February 28, 2007

Interview. Gary Tarn. Hugues de Montalembert.

Black Sun "Arguably the most unconventional documentary to air on television this year, Black Sun uses a series of remarkable audio interviews as a foundation for distinct ways of seeing the world around us," writes Jonathan Marlow, introducing his interview with director/composer Gary Tarn and his subject, painter/filmmaker Hugues de Montalembert.

"As an experiment in form, the concept behind Black Sun is far more ambitious than the execution," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "Plot is secondary to the sole character's keen observations, which could conceivably give hope to others suffering from similar ailments. The rest of us can only watch in awe."

Black Sun premieres tonight on Cinemax.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:48 PM

Into Great Silence.

Into Great Silence "Much of the discussion surrounding Into Great Silence, detailing the daily rituals of the monks inhabiting the Grand Chartreuse monastery in the French Alps, is sure to focus on how Philip Gröning's nearly three-hour documentary provides a window into a rarely seen spiritual world," writes Jeff Reichert at indieWIRE. "It does perform this function, and admirably, but not for the purposes of providing clarity - the end result leaves a sense of monastic existence more exotic and otherworldly than one could imagine."

Referencing the Bible and Beckett, Annie Frisbie has a marvelous consideration at the House Next Door: "Gröning composes his shots to achieve maximum stillness. Even so, Into Great Silence roils to life - despite its simplicity (and its length) it's an immensely engaging, riveting, even entertaining film."

Updated through 3/2.

"The psychology and philosophy of asceticism are not Mr Gröning's concern," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "He is after something more elusive and, from an aesthetic as well as an intellectual point of view, more valuable: a point of contact with the spiritual content of intense religious commitment."

Michelle Orange in the Voice: "Though [Gröning] has made an even more pious tract than fellow Catholic director Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, the experience is more edifying as an act of cinematic resistance. There is solidarity (and satisfaction) in its aesthetic rigor."

"This film is asking a lot of its viewers," sighs Jason Bogdaneris in the L Magazine. "Classically painterly in its visual style, as well as its intent at elevating its subject matter, Gröning employs a sort of video pointillism, not without success. Still, it's asking an awful lot."

For Vadim Rizov, writing at the Reeler, the film rouses "an increasingly frustrating feeling of being tested for no apparent reason."

Angela Zito has a good long talk with Gröning in the Revealer.

Online listening tip. Gröning's a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Earlier: DK Holm, right here.

Update, 3/1: Jürgen Fauth: "No matter how long he holds his shots, Gröning can only ever show us the surface, never the insides, of what the monks are living for. The film aims to find some sort of vague spirituality in moments of mindfulness, but the Carthusian's very specific religiosity eludes it."

Update, 3/2: Leo Goldsmith, writing at Reverse Shot, finds the film "asks an important question of documentary in general: To what extent can or should a documentary function as a means of disseminating information or knowledge about a particular subject, of telling us something? What can a documentary tell us about a subject when it chooses to remain (mostly) silent?" Further in: "As John Cage found in his anechoic chamber, pure silence is a myth, and the film's 'great silence' is, like much of monastic life, an ascetic ideal to be pursued, but never attained."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:33 PM

Shorts, 2/28.

Jonathan Beller: The Cinematic Mode of Production "Jonathan Beller's new (but long in preparation) book, The Cinematic Mode of Production: Attention Economy and the Society of the Spectacle, is, I think, the most important work of film theory since Deleuze's two Cinema volumes appeared more than two decades ago," writes Steven Shaviro. "Or, even better, forget the qualifier 'film': Beller's book is the first important work of aesthetics, or of 'theory' generally, of the new century.... Nobody who wants to deal seriously with the fate of 'culture' in this age of astonishing new technologies, and equally overwhelming new mutations in the forms of exploitation and domination, will be able to ignore this book." The crux, suggested, of course, by the title: "We have passed, in the course of the past century, from an industrial mode of production to a cinematic one." Shaviro also points approvingly to Le Colonel Chabert's take.

At SF360, Michael Guillén recommends Cinemachismo: Masculinities and Sexuality in Mexican Film, "a thoroughly captivating study, and essential reading for anyone interested in Mexican film, gender studies, and theories of queer spectatorship."

The film studies syllabus as mixed tape: Andy Horbal takes this idea to places you're not expecting to go.

Leah Garchik has more on that pre-Oscar screening of Francis Ford Coppola's Youth Without Youth in the San Francisco Chronicle. That guest list is something else. Via Movie City News.

"Amir Muhammad's latest film Apa Khabar Orang Kampung, which documents the stories of former Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) members, has been banned," reports Bissme S for the Malaysian Sun. "The 72-minute film which earlier this month premiered at the Berlin Film Festival features interviews with about ten Malay members of the now defunct CPM who currently live in exile in southern Thailand. This is the second film by Amir which has been banned since May last year."

The Crowd Fernando F Croce adds King Vidor's The Crowd to Slant's collection of "100 Essential Films": "As the follow-up to the director's successful WWI drama The Big Parade, the film was intended as a vast, ambitious work, yet for all the overreaching themes at play here, it is supremely intimate."

Michael Z Newman expands on his piece in In Media Res, "Indie Volkswagons on Screens Big and Small."

In Filmmaker, Justin Lowe tells the story behind Colma: The Musical, "an upstart indie produced on a shoestring budget in the San Francisco Bay Area that has built a groundswell of support on the festival circuit over the last year, earning awards and prominent placement on year-end critics' lists."

"Only recently have movies begun to crack one of Hollywood's most troubling and least openly discussed problems: an international 'color line' behind which films relying on black stars often do not perform well," writes Michael Cieply. "The box office prowess of Dreamgirls overseas will help signal whether this newfound success is fleeting or more lasting."

Also in the New York Times, Laurie Goodstein reports on the controversy among archeologists and Christians kicked up by The Lost Tomb of Jesus, the James Cameron-produced doc that "claims to provide evidence that a crypt unearthed 27 years ago in Jerusalem contained the bones of Jesus of Nazareth." Related: In the Guardian, Stuart Jeffries looks into the history of past discoveries of supposedly holy relics.

The team that brought us The Departed is busily announcing new projects. William Monahan is working on a final draft of The Long Play, "the story of two friends who survive 40 years in the music business, from 60s R&B to contemporary hip-hop," according to the Guardian's Dan Glaister. Mick Jagger, who's producing, brought the project to Martin Scorsese. Also: Monahan's teaming up with Leonardo DiCaprio for another remake of a film by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, Confession of Pain.

Meanwhile, the Alejandro González Iñárritu vs Guillermo Arriaga feud rages on. Jo Tuckman reports.

Ray Pride: "Proposition screenwriter, murder balladeer and all-round mustache man Nick Cave talks new projects with Bernard Zuel in the Sydney Morning Herald upon the release of a new album by a four-piece group drawn from his Bad Seeds that he's calling Grinderman."

Erica Orden interviews Miranda July for the New York Sun, and Ted Z notes that an adaptation of her multimedia performance piece, Things We Don't Understand and Definitely Are Not Going to Talk About may be July's next film project.

More up-n-coming news at Cinematical:

Strange But True

For Keith Uhlich, Bamako "does as much to resist its rhetoric as to support it. What emerges is a grander agenda: not just reclaiming Africa's economic well-being, but its very sense of self." Also at the House Next Door, Matt Zoller Seitz on John Frankenheimer's The Train, "one of the most influential yet least-appreciated great movies."

Rob Nelson in the Voice: "Sex and power, seized and stifled, are the intertwined subjects of Raise the Red Lantern."

The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On "'Kamikaze documentary' - that was the phrase used by more than one critic when Kazuo Hara's bristling, intensely odd film The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On cut its slim but recalcitrant swath through the world's theaters in 1987," writes Michael Atkinson at IFC News. "It earns the label." More: "Although made entirely from footage shot in the 80s, The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On rests alongside films like Kon Ichikawa's Fires on the Plain and Kinji Fukasaku's Under the Flag of the Rising Sun as a devastating denunciation of Japan's participation in war," writes Steve Erickson for Nerve. More from Mark Asch in the L Magazine.

The Self-Styled Siren reviews Frances, featuring "the finest performance Jessica Lange ever put on film," and "The Strange Fame of Frances Farmer."

"Despite the wonders of his earlier work (City Lights and Modern Times are brilliant) the discontinuity present in [Monsieur Verdoux] takes the film to a new level," writes John Adair. "Not only does it breathe new life into Chaplin's onscreen persona, but it traverses new ground by examining the dark underbelly of a Depression-era, Capitalist, and warmongering society."

John Brownlee reports for Wired News on the ways "artists have explored the legacy of silent cinema, not as a dusty anachronism but as a rich medium from which lessons about music, performance and art can be drawn." Via Bill McClain at Dr Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope.

For the New York Observer, Sara Vilkomerson looks ahead to the movies of spring.

"CNN asked the '08 hopefuls [for, you know, the presidency] to name their favorite movie and got some provocative answers," notes Robert Stein. Via Mick LaSalle, who comments.

Steve Bryant charts (literally) the way his media intake has radically changed in just the past couple of years and argues, "Hollywood's current course - spending more money on fewer blockbusters - only distances it from the consumption habits of Americans. Embrace immediacy."

"[Nathan] Gardels and [Michael] Medavoy's analysis of Hollywood vs foreign films falls into a common pattern within journalistic writing on entertainment," writes Kristin Thompson. "As soon as some trend or apparent trend is spotted, the commentator turns to the content of the films to explain the change. If foreign or indie films dominate the awards season, it must be because blockbusters have finally outworn their welcome. If foreign or indie films decline, it must be because audiences want to retreat from reality into fantasy."

Killer of Sheep Online viewing tip #1. trailer for Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep, screening at the IFC Center at the end of March.

Online viewing tip #2. The trailer for Maxed Out.

Online viewing tips. ScreenGrab's "10 Best Nude Scenes of 2006," parts 1 and 2.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:27 PM | Comments (2)

Zodiac.

Zodiac "A brilliantly sustained aria of obsession and failure, Zodiac is an absurdly entertaining, two-and-a-half-hour, $75 million shriek of alpha-male OCD impotence," writes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly.

"[T]hrilling to behold" is probably the money quote from the LA Weekly's Scott Foundas, but of course, the read's far richer than poster graffiti: "Zodiac is the sort of vast, richly involving pop epic that Hollywood largely seems incapable of making anymore, so it's little surprise that [David] Fincher's influences derive from an earlier era of American film.... Fincher is transporting us back to the New American Cinema of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and specifically to the pared-down, fact-based procedurals of filmmakers like Alan J Pakula and Sidney Lumet.... [T]he surprise isn't that Fincher pulls it off, but rather that the form of the film - a triumph of period lighting, costumes and production design - is exhilaratingly of a piece with its content. In Zodiac, every fluorescent-lit medium close-up, every corduroy jacket and every shade of goldenrod or taupe has the effect of pulling you deeper into the movie's narrative thicket."

Updated through 3/5.

"But, man, get ready to hum tunelessly along to someone else's obsession, with a lot of racing through libraries, working the phones, abstruse speculation, the inevitable comparison being All the President's Men but even more resistant to suspense," warns Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine.

"Zodiac touches on a mystery less dramatic than the average serial-killer movie but more disturbing - how time passes while we try to make sense of past time," writes Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix.

"David Fincher, the brainless Kubrick, perpetrates another foul pop landmark with Zodiac." Armond White in the New York Press.

Related: Rachel Abramowitz gets James Ellroy and Fincher talking about unsolved crimes in the Los Angeles Times.

Susan Gerhard: "Internet journalist Michael Guillén (The Evening Class and SF360.org's latest intern) researched few bases to touch on your search for ever more Zodiac and ever more San Francisco." Linkage follows.

ST VanAirsdale chats with star Mark Ruffalo.

Earlier: David Ansen (Newsweek), David Edelstein (New York) and Nathan Lee (Voice).

Updates, 3/1: "When are we going to stop using the DVD as the dumping ground for the 'real' movie?" asks DK Holm at ScreenGrab.

Jerry Lentz posts a photo of himself "with the guy Jake Gyllenhaal plays, Robert Graysmith author of Zodiac."

"At 2½ hours, the film is also too long in the telling and too short on suspense," writes the Austin Chronicle's Marjorie Baumgarten. "Without due process or a culprit to wrap up the story line, Zodiac needs a more solid center on which to hang its story."

Peter Keough talks with Graysmith for the Boston Phoenix.

Updates, 3/2: "Set when the Age of Aquarius disappeared into the black hole of the Manson family murders, the film is at once sprawling and tightly constructed, opaque and meticulously detailed," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "It's part police procedural, part monster movie, a funereal entertainment that is an unexpected repudiation of Mr Fincher's most famous movie, the serial-killer fiction Seven, as well as a testament to this cinematic savant's gifts."

James Hughes at Stop Smiling: "Though not entirely a procedural (in the spirit of Alan Pakula's All the President's Men) or a deliberate attempt to seek justice through celluloid (Errol Morris's The Thin Blue Line), the film unfortunately falls into a somewhat awkward crevice between the two - a struggle of popcorn vs police tape."

"Several trademark bravura sequences compress and overlay all the words, talk and conjecture with the slickness and momentum we expect, and the film jumps ahead by hours, then weeks, then months and years," writes Michelle Orange at the Reeler. "Yet at over two-and-a-half hours of dead-ends and bedevilment, there doesn't seem to be enough intrigue or, alternately, involvement with the characters to justify the empirical extents Fincher is intent on mapping."

"[W]ay, way too much of the film is guys sitting in a room talking about it over and over and over, waiting for a climax that never comes," grumbles Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post, where Ellen McCarthy profiles Chloë Sevigny.

"The two best serial killer films of the past decade, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's 1997 Cure and Bong Joon-ho's 2003 Memories of Murder, suggest that their characters' flaws are symptoms of an entire society's failures," notes Steve Erickson at Gay City News. "Zodiac is content merely to document a pathology affecting a few investigators.... All the same, the film's accomplishments, especially the way screenwriter James Vanderbilt turned a non-fiction book into a compelling fictional narrative, are undeniable, even if its 165-minute length feels excessive."

"There are really two movies going on, the more pro forma detective story focusing on the police and a slightly goofy yarn involving the journalists," writes Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times.

For the Stranger's Andrew Wright, Zodiac is Fincher's "most impressive monolith to date, a sprawling, three-decade-spanning infodump that, for all its virtuosity, occasionally feels like being locked in the file cabinet of a conspiracy junkie."

The LA CityBeat's Andy Klein finds the film "a completely engrossing 'true' crime saga that holds our attention consistently for more than two and a half hours."

Salon's Stephanie Zacharek describes two gruesome scenes of the killer at work, and then: "If Fincher were merely going for sensationalism, you could at least chalk his tactics up to honest sleaze. But Fincher wants sensationalism and class, too, seemingly unaware that you can't have both. And through the rest of Zodiac, Fincher amasses details with so much zeal that he barely bothers to stop to notice their significance, or lack thereof."

Updates, 3/3: "I wish I could be more positive about Zodiac," sighs David Poland. "I will say this. On a second viewing, what seemed like a bit of a relentless dirge into nothingness did appear to have a more clear three act structure."

"To undertake a thriller of this length and scope with no prospect of a morally satisfying resolution, Fincher must have been a little nuts himself," suggests Slate's Dana Stevens. "We'll see whether audiences used to the tidy one-hour cases on CSI and Law & Order will follow him down Zodiac's murky, twisted, and ultimately dead-end street. It may not sound like it from that description, but it's a hell of a ride."

Online viewing tips. Jason Kottke points to Dave and Thomas's collection of six Fincher-directed commercials, six music videos and clips from six movies.

"[A]s this sprawling opus unfolds, what emerges isn't simply a routine detective story but something far more masterful, and haunting: a two-and-a-half hour portrait of obsession run amok, and of the multifaceted influence of the media - and the cinema - on society," writes Nick Schager at Slant. "Fincher's film astutely and persuasively intimates that his utilization of - and history of having been influenced by - the media and cinema also make him a distinctly modern serial killer."

"Like Jack the Ripper, [Zodiac's] obsession with becoming a criminal celebrity should make him an easy catch," notes Jeffrey Overstreet in Christianity Today. "What makes him scary is his ghostlike ability to remain untouchable and enigmatic."

"Now, as a Zodiac 'buff' (for lack of a better word) since way the hell back in 1981, five years before the publication of Graysmith's first book, when I actually traveled by train from San Jose to San Francisco (at age 13) to talk the SFPD into letting me examine their case file for a phony school project, I'm not the most objective audience member imaginable for this particular motion picture," admits Mike D'Angelo. "Nonetheless, I want to expand a bit on the last paragraph of my review [for the Las Vegas Weekly], because it puzzles me that nobody else seems to be bothered by the film's deeply misguided final scene, which to my mind all but negates everything that precedes it. Remove this one brief scene and I might concur with the widespread opinion of Zodiac as a modern masterpiece."

Kim Voynar interviews Graysmith for Cinematical; her review. And James Rocchi's.

"For all its dramatic flaws, Zodiac deserves praise for not choosing the easy route," writes the San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle. "[I]ts virtues, like its failings, are those of authenticity. It offers neither the illusion of a complete resolution, nor - and this is a big problem - the structural organization that comes from a storyteller's knowing how it all ends, what it all means and what needs to be shown."

For Jim Tudor, writing at Twitch, Zodiac "may be the biggest, longest Hollywood snooze-fest since the theatrical run of Oliver Stone's Alexander."

For the IFC Blog's Alison Willmore, Zodiac is "a film that's more interesting to write about than it is to watch. The real world may well fail to cohere to a convenient narrative; seeing this demonstrated on screen is, as you'd guess, unsatisfying."

"Of all of Fincher's films, this one has the lowest re-watchability factor," agrees Zoom In Online's Annie Frisbie.

Updates, 3/4: "Zodiac stands to Se7en very much the way Inland Empire stands to Mulholland Drive," writes Larry Gross at Movie City News. "It's auto-critique. It takes an artist's admirable if relatively conventional accomplishment and smashes it deliberately into several oddly shaped but ultimately connected pieces."

Jeff GP at the Six-Reel Shuffle: "Just after last years mega-million dollar art project, Miami Vice, Zodiac sits as one of the most beautiful and digitally shot pictures ever made.... David Fincher pulled out marvelous, marvelous performances and told a whammy of a fun tale, but [cinematographer] Harris Savides is the great big muddy star of Zodiac."

Update, 3/5: "The Zodiac killings are like the VUE in Greenaway's The Falls or the V-2 attacks in Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow: a mysterious, violent episode from which an infinite and infinitely weird collection of contradictory facts radiates, while hapless human beings make increasingly desperate attemps to catalogue, classify and understand," writes Joe Armenio. Zodiac itself is "the sort of film that JFK would have been if it had been directed by that dude from the bookstore in Richard Linklater's Slacker: a rambling, earnest discourse that you find mildly endearing even as you're planning your escape."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:25 PM

Fests and events, 2/28.

A Journey of Dmitry Shostakovich Red Shift Festival, opening tonight at the Pioneer in New York and running through Friday, celebrates "the full spectrum of nomadic, travel and immigrant experiences from filmmakers working outside of their country of origin," notes Elena Marinaccio at the Reeler. Among the highlights is the US premiere of A Journey of Dmitry Shostakovich.

Also opening tonight is the One World Human Rights Documentary Festival in Prague; it runs through March 8. Via Amy King.

"Signs of Empire is a movie by other means, a 'narrative with stills,' a tape/slide presentation using archival images and sound," writes Adrian Searle in the Guardian. "Half an hour long, Signs of Empire (the title a neat twist on Roland Barthes' Empire of Signs) remains disturbing, almost a quarter of a century after it was made. There is something lulling and hypnotic in the rhythmic procession of images, while the soundtrack is a countersurge of accumulating dread."

Jacques Rivette's Out 1: Noli Me Tangere is returning to the Museum of the Moving Image this weekend. "A successful marathon creates a trance state as well as a sense of being one of the elect," writes J Hoberman, thinking back to November's engagement. "But even among marathons, Out 1 is extraordinary... This crowd came ready to work. In addition to sandwiches, spectators brought source materials... [W]ork we did."

Also in the Voice: Scott Foundas on the BAM retrospective, Pimps, Prostitutes and Pigs: Shohei Imamura's Japan: "The work of a social anthropologist with an unapologetic Darwinian streak, these are movies in which modern Japan is but a simulacrum of its feudal past, and where the epochs separating civilized man from his animal forefathers are routinely collapsed in a heartbeat." More from Eric Kohn in the New York Press.

Valie Export And Ed Halter: "This week, the Museum of Modern Art hosts retrospectives of two visionaries whose sensibilities couldn't be further removed: Austrian guerrilla girl Valie Export and Iran's celebrated humanist auteur, Abbas Kiarostami."

Just added to the SXSW lineup:

The Wind That Shakes the Barley at the San Francisco Irish Film Festival, Buster Keaton at the Balboa... SF360 rounds up this week's events in the Bay Area. And Brian Darr lists dozens and dozens more.

"This February's Film Comments Selects series proved to be, for me, 5-for-5," writes Zach Campbell. "No bad films." Notes follow.

And then there's Acquarello on "Valeska Grisebach's slender, yet meticulously observed slice of life portrait, Longing," and "Mamoru Oshii's deliriously off-kilter, rapid fire superlivemation animation feature, Tachigui: The Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters." Also: "Evoking the moral tales of Eric Rohmer in its understated, yet perceptive conversational approach to the inconstant rationalizations and (over) intellectualizations that seek to reconcile (or at least self-justify) the mysteries of the human heart, [Summer 04] is an acutely observed exposition on the amorphous terrain of human attraction, fidelity, guilt, and longing."

David Lamelas: Film Script

David Lamelas: at Monika Sprüth Philomene Magers in Munich through March 24.

The film that's got David Byrne thinking about performance as catharsis is probably Seven Easy Pieces by Marina Abramovic.

The AFI Dallas schedule is up; the fest runs March 22 through April 1. Via The Proper Care & Feeding of an American Messiah director Chris Hansen.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:10 PM

Black Snake Moan.

Black Snake Moan "Drenched in explosively charged imagery, Black Snake Moan is exploitation cinema of the grungiest, nastiest, and thus finest order, delivering a volatile batch of extreme sex, extreme profanity, and—most of all—extreme racial and gender dynamics," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "A B-movie with an A-list cast, it's an audaciously confrontational, button- and boundary-pushing work, marked by a sharp wit and a gleeful desire to see just how much it can get away with."

Rob Nelson, writing in the Voice, disagrees: "Alas, after his camera has had its fill of ogling Rae, [Craig] Brewer turns out to have nothing up his sleeve, nothing in his pants, only a little on his mind and none of it, amazingly, to do with race."

Updated through 3/5.

On the other hand, Max Goldberg at SF360: "[L]ike Preston Sturges before him, Brewster has wrestled something genuine and tender from America at its most down-low. A good portion of the credit is due to his leading lady; the film is frequently cruel to Rae, but [Christina] Ricci fights back every step of the way with a diamond-rough performance that's both seductive and terrifying."

"Whatever criticisms we may level against Brewer, there's no denying Black Snake Moan is unlike any other film made recently," writes Matt Singer at IFC News. "You can boil it down to a logline - it's sort of Misery meets The Exorcist meets A Dirty Shame - but even that doesn't do justice to the passion of the filmmaking or the authentic wackiness of the story."

"It's depressing that Brewer dares salacious irony and then backs down," writes Armond White in the New York Press.

Interviews with Brewer: Alison Willmore at IFC News and Ryan Stewart at Cinematical.

Earlier: "Sundance. Black Snake Moan."

Updates, 3/1: Marc Savlov talks with Brewer for the Austin Chronicle, where Marjorie Baumgarten writes, "Black Snake Moan is to the blues what Pulp Fiction is to the dime-store novels: a fleshed-out personification of the genre's tropes."

"I can tell you from firsthand experience that many non-Southern critics simply don't 'get' Brewer," writes Godfrey Cheshire in the Independent Weekly. "He's not politically correct, not ironic or fashionably oblique, and all of that some people take as offensive. But in my estimation he's one of the biggest talents to emerge in the American cinema in this decade, and no self-respecting Southern cinephile should miss seeing what he's up to. His work holds the promise of a Southern cinema that's true to its own cultural resources, a vision of wit and daring that might end up doing the whole nation a favor."

"No two ways about it: Black Snake Moan is racist, by acute and cumulative degrees," argues Nathan Kosub at Reverse Shot.

Updates, 3/2: "In an early review in Film Comment that is at least as entertaining as Black Snake Moan itself, Nathan Lee has proclaimed Mr Brewer a 'visionary,'" writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "From where I sit, the vision looks pretty blurry, as the movie struggles to square its inherent absurdity with its earnest sense of conviction."

"I heard some days after the screening that [Samuel L] Jackson considers this his best performance," notes Roger Ebert. "Well, maybe it is. He disappears into the role, and a good performance requires energy, daring, courage and intensity, which he supplies in abundance."

"[A]s well intentioned as Brewer seems to be, there's a sense that he's having his cake and eating it, too, as he both comments on lurid S&M imagery and engages in it," writes Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post.

"[M]usic as redemption. It's that sense of peace through tradition that takes a potentially violent, over-the-top saga and, ultimately, turns it into Capra for alcoholics and bar-hounds," writes Vadim Rizov at the Reeler.

"Though Black Snake Moan is unadulterated deep-fried silliness..., Jackson makes it indisputably more palatable," writes Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times. "It's still not a very good movie, but it's intermittently entertaining (and sometimes unintentionally funny)."

Sarah Sundberg talks with Brewer for Nerve.

Salon's Stephanie Zacharek: "Brewer's secret is finally out of the bag: For all that he wants to rattle and disarm us, he's really a humanist in wolf's clothing."

A "gorgeous, life-affirming movie," writes Mike Russell. Brewer "takes raw exploitation material about occasionally ugly people, then turns it into human drama that's smart, powerfully alive and occasionally very funny."

Update, 3/5: "Black Snake Moan ultimately fails at its mission to rile up black/white, red/blue America because it doesn't let Rae and Lazarus have sex - and I mean sprawling, World War III sex," writes Steven Boone at the House Next Door. "Rainer Werner Fassbinder let an elderly German widow and a hulking Black Arab become lovers in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, and it brought the neuroses of an entire nation into view.... Brewer succumbs to the fear of a black penis that afflicts the Ho'wood system he's presumably out to bedevil, and sends everybody back to their segregated corners, fully clothed. Do-over."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:49 PM

SFBG. The Host.

Yes, you've already heard quite a lot about The Host. But the San Francisco Bay Guardian's package on the film, occasioned by director Bong Joon-ho's upcoming appearance in the city on Monday night, is definitely worth special mention. Johnny Ray Huston:

Artforum: The Host

To inspire "childlike rapture" in Gary Indiana, a wizened contender for the most truthfully caustic novelist and political commentator of our time, one must possess amazing powers as a filmmaker. Amazing powers - of imagination, societal observation, and colorful vérité-based pop symbolism - are exactly what Bong Joon-ho has, in measures that have grown in size and scope with each of his three features to date. Indiana's recent cover essay on Bong marks the first time in years (if not ever) that a commercial film has taken over the cover of Artforum - just one sign of its subject's imminent pop art impact. But while Indiana's excellent piece draws upon Nikolay Gogol, Antonio Gramsci, post-Confucian history, and enthusiasm for the rich pleasures of contemporary South Korean film, it ignores one major stylistic source of The Host's ability to induce kidlike joy. With his latest film, Bong announces himself as the heir apparent to Steven Spielberg - an heir who replaces Spielberg's reactionary tendencies with an acutely observant antiestablishment viewpoint.

Updated.

Cheryl Eddy considers how the film "reflects how an outside nation (in this case, South Korea) views the US obsession with controlling absolutely everything on the planet." And she interviews Bong as well.

"Bong's beast came to life in a part of San Francisco steeped in military history," notes Jonathan L Knapp. "ucked away in the Presidio, amid old army barracks, tree-lined drives, and cutting-edge nonprofit facilities is the Orphanage, an upstart special effects company aiming to shape the future of film."

Updates: Another rave from Jason Bogdaneris in the L Magazine: "That Spielberg guy is still just a very skilled genre director - in the early stages of his career Bong Joon-ho is so much more."

Bryant Frazer: "[I]t's full of heart and it has a brain — and it's a lot of fun."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:39 AM | Comments (2)

Rendez-Vous. 1.

James van Maanen, whose smart and succinct DVD reviews are a regular feature at Guru, opens a series of dispatches; a bit of linkage follows.

Cinema The Film Society of Lincoln Center's 12th annual Rendez-Vous With French Cinema opens tonight with the US premier of the film that opened this year's Berlinale: Olivier Dahan's La Vie en Rose. This will be followed over the next 12 days with 16 more movies. Yes, it's a feast. The society's program director Richard Peňa says that his aim each year in assembling Rendez-Vous is "to present the best recent French productions, while representing the widest variety of styles possible. Each year you'll discover provocative works by recognized auteurs, genre films, popular comedies, and more. I would like to think that, within each category, you will find the best that France currently has to offer - giving audiences a sense of the richness of French cinema today."

Updated.

As a festival devotee for the past decade, I think Peňa pretty much hits the proverbial nail on its head. For my taste, this is usually a near-terrific festival, with most of the films easily qualifying as better-than-average art and/or entertainment. While there is usually one utter clunker in the bunch (Bruno Dumont's Twentynine Palms took the booby prize in 2005), plus a couple of movies I might have missed without undue weeping, there is an equal number of films and/or performances I wouldn't have passed up for the world. And this festival is the only place in the US that I could have seen them.

In 2005, a young actor named Julien Boisselier delighted audiences with a pitch-perfect romantic-comedy performance in J'me sens pas belle (Tell Me I'm Pretty) that had audience members literally asking the Lincoln Center honchos for the actor's phone number during the Q&A (a first in my experience at this particular culture capital). Today, the movie remains unreleased in the US and not even available on DVD (Amazon has it via England, if your DVD is Euro-compatible). Unreleased, too, is the stylish, musical, funny and moving 2004 offering from Noemie Lvovsky, Les Sentiments (Feelings), a wonderfully original movie seen so far in the US only at Lincoln Center.

Avenue Montaigne Other films may not receive a theatrical release, but if they're chock-a-block with great looking gals and guys, full frontal, and intelligent dialog that encompasses economics, history and culture, they might - as did the 2005 Grande École - turn up on DVD. Last year's festival was a rare one in that every single film proved worthwhile on some level. So far, five films from that series - La Moustache, Avenue Montaigne, Russian Dolls, Heading South and Le Petit Lieutenant - have been released theatrically over here and one more, Cold Showers, has, like Moustache, made it to DVD (the full-frontal theory in action once again). As I write, nine out of the 17 movies from the 2007 roster have been slated for US distribution, and more may be snapped up during the festival, as distributors often come to the public screenings to check out the audience response.

The main question I am always asked about this festival is: How do you decide which films to see? A decade ago, when I began attending, I chose only a couple of movies. I liked them both, so the following year I upped it to four, then eight, then... yes, right. Other than making choices based on a particular director, writer or star(s), the short descriptions in the program would seem the only sensible way. Yet, with all due respect to whomever writes these descriptions, over the years I have not found them that helpful. So, because I love movies, and especially because I trust the tastes of Mr Pena and his staff, I've found it works best to just see them all. Sometimes, the very film I would have thought I'd most enjoy proves disappointing, while one I'd never have picked, given its description, turns out to be an amazing experience.

As a freelancer, I am lucky. I work my schedule so that I can see two films per day, in the afternoon at discount prices. At $22, the opening night is a bit steep. But Film Society members get in for $18. The remaining films cost $12 for the general public ($8 for members or for seniors like me during weekday performances). Since I am still working non-stop (thanks in part to our beloved political administration), I must tell my clients that I'm "in meetings" for those festival afternoons, getting my work done instead during morning hours or at night. (If any of my clients happen to be reading this, please accept my apology. Sometimes culture's just got to trump business.)

I'll be reporting daily on the films I've seen, their qualities (or lack thereof) and whether or not they've yet been picked up for distribution, and if so, by whom. Once acquired for theatrical distribution, a film almost always makes its way to DVD. So even if you are not able to get to New York, or the nearest city in which foreign films are shown, you may still get to see these delights at home in the months (or sometimes, years) to come.


"Less politically engaged and geographically far-flung than usual, Lincoln Center's spotty Rendez-Vous With French Cinema insinuates that a nation of filmmakers is forging inward with fiercer self-determination than ever before," writes Ed Gonzalez in the Voice.

Stephen Holden opens his preview of the series in the New York Times with quite a declaration: "Marion Cotillard's feral portrait of the French singer Édith Piaf as a captive wild animal hurling herself at the bars of her cage [in La Vie en Rose] is the most astonishing immersion of one performer into the body and soul of another I've ever encountered in a film."

Updates: Jürgen Fauth and Marcy Dermansky preview five films in the series.

Clémentine Gallot celebrates the series at the Reeler.

More from Matt Peterson in the New York Press.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:02 AM

PIFF Dispatch. 8.

Obaba DK Holm looks back on four more films, a batch from Spain that screened at the recently wrapped festival.

With two of the three representatives of a hopefully resurgent Mexican Cinema making a fine showing at this year's Oscars, the Portland International Film Festival offered local film patrons a broader appreciation of Spanish-language cinema with works less likely to acquire similar prestige. Grouse as one may about the varied deficiencies of Babel, Pan's Labyrinth and Children of Men, they show an unusual and powerful command of the medium. The Spanish films offered by PIFF weren't necessarily bad, but they evinced a certain reliance on conventionality (I'm trying to avoid the word "laziness") or a lack of imagination about how to wield the tools of the trade.

Obaba is an example of magical realism set in the Basque country as a young woman, Lourdes (Bárbara Lennie), attempts to make a film, as a school project, about a small school in the village of the title. This film, by Montxo Armendariz (Secrets of the Heart), recounts the effect on the student of the assignment and the town, where bright green lizards seem to have the run of the place. This is a long, slow, confusing film that lacks crispness, urgency and humor. It features three or four lengthy flashbacks and an unnecessary romance in the film's "now," and ends ambiguously. Variety's Jonathan Holland and Michael Guillén at Twitch were much more enthusiastic.

The Method The Method (also known as El Método and El Método Grönholm) imposes an interesting constraint on itself, like Hitchcock's Lifeboat. But there is a logical reason for its confinement: it is based on a play. Against a backdrop of anti-globalization riots in the street, seven applicants for a mid-level management job in a faceless corporation vie with each other through a series of increasingly bizarre tests. Confined to the testing room, with only the occasional excursion out (to the bathroom), the film sticks to the faces and tasks of the applicants, one of whom may be a spy from the corporation itself.

Marcelo Piñeyro's film has a glossy sheen, excellent art direction and a superb use of the widescreen image (by Alfredo F Mayo) but is a little long, ultimately ambiguous, and doesn't have the courage of its satirical convictions. And if I'm hearing the soundtrack right, it borrows the tune "Patricia" from La Dolce Vita to no immediately apparent purpose. A few alternative views: Robert Koehler in Variety and Mathew Englander.

Los Aires Dificiles Also difficult to follow, with its unannounced flashbacks featuring different actors playing earlier editions of the main cast, is Los Aires Dificiles (Rough Winds), Gerardo Herrero's adaptation of a popular novel by Almudena Grandes. I wasn't sure what was really going on most of the time, but what appeared to be happening was that one man was on vacation at the beach, where he has an affair with his maid and then reencounters his brother, who married the main guy's love of his life. I think. The somnambulism of the lead actor wasn't much of a help. Instead, the robust sexuality of the bulk of the cast served as a pleasing distraction from the main line of the plot, which at one point draws upon that old standby of soap operas, the unintentional tumble down a staircase. The rest is all long, long takes of people walking along the ocean. There is apparently only one review of the film on the entire web, from Jonathan Holland in Variety.

Very UnSpanish, if that is permissible to say, is The Secret Life of Words (Strand Releasing's page), Isabel Coixet's follow-up to her earlier My Life Without Me, also starring Sarah Polley; this one plays more like a Lars von Trier or a Dennis Potter film than Victor Erice.

The Secret Life of Words The premise is simple. Hanna is a partially deaf woman working in a factory. For her own good, the boss sends her on vacation. Sitting in a restaurant she overhears someone seeking a nurse on his cell phone and volunteers her services; this leads her to an oil rig in the north Atlantic. There she cares for Josef (Tim Robbins), who's suffered third degree burns during a rescue attempt. He is also temporarily blinded, so he yearns to know more about the withdrawn, stern and sorrowful-sounding woman taking care of him. The film is something of a mystery, as we and Josef are curious about Hanna's various quirks and her background.

Words is a polished and effective film, but perhaps has less story than its running time would demand. It does reunite Polley with Julie Christie, the duo having collaborated on Away From Her, screened earlier at PIFF. Alternative views come from Filmbrain, Ella Taylor in the Village Voice and Lael Loewenstein in the Los Angeles Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:49 AM

Interview. DA Pennebaker.

Bob Dylan: Don't Look Back He put his first short film together with adhesive tape. Thought he might become a writer. With Robert Drew and Albert Maysles, he lugged "a very haphazardly constructed sync-sound thing" around Russia. Eventually, along came Albert Grossman, asking, "Would you want to go with Dylan?"

On the occasion of a new release of Don't Look Back, this time around accompanied by Bob Dylan '65 Revisited, Jonathan Marlow has a long talk with groundbreaking documentary filmmaker DA Pennebaker. First part's up; the second part will appear soon.

Earlier: David D'Arcy spoke with Pennebaker in August 2005. Related: Jonathan with Drew (2003) and David with Maysles (2005).

Update: Jason Bogdaneris in the L Magazine on the film: "Still as inscrutable and cool as ever."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:17 AM

February 27, 2007

The New-York Ghost. Vol II, No 7.

Trust me, you want this.

The New-York Ghost

Here's how to get it.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:20 PM

An open letter.

To: The Seattle Weekly
From: Michael Seiwerath, Executive Director, Northwest Film Forum

Seattle Weekly The Seattle Weekly review of Our Daily Bread, credited to Village Voice film critic J Hoberman, is a distressing insight into the state of film criticism at our city's oldest continuously running alternative weekly. From a longer November 14th, 2006 Village Voice review encompassing the documentary Our Daily Bread and Richard Linklater's Fast Food Nation, the Weekly printed a botched cut-and-paste truncation.

What ran in the February 21 edition of the Weekly is a recombinant jumble, devoid of time or place. Hacked from the end of the original review, the Weekly piece contains unexplained, unintelligible references to Nation. The reader is left confused, with a mess of an article that is only made clear by some internet research into what happened four months ago and 3000 miles away. More than simply an editorial production error, this virtual review is the systemic result of a flawed new business model.

The planned efficiencies of media consolidation by the New Times are failing. Without a film editor and consistent criticism written by local writers, the reviews often contain factual errors and obvious references to openings in other cities. This is a system that is no longer serving either the reader or the advertising base. Borrowing from J Hoberman's description of a fast food hamburger, the individual review has become "the ground residue of many, many messily butchered animals."

Update, 2/28: Jim Emerson comments: "What is 'alternative' about these weeklies if they're running the same syndicated copy their sister papers print in other towns?"

Posted by dwhudson at 11:54 AM | Comments (3)

DVDs, 2/27.

DK Holm rounds up DVD specialists' takes on two new releases from Criterion.

49th Parallel 49th Parallel (aka, The Invaders) is the eighth and, chronologically, earliest film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger to be released by Criterion on DVD. As so often with Powell, the film bears certain resonances with Hitchcock, in this case, Lifeboat, which also portrays a Nazi submarine commander as a cunning, resourceful ubermensch until brought down by good old international pluck. Here, Lieutenant Hirth (Eric Portman) leads the survivors from a sinking vessel on a trek headed through the length and width of Canada, encountering along the way Laurence Olivier, Anton Walbrook, Leslie Howard and Raymond Massey, representatives of a diversity that Nazi society seeks to eradicate.

Gary Tooze at DVD Beaver finds that, in comparison to earlier home entertainment versions of the film, "the Criterion image appears to be superior - vastly better contrast, [fewer] artifacts (although some are visible), less damage and slightly more information in the frame than the PAL editions." He also finds the supplements superior, from the Bruce Eder commentary ("fabulous") to the Powell and Pressburger war-effort shorts on the Bonus Disc ("very entertaining").

Dylan Charles at DVD Verdict is slightly less enthusiastic, calling the film a "propaganda piece" with a "peculiar feel. The characters don't possess any true depth because they're there to serve a specific function," but despite "its heavy handedness, it works because of these powerful performances and because of the well-structured, continuous allegory." Eric Henderson at Slant segregates the film from other Powell wartime efforts, noting that it offers "slim to none of the trademark whimsy of the WWII films Powell and Pressburger later made under The Archers banner.... Its rhetorical power stems from its earnest plea for those watching contemporaneously to fight a political movement in order to save all human souls being possessed by it." Finally, JJB at the DVD Journal notes that "49th Parallel may mark the first notable collaboration of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, but it still serves as a bridge-work of sorts"; still, the "ambitious scope of the film is impossible to ignore."

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs "[Mikio] Naruse, whose filmmaking career extended from 1930 to 1967, and who died in 1969, is often likened to Yasujiro Ozu, his famously austere contemporary, perhaps because the men shared an interest in domestic melodrama: the naturalistic tales of lower-middle-class life the Japanese call shomingeki," writes Dave Kehr. "But Naruse was very much his own man, as When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960), the first of his films to become available on DVD in the United States, richly demonstrates."

Region 2 is luckier. The Masters of Cinema release of a first volume of collected Naruse films (reviewed extensively by logboy at Twitch) offers up three titles. Arguably his best known, or known of, film in the west (aside from Late Chrysanthemums), When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Onna ga kaidan wo agaru toki) introduces Region 1 to a director who occupies a place, in terms of subject matter, somewhat to the left of Mizoguchi, in that his subject is Woman and her Sufferings, and, as Kehr notes, somewhere near Ozu territory, with his observations of people in natural situations and gently exploring subtle distinctions in family position, class and wealth.

For insight, one of course may always turn to Ain't It Cool News, where Harry Knowles tells us, "If you liked Memoirs of a Geisha, you really owe it to yourself to see this amazing film. This is the vastly superior film. Takamine Hideko is just one of the saddest creatures you've ever seen. She plays a Geisha that [sic] must find a husband that [sic] won't consider her past or see past it.... If you want a good cry, this is a very good cry."

Keith Uhlich at Slant offers a tad more detail. Calling it a "seminal" work and a "masterpiece," Uhlich goes on to describe the film as building "slowly, playing out against the backdrop of a polite Japanese society where few speak their mind, and Naruse's insistence on focusing on inconsequential everyday behaviors and transactions may initially seem perplexing. Yet it is all prelude to a raw, brilliantly sustained final half-hour." An otherwise "superb" transfer is "marred now and again by image warping, though typically for only a frame or two. I recall seeing these flaws when the film was projected at the Naruse retrospective, so I believe they are inherent to the source material."

DSH at the DVD Journal starts off by praising Donald Richie's "insightful" audio commentary, probably a necessity for most R1 viewers, for whom information on and access to Naruse is sparse. "To an outsider, Japanese culture and the working methods of bar madams are so foreign that the film seems more of an exposé than what's normally known as a 'chick flick,' but aligning Naruse with the feminine also points out how male-driven Japanese cinema is, what an anomaly Naruse's gift was, and how low in esteem the woman's picture is usually treated." Carrying on the woman's picture theme, Glenn Erickson, the DVD Savant over at DVD Talk, announces "Move over, Douglas Sirk: we've just seen a 'women's picture' that makes us forget all others." He goes on to add that the film is "simply a masterpiece" that "belongs to Hideko Takamine. She puts her performance into her eyes, and we care deeply what happens to her. Near the end of the show, Naruse stages a devastating confrontation between Keiko and an overworked mother. Keiko stands in a dirty yard while two kids ride a tricycle in circles around her. The potent image makes the coded social criticism of American 'women's films' seem petty."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:24 AM

February 26, 2007

Shorts, 2/26.

Roger & Me The very premise of Michael Moore's landmark documentary Roger & Me, illustrated by the poster, even, rests on General Motors chairman Roger Smith refusing to talk to Moore. But an interview took place. Moore cut it. And that's just one of several disturbing revelations in Manufacturing Dissent, a doc on Moore by Rick Caine and Debbie Melnyk premiering at SXSW in March. Thing is, Caine and Melnyk are anything but wingnut zealots, notes John Anderson. John Pierson, author of Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes and still "a self-proclaimed 'flag-waver' for Roger & Me," calls their doc "unbelievably fair."

Also in the New York Times:

  • Anthony Tommasini on fresh recordings of two scores by Virgil Thomson: "The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936) and The River (1937) will make die-hard liberals long for the time when the government really knew how to produce propaganda on behalf of worthy causes. For a brief while, to propagate its domestic programs, the Roosevelt administration went into the movie business."

  • Karen W Arenson on the controversy kicked up by Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West: "The documentary has become the latest flashpoint in the bitter campus debate over the Middle East, not just because of its clips from Arab television rarely shown in the West, including scenes of suicide bombers being recruited and inducted, but also because of its pro-Israel distribution network."

  • Arthur Lubow profiles Jeff Wall for the Magazine: "Educated as an art historian, he aspired... to make photographs that could be constructed and experienced the way paintings are." More from Peter Schjeldahl in the New Yorker.

  • Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia "has already made a surprise backlist hit of Isaiah Berlin's Russian Thinkers," notes William Grimes, who's hoping it might do the same for Alexander Herzen's My Past and Thoughts, "quite possibly the least-read great work of Russia's glorious 19th century." Edward Rothstein understands that Utopia can't be too tidy, but watching it, he "never felt Herzen's personal experience turn into political insight. Perhaps that would have meant violating Herzen's principles and providing a dramatic world less loose and baggy, in which there is unity, purpose, culmination." Related: Boris Kachka's "Who's Who" in New York.

  • Francesco Bonami: "The word on Chinese art right now is 'Buy!' but I'm not convinced that we Westerners really understand what's going on there."

  • "Hollywood studios are going into business with one of their biggest tormentors: the peer-to-peer pioneer BitTorrent." Brad Stone reports on the latest developments.

"Simon Callow's Orson Welles: Hello Americans, the second volume in what will be a monumentally scaled three-volume biography, and Joseph McBride's What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?, a detailed look at his later years, both set out to clear away misconceptions and wind up presenting two quite different individuals," writes Sanford Schwartz in the New York Review of Books, where he takes five more books on Welles into consideration as well.

Loft Jean-Philippe Tessé, writing in Cahiers du cinema, finds Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Loft to be "an uneven film, certainly, and slightly beneath KK's other films, but no less fascinating and remarkable."

"Song Il-gon, the exceptional director of Spider Forest, Git and Magicians is prepping a new feature entitled Telephone Girl." Aaron has a bit more at Kung Fu Cult Cinema.

David Austin at Cinema Strikes Back: "I must confess, When a Woman Ascends the Stairs is my first experience with Naruse and it was a revelation."

"I think of all my movies as home movies! It's just that some are more expensive than others," DA Pennebaker tells Time's Carolina Miranda. Good stuff on Dylan in there.

"[I]n its roundabout, elliptical way, Zodiac gets at something transcendentally icky about the fetish for serial killers (and serial-killer hunters) that has grown only more common in this era of true-crime blogs and celebrity forensic scientists," writes New York's David Edelstein. "[David] Fincher, it turns out, is not a police-procedural-type guy. He's not a people-type guy. He's a mood ghoul. A great opening can carry you a long way, though, and Zodiac has a stunner: an attack at night on a couple in a parked car that's among the most brilliantly cruel sequences I've ever seen." And Newsweek's David Ansen: "Zodiac is meticulously crafted - Harris Savides's state-of-the-art digital cinematography has a richness indistinguishable from film - and it runs almost two hours and 40 minutes. Still, the movie holds you in its grip from start to finish."

"[I]n a Barthian sense, performance can be just as much of a 'readerly text' as anything else," proposes Scott Balcerzak at Dr Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope.

Zach Campbell has been interested in "the question of resistance as it plays out through aesthetics" lately and he's got a few questions for you.

The Fly Dan Glaister has the latest in the Guardian on the revival of The Fly as an opera, a co-production of the Los Angeles Opera and the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, written by Howard Shore, directed by David Cronenberg and possibly starring Plácido Domingo.

"I'm not exactly sure what I want in a documentary about a rock festival, but I'm sure that it's not in Glastonbury," grumbles Ryan Stewart. Also at Cinematical: Erik Davis attended New York Comic Con and has lots of news on what Eli Roth is up to; similarly Ryan Stewart, with news from Kevin Smith (more from Erik) and Stephen King.

Sujewa Ekanayake announces a new project: Filmmaking for the Poor, a "comedy-drama about low budget filmmaking."

"We've gone from being defunct - as the press would have it - to having two Oscar nominations, three Bafta wins, six Bifa (British Independent Film Awards) wins. The point is that Film4 is on a roll in the way it should be: supporting British talent, producing British talent, working with great writing, trying to define itself and aligning itself with Channel 4." That's Tessa Ross, head of Film4, talking to the Independent's Ian Burrell.

Online not viewing tip. "[D]o you remember Pitchfork's 100 Awesome Music Videos post from last summer?" asks Rex Sorgatz. "There was a brief moment where these types of posts opened our eyes to the potential of a new form of curatorial criticism of video, with a mashup of moving illustrations that were controlled by users. Suddenly, you could image whole new ways to conceive of writing about the history of visual culture. Now, just months later, that vision has been practically erased, as over half of the clips from the above post have been removed from YouTube - to be exact, 54 of 100 are gone... I find it hard to believe this is good for anyone - artist, label, critic, fan, and, especially, the marketplace of ideas."

Steve Bryant comments: "While I agree that those removals are no good for the artists or the consumers... I also think we've come to rely too much on YouTube. The more attention given to alternative video marketplaces (like Democracy Player), the better off we'll be."

Online viewing tip. clip from Danny Boyle's Sunshine, via Merrick at AICN.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:42 PM

Fests and events, 2/26.

Shohei Imamura "[T]he 20 films on view in Pimps, Prostitutes, and Pigs: Shohei Imamura's Japan, a monthlong retrospective beginning Friday at the BAM Rose Cinemas at the Brooklyn Academy of Music [through March 29], display a pretty spectacular variety of human qualities - mostly failings," writes Terrence Rafferty in the New York Times. "It's a compendium of barbarities, both primitive and thoroughly modern, a vision of life reduced to its brutal basics: violence is constant; sex is urgent, sloppy and profoundly unromantic; and the struggle to survive makes men and women appallingly creative in inventing ways to mistreat one another."

Film Comment Selects wraps tomorrow; a few of the latest reviews:

  • "Avant-garde or not, 13 Lakes held me the same way any other movie does," writes Mike D'Angelo. "I stuck around because I wanted to see what would 'happen' next."

  • "While James Benning's 13 Lakes captures the materiality, self-equilibration, and memory of water," writes acquarello, "the film's equally rigorous and abstractly hypnotic companion piece, Ten Skies, illustrates the mutability, ephermerality, and transience of nature."

  • Daniel Kasman on Lights in the Dusk: "The strong emphasis on [Aki] Kaurismäki's staging places the plot at such a distance that the story and acting seem banal and overworn while the look is utterly refined."

"Africa's biggest film festival has opened in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkino Faso, showcasing some of the best films from across the continent," reports the BBC. "The Pan-African Film and Television Festival, Fespaco, is a biennial event that has been running since 1969."

Matt Riviera catches three romantic comedies at Australia's French Film Festival.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:59 AM

Oscars.

Oscar "Twenty-six years and seven snubs after his first Oscar nomination, for Raging Bull, Martin Scorsese finally felt the warm embrace of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Sunday as he was named best director and his murderous mob thriller The Departed was named the best picture of 2006," write David M Halbfinger and Sharon Waxman in the New York Times. Thelma Schoonmaker, picking up her third Oscar, is quoted regarding their collaboration: "It's like being in the best film school in the world." A slide show.

"The only real cheer of the night from the press came when Martin Scorsese won the best director award," blogs David Carr. "The whole room erupted in a huge roar."

Updated through 2/28.

Ellen DeGeneres brought "a casual Friday mood to Fancy Sunday," writes Alessandra Stanley. Plus, Eric Wilson on what was worn (another slide show).

As for another winner of the evening: "It is worse than painful to reflect on how much better off the United States and the world would be today if the outcome of the 2000 election had been permitted to correspond with the wishes of the electorate," writes New Yorker editor David Remnick. "With his documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth, [Al] Gore made the undeniability of the [climate] crisis a matter of consensus; thanks largely to him, an environmental issue will be an electoral issue. His secular evangelism has earned him an honored night at the Academy Awards and - almost as glittering - a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.... If the next few months produce an obvious and relatively intact nominee, fine. Gore can stay active in his new role, and perhaps carry that role further, as a kind of climate czar in a Democratic Administration. But, as someone once said, stuff happens."

"If The Departed outlives Sunday night's other nominees, it won't be because it was necessarily a better movie," writes Patrick Goldstein. "It will survive because genre movies, be they thrillers, westerns or comedies, have a timelessness and a lack of pretense that tend to age better than films about topical subjects or social issues.... 'I'll never forget watching Public Enemy,' Scorsese said backstage, referring to the seminal 1931 gangster film. 'The brutal honesty. The street honesty always stayed with me. That's a mark I always aimed towards. This film had that kind of attitude.'"

Also in the Los Angeles Times: John Horn on how no campaign was the best campaign for The Departed; Kenneth Turan: "It is not the happiest state of affairs that Hollywood, once the storyteller to the world, has to go to another culture to get its best ideas"; and Tina Daunt: "Gore was the man of the moment for much of the evening."

"William Monahan - I remember him. He and I were on the same internet chat board. He's nominated for an Oscar and I'm blogging the Oscars. Puts things in perspective, doesn't it?" murmurs James Wolcott.

"The Academy clearly likes penguins," notes the Guardian's Xan Brooks.

"Alan Arkin wins! Do push-ups! Do push-ups!" Erik Davis at Cinematical.

"Jennifer Hudson is so refreshingly Not of That World," writes Cintra Wilson at Salon. "She's a perfect Rosetta Stone for the big secret of star power - it's not about how small your nose is, but how expansively and gracefully you accept yourself; how much of yourself you can lovingly reveal."

"Somebody explain to me how you can watch Pan's Labyrinth and Children of Men and think that Pan's Labyrinth is the better work of cinematography?" Jeffrey Overstreet.

"A 'Best Original Song' Oscar for a documentary?" wonders Matt Dentler out loud. "This is unprecedented, and likely to change the way docs are scored (after acquisition most likely) in the near future. Ladies and gentlemen, you have witnessed the birth of a brand new doc trend..." AJ Schnack adds that Truth is the first doc to win two Oscars, period.

That Little Round-Headed Boy: "Ya know, God bless Al Gore and the campaign against global warming. But if I might interject a bit of politics into the evening, this constant coronation of the man rubs me the wrong way. I voted for him. But if he hadn't run such a boneheaded campaign to begin with, he should have run up an even higher vote count and not left any states too close to call. He should have waltzed in. He could have been watching tonight's show from the White House instead of making jokes about it."

"Overheard at the Oscar Party: Part Nine: 'Gwyneth Paltrow is acting like she understands.' ... Overheard at the Oscar Party: Part Ten: ' They should've used Queen songs in The Queen.' ... Overheard at the Oscar Party: Part Eleven: 'Here comes Beyoncé with a KNIFE!'" Phil Morehart at Facets Features.

"This room isn't giving much love to punk rock pioneers James Taylor and Randy Newman. Well, they kept it short. And here's Melissa Etheridge. And the room is begging James Taylor and Randy Newman to come back." Glenn Kenny.

"I'll say it again," says Dave Micevic, "the Academy spends way too much of its time on the songs... Do directors show up to the Grammy's and intermittently play short films for the audience? If they don't, they should. It would only be fair."

"[W]hat the hell was the shadow puppets?" asks Edward Copeland. "Could they not get Mummenschanz? If they really want to boost ratings, why not have Puppetry of the Penis create images evoking nominated films next year."

Joe Leydon, echoing many sentiments out there: "Sorry, but Michael Mann's montage of clips meant to represent how America is represented in the movies must rank among the most muddle-headed efforts of its kind in Oscar history."

"Of course, the evening's big disappointment was that Martin Scorsese did not join his fellow great directors - Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, Ernst Lubitsch, Fritz Lang - who never won an Oscar in competition," writes Jim Emerson. "nstead, he joins Norman Taurog, John G Avildsen and Sam Mendes as one of the immortals whose name will always, from this moment on, be preceded by the term 'Academy Award-winning' as if it were a prefix. (I kid.)"

"It was a smooth move on the part of the telecast to have Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas present the Best Director category," blogs Bill Gibron at PopMatters. "Though it gave conspiracy theorists fuel to fuss that the Academy Awards voting (and results) are not as secret as one thinks, it was awesome to see Scorsese take the stage to the warm embraces of the men with whom he helped shape the 70s - the last great decade of film."

"Most Embarrassing Moment: When Coppola, Lucas and Spielberg were dubbed the 'original' Three Amigos." Nick Schager.

"I know that a cadre of naysayers will be bitching and moaning about how Infernal Affairs was a better movie and how this is nowhere near Scorsese's best work and shouldn't the real Best Picture, say The Death Of Mr Lazarescu have, in the best of all possible worlds, won the Oscar and blah blah blah," jots Tom Hall. "You can only win the race you're in and tonight, somehow, Martin Scorsese and The Departed beat the odds and were rightly awarded Best Director and Best Picture of The Year."

"He's the reason I got interested in movies," writes the AV Club's Scott Tobias. "Scorsese's coronation was inevitable, but sweet nonetheless. I wish he had 20 minutes just to free associate."

"Diane Keaton comes out with Jack Nicholson to present Best Picture and as much as we'd like to wrap this up quickly, we need to take a sidebar to mention that she looks fantastic." The Fug Girls for New York.

"This year, the Oscars weren't sending a message, political or otherwise," writes Nikki Finke. "They simply went with the best picture, which happened to be a gangster tale this year." Earlier: "I kept hearing all weekend how the show was being cut, cut, cut. Well, congrats, Laura Ziskin: you produced a show that was NO FUN whatsoever."

"I have never been so bored with the Academy Awards in my entire life," groans Anthony Kaufman.

"I thought it was the worst produced Oscar show in memory," agrees David Poland.

"It was the most elegant and somehow gentle Oscarcast I can remember," counters Roger Ebert, watching at home for the first time in 30 years.

"[A]n exemplary telecast," agrees Nick Davis. "Somehow, Oscar almost never takes this obvious lesson, but the Academy Awards show should entertain a wide audience while also serving an ambassadorial, gently informative purpose for all of the arts it recognizes within commercial filmmaking." He argues that Ziskin did just that.

Nathaniel R: "Ellen as Host: Yes please. Let's do it again."

DK Holm offers half a dozen suggestions for improving Oscar Night at ScreenGrab. Similarly, but also not at all, Micah at Reel Distraction on "how the Academy Awards would be handled in a better world."

Online viewing tip #1. Ray Pride points to Errol Morris's short.

Online viewing tip #2. Jason Kottke points ancestors of the iPhone commercial.

From Rebecca Winters Keegan's backstage diary for Time:

6:43: Ooh, snap! The trash-talking sound mixers of Dreamgirls address an apparently hot button issue in the sound community: Apocalypto mixer Kevin O'Connell, the Susan Lucci of the category, who has never won an Oscar despite 19 nominations: "I just wonder what Kevin's trying to do out there by trying to get an award using sympathy," says Oscar winner Michael Minkler. "Kevin's an OK mixer, but enough's enough about Kevin." And you thought actresses were catty.

[...]

7:53 Biggest press room applause so far follows the entry of Lives of Others director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Those German journalists sure are nationalistic! I repress the urge to stand and declare, 'I am a jelly donut.' Someone asks a question comparing Dick Cheney to the KGB. The director wisely points out that said journalist would be killed for asking that question were the comparison really apt.

"'No way,' the Academy proclaimed, as they dug [Peter] O'Toole's grave and danced on it." Mark Bell at Film Threat.

"So we tasted a robust, well-modulated Arabica blend of 2005-style indie cred and classic Tinseltown glamour, not quite fully middlebrow but not too arty either. Hollywood has become Starbucks. (So has everything else, but that's a more complicated argument.)" Andrew O'Hehir, one of half a dozen commentators in a Salon roundup.

"[T]he show settled into the most blandly self-congratulatory snooze-fest the Academy has staged in years," writes Dave Kehr. "So that's over, and now the industry can get back to making Ghost Rider II."

"[W]hy do journalists say such nasty things about the Oscars, when most people sort of enjoy watching the telecast?" The San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle gets asked this all the time. And the answer is "easy. Journalists don't like the show because it runs overtime and screws up our deadlines.... So while you approach the show as a chance to have fun, we approach it with some anxiety. And while you can get up and leave the room during the interpretive dance, we have to stay, just in case it ends early or Jack Nicholson drops dead, or someone's dress falls off."

Chuck Tryon notes that the LAT's Kenneth Turan's remark (see above) "ignores the fact that Hollywood has always turned to other cultures for some of its best stories."

"I have no particular love for The Departed, but I'm not made of stone," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "It would have been too much to see those Groucho Marx eyebrows knitted together in chagrin as Clint strode past them to the podium once more."

Flickhead: "Hey, Forest, you've got the world by the balls. Any chance you can bring your angst down a notch?"

Nick Antosca at Ed Champion's party: "helen mirren helen mirren HELEN MIRREN."

"Hudson duets with Beyonce all-friendly like... and then steals Deena's big number 'Listen,' right out from under Miss Thing. (Is that like, destiny, child?) I was all ready for some hair-pulling and body blows," writes Gabriel Shanks, "or at least someone ripping out some extensions. But then Anika Noni Rose, aka 'The Forgotten Dreamgirl,' comes out in her million dollar Stewart Weitzmans and hits the high note... a piercing, gorgeous siren that seems to say, 'I can beat both you bitches down.' Next to Cate Blanchett throwing Judi Dench into a bookcase in Notes on a Scandal, this was my favorite catfight of the year."

"[W]e profess to be bone tired of celebrating films we did not love," write Marcy Dermansky and Jürgen Fauth. "Here at World/Independent Film, we'd like to use the end of another awards season to give a last shout-out to the forgotten and underrated movies of 2006, among them Down in the Valley, Lemming, Shortbus, Le Petit Lieutenant, Brick, When the Levees Broke, and of course, David Lynch's magnificent Inland Empire."

The Academy is "stuck in a portal mindset, forcing you to go to oscar.com and watch the videos," writes Steve Bryant: "Make the thank you videos embeddable, guys. Lose the pre-roll."

Online viewing tip. "I've never been more moved by an acceptance speech," writes Miljenko at Dr Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope, pointing to Ennio Morricone's.

"Morricone lifts his Oscar - others have set it down tonight - and holds it high, looking right at the camera. It's a great moment, wordless. This may be the one lasting image from tonight's broadcast." Christian Hamaker, Crosswalk.com.

"It's not about celebrating trends, it's about placing new cultural products within the historical context of Old Hollywood, thus confirming a given movie's status as capital-A Art." Karina Longworth at the Netscape Blog.

Online viewing tip. Evan Derkacz's got video of Gore having a grand night.

"Is This Funny?" asks Brendon Connelly.

Updates, 2/27: "The Oscars, more perhaps than any other US institution, is a powerhouse of strictly American feelings, and the world as a whole is not always crazy to have that kind of feeling stuffed down its throat," writes Andrew O'Hagan in the Telegraph. "Hollywood is a very small community of wealthy and successful people, devoted to the high-gloss business of congratulating itself. And despite its gestures towards 'respecting' and 'recognizing' foreign excellence, the Academy Awards ceremony only knows how to celebrate foreignness in purely American terms. That's to say - patronizingly."

"Old-line Hollywood studios, confronted over the last few years by indifferent audiences and an insurgent collection of independent film makers, declared dominion over the industry's crowning event," argues David Carr.

Also in the New York Times:

  • Sharon Waxman and Eric Wilson on Vanity Fair's after-show party, that is, the after-show party.

  • Advertising columnist Stuart Elliott: "Once again, the commercials that appeared during the Academy Awards seemed better than the commercials that appeared during the Super Bowl."

  • And television reporter Bill Carter reports that Oscar's ratings were up slightly this year. More from Scott Collins in the Los Angeles Times.

Also in the LAT:

  • Richard Rushfield wanders the halls of the Kodak Theatre: "I am distressed, downright heartbroken, to hear in 20 minutes these respected thespians say not one thing remotely interesting. They discuss how to use their BlackBerrys, jet lag, pictures of kids. Celebrities, apparently, really are just like us."

  • Rachel Abramowitz at the post-Oscar Governors Ball.

  • Mary McNamara on the care and maintenance of an Oscar.

David Poland lists "Ten Ways The Oscar Show Came Up Short." And more at Movie City News from Gary Dretzka.

"The overriding impression left by the evening at the Kodak Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard is of a group of people far removed from the realities of American or global life." And so on. From David Walsh at the WSWS.

At ScreenGrab, Alexis Tirado gets a few words with Alan Arkin and Paul Clark compares this year's winning genre flick with 1971's, The French Connection.

"No offense to Ms Hudson, who is a terrific singer even if she's not yet a terrific actress, but I wonder about a world where she has an Oscar and Peter O'Toole doesn't." Craig Phillips.

"How many great films does a guy have to make to win a goddamn Oscar?" A Scorsese special at the First Post via Metaphilm.

The German papers are no longer unanimously approving of The Lives of Others; signandsight translates diverging takes.

More and bulkier translated quotage from Michael Scott Moore for Spiegel Online: "Is Oscar success for The Lives of Others good or bad for German cinema? Has the world finally stopped expecting Nazis to appear in prize-winning German films? Is the movie even a true portrait of the East German secret police? German papers discuss."

Paul Matwychuk:

I love the way Martin Scorsese looks these days. He's barely recognizable as the same intense, Mephistophelean guy in those photos taken on the set of Taxi Driver or Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore or The Last Waltz, with that black, incongruously aristocratic beard and those hard, dark little eyes—there's a cruel, brooding expression on his face, as if someone already told him he'd have to wait 30 years before he would finally win an Oscar.

Nowadays, he's likable ol' Marty: everyone's favourite movie-crazy Italian uncle, with the Swifty Lazar eyeglasses, the Groucho Marx eyebrows, the Giorgio Armani suits and the world-beating grin.

"I'm sure Scorsese doesn't mind being referred to as a master of the crime movie; I also doubt that he would want that carved on his tombstone, either," adds Glenn Kenny. "By my count, out of the twenty fictional feature films he's made, only three of them can be described as out-and-out gangster movies."

"Gore - the son of a senator himself - was raised for the presidency. But for the moment at least, he is showing all the irritating signs of a man at peace with himself," writes Richard Cohen in the Washington Post. "With an Oscar in his fist and triumph on his face, Al Gore is a man you can tell your kid about. That, maybe, is even better than being president."

Updates, 2/28: Conservatives and libertarians are lambasting Gore for the amount of energy his household uses. Ed Pilkington has a longish report; also in the Guardian, Jeremy Kay on The Departed's successful marketing campaign and Kira Cochrane: "Mirren is great in many ways but the more she goes on and on about her deep love for our monarch, the more admiration turns to queasiness."

Geoffrey Macnab takes a good long look at Scorsese's career in the Independent.

At ScreenGrab, Leonard Pierce samples a bit of right-wing live-blogging at Libertas.

Spender Morgan gets folks talking about the "luncheons, pre-parties, after-parties and after-after-parties" for the New York Observer. More from Simon Doonan: "On the evening of Feb 25, the dykes invaded Hollywood.... These gals were hosting, vamping, performing songs, being nominated for awards - and winning! - and they were positively chewing up that red carpet with their non-stop glamour." And Andrew Sarris: "For my money, [Ellen DeGeneres] was the most effective Oscar MC ever - better even than Bob Hope or Billy Crystal."

Robert Abele shares his notes in the LA Weekly.

"Why wasn't a single reference to George W. Bush made by anyone - including Ellen DeGeneres in her gently laid-back stand-up routines?" asks Jonathan Rosenbaum. He's not taking this issue lightly, either.

"Dubbed the most international Oscars in years, Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony shall be remembered, at least by this writer, as one of the most culturally ignorant on record," writes Tim Wong in the Lumière Reader.

"See, this wouldn't be a big deal if people like Tom Shales weren't actually influential." Ryan Wu talks back to the Washington Post TV critic.

Alternet's Joshua Holland passes along Andy Borowitz's "Onion-esque report": "Supreme Court Gives Gore's Oscar to Bush."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:51 AM | Comments (9)

February 25, 2007

Offscreen. Vol 11, Issue 1.

VIFF 25 "Two of Offscreen's pet subjects make up the bulk of this first issue of 2007, Asian and Canadian cinemas," writes editor Donato Totaro, who also has a piece on online viewing: "The evolution of film exhibition has, in a sense, come full circle."

Mike Archibald:

The Dragons and Tigers Programme at the Vancouver International Film Festival has long been in the forefront for the reception of East Asian cinema in the English-speaking world. Under the stewardship of programmer Tony Rayns, the section has brought many Westerners into first contact with filmmakers like Jia Zhangke, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Tsai Ming-Liang, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Hong Sang-Soo. As East Asia has risen to prominence in the world cinema scene in the last 20 years, many of its leading lights have had their Western debuts here in Vancouver. There is a double sadness to report this year, however: this is Rayns' last year programming Dragons and Tigers and, unfortunately, this year's line-up left something to be desired. The lack of quality in the featured films had several factors behind it - certain titles couldn't be acquired, according to reports; several past masters showed signs of slipping (Tsai, Jia and Apichatpong all turned in inferior product this year); and the prevalence of amateurish and derivative "indie" fare, for starters. But I think the malaise seen at this year's D&T event speaks to a much larger problem, one with implications that reach beyond East Asian film into the larger realm of international art cinema. The problem is one of film style.

Also: After discussing nuts-and-bolts issues (e.g., what's "indie" in China?), Archibald asks Tony Rayns about this stylistic tendency.

Peter Harcourt: "Somewhat like Godard's eight-part video essay, Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988-1998), [Jean Pierre] Lefebvre's five-part L'Âge des Images (1993-1995) addresses the failure of cinema to sustain its early promise - Godard in terms of the high culture of 19th-century aesthetics; Lefebvre in terms of the social caring that characterized the early cinema of Quebec."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:17 AM

PIFF Dispatch. 7.

DK Holm on four more films that have screened at the Portland International Film Festival, wrapping tonight.

The Treasure of the White Falcons You know that torture as a plot device has gotten out of hand when it has drifted down to a German kids' films.

The torture scene occurs about 40 minutes into The Treasure of the White Falcons (Der Schatz der weissen Falken) when the girl bully Marie (Victoria Scherer) who is the leader of a gang of townies captures one of the "townhousies," a kid whose group of friends are richer. Marie and her friends have tied him to a tree and are trying to elicit info from him, raining knuckle sandwiches on the lad. But as we all now know, torture doesn't work, and the kid collapses, primarily because he needs an insulin shot.

The main character is Jan (David Bode), and he and his two friends embark on an adventure as their summer is coming to an end, at which time Jan and his family move away. Their mission is to find the "treasure" that an earlier generation of male friends left somewhere in or near a nearby castle. One day they trek to the castle, with Marie and her deputies in pursuit. Their search culminates in a toothless version of The Descent, and Jan learns his life lessons. The bulk of the film is one huge flashback as the adult Jan tells his daughter the story of this one summer, by way of explaining why they have stopped at a cemetery on a snowy day.

It's a peculiarity of the Portland International Film Festival that there always seem to be three or four German kids films on offer, and Christian Zûbert's film, though it is from 2005, is one of this year's representatives. It's a very Disneyfied tale, a lesson-filled story of transition from youth to a first experience of separation and loss and, in the end, is fine for what it is, but Falcons hardly qualifies for the high profile that placement in a film festival bestows.

In the Pit One of several Mexican films in this year's selection, In the Pit (En el Hoyo) is a documentary that examines the lives of numerous construction workers erecting a new traffic-diverting bridge in Mexico City. It must be said that, for all his bravery as a cinematographer, Juan Carlos Rulfo's film plays into residue notions of construction workers from the 1960s, with their hooting at women passing by below, and their tendency to make assertions such as that "being a faggot" is the lowest form of work. It's noble to let the working men speak for themselves, and some of them have interesting off hours amusements (one named Vincencio Vazquez races horses), but the film is satisfied to dwell on the hardships of their jobs rather than also explore the political and economic climate that surrounds such a massive undertaking. A few of the workers are frank about the corruption of everyday life in Mexico, but these views end up having no more currency than folklore or urban myths. On the other hand, the AV Club's Scott Tobias liked the film as did Slant's Nick Schager.

Mystic Ball Mystic Ball [site] is an engaging if limited documentary about one Canadian man's growing obsession with a little known sport. Greg Hamilton, a musician and martial artist, caught sight of a man in a park one day practicing Chinlone, an obscure Asian sport, and became so entranced that he spent the next two decades trying to master it, even to the extent of visiting and studying under its foremost practitioners in Myanmar. Working up a world tour of the sport's stars and the creation of this movie are other expressions of his love of the sport, which is a cross between hacky sack and soccer, with complex counter-intuitive foot moves. As a filmmaker, Hamilton's focus is so precise that he has no time for, say, the political conditions of countries such as Thailand or Myanmar (formerly Burma) where the sport thrives. The bare bones straightforwardness of the film highlights Hamilton's enthusiastic personality. Jason Anderson, writing at Eye Weekly, finds the film "lovely" and eFilmCritic Jason Whyte is equally enthusiastic.

It's surprisingly how closely The Host (Gwoemul, which means "creature") hews to the conventions of the Godzilla films, while at the same time deviating from them powerfully but without consequently losing the audience. The monster is formed by mankind (or at least Americans in the form of a doctor in a US Army morgue, Scott Wilson, who orders his Korean underling to pour formaldehyde down an open drain - and directly into the Han River - in defiance of Korean law).

In fact, you could call this film Little Miss Sunshine Meets Gojira, as a dysfunctional family hops into a van in order to help a little girl. It's six years since the chemical waste disposal, and a bizarre aquatic lizard-like creature has emerged from the Han River (and early in the film, about 10 minutes in). It chases people down streets and flings them about. A child is a terrified witness to the carnage.

The Host The family in the van includes the blonde-dyed Park Gang-Du (Kang-ho Song), an irresponsible single father who lives and works with his father in a riverside food hut (if the movie were American and made several years ago, this part would have been taken by Steve Zahn, Philip Seymour Hoffman or Jack Black). Also in the van are his father, his brother, and his sister, who happens to be an Olympic archer whose Achilles Heel is hesitation. They go in search Gang-Du's daughter (the adorable Ko A-sung), who has been scooped up by the monster during its initial spree, and been stashed Alien-like within the interstices of one of the river's many bridges.

The Host sports convincing special effects (manufactured in an American studio) and comic set pieces, one of which mocks the public grieving process. Where the film departs from the Japanese model is in the elegiac music as the monster is felled, and the somberness of the end (not to give too much away, but director Joon-ho Bong takes a page out of the Guillermo del Toro playbook). Like Jimmy Stewart at the end of Vertigo, Gang-Du has matured but at a cost. In the film's beginning, he irresponsibly hands his daughter a can of Hite, an alcoholic beverage, while watching a sporting event on TV. But in the film's closing images, Gang-Du, reformed, lays out a full meal for his young charge, and turns off the TV set. There's something intensely poignant about the gesture.

Robert Keser (Bright Lights) and Darcy Paquet (Koreanfilm.org) offer detailed and enthusiastic reviews.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:09 AM

Césars, Razzies, etc.

Lady Chatterley "An adaptation of DH Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover was named France's best film of 2006 and landed four other honors at the César awards Saturday, the French equivalent of the Oscars," reports the AP. Related earlier pointers: Emmanuel Burdeau in Cahiers, Nick James in the Observer, Dennis Lim at indieWIRE and AO Scott in the New York Times.

Some will be pleased and some will be horrified to hear that Little Miss Sunshine has won over the French as well. It won best foreign film.

Joe Leydon: "To the surprise of absolutely no one in attendance at the 27th annual Golden Raspberry Awards in Los Angeles last night, Basic Instinct 2 earned top dishonor as Worst Picture of 2006."

Meanwhile, the Spirit Awards and Oscar countdown entries are and will be updated - somewhat and massively, respectively.

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

February 24, 2007

Smells like...

Sundance 2006 "Little Miss Sunshine and Half Nelson, two films that emerged from the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, were the biggest winners at Film Independent's Spirit Awards today." Eugene Hernandez has more at indieWIRE.

Updated through 2/25.

Updates, 2/25: Susan King's story for the Los Angeles Times is accompanied by a set of photos.

Rebecca Winters for Time: "Host Sarah Silverman began by reminding the audience of the event's significance in the film world: 'If a bomb went off here,' the comic said, 'There would be no one left to make a documentary about it.'"

"Did I call it or what?" asks Anthony Kaufman. "Just about every winner was the highest grossing film in that category."

Ten observations from Anne Thompson.

Nikki Finke's spicy live blog.

Michael Guillén comments.

Pix from Matt Dentler and Jeffrey Wells.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:58 PM

Weekend shorts.

Zodiac "A remarkable feat of concentration, Zodiac is a fully mature triumph," raves Nathan Lee in the Voice. "Talk to [David] Fincher and he'll tell you he just wanted to tell a damn good story. Mission accomplished. Yet it's his very lack of pretense, coupled with a determination to get the facts down with maximum economy and objectivity, that gives Zodiac its hard, bright integrity. As a crime saga, newspaper drama, and period piece, it works just fine. As an allegory of life in the information age, it blew my mind."

More via Jeffrey Wells: James Verniere in the Boston Herald: "This is the GoodFellas of psycho-killer thrillers." Benjamin Svetkey has backgrounder in Entertainment Weekly. More raves: Variety's Todd McCarthy and the Hollywood Reporter's Michael Rechtshaffen.

David Poland reports that Francis Ford Coppola invited Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese - you know, a few old friends - to be among the first to see Youth Without Youth on Thursday night: "Word is that the film is 'good, but very difficult.' Works for me."

Eleven years since his last, Raúl Ruiz introduces his new volume, Poetics of Cinema 2:

Poetics of Cinema 2

What I write today is rather more of a consolatio philosophica. However, let no one be mistaken about this, a healthy pessimism may be better than a suicidal optimism. 'Light, more light,' were Goethe's last words as he died. 'Less light, less light,' Orson Welles cried repeatedly on a set - the one and only time I saw him. In today's cinema (and in today's world) there is too much light. It is time to return to the shadows. So, about turn! And back to the caverns!

Babel's got David Denby thinking in the New Yorker: "JB Priestley, putting into practice arcane theories about the simultaneity of past, present and future, juggled time frames in his theater work in the 1930s and 40s. Harold Pinter, in Betrayal, his 1978 play about a love affair gone sour, ran time backward, from the bitter present to the happy past. But the current cycle of disordered narratives - in movies, at any rate - began with Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino's malevolently funny pop masterwork from 1994." But: "Babel feels like the first example of a new genre - the highbrow globalist tearjerker." On the one hand, Denby prefers the "open form" of L'Avventura: "[I]t didn't play around with time sequences, but it altered our sense of how life works." On the other hand, "Straightforward chronology driven by cross-cutting among parallel actions, a technique that was invented by DW Griffith almost a hundred years ago... still may be the best way of leading us to the paradise of a morally complicated but flawlessly told story."

"But what is tenderness?" asks Emmanuel Burdeau in a review of Lady Chatterley. "On the scale of the entire film, it is conceived rather easily: what could have been a melodrama - love against society - is here not a genre, just an affirmation of life." Also in Cahiers du cinema: Burdeau on "terrible ironist of the possible" Alain Resnais's Coeurs (Private Fears in Public Places).

Black Snake Moan "[I]t's two incongruous movies mushed together - half of a chitlin-circuit drive-in double-bill meets a sympathetic small-town melodrama. You can enjoy the curiosity of the combination, but Black Snake Moan isn't quite a prime specimen of either of its components," writes Nick Pinkerton in Stop Smiling.

Dax-Devlon Ross: "Five Films That Shaped Black America in the 90s." Via Bryan Whitefield at ScreenGrab, where Kent M Beeson reviews Kim Newman's Nightmare Movies: A Critical Guide to Contemporary Horror Films and Bilge Ebiri points to CHOW's list of the ten best food scenes.

Filmmaker Nezar Hussein sends a note from Baghdad. Also: Graydon Carter introduces GOOD's list of the "51 Best Magazines Ever."

Despite the success of the Three Amigos, the Mexican film industry is, to put it mildly, "troubled." Lorenza Muñoz and Reed Johnson report. Also in the Los Angeles Times, Paul Pringle notes that "the Spirit Awards ceremony is subsidized by taxpayers as a charitable service, much like American Red Cross shelters and skid row soup kitchens." And "philanthropy watchdogs" are not happy.

"In Bambi vs Godzilla, a collection of tough-minded essays about the film business, [David Mamet,] the award-winning playwright turned screenwriter and director posits a 'repressive mechanism' to account for our appetite for dramas that have ceased to be dramatic and entertainments that barely entertain," notes Walter Kirn. "'The very vacuousness of these films is reassuring,' he writes, comparing them to the expensive weapons systems whose presence makes us feel secure in other ways. These filmed extravaganzas send the message that 'you are a member of a country, a part of a system capable of wasting $200 million on an hour and a half of garbage. You must be somebody.'"

Also in the New York Times:

The Abandoned

  • AO Scott on The Abandoned: "Slinking into theaters yesterday without critics' screenings or much advance publicity, it is less frightening than puzzling. Through the murk and gloom of its images, a mystery emerges: why didn't this go straight to DVD?" Cinematical's Scott Weinberg finds it "dry, redundant and entirely bereft of cinematically salable components." Robert J Lewis had a different take in September: "Cowritten with Montreal Fantasia cofounder Karim Hussain and the talented - and woefully underemployed - filmmaker Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil), The Abandoned takes its key cues from Herk Harvey's Carnival of Souls and Lucio Fulci's The Beyond but to dismiss it as just another homage does a great disservice to the considerable skill of its director, [Nacho Cerdà,] who displays a mastery of his tools that betrays his lean filmography (not to mention commitment: he nursed his debut through eight years of development)."

  • Roberta Smith on the works of one of the greatest living photographers, Jeff Wall: "These are outright gorgeous, fully equipped all-terrain visual vehicles, intent on being intensely pleasurable while making a point or two about society, art, history, visual perception, the human animal or all of the above." Trân Dúc Vân attended the opening night party for the MoMA retrospective (tomorrow through May 14) and files a diary entry for Artforum.

  • Peter Keepnews reviews Howard Pollack's George Gershwin: His Life and Work and JD Biersdorfer reviews Jennifer Ouellette's The Physics of the Buffyverse.

Damnation Jeff Reichert at Reverse Shot: "Damnation, which preceded Sátántangó and marks the beginning of the recognizable [Béla] Tarr aesthetic - a world of cinematographer Gábor Medvigy's beautiful blacks and whites, where shots generally equal sequences allowing ample space for composer Mihály Vig's yearning themes to roam and where novelist and screenwriter László Krasznahorkai's words pit melancholy against absurdity for narrative primacy - isn't a bad place to start examining Hungary's most prominent filmmaker. Imagine mating the quotidian impulses of early Jarmusch with Lynch's baroque chiaroscuro in some of kind of post-Communist Double Indemnity, and you'd wind up not far from Damnation, the most narratively rigorous (while still remaining tantalizingly oblique) and least lengthy of Tarr's films that I've seen."

Jeff GP at the Six-Reel Shuffle: "Largely due to the bravura performance of Tomas Milian... The Big Gundown stakes its place as arguably the greatest non-Sergio Leone spaghetti western (Lee Van Cleef's strongest performance, a glorious score from Ennio Morricone, no-nonsense direction from Sergio Sollima and the intellectually complicated subject matter may also contribute)."

Bill Gibron announces the first annual SEALS, i.e., the best films of the year according to Short Ends and Leader at PopMatters. Best Film: The Prestige.

Online listening tip #1. The Observer's Philip French talks with Clint Eastwood.

Online listening tip #2. Michael Kress interviews Billy Bob Thornton and Virginia Madsen for beliefnet.

Online viewing tip #1. Ryan Wu's found a machinima reenactment of the first part of Hou Hsiao-hsien's Three Times.

Online viewing tip #2. Terry Gilliam talks about Brazil. Via wood s lot.

Online viewing tips #3 and #4. Steve Kurtz Waiting. Via Mark Frauenfelder at Boing Boing, where Cory Doctorow points to an amazing little short by Jarratt Moody and to the latest from Save the Internet.

Online viewing tip #5. Phil Morehart at Facets Features: "Start the weekend off right with the crazy-insane footwork of the Nicholas Brothers in the 1943 classic, Stormy Weather."

Online viewing tips. Like trailer mash-ups? CineFile Video's got a few. The highlight: Something Blue.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:46 PM

Weekend fests and events.

Lillian Ross: Reporting Back On the occasion of Pictures in Print: Lillian Ross & the Movies, a series at MoMA running through Wednesday, Matt Zoller Seitz offers a fine appreciation:

Although Ross turned down offers in the early 1950s to go to Hollywood and become a screenwriter, her knack for setting a scene and capturing a life in small gestures makes her best work read like documentary film on paper, with or without the screenplay tags and shot lists that mark some of her better known pieces. Her writing can be witheringly cold in its account of people making fools of themselves, but it's balanced with warm admiration for artists whose craft expresses their personalities.

Related: Ross is a recent guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Also at the House Next Door: Odienator previews Film Forum's RKO Lost & Found, through March 1.

The Oxford American is inviting anyone near Little Rock on March 15 to stop by for the premiere of the magazine's first DVD, "a 'visual mixtape' featuring short films, scenes from essential Southern movies, historic footage, spectacular surprises, and much more." The event will coincide with the release of the OA's upcoming "Southern Movie" issue. In the current issue, by the way, Barry Hannah: "In noir, doom rules the mood. It is perhaps the one consistent noun of the literature, running wild over both the good and the shady. The apt weather is one of destruction, with characters staring at a void, hands empty and reaching without a tool to confront the oncoming night where more grief and terror lurk."

"The UCLA Film and Television Archive has long wanted to audiences to know just how rich and diverse a collection it is," writes Susan King in the Los Angeles Times. So they've come up with the idea of having film directors program series. The first: Curated By... Guy Maddin.

Flandres Acquarello previews two entries in the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series: Flanders and Blame It on Fidel. Related, Daniel Kasman: "[Bruno] Dumont's formal minimalism rarely results in simple-minded films, but in Flanders the director has whittled down his content to a particularly inane, reductive fable based on the notion that people are beasts."

Michael Guillén: "On March 1-4, 2007, The International Center for the Arts / Doc Film Institute of San Francisco State University is presenting a four-day event, Witness to War: Documentary Perspectives: WWII to Iraq, that will feature two consecutive evenings of onstage appearances by acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns."

Filmbrain's third entry in his Berlinale diary: "Two names that stood out in this year's (dare I say it?) mediocre competition lineup were Jacques Rivette and Jirí Menzel - key figures from the French and Czech nouvelle vague that are, fortunately for us, still making fine films." Andrew all but apologizes for being so late with these reviews, but he's still got the jump on me. An entry or entries on the films I caught will appear, soon as I catch up with everything else.

Online viewing tip. You can tell a lot about a festival by the stars its producer chooses to hang with.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:06 PM

PIFF Dispatch. 6.

Ten Canoes DK Holm takes on three more films screening at the Portland International Film Festival.

If, as the screenwriting gurus say, narration is verboten, the easy way out of narrative engine problems, what to make of Ten Canoes [site]? We know what film award-giving bodies have made of it: Rolf de Heer's film won numerous Australian Film Institute and other Australian film body awards, including best screenplay, and won the Un Certain Regard Special Jury Prize in Cannes. And this film is all story.

An unnamed narrator (David Gulpilil) offers to present a 1000-year-old episode in the history of his people, the Ramingining Aborigines, situated in Arnhem Land in northern Australia. And his narrative style is straight out of the offbeat or modernist storytelling tradition of Laurence Sterne and Nabokov, John Barth and Robert Coover, with tales within tales, digressions and parallelisms. He jokes, makes false starts, and admits it when he doesn't actually know what happened next.

Essentially, he's telling the tale of a tribe elder, while on a canoe-building journey, attempting to impart a moral lesson to a randy youth through the use of fables. The tales and the observational humor are surprisingly earthy. This is no elegiacally noble film about the stern dignity of early mankind. That said, the photography by Ian Jones far outshines the multiple stories themselves, which aren't particularly interesting on their own. On the other hand, the cast of unknowns are robust and engaging. On the third hand, it's the kind of ethnographic film that probably only specialists want to view more than once, making it easier to admire in the abstract than enjoy in the present. A review and interview with the director are available from Richard Phillips at the World Socialist Web Site.

Into Great Silence Another big award winner (particularly at Sundance) is Philip Gröning's Into Great Silence (Die Große Stille), the filmmaker's meditation on the meditative life of monks who belong to the self-sustaining Carthusian Order, which demands a vow of silence and is located in isolation in the French Alps. In its nearly three-hour running time (169 minutes), the viewer sees the men silently pray, the snow falling in such thickness it obscures vision; bells ring, snow crunches, clocks tick, a jet is shown to be passing silently way up above, and faces are obscured by shadows and cowls, but for the first 20 or more minutes no human voice is heard. Then the ice begins to melt, flowers bloom, the monastery becomes more active, and the wind blows through the lush elms. The viewer is startled at one moment to see that one of the monks is wearing a watch. The takes are long, and fade out slowly. Occasional intertitles offer quotes that capture the philosophy of the Order, and in the end, one monk submits to an interview. Gröning was not allowed to bring modern electrical technology into the monastery, and so the film has the rustic look of, say, Kubrick's Barry Lyndon. In its silence and deliberateness, the movie itself is a test for the lifestyle it portrays.

The film is beautiful in its ascetic, pleasure-denying way. It's perhaps the Christian alternative to Yong-Kyun Bae's Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East? and, outside of a Bresson film, comes closet to penetrating the mysteries of extreme Christianity and its allure for some. The film is, of course, completely uncritical and does not inquire as to how certain bodily functions are endured and suppressed, nor does it explore the bizarre, contrary egotism of the monastic existance. Eye Weekly and another local view of the film are more positive.

Severance A poor man's Shaun of the Dead, Severance [site] is a horror or suspense comedy with an international flavor and a political message. And its premise is right out of traditional slasher films: a group of grouchily united individuals take a trip that turns deadly when they become the prey of mysterious killers. In this case, it is the employees of a munitions manufacturing corporation on a team-building retreat at the American CEO's lodge in Eastern Europe. What is interesting is that their nemeses are not random psychotics, but specific victims of the corporation, which only becomes clear later on. The victims and potential victims include an incompetent boss (Tim McInnerny), though even in incompetence he is no David Brent, an unlikely pothead (Danny Dyer), a nervous toady (Andy Nyman), an African assistant (Babou Ceesay), and two women, a brunette (Claudie Blakley) and a blonde (Laura Harris), who qualifies as the "final girl." The killers come in a gang of nine.

Director Christopher Smith (Creep) has a difficult time of it blending the horror and the humor, much less the politics and the satire. Quite simply, the film isn't as funny as it should or could be. When it is trying to be scary, it is wholly a horror film; when it is trying to be funny, it stops the scares and concentrates on humor. The tones are not reliably blended, as in Shaun.

In other words it is difficult to laugh when a woman is tied to a tree and ignited with flame and gas, or when a guy's leg is snapped off by a bear trap, or when the CEO accidentally blows an airliner out of the sky when he was aiming at the gang of nine. These moments aren't necessarily played for laughs, but also difficult to "enjoy" as horror elements. That the film quotes the same song (Vera Lynn singing the WWII tear-evoker "We'll Meet Again") at the end that Kubrick used to conclude Dr Strangelove only highlights the poverty of the satire.

Despite my demurral, however, Severance won some awards at a Korean horror fest, and both Variety's Derek Elley and Todd at Twitch have liked it.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:26 AM

February 23, 2007

Shorts, 2/23.

Thaweesak Srithongdee: Kee Ky "[T]he 10 names on the list read like a roll call of cutting-edge glitterati: New York-based artist Rirkrit Tiravanija; painter and designer Thaweesak 'Lolay' Srithongdee; filmmakers Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Wisit Sasanatieng; experimental video artists Sathit Satarasart and Porntaweesak Rimsakul; media and video installation artist Asst Prof Kamol Phaosavasdi; and veteran MV directors Monchanok Somjaipeng and Boonchai 'Giam-ee' Apintanapong." For the Bangkok Post, Kong Rithdee talks with Petch Osathanugrah about the ten videos he's commissioned for all ten songs on his album, Let's Talk About Love. Thanks, Peter!

James has the winners of the Bangkok Critics Assembly Awards at Kung Fu Cult Cinema.

"Sion Sono is following what is now a well-traveled career path for Japanese directors: First the indie debut that plays the international festival circuit (Bicycle Sighs in 1990), then the cult sensation taken up by the fan boys (Suicide Club in 2002), and finally the horror pic that hopefully makes your fortune: Exte." A profile for the Japan Times by Mark Schilling (free registration required). Via Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog.

Norma Rae "'A decent wage,' now there's a phrase that doesn't crop up too often." Robert Nathan and Jo-Ann Mort remember a landmark picture in the Nation. "Making Norma Rae in 1979 was hard enough; now it would probably be impossible. The country has changed. It's more difficult to build a mass movement for social and economic change, to find large numbers of Americans who care about social solidarity. If popular entertainment is, by definition, mass entertainment, what happens when no mass exists, when an insufficient number of people occupy cultural common ground? In that case, for whom would you make Norma Rae?"

Also for the Nation, Eric Alterman on The Coast of Utopia: "Ultimately, what I found most admirable about [Tom] Stoppard's [Alexander] Herzen was his consistent commitment to moderation while surrounded by revolutionary hotheads. For all his intellectual arrogance, he knew how much he didn't know; how much was, indeed, unknowable. 'History has no libretto,' Stoppard said when I asked him about the relationship between his politics and his plays. 'The only gatekeeper is chance.'"

Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader on Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property: "Ultimately [Charles] Burnett offers a remarkable gift: an intelligent sense of relativity."

"The people coming into the courtyard to be witnesses knew that they would not change their lives that day, but they got to say what they had to say," Abderrahmane Sissako tells Vanessa Walters, who also talks with Danny Glover about Bamako. Also in the New Statesman, Ryan Gilbey's Berlinale report: "[O]n the fourth day of the festival came the most pleasant surprise: Tarsem Singh's visually ravishing, emotionally draining fantasy The Fall."

"Under the Mud is, in every sense, a community film, made for what producer Roy Boulter describes as 'the bog-roll budget for most big films,'" writes Helen Walsh. Boulter calls it "'social surrealism.' In fact, Under the Mud is a wonderful, magical, uplifting tale of one ordinary day in the life of an extraordinary working-class family - or vice versa."

Also in the Guardian, David Teather on the roll of big banks into big budgets and Ryan Gilbey's interview with Steven Soderbergh.

Plus, lots of news on what's up-n-coming involving George Clooney, Cate Blanchett and Wes Anderson; Frances McDormand; possibly Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren and, in a roundabout way, Alfred Hitchcock; Neil Jordan; and Barry Levinson.

The Black Cat

Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff
in The Black Cat

David Bordwell presents a virtual roundtable: "Over three days earlier this month, there was a lightning round of exchanges on B films. With the permission of the participants, I'm posting highlights of the correspondence here because it exemplifies one way in which the Web can advance film studies."

"Yesterday, in LA, in partnership with the insurance company, Media/Professional, and LA lawyer Michael Donaldson, we (the Stanford CIS Fair Use Project) made a major announcement," blogs Lawrence Lessig. "In my just about 10 years working on these issues, this is the most important announcement yet.... the Fair Use Project has now found a way to insure films that follow the Best Practices guidelines. For films that are certified to have followed the Best Practices guidelines, Media/Professional will provide a special (read: much lower cost) policy; Stanford's Fair Use Project will provide pro bono legal services to the film." Take a look at the project's advisory board, too. Via Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing.

In the New York Times:

Starter for Ten

"In the credits, no screenwriter is listed, as if the film were born in the sole, tactile rapport between beings and things, without the necessity of a linguistic construction," writes Jean-Michel Frodon, reviewing Benoît Jacquot's L'Intouchable in Cahiers du cinema. "But all the tunnels, underground passages and sensual correspondences would never suffice without this mysterious force that makes meaning and affect circulate under the skin of the cinema that one calls incarnation. The physical presence of Isild Le Besco becomes the principal medium (in the magical sense) of this composition."

"Part of the charm of a Brakhage film is the witnessing of the changes that the cinematic apparatus imposes on the film print; the vulnerability and mutability of the medium is a definite concern of Brakhage. But Brakhage was also committed to the democratization of film, to the naturalization of the medium, and to the study of film as texts much like poems and prose." Liza Palmer on By Brakhage. Also in Film International, Daniel Herbert on Essential Brakhage: Selected Writings on Filmmaking: "Comprised of essays, lecture transcriptions, manifestos, shooting scenarios, and even rough notes by the filmmaker, the book provides first-hand illumination of his artistic ambitions and critical insights."

Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat: "Up there on the shelf with the greatest rock movies of all time - you know, the shelf with Help!, A Hard Day's Night, Monterey Pop and The TAMI Show - there's a place for Performance (now on DVD for the first time) and Don't Look Back (newly available in a remastered single-disc edition for 20 bucks or a two-disc-plus-book-plus-geegaw version for 50)."

Brendan Kiley in the Stranger on Becket: "It is a serious movie, but between the smart script and two-part harmony of [Peter] O'Toole and [Richard] Burton, it's also really, really fun."

Outlaw

"Outlaw isn't just another film about the lives and crimes of all-powerful gangsters," writes Alice Jones. "Rather its subject is their victims - ordinary people whose lives have been destroyed by extraordinarily violent crime." Also in the Independent: James Mottram interviews Antonio Banderas.

Susan King previews local goings on in the Los Angeles Times.

Berliners: Ed Ward recommends an installation at the DAAD Galerie.

"A new TV series from Steven Spielberg and reality mogul Mark Burnett that offers aspiring filmmakers a $1 million studio contract will air this spring." The AP reports.

"Writer, painter and art collector Lothar Günther Buchheim has died at the age of 89. His autobiographical novel Das Boot became a worldwide bestseller and a successful film." The dpa reports (in German).

Online viewing tip. Anne Thompson has a terrific piece in the Hollywood Reporter on the four-minute short Errol Morris is making for Oscar Night. At the Risky Biz Blog, she points to his 2002 classic. Meanwhile, the "Oscar countdown" entry carries on with updates all day, every day up through Sunday.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:29 AM

February 22, 2007

Shorts, 2/22.

The Rape of the Sabine Women "Like the Neo-Classical history paintings on which it is based, Eve Sussman's film The Rape of the Sabine Women never lets you forget that it is serious art," writes Roberta Smith in the New York Times. "Extravagantly beautiful, endlessly noble and largely devoid of humor, it self-consciously pushes every aspect of movie-making toward sensorial overload."

"Biggest problem with a life spent in adoration of classic movies is the fact you'll never get that rocker punch folks received when these things were new." Another outstanding entry at Greenbriar Picture Shows from John McElwee.

"Read the comments section of any site with 4,000 hits a day and it's the sort of slow death that the journalist Tim Cahill memorably describes as being 'pecked to death by ducks.'" But Ray Pride, writing for Newcity, finds moments of reprieve and hope an "aware and worldly film criticism." Meanwhile, Jim Emerson's been reviewing past debates over Pauline Kael.

Scott Raab profiles Robert Downey Jr for Esquire.

"And after a decade of dissipation, slacker films appear to be enjoying a renaissance," suggests Marisa Meltzer at Slate.

The Assault "Fons Rademakers, whose 1986 movie De Aanslag (The Assault) won an Academy Award as best foreign language film, died Thursday of emphysema at age 86, his son said." The AP reports.

Chuck Tryon on Looking for an Icon, which "explores the iconic power of four of the photographs that won 'World Press Photo of the Year'... The narratives of the photographers themselves were often quite powerful, suggesting the complicated role of the photographer in documenting history, questions that continue to confront us as the war in Iraq continues to haunt us with no end in sight."

"Dead Daughters is far more arthouse than grindhouse," writes Todd at Twitch.

Daniel Kasman: "[Bruno] Dumont's formal minimalism rarely results in simple-minded films, but in Flanders the director has whittled down his content to a particularly inane, reductive statement fable based on the notion that people are beasts."

Ella Taylor meets James McAvoy. Also in the LA Weekly, Scott Foundas on The Number 23 and Rob Nelson on Julien Temple's Glastonbury.

Amazing Grace "Even if the film is an educational summary about [William] Wilberforce's legacy and the tangled politics of his era, Amazing Grace's antiseptic hagiographic mode hasn't earned it the right to the title and music of a song that had become so closely linked to a people's emancipation," writes Michael Joshua Rowin at indieWIRE. More from Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly.

Ed Gonzalez on The Cats of Mirikitani: "With scant rage for the system that destroyed [artist Jimmy Mirikitani's] family and career, [director Linda] Hattendorf humanely devotes herself to guiding Jimmy past his pain. Together they pave a symbolic path toward healing that is an inspiration to us all."

Also in Slant:

Commune "traces a clear arc from the back-to-nature communal experience to the shape of progressive politics and culture today," writes Robert Avila at SF360.

Shawn Badgley talks with filmmakers Henriette Mantel and Steve Skrovan about An Unreasonable Man. Also in the Austin Chronicle: Marc Savlov on the latest Hitchcock box set and Kimberley Jones on David Mamet's Bambi vs Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business. Related: For Bloomberg, Rick Warner talks with Mamet. Via Movie City News.

The latest on Days of Glory: Eric Kohn in the NYP and Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper.

Bill Gibron launches a new series on the PopMatters blog, Short Ends and Leader: "A Beginner's Guide to Exploitation: The Gore-Gore Girls."

The Astronaut Farmer Matt Singer at the Reeler: "The Astronaut Farmer remains light and pleasant, like a warm summer day in the country or good afternoon nap."

"Don't worry too much about how long it takes for you to make your DIY film famous (at least in the indie world) and for the film to earn a significant amount of money (let's say over $100,000)," advises Sujewa Ekanayake, pointing to three examples of little films that could - over the long, long run.

"[W]hat took countless dollars and years of work to create was undone in just a few weeks by a hacker who in effect unlocked every single Blu-ray and HD DVD disc now in circulation." Bobbie Johnson considers the implications in the Guardian.

Online viewing tip. Rex Sorgatz sums this one up best: "You might remember how a few months ago Michel Gondry put a video of himself on YouTube solving a Rubik's Cube with his feet. That was followed by someone decoding how he performed this stunt. Well, now Gondry is back, solving a Rubik's Cube with his nose." Related: AICN runs an all but anonymous rave written after a test screening of Gondry's Be Kind Rewind, but you know, who knows. Hope so.

Online viewing tips. The best of January at No fat clips!!!.

Online viewing tips, round 2. "20 of the most amazing short animations you need to see before you die" at laboratory 101, via Thomas Groh.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:59 PM

Fests and events, 2/22.

Helmut Käutner Previewing the Harvard Film Archive's series The Lives of Others: Selected Films of Helmut Käutner (through February 27), Michael Atkinson is "awakened to a master's œuvre I hadn't known existed. I'll say it for the record: Helmut Käutner, as an eloquent narrative stylist, is the peer of his contemporaries William Wyler, Frank Borzage, Michael Powell and Vincente Minnelli. Maybe even - dare I say? - Ophuls and Rossellini. Maybe."

Also in the Boston Phoenix, Peter Keough: "Maybe it's a stretch, but I'd call German director Michael Hofmann's three features, which are screening in a retrospective at the Museum of Fine Arts, a kind of Mundane, as opposed to Divine, Comedy."

Neil Morris and Zack Smith preview this weekend's Nevermore Film Festival for the Independent Weekly.

Brecht, Kino Fist, London, Sunday. k-punk has the flyer. Owen Hatherley has a somewhat related online viewing tip or two.

SXSW (March 9 through 17) has announced that Park Chan-wook's I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK will close the festival (Park was "overwhelmed" by his experience in Berlin this year, by the way). SXSW's press releases notes that Cyborg "joins a list of newly added feature films on the lineup, including DJ Caruso's upcoming Paramount Pictures release Disturbia":

SXSW Film

Other new additions to the schedule include: Eric Chaikin's documentary A Lawyer Walks Into a Bar, Kris Carr's documentary Crazy Sexy Cancer and Shannon O'Rourke's documentary Maybe Baby. Meanwhile, in the previously announced "Retrospectives" section of the film festival, SXSW has announced a special Music Documentaries Retrospective to feature: Ron Mann's Imagine the Sound (1981), DA Pennebaker's Monterey Pop (1968), and Bruce Weber's Let's Get Lost (1988). Plus, SXSW will screen a remastered print of Eagle Pennell's 1979 classic The Whole Shootin' Match.

Marc Savlov in the Austin Chronicle: "Ways to Spend Your Time and Money in the Next Couple of Weeks."

Recent reviews from the Film Comment Selects series (through February 27):

  • Acquarello: "Kiyoshi Kurosawa's brooding, atmospheric, surreal, and sufficiently creepy, but woefully underformed and uncharacteristically messy horror film, Retribution unfolds with the formulaic familiarity of a haphazardly (and irregularly) sutured career retrospective digest." More from Daniel Kasman.

  • Towards the end of Kevin B Lee's piece at the House Next Door: "As much as I've tried to make a case for the logic behind the film's more puzzling elements, after one viewing I am not fully persuaded that Colossal Youth's many fragments cohere into a masterful whole."

In the Nashville Scene, Jim Ridley offers a pretty robust preview of the Nashville Film Festival (April 19 through 26).

Today's real Berlinale link: Criterion's Peter Becker snaps four cashews into tiny pieces to make them last over three hours. Yes, he did the marathon screening: "Berlin Alexanderplatz is one film, not a series of episodes strung together. There is no better way to see the film than all in one shot.... It might seem crazy to go out of your way for a fifteen-hour movie, but we went all the way to Berlin, and, I have to say, it was totally with the trip."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:05 PM

David Lynch, 2/22.

Flip through the virtual pages of another issue of another glossy - with David Lynch on the cover, no less (shot by Juergen Teller): the March issue of Art Review.

Art Review / The Air Is on Fire

The occasion: a "major show of Lynch's artwork," writes Skye Sherwin, "The Air Is on Fire - encompassing painting, photography, drawings, film, animation, installation and sound art from the 1960s to the present day - opens at the Fondation Cartier in Paris." March 3 through May 27. Sherwin: "He hasn't felt the need to show his art on a grand scale before, so why, I wonder, does he want to exhibit it now? 'Well... I didn't really want to," is his characteristically perverse response."

Updated through 2/26.

Update, 2/24: Simon Hattenstone interviews Lynch for the Guardian.

Update, 2/25: For the Observer, Sean O'Hagan tours the exhibition with Lynch.

Update, 2/26: "I've often thought of Lynch as a frustrated comedian and nowhere is it more apparent than in Inland Empire," writes Jason Shamai at the San Francisco Bay Guardian's blog, Pixel Vision. "My impatience with Inland Empire put me in mind of Claire Denis's recent film The Intruder, a similarly slippery story that avoids pissing away our good will by knowing just how long her audience can take a particular ride before getting ill. Sure, at 120 minutes it's not exactly a haiku, but every scene feels necessary. You trust the movie, trust that, even if her world isn't necessarily as seductive as Lynch's, it's a fully thought out world. It's narrative disjunction for grownups. And yet, for me, Lynch is where the real party is, which is why his ample missteps are so frustrating. He's already the favorite child - he doesn't need to pull so damned hard at my sleeve."

Posted by dwhudson at 10:47 AM

PIFF Dispatch. 5.

DK Holm sends along impressions of three more entries in the Portland International Film Festival.

Ahlaam One of the greatest passages in Thomas Hardy's epical poem, The Dynasts, contemplates the effect of Waterloo on the most innocent and unwilling of the battle's participants, the fowl and insects and creatures of the earth who are confused if not slain by the combat around them, below them, above them. Ahlaam (Dreams; site) looks at the Iraq war from the perspective of its most helpless witnesses, the inmates in a Bagdad psychiatric hospital. The horror around them is trebly terrifying to these damaged, fearful people.

Shot in 2004 amid the warfare, Mohamed Al Daradji's film begins with a prologue set in 2003 just before the government falls, then flashes back to 1998 and the proceeds to follow three people and how they ended up in the asylum. They are Ahlaam (Aseel Adel), a young woman delighted to finally have a date for her wedding; Ali Hussein Arahaif (Bashir Al Majid), a soldier taking up a position in the desert with his reluctant friend Hassan; and Mehadi Ali Al-Lami (Mohamed Hashim), a young student who is barred from bypassing military service for med school because of his party affiliation and his father's communist past. Soon, Ahlaam's wedding is disrupted by death, cracking her brain, and Ali is unjustly accused of desertion during Operation Desert Fox, with the the result that his right ear is cut off (graphically), and he is confined to a mental institution. They end up in the same place as Mehadi, who after all this time, has endured both military service and medical school to find a place in bedlam, an institution that still practices electroshock "therapy."

But at the 43-minute mark, the film jumps back to 2003. The city is being attacked from the air. Bombs hit the asylum, breaking it open. The confused, fearful inmates, unaware of what is going on, scatter. Mehadi tries to retrieve them, with the help of Ali, who's finally found a purpose. Unfortunately, terrible things happen to Ahlaam as she wanders the streets in a long, terrible, urgent sequence that brings the style and technique of Antonioni's great "city" films into the 21st century. Some small justice is served when the bombs dropped on the asylum interrupt the power (and Ahlaam's therapy) and kill the heartless doctor in charge of the institution. But from then forward, as Ahlaam's family desperately searches the streets for her, the film becomes grim beyond belief. For all its breaking news relevancy, the film ends inconclusively, the only way a film set in Bagdad right now can. As the tension winds tighter, the viewer may echo Ali, who mutters in the film's opening, "I want to leave. I don't want to leave."

Writing in Variety, Jay Weissberg found Ahlaam "worthy of true admiration."

Pao's Story A soap opera draped in colorful Festival garb, Pao's Story (Chuyen cua Pao) is a fine if slow paced tale of a young woman who gradually reconciles herself to her rural roots. Individual scenes are short, but the film feels longer than its 98 minutes, probably because in general, like a narcissist, it's rather smitten with its own beauty and elegance.

Ngo Quang Hai's award-winning debut is based on the tale "The Whisper of the Flute" by Do Bich Thuy and recounts the life of a girl born to a northern Vietnamese Hmong community, to the distress of the village as a whole, which was hoping for a son. After a prologue of an at-first mysterious content (a woman seemingly throwing herself into the sea), Pao's story formally begins, with Pao (Do Thi Hai Yen, of The Quiet American) narrating her life as we see it (successfully breaking yet again one of those many rigid modern screenwriting guru rules). Pao has a mean father, who mistreats the family dog, a long suffering mother who endures his coldness and vulgarity, another "mother" who comes and goes mysteriously, and later, a gentle suitor. There is usually a beautiful mountain backdrop, with pan flutes reminding us of the tale's simple dignity.

The village's backward beliefs are quietly criticized without being forcefully rebelled against by the central characters themselves, and the female leads are imbued with a greater sympathy, as per soap opera conventions. Audiences may laugh as a post-coital scene, set amid the flowers in moonlight, soars into a Morricone-esque musical riff with a chorus of women's voices trilling non-verbal notes, the art house equivalent of Dimitri Tiomkin telling us how to feel.

This is noble film festival-type material, celebrating as it does the dignity of man as he struggles against an unforgiving landscape, but the immature reactions and choices of the main character are likely to irritate more sophisticated audiences. This is the kind of faux-art filmmaking that needlessly underscores every point. It was brilliant of Fritz Lang, for example, to show the balloon caught in the phone wires in M as a synecdoche of a brutally murdered child. But in this film, you are shown both the symbol and the reference, as in a scene where Pao bemoans the departure of one of the characters to her mother washing clothes at the river bed and the we see a shot of some escaped clothes coursing down that same stream. End titles remind us that this is a true story, which is both unlikely and seemingly irrelevant. Ronnie Schieb has a more positive take in Variety.

37 Uses for a Dead Sheep 37 Uses for a Dead Sheep: The Story of the Pamir Kirghiz may be the trend of the future. No longer will we have simple "movies" in the old, conventional linear sense. We will have meta-movies, films that inscribe their own critique into the text itself, movies that juggle all of past moviedom, that recount their own making as they unfold. Surely Guy Maddin is one forerunner of this approach, as are his acolytes, who made the HP Lovecraft adaptation, The Call of Cthulhu. But probably the godfather of Ben Hopkins's engaging quasi-documentary, is, consciously or not, William Greaves's Symbiopsychotaxiplasm, a 60s film that incorporates details of its own making as it rolls along.

Broken into a number of chapters ("This Is the Way of the World," "Iron Nails"), 37 Uses summarizes the recent travails of this small, nomadic tribe, who used to roam all of central Asia, but are now more or less confined to eastern Turkey, partially because of globalization and partially because of their political conflicts with most of their "host" nations. Hopkins is omnipresent in the film, interviewing members of the tribe, and also shown directing some fictional films within the film about the Pamir Kirghiz, filling in their 20th century backstory (these inner films are themselves tricked up Maddin-like with iris outs, imposed scratches, and intertitles).

Yet for all the juggling of time frames and film styles, the essential narrative thread is always clear, and Hopkins's approach livens up the usually deadly surface of most ethnographic films; Robert Gardner, I suspect, would probably not care too much for 37 Uses for a Dead Sheep, but you never know. Other views: Leslie Felperin in Variety and Bilge Ebiri in New York.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:45 AM

Interview. Rory Kennedy.

Ghosts of Abu Ghraib Following its premiere at Sundance, Rory Kennedy's Ghosts of Abu Ghraib sees its television debut tonight on HBO. Michael Guillén's first question for Kennedy indirectly touches on a show that's sure to reap higher ratings: "Do you have any thoughts about the value of documentary as a corrective or instructive ameliorative against fictionalized torture porn?"

Particularly since Jane Mayer's profile of producer Joel Surnow in the New Yorker, it's a question being raised more and more urgently, and Kennedy doesn't hesitate a moment to pinpoint a direct correlation: "If you go to Iraq and somebody's torturing somebody like they torture them on 24, it's obviously inspired by that television show."

The series warrants a dishonorable mention in Alessandra Stanley's review of Ghosts in the New York Times as well. The problem with the show, she writes, "is not that it justifies torture but that it fosters the illusion that the American government is good at it." As for Ghosts, "the raw material never ceases to shock. How is it that a government that took such bold steps to reinterpret the Geneva Conventions and update the rules of combat did not pay closer attention to how its policy changes were carried out on the ground? The Pentagon didn't even manage to shield the worst excesses from public view."

Related: Michael Fox interviews Kennedy for SF360; and Kennedy's also a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Online viewing tip. Rory Kennedy's entry at the Huffington Post.

Earlier: "Sundance. Ghosts of Abu Ghraib."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:40 AM

February 21, 2007

Sam Peckinpah Blog-a-Thon.

Sam Peckinpah Sam Peckinpah would have turned 82 today. At [This Savage Art], William Speruzzi introduces the Blog-a-Thon:

"Always unpredictable and never tame, Peckinpah lived his life to make movies. Everything else was just filler. Today we celebrate this sometimes misunderstood, sometimes reviled loner auteur."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:46 PM

Shorts, fests, etc, 2/21.

Eastwood directing Letters From Iwo Jima Taro Goto, Assistant Director of the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, has not only been taking measure of Japanese responses to Letters From Iwo Jima for the San Francisco Bay Guardian but has also interviewed Kiyoshi Kurosawa, asking the director about his great admiration for Clint Eastwood: "I would say that right now he is about to surpass his spiritual and technical mentor, Don Siegel. Thanks to Eastwood's guiding hand, it's possible that cinema may be breaking away from a previously completed 'form' and entering completely new territory. That's a remarkable thing."

"Imagine delivering a script right into Liz Taylor's hands, reassuring Peter Lorre that he would not always be type-cast as a horror fiend, arguing with America's sweetheart, Donna Reed, about whether she should portray a murderess in her next picture. And how about Donald O'Connor tap-dancing into my office, running up the wall, flipping and sliding on to my desk in the splits? He'd cross his eyes and chirp, 'What's cookin', kid?'" In the Guardian, Clancy Sigal recalls his days as a Hollywood agent in the 50s, when his politics could have got him canned if his bosses hadn't determinedly looked the other way: "By day, I was a 'ten percenter' (alternatively, 'flesh peddler'); by night a radical organiser."

"Robert Altman, the pirate king of American filmmaking, was honored yesterday at the Majestic Theater in Manhattan by friends and colleagues including Lily Tomlin, EL Doctorow, Harry Belafonte, Julianne Moore, Kevin Kline and Tim Robbins," reports David Carr (more from ST VanAirsdale at the Reeler and Gregg Goldstein in the Hollywood Reporter). Also in the New York Times, Jeannette Catsoulis on Cocaine Angel: "Michael Tully's shambling observation of a day (and a bit more) in the life of Scott (Damian Lahey, who also wrote the wisp of a story) refuses to wallow in addiction angst."

Private Property "Nue propriété (Private Property) was part of my Best Films of 2006 list and will be released in France today (Wednesday), in Italy on March 16 and in the Netherlands on April 5." European-films.net editor Boyd van Hoeij talks with Belgian director Joachim Lafosse.

"A lot of the noteworthy work at this year's Berlin International Film Festival - good and bad - was by female directors or centered on memorable female characters," writes Dennis Lim. His Competition favorite: Jacques Rivette's Don't Touch the Axe (Ne touchez pas la hache).

Also at indieWIRE, Brian Brooks: "Novelist/director Paul Auster's The Inner Life of Martin Frost will open the 36th New Directors/New Films series slated for March 21 - April 1." A full list of titles and brief descriptions follows.

And Michael Koresky: "An 80s throwback, not just in its off-the-shoulder pink sweaters and heavily Cured soundtrack, but in its narrative rhythms and willfully wispy teen rom-com resolutions, Starter for 10 is so dead set on juvenilia that it could only possibly appeal to an adolescent audience - one that by now would undoubtedly be unable to fittingly revel in the film's generational hallmarks and touchstones." More from Jason Bogdaneris in the L Magazine, where Mark Asch offers his take on The Wayward Cloud.

The characters of Colossal Youth live "in the ever eroding margins of the visible, struggling to emerge from the liminal before receding into the shadows," writes acquarello.

"What Is It? is at once less gratuitous and more insipid than anybody has given it credit for," writes Michael Joshua Rowin at Reverse Shot. "[W]hile [Crispin] Glover's purpose is wholly sincere and even somewhat brave, his approach is totally wrong and his directorial skills remarkably insufficient for such a provocative task. In order to shape taboo busting into genuine subversion, the attitudes propelling What Is It? need a creative force whose sensibility matches his commitment. Glover is not that creative force."

"There's no avoiding naked hippies in a movie called Commune, but Jonathan Berman's documentary about the Siskiyou County enclave known as Black Bear Ranch is no mere nostalgia trip," writes Cheryl Eddy in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

"Let's help Opie out, cine-cynics!" proposes the cinetrix in reaction to the most bizarre remake news of the year so far: "What would you rename Cache?"

"Robert Redford, Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise in the same movie?!?" hollers Quint at AICN. Well, yes. Nicole Sperling has a few details in the Hollywood Reporter.

Having just hosted one, Jim Emerson reflects on the extent to which Blog-a-Thons ought to be run or simply left to run their own courses.

Online listening tip. "Here's the audio track from [Portrait of Jason] in its entirety, which works remarkably well like a good episode of This American Life would," writes Bret at CineFile Video.

Online viewing tip. The trailer for The Joy of Life.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:28 AM | Comments (1)

Interviews @ GC.

To catch up with a few of the things going on at the new main site: Jonathan Marlow asks Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck whether he perceives "the beginnings of a minor backlash" against The Lives of Others. Other topics touched on: The Conversation and whether or not an aspiring director should bother with making shorts or going to film school.

The Lives of Others / Bridge to Terabithia / Apartment Zero

Jonathan also asks David Paterson about adapting his mother's novel, The Bridge to Terabithia, and with David Koepp, "perhaps the most successful screenwriter working today" (Toy Soldiers, Jurassic Park, War of the Worlds, and just out on DVD, Apartment Zero). This last one's appropriately extensive and wide-ranging, but also loose enough to drop a slew of names.

Related:

Updated through 2/23.

  • Elbert Ventura at Reverse Shot: "Florian Henckel von Donnersmack's debut feature is hardly a bad movie, but it can't possibly bear the weight of the outsized praise heaped on it." Vince Keenan's impressed, though. Rob Nelson for the City Pages: "If the filmmaker commits a crime, it's in pushing the character's rehabilitation slightly too far - about as much as the weight of a teardrop." Meanwhile, for the Guardian, Hannah Booth has spoken with people the Stasi harassed, jailed, terrified.

  • Jeannette Catsoulis, writing in the New York Times, finds Bridge to Terabithia to be "a thoughtful and extremely affecting story of a transformative friendship between two unusually gifted children. The result is a movie whose emotional depth could appeal more to adults than to their offspring." More from Alex Chun in the Los Angeles Times and Kim Voynar at Cinematical.

  • "Martin Donovan's Apartment Zero (1988) made one of biggest indie splashes of the late '80s, co-opting primal Hitchcockian ingredients and going for broke," writes Michael Atkinson, who then explains how to play the Apartment Zero Game.

Updates, 2/23: Emily Bazelon in Slate on "the power of [Katherine] Paterson's story 30 years after it was written and its relevance for our addled child-rearing times."

For Der Spiegel, Lars-Olav Beier follows Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck on his Lives of Others Oscar campaign trail.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:20 AM

February 20, 2007

Shorts, 2/20.

Dreams of a Nation: On Palestinian Cinema "Since 1948, Palestinians have not only occupied the painful position of many oppressed peoples who are systematically displaced, disenfranchised, denationalized, brutalized and murdered; they have also been put in the awkward, even tragicomic, position of having to convince the rest of the world of their very existence," writes Alexander Provan for Stop Smiling. "This problem of visibility lies at the heart of Dreams of a Nation: On Palestinian Cinema, an illuminating, if incomplete, anthology of essays on the efforts of Palestinians to represent themselves to the world and to each other."

Sunday night's bombing of the Samjhauta Express that killed 66 passengers, mostly Pakistani traveling from India to Pakistan, lends a gruesome but immediate relevance to Rahul Dholakia's Parzania. The story hinges on the 2002 riots in Ahmedabad, India, sparked by another attack on a train that killed mostly Hindus. In the New York Times, Somini Sengupta reports that the film is being well-received: "But in Gujarat, the director's home state, theater owners have said it is too controversial and have refused to show it."

"Alain Resnais's Private Fears in Public Places was voted best Gallic film of 2006 by the French Union of Film Critics on Monday night," reports Lisa Nesselson for Variety. "The awards, first given in 1946, are voted on by the 200-plus members of the nationwide org."

Ray Pride points to Fionnuala Hannigan's interview for Screen International, downloadable as a PDF, with Harmony Korine in which he talks about the possible Cannes contender, Mr Lonely. Also, the Chicago Tribune's Mark Caro talks with Francis Ford Coppola about Youth Without Youth.

The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair In Vanity Fair, Michael Tucker, who's directed The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair with his wife, Petra Epperlein, tells the chilling, and frankly, infuriating story behind the doc, the story of Yunis, a journalist arrested in Baghdad (you may remember the scene in Gunner Palace) and held in Abu Ghraib for eight months on a charge that was never substantiated.

"In the film called Brazil, Michael Palin is the torturer as the civil servant who might conceivably have been doing something else, such as selling life insurance. In the country called Brazil, the same role was usually played by a psychopath." In Slate, Clive James probes the true nature of torturers, Palin's character as Tom Stoppard would have written him vs the character Terry Gilliam insisted on.

Three essays scored honorable mentions in the 2006 Frank Capra Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Film Criticism, and Film International is running them online: Dustin Griffin on "Isolationism in Dead Man Walking," Daniel Bulger on "Queer Cowboys: Alternative Space in Brokeback Mountain" and Katie Zerwas's "Two Takes on The Postman Always Rings Twice."

"Combining an immaculate, compartmentalized mise en scène with some of the most ambivalent and acid characterizations of human behavior, Elegant Beast is a knock-it-out-of-the-park winner that ought to prompt a [Yuzo] Kawashima retrospective were anybody in fact paying attention," writes Travis Mackenzie Hoover at the House Next Door.

Fires on the Plain Kon Ichikawa's "Fires on the Plain breathes death, and yet is tasteful enough not to rely on simple sleights of hand to invoke the horrors of war," writes Jeff Larson at the Six-Reel Shuffle.

Ron Dreher has a provocative piece in the Dallas Morning News on what the Bush administration could learn from Marshall McLuhan and The Queen. Via Metaphilm.

Nathan Lee in the Voice on The Wayward Cloud: "Sad to say, but the only thing more unfortunate than a Tsai Ming-liang film that fails to get a theatrical release is one that eventually does and sucks dick." Also: Ghost Rider and The Number 23, plus David Chute on The Royal Guard and Ella Taylor on Amazing Grace.

The AV Club's Noel Murray redefines the "good" in "a good movie."

In the Guardian, Richard Jobson interviews Ed Norton, Christopher Reed remembers movie songwriter Ray Evans, 1915 - 2007, and Haresh Pandya remembers composer Omkar Prasad Nayyar, 1926 - 2007.

Bob Thomas for the AP: "Janet Blair, the vivacious actress who appeared in several 1940s musicals and comedies, then turned to television and stars like Sid Caesar and Henry Fonda, has died. She was 85."

Online reading and viewing tip. Michael Agger's guide to machinima at Slate.

Online viewing tip #1. Bob Mitchell at the Silent Movie Theatre.

Online viewing tip #2. Victor Solomon's The Narrator. Via the Daily Reel.

Online viewing tip #3. James Longley at Zoom In Online - where Annie Frisbie talks with Criterion Technical Director Lee Kline and Paul Robeson box set producer Abbey Lustgarten (audio only on that one).

Posted by dwhudson at 3:05 PM

Fests and events, 2/20.

Film Comment Daniel Kasman has written six reviews so far on films screening in the Film Comment Selects series, running through February 27: Longing, These Encounters of Theirs, Tachigushi: The Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters, Exterminating Angels, Exiled and Colossal Youth.

Also, three from acquarello: Play It As It Lays, Summer Palace and Exterminating Angels.

Hollywood Bitchslap's already posted 15 interviews (and counting) with directors who've got films screening at SXSW.

Aaron Hillis offers sharp and succinct notes and reviews on 17 films he caught at the Berlinale. And this is just for starters; he saw 32 in all. Related: EXBERLINER editor D Strauss grades 15 catches. Plus: Dig deep into the Berlinale in German via angelaufen, filmzeit and OutNow.

The list of filmmakers working on three-minute shorts celebrating Cannes' 60th anniversary: Theo Angelopoulos, Olivier Assayas, Bille August, Jane Campion, Youssef Chahine, Chen Kaige, Michael Cimino, Ethan and Joel Coen, David Cronenberg, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Manoel De Oliveira, Raymond Depardon, Atom Egoyan, Amos Gitai, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Aki Kaurismäki, Abbas Kiarostami, Takeshi Kitano, Andrei Konchalovsky, Claude Lelouch, Ken Loach, Nanni Moretti, Roman Polanski, Raúl Ruiz, Walter Salles, Elia Suleiman, Tsai Ming-liang, Gus Van Sant, Lars von Trier, Wim Wenders, Wong Kar Wai and Zhang Yimou. Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay's wonders if the sum can possibly measure up to its parts.

Andy Horbal: "I've been itching to write about the Black Maria Film Festival since I returned from the Pittsburgh screening of their touring program this Saturday, and I offer this post now in the 'contrarian' spirit of championing contemporary 'unseen cinema.'"

Damnation

A Béla Tarr Trilogy - Damnation, Satantango and Werckmeister Harmonies - screens at BAM this weekend. Ed Halter: "Each shot becomes a mini-movie in itself, prying open a rare opportunity for deep contemplation, then filling it with the bitter antimatter of spiritual desolation." Also in the Voice, J Hoberman has the week scoped out.

Michael Tully's Cocaine Angel opens tomorrow for a week-long run at the Two Boots Pioneer in New York.

The New Haven Underground Film Festival is slated to run 18 hours straight on May 12, and at Bad Lit, Mike notes that it is not, at least intentionally, a shorts festival.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:25 PM

e-Cahiers du cinema.

e-Cahiers du cinema Flip through this, the "zero" issue of e-Cahiers du cinema, with the "e" standing for both "electronic" and "English."

Only around 20 pages of this issue are in English, but the next issue, appearing online on March 9, will appear translated front to back. The editors explain what they're up to: "This double evolution of Les Cahiers (the paper magazine plus the magazine on line, the French magazine plus the English edition) comes in response to the two great movements of our times, toward digital distribution and toward the globalization of the media."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:59 AM | Comments (15)

DVDs, 2/20.

Hollywoodland High time to catch up with some of February's releases. Following DK Holm's tour of the specialists' takes, a few extras.

Male film buffs of a certain age are plagued by a pernicious nostalgia for the old Superman TV show, which aired in syndication from 1952 to 1958, and then continued on in repeats well into the 1970s (ABC aired it during the show's last season). The show was probably more influential on the perception of the comic book character than the comic was, especially in emphasizing the sit-com like nature of the Daily Planet, and rendering most of the criminal life of Metropolis as mundane as Superman's foes in the earlier screen serials. Being lefties, Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had their hero originally doing battle with industrialists and politicians, but by the mid-1950s the comic had taken an intergalactic, science-fiction turn, with forays into parallel "imaginary tales" and dispatches from life on Bizarro world, but in the show Superman's foes were cheap hoods and con men.

This nostalgia for the simple tales of our youth has manifested itself most recently in the film Hollywoodland, a sentimental account of the life of the show's star, George Reeves (no relation, by the way, to Steve Reeves), played by Ben Affleck with easy going charm. A sort of LA Confidential Lite, with some tonalities of Ed Wood thrown in, Hollywoodland takes the viewer behind the scenes of life in show biz to reveal a struggling actor past his prime unable to capitalize on his cult fame while mixed up with behind-the-scenes power brokers beyond his ken. Directed by Allen Coulter of TV's The Sopranos from a script credited to Paul Bernbaum, the film posits a potential conspiracy to kill Reeves, who officially committed suicide in June of 1959. In the film, the case is investigated by a fictional, troubled private eye played by Adrien Brody.

The DVD came out on February 6, and Glenn Erickson, the DVD Savant, calls Hollywoodland a "complex neo-noir" that "goes in at least four directions at once, in two separate time frames" and feels that the film presents its movie lore "through the travails of an unsympathetic detective who must sort out his own domestic problems while trying to solve the mystery behind the death of every American kid's favorite hero. Hero worship confronts the big sell-out, as an entire town seems to position itself around the suspicious suicide." Extras on the disc include a commentary track by Coulter who focuses on "his directing choices and comes off as serious but not self-absorbed," plus some making ofs and deleted scenes.

At DVD Authority, Matt Brighton finds Hollywoodland lacking the "hard edge" of the similar LA Confidential, but "for those wanting a well-crafted murder mystery with some great performances, it's certainly worth a look." The anonymous reviewer at Current Film calls the film an "elegant and compelling mystery" and "a well-made, old-fashioned picture."

The Departed Coincidentally, The Departed, like Hollywoodland, is also a behind-the-scenes look at corruption and conspiracy and features in its vast cast Affleck's buddy Matt Damon. The Departed was one of the most anticipated films of last year, and now is one of the most anticipated DVDs of the month, arriving, on February 13, just in time to come to the aid of those people scrambling to get caught up with the best picture noms (Academy members have already voted, but they also receive free advance discs).

Randy Miller III of DVD Talk was one of the first to break out with a review of the two-platter Warner Bros release. "If you like your crime sagas bold, brash and bloody, this one's right up your alley," he writes of a film that is "partially fueled by precise editing and a blistering soundtrack." The two-disc version, however (there is also a single disc release, without extras), "feels a bit rushed," and comes with "a pair of loosely-related featurettes and a first person documentary following Scorsese's successful career," and 19 minutes of deleted scenes, with introductions by Scorsese.

Christopher Bligh at DVD Authority is the most authoritative on the transfer, noting that, while "there is slight roughage during the use of stock footage in the beginning (only a few minutes), the rest of the movie balances well in color and in the blacks without much speckilage or debris that can be evident in darker scenes for other films."

For Nick Schager and Ed Gonzalez at Slant, The Departed "jumps out of the gate like a caged lion freed into the wild," embellished, as usual, with "trademark Scorsese preoccupations: Catholicism, double lives, issues of honor, honesty, and deceit, and the bond shared between fathers and sons," but though "Scorsese's film, for much of its 150 minutes, rocks violently, passionately, urgently," the writers decry the film's "eventual, aggravating plotting missteps, with its elongated twists and turns and multiple false endings interfering with, and finally diffusing much of, the first half's high-wire ferocity and anxious tension. Worse than its narrative bloat, though, is Scorsese's abandonment of his initial fast-and-hard approach to the material in favor of a grander operatic line of attack. What begins as a breakneck descent into blunt cruelty and moral turmoil soon morphs into a cat-and-mouse game encumbered by self-consciously overcooked extravagance, a tonal and stylistic shift that not only doesn't quite suit the seemingly tongue-in-cheek Boston Massacre finale."

Alfred Hitchcock: The Early Years of the Master of Suspense Meanwhile, there are also new collections from two other Pantheon auteurs. On February 6, Lionsgate released Alfred Hitchcock: The Early Years of the Master of Suspense. This one's not to be confused with the plethora of previous Hitchcock box sets, including the 14-film box from Universal and the nine-film box from Warner - although mixing it up with the numerous previous boxes of Hitchcock from Delta, Brentwood, and other small companies is understandable given that the Lionsgate collection includes formerly out-of-copyright works that have been previously gathered together in mediocre transfers.

In the New York Times, Dave Kehr reviews the Lionsgate box. After explaining the current rights status of the five titles in question (The Ring, The Manxman, Murder!, The Skin Game, Rich and Strange) and noting that they appear to be the same transfers as those in the box's French progenitor (sans supplements), Kehr notes that while most of the films are of historic, rather than necessarily aesthetic importance ("atypical, nonsuspense films that Hitchcock directed before his brand name had completely come together"), the most important is Rich and Strange, from 1931, a film that "looks forward to Hitchcock's later series of couples films, including Mr and Mrs Smith (1941), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and Marnie (1964), in which mere marriages are transformed into sacred unions through the shared experience of suffering and temptation." Kehr goes on to enthuse that in the non-suspense films it is "fascinating to see Hitchcock directing the most prosaic dialogue sequences without any recourse to creative cutting or camera angles; he is there to play by the rules, and, contrary to his reputation, he is fine enough a director of actors to win the game."

Ozu: Vol 4 Almost simultaneously comes a box of Ozu films, released by Tartan in R2 on January 29, and making a fine companion to the Masters of Cinema release of three films by Mikio Naruse. John White of DVD Maniacs covers this small set of just two films, Late Autumn (1960) and An Autumn Afternoon (1962). Both are in color, both are co-written by Ozu with Kogo Noda, and they are his antepenultimate and last films, respectively. Rather direly announcing first off that "I won't pretend that Ozu is to everybody's taste," White quickly adds that Ozu's films are "almost pure cinema with the emphasis laid on capturing place, time and feeling rather than telling a story or dictating to the audience." White goes on to say that Late Autumn is "one of the most approachable of Ozu's films as it maintains a light comic tone as well as a good pace throughout," adding that it is also "one of the best of Ozu's films and an interesting attempt at considering women's position in Japan." Meanwhile, "as an epitaph," An Autumn Afternoon is "a resonant work" about "the slim compensations of life, regret and loss," and is tonally "darker and sadder than Late Autumn." White also notes that for supplements, the set features unusually interesting trailers that feature footage of Ozu at work.


Alice Faye Collection Glenn Kenny has nothing but praise for the new Alice Faye Collection, "featuring four films starring the great Fox musical star, whose reputation has in recent years fallen into what I consider a very puzzling neglect." But there's more to this than pure cinephiliac appreciation: "Back in 1993 I had the great privilege of bodyguarding Miss Faye. Sort of..."

"Its amateur acting and lack of structure are the sticking points for viewers who too often approach Border Radio as a dramatic feature," writes Sam Sweet. "The movie, like the portrait stills that accompany this Criterion edition, is better received as the mysterious, often accidentally beautiful home movies of a group of friends roaming a bone-dry, black-and-white Southern California landscape."

Also in Stop Smiling, Nicolas Rapold on the new edition of Don't Look Back, which includes Bob Dylan 65 Revisited, "a kind of complemental alternate take."

At IFC News, Michael Atkinson reviews the releases of Lunacy, "quintessential Svankmajer," and Apartment Zero, "co-opting primal Hitchcockian ingredients and going for broke."

Paul Robeson: Portraits of the Artist Dave Kehr in the New York Times: "It is not easy to fit Paul Robeson in a box, but the Criterion Collection has done its best with Paul Robeson: Portraits of the Artist, a four-DVD package that contains seven feature films, a documentary on Robeson's life and art, and a booklet full of essays that try to account for Robeson's complicated existence - as athlete, lawyer, actor, singer, activist — from several different points of view." And this week: "First Run Features has unearthed five important titles of the Cuban movement, ranging from 1962 to 1986, and packaged them as The Cuban Masterworks Collection."

Dennis Cozzalio has a DVD roundup.

Also recently released: Marie Antoinette. Reviews: Ed Gonzalez at Slant and Craig Phillips.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:51 AM

February 19, 2007

Sight & Sound. March 07.

Peter Whitehead "What I was actually filming was the collapse - the 'fall' - of an increasingly ineffective and impotent protest movement," Peter Whitehead tells Paul Cronin. "As a group, the anti-war activists were fragmenting, crossing some kind of threshold, tipping over into something more radical. The breakdown of legal protest and the shift to calculated political anarchy were just around the corner." Cronin revisits The Fall and Whitehead's abandonment of filmmaking soon after its completion.

Amy Taubin meets Steven Soderbergh to ask him about The Good German, but not before placing this new film within the context of an iconoclastic career, a "filmmaking tear that rivals the speed records of Godard in the 1960s and Fassbinder in the 1970s," a "marathon within the belly of the beast."

Reviewed in the new issue of Sight & Sound:

  • "The only feature ever distributed by the oddly named Aries Documentaries, Murder à la Mod seemingly vanished off the face of the Earth after playing at a single New York City theater," writes Tim Lucas. Now, thanks to Something Weird Video, Brian De Palma's second feature (and his first ever theatrical release, however limited) is out on DVD.

Sight & Sound: March 07
  • Linda Ruth Williams on Dreamgirls: "[P]erhaps the greatest pleasure comes from its honesty as a musical."

  • Ryan Gilbey: "There is no nice way of saying it: The Bridge is a downer."

  • Michael Atkinson: "Famously plagued by production shutdowns, fleeing producers, a slashed budget and the unceremonious exit of its original stars (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett left, apparently in tandem, to star in Babel), The Fountain emerges from its own purple haze as unarguably the wackiest Hollywood movie of 2006. That is, the most unintentionally ridiculous pap."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:41 AM

Shorts, 2/19.

The Number 23 "The Number 23 didn't have to be as narcotizingly bad as it is," writes David Edelstein in New York. "The stars had to be in perfect alignment."

Girish summarizes Emilie Bickerton's piece in the Nov/Dec 06 issue of the New Left Review on Cahiers du Cinema.

David Lowery on David Lynch's Hotel Room: "I tracked down a copy of it the other day, to refresh my memory, and found in it evidence of a prominent throughline stretching out in both directions, across Lynch's entire career."

Zach Campbell opens an exchange with Matt Clayfield on Cassavetes.

The Liverputty team's enthusiams for all things samurai is so abundant that their appreciation of Hiroshi Inagaki's Samurai Trilogy has spilled over to the House Next Door: 1, 2 and 3.

"I was raised behind walls in Mexico City, but still ran the streets like a rat part-time, a beady-eyed troll among big-eyed statuettes glazed in snot," writes Booker prize-winner DBC Pierre. "Surrealist director Luis Buñuel was the instrument it took to publicly articulate the truth about poverty in that city, that absence of love.... Los Olvidados took barely three weeks to make in 1950 on a shoestring budget, but hit the world screen like a fist through plate glass."

Also in the Guardian:

Tennessee Williams: Notebooks

"In the arresting Private Property (Nue Propriété), Belgian director Joachim Lafosse makes the most of [Isabelle] Huppert's versatility," writes Matt Riviera.

"Three decades after his death, Pasolini is ripe for reappraisal," argues Ian Thomson in the Telegraph.

"In order to work out what makes [Lukas] Moodysson tick, [a] priest, [a] psychoanalyst and a psychic watched his new feature Container several times and wandered round the bizarre art installation that he created to accompany it. Inside the Container Crypt, a documentary, records their observations," writes Geoffrey Macnab. Also in the Independent: Lesley O'Toole meets Virginia Madsen.

Don't You Forget About Me "The genius of quintessential [John] Hughes is that the movies are impossible not to take personally," writes Joal Ryan, reviewing Don't You Forget About Me, a collection of essays.

Also in the Los Angeles Times, Gina Piccalo: "Deliver Us From Evil, a documentary about pedophile priest Oliver O'Grady and his devastating California legacy, has earned its filmmaker multiple awards and an Oscar nomination. Now the film is kicking up new controversy and litigation from LA to Ireland, where O'Grady now lives." And Marla Dickerson on Mexico's swanky new movie theaters.

Michael Wood writes an appreciation of Kurosawa in the London Review of Books.

"At 44, [David] Fincher remains Hollywood's reigning bad-boy auteur, and his impatience with meddling has become as famous as his tendency to test his actors' patience, stamina and preparation." David M Halbfinger explains why, for Fincher, Zodiac "isn't just any old serial-killer story."

Also in the New York Times:

  • Alan Riding on why Amazing Grace may be received differently in the US and the UK.

  • Dave Kehr: "Hollywood is notorious for abandoning its past, but luckily there are people like Bob Burns around to pick it up, put it in a cardboard box and take it home."

  • "Ugandans are struck by [Forest] Whitaker's likeness to [Idi] Amin, and moved by the scenes of an era they would like to forget. They are proud that one of this year's surprise Hollywood hits was about their country and filmed in their country. Now, nearly five months after its release in the United States, it has finally landed here - and landed in style." Jeffrey Gettleman reports.

  • Maria Aspan reports that a high-pitched sound that teens can hear but adults can't has been used in ads for The Messengers.

  • "[I]n Hollywood and on Wall Street, some question the focus at New Line," reports Sharon Waxman.

Reviews:

Breach

"Days of Glory's rote narrative and perfunctory filmmaking have it destined for dismissal, but the contemporary backdrop against which it has been released makes the film, at the very least, a potentially interesting political metaphor," writes Michael Joshua Rowin at Reverse Shot. More from Slate's Dana Stevens, Salon's Stephanie Zacharek and Robert Cashill.

Gabriela Zabala-Notaras and Ismet Redzovic at the WSWS on two recent features popular down in Australia: "As well intentioned and sympathetic as the filmmakers may be - and this is not unimportant - Kenny barely rises above an amalgam of clichés in the form of a full-length feature film. Suburban Mayhem, directed by Paul Goldman, seems inspired by the Tarantino school of filmmaking and is a poor attempt at subverting the so-called family values that are constantly peddled by the media and politicians."

Sujewa Ekanayake proposes a microinvesting model for DIY, ultra-low and no-budget films.

Devin Gordon in Newsweek: "Why TV Is Better Than The Movies."

"So, is [24] executive producer Joel Surnow simply Leni Riefenstahl with a soul patch?" wonders Matt Cornell at Cine File Video.

John O'Hara's Hollywood "Three new paperbacks tell us why we love movies, how directors make them, and what life in Hollywood might once have been like." Rachel Hartigan Shea in the Washington Post on Colin McGinn's The Power of Movies: How Screen and Mind Interact, George Stevens's Conversations with the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood's Golden Age at the American Film Institute and John O'Hara's Hollywood: Stories by John O'Hara.

Stop Smiling runs an excerpt from José Teodoro's talk with Guy Maddin.

Online viewing tip. David Lowery has the trailer for Hou Hsiao-hsien's Ballon Rouge.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:57 AM

Oscar countdown.

Oscar A catch-all entry, to be updated throughout the week so as to avoid clogging the front page here with Oscar gunk. But first, the good stuff: A massive "Oscar Symposium" at the Film Experience and an ongoing exchange between Dennis Cozzalio and That Little Round-Headed Boy.

More predictions: Film Threat, Slant and IFC News.

Updated through 2/25.

"For many in the general public, the Oscar season is the first time they have even heard of Babel, Notes on a Scandal and Pan's Labyrinth, and for most it is the one time of the year movies become part of the everyday vernacular," writes Neil Morris in the Independent Weekly. "In short, even the worst Oscars ever are better than no Oscars at all."

Jay A Fernandez hosts a screenwriters roundtable with Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine), Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth), Peter Morgan (The Queen) and Iris Yamashita (Letters From Iwo Jima).

Also in the Los Angeles Times:

"The nominees for best foreign-language film are even more politically charged, and every bit as artistically successful, emotionally touching and accessible as the English-language candidates," writes Caryn James. Accompanied by an audio slide show.

LACB: Alan Arkin Also in the New York Times, Matt Zoller Seitz reviews the nominated live-action and animated shorts. More from Tim Grierson in the LA Weekly, Marjorie Baumgarten in the Austin Chronicle and Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat, where he also talks with Alan Arkin.

"The pre-Oscar drumbeat seems particularly intense this year as Web sites of the old media have jumped on the bandwagon and begun aggressively courting all those multitaskers who watch television and surf the Web at the same time," reports Katharine Q Seelye.

"Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of this new era is the increased presence of black nominees," writes Jason Solomons in an Observer package that includes Gaby Wood's profile of Ryan Gosling, Killian Fox's of Kevin O'Connell, with 19 nominations for sound-mixing but no wins yet, and a fashion piece from Bronwyn Cosgrave.

At PopMatters, Bill Gibron looks back at the Oscars Martin Scorsese should have won.

Movie City News lists the winners of the ASC Guild Award (that's the cinematographers, don't you know), the American Cinema Editors' faves (it's a tie), the Art Directors Guild Awards and the Costume Guild Awards - and points to the Cinema Audio Society Awards.

Updates, 2/20: Get this: The New Republic has launched an Oscar blog. Seriously. Oscar Wild! features contributions from Elspeth Reeve, David Thompson and Christopher Orr. Also: Orr on The Departed.

"Looking back over the span of the Oscars' history, it becomes quite apparent that the chances that the best picture will really be voted the Best Picture are slim," writes Kristin Thompson. "In Film Art, we talk about how saying that we like a film doesn't necessarily equate to its being a good film (pp. 63-65 in the 8th edition). There we suggest criteria that a viewer can apply in judging whether a film is good: coherence, unity, intensity of effect, complexity, and originality. On the whole, the Academy has opted for films that are pretty conventional." But here's the gist: She goes through "the entire run of Best-Picture winners up to 2000, giving my own choice (or choices) as to what should have won. Some of these are pretty outrageous, I'll admit, but I still think the should-have-wons that I list will be watched long after the films that beat them for the golden statuette."

"[T]he films in this year's Oscar race seem to suggest the world is more globally unified and polyglot than ever before," writes Anthony Kaufman in Variety. Anthony's also got a followup entry at his blog: "[W]hat I neglected to mention in the story is that most of the films have not exactly done 'boffo' business."

Nathaniel R rounds up linkage to more Oscar talk out there.

"[T]he Bagger has no idea what horse, or frog, to saddle up. His industry sources left him even more baffled than before, and while some of the comments he got from readers, whose predictions he solicited yesterday, where amazingly cogent and persuasive, they also tended to argue for different movies."

"Thoughts on Ennio Morricone, who receives his honorary Academy Award this coming Sunday..." Robert Cashill. Earlier: "Il Maestro in America." Update: More from the AV Club's Keith Phipps.

Time's Michiko Toyama chats with Rinko Kikuchi.

Online viewing tip. Steve Bryant's got a clip from a 1988 broadcast of the Tonight Show (with Johnny Carson hosting, no less) featuring two guys who first try to crash the Oscars, get nowhere, and then, in the second clip, actually back their way to the red carpet. Wild.

Updates, 2/21: Cheryl Eddy lays out her predictions for each category - except one. Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: Taro Gato surveys Japanese reactions to Letters From Iwo Jima: "[O]ne of the most often heard comments from Japanese viewers was the following: 'Tough to admit, but this is a more Japanese film than even a Japanese director might create.'"

Odienator proposes an "Oscar Exchange Program" at Edward Copeland on Film.

"[T]he Oscar race has a lot in common with ice skating and gymnastics: You often get graded on poise and good form, not just on performance." In the Los Angeles Times, Patrick Goldstein takes "a look at some of the victors and vanquished from this year's Oscar season."

A New York Observer mash-up. Plus, Sara Vilkomerson with Ryan Gosling. David Poland talks with him, too.

Willa Paskin interviews Jackie Earle Haley for Salon.

The Bagger's thoughts, as he heads out to LA.

Online listening tip #1. Deliver Us From Evil director Amy Berg is a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Online listening tip #2. An "Oscar Spectacular" at Radio Allegro.

Online listening tip #3. "WNYC Loves Oscar." The New York Public Radio goes all out through Sunday, and of course, you don't have to be in New York to listen in.

Peter Keough spells out his predictions in the Boston Phoenix. Not that he's happy about them. "I really despise Babel, for example, but that's not the only reason I think it's going to win."

Joe Leydon sees two possible upsets on Sunday night.

Glenn Kenny on the latest from Maureen Dowd: "In between taunting Obama with his old handle 'Barry' and calling him 'Obambi' (no, I'm not kidding), she assesses the current buzz in Hollywood with wordplay based around - you'll never guess - the titles of current Oscar contenders!" The results are every bit as dire as you might guess. Click Glenn's name for samplers. Update: David Poland posts the whole column and Nikki Finke comments on Dowd's David Geffen quotes. See, this is how boring the Oscar races themselves are this year.

SF360's Susan Gerhard has news of an award that'll be presented in May to probably the most celebrated screenwriter of 2006, Peter Morgan.

Vue Weekly: Alternative Oscars Updates, 2/22: "[I]t's time to quit bitching," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir in a piece on the nominated films in the foreign-language and documentary categories. "Let's honor the wondrous spectacle of Hollywood getting it right." All ten films are revisited and a few of the write-ups are laced with fresh quotes from the directors.

The Guardian's special Oscars section gets lively.

"Surveying the nominees in the five big categories, we, Vue film critics Josef Braun and Paul Matwychuk, weigh in on who we'd like to see take home the shiny bald guy. More importantly, we imagine an Oscars where the work that really matters, the neglected or under-seen movies of 2006, get nominated."

Dana Stevens opens a pre-show chat with Kim Masters and Troy Patterson. Also at Slate: Matt Feeney on Little Miss Sunshine: "[W]hy should anyone be so annoyed by a genial comedy that clearly satisfies the genre-requirement that it be funny?"

Ed Champion and friends are ready, set to go. Just take a look at that list of participants. The man knows how to throw a party.

Peter Nellhaus considers "eight directors, in chronological order, who prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that winning isn't everything, and sometimes it's enough to be a contender."

More predictions from Time Out's Chris Tilly.

Updates, 2/23: David Carr, NYT media 'xpert and Oscar blogger, places his bets. Also, AO Scott on the nominated docs: "[T]he Academy seems at the moment especially focused on larger problems, on public issues that won’t go away no matter how fervently we might wish they would."

Amos Posner nominates five passed over contenders for each major category. Also at PopMatters, Zeth Lundy on the two Randy Newmans.

The Telegraph's special section.

More predictions: Edward Copeland and Josh R.

Also live blogging Sunday night: Facets Features.

And Nikki Finke.

Via Joe Leydon: "Esquire's Eighth Annual Alternative Oscars."

For Der Spiegel, Lars-Olav Beier follows Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck on his Lives of Others Oscar campaign trail.

Online viewing tip. A video montage of Magnum movie photos at Slate.

Updates, 2/24: Neil Amdur in the NYT: "Win or lose tomorrow night at the Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles, one contender - Deepa Mehta's Water a nominee for best foreign-language film - will already have scored its greatest triumph simply by existing."

The Observer's Philip French talks with Clint Eastwood.

Ed Caesar in the Independent: "The Golden Groans: The best of the worst of the Oscars."

Online viewing tip. David Poland lunches with Jesus Camp filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady.

"Was there ever a more slippery sub-genre than the docu-drama?" asks the Guardian's Xan Brooks, who thinks this may be a factor in the non-nominations of Borat and United 93 for Best picture.

Harvey Weinstein - yes, that Harvey Weinstein - chimes in on the Little Miss Sunshine flap in the Los Angeles Times: "I couldn't agree more with the position of the Producers Guild that simply having the clout or leverage to demand a particular title does not make you a producer. By the same token, however, there shouldn't be some arbitrary limit to the number of producers a film can have. At the awards podium, there should be room for everyone who did the job."

"[E]very year there's at least one performer who did astonishing work and yet failed to show up on anyone's radar, slipping by unnoticed even by most critics," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "For me this year, that someone is Alec Baldwin, who appeared in three pictures, The Good Shepherd, The Departed and Running With Scissors. He's terrific in the first two, and off the charts in the third."

For SF360, Michael Guillén asks Little Miss Sunshine screenwriter Michael Arndt just two questions - but the answers run long.

Glenn Kenny will not be getting "jiggy with it" when he and a few friends do a bit of live blogging tomorrow night.

The San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle will be hosting a post-show chat at his blog.

Dan Eisenberg's predictions.

Updates, 2/25: David Carr looks back on awards season: "I've been a serious journalist most of my life, and the red carpet reminded me of a national political campaign without the stakes. Juggling an endless array of badges, people wearing headsets and the overall star apparatus, I had a great deal of access, but very little insight." Here's a rather startling factoid, though: The "Oscar economy" is estimated to be worth over $640 million.

More NYT Oscar stories this morning: Lola Ogunaike on what Jennifer Hudson wears, Jamie Diamond meets Jackie Earle Haley and Stephanie Rosenbloom: "While the majority of heartbroken Americans must devise their own sophomoric strategies for dodging former sweethearts, celebrities have publicists to deftly manage their Ex Capades."

Craig McLean profiles Graham King, the producer behind The Departed and Blood Diamond.

Also in the Observer, Zoe Ludlow Green: "This may just turn out to be the year in which more British fiction than ever before has been successfully translated to the widescreen: PD James's dystopian The Children of Men, Zoë Heller's Notes on a Scandal and Giles Foden's The Last King of Scotland. British writers as diverse as Patrick Marber, Hanif Kureishi and Peter Morgan are also strongly in contention. So is the Oscar-worthy American screenplay under threat? Controversy rages. One A-list screenwriter rants that Little Miss Sunshine is 'one of the worst pieces of shit I've seen all year.'"

Online viewing tips. A fun and wide-ranging collection of Oscar-related clips at Movie City News.

"[T]he industry is in a state of ongoing disquiet." Neal Gabler rolls out a series of numbers, most of them from surveys showing all the various ways movies are playing a smaller and smaller role in people's lives:

What is happening may be a matter of metaphysics. Virtually from their inception, the movies have been America's primary popular art, the "Democratic Art," as they were once called, managing to strike the American nerve continuously for decades. During the 1920s, nearly the entire population of the country attended the movies weekly, but even when attendance sank in the 1950s under the assault of television and the industry was virtually on life support, the movies still managed to occupy the center of American life.

[...] To the extent that the Internet is a niche machine, dividing its users into tiny, self-defined categories, it is providing a challenge to the movies that not even television did, because the Internet addresses a change in consciousness while television simply addressed a change in delivery of content. Television never questioned the very nature of conventional entertainment. The Internet, on the other hand, not only creates niche communities — of young people, beer aficionados, news junkies, Britney Spears fanatics — that seem to obviate the need for the larger community, it plays to another powerful force in modern America and one that also undermines the movies: narcissism.

Also in the Los Angeles Times:

  • John Horn and Sheigh Crabtree: "The disparity between movies the public embraces and those Oscar voters revere has grown dramatically, leaving the award ritual open to charges it has become elitist and potentially superfluous."

  • Similarly, Joe Queenan: "Year in, year out, this largely unidentified group of voters — many of them quite advanced in years, some presumably dead — persist in honoring actors, actresses, directors and screenwriters for their superb work in films that are widely ignored and have almost nothing to do with the industry's raison d'etre." And to think that the LAT is the industry's hometown paper. Hats off; oh, and happy Oscar Day, folks.

  • "[T]he triumph of Iñarritu, Cuarón and Del Toro in Hollywood creates a lingering, bittersweet reaction," writes Sergio Muñoz, who traces past US infatuations with Mexico, from the left's fascination with the Revolution (1910 - 1921) through the Diego Rivera solo exhibition at MoMA and more.

  • The Three Amigos are not alone. Reed Johnson reports on "the dynamic new Latino film colony that's blossoming on once-inhospitable Hollywood back lots."

  • Bob Berney's early support for Pan's Labyrinth earns him a profile by Lorenza Muñoz.

  • Sheigh Crabtree profiles Rinko Kikuchi.

  • "What do we expect of Eddie Murphy?" asks Peter Rainer. "To put the question more directly, what does he expect of himself? He is one of the most commercially successful actors in history and also one of the most confounding."

  • Mark Swed: "Just as you cannot give Morricone too much credit, you cannot dumb him down too low."

  • Mark Olsen meets Ari Sandel, director of the nominated short, West Bank Story.

  • Robin Abcarian talks fashion with Vogue editor at large André Leon Talley and reminds us that there's so much more to Ken Davitian than the naked wrestler in Borat, and: Sammy Davis Jr, photographer.

  • Mary McNamara on how PricewaterhouseCoopers counts: by hand.

Salon's Heather Havrilesky settles in: "We must stay focused, chickens, and remember that this night is merely an elaborate excuse to point and jeer at wealthy humans in shiny dresses while eating an entire bag of potato chips in one sitting. Ultimately, the Oscars are a wide-scale group experiment, where we all pretend that the opinions of people who've proven themselves incompetent in the past somehow matter once again - you know, sort of like our presidential elections."

Nick Davis's last-minute predictions and: "13 Ways of Feeling Better about Oscar."

Final predictions from Nathaniel R.

Robert Cashill's ballot.

Shawn Levy will be hosting the Oregonian's live blogging gathering.

William Booth in the Washington Post: "Al Gore, Rock Star." Via Chuck Tryon.

Final predictions (and preferences) from Eugene Hernandez.

Online listening tip. NPR's Andy Trudeau wraps his consideration of the five nominated scores. Scroll down for links to the full series.

More live blogging: Harry Knowles, Jeffrey Wells and the AV Club.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:09 AM

Fests and events, 2/19.

Cremaster 2 The Lights, Camera, Action: Artists' Films for the Cinema series runs on at the Whitney through April 1. Related: David Bordwell jots down "three hypotheses about Cremaster 2."

"Where else but the Bay Area for an 'Alternative Visions' film series?" asks Max Goldberg at SF360. Through February 27.

Steve Erickson has an overview of the Film Comment Selects series for Gay City News. Through February 27.

Josh Rosenblatt previews the series Children of Abraham/Ibrahim: Films of North Africa and the Middle East (February 20 through March 27) for the Austin Chronicle.

The lineup for the San Francisco Irish Film Festival is up. March 1 through 4.

San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival

Susan Gerhard and Michael Guillén, at SF360 and the Evening Class, respectively, look over the lineup for the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (March 15 through 25). To coincide with the Hong Sang-soo Retrospective, Koreanfilm.org is running Adam Hartzell's review of Woman on the Beach.

The ten-month-long series indieWIRE: Undiscovered Gems will open with Steve Barron's Choking Man.

City of Lights/City of Angels: Now at MySpace. April 16 through 22.

Online viewing tip. The trailer for the Chlotrudis Short Film Festival 7, March 2 through 8.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:51 AM

Berlinale, 2/19.

Berlinale "This was certainly no banner year for the Berlinale," writes Ekkehard Knörer in a final diary entry. "There were a handful of creditable, daring, self-assured films. Only these will be mentioned here." Also, signandsight wraps up the wrap-ups in the German papers.

Tim Robey grades the films he caught. Happy to see his high grade for Yella ("this would have been my Golden Bear," writes Knörer, and many of us would agree), and Tim's lowish one for In Memory of Myself. He's also making me wish I'd caught The Fall.

At indieWIRE, Brian Brooks has background on A Walk in the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory, Scott Walker: 30 Century Man and Lagerfeld Confidential. A Walk Into the Sea, an encore screening of which I'll catch tonight, won a Teddy Award for Best Documentary.

The Caligari Film Award goes to It Happened Just Before (Kurz davor ist es passiert) and the FIPRESCI award goes to Hounds (Jagdhunde). More award-winners: Pool of Princesses and Adama Meshuga'at.

For Nick James, writing in the Observer, the highlights were Lady Chatterley and The Counterfeiters. And in the Guardian, an overview from Kate Connolly.

Another from Silke Bartlik for Deutsche Welle.

Geoff Andrew recalls his highs and lows at Time Out's blog.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:08 AM

Hot Fuzz.

Hot Fuzz "The Britfilm bonanza in its current form arguably stems from the optimism sparked in 2004 by Shaun of the Dead, the zombie spoof from the creators of the cult TV show Spaced," writes Peter Bradshaw. "Between them, director Edgar Wright and co-authors and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost cheered us all up after a depressing welter of mockney-gangsters and persuaded us, as it were, to remove our collective big toe from the shotgun-trigger." In Hot Fuzz, the team offers "plenty of irrepressible fun, an interestingly sophisticated sense of the fictional differences between British and American crime - and big, regular laughs."

Also in the Guardian: Jason Solomons talks with Wright and Pegg and Pegg himself: "Americans can fully appreciate irony. They just don't feel entirely comfortable using it on each other, in case it causes damage. A bit like how we feel about guns."

"Hot Fuzz has its problems," writes the Telegraph's David Gritten. "It's overlong, and finally falls apart, stuttering towards a number of indecisive endings. But mostly it's a smart, funny, affectionate love letter to all things uncool - and far more skilful than its self-effacing humour suggests."

Four out of five stars from Wendy Ide in the London Times.

"Imagine, if you will, The Wicker Man and High Plains Drifter forming a loose alliance with The League of Gentlemen, Midsomer Murders and Heartbeat; then stir in a whole bunch of action movies featuring maverick cops or feds," writes a somewhat less enthusiastic Anthony Quinn in the Independent. "You have to admire the nerve, even if the comedy doesn't hit as many true notes as the first film did."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:47 AM

Lists, 2/19.

The Departed Mike D'Angelo has now compiled the results of the Skandies, and this year, you can watch clips of the best scenes from the best films of 2006. Ryan Wu comments.

Darren Hughes revises his all-time top 20.

Darcy Paquet knows he's late over there at Koreanfilm.org with his "Top Ten Korean Films of 2006," but better late than never.

Brian Darr looks back on "a year of movies in Frisco."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:35 AM | Comments (1)

Ryan Larkin, 1943 - 2007.

Ryan Larkin
Ryan Larkin, the acclaimed National Film Board animator whose struggle with drug and alcohol problems was the subject of an Oscar-winning animated short two years ago, has died following a battle with cancer. Larkin, who was himself nominated for an Academy Award in 1969 for his psychedelic animated short Walking, died on Wednesday in St-Hyacinthe, Que. He was 63.

The Toronto Star, via Movie City News, also hosting a clip from Chris Landreth's Ryan.

Amid has a wonderful tribute entry laced with clips at Cartoon Brew; Ray Pride has another pointer.

Related: "Ryan Larkin and the addictive allure of illusions," Chris Robinson, Take One, Sept - Dec 2004, and again, Chris Robinson, Animation World Magazine, November 2000: "Last Exit on St. Laurent Street: The Wonderfully Fucked Up World of Ryan Larkin." And of course, the Wikipedia entry.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:25 AM

February 18, 2007

Berlinale Dispatch. Tuya's Marriage.

David D'Arcy on this year's Golden Bear-winner; a few notes follow.

Tuya's Marriage I was very pleased that Tuya's Marriage beat out its rivals to win the Golden Bear at this year's Berlinale. The film takes a fresh look at an ageless story, a woman's search for a reliable man who can support her. Here, in director and co-writer Wang Quan'an's third feature, the search takes place in a faraway region of China where it has been decided by leaders in faraway Beijing that the region will be industrialized, so that rural people like Tuya, a herder, won't be necessary much longer. The search for a husband is all the more important, but it isn't any easier in Inner Mongolia.

This is not the exotic region that we've seen in other films shot in Mongolia, but still a beautiful place of hardship and poverty, which risks becoming less livable as the government makes it harder for simple people like Tuya (Yu Nan) to make a living. The story is nothing if not reality-based, yet it is clever and irreverent, and elegantly shot, with fine performances by some actors who have never been in front of a camera before.

It looks like a simple story, set in the desert against the rugged beauty of arid mountains, but Tuya turns out to have a complicated life, which Yu Nan plays in a deadpan. Tuya is a practical woman, hardworking and hardheaded, who is resisting the government's plan to settle her in a town as part of its new industrialization policy. (Sounds a lot like the old China of Mao, during which millions of Chinese from the east of the country were sent to "develop" Mongolia and Sinkiang, but now there's much more capital to move people out of the way, as we've also seen with the huge displacements of urban Chinese who had the misfortune to find themselves on land that developers covet.)

With two kids, a disabled husband and one hundred sheep, Tuya takes ill and has no choice but to find a provider to marry. There's one troublesome catch: the lucky new husband must agree to care for her current one, Bater. (He and other non-professional actors use their real names and play characters of the same name.) Disabled Bater has consented to divorce her and enter a nursing home, where - in keeping with the ways of the new China, which were present but less conspicuous in the old China - the wealthy and politically-connected get good medical care, and ordinary citizens fend for themselves.

Then begins a parade of suitors that you could imagine in stories that might have been told more than a thousand years ago. Wait a second. Isn't the conventional wisdom that China is a place where women are in over-supply, hence the adoption industry that seems to have placed Chinese girls in every Western city? Someone tell Wang Quan'an. Things soon turn into a comedy of errors. There's Senge, a handsome accident-prone herder with a new truck who always complains about a wife that we never see; there's another shy man who arrives from a distant place to propose with an entourage that could have been taken out a Chinese satirical painting from the tenth century; and there's Baolier (Peng Hongxiang), a Mercedes-driving former classmate who's gotten rich on oil in the desert, even though his fancy car can't get through the rough terrain.

The ever-practical Tuya finally decides on the wealthy Baolier, but when a disconsolate Bater slits his wrists in the nursing home, and the family needs money for bribes to save his life, Baolier's gallantry dries up. Tuya then chooses Senge for her husband. Like all the men in this satire, he's far from perfect. He's fighting at her wedding with another man. Even Tuya's young son is brawling at the event. Some things never change.

Tuya has no choice but to wear the trousers in this quirky desert romantic comedy set against China's quixotic campaign to wring profits out of the inhospitable terrain. As the men fight in the desert dust among themselves for honor and money, Tuya draws water, cooks and tends her herd on a camel. She drinks, too.

Senge, played by a herder and equestrian of the same name (a non-professional in his first film), brings a charming haplessness to his role. Bater, another non-professional of the same name, epitomizes the resignation of a traditional man forced to abandon his traditional way of life.

Cameraman Lutz Reitemeier captures the arid Mongolian desert ringed by mountains, and the spartan interiors of tents and houses pasted together from scrap where holdouts like Tuya and her brood live. Sentimentality and sanctimony about traditional ways don't have a place in Wang Quan'an's film. Among other things that the men here can't do, these characters can't even dig a proper well. We get plenty of ethnography and critical sociology without being beaten over the head with it - what is more critical than a scene in which a man with blood all over his hands telephones from the nursing home that Bater has just slit his wrists, and adds that doctors won't treat him unless they're sent the right bribes? We even see the pageantry of traditional costumes which seem to be out of place in the China that's being imposed on these characters.

Amid all this, the divorced Tuya gets married. And a wise screwball comedy comes from an unlikely place.

-David D'Arcy


The more I thought about it last night, the more I realized that the Golden Bear for Tuya's Marriage shouldn't have been such a surprise, really. Distributing the Bears, Berlinale juries seem to take into consideration the long-term impact of the awards. Take last year's choice. I've yet to run across any critic in the English- or German-language press that's agreed that Grbavica was actually the best film in the 2006 Competition lineup. Deserving of a Bear, yes, but the Bear? Not unless you consider what that chunk of gold's done for the film in the meantime. Without any awards at all, last year's festival might well have been the end of the road for Grbavica. Requiem has rolled right on, though the jury may have underestimated how much help Der Freie Wille would need further down the line.

At any rate, as for this year's Golden Bear-winner, I doubt many would begrudge the selection, whatever their own personal favorites might be. Here's wishing it has a run as long as Grbavica's. As David makes clear, for all its value as a window onto a distant world and as a dispatch on how the rapidly changing Chinese economy is impacting peoples times zones away from Beijing, this is also an engaging and entertaining story, which itself is rather unusual for recent films set in or near Mongolia. If contemporary audiences have seen this corner of the world on screens at all recently, it's most likely in the festival crowd-pleasers from Byambasuren Davaa. The Story of the Weeping Camel and The Cave of the Yellow Dog are gorgeous to look at, to be sure, but their minimalist narratives suggest a folkloric otherworldliness, a time and a place still relatively unaffected by globalization - and really, is there any spot on the globe left that hasn't been?

Coincidentally (perhaps), another film in this year's Competition is set near the Chinese-Mongolian border, Zhang Lu's Hyazgar (Desert Dream). More yurts, more ladles of milk tea. This one's very much about the all-permeating forces of globalization, but it doesn't even begin to approach Tuya's Marriage aesthetically or on any other level. More on that later.

Meanwhile, the only other reviews in English at the moment seem to be Derek Elley's in Variety and Mike Collett-White's for Reuters.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:29 AM

PIFF Dispatch. 4.

DK Holm on a doc with local flavor and three foreign features.

John Callahan: Purple Winos in the Rain The international flavor of the Portland International Film Festival was modified slightly with its screening of a film about a local hero.

The most unusual thing about Touch Me Someplace I Can Feel, the new documentary-for-television about cartoonist John Callahan, is that I am not in it. Back in the early 1990s, when German television came around to do a documentary about Callahan, the filmmakers captured five inarticulate minutes of me verbally stumbling, as I stood in the lobby of the once-alternative newspaper where we both worked, trying to come up with something insightful about him, minutes that I hope never made the final cut. When 60 Minute came around to shoot a segment on Callahan, one of my old friends was in it because she happened to be his home health aid person at the time. Now, Dutch television comes looking for Callahan (though the movie is listed as American in the PIFF catalog) as part of the Promotional-Industrial Complex: the cartoonist and author has branched out into music, and has a CD coming out. The version of the film I saw had no credits, and seemed to be a near-complete work in progress.

Callahan uses some of the traditional tropes of cartoon art, settings such as desert islands and busy streets, or domestic scenes and "end of the world" sign carriers, as vehicles for his unusually acerbic humor. But like David Lynch and Jack Kerouac, Callahan, whom I only know in passing, is grossly misunderstood by his fans. For one thing, there is the sentimentality about his being a quadriplegic, the result of a drunk driving accident when he was 21 (he's now 55), a sentimentality that Callahan himself doesn't share or promote. And though the film, directed by Simone de Vries, who has made previous Dutch docs on the likes of Rutger Hauer, Kinky Friedman and Belgian cartoonist Kamagurka, elicits a few comments by Callahan against the Bush administration, Callahan remains is a proud conservative who generally eschews government support (believe it or not, many Republicans don't like Bush). Playing up to the camera, Callahan says, "I want to bring something beautiful to people," but that is inconsistent with his cartoons, which are joyously sexist and racist (jibes at Asians and Martin Luther King are shown in the film), and Callahan and his best friend, someone nicknamed K-Man, are shown on Portland's NW 23rd Avenue, a crowded street full of boutiques like a beach resort town, ogling girls ("That's a serious rack," K-Man comments on one blonde). At one point in the film, Callahan is about to embark on an anti-feminist movement rant, but stops himself.

Will the Real John Callahan Please Stand Up? De Vries's film is patterned somewhat along the lines of Terry Zwigoff's Crumb, in its mandate to offer as full a portrait of the man as it can. A subdued Robin Williams is shown commenting on long-term failed efforts to adapt Callahan's autobiography to the screen (when Williams went into rehab, he travelled to Portland). Tom Waits calls and leaves a rendition of one of Callahan's songs on his message machine. There are several long shots of Callahan in odd places, such as a supermarket parking lot or a public restroom, drawing a cartoon or rehearsing a song. Shots of mothers with carriages, skateboarders and joggers seem to be a rebuke against those who enjoy full mobility. A long sequence shows Callahan arriving too early for an event at a local trendy nightclub called Holocene, only to find that he is several unnecessary and health-risking hours early. He later recounts to K-Man the disorganization he found there as "typical of Portland" and describes Holocene as a typical "Portland poser shithole." Callahan also subtly mocks Portland's coffee shop culture, illustrated by the film, which is an example of Callahan literally biting the hand that feeds him, since he is an habitué of such locales (but then, write what you know, they say). The film ends with Callahan making nude sketches of a local SuicideGirl.

In its languorous pace, Touch Me Where I Can Feel lacks the depth and urgency of Crumb. Long takes that simply, dully watch Callahan are interrupted by the briefest of confessional excerpts (Callahan was adopted, and in general has felt continually abandoned throughout his life). But such confessions are unnecessary. As Callahan says, quoting an Italian saying, "He who jokes, confesses."

Il Caimano More taxing, and demanding an international mind set is The Caiman (Il Caimano), Nanni Moretti's state of the union address about Italy under Silvio Berlusconi (the title is a nickname for Berlusconi based on the Spanish word for alligator). The film juggles three threads. Film producer Bruno (Silvio Orlando) is divorcing his ex-movie star wife. Living temporarily in his office, he decides to help a young woman, Teresa (Jasmine Trinca), make a movie about Berlusconi. Meanwhile, documentary and docudrama footage show Berlusconi himself in various guises and guilements.

The Caiman is a look behind the scenes of the Italian moviemaking industry and its political stage show, suggesting that there is little difference. Moretti himself appears in the film as one of three people who play Berlusconi, hinting that the politician is either ubiquitous or that all Italians have a little Berlusconi in them. Despite being the first filmmaker to take on Berlusconi in a feature film, some reviewers have criticized Moretti for dwelling too much on domestic tribulations, but in fact the necessary dissolution of a marriage is parallel to what Moretti sees as the necessary separation of Berlusconi from the body politic. Variety, on the other hand, offered a rave review, and the World Socialist Web Site its own view.

Offside The premise of Jafar Panahi's Offside is simple. Iran's laws forbid women to observe sports events in public stadia. Yet on one particular day, specifically June 8, 2005, the day of the Iran-Bahrain game at Tehran stadium, a set of soccer obsessed teen girls fixate on getting inside. Some get in, but several are taken to a holding pen where they are unable to view the game. The young girls are guarded by equally young guards, the youth about to inherit a nation. As is consistent with Panahi's previous films (The White Balloon, The Circle, Crimson Gold), Offside is casual yet pointed, realistic yet anecdotal. Its plain surface masks deeper implications. If it lacks the irrationalities of Crimson Gold, the film does explore an aspect of Iranian culture hitherto unacknowledged in international cinema, and has the immediacy of being shot at a real game. Additional commentary for this prize-winning film (the Jury Grand Prix award at the Venice Film Festival) can be had at Slant and Planet Sick-Boy. [Earlier: David D'Arcy.]

Grbavica Mildred Pierce meets Welcome to Sarajevo in writer-director Jasmila Zbanic's Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams, which tells a somber story of a woman and her daughter having parallel, dire romances, set against a background of moral and economic devastation. Esma (Mirjana Karanovic from When Father Was Away on Business) is a single mother who must work two jobs. The living exist to wait and honor the dead, and Esma's dread secret affects her ability to cope with lover and daughter. Despite feeling long for its 91-minute running time, Grbavica won the Golden Bear at last year's Berlin International Film Festival. More from Slant and the Village Voice.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:04 AM | Comments (3)

February 17, 2007

Contrarianism Blog-a-Thon.

Jim Emerson's Poll "This weekend we're saying to hell with the conventional wisdom," announces Jim Emerson. "We usually say that anyway, but consider the Contrarianism Blog-a-Thon (Friday through Sunday) an excuse to express how you really feel."

Click Jim's name for blog linkage, but for hot comment-on-comment action, you'll want to see the immediately preceding post, a poll: "Which of these 'great directors' do you think is not-so-great?" You may - or may not - be surprised by the results so far.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:06 PM

Berlinale. The Bears.

Berlinale So the Golden Bear goes to Tuya's Marriage. Quite a surprise! Presented by festival director Dieter Kosslick and International Jury President Paul Schrader.

I quite like this film, but I'm not sure it was even mentioned when Cinematical's Erik Davis, Andrew Grant (Filmbrain), Aaron Hillis (Cinephiliac) and myself got together just yesterday to talk about our favorites. Yes, that's an online viewing tip.

Back to the awards. The Argentine film El Otro scores two Silver Bears, one for Best Actor, Julio Chávez (presented by Hiam Abbass) and the second is the Grand Jury Prize (presented by Willem Defoe), accepted by director Ariel Rotter.

Silver Bear for Best Actress: Nina Hoss for Yella. Presented by Mario Adorf.

Silver Bear for Best Director: Joseph Cedar for Beaufort. Presented by Molly Marlene Stensgaard.

Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Achievement goes to the ensemble cast of The Good Shepherd. Presented by Gael Garcia Bernal and accepted by Martina Gedeck.

Silver Bear for Best Film Music: David Mackenzie for Hallam Foe. Presented by Nansun Shi.

Best First Feature Award: Vanaja.

The Alfred Bauer Award for a film that presents new perspectives: I Am a Cyborg, But That's OK. Presented by Javier Bardem and accepted by Park Chan-wook, who gave a pretty amusing speech.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:03 AM | Comments (2)

February 16, 2007

Berlinale, 2/16.

Berlinale On Thursday, Arthur Penn was awarded an "Honorary Golden Bear because, according to the festival press office, he is 'one of the most innovative American film-makers of his time,'" notes Ronald Bergan. "Perhaps the key to the recent invisibility of Penn, now 84, lies in the phrase 'of his time.'"

Also in the Guardian, Geoffrey Macnab talks with Marianne Faithfull about Irina Palm.

More British coverage: James Christopher in the London Times on La Môme and the Telegraph's Tim Robey on 300.

Seen today:

I Served the King of England

  • Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále (I Served the King of England): B+. Couldn't help but smile from the very first shot through the last: Jirí Menzel is aging happily. Related: Kate Connolly in the Guardian: "Lies, legal battles, broken promises and public canings - the story behind the film adaptation of Bohumil Hrabal's novel I Served the King of England is worthy of one of the late Czech writer's own plots."

  • Hallam Foe: C-. The consensus of a post-screening round over coffee: Sundance fare that actually would have fared a lot better than many other films in this year's Sundance lineup, but nonetheless, a film that has no business in the Berlinale Competition.

  • Ping Guo (Lost in Beijing): B. Variety reports that the version screened today for the press and public is the version untouched by Chinese censors.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:37 PM

PIFF Dispatch. 3.

DK Holm on three more from the festival that runs through February 25.

Away From Her As the Portland International Film Festival rolls on, each film seems to easily represent a "trend" evident in the film world at large. For example, Sarah Polley's Away From Her [site], the young actress-turned-director's account of a man dealing with certain peculiarities of his wife's Alzheimer's, marks the latest film in a new trend. For want of a better term, this trend might be called the New American Girl Cinema. Given that Miss Polley is Canadian, perhaps it should be modified to North American Girl. In any case, Polley is joined in her directorial debut by a whole host of young actresses, including Julia Stiles and Jennifer Aniston, who have each made a short film, Zoe Cassavetes, who has directed Men Make Women Crazy Theory and Broken English, the late Adrienne Shelly, whose Waitress was the toast of Sundance, Karen Moncrieff, whose The Dead Girl is attracting attention, and Joey Lauren Adams, whose Come Early Morning stars Ashley Judd, who is writing the screenplay for a forthcoming film, The Burning Time.

Sofia Coppola would be the Godmother of this "movement" if her acting career were more outside the orbit of her father's, but the sensibility remains the same: calm in effect while unflinching in gaze. Miss Polley's well-meaning if stripped down film is based on Alice Munro's short story, "The Bear Came Over the Mountain," and on the screen anyway, concerns a retired academic Grant (Gordon Pinsent) and his wife Fiona (Julie Christie), whose Alzheimer's has coarsened to the degree that she needs full care. Unfortunately, the rest home where he takes his wife demands several weeks of privacy, and when he is allowed to see Fiona again, not only does she not remember him at all but she has formed a seemingly romantic attachment with another patient, Aubrey (Altman favorite Michael Murphy, who has no dialogue). Complications ensue when Grant seeks out and meets Aubrey's wife, Marian (Olympia Dukakis), a woman who turns out to be the opposite of both himself and Fiona.

Away From Her

Once the narrative gets into third gear, it's fairly easy to predict where it is going, but the pleasures of the film are in supporting parts, including a nurse named Kristy (Kristen Thomson), who gives Grant off the record advice on his wife and the clinic. In fact, it is the minor players who generally excel. Alberta Watson as the head of the clinic isn't given a whole lot to do, and Mr Pinsent is rather more impassive than he might need to be. It's hard to glean motivation for later actions from his bearded, beaming face. Just when did he decide upon the film's final, radical action? It's hard to tell. Still, the film is funnier than one expects, as when, at an admissions interview, a doctor asks about their entertainment habits and Fiona mocks the noisy, corporate Hollywood movies, sure to elicit a knowing laugh from festival audiences.

Which brings me to one of my peeves (it can't be called a pet because it is too large). Screenings for reviewers commenting on PIFF commenced on Monday, January 29th, and for at least one attendee, it revived once-dying memories of fest press screenings of the past. As we old critical war horses stood in the crowded lobby outside the museum's Whitsell Auditorium before the first film of the day, we were surrounded by members of the Silver Screen Club, with whom, for the past several years or so, the reviewers have shared screening space. The Silver Screen Club consists of primarily wealthy patrons of the NWFC whose members can pay up to $1000 dollars to enjoy special privileges regarding access to movies and seating arrangements. To relieve the burden of SSC members at open screenings, when ordinary paying customers in the past could wait in long lines and even be refused entrance if an unexpected number of Silver Screeners showed up, the Film Center opened the day screenings to the SS as well. This has been a source of annoyance to the critics, and vice versa.

The critics are irritated and self-absorbed and in a hurry and expecting the worst. The SSC is clannish and cliquish and they obviously hate the critics. For example, as I was leaving the first screening, I went to grab the last of the festival's schedules from a counter on my way out but it was plucked up by a typically silver-haired Silver Screen member, who then laughed at me, an experience I generally haven't had since grade school. One advance screening (I am told) was started a half an hour before its stated time for the convenience of the SSers, causing some critics to miss it. Silver Screeners sneer at the reviewers, give them the "evil eye" if they get in their way in lines, and worse, can disrupt screenings with their typically ravenous Portland appetites (Portlanders deem all public events as opportunities to eat). Oregonian reviewer Shawn Levy refers amusingly to the symphonic overture of burping Tupperware before most SSC screenings, and even in defiance of museum policy, I saw SSers with plastic bowls of nuts in their laps and heard the endless crinkle of plastic being unwrapped from seemingly endless supplies of nutritionally enhanced fast food. But it's the knowing laugh that gets you. As Fiona derides Hollywood and its product, you hear the hollow forced knowing laugh that announces, not the appreciation of wit, but the vote of solidarity. These people are such cartoon characters they actually laugh in word balloon "Ho Ho Ho"s.

But back to the movies: Away From Her has received positive notices from Reel.com, Eye For Film and Variety.

Climates The long reach of Michelangelo Antonioni's influence is found in Climates (Iklimler), a simple slice of life about the end of a marriage (or relationship). A cinematic Renaissance man on the order of Soderbergh, Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan wrote, directed, produced, photographed and now acts in Climates with his wife, the exotic Ebru Ceylan. His real parents are even cast his character's parents. The Ceylans play Isa, an academic, and Bahar, a movie art director. While on a vacation in sunny Kas, Bahar abruptly breaks up with the silent and surly Isa. Isa finds comfort temporarily with an ex, Serap (Nazan Kirilmis), and then, as the result of remorse hunts down Bahar on location in a snowy village, with a vague and inconclusive (from the audience's perspective, anyway) attempt to get back together.

Like fellow Antonioni disciple Theo Angelopoulos, Ceylan likes to let his camera linger on the beauty of Woman, and there are long, long takes of Mrs Ceylan simply looking. Hints of marital discord occur on the beach, when Isa says says, "I love you," and then dumps sand on her head in an attempt to bury her, a not particularly subtle metaphor for her sense of suffocation, otherwise unexpressed. Flies, bees and mosquitoes dwell ominously and with more energy than the cast, except in a sex scene that turns a bare floor into a choochoo track. Visually, the film, shot on digital, is stunning, and there is an interesting sequence, again with a hint of Antonioni, after the duo meet up in a café and, in the course of the wordless sequence, their faces slightly obscure each other's heads meaningfully. Or "meaningfully." The narrative arc from sun to snow is also meaningful, but ultimately the viewer isn't given much clue as to the meanings. Like the beginning of L'Eclisse, all the action's happened before the film started. Climates' official website gathers together some of the more positive comment.

12:08 East of Bucharest Romanian writer-director Corneliu Porumboiu's 12:08 East of Bucharest (also known as A fost sau n-a fost?, which means, "Was there or wasn't there?," while the English title refers to the moment Ceausescu abandoned the presidential palace) is mostly build-up to an extended comedy sequence. The plot covers a day, December 22nd, in the life of a local TV personality Jderescu (Ion Sapdaru) who is trying to gather up to witnesses to the revolution that brought down communist rule 16 years earlier and coïncidentally investigate whether or not the revolution in turn made its way to his small village. His search turns up old Piscoci (Mircea Andreescu), easily distracted by minor things, and Manescu (Teo Corban), an alcoholic academic who may or may not have been in the Bucharest square where the revolution began - Manescu's claims are disputed by callers into the show, who suggest he was too drunk at the time to know where he was. Though the set up is long, and shot in typical plain Eastern European fashion with long takes from cameras squeezed into awkward corners, the resultant TV sequence is worth it, very funny and lively, a kind of Keatonish examination of mass failure. There is a beautiful moment at the very end though, as night falls on the snowy village and lights go on around the town, in a pictorial representation of Piscoci's on-air comment that the revolution did in fact come, like a light being switched on.

Reviewers at Bright Lights, Floatation Suite and Swimming to Casablanca also got a kick out of the film.


Earlier: "Sundance. Away From Her.," "Cannes. Iklimler." and "Cannes. A fost sau n-a fost?."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:47 PM

February 15, 2007

Berlinale, 2/15.

Berlinale "Once a bastion of difficulty and high seriousness - an identity that suited an event held in midwinter in a city with a vexed, often grim history - the Berlinale, which began last Thursday and concludes with awards on Sunday - has grown into something bigger, more varied and perhaps less distinctive," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. He's right on the money with his second-page comments on the acting in several entries this year; and like Dennis Lim, he has me kicking myself for missing Lady Chatterley.

Great coverage still going on at sites pointed to from here, here and here.

Films seen today:

Posted by dwhudson at 1:47 PM | Comments (2)

Berlinale Dispatch. Beaufort.

Beaufort David D'Arcy and I do occasionally disagree on this or that film (e.g., the Téchiné), but here, we're on the same page. What's more, he's pretty much touched on all the points I was considering bringing up, so no unnecessary afterwordage from me on this one. Take it away, David...

As that old saying goes, it seems like only yesterday when the Beaufort Castle, a Crusaders' fort in southern Lebanon, was captured by Israeli forces as part of their invasion and occupation of that country that lasted 20 years. The battle for Beaufort was in 1982, and even then it seemed as if the attack and the long siege that followed resulted in such a huge waste of lives on both sides that those losses should have been good reason to pull out long before the Israelis actually did. It took them many more lives, a dark ominous hardening of its armed forces and another 18 years to learn that lesson. Of course, the Israelis didn't learn much, because they invaded Lebanon again in July 2006 - just a month and a week after Joseph Cedar wrapped his new film, Beaufort [site] but more about that later - and you have to wonder why the inexperienced Israeli Prime Minister who ordered that ultimately humiliating invasion is still in power, much as you have to wonder why the Bush administration that mishandled the Iraq invasion and wasted so many lives on both sides is still running things in Washington.

In the ably-directed and well-acted Beaufort, which was adapted from the novel by the journalist Ron Leshem, who also wrote the screenplay, Cedar gets at the some of the eternal questions but skirts the more immediate uncomfortable ones. The soldiers at an Israeli outpost just next to Beaufort in 2000 are fighting like all soldiers to keep each other alive, living on top of each other in close quarters as they're being shot at, often scorning their superiors, ignoring the religious devotion of some of their peers, and asking that they either be allowed to fight aggressively or just withdraw. Rockets rain down on them, killing the unfortunate ones who happen to be outside when a rocket hits. You never see an Arab of any kind, or any other enemy. You never hear an explanation for why Israel invaded in the first place. It's an Israeli version of Das Boot, although I'm not sure how Cedar would welcome that parallel.

Friends die in their friends' arms, and the commanders somewhere far away don't seem to care, and finally, the Israelis blow up their own fortifications after abandoning them.

Had nothing happened in Lebanon this summer, Beaufort would have been just another film, albeit a courageous one for Israel, about the lives of young grunts who have barely begun their lives, and who follow orders that don't make sense and try to emerge alive and unmaimed. Given the pointless invasion of Lebanon last summer, which destroyed the country's infrastructure, the subject becomes something else, the idiocy of leaders who believe against all the evidence that Israel can stay alive by bludgeoning everything around it.

American-born Joseph Cedar served in the Israeli Defense Forces during the First Intifada, and tried to become an officer, hoping for a career, but failed the psychological tests. His film suggests that he might not have made much of a difference if he had stayed with the IDF. His film certainly elevates this year's Berlinale competition.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:30 PM | Comments (4)

Berlinale Dispatch. 300.

300 Adrienne Hudson, always up for a good fantastical tale well-told, on an already controversial Out of Competition Berlinale entry.

"Prepare for Glory!" No, really. Prepare for it. This movie is stuffed with glory. In fact, I kind of suspect Zack Snyder partially chose to make 300 [site] because he wanted some of that Frank Miller glory that's rubbed off on Robert Rodriguez. I don't think he quite got close, though - for every cheerer at the press screening there was at least one booer, and the battle was on as the credits rolled.

But let me back up a bit.

The first half hour was nearly abominable. This was when most people walked out. I mean, it wasn't just like, "Okay, I know this is silly but somehow it's cool," no, it was seriously stupid. The coming-of-age beating the young Spartan boys have to go through, the soft-porn sex scene and even the young King Leonidas versus the anorexic, flashlight-eyed wolf duel simply couldn't add up to glory, by anyone's definition. These Spartans swagger around, haughtily killing messengers and I couldn't help but be reminded of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, dropping her suave pun-stuffed lines after every kill.

In Sin City, Rodriguez's comic style is completely in tune with the behavior of his characters, who'd otherwise come across as not so cool and heroic. Snyder does develop his own style by filming everything in front of green screen and later pulling out black and pushing the color saturation. Though that creates interesting pictures, for me it was not surreal enough to legitimize the overly dramatic plot and a voice-over narration that could easily compete with trailer narrations for bludgeoning the obvious.

Now, once the battle scenes come up, things start to turn around. I'm one for battle scenes anyway, as long as they're halfway good. And there were a few things I really appreciated here. You know how our hero usually just clobbers one of the countless enemies over the head and that guy's out of the game? That's always annoyed me. I only started paying attention to this about halfway through, but from then on, our hero always came back to chop the clobbered guy's head off. Now he's down. Thank you, Snyder. I also enjoyed the bloody effects - take the 300 logo as reference.

Still, the battle scenes are far from flawless. Our guys have supernatural reflexes, but when it's fitting to have one of them dramatically killed, he's incredibly slow on the uptake, what with everyone yelling and pointing behind him. The 300 never look like more than 50 at most and in those scenes where there are thousands of nearly identical soldiers covering the hills, even the ones furthest back understand every word of the pep talk the captain holds hunderds of yards away. Oh, well. I was into this by now and even the stray bizarro creatures couldn't get me down. Most of us just had a good hearty laugh at them.

The soundtrack is so-so. Taking in the music in only subconsciously for a while, I'd find my attention suddenly snap to it as I thought I recognized a fragment here or there. Whoa, Pirates! Hey, Lord of the Rings! Et cetera. So you have your classic fantasy thing going and suddenly, as our 300 Spartans are charging, hard rock thunders in. Not very fitting to ancient Greece - all they had were lutes without amp adaptors - but after laughing incredulously, the music, damn manipulative as it is, gave me an adrenaline boost.

What can I say, I'm a sucker for that kind of glory, when it's justified. After sticking through the beginning, I enjoyed myself. No, it's not all good from then on, but the bad parts are amusing, even if not intentionally so. According to the press notes, Frank Miller was delighted with Snyder's work. Still, I say, if you're going to spend money to see this movie, I advise you, spend a little more and watch it in the theaters. The overblown effects are 300's single glory.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:16 PM | Comments (4)

Berlinale Dispatch. Miss Gulag.

Adrienne Hudson on a doc that's screened in the Panorama section.

Miss Gulag Miss Gulag [site] by Russian-American director Maria Yatskova documents the annual beauty pageant in a Russian prison camp for women. Yatskova follows three women in different stages of their lives: one who will be stuck in the camp for years to come, one who is on the verge of parole and one who as been out for a few months.

Throughout the film, I kept thinking that this was something I'd more expect to see on, say, the French-German television channel arte. In other words, it wouldn't really have to be seen on the big screen. When Yatskova and the two producers got up on stage after the film to answer questions from the audience, the director explained that she came across just a short article on this beauty pageant on the internet one day and immediately felt the desire to make a movie about it. That's great; the idea itself does have a lot of potential. The women she chose to focus on are indeed interesting characters, and the pageant is a strange event in what is, as the father of one of the girls calls it, basically a third world country.

But the idea, unfortunately, isn't enough. Maybe if the film crew hadn't had such limited access, the movie might have turned up more surprises. Let's face it, we are all attracted by extremes. Unfortunately, however, every person involved had to sign a contract to ensure they would not show certain areas or happenings at the prison camp; otherwise, they would have to face the punishment of - how chilling - a sentence of five to seven years at the very same camp.

Even though it didn't grip me, I wouldn't call Miss Gulag tedious, as it apparently was to the guy next to me. He kept on readjusting in his seat, sighing and looking over his shoulder, trying to catch his buddy's eye, obviously only sticking around because of him. Usually, I would have been annoyed, but I actually felt more humored and sorry for the guy getting himself into such an increasingly desperate state. So, no, it wasn't close to that bad for me, but I did feel this was more something I'd zap to and watch part of to wind down with and then eventually drift off.

I felt a bit guilty about that when an elderly woman stood up during the Q&A and announced in a strong voice with a heavy Russian accent how speechless she was. This group of people was able to display a truth never seen in the Russian media. The film would never have been possible for her generation, she said. I tried not to feel guilty; it's obvious that different movies are going to mean different things to different people. I acknowledge the value of Yatskova's work, even if I'm not thrilled by it.

Another aspect that doesn't exactly help the movie is the production company's limited means. Unfortunately, almost all the material was heavily pixeled, including the lettering of the inserts that seperate the movie into chapters. Each time the narrator, Yatskova herself, came on, you could hear the microphone being turned on and off, and at times you could here the microphones were subjected to noises too loud for them.

All in all: Check it out if it's on TV some day and, if you're really interested in the topic, perhaps there'll be a DVD.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:41 AM | Comments (4)

Berlinale Dispatch. Strange Culture.

Strange Culture David D'Arcy on a film sounding a warning "not about what can happen but what is happening right now."

Far more disturbing than Paul Schrader's The Walker is Strange Culture [site], which tracks the ongoing prosecution of Steve Kurtz, an art professor at the University of Buffalo, who faces charges of mail fraud for his internet purchase of bacteria for an art project that was supposed to be part of a museum exhibition.

Now this is a story that you really can't make up. Kurtz was working with a group called the Critical Art Ensemble. His wife Hope was collaborating with the group. When she died suddenly in May 2004 in the middle of the night of a heart attack, Kurtz called the police. When an ambulance arrived, the attendants noticed chemicals around, and called in Homeland Security, whose agents arrested Kurtz and confiscated his chemicals, computer files, and even his wife's body.

It gets better. Homeland Security agents and the US attorney in Buffalo suspected Kurtz of being a terrorist because an invitation to an art exhibition that they found at his house contained writing in Arabic. The Feds were not able to say what the writing actually said, but that hasn't stopped them.

In a re-enactment, the actor Thomas Jay Ryan, portraying Kurtz (Tilda Swinton plays Hope) attempts to eat some of the bacteria in order to show Homeland Security agents and FBI that the microbes were completely safe. It just hastened his arrest.

Unbelievable? Kurtz and a colleague from the University of Pittsburgh have been defending themselves against fraud charges since the summer of 2004, despite the fact that no party has complained of being wronged by the alleged fraud.

The film is a case in point not of what can happen but what is happening right now - unfounded charges lead to indictments despite clear evidence to the contrary, phones and emails seem to have been tapped and political considerations seem to be driving the whole thing.

Lynn Hershman Leeson made her film quickly (in time for this year's Sundance, where it premiered), perhaps too quickly, although she seems to have had time to commission black and white drawings that look like woodcuts that document the case. The drawings, which depict scenes that evoke the stations of the cross, drive home the point that the kind of witch-hunt against Kurtz tends to happen when this country is at war. Here we see US politicians citing the treachery of the enemy to justify a war on the rights of its own citizens. For more on this, see The Power of Nightmares by Adam Curtis.

The defendants are being represented by the Buffalo lawyer, Paul Cambria, whose role in the defense of unpopular civil liberties deserves more attention. Cambria has defended Larry Flynt and other purveyors of pornography, and won. It's hard to know which cause is less popular, pornography or art. Of course, for many on the Right, given the demonology of contemporary art over the last 20 years, there is no difference anyway.


Earlier: "Sundance. Strange Culture."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:05 AM

February 14, 2007

Berlinale, 2/14.

Berlinale At Cinematical, Erik Davis reports on the "chorus of boos" that's greeted the world premiere of 300. A full review follows.

Signandsight indexes its reviews. In German: Solange es Menschen gibt.

Films seen today:

Posted by dwhudson at 3:58 PM | Comments (12)

Short shorts, 2/14.

Short Cuts It's Valentine's Day and the Lovesick Blog-a-Thon is underway at 100 Films. Related: Robert Davis's "Cinematic Valentine."

Brian Darr calls for a Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Blog-a-Thon on March 21.

"Directors such as Fred Halsted, Christopher Rage and Peter Berlin used film to creatively explore and express sexual identity before urban gay life was attacked by AIDS and vampirized by mainstream consumerism," writes Johnny Ray Huston. "For [William E Jones], the works of these underworld auteurs contain an endless array of sidelines to rediscover and uncover. Instead of excavating the era's graphic, condom-free sex, he spotlights the erotically charged spaces around it." Also: An interview.

Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: Matt Sussman on the first program of the Oppositional and Stigmatized series screening on Sunday and Cheryl Eddy previews programs of Oscar-nominated shorts.

Time Out's Chris Tilly talks with Vincent Cassel about, among other things, David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises.

Brendon Connelly's found news of How the Dead Love, "an animated compendium of four Charles Bukowski stories," featuring the voice of Johnny Depp, who's also producing.

"The Office: A Spec Script by David Mamet." Julia Ward in McSweeney's. Also via Movie City News: "Judd Apatow On Creating A Fake Musical Biopic." MTV.

Tim Wong files an appreciation of Sam Fuller and François Truffaut to the Lumière Reader.

Doug Jones's "role as The Silver Surfer may just propel him into name regnition beyond the rabid fanbase of geeks that keep track of who plays their favorite non-humans onscreen." Canfield interviews him for Twitch.

"Gray Matters is as unhinged as its characters," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant.

Bright Lights After Dark: C Jerry Kutner on Michael Powell's Age of Consent and Alan Vanneman on Black Snake Moan.

Rob Moll talks with Jeffrey Overstreet about Through a Screen Darkly: Looking Closer at Beauty, Truth and Evil in Movies for Christianity Today.

SBalcer at Dr Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope on what makes Letters From Iwo Jima "the best American war film in years."

"Is film criticism worthless?" asks Paul Schrodt at the Stranger Song.

Fests and events:

Online viewing tip. Craig Phillips points to The First Ones, "a short film by Jake Paltrow, interviewing 7 actors on the films that had the biggest impact on them early on."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:42 PM | Comments (1)

Berlinale Dispatch. The Walker.

David D'Arcy's take first; a few of my own thoughts follow.

The Walker Paul Schrader's The Walker appears to be taking on that odd character in the institutional life of Washington DC, but even more so a creature of New York, the convivial gay man who accompanies (walks) rich married women to events that their husbands are too busy (or too uninterested) to attend. (Is it work or the mistresses that are keeping the men away?) Woody Harrelson is the walker here, and he fits the part of the guy you'd most like to sit next to at a dinner party - good breeding, great taste, an instinct for delivering the well-targeted compliment at the right moment, and the kind of unerring instinct for gossip that's comparable to a pig's nose for truffles. Page Carter III, Harrelson's character, knows how to dress, and he also knows how to wear a toupee, a rare skill, judging by all the bad ones out there.

Updated through 2/20.

But The Walker is really trying to be about something else. Schrader's script focuses on a Justice Department smear campaign unleashed after one of Harrelson's lady friends, a Democratic senator's wife (played by Kristin Scott Thomas), finds her lover dead and bloody in his townhouse. Is everyone in Washington cheating on his or her spouse? You can understand why. Washington's not the most exciting town.

It turns out that he had news about a corporate stock manipulation scandal that would have implicated a powerful lawyer at a major firm and the Vice President. Sound familiar? In a town where the art of compromise is really about moral compromise, which is really about corruption, Harrelson protects his friend, and finds himself isolated, with his life and his boyfriend's life threatened. Bear in mind that they are not being threatened with being outed as homosexuals, as was the case in Advise and Consent, the classic 1959  Washington novel by Allen Drury, and the 1962 film by Otto Preminger. At least we've made some progress.

Schrader could have done a better job plotting this one, which is watchable, but lacks anything really chilling at its core, like the concrete consequence of corporate crooks walking in and out of the White House, or the ruthless tactics that they've been willing to use to stay there.

Wasn't Jack Abramoff the real walker, the guy who seems to have had carte blanche to walk anywhere where top Republicans were running things, the unelected fixer who walked corrupt politicians through legislation that they wanted passed? Not exactly. As we know from the black hat that Abramoff wore at his arraignment, he lacked a fundamental walker's skill. He didn't know how to dress, and it wasn't for lack of money. Notice that all the "friends" he had just a year or two ago aren't rallying to his side.

Harrelson plays the hero here, and he plays him well. The problem is that the villains of the real scandals in Washington are far more dramatic, colorful and downright sinister. And we're just beginning to get a picture of what's been going on down there since 2000.

-David D'Arcy


The casting of Lily Tomlin and Ned Beatty as a married couple, however peripheral they are as characters, sparks what I'd consider a perfectly natural association in at least this viewer's mind: Nashville. Now, whether or not Schrader actually intended to invoke Robert Altman's signature portrait of a city's cultural milieu, no matter how realistically that portrait is meant to jibe with the rules of social engagement in the corresponding real city, the comparison highlights one of The Walker's flaws that rankled me most. In Nashville, when the characters talk politics - mourning the Kennedys or, more mundanely, recalling the smell of oranges - their views seem to be genuinely theirs. In The Walker, the plethora of snide remarks about the current administration are not only just plain superficial, they seem snatched from the air and tacked on here and there, wherever - Schrader wrote the screenplay, too, by the way.

Granted, superficiality - as well as unabashed insincerity, of course - are part and parcel of the world Schrader's attempting to conjure here. But whether it's the bit roles (Willem Defoe's "liberal" senator, for example) or even the leads, you'd think that these people wallowing in the political cesspool day in and day out would have worked up some sort of distinguishing rhetorical flair of their own. Instead, all the throwaways about the viciousness of the atmosphere in DC these days seem mouthed by the same puppeteer. There are a few exceptions. Car's lawyer mentions that, since 9/11, federal investigators have been cut loose to savage civil liberties and Car himself, steeped in American history (his late father, who taught the subject in university, is said to have made a mark for himself during the Watergate trial), lists a few delusions he's abandoned in the past few years, one being, for example, that it's the American people who elect their president. That's about as deep as it cuts, sadly, and again, it happens way too rarely. The result: The illustrious cast comes off as a bunch of Hollywood snobs trying on this season's line in political fashion.

I'll second David's comment about Harrelson's performance. It's probably a good one; the problem is, it really doesn't look it. Harrelson has gone way out on limb to get at the well-bred Southerner, the queen bee of the weekly game of Canasta. He's found an interesting wavelength in which to buzz, but he's out there all alone. The other actors are all tuning into whatever they can find, and the band's pretty wide - Schrader's failed to set the tone of his movie, and that goes for more than the performances. Following one tableau after another, the camera suddenly tilts into a chase scene, for example, and a fairly lackluster one it is, too. As is the film, period. What a waste.

Update, 2/20: Ryan Gilbey salutes Harrelson's performance in the Guardian.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:24 PM

PIFF Dispatch. 2.

DK Holm follows up on Sunday's dispatch with his takes on three more films.

Triad Election It's curious how cults start. A close friend of mine told me several years ago that the new generation of Hong Kong action films were being led by Johnnie To Kei-Fung, and that his The Mission was a great film. I duly saw The Mission; the film is indeed great (with a wonderfully catchy theme melody); but otherwise To's films aren't that easy to track down in Portland, despite the city having one of the better independent video stores in the northwest (Movie Madness). Thus was I excited that To's Triad Election, one of three or four films he directed in 2006, found a berth in the 30th annual Portland International Film Festival. Fortunately, it lived up to To's cult status.

Though called Triad Election in the west, the film is really entitled Election 2 (or Hak sewui: yi wo wai gwai, which is a gangland peacekeeping phrase that means ""harmony is a virtue"); that is, it's a sequel to the 2005 film Election, a moody, talky, intricate account of the biannual election of a new chairman for the Wo Shing Society, the 50,000 member-strong, oldest Triad in Hong Kong. The first film pitted the older, wiser Lok (Simon Yam) against the reckless and irrational Big D (Tony Leung Ka-fai) for the perch, which was like having Charlie and Johnny Boy from Mean Streets running for school superindedant. The film also has a long middle section in which a ceremonial baton representing the power of the chairmanship is lost in transit and wrestled over by reps of the two competing candidates.

Lok and the baton are back in the sequel, which takes place two years later, and are re-joined by Jimmy (Louis Koo) and Jet (Nick Cheung), Lok's hit man. The situation is this. Lok is up for reëlection, but wants to buck tradition by running again. Meanwhile, Jimmy, who is trying to go legit, is financially blackmailed by elements of mainland China to put himself forward as a candidate. Bloody electioneering ensues. The sequel's suspense set piece is a long sequence in what appears to be a meat packing plant, where Jimmy's men work over his competitors. It's like the signature scene in The Long Good Friday times a thousand, with some echos of Abu Ghraib thrown in.

Triad Election

There are also echos of The Godfather, as To has conceded. Much of the film concerns men talking ominously in rooms. Yet also, as in the first film, men take time out to go fishing along a thin stream. The film balances a number of themes. On a pure documentary level, it reveals on the screen for the first time certain Triad rituals, but at the same time, the film is an essay on the degradation of society (in Election, this was shown on the reactive faces of those observing Big D run riot; here it is the reaction of a otherwise stone killer [Mark Cheng, as Bo] to the horrors committed in the plant); and it scrutinizes the malign nature of mainland China on Hong Kong (which is officially a Special Administrative Region). As in the first film, another theme has to do with the absurd extremes to which the candidates will go to win, as if they all lived in a fantasy world. To the mournful, high-pitched strings of Robert Ellis-Geiger's score, the nine Triad bosses watch their world change inexorably.

It is not essential to see Election before viewing Triad Election, but it helps, and in any case the film is worth seeing, and in addition, Nix's review at Beyond Hollywood, Russell Edwards's at Variety, Stefan S's at Nutshell Review and Leo Goldsmith's at Not Coming to a Theater Near You provide helpful background.

The Great Match La gran final (The Great Match) is a gentle comedy of slight proportions that may well put viewers in mind of The Gods Must Be Crazy and other popular, official-feeling international exports that risk condescension. It's also a kind of easy-going reverse version of Babel as it tells of three unconnected groups of people around the world struggling to find a circumstance in which to view the 2002 World Cup final between Germany and Brazil. In Babel, everyone is alienated, alone, closed off from their culture; in the more upbeat La gran final, everyone is ultimately the same, united, and culture works, dammit. Instead of being alienated by our differences, in this Global McMovie, we are all united by our shared obsession with a singularity. It is perfect middlebrow film festival fare, and you get three cultures for the price of one.

Directed, photographed, and co-written by Gerardo Olivares, the film has great Koyaanisqatsi-style imagery, wherein man is a feeble if defiant figure against the immutable harshness of nature. One striking image shows numerous anonymous people on a truck in the desert, each wearing bright colors, like soccer teams. But overall its humor is broad without being compensatingly funny as it follows groups in the Brazillian Amazon, the Niger desert, and the Mongolian veldt crowding around battered TV sets. In fact, the show they are all united in watching could just easily have been Baywatch or CSI: Miami, as far as the international obsessions of the working classes go. Or more appropriately, perhaps American Idol, the latest (and last) mainstream program to unite a nation despite differences of gender, race, aesthetic, et cetera. In such a case, the filmmakers wouldn't have risked having their film confused with the The Cup, the Tibetan movie on a similar theme.

The end credits include little making of snippets. Reviewers who liked the movie include Scott's Movie Comments and Jonathan Holland at Variety.

Rang De Basanti Rang De Basanti (also known as Paint It Yellow) is a very interesting Bollywood film, or at least offers an interesting idea for a film, but in the end, Rang doesn't have the courage of its convictions. The story is quite simple but stretched out over a lengthy 157-minute running time. Sue McKinley (Alice Patten), the Hindi-speaking granddaughter of a colonialist, is attempting to make a film about Indian revolutionary Bhagat Singh, and ends up in Delhi where, with few resources, she embarks on a low-budget film she calls The Young Guns of India. She falls in with a group of westernized friends, led by DJ (Aamir Khan of Lagaan). Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's film (from a screenplay by Renzil D'Silva, Mehra, Kamlesh Pandey and lyricist Prasoon Joshi) spends an ungodly amount of time letting us get to know this crew and their idiosyncrasies, and later intercuts footage from the film she has made with their contemporaneous antics.

That long passage at least has the benefit of letting us "get to know" the characters in detail, so that later we care about their fate, because the film turns deadly serious when one of their number, an air force pilot Ajay (Madhavan) dies when his MIG breakdowns down (in an unseen moment that nevertheless mimics a similar situation in The Great Santini). This leads to a national governmental scandal, with Ajay's mother battered in a riot. The remaining male pals take over a radio station in an effort to get the word out about corruption within the military-industrial complex.

Though the movie is endeavoring to rouse the youth of a nation out of some kind of somnolence, it still adheres to a retrograde movie morality out of 30s-era Hollywood. In other words, though the pals are politically "correct," because they have engaged in violence they, too, must fall in violence. I suppose it would be too "reassuring," or inspire complacency if their activism were rewarded by the film instead of memorialized. Near the beginning of the film, we see video footage of Sue's audition interviews. The kids are hopeful, but awkward and unfocused. This sequence is mirrored by a concluding montage of students across the nation, now radicalized and activated like Bhagat Singh, and indicating the birth of a protest movement, which at least leaves the viewer with some hope.

For more enthusiastic reviews, see Jaspreet Pandohar for the BBC, G Allen Johnson in the San Francisco Chronicle and Abhishek Bandekar at efilmcritic.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:48 AM | Comments (2)

February 13, 2007

Berlinale, 2/13.

Berlinale Dennis Lim offers his half-time wrap-up from the Berlinale for indieWIRE. Lady Chatterley, for example, "is at once the most adventurous and the most conventionally satisfying film I've seen here so far."

The first Golden Bear's been awarded. For the best short film. To Dutch director Hanro Smitsman's Raak. Spiegel Online has the story in German. In English, Cameron Abadi reports on the marathon all-in-one-go screening of Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz.

Saw three films today:

  • El Otro: B- (It started so well; then it started simply biding time.)

  • Irina Palm: B+ (Press screening was packed; frequent outbursts of laughter; first time this year I've heard this crowd cheer a film as the credits rolled; Marianne Faithfull: a star is reborn; it's not the acting chops, by any means; just that certain something.)

  • The Walker: D+ (Whatever happened to Paul Schrader?)

Online viewing tip. "Vår første video fra Berlinalen!" A minute and a half and just terrific.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:12 PM

Short shorts, 2/13.

SOMA: Film Nick Schager profiles Julianne Nicholson for the cover story of the new "Film Issue" of SOMA Magazine.

Girish:

There is a rich and rousing conversation with Adrian Martin in the new issue of the Italian journal Cinemascope. Conducted by the Spanish film magazine Miradas de Cine, the interview is wide-ranging and thought-provoking in a myriad ways. I thought I'd excerpt a few parts, but I would highly recommend reading the whole thing. It thoughtfully (and inspiringly!) takes up many of the topics we've been dialoguing about in the film blogosphere recently, most notably in Andy Horbal's Film Criticism Blog-A-Thon.

William Speruzzi calls for a Peckinpah Blog-a-Thon on February 21; and Matthew Clayfield proposes a Simpsons Blog-a-Thon for June 4 through 8.

Books:

Half-Cocked Mike at Bad Lit: "Half-Cocked is the definitive early 90s indie rock film. Which is great because it doesn't seem like anybody else ever bothered to make one." More from Darcie Stevens in the Austin Chronicle.

David Lowery on Robert Bresson.

Michael Guillén interviews Kumakiri Kazuyoshi.

Brian programs a perfect Friday night at Reel Distraction.

Peter Bradshaw sparks a string of comments on Quentin Tarantino at the Guardian.

Violet Glaze traces connections between Akira Kurosawa and Sergio Leone at PopMatters.

Peter S Scholtes, City Pages, Katrina docs.

Grbavica: Ella Taylor in the Voice and Michael Joshua Rowin at indieWIRE.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:53 PM

Up-n-coming, 2/13.

The Trip Time Out's Chris Tilly reports on Joe Dante's fictional account of the making of The Trip. Among the cameos: Martin Scorsese, Roger Corman, John Sayles and Jonathan Demme.

"Francis Ford Coppola will follow-up his directorial return Youth Without Youth with a vaguely autobiographical film," reports Jake Coyle for the AP.

Film-Fatale has news on Paul Verhoeven's next one, an adaptation of Boris Akunin's The Winter Queen, a thiller set in 19th century St Petersburg and London.

Leonardo DiCaprio will produce and star in an adaptation of Kurt Eichenwald's Conspiracy of Fools, which chronicles the collapse of Enron. Pamela McClintock and Michael Fleming report for Variety.

The BBC: "A drama about a Brazilian man killed by police in London is being filmed by a UK studio with Stephen Frears, who made The Queen, as executive producer."

Brendon Connelly quotes Guillermo Del Toro talking about his upcoming Tarzan movie.

Alison Willmore has lots more up-n-coming news at the IFC Blog.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:35 PM

Other fests, other events, 2/13.

Exterminating Angels At the House Next Door, Keith Uhlich previews six of the 18 films screening in the Film Comment Selects series (tomorrow through February 27 in New York), offering notes on "films scandalous, salacious, sheepish and, well, shitty." More previews at Slant and from Elliott Stein in the Voice.

J Hoberman previews the Peter Whitehead retro at the Anthology Film Archives, Thursday through February 20.

The lineup for the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series (February 28 through March 11) is up.

Another schedule unveiled: The US Comedy Arts Festival, February 28 through March 4 in Aspen.

Marathon viewing is set to blanket NYC. The Reeler reports.

Charlotte Cripps previews the Glasgow Film Festival for the Independent. Thursday through February 25.

Harry Knowles announces that AICN will be presenting Disturbia at SXSW this year.

Andy Spletzer wraps Rotterdam.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:18 PM

February 12, 2007

Berlinale. Half-time ratings.

Berlinale As the long day closes, it also marks the halfway point in this year's Berlinale. The list of movies I've seen but haven't yet written up is growing, but those entries will appear, perhaps a bit later than sooner. In the meantime, I thought I'd offer quick ratings on those, but first a few notes.

Updated.

This halfway point also marks the annual appearance in the German papers of articles asking, at least of the Competition, Where's the earth-shaker? Where's the film that comes out of nowhere and knocks our socks off? My take: The Berlinale tends to front-load its schedule with films that'll bring the stars, the catnip thrown at the boulevard press and the Chamber of Commerce-types. So far, they've lapped up Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood, Cate Blanchett and so on. That's why The Good German, The Good Shepherd, Letters From Iwo Jima, Notes on a Scandal have, at the rate of one per day, already screened. The ravenous appetites for photos and gossip sated, we can now get down to it, and we have films from the likes of Jacques Rivette, Christian Petzold and Jiri Menzel to look forward to in the coming few days.

I have not seen any of those movies mentioned. For one thing, I can look forward to catching them after the festival's over, and for another, you already know all about those. Still, I found this interesting: When Steven Soderbergh arrived, he evidently said something at the Good German press conference about hoping that the reception of his film in Europe would be better than the reception in the US. According to the reviews and polls I've seen (e.g., Der Tagesspiegel asks six prominent German critics to rate the Competition titles on a scale that runs both positive and negative; similarly, the Berliner Zeitung and its poll of eight not-so-prominent German critics), and what precisely what Soderbergh was hoping for has happened to the Good... Shepherd. The Germans are loving De Niro's film; but not Soderbergh's.

Meantime, David D'Arcy's participating in another of these polls, Screen's. Their system is quite simple: 1 to 4 stars, "Poor" to "Excellent," and the option of choosing an "X" for "Bad." Collating his stars and Adrienne's grades into the list of films seen by the GreenCiners, my quickie ratings first, then theirs:

Competition:

Forum:

Panorama:

Elsewhere, in addition to coverage mentioned here and here: The February edition of the News Reel at Wim Wenders's site is being dubbed a special Berlinale edition; and the RBB Berlinale Blog is in German, yes, but there's also plenty of video and lots of pix for that you-are-there feeling.

Update: Online viewing tip. Over at Cinematical, Erik Davis and I talk about our favorites and least favorites so far.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:23 PM | Comments (4)

Really short shorts, 2/12.

Guy Debord The new issue of Senses of Cinema features the "2006 World Poll" and special sections on Michael Mann, "The Moral of Auteur Theory," Cinema Engagé and Independent Australian Cinema. Plus, of course, reviews of books and DVDs, festival reports and five new entries in the Great Directors critical database: Guy Debord, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Rouben Mamoulian, George Romero and King Vidor.

Mikio Naruse New at Midnight Eye: Eija Niskanen's overview of the work of Mikio Naruse and Jaspar Sharp's review of his Repast, the results of the Readers Poll (Linda Linda Linda!) and Adam Campbell on Starfish Hotel.

It's Monday, which means there's another round of fresh reviews, interviews and, yes, news at IFC News.

In the New York Review of Books, Daniel Mendelsohn explains why, when it comes to Pedro Almodóvar, "exchanges in his films about the nature and merits of popular genres and their ability to represent reality are not to be taken casually."

Jane Mayer in the New Yorker on the "politics of the man behind 24."

David Edelstein, New York, Days of Glory.

Avenue Montaigne is "nobody's idea of a masterpiece," writes Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE, "but it shows off Paris in a faintly enchanted light that could make Parisians proud... [Y]ou could call it fluff and you'd be right. But it stays within its own modest boundaries, so why get peevish?"

Online viewing tip. Sarah Polley's I Shout Love at Film Threat.

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

Berlinale Dispatch. Wolfsbergen.

Adrienne Hudson on another Forum entry.

Wolfsbergen

Dutch director Nanook Leopold's Wolfsbergen is one of those movies that show you characters silently reading letters for ages. There is no score and people's breathing, chewing, coughing and swallowing is uncomfortably loud, on screen and off. It's a movie for which you have to be in the right frame of mind. And sure enough, though masses of journalists were pushing and stepping on one another's feet to get in this afternoon, only five minutes into the movie, the theater started getting exponentially more roomy.

I can understand; I considered walking out, too. For 93 minutes, we observe a Dutch family unraveling, beginning with great-grandfather Konraad's (Piet Kamerman) letter, which announces the suicide he plans to commit in the near future. I consciously chose the word "observe," because the assortment of scenes seem to unreel all but randomly. This style does not do the first half hour any favors.

Konraad's daughter (Catherine ten Bruggencate) and granddaughter Sabine (Tamar van den Dop) seem oblivious to his planned suicide and merely declare the letter ridiculous. Both their husbands urge them to show some sort of reaction, and so do we. The women trudge through their everyday lives shrugging off their husbands' attempts to communicate by simply going to bed.

The scenes we are shown don't serve to construct a plot; they seem to roll along all on their own, and we're left peeking in every now and then to see how things are going. Whatever crucial moments come along seem to come along per chance. How much time passes between these little observations fluctuates; it's hard to tell.

I'm glad I decided to stick around, though, since this deliberate technique begins to show its effectiveness when the family relationships start crumbling. It gives the action - or lack of action - a very real heft.

Leopold tells her story not from his point of view and not from any of the characters' points of view. He tells it from our point of view. He shows a little bit here and a little bit there, refraining from manipulative tools such as music or a subjective choice of scenes.

We observe. We are free to sympathise with whichever characters we chose. And as in real life, this is not as easy as we are directed to feel when we usually watch movies. There is no such thing as an antagonist; every person has reasons for their actions. Completely objectively, we are shown these reasons or are given to understand that they exist.

Not knowing why the grandmother turns away from her husband paradoxically makes her silence much more understandable. You look at her tight-lipped face and you can tell there is a reason - maybe it's because she feels unattractive, maybe it has nothing to do with that. She is the one creating the distance between them, but you hurt for her husband and for her.

Strangely enough, I found myself lacking sympathy for the only character that does always show her emotions freely and explains where they come from, Eva (Karina Smulders), the other granddaughter.

Walking to the train afterwards, I felt almost violently calm, definitely affected by the movie but uncertain in what way and for or against whom. It's one of those things that put me in a very contemplative mood, though something hinders me from coming to a relieving conclusion.

But since Nanook Leopold gives us freedoms other directors don't, you'll have to see for yourself what the film does for you. It might simply bore the hell out of you and that's okay. Part of our freedom is choosing to walk out of the theater.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:24 PM | Comments (2)

Il Maestro in America.

On February 3, Radio City Music Hall presented an evening produced by Massimo Gallotta billed "Ennio Morricone in Concert." Robert C Cumbow was there.

Ennio Morricone The anticipation was practically unbearable. People from all over the country had bought tickets, waited months, and stood in line on a damp, bitter-cold New York evening, for this one event. And to call it an "event" is not to belittle its significance as a concert. It was both: We wanted to hear the music live, and we also wanted desperately to get an in-person look at the man himself, the composer who, for so many of us, is the author of the soundtrack score to our lives.

The 100 choir members had filed in and taken their seats, the 100-piece orchestra was already in place, the concertmaster had appeared and tuned them up, and nothing remained but for the concert to begin.

After a long and awkward pause, an unassuming little man in tails, a load of sheet music under his arm, entered from stage right and strode across the brightly-lit stage. The audience burst into applause. The accolade grew as he mounted the podium and placed the sheet music onto the conductor's lectern, then died a fast death as he stepped back off the podium and briskly exited. The audience shivered into nervous, then heartfelt, self-mocking laughter as they realized they'd been applauding the wrong guy - someone on the order of Melville's sub-sub-librarian instead of the titan they'd been waiting for.

Well, we'd got that off our chests, so by the time Ennio Morricone [site] lui stesso walked out to take the podium, the atmosphere had been thoroughly de-mysticized and informalized. The applause was more rousing than ever, of course; but everyone was just so much more comfortable - not the least, I suspect, Maestro Morricone himself.

There was no mistaking him - the balding pate, wisps of silver and gold hair, furrowed brow, Coke-bottle glasses - and it was a delight that he was, indeed, so informal: no arrogance or sense of importance about his walk or stance, just a man getting on with his work, gracious, spry for his 78 years, and a little befuddled at all these people going crazy over him.

The concert was engineered to be a short one, without intermission, consisting of six medleys comprising works that someone - most likely the Maestro himself - considered to be related. As a kind of prologue, the first set was headed by The Untouchables - not one of the more melodic sections from that score, but a pulsing, insistent, occasionally discordant set-piece of the kind Morricone has so frequently used to define the determination of implacable, and sometimes doomed, characters in scenes of action and mounting suspense.

Morricone: Tornatore From this, a graceful segue (the first of many in an evening built upon medleys) into the heart-aching "Deborah's Theme" from Once upon a Time in America, followed by "Poverty" and the main title from the same film, and then the theme from a lesser-known film, Giuseppe Tornatore's La Leggenda del pianista sull'oceano, or The Legend of 1900, delivered with powerful passion.

The second set featured the pianist Gilda Buttà in a warm rendering of the themes for Nuovo Cinema Paradiso and Maléna. But the third set was clearly the most eagerly anticipated. Somewhat pretentiously titled "The Modernity of Myth in Sergio Leone's Cinema," it consisted of the main themes from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Once upon a Time in the West and Duck, You Sucker (here billed under its alternate title A Fistful of Dynamite), culminating in a barn-burning, all-stops-out performance of L'estasi dell'oro from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. If Morricone has a signature theme, of all the great music he has created over the past 45 years, it is surely this amazing orchestral invention, combining haunting melodic beauty, savage lust and animal desperation. No one can listen to this and not picture Eli Wallach as Tuco, running among the crosses marking the graves of thousands of war dead, breathlessly seeking the one that marks the hiding place of a treasure beyond imagining.

That show-stopping sequence in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly astonishes everyone who sees that movie for the first time - or for the 31st. A "privileged moment" if ever there was one, it dares to stop the film's narrative for more than three minutes of blood-churning, temperature-raising pure style - a moment that, in case anyone hadn't noticed yet, announced the absolute arrival of both Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone. It is the defining moment of that film, and the first of several defining moments of Morricone's career. And as I watched and listened, I couldn't help thinking how far we have come from 1967, when so many critics considered The Good, the Bad and the Ugly grindhouse grunge from an upstart Italian who knew nothing about that uniquely American genre, the Western; and even those few who were sensitive enough to be struck by the music and the stylistic bravura still wondered why it was wasted on genre trash. Today, here we are, dressed up in our Saturday night finest, to hear the composer perform that music in a hallowed American concert venue. And rightly so. Morricone and his music always deserved this. It just took close to half a century for most people to recognize it.

Ennio Morricone: Italian Westerns Even in recent years, Morricone's music has been the subject of musings along the lines of "What a pity such great music was wasted on so many bad movies." Of course, Morricone scored many truly great movies, including several whose greatness took some people a few years to recognize; but even the poorest of the Italian popular-genre films that were the subject of most of his scores can never be fairly called "bad movies" for one reason: They were scored by Morricone, and that alone, over time, has proved to be enough to make them worthy.

The concert program proudly proclaimed: "The orchestrations are the same as the original soundtracks composed by Ennio Morricone." Not true. Several of the pieces - including the two from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly - had significant orchestral variations from the versions that were used in the soundtracks of the films themselves. Not a problem, since the concert versions were equally thrilling; but one wonders why they went to the trouble of making a claim that wasn't true. Most notably, the counter-theme to the main title from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was played by brass rather than by "surf" guitar, even though the orchestra assembled for this concert included two electric guitars.

The orchestra was joined by soprano Susanna Rigacci for those pieces calling for Morricone's famous, innovative use of voice without words. Ms Rigacci rose to the occasion, and was able to provide the necessary frisson, despite having a much wider vibrato than Edda dell'Orso, and occasionally resorting to glissandi where Edda did not. But I doubt if Ms Rigacci or anyone else (Edda included) could replicate today what Edda did in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Once upon a Time in the West, Duck, You Sucker, Once upon a Time America, La Califfa, Nostromo and so many other film scores. Together, Edda and Ennio created a unique, original sound that became a trademark for both of them and for an entire style of cinematic music.

But for all its rousing impact and thematic provocation, and despite its popularity, L'estasi dell'oro was not the big hit of the evening. Nor was "In Earth as in Heaven," the chorus from The Mission that closed the concert. That honor went to the jaw-dropping "Abolicao" (identified in the program as "Abolisson") from Gillo Pontecorvo's Queimada (Burn!) - a little-known and less-seen film almost certainly unknown to most of the audience, who were thrilled to bursting by this wonderful piece of orchestral and choral pyrotechnics. So powerful is this work that no one would leave the theater until they heard it a second time - which they did.

"Abolicao" was part of a two-piece medley labeled "Social Cinema," in which it was preceded by the main theme from Vittime di Guerra, which only the Italian-speaking (apparently most of the audience, to judge by the lobby conversation after the concert) were likely to recognize as Brian De Palma's Casualties of War.

Morricone A grab-bag medley entitled "Scattered Sheets" collated themes from comparatively little-known films: H2 S, The Sicilian Clan, Metti una sera a cena (One Night at Dinner) and Maddalena. The final set comprised the haunting "Gabriel's Oboe," the title theme, and "In Earth as in Heaven" from Roland Joffé's The Mission - a masterful performance of a masterpiece of film scoring.

The entire concert lasted less than the running time of an average CD - probably no coincidence, although the rumor is that the concert was recorded on video and will be released on DVD.

There was a long standing ovation before the Maestro - seemingly reluctantly - returned for an encore. No encore had been planned, so the audience was treated to a second performance of L'estasi dell'oro. This performance was better than the first one, partly because Ms Ragacci seemed more relaxed and comfortable, and handled those high notes more gracefully. But it wasn't enough. The applause continued, and the audience was rewarded with a reprise of Maléna. When the second encore proved to be a slow piece, it was unthinkable that there would not be a third, and the applause continued. Il Maestro returned, with a shrug, and played again what everyone was waiting for, the "Abolicao" from Queimada. And nothing could have ended the concert more appropriately or thrillingly.

After that, he was really finished, and he let us know that by gathering up all the sheet music himself, tucking it under his arm, and leaving the stage for good. And this time the audience cheered for the right guy.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:44 PM | Comments (1)

February 11, 2007

Baftas. Awards.

Baftas "Dame Helen Mirren has added the best actress Bafta to her long list of awards for The Queen, which was also named best film at the London ceremony," reports the BBC. Three awards went to The Last King of Scotland and Paul Greengrass picked up a Best Director award for United 93. Movie City News has the full list.

As for the other big awards night: "The Dixie Chicks completed a defiant comeback on Sunday night, capturing five Grammy awards after being shunned by the country music establishment over the group's anti-Bush comments leading up to the Iraq invasion," reports Nekesa Mumbi Moody for the AP.

Update, 2/12: And via MCN: The Writers Guild award-winners.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:14 PM | Comments (1)

PIFF Dispatch. 1.

In his first dispatch, DK Holm not only reviews four films but offers a fine and fun introduction to Portland and its festival as well. It runs through February 25.

Portland International Film Festival Round numbers make convenient landmarks. Thus, as the Portland International Film Festival embarks on its 30th season of films, its venerable age invites comment and reminiscence. Especially because with Portland, Oregon, being such a weird movie town, it's a surprise that the festival has lasted this long in the first place.

PIFF, as it inevitably came to be abbreviated, began in the spring of 1977 in a small art film theater called The Movie House. This theater was part of the Seven Gables chain, based in Seattle, and the brain child of a tempestuous former bookstore owner named Randy Finley, who turned the bright idea of occasional showings of movies based on novels, amid the stacks of books, into a mini theatrical empire. Seven Gables eventually came to open three theaters in Portland. It thrived. And then... it didn't. Two years later, the festival came under the guardianship of the Northwest Film Study Center (as it was then called).

The Northwest Film Center (as it is now known) is a branch of the Portland Art Museum, and its mission statement announces itself as "a regional media arts organization founded to encourage the study and appreciation of the moving image arts; foster their artistic and professional excellence; and to help create a climate in which they may flourish." The NWFC sponsors a film school, exhibits a prolific number of films per month, and has various outreach programs, notably one within the Portland public school system. Mounting the month-long festival takes all year, and makes for an intense final two months both for the staff and the local reviewers, not to mention the city's film buffs.

Speaking of which, Portland has a reputation for being movie mad, but that is something of an exaggeration. Seattle is the movie-crazy city, where a huge rental shop like Scarecrow Video can thrive and someone like Guy Maddin can drop in and easily shoot a whole feature film with the cooperation of local film-friendly organizations. Portlanders, on the other hand, like movies, sure, but they tend to favor the films everyone else in America likes. Portlanders are the most massive of mass audiences. For example, the Burt Reynolds "comedy" Hooper made more money in Portland than in any other market back in 1978, the second year of PIFF. Meanwhile, that same year Northern Lights (one of the first of the modern era independent films, back when they were truly independent), Martin and Bread and Chocolate did little business. Portland's blandness of sensibility has rendered it one of those perfect market research burgs, where corporations audition brands.

Portland breeds a different sort of filmgoer. This is the town where its seemingly unemployed Generation Why sit for hours within its numerous coffee houses drinking $5 dollar brews seriatim and typing endlessly into their brand new MacBooks. Everyone in Portland is "in a band." Or they own a brew pub. Or they virtually live in one. Portland Man rides his bike to work (cursing at the Earth-fracking cars the entire route), enters each of the city's monthly foot race marathons, works for the city (probably the Water Bureau), shops at Whole Foods, and to this day thinks back fondly on that wine tour of Provence he and the wife made back in '92. Portland Woman, by contrast, is an independent and independently minded citizen who can't find a worthy male. She is a mirror image of the Sex in the City gals but without the clothes. She is obsessed with shopping, eating, her figure, her co-workers and office politics, her favorite celebrities (or her favorite causes), and is either about to enter, is in, or has just departed her Fag Hag stage. They complain about never meeting any good men and then move in with a meth addict. Personals ads here are very popular and highly effective. People in Portland don't "date." They have a date, and then get married.

Within this context, it's a wonder that any films get seen at all. Yet over the years, the festival has expanded from one small venue to its current reach, four auditoria scattered throughout the city (though all of the theaters are confined to the city's downtown area), hosting a dizzying number of offerings.

The Portland International Film Festival is unusual among film festivals. It's rather stripped down, in comparison to the annual Leviathan in Seattle. It offers no prizes (though results of an audience poll are announced a few weeks after the festival ends). Generally it doesn't host filmmakers or offer panels. What if does have, however, is films in abundance. Indeed one might say all out of proportion to the city's population and its movie love meter rating. Last year, the festival offered 134 films and attracted 30,000 viewers. This year, PIFF offers some 80 feature films in the span of 17 days. The festival's daily schedule, which includes at least 20 films, tests the dedicated film buff's mathematical and logistical ingenuity.

Das Leben der Anderen The Portland International Film Festival opened on Friday with a gala celebration staged at one of the city's modestly outfitted live theater venues, the Newmark. The opening night film was Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen), with the director in attendance.

Von Donnersmarck's film is, simply put, a masterpiece. It tells a story of some intricacy, delicacy, complexity and political import. At the same time, it is technically accomplished, and is at least as visually stylish as Scorsese's The Departed, which is to say that on the camera-flourishes chart, both films rest at about 8, low for a Scorsese but high for anyone else. It probably won't win an Oscar as Best Foreign Film (it's up against Pan's Labyrinth in that category), but is a more coherent work, being pitched somewhat lower.

Set in East Germany in 1984, the film's overriding concern is the ambiguity of a society in which one half of the citizens watches the other half (a theme, it appears, of the similar Red Road, also in the festival and to be reviewed later) and the possibility that dissent might spring up within the soul or mind of one of the oppressors. Von Donnersmarck's exercise in 70s Cinema of Paranoia offers us five interesting characters. The first is a popular playwright who is that rare man in a Communist county, a true believer. The second is a Stasi agent, a kind of Harry Caul who is assigned the task of leading a surveillance team against him. The man making the assignment is his direct supervisor, one of those cheerful mid-level managers who somehow manages to get away with statements and actions that would land others in deep trouble (the Bill Haydon of his particular spy club). His immediate boss is a high party official, who essentially dispenses or withholds governing arts funding, and he has asked the mid-level manager to have the playwright watched. Why? Because the bloated boss lusts after the playwright's mistress, a pill-popping actress who needs the party official like an indie rock star needs her connection. Thus is an imprisoning chain forged.

Captain Gerd Wiesler, the Stasi agent, is played by Ulrich Mühe (Funny Games), an actor who manages, at the film's beginning, to make himself smaller than the role. Georg Dreyman the playwright is played by Sebastian Koch (also in Paul Verhoeven's Black Book) with an attractive openness of spirit that is slowly crushed. Lt Col Grubitz, the mid-level manager, is played by Ulrich Tukur, the party official Thomas Hempf by Thomas Thieme and Christa-Maria Sieland, the mistress, by Martina Gedeck. All are superb, yet one feels like a rube gracing the digital bits of GreenCine with praise for the film when J Hoberman calls it "a compelling thriller but an unsatisfying character drama", and both he and Ed Gonzalez of Slant compare it unfavorably to a new documentary about the Stasi prison, The Decomposition of the Soul, Mr Gonzalez adding that The Lives of Others is "obscenely lauded." Or especially Scott Foundas's uniquely harsh review in the LA Weekly (the Oxford-educated, six-foot-nine Von Donnersmarck defends himself against Foundas and other negative reviews in an interview with Michael Guillén [and Michael has since posted a rather alarming and disheartening follow-up]).

The Lives of Others The Lives of Others offers an inherently conservative vision of politics, one that posits that an attempted "ideal" society will inevitably end up corrupted, while at the same time believing optimistically in the ability of individuals to change. Indeed, it is through art itself, in the film's most controversial passages, that Mühe begins to change, lifting poetry from Dreyman's shelves in his absence and weeping quietly over the music emanating from the apartment via the multitude of microphones. In fact, the film's tense, ominous score, credited to Stéphane Moucha and Gabriel Yared (Cold Mountain), which avoids the mindless metronome sea-sawing strings that defines most modern movie music these days, is one of The Lives of Others' reassuring components, along with the editing of Patricia Rommel and cinematography of Hagen Bogdanski. Together they evoke the New Classicism of Coppola, Friedkin, Schatzberg, Bogdanovich and so many others of the 70s renascence. It was probably nostalgia for the lost days of cinema as well as the machinations of the plot's epilogue that brought me to tears, both times I've seen The Lives of Others, at the film's last sentence and final image.

In person at the film's opening on Friday night, Von Donnersmarck proved to be a tall, well-spoken, fresh scrubbed. During the question and answer session on the stage of the Newmark Theater after the film, von Donnersmarck surprised at least one member of the audience (me) by citing Richard Attenborough as a one-time mentor.

Day Two proceeded with a large selection, including a program of shorts, and the features Days of Glory, from Algeria, and, from South Korea, both Woman on the Beach and King and the Clown.

One of my pet peeves is elite and snobbish audiences who go nuts over qualities in art films that they would abjure in American films. You know the type of viewer I mean. The Volvo-driving special-diet fuss budget who not only doesn't like network TV but doesn't even own a television, a point they announce proudly whenever the vulgar subject of television comes up. They also hate "Hollywood," a term which to them means trivializing entertainment designed by corporate masters to distract the masses. Like the Puritans of yore, they can't stand the idea that someone, somewhere is having fun.

Days of Glory So when they are confronted by a film such as Days of Glory they laugh in all the right places, weep in the predetermined spots, and applaud at the end in awe of the film's solemn profundity. If the film had been directed by Steven Spielberg, they would laugh at its manipulative narrative effects and mock its tear-mongering heroics. But because it has the imprimatur of being "foreign," a particular sort of American audience will forgive all that.

Days of Glory (Indigènes) is Rachid Bouchareb's answer to Saving Private Ryan. The film, which Bouchareb co-wrote with Olivier Lorelle, follows four Algerian muslims as they (rather inexplicably by the film's terms) choose to enlist in the Free French army and fight the Germans. The film is divided into several discrete chapters, marked by a date and location in the European Theater, and noted by a von Trierian visual effect in which a high angle landscape image dissolves from black and white to color, as if a full-palate cloud were passing by. In the first sequence, we meet most of the various players.

These men mainly include Saïd Otmari (Jamel Debbouze), a slight of stature illiterate with a disabled right hand (he's the film's mascot-like Radar). There's also Yassir (Samy Naceri) and his brother Larbi (Assaad Bouab), who have joined up for mercenary reasons, to raise funds for Larbi's future wedding. There is the lovable giant Messaoud Souni (Roschdy Zem), who has a fling with a local (Aurélie Eltvedt), and there is the angry rabble rouser Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila), who notes with peevish regularity that the French solders are promoted and granted leave while their Algerian brothers are not. Eventually they come under the leadership of the cadaverous-faced Sergeant Roger Martinez (Bernard Blancan), whose mood swings are unpredictable.

If this film were made in the 1930s about WWI, it would star Michel Simon as Messaoud, Marcel Dalio as Saïd and Jean Gabin as Abdelkader. And it would have the same degree of sentimentality, and a similar rousing affect. And it would be equally loved by American art house audiences (if the reaction to the PIFF advance screening of Days of Glory is any measure of its future success). In fact, it's telling that the Weinstein Company picked it up, as the film sports that blend of broad canvass and superficial ideas that made Miramax successful back in the 1990s, and it's hardly a surprise that the film has been nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar. But as with most WWII B-films (and their successors, the teen slasher film), the narrative is episodic and arbitrary.

As it turns out, though, has a larger political point. A final title card complains that colonial subjects have been only intermittently compensated for their war efforts, and lawsuits are ongoing. This is an important point, and one wishes that the film were instead based on a Jarndyce and Jarndyce-type tale to get its cause across, instead of clothed in the stale heroics of an action film.

Woman on the Beach Hong Sang-soo's highly touted Woman on the Beach proves to be a sub-Rohmer style tale: quirky lovely females are preyed on by atrocious hypocritical men. In this case, it's an emotionally confused film director dancing between two seemingly similar women. From its sentimental opening musical theme to its static cinematography (occasionally interrupted by sudden jarring zooms, such as the one at the 46-minute mark) and, by virtue of its focus on mundane people and their actions, Woman on the Beach feels curiously bloated and empty at the same time.

The narrative concerns blocked director Kim Joong-rae (Kim Seung-woo) taking a working vacation to the western shore of Shinduri beach in order to get a handle on a vague script idea he has about the interconnections between people (the sort of idea that everyone is Hollywood appears to be having these days). Kim drags along his dorky production designer (Kim Tae-woo), who is married but who also happens to have a girlfriend, a composer named Moon-sook (Ko Hyun-Joung). Kim steals Moon-sook away from the dork, then pushes her away, then regrets his actions and takes up with another vacationer who supposedly resembles her, and then deals with Moon-sook again when she tracks him down back at the resort. Well, at least he gets his two-page script out of the farrago.

Apparently more "accessible" than Hong's earlier films, which also apparently feature film director protagonists, this is due to the film's absorption in the quotidian: driving, stopping for treats, looking at cherry blossoms, lavishing attention on a couple's dog met on the beach. All of this feels like padding, except the dog, named Dori, which soon comes to symbolize the pinball nature of romantic attachment in Hong's view of society (the dog is cruelly abandoned by its owners, and rescued by a stranger). Kim is like a Neil LaBute character, a charismatic and mature male stealing a dork's unlikely pretty girlfriend, flaunting his experience and power over weaker people. In the end, his character feels like the result of a self-forgiving auto critique.

Others have liked the film, of course, including Todd McCarthy of Variety, Nick Schager of Slant and Andrew Grant, writing here at the Daily.

King and the Clown King and the Clown, on the other hand, is a polished, colorful, epical tale set in Korea's distant past. It is also a plodding, padded, long-winded "tradition of quality" tale that of course proved to be a huge hit in South Korea. The film's popularity is surprising, and also rather encouraging, because of the explicit gay elements of the story, which makes it perhaps the South Korean equivalent of Brokeback Mountain. The plot is simple. Traveling street performers Jang-seng (Kam Woo-sung) and Gong-gil (Lee Joon-gi) offend the king (Jung Jin-young) with a satire on his private liaisons. Summoned to the court, they are commanded to amuse the king, who eventually finds himself fixed on the more outwardly feminine Gong-gil. Court intrigue ensues, and "theatricality" motivates numerous late stage plot poins.

King and the Clown takes its own sweet time relaying this otherwise brief tale, and it is one of those films that make it easy to misconstrue the colorful pageantry as authentic art. The film is well-meaning, and not necessarily bad, just rather slow and full of itself. This minority view is not shared by Jamie S Rich at DVD Talk, reviewing the lavish R3 disc, or Robert Keser at Bright Lights.


Two quick related notes: First, Mike Russell is part of the Oregonian team blogging the festival.

And the Lives of Others/Decomposition of the Soul entry still being updated.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:39 PM | Comments (3)

Short shorts, 2/11.

Brick David N Meyer puts Brick at the top of his best-of-06 list. Also in the Brooklyn Rail (besides John Yau's conversation with Jasper Johns): David Wilentz on the "Plastic Fantastic Universe of Tsai Ming Liang," on the latest two Kurosawa films from Criterion and on the Monsters and Madmen box; Sarahjane Blum on Wassup Rockers; and John Oursler on The Double Life of Veronique.

Zach Campbell: "I am curious about the arrival of prestige film products this past year that are presented, marketed for being explorations of the golden age of Hollywood: not necessarily Hollywood, mind you, but its age."

New blog: CineFile Video.

At Slant: Ed Gonzalez on Exterminating Angels and Maxed Out.

David Lowery talks with Jeff Lipsky about Flannel Pajamas.

NYT Magazine: Helen Mirren The Oscar season issue of the New York Times Magazine is up, along with a slide show.

In the paper: Dennis Lim on Abderrahmane Sissako and Bamako (more from Salon's Andrew O'Hehir), Robert Ito profiles Maggie Q, Mark Olsen on the Black Snake Moan blues, and Justin Peters on home-film-schooling.

In the Independent: Geoffrey Macnab on Eric Rohmer, Jonathan Romney meets Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Lesley O'Toole interviews Diane Keaton.

The Guardian runs an extract from The Philosophy of Andy Warhol. Also: Sandra Hebron interviews Michel Gondry.

Acquarello on The Last Mitterand.

Mike Wood, Identity Theory, This Filthy World.

Jim Emerson on watching movies again.

Unless the Threat of Death Is Behind Them "With cowboy hat and kerchief, Pedro Infante rode his dreams and a homemade guitar to the top of Mexico's film and music worlds in the 1940s and 50s," writes Cecilia Rasmussen. Also in the Los Angeles Times: A Valentine's Day tie-in piece on the state of the romantic comedy from Rachel Abramowitz, Mark Olsen meets Maria Maggenti, Mary McNamara profiles Chris Cooper in the run-up to Breach and Richard Schickel on John T Irwin's Unless the Threat of Death Is Behind Them: Hard-Boiled Fiction and Film Noir.

Reviews of Ten Days in the Hills, Jane Smiley's Hollywood novel: Tara Ison in the LAT and Chris Bohjalian in the Washington Post.

Matt Riviera on Rescue Dawn and Death of a President.

Patrick Sisson, Stop Smiling, What We Want, What We Believe: The Black Panther Party Library.

Ramon Valle, WSWS, God Grew Tired of Us.

Brian Gibson, Vue Weekly, 51 Birch Street.

Patrick Sawer on Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten. Also in the New Statesman: Tom Teodorczuk on the state of the British film industry. Related: John Whitley's conversation with Richard Attenborough in the Telegraph.

Interviews in the London Times: Wendy Ide with Vincent Cassel and Ken Russell.

Meghan O'Rourke interviews Stephen Frears for Slate.

David Poland's been thinking quite a bit about media, old and new: Parts 1, 2 and 3.

Joe Leydon remembers Ian Richardson, 1934 - 2007.

Rick Perlstein, In These Times, Peter Boyle.

Filmmakers: The deadline for applying for a Creative Capital grant is March 5.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:55 AM

Other fests, other events.

How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It) How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It) screens for free at the International House on Wednesday; in the Philadelphia City Paper, Sam Adams recommends catching it if you can.

Ernest Hardy recommends several films screening as part of the Pan African Film & Arts Festival (through February 19). Also in the LA Weekly: David Thompson on Roberto Rossellini: A Retrospective (through March 31) and Holly Willis on Ezra Johnson's What Visions Burn (through May 6) and Matthew Barney: No Restraint (February 14 through 18). More on that one from Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat.

Susan King previews the Gangsters & Crime In the Big City series for the Los Angeles Times. February 15 through 22.

Neil Morris in the Independent Weekly: "The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival's 10th anniversary is still two months away, but it is not too early to begin reliving its past glory." Also: More Triangle area events.

For the Evening Class, Michael Hawley writes up a list of films he's hoping to catch at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (March 15 through 25).

Geoff Andrew has a Rotterdam roundup for Time Out.

Tom Webber looks back on the Tromsø International Film Festival in the New Statesman.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:08 AM

Berlinale (and Berlin), 2/11.

Berlinale A few additions to all the online coverage of the Berlinale mentioned on Friday: Filmbrain offers a first round of notes. Tim Robey's in Berlin. Peter Bowen's making "odd connections" at Filmmaker. The filmtagebuch is currently being written (in German) from Potsdamer Platz.

More ongoing coverage: Cineuropa and european-films.net.

Lubitsch aus Berlin At Twitch, Jon Pais rounds up the latest on the "Remastered" version of Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz, currently screening at the Berlinale, and a related exhibition at the Kunst-Werke in Berlin, March 18 through May 13. Today, Screen Daily's confirmed that Criterion will be handling the US DVD release.

Speaking of Berlin in March, just about all month long, something related to Ernst Lubitsch will be going on as part of the Lubitsch aus Berlin festival, March 1 through 27.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:57 AM | Comments (2)

February 10, 2007

Berlinale Dispatch. Dasepo Naughty Girls.

Dasepo Naughty Girls As you can probably tell so far, Korea's quite a presence at this year's Berlinale (see also: Peter Bowen at Filmmaker). Here, Adrienne Hudson offers her take on an entry she caught this morning.

"Life is a soap opera," read the English subtitles, as Poor Girl's (Kim Ok-bin) softly spoken words underline her pained expression. A teen anime soap opera musical, that is.

Dasepo sonyo (Dasepo Naughty Girls) by Korean director Lee Je-yong is based on the popular internet manga Multi-Cell Girl. And that, exactly, is what I found it to be: A manga brought to life with real people, sound effects going off with every wink, the works. Watch it the way you would watch cartoons, or your guilty pleasure TV series, or the corny musical you'll watch only with close friends. It's all that and more.

The movie opens with about eight pink-clad, pink-wigged girls, dancing a synchronized choreography with big pink balloons, all the while singing about their "No-Use High School." No use, because this school is so accepting towards every approach to life, you have Hindus, Muslims, Christians, atheists, all immersed in their own beliefs to the point that not much learning seems to get done. Said atheist class, instead, concentrates on gathering experience. A teacher calls in sick with a STD and starts a chain reaction of students leaving class as they realize they've slept with someone who's slept with someone who - and so on - slept with that teacher.

As the movie progresses, it stays true to all the genres it touches on in those first ten minutes. The teen movie: The social studies teacher relishes a spanking in front of his class and a boy enjoys sexual chats until he finds out who's really on the other end. The anime: Poverty is attached to Poor Girl's back in form of a blue rag doll and the principal is possessed by something otherworldly. The soap opera: Poor Girl falls in love with Anthony (Park Jin-woo), who looks down on her, then likes her, then is furious at her, then forgives her, then turns out to be her brother who was given away for adoption and then turns out not to be, after all. And, finally, the musical: Characters randomly burst into songs, the text running along on the screen Karaoke style, as if it's inviting the audience to join in.

What Dasepo does, it does well - extremely well, in fact. You just have to know what you're letting yourself in for. Though I enjoyed myself immensely, I could perfectly understand why someone would find the movie silly to the point of being pathetic. However, if you can accept accordion players in Lederhosen and Dirndl jumping out of nowhere to accompany a love-pained youth, or a principal suddenly barfing out a snake-lady who starts pelting a group of masturbating girls with instant re-virginizers, you'll have a hell of a grand time, I guarantee you.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:09 PM

Berlinale Dispatch. Madonnas.

Madonnas Sandra Hüller's Rita, who has left four of her five children with her mother (Susanne Lothar) while she's off in Belgium, out of reach of the German authorities who'll toss her in a correctional facility the moment the Belgians spit her back out (it doesn't take long) in Maria Speth's Madonnen (Madonnas), is possessed of nothing at all other than her immediate whims. To state the obvious first, the role is quite a departure from Michaela Klinger, the young woman who wrestles with demons, real or projected, and becomes the captivating vortex at the center one of last year's most intriguing Berlinale entries, Requiem.

I'm glad David D'Arcy and I got into yesterday's screening of Madonnas; how could the Forum programmers not have expected throngs? Hüller won raves and a Silver Bear for her performance Requiem and Madonnas is only the second film the highly acclaimed stage actress has yet appeared in. But we got in, and the moment the screen went black and the final credits began to roll, David turned to me and all but exploded.

David: That was re-lent-less.
Me [emphatic]: Yes.
David: You know, I kept thinking of the Dardenne brothers because...
Me: Well, they're co-producers.
David: Ah! [nodding vigorously] That would explain a lot.

By the time we were out in the brisk winter air, we were also in the mood to shake off some of the non-stop tension that had wound up tight over the last two hours.

David: That made the Dardennes look like...
Me: The Coen brothers?
David: [laughing] No, the Farrelly brothers!

What is it about Madonnas that could spark such immoderation? The answer's certainly not to be found in Maria Speth's understated synopsis, which reads in part, "This is a portrait of a woman who claims her mother was never a mother to her. She has several children of her own but she foists them off on her mother and thus forces her to take on the role she denied her daughter."

True enough, but this only begins to suggest the pain of watching Rita make one terribly wrong choice after another with such chilling, matter-of-fact ease. One could accuse Speth of wielding the kids-in-peril bludgeon over a viewer's emotions, but it would be a hard charge to press since she directs so impartially. She doesn't so much tell her story as observe it.

But she's not the only one. You know these kids are hurting as they get bounced from one home that's hardly home to the next and back again, but it hurts you more that they don't show it. There are few tears here, no wails and even the angry outbursts are rare - and usually Rita's.

Two notes. First, Hüller is, unsurprisingly, absolutely absorbing.

Second, three of Rita's five children are half-black. She and her friends spend a whole lot of time, onscreen and off, in bars with American soldiers, preferably black. She tells Marc (Coleman Swinton), her current... guy (Rita would be too non-commital to call him a boyfriend; he's just Marc, who happens to be around more than any other at the moment), that another of her black American guys calls Germany "a paradise for black men."

There are issues here to sort out once the festival fever has faded.

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

February 9, 2007

Berlinale Dispatch. I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK.

I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK "I wanted to make a film that my daughter could watch and take my friends to see and laugh out loud," writes Park Chan-wook in the glossy press notes for I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK. So my own daughter, Adrienne, and I thought it might be fun (even if we don't laugh out loud) to run an exchange of opposing views as our review.

David: So we were at the same screening, but somehow missed each other. When we both got home, and I mentioned that I'd seriously contemplated walking out about half an hour or so into Cyborg, you were - correct me if I'm wrong - if not shocked, very surprised. In other words, you enjoyed it a lot more than I did, which speaks for Park Chan-wook's accomplishing at least half of what he set out to do.

Let me back up a bit. I have yet to be as impressed by Park Chan-wook as a lot of people (many of them Daily readers, I'm guessing) seem to be. But to be fair, by the time I finally caught up with Oldboy, there was probably no way it could live up to its reputation. After the initial wave of hype, when the film was attacked for being, basically, the wrong kind of exploitation, its defenders dug in their heels, referencing Shakespeare, the Greek tragedies and the like, so even though I was aware that my expectations might be unreasonably high, I was still somewhat let down. The decades-long duel between the two men does have something epic about it, but it felt to me as if Park had this intriguing set-up on one end of a scale and a series of set pieces on the other, and you could sense him contriving ways to force the ends together in ways that would justify some of his most extreme imagery that, yes, he really does seem to get off on. And as for his famed style, as admirable as it is, there doesn't seem to be much in it to me that would be new to anyone who's seen even only the blips MTV anyone will run across while zapping onto something else.

The point of this diversion is simply to say that I wasn't hoping to be wowed by Cyborg, particularly since Park keeps insisting in his notes that this film is "a small island" between his revenge trilogy and his next one, Evil Live, or in "Beethoven's words, it is a film I made with my 'buttons undone.'"

But even as what was supposed to be merely an entertaining diversion, then, I still had a very hard time warming up to Cyborg. I'm glad I didn't walk out (as about two dozen others did); the mythology, or alternative reality that's conjured between the two leads does eventually take on breadth and depth, making the film's second half much better than its first.

Much of what was supposed to be "laugh out loud" funny, though, to me, simply was not. Young-goon (Lim Soo-jung) and Il-soon (Jung Ji-hoon) are in this mental institution and, as much as I realize Park is not laughing at the antics of the mentally ill, he does clearly intend for many of them to be funny. This would be very, very hard to pull off for anyone. When a "sane" person does "crazy" things and the people around him don't understand why, but we, the audience, do, that'll trip the laugh trigger. But when "crazy" people do "crazy" things, there's nothing nothing unexpected about it, nothing to catch us off guard.

For me, there was simply way, way too much of this before the real story, the budding love between Young-goon and Il-soon sets in. But you had a much better time.

Adrienne: Yep! I have to admit, the movie already won me over with its beginning credits. Though cleverly placing people's names into the actual scenery - such as onto a factory worker's name tag - can't really be called innovative anymore, it still intrigued me. If it wasn't the interweaving with the monotonous, repetitive composition of radios the women were creating and the way Lim Soo-jung stuck out from the line of them with her big eyes and her pale face, it was the sheer beauty of the Korean alphabet.

So, yes, I was quite taken aback when you mentioned you almost walked out. You know, it makes me think of something a journalist at the press conference later said. She mentioned that she herself wasn't too thrilled, but that she's sure the film reaches its target group - a younger group, she hinted.

For my part, I found the movie enthralling. Let me explain. You have this insane asylum where - nothing new here yet - each patient has their own little psychosis. There's the man who is too polite to walk forwards, another who has an infallible ping pong technique which he cannot use since it makes his right buttock itch excruciatingly, the woman who can fly using socks that generate electricity. Cute ideas, but no big deal. This is where the cyborg and the man who steals other people's character traits and abilities come in. Young-goon and Il-soon give a name to the theme that makes this movie so enchanting: "Sympathy."

Though all these patients' psychoses are so different from one another, they take each other seriously. You steal people's character traits, give me back my politeness! Those socks make you fly - I see it, too. Can I borrow them? They open up their own little worlds for their companions, share pain, anger, happiness about each other's successes. So I guess it's not only sympathy, it's empathy; maybe even more so.

And, of course, it's sympathy Young-goon teaches Il-soon, which gives him the ability him to save her and sets Cyborg moving towards its fairy-tale happier moments. The film is very much like a fairy tale, with its journeys into almost magical worlds and its themes of friendship, revenge and love.

I'm not entirely sure how to defend it from being labeled as superficial and corny, since that's not at all what it came across like to me. I think it's the characters. At the press conference, Lim Soo-jung described Young-goon as having a childish way of seeing the world. At the same time, Park Chan-wook explained the brutality in this movie resulting from the apparent necessity for it in the schizophrenic girl's mind - to be able to return a set of dentures to her grandmother. There's an innocence in both Young-goon's vulnerability and her willingness to kill that makes the film less corny and more tangible. The mix of brutal reality (and fantasy) with the growing awareness that life can hold beauty and love does it. The one makes the other legitimate.

Jung Ji-hoon seemed genuinely thrilled with this movie - his first - explaining, that next to the honor of working with Park Chan-wook, he was simply deeply touched by the characters and their beautiful love story.

My sympathies entirely. Of course, it has a lot to do with the attitude you approach the movie with. I was expecting a serious movie, so I took the characters seriously. Kind of along the lines of you finding the ridiculing of the "crazies" out of place. I agree - I didn't find myself laughing at all (well, except for when Jung Ji-hoon was yodeling - that was too funny, especially for me, having grown up in Germany). Rather than parodies, I understood each patient as a character with real problems, to be taken seriously. Turns out, this was not Park Chan-wook's intent, but that's the way I interpreted it and it worked for me.

Oh, and as for Oldboy, it was brought up at the press conference a lot. Many contrasted its slasher-quality with this love story and mentioned the commercial success of the trilogy as compared with the disappointment Korean audiences in particular felt about Cyborg. Park Chan-wook admitted he used love in the trilogy to spawn hatred. Here, however, love serves only the purpose of love, he explained. Another theme he felt was essential to the movie is one's purpose in life - Young-goon's desire to find hers drives her to believe she is a cyborg, says Chan-wook, though she regrets her lacking a user's manual. Though in retrospect I can see this theme throughout the movie, as I watched, it seemed to me more like a means for emphasizing the theme of love. All a matter of interpretation, of course.

David: And a fine one it is, too. Seriously. You've pretty much convinced me to reconsider my initial and perhaps too hasty dismissal of I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:54 PM | Comments (6)

Berlinale Dispatch. The Year My Parents Went On Vacation.

The Year My Parents Went On Vacation Cao Hamburger's O ano em que meus pais sairam de férias (The Year My Parents Went On Vacation) incidentally set a tone, a theme for the three screenings I caught this Friday: children abandoned or in some way neglected by bad or incompetent parents or parents simply otherwise engaged. Vacation falls into the latter category.

Brazil, 1970. The military dictatorship (1964 to 1985) makes no distinctions in its view of the violently suppressed opposition: socialists, social democrats, what have you, they're all (as the subtitles translate the term) "commies." It takes us a while to learn enough to be sure, but Mauro's parents are in some never-defined way wrapped up in subversive activities. Their situation, whatever it is, has become so dangerous that they can no longer stay at home. They've decided they will have to go "on vacation." And this is all they will tell Mauro (Michel Joelsas), their 12-year-old son. If anyone asks, they're on vacation; though they try to keep the truth from him, we can sense that it would be too risky for all three of them if he knew anything more.

1970 was a big year for Brazil for another reason, too. It was the year Brazil won the World Cup. If you remember last summer's World Cup, you might also remember that Brazilians are among the most enthusiastic of fans; in 1970, the competition probably meant even more to them as it held out a reason to celebrate their country and take their minds off all the torture, assassination and forced exile going on - never talked about out in the open, but always in the air. As Hamburger quipped at the press conference today, in many ways, then and now, "Soccer is the opiate of the people."

As Mauro's parents drive him to his grandfather's apartment in São Paulo, they phone him just before they arrive. "Does it have to be today?" the grandfather asks. It does. What Mauro and his parents don't know is why he's asked. He's not feeling too well. They also don't know that between that phone call and their arrival, the grandfather collapses in his barbershop. Dead.

Mauro's parents' big mistake: they leave him at the front door of the apartment building, not the apartment door itself. They don't know the grandfather's gone, much less for good. The grandfather's neighbor, Sholomo (Germano Haiut) discovers Mauro waiting at that door - he's been there for hours - and here, the comedic flavoring, a bit on the cutesy side, begins. We're in the Bom Retiro district of the city, populated by Jews, Italians, Greeks, Arabs, all the various immigrant communities. Like Mauro's grandfather, Sholomo, if you haven't guessed, is Jewish, and the first words he speaks to Mauro are an admonishment for playing in the hall. Spoken in Yiddish.

When Sholomo learns who Mauro's waiting for, the old man realizes he'll have to take the boy in. For the time being. Well, you can see where this is going. Mauro knows nothing of his Jewish heritage; Sholomo and the community about to absorb Mauro are considerably more orthodox than the South American Jewish communities we've seen in, say, the work of Daniel Burman. But of course, as the cultures clash and the gentle laughs roll, and all the while, the neighborhood rouses itself for the World Cup, we know we're heading toward seeing it all work out.

The chuckles, of course, are interspersed with moments of anger and sadness, but never anything too extreme or even, when it comes down to it, too consequential. This is a pleasant film, certainly fit for viewers of Mauro's age, even with its bittersweet ending. But you'll get no spoilers from me other than one: Brazil: 4, Italy: 1.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:59 PM

Berlinale, 2/9.

Berlinale Reviews will resume shortly, but I just wanted to quickly point to some of the other Berlinale coverage out there: indieWIRE has opened its hopping Berlinale section. Cinematical's got a lively "Berlin" category. Variety's blogging alongside its Berlin section; and the Hollywood Reporter's reserved a corner of its site for the festival as well.

From Germany, in English: "Breathless," signandsight's Berlinale diary is up and rolling. Also: EXBERLINER and Spiegel Online.

Special sections in German: The Berliner Zeitung, Der Tagesspiegel, Spiegel Online and Die Zeit.

And! As noted below, Rush Bogg, for coverage in Norwegian. (Looking forward to meeting you, Karsten!)

Posted by dwhudson at 12:46 PM | Comments (6)

David Lynch, 2/9.

Cahiers du Cinema: David Lynch Let's open this David Lynch entry with a Video Q&A just up at the new main site. It took place in January on the occasion of a screening of Inland Empire at the Smith Rafael Film Center. Nine Q's from the Rafael's Director of Programming Richard Peterson, and of course, just as many A's.

Jason Scheunemann has been directing a doc about Lynch since December 2004. His blog, DAVIDLYNCHDOC2007, is quite a browse. Also via Ray Pride: Neva Chonin talks pets with Lynch for the San Francisco Chronicle, where Walter Addiego writes, "The film is dazzling and bewildering in equal measure."

Updated through 2/14.

Not a bad idea at all: "An exquisite corpse review of Inland Empire" from San Francisco Bay Guardian film critics Michelle Devereaux, Cheryl Eddy, Max Goldberg, and Johnny Ray Huston.

For MovieMaker, Daniel Nemet-Nejat talks with Lynch about "his conversion to video, working without a story and his new role as a mini-mogul" and to Laura Dern about her reading of Inland Empire.

Jery Lentz notes that you can listen to Lynch talking TM at the Maharishi University of Management site.

Updates, 2/11: Mark Swed in the Los Angeles Times on Lost Highway, the opera: "Olga Neuwirth, a 38-year-old Austrian, is the composer. She fashioned a libretto with the Austrian novelist and winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize, Elfriede Jelinek. A deep, disturbing film has met its operatic match."

"Interesting that the most terrifying film in years comes from an American, and David Lynch at that," writes Adam Balz at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

Updates, 2/13: Mark Kermode conducts the lengthy NFT/Guardian interview with Lynch.

Jim Emerson reminds me that "The Lynch Mob" is off and running at Vinyl is Heavy.

Update, 2/14: Ryan Wu has a "drive by review."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:31 PM

February 8, 2007

Berlinale Dispatch. Ad Lib Night.

Ad Lib Night When Lee Yoon-ki's debut feature, This Charming Girl, screened in the Forum section of the Berlinale in 2005, Filmbrain recommended it, I caught it and was exceedingly glad. Dispatching from Busan later that same year, Adam Hartzell was somewhat disappointed in Lee's second feature, Love Talk, but last October, he was far more upbeat on the third, Ad Lib Night. I may be even more upbeat on this one than Adam.

It's difficult to think of another director who strikes such a subtly beguiling balance of a loneliness so ingrained in his characters they're hardly aware of it anymore - and comedy. Though Aki Kaurismäki and Jim Jarmusch toy with the same components, they're miles and miles away from the territory Lee takes us to.

An example that tops even the scene in Charming that has the Girl peeking in on the kitten under her sofa and wordlessly wondering when or if it'll ever come out is Ad Lib's opening set-up, an absurdity rendered in the most fragile naturalism imaginable. This film's Girl (the name of the character played by Han Hyo-joo isn't revealed until the end, as she begins a journey back to her actual identity) is mistaken for the daughter of a dying man, a daughter the man's family has been looking for so desperately and so long they ask the Girl to come with them and essentially play the daughter. Just for a moment; she'll have only one crucial line to speak.

Adapted from a story by Japanese novelist Taira Azuko, the trek from and back to Seoul plays out over a single night, and when we arrive in the village, the fluorescent interior of the dying man's house sheds unflattering light on the bickering family of distinct, often humorous but always believable characters and stands, too, in stark contrast to the beauty of the HD cinematography of the car rides that bookend the piece.

I don't want to reduce this fine work to "families are hell, but not having one is worse," but at the same time, dwelling on what happens when would be beside the point as well. The point would be found closer to the respect and empathy Lee shows for characters who didn't even know that's what they were looking for.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:56 PM | Comments (4)

Berlinale Dispatch. La Môme.

La Môme For a portrait as sketchy as the opening film at this year's Berlinale, La Môme (La Vie en Rose), at nearly two and a half hours, is also nearly twice as long as it should be. Or the filmmakers could have gone another route. Given the smorgasbord of tumultuous events and illustrious names with which a life like Edith Piaf's might tempt a screenwriter's imagination, a week-long television mini-series could work - and work well, if it, too, were built on Marion Cotillard's magnificent performance as the French singer who truly warrants the designation "legendary."

Both Toby Jones and Philip Seymour Hoffman have demonstrated in their own ways how to avoid the trap of caricature when portraying a character who practically was one himself. Though Cotillard lacks material to work with anywhere near as rich as the screenplays for Infamous or Capote, she's managed to work her way - you can practically smell the blood, the sweat, the tears - into the same class. Tiny, feisty, impetuous, egotistical, self-destructive, downright infuriating at times, the Piaf Cotillard wrenches on to the screen in spite of all the clunky obstacles thrown her way is also all but supernaturally talented, incredibly alive and vibrant with an inexplicable yet undeniable sexual aura. Scrawny and hunched, her face painted ashen white, her eyes sunken and deeply, scarily sad, she's like some voodoo doll come to life to take control of anyone who dares to reach out to help.

At today's press conference, young director Olivier Dahan said he was inspired by a photograph - not by a song, he emphasized (though it does remind me to mention that, thanks again to Cotillard and her voice work, the shifts to and from the playback of Piaf's original recordings work surprisingly well) - to make not a biography but "an intimate portrait." Very late in the game, we realize that we've been watching shards shed from the spotty memory of an ailing drug addict, which is supposed to explain why we've been not so much jumping as flailing around the chronology of Piaf's tragically short life. She died when she was 47, by the way, though as Cotillard noted today, she looked like was (and perhaps she might as well have been) in her 70s. Starting with Piaf at age 19, Cotillard nails all the various stages in between.

Chronological blips are fine; in fact, in biopics, they're all but expected. In Walk the Line, Joaquin Phoenix's Johnny Cash fixates on a saw blade and, before you can sing, "I keep my eyes wide open all the time," we're fading back to childhood. The leaps in La Môme are sometimes just as literal - a prostitute who's taken Edith as a child under her wing flips out a little and paints Black Dahlia-like smiles on herself and the little girl (thank heavens it's just lipstick) and - cut! - here's Edith, at the peak of her career, applying one more layer of crimson to her lips. Too often, though, the sudden leaps are neither clever nor obvious, and overall, there are way, way too many of them.

As the club-owner who discovers Piaf singing on the street for stray coins, Gérard Depardieu doesn't have much more to offer than his presence and that discoverer's look. You know the movie cliché: The performer performs and the camera slowly eases up to the discoverer's face - stoic on the outside but excited as hell on the inside: My God! This is the one I've been looking for! Even so, he arrives too late and is gone too early. Only one other story, that of Piaf's affair with boxer Marcel Cerdan (Jean-Pierre Martins), plays out just long enough to gain any sort of narrative traction. But even that one constitutes a mere fraction of the film's duration.

And yet remarkably, for all those reels, great swaths of the actual biography go missing. We catch a glimpse of World War One, but none of the chronological leaps lands us in a scene in which anyone even bothers to mention WWII or Piaf's involvement with the French Resistance. Marlene Dietrich appears briefly as an admirer but not as the friend she was. And so on.

So what can we possibly be busying ourselves with during all those other fragmented scenes? One thing and one thing only, really: Marion Cotillard's Edith Piaf.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:22 PM | Comments (1)

February 7, 2007

Shorts, 2/7.

Film 55 Issue 55 of the Danish Film Institute's Film "a must for von Trier fanatics," notes David Bordwell, "with lots on The Boss of It All. I also have an essay in it (pp. 16-19)." Do download the PDF.

For Slate, Jim Lewis pinpoints the moment Factory Girl "suddenly goes from being merely very bad to being truly revolting," the moment he realized "that I wasn't watching a film about Andy and Edie at all; I was watching an allegory of the Evil Fag, who battles with the Good Man for the soul of the Lost Girl." More from Eric Kohn in the New York Press.

Rob Nelson talks with Rory Kennedy about Ghosts of Abu Ghraib for the City Pages.

"It's strangely fitting that Woody Allen's Annie Hall, a thoroughly postmodern romantic comedy, would inspire an entire movie about a young man obsessed with Annie Hall," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times. "Titled Burning Annie, the film is a soup-to-nuts homage that makes references not just to the original's story, characters and tone, but also to specific jokes and shots, including a straight-into-the-camera narration." More from Nathan Lee in the Voice.

New York Press: Film Issue Curt Holman:

In the first decade of the new millennia, fan films have grown exponentially in quantity and improved significantly in quality and ambition. When "real" filmmakers downplay original ideas for obsessive homages like Grindhouse and fans dare to stand toe-to-toe with Hollywood product, the distinctions between professional and amateur films grow increasingly blurry. Fan films tend to be scruffy works replete with inside jokes, but they're unquestionably labors of love, and they're available for free. So far.

Also in the new "Film Issue" of the New York Press: Eric Kohn on the evolution of Sundance, Kari Milchman on "The Art of the Trailer," Leonard Jacobs talks with Kirby Dick about This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Adario Strange riffs on Grindhouse, Joe Pompeo on Ennio Morricone and a batch of DVD recommendations.

At Koreanfilm.org, Adam Hartzell picks out the highs and lows of the omnibus human rights film If You Were Me 3.

Peter Smith: "Since we already did a career-spanning interview with [John] Waters in 2004, we decided to try something a little different this time, and convinced the legendary director to answer your questions. The results are below. Don't say Nerve.com never did anything for the people." Related: Natasha Theobald listens to A Date with John Waters for Hollywood Bitchslap and, at the AV Club, Scott Gordon switches Waters's iPod to "Shuffle."

Speaking of the AV Club, they do something similar - readers' questions - with Sarah Silverman. These questions, though, are all about love and sex.

The Talented Mr Ripley and Cold Mountain, notes Dennis Harvey in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, "were ambitious, accomplished, large-scale period pieces. Breaking and Entering is just, well, a yuppie relationship drama, really." More from Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly.

At PopMatters, Farisa Khalid's "Guide to Indian Movie Stars - Part 1: Sex Goddesses."

"Fifteen geek movies to see before you die." As chosen by the Houston Chronicle's Dwight Silverman. Via Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical.

Online viewing tip. A Grindhouse preview at Yahoo! Movies. Via Brendon Connelly.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:18 PM

Fests and events, 2/7.

"I'm in the midst of my preparations for the grueling week of pleasure that begins tomorrow," posts D Strauss at the EXBERLINER's new Berliner Blog.

zitty / EXBERLINER / tip

For more anxious Berlinale previewing, turn to David Gordon Smith at Spiegel Online. And Cinematical's Erik Davis presents "my attempt at a video blog."

Meantime, the taz is reporting that those attending Market screenings of Li Yu's Ping Guo (Lost in Beijing) will definitely see the version untouched by Chinese censors (heads up, Andrew and Aaron), while the version to be shown in Competition... we just don't know yet.

SF Indie 07 And another festival opens tomorrow, and actually runs longer: The 9th annual San Francisco Independent Film Festival, through February 20. In the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Cheryl Eddy handpicks three titles to preview, Mojave Phone Booth, Cutting Edge and Dante's Inferno, while Kimberly Chun and Matt Sussman highlight three more, Green Mind, Metal Bat, S&Man and Unholy Women.

More from Max Goldberg at SF360, where he appreciates the fest as "a welcome antidote in its unrepentant eclecticism. Grotesque neighbors feasting on their own sores, the discourse of black barber shops, Japanese garage rock, Bukowski barflies, frisky fundamentalists, a revived Shaw Brothers freak-out ('in stunning Thunderball Fist-O-Scope,' whatever that means), and we've only started."

Anticipating SXSW: David Lowery and AJ Schnack.

At Bad Lit, Mike previews the Miami Underground Film Festival (March 8 through 12).

The Legendary Joe Meek "This Friday, the National Film Theatre will mark the 40th anniversary of [Joe] Meek's death with an evening of rarely-seen Meek-related films, including the musical Live It Up and 1991 Arena documentary Arena: The Strange Story of Joe Meek," notes Alexis Petridis in the Guardian. Why note the anniversary? Meek "was the first British independent producer and founded the first British indie label, Triumph. He recorded the first concept album, the deeply odd 1960s 'outer space music fantasy,' I Hear a New World. With the Tornados he made both the first US No 1 by a British pop act, 'Telstar,' and the first explicitly gay pop track released in Britain, 1966's 'Do You Come Here Often?'"

Charlotte Cripps in the Independent: "f you've ever wanted to witness two giant 3-D lions fighting in Botswana's Kalahari desert as seven banks of speakers reverberate to their roars, then head to the BFI Imax, which is screening Tim Liversedge's wildlife epic Lions 3D: Roar of the Kalahari."

Ed Halter in the Voice: "Rotterdam has gained a well-deserved rep as Europe's anti-Sundance: an international potluck, typically low on American indies and studio fare, high on the visionary, auteurist, and outré."

"And there were six Malaysian features in Rotterdam," notes Dennis Lim at indieWIRE, "an impressive number for a country that was a non-entity on the festival circuit just a few years ago."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:50 PM

Oscars, 2/7.

Los Angeles: Movie Issue Of course Alfonso Cuarón is happy that Children of Men has been nominated for three Oscars, Babel for seven and Pan's Labyrinth for six. "What I resent, however," he blogs at the Guardian, "is the notion that the Oscars are somehow bestowing legitimacy on Mexican cinema."

Two online samples from the new "Movie Issue" of Los Angeles: Steve Erickson lauds Sacha Baron Cohen and Stephen Rodrick - ostensibly on how much or how little bloggers have on the Oscar race, but actually pretty much focusing on the rivalry between David Poland and Jeffrey Wells. Glenn Kenny comments.

Could there be an upset in the race for the Best Documentary Oscar? Anthony Kaufman: "[T]he fact is that An Inconvenient Truth - despite Paramount Vantage's impressive marketing - is a bit of a bore. Iraq in Fragments beautiful, complex, even more urgent and the first movie to come along that touches on the current war with a deep, emotional power, is simply a stronger, more memorable film."

Judi Dench has "received her sixth Oscar nomination in a decade, and each one has been for giving almost the exact same performance," argues Amos Posner at PopMatters.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:18 PM | Comments (1)

Park City. Cleanup.

Sundance 07 With the last of the dispatches in and the Berlinale opening tomorrow, it's high time to wrap last month's festivals in Park City. Several films stirred up enough coverage to warrant entries of their own; others, not quite but almost.

Below, a bit on those:

Updated.

Sundance:

World Cinema:

  • Blame It on Fidel: Site. Reviews: IMDb and MRQE.

  • "Turning to a muchmore rewarding realm of deadpan dark comedy after his erratic 2004 Nina, rising Brazilian helmer Heitor Dhalia succeeds with the risky Drained [site]," writes Robert Koehler in Variety. "Critics have already begun to weigh in, starting with a Fipresci prize at Rio in advance of the pic's North American preem at Sundance. To be sure, though, while men will be drawn into a comedy that willfully exposes some of the nastier aspects of their gender, most women may turn away in disgust. Vive la difference." IndieWIRE interviews Dhalia.

  • Ezra: IndieWIRE interviews director Newton Aduaka.

Ghosts
  • Ghosts: Site. Reviews: IMDb and MRQE.

  • How Is Your Fish Today?: IndieWIRE interviews director Xiaolu Guo.

  • How She Move: "One of the surprising highlights of the world competition," writes Michael Lerman at indieWIRE. "The audience is treated to some great dancing, as well as a standard series of trials and tribulations and in the end everything wraps up nicely with a sweet little love story along the way." IndieWIRE interviews director Ian Iqbal Rashid.

  • "By far the best international feature I've seen here is Peter Brosens and Jessica Hope Woodworth's Khadak [site]," writes Michael Lerman at indieWIRE. "[T]he film boasts a dreamlike thirty minutes that are so on point and effective they make you wish Lynch had taken a few tips from Brosens and Woodworth when constructing the second half of Inland Empire." IndieWIRE interviews Woodworth.

  • "Gimmicky Oz cop drama Noise is a slickly executed experiment full of sound and fury, signifying nothing more than technical prowess," growls Russell Edwards in Variety. IndieWIRE interviews director Matthew Saville.

  • "The ideals around the kibbutzim movement were lofty and utopian, but life in utopia came with a cost," writes Kim Voynar at Cinematical. "Sweet Mud shows us the shiny side of the kibbutizm coin - the quality of life, the picturesque farmland, the democratically run community meetings - but helmer Dror Shaul dares to look at the darker side of the movement as well." IndieWIRE interviews Shaul.

  • "Pavel Longuine's The Island [site]... is a moving tale about sin, faith and redemption," writes Kim Voynar at Cinematical. "The film as a whole serves as an analogy contrasting materialism versus spiritual values, creature comforts versus salvation." When it screened in Toronto, Opus wrote at Twitch, "At times I was reminded of Jesus' parables, which often seem silly, inconsequential, and downright obtuse, but which contain deeper spiritual truth."

Documentary Competition:

  • For the Bible Tells Me So [site]: "I've always believed that there is such a thing as a documentary filmmaker who loves his subject too much and while I praise and support Karslake's advocacy for equal rights for all Americans, his passion cripples his film terribly," writes Steve Ramos at indieWIRE. Salon's Andrew O'Hehir has notes from the post-screening Q&A: "Someone asked [Dick] Gephardt whether it had been painful to learn that [his daughter] Chrissy was gay. He got up and spoke briefly and movingly, and said it had not. 'I was brought up to believe that you were supposed to love other people more than yourself; that was the principal commandment,' he said. 'I was only worried about Chrissy. I was worried that she would suffer discrimination and hatred, and to some extent she has. There are so many millions of people with gay sons and lesbian daughters - so many! - that need to see this movie. We need to get off the path of hatred and onto the path of love.'" O'Hehir adds that the film is "a brave and noble (and perhaps doomed) effort to heal a gaping wound in our society." The Reeler interviews director Daniel Karslake.

  • War/Dance: Reviews: IMDb and MRQE.

Spectrum:

Angel-A

  • Angel-A: Site. Reviews: IMDb and MRQE.

  • Bugmaster: "[W]hen I heard that Katsuhiro Ôtomo had a live-action film at Sundance, it became one of my must-sees," writes Kevin Kelly at Cinematical. "Fittingly, it is an adaptation of the Mushishi manga from Japan, and I wasn't disappointed with this film." On the other hand: "I was one of the hardy/foolish few who stuck it out to the film's bitter end, hoping the finale might tie at least some of this nonsense together," writes Jason Silverman for Wired News. "No dice. Major disappointment #1." Earlier: Kuriko Sato in Midnight Eye.

  • Fay Grim: The Reeler interviews Hartley and Craig Phillips takes extensive notes on a panel featuring Hartley, Gregg Araki, David Gordon Green and Tamara Jenkins. Reviews: IMDb and MRQE.

  • Fraulein: Reviews: IMDb and MRQE.

  • If I Had Known I Was a Genius: Reviews: IMDb and MRQE.

  • "An emotionally rich core goes a long way toward redeeming some manipulative storytelling and overly simplistic handling of a divisive issue in The Same Moon [La Misma Luna], writes Justin Chang for Variety.

  • Low and Behold: Ben Walters for Time Out: "The location photography and documentary-style interviews with claimants are as eye-boggling and sobering as you'd imagine but the fictional framework struggles to do justice to the enormity of the situation. Probably best stick with Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke."

  • "As in most beauty pageants, contestants in the Miss Navajo Nation competition have to exhibit poise, grooming and talent," notes John Anderson in Variety. "They also have to butcher a sheep - which is the kind of thing that makes Billy Luther's affectionate look at tribal tradition, pride and change in his docu Miss Navajo so eye-opening."

  • Reprise: Site. Reviews: IMDb and MRQE.

  • "A less glossy but substantially more interesting treatment of teenage sexuality amid lush vegetation [than Hounddog's] can be found in Tuli, Philipino director Aureus Solito's follow-up to The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros," writes Ben Walters for Time Out. "That was very much a city film, but this is unmistakably rural, set in thin-walled little houses and concerning adolescents dealing with village mentality. Both films, however, offer stimulating takes on machismo and alternative sexualities as well as intriguing windows onto a culture little seen in Western cinemas."

  • Wonders Are Many: Reviews: IMDb and MRQE.

  • Year of the Fish: James Ponsoldt talks with director David Kaplan for Filmmaker; the Reeler has an interview as well.

Dramatic Competition:

  • Four Sheets to the Wind: "[A]n identity film with a lower-case 'i'," writes Susan Gerhard at indieWIRE. "It seeks, and sometimes finds, universal emotional appeal within a story that's rich in regionalism. Moments of cinematography that capture lush green and decaying brick, the subtleties of a not unattractive Oklahoma countryside against a not necessarily overwhelming Oklahoma cityscape, are what gives Four Sheets its more fascinating textures." IndieWIRE interviews director Sterlin Harjo.

  • The Pool [site]: "In our globalized economy, it only seems natural that Chris Smith, director of working-class portraits American Job and American Movie, would turn his attentions to India," writes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE. "Small, by today's Sundance standards, but immensely resonant in its well-crafted storytelling, The Pool is an admirable continuation of Smith's interests in the social conditions that define us, and the desire to transcend them." Online listening tip. Cinematical's James Rocchi talks with Smith.

World Cinema / Documenta:

Cocalero

  • Cocalero: "Seeing [then-candidate, now Bolivian president] Evo [Morales] and Hugo Chavez address an ginormous, rowdy and completely engaged crowd of newly empowered citizens is one the most rousing scenes of my Sundance to date," write Jason Silverman for Wired News. "Cocalero peters off a bit by the end, but as a power-to-the-people doc provides an excellent counterpoint to last year's Our Brand Is Crisis, in which slick Americans create a slick Bolivian presidential candidate." And IndieWIRE interviews director Alejandro Landes.

  • "Petr Lom's disappointing On a Tightrope paints a portrait of a group of orphans in Uighur, part of China's largest Muslim minority, who are trying to uphold the great tradition of tightrope walking," writes Michael Lerman at indieWIRE. "Reeking of a botched opportunity, Tightrope suffers from acute repetition." IndieWIRE interviews Lom.

  • The Monastery: Michael Lerman at indieWIRE finds an "inner beauty that slowly reveals itself throughout the eighty-four minute running time. The film displays extremely careful construction that sneaks up on you when you least expect it."

  • Welcome Europa: IndieWIRE interviews director Bruno Ulmer.

Premieres:

  • King of California: A "funny, poignant, crowd-pleasing dramedy." That's Tommy DiChiara's verdict at Cinematical. To back up: "Michael Douglas excels at portraying middle-aged men who are a few yards shy of being neurologically balanced. Witness his turns as a pot-smoking writer in Wonder Boys and as a same-sex-loving cop on TV's Will & Grace for examples of this. And now there's another role to add to this list - that of the mentally unhinged Charlie in King of California."

  • "The message is all too clear in Life Support, writer-director Nelson George's feature debut based on his HIV-positive sister, Andrea Williams," writes Robert Koehler in Variety. "Subtext and subtlety have little place in this melodrama of a Brooklyn woman working in an HIV awareness support group and wrestling with her own family issues. As a kind but flawed mother and wife, Queen Latifah brings a quiet command and humanity."

  • Resurrecting the Champ: "Charged by a knock-out performance from Samuel L Jackson, this compelling story of manly redemption will deliver a winning boxoffice combination of word of mouth and ultimately step outside the generic ring of sports lore," writes Duane Byrge in the Hollywood Reporter.

  • Trade: Reviews: IMDb and MRQE.

Midnight:

  • "A confident and consistently amusing comedy from Justin Lin, who directed the very fine Better Luck Tomorrow before 'going Hollywood' with the empty-headed The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and the nigh-unwatchable Annapolis, Finishing the Game works as sort of a Spinal Tap of the mid-70s kung fu set," writes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "Completely fabricated and admirably on target, Finishing the Game takes square aim at the ways in which Asian performers spent decades pigeonholed into 'delivery boy' roles, full-bore 'chop socky' caricatures - and pretty much nothing else, really."

It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE
  • It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE: IndieWIRE has a video interview with Crispin Glover.

  • "If you're a fan of comedic experiments like The State, Stella and Wet Hot American Summer, you're bound to find more than a few solid laughs in The Ten, a skit-intensive (and entirely bizarre) amalgam of ideas - clever, silly and just plain stupid," writes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "Those who don't see the humor in this sort of stream-of-consciousness, ultra-strange and intensely self-referential material will walk out of The Ten with their reaction phasers set firmly on 'hate' - but I discovered a solid handful of worthwhile chuckles in the flick, most of which come from the smoothly reliable Paul Rudd and the still-adorable Winona Ryder."


Slamdance:

  • Bangkok [site]: "Colin Drobnis's understated pic about Americans adrift in Cambodia is an unassumingly engaging and sharply observed drama spiced with tasty nuggets of fish-out-of-water humor," writes Joe Leydon in Variety. "Working from his own script, Drobnis neatly balances elements of picaresque road movies and coming-of-age scenarios while focusing on three men who come to rely on each other while they are strangers in a strange land."

  • Joe Leydon: "Appropriately enough for a dramedy about a blocked novelist, Crime Fiction [site] plays like a slapdash rough draft for a potentially more satisfying final product. Scripter-star Jonathan Eliot has dreamed up an intriguing premise - an unsuccessful writer inadvertently causes his girlfriend's death, then uses the tragedy as fodder for a best-selling roman a clef - but pic ultimately is undone by tonal inconsistencies, uneven performances, unsympathetic characters, and an overall air of cartoonish overstatement."

Dante's Inferno
  • "One of the best-looking films in Park City, Dante's Inferno [site], is probably also the first feature drawn in crayon," writes Jason Silverman for Wired News. "Alas, bad film writing will be prominent in my own personal Circle of Hell... Still, long after losing interest in the plot (it's really a 70-minute catalogue of bad people) and being inflamed by the film's condemnation of gays and Muslims to Eternal Fire (this is, after all, still Dante), I couldn't take my eyes off it."

  • "[A]mong the strongest competition doc subjects is Jeremy Stulberg and Randy Stulberg's Off the Grid: Life on the Mesa [site]," writes Michael Lerman at indieWIRE. "Though pointedly haphazard and a somewhat unresolved, Off the Grid is a look at the American Southwest that will still send chills down your spine." Stulberg's got pix and tales at indieWIRE's Park City blog.

  • "Unlike a slew of recent low budget drug movies, Nick Gaglia's Over the GW [site] actually has a twist," writes Michael Lerman at indieWIRE. "Based on a shocking phenomenon of real drug clinics cum cults during America's War on Drugs in the 80s and 90s, Over the GW may not quite deliver, but it does make a valiant attempt to step up to the level of disturbing films like Mouth to Mouth and Jonestown: The Life and Death of the Peoples Temple."

  • Joe Leydon: "Red Without Blue [site] is an understated but compassionate account of twin brothers who struggle to define themselves in terms of individuality and sexual identity.... For all its candor and blunt speaking, Red Without Blue leaves the audience with a sense that some elements of this family saga are being withheld from closer scrutiny." Winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature.

  • Joe Leydon: "Tijuana Makes Me Happy [site] is an example of nuevo-realism, with nonprofessionals cast in a semi-documentary-style dramedy shot on location in and around Playas de Tijuana. It's a slight but likable coming-of-age story about a Mexican youngster eager to own a prized cockfighting rooster." Winner of the Grand Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature.

  • "The shining moment of the narrative competition selection is Baran bo Odar's Under the Sun [site]," writes Michael Lerman at indieWIRE. "[I]t packs quite the sucker punch by luring you in, getting you right where it wants you, then popping a surprise that will leave you with an uncomfortable feeling your stomach, all within its sixty minute running time."

  • Joe Leydon: "Deconstructionists will delight in divining the influences that inform Weirdsville, a cleverly constructed, capably crafted and often uproarious shaggy-dog black comedy that riffs on everything from Trainspotting and Quentin Tarantino to Race With the Devil and Elmore Leonard. Nimbly directed by Allan Moyle, this Canadian-produced potential sleeper could command an even larger cult following than the helmer's enduringly popular Pump Up the Volume."


Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.


Updates: Ok, more wrap-ups: Eric Kohn for the New York Press and Ben Walters for Time Out.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:50 AM | Comments (7)

February 6, 2007

The Lives of Others and The Decomposition of the Soul.

The Decomposition of the Soul "The only pleasure of The Lives of Others is how Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's obscenely lauded film has allowed for the US release of The Decomposition of the Soul, the first essential documentary of the new year," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant. Decomposition opens tomorrow for a one-week engagement at New York's Film Forum.

J Hoberman draws a parallel I certainly hadn't thought of, much less considered: "The Lives of Others is a materialist gloss on Wim Wenders's free-floating allegory of divided Berlin, Wings of Desire. No less than Bruno Ganz's empathetic seraphim, [Gerd] Wiesler [Ulrich Mühe] longs to be human." Hoberman's bottom line, though, is that the film "is a compelling thriller but an unsatisfying character drama. As the Stasi-man becomes more human, the movie's tragic trajectory is betrayed by an increasingly squishy humanism - even more than the artists he's invented, the filmmaker exercises the power to make everything (almost) right." Then: "The Decomposition of the Soul is a deliberately confining movie, but unlike The Lives of Others, it offers no closure."

Updated through 2/11.

The Lives of Others In New York, David Edelstein calls Lives "a Kafkaesque tearjerker, a tragic farce." Its "longish denouement" is "corny and contrived, but we seize on it with relief - as we seize on the Mahleresque romanticism of Gabriel Yared's score." As for Decomposition, "it's a hushed, poetic meditation on the life of Stasi prisoners in which two former inmates, Hartmut Richter and Sigrid Paul, traipse in and out of empty cells and interrogation rooms in the Berlin-Hohenschonhausen, which operated from 1951 until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. As they softly relay their stories - of sleep and sensory deprivation, of the interrogators' sadistic tricks, of the dangling of false hope, the camera fastens on stools, desks, and other ordinary objects. We fix on them the way the prisoners must have, grasping for solidity in a fast-dissolving world."

Jason Bogdaneris at the L Magazine on Decomposition: "The cumulative effect is a devastating indictment of man’s worst instincts gone unchecked." And Mark Asch: "The Lives of Others is a model of self-containment and moral responsibility - so much so that it starts to feel like a filmed syllabus."

"We are reminded of The Conversation, which kept Gene Hackman, king of the listening device, locked in a Wiesler-like solitude," writes Anthony Lane of Lives in the New Yorker. "Dazzling though Coppola's film was, it was at some level a fantasy, dreaming of dark conspiracies with which to spice our lives. That is a luxury von Donnersmarck cannot afford, and the paranoia shown within his movie is not a nightmare. It's government policy."

Michelle Orange talks with FHvD for IFC News.

Earlier: Michael Guillén's interview.

Updates, 2/7: Of the two films, notes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, "The Decomposition of the Soul is a tougher sell partly because it offers no palliatives, though partly because it's a bore. It takes more than a worthy subject to make a good documentary, after all; it takes intelligent, specific, directed filmmaking. The German-born Ms Toussaint and the Italian-born Mr Iannetta have seized on a fine subject and, in Hartmut Richter and Sigrid Paul, former Stasi prisoners, found witnesses who put a face on a national calamity. Yet they have made a film as austere and barren as an old Stasi prison hallway."

Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog: "It's a fatal flaw of The Lives of Others that the world it depicts never seems reasonably inhabited - von Donnersmarck recreates a sense of overwhelming oppression but never gives us an inkling of life grinding on and mostly functioning despite it."

Eric Kohn finds that Decomposition "fascinates despite its structural flaws." Also at the Reeler, Vadim Rizov talks with FHvD and adds that Lives' "unambiguous political bite speaks more boldly than its maker. Which is probably as it should be: von Donnersmarck’s film is about the necessity of artists speaking out against repressive regimes. Now that the East has fallen, it would be against his purpose to make a statement as strong as that of his fictional playwright. The film itself is enough."

Michael Joshua Rowin at indieWIRE: "Decomposition's approach is thus clinically architectural as compared to a more standard documentary like [S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine] but not a degree less human for that. Going over the vestiges of the cruelest and most extreme authoritarianism, Toussaint and Iannetta create a vivid, harrowing testimony from a bare minimum of visual evidence."

"How surprising that a new German film would teach Americans about human faith at a time when acclaimed movies like Borat lack faith," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "The Lives of Others also dovetails with Robert De Niro's disgracefully overlooked The Good Shepherd. Both movies explore the soul of a country through individuals caught in difficult situations but - most importantly - seen without judgment."

Online listening tip. FHvD is a guest on Fresh Air.

Updates, 2/9: Lives is a "suspenseful, ethically exacting drama, beautifully realized by the writer and director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Posing a stark, difficult question - how does a good man act in circumstances that seem to rule out the very possibility of decent behavior? - it illuminates not only a shadowy period in recent German history, but also the moral no man’s land where base impulses and high principles converge."

Slate's Dana Stevens notes that FHvD "has said that Western audiences (those from West Berlin, he means, but it's all the more true for those of us points farther West) tend to regard his debut feature, The Lives of Others, as a thriller, while East Berliners experience it as a kind of therapy. The stunning thing about The Lives of Others, a nominee for the best foreign language film Oscar that all but swept the German Lola awards last year, is that it's equally powerful as both."

Salon's Stephanie Zacharek maps the first scene, and then: "As openings go, this one isn't particularly graphic or even suspenseful: The camera movement is almost placid, as if it were faking disinterest. But the sequence gives a firm sense of a country in which paranoia is a part of the air, like a toxin leeching oxygen from it. And with it, director and writer Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck begins building the layers of emotional texture that ultimately make The Lives of Others... so moving, and so deeply satisfying."

In Gay City News, Steve Erickson focuses on Lives' "forced naiveté in redeeming both Wiesler and Dreyman and its assumption that there's something groundbreaking about treating the former as a human being. Both capitalism and Communism have an amazing ability to co-opt art and artists into becoming cogs in their wheels. In The Lives of Others, those wheels turn in the opposite direction-art has the magical power to save men's souls."

There's another interview with FHvD at indieWIRE, where Chris Wisniewski finds the film offers "sturdy storytelling that never fully transcends its own limitations and generic trappings."

Updates, 2/11: Stuart Klawans in the Nation on Lives and Grbavica: "Both, I think, are pretty good. But as much as each film tells us about its subject matter, the pair tell us even more about the tastes of juries and prize committees in Europe, and their eagerness to create the next star director."

Jürgen Fauth: "In the final analysis, [Lives'] conclusion strikes a note that is somewhat too conciliatory. There is no doubt, however, that von Donnersmark made a gripping drama that vividly evokes a quickly-receding historical reality and, at the same time, provides a timely lesson about the costs - on all sides - of a system that runs roughshod over its citizens' civil liberties."

Tessa DeCarlo on Lives in the Brooklyn Rail: "By turns witty and horrifying, moving and puzzle-box clever, visually delicious and morally profound, it dramatizes the terrible price a society pays when it destroys trust in pursuit of security."

Michael Guillén passes along a comment from Robert Koehler that sheds some truly unflattering light on FvHD. Glenn Kenny interviews him.

Stanley Kauffmann in the New Republic on Decomposition: "The art of Iannetta and Toussaint is to make this steely building assume a species of being.... A strange phenomenon occurs: the camera itself becomes one of the prisoners in this place. The camera itself becomes another victim of the tacit torment in the film's title." And on Lives: "[D]espite the fact that parts of this film remind us of past pictures with comparable themes, the director and his actors make it immediate, gripping."

Lives "clearly articulates both the thirtysomething German director's technical facility and his understanding of palatably packaged cultural history as the safest road to the international market," writes Fernando F Croce at Slant. "The Orwellian intimations (the sprawling narrative kicks off in 1984) are, like the copious shout-outs to Brecht and Beethoven, catnip to audiences who never heard of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum [?] or cannot recall how more searchingly Francis Ford Coppola employed surveillance to study emotional alienation in The Conversation."

Michelle Orange at the Reeler on the "coda": "Something about these final scenes feels uneasy, as though they might set the rest of the film off balance with a false move or unnecessary play for pathos, but von Donnersmarck proves himself beyond doubt, moving with purpose toward a grace note of quiet benediction."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:56 PM

Interview. Mark Savage.

Savage Interview "Australian-born Mark Savage, 44, is a true DIY filmmaker, having begun making scads of short films while in his teens," writes Jeffrey M Anderson, introducing the latest interview at the main site: "He is always experimenting with formats and ideas, such as shooting one feature, Defenceless (2004), without dialogue. Subversive Cinema has recently released a box set of Savage's films, including three features, Marauders (1986), Sensitive New Age Killer (2000) and Defenceless, as well as several short films, extensive production diaries and other extras."

Related: David Johnson at DVD Verdict.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:25 PM

Shorts, fests, events. 2/6.

Nicole Brenez: Abel Ferrara Ferrara, Fassbinder, Pasolini. The three compact paragraphs Girish posts from Nicole Brenez's Abel Ferrara are simply stunningly good primers on all three.

Here's one you might want to save for the weekend or slurp all up right now; it's a long but quick read, though one that'll spark a few marathon thoughts. Matt Zoller Seitz and Keith Uhlich discuss "the death and rebirth of cinema" at the House Next Door.

"The wunderkind [Anders Thomas] Jensen's scripts are all schematic and prone to stock characters," writes Ed Gonzalez, "but they are soap operas after all - full of great sensitivity and compassion, even for the most fallible of human creatures - and After the Wedding is beautifully performed by its eager cast." Also in Slant, Rob Humanick on The Messengers and, again, Ed Gonzalez: Lights in the Dusk suggests what it might be like to stare at Bill Murray in a coma for 75 minutes."

"Perhaps what is most striking about Jia Zhang-ke's latest digital feature, Still Life," writes acquarello, "is its unexpected maturity, a marked evolution away from capturing the sad, eccentric tales of youthful indirection and cultural anachronism of contemporary Chinese life under an often contradictory, dual economy system that defined his earlier films towards a more somber - and classically humanist - portrait of anonymous, uprooted lives lived in the (un)certainty of state-sponsored phased extinction along the margins (and bowels) of China's profoundly transforming economic and physical landscape."

Final Score "Final Score is only the second Thai film to open this year, and by Thai standards is unusual," writes Peter Nellhaus. "Unlike the usual horror films or comedies, or horror/comedies that get national rollouts, this is a documentary. As it turned out, in addition to recording the life of several high school seniors, the film had unexpected drama from a nationwide scandal."

"[I]f the bad news out of Africa never seems to end, neither do the pop-cultural responses," writes Manohla Dargis. "It's hard enough to keep track of the globe-trotting [Angelina] Jolie, who has done more good in the world than most of the housebound pundits who poke fun at her. My problem is that I have almost bottomed out when it comes to films about Africa."

Also in the New York Times:

  • Why is it taking so long for the likes of Kimberly Peirce, Darren Aronofsky, David O Russell and Spike Jonze - in other words, the group of filmmakers Sharon Waxman wrote about in Rebels on the Backlot - to make movies, she wonders. Part of the problem, she hears, lies in the stakes: Failure is not an option. "More than any other factor, though, Hollywood veterans cite the absence of the kind of creative ferment that coursed through the Hollywood of the 1970s, the challenge that one cinematic triumph posed to other artists." The rest of the piece is spent pointing to this year's outstanding example of camaraderie in action: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo Del Toro. David Bordwell and Karina Longworth comment.

  • David M Halbfinger: "Presidential contenders, racing to show financial strength, have naturally turned first to Los Angeles, where Democrats have long found the lowest-hanging fruit: entertainment industry players who take their politics seriously and have the money to prove it." Meanwhile, for the Los Angeles Times, Jim Puzzanghera reports on Hollywood sending its messengers to DC: "Invited to the symposium 'The Business of Show Business' are members of Congress, federal and state officials, think-tank scholars and the media, who will get an earful from directors and moguls about the industry's global economic muscle, how movies are made and its challenges in the digital age." Related: The paper's crash course, "Hollywood 101."

  • Lewis Milestone's 1930 Academy Award-winning All Quiet on the Western Front is "a model of Oscar seriousness," writes Dave Kehr. "And because it tells the story of a brutal war from the point of view of the enemy, the film has been evoked by more than one contemporary Oscar pundit as proof that Clint Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima stands a chance in this year's best-picture race." More DVDs: Susan King in the LAT.

  • Terrence Rafferty on the "oddly stirring" Hannibal Rising: "[W]ithout an implacable cop or an anguished profiler to provide a 'normal' societal perspective - something, anything, else for a viewer's fickle affections to latch on to - the monster has you all to himself; and warily, tentatively, gradually, you begin to see the world his way. It's as if you'd been exposed to a mild, multiplex-specific strain of the Stockholm Syndrome." Related: Matt Singer at IFC News on prequels past.

Dancing Joni
  • "She is in possession of one of the most extraordinary song catalogs of the past half-century. Her chords break harmonic rules, have no technical names and defy Western musical theory. Her voice is an instrument that has grown sublimely heavier and huskier over the decades." Now, after ten years of relative silence, Joni Mitchell is back - with a ballet, an exhibition, a documentary and, yes, a new album. David Yaffe has a longish visit with an extraordinary woman.

  • Caryn James riffs on "why Edie is having another cultural moment, or how her slick Warholian fame has metamorphosed into a more complicated legend that speaks to the present."

  • Laura M Holson on what's going on at DreamWorks: "[Steven] Spielberg, who rarely speaks out about such corporate matters, is concerned that the studio he built with the music impresario David Geffen and the movie executive Jeffrey Katzenberg is losing its identity, something he has furiously fought to protect." David Poland comments.

Back to the LAT: Patrick Goldstein celebrates the friendship of Randy Newman and John Lasseter.

"It would seem that movies are inherently too much like dreams to escape the literal, subjective-perspective analogy for long," writes Michael Atkinson for IFC News. The Science of Sleep "is a love song to the developmentally arrested, mixing and matching levels of consciousness while adhering carefully to Freud's faith in desire as a motivating force - desire for romance, for fame, for emotional justice, for a parent's unconditional love." Also, Vibrator is "already one of 2007's best 'releases,' and another point in the argument for acknowledging DVDs as the new and viable alternative-exhibition platform."

Brandy Agerbeck has a "graphic facilitation" and a few notes on Errol Morris's talk at the Chicago Humanities Festival last year: "An interesting aspect about the Abu Ghraib project is that Morris has the opportunity to interview the photographers. We have an opportunity for more context than just the images themselves." Via Jason Kottke.

David Walsh at the WSWS on Letters From Iwo Jima: "According to the 'principle of counterpoint,' perhaps only an Eastwood, rightly or wrongly associated in the past with a patriotic and 'law-and-order' outlook, could have gotten away with this film. Nevertheless, it took a certain amount of courage."

Erich Kuersten, blogging at Bright Lights After Dark, is bugged by a certain "trouble I believe lies with the vanguard cinema studies professors. Bloodied from their battles with stodgy literature professors over the worthiness of 'pop culture' as a field of study, they seek to deaden the levity of their material, assuming that dourness and authority go hand in hand."

The Unseeable At Twitch, Stefan is relieved to see The Unseeable. For him, it works: "My faith in Wisit Sasanatieng continues, and I for one am eagerly anticipating his take on the martial arts genre with Armful, currently in production."

Anne Thompson in the Hollywood Reporter: "Screenwriter-director Rian Johnson has cast Oscar winner Adrien Brody and Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi to join Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz in Endgame Entertainment's The Brothers Bloom, an international con man adventure that is Johnson's follow-up to 2005's teen film noir Brick."

"People believe [9/11 conspiracy film] Loose Change because it proposes a closed world: comprehensible, controllable, small," writes George Monbiot, drawing a firestorm of comments. "Despite the great evil that runs it, it is more companionable than the chaos that really governs our lives, a world without destination or purpose. This neat story draws campaigners away from real issues - global warming, the Iraq war, nuclear weapons, privatisation, inequality - while permanently wrecking their credibility. Bush did capitalise on the attacks, and he did follow a pre-existing agenda, spelt out, as Loose Change says, by the Project for the New American Century. But by drowning this truth in an ocean of nonsense, the conspiracists ensure that it can never again be taken seriously."

Also in the Guardian and Observer:

  • Ed Pilkington meets Mia Farrow: "I can't help thinking that she sacrificed a huge chunk of her career by working with just one director - her partner, to boot. Take Crimes and Misdemeanours: a great, dark film but a completely unmemorable part for Farrow. But she is having none of it. "OK, my part was inconsequential and not at all satisfying, but it was his best film to date, quite chilling.'"

  • Peter Preston: "'The British are coming' in hundreds of headlines. This is the big league, and we're in it. But winning over there on the night of the long carpets and tremulous speeches has a clear cost as well as a cosy glow."

  • What's more, "is the portrait of Britain painted by this year's strong turnout a genuine snapshot of UK filmmaking talent or a picture postcard of cabbages and queens?" asks Mark Kermode.

  • Carole Cadwalladr talks with Simon Pegg about Hot Fuzz and more.

Speaking of Brits and winners, the Evening Standard's Tom Teodorczuk reports on his paper's British Film Awards. At the top of the list: United 93, Daniel Craig and Judi Dench.

Nathaniel R has now filled out all of the over 40 categories in the "06 Film Bitch Awards," one of the most elaborately designed year-end lists out there, a real pleasure to browse.

Shattered Glass Movie of the week for Lance Mannion and James Wolcott: Shattered Glass.

At In These Times, Erin Polgreen recommends the "funny, fast-paced and engaging record of contemporary politics in the United States," Can Mr Smith Get to Washington Anymore?

A Judy Davis list from Dan Callahan at the House Next Door: "These five films I've picked focus mainly on her TV work, and some things that might be lesser known, or underappreciated."

"This past week, Robert Greenwald was the keynote speaker at the Center for Social Media's 'Making Documentary Matter' conference." And Doug Block passes along Docs in Progress co-founder Erica Ginsberg's notes.

That Little Round-Headed Boy presents "75 Reasons I Love The Music Of John Williams."

Fests and events:

The Rape of the Sabine Women

Accepting submissions through April 16: The Waterfront Film Festival screenplay competition.

Out today: The Journal of Short Film, Volume 6.

Good heavens. Look at all these upcoming Blog-a-Thons. Andy Horbal's got a list.

Online viewing tip. David Poland has lunch with Jackie Earle Haley. Related, Paul Matwychuk: "But oh my God, what levels of abasement his character had to descend in order to earn Haley that Oscar nod!"

Posted by dwhudson at 12:46 PM

SXSW. Lineup.

SXSW Film 110 films in nine days, March 9 through 17. IndieWIRE has all the titles, casts and crews and descriptions for the SXSW Film Conference and Festival lineup. As we hear more about these films over the coming weeks, priorities will surely be jostled, but for now, a few notes:

Just too many intriguing titles to list. On top of the world premieres are several very well-selected highlights from Toronto, Vancouver, Park City and Berlin. Scheduling will no doubt present several predicaments - of the best kind.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:25 AM | Comments (1)

February 5, 2007

Online viewing, 2/5.

Vanity Fair: Hollywood Issue 07 - Black Suddenly, a deluge of online viewing and thoughts about online viewing.

Let's start with two via Jeffrey Wells, Killers Kill, Dead Men Die, a video preview of Vanity Fair's annual Hollywood issue, and Steve Colbert's "Movies That Are Destroying America: Oscars Edition."

But of course, what most people are watching right now are the Super Bowl ads, which can be found at iFilm and Alternet.

Related: Film Threat's top ten.

Evaluating the ads: Aaron Barnhart and Paul Harris at TV Barn, Destiny at 10 Zen Monkeys, Stuart Elliott in the New York Times, James Poniewozik for Time, Seth Stevenson for Slate and Sacha Zimmerman for the New Republic.

Related: Eric Harvey on Prince's half-time show:

Don't tell me you didn't get goosebumps when he started into "Purple Rain," and there were actual raindrops all over the camera lens, and the glowing, Tron-ish marching band marching in sync, and the lights went out except for the purple ones circling the stadium, because it means you're lying. Almost forty years after Elvis' '68 Comeback Special, when the average television has 700 channels and television shows premiere on YouTube or whatever, Prince reaffirming his legacy (what a lot of us knew he'd do the whole time) during halftime of the Super Bowl is the closest chance there is for unified, (inter)national recognition of an iconic live performer while he's still around to enjoy it. He was on a stage in front of billions of people, he's two years shy of 50, and he just fucking killed it.

In the run-up to Oscar Night, Gabriel Shanks gathers "clips or the entirety of almost all of the 2007 Best Animated, Best Live Action, and Best Documentary Shorts."

"It all feels like childhood before it goes weird." At Twitch, Todd points to A Very Sunny Morning. Also: Trailers and a site for The History of America.

The Machine is Us/ing Us. "Web 2.0 in just under five minutes." From Digital Ethnography.

Pitch 'n' Putt with Joyce 'n' Beckett. Via Fimoculous.

For the Seattle Channel, Robert Horton talks with James Longley about Iraq in Fragments; and a look back on the films of 2006 with Horton, Sheila Benson, Kathleen Murphy, Andrew Wright and Tom Tangney.

"Just as early tsk-tskers of such derided mass products as comic books (today they're called graphic novels), radio (people will stop reading books!), dime paperbacks (people won't read the right books!) and TV (two words: Paddy Chayefsky) were proven wrong, those who summarily relegate YouTube to the low-cultural ashcan are missing not only its artistic potential, but the artistry that can already be found there." Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post, via Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker.

Wandering through YouTube, Dave Roos stopped to watch one clip all the way to the end:

Nothing terribly original, but the pace was fast, the jokes mildly crude and the message clear: Eat more Wendy's!

Eat more Wendy's?

It turns out the clip in question wasn't the product of two dudes in a basement in Bethesda, but 20 suits in a Madison Avenue high-rise.

And they're marketing to what he calls in the new issue of MovieMaker the "Jackass Generation" - who, in turn, are often willing to play along: "'It's kind of like the 1970s again,' says LonelyGirl15 creator [Mesh] Flinders, 'when the cultural revolution took place and the studios went and hired all these "Young Turk" filmmakers - Scorsese, Fellini, Coppola - and let them come in and help with big studio pictures. Hopefully that's going to happen now.'"

Fellini? Well, you know what he means. Right?

Posted by dwhudson at 4:50 PM

Fests and events, 2/5.

Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay has a message for anyone near Seattle: Go see The Guatemalan Handshake.

The Guatemalan Handshake

What's more: "[Director Todd] Rohal, who will attend every screening along with producer Megan Griffiths, has organized a series of special events to go along with the screenings."

"The Balboa Theater and San Francisco State's Documentary Film Institute are generously co-presenting this year's nine Oscar-nominated documentaries on Tuesday and Wednesday, February 20 and 21," notes Michael Guillén. "All nine documentaries will play each day but in a different order and admission is free." That's right. He said: Free.

Sherlock, Jr

Speaking of the Balboa, San Franciscans may well want to celebrate it 81st Birthday Bash, featuring screenings of Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr and The Playhouse, on February 27.

Meantime, SF360's Susan Gerhard asks Cheryl Eddy about a TV show she'll be co-hosting, SF360 Movie Scene.

To New York. Along with several shorts, the features featured in the New Filmmakers series at the Anthology Film Archives in NYC on Wednesday are Therapy and Manhattan Kansas.

AJ Schnack has pix to show and stories to tell from Sundance.

IndieWIRE checks in with several industry folk to ask about the deals made at the festival - which are listed at the end of the report.

Also: "While CineMart projects often begin here and continue fund raising and development throughout the year, some projects complete their funding in Rotterdam," reports Mark Rabinowitz. "Both Andrew Bujalski's Reliable Responses (USA) and Aktan Arym Kubat's The Light (Kyrgyzstan/France/Germany/Belgium) are now ready to begin production due to deals made at CineMart."

"Perhaps the key to the success of the Rotterdam event is its organisers' steadfast determination to make theirs an international film festival in the widest possible sense," writes Mike Brett in the Guardian. Also: Chris Campion on Cyrus Frisch's mobile phone movie, Why Didn't Anybody Tell Me It Would Become This Bad in Afghanistan.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:10 PM | Comments (2)

Park City Dispatch. 12.

Brian Darr sends in a final dispatch.

Manufactured Landscapes Of the 16 feature films I saw at Sundance, four stood out above all the rest as favorites: Manufactured Landscapes [site], Comrades in Dreams [site], VHS - Kahloucha [site] and Enemies of Happiness [site]. Each played as part of the World Cinema Documentary competition (where Enemies of Happiness won the jury prize), and had already been given world premieres at other film festivals around the globe.

All four are also highly cinematic, which puts them in contrast to a film like For the Bible Tells Me So. The latter is just the kind of documentary you want to see invited into living rooms across America. But it can't shake a "made for television" feel that makes it seem somehow less layered and rich in 95 minutes than the short that preceded it at Sundance screenings, Jay Rosenblatt's slice of Anita Bryant archeology, I Just Wanted To Be Somebody, is in a mere ten.

[Updated through 2/6.]

Manufactured Landscapes defines documentary richness. It's visually very rich, but director Jennifer Baichwal does much more than merely piggyback on the compositional eye of her subject, Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky, as he travels to some of the most rapidly transforming locations in modernizing China. Baichwal and cinematographer Peter Mettler reveal a context for Burtynsky's shockingly elegant, gravely unsettling photographs of landscapes scarred by the globalizing economy's insatiable need for resources, and by the backbreaking human labor required to fill it. An example comes from the film's very first image, a nine-minute tracking shot of the inside of an enormous consumer goods factory in Xiamen City. The shot all at once conveys the vastness of the space captured by Burtynsky's photograph and its dual vanishing points, evokes the panoramic tracking shots taken by Billy Bitzer at the Westinghouse factories in Pennsylvania more than a century earlier, and picks up details Burtynsky's static neutrality cannot. For the shot does not merely track but also gently pans, anticipating the next workstation and briefly holding on the occasional worker before rolling on.

Camera neutrality becomes a focus of Manufactured Landscapes, lending a thematic richness to go with the visual. One key moment is a spirited conversation with officials at China's largest coal distribution center, who want to revoke the access promised Burtynsky because they worry that too much coal dust in the air on a windy day will prevent the resultant image from depicting anything other than a blight on national progress. They turn out to be wrong; the picture of mountains of coal blanketing the entire landscape does have an apocalyptic quality, but there is also a beauty in its terrible symmetry. Anyway, these images do not reflect poorly on Chinese society as much as they reflect on the globalization that all of us, East and West, are complicit in. Burtynsky became well-known for depicting the quarries and mines left by North American extraction industries, and arguably, he's simply following his subject matter, capital's impact on the land, to places where it's currently being outsourced.

Comrades in Dreams

Two cinephilia-focused documentaries, Comrades in Dreams and VHS - Kahloucha are far more light-hearted, but they claim another brand of richness: richness of character. Uli Gaulke's Comrades in Dreams interweaves the hubs of activity that four far-flung cinemas have become for their respective communities. Emergences, an open-air venue run by three cheerful workaholics in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, plays mostly commercial Hollywood product like Cellular and Titanic. The Flick in tiny Big Piney, Wyoming, is run by a mother of two and shows strikingly similar fare. Cultural House Cinema is part of a model cooperative in North Korea, and shows agricultural-themed melodramas (of which we get to see generous clips) with titles like Our Flavor and The Woman of Spring Water Valley, picked out by a woman whose husband has been called to duty in another region of the country. And Anup's Cinema Tent is a traveling exhibition space that sets up in the villages of Maharashtra, India, and sometimes even attracts big stars to its backcountry premieres of Bollywood movies. Anup is young, single and looking - for an arranged marriage, of course. It turns out that fixing on the commonly understood experience of motion picture obsession is a terribly fun way to soak in the atmosphere of these four disparate corners of the globe.

VHS - Kahloucha But it doesn't seem possible that watching any film could be quite as fun as making one with Tunisia's no-budget auteur Moncef Kahloucha, for whom Nejib Belkadhi's VHS - Kahloucha is named. Kahloucha is a housepainter who spends his spare time making action-packed videocassette epics starring his friends and neighbors. For a genre filmmaker, he's incredibly intense in his approach to cinema realism, insisting on using real blood (his own, sometimes) and smashing real television sets to achieve it. And he knows how to flatter his daredevil crew and ply his cast with promises of beers after the day's shoot. This may sound a bit like American Movie with the slums of Sousse standing in for Menomonee Falls, but the crucial difference is that Kahloucha's videos, with titles like Tarzan of the Arabs, are actually meant to be funny, so when we spend the entirety of the film with big silly grins on our faces we can rest assured we're laughing with Kahloucha and not at him.

Enemies of Happiness

Eva Mulvad's Enemies of Happiness also follows a character so compelling you don't want the camera to turn away. Malalai Joya, Afghanistan's youngest member of Parliament, has endured death threats but found a popular base of support in her country since denouncing the "felons" trying to control the government as a delegate to the Loya Jirga in late 2003. Her brief televised speech and the subsequent furor open Enemies of Happiness with immediate drama. From there, Mulvad brings us by Joya's side as she runs a health clinic and community center and a political campaign, all the time under the protection of armed guards. The access this film provides us to the day-to-day problems of ordinary Afghanis who come seeking Joya's advice and aid is incredible, but the film is perhaps most valuable as a portrait of an unlikely reformer in a country just barely emerging from decades of war and repression. The last scenes of the film, showing Joya already getting into heated arguments with fellow Parliamentarians on the way to their first session, show the long road ahead for reform-minded citizens. Still, there clearly is hope along that road if a grass-roots movement like Joya's can survive.


A few related odds and ends:

Manufactured Landscapes:

Comrades in Dreams:

VHS - Kahloucha:

  • Michael Lerman at indieWIRE: A "Tunisian film crew... defines the slogan 'Ten dollars and a dream.' It's hard not feel inspired as renegade filmmaker Moncef Kahloucha and his crew churn out b-genre pictures with youthful ferocity."

  • IndieWIRE interviews director Nejib Belkadhi.

Enemies of Happiness:

Update, 2/6: Ray Pride talks with Baichwal - on camera.

Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:52 AM

Park City Dispatch. 11.

David D'Arcy on Crossing the Line, Everything's Cool, Hot House, Padre Nuestro and My Kind Could Paint That.

Looking back at Sundance, I'm struck that some very good films got almost no attention. So here are a few words on what I'll call Stealth Sundance.

Crossing the Line

One film that escaped much notice was the spellbinding Crossing the Line, the documentary by Brit Daniel Gordon in which James Joseph ("Joe") Dresnok tells his story of crossing the Korean DMZ in 1962 at 19 and defecting to North Korea. He's been in Pyongyang ever since, teaching conversation at a foreign language institute and starring as an American villain in North Korean propaganda films, fathering a now-adult son with a woman of undetermined European origin, and then fathering another son with an Afro-Korean woman.

This is Gordon's third film about North Korea (the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or DPRK, as it's called by the loyal Dresnok), and his access gets him past at least some of the official propaganda wall. What we do see is a large angry man who endured a miserable childhood in the US, was abandoned to an orphanage, to the army, and then to a marriage that his wife abandons when he's in Korea. Dresnok was one of a number of deserters in North Korea - not all of them prisoners. Onscreen, we see a man who seems to have made his own choices, and who has benefited from guaranteed food rations as a result, when a million Koreans died not so long ago of starvation - he blames their deaths on American and Japanese policies.

Dresnok's European son attends one of the country's best schools. He's studying to be a diplomat, he tells us in halting, broken English that does not reflect well on his schooling. The family, with Dresnok's latest wife, always seems to be celebrating something - with plenty of food. To be fair, the government's resources were not just given to the American defector. At the same time that North Koreans were starving, their government was bribing Pakistani scientists to hand over the secrets to making nuclear weapons.

Is it real life or show life, truth-teller of Manchurian candidate? Dresnok admits that he's privileged, but a reality check emerges when we see the story of another defector from 1965, former US Sgt Charles Jenkins, who defected back to the US in 2004. In testimony that Jenkins gave then, he said that he lived in a one-room shack with Dresnok and two other US GIs, and that Dresnok gave him at least 30 beatings, which he said Dresnok enjoyed. Remember the American soldier in The Manchurian Candidate who kills another GI on command? (In interviews, Dresnok acknowledged that he hit Jenkins once, when the former sergeant attempted to pull rank on him. He also admitted to disliking Jenkins.) In more alarming testimony, Jenkins confirmed reports that the Japanese wife whom he had met and married in North Korea had been kidnapped in Japan years before as part of a plan to have foreigners bear children and to teach them foreign languages for future careers as spies. She apparently wasn't the only one. Was Dresnok doing the same with his first wife in North Korea? He says he wasn't, but he won't say where that wife came from. What a story.

Dresnok rejects the notion of spy families and says he wouldn't leave North Korea for a billion dollars. He seems to mean it as he sits fishing all day, smoking away in spite of a heart condition. He seems to have earned his keep once again. And Crossing the Line has cracked a window on the kinds of secrets you can't make up.

Everything's Cool

Another unheralded doc that analyzes stories made up by the Bush administration with our tax dollars is Everything's Cool [site], an eco-doc by Judith Helfand and Daniel B Gold. You could call it the poor man's Inconvenient Truth - or a funny man's Inconvenient Truth, since it uses humor to tell its story.

The film is a kind of road movie through the environmental informational landscape, asking ordinary people what they think about global warming (they admit they don't know much), and examining the Bush administration's altering of scientific data by having its appointees from the oil and coal industries rewrite scientific reports. You can see where W's interests lie - with the people who paid to get him elected. Consciousness is being raised, but the permafrost is melting away at a faster rate, and activists are fighting demoralization as much as they are fighting climate change. As the author Bill McKibben says, this is a battle that we may not win. Laughs aside, all is not so cool.

Hot House

A third doc that I admired is Hot House, Shimon Dotan's Israeli feature about prisons for Palestinian political detainees in Israel. The title gives you an idea of his take on things - that the prisons accelerate the growth of tendencies that were there when the men (and women) were locked up. Most of those tendencies are, in case you haven't guessed, anti-Israeli. And they tell you in perfect Hebrew.

Yet for the men in these prisons, a reality principal sometimes sets in which allows a spirit of compromise to enter the picture, provided that the Israelis are willing to compromise. That's quite a condition.

It's clear to anyone who has been watching bloody events in Gaza that the Palestinians' immediate battle is among themselves. Another troubling fact raised by Dotan is that woman prisoners who have failed in suicide attacks or aided bombers may be few in comparison with the men who are locked up, but the women seem to be far more uncompromising.

The Israelis originally tried to micromanage the political prisoners but gave up when they couldn't control crime inside the walls. In despair, they ceded control inside the prison to the prisoners themselves. Crime almost disappeared. Discipline returned. Is Israel giving power to its sworn enemies? What does that say about autonomy, or independence? Could we benefit from running Guantanamo that way?

Just a few words about two of the films that did get attention. If some of this sounds familiar, it's an expansion on some of the thoughts that I expressed in reviews of the two films in Screen. As I said, this year's theme, or one of them, is the border - it's mostly the border between the US and Latin America, but Crossing the Line takes the theme to one of the most tense regions on the planet.

Padre Nuestro

You could call this year's grand prizewinner "From Illegitimate to Illegal." The huge issue of illegal immigration from Mexico goes beyond the usual epithets in Padre Nuestro, the tale of an illegitimate son crossing a border from one squalid impoverished city to another to find the father whom he's never met.   The twist in this grippingly realistic drama is that en route, the son's property and identity are stolen by a young impostor whom he's helped and trusted, who sets out after the unsuspecting immigrant father. It's identity theft, the old-fashioned way, and it works.

With the proponents of border-phobia polarizing the US - when has fear not worked politically? - this family saga (almost entirely in Spanish) can seize on the topicality and controversy of its story and move beyond the independent circles that applauded the film at its Sundance premiere. The 40 million Spanish-speakers in the US are a potential audience, thanks to Mexican stars in the cast. So is Mexico itself, and the rest of Latin America, where the young cast members are already stars.

Writer/director Christopher Zalla's first feature is also a twist on the poignant coming of age story, as two young men meet in a tractor-trailer carrying illegals to New York. Juan (Armando Hernández), a petty criminal, has just out-run a vengeful gang and leapt into the back of a truck in what looks like Juarez. All of a sudden, the door is bolted shut and he learns that their destination is New York City. Pedro (Jorge Adrián Espíndola), naïve and trusting, confides to his new friend that he's carrying a letter from his dead mother introducing him to his father, the owner of a restaurant in New York.

When Pedro awakens in Brooklyn, his knapsack and Juan are gone, leaving the young man stranded without a cent in a city where he can only communicate with immigrants like himself. Immigrant New York is a place of cheap claustrophobic rooms, noisy restaurant kitchens, and street con artists.

Padre Nuestro

Nothing turns out according to plan for the new arrivals. Diego (Jesús Ochoa), the father whom Juan tracks down, turns out to be a bearish dishwasher in Brooklyn, bitter after years of toil and betrayal by Pedro's mother. On the street, Pedro learns quickly about survival from Magda (Paola Mendoza), a wily American-born prostitute. There are affinities to Italian neo-realism (Rocco and His Brothers) and to Luis Buñuel's 1950 Mexican classic about street children, Los Olvidados. Yet the title ("Padre Nuestro" is "Our Father" in Spanish) suggests that the film is building on a recent Sundance precedent. In 2004, Maria Full of Grace by Joshua Marston broke new ground at Sundance as a feature entirely in Spanish about a Colombian girl's journey to New York as a drug mule. Padre Nuestro is clearly looking for support from the same critics, and looking for the same audience, and more.

Valla's script, with its weaving of suspense into the parallel journeys of son and would-be son, and its evocation of New York, is anything but boilerplate in its depiction of a city that you won't see in the tourist brochures. DP Igor Martinovic gives a dark tactile look to the crawl-spaces where the illegals take refuge, shooting largely in those cramped interiors or at night when workers shuffle off drunk from their jobs. Often the light-deprived image looks as if it's in black and white. Production designer Tomasso Ortino gives the immigrant dwellings a dingy austerity.

As Juan, Armando Hernandez is the ruthless young manipulator who is humanized - to a point - by the genuine affection that he can eventually trick out of a father who's determined not to acknowledge a son. In Pedro, we witness a chilling street evolution from trust to guile that's happened in millions who've adjusted to the sober truths of a new land. Jesús Ochoa, as the stolid Diego, is monosyllabic, with a fury in his massive body, moving - sometimes glacially, sometimes suddenly - toward a fate we see coming.

The film's ensemble cast lightens the dark mood as only black humor can. In the restaurant kitchen, Mexican co-workers are merciless with ridicule as they probe Diego's past when they see him with a young boy, and the dishwasher's age earns him no immunity. There's a sly edge to this family tragedy, New York isn't just cold - it's comic. No hardship goes un-mocked.

My Kid Could Paint That

Everyone was looking for 2007's Little Miss Sunshine. For myself, I may have found it in My Kind Could Paint That, which frames the life of another child protagonist as it addresses the skeptical notion that has dogged painting ever since art ceased to depict the naturalistic likeness of its subject - that abstract art often looks like it could have been painted by a child.

Amir Bar-Lev's documentary then gets specific, telescoping in on abstract paintings that were said to be the work of Marla Olmstead, a cute untaught four-year-old girl in Binghamton, New York, whose huge canvases never got near the kitchen refrigerator as they brought high prices and media scrutiny from around the world. There was a mystery in a small-town child's talent and another mystery in whether or not she actually painted the pictures. These are the kinds of tales that sell newspapers and - potentially - movie tickets.

Given the vast audience that has followed this story as newspapers tracked it from New York to Tokyo, My Kid Could Paint That can benefit from the public's interest in revisiting and maybe even solving an ongoing mystery. Since art is now a commodity with sale prices that are tracked globally - at far greater prices that this film considers - the documentary should have a long international reach in theaters and television.

Bar-Lev's access to the Olmstead family brings in another story, the parents' own sensitive role in promoting the young girl's "career," which risked consuming her childhood, as their house and a local gallery that showed her work came under siege from TV news crews. Is it nurturing, or exploitation, or both? The director's previous doc, Fighter, observed another paradoxical relationship between two Czech Holocaust survivors from opposite political poles, who retrace the poignant steps of their escape from the Nazis while bickering like an "Odd Couple."

In My Kid Could Paint That, the credibility of Marla and her parents comes into question after the child is the subject of a dubious investigative report on the television's Sixty Minutes II. Correspondent Charlie Rose's team places hidden cameras in the Olmstead's basement, with the parents' consent, and Marla fails to paint. Had she needed to be coached by her night-shift factory manager father, or had he made the paintings? Almost overnight, the prodigy is brought down to size. (The show has since been cancelled.) Yet in a third act, Marla's career rises again, as her father creates a web site that shows her in the act of painting. Disaffected collectors are drawn back to buy a new series of mature-looking abstractions, which sold for up to $20,000. Marla, a beautiful child, now 6, returns like a groomed and scrubbed Shirley Temple to gallery openings. ("Little Miss Sun-Also-Rises.")

Bar-Lev's film creates a fourth act which re-examines the family's role in Marla's comeback, while reviewing her career in news footage. Rather than take a painterly approach to shooting art "artistically," the camera is a dogged investigator, viewing art, family and business from the floor, where the child tends to sit with her tubes of paint and brushes. A younger brother, Zane, isn't just tugging for attention in her shadow. Marla says Zane has "painted" some of "her" work - only one of the clues that something's amiss. It's left dangling, but still present enough to be remembered.

My Kid Could Paint That

The doc's characters, which make this film more about family (or about truth) than art, will hold the public's attention on big screen or small - an ambitious father in over his head; a mother retreating from the media circus; a local artist/dealer who markets the young girl; a Binghamton journalist who warns Bar-Lev that his film may also be exploiting the charming vulnerable child.

Art world audiences, to which the doc will be marketed (although I'm not sure that they're its core public), will quibble that neither Bar-Lev nor his expert, New York Times Chief Art Critic Michael Kimmelman, never really resolve misgivings posed early in the film about whether abstract art is legitimate or fraudulent. The broader audience may feel shortchanged that Bar-Lev also fails to resolve whether Marla painted all the paintings, or whether her career is a father/daughter act. Perhaps Marla didn't paint each of the paintings; or was she just following orders? But is it Bar-Lev's responsibility to tell us?


A few related odds and ends:

Crossing the Line:

Everything's Cool:

  • "[C]olorful characters, peppy animation, lively music and frequently comical banter" are all well and good. But Steve Ramos, writing for indieWIRE, finds that "the environmental message, the soul of the movie, gets lost in the playful mix."

  • Zach Haddad at Film Threat: "I really liked this film more than I did An Inconvenient Truth as Everything's Cool made the subject matter into a palatable form that actually made it interesting instead of depressing."

Hot House:

And the entries on Padre Nuestro and My Kid Could Paint That.

Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:43 AM | Comments (2)

February 4, 2007

Bright Lights. 55.

Bright Lights Film Journal Because editor Gary Morris introduces the 29 articles that make up the new issue of Bright Lights Film Journal better than anyone could, and does so right alongside the full table of contents, which can be found in full again, of course, on the home page and in the latest post at Bright Lights After Dark, the Journal's immensely enjoyable blog, there's little reason for me to reproduce it here yet again.

What Ever Happened to Orson Welles All the more reason to leap over immediately to take in the articles and features, reviews and interviews, an appreciation and more.

A starting point? That home page flags it: Damien Love's talk with Peter Bogdanovich and Joseph McBride about Orson Welles's last film, The Other Side of the Wind - which, who knows, we might actually get a chance to see in the relatively near future.

Bogdanovich: "I'm confident it will be seen within the next two years."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:47 AM

DGA. Scorsese.

Martin Scorsese "Martin Scorsese won the top honor Saturday from the Directors Guild of America for his mob saga The Departed, moving him a step closer to finally receiving Hollywood's biggest filmmaking prize at the Academy Awards," reports David Germain for the AP.

Related: From Nick Davis's list of the five best directors of 2006: "In The Departed, Scorsese takes glorious recourse to his florid command of editing, actors, and camera orientation, speaking the language of pop film back to itself and oscillating his images between a humane, naturalistic depth of field (all the rooftop sequences) and a high-style flatness (the police headquarters). Marty's finger is on every button of this movie, and boy does he know how to push them."

Updated through 2/5.

"And because he didn't think it was an award season movie, and didn't wear his Oscar hopes on his sleeve, the master auteur is easing on down the road to an Oscar win," adds Anne Thompson.

"Likely, finally, it's Marty's year," agrees Nikki Finke.

Update, 2/5: Vote for your favorite Scorsese picture at scanners. I voted for Raging Bull, but sympathize entirely with Jim Emerson as he writes, "This isn't an easy choice for me (probably between New York, New York and King of Comedy)..."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:32 AM | Comments (3)

February 3, 2007

Weekend shorts.

Ahlaam "Every movie ever made carries with it a tale of hardship and difficulty: budget problems, creative battles, equipment failures," writes Ashraf Khalil. "But Ahlaam [Dreams], [Mohamed] Daradji's first feature, may just trump them all. Filmed in post-invasion Baghdad with antiquated equipment and an untrained crew amid collapsing security, the movie is a testament to Daradji's resourcefulness, stubborn dedication and, to an extent, sheer dumb luck." One helluva story, which opens with the near-execution of Daradji and three crew members.

Also in the Los Angeles Times:

  • In Tokyo, Bruce Wallace finds Michael Arias, "the first non-Japanese director green-lighted for a major anime feature," Tekkon Kinkreet: "[M]echanical Buddhas with elephant heads join gangs, and lost boys battle for turf, while greedy developers from another planet work with the local mob to plow old neighborhoods under. But it is the city itself - with its 24/7 glow, its temples and tuk-tuks and color-splashed skyscrapers with grotesque animal-head motifs - that is the star of this critically acclaimed anime."

Dead Daughters In the Moscow Times, Tom Birchenough recognizes that Pavel Ruminov's Dead Daughters "is certainly the first contemporary Russian horror movie, set in the all-too-recognizable location of an outlying Moscow neighborhood. It's also one of Russia's most successful engagements with the realms of genre cinema to date, the kind of project that fuels the film business from Asia to Hollywood. Critics the world over (including, periodically, this one) may frown on all that, preferring the more rarefied reaches of the art-house stratosphere. But in the end, it's time to give credit where credit is due." Via Ray Pride.

Black Book, Paul Verhoeven's "voluptuously directed epic crumbles beneath the weight of its well-oiled but mechanical plot," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant.

Steven Shaviro finds in Jaromil Jires's The Joke "almost a critique of the liberal conscience, a display of its impotence when faced not just by the horrors of history, but but also by the very passage of time." Also: The Shot on Main Street.

For the Bangkok Post, Kong Rithdee contacts several Thai movie bloggers to ask them what they're up to and why. And there are links, naturally. Thanks, Peter!

At Twitch, Wolf has the list of nominees for the Hong Kong Film Awards.

Jeff Dawson gets a one-on-one with Robert De Niro for the London Times; Jamie Graham has one for the Telegraph.

Un Chien Andalou When Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali fell out, it was hard and ugly. Geoffrey MacNab tells the story in the Independent. Also: Lesley O'Toole talks with Drew Barrymore.

Kimberly Chun's interview with Werner Herzog: The Outtakes.

euro|topics translates a bit of Bartosz T Wielinski's piece in the Gazeta Wyborcza on Volker Schlöndorff's new film on Solidarnosc: "Strajk is full of pathos, at times unrealistic and at times trite. But perhaps that's the way it has to be to appeal to audiences in the West." Related (and in German): Christian Esch's talk with Schlöndorff for the Berliner Zeitung.

"Oscar-nominated Spanish actress Penélope Cruz is to star in the new Woody Allen film, to be shot this summer in Barcelona, newspaper El Pais reported Friday." Reuters reports.

In the New York Times:

  • "If earnestness equaled skill, Constellation would be a classic," writes Matt Zoller Seitz. "If only the film weren't so boringly conceived." Also: "East of Havana is the real deal" and Tazza: The High Rollers, "a terrific film about the sensual energy and reckless optimism of youth." And, The Messengers: "Even when they're working with weak material - the case with this haunted house picture, set around a South Dakota farm where a Chicago family has settled - the Pangs devise scenes so scary that they stain the imagination and never scrub out." The paper's really really putting its new reviewer to work! More on Messengers from Cinematical's horror 'xpert, Scott Weinberg.

  • Stephen Holden on Factory Girl: "[T]he kindest thing to be said about this deluxe photo spread of a film is that Sienna Miller's Edie and Guy Pearce's Andy capture their characters' images and body language with relative precision." That does seem to be about it, though. Also, Fired!, much of which "feels like a desperate attempt to stretch a flimsy half-hour made-for-cable concept into a feature film." Slate's Dana Stevens finds the film "a bit like Sedgwick herself - whatever substantial qualities it might once have possessed have been wasted, picked over by rumor and gossip, and sullied by the pawing of many hands." More from Nathan Lee in the Voice, Dan Callahan at the House Next Door and Stephanie Zacharek in Salon.

  • Manohla Dargis: "With In the Pit [Juan Carlos Rulfo] isn't advancing any totalizing theory, a treatise on transportation or an argument about alienation; he is, rather simply and elegantly, revealing the secret human face of a seemingly inhuman world." Also, The Situation, "[e]xploitation cinema of the most narcoleptic kind." More from Kristi Mitsuda at indieWIRE and Steve Erickson at Gay City News.

Because I Said So
  • Because I Said So "is a mild exercise in deliberate mediocrity, with chuckles and heartwarming moments distributed as carefully as nuts in a factory-made brownie," writes AO Scott. More from Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times and Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. And Slate's Dana Stevens has a "Confession: I'll watch any movie with Diane Keaton in it." Sing it: "Keaton's enduring appeal isn't that she's stuck in an eternal girlhood, it's that she makes being a grown woman look like so much fun. The problem is, the movies haven't grown up along with her." More from David Thomson in the Guardian.

  • Not much to do with film, but Blake Bailey's review of The Way It Wasn't: From the Files of James Laughlin is rather buried in this week's Book Review, and it shouldn't be missed.

Back at indieWIRE, Michael Joshua Rowin reviews An Unreasonable Man; Nick Pinkerton, Seraphim Falls: "David Von Ancken's marathon-man Western trades in Mel's favorite things: out-of-breath action filmmaking in an allegorical vein."

A Fistful of Dollars "Film composers are craftsmen; their music is more or less made to order based on what the film and the director require," writes Steve Garmhausen at the House Next Door. "The best, like [Ennio] Morricone, are freakishly skilled.... But the music of The Man With No Name trilogy is special because it shows Morricone as more than a craftsman who writes beautiful cues. It is strange and inspired, wry and deeply mischievous."

Nick Rombes finds that Thomas Vinterberg's It's All About Love "is a beautiful failure; in fact, it's such a failure that it almost needs to be judged against its own strangeness."

And the Self-Styled Siren finds that, despite "its pedigree," John Ford's Arrowsmith, based on the by Sinclair Lewis, is "basically an interesting failure, proof positive that they were making dull Oscar-bait almost as soon as the awards were started."

Scott Macaulay's been enjoying Rick Trembles's reviews.

David Lowery on Troll 2: "The people to whom I'd mention the film's title would fall into two distinct camps; those who had no idea what I was talking about, and those who'd already seen it about ten times and, upon hearing about a midnight screening at the best movie theater in the country with most of the original cast present, would get this strange light in their eyes. Dear reader, I now understand that reaction."

"Fyodor Bondarchuk's The 9th Company was an enormous success and became post-communist Russia's second highest grossing film to date," reports Luke Harding. "It is the first attempt by a Russian filmmaker to create a big-screen, big-budget movie about the Soviet war in Afghanistan, comparable to Platoon, Full Metal Jacket and other polished Vietnam war movies of the 1980s."

Also in the Guardian:

Notes on a Scandal

Dennis Cozzalio: "Babel is a movie made by a filmmaker seized by one simple idea who then, by devising narrative strategies designed to keep the viewer off-balance, gooses his film into the appearance of profoundity."

"In the Jacobean stage, you'd have this tremendous bloodbath at the end of a work, and then the next thing that would happen is the clown would come out. And everyone in the theater would laugh and it would take the edge off the intense experience." Talking to the AP, The Departed screenwriter William Monahan defends the rat. Spoiler alert, by the way. Via Joe Leydon.

Like many, they're anticipating The Bourne Ultimatum over at the Film Experience.

Ongoing slow-motion best-of-06 lists: Nick Davis and Tim Robey.

"As most of you know, Facets is in Chicago. And, also, that the Chicago Bears are in the Super Bowl." Phil Morehart introduces a list of "Facets' Favorite Football Flicks."

Mike Russell mingles among Tolkienites.

At Bad Lit, a different Mike considers the future of online distribution.

Online listening tip. Peter Kenyon reports on film clubs in Saudi Arabia, a "land without theaters," for NPR.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:06 PM

Weekend fests and events.

Klatsassin "Stan Douglas's most recent art video, Klatsassin, now at David Zwirner Gallery [through February 10], is both a murder mystery and a western," writes Bridget L Goodbody in the New York Times. "It doesn't, by any stretch of the imagination, follow Hollywood's narrative formulas. Instead, like his film Inconsolable Memories (2005), currently showing at the Studio Museum in Harlem, Klatsassin makes clear that while most Hollywood films have one basic story to tell, Mr Douglas has many."

"I defy anyone to travel in [New York City] for more than a few miles without seeing or hearing some mention of Doug Aitken: sleepwalkers, the immense video installation projected on the MoMA façade through Feb 12," writes Paddy Johnson at the Reeler, where he notes "the real genius of the project: the marketing."

Jonny Leahan previews the docs of February for indieWIRE.

Mathis Winkler reports for the Deutsche Welle (and in English) on Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick's recent worries: "'Things are getting more and more complicated when it comes to film festivals,' Kosslick told German daily Die Welt. 'There's a boom in festivals and a boom in film markets, with millions invested in them.'"

The Lumière Reader's filing dispatches from New Zealand's World Cinema Showcase.

The Hole Story screens for free on Monday in Brooklyn.

Andy Klein previews the third Animation Show for the LA CityBeat: "Once again, the selection of 12 films tips a little more toward the serious than the comic; or maybe it would be accurate to say that it tips largely toward the weird, with a lot of technical diversity."

Redcat selects a nice blurb for its February 12 program, The Celestial Library: Films by Jeanne Liotta: "A symphony for the senses." From: Senses of Cinema. So there you go.

Alonso Duralde will be bringing his famous clip-illustrated talk about 101 Must-See Movies for Gay Men to Outfest in LA on Wednesday, February 21.

Fantasporto Festival / Festival International de Programmes Audiovisuels

At Twitch, Todd points to the lineup for the Fantasporto Festival, "one of the major Fantastic film festivals in the world." February 23 through March 3.

Chicagoans: Jonathan Rosenbaum points to Cine-File, a "Chicago Guide to Independent and Underground Cinema."

"Anyone with a negative view of the small screen would have had their ideas shaken up considerably if they had visited Fipa (Festival International de Programmes Audiovisuels), now in its 20th year, which is held annually in January in Biarritz," writes Ronald Bergan in the Guardian. "They would have been astonished by the vast range and depth of fiction films and documentaries made for the small screen, several of which get picked up for release in the cinemas. Because a majority of films are shot digitally nowadays, the line between television films and 'film' films is fading fast."

Online viewing tip. Cinematical interviews Sundance festival director Geoff Gilmore.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:17 PM

Weekend DVDs.

Animated Soviet Propaganda Robert W Welkos reviews Animated Soviet Propaganda (click that title for a preview): "The anthology is divided into categories titled 'American Imperialists,' 'Fascist Barbarians,' 'Capitalist Sharks' and 'Onward to the Shining Future: Communism.' The DVDs include interviews with Russian film school professors, directors and animators, including famed animator Boris Yefimov, who was 101 and died two years after being interviewed."

Also in the Los Angeles Times, Susan King: "The revelatory new Alfred Hitchcock: The Early Years Collection (Lionsgate, $40) offers cineastes a rare opportunity to see five of the Master of Suspense's early films: 1927's The Ring, 1929's The Manxman (both of these silent), 1930's Murder!, 1931's Skin Game and Rich and Strange. Though these films range in quality, Hitchcock was very much the master of the medium, even during his salad days as a director."

Nick Schager reviews two from Russia at Slant: "Marina Razbezhkina's Harvest Time uses nostalgia as more of an emotional than intellectual device, looking back fondly—if still somewhat critically—at a hardship-wracked collective farming family in the Soviet Union of 1950." And: "Brother's titular sibling is a figurative child of Mother Russia, a modern-day Raskolnikov bereft of critical self-consciousness whose amorphous moral code reflects the precarious condition of his late-90s homeland."

"This has always been my personal favourite of all Fritz Lang's silent films, the one that gets the balance right between its pulp fiction story and its exposition through setting and character." Ian Johnston on Dr Mabuse, The Gambler at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

"With the possible exception of Nic Roeg, one would be hard pressed to name a director fallen so far from art house grace as Wim Wenders," writes Michael Joshua Rowin for Stop Smiling. The new Wim Wenders Collection "would be a chance to refurbish the poor reputation the director has earned over the last two decades if the mixed bag didn't draw attention to his conspicuous deficiencies."

The Heiress Glenn Kenny on The Heiress: "Adapted from Ruth and Augustus Goetz's theatrical adaptation of Henry James's Washington Square, it's a finest-hour candidate for all involved: [William] Wyler, costars Ralph Richardson and Montgomery Clift, and most of all leading lady Olivia de Havilland, who gives a wrenching performance and earned her second Best Actress Oscar for it. I had the privilege of interviewing Miss de Havilland for Premiere a few years back and thought the release of this classic on DVD would be a good pretext to provide you all with an expanded version of her reminiscences of the making of the film."

Peter Sobczynski has a DVD roundup at Hollywood Bitchslap.

In the Austin Chronicle, Raoul Hernandez has background on Yojimbo and Sanjuro.

Flickhead explores the various elements that make up The House on Telegraph Hill.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:50 PM

Weekend online viewing.

American Revolution II: Battle of Chicago A few shortish views here, but more than half aren't. For example, this from Ray Pride: "American Revolution II: Battle of Chicago, one of the sources for footage for Brett Morgen's Sundance 2007 opening attraction Chicago 10, is a cinema vérité-style doc shot on the streets of Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention." Phenomenal stuff. Why isn't this happening now? Slate editor Jacob Weisberg had some thoughts on this question back in December.

Chuck Olsen: "This week I put my entire documentary feature film online. It's called Blogumentary and it documents the rise of political and personal blogs, from the early days up through the Iraq War and Dan Rather's downfall - not to mention a bloggy love story or two." And here it is.

The Doomsday Code. Via Brian Flemming.

Looks like this was a fun premiere: The Scratch.

John Waters sells a record.

Whatever you think of Roberto Benigni now, he used to be funny. As he is in this segment of Jim Jarmusch's Night on Earth, via TickleBooth.

The trailer for Across the Universe. Very iffy. Maybe, maybe not. Hm. Via Moriarty at AICN.

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

Interview. Maria Maggenti.

Puccini for Beginners Michael Guillén introduces his latest interview for us at the main site: "In 1995 writer-director Maria Maggenti turned conventional narrative on its ear by melding it with a lesbian teen romance, creating The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love. Over a decade later, Maggenti tweaks the romantic comedy once again in her InDiGent production of Puccini for Beginners, this time limning gender fluidity with laughs and posing fresh questions for an evolving queer community."

Related: "This film is a charmer," writes Marcy Dermansky, "a genuine screwball comedy, set in springtime New York, a fantasy Manhattan where everyone lives in gorgeous brownstones, takes taxis, and drinks wine out of goblets. No matter. It is a romantic comedy."

Updated through 2/7.

"It captures the neurotic self-absorption of a class of academic and literary New Yorkers who put enormous stock in precisely verbalizing every opinion and emotion, using terms like 'paradigm shift,'" writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "At the same time, it carries off the difficult feat of making this tiny segment of the chattering class more or less likable."

"Maggenti writes hilarious dialogue and is one of the few genuine intellectuals in this business," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. The cast is great, and he laughed. "Sounds great, right? What's the problem? Well, I don't know how to say this nicely, so I won't try. I'm not sure Maggenti could direct a cardboard box to lie on the sidewalk."

Writing at Slant, Nick Schager finds that Puccini "yearns to be a bisexual screwball comedy but turns out to be only a simplistic sitcom stretched to feature length."

Nick Pinkerton for indieWIRE: "Puccini deliberately positions itself in the lineage of the screwball comedy... but any given episode of in-its-prime Gilmore Girls does that legacy more honor, not to mention shows more 'filmic' chops."

Update, 2/7: "Puccini for Beginners might have been a more interesting picture if it scrutinized gay romance as an experience outside the middle-class norm," suggests Armond White in the New York Press:

Last year, critic B Ruby Rich praised Julien Hernandez's Broken Sky for "Uncompromising and groundbreaking portraits of the young characters outside the mainstream." But the way the mainstream press stubbornly ignored Broken Sky suggested that it wasn't so much put-off by Hernandez's gay content as it was simply (perhaps unconsciously) devoted to promoting mainstream interests. Puccini for Beginners is insistently facetious - filled with stylistic digressions such as subtitles that comically comment on the characters, freeze-frames that allow for jokey voice-over asides and other too-cute formal devices. They're part of the compromise Maggenti has made as an indie filmmaker seeking mainstream attention and success.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:28 PM

Rotterdam. Tiger Awards.

Rotterdam 07 The word from Rotterdam: "This year's VPRO Tiger Awards jury, chaired by Toronto International Film Festival director Piers Handling, took an unusual decision to award the VPRO Tiger Awards to four films, rather than the usual three. On Friday night in de Doelen, Tan Chui Mui's Love Conquers All [site], Pia Marais's The Unpolished, Claudio Assis's Bog of Beasts and Morten Hartz Kapler's AFR, were honored by the 36th IFFR."

Also: "NETPAC [Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema] chose Hirosue Hiroyama's tense psychological drama Fourteen, citing its 'insight into psychology and generational barriers, and its bold analysis of a complex culture.' FIPRESCI selected Rafa Cortes's Yo, quoting its intense depiction of one man's struggle to acquire an identity. The KNF (the jury of Dutch film critics) chose US filmmaker Nina Davenport's Operation Filmmaker, a documentary film which follows an aspiring film director in Baghdad."

And: "The three Tiger Awards for Short Film were granted to Video Game by Vipin Vijay (India), Hinterland by Geoffrey Boulangé (France) and The Flag (Bayrak) by Köken Ergun (Turkey)."

More from Brian Brooks at indieWIRE, where Dennis Lim noted on Thursday that "there have been no breakout hits, no bolts from the blue in the fashion of Ilya Khrzhanovsky's 4 or Carlos Reygadas's Japón, two recent quintessential Rotterdam debuts," writes . "But even in an average year, Rotterdam is richer, busier and more rewarding than most festivals in full stride." More from Mark Rabinowitz.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:14 PM

Noir et blanc.

Tracing the Decay of Fiction I've been exchanging email with DK Holm about J Hoberman's evocative essay in Artforum on "Sunshine Noir"; after all, one of Doug's books is Film Soleil, which he calls "an aspect of film noir, but one in which the traditional tropes of noir from the period 1939 to 1958 are reversed or revised. Dark nights become sunlit days and urban sprawl becomes under-populated desert." And he argues, primarily by listing and discussing dozens of examples, that it's "a genre unto itself."

With his lovely riffs on apparitions of Los Angeles, Hoberman is less concerned in this new essay with the formal than with the thematic attributes of what might indeed be a subgenre at least.

Back to Doug: "I saw After Dark My Sweet and wrote a review for a newspaper in which I introduced the phrase 'film soleil.' After it came out, one of my local colleagues (I think it was Shawn Levy, which would be characteristic of him) mentioned that Hoberman had used the phrase 'film blanc' a few years earlier, and I vaguely remembered that. I mention Hoberman in the book on page 12. When I started to write the book, I wrote to Hoberman because I wanted to quote the review directly and he wrote back to say he couldn't remember and wasn't sure if he knew which review I was talking about. I never did find the review."

"Film blanc"? Nice. So I went looking for it myself. It wasn't long before I found Glenn Erickson recalling, "I first heard of Films Blanc (White Film) about 1975, in Film Comment magazine. I don't know who coined the term, but it is a pretty apt description of the complete inverse of Film Noir. Films Blanc are fantasies, whimsical visions of life that deal with the great beyond, the afterlife, heaven and hell. They are usually romances or light morality plays, sometimes satirical, often sentimental."

Quite a different definition from that applied by XPT to introduce a series of "movies such as the Coen Brothers' Fargo and Kubrick's The Shining set in dark 'snowy' worlds." Similarly, sneersnipe.

A third and again quite different definition comes from Andrew Sarris, as quoted by Vidiots Video: "We don't need any more film noir these days. We need people who will dare 'film blanc.'" Vidiots interpret this as a call for "films that brave coming out on the hopeful side of things, and leave you a little more inspired than cynical (not that there's anything wrong with that)."

Fine, but Erickson really does seem to have hit on the going definition. For example, in an index to the first 20 volumes of the Journal of Popular Film and Television, we find:

23. BETWEEN TWO WORLDS: SOME THOUGHTS BEYOND THE "FILM BLANC." Genelli, Tom, and Lyn Davis Genelli. 12(3), 1984, 100-111. The central concern of the 1940s "film blanc" - exploration of the relationship between the mortal world and the afterlife - is evident in several films of the late 1970s and 1980s after an absence of this theme from films of the 1950s and 1960s. Sources for the renewed interest in life after death are examined, and Resurrecion [I'm assuming this is the film they're referring to; they may have simply dropped the "t"] and Poltergeist are analyzed in conjunction with the 1940s films It's a Wonderful Life and Dead of Night. Seven photos.

And Hoberman himself: "It was during [James] Agee's watch that Hollywood peaked and began its precipitous post-World War II slide. Without undue anxiety, Agee noted key trends - the development the French would dub 'film noir,' the icky 'film blanc' of wartime supernaturalism, the reaction against Roosevelt liberalism, the impending eclipse of the movies."

Again: "Closer to Defending Your Life, [Albert] Brooks's earlier parody of the supernaturalist film blanc, The Muse's deceptive slightness masks a darker purpose."

William Johnson evidently had a piece on "Film Blanc" in the Nov/Dec 1997 issue of Film Comment, by the way, if you happen to be near a library at the moment.

At any rate, most of you reading probably already knew all about "film blanc"; I didn't, so I've enjoyed the diversion. To sum up: "Sunshine Noir" and "Film Soleil" are related but not quite the same, while "film blanc" is an altogether different idea.

On a newsier note, Anne M Hockens carries on dispatching to the Siffblog from Noir City, and again, Michael Guillén is still taking extensive notes on Eddie Muller's talks at what sounds like one of America's most enjoyable annual film series.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:35 AM | Comments (2)

February 2, 2007

Park City Dispatch. 10.

Brian Darr on Protagonist, Hear and Now, White Light/Black Rain and Bajo Juárez, the city devouring its daughters.

Sundance 07 Everyone should have a documentary film made about them. That's the advice that Iron and Silk author Mark Salzman shared with the audience at the Q&A following Jessica Yu's Protagonist, probably the most structurally ambitious of the 13 documentary features I saw at Sundance this January. Posed with the problem of making a documentary with the great tragedician Euripides as an inspiration, Yu put out a call for people ready to tell their stories of a cathartic awakening that they had been traveling for too long down the wrong path. She found four men, each with a vastly different set of specific life experiences, but tied together by their gifts of eloquence and self-understanding. Despite the use of a set of haunting puppets designed by Janie Geiser as a unifying device, it's difficult to anticipate where the stories of an "ex-gay" minister, a far-left radical terrorist, a bank robber and a martial arts enthusiast (Salzman) are going to go or how they will cohere into a film greater than the sum of its shots. Which makes Yu's achievement all the more satisfying when a thesis emerges: that each of us, no matter how beset by the gods or by our fate, is the protagonist of our own life story.

Hear and Now Protagonist, while not really an "issue documentary," is exemplary of a trend toward democratizing that subgenre by devoting the screen to the voices of everyday people affected by a social problem, rather than to academics or other experts. It's easy to admire this trend, especially after viewing a film like Irene Taylor Brodsky's Hear and Now, which focuses its camera on the filmmaker's deaf-from-birth parents adjusting to life with their new cochlear implants which simulate hearing, while any voices of "experts" on this procedure are from the medical establishment and come off as strikingly clueless about what the surgery is like to go through and live with. Brodsky is so good at aligning a hearing audience's sympathies with her subjects, while at the same time encouraging us to question their decision to undergo such a procedure at their stage of life, that I'm a little surprised she didn't have the confidence to screen a fully-captioned version of the film so that deaf moviegoers (who certainly exist in Utah and at Sundance; I saw several people signing a conversation in the lobby of the Egyptian Theatre after a subtitled foreign-language film) could participate in the dialogue around her film as well.

White Light/Black Rain Steven Okazaki made White Light/Black Rain [site] to give voice to the survivors of the atomic blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as they had been left out of so many documentaries on what may be the seminal event of the 20th century. Many of them still visibly scarred by their bodies' reactions to the radiation they were exposed to as children, these survivors have not only been marginalized in the histories of World War II and the atomic age, but have also been stigmatized in Japan as "pika-don" (flash-boom) people unfit to intermingle in the larger society due to an irrational fear of contagion. Hearing in their own words the ordeals they went through to survive the aftermath of the twin bombings is an emotionally overwhelming experience. The continuing controversy over whether the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should be thought of as innocent victims, geopolitical guinea pigs, or civilian casualties necessary to end the war, is never directly addressed. But the message these survivors most desperately want to convey comes through loud and clear: never let it happen again. It is with far more sadness than irony that I note that the day after I saw the film in Salt Lake City, I learned that the Doomsday Clock had just advanced by two minutes to 11:55.

Bajo Juárez, the city devouring its daughters Sometimes an important issue is by no means served by an approach that puts aside an investigation of the forest for that of its individual trees. This is a trap that Bajo Juárez, the city devouring its daughters falls into, I'm afraid. It's an unquestionably tragic story: Ciudad Juárez, the largest city found on the opposite side of the river we call the Rio Grande (in Mexico it is called the Río Bravo del Norte), has since 1993 seen the murder or disappearance of hundreds of young women, many of them workers in the large maquiladoras set up in the wake of the NAFTA agreement. Bajo Juárez is made up of interviews with the mothers of these devoured daughters and of some of the poor young men scapegoated by a seemingly indifferent law enforcement structure. It also follows the mothers and their allies as they try to get the attention of President Vicente Fox in Mexico City.

But testimonials by the city's fear-stricken residents and fiery clips of a speech by Jane Fonda do not go far enough in helping the uninitiated understand the origins and implications of these crimes. Co-directors Alejandra Sánchez and José Antonio Cordero have some fascinating perspectives to share about the connection between the femicides and the passage of NAFTA in 1993, the complicity of the media, and more, but they only shared them in the Q&A after the film. For whatever reason (fear for their own safety, perhaps?), they decided to leave a comprehensive presentation of facts and theories out of their film, with the result that it remains unsatisfying for those of us not already familiar with the tragic circumstances. I couldn't help but feel that the victims deserve a better film.


Coverage of the coverage: The Park City Index.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:58 AM | Comments (2)

DVDs, 2/2.

Viva Pedro Two hefty boxes are out; DK Holm gathers DVD specialists' takes.

Pedro Almodóvar has an interesting career arc. He started out as a sort of Spanish John Waters and evolved into Douglas Sirk (by way of Fassbinder). In his early films, mothers were a particular focus of anxiety and aggression, while his more recent films, such as Volver, are fit enough to bring your mother to.

Films by Pedro Almodóvar Now, thanks to Sony Pictures, you can own most of Almodóvar's mature work, gathered in Viva Pedro: The Almodóvar Collection, a box set of eight of his films (Matador [1986], Law of Desire [1987], Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown [1988], The Flower of My Secret [1995], Live Flesh [1997], All About My Mother [1999], Talk to Her [2002] and Bad Education [2004], plus a disc of extras).

At DVD Talk, Stuart Galbraith IV plunged into the whole giddy, flamboyant array, concluding that "nearly every film is exceptionally good." Galbraith points out that the "set is being advertised on Amazon with an R rating, but includes NC-17 versions of Law of Desire, Matador and Bad Education." Galbraith focuses on an often ignored aspect of Almodóvar's work, which is that "these pictures are consistently surprising in the way Almodóvar structures his screenplays (thankfully, he seems never to have heard of Syd Field) which, despite their constant references to Sirk, All About Eve, film noir, 'Moon River,' A Streetcar Named Desire, Johnny Guitar, etc., keep the viewer off-balance."

The DVD Beaver, as is his wont, focuses on the transfers, concluding that the box set "is an excellent package. All the DVDs are progressively transferred, 16X9 enhanced and look exceptionally good," specifying that "four of the DVDs (Live Flesh, Bad Education, Talk to Her and The Flower of My Secret) appear to be duplicates of the existing Region 1 releases (extras too) with Bad Education being the NC-17 (not visually censored) cut. All About My Mother and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown are different than the previously released individual discs," while, "Matador and Law of Desire are seeing their first light of day - digitally speaking - in Region 1," before complaining that seven of the films "have ghastly yellow subtitles in optional French or English."

Missy Schwartz at Entertainment Weekly reveals that the "Spanish auteur has a thing for revisiting themes," noting by way of illustration that a scene in The Flower of My Secret features "a novelist, played by Marisa Paredes, [who] discusses her next book: A young girl kills her father after he tries to rape her; her mother then buries the body in the freezer of a neighbor's restaurant. Sound familiar? It should. It's the plot of Almodóvar's latest film, the Oscar-nominated Volver."

The Sundowners And speaking of Entertainment Weekly, Ken Tucker reviews another recent box set, a "Signature Collection" from Warner Home Video that gathers together six of Robert Mitchum's films (Angel Face, Macao [1952], Home From the Hill, The Sundowners [1960], The Good Guys and the Bad Guys [1969] and The Yakuza [1974]). It's an uneven box, almost more notable for the auteurs it collects than for Mitchum's work. Tucker calls the collection a "lumpy pile of movies" and an "extras-light hodgepodge" that "shouldn't be mistaken for a gathering of Mitchum's best work," but unexpectedly singles out The Sundowners as "an excellent oddity on Mitchum's résumé in which he manages a not-absurd Australian accent as a Down Under homesteader."

As noted the other day, Dave Kehr at the New York Times focuses on Vincente Minnelli's Home From the Hill. He deems it "a superb example of Minnelli's method," adding that there are "no arias here, but the film is organized into operatic climaxes: great emotional outpourings, centered on traumatic events."

A theme that runs through most of the internet reviews of the set is that Mitchum, despite his casualness, really did care about acting. And this is the point that Fernando F Croce makes at Slant. "Robert Mitchum," he avers, "is the greatest Hollywood actor to ever pretend not to give a shit about acting." Croce's findings are that the set is a "pretty solid job across the board. The nicely preserved black-and-whites of Macao and Angel Face retain their director's visual flourishes, while The Sundowners and Home from the Hill gain from cleaned-up, anamorphic widescreen presentations; colors in both The Good Guys and the Bad Guys and The Yakuza are a little on the dim side. The mono sound could be more expansive, but it's clear throughout." One of Mitchum's most notable lines is, "Baby, I don't care," from Out of the Past, from which Croce divagates, with the correction, "But you do, Bob, and this set proves it."


Related: "What were the Academy members thinking when they snubbed Volver in so many areas?" wonders Nathaniel R. "This is a moving, textured and funny drama."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:37 AM | Comments (1)

February 1, 2007

Shorts, 2/1.

The Player "Is no one going to say that Robert Altman was a great pothead? Let me, then. Robert Altman was a great pothead. In the war on drugs, he won." So begins Michael Tolkin's appreciation in Artforum. There are stories about The Player here, of course ("some of his methods made sense, and if it was pot sense, the sense is not invalid"), and there's this, too:

There are directors whose movies are just delivery systems for their self-confidence, in which self-confidence is really the thing that entertains, because it takes a bold confidence to successfully tell a stupid story, and for sure there are useful energies we suck from awful films that begin with the director's amazing love of himself. The films of such directors are always the same, until they lose their confidence, and then their movies fail in every way - no fun for us, no money for them. Altman never told the same film twice.

My Name is Albert Ayler "throws open a door on the tumultuous world of a unique 20th-century musician," writes John Fordham in the Guardian.

Amazing Grace "Fernando Meirelles and Edward Zwick take note: Amazing Grace is proof that liberal filmmakers can make movies that aren't desperate manifestations of their political guilt," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant. "Though he wears his heart on his sleeve, Michael Apted does so without apology, positing William Wilberforce's attempts to abolish slavery in Britain in the 18th century as a metaphor for the perpetual struggle of liberal humanists to affect change." Also, Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams.

Also at Slant:

  • Nick Schager on Close to Home, "reportedly the first [film] to tackle the subject of Israeli women in the army" and "an occasionally fascinating glimpse inside a particular strata of Israeli life." Also, Severance.

  • Rob Humanick: "Epic Movie is something of a wake-up call to how low our collective standards have really become, not to mention an alarming indicator of the narrowing gap between our present 2007 reality and Idiocracy's supposedly fictitious, less-than-flattering vision of 2505 (truly, at times there is no visible difference between this and the fictitious film Ass - a two-hour, single-take, Academy Award-winning shot of a flatulent gluteus maximus - featured in Mike Judge's Fox-aborted dystopian satire)." Also, Room 314.

Signandsight translates Heinz Schlaffer's piece for Die Welt on the rise of religious fundamentalism:

The Enlightenment has always suffered from one shortcoming, which today is its undoing: it has a stock of efficient ideas, but no impressive images. Enlightenment merely takes the form of writings and speeches, critical treatises and constitutional drafts. Enlightenment knows no cathedrals, no holy masses, no chorals or rituals in magnificent robes with which it can feed the perceptive organs of the present, the camera and the screen. In a word: Enlightenment is not television-compatible.

"In recent years, [Molly] Ivins - the unapologetically progressive and exuberantly feisty author and columnist - had become the go-to gal for documentarians seeking pithy and prickly commentary on Texas politics and politicians," writes Joe Leydon. "Indeed, she provided some of the brightest, sharpest and wittiest insights in movies as diverse as Bush's Brain, Last Man Standing and The Big Buy: Tom DeLay's Stolen Congress. Her death at the ridiculously young age of 62 is a tragedy." More on a great American personality from Katharine Q Seelye in the New York Times - and of course, the Texas Observer.

In the Pit

Vicente Rodriguez-Ortega at Reverse Shot: "In the Pit may be understood as a political project that gives voices to the invisible pawns of society's underbelly. By doing so, the film unearths the exploitative dynamic of economic and social discrimination that characterizes the institutional policies of the Mexican government and exposes the perverted functioning of a contemporary social order in which class and race dictate who remains 'down there' and who escalates to the higher spheres."

"So, who was this graying character actor inhabiting the role with such natural authority, making split-second decisions in the heat of the moment without losing his cool, the very embodiment of the professionalism to which [Paul] Greengrass's film is, in part, a kind of tribute?" wondered Scott Foundas as he watched United 93. "As it happens, it was none other than Ben Sliney himself."

Also in the LA Weekly: "If director Hans-Christian Schmid's [Requiem] operates smartly outside the confines of the horror genre, its star inhabits her role with a fervor that borders on the terrifying." Adam Nayman calls up Sandra Hüller.

"I don't recall another year when I disliked all of the Best Picture nominees, and indeed regarded three of their number - Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima and Little Miss Sunshine - as among the year's most noxious emissions," writes Godfrey Cheshire in the Independent Weekly. On the other hand, there's "Notes on a Scandal, which turns out to be one of the few Oscar candidates that I think richly deserves all of its nominations: Best Actress (Judi Dench), Supporting Actress (Cate Blanchett), Score (Philip Glass) and, yes, Adapted Screenplay ([Patrick] Marber). In fact, I'd throw in two more nominations of my own: Best Picture and Cinematography (the brilliant Chris Menges)."

Deanna Zandt at Alternet on An Unreasonable Man: "All-in-all, it's a film that accomplishes quite a bit - documenting the history of the consumer advocacy movement, providing insight to the character and caricature of Ralph Nader, and above all, it lets us each answer the question it poses: How do you define a legacy?"

Trouble Every Day Jeremiah Kipp at the House Next Door: "Trouble Every Day is cinematically astonishing in ways that shame most films. It's a reminder of why we call them motion pictures: stories told through vivid, expressionistic images."

Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole was never a crowd-pleaser and still isn't. That much we know. But John McElwee tells the story of what Paramount tried to do about it, and you might be surprised: "[T]hey gave it every chance, with a campaign as aggressive as any mounted during 1951." As always at Greenbriar Picture Shows, fantastic photos illustrate.

"[T]hrough its Christianity iconography," Superman Returns "reinforces the very ideals Nietzsche rejected," argues Imran Siddequee in PopMatters. Batman Begins, on the other hand, "features a hero much closer to the Nietzschean ideal."

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir talks with Philip Haas about his "compelling new Iraq war thriller," The Situation. So does Jennifer Merin for the New York Press.

"I ask myself, can a generation used to learning elaborate strategies for videogames and reading the various icons that appear during their fast action really be so unable to deal with some words on a movie screen?" wonders Kristin Thompson. "Still, seeing Pan's Labyrinth reminded me that we are now at the beginning of the spring semester in many colleges and universities. Almost any professor teaching introductory film courses is no doubt hearing some familiar complaints. Why do we have to watch films with subtitles? Why do we have to watch black-and-white films? Why do we have to watch silent films?"

Kevin Smith: "My Top Ten Films of 2006." His #1: The Departed. Via Jason Kottke.

Descending Ashtray lists its "Top 5 Movies About Artists." Via Coudal Partners.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:40 PM | Comments (3)

Fests and events, 2/1.

Lost in Beijing Will or won't Chinese censors allow Li Yu's Lost in Beijing to screen - and compete - at the Berlinale? According to Jonathan Landreth at the Hollywood Reporter, that remains an open question.

The Austin Chronicle takes a sneak peek at the SXSW Film lineup.

"With one exception, the eight movies in the nifty Cold War Cinema series at the Harvard Film Archive are popular entertainments that treat the politics and sociology of the era in a variety of ways." February 6 through 28. A rundown from Steve Vineberg in the Boston Phoenix.

For the New York Press, Matt Peterson previews The Cinema of Donald Cammell, running tomorrow through February 11 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Also, Armond White: "We are in the dark ages of film culture which means the revival of Jacques Demy's rarely-shown 1971 The Pied Piper at Anthology Film Archives is especially apt."

Closely Watched Films Max Goldberg at SF360: "[W]hile retrospectives, festivals, and stocked DVD shelves afford non-academics deep looks into certain pockets of film history and culture, there is something about a class which suggests a broader map of the medium. This seems especially true of "Film 50," which, as an intro course taught by Marilyn Fabe (author of Closely Watched Films), emphasizes what film can do as much as where it has been."

Michael Guillén's at Noir City, taking notes galore.

"Next week the 15th annual Pan African Film & Arts Festival gets underway and, with reliable breadth, it features more than 140 films reflecting a wide range of styles, subjects, genres and viewpoints regarding the experience of Africans and the African diaspora," writes Robert Abele in the Los Angeles Times, where he also notes a screening of "Adele Horne's eye-and-ear-opening documentary The Tailenders" on Sunday.

Cindy Smith's The Moral Museum: Selections from the Bick Archive (through March 31 at the Ben Maltz Gallery) "collects an array of objects left behind by the fictitious [Violet] Bick [played by Gloria Grahame in It's a Wonderful Life], and traces her life from her birth in 1923 in Seneca Falls (also the starting point of the American women's-rights movement), through the founding of her design company, her writing, activism and eventual death in 1989," writes Holly Willis in the LA Weekly.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:46 PM | Comments (2)

Park City, 2/1.

Sundance 07 "As I found out soon after driving in from Salt Lake, there are at least two Sundances, one powered by carefully managed pre-festival 'buzz' and the other by filmgoers flying by their own lights," writes Sam Adams for the Philadelphia City Paper. "The trick, or at least so reasoned this fumbling Sundance virgin, would be to sample a little of both, taking in the hype and the hypeless, star-fuelled fizzles and utter unknowns. What would a film festival be without the thrill of discovery, or the schadenfreude of watching some self-important star's pet project go down in flames?"

Via Jeffrey Wells, John Cook rants for Radar:

The Sundance Film Festival is about independent cinema in much the same way the quadrennial Republican and Democratic national conventions are about democracy. Which is to say, the Sundance Film Festival is not about independent cinema.

[...]

But the festival's arch posturing against commercialization, with Redford inveighing against the swag lounges on Main Street designed to get luxury brands onto the pages of Us Weekly, is too much to take in the face of the omnipresent logos of festival sponsors Volkswagen, Hewlett-Packard, and AOL. And the dismissive sniffing about 'celebrity coverage,' which Sundance's chief press handler, Levi Elder, accused me of contemplating when I applied for credentials, becomes petty and egregiously hypocritical when one considers the fact that the fest is programmed deliberately with films featuring stars - Winona Ryder, Heather Graham, Mandy Moore, John Cusack - who are trotted out at screenings to stand on fake, tented-off 'red carpets' to be photographed in front of backdrops festooned with those aforementioned corporate logos.

Anne Thompson lists her Sundance favorites.

Marjorie Baumgarten in the Austin Chronicle: "Again this year Austin filmmaking was well-represented at Sundance." More from Joe O'Connell.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:22 PM | Comments (2)