berlin.

  • Bertolucci's "international rep would be many steps closer to the top shelf today if, in fact, he'd stopped when he was ahead, at 35, with seven features already under his belt, two of which - The Conformist (1970) and 1900 (1976) - are rapturous masterpieces," argues Michael Atkinson.

  • "Rocky has never met an bizarre training method he didn't like � he punches meat! He does lunges with a log!" Alison Willmore writes up a montage of the training montages. As for the latest installment, Robert Cashill writes, "Let's put it this way: Rocky Balboa won't make any Top 10 lists, but it won't make any Bottom 10 lists, either, which for its star, punchdrunk from so many flops, is an accomplishment. Just, please, no more Cobra pictures." But for David Poland, it feels "like a low-budget cable TV sequel to a series that is already long over." More from Stephen Holden in the NYT.

Kabul Express "Bollywood broke new ground this weekend with the release of the first international movie filmed in post-Taliban Afghanistan," reports Randeep Ramesh. "Kabul Express, a tale of two Indian journalists out of their depth on the trail of Taliban, is set among the country's spectacularly scarred landscape of gutted buildings and pitted flatlands." Also in the Guardian, Natalie Hanman has a quick chat with Lynne Ramsay.

"Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth leaves the majority of 2006's unimpressive prestige movies looking drab and mechanical," writes Johnny Ray Huston in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "It's a mistake - made by at least one pan of Pan - to attribute the film's fairy-tale quality to sexism on the part of its director; without question, Del Toro is paying homage to [Victor] Erice's [Spirit of the Beehive], perhaps the greatest movie ever made about a child's - not just girl's - consciousness."

"Oh, how deliciously campy Notes on a Scandal might have been had director Richard Eyre taken a more deliriously hysterical approach to his material," sighs Nick Schager.

"The Secret Life of Words is my first Coixet film, and it had something of the same effect as Climates, the recent film by the Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan," writes Stanley Kauffmann in the New Republic. "In both cases, the work is so finely made that as I watched, I kept regretting my lateness in coming to this artist."

Peter Nellhaus on Ho Choi's Sasaeng Gyeoldan (Bloody Tie): "This is like a Quentin Tarantino film without a lot of the pretense from a Korean filmmaker who should be better known stateside."

James Rampton talks with James Cameron about Avatar, his return to sci-fi narrative, for the Independent.

"There was resistance to the idea of Russians going into the theatre to get more Herzen and Belinsky. They were sick of having Herzen and Belinsky shoved down their throats in high school." In the New Yorker, Tom Stoppard tells Masha Lipman about a few surprising discoveries he's made as he tries to get a production of The Coast of Utopia off the ground in Moscow.

Jonathan Jones at Alternet on The Nativity Story: "Although the film is supposed to remind us about the humble beginnings of Jesus, the real message behind the most expensive religious movie ever backed by a major motion picture studio is that there are huge profits to be made by producing wholesome films with Christian themes."

Religion in Hollywood itself is mystifying to all of us, but particularly to Europeans. Susanne Weingarten tries to explain what's going on over there to Spiegel readers.

Adam Resurrected, just so you know, has nothing to do with Jerry Lewis's The Day the Clown Cried. Matea Gold reports in the Los Angeles Times.

Dorota Hartwich has a short talk with Peter Greenaway for Cineuropa.

Idiocracy "One would have thought - or maybe just hoped - that the outrages concerning Twentieth Century Fox's mishandling of Mike Judge's Idiocracy would come to an end with the film's upcoming January DVD release." Nope. At Screengrab, Bilge Ebiri has the latest as well as a handy guide to past coverage.

"[R]ewatching Little Shop of Horrors this past week," writes Edward Copeland, "the movie still holds up as one of the best movie musicals to come out in the post-death-of-movie-musicals era."

"Welcome to the future of Hollywood." Sony didn't need a Pirates-sized blockbuster to break $1.5 billion domestically this year, notes David Poland, and it's not a matter of more eggs, but rather, more baskets.

Online browsing tip. Silent film posters at the Ernst Gallery. Via Rashomon.

Online listening tip. A sampling from Chateau Flight's soundtrack for Les Vampires.

Online viewing tip #1. The trailer for God Grew Tired of Us at Beliefnet.

Online viewing tip #2. Scott Macaulay's found a fun "modern day Zapruder film, playfully debunking" the video of Michel Gondry "solving" Rubik's Cube with his feet.

Ocean's 13 Online viewing tip #3. AICN's Quint'll point you to the trailer for Ocean's 13.

Online viewing tip #4. Anne Thompson: "With both The Good Shepherd and We Are Marshall hitting holiday theaters, here's Matt Damon's dead-in imitation of Matthew McConaughey on David Letterman."

Online viewing tips, round 1. Cinematical's Jessica Barnes's got a trailer for Alexander Payne's King of California. And Chris Uhlich's got one for Shooter (Antoine Fuqua directs Mark Wahlberg).

Online viewing tips, round 2. Just skip the intro: Very Funny Ads.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:16 PM

Lists. Film Comment Critics' Poll.

The Departed Over 80 critics. If you're a regular Daily reader, scroll to the bottom of this page: "Film Comment's End-of-Year Critics' Poll" - and you'll be rattled to realize that you recognize every single one of those names.

At any rate, the voting system is fairly straightforward: "a first-place choice was allotted 20 points, 19 for second, and so on." The Departed leads second-placer The Death of Mr Lazarescu by a healthy 779 points to 740. But there's a hefty drop down to 657 for Army of Shadows.

Topping the list of "Best Unreleased Films of 2006" is Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century. Many films on that list will, in fact, see a release in 2007, but it's a good refresher on the year that was nonetheless.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:13 PM

Lists. AV Club.

AV Club The five AV Club film writers have discovered "a remarkable amount of overlap between our lists. We could immodestly claim that great minds think alike, but the more likely explanation is that the most important and accomplished films of the year were just too bold to deny."

So they've collated a "Master List," topped by Children of Men, and followed that with pages by Noel Murray, Keith Phipps, Nathan Rabin, Tasha Robinson and Scott Tobias, on which each writer elaborates a bit not on his or her top ten but on choices made for supplemental categories: "The Next Five," "Performance," "Overrated," "Underrated," "Most Pleasant Surprise," "Guilty Pleasure," "Best Non-2006 Film Seen This Year," "Future Film That Time Forgot" and "Worst of the Year."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:36 AM

Scanners. Recently.

George Packer: The Assassins Gate What a parenthetical tucked into George Packer's piece in last week's New Yorker: "(In a lecture that Kilcullen teaches on counterterrorism at Johns Hopkins, his students watch Fight Club, the 1999 satire about anti-capitalist terrorists, to see a radical ideology without an Islamic face.)" Jim Emerson spotted it and he not only insists that you read the full article but also adds at scanners:

That, I submit, is revelatory. I wonder if those who can't see what's going on in Fight Club - the feelings of impotence and alienation and personal violation that fuel the rage and the desire to belong to a force larger than the individual, even if it's just a form of nihilistic fascism that lacks the religious, racial or nationalistic aspirations of Naziism, Soviet Communism or "Bin Laden-ism" (for lack of a better term) - can even begin to comprehend contemporary jihadism and what we now call "the insurgency" (as if there were just one).

Now then. You've gone and read the Packer; here's your dessert:

"I don't disagree at all with Andy Horbal's list of reservations about annual critics' 'Ten Best Lists,'" admits Jim Emerson, but adds, "To me, a ten best list is like a personality inventory - a rough sketch of who I was (and what mattered to me most) during a particular year." And he's got, yes, a list, "What Can Be Good About Ten Best Lists," before presenting two of his own and pointing to another cluster of lists he's contributed to.

Pan's Labyrinth The first is a series of annotations to the Guardian's "50 Lost Movie Classics," of which there's already been a lot of discussion out there, and the second is his top ten, with Pan's Labyrinth in the #1 spot.

He wrote it up for MSN Movies, where Dave McCoy presents his own list and introduces the package of seven more: frequent GC-contributor Sean Axmaker, whose list, like McCoy's, is unranked; Gregory Ellwood (#1: Dreamgirls); again, Jim Emerson, though you'll want to read his revving up for it here; David Fear (#1: Half Nelson); Richard T Jameson (#1: Flags of Our Fathers / Letters from Iwo Jima); Kim Morgan (#1: The Departed); and Kathleen Murphy, who also goes for Clint Eastwood's pair of WWII films.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:14 AM

Woody @ the Reeler.

Woody Allen You knew the Reeler, angling to become the traffic light at the intersection of New York and Film, wouldn't let Film Forum's Essentially Woody retrospective slip by without comment, but heavens. Karen Kramer and ST VanAirsdale have collected appreciations from a delightfully wide-ranging array of New Yorkers - a former mayor, a celebrity composer, a few programmers and way more than a few filmmakers.

As "a Jewish (well, truth be told, half-Jewish) kid growing up on Manhattan's Upper East Side," Andrew Grant wanted to be Woody Allen when he grew up - until he actually grew up and realized that, among other things, "Woody's New York, while stemming from genuine adoration, is little more than a romanticized notion of the city, gazed upon from a vantage point reserved for only a select few.... Woody in his 70s will never be the filmmaker he was in the 70s, but even this late in the game, a film like Scoop can still yield a few surprises. His films may not have the operatic grandeur of Scorsese, the epic scope of Coppola or even the social relevance of Lumet, but they are unrivaled in their ability to create a singular angle on the human condition that is distinctly his own."

Updated through 12/24.

Matt Singer and Vadim Rizov consider Woody Allen's work as an actor, while Michelle Orange discovers, to her great pleasure, The Complete Prose of Woody Allen.

Update, 12/21: At PopMatters, Michael Beuning offers a "Guide to the Lesser Woody Allen Films."

Update, 12/24: Reverse Shot's robbiefreeling: "Woody Allen is actually one of the most essential American artists of the past century, subsuming and reappropriating the textures of the modern European arts for the American cosmopolitan sensibility, funneling those tropes into a New York tenor, and thus single-handedly creating a new form of Jewish humor, which tightened the Borscht belt around the ever-inflating girth of the gentile elitism he (and we) both despises and covets. Each Woody Allen film is tricky to navigate; while he seems to put himself out there, in firing range, bearing his neuroses for all to heckle, he also always is shielding himself from some greater truth, whether by hiding behind Upper West Side extravagance or Euro art-house nostalgia."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:16 AM

December 19, 2006

Lists, 12/19.

Lunacy "It was a year that saw plenty of good films and, inevitably, some of the worst moments every committed to celluloid or tape," writes Jonathan Marlow, introducing his top ten at the main site. "I am delighted to note that several of these films have already appeared on 'worst of the year' lists. It only confirms that this exercise is dominated by personal taste."

Critics awards are breaking out all over, and there's only one way to get a handle on all these damn lists and hold onto it throughout the season: Movie City News. Casual list flaneurs and number-crunching obsessives alike can wander in via the most recently announced individual lists - the Black Reel Awards, awards from circles in the Southeast, Las Vegas, San Diego, DFW, Phoenix or Chicago - or head straight for the charts, where MCN's already done the math for you: the Awards Scoreboard and the Top Tens.

His comments illustrated by a catty animated GIF (that's "catty" in the very best sense, of course), Nathaniel R assesses the tally so far.

Vitor Pinto at Cineuropa: "Fifteen nominations for Alatriste and fourteen for Volver (see focus): the most successful local productions of the year in terms of box office are also the favourites for the Spanish film awards, the Goyas, which will be presented in Madrid in January." The full list of nominations follows.

Jeffrey M Anderson lists his ten best at Cinematical. Also: James Rocchi's got seven "Great Movie Moments of 2006."

Marcy Dermansky and J�rgen Fauth not only have top tens, they've got lists of the top docs, a bottom ten and one of the most talented newcomers.

Teorema Girish presents an annotated list of "Ten Favorite Older Films... Seen for the first time this year." And again, he's got a discussion going.

"5 for the Day: Countering Christmas Cheer" from Odienator at the House Next Door.

Penguins. Ed Caesar's got a list in the Independent.

Online scrolling tip. The Book Design Review's favorite covers. Via Jason Kottke.

Online listening tip. David Edelstein presents an audio version of his list on NPR.

Online viewing tips. Steve Bryant presents a "Top Ten List of Top Ten Lists of Top Ten Online Videos."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:42 PM | Comments (1)

Fests and events, 12/19.

Jonas Mekas: 40 Shorts "There's Salvador Dalí, covering a model with whipped cream on a deserted Manhattan avenue. And on another LCD monitor across the gallery, Jackie O smiles coyly for the camera. Next to her, the Velvet Underground takes a tiny stage and plays its first show. On a nearby monitor, John and Yoko hop around their giant bed, celebrating a birthday." For Wired News, Jason Silverman talks with Jonas Mekas about the 40 short films on view through February 10 at the Maya Stendahl Gallery in New York.

Starting Thursday, it's going to be a "Vicious Christmas" at NYC's Pioneer.

"Why go home when you can spend the holidays with Woody Allen in an orgy of melancholic, angst-ridden self-recrimination?" Leslie Camhi previews the retro starting Friday at Film Forum and running through January 11.

Eugene Hernandez wraps the third annual Dubai International Film Festival. Also at indieWIRE, Kim Adelman's overview of the inaugural Independent Lens Online Shorts Festival.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:19 PM

It's a Wonderful Life.

It's a Wonderful Life "Sorry, but I turn a deaf ear and a blind eye whenever some cynic tries to convince me that this enduring classic is nothing but cloyingly sentimental Capra-corn," writes Joe Leydon, who's just watched It's a Wonderful Life again and will probably watch it once more before the year is out, and notes: "Frank Capra,' Cassavetes once proclaimed, 'is the greatest filmmaker that ever lived. Capra created a feeling of belief in a free country and in goodness in bad people... Idealism is not sentimental. It validates a hope for the future. Capra gave me hope, and in turn I wish to extend a sense of hope to my audiences.'"

That said, two arguments via Ray Pride, starting with Jim Kunstler on the outcome of George Bailey's good intentions: "Frank Capra could imagine vibrant small towns turning their vibrancy in the direction of vice - but he couldn't imagine them forsaken and abandoned, with the shop fronts boarded up and the sidewalks empty, which was the true tragic destiny of all the Bedford Falls in our nation. Most ironically, today America's favorite main street town, Las Vegas, is Pottersville writ large, and most Americans see absolutely nothing wrong with it. How wonderful is that?"

Updated through 12/24.

And Glenn Erickson proposes that it's entirely "possible that the entire flashback structure of that film was imposed during post production, in a desperate attempt to save a movie that wasn't working."

Updates, 12/20: At Facets Features, Jason Makman reminds Chicagoans that it's screening at the Music Box Theatre. And: Tomorrow night at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica (thanks, Alonso!). And! It opens Friday and runs for a week at NYC's IFC Center.

Update, 12/24: As you'll see below, Cynthia's noted that Wonderful is playing at the AFI Silver Theatre through Monday.

"Pottersville rocks!" exclaims Salon's Gary Kamiya, whereas, "The gauzy Currier-and-Ives veil Capra drapes over Bedford Falls has prevented viewers from grasping what a tiresome and, frankly, toxic environment it is. When Marx penned his immortal words about 'the idiocy of rural life,' he probably had Bedford Falls in mind."

Stephen Cox, author of It's a Wonderful Life: A Memory Book, has a few behind-the-scenes stories to tell in the Los Angeles Times. There's an accompanying picture gallery as well.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:51 PM | Comments (5)

Lists. IFC.

L'Enfant "We've got seven lists this year instead of just three, and a remarkable diversity of films: some 50-plus for our 70 selections, meaning this year, we pretty much disagreed about everything." Matt Singer introduces a collection of top tens at IFC News. His own #1: L'Enfant.

Michael Atkinson tops his list with Battle in Heaven, but nonetheless sees a "dire year, all tolled."

Aaron Hillis: "Regardless of how incomprehensible or ugly so many people have pondered David Lynch's consumer-grade DV opus to be, no other film in 2006 has twisted up in my brain and refused to leave like Inland Empire, which I've deemed the most artful, uncompromised, challenging film of the year."

R Emmet Sweeney also goes for Inland Empire but his #2, interestingly enough, is Climates, which Aaron furiously panned earlier this year.

Thom Bennett on a #1 that may surprise a few: "I would be hard-pressed to find a movie that was the recipient of more misguided criticism than Marie Antionette, but Sofia Coppola once again proves that she's one hell of a filmmaker - a historian would have probably made a far less interesting film."

Volver tops Michelle Orange's list, followed in short order by Shortbus.

"If you told me last year that a Spike Lee joint, even an underplayed one, would by my favorite film of the year, I would have laughed in your face (that's the kind of obnoxious person I am)." Alison Willmore's #1 film of 2006 is Inside Man.

Online listening tip. Matt Singer and Alison Willmore discuss the lists.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:18 AM

Interview. Chen Kaige.

The Promise "If you look at the General [Hiroyuki Sanada] and the Princess [Cecilia Cheung], they are representatives of the current values of the Chinese people," Chen Kaige tells Sean Axmaker in a conversation sparked by The Promise. "They are confused by the new materialism. We sort of got lost, culturally. We don't know which direction we should take. So that's why I think, more or less, we feel we are out of control, we don't know how to deal with this."

A series of differences crops up in the conversation: between Chinese and American audiences, between The Emperor and the Assassin and Hero and between the "Fifth Generation" filmmakers and those that have come before - and those following now.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:41 AM

Joseph Barbera, 1911 - 2006.

Joseph Barbera
Joseph Barbera, an innovator of animation who teamed with William Hanna to give generations of young television viewers a pantheon of beloved characters, including Tom and Jerry, Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound and the Flintstones, died yesterday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 95.... [T]he two men developed a cartoon style that combined colorful, simply drawn characters (often based on other recognizable pop-culture personalities) with the narrative structures and joke-telling techniques of traditional live-action sitcoms. They were television's first animated comedy programs.

Dave Itzkoff in the New York Times.

Cartoon Brew is collecting remembrances.

See also: Wikipedia and the Museum of Broadcast Communications.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:18 AM

December 18, 2006

Interview. Joe Bob Briggs.

Joe Bob Briggs "What do you think of this recent trend of sadistic horror movies - like Saw, Hostel and the like? Are they 'profoundly disturbing'?" asks Craig Phillips.

And Joe Bob Briggs replies: "They're completely over the top, sick, disturbing, and perversions of the classic horror genre. I love 'em."

19 more Q's and A's at the main site.

Update, 12/21: Nikki Finke knew him when. And would like to see more of him out and about again, too.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:38 PM

Shorts, 12/18.

Wim Wenders "[U]nlike Herzog, who was trying to visualize an historical struggle through the signifiers of romantic mysticism, using the power of parable and allegory, we would suggest that Wenders is more concerned with fascism's absence than its presence, or more precisely, the absence of historical memory of a German past, as well as absence of personal memory too." Via Wim Wenders's December "News Reel," an interview with the director and an evaluation of his career as a single PDF file by Dragana Kitanovic for Prelom. Also: Donata Wenders's Thessaloniki report.

At Reverse Shot, cnw: "[W]ith Kaspar Hauser, Herzog intends on both demystifying and remystifying human experience, to look at the world through the eyes of a man with the mind of a child and to respond with a gasp of wonder and an existential howl."

Herzog's been filming at the site of live volcano in Antarctica in the meantime, and Soraya Roberts reports that he's found it to be a fairly comfortable location.

Also at the Time Out Film Blog:

The Denazification of MH "Some of my professors in school would talk about visiting Heidegger's cabin in Germany and pissing on it. I didn't piss on his cabin, but I did bottle some water from his still functional well as 'Heidegger Spring Water' - a work in progress, art installation of sorts." That's James T Hong, talking to Cheryl Eddy at SF360 about his new film, The Denazification of MH, slated to screen in Rotterdam in January.

Scott Kramer has spent 26 years trying to make the book into a movie, and his odyssey underlines a perennial Hollywood question: Can you adapt a satire without losing your shirt and your mind?" The book is A Confederacy of Dunces, and at Slate, Peter Hyman maps its journey through development hell.

The White Hotel "The novel has had a long, storied journey to the screen. Barbra Streisand, Meryl Streep, Isabella Rossellini and Nicole Kidman have been associated with the movie." And now, reports Borys Kit, Brittany Murphy may star in The White Hotel. Also in the Hollywood Reporter: Paul Schrader will be directing Willem Dafoe and Jeff Goldblum in Adam Resurrected.

Leslie Weisman files a longish report on an Orson Welles symposium that took place at Yale a few weeks ago.

What role does passion play in film criticism? Michael Guill�n asks David Thomson.

Among those expounding on the Meaning of Life in the January issue of Esquire: Peter O'Toole, Forest Whitaker, Alan Arkin, Jack Bauer, Penn & Teller and Sarah Silverman & Jimmy Kimmel.

"John Sayles's Honeydripper has wrapped," writes Brendon Connelly. "Now it has to be distributed - and Sayles and the film's producer want our help."

Ray Pride points to Guy Dixon's fun piece in the Globe and Mail on Reg Harkema's Monkey Warfare, with Don McKellar, Tracy Wright, a controversial guerilla marketing campaign and "mixed feelings about the politics it espouses."

Bradford Nordeen sees Another Gay Movie as simply drenched in all the symptoms of what's ailing Queer Cinema these days.

In the Los Angeles Times:

Neal Gabler: Walt Disney

  • 40 years since the death of Walt Disney, "neither side has budged much from [an] initial dichotomy of Disney as either the repository of American wholesomeness or as the man who degraded the popular culture, and he remains a convenient symbol for the ongoing debate between those who love and those who detest American popular culture," writes biographer Neal Gabler. "Walt Disney is not either/or - the best or the worst. He is both the best and the worst - not the polarizing center of cultural warfare but a portent of the truce between high and low."

  • AS Hamrah on the current torrent of torture porn: "The ingeniously imagineered punishment devices in these movies, along with their chummy torture-chamber repartee and quick recoveries from pain and abuse, aren't so much about the fear of torture as they are about the joy of it - and its necessity. Torture is a duty that filmmakers, like Tom Sawyer painting the fence, have convinced us is a lot of fun."

  • Steve Ryfle reviews Joe Eszterhas's The Devil's Guide to Hollywood: The Screenwriter as God!, "a rude and sometimes crude manifesto for screenwriters from an ex-icon who wants it known he takes no prisoners in a business where writers are perceived as dispensable cogs."

Curse of the Golden Flower Curse of the Golden Flower "is compellingly huge, and thrilling in its plot dry-heaves, the ever more grandiose machinations bring increasingly diminishing returns," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "Zhang [Yimou] wants the gargantuan, while his script and characters demand intimacy."

"Bold in scope and aptly mimicking the loose structures of kinship, friendship and work most city dwellers make do with these days, Breaking and Entering nonetheless plays out too quiet and too loose for its own good," writes Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly. Related: Sarah Lyall talks with Anthony Minghella for the New York Times and the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw has a reading of Minghella's Interflora ad.

Also in the NYT:

  • AO Scott on Charlotte's Web: "Gary Winick's film, from a script credited to Susannah Grant and Karey Kirkpatrick, may not be perfect, but it honors its source and captures the key elements - the humor and good sense, as well as the sheer narrative exuberance - that have made [EB] White's book a classic." Slate's Dana Stevens finds it "a scrupulously tasteful rendering.... But the brand of childhood wonder the movie traffics in is just a little sweeter, a little louder, a little busier than White's, and that shade of coarsening makes all the difference." For Salon's Stephanie Zacharek, it "always strikes just the right note, honoring the spirit and humor of the novel without oversentimentalizing its delicate themes."

  • Stephen Holden: "By the end of Home of the Brave, you may feel as if you have just sat through an earnest made-for-television movie featuring actors who are too pretty to be real people dutifully recycling a formula." More from Vadim Rizov at the Reeler.

  • Also, The Secret Life of Words: "[T]he exquisitely coordinated performances elicit an empathy as powerful as anything I can remember feeling in a recent film." More from Stanley Kauffmann in the New Republic.

  • Jeanette Catsoulis finds Eragon "as lacking in fresh ideas as Tim Allen's manager." More from Tim Robey in the Telegraph.

  • Also: "Based on the journal of the German judge Daniel Paul Schreber ([Jefferson] Mays) during his turn-of-the-century stay in a Leipzig sanatorium, [Memoirs of My Nervous Illness] documents his clamorous decline in scenes of disturbing potency." Related: indieWIRE interviews director Julian Hobbs.

  • And: "Resilience, Paul Bojack's dour examination of unexamined lives, is a slow-burning morality tale simmering with self-interest."

  • Neil Genzlinger reviews Reminiscing in Tempo, "a meandering documentary about [Duke] Ellington that mixes the then and the now."

Danielson: A Family Movie

  • Also, Danielson: A Family Movie: "Past the one-hour mark, [Danielson's] smugness and pretentious hooey about God using him as an instrument (these songs are the best God could do?) grow more irritating than interesting." Related: Mark Savlov talks with director JL Aronson for the Austin Chronicle.

  • Blood Diamond hasn't kept diamond sales from rising, but as Mireya Navarro reports, many potential customers are thinking twice. Will they turn out to be trendsetters? Related: Stuart Klawans in the Nation: "Down to hell Ed Zwick tumbles, over his good intentions."

  • John Anderson profiles the screenwriting team of Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant (Balls of Fury, Night at the Museum): "If they can be comfortably compared to any other screenwriting pair, it is probably Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, the once-ubiquitous studio comedy team responsible for 90s hits like City Slickers and A League of Their Own. Mr Lennon and Mr Garant, however, push the limits of movie comedy to realms unimagined back then."

  • Doug Liman, "his actors and a small crew from the science fiction thriller Jumper - granted unprecedented access even to the amphitheater's labyrinthine guts, where gladiators and doomed beasts once waited - were to shoot their pivotal love scene on a stage that still belongs more to the dead than the living." Peter Kiefer on a rare shoot in Rome's Colosseum.

  • Jon Pareles reviews Lou Reed's first staged performance of Berlin in 33 years: "he show, directed by the painter Julian Schnabel with Hal Willner as music producer, gave Berlin what might be called the Next Wave treatment."

  • "Today neutral terms describing homosexuality are commonplace, having long since joined the vocabulary list deemed fit and proper to be spoken in front of the footlights," writes Charles Isherwood. "But as The Little Dog Laughed, Regrets Only and Borat have lately shown, old-school mockery, refitted for a new, post-politically-correct era, is making a comeback."

  • "The Smithsonian Institution has agreed to develop a system to document and explain its decisions about why television and film producers are granted or denied access to its collections outside of a widely criticized contract the institution entered into with Showtime Networks," reports Edward Wyatt.

  • Here come two docs on meerkats, warns Charles Lyons.

Children of Men Children of Men revs up: Ray Pride talks with Alfonso Cuar�n for the Reeler and Logan Hill interviews Clive Owen for New York.

David Thomson on Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima: "In my opinion, these two films - and they are as linked as The Godfather and The Godfather Part II - are not just the films of this year but the best thing Eastwood has ever done." From there, it's a rambling consideration of the work other filmmakers - many other filmmakers - have done past the age of 70.

Also in the Guardian, another big Guardian/National Film Theatre interview: Mark Lawson talks with Oliver Stone - and Ronald Bergan remembers Leon Niemczyk: 'In one of his last interviews, he said: "I was never a party member and I don't give a damn for all that communism, but I still believe that it was the best time for Poland's movie industry.'"

Mike remembers costume designer and make-up artist Van Smith at Bad Lit: "Ever since pairing up for [John] Waters's breakthrough hit Pink Flamingos, the two always worked together, having made more movies together than even Waters and his superstar Divine."

Dennis Cozzalio remembers Shirley Walker, "a pioneer who opened doors for women in the role of film scoring and composing."

Candy has Dennis Harvey reviewing the history of heroin addiction movies at SF360.

"We've done a seven-part, nearly 15-hour film on the history of the American experience in the second World War," Ken Burns tells the LA CityBeat's David Davin. And now, Burns and PBS are bracing themselves "for a showdown with the FCC over the language."

Counsellor at Law "I wasn't quite prepared for Counsellor at Law, which, unlike so many other studio dramas of the 20s and 30s, is shockingly contemporary in tone, characterization, and mise-en-scene," writes Darren Hughes. "It is also the perfect introduction to the films of William Wyler."

In Kiss Me Deadly, Robert Aldrich "correctly depicts LA primarily as a locus of the scientific military-industrial complex," writes Alex at motion picture, it's called. "There is a diminution within the movie of 'old' LA industries (film, entertainment, media, tourism) in favor of the newly dominant military industries." Via Zach Campbell.

"The Siren thinks of [Michael] Curtiz's signal virtue as pacing. His films move, often at breakneck speed. Something like Mandalay, with a complicated plot fully teased out over 65 minutes, stands in pleasant contrast to a modern genre movie like X-Men, in which half an hour of exposition is combined with almost zero actual character development.... Mandalay is tosh, but it is enjoyable tosh, and nine-tenths of the pleasure is definitely Kay [Francis]."

Jeff at Cinema Strikes Back: "King Hu's Raining in the Mountain is a meticulously composed, beautifully crafted film. It should be required viewing for any film fan who wrongly looks down upon 'old school' martial arts films as shoddy, lowest-common denominator fare."

Chrissy Iley interviews Denzel Washington for the Observer. Also, Philip French on It's Winter.

Lesley O'Toole interviews Val Kilmer. Also in the Independent, Robin Knox-Johnston on Deep Water and James Rampton on "a potent, yet bleak new BBC1 drama": "Boasting an unusually stellar cast for television - movie stars Colin Firth and Robert Carlyle rub shoulders with Emilia Fox, Anne-Marie Duff, David Oyelowo and Julia Davis - Born Equal explores the gulf between rich and poor."

For the New York Press, Jennifer Merin talks with James Ponsoldt about Off the Black.

Richard Young has a brief talk with The US vs John Lennon co-director David Leaf for openDemocracy.

"Shut Up and Sing is less a political statement than an analysis of the music industry itself," notes Chuck Tryon (and there's more on that one from Ken Morefield at Looking Closer). Also: how Fast Food Nation "manages to be self-critical, questioning its own premise as an activist movie."

"Get ready for The Devil Wears Prada - the original," writes Denise Martin for Variety. "A&E IndieFilms and RJ Cutler are bringing fashion dynamo Anna Wintour to the bigscreen in a feature-length documentary chronicling the making of Vogue's September issue."

The Cave of the Yellow Dog "[Y]es, watching The Cave of the Yellow Dog does sometimes feel like eating your vegetables," admits Jonathan Kiefer in the Sacramento News and Review. "But if that sounds entirely insufferable, you may need to work on transcending your desire to skip right to dessert."

The Swedes are up in arms over a Turkish documentary that "depicts Sweden as a barbarian land responsible for the genocide of Sami and Roma peoples." Paul O'Mahony reports for the Local.

"The Mahabharata could have been a truly great comic work if the role of Krishna were to be played by Groucho Marx," suggests Jai Arjun Singh. Via Alan Vanneman at Bright Lights After Dark.

"[C]ome next Spring, there will be no fewer than eight new Tim Lucas audio commentaries on the market."

Online browsing tip #1. Videodokument: Video Art in Slovenia, 1969 - 1998.

Online browsing tip #2. A few movie interiors and a lot of Chlo� Sevigny at House and Garden.

Online calendar-marker tip. 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering, a ten-DVD series coming out over the next two years, beginning with Robert Rauschenberg: Open Score on February 27. At the very least, click to watch Rauschenberg's trailer.

Online viewing tip #1. Bilge Ebiri has wkw/tk/1996@7'55", a commercial short by Wong Kar-wai.

Online viewing tip #2. More commercial work, this time from Pen-Ek Ratanaruang. At Twitch, Todd's found Total Bangkok.

Online viewing tips, round 1. Grady Hendrix has found a new (and frustratingly ill-cut) trailer for Tears of the Black Tiger and a (far better) Japanese trailer for Election.

Online viewing tips, round 2. The best of November at no fat clips!!!.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:17 AM | Comments (2)

Fests and events, 12/18.

Tirante el Blanco Reviewing Tirante el Blanco (The Maiden's Conspiracy), Honor de Cavallera, La Dama Boba (Lady Nitwit) and Carnival Sunday so far, acquarello is our eye on the Spanish Cinema Now! series running through December 26 in NYC.

Jacques Rivette's The Gang of Four is "absolutely essential viewing," insists Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door.

"Screening nine film classics by Okamoto Kihachi from the 1950s and 60s, the Forum once again devotes a focused program to a Japanese old master." For those who'll be busy during the Berlinale but who'll also be around once the festival wraps, the best news may be the last sentence of the press release: "After the conclusion of the Berlinale, the series will be repeated at the Kino Arsenal." For commentary in German, see Thomas Groh.

The Artists Cinema is a program of shorts by Miguel Caldern, Bonnie Camplin, Phil Collins, Manon de Boer and Apichatpong Weerasethakul touring the UK. Charlotte Cripps has an overview in the Independent.

San Franciscans: Brian Darr is looking ahead to the new year for you.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:27 AM

Lists and awards, 12/18.

The Host "Bong Joon-ho's record-breaking monster movie The Host picked up five awards, including picture, at the 27th Blue Dragon Awards, held in Seoul on Friday night." Darcy Paquet has more at Variety.

Stephen King picks his top ten in Entertainment Weekly. Via Vince Keenan, who writes, "I love King's column: the odds of any other writer for a mass-market magazine singling out the old-school 70s-style urban action flick Waist Deep for year-end honors are mighty slim." King's #1: i>Pan's Labyrinth.

Same goes for the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. Also via Movie City News: The Toronto Film Critics Association nominees.

The International Press Academy likes Dreamgirls and The Departed. Gregg Kilday has more for the Hollywood Reporter. Also: Oscar's best visual effects shortlist.

"Sony Pictures Classics co-presidents Tom Bernard and Michael Barker will be the recipients of The Hollywood Reporter's inaugural Indie Mogul Award, to be presented next month at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City."

When the Oscar nominations are announced - hell, even by the time the Oscars are awarded - vast swaths of the country between the coasts still won't have had a chance to see many of the films in the running. In the Independent Weekly, Neil Morris looks into what that's all about.

Kristin Thompson has a few ideas as to what seems to make a performance "Oscar-worthy."

Oscar night's still in February rather than March, and ballots are going out a tad earlier this year, too. Bryan Reesman in the New York Times: "Those tweaks have turned what once was the film industry's holiday hiatus into a kind of cinematic hell week for the academy's approximately 5,800 ballot-casting members and the operatives who want their votes." Gosh.

Online browsing tip. Yahoo! Picks of the Year.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:13 AM | Comments (3)

The Painted Veil.

The Painted Veil "Like [John] Curran's last film, the magnificent We Don't Live Here Anymore, The Painted Veil once again has the subject of marital infidelity at its core," writes Filmbrain. "Curran's leap from directing a claustrophobic domestic drama to a romantic tragedy with an epic scope is impressive, and The Painted Veil is more than just your typical awards-season period film, though it's one you can still take your mom to see."

But about that awards-season appeal. John Horn reports in the Los Angeles Times that the film "is currently generating so little attention that half a dozen people associated with the film are starting to complain. Even one prominent film critic has questioned the handling of the film."

Anne Thompson has more in the Hollywood Reporter: "Debates between the filmmakers and Warners over the final cut of the film - in which China, where the movie was shot, had final say - delayed delivery of the finished print.... At one point, [producer Bob] Yari even offered to buy the film back from the studio."

Related: New York's Logan Hill talks with Edward Norton.

Updated through 12/21.

Earlier: Michael Guillén and, at Slant, Jason Clark.

Update, 12/19: Ella Taylor in the Voice: "The Painted Veil lifts Maugham's story clear of its prissy, attenuated spirituality, and into genuine passion."

Updates, 12/20: A "romance in the grand tradition," writes Michelle Orange at the Reeler.

Manohla Dargis, writing in the New York Times, concentrates on the performances: "When Walter confronts Kitty with her betrayal, he grabs her arm and with bloodcurdling quiet threatens to strangle her if she interrupts him. Again, this isn't Maugham; it's an American actor having his way with a character, beautifully.... [Naomi] Watts gives Mr Norton plenty of room and still manages to have her way with The Painted Veil."

"Lush, romantic melodramas [have] gone out of fashion and out of favor," sighs Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "Maybe that's why John Curran's resplendent, enveloping The Painted Veil, a movie that would have seemed conventional 30 years ago, is an act of mainstream daring."

Jay A Fernandez profiles screenwriter Ron Nyswaner for the Los Angeles Times.

Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE: "It's certainly a more optimistic story than Maugham wrote; and why shouldn't we be more optimistic about sex than he, who grew up queer in an era of outright witch hunts? But that's just clouding the issue: this oddly sanitized Painted Veil concludes that - why not? - virtue can trade as sex appeal through a miracle of emotional alchemy. And while most epic romances are necessarily flecked with lies, this one's a whopper."

Update, 12/21: "John Curran and screenwriter Ron Nyswaner remain at a British remove, as if finding it too, too beastly to pry into the whole sordid business," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "The handiest explanation is that the project really belongs to its star, Edward Norton, who as a producer worked for years to bring it to fruition and may have been reluctant to play the desperate weirdo."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:44 AM

December 17, 2006

DVDs, 12/17.

Consider this a special edition. Following Doug Holm's roundup of what specialists are saying about some of the most significant releases over the past few weeks is more linkage: DVD-related news, lists, reviews and so forth.

The Conformist We begin with a double dose of vintage Bernardo Bertolucci. Paramount Home Video released both the complete, five-hour 1900, as well as his earlier career-making The Conformist, presented in the same slightly expanded form in which it went on tour through revival houses earlier this year.

Bertolucci's interesting career more or less parallels certain tendencies in European cinema. He came in at the tail end of neorealism, as a disciple of Pasolini. Then he took a sharp turn toward what can be called classicism, reaching back to a style found in older films (carefully composed frames, tracking shots) in a manner not unlike Coppola, who was making The Godfather at around the same time that The Conformist came out.

While maintaining a semblance of that style, Bertolucci then took a plunge into Freud, but with the gay subtexts and political agenda of his films clashing vividly. Then he became a searcher of faiths, not unlike Scorsese. Of late, however, from about Stealing Beauty onward, his films look and feel more or less like everybody else's - plain and simple; muted in look, pace, feel and narrative. Both The Conformist, with its tale, adapted from Alberto Moravia, of a repressed homosexual (Jean-Louis Trintignant) rising and falling in Mussolini's Italy, and the sweeping, earthy tale of 1900, which follows two friends, one rich and one poor (Robert De Niro and G�rard Depardieu) as they cope with the political changes and warfare of the 20th century's first half, are high pitched blends of Bertolucci's visual, psychosexual, and narrative concerns.

If the public seem to have less enthusiasm for Bertolucci's newer work, reviews indicate a hardy appetite for his earlier films. Glenn Erickson, the DVD Savant, leads the charge of evaluation and reminiscence with his review of The Conformist. Beginning with the bold statement that for the "college crowd of the early 70s Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist was the pinnacle of classy, smart Italian filmmaking," he goes on to compare Bertolucci to his contemporaries: "The Conformist compares well to the work of other esteemed European directors. The picture has a lush look but sees no need to be epic in scope; the group dance scene with the tango is just as 'alive' as anything in a Visconti movie. Bertolucci also shows more restraint in this film than American Visconti admirers Coppola and Scorsese, who continually use his design and camera talent. The exotic visuals never seem like a series of empty special effects, and the final violence in the frozen woods proves that Less is More by avoiding overblown editorial fireworks." Summing up the virtues of the disc, he concludes that "Paramount's long-awaited DVD presents a perfect transfer of this gem. It reinstates a deleted scene and lets most of us hear the film's dialogue in Italian for the first time."

Jon Danziger at Digitally Obsessed is primarily enamored with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro on whom he has a "man crush," before going on to track the film's ambiguities. "Much of the movie can be headspinning, and on first viewing you're never quite sure where the story is headed - it's almost like Bertolucci is cultivating that sense of imbalance in us, and we're learning more about Clerici and his world than we ever would in a more conventional narrative. You always sense his struggle - he wants to blend in, to be like everybody else, but he cannot rise above his interior life of dreams and memories. It's like he wants to be a company man, but can't suppress his individuality sufficiently, which, among other things, doesn't make him a very good Fascist."

1900 Rob Lineberger at DVD Verdict echoes these sentiments, stating without ambiguity that "Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist is a great film," before going on quickly to modify that statement: "Like great novels or great works of music, The Conformist's greatness brings with it certain plusses and minuses. It is dense; impenetrably so. In fact, the experience of watching it becomes physically dizzying because there is so much to absorb and synthesize. It presents no easy answers. It is simultaneously stimulating and frustrating. And though the act of watching it demands much from you, The Conformist's artistry is undeniable," explaining his equivication by way of experience: "As I watched The Conformist, I grew increasingly frustrated. Its warped flashback structure made linear assumptions impossible, so it became a lyrical journey through intense, psychosexual, politically-laden symbolism. Marcello does absurd, giddy dance numbers in the austere hallways of The Fascist Regime. His mother is a dope-swilling ghoul while his father is a stark, lonely figure in a mental asylum. Leaves blow ominously."

Gary W Tooze of DVD Beaver focuses, as usual, on the disc's technology. Paramount are offering this Bertolucci masterpiece with three featurettes (with the director and DP Vittorio Storaro) in a strong 1.66 progressive transfer... This release is fabulous. Region coded for 1 + 4 (set to sell in South America as well) - there are subs and dubs in Portuguese and Spanish. The bold yellow subtitle font is a bit garish, but the transfer image is excellent - soft palette colors, crisp detail and very clean. Top marks to Paramount on the appearance."

One of the few reviewers to tackle the five-hour 1900 is Ryan Keefer at DVD Verdict. "Having not been exposed too much to the works of Bertolucci (aside from the later stuff), the only things I'd really known about 1900 were what Alexander Payne (Election) and others told me from an interesting documentary called Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession. The market for this film is for many an art house, but to briefly sum up the history of the film as far as I understand it, when the film was first released, the concept of showing it in two halves just wasn't feasible, so Bertolucci compromised with producer Alberto Grimaldi (Gangs of New York) to release a shorter cut. So now, all 315 minutes of Bertolucci's vision finally come to American video buyers." He concludes that, "After seeing some decent recommendations of 1900, maybe my expectations were a little bit high when I popped this into the player. But where Best of Youth focuses more on the characters and the story the film tells, 1900 seems more in love with the ideas that are suggested, but doesn't provide many compelling things for the characters to do. I feel bad saying that I didn't like this, but c'est la vie."

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm At the opposite end of the scale of cinematic classicism is the offbeat Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One, William Greaves's meta-film from 1968, now released on DVD by Criterion along with its modern companion, Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2½. At Digitally Obsessed, Jeff Wilson addresses this daunting work, weathering its complexities with sympathy. "For its first few minutes, I found it difficult to get involved with the goings-on, but as events and the questions raised by Greaves's editing unfold, it quickly becomes a fascinating experience. It's never made clear by Greaves what is scripted and what isn't; having shot more than 50 hours of footage, Greaves has a wide range of material to choose from, but focuses mainly on one pair of actors and the crew's mutinous discussion. The project becomes a perplexing mix of fact and fiction, but the catch is that you're never sure which is which. Greaves intended jazz as an inspiration for the film, and the Miles Davis score underlines that feel, as the director's visual riffs play with variations in theme and style."

The "sequel," co-produced by Steve Buscemi and Steven Soderbergh in 2003, "feels forced in many ways; what was spontaneous the first time around is often pre-arranged here with everyone's knowledge, which lessens the impact. Greaves, pushing 80, understandably takes a somewhat less involved role, which also affects the tone." Brendan Babish at DVD Verdict states plainly that Symbiopsychotxiplasm is "an experimental art film from 1968 that remained unreleased for over 20 years," adding that "while Symbiopsychotxiplasm is an innovative experiment in metacinema, it's really an embryonic reality program," and concluding that it's "an experimental film from an industrious filmmaker who takes complete advantage of the freewheeling 1960s to create a feature movie documenting the filmmaking process of said movie."

Preston Jones at DVD Talk offers the fullest account of the film, its making, its sequel, its context, and the current DVD. Calling it "unforgettable," Jones offers the best definition of the title word: "Social philosopher Arthur Bentley first coined the phrase," which refers to "all the elements and events that transpire in any given environment, which affect and are affected by human beings." Greaves augments the term with the word "psycho," which the director says invokes the mental aspects of the creative process and their impact upon those grouped together. Jones warns that "Greaves's film threatens to dissolve into labored, intense discussions of themes and intent, arguing over whether human life 'can be scripted,' then playing out a bitter, vicious argument over and over, implying that wounding words are perhaps calculated, rather than spontaneous. Greaves explodes several traditional filmmaking conventions throughout this lean, 80-minute work, not the least of which is the auteur theory, more or less discarded as his collaborators begin to take more and more of a hand in crafting the finished product; it may be Greaves's project as the film begins, but it's not nearly as singularly authored by its conclusion. Groundbreaking in its day and little seen until recently, Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One is just as revelatory and mind-expanding 37 years later as it was upon completion."

Preston Sturges: The Filmmaker Collection I've been wondering why Preston Sturges: The Filmmaker Collection didn't receive more reviews upon its appearance. Universal released the set on November 11 but since then there has been barely a peep. Has Sturgesmania run its course? Is it hard to come up with something new to say about a guy who has already inspired four or five biographies? Or was it the fact that the set, which contains The Great McGinty, Christmas in July, The Lady Eve, Sullivan's Travels, The Palm Beach Story, The Great Moment and Hail the Conquering Hero, inevitably competes with the outstanding Criterion releases of two of the titles, even though some of the titles in this set are new to DVD? Perhaps overtaxed web reviewers are hard-pressed to dedicate the time to assess seven 90-minute movies. Or did it have something to do with a dearth of review copies distributed to publications and websites?

Whatever the reason, fortunately, Glenn Erickson, the DVD Savant, was there to plough through the set. After dutifully reviewing the films, Erickson notes that the set consists of "one title per disc, reversing Universal's policy from last year, when the studio jammed as many as eight features onto only two discs. All the transfers are solid. There are no text extras, just a few notes on each film," before adding, "I've heard some grumbles from owners of the pricey Criterion releases; those discs are still in print and their excellent extras are recommended. Somehow, I don't see the pain in 'getting stuck' with an extra copy of something like Sullivan's Travels, especially when the discounted price of the set is so low."

The ever-reliable DVD Beaver, Gary W Tooze, complains that "Universal's Boxset is as lean and competent as you might have anticipated - we get 7 films (over 7 single-layered DVDs) progressively transferred for region 1 in the NTSC standard. The only extras are theatrical trailers included on the respective discs for all 7 films except Hail the Conquering Hero," and gives a lukewarm appraisal of the transfers. "The image quality - all DVDs have some digital noise and minor speckles but are certainly watchable in their present condition. I have compared a few frames to the existing Criterion DVDs with the Universal counterparts getting a passing grade," he writes, but still concludes that, "All the films, aside from possibly The Great Moment, are very strong, memorable classics of the silver screen - truly some of the best cinema brought out in the entire decade of the 1940s. The reasonableness of the price makes this a must own even of you already own the existing NTSC editions. It's great to have these as part of my library."

Dan Callahan at Slant makes a full press drive against the material, summarizing Sturges's life and career, and noting its distinguishing characteristics, such as the heightened use of character actors and Sturges spearheading the "writer-director" concept. Callahan tags Sturges as an "inventor of unprecedented and unequalled American movie farces... 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." But like the others, the writer also finds himself disappointed in the transfers. "The prints of The Great McGinty and Christmas in July are muddy and grainy, while The Lady Eve, Sullivan's Travels and Palm Beach Story are the same slightly speckled prints constantly shown on television. Surprisingly, The Great Moment is in pristine condition, as is Hail the Conquering Hero, though this most multi-layered of Sturges's soundtracks is marred by an ever-present hiss."

Another aspect of recent DVD production receiving less than its due is Italian cinema, which is experiencing a renaissance, on disc at any rate, thanks to NoShame and Criterion, among others. The acronymal DSH caught up with Francesco Rosi's Le Mani sulla citta (Hands Over the City), from 1963, a film that "casts its net over the political corruption that goes into gentrification... Based on situations in Rosi's hometown of Naples, Hands Over the City manages to still pack a punch, probably because corrupt governments never seem to go out of fashion. Unfortunately, the film delights more for its technical bravado than its plotting, which ends on the sort of stymied note one would expect of such a fictional exposé. But from a technical standpoint, the picture is breathtaking." DSH concludes that Criterion's transfer "is outstanding and little age or wear is noticeable."

The Most Beautiful Wife Meanwhile, the DVD Savant posted one of the few reviews of Damiano Damiani's The Most Beautiful Wife, a 1970 adaptation of a Carlos Fuentes story which was also the debut of Ornella Muti, of whom Andrew Sarris famously wrote that she had the face of an angel and the body of a devil. Muti plays Franca Viola, a "Sicilian teenager who defied the combined wrath of both the Mafia and her community. Viola was kidnapped and raped as a way of forcing her to consent to marriage. She held out against social pressure and death threats until the offender was convicted. Damiani's script changes the names but stays with the facts, turning the grim story into a compelling drama." Erickson concludes that "NoShame's disc of The Most Beautiful Wife is a fine enhanced transfer of this dramatically satisfying thriller. The color is excellent and Ennio Morricone's score is well recorded; his main them is typically eccentric."

Criterion recently announced that in February 2007 it is releasing Powell and Pressburger's The 49th Parallel. An advance preview of the disc might be contained in Noel Megahey's review at DVD Times of the recently R2 set released by France's Institut Lumière. 49th Parallel was "an attempt to alert the United States to the danger of the war in Europe spreading further afield and ensure their commitment and necessary participation in bringing the war to an end," as it tells the tale of a German submarine crew stranded in Canada.

"49th Parallel is a propaganda film, and we shouldn't expect too much complexity from it, even from Powell and Pressburger. What you can expect and what the film clearly delivers, is a well-made film that achieves everything it sets out to do - showing all the things that the filmmakers believe that North Americans will want to fight to preserve - liberty, freedom of speech, peace, tolerance, a sense of community, culture and heritage, and the ability to forge towards new horizons. Above all the filmmakers delight in showing the spectacular landscapes of this country and its National Parks, filmed by Michael Powell with his characteristic love for areas of natural beauty and the people who live and work in close union with the land - a theme that would come out more clearly in the subsequent films A Canterbury Tale and I Know Where I'm Going! much more artfully than it does here."

Megahey's appraisal of the DVD notes that the two-disc French set is "entirely English friendly, with removable French subtitles from the film, and all extra features either in English, or subtitled in English," with a transfer that is "reasonably good, but not quite as strong as some of the other Institut Lumière Pressburger and Powell releases. The quality however is variable from scene to scene."

The Devil Wears Prada Movies and fashion should be a match made in heaven. Or at least, Hollywood movies and the world of high fashion. But historically, cinema has taken a rather haughty stance against the industry that, in one of its subsidiary enterprises, has provided the movies themselves with so much of their allure. From Funny Face (1957), the musical that contrasted a super serious beatnik girl with the superficiality of the business, to Pr�t-�-Porter (1994), which attempted to eviscerate the fashion world on fairly obvious grounds, movies have eyed fashion the way they have eyed television, with edgy suspicious familiarity.

Because The Devil Wears Prada comes first from the novel by Lauren Weisberger, which was a thinly disguised account of the author's dyspeptic tour of duty as an assistant to Anna Wintour of Vogue, it would seem to have even less commerce with the glamour of the fashion world. But as the tale unfurls, with earnest journalist in embryo Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) taking the job despite the fact that she has never really heard of either the magazine, here called Runway, or its world famous editrix, here called Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), just so she can advance to the New Republic, the fashion world gradually wins over the movie and the viewer, if not the intended narrative itself. In addition, Streep, who was openly contemptuous of the source book, jars the movie out of what was probably meant to be an anthology of Miranda-hate by offering a nuanced, understated performance as the "boss from hell." One starts out and ends up liking her a great deal much more than her underling, whom the movie secretly conspires to undermine at all points. Directed by David Frankel, a veteran of the HBO shows Entourage and Sex and the City, The Devil Wears Prada ends up being a pedestrian, TV-movieish effort with a brilliant, misunderstood performance at its center.

Fox Home Entertainment's DVD of the surprise hit movie, spares no expense on a fine widescreen transfer (2.35:1, and with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio), but rather skips on the misleadingly abundant featurettes ("Trip to the Big Screen," "NYC and Fashion," "Fashion Visonary Patricia Field," "Getting Valentino"), all short and superficial, while 15 deleted scenes flesh out the movie satisfyingly. There is also a gag reel and a theatrical trailer, and the film also comes in a separate full frame edition. The main extra, however, is a fine and detailed audio commentary track from director Frankel, editor Mark Livolsi, costume designer Patricia Field, screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna, producer Wendy Finerman and cinematographer Florian Ballhaus.

DVD reviewers across the net were also quick to pick up on the film's subtexts. Entertainment Weekly's Karen Valby finds Streep at the "top of her game," adding that "what was sold as silly chick lit all of a sudden turns into a delightfully knowing and sympathetic portrait of working women, elevated at every turn by an actress doing some of her best comedic work and clearly having a ball." But Valby also finds the extras dissapointing, observing that "Streep shows up for just a glimpse. And who can blame her, after she's shown trying her best in an inane interview on one of the lukewarm featurettes: 'How can I answer the question, "Why is fashion so important in this film?"' She looks off, amused, trying to keep a straight face. 'Honestly,' she admonishes with a patient laugh."

JJB at the DVD Journal noted that in reality The Devil Wears Prada is "an archetypal, somewhat formulaic journey from innocence to experience, as naive Andy gradually learns about the working world and how her own ambition fits in with some complex personal relationships. And while the story soaks in a highly insulated world of wealth, taste and inside knowledge, it also works as a defense of the fashion industry. It's easy enough to dismiss haute couture as capitalism at its greatest excess: the act of selling people things they don't need for exorbitant sums. But fashion is also about commerce - measured in the billions per year - and at its most ethereal, it's about art, which means that those who 'get it' do so passionately."

The anonymous reviewer at Current Film, linking the film to other examples of cultural fashion obsession such as the shows Project Runway and America's Top Model to explain the film's status as a surprise hit, goes on to add that "all of the material focusing on Andy's personal life just feels forced and formulaic, which results in the picture losing some steam whenever it leaves the workplace," while still being in general "fast and funny."

Preston Jones at DVD Talk is also enthusiastic, noting that "The Devil Wears Prada was a light-as-air antidote to the humdrum sequel-infested summer, a breezy, date night cinch that actually holds up upon repeated viewings, proving that screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna did a very solid job extracting the humanity from Lauren Weisberger's acclaimed roman-a-clef," before concluding that Prada is "an effervescent delight, a film that will surprise you and deliver one of the year's most rewarding entertainments."

Criterion "We're nine years into the DVD market, and there are still hundreds of important films that can only be seen in old VHS versions or, if you're lucky enough to live in a town with a good repertory theater, a new print might come around once every ten years or so," writes Criterion's Peter Becker at On Five. "We want those films to be more readily available, and that's why we're creating Eclipse. Each month we'll present a short series, usually three to five films, focusing on a particular director or theme. There will be no supplements and the master materials will be the best we can find, but they won't be full Criterion restorations. Retail pricing for each set will average under $15 per disc, and we are examining the logistics of making the sets available at an even more favorable rate on a subscriber or club basis."

In the LA Weekly, Paul Malcolm reviews a full-blown Criterion release: "Every so often it can feel like there's nothing new to discover out there in cinemaland. Then out of left field comes a film like Symbiopsychotaxiplasm by William Greaves."

More on that one from Shawn Badgley, who also reviews Grey Gardens and The Beales of Grey Gardens.

Also in the Austin Chronicle:

The Cry Baby Killer

"Arguably the hawkish, fear-mongering worldview that [Craig] Baldwin burlesques remains insidiously alive and well; with the apocalypse it foretold more or less underway, Tribulation 99's relentlessness seems easy to forgive," writes Jonathan Kiefer in the Sacramento News and Review. "On the other hand, here is a critique of imperialism wrought from the insatiable appropriation and repurposing of subordinate cultural material. Cult classic, eh? Maybe that's just what they want us to think."

At the main site, Julie Newcomb's got a list of the best anime on DVD.

Nice title for a list from Joe Bowman: "10 'Oh, hey, the studio remembered they owned the rights to us' DVDs of 2006."

Robert Abele rounds up some of the best TV-on-DVD box sets. for the LA Weekly.

Even Midnight Eye's got a "Christmas DVD Special."

"You can't have much more fun watching a movie than with a really good, pre-Code Hollywood production." For Stop Smiling, Sam Sweet relishes the first volume of TCM's Forbidden Hollywood.

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

Lists and awards, 12/17.

Time: You Lev Grossman explains how you landed on the cover of Time: "It's a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It's about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people's network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.... [F]or seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, Time's Person of the Year for 2006 is you."

"This year may be remembered as one that blurred the lines between reality and fiction," writes Newsweek's David Ansen, introducing his big list of the best movies of the year.

IndieWIRE's announced that Susan Buice and Arin Crumley's Four Eyed Monsters is the winner of the 2006 Sundance Channel Audience Award for the eight-month-long "indieWIRE: Undiscovered Gems" Film Series.

Jonathan Marlow's got 20 at the main site: "These titles join Abel Raises Cain, an exceptional documentary from 2005, as excellent films still without a distributor in the US."

This year's Human Rights Film Award, a collaborative effort of 16 organizers, including Amnesty International and the German branch of UNESCO, goes to Death in the Cell: Why Did Oury Jalloh Die?, reports Markus Westphal for Deutsche Welle.

More awarding from the Women Film Critics Circle and a round of nominations from the London Film Critics.

"This isn't just another list of great movies," announces Philip French, introducing a collection in the Observer of 50 films chosen by a panel of critics and filmmakers. "It's a rallying cry for films that for a variety of reasons - fashion, perhaps, or the absence of an influential advocate, or just pure bad luck - have been unduly neglected and should be more widely available."


That Little Round-Headed Boy: "I've decided to just list some films, performances, cinematic moments, etc. Of the movies that I saw, this is what spoke to me. This list should be construed as nothing more, nothing less." But it's big and it's highly readable.

Guardian arts critics look back, with Peter Bradshaw noting that it was "a very good year for British films and filmmakers." Chiming in on the same page: Ken Loach, Michael Sheen, Lorraine Stanley and Jason Isaacs.

"[T]here was no need to sound the usual knell for British cinema," agrees Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman: "After we'd waited years for a suspenseful home-grown thriller, two came along at once, released within a month of each other. Andrea Arnold's Red Road and Paul Andrew Williams's London to Brighton lifted the spirits of anyone who felt passionately about cinema, even as the characters plumbed the depths of human behaviour." On the downside, "There were steep declines... for Martin Scorsese (The Departed), Pedro Almodvar (Volver) and Ken Loach, who won the Palme d'Or at Cannes for The Wind That Shakes the Barley, demonstrating that it's not only the Oscars which reward the wrong films."

Disagreeing, Dave Micevic writes, "The opening shot of Almodvar's latest film Volver is without contest the best opening shot of 2006."

AJ Schnack fires up a list of all the honors this year's nonfiction features have racked up so far "in honor of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's decision to add an award for Animated Feature and yet still not have an award for Nonfiction Feature."

Pan's Labyrinth "I may have been too hasty choosing my 10 favorite interviews of 2006," writes Michael Guilln. "Meeting Guillermo Del Toro at the Ritz Carlton for a brief chat about his latest film Pan's Labyrinth has rendered that list obsolete." Particularly since it's his favorite movie of the year, too; he follows up with notes taken during a Q&A. Related: Matt Riviera writes, "One tends to forget, as an adult, how dark and cruel traditional fairy tales really are, how scary these stories seemed to us as children. Guillermo Del Toro hasn't forgotten."

Ryan Stewart presents his top ten films of the year at Cinematical.

"How have the Academy's picks stood up over time?" For Variety, Andrew Barker asks Joe Morgenstern, Molly Haskell, Richard Schickel and John Anderson. Via Karina Longworth.

Dave White's list: "All the Wasted Hours of My Life: The Rock-Bottom Worst, Most Despicably Stupid and Wrong Movies of 2006."

Jay Coyle's got the AP's top ten YouTube videos of 2006.

Online viewing tips, round 1. The "hive-selected nominees for the official antville Music Video Awards 2006." Via

Online viewing tips, round 2. The NYT's Virginia Heffernan points to and comments on Lulu TV's bests.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:33 AM | Comments (3)

December 16, 2006

The Good German.

The Good German "Sumptuous, clever and cold, The Good German is Steven Soderbergh's most ambitious leap back into the movie past he adoringly honored with the light and lovely studio capers Out of Sight and Ocean's 11," writes Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly. "Soderbergh offers us a sentimental treat with a brazen reference to the world's most beloved (if hardly its best) World War II movie, Casablanca. It doesn't work - not even when he undercuts the reference - because we're never convinced of the love story in the first place."

Before going further with all this (what follows, after all, are more variations on disappointment), Annie Frisbie's got a fascinating excerpt at Zoom In from an interview with archival researcher Kenn Rabin which appears in Sheila Curran Bernard's Documentary Storytelling, to be published in February: "The original plan for the film was that every shot would be digitally placed over archival footage. So that literally, the film would be 'shot' in 1945 Berlin; the actors would be green-screened over archival." This turned out, of course, not to be feasible.

Updated through 12/21.

Ok, back to the reviews. Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: "Even more than Bubble or Ocean's Twelve, The Good German feels like the product of a filmmaker far more interested in his own handicraft - in the logistics of moving the camera among the characters with a dip and a glide - than in the audience for whom he's ostensibly creating that work." Also in the New York Times: In Soderbergh's audio slide show, there's a terrific shot of the reconstruction of Casablanca's most famous scene, with George Clooney and Cate Blanchett standing in for Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman - and Soderbergh in a baseball cap, as if he were some kid who's stopped to peer into a glass case before wandering on through the exhibition.

Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat: "In addition to the failure of its basic concept, the movie gets weighted down by too much upfront discussion of guilt and innocence and ambiguous moral decisions: It's as though Stanley Kramer had been brought in to shoot extra scenes of thematic explication for a Warner Brothers crowdpleaser."

Vadim Rizov at the Reeler: "Seemingly made with the intent of annoying every possible demographic (people who hate old movies, people who love old movies, people who hate modern violence and profanity, people who hate earnest drama, etc), the film grafts historical Holocaust content onto the (attempted) look and feel of a 40s noir. The results don't work at all, but you can't fault Soderbergh for trying."

Michael Koresky at indieWIRE: "The past (movie and otherwise) doesn't come to life here; the film remains haplessly sealed off, an object way out of reach.... Considering the amount of visual referents at play here, and the lack of any sort of internal identity, The Good German ends up exemplifying Soderbergh's career-long penchant for jumping from one style to another: it's the perfect aesthetic for an anonymous filmmaker."

"For a while, especially while [Tobey] Maguire is in the picture, The Good German feels like it might succeed - not as film-geek experiment but as ageless thriller," writes J�rgen Fauth. "But just when the film should begin to click, Soderbergh abandons the real concerns of any era of filmmaking - telling a compelling story - for an empty exercise in stylishness."

Salon's Stephanie Zacharek suggests, "Maybe Soderbergh and [screenwriter Paul] Attanasio are both attracted to and repulsed by wartime mythology, which renders them unable to deal with it in any honest, meaningful way."

Steve Erickson, writing for Gay City News, likes it a bit more than most: "Like many period pieces, it often feels like a costume party; unlike most, it honors the historical and cinematic past decently."

"The suggestion that Clooney is the new Bogie isn't itself overly presumptuous, but the debonair performer earns that status through original roles, rather than trite self-referential homage," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press.

Carina Chocano, writing in the Los Angeles Times, also sees the film "mired in its obsession with its own style."

In the Nation, Stuart Klawans suggests that the film might be enjoyed in any month but December.

But Robert Cashill may have the last word: "Stephen Soderbergh and George Clooney have Ocean's 13 coming out next summer. Tobey Maguire suits up as Spider-Man for the third time in May. And freshly minted Golden Globe nominee Cate Blanchett has the riveting Notes on a Scandal due in just two weeks. Which is to say that The Good German will pass quickly from all their resumes." Why? Because the film "is little more than a series of drab pictorial effects."

Updates, 12/20: Matt Zoller Seitz finds that The Good German "turns out to be a rare case where a restless auteur doesn't confound unimaginative critics (which I think Brian De Palma did this year with The Black Dahlia) but instead reinforces their worst-case suspicions about his weaknesses." The film is "shallow, aloof, disorganized and (most surprisingly) technically sloppy. It is mostly definitely an exercise - not a movie, but a notion of a movie."

Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical: "When Scorsese or Tarantino or Godard reference an earlier film, they do so out of a deep-rooted passion, and that passion comes through in their work. For Soderbergh, it's more calculated, as if it were a business decision."

"German is the good-er of the Goods," claims Cheryl Eddy in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. The other Good, of course, is The Good Shepherd.

Update, 12/21: Michael Guill�n: "First, my druthers would be that all the money spent into replicating a film noir movie be put into restoring some film noir classics. Period."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:00 PM | Comments (1)

The Pursuit of Happyness.

The Pursuit of Happyness "The Pursuit of Happyness may not be one of the great films about American life lived at or near the poverty line, like Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep and Billy Woodberry's Bless Their Little Hearts," writes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. "But for a movie conceived and executed in the mainstream Hollywood idiom, it has uncommon depth and honesty. And the thing it's honest about is the embarrassment and humiliation of being poor, especially in a place like San Francisco, where the steep hills provide an apt metaphor for the city's income gap. It's honest about something else too - that money can indeed buy you happiness. Just ask anybody who's ever had money and then lost it."

Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: "How you respond to this man's moving story may depend on whether you find [Will] Smith's and his son's performances so overwhelmingly winning that you buy the idea that poverty is a function of bad luck and bad choices, and success the result of heroic toil and dreams."

Updated through 12/19.

"[T]he picture's ending - which is satisfying, possibly even happy, depending on how you look at it - is almost inconsequential; it's the texture of everything leading up to it that matters," argues Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "The Pursuit of Happyness, even within its slickness, gets at intangibles that allegedly grittier movies fail to capture - like how heavy a wallet can feel when you're down to your last dollar."

"Success is all that matters in The Pursuit of Happyness because it's the one idea that hip-hop artists have learned they can sell to America, and the world, unilaterally," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "Worse, The Pursuit of Happyness suggests that the drive for success is what defines Americans. In other words, Smith is no longer merely a figurine fronting the Hollywood institution; he now owns a piece of the plantation."

"If you've seen the schlocky trailer... you've seen a better version of the actual film," argues Toddy Burton in the Austin Chronicle.

Mick LaSalle, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, disagrees: "The great surprise of the picture is that it's not corny."

Kevin Crust, writing in the Los Angeles Times, finds it "an unexceptional film with exceptional performances."

"We know the film will uplift us in the end or it wouldn't have been made, so why must the journey be so oversimplified and visually pedestrian?" wonders Aaron Hillis at the Reeler.

Update, 12/19: "Chris Gardner changes his life by accepting an unpaid internship with Dean Witter," notes Nathaniel R. "At the end of this grueling internship the company chooses one of its twenty unpaid interns to hire.... This is an underdog story but it completely glosses over a cynical and genius move on the part of big business. They feed off of working stiffs without having to reimburse them, and Hollywood is there with an 'amen'."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:46 PM | Comments (5)


Dreamgirls "Dreamgirls is a souped-up, collectors'-edition replica of a model that Detroit - I mean Hollywood - used to turn out with ease and regularity," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "But the problem with Dreamgirls - and it is not a small one - lies in those songs, which are not just musically and lyrically pedestrian, but historically and idiomatically disastrous."

Dave Kehr: "Bill Condon's film of the pseudo-Motown musical of the 1980s seems shaped, consciously or unconsciously, by the musical format best known to Americans in 2006: the competitive spectacle of American Idol, in which talent becomes a kind of weapon with which to bludgeon your way to the top."

"Dreamgirls sounds toe-tappingly fresh on paper, and yet I was so bored and unaffected that I barely remember watching it," sighs Aaron Hillis at the Reeler.

Updated through 12/22.

Stephanie Zacharek in Salon: "This is a puny, pinched vision of R&B history and of R&B itself, a sanitized, show-tunized reading of some of the greatest pop music to come out of the 1960s."

It really is all about Jennifer Hudson, of course, notes Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle.

And she's reacted to her Golden Globe nomination... David Carr has an entertainingly hard time keeping a straight face.

Since "Dreamgirls catches fire only once," Alison Willmore offers a list of alternatives, "some films that juxtapose harsh realities with glorious escapist song-and-dance sequences."

Updates, 12/19: David Denby in the New Yorker: "Dreamgirls fulfills the ecstatic promise inherent in all musicals - that life can be dissolved into song and dance - but it does so without relinquishing the toughest estimate of how money and power work in the real world that song and dance leave behind."

For Salon, David Marchese recounts the history of that song.

The Voice's Michael Musto confirms rumors that Jennifer Hudson is a-okay.

Updates, 12/21: "[T]the hype surrounding the gaudy movie version of Dreamgirls is unacceptable," insists Armond White in the New York Press. "[T]his 'fun' is dubious, typecasting black American behavior and culture into shrillness and frivolity. The essential silliness of Dreamgirls was brilliantly captured in the little-seen indie Camp when a white teenage girl sang the showstopper to a pipsqueak black boy. It flipped the show's own stereotypes and exposed the song's inane sentimentality while demonstrating that it only functions as a theatrical device: Aunt Jemima Ex Machina."

Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper: "The fact that Dreamgirls isn't a particularly good movie seems mainly to stem from the fact that it isn't a particularly good show, but a good share of the blame has to fall on director Bill Condon."

Update, 12/22: Slate's Dana Stevens: "For all its flaws, Dreamgirls is what this holiday season needs. It's a big, fat, luscious movie in which no one is tortured, murdered, or mutilated (honestly, how many recent films can you say that about?), as well as a heartfelt paean to the transformative power of singing (even if the songs themselves are kind of meh)."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:35 PM

More on Apocalypto.

So what does Julia Guernsey, an assistant professor in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Texas, think of Apocalypto, asks the Austin American-Statesman's Chris Garcia: "I hate it. I despise it. I think it's despicable. It's offensive to Maya people. It's offensive to those of us who try to teach cultural sensitivity and alternative world views that might not match our own 21st-century Western ones but are nonetheless valid."


This comes via Juan Santos, who explains with fury and numbers why "the Village Voice is dead wrong when it says that unlike Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto is 'unburdened by nationalist or religious piety' - that it's 'pure, amoral sensationalism.'"

Updated through 12/19.

Less furious yet still highly critical is Marcello A Canuto, an assistant professor of anthropology at Yale University, writing in Salon.

Meanwhile, is the film "a Catholic masterpiece"? Jeffrey Overstreet's been following the debate.

At Reverse Shot, clarencecarter invites you to play "Apocalypto or Home Alone?"

Updates, 12/17: "How low does a human being have to sink before Hollywood shoos him away and he can't get an Oscar?" wonders Jerry Stahl on the editorial page of the New York Times. The author of the novel I, Fatty explains why Arbuckle's career didn't survive his scandal, whereas Gibson's has: "If you're going to offend your peers, parade unforgivable behavior and find all-new ways to turn your life into a nonstop shame-fest, you'd better also deliver big box office."

"Maybe we all are and always will be vulgarians," suggests Jonathan Kiefer in the Sacramento News and Review. "But to go through this movie without a quickened pulse would be truly inhuman. Gibson has earned an impressive fluency with direct, silent-epic syntax. How you like his latest yarn will probably depend on whether or not you think that's a dead language."

Update, 12/18: At Cinema Strikes Back, Blake details the differences between the current theatrical cut and the work print he saw in September.

Updates, 12/19: "The film is further evidence of the sinister vacuity of Gibson's craft," writes Kanishk Tharoor at openDemocracy. "His imagination is not simply moronic. A sliver of substance lies beneath the slick gloss of style, but it is more poisonous than insipid, more disingenuous than air-headed."

Via Anne Thompson, Kurt Loder's interview with Gibson for MTV.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:21 PM

Cineaste. Winter 06.

Cineaste Winter 06 "What is so striking is that the young director is already able to use the only recently learned tools of his medium to blur the imposed ideological constraints." Stuart Liebman on Andrzej Wajda's three war films in the new issue of Cineaste.

Michael Sicinski remarks that this year Spike Lee "has released two of the finest works of his career, representing a significant bounce-back from the muddle of ideas that was She Hate Me." While Inside Man is "a deft, taut heist picture," When the Levees Broke "finds Lee moving from strength to strength, but although the seething anger in Levees is quite palpable, like its predecessor, it eschews extravagant stylistic touches or the Brechtian modernism of Do the Right Thing and Jungle Fever. Assembling his argument with great care and patience, Lee seems to prefer staying out of the way of the damning facts."

Michael Joshua Rowin admires "the unassuming beauty of Old Joy. If the film is, on one level, about the rift between the political and the personal among mid-life crisis-approaching members of Generation X, it is also, on an equally successful level, about two wholly dimensional individuals named Mark and Kurt."

The 400 Blows "[W]hile Truffaut may have flinched at shortcomings after the fact, I have no hesitation in calling The 400 Blows a masterpiece," writes David Sterritt. "This said, it's ironic that Truffaut felt uneasy about some 'experimental' touches. The film's freshest, most startling elements are precisely what bowled over those of us who saw the picture in the early 60s."

Noah Tsika on Criterion's package, 3 Films by Louis Malle, "problematic. The set seems to suggest that Malle - in spite of his vast corpus - was largely a director of social maturation films... A more balanced picture would note that Malle is actually as erotic as Bertolucci, and as anticlerical as Bergman and Buuel."

Oliver William Pattenden finds Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's A Canterbury Tale "intriguing precisely because it merges elements of national mythmaking with a portrayal of British life during the war."

"For those readers new to the subject of the Hollywood blacklist, the name of John Howard Lawson may not spark any interest," writes Larry Ceplair in a review of Gerald Horne's The Final Victim of the Blacklist: John Howard Lawson, Dean of the Hollywood Ten. "Lawson was among the most conflicted, difficult, and contradictory of the writers and political activists in New York and Hollywood... Gerald Horne and John Howard Lawson are, alas, mismatched."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:16 PM

Lists. Slant.

Three Times Iraq, "Interiority" and "idiosyncratic heights" are a few of the key motifs Nick Schager sees running through the films of 2006 as he introduces Slant's side-by-side top tens from himself and Ed Gonzalez. Plus honorable mentions and a few worst titles as well.

Topping Ed Gonzalez's list: David Lynch's Inland Empire, while Nick Schager goes for Hou Hsiao-hsien's Three Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:38 AM | Comments (1)

Lists. LAT.

Los Angeles Times Critics for the Los Angeles Times have drawn up their lists. They're all worth a browse, of course, but of particular interest here are...

  • Carina Chocano offers "a sampling of some of the year's most notable stories, performances, writing and images whose emotional and intellectual honesty stood out."

Letters From Iwo Jima
  • Kenneth Turan, who does a lot of pairing up and down his list, starting at the top with Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, also notes that "some of the best films of the year were informed by the growing national sense of anguished frustration about the war in Iraq."

  • Kevin Crust: " All of the films on my list depict crimes of varying types, and while these glimpses into the darker corners of humanity prove troubling, each provides a glimmer of hope, even if it's only in the artfulness of the portrayal."

  • Susan King has a very quick overview of the year in DVDs.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:07 AM

December 15, 2006

Midnight Eye. Junichiro Tanizaki.

Shadows on the Screen "You might wonder why I've opened a review of a new film of an old story by the Japanese modernist writer Junichiro Tanizaki by talking about John Fowles," writes Jaspar Sharp at Midnight Eye:

Several reasons in fact, the first of which is to point out the obvious; that Si-Sei (as it is transliterated on the film's publicity materials) is not the first movie to feature a nubile young woman abducted and kept confined by a man obsessed with her beauty. Secondly, it is to bring together two writers whose work I admire very much and, though over several thousand miles and well over a generation separates them (Tanizaki died the very year the film of The Collector was released), to draw a few analogies. And thirdly, it is to dwell a little upon the relationship between cinema and literature by way of reference to several of the ideas in Shadows on the Screen, Thomas LaMarre's study of the cinematic in Tanizaki's writing.

Which, one click away, Anne McKnight reviews. Also: Sharp on Kon Ichikawa's adaptation of "Tanizaki's epic novel Sasameyuki (which translates as 'A Light Snowfall,' though the book and this adaptation are better known under the English title of The Makioka Sisters)."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:43 PM

Fests and events, 12/15.

Asia Shock Tonight, 7 pm, Cody's Stockton Street in San Francisco: Patrick Galloway will be presenting his book, Asia Shock: Horror and Dark Cinema from Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and Thailand - with film clips. Michael Guilln has more.

The Berlinale's announced that its Homage this year will be dedicated to Arthur Penn, who'll be handed a Golden Bear for Lifetime Achievement on February 15.

Centre Pompidou Video Art: 1965 - 2005, featuring work by Isaac Julien, Stan Douglas, Jean Luc Godard, Samuel Beckett, Bill Viola, Pierre Huyghe and Tony Oursler, has opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney and can be viewed for free through February 25.

Opening today at the Zentrum fr Kunst und Medientechnologie in Karlsruhe is Mindframes. Media Study at Buffalo 1973 - 1990. "In the 1970s and 1980s, the Department of Media Study at the State University of New York at Buffalo... was perhaps... the most influential school for media in the twentieth century. Teaching there under the leadership of the founder Gerald O'Grady were the (meanwhile canonized) structuralist, avant-garde filmmakers Hollis Frampton, Tony Conrad and Paul Sharits, documentary filmmaker James Blue, video artists Steina and Woody Vasulka and Peter Weibel." Through March 18.

"A complete retrospective of [Billy] Wilder in the year of his centenary would take weeks," writes Steve Vineberg in the Boston Phoenix. "The Harvard Film Archive has packed a dozen features and one short into 10 days - but not the obvious choices you might expect to see in a Wilder tribute." Wraps this weekend.

The Photographer, His Wife, Her Lover Also, Gerald Peary: "The staid BBC goes tawdry and tabloid with Paul Yule's 'noir' documentary, The Photographer, His Wife, Her Lover, which is getting eight screenings at the MFA, December 15 through 30."

"Film Forum is currently presenting two movies to repair the damaged state of cinephilia - Bergman Island about Ingmar Bergman and My Dad is 100 Years Old, celebrating the centenary of Roberto Rossellini," notes Armond White in the New York Press. "Of the two, it's the latter experimental, 16-minute short that rings the alarm. Instead of Bergman's chronological introspective-retrospective career history, the Rossellini flick is a flouncy, cutesy, yet rigid manifestation of the criteria now used to judge film art. Seeing this film lets you know we're in trouble."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:49 AM

Interview. David Lynch & Laura Dern.

Inland Empire John Esther actually hates roundtable interviews. And understandably so, of course. But we asked him not to pass on this one: David Lynch and Laura Dern, talking about their latest collaboration, Inland Empire. And towards the end: a few words in remembrance of Robert Altman.

Related: "[A]fter two viewings, I cannot wait to see it again." Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly: "[T]he thrill of Inland Empire lies, I think, in surrendering yourself to its epic weirdness, falling under its spell and allowing Lynch to gradually lead you back into the light."

Updated through 12/21.

Updates: Andy Klein has a good long talk with Lynch, too, in the LA CityBeat.

Stuart Klawans in the Nation: "Folderol happens (generally involving the actress being abused, menaced, bewildered, abased); a plot begins to suggest itself; and then, just as intelligibility threatens, the whole thing collapses back into folderol. Some people call this the free play of signifiers. I say it's a prison-house of futility."

"David Lynch is unparalleled at capturing his dreams on camera. It's what he was born to do. No one else can film an empty room in an ordinary house and somehow create a mood of almost sickening tension," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. Inland Empire "consists of little more than the creation and re-creation of that Lynch mood, over and over again, in short bursts of enigmatic creepiness that last about five minutes each. The effect, after an hour or two, begins to resemble a very anxiety-fraught session of watching music videos on MTV."

Update, 12/19: An online listening tip. Via Sujewa Ekanayake, an interview with Eric Bassett, managing partner of Absurda, the company that handles Lynch's interactive properties and is overseeing the release of Inland Empire.

Update, 12/21: Scott Foundas talks with Lynch for the LA Weekly. And Judith Lewis interviews Laura Dern.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:23 AM | Comments (1)

December 14, 2006

Serialization. Grindhouse.

Grindhouses have always churned away in a seamy corner of the American psyche. They glowed through the fog on the bad stretch of Market Street in San Francisco. They used dizzying neon to bewitch New Yorkers, even in the bustling depravity of Times Square. From First Avenue in Seattle to Canal Street in New Orleans, if you wanted to see all the sexy stuff that the Purity Patrol kept from the mainstream, a grindhouse always beckoned.

So begins Eddie Muller's Grindhouse: The Forbidden World of Adults Only Cinema, a book we'll be serializing over the next six weeks. Consider it a healthy antidote to a sugary season. Read more about the book here.

Earlier: Eddie Muller on Double Indemnity; earlier still: Jonathan Marlow and Muller talk noir; and even earlier: another talk with Jennie Rose, this one about Mau Mau Sex Sex.

Somewhat related: the new issue of Texte zur Kunst, which has been running English translations of selected texts recently. Bits of November's special issue, "Porno," are also online.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:01 PM | Comments (1)

Golden Globes. Nominations.

Golden Globes The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has announced its nominations for the 64th Annual Golden Globes. The AP's David Germain is among the first to do a little math and sees Babel out front and "multiple nominees galore."

Nathaniel R and Gabriel Shanks are chatting live about them even now. David Carr is all but live-blogging for the New York Times as well.

Meanwhile, the BBC reports: "Italian composer Ennio Morricone, the man behind the music for films such as The Untouchables and Cinema Paradiso, is to receive an honorary Oscar."

Updated through 12/16.

Update. David Poland comments on the full list and a discussion is rolling along at the Hot Blog.

Updates, 12/16: "Are the Golden Globe voters idiot savants or just idiots? Or are they smart cookies with bad taste?" Nathaniel R breaks down the nominations.

Anne Thompson considers the list for the Hollywood Reporter.

They're more adventurous these days than the Academy's, argues Geoffrey Macnab, who, blogging for the Guardian, also notes that "the Brits have plenty to crow about."

Edward Copeland has a few thoughts that've drawn comments.

Online viewing tip. David Poland on the awards trap.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:08 AM | Comments (2)

Miami Dispatch.

David D'Arcy looks back on some of the new art and video that's left an impression as the fog of "Baselmania" clears.

Art Basel Miami Beach

Miami Beach looks to the visitor like a work of time-lapse photography, a moving picture that changes every time you look away and look back. The mode for the past five years has been expansion. "Luxury" buildings are filling in empty space faster than you can say "condominium." Prices are rising even faster.

One event fueling that expansion race is Art Basel Miami Beach (December 7 through 10), the art fair that has been a perfect storm of commerce and hype - soaring building construction and prices to match, contemporary art (where production is spiraling into infinity, in response to soaring prices and demand), high net-worth individuals (they used to be called rich people) for whom art collecting is one of the new can-you-top-this games, corporate sponsors (poised to be associated with, and often underwriting, whatever rich people are doing) and the media (airlifted down to watch it all and transmit the frenzy to the vast audience out there that's always eager to watch the wealthy). Just remember the golden rule - art follows real estate.

Like any pilgrimage site, this one is many things for many people, an ensemble cast begging for the director who can get his hands around it all. It's a shame that Robert Altman, who had been working on a film about the art world, is no longer with us.

Any reports of art sales are hard to verify - art dealers swear by "confidentiality" - but according to just about everything that I heard, the selling of art was surging, with many dealers simply selling out. In the New York Times, Guy Trebay called it a "Costco" for billionaires. From the visual perspective, he's right. Art was stockpiled into the vast Miami Beach Convention Center as far as you could see, with photography, installations and video eclipsing the conventional medium of paintings (which didn't mean that paintings were getting any cheaper). From the conceptual perspective, in spite of the shoulder-bumping tactility of it all, with lots of high-net-worth elbowing each other to get the goods, COSTCO tends to offer better deals.

That said, I was struck by how cinematic the event has become - Florida's version of Cannes/Vegas, with celebrity appearances (Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper) and each night's succession of openings and lavish parties, and no Swiss restraint on the free-for-all.

I decided to focus on some of the moving pictures on view in town for the occasion. Video is now just a part of what the contemporary art world calls "new media," although it's one of the least-new media thrown into that bunch. If you're looking for painting and sculpture, you'll find some, often some of what is most avidly sought on the market, but painting is just a small part of what is now called contemporary.

Gonzalo Lebrija One video that caught my eye, at the booth of I-20 Gallery, was by Gonzalo Lebrija, of Guadalajara, Mexico, A Businessman Rides a Bull. In the gate, atop a bull, sits a man in a suit, carrying an attach case. Once the gate opens and the bull starts bucking, the case opens, and papers fall out in slow-motion - a lot more gracefully than anything you'll see at a real rodeo. We never get close enough to see more than the iconic dress that tells you what the director wants you to think this man is. The picture has a steamy look to it that reminds you of the anarchic fiesta that's part of the best section of Babel, Alejandro Gonzlez Irritu's new film. If this is any evidence, Irritu's influence has gone beyond the filmworld and Lebrija has been watching the good stuff.

Why not just call these videos short films? They are no less (and often more) cinematic than the shorts that travel through the festival circuit. That's missing the point, since the name is a question of where these moving pictures are shown. In art circles, the videos don't seem to become films until they are features (Matthew Barney). They also almost always seem to be more like paintings than like films, which are visual stories. Think of how many times you've seen a camera in a video installation simply pan horizontally across a landscape, at a speed that aspires to be slower than anything you'll see by Matthew Barney. Bear in mind that "video" gained its art credentials in the 1970s and 1980s, when narrative was scorned and out of fashion. That's why they're usually so ponderous.

Whose Utopia

Whose Utopia
Courtesy of the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects.

One video artist who seems to have bridged the gap is Cao Fei, of Guangzhou, China, whose film, Whose Utopia, was shown by the gallery Lombard Freid Projects of New York. The artist sets the story, if we can call it that, in a modern factory, and takes us through a ballet mcanique of rhythmic industrial movements that don't seem to need any human participation, and don't have any. At points, I thought of Metropolis, then Modern Times, and then the elegant films of Charles and Ray Eames. (They weren't called videos back then.) The mechanical sequences are punctuated by human characters, workers in the factory, who begin to act out their fantasies, as a man performing tai chi motions weaves in and out of the frame. The distinction that Cao Fei seems to be making is between mechanical operation and human performance, or between the industrial rhythm and the human ones. Don't tell that to the factory foreman. The gestures of the workers that add up to performances are no less precise than those of the machines; they are their curved and graceful antitheses. The suggestion is that work, as defined by the mechanical factory, is dehumanizing. It's a blunt statement, but it's an elegant process that takes us there.

The process is entirely different in The San Yuan Li Project, a 40-minute film by Cao Fei and her collaborator Ou Ning, which takes its name from a densely-settled village that is now surrounded entirely by the city of Guangzhou (Canton), where they both work. In homage to the place, team of young filmmakers took cameras and shot the landscape, the built environment and the people of San Yuan Li, now under siege from one of the fastest growing cities in China. The village was at the origin of a rebellion against the British during the opium wars in 1841 (a story that is taught in Chinese schoolbooks), and by 1999 it was at the epicenter of an epidemic of crime and drug addiction, to say nothing of SARS, which struck southern China with its greatest intensity in 2003, the year the film was made. Fast and crude, the film begins to give you a feel for the place, which would have been enhanced had it not been a "silent" film with just a music soundtrack. Sadly, we never hear the people in what must be a very noisy town. Here the film showed its liabilities as an art video, commissioned by the Venice Biennial of that year. Given the way that Biennials and art fairs work their particular kind of consumerization on the experience of looking - a glance here, a glance there, for the most part - Ou Ning told me that he made the piece in anticipation that most viewers would not look for more than ten minutes. It's their loss.

Cao Fei and Ou Ning have move ahead to the Dazhalan Project, a feature-length documentary about the displacement of architecture and people in Beijing's rush to welcome the world to the 2008 Olympics. Strong-arming would be too gentle a word. (It reminds me of the question one journalist asked in Moscow fifteen years ago. "How do you change public opinion?" The response from a smiling Russian was: "We usually do that with tanks.") One developer's bulldozer is another man's tank. This is news that shows how the Olympics have been made possible. It won't make the Chinese authorities too happy to know that the news is getting around.

Yves Netzhammer

Yves Netzhammer installation in the Kunsthalle Bremen
Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Anita Beckers

For a stylistic change, I sampled the videos of Yves Netzhammer, a Swiss animator and sculptor/installation artist whose work I'd barely seen before. There's a Pop Art element to his interiors of primary colors and comic book forms, and you can see hints of the silhouettes of the American artist Kara Walker in his work. But the videos of robotic forms, Imprecise Bodies, that ooze into other forms, as if Salvador Dal were haunting them, make an argument that there's life left in surrealism, thanks to the imagination that Netzhammer brings to it. I hope he stays with animation, although I hear Netzhammer is being courted for major installations. His work was on view at the booth of the Frankfurt dealer Galerie Anita Beckers at the Pulse fair, one the pleasant surprises in Miami last weekend - quirky, unpredictable, and less gold-plated than the main event.

One last thing - at CIFO (Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation), located in a renovated building near unfashionable downtown Miami, I saw a video, Phlegethon-Milczenie, which showed the Polish artist Monika Weiss thrashing on top of a pile of books. All the books were published before 1945. They're volumes that survived the book-burning of the Nazi era.Who can argue with an artist reminding the contemporary art consumers that the Holocaust, while it was many other horrific things, was a war on knowledge and memory? Weiss's performance video was unambiguous from a moral point of view. Will it show at the Museum of Modern Art, which is now approaching Year Ten of its opposition to a Jewish family's efforts to recover Egon Schiele's painting, Portrait of Wally, looted by the Nazis in 1939, that the family spotted when it was on loan to MoMA from an Austrian foundation back in 1997? (Google MoMA Schiele D'Arcy for more details.) Don't hold your breath.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:30 AM | Comments (1)

December 13, 2006

Interview. Terry Zwigoff.

Bad Santa Time will tell whether 2003's Bad Santa really does become the seasonal classic many suspect it will. But though it's been a hit in theaters and on DVD, director Terry Zwigoff hasn't been completely satisfied with it - until now. He tells Jeffrey M. Anderson about the thousand-plus changes he's made to his Director's Cut.

Bad Santa: The Director's Cut will be screened at 7:30 pm on Saturday, December 16, at the Rafael Film Center. Zwigoff will be present for an on-stage conversation with Anita Monga.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:04 PM | Comments (1)

Shorts, 12/13.

Claire Denis "Recall any single film by Claire Denis, or any aggregate image of the mood and texture of her work as a whole: every thing, every body, is in motion." That's Adrian Martin in the new issue of Screening the Past, which is just enormous, featuring dozens and dozens of book reviews alone.

"[T]he influence of postmodernism was a major factor in resurrecting the American horror film during the last decade, and it continues to play a vital (and controversial) role." David Church's survey of the past 15 years or so is one of five essays in the new horror-themed issue of Offscreen.

Like the universe, David Bordwell's site is expanding: "I'm archiving here a set of articles that seem to me worth preserving." Also, The Boss of It All: "In tone, the film is as mixed as most [Lars] von Trier works, hovering between sympathy for idealistic underdogs and a sour realization that they will always be victims.... And don't believe what he says about surrendering to chance; the cuts are often very careful."

Kevin Roderick at LA Observed: "A quartet of Hollywood old hands - Patrick Goldstein and John Horn of the LAT and Sharon Waxman and Laura Holson of the NYT - agreed last night at Z�calo's event downtown that blogs and the Internet have sped up the entertainment news cycle, that the New Yorkers won the Pellicano story and that The Envelope and other naked grabs for Oscar ads are an unfortunate trend." And that's just for starters. Via Sheigh Crabtree at the Risky Biz Blog.

El Topo El Topo is surely as important as a mythical midnight miracle as it is as a film, probably more, and that's the tale J Hoberman tells in his must-read. Aaron Hillis at the Reeler: "Think of this as the pastel-bright hippie grandfather to David Lynch's hipper gloom-child Inland Empire, more timpani and brass than Nina Simone and Beck."

Also in the Voice:

  • "Despite (or rather, because of) its self- consciously retro qualities, The Good German is one of Soderbergh's more experimental movies - but the pizzazz is mainly visual," writes Hoberman. "The movie is lovingly framed, carefully lit, and fatally insipid."

  • "It is said that a great actor or actress can 'bring down the house,' but before I saw (and heard) the 25-year-old American Idol finalist Jennifer Hudson in the film version of the 1981 Broadway musical Dreamgirls, I can't recall the last time I truly feared for the architectural stability of a movie theater," writes Scott Foundas. Nonetheless, "it pains me to say that, on some crucial level, Dreamgirls falls short of expectations." More from Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer, Johnny Ray Huston in the San Francisco Bay Guardian and Nick Schager.

  • Nathan Lee: "Less Prestige Picture du Jour than Movie of the Week, Home of the Brave is visually and psychologically scaled for small, intimate, predictable effects."

  • Ed Gonzalez on Jules and Jim: "Fran�ois Truffaut's whirling dervish remains an ageless beauty."

  • For Robert Wilonsky, The Pursuit of Happyness "is too emotionally slick to work, too visually glib to have an impact, made by people who think grit is something that's brought in by the prop department."

The Good Shepherd In a review laced with quotes from Robert De Niro, Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie, ST VanAirsdale has considerable praise for The Good Shepherd, which "shreds spy-movie convention in favor of a more existential view of espionage; Eric Roth's script implies that great spies are made, not born - an allusion in part to [title character Edward] Wilson's incorruptible responsibility to his nation and a direct challenge to a film like Shepherd's origin-story contemporary Casino Royale."

"There are two ways of defending Children of Men as the best film of 2006," suggests Pablo Villa�a at Movie City News: "passionately" and "from a more rational, cold and detached point of view." More from Edward Copeland.

Nathaniel R really, really doesn't like Miss Potter: "If the tinkly music and biopic creakiness doesn't annoy you... Ren�e sure will."

"'Yes, it is strange,' Eastwood says of having two movies released within two months of each other, each potentially competing against the other for ticket sales and awards. 'But I've never made a Japanese film either. So everything is different.'" John Horn talks with him for the Los Angeles Times.

"With the right role, a morose [Sarah] Polley performance is a particular joy to watch," writes Marcy Dermansky. "This is the case in The Secret Life of Words."

Ed Gonzalez on Charlotte's Web: "[T]he film's storybook charm remains irrepressible." Also at Slant, Nick Schager: "Juan Carlos Rulfo's In the Pit is a documentary defined by symbiosis, its melding of musical instruments with construction site sounds (clanging jackhammers, crunching iron, screeching machinery) a sonic reflection of its portrait of men becoming intimately, inextricably associated with their artificial creation."

Michael Verhoeven will be the recipient of what basically amounts to a lifetime achievement award at the Bayerischer Filmpreis ceremony in January.

Scott Eyman in the New York Observer: "Lulu Forever exists for its art, and on that score it delivers magnificently: I'd never seen fully half of the images in the book. There are scene stills, candids, snapshots, everything documenting the deadly lure of Lulu. Oddly, there are no pictures of [Louise] Brooks as a ravaged old woman in a small apartment in Rochester - that would violate the masturbatory fantasia the book seeks to evoke." Heavens.

Early in The History Boys, the tone implies that [Alan] Bennett's purpose is specifically anti-Wellington," writes Stanley Kauffmann in the New Republic. But in the end, it "fills the traditional bill. Wellington would probably not be too upset by it."

Jonathan A Knapp finds that it's an "unapologetic approach to the police and their work - ultimately rooted in character and atmosphere - that distinguishes Le Petit Lieutenant from its peers." Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Cheryl Eddy: "[Elizabeth] Reaser's Independent Spirit Award�nominated performance is reason enough to give Sweet Land your consideration."

"With its burning intensity, ghastly visions and general air of relentlessness, Apocalypto is most thrilling whenever it feels like the ravings of a lunatic," writes Sean Burns. Also in the Philadelphia Weekly, Mike McKee remembers The Harder They Come director Perry Henzell.

Old Boy "Tsuchiya Garon and Minegishi Nobuaki's Old Boy manga has an almost second-cousin like relationship to Park Chan-wook's adaptation." Scott Green opens his 6th anniversary column at AICN.

"[W]hy did a set like Preston Sturges: The Filmmaker Collection take all this time?" wonders Max Goldberg at SF360. "Regardless, it's here, and it's an embarrassment of riches."

It's "the most glaring motif in the current cinema." What would a few of the classics of film history look like, wonders Mick LaSalle, with more barfing?

Prospect has "asked a range of contributors to nominate their "most overrated and underrated books of 2006'." Among the overrated is Mihir Bose's Bollywood, plucked from the crowd by Mark Cousins pegs: "Contains the line, 'he was so nervous that he was a bundle of nerves,' which, when I read it on the train, made me laugh so much that people got impatient." Via the Literary Saloon.

Online viewing tip #1. Roman Polanski talks about Chinatown. Via Coudal Partners.

Online viewing tip #2. Daniel Martinico's 24 second psycho (remake), riffing on Douglas Gordon's 24 Hour Psycho and beating Gordon's own One Minute Psycho to the punch.

Online viewing tip #3. lonelyterrorist15 at the Daily Reel. By The Geniuses.

Online viewing tips. That Little Round-Headed Boy has a theory concerning R.E.M.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:07 PM

Peter Boyle, 1935 - 2006.

Peter Boyle
Peter Boyle, the actor known for playing everything from a tap-dancing monster in Young Frankenstein to the curmudgeonly father in the long-running TV sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, has died. He was 71.

The AP.

His first starring role was as the title character in the movie Joe which was released in 1970, in which Boyle played a hardhat bigot to wide acclaim. The film's release was surrounded by controversy over its violence and language. Ironically, it was during this time that Boyle became close friends with the actress Jane Fonda, and with her he participated in many protests against the Vietnam War. After seeing people cheer at his role in Joe, Boyle refused the lead role in The French Connection (1971) as well as other movie and TV roles that, he believed, glamorized violence.


Updated through 12/17.

Still, Young Frankenstein will tower above all else for me, from his great comic scene with the blind man (Gene Hackman) to his rendition of "Puttin' on the Ritz."

Edward Copeland.

Updates: Joe Leydon: "[H]e's a textbook example of a great actor: Someone who can successfully and stunningly turn himself into something he's absolutely, positively not."

"Look back at his filmography, and you see all sorts of great films, and in each one, his contribution is part of what makes the film great," writes Drew McWeeny at AICN. "The Friends of Eddie Coyle is an underrated gem starring Robert Mitchum, and Boyle plays the pivotal role of a bartender who turns informer. It's wrenching character work, an indicator of just how good Boyle could be when turned loose with the right material."

"[S]ometimes what occurs to you is an offbeat tidbit that seems to capture an individual's personality." Vince Keenan's found the perfect dash of color.

Updates, 12/16: For all the "well-observed, fascinating characters that he has brought to life, in bad films as well as good, I'll most vividly remember Boyle for two specific performances," writes Dennis Cozzalio. "As Wizard, the taxi driver who hangs out at the all-night diner with a group of hacks that includes the insomniac loner Travis Bickle, Boyle is completely mesmerizing." And: "In Darin Morgan's amazingly lucid, limber and funny script for Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose, one of the best hours in the entirety of the The X-Files, Bruckman is dryly amusing. But Boyle's unique ability to access pathos without lapsing into embarrassing overmodulation, and the clarity of his stare as he doles out the most ominous information with the surety and matter-of-factness of a slightly bored salesman, is perfect to fully flesh out the painful comedy and longing buried between the lines of Morgan's words."

Eric Kohn recalls a chat - and a great punchline.

Update, 12/17: Ronald Bergan for the Guardian: "Boyle stole many a scene as an embarrassingly bad small-town entertainer in Slither (1972) and as Robert Redford's opportunistic campaign manager in The Candidate (1972)." Also honorably mentioned are "the ruthless station-master in Outland (1981), the 'High Noon in space' drama, and in Wim Wenders' Hammett as the friend of the detective novelist."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:31 AM | Comments (6)

Fests and events, 12/13.

The San Yuan Li Project Ou Ning and Cao Fei will be on hand at the Asian / Pacific / American Institute at NYU this evening to discuss their San Yuan Li Project, which "documents the evolving landscape of Guangzhou in an increasingly urbanized China."

"MOMA is celebrating the centennial of the hugely talented and amazingly prolific composer Franz Waxman, whose legacy comprises nearly 150 film scores and a number of concert pieces." For the Voice, Elliott Stein previews the series that runs December 16 through January 17.

Writing in the New York Times, Jeannette Catsoulis finds the "lack of sophistication" in Automatons "enormously endearing, leaving us with the comforting notion that the end of the world will look a lot like the beginning of television." More from Nathan Lee in the Voice. At the Pioneer through December 26.

"It's an intentionally amateur production through and through - even the boom mic intrudes now and again, perversely heightening the sense of fantasy while simultaneously demolishing an already tenuous fourth wall." Reviewing Le Pont du Nord, Keith Uhlich picks up Slant's coverage of the Jacques Rivette retrospective at the Museum of the Moving Image (through December 31).

Jeder f�r sich und Gott gegen Alle Eric Kohn for the Reeler: "Werner Herzog's The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser, a new print of which screens this week at BAMcinematek, isn't the legendary director's finest fiction film - that honor belongs to Aguirre: The Wrath of God - but it remains, after 32 years, his most sensitive and heartfelt character study."

"Technically, it's bravura, the story is bizarre, imaginative and funny and yet, it's as though the whole thing has no core." Signandsight translates a snippet from Petra Kohse's review of Robert Lepage's performance piece, The Andersen Project, at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele three more nights.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:32 AM

December 12, 2006

SFFCC. Awards.

Little Children SF360's Susan Gerhard, a member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle, has, along with the full list of the Circle's awards, a couple of surprise announcements: Little Children takes Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor; Sacha Baron Cohen, Best Actor; and Brick, Best Original Screenplay.

Now's a good time to check the Awards Scoreboard at Movie City News, where you'll see that The Queen still reigns.

Update, 12/13: The San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle looks back on the voting rounds and offers his own take on each category.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:33 PM | Comments (1)

Shorts, 12/12.

Volver "[F]ilm culture is undergoing a radical shift," argues Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE. "Aside from Pedro Almodóvar, few international directors generate the sort of public interest they once garnered. The vast majority of foreign-language films receive diminutive releases across the US, and more and more editorial space and art-house screens are devoted to the studio divisions' bigger English-language films and documentaries." And yet, all is not lost: "[T]echnology's greatest gift to film culture may be the blogosphere, which has seemingly ignited a passionate audience for auteur cinema around the country."

On another note: We may be seeing a few subtitled films outside of the Foreign Language category in the Oscar race this year.

"Among the new films I've seen in the past couple of years, I find that a significant proportion are animated. I don't think that's because I prefer animated films but because these days they are among the best work being created by the mainstream industry. Why would that be?" Kristin Thompson wonders. "There are probably a lot of reasons, but let me offer a few."

Zoe Williams reads between the frames to find the political subtext of eleven popular animated films.

Also in the Guardian, Ryan Gilbey and his old movie posters and Tim Lott, who once suffered a bout of depression himself, explains that Hollywood rarely treats the mental illness realistically because it's essentially "boring. Depressives are toxic and dull. Manic depressives are irritating... [D]ramatic narrative and the reality of mental illness rarely go hand in hand."

Automatons Fernando F Croce: "With its druggy wanderings and inscrutable reveries, El Topo would be part of the revolutionary, post-60s movement of Glauber Rocha's Antonio das Mortes and Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie if its private mythology didn't belong so obviously to its maker's acid subconscious." Also at Slant, We Are Marshall presents a "disingenuously tidy portrait" of grief, writes Nick Schager. And Ed Gonzalez on Automatons: "Though [director James Felix] McKenney is a nostalgia wanker, his battles... soar to trippy and novel heights of DIY experimental filmmaking that feel anything but old."

Back at indieWIRE, Michael Joshua Rowin reviews the "too-earnest drama" Home of the Brave, "the first major fiction film about the Iraq War and its effect on those fighting it." Matt Singer at IFC News, where he also reviews Venus: "Rarely I have been so equally touched and repulsed by a film."

Like Newsweek's David Ansen, Time's Richards Corliss and Schickel preview the biggest boulders of the holiday avalanche:

  • "It's great to see a movie musical with a smart sense of the genre. All Dreamgirls lacks is the amazing energy and passion of the original." More from Ed Gonzalez in Slant: "Given [director Bill] Condon's talent for charting the way the past affects the present, the mediocrity of Dreamgirls is particularly flabbergasting." Related: Jason Solomons profiles Eddie Murphy for the Observer.

Letters From Iwo Jima
  • "Whereas [Flags of Our Fathers] became a story of manufactured heroism, [Letters From Iwo Jima] is a poignant dirge for the defeated.... And like Flags, Letters offers a metaphor for the war in Iraq." More from David Poland: "For Eastwood, this film is another significant step, as he puts away the broken, often abusive or murderous anti-hero and really makes a film about the other men who have, in Eastwood's films, been under the control of the bigger-than-life men." Nick Schager in Slant argues that "it is Letters' departures from its precursor that make it a superior, if still somewhat flawed, work."

  • The Pursuit of Happyness: "Do we care about Gardner and son? Oddly, we do, because they are so appealingly played. What more might we wish for them? A movie that's a lot less repetitive." More from Nick Schager in Slant: "[D]irector Gabriele Muccino... predictably milks Chris's tumultuous fall and rise for every last drop of calculating, teary sentimentality."

  • The Good Shepherd: "Robert De Niro's movie (skillfully written by Eric Roth) is a very persuasive and thoughtful study of how the youthful and more muscular scions of the Wasp patriciate imposed their values, their sense of entitlement, on the US and what that endeavor cost us - and the patricians.... [I]ntricate, understated but ultimately devastating." More from Variety's Todd McCarthy; and Jeffrey Wells. Related: Ryan Stewart's junket report for Cinematical and David Carr tries to get more than just a few words with De Niro.

  • Curse of the Golden Flower: "This is high, and high-wire, melodrama. It's less soap opera than grand opera, where matters of love and death are played at a perfect fever pitch."

  • The "fitfully engrossing" Blood Diamond: "DiCaprio, here as in The Departed, proves himself the most watchful and watchable actor of his age."

  • Miss Potter "is an honorable and curiously winning film."

  • Breaking and Entering "is handsomely mounted and well played... but somehow it never draws one into its schemes."

  • Notes on a Scandal "is melodrama trying to pass itself off as a slice of realistic life."

Also in Time: Jeffrey Ressner interviews Bob and Harvey Weinstein.

More interviews:

Jean-Pierre Gorin picks his top ten Criterion DVDs.

Lubitsch in Berlin Michael Atkinson at IFC News on 4: "[T]his is a raging, unsettling, rule-incinerating monster of a movie, treating the rules of orthodox narrative like toilet paper and engaging in irreverent structuralist hijinks that'd be hilarious if in fact the film wasn't chilling to the bone." Also: "The new Kino set Lubitsch in Berlin contains five films on four discs, each as beautifully designed and wittily executed as the next. This is what comedy looked like during the era of German Expressionism - positively Burtonesque (split the difference between Beetlejuice and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), satiric of Art Deco and teeming with startling compositions, none of which ever impedes on the yucks."

"Happily, the Siren can report that Viridiana still knocks her sideways. It has been dissected many times, by critical minds more refined than hers, but the Siren wants to tell you about why she loves this rather bleak, but utterly brilliant film."

Bilge Ebiri on the (mostly) forgotten The Dion Brothers: "The film's intense climax, a go-for-broke, bewilderingly chaotic shootout set inside a hotel while it's being simultaneously demolished, is still eye-popping after all these years and could hold its own with any action film today. As he proved with Cleopatra Jones, [Jack] Starrett had a unique ability to film complex action scenes."

Dave Kehr in the New York Times on the extended cut of Bugsy: "With the seamlessly restored shots and sequences, the picture plays much more smoothly and inexorably than it did in the edited version." They All Laughed, The Conformist and 1900 are also recommended.

At PopMatters, Violet Glaze recommends The Apartment, "a Christmas movie for the sick-of-Santa set, directed by that master of twinkle-eyed cynicism Billy Wilder."

Rediscovering Jacques Feyder Jared Rapfogel on Image Entertainment's box set, Rediscover Jacques Feyder: "All three films also find Feyder exploring the medium's ability to render subjective perceptions and interior psychological states." Also at Stop Smiling: Kathryn Knight interviews Greil Marcus.

Matt Zoller Seitz on Apocalypto: "It's impossible to say whether Gibson is straining after the mythic and settling for the cartoonish or if his filmmaking sensibility is so conditioned by his long stint as an R-rated action superstar that he just can't help reverting."

Bill Nichols, author of Introduction to Documentary and Representing Reality, "proposes six types - or modes - of documentary," which Girish has been rolling over in his mind for the past several days.

"Anorexia is the most deadly mental disorder; up to 20 percent of sufferers die from related complications. Some even court it: 'I just want to be thin,' says Alisa 'If it takes dying to get there, so be it.'" Jessica Clark on Thin for In These Times.

Yahoo! launches a Talent Show.

Online reading and listening tip. "[I]ndependent musicians are becoming increasingly more accessible and willing to share both their tunes and time with fans at the quick click of an email," writes Noralil Ryan Fores. "From effervescent pop music to heartbreaking folk, [MovieMaker] dug around to uncover a selection of independent music that is well-deserving of screen time."

Online listening tip. A very film-y edition of the BBC's Start the Week.

Online viewing tip. James Israel has video of Michel Gondry solving Rubik's Cube in less than two minutes. With his feet. Seriously.

Online viewing tips. Destiny at 10 Zen Monkeys: "2006 finds Santa visiting some very naughty children playing with YouTube, digital editing software, and a wicked imagination." A few of them probably cross into NSFW territory. Also: Steve Robles examines "The Evolution of the Christmas Special."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:24 AM

Fests and events, 12/12.

Rocky Balboa "I Survived Butt-Numb-A-Thon 8." What's more, Wiley Wiggins offers initial impressions of eleven films viewed back to back during Harry Knowles's annual eclectic 24-hour marathon.

More survivors with more quick takes: Matt Dentler, the Austin Movie Blog's John DeFore, Weird Wednesday programmer Lars Nilsen and, of course, plenty of contributors to Ain't It Cool News. Among the films riffed on: Black Snake Moan, Dreamgirls, Rocky Balboa, Knocked Up, Smokin' Aces and 300.

"The Emmy Award-winning PBS series Independent Lens is pleased to present the first annual Online Shorts Festival."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:21 AM

Lists, 12/12.

Paprika "[W]hat I really loved was the stuff that takes me to new places," writes logboy at Twitch, where he recalls his highlights for 2006 and, refreshingly, writes up a list of viewing experiences he's looking forward to in 2007. And the entry's topped off with a "Golden Turd" (not pictured).

"The Alliance of Women Film Journalists (AWFJ) introduced a new award category that I applaud," applauds Anne Thompson, "Actress Most in Need of a New Agent." But wait, there's more.

Film Threat presents a "Movie Geek" holiday... gift guide? But it's not an uninteresting list.

Variety has the nominees for the Broadcast Film Critics awards.

Cinematical's Mark Beall is having Muppets for Christmas.

Online listening tip. At IFC News, Matt Singer and Alison Willmore "take a look back at some of their favorite titles from earlier in the year that deserve to be remembered come listmaking-time."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:09 AM

December 11, 2006

NY, NY. Awards, lists, fragmentary memories.

New York "Thanks to a furiously updating bud who will go nameless for now, here are the early results for the New York Film Critics Circle Awards," writes Bilge Ebiri at Screengrab, where, for the moment, he's ahead of the NYFCC itself in tabulating the results. David Poland's opened a discussion already. Update: So it's United 93 and Bilge has more "ultra-secret exclusive low-down on what happened inside the hallowed halls." Read it. It'll remind you not to throw too much weight on these critics' awards.

Meanwhile: "The Year in Culture." Lists, quick interviews, images, phrases and ear worms that won't go away. New York seems to have had the most fun wrapping up the year so far. David Edelstein's top ten, for example, isn't so much a list of movies as movie-related items, and Logan Hill's DVD list goes like this: "Instead of choosing between the most phenomenal rereleases and the best new film and TV boxes, we pick ten DVD pairings that represent the best of both worlds." And so on. The "Year-End Mega-Matrix" chart captures the spirit of the project as a whole pretty well.

Updated through 12/12.

"At the end of the year, as hundreds of impressions - strong recollections and weak echoes - rattle around in a critic's overstressed brain, memorable movies tend to gather in groups," suggests David Denby in the New Yorker. "This year, they fall into pairs, which may represent an overlapping of interest among filmmakers and not just a critical convenience." He begins his list of "Memorable Movies of 2006" with the two 9/11 films, United 93 and World Trade Center. And Anthony Lane reminds us that they don't make 'em like they used to.

Update, 12/12: Time's Richard Corliss on the Queen vs United 93 showdown: "A brief debate arose: Should we vote yet again, or proclaim the two films joint winners? After all, said the Village Voice's Jim Hoberman, 'they're the same film.'"

Posted by dwhudson at 9:10 AM

Sight & Sound. 01/07.

Sight & Sound: January 07 The top ten for 2006 that appears in the January issue of Sight & Sound is an odd one. There's a #1 (Caché) and a #2 (Volver), but then come four #3s and four #7s. Since the numbers have fallen so strangely, we can be doubly glad the editors have decided to "The Full List," basically all the ballots, comments and all, more ranking and punditry than you'll find even in the magazine. A fine browse.

The online sample from the "British Cinema Now" cover package is not actually about "British Cinema Now." It is, instead, an appreciation of Derek Jarman from Colin MacCabe.

Updated, 12/12.

Kaleem Aftab talks with Spike Lee about When the Levees Broke.

And the reviews:


  • Jonathan Romney: "In its melancholy tone and composed formal qualities, Rafi Pitts's film might not immediately strike one as radically new. But It's Winter is nevertheless a striking departure from the expected that widens our picture of Iranian life and film."

  • Roger Clarke on Casino Royale, "a reinvention with some slashed leather trails of a classic trim, a brutal Bond for a brutal age, with the chance and skill of the gambling table merging into a grim but compulsive volley at the vicissitudes of life."

  • Ali Jaafar: "While Eastwood succeeds in reclaiming the fact from the legend in Flags of Our Fathers, he does so at the risk of diluting his film's undeniable moments of visceral power."

Update, 12/12: Somehow, I stupidly missed this review by Tim Lucas: "Greeted as something of a misfire upon its original release, Hammer's The Anniversary has ripened in the vaults into a volatile cocktail of high style, overwrought melodrama and obsidian comedy. Based on a successful play by Bill MacIlwraith, it's a nearly perfect evening's divertissement for these more savage times."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:59 AM

December 10, 2006

LAFCA. Awards.

The Queen Well, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association has released their list a tad earlier than expected, and Variety's got it.

Their take: Clint Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima may have taken Picture, but "the clear favorite of the critics was The Queen, which earned four wins and one runner-up prize, including best actress for Helen Mirren, best supporting actor for Michael Sheen and best screenplay for Peter Morgan."

It's an interesting list all up and down, with a healthy sprinkling of reps from foreign and indie projects.

Update: The Queen pretty much sweeps the New York Film Critics Online awards, listed at MCN. David Poland: "I'm just going to keep adding to this entry..." Good idea. For the time being.

Update, 12/11: For the Washington DC Area Film Critics, it's United 93, Scorsese, Mirren, Whitaker... only one film gets two nods: Little Miss Sunshine, for Best Original Screenplay and Best Ensemble.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:10 PM | Comments (1)

BSFC. Awards.

The Departed Perhaps unsurprisingly, The Departed has left a lasting impression on the Boston Society of Film Critics. MCN has their list, which precedes LA's by a few hours and New York's by a day or so. 'Tis the season.

At any rate, The Departed: Picture, Director, Supporting Actor and Screenplay.

Half Nelson and Pan's Labyrinth also make strong showings.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:33 PM

AFI. Awards.

In alphabetical order, from Babel and Borat through United 93, the AFI has announced its picks for the top ten movies of the year. TV shows, too.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:17 PM | Comments (1)

Torino Dispatch.

Dennis Lim looks back on the highlights of last month's festival in Torino.

Torino Film Festival The sensation of abundance - a common one at the best film festivals - can be especially acute at Torino. A high-minded oasis of cinephilia that concluded a terrific 24th edition last month, the Torino Film Festival balances a rigorous program of new work with heroic, encyclopedic retrospectives. The honorees this year: Barcelona School pioneer Joaqun Jord (who died at 70 last summer), Claude Chabrol (part two of a tribute that commenced at last year's festival), softcore auteur Joseph Sarno, and the perenially underrated Robert Aldrich (more on whom later).

An intriguingly motley jury - Lisandro Alonso, David Gordon Green and Ron Mann, among others - awarded top prize to Albert Serra's Honor de Cavalleria (which premiered at this year's Quinzaine and is screening at the current Spanish Cinema Now! series at Lincoln Center in New York).

Honor de Cavalleria

A worthy winner, Serra's first feature is an ascetic take on Cervantes's Don Quixote, drawing from the least eventful passages in the novel. A decrepit, dishevelled Quixote (Llus Carb), accompanied by his devoted servant, the stout, stoic Sancho (Llus Serrat), shuffles about the Catalan countryside and off into the twilight - often literally (many scenes unfold in near darkness). There's a hint of contrarian mischief in the conception - a landscape movie shot on modest DV, a near-mute "adaptation" of the chattiest of lit classics - but the cumulative effect is austerely moving. Both playful and serious, it's a wholly original riff on Bressonian and Ozuesque notions of cine-purity, and very much a film that adheres to its own chivalric code.

The other jury favorite, Todd Rohal's The Guatemalan Handshake (which was lauded for direction and ensemble acting), could hardly be more different. Strained and busy, the movie is filled with enough unmotivated kookiness for an entire Sundance lineup. For a few brief moments, with its melancholic whimsy and cartoon metaphysics, Handshake takes on shades of a small-town Donnie Darko, but it mainly settles for the self-satisfied non sequitur absurdism that capsizes so many American indies.

Stories From the North A richer - not to mention more serene - strain of regionalism could be found in Stories From the North, Thai director Uruphong Raksasad's gentle elegy for a vanishing way of life. A series of scenic vignettes, all shot in and around the northern village of Lanna, the film harbors an obvious nostalgia for a simpler time, but it never exoticizes the hard agrarian life; the filmmaker's rapt, uncondescending eye keeps sentimentality at bay. The sepia-hued drama The Lineman's Diary likewise offered a peek into an unseen world. This simple, rustic tale of fathers and sons and the trans-Kazakhstan railway - stuck in time, though not quite in the same way as the land of Borat - won a Fipresci prize for director Zhanabek Zhetiruov (himself a former railway lineman).

Pleasures of Ordinary Divisive in the extreme, 23-year-old Chinese director Xia Peng's Pleasures of Ordinary was perhaps the most intriguing film in the competition. The titular riff on Jia Zhangke's Unknown Pleasures may not be coincidental - the setting is a derelict town in Shanxi province (JZ turf, in other words). Xia's shapeless film meanders among assorted regular folk and hard-knock characters, evolving into something like an experimental, pseudo-documentary version of Jia's Xiao Wu. Shot on blotchy, blown-out video, it's a curious film, often unsightly but also keen-eyed. It exerts a hypnotic power, not least in the final half hour, when it latches onto the bitter laments of a hobbled war veteran and builds to a conclusion of surprising force and anger.

Last year, the big story at Torino was the world premiere of Joe Dante's agitprop thunderbolt Homecoming, part of the Masters of Horror series. This year brought a second batch of episodes (currently airing on Showtime). On paper, the most political was John Carpenter's Pro-Life, set in an abortion clinic and pitting rabid pro-lifers against the medical staff, with the added complication of a demon spawn. Its point of view can most charitably be called garbled.

The Screwfly Solution Again, it was Dante who turned in the best installment: The Screwfly Solution, based on the 1977 Raccoona Sheldon short story. Deftly entwining environmental and feminist horror, it follows the outbreak of a murderous rage epidemic among the male population, the result of an attempt to sterilize male screwflies. After a witty, resonant buildup, the hour-long film loses its bite and focus at the halfway mark and all but falls apart at the end. Incidentally, it's the second horror flick in as many years, after George Romero's Land of the Dead, to propose a northward evacuation to Canada.

The new films inevitably paled alongside the full Aldrich retro, a mammoth undertaking and a labor of love on the part of festival co-director Giulia D'agnolo Vallan. Confronted with this lineup, with its abundance of rarely revived titles still unavailable on DVD, it was impossible not to gorge. Not all the prints were pristine, but the altogether thrilling experience of watching so many Aldrich films in the space of a few days only reinforced the sense of his singularity. Born into New England old money, he spent much of his life in rebellion. He started out as an assistant (to Jean Renoir and Joseph Losey, among others) and rose through the studio ranks, all the while chafing against the system. He insisted on serving as producer on his films, and his lifelong ambition was to run his own studio (a dream briefly realized from the profits of 1967's The Dirty Dozen and destroyed a few years later by the commercial disaster of The Grissom Gang, his crazed Depression-era tale of a kidnapping turned Stockholm-syndrome romance). In a sense, Aldrich was an independent filmmaker before the notion really existed.

Robert Aldrich Catalog The sheer range of his filmography is impressive enough: war movies, Westerns, macho guyfests, hysterical women's melodramas. But even more startling was the febrile energy and the sheer depths of feeling he could pack into almost any scenario. He had a weakness for histrionics, but more often than not, he made crudeness a virtue. He was a masterful orchestrator of chaos, fully aware that nihilism and anarchy could be productive forces. It's fitting that the most iconic image in all of his films is the radioactive white light erupting out of the chest in the atomic noir Kiss Me Deadly (introduced in Torino by longtime fan Chabrol).

Aldrich's daughter Adell, who assisted on many of his later films, was in attendance and spoke openly of his contentious relationship with Hollywood. For Aldrich, it was always a given that the industry was corrupt and soul-destroying. Immediately after Kiss Me Deadly, he made his first Hollywood broadside, The Big Knife (1956), a robust adaptation of a Clifford Odets play and the rare occasion he was compelled to confine his volatile style to a single set. Jack Palance plays a tormented, alcoholic actor fending off mafioso-like studio execs. News of Palance's death broke just as the festival was getting under way, and his 50s collaborations with Aldrich functioned nicely as a mini-tribute. This big lug, with his anguished intensity and lunging physicality, was a perfect actor for the free-swinging Aldrich (who also directed him in the grimly anti-heroic war films Attack! and Ten Seconds to Hell).

Aldrich's nuttiest showbiz cautionary tale - probably his nuttiest film, period - was 1968's The Legend of Lylah Clare (shown in a faded pink print, apparently the only extant one). Peter Finch plays a Hollywood director who casts a young ingenue (Kim Novak), a lookalike of his late wife and muse, in a film about the dead woman. The presence of Novak in a dual role underscores the basic idea: Vertigo refracted through a cracked prism (acrophobia is further referenced in the jaw-dropping trapeze scene, the climax of both the film and the film-within-the-film). Aldrich's contempt for the industry is at full throttle here. The movie ends, astonishingly, with a dog food commercial and the image of a pack of ravenous canines chowing down.

He might well have outdone Lylah Clare with The Greatest Mother of 'Em All, a film he was trying to get off the ground in 1969. In a rare treat, Torino presented the bizarre, liberally sexed-up 20-minute promo reel that Aldrich made in an attempt to raise funds. Shot largely on spare, half-dressed sets, with pastoral interludes scored to Simon and Garfunkel, it leaves you in wonderment at the film that could have been. A sleazy director (Finch again) becomes romantically involved with a teenage girl, with the mother's approval; the inspiration was the relationship between Errol Flynn and his last girlfriend Beverly Aadland, who was 15 when they met.

Twilight's Last Gleaming The discovery of the festival - the film that packed as much political punch as last year's Homecoming - turned out to be by Aldrich, too. Picking up the theme of nuclear paranoia more than 20 years after Kiss Me Deadly, the unheralded Twilight's Last Gleaming (1977, shown in its full 146-minute version) is a nail-biting conspiracy thriller with a blistering and highly topical take on the reasons wars are fought. A disgruntled Air Force general (Burt Lancaster) takes over a nuclear missile silo and threatens to launch some rockets unless the president (Charles Durning) publicly reveals the truth behind the Vietnam war. Watching the film, which fits our political climate perhaps even better than it did the post-Watergate one, it's hard not to wish there was a director working in Hollywood today willing to take on the war crimes of the present administration.

Even Aldrich's ostensibly minor films have moments of profound pleasure: Burt Reynolds and Catherine Deneuve's lovely romantic-fatalist duet in Hustle (1975), for instance, overshadows the film's perfunctory murder mystery. His final movie, ...All the Marbles (a/k/a California Dolls, 1981), starring Peter Falk as the manager of a female wrestling tag team, is hardly a landmark work. It's unfortunate, you'd think, that a major filmmaker should end his career with something so seemingly tawdry and trivial (there's an obligatory mudpit scene), but the finale is beyond rousing and wholly fitting: a crescendo of scrappy underdog triumph.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:52 PM

Shorts, 12/10.

Film Art: An Introduction Starting with essays on ten films, David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson have set up an online archival supplement to Film Art: An Introduction.

"Let the backlash begin somewhere, and during this holiday season, let it begin with me." Anthony Kaufman is left way underwhelmed by Dreamgirls and gets an "Amen, brother" comment from Scott Tobias.

Elbert Ventura for indieWIRE: "The kind of movie that makes a pejorative of words like 'tasteful' and 'intelligent,' Anthony Minghella's Breaking and Entering arrives just in time to give the faint-hearted a refuge from the untidy pleasures of Casino Royale and Borat." More from Matt Singer of IFC News, who finds that its "discouragingly Crash-ian premise slowly develops into an impressively un-Crash-ian film of subtle acting and surprising humanity."

David Ansen races through the holiday movies for Newsweek:

  • Children of Men: "The filmmaking is so accomplished you wish it were matched by the script."

  • Pan's Labyrinth "unfolds with the confidence of a classical fable, one that paradoxically feels both timeless and startlingly new." More from David Lowery.

  • The Good German: "Soderbergh has produced a movie so self-conscious that it's drained of all life."

  • Letters From Iwo Jima is "a sorrowful and savagely beautiful elegy that can stand in the company of the greatest antiwar movies."

  • The Pursuit of Happyness: "I respect the movie's tact, its honest exploration of homelessness, its surprising refusal to exult in the rags-to-riches aspects of Gardner's story, but I can't say I was transported."

The Good Shepherd

  • The Good Shepherd: "For the film's mesmerizing first 50 minutes I thought De Niro might pull off the Godfather of spy movies.... But the unvaryingly solemn tone begins to wear, and the elaborate flashback structure becomes confusing in the last act."

  • Venus is "a heartbreaking comedy that is simultaneously funny and sad, raunchy and sweet, funky and elegiac."

  • "Notes on a Scandal is a wicked delight."

AJ Schnack: "At ceremonies Friday night at the Directors Guild in Hollywood, James Longley's Iraq in Fragments took the IDA prize for best documentary of the year."

Mariane Pearl: A Mighty Heart "Mariane has all the reasons in the world to be blinded by hate, but she has chosen not to be," Angelina Jolie tells Anupama Chopra on the set of Michael Winterbottom's A Mighty Heart, an adaptation of Mariane Pearl's book, which "focuses on the four weeks of investigation, negotiations and leads that preceded a horrific end": the very ruthless and very public murder of Daniel Pearl.

Also in the NYT:

JSPERB at Dr Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope: "In A History of Violence, I would argue that we have here a counterpoint to Videodrome; whereas once the body had become pure image - the 'new flesh' - in A History of Violence, the body has now become a site for the inscription of the past. The newer new flesh is not simulation here, but time."

Rotation Flickhead raids the vaults of DEFA while Tom Sutpen reviews Barbara Loden's Wanda, "one of the seminal (if little-revived) works of America's independent cinema in the 70s."

Jonas Mekas's Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania "traces a seemingly divergent, often contradictory, and inevitably irreconcilable personal odyssey that, nevertheless, instinctively converges towards the filmmaker's acute and inescapable awareness of his own spiritual displacement, sense of otherness, and perpetual exile," writes acquarello.

Robert Cashill: "There are other Christmas-set shockers (Black Christmas, which has been remade; the original was directed by Bob Clark, the future director of A Christmas Story) and non-Christmas flicks set on the holiday for irony (Gremlins, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard). But You Better Watch Out is the one that really exploits Yuletide imagery and lore."

Marshall University never wanted to see a movie like We Are Marshall get made. Matthew DeBord explains how they were won over.

Also in the Los Angeles Times:

Charlotte's Web

"So why did Flags not become a massive hit while Borat did?" asks Joe Queenan in the Guardian. It's a rhetorical question, naturally: "I have a theory." Taking time to quote Susan Sontag and referencing "a postwar guide for American wives," Neal Ascherson has a leisurely paced piece on the film in the Observer: "Still apparently a Republican, though presumably a pretty individual one, Eastwood shrugs off complaints that his film is anti-patriotic."

Also in the Observer:

  • "Mariko Ishihara, Japan's best-known actress of the 1980s, sparked a media frenzy this weekend with the publication of her tell-all book, which lifts the lid on widespread sexual abuse and bullying in the upper echelons of the country's entertainment industry," reports Justin McCurry.

  • "[I]f Gwyneth Paltrow suddenly thinks she 'fits in' with Britons, then where are we going wrong?" asks Barbara Ellen.

  • Stephanie Merritt may have inadvertently provided one possible answer in her ode to Richard Curtis movies: "The most clich-ridden, mawkish, winsome travesty of human love ever portrayed on celluloid, with the most tin-eared, trite and implausible dialogue committed to paper. And yet I love them. Oh, I do!"

  • Mark Kermode on Stray Dogs: "Commencing with the talismanic rescue of a stray mutt, Iranian director Marziyeh Meshkini's film trips poetically from pillar to post, buoyed up by an impressively spontaneous cast of seemingly ad-libbing non-professionals."

  • Philip French recommends The US vs John Lennon.

Susie Bright remembers Gary Graver. Via Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay.

Non-film-related read: Orhan Pamuk's Nobel Lecture.

Online fiddling around tip. The Fountain Remixed.

Online viewing tip #1. For Cinematical, Kevin Kelly talks with Crispin Glover about What Is It?.

Online viewing tip #2. Illeanarama, created by and starring Illeana Douglas. Via Brendon Connelly.

Online viewing tip #3. At filmtagebuch, a Ray Harryhausen bestiary - in chronological order, no less.

Online viewing tips. At Twitch: Todd's got two scenes from Alejandro Jodorowsky's El Topo; a trailer for Lars von Trier's The Boss of It All; a trailer for Lasse Spang Olsen's The Black Madonna; another for the omnibus film Die Silbermaske; and another for Derek Yee's Protg.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:16 AM

Fests and events, 12/10.

One Minute Psycho "'24 Hour Psycho showed that you can't always appropriate,' [Douglas Gordon] recently confided. 'Or you can appropriate, but it's not going to be great art simply by association. Part of me totally believes in anonymous art. By making a second version, I make the first anonymous and the second the appropriation.'" Now at the Museum of New Art in Detroit through January 24: Gordan's One Minute Psycho.

"'Velzquez and the Cinema' will probably be about narrative: how it works in Velzquez, and how it works in the cinema as practised by certain filmmakers. Narrative has characters, tone, structure - some of the things I'll be discussing with relation to those filmmakers. I won't say more here, save that Godard's Pierrot le Fou kicks off with a quotation on Velzquez." But Time Out's Geoff Andrew does say more about his talk this coming Wednesday at the National Gallery.

Chicagoans: J Robert Parks recommends catching Linda Linda Linda while you can.

For the Los Angeles Times, Susan King previews In a Lonely Place: The Rebellious Cinema of Nicholas Ray (December 15 through 20).

IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez previews the Dubai International Film Festival (tomorrow through December 17).

Platform International Animation Festival "So, yeah, we're Toon Town," writes the Oregonian's Shawn Levy. "But the rest of the world may not know it. Well, they soon will. In June 2007, Portland will be host to the Platform International Animation Festival, a tremendous conclave of screenings, competition, exhibitions, workshops, lectures, parties and more."

The Lumire Reader covers New Zealand's traveling Korean Film Festival.

Richard Gibson looks back on an evening with legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff.

Brian Darr writes an open letter to "the guy who decided it would be a good idea to loudly cough the word 'boring' on his way out of the theatre in the middle of The Story of Marie and Julien Friday night."

"Out 1 might be a little too big for one mind to comfortably accommodate, and so we've decided to share the burden." Reverse Shot features an exchange between James Crawford and Michael Joshua Rowin. More.

Cinematical's Kim Voynar lists seven docs she's looking forward to seeing at Sundance. James Urbaniak notes he'll be in two films there and SF360's Susan Gerhard sees has bits on three Sundance entries from Bay Area filmmakers.

Michael Guilln quite enjoyed his peek into the Cabinet of Curiosities: "Jonathan Marlow is, quite simply, a curatorial magician."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:44 AM

December 9, 2006

Weekend lists.

The Raspberry Reich At the main site, James Van Maanen presents the "Best Gay Films on DVD 2006." Even better than rankings: they're clustered into genres.

"So, here's disjunction, disruption and verfremdungseffekten aplenty." With parts 3 and 4, Owen Hatherley completes his Kino-Canon.

"'There's just this surprising bunch of locally produced film that is just totally ignored,' says Ruth L Ratny, publisher of 'And it's good stuff.'" Robert K Elder in the Chicago Tribune: "Based on interviews with local film tastemakers, we present five fresh faces to watch." Also via Coudal Partners: Drivl's list of things code doesn't do in the movies.

"It's not the idea of lists, or even of year-end Top Ten lists that I object to: it's the almost invariably wasted opportunity that they represent." Andy Horbal explains.

The San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle is taking suggestions for his lists. And they're coming in.

You'll have to scroll down a bit, but the Financial Times has picked its favorite DVDs of the year; books, too.

eat-doc-140.jpg More books? Via the Literary Saloon, the Economist's list is out and Ed Champion presents "the worst book covers (often for perfectly worthwhile books) for 2006."

Via Evan Derkacz at Alternet, Fatadam lists the "Top 10 Viewed YouTube Videos of All Time."

Tony Kay: "Ten Movies That Ain't All That."

Michael Guilln lists his ten favorite Evening Class interviews.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:47 PM

December 8, 2006

Interview. Stephen and Timothy Quay. 2.

The Quays "Formally, their work reflects the influence of the Eastern European avant-garde of the 1940s to late 1960s, making their creations characteristically out-of-step with the present. Their commercials, music videos and films are abundantly scattered with direct and indirect references to the works of others that they admire - Robert Walser, Michel de Ghelderode and, perhaps most significantly, Bruno Schulz, whose writings serve as the source for their most famous featurette, The Street of Crocodiles, and their current work-in-progress, Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass."

With The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes touring the country, and with a program of shorts on the way from Zeitgeist, Jonathan Marlow introduces the second part of his interview with Timothy and Stephen Quay. The first part is here.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:21 PM

Shorts, 12/8.

Dreamgirls Still "giddy and jubilant and a little drunk on gorgeous gowns," Gabriel Shanks finds Dreamgirls to be "a well-crafted, viscerally adept, dynamically performed entertainment of the highest order."

"As a thriller, The Good German intermittently intriguing, but at this point who's going to see it for the story? I love the fact that Soderbergh keeps experimenting, and I almost always love the results; but just as much as it hurts to see audiences reject a risky film, so too is it disappointing to see a risky film only go halfway." David Lowery explains.

"The Journal of Short Film works much like a literary journal, only instead of collecting stories, essays, and poetry into bound volumes, the Journal collects short films and releases them quarterly on DVD." Shaun Huston interviews publisher Karl Mechem for PopMatters.

Little Miss Sunshine directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris may adapt Tom Perrotta's forthcoming novel, The Abstinence Teacher, which Variety reports, will revolve "around a divorced sex ed teacher in middle America who is at odds with the town's more conservative groups. At the same time, she finds herself falling for her daughter's born-again soccer coach."

Stephen Dalton pays a visit to a set in Hungary for the London Times: "The 44-year-old [Thomas] Kretschmann, now based in Los Angeles, has played Nazi officers many times before, most notably in The Pianist and Downfall. But in Eichmann he shoulders the full historical shame of his homeland."

While we're there: Boyd van Hoeij talks with �gnes Kocsis talks about Friss Leveg� (Fresh Air), an International Critics' Week entry in Cannes this year.

Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman: "It's Winter opens on 15 December [in the UK], and feels rather like an early Christmas present. On the other hand, Kabul Express, released on the same day, could be regarded as the turkey."

In the New York Times:

  • Stephen Holden on Off the Black: "This modest film could easily have skidded into the mawkish marshland where countless mentor-prot�g�, father-son dramas have suffocated. But for the most part it steers away from the worst clich�s of that tear-drenched genre." More from Eric Kohn at the Reeler.

  • Holden on Family Law: "The third installment of his semiautobiographical trilogy of films about fatherhood, which began six years ago with Waiting for the Messiah and continued with Lost Embrace in 2004, this delicate, bittersweet comedy prepares you for an eruption of high drama that never arrives." Related: indieWIRE interviews director Daniel Burman.

  • AO Scott notes that "a few moments of loud, obvious comic action... seem to have been included to justify the status of Unaccompanied Minors as a theatrically released motion picture, rather than the kiddie-cable seasonal special it should have been."

  • For Jeannette Catsoulis, Forgiveness is "a glum drama about the way repentance can do more damage than the sin that precedes it." And: "Yaji and Kita: The Midnight Pilgrims is a surreal romp through 19th-century Japan and most of the space-time continuum."

  • Neil Genzlinger: "[P]erhaps, dismayingly, bad filmmaking isn't really to blame for the lack of punch in Ever Again. Perhaps it's the familiarity of it all." And: "Snow Blind calls itself a documentary, but it's really all about selling the product of snowboarding; it never stops feeling like the in-house channel on a ski-lodge television."

Wicked "[T]he Wicked Witch is the only one in Oz who tells the truth as she sees it." Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked, considers the appeal of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the novel "beloved for nearly 40 years before Judy Garland warbled 'Over the Rainbow'," and of course, the 1939 film.

Also in the Guardian:

  • John Scheinfeld on working with Yoko Ono on The US vs John Lennon: "If you're going to make a film about the bed-in, who better to speak to than the person who was beside him in the bed?" Related: Peter Bradshaw: "Lennon was a genuine English radical." But, blogging for the Nation, Jon Wiener wonders, "did 'Give Peace a Chance' save a single life? Did the anti-war protest of 1969, or any other year, save any lives?"

  • "The lure of the Bates Motel and the house from Alfred Hitchcock's thriller Psycho has brought thousands of visitors to the site since Janet Leigh first stopped off for a quick shower in the 1960 film." But now, reports Dan Glaister, "The two properties, mainstays of the Universal Studios tour, are to be moved to make way for housing in the biggest production in the history of Universal Studios."

"I've interviewed a lot of writers and filmmakers," writes Jeffrey Overstreet. "Few have been as eloquent as [screenwriter Mike] Rich."

"New Mexico's recent announcement of its 'Green Filmmaking Program' has it poised ahead of a curve in the world of film and TV production," reports Alfred Lee in the LA CityBeat. "The state's involvement, while still in its begining stages, might smooth a transition to new technologies that can reform high-pollution practices and create a sustainable filmmaking culture."

In the Independent, Andrew Gumbel profiles Amy Pascal: "This week, the Hollywood Reporter named her the film business's most powerful woman, and deservedly so."

Online browsing tip. Lauren Redniss's Century Girl: 100 Year in the Life of Doris Eaton Travis, Last Living Star of the Ziegfeld Follies. Via BibliOdyssey.

Online viewing tip. Germany vs Greece. Via Coudal Partners.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:45 AM

Fests and events, 12/8.

Out 1 "The experience of watching Out 1, the only extant print of which will be shown, with video-projected English subtitles, this weekend at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, is unlike any other in cinema," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Before long - that is, after about three hours or so - the film starts to feel like a second reality, and also like an ingenious artifice... One of the paradoxes of Out 1 is that it is at once open and expansive and entirely hermetic."

"Out 1 is a film that separates the casual cinephiles from the hardcore - an endurance contest split over two days with a trophy of privileged pride and intellectual jerky to keep you chewing," writes Aaron Hillis for the Reeler. But the fun here is in his notes, or "Ruminations," jotted during intermissions. Earlier: Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door.

L'Amour fou These screenings "mark the end of a cinephile-era," writes Craig Keller before moving onto "Jacques Rivette's 250-minute L'Amour fou (Mad Love, 1968), which I am able at last to assert as one of The Great Films."

Back in the NYT, Manohla Dargis recommends another special engagement in NYC, December 13 through 19: "Prophet or profiteer, [Alejandro] Jodorowsky is certainly not without talent and, despite the petty and genuine outrages committed during the making of his film, El Topo remains an arresting relic of a time seriously, freakily out of joint."

The umpteenth Louise Brooks revival rolls on, and may there be many more. For the Independent, Rhoda Koenig sets the mood for the season at the National Film Theatre running through December 23. Related: The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw on Pandora's Box.

AJ Schnack has put together his IDFA report now; plenty of pix.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:51 AM

The Holiday.

The Holiday No, Nancy Meyers's The Holiday probably doesn't really deserve an entry of its own, but a few reviews and reactions do, starting with Manohla Dargis's in the New York Times: "There is something touching if willfully na�ve about Meyers's nostalgia for Hollywood's golden age, when Louis B Mayer ruled the very lot on which she shot part of this film. If her name had been Ned, not Nancy, she might have thrived then. She wouldn't have been allowed to go amusingly (or maddeningly) off point, but her commercial instincts would have been encouraged, her indulgences - like filling mouths with speeches, not dialogue - squelched."

Regardless, the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw just hates this movie. And Salon's Stephanie Zacharek? "Meyers's movies would be far less offensive if they were simply shiny, shallow entertainments. But they always read like pronouncements, monitor readings of how 'real' women think and feel.... But if Meyers's movies are proof of anything, it's that the tyranny of what 'real' women - and please note the flagrantly ironic quotation marks - think the rest of us should buy in to is just as constricting as anything the patriarchy ever served up."

Updated through 12/9.

What's more, in Meyers's comedies, "the thin veneer of fantasy cloaks... more fantasy," notes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times.

Her films "are so fluffed-up and gummy that they make Richard Curtis look like Ingmar Bergman," though the Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu adds: "The Holiday, fortunately for her fans, and I must embarrassedly confess to being one of them, is no exception." That Little Round-Headed Boy fesses up as well, by the way. At any rate, Rufus Sewell plays a Telegraph journalist in the movie, so naturally, Tom Leonard had to interview him for the paper.

Besides, notes Tim Robey, it could be worse: "[T]here I was, all but ready to pronounce Cameron Diaz's excruciating performance in The Holiday the worst by a leading actress in 2006, and I had to go and blunder like a complete idiot into this shit: courtesy of a wretchedly uninteresting 'literary romance' and its puckered-up little Ren�e doll, so winsome you could drown her in the village pond, we suddenly have a tie on our hands."

Update, 12/9: Slate's Dana Stevens: "The Holiday hits all its expected marks - female empowerment, impromptu dinner parties, learning to trust again - with rhythmic predictability. Everything has a bourgeois glaze of consumer pleasantness around it - those scholars struggling to define what "whiteness" means should look at some Nancy Meyers movies. But it's far less sickly than plenty of yuletide offerings, last year's The Family Stone being one shudder-worthy example."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:32 AM | Comments (1)

Lists, 12/8.

ok go DoCopenhagen picks the "Top 50 Music Videos of 2006," which you can watch right there, of course.

"Had enough of lists already?" asks the Guardian. "Us too. So instead of reeling off a '20 best...', we asked our critics to pinpoint the special moments in 2006 when art touched their lives." Favorite films are listed nonetheless.

At Cinematical, Scott Weinberg points to Mr Skin's list of best nude scenes of the year.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:18 AM | Comments (1)

December 7, 2006


Terrorstorm In the latest update to the entry on Inland Empire, I point to Karina Longworth's item at Netscape quite rightly tsk-tsking the media for only just now coming around to the realization that David Lynch has been expressing doubts as to the official and widely accepted version of just what happened on 9/11. You can watch him carefully yet sincerely expressing those doubts here.

On the one hand, it's something of a surprise to see Lynch concern himself with politics at all; on the other, it's no surprise that if he's going to, he'll be fringy about it. Personally, for the past five years, I've felt that there's more than enough to agonize over without even bothering with 9/11 conspiracy theories. And yet, as Michael Atkinson provocatively argues in a review of Terrorstorm at the main site, some fringes have a way, over time, of becoming conventional wisdom.

Updated through 12/12.

Update, 12/8: Christopher Hayes argues in the Nation that "the seeds of paranoia have taken root partly because of the complete lack of appropriate skepticism by the establishment press."

Update, 12/12: Alexander Cockburn in Le monde diplomatique: "These days a dwindling number of leftists learn their political economy from Marx. Into the theoretical and strategic void has crept a diffuse, peripatetic conspiracist view of the world that tends to locate ruling class devilry not in the crises of capital accumulation, the falling rate of profit, or inter-imperial competition, but in locale - the Bohemian Grove, Bilderberg, Ditchley, Davos - or supposedly 'rogue' agencies, with the CIA still at the head of the list. The 9/11 'conspiracy' is the summa of all this foolishness." And more.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:59 PM | Comments (6)

Shorts, 12/7.

Devotional Cinema "Capable of discovering at least half a dozen fields of vision (or planes of existence, or worlds) within a single shot, [Nathaniel] Dorsky's films can fundamentally alter - and heighten - one's own perception, and his editing skill, tapped by many local directors, is as fundamental to his work as his image making." Johnny Ray Huston introduces a conversation between Dorsky and Michelle Silva of Canyon Cinema, the full version of which is here.

Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: "Am I swigging extra haterade for The Holiday because I'm so clearly part of its target demographic - female, early 30s, unmarried, and superficial enough to squeal over a humongo-screen TV?" wonders Cheryl Eddy out loud. "Could also be I ain't buying what The Holiday is selling because it's a chick flick composed of nothing but false notes." (More from Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly.) And Jonathan L Knapp reviews The Architect.

The Living and the Dead "The Living and the Dead is easily the film that hits me closest to home this year." At Cinema Strikes Back, Blake interviews filmmaker Simon Rumley.

Richard Schickel in Time: "Watching The Good German, you feel the unease, the discontent, of its makers with their basic material. They pile up style points as they flirt with quite sober issues involving loyalty and guilt. The result is a movie that is never quite amusing but never quite mordantly thought provoking either."

Pulse and Ju-On "couldn't be more separate in intent, sense of style, or level of consciousness," writes Travis Mackenzie Hoover at the House Next Door. "But this being the world we live in, it was inevitable that the two approaches would wind up merging. The mash-up is Retribution, an uneasy alliance between the [Kiyoshi] Kurosawa and super-producer Takashige Ichise."

Lined up for Peter Ho-Sun Chan's historical epic Ci Ma (This Violent Land): Jet Li, Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro. Clifford Coonan reports for Variety. Via Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog.

"It seems like a big budget Hollywood film about the 1992 LA Riots was almost destined to happen, and who better to take on this monster of a film than one of the most prolific African-American filmmakers out there - Spike Lee." Erik Davis reports at Cinematical: "The director will once again be teaming up with Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment (he also worked with them on Inside Man) to bring this true-life tragedy, simply called LA Riots, to the big screen."

Well, that was fast. The BBC reports: "Channel 4 has commissioned a television drama about the poisoning of the former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko."

Andy Rector's running a translation of Nobuhiro Suwa's reluctant yet thoughtful piece on Pedro Costa.

The Last Broadcast "To date The Last Broadcast has grossed over 4 million worldwide and can be seen in 26 countries around the world," Lance Weiler tells Sujewa Ekanayake:

Self-distribution is not a new thing, many filmmakers over the years have struggled to get their work to audiences. Melvin Van Peebles (Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song), Tom Laughlin (Billy Jack) and Russ Meyer (Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!) all did DIY releases back in the 60s and 70s. Self-distribution for a while has been seen as a last resort but it feels like the tide is turning. Filmmakers being able to retain some type of control over their work is starting to gain traction. For a long time success has always been measured by a migration to the studio system. But now filmmakers can work within and outside the system and still reach their audiences.

"In many ways Days of Glory, Algeria's official Oscar submission for best foreign language film, fits comfortably into a proud and apparently inexhaustible cinematic tradition," writes AO Scott. "It is a chronicle of courage and sacrifice, of danger and solidarity, of heroism and futility, told with power, grace and feeling and brought alive by first-rate acting. A damn good war movie." More from Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times.

Also in the New York Times:

  • "Though originally panned by critics as a dark depiction of the holidays, A Christmas Story has earned status as a movie classic, rivaling long-time seasonal favorites like It's a Wonderful Life," writes Christopher Maag. "Now fans from as far away as Los Angeles and Phoenix are flocking to a gritty Cleveland street overlooking a steel factory to visit the Parker family house restored to its movie glory."

  • Stephen Holden on the "extraordinarily revealing documentary" Bergman's Island. More from Keith Uhlich in Slant.

  • Jeannette Catsoulis: "The ghost of 1970s Argentina haunts 1980s Texas in Hermanas (Sisters), a perceptive and beautifully acted drama from the Argentine director Julia Solomonoff."

  • David Carr notes that many films running the Oscar race "include overtly violent themes that are executed with jaw-dropping visual candor."

"I've always had the utmost respect for [Lars] Von Trier's antics. But this one sounds like a silly marketing move." Anthony Kaufman has word on Lookey, a "mind game, played with movies as game boards."

Boyd van Hoeij at "Since the start of the 21st century, Hungarian film has been on the move in ways that suggest both a return to its heydays and a new and exciting direction altogether."

With Miss Potter set to open in a few weeks, the Guardian's Stuart Jeffries has been brushing up: "So far, my daughter and I have found Beatrix Potter to be a proselytiser for sadistic punishment, a sartorial fascist, a property-upholding reactionary, an obsessive-compulsive nutcase (or rather nut-kin) and, conceivably, a bystander in the face of an intolerable natural dystopia that, with her sick (though gifted) writer's mind, she culpably imagined. As an adult reader, I must say, I'm beginning to like her." Also: Sarfaz Manzoor meets Amitabh Bachchan.

Off the Black The problem with James Ponsoldt's debut, Off the Black, suggests Nick Pinkerton, is the screenplay: "It's the sort of meticulously worked-over material that gets admiring compliments when passed through a screenwriting workshop, but is hobbled by its own conceptual cuteness on the screen." More from Nick Schager in Slant, Andrew O'Hehir in Salon and Sujewa Ekanayake. Also at indieWIRE, Pinkerton on Family Law; more from Clementine Gallot for the Reeler.

Lunacy, proposes Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper, "is at once Svankmajer's most cynical film and his most joyously profane, as if in shedding all hope for the future he has found a curious kind of liberation."

Michael Wood in the London Review of Books on The Prestige:

Once these games, these distinctions and collapses of distinctions, appear in a movie, a curious, indirect meditation on the cinema starts up, where [Robert] Angier's [Hugh Jackman] practice represents a documentary passing itself off as fiction, and [Alfred] Borden's [Christian Bale] art, unmistakably a fiction, specialises in creating a bewildering documentary effect. It's hard to think of movie analogues for Angier's work, however easy it is to formulate the possibility - perhaps such movies wouldn't be movies for the same reason that magic isn't magic. But almost every film that ever haunted us or got into our sleep corresponds closely to what Borden is up to.

Austin Chronicle: School of Film "Alongside the likes of Seattle's 911 Media Arts Center and San Francisco's Bay Area Video Coalition, it's one of a handful of community-based nonprofit media-studies centers catering to the fertile, febrile minds of a generation of young people." For his Austin Chronicle cover story, Marc Savlov's meets the inaugural class of Austin's new School of Film & Media Arts Center.


"Reflections in a Golden Eye feels abstracted (both dramatically and narratively) and only fitfully alive," writes Charles Taylor in the New York Observer. "What carries the film is [John] Huston's intelligence and craftsmanship and the willingness of the actors to kick against the mainstream, to do something not just unexpected but downright strange. Reflections has a whiff of the excitement that can happen when a group of artists are walking, sometimes precariously, on the edge."

Jonathan Pacheco takes a close look at the opening shots of Eyes Wide Shut at scanners.

Viva l'Italia With Viva l'Italia, Zach Campbell becomes "more intimately attuned to Rossellini's framing." Online viewing tip. Tag Gallagher introduces the film.

Stanley Kauffmann on Copying Beethoven: "[I]t is hard to know exactly why the film was made, what its emotional and thematic point is, yet we are glad it happened because of [Ed] Harris's performance." Also for the New Republic, Christopher Orr on Superman Returns: "[T]he true star of the movie is [Bryan] Singer, who offers a whole new vernacular for the contemporary superhero film."

Catching up, grimly:

  • "Marian Marsh, 93, a film star of the 1930s, died of respiratory arrest Nov 9," reports Adam Bernstein in the Washington Post. "In her heyday, she was described as 'the perfect story-book heroine [whose] innocence, delicate beauty and vulnerability made an audience want to protect her from the lascivious, lustful fiends who were drawn to her.'"

  • Ronald Bergan remembers Tetsuro Tamba for the Guardian.

In the New York Press, Jennifer Merin talks with Thom Fitzgerald about 3 Needles.

"In a nutshell, then: Blogging means overwork, neurosis, depression, radiation. Plus, as I've griped before, there's no money in it," notes Tim Lucas. "Balancing all of this on the opposite scale, of course, is the pleasure of sharing news or expressing oneself to a large number of interested people - the pleasure of publishing - instantaneously."

Online browsing tip. Bewitched Stuff, via Drawn!.

Kaidan Online browsing and viewing tip. At Twitch, The Gomorrahizer points to all things related to Hideo Nakata's Kaidan.

Online viewing tip. Comedy Central @ iFilm, via

Online viewing tip. Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing: "There are lots of remix trailers floating around out there, but this is my all time favorite."

Online viewing tips, round 1. Ticklebooth's De Niro collection.

Online viewing tips, round 2. Amid Amidi at Cartoon Brew finds "a series of ten beautiful animated spots produced in France during the 1950s."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:33 PM | Comments (3)

Fests and events, 12/7.

Radical Closure For SF360, Robert Avila surveys the Radical Closure series curated by Lebanese video artist Akram Zaatari (through December 12).

The Nashville Scene's Jim Ridley:

What's black and white, speaks Hungarian, and is 37,204 feet long? Don't look now, Nashville, but it will soon be in your midst. It is a phantom, a behemoth that only a comparative few have ever glimpsed. People have driven hours to see it and emerged half a day later from its company, changed. Some compare its effect to a drug. Others say it has the power to stop time. The harder it has been to see, the more its legend has grown. Spoken aloud, its name practically arrives in a clap of thunder: Sátántangó!

"The entirety of the fifth weekend of the Museum of the Moving Image's Jacques Rivette retrospective is given over to the near-mythic eight episode serial Out 1 (1971), receiving its much-belated stateside premiere a full thirty-five years after its completion," writes Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door, noting that tickets went so fast an encore presentation is being planned. "If I put much stock in the death-of-cinema proclamations that have been making the rounds these past few years, I might view this as a heartening resurgence of a supposedly moribund form of cinephilia, of a celluloid-obsessed passion that a good number of writers (doing their best Hemingway-era Gertrude Stein by way of Marx-era Margaret Dumont) would have us believe fizzled out with the very counterculture that Rivette chronicles in Out 1."

"Art, miracles and other cons as seen through the eyes of nine groundbreaking Latin American filmmakers opens this Friday." Sylvia Pfeiffenberger previews LatinBeat 2006 for the Independent Weekly. Also: Zack Smith on Mon Oncle.

"Egyptians, who have fewer than 500 cinema screens for a population of 72 million, flock to the festival because, as one local told me, 'It is the only time we can see films uncensored.'" Neil Norman has a discreet piece in the Guardian on serving on the jury of the Cairo International Film Festival.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:02 PM

Lists, 12/7.

Eric Rohmer: Six Moral Tales Drew Morton presents an annotated list of the ten best DVDs of 2006 at Dr Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope. Related: Five times as many, as chosen by Sunday's Times of London.

Slate editors and contributors, along with guest critics and so forth, select the best books of the year. More from Maureen Corrigan on NPR. Related: Bookslut's best book covers.

At Cinematical, Scott Weinberg lists the "World's Most Obnoxious Xmas Comedies."

Reminders: Richard Gibson's open survey and Fimoculous's ongoing, awe-inspiring list of lists.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:40 PM

TONY grades the critics.

TONY: New York Critics Time Out New York reviews the city's film critics (and art, books, dance, food, music, classical music and theater critics as well), passing out grades for "Knowledge," "Style," "Taste," "Accessibility" and "Influence," then averaging the scores and ranking them from #1 (J Hoberman) down to #15 (Rex Reed), followed by separate grades for their own in-house reviewers. The panelists are listed, along with suggestions for further reading.

From the intro: "Unsurprisingly, the critics who write for The New York Times were nearly universally deemed to be the most influential in their various areas, though many of them scored low in taste and knowledge. Among the art reviewers, The Village Voice's Jerry Saltz received enthusiastic praise - and in fact, garnered the highest average score of any critic in any genre."

Justin Rocket Silverman recalls the days of critics' almighty influence - before the advent of the Internet. Via FishbowlNY.

Updates, 12/8: At the Reeler, ST VanAirsdale listens in as Andrew Sarris and J Hoberman talk about what all they owe Jonas Mekas.

And David Carr: "Time Out, Please."

Posted by dwhudson at 10:04 AM | Comments (3)

December 6, 2006

Fests and events, 12/6.

Clara Bow: Hoopla Along with David D'Arcy, Karina Longworth's been catching films in the Fox Before the Code series: "In large part, Hoopla works because [Clara Bow] is not really required to transform at all - it's the men who have to come around and see her for who she really is, and to accept the fact that she can sell her sexuality for a living without losing her soul - or even weakening her marriage."

And via Karina: "Kim Ki-duk, Stephan Elliot, Bruce Weber, Arnaud Desplechin and Andrew Bujalski will be among the helmers presenting projects at the Rotterdam Film Festival's Cinemart in January, the co-production market announced Wednesday." Melanie Goodfellow reports for Variety.

Susan Gerhard at SF360: "Inside North Beach's storied cafe-bar Tosca, the San Francisco Film Society announced yesterday that it will be honoring George Lucas with the Irving 'Bud' Levin Award at the 50th San Francisco International Film Festival."

MS Smith on the "Independent Spirit of the Toronto International Film Festival in the Quarterly Conversation: "The great 'conversation' of cinema, involving filmmakers who rework the formal and visual languages of their predecessors and cinephiles and critics who argue about cinema, continues. In the age of the Internet and, in particular, of blogging, important films that may not make it beyond the festival circuit receive not only attention, but also important critical discussion."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:04 PM

Lists, 12/6.

Kuhle Wampe "Now, we venture into the strange and aesthetically disputed world of the talking picture." Owen Hatherley carries on listing.

Sam Smith picks the top 5 movie posters of 2006.

Premiere lists the "20 Most Overrated Movies of All Time." Via Kristin at Spout.

Reminder: Check in with Richard Gibson.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:47 PM

NBR. Top ten.

Letters From Iwo Jima The National Board of Review, the Iowa caucus of each year's awards season, has pronounced Clint Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima best picture of the year. Variety has their full top ten.

Updates: Movie City News has the full list of award-winners. Perhaps most notable here is Martin Scorsese's being named Best Director.

David Poland: "[B]y this time next week, NBR will be nothing but a long forgotten bug on the windshield of the season. As they deserve to be."

Updates, 12/7: Nick Davis breaks down the list.

Todd McCarthy files a review for Variety: "Flags and Letters represent a genuinely imposing achievement, one that looks at war unflinchingly - that does not deny its necessity but above all laments the human loss it entails."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:22 PM | Comments (8)

Leon Niemczyk, 1923 - 2006.

Leon Niemczyk in Night Train
Polish actor Leon Niemczyk, who starred in Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water and hundreds of other films, has died at the age of 82.... Niemczyk starred in more than 400 movies in Poland and in scores of foreign films, including this year's David Lynch film Inland Empire, a performance he gave soon after learning he was terminally ill.

Monika Scislowska for the AP.

See also: Photos spanning half a century at

Posted by dwhudson at 12:14 PM

Inland Empire.

Inland Empire "I'm not sure what the ultimate importance of reading daily journalistic film criticism is, these days especially, but I think the case can be made that Manohla Dargis's piece on Lynch's Inland Empire is 'important' film criticism," Larry Gross has written to David Poland, and he, too, is "struck by the sense that this piece was one of her most significant at the NYT."

So what does she say. Well, for starters, Inland Empire is "one of the few films I've seen this year that deserves to be called art. Dark as pitch, as noir, as hate, by turns beautiful and ugly, funny and horrifying, the film is also as cracked as Mad magazine, though generally more difficult to parse." It "resembles" Mulholland Drive "like an evil twin." And: "The reeler it gets, the weirder it gets." And, truncating a bit here, "The easiest way into Inland Empire is through" its "cinematic spaces in which images flower and fester, and stories are born." And ultimately, a second viewing helps. A lot, evidently.

Updated through 12/12.

The Voice's J Hoberman finds Inland Empire to be "Lynch's most experimental film since Eraserhead. But unlike that brilliant debut (or its two masterful successors, Blue Velvet and Mulholland Dr), it lacks concentration. It's a miasma." But it's also "an experience. Either you give yourself over to it or you don't. And if you do, don't miss the end credits."

Back to Larry Gross and Movie City News: "It's hard to say that Inland Empire is a good or great film... but on the other hand, it seems easy to say that it has a kind of importance, a kind of interest, and poses a certain challenge to filmmakers that makes terms like good and not good seem somewhat irrelevant. In other words IE is strong enough a work that it starts to offer up - perhaps even demand - its own criteria for discussing it... it changes your conception of movies as you watch."

And of course, there's praise across the board for Laura Dern.

Earlier: "NYFF. Inland Empire."

Updates: Dave Kehr: "Shooting in an amateur video format may have freed Lynch up to indulge his improvisational urges (according to the publicity material, the picture never had a conventional screenplay), but it also encourages him to be sloppy in his choice of shots, and way too much of the movie consists of wide-angle lenses pushed too close to actors' faces, turning them into easy grotesques."

Catching up with Aaron Hillis's take in October for Premiere: "I implore courageous art-lovers to seek out this defiantly unique hellion... Inland Empire is interchangably terrifying, maddening, shockingly hilarious and perversely exciting, and that's just to those who end up disliking it."

Mark Asch follows up on his initial impressions for the L Magazine: "[C]alling it inscrutable is incomplete - that label conflates narrative and thematic cohesion. Thematically, Inland Empire is a fearsomely cohesive evolution of the feminist themes present throughout Lynch's filmography."

"Inland Empire finds a perfect match in harkening back to the avant-garde aesthetics of Eraserhead and Lynch's student short films at the same time it embraces the director's contemporary explorations of subjective storytelling," writes Daniel Kasman. "The number of digressions in the film is continually startling, but there is a total unity to the work and that is due not just to Lynch but to the outrageously powerful and courageous performance by Laura Dern."

"Inland Empire takes great pains and goes to great lengths to make a fool of you; at least Borat was quick about it," snaps Michelle Orange at the Reeler.

"Lynch's dedication to and practice of Transcendental Meditation inform the remarkable beauties of Inland Empire's final movement, which is not so much a descent into the void as it is a resurgence and reclamation of a particular kind of holy land - Mulholland Drive's despondent last-act plunge into Jungian viscera reconstituted and refocused through a hopeful DV prism," writes Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door. Also: Five Lynchian links.

"A fertile and overwhelming work of art," hails Jrgen Fauth.

And here we were all thinking that it's George W Bush who's the divider, not the uniter. No, it's Manohla Dargis, as Vince Keenan discovers. Maybe the red-blue division of the country really is cultural rather than political.

Updates, 12/7: Salon's Andrew O'Hehir: "Talking to Lynch (and also to Dern and costar Justin Theroux) reminded me that no single viewer's response is sufficient or explanatory when it comes to a movie like this. Lynch is trying to push beyond the boundaries of 99 percent of contemporary cinema, trying to reinvent, or at least re-access, the revolutionary cinema of his idols Bergman and Fellini. While I remain skeptical that there's much of an audience in 2006 for a film this deliberately abstruse, there can be no doubt about the nobility of the effort." The discussion covers discovering a film scene by scene - and coffee.

"Some might suggest he's going over the same terrain, but if so, it's a world that is bottomless and inexhaustible," writes Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix. Laura Dern's "performance ranks as one of the best of the year. She's as an ideal guide to the most cryptic - and rewarding - film that's come out since the last time Lynch invited us into his empire." And Keough asks Lynch about that marketing stunt: "'You know in Hollywood,' he explains, 'in the very beginning days, the actors, directors and film community got together and they had a big dinner and they celebrated each other... A really beautiful thing. And they would recognize each other's talents and they would give awards to each other. Now it's turned into what it is. So I can't afford to do all the things, the traditional things, to help Laura get an award. But I got this idea to go out and help her with this cow. And signs.'"

"Lynch boasts of working in a new, less encumbered fashion, using a consumer-quality Sony PD-150 digicam. This was a bad decision. Frankly, it looks like crap," grumbles Armond White in the New York Press. "Lynch's retreat into the arcane of Inland Empire betrays the revolution he almost started.... Fact is, Inland Empire's conceptual obscurities are less enthralling than the latest [Brian] De Palma and [Matthew] Barney."

Reverse Shot's clarencecarter campaigns for Laura Dern: "Dedication to craft abounds in Inland Empire, and not to knock current Academy frontrunner, Helen Mirren, whose performance in The Queen is another kind of lesson in chops, but I've always held a bit more admiration for those who cut memorable performances out of whole cloth than those working from a real-life base. (This is why Heath Ledger received my vote for 2005.) What's miraculous about this supremely special, unique performance is that there's no anchor in sight for Dern's Nikka Grace except Dern herself."

At Netscape, Karina Longworth notes that Lynch's interest in the "9/11 truth movement," known to some as a loose and varied array of conspiracy theories, is not news - though the media is just now taking an interest.

Updates, 12/9: "How did Inland Empire's actors respond to this sort of work as opposed to traditional filmmaking?" asks Michael Joshua Rowin for Reverse Shot. And Lynch replies, "Well, at first, it's shocking, probably, for some of them to see what looks to be a toy camera coming at them. But little by little I think every one of them started to appreciate the way we can all work together, and at the end you see that camera as a gift rather than a curse."

Slant's Ed Gonzalez on the cheese and cow performance: "This may be the best for-your-consideration campaign anyone has ever mounted for an actor, because it's the only one that has come to us live (for most, via YouTube) and with a heart."

Online viewing tip. C Jerry Kutner reminds us at Bright Lights After Dark that we can watch Episode 1 of Rabbits.

Update, 12/12: "There are times when we might feel we've wandered into an art installation at a gallery instead of a movie, but Inland Empire is actually fairly simple and quite moving if you go with it," argues Hitchdan at Bright Lights After Dark.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:38 AM | Comments (3)

Die Berliner Schule. "Christian Petzold comes from Hilden, Valeska Grisebach from Bremen. Henner Winckler hails from Gieen, Christoph Hochhusler from Munich. Angela Schanelec was born in Aalen, Benjamin Heisenberg in Tbingen. Ulrich Khler's cradle was in Marburg an der Lahn, Thomas Arslan's in Braunschweig. And the latest addition to the 'Berlin School' seems to be Matthias Luthardt from the Dutch city of Leiden, with his debut film, Pingpong."

For signandsight, Toby Axelrod translates a piece in Die Welt by Hanns-Georg Rodek, who chooses this debut as a way into a vague outline of what some French are calling the "Nouvelle Vague Allemande." Rodek: "If you have to pigeon-hole the Berlin School" - and this, of course, is precisely what each and every one of its "students" would resist - "then it is best placed alongside France's second New Wave, with the likes of Jean Eustache, Philippe Garrel, Maurice Pialat. It shares their conviction that societal change is imperative, but also shares their experience of the collapse of political utopias." The filmmakers are "not polemicists but observers."

Whether or not there is such a thing as a Berliner Schule and in what ways (and whom) it'd help or hurt if there, in fact, is are questions that have been tickled in the German-language press all year. Some of the more recent entries: a "collage" in and, following a symposium in the Filmmuseum, reactions to that one at Dirty Laundry and Parallel Film; and in the papers, Kerstin Decker in the Tagesspiegel and Dietmar Kammerer in the taz.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:23 AM

Slamdance. Lineup.

Slamdance 07 Announcing its lineup, the Slamdance Film Festival also, and quite rightly, crows that it's "shattered all previous submission records, receiving over 3600 submissions for less than 100 slots, a milestone that catapults the movie showcase into one of the largest film festivals in the world. Celebrating its 13th year, Slamdance has also become the pre-eminent film festival whose sole mission is to nurture, support and showcase truly independent works, having established a unique reputation for premiering a new democratic method... The mantra of 'by filmmakers, for filmmakers' resounds at every level of the organization, and plays a part in all of its undertakings."

Thanks (and congrats!) to Bangkok producer Aaron Smith for the heads-up. And for more on the 07 edition, see Eugene Hernandez's report at indieWIRE.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:57 AM

Pre-Code Dispatch. 1.

David D'Arcy on four films he's caught in Film Forum's ongoing series, Fox Before the Code (through December 21).

Jackie Cooper and George Raft

Jackie Cooper and George Raft
in The Bowery

Film Forum has done it again, with a series of Pre-Code Fox films that you've never seen, or that don't look like anything you've seen, because they're being shown in new prints made by Fox for the event. The last studio profile from the Pre-Code years was of Paramount. Let's hope we get to see all of them.

Fox wasn't the raunchiest of the studios, but a survey of the films that it made from 1931 to 1934 gives you a taste of everything that the mostly Catholic Code enforcers wanted to keep off the screen - drunks, remorseless criminals, wise-cracking pleasure-loving women who weren't allergic to money, dumb cops, and corrupt and cynical businessmen. Sound timely? Bear in mind that the films of the 30s didn't become pure escapism until after 1934, when the Code was enforced fiercely. There's plenty of reality here.

One of my favorites is still The Bowery, from 1933. Raoul Walsh's answer to the Depression seems to have been a period that was more debauched. It's one of the rare Pre-Code period films, set in the Gay Nineties, New York's Belle poque, although in this gilded age the only gilded object seems to have been the spittoon. Walsh doesn't spare anyone's feelings in this circus of political incorrectness.

George Raft and Fay Wray The Bowery opens in a bar called "Nigger Joe's," and from there to the end, not a single stereotype is spared - Jewish tailors swarm around an unsuspecting buyer of a suit, an Irish hoodlum played by Jackie Cooper sets "the Chinks" on fire, and the Irish break into drunken brawls every few minutes. There's a turf battle between two gangsters - Chuck Conners (Wallace Beery), a bloated boss who turns out to have a soft heart, and Steve Brodie (George Raft), a sharpy who moves like an acrobat. Each of them runs a private fire brigade that makes money when someone's house burns down. (If you ever believed in Bush's vision of privatizing essential services, you won't after this.) No less than Fay Wray turns up as a starving girl looking for a job, and that's a good enough reason for a brawl to break out.I'm not the first to say that these were the real "Gangs of New York."

Twenty years ago, when I first saw a series of Pre-Code films at Film Forum, I asked the film scholar William Everson (to whom this series is dedicated) to recommend the quintessential film of the period. He chose The Bowery for its take-no-prisoners commitment to humor above all else, no matter whose feelings got hurt. I can't think of a better recommendation (although there is plenty of competition).

Spencer Tracy was Fox's star, the studio's tough-guy answer to James Cagney, who was already making money for one of the competitors. Tracy was as stereotyped as anything before the Code, an Irishman with a hash-slinger's response to any line and a brawler who never met a fight he didn't like. This is not Tracy at his best, but it is the Tracy that you probably didn't know. All the more reason to see the films.

Me and My Gal Me and My Gal may be the classic Tracy film of the period, but don't confuse classic for best. Tracy is a cop patrolling the docks who falls for a real hash-slinger, Joan Bennett, who works at her family's restaurant. Her sister, who's gone high-hat, as they said in those days, has ditched her jail-bird boyfriend for a homely guy with a good heart. (Their wedding is an Irish brawl, with Bennett's Irish father throwing the radio that annoys him out the window - there seems to be one of those in every Fox film.) Tracy saves the day when he breaks in on the sister and her mobster lover. There's more schtick in Me and My Gal than in a vaudeville highlight reel, including a spoof of Eugene O'Neill's Strange Interlude and a drunk on the docks and in the restaurant who seems to be in more scenes than Tracy himself. One of the great touches is the father of the new husband of Joan Bennett's sister, a war veteran, completely paralyzed, who spends all day in a wheelchair, blinking his eyes to communicate. (Remember, the war was just fifteen years before the film was made, and veterans who depended on government support were among the worst victims of the Depression. You wouldn't know that from movies that were made after 1934.) An abandoned veteran is the last thing that the enforcers of the Code wanted to see.

There's even more schtick in Looking for Trouble, in which Tracy plays a telephone repair man. They also called them trouble-shooters in those days. Hard to believe, but these guys are heroized like the "first responders" of the Post 9/11 days. It reminds you that the telephone is a relatively recent technology. Here's a typical line from a girl Tracy meets on the street: "I've got an apartment and it's got a phone. Why don't you come up and fix it for me?" Jack Oakie is the sidekick, from a town somewhere in the South - another wild stereotype. Even better is the stereotype of Los Angeles. An earthquake is the deus ex machina that helps solve the crime in the end. In case you were wondering, Tracy punches out the villain and gets the girl.

Blood Money One of the revelations for almost everyone will be Blood Money, directed by Rowland Brown, with George Bancroft as a crooked bail bondsman whose day job is to take as collateral the houses and savings of widows with arrested sons. Once the code was enforced rigorously in 1934, the parents of criminals would cease to be so human. The menage gets complicated here when Bancroft takes a liking to a bad little rich girl and strays from his mistress, none other than Judith Anderson. How could he resist a girl who likes to dance the hula with the entertainers at her father's mansion? Once Anderson's slick brother gets out of jail, just in time to be bailed out after his arrest for bank robbery, the rich girl finds a younger, more dangerous frisson.

Brown was one of Fox's most promising directors then, but was blackballed for the rest of his career for reasons that I haven't been able to determine. I've heard that he slugged an executive, and I've also heard that his politics were too far to the left. There's some stylish cinematography in Blood Money and the story confirms Bancroft's observation that "I never knew a thief who wouldn't steal from his own mother."

More to come from this great series.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:38 AM | Comments (1)

December 5, 2006

Online viewing tip. Corner-Dweller.

Corner-Dweller At some point, not that long ago, Jamie Stuart, even under the pressure of an impossible turnaround, realized that signaling "immediacy" or "timeliness" by giving the camera a Dogme-tic rattle, saturating the soundtrack with newsfeed noise and cramming it all through any given editing software's hyperdrive is so 20th century. In his reports/essays from the New York Film Festival and in his latest, for Filmmaker, Corner-Dweller, set against the backdrop of the IFP Gotham Awards Nominee Reception, he's gouged out his own niche and, even assuming Kaufmanesque self-referentiality as a given, staked out his own as-yet-uncharted ground. Granted, it helps that the self referenced is a movie nut, but even so, I'd watch a weekly Jamie Stuart Show any day of the week.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:43 PM

Shorts, 12/5.

Lewis Klahr David Bordwell has a quick primer on Lewis Klahr, "one of the most gifted collage animators in the American avant-garde" whose "work deserves to be more widely known."

"For five years now, one of the great film resources in America has been unjustly imprisoned, boxed up and sitting in a storage facility in Hamlin, Pennsylvania." Jim Emerson and Mary Corliss explain - and call for action.

Peter Nellhaus calls for nothing less than the preservation of Thai cinema.

In the New York Times, Dave Kehr reviews Facets' first volume of a collection of films by Johan van der Keuken, "arguably Europe's most important documentary filmmaker, and: "Lubitsch's Hollywood Europe was a highly artificial, thoroughly imagined place, but then so was the Europe he envisioned while still in Germany, as revealed by the five wonderful films being released today on four discs by Kino International under the series title Lubitsch in Berlin. All reveal a filmmaker in flight from everyday reality." Related: Film historian Bob Mastrangelo and Laughter in Paradise author Scott Eyman are guests on the Leonard Lopate Show.

I'm a Cyborg and That's Okay Grady Hendrix points to Mark Russell's decidedly so-so review of Park Chan-wook's I'm a Cyborg and That's Okay, which "comes off kind of like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest mixed with Brazil... then run through a substance strainer." Given choice, he suggests, see Pan's Labyrinth.

Pamela Rolfe for the Hollywood Reporter: "Pedro Almod�var's next film will be titled 'El Piel Que Habito' ('The Skin I Live In') and the cast will include Penelope Cruz, according to an interview published Monday in the Spanish press."

"Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One may be the ultimate paradigm of self-reflexive cinema," writes Michael Atkinson at IFC News, where also reviews the new Wenders box. And: Matt Singer talks with Daniel Burman about Family Law and Dan Persons: "People steadfastly attached to a book have the book, after all - why shouldn't they get out of the way of those who might turn the material into something bigger than the original and better suited for the screen?" A list of creative adaptations follows.

Anthony Lane has a longish appreciation of Walt Disney in the New Yorker: "'The work of this master,' Eisenstein claimed, 'is the greatest contribution of the American people to art.'"

For indieWIRE, Jason Guerrasio checks up on five true indies in production.

"Self-distribution allows me to be very creative and not worry about Hollywood and Indiewood expectations. I can make what I would enjoy without worrying about the tastes of the handful of acquisition executives." Ellen interviews Sujewa Ekanayake for

Dennis Cozzalio presents "Professor Dave Jennings' Milton-Free Holiday Midterm. Blue books open, and begin!"

Andrew Gumbel in the Independent: "Hollywood may fancy itself as a politically progressive sort of place, where gay people are not only accepted but are employed in large numbers. But the unwritten rule - unchanged in many decades - is that no actor ever admits he is homosexual." Oh?

"[T]here is a weird new trend for American actors to play Brit writers," notes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "It's a trophy thing. Books are classy - and so are Brits."

Maria Elena Fernandez has the Annie nominations in the Los Angeles Times, where Patrick Goldstein sees Dreamgirls as the frontrunner in the Oscars race.

Online viewing tips, round 1. Steve Bryant presents a "Brief and Amusing List of Alternative Endings to Movies and TV Shows."

Online viewing tips, round 2. Giant presents the "Greatest Commercials of the 80s." Via Ed Champion.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:27 AM

Fests and events, 12/5.

Tomorrow evening's program, Marlow's Cabinent of Curiosities Revisited, features rarities sure to delight and bewilder.

Nathaniel Dorsky Also at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts: "San Francisco master Nathaniel Dorsky, who's been hand-crafting elegant explorations of the urban world for four decades, is one of a handful of experimental filmmakers whose completion of a new work is major news. His latest shard of genius, Song and Solitude, is a twilight sojourn to a secret world much like our own, rendered with profound patience and a hint of wistfulness." For SF360, Michael Fox previews the Sunday evening program.

"Faro is so bound up in the tortured psychodynamics of the films it's hard to get a sense of it as a purely physical place, but here, in what he says will be his last film appearance, Bergman draws back the curtain for [Marie] Nyrerd's camera to explore." Robert Cashill previews Bergman Island, screening tomorrow evening at NYC's Film Forum.

Stephen Holt at Movie City News: "High Falls is kind of a well-kept secret, but [artistic director] Catherine Wyler definitely wants that to change."

For Kamera, Steven Yates looks back on the Molodist Film Festival in Kiev.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:47 AM | Comments (1)

Claude Jade, 1948 - 2006.

Claude Jade
Claude Jade, 58, the French actress who starred in several of director Franois Truffaut's best-loved films, died Friday at a hospital in the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt, said Jacques Rampal, a playwright she had recently worked with.

The Los Angeles Times.

[W]ith the exception of her supporting turn in Alfred Hitchcock's Topaz (1969) - which, by unfortunate coincidence, also featured the recently deceased Philippe Noiret - nothing else on her resume had an impact comparable to her enduringly affecting portrayal of the woman Antoine Doinel loved and lost. She was magical. And because she remains immortal on film, she is magical.

Joe Leydon.

See also: the Wikipedia entry; and in French, Le Figaro and Libration.


Memorable scenes pass through the mind like a montage: her teaching Antoine the best way to butter toast in the morning, their writing each other little notes, his calling her "my little mother, my little sister, my little daughter" in a taxi, and she replying she would rather be his wife; her attempts to guess Antoine's latest job, amusingly suggesting cab driver or water taster, her reaction when Antoine hangs a scissors on her ring finger, his affectionate response to her wearing glasses in bed, the medium tracking shot of her legs as she stops at a shop for tangerines then heads up the stairs, as one of the neighborhood men longingly admires them.

Ronald Bergan for the Guardian.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:21 AM | Comments (2)

December 4, 2006

Shorts, 12/4.

Inland Empire Todd at Twitch: "Website and Trailer for David Lynch's Inland Empire!" Related: David Edelstein in New York: "As much as I thrilled to every minute of Mulholland Drive, I remembered, watching Inland Empire, why Twin Peaks began to hemorrhage viewers in its second season.... And yet... And yet..." A bit more from Rumsey Taylor at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. Update: "Lynch's first-time use of DV conveys both the ardor and waywardness of a kid toying with his first camera and the measured skill of an old pro," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "Inland Empire can be a trial, but it's worth sticking out: some moments are the most penetrating and rich of his entire career." Another update: Matt Singer and Alison Willmore's podcast for IFC News, where the team discusses their favorite Lynchian characters.

Thanks to "Thom Andersen, still one of the great torch bearers of modern cinema/history in Los Angeles," Andy Rector has been able to see Pedro Costa's Colossal Youth. "If there were only a way to amplify from Andersen's cinema pickups 30 miles out to the the public of Los Angeles! If this were done regularly I'm convinced it would reduce traffic, if perhaps increase loitering, as any good film screenings should. Anyhow 'all great civilizations are based on loitering.'"

"Marty and Paul Schrader and I were trying to do a thing with Travis - this is about 15 years ago - where would he be at this point? But it just never seemed to happen," Robert De Niro tells Time's Belinda Luscombe. On directing Matt Damon in The Good Shepherd: "So I'd say, You don't have to look at the person. You don't have to react. You can do nothing. And that will have more impact and power than anything you could do." Related: Daniel Eagan talks with screenwriter Eric Roth.

Variety's Pamela McClintock reports that Scorsese "will develop with an eye to direct the bigscreen adaptation of Eric Jager's historical tome "The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal and Trial by Combat in Medieval France."

Grandview "A Brief History of Chinese Movie Theaters in America." Great, swift piece from Grady Hendrix.

Monkey Peaches is reporting that Tsai Ming-Liang's next project will be Face, featuring Maggie Cheung, Lee Kang-Sheng and Jean-Pierre Laud.

"As 2006 continues its quest for a great, definitive movie well into the final month of the year, why not flip back a half-century to 1954 and remember how a real, thorough-going masterpiece is supposed to look, sound, feel, and resonate?" Nick Davis on Kenji Mizoguchi's Sansh the Bailiff.

New feature at Midnight Eye: Roland Domenig's "A History of Sex Education Films in Japan. Part 1: The Pre-War Years."

"In a word, it stinks out there for screenwriters, worse even than the fetid stench of the usual shit flung at them in previous years." Nikki Finke explains at the LA Weekly. "These aren't wannabes, either. These are some of the top names in the biz."

In the New York Times:

  • Thom Powers "is among the countless - or, rather, uncounted - independent documentary filmmakers who have been forced to shelve one project or another," writes Paul Vandercarr. "These unrealized visions linger like ghosts in the minds of their originators, whose lives are often consumed by a strenuous cycle of fund-raising, filming, dreaming, more fund-raising, editing, cajoling, resting and returning to one's muse."

  • "After a hiatus of nearly 50 years, Walt Disney Studios is getting back into the business of producing short cartoons, starting with a Goofy vehicle next year," writes Charles Solomon. Related: Laura M Holson reports on the company's plans to "cut about 160 of the 800 jobs at its Disney animation unit, suggesting that it would make fewer movies as it focuses on improving quality." And: USC's Disneyland Beginnings, via Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing.

  • Craig Modderno: "Talk about [Eddie] Murphy's Oscar potential has stirred Hollywood in recent weeks, as members of the press and film industry insiders got their first glimpses of his performance as James Early, the James Brown-like singer who dominates the first part of Dreamgirls." Related: In Newsweek, Sean Smith profiles Jennifer Hudson, whose "rendition of the wrenching, defiant ballad 'And I Am Telling You (I'm Not Going)' is one of the most thrilling film moments of this, or any, year," and David Ansen agrees: "Dreamgirls would be worth the price of admission for this one number, but it has plenty of other pleasures."

  • AO Scott: "Brad Silberling's 10 Items or Less is a lovely antidote to the bloated, self-important movies that tend to dominate the season. This is a picture with nothing to prove, and not all that much to say, but its modesty and good humor make it hard to resist." More from Salon's Stephanie Zacharek, Aaron Hillis for the Reeler, Kristi Mitsuda for indieWIRE and from Marcy Dermansky.

  • "George WS Trow, a writer and media critic known for his biting lamentations over what he saw as the twilight of culture in late-20th-century America, was found dead on Nov 24 in his apartment in Naples, Italy," writes Margalit Fox. "As a result of Mr Trow's work, 'the context of no context' - his pithy indictment of the emptiness of modern discourse - became an enduring catchphrase in intellectual circles." This one's via Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay, who writes, "In a time when our ability to choose when to view, download, buy or rent the latest blockbuster is a major topic of debate, I'm going to be a bit old school and remember Trow and his finally melancholic work," and points to an excerpt from the classic essay in the New Yorker.

  • McG may be "an unlikely choice for a tear-jerker about the people who were left behind when a West Virginia college football team was wiped out in a plane crash 36 years ago," but he's won over We Are Marshall screenwriter Jamie Linden. Mark Olsen talks to the players.

The Vertical Hour

Besides the Book Review's choices for the "10 Best Books of 2006," the "Holiday Books" issue features:

Under the Rainbow

"With little in the way of money, with a partly non-professional cast and with plenty of chutzpah, the young British filmmaker Paul Andrew Williams has written and directed a cracking debut feature with enough clout to kick the door in," announces Peter Bradshaw. "It's a cold-sweat gangland thriller with a twist of social realism, which pays intelligent homage to Mike Hodges and Ken Loach. By accident or design, traces of both Get Carter and Cathy Come Home are discernible." London to Brighton, he concludes, is "the best British film of the year." More from Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman: "To say that this film hits the ground running is to understate its urgency." Related: Wendy Ide interviews director Williams for the London Times.

London to Brighton

Also in the Guardian and Observer:

The Secret Life of Words Filmbrain: "Well deserving of its four Goya Awards (including best film, best director, and best screenplay), The Secret Life of Words is without question a political film, but one that transcends its subject matter to address something far more universal... This is a deeply humanist work, and its optimistic ending (a sticking point with some) reveals a rare and genuine sense of hope, free from maudlin sentimentality."

Richard Corliss on Michael Apted's Up series: "'There are many things that might have happened in my life that haven't happened,' Neil says, 'and there is little point in being regretful and angry about it.' To which an American viewer might respond, Why the hell not? And the answer, I think, is: because they're English."

"The summer blockbuster may not qualify as an endangered species just yet, but more than 30 years after Jaws, it is at least an embattled one, struggling to stay relevant in an altered and fragmented media landscape," writes Dennis Lim. The occasion is the release on DVD of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and Miami Vice: "The point of both films seems to be that narrative is beside the point."

Also in the Los Angeles Times:

  • Richard Schickel on Gerald Horne's The Final Victim of the Blacklist: John Howard Lawson, Dean of the Hollywood Ten: "[O]ne suspects the author of a selectivity that is, to borrow a phrase, unfortunate and tragic. This, one is also bound to say, is how history was once written in the Soviet Union - with all the inconvenient parts left out."

  • Kenneth Turan on The Lives of Others: "A potent narrative about the transformative effect of involvement in other people's stories, Lives turns its own story into a python-tight embrace of nuanced tension and emotional connection. It convincingly demonstrates that when done right, moral and political quandaries can be the most intensely dramatic dilemmas of all." Related: Cineuropa's "Film in Focus."

  • Mark Olsen meets Stephen and Timothy Quay and Kristine McKenna reviews their "mesmerizing new film, The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes." More from Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat.


The Strongest of the Strange For Stop Smiling, Josh Tyson exchanges email with Pontus Alv whose debut feature is Strongest of the Strange.

Sujewa Ekanayake has a good long talk with James Ponsoldt about Off the Black.

Sheila Johnston in the Telegraph: "So what did [Alan] Parker want to say in [Bugsy Malone]? Something, perhaps, about the childishness of violence, and the deadly underlying seriousness of children's games? He laughs heartily. 'That's a brilliant line - I think I'll pinch it,' he says. 'No: what I wanted to say was, "I can make movies - will you give me money for the next one?"'"

"Donald Sutherland's Buttocks." In the Independent, Roger Clarke tells the story behind that scene in Don't Look Now.

"Has there ever really been a movie like Reds?" wonders That Little Round-Headed Boy. "[I]t's that thin wire that [Warren] Beatty walks between soapy and serious that makes me admire the movie even more."

"[I]n this day and age where even the smallest display of martial arts on the silver screen quickly becomes a CGI and wire-assisted spectacle, there's something quite refreshing, and even affecting, about the lo-fi approach that Geochilmaru takes," writes Jason Morehead.

Paul Harrill talks with James Longley about Iraq in Fragments.

Via Ray Pride: Ariel Leve interviews Dustin Hoffman for the London Times.

Michael Guilln talks with Stephen Frears about The Queen.

The Harder They Come At Cinematical, Christopher Campbell remembers Perry Henzell, 1936 - 2006: "Having grown up listening to Jamaican music and performing in a ska/reggae band, I have to wonder if my life would have been different had The Harder They Come never been made."

Media Matters is tracking the right-wingers' war on penguins.

"How different the history of the LAPD might look, if YouTube had existed half a century ago," begins a piece from Andrew Gumbel in the LA CityBeat. "LA is as good a place as any to observe the radical change in our culture. This is, after all, a city where visual imagery has always held a rare power - whether as a check on reality or as a way of creating a mythological alternative to it."

Deutsche Welle: "Over 100 of Germany's most prominent filmmakers have protested against the government's new copyright laws which they claim infringe on their artistic property rights."

"Bass on Titles provides a rare opportunity to hear Saul Bass' own words, as he describes his most notable work." Via Fimoculous.

"COMPILER.02: From Here to the Ocean is proud to present a group of outstanding films and clips about the never ending longing for the great, deep, violent and mysterious ocean."

Online browsing tip #1. The Visual Telling of Stories. Via popnutten.

Simon Norfolk: Afghanistan

Online browsing tip #2. The photography of Simon Norfolk, via wood s lot. Related: Geoff Manaugh interviews Norfolk for his BLDGBLOG.

Online browsing and viewing tip. AtomFilms relaunches.

Online desktop tip. The December Wong Kar-wai calendar.

Online to-do tip. Leslie Harpold's "Advent Calendar 2006."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:46 PM | Comments (1)

Fests and events, 12/4.

At the Siffblog, David Jeffers offers "a run-down of Seattle's winter silent film screenings, and two out of town dates well worth the trip."


Performance: A Photographic Exhibition featuring the work of Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg will be on view at the Drkrm Gallery in LA January 20 through February 24.

"Nobody sees Bla Tarr's Stntang without a gut full of piggish determination," Annie Wagner wrote in the Stranger last week. Paul Matwychuk couldn't agree more and, writing in his new blog, The Moviegoer, admits "my eagerness to see Stntang was probably motivated as much by dumb, masochistic pride as by my interest in the film's actual content."

And there's another marathon lumbering from screen to screen; Bilge Ebiri has taken in Jacques Rivette's Out 1: "I am happy to report that the film absolutely lives up to its mystique as a seminal phantom of world cinema. Beautiful, haunting, and uniquely engaging, it's also no less mysterious to me now, having seen it, than it was beforehand."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:57 AM | Comments (1)

Lists, 12/4.

Earth "I'll spend much of this week responding to IT's request for lists, which has unsurprisingly elicited a veritable deluge of listmaking with neither rhyme, reason nor pretty pictures," Owen Hatherley. "So for the next four days I shall list in order, with pictures and vague explanations, the films which any self-respecting philosophy lecturer, Laibach aficionado and soi-disant Communist should acquaint themselves with." Starting with five "essential silents."

Best film of the year? Richard Gibson is conducting his own independent poll of the film blogging community.

Marcy Dermansky picks the "Top 5 Most Talented Newcomers in Film 2006."

At the main site, Erin Donovan lists the "Top 9 Viral Marketing Stories" of the year.

jeff v has a list: "Culled from rental queues, retrospectives and rare DVD sites, the best films of the year for me were largely not found among the new releases."

Then there are Cheryl Eddy's "five Xmas-related horrors to watch out for, one way or the other" at SF 360.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:50 AM

Interview. Robert Altman.

Robert Altman "I spoke to Robert Altman many times over the last 20 years," writes David D'Arcy at the main site. "One of the most memorable times was at the Castro Theater in San Francisco, in April 2003, when Altman received a lifetime achievement award from the San Francisco International Film Festival."

Earlier: "Robert Altman, 1925 - 2006." and "More on Altman."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:19 AM

Amy Berg on reparations.

Deliver Us From Evil Kim Voynar: "We've reported on Cinematical about how your film stirred prosecutors' interest in [Cardinal Roger] Mahony and the LA Archdiocese. Do you think your film had an impact on the Archdiocese announcing [on Friday] a payout of $60 million to 45 abuse victims?"

Amy Berg, director of Deliver Us From Evil: "It is my understanding that the settlement was not 100% confirmed and that the church released this to the media before it is completely done and this has upset the survivors and their advocacy group. They basically woke up to this and read about their own settlement in the newspaper. Whose news was this to break?"

More here. Related: The AP on where the money might come from.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:12 AM | Comments (4)

December 3, 2006

More Slant.

Curse of the Golden Flower "Zhang Yimou moves ever closer to grand opera with Curse of the Golden Flower, though this garish familial melodrama-cum-action extravaganza plays better in retrospect than it does in the moment," Keith Uhlich for Slant. More from Nick Schager at his own site.

Back to Keith Uhlich: "I intend on seeing Children of Men again purely to bask in the glories of a perfectly tuned machine. But a machine it remains..." And he also picks up Slant's coverage of the Jacques Rivette retro at the Museum of the Moving Image, but really cuts loose at the House Next Door.

Nick Schager: "From its class warfare premise to the presence of Juliette Binoche, Breaking and Entering plays out like a softer, more cuddly version of Michael Haneke's Cach, confronting issues of race, equality, guilt, voyeurism, and violence not with Haneke's hectoring tone but, instead, director Anthony Minghella's calculated optimism."

Screamers Also: "The continued refusal to recognize the 1915 Armenian genocide by Turkey - as well as the US and UK - constitutes an unjust denial of history that Carla Garapedian's documentary Screamers seeks to rectify."

Jason Clark: "A sort of Reds with cholera in the Far East swapped for the Russian Revolution and a whole lot more bitterness and resentment between its central couple, The Painted Veil is more or less from the school of motion picture that Pauline Kael used to say 'reeks of quality.'" More from Nick Schager.

Ed Gonzalez on Unaccompanied Minors: "The film has an excellent pedigree, but when it poops it stinks of a Tim Allen movie."

Rob Humanick: "Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj defines pedestrian filmmaking on every conceivable level, yet this embracement of mediocrity lends a surprising amount of legitimacy to its juvenile subject matter." More from Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:06 PM

Fests and events, 12/3.

The Monastery Award-winners have been announced at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam and AJ Schnack's got the list and a few comments. Topping that list is Pernille Rose Grnkjr's The Monastery.

For the Reeler, Jessica Freeman-Slade talks with Bruce Goldstein, Film Forum's director of repertory programming, about the Fox Before the Code series running through December 21.

Next weekend, Future Audience and the Miami Beach Cinematheque present Giving Visibility, which "showcases five extraordinary filmmakers and video artists: Michel Auder, Candice Breitz, Gabriel Lester, Jonas Mekas and Francesco Vezzoli."

1,2,3... Avant-gardes

"1,2,3... Avant-gardes celebrates the (ongoing) history of experimentation. With a look at the history of experimental film in Poland and Germany, the exhibition brings together selected conceptual artists as well as film and video artists from different countries." December 9 through January 28 at the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw.

Brian Darr's been collecting tips on Bay Area goings on.

The New Bosnian Cinema 2006 series has just wrapped; Alice Jones notes the highlights in the Independent.

Time Out's Geoff Andrew looks back to Thessaloniki.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:34 PM

Blood Diamond.

Blood Diamond "A big, stupid, lumbering animal, Blood Diamond is another tasteless Hollywood travelogue set in deepest darkest Africa that feigns human rights pretense (as well as a pretense to reality), applauding itself whenever it canand literally in its final scene," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant. "The film's humility is less recognizable than its humanity."

Philippe Diaz, director of The Empire in Africa, a documentary about the rebels in Sierra Leone, begs to differ with Blood Diamond's take on the civil war there.

"Just as the power of the entertainment industry was harnessed to create a desire, it has now been turned around to spotlight the high cost of that desire." In the New York Times, Marc Santora has a piece on the relationship between diamonds and the movies.

Kevin Maher in the London Times: "We've had ethical clothing, ethical banking and ethical coffee growing. And now we're starting to see the emergence of ethical movie-making, too."

Updated through 12/10.

Updates, 12/4: "Given that the movie doesn't have a single narrative surprise - you always know where it's going and why, commercially speaking, it's going there - it's amazing how good Blood Diamond is," writes New York's David Edelstein. "I guess that's the surprise."

Nick Schager: "[T]his putrid piece of Oscar bait offers up dunderheaded political speechifying and noisy combat which alternate via a stop-and-pop structure: talk, interrupted by gunfire and running, followed by more talk, then more gunfire and running, and so on until every main character is either dead, a celebrated crusader, or a noble savage deserving a slow-clap standing ovation at the G8 summit."

Daniel Eagan: "The film offers deeply focused performances by Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou and a horrifying vision of the chaos of modern-day warfare, as well as several unnecessarily off-putting speeches that scold viewers about events largely out of their control. The effect is sometimes like watching a lavishly mounted public service announcement."

Updates, 12/5: The New Yorker's David Denby finds Diamond "essentially a romantic adventure story with politics in the background - an old-fashioned movie, I suppose, but exciting and stunningly well made."

"[M]edia outlets depend on full-page advertising from the diamond cartel," which is why you're not seeing DiCaprio and Jennifer Connelly as much as you would were this a different film, explains Nikki Finke. Worse, though, "doing a great job of discrediting himself is Russell Simmons who spent the past week trotting around Africa on a trip paid for by the De Beers-led Diamond Council and clouding the conflict diamonds issue with pathological self-promotion since he hawks his own line of overpriced bling."

"It's remarkable that a movie presumably opposed to Western exploitation of Africa exhibits a heartbeat only when slaughtering its anonymous, dark-skinned extras," writes Nathan Lee. "To be sure, there's splendid momentum to the havoc here, a real thrill in the quickness of death leaping from the jungle, machine gun fire rattling through the ominous bass of gangsta rap. Such excitements would be less unsettling had their spark lit on any larger idea than 'Whoa, shit is messed up in Africa.'"

Also in the Voice, Ella Taylor on The Empire in Africa: "Where [Blood Diamond director Edward] Zwick fingers diamond moguls and the rebel Revolutionary United Front as chief culprits in the carnage, Diaz rushes to the defense of the RUF, which he sees as betrayed by a puppet government put in place by a United Nations bent on squeezing the rebels with food and weapon embargoes. Diaz's sympathy for the RUF may or may not be symptomatic of the leftist tendency to sanctify anything that calls itself a revolutionary front."

Updates, 12/6: Online listening tip. Zwick is Elvis Mitchell's guest on The Treatment.

"Edward Zwick is such a terrible filmmaker, I honestly don't even know where to start," starts Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "[W]hat's most annoying about Zwick's oeuvre is he typically stumbles upon really good ideas for movies, and then so thoroughly botches the execution that you're ashamed to still be sitting in the theater after two and a half hours. Take Blood Diamond, for instance..."

Updates, 12/7: Online listening tip. "Alex Yearsley from Global Witness and Amy O'Meara from Amnesty International USA's Business and Human Rights Program examine some of the most pressing issues surrounding the international diamond trade" on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly: "There's no use griping about the superfluous white-on-white romance that generates so much dead space in Zwick's movie, for without it Blood Diamond would never have been made. Which would be a pity, for as liberal hand-wringing goes, it's a winner."

Eric Kohn in the New York Press: "Zwick choreographs solid, thrilling sequences that pave the way for one fast-paced gimmick to segue into its reflection with ease."

A "thundering, unflinchingly brutal, eagle-eyed ordeal to be respected," writes Michael Atkinson in the Philadelphia City Paper. "DiCaprio finally does what movie stars are supposed to do: enable us to swallow, in two hours, a grand river of drama and history and do it by the sheer convincing force of his presence."

Update, 12/8: "If films were judged solely by their good intentions, this one would be best in show," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Instead, gilded in money and dripping with sanctimony, confused and mindlessly contradictory, the film is a textbook example of how easily commercialism can trump do-goodism, particularly in Hollywood."

Also, Zwick discusses the movie and one of its scenes and Jeanette Catsoulis reviews The Empire in Africa, "a noble but failed attempt to explicate the tragedy of the 11-year civil war in Sierra Leone."

For Salon's Stephanie Zacharek, this movie is "a public-service announcement masquerading as an adventure story, a picture made with a great deal of enthusiasm and conviction - just not enough to make it any good."

Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times: "It can be pulled apart or appreciated, depending on your mood, but it should be recognized that movies like this have become as rare and potentially valuable as the stone that sets its plot in motion."

Also: "Diamond sales have never been better." Valli Herman reports that, all across the board, from Sam's Club to movie premieres, there's no sign of concern, much less a boycott.

And Sam Adams on The Empire in Africa: "Diaz is so determined to present the RUF as an African liberation movement struggling against the remnants of colonial oppression that he accepts their version of events even when it strains credulity, and dismisses as 'propaganda' all claims to the contrary."

Vadim Rizov at the Reeler: "When a movie's most enjoyable sequence is the extermination of an entire camp of workers, something's gone wrong. And what is that message anyway? 'It is up to the consumer to ensure that a diamond is conflict-free,' the end credits declare - not exactly a burning observation to most average-income viewers." Seriously. Are diamonds much of an issue in your household, dear Reader?

Updates, 12/9: Sheerly Avni at Truthdig: "The movie doesn't know if it wants to be a morality play, political lecture, adrenaline fix, love story, interracial buddy picture or corporate takedown, so it tries for all of the above. Blood Diamond is a schizophrenic mess. It's also, thanks in no small part to the performances of its two male leads, one of the most powerful movies you will see this year."

Slate's Dana Stevens: "Unfortunately, one of Blood Diamond's multiple problems is that it feels too much like a vehicle for DiCaprio."

"[B]rain-fryingly boring," declares the San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle. "Zwick tried to make a great movie, but somewhere in the process he forgot to make a good one."

Paul Cullum profiles Djimon Hounsou for the LAT.

Update, 12/10: "There's something disturbingly formulaic about the ferociously well-staged outbursts of violence, which arrive with a metronomic regularity that can seem more opportunistic than organic," writes Newsweek's David Ansen. "But there is much to admire here."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:23 PM


Apocalypto "Any cinephile will want to see Apocalypto, because it boasts bravura filmmaking," writes Anne Thompson. "The message seems to be: don't mess with Mother Nature, or she will kick your ass."

"Mel Gibson is sick, but his new film profits from his weakness," writes Slant's Ed Gonzalez. "Gibson sees the fall of the Mayan empire as a big action-movie thrill ride, replete with a jaguar pursuit that subs for a high-octane car chase and a vicious animal attack that could have been swiped from Jurassic Park.... Fanboys will lap it up, but what about the rest of the world?"

Variety's Todd McCarthy: "Mel Gibson is always good for a surprise, and his latest is that Apocalypto is a remarkable film."

Oh, it's remarkable alright, Nick Davis might counter. He grades it an "F." A couple of "F"s, actually.

Updated through 12/10.

Jeffrey Wells: "Mel Gibson has a thing - a big thing - about brutality."

Brevity the Enemy sets off a discussion at Reverse Shot.

Sheigh Crabtree has a making-of piece in the Los Angeles Times.

And, as you may have heard, Allison Hope Weiner has had a long talk with Gibson for Entertainment Weekly.

Updates, 12/4: Newsweek's David Ansen: "Once again he returns to his favorite theme: nearly naked men being tortured. Repeatedly. Imaginatively. At great length.... The harder Apocalypto works to shock and excite you, the less shocked and excited you become, until you may find yourself beset by the urge to giggle."

Nick Schager: "Apocalypto's sociological portrait of its extinct culture has been lavishly conceived by Gibson, which never matches The New World's aura of poetic authenticity but nonetheless has a lived-in realism that - by lacking any measure of exploitative exoticism - remains both alluring and convincing regardless of how many liberties may have been taken with regards to historical accuracy."

Daniel Eagan: "If you've ever seen a jungle movie, you will be prepared for the poisonous snake, the pit of quicksand, the barbed booby trap, the man-eating cat, the deadly waterfall, etc. They appear like clockwork here, but with such heart-stopping beauty and unexpected humor, it's as if they are being shown for the first time.... Whatever your feelings about him as a person, credit Gibson for bringing an incredibly difficult project to the screen, and not only making it work, but on such a majestic scale."

Updates, 12/5: Sharon Waxman in the New York Times: "The rising tide of generally positive, if qualified, reviews poses a problem for Hollywood insiders, many of whom would prefer to ignore Mr Gibson entirely, despite his formal apology and a trip to rehab."

Variety asks Hollywood, "Given positive reviews, should voters honor Apocalypto with Oscar noms?"

"[I]t is clear that something more than sadism stirs the director's soul," writes Time's Richard Schickel. "Gibson loves operating in that historical territory where the record is sketchy and subject to mythic reinvention, which leaves him - and anyone else - free to fill in the blanks with whatever dubious ideological instruction he likes.... Gibson is a primitive all right, but so were Cecil B DeMille and DW Griffith, and somehow we survived their idiocies. Doubtless there will come a day when he joins them in the Valhalla of the vacuous. One or two more Apocalyptos ought to do the trick."

"Apocalypto is unburdened by nationalist or religious piety - it's pure, amoral sensationalism," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "The spectacle of a village torched and its peaceful inhabitants rounded up and marched to a remote industrial complex run by slave labor under the heel of gratuitously cruel, fetish-bedecked warriors, there to be systematically mass murdered on the altar of some irrational ideology does suggest Poland circa 1944. There's no denying this holocaust - complete with vast corpse-disposal pit - or is there?"

Updates, 12/6: David Thomson, blogging for the Guardian: "Mel Gibson has always had one sterling Australian attitude and he knows that most of what goes down in Hollywood is humbug or an act. Plus, in a rather blood-thirsty way, he's a pretty good filmmaker and a cunning bastard."

"As a student of Maya culture for decades, no two movies came more highly anticipated for me this year than Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain and Mel Gibson's Apocalypto," writes Michael Guilln. "I've talked to Aronofsky about the former and really have no interest in talking to Gibson about the latter, which - for its moments of visual genius - is sullied by a complete lack of restraint when it comes to depictions of violence and its appropriation of historical material for dramatic effect, without respect for chronology or the breadth of Mayan sensibility."

"Unpleasant, pointless, gruesome, and exploitative, Apocalypto is the worst movie of the year," announces Jrgen Fauth.

Updates, 12/7: Susan King reports in the Los Angeles Times on the production design.

Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly: "By the time you are reading this, those who insist upon turning Mel Gibson into a divisive political issue on the order of abortion and handgun control will have alternately condemned Apocalypto as an orgy of sadism and celebrated it as a profoundly spiritual experience. For those of us who prefer to judge Gibson solely in terms of his art, the movie is a virtuosic piece of action cinema... And while there has been no shortage of recent films that decry the horrors of war and man's inhumanity to his fellow man, I know of none other quite this sickeningly powerful."

Godfrey Cheshire, writing in the Independent Weekly, finds it "a full-throated popcorn epic, a brilliantly executed tale of survival and endurance so primal in its appeal, and so effective in its orchestration of narrative surprise, that it can be enjoyed by audiences of virtually any age or cultural backgroundexcept, no doubt, for the very squeamish."

Armond White in the New York Press: "Serious moviegoers will once again recognize the intense visual imagination and dedication that Gibson brings to film directing.... Only viciously, politically-biased, anti-art pundits can deny that lately, with [The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto], Gibson has been thinking in visual terms and putting most American movie directors to shame."

Cindy Fuchs in the Philadelphia City Paper: "Dragged from his tranquil, leafy-wet village to a desiccated, rotting hull of a kingdom, Jaguar Paw's remarkably athletic determination carries him and his assailants back around to the village. In a less lunk-headed movie, such looping might be thematically on point, but here it just emphasizes that the plot leads exactly where you know it will."

Cinematical's James Rocchi: "[F]from Braveheart on, Gibson's directorial efforts have been fairly blood-soaked historical exercises - and Apocalyto isn't just more of the same, it's entirely too much of the same."

Mayan groups are not happy, reports the BBC.

Updates, 12/8: "The brutality in Apocalypto is so relentless and extreme that it sometimes moves beyond horror into a kind of grotesque comedy, but to dismiss it as excessive or gratuitous would be to underestimate Mr. Gibson's seriousness," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Which is not to say that Apocalypto is a great film, or even that it can be taken quite as seriously as it wants to be."

Paul Fischer interviews Gibson for the Guardian.

Andrew O'Hehir's take on such seriousness in Salon: "If only this were a cheeseball entertainment out of 1963, where the opening-night audience might be showered with Styrofoam temple blocks and soap-bubble lava, while actors in fearsome Maya regalia bearing plastic severed heads on spears roamed the aisles." Ok, more seriously: "I have two things to tell you: Mel Gibson has serious issues with violence and masculinity, and if there's really 'Oscar buzz' around this picture, then everyone in Hollywood really is an idiot."

Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times: "Numerous good things can be said about Apocalypto, [Gibson's] foray into the decaying Mayan civilization of the early 1500s, but every last one of them is overshadowed by Gibson's well-established penchant for depictions of stupendous amounts of violence." Also, noting that both Gibson and Clint Eastwood launched their careers as tough guys in action flicks, Turan takes this and runs with it: "[N]ot only do the directors take opposite approaches to the act of putting violence on screen, they increasingly differ in their point of view on the subject."

"Basically Apocalypto is 20 minutes of Everyday Life in a Mayan Village; 10 minutes brutal battle; 25 minutes of Slave Trek; 25 minutes of even more brutal Life in a Mayan City; 45 minutes of 16th-century Naked Prey," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "The whole thing is absorbing, first as a glimpse into a lost culture, then as a traditional Good Guy Hunted by Bad Guys film."

Michelle George for the Reeler: "The idea seems to be that we are bad by default, goodness is the extreme exception; other cultures, especially, are hotbeds of badness, as is the past, and exploring either or both of them is only useful insofar as it provides a cheap, false-fronted allegory for the present."

Slate's Dana Stevens: "You don't leave Apocalypto thinking of the decline of civilizations or the power of myth or anything much except, wow, that is one sick son of a bitch."

Updates, 12/9: Dave Kehr: "The picture looks and plays a lot like Ruggero Deodato's notorious Eurotrash feature of 1980, Cannibal Holocaust - a gore fest about a television crew in pursuit of flesh eating natives in the Amazon jungle - except that Gibson has much more expensive effects technology available to him; when his extras get their heads chopped off, the hearts torn out, or their faces ripped off, the moments have a sick-making realism that makes Deodato's film look quaint and comparatively innocent."

For the San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle, Apocalypto "seems like something made by a crazy person. It's unrelenting, a succession of blood-soaked disaster, an artfully designed parade of cruelty that would make the Marquis de Sade get up and say, 'Enough already.'"

Jeffrey Overstreet rounds up several more reviews.

Online viewing tip. David Poland most unusual review.

Updates, 12/10: John Rogers: "It's not a masterpiece but a masterwork. A must-see on the big screen, and the script's got some subtleties in it, a narrative simple, yet rich... just go. It may not be the best movie of the year, but it's the greatest if that makes any sense." A joke follows.

Nikki Finke caught SNL's spoof.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:16 PM | Comments (1)

December 2, 2006

Primer. Austrian Film to 2000.

Austrian Cinema: A History With the State of the Nation series of new Austrian films running through Thursday in NYC, the series Dennis Lim wrote about recently in the New York Times, now's a good time for a little background. Or even a lot of background.

In our newest primer, Robert von Dassanowsky, a contributor to Senses of Cinema and Bright Lights Film Journal and author of Austrian Cinema: A History, presents an overview of the nation's cinema from its beginnings to the turn of the millennium: "Austrian Film to 2000."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:41 PM | Comments (5)

European Film Awards 2006.

European Film Awards The Lives of Others has edged out Volver at the European Film Awards tonight in Warsaw, but only just. The German film's won best film ("European Film 2006"; that's the naming convention, but we'll stick the norm), best actor (Ulrich Mhe) and best screenplay (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck). On a related note, for the Hollywood Reporter, Anne Thompson talks with FHvD about the origins of the film - and about what he might be doing next. And you can catch up with a discussion of the film here. Unfortunately, it's a little testy, but at least you'll be able to make out the parameters of the pros and cons.

Pedro Almodvar and Penelope Cruz, who've been on a worldwide Volver tour since the film's premiere in Cannes, have won best director and actress. Alberto Iglesias wins best composer and Jos Luis Alcaine shares the cinematography award with Barry Ackroyd (The Wind That Shakes the Barley). Perhaps the sweetest prize for Volver, though is the People's Choice Award.

And here's the full list.

Update, 12/5: Reaction in the European papers: a dossier at euro|topics.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:19 PM | Comments (8)

December 1, 2006

Interview. Adrian Belic.

"Beyond the Call, a portrait of the men behind Knightsbridge International, is easily one of the best documentaries of the year."

Beyond the Call

Hannah Eaves, not one to make such endorsements lightly, talks with Adrian Belic about his followup to the Oscar-nominated Genghis Blues.

Beyond the Call is screening at the Anchorage International Film Festival, which runs tonight through December 10; meantime, Belic and Ed Artis of Knightsbridge arrive in San Francisco today and will be doing Q&As at the evening screenings tonight, Saturday and Sunday.

Update, 12/3: Michael Guilln has a series of related entries at the Evening Class: 1, 2 and 3.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:17 PM

Interview. Xander Berkeley.

Jonathan Marlow introduces an appropriately wide-ranging conversation.

Xander Berkeley You've seen him repeatedly. Perhaps you have even acknowledged a certain familiarity with his face when it crosses the screen. But you've undoubtedly noticed him. Unless you pay attention to such things, you might not know his name. And yet he is one of the most talented actors working in Hollywood today. His chameleon-like abilities allow him to fully occupy a role, leaving unsuspecting viewers occasionally unaware that he's the same person from several other movies that they've enjoyed. The unsavory drug dealer in Sid & Nancy? Xander Berkeley. The pesky cab driver in Leaving Las Vegas? Berkeley again. The Secret Service man in Air Force One with questionable motives? Yet another exceptional Berkeley performance.

I first met Xander Berkeley in Park City a few years ago when he was at Sundance promoting the film Human Error (then known as Below the Belt). His remarkable work in the film, along with the rest of the cast, represented the best ensemble acting that I saw at the festival. Considering some of the narrative films that generate attention there, I wasn't surprised when the film was hardly discussed and largely disappeared without theatrical or, to date, video distribution.

I ran into Xander again in Austin earlier this year. More accurately, I followed him around a bar the second evening of SXSW. I'm not sure what he thought of this curious fellow trailing him through Buffalo Billiards but I wager he didn't expect me to question him about his portrayal of a magician in Pharaoh's Curse, an episode of the Twilight Zone. Xander graciously spoke to me a few months later on his mother's birthday. The phone call was initially planned for twenty minutes and fortunately went on for three times that duration. We could've talked for another hour or two.

Read on.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:38 PM

Artforum. Best of 2006.

So it's December 1. Here come the lists, starting with Artforum's "Best of 2006" issue. John Waters and Barbara London's top ten film lists are online, and Waters's #1 is United 93: "The best movie in the last five years. No cheap shots in this one! I have friends who would watch a snuff film, yet they refuse to see this great action picture - I don't get why."

Tekkon kinkreet

London tops her list with Michael Arias's animated feature, Tekkon kinkreet, in which "good and evil mesmerizingly play out to the tune of progress."

More lists: Music, books, and of course, art. Also: Rachel Kushner in LA and Philip Tinari in Beijing.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:30 PM

Film Criticism Blog-a-Thon.

Film Criticism, Fall 2005 Andy Horbal introduces the already-lively Film Criticism Blog-a-Thon he's hosting at No More Marriages!: "I regard film criticism as simply the larger conversation about film, and this is a conversation about that conversation. Many of us read and write a great deal of film criticism, and this is a chance to think about what exactly we're doing. What is film criticism? What should it be? Everyone's invited to the party so please do not hesitate to join in! This is my happening and it's freaking me out!"

Andy will remain freaked throughout the weekend, so check that link over the next three days. That image, by the way, comes from the Fall 2005 issue of Film Criticism.

Related: Time Out's Dave Calhoun asks, "Who'd trust a critic?"

Posted by dwhudson at 7:56 AM

There and back again?

The other day, I showed Sharon Waxman's summing up for the New York Times of the ongoing rift between Peter Jackson and New Line to our resident Tolkien expert - my daughter, for whom LotR became a few years ago to her and her circle what Star Wars was to a previous generation. Herewith, a take from Adrienne Hudson.

The Ring One evening in December 2001, I, all of 14, sat down in a huge theater in San Francisco with my dad, my godfather and his boyfriend. Soon, I was fighting back tears so the guys wouldn't think I was soft. But boy, something was happening. A new world was opening up in front of me, welling up with a magical feeling so intense that the tears were winning.

That was the night I saw JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Or was it Peter Jackson's?

Either way, the moment I got back home in Berlin, I looked for those tattered secondhand copies of the trilogy I knew were stashed in one of the bookshelves and started reading. At the same time, I started searching the net for others who were just as elflock-stricken by Middle-earth. I was becoming a true fanatic. Sure enough, I soon came across the Lord of the Rings Fanatics Plaza and, over the course of two years, I RPGed my way up from a New Soul to the Queen and Co-Ruler of Khazad-dm, the kingdom of the Dwarves of Middle-earth.

Tolkien: The Hobbit But as "RL" slowly began to catch up with me over the years, I started spending more time studying for my exams, worrying about my future in general and, while I still like LotR, I don't spend an average of seven hours a day hovering over the books, films and websites. Now, though, with the recent clashes over The Hobbit, lively discussions have sprung up anew between friends, family and me. Will PJ direct The Hobbit? Should he? How good a job did he do on the trilogy? What would a Middle-earth without Pete and Co look like? And what's up with that other mysterious LotR prequel, anyway?

The last question is easily answered: Dunno. Peter Jackson stated in his letter to that the prequel was to cover "the events leading up to those depicted in LOTR." Many fans interpret that to mean the events between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. To my knowledge, the only published material that covers this span is one page of the timeline in the "Appendices" of the trilogy. The events described there lack the plot-line the movie would need and, additionally, are very brief. You can't make a feature-length film out of "Birth of Frodo," Arwen and Aragorn's first flirts and the bad guys preparing their evil schemes for the LotR trilogy. So unless there are tons of unpublished notes by Tolkien on this subject, this prequel would end up being an extensive fan fiction. Hm. Other interpretations for instance involve The Silmarillion, a sort of history book on the beginnings of Middle-earth, and a two-part Hobbit. But what it basically boils down to is a simple "no clue."

So on to topics that require less speculation.

A fact: The Tolkien exhibit in Frankfurt last week displayed a life-sized cardboard standup of, among others, girl-crush "Orli's" Legolas, amidst pictures of Tolkien's childhood. The resulting observation: Peter Jackson is starting to match Tolkien's status as a divine being. The integrity of Middle-earth is directly linked not to JRR, but to PJ. I can't say whether fans do or don't realize that this Middle-earth is different from JRR's - it's a Middle-earth that features a Narsil-wielding Arwen, a not-so-noble Faramir, a Sam who gives up on Frodo, Elves at Helm's Deep...

Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to nitpick, as many others will to various degrees of obsession. More on that later. The point is simply that Lord of the Rings purists, strangely enough, nowadays are not necessarily JRR Tolkien purists. The movies bred a new branch of Peter Jackson purists who would rather turn into the possessed living dead like Jackson's Thoden than pay to see a Middle-earth movie that's not directed by PJ. Well, maybe they'd watch it once, just to be able to bash it.

Either way, this is one reason New Line would be making a mistake by giving this movie to someone else; they'd lose a pretty big number of moviegoers and potential buyers of Smaug action figures, Hobbit calendars, Orcrist replicas and The Official Book of New Line Cinema's The Hobbit.

Peter Jackson

Besides, as Elijah Wood put it, a ME project by a director other than Jackson "won't look or feel the same." Much as with Star Wars and Harry Potter (though the latter improved as the project progressed), movies that actually belong together wouldn't fit together. And I think that would be a shame.

Now whether or not Pete actually did a god-like perfect job realizing the books as a movie remains a matter of opinion. The spectrum goes from haters to lovers and I'll take this opportunity to put in my two cents. Peter Jackson, with the help from talents such as Howard Shore, most of the actors and the Weta artists, to name just a few, created an absolutely tangible fantastic world. From the choice of locations to the hairs in the Orcs' nostrils, these people worked magic: The pictures, sounds and emotions of the movies allow you to believe in Middle-earth.

Taking the screenplays into consideration as well, these movies certainly worked. Generally, they told the story Tolkien envisioned and created a huge fan community along with an extremely profitable franchise. This is where the big "however" comes in. The movies, as they are currently on my DVD shelf are, in my opinion, not necessarily the only versions that might work and not necessarily the best ones.

My point of criticism, as you can tell, is the screenplays and more specifically, their diversions from the books. A page for page reproduction would be silly of course, for all the obvious reasons. I support omissions - yes, including Tom Bombadil - and many of the changes that were made simply because Tolkien, as an inexperienced fiction writer, did not adhere to a typical plot structure. The movies had to appeal to general audiences, not only to standing LotR experts.

Some decisions, however, simply aren't justified, no matter what the reasons given by the screenplay writers Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens were, if they even tried to explain them at all. For instance, the inserted scene in which Faramir takes the Ringbearer to Osgiliath. "By rights, we shouldn't even be here," laments the ever truthful Sam. Ha, ha. Oh, the bloody screaming irony. Not to mention the fact that this happens right after Frodo offers the Ring to a Nazgl. Jackson might as well have reincarnated Sauron into his old armor and had a standoff between him and Frodo at the Cracks of Doom.

Be that as it may, had another director taken on the epic challenge, it may very well have been such a flop we wouldn't even bother discussing it. So let us praise what we love, constructively criticize what we don't and think about the current problem. What will happen if another director does take on the Hobbit challenge?

Could, say, Spider-Man director Sam Raimi, who's being considered, match Jackson's heart-felt devotion to the project? Both men started their careers with horror flicks, though Jackson displayed more love for bizarro creatures with his sex-craving killer puppet machines in Meet the Feebles. Raimi's The Evil Dead is considered more of a classic than Jackson's Bad Taste, the title of which speaks for itself, but Jackson's fantasy-horror geekiness is actually a plus point for him in this case.

However, what if Raimi could team with the ME-factory Jackson painstakingly built up over the years? Raimi's directing skills would only matter if he could work with the rest of the original crew, meaning the people from Weta, the composer, the editors, et al and last but not least, the actors. But will Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis and Hugo Weaving agree to go back to Middle-earth without PJ? (Alas, Ian Holm cannot be considered for the half a century younger Bilbo anyway.)

Assuming the original crew comes with the project, Raimi seems to be in the lead. It's interesting to note that Raimi's Spider-Man ranks 7th in the US top box office list, way ahead of Jackson's King Kong at 51st. Though the box office certainly isn't always the best measure, these rankings seem about right to me. But whichever of the two might be a "better" director, all things speak for Peter Jackson. He, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens are Tolkien fans, even if they made some questionable decisions. They have the experience with Middle-earth and they have the enthusiasm. Most likely, only they can create a harmonious Middle-earth Quintology. And then, of course, there are the PJ purists, who are threatening a boycott. Considering all this, New Line simply has to resolve the money issues and hand the staff back to Jackson, as MGM also stated in the New York Times article.

It's bound to happen pretty soon, too, since New Line's rights to The Hobbit run out in 2009. Of course, it'll still be a while until The Hobbit, and even longer until the Mystery Prequel hit the screen. And Jackson is sure to make the headlines again. So there's plenty of time and material for more passionate discussions. And when the time comes, I'll take a day off from my studies to sit square and center as the curtains open for The Hobbit premiere.

Until then, namri...

Posted by dwhudson at 4:47 AM | Comments (4)