January 31, 2007
Vertigo. Winter 07."Film-essayist Chris Marker's fascination for Japan, and in particular Tokyo, is most famously apparent in Sans Soleil (1983). But he had made a film-essay about Japan almost 20 years previously, a film that had slipped out of distribution - Le Mystère Koumiko or The Koumiko Mystery (1965). Swedish contemporary artist Magnus Bärtås traveled to Tokyo to investigate further." Ben Slater introduces an interview with Bärtås in the new issue of Vertigo. "Though his name is not unheard-of in film circles, and most of his works have been quietly showcased at international festivals, Sono Sion has somehow never made an impact like his contemporary Kore-eda Hirakazu, or the younger Yamashita Nobuhiro, in spite of a distinctive vision and prolific output." A profile by Maggie Lee. Go Hirasawa reports on the filming of "[o]ne of the most anticipated projects in recent Japanese cinema," Koji Wakamatsu's Jitsuroku rengosekigun Asama Sansou e no doutei ("Literal translation: The Allied Red Army's Passage to Asama Lodge - An Authentic Account"), which "encompasses the New Leftist Movement, tracing events that lead up to the incident at Asama Lodge, presented in the manner of a factual account. Even though the protagonists are members of the Allied Red Army, the film does not seek to recreate incidents as spectacles. Instead, it probes, from a historical perspective, asking why such a movement emerged in Japan and why revolution was thought to be necessary." "On the face of it, it's Joe's most straightforward film: a linear narrative with no mysteries, dreams or non-sequiturs." Tony Rayns on how Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Blissfully Yours approaches "Buddhist virtues." Jason Wood: "A key chapter in the history of cinema was closed on Boxing Day with the death of Andi Engel."
Sundance. Eagle vs Shark."A terrific and fun comedy that acts almost as a companion to Broken English, Taika Waititi's Eagle vs Shark follows Lily (Loren Horsley), a shy fast food cashier with a crush on video game store employee Jarrod (Jemaine Clement), a moron trapped in the glittering cage of his own past," writes Tom Hall. "[D]espite its Kiwi provenance, this romcom-cum-family ensemble piece has the quirky yet life-affirming sensibility synonymous with the festival stamped through it like a stick of rock," writes Ben Walters for Time Out. "Still, it has a definite local flavor about it, with New Zealand's characteristic good-natured doziness ably represented by Lily (Loren Horsley)." Michael Lerman at indieWIRE: "Sweet, saccharine and stiltedly hilarious, Eagle vs Shark, though downbeat, hits many of the right notes to reach a wide audience and still feel charmingly small in scale despite the fact that it is co-funded by Miramax." IndieWIRE interviews Waititi. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. Acidente (Accident)."Pondering the everyday and discovering the sublime, Cao Guimaraes's and Pablo Lobato's gentle tone poem of a film, Accident turns the idea of armchair travel upside down," writes Robert Koehler in Variety. "Cinema's power to observe and transform is beautifully achieved." A second opinion: "My award for the most frustrating exercise in the festival goes to... Acidente," writes Michael Lerman at indieWIRE. "A mishmash of shaky digital video and cheap, twangy sound turns what could have been a beautiful, visceral exercise a la the work of landscape filmmaker Peter Hutton instead feels like a screening of somebody's homemade vacation footage." Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. El Camino de los ingleses (Summer Rain)."Antonio Banderas's sophomore directorial effort [Summer Rain; site] deserves a look, but I wish he had given as much attention to a solid story as he does to the unforgettable imagery," writes Eric Kohn for the New York Press. "[W]e couldn't make head or tail of Summer Rain," writes Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog, who finds watching it "like sitting through a haphazard splice of the worst aspects of both Almodóvar and American Pie." A "train wreck of a movie," declares the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt. Next stop, Berlin. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. Girl 27."Content is everything in a matter-of-fact documentary like Girl 27," writes Steve Ramos at indieWIRE, "and what [director David] Stenn lacks in technical prowess he compensates with a strong understanding of how to start one's tale, articulate the themes, move the storytelling at a quick pace and finish well." "Momentous things happened the first week of June 1937," begins Robin Abcarian's backgrounder on the self-financed doc in the Los Angeles Times: Jean Harlow, one of Hollywood's biggest stars, died suddenly and mysteriously at 26. The Duke of Windsor, who had abdicated his kingdom, married the woman he loved. And, though nobody would remember it, a 20-year-old dancer and extra named Patricia Douglas who'd been raped by an MGM salesman at a studio party futilely pressed for justice. David Stenn, a 45-year-old Los Angeles biographer and TV writer, stumbled across her story when he was researching his 1993 book, Bombshell: The Life and Death of Jean Harlow. "In a larger sense, Girl 27 is about the moral hypocrisy of Hollywood as well as a testament to the lingering damage inflicted by rape: the attack and what followed ruined Douglas's life," writes Sura Wood in the Hollywood Reporter. "Stenn, an accomplished TV writer-producer with an ebullient personality that doesn't wear well, undercuts his material by putting himself front and center - he has more screen time than Douglas." IndieWIRE interviews Stenn. So does the Reeler. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. On the Road with Judas.On the Road with Judas is "easily one of the most original and interesting movies I've seen in some time," writes Bryan Whitefield at ScreenGrab, introducing his conversation with JJ Lask, who spent five years writing the novel before adapting it himself. Rather unsually, too. He explains: "The actors read the book, then we did rehearsals where I would ask them questions and they would answer the questions based on the book. We rehearsed about five times with every actor, and then we put the actors together or separately in the different interview settings. We did that for about seven days. Then we took six months and edited all that together." But at indieWIRE, Anthony Kaufman asks, "Is a self-indulgent, self-referential movie any less annoying if it unabashedly acknowledges its self-indulgence and self-referentiality?... [T]he film is not as confounding as it first seems, nor is it as clever. But Lask should be applauded for trying something new and putting a postmodern spin on what is ultimately an earnest tale of unfulfilled love." IndieWIRE interviews Lask. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance/Slamdance. Chasing Ghosts + The King of Kong."A strong subject, the birth and stratospheric rise of the video gaming industry, and fascinating, quirky characters - in this case the young male gamers who became video arcade superstars - are the rock solid foundation for director Lincoln Ruchti's likable documentary Chasing Ghosts," writes Steve Ramos at indieWIRE. "[T]he best doc in competition this year at Slamdance is Seth Gordon's The King of Kong," writes Michael Lerman at indieWIRE. "Far exceeding the bloated Sundance video game documentary this year, Chasing Ghosts, King of Kong tiptoes across the line of mockery so carefully that the result is a surprisingly universal battle of the brawn that even the biggest Nintendo cynic would find hard it hard not to be engaged in." At ScreenGrab, Bryan Whitefield: "Competition Documentary Chasing Ghosts director Lincoln Ruchti and producer Michael Verrechia hosted a gamers wet dream Sunday on Main Street where kids as young as 10 and adults well past 40 all got a chance to slap buttons and jerk joysticks on vintage video games in their original arcade form." IndieWIRE interviews Ruchti. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. Clubland."Clubland, written by Keith Thompson and directed by Cherie Nowlan, is a straight up family melodrama, as classic as they come," writes Annie Frisbie at Zoom In Online. "Superb performances all around (with [Brenda] Blethyn shining brighter than ever) carry this well-crafted movie straight towards a beautifully resonant ending." "Various complications and a climactic meltdown presage a feelgood ending that shamelessly yanks viewers' chains harder than necessary," writes Dennis Harvey in Variety. "Still, progress is quite pleasant, balancing comedy and drama to solid if familiar effect." US, UK and German rights acquired by Warner Independent Pictures for $4 million. (Variety). Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. Smiley Face."Gregg Araki's latest foray into the slacker underbelly of suburban LA, Smiley Face, has a wonderful performance by Anna Faris and one of the all-time great stoner monologues in movie history," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "But is this episodic pothead odyssey, in the end, the classic cannabis comedy it sets out to be? I'll leave that question for another occasion." And you know what? He does. "Those who welcomed the new 'mature' Gregg Araki's Mysterious Skin last year may be nonplussed by this follow-up, his most unabashedly silly effort," writes Dennis Harvey in Variety. "Smiley Face would evaporate in a puff of smoke if it were not for the inventiveness of Faris. Actress has been funny in large parts (as the Scary Movie series' ongoing topliner) and in small parts (Lost in Translation, Brokeback Mountain), but she has never had to carry a film this completely. She's often flat-out hilarious, whether the material offers much help or not." IndieWIRE has a video interview with Araki. Gregory Ellwood chats with Faris for MSN Movies. Craig Phillips takes extensive notes on a panel featuring Araki, David Gordon Green, Tamara Jenkins and Hal Hartley. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. Dark Matter."Ostensibly based on a true story, [Dark Matter; site] follows the progress of brilliant young Chinese cosmology post-grad Liu Xing who finds that coming to the US to work with his academic idol ain't necessarily all it's cracked up to be," writes Ben Walters for Time Out. "The performances are pretty good, with an engaging lead turn from Liu Ye and Meryl Streep on typically assured form as the university patron who takes a shine to him, but debut director Chen Shi-Zheng is less adept, wheeling out gimmicky effects in an attempt to get inside Liu's head." "Critiquing both the relentless Eastern drive for success and the insular, self-serving nature of Western academia, this debut feature from opera and theater helmer Chen Shi-Zheng never fully succeeds in burrowing under its protagonist's skin, despite conspicuous effort," writes Justin Chang in Variety. "There's a smart movie to be made about the often unhealthy pressure Asians face to work hard and succeed, but even as a tale of one student's destructive choices, Billy Shebar's script fails to lay the necessary groundwork for Liu Xing's sudden shift into violence. The result is a middling academic drama that passes pleasantly enough for roughly an hour before detouring into a tacked-on tragic climax." Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. The Good Night."Jake Paltrow (brother of Gwyneth) makes his directorial debut with this loopy comedic psychotherapy," writes Eric Kohn for the New York Press. The Good Night has "got a marvelous cast and the sort of infectious storyline that makes Michel Gondry fans fall into ecstatic convulsions, although Paltrow's collection of stylish elements don't really develop much past that playfulness." "Though its forays into the subconscious may strike more adventurous cinematic palettes as precious and unimaginative," writes Justin Chang in Variety, "few will be able to resist Martin Freeman's appealing lead turn or the wry Brit wit that gives this fanciful confection a robust comic core." The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt disagrees: "An odd casting choice and awkward methods of exposition get the film off to a halting start. Then Paltrow compounds the erratic storytelling by making every character thoroughly unlikable." At Cinematical, Kim Voynar reviews the film and interviews Paltrow. The Reeler interviews Paltrow. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. Dedication."A man nasty to others by intent makes it very difficult for a young woman to come to like him, and the same goes for the viewer in Dedication," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. But the Hollywood Reporter's James Greenberg finds it "an old-fashioned love story charmingly told by first time director Justin Theroux. Although it sometimes strains for the quirky, film is buoyed by winning performances by Billy Crudup and Mandy Moore. This one could really catch on as a date destination for the indie crowd." Tom Hall: "The movie is stylish and terrific, with uniformly wonderful performances and Theroux shows some serious chops as a director (with great musical tastes)." Quint at AICN: "Crudup is great in this. In fact, everybody is great in this, but the film rests on Crudup's shoulders." The Reeler interviews Theroux. Picked up by TWC and First Look (Variety). Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. Banished."With Iraq documentaries all the rage, it's refreshing to come across an old-fashioned nonfiction piece that sets its lacerating sights not 'over there,' but right here at home, in the heartland and neighborhoods of America," writes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE. "In another revealing account of racial injustice in the US of A, director Marco Williams (Two Towns of Jaspar) investigates the banishment, or to put it more provocatively 'racial cleansing,' of blacks from American towns in the early 20th century." A "potent documentary." "Banished," writes James Greenberg in the Hollywood Reporter, "adds another compelling and necessary chapter to the literature of racism in this country." The Reeler interviews Williams. Online viewing tip. "As an African American man in an openly racist community, and as a documentary filmmaker, Williams is clearly self-aware. But instead of playing the traditional cinema verité director's role of 'fly-on-the-wall,' he (bravely) embraces his the position as conspicuous interloper." Megan Cunningham talks with Williams for Zoom In Online. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. The Go-Getter."[Martin] Hynes clearly has serious chops as a director," writes Mike D'Angelo at Screengrab. "If he can dial it down a few notches while maintaining The Go-Getter's hazy, lyrical, asymmetrical visual style, he'll have something really special." Cinematical's James Rocchi: "A charitable observer would suggest that the flurry of so-called independent films where a bright, neurotic stand-in for the (male) writer-director finds love with a special, super-pretty snowflake of a girl represents our shared yearning for love and belonging; a more cynical one would suggest that this is the sort of self-pleasing fantasy that feels like it was typed one-handed because the not-that-creative creator was using the other to pat himself on the back or do other things to other body parts." "How many road trip movies of self discovery starring artsy, skinny, white kids that fall in love with unconventionally cute little brown-haired girls do we need?" grumbles Zack Haddad in Film Threat. Online viewing tip. An iW VIDEO interview with Lou Taylor Pucci and Zooey Deschanel. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Shorts, 1/31."The Situation, Philip Haas's deftly paced, well-written, and brilliantly infuriating Iraq War thriller is not only the strongest of recent geopolitical hotspot flicks but one that has been designed for maximal agitation," writes J Hoberman. Also in the Voice:
Philip Glass @ 70.Philip Glass is 70 today, and Alex Ross has already designed the perfect entry. So that leaves newsier notes, and there isn't much in English other than word from Memphis that the Nashville Symphony will be celebrating with a series of events set for February 12 through 18. Only somewhat related is Joshua Kosman's piece in the San Francisco Chronicle on the Opera's upcoming season, which will feature the world premiere of Glass's Appomattox, with a libretto by Christopher Hampton, and Chris Beaumont's review of Glass's soundtrack for Notes on a Scandal. Otherwise, you have to turn to the European papers for the career-spanning appreciations befitting a good round-numbered birthday: Volker Tarnow in Die Welt and, unfortunately for subscribers only, Christoph Bartmann in the Süddeutsche Zeitung and Wolfgang Sandner in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. See also: The site and the Wikipedia entry.
January 30, 2007
Fests and events, 1/30."Though it displays not a single dead body, gory gash, or bombed-out building, and limits its on-screen violence to heated arguments and abortive senior-citizen wrestling matches, Kazuo Hara's The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On (1987) nonetheless stands as one of the most harrowing, astonishing documentaries about war ever thrown onto celluloid." Ed Halter previews a series of Hara's films running at the Anthology Film Archives from tomorrow through February 4. Facets will be releasing Emperor's on DVD on February 27, by the way. Also in the Voice, J Hoberman looks ahead to a busy week for New Yorkers. In fact, notes ST VanAirsdale at the Reeler, all of February's going to be busy for New Yorkers. At Twitch, Ardvark recalls a few favorite experiences at past editions of the International Film Festival Rotterdam. And a take from this year's lineup: No Mercy for the Rude "a fine example where 'quirky' isn't a curse." Also in Rotterdam, Jonathan Rosenbaum discovers a variety of ways to see Jia Zhangke's Still Life. At the Siffblog, Anne M Hockens reviews all she's seen on her second and third days in Noir City, while at the Evening Class, Michael Guillén takes notes on Eddie Muller's opening remarks. Scott Murphy for the Hollywood Reporter: "The first ever Asian Film Awards, honoring the best of Asian cinema over the past year, will take place March 20 during the opening night of the 31st annual Hong Kong International Film Festival, organizers announced Monday."
Park City, 1/30."Sundance has meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people in its 23 years of existence, but if its awards were ever important, they aren't now." Andrew O'Hehir argues in Salon that the juried competitions "have become a sort of sidebar to the main event, and an increasingly confusing one at that." That's Page 1. On Page 2, he lists "five narrative features and five documentaries that premiered here and ought to make some noise." "In the seven years I've been coming to Sundance, I'm not sure that I've ever seen a film so completely captivate the public and the critics alike as John Carney's Once, the Irish musical drama whose little-movie-that-could odyssey was completed Saturday night when it collected the audience award in Sundance's world dramatic competition," blogs Scott Foundas. "But as I learned from speaking to the film's producers, before Once was selected by Sundance it had been rejected by several high-profile North American and international festivals, which says something telling (and unfortunate) about the kind of snobbery that can infect the festival selection process." He's got more at the Voice: "Always important to remember when discussing Sundance: The festival is ultimately at the mercy of the films being made - and if one is to take the festival's 2007 dramatic competition as a barometer of today's American indie-film landscape, the news is not encouraging." Also, Rob Nelson: "Even by the lacerating standards of recent Sundance docs Why We Fight and Iraq in Fragments, the nonfiction at this year's fest felt, well, real - alarmingly so. Indeed, after doing battle with films about US policies on Iraq, Darfur, and global warming, this critic was nearly moved to rescind his American citizenship." "Going into the festival, word was not good," writes Kirk Honeycutt for the Hollywood Reporter. "Coming out of the festival, you realize how little value this 'word' actually possesses.... If anything epitomizes Sundance 2007, it is the acknowledgment not just in the documentaries but also in the lightest of feature films that the world is in a bad place right now." Anthony Kaufman ranks the films he caught: "Best," "Strong," "Solid," "Fair," "Weak." Karina Longworth takes one last look back. Well, two. Maybe eight, depending. Ray Pride's posting the pictures he snapped. IndieWIRE and IFC News gather all their Sundance coverage on handy single pages. Online viewing tip. Attendees name some of their favorites for indieWIRE.
Berlinale. Program.So they hit us with numbers this morning. Altogether, there'll be nearly 400 films screening at this year's Berlin International Film Festival (February 8 through 18); 700 at the European Film Market. Anniversaries: The Kinderfilmfest, now Generation, turns 30. Shooting Stars have been selected for 10 years now. And so on and so on.
Park City Dispatch. 9.David D'Arcy on Crazy Love, Manda Bala and Ghosts. When I think of the Sundance Awards, I can't help but think of the Special Olympics, in which everyone wins something, and you leave the ceremony believing that the world has been brought closer to enlightenment. Given the travail of parking in Park City (and doing anything else there during Sundance), there's also an element of sacrifice (and perhaps a long march) involved in simply going to the ceremony. Sundance juries tend to be ruled by sentiment, which may explain why Sundance films that win tend to disappear when they enter the marketplace - note that this is not always the case - so I applaud the selection of films like Padre Nuestro by Christopher Zalla for the Grand Jury Prize and Manda Bala for the Doc prize, two films that deserve a wider audience. One film which was far less acclaimed is the kind of film that brings audiences together in a sick and voyeuristic way. And I don't mean these terms to be negative. Crazy Love, directed by Dan Klores, is a documentary that tells the greatest kind of story - the kind "you can't make up." You can't tear yourself away from the film's characters, who can't tear themselves away from each other. It sounds like love, except in this case a nerdy personal-injury lawyer learns that a beautiful Bronx Jewish princess, whom he's been dating, is going to marry someone else, and he hires thugs to throw lye on her beautiful face. After endless motions and the longest trial in history of Bronx County, he's sentenced to 30 years in prison. The last few years are spent in Attica, where he witnesses the 1971 prison riots in which 39 people died. When Burton Pugach gets out of prison after serving 14 years in the early 1970s, even though Linda Riss is blind and bald from his attack, the two get married. It gets even better in the 1990s when the two seem to have settled into a dull period in their marriage, and Pugach's new mistress tells cops that Pugach threatened to throw lye in her face. (She took him seriously because he kept reminding her that he had already done it.) Pugach goes on trial again and the lawyer, who's been disbarred since the late 1950s, exercises his right to represent himself. Pugach wins an unexpected acquittal, and goes home to - who else? - his wife. Incredible? Of course it is. And that's why the very fact that Dan Klores has exhumed this story is remarkable in itself. The fact that he's made it into a film, and a film well worth watching, for its characters, suspense, and sheer color, made this film one of my favorites at Sundance 2007. Pugach and Riss (still Mrs. Pugach) are still very much alive in Queens (where else?). And living with each other is as good a version of a life sentence as I can imagine. (They attended the Sundance opening of Crazy Love in matching white mink coats.) Dan Klores takes us inside their story from the perspective of the couple, Pugach's law associates, Linda's girlfriends, and a few journalists. But he also takes us into a very special social milieu - the Jewish Bronx, which is not what it used to be. This was a vibrant world in the 1950s, and Klores - although he's from Brooklyn - gets a lot of it right. (For a great Bronx Jewish screwball comedy, you can try renting Michael Roemer's The Plot Against Harry, a forgotten treasure when it was made in 1969 and re-released in 1989, and a largely forgotten classic today.) But if Car 54, Where are You? had been made like Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, the Burton Pugach-Linda Riss ordeal could have been one of its episodes. So, is love blind, or blinded? By the time Pugach gets out of prison, Linda seems to be well aware of what she was getting into, but as she told her friends, being married to a man who hired thugs to throw lye in her face was better than being alone. In A Very Different Love Story, Berry Stainback's 1976 book about the first stage of the case, Linda tells the author that lye actually nourished her skin. Bear in mind that Dan Klores is a professional publicist with a glam and celebrity practice, although this is not his first feature documentary. To be fair, this doc is not what I would even call a publicist's doc. He's not relying on vapid interviews from hard-to-get celebrities, and there aren't any dull commentaries from frequent fliers on Page Six, although Jimmy Breslin and Andrea Peyser are brought in as New York hacks for abbreviated contextual observation. The hard-to-get thing here was the story from the loving couple themselves, and Klores got it. When a publicist does something right, it's best for us all to recognize it. The other film that came as a pleasant documentary surprise at Sundance was Manda Bala, by Jason Kohn, the protégé of Errol Morris. Kohn's film is set in Brazil, and the look of it in bubbly digital video that seems to be approaching the boiling point, gives you the impression that you're entering another world indeed. The world is a world of corruption and it's a black hole. In Sao Paolo, people are kidnapped every day, and the kidnappers make videotapes of their hostages to send to relatives who are asked to pay ransom. It seems that one way to get a ransom quicker is to cut off someone's ear on camera and then send the ear with the videotape. When the ear doesn't work, kidnappers cut off a finger and send that with the next tape. Then comes the death threat, and when that doesn't work, you just kill the victim and kidnap someone else. Manda Bala means "send a bullet" in Portuguese. By that point, the victim is dead. But the chain of corruption goes far beyond the kidnapper-victim equation. In Jason Kohn's documentary (this is real, of course, no one's making it up), there's a huge fund for the development of the impoverished north of Brazil, which contains the deserts of the Northeast and Amazonia of the Northwest. One entrepreneurial politician has taken a huge chunk of this to create a farm for raising frogs. You never knew that so many frogs could be in demand for the dinner table. And it's never sure that they are, although we do see Brazilians eating them with gusto, because the frog farm is part of a massive money-laundering scheme that enables the politician to acquire television stations, newspapers, and all sorts of other enterprises. It looks like an open-and-shut case when investigators and prosecutors talk to Kohn about it and the politician is even convicted of his crime: a rare triumph. But he's cleared of all the charges on appeal. If friends in high places can't help you in Brazil, where can they? It seems that every institution is failing in this country, and everyone's on the take. But there's an odd hero in Manda Bala - a plastic surgeon whose genius is rebuilding ears for wealthy abductees who have somehow managed to survive their kidnapping. If the judicial system can't reconstitute your world, at least you can have something that looks like the body part that was taken away from you, provided that you can afford the surgery. Jason Kohn's film is bound to get a lot of attention as a new doc from a young kid who's made his first film with a visual flair. One film that seemed to be invisible at Sundance was Ghosts - no pun intended - by Nick Broomfield. It's the haunting - still no pun - story of a group of 23 Chinese immigrants who died digging for shellfish in Morecambe Bay in 2005. In this dramatic feature, not a doc, Broomfield and his handheld camera recreate their journey from China, which took six months, to the UK. He follows them through awful jobs and even worse hostility from their British neighbors. (The Chinese call the Brits ghosts, and they are struck by their corruptibility. You will be, too.) They are attacked and beaten when they go to the bay to dig for shellfish, which they think will pay better than dingy jobs in supermarkets or slaughterhouses. After they are beaten with impunity by the locals, they decide to work at night and are surprised by high tides. Only one of them survives. The families who sent them to the UK still owe huge amounts to moneychangers in China. And the British government won't contribute a cent to help them. Broomfield should be commended for showing what it's like to be on the short end of globalism's stick. It's not exactly like being an outsider in Park City during Sundance - more like being in Park City during Sundance without much money. More tomorrow on the challenge of running a major film festival in Park City, the "border" films, and a new genre, the abusive romantic comedy.
Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
January 29, 2007
Sundance. Hear and Now."The cochlear implant - already the star of another Sundance documentary, 2000's Sound and Fury - is the hook to Hear and Now," begins Susan Gerhard at indieWIRE. "But the two retirement-aged parents who live like teenagers, perpetually sneaking out the bedroom window for a late-night adventure, are actually the story. These kooky characters, and parents, of director Irene Taylor Brodsky are well cast in a documentary drama that's less a treatise on a topical medical controversy than a carefully observed study of aging love in flux." "Though Taylor Brodsky focuses exclusively on her parents, Paul and Sally Taylor, this is no amateur home movie," writes Peter Debruge in Variety. Zack Haddad in Film Threat: "his film is one worth finding when you can. It has to be one of the most personable documentaries I have ever seen and my only qualm is that I wish that there were some way to find out how they have progressed since the surgery." IndieWIRE interviews Taylor Brodsky. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. Chapter 27."I hate to borrow material from another film critic," begins Scott Weinberg at Cinematical, "but a colleague of mine offered the following words after we finished watching Chapter 27: 'It's like a feature-length version of De Niro's "You talkin' to me" speech from Taxi Driver - only without Scorsese, Schrader or De Niro.' I repeat that sentence because it perfectly encapsulates my own opinion on the deadly dull and seriously dreary Chapter 27, a movie that promises to offer some insight into why Mark David Chapman, on one chilly night in 1980, shot the beloved John Lennon to death." "[T]his is a highly compelling performance on many levels. [Jared] Leto has to carry the picture by himself, and pretty much does so," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Some viewers may well find Chapter 27 sleazy or distasteful, and I won't argue the point. But [director Jarrett] Schaefer's movie creates its own highly compelling world, which is pretty much the prime directive in filmmaking." Tom Hall: "It's a tough film with an engaging central performance, but nothing that brings us any closer to Chapman's psychosis or his justifications for senseless murder." Justin Lowe at Filmmaker: "At the after-screening party, Schaefer told me that his goals for the film included 'a good story well-told,' as well as an examination of celebrity, noting that 'now we're in a culture dominated by celebrity,' which seemed particularly relevant considering [Lindsay] Lohan's participation in the film." Steve Ramos reports on the film's reception for New York. Update, 2/3: Cyndi Greening video'd the post-screening Q&A. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. Fido."This is one of the most unique and obscure horror films that I can pretty much guarantee you'll love," Mr Disgusting all but promises. "The best way to describe Andrew Currie's film is that it's a cross between Pleasantville, Shaun of the Dead and Dawn of the Dead. So basically Fido is a funny, vibrant, colorful, bloody good time with a social commentary. In short, it's a perfect zombie movie." Also at Bloody Disgusting, Ryan Daley: "[T]he heady amalgam of Leave it to Beaver-style social sanitization and the walking undead makes for a unexpectedly pleasing combination. Zombie purists may roll their eyes in dismay, but the casual horror fan will almost certainly be entertained by this droll concoction." Updated through 1/30. And they've got clips. "This Canadian film, when released by Lionsgate in mid-June, should reach out to bemused adult audience who enjoy wise-guy satires, so long as the marketing emphasizes that this movie is playing it for laughs not scares," writes Kirk Honeycutt for the Hollywood Reporter. "For a one-joke movie, Fido does a fine job exploring every possible permutation of that joke." Updates, 1/30: Robert J Lewis reviewed this one when it screened in Toronto: "Fido is certainly gruesome - it'll be a real trick to sell this one as a heartwarming, offbeat comedy (it won't open until March 2007) when there's enough graphic flesh eating to send an unenlightened genre newcomer reaching for the barf bag - but its unique voice is evident in the chemistry between its rich ensemble (none of whom ever ham it up) and their twisted, even kinky, relationships.... Ultimately, it's the story of a boy and his dog, and while young K'Sun Ray is another charming pre-tween discovery, it's Fido's movie and Billy Connolly has to carry the whole damn show. And that he does." At Twitch, Todd's found clips. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. Starting Out in the Evening."Adapted from the book by Brian Morton, though it feels like an excellent off-Broadway play, Starting Out in the Evening traces the relationship between Schiller (an outstanding Frank Langella) and Heather (a luminous Lauren Ambrose), a graduate student who wants to write her thesis about the elderly, out-of-print novelist," writes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE. "The multi-layered motivations are constant in Starting Out which is one of the reasons why the film is such a kick." Updated through 1/30. "Andrew Wagner, whose 2005 home movie-meets-family road comedy The Talent Given Us became a surprise Sundance hit (and my favorite film of that year), returned to Park City in competition on Sunday with the total stylistic reversal Starting Out in the Evening," begins ST VanAirsdale at the Reeler. "Beautifully shot in HD by cinematographer Harlan Bosmajian, Starting Out nevertheless struggles through a few convenient narrative hitches before settling into the character-driven New York chamber drama in which it finds its strongest momentum." "Like Venus (to which it will surely invite comparisons), Starting Out in the Evening skillfully navigates the terrain of a relationship pitched somewhere between master-pupil and May-December," writes Scott Foundas in Variety. "But Wagner's pic... is a knowing portrait of three complex individuals of very different ages, all of whom feel the breath of Father Time at their necks.... In a career-crowning performance, Langella plays Schiller with utter vulnerability and lack of vanity - the former seducer whose stage Dracula made women swoon here invests himself fully in the part of a man weakened by illness and regret." Update, 1/30: IndieWIRE interviews Wagner. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. Adrift in Manhattan."Typical misery-laden Sundance fare all the way, Alfredo de Villa's Adrift in Manhattan offers three semi-connected stories of angst, loss, loneliness and general unhappiness. Have a ball," sighs Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "While not exactly what you'd call a bad movie, Adrift in Manhattan is simply too predictable, familiar and obvious to warrant much in the way of attention or enthusiasm." A "good-natured but forgettable New York street life drama," writes Steve Ramos at indieWIRE. "Adrift in Manhattan is a pile of loose threads and anyone desiring dramatic finality will leave disappointed." But the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt finds that "De Villa has a sharp eye for details that articulate unspoken grief and isolation in people. His film is like a good short story, where there are no wasted moments and an economy of expression allows the story to achieve maximum impact." The praise doesn't go unqualified, but there you go. The Reeler and indieWIRE interview De Villa. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. White Light/Black Rain."Of course we know about the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in August 1945 - perhaps the defining event of the 20th century - but this humbling, shocking film reminds us that we don't really know enough," writes Andrew O'Hehir for Salon. "No warning can really prepare you for these images of ashen corpses, maimed survivors and apocalyptic destruction, but in an age of renewed nuclear tension, there can be no question as to their relevance." "Director Steven Okazaki (the documentaries Days of Waiting and Black Tar Heroin and the drama Living on Tokyo Time), as masterful as ever, shows both sides of the bombings with his perfectly structured and utterly engaging history documentary, White Light/Black Rain [site]," writes Steve Ramos at indieWIRE. And indieWIRE interviews Okazaki. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. Protagonist."One of the most visually and artistically exciting documentaries I've seen at this year's Sundance Film Festival - or outside of Sundance in the past few years, frankly - Protagonist is hard to define and easy to enjoy, seemingly scatter-shot but possessed by pure focus, full of invention and newness, but also firmly committed to sure-handed storytelling and classic tradition," writes Cinematical's James Rocchi. "My favorite film of the fest? Jessica Yu's Protagonist." AJ Schnack points to Joel Heller's interview with Yu at his new blog, Docs That Inspire. "The dangers of extremism and the virtues of uncertainty are the keys to the remarkable Protagonist, docu helmer Jessica Yu's exploration of four men's journey through dysfunction, obsession and redemption." Despite the Variety-speak, check John Anderson's recommendation. "The film's sheer boldness - Yu uses puppets, and the work of 5th Century BC Greek dramatist Euripides to illustrate the timelessness of her subjects' dilemmas - should make it a must-see among doc fans and artfilm cinephiles." "Compared to her fantastic and fascinating In the Realms of the Unreal (2004), Yu's follow-up doesn't have the same compelling and perverse punch, but it's an intriguing experiment all the same," writes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE. Tom Hall: "No film at Sundance lays bare the global reach of male certitude like Jessica Yu's exquisite Protagonist.... [T]he film captivates and forces the thoughtful viewer to question his or her own life's narrative." Kenneth Turan talks with Yu, too, for the Los Angeles Times. More from Craig Phillips, right here. Gregg Goldstein reports at the Risky Biz Blog: A "source involved in negotiations said IFC and Netflix were close to closing a low-to-mid-six figure deal." IndieWIRE interviews Yu. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Online viewing tip.
Shorts, 1/29."Your mind just goes to the craziest idea to lure people into the theater, and then you write your script around those elements," Robert Rodriguez tells Whitney Joiner, who is, of course, checking on the progress of Grindhouse, due April 6: two movies, basically (Rodriguez's Planet Terror, 80 minutes, and Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof, 90), plus four trailers for nonexistent movies by Eli Roth, Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright and Rodriguez himself. Scrunged up prints, missing reels - the boys are going all out. Also in the New York Times:
Park City, 1/29.Dennis Lim lists about a dozen actors who appeared in more than one film at Sundance this year: "To the casual observer the impression is one of an insular club. But even for the heavyweights of the indie star system, the reality is not always so glamorous." Also in the New York Times, Manohla Dargis: "[T]he Sundance brand helps obscure the reality that there simply isn't enough quality American independent work, particularly of a saleable kind, to justify an event of this size." Sundance is not as fun as it used to be, chimes in Eric D Snider. Writing at Hollywood Bitchslap, he realizes that this is not an original observation. In fact, he argues, precisely because this perception is becoming so widespread, the festival has a problem on its hands. "If the hassle starts to outweigh the enjoyability, maybe some of us [in the press] will stop bothering with it. The same goes for the public." So he offers a few pointers. Because, after all, Sundance is "a vibrant, important festival. I hope the tireless souls who run it can guide it through the growing pains and continue to make it a positive experience for those of us who look forward to it every year." Of the films she saw at Sundance, Annie Frisbie lists her favorites at Zoom In Online. Just before the awards were announced, Eric Kohn, blogging for the New York Press, chose his favorites for each of the categories. Like Tom Hall's picks, these choices are explained - good, quick reading on both accounts. In an earlier entry, Tom writes, "In almost every single fiction (and, come to think of it, non-fiction) film I have seen at this year's festival, white American (heterosexual) masculinity has been exposed as the playground of self-serving, foul-mouthed, misunderstood pricks whose sole mission in life is to destroy the happiness of women and their fellow men." In short, this was "The Year of the Asshole." For Time, Rebecca Winters Keegan lists "Seven Surprises from Sundance" - not movies, but trends... or rather, trendlets. Justine Elias runs down a few festival highlights for the Observer. Also, Killian Fox, briefly, on the shorts. At Cinematical, Kevin Kelly has a much more thorough review of at least one batch, the Shorts II program. Also, Tommy DiChiara breaks Sundance down "by the Numbers." Nothing to do with acquisitions. Online viewing tip. A wrap-up edition of iW VIDEO.
Fests and events, 1/29.Andy Spletzer is attending the International Film Festival Rotterdam (through February 4) and blogging away. Yesterday, he described how, on the spur of the moment, he made a film - which is now showing at the fest. Ok, not in the program, but it is showing at the fest. Related: European-films.net is all over the festival with reviews and several particularly nice pix. Jonathan Rosenbaum's in Rotterdam as well: "I've seen only one feature so far that I've cared for very much - a documentary called Murch by Edie and David Ichioka, about film editor Walter Murch (whom I once had the pleasure of working with on a re-edited version of Orson Welles's Touch of Evil). The film offers a fascinating glimpse of some of the tricks of Murch's trade, presented with wit and lucidity." "On Friday the weather didn't disappoint, with a steady rain falling much of the day." Wendell Jamieson seems to genuinely enjoy reporting from the Noir City festival in San Francisco for the New York Times. Also through February 4. Related: Anne M Hockens sends reviews of Raw Deal and Kid Glove Killer up to the Siffblog.
Interview. Joe Carnahan and Jeremy Piven.Smokin' Aces "may not necessarily pay off in terms of character or dramatic heft, but viscerally, it is strangely fascinating," writes Sean Axmaker, introducing his interview with its director and star. He also asks Joe Carnahan about the film's shared DNA with his debut, Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane, and gets Jeremy Piven going on Entourage. Related: "A world series of assassins may be the movie's five-word pitch but, burdened with an unnecessarily complicated and aggressively insistent backstory and hence immediately unintelligible, Smokin' Aces is one busy-busy-busy movie," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Carnahan does, however, have an oddball sense of comic timing; what his picture lacks in hilarity it recuperates with a well-developed, albeit mumbling, sense of the absurd." AO Scott in the New York Times: "'FBI! FBI!' Blam blam blam blam. '[Expletive]. [Expletive].' Blam blam blam. Spurt of blood. Plot twist. 'FBI! FBI!' '[Expletive].' Blam blam blam blam blam. '[Expletive].' "FBI!' 'Hotel Security!' Blam. Exploding skull. Guy sits on a chain saw. Montage. [Expletive]. Plot twist. Roll credits." At Slant, Nick Schager calls it "a multi-character crime saga that's even less appealing than watching televised poker. Managing the impressive feat of getting practically nothing right, Carnahan's film is the ugly stepchild of True Romance." "There was much to like about Narc, writer-director Joe Carnahan's previous feature, about a pair of cops dragged to gritty depths by a murder investigation," writes Cheryl Eddy in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "Unfortunately, any good cinema credit Carnahan earned with that flick dissolves in the cesspool that is Smokin' Aces." Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical: "If this is Carnahan's version of Snatch, let's all pray he doesn't attempt an American version of [Guy] Ritchie's follow-up, Swept Away." "There are nuggets of humor and flashes of hilariously choreographed brutality among the splatter patterns, but [Carnahan's] reluctance to develop any of the ideas beyond the vignette level makes for an unsatisfying whole," writes Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times.
January 28, 2007
Park City Dispatch. 8.Brian Darr on Never Forever, Driving With My Wife's Lover and The Legacy.
Sundance. Awards."A pair of Latin American stories won the top prizes at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival," writes Eugene Hernandez at indieWIRE, where's he's got a full report on how the awards ceremony played out last night. Here's the bare bones list:
January 27, 2007
Interview. Farley Granger.At the fourth annual Noir City festival in San Francisco, Jonathan Marlow cornered actor Farley Granger to discuss his fabled and fascinating career. Granger had the good fortune to work with a number of great directors over the years - Luchino Visconti, Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Mann, Henri Verneuil - and his performances were always memorable, contributing greatly to the best qualities of every movie in which he appeared. If Jonathan's conversation ignites your interest, he and his good friend Robert Calhoun have written a book, Include Me Out: My Life from Goldwyn to Broadway, which expands greatly on the stories that you'll find there. This much anticipated autobiography finally hits the shelves in February.
Weekend shorts, fests, etc.In the week since the last batch of "shorts," there have, of course, been other things going on besides Sundance and Oscar talk. The WSWS, for example, is running arts editor David Walsh's talk at York University, "Film, history and socialism" (Parts 1, 2 and the Q&A that followed). In the latest issue of Offscreen to go online, Donato Totaro tackles Paul Schrader's "Canon Fodder," Paul Rist has two 2006 top tens, Paul W Salmon reviews Criterion's release of Powell and Pressburger's The Tales of Hofffman, and the titles of Heather Macdougall's and Linda J Merelle's articles tell all: respectively, "Local and Global Identity in European Film" and "Kieslowski and Besson Meet in Le Cercle Rouge." "With nine nominations each, box office hits Rachid Bouchareb's Days of Glory (see Focus) and Guillaume Canet's Tell No One are vying for the title of Best French Film of 2006 and dominate the list of films selected for the 2007 Cesars." Fabien Lemercier has the full list at Cineuropa. Michael Guillén talks with Mark Becker about Romántico, cinematographer Rainer Hoffmann about The Short Life of José Antonio Gutierrez and with Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck, who responds to a few recent criticisms aimed at The Lives of Others. The Berlinale's Panorama program is now complete. Somewhat related: Pavel Braila at the New National Gallery in Berlin, through February 25. "Wolf André Oleg 'Andi' Engel was the kind of man to invent a magazine (Enthusiasm) and a distribution company (Politkino) in order to spread the ideas and cinema of Straub/Huillet. He was also the kind of man to make issue Number 2 of Enthusiasm 30 years after the fact of Number 1." Andy Rector presents an essay by Engel on Straub/Huillet published in 1970. Acquarello reviews "Isaki Lacuesta's elegantly conceived essay film Cravan vs Cravan on the enigma of Arthur Cravan - the legendary poet-boxer, Dadaist, writer, critic, eccentric, provocateur, editor of the notorious Left Bank cultural publication Maintenant (whose readership included such notable personalities as Ezra Pound, Maurice Ravel, Jean Cocteau, and Gertrude Stein), and nephew of famed Irish playwright and novelist Oscar Wilde who, in 1918, set alone on a boat off the coast of Mexico bound for Argentina to reunite with his expectant wife, poet Mina Loy, and disappeared." "While it's understandable that Brando would be celebrated for his visceral portrayal of adolescent limitations at a time, after World War II, when that archetype began to overtake American society, that wasn't Brando's principal talent," argues Stanley Crouch at Slate. "The aesthetic fact of the matter is that Brando's main achievement was to portray the taciturn but stoic gloom of those pulverized by circumstances. He was one of our finest cinematic poets of defeat." "Emanuele Luzzati, whose haunting fairy tale images graced opera stages and animated films, has died in his home in Genoa, officials said Saturday. He was 85." The AP reports. Before catching up with the New York Times, note that Nikki Finke weighs in on the paper's shuffling of personnel overseeing movie coverage. Now then:
Slamdance. Awards.Announcing its awards, Slamdance notes that this year's edition, its 13th, "shattered all previous submission and attendance records, having received over 3,600 submissions from 20 countries for less than 100 slots, a milestone that catapults the movie showcase into one of the largest film festivals in the world, and attracted approximately 20,000 attendees." The winners:
January 26, 2007
Park City, 1/26.Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: [T]he single most depressing and brutally honest remark I heard all week, the statement that seemed to sum up what Sundance has become for many attendees, came from a distributor who explained why he had stayed to watch a bad comedy that features a clutch of low-level film and television actors. The movie might be lousy, he explained, but imagine 'all those names on a box,' meaning, imagine all those recognizable names once they are printed on a DVD box. It didn't matter that the film was incompetently made and, from the half-hour or so of it that I watched, unfunny in the extreme. It didn't even matter that the film probably wouldn't make much money when or if it was released in theaters. The box would be aesthetically and intellectually empty, but the box would sell. "One of the debilitating side effects of the pop-culture 'mainstreaming' (if I may use an ugly marketing term) of the Sundance Film Festival brand over the last 20 years or so has been the over-glorification of what I call resumé movies." Jim Emerson elaborates. "Whatever it once was, today's Sundance has gotten ugly," begins Tim Wu in Slate, wondering why, "despite living in an age where bands are born on MySpace and blogs by basement dwellers out-rate CNN, the world of independent film seems strangely immune to the World Wide Web. Sundance and other film festivals represent the big running exception to the main media story of the 2000s: crowds besting experts in finding great independent material." Here's where he's going: "The real problem is not the technology, it's us." At indieWIRE, Michael Lerman's got a great overview of the slew of films he's caught at Slamdance. I have a few entries on a few Slamdance titles halfway ready to post, but I'd love to see them fleshed out, and I'd love even more to see more reviews or reactions to more Slamdance films. Please do drop a line if you run across anything. All those Oscar nominations, and now, "Brits reign at Sundance," too, according to James Mottram in the Independent. Online browsing tip. Susan Gerhard's list of ten virtual paths to Park City. Online listening tip. Basically, Kenneth Turan tells NPR listeners that, yes, you'll hear about Grace is Gone, but you ought to be hearing about Once. Online viewing tip. A second Cinematical roundtable.
David Lynch, 1/26.Picking up where this left off: "Lynch transfers his own mercurial consciousness to his characters, and his two best films are about being trapped and being vulnerable, though each one has happy intervals of escape, all conceived in musical terms - a song about heaven in Eraserhead and the magnificent celebratory sequence behind the final credits of Inland Empire, a Felliniesque music video staged around Nina Simone's 'Sinnerman,'" writes Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader. Updated through 1/30. "And it can't be a coincidence that unwanted pregnancies and related feelings of guilt play significant roles in both movies," he continues. "The titles Eraserhead and Inland Empire, his only metaphorical titles, point to his guarded way of coping with his own ambivalence: he either censors (erases) some of his darkest thoughts or retreats into the relative safety of his inner self." "Both Lynch and [David] Denby have expressed reservations about HD," notes Jim Emerson. "Lynch says, 'If everything is crystal clear in the frame then that's what it is - that's all it is.' Whereas, 'sometimes, in a frame, if there's some question about what you're seeing, or some dark corner, the mind can go dreaming.' (There's a powerful moment that illustrates this in Inland Empire for me: a shot that I first saw as a close-up profile of a Nosferatu-like figure pressed up against a wall in the darkness. Turns out, it's just a stain - or maybe even a digital artifact - on the wall at the end of a dark hallway.)" Via Ray Pride, Mark Rahner's interview with Lynch for the Seattle Times: Want to know what's missing [in Inland Empire]? What's missing? Dancing dwarf. No. No? No. Jette Kernion files a longish report on Lynch's Austin gig at Slackerwood. Updates, 1/27: Ry Knight announces "The Lynch Mob" at Vinyl is Heavy: "Over the week of February 12th to February 16th (and possibly beyond) we will host a series of essays from each of our
Sundance. El Bufalo de la Noche (The Night Buffalo)."Dogged by the suicide and memory of a schizophrenic friend, a young man makes all the wrong choices in The Night Buffalo, the latest work from the prolific world of Mexican novelist-screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga," writes Robert Koehler in Variety. "Unfortunately, the author's tendency toward manipulative melodrama - standard in his collaborations with Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros, Babel) - trump his more interesting storytelling instincts, resulting in a profoundly unsatisfying drama." Updated through 1/27. For Bryan Whitefield, writing at ScreenGrab, this was "one of the films I was most excited about seeing," but it's left him "severely disappointed.... It's the weaknesses in the story and script that are this film’s real downfall." The film, notes Michael Lerman at indieWIRE, "for its faults - most of which have to do with some ludicrous plot points - does manage to keep an eerie atmosphere with its skin-crawling music and jolting cinematography." Update, 1/27: A "pretentious mess that seems interminable even at 97 minutes," warns Sura Woods in the Hollywood Reporter. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Other fests, other events.For the Phoenix, Brett Michel previews the Korean Film Festival running at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston through Sunday: "Rather than focus on the fountainheads of modern Korean cinema, this new series relies on the emerging voices, a generation that appears content to explore similar themes from film to film. This is not a criticism; Japanese masters Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi spent entire careers doing much the same thing, to stunning effect." Speaking of whom. The Stranger's Annie Wagner previews the Long Take on Mizoguchi series running through February 27 at the Northwest Film Forum in Seattle: "Famously ambivalent in his personal life (he's said to have broken up with his muse, the great actress Kinuyo Tanaka, around the time she became the first Japanese woman to direct a film in 1953), his films are unequivocally feminist. They're also despairing about the possibility of social change." "Last week, not far from the Artic Circle, a group of film programmers and journalists huddled around a fire in a Sami tent at Norway's Tromsø Wilderness Center following an exhilarating dog sledge ride in the bracing below zero cold. After a luncheon feast of reindeer stew, they discussed the definition, history and future of film festivals." Alissa Simon files a report on the Tromsø International Film Festival for Facets Features. Susan King checks in on the Through the Looking Glass (and Down the Rabbit Hole) series. Also in the Los Angeles Times, Alex Chun talks with Santa Barbara International Film Festival director Roger Durling about this year's edition, which runs through February 4. Among the events J Hoberman highlights for New Yorkers this week: "Decasia was created for live performance; it's showing at a former synagogue on the Lower East Side, accompanied by TACTUS, the Manhattan School of Music's contemporary ensemble." Related: Alex Ross. Also in the Voice, Ed Halter on Feedback, a program running at MoMa through January 31, and "a tribute to Chicago's nonprofit distributor Video Data Bank and its founders Lyn Blumenthal and Kate Horsfield, sheds light on a time when video remained, as Horsfield told the Voice recently, 'the stepchild of the artworld' - a rough new technology, proudly outside the gallery market system, inextricably bonded to political movements like feminism." "Ah, subtext!" exults Armond White in the New York Press. "That hidden meaning Method actors emphasized is brought out into the open by British actors Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton in the 1964 film Becket," screening at the Film Forum through February 1. More from Ed Gonzalez in the Voice.
Park City Dispatch. 7.Craig Phillips has taken notes on quite a panel. A Sundance roundtable featuring four unique voices in American independent cinema - Hal Hartley, Tamara Jenkins, David Gordon Green and Gregg Araki - was focused on how each of them are making their way today and what's changed since they first started. The discussion was a great opportunity for both enlightenment and amusement; of the panelists, Hartley was the most chatty, and the funny Jenkins - possibly overwhelmed or just a little shy - the least. (She spiritually resembles the character Laura Linney plays in her new film The Savages.) But they all contributed enormously to this conversation; what follows is a sort of "best of."
On the genesis for their newest films, each of which have screened at Sundance:
Hartley: Fay Grim [site] is part two of what appears to be an ongoing process for me. I made a film in 1996 called Henry Fool, which me and my compatriots used to joke about being such a large story that it would [continue in the] future, [and] would talk about this story of a crazy, mixed-up but loveable family in Queens, New York as if it were my Star Wars. We would joke about, it but three or four years after the shooting, I couldn't joke about it any more, because it seemed like a really good idea. It's been a great ambition of mine since '91, when I first met Parker Posey, to write a movie for her from beginning to end, top to bottom. But I never found the right material - and we'd become friends, spoke all the time; [I] got to know her manner and everything - when we did this character Faye in Henry Fool, I understood what I had to do and it was really a perfect fit - that character, her talent, her manner, and how I write. It was sometime around 2000 that I really seriously started writing Fay Grim.
Gregg Araki: Smiley Face is kind of a potsmoking stoner comedy, which seems like an unlikely movie for people who are more familiar with my other work, but it does in a weird way fit the whole trajectory of my movies. Mysterious Skin was also sort of a departure in that it was based on a book, and was more serious and dramatic and heavy than some of my earlier work. I'm very proud of that but after doing such a dark and serious film I really wanted to do something the complete opposite. I wrote the script for Skin but didn't come up with those characters or the story - everything about it really belonged to Scott Heim. And Smiley Face was a script by a young writer named Dylan Haggerty who'd never had a script produced before. I just fell in love with this character and the story and love this movie as much as any I've done.
David Gordon Green: About three years ago I was here with another movie [Undertow], and a buddy of mine, Jesse Peretz [The Chateau], who's a filmmaker, too, said he was interested in directing this book, Snow Angels, by Stuart O'Nan, and asked if I'd be interested in adapting it. I'd never done a job before, and thought it'd be interesting to write for somebody else. I read the book and liked it, and then just started adapting it. I gave it to him a couple of weeks later and said, here's a direction I'd like to take it in if you want to talk more seriously about doing it. I worked with him for about a year and a half on it, developing it. He went off to do another movie and the producers that had acquired the property asked me if I wanted to step in and do the film. I wanted to step back a draft or two, take it where I felt like I had authorship over it. Developing it with somebody else's voice was an interesting process.
Tamara Jenkins: Unlike anyone else up here, I am the least prolific person on the planet. These guys are so frightening. Every year there's a new movie by every single one of them. And I'll think, is it because I'm a girl, and I'm just slow? And then I was with this woman on a film panel yesterday who really made me feel like I was in the Special Olympics. But these guys are just amazing. As I said I'm really slow and think I wrote the first scene for The Savages, or the first scene that was the nucleus for it, with a brother and sister, about ten years ago.
On what she's been up to since Slums of Beverly Hills:
Jenkins: I was submitted every teen girl comedy. [laughter] I got involved with a book that ended up being kind of a disaster for me and I worked on it for three years. That was horrible because it never happened; it was like the Bermuda Triangle for lost time. Regarding things that you get submitted because you've done a film about a teenage girl, they were just generic and not very interesting. And even just reading that stuff is totally time-consuming and can throw you off your instincts and what you're supposed to be doing yourself as a creative person. I can't imagine writing a script and giving it to somebody else, because to me writing a script is such a grueling process. I mean, I've done a couple of things for hire, which was rewriting pieces of somebody else's script as a job. They were rewrites on small jobs, on things that needed reshoots and things like that. But I've never been able to write something from beginning to end and then give it up.
I would love to adapt something I fell in love with, a novel. If my obsessions and the book's obsessions connect, it could be this really great thing.
Araki: It's very much like falling in love. You don't really know why. When I think about the stories Mysterious Skin and Smiley Face, they're literally so night and day, but I love them equally. I guess it's like another filmmaker said, all your films are like your children - I don't have kids of my own - you love them for all their faults. For me at least it's always been kind of personal. I just go with my gut.
On feeling pressure to produce:
Jenkins: I felt a lot of personal pressure because it was taking me so long to get another movie made. There was an article in the New York Times years ago that was about "Why do women [directors] take so long between their first and second features?" And there was a picture of me! [laughter] Like, "Wanted Dead or Alive." I didn't have children, so I didn't have that excuse, and I wasn't married, and I thought, Well, what am I doing? Then I got married, so I checked one thing off the list at least. I mean, I was doing things. I directed a play. I wrote things that were published, did public service announcements for Amnesty International, small odd things - I just wasn't making feature films. And when there's a setback, I'm always down for the count. Unlike these guys - I don't know how you do it. You guys must write really fast. [indicates Hartley] I know you do. And you guys, too. You're not like a woman agonizing.
I was self-loathing: "Why can't I do this?" But I do think in the amount of time its taken me to do another movie, that I work so hard at writing for my own personal growth, fiction and screenplays, and I'm very pleased that I feel like I'm getting better at it.
Green: I try not to have much of a preconceived expectation of myself. I just try to do whatever I think is funny. Like a funny phone call - yeah, I'll do that. I just want to have a good time.
Hartley: Just recently I adapted a Jack Kerouac novel, Doctor Sax, into a screenplay, for the nephew of Kerouac who owns the book. I was teaching in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and they were around there - friends with one of my business partners - and asked my advice on where I'd I go if I wanted to make this material. I think they wanted to make an animated version of the novel, which makes sense because it's about Kerouac's childhood and fantasy life. But they seemed to be going in a bad direction. Every time I talked to them, I'd try to pass on my experience. There are good decisions to make and bad decisions, the right people and the wrong people. Given their sensibility and what the book was, I thought they were talking to the wrong people. That was my opinion. Eventually, I knew the book so well and these people so well that I just said, "Oh forget it. Look, I'll write a script version and then use that version and get going with it." I don't know why. As soon as I said that, I was like, Uhhhhhgggh...[sighs]
But it was, in fact, a great exercise for me to take somebody else's voice - to take Kerouac's particular way of seeing characters and situations, and the words he put into people's mouths - and apply a structure and momentum to it that I didn't think was in the book. To just make a satisfying experience for people who like Kerouac. I didn't feel like my sensibility was very evident. I don't know what will happen to that project at this point, but it was a worthwhile thing.
Like Tamara was saying, when you make your first film and it's coined a certain type of movie, everybody comes to you with thousands of scripts that are about the same thing. When people would give me scripts that were supposedly like The Unbelievable Truth, I didn't understand what they were thinking. And couldn't provide anything to those scripts.
On development money:
Hartley: I don't think I've ever been in a development situation. It's always: Write the script and then come to the table with the script. These are my friends and we want to make this film. I guess I mean I've never been paid to develop a script. That sounds like such a civilized thing. Actually, I was just paid to write a short film that they don't even have the money for making yet. And when they paid me, I said, "Gentlemen, this is the most civilized thing I've ever had happen!" Just unbelievable. In Europe, they think of American [artists] as these, like, Jeremiah Johnson types, mountain men, who eat sticks because we don't have any government funding or anything like that. I said, "Yeah, it is sort of like that."
Green: I guess development to me is like flirting with a girl; you have to give yourself a lot of opportunities to turn around and go the other way, or you can hook up. You get in a room with producers, financiers, actors, you kind of all look at each other, assess each other, size each other up, see if it works. If it does, take the next step. Some of them, I'll write, get producers attached, and then I'll get to the casting and all of a sudden the studio or whoever I'm working with will say, "Eh, we see a different cast." I'll say, I don't like that idea, then go away and close up that project, open up another one. So I've got a number of experiences in... not going all the way.
But there are times when I'll feel it. There's that energy about 30 percent of the way through the development when you don't have that anxiety, where you know you've got the people and are gonna muscle it through. It's gonna happen, we're going to face our obstacles - do or die, we're rolling camera in six weeks. You get that attitude - get the right people together and it happens. In my experience, with the ones that didn't happen, I'm glad they didn't happen because there was something about them that would have stunk it up anyway.
On finding the right producer and people who "get" them:
Green: It's just somebody you can communicate with, jump in the trenches with. One producer's followed me through all four of my films, Lisa Muskat. And a lot of the crew, too, I met in film school, and we all just knew early on, when we were making short films and school projects that we had a similar vibe, style. We like working with each other, know when to work, when to play. You get that kind of communication with somebody, know how to be tough, push each other in the right direction, and it works. When people make you feel guilty about things and you know you shouldn't be, or try to be confrontational when it should be rationally discussed, or they're being passive aggressive about things that should be laid on the table, then... it's time to find some new friends.
Hartley: I started out with a group of people, and I don't know if they had the same ambitions, but they wanted to be successful. We all did. So we could help each other. At the beginning it wasn't so important that my producers or my crew particularly liked the concepts of the movies I wanted to make. We were honest with each other. Of course, they were the type of people who were polite, too. They wouldn't wake up in the morning and say, "You know, I hate the kind of work you do, but we need to shoot a movie." They were decent people.
So it takes time, hanging out with people, getting to know them. Ted Hope and I have this professional relationship for awhile that's been really productive. I don't think we had the same taste in movies at all, really, at least when you're sitting around a table talking about movies. But like David was saying, when you're down in the trenches trying to make something happen, a lot of a person's soul is revealed and you want to be able to trust them. Ultimately, maybe it's not that important that they "get" you. Or they get you but they don't have to share your tastes and sensibilities.
It might be worthwhile to compare it to a corporate business model and something that's more hands-on entrepreneurial. I made one movie that was supposed to be independent but was made for a studio, and this experience of dealing with people whose allegiance is to their paycheck from this huge corporation is remarkable - the hypocrisy and the outright silliness. I had to work a lot harder to protect the film. There'd be really hilarious things, like a middle management guy talking to you, saying, "This is really great, this is really great." And then his boss shows up and says, "I don't know, we have to do something about the third act." And the other guy says, "Exactly. Third act." I mean, you see this stuff mocked in movies all the time but it comes from a real place, from the corporate world, where your humanity is shaped by your function in the machine. Corporate attitude is what I immediately recognize as the problem. And that even comes through in some smaller budgeted productions. You just have to recognize it for what it is and disconnect it.
Araki: Like what David was saying, it is a lot like dating, finding someone who's compatible. I've been through it, had "bad dates" and "good dates." There's so many really great people out there who are really talented and great to work with, and there are probably even more horrible people out there. You have to encounter both and learn to avoid the terrible people at all costs. You have to trust your instincts.
On what they enjoy about independent filmmaking (or, as the moderator put it, "You're certainly not in it for the money"):
Hartley: Well, to be perfectly honest, I am in it for the money. I mean, I consider myself an artist, too, and try to be true to that, but I do have a family to take care of. Why should I do this for nothing? I've learned a lot about doing business; I just do it in a particular way. I'm much more interested in talking to business people than I am talking to philanthropists. I don't want to be a charity case. It's important because, in the early days of your career, you get a lot of people talking about support. "We supported you." Right, you didn't program the film on television and make money - you were supporting me, that wasn't business. Right. So, you have to be careful about that. But, yeah, I'm a professional filmmaker; that means I get paid for what I do. No reason to be ashamed of admitting that.
Green: I think everything is fun. I even like going to the corporate meetings and pitching it. Getting everybody excited, that's kind of fun. The only thing I don't like is when you have to make the credits for your movie and everybody starts crying because they wanted their name in a specific place. I actually had to appeal to my union so that the title of my movie could come after my name. There's so many weird politics about it; everybody gets really possessive about credits. I don't think we should even have credits - the title sequence should just be cool parts of the movie, and they should take out the titles.
I also don't like doing ADR [additional dialogue recording] - I don't like looping things.
Jenkins: Yeah, that credit thing is so bizarre. It's like a laboratory for bizarre human behavior. We just had it with our film, too. There was so much drama - or it was really like a comedy. I could not believe the way people were about it!
Araki: Yeah. Credits suck. It's just the whole "Produced by," "Executive Producer," "Associate Producer," that whole thing.
On the current climate and what's changed over the years:
Green: There's a lot of ways of approaching the financing, structuring and putting the project together, but with this particular project [Snow Angels], it became pretty clear that it was execution dependent. It needed to prove itself. It wasn't something that you could pitch to a studio or a distributor and have them get enthusiastic about. It was something that they could respect the writing maybe or the casting, but it really had to be made without the corporate involvement because this one needed special handling. You needed to show people what the movie was about rather than trying to verbalize it. But every situation is different. You look at the market, what people are selling, and this wasn't a project that had an obvious fit there, so we had to make it as good as we could. There are projects where you have a great concept and the package is wonderful and you make a killing up front, but you make a mediocre movie.
You have to have a respect for where the business meets the art and try to make those compromises to the best of your judgment for a particular project.
Araki: I've always said that I would rather make a movie today for a million dollars than five years from now for ten million. That's just the way I feel. That's why all my movies have been made with these very tight budgets and in a certain independently financed way. People think, oh, you're Gregg Araki, it must be so easy for you, people just throw money your way. It's not like that. Every movie is harder and harder, there's less and less movies, less and less companies out there, and more and more people wanting to make movies - like this room full of people all have movies to make. It's really competitive.
On how technology has changed since they started making films, and changed the way they make them:
Hartley: It's changed shooting, because I've been able to work with smaller cameras, DV stuff. I'm looking at the camera trying to see what that material can give me. I don't want to just try to make this new material try to do what 35mm does. It's changed my work in that it's pushed me into different imagery.
Araki: It's amazing. My first movies were literally edited on a 16mm upright sewing machine, basically, splice and tape and the whole deal. Doom Generation was one of the first movies that we cut digitally on the Avid. And I remember we had to put down a huge chunk of the budget for it, like $100,000. And then for Mysterious Skin and Smiley Face, we used a Final Cut system that was literally $2,000 for the whole thing - computers, software, everything. It makes it all so much easier, and I love the process of editing; it's so creative now. I've edited all my films and it's one of my favorite parts of the process because you just get to play with the material forever. With film editing, you never did that. You'd just cut and say, "Okay, this scene's kind of working out - don't touch it! Because it's going to fall apart if you run it through an editor again!" Now you can just play with it, sculpt it, change it - the creative freedom is amazing.
Hartley: I'd like to tell a funny story having to do with Gregg. Before I started my first feature film, I came across an article in one of thse movie fanzines in '87. It was an interview with Gregg talking about his first two films...Araki: They were literally black and white non-sync features. Hartley: And Gregg said, "Well, the first feature film cost $5,000, but the second film cost $3,000 because we had learned so much on the first one." [laughter] I cut that out, Xeroxed it, glued it to my wall. It was great.
Jenkins: Was there a difference for me? You mean because they'd invented sound? [laughter] I went to film school and shot on 16mm film and we edited on splicers and tape. What was especially new this time was doing a DI - digital intermediate color correction. This was like a gift from God. We got it because the studios, Lone Star and Fox Searchlight, each paid for half. It was kind of late in the game and we really wanted this to come to Sundance and didn't have time to do the answer prints. So a bonus of coming to the festival was this acceleration cost where they said, "Well, we're going to have to do a DI."It was phenomenal experience, where you get to go into a room, at this place called Laser Pacific in LA. It was incredible. We shot really quickly - it was 120 pages in 30 days. I thought that was really quick, though you guys probably think that's luxurious. Anyway, my DP [Mott Hupfel] was fantastic, but we had some issues in a few scenes with low light, and with DI you could take a little chunk, even just one part of a person's face that was too dark and just tweak it. It's very expensive; you can only be in this room for so long unless you're making some epic movie and have tons of money. But we got to correct a few things and it was incredible. [For example], the movie is supposed to be set in winter but we shot it in April in New York - thank God there was a snowstorm one day. That was amazing and helps sell the whole thing. But we had some problems with [too much] green throughout the whole thing and we could go in and suck out the green in these areas of the film just to make it not look like April.
On obtaining music rights:
Araki: I am a total music-head, and my movies are frequently inspired by music, so sometimes in my scripts, like in Mysterious Skin, it actually mentioned the Slowdive song that plays over the opening credits. But having been through the music ringer so many times now, the music thing is getting worse and worse for every movie. Smiley Face has a lot of my usual suspects, Chemical Brothers and all that, but also some weird cues like Styx and REO Speedwagon. As a filmmaker, also, you have to be able to - I have a huge collection - you have to be able to switch, if it's like $2,000 for that song, or $100,000, forget it. You can't insist on a specific song because you'll never finish the movie.
Green: Yeah, you have to be open-minded when you walk into it. I always have things in mind, and play music on the set constantly. I have an idea where I'm going to go. And I have a composer, David Wingo, that I work with on all my movies - he's my best friend since we went to see The Karate Kid in the third grade - he can do all sorts of stuff, so if I can't get the rights to a song I really want, he can do a version that's in the same vein. But you try to take personal approaches to it. Like Explosions in the Sky. I communicated with them directly, and said, "I know you guys are big now but it would be fun to work together." And there are other record labels where it's like, if you're not talking big bucks, it's not even worth the paperwork, so don't bother. Like we were trying to get some older, more well-known songs, and I wanted a Bread song in the movie, which was tough to get. It turned out my uncle was in a fraternity with David Gates and dropped him an email to ask about it. So you try to do those kinds of things, sometime it helps, sometimes it's a dead end.
Araki: Sometimes even that little indie label you think is cool is owned by these huge corporations like Time Warner. And because there are so many layoffs in the music industry, they have like two people clearing all the music rights for Time Warner. It's scary.
On what attracts them to particular projects:
Araki: It's weird what appeals to me. I just sort of follow my heart. Either come across material like Mysterious Skin or Smiley Face, or by writing my own scripts. Gus Van Sant gave me the best advice. He said you shouldn't worry about what everyone else is doing or what's hot or what's selling. I just do what I do. There are certain things I know I don't want to do, like I know I don't want to do a gangster movie. There are certain genres I just don't want to go near. I'm pretty open to almost anything else. I've been working on this horror sci-fi thing for a few years, and there's this family drama, an Ordinary People kind of thing - I don't know why it appeals to me, but it totally does. I try not to limit it to a "this is me" kind of thing, I just look for stories that appeal to me, that I fall in love with.
On European money:
Hartley: I once was pretty well supported in Europe, by the French, but that's over. Every single time it's a totally different thing. There were three films in a row - my second, third and fourth were made for a company in England called Zena. And that was a business deal, not "support." It was good business for both of us, but then that dried up. In the early 90s, they were making pre-sales in Europe. There was a lot of interest at that time in independent American films. It was a real new thing then, but for this American independent filmmaker at least, they lost interest. So I had to look to other places, and now most of my funding comes from the United States.
On producing other people's work and supporting up and coming filmmakers:
Green: I like helping my friends. People that help you out and work real hard and you see that they've got initiative, you see them invested in themselves. That makes you want to jump in there and help them out in whatever way possible. That may just be a phone call, a "go get 'em, Tiger," or giving them some money, or maybe literally make phone calls for them or physically help push the dolly, like I did on Great World of Sound. You kind of gauge what they need, and how passionate you are about what they're doing. It's just a matter of getting good voices out there, making movies so I stop wasting my money on some of the garbage I've shelled out cash for.
Hartley: For me, teaching has been my connection to the younger next generation. It's always kind of shocking when you discover that you actually have something that somebody else needs to know. It's like, Oh yeah, I actually do know something about that! That's very satisfying. It's very important, too, for me to stay connected to younger people, to know what's going on and what they're interested in. They're very ambitious and they're very smart, but they want to be famous and powerful.
Araki: It's really a generation thing. Hal and I and Rick Linklater and Quentin, we look back and see we were a sort of weird, 80s film school generation. We were all so passionate about filmmakers, Godard, Cahiers du Cinema, auteur theory, Hitchcock, Hawks. And the next generation seems different. When I was in film school, there were a few specific filmmakers that everyone was influenced by - Kubrick, Scorsese, Coppola... Now there's a completely different mindset and it makes me feel old. [laughs]
On living in LA:
Araki: I live in Los Angeles and love it. [laughs] A lot of people hate Hollywood and all the fake people and all that. I was just talking the other day to Miguel Arteta, who just moved to New York, and other filmmakers, Scott McGehee and David Siegel, they moved to New York, too. The cliché about LA is that everyone there is so mellow and brain dead, and life is easy because it's sunny all the time. But for me as a filmmaker, New York is such a struggle - like even just to get a carton of milk, that's your whole day, "I got milk and lived" - that I wouldn't have any energy left to make movies and write scripts. In LA, I have such an easy life, work on my scripts, work on my movies, do my stuff, that I feel fortunate.
Hartley: You're from there, right?
Araki: Yeah, well, I grew up in Santa Barbara, Southern California...
Hartley: I think this is important because - it's not necessarily about a lifestyle, but you're very part and parcel about the geography of the place. I think that contributes to an artist's voice. I've never had much of a reason to be in LA but I remember discovering your films and thinking, Wow, this is a side of LA I've never heard about. Even the authorial voice of your work was something I hadn't heard about. But it definitely seemed like LA. And around the same time, I was also getting interested in X. I said, Wow, there's something else happening there that they don't tell you about. [Note: Hartley currently lives in Berlin.]
Jenkins: I live in New York. It's a hard thing not to live by choice there because it's expensive. But I've lived in the East Village for 15 years.
Green: Los Angeles and New York are both exciting, wonderful places, and I think you can sculpt them into being the communities with resources that you need. But I like to be bored, and whenever I'm in those places, I always feel the need to go out because there's always some once in a lifetime opportunity, something amazing happening. I live in New Orleans, where I can just sit back on my porch and something amazing's just gonna go right by, and I'll just sit there with a book or a lemonade watching it go by. I like to stay away from the business, keep it peaceful.
On the pressures of the indie market; and the "Sundance film":
Jenkins: You're talking about the institutionalization of the independent aesthetic, right? Like that there's this "originality" - "Oh, they're quirky," and they're this, and that it's going to be that kind of independent film or that kind. I do think there's this kind of expectation when you're seeking financing that they need to be able to plug it into something that they've already seen that was successful. Just like they do in Hollywood. It's just a different economic branch of the same problem. If there's something utterly unique, or if it hasn't been discussed before, it's harder. There was a lot of anxiety with my movie because it's not the sexiest subject matter in the world - two middle-aged siblings put their father in a nursing home - that doesn't sound really sexy. It was really hard to get financing for it. I don't know, I think there is that desire to find something else like it that did well.
Araki: I don't want to sound like a preacher or something, but I don't think you should make a movie just because it's like another movie that was successful at Sundance. One of the horrors of 90s American cinema is all the people who wanted to make their Reservoir Dogs, which resulted in some of the worst films ever made. You need to stay true to your own individual voice and what you want to say, and not go, "Oh, Little Miss Sunshine is great and I want to make the Sunshine of next year." As a filmmaker, you need to be true to your voice, and hope that will connect on a broader level.
January 25, 2007
Sundance. Black Snake Moan."Some people will consider Black Snake Moan [site], Craig Brewer's second feature after his triumphant debut at Sundance two years ago with Hustle & Flow, to be a powerfully involving story of redemption," blogs Eric Kohn for the New York Press. "Others will think that it's exploitative, directionless, and dumb. There is a middle ground, however, and I'll say this: At least it's not Hounddog." But Zoom In Online's Annie Frisbie calls it a "parable wrapped in an exploitation movie" and "immensely entertaining.... There's nothing shy about this movie, with [Christina] Ricci seducing everyone around her (including the audience), and [Samuel L] Jackson unleashing the full force of his powerful personality. Each gives a mesmerizing performance. Together, they're a sticky August night, cold beer and heat lightning, too many ways to sin but there's always church on Sunday." Updated through 1/30. Cinematical's James Rocchi finds it "a lesser film than Hustle & Flow. It's not that Black Snake Moan is provocatively salacious, but rather that it's poorly structured." For the Los Angeles Times, Robin Abcarian talks with Ricci and Brewer, who calls the film "a kind of stew. A Southern narrative. This constant circle of sex and fear and lust and God." And Sheigh Crabtree meets cinematographer Amy Vincent: "If Craig came to me with material even more extreme than Black Snake Moan, I know it's ultimately going to be a story about love and redemption. So yes, I would go anywhere with him." Ray Pride snaps photos of the swag: "This is the rear of the Black Snake Moan promotional hat; after you see the back side, you may thing it's both crass and brilliant, as a handful of people think of the movie itself." Updates, 1/26: "It's difficult to calculate a film's merits while enveloped in celebrity endorphins and the clicking of a thousand camera phones, but let's just say the audience turned up determined to have a good time and was not disappointed," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Some viewers will doubtless disagree, but I see no misogyny at the heart of Black Snake Moan. It depicts a misogynist society, one that has beaten, shamed and victimized Rae all her life. But if that society has warped Rae's self-image, it has not vanquished her spirit. Both she and Lazarus may be trapped in dime-novel situations, separately and together, but they nonetheless are complicated, fleshed-out characters, marred by self-hatred and stiffened by pride." Bob Fischer talks with Amy Vincent for Filmmaker. Update, 1/30: Scott Foundas calls it "a fairly straightforward variation on George Bernard Shaw - Pigsfeetmalion, if you will. When he outgrows his terminal adolescence, Brewer might be the perfect filmmaker to take on William Faulkner or Tennessee Williams." Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. Longford."A crime that shocked a nation becomes the touchstone for a social campaigner's test of his Christian beliefs in Longford, another powerful exercise in dramatized 'reimagining' by The Queen scribe Peter Morgan," writes Derek Elley in Variety. "It's inspiring to see faith in action taken seriously, and a reminder that religion has its share of saints as well as hypocrites," writes Annie Frisbie for Zoom In Online. For background on "one of the most engrossing of the new British films," see David Thomson's recent piece for the LA Weekly. Andrew Haydon saw it on the UK's Channel 4 back in November and, writing for Culture Wars, found a few problems. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Park City, 1/25.A few odds and ends. First, today at noon, there'll be an event at the intersection of Main Street and Heber Avenue: "Filmmakers Rally Against Troop Surge... We stand in solidarity with the nationwide protests planned for Saturday Jan 27." David Bordwell: "We call a bland Indie film quirky, but there are others we call dark. They're Indie Guignol.... Reports from Sundance indicate that the trend isn't flagging." Rob Nelson in the City Pages on a few docs: "Zoophiles are people, too, but not so the genocidal monsters of the Darfur doc The Devil Came on Horseback." "An alleged cult, the police and HBO all mingled in a wild night Tuesday in Park City," reports Steven Zeitchik for Variety. "At a Slamdance screening of Noah Thomson's docu Children of God, two members of 'the Family,' the alleged cult profiled in the docu, were ushered out of a Q&A after they began protesting the film and one was found to be wearing a microphone." Via the Film Panel Notetaker, Shooting People's Jesse Epstein's notes on the Documentary Funding panel. A bit of online viewing that hasn't been mentioned in other entries:
Noir City."The screen comes painted in startling collisions of black-and-white, but the truth is never anything but gray," writes Robert Avila at SF360. "It's classic film noir - courtesy of Noir City 5 [tomorrow through February 4], the fifth edition of San Francisco's prominent annual noir fest - and its indelible contrasts color the world to this day in iconic images as definitive as the light cut by a Venetian blind." For the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Max Golberg talks with fest organizer Eddie Muller about how the event has prompted studios to look into their vaults, release DVDS and, more urgently, preserve their treasures: "'In these last five or six years,' he says, 'I've learned the possibility is very real that American culture can just decay and slip away.'" Somewhat related: New Yorkers, you can get your noir fix at the Pioneer, currently screening Shockproof, written by Sam Fuller and directed by Douglas Sirk.
Sundance. Slipstream."Apparently needing to release some private thoughts, musings and images to the world, Anthony Hopkins takes a leap into stunning self-indulgence with his directorial debut, Slipstream," announces Robert Koehler in Variety. "What can either be viewed as one huge home movie or a plaything from an actor who has been observing other filmmakers for decades, pic strains to convey the interior emotions and ruptures of a vet screenwriter on deadline, and the obnoxious film crew and cast that keeps intruding into his universe.... If, among actors-turned-filmmakers, Clint Eastwood stands on one pole of classical restraint, Hopkins certainly stands on its opposite." "In this poor man's Inland Empire, the veteran actor and first-time filmmaker condenses a lifetime's worth of mental doodles into one flatulent anti-industry tirade," writes Dennis Lim for indieWIRE. "The promise in the program note that the audience will start 'questioning the limits of the human brain' proves all too accurate." "The editing is absolutely squirrel-fucking insane," notes Quint at AICN. "At the Q&A afterwards, Hopkins said that he views the whole thing with a great sense of humor.... I'm still personally trying to figure out just what the hell Slipstream is." John Horn talks with Hopkins for the Los Angeles Times. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. In the Shadow of the Moon."David Sington's In the Shadow of the Moon is an awe-inspiring film about an unbelievable accomplishment," writes James Israel. "One particularly ironic shot [is] of a modest sign that NASA displays after landing on the moon that simply states, 'Task Accomplished.' It is obviously reminiscent of a recent display of misguided bravado that makes one yearn for the 1969 America where racial and social lines were being redrawn, people weren't afraid to speak out against a unjust war, and men dared to dream of the impossible." Updated through 1/29. But Michael Lerman, writing at indieWIRE, finds it "overly nostalgic, dripping with sentimentality from every pore, and putting the old TV footage to triumphant music seems like a forced miscalculation." A "surprisingly fresh take on familiar material," writes Jamie Tipps at Film Threat. "The success of this movie is twofold. First, Sington treats the topic with a combination of wonder and awe... Second, lest he fall into over sentimentality, the director balances his reverence with the interviews of the astronauts, a technique which effectively anchors the grand abstractness of the subject in the wonderfully human details." Jennifer Hillner at Wired News: "I sat down with Apollo 11 vet Buzz Aldrin two days after his seventy-seventh birthday to talk about the movie, his views on the space program today, and what the future holds." IndieWIRE interviews Sington. Update, 1/26: Picked up by ThinkFilm for $2.5 million. (Variety). Update, 1/29: Tom Hall: "There is a clear dedication in In the Shadow of the Moon to the power of our collective will to realize the fullest of human potential, and in the face of so many films highlighting the depths of human behavior, Sington's movie was a true breath of much needed (and highly enlightened) fresh air." Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
January 24, 2007
Sundance. The Nines."Screenwriter John August (Go, Big Fish, Charlie's Angels) makes his directing debut with The Nines, an interlocking metaphysical puzzle that amuses, engages, frustrates, and leaves audiences with a lot to chew on," writes Annie Frisbie at Zoom In Online. "August is going way, way conceptual with The Nines, and gives Lost a run for its metaphysical money." But for Mike D'Angelo, writing for ScreenGrab, August is "squandering his first shot as an auteur by indulging an idea so breathtakingly stupid that I personally witnessed it get shot down twice in undergraduate screenwriting courses at NYU, in both cases by professors who cared enough about their students not to let them waste their time on anything that inane." Dennis Harvey, writing in Variety is far more upbeat, admitting that, yes, "The Nines arcs from witty Hollywood insiderdom to a climactic metaphysical leap that may leave many viewers nonplussed. Nonetheless, there's more than enough intelligence, intrigue and performance dazzle to make this an adventuresome gizmo for grownups - albeit one whose complexity presents marketing challenges." But here's the thing for the Hollywood Reporter's Sura Wood: "August initially conceived of the project as three separate ideas, and therein lies a problem: The three sections, which feature the same four actors playing different roles with overlapping phrases and ideas, don't coalesce into a cohesive whole or stand on their own." Via Ray Pride, a few pages from the screenplay. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. Padre Nuestro."Loaded with supersonic shooting style and moral ambiguity to spare, Christopher Zalla's Padre Neustro is easily the best directed narrative feature I've seen at this year's festival," begins ST VanAirsdale at the Reeler. "It's an engrossing story - a tribute to Zalla's extraordinary pacing and characterizations; that said, it's a difficult sell if only because it features only one genuinely likable character - Diego - and then places him inexorably in devastation's path." Updated through 1/30. Another endorsement comes from Steve Ramos at indieWIRE: "[A]rguably the best dramatic feature I've watched so far at the festival. My initial response would be to call Padre Nuestro an immigration drama, one grittier and a notch more tragic than the recent Sundance movie Maria Full of Grace." The Reeler and indieWIRE interview Zalla. Update, 1/25: James Ponsoldt talks with Zalla for Filmmaker. Updates, 1/30: Cyndi Greening: "I really connected with this film and, clearly, the dramatic jury panel did as well. Superbly acted, exquisitely shot and beautifully edited, Padre Nuestro was a pleasure on many levels." Scott Foundas: "Part thriller, part Greek tragedy, the Spanish-language Padre Nuestro stars a cast of unknowns in what is an often bleak portrait of America's have-nots, and is one of the only movies I saw in this year's competition that reminded me of the original mandate of the indie-film movement: to tell stories that Hollywood itself would not tell and give voice to those who are too often silenced in mainstream movies." Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. Never Forever."Never Forever from writer/director Gina Kim is a marvelous film," writes Annie Frisbie at Zoom In Online, "a haunting meditation on love, desire, and hope, with a radiant central performance from [Vera] Farmiga, in a role that couldn't be more different from the cocaine addict she played in Debra Granik's Down to the Bone... [A] small masterpiece." Updated through 1/28. "The film's lyrical soundtrack by Michael Nyman calls to mind an earlier work by the composer, Jane Campion's The Piano, obviously an influence on Never Forever," notes Anthony Kaufman in indieWIRE. "While evoking similar lyrical rhythms, dramatic flourishes and feminist themes, the choice of Nyman further helps to tip the film over the edge, from intimate character study to broad overreaching melodrama. Not that this is a terribly bad thing." The Reeler interviews Kim. Update, 1/26: A "surprisingly sensitive and mature first feature," writes Bryan Whitefield at ScreenGrab. Updates, 1/28: "The film is problematic less because of the soapy aspects of the story... and more because the character of Sophie is a construct that never comes together," writes Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog. And Brian Darr, right here. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. Year of the Dog."Needy human animals straining against the leash of emotional expectations make Mike White's low-key Year of the Dog more situation tragedy than situation comedy," writes John Anderson in Variety. "But Molly Shannon's bittersweet portrayal of its lonely canine-loving heroine, along with a passel of pups trying to steal the picture, make for a satisfying and funny, if ironic, comedy intended for lovers of both the beast and/or sophisticated laughs." Update, 1/25. For Mike D'Angelo, writing for ScreenGrab, White, making his directorial debut, "seems constitutionally incapable of tackling any subject without resorting to cheap ridicule" and "constantly vacillates between asking us to empathize with these misfits and prodding us to guffaw at their pain. As usual, I responded by detaching myself altogether." "Like [Gregg] Araki's Smiley Face, Year of the Dog is an enjoyable, patchy, rambling affair, a series of bittersweet comic sketches strung together with thin wire," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. Update, 1/25: Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker: "It's not a diss to say that midway through The Year of the Dog I had no idea where the film was going. Like Chuck and Buck, which White wrote, The Year of the Dog takes offbeat narrative asides and refuses to be bound by the rules that govern Hollywood-produced romantic comedies." Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. Son of Rambow."Pairing very Britishly dry humor with a light-hearted exuberance, Son of Rambow [site] takes what could've been a gimmicky premise and turns it into a highly original comic adventure tale," writes Annie Frisbee at Zoom In Online. The film "aspires to be a lot more than just another Rushmore, and it achieves it in spades." "After a week of high-power documentaries and wrenching dramas at Sundance, there's a strong chance I may have been extra-susceptible to the charm and sheer exuberance of Son of Rambow, the newest film from director Garth Jennings and the production team known as Hammer and Tongs," writes Cinematical's James Rocchi. "But I don't think so; the giddy, goofy and heartfelt creativity of Son of Rambow would stand out regardless of where, or when, one had the good fortune to see it." "[F]uckin' great," exclaims Quint at AICN: "It's a comedy, absurd at times, it's a fantasy, it's a family drama, it's a coming of age story and it's also a love letter to watching and participating in the making of movies." Variety: "A bidding war for British coming-of-age pic Son of Rambow broke out Monday night and lasted into dawn Tuesday before Paramount Vantage walked away with all worldwide rights for a reported $8 million." Updates, 1/25: Mike D'Angelo at ScreenGrab: "Son of Rambow lacks the melancholy undercurrent that made Wes Anderson's film something truly special, but it definitely brings the funny." Ben Walters for Time Out: "[A]n absolute treat, a schoolboy yarn with a bracing emotional honesty that packs a real kick." Update, 1/26: Acquired by Paramount Vantage for over $7 million. (Variety). Michael Lerman at indieWIRE: "[T]he perfect kids' film, capturing a fun, childlike and energetic spirit while simultaneously discussing issues of leadership, popularity and, to a surprising degree, religious choice." Updates, 2/3: Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog: "Thick with whimsical visual gags (Rushmore cut a bit of a swath through Sundance 2007), 80s references and well-placed pathos, Son of Rambow works because of its leads: [Bill] Milner is wide-eyed and utterly without guile, while [Will] Poulter is not unlike Benny Hill squashed into the body of a ten-year-old. Neither panders for the sake of cuteness; both approach their roles with a certitude that's a reminder that even in the depths of childhood, you never think of yourself as a child." Via Brendon Connelly, Coming Soon's "nice, long interview" with Hammer and Tongs. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Park City Dispatch. 6.David D'Arcy moderated a panel last night of military experts, a journalist and No End in Sight director Charles Ferguson and producer Alex Gibney. Here, he offers his take on the film - and on the mess we're in. Related linkage follows. The title No End in Sight points to how worrisome things have become In Iraq and in Washington. You get the feeling that the film could have been called The Perfect Storm if that title had not already been taken. Charles Ferguson's first feature, produced by Alex Gibney (The Trials of Henry Kissinger, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), probes the decision-making process that got us into Iraq, and the subsequent decisions that got us in even deeper, as the Iraqi population and then the American electorate became aware of how a bad idea became an even more badly managed disaster. After taking Baghdad, the US forces watched as Iraqis looted their capital, destroying its infrastructure, pillaging its museums amd libraries, demoralizing the city, and fueling an uncontrollable atmosphere of anarchy that prevails today. Ferguson's film tracks the collapse of order from then to now, juxtaposing the recollections of analysts, administrators and soldiers about how the war was managed with the consequences of those decisions on the ground. It is graphic and grim. The doc raises and explores now-familiar facts that should have been part of John Kerry's standard speech in 2004. When an advisory group assembled a 13-volume warning on the difficulties of occupying Iraq, Bush never read it. When it came to assigning responsibility for occupying Iraq, the White House assigned it to the Defense Department. When Bush annointee L Paul Bremer, the man given carte blanche to run Iraq, arrived in May 2003, one of his first major decisions was to disband the Iraqi army, sending hundreds of thousands of men with guns into unemployment. When the demoralization that followed fled the loosely organized opposition called the "insurgency," Donald Rumsfeld denied that such a thing existed. The list goes on. Yesterday I moderated an event that brought together Ferguson, Gibney, former Marine officer Seth Moulton, former general and Iraq administrator Jay Garner, former Baghdad administrator Barbara Bodine, former chief of staff to Colin Powell, Lawrence Wilkerson, and Omar Fekeiki, a journalist who ran the Baghdad office of the Washington Post, who now studies journalism at UC Berkeley. Everyone seemed to agree that the US war in Iraq had reached a point of crisis, at least with this administration, and that much of the challenge for the US there involved undoing the damage that the US occupation had caused after the capture of Baghdad. The Vietnam parallels, loose but clear, came up again and again, not least in the manipulation of language to sway public opinion. What other reason could there be for talking about a troop "surge" instead of an escalation? Remember that "escalation" was first used by the Johnson administration to avoid calling a troop increase by its actual name. Garner and Wilkerson, both Vietnam veterans, were quick to acknowledge the connections. No End in Sight does not raise specific Vietnam parallels, a deliberate choice by its director. It's not anything like Hearts and Minds, Peter Davis's essential 1974 documentary which surveys conditions on the ground from battlefields to brothels, and talks to soldiers and politicians after the 1973 decision to end the draft and withdraw US troops. (Hearing the soldiers talk, you remember that these kids were 19 and 20 years old. Suffice it to say that if a draft were in effect today, Bush would have gotten nowhere near invading Iraq.) Ferguson's Iraq footage tends to be observation of horrific events and interviews with officials and other observers. Yet there is something of a parallel. Peter Davis likes to quote a general's comment in Hearts and Minds, stressing that, "if you grab them by the balls, their hearts and minds will come along, too." That's beginning to sound more like Iraq, where a curfew is in effect almost four years after the invasion that the CIA director, George Tenet, said would be a "slam dunk." Two million people have fled the country. Now, in his speech last night, George W Bush offered a perverted twist on John Lennon: "Give war a chance." Remember that the White House set the FBI out after Lennon for proposing the opposite. The other parallel might be the long study of the decision-makers in the Vietnam War, The Best and the Brightest, by David Halberstam. In that 1972 epic, Halberstam told the story of a high-achieving elite of a generation that put itself in the service of a myth about American power and virtue that the Vietnam War put to rest - for most of us. I've never heard or seen any of W's reflections on the Vietnam War - too busy keeping the Corvette tuned. It's clear that we don't have the best and brightest in the White House. Just listen to the commander in chief - or listen to the analysts in No End in Sight whom he and his advisers at the Defense Department and in the Ocval Office ignored. The similarity is that a clutch of men - and a woman Secretary of State walking and talking in lockstep - have brought us this war, with minimal accountability. So far, no Robert McNamara has emerged as a critic of the war. Lawrence Wilkerson is the highest-level former official so far to repudiate the policies that took us to Iraq, and he was an army colonel who was Chief of Staff to Colin Powell. Let's bear in mind that McNamara didn't emerge as a public critic until years later. Where is this war's Daniel Ellsberg? I was struck yesterday by an observation by the Iraqi journalist Omar Fekeiki - that he envied the people of Sudan, because there at least the Bush administration was aware of the problem that the people of Darfur were facing. I think his parallel is completely wrong. Sudan's Darfur region is facing an extermination campaign that reminds you of the worst days of Saddam Hussein, and getting the press in there to cover it is extremely difficult. Yet his words reflect the depth of anger at the US and what has been done in the name of the "war on terror." No End in Sight suggests that things could get far worse before they improve. Isn't that what the title means? Seen on the Main Street: the mantra on the button circulated by the Sundance Festival is "Focus on Film." Alas, on Main Street it might as well read "Focus on Fur." There are enough furs on Main Street strollers that I can just imagine how much more fur there is inside the VIP limousines favored by those film types who wouldn't be caught dead walking anywhere. A store is advertising 80 percent discounts. At Park City prices, that's probably just twice retail. The street could easily be carpeted with the pelts of these dead animals. I haven't yet determined whether this is "independent" fur. I always thought it looked a lot better on the original animal.
"Now that both public and the politicians are denouncing the war in Iraq, documentaries like Charles Ferguson's No End in Sight, premiering in Sundance's Documentary Competition, are simply essential," writes Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay. "The inevitable withdrawal of US troops is sure to prompt attacks by the real 'bitter enders' - administration officials and neo-cons who will pin the war's failures on an American lack of resolve - and Ferguson's sober and straightforward documentary is the necessary rebuttal." Anne Thompson has a backgrounder for the Hollywood Reporter: "The film was fully financed by Ferguson, who earned his doctorate in foreign affairs at MIT and later sold his Silicon Valley software company, Vermeer Technologies, to Microsoft for about $133 million. His 1999 tell-all book, High Stakes, No Prisoners: A Winner's Tale of Greed and Glory in the Internet Wars, is angry, analytic and piercingly frank. So is No End." Updates, 1/25: At indieWIRE Brian Brooks reports on a press conference and adds: "Unlike fellow competition doc Ghosts of Abu Ghraib by Rory Kennedy, which focuses on one particular calamity at the hands of systematic abuse, Ferguson's doc reveals the overarching blunders, including the chaos that ensued after the invasion, destroying everyday Iraqis' confidence in the US's intentions to secure their safety." Cinematical's Kim Voynar attended the panel as well - and she's got video. "There's none of the Zinn-Chomsky-Goodman crowd here," notes Jason Silverman for Wired News. "Ferguson interviews mostly players in the Republican party and disgusted former members of the Bush team.... Devastating." Update, 1/26: "[T]his piercing and unbiased account of all the stupidity, venality and small-mindedness that created our nation's latest foreign policy disaster combines hardheaded journalism and a tragic sensibility," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, emphasizing, like so many: "This is no left-wing screed; Ferguson himself says he was initially optimistic about America's foray into Iraq.... This is the film those stubborn Bush supporters in your family need to see." Update, 2/3: Kim Voynar at Cinematical: "If the film's title strikes you as a bit negative, well, Ferguson clearly doesn't have the most optimistic outlook on the Iraq situation, but with deliberation and aforethought, he shows the viewer exactly why." Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
DVDs, 1/24.DK Holm rounds up DVD specialists' thoughts on two significant releases; a few more items follow. The reviews of Robert Bresson's heralded if difficult masterpiece from 1967, Mouchette, widely cataloged as a companion piece to Au hasard Balthazar, are finally in, but first, a few takes on upstart DVD distributor Fantoma's The Films of Kenneth Anger: Volume One. Kenneth Anger is, of course, the underground filmmaker who gradually rose to prominence after distribution of his 1947 short film Fireworks. But like many artists who emerged in the 1950s (Jack Kerouac comes to mind), he was rather misunderstood by superficial students of his oeuvre. Far from being a rebel against the corporate moviemaking machine, Anger was a child of Hollywood, born in Santa Monica, with a grandmother who worked in the studios and who himself appeared in William Dieterle and Max Reinhardt's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935) as an aspiring child actor. In 1958, he published the first version of Hollywood Babylon, a compendium of seamy gossip that exposed the grotesque underside of the dream factory. As an avant garde filmmaker, he was one of the first, if not the first, to explore gay themes openly, and he was a progenitor of the camp sensibility. That Anger had ambivalent feelings about Hollywood that far surpassed Parker Tyler's is probably a given, since Anger later became a disciple of Aleister Crowley and hobnobbed with satanist Anton LaVey and Manson-follower Bobby Beausoleil. Adding to his controversial standing, Anger is also, frankly, a self-mytholgizer and resume padder. Which doesn't lessen fascination for the films he actually did make. The Fantoma disc gathers together five films covering the years 1947 to 1954 (Fireworks, Puce Moment, Rabbit's Moon, Eaux d'artifice, and Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome), all restored and complete with commentary tracks by Anger, in a box set that includes a 48-page book celebrating Anger. Glenn Erickson, the DVD Savant, digs into the disc with enthusiasm. Noting that as an "experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger used his camera to express his innermost feelings," and that his "first efforts are photographically crude but visually arresting; they communicate precise states of mind and conjure visuals that stick in the memory," while taken together his films "express a personal, symbolic inner world." Anger's "personal visions seem obsessed with the idea of transformation, a concept that links his fascinations with glamour, monsters and ambivalent primal creatures akin to the mythological 'elementals' of his later work." After in depth considerations of each film in the set, Erickson praises the transfers, which are "annotated with text explaining their various 'lives' in altered forms; some have been exhibited in shorter versions and synchronized with different soundtracks" - as well as Anger's "relaxed commentaries" in which he "speaks openly" but "doesn't indulge in gossip or tell tales out of school." Erickson concludes: "Experimental filmmakers can't be accused of doing what they do for the money. Anger's work has lived on in museum and film school showings; none of them ever received anything like an organized theatrical distribution." Fernando F Croce, writing at Slant, is somewhat less enthusiastic. Anger's career is "one of fragments, of esoteric sensation pieces surreptitiously made when not lost, unfinished, or figuratively as well as literally buried," and as it progressed, Anger slipped from meaningful personal expression to films that "explicitly linked film form (color, movement, rhythm) to the tools of occult intoxication, and his films became increasingly more of an excuse to soak in the voluptuousness of pure style." Croce finds the transfers "noticeably cleaned up from previous copies," though "the image occasionally has a slightly muted feel that goes against Anger's splurging style," and he has little patience for Anger's commentary track, which "drops interesting bits (the first midnight screening of Fireworks counted James Whale and Dr Alfred Kinsey among its guests), but it is overall barren, mostly descriptive along the standard 'This is milk poured on me in slow motion' lines." Still, Croce concludes that it is a "long-overdue presentation for the valuable fragments of Anger's outlaw poetry."
Dave Kehr in the New York Times: "With their veil of dirt and time removed, the Anger films no longer look as angrily marginal as they once did: these are extremely handsome films, designed and photographed with a discriminating eye.... [T]hey traffic in many of the same tattered movie myths that would later turn into the delirious camp of Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures (1963) and Mike Kuchar's Sins of the Fleshapoids (1965)... [Anger] had the taste and the technical know-how to capture the hermetic world of silent film." Also, Criterion's new releases of Yojimbo and Sanjuro. Nathan Lee in the Voice: "Proto-pop genius, gay maverick, hardcore occultist, master of montage, and, through his pioneering use of unauthorized pop songs and intensity of vision, one of the most influential filmmakers of the 20th century, Kenneth Anger is a cornerstone of the American avant-garde and a gift that keeps on giving.... For all his emphasis on magic, myth, symbol, and rite, Anger is as material a filmmaker as Brakhage." More from André Salas at Filmmaker and Michael Atkinson at IFC News, where he also reviews the Robert Mitchum Signature Collection: "Mitchum knew how to be on film in a way that eludes most actors; his massive bulk, sleepy eyes and laconic voice disguised a quick, quiet intelligence that always seemed to surprise his co-stars."
Park City Dispatch. 5.Before ceding the floor to Brian Darr and his terrific takes on a slew of animated shorts at Sundance, a reminder: you can watch all sorts of shorts right now. Online. Free. Take a break from news of acquisitions and crowded restaurants and all that and watch some films. Updated through 1/29. So far, after five days at my first-ever Sundance Film Festival and no out-and-out duds, my very favorite film so far is an animated short. Everything Will Be OK (not to be confused with the global warming documentary Everything's Cool or Crispin Glover's new It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE., neither of which I've had a chance to see here yet) was the jaw-dropping capper on a very respectable selection of animated short films put together under the easy-to-remember title: Animation Spotlight. The spotlight began with Alex Weil's One Rat Short [site], an effectively anthropomorphic sci-fi vignette that suffered slightly in its narrative clarity in a few moments but more than made up for it in technological accomplishment. Suitably dazzled by this opening, the audience was ready to absorb animations which focus less effort on photorealistic visuals and more on humor and/or intensely personal or political visions. Several of the films engage directly with the history of illustration and animation, and their broader influence in the public sphere. Martha Colburn's cut-out and paint piece Destiny Manifesto emphasizes ghoulish parallels between America's bizarrely persistent romanticized image of the conquering frontiersman with images used to sell modern warfare to our populace. Yong-Jin Park's Duct Tape and Cover restates the ludicrousness of governmental attempts to simultaneously frighten and reassure an infantilized public, by wedding the soundtrack of the 1951 Civil Defense animation Duck and Cover - perhaps you remember "Bert the Turtle" - to sequences presented in the manner of a Homeland Security safety pamphlet, only animated by computer. Somewhat less elegant but even more packed with darkly subversive humor is Aaron Augenblick's Golden Age [site]. This set of ten Comedy Central-produced shorts exposes the embarrassing underbelly of cartoon history in punchline-packed two-minute "documentary" segments chronicling the rise and fall of a famous cartoon character - or rather a transparent stand-in like Mortimer Koon (which plays off of Mickey Mouse's roots in blackface) or Antsy & the Bugaboos (think chipmunk). There are far too many references for an animation buff to catch on a first viewing, and seeing all ten episodes in rapid succession felt like some kind of overdose, but if in some ways a festival setting didn't seem quite right for Golden Age, it was a kick to be in a room with hundreds of other people unable to control their laughter. But Everything Will Be OK was most definitely in its natural environment projected on the large Prospector Square Theatre screen. Hilarious, touching, frightening, and wildly cinematic, Don Hertzfeldt's latest short continues down the same fourth-wall-breaking path he set himself on with Rejected and the trilogy from the first Animation Show. But this time the non-sequiturs and meta-cinematic effects are not used to reveal and expand the filmmaking apparatus so much as they serve to simulate an everyman named Bill's mental collapse. This is Hertzfeldt's first time using split-screen techniques (that I'm aware of; a couple of his films have eluded me), and he uses them a lot, and quite well. Sometimes with up to eight or nine separate screens in action on the frame at the same time, reminiscent of Sid Laverents's Multiple SIDosis. He also introduces photography of objects and scenery which help show Bill's increasing alienation from the rest of the world. Hertzfeldt's stick-figure drawing style may be propelling him into experimentation outside of the animator's traditional realms, but it's also the secret weapon that makes his films as widely relatable as they are. In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud expresses the ideas that human beings naturally find faces everywhere we look, and that the less specific the face we find, the more suitable it is to be a stand-in for ourselves. The barebones character constructions in Lily and Jim or Everything Will Be OK are consequently more universal and understandable than those in, to use a handy example from the same program, Joanna Quinn's wonderfully clever and superbly penciled, but oddly unfunny Dreams and Desires - Family Ties. Which means that anyone who's ever felt a bit out-of-sync or depressed is likely to see themselves in Bill, and become appropriately unnerved when the representation of his anxiety begins to overwhelm even the narrative conventions Hertzfeldt had previously established.
Related: As you may have noticed, clicking on a few of those names, the Reeler interviews Alex Weil (One Rat Short), Martha Colburn (Destiny Manifesto and Meet Me in Wichita) and Aaron Augenblick (Golden Age). Update, 1/29: "Where Rejected stands as a wonderfully entertaining piece about just what happens when commercialism meets art, Everything Will Be OK goes for a more general sensibility," writes Dan Eisenberg. "It's Hertzfeldt's best film to date, and I desperately hope he continues in this direction." Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. Hounddog."Hounddog is an indigestible gumbo of Southern Gothic ingredients seasoned with snake oil, Biblical hash, and thoroughly unpalatable spice," growls Variety's Todd McCarthy. "Deborah Kampmeier's second feature became notorious even before its premiere as the 'Dakota Fanning rape movie.' The problem, however, is not that pivotal scene, which is as tastefully handled as it could be under the circumstances, but the fact that, after a reasonably atmospheric, if uneventful, first hour, the picture subsequently runs right off the rails." Updated through 1/25. "[W]hat kept me interested throughout was Fanning's unbelievable performance," writes Jason Guerrasio for Filmmaker. Otherwise, he's underwhelmed, but: "Whether she's singing Elvis, being the object of affection to all the neighborhood boys or struggling with her dysfunctional life she captivates the screen. Unfortunately most will be interested in the film's 'controversy' before the talent put into it." "Dakota Fanning got sold a bill of goods," writes Annie Frisbie at Zoom In Online. Hounddog "gives her yet another opportunity to prove how frighteningly talented she is, but the movie is an absolute disaster from start to finish." "[D]eeply moving," submits Grib to AICN. "[T]he real reason to see Hounddog is Fanning. She does things in this film that would challenge an actress twice her age." Torie Bosch explains to Slate readers why Hounddog is not, in fact, kiddie porn: "[F]or the film to run afoul of the law, an average viewer would have to think that Dakota Fanning really did engage in sexual intercourse on the set during production." Click back to Jason Guerrasio's entry to see why you'd have to have severe reality displacement issues to think so. Robin Abcarian had a backgrounder in the Los Angeles Times a few days before the premiere: "'I have to say I have started to feel very sorry for these people who are out to silence this,' said Kampmeier, who wrote, produced and directed the film. 'These are really wounded people, just like the characters in the film.'" Updates: Mike D'Angelo at ScreenGrab: "If nothing else, the film will lay to rest any doubts about whether Fanning is genuinely gifted or merely precocious - her character as written may be little more than a fanciful construct, but she tackles each suspect emotion with unshakable conviction. Alas, she's trapped in a movie that seems unaware that wise Negro stablehands and drooling Faulknerian man-children have gone out of style for a very good reason." Eric Kohn for the New York Press: "Hounddog is one of those movies that makes people who love the medium join together in the name of creative integrity and wage war against the vacuous monstrosity that threatens to malign their favorite art form." Slate seems to have taken a particular interest in this movie. Particularly which, I'm not sure, but here's Meghan O'Rourke: "Dakota Fanning has been making dark and creepy movies for years. Over her seven-year career, she has become a small, blond embodiment of America's fond hope that scarred children can be restored to childish innocence. It was only a matter of time before the trauma she faced would be rape." Salon's Andrew O'Hehir: "Sundance 2007 finally has a bomb. Every festival needs one.... [I]t turns out the defenders of my ancestral faith are correct, if only by accident: Hounddog should be boycotted. Not because it depicts the sexual exploitation of children but because it's a turgid, overripe mess." Updates, 1/25: It's the Showgirls of Sundance, suggests Steve Ramos at indieWIRE. Not a bad thing: "I think it speaks to a fantastic theatrical future akin to a John Waters movie." Cinematical's Kim Voynar joins the chorus: Fanning, good; movie, bad. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
January 23, 2007
Sundance. The Devil Came on Horseback."The aesthetic arguments against the film I heard in the post-movie chatter of the exit lobby - it's too long, it's depressing, some of the structure was off - must, and do, take a backseat to the moral argument presented in it," argues Cinematical's James Rocchi. "It's not enough to simply say 'never again' to genocide when it is happening over and over and over right now. The Devil Came on Horseback [site] hurts the heart and stirs the soul, because even as I write this, even as you read this, even while this film is perhaps finding its way to a distributor and wending its way slowly to theaters, the killing in the Sudan will go on, and on, and on until someone in power decides that it must stop or until there is no one left to kill." Updated through 1/29. "While the point of view of privileged, Anglo observers on African issues usually raises hackles, such is not the case with The Devil Came on Horseback, a tense account of former Marine Capt Brian Steidle's witnessing of the genocide in Sudan's western province of Darfur," writes Robert Koehler in Variety. "Since Steidle, armed only with his camera, became an unexpected recorder of ethnic cleansing, his work is uniquely suited to the purposes of documakers Anne Sundberg and Ricki Stern." The Reeler interviews Stern and Sundberg. Earlier: David D'Arcy, right here. Update, 1/29: James Rocchi introduces a video interview at Cinematical: "We had the chance to speak with the film's subject, Brian Steidle, and co-director Annie Sundberg. If, after viewing this interview, you're interested in the Web sites Mr Steidle mentions, please go to any of the following: www.savedafur.org; www.sudandivestment.org or www.globalgrassroots.org." Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. Weapons."A slow, hazy hip-hop trip through screwed-up young America, Weapons is the anti-Boyz n the Hood," writes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE. "Less concerned with character development, social statements, and climatic revelations, director Adam Bhala Lough's sophomore effort is a woozy mood-piece about dead-end teens and the cycle of violence in contemporary life." Ultimately, though, "the movie - somewhere between Larry Clark, John Singleton and Gus Van Sant - loses whatever measured momentum it begins with." "Lough is about as bashful as Gaspar Noé or Larry Clark, both of whose prurient influences Weapons reflects in spades," writes ST VanAirsdale, reporting on the post-premiere Q&A for his Reeler. As for the film, "the ambiguity of its tragedy is perhaps Weapons' most devastating quality. Lough's talent is itself quite formidable, his camera seeming dislocated from its subjects yet seemingly the only record of their existence... and his skill with actors hinting at a hands-off benevolence." Both praise the heck out of that opening shot. Earlier: Craig Phillips, right here. Update, 1/24: Mike D'Angelo walked out after 40 minutes, "bored with its macho cretins and its fashionable game of chronological hopscotch. But I do want to quickly note my revulsion for its celebrated opening shot, which even people who dislike the film overall seem to find impressive." Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index. Update, 1/25: Scott Weinberg at Cinematical: "I'd like to say that the film, for all its grunge, grime and bleakness, is a well-intentioned piece, but I never really got that impression from Weapons. It's basically another 'teens hate everyone, especially each other' story, not very much unlike River's Edge, Mean Creek or the collected works of Larry Clark - only not nearly as good." Updates, 1/29: "[M]y least favorite narrative film this week," writes Bryan Whitefield for ScreenGrab. IndieWIRE interviews Adam Bhala Lough.
Sundance. Red Road."This neo-noir thriller has been bouncing around the filmfest world since premiering last May at Cannes, and should finally reach US theaters this spring," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, and it's "dynamite, the kind of sexy, paranoid, creepily atmospheric picture that invades all your senses at once.... Red Road is economically crafted and full of startling moments. [Andrea] Arnold's evocation of the ruined, post-1984 surveillance culture of inner-city Britain is nothing short of terrifying." "This story has been done before, and not just by the far more audacious Morvern Callar, which Red Road conjures through its bleak Glaswegian streets and dour central performance from Kate Dickie," writes a less enthusiastic Annie Frisbee at Zoom In Online. "It hits all the story marks that have come to characterize screenplays that get processed through the Sundance Institute, where Red Road was developed.... [Dickie's] choices as an actress elevate this shopworn material into a heartbreaking, moving film." Update, 1/29: Eric Kohn: "Hitchcock would've loved this stuff, although I doubt he would've treated a feminine star with such honesty and care."
Sundance. Ghosts of Abu Ghraib."While Ghosts of Abu Ghraib is obviously a strong political documentary," writes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE, "there is an underlying psychological and moral heft that takes it beyond the well-worn form. Not only does it show how the Bush Administration has irrevocably destroyed America's moral standing in the world, but it exposes the awful truth that human nature cannot be trusted." Glenn Kenny calls it "a concise, cogent and even-handed indictment of the chain of command that made the abuses at that famous prison not just possible but inevitable." Updated through 1/29. "Not only does the film thoroughly and skillfully explain the context in which something as heinous as Abu Ghraib could happen, it attempts to understand the psychology of those involved," writes James Greenberg in the Hollywood Reporter. "[A]n important and eloquent piece of filmmaking." More from Jamie Tipps at Film Threat. The Reeler's interview with director Rory Kennedy is the most substantial so far; more from indieWIRE and a bit more from Boris Kachka in New York. Update, 1/24: Cinematical's James Rocchi calls it "a potent piece of documentary filmmaking that demonstrates a clear chain of lawless, inhuman cruelty and corruption that went from the gleaming conference tables of the Oval Office and Pentagon to the blood-spattered, shit-smeared halls of a prison in Iraq." What's more, "Kennedy reminds us that in a war on terror, bad investigatory work is more dangerous than no investigatory work at all. It's possible that one or two of the captives at Abu Ghraib were culpable terrorists; after pictures of them being assaulted by dogs, forced to simulate male-on-male fellatio or threatened with electrocution made it into the world media, it's far more probable that those inflammatory images inspired dozens, hundreds, thousands of young men and women to take up arms against the nation-state responsible." Update, 1/29: Eric Kohn: "I've come to realize that the movie is remarkable for the incorporation of a plurality of voices." Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. Nanking."The horrific 1937-38 massacre of more than 200,000 Chinese during the early days of the Japanese occupation gets a polished presentation in Nanking," writes Justin Chang in Variety, calling the doc "a vital addition to the small body of reportage on a tragedy whose repercussions continue to be a source of pain and controversy."
Sundance. The Signal."The Signal is the big discovery of the Sundance Film Festival," declares Quint at AICN. "Directors David Bruckner, Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry have made their Bad Taste. The Signal is rough and low budget, but so fucking entertaining and well made that tonight's audience was electric." "This one sold in the lobby of the Egyptian Theater around 2 am," announces Variety. Magnolia's paid $2.3 million for US, UK and Australian rights. Updated through 1/26. "I can't make heard nor tails of the film's official site," Brendon Connelly. "Can you make it do anything other than screech awfully, flash a bit and implant subliminal orders to become a murdering psychopath into your brain?" Bloody Disgusting has talked with all sorts of people involved in making the film. Update, 1/24: For Filmmaker, James Ponsoldt interviews all three directors, one by one. Updates, 1/25: Zoom In Online's Annie Frisbie: "Because there's no logic to the story, there's nothing to be afraid of, and the truest feeling it evokes is tedium." Eric Kohn for the New York Press: "The base fear of Signal stems from the idea that any innocuous digital helper could turn on you mercilessly.... Oh, and did I mention that it's funny?... Signal has a cosmic sense of justice that's often hilarious; a sense of irony about the suggestion that we really could amuse ourselves to death." Update, 1/26: Scott Weinberg at Cinematical: "It's a character-based (and very well-acted) science fiction horror flick that's got a solid sense of humor, an admirable air of dread and a 50-ton vat of ultra-gooey gore: Cool." Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. The Great World of Sound."One of the best narrative features I've seen here is also one of the smallest," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Craig Zobel's The Great World of Sound is an intimate character study of two guys clinging to the gritty underside of capitalism.... Morally ambiguous, subtly crafted, resolutely free of cliché and made with almost no money, The Great World of Sound is under-the-radar independent filmmaking in the Jarmusch-Cassavetes mode, both noble and ruthless in spirit." The Reeler interviews Zobel. Updates, 1/24: "[T]riumphs over the boundaries of constrained budgets and crew by way of fascinating filmmaking prowess," blogs Eric Kohn for the New York Press. "If the top third of Sound feels vaguely like a matured cousin of NBC's The Office (not a negative comparison, in my eyes), the rest of the movie enters the Twilight Zone of the music business, applying an anecdotal approach to an unexpected career-from-hell turn of events. A great feel-bad movie with noble intentions, this sound deserves to get heard." "A kind of American Idol meets Borat - without the pranky cultural warfare," suggests ST VanAirsdale at the Reeler. "[T]his movie deserves every accolade it has coming to it." Update, 1/26: "It wasn't the typical approach to casting supporting characters in an independent film - even one shot on a shoestring budget by a novice writer-director who earned his professional bona fides working low-level jobs in reality TV," writes Chris Lee, who talks with Zobel for the Los Angeles Times. "The movie combines elements of cinema verité, unscripted drama, guerrilla filming and conventional narrative to examine the lengths people will go to attain fame - as well as the methods of those who would prey upon such aspirations." Update, 1/29: Eric Kohn: A "beautiful investigation into the desire for fame and the sacrifice of integrity for the sake of financial gain." Update, 2/5: David Bordwell notes that "for The Great World of Sound, director Craig Zobel has created a website. Nothing new in that. But Zobel also provides a website for a fictional company in the film." Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. The Good Life."The Good Life is an impressive debut from former pro skateboarder turned writer/director Steve Berra," writes Bryan Whitefield at ScreenGrab. "Based loosely on some of his own experiences growing up and set during a Nebraska winter, the film is a somber story that maintains an undercurrent of hope even as life for its main character, Jason (Mark Webber), gets darker and darker." Even so, "For the most part, given its Sundance-friendly subject matter, the writing avoids easy cliché." John Horn recently profiled Berra for the Los Angeles Times: Updated through 1/29. Like mastering a kick-flip backside tail-slide or any of his other shin-shattering skating tricks, Berra's transition from friendless teen to gregarious filmmaker required relentless dedication amid repeated failure. His film's journey to Park City, Utah, also makes for a quintessential Sundance story: Determined storyteller perseveres for a decade; gung-ho producer cobbles together a motley crew of investors; intensely personal film beats out more than 3,000 other submissions for a spot in the nation's top showcase for indie cinema. And indieWIRE interviews Berra. Update, 1/24: Bryan Whitefield talks with Berra, Webber and Zooey Deschanel. Update, 1/25: Cinematical has a video interview with Chris Klein and Patrick Fugit. Update, 1/29: A "sweet and engaging film that has 'Sundance' written all over it," writes Tom Hall. "Chris Klein's performance as a psychopathic failure is spot-on and provides The Good Life with a dangerous sense of unpredictability." Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Park City. Index.Coverage of the coverage. Films with their own entries here on the Daily so far: Sundance: World Cinema:
Park City. Cleanup. Notes on films that screened in Park City that aren't listed here.
Sundance. Waitress."I'm really pleased and frankly relieved to report," begins Glenn Kenny, "that, a couple of snippable minutes and some dubious music choices aside (that Cake song about the jacket is one thing, but a cover of Howard Jones's 'No One Is To Blame' is pushing it), writer/director Adrienne Shelly's final feature Waitress is a delight, a refreshing comedy that mixes a bunch of familiar ingredients in offbeat ways that payoff every time, much in the way that its title character Jenna (the fabulous Keri Russell) blends, say, blackberries with bittersweet chocolate in her universally beloved pies." "All films arrive at Sundance with a back story, but none have the poignancy of Waitress." On Friday, David Carr spoke with many close to Shelly about moving on since her murder in November. Updated through 1/29. "Sundance festival Director Geoff Gilmore and Waitress producer Michael Roiff were left with the unenviable task of introducing the film, whose tone and spirit is so completely at odds with the circumstances of its debut that it made the situation especially hard to square," reports Carina Chocano for the Los Angeles Times. "A tender, loopy, uplifting comedy about a young woman (Keri Russell) who finds herself transformed by a pregnancy she thought she didn't want, Waitress is the kind of film whose giddy festival debut usually proceeds uninterrupted through its theatrical release. (Fox Searchlight bought the film soon after the screening for a little less than $4 million.)" Vadim Rizov talks with Roiff for the Reeler. Updates, 1/24: Cinematical's James Rocchi: "You'd think it'd be tricky reviewing Waitress - no one wants to speak ill of the dead - but the good news is that endorsing and recommending Waitress is easy as, uh, pie. Viewed in the context of no context, Waitress is a light, breezy romantic comedy with a crackerjack cast and a certain degree of faux-Southern charm that never descends to cornpone mawkisness, and also has a whip-smart comedic sensibility in every scene." "For many years, Adrienne Shelly was my best friend." So begins one helluva tribute from Reid Rosefelt at Zoom In Online. And here's how it ends: I don't see anything bittersweet about this: I am overjoyed. I've been in this business a long time, and Waitress could have come to the festival, gotten a standing ovation and remained unsold. And to sell to Searchlight! She hit the jackpot! I tried to explain how great this was to her mother, Elaine, but even while I was talking we both started crying. But Michael Roiff and I are sure that Adrienne can still hear the laughter somehow and is happy. As someone said at her memorial service, Adrienne's life may have been cut short, but she sure left her mark. Updates, 1/26: "Color me relieved," sighs Mike D'Angelo at ScreenGrab. "Waitress was never going to set the world ablaze, but it's a funny, charming, refreshingly levelheaded portrait of 'a woman in trouble' (to borrow a logline from the guy who came up with the Log Lady), the kind of movie that initially seems a bit clunky and forced but grows on you as you spend more time in the company of its distinctively addled characters." Acquired by Fox Searchlight for between $4 million and $5 million. (Variety). Update, 1/29: Tom Hall: "The movie is a sweet fantasy that is part Like Water For Chocolate and part Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, but it delivers a vision of men that is less than flattering. Male obsolescence is the path to female happiness." Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Oscars. Nominations.Hey, where's Colossal Youth? Kidding. The nominations. Here, and in a comment below. And all the usual bitching, PR, prognostication and so on worth noting (and if found) will be filed to this entry over the next seven days. Updated through 1/27. "In recent years, the general public's interest in watching the Academy Awards, as reflected in the ratings, has become much more dependent on how familiar they are with the films and actors being nominated. By contrast, the Super Bowl usually draws large audiences year after year, in the neighborhood of 90 million, regardless of which teams are playing." New York Times advertising columnist Stuart Elliott reports on how ABC and the Academy are working together to make "significant changes in the tune-in campaigns this year." "[N]ever in my wildest dreams could I have predicted such shockers as the Best Picture snub of Dreamgirls - somebody better put uber-fan David Poland on a suicide watch - and the Best Actor honor for Ryan Gosling of the widely praised but little seen Half Nelson," writes Joe Leydon. "This may turn out to be an interesting Oscar race after all." "If [Jennifer] Hudson goes on to win a best supporting actress Oscar, it will be another landmark moment in the breakdown between our pop culture's major and minor leagues," suggests Patrick Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times. Well, she did. "Whether it's Hudson, lonelygirl15 or Jade Goody, the foul-mouthed ex-nurse who, thanks to her antics on Celebrity Big Brother, is just as celebrated in England as Posh Spice, celebrity has been rudely down-marketed and democratized." Oh, but this is fun: "New York film critic David Edelstein and Hollywood producer Lynda Obst discuss the Oscar nominations by e-mail each year. This year, Daily Intel gets to host their thoughts. Check back throughout the day for updates." Nathaniel R weighs in with "Ten Talking Points." That Little Round-Headed Boy has "10 Thoughts," too. #5: "I guess this means I've got to break down and see Babel, huh?" Scott Lamb introduces a chart at Salon: "We were curious: How well did the nation's critics do in predicting who the nominees would be? There was nearly universal (and as it turns out, wrong) common wisdom when it came to the best-picture and best-director picks." Anne Thompson at the Risky Biz Blog: "The happy camper this morning - along with the folks behind Babel, The Departed, Little Miss Sunshine and Borat, which nabbed a surprise adapted screenplay nomination, is Clint Eastwood, whose Letters from Iwo Jima pushed Dreamgirls out of the best picture race." "I have no real answer to Dreamgirls missing Best Picture after being nominated by the PGA, DGA, SAG and others," writes David Poland. "But Clint happens. I have been saying for weeks that I expect the nominees to have 15 percent of support each and that the fight was in the other 25 percent... not unlike presidential politics. And obviously, Dreamgirls lost on that level." Time's Richard Corliss: "[W]ho knew that audiences would like a hit musical more than the Motion Picture Academy does?" "But if it's such a crowd-pleaser, where's the box office take to show for it?" counters David Cornelius at Hollywood Bitchslap. Nikki Finke: "Trust me, the folks at Dreamworks and Paramount who've been pimping this pic are having a nightmare today." "[T]he Academy, and this is just the Bagger typing in a hotel room, apparently decided that that there was not enough movie in the movie. The Bagger fell for all the stitching between songs, but others did not." Anthony Kaufman: "I can only suspect that Harvey Weinstein did some backroom dealing to get the mediocre Days of Glory into a spot that should have gone to Volver." "YAY! for Gosling," shouts Nick Davis before adding, "By my count, the five movies that did squeeze into the top race only racked up 26 nominations among them - an incredibly low number, even lower than last year's 29." Edward Copeland: "This may well be the first time where four out of the 5 nominees for best actor are the only nominations for their films and no nominee comes from a best picture nominee." "Ever since nomination voting for the Oscars closed before the Globe awards have been announced, they have often been less of a true bellweather," notes Aaron Dobbs. "The films that remain in the race generally impress with their mediocrity rather than their merit," write Jürgen Fauth and Marcy Dermansky. Jeffrey Wells is working on posting at least one entry for each category. Online viewing tips. At TickleBooth, Ajit Anthony Prem is gathering links to a few of the nominated shorts. Ryan Wu has a few observations on Paul Greengrass's nomination and more. "This sudden spike in Oscar fever draws attention to the lack of obvious [Best Picture] candidates showing this year [at Sundance]." Eric Kohn elaborates for the New York Press. Slate's Dana Stevens presents "an overview of some of the most egregious disses on the list." Gabriel Shanks: "By choosing one racial minority over another, of course, the Academy protects itself from charges of racism. But don't be fooled... this is about loving Clint Eastwood and hating anything remotely queer (including colorful musicals)." Updates, 1/24: James Wolcott: "Every year or so critics, audiences, and Academy voters decide to adopt a puppy, and this year the adorable scamp is Little Miss Sunshine, ludicrously nominated for Best Picture. It isn't a terrible fraud of a movie (unlike some previous nominees and winners), but its modest assets have been overblown and oversold, its rickety contrivances mistaken for the raw bones of life." "Some think that since only Babel and The Departed were nominated in the influential editing category, the race comes down to those two," writes Kim Masters. "Others point out that a contingent of academy voters hates Babel and dreads nothing more than seeing it become this year's Crash. Another group seems inclined to go only so far for Scorsese - and especially for this movie, which seems to have a number of endings." Also in Slate, Christopher Beam gathers a few bloggers' reactions and Timothy Noah suspects Richard Griffiths's performance in The History Boys was looked over because he's, well, "very fat." "[T]he Academy wants to be viewed as serious, thoughtful, not too frivolous - the equivalent of a knee-length hemline, a pair of Calvin Klein wire-rimmed spectacles, a fun date, but one who actually read a book once," suggests Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "[I]n the final analysis, the movies the group doesn't recognize might say more about it than its actual choices do." So, Dreamgirls: "I'd like to think that members of the Academy recognized that the picture is really a headache-inducing mess, cluttered with lousy songs, but I know that's wishful thinking. I believe that Dreamgirls simply doesn't suit the Academy's solemn, beard-stroking mood this year: Can't have any crazy plaids clashing with those modest stripes." Dennis Cozzalio: "Oscar, a lot of the movies of 2006 are too smart for you. Hell, I'm too smart for you. But you had me in 1969 with 'And the winner is Midnight Cowboy' and you've got me 37 years later, for better and worse, with 'And the Oscar goes to...' You are, at this point, for better and worse, an inextricable, though increasingly unimportant, element of the movies themselves for me." "Oscar is growing more diverse and international by the year," writes Roger Ebert. "That's perhaps an indication that the Academy voters, who once went mostly for big names, are doing their homework and seeing the pictures." Jim Emerson tracks the various "front runners" from this summer right on up to the nominations and asks, "Don't you love it when the conventional wisdom is just wrong?" Michael Guillén is torn up over two categories: Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor. "For once, the Oscars may really mean something." C Jerry Kutner explains at Bright Lights After Dark. Update, 1/25: For Deutsche Welle, Ina Rottscheidt asks Lives of Others director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, "What was it like, hearing that you had been nominated for an Oscar?" Updates, 1/26: Mark Lawson, writing in the Guardian, has a theory as to what the Academy is responding to in The Queen: "They see Elizabeth II as an example of that cherished plotline in American cinema: The Star Who Came Through." Also: Mark Brown profiles Paul Greengrass and an Oscar special edition of Film Weekly. In the Independent, Nick Hasted: "The fact that Bill Condon's [Dreamgirls] is a travesty, replacing some of the 20th century's finest music with unmemorable showtunes and hack melodrama, only confirms what a string of recent releases suggest: that current cinema cannot cope with the story of rock and soul music, and seems tame and timid by comparison."
Slamdance. American Zombie."I won't say with any confidence that American Zombie [site; watch that trailer!] is an allegory about Muslims or undocumented immigrants or anything else specific," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "It might just be a goof on the silliness of contemporary media that gets a little broader and darker as it goes along. But the mere fact that [Grace] Lee can make both a media satire and, in the end, a creepy horror flick, while at least alluding to bigger social issues, suggests the breadth of her wit and intelligence." Lee blogs at indieWIRE: "The audience was great - they really seemed to get the movie and were troopers, after a couple of nervewracking technical problems. While they were fixing the sound, Austin Basis, who plays Ivan, started passing out one of his Slamdance special edition 'zines and people went apeshit." Back in February, Grady Hendrix noted that "the most interesting thing about it is that it's entirely produced by a Korean company, iHQ. This company is planning to produce a whole raft of English-language pictures, the same way Columbia Tristar has an arm that produces Chinese-language movies." Update, 1/27: In a blog entry, Grace Lee wraps her Slamdance experience. Update, 2/1: Bloody Disgusting interviews Grace Lee. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. Joshua."[A]n expertly crafted and creepy film about a strange little kid and his fractured family," blogs indieWIRE editor Eugene Hernandez. "Striking music and visuals heighten the tension in Joshua, with Vera Farmiga and Jacob Kogan. While I still have a number of films to see, Sam Rockwell shines as a troubled dad in the two strongest overall Sundance dramatic competition entries I've seen so far, Joshua and David Gordon Green's Snow Angels." But in iW's virtual pages, Steve Ramos disagrees sharply. At Cannes, he assumes, "audiences would openly jeer a disastrous movie like director George Ratliff's unintentionally silly, bad seed horror drama Joshua. At Sundance, where the film made its premiere over the weekend, the audience I sat with was polite and only laughed at all the wrong places. The only person yelling back at the movie was I." Updated through 1/29. Rav raves at AICN. "I can't say I disliked the film. But like so many films at Sundance this year, it lacks a clear focus," sighs David Poland. Gregg Goldstein and Nicole Sperling report at the Risky Biz Blog that Fox Searchlight have picked up rights for the entire world - except Canada. No, really. IndieWIRE and the Reeler interview Ratliff. Update: "How much credit should a movie get for provoking an honest-to-goodness full-body shiver?" wonders Mike D'Angelo at ScreenGrab. "Like its similarly underrated cousin, Birth, Joshua makes up in potent atmosphere and formal mastery what it lacks in narrative logic; unlike Birth, however, it's further enhanced by two superlative adult performances (courtesy Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga) that invest a ludicrous premise with conviction and behavioral nuance." Update, 1/25: Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog: "Joshua paints itself into a corner at the end, but that final sense of deflation fits in with the film's own tendency to cut dread with the everyday. It's still an impressively subversive tweaking of the horror genre, and a memorable one." Update, 1/26: Acquired by Fox Searchlight for nearly $4 million. (Variety). Updates, 1/29: "Will Fox Searchlight play the parental horror angle (most certainly) or will the coming out story at the heart of the film be recognized and promoted?" wonders Tom Hall. Reid Rosefelt has a video interview with Blitz at Zoom In Online. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Lists, 1/23.Jonathan Rosenbaum pages through that 1000-film list at They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?. Facets Features has quietly rolled out a list of "the best films and DVDs of 2006, as ranked by select Facets staffers." #1: Taxidermia. The Cinemarati's countdown is always one of the most notable of the year in that, for each title, one member explains how that particular film landed on the list and another dissents, that is, explains why s/he feels it ought not to be on the list at all. They start at #20, never in a hurry to hit #1, and as I write, they're at #13, Inside Man. Aaron Dobbs takes a break from his Tribeca duties to finish his list: "I know everyone has been complaining about how 2006 was a bad year for film, and maybe overall it was, yet I still found myself with plenty of titles to choose from, and a few that I think will stand the test of time." His #1: Pan's Labyrinth.
Sundance. Once."It's the sort of completely un-hyped, unheralded little gem you go to a festival like Sundance hoping to find and, every once in a while, do," blogs the LA Weekly's Scott Foundas. "I don't want to overstate the case for Once - it is, after all, a very small story about a Dublin street musician (Glen Hansard, of the band The Frames) who meets up with a Czech immigrant pianist (Markéta Irglová) and discovers that they make beautiful music together. But I liked this movie right from the opening scene... Once is at its best when it bursts into song, which is, fortuitously, most of the time." "I loved it and the music was perfect," agrees AICN's Quint. "Writer-director John Carney has a great talent for capturing the way it's often easier to be intimate with strangers than friends," writes Cinematical's James Rocchi. "Shot on digital video and shot through with passion, Once is a true pleasure that only the rankest cynic couldn't enjoy." IndieWIRE interviews Carney. "Sometimes a movie leaves you with such a warm feeling, you just want to point people in the general direction of its reflected light, and not write about it, not describe modest virtues in a way that oversells genuine heart and soul," writes Ray Pride. And Once "is one of those movies." Update, 1/25: Once again (sorry), Ray Pride: "More than a couple of Sundance sins got committed yesterday: For one, I saw Once twice; who sees a movie twice at a film festival when there's so much else possibly to see and do? But the simple beauty of John Carney's romantic musical was even more powerful a second time around." A helluva photo accompanies the entry. Update, 1/26: Salon's Andrew O'Hehir: "Carney has measured the bitter and the sweet in precise proportions in Once; this is a romance for everyone who has ever fallen in love when you weren't really free to do so. A wistful and delightful little film, just the thing to send me on a jet plane homeward with an Irish song in my heart." Update, 1/29: Tom Hall: "Mark my words, John Carney's Once is going to be a minor sensation if it is ever given the chance to build word of mouth in US theaters." Update, 1/30: Scott Foundas: "In the seven years I've been coming to Sundance, I'm not sure that I've ever seen a film so completely captivate the public and the critics alike as John Carney's Once, the Irish musical drama whose little-movie-that-could odyssey was completed Saturday night when it collected the audience award in Sundance's world dramatic competition.... But as I learned from speaking to the film's producers, before Once was selected by Sundance it had been rejected by several high-profile North American and international festivals, which says something telling (and unfortunate) about the kind of snobbery that can infect the festival selection process." Update, 2/3: Fox Searchlight picks up Once. Movie City News has the press release. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
January 22, 2007
Sundance. Expired."Just saw what might well be this Sundance's Me and You and Everyone We Know," wrote David Poland the other day. "It's called Expired..."
Sundance. Steve Buscemi x 2.Steve Buscemi, "an indie god among video-store clerks: patron saint of character actors, working stiffs, and last-true-believers everywhere," as Logan Hill called him in his profile for New York last week, stars in two films at Sundance, Tom DiCillo's Delirious and his own Interview. Now, the first reviews are coming in. "Delirious is a major-league indie crowd pleaser and could end up being one of the biggest sales of the festival," wrote David Poland the other day. "[I]t has the makings of a cult classic." But the Reeler "can't figure out why Poland - whose contrarian-for-its-own-sake streak traditionally runs hot but who certainly has taste - could be so upbeat about a straight-to-DVD shelfwarmer."
Sundance. Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten."My favorite film of the festival so far, beyond a doubt," declares Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "[Julien] Temple's film is much more than a biopic of the late Clash frontman, and still less a hagiography. Like the director's outstanding Sex Pistols doc The Filth and the Fury, it's a portrait of the peculiar convulsions of British society in the late 1970s and the exciting and often self-destructive pop culture it produced. Joe Strummer has all the energy, passion and high style of Temple's many music videos, but the sheer complexity of the subject makes it his best film by a fair stretch." "Strummer's strange career, from his sudden burst onto the punk rock scene of the mid-70s with the Clash to his post-Clash burnout, exile and gradual re-emergence, provides Temple with unusually dramatic and complex elements to explore a brilliant if mercurial, creative musical life," writes Robert Koehler in Variety. Jeremy Mathews for Film Threat: "Temple succeeds in creating a portrait neither glowing nor damning, but representative of a remarkable man." Update, 1/26: "Temple's friendship with Strummer serves as a bit of a double-edged sword." Kevin Kelly explains at Cinematical. Update, 1/30: Beth Gilligan at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "[T]he critique of British life in the mid-to-late 20th century ultimately takes a backseat to an affectionate, all-encompassing portrait of a middle-class boy once known as John Mellor." Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. A Very British Gangster."From his girth to his fondness for family, Manchester mob boss Dominic Noonan could be Tony Soprano's English cousin," suggests James Greenberg in the Hollywood Reporter. "Donal MacIntyre, one of the UK's foremost undercover journalists, was granted total access to make A Very British Gangster [site], a fascinating portrait of a larger-than life crime figure."
Jim Jarmusch Blog-a-Thon.Jim Jarmusch turns 54 today - congrats! - and Sujewa Ekanayake celebrated yesterday by recalling his initial encounters with the work. Now, at Wild Diner Films, he's tracking entries in today's Jim Jarmusch Blog-a-Thon.
Sundance. My Kid Could Paint That.Following up on the Reeler interview with filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev, ST VanAirsdale reports on the story behind My Kid Could Paint That - Marla Olmstead becomes an art world star at the age of 4 - and the controversy that spills over into the making of the documentary as Bar-Lev and Marla's parents fall out. Updated through 1/27. "Director Amir Bar-Lev had originally conceived the film as a meditation on modern art, but after 60 Minutes suggested in a report that Marla, who had been compared to artistic lions of abstract art like Kadinsky and Pollock, was being assisted by her father," explains David Carr, the "documentary then morphed into a consideration of where truth comes from and who has custody of a story." ST VanAirsdale tosses in his own opinion: "It seemed fairly obvious to me just in viewing the pieces on their own (without the commentary from child psychologists, collectors, Charlie Rose and Times art critic Michael Kimmelman) that the paintings in the first Marla Olmstead show boast a complexity and construction that is entirely absent from her subsequent work. Whether it means she changed her style or approach or aesthetic is anybody's guess, but execution of the girl painting on camera in Bar-Lev's film pretty clearly lacks the technical sophistication required to pull off the detail pointed out by observers onscreen." And here's the indieWIRE interview. Update, 1/23: the most inadvertently profound and wide-ranging documentary since Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills," announces Mike D'Angelo at ScreenGrab. "[W]hen Marla's mother bitterly refers to one development as 'documentary gold,' it's at once a scathing rebuke and an undeniable truth." Updates, 1/25: As noted, David Carr's blogged about the film; now, he's got a story in the paper: "The film raises questions about the custody of a given story. Very often regular people are enrolled in the effort, but in the end, the author, not the subject, is the owner of the narrative. The choices are his — in the editing, in the framing, in the end." ST VanAirsdale: "I have doubts that any 'judge for yourself' marketing campaign (already begun at Sundance with the installation of Marla's art at a gallery on Main Street) can trump the resentment of a devastated family. Am I overthinking this, or are we gazing at a blueprint for bad buzz?" Updates, 1/26: Susan Gerhard at indieWIRE: Like [Capturing the Friedmans] which welded together a family portrait with essayistic takes on 80s sexual hysteria, My Kid marries its portraiture and investigation to an essay on art. Unlike Friedmans, the filmmaker will not really bend the stick back toward his subjects, but instead offer audiences an insider's criticisms of his own project, approach, and conclusions as an act of intellectual generosity. [...] If a "kid" could truly paint a Pollock, in this case a 4-year-old who could be at home on a Gerber label, is a Pollock really worth that much? That question about art, however, leads to another about ethics: If a kid's Pollock was actually created by an adult, is the adult more fraudulent than the too-easily replicable modern art? And that ethical question - which finally sends the director's sympathies away from his subjects - leads to yet another about documentary filmmaking itself: Whose story is it, anyway? As ST VanAirsdale notes, the film's been picked up for $1 million by Sony Pictures Classics; more from Variety). Update, 1/27: Eric Kohn in the New York Press: In some ways, Kid plays as a companion piece to last year's Who the Bleep is Jackson Pollock?, which was about a trucker who navigates the snobbery of the art world trying to sell a supposedly original Pollock work. I'm also reminded of the serialized Jules Feiffer comic about a young opera singer whose parents force him to perform, until he escapes to the streets and has a lot more fun being a regular young boy. Marla's parents don't seem antagonistic, but like everything in the creative community, surface appearances can be misleading. An arts editor for the New York Times explains that Marla is "an innocent," and that's what makes her work popular. "Nobody is saying 'fuck you' in this painting," he says. Unless, of course, they are. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Park City Dispatch. 4.Craig Phillips has been up to all sorts of things over the past couple of days. I wanted to get away from the usual "I saw Alec Baldwin in the men's room and he was looking sort of paunchy" sort of Sundance gossip, so on Sunday, I gravitated towards a few people who are tuned into something very near and dear to my heart - the environment - and found it more fulfilling to fixate on that for a bit. At Ed Begley's Project Greenhouse HQ, I told the very affable and eco-eager Ed that my stepfather, a "green" architect based in Santa Barbara, greatly respects what he does and is trying to spread the green home gospel locally (think global, etc.). Ed was very excited to hear about this, and, as everyone knows, to talk excitedly in general about all his eco-contraptions. Got a picture of him on his now-famous bicycle that stores household energy created by pedaling. I remarked that this invention could kill two birds with one stone - since Americans are also a generally overweight lot.
Peer Raben, 1940 - 2007.For years, Peer Raben worked closely with the legendary director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. He not only wrote the music for many of his films (Lili Marleen, Berlin Alexanderplatz, Lola, Veronika Voss, among others) but also worked as a producer. The composer's workshop he founded in Munich has announced that he died on Sunday evening at the age of 66. Raben has been active recently as well: He composed the music, for example, for Wong Kar-wai's 2046. The DPA. Updated through 1/23. Raben's musical choices perfectly complement Fassbinder's narratives, with his parodic twists to light entertainment (in places, an outright indulgence in conscious schmaltz), or else mock-dramatic music. Roger Hillman, "Fassbinder, and Fassbinder/Peer Raben," Screening the Past, March 2001. See also: the site and this terrific photo (1968). Update: "How to describe Raben's music?" asks C Jerry Kutner at Bright Lights After Dark. "It was as bittersweet as a hurdy-gurdy played on a streetcorner in Lang's Berlin, or as melancholy as a tango in a Parisian brothel. He was modern, but only in the sense that early 20th Century composers like Stravinsky, Bartok, and Kurt Weill are considered modern. Just as Fassbinder's films got better and better, so did Raben's music, and his last Fassbinder scores, the ones written in the early 1980s, are his most memorable: Querrelle, Berlin Alexanderplatz (a 15-hour miniseries), and Lola." Update, 1/23: The German papers: Peter Uehling in the Berliner Zeitung, Christian Schröder in Der Tagesspiegel and Die Welt.
Berlinale. Competition.The lineup for this year's Competition program at the Berlin International Film Festival is now complete. So we already know about these, these and this one; here's what's new:
Park City Dispatch. 3.David D'Arcy sees three trends and three movies: The Devil Came on Horseback, Zoo and Cold Prey. It seems that almost everyone comes to Sundance looking for trends, assuming that the festival will shape the course of independent film for a year to come. Here are three that seem clear enough. More films at the festival are getting more political. Take everything from the Darfur expose in the voice of an ex-marine, The Devil Came on Horseback [site], to the opening film, Chicago 10, about the brutal suppression of anti-war riots at the time of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in the summer of the 1968 and the circus of a trial a year later. Beside the political trend, there remains a group of films that push at the boundaries of sex that can be shown on the screen - or even discussed. Zoo, by Robinson Devor, certainly keeps this tendency active and growing, in its meditative inquiry into the men who organized sex parties with horses in Enumclaw, outside Seattle, which led to the death of one of them in 2005, when his colon was perforated in an encounter with an Arabian stallion. (The horse lived, but is not at the festival to do press. I can just imagine the "dinner" in his honor.) Next is the obvious trend that the festival is growing far beyond the capacity of Park City to accommodate it, whether the problem is cost, lodging, parking, or the congestion on a Main Street that some are now just calling Bourbon Street. Limo-lock is now as much a part of the festival as anything else. Traffic is often reduced to a motionless snarl, in which buses transporting filmgoers packed in with their faces pushed up against the windows just stand still. We all know that prices have gotten so high here that it would be cheaper to have a festival like this one in Monaco or Palm Beach. Yet Park City, I'm told, is contracted to be the home of the Sundance Film Festival through 2018. Who made that decision? A multiplex of 12 theaters, which every little town on the prairie in the US seems to have, would be an obvious answer. Don't hold your breath. A few films to consider. The Devil Came on Horseback by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern takes its title from a book by the former marine Brian Steidle and his sister Gretchen Steidle which is due to be published later this year. Steidle went to Sudan as a monitor for the African Union. He took his camera and recorded what he saw, which was death inflicted on villagers in vast areas by the Arab Janjiweed militias. Steidle makes it clear that the militias are paid, armed and commanded by the Sudanese government. It couldn't be any clearer when Sudanese planes bomb villages before the militias enter to rape, pillage and burn. Anyone foolish enough to believe that government's public argument that the killers are acting autonomously, or that Sudanese courts have the inclination to punish mass murders, won't believe it after seeing this film. Once again, genocide happens, and the world stands on the sidelines. Steidle's pictures are gruesome, yet some of the cinema here is stunning in its spareness, in its silvery images of water, which seems to be the resource in least supply in this region besides truth-telling courage, and even in the generic footage of Steidle trying to get anyone in Washington to listen. Zoo continues to be a film that everyone knows about, but few know. Who hasn't heard of the movie about the guy who gets killed after having sex with a horse? Robinson Devor was at Sundance in 2005 with Police Beat co-written with Seattle theorist/scribe Charles Mudede, about an unlikely Senegalese cop on a beat in the city that brought you Jimi Hendrix and Bill Gates. He's back with Zoo, which is the term by which practitioners of sex with animals, zoophiles, refer to themselves. Don't call it bestiality. There's real affection on both sides of the relationship, they say. If you want the tabloid side of it, or the everyday journalism, turn to the Seattle Post, where the stories on the incident were the most-read articles in the paper's history. It makes you wonder whether there isn't a mass-market audience for a film of this kind, which tries to humanize the men who have been maligned and prosecuted. They've had to turn people away from screening sin Park City, where lots of people can afford horses. Now that this film has opened up the conversation on human-animal sex, and opened up the jokes - was the horse wearing a condom? - I'm surprised at how many people are conversant on the subject, with strong opinions. Broadening the debate once again at Sundance. One film that I wouldn't have seen anywhere else was at Slamdance, still a rival to Sundance after all these years, and still as disorganized as ever on Main Street, and just as uncomfortable, if you sit through an entire screening, as I did last night. The film is Cold Prey [site], a Norwegian horror movie, and a huge hit there. Five snowboarders set out for an Easter weekend in the mountains, and when one of then breaks his leg after tearing through fresh snow, they hole up in an abandoned hotel. It's haunted, in case you haven't guessed, and the huge murderer/ghost puts them away one by one with a pickaxe. In its borrowing from The Shining and Psycho, this film isn't original, but the acting by the young cast of unknowns - some of them unknown inside Norway - is superbly nuanced. (The director, Roar Uthaug, told me that the Norwegian public is so accustomed to seeing the same actors in its films, that it's actually an asset to be making films without over-exposed stars. Tell that to Hollywood, or to Sundance.) This is a director to watch, if he moves beyond entertainment, or even if he doesn't.
Sundance. Crazy Love.A "kooky, only-in-New-York tale of improbable love," writes Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay. "There are scores of docs that center on the mysteries of character. Why do people do the things they do? Many of these docs leave you unsatisfied at their conclusion, though, when you realize you still don't know what makes these people tick. It’s the ultimate success of Crazy Love that, I think, you perfectly understand these two people by its end." At Film Threat, Mark Bell declares it "a rarity in documentaries; it's fun." "I know that there are relationships in the world that are, at best, sick and delusional; at the same time, I don't want to hear about them," grumbles Cinematical's James Rocchi. "Crazy Love wants to be a portrait of obsession - right down to the oh-so-knowing quote from Lacan that opens the film - but it simply feels like a feature-length version of any episode of The Jerry Springer Show, where unlikable people demonstrate they have no shame by carefully detailing their twisting and idiotic hate-fueled squalid past and unhappy present." The Reeler and indieWIRE interview director Dan Klores. Update, 1/23: Allison Hope Weiner talks with Klores for the New York Times. Update, 1/26: "Klores's rollicking film" is "his finest effort yet," writes Steve Ramos at indieWIRE. "Despite the sadness, crimes and terrible actions, the story of Burt and Linda is the best time at Sundance." Update, 1/29: Tom Hall: "One of the most nauseatingly egocentric people I have ever seen, Pugach was, hands down, the most troubling character I saw on screen at the festival because he is the real deal." Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. Away From Her."Sarah Polley, the best actress not enough people know about, is poised to become a director everyone is talking about," wrote Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times the other day. "Away From Her [site], Polley's first feature as a writer-director, comes to the Sundance Film Festival after an opening at Toronto that had local critics calling it 'one of the most astonishing feature debuts by a Canadian director in ages.'" The IFC's Alison Willmore finds it "so grown-up it is, thematically, approaching death.... Polley's direction and dialogue adaptations are so self-consciously lyrical that they constantly throw you out of the film, so the fact that the story takes unexpected turns is more of a clinical observation than a recommendation." Writing in Film Threat, Jeremy Mathews has nothing but praise for the two leads, Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent. Update: "Away from Her was adapted from an Alice Munro story by Polley herself," notes Cinematical's James Rocchi, and "it's an astonishingly moving feature-length directorial debut. It manages to get fresh, bold performances from seasoned veterans Christie and Pinsent. It also turns what could have been mawkish, rote TV-movie-of-the-week material into a truly engaging drama." Update, 1/23: Andrew O'Hehir for Salon: "As pale and lovely as a Canadian winter sunrise, Away From Her is a story of love, sex and disease whose major characters are all over 60. And don't think you can just snuggle up to it; Polley's adaptation of Alice Munro's story 'The Bear Came Over the Mountain' is loaded with icy switchbacks and spiky surprises." Update, 1/30: Eric Kohn for the New York Press: "A rare treat: Straightforward storytelling with no gimmicks or last minute tricks—instead, we get a solid pace and involving conflict. Sad as hell, when all's said and done." Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. Broken English."I despise romantic comedies as a rule," writes Jeffrey Wells, "but Zoe Cassavetes's Broken English is an exception, perhaps because it doesn't try to be 'funny' as much as sardonic and bitterly truthful about what a slog it is out there for no-longer-young women who are 'looking for love,' or at least for a relationship that allows for the possibility of something nourishing and genuine." "Broken English is a film one cheers for before watching simply due to the Cassavetes legacy," writes Steve Ramos at indieWIRE. "The fact that it's a likable romp with just enough chuckles earns Cassavetes status as a moviemaker with potential.... With its bad date gags, constant girl talk and fashionable wardrobe, Broken English is an unabashed women's comedy, a Marlo Thomas comedy for the 21st century." "A pitch-perfect lead performance by Parker Posey and debuting feature writer-helmer Zoe Cassavetes's deft, low-key approach raise "Broken English" a couple notches above the usual run of lonely-single-woman-seeking-romance-in-the-big-city yarns," agrees Dennis Harvey in Variety. But Jamie Tipps, writing at Film Threat, finds: "What began as an interesting character study ends in convention, offering only the most clichéd platitudes in summation. You can't find true love until you love yourself? Hasn't Dr. Phil been telling us that for years?" For New York, Emma Rosenblum asks Cassavetes a few questions, and the Reeler not only has a chat as well, but ST VanAirsdale also gets a few words with Parker Posey at the post-premiere party: "I'm so glad the movie got a good response, because its got a light touch in a very unusual way, but it's dealing with a very tenuous and soulful transformation and transition in a woman's life." Update, 1/23: Online viewing tip. Posey and Cassavetes chat on iW Video. Update, 1/27: Mike D'Angelo at ScreenGrab: "[T]his is the first time in my memory that [Posey's] ever come across as a plausible human being." Update, 1/29: "Parker Posey turns in one of her best performances to date," writes Tom Hall. "Broken English is a lovely addition to the 'sex and the single girl' genre, and while it's hard to find a man for whom to root, one can't help but root for Nora the whole way." Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. Manda Bala."There are many impressive documentaries at Sundance this year but my favorite so far is Jason Kohn's Manda Bala (Send a Bullet)," writes Jason Guerrasio at the Filmmaker blog. "Examining the violence, political corruption and rampant kidnappings in Sao Paulo, Brazil, this doc - with a brisk running time of 85 minutes - never lets you catch your breath as it weaves through numerous stories that are sometimes humorous but often excruciating to watch."
Sundance. Strange Culture."The surreal nightmare of internationally acclaimed artist and professor Steve Kurtz began when his wife Hope died in her sleep of heart failure," Lynn Hershman Leeson [site] tells SF360. "Medics arrived, became suspicious of Kurtz's art, and called the FBI. Within hours the artist was detained as a suspected 'bioterrorist' as dozens of agents in hazmat suits sifted through his work and impounded his computers, manuscripts, books, his cat, and even his wife's body." Asked to "categorize" Strange Culture [site], her film about the case featuring Thomas Jay Ryan, Tilda Swinton, Peter Coyote and Josh Kornbluth, she replies, "Hybrid, tactical media, like Steve's work. It's kind of a portrait, in that way. Like everything I do, it defies categorization. One might think of it as a documentary, or even as a sci-fi, though." David Carr meets her well and, for the New York Times, asks her about the work's virtual premiere on Second Life. Gabriella Giannachi saw an early cut and wrote for the Presence Project, "I remember two moments that moved me to tears - Steve Kurtz talking about the fact that Tilda Swinton is playing Hope. 'I can't think of any better gesture of remembrance' - and... Swinton: 'The second she died even the gesture of making art changed.'" "[Y]ounger filmmakers should be looking to Hershman Leeson for lessons on how to reinvent old forms while at the same time telling an urgently topical story," writes John Anderson in Variety. Update: Karina Longworth at Netscape: "Strange Culture includes a good deal of nostalgia for the day in which the government put artists on the payroll - or at least declined to persecute them. 'Art isn't important in this country at all,' Hershman-Leeson says worriedly. 'You measure a society's progress by the art it produces. How will we be measured?'" Update, 1/25:"[P]robably the best and certainly the most urgent film in the Frontier section," writes Dennis Lim for indieWIRE. "Completed just as President Bush bulldozed through the Military Commissions Act, which redefined habeas corpus for so-called enemy combatants, the film nails the mood of post-9/11 America: the paranoia, fear, and willful ignorance that the government has fostered and exploited. Strange Culture may have been the first film to reach Second Life avatars but one can only hope it has some impact in the real world." Update, 1/29: Jason Silverman reports on the Second Life screening for Wired News. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
January 21, 2007
Sundance. Grace is Gone.The Weinstein Co's already picked up worldwide rights for Grace is Gone, the film John Cusack "found himself yearning for," as David M Halbfinger put it in a piece for the New York Times last month, "a movie project that could cast a spotlight on an aspect of the war that the government was keeping largely off screen." Nicole Sperling has more on the deal at the Hollywood Reporter.
Fests and events, 1/21.Popnutten's reporting that Anton Corbijn's Ian Curtis biopic, Control, will see its world premiere at the Berlinale. Rumor? Do a little googling, and you'll find lots of confirmation, but I can't remember it appearing in any earlier announcements from the festival itself. Matt Riviera previews the Adelaide International Film Festival (February 23 through March 4). "Buñuel is routinely described as a 'surrealist' director, which I guess is correct, but it's still a reductive label," writes Peter Bradshaw on the occasion of the retrospective at the National Theatre in London. "Maybe it is more accurate to describe him as a cinematic director, one of the few available in that Greenaway-esque sense, a director who senses that cinema endows an artist with the license to challenge and even abolish the constraints of time and space and social convention."
Oscar run-up, 1/21.So Newsweek's Oscar roundtable mentioned some time back, the one with Cate Blanchett, Penélope Cruz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Helen Mirren, Brad Pitt and Forest Whitaker, the one hosted by Sean Smith and David Ansen, is now online. David Poland reflects on the influence of online media on the Oscar race. The Producers Guild of America has named Little Miss Sunshine movie of the year; Movie City News has more, while Nathaniel R comments and points more of his own choices as well as the results of Edward Copeland's "Best & Worst 'Best Actress' Wins." "The last of a generation of hell-raising, gut-wrenching Shakespearean actors who made it in the movies, [Peter] O'Toole has had more comebacks than a phoenix with repetitive strain injury," writes Gaby Wood in the Observer. "Along with his late friend Richard Burton, he holds the record for the most nominations without a win, and when the Academy offered him a Lifetime Achievement Award four years ago, he famously quipped (before accepting it anyway) that he ought to turn it down because he still hoped to 'win the lovely bugger outright'." Online viewing tip. "Much like last year's timely tribute to Robert Altman, the honorary Oscar to [Ennio] Morricone will likely be the highlight of the night for me," writes That Little Round-Headed Boy. Watching a few concert performances via YouTube, "I am reminded of the weird alchemy of instruments that musical creators hear in their head. Seeing the actual instruments and vocal effects used - oboe, gongs, brass, harp, strings, choristers, martial percussion, operatic soloists - makes me appreciate the genius of Morricone anew."
Sundance. An American Crime."Not only does [Ellen Page] get to scream her head off playing innocent scapegoat Sylvia Likens, she gets to suffer at the hands of master actress Catherine Keener, playing torturer mom Gertrude Baniszewski," writes Annie Frisbie, reviewing An American Crime at Zoom In Online. "Page's performance is captivating, fresh and intelligent, and the rest of the cast lives up to her standard and that of the subtle Keener, but the story itself never quite transcends true-crime exploitation." "Christ, what a slog," sighs Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog. Updated through 1/27. An "artistic nullity," growls Variety's Todd McCarthy. "Having demonstrated at best a mild talent for comedy in his earlier films, beginning with the Sundance entry Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss and followed by Get Over It and Ella Enchanted, [director Tommy] O'Haver seems clueless as to how to make something palatable and illuminating of the twisted psychology and pathological behavior at the heart of this tragic tale." Reid Rosefelt has a video interview with O'Haver at Zoom In Online. Earlier: Pat H Broeske spoke with O'Haver for the New York Times: "It would have been easy to take this story over the top... My mantra was 'restraint, restraint, restraint.'" Update, 1/27: Mike D'Angelo at ScreenGrab: "No amount of good intentions can possibly justify such a vile, sadistic betrayal of the viewer's trust." Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. Rocket Science.It's "a festival-friendly comedy/drama very much in the vein of Thumbsucker, Art School Confidential and Napoleon Dynamite," writes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "Tailor-made to appeal to the kinds of audiences who regularly show up at the Sundance Film Festival, Rocket Science is certainly well-made and heartfelt enough to earn some praise - but it's also more than a little familiar, and (despite several excellent performances) it's not all that consistently funny a piece. Quirky, colorful and filled with typically oddball characters, sure, but not all that funny." "My favorite movie after nearly 3 full days of festing," declares AICN's Quint. Updated through 1/27. "Rocket Science has a few things in common with 1999's Election, from its purposefully drab visuals to its larger-than-life personalities - all variations on recognizable high-school types, albeit a hundred times brighter, better-spoken and more interesting," writes Variety's Justin Chang. "But [Jeffrey] Blitz's film is ultimately a sweeter, more heartfelt picture, more barbed coming-of-age tale than satire, and very much on the side of its lovably awkward hero, Hal Hefner (wonderfully played by Reece Daniel Thompson)." "[A]s in his Academy Award-nominated documentary Spellbound, [Blitz] presents adolescence as it really is," writes Zoom In Online's Annie Frisbie. "Blitz's teens earn our respect because they fight for dignity, and win our hearts when he lets them lose." "Quirky coming-of-age comic-dramas are not a rare species, especially at Sundance," notes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE, obviously not one to shy from the Q-word, either. "But Rocket Science, Jeffrey Blitz's narrative debut, bristles with sharply written dialogue, a fresh-faced cast and an offbeat tone somewhere between Wes Anderson, Alexander Payne and 80s John Cusack movies." Update, 1/22: Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog: "Rocket Science has its share of problems - it goes on too long, and it's saddled with a needless and irritating voiceover and far too many swelling music moments. Still, the film has an unfeigned sweetness that, in combo with clever throwaway details like a couple whose music therapy involves playing Violent Femmes songs on a cello and piano, make it a welcome variation on a Sundance trope." Update, 1/27: Blitz's "determination not to succumb to cliché pays hilarious dividends throughout, but also ultimately makes Rocket Science feel more like a collection of sharp sketches than a bona fide film," writes Mike D'Angelo at ScreenGrab. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. Teeth."In Teeth [site], writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein takes a kicky premise - that Dawn has the fabled vagina dentata - and pushes it to absurdly gory campy extremes," writes Annie Frisbie at Zoom In Online. "[Jess] Weixler plays her part perfectly straight, and this no-winking performance makes the movie wickedly funny. Amid the laughs, Lichtenstein manages to convey the horror of rape in a visceral way that's harder to watch than the no-holds-barred graphic castrations (yes, more than one)." "Lichtenstein has taken an outrageous concept and realized it with his own blend of campy humor, splatter gore, and emotional realism," writes Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay. "Props to lead actress Jess Weixler too." "If Lichtenstein's aim with his mixed-bag horror comedy was to bring the fear of vaginal dentate to life, he succeeded fantastically," writes Steve Ramos at indieWIRE. "As far as achieving the perfect balance of comedy, horror and coming-of-age satire, Lichtenstein comes up slightly short. Still, to his credit, he set his bar very high." Like Scott Macaulay, he's reminded of David Cronenberg, only here, "Cronenberg's cerebral cynicism has been replaced with coming-of-age sensibilities and playful pokes against the religious right." David Poland breaks into song. Updates, 1/22: "Think of it as a mix of Superman and Scream, with a side of Mothra," suggests Jennifer Hillner at Wired News. "To me, Dawn's a modern day superhero, biting the penis off any baddie in her path. You go girl!" "[I]t takes a good deal of talent to take an outrageous idea and turn it into a effective, entertaining and weirdly powerful experience," writes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "Teeth (against all odds) ends up being one of the most witty, intelligent and darkly insightful looks at young womanhood since Lucky McKee's brilliant May. (And how strange and admirable is it that both of these movies comes from male writer/directors?)" "Lichtenstein is clearly a director with vision and ambition, and I think he ends up selling himself a little short," proposes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "This is going to be a notorious film that young audiences will be daring themselves to see, but it's actually funnier, darker and more troubling before it turns into a carnival of repeated dismemberment." Updates, 1/26: IndieWIRE interviews Lichtenstein. Picked up by TWC and Lionsgate. (Variety). Reid Rosefelt introduces his video interview with Lichtenstein at Zoom In Online: "Howard Karren of Premiere pointed out to me that Teeth is a kind of upside down horror film. Usually the sexuality in a scary movie is in the subtext. The teenagers screw and then the guy in a mask or with knives on his fingers comes in and slashes 'em. In this film, writer/ director Mitchell Lichtenstein eliminates the middleman and gets right to it." Update, 1/27: Mike D'Angelo at ScreenGrab: "The film delivers as many bloody penile stumps as anybody could possibly desire, but that's all it delivers." Update, 1/29: Tom Hall: "The film is intentionally hilarious and had the audience howling at the long string of castrations, but as a record of male behavior and representation, it is pure pathology. I was reminded of Ginger Snaps, a terrific and little seen Canadian horror film about a young woman's coming of age that applies the same winking sense of humor, but truth be told, no film in recent memory will have men squirming in their seats and women snickering like I expect Teeth will." Beth Gilligan at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "[B]eneath the movie's bright-surface lurks a dark feminist fable about the consequences of objectifying women." Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Sundance. Snow Angels."David Gordon Green's fourth feature, the casual yet deeply serious, soulful Snow Angels continues along his own lovely path, reaching into particulars of working class life with wit and empathy," writes Ray Pride at Movie City Indie. "Based on Stewart O'Nan's 1994 novel (with a screenplay by Green, crafting his first adaptation), Snow Angels packs together three interlocking stories into a tense running time, with dense layers of tragedy sprinkled liberally throughout its sprawling yarn," writes Eric Kohn, who takes notes on the post-screening Q&A for the Reeler. "[E]verything is placed with the same attention to perfect detail as his previous three feature films, Undertow, All the Real Girls and his best film, George Washington," writes Steve Ramos at indieWIRE. "The undeniable truth of Green's filmmaking is that there is no ambivalence about his movies. You either love his sense of deliberately paced naturalism or you find it lulling. Point Blank: I am a fan and will always celebrate his work." "In the end, Snow Angels is perhaps best understood as a study in community isolation, in which personal connections are inevitably fleeting and the private pain of others, as suggested by the final shot, is all too easily forgotten," suggests Variety's Justin Chang. "Strong stuff that mops up the floor with the likes of Little Children," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "This is my favorite of his films to date," declares Anne Thompson. Updates, 1/23: Mike D'Angelo at ScreenGrab: "Those hoping for a return to the woozy lyricism of George Washington and All the Real Girls will likely be disappointed: Formally, this is Green's most conventional work to date, with only a handful of touches that are recognizably his own." On the other hand, Cinematical's James Rocchi: "It's still a film that's identifiably his, even as it has the potential to turn him from a lesser-known indie director into an A-level dramatist." Update, 1/24: IndieWIRE has its usual set of questions for DGG, yes, but also a video interview. Updates, 1/26: Craig Phillips takes extensive notes on a panel featuring Green, Tamara Jenkins, Gregg Araki and Hal Hartley. Beth Gilligan at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "Snow Angels is by far the most plot-driven of his films, but unlike in Undertow, where his confidence as a filmmaker seemed to erode somewhat when forced to shift into more conventional narrative gears, here he handles the multifaceted story with aplomb." Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog: "It's his most solid film to date, and the best we've seen in this solid festival of solid films ready to be sold for what will hopefully be a solid profit." Update, 1/28: Online listening tip. Cinematical's James Rocchi talks with DGG. Updates, 1/29: Tom Hall: "Snow Angels announces a new phase in the filmmaking career of David Gordon Green.... It may not be comfortable or fun, but the movie was, alongside Chris Smith's The Pool, the most accomplished and deeply felt feature I saw in the competition." Eric Kohn: "[H]is finest achievement... It's American Beauty for smart people." Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
January 20, 2007
Weekend shorts."A Baroque theater director and fifty-something American expatriate in France, [Eugène] Green has directed four oblique, tender and smart-alecky, charmingly pretentious films," writes Ken Chen in a longish piece for Film International. "These films have a calm sealed quality, like science fiction movies that only coincidentally take place in our own universe." Jim Emerson enjoyed "Contrarian Week" at scanners so much, he's calling for a Contrarian Blog-a-Thon for the weekend of February 16 through 18: "Make your own contrarian argument for/against a movie or a specific moment in a movie or a filmmaker's work or a whole genre if you want to. Just make sure you build a real argument (with examples!) rather than a crackpotty ad hominem attack." Andy Horbal has a list of more up-n-coming Blog-a-Thons. Somewhat related to contrarianism, though, the IFC News not only has a fun idea for a collective feature, they've also come up with the perfect title for it: "Gagging on the Kool-Aid: Cult Films We Just Don't Get." Also: "You could down a trough of Gogol, Kafka and Buñuel and still not come up with an absurd domestic apocalypse as simple and disconcerting as that of Emmanuel Carrère's La Moustache," writes Michael Atkinson, who also reviews Mouchette: "In Bresson's no-nonsense hands, this grim fable becomes a pantomime stations of the cross, so completely focused on sensuous details, ethical interrogation and the fastidious lasering-away of movie bullshit (like acting and action) that it comes close to the simple thrust of a medieval Christian icon." More from Steve Erickson at Nerve and Marcy Dermansky. Via the Literary Saloon: "Contemporary Czech cinema began with the novelist Bohumil Hrabal," writes Steffen Silvis in a review for the Prague Post of Jirí Menzel's latest adaptation (you may remember that Closely Watched Trains is based on Hrabal's work as well), I Served the King of England, set to compete in Berlin. Silvis: "Though Menzel has formulated an interesting narrative structure to contain Hrabal's marvelous excursiveness, and has invented a handful of striking visual solutions for various scenes in the text, the whole seems soulless." Related: Waggish reviewed the book in March 05. Well put, Looker: "That Woody may be an artist of merit, as opposed to a Bergman-and-Fellini-fetishizing gag-man who hides his shallowness behind talented actors and artful cinematography, is a notion that didn't seem plausible for me again until reading [David] Rakoff. Plus he's got wild, fascinating ruminations on all kinds of things, from George Sanders's suicide note to Viva's mockery of Nico to Drew Barrymore's nipples. His blog is a must-read, from start to finish." "[H]opefully the currently touring Rivette retrospective will allow Paris Belongs to Us, and Rivette's later masterpieces the chance to assume through wider consensus their deserved stature in cinema history," writes Jeff Reichert. "By his second film, The Nun..., Rivette had easily surmounted the problems of his first feature, and delivered not only the first of many great works but one of the most seminal films of the Sixties." Also at Reverse Shot,Danielle McCarthy on Dreamgirls. David Bordwell on a particular sort of shot: "I started to call it mug-shot framing, but I found that art historian Heinrich Wölfflin had called it planar or planimetric composition. I went with 'planimetric' because that term suggests the rectangular geometry so often seen in these shots." Related: Online listening tip. Annie Frisbee talks with Bordwell for Zoom In. "Film is generally at its best when it recognises its roots in modernism, i.e., when it rejects conventional notions of realism, disengages from bourgeois values, and questions the primacy of narration," argues Ronald Bergan in the Independent. But: "Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, we are increasingly seeing the avant-garde abandon the cinema for the gallery - a shift made possible by the digital revolution." Also: Indies and the studios alike are going all New Agey, suggests Geoffrey Macnab; and Joe Eszterhas's Hollywood survival guide. You get a sense of just how very contentious the mere mention of Ralph Nader is in Nick Schager's review of An Unreasonable Man, balancing quite fairly between the adoration and disdain evidently revealed in the doc. Also at Slant, The Films of Kenneth Anger: Volume 1 is a "long-overdue presentation for the valuable fragments of Anger's outlaw poetry," writes Fernando F Croce. "Movie ratings help shape the culture." A New York Times editorial tips a hat to Kirby Dick's This Film Is Not Yet Rated in recognition of its possible influence on a decision by the MPAA to reform the ratings system. "[Dan] who inherited the system from his predecessor, deserves credit for pushing for these changes. He says there are likely to be more reforms ahead, which is good, because there is still more to be done." Bilge Ebiri has Dick and Rated producer Eddie Schmidt's response to the new measures at ScreenGrab. Also in the NYT:
Weekend online viewing.Ryan McFaul's promo for Rooftop Films. Via Coudal Partners, reminding us to check into Ryantown every so often. Related: Bad Lit's got news of Rooftop at Sundance. Reel Pop's "Guide to the Top Ten Dystopia Films." With clips. Nick Robinson's Celluloiphilia. The video demo accompanying Adam L Penenberg's piece in Fast Company: "In this Googly age, it only takes a random genius or two to conceive of a technology so powerful that it can plow under the landscape and remake it in its own image. People are already betting that Jeff Han is one of them." Via Mark Frauenfelder at Boing Boing. The trailer for Danny Boyle's Sunshine; via Erik Davis at Cinematical. Animated commercials from Italy, France and Germany, all via Cartoon Brew. The best from December at No fat clips!!! Ira Deutchman talks at Zoom In about the ways Emerging Pictures aims to solve a slew of problems facing truly independent films. At Alternet's Peek, Barry Lando, author of the forthcoming book, Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq from Churchill to Kennedy to George W Bush, introduces a couple of clips: "A documentary I reported, along with French journalist Michel Despratx, for Canal+ in France, has been broadcast in much of the world, but never in the United States. It details Western - and particularly US - complicity with the crimes of Saddam Hussein - such as his use of chemical weapons first against Iranian troops, then against his own Iraqi Kurds." Paul Robeson. And Jennifer Sharpe's posting again.
Up-n-coming, 1/20.Paul Greengrass will be adapting Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone. The BBC has more. A sequel and a prequel to The Departed? Erik Davis looks into it at Cinematical. Brideshead Revisited's to be, yes, revisited. Chris Hastings has what's known so far in the Telegraph. "It's a question still being asked more than four years after powerful bombs tore through two nightclubs in Bali, killing 202 people: Why Bali?" Sugita Katyal for Reuters: "Indonesian film producer Nia Dinata tries to answer this question in the Long Road to Heaven, the first Indonesian film on the 2002 Bali bombing that shattered the image of the island." George Clooney and Grant Heslov will be producing a six-hour mini-series based on Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age: Or a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, reports Sci Fi Wire. Via Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing. Twitch's Visitor looks ahead to what the year will bring in Malaysian cinema. After Sweeney Todd, Johnny Depp will star in Shantaram, an adaptation of the novel by Gregory David Roberts, written by Eric Roth and directed by Mira Nair. Pamela McClintock reports. More news from Variety: Darren Aronofsky may direct Black Swan, a "psychological thriller" set in the "world of ballet," according to Michael Fleming. Related: Nigel Floyd talks with Aronofsky about The Fountain for Time Out. Now three studios are scrambling to film the Alexander Litvinenko story. Luke Harding reports from Moscow. Also in the Guardian, Francesca Martin: "Sofia Coppola is planning to compile a CD of her favorite music tracks." Spencer Morgan in the New York Observer: "On March 17, Cobble Hill–based Web prankster Ze Frank will end his daily, year-long Internet video show to go all Hollywood."
Weekend interviews.From Hungarian Literature Online's interview with László Krasznahorkai, via the Literary Saloon: The majority of intellectuals of the normal Hungarian cast have done their utmost to turn us against each [other] in the context of The Werckmeister Harmonies [Béla Tarr's film based on Krasznahorkai's novel, The Melancholy of Resistance]. I think Tarr is one of the last great Hungarian film directors. People are always asking me whether I don't find it insulting that while I wrote the whole thing, he goes and collects the laurels for it. What on earth could I say to that? Partly, it is not true that I invented the whole thing: I delivered the novels, and helped with whatever I could. But the film was made by Béla Tarr alone, even if he did have people to help him: excellent, brilliant, sensitive characters. Shouldn't all interviews with Guillermo Del Toro appear as comics? Mike Russell would seem to think so. Martin Degrell talks with Ryan Fleck about Half Nelson for Film International. Mike Russell has a good long talk with Kelley Baker, "The Angry Filmmaker." Sujewa Ekanayake talks with Gordy Hoffman, "screenwriter of Love Liza, director of the feature A Coat of Snow, USC cinema professor, & the founder of the BlueCat Screenplay Competition (& the brother of an actor you may have heard of)." Alice O'Keeffe profiles Emilio Estevez for the New Statesman. Related: Martin Kettle comments on the interview and on the memory of RFK in the Guardian. Alison Willmore talks with Eric Nicholas about Alone With Her. Related: Writing in the New York Times, Matt Zoller Seitz finds the film "ultimately less than the sum of its parts." More from Armond White in the New York Press. Lesley O'Toole interviews Jennifer Connelly for the Independent. At Cinema Strikes Back, Mike M talks with Smokin' Aces director Joe Carnahan. Paul Cullum talks with Todd Field about Little Children for the Los Angeles Times. In the New York Press, Jennifer Merin talks with Luc Besson about Arthur and the Invisibles.
Sundance. The Savages."With one full day in the books the talk around Main St is about Tamara Jenkins's The Savages," writes Jason Guerrasio at Filmmaker. "Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman (could you think of a better tandem?) play the siblings who finally have to give a damn about their father (stage vet Philip Bosco) after years of non-communication when he's diagnosed with dementia." "I know that sounds serious and they do take the subject matter seriously, but there's some sharp and very dark comedy at work here," writes AICN's Quint. Updated through 1/26. It's "the first hit of Sundance 2007," announces Nicole Sperling at the Risky Biz Blog. "Note-perfect," writes Ray Pride, "an unlikely fusion of the comedic precision of Annie Hall and the melancholy humanism The Death of Mr Lazarescu, and I mean that in the most admiring and positive fashion. Line for line, The Savages has some of the most formidable comic dialogue I've been fortunate enough to hear in ages." For Zoom In's Annie Frisbie, it "manages to land a KO punch squarely in the jaw of the prototypical 'indie' character drama that's become the hallmark of the Sundance Film Festival. The Savages has depth, resonance, and meaning, and delves into the scary heart of our deepest fears about aging, and it does so from a point of view that is honest and human." A "stunner," declares Glenn Kenny. "It also renders superfluous the in-the-works film version of The Corrections."
This in from Craig Phillips... While The Savages doesn't need a lot of publicity, given it will be distributed by Fox Searchlight (date TBD) and has two superb actors to help promote it, I still felt compelled to write a bit about it. Tamara Jenkins's film begins in Sun City, Arizona, the surreal senior community, the superficially perfect coldness of which Jenkins captures perfectly, where dear old dad Savage (Philip Bosco, heartbreakingly real, never breaking character to get sympathy votes from the audience), suffering from the onset of dementia finds himself suddenly alone. Cue his estranged children: Laura Linney's Wendy is a temp who dreams of a playwriting career, and older brother Philip Seymour Hoffman's Jon is a drama professor in Buffalo. They have to figure out what to do with him. If this sounds like a recipe for a maudlin family drama, don't fret. The Savages is executed pitch-perfectly. Jenkins's first film, the slightly rawer but still wonderful Slums of Beverly Hills, was also a dysfunctional family comedy, and here again she reveals a keen and very patient eye for building scenes and letting them flow naturally, along with an equally sharp ear for dialogue.
David Carr gets a fun quote from Jenkins. "Tamara Jenkins excels more at maximizing individual moments here than at developing a meaty storyline," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. Kim Voynar at Cinematical: "The script is taut and honest, the dialogue sharp and witty, and the performances spot-on. There are no easy answers in dealing with aging and dying parents, and Jenkins doesn't try to give us one; she simply takes us into the story of her fascinating characters, and the integrity with which she handles it makes it ring true throughout." Updates, 1/23: Mike D'Angelo at ScreenGrab: "Linney and Hoffman are typically excellent, and The Savages has plenty of keenly observed moments, but it's also the kind of film in which someone says 'He won't marry me, but he cries when I make him eggs,' and two scenes later, sure enough, there he is choking back tears at the breakfast table. All you need to do is take another look at You Can Count on Me to see how much more potent sibling melodrama can be." Online viewing tip. Fox Searchlight's Stephanie Allen talks with Jenkins. Updates, 1/26: Craig Phillips takes extensive notes on a panel featuring Jenkins, Gregg Araki, David Gordon Green and Hal Hartley. Carina Chocano tells the film's back story in the Los Angeles Times. Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Babel. Revisited.As Babel opens in the UK, it's sparking a few noteworthy considerations. "There is no doubt that Babel is diligently following a recipe, and by the middle of the movie the rhythm of switching among stories has become so regular it almost creates a form of stasis - the way metronomic cross-cutting or long sequences of medium shots can make you feel a film has gone dead," writes Michael Wood in the London Review of Books. "But then the director pulls off a visual and aural tour de force, an amazing scene in a Japanese nightclub, the rhythm breaks up, and the movie finds its real energies." Updated through 1/21. Novelist Maggie Gee, writing at openDemocracy, is "impressed by the skill with which the film used traditional poetic patterning." But the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw finds it "extraordinarily overpraised and overblown, a middlebrow piece of near-nonsense: the kind of self-conscious arthouse cinema that is custom-tailored and machine-tooled for the dinner-party demographic. The script is contrived, shallow, unconvincing and rendered absurd and almost meaningless by a plot naivety that is impossible to ignore once its full magnitude dawns on you." "It is, in effect, this year's Crash," writes the Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu. "Study it closely and it rings hollow." Related: Alejandro González Iñárritu in the London Times on making the film. Update, 1/21: "Some will think this film glib and overly schematic," admits Philip French in the Observer. "I found it an impressive, beautifully acted work with a tragic sense of life. The formality of its structure controls a seething anger."
Park City, 1/20."[I]ndie movies are getting as predictable as Hollywood's," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "Sundance movies have devolved into a genre.... The program is heavy with earnest studies of emotional accommodation. This isn't a supple form, and now it's become formula - creaky and calcified through endless repetition. What's saddest is that the ersatz indie drove out the previously dominant alternative to Hollywood: the foreign film." "The effect of the Sundance endorsement is what nobody really wants to talk about," notes John Anderson in the Guardian. "Although many films do benefit from exposure at the festival - Half Nelson and Little Miss Sunshine, both mentioned as possible Oscar contenders this year, came out of last year's event - distributors and sales reps, in moments of candour, will say that selling a film perceived as a Sundance film can be tough. Even filmmakers admit it." Eric D Snider's keeping a Sundance diary at Hollywood Bitchslap. For the Toronto Star, Geoff Pevere offers "a highly impressionistic, sight-unseen selection of some of the things at Sundance 2007 that look promising or that are boasting big buzz appeal." Via Movie City News, which has a pretty hopping "Sundance 07" section. There's now enough in the Los Angeles Times special Sundance section to make it worth mentioning. Fresh:
Park City Dispatch. 2.Craig Phillips on The Unforeseen. The Unforeseen is a mostly terrific, beautifully shot documentary that uses a microcosmic story of development in Austin, Texas, to tell another of a more cosmic environmental struggle affecting us all. The film splits focus between an ongoing battle between environmentalists and developers over Barton Springs, a longtime favorite site of sunbathers and swimmers, as well as a place where some even find religion (Baptists long used it as a spot for baptisms, while another woman interviewed in the film talked about the spiritual nature of being at the spot itself); and the way development encroaches on rapidly shrinking farmland in the area, focusing on one old-time corn farmer who sees the open space and agriculture around him disappearing. While the film's leanings undeniably lean in favor of the environment, director Laura Dunn (in her first "big" documentary) does a reasonable job of at least trying to find balance in the debate by interviewing developers, conservatives and a young couple who eagerly move to the edge city for the lower housing costs. But the crux of the film is Austin and the battle to protect its few remaining natural, open spaces. One of the central characters is real estate developer Gary Bradley, a native Texan who struck it rich and had designs on developing Barton Springs. His own career crash ruined his life but ultimately didn't ruin the transformation of that once sacred area. The film is full of lyrical imagery - of bodies swimming underwater, birds, turtles, the shifting landscape - as well as a plethora of overhead shots depicting Austin and the surrounding area from various perspectives and distances (I think this doc has more helicopter tracking shots than any I can recall, perhaps a few too many). Dunn cleverly interweaves stock footage of protest rallies - from both the left and the right, railing one way or another over development legislation - as well as a compelling all-night Austin city council session in which the people convinced the politicians to protect Barton Springs; and some compelling interview subjects, including Rolling Stone's fine political writer William Greider and the late former Texas Governor Ann Richards. Snippets of an essay ("The Unforeseen Wilderness") read by its author, poet Wendell Berry add another layer to the film.
Park City Dispatch. 1.Craig Phillips arrives in Park City and catches Weapons. Granted, some may feel Sundance "jumped the shark" some time ago, and (as Shannon Gee notes) there are plenty of reasons to gripe about the event. It's cold, very cold, crowded (though so far not unbearably so, and I find filmgoers generally a very cordial lot), some films are a disappointment, and it's a pain in the ass to get to. But it's Sundance, and it's still damned exciting to be here. You'd think my expectations for my first film ever at Sundance would be unfairly high, but that wasn't the case. I knew I'd see quite a few films while here, and knew very little about Weapons other than the names of a few of the young actors in the cast. Those young actors would turn out to be among the few highlights in this, yet another entry in the nihilistic suburban youths gone bad genre. I described it to one of my colleagues as "Larry Clark and Quentin Tarantino do an Afterschool Special," and while that's probably not completely fair (I'm trying to cut it some slack, knowing how sleep-deprived I already am), the number of clichéd teen "issues" ticked off the checklist in Act 3 alone - teen pregnancy, check; abuse, check; rape, check; feud over a girl, check; drug abuse, check - that the woman sitting next to me finally got up and left in exasperation, muttering to me as she walked past, "Okay, one cliché too many." (Maybe she was sleep-deprived, too.)
Interview. Charles Mudede. Zoo."Back in 2005, when the Seattle Times reported on the 'Enumclaw Horse Sex Incident,' the story spread like wildfire across the Internet and became their most-read story of the year," writes Andy Spletzer at the main site.
January 19, 2007
Interview. Mark Becker."I liked the idea that I could let the political subtext simmer beneath the surface and allow the audience to consider the larger resonance of one person's plight," Mark Becker tells Sara Schieron at the main site. They're talking about Romántico, a Sundance veteran, Silverdocs award-winner and placer on many a year-end best-of list in 2005 and 2006 that's screening in San Francisco, Denver and Seattle before opening in Chicago next week. "Most similarly themed docs before and since Romántico have had a ripped-from-the-headlines feel, tackling specific issues with activist zeal," writes Dennis Harvey in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "Several (Wetback: The Undocumented Documentary and Un Franco, 14 Pesetas among them) have been very good. But despite the concern they share, they're like well-crafted news bulletins, while at core Romántico seems like something else entirely - soulful and poetic, its tone and narrative oddly reminiscent of 40s Italian neorealist classics." "At a time when anti-immigrant demagoguery is again on the rise, Romántico's close and unsentimental encounter with the life of an undocumented migrant and his family - skillfully rendered in an intimate verité style - locates the real engine of social upheaval in the underlying poverty and insecurity of a transnational economy," writes Robert Avila at SF360. "But even more, it manages to capture the poetry, born of suffering and resilience, in the humblest of voices."
Fests and events, 1/19. US edition.Through the Looking Glass (and Down the Rabbit Hole...), 15 programs of 20 features and three shorts, opens today at LACMA and runs through February 24. Andy Klein has a fine and fun overview in the LA CityBeat. "By definition a souffle shouldn't have much of a shelf life. Yet so many Lubitsch films remain lighter than air, delicious in (rather than dated by) their silvery Art Deco trappings and risque innuendo," writes Dennis Harvey at SF360. "The Lubitsch Touch is the inevitable title for a major Pacific Film Archive retrospective." Through February 16." Susan King visits the Peregrinations & Pettifoggery of WC Fields exhibition in the Academy's Fourth Floor Gallery, open through April 15. Also in the Los Angeles Times, Robert Abele previews Wu Wenguang: China Village Self-Governance Film Project, January 29 at Redcat. In the LA Weekly, Holly Willis recommends "An Evening with Gary Kibbins," this Sunday. The Austin Chronicle has the program for the Austin Jewish Film Festival, Saturday through January 26, and "Four for the Weekend," that is, noteworthy events. Also, Marc Savlov: "I hate to say it, but Spike & Mike and their annual compilation of hyper-filthy animations may have finally met their match. Virtually all of the 20 or so films listed as part of S&M's 2007 lineup are already sitting on your lap or desktop at this very second as part of online video depository-cum-soulsucker Youtube's infinite overload of clips." In the Independent Weekly, Zack Smith covers a few goings on in North Carolina's Triangle: The World According to Sid Davis and local screenings of Welcome to Durham, USA, with the DVD released on Tuesday. "[T]he first exhibition devoted to [Salvador Dalí's] lifelong obsession with the movies" opens at the Tate Modern in June, reports Maev Kennedy in the Guardian. Arifa Akbar has much more in the Independent; the exhibition "will look at his work with filmmakers, including Luis Buñuel, Alfred Hitchcock and Walt Disney, for whom he created some of the most memorable, dream-like scenes in the history of cinema, and also trace the influences from the silent films of Chaplin and Keaton which are distinguishable in some of his major works." Related: Boris Kit in the Hollywood Reporter: "Al Pacino is reuniting with writer-director Andrew Niccol for Dali & I: The Surreal Story, Room 9 Entertainment's follow-up to its successful political satire Thank You for Smoking." And finally for now, FX Feeney remembers Gary Graver: "A world has died with this man, but film history was blessed to have him." A memorial service will be held on Sunday at the Egyptian Theatre in LA.
Fests and events, 1/19. European edition.44 world, 23 international and 30 European feature premieres. The lineup for the International Film Festival Rotterdam (January 24 through February 4) is now complete.
Slouching Away From Park City, 1/19.About a decade ago, Jonathan Marlow started attending the cinematic sacrifice otherwise known as Sundance. A few years later, he convinced Andy Spletzer to come along. The following year, Andy convinced Shannon Gee and, for the past quarter-dozen years, the three would get the "band back together" every January for their annual expedition to Park City. But not this time. Shannon Gee explains that habits - good, bad and/or somewhere in-between - are sometimes difficult to break... It started to kick in about two weeks ago. Up until that point, I had taken the stubborn but empowered position that I had liberated myself from the Sundance cycle. "I'm not going this year," I'd tell people. "I can take a break from it." Yes, I didn't need to witness Los Angeles trucked into Park City, UT for ten days. I didn't need to get the indie film jump on the rest of the world. I could do without the freezing temperatures, the lack of sleep, the uncomfortable screening rooms, whichever heiress or celebrity couple or bad boy arriving in need of some photo ops while wearing mukluks. But. Press releases and party invites started to flood my email inbox. More info about movies came out (the recent New York Times article on An American Crime with Catherine Keener put me in a near panic: I'm going to miss one of my favorite actors do that?!?). Colleagues, many of whom I only get to see face-to-face at Sundance, wondered why I wasn't going. So now I'm feeling the withdrawal. Sundance is the festival you love to hate. It's over-hyped, over-sponsored (well, not the festival itself, but product swarms to the place to rub against that movie magic), over velvet-roped. It's not a comfortable festival for journalists - for anyone, really - by any stretch of the imagination. We shuttle from makeshift screening room to tented waiting lines, wearing too little clothing for the cold mountain air, too much for the packed buses that take festival-goers from one end of town to the other. The party scene is considered by some as newsworthy as the films themselves, so we get no sleep in fear of missing the next big story. Good, quick food is hard to come by and it's expensive. People show up at your lodging unexpectedly, wanting a place to crash or party. I once had an entire film crew, in town with their dramatic competition film, show up, consume all the liquor and food in the place, and throw up in the sink (well, not all of them) while two aspiring producers tried to sleep through the melee in the next room. While all these sorts of things are happening, I am actually trying to work. I've got to retain the images, sounds and plots from the four screenings I saw that day while in different stages of sleepiness and hunger. I have to decipher my chicken scratch notes as I type up something at three in the morning. Before a fitful few hours of sleep, I struggle to figure out what to see the next day - a nearly impossible task given the Sundance film catalogue's famously cryptic synopsis of the movies in the lineup. Sometimes this works. Imagine my surprise when the first rage zombie went cuckoo ka-ka in 28 Days Later. Sometimes it doesn't. I skipped Little Miss Sunshine last year as the write up emphasized the dysfunctional-family-on-a-road-trip angle. Ouch. I'm sure Sundance will do just fine without me, but can I do fine without it? It's the time to see the movie trends for the upcoming year (looks like one emerging theme is "super screwed-up domestic situations" - see Black Snake Moan, the aforementioned An American Crime, Crazy Love, Hounddog), and my time to check in with film colleagues from around the country. Sure I can read them all online, but there's nothing like sitting next to a fellow critic during a particularly good or bad screening and then gage our initial reactions before scurrying off to the next film (it's fun to share opinions... and power bars!) I am going to miss an opportunity to see Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait for the third time, but I'm not going to miss this new spin trend for 2007, the pre-Sundance deal press release. (Woe is the film that is so hot that it has eclipsed its ability to generate buzz by getting picked up before the festival.) So I guess I'm going to have to give up this year's visit to the Airborne Lounge, test-driving VW Touregs off road with the stars, discovering the next big indie film and sitting through the next awful one. Whether I'll be fine or not, I'm sitting this dance out.
Interview. Micha X Peled."The most heartbreaking, moving film in theaters right now is not Babel, Letters From Iwo Jima or Little Children," writes G Allen Johnson in the San Francisco Chronicle. "It is China Blue, a documentary about sweatshop workers at a denim factory." At the main site, Hannah Eaves talks with Bay Area documentarian Micha X Peled about his "illegal project." "From China to a jeans outlet near you, China Blue's greatest contribution is not to film culture but to human-rights activism, exposing myths and truths about our cruel global market," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant. "It's a vérité portrait of adolescents who are instantly recognizable, though their sweatshop environs might strike us as nearly unendurable," writes Dennis Harvey in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.
Sundance. Chicago 10."'GodDAMN, that was good!' Such was Catherine Keener's Eccles-lobby review of Chicago 10, Brett Morgen's kinetic, animated-archival documentary about the trial of Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden and other Yippies who protested the 1968 Democratic Convention," blogs Variety in an entry noting the political overtones of this year's Sundance lineup. "'After 9/11, we stepped back. We said, "Let the leader lead,"' [Robert] Redford told the opening-night audience. 'Now, I think we're owed a big, massive apology.'" "Brett Morgan and Nanette Burstein made a couple of great documentaries together, On The Ropes and The Kid Stays In The Picture," David Poland reminds us. This is "Morgan's first solo film as director" and "the biggest disappointment of Chicago 10, which tells the story of what is best known as The Chicago Seven trial (add Bobby Seale and two lawyers to get to 10), is that in choosing to tell this story again, after it's been told quite well before, this film adds almost nothing to the conversation. In fact, after seeing it, I really have no idea what Mr Morgan thought he was after when he took this on." Cinematical editor James Rocchi has a problem with the animation, with "how unlike people the created images are.... Chicago 10 is an interesting film about an interesting time in the lives of some interesting people, but you can't shake the feeling that these real-life radicals might have been better served by a slightly less radical approach to telling their story." Variety's Todd McCarthy finds it "less interested in offering a fresh, probing look at what took place on the streets during the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the circus trial that followed than it is in celebrating the stars of the anti-war movement and rallying the current generation to follow their examples." But: "Commercial appeal to a young contempo audience is conceivable but decidedly questionable." Eric Kohn, blogging for the New York Press, was "put off at first by the inclusion of animation, but the technique grew on me; the behavior that took place in the courtroom, when the leaders of the Yippie protest group were denied their Constitutional rights again and again by a madcap geezer judge (the script was provided by court transcripts), are corrupt enough to seem far-fetched.... Although Chicago 10 hasn't yet been bought by a distributor, I have no question it'll get snatched up in short order and play to large crowds of enthusiastic New York hipsters (the rest of the country, I'm not so sure about). Members of the crew seemed to agree with me. 'Yeah, New York's gonna love it,' said one animator, slouching against the wall of Spur's balcony and reflecting on the production experience. 'And Chicago,' I added, joined by another effects person who spoke with me in unison.... [Jeff] Dowd, who really does look and sound just like the slacker character he inspired, apparently loved the film. So when it comes to the primary philosophies at the heart of Chicago 10, the dude abides." "Despite Morgen's best intentions and the considerable skill of editors Stuart Levy and Kristina Boden, the film never coalesces into a fresh contribution to these well-told events," writes Zoom In's Annie Frisbie. "By eschewing traditional documentary techniques like talking heads and text slates, Morgen denies himself his best tools for presenting necessary background information and nuance. It's a daunting - though not impossible - challenge that Chicago 10 doesn't meet." But: "The true failure of Chicago 10 is that its heroes seem ultimately no less arbitrary in their decisions and dogmatic in their positions than those the movie wishes to criticize for our own endless, meaningless war." Online viewing tips. "The spirit of protest, the focus on a provocative film, and an outspoken filmmaker are key messages that underscored an emerging voice that the Sundance leadership are trying to convey," writes indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez in an opener that points to a video interview with Morgen. Meantime, Eugene himself is interviewed for Reid Rosefelt's "very first video blog." At Zoom In. Where they do on-the-fly video very, very well indeed. Updates, 1/20: Jennifer Hillner for Wired News: "I left the screening last night shocked (did they really bind and gag Black Panther Bobby Seale during the court proceedings?), entertained (activist Abbie Hoffman spewed some seriously hilarious lines), and roused (eternal vigilance is the price of liberty afterall)." Andrew O'Hehir in Salon: "Sundance has essentially become two festivals: One of them is still a treasure hunt for 'undiscovered' wonders - I use the quotation marks because every film in this fest has already, by definition, been discovered by someone - and the other is a PR extravaganza for semimajor pictures already well along the money-slick freeway toward a screen near you. Thankfully, those two streams converged with unusual grace on Thursday night in the world premiere of Chicago 10, an exhilarating, sure-to-be-controversial film that is like nothing you've ever seen about the 60s before." "Look out, Haskell, it's animated," quips Ray Pride. "[T]he film makes a lurid, even fatal mistake: using crude, cheap-looking, never beautiful, merely illustrative videogame-style animation.... You can't top the real stuff in the archival snippets." Eric Kohn talks with Morgen for the Reeler. Update, 1/21: "I'm not about to ignore the festival's highlight-to-date just because everybody else rushed headlong to miss the boat," insists Mike D'Angelo at ScreenGrab. "What Morgen has done with Chicago 10 is truly remarkable, perhaps unprecedented: He's made a historical documentary that takes place entirely in the present tense. And to that end, he's sacrificed exposition for immediacy, thereby trading something movies don't do very well in favor of the medium's greatest strength. Critics, as usual, have misunderstood." He explains. Update, 1/22: A "fitting love song to misfits who might not be quite sure where they're going, but are intent on getting there," writes Jeremy Mathews in Film Threat. Update, 1/24: There's a back story to Reid Rosefelt's relationship with Morgen. But they're fine now. They talk in front of a video camera for Zoom In Online. Update, 1/25: "'This is not a history lesson about 1968,' stated director Brett Morgen before a screening of Chicago 10," writes Beth Gilligan, opening Not Coming to a Theater Near You's Sundance coverage. "[T]hose who took the director’s words at face value were rewarded in full by the bristling energy of this inventive, captivating documentary." Update, 1/27: Paul Krassner, a Yippie himself once (here's his site and here's his Wikipedia entry), recalls in the Los Angeles Times that "Brett invited me to write four specific animated scenes," and, "Although Brett 'loved, loved, loved' the scenes I wrote, the backers objected to the use of LSD, fearful of diverting attention from the main focus of the film. I was disappointed, if only for the sake of countercultural history.... Thus, the hurricane, which was originally going to open the film, has been omitted, but it'll be on the DVD." Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.
Solveig Dommartin, 1961 - 2007.For Solveig Dommartin, an angel returned to Earth: In Wim Wenders's poetic film, Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire, 1987), the Paris-born actress and former partner of the director played the circus artist Marion, whom the angel Damiel, played by Bruno Ganz, fell in love with.... Her family has just now announced in Paris that Solveig Dommartin died on January 11 of a heart attack. She will be buried on Tuesday in the Vosges mountains. AFP. It's the beauty of the heartfelt truth that enables you to move forward, and live and make of each day a new miracle and make a wonder of life itself. And for me, that's pretty much what Wings of Desire is about. Solveig Dommartin, in Richard Raskin's 1995 interview for p.o.v., No. 8, an issue devoted to Wings. See also: A bio at Wenders' official site. Update, 1/20: A brief remembrance in Der Tagesspiegel.
David Lynch, 1/19."Hand in glove, my brain with Eraserhead." In the Voice, Nathan Lee recalls his cinematic awakening as a teen in the 80s. "Even more than Blue Velvet, Lynch's non-narrative nightmare scratched an itch in my imagination." More from Aaron Hillis at the Reeler and from Reverse Shot. "Whether or not such a thing as 'pure cinema' exists is an argument that will never cease," begins Michael Atkinson at the Stranger: Updated through 1/25. But David Lynch's Inland Empire makes the argument new again: Here is an undiluted, madcap splooge of purest grade-A cinema from our greatest and most uncompromising sui generiste, three hairy hours long and so furiously self-involved, so hermetically sealed yet still explosive and fascinating, so purely a movie and nothing else, that roping it into any category with other movies is a mistake. Evoking it in a mere review is, in fact, a doomed enterprise: Lynch seems to have constructed the film deliberately to evade the butterfly nets of critical response. If that's not "pure," what is? Plus, a short but terrific interview; the first half you've seen elsewhere, but probably not the second half. David Lynch is coming to Austin, and Mark Fagan interviews him for the Chronicle. The Austin Film Society will screen Inland Empire on January 24 and Lynch will appear at the Barnes & Noble at the Arboretum for a chat; he'll be signing copies of Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity. For Time Out, Jessica Winter describes this traveling roadshow that'll probably roll on long enough to warrant occasional entries like this one. Meantime, Inland Empire leads the list of nominations for the Chlotrudis Awards. Just ran across this: "That's good coffee!" recommends RogerEbert.com editor Jim Emerson, who reports on a recent Q&A with Lynch in Seattle. Updates, 1/21: Hey, look at Ed. Jeffrey Overstreet was at that Seattle event: "I am so glad I don't have any assignments to review this film, because I would hardly know where to start." Update, 1/22: Lynch took Inland Empire to the San Rafael Film Center the other night; Michael Guillén was there to take notes during the Q&A. Update, 1/24: Jim Emerson: "I think Lost Highway, Mullholland Drive and Inland Empire are (Twin Peaks aside - that's in a realm of its own) Lynch's strongest work, and they also feel like extensions of one another." Updates, 1/25: Andy Battaglia interviews Lynch for the AV Club. The Austin Movie Blog's Omar Gallaga caught Lynch's first appearance in Austin.
Sight & Sound. 02/07.African cinema, writes Mark Cousins in the new issue of Sight & Sound aligned toward the African On Screen season running in London from mid-February through mid-March, boasts "filmmakers as significant as Martin Scorsese, as discrepant as Orson Welles; imagery as mythic as that of Sergei Paradjanov or Nicolas Roeg; life stories with the amplitude of Francis Ford Coppola's. These are films from a continent three times the size of the US, with more than 50 countries, over 1,000 languages, and nearly 300 filmmakers in the Francophone territories alone. Many of us know something about Ousmane Sembène or Djibril Diop Mambéty, but their films don't become obsessions, something we rave about when drunk, or need to own, or show to lovers, or give to friends." Naturally, he argues that they should. "Abderrahmane Sissako's Bamako examines the ways globalisation has contributed to a process of effectively recolonising Africa through the snares of western financial institutions," writes N Frank Ukadike of a film that "exemplifies a number of trends in contemporary African cinema. What might be described as the new pan-African aesthetic interweaves melodrama, politics, ideology, satire and comedy - and Sissako draws on all these conventions to produce a film that not only instructs but entertains." Also online:
Mafioso."The mafia and comedy genres mingle more comfortably than they have any right to in Alberto Lattuada's Mafioso, the latest reclamation project from Rialto Pictures, who no doubt hope to recreate the success of their last discovery, Jean-Pierre Melville's Army of Shadows," writes Matt Singer for IFC News. "They'll likely come up a little short: though Mafioso is arguably a more compelling film, Lattuada doesn't have Melville's following or critical standing." But AO Scott, writing in the New York Times finds "at once a giddy mixture of farce, satire and opera buffa and a closely observed drama of social dislocation and cultural confusion." For the Voice's J Hoberman, it "careens from comedy of manners (and neo-realist travelogue) to something far more hilariously shocking." "[W]hat begins as a comedy of disconnection becomes a tragicomedy of connection - of roots that go deep and branches that span continents," writes David Edelstein in New York. Salon's Stephanie Zacharek admires the lead performance from Alberto Sordi, "an elegant comic actor in the vein of America's William Powell; the world may confound him, but it can never rumple him."
Regular Lovers."'Can we make the revolution for the working class despite the working class?' one comrade wonders. The answer may be a foregone conclusion but Regular Lovers plods on dutifully, exhibiting the same glum perseverance as [Philipe] Garrel's career," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "The film's subject matter and casting present an unavoidable critique of The Dreamers, Bernardo Bertolucci's risible evocation of Paris '68, which also starred Garrel fils. Dourly withholding as it may be, Regular Lovers is superior in every sense—not least in its near-complete absence of cinephilia." For Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, it's "the transformative filmgoing experience of the last few months... but also a movie that would bore the pants and several layers of skin off many, many viewers." But "it inhabits the political, moral and spiritual anxiety of that era in a way The Dreamers never does." Updated through 1/20. "Nobody deserves a little commercial recognition more," writes Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE; "trenchantly incapable of exposing film over anything but his own preoccupations, he's had a hardscrabble career of bumming short ends. His latest is a eulogy for lost revolutionary ideals - personal and political - recalled at their most beautiful twilight hours. Garrel's work has always borne him back ceaselessly into the past, revisiting lost girlfriends (a decade-long affair with Nico haunts his oeuvre) and stillborn utopias: 'It's a loser's film, really.'" And: "If someone can use this for an ad: 'A Masterpiece! 4/4 Stars!'" Earlier: Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. Also, this theatrical release is going to be limited, obviously, but here's good news: the DVD'll be out March 27. The New York Times is running an abbreviated version of Manohla Dargis's New York Film Festival review. "[Garrel] brings the past - even its unfashionable bits - back to life with an immediacy that bypasses retro cool," writes Steve Erickson at Nerve. Update, 1/20: Nick Pinkerton at Reverse Shot: "I love and respect this movie far too much for deadening hyperbole - such a mass of celluloid deserves its fair chance to engage a living audience before our sect of art-house obscurists ceremonially put it in mothballs."
The Italian."You could say that The Italian does not offer many surprises," admits Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "It's based partly on a newspaper account of a real case, in which a Russian boy ran away from an orphanage in search of the mother who had abandoned him, and partly on David Copperfield. But it's a carefully and almost classically balanced combination of ingredients, blending dirty-faced realism (so much more damning because it judges and condemns no one) with mystical fable of quest and homecoming." "He runs and fights and schemes and, during a ferocious eruption of pity and terror near the end of the story, he just about breaks your heart into pieces," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "There's a touch of directorial sadism at work here, I think. But the last shot of a child's face lighted up with hope also seems to me like something out of a film by Roberto Rossellini, which is very high praise indeed." At indieWIRE, Jeff Reichert calls it "a remarkably restrained film..., rendered lovingly and realistically by young [Kolya] Spiridinov, that could please those folks who found something like Kolya charming, as well as those who didn't." "[H]e gives a performance of such natural beauty that it would make child actors of the American variety bow their heads in collective shame," writes Matt Singer for IFC News. "A film more fully committed to its subject (and to the moody ecstasy of Russian fatalism) might have explored the shattered fantasies of reunification that are the fate of most kids dumped by an underclass itself broken by want and drink," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice, LA Weekly and so on. "Lured, perhaps, by the promise of international markets, [director Andrei] Kravchuk instead opts for routine uplift, and once the heroic journey is set in motion, the rest is ballast." Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times: "For all its sly appraisals, grouty surfaces and hard-luck situations, The Italian is underneath it all a fairy-tale, though the thought doesn't crystallize until later." "I think The Italian is supposed to be A.I. without robots," suggests David Edelstein in New York, an association you can be damn sure wasn't lost on Armond White, either. "How did a plot this humanistic ever get imported to the US?" White wonders in the New York Press. Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat: "While The Italian is a nice little movie, it is also as wispy and insubstantial as cotton candy, but not quite as sweet." "The Italian is an aesthetic gem, but a moral muddle," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "It marshals considerable filmmaking and acting prowess in service of a message that - if I understood it correctly - practitioners of international adoption may find bluntly offensive."
January 18, 2007
Park City, 1/18."Of the 290 dramatic features that played at Sundance between 1984 and 2002 (the last year it seemed prudent to include in this survey, given the amount of time it can take to set up an indie film), 156 of their directors have gone on to make zero or, at the most, one additional dramatic feature," writes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly: Some, like Jill Godmilow [more], whose Waiting for the Moon shared the 1987 Grand Jury Prize with The Trouble With Dick, hailed from, and returned to, the world of nonfiction filmmaking. Others, like Joyce Chopra (1985 Grand Jury Prize winner for Smooth Talk), flirted briefly with the Hollywood studios before segueing into successful television careers. Still others, like Wendell B Harris Jr (whose 1991 Grand Jury Prize winner Chameleon Street remains one of the most original film debuts of the 90s), seem to have vanished into a moviemaking black hole. All are a reminder that for every Tarantino- or Soderbergh-size Sundance Cinderella story, there are dozens of others for whom life as an independent filmmaker more closely resembles Hans Christian Andersen's tale of The Little Match Girl. And he opens his piece with the story of the man who might be king of the Park City ups-n-downs, The Trouble With Dick director Gary Walkow, who's seeing his Crashing debut at Slamdance this year. Also, whatever happened to Jonathan Caouette? Answer: "I'm working on so many things right now that my head is about to roll off my shoulders." David Thomson tells the story behind Longford, "one of the most engrossing of the new British films," screening at Sundance before HBO airs it on February 17. Eugene Hernandez files a hefty first dispatch from Park City at indieWIRE, where the latest interviews are with Also, Eugene wonders what in the world David Poland and Jeffrey Wells are talking about. Anthony Kaufman points to his spotlight on eight films (plus five "also noted") at the Wall Street Journal and passes along the leaked list of Variety's "10 Directors to Watch." Michael Tully's got a "Hot List." The latest indieWIRE interviews:
Filmmaker. Winter 07.My, my. Filmmaker has not only a new issue but also a special (and very orange) Sundance section. The highlight on this opening day of the festival is "Risk Factors," a collection of around 20 filmmakers whose work will be screening at Sundance talking about, yes, the risks they've taken in getting their films made. And Holly Willis talks with John Cooper, Director of Festival Programming, about "key trends" and the like. "As the transition from film to digital feature production ramps up before us, one thing is certain: HD is here," writes Jamie Stuart [site]. "Still to be answered, however, is the dilemma: is HD there yet?" He talks shop with the likes of Neil LaBute, Michel Gondry, cinematographers Harris Savides (David Fincher's Zodiac) and Ellen Kuras. Four filmmakers offer "Lessons in DIY" - distribution, that is: Lance Weiler (Head Trauma), Stacy Schoolfield (Jumping Off Bridges), Jay Craven (Disappearances) and Eric Bassert (Inland Empire). "Gary Tarn's first feature Black Sun defies definition and categorization," writes Peter Bowen, noting that it's "more cinematic essay or visual poem than traditional documentary." Tarn tells him how it became what it is. "When feminist film pioneer Barbara Hammer was studying at San Francisco State University in the late 60s and early 70s, she was influenced by experimentalists like Maya Deren and Stan Brakhage," writes Astra Taylor. "Over three decades and 80 films later, Hammer hasn't lost her avant-garde sensibility." Howard Feinstein has a long talk with Karen Moncrieff about The Dead Girl. Lisa Y Garibay asks Maria Maggenti about making Puccini for Beginners. Jason Guerrrasio offers quick takes on new DVDs: The Cave of the Yellow Dog, The US vs John Lennon, Lunacy and Cocaine Cowboys. André Salas surveys a slew of soundtracks, retro and new. And Allan Nicholls remembers Robert Altman.
January 17, 2007
Slouching Towards Park City, 1/17.With the festival opening tomorrow and running through January 28, Nick Marshall looks into four films about filmmaking screening at Sundance this year: Crossing the Line, VHS-Kahloucha (site), Girl 27 and Comrades in Dreams. "Some are historical, some are contemporary, all promise to provide insight into the industry that the festival supports." Also at Cynematik:
Fests and events, 1/17."More like Wild Kingdom than Girls Gone Wild, the CineKink 2007 series at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts neutrally observes sexual transgression: the forms it takes, the relief it offers, and the privacy it (often jubilantly) breaches." Sara Schieron previews a few selections in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. At Cinematical, Jeffrey M Anderson notes that Inland Empire will open the San Francisco Independent Film Festival (February 8 through 20). "The South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival is putting out a call to filmmakers who would like to submit their best 'grindhouse trailer,' in honor of the April release from Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, Grindhouse. A sample of the best submissions will be judged by Rodriguez himself, and presented during SXSW, on March 11, 2007." What a fine and lively wrap-up of the Palm Springs International Film Festival at indieWIRE from Brandon Judell. Opening with a quick overview of Tales of the Brothers Quay, a series running at Film Forum from Friday through January 25, J Hoberman runs through a list of several cinematic goings on in New York over the next week or so. Also in the Voice, Nathan Lee previews Global Lens, 2007, today through January 28. Cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky is "experiencing what must be a gratifying burst of critical attention," writes Andrew Pulver in the Guardian. A "film season that puts Suschitzky's work together with his son's is showing at the Riverside Studios in London this week, alongside a photographic exhibition at the Austrian Cultural Forum. And, finally, an Austrian publisher has compiled the first proper book of Suschitzky's photography."
Lists, 1/17.Yes, they're still trickling on out there. Twitch editor Todd Brown rolls one out: "You'll find a list of fifteen films I loved - and it was tough to get the number down that low - ten major disappointments, five young directors to watch and five titles I'm looking forward to in 2007." "It was the year of the nightmare," writes Jeffrey Overstreet, introducing his top 25. "So many of the year's most memorable films were about apocalyptic situations, that this moviegoer felt trapped in book of stories by Kafka." But his #1 is The New World. At Hollywood Bitchslap, Peter Sobczynski offers an "admittedly late look at the worst films of 2006, a bumper crop so abundant that it wasn't even necessary to include the likes of Date Movie or Bloodrayne." At Screenhead: "Top 10 Unfilmed Comic Book Properties." Time looks back on the "most notable performances of this awards season." "Who woulda thought?" wonders Nikki Finke. "Denzel Washington was the No. 1 movie star for 2006, (after dropping off the Top 10 list in 2005), according to the annual Harris Poll which I've managed to put my hands on today."
Berlinale. Forum, Retrospective and Homage.The Berlinale's announced the full lineup for its Forum section today, over 40 films in all, "from 29 countries including 25 world premieres and 15 debut films." That's a list to ponder over the coming weekend. Meantime, a big Retrospective and Homage announcement, too: "The first highlight of 2007 will be the premiere of the rediscovered colour version of Hamlet (Svend Gade/Heinz Schall, Germany 1920/21) with Asta Nielsen in the title role." Plus, the newly restored Cabiria, a live talk with Arthur Penn and more.
Interview. Djinn."Singapore-born filmmaker Djinn, 38, made his feature debut with the horror cheapie Return to Pontianak (2001), which was successful enough to allow him to direct the much more polished, more mature Perth, recently released on DVD by Tartan Video." Jeffrey M Anderson talks with the director about his actors, working with the Shaw Brothers, with Lim Kay-Tong, about Taxi Driver and Bad Lieutenant, the state of cinema in Singapore and about where that unique name of his comes from.
January 16, 2007
Midnight Eye. Rinko Kikuchi. Lists. Rotterdam scoop."At a time when it is not even sure that a Japanese character in an American film will actually be played by a Japanese actor, Rinko Kikuchi's powerful presence in Alejandro González Iñarritu's Babel is all the more remarkable," writes Kuriko Sato, introducing Midnight Eye's interview in which Rinko Kikuchi talks about the year-long auditioning process and notes: "I'd sincerely like to work on Japanese films as well, but at the moment I receive more offers from abroad than from Japan." "Which Japanese film do you consider the best of 2006?" Not only is the Eye's Readers Poll open for your votes, but the editors and contributors offer their big lists of the bests and worsts as well. Reviews:
Rouge. 10.A Japanese thread runs through about a third of the new issue of Rouge, so the opening piece is perfectly placed: "One cannot ignore the pioneering nature of Kimiko's showing in New York," argues Kiyoaki Okubo. Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon is widely thought to be the breakthrough for international recognition of Japanese cinema, but Mikio Naruse's 1937 film, now known as Wife! Be Like a Rose! appeared more than a decade earlier in the US - and was bludgeoned by reviewers, becoming "not only a stain on Naruse's record, but also an obstacle to the international distribution of Japanese cinema." Oddly enough, though, one of the film's severest critics may have, consciously or unconsciously, borrowed from it when he helped write the screenplay for John Ford's Donovan's Reef. Updated through 1/18. "The only director since Ford who has had an unfatherlike man walk a long way with a newborn infant in his arms is Pedro Costa," writes Shigehiko Hasumi in an essay on, among other things, how Costa's shots are only growing longer. And the Pedro Costa seminar held in Tokyo in 2004, which one could once read at Andy Rector's Kino Slang, is now here. And a photograph from Selina Ou: Virgin Cinema Attendants, Roppongi Hills, Tokyo. In this issue's "RougeRouge" section, the close analysis of a scene illustrated by a semi-animated (and always compulsively watchable) series of stills, Alain Masson examines the way the interior of the Hollywood villa where Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) lives and realizes that there's hope for his career after all, thanks to a brainstorm from Cosmo (Donald O'Connor), and breaks into the "Good Morning" number in Singin' in the Rain is revealed bit by bit - "the set's mise en scène is established through human movement." The point of a film set is probably to conjure up a site, to give credibility to a mere appearance through the sheer particularity of its features. The originality of Lockwood's house comes from the fact that the more Hollywood-like a set is, the more fictitious it becomes. We accept its reality of make-believe. "This is it," we think, for it has no substance and is no more than a game of clichés. "It's hard to imagine what Sunset Boulevard looked like and felt like at the time it was released," writes Mark Rappaport in a piece that all but luxuriates in the abundance of the film's allusions before pausing to ask, "So what does all of this mean, if anything?" It adds a texture and an underpinning to Sunset Boulevard that is unparalleled in movie lore. Its self-referentiality is not only proper and earned; it grounds the film in the real tinsel beneath the tinsel in tinseltown. We are watching two films at the same time: the one on the screen, and the associations that are triggered by the extra-curricular references it alludes to - suggesting, more than is usually the case, the possibility that the feverish melodrama being presented is entirely plausible. Grant McDonald interviews Paolo Cherchi Usai, who tells him: "Passio is a follow up to my book The Death of Cinema. I am increasingly dissatisfied with the question, 'What do these images mean?' I'd like to know more about the reasons why we want to produce and view artificial images at all; way too many of them, as it has now become clear." After a few words on Russian Postmodernism segue into recognition that many have seen Ilya Khrhzanovsky's 4 as "the first decadent film of post-Soviet era," Julia Vassilieva tells us she aims "to provide a more constructive reading of the film by explicating the tropes, archetypes and symbols it uses to make a statement that goes beyond a social and psychological portrayal of Russian life in decline. In so doing, I also seek to delineate both the parallels and the distinctions between a postmodern approach in the West and in Russia, where it not only has distinctive aesthetic stylistics but also different functions." "It is hard to find the decisive, dramatic moment when things happen in [Terrence] Malick's films," writes Adrian Martin. "Malick likes to skip the middle of any story, any action, any state of mind or mood..." And earlier: "There is a touch of Stan Brakhage (who was a fervent Malick admirer) in this poetic ambition: to film the things of the world (people, animals, flora and fauna) before they acquire their names, before they coalesce into firm shapes, objects, identities ... Indeed, Brakhage made a film called The Animals of Eden and After - and could there be a better title for the cinema of Terrence Malick, with its obsessive central myth of Eden before and after the Fall?" "We can read the [Chantal] Akerman-room as a sort of artist's installation, a reduced stage on which the filmmaker re-enacts her agency as artist," writes Ivone Margulies. "Despite the affinity of this room with other video and performance images, la chambre Akerman can be found only in her films. For this room gains its performative raison d'être from its relations to other spaces. The primary impetus for the room is its erection of a separate, rigorously demarcated space for the self." Nicole Brenez: "The brilliant work of Peter Lorrimer Whitehead, full of an incomparable energy, pulverises the false barriers between formal research, documentary reportage, psychedelic cinema, cinéma engagé, pop cinema and auteur cinema.... From plastic abstraction to documentary reportage, from psychic investigation to political pamphleteering, from the autobiographical essay to a demonstration of the powers of montage, from graphic and textural work to militant revindication - Whitehead's work accomplishes an exceptional synthesis, open to every different dimension of avant-garde cinema, tending towards percpetual explosion and euphoric fusion with phenomena." Yvette Bíró argues that Jasmila Zbanic's Grbavica "will doubtless remain one of the memorably genuine and upsetting films about the true nature of war." Jonathan Rosenbaum explains why it's "tempting to imagine that [Ritwik] Ghatak in effect created [his] features at least twice - once when he shot them, and then once again when he created their soundtracks." Miguel Marías dedicates a photo essay to Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub. Adrian Martin and Guillaume Ollendorff offer an appreciation of sorts of Libération columnist Louis Skorecki. I'd never heard of him before; you've simply got to read this. Update, 1/18: Jonathan Rosenbaum introduces Rouge, "the best film magazine going that's exclusively online," to his readership at the Chicago Reader.
January 15, 2007
Golden Globes.The New York Times has the straight-up list of winners, of course, but also the best Golden Globes bloggage out there in David Carr: "The Bagger likes the way the story turned out, with everybody getting a taste. Babel, which had seven nominations but got blanked most of the night, ended up with the ultimate prize. But Martin Scorsese finally has a major directing award for The Departed and boy did he seem happy." Updated through 1/17. Updates: Here's some of what I happen to have run across during a very haphazard sort of day; more, I'm sure, haphazardly, tomorrow. At the AV Club, Noel Murray kept up "a quasi-live category-by-category breakdown of the justices and injustices, and the wackiest speeches, interspersed with a few comments about the nature of the show itself." David Poland: "The moment of the night for me was Sacha Baron Cohen meeting Steven Spielberg in the middle of a busy walk-thru area at the Paramount party and having a very engaged 10 minute conversation, surrounded by a few choice security guards and the ever-present Marvin Levy. This was the B'Nai Brith calendar moment of the year! Two shy Jewish geniuses." "It's nearly six weeks till Oscar Night, but in three major categories, maybe four, the race is all but officially over," decides Time's Richard Corliss. He's talking, naturally, about Helen Mirren and Forest Whitaker, and perhaps not as naturally about Jennifer Hudson. The fourth, the maybe, is Martin Scorsese. Also: "[F]ully half of the acting prizes went to subjects of Her Royal Majesty." And Rebecca Winters Keegan lists "10 Surprises From the Golden Globes." Gregg Kilday files for the Hollywood Reporter while Borys Kit, Tatiana Siegel and Nicole Sperling chronicle the backstage antics. Kim Masters sends a dispatch from the parties to Slate, where Troy Patterson zaps around during the show. Jeffrey Wells: "The Golden Globes awards confirmed two things: (a) there will be no sweeping victory by anyone or anything come Oscar night, and (b) the Globes are getting a bit staid and tidy - almost Oscarish in their decorum." A Cinematical tag team commented throughout the evening. Updates, 1/17: "Think of it this way," suggests Karina Longworth at Netscape: "these are the greatest achievements in film and television as decided by the people who produce the Argentinean version of Entertainment Tonight." "Dishing the Golden Globes" with Anne Thompson; also, Oscar's foreign-language category's been whittled down to nine contenders. That Little Round-Headed Boy has "5 quick thoughts." It's David Carr again: "Remember that preschool graduation at which everyone got an award for something and parents left feeling validated that their pride and joy was in some way special? Monday night felt a bit like that." "No no no no no no no no no no no no!" Aaron Dobbs objects to a few of the awards. The Guardian's Mark Lawson suggests that "Baron Cohen's victory raises the question of whether the Globes are right to regard comedy as a separate art, and whether the Baftas and even Oscars should follow them." "Seriously, with all due respect to Forest Whitaker, who really is one of our finest actors, how many of the people voting for his performance do you think actually saw The Last King of Scotland?" asks Bilge Ebiri at ScreenGrab. "[T]he unexpected comments were the highlight of the night," writes Salon's Heather Havrilesky. "'It's such an honor to play a role that I hear from young girls on a daily basis how it makes them feel worthy and lovable and they have more to offer the world than they thought,' [America] Ferrera rambled weepily.... Then Ferrera twisted the knife by thanking her mom and - gulp! - calling her 'Mommy.' Hey! That's my mom's name too. (Sniff.)" Nikki Finke was live-blogging. Meanwhile: "The concept of a 'professional Oscar prognosticator' makes me very sad," sighs Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "Is it really a point of pride to be able to predict the whims of an insular group of elderly showbiz people who tend to have terrible taste?" As for David Poland and Jeffrey Wells, "Poland is downright fascinating, thanks to his insane messianic insistence that anybody who disagrees with him is either 'irrelevant' or has ulterior motives, while Wells is a riot just because he always seems to be in the midst of a horrible nervous breakdown, often launching into froth-mouthed quasi-racist broadsides aimed at giant swaths of the American public. The two fight like cats in a bag, unaware they’re already at the bottom of the river." Nevertheless, Slant's Ed Gonzalez and Eric Henderson: "We offer our Oscar nod predictions at this late date for two reasons. First, because nearly every last group will have had their say and we got through school by looking over our peer's shoulders on test day. Second, and more importantly, we'd hate to think that our reiteration of the same old ragged, over-hyped contenders (instead of, you know, Sandra Hüller) means we've given in to the pressure of Oscar season groupthink. After all, the ballots were due on Jan 13. The damage - and there will be damage - has already been done." Online viewing tip. The "5 Best Golden Globe Speeches" at Modern Fabulosity.
Berlinale. 8 more.The Berlinale's announced eight more Competition entries. With the opening film, La vie en rose and the first round of six, that brings the total to 15 so far and, including films screened out of competition, there'll be 26 in the lineup. The second round of eight:
NYJFF Dispatch.The New York Jewish Film Festival runs through January 25. David D'Arcy reviews three of the films he's caught so far. I suppose the simple definition of a Jewish film festival is a festival of films by or about Jews. Broad enough? The Jewish Film Archive Online lists such movies as Borat, The History Boys and For Your Consideration. You could find plenty more unlikely candidates that could fit. The New York Jewish Film Festival, the collaboration between the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Jewish Museum that runs through January 25, is nothing if not a mixed bag - comedies, melodramas, historical tales, anything Israeli, and docs about everything from restaurateurs to Gulag prisoners. Here, at least, the big screen starts to look like what the Republicans used to call the "big tent." There's a lot about the festival's opening film, My Mexican Shivah, that makes it look a lot like films that you've seen at a lot of Jewish film festivals. It's a dysfunctional family gathering in Mexico, but it could take place anywhere on the screen in the diaspora, and not just there. Bear in mind that there are also films like this that have been made in Israel (see Passover Fever, 1995). The setting is the comfortable home of Moishe, a patriarch who has just died of a heart attack in Mexico City. In case you haven't guessed, everyone shows up in the best of clothes to sit shivah after the funeral - the widow, envious cousins, a bad-ass baal teshuva (born-again returnee to orthodoxy), the lusty granddaughter who's still got eyes for her now-orthodox cousin, creditors, a band of mariachis (although the music is by the Klezmatics), and the Catholic mistress, to name just a few. In case you haven't guessed, mourning isn't ennobling for this family. It's more of a shake-well-and-serve drama, a bawdy mosaic. You've seen this film before, set at weddings or at raucous dinner tables. Alejandro Springall is up to the job, directing the adaptation of a story by Ilán Stavans, which is produced by John Sayles and Maggie Renzi (so far as I know, it's their latest project since the undeserved box office still-birth in 2004 of the funny and wise political allegory, Silver City [... though they have just wrapped Honeydripper - dwh]). Springal and his actors are trying hard to charm. If you're in the right mood, My Mexican Shivah could convince you either to visit or avoid your next family event. It's likely to make the rounds of Jewish film festivals this season. Whether it plays anywhere else is the big question. A film at the festival that does not try hard to charm is Gorgeous!, Lisa Anzuelos's comedy (if you accept the official description of the movie), with an ensemble cast built around a quartet of women from Moroccan Sephardic families. The story follows the ups and downs of frustrated women looking for love and mostly failing at it. Money doesn't seem to be much of a problem for Isa, who runs a massage spa with her mother and sister-in-law, and is being audited by the French equivalent of the IRS. Fortunately, the man whom she knocked from his bicycle with her new SUV (and then slept with) is Jewish, an accountant, and smitten enough with her to correct the firm's books for free. It's by no means the most preposterous situation in Gorgeous!. The film is better understood through its French title - Comme t'y es belle!, or "You Sure Are Beautiful" - which is the kind of thing that friends of the sort that we meet in this film tend to say to each other, even if they don't mean it most of the time. Remember, the action is set around a spa where women spend their time and money trying to look beautiful - not an easy ideal to achieve in a place like Paris, or for women who are painfully aware that their looks are fading, and painfully looking for men. The family gatherings, like those in My Mexican Shiva, are merciless. To make things worse, the neurotic, contentious and self-destructive girls have each other, and their cell phones. Think of Sex and the City - then add the French, and the schtick. There isn't much plot to give away in this long sitcom. Be warned that the French have a very different sense of humor than Americans. The French will see the film as a sex comedy; Americans watching Gorgeous may see it more as a melodrama. Implausibility may also scare Americans away. Toward the end, the extended family gathered at the Passover table watches a French game show called Pesach, a sort of Trivial Pursuit for the holy day. Another plot twist has Isa entering a civil union, a French version of a lesbian "green card" marriage, to enable her Arab au pair to stay in France legally. You may very well recognize someone from your life in this knotted script. Whether you want to spend 90 minutes with that person is another story. There's an ensemble cast in the documentary, The Longing: The Forgotten Jews of South America, comprised largely of aspirants to Judaism from Colombia and Ecuador who believe themselves to be descendants of Crypto-Jews, the Jews from the Iberian Peninsula who practiced Judaism in secret when they emigrated to the New World. Gabriela Bohm, the filmmaker, estimates that some 18 million Latin Americans could be descended from Jewish ancestors. Reclaiming their ancestry turns out to be harder than it sounds. A century ago, the Yiddish theater was full of plays about Jews who sought to hide their Jewishness in societies where Jews were unwelcome. In Guayaquil, Ecuador, a half-dozen determined souls from modest backgrounds can't find a rabbi to supervise their conversion in a town where the one synagogue happens to be firmly orthodox. There isn't even a rabbi, so they turn to the Internet and find one, a Spanish-speaking Reform rabbi from Kansas City, who takes on the mission and flies down. There's a poignancy to the bond that he forms with people that he's never encountered back in Kansas City. Faith conquers all, right? Not in Ecuador, where the existing Jews have no interest in the Cryptos - an aversion of European Jews to Latin Americans who may or may not have had Sephardic ancestors, suggests Gabriela Bohm. Jews have faced greater obstacles over the last 4000 years, but the stonewalling of the local community threatens to keep these "Lost Jews" lost. A rabbi in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito says that a Jew can be a Jew on a mountaintop in the Himalayas. These Crypto-Jews learn that finding a Jewish community is more of a challenge than converting.
January 14, 2007
Jumpstart-the-week shorts."We've spent five years on it, and we are really close," Milestone Films co-founder Dennis Doros told Sean Axmaker last July. When word got round that Killer of Sheep might well see a theatrical release this spring - 30 years after Charles Burnett made it, mind you - there was little reason to doubt that Milestone would come through. But it sure is nice to see that poster. Gabriel Wardell's got it at his indieWIRE blog. Murnau, Ford, Brecht. A collage entry of sorts, on war, from Andy Rector. "[S]lash may represent an important half-way point as countries around the world edge up to the sexual explicitness they associate with Brokeback Mountain," writes Henry Jenkins in an entry on "the rise of Bhaisexuals in Hindi cinema" and more. "We've already seen the influence of anime and manga on American slash fan. What will happen when Bollywood and Singaporean films enter the mix?" "[A]nyone getting ready to go to Park City next week has a list of about seven films they really want to see." Cinematical editor James Rocchi lists his. Latest lists:
DVDs, 1/14.DK Holm takes stock of what the DVD specialists are making of Idiocracy. Also: Comparisons with Children of Men and a few more DVD news items. No one really knows, or at least no one is telling in full the story behind Idiocracy, Beavis and Butthead creator Mike Judge's second live action movie, after Office Space in 1999. Idiocracy began life with the title Uh-merica, was retitled - first Amerikwa, then 3001, then Idiocracy - and may be based unofficially on the short story "The Marching Morons," by CM Kornbluth. Judge shot the film in 2004, but some poor test screenings led to reshoots and title changes in early 2005. Fox sat on the film for some time, inspiring a cavalcade of conspiracy theories (though in interviews Judge has attributed the film's hobbled journey to the screen to studio ineptitude and incomprehension) and an open letter to Fox from Judge's fellow Texans at Ain't It Cool News. Fox only finally released the film in September of 2006 to some 125 theaters in, at first, just seven cities, without the benefit of television advertising, critics screenings, or even trailers. Though it eventually received good reviews - from critics perhaps motivated to defend the film in the face of corporate negligence - Idiocracy soon vanished, and has now reappeared on DVD, on a disc bearing only some deleted scenes as supplements. Updated through 1/16. And just what exactly is the film at the center of this story? What inflammatory piece of agitprop or embarrassing satire could have created such a mushroom cloud of controversy? Idiocracy turns out to be a purposely garish dystopian satire, a sort of Sleeper for the six-pack brigade. In it, an average citizen - or rather, below average citizen - played by Luke Wilson is frozen during a military experiment only to awaken, thanks to an accident, in the year 2505, where he finds an America whose mental wattage has declined to 30, where nothing works, where marketing rules, and where the president is a former porn star. Wilson's character suddenly finds himself the smartest person in the world. Do the DVD reviewers take pity on Idiocracy, or find a gem in the rough? Not necessarily. In this case, the netheads seem not to be driven to defend a sentimental favorite. Brian Orndorf of DVD Talk speaks for many when he writes that, for whatever reasons, "Idiocracy is a terribly muddled affair." He goes on to add: "What's finally being shown to audiences after two years sitting on a shelf gathering dust is a Frankenstein's Monster of a film, pieced together by a studio looking to pull off cinema's greatest single act of irony: they've dumbed down a film about dumbing down." Still, Orndorf found much to praise in the film ("As a satire, Idiocracy is a cold steel blade to the gut"), while advising the potential viewer to "keep your expectations low, and there's an often hilarious, sly little feature to be found in here somewhere." Betsy Bozdech at the DVD Journal warns that "Mike Judge fans expecting another Office Space (1999) are likely to be bemused - and somewhat disappointed," finding that "the story is thin and meandering at best, with too many jokes being repeated and too little for any of the main characters to do." Fernando F Croce at Slant was disappointed to find that "working on a larger, broader scale in Idiocracy... [Judge's] control quickly dissolves into a freefall of ideas and jokes, some hitting the bullseye and others landing on the floor with a thud. Judge is indifferent to anything resembling space or rhythm, yet the low-tech chintz of his approach ultimately enhances the caustic themes by making the futuristic atmosphere absurdly transparent." Still, he concludes that "Judge's nervy futuristic comedy survives studio cluelessness on its way to cult appreciation." Not all the reviews are negative, of course. Harry Knowles at Aint It Cool News reminds us that he thought the big screen version was "one of the best films that Fox made last year," while the anonymous reviewer at Current Film finds that Idiocracy "is another terrific work that will hopefully get the attention it deserves on DVD," indicating that it is a "very funny, very entertaining comedy with a solid lead effort from Luke Wilson." Matt Brighton at DVD Authority thirded these views, asserting that Idiocracy "is a very clever film, and I had a great time watching it. It's the kind of movie that you really have to be in the mood for or just really like Mike Judge's style of directing," while Bill Gibron at DVD Verdict judges that "Idiocracy is one of the best comedies of 2006, right up there with Clerks II and Borat." At the other end of the smarts scale, the most intellectual film of the week is Criterion's release of Robert Bresson's companion piece to Au hasard, Balthazar, Mouchette. Glenn Erickson, the DVD Savant, argues that "this tale of an unhappy childhood is no longer as shocking as it might have seemed in 1967; the ensuing decades have seen plenty of equally depressing movies about blighted, hopeless young lives." Still, the Savant reminds us that from "this point on, Bresson's films became even colder, until his last picture, L'Argent, a remote observation of human evil at work; a minor act of dishonesty sets in motion a deplorable chain of events that lead to a series of bloody serial killings. Unlike his early Diary of a Country Priest, Bresson's characters no longer believe that a search for spiritual harmony is even possible." Erickson goes on to note that Criterion's transfer is "flawless," and that "Tony Rayns provides an insightful commentary that sums up the overwhelming critical reverence for this title, with a special emphasis on Bresson's technique." Apparently, Godard had a sideline in movie trailers, and the "capping touch is the original theatrical trailer, which Jean-Luc Godard once disowned, but finally admitted was his work. Godard's trailers are always captivating and clever, and this one presents Mouchette as a provocative mystery."
"Idiocracy's skimpy plot makes Office Space look like Chinatown," writes Vince Keenan. "But its vision of tomorrow - this dystopia brought to you by NASCAR - is every bit as meticulously conceived and terrifying as the one in Children of Men; if anything it's more plausible." Slate's Dana Stevens can't help noticing the similarities, either: Sure, Idiocracy is a low comedy, full of kicks to the groin and monster-truck rallies, while Children of Men is a serious dramatic thriller about the extinction of humanity. But both movies are chilling visions of a future dystopia extrapolated, with pitiless logic, from our current moment. Both feature a reluctant hero (Clive Owen in Children of Men, Luke Wilson in Idiocracy) who's jolted from his depressive complacency and asked to save the planet from destruction. And both posit human reproduction (or the lack of it) as the problem that threatens the future of the human race. One other commonality: Both movies were scandalously underpromoted by the studios releasing them. Craig Phillips has noticed, too: "Idiocracy, in fact, may be a more frightening depiction of what nightmares may come than Children of Men." Dennis Cozzalio reminds us that Bilge Ebiri has meticulously chronicled Fox's odd mistreatment of the film from the very beginning. Sujewa Ekanayake? He laughs and recommends Idiocracy. In other DVD news, Criterion editor Michael Koresky has been watching "Louis Malle's documentaries, which we'll be releasing as the second Eclipse series this Spring, and which have been somewhat under the radar over the past forty-odd years, certainly in comparison to his fiction films. So there was a great sense of discovery for me, as well as there will undoubtedly be for many—both for these underseen films, and for the places they capture." In the LA CityBeat, Andy Klein takes advantage of a slow week at the theaters to catch up with Oldboy: Three-Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition, Shogun Assassin and Walt Disney Treasures: The Hardy Boys. This week's "DVD Club" entry from the Observer's Philip French: Kind Hearts and Coronets. And to come full circle, DK Holm looks into another strange case at Quick Stop Entertainment: "You'd think that you'd have heard of a film starring both Salma Hayek and Penélope Cruz. You'd think that Hollywood's publicity mavens would be in high gear to make you know about it. Especially if the film was also produced by Luc Besson. You'd think that when the DVD of said film arrived in the mail unbidden that a critic might say, 'Oh, yeah, I've been waiting to see this.' No, instead when Bandidas arrived in my mail box I had never heard of it, and upon researching it, wondered why." Updates: As Michael Sicinski notes in a comment below, he wrote a review of Idiocracy in September - and you need to read it: "The thing is, Mike Judge has made a political film without a constituency. This is practically a film version of Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind, and as such manages to be offensive even to those to whom it purports to reach out.... I found myself laughing at the very jokes and ideas I found most troubling. That's the highest compliment I can pay Judge's film - more so that any recent comedy I can think of, it's a true think-piece." "Wilson delivers exactly the kind of comic performance the film requires." Paul Matwychuk explains. Update, 1/15: "Cult classic status is just around the corner," predicts Jeff GP at the Six-Reel Shuffle. Update, 1/16: "Mike Judge's Idiocracy was one of the greatest films of last year," writes Kim Morgan. "And not just one the greatest films barely anyone saw, but one of the greatest satires to hit screens in a long time." Mike Russell, who talks about the film - yes, this is an online listening tip - on Cort and Fatboy.
January 13, 2007
Weekend shorts.The "First Significant DVD Release of 2007" is currently being hailed on the first significant new blog launch of 2007, Glenn Kenny's In the Company of Glenn (learn a bit more about Premiere's film critic from Aaron Hillis and Aaron Aradillas). So the release is the Robert Mitchum Signature Collection, significant, of course, for Robert Mitchum alone. But: "It's also kind of half an auteurist goldmine, boasting the started-by-von-Sternberg-finished-by-Nicholas-Ray Macao (1952), Minnelli's odd Texas melodrama Home From The Hill (1959), and Preminger's most whacked-out evocation of amour fou (at least for my money), Angel Face (1952)." And the Second Significant DVD Release of 2007"? "Fantoma's amazing The Films of Kenneth Anger Volume One, which, like the Mitchum box, streets on January 23rd." "In Anger Me, a sort of autobiofilmography of Kenneth Anger, the subject is front and centre, which would be fine if the avant-garde director could zoom in on his influences, ideas and aspirations," writes Brian Gibson in Vue Weekly. "Instead, Anger Me is a pleasant but not very insightful tour of Anger's homoerotic phantasmagorias and pagan-dream films." "Disney's art seems magical, but if it's not a miracle, we ought to be able to study it systematically. How?" Neal Gabler's Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination sparks David Bordwell's. What a terrific overview - a three-minute history, followed by links for further exploration - Matt Riviera offers in his review of Thai Cinema / Le cinéma thaïlanais. The First Emperor is based on the 1996 Chinese film The Emperor's Shadow and directed by Zhang Yimou. Those are just two of the many reasons Time film critic Richard Corliss is reviewing a Metropolitan Opera production. But it's also being beamed lived into over 100 cinemas in the US, Canada, Europe and Japan. Dave Kehr pinpoints the moment at which "The Boss of It All becomes, in the infinitely ambiguous [Lars] von Trier manner, both an apology for the grim, moralizing tone of Dogville and Manderlay and the cinematic equivalent of a 'screw you' - a passive-aggressive assault on the critics who rejected his unfinished (and now abandoned?) trilogy." Benjamin Schwarz, literary editor and national editor of the Atlantic, admires two books by David Thomson, A Biographical Dictionary of Film and Rosebud, a biography of Orson Welles. Jonathan Rosenbaum doesn't. He wrote a letter to the monthly - which didn't publish it. But that's one thing blogs are good for. Very good for. Jay A Fernandez reads another screenplay: "If ever a movie begged for the resurrection of the drive-in, Drive-Away Dykes is it. A lesbian road-trip action sex comedy penned by writer-producer Ethan Coen (Fargo) and his wife, film editor Tricia Cooke, Drive-Away promises all the laughs, thrills and mischief of the old double-bill sexploitation cinema." Also in the Los Angeles Times:
Steven Shaviro. Eastern European Film.Steven Shaviro's currently teaching a class on Eastern European Film, 1956 - 2006. He's asked his students to keep a film journal, and he's been keeping one himself as well. Perhaps a few excerpts will encourage you to subscribe to his feed. Watching Milos Foreman's The Fireman's Ball (1967), for example, he finds at least one way in which it demonstrates "less the violence and absolute control of the post-Stalinist system than its complete (and absolutely demoralizing) cynicism." Updated through 1/14. Then there's Andrzej Wajda's Kanal (1957): "The film's power comes from the way it makes us inhabit the duration of lives with no future and no prospects." But: "Ashes and Diamonds (1958) is more ambiguous, less monolithic and stark, than Kanal, but for that very reason is perhaps even more troubling." And one from 1959: "[T]he ironies of [Andrzej Munk's] Bad Luck's comedic situation are as dizzying, and as deep, as the ironies of the tragic, existential situations of Wajda's contemporary films Kanal and Ashes and Diamonds." I'm emphasizing his notes on the relationships between these films because - well, in part, because he does - but also: one of the strengths of this journal is that, by focusing on the cinema of a particular time and place, it - like the class, I'm sure - allows insights into one film to draw from and add to insights into others more immediately. Anyway. Recommended. Update, 1/14: The latest entry is on one of Jonathan Marlow's favorites, the "intensely, and quite classically, surreal" Valerie and Her Week of Wonders.
Perfume. Revisited.Why? Well, for one thing, Tom Tykwer is still making the rounds; he talks with Michael Fox at SF360, for example, and in a conversation with Lauren Hock in North by Northwestern, he recalls his days as a projectionist at Moviemento: "I have a very sensual, tactile relationship to the way film goes through a projector and all that, and I love the smell of it, of the lamp and the 'BZZZZZ' when I put it on." But Perfume is also sparking a few tangential pieces worth noting. There's Will Gore at Time Out on the concept of the "unfilmable novel" and, in the Times Literary Supplement, Stephen Romer reflects on the film, the book and another book, Richard Stamelman's Perfume: Joy, Scandal, Sin: A Cultural History of Fragrance from 1750 to the Present. And then there's "The Unfilmables: A List of the Hardest Novels to Film" at Screenhead, via Chris Ullrich at Cinematical. Definitely worth your click.
Weekend lists and awards."[I]t's as biased as possible." Miljenko Skoknic qualifies his list of "Top Four Chilean Films" at SF360, where editor Susan Gerhard explains that it "nurtures... his individual ideas about Chile's unique film language, and his apprehension of what Chilean cinema has been." His #1: Raúl Ruiz's Palomita Blanca. Adam Hartzell sends a top ten to Brian at Hell on Frisco Bay, and it's an eclectic and inviting one, topped by Syndromes and a Century. Fine choices, beautifully presented: At the top of Sam Smith's annotated list is Children of Men. Drew Morton, posting his list at Dr Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope, agrees: "Quite simply, the best film of the year." So a slew of organizations have been spewing more nominations and awards. To make any sense of it all, you'd best check in with "Awards Watch" at Movie City News. Salon staffers submit a last minute Oscar wishlist. As part of its bulging Oscar package, Entertainment Weekly hosts a royal roundtable. Clark Collis moderates a discussion with Judi Dench, Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep. Need to assuage the pain or share the gain of Monday evening's Golden Globes broadcast? Log in to the live chat at Modern Fabulosity. Jeffrey Overstreet: "You can vote now for the best movies of 2006 at Christianity Today Movies." "Over the years, one of the most common complaints I've heard about Korean films are their English titles," writes Darcy Paquet at Koreanfilm.org. "Probably the most frequently-cited example of a bad title is Bungee Jumping of Their Own, but there are many other titles that have attracted derision. In an effort to recognize good titles when they come - and to provide a friendly admonishment to poorly-chosen titles - I am holding this poll for the best and worst English titles for Korean films in 2006."
Yvonne De Carlo, 1922 - 2007.Sometimes it's good to wait just a bit. On Thursday, Wolfgang Saxon reported in the New York Times: "Yvonne De Carlo, a dark-haired Hollywood beauty who advanced from the chorus line to play Moses' wife in a movie epic but who achieved her greatest popularity as Lily in the CBS television sitcom The Munsters, died on Monday in Los Angeles. She was 84." Other films are mentioned and so on, but it isn't until a day or two later that you see entries such as Campaspe's: "The rest of the world may say, 'Oh look, Lily Munster died.' But we at Cinemarati immediately thought of the late Yvonne De Carlo's twisty turn in Robert Siodmak's Criss Cross.... The more famous Siodmak noir is The Killers, also with Burt Lancaster. And that film's femme fatale, Ava Gardner, went on to a much more A-list career. But in Criss Cross, De Carlo gives the better performance in a more difficult part." Updated through 1/16. More from Jennifer DeFilippo at Cinematical and Ronald Bergan in the Guardian: "[S]he mainly alternated between slinky femme fatales, such as Lola Montez in Black Bart (1948) or Sheherazade in The Desert Hawk (1950), and gun-toting or sword-flashing gals in Calamity Jane and Sam Bass (1949) and Buccaneer's Girl (1950). Through the 1950s she continued to shine as saloon girls and cabaret singers in movies that were mostly the purest hokum." "Yvonne De Carlo's forte was comedy, but in a prolific screen career she had too few opportunities to prove it. All the best ones cropped up in Britain rather than Hollywood." The Telegraph spotlights the British comedies Hotel Sahara, The Captain's Paradise and Happy Ever After. Somewhat related: Mick LaSalle draws some fun distinctions: "Addams Family people tend to be left-of-center, culturally elitist, college educated, somewhat counter-culture and strident in their opinions. Munsters people tend to be forthright, honest, ingenuous, engaging and open to other opinions. They also tend to have had happier childhoods." Update, 1/16: Bill Gibron at PopMatters: "She's a reminder that imagery and memory are a strong combination, a recipe to reduce even the most startling female figure into a lifetime of living as the bride of the monster."
Weekend fests and events.At Cinematical, Scott Weinberg, who'll be
LAT. "2007 Movie Sneaks.""The head-to-head-to-head clash of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Shrek the Third and Spider-Man 3 is unprecedented in box office history and could reshape admissions records for the summer." See, that's how you open a preview package. The stakes! They are high! On that page in the Los Angeles Times, John Horn, Robert W Welkos and Rachel Abramowitz each take a look at the 3 Big 3quels of 2007. They are not alone. More third rounds: Ocean's 13, The Bourne Ultimatum, Rush Hour 3 and, because the world needs it, Resident Evil: Extinction. As for the other films set to scramble for whatever attention might be left over, here's the long list - in alphabetical order, oddly enough, rather than in order of release. "We want to make people laugh," Matt Groening tells Michael Ordoña. "Not that it's a role model in content, but the South Park movie was proof that you could do a movie that didn't have the greatest animation but was really funny from beginning to end." But try as he might, Ordoña can't get much from the creative team as to what The Simpsons Movie will actually be about. Also, The Number 23, "a psychological thriller starring Jim Carrey and Virginia Madsen." Sheigh Crabtree talks with Smokin' Aces writer-director Joe Carnahan about pulling off a zillion special effects. Related: "Smokin' Aces, Grindhouse and Black Snake Moan all "pay homage to the lowbrow 'exploitation' films of the 1960s and 70s," wrote Mark Olsen on Monday. "It's no accident that these directors are all in their 30s and 40s, putting their influences to work by picking up the anything-goes aesthetic that was the hallmark of such cult favorites as Mudhoney, The Last House on the Left, Bone and The Candy Snatchers." And then, for the Guardian, Chrissy Iley talks with Alicia Keys about Smokin' Aces, her childhood and her #1 fan, Bob Dylan. Olsen in the package at hand: "300 is a fevered hissy-fit of a movie that operates somewhere between outrageous and demented." Susan King previews a holiday comedy (can you believe this?), Fred Claus, starring Paul Giamatti as Santa and Vince Vaughn as his older brother. Also, Zodiac: David Fincher directs Robert Downey Jr. And a talk with James McAvoy: "He'll be seen this year in the upcoming romantic comedies Starter for Ten (opening Feb 16) and Penelope (coming in April) and the August dramas Becoming Jane and Atonement based on the Ian McEwan novel." Scarlet Cheng talks with Jasmila Zbanic about her Golden Bear winner, Grbavica, arriving in the US in March.
January 12, 2007
Interview. Clint Eastwood."While everyone chatters about how Clint Eastwood has been 'snubbed' in various year-end awards and nomination announcements, one simple fact remains: Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima represent a milestone achievement in Eastwood's long and storied career," writes Jeff Shannon, introducing his interview at the main site. "Taken together, they are films for the ages, sharing a symbiotic relationship that will endure long after we've forgotten the box-office figures that should've been higher, and served only to illustrate the fickle nature of mainstream filmgoers who mostly stayed away from two of the best films of 2006." Related: Jonathan Rosenbaum, writing in the Chicago Reader, calls Eastwood "one of the finest directors alive" and relays this interesting insight: "A Japanese film critic and friend, Shigehiko Hasumi, who was around eight years old when the Americans landed on Iwo Jima, admitted to me that even though he likes Letters From Iwo Jima, he prefers Flags of Our Fathers. I suspect he prefers it for the same reason I prefer Letters From Iwo Jima - because it tells a less familiar story." Updated through 1/18. "In Letters From Iwo Jima, Eastwood poses in different terms the problem that concerned him in Flags of Our Fathers: people forced to become what they're not." 3½ out of four stars from Chris Fujiwara in the Boston Phoenix. Andrew Wright in the Stranger: "While Letters From Iwo Jima certainly doesn't hold back on the brutalities of combat - here notably inflicted by both sides - what registers most strongly is a sense of doomy, predestined inevitability, an inglorious exploration of the universal rigors of serving your respective country that's missing from so many other war films." Online listening tip. Eastwood's a guest on Fresh Air. Earlier: "Flags of Our Fathers." and "Letters From Iwo Jima." Update, 1/13: Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly on Letters From Iwo Jima: "This is a mournful, difficult film, but also a masterful one." Updates, 1/18: "Well, I can't say, along with so many others, that I preferred Letters from Iwo Jima to Flags of Our Fathers," writes Duncan Shepard in the San Diego Reader. "The apparent trump card of the newer film - the exercise in empathy whereby the filmmaker re-examines the same subject, the costly Battle of Iwo Jima, from the opposite side of the firing line - can stand some scrutiny." Godfrey Cheshire in the Independent Weekly on Letters and The Good German: Dramatically turgid and stylistically precious (both are in shot in arty monochromes), the films confuse soft-headed "revisionism" with historical incisiveness and honesty. Rather than offering clear-headed examination, they trade in moral relativism and end up saying - if you bother to parse their meanings - that there was no real difference between the Americans who fought WWII and their enemies. And this brilliant insight comes off as a product not of intrepid analysis but of fashionable attitudes - woozy "humanism" on Eastwood's part, facile cynicism on Soderbergh's.
Slouching Towards Park City, 1/12.A fun starter today: New York's Sundance preview package, spotted via ScreenGrab; Bilge Ebiri himself has a piece on "why politics has the spotlight in the 2007 lineup," in which he sees "well over 40 works with political themes." Related: Boris Kachka has three quick questions for Rory Kennedy about her doc, Ghosts of Abu Ghraib. Steve Buscemi, "an indie god among video-store clerks: patron saint of character actors, working stiffs, and last-true-believers everywhere," as Logan Hill calls him in his profile, will star in two films screening at Sundance, Tom DiCillo's Delirious and in his own Interview, a remake of a film by Theo van Gogh. Another one from Logan Hill: "In the indie-film universe, there have always been three ways to generate heat on the festival circuit: Make it topical (Iraq, anorexia), make it funny (Little Miss Sunshine, Napoleon Dynamite), or do the nasty (sex, lies, and videotape, Brown Bunny). Incredibly enough, this year's crop of sex films has managed to raise the ante, even as they drop their drawers." Also: A few New Yorkers to keep an eye out for in Park City. More quick questions: Emma Rosenblum asks Zoe Cassavetes about her debut feature, Broken English. Via Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker, Jason Silverman's "Sundance Film Picks 2007" - for Wired, meaning that the emphasis here is on innovative use of digital technology, or occasionally, science in general. Image-heavy (in fact, that's how you navigate through the guide), intriguing choices, very nicely done. More indieWIRE interviews: Hear and Now director Irene Taylor Brodsky and Hot House director Shimon Dotan. Back at ScreenGrab, Bilge writes, "Apparently the festival's online ticketing system is - I'll try to be diplomatic here - fucking things up royally, even more than before." "Nearly half of the short films being screened at this month's Sundance Film Festival will be available for purchase at Apple's iTunes store under a deal announced Friday." Anick Jesdanun reports for the AP. Christopher Campbell comments at Cinematical.
Baftas. Nominations.So the British Academy of Film and Television Arts announces its nominations and the BBC's already done some of the counting for us: 10 for The Queen, nine for Casino Royale and eight for Pan's Labyrinth. The awards ceremony's scheduled for February 11. A few related stories in today's British papers: Maev Kennedy profiles Helen Mirren for the Guardian. Liz Hoggard in the Independent: "Not only were there better roles for women than at any time in the past decade, all the leading contenders for Best Actress [in most of the awards races] are over 45 - and none is playing a babe role." "Resplendent in his uniform and medals, [Forest] Whitaker's Amin is a gloriously mad and grandiloquent figure, conceived by screenwriters Peter Morgan and Jeremy Brock as a Day-Glo Shakespearean monster, with audacious hints of Othello and even Titus Andronicus, a monster for whom they have written boldly extended dialogue scenes of unabashed intelligence and theatricality," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. Four out of five stars. More praise from the Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu and the Times: "The Last King of Scotland is as gloriously shambolic as its unpredictable star."
Verhoeven in London.It'll be another week before Black Book opens in the UK, but with Paul Verhoeven: Dutch Master, a series at the ICA in London, launching on Sunday and running through January 25, the papers are running their interviews now. And we're reminded not only of the Dutch director's storied Hollywood track record, but also that Black Book has been an enormous, award-mongering hit in the Netherlands. "People have called it a comeback," he tells the Guardian's Stuart Jeffries. "I don't know if that is the right description, perhaps it is. But at least I have come back to myself." For the Telegraph's SF Said (who interviews him as well, of course), it's "his best movie in years." Updated through 1/16. Ben Walters, whose fine profile is for Time Out, sees it as "entirely consistent with Verhoeven's other films in its rejection of a straightforward division between heroic and villainous." Just because he returned to Europe to make Black Book doesn't mean he's left Hollywood for good, Verhoeven tells the Independent's Kaleem Aftab. Earlier: "Venice. Zwartboek." Update, 1/13: Alistair Harkness talks with Verhoeven for the Scotsman. Update, 1/16: Ryan Gilbey talks with Verhoeven as well. For the London Times.
Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story."Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story is an engrossing nonfiction detective tale about the 13-year-old girl of the title, who vanished on the way home from school in Niigata, Japan, in 1977," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times. "But it also succeeds as a thumbnail review of a painful chapter of Asian history, and as a portrait of lives transformed by trauma." Even so, for Kristi Mitsuda, writing at indieWIRE, the "[f]ascinating facts" revealed in the doc "are undercut by the occasional America's Most Wanted moment of swishy camera movements meant to convey an abstract recreation of the abduction. But, strangely, the occasional returns to the same few photos of Megumi - also par for the course - grow more affecting than generic, poignantly showing so little evidence of her short existence prior to her disappearance." Updated through 1/16. More from Ed Gonzalez in the Voice and Andrew O'Hehir in Salon: "Abduction sheds light onto one of the strangest episodes in recent Asian history, but the murk that hangs over North Korea is still too deep for much light to penetrate." Jennifer Merin talks with filmmakers Chris Sheridan and Patty Kim for the New York Press. Earlier: So, too, did Jonathan Marlow last April. Updated, 1/16: Anthony Lane being Anthony Lane in the New Yorker: "The worst aspect is, as so often, the most prosaic: the main reason that North Korea stole human beings was because it needed language teachers for its spies. All that grief, just for a chance to talk."
January 11, 2007
Fests and events, 1/11.Looks like it's Jury President Announcement Day. The AP reports that "Stephen Frears will lead the jury at the 60th Cannes Film Festival in May." "The heart of the International Film Festival Rotterdam: this year 15 features compete for the three equal VPRO Tiger Awards. Each film must be a director's first or second feature and must also have its world or international premiere in Rotterdam. The complete selection of competition films will be announced in early January." Also: The 25 films competing for the Tiger Awards for Short Film. European-films.net editor Boyd van Hoeij has more on the features at Cineuropa. "To label [Béla] Tarr, co-subject of this week's micro-retro at the Harvard Film Archive, as a downer is merely a philistine's impatient way of saying he's an existentialist, a modern-film Dostoyevsky-Beckett with a distinctly Hungarian taste for suicidal depression, morose self-amusement, and bile," writes Michael Atkinson. "In this he's not sui generis, but his mise-en-scène - his capacity to limn out entire environments in long one-shot sequences that encompass breathtaking coincidence and natural phenomena without seeming gimmicky or over-planned - is moviemaking at its bravest and movie watching at its most galvanizing." Related: Tim Wilkinson in Hungarian Literature Online on László Krasznahorkai's Satan Tango, the novel on which Tarr's Sátántangó is based. Via the Literary Saloon. Also in the Boston Phoenix, Peter Keough considers, on the one hand, last November's elections, but on the other, Bush's Iraq policies and global warming... "How do the films in the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, which usually represents the cutting edge in doom and gloom, read the situation? Their outlook is surprisingly rosy: repressed truths unearthed and confronted; evils and injustices redressed; the guilty identified, victims vindicated, both reconciled. Glad tidings, in many cases, but that does not always make for great movies." The Film & Video program for this year's Transmediale (January 21 through February 4 in Berlin) is up and browseable. Even if you can't make it, a browse is recommended. For SF360, Dennis Harvey previews Berlin & Beyond, opening today, running through January 17 and featuring new films from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. "As ever, the weeklong event underlines the real diversity that exists but isn't widely exported in those nations' screen output." "Called simply Overlooked and Underrated, the series culls nearly three dozen feature films dating from as early as 1938 to as recently as 1981, united only in their relative obscurity and (with a handful of exceptions) their unavailability on DVD," writes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. "It is, to my mind, a program that cuts to the very fiber of what an organization called the American Cinematheque should be doing - namely, giving moviegoers a chance to see movies that deserve to be seen and which are virtually impossible to see by any other means. It's also a necessary corrective to a video-retail industry that has duped consumers into believing that 'everything' is available on those shiny little discs, and a direct challenge to the studios' home-video divisions, whose decisions about what (and what not) to release can seem absurd bordering on the perverse." Speaking of the American Cinematheque, Susan King previews a two-day tribute to Helen Mirren. Also for the Los Angeles Times, Robert Abele checks in on the Scandinavian Film Festival LA. "While not complete, International House's four-day retrospective offers a thorough overview of [Peter] Whitehead and the era he captured, if always from a slight distance," writes Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper. "The highlight of the series is 1967's Tonite Let's All Make Love in London, known in the US as The London Scene and subtitled Pop Concerto for Film. As that rather pretentious subhead would indicate, Whitehead was not himself a London swinger, and he referred to Tonite in later years as 'a spoof,' which may explain why he includes footage of Mick Jagger opining that in 20 years, most work will be done by robots, and Vanessa Redgrave warbling 'Guantanamera' and rrrolling her rrrrs in solidarity at a pro-Fidel rally." The Reverse Shot's marathon coverage of the Essentially Woody series forges on: Eric Kohn on The Front, Michael Koresky on Everyone Says I Love You, Cecilia Sayad on Crimes and Misdemeanors and Robbie Freeling on Deconstructing Harry. At indieWIRE, Brian Brooks previews the Miami International Film Festival, March 2 through 11.
Lists, 1/11.Nathaniel R rounds out his three-page "2006 Year in Review" extravaganza with his Top Ten. His #1: Marie Antoinette. In an extensive look at the "Best & Worst of 2006" for Hollywood Bitchslap, Erik Childress puts The Prestige at the top of his top ten. You've seen David D'Arcy's list - now he's beefed it up with comments. See why Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story's his #1. Robert Cashill's one, too: "It's not a terribly surprising list, for which I make no apologies. There is sometimes sense in consensus, though The Devil Wears Prada (the only movie I saw twice theatrically last year) and particularly The Painted Veil strike me as undervalued." Scott Tobias calls for votes: It's the 2nd Annual AV Club Film Poll. ST VanAirsdale gathers "a number of exceedingly important points about list madness" gleaned from moderating a conversation with David Edelstein (New York), Owen Gleiberman (Entertainment Weekly) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon) last night. Dave Micevic picks the five worst films of 2006. Patrick has Thoughts on Stuff and a "Winter 2007 Movie Preview." Kim Masters looks into her crystal ball for Slate: "The best-picture contenders are still in doubt, but let's call it this way: Dreamgirls, The Departed, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen and Babel." More Oscar predictions follow. "The foreign film race has never been stronger than it is this year," announces Anne Thompson. "Here's my latest sense of the top contenders based on festival buzz, reviews and feedback from insiders on the foreign film committee." This is the Oscar race, she's talking about, of course. Also at the Risky Biz Blog, Sheigh Crabtree: "The American Society of Cinematographers has nominated Emmanuel Lubezki for Children of Men, Dick Pope for The Illusionist, Robert Richardson for The Good Shepherd, Dean Semler for Apocalypto and Vilmos Zsigmond for The Black Dahlia. The winner will be announced during the 21st Annual ASC Oustanding Achievement Awards gala at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel on Feb 18." Her comments follow.
Musicals, 1/11."[M]usicals have become a challenge to heteronormative masculinity," proposes Michael Z Newman. "As a generation has grown up more aware than in the past about 'alternative lifestyles,' it has protected itself from seeming gay by disavowing its comfort with the genre." Grady Hendrix on Colma: The Musical: "Rough as sandpaper, shot on video, occasionally clunky, a bit too long, so low budget it's through the floor, this is still the best musical of last year and when I finally have a real top ten list from last year (give me another month or two) it's definitely going to be on there." In Jeanne and the Perfect Guy, Joe Bowman finds "one of the finest examples of the postmodern musical." "'But it's a musical!' is a line I must have uttered a hundred times in the month of December," sighs Filmbrain, introducing another Screen Capture Quiz. "Yet the hate and the endless criticism of what the film wasn't never let up." What the film was, of course, was Dreamgirls. Update, 1/13: Filmbrain on Romance & Cigarettes: "[T]his experimental musical that both subverts and transcends genre conventions is a 21st century treasure. Somebody needs to rescue this from the Sony vault, and soon."
Slouching Towards Park City, 1/11.To begin with an online viewing tip, Annie Frisbie opens Zoom In's Sundance "Spotlight" with video interviews with Killer Films' Christine Vachon and ThinkFilm's Mark Urman - and there'll be more over the next couple of weeks, too. At AICN: "Quint and Rav big ol' Sundance Preview!!!" It is, too. Big, that is. "With Sundance just over a week away, Adrienne Shelly would be excitedly packing her suitcase in her Tribeca apartment, eagerly anticipating the magical moment when her movie was to premiere at the prestigious festival." Via Anne Thompson, Jane Ridley in the New York Daily News: "Tragically, she will not take the trip of a lifetime to the snow-covered Utah resort and accept credit for Waitress, the indie production that she wrote, directed and acted in. Instead, Shelly's ghost will haunt the event, due to mark her proudest accomplishment when her face appears on screen at the film's opening night." IndieWIRE opens the first page of its Park City Diaries. The latest Sundance interviews: Ezra director Newton Aduaka and The Good Life director Steve Berra. "Consider this your early-warning Sundance Film Festival controversy alert," announces Scott Martelle in the Los Angeles Times: "Cute little Dakota Fanning plays a precocious child sex-abuse and rape victim in Full Moon Films' upcoming Hounddog.
Lists. WGA."The WGA Awards announced nominations for adapted and original screenplays Thursday featuring most early Oscar best-picture favorites but also more comedies than other guilds' recent feature-film noms." From Hollywood, Carl DiOrio reports for, yes, the Hollywood Reporter. "Last year, the [Writers Guild of America] matched Oscar on 7 of 10 noms, though the winner of both categories won the Oscar," notes David Poland. "Same in 2005."
Iraq docs, 1/11.Chris Barsanti finds "the number of intelligent people I've heard say or seen write that they're sick of all the Iraq documentaries" an "odd, and somewhat troubling reaction": Like it or not, this war is our responsibility. It doesn't matter if you voted for Dubya or not, Americans invaded Iraq and as Americans we bear that blame. In short: we don't have the right to be disinterested in this war. It's offensive to the people (Iraqis and Americans) dying over there right now to act above it all, as though the war is just another TV show we've become tired of. Maybe an Oscar angle will rekindle interest. Perhaps that what Ed Pilkington was thinking when he wrote his piece in the Guardian on Iraq in Fragments, The War Tapes, My Country, My Country and The Ground Truth: "Of the four Iraq documentaries to make the Oscar longlist, [James] Longley's is the most obviously cinematic, which may well endear him to the Academy." Similarly, Stephen Applebaum in the Independent on Iraq in Fragments, where he quickly makes the point that it does indeed stand a chance against An Inconvenient Truth so that he can get to the meat of his piece, his talk with Longley - who tells him, "I think a lot of what was done by the United States when they entered the country served to fan the flames of sectarian division and ethnic division." Shaken by The Ground Truth, Edward Copeland finds the way "the military has treated those suffering psychological trauma... just as much an infuriating fuckup as this entire foolish enterprise has proved to be." Related: At openDemocracy, Paul Rogers explains why "the Bush administration's decision to surge the forces in Iraq is good news for al-Qaida."
Austin Chronicle. Guillermo Del Toro.Marc Savlov has a good long talk with Guillermo Del Toro about Pan's Labyrinth for the Austin Chronicle's cover package, which includes this: "[T]he imagery and mythology that Pan's Labyrinth draws upon have been traced to their origins and broken down into an octet of character types by Russian folklorist-cum-formalist Vladimir Yakolevich Propp, who codified the elements of the fairy tales (or 'wonder stories') in his native Russia." Linkage follows. And a tip: Browse that Web site. Updated through 1/17. But wait, there's more. From editor Louis Black: "Almost anyone who has spent time with del Toro can't help but love him. Knowing any number of gifted filmmakers, I long ago got over confusing my assessment of a film with my affections for its creators. Still, with del Toro's films in particular, I've always felt a certain affinity that has to do with such deep-down feelings that they may well be more biological than learned." Also in this week's issue: Josh Rosenblatt talks with Nick Cassavetes about Alpha Dog. So, by the way, does Ray Pride for the Reeler. More on the film itself from Robert Wilonsky in the Voice. Anne S Lewis has a quick chat with Sam Wainwright Douglas, one of the directors (with Paul Lovelace) of The Holy Modal Rounders: Bound to Lose, and Marc Savlov reviews the Criterion's package, Monsters and Madmen, a "four-disc slice of 1950s B-movie heaven." Related: Paul Bond at the WSWS on Labyrinth: "It is a film of great hope and optimism, of defending the imagination under difficult circumstances... This is no small thing." "The primary sense of wonder the whole thing arouses in me is the wonder that so many grown-up critics have found it so enthralling," writes Duncan Shepherd in the San Diego Reader. "I found it fairly alienating, if not totally off-putting." "To understand the difference between Hollywood's notion of fairy tales and Guillermo del Toro's," writes Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix, "compare the faun in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with the one in Pan's Labyrinth. The Narnia faun - well-spoken, with his muffler and his cozy drawing room - could pass for a goatish version of CS Lewis himself. Del Toro's version - well, it looks like something he thinks he saw as a little kid.... Del Toro was in fact asked to direct Narnia, but he had objections to the story. 'I said, "Look, I'm not the guy because in my version I don't think the lion would resurrect." I try to be sincere with the material I accept.'" The Philadelphia City Paper's Cindy Fuchs also talks with Del Toro and recommends the film. Updates, 1/12: Cynthia Fuchs talks with GDT for PopMatters. Annie Wagner in the Stranger: "Pan's Labyrinth picks up scraps and notions from scattered fairy tales—fear of sexual maturity, thirst for rules and the righteous urge to subvert them, doubtful reconciliation with death—and weaves them into an original fantasy of furious power. After suffering through the many 'fractured' adaptations that neuter their source material in the guise of updating it, I was beginning to worry that the primeval richness of fairy tales would have to be reserved for theater. Pan's Labyrinth chalked out an alternate route, and proved me wrong." Updates, 1/13: J Robert Parks finds Pan's Labyrinth "isn't quite as strong as Devil's Backbone, however, in part because the fantastic and historical modes never quite mesh. The fairy tale aspect doesn't have the payoff that you'd expect (not like the ghost story of Devil's Backbone). The finale of the three tasks is somewhat anti-climactic, and, unlike many fairy tales, the story isn't an allegory for the real world." Dan Eisenberg prefers Tideland. The Austin American-Statesman's Chris Garcia calls PL "hands down, no contest, the most overrated movie of 2006. Funny how the gushiest reviews are coming from Austin or from former Austinites: The film's creator Guillermo Del Toro once lived here. What a spectacle." Update, 1/17: At the AV Club, Noel Murray talks with Del Toro.
Berlinale. Jury, Panorama, Co-Production Market.Canonizer, author, screenwriter and director Paul Schrader will be heading up the International Jury for this year's Berlinale. The other six members: Hiam Abbass, Mario Adorf, Gael García Bernal, Willem Dafoe, Nansun Shi and Molly Malene Stensgaard. Also: "With works directed by actress Julie Delpy, actors Antonio Banderas, Steve Buscemi and Mitchell Lichtenstein, who starred in Ang Lee's Golden Bear winning film Hsi Yen (The Wedding Banquet) from 1993, as well as new films by Hal Hartley, E J-Yong, Hong Sang-soo, Eytan Fox and Thomas Arslan, the Panorama 2007 is presenting a large number of renowned filmmakers. After viewing a record number of film entries and visiting Asia, North and South America, Africa and Europe to select films, more than half of the works for the Main Program, the Panorama Special and Panorama Dokumente have now been confirmed." And: "A total of 37 projects from 25 countries will be presented during the fourth Berlinale Co-Production Market (Feb 11-13, 2007).... [T]here are newcomer projects and new films by established directors - these include Joe Dante (e.g. Gremlins), Jorge Gaggero (Live-In Maid), Wang Chao (Luxury Car; The Orphan of Anyang) or Clément Virgo (Berlinale 2006: Lie With Me), as well as all-round talents such as Sarah Polley." Update: Thomas Groh has a first round of titles to be featured in the Forum section. The film descriptions come from a German-language newsletter, but you'll likely recognize a few names.
God Grew Tired of Us."So much history and geography is covered in God Grew Tired of Us, and the human story it conveys is so moving and so charged with ambiguous moral lessons, that it seems almost irresponsible to complain about it on formal or historical grounds," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "Let's put it this way: This is an important film. It's amazing that it exists, and the events it recounts are still more amazing. Everybody should see it. That said, the film has a certain TV-documentary feel that I found intermittently irritating." "[Christopher] Quinn's documentary relates the travails of three of the 'lost boys' of Sudan, young men who, as children, were forced to separate from their families when the government ordered a mandate that they be killed during the Second Sudanese Civil War (which started in the early 80s and only just ended in 2005, and during which more than two million were killed),: writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "In telling the tale of these young men, and the handful that were given the chance, many years later, to live in the U.S., Quinn's film manages to both horrify and delight, at equal turns, without feeling overly manipulative or imbalanced." Updated through 1/14. Rob Nelson in the Voice: "It's only a slight exaggeration to say that God Grew Tired of Us, winner of two documentary prizes at last year's Sundance, is another Hollywood gloss on human tragedy." Earlier: David D'Arcy's review. Updates, 1/12: In the New York Times, Stephen Holden calls the film "the softer, Hollywood-sanctioned version of an earlier documentary, The Lost Boys of Sudan.... Handsomely photographed and inspirational, but not cloyingly so, it is the rare contemporary documentary that doesn't leave a residue of cynicism and outrage." "'Is this food?' one of the young men asks on their maiden supermarket voyage. 'This is a doughnut,' says the lady behind the counter, not necessarily answering the question," notes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "Somehing about these questions - which are less Borat than spiritually evolved visitor from another planet - get at the larger ones about the culture with a lapidarian precision that's absolutely ruthless in its sincerity and innocence." Update, 1/14: "[B]eauty, complexity and intensity emerge because filmmaker Christopher Quinn doesn't mistake indiscretion for intimacy," writes Steven Boone at the House Next Door. "That takes heart."
Mein Führer: Die wirklich wahrste Wahrheit über Adolf Hitler.So Mein Führer: Die wirklich wahrste Wahrheit über Adolf Hitler (Mein Führer: The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler) - a comedy - opens in Germany today, and so far, advance word is... "It just isn't funny enough, say reviewers." David Crossland reports for Spiegel Online. Writing in the New York Times, an a seemingly baffled Mark Landler finds that what's "more surprising and revealing, perhaps," than the "mixed reception" in Germany to "the first German-made film comedy about Hitler" is "the nature of the critiques, which have lambasted the movie but not the idea that Hitler could be the subject of a comedy." Critics and commentators are "proclaiming the film naïve, bizarre, vulgar and - most damning of all - not funny." Signandsight translates Harald Martenstein's piece in Die Zeit: "Dani Levy can't have intended to be a Hitler-sympathiser, it happened by mistake."
January 10, 2007
Fests and events, 1/10.In about a week, the winter festival season begins in earnest, introducing "dozens of new movies from all over the world," notes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE. "Which ones are gems, destined to break out of their domestic borders and wow the globe? And which ones are over-hyped, big-budget Hollywood-wannabes fated to die an early death?" He scans the likely candidates for both categories. "The question of Jewish identity," writes AO Scott in the New York Times, "exists largely as a matter of contradiction and debate. There is so much history in so many places, so many moods and forms of expression, that any coherent summary is impossible. And so the 16th annual New York Jewish Film Festival - not to be confused with the Woody Allen retrospective currently wrapping up downtown at Film Forum - presents an engagingly disunified program, with something to appeal to, or alienate, every taste." "The festival can often seem a grab bag of Jewish experience," agrees Leslie Camhi in the Voice, adding, "This year's edition includes a number of films concentrating on the immediate postwar period in Europe, a subject still rare in cinema." The fest opens today and runs through January 25. On Friday and Saturday, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts will be screening a program of films by Jean Genet and Kenneth Anger. "In compiling the showcase... curator Joel Shepard follows in famous fancy footsteps - none other than Jean Cocteau once showed both Anger's 1947 Fireworks and Genet's 1950 Un Chant d'Amour at an event called the Festival of the Damned Film," writes Johnny Ray Huston in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Back in the Voice: Elliott Stein on Sven Nykvist Remembered, January 12 through 14 at MoMA. Paddy Johnson for the Reeler on Brent Green at the Bellwether Gallery: "[T]he success of this exhibition does not lie in the reinvention of the wheel, but rather that Green never confuses the maudlin with the poetic or inconsistency with falseness." "It's difficult to judge, finally, just why Allen wrote Interiors, and just what he was trying to say with its sometimes tidy yet often unresolved and schematic domestic drama," writes Dan Callahan, continuing Reverse Shot's coverage of that Essentially Woody series. "But it's a film that stays with you, visually and emotionally, and it acts as a bridge to his assured, complex films of the Eighties." In the Guardian, Laura K Jones picks up a story widely reported some time ago, but somehow I never got around to mentioning it: "Italian filmmaker Nanni Moretti has quit his position as head of the Turin film festival after only two days." IndieWIRE's latest Sundance interviews: Crossing the Line director Daniel Gordon and Girl 27 director David Stenn. At Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow notes that "USC's Interactive Media Program has withdrawn its sponsorship of Slamdance" in the wake of the Super Columbine Massacre hoopla. Matt Dentler: "For 2007, the folks at the SXSW Interactive Conference are unleashing a mammoth-sized venture called 'ScreenBurn.' This is an initiative to embrace the gaming world, and all that it encompasses." BLDGBLOG's "The First Million" event: January 13 in LA. David Byrne will be performing one of my favorite works of his, The Knee Plays, at Carnegie Hall on February 1.
Carlo Ponti, 1912 - 2007.Carlo Ponti, one of Italy's best known film producers and the husband of actress Sophia Loren, has died at the age of 94, his family said on Wednesday. In his 50-year career, Ponti produced more than 150 films, including La Strada in 1954 and Dr Zhivago in 1965. But he was equally famous for discovering a teenager Loren and turning her into one of the world's most glamorous stars. Silvia Aloisi and Antonella Cinelli for Reuters. Updated through 1/11. Although he produced some light comedies in the early 1940s, Carlo Ponti's reputation as a producer fortuitously coincided with the rise of Italian neorealism from 1943 to 1950.... Many of Ponti's films made without Loren after 1960 were Franco-Italian films which were noted for big stars, large budgets, lush settings, and romantic sentimentality, but he also produced some remarkable films by major directors: Godard's political films and Antonioni's Blow-Up, Zabriskie Point and The Passenger. In addition, there were films by Agnès Varda, Claude Chabrol, De Sica and Polanski - there were few major directors who did not work with Ponti. Thomas L Erskine, Screen International, November 22, 1975. Updates, 1/11: "As a producer, it was not to Ponti's credit that in his early years, although he launched many directors as well as stars, he had failed to help Fellini to get started," clarifies John Francis Lane in an obit for the Guardian that takes Ponti's achievements and flaws alike into consideration. "Although they made an incongruous, even comical, couple, with the statuesque Loren towering over the diminutive, balding and bespectacled Ponti, their partnership endured for more than 50 years, surviving not only the inevitable rumours of extra-marital dalliances on both sides, but also the condemnation of the Vatican and occasional brushes with the law," writes John Exshaw in the Independent. "When [De Sica] was diagnosed with lung cancer, Ponti insisted on paying his medical expenses and retaining him as director. The resulting film, Il viaggio (The Voyage, 1974), was an embarrassment for all concerned, but, when De Sica died at the end of the year, it was Ponti who paid for his funeral, an acknowledgement of his contribution to Loren's career, as well as his pivotal role in Italian cinema." "In 1973 he was sued for calumny and received a six-month suspended sentence following his film Massacre in Rome, which claimed that Pope Pius XII did nothing about the execution of Italian hostages by the Germans," notes the Telegraph. "The charges were eventually dropped on appeal." Douglas Martin in the New York Times: "'They told me there is this underground cave where the sea throws up great waves right through the fortress floor - you can see them exploding beneath you,' he said. 'I think Sophia would like that. Such power! Such emotion!'" Time's Richard Corliss: "They faced plenty of obstacles: the rude public merriment at their pairing; all the misery the Vatican-cowed Italian government tried to bring to their joint political, financial and personal life; the stories of his infidelities and of the movie stars (Cary Grant, Peter Sellers) utterly smitten by her allure. Yet Ponti and Loren persevered, becoming a metaphor for the lasting attraction of opposites." Glenn Kenny (more on his new blog soon): "To say that his work toggled between schlock and art is a little facile, given that I know a fair number of folks who would sooner sit down with The 10th Victim for the tenth time than Dr Zhivago for the second. But the filmography is stunning over all, not just for the number of great and/or entertaining films on it but for all the great directors with whom he had succesful multi-film relationships."
January 9, 2007
Lists, 1/9.J Robert Parks revisits "ten older films I especially enjoyed last year." Ronald Bergan, blogging at the Guardian site: "I look in vain among the official favourites for the big awards for some of the titles which I consider among the best films of last year: Bruno Dumont's Flanders, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century, Pedro Costa's Colossal Youth, György Pálfi's Taxidermia, Gustave de Kervern and Benoît Delépine's Avida and Boris Khlebnikov's Free Floating. None of them are even likely to receive a release in this country." Reverse Shot writes up a ten best and updates its "11 Offenses of 2006" list. Monkey Peaches looks ahead to some of the more noteworthy Asian releases slated for 2007; scroll down a tad.
Lists. DGA.Earlier today, the Directors Guild of America announced its nominations. Now for the commentary... "The news here is that Clint Eastwood did not get nominated, again, and Bill Condon and Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton did," writes Anne Thompson (and Cinematical's Kim Voynar recalls how on-the-money her predictions were, too). Also at the Risky Biz Blog, Sheigh Crabtree: "I had two conversations with DGA members this morning who almost verbatim echoed the sentiment in this Hollywood Elsewhere post." In short: Pan's Labyrinth and Children of Men were shut out for a combo of two reasons: the DGA's ban on screeners and the film's late release dates. David Poland: "As always, there is room for one shift for Academy. And Eastwood and Letters From Iwo Jima for Director/Picture are the likely candidate to shift in. If Eastwood doesn't have enough traction, the most likely other scenario is Paul Greengrass for Director and Babel sticking at Picture." At ScreenGrab, Bilge Ebiri finds: "No real surprises... this thing is Marty's to lose." And at the IFC Blog, Alison Willmore agrees: "Ach, this is totally Scorsese's year."
Apple TV and iPhone."Crowd goes wild." Just read through MacRumorsLive.com's coverage of Steve Jobs's Macworld keynote and watched a few demos at Apple's site. And I'm trying to maintain perspective and refrain from going wild myself - but it's very, very hard. Jason Kottke's absorbing it all, too, and has so far only yelped "WHOA!" once. Updated through 1/13. Reviews from gearheads, once they get their hands on these things, may bring us back down to earth soon enough, but for now, this feels like a quick hyperspatial zip forward towards a future we knew was coming eventually: a bridge between the computer and the TV; and a nifty little pocket-sized slate that does everything. Updates: The NYT's David Pogue on the iPhone: "Prepare for a replay of the iPod lifecycle: other cellphone companies will rush out phones that match the iPhone's feature list, but will fail to appreciate the importance of elegant, effortless, magical-feeling software." Also: John Markoff's initial overview. The Hollywood Reporter's Steve Bryant on Apple TV: "The good news is that Apple TV looks like a great solution for those who have a large video library on their computers. And given that Apple is increasingly signing more content to iTunes, it looks like a convenient way to view movies. The bad news is that Microsoft's Xbox also offers great movie content, is already hooked to your TV, and offers HD content in 1080i." Chuck Olsen: "This is the biggest Apple 'Holy Shit!' day in recent memory." Nikki Finke: "Paramount Pictures just announced the debut of its movies for $9.99 purchasing and downloading on the iTunes Store. My analysis? Shrewd move." Updates, 1/10: Farhad Manjoo in Salon: "[M]aybe tomorrow, when we all come back to earth, Apple's keenest watchers will cast a cold eye on the true chances of the iPhone. At the moment, though, from afar, the thing certainly does look completely revolutionary. When Jobs says that Apple has 'reinvented' the phone, you believe him." Jerry Lentz: "I can now download feature films for $9.99 to my phone and watch it! If I get two iPhones and hold one up to each eye, it'll be in 3D!" "As with so many of Apple's offerings, it's all about the little details." Jason Morehead takes a close look at the iPhone. Virtually, of course. "Okay, the iPhone is cool... but the product that will send waves through the online-video business is the newly-announced Apple TV." Matt Dentler gets it: "The implications of Apple TV are greater than the video iPod, because Apple TV has two, before-unreliable components: social networking and the utility of common household appliances." "Jeez, I've never seen Hollywood so orgasmic as today's simultaneous climaxing in Beverly Hills, Burbank and Century City offices over the sexy new iPhone," writes Nikki Finke at her Deadline Hollywood Daily. "You feel the horniness in your gut: this is finally the Perfect 10 of New Media too cool for the room platforms that the public has been aching for.... The problem right now, to use the VCR analogy, is that this is VHS and everything else is just Beta. The money is there for the taking at a time when the DVD market has fizzled since iTunes is now the largest online video store in the world with over 1.3 million full-length films and 50 million TV episodes sold to date." But: "I'm way less impressed with the retail version of the previously announced and decidedly unsexy iTV streaming media device now called Apple TV." Nikki, Ian and Wiley: Your points are all well-taken, but the key terms here are: plug-n-play, intuitive (and familiar) interface, trusted brand. What's more, this is simply a first-generation, ground-staking rollout. The basics are there: this is the long-sought-after box that consumers and media companies are most likely to agree on. "We have always been a Mac shop." Peter Becker gives us yet another reason to love Criterion. "This is a company that is not following anyone. They are asking really basic questions and not assuming that all the good answers have already been found. They are making things that are beautiful because they make sense. I can't think of another company that is so true to its mission, and in the end, that's what makes them so good." Meanwhile, the Zoom In team has been following all this from the point of view of the tech-savvy filmmakers they are. The NYT's David Pogue gets his hand on an iPhone. Also: A funny story. Update, 1/11: "The place of fun and leisure in the history of technology is underrated," writes David Edgerton, author of The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History Since 1900. For the Independent, he offers a little perspective: We tend to think of technology as deadly serious and useful. Radios are for communicating and educating, cars for transport. Yet from the beginning new, often expensive, consumer technologies sold because they were fun. Pornography helped sales of home cinema equipment, helped launch the video, and the internet. Radios sold much faster than washing machines, and televisions faster than freezers. [...] Steve Jobs could never be a Henry Ford, but the futurist rhetoric he uses is wonderfully antiquated. There are new things under the sun, and the world is changing radically, but this way of selling technology is not among them. [...] Even if the iPhone were to take over all the mobile phones, we would still be living in a world where coal was mined, with more cars, aeroplanes, wooden furniture and cotton textiles than ever.... Given that our world is a combination of old and new so intertwined that it hardly makes sense to distinguish between them, it is appropriate that present visions of the future display a startling, unselfconscious lack of originality. [...] New technologies have promised to emancipate the downtrodden. The class system would wither under the meritocracy demanded by new technology; racial minorities would gain new opportunities - as chauffeurs, pilots and computer experts. Women were to be liberated by new domestic technologies. The differences between nations would evaporate as technology overcame borders. Political systems, too, would converge as technology, inevitably, became the same everywhere. To be at all convincing these arguments have had to deny their own history, and they have done so to a remarkable extent. The obliteration of even recent history has been continuous and systematic. Paul Boutin at Slate: "If you're not one of the jilted tech journalists stuck on the ground in Las Vegas or San Francisco, it's easy enough to roll CES and Macworld into one big trade show. The unofficial theme of this year's presentations is the Internetification of consumer electronics. TVs and phones are becoming nodes on the network, just like your PC." Michael Sippey clears out four thoughts. "Apple's new iPhone appears to be the clearest statement yet of what Steve Jobs's impact has been on consumer electronics," writes the NYT's John Markoff. "It is not that he invents new technologies. He refines existing ones." And: David Pogue's "Ultimate" iPhone FAQ. "Just as we have failed to pass - somehow, imperceptibly - 'beyond' modernity, so too have the media forms of modernity failed to transcend themselves." From Matthew Clayfield's "'The Shock of the Old: Eyes, Lies & Illusions', in my mind the best thing I've written." And then there's Jason Kottke's big fat "iPhone round-up." Update, 1/12: The Los Angeles Times calls for the studios to let "people use the movies and songs they buy on as many devices in their home as possible. Otherwise, they'll be looking for movies and music that don't play by Hollywood's rules." Updates, 1/13: An online viewing tip. From Late Night with Conan O'Brien and via TickleBooth, iPhone: It's Everything You Want it to Be. Booksquare argues it could be a boost to the publishing industry, too. Yes, theoretically, you could read books on your iPhone. Via Jason Kottke.
Fests and events, 1/9."La vie en Rose, the adaptation of the life of famous singer Edith Piaf by Olivier Dahan, starring Marion Cotillard as Piaf, will open the 51st Berlin Film Festival (February 8-18, 2007), according to the weekly film publication Le Film Français." Cineuropa's Fabien Lemercier breaks the news to the English-speaking world before the Berlinale itself. First impression: Likely a good choice. Opening films need to strike a difficult balance between pleasing the crowds and drawing a dash of glamor on the one hand (and with Gérard Depardieu, Sylvie Testud, Clotilde Courau, Pascal Greggory and Emmanuelle Seigner also in the cast, this one could), while on the other, offering some modicum of, how you say, artistic quality. We'll see. At any rate, with The Good German, The Good Shepherd and Goodbye Bafana already in the Competition lineup, it looks like there's going to be a lot of thinking about 20th century history going on in Berlin in February. Updated through 1/10. The most recent issue of Offscreen to appear online is a big festival roundup. Randolph Jordan and Donato Totaro offer two takes from two angles on October's Festival of New Cinema in Montreal, while Ryan Diduck talks with one of the featured filmmakers, Julia Loktev, whose Day Night Day Night garnered praise throughout 2006. Betty Kaklamanidou looks back to the Thessaloniki International Film Festival and Philip Gillet reviews the Leeds International Film Festival. Both took place in November. IndieWIRE's latest Sundance interviews: Four Sheets to the Wind director Sterlin Harjo and Eagle vs Shark director Taika Waititi. Update, 1/10: The Berlinale confirms the opener.
Film Comment. Jan/Feb 07.The new issue of Film Comment looks back a bit and ahead a lot. "Terra Incognita" collects critics' recommendations: "19 Films to Look Out For" in the coming year. Chris Chang calls for a distributor for Summer Palace, "a sprawling, deeply moving epic." You knew about director Lou Ye's run-ins with the Chinese government, but: "To make matters worse, rumors are circulating about the destruction of extant prints." Updated through 1/11. "If you were to imagine a celluloid ancestor to Mulholland Drive's Diane Selwyn, she'd probably look a lot like Maria Wyeth, the heroine of Frank Perry's acerbic Play It As It Lays, a 1972 film based on Joan Didion's merciless second novel." And like Paulina Borsook and many others, Melissa Anderson is wondering whatever happened to it. Nathan Lee reviews Craig Brewer's Black Snake Moan, "a hardcore exploitation flick that also happens to be the most impassioned spiritual parable in recent memory." And following up on its critic's poll, FC is asking you to vote in its readers' poll. Update, 1/11: Via Movie City News, I see that I missed "A Blast from the Past," Chris Chang's assessment of the career of Donald Cammell in the July/August 1996 issue, that is, the year Cammell committed suicide: "Adding to the dismay, his first film - and easily his best—continues to be primarily thought of as a Nicolas Roeg film, Roeg having been Cammell's co-directing cameraman. The irony cuts deep: the male leads, Mick Jagger and James Fox, exchange and merge their narrative identities until the audience is forced into a confused double take. (In the real world, Cammell and Roeg would never publicly discuss who was responsible for what. As the copy for Performance's posters put it: 'Vice. And Versa.')"
Lists. Masters of Cinema.The results of Masters of Cinema's poll of readers have led to a sort of list of this year's must-haves, at least for cinephiles of slightly more than modest means. Votes for releases from Artificial Eye, Second Run, BFI and - though MoC'd been saying all along they'd be disqualified - MoC itself "have eaten into Criterion's traditional large share of the vote, however, Criterion's largest set of the year has still topped everything else, and what an achievement it was." That would be the robust package of Eric Rohmer's Six Moral Tales. But not necessarily by a long shot. Percentages of votes run fairly close all the way down through the remaining 13 titles on MoC list: DVD of the Year Award 2006.
DVDs, 1/9."Why would fans spend so much time on the internet and generate such hype and then not go to the film?" Kristin Thompson was wondering just the other day, before segueing into a few possible answers. Below, DK Holm rounds up reaction from specialists to the Snakes on a Plane DVD, and more DVD linkage follows. Pundits still haven't quite got their mind around the Snakes on a Plane phenomenon. Upon theatrical release, general consensus seemed to dictate that the movie was slightly better than the internet hype suggested it might be worse than, if that makes any sense. But then, little of the Snakes story makes sense, from the plot itself to the murky motivations of the supposed internet fans, to the vacillations and uncertainties of New Line Cinema, which thought it was a joke, then took it seriously, then didn't know what to do. Having a lag time of essentially four months to think about it, the hope is, as always, that the DVD reviewers will excel at analysis and evaluation. But things don't start out too well. With the grammatical expertise and depth of detail that has made his site so famous, Harry Knowles at Ain't It Cool News first states the obvious ("New Line made a tragic mistake marketing this film as pure hype, instead of in addition to the remarkable internet attention" [sic]) and does some faux business analysis ("Hiding and being afraid of showing the world that this was a fucking fun flick - and trying to convince John Q America that it was a schlockorama - was digging your own grave" [sic]) before making wild predictions ("this film will find long legs worth strutting for quite some time"). Like countless other reviewers, Ian Jane at DVD Talk follows a pattern established during the theatrical release: review the phenomenon, then review the movie. Jane asserts that with "so much hype around the movie there was no possible way that it would live up to everyone's expectations but even with (or, perhaps because of) the movie's huge plot holes, stereotypical cookie-cutter characters and insane logic gaps, the movie turns out to be a perfectly enjoyable action-horror hybrid," adding: "While [Samuel L] Jackson's screen presence and penchant for chewing through even the thickest of scenery are reason enough to give this a look, the best part of the movie is the creativity and complete stupidity of the snake attacks themselves." Jane notes that the "2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is really strong, though not quite perfect. You'll probably note some mild edge enhancement and a bit of aliasing on the picture, as well as some mild shimmering throughout." Of the three audio options, "the DTS mix is the best." Jane then takes the reader through a helpful tour of the voluminous extras: a yak track (which turns out to be pretty jokey), a gag reel, 10 deleted scenes with optional commentary, three promotional featurettes (Pure Venom: The Making of Snakes on a Plane, Meet the Reptiles and Snakes on a Blog, all of which take up about an hour), a music video which has its own optional making of documentary, a "soundtrack info text screen," five TV commercials and two trailers, trailers for other New Line DVD releases, and an Easter Egg ("found in the TV Spots section that plays a mock airline safety warning"). The anonymous reviewer at Current Film finds Snakes "a crazy (if rather messy) little thriller." As for the DVD, the writer notes that the "presentation quality is excellent throughout the show, as sharpness and detail remained consistently solid." DVD Verdict's Daniel MacDonald notes that while "some analysts called the movie's performance a bomb, this is an unfair assessment of what was still a pretty modest production. Really, did anyone making it expect a horror thriller starring, Samuel L Jackson aside, a group of C-list actors to do better than a $35 million domestic gross? It'll surely clean up on DVD, as the hype alone makes it a must see for genre fans, so I'd call this one a success." MacDonald finds the transfer "solid, giving an accurate representation of the shadowy, green-tinged cinematography of Adam Greenberg." Finally, Nick Schager and Ed Gonzalez at Slant iterate once again the history of Snakes on a Plane, remarking that it "arrives with a production saga bound to influence studio marketing strategies for years to come, as well as an extraordinary set of never-before-seen audience expectations." The writers conclude that because director David Ellis is "unsure of whether to deliver scares or laughs," the film "winds up failing to consistently offer either, its rollercoaster ride straining mightily, and ultimately futilely, to be all things to all (demographically coveted 18-24 year-old) people." They determine that the transfer "has its imperfections (combing, crushing, and edge haloes), but they're not so pronounced as to distract from the overall viewing experience - unless, that is, you rightfully despise the film," before unleashing bile and rage on the supplements: "Here's a fun game to play: Choose The Most Offensive Supplemental Material On This Disc. First an overcrowded, sometimes lecherous commentary track during which Samuel L Jackson asks to be called by an Asian name before chowing down on food for a good stretch of the track. Then there's a gag reel, which is all fun and games until Flex Alexander gets homophobic on everyone's asses." And so on. And the Snakes on a Blog "fan reel"? It's "alternately embarrassing and disturbing."
At IFC News, Michael Atkinson reviews Street Fight - "if you worry less about Newark and more about American politics in general, it's a sobering experience" - and The Weeping Meadow: "The movie shares the awed sense of solemn apocalypse with [Theo] Angelopoulos's The Travelling Players, Landscape in the Mist and Ulysses' Gaze, but it's a lighter film than usual, more musical and folktale-ish, more indulgent of old-school melodrama." At Slant, Ed Gonzalez appreciates "Kino's efforts to bring to video some of the greatest monuments in Soviet cinema from the Cold War. First out of the gate is the very finest, Andrei Konchalovsky's Siberiade." And Fernando F Croce revisits Idiocracy: "Mike Judge's nervy futuristic comedy survives studio cluelessness on its way to cult appreciation." Dave Kehr reviews the new set of Walt Disney Treasures in the New York Times: "If Dwight Eisenhower was president of the American people, Walt Disney was president of the American imagination, gently urging the country toward greater technological feats (and, as a reward, bigger and better toys). It is a position that has not been occupied since Disney's death in 1966, despite strong campaigns by Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and others." Jeff at Cinema Strikes Back: "Funeral Parade of Roses takes place in, and serves as a valuable document of, the underground drag scene in late 1960s Tokyo. A confrontational, one-of-a kind work, the film is alternately gritty, arty, gory, and campy. This is a movie that could not have been made at any other time, or in any other place."