March 31, 2007

Weekend shorts.

Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark "This little box I'm holding contains 32 years of my life and 65 years of Mario Bava's." Go take a look at Tim Lucas holding the makings of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark, "1128 pages, full color, 12 pounds per copy."

DK Holm launches a new project at ScreenGrab. He'll be writing up "brand spanking new director summaries and evaluations, geared for adaptability into Andrew Sarris's template," that is, the one you'll find in the 1968 classic, American Cinema. "Fellow fans of American Cinema are encouraged to print out these dispatches and paste them into a scrapbook that can sit on the shelf next to Sarris's book, looking like its long-lost patchwork cousin." Doug begins with Lucky McKee.

"So, consider this: There are upwards of 70,000 streets in the Greater London area and Alan Conway, who is impersonating Stanley Kubrick, lives opposite a girl who knows someone who works for him. Could Conway be a bigger loser?" For Stop Smiling, Anthony Frewin, Kubrick's personal assistant for over 30 years, recalls the series of events to led to his writing Color Me Kubrick. It all happened around the time "he was working on a Holocaust project that was subsequently abandoned ('Schindler's List is a hard act to follow,' he said), as well as the film that would eventually be bequeathed to Steven Spielberg as AI: Artificial Intelligence."

John Walsh has a good long talk with Cillian Murphy about Sunshine. Here's Murphy on his character:

While Capa would be, I'm sure, an atheist and would believe only in science, at the end of the movie he's overwhelmed by the beauty of the universe and it becomes to him something other than science. Einstein talked about "God," and a lot of theologians latched on to that, but he wasn't talking about religion - he was talking about the way science and physics work coherently, in a beautiful and delicate system. I think Capa suddenly sees his place in the universe like that. It's not a religious thing. It's more a communion with nature.

In a similar vein, Andrew Mueller has a piece in the Guardian, a Sunshine tie-in that isn't really about Sunshine at all, on what happens to astronauts, psychologically and otherwise, once they get out there. And when they come back.

Cammell, Hopper, Jodorowsky, Anger

Also in the Guardian: One of John Patterson's favorite photographs shows four filmmakers in Cannes in 1971 "on the cusp of what should have been majestic, transformative, transgressive careers in cinema that by and large never came to fruition":

Kenneth Anger radicalised mainstream cinema from his burrow in the avant garde underground; Dennis Hopper gave great service in the form of Easy Rider and the underrated The Last Movie, and Donald Cammell's Performance is one of the four or five most challenging and audacious movies ever made in Britain.

The fourth is the Argentinian-Jewish-Mexican-French visionary-film-maker-comic-book artist-psychotherapist Alejandro Jodorowsky, the one who promised the most, but found himself battered and broken by many of his film-making experiences.... The evidence of El Topo, The Holy Mountain and Fando Y Lis suggests that we have lost three decades of a truly brilliant and demented genius - and really, that's the only kind of genius worth knowing.

"While occasionally succumbing to contrivances, Hilary Brougher's second feature (her first is The Sticky Fingers of Time, an ultra-low budget sci-fier from 10 years ago) is all movie, but more intriguing is how it tells a distinctly (sometimes wrenching) feminine tale without making it only relative to Oprah watchers and talk-show bingers." Jason Clark at Slant on Stephanie Daley.

Cría cuervos "Critics have been summarily referencing Spirit of the Beehive (1973) in reviews of Pan's Labyrinth, but [Carlos] Saura's [Cría cuervos] - at once a sister work to [Victor] Erice's classic in theme, tone, even shared actress (Ana Torrent) - is no less rich a reference point," writes Doug Cummings.

"Part elegy on the dying of a rural village, part exposition on mortality and obsolescence, and part exaltation of quotidian grace, Mercedes ?lvarez's El cielo gira (The Turning Sky) is a serene, contemplative, and indelible rumination on the permanence of landscape, the transitory nature of existence, the imprint of history, and the eternal cycle of natural transformation." Acquarello.

Three new reviews at Koreanfilm.org:

  • "If Korean society often portrays itself as being homogenous, Dasepo Naughty Girls explodes that notion in favor of diversity," writes Darcy Paquet. "Ultimately Dasepo becomes an odd and fascinating sort of utopian vision of modern Korea, though not the utopia that most Koreans would imagine for themselves."

  • 200 Pounds Beauty is "just an entertaining comedy with nothing particularly new to say," claims, again, Darcy Paquet. "Nonetheless, Korean audiences were certainly charmed, as they bought a stunning 6.5 million tickets, for a box office take of about $45 million. It may be 'hard to be a beauty' (the original Korean title of this film), but it certainly doesn't hurt ticket sales."

Hanbando
  • "There is hardly any doubt that Hanbando is the worst Korean film of 2006," writes Kyu Hyun Kim, "and possibly the worst Korean film to deal with a historical subject made in the last ten years (Yes, it's worse than Heaven's Soldiers!). What makes Hanbando such a bloated turkey is actually a question many times more interesting than the movie itself."

"Simply put, Fist of Legend is Jet Li at the very pinnacle of his career." And now, Jason Morehead is pleased to hear that "Dragon Dynasty, the Asian-focused branch of The Weinstein Company, will be releasing a two-disc 'Ultimate Edition' of Fist of Legend in December."

Matt Bartley ushers Hammer into the Hollywood Bitchslap Hall of Fame.

At Cinematical, Ryan Stewart has news of an adaptation of Anne Rice's Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.

IndieWIRE interviews The Hawk is Dying director Julian Goldberger.

"Despite having [Harvey] Weinstein's roomy shoes to fill, [new Miramax head Daniel] Battsek not only has held the company together, he also has it flourishing and attracting top talent." A report from Claudia Eller. Also in the Los Angeles Times, Jeffrey Fleishman profiles the wildly successful Russian painter Nikas Safronov. "He recasts his country's tycoons and politicians as dukes, earls and other nobility from the past." Pop and movie stars, too. A gallery.

"The struggle for faith and financing are universal themes in the global film industry, but directors in Germany say they find it especially hard in a country known for being risk-averse." Andreas Tzortzis reports in the International Herald Tribune. Via Movie City News.

Resnais: Herzen Talking with Alain Resnais in German: Michael Mönninger in Die Zeit and Margret Köhler in film-dienst.

Offline reading tip. Geoff Manaugh in the Next American City: "Citing Andy Warhol, John Cage, Bernard Tschumi, William Whyte's 'film analyses of corporate plazas, urban streets, parks and other open spaces,' Chris Petit, and a variety of other sources, the article makes the claim that 24-hour surveillance of urban space is a tool being used by the wrong industry: it shouldn't be private security firms installing these cameras in the name of public safety - but architects and urban planners, putting them up for the purpose of spatial research..."

FishbowlNY finds Michael Showalter and Paul Rudd reenacting the I ♥ Huckabees meltdown.

Online viewing tip #2. "The American Cinematheque had a fantastic showing of the film Bangkok in the historic Hollywood Egyptian Theatre." Jerry Lentz has video. "I had a blast seeing old friends I haven't seen in years!"

Updated recently: "Grindhouse, 3/28.," with full reviews from Jeremiah Kipp at Slant and Jürgen Fauth.

Also, "The critics. Yet again.," "Chicago and docs.," "Mr Bean's Holiday." and Interview. Charles Burnett."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:09 PM | Comments (1)

Weekend fests and events.

Edie Sedgwick "Starting today, the Museum of the Moving Image presents a weeklong series titled The Real Edie Sedgwick that further burnishes her legend and her importance as a muse," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Ms Sedgwick's beauty, fame, bad habits, bed partners, early death and continuing postmortem notoriety have helped turn her into the representative face of Warhol's film work, his ultimate superstar. But what often gets left out of the discussion about her proverbial 15 minutes is that she was, quite simply, a dazzling film presence."

David Bordwell fills us in on local news and offers capsule reviews of ten films he's recently seen at Filmart and the Hong Kong International Film Festival.

"When Josef von Sternberg, born in Vienna in 1894 as the son of orthodox Jews, passed away in Hollywood in 1969, he had become one of the inimitable 20th century artists - a poète maudit of cinema." The Austrian Film Museum stages a retrospective featuring a few extremely rarely seen films, "the first presentation in Austria of the recently recovered 'Prater Fragments' from The Case of Lena Smith (1929)," lectures, special guests, the works. Starts tomorrow in Vienna and runs through April 27.

"In Erich von Stroheim's films, the world is a slaughterhouse." The exhibition This Monster Stroheim! is on view at the Filmmuseum Potsdam through May 13.

"UCLA Film and Television Archive's 17th annual Celebration of Iranian Cinema is the largest in the program's history with five narrative features, five documentaries and two short films," writes Susan King in the Los Angeles Times. "Surprisingly, none of the films has a theatrical distribution deal in the United States."

Michael Guillén has quite an update on what all will be on offer at the San Francisco International Film Festival (April 26 through May 10).

Hot Fuzztival At this moment, Reel Distraction is enjoying the Hot Fuzztival at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin.

At Bad Lit, Mike's got the Boston Underground Film Festival award-winners.

The newly revamped site for the Toronto After Dark Festival is up and running. October 19 through 25.

The New York Post's Lou Lumenick notes the justifiably furious reactions from David Poland and Jeffrey Wells to Eugene Hernandez's indieWIRE report that the Tribeca Film Festival is slapping a 50% increase on ticket prices this year over last: from $12 to $18. Lumenick adds a few comments of his own as well: "Those of us who have covered the festival over the years have largely turned a blind eye to the issue that the bulk of the offerings are mediocre or worse - largely films that were rejected by Sundance or New Directors/New Films, many of which are never heard from again. The steep ticket prices may force the media to abandon our previous civic boosterism and start looking at Tribeca's offerings from a more consumerist point of view - are these flicks really worth $18?"

Posted by dwhudson at 2:20 PM

Interview. Scott Frank, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Matthew Goode.

The Lookout "As all screenwriters eventually must, the talented Scott Frank makes his directorial debut with the dramatic thriller The Lookout," writes Jeffrey M Anderson, who has plenty of questions at the main site for Frank and two of his stars, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Matthew Goode.

"With the crime genre still struggling to work through its post-Tarantino hangover, The Lookout is maybe more notable for what it isn't: namely, bloated, flashy, or dependent on pop-culture riffs as a life-support system," writes Andrew Wright in the Stranger. "[T]his is a lean, to-the-bone, expertly acted small-town noir that takes unusual care to cast the moral compass of its characters in various shades of gray. There's just no fat on it." Also: An interview with Frank.

Updated through 4/5.

"For a movie about the effects of profound brain damage on a young man with a whole life still to be lived, The Lookout is funny, tender and littered with elegantly written characters played by actors cast for goodness of fit rather than star wattage," writes Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly. Noting that the project bounced around for 10 years before Frank took the helm himself, she adds, "In Sam Mendes's hands, the movie would have been too clever and referential by half, while David Fincher would have sucked the warmth out of it. Either of those directors would have made shorter, snappier work of the heist than does Frank, who does a perfectly competent, if unremarkable, job. Still, The Lookout is inescapably a screenwriter's movie and, for those of us who can't stomach poorly written dialogue even in an action picture, none the worse for it."

"Scott Frank's The Lookout is so refreshingly straightforward that at first you may not know what to make of it," suggests Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "The Lookout is like a well-made garment turned inside-out: The structure, the dialogue, the characters - these aren't just part of the movie. They are the movie."

It's a "writer's thriller," agrees Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "True, it's cleanly and efficiently directed, and it showcases some crackerjack acting, but the reason it's a real pleasure to watch is that a writer's sensibility is the foundation everything is built on."

"Mr Frank's screenplay for The Lookout was long considered one of Hollywood's great unproduced scripts," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times. "The end product doesn't justify that buildup.... Still, there's a lot to like here, and the film's bleak setting and empathetic tone add interest to what could have been a by-the-numbers affair."

"Gordon-Levitt is a major tabula rasa actor," writes New York's David Edelstein. "It's simpler to say what he doesn't do wrong—anything—than what he does right. As in Mysterious Skin and Brick, he's a minimalist: no fuss, no placards, no Method sense-memory exercises.... As a fan of sharp razors and clean whistles, I enjoyed The Lookout - yet I did feel let down by the climax, which ought to have been blunter and messier and crazier and more cathartic."

"[I]t has a few plot holes," admits Robert Wilonsky in the Voice, "but when considered as a whole, when appreciated and absorbed from hypnotic start to thrilling finish, The Lookout works. It takes its time, saves its breath, lets us know these people before putting guns in their hands and tossing them in a tiny bank vault on a winter's night. Frank likes his story, but he loves his characters."

It's "a film that's enervating in the way that only top-to-bottom mediocrity can be," writes Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE. "Veteran screenwriter Scott Frank's directorial coming-out is a bricolage of screen-tested 'indie' junk - a 'smart, complex' performance from Gordon-Levitt, a beardy Jeff Daniels, exhaustingly competent filmmaking suffused with low-key melancholy - which is to say it risks absolutely nothing, and never threatens to be unexpected."

Michelle Orange for the Reeler: "The Lookout taps into that familiar vein of backwater desolation and the gnarled up, snowed-in, small-time plans of smaller-time crooks, but with Gordon-Levitt's eerily self-possessed, pitiful but never bathetic dupe as our conduit, the heist tropes take over without letting you to slip into plot auto-pilot."

"This is a character study that focuses on what happens when someone gets tired of his life," writes J Robert Parks. "That distinction is why The Lookout is being distributed by a small studio with little fanfare.... I'm not arguing The Lookout is some kind of masterpiece. The bank robbery is fairly paint-by-numbers, and the blind character is one we've seen many times before, despite Daniels's charisma. But this is the sort of movie Hollywood should be making - and getting behind. Movies that don't insult your intelligence or make you feel dirty for watching. But because The Lookout has a small marketing budget, this is a movie where it's up to the critics to let you know what you shouldn't miss."

Annie Frisbie, writing at Zoom In Online, calls it "a rare bird: a perfectly structured film that exudes spontaneity and risk.... It must have been a delight to read on the page - and how wonderful to report that it's also a delight to watch."

"You could easily have the Hollywood meal ticket if you wanted it. What makes you choose smaller and independent projects instead?" Aaron Hillis asks Gordon-Levitt for IFC News, where Matt Singer writes, "Never terribly outstanding (except when Daniels is on screen), The Lookout is nonetheless a solid genre picture, carefully plotted and acted, with a nice balance of style and substance. Unlike most modern day stabs at noir, it's more reserved than flashy." Scott Tobias talks with Gordon-Levitt, too - for the AV Club.

"Except for its lead performance," writes Robert Cashill, "the film is unexciting - a little too respectable - and as flat as its Midwestern landscapes."

For the New York Press's Armond White, this is just "another of those indies that mistake 'dumb' for 'edgy.'"

Jonathan Busch in the Vue Weekly: "Somehow it stays afloat, while staying remarkably unambiguous about its lesson."

"[U]ntil the story gives way completely, into bloody retribution set against a snowy vista (something like Fargo meets Reservoir Dogs meets Brick), [Gordon-Levitt] makes his erratic efforts to read himself appear engaged and engaging," writes Cindy Fuchs in the Philadelphia City Paper.

"Call it townie noir," suggests Jesse Hassenger in the L Magazine.

Darcie Stevens interviews Frank for the Austin Chronicle; Nick Dawson for Filmmaker; Leonard Klady profiles him for Movie City News.

Ellen McCarthy profiles Goode for the Washington Post.

Online listening tip. Salon's Andrew O'Hehir talks with Gordon-Levitt.

Updates, 4/4: "It's impossible to watch The Lookout without thinking of Memento," writes Scott Tobias for the AV Club. "In fact, there's nothing terribly original about The Lookout at all, especially once it breaks down into a rote but efficient heist picture with gears that click a little too smoothly into place. Yet writer-director Scott Frank - who scripted Malice, Out of Sight and Minority Report, among other solidly crafted Hollywood thrillers - has cleverly cross-pollinated the genre with a rich character study, raising the stakes considerably."

Canfield talks with Goode for Twitch.

Update, 4/5: Kim Voynar talks with Gordon-Levitt and Goode for Cinematical.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:49 AM | Comments (1)

March 30, 2007

Shorts, 3/30.

Beyond the Gates "In the midpart of the 20th century, the problem progressive Hollywood films confronted was American racism; the social-problem films of the 21st century confront an abstract evil. These films ask: How can a God allow so much evil to exist? Is evil simply human and apart from God? Is God even in the world?" Charles Mudede, in the Stranger, on Beyond the Gates, Hotel Rwanda, Blood Diamond and a handful of other films set in Africa: "If the love of all love (European humanism) can overcome the evil of all evils (Africans who have totally gone bananas) then it can overcome anything, and that is the core message of these films."

Werner Herzog's next feature will be The Cheese and the Worms, based on the book by Carlo Ginzburg, "an account of a 16th Century 'heretic,' a peasant named Menocchio who, to put it simply, did not buy into the prevailing religious philosophy," as DK Holm describes it in his introduction to an interview with screenwriter Alan Greenberg, who's put his "fascinating and gripping" screenplay online.

"Easily among my favorite films of all time, Chris Marker's perplexing documentary/travelogue Sans Soleil, stretches the genre to its breaking point," writes Dave Micevic, pleased as punch to hear that Criterion will be releasing it on DVD in June.

"For Stalin admirers, of whom there are many in Russia, the series [Stalin Live] is an entertaining and educational look at the man who turned the Soviet Union into a superpower," writes David Holley in the Los Angeles Times. "To critics, it is a dangerous distortion of history that threatens to misinform a younger generation about a leader responsible for the deaths of millions of people, and reinforce a trend toward greater authoritarianism in politics."

Waggish watches five films: "For me, they all point out the fallacy that formalism must restrict itself to addressing the limits and variations of its own form. It cannot; instead, formalism must invoke other media and forms - real life being only one of them - in a way that is not explicitly representational. This is evidently not easy to do, but one glance at Godard and Jancso reminds me of the ever-fruitful possibility."

Dynamite Chicken Filmbrain on another one of those "Forgotten Gems of the 70s," Dynamite Chicken: "The roster of names in the opening credits is impressive to say the least, and it includes major boho figures such as Paul Krassner, Peter Max, Allen Ginsberg, Al Goldstein, Lenny Bruce, Joan Baez, Malcolm X, The Velvet Underground and John & Yoko. The film consists of a series of thematic segments, loosely (very, at that) linked by footage of Richard Pryor (who is listed as the 'star' of the film) riffing directly into the camera while wandering around a beat-up playground somewhere in New York City." Sounds like a must-see.

At Bad Lit, Mike heads out in search of more than just a passing knowledge of Kurt Kren and comes across some fine material indeed.

"Hyping David O Russell's upcoming adaptation of Sammy's Hill to the Hollywood Reporter, producer Doug Wick said, "It will do for Washington DC what Talladega Nights did for race car driving." Oh... I'm not entirely sure Russell will see it that way." Brendon Connelly runs an excerpt from the novel, written by Kristin Gore. And yes, she's Al Gore's daughter.

Tim Lucas discovers a possible antecedent to Pan's Labyrinth.

For Time Out, Mark Salisbury recalls a visit to the Sunshine set.

While Manhattan, Kansas carries on touring the country, director Tara Wray is also taking her company from NYC to Vermont to begin work on a documentary on the Center for Cartoon Studies.

"The smug yuppie centerpiece of Whit Stillman's pro-bourgeoisie gabfests, Chris Eigeman switches gears in The Treatment, embodying an erudite prep school English teacher beset by ambivalence about his upper-crust professional milieu," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

In the New York Times:

  • "Meet the Robinsons is surely one of the worst theatrically released animated features issued under the Disney label in quite some time," writes AO Scott. "Zippy if forgettable," agrees Dennis Lim, though he focuses his review for the LAT on the 3D version, which "is simply an excuse to have characters and objects lunge in the general direction of the viewer."

Blades of Glory

"There's no shortage of Iraqi war documentaries, which actually works to this film's advantage," writes Peter Hartlaub. "The Prisoner doesn't try to put the entire war in context or offer broad solutions. It's a focused slice of the war, covering an issue that you've probably wondered about but haven't seen in many other places. What happens to Abu Ghraib prisoners who didn't do anything wrong? What is life like in the prison? How does someone like Abbas feel about the United States now?" Also in the San Francisco Chronicle, Walter Addiego and G. Allen Johnson on Grbavica, Nomad and A Zen Life: DT Suzuki. Related online listening tip: Joel Heller talks with Prisoner filmmakers Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein and Benjamin Thompson, "who as a member of the 391st MP Battalion, Army Reserve in Columbus, OH, was sent in Feb 2004 to Abu Ghraib," and is featured in the film.

At Cinema Strikes Back, Mike M talks with Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg about Hot Fuzz and many other movies as well.

John Osborne: The Many Lives of the Angry Young Man John Davidson reviews John Heilpern's John Osborne: The Many Lives of the Angry Young Man for Stop Smiling.

"Did The Caiman decide the [Italian] election?" wonders Patrick Barkham out loud. "[Nanni] Moretti, who won lavish praise and the Palme d'Or in 2001 for The Son's Room, laughs. 'I tried to make a good film - that was my intention,' he says. 'If some people changed their minds, then that's good.' Unlikely to succumb to false modesty, Moretti is more like a minister side-stepping a spending commitment, unwilling to make definitive statements."

Also in the Guardian:

Cahiers du cinéma has ten questions for each of the five candidates in France's presidential race. In French, naturally.

Popular Science: Snow White Online browsing tip. Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing: "Today on the Modern Mechanix blog, an incredible, five-page spread about the making of Snow White, from the January 1938 issue of Popular Science."

Online viewing tip #1. Nathaniel R finds the original edit of his She's a Bitch... At the Movies.

Online viewing tip #2. trailer for Novel Reflections on the American Dream. Via the Literary Saloon.

Online viewing tips, round 1. David Lynch on product placement. Via Fimoculous, also pointing to Manufacturing Consent.

Online viewing tips, round 2. ScreenGrab's "Most Important Nude Scenes of All Time."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:52 PM

Fests and events, 3/30.

Cannes "While the official selection of the 60th Cannes Film Festival (May 16-27, 2007) will be revealed on April 19 and French director Pascale Ferran has been named president of the Un Certain Regard jury, rumours have been intensifying about the festival competition line-up." Fabien Lemercier passes them along at Cineuropa, and they are juicy.

Il Grido "Fifty years after Michelangelo Antonioni's Il Grido splashed at the premier San Francisco International Film Festival, the Bay Area again plays host to the maestro's moody chronicles of bourgeoisie malcontent through April with a major retrospective at Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive and San Francisco's own Castro Theatre," writes Max Goldberg, who then rounds up a series of examples of "the early critics struggling to define (and celebrate) Antonioni in terms of what his films are not, and then the inevitable backlash (capped by a hyper-lucid Manny Farber passage in which the critic laces Antonioni's own 'white elephant art'). Decades later, critics like Stephen Holden and Phillip Lopate chase after Antonioni with reflection rather than polemic - whatever the angle, it's clear that with these films, there's still plenty to talk about."

The UCLA Film and Television Archive's series For Ever Godard opens tomorrow and runs through June 2. For the Los Angeles Times, Kevin Thomas whisks through the oeuvre and writes, "Riding all the currents coursing through contemporary life, as well as observing the eternal verities from new angles, Godard films capture the moment in which they are made so thoroughly that they bristle with an immediacy that makes them timeless. The reputations of many important directors ebb and flow, but it's hard to imagine Jean-Luc Godard ever becoming dated or going out of style."

"Film director and former Monty Python member Terry Gilliam is to receive a lifetime achievement award at the Fantastic Film Festival in Amsterdam," reports the BBC. April 18 through 25.

Another new lineup: Filmfest DC, April 19 through 29.

"Getting ready to head off to the Turin Lesbian & Gay Film Festival in a few weeks where I will be presenting a bunch of film prints from my archive," writes Jenni Olson.

"Starting Tuesday, the NWFF will be showing four films of the Canadian New Wave," notes E Steven Fried at the Siffblog. "As befits a country split between Anglo and French identity, two of the films are in English and two are in French."

"The films at the 21st London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival come in every conceivable form: there are polemical documentaries, romantic comedies, melodramas, thrillers, shorts, horror movies, comedies, and even one or two non-gay films," writes Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent. Through April 4.

Subtitle Film Festival The Subtitle Film Festival: April 12 through 15 in LA.

13 films and several distinguished guests: Jim Emerson previews Ebertfest, April 24 through 29.

"It dawns on me that I've been flown here by the HK Trade and Development Council to admire the market stalls, not to enjoy the cultural thrills of a festival that has procured an unprecedented 16 world premieres," writes James Christopher in the London Times. "'It's a cynical business,' grins Matthew Scott, one of the more colorful minders who is steering me around the festival.... If the proximity of serious money and glamorous stars has yet to generate the magical alchemy of Cannes or Berlin, it's not for want of trying."

Michael Lerman covers New York goings on for indieWIRE. An event to add to the list: On April 5, the Stoop Series features moderator Logan Hill in conversation with filmmakers Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart), Julia Loktev (Day Night Day Night) and Chris Zalla (Padre Nuestro).

Mumblecore "Swanberg. Bujalski. Duplass. Katz." For fun, Aaron Hillis draws - literally - connections among the "mumblecore gang," limiting the chart only to those films screened at SXSW 2007, "since if I put in every name/film with overlap, I'd be playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon all the way back to Dziga Vertov." And a reminder: Aaron will be on panel about film blogging on April 10. "I'll be taking part while I'm down in Texas to screen Fish Kill Flea again, and with me in the discussion will be Joel Heller (DocsThatInspire.com), Jette Kernion (Cinematical.com) and Mike Curtis (HDforIndies.com). Come check it out, Austinites!"

Posted by dwhudson at 2:42 PM

Interview. Philip Haas.

The Situation Hannah Eaves talks with Philip Haas about working with artists vs actors, directing scenes in Arabic and about how journalists and soldiers have reacted to The Situation.

"[I]t's not enough to replace ideological certitude with sophomoric relativism," writes Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper. "This tells us that Iraq is fucked and we have helped make it so. But at this point, it's attacking a view that no longer exists, at least among people who might be even slightly convinced by watching it."

Michael Fox talks with Haas for SF360, where Robert Avila writes, "As the Iraq War enters its fifth year, with the debacle continuing to grow worse by the month, Haas's film makes up for its formulaic character and slick but generally basic-cable look with its unusually sophisticated and pointed depiction of resistance and occupation politics in Iraq - a hopeless tangle, and an impossible life for average Iraqis, that everyone calls simply 'the situation.'"

Posted by dwhudson at 1:49 PM

After the Wedding.

After the Wedding "After the Wedding, from the Danish director Susanne Bier, isn't an especially showy film (although it's luminously photographed, in the post-Bergman Scandinavian tradition), and the story it tells is classic family drama, even if you might not see all its twists coming," writes Andrew O'Hehir at Salon. "A wanderer long absent from his homeland, who has found a surrogate family elsewhere, reluctantly returns to discover that the past still has a surprising hold on him. What feels at first like a quiet, straightforward picture builds into one of the richest and most satisfying of the year so far, in any genre or any language."

Vadim Rizov, writing for the Reeler, could hardly agree: "The plot is an outrageous and manipulative confluence of worst-case scenarios; offensive because it begs to be taken seriously, After the Wedding beats an emotional reaction out of the viewer by any means necessary."

Updated through 4/5.

For Manohla Dargis, writing in the New York Times, this is "a fine and, on a scene-by-scene basis, often better than fine, if effectively unadventurous work, in which a man's anguished cry is met by a finale designed to ease the pain."

"Like all Bier's work, After the Wedding is frankly a melodrama, a film where the emotions are huge and the coincidences larger still," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "But more important, it's that paradoxical melodrama that point-blank refuses to acknowledge that it's being melodramatic, conveying its scenario with enough intensity, psychological acuity and forceful acting to ignore labels and flat-out overpower audiences."

"[W]e are in soap opera country," writes Richard Schickel for Time. "And maybe we are, but that reckons without the easy naturalism of Anders Thomas Jensen's script and the brilliance with which it is played by its perfectly cast actors."

"Similar to the Danish director's last film, Brothers, big moments remain grounded with elusive, elliptical camerawork," writes Kristi Mitsuda at indieWIRE. Even so, the final turn "smacks of falseness."

Howard Feinstein has a good long talk with Bier for Filmmaker.

Update, 4/4: Noel Murray for the AV Club: "With its soapy earnestness and use of suffering souls as set dressing, After The Wedding could be the cinematic equivalent of a Coldplay song. And while that isn't necessarily a slam, it isn't a recommendation either."

Update, 4/5: "In the last few years, [Mads] Mikkelsen has played a dangerous Bond foil in Casino Royale, a thug seeking redemption in Nicolas Winding Refn's Pusher II and now portrays the soulful manager of an orphanage in Susanne Bier's After the Wedding," notes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "That sort of chameleon versatility doesn't come along very often."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:36 PM | Comments (1)

Warren Beatty @ 70.

Time: Warren Beatty "[H]e's my favorite modern movie star," writes That Little Round-Headed Boy. While he's "particularly drawn to the films he made in the late 60s and 70s," and you'll see that in his Warren Beatty top 5, you'll find plenty leaving comments arguing that Ishtar is a "great movie," even "the most misjudged movie of all time. It's a gem." Related: Elaine May, "perfect Almost Auteur." Bill Gibron explains in PopMatters; and Waiting for Ishtar.

At any rate, TLRHB has a Beatty-spotting story to tell and there's more at MovieMaker's blog.

Updates, 3/31: Michael Althen in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - and in German. Lots of pix, though. Also: Peter Zander in Die Welt.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:33 PM | Comments (4)

Screenwriting Blog-a-Thon.

Barton Fink "For the next few days (or at least until April 2), we shall be rolling in our collective, euphoric love of those well-crafted screenplays, so please make yourself at home," writes the host of this one, Mystery Man on Film. "Personally, the screenplays that I treasure are the ones composed by true masters of the craft - that fail."

He'll be writing about one of those on Saturday and, in the meantime, he's already gathering linkage.

Related: Michael Guillén at SF360: "For my money, what has distinguished the past cinematic year has been an increased focus on the screenwriter."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:55 AM

Interview. Charles Burnett.

Killer of Sheep "Though its film stock had nearly turned to vinegar by the time UCLA stepped in with a timely restoration, Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep is of a vintage that only gets better with age," writes Susan Gerhard, introducing her interview with the filmmaker at the main site. "Its neorealist approach to the life of a neighborhood is rich, but the surprise is that it's also as fresh as the day it was made 30 years ago."

"There are first films like Citizen Kane or Breathless, which, as radically new and fully achieved as they are, unfairly overshadow an entire oeuvre," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "And then there are first films, perhaps even more radical, which haunt an artist's career not through precocious virtuosity but because they have an innocence that can never be repeated.... Charles Burnett's legendary Killer of Sheep, which was finished in 1978 and, despite its enormous critical reputation, is only now getting a New York theatrical release, belongs with these.... In retrospect, it can be seen that the two great independent features of the late 70s were Killer of Sheep and Eraserhead." There's a nice moment further in, as Hoberman looks back on a 1978 "blurb filed by a callow part-time third-stringer."

Updated through 4/1.

David Edelstein in New York: "[W]hy do so many of its black-and-white images feel as if they've always existed - as much a part of our collective unconscious as Walt Whitman or the voice of Paul Robeson?... Killer of Sheep can be seen (and reseen) as a great - the greatest - cinematic tone poem of American urban life."

"[A]n American masterpiece, independent to the bone," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Mr Burnett has a wonderful eye, and his ability to create harmonious compositions from the free-form chaos of the streets brings to mind the work of photographers like Helen Levitt and Robert Frank, best known for his collection The Americans.... [T]here is more to neo-realism than formalist gestures; context counts too, and much like the characters in Rossellini's Open City, Stan and his family are casualties of war. This may be Mr Burnett's most radical truth-telling. In Killer of Sheep, the characters' identities as African-Americans are material and existential givens, while poverty is the equal-opportunity destroyer."

"And what an inexpressibly sad, strange and lovely movie it is," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "I think the writer and filmmaker Michael Tolkin was right when he said that if Killer of Sheep had been made 20 years earlier in Italian, it would be dissected and argued over and memorized in every film-school classroom. But the world Burnett captures on the streets of Watts, circa 1976 - this was his thesis film at UCLA, shot on weekends, over the course of a year, for about $10,000 - is at least as distant to most contemporary viewers as the postwar slums of Rome or Naples."

Armond White throws down the gauntlet again in the New York Press: "Prediction: Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep will not get the same self-intoxicated 'best picture of the year' acclaim that critics gave to Army of Shadows last year, even though Killer of Sheep - a far superior movie - is also decades-old and finally receiving belated theatrical release in the United States. The difference is that Killer of Sheep doesn't allow viewers to congratulate themselves on bygone political stances. Although set in the mid-1970s 'present,' Burnett's classic film is very much a distillation of the social and spiritual effects of American poverty (and racism). That's the ever-present subject critics used Jean-Pierre Melville's WWII soporific to escape."

"I worry about the outsized expectations that come with thirty years of buildup and the inevitable "it was good, but..." lobby conversations that will surely follow, and I'm loath to simply heap more praise upon it," worries Chris Wisniewski at indieWIRE, "not that it doesn't deserve it, but because the film's brilliance is so singular and modest. In a moviegoing culture that valorizes the contrived self-importance of Crash and the glib indie 'charm' of Little Miss Sunshine, Killer of Sheep feels resolutely other, fashioned with an observational, almost verite aesthetic, a loose, episodic narrative, and a complicated, unsentimentalized approach to class, race, and family."

"A neo-realist silent comedy talkie with a post-Watts riot backdrop," writes Jesse Sweet in the L Magazine.

Earlier: Dave Kehr in the New York Times and Stuart Klawans in the Nation.

Updates: "Seeing Killer of Sheep is an experience as simple and indelible as watching Bresson's Pickpocket or De Sica's Bicycle Thieves for the first time," writes Dana Stevens at Slate. "Despite its aesthetic debt to European art cinema, Burnett's film is quintessentially American in its tone and subject matter. If there's any modern-day equivalent for the movie's matter-of-fact gaze on the ravages of urban poverty, it's the HBO series The Wire."

Scott Macaulay runs an excerpt from James Ponsoldt's interview with Burnett that'll be appearing in the upcoming Spring issue of Filmmaker.

ST VanAirsdale talks with Burnett for the Reeler.

Update, 4/1: Mary McNamara covers the return of Killer of Sheep from a local angle for the Los Angeles Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:04 AM | Comments (2)

Mr Bean's Holiday.

Mr Bean's Holiday "It has long been a mystery to the British, who consider Bean to be, at best, an ignoble secret weakness, that Rowan Atkinson's repellent creation is absolutely massive on the Continent." London Times critic Wendy Ide is rattled to hear that Cannes Film Festival director Gilles Jacob is a fan. Mr Bean's Holiday nods not only in Tati's direction but also "appears to be littered with art-house movie references.... What really riles here is not so much the plagiarism (although shame on you all) but rather the fact that the stolen sight gags - Bean overtaking Tour de France cyclists; Bean in drag to evade a road block - are simply not as funny with Atkinson at the controls."

Updated through 3/31.

"They're saying this is Mr Bean's last appearance, but if Rowan Atkinson hasn't got the heart to kill off the character, I'll gladly throttle him by his necktie myself," writes Steve Rose in the Guardian.

"[R]egardless of its quality, it will do huge business, given the apparently insatiable desire of half the children on the planet for the works of Rowan Atkinson's gurning, dysfunctional comic creation," sighs the Telegraph's David Gritten, and sure enough, Evening Standard critic Derek Malcolm slaps it with two out of five stars while the readers are giving it four. "Intriguingly," adds Gritten, "the story is credited to Simon McBurney, mainstay of the group Complicite and a paragon of physical theatre. But a series of over-elaborate sight gags and laboriously conceived comic routines are not quite the same as a coherent script, and consequently the film seems thin gruel."

Update, 3/31: "I sodding hate Mr Bean," grumbles Anna Picard at the Guardian. "He is - and I don't think I'm overstating my case here - the embodiment of pure evil."

Posted by dwhudson at 10:02 AM | Comments (2)

Guardian. World cinema special.

Green Globe Reaching back to 1995, Hannah McGill, director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, traces the path of the cinema's spotlight from Dogme to South America and its "crop of sexy, sweaty, socially conscious movies" to South Korea's "daring, convention-busting auteurs such as Park Chan-Wook and Kim Ki-Duk" to Japanese horror to Hong Kong and China, "providing punchy thrillers and spectacular martial arts epics." So what's next?

"If France has looked a little low on innovation in recent years, Germany is currently raising a host of interesting new directors, among them Fatih Akin, Birgit Grosskopf, Valeska Grisebach and Stefan Krohmer." Also mentioned: Christian Petzold, Hans Christian-Schmid, Stefan Ruzowitzky, Marc Rothemund and, of course, Oscar-winner Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck.

"The wider reaches of eastern Europe also seem fired with creativity... Further afield, Turkey is perhaps the country to have most recently produced a bona fide festival demigod," Nuri Bilge Ceylan. "Perhaps it's African cinema, however, that really qualifies as the story of the moment." Besides Hollywood's current infatuation, there's Nollywood and its 1000 movies a year and: "Established directors such as Dani Kouyaté, from Mali, Abderrahmane Sissako, from Mauritania, and the veteran Ousmane Sembene, from Senegal, are attracting new interest, as emerging names such as Burkina Faso's Fanta Regina Nacro and Mali's Salif Traoré find festival acclaim with fresh titles."

As an accompanying PDF, Andrew Pulver presents a "one-stop guide to which countries have produced the hippest filmmakers, and when they've done it." Basically, it's a map with film slate-like post-its all over.

On a somewhat related note: "As buoyed as I am by the industry's growing interest in foreign filmmakers, now would be a good time to offer a few words of caution," writes Patrick Goldstein. "While Hollywood history is full of outsider success stories, from Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder to Ang Lee and Alfonso Cuarón, it is also littered with failures and flame-outs."

Michael Hann announces a "Greatest Foreign Film" competition. Send 'em three titles and "explain why you like each one in a couple of sentences." There's even a prize.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:54 AM

Chicago and docs.

Chicago International Documentary Film Festival Critics for the Chicago Reader write up about 20 highlights of the Chicago International Documentary Film Festival, which opens today and runs through April 8.

"[D]ocumentary-only festivals have a special appeal," writes Austin Considine in the New York Times. "Audiences can expect a much wider range of styles and subjects than would be found at a general film festival, where documentaries are only a '10- or 20-film sidebar,' said Christopher Kamyszew, the Chicago festival's director."

Updated through 3/31.

Also honorably mentioned in the piece: the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival (today through April 8), the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival (April 19 through 29), the Portland Documentary and Experimental Film Festival (April 25 through 29), the Doxa Documentary Film Festival (May 22 through 27) and the Silverdocs AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival (June 12 through 17).

Earlier: Jonny Leahan at indieWIRE on the "Doc Blogs."

Update: AJ Schnack rounds up a preview of the docs on Tribeca's slate.

Updates, 3/31: Dan Mucha sends in a lengthy report to Facets Features and points to Tom Lynch's piece for Newcity on the Chicago festival's origins and future.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:35 AM

March 29, 2007

Interview. Jafar Panahi.

Offside "Like his previous hits The White Balloon and The Circle, [Jafar] Panahi's soccer movie Offside is blatantly metaphoric and powerfully concrete, deceptively simple and highly sophisticated in its formal intelligence," writes J Hoberman, who also interviews Panahi for the Voice.

And as David D'Arcy notes, prefacing his interview with the Iranian director at the main site, "this time Panahi has added humor to the tenderness and poignancy of his earlier films."

"Perhaps because of censorship that limits what can be shown, Iranian movies are often propelled by argument, which Mr Panahi's restless camera turns into its own kind of action," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Denied official permission to shoot Offside, Mr Panahi went ahead under the pretext of making another, less provocative film. And he concludes with a remarkably exuberant sequence that doubles as a celebration of his own sneaky success."

Michael D'Angelo, writing for Nerve, suggests that ending might be called "Jafar Panahi's Block Party. Sexism may still be well entrenched in Iran, but it shrivels to insignificance amidst the euphoria of nationalism."

"Dissidence has rarely been such a kick," writes Stuart Klawans in the Nation.

"Recalling Fred Zinnemann's technique in High Noon, Panahi uses real time to structure the low-key plot," writes Eric Kohn at the Reeler. "The comparison is apt mainly because Offside debates Iranian values in much the same way that the classic western interrogates loyalties to American mythos." More from Jason Bogdaneris in the L Magazine.

"Panahi is no friend to the theocratic regime in Tehran, which has barred almost all his films from any domestic exhibition," notes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "Yet at this writing he can't get a visa to visit the United States either, despite the seemingly obvious propaganda value: We are the defenders of free expression, blah blah. I am shocked, shocked, to report that when it comes to genuine questions of liberty, the Bush administration and the Iranian mullahs are on the same side."

Dorna Khazeni has a longish talk with Panahi in the LA Weekly; Chris Wisniewski interviews him for Reverse Shot; and Jennifer Merin talks with him, too, for the New York Press.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:59 AM

Shorts, 3/29.

The Blue Lamp In the Independent, Louise Jury hails the launch of Dirk Bogarde.co.uk. Created by Bogarde's nephew, Brock Van den Bogaerde, its 600 pages "a reminder of the literary as well as the acting output of the star of films including The Blue Lamp, Darling and Death in Venice, but also a glimpse into the private world of one of the 20th century's more complex leading men."

The Telegraph's John Hiscock talks with Danny Boyle about Sunshine. Via Movie City News.

"Paul Andrew Williams made a startling debut with low-budget Brit flick London to Brighton last December," writes Chris Tilly, reporting for Time Out on his second project: "The Cottage focuses on two brothers who kidnap an underworld figure and then stumble on a dark rural secret. Andy Serkis and Reece Shearsmith have signed up to star, with Jennifer Ellison and Steve O'Donnell lending support."

It takes quite a while for the San Diego Reader's Duncan Shepherd to finally get around to actually reviewing Alberto Lattuada's Mafioso, but the getting there is good. Then: "I would be much happier in my work if every week of the year I had to see a dusted-off reissue from 1962. Not a lot of them could be more rewarding than this one."

Tamango "Since 1915, slavery has been at the heart of some of filmdom's greatest productions, created by top talents ranging from showmen to artistes to blockbuster filmmakers to the Hollywood Ten. The buying and selling of human flesh has appeared onscreen in various forms, including 'white slavery,' but motion picture human bondage appears primarily in four film genres." A primer of sorts from Ed Rampell and Luis Reyes.

Also in the New York Press:

  • "One of the finest American film debuts of the new century (and one of the least appreciated) is Dito Montiel's A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints," declares Armond White. "Montiel turned a working-class memoir - an urban lament - into a poetic appreciation of the music, the almost-stifled feelings and near-tragedies of common life. All that is what's missing from Adam Sandler's respectful good try, Reign Over Me."

  • Felicia Feaster: "Stupendously obvious in its divisions between patriot virtue and money-grubbing vice, Training Day director Antoine Fuqua's Shooter is cinema as purgative—a big-budget high colonic to the American political system and a sense of impotent rage against the machine."

  • Jennifer Merin: "Air Guitar Nation's main thrust is fun, and it's a blast and a half of that."

  • David Freeland on Music From the Inside Out: "The chief problem is that we never hear one extended orchestral piece without interruptions from the players themselves, who weigh in on such ineffable questions as 'What is music?'"

  • While the movie at hand is The Hills Have Eyes 2, Eric Kohn asks Wes Craven about the future: "So you won't be sending Freddy Krueger to Iraq?" "Uh, no. But now that you mention it, can you sign this release?"

Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, Adam Mars-Jones recalls a scene in The Straight Story in which Sissy Spacek's character looks out a window.

The Straight Story

We see a pool of light under a street lamp. A ball rolls into it. Nothing happens for a few moments, and then a boy trots up to retrieve his ball. Later in the film it is explained that Spacek's character was bereaved of a child, which accounts for the intensity of her gaze but not the effect of the image on the audience. At this moment, [David] Lynch seems to be saying, "Tell the truth - weren't the images more beautiful when you didn't know what they 'meant'?" Well, yes and no. The images float free of the story. But they need a story to float free of.

You can probably see where this is going: "The story in Inland Empire is everywhere and nowhere.... Eraserhead may have been his most private film, but he cut twenty minutes, unprompted, after its first screening at a Los Angeles film festival. That is the aspect of David Lynch that I missed most of all during the three hours of Inland Empire."

"So where is this vibrant online doc community headed?" asks Jonny Leahan once he's listed and linked to several hubs of documentary-related activity at indieWIRE. "'I think it's clearly moving towards online distribution and exhibition of documentary content,' says [Doug] Block."

DK Holm iChats with Mike Russell about Serenity Tales, a Firefly fan comics site: "Russell is, uncharacteristically so among the common run of reviewers, a happy-go-lucky fellow who proudly wears his nerd cred on his sleeve.... He is also an example of that recent Internet phenomenon, someone who is both a good writer and a good artist, the sort of person who could only have blossomed in a forum such as the world wide web, where such dual talents can be simultaneously employed."

Also at ScreenGrab: Cobra Verde is "one of those lunatic endeavors that is hard to describe in any way that doesn't make it sound more interesting than it is to watch," writes Phil Nugent. "I saw strong men and women charge into that theater with the excitement of a bunch of kids at the carnival, only to file out two hours later in need of rest, refreshment, and the director's head."

"[T]hough The Page Turner clearly aims for ambiguity of meaning, you'd have to be blind, or deaf to the strenuously long-faced score, to miss the signs and portents that keep piling up in this dispiritingly transparent movie, which brandishes its foregone conclusion 20 minutes in," writes Ella Taylor. Also in the LA Weekly, Scott Foundas talks with Paul Verhoeven about Black Book.

Identity Theory film editor Matthew Sorrento revisits "a landmark in France's redefinition of the crime film," Elevator to the Gallows.

Matthew Clayfield: "Like David Lynch's Mulholland Drive (perhaps the closest thing to Black this side of Duchamp's Étant donnés, which is saying something when you remember that Duchamp was himself the subject of one of the many conspiracy theories swirling around the bifurcated girl at the time), Black is a kind of memory play, quietly chilling in its revelations. It submerges itself in the Hollywood dream factory and, confirming our worst, unspoken suspicions, reveals it to be an abattoir." At the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne through Sunday.

Sidney Poitier: Measure of a Man "Sidney Poitier is his name, and elevating the ethical consciousness of American cinema is his game." David Sterritt on what we and he think of him now that Oprah's put him back in the spotlight again. Also at PopMatters, Bill Gibron on Glen Morgan and his remake of Bob Clarke's Black Christmas.

Ray Winstone's joined the cast of the upcoming fourth Indiana Jones film, reports the Guardian.

Also:

  • "For some people, the return of Prick Up Your Ears to cinemas next week will be of little significance," writes Ryan Gilbey. "But for me, this biopic about the short life of the playwright Joe Orton is the catalyst for a tidal wave of ambivalent memories associated with the film's original release."

  • "Back in the day, Song of the South might conceivably have been read as a warm-hearted salute to America's 'coloureds,'" blogs the Guardian's Xan Brooks. "Since then it's become a shameful embarrassment for the company, the equivalent of a racist old relation who can't be introduced to polite company." Now that Disney's considering re-introducing it after all, Brooks, who wonders and worries about not being bothered by the film when he saw it at the age of 9, wants to see it on DVD with adult eyes. Also: What are your favorite London movies?

  • Katie Allen: "Tax incentives, a wealth of skills and a strong film-making heritage are continuing to draw Hollywood studios to Britain, according to Pinewood Shepperton, which unveiled forecast-beating results yesterday."

Online viewing tip. Ray Pride: "With Julia Loktev's gorgeously restrained Day Night Day Night showing at New Directors / New Films, cinematographer Benoit Debie's showreel is worth a peek, as well as this excerpt from Loktev's film."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:44 AM

Fests and events, 3/29.

Method Fest "Acting is what drives the selections for Method Fest, the indie film showcase starting its ninth year tonight in Woodland Hills and Calabasas and continuing through Wednesday," writes Robert Abele in the Los Angeles Times. Paul Malcolm, writing in the LA Weekly, finds the essential concept "curious": "[H]ighlighting a part of the whole in such a collaborative medium as the movies only underscores how dependent one piece of the puzzle is on all the others." At the same time, "when the presence of actual people onscreen recedes in significance before a digital onslaught of fast-cut, CGI, blue-screen manipulation," that concept "seems more vital now than ever. Too bad that more of this year's films don't match their intentions with solid execution, despite the best efforts of their casts."

In Boston? The Phoenix's Gerald Peary has a week's worth of recommendations.

"During the next two months, as part of its ongoing Essential Cinema series, the Austin Film Society will be showing eight films by writer/director Michael Haneke," writes Josh Rosenblatt in the Austin Chronicle. "Nothing could correspond so perfectly with the arrival of spring - in all its regenerative, erotic giddiness - than eight suffocating movies that traffic almost exclusively in urban alienation, family trauma, and dispassionate ultraviolence."

The Forever Dead "Triangle audiences nostalgic for the days of B-fright features can experience homegrown horror at its most bloody and barebones this Saturday during a screening of The Forever Dead at Raleigh's Volume 11 Tavern," alerts Neil Morris in the Independent Weekly.

"[T]he Bryn Mawr Film Institute hopes to prove that not all films flounder the second time around," writes Erin Brodbeck in the Philadelphia City Paper. "On March 31, the theater's The Art of the Remake will feature back-to-back screenings capped off with a post-festival gala to benefit the theater's $2.5 million remodeling project."

"Andrea Staka's Fraulein opened the 7th goEast Film Festival (March 28 - April 3) yesterday evening in Wiesbaden," reports Bénédicte Prot for Cineuropa.

"Christian Petzold is one of the more interesting directors currently working in Germany, and his latest film Yella stood out in the competition selection of this year's Berlinale," writes Stefan Steinberg at the WSWS.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:02 AM

AFI Dallas, 3/29.

"Four hours north from the Whole Earthy shops that sell 'Keep Austin Weird' merchandise, an upscale Dallas thread shop displays, for twice the price, their own T-shirt: 'Keep Dallas Pretentious.'"

AFI Dallas

So begins Mike Jones's excellent piece at indieWIRE on how the AFI Dallas International Film Festival's inaugural run. After hitting some of the highlights of the lineup, he returns to the theme:

While potshots at Dallas pretension are easy, it's as useless as shooting barrel fish. Dallas doesn't care what you think. They like their art and they like to pay for it. The Dallas Contemporary, The Nasher, and neighboring Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth are all well funded and arguably premiere destinations for modern art in the Midwest. And while Variety reported the fest's pricetag at $4 million, much of that money seemed spent on the filmmakers: from the first class airfare to the swank W Hotel rooms, complete with a 3-bottle gift of fine wine in a fancy Target-designed box (just one item among the avalanche of swag). And when Dallasites show up to see David Lynch present his three-hour, interior-view of Laura Dern's head, they do it in their Neiman Marcus best, they stay through the whole thing, and they applaud when it's over. There is pretension here, and there is also class.

At Cinematical, Jette Kernion extends a "Film Blog Group Hug" to half a dozen sites covering the festival besides, of course, Cinematical itself and the festival's own blog.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:21 AM

Philadelphia. Lineup.

The lineup and schedule of the Philadelphia Film Festival (April 5 through 18) are now online.

Philadelphia Film Festival

"I'm particularly proud of some of our program this year," blogs Michael Lerman as he posts plenty of pix as appetizers. "Some of you cinefiles have probably seen some of this stuff already, but that also means you know we did a pretty good job collecting some of the best from the last six months of festivals around the world."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:18 AM

March 28, 2007

Shorts, 3/28.

Don't Touch the Axe As Jacques Rivette's Ne touchez pas la hache (Don't Touch the Axe) opens in France today, european-films.net editor Boyd van Hoeij talks with Jeanne Balibar, who "has an interesting take on what the duel between the would-be lovers really is about at a deeper, more human and less politicised level: 'This film is about sex,' she says with the sincere seriousness that only a French actress could bring to such an explanation, 'and more particularly about two people trying to reach an orgasm at the same moment. The two hours of the film are really about synchronising their simultaneous orgasms.'"

"Hildegard of Bingen, one of the most important figures of the medieval Catholic Church, will be the subject of the new film by German director Margarethe von Trotta." Scott Roxborough in the Hollywood Reporter.

In the Los Angeles Times, Jay A Fernandez talks with Jonathan Nolan about that sci-fi screenplay he'll be writing for Spielberg.

Like Michael Tully, Glenn Kenny is wondering what Sam Mendes is thinking: "One of the many things about Revolutionary Road, besides the main thing, which is that it's a freakin' masterpiece, is that it's one of the most unrelentingly grim novels of its ilk. I would be overstating the case considerably if I were to aver that it makes John Barth's not dissimilarly-themed The End of the Road look like The Code of the Woosters, but the fact that the idea of saying it occurred to me at all ought to give you an idea of just how grim it is."

"Tazza, written and directed by Choi Dong-hoon, is, like his feature film debut Big Swindle, a fast-paced crime thriller, buttressed by a fantastic cast and a complex but never confusing plot," writes Kyu Hyun Kim at Koreanfilm.org, where Adam Hartzell has launched a new blog, Notes Inspired by the Film.

Rag Tag "[I]t is not the bizarre back story that marks out Rag Tag, the debut feature by Adaora Nwandu," writes Patrick Barkham. "The 29-year-old British-Nigerian director has entered territory that is still taboo in cinema: she's written and directed a story about a romance between two black men." Also in the Guardian: Stuart Jeffries asks Honor Blackman, "How did you get to be Pussy Galore?" The answer: "I was very, very hot at the time."

"Lou Ye, whose film Summer Palace was feted at Cannes last year but earned him and producer Nai An a five-year ban from making movies in China, is currently raising money to make The Last Hour," a film the Guardian describes as being about "a Palestinian who is abandoned by his wife after being imprisoned for 10 years in an Israeli jail."

In the Village Voice:

  • Rob Nelson on After the Wedding: "Playing God, on one side of the camera or another, is the essence of Dogme. What happens after the wedding comprises a full three-quarters of [Susanne] Bier's epic, whose near-Biblical twists and turns - I wouldn't think of giving them away - are enough to fill four weepies." More from Marcy Dermansky.

  • "German director Andreas Dresen (Grill Point, Willenbrock) has made an oddly buoyant little film about loneliness," writes Michelle Orange. "Part Sex in der City, part Dogme doldrums, Summer in Berlin is most affecting as a character study of two women in their late thirties, at the precise moment in their lives when, with middle age on the march, the fritterings and posturings of youth offer respite even as they throw its loss into relief."

  • "No doubt about it, The Hawk Is Dying verges on the ludicrous, but it couldn't be otherwise," writes Nathan Lee. "This half-mad cine-Icarus risks a perilous Bressonian ideal: 'The greater the success, the closer it verges on failure.'" More from Katherine Folk in the L Magazine.

"Ultimately, The Hoax seems designed to appeal to the larcenous impulse in all of us," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "Having invented his own relationship to his shadowy subject, [Clifford] Irving anticipates today's rampaging identity thieves, but for higher stakes."

More from Jesse Hassenger in the L Magazine, where Nicolas Rapold writes, "The strategy of Black Book is blitzkrieg, for better and for worse."

"His films are too sick and mean to be guiltless kitsch and too weird to enjoy just for the laughs," writes Violet Glaze. "Let's put it this way – even ooky-kooky Tim Burton won't be making a biopic about sleazemeister [Dwain] Esper anytime soon." Also at PopMatters: Bill Gibron on Re-Animator.

Nick Schager has written a piece for SOMA Magazine entitled "From Inland Empire to Year of the Dog: The Many Reinventions of Laura Dern." Click his name to figure out how to read it.

Rolling Stone: Louise Lasser "Of all the groundbreaking shows Norman Lear developed during the 1970s, none were stranger or more gradually rewarding than the comically abstruse Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman," writes Eric Henderson at Slant. "[Louise] Lasser's Mary Hartman floats through her daily trials and tribulations either slack-jawed or with a vacuous death-grin affixed to her pigtail-flanked face, like Edith Bunker on Quaaludes." Also, Ed Gonzalez on Ping Pong.

"If you're looking for a documentary about the electronic music scene filled with historical lectures, performance clips and talking heads, Headspace... The Sound of Life... isn't for you and doesn't try to be," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times. "It's experimental rather than expository." Also: "No one can know whether Bizet, whose Gypsy opera, Carmen, is set in Spain and sung in French, would have approved of the movie musical U-Carmen e-Khayelitsha. But you suspect that he would have admired the filmmakers' gall." More on that on from Julia Wallace in the Voice.

"By the time News War concludes, the cumulative effect of watching pale-skinned men speak woefully into the camera about their deepest fears and regrets for 270 minutes is a little like polishing off an Ingmar Bergman double-feature," writes James Hughes in Stop Smiling of the Frontline series. "Fortunately [producer] Lowell Bergman continues to hunt for stories in the real world, with sources who share his air, not just his bandwidth."

Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE: "Sacco and Vanzetti, like Michael Winterbottom's wretched Road to Guantanamo, sets out to condemn an atmosphere of hysterical, flimsily supported accusation, but finally can't resist firmly establishing that those accusations, of course, definitively aren't true, changing the subject from the pure process of accusation to the need for vindication." More from J Hoberman in the Voice.

Today's Color Me Kubrick pointer will send you to Robert Cashill: "The director, Brian W Cook, and the screenwriter, Anthony Frewin, both associates of the real Kubrick, would have us believe that the more ridiculous Conway became, the easier it was for the swindled to believe that he was the Olympian director, who lived on his own unique plain, if not the gay fantasia Conway envisioned for himself. Maybe. But I suspect they fell hard for the comic Malkovich who emerged from Being John Malkovich, and let the performer, who has an affinity for rogues, fool them into more and more improbable masquerades within the Kubrick persona."

"Mira Nair did a lovely job adapting Jhumpa Lahiri's best-selling novel The Namesake," writes Marcy Dermansky. "In fact, in one of those rare instances, the accomplished filmmaker (Monsoon Wedding, Vanity Fair) improved upon the book."

Joe Baltake: "For better or worse, Norbit is an authentic Jerry Lewis movie, an exhilarating throwback to the kind of movies that Lewis made, specifically the ones he made with director Frank Tashlin." Via Dave Kehr.

The Philadelphia Weekly's Sean Burns gives Blades of Glory a "D+."

Citizen Kane At Greenbriar Picture Shows, John McElwee looks back on the many ways RKO flubbed the launch of Citizen Kane.

"Given Truffaut's disdain for British cinema (excluding his beloved Alfred Hitchcock), it's surprising how excited the French now appear to be about it," writes Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent. "In recent years, French companies have been investing in every aspect of the British film business from production to distribution and exhibition. French money is paying for more and more of our most cherished British movies."

"There will never come a time when everything is available." Kristin Thompson argues that the dream of the "Celestial Multiplex," a fine name for what AO Scott, among many, have been dreaming would come to pass - won't.

Not film-related, but heavens. Time's Richard Lacayo: "Tomorrow the Hyatt Foundation will announce that this year's Pritzker Prize, architecture's most visible honor, will go to Richard Rogers, the British pioneer of high tech, designer of the furiously imagined Lloyd's of London headquarters in London and co-designer (with Renzo Piano) of the Pompidou Center in Paris."

Online browsing and viewing tip. Yahoo UK's got a fresh feature on The Bourne Ultimatum. Via Jeffrey Overstreet.

Online viewing tip #1. Bits of Incubus, the 1965 horror flick filmed in Esperanto and starring William Shatner. Via Jason Kottke.

Online viewing tip #2. At ScreenGrab, Faisal Qureshi comments on David Lynch's The Amputee.

Pull My Daisy Online viewing tip #3. At Bright Lights After Dark, Alan Vanneman finds the legendary Beat flick, Pull My Daisy.

Online viewing tip #4. The teaser for Takashi Miike's Sukiyaki Western; logboy explains how to see it at Twitch.

Online viewing tip #5. "Recently, filmmaker Joe Swanberg (Kissing on the Mouth, Hannah Takes The Stairs) told me he thought Demme's Stop Making Sense was as close to perfect a movie as he knows; directed by Jonathan Demme and shot by Henri Alekan, the video for New Order's 'Perfect Kiss' (1985) always struck me as a perfect film." I can't believe it. For years, I've argued that this is the best music video ever made. And not only does Ray Pride seem to agree, he's also found it.

Online viewing tips. At TickleBooth, Ajit finds clips to accompany Cinematical's list of "Seven Great Movie Conversations."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:54 PM | Comments (1)

Fests and events, 3/28. Elsewhere edition.

Cleveland International Film Festival "In the wake of SXSW, the spring regional festival season begins," writes Michael Lerman at indieWIRE. "First stop: Cleveland, OH. Despite the bleak weather and peculiar image that one is in a multiplex in a mall sandwiched between two five star hotels, the Cleveland International Film Festival draws large local crowds to a comprehensive survey of some of the best that the last year in world premiere festivals has had to offer."

Chris Tilly in London: "Rock 'n' Roll Cinema takes place at 93 Feet East this Sunday, and having attended the last event, I urge all the TOMB readers out there to head down as it's the best Sunday afternoon's entertainment I've had in ages."

Maxim Jakubowski visits The Air Is on Fire (through May 27 in Paris): "[T]he paintings are not the only element to provide insight into [David] Lynch's mental landscape: the whole exhibition is bathed in ominous music, actually composed by Lynch but reminiscent of his film soundtracks by Angelo Badalamenti."

Online viewing tip #1. Kent Osborne's South By Southwest 2007 Experience!.

Online viewing tip #2. Spout's Paul Moore talks with Quiet City director Aaron Katz and Hannah Takes the Stairs director and star, Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:40 PM

Fests and events, 3/28. Left coast edition.

Fame Whore "A late entry into the SFIAAFF line-up was a proposed panel - 'Down and Dirty Pictures' - with the 'bad boys' of Asian American cinema: Gregg Araki, Roddy Bogawa and Jon Moritsugu, moderated by Marcus Hu," writes Michael Guillén, and before he presents a transcript, he passes along a terrific note from Bogawa explaining why he couldn't make it. Parts 1 and 2.

Adventure Poseidon The, Anne McGuire's remake-reversal of The Poseidon Adventure, screens tomorrow evening at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Johnny Ray Huston finds it "a rare example of formal art practice that never loses touch with the pop appeal of its source material."

Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Max Goldberg: "Given the feverish tenor of [Godard's] output, the relative quietude of 1967's Two or Three Things I Know about Her (playing at the Castro Theatre in a striking new 35mm print from Rialto Pictures) comes as something of a surprise 40 years on. Sandwiched between the hyperventilating back-and-forth of Masculine-Feminine and Weekend's apocalyptic moan, the film is the eye of the storm of Godard's 60s, that crucial moment between impact and explosion." SF360 rounds up related links.

And Dennis Harvey previews "A Month of Sleazy Sundays, four unholy nights of vintage exploitation gems beginning this April Fools' Day at the Mission District's lovable Victoria Theatre, brought to you by Another Hole in the Head and SF Indiefest's Bruce Fletcher, among others."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:28 PM

Fests and events, 3/28. Right coast edition.

NYUFF 07 "If the underground is defined not only by economic status but aesthetic opposition to mainstream culture, where are the escape routes in a mainstream culture that instantly commodifies and co-opts?" asks Nathan Lee. Previewing the New York Underground Film Festival (tonight through April 3), he never quite answers that one, and admits as much, but as mjr blogs for Reverse Shot, "Viva, the NYUFF's opening night (tonight) film, surely makes a good case that the current crop of underground directors are more interested in retro DIY rather than untrodded field mines of creativity." Which isn't to say mjr agrees with Lee: "There exist countercurrents inside countercurrents, and the NYUFF is diverse and rich enough to provide more substantial fare beyond the accessible, palatable 'works of homage, pastiche, and appropriation' Lee has chosen to focus on and which, yes, remain the underground's easiest sources of amusement and targets of criticism. Trust me, there's more, and better."

For the Reeler's preview, Elena Marinaccio talks with festival co-director Mo Johnston.

Back in the Voice, Elliott Stein hosts a roundtable chat on Film Forum's three-week series of B Musicals. Jessica Freeman-Slade previews the series for the Reeler and talks with Bruce Goldstein, Film Forum's director of repertory programming.

Besides Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Climates, most of what's on offer at the Boston Turkish Film Festival, opening tomorrow and running through May 13, is "a look at what the Turkish cineplexes might be showing and a reflection, perhaps, of what’s on the collective mind of Turkish culture," notes the Phoenix's Peter Keough. "The details and the trappings may differ from standard Middle American fare, but many of the themes remain familiar."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:20 PM

Grindhouse, 3/28.

Grindhouse Variety's Anne Thompson's caught the LA premiere of Grindhouse: "The audience groaned and screamed and ducked in their seats with sheer pleasure throughout the three-hour running time."

Kevin Kelly's got "Grindhouse Junket Reports" at Cinematical: "QT Talks Future Grindhouse Projects, Rose McGowan Talks Black Oasis, Zoe Bell Talks Stunts, Jordan Ladd On Hostel II, More!"

Part 2: "Kurt Russell On Remakes, Rosario Dawson Talks OCT Film, Marley Shelton Gives Deleted Scene Details, More!"

Also, Matt Bradshaw: "My Favorite Grindhouse Movies."

Updated through 4/3.

"After over ten years of denying myself the double features the New Beverly has routinely offered, I finally made it out to La Brea and Beverly Sunday night, March 11, for my first Grindhouse Fest double feature, John Flynn's Rolling Thunder and Charles B Pierce's The Town That Dreaded Sundown," writes Dennis Cozzalio. And he went back on March 25 for Roger Vadim's Pretty Maids All in A Row (1971) and Richard Lerner's Revenge of the Cheerleaders. Much is written about all four.

Lou Lumenick in the New York Post: "If you want to sample Times Square moviegoing in all of its raffish glory from the 1970s and early 1980s, you don't need a time machine - just take the M60 bus out to East Elmhurst, Queens, and be prepared to watch your back." Via Jeffrey Wells.

"So, what are going to be the films to make up the second Grindhouse double feature?" asks Brendon Connelly. He finds a few more dropped hints.

Online browsing tip. Says Rex Sorgatz: "Entertainment Weekly: Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez pick their Top 10 Movie Posters. (See also: Grindhouse cover story.)"

Updates, 3/29: Holding her nose, Nikki Finke points to Josh Horowitz's interview with Eli Roth, who's being encouraged by Tarantino and Rodriguez to turn his Grindhouse trailer for Thanksgiving into an actual feature. Though he feels that "terms like 'torture porn' are offensive," he also rails, "When I go see an R-rated horror movie, I want lots of violence. I want nudity. I want sex and violence mixed together. What's wrong with that? Am I the only one? I don't think so."

For the Los Angeles Times, Mark Olsen talks with Roth, Rob Zombie and Edgar Wright about their trailers. And to Tarantino: "To me the only thing missing from our grind-house movies is they are not quite sleazy enough... These guys brought the sleaze factor. They are coming from a sleaze place that me and Robert did not come from, but that needed to be there for the picture to be proper."

"Last night, at the historic Paramount Theater in downtown Austin, the Austin Film Society hosted the local premiere of this willdly anticipated new film in grand style," blogs Matt Dentler. "The theater was overflowing with attendees, many of the stars made an appearance, and we all sat down for three hours of insane genre film homage. It's fitting, given that almost all of the film was shot and is set, within the wonderful atmosphere of Austin." He's got thoughts on the film ("the entire experience is an assault on the senses") and lots of pix.

Updates, 3/30: Bob and Harvey Weinstein's "career-long investment in Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez has yielded the $53 million Grindhouse, a daring gamble that puts the showmen where they like to be: on the edge," writes, once again Anne Thompson in Variety, where she and Sharon Swart also report: "Given Tarantino's Cannes history, it's possible Death Proof could land a competition slot at fest's 60th edition this year."

Blogging for the Guardian, Will Lawrence: "It's a dizzying double bill. Those who worry that Hollywood is devoid of creativity need to see Grindhouse: it's a scintillating sliver of shlock and shock, fired from two smoking barrels."

Jette Kernion and Scott Weinberg were at that Austin premiere for Cinematical: pix and audience reactions galore!

Nick Dawson finds more related online browsing and viewing and posts about it at Filmmaker.

Updates, 3/31: "Casually mean-spirited and purposefully dumb, Tarantino and Rodriguez treat sex and violence like one big cackling joke," writes Jeremiah Kipp at Slant. "It's disaffected and campy, but unlike a lot of those sleazy exploitation movies that stood the test of time, it lacks any real anger, machismo, or even sleaziness. In other words, it's difficult to invest in anything that's happening beyond regarding it as one big gooey lark."

"The double bill is wildly uneven, and you could be excused for cutting the night at the grindhouse short," writes Jürgen Fauth. Rodriguez's Planet Terror is "a four-star riot, bound to claim its place next to other cult zombie classics," while Tarantino's Death Proof "attempts an odd deconstruction of the streamlined seventies car chase film (Vanishing Point is quoted again and again) and fails miserably."

Online viewing tips. At Cinematical, Ryan Stewart points to Eli Roth's faux trailer for Thanksgiving, while, at Twitch, Mack points to five clips.

Updates, 4/1: Paul Cullum has a freewheeling interview with Rose McGowan in the Los Angeles Times.

"A pair of pictures devoted to re-creating their progenitors' grubby aesthetics and visceral kicks, but with vastly greater budgets, higher-end actors and a patina of hipster cool, they part company when it comes to talent and freshness," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "On the basis of sheer accuracy, Rodriguez's installment wins points for more exactly replicating the hollow, soul-sucking badness of many low-grade gore films, even as he raids Romero's great Dead cycle of zombie splatter epics. By contrast, Tarantino's road-rage opus so far exceeds almost anything made at the time in terms of dialogue and performance that it seems like a different beast, one half plotless gabfest, the other half insane car chase."

"Understand, I love my junk cinema," writes Vince Keenan. "I’m the guy who recently binged on Coffin Joe movies. But when it comes to true grind house, I may be out of my depth." Do read his reasons for his worry. Or pride, whichever way you cut it.

Reed Tucker and Henry Cabot Beck talk with Rodriguez and Tarantino for the New York Post.

Updates, 4/2: Cindy Pearlman has a fun long talk with Tarantino and Rodriguez for the Chicago Sun-Times. Via Movie City News.

"If you're not familiar with the 60s and 70s exploitation flicks that inspired Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez to make Grindhouse, you might want to take a peek at Stephen Kessler's The Independent to prepare yourself for the three-hours-plus epic opening Friday at theaters and drive-ins everywhere," suggests Joe Leydon. "And if you are a connoisseur of schlock cinema - that is, if you're a guilty-pleasure-seeker who fondly recalls the low-budget, high-concept quickies of New World Pictures, American-International and other now-defunct manufacturers of full-tilt, down-and-dirty B-movies - well then you, too, likely will enjoy Kessler's overlooked and under-rated pastiche."

Online listening tip. Tarantino is a guest on The Treatment.

Another online listening tip. At IFC News, "Alison Willmore and Matt Singer take a look back at what grindhouse theaters were actually like, what kind of movies they showed, and where modern day films like Grindhouse fit in."

Jeffrey M Anderson lays out an interesting comparison at Cinematical: The friendship - and working relationship - between Rodriguez and Tarantino is not unlike that between John Huston and Orson Welles.

Updates, 4/3: "Certainly, there aren't specific requirements mandated to make a movie meet the grindhouse distinction, but it's fairly obvious that Tarantino and Rodriguez are using the moniker to make their standard scare fests appear far more scandalous than they are," argues Bill Gibron at PopMatters.

Movie City News points to Varaces: The Movie Car Chases Database.

DK Holm offers a "Beginner's Guide" to the music of Grindhouse at ScreenGrab.

"As a second-generation exploitation film junkie with a video stock pushing 1500, I have dedicated thousands upon thousands of hours to wading through the worst, vilest, most shoddily produced pieces of motion picture trash in order to find rare garbage that shines." At DVD Panache, Charles Fontaine offers "a back-to-back breakdown of two quintessential Grindhouse genres and summaries of some defining movies: the rare gemstones that shine through the mud."

Brendon Connelly has DVD and Cannes news. Look for the non-surprise of at least one round of double-dipping in July, evidently.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:08 PM

Interview. Herschell Gordon Lewis.

The Wizard of Gore "What redeems your exploitive gore films - if redemption is even necessary - is their abiding sense of humor. Can you speak some about the strategic blend of horror and humor?" asks Michael Guillén.

"I can," replies direct marketing expert and "Godfather of Gore" Herschell Gordon Lewis, "and I'd be delighted to because - if we get to make Grim's Fairy Tales, and I've been in negotiation for months and months with somebody to produce this thing - it is in my opinion, at least for the time being, the ultimate blend between gore and humor. You see, we've come through future shock and rocketed out the other end of it. The day of just raw - what should I call it? - bloodletting is about to go into eclipse. We have movies that are unrelentingly unpleasant. For my stuff, I want the audience to sit there and realize that we didn't take any of it seriously and that they don't take any of it seriously."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:19 AM

ND/NF, 3/28.

Reprise "This Saturday and Sunday, the programmers for New Directors / New Films are presenting a selection worthy of the festival's storied history and the too-often-unmet promise inherent in its name: Reprise [site], one of the most passionately and intellectually uninhibited works from a young director I've seen in ages," writes Manohla Dargis. "Directed by Joachim Trier, who wrote the tender, funny, narratively ambitious screenplay with his fellow Norwegian Eskil Vogt, this galvanizing first feature traces the parallel adventures of two best friends whose twinned literary aspirations and everyday lives take the shape of a punk-rock bildungsroman." Two more recommendations: Lionel Baier's Stealth [site] and Craig Zobel's Great World of Sound.

Also in the New York Times, AO Scott's tips for the final stretch: Congorama [site], "a madcap melodrama, a wild jaunt through some of the backwaters of the Francophone world that somehow, without making a big deal about it, touches on quite a few of the central puzzles and anxieties of modern life"; Euphoria [site] "is vivid and baffling. I mean both of those descriptions as compliments"; and Day Night Day Night, "for its seriousness of purpose and exactness of execution, certainly counts as a pleasant surprise."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:54 AM | Comments (2)

March 27, 2007

First Person. John Kovacevich.

John Kovacevich Recognize that face? Did you see The Pursuit of Happyness? Remember Young Executive #2? That was John Kovacevich. And here's his site.

But now at the main site, and with self-deprecating humor (but not too self-deprecating!), he tells a few good stories about what happened when a major Hollywood production came to San Francisco.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:41 PM

ND/NF Dispatch. 1.

David D'Arcy recommends three films in the series running through April 1.

New Directors / New Films Rather than scrounge for a theme running through this year's New Directors / New Films Series, a festival that includes films from Brazil to Ireland, from China to Canada, I'll let others make those connections. There's enough to say about the films which I've liked so far.

Padre Nuestro, which premiered at Sundance, is the immigrant drama which gives the contemporary American immigration story, or at least this story, the cinematic power of the immigration tales that were told by the Italian neo-realists. Think of Sicilians coming north to work in Milan. At least Sicilians were citizens of the country where they were working.

Padre Nuestro

Christopher Zalla's film is built around the crudest kind of identity theft. A Mexican youth, Pedro, who never knew his father, is heading in the back of a truck to New York when Juan jumps in, fleeing from a gang in Juarez. We never learn why, but he's anything but innocent. He steals a knapsack from the trusting Pedro, and with that he heads off to find the father, a bearish dishwasher, and to exploit the prospect of someone else to rob. The New York that both young men encounter, which is really Brooklyn, is a place of foul streets, crowded apartments, restaurant kitchens and shadows in which underpaid illegals live. It's a world that many in the film's audience might not know.

The mistrusting father is first scornful toward the youth who claims to be his son, and scorned by his co-workers in the kitchen where he's toiled for years, but eventually the paternal instinct kicks in, just in time to be betrayed.

Zalla's film tells two stories by following its two characters, an innocent looking for a parent and a petty criminal looking from a higher level of prey. Both fit into the immigrant food chain of New York, shot with a tactile elegance by Igor Martinovic in shadowy tones that make you think of neo-realism once again.

In Once, which I've missed at a few festivals, a busker (Glenn Hansard) sings his heart out at night about the girl he still loves, but sings familiar songs during the grey Dublin day so passersby will stand around for a few minutes and leave some money. By chance, a Czech immigrant (Marketa Irglova) who somehow found her way to Dublin, listens to one of his originals on the street. If she's not hooked, she's at least curious, in part because he can fix vacuum cleaners, and she has a broken one, which he fixes. The sight of her walking down the Dublin streets with him (we never learn their names), holding the hose of her vacuum as if it were the leash of a wheeled dog that was rolling behind her, is something you could imagine in a production of a play by Beckett. Here it's more innocent than absurd.

Once

Soon there's love between the frustrated busker and woman who, with her daughter and mother, is part of the army of immigrants serving the newly-prosperous gentry of Dublin. Immigrants to Ireland? What sounds improbable to Americans (especially Irish-Americans) has been a fact there for more than decade now.

This film is all about sound. The sound of two very different voices getting to know each other, first on the wet streets, and then in the studio. There's also the sound of the busker's songs as they metamorphose from street songs into something more refined. There's no sex here. Love becomes friendship.

Once has been described by many critics as a musical, but it really isn't. The story is not told through songs, and the film is more about love and hope than it is about the creation of a band, if you're thinking of The Commitments, the group in which director John Carney was a member. Carney has turned out to be a sensitive director, who can make a touching kind of cinema out of basic ingredients in the surroundings and the script. Once is a genuinely tender story.

I suppose that borders and migration could be themes of this year's ND/NF, even though the US immigration debate seems to have slid off the front pages, now that there's another scandal for the Bush administration to defend. In Padre Nuestro, the story is obvious. In Once, the busker's plan is to leave his immigrant friend to make a career for himself in London - another Irish immigrant in search of a new life.

Love for Sale

In Love for Sale, directed by Karim Ainouz, sexy and headstrong Hermila leaves Sao Paolo with her young son for the northeastern town of Iguatu, a place with great beaches but no economy. To raise money to go somewhere else, she turns to selling herself. On an economic level, it doesn't seem like such a bad idea. She's one of the prettiest girls in town. It all catches up with her as Ainouz tells the story as a mix of hard-edged realism (with bitter doses of family life) and lyrical shots of the landscape and the radiant blue sky. He can also show the boredom of provincial life without boring us.

In Madame Sata, Ainouz gave us a good look at sexual manipulation. Here he's introduced us to a new actress, Hermila Guedes. I hope we see more of her.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:03 PM

Shorts, 3/27.

Cahiers: Don't Touch the Axe Those who've taken to reading e-Cahiers du Cinéma can supplement this month's cover package on Jacques Rivette's Don't Touch the Axe with a new round of additions to Order of the Exile, which include Rivette's "Letter on Rossellini," new, or rather, vintage interviews and essays, all of which can, of course, be savored with or without the Cahiers.

"The most profound artistic statement made on music's new role in post-war, post-modern America did not come from a musician or writer," writes Eric Harvey at Pitchfork. "It came from Alfred Hitchcock, who in the 1950s was entering what would become the most significant creative peak of any American-based film director. Rear Window is frequently cited as one of his greatest works, but conversations regarding its profound social comment are typically restricted to voyeurism. There is, of course, plenty to talk about in that regard, but Hitchcock's incorporation of popular music into every square inch of the film's imagined urban courtyard setting adds intriguing depth and complexity to the conversation."

So Bill Clinton was talking about his favorite TV shows the other night, as Paul J Gough tells us in the Hollywood Reporter, and he made a few headlines when he included 24 on his list, adding, "even though an uber right-wing guy writes it." As it happens, the November 3rd Club has been engaged in a lively debate over 24 ever since the appearance of Jane Mayer's profile of the show's co-creator and executive producer, Joel Surnow in the New Yorker last month.

"Martin Scorsese is looking to direct Leonardo DiCaprio in the film adaptation of Jordan Belfort's upcoming tell-all autobiography The Wolf of Wall Street for Warner Bros Pictures, with The Sopranos scribe Terence Winter aboard to write," reports Pamela McClintock for Variety. Also, McClintock and Michael Fleming report that Darren Aronofsky may direct Mark Wahlberg and Matt Damon in a boxing picture.

Revolutionary Road Speaking of adaptations (and DiCaprio), Michael Tully writes an open letter to Sam Mendes: "Please don't do it."

"Ricky Gervais has finally signed up for his first leading role in an American movie," reports Time Out's Chris Tilly.

"A forthcoming film about Adolf Hitler's would-be assassin has sparked criticism from the dead man's family," reports the Guardian. "Descendants of Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg object to the choice of Tom Cruise for the lead role, fearing that the story will be turned into 'propaganda' for the actor's Scientology beliefs."

Also:

  • More than a little perturbed by La Vie en Rose, Agnès Poirier argues that biopics "often come up at a time of national drought of imagination and inventiveness, revealing reactionary politics and cultural emptiness, if not downright ridicule."

Atonement
  • Michael Billington talks with Christopher Hampton, who's written the screenplay for the adaptation of Ian McEwan's Atonement "as well as an original script about Tokyo Rose, the Japanese-American woman trapped in Tokyo during the second world war and later tried by the Americans for treason on totally trumped-up charges. But the really cheering news is that Hampton has lately rediscovered his passion for theater."

  • "Why is there increasingly such a gulf between prominent female public figures and the way they are portrayed in films?" asks Barbara Ellen. "One might even argue that there is a growing trend for the neutering of halfway interesting female characters in film and the first step is always wilfully inappropriate casting. Not just in the case of [Renée] Zellweger and [Beatrix] Potter, but also with Jane Austen and the recent movie, Becoming Jane."

Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein take indieWIRE's questions on The Prisoner, or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair.

"Adam Curtis and BBC2 deserve much credit for keeping alive the idea of the ambitious, single-voice television essay," writes Max Steuer in a piece on The Trap for Prospect. "But there is something deeply worrying when the style of debate we are given plays with ideas without understanding them, and exploits our fascination with conspiracies."

Sacco and Vanzetti "The story of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti remains a clarion call for strict judicial oversight and the fierce protection of civil liberties." Annie Anderson for In These Times on Peter Miller's new documentary Sacco and Vanzetti.

"It's interesting to speculate about what a plagiarized film would be," proposes David Bordwell.

"To be honest, when I first set out to write this essay, I figured, 'I'll keep it real and drop bombs on Gandhi,'" admits Reihan Salam in Slate. "But watching the film again, I was struck by how much of it I remembered vividly. It's difficult to overstate Gandhi's impact on my life and on the world. Even now, veterans of the anti-apartheid movement praise the movie as an inspiration, and high-minded do-gooders have dubbed an Arabic version for screening across the West Bank. While Gandhi isn't about to bring peace to the Middle East, it's actually a pretty great movie."

"One of the most pleasurable movies I own," writes Girish, "is Alain Resnais's romantic-musical comedy On Connaît La Chanson (1997), in which Resnais, as an homage to Dennis Potter, uses French pop songs that actors lip-sync to."

The Burmese Harp Among the DVDs Dave Kehr reviews this week: Resnais's Muriel and Kon Ichikawa's The Burmese Harp. Also in the New York Times: "The professor is first impressed with Liu's brilliance and diligence but turns against him when he begins to pursue a project that goes against his mentor's favorite theory. He pulls the rug out from Liu's doctoral thesis, meaning that the student will have to leave school and seek a job without his degree. Instead Liu, played by Ye Liu, gets a gun." Dennis Overbye looks into the real-life parallels behind the story told in Dark Matter, winner of the Alfred P Sloan Prize at Sundance.

Vibhuti Patel talks with Jhumpa Lahiri, author of The Namesake, about Mira Nair's adaptation. Also in Outlook India, Namrata Joshi: "In the book vs film debate, my vote goes to the book but the film too holds its own." And for Time Out, Ben Walters interviews Nair.

"Maybe only a German could make a film about these events, the oracles say, now that the film has been screened in Poland." Signandsight translates Fritz Göttler's piece for the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Volker Schlöndorff's Strajk. "He didn't want to make a docu-drama, he says, but a heroic ballad. And this is where the problem lies, the straightforwardness of his storytelling, the result of his intense engagement. We encountered this in The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum. And it's just as vexing here, because it lacks the moments of inconsistency on which cinema - which never renounces its Brechtian tradition - thrives."

Ruedigar Suchsland talks with German writer and director Anne Wild for Cineuropa.

La Belle Captive "La Belle Captive is a brilliantly constructed mystery," writes Mike at Esotika Erotica Psychotica, "meticulously elliptical, repeatedly coming back to the same semi-ending... [Alain] Robbe-Grillet drops many clues, some of them add up to something, others just create more confusion."

Vince Keenan watches all four films in the Michael Shayne Collection in rapid succession: "Concocting disguises that fool no one like a proto-Fletch, tossing off sharp lines, engaging in deft physical comedy while still coming across as a man who can handle himself, [Lloyd] Nolan essentially creates the modern PI template out of whole cloth."

There'll be a DVD in May, notes Mike Russell, "But the biggest treat is getting a chance to discover, on a big screen, that Becket contains some hot-blooded, laugh-out-loud scene-chews by two of the greatest, drunkest actors in film history, Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton."

"Re-Animator is such a fierce, energetic, high-flying concoction that every aspect of it feels like a well-tuned joke - from its timeless, TV-tinged university setting to the iconic acting to the balls-out comic gore, which predated Sam Raimi's Evil Dead 2 by a few years, and in any case set a new standard for discomfiting dismemberment satire," writes Michael Atkinson. Also: "Scabrous fun of a newer stripe, ?lex de la Iglesia's The Perfect Crime has this nasty Spaniard, in a crowd of nasty Spaniards, going more and more glitzily commercial." And also at IFC News, "Small Town Noir," An annotated list from Matt Singer and Alison Willmore.

"Which classic film would you most like to see given a proper DVD restoration?" asks C Jerry Kutner of "all you bloggers and cinephiles out there" at Bright Lights After Dark. His own answer: "The 1936 Alexander Korda production of Things To Come. Story and screenplay by HG Wells. Designed and directed by the brilliant William Cameron Menzies." The current version floating around, he argues, simply will not do.

J Robert Parks on The Lives of Others: "It's not that I believe people can't change, but this middle-brow film makes it sound like all you need is just to meet the right people. The movie even posits with a straight face that anyone who truly loves music can't be bad. Excuse me if I'm reminded of the great Simpsons quote about Sideshow Bob, 'No one who speaks German can be an evil man.'"

"After the Wedding is the weakest of the films nominated for the 2006 Foreign-Language Film Oscar," writes Robert Cashill. "But it's still pretty good, and the final proof of a strong year for that category."

"If talk about the best contemporary screen actresses wasn't pretty much limited to those who speak English, Moon [So-ri] would be considered as good, if not better than a number of her Anglo-American peers," writes Peter Nellhaus.

Peppermint Candy At Zoom In Online, Reid Rosefelt recommends the "searing, devastating" Peppermint Candy: "While there is no question that knowledge of Korean history adds resonance to the movie, pretty much anything you need to know is woven into the story of the film."

"Ah, Eurospy flicks," sighs David Austin at Cinema Strikes Back. "Cheap, cheerful, colorful, silly – cinematic Froot Loops for the soul. And they don't come much goofier than the Kommissar X films."

Nick Dawson talks with Color Me Kubrick director Brian Cook for Filmmaker; on the blog, he adds a couple of extras, too.

Also: Scott Macaulay quotes enthusiastically from Joshua Holland's Alternet interview with Maxed Out director James Scurlock.

Whatever happened to San Francisco's 17 Reasons sign - and how did it end up on The L Word? Jenni Olson has the story at OurChart.

The Advocate: Derek Magyar "Should Film Festivals Out Their Problem Guests?" AJ Schnack has very mixed feelings about this - and two stories to tell as well. Gives him reason, too, to point to David Jay Lasky's profile of Derek Magyar for the Advocate.

More fests:

Look at all those Blog-a-Thons. Edward Copeland marks up his calendar.

The Pervert's Guide to Cinema Online listening tip. Slavoj Zizek and Sophie Fiennes discuss The Pervert's Guide to Cinema on Open Source. Via Fimoculous.

Online viewing tip #1. Meeting Paul Verhoeven, Jamie Stuart extends his exploration of alternatives to the tired and worn junket interview by "handing the reigns to a chirpy and obscenely animated E!-style news chick," as Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay puts it. Related: Jeff GP at the Six-Reel Shuffle on Black Book.

Online viewing tip #2. DVblog: "Elegant, witty & revealing re-edit of Hawks's His Girl Friday by Valentin Spirik."

Online viewing tips. Via wood s lot, three 50-minute BBC docs at Continental Philosophy from a series called Human All Too Human: Martin Heidegger, Friedrich Nietzsche and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:26 AM

March 26, 2007

The critics. Yet again.

How to Read a Film "[W]hy are so many critics insistent on (and defensive about) tastemaking for the masses?" wonders Lewis Beale at the Reeler. "Let a panel of readers tell us whether 300 has what it takes; given the material and who it's playing to, they're as good a guide as anyone. That way our poor, overworked critics can get back to doing what they've been hired for: writing insightful pieces about movies that have something to say - not parsing Spartan abs or Eddie Murphy fart jokes." Comments ensue.

Blogging for the Guardian, Ronald Bergan lays out what he feels "should be the minimum requirements before anyone can claim to be a film critic." It's a pretty rigorous program. But then: "Learning to 'read' films is a complex, though enjoyable, business." Comments erupt.

Update, 3/31: The Boston Globe's Ty Burr agrees with Ronald Bergan about some things; disagrees about others.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:11 PM

Midnight Eye. History, an interview, reviews.

Addressing the post-war years, the second part of Roland Domenig's "History of Sex Education Films in Japan" has appeared at Midnight Eye. New reviews:

Sakuran

Jamie Morris interviews Masashi Yamamoto and writes of his new film, "A Woman is Heard is billed as an 'Erotic-Pop-Suspense-Thriller' and stars the famous porn actress Sola Aoi.... For Yamamoto fans and Sola Aoi fans: this is a film that I don't think is his best (or hers?) but contains unique moments of, and investigations into, erotic fantasy and the daft 'love story' as we know it."

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

FIFA Dispatch. 2.

David D'Arcy follows up on Friday's dispatch with observations on a doc that tells just one chapter of a story he's been following for years.

Portrait of Adele 1 There's something seductive about a movie that tells a story about stolen art - deliberately seductive, of course. The film that I saw at the International Festival of Films on Art in Montreal even had a happy ending.

The documentary is Klimt, or the Will of Adele (Klimt ou le Testament d'Adèle) by Michel Vuillermet (made for TV5 of France). It is less about Gustav Klimt than it is about the fight of a Jewish family to recover paintings by Klimt that the Nazis seized in the late 1930s and that Austrians kept in one of its most distinguished museums, the Belvedere Castle, until last year. After years in court, the paintings were returned to the family last year and sold for record prices at an auction at Christie's in New York. One of them, Portrait of Adele 1, brought $135 million privately, at that point the highest price known to have been paid for a single painting.

It's a complicated story. Adele Bloch-Bauer, a wealthy Jewish socialite in Vienna, was a patron of Gustav Klimt, who painted her portrait twice. He also sketched her many times in preparation for those paintings. Adele presided over a salon at her Vienna home where Klimt was a frequent visitor, and there are rumors that she was Klimt's lover. Before she died of meningitis in 1925, Adele, who was married to Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, wrote a letter stating that she wanted her paintings to go the Austrian Gallery, the country's national museum. It wasn't a will, just a wish. More than a decade later, things had changed for much worse.

The Nazis came to power in 1938, and most Viennese applauded when Jews were beaten in the streets and forced to pay extortionate taxes. The Jews' property was also Aryanized, or transferred to Aryans (gentiles). This happened to the Bloch-Bauer family, who were specially targeted by the Nazis for their wealth. Adele's husband Ferdinand fled to Prague, and then to Switzerland. Her niece, Maria Altmann, went to Holland, then to England, then to Los Angeles, where she lives today.

The paintings were seized, and turned up in the Belvedere Castle, a branch of the Austrian Gallery. When family members tried to recover them after the war, just as Austrians were creating a new identity as "victims" of the Nazis, the Bloch-Bauers were forced to donate works to the museum to get a few pictures back. Then they gave up trying. In the 1990s, when news emerged that Austria still held many paintings looted from Jews that were never returned, Maria Altmann considered trying again to recover her family's art treasures. She was encouraged after paintings on loan from Austria were seized while on loan to the Museum of Modern Art in 1997, and the MoMA scandal resulted in passage of an Austrian law intended to expedite the return of such looted work. (One of those paintings, Portrait of Wally by Egon Schiele, is the subject of a ten-year court battle in which MoMA has opposed efforts of a Jewish family to reclaim the work.) Through her lawyer, Randol Schoenberg, Altmann requested that her paintings at the Belvedere Castle be returned. She was rebuffed, and told that she could file a lawsuit. When she sued, the Austrian court required her to leave a certain percentage of the paintings' value in escrow, which amounted to millions of dollars.

Instead, Altmann and her lawyer decided to file suit in the United States, arguing that Austria did business there and had legal standing, even though the Nazi-looted paintings were in Vienna. The Austrian government and the US government opposed her, but the case went to the US Supreme Court, which ruled that the case could be heard in California. Austria insisted that the 1923 letter in which Adele had wished that the paintings would go the Austrian Gallery had the status of a will. Maria Altmann's lawyers argued that the letter did not constitute a will. After that, rather than go to court again in the US, Austria agreed to mediation in Austria, and an Austrian mediation board awarded the art to Mrs Altmann. No one expected such an outcome.

The family represented by Maria Altmann had more heirs than paintings. Naturally, the proposal arose that their needs might be met by selling the paintings. Last summer, the family sold Adele 1 to the collector and cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder for $135 million. A sale of the other Klimts brought $190 million. Critics sniped that the paintings should have been donated to museums, but it seemed that justice had been done - or had it?

For Maria Altmann and the other heirs of the Bloch-Bauer family, there was some justice and lots of money after almost 70 years. Yet valuable films like Klimt, or Adele's Will and others on the same topic tend to celebrate the victory of Mrs Altmann, without pointing to the other cases that remain unresolved. A longer documentary, Stealing Klimt, by Jane Chablani of the UK, which showed at the European Film Market of the Berlin International Film Festival, is more comprehensive than Klimt, or Adele's Will, yet it makes the same point - that the Nazis were responsible for the greatest thefts in history, as well as the bloodiest campaign of mass murder.

The Rape of Europa Another film making the rounds of festivals and film clubs, The Rape of Europa, by Richard Berge, Bonnie Cohen and Nicole Newnham, focuses on the work of American soldiers who rounded up looted art throughout the zone where Americans operated and saved much of what the Nazis pillaged. (The film is based on the important book of the same title, published in 1995, by Lynn Nicholas.)

But there's another case that's ripe for another film, either a documentary or a thriller by Oliver Stone. Back in 1997, a Jewish family whose art was looted by the Nazis spotted one of those paintings, Egon Schiele's Portrait of Wally, at the Museum of Modern Art, on loan from an Austrian government-funded foundation. For ten years, the family has tried to recover the picture, and the museum has dug in its heels, a surprising position in a city where the Holocaust is deplored every day. On one side of the dispute, there's the US Justice Department and the heirs of the Viennese Jewish family that owned the painting before World War II. On the other side are an Austrian government foundation and the Museum of Modern Art.

The case is in federal court and could come to trial this year. (In the interest of full disclosure, my contract with National Public Radio was terminated after I covered the case in late 2004, following complaints to NPR by MoMA that misrepresented the facts of the case. You can Google all about it. The story that brought down the wrath of MoMA, complete with a false "correction" posted by NPR, can be accessed here.)

The revelation that Portrait of Wally was stolen embarrassed Austria and led to an investigation which showed that many more works of art looted from Jews were on view in Austrian museums. MoMA has never seemed terribly embarrassed about borrowing the picture, and even less embarrassed about insisting that it go back to Austria, where the Jewish family will have a difficult time claiming it. The Schiele case raises troubling questions, since the Portrait of Wally is no less stolen than the paintings recovered by the heirs of Adele Bloch-Bauer. When the public reads about the case, which is rare, it tends to see the dispute in terms of right and wrong, and not as a threat to future art loans, which is the way it has been portrayed by MoMA and its allies among American museums. Why is MoMA digging in its heels in the face of so much evidence? Why has the same public which applauded the return of the Klimts to Maria Altmann ignored the Schiele case? Why has MoMA chosen to fight a war of attrition over the painting, rather than help resolve a Holocaust property crime? These are questions that the museum's director, Glenn Lowry, has tried to avoid for the past decade. (Check out Jed Perl's account of Lowry's reign there in the New Republic.)

Where is the documentary film on this subject?

Posted by dwhudson at 1:22 AM | Comments (6)

March 25, 2007

Sunday shorts.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret "This 534-page doorstopper is no ordinary kids' book, for sure. With its nods to the graphic novel, the flip book and the storyboard, it is an ambitious tribute to early cinema that some have already dubbed a masterpiece and a work of genius," writes Elizabeth Ward in the Washington Post, noting, too, that there are rumors claiming that Martin Scorsese is interested in adapting Brian Selznick's novel. "It's such a likeably earnest book that one wishes it were so. But the truth is that The Invention of Hugo Cabret is more about the razzle-dazzle of novelty than any particular artistic merit. The first movies transfixed people too, but that doesn't mean their plots weren't mostly pretty hokey and their characters stiffer than a girder. Just so, in Hugo Cabret, the method of telling outshines the tale."

"Jonathan Lethem's seventh novel, You Don't Love Me Yet, is a parable of sorts about the ways in which art is created and commodified by a process of borrowing, stealing and transformation," writes Amy Benfer, introducing her interview with the author for Salon. And of course, she asks him why he's offering the rights to the book "free to the filmmaker who presents him with the best proposal by May 15. In return, the filmmaker will agree to pay Lethem 2 percent of the film's budget when the film receives a distribution deal, and allow the rights to the novel to return to the public domain - for the free use of anyone, including other filmmakers - within five years of the film's release."

Sunshine "As a sensory experience, it's overwhelming," proclaims Mark Kermode in the Observer. "But perhaps more importantly, Sunshine also harks back to a time when sci-fi turned its attention not toward the hallowed teen market but toward the heavens.... [I]t falls within a grand tradition of adult-orientated science-fiction which is haunted by the question of divinity, whether as a presence or an absence."

"[T]oday Killer of Sheep is widely acknowledged as one of the most insightful and authentic dramas about African-American life on film, as well as one of the earliest examples of the politically aware black independent cinema that was taking shape in the 1970s." Dave Kehr checks in on its restoration and learns why it's taken six years to secure music clearances alone.

Also in the New York Times:

"No one can state with absolute certitude whether or not RFK took advantage of [Marilyn Monroe's] fascination with the Kennedys and then embarked on a short love affair with her," concedes Mel Ayton. "What can be stated confidently is that no credible evidence exists which can tie the Kennedys (nor, for that matter, the Mafia) into a murder plot." His case for the defense in a 2005 piece for Crime Magazine is far more thoroughly argued that any of the pieces I pointed to last week.

"Several factors have brought about an increase in the professionalism of Israeli filmmakers and a subsequent rise in the quality of Israeli-made films. First, let's look back at the history of the Israeli film industry." Hannah Brown for Israel21c.

Ten Canoes "Beyond a doubt, it is the most eccentric movie you will see this year. Less expectedly, it's also one of the most enthralling." The Telegraph's Sheila Johnston talks with Rolf de Heer about Ten Canoes. Via They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?.

"You get the impression speaking to [Thelma] Schoonmaker, a bubbly, warm, vibrant woman, that perhaps she's just adept at dealing with difficult men," notes Cathy Pryor in her long profile for the Independent.

"It's hilarious and unsettling: The joke, which deftly avoids gay baiting, is on straight men." Gina Piccalo riffs on Blades of Glory and its contemporary "context. Sexual identity is more of a public and political issue than it's ever been."

Also in the Los Angeles Times:

  • Suzanne Rico: "[Ann] Reiner, 31, is trying to create a program through which the Sudanese can document their lives on videotape, telling their own stories, in their own words, to the people who could benefit most from them - other Sudanese. The project will put cameras in the hands of those who have experienced the genocides, the HIV epidemic or gender-based violence first-hand. Reiner believes the minidocumentaries they create will be invaluable teaching tools."

The Hoax

Chuck Tryon on The Prisoner, or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair: "Because the war in Iraq has now lasted well over four years, I'm not terribly confident that it will receive nearly the audience or attention that Gunner Palace did, but I think it deserves a wider audience, if only because it's telling a somewhat more difficult story about the war and its effects on Iraqi civilians."

AFI Dallas

Highlighting his own picks, Blake offers a "Quick Guide to AFI Dallas" at Cinema Strikes Back. And at Twitch, Peter Martin interviews Midlothia director Bill Sebastian, reviews the film - and Berkeley as well.

Jürgen Fauth and Marcy Dermansky's DVD roundup comes with extras of its own. Look for "More."

Online listening tip #1. Egg City Radio: "Spotlight on John Carpenter." Via filmtagebuch.

Online listening tip #2. The Ruling Class at CineFile Video.

Online viewing tip #1. Frank Darabont sets off an earthquake on the set of The Mist and you can watch him at AICN. Via Jennifer DeFilippo at Cinematical.

Online viewing tip #2. Eugene Hernandez's SXSW Music in just 26 seconds.

Online viewing tip #3. At the DVblog: Seventeen Evergeen's "Haven't Been Yourself (Lucky Number Music)," directed by Encyclopedia Pictura. Wow.

Online viewing tips. "Famous Balloon Movies" at Cartoon Brew. Wow times 6.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:51 PM

March 24, 2007

Weekend shorts.

Un Chant d'amour "Jean Genet's words have been put to celluloid in styles ranging from Fassbinder's cold Querelle to Todd Haynes's frigid Poison, but only once did Genet direct his own scenario," writes the Stranger's Annie Wagner. "The 25-minute semipornographic film Un Chant d'amour (1950), set in a prison lined with murderers and roses, is so removed from the mannerism of his disciples (but so close to his own novels) it's almost funny. Every scene is plump with romanticism, every soft 35 mm shot (by cinematographer Jacques Natteau, who had worked for Max Ophüls and Jean Renoir) suffused with a longing that's three parts eroticism for every one part pain."

"[Alain] Resnais's third feature, widely considered to be one of his best films (perhaps even his masterpiece), Muriel, or the Time of Return (1963), has finally been released on DVD, and its colorful, character-based immediacy might surprise those only familiar with his ethereal, black-and-white tone poems," writes Doug Cummings. "Although it can take several viewings to grasp the details of the narrative (it took me three), the film's staccato, elliptical construction ultimately seems completely natural and deeply compelling."

Jonathan Rosenbaum: "I'd like to beat the drum a little for a terrific new book just published by University of California Press, Catherine Benamou's It's All True: Orson Welles's Pan-American Odyssey, which is far and away the definitive book on It's All True, Welles's doomed documentary project about Latin America in the 1940s."

"Charles Burnett's debut feature, Killer of Sheep, resides so far outside the norms of movies-as-usual that I might as well review it as sculpture," begins Stuart Klawans in the Nation. "Killer of Sheep is one of those rare films that's so substantial, you feel you could walk around it, test its weight, observe how firmly and forthrightly it meets the ground.... I feel safe in calling it one of the best new films of 2007."

The Devils Ken Russell in the London Times: "So before each take, Oliver [Reed] would say: 'What do you want, Jesus?' (he always called me Jesus), 'Moody One, Moody Two or Moody Three?' The rest is history, including six films we made together, not forgetting his role as the martyred priest in The Devils, by which time the three moods had become infinite. And no, he never drank on the set nor came to work with a hangover. I unfortunately can't say the same."

"Paramount Pictures has set Jonah Nolan [Christopher's brother and collaborator] to write Interstellar, a space adventure that has Steven Spielberg attached to direct," reports Michael Fleming for Variety. "There is no hurry. Spielberg is prepping the fourth installment of Indiana Jones for a June start with Harrison Ford and Cate Blanchett, and he is expected to follow with a film about Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, based on the Doris Kearns Goodwin book. Spielberg wants his Schindler's List star Liam Neeson to play Lincoln."

James Cameron's Avatar "will be released in 2009 simultaneously with a massive, multiplayer, video game based on the film," notes Brendon Connelly at film ick.

Patrick Barkham meets Danny Boyle: "Today the director of Trainspotting is mostly raving about the sun, Kenny from South Park, student digs, acrobatic planes, CGI hamsters, cordless kettles, Dr Brian Cox, D:Ream, the God particle and Hugh Grant. Grant apart, these things all play a role in Sunshine, Boyle's new film and his first foray into science fiction." Earlier: Nigel Floyd with Boyle and Cillian Murphy.

Also in the Guardian:

Les Enfants Terribles
  • Ronald Bergan: "Despite having appeared in several films, and subsequently becoming an enterprising producer, Nicole Stéphane [1923 - 2007], who has died aged 83, will always be associated with the role of Elisabeth, the semi-incestuous sister, in Jean-Pierre Melville's adaptation of the Jean Cocteau novel, Les Enfants Terribles (also known as The Strange Ones, 1950)."

  • Sarfraz Manzoor on "one of the most unusual Indian films ever," Namastey, London. "Although produced in India, it was filmed almost entirely in Britain and, uniquely for a Bollywood film, its plot concerns the struggles for love and belonging among second-generation Asians living in Britain."

  • "The older audience is already the fastest growing sector in the market," notes Geoffrey Macnab, and exhibitors are catching on.

Bryan Whitefield catches a Q&A with Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright after a screening of Hot Fuzz, which, by the way, "is fucking hilarious and completely exceeded my expectations. I honestly cannot remember laughing that hard or having that much fun in a movie theater in a long time."

The New York Times Book Review more than makes up for falling a couple of weeks behind on its coverage of the all but simultaneous appearance of two biographies of Leni Riefenstahl by getting a casually, almost flippantly argumentative - and therefore, highly readable - essayist, Clive James, to write the review. James, as you probably know, has a new book out himself, Cultural Amnesia, "876 pages on 107 figures in history and the arts... celebrating what he calls 'humanism,' by which he appears to mean historical memory unsullied by 'ideology' and dependent on 'liberal democracy,'" as Richard Locke notes in his review for Bookforum. Slate editor Jacob Weisberg is an unabashed fan - the magazine is running 25 pieces from the book over two months and webcasting several episodes of the Clive James Show - which makes sense. With the possible exception of Christopher Hitchens's frequent contributions, Slate has been arguing quite reasonably (albeit seldom passionately) that one can say no to both radical Islam and the neo-cons of the Bush administration and that, in fact, both extreme ideologies feed off of and strengthen each other. It's the 21st century version of saying no to both Stalin and Hitler, which brings us back to Riefenstahl.

Olympia The two books are Jürgen Trimborn's Leni Riefenstahl: A Life, which "has the better pictures," according to James, and Steven Bach's Leni: The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl, which "has the better text." With a few exceptions, that's about all James has to say about them. The bulk of the piece is devoted to retelling the story his way, exposing Riefenstahl's lies at every turn, admonishing her "cinéaste admirers" (quite sternly in his final paragraph, too) and cutting her a little slack just once: "Susan Sontag later made a serious mistake in arguing that Olympia was entirely steeped in fascist worship of the beautiful body. But it's nature that worships the beautiful body. Fascism is natural. That's what's wrong with it: it's nothing else.... [E]verything she did in Berlin in 1936 was topped by what Kon Ichikawa did in Tokyo in 1964. Nevertheless, Leni, with her raw material handed to her on a plate, and unhampered by those requirements of invented narrative that she could never manage, had made quite a movie for its time."

"Intentionally or not, The Prisoner [or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair], which was directed by [Michael] Tucker and his wife, Petra Epperlein, addresses [Gunner Palace's] myopic point of view because this time out it's an Iraqi who dominates the camera, not an American," writes Manohla Dargis. Time's Richard Schickel finds that it "somehow - quietly, devastatingly - shows and tells you more than you may perhaps want to know about the dehumanization implicit in the mighty, blighted Iraqi adventure." For Cameron Scott, writing in Mother Jones, it's "an odd and even imperfect film, but one that ultimately rewards its viewer with an emotional account of the smaller tragedies and humanities of the war in Iraq."

Manohla Dargis again: "A would-be psychological thriller with next to no psychology and shivers instead of thrills, The Page Turner is a nervous-making, lightly amusing vengeance story that owes an obvious debt to Claude Chabrol."

Also in the New York Times:

  • Color Me Kubrick "is a platform for John Malkovich to burst into lurid purple flame," writes Stephen Holden. "[I]t is obvious that the actor is having a wonderful time camping it up.... With a soundtrack built around excerpts from Kubrick film scores and an opening scene that parodies A Clockwork Orange, this arch, episodic movie is really an affectionate sequence of in-jokes conceived as a posthumous homage to Kubrick by two knowing insiders." More from Jim Emerson at RogerEbert.com. Related: At ScreenGrab, Bilge Ebiri emails with screenwriter (and former personal assistant to Kubrick) Anthony Frewin.

  • Stephen Holden again: "A pointed little thriller with metaphysical pretensions, First Snow is shrewd enough to approach basic philosophical questions in sneaky, offhand ways." More from Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat: "[Guy] Pearce is in every scene, and the movie rides almost completely on his fine performance; still, props must be given to William Fichtner, who is wholly memorable at Jimmy's exasperated best friend. First Snow is solidly made - which, for this sort of film, is nothing to sneeze at - but it doesn't leave that strong an impression either. It's a decent freshman effort." Related: Jennifer Merin talks with director Mark Fergus for the Reeler.

  • Matt Zoller Seitz on Air Guitar Nation: "Like Spellbound, Murderball and other competition documentaries, it's a valentine to underdog dreamers: Rocky gone basic cable. But the movie's wild performances and droll humor are tough to resist." More from Rob Humanick at Slant.

  • MZS again: "Gleefully sensationalistic and paced like an adults-only shoot-'em-up video game, [The Hills Have Eyes 2 is] ultimately less interested in subversion and subtext than in making viewers squirm, shriek and throw up into their popcorn bags." Related: For the Los Angeles Times, Deborah Netburn asks Wes Craven, "What do you think is scary today?" Answer: "The current administration. That's the standard answer now. Unfortunately I'm not even joking. But the basic themes of what is scary have always been the same. A murderous rage that builds up in a family, a neighborhood or a nation, those are things I think are scary."

  • Also: Journey From the Fall "depicts one family's endurance in sturdy, old-movie style, with sweeping camerawork, a monumental and occasionally intrusive orchestral score, gorgeous yet forbidding natural vistas and enough shocking tragedies, brazen escapes and crowd-pleasing acts of defiance to fuel several action-adventure pictures." More from Rob Humanick at Slant.

Boy Culture
  • Jeannette Catsoulis: "Based on the novel by Matthew Rettenmund, Boy Culture is a slick and absorbing drama about an attractive gay hustler named X (Derek Magyar), with an extensive investment portfolio and a restricted clientele of 12 wealthy men." More from Michael Guillén.

  • Also: "Invoking Lewis Carroll, E.T. and Tibetan Buddhism, The Last Mimzy is an overstuffed yet warmhearted sci-fi drama"; the "inane, sluggish mess" that is Memory; and then there's TMNT: "[O]ur superheroes on the half shell have been firmly co-opted by the industry their creators once sought to spoof." Related: Erik Davis interviews director Kevin Munroe for Cinematical.

  • "Hollywood braces for a new government review of the marketing of violent entertainment to the young," reports Michael Cieply. "The Federal Trade Commission is putting the final touches on a follow-up to its September 2000 report on the marketing to children of violent movies, music and video games. The first such assessment in three years, it will examine the selling practices of a mainstream entertainment industry that in the interim has become increasingly dependent on abductions, maimings, decapitations and other mayhem once kept away from studio slates."

"In the wake of Jean Baudrillard's death, Ballardian presents Benjamin Noys's essay exploring the 'point of convergence between the writing of Jean Baudrillard and JG Ballard.'"

"This, I think, accounts for much of Jodorowsky's power," writes David Lowery: "[H]e makes the grotesque and fantastic entirely tangible."

"The thing to know is that [John] Carpenter didn't like to outsource his soundtracks. Long past the point of repetition, they felt like his break from the hazards of filmmaking - his retreat. Sometimes Carpenter collaborated, but he rarely surrendered whole hog. Except, most notably, on The Thing." Nathan Kosub in Stop Smiling on Ennio Morricone.

Sheigh Crabtree in the Los Angeles Times on Haskell Wexler's political bid: "The firebrand filmmaker, who famously made Introduction to the Enemy in North Vietnam with 'Hanoi' Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden in 1974, has launched a pro-labor, anti-corporation campaign, in his bid to become the next president of Local 600, the International Cinematographers Guild. Now 81-years old, the cameraman (Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf) and documentary filmmaker (Medium Cool) sent out a mass mailing that included a free DVD screener of his latest pro-labor documentary to ICG members."

"I had a very minor role in Film Geek, playing 'myself' along with a few other local movie reviewers and pundits during the film's final fantasy segment," recalls DK Holm. "A mostly improvised sequence, it appeared to come off well, and I suggested to [James] Westby (begged, really) that if he had a part in any upcoming films to please contact me." He did. The new one's The Auteur and the new story's fun. Also at ScreenGrab, Vadim Rizov finds Close-Up "visually dull, endlessly talky, and not particularly rewarding, with Kiarostami ignoring his own strengths. But it's the fans he really hates."

"More relevant than the failure to adapt What Makes Sammy Run? is how close the production came to fruition." Eric Kohn tells the story in Forward.

The Back of the World "Javier Corcuera's The Back of the World is an understatedly observed, indelible, and provocative examination of the inextricable social cycle of poverty, exploitation, disenfranchisement, and disposability," writes acquarello.

Michael Guillén watches Manda Bala (Send a Bullet) and listens in on a Q&A with director Jason Kohn.

"There is no doubt that Amazing Grace, which depicts William Wilberforce's 18-year battle to outlaw slavery in the British empire, has its heart in the right place," writes Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman. Even so, "Amazing Grace is the sort of film best watched on the radio." More from Tim Robey in the Telegraph.

"Is it possible to make a comedy that's too smart for its audience?" asks Peter Nellhaus. "I had to wonder as I was the only person at the theater where The Sperm was playing."

Miljenko Skoknic talks with Grace Lee about American Zombie for SF360.

Homophobia is alive and well in advertising, television and the movies, notes Michael Abernethy. Also in PopMatters, Cynthia Fuchs interviews Mira Nair.

Willem Dafoe defends his appearance in Mr Bean's Holiday in David Usborne's profile for the Independent.

Debuting on the Sundance Channel on April 17: The Green.

Online listening tip. Rock in Reykjavik at CineFile Video.

Online viewing tips, round 1. David Poland talks with Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine about their doc, Manufacturing Dissent and asks John Pierson, "So what is it about Austin?" And of course, they talk about the state of the local film scene, what's happened to indies, Baltimore, why She's Gotta Have It still isn't out on DVD and more. Meantime, Cinematical's James Rocchi turns the tables and interviews David.

Online viewing tips, round 2. The best of February at No fat clips!!!.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:05 PM

Weekend fests and events.

Mar Del Plata Film Festival "It's not surprising that residents of Mar Del Plata would be so committed to their Festival, as its existence has never quite been a sure thing," writes Dan Goldberg at indieWIRE. "While the de Chirico-esque posters all around town proclaim this to be the 22nd Annual Festival, the event has had an irregular presentation schedule that in many ways mirrors Argentina's turbulent political history." Related: AJ Schnack: "Photo Essay: An Evening in Mar del Plata."

"Fish Kill Flea, a little dream of a documentary that we fell in lasting love with during SXSW, is playing the Austin Film Society's Documentary Tour on April 11," notes Sarah Lindner at the Austin Movie Blog. Related: Matt Dentler rounds up a great bunch o'links to news and reviews from SXSW, Alison Willmore post four excellent SXSW capsule reviews at the IFC Blog, and an online listening tip: SpoutBlog's wrap-up.

Michael Fox at SF360: "Steve Polta of the [San Francisco] Cinematheque has programmed a show of work by [Dean] Snider and Greg Sharits this Sunday, March 25 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts that he describes as an effort to revive two of the more shadowy figures in the Bay Area avant-garde."

Peter Martin previews AFI Dallas for Twitch. Through April 1.

Michael Guillén previews a month of "Sleazy Sundays" hosted by Dead Channels: The San Francisco Festival of Fantastic Film.

Brian Darr presents Jennifer Young's transcription of the Q&A with Hong Sang-soo at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival.

Sujewa Ekanayake has an update on this fall's Kensington Real Independent Film Festival.

The Chicago Reader has a few tips for the locals regarding the Traveling Film South Asia Festival (through April 13).

On the Bowery Nick Pinkerton at Reverse Shot on On the Bowery, screening for a week at the Anthology Film Archives: "The precedents for this film are all outside of cinema: Weegee's flash-flooded pictures of desiccated burlesque at Sammy's-on-the-Bowery (Arthur Leipzig, Fred Stein and Fritz Neugass likewise deserve mention); Joseph Mitchell's detailed portraits of downtown pariahs and eccentrics for The New Yorker.... As such, before admiring what one might call On the Bowerys artistic accomplishment, we should pay our respects to the very physical task of the film.... What may be most remarkable about [director Lionel] Rogosin is how so many currents of the cinema in his time seem to intersect through his small body of work..."

"[I]f you happen to be near Boulder, Colorado in a few weeks (April 9 - 13, 2007)," calls out Jim Emerson, "come by Macky Auditorium on campus at 4 pm and join us to sit in the dark and talk about detective movies, noir, the history of LA, the Department of Water and Power, William Mulholland and the St. Frances Dam catastrophe, Johnny LaRue, eyes, doors and windows, venetian blinds, orange groves, fish, monstrous evil, kitty-cats, and the nose on your face. (And that's just for starters.) It's free, and, as they say, so much fun it's a wonder it's still legal."

"As some of you will no doubt know, BLDGBLOG and Materials & Applications have co-organized an awesome event coming up on Tuesday, May 8, from 8-10pm, at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena," Geoff Manaugh reminds us. "It will be part of this year's Silver Lake Film Festival. The speakers? Ryan Church, James Clyne, Mark Goerner and Ben Procter, discussing artistic connections between film, architecture, science fiction, and the city. The venue? A converted wind tunnel, formerly owned and operated by Douglas Aircraft, recently rehabbed by Daly Genik Architects."

Online browsing tip. Ray Pride, back in Thessaloniki.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:16 PM

Anticipating SFIFF.

SFIFF 50 The San Francisco International Film Festival will be celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, so while it's still a month away - it runs April 26 through May 10 - there's a lot of news coming out early:

Updated through 3/26.

Online viewing tips. At the site, click "Featured Videos" to launch the "San Francisco Film Society Video Player" for "SFIFF trailers, appearances by filmmakers and actors and short films about the San Francisco International from past Festivals."

Update, 3/26: Heddy Honigmann, whose Forever will be screening at SFIFF and Full Frame (April 12 through 15) and who'll be receiving this year's Outstanding Achievement Award and an accompanying retrospective at Hot Docs (April 19 through 29), will also be honored with SFIFF's Golden Gate Persistence of Vision award.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:43 PM | Comments (2)

March 23, 2007

Triangle.

"Three directors of renown collaborate on a single film," blogs David Bordwell from Hong Kong.

Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam and Johnnie To

"To make things interesting, the director of part one doesn't tell the others what he's planning; he simply presents a finished third. The second director has to take that further, and the man at the end has to wrap things up. Hong Kong director Johnnie To came up with the idea for Triangle, and it's nearing completion. Tsui Hark has finished the first section, Ringo Lam the second." The kicker: He, Shelly Kraicer, Todd Brown and Antoine Thirion (of Cahiers du cinéma) were guided around the set on Thursday as To shot the conclusion of the film many are hoping to see in Cannes.

More on the project from Vicki Rothrock in Variety.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:33 PM | Comments (1)

1927 Blog-a-Thon.

1927 Blog-a-Thon "Goatdog is Michael W Phillips Jr, a writer, editor, and filmmaker living in Chicago. He runs the projector at a revival house on the weekends. He has a master's degree in history, but doesn't use it much."

But as host of the 1927 Blog-a-Thon, he's certainly using it today.

Update, 3/25: As the Blog-a-Thon wraps today, I just wanted to note that if you're thinking, "1927? Eh...," think again. Some of the entries here are extraordinary. If your time's tight, at least bookmark the page. You'll be glad to revisit it later.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:29 PM

SFIAAFF. Awards.

San Francisco International Film Festival Though the San Francisco International Film Festival runs on through Sunday in San Jose and Berkeley, the award-winners have been announced:

Posted by dwhudson at 2:28 PM

Shooter.

Shooter "Shooter is a generically titled studio action picture that turns out to be a surprisingly deft satire about Americans' loss of faith in their government following the 2000 election, the 9/11 attacks, and the ensuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq," writes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly.

"There is something unaccountably gratifying, at times reassuring about watching the screen - the bigger the better - become engulfed by surging waves of liquid orange, in the image of a car exploding into the air like a rocket, in a room, a building, a boat, a truck, you name it, shattering into confetti," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "[Director Antoine] Fuqua, the auteur of such rococo diversions as Training Day and Tears of the Sun, likes to keep the volume cranked and the action relentless. Like many contemporary action directors, he overshoots and overedits, cramming his films with inexplicable, unnecessary visual and aural noise. This maximalist approach can tax the nerves, though it has the benefit of keeping you on alert. It's also pretty enjoyable."

Updated through 3/26.

The Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic, Stephen Hunter, wrote the novel the film's based on, Point of Impact, so the honors in the paper go to guest reviewer Scott Eyman. "At bottom," he writes, "Shooter is not ballistic porn so much as a western in urban drag: The retired gunslinger lured out of retirement and promptly double-crossed, who proceeds to clean up the territory anyway, all the while ignoring both legal niceties and - given the amount of blood Swagger seems to lose - natural law. It's a story that can be transplanted from genre to genre, because we never grow tired of it, which is to say that it fits snugly into the paranoid drift of American movies, and the value we place on one honest man with a gun."

"A keyed-up, underwear-model sexy and above all hilarious slice of American badass, Mark Wahlberg is one of the few American actors who can consistently turn a mediocre movie into something momentarily transcendent," writes Akiva Gottlieb for Nerve.

"Jettison the handful of offhand references to current events (like 9/11 and other violent incursions) and you're looking at a screenplay that Arnold Schwarzenegger or Bruce Willis would have climbed all over," suggests Scott Weinberg at Cinematical.

"One of those elevated B-pictures that runs type across the bottom of the screen to identify cities, Shooter has its pro forma, paint-by-numbers elements, but it is executed with such efficiency and energy by action maestro Antoine Fuqua that ignoring flaws and becoming involved in the proceedings isn't a matter of choice," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times.

"Like most of the earlier conspiracy thrillers, this one proceeds from two warring premises: a synoptic cynicism about the men who run things, and a dewy belief in the myth of the lone hero," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "You're to accept on faith that the high-level perps are both deeply malevolent and supremely competent. (Uh-huh. Then why can't they run a simple Iraq occupation?).... It's too bad that Swagger is a fiction, and that the notion of one man who can right wrongs is less plausible than the conspiracy fears that summoned him up as a solo world police force."

Salon's Stephanie Zacharek calls Shooter "a lefty fantasy dolled up in the kinds of thrills and frills a gun-toting right-winger could love."

"Swagger's personal war against genocidal, oil-rich politicos (namely, Ned Beatty's wicked senator) and their paramilitary henchmen (led by Danny Glover's evil so-and-so) contains a pungent whiff of anti-Americanism, with its Iraq and Abu Ghraib references clunkily updating 70s thrillers' Big Brother paranoia," writes Nick Schager at Slant. "However, if a brazen rage against our current administrative machine, Fuqua's film - like 24, it and every other topical thriller's kindred spirit - is also typified by the sort of conservative, lone ranger pro-vigilantism that made Arnold Schwarzenegger a Reagan-era Commando megastar."

John Hiscock opens his interview with Wahlberg for the Telegraph with recollections of The Departed: "They are a volatile couple: Wahlberg, the ex-convict and former street thug from the rough side of Boston, and Scorsese, the outspoken Italian-American former seminary student; and they both had firm ideas of how Wahlberg's scenes should be shot. Unfortunately they were very different."

Updates, 3/24: Dana Stevens in Slate: "Shooter is a video-game-fantasy version of the 2006 midterm elections, a howl of rage at the hypocrisy of the Bush presidency and the Iraq war (not that either is ever mentioned by name)."

"[T]he crushing two-hour-plus running time and Tom Clancy-for-dummies plot sabotage the film, which becomes particularly ridiculous in the last 30 minutes," writes Peter Hartlaub in the San Francisco Chronicle. "By the time Ned Beatty shows up late in the movie as the baddest of the bad guys, the makers of Shooter almost seem to be intentionally going for humor."

Cinematical's James Rocchi: "Shooter's a pretty, slick and pretty slick action flick; now and then, it may feel like a steroid-fed MacGyver episode, but when it's moving, it's alive."

Gill Pringle meets Wahlberg for the Independent: "Juvenile delinquent, hit rapper, international model, video director, Hollywood star, fearsome producer... Wahlberg is in no doubt who to thank for such bounty. 'I thank the Lord for all the blessings he's brought upon me,' he announces. 'I readily acknowledge Him as my saviour. I believe that there is a God, and that you will be judged for your actions, which presents problems for someone like me who has been a sinner in the past. I just hope God is a movie fan.'"

Online listening tip. On NPR, Stephen Hunter talks about being on the other end of the reviews.

Updates, 3/26: "[T]his standard industrial product does something strange," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "On the surface, the movie offers liberal ideological sentiments: it condemns covert overseas operations controlled by oil interests; it's angry at the higher-ups who escaped blame for Abu Ghraib; it exhibits a clear distaste for the person and values of Dick Cheney. But it places these sentiments within a matrix of gun culture and lonely-man-of-honor myths."

Variety's Anne Thompson meets Lorenzo di Bonaventura, "the alpha producer on the Paramount lot, with three big movies for 2007: Antoine Fuqua's conspiracy thriller Shooter, starring Mark Wahlberg, fresh off his Oscar nom for The Departed; Michael Bay's summer tentpole Transformers, produced in partnership with DreamWorks; and Matthew Vaughn's Stardust, a whimsical fantasy adventure based on the Neil Gaiman novel and starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:21 AM

FIFA Dispatch. 1.

City planners, collectors, writers, a photographer. David D'Arcy views a selection of docs.

FIFA 25 The International Festival of Films on Art in Montreal (FIFA) which ended on Sunday is a rare event, a place where you'll see films about art, architecture, performing arts and literature that you won't see anywhere else. In the festival's 25th year, showing work made mostly for television, and most of it coming from Europe, it seemed that much of what I saw was French.

One of my favorites was Le Destin Des Halles (The Destiny of Les Halles), a documentary by Frédéric Biamonti about the destruction of the vast picturesque food market in the center of Paris and the failure of the buildings that replaced it to achieve much of anything, either commercially or aesthetically. The film, which tells its story with archival footage from the 1960s to the present, is a tale of error after error, with misjudgments that resulted in permanent losses to the built environment.

Back in the 1960s, Charles De Gaulle and his successor Georges Pompidou thought that demolishing the old market would make Paris more modern. It wasn't his only bad idea, but it was one of the last ones and, so far, one of the most enduring. We witness mute footage of bulldozers and steam shovels razing the place, and we see the kitschy design that replaced it, built with cheap materials that now need to be replaced. At one point there was an enormous hole where the market once stood with its steel frame and peaked rooves. The excavation was necessary because it was planned that Les Halles would be the new juncture for all the subways in town.

The hole was so huge that it dared anyone to do something even more brazen. That's just what the director Marco Ferreri did - he made a film there, a western based on Custer's Last Stand called Touche pas à la femme blanche (Don't Touch the White Woman!), with Catherine Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni, which was intended to be a satire on the arrogant folly of the US war in Vietnam. There are wildly improbable horse stampedes and cavalry battles. See it if you can find it. Remember, Ferreri was the man who made La Grande Bouffe, a film in which characters eat themselves to death. Here they're acting out a western in a space that was shoveled out of Paris.

Le Destin Des Halles Then Jacques Chirac, the newly-elected mayor of Paris, entered the scene and took control of the design process, as government officials love to do, and rarely do well. What filled the hole was even more discouraging - a vast mall hemmed in by subways underground and umbrella-shaped motifs constructed of cheap materials that began deteriorating as soon as the place reopened.

Now the blunder that used to be Les Halles needs immediate renovation, and four top architects were auditioned for the job, including the French star Jean Nouvel and Rem Koolhaas of the Netherlands. David Mangin's plan, calling for a promenade between Les Halles and La Bourse (the Paris stock exchange), is the one that was chosen. We see their plans, and we see official France still stalling. It's an odd mix of rashness and inertia. Not the way to build or rebuild a great city. One woman in the documentary puts it bluntly - in the 1970s and 1980s, the French government was far more effective destroying Paris than the Germans were in World War II.

Another French documentary at FIFA, Palazzo Grassi, Le Palais du collectionneur looks at the art collecting of François Pinault, the French self-made wood billionaire whose contemporary art holdings are now on view at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice. Not much more than an infomercial produced for the French television channel TV5, it is still an illuminating look at how the rich are treated. We watch as breathless interviewees describe Pinault as a discerning art collector. In what has become part of the formula in documentaries about architecture and museums, the camera and insistent music create a Santa's workshop atmosphere of urgency and gentle perfectionsim, as yet another observer provides a flattering depiction of the boss, who is worth more than $7 billion. A visit to the studio of Jeff Koons is appropriately nauseating, but not more nauseating than the sight of Koons's gleaming Poodle in front of the palazzo on the canal.

Pinault, now 70, explains eloquently that one reason for collecting art is to postpone the anonymity that even he is likely to face after his death. People will talk about the artists he collected and the decisions he made, he reckons with surprising openness and vulnerability for a businessman. Yet you have to wonder whether anyone will have anything to say about Koons and Maurizio Cattelan by then.

Art from the Arctic

In Art from the Arctic, a documentary that premiered on BBC4 last February, just weeks after An Inconvenient Truth made its debut at Sundance 2007, a team of artists travels to Spitzbergen in the Arctic Ocean above Norway. Anthony Gormley, Rachel Whiteread, Ian McEwan, the photographer David Buckland and others are accompanied and observed by the filmmaker, David Hinton. Their ship is locked in place as ice forms and they spend a few months on the island. Much of the snow in this once-pristine place is covered with soot from a mine that Russians operate there. To make things worse, the glaciers are melting, and our artists watch huge masses of ice drop into the sea.

Artists being artists, they think about how this experience will take shape in their work, and we see this as McEwan mulls a future text and a musician on the trip explores the interplay between wind and silence with wooden flutes. Gormley builds a casket in which he forms a man of ice, leaving the figure like a prophetic snowman when the group leaves. We never learn how long Gormley's creation took to melt. Whiteread eventually assembles a collection of cubes to replicate the landscape. Note that the one thing which you never find in nature is her trademark right angle. Yet it's still all a bit of a fool's paradise. Unlike the environment, with art, there is no risk involved in not getting it right.

FIFA doesn't limit itself to the visual arts. Also on the bill was James Ellroy: American Dog, by Clara and Robert Kuperberg. The hour-long film made for French television takes us along some familiar tracks, those of the LAPD investigating the death of the Black Dahlia, and those of the same LAPD in pursuit of the killers of Ellroy's mother, a divorced nurse who went to bars by herself to meet men whom she slept with. Judging by her mutilated body, she met the wrong one that night. Or the right one, suggests Ellroy, who narrates the film and admits to hating her.

In that realm where self-consciously hip pop culture meets literary fashion, Ellroy seems to have earned tenure from the French. He looks a lot like the new Bukowski, a foul-mouthed unapologetic veteran of bars and curbsides, whom the French have accepted as an American primitive, whether Ellroy likes it or not. Bear in mind that Ellroy is talking in this voice about his mother's horrific murder. Next to him, Bukowski sounds like Ira Glass.

From the beginning of this story, you know that the police will come up with a dry hole. You're told as much by "Boston" Bill Bratton, the Giuliani nemesis who now wears the black uniform of the LAPD chief. About a third of the 600 murders in Los Angeles go unsolved every year, says Bratton, who speaks without explanation from a lectern. Did he get this from Al Gore, or does he believe that he has a more authoritative air if he looks like he's presiding over a press conference?

Robert Mapplethorpe Also conjuring up what may now seem to be old times is the documentary Robert Mapplethorpe, a profile by Paul Tschinkel of the photographer that was built around an interview done with him in the early 1980s. In case you don't remember Robert Mapplethorpe, he was the young photographer who combined a classic aesthetic with provocative gay subjects like fist-fucking and bullwhips up the ass. Those were the days when those things were controversial. If anyone were crucial to making gay themes more acceptable and more profitable, it was Robert Mapplethorpe.

Mapplethorpe died of AIDS in 1989, before right-wing and religious opposition to The Perfect Moment, an exhibition of his work in Washington DC, led a timid museum director to call off the show and resign. Then the director of the Cincinnati Museum of Art was sued on obscenity charges in a trial that mobilized both sides of that issue. (He was acquitted and went on the head the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.)

Back then the name "Mapplethorpe" became synonymous with contemporary art and with the notion among its opponents that all contemporary art was depraved (and undeserving of government support). The battle over the funding of art and culture in the US has subsided for a while, in part because there isn't much government funding left, and because the Republicans had bigger fish than Mapplethorpe to fry once they came to power. Who cares about a few gay pictures when you can mobilize voters over their fears of gay marriage.

In the film, we see plenty of pictures - of flowers, men, even women. We also head from Mapplethorpe's father, who is still ashamed that his son died of AIDS, and from his lawyer, who recalls that Mapplethorpe sent him a bill for a portrait. Mapplethorpe was astonished that a lawyer would be shocked at receiving a bill for services. Mostly we hear from Mapplethorpe, who responds to questions from an inept interviewer with the composure and lucidity of a young man who knew then that he was on the winning side of an evolving zeitgeist.

Even then, Mapplethorpe seems to have been as much a businessman as a revolutionary. (Like Andy Warhol, he learned that there was a lot of money to be made from commissioned portraits.) The pictures that brought him overnight success carried a stigma, which risked hurting the sale of his mainstream flower photographs, so Mapplethorpe himself was reluctant to use an openly gay rhetoric when talking about the homoerotic images. He describes his nude photographs as works of sculpture, where the camera models the skin. Pictures of black men, he said, were like bronze sculptures. Sculptors wish they had it so easy.

Note that the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, formed after his death, has sought for almost 20 years to keep Mapplethorpe's gay work on the margins. This may help explain why the only major exhibition of his work in the last 15 years was Robert Mapplethorpe and the Classical Aesthetic, a show at the Guggenheim that brought him closer to Greece and Rome than to Christopher Street. The exhibition was so wholesome that it even played Las Vegas. The scheme has worked. Prices for Mapplethorpe's flower paintings have risen. So have those for the gay pictures.

Has Mapplethorpe had any influence among artists and photographers? Gay themes are certainly now easier to present publicly. To learn anything more, we'll need another documentary.

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

March 22, 2007

Reign Over Me.

Reign Over Me "Like Spike Lee's 25th Hour, writer-director Mike Binder's Reign Over Me is less expressly about 9/11 than about how New Yorkers have tried (and in some cases failed) to reassemble life in the aftermath," writes the LA Weekly's Scott Foundas, "and if Binder has a considerably heavier hand when it comes to metaphor, his movie nevertheless remains buoyant because the feelings in it are immutable, and because [Adam] Sandler has never before held the screen with greater intensity."

"It's rare to see so many moments of grace followed by so many stumbles and fumbles, or to see intelligence and discretion undone so thoroughly by glibness and grossness," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "And it is puzzling, and ultimately draining, to see a film that waves the flag of honesty - Face your demons! Speak from your heart! Open up! - turn out to be so phony." That said: "The best scenes are those that give [Don] Cheadle and Mr Sandler room to play against each other, to bring their very different temperaments into a workable syncopation."

Updated through 3/27.

"Like the Detroit-born writer-director's The Upside of Anger (2005), complicated emotions and generous digressions make for unusually intelligent and involving drama," writes Ray Pride; he also interviews Binder.

"Binder manages to prop up his story's sloppiest, sappiest moments by allowing Charlie [Sandler] to bluntly and effectively articulate his misery (and his means of handling it)," writes Nick Schager at Slant. "It's a saving grace that helps moderately buoy this bruised-and-battered portrait of inconsolable grief, and one that, to the film's lasting credit, is matched by a final display of faith not in feel-good recovery but, rather, in the less cheery, more realistic belief that some losses are so cataclysmic, it's next to impossible to ever truly emerge from the resultant rubble."

"[F]ew actors have enjoyed a promotional ride like Sandler has this week, most of it just like the film's tagline 'Let In The Unexpected,'" blogs Nikki Finke.

Updates, 3/23: Kevin Crust, writing in the Los Angeles Times, finds Reign "an ardent man-love ode to rock in both its soft and hard forms.... Binder uses rock - memorably the Pretenders, Jackson Browne and Bruce Springsteen - in a refreshing way to reflect the intricacies of the relationships. What pours out of Charlie's iPod might as well be coming from his broken heart, but Binder's choices keep things surprisingly spirited. Movies about male friendship are often trivialized with the 'buddy' tag, but this one resonates beyond that."

A "soppy, sentimental take on the aftermath of 9/11," writes DK Holm for Nerve. "Reign Over Me presumes that the only counterpoint to funny is sad."

"Feel left out because you didn't have a personal connection with anyone on one of those ill-fated flights, or with a firefighter who lost his life, or with any of the thousands who couldn't escape the World Trade Center?" asks Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "Not to worry. In Reign Over Me, 9/11 victimhood is for everyone: You can feel the exhilaration of recovery without going to the trouble of suffering the pain that necessitates it in the first place.... Reign Over Me, ostensibly a drama about getting past 9/11, only turns the event into a shrink-to-fit tragedy, just big enough to fill a movie screen - barely."

R Emmet Sweeney, writing for the Reeler, finds it "a failure worth grappling with; deep wells of fury and compassion are secreted beneath its scattershot narrative."

Online viewing tip. David Poland lunches with Mike Binder.

Update, 3/25: "As wrongheaded as Reign Over Me is, Mr Sandler can always look to the [Bill] Murray career model: there is hope ahead, and depth in less pompous projects," writes Caryn James in a piece for the NYT on comic actors gone serious.

Update, 3/26: "Reign Over Me is the rare studio film with the fullness of a novel—a novel that reels and overreaches and never finds its footing," writes New York's David Edelstein. "Cheadle is a blessedly centered actor, and Sandler is up to his inevitable let-it-all-out Big Scenes. (The timing might be a tad unfortunate for the one in which he points a gun at two NYPD cops, who carefully disarm him instead of shooting him 41 times.) But the film is slick when it needs to be raw, tidy when it needs to sprawl, and amorphous when it needs to focus."

Update, 3/27: In a similar vein as Caryn James, Carina Chocano in the LAT: "Reign Over Me might have been a better movie with someone other than Sandler in the role of Charlie Fineman, just as I Think I Love My Wife might have benefited from better acting in the lead role. But that they exist at all is preferable to their not having been made. And if this is due in part to comedians wanting to get serious for a moment, maybe we shouldn't complain."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:06 PM | Comments (1)

Shorts, 3/22.

Cobra Verde "After seeing the picture, it's easy to understand why this was [Werner] Herzog's final collaboration with [Klaus Kinski] (reportedly the director afterward claimed that Kinski had 'become uncontrollable') but Kinski's performance nevertheless serves up a potent confusion of documentary and fiction that has long been an essential element of Herzog's filmmaking," writes Ed Halter of Cobra Verde in the Voice. "Kinski's character, however, is far from the film's only serving of astonishing insanity: Herzog depicts the 19th century as an insensibly violent era, with both Africans and Europeans given equal time for maniac brutality."

More from AO Scott in the New York Times: "Werner Herzog's great subject, or rather his dominant preoccupation - what paranoia was to Alfred Hitchcock or violence to Sam Peckinpah - is mania."

Doug Cummings pleas for a home video release of "Leo McCarey's sublime and shattering Make Way for Tomorrow (1937), the last film screened in the UCLA film archive's Curated by... Guy Maddin series."

"[P]erhaps European cinema doesn't exist in Europe but it seems to be identifiable in the United States where they'll tell you that Ken Loach, Nanni Moretti, Pedro Almodóvar, Patrice Chéreau or Emir Kusturiça are 'European' auteurs with a sort of common language that is not necessarily perceptible when viewed from where we are," Cédric Klapisch suggests to Fernando Garcia Acuna and Ariadna Matamoro at Café Babel. Via Ray Pride.

"Looks like Amir Muhammad is on a roll now," writes The Visitor at Twitch. "The Appeals Commmittee of the Malaysian Censorship Board has made its final decision and upholds the ban on Amir's new documentary, Village People Radio Show (Apa Khabar Orang Kampung). This is the second film of his to be banned locally. Last year, The Last Communist was banned by the Home Ministry after it was initially approved for screening by the Censorship Board."

"Any doubts you might have about Amazing Grace - and I had plenty - are dispersed when you meet Youssou N'Dour, the Senegalese musician who makes his acting debut in the film, playing the freed slave Olaudah Equiano," writes Stephen Moss in the Guardian. Related: "Next Sunday marks the bicentenary of the abolition of one of history's greatest crimes - the transatlantic slave trade. The British government must formally apologise for it," demands London Mayor Ken Livingstone. And Josef Braun in the Vue Weekly: "Boldly, bluntly directed by Michael Apted, Amazing Grace should convince just about anybody that slavery was, you know, a goddamned abomination." And Time Out's Chris Tilly talks with Apted.

Cries and Whispers Also in the Guardian: "No one who ever ventured behind a camera has adopted a more unapologetically bleak view of the relationship between men and women than Ingmar Bergman." Joe Queenan watches the entire oeuvre - in chronological order. "I found the classic movies from the 50s and 60s even better than I remembered, even more arresting now than the first time I saw them two decades ago." But: "To me, everything from Cries and Whispers onward seemed absurdly depressing and monotonous; in many cases I found myself literally cringing in the presence of autumnal work by a once-great director who had simply lost his way and was not going to find it again."

And: Harriet Lane interviews John Hurt and Maxim Jakubowski wonders, "Why has Peter Greenaway gone so out of fashion?"

"With roughly six weeks to go before a certain webslinger signals the start of the summer blockbuster stampede, your multiplex offerings for the rainy season remain a scattered assortment of medium-budgeted odds and ends - movies too small, troubled or just plain sorry to compete with their presold franchise big brothers." Sean Burns dares to peek ahead for the Philadelphia Weekly.

"[I]n the tradition of the finest forms of American entertainment, both Air Guitar Nation and the geekcraft it chronicles go way beyond shtick and self-parody into some meta-meta-ironic zone, where it's never clear from one moment to the next what is a joke and what is deadly earnest, until the two concepts finally merge into a sort of Buddhist singularity," proposes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "I think it hardly needs saying that Homer Simpson would make a brilliant air guitarist (if only he would get off his lard ass and practice)." More from Michelle Orange at the Reeler. Online listening tip: Annie Frisbie talks with director Alexandra Lipsitz for Zoom In Online.

Max Goldberg, writing at SF360, is disappointed to find that "Colour Me Kubrick can't get past its conceit, a ten-minute character sketch dragged into feature length." More from Dennis Harvey in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Michelle Orange at the Reeler, Felicia Feaster in the New York Press and Salon's Andrew O'Hehir: "Conway is a juicy role, and [John] Malkovich gnaws on it with all the gusto you'd expect from Mr Art-Movie Hambone Actor himself."

The Last Mimzy Back in Slant, Ed Gonzalez finds The Last Mimzy "rather special" (more from Rob Nelson in the Voice, where he riffs on Mimzy's director, New Line head Bob Shaye) and Sacco and Vanzetti [site] rather "dry" but worthwhile, and Jason Clark gives Fay Grim four out of four stars: "After the onslaught of political documentaries produced and released in the wake of the war in Iraq, the last place you'd expect to see possibly the most astute allegory about the US's role in our current war is in America's drollest, most deadpan comic indie director. But Hal Hartley's delirious, delectable sequel to his 1998 triumph Henry Fool is exactly where you'll find it."

Jeff Reichert at indieWIRE on The Page Turner: "Even Chabrol would have leavened the proceedings a bit with a few gags, and plumbed more fully the class stratification lurking around the edges in his revenge play. But [Denis] Dercourt... plugs resolutely, stubbornly forward, convinced that whooshing strings and portentous camera movements offer the potential to cover up for the utter lack of thrills." On the other hand, Salon's Andrew O'Hehir calls it a "fine example of the excellence of French genre film right now: A dark tale of revenge with an inscrutable heart, ice in its veins and an electric undercurrent of eroticism, it also might be the best-photographed picture I've seen so far this year."

DK Holm, writing for ScreenGrab, catches four documentaries by the Syrian filmmaker Omar Amiralay at Portland's Cinema Project.

In the New York Times:

Blessed by Fire

  • "A harrowing 20-minute sequence of nighttime combat in Blessed by Fire, a bitter remembrance of the Falklands War in 1982, captures battlefield chaos and confusion with a visceral force you won't forget," writes Stephen Holden. "[T]he film portrays the conflict as a mismanaged, vainglorious spasm of nationalism conceived by a fascistic military junta the year before it was voted out of power."

  • Sharon Waxman reports on dueling versions of Across the Universe, director Julie Taymor's and executive producer Joe Roth's. "[W]hy did Roth hire Taymor in the first place?" wonders Nikki Finke. "I'm told everyone began the movie with Taymor expecting trouble.... [U]nlike what the NYT portrayed, the problems with Taymor's version of Across the Universe went far beyond length." On the other hand, Glenn Kenny: "Let Taymor Be Taymor."

  • Powell's Books is "planning a new series of short films featuring authors, to be shown at bookstores, movie-premiere style." Julie Bosman reports.

Stranger Than Fiction "The saddest thing about Stranger Than Fiction is that it wants us to confess that none of it is real, even as it asks us to pretend it is," writes Nick Rombes of "one of those movies that is more inspired than its reviews suggest."

"To paraphrase Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole, I've seen a lot of hard-boiled eggs, but Trapped is 20 minutes!" exclaims That Little Round-Headed Boy.

"In remarks which he himself described as 'high treason,' [Stephen] Fry suggested that Britons could be over-rated in the US because of their accent and the 'brittle contrivances' of their acting style," reports Cahal Milmo for the Independent. Ryan Gilbey comments: "There may be some truth in this, although Fry's argument would be strengthened if viewers of all nationalities weren't in agreement that his own performance in Gosford Park was the one element keeping that film from masterpiece status."

Besides, adds Toby Young in the Guardian, "On first hearing an English accent 50 years ago, Americans might have thought: stately home, private school, good manners. Nowadays, they think: low income, poor diet, alcohol problem."

Somewhat related: AA Gil in Vanity Fair: "The British in New York are not good mixers. We hunker together, forming bitchy old boys' and girls' clubs where we complain about and giggle over Americans like nannies talking about difficult, stupid children. An English girl, newly arrived, has been picked up by the expat coven and asked for tea. And rather nonplussed, she says, 'It's sad and sort of weird. This is the way our grandparents used to behave in Africa and India.'"

And then there's New York's "New York vs London" cover package.

Fight Club "With Fight Club, whether he intended to or not, [Chuck] Palahniuk has shown us that fascism can be created right before our eyes, almost invisibly, and we won't even see it happening," writes Savannah Schroll Guz at PopMatters. Also: Bill Gibron on The Fallen Idol.

From Andy Spletzer's tales from the set: "It wasn't until well into the shoot that I found out that our lead actress Jessica Rose, was famous. You may be asking why it took me so long. Well, that's because I had heard about the whole Lonelygirl15 phenomenon without ever investigating."

Adam Nayman interviews Bong Joon-ho at Reverse Shot.

Sujewa Ekanayake's fired up yet another one: The Real Indie Film News Blog.

Michael Atkinson for the Philadelphia City Paper: "Daniele Thompson's Avenue Montaigne... is a pop-French movie-movie paradigm, performing like a racehorse at exactly the tasks we've expected French movies to do best since the salade days of Jacques Demy: intimate realism, effervescent romance, sly urban comedy, idealized Gallic savoir-faire."

First Snow is "dark," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press, "but a bright spot in [Guy] Pearce's career, who has needed a rebound since butchering Andy Warhol in Factory Girl." More from Kristi Mitsuda at indieWIRE and Nick Schager at Cinematical.

"Praise for The Lives of Others, particularly from Germany, comes partly at the expense of Goodbye, Lenin!, a 2003 box office success at home and abroad, which skipped lightly over the dark side of East Germany," writes Steve Crawshaw, author of Easier Fatherland: Germany and the Twenty-First Century, in openDemocracy.

Owen Hatherley: "[A]t the risk of this blog tipping over into a general tribute to the aesthetics of a now defunct and sometimes rather questionable country, here's a link to a fascinating piece on Moscow's Kinopanorama." Olga Chernysheva for Artmargins.

Kinda Hot Ben Slater keeps learning more and more about Saint Jack.

"This is an exercise in cynicism and meanness," announces Magazine Death Pool. "I am going to show all of you - on the heels of Premiere closing its doors - why the very same thing could happen to Entertainment Weekly." Related: Diego Vasquez in Media Life on the coming shakeout for celebrity magazines.

Via Fimoculous, WTFCNN?; related: "Does CNN really have no shame anymore?" asks Susan J Douglas in In These Times.

At the House Next Door, Ken Cancelosi remembers Calvert DeForest, aka Larry "Bud" Melman, 1921 - 2007.

Online non-film-related reading tip. Bookforum's never put so much of a single issue online before. Apr/May 2007.

Online browsing tip #1. Boris Kachka and Brigitte Lacombe (text and photos, respectively) in New York on The Year of Magical Thinking.

Online browsing tip #2. Suggesting three characters to take on, Howard Schatz adds John Malkovich to his "Actor's Acting" collection.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:46 PM | Comments (5)

Up-n-coming, 3/22.

Cannes Kung Fu Cult Cinema has news of Pen-ek Ratanaruang's next project. Fortissimo co-chief Wouter Barendrecht describes Ploy, set in a hotel, as "intimate yet provocative." Lalita Panyopas and Ananda Everingham are on board, and Anthony Kaufman passes along word from Screen that the film may join "a rumored selection of Asian cinema that promises to be the strongest in years" in Cannes.

Updated.

"George Clooney's plans to bring John Grisham's nonfiction book The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town to the big screen are moving ahead with indie filmmaker David Gordon Green in final negotiations to write and direct the movie." Gregg Goldstein for the Hollywood Reporter.

Steven Zeitchik: "Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the team behind Half Nelson, will write and direct a pic about Dominican baseball." Also in Variety: "Emily Blunt, who made waves Stateside with her performance in The Devil Wears Prada, is set to star in The Young Victoria. Graham King's Initial Entertainment Group and Martin Scorsese are producing." Paul McClintock reports.

A casting update from Erik Davis at Cinematical: Barry Levinson will direct Robert De Niro, Catherine Keener, Robin Wright Penn, Stanley Tucci, John Turturro and Kristen Stewart in an adaptation of Art Linson's memoir, What Just Happened?.

"After the success of The Queen, it was probably inevitable," writes Duncan Campbell. "Thatcher - The Movie is under way." Michael White and Natalie Hanman comment.

Also in the Guardian: Tom Cruise and United Artists might distribute Francis Ford Coppola's Youth Without Youth: "If indeed the studio buys the film, it would be a neat reversal of roles for Cruise and Coppola: the Godfather director hired Cruise for a tiny part in his 1983 film The Outsiders." Nope! See update below.

Alison Willmore has more - and more! - news of what's up-n-coming at the IFC Blog.

Update: Sony Pictures Classics has picked up North American rights to Youth Without Youth.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:28 PM

Online viewing tips, 3/22.

Stumble Then Rise on Some Awkward Morning Stumble Then Rise on Some Awkward Morning. Stunning work by Kurtis Hough.

There's quite a hubbub going on out there regarding a set of clips featuring NSFW unpleasantries David O Russell and Lily Tomlin exchanged during the making of I ♥ Huckabees. Dennis Cozzalio has gathered them in one entry, added his astute observations and sparked probably the most fruitful discussion to be read at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule.

Updated through 3/23.

Tom Sutpen watches Sing, Bing, Sing, "one of the strangest Musicals ever made."

Chris Ware's animation for This American Life. Via Mark Frauenfelder at Boing Boing, where Xeni Jardin points to Hometown Baghdad and Shorpy: The 100-Year-Old Photo Blog and Cory Doctorow finds A Hard Day's Night of the Living Dead.

"The Ten Worst Accents in Movie History" at ScreenGrab.

Sample Takashi Miike's Happiness of the Katakuris at No fat clips!!!.

Henry Joost's Nachtmusic fur Linnea. NSFW and via TickleBooth.

Video art is very hard - but not impossible - to find online. A guide from Mia Fineman in Slate.

The Hollywood Reporter's Steve Bryant reviews Steven Bochco's "first foray into Web-only territory," Metacafe. "The videos have no script, no stars, no names. Just young faces, talking animatedly to a camera that holds steady for two minutes on their eye rolls, 'ohmigods' and other storytelling standbys as they talk about their first times, their weird families, their most embarrassing moments. Jerry Springer, you've been disintermediated."

Anthony Kaufman: "4 Years in Iraq and Counting; How Filmmakers Can Help."

Update, 3/23 For the Miami New Times, Frank Houston gets Tomlin's reaction to the leaked videos: "'I love David,' she said. 'There was a lot of pressure in making the movie - even the way it came out you could see it was a very free-associative, crazy movie, and David was under a tremendous amount of pressure. And he's a very free-form kind of guy anyway.... I know some people are more dignified in the world, that if you transgress against that kind of professionalism, that it's some kind of great sin, but I don't see it that way.'" Via Bilge Ebiri at ScreenGrab.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:10 PM

Fests and events, 3/22.

The Prisoner, or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair "This weekend the IFP and Filmmaker will be hosting four screenings of Michael Tucker's The Prisoner, or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair," announces Scott Macaulay. I'll write more about this one later, but for now, let me just say: Do catch this one if you can. But don't take my word for it: see Michelle Orange's review in the Voice.

Meanwhile, Nick Dawson: "The force of nature that is Kelley Baker - better known as The Angry Filmmaker - is currently on tour bringing his screenings and workshops to universities and theaters around the country over the next two months or so." Both Filmmaker blog entries feature embedded online viewing.

"Back in my favorite city." David Bordwell's blogging from the just-opened Hong Kong International Film Festival (through April 11) and lists the winners of the first Asian Film Awards. More photos.

"Lionel Rogosin's 1956 movie On the Bowery, an account of skid row life that screens Friday and Saturday in a new 35mm print at New York's Anthology Film Archives, is a rare work that hasn't aged in any way that counts," writes Matt Zoller Seitz at the House Next Door. The Reeler has notes on more New York events.

On Sunday, Jonas Mekas will be at Pink Pony in NYC to sign books with his brother, Adolfas.

For SF360, Jennifer Young asks "actors and filmmakers roaming [the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival] to give props to their favorite Asian American artist, past or present." Also, Miljenko Skoknic: "The driving idea behind the 50th San Francisco International Film Festival GreenWorld Contest, presented by the SFIFF and Yahoo! Video, is to bring the vision of filmmakers to the forefront of environmental discourse."

Michael Guillén's taken extensive notes during the Q&A with Justin Lin and the cast of Finishing the Game. And: "It's truly heartwarming to see how much Jesse Hawthorne Ficks is beloved by his MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS fans and - more interestingly - how he cheerleads their adoration. The man knows how to work a crowd."

Valley Girl Tonight's double feature in the Fidelity and Betrayal: Variations on the Remake series at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: Martha Coolidge's Valley Girl (1983) and Michele O'Marah's Valley Girl (2002). Lynn Rapoport and Cheryl Eddy offer their fun takes in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

"The pickings this year at the ninth Boston Underground Film Festival are relatively slim," writes Peter Keough. "Perhaps the Internet has drawn off some of the more accomplished, daring, and transgressive filmmakers." Also in the Boston Phoenix, Steve Vineland on Claude Jutra and Michel Brault, "the twin subjects of the marvelous Harvard Film Archive series Candid Eyes, which begins Saturday and runs through April 1."

"This week, International House offers viewers unvarnished access to the cinematic heart of a nation whose filmmakers have long been underrepresented," writes Mary Wilson in the Philadelphia City Paper. " A three-day showcase of Syrian-made films - encompassing shorts, documentaries and full-length features - looks to provide honest glimpses into contemporary life in the Middle Eastern nation." Today through Saturday.

"At SIFF Cinema, the celluloid birthday party for Janus Films 50th continues!" Bryan Hendrickson reports on the third week at the Siffblog.

"Fiction, the Spanish winner of the best film award at Argentina's Mar del Plata film festival last night, didn't get the wild applause that greeted City in Heat, the film that won the festival audience's hearts and the electronic public vote," blogs Claire Rigby for the Guardian. "But while City in Heat's wisecracking, tango-drenched script had audiences roaring and clapping, Fiction - measured and thoughtful, with elegant, subtle performances from its cast - put down deeper roots, perhaps, in those who saw it."

Mike posts the lineup for the New York Underground Film Festival at Bad Lit. March 28 through April 3.

At Cinema Strikes Back, Blake notes that the full schedule for this year's Nippon Connection is up. April 18 through 22 in Frankfurt.

At Twitch, Mack notes that Hot Docs has announced its lineup. April 19 through 29.

Werner Herzog, Godard... in the Los Angeles Times, Susan King notes local goings on.

Jim Campbell's Home Movies, on view at the Hosfelt Gallery in San Francisco through April 28 (via Jonathon Keats at Rhizome), while Quantizing Effects: The Liminal Art of Jim Campbell is open at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma through June 3.

Art Daily has news of on an upcoming exhibition at the CCS Galleries of Bard College curated by Özkan Cangüven: "In We Love Cinema artists and filmmakers, including Javier Cambre, Jason Dee, Harun Farocki, Christoph Girardet, Gustavo Galuppo, Kara Hearn, Ömer Ali Kazma, Matthias Müller, Tejal Shah and Krassimir Terziev, use various strategies to analyze and question cinema."

The Rendez-Vous With French Cinema series moves on to London (March 29 through April 1). Charlotte Cripps has a preview for the Independent.

Geoff Manaugh has an amazing update on the architectural film fest that'll be part of the Silver Lake Film Festival in May.

If you're in Iowa at the time, you can make Memorial Day Weekend, May 25 through 27, a David Lynch Weekend.

"Tim Burton will be honored with the Golden Lion lifetime achievement award and a Tim Burton Day at the 64th annual Venice International Film Festival in the fall." Eric J Lyman has more in the Hollywood Reporter.

Donovan Slacks

Online viewing tip. The trailer for Donovan Slacks, set to premiere at the International Film Festival of Uruguay (Saturday through April 8).

Posted by dwhudson at 12:06 PM

Obama goes to the movies.

Barack Obama and Family The role of the "Magic Negro," David Ehrenstein reminds us in the Los Angeles Times, is "to assuage white 'guilt' (i.e., the minimal discomfort they feel) over the role of slavery and racial segregation in American history, while replacing stereotypes of a dangerous, highly sexualized black man with a benign figure for whom interracial sexual congress holds no interest. As might be expected, this figure is chiefly cinematic - embodied by such noted performers as Sidney Poitier, Morgan Freeman, Scatman Crothers, Michael Clarke Duncan, Will Smith and, most recently, Don Cheadle." And now, Ehrenstein provocatively adds Barack Obama's name to the list.

Updated through 3/23.

"Ehrenstein's sad imitation of Armond White doesn't begin to stand up to any kind of scrutiny," comments Ryan Wu. "Obama is all about telling his own story, which is the opposite of what a Magic Negro should be doing, no? In movie terms, Obama is more like Denzel, the charismatic, likable protagonist whose actions drive the story."

Earlier: "Inventory: 13 Movies featuring magical black men," from the AV Club.

Somewhat related: "I did it. And I'm proud of it." Phil De Vellis, the fellow behind the anti-Hillary clip that basically inserts her into Ridley Scott's "1984" ad for Apple, outs himself at the Huffington Post. And now, with much less finesse, as Nick Dawson notes at Filmmaker, someone's hacked up a response.

Update: Rush takes Ehrenstein's op-ed to Limbaughland. Media Matters reports.

Update, 3/23: Thoughts from Chuck Olsen:

A nice fellow at SXSW kept making the same dinner conversation: "What if a foreign power made a persuasive online video to affect our elections?" Lots of thoughtful nodding... My God, you're right. Brilliant. After a beer I finally said, dude, so what? Who cares. Anybody can and will make persuasive online videos for all kinds of reasons, and we won't know who's responsible for half of them. Bring it on. If some foreign power can make a video so incredibly persuasive as to tilt our election toward a certain candidate, then frankly, that is the candidate we deserve to have.

What I may have underestimated is the media's retarded thirst for just such a thing to happen. In effect, the media can make an anonymous political video have exponentially more impact because they're dying for that juicy story. They've had the narrative written all along and have been waiting for a Hillary 1984 video. This troubling fact may deserve our attention more than the video itself.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:33 AM

The Earrings of Madame De...

The Earrings of Madame De... "A rallying cry has pierced the earlobes of the New York film community, and it's centered on the restored print of Madame currently running at Film Forum," notes James Hughes in Stop Smiling. "Anthony Lane of The New Yorker accepts death as the lone excuse for missing it. In the New York Observer, Andrew Sarris left little room for interpretation with his headline - 'The Greatest Film of All Time' - and even tipped his cap to the late Pauline Kael, who dubbed the film 'perfection.' The highest-carat rave, however, remains courtesy of Dave Kehr, who has mused in the past that Madame may perhaps be 'one of the most beautiful things ever created by human hands.' Projectionists, take note!"

Updated through 3/27.

Further in, Hughes notes that Stanley Kubrick, when asked to list his top five filmmakers, he "offered this appropriately monolithic quote: 'Highest of all I would rate Max Ophüls, who for me possesses every possible quality.'" Then: "Tempting as it is for some to clutch Earrings of Madame De... close, or treat it like a secret handshake detected by only a vanguard of devotees, the re-release, albeit limited, presents an opportunity to stress the universality of the film's themes, and its closest admirers have heeded the call."

Madame "is a beloved period costume drama, but in terms of visceral impact and camera movement, it’s an action flick," writes Steven Boone in the House Next Door. "Madame de... is about love between men and women; between Ophuls and the terrible beauty of people maneuvering through cluttered spaces on the way to happiness that always seem just out of grasp."

A "masterpiece of film form," declares Eric Kohn in the New York Press. Earlier: J Hoberman in the Voice.

Update: "It starts out like a fable of frivolous upper-crust lives in 19th century Paris, then deepens into gale-force tragedy, without you ever really sensing it to the very final shots," blogs Robert Cashill. "My breath was literally taken from me."

Update, 3/26: "In nearly every way, The Earrings of Madame de... is jaw-dropping, with unmatched grace and visual splendor, acting... that's pleasantly but never overly melodramatic, and a complexity in blocking and camera movement that is so difficult to apprehend (or even to believe) that it becomes overwhelming," writes Leo Goldsmith at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

Update, 3/27: Online listening tip. Max Ophüls speaks. 50 years after his death, Nicole Maisch considers the life for Deutschlandfunk. Highlights of the report: Recordings of Ophüls himself. Look for "Audio on Demand" in the right-hand column and choose either MP3 or Flash.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:44 AM

Pride.

Pride "When Pride, the Lion's Gate film starring Terrence Howard and Bernie Mac, opens in Philadelphia this Friday, it'll join the ranks of this city's inspirational big-screen sports stories, and it'll surely clean up at the multiplex." But the film was not shot in the City of Brotherly Love and, for the Philadelphia Weekly, Cassidy Hartmann looks into the reasons why: "[T]he reason Pride producers chose Katrina-ravaged Louisiana over Philadelphia has little to do with Philly's development and lots to do with money. For many local industry professionals, that's cause for concern."

Updated through 3/23.

"Despite the constant interjection of helicopter shots swooping around Billy Penn's hat, that vintage SEPTA bus travels some pretty unfamiliar routes, unless someone can point me toward where all those plantation houses and willow trees are on the Main Line," grumbles Shaun Brady in the Philadelphia City Paper. At any rate, "Howard holds the reins of the whole production, setting the pace with his deliberate timing. He's said that the one thing he most wanted to replicate from the actual Jim Ellis was the man's composure; whether that's what he does is irrelevant, but he does capture a man choking back his anger, recriminating himself for the times when it erupts." JF Pirro talks with that actual Jim Ellis, still a swimming coach.

"Though based upon a specific true story, Pride most closely resembles virtually every other inspirational Hollywood melodrama, its blueprint so conventional and creaky it's astounding that the film's actors manage to deliver their clichéd lines without rolling their eyes," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

But Dennis Harvey's take in SF360 is a bit more upbeat, and besides, "whether Pride becomes the sleeper hit it deserves to be or not, the soundtrack will be surely blaring out of car stereos for months to come."

For Armond White, writing in the New York Press, Pride is "a beautiful anachronism" and "nothing like the current fashion in black-themed movies. It's more like those hardscrabble movies of the 1970s blaxploitation era that no one talks about anymore - Melinda, The Bus is Coming, Georgia, Georgia, Book of Numbers, Aaron Loves Angela, Man and Boy, The River Niger."

"The set-up is so unbelievably formulaic that the genuine charm and aplomb of its players makes for several unexpected smiles," writes Josef Braun in Vue Weekly.

"[W]hile hackneyed in its 'triumph of the human spirit' content, Pride works within its own limitations and does its subject matter, well, proud," finds Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine.

Update, 3/23: It's "a silk ascot wrapped around an ear of corn," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times. "But when sinewy young idealists glide through water to the tune of 'I'll Take You There,' the heart still leaps."

Annie Frisbee, writing at Zoom In Online, finds Pride to be "an honest movie that means well, and even though this story has been told before, there's no reason not to tell it again with source material this inspiring."

Posted by dwhudson at 10:32 AM | Comments (1)

SXSW, 3/22.

Alamo Drafthouse First, the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown is moving. Wiley Wiggins has the news and Reel Distraction shows us what it might look like in its new digs.

"Wandering round Austin, you could be in today's hip downtown-anywhere - not just Los Angeles and New York, but Park City, Prague, Moscow or Honolulu, all of which I've visited to attend film festivals, and all of which have convinced me that provincialism, for better and worse, is on its way out," writes Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly. "The lone blue spot on Texas' redder-than-red map, Austin is the state's multi-culti liberal oasis, and nowhere more than at SXSW, which attracts thousands to its annual three-pronged festival." And she saw films. The focus of her report, naturally, is Hannah Takes the Stairs, the "entertainingly skittish piece about a romantically confused playwright" and this year's standard-bearer for the "mumblecore movement," a casually related group of films that "speak to a fragile culture of impermanence and addled identity crisis."

Updated.

More on Hannah from Rumsey Taylor at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "[D]espite how sophomoric you may find its characters, or how indifferent you may be to their everyday conflicts, your response is simply one against the nine responsible for the making of this film."

Speaking of Joe Swanberg, the Austin Chronicle's Spencer Parsons tells the story behind (and links to) a most amusing prank he pulled on Quiet City director Aaron Katz.

A great string of highlights from Michael Tully.

Even though he was cut from the final version, the Boston Phoenix's Gerald Peary still finds Manufacturing Dissent "an engrossing, and convincing, indictment of [Michael] Moore's shady, manipulative tactics as a documentarian. And it shows him to be a thin-skinned, selfish-minded human being, with a dark history of screwing his friends on the left."

New reviews at Cinematical:

Sisters

  • James Rocchi: "Sisters has De Palma's original story and credits him, but a lot of the film's look, feel and sensibility are on loan from that other avatar of 70s horror, David Cronenberg."

  • "Basically, me and Severance go way back," writes Scott Weinberg. "But what I remember most from that first screening way back in Toronto is this: 'Damn, this is a fun movie.'"

  • "[Y]ou don't have to be Canadian or a fan of the show to get a kick out of Trailer Park Boys," advises Jette Kernion. "However, you do have to enjoy drug, alcohol and strip-club humor." Also, Running With Arnold "doesn't offer audiences much new information about the actor-turned-politician." And Jette posts photos she snapped at the festival.

In the Austin Chronicle, Toddy Burton talks with The Lather Effect writer/director Sarah Kelly and star Connie Britton.

Matt Dentler notes that a few Audience Awards were presented after the big awards night on Tuesday: Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher's Dirty Country in the "24 Beats Per Second" category and Marcy Garriott's Inside the Circle in the "Lone Star States" category. To review, then, the full list.

At AICN, a slew of reviews from Psychedelic.

"[R]oughly everybody that was in Austin last week is going to be in Florida for the 9th Annual Sarasota Film Festival in mid-April," notes David Lowery. "The just-announced lineup includes Hannah Takes the Stairs, Quiet City, Silver Jew, Great World of Sound, Kurt Cobain About A Son, and also, in the shorts programs, Some Analog Lines and The Outlaw Son."

Online viewing tip. Tamara Krinsky talks with Matt Dentler and Gregg Araki.

Update: The Hannah team's SXSW trailers are online. Download to own.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:21 AM

Independent Weekly. The Carolinas.

Independent Weekly "North Carolina has always been a good chameleon when it comes to movie locations, although that's not the main reason Leatherheads [starring and directed by George Clooney] is being made here," writes Fiona Morgan, opening a package in the Independent Weekly on the boom in local production. "Universal Pictures is capitalizing on a new economic incentive, passed by the General Assembly last summer, designed to lure feature film production back to North Carolina. The film is also taking advantage of South Carolina's even more generous incentives.... And other stars are already in or on their way to North Carolina: Ben Stiller and Jason Schwartzman for a comedy called The Marc Pease Experience; Anthony Mackie and executive producer Wynton Marsalis for Bolden, a biopic about New Orleans jazz legend Buddy Bolden; and Richard Gere and Diane Lane for a drama called Nights in Rodanthe."

Also, a talk with Dale Pollock, a producer, film prof at North Carolina School of the Arts and member of the NC Film Council: "I want to really cultivate where I think things are going: these low-budget independents. There's been this revolution with the equipment that people can make movies with, and I think North Carolina's at the forefront of that."

And another with Dan Brawley, director of the "über-independent" Cucalorus Film Festival, and another with Leatherheads screenwriter Duncan Brantley.

Reviews: Zack Smith on God Grew Tired of Us, Reign Over Me and The Host.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:41 AM

Vue Weekly. Monkeys, sharks and turtles.

Vue Weeky: Monkey Warfare For a Vue Weekly cover story, Josef Braun talks with Reginald Harkema, Don McKellar and Nadia Litz "about their own radical histories, off-screen alliances and the murkier emotional subtexts that burrow under the cagey façade of Monkey Warfare."

Brian Gibson on The Rules of the Game: "Perhaps the best reason to watch is to watch again - from De Chesnaye (Marcel Dalio), the cavalier hypocrite-king of the master-class, to Christine (Nora Gregor), that apple-eating temptress whom courtiers blame even as they pursue, there's too much to take in at one sitting with this satirical feast."

So today's World Water Day. Seriously. And there's a film program to mark it in Edmonton, too. Carolyn Nikodym has details. Also, the "stunning and horrifying" documentary Sharkwater.

"I'm sure many of my cohorts will agree that while our elders had Transformers, we had Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." Omar Mouallem on TMNT: "My only complaint is that their hands are too big. I know it's probably proportionate to real turtles, but they have hands bigger than their faces and that's weird. Other than that, I can't imagine this franchise delivered in a better way." Also, Dead Silence, or rather, not: "Go see Fido, who, despite being a zombie, has a lot more brains."

Jonathan Busch whispers through Premonition.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:29 AM

March 21, 2007

Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Blog-a-Thon.

Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors "I finally realized just how much I'd misremembered it." Introducing the Blog-a-Thon he's hosting, Brian Darr recalls what it was that Hong Sang-soo planted in his mind the first time he saw Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors - and describes the revelations of a second, more recent viewing.

Earlier: "On Hong Sang-soo."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:21 PM

ND/NF, 3/21.

"Dedicated to the work of what the festival terms 'new or emerging' filmmakers, New Directors / New Films [opening tonight and running through April 1] has served as an early stopping point for former up-and-comers from Chantal Akerman to Spike Lee and Wong Kar-wai and many more filmmakers who faded from view or never finished emerging," writes Manohla Dargis.

New Directors / New Films

"Whether because of the state of the world, the states of mind of the festival's half-dozen programmers or those of the filmmakers, this year's slate of 26 features - some of which have yet to secure American distribution - and miscellaneous shorts seems to mete out a greater abundance than usual of sorrows from around the globe. Some of these offerings feel as exploitative as anything produced by Hollywood at its most craven; a few veer close to unhappy art-house self-parody."

"As I watched the selections scheduled for its first week, I found myself wishing, in too many cases, that the movies would try harder, risk more, challenge themselves and their audiences," writes AO Scott, also in the New York Times, of course. "Instead, most of them seemed to hew to familiar themes and strategies, as though they were genre movies for an art-film crowd."

But for Howard Feinstein, writing for indieWIRE, the series "is a godsend... It does include a few old-fashioned clunkers, but a majority of the 26 features in this 36th edition, a joint venture of the Department of Film and Media of the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, exhibit a vital rebellious streak."

Day Night Day Night

"Among the selections are dramatic narrative debuts by a trio of New Yorkers: Julia Loktev, a ND/NF alumna bringing her festival hit Day Night Day Night to the city for the first time; Christopher Zalla, whose Padre Nuestro claimed this year's Grand Jury Prize at Sundance; and Craig Zobel, the director of another well-received Sundance '07 pick, The Great World of Sound." The Reeler hosts a roundtable discussion with the three filmmakers. Parts 1 and 2.

The Village Voice blurbs half a dozen films; another, quicker preview: Logan Hill in New York. And a reminder: Slant's preview package remains the most complete.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:49 AM | Comments (1)

Cinema Scope. 30.

The Elephant Man "Halfway through editing this issue, I thought that it might be a good idea to commission even more opinionated pieces and just change the magazine's name to Polemics, but what follows will have to generate enough arguments until Issue 31 rolls around," writes Mark Peranson, introducing another wide-ranging and provocative must-read: Cinema Scope, Issue 30, featuring right there on that same page the editorial board's top ten for 2006. #1: Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century.

Turning to the Web-only feature: Laurent Kretzschmar translates Serge Daney's 1981 piece on The Elephant Man: It's "as if [David] Lynch was saying: you are not the one that matters, it's him, the elephant man; it is not your fear that interests me but his; it is not your fear to be afraid that I want to manipulate but his fear to scare, his fear to see himself in the look of the other. The vertigo changes sides."

Two interviews are online. Robert Koehler talks with Paul Verhoeven about Black Book, first commenting: "As skillfully as any living director, he revels in cinema's powers of deception, to conceal and then reveal reality, to cover subversive ideas inside the armour of genre." And Rob Nelson talks with Robinson Devor, noting: "Disarmingly quiet and contemplative, challenging both itself and the viewer to sympathize with a rather different breed of animal lover, Zoo is the opposite of exploitation."

Christoph Huber: "What makes [Johnnie] To's work fascinating is its diversity, including aspects often overlooked in favour of his formalist bravado."

"How does one find a place for that which is more than craft competence yet significantly less than artistic personality?" asks Andrew Tracy. "[T]he striking oddities that dot [William] Wellman's diverse filmography make him a difficult object unto himself."

To the festivals. Peranson argues that "premiere-heavy festivals such as Berlin and Sundance do just as much harm as good to the world of cinema." Punctuated with propositions and drive-by pans and raves, this is a rousing collection of points well worth wrestling with. Scott Foundas devotes most of his Sundance report to his seemingly limitless loathing of Grace Is Gone, but the two final paragraphs are given to high praise for The Savages.

The Complete Buster Keaton Short Films, 1917-1923 Jonathan Rosenbaum's "Global Discoveries on DVD" seems to grow more exhaustive with each issue; the running theme this time: you've got to buy certain DVDs and/or collections to get your hands on the accompanying texts which often make the package well worth the price - particularly in the case of a few essays he mentions that aren't available any other way.

Richard Porton: "Despite its enormous critical acclaim and popular appeal, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's debut The Lives of Others, recent winner of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, insists on sentimental narrative panaceas."

Jay Kuehner: "[J]ust what [Manoel de] Oliveira's agenda might be with Belle toujours is open to interpretation, which is both the source of its frustrating inscrutability and its strange enchantment."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:55 AM

Freddie Francis, 1917 - 2007.

Freddie Francis
Freddie Francis, who died on Saturday aged 89, was one of Britain's leading cinematographers, whose credits behind the camera included Sons and Lovers (1960), for which he won an Oscar; he also directed more than 25 feature films, including several horror cult classics.

"I don't know where this cinematographer Freddie Francis sprang from," wrote the American film critic Pauline Kael in the late 1950s. "You may recall that in the last year just about every time a British movie is something to look at, it turns out to be his [work] in each case, with a different director." Summing up his own professional philosophy, Francis noted that "there is good photography, bad photography and then there is the right photography."

The Telegraph.

Updated through 3/23.

Francis's achievements as a director, variable as they were, did not go unnoticed by his peers: Scorsese is quoted as saying that he wanted him to photograph Cape Fear because "the main thing was Freddie's understanding of the concept of the gothic atmosphere." ... As a photographer, Francis considered he had three mentors - the great cameraman Freddie Young, John Huston and Michael Powell.

Sheila Whitaker in the Guardian.

See also: The Wikipedia entry - and thanks for the photo, Jerry!

Updates:

Francis was the absolute master of one of cinema's most beautiful and seldom used palettes: black-and-white CinemaScope. He loved the scope ratio and delighted in experimenting with it, in the form of split-diopter shots (that would bring foregrounds and backgrounds in identical focus to jarring effect) and special filters that enabled him to manipulate the gray scale of black-and-white. For The Innocents, he worked with a special lens filter that framed the action inside an opaque iris, accentuating the vintage of the storyline while also relegating some of the image into a hazy periphery where ghosts might legitimately dwell.... By virtue of having Freddie Francis in control of its look, The Elephant Man 0 though written, directed and produced by Americans - became inextricably bound to the blood and sinew of classic British cinema, not only in terms of its look but its heart.

Tim Lucas.

"The Straight Story is remarkable not only for the pastoral serenity of its visuals, but because it featured an octogenarian leading man (former stuntman Richard Farnsworth) and was photographed by the octogenarian Francis (his last film), a striking exception to Hollywood's usual ageism," writes C Jerry Kutner at Bright Lights After Dark.

Update, 3/22: Robert Cashill: "John Simon once carped, 'the esteemed cinematographer, Freddie Francis, has lately taken to directing Tales from the Crypt, Tales That Witness Madness, and other tales told by an idiot." But with two enduring careers to his credit Francis was no dummy, and like the late Richard Fleischer, I spent many happy hours in his cinematic care."

Update, 3/23: "His second Oscar win was for the great look of 1989's Glory, prompted Haskell Wexler, a fellow 1989 Oscar nominee for Blaze to tell me in a 1990 interview that he was "so relieved that Freddie won,'" writes Edward Copeland.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:15 AM | Comments (4)

March 20, 2007

On Claude Chabrol.

"The murderously genteel Claude Chabrol has been compared to Alfred Hitchcock by so many critics, capsule biographers, trailer producers and pressbook writers that the label 'France's master of suspense' is forever stuck to his lapel. The seed was planted back in the 50s when Chabrol co-authored an early book on the then-undervalued British filmmaker with fellow Cahiers du Cinéma critic (and soon-to-be fellow Nouvelle Vague instigator) Eric Rohmer."

Claude Chabrol and Jean-Luc Godard

Chabrol and Godard in their Cahiers days.

As The Bridesmaid sees a stateside DVD release, Michael Fox offers an overview of some of Chabrol's most memorable works.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:48 PM | Comments (2)

DVDs, 3/20.

DK Holm on a landmark noir and two new releases that surprise in that they aren't documentaries. A few notes follow.

Mark Hellinger / Brute Force When I was a budding film buff, there were a few common film books on everyone's shelves. If you went to the book store or to someone's house, you were likely to see Paul Rotha's The Film Till Now, Arthur Knight's The Liveliest Art, The Face on the Cutting Room Floor by Murray Schumach and Karel Reisz's The Technique of Film Editing. Also among them was a bold book that had its author's name spelling down the thick spine like a theater or hotel sign: Hellinger. That's one book I never dipped into. In later years I learned, of course, that Mark Hellinger was a former newspaperman turned movie producer and, in fact, had his name attached to some superb early noirs, including Brute Force and The Killers.

In official cinema, however, Hellinger is best known for The Naked City, which Hellinger narrates himself, in his wise guy accent, which made famous the concluding sentiment, "There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them." Like many aspects of the film, this idea was borrowed later by the TV show The Untouchables, which was "narrated" by Walter Winchell. Naked City itself became a TV show, airing on ABC from 1958 to 1963. Reisz's Technique of Film Editing uses the final chase scene from Naked City up the Williamsburg Bridge as one of its premiere examples of fine editing. The influence of the film as a police procedural can be seen in works diverse as Ed McBain's 87th Precinct books and the various Laws and Order. Hellinger experienced none of this, as he died of a heart attack shortly after recording the film's narration.

Weegee: Naked City The title of the movie comes from the book by Weegee, the photographer who inspired the Academy Award-winning look of the film's cinematography by William H Daniels. The film's claim to fame is that it took cinema back to the streets after a few decades of studio-bound if nevertheless convincing settings (Martin Scorsese says somewhere that Minnelli's Manhattan-set The Clock seemed more like New York to him than the city itself did, and he lived there). Written by Malvin Wald and Albert Maltz, and with lush music by Miklos Rozsa, The Naked City, in the experience, proves to be a contradictory thing. The seeming reality of the streets clashes with the artifice of the room sets, and the arch narration clashes with the sentimentally, a reporter's cynicism-coated sentimentality perhaps, but there nonetheless.

Most of the sentiment is bestowed on Barry Fitzgerald as Detective Lt Dan Muldoon, an isolate who is first seen singing along while preparing breakfast for himself. He may be a cop, but he is really a priest who has forsaken a private life for the selfless rigors of public service. He becomes mentor to raw recruit, the married Detective Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor, who would later fall into the clutches of Stanley Kubrick and eventually become a director himself; Kubrick may have met Taylor while hanging out on the set taking snaps for Look magazine). His mentorship is philosophical and even religious, like something out of a Janwillem van de Wetering novel. The wise old man showing a youngster the ropes is a trope of Hollywood at the time, as are subtle explorations of the effects of World War II subsequently on American society, which is one of the film's bigger themes. To this end, the film contrasts three men, Halloran, Frank Niles (Howard Duff), a sleazy user and con man who knew the deceased woman at the center of the film's case, and the frighteningly ethnic-sounding Willie Garzah (Ted de Corsia), a brutal killer who is much in the spirit of William Bendix, only scarier. In a sense, they represent a "response" to post-war America, one conformist, a second exploitative, and finally one in which a brutal and brutalized figure simply takes what he wants. Images of a death march are evoked in the sheer footwork that Halloran has to endure while tracking down seemingly trivial aspects of the case, which is loosely based on actual events (indeed, it was a case that may also have formed the basis for I Wake Up Screaming and its remake, Vicki).

The Naked City The Naked City comes to us via the Criterion Collection, which lately has taken a special interest in its director, Jules Dassin. The company has already released Rififi, Thieves' Highway and Night and the City and will come out with Brute Force in April (Criterion tends to release its auteur-oriented discs in pairs). The film comes in an excellent black and white full frame transfer; sound production on most of the interior scenes has the tinniness one comes to associate with low budget drive-in films. A 16-page insert contains cast and crew info, chapter titles, transfer info, an essay by Luc Sante and a memo by Hellinger on the chase sequence. Its supplements are rich. There are two brief video interviews, with Dana Polan who gives background on the production, James Sanders who talks about the locations, and Dassin himself, filmed at a 2004 LA Museum appearance (with bad sound). There is also the trailer, plus a stills gallery, and the final supplement, a commentary track from an aged Wald. Sadly, it is not one of the best yak tracks you are ever going to hear. In content it is repetitious and in production value it is compromised by the screenwriter's speaking habits. Nevertheless, there is good information in this and the other supplements and the disc is a must-have for noir collectors.

Round the digital horn, reviewers have chosen to take the stance that The Naked City is a supreme example of Hollywood art.

Glenn Erickson at DVD Talk kicks off by noting that noir buffs "reserve a special place in their hearts for Mark Hellinger and Jules Dassin's The Naked City, a highly influential crime thriller filmed almost entirely in the streets of New York City," especially for its "omniscient POV narrator, who seems to be the soul of the city itself." Erickson finds the transfer "a bit grainy and the audio is fine. Also at DVD Talk, Jamie S Rich digs into the box to define the film as an "anti-noir," writing of Dassin: "While notably trading the impressionistic shadows that were a hallmark of the genre with the documentary look of Neorealism (swapping, in effect, the Germans for the Italians), he also extracts the dark cynicism from the crime picture, creating instead a police procedural where the good guys are clearly defined and the bad guys unambiguously punished." About the transfer, Rich notes that Naked City has been on DVD before and that the earlier inferior transfer has been improved. "The back-and-white camera work is rich and detailed, and Dassin's photography of New York is seen here with a remarkable clarity. For the nitpickers, there are still some imperfections, such as stutters where the reels would have changed and sometimes a line or two ingrained in the picture."

DVD Authority's Fusion3600 promises that if "you like realism in your noir, then you'll love this movie, as it is about as realistic as possible, given the limitations of the time period. So if you need flash or sensationalism, look elsewhere, as The Naked City is about realism and a natural atmosphere." Dawn Taylor at the DVD Journal admits that it is "fascinating in today's forensics-obsessed culture to watch detectives crack a case using old-school methods."

For nostalgia's sake, it is interesting to look at Bosley Crowther's New York Times review, a generally positive take that still must acknowledge "two of the memorable weaknesses of Mr Hellinger's works," one of which is the "largely superficial" drama, "being no more than a conventional 'slice of life' - a routine and unrevealing episode in the everyday business of the cops," and a "staginess which, flagrant in several instances, rends the 'actuality' disguise."

Borat March 6 saw the release of two interestingly contrasting films, a fake documentary and a drama based on a nonfiction book. I refer, of course, respectively, to Borat and Fast Food Nation. Borat, aka Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, is the latest recipient of critical group think, a film few criticize. It has a 90 per cent approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes. So will the DVD reviewers be more skeptical, now that they've had time to think about the film, and absorb its various wins and nominations?

For a contrarian view, we naturally turn to... Harry Knowles? "I can't really recommend this. I'm that stick in the mud that [sic] doesn't enjoy Borat," he begins at Ain't It Cool News. For Knowles, the film is "R-rated cable bullshit polluting my local theaters." Knowles doesn't go into much detail about why he didn't succumb to Borat love, but Ken Tucker does at Entertainment Weekly. The writer predicts that "some people are going to feel a mild letdown, a sense of 'Oh, yeah, that was funny the first time around, but was it really such a pop culture event after all?'" and says, particularly of a deleted scene, that "I'm as much a sucker for mean jokes about cute animals as the next fellow, yet I felt sympathy for the woman at the animal control center who, after Borat describes what he wants to do with the puppy he's considering for purchase, grabs the little animal back and snaps, 'You're not going to kill or eat or have sex with my dog!'"

Matt Brighton at DVD Authority takes the more conventional view that Borat is the type of film "you just have to see in the theater acknowledging that, 'Yes, there are some questionable moments,'" but concluding that it all "seems to work. Borat is such a likeable personality that we overlook what he's actually doing and just enjoy the experience." Like Knowles, Brighton assumes, too, that "Fox is just getting this [bare bones] DVD out there so that they might double dip again later this year." Without reservation, Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits calls Borat "the funniest film I've ever seen. I honestly can't remember ever having laughed this hard in a movie before in my entire film-going life," and finds that the humor resides in the simple fact that "most of the Americans they meet seem to have no idea that Borat and Azamat are frauds, despite their often outrageous statements and behavior, nor do they quite ever know how to react to their antics." Even the slim supplements make for "very funny stuff," but like the other reviewers, he writes that "you just know that [more supplements] will be included eventually on some future 2-disc special edition."

Fast Food Nation Fast Food Nation is, of course, Richard Linklater's adaptation of Eric Schlosser's critique of American society, its eating habits, and how they are shaped by rich and powerful fast food chains. The film fell fast upon the director's previous film, A Scanner Darkly, and both the Philip K Dick and the Schlosser adaptations in their peculiar ways take Linklater back to the world of Dazed and Confused. But Linklater and co-scriptwriter Schlosser have chosen not to recreate the book as a documentary feature but to dramatize it and explore the book's facts and implications in a fictional context. Confounding expectations, the result has disappointed some of the DVD reviewers. Ian Jane at DVD Talk found the film to be a "wildly uneven satirical drama that doesn't stay focused long enough to work." The adaptation suffers by "narrowing [the book] down to a few hollow characters and changing the names of the guilty parties for this fictionalized version, [and] much of the sting has been taken out of the material and the film loses focus fairly quickly by mishandling a few subplots and failing to develop the leads enough for us to care about them."

Brett Cullum of DVD Verdict had "high expectations" for the film because "the book changed my life. When I put down Eric Schlosser's nonfiction look at the fast food industry, I swore off McDonald's and other quick-fix, junk-food chains that dot the American landscape," but found the resulting film "strangely dispassionate," a film that "shows little and says nothing clearly - those who skipped Schlosser's treatise will just scratch their heads wondering what the point is." What's more, "the anger of Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me captures the spirit of the Schlosser book even better than this bizarre film treatment."

The anonymous reviewer at Current Film agrees, finding that, in comparison to Linklater's film, Spurlock's "remains a much more compelling and informative look at the fast food industry and its effects on our culture," because Linkater's film, among other things, "doesn't exactly get into the material in the way that one would hope," and that "subplots are never really developed and characters wander in and out." Extras for the disc include a commentary by director and writer, a making-of, and four short animated films that parody The Matrix series, all of which all the reviewers seem to like.

- DK Holm


My Country, My Country Laura Poitras's My Country, My Country (2006) is "the most sensible film yet about the [American] occupation [of Iraq]," writes Michael Atkinson for IFC News, "and as a counterpoint against acres of corporate-spun non-news, it is indispensable.... [W]hat we see, remarkably, has the electric heat of a new experience, of seeing what has been heretofore officially proscribed. Best of all, the film is so immaculately constructed that it cannot be dismissed with charges of partisan subjectivity — Poitras covers the waterfront as she avoids ideology and cant, and yet everything that unfolds, from the combat-copter rides over Baghdad to the Arab TV footage of the Fallujah bombing, is first-hand evidence of an illegal occupation, an oppressed native people, and an abundance of needless pain and decimation. Without uttering a word herself, she calls the cards on every prevaricating pundit and politician blathering about 'the enemy.'"

Also reviewed this week is Lim Dae-woong's Bloody Reunion, "a simple but full-blooded Korean slasher film that probes the high-school-memories dynamic with a laser."

"Here's a notion to kick around: WC Fields is America's answer to Yasujiro Ozu." Dave Kehr keeps that notion bouncing longer than you might at first think possible. As for the WC Fields Comedy Collection: Volume 2, Dan Callahan, writing in Slant, finds it a "respectable second set, though Never Give a Sucker An Even Break is the only one you really need to own."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:22 PM | Comments (1)

300. Again.

300 While James Wolcott and digby are having a ball watching "wingnut bloggers" go gaga over 300 - and why not - Patrick Goldstein writes the following with a straight face: "Sadly, our critics, who seemed content with hooting at 300, have lost touch with what makes movies different from other art forms. Hollywood's mass-audience films are not a literary or an intellectual genre. Never have been, never will be."

Carina Chocano, though, also writing in the industry's hometown paper, the Los Angeles Times, refuses to check her brain in at the front desk: "The latest entry in the annals of Money Changes Everything is Zack Snyder's 300, which about a month ago was being discussed in terms of its allegorical message, but is now being closely inspected for its magical money-making properties.... The interesting question is how 'entertainment' has come to be accepted as a valid, irreducible argument against interpretation; how, in a broader sense, the act of putting things in context has come to be seen as inherently suspect."

Updated through 3/26.

Online listening tip. Once again, at least for Alison Willmore and Matt Singer of IFC News, the question arises: Do critics matter anymore?

Updates, 3/21: "Iran's president today attacked western filmmakers for portraying his country as 'savage,' echoing anger among his aides at the Hollywood film, 300." Mark Oliver reports for the Guardian, where Hywel Williams writes, "[I]t would be mean-spirited to deny 300's actors their buffed moments in the sun, having endured so many months of training. It's when their mouths open, however, that the film falls apart and becomes an American corporation's viciously misleading view of history - both ancient and contemporary."

Online viewing tip. Stephen Colbert: "A-Pop-Calypse: 300." Via C Jerry Kutner at Bright Lights After Dark.

Reprinting Jason Morehead's review in full at Looking Closer, Jeffrey Overstreet explains why he won't be going to see 300.

Updates, 3/23: "The biggest laugh comes when Leonidas, while striding purposefully around in his dun-coloured pants, gruffly denounces the culture of Athens as 'poets and boy-lovers!' Oh Leonidas! Do you really want to go there, your Majesty?" wonders the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw.

"To judge this film's adherence to historical fact (insofar as we understand it) is to do it a disservice, for the film does not even pretend to be historically accurate." Nevertheless... via Movie City News, Eugene N Borza, professor emeritus of ancient history at Pennsylvania State University, for Archeology. He knows his film history, too.

Update, 3/26: "300 is startlingly anti-American." John Rogers has a little fun.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:29 PM | Comments (2)

Berkeley and the SZMC.

At a 7 pm meeting tonight of the Berkeley City Council that'll be touching on subjects ranging from zoning districts for medical marijuana dispensaries, the sixth annual Peace Lantern Ceremony and opposition to the Reliable Replacement Warhead Program (keep Berkeley nuclear free!) as well as to Governor Schwarzenegger's proposed cuts in education and transportation budgets, another item will be added to the agenda as representatives of a 22-year-old community of independent filmmakers request that Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and the City Council intervene on their behalf.

Saul Zaentz Media Center
Wareham Properties, the new owner of the Saul Zaentz Media Center is demanding rent increases ranging from 40 to 100 percent. Pay up or face immediate eviction.

Saul Zaentz Media Center

In a piece that appeared in the Berkeley Daily Planet a couple of weeks ago, Judith Scherr sketched the back story leading up to tonight's request that the Mayor honor his "promise to create and maintain a strong arts community in Berkeley," as a press release puts it, adding a reminder of the stakes: "For over 22 years The Saul Zaentz Media Center has housed a community whose members have produced over fourteen Academy Award nominated documentaries."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:06 AM

Egyptian Cinema @ 100.

Alexandria Trilogy With a brief history and a not-so-brief list, Samir Farid introduces an Al-Ahram Weekly package marking 100 years of Egyptian cinema. The centenary will be celebrated with a new Silent Film Festival and, on June 20, "Egyptian Cinema Day, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina publishes a book on the [top] 100 films selected in over 400 pages edited by Ahmed El-Hadari, bringing together articles by a number of critics and historians on the importance of these films." #1: Al-Warda Al-Bida (White Rose, 1933, Mohamed Karim; more). And: "Director Salah Abu Seif came first with eight films, followed by Youssef Chahine, seven, and Henri Barakat, four."

There was a time when Egyptian writers "had the ability to produce a tightly structured script and credibly imbue it with an Egyptian flavor," writes Mohamed El-Assyouti. Now, though, "copying plot-lines, characters, situations and dialogue from popular Hollywood movies [they] make the Egyptian screen a cheap reflection of Hollywood reality." He lists dozens and dozens of examples. "The makers of these films presume that Egyptians are not willing to see themselves on screen and that they would rather live in this dream fantasy of being colorful, funny, singing and dancing."

Salonez Sami offers an annotated list of Egyptian firsts: feature, "talkie," documentary and movie theater.

Related: "Arab Cinema" at Arab Media.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:28 AM | Comments (2)

March 19, 2007

Sight & Sound. April 07.

Sight & Sound: April 07 You'd like to read this, wouldn't you: "Is today's American indie cinema anything more than a refuge for slumming stars in tales of dysfunction and depression, funded by the very system it supposedly opposes? Mike Atkinson reports plus Amy Taubin, Howard Feinstein, B Ruby Rich and Hannah McGill offer their pick of US indie highlights." So would I. Unfortunately, it's not one of the pieces from the April issue that Sight & Sound has deigned to put online.

But fine. We do get to read David Thomson reflecting on which films Bud, the 11ish boy of Terence Davies's The Long Day Closes, might have seen and which it would have been impossible for him to have seen before he lounges "beneath the funnels of projected light where Beowulfs of cigarette smoke wrestled" and watches Doris Day in Love Me or Leave Me. Then: "What Davies has created is not so much a celebration of those old movies as an oratorio on radio. It's a bit of an illusion that the American films stand near Bud's bed as his ancestors or ghosts. What the film really comes from is Humphrey Jennings and Listen to Britain."

Ali Jaafar on Days of Glory: "[W]hile Eastwood deconstructed the story of the planting of the Stars and Stripes at Iwo Jima and Spielberg raised the technical bar in capturing the horrors of war, it is [Rachid] Bouchareb who has proved that cinema can still make a difference."

Reviews:

Red Angel

  • Tim Lucas on Yasuzo Masumura's Red Angel, just out on DVD: "Much as Blind Beast seems shocking to western sensibilities for the dark extremes of erotic fetishism it portrayed onscreen in 1969, this somewhat earlier film contains correspondingly intensive scenes in which bloodsoaked operating theatres are indistinguishable from abattoirs, the gruelling dramatisations of amputations somehow made more horrible by Kobayashi Setsuo's elegant black-and-white Daieiscope cinematography, beautifully preserved in Fantoma's spotless 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer."

  • "Lee Myung-se certainly has no more commitment to the martial-arts genre than Zhang Yimou does, but he has a more credible history than Zhang of playing with genre for his own ends - and nobody has ever accused him of being opportunistic or insincere in his work," writes Tony Rayns. "Duelist is not his finest hour, but it develops an erotics of swordplay which is original, distinctive and finally rather touching."

  • "Some [Aki] Kaurismäki aficionados might think Lights in the Dusk a disappointment after the more immediate appeal of The Man without a Past," concedes Ginette Vincendeau. "Nevertheless, Lights in the Dusk is a highly original, strangely fascinating and self-assured work by Finland's best-known film-maker and one of the most important auteurs in today's European art cinema."

  • Ryan Gilbey: "The self-consciously gritty spirit of US independent cinema, and the marshmallow softness of the inspirational issue movie, are fused to unusual effect in Half Nelson, the story of Dan Dunne, a Brooklyn teacher who puts the 'high' into junior high."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:05 PM

Shorts, 3/19.

"I was in Rome in 1960 just as La Dolce Vita was happening and met [Federico] Fellini, Alberto Moravia, [Luchino] Visconti and [Paolo] Pasolini. Then I went to model in New York in 1963 and hung out with Andy Warhol and all the Pop artists, and met the Beat poets. And then I went to Paris."

Pallenberg / Jagger

The release of Performance on DVD gives Anita Pallenberg ample opportunity to tell the Independent's Chris Sullivan a few stories about its making.

Doug Cummings on Roberto Rossellini's India: "Godard once mentioned it in the same breath with Eisenstein's Que Viva Mexico, Murnau's Tabu, and Welles's It's All True; like those works, it's a loving tribute to a foreign land by a traveling artist."

The Telegraph's John Hiscock talks with Danny Boyle about Sunshine.

Ghibli World's reporting that Hayao Miyazaki's next film will not be an adaptation of the Chinese story I Lost My Little Boy, but instead Gake no ue no Ponyo (Ponyo on a Cliff), due in Japanese theaters in the summer of 08. Via Scott Green at AICN.

David Bordwell revisits "my two favorite B film series," the Charlie Chan and Mr Moto films, in part "to trace some changes in the ways movies were made across the 1930s."

"Ignoring the sophomore slump that was Love Talk, there is remarkable progression in Lee [Yoon-ki]'s writing and directing between This Charming Girl and Ad Lib Night, and I'm both curious and excited as to where Lee will go next," writes Filmbrain. "Ad Lib Night is a tremendous film that positions Lee as one of the most absorbing directors working today."

First Snow Eric Henderson: "A fate-obsessive film that would nearly register as existential were it not so resolutely low-key, First Snow is the directorial debut of Mark Fergus, one of the quintet of screenwriters Oscar-nominated this year for Children of Men (another of the five, Hawk Ostby, co-wrote this one as well)."

Also in Slant: Ed Gonzalez on U-Carmen and Fernando F Croce on The Earrings of Madame de....

And at his own site, Nick Schager: "For those who dug Shaun of the Dead, rest assured that Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's forthcoming follow-up Hot Fuzz is pretty kick-ass." More from Kurt at Twitch: "Hot Fuzz is comfort food of the highest caliber - both for fans of the both the Buddy Cop picture and British cinema in general. The ability to have many laughs at the expense of what you love while simultaneously reveling in it is a tight line to walk. Wright, Pegg and Frost do it very, very well."

Brigid Grauman meets Werner Herzog in a Brussels restaurant for an interview for the Financial Times.

It's "Back to Blogging" for Anne Thompson, only now for Variety: Thompson on Hollywood.

Zarah Leander would have been 100 on Thursday. Kate Connelly remembers "an unlikely heroine for the Third Reich" and "one of the first gay icons of the screen."

Also in the Guardian:

  • "Mammoth advertising budgets enable distributors to swamp billboards and public transport with hyperbolic endorsements - can't they leave the blogs to the readers?" Evidently not. But Ryan Gilbey's readers know a plant when they smell one.

The Family Friend
  • Peter Bradshaw on The Family Friend: "The spirits of Michelangelo Antonioni and Ben Jonson come together in this terrifically stylish, angular, enigmatic new movie by the Italian writer-director Paolo Sorrentino, who showed us the same weird and captivating elegance in his 2004 film The Consequences of Love." More from the Observer's Philip French.

  • Marco Bellocchio will direct a film "about a woman whom Italy's fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, tried to airbrush out of history," reports John Hooper.

  • "[Woody] Allen has shown only a stilted understanding of the English and England. Can he fare any better in Spain?" wonders Mark Ravenhill. "I doubt it."

  • Paul Arendt: "I'm a magical historian as well as a magician, so I suspect that I got more enjoyment out of The Illusionist than the general public, because the history of magic is built into the story."

  • "So what happens when you cast a good-looking, multi-million-dollar Oscar contender, to play a real-life subject with a face like a bag of spanners?" A list from Shane Danielsen.

  • John Patterson calls for a presentable Martin Luther King Jr biopic.

  • Ancient Greece, A to Z, via the movies: Stephen Moss; also, Joe Queenan on 300. Related: Neal Stephenson in the New York Times: "Lefties can't abide lionizing a bunch of militaristic slave-owners (even if they did happen to be long-haired supporters of women's rights)... Our so-called conservatives, who have cut all ties to their own intellectual moorings, now espouse policies and personalities that would get them laughed out of Periclean Athens." At any rate, "Lack of critical respect means nothing to sci-fi's creators and fans. They made peace with their own dorkiness long ago."

  • Ed Pilkington interviews Tim Robbins.

  • The Guardian Review's running a previously unpublished essay by Susan Sontag and a remembrance by her son, David Rieff. Also, Samuel West on acting alongside Harold Pinter in one of his plays.

"I was in London the week that Adam Curtis's The Power of Nightmares documentary appeared on the BBC," Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, tells Stop Smiling's James Hughes. "He and I had dinner and he went so far as to deny the existence of Al-Qaeda. I said, 'Adam, I've got the foundation documents for Al-Qaeda in my briefcase.' And he didn't ask to see them. For me, that was a very telling moment." Related: k-punk on Curtis's The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom.

Subarnarekha "Ritwik Ghatak's films are deeply haunted by the specter of the Partition of Bengal in 1947, and this sense of dislocation and self-inflicted human tragedy created by artificially imposed social division casts a pervasive sentiment of despair, instability, and perpetual exile through all the rended families and uprooted ancestral communities of Subarnarekha," writes acquarello.

In Journey Into Russia, "the one flaw [Laurens] Van der Post notes in the instinctual bullshit detector he ascribes to Russian citizens is in regard to their attitude toward America, which was entirely unbalanced: 'They admired America more than any other country in the world and at the same time they envied, disliked and feared it,'" quotes Robert Horning in PopMatters. "Animated Soviet Propaganda helps shed some light on why this might have been." Also, Michael Buening on the Cuban Masterworks Collection.

"[Pavel] Ruminov's new movie, Dead Daughters, is - partly by hype and partly by the vestiges of a former Soviet system that eschewed slasher meditations - arguably Russia's first true horror movie," writes Jeffrey Fleishman. "Ruminov's tale of three murdered sisters who rise from the grave with wicked vengeance is a dense, sometimes erratic whirl of morality, inner banshees and deadly darts that swarm across the screen like a hard silver rain."

Also in the Los Angeles Times:

Offside

  • Anthony Kaufman has a backgrounder on Jafar Panahi's Offside: "'At this particular time, he's one of the only filmmakers who is daring and not afraid to protest,' said Jamsheed Akrami, a film scholar who has made several documentaries about Iranian cinema. 'His films are direct attempts to expose inequality and injustice throughout Iranian society.'" In a blog entry, Anthony adds further quotage from Panahi and Abbas Kiarostami and notes: "Both filmmakers seem sincerely worried that the US will attack Iran, and they also both lament their own president for not fulfilling promises he has made to reinvigorate Iran's economy and help the poor." Related: Michael Koresky at indieWIRE: "[N]ot only does Offside's very contemporary look at Iranian youth culture act as a nuanced corrective to Zack Snyder's conveniently 'unintentional' Iran invasion propaganda (known before the mid-Thirties as, you guessed it, Persia) but also both films are literal calls to action - Offside for young women to assert their independence in a hideously patriarchal society that's ever so slowly evolving due to burgeoning youth activism; 300 for Americans to stomp, slice, and hack their way through anything, or anybody, of a different color. The choice should be simple."

  • "Like the stages of grief, there are four steps to accepting one's fate as a top screenwriter," proposes Rachel Abramovitz in a piece on this year's batch of writers' directorial debuts. Related: Paul Cullum on Scott Frank and The Lookout.

  • "The boozehound reputation and endless quotability of WC Fields have ensured his place in pop culture history," writes Dennis Lim. "But that outsize persona and those cherished wisecracks, divorced from the context of his movies, tell only part of the story. Seen today, Fields's best films prove that time has not in the least blunted the originality and complexity of his comedy."

  • A concept of "the immigrant experience" based on American movies "may be slightly behind the times," argues Carina Chocano.

  • "It would be a mistake to dismiss the drama Beyond the Gates simply because it is another instance of telling an African narrative through white protagonist," argues Kevin Crust.

"Nick Broomfield's Ghosts, about the fate of undocumented Chinese workers in the UK, is a powerful work," writes Robert Stevens for the WSWS, noting that Broomfield has told the London Times, "I wanted to do a film about modern slavery. It's ironic that, 200 years since the abolition of slavery, there are more slaves than there ever have been, just in a different form."

"The Burmese Harp and Fires on the Plains make a fascinating matched pair." David Austin elaborates at Cinema Strikes Back.

Three quick reviews from Matt Zoller Seitz:

  • Dead Silence's [site] "playfully self-aware touches (like a grand old theater named the Guignol) distract from its leaden pacing, three too many final twists and various behavioral idiocies." More from Ed Gonzalez and Mark Olsen in the LAT and from Scott Weinberg at Cinematical.

Adam's Apples
  • Adam's Apples [site] "is one of the latest examples of the post-Pulp Fiction bloody comedy. It's also one of the weirdest, mixing glib humor with dead-serious spiritual inquiry."

  • My Brother's [site] "earnest tone, moving orchestral score (by John Califra) and strong cast... carry it past the rough patches."

Also in the NYT:

  • "If ever the premise for a movie sounded like a satirical article from The Onion, it would be Air Guitar Nation," suggests David Browne. Says one of the contestants featured in the film: "People think, 'OK, for the next 90 minutes I'm going to be subjected to stoners and idiots playing air guitar.' But one of the things I learned is that while it's a joke, it's one you have to take very seriously."

  • Dana Kennedy traces Tatum O'Neal's most recent struggles to get "back in the game."

  • For Neil Genzlinger, while Nomad: The Warrior comes from Kazakhstan, it "looks and feels like an old-school American western." More from Kevin Thomas in the LAT.

  • Jeannette Catsoulis on Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon: "If Christopher Guest ever turned his attention to psycho killers instead of folk singers and dog breeders, this is exactly the sort of movie he would make."

  • Stephen Holden: "The sloppy, absent-minded Premonition is a giant step backward for [Sandra] Bullock."

"Spencer Nakasako gets the credit (or blame, if you like) for starting the still-cresting wave of first-person camcorder documentaries back in 1995, but he claims it was largely an accident." Michael Fox talks with him for SF360.

Dennis Cozzalio's "Professor Irwin Corey's Foremostly Authoritative Spring Break Movie Quiz" has already drawn dozens of comments.

"[A]s with all great films, it's not the story itself that matters in Climates," writes Charles Mudede. "[W]hat matters is the approach, the style, the telling - the colors of the clothes and skin, the arrangement of furniture in a room, the rhythm of the editing.... Climates is a portrait of the kind of life we must in the end admire and desire."

Also in the Stranger: Annie Wagner on The Namesake, "a perfectly subtle story that stiffens with each new visual gimmick," and Michael Atkinson on a sampling of video "elegies" by Alexander Sokurov, "one of the modern age's most restless and uncompromised cinematic powerhouses."

"If you question why Hollywood actors get involved in politics, Mike Farrell can give you a whole book full of very persuasive answers." Dean Kuipers talks with him about "his engaging new memoir, Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist." Also in the LA CityBeat: Andy Klein on Jodorowsky's El Topo and The Holy Mountain.

Kathy Brewis on Ingrid: A Personal Biography: "The director George Cukor told [author Charlotte] Chandler that Ingrid had 'a great sense of fantasy. Sometimes this works in her favor - in the films and on the stage. In real life, it may have been her undoing.'" Also in the London Times: Wendy Ide meets Andrew Bujalski (related: Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman on Funny Ha Ha) and Anil Sinanan with the latest from Bollywood.

Blume in Love "I'd forgotten how good it was. I'm being very honest with you. I was shocked at how good Kris Kristofferson was." John Clark talks with Paul Mazursky about Blume in Love for the San Francisco Chronicle. Via Movie City News.

The Gothamist interviews James Urbaniak.

Jens Balzer interviews Jung Ji-hoon (aka Rain) for the Berliner Zeitung - and signandsight translates.

Boyd van Hoeij talks with "European Shooting Star" Halina Reijn at european-films.net.

"Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar joined tens of thousands of people in a march through the Spanish capital on Saturday to protest the war in Iraq and to demand the closure of the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba." Ciaran Giles reports for the AP.

Jim Emerson posts a few passages from Luis Buñuel's My Last Sigh.

Cathleen Mcguigan profiles Vanessa Redgrave for Newsweek.

Spiegel Online has the full list of nominations for the German Film Awards. The Lolas will be handed out on May 4.

The AP: "Cate Blanchett is in negotiations to star opposite Harrison Ford in the long-awaited fourth installment of the Indiana Jones series, her publicist confirmed Saturday."

Jeremiah Kipp on all things Christopher Walken at the House Next Door.

"The 1975 'blaxploitation' action comedy Dolemite will get to fight another day," reports Carolyn Giardina for Reuters. "The title character - created by comedian-writer-producer Rudy Ray Moore - is an ex-con who joins forces with a squad of 'kung-fu fighting girls' and other allies as he tries to regain control of his nightclub. Moore will executive produce and might have a role in the remake."

Peter Bogdanovich makes an unflattering appearance at the Smoking Gun. Eriq Gardner has the story for Reuters. Thanks, Jerry!

Online reading tips. Zach Campbell collects a few.

Online fiddling around tip. "In 1983 and 1984, bpNichol used an Apple IIe computer and the Apple BASIC programming language to create First Screening, a suite of a dozen programmed, kinetic poems." Via wood s lot.

Online listening tip. Jason Solomon and "an illustrious panel" discuss the Observer Music Monthly's list of the "50 Greatest Soundtracks."

Online viewing tip #1. Alfred Hitchcock's The Working Class.

Online viewing tip #2. Can We Kiss?. Via Coudal Partners.

Online viewing tip #3. John Coulthart finds Moonlight in Glory.

Online viewing tip #4. Tom Sutpen at Bright Lights After Dark: "Gunvor Nelson's My Name is Oona emerged as one of the loveliest works in American cinema of the late 1960s (a time when you could use such terms as 'poetic' and 'cinema' in the same sentence and still maintain a straight face), and remains so to this minute."

Online viewing tip #5. Joao Ribas introduces Das Kleine Chaos (1967): "Rainer Werner Fassbinder's second 16mm short - made while still a theatre director in Munich - shows the young filmmaker clearly under the influence of the French nouvelle vague (complete with a poster of Juliette Greco), yet already hinting at the recurring themes of his mature work."

Online viewing tips. Thomas Groh watches Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Zizek. Right next to that last one: Zizek on how Hollywood wants you thinking about sex.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:18 PM

Fests and events, 3/19.

Sorry Wrong Number "[Barbara] Stanwyck is my favorite movie actress," writes Jim Emerson. "Ever." To back up: "If you are in Chicago the next few weeks, and you feel like taking in a weekend matinee, then you are fortunate indeed because the Music Box Theatre is presenting a centennial celebration of the toughest, sexiest, smartest, snappiest dame ever to sashay across a cinema screen."

The New Directors/ New Films series, presented by MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, runs March 21 through April 1, and Slant's previewed nearly every film on offer already.

"The official website for the 2007 edition of the Philadelphia Film Festival is now online and while I'm just beginning to dig through the program it's obvious that Danger After Dark programmer Travis Crawford has worked his usual magic," writes Todd at Twitch, where Peter Martin picks out highlights from the AFI Dallas lineup (Thursday through April 4).

The Diagonale Austrian Film Festival opens tonight in Graz and runs through March 25. Bénédicte Prot has an overview for Cineuropa.

For the Reeler, Elena Marinaccio previews the Fashion in Film Festival running at the Museum of the Moving Image through March 25.

Also: "Aspen-based filmmaker Wayne Ewing, whose [Hunter S] Thompson documentary Breakfast With Hunter premiered in 2003 (and whose making-of doc chronicling the author's literally explosive funeral, When I Die, debuted in late 2005), assembled another piece in 2006 around footage of Thompson's speeches on [Lisl] Auman's behalf at the Denver Capitol. Free Lisl: Fear and Loathing in Denver, also featuring interviews with a newly freed Auman and contrite observers from the Denver press, has its New York premiere tonight at Barbes as part of the Brooklyn Independent Cinema Series." ST VanAirsdale interviews Ewing.

Sujewa Ekanayake is putting together a "DIY Film Festival Project '07."

Tongues on Fire "With films such as Provoked, Water and Namesake, the Tongues on Fire film festival [through March 31] puts 'Asian women in a deciding position, to feature films that discuss the issues we need to talk about,' says the festival's co-founder and psychotherapist Dr Pushpinder Chowdhary," writes Sara Newman in the Independent. "After visiting the annual Tongues on Fire festival four years ago, Images of Black Women (IBW) film festival directors Sylviane Rano and Betty Sulty-Johnson decided to 'make something for us.' They have been showcasing the work of black women at an annual festival for the past three years, at the Tricycle cinema in Kilburn, north London."

For the Financial Times, James Ferguson tours The Air Is on Fire, open through May 27 in Paris:

[David] Lynch designed the whole exhibition himself. His bigger, more significant paintings hang in the glass-walled, ground-floor space, on steel frames draped in curtains. Down in the basement gallery his early short films are shown in a Lynch-designed mini cinema, next door to which he has built an expressionistic, plywood living room based on one of his tiny sketches. Loudspeakers emit Lynch sound - rumblings and drones composed with his long-time sonic collaborator Alan Splet. There is no curatorial information on the walls. This is a low key Lynchian atmosphere. He is in control.

Daniel Kasman: "Screening Log Aggregate: Abbas Kiarostami." Similarly (but also quite differently, of course), Girish.

Filmfest DC (April 19 through 29) unveils a few highlights of its lineup.

IFF Boston Hal Hartley's Fay Grim will open the Independent Film Festival of Boston (April 25 through 30). This 5th anniversary edition also sees news work from IFFBoston alumni such as Andy Blubaugh, Eric Chaiken, Steve Collins, Don Hertzfeldt, Ted Hope, Matthew Lessner, David Redmon, Josh Safdie, Joe Swanberg and Michael Tully.

In the New York Times, Keith Schneider considers the implications of work by the likes of Noah Kalina, Jonathan Keller and Ahree Lee, all represented in We Are All Photographers Now!, a project on view through May 20. Somewhat related: Robert Hughes in the Guardian on "fast art" vs "slow art," via Matthew Clayfield.

Matt Riviera reviews a batch of new Australian films that screened at the Adelaide Film Festival.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:55 AM

SXSW, 3/19.

I'll have notes of my own as soon as I conquer jet lag (hell, I might even catch up with the Berlinale), but for now...

Frownland "I sat on the Narrative Feature jury at SXSW last week. As you know, we gave the Grand Jury Prize to Itty Bitty Titty Committee, Jamie Babbit's riot grrl riff on Lizzie Borden's early 80s feminist indie classic, Born in Flames.... But many of the press reports failed to mention the two Special Jury Prizes we gave out, so I want to say a few of words about these films." Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay on Ry Russo-Young's Orphans and Ron Bronstein's Frownland.

More on that one, too, from Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog and Rumsey Taylor at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

Updated.

Among Paul Harrill's "final notes on my last day or so at SXSW": "I made it over to Eagle Pennell's The Whole Shootin' Match. With all due respect to Frownland, Hannah Takes the Stairs, Quiet City, and the Zellner / Duplass shorts program, this was my favorite film of the festival."

What's this, the makings of a backlash already? Sujewa Ekanayake gets into a conversation with other commentators on Anthony Kaufman's "New Ultra-Indie Movement" entry - and points to Lance Weiler's interview with Joe Swanberg (that's an online listening tip, by the way). Related: "[T]his year's SXSW should've been re-named South by South-Swanberg, in honor of the filmmaker and friends who dominated the entire festival," writes Mark Bell in Film Threat's wrap-up.

"The real strength in the SXSW film programming this year lies in the surprisingly quiet, personal moments of several of the films on the slate," writes Michael Lerman. "Whether it be a studio blockbuster like Reign Over Me or a two-day-shoot DV documentary like Silver Jew, [event producer Matt] Dentler and [production manager Jarod] Neece's program finds its strength in telling true-to-life stories." Also at indieWIRE, Brian Brooks on the happy melding of music and film in Austin.

At Cinematical:

Ils
  • Scott Weinberg finds the "ferocious French import" Them to be "a stripped-to-the-bone stalker thriller in which two unfortunate souls spend one hellacious night trying to evade something extraordinarily murderous." Also, The King of Kong: "I'm utterly amazed at how a few astute filmmakers can take a story so slight, so silly and so trivial... and turn it into a 90-minute documentary that's as fascinating as something that Ken Burns put together." (More from Rumsey Taylor at NCTATNY.) And: "Scott Glosserman's crazy, cool and undeniably clever Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is many things at once: a winning mockumentary, a legitimate horror film and a very sly deconstruction of the slasher genre." And: "Equal parts witty, warm and almost painfully nostalgic, The Lather Effect might not be as professionally-crafted as is The Big Chill, but the sentiments are the same - and the cast, while not as flashy, is just as strong."

  • Jette Kernion enjoyed the illustriously peopled "Panel of the Dead."

Kurt Cobain About a Son "affected me in a way I haven't quite grasped yet," writes David Lowery. "I feel like a missing part of my own life has been filled in for me." Also, quick takes on Zoo and The Unforeseen.

Related: AJ Schnack looks back on the experience of seeing his Cobain in the Paramount. Also, a closer look at a film he's still got serious problems with, Manufacturing Dissent.

Another online listening tip. Spout reviews the fest's highlights.

Time Out's Chris Tilly offers his takes on He Was a Quiet Man and 638 Ways to Kill Castro.

Tim Basham's got views on Knocked Up and Pretty in the Face.

Online viewing tips. Tamara Krinsky talks with Mike Mills about Does Your Soul Have a Cold? and with Morgan Spurlock about What Would Jesus Buy?. Also: David Boreanaz (Suffering Man's Charity) and Max Minghella and Blake Lively (Elvis and Anabelle).

Updates: "SXSW Film 2007 CliffsNotes" from Karina Longworth.

"Everywhere young hopefuls are walking to and fro, networking or performing." David Byrne in Austin.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:51 AM

I Think I Love My Wife.

I Think I Love My Wife I Think I Love My Wife "is a remake, at once free-handed and faithful, of Chloe in the Afternoon (1972), the sixth and last of Eric Rohmer's Moral Tales," notes AO Scott in the New York Times. "[Chris] Rock's affection for this source is evident in his careful restaging of some of its shots and scenes, even though Mr Rohmer's wry, ironical temperament could not be further from Mr Rock's candid, confrontational stand-up style.... In short, I Think I Love My Wife is smart and likable, which is lavish praise in a season whose comic offerings have included Music and Lyrics and Because I Said So. The success of this movie also suggests, refreshingly enough, that not every Hollywood remake of a French movie is necessarily a crime against taste."

Updated through 3/21.

"I must confess that when I heard about the project, I secretly hoped it would be a triumph just for the pleasure of watching cinema snobs foam at the mouth," writes JR Jones in the Chicago Reader. But Rock and screenwriting partner Louis CK's "crowd-pleasing gags are completely at odds with Rohmer's cagey moral comedy."

For Slate's Dana Stevens, "The most shocking thing about I Think I Love My Wife isn't the language, the sex, or the racial humor. It's the fact that it's not a funny movie. At all."

Kevin Crust, writing in the Los Angeles Times, calls Wife "Chris Rock's most mature effort, and the most dated.... It's not so much misogynistic as it resembles a fossil from another era."

"[T]he film comes to feel like a vehicle designed to let Rock first vent about balls-and-chains and their slutty, harpy inverses, and then be absolved of such nasty attitudes by an unearned Hollywood ending which proves that marital lovemaking and bliss can be yours if you nag enough, refuse to ravage gorgeous women in stilettos, and avoid changing anything about your egocentric self," writes Nick Schager at Slant.

"Funnily enough, the biggest problem with Rock's film is Rock himself - his direction, writing and acting all need work," writes Erik Davis at Cinematical. "Though he's appeared in almost twenty films, the man still hasn't learned the difference between delivering a line on stage and on screen."

Mike Russell: "There is no one in this movie to root for, and too few jokes to laugh at."

For the Stranger's Andrew Wright, this is "a bigger squandering of his talent than all of the prior Bad Companies, Dogmas, and Madagascars combined."

Vadim Rizov for the Reeler: "The film is technically incompetent (eye-line matches are off, the alleged comic highlights are slackly edited, etc.), but the sense of effort during the racial bits keeps it moving forward." Meanwhile, ST VanAirsdale talks with Rock.

Update, 3/21: "Funny how the drama Black Snake Moan starts with a black man explaining the blues, then transfers that paradigm to a white couple," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "Unfunny how comedian Chris Rock sets out to make a Negro-centric romantic comedy in I Think I Love My Wife but winds up with a movie that is mired in connubial misgivings and pledges routine allegiance to the banalities of white-centric romantic comedies."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:25 AM | Comments (1)

March 18, 2007

On Hong Sang-soo.

Turning Gate "I feel a need to emphasize that Hong [Sang-soo]'s films are not intended to represent the real world. They are conscious constructions," writes Adam Hartzell in an appreciation at the main site. "As he's said, 'I make films based on structures I thought up.' Still, the scenarios can surely be applied to our realities.... Hong's films are not pleasurable in the sense we feel good watching these characters fuck-up. They are pleasurable in the sense that they get us to mull over their missed opportunities."

A Hong Sang-soo retrospective is running at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival through March 25.

Update: Brian Darr on the retrospective and many other goings on in the Bay Area; plus a SFIAAFF preview.

Update, 3/22: Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly: "After screening to enormous acclaim at last year's Toronto and New York film festivals and tying for second place in the Best Undistributed Films category of the Weekly's recent film critics' poll, Woman on the Beach receives its belated local premiere as part of a day-long retrospective of Hong's work organized by the Korean Film Council and the USC School of Cinema-Television."

Posted by dwhudson at 10:04 AM | Comments (3)

Marilyn and RFK. Again.

Was Marilyn Murdered? "Marilyn Monroe may have been tricked into killing herself as part of a plot hatched with the knowledge of the former US attorney general, Robert Kennedy, according to a secret FBI file." Kathy Marks reports for the Independent, while Australian writer and film director Philippe Mora lays out the evidence for his argument in the Sydney Morning Herald: "The document [PDF], hidden among thousands of pages released under freedom-of-information laws last October, was received by the FBI on October 19, 1964 - two years after her death - and titled simply 'ROBERT F KENNEDY.'"

Updated through 3/19.

In an accompanying piece, Mora notes that the file is only part of "a torrent of information from a huge investigative body that was run by J Edgar Hoover, arguably the most powerful man in US history, with his long tenure as the guardian of America's secrets.

"Hoover was obsessed with the private life of celebrities, particularly those with leftist leanings. It appears the FBI was tracking Monroe closely from the Cold War mid-1950s until her death, from the period she met and married the playwright Arthur Miller, who was being watched as a possible communist."

And that indeed would be the more interesting story if it weren't for the gruesomeness of the supposed plot to "induce suicide" and the all-star cast of characters in on it.

Update, 3/19: "An Andy Warhol portrait of Marilyn Monroe is expected to fetch more than $15m (£7.7m) when it goes on sale at Christie's in New York in May." The BBC reports.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:43 AM | Comments (2)

Interview. DA Pennebaker. 2.

Monterey Pop "For [Monterey Pop], you have the emergence of two or three enormous talents that just defy description. You didn't have to go through the sociology of interviewing them to find out what their motivations were. The performance alone was enough.... [P]erhaps the form of the film was interesting for people. It's easy to watch. It's colorful and it moves fast but I think the fact is that most people go to it because of Hendrix or because of Janis or because of Otis."

The second part of Jonathan Marlow's interview with DA Pennebaker focuses on the concert films besides Don't Look Now and on the delightfully chaotic episode of his life that happens to star Jean-Luc Godard.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:11 AM

Stuart Rosenberg, 1927 - 2007.

Cool Hand Luke
Stuart Rosenberg, a prolific director of episodic television who is best known for directing the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke has died. He was 79....

Rosenberg began directing television episodes in the 1950s for such dramatic series as The Defenders, The Untouchables, Naked City, The Twilight Zone and Bus Stop. He racked up more than 300 TV directing credits and won an Emmy Award in 1963 for an episode of The Defenders. But after completing his first feature film - Cool Hand Luke - he never went back to the small screen.

Claire Noland in the Los Angeles Times.

Update, 3/19: Though he made "movies as diverse as The Laughing Policeman, Pocket Money, The Drowning Pool and The Pope of Greenwich Village," notes Joe Leydon, "Sometimes, all you need to do is make one movie to ensure your immortality."

Updates, 3/21: Dave Kehr in the New York Times.

Ronald Bergan in the Guardian: "Hollywood great Paul Newman, one of the screen's longest survivors, should know a thing or two about movies. The fact that he chose to star in four films directed by Stuart Rosenberg can only be a tribute to the director."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:49 AM | Comments (1)

Primer. Religion & Spirituality.

The Gospel According to St Matthew "Spiritual and/or religious themes permeate films of nearly all genres and budgetary means, either blatantly obvious or nestled elusively between the lines. But whether low-key comedy or bold, intellectual drama, many films with a mission ultimately fall into the spiritual or religious category, as each category bears its own characteristics."

Heather Johnson's "Religion & Spirituality in Film" is actually "two interwoven 'sub-primers.'"

Posted by dwhudson at 7:06 AM | Comments (1)

Brooklyn Rail. March 07.

Vengeance is Mine "Unlike most Japanese filmmakers more familiar in the West, Shohei Imamura was 'interested in the relationship of the lower part of the human body and the lower part of the social structure,'" writes David Wilentz in the March issue of the Brooklyn Rail. "Imamura focuses on the seemingly animalistic, often criminal lower strata of Japanese society without passing judgment, meticulously observing human nature for its own primal sake." The Brooklyn Academy of Music retrospective runs through March 29.

David N Meyer on Exterminating Angels: "Director Jean-Claude Brisseau pursues his deconstructivist-French-person-pondering-the-sexual-mysteries intellectual agenda straight-up. Unlike Catherine Breillat's explicit mega-downer Anatomy of Hell or her merely annoying Sex Is Comedy, Brisseau does not present his Big Questions interwoven into the drama. Here, they are the drama."

Karl O'Toole reviews Ken Loach's career and then finally gets around to The Wind That Shakes the Barley: "Graphic violence, Irish Republicanism, the British press all pissed off - how could I possibly dislike this film? Yet, Loach let me down."

"Daddy's Little Girls and Norbit both stretch the truth by presenting themselves as comedies," writes Tessa DeCarlo. "Tyler Perry's first non-drag film is actually a romantic drama, a love story with a serious side. And Eddie Murphy's multi-role drag extravaganza is not the least bit funny."

"Bridge To Terabithia will disturb more kids than it will uplift," writes Sarahjane Blum. "But, say I, fuck anyone who takes a kid to the movies to shut her up."

"As a pot-smoking, indignant 17-year-old he's credible, but [Kal] Penn made his name with the stoner hit Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle," writes Sara Mayeux. "The pleasant surprise of The Namesake is that Penn is equally believable as a yuppie architect."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:50 AM

March 17, 2007

NYT on online viewing.

Abbott and Costello and Tarr The present: "A screen is a screen is a screen - isn't it?" asks Manohla Dargis. "Certainly the idea of downloading sounds irresistible: you scroll through the delectable offerings - in the video store in my head, Abbott and Costello and Béla Tarr are both just clicks away - hit a few buttons, and voilà: cinema! The reality, as I recently discovered, is messier."

The Very Near Future: A "slew of gadgets, like the coming Apple TV, promise to erase the divide between the Internet and your home entertainment center by easily transporting a movie file sitting on the computer to the 52-inch plasma television in the living room, or magically giving the set Internet access," notes Noah Robischon. "If that transition becomes seamless, digital film distribution might just make celebrities out of a new crop of talented unknowns, just as the advent of home video in the 1980s jump-started the careers of filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh, Spike Lee and John Sayles."

Updated through 3/22.

The Hopefully Near Future: "Perhaps the most intriguing promise these [video-on-demand] sites hold, at least for those whose interest in film extends beyond the new, the recent and the aggressively hyped, is of a kind of virtual cinematheque," writes AO Scott. "It is now possible to imagine - to expect - that before too long the entire surviving history of movies will be open for browsing and sampling at the click of a mouse for a few PayPal dollars."

Update, 3/18: "There's a spirited conversation going over at Twitch about whether or not small companies now releasing cult films on DVD should shift to a 'download-to-burn' distribution model," notes Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker. "The conversation centers around genre and catalog titles, but it's applicable to our current independent cinema too."

Update, 3/21: Dave Kehr comments: "The digital library that Manohla dreams of, where she could log in and download anything from Abbott and Costello to Bela Tarr, does in fact already exist; unfortunately, it is largely illegal.... The situation reminds me of the 60s and 70s, when 16mm film collectors were effectively forced underground by the studios and the FBI. Then as now, it's dangerous to like movies too much."

Update, 3/22: Kristin comments at the SpoutBlog.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:44 PM | Comments (6)

March 15, 2007

Shorts, fests, etc, 3/15.

Me and You and Memento and Fargo David Bordwell notes that JJ Murphy's got excerpts from his book, Me and You and Memento and Fargo: How Independent Screenplays Work at his site: "JJ shows how they obey mainstream conventions of construction while still innovating in other ways. I especially like his discussions of Hartley's Trust, Korine's Gummo, and Lynch's Mulholland Dr. I think it's a book that everyone interested in current American cinema would find stimulating."

"My Twentieth Century could be described as a sort of Hungarian equivalent of Latin American 'magic realism," writes Steven Shaviro, "except - though this may be no more than what has to be the case, when Garcia Marquez's Columbia is exchanged for [Ildiko] Enyedi's Hungary, or when the novel as a medium is exchanged for film - that My Twentieth Century's fantasmagoria is altogether more spectral, more hauntological, than that with which we are so familiar from South American fiction. The ghosts of old Europe continue to stalk through the fabulous inventions of modernity, even as Enyedi makes what is perhaps the first post-Communist film by hearkening back to the pre-Communist world of the Austro-Hungarian Empire."

"Avant-garde cinema would be nothing without its visionary eccentrics, and Harry Smith (1923 - 1991) ranks high on both counts," writes Nathan Lee in the Voice.

Zach Campbell: "[S]eeing the early works (from the pre-Koker days) simply widens our eyes to Kiarostami's capabilities, his range, even as it simultaneously presents deeper burrowings into the obsessions, pathways, and tics of the AK oeuvre."

Film noir "holds that the force of the world is not only indifferent to, but obviously bigger than, the individual, which is why personal satisfaction, whether illegal or immoral, is the solution to the obligatory ride through an unavoidably brittle universe," argues Stanley Crouch in Slate. "Possessed of a shrewd aesthetic that was both meretricious and rebellious, film noir generously utilized sex and violence, firmly rooting itself in American culture."

Night and the City Eric Skillman for Criterion: "When I was designing the cover for Night and the City, I wanted to find a slightly different idiom to represent 'noir,' to get away from the pulpy, dime-novel look that's normally associated with that era and style. (Something I think illustrator Geoff Grandfield achieved brilliantly with his recent cover for Green for Danger, by the way.) I love that pulpy style on Raymond Chandler novels, but to me, most old film noir posters in that style pale in comparison to how artfully the films themselves are shot."

Acquarello: "Evoking the films of Carlos Saura in its allegorical portraits of culturally entrenched social and psychological landscapes (most notably, in The Hunt) coupled with Luis Buñuel's wry excoriation of the bourgeoisie, Mario Camus's The Holy Innocents presents a caustic and potent indictment of the inhumanity (and corruption) of privilege, class stratification, and marginalization."

"The most harrowing sequences show stone-faced pedestrians huddling in their overcoats as they step over frozen corpses littering the sidewalks." Stephen Holden on Blockade - and on Amateur Photographer.

Also in the New York Times:

  • "A documentary grab bag of film clips, diary readings and desultory narration, A Journey of Dmitry Shostakovich peeks at the politics of this controversial composer," writes Jeannette Catsoulis. "Yet absent any kind of narrative discipline, the movie is ultimately as ambiguous and impenetrable as its subject."

  • AO Scott on The Go Master: "Gorgeously shot, moving through the decades in a gentle adagio, it is less a chronicle than a tribute - and also, to non-initiates in the game of go, a bit of a puzzle."

  • Sharon Waxman: "A frayed relationship between the major studios and exhibitors, cost-cutting across the board and consolidation among the national theater chains has turned a promotional event for big-budget movies [ShoWest] into one that is not promoting very many big-budget movies." More from Leonard Klady at Movie City News.

  • Richard Severo remembers Betty Hutton. More from Glenn Kenny, James Urbaniak and, in the Guardian, Ronald Bergan; also: Remembering Peer Raben.

  • David Carr: "Under the New Times (now renamed Village Voice Media), The Voice, which has always been the home to permanent revolution, continues to flop from one crisis to another."

Song of the Exile Ann Hui "is something of a rarity among her generation of Hong Kong directors, which includes John Woo, Tsui Hark and Wong Kar-wai," writes AS Hamrah in the Boston Phoenix. "Although she sometimes work in the same genres they do, her films are contemplative where theirs are overwrought, nutty, or arty."

"When people decry the Western canon as being about dead white males, they're (partially) right," admits Jim Emerson. "But there are other canons that are even more exclusive, and most of the greats are... well, still great. We live in an age where we know there's a lot more to art, and art history, than the Western canon, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't value it as much as ever."

Keith Uhlich in Slant: "Winner of the 2006 Sundance Grand Jury Prize, Padre Nuestro unfortunately lives down to the dubious nature - with a few notable exceptions - of that so-called honor." Also, Robert Keser: "Neither the light-hearted bonbon it aspires to be nor a credible critique of celebrity culture, the trivialized Color Me Kubrick tastes more like a brackish lollipop, after which audiences may well crave a few hours with Full Metal Jacket to cleanse the palate."

"Two thousand and six may go down in history as The Year We Got Scared," writes Judith Lewis in a piece for the LA Weekly in a piece on Hollywood's newly found environmentalism that strikes a few chords Michael Cieply hit the other day in the NYT.

Also in the LAW: Ella Taylor on Beyond the Gates and David Cotner on El Topo and The Holy Mountain; and Luke Y Thompson talks with Nathan Baesel, director of Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. More on that one from Rob Humanick at Slant.

At european-films.net, Boyd van Hoeij talks with Saverio Costanzo about In Memory of Myself and "the themes and transformations that make this apparently religious tale really a story for and about everyone."

Michael Wood in the London Review of Books on The Lives of Others: "Wiesler does not find virtue or moral salvation; he finds, through the sheer patience and persistence of his spying, through the long, narrow act of abnegation that is his life, a form of humanity he can approach only vicariously, a world where the pleasures of 'being friendly,' in Brecht's phrase, do still exist against all the odds, and are not a mere mask or lure for corruption."

Vitor Pinto talks with François Ozon for Cineuropa.

"Don Cheadle has solidified five feature film projects that he'll produce and star in," reports Variety's Michael Fleming. "Among them is a biopic of jazz legend Miles Davis, on which he plans to make his feature directing debut."

Shadow Company Calum Waddell talks with Nick Bicanic about Shadow Company for Kamera.

In the Independent Weekly: Godfrey Cheshire on The Death of Mr Lazarescu.

Wiley Wiggins: "I can't stress enough how effective Hiroshi Segawa's photography is in this film, and what a call to see films like this in the cinema and not on television Woman in the Dunes is. I can hardly think of another movie that has so many layers of meaning that are communicated almost solely with visuals."

"With the box-office and artistic success of Pan's Labyrinth and Volver, there's probably no better time for the American Cinematheque to bring out its Recent Spanish Cinema XIII," writes Robert Abele in the Los Angeles Times. And on March 29: Bangkok (site); related: Jerry Lentz captures a winning moment.

Gary Arnold previews the Kenji Mizoguchi Masterworks series for the Washington Times.

Fun reading from Dennis Cozzalio: "The Best of Professor Jenning's Milton-Free Holiday Midterm."

Attention, screenwriters: Deadline for the free Fade In Central European Pitch Forum is May 15.

Online viewing tip. The trailer for Hubert Selby Jr: It/ll Be Better Tomorrow. Thanks, Jerry!

Online viewing tips, round 1. The Clive James Show at Slate.

Online viewing tips, round 2. ScreenGrab's list of the "Kinkiest Films Ever Made," parts 1 and 2.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:46 PM

The Wind That Shakes the Barley.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley Since it won the Palme d'Or in Cannes last May, Ken Loach's The Wind That Shakes the Barley has been slowly roaming the globe, market by market, and finally reaches the US. "In a way," writes the LA Weekly's Scott Foundas, the film "supplies the second half of a conversation started by Loach's excellent 1995 Spanish Civil War drama Land and Freedom, the greatest scene of which documented the residents of a village that had only recently been liberated from the Francoists having at each other over the pros and cons of land collectivization.... Like Jean-Pierre Melville's recently rediscovered Army of Shadows, The Wind That Shakes the Barley possesses the soul of an anti-war movie and the style of a thriller, with charcoal figures moving hurriedly against a darkened landscape periodically illuminated by bursts of gunfire."

Updated through 3/19.

"The off-the-cuff naturalism of Loach's technique proves something of a blessing here, blunting the impact of the film's brutality and giving it an intimate, human scale," finds Chris Wisniewski at indieWIRE.

But for the New York Press's Armond White, "This account of how Ireland's 1920 struggle for independence resulted in the Irish Free State (the controversial/compromised accord with the dominion of the British empire), isn't the masterpiece it's meant to be. Instead, it has Loach's master problems."

"At 124 minutes, the heartfelt drama comes across as pedantic and tedious," writes Marcy Dermansky. "Cillian Murphy, fortunately, is such a fine actor, that by the end, his presence accomplishes Loach's mission. He makes the film work."

Time's Richard Corliss: "Loach may not be a sockeroo filmmaker - I think he is a sufficient one in his slightly stodgy way - but he is manifestly a good and thoughtful man and The Wind That Shakes the Barley represents his gifts at something like their best. It is more than worth your while."

And the IMDb indexes dozens of further reviews.

Updates, 3/19: Karl O'Toole in the Brooklyn Rail: "Graphic violence, Irish Republicanism, the British press all pissed off - how could I possibly dislike this film? Yet, Loach let me down."

Barley "imagines history as entropy and dumb luck," writes Vadim Rizov for the Reeler, and "it's easily the best movie the subject has seen this side of the millennium, and viewers who feel bold enough to make their own mental cut of the wobbly ending by walking out early may be especially rewarded."

"The dean of British independent filmmakers, Loach has the gift of finding the intensely moving private emotions in broad, societal dilemmas," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "He does that with his fine new film, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, and he does a few new things as well."

Steve Erickson, writing at Nerve, finds the film "aspires to the revolutionary gravitas of Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers, but it plays like a weaker retread of Ken Loach's 1995 Spanish Civil War opus Land and Freedom."

Gary Dretzka talks with Murphy for Movie City News.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:51 PM

SFIAAFF, 3/15.

Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors The San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival opens today and runs through March 25, and Johnny Ray Huston has a damn good preview at SF360.

One highlight will be the retrospective of the works of Hong Sang-soo, whose "entire oeuvre seems like evidence of a repetition compulsion to tell variations of the same story," proposes Matt Sussman in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "It's a tale that goes something like this: an unexpected reunion between two middle-aged buddies gradually sours when old insecurities and jealousies are played out in a pathetic rivalry over a woman, resulting in innumerably consumed bottles of soju (real), some of the most spectacularly uncomfortable sex scenes ever committed to film (fake), and damaged egos all around."

Also in the SFBG:

Earlier: Michael Hawley at the Evening Class.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:09 PM

SXSW, 3/15.

Scott Walker: 30 Century Man PopMatters has been filing daily dispatches from SXSW since Tuesday, and will carry on covering SXSW Music right on through the weekend. Lots to catch up with. The Austin Chronicle's blog is now also slowly veering towards the music.

"Two of the best films at the 2007 South by Southwest Film Festival are movies about musicians, one of them the dead godhead of indie rock and the other an almost forgotten (but still living) pop legend. That certainly befits this festival in the self-professed live music capital of America." Salon's Andrew O'Hehir recommends Kurt Cobain About a Son and Scott Walker: 30 Century Man. Speaking of that first one, see the big, terrific SXSW recap with pix from AJ Schnack.

Updated.

Well-deserved praise for The Prisoner, or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair from Nick Schager at Slant.

Anthony Kaufman files a brief juror's report on the docs.

Karina Longworth quite likes Hannah Takes the Stairs but explains why she doesn't think it's "an unqualified success."

Quiet City IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez notes that "the so-called mumblecore group continues to grow. Along with Hannah, this year's SXSW included Dance Party USA director Aaron Katz's Quiet City, which co-stars [Joe] Swanberg as well as Orphans, directed by Ry Russo-Young who also acts in Hannah Takes the Stairs, and Ronald Bronstein's Frownland. 'More than anything,' [SXSW Film Festival and Conference Producer Matt] Dentler concluded, during the conversation with indieWIRE, 'They are small movies with no distinctive story driving them.' He sees them influenced by Maysles, Cassavetes and Rohmer. '[They are] slices of life in a way, almost inspired by cinema verite in a sense.'"

David Lowery offers "two capsule reviews and a handful of lazy comparisons." Too modest. See his takes on Orphans and Frownland.

Cinematical reviews: Scott Weinberg on Borderland, "a grim, gruesome and impressively well-mounted piece of genre filmmaking," James Rocchi on Reign Over Me and Jette Kernion on Smiley Face. Also: Erik Davis talks with Itty Bitty Titty Committee director Jamie Babbit.

At Twitch, Wells Dunbar surveys a slew of animated and experimental shorts.

More adventures with the Brothers Israel.

Time Out's Chris Tilly on Knocked Up.

Matt Dentler rounds up yet more coverage.

Online viewing tip #1. John Pierson talks about Manufacturing Dissent. Related: David Poland meets Michael Moore on the streets of New York.

Online viewing tip #2. Scott Kirsner talks about the future of indie filmmaking with Ry Russo-Young, Lance Weiler and Alison Willmore.

Online viewing tip #3. indieWIRE talks with Elvis and Annabelle director Will Geiger and actors Max Minghella and Blake Lively.

Update: Joe Leydon has gathered links to his reviews for Variety all in one handy entry.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:01 PM

March 14, 2007

On Ed Wood.

Ed Wood "Is Ed Wood the worst director who ever lived?" asks Sean Axmaker at the main site. "No director has become more famous, even beloved, for bargain basement sets, laughable special effects and surreal dialogue, to say nothing of the sheer weirdness of his stories: Grave robbers from outer space! Zombies calmed by the touch of angora!"

Posted by dwhudson at 7:54 PM | Comments (11)

Rendez-Vous. 12.

The Valet James Van Maanen files a final dispatch from the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series.

In his charming introduction to The Valet (La Doublure) and its director Francis Veber, the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Richard Pena reminded us of what the late New York Times drama critic Walter Kerr once said about a certain kind of French comedy - which reminded him of a funny watch. That is to say: the movement of the timepiece is so perfectly put together that, once wound, it sets you to laughing. Pena then introduced Veber, the dapper little man responsible for writing some 39 films, 11 of which he's also directed - one of these (Les Fugitifs) he wrote and directed again as an American remake (Three Fugitives, with Nick Nolte and Martin Short). He's also given us Le Jouet, La Chevre, Les Compères, Le Diner de Cons and Le Placard.

In his own brief introduction to his film, Veber kept returning again and again to how marvelously tall, beautiful and talented its leading lady, Alice Taglioni, is. He managed to mention the rest of the cast - including the likes of Daniel Auteuil, Kristin Scott Thomas, Richard Berry, Virginie Ledoyen, Michel Aumont and, in the title role, Gad Elmaleh - almost as an afterthought. Clearly, this Alice puts him in Wonderland. Once the film began, two things were almost immediately apparent: Miss Taglioni is indeed tall, beautiful and talented (she pretty much walks away with the movie) and, yes, this is another of those watches that makes you laugh. To carry the Pena/Kerr metaphor further, this watch, instead of having the usual metal plate covering its movement, has a transparent cover that allows you to observe quite clearly how the timepiece works.

I've enjoyed this novelty on occasion when viewing a watch, but as far as my movies are concerned, I prefer not having to see how all the gears mesh. And mesh, they do, perhaps most perfectly in the scene in which Scott-Thomas, as the wronged wife, makes an early morning call on the title character. The scene is short and sweet: click-click-click go those gears, and we laugh, even as our breath is taken away by the sheer, swift brilliance of the execution. After a while, though, we become a bit too cognizant of the machine itself. Which leaves us with the writing (okay to good) and the performances, most of which are relatively one-note yet played-well. Auteuil is frustrated, Scott-Thomas imperious, Aumont self-involved, Ledoyen sweetly confused, and moon-faced Elmaleh utterly passive. All of which puts the burden squarely on the shoulders of Taglioni, who single-handedly creates a new stereotype: the supermodel with a heart of gold (Naomi Campbell, are you taking notes?).

Foreign film aficionados here in the US may be familiar with Ms Taglioni's work in films such as Grande École, Sky Fighters (Les Chevaliers du Ciel) and Jet Lag (Decalage Horaire; if not, all three are available on DVD.) Here she is as stunning as ever, with the added fillip of seeming to be perhaps the only character possessing enough sense of herself and her place in the world (and this movie) to relax, kick back and have fun. She is marvelous, and I can fully understand why M Veber is so enamored.

Before The Valet began, audience members in the row behind me were having an interesting conversation about the series in general and in particular why a film such as this would be included, since the writer/director makes such "old-fashioned movies and this festival is supposed to be cutting edge" - to paraphrase the words of one of the gentlemen. Yet showcasing "cutting edge" is not the purpose of Rendez-Vous, which brings together, deliberately, a wide range of genres and styles to give New Yorkers a sense of what French filmmakers have been concerned with during the past 12 months or so.

How did this year's festival stack up against those of the past? Quite well, in my opinion, and I managed to catch all 17 films. As usual, there were many more positives than negatives - better than four to one, which is vastly superior to any experience I've had attending a similar number of movies playing in NYC at any given time. For me, the "find" of this fest was Zabou Brietman's The Man of My Life. Ms Brietman's ability to mesh style and content with such beauty and originality has left me panting to see this one again - and to share it with those I love - as soon as possible.

For mainstream romance and comedy, I Do!, The Valet and Ambitious certainly filled the bill. The theme of how parents and politics affect the lives of children found a lovely home in Blame It on Fidel, and the movie bio was well (if rather typically) served by La Vie en Rose, carried mainly on the shoulders of Marion Cotillard, who played Edith Piaf. The documentary field saw Anne Andreu's study, Humbert Balsan: Rebel Producer, while Countdown offered us Balsan's penultimate production; the former, I would not have wanted to miss (and may not have a chance to see again: another reason to hail the yearly Rendez-Vous series).

Two films about twins in a family or society threatening to spin out of control came from Philippe Lioret (Don't Worry, I'm Fine) and Jean-Marc Barr/Pascal Arnold (One to Another). Both had flaws but were well worth seeing. Less so, for me, was another story of raw-youth, badly-used: Murderers by Patrick Grandperret. As a study of character and métier, Xavier Gianolli's The Singer gave Gérard Depardieu and Cécile de France two wonderful roles, which both actors assumed with relish.

On the mystery front, Denis Dercourt's elegant The Page Turner and Guillaume Canet's hot, fast-paced Tell No One were both stunners. And if Benoît Jacquot's The Untouchable offered less than some of his past cinematic outings, for many of us in the audience, his star Isild Le Besco certainly made up for that. My least among these 17 films would be Bruno Dumont's Flanders (although my Greencine colleague David D'Arcy remains a fan, even after a second viewing!) and Christopher Honoré's Inside Paris, with its look at a Parisian family done with some style and a good cast but not enough believability to keep the whole thing grounded.

Nine of these movies have already been picked up for distribution: The Man of My Life, The Valet, Blame It on Fidel, La Vie en Rose, One to Another, The Page Turner, The Untouchable, Flanders and Inside Paris. I think this may be a record for Rendez-Vous; certainly it is very good news for French film buffs around the country.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:39 PM | Comments (8)

SXSW. Awards.

Billy the Kid "Films by women dominated the awards as the 2007 SXSW Film Festival hit its wet and rainy mid-point here in Austin, TX," report Eugene Hernandez and Brian Brooks for indieWIRE. "Jamie Babbit's narrative feature Itty Bitty Titty Committee [site] and Jennifer Venditti's documentary film Billy The Kid [site] won the top jury prizes at the festival, while in the audience award voting Monty Miranda's Skills Like This [site] won the narrative audience award, and Marlo Poras's Run Granny Run [site] won the documentary audience prize."

And of course, they've got the full list of award-winners.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:22 AM

March 13, 2007

Short shorts, fests and all, 3/13.

Kristin Thompson sees seven essential points in Neal Gabler's recent argument that the "movie magic is gone" - and refutes each one of them.

Tribeca

"In a shift from recent editions in which the Tribeca Film Festival expanded its lineup from year to year, TFF is tightening its roster for its sixth annual edition," reports indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez; the annotated Competition and Spotlight lineups follow. Look for word, too, on the Encounters and Midnight sections today.

Also: Erica Abeel's overview of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (related: Glenn Kenny) - and Abbas Kiarostami talks; Anthony Kaufman listens. Related: Deborah Solomon in the New York Times Magazine. Zach Campbell comments.

Also in the NYT:

Steven Bach: Leni

"Pop will eat itself as always, but even more scavenging these days might be the indie film, its audience thinned to near-nonexistence by small-screen fare," writes Rob Nelson. "Case in point: American Cannibal, a reality-style movie about the making of a reality show that was maybe almost aired." Also in the Voice, Nathan Lee on Premonition, "a B-level entry in the cracked-continuity genre, with a winningly humble, workmanlike vibe," J Hoberman on the Museum of the Moving Image's three-weekend Fashion in Film Festival and Jim Ridley: "History written not in lightning but in shivery, flickering nitrate, Blockade brings to mind the old saw that movies about the past are essentially science fiction."

Time Out's Chris Tilly offers a few first impressions of a handful of docs at SXSW, while, at Cinematical, Jette Kernion reviews Manufacturing Dissent.

Jonathan Rosenbaum sends word from the Mar del Plata Film Festival in Argentina.

Jason Sperb, "Specters of Baudrillard (via Hulk)," Dr Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope. Related: "It is a commonplace that science fiction reveals more about the time it was written than it tells us about the future," writes k-punk. "But Baudrillard's self-styled science-fiction-theory - which drew upon the theoretical fictions of Ballard and Dick - actually did foretell the future, which is our present."

The Lives of Others "resurrects East Germany and especially East Berlin, an urban landscape I knew well," writes Neal Ascherson, the Observer's correspondent in Germany in the 60s. Related: Writing in Slate, Anne Applebaum finds that Lives "belongs in that line of filmed dramas that have been powerful enough to force whole nations to discuss painful episodes in their histories.... Odd though it sounds, one of the first to have that kind of impact was the American miniseries Roots, whose 30th anniversary is fast approaching."

Signandsight translates Fritz Göttler's Süddeutsche Zeitung piece on Volker Schlöndorff's Strajk: The Heroes of Gdansk.

Michael Guillén surveys the San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art film series, Fidelity and Betrayal: Variations on the Remake (through April 22) at the Evening Class, where Michael Hawley previews the San Francisco International Asian-American Film Festival (Thursday through March 25).

Robert Avila talks with the team behind An Unreasonable Man for SF360, where Miljenko Skoknic takes a look at "phase III of the Cinequest distribution label [which gives] films that play the festival life after initial exhibition."

Robert W Welkos offers a brief history of Premiere in the Los Angeles Times.

Also: Daniel J Vargas on the evolution of a company "which represents former (and mostly Latino) gang-bangers in Hollywood"; Dennis Lim on Ed Wood; Mary McNamara profiles Danny Glover; Rachel Abramovitz, Cillian Murphy. Related: Robert Cashill, Scott Foundas in the Voice and, in the New Yorker, David Denby on The Wind That Shakes the Barley.

Stanley Kauffmann, writing in the New Republic, finds David Mamet's Bambi vs Godzilla "disappointing, amazingly so."

Peter Keough previews the spring season for the Boston Phoenix.

Doug Cummings: "One of the best DVD extras I've seen recently is included with the Criterion Collection's Mouchette DVD, Theodor Kotulla's 30-minute Au hasard Bresson, but maybe that's because it's a real documentary (that won a German Lola) and not a 'featurette.'"

Ray Young, The Bridesmaid, Flickhead.

The Informer The Self-Styled Siren redeems John Ford's The Informer.

Girish returns from New York with "a few bullet-thoughts on [Shohei] Imamura's Pigs and Battleships."

Matt Riviera on Jia Zhangke's Still Life, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's Invisible Waves, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century and Hong Sang-soo's Woman on the Beach.

Sun-Yi Park at Twitch on Takashi Miike's Imprint, "an unmitigated train wreck."

At Koreanfilm.org, Kyu Hyun Kim reviews Choi Dong-hoon's Tazza.

The Siffbloggers are taking in the Essential Art House: 50 Years of Janus Films series at SIFF Cinema.

300 has Tom Geoghegan and Matthew Yglesias reflecting on Spartans and all that in the American Prospect.

Daniel Garrett, The Last King of Scotland, the Compulsive Reader.

Joanne Laurier at the WSWS on Black Snake Moan and Zodiac.

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw on why Bowie was "absolutely right" as Warhol in Basquiat.

Andrew Roberts in the Independent on rock in the movies.

Betty Hutton "She may have faded from the pop culture landscape except for film buffs such as myself," writes Edward Copeland, "but [Betty] Hutton certainly deserves salute and remembrance. From her great work in my favorite Preston Sturges's comedy, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, to her fun turn in The Perils of Pauline, Hutton was a spunky powerhouse of a presence." More from That Little Round-Headed Boy.

Online viewing tips, round 1. From Filmmaker, Durier Ryan points to Josh Tyler's terrific report on Robert Rodriguez's Grindhouse presentation at SXSW - clips galore.

Online viewing tips, round 2. Art Daily adds a sidebar of semi-related videos to its report on Moving Pictures: American Art and Early Film, at the Phillips Collection through May 20.

Online viewing tips, round 3. Darren Aronofsky's spots for the Montana Meth Project. Thanks, Jamie!

Posted by dwhudson at 12:38 PM | Comments (1)

Interview. John Borowski.

"John Borowski's Albert Fish [site] starts with the New York cityscape. The camera moves in and the Big Apple circa 1920 jumps to life: city sights and sounds are intercut at an increasingly frenzied pace. In the midst of this societal jumble is Albert Fish, serial killer and cannibal."

Albert Fish

Chris Wiggum introduces his talk with Borowski at the main site.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:31 AM

SXSW, 3/13.

Notes on a batch of films and a couple of panels are forthcoming, but for now, a few pointers...

Hannah Takes the Stairs Anthony Kaufman gives voice to what many of us are thinking out loud this year: "SXSW has found its narrative niche: as a launchpad for the new lo-fi truly American indie, embodied by the likes of Joe Swanberg, Andrew Bujalski and the Duplass brothers - all of whom are represented in one way or another at the fest. They are the hippest filmmaking posse in town."

"Opening weekend at SXSW 2007 has been a cheerful and eclectic mixture of semimajor premieres and utterly unknown films, some of which may never play anywhere else." Among the films and events Salon's Andrew O'Hehir has caught so far: The Lookout, Manufacturing Dissent and Robert Rodriguez's Grindhouse presentation.

The Austin Chronicle is blogging the festival. Massively.

Having already interviewed practically every director with a film at SXSW, Hollywood Bitchslap shifts into diary mode.

Not Coming to a Theater Near You is actually right here in Austin. So's Paul Harrill. So's Reel Distraction. So's Scott Kirsner. So's Alison Willmore, representing the IFC News team.

Cinematical reviews: Scott Weinberg on Disturbia and Diggers; James Rocchi on Monkey Warfare, Confessions of a Superhero and The Lookout. More on that one from Time Out's Chris Tilly.

Film Threat's Mark Bell talks with Kurt Cobain About a Son producer Michael Azerrad, director AJ Schnack and co-composer Steve Fisk.

IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez and Brian Brooks have news of Morgan Spurlock and What Would Jesus Buy?; Manufacturing Dissent; Dan Rather; Richard Linklater's talk; and Scott Frank's The Lookout.

Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay has been attending panels.

At Docs That Inspire, Joel Heller is anticipating a slew of films and panels.

Online viewing tip #1. David Poland. Your choice of formats.

Online viewing tip #2. Chuck Olsen: "Good Times @ SXSW."

Online viewing tips. SpoutBlog is interviewing "People at SXSW."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:15 AM

March 12, 2007

Rendez-Vous. 11.

Murderers James Van Maanen on two more films that have screened at the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series.

From Butterfly Kiss to Baise Moi, road pix featuring femmes who are extremely fatale have become a near-staple, surfacing every so often to satiate the male appetite for sex and violence (and of course, elicit the usual nod to "female empowerment," which I should think drives a lot of true feminists nearly over the brink). Murderers [Meurtrières; site], the new film of this ilk written (with some help from one of his cast members) and directed by Patrick Grandperret is much less violent and overtly sexual than others in the genre, and this is probably why, so far, it has no US distribution deal. But, due to Grandperret's organization of the material, it is every bit (or more) as creepy as any of its counterparts in the genre.

The director elects to begin almost at the end, with what surely looks like something bloody having been committed. He then backtracks a distance so we learn about the two young women involved. During the Q&A following the screening, we also learned that this project was once in the hands of Maurice Pialat, who made several attempts at it. After his death, his widow Sylvie turned it over to Grandperret, who had worked for Pialat early on. That the two men had rather different viewpoints and philosophies seems rather apparent, especially after listening to the director talk at length about his film. He has no interest in and does not even care to watch movies about killers. Why then, some of us in the audience wondered aloud, did he occupy himself with this film? "Because these women are not murderers," he insisted. "They are just normal young girls to whom bad things happen." (I am paraphrasing here but this is close to the gist of what was said).

Normal? I think Grandperret must live in some alternate universe, as these two seem, at best, saddled with a plethora of severe problems and, as the film moves along, utterly sociopathic. They're complete "users." But then so is almost everyone in this story, save the boyfriend of the older girl, a motorcyclist (played by the director's son) and the woman (at the film's beginning/end) who tries to help. After listening to the director speak at length, I thought again about the movie, going over scenes and details from his stated viewpoint. Sorry: If these are normal girls and the society we see is typical of France today, then that country is in worse shape than America. Say it isn't so, M Grandperret!

The cast does its best and succeeds at least in making us believe the characters, even if we don't care much for them. As the two leads, Hande Kodja and Céline Sallette are properly troubled, scary and pretty - which is pretty much the standard requirement for any film in which femme fatales take to the road.

I Do! Dark movies like Murderers demand a degree of reality that light-as-air French soufflés such as I Do! (Prête-moi ta main) are allowed to bypass. Unfair as this may be, our need for happy endings is so great (don't they just underscore the religion that tells us, "god's in his heaven and all's right with the world"?) that romantic comedies will time and again trump attempts at presenting "reality." However, when the rom-com is a good as I Do!, this is perfectly acceptable by me. Directed by Eric Lartigau, with screenplay by Philippe Mechelen from an idea by co-star Alain Chabat, the film became one of the most successful at the French box-office in 2006. (Unlike Rendez-Vous's closing night attraction, The Valet, it is also just quirky enough to offer some genuine surprises and honest feelings as it wends its way toward its foregone conclusion. More on The Valet soon.)

During the Q&A, Lartigau explained that he planned from the beginning to cast its three wonderful lead actors, who, together with the lovely and funny story, pretty much ensure this movie's success. Charlotte Gainsbourg just keeps getting better and better, which one would not think possible, after her good work in The Cement Garden, Grosse fatigue, Jane Eyre, La Buche, My Wife Is an Actress/Happily Ever After, Lemming and The Science of Sleep. But it is possible, and she does. Alain Chabat proves a delightful foil for Gainsbourg, and Bernadette Lafont - who has now made 160 appearances, including appearances in landmarks such as Chabrol's Le Beau Serge and Les Bonnes Femmes and Truffaut's Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me - completes this talented trio. The enormous supporting cast is well-chosen, too, and Lartigau manages to produce a kind of wonderfully contained chaos in his scenes with the Chabat character's extended family, moving his camera and our attention from face to face, incident to incident, with friskiness, verve and impeccable timing.

When asked if his film had been picked up for US distribution, Lartigau said no, but that rights were being negotiated for a US remake. This provoked a very negative response from the audience, which seemed to surprise the director - until the Lincoln Center Film Society host explained that audiences at the Walter Reade Theatre usually prefer the original to an American remake. I suppose we should leave the door open to the possibility that an American remake might be good, but what a shame that foreign film buffs will not be able to experience the warm delights of the original. And, within the confines of the genre, I Do! is indeed an original.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:58 AM | Comments (2)

March 11, 2007

A squint of Sunshine.

From Fraser Lewry.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:35 PM

Miami Dispatch.

Miami International Film Festival David D'Arcy sends word on half a dozen films from the new Latin America.

The Miami International Film Festival went into the home stretch this past week with its selection of Latin American cinema, just as George W Bush toured Latin America with the message that his administration cares about the poor of that region. No surprise that his nemesis, Hugo Chavez, took to the airwaves to mock the man who cut the taxes of the very wealthy and sent the children of the poor to fight his war in Iraq.

Update, 3/12.

Satanas In Satanás, which saw its world premiere at the MIFF, Andres Baiz builds a drama around the kind of mass killing that you usually read about happening in America. An English tutor, solitary and single, loses his temper and ends up shooting his mother and the patrons of a restaurant. He then heads over to the home of his prize pupil, where he kills the young student and her mother - the revenge of the indignant inconspicuous man. All this actually happened in Bogota some years ago - in fact, the man actually killed more people than in the film - and Baiz, a NYU graduate, made his first feature as an adaptation of a non-fiction study of the case. I was particularly interested in the film as an opportunity to see what can still shock Colombians today (besides a visit from Bush, which seems to be truly shocking, if the TV coverage from Bogota is any indication.) After all, this is the country with what is said to be the world's highest murder rate and all too regular brutality in the drug trade and a long insurgency that has taken many thousands of lives. Oddly, there are no drugs here, no political alignments, just stories that could easily happen anywhere.

Baiz interweaves the story of the priggish murderer Eliseo (played by the Mexican actor Damián Alcázar) into other subplots. One involves a young girl who escapes life as a peddler in the market by signing on as a flirt who drugs men in bars so her bosses can rob them. She gives up the job after she's raped by a taxi driver and his mechanic friend, in another scene that's meant to shock. I'll have to ask the director why we don't see the scene in which the two rapists are murdered in revenge. Another story line follows a priest who loses his struggle to stay chaste, with his young servant. Believe it or not, she's a girl. Bear in mind that this is the director's first feature. Let's just say that Baiz has a long way to go before he gets to Hollywood, which he says is a goal.

Fish Dreams One film that I particularly liked was Fish Dreams a story set in Brazil by a Russian director, Kirill Mikhanovsky, who lives in the US. Once again, it's trouble in paradise, if you're foolish enough to call it that. In a town where men fish from their boats for lobsters that bring nickels and dimes, and no one seems to have a real job, young Jusce barely makes a living. He has eyes for the pretty Ana, who tends to her child and lives with the rest of her family, mostly in front of the soap operas that air endlessly on the TV set. The television works, but that's about all that does in this backwater, where fisherman are told that hunting for lobster will be banned for environmental reasons. Ana's an old friend of Jusce's, but the romance doesn't fire up until another old friend and rival arrives from the city with a jeep - great girl-bait in this tiny town - and eventually Jusce and Ana find their own odd escape.

Mikhanovsky has an eye for the blend of beauty and hardship on the Brazilian coast, and for the nuances of his characters, who look great in close-ups. Let's hope that Fish Dreams gets some attention.

Paraguayan Hammock One film that's already gotten some attention is Paraguayan Hammock, by Paz Encina, which premiered at Cannes last spring. I was warned away from this film by people who told me that it was nothing more than a single shot of two elderly farmers in a hammock in what looks like a clearing in a forest, with a voice-over in the indigenous Guarani language in which they speak of their son who has left for war. Obviously, the film is much more than that - a meditation on time, memory, hope and disillusion. As the film has made its way through the major festivals, critics have tended to see it as a metaphor for Paraguay, the poor landlocked country that is waiting for its destiny, which is denied. It's also about ordinary people (who could be from any country) being asked to give up their first-born for a distant war. Paz Encina has done something remarkable here, making a film about characters waiting for rain in a drought whose lives don't conform to the impatience of today's film storytelling. Of course, people accustomed to the boiler-plate approach to filmmaking won't find this familiar.

Another triumph in Miami was El Violin, which I saw in the Dominican Republic in November. Read what I wrote about it then here.

Drained Brazilians seem proud of the understated Drained by Heitor Dhalia, which won the top prize at Sao Paolo. It's the closest thing to a Czech film that I've seen outside the Czech Republi. An unassuming pawnbroker (with all sorts of sexual demons inside) takes frequent breaks from entertaining odd clients at his business to stare at the perfect derriere of a waitress in a café down the block. All the while, a foul smell wafts through his office, and there's a Kafka-esque determination that our poor hero is responsible for it. His engagement to a plain girl collapses as the waitress's body becomes the sole preoccupation for this man who has seen everything come into his pawnshop. Watching him watch the waitress from behind, you can't help but think of Jan Svankmajer (whose surrealism is never equaled by Drained), or of the silly strain of Czech films epitomized by I Served the King of England by Jirí Menzel, which played at Berlin this year. Like the gentle obsessions of magic realism-lite, this one's effect will blow away as soon as the credits roll.

Choking Man Latin America these days includes much of the United States - not just Miami, but also New York, which is where the independent film Choking Man [site] is set. It's not Manhattan, but Jamaica, Queens, or someplace near there, a location in the borough where many immigrants to the city tend to live, and tend to be invisible to the New York Times unless their house burns down. Most of the action in Steve Barron's film takes place at the Olympic Diner, where Amy (Eugenia Yuan), a new Chinese waitress, meets painfully shy Jorge (Octavio Gómez), a dishwasher from Ecuador. They don't fall in love, which is the only thing that's not predictable in this film which was well-received at its Tribeca premiere last year. Jorge, who can barely say his own name, is taunted by his co-workers in the kitchen and by his roommate. Kitchen workers spill out their anxieties or just perform for attention. In Sundance-style quirkiness, customers are strange enough to give the place a dreamy quality. Yet when a man chokes on his food, Jorge is there. That said, the film is elegantly shot by Antoine Vivas Denisov. See it just for that.


Update, 3/12: At indieWIRE, Eugene Hernandez reports on the award-winners and the new festival director.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:15 PM

Rendez-Vous. 10.

L'intouchable Two more takes from James Van Maanen at the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series.

We often applaud artists who begin in medias res; if so, Benoît Jacquot gets a huge hand for beginning his new film literally in the middle of a slap in the face. A first, I think. While this is another of Jacquot's sloppy trifles, The Untouchable (L'intouchable) is nonetheless quite watchable, if only for the stunning, gorgeous and statuesque Isild Le Besco, who appears is in every scene (if not nearly every frame) of this slight though interesting and quite unbelievable film. I use the word "sloppy" not so much to mean "shoddy" or "poor," but rather "careless" and "slapdash." I have my doubt as to whether M Jacquot actually pays all that much attention to what he does visually with a film like this, or with Adolphe, another of his sloppy trifles from 2002.

In his latest to reach our shores, a semi documentary-style look at a young woman who, after discovering that her father (whom she's never met) is from India, treks off to the sub-continent to find him. Once there, in all the crowd scenes, those crowds keep staring at the camera (rather than at Le Besco, which would at least make some sense, given her appearance, so strikingly different from the indigenous population). But Jacquot seems to neither notice nor to care. During the Q&A for Adolphe, held at Rendez-Vous some years ago, I asked the director about a scene midway through the film shot in a bright yellow-orange room that was completely different, color-wise from any other visual in the entire movie. He didn't recall the scene, the room or the color - which shocked the hell out of me. Are sets and colors simply of no concern to him? Well, okay.

All this interests me because I hold this filmmaker in very high esteem when it comes to movies such as Sade, Pas de Scandale or his splendid adaptation of Marivaux's The False Servant. I would hazard a guess that when Jacquot has an intelligent script at hand, one full of ideas and provocations, there is no stopping him. But in between these rarer movies, we must content ourselves with little "exercises" like The Untouchable, which is not necessarily difficult to do, particularly when they star Ms Le Besco, whom I could watch till the cows come home (and probably will, if Jacquot keeps up his current usage of this quite wonderful young actress from Girls Can't Swim, A Tout de Suite and Wild Camp). Strand is releasing this one, so you'll be able to watch, and weigh in, at a later date.

Don't Worry, I'm Fine To encounter two French films, one day after the other, that deal with a sister whose twin brother has disappeared and the lack of family communication that this disappearance unearths, is unusual. Given this unlikely happenstance, Don't Worry, I'm Fine (Je vais bien ne t'en fais pas) could not be more different from yesterday's One to Another. The latter is full of nudity and sexual provocation, the former concentrates on family guilt and the nuances of character. Both are worth seeing, despite differing flaws.

As fine as the performances are, as well as the direction by Philippe Lioret (from Olivier Adam's novel and adaptation), Don't Worry, I'm Fine suffers most from a problem of believability, which only grows larger when one starts giving the movie a second thought. Should you be able to see it (currently it has no US distributor), I don't want to disrupt your pleasure by giving anything way. But I doubt you will remain unaware of the several coincidences that begin to pile up toward the conclusion. You may be so won over by the fine job the entire cast has done that you may also be able, as I was, to look past the plotting and the one doozy of a major fact withheld - not only from the heroine but evidently from the entire town.

In the Q&A, director Lioret tried to explain away this believability problem by saying there are examples of this or that or the other thing from real life. No doubt true, but putting these all together into a single film does finally defy belief. And while the audience, myself included, took great pleasure in the movie, many of us were also not buying into it on every level.

We were, however, buying into the acting. Two of the performers, Mélanie Laurent (Days of Glory, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, The Last Day, Embrassez Qui Vous Voudrais) and Kad Merad (The Chorus) - both won deserved Cesars this past year. Equally fine is Isabelle Renauld as mom and even better is Julien Boisellier as the best friend's boyfriend who becomes a major help to the protagonist. Though he's in perfectly fine shape, Boisellier is not the most gorgeous young actor of our time, nor does he have the best body or hugely recognizable or memorable features. Yet every time I have seen him (as the would-be lover in Clara et moi, the vampire hubby in Bloody Mallory, and best of all, the dream "date" of J'me sens pas belle), he's perfect - and different. Here, he makes kindness, vulnerability and decency as sexy and vital as those other macho traits seen in today's action heroes, and he does it in all in a quiet, unassuming manner that belies the accomplishment. Which may account for why Boisellier is not a bigger star. As the French might say, tant pis pour nous.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:13 PM | Comments (3)

March 10, 2007

Austin Dispatch. 2.

Slacker The biggest laugh from the SRO crowd following John Pierson's conversation with Richard Linklater this afternoon came after the author of Spike, Mike, Slackers and Dykes pulled out a letter from an aspiring filmmaker written to him around 1990 or so. Slacker, the young Linklater suggested, might be aimed at a niche described in an enclosed Time magazine article profiling an aimless generation of 20-somethings who not only might identify with the characters but also happened to be a rather cinema-savvy bunch. This was an audience that actually read about movies before they went to see them.

Linklater, now 46, listened stoically and then remarked that so often, when one's confronted with such evidence of youth and naivete, deep cringes of embarrassment are the only possible reaction. But not this time. Listening to the letter, his immediate reaction is, "You know: that guy's on it."

Of course, he also admits to being very lucky as to what immediately followed the film: Douglas Coupland's Generation X, Nirvana and so on, events that would both shape and define 90s-era culture in such a way that Slacker can now, in retrospect, only be seen as one of a very few essential ur-texts of the decade.

At the time, though, it certainly wasn't perceived as a cultural milestone. Pierson roused more laughs with an Austin Chronicle letter to the editor complaining that the characters of the film were contributing nothing to the world or to the city of Austin and were not deserving of screen time in a film that, at any rate, isn't about anything - "underlined twice."

When Pierson asked Linklater about three of the greatest and three of the worst moments in his career, one from each category, it turns out, was experienced during the making of Slacker and the struggle to get it seen. Hardly a surprise, given that this was his first feature and the emotional ups and downs would only be intensified by the make-or-break stakes. The good moment: Credit cards maxed out, bank account emptied, the works, he thought he'd have to stop production indefinitely when a letter plopped in from German broadcaster WDR: it contained a check for $35,000 - enough to complete the film.

Oddly, there's a German angle to the worst Slacker moment as well. Once the film was complete, he took it to the Market at the Berlin film festival. Four people showed up at the screening. Three were friends. The stranger wandered out before the film was over. But of course, ultimately, thanks in no small part to Pierson, Slacker did find a distributor, the bunch that would eventually become Sony Classics.

As for other highs and lows, the highs are mostly experienced during production. Cramped in a car, shooting Before Sunset, for example, his camera trained on Julie Delpy and taking in that moment just before tears when all the preparation, the logistics, the scheduling comes together and the film catches fire. Of all the five or so phases of filmmaking, in fact, rehearsal and production are Linklater's favorites. Writing is "kinda lonely." He loves getting a cast together and for those first rehearsals: "That's when the magic starts happening."

Production is "where it really comes alive. I've always approached it like a process." He cites the examples of Godard and other French New Wave filmmakers for whom, he says, a day on the set is like any other day in your life. His first couple of features, and all of his shorts, have been made in this spirit. But once there's money involved, there's also the "clamp-down of efficiency." Nothing in "the system really cared about the art." You'd think that by giving the writer/director what he wants, he notes, a better film might result. Instead, producers and such tend to make things difficult.

Every day on the shoot of Fast Food Nation, he kept thinking: 10 or 12 years ago, "this movie would have just melted me." The ambitions were "so much bigger than our budget." Confidence, he says, is using experience to accomplish what you've done before. At the same time, though he thought test screenings of FFN went well, the studio sensed and indifference he wasn't picking up on. For one thing, commented one suit, "You don't give them anything." Too many fates in the film are too devastating.

Over the years, Linklater's learned not to expect much. "Just be glad film is made and available on DVD. Ultimately, it's a total crap shoot."

Odds and ends:

  • His two favorite films of 2006: The Lives of Others and Pan's Labyrinth. When it came to the Oscars, "I didn't even know which one I wanted to win."

  • Warners promises it'll "out-Criterion Criterion" with its DVD for SubUrbia.

  • The feature-length documentary he's making for ESPN is "really a portrait" of the head coach of the University of Texas baseball team. "Remind me never to do another documentary. It's just so much work, so much editing." Now he knows why it takes some of his friends five years to complete a documentary.

  • Like David Lynch, he can't see himself going back to film.

  • Linklater's currently writing a narrative feature based on his freshman year. The elevator pitch: Dazed and Confused Goes to College.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:35 PM | Comments (9)

Rendez-Vous. 9.

James Van Maanen on two more from the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series.

One to Another Jean-Marc Barr impresses me as a bit of a transgressive, a fellow who enjoys tearing down borders, particularly where sexuality is concerned. I may be unfairly allowing my perception of his character in films such as Don't Let Me Die on a Sunday and Cote d'Azur to rub off on his person. But after seeing One to Another (Chacun sa nuit; site) at Rendez-Vous, which Barr co-directed with Pascal Arnold, and hearing him speak at the Q&A following this film, I suspect this is true.

One to Another was inspired by a murder of a young man in the western countryside of France some years back. Although justice was done in terms of anyone involved in the killing being brought to trial, no motive was ever uncovered. It's the motive - and how this expands to encompass the victim, his friends, family, community and country - that concerns the filmmakers.  (It certainly concerned the audience, several members of which came up to me to discuss this, post-screening.)

The victim here is also a transgressive. He uses his sexuality to revolt (against exactly what, we don't know: perhaps it's simply that adolescent need), and he uses it on family, friends, males, females, for fun, profit, power and (being French) philosophizing. Arnold and Barr have assembled a cast of extremely attractive young performers, all of whom appear unclothed a good portion of the time. (The only face/body I recognized was that of Pierre Perrier, who graced last year's Cold Showers at Rendez-Vous). These kids behave quite naturally under circumstances that, finally, make them all seem very strange indeed. And they handle dialog that, were this not taking place in France, among the bourgeoisie, I might have had even more trouble accepting as real.

The film dances back and forth in time (which most frequent film-goers should be used to by now) as the dark plot pushes ahead, taking us from skinheads to orgies, incest and betrayal. Though the film is never less than engrossing (and extremely easy to watch, given the display of youthful flesh on view), I finally question its obviousness. Barr told the audience that he and Arnold did not want to explain things to viewers, but rather force us to wrestle with the question of motive ourselves. Yet from the way in which the filmmakers tell the story, I think no alert viewer will be able to take any other view except the one the moviemakers have fashioned, whether they be cognizant of this, or not. (I also don't know whether the sexual escapades on view were indigenous to the real characters or created for the movie by the filmmakers.) While I see the lead character/victim as a troubled provocateur whose actions finally cause havoc, from pieces of what Barr said, I think he sees his hero/victim as a kind of liberating force who might lead us into a new age of pan sexuality, if only we could follow him. Easier said than done, as this movie most assuredly - and unsettlingly - proves. The film is set for distribution by Red Envelope. I will certainly watch it again, once it has made a transfer to DVD.

Blame it on Fidel The most recent film of which Julie Gavras's Blame It on Fidel (La Faute à Fidel, (adapted by Gavras and Arnaud Cathrine from Domitilla Calamai's novel; site) reminds me is the lovely Italian movie by Paolo Virzi, Caterina in the Big City. The father in both films is quite different, but the sense of how politics, economics, school and community - not to mention parents - help direct a child's life is equally important to each film. In Blame It on Fidel, the pleasantly well-off bourgeois parents, very well-played by Italy's Stefano Accorsi (The Last Kiss) and Julie Depardieu (Le Petite Lili), make a sudden but quite understandable turn toward the left, which prompts their older child Anna (a knockout first performance from Nina Kervel-Bey) to grow angry at the loss of a nice home, social standing, and her much-loved, right-wing nanny - not to mention the disapproval of her equally conservative grandparents.

This could be a set-up for any number of easy comedic scenarios or knee-jerk screeds from both left and right. Instead, the film concentrates on Anna's growth and change, as she, her parents and her younger brother all twist and turn, this way and that, trying to make their new life work. The film is set in the early 70s, with the election of Chile's Salvador Allende, toward which Anna's parents work quite hard, figuring prominently into the mix of events. This peoples the family's apartment with some unusual and amusing characters. Anna's dad has his own history to deal with (via Franco-controlled Spain), while Mom leaves her freelancing at Marie-Claire to work on a book about abortion (not yet, but soon to be legal in France).

Gavras's film is consistently and gently amusing but never loses track of what's at stake for everyone involved, including the country of Chile. This gives the movie a deserved weight that grounds it in reality but never overpowers it. The coda is rather amazing: a silent (music but no dialog) series of scenes that build into perhaps the best example I've seen of why the secular is preferable to the religious, ending with a quietly inclusive moment of sheer, sweet perfection. Red Envelope is also distributing this one, which is, need I say, a Don't-Miss.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:09 AM

March 9, 2007

Video interview. Joe Swanberg.

Hannah Takes the Stairs Joe Swanberg's Hannah Takes the Stairs premieres at SXSW on Sunday, and at the main site, you can watch Joe talk about, among other things, how it relates to his previous features, Kissing on the Mouth and LOL.

A first glimpse of Joe's trailers for this year's edition of the festival: Rehearsal for a film scene, a showdown between jealous lovers: a cellphone goes off, an actor whiplashes out of character. Very nice, very Swanbergian - speaking of which, a second online viewing tip: Season 2 of the unique and wonderful series Young American Bodies is on at Nerve.

Related: Ray Pride's extensive and insightful profile of Joe for Newcity (Chicago). Updates, 3/12: The extended, illustrated version. By the way, Hannah is wonderful. More later.

Paul Harrill: "Like Renoir, one of Swanberg's primary talents is his ability to fill his films with immensely likable actors, and this film, which is almost completely comprised of other independent filmmakers, has an ensemble that's as warm and generous as any I've seen in a long, long time. Greta Gerwig, in particular, is a knockout."

Update, 3/13: "I admire Swanberg's ambition and integrity immensely, and the intimate moments he captures are a direct result of his unusual method," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "I like the ideas behind his work, and I'm grateful that he's making it. But the ultra-low production values in Hannah (the sound is tinny and sometimes almost inaudible) and nearly total lack of narrative intensity make for a highly uneven viewing experience.... I suspect Swanberg's work would benefit from more domineering, artistic-dictator behavior on his part, rather than less."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:09 PM

Interview. James D Scurlock.

Maxed Out "If you think of debt collectors and sellers as sleazy hucksters with the morals of a used car salesman, James D Scurlock's Maxed Out will do nothing but rev on your hatred," warns Hannah Eaves, introducing her interview at the main site.

"Even if Scurlock might have better served his study by delving deeper into the greater cultural forces behind financial irresponsibility, Maxed Out boldly spotlights an issue of monumental importance that has taken a backseat to the national conversation on the Iraq War," writes Michael Joshua Rowin at Reverse Shot. "There are some unforgettable, eye-opening revelations and testimonies contained in Maxed Out, an accessible documentary that should lead viewers to make their own inquiries. Let a new conversation begin."

Updated through 3/15.

Given that Maxed Out is a resolutely uncinematic progression of talking heads - and they're talking about a subject most of us would rather not even think about - it's a remarkably entertaining film," writes Andrew O'Hehir at Salon.

"Drawing on the stories of individuals from across the country, Scurlock etches a bleak view of the state of personal debt while taking aim at the predatory strategies of lenders, the entrepreneurial enthusiasm of collection agencies and the cozy relationships between recent Republican administrations and major financial institutions," writes Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times. "[W]hile the premise of Maxed Out may not surprise, some of the details will."

"This scattershot exposé of usurious banking practices examines why the most vulnerable segment of society is victimized by the lending industry and finds a simple answer: It's obscenely profitable," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Although Maxed Out would like to be this year's Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, it doesn't measure up."

"James Scurlock's survey of the out-of-control credit and debt industry begins by informing viewers that this year 'more Americans will go bankrupt than will divorce, graduate college, or get cancer,'" writes Dennis Harvey at the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "Of course, thanks to our current president, they won't be able to declare bankruptcy anymore - the lazy sods! Instead they can enjoy a lifetime of astronomical interest rates, threats, and continued solicitations to sign up for yet more loans and plastic."

Nathan Lee, writing in the Voice, was hardly impressed by the book in the first place, but "it's a wiser investment than a ticket bought to the documentary, a slapdash piece of work totally indebted to second-hand rhetorical strategies (the 50s educational film, glib Bush-bashing) and threadbare indignation."

Update, 3/12: IndieWIRE interviews Scurlock.

Update, 3/15: Matt Peterson in the New York Press: "While enjoyable, and to some degree commendable, I can't help but wish that this new breed of filmmakers would have more balls: Toss aside your safe liberalism and speak with more conviction. I can't help but feeling, on some level, that they're too scared to be truly radical."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:04 PM | Comments (1)

Austin Dispatch. 1.

Monkey Warfare That indieWIRE's "Insiders Guide" to SXSW is all about "Eating, Drinking, and Shopping in Austin" says loads about why tens of thousands of people, myself included, love to come here each year. While I've already sampled a wide range of only-in-Austin gastronomical delights, I've caught but one film so far, Monkey Warfare [site], a perfect opener, as it's as casually idiosyncratic as the festival itself.

Reg Harkema's story of a pair of ex-radicals (Don McKellar and Tracy Wright) who, hiding from the Man, inadvertently burrow deeper into the System - scrounging junkyards and garage sales for looked-over treasures they can hawk online, they scrape by as the ultimate free marketeers, albeit on a Mom and Pop scale - rubbernecks between the sad comedy and hilarious sincerity of a nostalgia for the lost ideals of the 60s. A young bicyclist (Nadia Litz) who sells them the pot they're far more dependent on than they'd care to admit - organic only - becomes a jolting reminder of the enlivening, aphrodisiacal courage of their abandoned convictions - and of the complex dangers of those convictions as well.

Just as he never settles on any particular set of delineated parameters for his film's universe (here and there, bold slogans stamp the screen to the beat; planes do strange, slow-mo acrobatics overhead), Harkema never settles on anyone's side here; there are no sides, no winning arguments, and for that, the trio is all the more engaging.

Filmbrain previews a film I'll catch tomorrow, Fish Kill Flea, "a fascinating little documentary about the mauling of a mall, and the decay of the American dream." Glenn Kenny offers a related personal note on that one as well.

And finally for now, Jette Kernion links to a slew of more SXSW resources from Slackerwood.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:43 PM | Comments (4)

Interview. Mira Nair.

The Namesake As The Namesake opens, Sara Schieron talks with Mira Nair.

"If anyone's going to flock to this warmly likable tale, based on the best-selling novel by Jhumpa Lahiri, it's going to be women, yet it seems a pity to confine the movie behind the bars of a chick flick," writes Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly. "Dividing its time between the fortunes of a Bengali immigrant to New York and those of her anxiously Americanized son, The Namesake combines the intimate pleasures of a family saga with a finely sustained inquiry into the difficult balance between separation and integration that shapes the consciousness of first-generation émigrés and their children in crucially different ways."

"Nair (whose previous movie was the 2004 Vanity Fair) manages to infuse the movie with not-too-cloying sweetness, perhaps partly because she knows when to back off and allow her two older actors - Irrfan Khan, as Ashoke, and the Bollywood star Tabu, who plays Ashima - to carry the movie," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "Their scenes together (and luckily they have many of them) are so lovely, and so deeply believable, that the movie's other flaws momentarily melt away."

Updated through 3/15.

"Color is the stuff of life in the movies of Mira Nair," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Her lush palette lends her films a throbbing physicality that invites you to step into the screen and embrace the sensuous here and now.... The story of upwardly mobile immigrants torn between tradition and modernity as they are absorbed into the American melting pot has been told in countless movies. This variation is gentle and compassionate. The longing for roots of these displaced middle-class Indians lends a soulful undertow to a film conspicuously lacking in melodrama."

For the Los Angeles, Susan King talks with Nair and Kal Penn, who plays Gogol - quite a break from "his broad comedic turns in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and Epic Movie." Robert Cashill's comment: "In a key way, The Namesake reminded me of The Graduate, in that both feature star-making central performances."

"Though The Namesake slackens in places, particularly toward the end, the performances, especially those of Khan and Tabu, are beautifully drawn," writes Michelle Orange for the Reeler.

Dan Persons talks with Nair for IFC News and Jennifer Merin interviews her for the New York Press.

Online listening tip. Nair is also a guest on Fresh Air and the Leonard Lopate Show.

Online viewing tip. Nair on LX.TV.

Updates, 3/15: Matt Prigge in the Philadelphia Weekly: "It's apparent Nair has found equilibrium - a smooth fusion of the novelistic and the cinematic."

"[E]ven when it loses focus, [The Namesake] deserves credit for its graceful attempt to tell an all-American story with warm, unromanticized characters trying to discover who they are in a land too eager to impose its own definition on them," writes the AV Club's Keith Phipps.

"[G]orgeously shot and told," writes Sapna Samant for the Lumière Reader. "There is not a moment of exoticism or self-conscious 'us-traditional-but-modern-Indians' Bollywoodisms.... Anyone with a migrant experience can relate to it."

A review and an interview from Cindy Fuchs in the Philadelphia City Paper.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:24 PM

Interview. Bong Joon-ho.

The Host At the main site, John Esther talks with Bong Joon-ho about South Korea's biggest hit. Ever.

"The Host packs a lot into its two tumultuous hours: lyrically disgusting special effects, hair-raising chases, outlandish political satire, and best of all, a dysfunctional-family psychodrama - an odyssey that's like a grisly reworking of Little Miss Sunshine," writes David Edelstein in New York.

"A broadly played clown show full of lowbrow antics, Bong's big splat is itself a sort of monster," suggests J Hoberman in the Voice, "the top grossing movie in South Korean history—and, since it surfaced at Cannes last May, festival audiences having been slurping it down like ramen.... As amorphous as its creature, The Host has an engaging refusal to take itself seriously - it's no War of the Worlds and yet, however funny, it is hardly camp. The emotions that The Host churns up, regarding idiot authority and poisonous catastrophe, are too raw—too close to disgust. Is revulsion a form of revolt?"

Updated through 3/15.

"Bong relies on a familiar bag of movie tricks in The Host," acknowledges Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "But, much like Steven Spielberg (an unmistakable influence), he makes all those old tricks feel new.... [I]t's precisely that looseness, that willingness to depart from the narrative straight and narrow, that makes the film feel closer to a new chapter than a retread."

"[W]here Spielberg invented the language of the modern blockbuster, The Host brilliantly deconstructs it," writes Eric Kohn at the Reeler.

"Both directors stress the importance of family, but only Bong depicts it as a fragile refuge against the machinations of political power," writes Steve Erickson in Gay City News. "I can't imagine a Spielberg film ending with a young boy watching a senator speak on TV and turning away because his patter is utterly irrelevant and probably full of lies. That's America's loss and Korea's gain."

"It's smashing entertainment that has a lot more on its mind than one might reasonably expect from a film in which a giant lizard stomps around Korea eating people," writes the Philadelphia Weekly's Sean Burns.

"Potentially, it's a seriocomic exploration of the disintegration of the modern family unit, a condemnation of modern waste-disposal practices, or a cynical, post-SARS view of ineffectual crisis management," writes Andrew Wright in the Stranger. "Mainly, though, it stands as an absolutely corking giant monster movie, told with more panache and verve than anything since the lean and hungry glory days of Spielberg. Critically speaking, that's more than enough for me."

"[H]ere's what bugs me about the hype around The Host, which isn't the movie's fault at all," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "In terms of humanity and cinematic ambition and any other admirable quality you can name, this picture stands in splendid isolation among contemporary horror films. This invites the question of exactly how horror arrived at its present dismal state." Once that question's explored, he agrees that The Host is "the most satisfying monster movie in many years."

"I have next to no affinity for horror, but I left the theater charmed," admits Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly. Bong "brings to his subject a humanistic affection and expansive knowledge of the real world rarely found among filmmakers who single-mindedly nourished their childhood imaginations on things from black lagoons."

"The Host takes familiar genre elements and then crushes them in much the same way the title creature runs amok along the Seoul riverbank it calls home," writes Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times. "[I]t's a film that will catch you leaning in one direction and abruptly pull you in another, all the while building to a surprisingly emotional climax."

Jürgen Fauth: 5 out of 5 stars. 3½ out of 4 from Brett Michel in the Boston Phoenix, and 4 out of 5 from Craig Phillips at Guru: "Long but never feeling overlong, the film is perfectly paced between breathless action sequences, and quieter moments for character reflection and transformation, all leading up to a perfect, subversive and poignant, finale."

A "great piece of filmmaking and a legitimate science-fiction/horror classic," writes Peter Hartlaub at the San Francisco Chronicle.

Armond White in the New York Press: "The Host represents director Bong Joon-ho's scavenging of pop art clichés - not an apotheosis. It's too lame to admire, too cruddy to praise."

Peter Sobczynski talks with Bong for Hollywood Bitchslap; Andy Klein gets a few words Bong, too, for the LA CityBeat; John Lichman, too, for the Reeler.

Jennifer Young talks with Bong for SF360, where Michael Guillén talks with Webster Colcord and Arin Finger of the Orphanage about creating the monster.

Canfield posts a roundtable discussion with Bong at Twitch.

And Anthony Lane. Noted simply because the New Yorker's redesigned its site.

Online listening tip. "[O]n the IFC News podcast, Matt Singer and Alison Willmore are inspired by The Host to discuss some of the more popular horror movie tropes, like 'This Is What You Get When You Mess With Nature,' and 'This Is What You Get For Relying on Technology,' and analyze their larger significance."

Earlier: "SFBG. The Host."

Updates, 3/12: Not just "a terrific monster movie," writes Mike Russell. "This South Korean box-office smash is also a laugh-out-loud comedy and a surprisingly angry political satire."

"For the final thirty minutes, all critical faculties of my brain shut down and I was, Lord bless it, just an audience member for the first time in a very, very long while," writes John Rogers. "After seeing this, there are very famous directors in Hollywood who claim to be able to direct action who should snap their own necks in shame at even coming within ten feet of a lens."

Andrea Gronvall interviews Bong for Movie City News.

So does Charlie Prince for Cinema Strikes Back.

Update, 3/15: "Though it recalls and specifically references classics of the genre, from Jaws to Alien to Godzilla to The Winged Serpent, The Host, directed by Bong Joon-Ho, is defiantly sui generis," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "You've never seen anything quite like it (at least until the already-planned and no doubt disappointing American remake comes out)."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:06 PM | Comments (3)

David Lynch, 3/9.

David Lynch Half an hour of good listening with David Lynch from Ed Champion: "Subjects Discussed: Transcendental Meditation, true happiness, contending with stress, fear and anxiety, anger, the relationship between filmmaking and TM, inner happiness, walking vs TM, Knut Hamsun, Einstein's Theory of Everything, Dostoevsky's 1866 publishing deal, on coming up with ideas, the art life vs the business life, Frank Silva's unexpected casting as Bob in Twin Peaks, and whether Lynch understands his own films."

Updated through 3/13.

"I visited the David Lynch exhibition yesterday at the Paris Fondation Cartier," writes Harry Tuttle. "Having seen some of his paintings online already, some of his photographs and most of his short films/animation, I wasn't as overwhelmed/surprised as I imagined. The scenography is rough and colossal (industrial scafolding structures) but there are only 4 rooms to cross, bathed in a semi-darkness, kinda half-night. Although some of the pieces are really impressive and worth a direct contact. Others require some explanations/guidance..."

"For decades, his films have explored the darkness inherent in American culture, often through the prism of twisted sexuality," writes Alice O'Keeffe in the New Statesman. "I ask him whether he feels his artistic vision has been vindicated by recent events in America. 'That's exactly the way it's been going,' he says, nodding sagely."

Also, Ryan Gilbey on Inland Empire. More from Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian.

Stephen Applebaum talks with Laura Dern for the Independent.

Update, 3/12: Jonathan Romney profiles Lynch for the Independent.

Update, 3/13: Jerry Lentz sends word of profile by Mitch Horowitz in, get this, the Fortean Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:49 PM | Comments (1)

Shorts, 3/9.

Judy Stone: Not Quite a Memoir "I've just read Judy Stone's new book of interviews, Not Quite a Memoir: Of Films, Books, the World," writes Sara Scheiron in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "'How do you prepare your questions?' I ask. 'I don't,' she replies as I stare down at my list of prepared questions. 'But don't let that intimidate you.'"

"2 ou 3 choses could comprise a postmodern analysis of contemporary culture - a filmic expression of sociological cryptology à la McLuhan, Baudrillard, and Mike Davis - if in fact Godard were a scholar instead of a fellow human being and a textual voyager, seeking out a cinema that awakens us to our surroundings instead of anesthetizes us with sensation," writes Michael Atkinson in the Boston Phoenix. "The late 60s are gone, but Godard's concerns remain electrically pertinent."

"At one point I was great in Godard's eye. Now I'm descended," Abbas Kiarostami tells Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door. "We shouldn't take such comments very seriously. The films that last are determined by time.... I saw some films recently by a filmmaker I respected when I was young, and I couldn't believe it. I didn't like them at all."

Jonathan Rosenbaum notes that the New Yorker's David Denby has, shall we say, shifted gears somewhat regarding Kiarostami - and draws comments.

The most interesting films of the 1970s explored various aspects of the existential antihero in varying totalitarian milieus: Terrence Malick's Badlands, Milos Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather, Roman Polanski's Chinatown, Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger, and Bernardo Bertolucci's three great films, The Conformist, Last Tango in Paris, and Novecento, each of which examines perspectives on the human condition menaced by totalitarianism, each offering a particular insight into the fascist mind." Robert Philbin, nthposition, via wood s lot.

"For some part of you, every viewing of a movie is the first viewing." David Bordwell tangles with the question of why it is we feel suspense (if that is indeed what we're feeling) when we know how a movie ends.

"Wong Kar Wai and Stanley Kwan, two of Hong Kong cinema's leading directors are to team up for a light hearted lesbian comedy about two highschool girls in Taiwan," reports Kung Fu Cult Cinema.

For indieWIRE, Jason Guerrasio checks in on a handful of indies in production: Renji Philip's Antique, Ricardo Scipio's Finder of Lost Children, Johnny Asuncion's Float, Tim Sternberg's Salim Baba and Helen Hunt's Then She Found Me.

The Tailenders "is a provocative and beautifully constructed examination of how messages are carried, translated, and received," writes Doug Cummings. Also: The Legend of Time and The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On.

Border Post Jeannette Catsoulis: "Set in 1987, in the waning years of Communist Yugoslavia, Rajko Grlic's Border Post is a profane and playful military drama about boredom, duty and the consequences of reckless lust." Also: "Reeking of self-righteousness and moral reprimand, Michael O Sajbel's Ultimate Gift is a hairball of good-for-you filmmaking coughed up by 20th Century Fox's new faith-based label, Fox Faith. If the goal is to attract Christian dollars to the multiplex, perhaps insulting the artistic sensibilities of their owners is not the best way to go."

And also in the New York Times:

As Tony Blair starts packing his bags, the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw blogs, "There's absolutely no doubt that Blair's government has not merely taken the arts seriously, but taken cinema seriously as a vital constituent of the arts, and was able to channel large amounts of lottery dosh to make more of our movies happen, though with a sometimes controversially elastic concept of what constitutes a British film."

Also in the Guardian:

Nishabd

  • Karina Mantavia: "Nishabd shows it is still possible to make mainstream movies about difficult subjects, despite the intellectual snobbery over Bollywood."

  • "The way that this spring's slew of Jane Austen adaptations are being marketed, you'd be forgiven for thinking that all Austen ever wrote about was Love, and How to Find It," writes Kathryn Hughes. "What all these one-note adaptations miss is that Austen's books are really not about love, but money." Related: Wendy Ide generally approves of Becoming Jane in the London Times, where she also talks with director Julian Jarrold.

  • Ryan Gilbey finds Hal Hartley in Berlin and asks him what he's been up to.

  • Stuart Jeffries on why Days of Glory "has been a revelation in France."

Back at the House: Matt Zoller Seitz on Zodiac; more from Michael Joshua Rowin at Reverse Shot.

Tom Sutpen at Flickhead on Neal Gabler's Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination: "[E]very film brought forth under his imprimatur - good, bad, breathtaking, horrible, mind-numbingly awful or jaw-droppingly beautiful - was informed by a distinct, entirely lucid sensibility... True, in later life he did give himself over to empire building with the construction of Disneyland and the planning of what became known as Disney World and EPCOT - endeavors that, it should be noted, were not without their own aesthetic components - and he became something of a cheerleader for industrial capital and a ponce for the more misguided strains of post-war anti-Communism. But by the force of his will (not to mention the promiscuity of his creative suggestions) he expressed himself through the toil of others up to the moment of his passing, even beyond it in some cases. His art, difficult as it was, long outlived him."

Daniel Garrett at the Compulsive Reader on Catherine Tatge's doc on Kerry James Marshall. And for nat creole. magazine, "I think the world is a more honest and hopeful place for having works such as Babel in it."

"Today, Paul Robeson seems impossible," writes Cynthia Fuchs for PopMatters.

In the LA Weekly, Andrew Tracy talks with Philip Gröning about Into Great Silence and Scott Foundas asks Danièle Thompson about Avenue Montaigne.

You'll have heard of "Nollywood, Nigeria's film industry," notes Alex Hannaford. "It produces more than 750 video films a month - far more than Hollywood and Bollywood." But he also meets Tunde Kelani, who tells him, "'Nollywood is just one type of film-making in Nigeria. In the south-west, they make films in the Yoruba language, with actors from a travelling theatre tradition. In the north, they're being made in the Hausa language. Then there's the independent cinema that I'm a part of.'"

Also in the Independent, James Mottram meets Steven Soderbergh.

Jeffrey Overstreet: "Movies That Changed My Life."

A top ten at ScreenGrab accompanied by clips: "The Most Dangerous Films Ever Made."

At the AV Club: "13 Movies featuring magical black men."

Nathaniel R's latest top ten: "Art in the Movies."

Online reading tips. A guided browse from the Self-Styled Siren.

Online listening tip. On the Leonard Lopate Show, Michael Feinstein talks about Soundies, "three-minute black-and-white films featured big band, jazz and swing-era artists," and "forerunners to the music video."

Online viewing tips. Kate Stables rounds up a batch for the Guardian.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:37 PM

Fests and events, 3/9.

Killer of Sheep "The film of the season, if not the year, is a Southern California slice-of-life from 1977 that hasn't aged a day," writes Nathan Lee, introducing the Voice's preview of the season. "Critics have long hailed Killer of Sheep, a stirring and sophisticated evocation of working-class Watts, as one of the great debuts in American cinema and a landmark of independent film."

In London? Genet on Sunday. Owen Hatherley has details.

The Melbourne Underground Film Festival has sent out a call for entries; Matthew Clayfield has details.

"Less than 24 hours after the Oscars capped the remarkable year of the so-called 'three amigos' by handing out three awards to Pan's Labyrinth and one to Babel, I boarded a plane bound for Mexico City and the fourth edition of the Mexico City International Contemporary Film Festival (February 21 - March 4)," writes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. "One week later, as I am writing this, I'm happy to report that film culture is alive and well south of the border, despite the recent assessment of Variety editor Peter Bart that the country's top filmmaking talent is fleeing to Hollywood for fear of being kidnapped."

AJ Schnack has the full list of 83 films screening in competition at the Full Frame Film Festival (April 12 through 15).

The Belgrade Film Festival "is warmly welcoming and an excellent place to view a whole range of recent movies from the region as well as the best from other fests," writes Ronald Bergan in the Guardian.

David Byrne: "Went to see Miranda July's performance piece at The Kitchen last night and it was terrific. Just amazing."

J Hoberman's preview of the week ahead for New Yorkers opens with a bit of rare Maysles.

Joel Heller has a fine overview of the the True/False Film Festival at Docs That Inspire. More from Agnes Varnum at indieWIRE.

Spencer Morgan previews the indieWIRE: Undiscovered Gems series (related interview: Choking Man director Steve Barron) for the New York Observer, where Andrew Sarris celebrates the return to Film Forum on March 16 of, well, not just an old favorite: "When people have asked me to name the greatest film of all time - in my humble opinion, of course - my instant answer has been unvarying for the past 30 years or so: Max Ophüls's Madame de... (1953)." Through March 29.

Bay Area goings on? Brian Darr covers the waterfront.

Susan King in the Los Angeles Times: "The American Cinematheque at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica takes on a Gallic flavor this weekend when it pays homage to Luc Besson, the iconoclastic, influential French director, producer and writer."

Charlotte Cripps has a brief preview of the traveling Bradford International Film Festival at the Independent.

The European Independent Film Festival: March 16 through 18 in Paris.

"Scars from decades of socialist oppression, and the escapism and magical realism they ruefully evoke, dominate the works of Eastern European filmmakers these days," writes Clare Aigner in the LAT. "evolutions, war and genocide frame new films from Hungary, the Czech Republic and Romania that were shown recently at the Berlin film festival."

"SIFF Cinema certainly isn't leaving commercialism behind. The new venue is intended to provide a year-round source of income for the voracious behemoth known as the Seattle International Film Festival," notes Annie Wagner in the Stranger. "It's a tricky proposition."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:36 AM

March 8, 2007

Midnight Eye. 3/07.

Linda Linda Linda Just weeks after Midnight Eye readers voted Linda Linda Linda their favorite film of 2006 - and by a comfortable margin, too - Tom Mes interviews director Nobuhiro Yamashita.

Also new at Midnight Eye, Dean Bowman: "Kwaidan harks back to a time when the ghost story was not a vehicle for delivering as many gore-ridden shocks to the audience as possible, but was concerned with creating a dense emotional atmosphere, rich in poignant moments of sadness and a pervasive sense of loss."

Nicholas Rucka argues that Shadow Hunters "shelves any real sense of contemporary political criticism by means of a period genre film for something of a standard story. Which is too bad, because the film could've benefited from something sharper of a critique like, say, Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance does."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:03 PM | Comments (1)

Anticipating SXSW, 3/8.

Austin Chronicle: SXSW Film With SXSW opening tomorrow, Austin's already abuzz, and the focus of the second of three special issues of the Chronicle, out today, is on the Film Festival and Conference (through March 17), though you'll see lots of looking forward to the Music Festival as well. Editor Louis Black opens the package with a "personal prayer before SXSW begins, though not one as sweaty and hysterical as they were in the early years."

Josh Rosenblatt has a terrific preview of three rock docs: Silver Jew, Wetlands Preserved: The Story of an Activist Rock Club and Scott Walker: 30 Century Man.

Lingering a bit on special mentions of Baby Cakes: Diary #1, Hannah Takes the Stairs, Quiet City and Fay Grim, Spencer Parsons follows up on Richard Whittaker's piece in last week's issue: "We Have Met the Future, and It Is Us: Film on the Web, Part II: The movies." Sidebar: A chat with, well, me.

Interviews with filmmakers:

Updated.

Manufacturing Dissent

Nora Ankrum previews the Emerging Visions showcase, highlighting Kamp Katrina, King Corn, Fall From Grace, Arranged, Fish Kill Flea and Lost in Woonsocket.

Shawn Badgley profiles Sarah Lipstate, who's coming to Austin, "where her experimental short will show and her experimental band will showcase as part of South by Southwest's Film and Music Festivals, only months after Cinematexas awarded her its Diamond in the Rough Cut prize in October and her Chromascapes video installation debuted at First Night in January."

Crazy Sexy Cancer Dave Marsh offers a moving, personal take on Crazy Sexy Cancer.

Diana Welch has a backgrounder on Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern's The Devil Came on Horseback.

Steve Uhler: "Ann Richards loved Texas films and Texas filmmakers, and they loved her back - which is why this year's Austin Film Society Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards ceremony is being billed as 'A Salute to Ann Richards.'" Tomorrow night.

C Amber Pearce talks with Mobile Film School founder Lisa McWilliams, hosting an event "at the Speakeasy on Saturday, March 10, 6 - 8pm to celebrate the completion of its first workshop."

Also anticipating SXSW: Aaron Hillis (Fish Kill Flea) and Michael Tully (Silver Jew).

Related: Randee Dawn in the Hollywood Reporter on why some filmmakers choose to submit their work to SXSW rather than Sundance; the Austin American-Statesman's Chris Garcia picks five "must-see movies" and five "must-attend panels"; and Matt Dentler has the latest on the Grindhouse trailer competition.

Ya Basta! Updates: In the Daily Texan, Meredith Barnhill has a backgrounder on Twisted: A Balloonamentary, Jocelyn Ehnstrom on Elvis and Anabelle and Playing Chicken, Amy Vercher on James Blunt: Return to Kosovo and Annie Billups on Ya Basta!; plus, nearly a dozen picks and four docs Anne Lewis is hoping to catch.

James Israel's illustrated adventure: the Brothers Israel prep for the world premiere of Face Value.

At Music for Robots, anders handpicks just over a hundred of the best tunes sampled from bands playing at SXSW this year.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:11 PM

Interview. Mike Nelson.

MST 3000 "In the not too distant past, Mike Nelson was host of the long-running cult TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000, which had run for years on cable's Comedy Central before moving over to the Sci-Fi channel (both channels, oddly, embraced the show for its cultdom while simultaneously screwing it over)," writes Craig Philips, introducing his interview with "the one who was not a robot. He'd long been the show's head writer as well as frequent guest actor (he did fine Morrissey and Jack Perkins impressions)."

Related: Rifftrax THIS! "Rifftrax is simple: you go to their site, download the desired commentary track, rent or buy the related film (from GreenCine, ahem) and then play them together for some good ol' fashioned yuks. You haven't seen (and heard) Road House until you've heard their take on it."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:10 AM

Rendez-Vous. 8.

James Van Maanen on a unique documentary and two more entries in the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series running through Sunday.

Humbert Balsan If you've seen many French films over the past quarter century, the name Humbert Balsan may ring a bell. Not a resounding one, as the gentleman was but a producer, and, as we American cinephiles have learned over time, the producer is a "suit" to be tolerated - and barely, at that. Between the years of 1979 and 2007 (a posthumous credit for Béla Tarr's upcoming The Man from London), Balsan produced or co-produced some 68 films of surprisingly disparate variety (and quality) - from Lumière et Compagnie and the award-winning Will It Snow for Christmas? to the Merchant-Ivory productions Quartet and Jefferson in Paris, Chahine's great Destiny, Francis Girou's fun travesty Mauvais genres, Claire Denis's The Intruder, Elia Suleiman's Divine Intervention, Robert Salis's Grand École, Lars von Trier's Manderlay and Brigitte Roüan's Housewarming. That Balsan died an untimely death in 2005, I recall noticing. Money troubles were paramount at the time - not an unusual thing in the world of the motion picture producer. But the story told in Anne Andreu's wonderful documentary Humbert Balsan: Rebel Producer is so much richer, elusive and interesting than I might have imagined that it immediately becomes another of those Rendez-Vous films we're so fortunate to see because it most probably will not be seen elsewhere in America.

Balsan, from a wealthy bourgeois family, the father of which spent three years in a WWII concentration camp, was always a secretive man, as Andreu makes clear. That she does nothing to violate this secrecy is very much to her credit (you may form your own ideas from what is shown here and from the themes and interests of Balsan's films). Interviewing family, filmmakers and friends, Andreu creates the picture of a passionate, dedicated, flawed fellow whose like, as certain film people make clear here, will probably not be seen again - although one person does dare to hope that some of his better qualities might pass on to certain other of today's producers. If only. Balsan helped bring to the screen films that bridge the gap between east and west, haves and have-nots, hetero- and homosexuality and much more. What a man! And what a sad but ever so enriching experience this documentary is.

On the same program as the documentary is Sandrine Veysset's Once Upon a Tomorrow (or, Countdown), a 78-minute feature with the great Michael Lonsdale, Dominique Reymond (from Will It Snow) and two fine young actors, Alphonse Emery and Lucie Régnier. Balsan's penultimate production, this strange, slight tale of childhood longing and adult regret probably meant something special to Balsan. Beautifully filmed amidst some gorgeous location, exterior and interior, the film kicks into high gear once Lonsdale appears halfway through.

Les Ambitieux Based on the three films of hers I've so far seen (La Nouvelle Eve, La Repetition, and now, Les Ambitieux, which saw its American debut at Rendez-Vous), Catherine Corsini is an intellectually and emotionally attentive and provocative filmmaker. (Her most provoking movie is definitely La Repetition.) In her latest, she reunites with her Eve star, Karin Viard, coupling her with another interesting actor, Eric Caravaca (Son Frère, She's One of Us, Hanging Offense), to create a movie that begins as a light comedy about ambition in the French publishing world, then morphs into what can only be called a love story. And a good one. I think you'll be surprised not so much by the twists and turns of the plot (which adheres somewhat to comedy convention) as by the performances, which are more subtle and thoughtful than many in this genre.

The film is also about family lost and gained, and this adds measurably to the depths of emotion provoked at odd moments. Viard and Caravaca form an unlikely but winning team and the rush of feeling at film's end may come as a surprise, given what we expected toward the beginning and are left with by the finale. At the Q&A following the screen, comparisons were made between Viard and Diane Keaton, though the former strikes me as equally talented but less mannered than the latter. We shall see if she maintains as lengthy and interesting a career. Meanwhile, see this movie if the opportunity arises. Currently, it has not been picked up for US distribution, but we can hope.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:17 AM | Comments (2)

March 7, 2007

Exterminating Angels.

Exterminating Angels "A date that begins with Exterminating Angels, Jean-Claude Brisseau's suave and salacious new movie, is likely to end up either in bed or in court," surmises AO Scott in the New York Times. "Or maybe both, which might be most fitting, since one of Mr Brisseau's subjects is the volatility of desire, the way the path of erotic curiosity can swerve from satisfaction into recrimination and confusion. A porno-philosopher in the venerable French tradition, he blends a frank appeal to the audience's nether regions with some teasing attention to its mind."

In the New York Press, Eric Kohn reminds us of the director's time spent in court, defending himself: "Brisseau seems to have coaxed several women into pleasuring themselves during private rehearsal sessions, but if you believe the stance put forth in Angels, his motives were entirely professional." As for the film at hand, Kohn finds it "doesn't offer the inspired amalgam of fornication and sentimentality brilliantly executed in John Cameron Mitchell's Shortbus. It's far too sullen for that—and less explicit, surprisingly enough. The merits of Angels stem from Brisseau's nuanced portrait of desire masquerading as inspiration, which makes the movie more of a self-indictment than I imagine he intended."

Updated through 3/8.

"Exterminating Angels is one audaciously, endearingly ludicrous movie," writes Rob Nelson in the Voice. "Indeed, not since Basic Instinct has a modern noir gotten so playfully aroused by straight-male sexual phobia - the twist in this case being that the maker of the film has firsthand knowledge of the subject."

"In Brisseau's hands, sex is dangerous and wonderfully incomprehensible," writes Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE. "Brisseau is an artist attuned to the spiritual, looking for transcendence in orgasm, that place where the 'grace of the pleasure on their faces' intersects with the gratitude and surrender of Bernini's St Theresa (the syllogism isn't a fresh one, but this doesn't damper the beauty). The autocritique ends in a practical admission of failure... But it should be noted that Brisseau's failures outdo many a masterpiece." Also: An interview.

Earlier: acquarello, Daniel Kasman and, in Slant, Ed Gonzalez.

Update, 3/8: "Brisseau's curdled anger is naked as a lima bean," writes Michelle Orange, "moreso even than his three eager beavers; though his stand-in never whips it out, it is blazingly clear that this entire film is his attempt to nail those women to the wall, smearing his ideation of pure female pleasure as somehow unsound, vindictive and out of control across an entire sex. Fuck me? Fuck you." So the Reeler's ST VanAirsdale asks him, more or less, about all this.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:52 PM | Comments (1)

March 6, 2007

Rendez-Vous. 7.

The Man of My Life At the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series, James Van Maanen takes a contrary stance on one festival veteran but highly recommends The Man of My Life.

In his inimitable manner in the new film Flanders [Flandres; site], writer/director Bruno Dumont accomplishes for the French wartime home front (and the war itself in northern Africa) almost exactly what he managed for Southern California in Twentynine Palms and the downscale French suburb of L'Humanité: a fast-paced story full of zesty joie de vivre, fascinating characters and witty repartee. What? Yes, yes: I jest. A not unusual reaction, I think, to witnessing what I never imagined possible: a movie more stupid than Twentynine Palms. Yet Dumont does indeed outdo himself. If you are one of those fans who mentions Bresson in the same breath as this monumentally untalented filmmaker, you had better go back and watch some of Robert's work again soon.

M Dumont introduced the film at Rendez-Vous by telling us only that "I have done my best," and I believe him. In his Q&A following the film, he talked in circles, refusing to answer many of the questions in the legitimate spirit in which they were asked, and when he compared his work to that of De Sica, I beat a hasty retreat. Flanders is peopled, as per usual for this filmmaker, with characters that wouldn't rate a spot in Mike Judge's Idiocracy. And don't tell me this is any form of reality. Look to the Dardennes or Bresson for that. As a writer of dialog, Dumont is getting worse (L'Humanite had some promise, at least), and his sense of place and pace, not to mention verisimilitude, is woeful (his wartime scenes are among the silliest I have ever seen). Real characters, no matter how beaten down, uneducated, uncaring they might be, still have a few "characteristics" - those specifics that make one person different from another. And "real" movies are full of carefully observed reality, not the generic nonsense found here. At least Dumont did not tell us that Flanders should be perceived as a dream, as he did with his Palms. It is particularly difficult for me to believe that anyone could be moved by the ridiculous ending, in which the writer/director appears to imagine that his characters achieve "grace" when there are no real characters here at all.

I know my colleague David D'Arcy believes in this film, and after reading his review, I was prepared to as well. But then I sat there, increasingly slack-jawed, throughout. International Film Circuit has picked Flanders up for distribution, however; any of you so inclined will have the chance to weigh in later this year.

Moving from the ridiculous to the sublime, the same day at Rendez-Vous offered another film that spoke to me as intensely and beautifully as few others have: The Man of My Life (L'homme de sa vie), directed and co-written by Zabou Breitman, a filmmaker whose work I had not so far encountered. Ms Breitman tells the story of a family vacationing in one of those perfect French countrysides: mom, dad, son, grandma and friends. Their encounter with a neighbor, played by Charles Berling, leads to growth and change - not always easy or happy - for everyone.

The film is elegantly shot, with a beauty to rival that of Elvira Madigan, and its storytelling - though fractured enough to have left some of the audience members around me grasping - actually takes off from a single night-long conversation between the husband and the neighbor, interspersed with all that happens before and after. Ms Breitman has managed to make a movie about that most used and abused subject, love - for wife, child, companion and art - that resonates as strongly as any I can recall. It is chock full of such wonderfully specific moments that, though they are of the type seen many times before, by virtue of the filmmaker's skill, they become new and profound.

The musical score adds immensely to the movie's pleasures, as do the photography, editing - even the interiors of the homes (the Berling character's is rather phenomenal). The acting is on a par with all else, with Berling - as funny, sexy and special as I have ever seen him - Bernard Campan as the husband and Léa Drucker as the wife turning in the kind of performances that win awards and remain in memory. Strand is releasing this one, which will certainly be available on DVD eventually. While it may not speak as strongly to those who have not shared some of the experiences shown here, I would still urge you to give it a try.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:10 PM | Comments (9)

Media, 3/6.

Premiere: 100 Greatest Movie Moments Joe Leydon, Matt Dentler and Cinematical's James Rocchi consider the state of print media, at least as far as film publications go, now that "Hachette Axes Another US Title: Premiere." The magazine will carry on publishing online - and probably a lot more frequently than monthly, too.

For the Reeler, Aaron Hillis talks with Cahiers du Cinéma editor Jean-Michel Frodon about the series he's curated, French Seventies: Cinema After May '68 (through March 27 in New York), e-Cahiers and: "In the last couple of years, there has been a lot of chatter about a dwindling appreciation in film criticism globally. Could there be any truth to it?"

Variety welcomes Cynthia Littleton and Anne Thompson.

Updates, 3/7: Sight & Sound editor Nick James wants his monthly "to be the vinyl to the bloggers' iPod." The Guardian's Andrew Pulver reports. In a blog entry.

Michael Calderone keeps an eye on the revolving door at the Village Voice for the New York Observer, where Sara Vilkomerson looks at the cover of the March issue of Vanity Fair and marvels, "There's just something about Chris Rock that seems to inspire sloppy effusion."

The Voice, by the way, with its Spring Guide, joins the virtual rack of "I Can't Believe It's Not Paper!" experiments.

Updates, 3/8: Glenn Kenny draws a string of comments as he keeps the home fires burning at Premiere's site.

"[T]here's such a degree of maturity in the internet cineaste community these days that e-Cahiers faces tough competition for the attention of the discerning surfer," writes Trevor Johnston for Time Out.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:41 PM | Comments (3)

Jean Baudrillard, 1929 - 2007.

Jean Baudrillard
The French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, one of France's leading postmodernist thinkers and a fierce critic of consumer culture, died Tuesday in Paris at the age of 77, his relatives said.

The AFP.

[C]rucially, political economy is no longer the foundation, the social determinant, or even a structural "reality" in which other phenomena can be interpreted and explained. Instead people live in the "hyperreality" of simulations in which images, spectacles, and the play of signs replace the concepts of production and class conflict as key constituents of contemporary societies.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Updated through 3/8.

There is a misunderstanding of course, that is the reason why I previously hesitated to talk about The Matrix.... What we have here is essentially the same misunderstanding as with the simulationist artists in New York in the 80s. These people take the hypothesis of the virtual as a fact and carry it over to visible fantasms. But the primary characteristic of this universe lies precisely in the inability to use categories of the real to speak about it.

Baudrillard in an interview with Le Nouvel Observateur, 2003.

See also: "Simulacra and Simulations."

Updates, 3/7: Julian Baggini sets off a string of comments at the Guardian; more from the London Times and Patricia Cohen in the New York Times. A Libération package (see the sidebar) and Christian Delacampagne in Le Monde.

Updates, 3/8: Arthur Kroker: "To read his thought was to enter directly into the complexity and indeterminacy of reality as a game of anamorphic perspective."

From Rhizome, Marisa Olson points to the resources at the European Graduate School.

Nick Rombes: "His prose always reminded me of the American Transcendentalists - especially Emerson and Margaret Fuller: aphoristic, contradictory, a process rather than a product. In addition to his enormously influential refinements of the idea of the simulacra, he also contributed greatly to the revival of the poetic qualities of theory. Here is what he wrote in The Perfect Crime: 'As for ideas, everyone has them. More than they need. What counts is the poetic singularity of the analysis. That alone can justify writing, not the wretched critical objectivity of ideas.'"

Posted by dwhudson at 11:49 AM | Comments (2)

March 5, 2007

Shorts, 3/5.

Jacques Rivette, secret compris "The worst thing that can happen to this body of work is for it to become an 'elite' and 'hard to find' object, enjoyed for its celebrity status." And so, Daniel Stuyck and Ross Wilbanks have created, "entirely as a labor of love," Order of the Exile: About the Films of Jacques Rivette. An annotated filmography, two interviews (from 1968 and 1973) and eight essays - so far. Invaluable already.

"More than 50 years after Truffaut first expounded his politique des auteurs and after all the theoretical dust has settled, where does that leave authorship today (2007)?" asks Drew Morton at Dr Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope. "In a sense, this issue has much to do with my own research on what I dub 'twin cinema.' Using the films of Steven Soderbergh as a case study, I argue that, in the vast majority of cases, there is not a differentiated film culture consisting of 'independent film' (director as author) and 'Hollywood film' (studio as author), rather there is a system of compromises and assimilations that results in the cinemas of the independent and the mainstream fully colliding, assimilating one another's characteristics and, in a sense, becoming two sides of the same coin."

"[T]he paranoid theories hatched during the cold war would come to inspire a peculiar, cold-hearted idea of personal freedom - one that helps explain everything from the rise of Prozac and Viagra to Labour's obsession with healthcare targets, from the military crusades of George Bush and the rise of the Iraqi insurgency to the rampant diagnosis of attention deficit disorder in children," writes Oliver Burkeman in the Guardian. "This is an audacious hypothesis, even by the standards of the documentary-maker involved, Adam Curtis, whose 2004 series The Power Of Nightmares asserted that al-Qaida, as an organized entity, was essentially an invention of the west. The new series, The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom, argues that we have unwittingly subscribed to a bleak ideal of liberty that has, ironically, 'become our cage,' reducing our true freedom and fuelling a dramatic rise in inequality."

Also in the Guardian:

  • Peter Bradshaw and Andrew Gilchrist offer ten tips on "How to make a surrealist film."

  • Ryan Gilbey: "It may be too early to start handing out brickbats for the worst film of 2007, but it will be a depressing year if we see anything more repugnant than the British thriller Outlaw."

  • "The story of former US ambassador Joseph Wilson, who travelled to Niger in 2002 to probe claims that Saddam Hussein was trying to purchase yellow-cake uranium for a possible nuclear weapons programme, is to be made into a film."

Jürgen Trimborn: Riefenstahl "Leni Riefenstahl was a liar," writes Charles Matthews in the Washington Post. "She was many other things: a dancer, an athlete, an actress, a feminist, an explorer, a bestselling author and even the world's oldest licensed scuba diver. But she was also Adolf Hitler's favorite filmmaker. Hence the lies. And hence two new biographies of Riefenstahl, one by German film scholar Jürgen Trimborn, the other by former film producer Steven Bach, who has also written biographies of Marlene Dietrich and Moss Hart."

"The latest chapter in a series of taboo-breaking television dramas, a two-part series shows Germans as victims of violence at the end of World War II and sparks controversy among Polish and German political leaders," reports Deutsche Welle.

"Hitchcock is certainly no longer merely 'the master of suspense,' but is in fact a cottage industry of film theory, tenure security, cultural trope and remake business," writes Michael Atkinson at IFC News. "Which is good, because many of his films are far from suspenseful, and in any case what is best considered to be Hitchcockian has more to do with visual eloquence and cinematic innovation than suspense. The new, beautifully designed Lionsgate box of five restored early films - all of which have been roaming around as untouchables in the public-domain circle of home video hell for decades - is what we're talking about: each film, from the 1928 revenge drama The Ring to 1931's outrageous satire-farce Rich and Strange, is virtually a glimpse into the young Brit filmmaker's skull as he attacks the limitations of silent film narrative, as well as the technical encumbrances of early sound, with a Da Vinci-esque lust for invention."

"The first thirty minutes or so of Satya may constitute the most exciting half hour of Indian cinema that I have ever seen," writes Jeff at Cinema Strikes Back. Satya is "the one film [Ram Gopal] Varma has made (to date) that is for the ages."

"A old piece of reconstruction, Blockade is a testament to the power of archival footage," writes Ed Gonzalez. Also at Slant: Nick Schager on Antibodies and Ghost Rider, Ed Gonzalez on Bridge to Teribithia and Rob Humanick on The Taste of Tea.

"I'll return home with incredible memories, zero celebrity phone numbers, a pair of flip flops and, if I'm not mistaken, the beginnings of Stephen Frears's cold." Dan Mazer, one of the screenwriters behind Borat, has kept four-day diary, leading up to Oscar Night, for the Observer. Also: Chrissy Iley interviews Guy Pearce.

In the Telegraph, SF Said interviews David Lynch and Sheila Johnston talks with Bobcat Goldthwait about one of his favorite movies, Peter Jackson's Braindead.

Bugsy "I'm not sure Bugsy is a great film," writes Robert Cashill, "but it is greatly interesting, and a new extended edition DVD (released last December) makes a good case for it."

Speaking of Warren Beatty, Ishtar does have its defenders, you know. Ray Pride finds another one.

Brendon Connelly notes a few upcoming Region 1 DVD releases: The Magnificent Ambersons and African Queen. "[D]on't hold your breath," warns Jeffrey Wells, who has better news on other restoration projects in the works.

Joe Leydon: "Warner Home Video (WHV) and Paramount Home Entertainment (PHE) will join forces on an unprecedented initiative to honor John Wayne on May 22 - just four days before what would have been The Duke's 100th birthday."

Nikki Finke's reporting that Anne Thompson - oh, and Hollywood Reporter editor Cynthia Littleton, too - are suddenly off to Variety.

"Yes, Film Forum has moved from Christianity Today Movies to Looking Closer, and things are going to change somewhat," writes Jeffrey Overstreet, announcing the first round.

Online gazing tip. Three drawings for the Lumière Reader by Lyndon Barrois.

Online browsing, downloading and lounging tip. PDF-Mags.com, via John Coulthart.

Online compare-n-contrast tip. DVD cover art for Borat at I Watch Stuff!, via Fimoculous.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:59 PM

Fests and events, 3/5.

Israel Film Festival "The 22nd annual Israel Film Festival officially opens Wednesday at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood with Shemi Zarhin's Aviva, My Love, a drama about a hard-working mother who has a secret writing talent," writes Susan King in the Los Angeles Times. "But on Tuesday, the organizers will kick things off with a gala at the Beverly Hilton Hotel that honors Borat star Sacha Baron Cohen, Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chair Amy Pascal and Israeli actress Gila Almagor."

Also: "Fifty Years of Janus Films, holding court weekends at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is more than just a celebration of the eclectic distribution company - it's akin to a film school's master class." Through April 7.

"Entering the media installation portion of the Museum of Modern Art and P.S.1's joint Abbas Kiarostami retrospective (entitled Abbas Kiarostami: Image Maker) is akin, one suspects, to entering the Iranian master's head," writes Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door.

Acquarello on Rendez-Vous with French Cinema entry Ambitious: "[Catherine] Corsini strikes a delicate balance between humor and pathos, revulsion and affection to create a slight, yet acerbic dysfunctional fairytale of the idiosyncratic intersections of deception, manipulation, betrayal, and desire that define the inscrutable course of neurotic true love."

I Do: How to Get Married and Stay Single And: "Evoking the slapstick comedies of Francis Veber in its tortuous, absurd, over-the-top, rapid fire scenarios, Eric Lartigau creates a whimsical, charming, and infectious, if perhaps, characteristically outré romantic farce in I Do: How to Get Married and Stay Single."

"Nearly 200 films are on tap for the first AFI Dallas International Film Festival, kicking off later this month in Texas." Eugene Hernandez has got the full preview at indieWIRE. March 22 through April 1.

Mike has the lineup for the Boston Underground Film Festival (March 22 through 25) at Bat Lit.

"Like Todd Haynes and Pedro Almodóvar before him, Angel finds [François] Ozon paying tribute to the Hollywood of yore, and in the grandest style possible," writes Filmbrain, catching up with the films he caught at the Berlinale (as I'll be doing soon, too, no, really, etc). "Angel is a remarkable achievement from one of Europe's most consistently interesting (and continually evolving) directors."

Meanwhile, Stefan Steinberg has just launched a series of Berlinale roundups at the WSWS today.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:48 PM

Books, 3/5.

Howard Hampton: Born in Flames "I've never read a film writer with a voice quite like Howard Hampton," writes Paul Matwychuk. "He's just published a new book of essays entitled Born in Flames: Termite Dreams, Dialectical Fairy Tales and Pop Apocalypses, and it's by turns exhilarating and confounding. Imagine Manny Farber on fast-forward, or Lester Bangs if he were addicted to Red Bull instead of cough syrup."

Filmmakers recommend film books: Kat Candler asked a few friends - well, more than a few - for titles her students ought to read this semester. Scott Macaulay not only runs the list at Filmmaker but adds four recommendations of his own - with notes.

Cinephilia meets bibliophilia again in an entry from David Bordwell celebrating the French, who "understand that books contribute to the public good."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:20 PM

300.

300 "In the era of media clutter, film marketers increasingly welcome controversy as a way to get attention for their more provocative fare," writes Michael Cieply in the New York Times. The latest debate: 300 "could be construed as a thinly veiled polemic against the Bush administration, or be seen by others as slyly supporting it."

Matt Singer at IFC News: "[E]ven though 300's visual style moves beyond simply looking good into a stylishness and pictorial beauty rarely equaled in genre pictures, its dumbness overwhelms its prettiness. If battle footage can be beautiful, some of it in 300 certainly is, but, oh how stupid everything surrounding it is."

Updated through 3/9.

Jeff Dawson in the London Times: "Civilisation v barbarism; democracy v tyranny; Europe fending off the Middle East: themes especially pertinent today. 'It really must have been kind of a wonder,' muses the celebrated graphic artist Frank Miller. 'Huge forces were massed, and with such focus, that you could take one three-day battle and draw from it a tapestry for the forces that have shaped the world ever since.' 'Thank Thermopylae for your Starbucks,' adds the director, Zack Snyder, tongue planted firmly in cheek."

Brendon Connelly has news of Snyder's next project.

Dave Itzkoff gets a few quick words with Miller for New York.

Earlier: "Berlinale Dispatch. 300."

Update, 3/6: François Peneaud and Joe Palmer at AfterElton: "Frank Miller and 300's Assault on the Gay Past." Via John Coulthart.

NYP: 300 Update, 3/7: "As an early entry in the canon of virtual movies, 300 hints at the way that elements of theater can encroach on the virtual realm," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "The next major advancement in combining computer effects with live action, James Cameron's sci-fi epic Avatar, doesn't quite follow in the footsteps of 300: Budgeted at $200 million, the essence of Avatar bears a closer relationship to the preexisting blockbuster paradigm. It's the smaller projects that will demonstrate the viability of virtual movies."

"Long ago there reigned a clan of Speedo-wearing militaristic psychopaths called the Spartans," begins Nathan Lee's fun read in the Voice. "At once homophobic and homoerotic, 300 is finally, and hilariously, just hysterical."

Online viewing tip. David Poland; that first line? Aaron Hillis would break into variations of the same tune throughout the second half of the Berlinale.

Updates, 3/8: Scott Weinberg at Cinematical: "Visually arresting and wildly cut together, 300 is (despite its well-earned R-rating) precisely the kind of movie that turns 14-year-old boys into ravenous movie geeks."

"Divorced from Miller, is 300 a movie?" wonders Annie Frisbie at Zoom In Online.

"If 300, the new battle epic based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynne Varley, had been made in Germany in the mid-1930s, it would be studied today alongside The Eternal Jew as a textbook example of how race-baiting fantasy and nationalist myth can serve as an incitement to total war," writes Dana Stevens in Slate.

Stephanie Zacharek in Salon: "Miller's 300 pictures leap off the page; on the movie screen, they roll over and play dead."

Michael Koresky at Reverse Shot: "The racial and political tangle that is 300 is indicative of a muddled culture, one which flaunts political incorrectness as a badge of honor. Postmodern? Try postmortem. Aesthetically and politically, we need 300 like a hole in the head."

Updates, 3/9: "300 is about as violent as Apocalypto and twice as stupid," declares AO Scott in the New York Times.

Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat: "To cut this mess up into postcards and wall calendars would be to lose nothing."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:18 PM | Comments (4)

Anticipating SXSW, 3/5.

"Oh, to be 27 and running a rising film festival!" exclaims Anne Thompson in the Hollywood Reporter. "For the fourth year, South by Southwest Film Festival producer Matt Dentler is enjoying doing what he seems born to do."

Zellner Vs Duplass

Matt, in the meantime, has "the official, one-time only poster for our highly anticipated shorts event: Zellner Vs Duplass: A Sibling Rivalry in Short Form." It's fun. It's yellow.

Jette Kernion's written up a "handy guide to SXSW Film Fest venues" at Slackerwood and Film Threat just plain can't wait.

Updates: And an online viewing tip. The Daily Reel and SXSW are teaming up for a screening of some of "the best online videos of the last year." You can sample the offerings and subscribe to the YouTube channel here.

"Your Video Blog Can Save the World." It's Friday, March 9, and it's free.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:45 AM

QTTV.

For those in the UK (or for anyone who can watch Sky Arts), tomorrow night, 9 pm: Iconoclasts: Quentin Tarantino and Fiona Apple. The not-so-unlikely pair chat as they tour the set of Grindhouse in Austin.

Grindhouse

For the rest of us, the London Times is running an extract from the conversation - Tarantino's half, that is. A few stand-out quotes:

Updated through 3/8.

  • "I don't ask permission. I might ask forgiveness, but I won't ask permission."

  • "Violence is one of the most cinematic things you can do with film. It's almost as if Edison and the Lumiere brothers invented the camera for filming violence."

  • "God didn't put me on the earth to die in an earthquake. After Pulp Fiction, maybe I could go."

  • "I consider making Kill Bill as like me climbing Mount Everest. I taught myself how to climb as I climbed it."

  • "Directors don't get better as they get older. They get worse — they get out of touch."

  • "I would have died for Reservoir Dogs. I would have died getting a shot for Pulp Fiction. I don't know if I would have died, would have thrown myself into that kind of harm's way, for Jackie Brown, and that scared me a little bit."

So he still doesn't realize that Jackie Brown is his best film.

Update, 3/8: Movie City News has a nearly 10-minute clip of Tarantino talking about Robert De Niro in around 1994 or so.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:01 AM | Comments (2)

Birds Eye View.

Birds Eye View 07 "Birds Eye View [March 8 through 14] was not set up to define a woman's vision, only to encourage and promote it," writes Rachel Millward in the Financial Times. "Critic Mark Kermode once told me: 'When I think of great films by women directors, I think of the incredible violence of Baise-moi; I think of the full-blooded horror of Near Dark; I think of the dark nightmarish dream-like quality of a film like Ratcatcher; I think of the just insane explicitness of a film like Anatomy of Hell.' Women's films run the gamut of theme and mood, just as men's films do."

Updated through 3/7.

That said: "Only 7 per cent of British filmmakers are women and only 12 per cent of screenwriters. The figures are similar in America, and only three female directors - Sofia Coppola, Jane Campion and Lina Wertmüller - have been nominated for Oscars. There is, as an American journalist put it, a 'celluloid ceiling,'" writes Kate Kellaway in the Observer As to why this is so, and what might be done about it, Kellaway hosts a roundtable discussion with Gurinder Chadha, Vicky Jewson, Gaby Dellal, Antonia Bird and Carine Adler.

Kellaway also opens a discussion in the Guardian's Arts blog, asking, "[W]hat needs to happen for more women to feel that directing a film is a possible - and potentially fantastic - future career?" In another entry, Rachel Millward offers four suggestions.

Back to the festival: Cath Clarke has a preview for Time Out.

Update, 3/7: Charlotte Cripps has a preview for the Independent.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:38 AM

Cineaste. Spring 07.

Cineaste Cineaste runs three pieces from its new issue online, but adds five more exclusive to the Web.

Jared Rapfogel: "Unbowed and seemingly incorruptible, [Peter] Watkins has built a body of work which, whatever reservations one might harbor about particular films, is a truly astonishing and admirable achievement, a testament to his iron-willed determination to make movies on his own terms and in defiance of the obstacles placed in his path."

There are interviews and there are interviews, but this is quite a trio:

Michael Joshua Rowin: "Venturing beyond conventional entertainment and into the realm of simulated reportage, Children of Men employs stunning verisimilitude within its mise-en-scène, raising the stakes of intense action and at the same time, intentionally or not, questioning exactly what it is audiences seek in these displays. It's a profound, unsettling amalgam expressing the crisis of and for relevant entertainment a little more than five years after the events of September 11 have altered American viewers' relationship to on-screen catastrophe."

"The Departed and Gangs of New York mark a change in Scorsese's handling of race," argues Rahul Hamid. "The Departed starts where Gangs left off: the racial prejudice and scapegoating manifested by the riots have now been entrenched for over a hundred years and are articles of faith." An engaging close reading follows.

"Some films take a long time to find their audience, but in this respect The Noah is in a league of its own." Dan Georgakas tells the tale.

Christopher Long reviews the anthology, The Films of Woody Allen: Critical Essays: "[Editor Charles LP] Silet's 'broad-ranging' approach can also be described as eclectic, and this eclecticism leads to some intriguing and idiosyncratic choices."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:52 AM

March 4, 2007

Rendez-Vous. 6.

Tell No One Two takes from David D'Arcy and James van Maanen at the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series on an award-winning crowd-pleaser.

Tell No One (Ne le dis à personne) is a densely-plotted adaptation of an American mystery novel by Harlan Coben that drags you back and forth between the violent events related to the presumed murder of a doctor's young wife and the emergence of evidence eight years later that the woman is still alive. Dense here may be an understatement, but clearly not too much to keep the film from winning awards and packing in the French at the box office. While you're thinking that this couldn't be more different than Flandres, think again. Sadly, neither film is likely to reach much of an audience in the US. What a shame.

Alexandre Beck (François Cluzet) is a pediatrician who is haunted by the death of the woman he'd loved since the childhood they spent together near the forest of Rambouillet outside Paris. The doctor was cleared as a suspect in the crime, a charge that he still resents as he bounces from his lawyer to his equestrian sister to his grieving parents-in-law to a bald mobster (with a hemophiliac son) who protects him when the cops are persuaded once again that Alex really is the killer. The convicted murderer, whom we never see, is a serial killer who surrounds the bodies of his human victims with a garnish of dead dogs. (I guess this director saw Amores Perros.) If that isn't enough to tangle your mind, there is an equestrian sub-strand to all this - no surprise, since Guillaume Canet took up filmmaking after an injurty ended his career as a jockey. Alex's sister takes us into the realm of wealthy horsepeople, in which the son of a prominent family is a serial trust-fund rapist (played by Canet) who likes to beat up his victims. Shake well and serve.

Once the charges come back to implicate Alex, the film about a grieving husband turns into a chase (The Fugitive?), in which the doctor flees from the cops in sections of Paris that you probably won't recognize. Even his fight through Paris is chopped up with flashbacks to the time of the original crime near an isolated lake and intercut with characters who are in the midst of their own dramas.

Cluzet won a Cesar for this role as the successful everyman falsely accused of a murder who learns that justice is even farther from his grasp than logic. He plays the embattled doctor with a tautness of a man struggling to contain the anguish of losing his wife and incredulous when he is fingered as the prime suspect.

The story of an innocent man who is presumed guilty is a staple of American films, and you'll think of plenty of them here. Yet Canet avoids most of the obvious cliches. Most, but not all of them. When Alex, on the run, seeks out Bruno (Gilles Lellouche), father of the hemophiliac boy whom Alex has treated, the characters are straight out of central casting for a French music video, complete with a black Chevrolet SUV that would be a dead giveaway for any fugitive trying to lose himself in the grey fabric of of the edges of Paris. Oh yeah, it's a movie.

Don't look for much that's genuinely cinematic here. The one visual exception to the standard detective-story palette comes in the forest of Rambouillet, with characters crawling through its tall thick ferns which look pre-historic. It makes you think of the jungles in the paintings of Henri Rousseau. And don't mind the length of two hours. (The Wall Street Journal says that it's been agony for French writers to get scripts down to fifty minutes for Paris Enquete Criminelle, the forthcoming French version of Law and Order.) Tell No One held me almost until the end.

- David D'Arcy


If, according the recent Oscar ceremony here in America, the best we could come up with was The Departed, a well-crafted, cynical and pointless piece of slick junk, where in the world does that place this unusual movie? Tell No One is vastly superior in every way, if only because it offers some characters worth caring about and has believable women - and lots of them. Every bit as convoluted as the Scorsese movie, maybe more so, Guillaume Canet still manages to link the threads so we can follow along. (At one point near the finale, after one character says "There's more," the audience burst out laughing - but we gladly forged ahead.)

Though the movie deals with shocking injustice and corruption, its protagonists are caring "servers": He's a pediatrician, she's a social worker. This is pivotal to motivation and plot, as is the French-Algerian banlieue and its inhabitants, who are shown in a surprisingly rich, full manner. You may, while watching, as does the lead character while being set through his paces, thank god that they are here. Whatever their "legality" (and they're clearly involved in some nefarious doings), they act as welcome resistance to the corrupted power on display.

Mon Idole Canet, who began as an actor (and a good one: Jeux d'enfants, Joyeux Noel, L'Enfer and a small but important role in this film) seems to have learned a lot on the job. This is only his second full-length feature, and already he's won the Cesar for directing. His first outing as director was the funny, nasty, edgy and ultimately bizarre Mon Idole, which a few of us were lucky enough to view at an earlier Rendez-vous, and which has never been seen further in the US, not even on DVD. (Shameful!) To that one, which reminded me of Chabrol's Masques, Canet attaches an ending that, while at first seeming just weird, upon a moment's reflection is clearly perfect.

Now, in this second film he directs with complete aplomb an enormous international cast, including Canada's Marie-Josée Croze, England's Kristin Scott Thomas and many of France's most respected and prolific actors (Nathalie Baye and Jalil Lespert appear in relatively small roles). His handling of violence is slightly more discreet that we are currently used to and yet is done with originality and flair. He manages to incorporate tiresome genre tropes like the "chase," while making it seem original and exciting. From first to last, even though the movie is long, Canet grips you. And François Cluzet (The Horseman on the Roof, Too Beautiful for You, Chabrol's L'Enfer), who won the recent Cesar for Best Actor, is a joy to watch. He holds the movie together via his star presence and his ability to capture the character's quiet decency under extreme pressure.

Novelist Coben, who introduced the film at Rendez-vous and offered a very funny synopsis of how Hollywood treats novelists, noted that the filmmakers were happy to include him in the creative process, even though they changed the venue (quite well and believably) to France. The result is a fine example of mainstream genre filmmaking for which everyone involved should be proud. By Friday's screening, Tell No One still had no US distributor, which is perhaps the biggest mystery of all - and one that I hope will be solved very soon.

- James van Maanen

Posted by dwhudson at 9:16 AM | Comments (5)

NYT on Sunday.

William Blake: Paradise Lost There's so much stuff in today's edition of the New York Times, I thought it might be best to siphon it off into an entry of its own. Michael Joseph Gross's piece on an adaptation of Milton's Paradise Lost, "still waiting for a definite go-ahead from a studio," reads here and there like something straight out of Monty Python in the days of the Flying Circus: "This could be like The Lord of the Rings or bigger,' [producer Vincent Newman] said. Daniel Craig and Heath Ledger are two of his top choices for Lucifer." ... "[I]f you get past the Milton of it all, and think about the greatest war that's ever been fought, the story itself is pretty compelling,' [Legendary chief executive Thomas Tull] said." Nice bit, in a way, from second draft screenwriter Stuart Hazeldine: "Milton was trying to achieve with Paradise Lost what Scorsese was trying to achieve with Henry Hill in Goodfellas. You can't understand the nature of the fall until you've tasted some of the exhilaration of sin and crime."

There are a couple of pieces in the Theater section that'll be of interest to film folk:

Wake Up Mr Sleepy! Your Unconscious Mind Is Dead!
  • David Colman on Wake Up Mr Sleepy! Your Unconscious Mind Is Dead!: "[Richard] Foreman has, as usual, taken a sledgehammer to the art-as-mirror ideal, with dueling vignettes of live action and film (equally impenetrable), some of them involving actors in kilts, antique dolls piloting a plane, and ... well, it defies easy description. Which is the point." The point of the piece, though, is a new curtain.

  • "[T]he best voice-over actors can, with just a line or two of dialogue, make you see characters you can only hear, and juggle a range of accents more diverse than a Benetton catalog," writes Andrew Adam Newman. "Though Talk Radio, which opens March 11 at the Longacre Theater, focuses on the shock-jock Barry Champlain (played by Liev Schreiber and originated Off Broadway by [Eric] Bogosian), the callers 'really are the heart and soul of the play,' said Robert Falls, the revival's director, adding, 'The play is about voices in the night.'"

"In effect the video market is glutted," writes Bryan Reesman after rattling off the numbers. "For big studios that means more jousting over future formats that may restart sales. But for specialty companies that have traded otherwise unavailable horror, action, art-house and exploitation titles, the glut has meant a struggle to survive."

United Artists Founders Richard Siklos asks around Hollywood as to the fate of United Artists: "[Tom] Cruise stands at the end of a long line of creative potentates in Hollywood, including Burt Lancaster, Paul Newman, Barbra Streisand, Sidney Poitier, Steve McQueen and Steven Spielberg, who have tried to follow the original Chaplin-Fairbanks-Pickford blueprint by overseeing their own mini-studios. All of them experienced mixed results as they ran up against the brutal economics of a hit-and-miss industry in which independents often lack the size needed to overcome the financial vagaries of filmmaking." An accompanying slide show.

Laura M Holson: "[S]ince Pixar was acquired, [John] Lasseter has been heralded as a latter-day Walt Disney, a cultural arbiter who can rekindle the spirit of Disney's famous animation at its theme parks, on store shelves and in a theater near you."

"[M]en in their 20s and 30s with enough disposable income to buy lots of video games." This is the demographic studios hope to reach via gaming consoles, reports Dave Itzkof.

Deborah Solomon talks with Ira Glass about the TV version of This American Life, about why it's on Showtime and why he doesn't call it a "documentary."

Graham Fuller preps American audiences for The Wind That Shakes the Barley: "In condemning the British cabinet's sanctioning of ferocious tactics in Ireland in 1920, two years after Sinn Fein won a democratic mandate to form a republican parliament, [Ken] Loach and the screenwriter Paul Laverty adopt a clear ideological position." And, as you've surely heard, "its winning of the Palme d'Or, the top prize at Cannes, last May provoked the conservative British press into an 'apoplectic' reaction, as Mr Laverty described it."

Lori Gottlieb reports on Hollywood's "baby gurus," advisors to parents who busy themselves in the industry - and with fads.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:43 AM | Comments (4)

Rendez-Vous. 5.

The Page Turner James van Maanen from the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series on one of last year's Un Certain Regard entries.

Director/co-writer (with Jacques Sotty) Denis Dercourt's The Page Turner (La Tourneuse de pages) is one of the quietest thrillers I've seen, and yet it is indeed thrilling and chilling in its own reserved manner, with its tiny moments of violence perfectly timed and delivered. By today's standards of brutality, they will barely register with the crowd who wallows in Hostel and Wolf Creek, but for those who appreciate subtlety, they rank among the genre's finest. One in particular should give victims of sexual harassment sustenance at seeing justice served promptly and cold.

Updated.

"Payback" is a subject dearly loved by moviemakers, Hollywood in particular, but even Chabrol (a filmmaker Dercourt appreciates) has not approached this level of refinement. (As Dercourt rightly told us during his Q&A, Chabrol is as interested in critiquing the French bourgeoisie as he is in mystery or thrills.) You may find - as I did, given the situation - the thoughtless "slight" directed at one of the film's protagonists early on a truly awful thing. Yet by film's end, I suspect you will sympathize enormously with the other "heroine," beautifully played by the elegant Catherine Frot (La Dilettante, Chaos, Lucas Belvaux's Trilogy, Les Soeurs fâchées), who received a well-deserved Cesar nomination for this role. There is almost no French actress I would rather watch than Frot; she can be so utterly different, always believable and intensely interesting to observe.

Dercourt, in his Q&A (one of the more charming I can recall at Rendez-vous; it seemed as though he and his audience could have spent the entire day together), explained that he preferred to "erase" - leave some blank spaces in his narrative - so that viewers could fill these holes in the way they preferred. This can be tricky, depending on how much is left out and where. To my mind, this writer/director has achieved a fine mix of what's-there and what-isn't. Going over the plot points, post viewing, and trying on various scenarios for these "blanks," I found that one worked as well another - which left me even more satisfied by this lovely, chilling chamber piece of a film (which has been picked up for distribution by Tartan Films).


Update: Acquarello calls The Page Turner "a distilled, understated, and elegantly realized psychological tale of fragility, revenge, and manipulation."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:06 AM

PIFF Dispatch. 10.

DK Holm wraps his hometown festival.

Where's Molly? As the Portland International Film Festival came to an end last weekend, Where's Molly?, one of the few Oregon-bred films in the lineup, proved to be an honest tearjerker, its waterworks facilitated by being based on a true story. It's a simple enough premise. Jeff Daly, raised in Astoria, Oregon, had a sister, but she vanished at the age of three. His parents, following his mother's lead, refused to discuss it, and his sister became the elephant in the living room. Years later, married, after a successful career as an international TV cameraman, Daly learns that his sister has been alive the whole time. Born in 1954, she was confined to an institution for the mentally disabled, in Salem, Oregon, one of 350,000 kids thus confined from the 1950s through the 1970s. Daly tracks her down to a home outside Portland, and reunites with her joyously.

The story doesn't end there. Daly manages to get a law passed that makes it easier for people to track down relatives confined to sanitariums. In fact, in a surprising twist, Daly's own brother-in-law also had a sister confined to the same institution. Viewers at all prone to weeping in movies will have collapsed well before this revelation.

Where's Molly?, as it happens, is also beautifully photographed, and for being an Oregon product, surprisingly non-amateurish. It must be noted, however, that as a self-interview subject, Jeff Daly shrugs his shoulders a lot and frequently appears to be on the verge of tears. There is also something of a hidden agenda. Despite Mr Daly's evident gregariousness, there is a disturbing thread of score settling, particularly through his mother, who made the decision to confine Molly to the institution and then proceeded to exclude her from mind, and to Daly's brother, who thus far has refused to participate in the discovery of Molly. More information about the film (whose official title is Where's? Molly [sic]) and the news its case has generated can be found at its official website.

PIFF 07 Speaking of the festival, now that it is over, the numbers have come rolling in: 16 days, 82 features, 34 shorts from 35 countries, with 31,000 attendees (the festival managers are a bit vague about attendance numbers - is that ticket sales or individual viewers?). An informal and easily ballot-stuffed poll of the attendees resulted in Portland filmmaker Irene Taylor Brodsky winning an audience award for her documentary, Hear and Now, while the short film favorite was Christopher Leone's K-7. The audience's favorite feature film was fest opener The Lives of Others.

After the glorious artiness of The Lives of Others, the slightly similarly-themed Red Road, born from a Scottish chapter of the Dogme movement, can only be a disappointment. For one thing, Red Road is virtually unintelligible, thanks to the thick accents, and in its adherence to the distant sobriety of Dogme unengaging for its first 40 minutes. This may be a narrative strategy born of providing unexpected plot turns, but once the viewer knows what Jackie (Kate Dickie), a security officer who monitors numerous police TV cameras in a particularly dangerous (i.e., poor) part of town, is up to, the strain for "tragedy" is palpable. Alternative views can be read at Planet Sick-Boy and at the Oregonian's incomprehensible, unnavigable website.

Fay Grim One of my favorite Hal Hartley films - in fact, now that I think about it, the only Hartley film I like - is Henry Fool, and I was cautiously delighted to learn that he had come up with a sequel to it. But Fay Grim [site] is more like his recent works than the robust, realistic yet arch films of that phase of his career. Hartley wrote, shot, edited and scored this film, so it is clearly a personal work, but it feels impersonal for most of its running time - until Henry Fool finally reenters the picture. Its intentionally complicated series of spy movie reversals and revelations, across New York, Paris and Istanbul, evoke Wim Wenders's make-it-up-as-you-go Until the End of the World rather than the intricacies of Henry Fool, and its terrific cast, including Saffron Burrows, cinema's skinniest woman who doesn't look anorexic, seems called upon to look good in leather skirts rather than advance a coherent plot. Still, the very last scene manages to evoke the same feeling of poised change that Henry Fool's did.

Coeurs It's probably unnecessary for me to add to Andrew Grant's detailed review of Alain Resnais's Private Fears in Public Places. But since one sour-faced viewer at the screening I attended came out complaining to her husband that "I think I need an interpretation," perhaps the film needs a modicum more of defense. There's a lot going against it: a French director adapting a peculiarly British subject, playwright, story, in a thoroughly artificially devised setting. But Resnais appears to like the discipline of adapting another's work, and if Rohmer uses decor to underscore his attitude to his characters, Resnais uses architecture. There is a marvelous shot that evokes Last Year at Marienbad early in the film, the camera tilting up at an indifferent ceiling, hinting that the same mysteries of motivation, of past, present and future, obtain here. A depleting first experience, the film may very well be more rewarding the second time around, when the viewer can match character arc to environment, and I look forward to giving it a second try on DVD.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:41 AM

Rendez-Vous. 4.

At the ongoing Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series, David D'Arcy revisits and reevaluates one of last year's Cannes competitors.

Flandres Seeing Flandres [site] by Bruno Dumont again, I found myself coming down on the side of the film's supporters.

The word against the film is that it is recycled monosyllabic Dumont and that its view of the lives that its rural characters lead at home or at war is misanthropic. So far those sentiments seem to be shared by the three critics of the New York Times, which may help explain why the major US distributors were shy about bringing Flandres to an audience.

Dumont has a remarkable feel for landscape. Critics might say that the dreary northern French landscape is what we tend to concentrate on in his films, since his camera stands still and his characters don't say much, and they're right. In Flandres, the paradox is that the context that Dumont eschews, as a matter of principal, comes out eloquently in spite of him. The landscape of divided fields and churches on low-lying hills is the battlefield of low-lying graves from the Hundred Years War (1337-1453), and the backdrop for much of early Flemish painting. Adelaïde Leroux, who plays Barbe - the critics will remind you that she seems to have sex more frequently than any farm animal - seems to have walked out of one of those pictures. (The next thing you know, someone will accuse Dumont of plagiarizing the paintings.) Look past the characters, and you see how little has changed. The farming life of Flandres, with its constant sound of boots in the mud (the same sound made by coupling bodies shaking there), has some surprising resemblances to the life that these peasants lived centuries ago.

No surprise that these farm boys go right into the army, and into an unspecified foreign war. Where do you think the soldiers in Iraq war are coming from? (Think about it - with Baghdad a lethal zone, and the prospect of getting the right medical care if you're wounded shattered by recent news, it's logical that the US Army would sign up anyone with a pulse. Flandres doesn't seem so far-fetched.)

Flandres was another battlefield, the region in which lines and the trenches marking those lines shifted during World War I, where the graves are even closer to the surface than those of the Hundred Years War, and millions more died. Those lingering shots in Flandres of a tractor driven by the young farmer Demester (Samuel Boidin) churning up wet soil aren't just pounding the impression into the audience that the peasant life is an existence of stultifying boredom. It's a reminder that these characters are literally walking on top of millions of corpses.

Now that the rural Europe that these characters inhabit is a place of relative peace - unlike Yugoslavia or the volatile banlieues that barely appear in the films of this year's Rendez Vous with French Cinema - its young men are shipped off to foreign wars that don't sem to have any relation to their lives at home. For many of them, it will be the only escape from that life.

Misanthropic? Mean-spirited? Flandres is about characters who have no learning and no opportunities, who trudge through the same lives that their parents had. In war they behave as soldiers do - we've seen and heard enough testimony about what's happened in Iraq to know that Dumont's segment in which the young men from Flanders rape a Muslim girl is neither exaggerated nor implausible. American soldiers have been put on trial by the US military for crimes far worse than that.

Instead of entertaining silly suggestions that the dour Dumont try his hand at musical comedy or inject a joke or two, why not just pair Flandres with The Deer Hunter and see what people think?

Posted by dwhudson at 6:36 AM

March 3, 2007

Weekend shorts.

Encounter Point "Amid discussions of its historical and political ramifications, it can be easy to lose sight of the all-too-human costs of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, which makes the personalized, micro-view of a documentary such as Encounter Point all the more vital and refreshing," writes Mark Olsen.

Also in the Los Angeles Times:

  • Clare Aigner: "In a snowy Berlin, where right-wing extremism is on the rise and skinheads linger, the long applause for the world premiere of I Have Never Forgotten You: The Life and Legacy of Simon Wiesenthal a documentary about the Nazi hunter who died in 2005, seemed especially poignant."

"Controversial director Abel Ferrara has announced plans to adapt Italian author Giuseppe Farrandino's bestselling novel Pericle il Nero (Pericles the Black Man) for the big screen," reports Time Out's Chris Tilly. "What's so interesting about that I hear you cry? Well, Ferrara's producer claims that the film will 'revisit' the director's notorious 1992 cop flick Bad Lieutenant."

Strajk Volker Schlöndorff's Strajk (Strike) was first debated in the Polish papers; now, it's the German papers' turn, and signandsight translates comments from Andrzej Wajda, who defends the film, and Anna Walentynowicz, who inspired the film but now denounces it.

"Caroline Link, a foreign-language Oscar winner in 2003 with Nowhere in Africa, is returning to Germany for her new film, Im Winter ein Jahr (A Year in Winter), an adaptation of the Scott Campbell novel Aftermath." Scott Roxborough in the Hollywood Reporter. The book itself doesn't seem to have been released.

At european-films.net, Boyd van Hoeij talks with Daniel Sánchez Arévalo about his award-winning Azuloscurocasinegro (DarkBlueAlmostBlack).

"A deadpan comedy that evolves into a wry, politicized examination of truth, 12:08 East of Bucharest reconfirms - on the heels of last year's The Death of Mr Lazarescu - Romania's emergence as a budding cinematic mecca," writes Nick Schager. Also, Beyond the Gates is not "a definitive cinematic statement on the Rwandan genocide but certainly a far preferable dramatic treatment of the atrocity than Hotel Rwanda." And: Adam's Apples "is both too flippant to be moving as a spiritual allegory and too clumsy and unfunny to succeed as a deadpan comedy."

Also at Slant, "Boy Culture remains one of those rare gay films to show serious concern for the way issues of class, age, race, and identity affect queer men young and old," writes Ed Gonzalez. And for Rob Humanick, Reno 911!: Miami "suffers the most from a timid lack of comedic reach."

In the Guardian:

Midnight Movies

In the London Times, Kevin Maher meets Eva Mendes and Edward Norton, while Ian Johns talks with Danny Glover and recommends The Killing Fields, Pauline McLeod interviews A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints writer-director Dito Montiel and there's a David Lynch double feature, too, from Rosie Millard and Ryan Gilbey.

Fast Food Nation Ryan Gilbey also talks with Richard Linklater about Fast Food Nation, but in the New Statesman.

"Just why are so many people making movies about the seedy and often banal underbelly of espionage?" wonders Geoffrey Macnab. Also in the Independent, Chris Sullivan talks with Hilary Swank and, "Did the Queen see The Queen?" Ed Caesar looks into several cases of real people catching (or sometimes avoiding) movie versions of themselves.

In the New York Times:

  • "In the deathbed drama Two Weeks, Sally Field creates an agonizing portrait of Anita Bergman, a middle-aged American everywoman in the final stages of ovarian cancer," writes Stephen Holden. "In many ways Two Weeks is a knowing cinematic primer on what to expect when a parent dies. I should add, however, that it presents the best possible scenario of an extremely painful rite of passage." (More from Ed Gonzalez at Slant and Nick Schager at Cinematical.) Also, "Jay Corcoran's riveting, X-ray-acute documentary Rock Bottom... is a ground-level examination of the crystal meth epidemic in gay New York."

  • AO Scott on Wild Hogs: "Somebody needed to revive the City Slickers formula, and this time the job has gone to Brad Copeland, who wrote the screenplay, and Walt Becker, who directed.... [Martin] Lawrence and [Tim] Allen, who have never aspired very far beyond their affable television-comedy personas, are easier to watch than [John] Travolta or [William H] Macy, who both undertake what can only be called acting. This is more than the picture deserves, but then again, so is Ray Liotta, as the chieftain of the bad bikers, and so is [Marisa] Tomei." More from Fernando F Croce at Slant.

  • Jeannette Catsoulis on The Cats of Mirikitani: "[W]hat began as an interesting portrait of an outsider artist becomes a fascinating story of injustice and endurance."

  • Edmund White: "The really fascinating years, and the centerpiece of this absorbing volume of [Tennessee] Williams's notebooks, edited and annotated by the independent scholar Margaret Bradham Thornton, are those that preceded and accompanied his first two triumphs in the theater, The Glass Menagerie (1945) and A Streetcar Named Desire (1947)."

  • Alessandra Stanley finds that The Lost Tomb of Jesus "relies more on 'what if' than 'here's how.'"

  • Julie Bosman reports on yet another editorial shakeup at the Village Voice.

Hyperbola of Youth "Recently, a group of directors, writers and producers led by Park Chan-wook, troubled by the current state of Korean cinema, have organized a festival to raise public awareness of older movies," notes Jon Pais in a review of Hyperbola of Youth at Twitch. "Park says that watching old films helps produce new ones, and they are often more fun and refreshing to watch. Bong Joon-ho and Im Sang-soo, two engaged directors whose works are continually challenging, are to some extent today's successors to Han Hyung-mo's legacy."

"What a fine piece of writing - and meta-film criticism - that is!" Jim Emerson's been reading Tom McCarthy's novel, Remainder.

The Chicago Reader's JR Jones on An Unreasonable Man: "By the end of the movie [Henriette] Mantel and [Steven] Skrovan manage to put any progressive voter in a bind: if you're not willing to vote based on real beliefs, why should your representatives be expected to act on them?" More from Jim Emerson at RogerEbert.com.

At openDemocracy, Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, author of two books on the Japanese military, has a few minor bones to pick with Letters from Iwo Jima, "Yet overall, the film speaks to its intended audience - Japanese as much as American - with integrity."

"The creators of Amazing Grace have performed a service in calling attention to a significant historical period and one of its most worthy representatives," writes Joanne Laurier at the WSWS.

Noy Thrupkaew in the American Prospect: "The Lives of Others would be too meta-clever to bear - if it didn't work so damn well."

"Once I caught a whiff of Antonioni's structural genius, where every image informs every other one, from the baroque finale to the wobbly handheld opener, his work opened up for me," writes Ryland Walker Knight at the House Next Door.

David Lowery offers three thoughts on Abbas Kiarostami and, more specifically, Taste of Cherry.

What Did the Lady Forget? What Did the Lady Forget? "departs from Ozu's usual filmography with a different social class setting and a world essentialy dominated by powerful women," notes Harry Tuttle. And: "The ending is beautiful!"

"Hawks's His Girl Friday has long been my favorite movie, but I know that Only Angels Have Wings is better," writes That Little Round-Headed Boy.

"Spring used to be the artistic dead end period of the cinematic season... Then, like a promise detected in the breeze, something changed." Bill Gibron previews the highlights for PopMatters. Meanwhile, at Cinematical, Scott Weinberg's already looking ahead to the summer.

Duelling LA Confidential sequels? Christopher Campbell looks into it at Cinematical.

The Telegraph's John Hiscock interviews George Clooney.

Carolina A Miranda talks with Gael García Bernal for Time.

"The first film produced by a social network, LiveMansion is a thriller set in a mega-mansion." They're holding a contest to pick a director and Spike Lee will judge the final round.

Online glancing tip. Bong Joon-Ho's Leica.

Online viewing tip #1. LX.TV profiles Eve Sussman:

Online viewing tip #2. Clips accompany Daniel Kasman's "Notes on the camera of Béla Tarr: Damnation (1988) and Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)."

Online viewing tips. At Twitch, Todd points to a new and trailer for Everything's Gone Green and a trailer for Taweewat Wantha's The Sperm

Posted by dwhudson at 2:11 PM

Weekend fests and events.

"It wasn't too many years ago that March was considered a relatively quiet month for North American film festivals, but these days there may not be such a thing as a 'quiet' month, given the proliferation of important festivals spread throughout the year," writes Jonny Leahan, who covers a slew of docs premiering this month at indieWIRE, where Michael Lerman surveys the many current goings on in New York alone.

New York Arab and South Asian Film Festival

The government has been giving the New York Arab and South Asian Film Festival a pretty hard time, reports Sharon Waxman. One guest, "Khaled Chouket, the director of an Arab film festival in Rotterdam, a Dutch citizen of Tunisian origin and a guest of the festival, was held by immigration officials for five hours at John F Kennedy International Airport." Abdullah al-Muheisin, director of Shadow of Silence, was unable to get a visa. Festival director Ahmed Issawi: "One of the things about this whole experience is that there is no predictability. You can't say, 'Well, okay , if Fed Ex picks it up, they send it.' That's not guaranteed. Or, 'If he gets a visa, will he get in.' That's not guaranteed. It takes its toll."

Updated.

New York International Children's Film Festival

"As co-director of the New York International Children's Film Festival, which he founded with his wife, Emily Shapiro, [Eric] Beckman has been on a mission to extend children's tastes beyond a steady diet of Disney and Pixar," writes Laurel Graeber, also in the New York Times. More from Elena Marinaccio at the Reeler.

Slant opens its coverage of the upcoming New Directors / New Films series (March 21 through April 1 in New York). Ed Gonzalez's reviews so far:

  • "Glue is no landmark, but there's a striking candor to Alexis Dos Santos's artful doodle about a boy and his seething hormones in Argentina's dreary Patagonia region that recalls some of the seminal works of the New Queer Cinema movement."

  • "Peter Schønau Fog's Dutch hot-potato The Art of Crying is a failure, mostly for its desperate sense of trying."

  • "Though it ends on an impressively relaxed note of uncertainty, [Cowboy Angels] feels oddly detached, never capturing that vital sense of historical connection and spiritual camaraderie between people that is apparent in Wim Wenders's best movies."

Salty Air
  • "[I]n spite of fusing elements from some of the most potentially hysterical genres of film - including the road movie, the reconciliatory father-son drama, and the disease-of-the-week melodrama - with relative ease, [Salty Air] never grapples with its familiar parts in a particularly vivacious or unique fashion."

And Nick Schager: "Red Road feels disingenuously committed to sympathetically portraying [Jackie's (Kate Dickie)] situation."

Nick Schager also reviews The Lookout, which will open the SXSW Film Festival on Friday. 2½ out of 4 stars for this "straightforward genre piece bolstered by a sterling lead turn from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and a sincere, respectful interest in the emotional and psychological fallout from severe head injuries."

Speaking of SXSW, B-Side has launched its "(Unofficial) SXSW Other Side Guide."

Online listening tips. The True/False Film Festival "is one of the most congenial and fun gatherings during the festival year where doc makers and doc lovers can connect and celebrate film without so much of the sales & marketing focus that permeates the A-List festivals," writes Joel Heller, introducing his Docs That Inspire interview with co-founder David Wilson. Also: A talk with editor Yana Gorskaya (Spellbound, Rocket Science).

Updates: The Chicago Reader is writing up highlights of the ongoing European Union Film Festival (through March 29) and the Chicago Irish Film Festival (site; through Wednesday).

"The Nigerian film Ezra has won the top prize at the biennial African Film Festival, Fespaco, in Burkina Faso." James Copnall reports for the BBC.

Geoff Manaugh: "I'm super-excited to announce that Materials & Applications and BLDGBLOG have teamed up to curate an architectural film fest, as part of this year's Silver Lake Film Festival in Los Angeles." May 3 through 12.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:04 PM | Comments (2)

March 2, 2007

An open letter. 2.

To: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
From: John Sinno, Academy Award Nominee, Iraq In Fragments, and Co-Founder, Northwest Documentary Association

Oscar I had the great fortune of attending the 79th Academy Awards following my nomination as producer for a film in the Best Documentary Feature category. At the Awards ceremony, most categories featured an introduction that glorified the filmmakers' craft and the role it plays for the film audience and industry. But when comedian Jerry Seinfeld introduced the award for Best Documentary Feature, he began by referring to a documentary that features himself as a subject, then proceeded to poke fun at it by saying it won no awards and made no money. He then revealed his love of documentaries, as they have a very "real" quality, while making a comically sour face. This less-than-flattering beginning was followed by a lengthy digression that had nothing whatsoever to do with documentary films. The clincher, however, came when he wrapped up his introduction by calling all five nominated films "incredibly depressing!"

Updated through 3/5.

While I appreciate the role of humor in our lives, Jerry Seinfeld's remarks were made at the expense of thousands of documentary filmmakers and the entire documentary genre. Obviously we make films not for awards or money, although we are glad if we are fortunate enough to receive them. The important thing is to tell stories, whether of people who have been damaged by war, of humankind's reckless attitude toward nature and the environment, or even of the lives and habits of penguins. With his lengthy, dismissive and digressive introduction, Jerry Seinfeld had no time left for any individual description of the five nominated films. And by labeling the documentaries "incredibly depressing," he indirectly told millions of viewers not to bother seeing them because they're nothing but downers. He wasted a wonderful opportunity to excite viewers about the nominated films and about the documentary genre in general.

To have a presenter introduce a category with such disrespect for the nominees and their work is counter to the principles the Academy was founded upon. To be nominated for an Academy Award is one of the highest honors our peers can give us, and to have the films dismissed in such an offhand fashion was deeply insulting. The Academy owes all documentary filmmakers an apology.

Seinfeld's introduction arrived on the heels of an announcement by the Academy that the number of cities where documentary films must screen to qualify for an Academy Award is being increased by 75%. This will make it much more difficult for independent filmmakers' work to qualify for the Best Documentary Feature Award, while giving an advantage to films distributed by large studios. Fewer controversial films will qualify for Academy consideration, and my film Iraq in Fragments would have been disqualified this year. This announcement came as a great disappointment to me and to other documentary filmmakers. I hope the Academy will reconsider its decision.

On a final note, I would like to point out that there was no mention of the Iraq War during the Oscar telecast, though it was on the minds of many in the theatre and of millions of viewers. It is wonderful to see the Academy support the protection of the environment. Unfortunately there is more than just one inconvenient truth in this world. Having mention of the Iraq War avoided altogether was a painful reminder for many of us that our country is living in a state of denial. As filmmakers, it is the greatest professional crime we can commit not to speak out with the truth. We owe it to the public.

I hope what I have said is taken to heart. It comes from my concern for the cinematic art and its crucial role in the times we're living in.


Update, 3/3: On a somewhat related note, Jesus Camp directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady kept an Oscar Diary for the Tribeca Film Festival. Fun reading via Aaron Dobbs.

Updates, 3/5: Bilge Ebiri explains at ScreenGrab why this new 75 percent rule really is a crock.

And the Reeler comments on the whole affair.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:22 PM | Comments (27)

Film Comment. March/April 07.

Luis Buñuel and Carlos Saura "During his almost 50 years as a filmmaker, Carlos Saura has been witness to all kinds of convulsions in Spanish cinema and its sociopolitical context," begins Manuel Yáñez Murillo's feature in the newest issue of Film Comment. "A prolific creator (he has made almost 40 features) with a pronounced stylistic and thematic identity, Saura has a strong authorial presence, but the trajectory of his career is closely linked to the work of an interesting group of collaborators."

Chris Chang calls for a distributor for Valeska Grisebach's "minimalist tale of woe," Longing (Sehnsucht).

"In [Susanne Bier's] Open Hearts and Brothers, calamity strikes directly and very early on," writes Joumane Chahine. "In After the Wedding, the tragedy is not so brutally evident, at least not initially. It reveals itself slowly, in tiny and often mystifying ripples, through cool shades and shaky camerawork that hints at muted undercurrents. But the impact is no less poignant."

Film Comment: March/April 07 "A frat party with stars, a blogger convention, a bazaar that could easily share its exploitation wares with the AFM (American Film Market) - these were the most trying aspects of Sundance '07," writes Amy Taubin. More from Gavin Smith: "There was no equivalent to either Old Joy or Little Miss Sunshine this time around, and the once-hot (or at least warm) but now rapidly cooling Premieres section was even more pathetic than last year."

"Readers rant and rave about the films of 2006."

An online exclusive and a treat: Alex Cox and Tod Davies spoke with Charles Burnett in 2002. It's a casual, loose talk, but it'll whet your appetite for the return of Killer of Sheep to theaters at the end of the month and on DVD in the fall.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:26 PM

Sirk, Wilder, Kieslowski.

Written on the Wind As the American Cinematheque screens its series Douglas Sirk: The Far Side of Paradise through the weekend, Sean Axmaker surveys the oeuvre at the main site: "He turned suburbia into a storybook pretty but socially arid prison of conformity and high living mansions into tarnished nurseries of corrupted values and festering jealousies. Simply reading their plots might cause the uninitiated to regard his canon as some perverse auteurist joke, but under the kitschy trappings and absurd situations is an ironic (back before irony had become the cinematic norm) and at times surreal refraction of the American self-image."

Jeff Duncanson has launched a Billy Wilder Blog-a-Thon at filmscreed, where you'll find fine pix and posters to gaze at. Edward Copeland's been tracking the linkage.

Quiet Bubble is hosting a Krzysztof Kieslowski Blog-a-Thon, scheduled to run through Monday. Jim Emerson's contribution is also an entry in his magnificent Opening Shots Project.

Updated through 3/3.

Update, 3/3: Steven Shapiro: "If Kieslowski retreats from politics in the Decalogue and in his subsequent films, if A Short Film About Killing, made in the waning days of 'actually existing socialism,' says so little about that social system in particular (everything in the film could just as easily happen, much the same way, in an economically depressed capitalist society and state), if Kieslowski seems to reject politics altogether, in order to focus on supposedly more 'universal' concerns (ones which are generally described as moral or ethical, and as spiritual or religious) - then this movement is still founded upon a bleak and critical view of the social, one that is not dissolved away by any sort of move to more 'individual' concerns."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:15 AM

Rendez-Vous. 3.

The Singer James van Maanen on two films in the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series.

For me one of the hallmarks of good French film has always been the near-immediate recognition that the filmmaker understands subtleties of character and how people interact with each other. Here, reticence and withholding are often paramount. Skilled moviemakers communicate the importance of what has been withheld - and how - even if they choose not to reveal the "why." A fine example of all this is Xavier Giannoli's interesting film The Singer (Quand j'étais chanteur), which offers Gérard Depardieu in about as relaxed and charming a performance as I can recall. His age, his weight and the knowledge he's gained as an actor (and undoubtedly as a human being) all come to fruition in this lovely performance.

Updated through 3/4.

Depardieu is well abetted by the young and beautiful Cécile de France, so different here from her characters in last year's delightful Avenue Montaigne (currently in US theaters) and Russian Dolls. It's her character who remains a mystery, right up until the end. We learn things, but not nearly all we might. No matter: she's believable, Depardieu is, too, and - most important - their relationship rings true, which is all the more surprising in that it's a tricky April/November, beauty-and-the-beast affair. Giannoli has things to learn about pacing and plot, perhaps, but as a character study (not just of these two but of the subsidiary folk, as well) and as a look at the milieu of aging musicians who still want to ply their trade, the movie works quite well.

Inside Paris Which is more than can be said for another film that saw its US debut today: Christopher Honoré's Inside Paris (Dans Paris). In 2004, M. Honore gave us, as director and adapter, Ma mère, anchored by gorgeous visuals and a strong performance from Isabelle Huppert, and penned the splendidly strange and sexual Le Clan, known as Three Dancing Slaves in the US. As writer/director of this new one, he begins with a charming use of the actors addressing the audience, steals fairly obviously from Godard and Truffaut, concocts a story full of angst, bathos and would-be comedy/romance, climaxes with a truck-load of exposition regarding a character completely unseen and ends with the use of a children's book that manages to be both pretentious and sentimental.  Though the first-rate cast gives its all, not a single character is believable by any standards known to me. Bonus perks include Louis Garrel in the altogether and Romain Duris in the almost (but we've seen him nude often enough already), Guy Marchand (always a treat) and the little-seen-of-late-on-these-shores Marie-France Pisier, who makes a most attractive fifty-ish mom. If your whimsy tolerance is enormous, you might take to this one (you'll have a chance later this year when IFC/First Take releases it stateside). I didn't, but you've probably gathered that already.


Update, 3/4: "Channeling the spirit of Krzysztof Kieslowski's Red in its suffusive evocation of longing and synchronicity," writes acquarello, "Xavier Giannoli's The Singer is an intelligently rendered, understatedly resonant, and refined portrait of the often bifurcating trajectories of existential and emotional intersections."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:49 AM

PIFF Dispatch. 9.

Another round from DK Holm, three more seen at the recent Portland International Film Festival.

Manufactured Landscapes Occasionally you see a movie that is divided against itself. Manufactured Landscapes is such a film. It's a documentary by Jennifer Baichwal about Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky, who specializes in images of industry. For Burtynsky, there is nothing more beautiful or intriguing than a gaping blackened pit dug out of the earth by a mining company or the husk of a rusted ship being dismantled by a team of Bengalese children like insects on a carcass, or a Manhattan-sized factory filled with uniformed worker drones churning out 200 light fixtures a day. As he states near the end, Burtynsky makes no attempt to politicize his images. He merely presents them for the viewer, or photo buff, or connoisseur to work out what they think of it. One gets the feeling that Burtynsky is hedging, that in fact he deeply, truly loves the subjects of his portraits and, though aware of the ramifications of what caused his subjects to come into degenerating existence, he is nevertheless struck by their odd inhuman beauty. Well, after all, you can see the affection in the crisp, colorful images that the film reproduces.

But that is not the film that Baichwal is making. Instead, she is using his pictures to protest globalization, the plight of workers in third world countries, the pointless and endless drudgery of repetitious manual labor, the cruelty of factory bosses, and the consequences of industry on the environment. Both these views are fine, but it makes for a schizophrenic film. Especially when Baichwal backgrounds the images with unnerving droning industrial music, credited to Dan Driscoll. In the end, there is a tad too much long-take Koyaanisqatsi-esque live action industrial horror footage and not enough exploration of Burtynsky's art, technique and philosophy. You come away from the film not even sure what he looks like. Peter Debruge (Variety) and Adam Nayman (Eye Weekly) also comment on the film. [And earlier, here: Brian Darr.]

Flannel Pajamas Flannel Pajamas [site] is that quaint thing, the story of a relationship. It appears not to have any meaning beyond that. It just wants to tell the story of a romance. Though it starts out with savvy, witty New Yorkers and their guarded repartee, it is less Woody Allen than his mentor, Ingmar Bergman, as the film dismantles and dissects intimacy and bares its lovers literally and figuratively.

The lovers are Stuart Sawyer (Justin Kirk of Angels in America, who has the sharp angular features of a young Keith Carradine), and Nicole Reilly (the befreckled Julianne Nicholson, of various Laws and Orders). We meet them shortly after they have met each other, in a diner chaperoned by their shared doctor (Stephanie March, also of Law and Order). He's kind of barbed, and yet is praised for lying, which happens to be his job (something vague about publicizing Broadway shows). Yet somehow they connect, partially because not only is he a fibber, but he is also frank.

But soon enough the world of the relationship expands and we and she meet his nutty brother Jordan (Jamie Harrold), her terrible friends, her big family. He is Jewish and she is something else, Catholic perhaps, though neither that nor his job seem to have any bearing on the couple's day-to-day activities, at least not until the Alzheimer's-stricken mother turns out to harbor racial stereotypes, and Nicole appears to rejoin her faith. Yet soon they begin to have for each other that relationship-killing emotion, contempt (according to Seattle-based intimacy scholar John M Gottman). Starting out as the perfect guy, dispensing money freely, Stuart becomes one of those guys who dislikes her friends and relatives and just generally turns cynical. Nicole starts her own business, and that fails. And he strikes out on his own, too. A baby looms as a solution to the surface tensions of the marriage.

Flannel Pajamas is written and directed by Jeff Lipsky, the indie film producer famous from Peter Biskind's Down and Dirty Pictures, and presumably somewhat autobiographical, at least as observed life, with just the slightest moral and emotional favoritism towards the male half of the marriage. Though the film relies on sit-comy transition shots of buildings and has a static affect (except in a hospital cafeteria scene), overall Lipsky's film is good at portraying the tensions that arise unexpectedly from moment to moment in an intimate relationship. Additional views: Todd McCarthy (Variety) and Nick Schager (Slant).

Dreaming by Numbers Anna Bucchetti's Dreaming by Numbers [site]is a slice-of-life documentary about a peculiarity of Italian life; the filmmaker herself is from the Netherlands. It's a fascinating look at a core contradiction in the psychology of the population of Naples. Though presumably practicing Catholics, these men and women pile into the equivalent of off-track betting parlors to gamble, picking as their lottery numbers figures culled from a guidebook to dreams that draws upon peasant superstitions. The two women who work in one particular gambling office, or ricevitore, tell their story, as do many of their customers. Told, unusually, in black and white, with a quick and unexpected music track (but no narration), Dreaming by Numbers has the immediacy of Frederick Wiseman's documentaries. The sole other review of the film appears in, where else, Variety, from Deborah Young.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:57 AM

March 1, 2007

Shorts, 3/1.

Theo Van Gogh / Pim Fortuyn "May 6th is an unnervingly fitting epitaph for the bearish, chain-smoking, always-controversial [Theo] Van Gogh, a politico/libertine of the old school who was fueled by his passionate belief in the power of free speech and even freer art," writes Mark Savlov in the Austin Chronicle. "May 6th is Blow-Up for the new world disorder, a taut paranoid thriller about the 2002 assassination of Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn. Fortuyn, an openly gay Libertarian firebrand who polarized the Netherlands, was, like Van Gogh, loved and loathed in equal measure. Van Gogh's improbably probable final feature - he would be assassinated 911 days after Fortuyn - rockets along on the bloody rails of the here and now, a fictional film that appears to be growing less so every moment." More from Louis Proyect. Only tangentially related: Stephen Elliott's disturbing read in the Believer.

"[W]hereas [Maya] Deren and [Stan] Brakhage envisioned a homegrown avant-garde cinema that would scorn the Hollywood behemoth, [Kenneth] Anger emerged from the dragon's lair itself," writes Tom Gunning in Artforum. "His détournement of Hollywood tropes helped Pop art emerge from the biting irony entwined with affection that defined American homosexual camp culture."

"On a 24-day shoot in Corsica since February 12, Hungarian director Béla Tarr's The Man from London is on the last lap of its adventurous voyage, and may be ready in time for the upcoming Cannes Film Festival," reports Fabien Lemercier for Cineuropa.

"Director Kim Ki-duk's 14th film, Breath, has been sold to 10 countries even before it has finished filming." KBS reports.

"Not since the mid-1960s has [Harold] Pinter been so much in vogue. But why now?" asks Michael Billington. Naturally, he can think up a whole list of reasons, the first round summed up as, basically, a belated recognition of the depth and nature of his talent. Then: "The current rash of revivals also testifies to a big shift in our attitude to Pinter's view of world politics.... Pinter was forever mocked as the Angry Old Man and instructed to pipe down and get back to writing plays. If those attacks have largely disappeared, it is because recent events have tragically vindicated Pinter's world-view."

Also in the Guardian:

Hiroshima mon Amour MS Smith revises his list of "Twenty Favorite Films": "[T]he most pronounced consistency lies in how all of the films in my list of essential, personal favorites ultimately exist within the long, imposing shadow of my number-one choice."

Some might argue it's a bit late, but how else to gain perspective: Geoff Andrew on the year in film, 2006, in Frieze: "Too many of the Asian movies released were flashy exercises in horror and violence; an exception was the exquisitely beautiful Three Times, by Taiwan's Hsiao-Hsien Hou... Many of the finest films of the year were European."

"How hard is it to get a simple human drama made in the current film industry?" asks Jim Ridley in the Nashville Scene. Even if you're Curt Hahn and your company's got Two Weeks, an indie featuring Sally Field and Ben Chaplin, opening this weekend, it's pretty hard - unless you toss in a gratuitous rape scene. Hahn won't.

"For my money, charm comes altogether too easily to the French, and Gallic whimsy only serves to prop up infantile Anglo fantasies about the ceaseless glamour of la vie Parisienne," writes Ella Taylor, reviewing Avenue Montaigne for the LA Weekly. "Still, I make an exception for Danièle Thompson, whose warmly irreverent fluff (La Bûche, Jet Lag) comes animated by an earthy refusal to take the cult of the artist at face value, and a fetching habit of nudging to the dramatic spotlight the kinds of people who, in movies of this kind, usually show up for five seconds to roll their eyes at bourgeois folly and exit, sweeping." Also, Gbravica.

The Reeler talks with Mira Nair about The Namesake. Also, Vadim Rizov: "The timing of the Film Forum's revival of Raise the Red Lantern may seem odd (come celebrate its 16th anniversary!), but there's probably never been a more urgent time to re-evaluate the work of Zhang Yimou."

Production Weekly has news of what's up next for Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington.

Picking up with her take on Come and Get It, Self-Styled Siren considers "The Strange Fame of Frances Farmer, Part Two."

Kalen Egan at the Six-Reel Shuffle on Don Siegel's The Beguiled: "Here is a film so ahead of its time that even today it feels like something relevant, wise and alien."

"It's hard to imagine it, but there was a time when the striptease artist was considered one of the classiest acts in all of entertainment." PopMatters' Bill Gibron on a double feature: Dream Follies/Dreamland Capers.

"As part of a newly created venture, [James] Cameron is working with Jimmy Iovine, the chairman of the Interscope Geffen A&M record label, to produce music films, concerts and other content in 3-D to show in specially equipped theaters. Mr Iovine and Mr Cameron hope to deliver their first production by summer." Jeff Leeds's report in the New York Times features cameos by Gwen Stefani, Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails.

"The film, That, may just be a 39-minute 'snowboarding epic,'" writes Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay, "but independent filmmakers should take note of it because, according to Variety, it's the first piece of independently distributed media on the Apple iTunes Movie Store."

Online gazing tip. Ray Pride's hotel room portraits.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:08 PM

Online viewing, 3/1.

Dylan Hears a Who Well, this first one's more of a listening tip, but the site is wonderfully designed. "The songs on Dylan Hears a Who! go beyond parody to become (for my money) a genuinely touching tribute to two major 20th century artists," writes James Urbaniak. "A mashup masterpiece."

"Trailers from Hell... showcases classic horror and exploitation film Previews of Coming Attractions. Viewers can opt to watch the original trailer intact and/or enjoy a new version punctuated with pithy and humorous commentary by iconic horror directors. The first five episodes of the show feature Joe Dante." Via Brendon Connelly.

Oscar-winning animated short, The Danish Poet, via Drawn!

At Reverse Shot, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Hanna Schygulla at the circus.

You'll find David Cronenberg's From the Drain at ScreenGrab.

David Poland has lunch with Paul Verhoeven.

Nice clean trailer for Satoshi Kon's Paprika.

"These days, there are fewer reasons than ever to turn on the television," writes Boing Boing's Mark Frauenfelder as he points to over 3700 docs - and singles out two.

At Dr Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope, Drew Morton's found Steven Soderbergh's Building No 7.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:20 PM

Fests and events, 3/1.

The Legend of the Wolf Woman "No one mixes art house and butcher shop quite the way the 43-year-old [Quentin] Tarantino does," writes Geoff Boucher, who has a good long talk with QT for the Los Angeles Times. "And now he is sending a valentine back to the vintage exploitation films that have been his lurid muse: This Sunday marks the start of his Los Angeles Grindhouse Festival 2007, a tenderly titled, eight-week retrospective of five dozen deliriously bad films, among them Autopsy, Jailbait Babysitter, Chinese Hercules and The Legend of the Wolf Woman. For the uninitiated, 'grindhouse' is a nickname for the creaky theaters that would 'grind' away their projectors for triple features filled with second-run films, exploitation flicks and foreign-film curiosities." Related: GC's serialization of Eddie Muller's Grindhouse.

Now, if you're actually going to be able to attend all or part of this marathon, here's the name you need to click: Dennis Cozzalio. Bookmark that entry and refer to it from here through April.

"Where preservationists might shriek, Bill Morrison sees a strangely rapturous alternative cinema narrative," writes Robert Abele, also in the Los Angeles Times. "Degenerating archival film has long been a source of temporally bewitching beauty for the Chicago-born filmmaker — perhaps best known among the art-house set for his 2002 feature-length study Decasia and Los Angeles is fortunate to have a pair of programs of his short work in local venues over the next two weeks, with Morrison present at both." And they are: Bill Morrison's Theater of Decaying Memories at Redcat on Monday and the LA Film Forum's program on March 11. More from Robert Koehler in the LA Weekly.

Taste of Cherry The Abbas Kiarostami retrospective at MoMA, "covering more than three decades and including shorts and features, documentaries and instructional films, provides plenty of opportunities to appreciate his plainness and to ponder his mysteries," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "But what are [the films] about? The radicalism of Mr Kiarostami's approach to narrative filmmaking may lie in just how thoroughly his films confound that basic question without slipping into abstraction."

"Four years ago, the already desperately loved Noise Pop Festival added a Film Festival component, making it an alt-pop lover's best friend in nearly every relevant medium." Dennis Harvey recommends a few highlights for SF360. Through Sunday.

The American Theatre of Harlem's third annual film festival, "Cultures Collide, opens tonight, runs through the weekend, and features over a dozen films, including Death of Two Sons.

IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez previews the True/False Film Festival, also opening tonight and running through the weekend - but in Columbia, Missouri. AJ Schnack is there.

Another iW preview: Brian Brooks on the Cinequest Film Festival, running through March 11 in San Jose.

Through Lebanese Eyes: Recent Political Documentaries by Lebanese Women is a series at Artists' Television Access; March 4, 6, 8 and 11 in San Francisco and Berkeley.

"Momentary Momentum: an exhibition devoted to animated drawings, comprising a dozen installations and a film loop with the participation of Francis Alÿs, Robert Breer, Paul Bush / Lisa Milroy, Michael Dudok de Wit, Brent Green, Takashi Ishida, Susanne Jirkuff, William Kentridge, Avish Khebrehzadeh, Jochen Kuhn, Zilla Leutenegger, Arthur de Pins, Qubo Gas, Christine Rebet, Robin Rhode, Georges Schwizgebel, David Shrigley, Tabaimo, Naoyuki Tsuji & Kara Walker." Saturday through May 3 at Parasol unit in London.

SXSW With just over a week to go before the three-pronged SXSW blasts open, the Austin Chronicle is packed with previews for the Music and Interactive festivities. Look for a Film package next week, but there's loads of appetite-whetting going on in this issue already. Besides the likelihood of your finding a fistful of bands you'll want to catch, there's also Richard Whittaker's piece on "The Future of Film on the Web."

Acquarello, catching up with the Film Comment Selects series: "Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet's These Encounters of Theirs is a rigorous and subversively irreverent, but thoughtful, sensual, and articulate meditation on the search for enlightenment, the rapture of divine inspiration, the intranscendable distance of gods, and the elusive quest for immortality." Also, Robert Aldrich's "Twilight's Last Gleaming articulates a sincere and elegiac plea for transparency in government and empowerment of the people - a sobering vigil for the restoration of the dignity of political service and the dying ideals of a once great civilization that, in the myopic intoxication of power, has lost its way."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:06 PM | Comments (1)

Weekend viewing in San Francisco.

For Bay Area cinephiles, the weekend begins tonight. Hannah Eaves previews a unique doc series and an Irish film festival.

Witness to War Witness to War, though strikingly direct and to the point, is perhaps not the most appropriate title for the Documentary Film Institute series launching tonight and running in various impressive San Francisco venues throughout the weekend. It brings to mind the "achingly plangent films with no commentary about graves in Bosnia" that the BBC film essayist Adam Curtis dissed so memorably at GreenCine all those months ago. But of the films being screened in this interesting series, there are none born from that journalistic tradition. Instead, we are being offered a brief examination of form in documentary filmmaking from, as the subtitle reads, "WWII to Iraq" (but really, mostly WWII).

James Longley's Iraq in Fragments (the sole Iraq film screening), and also the films featured in the Humphrey Jennings tribute, are very observational, it's true - they are all about getting into the reality or heart of the people they're showing us. But they are also important experiments in form. On the most basic level, they often use the stylistic conventions of narrative filmmaking, with an emphasis on characters, scenes, "dialogue," etc, to tell the non-fiction stories of their subjects. It makes the films quiet but powerful, which in today's documentary landscape of (often justified) real violence and sensationalism, keeps them, and others like them, hidden away from the mainstream. Even more hidden away than mainstream documentaries.

Humphrey Jennings was an English artist who produced several landmark propaganda films during WWII and just beyond, until his tragic early death in a fall from a cliff while scouting for locations on a Greek island. In the years before the War, he co-founded the Mass Observation movement, whereby some intellectual elites from the UK's South conducted methodical observations of the Northern heartland's working class. Mass Observation was a sincere pop-anthropological attempt to understand the day-to-day concerns and activities of real working people, and while Jennings was only involved with it for a brief period of time, this concept was to become a lynchpin of his work for the Crown Film Unit. His propaganda films, made after several formative years as a filmmaker for the GPO, were widely seen in wartime England and proved to be an influence on the British film industry that would be felt through the Free Cinema movement and the social realist works of the British New Wave - the "Kitchen Sink Realism" that would come to define British art cinema up to and including Mike Leigh, Michael Winterbottom and now, seemingly, Andrea Arnold.

Fires Were Started The three Jennings films that are screening for free as part of Witness to War are Listen to Britain, A Diary for Timothy and Jennings's only feature length film, Fires Were Started. The last two in particular are what we might call "docu-dramas" today. Fires Were Started is a portrait of the Auxiliary Fire Service during a 24-hour period in the "bitter days of 1940/41, played by the firemen and women themselves" as they fight deadly blazes in London's docks. All of the films feature real people, not actors, in spontaneous-seeming scenes (a highlight in Fires: "One Man Went to Mow" is sung in the firehouse as each man enters the room). Although probably scripted, the dialogue seems like it was taken directly from the real lives of the subjects, much like Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor write the scripts for their wonderful, though not at all naturalistic, Civic Life shorts. And just as in those Civic Life shorts, funded by city councils in the UK, Jennings often draws on vaguely surrealist cutting techniques, perhaps a reflection of his actual serious involvement with that movement.

This surrealism is particularly notable in Listen to Britain, a cinema-poem about the sounds of wartime London which reaches out of itself to become a stirring portrait of its people. There seems to be a Dziga Vertov influence in the cutting - from tree to street to schoolyard - but for cinephiles, there is also the feeling of jumping from one tradition to another. One moment we feel like we are watching a dialogue-free narrative scene - two-shot, close-up - but then we cut straight, slam, into the landscape, or something else equally impressionistic. There is certainly a chain of consciousness story there; one sequence goes from inside a factory to the same factory workers watching a variety show, to the RAF orchestra performing, to an exhibition of paintings. Music, as in all of these Jennings films, becomes essential, and is played out at length, with respectful attention given to the various players' interaction with their instruments.

A Diary for Timothy is the most didactic piece in the program, with a narration written by EM Forster and voiced by Michael Redgrave. The baby Timothy, we are told, has been born in the last full year of the War, and as such is being asked to shoulder the burden of the good men coming before him, not to mention the unmapped future that lies ahead. There are filmed portraits of three men: A miner, a farmer and a soldier. Beyond this, there is a lurking unease about the world of unemployment, injury and now-strange normalcy to be faced just around the corner. But the most ringing sentiment for the contemporary audience comes in the questions put to Timothy at the end of the film: "Are you going to have greed for money or power ousting decency from the world as they have in the past? Or are you going to make the world a better place, you and the other babies?" Well, we know the answer to that one, as I'm sure Jennings did when he posed it.

Blockade Author David Thomson will introduce the Jennings tribute at the MH de Young Museum, and it will be followed up by a screening of Sergei Loznitsa's award-winning Blockade, to be introduced by program curator Tom Luddy. Blockade is a found footage portrait of Leningrad during the 900-day siege in WWII that saw the death of over half a million citizens, mostly from starvation. The footage was pulled from newsreels found in the archives of the St Petersburg Studio of Documentary Film and is accompanied by a recreated, realistic soundscape. Over a long hour, Loznitsa strings together the disturbing reality of a city slowly crumbling into snow, starvation and the numb acceptance of a daily madness that has become almost mundane. Also screening at the de Young will be the other non-WWII film of the series, Bertrand Tavernier's documentary on the French-Algerian "conflict," The Undeclared War.

To end at the beginning, Witness to War will kick off with a high profile event featuring a filmmaker whose popular techniques have changed the landscape of documentary form and who is especially notable for his unique ability to reach the masses through non-fiction filmmaking. He is, of course, the great Ken Burns, creator of what is now officially known in video editing software as the "Ken Burns Effect," the use of a slow pan or zoom on a still image to lend it drama. Burns will present a 90-minute compilation from his new seven-part series on WWII, The War, followed by an onstage conversation at the Castro Theatre tonight. On Friday night, he ventures over to the Premier Theater (at the Letterman Digital Arts Center) to present The War: Part 1 in its entirety.

It should also be noted that there will be an accompanying exhibition at the SFSU Fine Arts Gallery, Witness to War: Revisiting Vietnam in Contemporary Art, which will be open through March 15.


The Wind That Shakes the Barley It's quite a weekend for San Francisco audiences. Beyond the Witness to War series, the 4th Annual San Francisco Irish Film Festival will take over the Roxie Film Center, also starting tonight and running through the weekend, with a special free screening of Cannes-winner The Wind that Shakes the Barley on March 7 at the Lumiere.

It's going to be a very diverse festival playing host to a whole slew of cinema-friendly formats. On Friday night, there will be a shorts program (with free Magner's Irish Cider) followed by Irish Telly Night. Then on Saturday, a silent matinee, Irish Destiny, will screen before Irish TV Night Program 2 and a feature presentation, the popular comedy Man About Dog. John Carney's Bachelors Walk will screen during the second TV night; the SF Irish Film festival will be co-presenting Carney's latest film, Once, a recent Sundance winner, at the San Francisco International Film Festival in April.

Sunday is for contemplation and will see a rounding out of the weekend events with a slate of docs and a Gay Cinema program. Free tickets for The Wind that Shakes the Barley will be available from the Roxie box office throughout the festival.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:28 AM | Comments (1)

Interview. Cam Archer.

Wild Tigers I Have Known "The moment at the dawn of adolescence when hormones and daydreams swirl into a heady fog of confusion and longing is poetically evoked in Cam Archer's film Wild Tigers I Have Known," writes Stephen Holden, who then explains in the New York Times why he feels that the current version of the film "is a marked improvement over a longer one shown last year at the New Directors/New Films series."

"Cinematographer Aaron Platt marries the emotionally complex storyline with stylized images similar to those found in Archer's previous shorts, while brother/sound designer Nate Archer incorporates a moody backdrop ranging from songs by Current 93, Pantaleimon and Six Organs of Admittance to ethereal effects and voice-overs," writes Heather Johnson, introducing her interview with Archer at the main site. "The result is precisely the type of film that Archer believes has a deserved place in the cinematic landscape, but now wants to move away from: an art film for teens."

Karina Longworth at Cinematical: "The movie wears its ancestors on its sleeve - Tarnation and My Own Private Idaho, sure, but also Kenneth Anger, Warhol, Harmony Korine - and like all of the above, it comes alive when it abandons traditional storytelling techniques in favor of tableau."

"[Y]ou want to applaud Archer for making a movie that asks you to feel more than follow," writes Robert Wilonsky in the Voice.

"Archer is a fresh voice in American independent film, and he emerged from Sundance not as a mainstream wonder but as an artistic underdog," writes Mike Plante, introducing his interview for Filmmaker.

Matt Singer talks with Archer for IFC News; so does indieWIRE.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:46 AM

Rendez-Vous. 2.

La Vie en Rose James van Maanen follows up his preview of the Rendez-Vous With French Cinema series (through March 11) with his take on the opener.

The glitzy, gala opening night festivities are over, and the Edith Piaf biopic La Vie en Rose [site] proved a smart choice for the festival opener. Anchored by the sublime performance of Marion Cotillard in the leading role (she's surrounded by many of France's finest actors, from Gérard Depardieu to Sylvie Testud and Emmanuelle Seigner), the film proved, if not sterling, then good solid iron: a serviceable look at the life of a sad, talented and fascinating woman. Olivier Dahan seems more proficient as director than co-writer, jumping back and forth in time but seldom confusing us. He takes some quite interesting risks, as well: silencing the striking Piaf voice during an important concert, thus allowing us to concentrate on Cotillard's visual presentation and the audience response to that performance.

The women in Piaf's life register much more strongly than do the men, with Seigneur and Testud particularly vital. Even so, all the subsidiary characters seem to have but a single characteristic designed to further the story and make their point: mom's selfish, dad's ineffectual, Marcel's the loveable lug, Louis Leplee is a big help and Tintine needs a child. Pascal Greggory, one of the screen's most interesting actors, is practically wasted here. But none of this matters much against Cotillard's galvanic thesping. In every scene, at almost every moment (once Edith has grown up), she carries the film and the rest of the cast along with her. Manon Chevallier is quite good, too, as the young Edith, and Piaf's singing is provided by Jil Aigrot, who sure fooled me. In her a cappella version of the "Marseillaise," not to mention all the Piaf "greats," she sports a rich and spectacular voice. At 2 hours and 20 minutes, the movie occasionally threatens to numb one's posterior, but then Miss Marion's face lights up the screen and all is well visually, if awfully downbeat emotionally.

Time Warner's Picturehouse is distributing La Vie en Rose, with a June 2007 opening planned.


Earlier: "Berlinale Dispatch. La Môme."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:10 AM | Comments (2)

Interview. Mark and Michael Polish. Billy Bob Thornton.

The Astronaut Farmer "To me it's the same thing," Michael Polish tells Jeffrey M Anderson. "In Northfork, we had a guy building an ark, and in this movie we have a guy building a rocket." But of course, The Astronaut Farmer is a movie of an entirely different order. For starters, it features Billy Bob Thornton, and Jeffrey talks with him about his character, Charles Farmer: "I also grew up in a small town in the South and I was about the only person in that town that ever left it and had any type of success."

Related: Something like an online viewing tip, actually. Rachel Aguiar in North by Northwestern talks with Thornton and Virginia Madsen. Thanks, Paul!

Posted by dwhudson at 4:59 AM