June 29, 2007
John Pierson: Dear Mike..."With the hugely entertaining and highly effective Sicko opening nationwide today, you probably think that dredging up and examining bits and pieces of your storied past is nothing but a petty, narrow-minded distraction," writes John Pierson in an open letter to Michael Moore at indieWIRE. "Since your op/ed piece (your post-documentary coinage) on the healthcare industry is a fantastic polemic and your best filmmaking by far, I almost agree with you. Almost. But still I find myself taking a stand for the only smart and even-handed documentary that's been made about you, Manufacturing Dissent." Because this is John Pierson, who was so instrumental in the ground-breaking success of Roger & Me and wrote about the experience in Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes, you really do need to read the full letter - and Doug Block's comment as well. Meanwhile, the updates keep coming in the Sicko entry.
Cinema Scope. 31.31 is the issue of Cinema Scope that wishes a happy 60th to Cannes.. Sort of. "By all accounts, as befitting a place where superlatives are flung about like cheap lingerie in a low-rent strip joint, this was the hottest, stickiest, busiest, and most film-filled Cannes in recent memory.... Cannes at 60 was also widely proclaimed by the major media outlets as the best Cannes in ages." Naturally, editor Mark Peranson does not surprise: "Of course it's left up to me and my (w)rap to assert that this is a bunch of hogwash - but I really mean it." Because he really, really does, this year's round of target practice is all the more engaging, whether or not you cheer every shot fired (or suspect you will or won't if, like me, you won't have yet seen most or even any of the films he salutes or trashes). There is praise, though, for Gus Van Sant's "exquisite" Paranoid Park and for Lee Chang-dong's Secret Sunshine, "the only other Competition film I saw at Cannes that I'd label great." "The motto of this year's Competition might as well have been 'running on empty' given the abundance of dubious exercises in style from patented postmodern pastiche (how could anybody take the Coens' last-quarter bid for profundity seriously?) to straight-faced self-parody (Wong, Kim, etc)," begins Christoph Huber. "So all the more ironic that it was Ulrich Seidl's standout Import Export - whose sudden, shocking interest in the real world, mid-festival, dwarved the puny distractions that preceded - opened with this appropriate image: a man in a snowy field in front of some dull concrete slab of architecture trying to start his motorcycle by foot pedal. Again and again." Kent Jones's piece is labeled as a consideration of Hou Hsiao-hsien's Flight of the Red Balloon and Wong Kar-wai's My Blueberry Nights, and it is, but the first half or so focuses on the intriguing differences between French and American opinions of David Fincher's Zodiac and James Gray's We Own the Night. But: "I'm not going to chide anyone in France for loving a James Gray film." Because: "The cultural one-upsmanship card is played often, and mercilessly, in movie culture." Yes. It is. And of course, national boundaries offer only one of many patterns for the delineations of separate cultures. At any rate, further along this rewarding line of thought, the "beautifully bouyant" Balloon and Blueberry, "hardly the disaster it was cracked up to be," are considered in the light of these ideas. Dennis Lim talks with Abel Ferrara about Go Go Tales, "his first flat-out comedy," but "also an allegory: a portrait of the artist as a hustler, a gambler, a performer, a dreamer, an addict, a throwback, a holdout, and, of course, a purveyor of good old-fashioned T&A, navigating the screw-or-be-screwed questions common to all exploitative professions, indeed to modern capitalist systems. You could say this one comes from the heart." Robert Koehler interviews Wang Bing, whose Fengming: A Chinese Memoir he reviewed for Variety: "With virtually a single-camera set-up and absolute attention paid to a woman who survived the horrors of Mao's China, Wang Bing continues his run as one of the world's supreme doc filmmakers." Here, he argues that, by the time the festival wrapped, "there could be no denying that Wang had not only made one of the few Cannes films that mattered, but that this, combined with his stunning short, Brutality Factory (as part of the Gulbenkian Foundation-supported The State of the World), made Wang the best-of-show director at Cannes." Tom Charity revisits the career of that "compelling and problematic icon," John Wayne. Andrew Tracy argues the case for the "still underappreciated and misrepresented Cornel Wilde, whose eight-film career as producer and director transformed him from plodding if pleasant leading man to purveyor of blood and gore par excellence." Once again, Jonathan Rosenbaum offers an invaluable DVD shopping guide, but this time focuses on prices. Then, Jessica Winter: "Knocked Up is hard to dislike: it's a reliable laugh factory, it really loves babies, etc. But like so many films that gestate in Hollywood, it breathes the uncirculated air of the gated community. Maybe it wouldn't evaporate on contact - maybe it would have been funnier still - if it weren't so bizarrely insulated from some of the gnarled dilemmas that Ben and Allison's flesh-and-blood counterparts face every day."
Sight & Sound. July 07.Tuesday will be Ken Russell's 80th birthday. Linda Ruth Williams talks with him about his life-long passion for photography, his recent foray into online distribution and, of course, his films: "[L]ong after his audiences have forgotten the baroque twists of his picaresque tales, it is individual images that linger in the memory: Oliver Reed trailing through the blue-frozen hell of the Alps in Women in Love; Glenda Jackson tossing her head back against a sunburst in the same film; Jackson (again) in a frustrated sexual frenzy on the train in The Music Lovers; abstract Busby Berkeley-esque body patterns whirling through The Boy Friend; Leslie Caron's cloak swept across the corpse in Valentino; Roger Daltrey's glam-angelic spaceship in Lisztomania; Gabriel Byrne decorated with leeches in 1986's Gothic, the story of the night Mary Shelley gave birth to Frankenstein; the widow walking from Loudon as The Devils' end credits roll." Also in the July issue Sight & Sound, Mark Cousins tells the story behind the batch of films that have been featured in festival lineups for over a year now, the New Crowned Hope works, and notes along the way: France, Austria, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany have put all money into the co-production pot, but the US seems not to have contributed a cent - not even to Bahman Ghobadi's Half Moon, which celebrates the fall of Saddam. Given the billions of dollars ploughed into the war in Iraq, the American championing of the Kurds and the winning optimism of parts of Ghobadi's beautiful film, it seems absurd that the US couldn't see fit to back such a cultural initiative. The fact that Europe is less isolationist and still racked by post-colonial guilt probably explains the continent's funding for films by Ghobadi, Tsai Ming-Liang (Taiwan-Malaysia), Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Thailand), Paz Encina (Paraguay), Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (Chad), Garin Nugroho (Indonesia) and Teboho Mahlatsi (South Africa). Britain's Simon Field (formerly both a director of the Rotterdam Film Festival and director of cinema at the ICA) and Keith Griffiths (a director and producer for Chris Petit, the Quay brothers and Jan Svankmajer) provide curatorial star-power, but it seems that national institutions such as the UK Film Council, Channel 4 and the BBC also kept their wallets shut. Which would not matter so much if it weren't that the New Crowned Hope movies represent one of the most exciting commissioned cinema projects of our times. Reviews:
Revisiting Ghosts of Cité Soleil.David D'Arcy has a few comments to add to those gathered in the earlier entry.
Vitus."Of the thin trickle of foreign films that ever see proper US release, the 'subtitled moppets' subgenre seems to me the most superfluous," writes Nick Pinkerton for indieWIRE, and when a film like Switzerland's Vitus comes along, press kit boasting an Antoine de Saint-Exupery quote on the cover, one can only prepare to be cloyed to death.... Vitus doesn't even manipulate with a modicum of skill." "This film about a brilliant boy pianist fighting to shape his destiny was Switzerland's entry for the 2006 Oscars, and you can see why," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times. "Like most award-seeking crowd-pleasers, it places uncomfortable impulses in opposition - in this case parents' desire to develop a child's latent genius, versus the child's desire to have a 'normal' childhood and find his own way - then dramatizes them in the most unchallenging way imaginable." Updated through 7/2. "Awesome as Vitus's orchestrations may be, the film pushes an off-putting message about unchecked privilege that reeks of capitalist pigdom," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant. Update, 7/1: "Blissfully devoid of both sentimentality and melodrama, the story takes a few fantastical turns toward the end that dampen the realism but serve the film's larger message," writes Jean Oppenheimer in the Voice. Update, 7/2: Susan King talks with director Fredi M Murer for the Los Angeles Times.
June 28, 2007
Shorts, 6/28."For those entranced by the essay-films of, say, Chris Marker, the documentaries of Adam Curtis may seem rather vulgar," begins Brian Holmes in a post to Nettime. "[D]espite the intellectual depth and visual complexity of Curtis's work, there is no comparison with the aesthetic subtlety of the essay-film, and cinephiles can go back to their darkened theaters. This is TV, made for the anxious postmoderns with their zapper and their 36-inch screen. But what great TV!... Curtis, like Foucault, consistently asks: 'Do you want to be governed like that?'... These are alarm-clock films, wake-up calls for passive populations whose only recourse would be to think sociologically: but not as their masters do." "It is impossible to exaggerate the critical importance of the role that political bloggers have cut out for themselves in Egypt," writes Sarah Carr in the Al-Ahram Weekly. "[T]he French Resistance of the information age, they exploit the speed and anonymity of the Internet to bear witness to, and publicise, transgressions which the mainstream media - emasculated by draconian laws and self-imposed red lines - can or will not touch." The Goethe Institute in Cairo has "sought to build alliances between bloggers and another marginalised group, independent filmmakers." Four short films were screened a few days ago for a modestly sized audience of bloggers; Carr wishes more had been there to see them. The Self-Styled Siren, Flickhead and Thom at Film of the Year all list five bloggers who make them think. Karina Longworth launches a "Micro Five" feature at the SpoutBlog with "Improbably Werner Herzog Anecdotes." Related: "Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn is the kind of feel-good film that makes audiences want to stand up and cheer," writes Lewis Beale. "It's also seriously racist." Well, also at the Reeler: Christopher Campbell listens in as Danny Boyle talks about Sunshine and Christopher Campbell reports on the NYC premiere of Ethan Hawke's The Hottest State. Michael Guillén has a long talk with Richard Schickel about his newest doc, Spielberg on Spielberg, scheduled for broadcast on TCM on Monday, July 9. "Over the GW is a disturbing look at reprogramming that masquerades as rehabilitation," writes Jeannette Catsoulis. "Having been forced to drink the Kool-Aid, [director Nick] Gaglia has produced a work that's as much an act of emesis as of filmmaking." More from Rob Humanick at Slant. Also in the New York Times:
Fests and events, 6/28.Lots of festival news has piled up, so I'll start with a couple of items relevant to today, run more or less chronological for a bit and then wrap with a few reviews of events that've already wrapped. "A documentary critical of South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki, will finally be shown to the public today more than a year after it was made and after it was twice pulled from the state broadcaster amid accusations of political censorship," reports Chris McGreal for the Guardian. "The program, which portrays President Mbeki as paranoid and vindictive, will be screened at an international film festival in Durban, coinciding with an African National Congress conference." The fest runs through Sunday. "Overlooked Aldrich, a six-film series that begins [today] at Brooklyn's BAMcinematek, may help put Ulzana's Raid on more Ten Best lists, or at least reveal a gem hidden for 35 years," suggests Robert Cashill. Also: "The cinema side of the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Afro-Punk Festival kicks off tomorrow with a novel choice, 1972's Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the fourth in the popular Apes series." Much more on the festival, which runs through July 7, from Annaliese Griffin at the Reeler. Susan King in the Los Angeles Times: "The Bicycle Film Festival, which pays homage to all styles of bikes and biking, pedals into the Vine Theater in Hollywood this weekend for its third year in LA." Through Sunday. Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix: "The Harvard Film Archive's second annual New American Cinema series provides a rare opportunity to sample the work of [over a dozen] slacker underground auteurs: films about troubled heterosexual relationships, with quirky, quotidian details, tongue-tied protagonists with nowhere jobs and in marginal circumstances, and a vague, sometimes bemused recognition of life's absurdity." Saturday through July 10. Matt Dentler's heading out to Marfa, Texas, this weekend to screen Double Dare, a doc featured in the SXSW lineup in 2005. Related: Sujewa Ekanayake's interview with Matt. The New York Asian Film Festival carries on through July 8 and at Twitch, Michael Wells reviews After This Our Exile and City of Violence. At Cinema Strikes Back, Charlie Prince highly recommends Takashi Miike's Big Bang Love, Juvenile A. Blake Etheridge calls Sion Sono's Exte "[e]asily one of the funnest and jaded films I've seen so far in 2007." Catch it at NYAFF or at the Fantasia International Film Festival, which opens in Montreal on July 5 and runs through July 23. At Twitch, Todd has a huge post, all about that lineup. "The Cambridge Film Festival 2007 programme and website are both now live and heading out there at speed," notes sneersnipe editor David Perilli. "As the print programme describes: 'The Cambridge Film Festival has gone all Web 2.0...'" July 5 through 15. Tribeca 798 Film Festival Beijing: July 10 and 11. "Thailand has caved in to pressure from Iran and withdrawn the animated movie Persepolis, about a girl growing up and feeling repressed under Islamic rule, from next month's Bangkok International Film Festival." Reuters reports, via the Literary Saloon. July 19 through 29. "It reeks of Garden State, Napoleon Dynamite and Me and You and Everyone We Know. It could turn out to be a disaster," warns Matthew Clayfield. "But somehow, Eagle vs Shark, which is screening at next month's Melbourne International Film Festival, manages to avoid becoming another self-absorbed foray into pseudo-sentimentality or cynical hipsterism." July 25 through August 12. "With her video installations, photographs, and short films, Australian artist Lynette Wallworth creates communal environments that respond, like natural ecosystems, to human presence." For Rhizome, Marcia Tanner reviews Hold: Vessel 2, 2007, on view in London through September 2. At the Siffblog, David Jeffers looks ahead to a splendid season of silent features screening in and around Seattle and at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. "Petter Næss's new film Gone With the Woman (Tatt av kvinnen) with 'the Bothersome Man,' Trond Fausa Aurvåg in the lead, has been chosen to open the 35th Norwegian International Film Festival in Haugesund on August 18." Annika Pham has more at Cineuropa. Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Shekhar Kapur and Cate Blanchett's followup to Elizabeth, will see its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, reports Variety's Brendan Kelly. At Filmmaker, Benjamin Crossley-Marra will point you to the trailer. IndieWIRE's Brian Brooks has a full list of "32 international selections that have screened at festivals globally, set for this year's TIFF, taking place September 6 - 15." What's more: "Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited will open the 45th New York Film Festival." September 28 through October 14. Chapliniana. Through October 30 in Bologna. Boyd van Hoeij at Cineuropa: "The 27th edition of the Dutch Film Festival (NFF) will open on September 26 with the premiere of Duska, the latest work by Dutch veteran director Jos Stelling." Through October 6. "At this year's edition, its sixth, the competition section of the Transylvania International Film Festival (TIFF) offered twelve first or second films of which nine were from Europe, allowing for a snapshot of the current state of European cinema as seen through the eyes of its promising new directors." Boyd reports at european-films.net. Michael Guillén and Michael Hawley wrap Frameline 31. For Movie City News, Andrea Gronvall reports on the Jackson Hole Film Festival, while Stephen Holt files from the Newport Film Festival. Andy Spletzer wraps the Seattle International Film Festival.
LAFF, 6/28.The Los Angeles Film Festival "is a short but sweet concoction," writes Doug Cummings. "So far, I've seen a strong and diverse selection of films, with more on the way. The festival wraps on Sunday." And he reviews Opera Jawa, The Paper Will Be Blue, The Elephant and the Sea and It's Winter.
DVDs, 6/28."La Jetée coheadlines a new DVD from the Criterion Collection that's an early candidate for disc of the year," announces Matt Zoller Seitz in Time Out New York. "Delightfully, the La Jetée/Sans Soleil disc is an imaginative tribute to a great filmmaker, conceived in the spirit of his work. For instance, rather than simply interviewing French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin, a contemporary of [Chris] Marker, and then editing his remarks into a linear documentary, Criterion has laid out the best bits on a full-page menu of onscreen windows that overlap in a more fragmented, free-associative way." Also: Pacino: An Actor's Vision and This is Tom Jones. Vue Weekly's Josef Braun recommends Alain Resnais's Muriel, "a film that counterbalances a strong but conventional narrative with a deliriously unstable structure, an uneasy marriage that's initially jarring, then jazzily fun, then mesmerizing, and finally deeply troubling and more than a little melancholy," and Claude Chabrol's Comedy of Power, another "typically scathing survey of the bourgeois and their sense of entitlement." Updated through 6/29. Tim Lucas can't wait to take in the 7-disc Thomas Mann Collection; in the meantime, he's enjoyed the "puckish entertainment" of The Old Dark House, William Castle's "one-shot collaboration" with Hammer. Good reading: Dave Kehr walks us through a collection of a dozen films Warner Home Video is releasing as Cult Camp Classics; many aren't, as he points out, but: "If the condescending 'cult camp' label gives them a commercial hook, I guess that's for the good, at least as long as it means getting prints as carefully restored and transfers as technically perfect as these." More from Dan Callahan and Eric Henderson at Slant. Recent DVD roundups: Cinema Strikes Back and DVD Talk. And as always, keep an eye on the Guru. Update, 6/29: Steve Erickson on the Chris Marker package at Nerve: "After watching Sans Soleil, you realize that the paths Marker blazed for documentarians remain largely unfollowed."
Books, 6/28.J Hoberman in the London Review of Books on Daniel Leab's Orwell Subverted: The CIA and the Filming of Animal Farm: "[H]owever the CIA's fervent call for an anti-Soviet revolt (with 'help from the outside') was received by the world, it was rendered moot some eighteen months after Animal Farm's European release by the much encouraged and subsequently abandoned Hungarian uprising." In the Austin Chronicle, Ken Lieck reviews Lights, Camera, History: Portraying the Past in Film: "One might expect the contents to be drier than James Bond's martini. Surprisingly, given the blurbs' overwrought sense of urgency, the quintet of academically sound essays within has much to offer all cinephiles." "The Shamus has never really thought much about Bruce Dern.... But I'll want to see a lot more of Dern's work after reading his smart, breezy, stream-of-ego memoir, Things I've Said, But Probably Shouldn't Have. Its subtitle is 'An Unrepentant Memoir' and boy, is it ever." Jeanine Basinger reviews This Time, This Place: My Life in War, the White House and Hollywood: "Just as he kept a lid on fear under combat stress, a lid on President Johnson (no doubt a lid the size of Kansas) and a lid on the leaders of Hollywood, [Jack] Valenti keeps his memoir firmly under control. He tells only what he wants to tell, disappearing behind platitudes or quotations from Emerson, Faulkner and others when camouflage is needed." Also in the New York Times, Motoko Rich: "As the diehard fans of Harry Potter count the minutes until they can get their hands on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final installment in the monumentally successful series by JK Rowling, they are engaging in a frenzy of speculation and rumor-mongering about what will happen to their beloved characters." Just so: The Philadelphia City Paper's Summer Book Quarterly. Online listening tip. The Washington Post Magazine's Summer Reading Issue. Ann Patchett, Terry McMillan, Nathan Englander, Rick Moody and Nicholas Montemarano read their nonfiction memoirs of summer. Via Bookforum.
Le Doulos."There certainly were French crime films before Jean-Pierre Melville's 1962 Le Doulos, and plenty more got made later, but you can make a pretty good argument that the genre never got any better," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Without Le Doulos and Melville's 1967 Le Samouraï, you don't quite get Reservoir Dogs or Oldboy or John Woo's classic Hong Kong films." "Le Doulos is a movie in which just about everything and everybody proves false," writes J Hoberman, previewing the highlights of the week in NYC for the Voice. "According to Melville, 'It was only when Le Doulos was finished and [Jean-Paul] Belmondo saw himself on the screen that he realized, with great astonishment, "Christ! The stoolie is me!"'" It's "a classic, black-and-white noir, highlighted by an eight-minute interrogation sequence shot in a single panning take in a glassed-in room - but something of a disappointment, if you compare it with the elegantly abstracted films that followed, like Le Samouraï and Le Cercle Rouge," writes Robert Cashill. Even so: "Haberdashery meant the world to Melville, and if there is a better-attired character than Jean-Paul Belmondo's possible doulos ('stoolpigeon') in a picture of this type than it was probably in another Melville film.
June 27, 2007
In Between Days."In Between Days the sensitive, modest, thrillingly self-assured first feature by So Yong Kim, was one of the standouts of the 2006 Sundance Film Festival - exactly the kind of thoughtful, independent work one hopes to find there and too rarely does," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Its theatrical release today is an encouraging sign that there is still room, even in the midst of the summer glut, for a small, serious, unpretentious film." Updated through 6/28. The Voice's Nathan Lee finds it "an intensely specific film about the universal yearnings of adolescence, here rendered doubly resonant through a fluent synthesis with the immigrant experience." At the Reeler, ST VanAirsdale talks with Kim: "[S]he had just returned from a trip to Korea, where she is in development on Treeless Mountain, her semi-autobiographical follow-up about two young sisters growing up with their extended family in a small town in the 70s." Updates, 6/28: "An exception within the still roughly circumscribed realm of Asian-American narrative cinema, So Young Kim's lovely debut succeeds in blending cultural specificity with generic humanity for a quietly revelatory portrait," writes Kristi Mitsuda at Reverse Shot. "As simplistic as that sounds, few other representations of Asian Americans - Eric Byler's Charlotte Sometimes comes to mind, along with (yes, that's right) Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle - manage to acknowledge both difference and similarity at once." "Kim's film runs like a mistier version of Kids with a few poignant twists and clunky clichés of its own," writes Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix.
iPhone."We have been testing the iPhone for two weeks, in multiple usage scenarios, in cities across the country," write Walter S Mossberg and Katherine Boehret. "Our verdict is that, despite some flaws and feature omissions, the iPhone is, on balance, a beautiful and breakthrough handheld computer." David Pogue reviews the iPhone, too, and finds it "amazing," but of course, "not perfect." Also in the New York Times, Katie Hafner talks with Apple watchers like Jeremy Horwitz, the editor in chief of iLounge: "Ask yourself how many companies can announce a product six months in advance and not just sustain public interest but even build the frenzy. It's staggering to me." So what's it to cinephiles? For New City Chicago, Ray Pride has a few thoughts: "While much ink's been spent on the changes that no one can predict in the weeks and months to come in the movie industry, less has been written about how exhibition - from the multiplex to the rare, preserved movie palace - can survive and subsist in a world of broadband Internet and handheld devices with wireless connections and downloads, legal and not. Is it worth building bricks and mortar anymore?" Update, 6/29: "Whatever else it does, the iPhone does bring a little 3-dimensional, visual transparency to technologies that have flattened out as they have become familiar," editorializes the New York Times. "It creates the illusion of looking into it rather than at it, as if you were peering into the depths of a clear electronic pond. It is also a multifunctional device that illustrates its multifunctionality - revealing and demonstrating the transformations it undergoes as it changes jobs. This is perhaps the iPhone's cleverest trick: dramatizing its cleverness for the user." Updates, 7/1: "When I go back to using my Macbook Pro, I want to fling stuff around the screen like on the iPhone. It's an addictive way to interface with information." Jason Kottke reviews his new "amazing device... After fiddling with it for an hour, I know how to work the iPhone better than the Nokia I had for the past 2 years, even though the Nokia has far less capabilities.... Wasn't it only a year or two ago that everyone was oohing and aahing over Jeff Han's touchscreen demos? And now there's a mass-produced device that does similar stuff that fits it your pocket. We're living in the future, folks... the iPhone is the hovercar we've all been waiting for." Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing: "It lives up to the hype. All the rules just changed." Mike Curtis is all over it. And: The iPhone Blog. Online viewing tip. Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay watches magician Marco Tempest demonstrate a few unadvertised features. Update, 7/5: "[T]onight I'm leaving for Munich, and I would ordinarily want to bring along my iPod (for the plane and visits to the hotel gym), my cellphone (for brief, exorbitantly expensive calls home), and my laptop (allegedly for writing, mainly for checking e-mail and retrieving contact information)," notes Alex Ross. "This time I'm bringing only the iPhone, loaded up with my address book from Abramovich to Zalewski, itineraries for the Munich Opera Festival, representative works of Unsuk Chin and Wolfgang Rihm, favorite Dylan and Radiohead playlists, the Furtwängler Tristan und Isolde, two episodes of the show Friday Night Lights, and, yes, Chinatown."
Live Free or Die Hard + summer movies."Life or age or something has mellowed [Bruce] Willis, writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "He no longer enters a movie like God's gift... He's making a point and so is [Live Free or Die Hard], namely that McClane (and Mr Willis) is ready to earn our love again by performing the same lovably violent, meathead tricks as before. And look, he's not laughing, not exactly, even if the film ends up a goof." "The central idea in Live Free or Die Hard - a modern, summer-blockbuster-scaled echo of what we see in Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch or in later John Wayne westerns - is that McClane is an older guy in a young person's game, and every bump, bang and gash hurts a little more," writes Salon's Stefanie Zacharek. "Part of the fun of Willis' performance in Live Free or Die Hard is its unremitting, if grimacing, optimism in the face of the inevitable: that time's winged chariot is eventually gonna bust your ass." "The ace up the sleeve of these films has always been their wry, sarcastic attitude, one defined by star Bruce Willis and typified by its first sequel, whose SNL parody-worthy title - Die Hard 2: Die Harder - is so upfront about its flippancy that it damn near preempts serious consideration of the series," writes Nick Schager at Slant. Even so, he can't help noticing that the film, "unsurprisingly headlined by a celeb Republican - is cast from the genre's time-honored conservative mold." Added to that is "the misogyny that creeps into Mark Bomback's script." "Director Len Wiseman, who most recently perpetrated the dreadful Underworld movies on an unsuspecting public, does a pretty good job at what's most important in Live Free or Die Hard: deliver the whammies on a regular and, with a little luck, surprising basis," writes Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post. "With the bad guys here representing technology at its most insidiously powerful, the filmmakers set themselves up as the champions of all that is analog, old school and authentic; thus, the stunts in Live Free or Die Hard have the snarling crunch of a junkyard dog." "In the canon of movie heroes, I've always viewed McClane as the cartoon extension of Clint Eastwood's nameless gunslinger in Sergio Leone's Dollar trilogy, replete with snarls and unstoppable survival tactics, yet incessantly playful and eager to amuse," writes Eric Kohn for the Reeler. "Willis was in his 30s in the first Die Hard, and at 52, he's no less daunting or smug than the finicky private eye he played opposite Cybill Shepherd on Moonlighting. His persona has only improved with age. Unfortunately, the Die Hard dialogue hasn't." "[D]espite considerable odds, not only does McClane stay alive, his movie does too," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "Inevitable lapses in plausibility and an inflated two-hour, nine-minute running time aside, Live Free or Die Hard is a slick and efficient piece of action entertainment, fast moving with energetic stunt work and nice thriller moves." "Make no mistake... it is an epic piece of shit," counters David Poland. "I mean, wow! Once I got past the eye-rolling of the first act, I found myself laughing out loud much of the rest of the way." "Justin Long is to Willis what lanky teen James Francis Kelly was to Stallone in Rocky Balboa, what the young mercenaries are likely to be to his John Rambo, and what Shia LaBeouf's character will probably be to Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones," notes Eric Lichtenfeld, author of Action Speaks Louder: Violence, Spectacle and the American Action Movie - and that "Yippee-ki-yay" piece in Slate. Lou Lumenick in the New York Post: "Like the latest Stallone film, this is not so much a reboot as a sort of greatest-hits selection that homes in on the original concept of the character - in this case, a no-nonsense cop who, through sheer brawn, specializes in outwitting bad guys much smarter than he - and plunks him down in the post-9/11 world." "Maybe McClane, in 80s action parlance, is too old for this shit," suggests Rob Nelson in the City Pages. "Head shaven and still in fine shape, Willis has no trouble convincing that he's still capable of handling heavy action," counters Variety's Todd McCarthy. "Set pieces' outlandishness notwithstanding, pic's physical aspects feel convincingly real." Susan King profiles Wiseman for the Los Angeles Times. Rob Humanick revisits Die Hard 2 and gives it a C+. The New Republic's Christopher Orr sees that a "selection from the Die Hard collection will be on temporary display in the museum's Treasures of American History exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum beginning July 12." Related: Robin Pogrebin reports in the NYT on the leadership shakeup at the Smithsonian. For the New York Times, Maria Aspan reports on how Fox realized how stupid it was to knock a Die Hard fan video off YouTube; they've now paid its makers to repost it - as well as a new version, naturally, featuring clips from the new movie. David Foxley covers the local premiere for the New York Observer. Online listening tip. Matt Singer and Alison Willmore of IFC News chat about Willis. Via Movie City News, the latest on Transformers, opening next week: Peter Howell attends an appearance before "a Beverly Hills hotel ballroom full of movie scribes" by Michael Bay and the result is actually a fun, quick read; Simon Ang caught the Michael Bay Show on its stop in Seoul and reports for Singapore's Electric New Paper. "Paramount Pictures has taken over the campus of Yale University to film the forthcoming fourth installment of the popular Indiana Jones series." Spencer Morgan has the fast-breaking story for the New York Observer. Updates: Richard Schickel on Live Free: "In its primitiveness, its refusal of anything like psychological nuance or big ideas, lies its dubious glory. It is a movie born to be forgotten - except as something that against your better judgment, you had a pretty good time watching back in the summer of '07. Which is more than you can say for other elephantine sequels moping dolorously around us this year." Also for Time, Joel Stein profiles Willis. "Like McClane himself, this is an analog movie in a digital world - proudly outdated, yet guaranteed to get the job done," writes Aaron Hillis for Premiere. At Hollywood Bitchslap, Peter Sobczynski watches Willis suffer the slings and arrows of "entertainment" "journalists": "To be fair, the press-oriented people asked reasonably intelligent questions and Willis, who has made no secret in the past of his dislike of the entertainment press, answered them in kind. Alas, the radio people seemed to be having some kind of personal contest to see who could ask the most inane thing possible in an effort to prove why most people no longer listen to terrestrial radio. I'll put it this way - one woman pulled out a harmonica and asked him to play a little bit for her and that was only the second dumbest question that she personally asked." "This is how you revive a movie franchise." For Edward Copeland, Live Free is "the best popcorn action film I've seen in quite some time." "As a high-octane action film starring Bruce Willis, Live Free or Die Hard is really quite spectacular," writes Erik Davis at Cinematical. But "you have to ask yourself this: Am I here for the popcorn action or am I here to spend two hours with one of my all-time favorite movie characters? If it's the latter, then you might find yourself slightly disappointed." Updates, 6/28: "No point arguing cinema vs gaming," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "In Live Free or Die Hard, the latter has usurped the former. All that matters now is figuring out the new hybrid's ultimate value." For the Los Angeles Times, Mike Flaherty gets 60 seconds with Timothy Olyphant, who plays the cyber-terrorist. Live Free "brings back 80s action filmmaking through sheer muscle," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "This is a movie that believes in doing things the old-fashioned way, hurling real cars at real helicopters and dangling real SUVs down real elevator shafts. Sure, there's computer-generated enhancement, but only as much as necessary to keep those hurtling vehicles from killing the equally real (and certifiable) stuntmen and women who agree to climb behind their wheels.... Though the movie's at least 20 minutes too long, it's deeply satisfying, full of old-school buddy banter and the kind of action sequences that make you burst out laughing at their sheer audacity." Transformers reviews are coming in... and they aren't too good: Jay at Funky Duds (via Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing) and, at Twitch, The Visitor and Mike McStay. Hold the phone. Xeni Jardin's back on the line with positive reviews: Joel Johnson and Bonnie. Via Anne Thompson, the London Times is running what it claims is the first review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Leo Lewis writes in from Tokyo: "The film itself is a solid, occasionally spectacular set-piece that struggles unsuccessfully to give us thrills and fun we have not already had in previous instalments. It is far crueller than its predecessors and begins to introduce properly the idea that we are no longer in an amusing magical playground, but are en route to an epic confrontation with real victims." DK Holm explains "why the Die Hard series and its new entry Live Free or Die Hard need to be viewed as fundamentally comedies. They hark back to Keaton and the physical comedians as improvisers out of cunningly constructed binds, where mind is as important as the body, where indeed it fuels the body." Updates, 6/29: "Most self-respecting film critics shy away from graven-in-stone statements, but here goes: I consider Die Hard to be just about the perfect movie, boasting a nigh-unbeatable combination of explosions, humor, and the seminal performance of Bruce Willis, who came as close to an ordinary schlub as the action genre would permit - a guy who cursed a lot, bled even more, made bad jokes, and genuinely didn't want to be in the middle of the action." So begins Andrew Wright in the Stranger. As for this new one, "Even accounting for some major flaws - lumpy storytelling, an unfortunate decision to dilute the carnage into PG-13 land, the presence of Kevin Smith - it still manages to deliver an agreeably retro kick." "He was human back in 1988; now he's the Terminator," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "The everyman from Die Hard isn't 'one of us' anymore." "He's a middle-aged Energizer Bunny, this guy," suggests Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "[T]he problem with Live Free or Die Hard is that it's a sequel to Die Hard," agrees Peter Smith at Nerve. "No movie's ever gotten that right." Kaleem Aftab talks with Willis for the Independent. Ellen McCarthy profiles Justin Long for the Washington Post. David Poland points out the many ways Michael Bay's gotten Transformers wrong, while in the Los Angeles Times, Deborah Netburn reports on the mobs at the Transformers premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival. Variety's Todd McCarthy opens his review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by making many of the same points Leo Lewis has made in the London Times. Then: "Altered feel this time around stems in large measure from the new blood recruited to push the franchise into ever-darker domains. Director David Yates, heretofore known mostly for his television work (and already engaged to helm the sixth film); screenwriter Michael Goldenberg, replacing series perennial Steve Kloves; and composer Nicholas Hooper, whose vigorously dramatic music uses only a smidgen of John Williams's themes, make the most decisive difference in steering the focus away from flights of fancy and in-house intrigue in favor of elaborate and sometimes heavy-handed foreshadowing of the inevitable showdown between Harry and Lord Voldemort." Another new Variety review, this one from Dennis Harvey: "Director-choreographer Adam Shankman's buoyant stage-to-screen translation of Hairspray may not equal the comic zest of its 1988 root source, John Waters's first and still-finest mainstream feature. Nonetheless, it's one of the best Broadway-tuner adaptations in recent years - yes, arguably even better than those Oscar-winning ones." Related: Will Lawrence talks with John Travolta for the London Times. Updates, 7/1: "[A]s much as I enjoyed the sequels, I wish they hadn't been made," writes Matt Zoller Seitz at the House Next Door. "They make the extraordinary seem ordinary." In the New York Times, David M Halbfinger profiles Tom DeSanto, a fanboy and idea guy instrumental in making the Transformers movie happen. More from Josh Friedman in the Los Angeles Times, where Cristy Lytal profiles Shia Labeouf. Transformers is "a worthy summer popcorn blockbuster which delivers and satisfies," writes Stefan at Twitch. Matt Dentler's got several bullet-pointed notes on the film as well. Anne Thompson on Hairspray: "While New Line Cinema is nervous about opening this 60s period movie musical on July 20 against the summer onslaught, it should be effective counterprogramming because it is a total crowd-pleaser. It's the kind of movie that puts a smile on your face and leaves it there. And most important, after such duds as The Producers, Rent and Phantom of the Opera, it should prove that the movie musical is alive and well. It works!" The Guardian has a few words of praise for Hermione Granger. And in the Observer, Kate Kellaway offers an enthusiastic endorsement of Order of the Phoenix. Also in the Guardian, John Patterson: "Watching Die Hard 4.0 suggested to me a useful method of selection that would not only kill off or horribly injure enough out-of-shape action hacks to clear the decks a tad, but also put a serious and necessary crimp in the action movie genre itself: let them do all their own stunts." The New York Post's Lou Lumerick on Transformers: "The bombastic Armageddon director’s refusal to take the material too seriously - along with another funny and appealing performance by rising star Shia LaBeouf (Disturbia) - turn out to be the saving graces of an uneven, overlong and at times overbearing flick." Update, 7/3: Caryn James in the NYT: "Grafting media manipulation onto techno-terror, the latest Die Hard expertly captures a current fear: What if we’re disconnected from our information overload?" Updates, 7/4: "[I]f Live Free or Die Hard sounds suspiciously like a cocky slogan that might have been batted around in Bush speechwriting bull sessions, it could be because John McClane has been a neocon all along," argues Michael Serazio at PopMatters. Blogging for the Huffington Post, Lawrence Levi notes that "the government is totally unprepared. ('It took FEMA five days to get water to the Superdome,' the hacker reminds us.) That's what makes this George W's Die Hard: it's explicitly Homeland Security's incompetence and indifference that make the nation so defenseless. In fact, the terrorist mastermind is a former government security expert who wants to prove the network's vulnerability."
LAFF, 6/27."For all its style and ambition, The Fall - which screens Saturday at 9 pm in the Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum as part of the LA Film Festival's Secret Screening series - is exactly the kind of film that is overlooked in an era in which marketability trumps originality," writes Patrick Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times. "In many ways it's a throwback to the 'Raging Bulls' era of filmmaking, when directors pursued personal visions with such pictures as Nicolas Roeg's Performance or Francis Ford Coppola's One From the Heart. 'This is an obsession I wish I hadn't had,' Tarsem explained during a recent stay in Los Angeles.'"It was just something I needed to exorcise. You have to make your personal films when you're still young. I knew if I didn't do it now, it would never happen.'" Opus reviewed the film for Twitch in September. "With two midnight sections and horror films for both the centerpiece and closing night selections, the 2007 Los Angeles Film Festival certainly loves its genre film." Michael Lerman reports on the highlights for indieWIRE. More from the LA Film Festival from AJ Schnack.
New Romanians, 6/27."Of the three hits that managed to impress both critics and cinema lovers in Bucharest last year, Catalin Mitulescu's Cum mi-am petrecut sfarsitul lumii (The Way I Spent the End of the World) is definitely the most ambitious and, no doubt, the most controversial," writes Silviu Mihai at european-films.net. As for what he's looking forward to, "Little is known about Corneliu Porumboiu's next production, but, judging by his first feature, A fost sau n-a fost? (12:08 East of Bucharest), one thing is clear: the director can really work wonders on an incredibly low budget, handling a very well mastered plot with an almost classical rigour in concept and cinematography.... Now, the director has announced a change in style for his next production." Updated through 6/29. Mitulescu, in the meantime, "is going to make Un balon in forma de inima (A Heart-Shaped Balloon), a love story about Anechitoaia, a 17 year old orphan, in love with Veli, a girl a little older than him," film journalist Stefan Dobroiu tells us. And his recommendation for what you can watch now is The Death of Mr Lazarescu. "Romania hasn't been a dictatorship since 1989, but it still suffers from appalling economic misery, a blighted industrial landscape, and massive government corruption," blogs George Packer. "Naturally, it's enjoying a golden age of movies." Earlier: "New Romanians." Update, 6/28: Boyd van Hoeij presents an alphabetical "Cheater's Guide to Recent Romanian Cinema" and gets film critic Anca Gradinariu to write up Palme d'Or-winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and as for what she's looking forward to, "I don't know exactly what Cristi Puiu is up to next. Everyone is anxious, everyone is waiting.... Some months ago, after a huge scandal with the CNC, the National Council of Cinematography, he decided to give back the money he received for his third feature Hrana pentru pestii mici (Scenes of a Murder). The rumours are saying he is working on a completely new script that he hopes he'll be shooting with foreign investment." Update, 6/29: European-films.net wraps its Romanian week with freelance journalist and critic Mihai Fulger, who casts another vote for The Way I Spent the End of the World and explains why he's looking forward to Cea mai fericita fata din lume (The Happiest Girl in the World), "the first feature film from the Radu Jude, the director of Lampa cu caciula (The Tube with a Hat) from 2006, the most awarded short film in the history of Romanian cinema."
BOMB's 100.With its 100th issue, BOMB Magazine launches a beta version of its new site. Not everything from this issue is available online, of course. You can read Fionn Meade's introduction to an interview with Béla Tarr, for example, but not the interview itself. Same goes for Matthea Harvey's conversation with Kara Walker. But David Salle and Sarah French's talk with Kate Valk is all there: "We sat down with Valk shortly after the Wooster Group's production of Hamlet at St Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn. Staged with the Wooster's familiar yet still confounding juxtaposition of film and video with live action, Hamlet takes as its template the film of Richard Burton's legendary 1964 modern dress, Broadway production. The Group re-edited the film - fast forwarding through and obscuring parts - and channeled its performances, acting alongside and in front of its projections." BOMB's hitting the big One-Oh-Oh is a fine reminder, too, that there's a lot to discover or rediscover in the archives, directly film-related or not.
June 26, 2007
Slate. Summer Movies."We hear the sound of a Michael Bay movie in the distance. Bruce Willis is blowing up stuff with that guy from the Mac ads. We finally finished Proust. It must be time, then, for another edition of the Slate Summer Movies issue." Four pieces are up today and it looks like there'll be more throughout the week (so watch for updates to this entry). While we give Slate V time to figure out what it wants to be, this'll more than tide us over. "Since the Die Hard franchise, and its catchphrase, have been absent from the screen for 12 years, a question arises: do the words 'Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker' still matter? And why did they resonate in the first place?" Eric Lichtenfeld looks into the matter and, along the way, revives memories of "the golden age of the one-liner" in action movies, the 80s. Updated through 7/2. You already know Grady Hendrix knows how to tell a story. Here, he's got a great one: ninjas, from their introduction to Western pop culture, courtesy of Tetsuro Tamba as Tiger Tanaka in You Only Live Twice through "the most important moment in ninja history: Israel's Six-Day War" all the way to Naruto the Movie: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow. Instead of ahead to how Sam Mendes, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio might adapt Richard Yates's Revolutionary Road, Blake Bailey, author of A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates, looks back at how the novel and its author got kicked around Hollywood off and on all those years ago, often more off than on: "From the beginning, ambitious filmmakers couldn't help being tempted by the book - a 'tough' look at the squalid heart of the American Dream - but only tempted. In the end, would people really pay good money to see a movie in which almost everything ends badly?" The title of Marisa Meltzer's contribution says it all: "Leisure and Innocence: The eternal appeal of the stoner movie." Updates, 6/28: "There have been bright spots, but given that this season's last hope for delivering a summer-defining blockbuster involves a decades-old toy franchise, it might be time to start thinking about next year." Keith Phipps takes an entertaining look ahead to next summer's contenders. "[C]laiming a macho film friendship is not-so-secretly gay has become its own kind of silly convention, a fake-subversive cliché," writes Matt Feeney. "It is better - sounder both aesthetically and sociologically - to view the masculine pathos in films like Point Break in light of the tradition of heroically minded philosophy that runs from Aristotle to Nietzsche. If Point Break is homoerotic, in other words, then so is Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit." What'll terrorists think up next? Denis Seguin reads the winners of the second annual Movie-Plot Threat Contest, dreamed up by Bruce Schneier. "[T]he notion of the action hero as a pop icon isn't entirely a Hollywood invention," writes Elbert Ventura. "In the 1960s, Sergio Leone made a string of Westerns that introduced to audiences a new sensibility - gloriously baroque, self-consciously iconic, and steeped in movies. The release this month of The Sergio Leone Anthology, a box set composed of remastered versions of the Dollars trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) and the little-seen Duck, You Sucker, gives us the chance to reacquaint ourselves with a blockbuster director who pioneered that now-familiar archetype: the film buff as artistic savant." More from Keith Uhlich at Slant. Jill Hunter Pellettieri offers a "Short History of Movie Theater Concession Stands. Plus: A Candy Quiz!" Updates, 7/2: A Ratatouille double: "Brad Bird, Animation Auteur," a slide show from Josh Levin, and Troy Patterson races through a brief history of rodents on screen before concluding, "Remy will succeed partly by emerging as an anti-Mickey and partly because the big guy has taken him under his arm." And Geoff Anderson rounds up readers' commentary on the Summer Movies collection.
"What is Animation?"Who's asking: Not Coming to a Theater Near You in another one of their collectively written extravaganzas: "[W]hat seems to have begun as an amusing scientific parlor trick, a simple optical illusion, now amounts to a vast range of technical possibilities, visual aesthetics, genres and subgenres in cel, stop-motion, and digital animation. This means that while we often use it to refer to a genre, the term 'animation' encompasses an unimaginably large spectrum of films that may have substantively little in common. The limitless variety in animation is in this way both its greatest strength and its Achilles heel." In "Magic Kingdoms," Rumsey Taylor and Leo Goldsmith write that while there are "many immediate discrepancies between both men, fostered largely by the geographical and temporal distance between them..., a thematic similarity persists between the work of Walt Disney and Hayao Miyazaki..., and this similarity is the more remarkable phenomenon that emerges in a comparison between them." Jiri Trnka has also been compared with Disney, notes Adam Balz in an introduction to reviews of the puppet films, but when critics saw the first feature, "they saw Trnka as someone who could succeed in combating Disney's monopoly over animation." Jenny Jediny considers another Czech filmmaker: "There is no doubt that Prague is regarded as a hub of animation in the European film world, primarily due to the genius of Jan Svankmajer." But the "issue of availability has kept a number of Svankmajer's colleagues out of sight for some time, both his influences and protégés. Jirí Barta is one such study." Teddy Blanks looks over to neighboring Poland to consider the work of one of my own favorite filmmakers in any genre, Zbig Rybczynski: "Seeing just one of his music videos out of context might lead you to underestimate them: many are hilariously dated, and their bright, throwaway look blends seamlessly with the bulk of VH1 Classic's other offerings. But watch a few in a row (with some digging, most of them can be found online), and you begin to realize that his videos constitute a body of imaginative, technologically brilliant work as worthy of canonization as his short films." Also: "In Praise of Pixar." "As an animated feature, Fantastic Planet's significance is in how this European film asserts a more artisanal style in opposition to the smoother felicities of the American one," writes Ian Johnston. "Yet even more important to the film is the way its director, René Laloux, is operating here as a kind of enabler of another artist's vision, that of the artist and writer Roland Topor." "[I]t is chaos that inspires [Don] Hertzfeldt's ingenuity as an animator," writes Rumsey Taylor, who also interviews the filmmaker. "His films are irreverent and anxiously humorous - watching one, one is often prompted to laugh because the visuals conjure no other particular response. It is a nervous, uncertain laughter." "Sylvain Chomet's turned to filmmaking after completing several award-winning graphic novels, and his The Triplets of Belleville is in many ways a bande dessinée produced on celluloid," writes Jenny Jediny. Back to puppets and a wide-ranging survey from Leo Goldsmith: "Setting aside the fact that nearly all stop-motion puppet cinema incorporates some amount of live-action footage, there is nonetheless a single, fundamental difference between stop-motion puppet films and live-action ones: Illusion." Ten years and counting... Tom Huddleston: "There are moments of true horror in South Park, images and viewpoints so extreme you can almost hear the complain and creak of boundaries being stretched. But there's also clear-headed insight and inarguable intelligence, a bull-headed determination to resist censorship, and a quality of writing unparalleled in American comedy." "Dismissed by purists because it involves tracing over live-action film images rather than hand-drawing from scratch, rotoscoping is nevertheless of great historical significance within the field of animation," argues Beth Gilligan who considers "Lucid Dreaming in the Films of Richard Linklater."
Ratatouille."After last year's Cars, Ratatouille is a return to form for Pixar - a boisterous ode to culinary delights, artistic inspiration, egalitarianism, camaraderie, family, and Paris, marrying unparalleled CG splendor with humor that's part classical Disney cartoonishness, part Jacques Tati-style physical drollness," writes Nick Schager at Slant.
Ghosts of Cité Soleil."The almost complete eschewal of social and political contextualization aside, there are occasions when the film comes through on the level of pure visceral experience - as a portrait of jumbled, sordid life in the lower depths wracked by cataracts of senseless violence, a human hell to recall Stephen Crane's slum stories," writes Nick Pinkerton, reviewing Ghosts of Cité Soleil for indieWIRE. "[T]he real story is real life," director Asger Leth tells Annaliese Griffin in the Reeler. Nick Dawson talks with him as well for Filmmaker: "The strangest thing was doing The Five Obstructions, because I wrote part of it and shot most of it, and [it was] doing a film where you really didn't have any clue where the fuck the film was going, and the only one who knew was Lars von Trier. That was kind of weird, because it was three years where we had no idea where this thing was going. That was three strange years." Updated through 6/28. Earlier: Robert Keser at Slant. Update: "Startling in its immediacy (just how did a filmmaker get that close to these guys, anyway?), it's a scary but compelling nonfiction look at the kind of violent, charismatic characters who often populate narrative films," writes Bryant Frazer. Updates, 6/27: "The glimpse afforded into their world is impressive in its intimacy," agrees AO Scott, writing in the New York Times. "But Mr Leth also seems to have been seduced by 2pac and Bily, the sometimes rivalrous brothers whose words and actions dominate the film. And while they are certainly charismatic figures, the absence of critical distance adds an uncomfortable dimension of myth-making and romanticism to Mr Leth's chronicle of their violent lives." J Hoberman in the Voice: "One citizen of Cité Soleil stares dispassionately into the lens and tells the filmmaker, 'I feel like killing you to take the camera.' It's not difficult to believe he would. Every documentary has its own process; in this case, that backstory might overwhelm the film." Update, 6/28: "Leth's film takes no overt position on the contentious question of Aristide and his unfinished Haitian revolution, nor on the coup - perhaps supported by the United States - that forced him from office," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "It's a shocking, fatalistic, street-Shakespearean drama that happens to be true, about two brothers on opposite sides of Haiti's civil war, with a woman between them.... What some leftists may have a tough time absorbing is that Ghosts of Cité Soleil casts all of Haiti's grim situation in the same stark, amoral light." Leth "suggests that Haitian politics - perhaps all politics, period - always boils down to brutal, territorial gangsterism, and that in this respect Aristide was no better or worse than his enemies."
June 25, 2007
The Scientologists are among us.Tom Cruise is not a movie star who happens to be a Scientologist. He's a Scientologist who happens to be a movie star. The difference is crucial to understanding why his arrival here in Berlin last week was greeted, let's say, less than enthusiastically by several government officials and more than a few citizens who've been wrangling with the racket that calls itself a church for years. A decade ago now, in a piece for Salon, I reported on a particularly ugly run-in between Germans and Scientologists. Berlin was a year away from becoming the new capital of the recently reunified country and everyone was expecting boom times. Scientologists, too. They were buying up apartment buildings, kicking out the tenants and selling the spruced up units as condos. When the government came to the tenants' defense, Scientologists took out full-page ads in the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune and so on, sounding the alarm: Germany's persecution of Scientologists bore echos of its persecution of the Jews in the 30s and 40s. That's right: Cracking down on ruthless real estate speculation equals... Holocaust. What's more, those ads were signed by Hollywood celebrities, Oliver Stone and Dustin Hoffman among them. That dirty little operation was run by lawyer Bertram Fields, something of a celebrity himself who, at the time at least, counted Tom Cruise among his clients. I'm wading into this again, albeit briefly, because there's a meme out there that's in danger of getting out of hand. The New York Post's Lou Lumenick writes, "Germany, which takes a dim view of Scientology, has banned a new movie starring the cult's most famous member from shooting in Deutschland." Nope, not true, actually. The Reuters story he points to gets it right; Matthias Oloew, reporting for Der Tagesspiegel, has more detail. Long story short, Antje Blumenthal, party spokesperson for the Christian Democrats on sect issues, has asked Defense Minister Franz-Josef Jung to assure her that Bryan Singer and crew would not be permitted to shoot scenes at military sites for Valkyrie as long as Tom Cruise is playing the lead: Claus von Stauffenberg, a Colonel in the German army who was a key figure in the attempt to assassinate Hitler in the summer of 1944. Thing is, Blumenthal has jumped the gun a bit. The production hasn't actually requested permission to shoot in the Bendlerblock, a building that would become known as a center of military resistance against Hitler, or at any other military site and, in fact, according to the most recent reports I've seen, hasn't even completed negotiations with the studios in Babelsberg; in other words, it's still possible that the film might not be shot in or around Berlin at all. On the other hand, Cruise is said to have picked up a nifty little villa in an upscale neighborhood. Cruise's intention to take on the role of a resistance hero is irksome and the objections of Stauffenberg's son, Berthold Maria Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg (yes, it brings the Monty Python sketch to my mind, too), are understandable. Click his name for a story in English from Spiegel Online; the full interview was conducted by Martin Zips for the Süddeutsche Zeitung (in German, naturally). Even so, the rhetoric of some opposed to the very idea is beginning to take on a slight whiff of hysteria. It's nowhere near as laughably overblown as Scientology's in 1997, but still. Oloew quotes Frank Henkel, another Christian Democrat, for example: "We cannot allow the resistance against the National Socialist dictatorship to be misused by a dangerous and totalitarian psycho-organization like Scientology." Social Democrat Klaus-Uwe Benneter is also offended by the notion that Stauffenberg would be portrayed by an actor belonging to a sect whose "dubious methods aim to seduce and manipulate people." This would be a "slap in the face to all upright democrats, all resistance fighters and all of Scientology's victims." Well. I'll simply stick with "irksome." But the fact that Cruise whisked in and out of the city last week, ostensibly to see to this or that Valkyrie-related item of business, spent three hours in Scientology's brand spanking new center here in Berlin, surely knowing full well that the city-state had done all it could to stop the damn thing from opening here in the first place, pretty much says all that needs to be said about his priorities. He's a Scientologist. Who happens to be a movie star.
Shorts, 6/25."Anyone tempted to dip a toe into dramatic silent waters might profitably begin with America." At Greenbriar Picture Shows, John McElwee tells the remarkable story behind DW Griffith's take on the Revolutionary War and comments: People today imagine silent viewers were better satisfied with less. In fact, the opposite was true. If we could sit for presentations the equal of what they had in 1924, I've no doubt a lot of us would find emotions turned loose in ways unexpected. My own (admittedly limited) experience with silent films and live orchestras are among my best remembered in theatres. Ben-Hur with seventy musicians once brought tears to these jaded eyes. Could I have stood such pounding on a weekly basis in palaces seating thousands, with dynamic accompaniment a commonplace? Likely I'd have sought treatment for an excess of bliss, for that is the only word I can summon for the movie going encounters those lucky people routinely had. "Bantsuma: The Life of Tsumasaburo Bando is obligatory viewing for everyone interested in Japanese cinema," writes David Bordwell. "Not only does it handily trace Bando's remarkable career through stills, interviews, and surviving footage. It also supports something I've tried to show for some time: that the Japanese action cinema of the 1920s and 1930s was one of the most powerful and creative trends in world filmmaking." At european-films.net, Boyd van Hoeij asks film critic, writer and visual artist Alex Leo Serban to recommend a recent Romanian film and suggest which upcoming Romanian project he's most looking forward to. Girish: "I've read quite a bit of [James] Naremore over the last few months, and thought I'd draw up a little guide of reading recommendations from a range of his work." "God, piety, fear and malevolence have made the stew of politics bitter, unironic and pleasureless, in government and in the cultural crockpot," writes Michael Atkinson at IFC News. "It was not always so - Criterion's completely uncalled-for double-trouble DVD release of Serbian barn-burner Dusan Makavejev's two most notorious films, WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971) and Sweet Movie (1974), reminds us how the lava-hot mid-Cold War years fueled an almost limitless variety of untamable flames." Also: Obie Benz's Heavy Petting (1989), "a fond look back at the American mid-century's teen and his/her discovery of sex in the postwar years."
Alamo Downtown Blog-a-Thon.Austin's Alamo Drafthouse Downtown, the original "on Colorado St will be closing its doors after a final triple-feature on June 27. The movie theater will be moving to Sixth Street in the newly renovated Ritz Theater. While we're looking forward to the new digs, we want to remember and celebrate the old Alamo Drafthouse that we've been visiting for the past 10 years." And so, Jette Kernion and Blake Ethridge are hosting today's Alamo Downtown Blog-a-Thon. On a related note, Ain't It Cool News founder Harry Knowles reports on last night's Half-Ass-a-Thon, the last event of many he's hosted at the Alamo, and passes along more reviews from "The Legman." As Harry notes, the hit of the overnight festival was Stardust, "the real surprise. People just aren't really aware of it, but throughout the film there was applause, not of just visual effects moments, but applause to the greatness of dialogue, sequences and for just getting caught up into the film."
Fests and events, 6/25.The Sydney Film Festival has wrapped and not only does Matt Riviera list the awards, he also has notes on the 33 features he took in during those couple of weeks. Brian Darr looks ahead - and far and wide - to events throughout the Bay Area through to the end of August. Michael Wells is sending reviews from the New York Asian Film Festival into Twitch; so far, he's caught The Banquet, Retribution, Exiled and Dog Bite Dog. At Cinema Strikes Back, David Austin has quick reviews of Retribution and Dasepo Naughty Girls; plus Freesia: Bullets Over Tears and I'm a Cyborg But That's OK.
Evening."This is one of the rare movies that are too sensitive for their own good," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "In the course of it, in both the past and the present, all the characters have to spill their feelings about everyone else, and the pileup of hurt, rue, and guilt—confessions and reconciliations and partings—becomes oppressive. The structure that the filmmakers have created is too complicated and fussy for their fairly simple story and what it has to say about time and memory, and some of [director Lajos] Koltai's directorial touches... turn poetry into kitsch." "People here don't just talk too much; they say, 'There's something I have to tell you' first," warns David Edelstein in New York. "Evening only bestirs itself when Meryl Streep in old-lady makeup pays [Vanessa] Redgrave a visit: The way these two great actresses breathe the same air and adjust their rhythms to each other seems almost holy." In the New York Times, Celia McGee talks with Michael Cunningham and Susan Minot - separately - about his adaptation of her novel and with producer Jeff Sharp about why Cunningham was brought on. For New York, Sara Cardace talks with Mamie Gummer, Streep's daughter about, gulp, playing the same character at a younger age. Earlier: Ed Gonzalez at Slant and Brandon Harris. Update, 6/26: Paul Cullum profiles Gummer for the Los Angeles Times. Updates, 6/27: Paul Cullum has a long profile of Koltai in the Los Angeles Times. "Remembering is a novel's business, and notoriously difficult to translate to the screen," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "Only Raoul Ruiz's dazzlingly free adaptation of Proust's Time Regained (whose frame of a dying man trying to unscramble his memories Minot lifted more or less wholesale) has come close to replicating the creative role of recall—sparked by fear, desire, and regret—in giving shape and significance to the experiential jumble that we call the past.... Stripped of the rhythmic lilt of Minot's prose and her delicate probe into the treacheries that time and memory work on our lives, Evening tips over into farce." Updates, 6/28: "[I]n its pursuit of superior craftsmanship and high-minded lyricism, Evening constantly risks sliding down the slippery slope into inept sentimentality and self-caricature," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "With a high-wattage female ensemble cast, dreamboat Rhode Island locations and a respected European director, Evening feels like one of those devil's-candy productions that aim to bring artistry to a large audience, specifically a large audience of adult women who don't often go to the movies. Even considering it in that light, I found it miscalculated and overcooked, although Claire Danes's glowing, gawky, oddly appealing performance... should announce her arrival as a major star." At the Reeler, Michelle Orange finds that Evening "suffers from the same problem as a certain ex-boyfriend of mine: All emotion registers as melodrama, though in this case the flushed and flustered parts do not cohere into a melodramatic (i.e. generic) whole." "Here's the thing: no matter what I write, a lot of you, and you know who you are, are going to see this movie," acknowledges Marcy Dermansky. "Not see Evening? It's like having to say no to a Jane Austen adaptation.... The over-the-top sentimental story, however, will wear you down, ruin any pleasure derived from watching luminous Danes and illustrious others - all those famous people acting their hearts out in such enviable surroundings." Updates, 6/29: "At first, second and final glance, Susan Minot's Evening, a claustrophobic 1998 novel about a woman in her 60s remembering the days and few torrid nights of her life while slowly, very slowly dying, doesn't seem as if it would translate easily to the big screen," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "It hasn't. Stuffed with actors of variable talent, burdened with false, labored dialogue and distinguished by a florid visual style better suited to fairy tales and greeting cards, this miscalculation underlines what can happen when certain literary works meet the bottom line of the movies. It also proves that not every book deserves its own film." "An impressive pedigree doesn't always guarantee a felicitous outcome, as any number of Hapsburgs or Hiltons will confirm," agrees Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "[I]t's hard to think of a more miserable movie in recent months," sighs Keith Phipps at the AV Club. Bilge Ebiri's experience is quite different: "Evening starts off as something of a bust and winds up tearing you apart. I may be mixed on it, but I can't wait to see it again." "[T]he film arrives at a pessimistic and almost nihilistic view of life as something not very important - and then invites us to take strength and comfort in the notion," writes Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle. "It's not what you'd expect, and it's certainly not the typical message. It might be most interesting thing about the picture." Updates, 7/1: A "schmaltzy nostalgic fusion of clichéd melodrama and carpe-diem lessons about regret, love and courage," sighs Nick Schager at Cinematical. "The uneven filmmaking renders Minot's semi-powerful ideas impossibly trite," writes Mike Russell. "It gets so bad that one Oscar-winning special guest star eventually wanders in to tell us the moral, and that moral is, and I quote, 'We are mysterious creatures, aren't we? And at the end, so much of it turns out not to matter.' Ugh." Update, 7/5: Jennifer Merin talks with Koltai for the New York Press.
Sicko.The entry on Michael Moore's Sicko turned out to be the longest of all Cannes entries last month. Now that the film has been screening at a single theater in New York (AJ Schnack's been tracking its boffo! biz there) and sneak previewing all over, another wave of reviews has bulked up "June 29"; both of those entries, then, could be taken by anyone with just a whole lot of interest in Sicko as supplements to this one. Click on New York critic David Edelstein's name to read why he considers Sicko to be Moore's best film. For here and now, though, I'd rather snip this lengthy paragraph: Michael Moore is a polarizing figure, by which I mean he polarizes me. He's a blowhard and a national treasure. His methods are suspect, yet his work is indispensable. Think of him as a Shakespearean fool - a court jester - with the slashing fury of a crusader. When the counterculture imploded in the late seventies, the left lost its sense of humor, and tools like Rush Limbaugh learned to appropriate its prankster spirit. (The Republicans reinterpreted speaking truth to power as razzing feminists and the liberal media.) At the height of Reagan/Bush I torpor, Moore's Roger & Me reclaimed the left's antic legacy. But there were questions: Was Moore using his camera to bludgeon ordinary people? Did he fudge the chronology? Yes and yes. The oaf was always undermining his own credibility. I tsk-tsked when he turned his 2003 Oscar win into an occasion for grandstanding about the invasion of Iraq: He had a point, but did he have to be so shrill? Yet in the end, he shamed many of us when he called Iraq a "war for fictitious reasons." No one had put it more succinctly. Why didn't we rise up? "After the early tales of the system's failure, Sicko becomes feeble, even inane," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "In the actual political world, the major Democratic Presidential candidates have already offered, or will soon offer, plans for reform. A shift to the left, or, at least, to the center, has overtaken Michael Moore, yielding an irony more striking than any he turns up: the changes in political consciousness that Moore himself has helped produce have rendered his latest film almost superfluous." Logan Hill talks with Moore for New York. For the Los Angeles Times, Gina Piccalo talks with Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine about Manufacturing Dissent. Updates: "Forget about the rescue workers [and the trip to Cuba]; here's one of the poorest countries in Central America, and they can afford to provide their citizens with basic healthcare - what's the problem with the United States?" asks Paul Matwychuk. "Moore is refreshingly unembarrassed to use the phrase 'socialized medicine' throughout Sicko, but what he's really calling for is civilized medicine - a system that recognizes that everyone deserves medical care, and that it's worth sacrificing a few million dollars in profits to achieve that goal." At the SpoutBlog, Karina Longworth's got a slew of newsy items, "a brief sampling of the portly provocateur's latest tour through mass culture." "This polemic about the corrupt nexus of health insurance companies, government and the pharmaceutical industry doesn't just expose the powerful as wanting us out of the way; it shows that they also want most of us dead," writes Steven Boone at the House Next Door. "Moore portrays workaday Americans collectively like the dutiful wife who has a faint suspicion about her abusive husband, but no idea that he's planning to have her killed for the life insurance money." Updates, 6/27: "Looking at the problem from both the inside out and the international inward, Moore manages to do what his previous films have failed to accomplish," writes Bill Gibron before shimmying out on a limb at PopMatters: "Sicko, more than any other movie he's made, is guaranteed to provide a cinematic catalyst for change." "There's so much dejection here - babies dying because hospitals won't treat them, Ground Zero volunteers being denied care, the exposure of corrupt insurance-company tactics, and worse - that comic relief is essential, Moore explained during a recent whirlwind visit to San Francisco," writes Cheryl Eddy for the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "It's tough to generate much controversy here, as anyone who's been to an emergency room lately will loudly concur that the system is pretty much fucked," writes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "I appreciate that Moore's trying to make a case for socialized medicine, but his methodology is so crude, simplistic and redundant that you'll walk out feeling like you know even less about the subject than when you walked in. Of course we'll never, ever see a dissenting viewpoint in a Michael Moore movie, but how about offering even a cursory explanation as to how these other countries manage to pay for such lavish standards of care?" Peter Sobczynski talks with Moore for Hollywood Bitchslap. Updates, 6/28: "If any movie ever seemed capable of starting a revolution, Michael Moore's Sicko is that film," proclaims Godfrey Cheshire in the Independent Weekly. "Easily Moore's best, most skillfully argued film, Sicko arrives at a moment that's propitious both socially and cinematically. A decade ago, hardly anyone would have considered a documentary feature an instrument capable of having a major impact on public policy. Now, with the credibility of the mainstream corporate media besmirched by their acquiescence in the implementation of an unnecessary, drastically unpopular war, the nonfiction film has emerged as one of the few public forums where common sense and individual vision stand a chance against collective credulity and mass-produced disinformation." Despite several caveats, for the LA Weekly's Ella Taylor, "the movie is a great piece of populist outrage and a dangerously good comedy about a looming American tragedy, as Moore details - step by step and case by unspeakably cruel case - the lock-hold on American health care by drug and insurance companies, and the eagerness of politicians (including, I winced to see, Hillary herself) to be bought into submission by them." "Led by Old Labour politician Tony Benn, Moore suggests that early debt and the twin toxic myths of choice and individual power have stripped Americans of a belief in the collective will, the desire to get on the streets and demand change," writes Brian Gibson, who oddly enough, makes no comparisons with the Canadian health care system in his review for Edmonton's Vue Weekly. The Boston Phoenix's Peter Keough talks with Moore. Via MCN. For the Nashville Scene's Jim Ridley, this "may be the least amusing and artful of his agit-pop documentaries.... What Sicko lacks in mirth, though, it makes up in wrath." "If the documentary's lack of confrontational interviews with representatives from greedy for-profit health insurance companies results from the possibility that nobody wants to end up in Moore's acerbic crosshairs, then the final outcome benefits from it," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "In moving away from the dirty arena of polemics, Sicko accomplishes something Moore has sought for quite some time: coherence." "If, as he seems to think, Americans are too consumed by their personal problems to find solidarity with their neighbors, then Michael Moore is as American as they come." Sam Adams explains in the Philadelphia City Paper. "Where Roger Smith, Charlton Heston, and George Bush lined up for target practice, American citizens have to stand in the bulls eye for this one," writes SF360's Susan Gerhard. "Why - Moore asks - aren't we demanding our basic human rights, to be cared for, and to care for others, the way citizens of other civilized countries do? It's a bold move, and one that draws us back to the rest of the director's oeuvre. I would argue that all Moore's essays - in spite of the populist trappings we love to hate on (their spoofy soundtracks and glorious cheap shot jokes) - are elegant polemics that take us, as a culture, somewhere new." Mel Yiasemide, blogging for the LA Weekly, catches Moore's appearance at the Directors Guild Theatre. For the Pasadena Weekly, Carl Kozlowski reports on a most unusual Hollywood premiere: In one of the more surreal movie events ever to hit Los Angeles, Moore arranged for a full-sized movie screen to be set up on a Skid Row street in back of the Union Rescue Mission and unspooled [Sicko] before a raucously appreciative audience of hundreds of homeless people, complete with popcorn and Pepsis. [...] [T]he chance to sit among the poorest of the poor as they watched a famous man actually show up and advocate for their needs was a powerful experience. As Moore strode from behind the screen toward the crowd in his trademark baseball cap and sneakers, dozens of people in the audience leapt to their feet spontaneously, pumping their fists in the air and screaming his name while others ran toward him to shake his hand or attempt to hug him. It was clear that this was no mere publicity stunt. The only press around was a cable movie channel and a crew from Noticias television, leaving the Pasadena Weekly with a citywide exclusive interview with Moore, thanks largely to the fact that that same night Moore abruptly called off the next day's scheduled press events in Beverly Hills in favor of participating in a health care reform rally at Los Angeles City Hall. Updates, 6/29: "There are fewer jokes this time around, and Moore makes a point of not even appearing on-screen for a good 40 minutes, putting more emphasis on his arguments and less on his comic persona," writes Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader. "It's an honorable tactic and the arguments are strong. But when he finally turns up in the flesh, there's something even more rancid than usual about the way he plays dumb." "Moore's entire post-Roger & Me career can be understood as a multimedia attempt to undo Reagan's great achievement: persuading blue-collar factory workers and other members of the working class to embrace his heady brew of jingoism, anticommunism, contempt for government and admiration for the virtues of unfettered capitalism," writes Christopher Hayes in the Nation. Hayes recalls a piece Moore wrote for the Nation in 1997, "Is the Left Nuts? (Or Is It Me?)," in which he asked: "Who is the Nation readership? Is it my brother-in-law, Tony, back in Flint, who last night was installing furnace ducts until 9 o'clock?" It is Tony the furnace-installer who haunts Moore's work like a specter, and for whom the rotund and slovenly Moore acts as a kind of aw-shucks proxy. But the central paradox of his career is that his success in reaching the Tonys of the world is spotty at best. Though he's always communicated his politics in a comedic, accessible, populist vocabulary, his public image is that of an ideologue, a lighting rod, a polarizing figure: more Barry Goldwater than Ronald Reagan. In what may be a tacit acknowledgment of this unfortunate fact, Sicko is different from Moore's last two efforts. Not just because of an absence of gimmicky gotcha moments, or a reduction in screen time for Moore himself, but because its topic isn't fundamentally polarizing in the way his previous works were. There's a whole lot of Americans who love their guns, and in 2004 there were a lot of Americans who loved their President, but it's pretty hard to find anyone who loves their health insurance company. "Sicko will scare people, and it probably should," writes Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle. "In one of the movie's best segments, insurance-industry insiders frankly admit that their profession is rapacious," notes Slate's Dana Stevens. "A former medical director for an HMO, testifying before Congress, delivers a scathing rebuke both of the insurance industry and of her own role in denying patients care. Another whistle-blower describes the industry's tactics with stark clarity: 'You're not slipping through the cracks. Somebody made that crack and swept you toward it.'" Ultimately, "Sicko is less a documentary than a clearinghouse of rage." "It's likely his most important, most impressive, most provocative film, and it's different from his others in significant ways," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "Ladies and gentlemen, I think we can agree on two things: The American health-care system is busted and Michael Moore is not the guy to fix it," declares the Washington Post's Stephen Hunter. "His Sicko, an investigation and indictment of that system, which is choking on paperwork, greed, bad policy and countervailing goals, turns out to be a fuzzy, toothless collection of anecdotes, a few stunts and a bromide-rich conclusion." "He interviews privileged American expatriates in a Paris bistro, but where are all the immigrants' children hanging out in the banlieues?" wonders the Stranger's Annie Wagner. "I'm predisposed to admire single-payer systems, but this kind of fawning - that doesn't even have the courage to examine a system's challenges, much less address its critics - is embarrassing." "Here's an issue that transcends politics and speaks to basic human need and collective responsibility; perhaps we need Moore's cudgel to make the case bluntly," suggests Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "For all its flaws, it's about something far more profound than who's paying for Aunt Ruth's gallbladder operation," writes Bilge Ebiri at Nerve. "Many of us who are exceedingly fond of the Constitution must surely admit that its checks and balances were not sufficient to prevent our wholesale takeover by thieves, liars, and cheats," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. That said, "If you expect Moore's films to adhere to the level of fact and proof of, say, daily journalism (at least, daily journalism as it's supposed to be practiced), you're going to be in a constant state of outrage." Online viewing tip. Eric Bates talks with Moore for Rolling Stone. Updates, 7/1: "Google's 'Health Advertising Team' is trying to sell the health industry on buying ads to be shown opposite searches for Sicko," reports Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing. "The idea is to counter Michael Moore's amazing, enraging, must-see indictment of the health industry's grip on American society by running ads over search results for Sicko." AJ Schnack gathers several answers to the question, "What's the Long-term Prognosis for Sicko?" "Moore's films usually make conservatives angry," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "This one is likely to strike home with anyone, left or right, who has had serious illness in the family. Conservative governments in Canada, England and France all support universal health care; the United States is the only developed nation without it." Michael Joshua Brown recalls Moore's television shows, TV Nation and The Awful Truth: "Quasi-journalistic spoofs of primetime news programs with the aim of political satire, both were actually quite good. They were also too far ahead of their time, forerunners of The Daily Show." But: "There's something embarrassing about Moore's movies when viewed in a theater, like viewing a puffy, sleep-deprived face under bright lights. Flaws become magnified and horribly exposed: The stunts feel cheap, the montage sequences seem simplistic and Moore becomes an insufferable showboat.... Sicko is a strange beast of a documentary, at once lacking the intelligence to fully engage its subject while also lacking the imagination to find a creative populist language to frame its argument." "If there's a 'Big Brother' out there, it's got to be the connection between US government and our nation's shamelessly backwards health care system," writes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "And frankly I'm pretty thrilled to see that someone's taking these mega-corporations to task for their money-grubbing and astonishingly callous ways." Updates, 7/2: "[O]ne significant victim of America's market-based health-care system is left out: market capitalism itself." Timothy Noah clarifies his point. Also in Slate: "Moore is right in his indictment of the American health-care system but overhasty in his readiness to blow it up," argues Austan Goolsbee, economics advisor to Barack Obama. Gabriel Shanks: "The Best Film Of The Year (Well, So Far)." Bob Westal agrees with David Edelstein ("Michael Moore is a polarizing figure, by which I mean he polarizes me"). Even so, as he sees it, a few conservative critics are firing blanks. He fires back. Update, 7/3: Sicko's doing pretty well at the box office, notes AJ Schnack. And he collects commentary, too. Updates, 7/4: "Didn't [Moore] get the memo that its some sort of scandal for progressives to actually make money while championing their cause?" asks David Sirota at Alternet. But seriously, he adds, "we need as many people as possible pioneering ways to do good for the progressive movement in an economically viable way, and we need as many people aggressively promoting their work for the progressive movement in a media environment decidedly tilted against us." Online viewing tip. Moore on Larry King Live. Patrick Goldstein profiles Moore for the LAT. "Outside the restroom doors... the theater was in chaos. The entire Sicko audience had somehow formed an impromptu town hall meeting in front of the ladies room. I've never seen anything like it. This is Texas goddammit, not France or some liberal college campus." At Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow passes along Josh Tyler's great story at Cinema Blend. A must-read; it's short, you've got time. Ray Pride reports on a rally for healthcare reform in Chicago featuring appearances by Moore and Studs Terkel: "The scene is readily caricatured, but by 5:30, the area teems, and the frail yet resolute Terkel is as inspiring as the pungent, impassioned polemic from medical professionals about how a single-payer system might cut greed from the medical industry and how Sicko could be activist equal to Uncle Tom's Cabin." The entry's accompanied by many fine pix. Update, 7/5: "The film is unashamedly one-sided, superficial, overstated and occasionally suspect in its details," writes Philip M Boffey on the NYT's editorial page. "But on the big picture - the failure to ensure that everyone who needs medical care gets it - Mr Moore is right."
June 24, 2007
Online viewing tip. Leonard Retel-Helmrich.You may have noticed that the cinetrix spent much of last week hiking Olympus. She returns all aglow with an online viewing tip: "The singlemost mind-blowing filmmaking technique the cinetrix has ever seen occurs in the films of Leonard Retel-Helmrich, who was at the Flaherty Seminar this week." Don't stop halfway through or you'll miss the bit with the car that'll make you wonder: Did Alfonso Cuarón and crew really need to build that contraption for the famous (and glorious) long take in Children of Men?
June 23, 2007
Weekend shorts."For nearly a decade, director Alexei Balabanov and producer Sergei Selyanov have ridden a rising wave of nationalism in Russia to box office success with tales of local heroes triumphing over Chechen separatists, American crime bosses, and underworld hit men," writes Andrew Osborn in the Wall Street Journal. "But their latest film, set in 1984, has left audiences feeling uncomfortable by taking aim at a new target: the Soviet Union. The gritty thriller, set in 1984 in the USSR's twilight years, has triggered controversy with an unremittingly bleak and violent portrayal of the period." The film: Gruz 200 (Cargo 200). "For all of its wonders, anime is all too often riddled with cliches, hackneyed plots, unoriginal characters, and shallow eye candy," writes Jason Morehead. "Of course, not everything can be a Hayao Miyazaki, Mamoru Oshii, or Satoshi Kon title, but even so, one has to wade through an awful lot to get to the good stuff. Which is why it's always refreshing when someone new comes along, someone who feels like breath of fresh air. Someone like Makoto Shinkai." And he points to trailers for the upcoming 5cm Per Second, headed for theaters before a release on DVD in December. With the addition of "Montage," by Jean Narboni, Sylvie Pierre and Jacques Rivette, The Order of the Exile now has the complete Rivette: Texts and Interviews, edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum, online. And this is just one of many new features on the site, including Peter Harcourt revisiting his 1977 piece on Rivette's early films and Tom Milne's 1969 piece on L'amour fou. Joni Mitchell, filmmaker. Jim Emerson argues the case. DK Holm, blogging at ScreenGrab, hears how Kenneth Anger livened up Curtis Harrington's funeral - in ways Harrington might not have appreciated. The Los Angeles Opera's 2008-09 season will open with a trilogy of one-act operas by Giacomo Puccini known as Il Trittico. The first two acts, Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica, will be directed by William Friedkin, which isn't much of a surprise. But the third, Gianni Schicchi, will be directed by... Woody Allen? The BBC reports and quotes him: "I have no idea what I am doing. But incompetence has never prevented me from plunging in with enthusiasm." "I went to a screening of Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn fighting off one of those desperately lonely, uncertain states we all find ourselves in at times," writes Steven Boone at the House Next Door. "Two hours later, I came out of the theater flying, simply too in love with life to fret over some ground-level personal nonsense. Herzog's film about torture and starvation is the feel-good movie of the summer." John Patrick Shanley will be directing an adaptation of his play, Doubt. Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman are on board and, according to Danielle Hine at Time Out, Amy Adams may take the lead. "The Weinstein Co is going into business with 24 producer Tony Krantz and Infernal Affairs co-director Andrew Lau for a trio of Hong Kong action pics." Steven Zeitchik reports for Variety. Via Peter Martin at Cinematical. At Cinema Strikes Back, Charlie Prince has a long talk with Malik Bader about Street Thief. "Most of the stuff in Mexican Sunrise is based on personal experience and some near-death experiences that I've had," filmmaker Rowdy Stovall tells Carson Barker in the Austin Chronicle. The film's done quite well at festivals and will screen next week at the Alamo Drafthouse Lake Creek. Speaking of which, Marc Savlov bids farewell to the original Downtown location. "At 74, he is ever the provocateur, the man who kickstarted the blaxploitation genre, the man who once punched out an audience member who insulted his film, the infamous Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song." Sarah Hepola talks with Melvin Van Peebles for Nerve. For the New Statesman, Daniel Trilling listens to the radio: Christopher Eccleston "pays homage to the films that became known as the British new wave" in Angry, Sexy and Working Class and, in his radio debut, Blackpool: The Greatest Show Town, Ken Loach conjures a world that "has long since vanished, but these fleeting glimpses created a kind of intimacy that radio so often fails to deliver." Also: Ryan Gilbey reviews La Vie en Rose and Paris, je t'aime. Longing "intrigues because it presents an outwardly decent man falling equally in love with two women but eschews simplistic judgments and doesn't pander to viewers by telling them whom they should root for or why the characters do what they do," writes Matt Zoller Seitz. More from Daniel Kasman. Also in the New York Times, Jeannette Catsoulis: "Firmly anchored by its protagonist's love of the land, The Real Dirt on Farmer John offers one man's extraordinary life as a gateway to a larger history of tragedy and transition. It's an unflinching account of what farming takes - and, more important, what it gives back." Ryan Fleck tells the Telegraph about his favorite Robert Altman movie, McCabe and Mrs Miller. Also: Benjamin Secher talks with Sydney Pollack and Frank Gehry. Nigel Andrews profiles Guy Maddin for the Financial Times. For the London Times, Stefanie Marsh profiles Antonio Banderas and Alan Franks talks with Marianne Faithfull. Michael Koresky at Reverse Shot on Hostel: Part II: "[Eli] Roth's tactic isn't really to scare viewers, to create new frissons in movie watching, or even to gross them out necessarily, but to play ever escalating games of one-upmanship. In other words, he asks how he can top what he and other genre directors have previously done; filmmaking becomes a pissing contest, a frattish clique in which the biggest castrated cock wins." "Once has something for everyone: a scrappy indie sensibility for the aesthetes, a sex-free romance for the prudes, a smart-as-a-tack script for intellectuals, and sympathetic characters for the rest of us," writes Gabriel Shanks. "Let's not dismiss the songs, however; 'When Your Mind's Made Up' reveals a startlingly talented composer in [Glen] Hansard, whose impassioned voice and fragile performances form the film's emotional center." For the Guardian, David Thomson calls up Robert De Niro to talk about The Good Shepherd. Also: "[Tom] Stoppard is in Moscow to oversee the production of his trilogy The Coast of Utopia, and I am here to see what a Russian director and Russian actors bring to plays written by a foreigner about their own radical thinkers of the 19th century, Belinsky, Bakunin and Herzen. Nina Raine asks him, "What is the Russian theatre like? 'It's romantic,' he says. 'It's all sloping wooden floors and overflowing ashtrays. It's everything you want it to be.'" "Jhoom Barabar Jhoom is, so far, the best of 2007's mainstream Hindi films. For all of the family reunions, however, it disappoints a bit in comparison to [Shaad Ali's] last effort [Bunty aur Babli]. Still, it's diverting," writes Laura Boyes. Also in the Independent Weekly, Godfrey Cheshire on La Vie en Rose and Crazy Love. "One to Another cannot be appreciated without some measure of guilt," writes Ed Gonzalez. "This oh-so-French account of a pretty boy's murder makes a spectacle of its young twentysomething cast's plump buttocks, pert nipples, uncut sausage, and striking Gallic features." Also at Slant, Eric Henderson on Criterion's release of Chris Marker's La Jetée and Sans Soleil. "Watch [Last Tango in Paris] today, and you can't help but be slightly surprised by the trail of controversy it left in its wake," writes Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent. "'This is a movie that people will be arguing about, I think, for as long as there are movies,' [Pauline] Kael wrote back in 1972. Three decades on, as it is re-released, Last Tango in Paris remains a fascinating case study, but Kael's remarks appear a little overstated. Was this really the 'most liberating film' ever made? Does the debate about it continue? By contemporary standards, the sex scenes no longer seem extreme." "What may be most amazing about Panic in Needle Park is to look back, knowing that this film came from a major studio," writes Peter Nellhaus. "Even today, the so-called independents would be nervous about making a film as downbeat or as marginally experimental." David Marin-Guzman on Deja Vu: "Tony Scott's latest isn't just a simple time travel film. It's actually a thinly veiled apology for George Bush incompetence over Hurricane Katrina." "[O]ne of the basic joys of Gigi is pure escapism," writes Farisa Khalid for PopMatters. "The picture has a buoyancy and playfulness that few movie musicals have. The glorious saturated Technicolor of [Vincente] Minnelli's images: the oxblood red of the brocade walls of Mamita's apartment; the vivid green and purple tartan of Gigi's dress; the sleekness of the men and women all taken from images out of Renoir's paintings, (the stately tour of Parisian high life is like a two-hour slide show for art-history majors); Cecil Beaton's lush costumes, all lace and crinoline (he transferred his memories of Edwardian England onto 1900s Paris); the energy and dynamism of the score, jaunty and robust in its musical depiction of fin-de-siècle Paris, which evokes Bizet and Offenbach." "[N]atural mysteries and their entwinement with the mechanical cinematic recording, selection, and editing of [James] Benning's film are what is most intriguing and even sensorially affecting about Ten Skies, the refinement of a view one may take for granted and an appreciation for the metaphysical subtleties of cinema through such a simple focus," writes Daniel Kasman. "Unlike Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It (1986), Killer of Sheep has been seen too rarely to influence as many filmmakers," writes Kathy Fennessy at the Siffblog. "John Singleton's Boyz n the Hood (1991), for example, also takes place in South Central, but that's where the comparisons end. David Gordon Green's George Washington (2000), however, was clearly influenced by it—too clearly for my taste." Variety: "10 Screenwriters to Watch." Adam Ross's interviewee this week: Evan Waters. Interviews in German: Thilo Wydra (Der Tagesspiegel) with Werner Herzog and Günther Lachmann (Die Welt) with Wim Wenders. "It's the time of reflection on what matters, the time of the political artist. This summer's great stage belongs to them. And they get to play twice - at the Venice Biennale and the Documenta in Kassel." Signandsight translates Hanno Rauterberg's piece for the June 14 issue of Die Zeit. More on Documenta 12 from Holland Cotter in the NYT. Related Artforum diary entries: David Velasco: "If you leap headfirst into the decadent fray of Venice or Basel, Documenta - with its serious (so German!) demeanor and this year's notable dearth of private parties - is frequently approached with trepidation. 'No one wants to be the Documenta scout,' noted one New York dealer.... Once a bastion of the Enlightenment (Documenta's central exhibition site, the Fridericianum, was the first public European museum), and heavily reconstructed after World War II, Kassel is an uneven city, with pockets of dismal, austere buildings offset by some serious Caspar David Friedrich-worthy Landschaften." And Nicolas Trembley and Sarah Thornton have been running around Basel. Ray Pride snaps shots of directors with movies currently in theaters. Online grinning tip. The second installment of Matthew Guerrieri's Strauss and Mahler Re-Enact Your Favorite Movie Moments, via Alex Ross. Online viewing tip. Jem Cohen directs Patti Smith covering "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Supposedly. I can't be sure: "We're sorry, content protected by Digital Rights Management is not available on the Macintosh." How very AOL. Anyway, that's via Rex Sorgatz, who also has an online browsing tip, a Steampunk slide show at Wired News, introduced by Gareth Branwyn. Online viewing tips, round 1. Kate Stables has half a dozen at the Guardian. Online viewing tips, round 2. Boyd van Hoeij's got five trailers at european-films.net. Online viewing tips, round 3. Momus has found clips from John Berger's "brilliant, polemical 1972 television series Ways of Seeing." Via Owen Hatherley, who suggests, "Lines could be drawn from here to Chris Marker and Adam Curtis."
Critics, weekend edition."Roger Ebert, who's 65 this week, began writing on movies 40 years ago, mainly as a critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, but syndicated to some 200 newspapers," writes Time's Richard Corliss in a lengthy and personal appreciation. "He's created a body of work - virtually all of it available on his handsome, helpful website - that is as broad, deep, reliable and rewarding as it is insanely prolific.... No one has done as much as Roger to connect the creators of movies with their consumers. He has immense power, and he's used it for good, as an apostle of cinema." Meanwhile, Jim Emerson, who edits that terrific site, notes that Ebert has published his first "Answer Man" column in a year. It's great to see America's best known movie evangelist on the up and up. "[T]alk to filmmakers, no matter what their stripe, and all the talk of new media fades fast," reports Variety's Anne Thompson. "They want the same things indies wanted a few decades ago: reviews from established critics." Matt Riviera lists five bloggers who make him think. There's no comfortable segue into this: David Poland and Ray Pride remember entertainment journalist Andy Jones. Jeffrey Wells points to two more remembrances. Online listening tip. Cinematical's James Rocchi talks with William Goss of eFilmCritic and Hollywood Bitchslap.
Other fests, other events.The International Film Festival of Catalonia, known to most as Sitges, has announced several titles lined up for its 40th anniversary edition, October 4 through 17. The opening film will be Juan Antonio Bayona's The Orphanage, produced by Guillermo del Toro (more on that one here), and the poster's imagery is dedicated to Blade Runner. "'How can I hate John Wayne upholding Goldwater and yet love him tenderly when he takes Natalie Wood into his arms in the last reel of The Searchers?' So asked Jean-Luc Godard, and that for me, too, is the essence of the John Wayne problem." In the Voice, J Hoberman previews MoMA's tribute (through June 30) and other NYC goings on. Michael Guillén talks with Alan Cumming about his Frameline 31 entry, Suffering Man's Charity. Also: A talk with Eytan Fox about The Bubble. Frameline runs through tomorrow, and at SF360, Claire Faggioli talks with producer Andrea Sperling, recipient of this year's Frameline Award. Also: "Yerba Buena Center for the Arts over the next two weeks hosts the series Muppets, Music, and Magic, a Jim Henson career retrospective designed by The Jim Henson Legacy and Brooklyn Academy of Music to please not only Muppet-lovers but also people whose tastes stretch beyond." Mike Everleth at Bad Lit: "First it was Austin's turn earlier in the month and now this weekend is the San Antonio Underground Film Festival." "This weekend, the Long Now Foundation will host the North American debut of 77 Million Paintings, a new digital art installation by renowned visual artist and musician Brian Eno." Michael Calore has the story - and great pix - at Wired News. The Badischer Kunstverein will launch its program under the new director Anja Casser on June 28 with the group exhibition Projecting Time (through August 26), featuring, in cooperation with the Kinemathek Karlsruhe, a presentation of The Halfmoon Files. For Vue Weekly, Carolyn Nikodym previews the Edmonton Film Society's series, Noteworthy Musicals, opening Monday with The King and I and closing on August 27 with Singin' in the Rain. "On June 12, 2007, Hollywood Industryites packed the Directors Guild of America Theater, eager to view the seven winners of UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television's Directors Spotlight competition," reports Kim Adelman for indieWIRE. "With a roster of past student winners including Alexander Payne (Sideways), Todd Holland (Malcolm in the Middle), Shane Acker (9) and Gil Kenan (Monster House), the annual screening has a reputation for being a do-not-miss event for those interested in identifying student filmmakers with big league potential." Online viewing tip. Monocle talks with architect and author James Sanders about Celluloid Skyline, the exhibition at Grand Central Station that's just wrapped. Via Coudal Partners.
LAFFing weekend."Press is quite possibly what could turn the tide" for the Los Angeles Film Festival, suggests Leonard Klady. Also at Movie City News: Picks for the weekend. "Everyone I know who sees it tells other people to see it. It's totally a word-of-mouth experience," Hot Docs programmer Sean Farnel tells Gina Piccalo in the Los Angeles Times. The film is SXSW jury prize-winner Billy the Kid (site). Also in the LAT: "By most accounts, the American versions of [Theo] Van Gogh's emotionally candid movies about troubled relationships never would have been made had Van Gogh not been slain." John Horn on Steve Buscemi's remake of Interview. Site. Sundance reviews. Updated. "They are of the cinema of acute, penetrating observation and nuance rather than explicit exposition." Kevin Thomas on the seven New Crowned Hope films: Tsai Ming-Liang's I Don't Want to Sleep Alone, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century, Garin Nugroho's Opera Jawa, Bahman Ghobadi's Half Moon, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's Dry Season (more from Sheila Johnston in the Telegraph) and: "South African filmmaker Teboho Mahlatsi<'s 20-minute Meokgo and the Stickfighter is a lush, economical tale of magical realism that looks as if it could be taking place in a Yosemite winter a century ago. Paz Encina's Paraguayan Hammock evokes the anguish of an aging peasant couple coming to terms with the loss of their son in a 1935 war with Bolivia." Update: AJ Schnack has notes and pix from his second day at the festival.
Platform. Preview."On Monday, the first edition of the Platform International Animation Festival will kick off at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, bringing hundreds of out-of-town and local animators together in a one-of-a-kind conclave of competitions, exhibitions, lectures, panels, workshops and parties," writes the Oregonian's Shawn Levy. "Platform's creators have taken pains to place special emphasis on techniques that go beyond the cinema: Internet animation; animation for cell phones and other small-screen devices; video game animation; and, uniquely, large-scale installations that literally take movies out into the streets. There's nothing like it anywhere else." He also talks with founding director Irene Kotlarz and presents an annotated list of highlights. Catch Drawn!'s Ward on one of two or both panels, too. Through June 30.
HRWIFF + Manufactured Landscapes.The Human Rights Watch International Film Festival rolls on in New York through June 28, while one of its selections, Manufactured Landscapes, carries on playing at Film Forum through July 3. "The screening of the New Visions program at this year's HRWIFF marks the inauguration of the series showcasing upcoming documentaries that were made in collaboration with the Sundance Documentary Film Program." Acquarello samples two previews. As for Manufactured Landscapes, "Inevitably, what emerges from [Edward] Burtynsky's sublime, yet implicitly ignoble transformed landscapes is an uneasy self-reflection that exposes our own implication in perpetuating these insatiable cycles of consumption and (non)disposal, a reminder that the price of industrialization is not a finite measure, but a fulcrum point in a zero sum ecological balance." "Our Daily Bread discovers otherworldly environments and depersonalized regiments behind the curtain of modern agricultural processes; Manufactured Landscapes investigates those of the entire world," writes Michael Joshua Rowin for indieWIRE. "Manufactured Landscapes may tell you more about how the 21st century world actually works than you really want to know, but it's a heartbreaking, beautiful, awful and awesome film," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "When put into a broader social context—specifically, when [director Jennifer] Baichwal explores the origins and consequences of all the waste Burtynsky finds—the movie becomes yet another 'isn't it a pity' doc, where the damnable inequity of globalization provides an occasion for muted, impotent rage," writes the AV Club's Noel Murray. "There have been good documentaries made in that mold, but they all explored the subject in more depth." "Its attention to visual style, rare for a contemporary documentary, pays off," writes Steve Erickson at Nerve. "Like some of the best recent Chinese films (Still Life, West of the Tracks), Manufactured Landscapes offers a unique perspective on the country's industrial revolution." Recently: Manohla Dargis (New York Times), Gerald Peary (Boston Phoenix), Jason Bogdaneris (L Magazine) and Jim Ridley (Village Voice). Earlier: Brian Darr at Sundance.
June 22, 2007
NYAFF, 6/22.The New York Asian Film Festival is set to open any minute now with Zhang Yang's Getting Home. For the Voice, Nathan Lee previews a high-kicking chorus line of the fest's offerings: Park Chan-wook's I'm a Cyborg But That's OK, Takashi Miike's Big Bang Love (more from Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog), Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Retribution, Shinya Tsukamoto's Nightmare Detective, Chalerm Wongpim's Dynamite Warrior, Johnny To's Exiled, John Woo's Hard Boiled, Patrick Tam's After This Our Exile and Kenta Fukasaku's Yo-Yo Girl Cop. For more on many of these titles - plus Feng Xiaogang's The Banquet, Ryu Seung-wan's City of Violence, Cheang Pou-soi's Dog Bite Dog (more from David Austin at Cinema Strikes Back), Zhang Yang's Getting Home and Han Jae-rim's The Show Must Go On - see Mark Asch's overview for the L Magazine. Meanwhile, for the Reeler, Steve Erickson talks with Johnny To. Update, 6/23: Steve Erickson's overview for Gay City News.
LAFF, 6/22.Doug Cummings introduces Robert Koehler's Los Angeles Film Festival recommendations with an observation worth noting: "With everyone lamenting the death of newspapers - premature though it may be - it amazes me that serious bloggers continue to get shut out of many festivals. I know I'm not the only cinephile who considers the internet my lifeblood for festival news and commentary, so we can only hope festivals continue to adapt to such cultural developments as quickly as possible. Thanks go to the LAFF publicity office for being ahead of the curve." "Author James Carroll is an idiosyncratic Catholic, a former priest who still celebrates his faith yet rejects the very roots of its doctrine, viewing Christianity's promise of eternal life as 'destructive' and the cross as a symbol of Roman Emperor Constantine's lust for power," writes Gina Piccalo. "This unorthodox perspective drives Constantine's Sword, a documentary premiering Sunday at the Los Angeles Film Festival about Carroll's personal discovery of anti-Semitism in the Catholic church and its influence in today's evangelical Christian movement." Also in the Los Angeles Times, Fred Schruers on Rodger Grossman's debut, What We Do Is Secret, in which Shane West portrays Darby Crash. And Sheigh Crabtree on the documentary Second Chance Season: "One part inspirational family sports drama and one part wrenching struggle between forgiveness and revenge, director Daniel H Forer's documentary is a sure-footed account of a gregarious mother and father who raise one athletic prodigy but lose two other sons to the streets of Los Angeles." "Thursday night's opening film was the hugely entertaining period biopic Talk to Me, starring Don Cheadle as loudmouth streetsmart Petey Green, an ex-con deejay in 60s and 70s Washington DC, and suave suit Chiwetel Ejiofor as his boss/manager." Anne Thompson has more at her blog.
Film Music Blog-a-Thon.Scheduled to begin yesterday and continuing through the weekend, the Film Music Blog-a-Thon hosted by Damian at Windmills of My Mind got off to an early start on Wednesday and has already crescendo'd impressively, with over a dozen voices raised so far. Damian's also contributed entries on "a few 'personal musical journeys' with film composers that I think are significant (John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and Danny Elfman)."
Colma: The Musical."A sort of anti-High School Musical, [Colma: The Musical] follows three friends in the flush of their new post-high school freedom, who are also caught in the headlights of their as-yet-uncertain-yet-fast-approaching-futures." At SF360, Matt Sussman talks with director Richard Wong and composer/writer/actor HP Mendoza. Glen Helfland also meets them - for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, where Dennis Harvey writes: "The worthy underdog is usually a little overrated; one current case in point is another movie musical, Once. But in the case of Colma: The Musical, over the past 15 months a number of newspaper writers and people at subsequent festivals have been as surprised and delighted as I was at that first screening. Now Richard Wong's movie is at a theater near you - at least in San Francisco, with New York City and Los Angeles showings soon to come - and it's possible it could become a feel-good sleeper around the nation. Like, well, Once." Jeffrey M Anderson finds it "surprisingly delightful, hilarious... The acting is all above average, but Paul Kolsanoff as Billy's boss is a comic standout." "Although nowhere near as technically accomplished as American Graffiti, Diner or even Clerks, Colma: The Musical shares with them a convincing empathy for what it's like to be on the precipice of adulthood, totally rattled about making the leap," writes the San Francisco Chronicle's Ruthe Stein. "And Colma offers something the earlier coming-of-age sagas don't: musical numbers and graveyards. It deserves to be seen for its sheer originality and audacity."
June 21, 2007
Schwarzenberger. Berlin Alexanderplatz.First, it's an honor to have as a regular reader someone who works with the probably the greatest DVD label in the world, the Criterion Collection. Pointing to the June 10 entry, "Fassbinder's legacy @ 25," Issa Clubb comments that I've been "mostly laying out the case for the plaintiff, as it were," which is true insofar as I've been following and reporting on coverage in the German press of what more or less amounts to two ongoing stories: a rift between the Fassbinder Foundation and several people who worked with Fassbinder; and a dispute over the level of brightness in the restoration of Berlin Alexanderplatz. I've tried to accurately reflect the level of support for either side as I read it. In the meantime, too, I've been wondering if Criterion, which reportedly plans to release its Alexanderplatz package before the end of this year, has been hearing from concerned cinephiles who've been tipped off, one way or the other, regarding the brouhaha. According to Issa Clubb, they have. One possible and certainly significant response is a translated interview with Alexanderplatz cinematographer Xaver Schwarzenberger, who, supervising the restoration, has undoubtedly worked with tremendous dedication and passion. "This is the result, which I can endorse from the bottom of my heart. If someone has a different opinion, he's entitled to that - but then his or her vision has nothing to do with the film as we shot it and as it was meant to be." No single voice in the debate can carry more weight than Schwarzenberger's, but whether it'll withstand the pressure of collective critique is still an open question. It doesn't help, unfortunately, that the rather fawning questions in this interview have been posed by the Süddeutsche Zeitung, which, as pointed out in that June 10 entry, has a vested interest in this restoration.
AFI 100. Again.To celebrate the 10th anniversary of that controversial list of the top 100 movies of all time, itself a celebration of the 100th year of movies back then, the American Film Institute (celebrating its 40th anniversary) has gone and conducted its poll and done that list right up all over again. Edward Copeland posts both lists for comparison and comments: "Some additions are welcome, some omissions are shameful and some newcomers are a joke. Other deletions are welcome (Sorry Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and Fargo, but you didn't belong.) The rise and fall of some titles are interesting, more for the drops than the sudden rises (though I have to ask how, in the new list, The Deer Hunter jumped so many spots when it only grows weaker over time). My happiest news: The General's rise from not on the list all the way to No 18. The Searchers' huge leap is also welcome and impressive." Updated through 6/27. Jeffrey Wells points to more math going on at Wikipedia and remarks: "The AFI has been whorishly shopping its once-distinguished brand on the tube for years with best-this and best-that presentations, and none of their efforts at self-promotion signifies a damn thing (except for their own diminishment)." More commentary: Brendon Connolly (film ick), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Drew Morton (Dr Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope), Chuck Tryon (Chutry Experiment) and Patrick Walsh (Cinematical). And at the House Next Door, Matt Zoller Seitz adds a few more lists. Updates, 6/22: More commentary: ST VanAirsdale (Reeler), Kevin Lee, Michael Newman, Nathaniel R and - here's a must-read: the Self-Styled Siren. Glenn Kenny lists 100 "great American movies" that didn't make the list. Update, 6/23: Keith Phipps gets a conversation rolling at the AV Club. Update, 6/24: A few of Dave Micevic's mentions of what films should be on the list but aren't what films are but shouldn't be may surprise you. Updates, 6/25: Edward Copeland presents his own 100. The Siren's Alterna-List: "This list is not, most definitely not, a gathering of the All-Time Greats, though there are certainly some that could qualify.... So, organized by category, here are 100 American films the Siren would love to see get some love from the AFI." Adam comments at Another Green World. Update, 6/26: The Alliance of Women Film Journalists draws up their own list, too. Updates, 6/27: The Shamus posts his own 100. "I filled out the AFI Top 100 ballot," writes Variety's Anne Thompson, and of course, she posts that ballot on her blog. "I realized that some movies had slipped in my estimation over the ten years since I last filled out the same list. But one director had come up in my estimation considerably, which surprised me: Capra. His oeuvre is holding up really well." Flickhead presents his 100 - in chronological order, no less. Damien's got 100 at Windmills of My Mind. "European sensibilities and styles - imported via Sjostrom, Stroheim, Curtiz, Wyler, Wilder, Lubitsch, so many, so many - were essential to the evolution of Hollywood, and hence, American moviemaking," argues Glenn Kenny.
Black Sheep."Equal parts The Birds, Jurassic Park and The Host, Black Sheep is more a satire on the horror genre than it is a cautionary tale about genetic engineering-gone-wrong in the New Zealand countryside," writes Cullen Gallagher in the L Magazine. "It continually reinvents the most clichéd elements of the horror genre, using easily recognizable and iconic shots from any number of other films... but this time with sheep." Updated through 6/22. "The cartoonish overkill that often makes Black Sheep a hoot proves wearying over an entire movie: The broad comedy and one-note characters eventually cancel out the horror, leaving elaborate set pieces that are more frantic than funny," writes Jim Ridley in the Voice. "But writer-director [Jonathan] King deserves credit for wringing every ounce of ovine mayhem from his sheep-for-brains premise. There is no such thing as an unfunny cutaway to a sheep." "Black Sheep partisans have continuously noted the similarities between King's impressive debut and the nutty low-budget mayhem that sustains Peter Jackson's Dead Alive and Sam Raimi's Evil Dead movies, and the comparisons are apt," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "But Jonathan King also applies the subtler technique of an older forebear - Val Lewton, the visionary producer behind significant creepers of the 1940s like Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie." "King wants to sizzle your biscuits a little, like any decent horror-phile, but his bloodshed and impressive creature effects (by the WETA Workshop, of Lord of the Rings fame) are folded into a good-humored pastiche whose ingredients are a bit of Night of the Living Dead, a little Island of Dr Moreau, a fair dose of The Fly and a topping of self-deprecating Kiwi humor," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "It reminds me more than a little of Frogs, a 1972 movie with Ray Milland and Sam Elliott whose half-intentional comedy I did not appreciate at the time." Updates, 6/22: "The gold standard for the modern monster movie remains Tremors, which combines genuine thrills with clever plot twists and distinctive characters," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "By contrast, Black Sheep has a bunch of one-note living jokes running around willy-nilly while being chased by killer sheep." "[T]he movie is less a running gag than an ingenious prank," counters Sam Adams for the Los Angeles Times. "As if fulfilling the terms of an undisclosed bet, Black Sheep sets out to prove that the response to horror-film grammar is so ingrained that the right combination of signals can set our hearts racing even as our minds giggle." "Turning a notoriously docile, none-too-intelligent species into a source of menace is an impressive, if improbable, feat of filmmaking," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Black Sheep does manage to generate some suspense in the midst of its general silliness, though not as successfully as Shaun of the Dead, which remains the current gold standard of the genre," writes the LA CityBeat's Andy Klein. Bilge Ebiri at Nerve: "In the end, Black Sheep delivers just what it promises: A movie about killer sheep. For better, and for worse." "I laughed, my guilt over what I might be doing subsiding with each new shock comedy bit, usually something involving severed limbs munched on by the newly deranged wool providers, a twist on a familiar horror movie cliche, or the inevitable sheep shagging jokes, which the movie takes a while to get to," writes Robert Cashill. "There is also the entirely incidental beauty of the setting, shot in ravishing widescreen by Richard Bluck, and a cheerful rubbishing of eco- and psychiatric-speak as Henry and his hippy-dippy 'lunatic greenie' girlfriend Experience (Danielle Mason) find love on the run from herds of ravening sheep."
LAW & LAT. LAFF.The Los Angeles Film Festival, opening today and running through July 1, is "emerging as our most intelligent and ambitiously programmed - indeed, our most essential - annual film event," declares Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. "It's also the one with the greatest sense of connection to the city itself." Keep clicking on from that page for overviews of the various sections: music videos, Larry Fessenden, "the most gifted American horror auteur to emerge since the g(l)ory days of John Carpenter and George Romero" (Foundas), appearances by Paul Mazursky and Ulu Grosbard, "two provocative and artfully made political films," Eric Rohmer's Triple Agent and Penny Woolcock's The Death of Klinghoffer (James C Taylor), a spotlight on Romania, the "LA Destroys Itself" series of disaster flicks and the arrival of New Crowned Hope in Los Angeles. Then, the individual films get blurbed in the LAW's "From A to Y" listings and "Prisons, Punks and Don Quixote," the critics' guide to the best of the fest. As noted earlier, the Los Angeles Times, a major sponsor, began its LAFF tracking a few days ago. Today, Susan King has a fine overview for those who don't have the time to comb through the LAW package and Chris Lee talks with this year's artist in residence, Pharrell Williams.
1408."There was every reason going in to believe that 1408, based on a Stephen King short story, would be nothing but a Shining rip-off made on the cheap," begins Robert Wilonsky in the Voice. "The screenwriters are collectively responsible for Reign of Fire, Problem Child 3 and Agent Cody Banks; John Cusack has proven he's not above taking a gig for the paycheck; and director Mikael Håfström's sole English-language film was the dreadful Derailed. Yet it's a surprisingly effective movie." Updated through 6/22. "[E]ven lightweight King has some pulpy verve to offer, and 1408's mixture of supernatural hullabaloo and spiritual awakening is sturdily propped up by Cusack, whose performance is equal parts caustic cynicism and empathetic turmoil, and whose presence in yet another efficient B movie (after The Ice Harvest) confirms an admirable dedication to genre craftsmanship," writes Nick Schager at Slant. Mark Olsen has a good talk with King for the Los Angeles Times. King's pro-Hostel: Part II ("it makes you uncomfortable, but good art should make you uncomfortable"), but he has his reservations about Captivity ("an exploitation film about Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, and I don't want to see it"), and of course, he remains teed-off at Kubrick for The Shining. As for 1408, "I thought it was terrifying. It works on that level and it should." Update: "Fairly typical of Stephen King's short stories, 1408, which playfully concerns itself with the culture of paranormal tourism, has some terrific ideas, an intriguing set of establishing circumstances, and gradually fizzles out when the spooky stuff inevitably takes over," writes Josef Braun in Vue Weekly. "1408 the movie is the same but more, particularly the fizzling out part." Updates, 6/22: "Originally written as a how-to exercise for his book On Writing, 1408 (add the numbers, folks) stands as one of King's best short stories," writes Andrew Wright in the Stranger. "Rather surprisingly, the inevitable movie adaptation doesn't suck, due to relentless pacing and direction that finds some ingenious methods of visualizing the story's literary whim-whams. Before it finally succumbs to CGI bloat in the last act, it offers up one of the creepiest hours in recent memory, boosted by a central performance by John Cusack at his most endearingly neurotic." "[M]ore psychological thriller than outright horror," notes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. Carina Chocano, writing in the Los Angeles Times, concurs and adds: "Considering that 1408 is essentially a movie about the relationship between a man and a room, the ever more squinty and solid Cusack seems a felicitous casting choice. What evil hotel suite worth its salt could resist trying to rattle that supercilious squint?" "Whether what's happening is real, a hallucination, or something between ceases to matter at a certain point, because the ever-changing rules follow no particular logic, and the bubble bursts on these illusions just as arbitrarily," writes a disappointed Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "For its first half, 1408 is genuinely scary, filled with off-kilter framings, images glimpsed only briefly, and continual hints that Mike's ordeals are linked to his former traumas," writes the LA CityBeat's Andy Klein. "But there's a certain point about halfway in when the setting moves from a believable universe to a wholly unrecognizable one and our ability to connect emotionally with what we're seeing is weakened." Salon's Stephanie Zacharek goes along with it a tad further: "For the first two-thirds, 1408 worked on me, largely because of Cusack's performance: His face is so searchingly earnest that you hate to see the horrors of this nasty little room - and of his own past - wreak havoc on him. But the movie attempts a false ending that doesn't quite work; the picture feels prolonged, dragged out, and its ennui lessens the impact of some of its more terrifying fillips." "1408 is actually one of the best Stephen King adaptations in quite some time," writes major King fan Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "For the most part, it gleefully scalpels your nerves," writes Mike Russell. "In 1960, 1408 would have been 70 minutes long, (Vincent Price would have played the [Samuel L] Jackson role), which is the right length for a cheeky, spooky movie based on a short story about a demented hotel room," writes Matt Singer for the Reeler. "Today, the thing has to run 95 minutes, and be loaded with lots of added gags and special effects that pad its length but actually diminish its total effect. There are only so many things a killer domicile can do to a man before you just throw up your hands."
June 20, 2007
Broken English."Zoe Cassavetes's Broken English is really just a Whit Stillman-like rendering of an episode of Sex and the City (imagine if Carrie Bradshaw and the gang went to Film Forum instead of Cafeteria), but every time it lets [Parker] Posey take center stage with her inimitable range of expression (which in this case, is more often for dramatic effect), you're convinced you're watching something more than a chick flick without KT Tunstall tunes," writes Jason Clark at Slant. Updated through 6/25. "There are key similarities between Nora's foggy neurosis and the characters Posey recently played in Fay Grim and The Oh in Ohio; if urban female confusion is the new suburban male confusion, surely Posey's lost and wary eyes are the face of that angst," writes Michelle Orange in the Voice. And she's also not the only one to mention that "in paraphrasing the final lines of [Before Sunset] for Broken English's closing scene, the director only highlights how her film suffers in comparison." Posey's "performance just about makes up for a leap-of-faith ending that is hard to embrace," writes Nicolas Rapold for the L Magazine. Robert Cashill finds it "a tough-love charmer, with Posey's finest performance to date." Earlier: "Sundance. Broken English." Updates, 6/21: Susan King talks with Cassavetes for the Los Angeles Times. "This is an itchily neurotic film that fights its genre to a draw, with a female protagonist so steeped in pharmaceutical despair she's one short step away from a Jacqueline Susann novel or an early Pedro Almodóvar movie," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Broken English is interesting exactly to the extent that Cassavetes can't control it; I doubt she realizes how repellent and terrifying her main character really is, or that the pair of female best friends depicted in the film can't stand each other and just haven't realized it yet." Updates, 6/22: Broken English is a "textbook example of an Indiewood film: a Hollywood fantasy wrapped in plain brown paper," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times. "It departs from the studio-financed romantic-comedy template in just one, unfortunately fatal respect: it makes a point of pride out of rejecting cliché, then swoons into its embrace." "A simple, empathetic script and calm, assured directing display a level of emotional honesty and character development that's confoundingly rare these days, especially when it comes to female characters," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "The surprising part is how ridiculously pleasing Broken English manages to be," writes Marcy Dermansky. "The first third and then the last fairly sing: funny, smart, well-paced, with Parker Posey at her finest." Update, 6/25: For IFC News, Aaron Hillis talks with Zoe Cassavetes: "[I]t was so nice to have Gena Rowlands in the movie, but it was also nice to share that experience with my mom. I talked to my brother a lot, and he said, 'You gotta call her Gena. It's not going to go down well if you call her Mom.'"
You Kill Me."High-concept and very low-impact, You Kill Me is almost quaint in its unassuming take on humanizing a hitman with life-crisis black humor, a gambit so old it's got whiskers," writes Nicolas Rapold for the L Magazine. "A modest affair, You Kill Me offers [Ben] Kingsley the chance to linger over what otherwise might be a side character, and lets director John Dahl revisit with a softer heart, the small scale and odd coupling of underworld and real world that good old The Last Seduction played for devilish castration fantasy." Updated through 6/23. For the LA Weekly's Scott Foundas, though You Kill Me "has the outward appearance of a return to form, it may in fact be the worst thing [Dahl's] ever done - an inert, tone-deaf mélange of The Sopranos and Six Feet Under." "Co-writers for a dozen years now, [Christopher] Markus and [Stephen] McFeely, both 37, are among the blessed few - about 1800 are counted in any given year by the Writers Guild of America, West - who get paid to write Hollywood pictures," writes Michael Cieply. They're the team behind the Narnia pictures, and now, and You Kill Me "was written years ago by the pair, who dreamed up its premise in 1995 while finishing a master's program in writing at the University of California, Davis." Interviews with Dahl: Capone (AICN), Nick Dawson (Filmmaker) and Andrew O'Hehir (Salon). At the Reeler, Chris Willard reports on the New York premiere and points to the first eight minutes of the film. Updates, 6/22: "With its shadows and gallows humor, You Kill Me goes about as dark as a comedy can go before turning into tragedy or self-parody," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. Extra special: "Téa Leoni, whose sexy, shaded turn as Frank's improbable inamorata, Laurel, makes you regret all the roles this talented actress hasn't nabbed - or perhaps aren't being written for women. Under-realized, with no apparent friends and farcical taste in men, the character makes no sense, but it doesn't matter. You believe her, partly because Ms Leoni makes cozying up to danger seem like the most natural thing in the world, partly because it's just nice having this actress around." "We've seen the inner lives of hit men and mobsters rendered innumerably in recent years on film and television, but You Kill Me does it in a satisfyingly comedic way, loaded with easily identifiable idiosyncrasies," writes Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times. "Best known for sly neo-noirs like The Last Seduction and Red Rock West, Dahl chooses to dial down the tone until it's dry enough to kindle a brushfire, but the film is one of those rare occasions where going too low-key means missing many comic possibilities," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "It's small scale, low budget and not straining for big yuks," writes Richard Schickel for Time. "On the other hand, it's an unprepossessing delight, especially after Frank meets Laurel (Tea Leoni)." Update, 6/23: Cinematical's James Rocchi talks with Dahl and Leoni.
Shorts, 6/20.Nikki Finke hears that Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese have teamed up for a 9th time. "Before he gets started on those two new Pee Wee Herman movies, Paul Reubens will have a role in a new Todd Solondz film. And no, that's not a joke," Erik Davis assures us at Cinematical. Ted Z has news regarding Wes Anderson's The Fantastic Mr Fox. "Woody Allen has held a secret premiere of his new film Cassandra's Dream in Spain," reports the BBC. More up-n-coming news via Jeffrey Overstreet: "Theo Angelopoulos's Dust of Time will star Harvey Keitel, Willem Dafoe, Bruno Ganz and Valeria Golino." "Clive Owen is to play Philip Marlowe in the first of a planned series of films about Raymond Chandler's classic private eye, to be directed by graphic novel writer turned director Frank Miller." Also in the Guardian:
Fests and events, 6/20.The 7th Young Guns International Student Film Festival opens in Singapore tomorrow and runs through Saturday. The first-ever New York City Food Film Festival also opens tomorrow and runs through Saturday. Cathy Erway has a preview at the Reeler. For the Los Angeles Times, Sheigh Crabtree previews a Los Angeles Film Festival entry: "Like a hyperbolic tale ripped from the cover of Weekly World News, the documentary film Cat Dancers is steeped in exotic animal fur, nude portraits, a love triangle, spandex, headbands and rhinestones and the mauling deaths of Joy and Chuck - exotic-animal trainers who were each killed by Jupiter, a white Bengal tiger with a bad attitude." The fest opens tomorrow and runs through July 1. In the San Francisco Bay Guardian, on the occasion of a Yerba Buena Center for the Arts retrospective (click for erratic dates), Michelle Devereaux offers unabashed "semicoherent ravings of a Muppet-philiac [Jim] Henson fangirl." Cheryl Eddy chimes in on this as well. At Cinema Strikes Back, David Austin previews two more New York Asian Film Festival titles: The Banquet and Hard Boiled. More capsule reviews from Canfield at Twitch: Retribution, Death Note and Death Note: The Last Name and Nightmare Detective. Matt Riviera's caught Wolfsbergen at the Sydney Film Festival: "The discreet forces at play in this film - both in form and content - sneak up on the viewer almost imperceptibly. Their cumulative effect packs a mighty emotional punch, all the more powerful for its subtlety." Firecracker names just a few of the highlights from the freshly announced lineup for the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival (July 12 through 21) and Darcy Paquet names more in Variety. At the Stranger Song, Paul Schrodt reports on the Clearwater Festival, "held this past weekend, is situated about an hour north of New York City, where the hot sun beats down on the shore of the Hudson River, bringing out all the sights and smells of nature and those who love it. Once a year, hippies young and old gather here to groove to folk music and announce their environmental consciousness to the world - or, more likely, to their friends." AJ Schnack's got stories and pix from CineVegas, "one of the very best festivals I've been to during this nine month festival run I've been on." At Silverdocs, Sujewa Ekanayake caught Kurt Cobain About a Son, "a wildly creative, original, and beautiful portrait of a talented artist who captured the admiration and the imagination of millions of young people around the world." Harriette Yahr wraps the Maui Film Festival for indieWIRE. Bryan Whitefield looks back on the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series for ScreenGrab.
HRWIFF, 6/20.Briefly previewing a slew of films screening at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival for the New York Press, Jennifer Merin notes that, in effect, all 24 "put human faces on pressing current social and political issues." "The recipient of this year's HRWIFF Nestor Almendros Prize (as well as the Grand Jury World Cinema Prize for Documentary at Sundance Film Festival), Eva Mulvad and Anja Al-Erhayem's Enemies of Happiness [site] is not only a remarkable portrait of Malalai Joya, but also a bracing and illuminating glimpse into the fragile democracy and uncertain peace that now shape everyday life in Afghanistan," writes acquarello. Also: "Shot in stark, elegantly composed black and white images, The Violin [site]tonally evokes Henri-Georges Clouzot's The Wages of Fear in its creation of tension through the performance of the mundane." And James Longley's Sari's Mother is "an impassioned and potent reminder that, even in its resigned inevitability, dying with dignity is still a fundamental human right." "Directed by Jennifer Baichwal and sensitively shot in 16-millimeter film by Peter Mettler, Manufactured Landscapes [site] (which is also the name of a 2003 book of [Edward] Burtynsky's photographs) is partly a Great Man documentary, a record of an artist immortalized at the moment of creation: point, shoot, voilà!" writes Manohla Dargis. "Rather more interestingly, at times, it also appears to be a rather tentative, perhaps even unconscious, critique of that same artist and his vision." More from Gerald Peary in the Boston Phoenix, Jason Bogdaneris in the L Magazine and Jim Ridley in Voice. The festival runs on in New York through June 28.
Ambitious Failure Blog-a-Thon."No man or woman sets out to make a bad film.... What makes a film that aspires to reach beyond the boundaries of entertainment go down in flames? Who gets to determine its demise? What is an ambitious failure? That's what we're here to find out." William Speruzzi introduces the Ambitious Failure Blog-a-Thon, running through Sunday. In his own terrific entry on Apocalypse Now, he concludes, "So... ambitious? As all hell. A failure? Not by a long shot but there was a time when it was considered to be, by its creators and by its naysayers and critics. We all came around."
Evan Almighty + summer movies."Evan Almighty signals a passing of the torch, as Tom Shadyac's follow-up to his 2004 Jim Carrey vehicle Bruce Almighty heralds Steve Carell as the new face of big-screen comedy," begins Nick Schager at Slant. "As proven by the plummet of Carey's box-office star, it's a station not easily maintained, and one that necessitates far better - and funnier - films than this toothless biblical-themed sequel." Updated through 6/25. "At 89 minutes that last a lifetime, it's a sanctimonious sitcom dolled up as the most expensive comedy ever made - $175 mil, so they say, no doubt choking - and marks an unfortunate low point in the history of recent American comedy, as it proves that Steve Carell can't make a Bible school lesson funny. There goes his perfect game," writes Robert Wilonsky in a variety of McVoice titles. "Evan Almighty runs out of comic invention early, and the filmmakers fall back on what real politicians do when they exhaust their small stash of ideas: brainless piety," writes David Edelstein in New York. "If Evan Almighty turns into a summer hit, as several competing studio executives predict, the movie could put Hollywood back in the business of making big-budget movies that intentionally embrace sacred subjects," write John Horn and Sheigh Crabtree in the Los Angeles Times. "Christian moviegoers have been an increasingly hot target since [Mel] Gibson's [Passion of the Christ] grossed more than $370 million in 2004. In assembling Evan Almighty, Universal and Shadyac endeavored to create a crowd-pleasing, but nondogmatic, parable. The goal was to appeal not only to fans of star Steve Carell - last seen searching for a willing woman in The 40-Year-Old Virgin - but also liberal environmentalists and more socially conservative audiences who rarely venture into the multiplex." Meanwhile, also in the LAT, Claudia Eller notes that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - for those of you without kids, that's the book, the 7th and final installment - hits stores 10 days after Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - the movie, based on #5 - hits theaters on July 11. "Warner doesn't expect any spoilers to hurt box-office sales of its upcoming film. Indeed, the flurry of publicity surrounding the release of a new movie and book could feed sales for both of them. But there are two Harry Potter sequels to go over the next three years. Could knowing how it all ends dissuade moviegoers from turning out to see them?" Jim Hill has lots - lots - more on Pixar's Wall*E, slated for next summer. Via Jeffrey Overstreet. Updates, 6/21: "With September and the rest of the fall now bursting with major Hollywood releases and Academy Award aspirants, the previously uncrowded terrain of summer no longer looks so hospitable for more serious movies," writes David M Halbfinger in the New York Times. In other words, it's crowded out there. "Chances are good, [John] Travolta figures, that his name will also help Hairspray at the box office this summer. 'You have to trust that people want to see me be this big fat woman who can sing and dance,' he says." Kevin West talks with him for Style.com. Via Movie City News. Bill Gibron at PopMatters on Evan Almighty: "Part of the problem lies with the film's tone. This is a subtle smile maker that believes it's an uproarious farce." "Evan Almighty feels market-researched within a cubit of its life, from its strategic mix of biblical homilies and save-the-planet platitudes to the inevitable heartstring-tugging about how building an ark turns the career-obsessed Evan into a more devoted family man," writes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. "What makes the film transcend its limitations is Carell, whose square, Father Knows Best demeanor belies a supreme comic self-confidence and whose implacability in the face of the movie's CGI-intensive animal antics can be marvelous to behold." "Of all the summer's big-budget action sequels, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is the least painful," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "At 94 minutes, it not only gets out of your face the quickest, but it seems to have the most light-hearted approach." Updates, 6/22: "God may be in all things, but lately he seems especially at home in a certain kind of big-budget studio comedy aimed at a very particular market," notes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "That would be, apparently, the market that loves its zingy Bible puns and its adorable CGI versions of all God's creatures but doesn't want to be made to feel too bad about driving that SUV or heating 6,000 square feet in a just-sprouted development." Evan "combines bland religiosity and timid environmentalism into a soothing Sunday-school homily about the importance of being nice," writes AO Scott in the New York Times, where he's got a few ideas for further installments in the franchise. "It's a rare movie that offends and bores at the same time," writes Nerve's Bilge Ebiri. "In Evan Almighty, Carell is on the fast track to becoming Robin Williams, a guy who lost the plot far too early on and began pouring his considerable comic gifts into brain-dead heart-warmers," warns Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. Scott Tobias at the AV Club: "Historically, throwing money at a comedy has never made it funnier, because there's nothing more cost-effective than a joke, and nothing more ruinous than a spectacle trampling all over it." At the WSWS, David Walsh places Oceans's Thirteen in context of Steven Soderbergh's career. The Independent talks with Jeffrey Katzenberg about Shrek the Third. "[L]ike a megachurch pastor in a loud sweater, Evan Almighty excels at telling you unchallenging things you already knew while leaving middle-class assumptions unstirred," writes Mike Russell. "More a marketing tool than a movie, Evan Almighty attempts to court evangelicals, environmentalists and shots-to-the-groin enthusiasts in a schizophrenic comedy that should please none of them," writes R Emmet Sweeney at the Reeler. "You're aware that the dialogue is dumb and the situation is lame and yet, thanks to the actors, you laugh anyway," writes Jette Kernion at Cinematical. "And after the movie is over you feel almost like you've been conned, and you're not entirely sure what was so funny in the first place." Updates, 6/23: In the Telegraph: "The cast of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on what it's like to be a child actor, kissing Daniel Radcliffe, and keeping secrets for JK Rowling." At AICN, Quint talks David Yates, who'll be directing Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. "If it's true that there's an 8-year-old boy inside every man, Transformers is just the ticket to bring the kid out," writes Jay Weissberg for Variety. "Big, loud and full of testosterone-fueled car fantasies, Michael Bay's actioner hits a new peak for CGI work, showcasing spectacular chases and animated transformation sequences seamlessly blended into live-action surroundings. There's no longer any question whether special effects can be made more realistic: The issue is whether disposable actors can be trained to play better with bluescreens." Update, 6/24: For the Observer, Amy Raphael asks Harry Potter 5 and 6 director David Yates, "Without wishing to sound rude, how did he get the job? 'You're not the first to ask,' he laughs. 'David Heyman, who produces the Harry Potter films, was a big fan of the TV work I'd done. There were certainly other directors in the frame, such as Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who directed Amélie. But as Order of the Phoenix is quite edgy and emotional, and it's got a political backstory, the studio saw a fit with me. I think they wanted to wake it up a bit, make it real.'" Update, 6/25: Quint's visited the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix set and files a long, long report for AICN.
June 19, 2007
Shorts, 6/19.James Campbell, in a piece for the Times Literary Supplement calling for the publication of James Baldwin's letters, quotes from one written during an ill-fated Hollywood adventure: Towards the end of 1968, he commented on his lengthy battle with producers at Columbia Pictures, by whom he had been hired to write the script for a film about Malcolm X: I hope that they have finally understood the point of my intransigence and are reconciled to the fact that, in essence, they are merely privileged to pay for a movie which I have been hired to make. I have never encountered among any group of people a more eery sense of reality. The California sun has scrambled their brains, the swimming pools have clogged their ears.... They are not wicked: they are simply sublimely incompetent. The film was never made, though the script was published in 1972 as One Day When I Was Lost (Spike Lee's 1992 film about Malcolm X included a credit to Baldwin). Via Dwight Garner. Very related, good stuff: An entry from Peter Scholtes, posted last year and chock full of further pointers. Darren Hughes raises a glass and calls for "A Toast to Cinephilia!" Why? Let him tell you. Terrific story. Wishing Roger Ebert a happy 65th yesterday, Facets Features pulled up a 1979 one-on-one with Ebert and Werner Herzog. "Marc Forster will direct the 22nd James Bond film." And of course, Daniel Craig's on board. Michael Speier reports for Variety, where Peter Gilstrap has this: Michael Apted will direct The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the third installment in the Narnia series. Andrew Adamson, who directed the first, has also directed the second, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. Tom Hall has a first peek at "Arnaud Desplechin's Un Conte De Noël (Tale of Christmas), starring long-time Desplechin collaborator Mathieu Amalric and the luminous Catherine Deneuve." "William Friedkin's notoriously lurid 1980 thriller Cruising will be getting a theatrical run in New York, LA and San Francisco the first week of September just prior to its debut on DVD." The New York Post's Lou Luminick has more. David Bordwell considers how late 19th century narrative painting informed early cinema's approach to staging and composition. "[F]or all the time and dedication [Yoichi] Sai gave to the project, it's a shame to report that the resulting film is a tremendous disappointment." Filmbrain on Blood and Bones. "A frequent candidate for the finest martial arts movie ever made, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin has at last been rescued from the video bargain bins (where it has long languished under the title Shaolin Master Killer) and given a first-class release by the Weinstein Company's new Asian action label, Dragon Dynasty," cheers Dave Kehr, noting, too, that the "extras include an interview with Gordon Liu (recently seen in two roles in the Kill Bill films) and a commentary track by the musician RZA of Wu-Tang Clan (a Shaolin scholar of some standing) and the Los Angeles film critic Andy Klein." Also in the New York Times: Though it isn't due in theaters until September, The Kingdom will be popping up here and there throughout the summer, evidently to test audience reactions. According to Michael Cieply, people are reacting well so far to a "popcorn movie" set in Saudi Arabia. Screenwriter Matthew Carnahan "said he wrote drafts that were far more political and 'nihilistic' than the finished film. And he fretted for a time that [director Peter] Berg's insistence on honoring basic values of the buddy-cop genre might be 'dumbing this movie down.' But, Mr Carnahan said, he also came to believe that wrapping his notions about shared responsibility for the world's ills 'in conventional movie plot and conventional movie characters' was the way to reach people." And Thomas Lin profiles character actor Kim Chan, now in his 90s. "After a few hours of labor pains, [Knocked Up] climaxes with the birth of what looks like a real live baby. Are newborns allowed to work in the movies?" Turns out, yes. Kathryn Lewis explains in Slate. "It has been easy to underestimate and underappreciate Ken Loach, by far the most distinctive, profound and consistent filmmaker to work in Great Britain in the last 40 years," writes Michael Atkinson, reviewing the "paradigmatically Loachian" Raining Stones. Also, Andrew Leman's The Call of Cthulhu is "a 'new silent' film, scrupulously faithful to HP Lovecraft's seminal Cthulhu tale (first published in 1928), that runs only 47 minutes but packs enough storytelling and energetic incident to fill out a miniseries." "Ostensibly a film about the German occupation of Poland during World War II, [Andrzej] Zulawski takes a treatment written by his father (based on his personal experiences) and turns it into an emotionally loaded trip through the guilt of a young man, Michael, who has witnessed the death of his wife and child, himself escaping." Mike at Esotika Erotica Psychotica on The Third Part of the Night, Zulawski's feature debut and "one of the most powerful war films that I've ever seen at least." "[S]he's an iconic figure in a country's consciousness, a figure known to millions in a cinema mad country, and one of their great artists. She is Helena Ignez, in New Zealand to celebrate the Cinema Novo at the Film Society, and is impressively known as the Muse of Cinema Novo." And Brannavan Gnanalingam talks with her for the Lumière Reader. Emine Saner interviews Guillaume Canet for the Guardian. "The filmmaker who's plunged headfirst into the brutal world of ultimate fighting is... David Mamet." Patrick Goldstein visits the set of Redbelt for the Los Angeles Times. Dead Silence has Flickhead "spooked and amused from beginning to end." "Cinematographer Alex Thomson passed away on the 14th," notes Faisal A Qureshi at ScreenGrab. "Thomson's work on Excalibur led to collaborations with some well-known directors such as Michael Mann (The Keep), Ridley Scott (Legend), Michael Cimino (Year of the Dragon) and David Fincher (he was brought in at the last minute on Alien 3). For me though, Thomson's finest work was on Kenneth Branagh's underrated Hamlet." 13 screenplays are set for this fall's Central European Pitch Forum. Online grinning tip. Karl Hubbuch's 1932 drawing, The Film Star Spends Two Minutes in Her Parents' Garden. Online browsing tip. Grace Weston's photography, via Coudal Partners. Online viewing tip #1. Larry Blamire "is currently having "way too much fun" writing, directing, and occasionally acting in his latest creation, Tales From the Pub, six episodes of which are presently available for free viewing on YouTube," reports Tim Lucas. Online viewing tip #2. "[R]eal places, real people. For the travelogue alone, this gets my full five stars," writes Jason Scott. But the point of the "fantastic" Good Copy Bad Copy, of course, is its wide-ranging pulse-taking of the current state of intellectual property right now. And it's free to view, too. Via Waxy.org. Online viewing tip #3. The Clintons. Online viewing tips, round 3. "While it's morbidly amusing to imagine candidates groveling for LonelyGirl15's endorsement, YouTube is slyly attempting to appear democratic without actually accomplishing anything." At 10 Zen Monkeys, Lou Cabron rounds up "YouTube's 5 Sorriest Questions for the 2008 Presidential Candidates." Online viewing tips, round 2. Mike Plante argues the case for Apart From That. Via Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker.
Fests and events, 6/19.At the Lumière Reader, "Tim Wong previews with enthusiasm a winter savior, the Telecom 2007 New Zealand International Film Festivals program, due out to much anticipation this week." From the Newport International Film Festival, AJ Schnack files "Part 2 of 4 in my series of reports from the June Film Festival Frenzy (TM). Q. Whatever happened to part 1? A. No one promised these would be in order." Also frenzied these days is Matt Dentler: "It was a blizzard of festivals around America this past week/weekend. You had Silverdocs, CineVegas, Seattle and Nantucket. In some cases (like The Devil Came on Horseback) films and filmmakers attended all four... as exhausting as that may sound." And watching from afar, keeping score, is Michael Tully. From the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, in New York through June 28: "Combining elements of documentary, re-enactment, serial comics, and even metafilm, Strange Culture poses the integral question of artistic freedom in an age of aggressive and increasingly emboldened federal government prosecution," writes acquarello. Watch the trailer at the DVBlog. Recent takes on Manufactured Landscapes: Robert Cashill and Bryant Frazer and, at IFC News, Matt Singer. "Roaring into town to punish evil-doers and please all lovers of the esoteric, the weird and the wonderful, the New York Asian Film Festival returns with a line-up of films from Korea, Japan, China, Pakistan, Thailand and Hong Kong." Matt Singer and Alison Willmore celebrate at IFC News. The Los Angeles Times previews the Mods & Rockers Film Festival, running July 13 through August 1. At filmjourney.org, Robert Koehler lists his "final rankings of the films across all sections that I saw before, during and just after Cannes, from best to worst." The Pop View Silverdocs reviews: Chicago 10, Big Rig, Fredrick Wiseman's State Legislature, Hip-Hop Revolution and Pete Seeger: The Power of Song. Andy Spletzer wraps his SIFF coverage.
Lady Chatterley.From a French adaptation in 1955 with Danielle Darrieux through, let's say, less auspicious reworkings at the hands of Ken Russell, Sylvia Kristel and dozens of others, DH Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover hasn't fared too well on film, notes Dennis Lim in the New York Times. "The newest Chatterley - a nearly three-hour French-language adaptation, directed by Pascale Ferran - effectively wipes the slate clean," he announces. "Lady Chatterley, which opens Friday, is both sober and sensual, not just a world away from the high-toned smut of its predecessors but also, in its directness and simplicity, an anomaly in the elaborately ornamented genre of the costume drama. In France it has won widespread critical acclaim and five César Awards." Updated through 6/23. "Dice it any way you want, this material was, is, and will always be pretty cheap," counters Jason Clark at Slant. "[I]n the pretentious, nondescript hands of Ferran, you're left with a pastoral douche commercial... Since the movie has no expressive qualities, it all just sits there on screen, like a limp phallus." "I found the first half-hour a snooze, but once I adjusted to the movie's rhythms, I was completely enraptured," writes David Edelstein in New York. "Ferran weaves the love affair into nature, but not in the mystical, sanctified manner of Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain. The look is rough-hewn, the feeling casual yet supremely alert." Earlier: Emmanuel Burdeau in Cahiers du cinéma. Updates, 6/20: Cathy Erway in the L Magazine: "While some of the pedestrian English gruffness of [Jean-Louis] Coulloc'h's Parkin may be lost in translation, Ferran eschews class divide as a major motive for Connie's [Marina Hands] carnal impulses. The subtle power play between the lovers instead becomes so modern, in fact, that you may not realize how the time has passed." "The montage-based spectacle of the world joyously blossoming along with the lovers' libidos was the basis for two previous movies that provocatively glossed Lawrence's story: Czech director Gustav Machaty's famously uninhibited Ecstasy, the outrage of 1932, and, 20 years later, Douglas Sirk's necessarily repressed—but more subversive—American version, All That Heaven Allows, J Hoberman reminds us. "Ferran revels in the objective correlative as a means to restore something of the novel's archaic essence. Lady Chatterley's Lover is, after all, a straightforward adult fairy tale about a spellbound princess who wanders into the deep woods and discovers the enchanted rustic cottage where the solitary Green Man makes his home.... This is not so much a love story (and even less a story about love) than it is a movie of passionate loveliness." Also in the Voice: Leslie Camhi talks with Ferran. For those in France and Germany: Lady Chatterley will be broadcast Friday evening at 8:40 on arte. Updates, 6/21: "I defy anyone to watch the closing scene, when Constance and Parkin speak their hearts, without misting up," writes Erica Abeel, introducing her interview with Ferran for indieWIRE. "Ferran very simply anticipates a future for human relationships with a rush of man-to-woman communication that makes the film - despite its excessive length (nearly three hours) - totally winning," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "Ending with the best love scene since George Washington is not proof of Ferran's innocence but of emotional truth." "It's not just a film in the French language; it's also a French interpretation of a fundamentally English story about class and sex and liberation," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "As presented by Julien Hirsch's moody camerawork, the lush, dripping forests of Clifford Chatterley's estate, so suggestive of somethingness, don't look quite like any English woodlands I've ever seen. While Ferran certainly imbues this landscape with a sort of immanent eroticism, there's also a philosophical, almost diagrammatic element to her film. This is DH Lawrence rendered in the metric system." With few exceptions, "there's no sense that these characters exist among 'the ruins' of the cataclysmic 'tragic age' Lawrence paints in the book's very first sentences," writes Michael Joshua Rowin at Reverse Shot. "So when Lady Chatterley winds up in the arms of the quiet, Brandoesque Parkin (Jean-Louis Coulloc'h) nothing is at stake." Updates, 6/22: "In stripping Lady Chatterley of some of its mystique, Ms Ferran has rediscovered both the novel's originality and the source of its durable appeal, which is not salaciousness but candor," writes AO Scott in the NYT. "She has made a love story that stands on its own, a film whose imaginative freedom perfectly matches the liberation experienced by its heroine." "Ferran does supply sex as well as sexual symbolism, but the two are equally placid and ruminative, and the Better Homes and Gardens visual approach makes for a mighty sleepy film," writes Tasha Robinson at the AV Club. Nicole Ankowski at Nerve: "I admit my MTV-addled brain mometarily cringed when I realized the running time was almost three hours long, but Ferran's ability to immerse her lens in Lady Chatterley's woodsy otherworld makes each minute worthwhile." Update, 6/23: "Lady Chatterley. Is. One. Of. The. Most. Sluggish. Erotic-Lit. Movies. Ever." Writes. Nick Schager. At Cinematical.
June 29.As Jeffrey Wells has noted, this coming weekend looks to be a good one for moviegoing in the US, at least on the coasts, and particularly for the summer. At the moment, though, there's quite a hubbub clamoring around two films opening the following week, Ratatouille and Sicko. Write your own rats and health insurance companies punchline. Updated through 6/24. I've already noted Justin Chang's rave for the first in Variety, and today, David Poland adds: "Ratatouille is not only the best animated film of this year and the best animated film to land in American theaters since Spirited Away, it is the best work of Brad Bird's already legendary career, and the best American film of 2007 to date." As for Sicko, Kyle Smith blasts Michael Moore in the New York Post ("Even Moore does not believe what he says, and his films don't bring about change"; oh, well then...), Moore blasts the team behind Manufacturing Dissent, saying, yes, he did interview GM chairman Roger Smith, but long before he started working on Roger & Me, and then, of course, there's the matter of the leaks, Sicko in full, floating around the ether. The Hollywood Reporter's Gregg Goldstein has the basics; Glenn Kenny, the entertaining commentary. Update: "Like Stephen Daldry's The Hours, Evening's pseudo-intellectual tone hardly disguises its presumptions about female identity," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant. "Made by dilettantes, for dilettantes, the film might be considered a gay man's fetish art—another opportunity for the Pulitzer Prize-winning [Michael Cunningham] to flaunt his facile understanding of female torment, grotesque class condescension, superfluous preoccupation with time, and reduction of gay experience." Earlier: Brandon Harris. "Hyped in Cuba, unveiled in Cannes, pirated on YouTube, and rallied around last week in Sacramento, Calif, by nurses chanting for the health insurance system's demise, Michael Moore's documentary Sicko is finally ready to meet its American audience - or at least some of it - a week ahead of schedule," reports Michael Cieply in the New York Times. "Executives of the Weinstein Company, which provided backing for the film, a documentary indictment of America's health care system, said Sicko would open Friday on a single screen at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square theater in New York." Updates, 6/20: For Jason Bogdaneris, writing in the L Magazine, Sicko "is vintage Moore, with all that entails: ironic archival footage, maudlin case studies of 'ordinary Americans' caught up in a corrupted system and his trademark aggresive disingenuousness.... But as with his indictment of the gun lobby or the military industrial complex, his assembled half-truths still constitute an unrefutable larger one." AJ Schnack details the Sicko storm as it gurgles along on several fronts at once. One that hasn't been mentioned here yet: Sicko, according to some, is supposed to pull docs out of some sort of genre slump - which AJ isn't buying into at all. The slump, that is. Eric Kohn posts a brief clip from Moore's press conference in New York on Tuesday. Moore will be on Capital Hill today. Kim Masters reports for NPR. Sicko "presents a devastating indictment of the US healthcare system by letting victimized patients speak for themselves," writes Robert Weissman. S James Snyder talks with Moore for Time. Updates, 6/22: Sicko "is the best film in the Moore canon," blogs David Corn for the Nation. "I say this as one who had a mixed reaction to Fahrenheit 9/11. (See here.) This time around, Moore has crafted a tour de force that his enemies will have a tough time blasting (though they will still try). It's not as tendentious as his earlier works. It posits no conspiracy theories. The film skillfully blends straight comedy, black humor, tragedy, and advocacy. You laugh, you cry - literally. And you get mad." More from Stuart Klawans: "I don't think he's ever before relied so heavily on so many people. They help him make his argument about the failures of American medicine (or, rather, the successes of American insurance-gouging). But to Moore's great credit, the debating points never seem more important than the individuals who back them up." "Mr Moore has hardly been shy about sharing his political beliefs, but he has never before made a film that stated his bedrock ideological principles so clearly and accessibly," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "When he plaintively asks, 'Who are we?,' he is not really wondering why our traditions of neighborliness and generosity have not found political expression in an expansive system of social welfare. He is insisting that such a system should exist, and also, rather ingeniously, daring his critics to explain why it shouldn't." "It's perfectly valid to agree with Moore's thesis and still have problems with his filmmaking, his choices of what to put where, his way of eliding certain realities lest they weaken his (already considerably strong) case," argues Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "And while Sicko is, in my view, the most persuasive and least aggravating of all of Moore's movies, it still bears many of the frustrating Moore earmarks - most notably, a deliberately simplistic desire to render everything in black-and-white terms, as if he didn't trust his audience enough to follow him into some of the far more complex gray areas." "Sicko is creating an awkward situation for the leading Democratic presidential candidates," reports Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in the Los Angeles Times. "Rejecting Moore's prescription on healthcare could alienate liberal activists, who will play a big role in choosing the party's next standard-bearer. However, his proposal - wiping out private health insurance and replacing it with a massive federal program - could be political poison with the larger electorate." Robert Greenwald: "Michael has used visits to other countries to great effect, making crystal clear that it can be done here, it should be done here, and we have to make sure that it is done here." "Moore is no shit smear like Ann Coulter, but it's easy to see why people on the right regard him with such contempt," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant. "His films, like the reportage that tries to pass for legitimate journalism on FOX News, lack for balance. This is not to say that Moore is a liar or isn't critical of his kind (he praises Hillary Clinton's efforts to overhaul health care during her husband's stint as President, then calls attention to how she accepted money from the health care industry while trying to build her political clout as a senator), but he is prone to showing us only one side of any given coin." Howard Feinstein interviews Moore for Filmmaker. Moore is "the PT Barnum of human misery who, going back to Roger & Me, has never been one to let details interfere with a good story," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "And yet, as Moore builds his case that health insurance in America is essentially a profit-making enterprise based on bilking the afflicted, the cumulative effect of this material is devastating." "At first, Sicko comes off as the ultimate distillation of the Michael Moore formula," blogs Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "ut then something interesting happens: the movie ends before Moore can directly confront his boogeyman. There seems to have been a conscious decision on the part of the filmmaker to avoid conflict." "The high point of yesterday's hearing—the part that most resembled a scene in a Michael Moore movie—occurred when Rep John Conyers (D-Mich), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, spotted Rep Darryl Issa (R-Calif) standing quietly in the back of the room," reports Brian Beutler for Mother Jones. "Conyers thanked Issa 'for making this a bipartisan issue,' and invited him to stand in front of the crowd. Issa gestured in protest, making a cut-throat gesture at his neck, but to no avail. He was cowed into standing with Moore and the Democrats anyhow.... After the hearing, Moore headed out to a theater in Washington's Union Station to hold yet another free screening - food and drink provided - for anybody in the city who has a career lobbying on behalf of private health care companies. No word yet on how many people attended." Meanwhile: "Brad Bird has done it again," announces Matt Dentler. "And, if the screening we attended means anything, the kids are gonna love it even more than the grown-ups.... Ratatouille is unlike any other Pixar feature before it, yet embodies the distinct tone and spirit that has made them an animation powerhouse." Updates, 23: Online viewing tips. David Poland lunches with Ratatouille composer Michael Giacchino, plus an accompanying behind-the-scenes featurette. Jonathan Cohn, author of Sick: The Untold Story of America's Health Care Crisis - And the People Who Pay the Price (site), writes in the New Republic: "[B]eyond all the grandstanding and political theater, the movie actually made a compelling, argument about what's wrong with US health care and how to fix it. Sicko got a lot of the little things wrong. But it got most of the big things right." "The subject matter is so inherently powerful and frustrating, and the horror stories Sicko relates are so relatable to American audiences, that one almost wishes that Moore had simply allowed his participants to just speak: to let the running camera record these everyday people's woes, to create a nonstop ethnographic view of contemporary American life from the point of view of those who've been let down by its bureaucracies and greed," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "Yet asking Moore to unyoke himself from his identity as an entertainer is like imploring Michael Bay to try his hand at EM Forster: it's not gonna happen, and, regardless of our own aesthetic criteria, do we really want it to?" "As Hillary Clinton found out the hard way, health care isn't a particularly sexy topic, but with his usual populist's touch, Moore has crafted a film that's intellectually and emotionally gripping from start to finish," writes Jürgen Fauth. Moore "embodies the dumb American abroad in Europe, but his mock astonishment at other health care systems is hugely entertaining. Even the trip to Cuba which has received all the right-wing criticism is much funnier than you would expect," writes J Robert Parks. "And the movie flows beautifully from scene to scene, while never forgetting that the audience isn't a bunch of policy wonks but regular Americans wondering what needs to happen. What needs to happen is that people need to see Sicko. It's a gloriously unbalanced piece of agitprop and required viewing." Update, 6/24: "As he moved from Sacramento to New York and on to Washington this week, Mr Moore has not just set out to sell tickets to Sicko, his cinematic indictment of the American health care system," reports Kevin Sack for the NYT. "He has also pushed his prescription for reform: a single-payer system, with the government as insurer, that would guarantee access to health care for all Americans and put the private insurance industry out of business. Whether embracing Mr Moore's remedy or disdaining it, elected officials and policy experts agreed last week that the film was likely to have broad political impact, perhaps along the lines of An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore's jeremiad on global warming. It will, they predicted, crystallize the frustration that is a pre-existing condition for so many health care consumers."
June 18, 2007
East German Cinema."There's a fair amount of barbed wire and bitterness in the films of the German Democratic Republic, but there's much more," writes Robert Horton, introducing our newest primer, "East German Cinema." Preparing a lecture on Cold War cinema, he's "had the chance to delve into the world of GDR film and found it arresting in many ways - an island unto itself, yet connected to the greater flow of movie history in unexpected flashes."
Shorts, 6/18.Two recommendations from Mick LaSalle: Antonia Quirke's Choking on Marlon Brando, out next month: "It's a memoir of a woman's love life and how it was influenced by her obsession with male movie stars. But, really, unless you're really, really, really interested in a stranger's sex life, the book is in truth a smart excuse - a shrewd way of arranging - one film critic's best thoughts and ideas about watching movies, and her best comments and observations about particular stars, especially actors.... Quirke is a gifted describer and observer, a genuine and intelligent talent, and a welcome new voice. She's about three seconds from becoming very famous." And the second? Howard Hawks's Only Angels Have Wings. Another title you might want to seek out for these long summer days: Raymonde Borde and Etienne Chaumeton's A Panorama of American Film Noir 1941 - 1953. Girish introduces a few excerpts: "Being Surrealists, Borde and Chaumeton tirelessly hunt for a handful of qualities in these films: oneirism, strangeness, eroticism, moral ambivalence, cruelty, death, sensation. It makes for a delicious read." Speaking of noir, Cyberpunk Review has details on an upcoming 5-disc Blade Runner "Ultimate Collection" DVD release. Via Fimoculous, also pointing to the "100 Best-Reviewed Sci-Fi Movies." Speaking of detectives who may or may not fully realize who they are, Twin Peaks, the full series, pilot and all, the "Definitive Gold Box Edition." David Lambert reports for, appropriately enough, TVShowsOnDVD.com. Via Jeffrey Overstreet. Kung Fu Cinema hears that there will be a Host 2 - but Bong Joon-ho won't be directing it. "Martin Scorsese, Dennis Hopper, Mark Rydell, Owen Roizman and Haskell Wexler are among the film industry veterans slated to be interviewed for inclusion in a new documentary about two of the community's most influential directors of photography, Laszlo Kovacs and Vilmos Zsigmond." Carolyn Giardina has more in the Hollywood Reporter. A dog, a lawsuit, an 11-year-old movie director, and yes, Kevin Bacon. Dana Goodyear tells the odd story in the New Yorker. Also, John Lahr on Neil LaBute's In a Dark House. For the Los Angeles Times, Bruce Wallace files a profile from South Korea: "A mere two years after arriving in South Korea with a single suitcase and a one-shot contract for a TV commercial, [Daniel] Henney, 27, has become one of the country's most famous TV and movie stars, a heartthrob who can't go out for coffee in Seoul without attracting a (mostly squealing female) crowd." "Power of Art teaches as much about the power of storytelling on television as it does about the history of art," writes Alessandra Stanley in the New York Times. "[Simon] Schama, who most recently undertook A History of Britain for the BBC and the History Channel, is taking a faster and more furious look at Western civilization." At Slant, Nick Schager finds September Dawn's "Mormon characters demonized with such laughable gusto, and its Christian victims cast in such a holy, noble light, that the project quickly feels less like an attempt at historical truth-telling than like shameless anti-Mormon propaganda." Rob Humanick: "I declare the week of July 15-21 the official 'Movies I've Borrowed for an Unreasonably Long Time' Blog-a-Thon. This date will give anyone interested in participating a full month to get around to those dust-collecting DVDs and tapes - extra props to anyone who can beat my own personal record of a whopping four years (that's right - I borrowed my friend's copy of WarGames at the end of my senior year in high school, and now I'm applying for graduate school)." Via Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door. And a reminder from William Speruzzi: The Ambitious Failure Blog-a-Thon is still set for Wednesday through Sunday. Wagstaff's "5 for the Day" at the House Next Door: "My five is heavy on car chases, but anything on wheels may qualify, as long as someone is being chased or doing the chasing." PopMatters starts listing the "50 DVDs Every Film Fan Should Own." Online browsing tip. Penguin Design Award winning entries and shortlist. Via the CR Blog. Online listening tip. "Enemies of Happiness premiered at IDFA last November, where it won the Silver Wolf Award," writes Joel Heller at Docs That Inspire. "The film went on to win the Grand Jury Prize for World Documentary at Sundance in January. I never imagined that six months later I'd be sitting across from the inspiring subject of the film, a 28-year-old woman named Malalai Joya, whose moral courage and strength I deeply admire." Online viewing tip #1. Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay passes along links to Scott Kirsner's conversation with Peter Broderick: "Peter has always been a thoughtful, ahead-of-the-curve commentator on independent film distribution, so I suggest you check these out on Google Video." Online viewing tip #2. At AICN, Moriarty has a trailer for Jay and Seth vs the Apocalypse. That would be Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen. Online viewing tip #3. Jim Coudal finds "appropriately silent movie about Colin Ord's forthcoming book on animated optical illusions." Online viewing tips, round 1. Ed Champion rounds up a heavy handful of apocalyptic downers. Online viewing tips, round 2. Filmschatten, "films that made (no) history," via wood s lot.
Fests and events, 6/18."Bernardo Bertolucci will receive an honorary Golden Lion award at this year's Venice Film Festival," reports the AP. Acquarello finds the contemporary relevance in The City of Photographers, a documentary about a group that "sought to document the atrocities of the Pinochet regime from within the country." Also caught at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival is The Railroad All-Stars, "a thoughtful and poetic tale of self empowerment." The Los Angeles Film Festival opens Thursday and runs through July 1, and the Los Angeles Times, a major sponsor, is already running a couple of pieces in anticipation. Peter Rainer previews the LA Destroys Itself sidebar: "One big reason the typical disaster movie, as opposed to the film noir, has never quite worked for LA is because, in the popular imagination, the city is already rotted out from the inside. Its demolition is redundant." And Cristy Lytal talks with Don Cheadle about the opening film, Talk to Me - and about Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene. Then, unrelated to the fest, Susan King: "Friday at the Aero Theatre, the American Cinematheque pays homage to [Freddie] Francis with a double feature of films he shot for [David] Lynch: 1980's atmospheric black-and-white The Elephant Man and 1999's exquisitely pastoral The Straight Story. Lynch will introduce the screenings and discuss Francis." "Kino Fist returns triumphant with a Sexpol special." June 30 in London. "So Richard, how did you feel about your recent world premiere of Man From Earth at San Francisco's Holehead Film Festival?" Michael Guillén talks with director Richard Schenkman and posts
Anticipating NYAFF, 6/18."Horror is over, gangsters are losing ground, and the coming thing is camp comedy dressed up in electric pink," proclaims Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "At least those are a few conclusions that can be drawn from sampling this year's edition of the New York Asian Film Festival, which begins Friday." And runs through July 8.
SIFF Dispatch. 4.Sean Axmaker wraps the Seattle International Film Festival, "the longest, largest and most well-attended film festival in the country." So it's over. First, one rule veteran SIFF-goers have learned is that the "World Premiere" stamp on American offerings is better seen as a warning. We seem to get the American productions that Sundance and Tribeca turn down. I missed the rare films that got good buzz (the supermarket sport spoof American Shopper [site] and the space race flashback The Fever of '57) and instead suffered through such films as Walk the Talk [site], a bland DV feature that satirizes the culture of motivational speakers and self-help programs with all the wit of a sitcom rerun. Updated through 6/19.
Updates: Anne Thompson wraps the festival, too: "Every movie we saw over the fest's last weekend, no matter how obscure, was packed." And of course: the Stranger and the Siffblog. Updates, 6/19: Brandon Judell has an overview at indieWIRE. Andy Spletzer wraps his SIFF coverage.
A Mighty Heart."A Mighty Heart tells the story of the hunt in Pakistan for kidnapped Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl through the eyes of his pregnant wife, Mariane, played by Angelina Jolie dipped in caramel," writes David Edelstein. "It is practically a policier, although the suspense is mitigated by our knowledge that the investigation will end badly. There's surprisingly little in the way of politics (the director is the Brit Michael Winterbottom, who's not known for reticence in that area) and no overarching message - apart from Pearl's shining example as an investigative journalist. The conclusions we must draw for ourselves. The most obvious is that in late 2001 and early 2002, we (by which I mean the American media and its consumers) had little idea of the deadly labyrinth into which the 'war on terror' would lead us." Also in New York: Logan Hill talks with Dan Futterman, who plays Daniel Pearl. Updated through 6/24. Anthony Lane opens his review in the New Yorker with half a dozen wisecracks - seriously, they're numbered - about Angelina Jolie before remarking, "We brace ourselves for a star turn, a hundred minutes of vanity project, but here's the thing: it never happens. Jolie slips into the part, ducks in and out of the action, and generally plays second string to the onrush of events." It was a famously rocky shoot; talking with Jolie and others, Sean Smith tells the story as part of a Newsweek package that includes his interview with Mariane Pearl, David Ansen's review ("Though we know the outcome, we still hang on every false lead, hoping against hope, like Mariane, that the story will have a different outcome") and Fareed Zakaria on the "Real Problem in Pakistan": "If there is a central front in the war on terror, it is not in Iraq but in Pakistan.... One explanation for why the military has retained some ties to the Taliban is because they want to keep a 'post-American' option to constrain what they see as a pro-Indian government in Kabul. If Washington were to dump Musharraf, the Pakistani military could easily sabotage American policy against Al Qaeda and throughout the region." Michael Guillén talks with Winterbottom for SF360. Earlier: "Cannes. A Mighty Heart." And David D'Arcy has interviewed Winterbottom for the main site regarding Tristam Shandy and The Road to Guantanamo. Updates, 6/19: Matt Singer at IFC News: "Despite the fact that anyone who pays even a whiff of attention to current events knows the outcome of the film's story before they step foot in the theater, A Mighty Heart plays like a breathless thriller." Ron Rosenbaum has some fun in Slate: But the joke of it all - the Angelina Jolie contract and the revolt against the contract - was that anyone was foolish enough to think a written contract was really necessary. When was the last time you read a celebrity profile that was "disparaging, demeaning or derogatory"? [...] But when it comes to fawning, there is nothing quite like the elaborate, elevated, wannabe-highbrow fawning that "gentlemen's magazines" (mainly Esquire and GQ) do when they produce a cover story on a hot actress. And in the history of fawning gentlemen's-magazine profiles, there is unlikely to be a more ludicrous example than the profile in the July Esquire of - yes - Angelina Jolie, which spends many thousands of words and invokes grave national tragedies to prove to us that Angelina Jolie is not just a good woman, not just an enlightened humanitarian, not just a suffering victim of celebrity, not just strong and brave, but, we are told, "the best woman in the world." City Pages runs J Hoberman's review before the Voice does: "A mondo-global, insanely urgent, staccato procedural in which each shot arrives like a bulletin, A Mighty Heart is characterized by sensational, quasi-documentary location work in swarming Karachi and a sense of near-constant frenzy." Meanwhile, "Jolie is Our Lady of Humanitarian Narcissism: Not we but she 'are the world,' good deeds illuminating her divine person in a blinding blaze of glory.... Jolie's Pearl is an almost mystic presence. Not since Lara Croft has the actress had so apposite an avatar." Updates, 6/20: For the Los Angeles Times, Gina Piccalo meets Dan Futterman, who talks about contacting Daniel Pearl's parents: "'It wasn't their decision to make a movie of this,' Futterman said. 'But once it was being done, they wanted to be as helpful as they possibly could. They showed me photos and talked about his upbringing. I was curious to hear from them about his Jewish upbringing. It had become such an iconic thing. What did it mean to him? What did it mean to them?'" Hillary Frey talks with Winterbottom for the New York Observer; Kimberly Chun for the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "Jolie delivers a performance that's astonishing in its control," writes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "She's dialed down her natural histrionics and gone for something much quieter and deeper than expected." "[W]ith all the muscle behind this film, something more fundamental has been left missing: ironically, a heart," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine. "Like United 93, A Mighty Heart is so focused on achieving nearly flawless verisimilitude to real events and processes that it never stops to ask what it has accomplished with such realism." "No doubt all involved in making the film - which Mariane gave her full endorsement and cooperation - had the best intentions," writes Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix. "Nonetheless, it verges on exploitation, a voyeuristic indulgence in grief and violence. Part tearjerker, part 24-style ticking-time-bomb thriller complete with brutal interrogations, and part Oscar-campaign highlight reel for Angelina Jolie's portrayal of Mariane, it's one of Winterbottom's most incoherent and conventional films - and it will probably be his most popular and successful one." Updates, 6/21: "Pearl's death was an affront to all humanity, and I was holding my breath to see whether Winterbottom would use the occasion to slag off on American foreign policy, as he did in his credulous The Road to Guantanamo by converting Guantánamo inmates from victims into heroes," writes Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly. "Here, though, Winterbottom is completely up-front about the naked anti-Semitism of Islamic jihad, and the fact that Pearl died as much because he was a Jew as because he was an American. If nothing else, this simple, decent docudrama offers a forceful counter to the repugnant argument, heard not only in the East but faintly echoed on the European far left, that whatever happens to Ugly America and its acolyte Israel, they have it coming." "Winterbottom's handheld camerawork and quick-cut editing lend a needed sense of forward momentum to the storyline, but he never allows individual scenes the opportunity to breathe or flesh out any gradation in the characters," argues Neil Morris in the Independent Weekly. "Pitt and Jolie bungled their compassion by hiring one of the worst contemporary filmmakers, Michael Winterbottom, to advance a modish perspective that denies the war on terror," argues Armond White in the New York Press, just as you'd expect. "Winterbottom's films get praised by critics who approve his flashy political stance but don't question his imbecilic style or notice his penchant to bamboozle. In terms of winning hearts and minds, A Mighty Heart is a disaster." "Winterbottom never resorts to melodrama, cloying sentimentality or jingoism," writes Carolyn Nikodym in Vue Weekly. "And you could even argue that the film's cloudy center only reflects the complexity of the issues at hand. Despite the many voices to the contrary, the idea of 'good guys' and 'bad guys' is rarely that cut and dry—and this fact adds to the film's tension." "Winterbottom sticks to the idea that making the movie was like making any other." Sam Adams talks with him for the Philadelphia City Paper. Ray Pride talks with Winterbottom about his cinematographer, Marcel Zyskind, who's "become Winterbottom's right-hand collaborator, and they've evolved a working method across several films, especially in the more fleet, limber formats of digital video." Updates, 6/22: "Now that scores of journalists have died in Iraq, it's easy to forget how shocking it was to see terrorists treat a reporter as a combatant," JR Jones reminds us in the Chicago Reader before recounting the controversy sparked by how various media dealt with the execution video and grimly concluding, "if not for the video, A Mighty Heart probably would never have been made." Nation film critic Stuart Klawans also focuses on that video: "The Slaughter belongs to the most dishonest of genres, propaganda, shot to satisfy hatred and incite further violence. Since its release, it has also circulated (in image and description) as a kind of pornography, enjoyed by those Westerners who get hot and bothered at the thought of Muslim hordes. But even though A Mighty Heart acknowledges (without showing) this film-within-a-film, it does so without sensationalism, fathoming the horror of The Slaughter yet refraining from any attempt to crank up the audience. This is a moral choice made possible by the creation of a certain aesthetic distance - and I'm not sure anyone but Winterbottom could have pulled it off." The film is "is effectively fashioned, as jolting as it is polished, as well as a surprising, insistently political work of commercial art," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "[W]hat distinguishes A Mighty Heart is its assertion that politics and ideology play a part in poverty and terrorism, in the way some men exploit human misery in the name of God and righteousness. It's the movie's insistence that politics are integrated into the warp and woof of life, rather than something you wear like a campaign button, which gives pause." A Mighty Heart "is notable for what it leaves out," writes Roger Ebert for the Chicago Sun-Times. "Although we do meet the possible suspect Omar (Aly Khan), there are not any detailed scenes of Pearl with his kidnappers, no portrayals of their personalities or motivations, and we do not see the beheading and its video. That last is not just because of Winterbottom's tact and taste, but because (I think) he wants to portray the way Pearl has almost disappeared into another dimension. His kidnappers have transported him outside the zone of human values and common sense. We reflect that the majority of Muslims do not approve of the behavior of Islamic terrorists, just as the majority of Americans disapprove of the war in Iraq." "[U]nmooring, bleakly beautiful," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "There's no safety here: A Mighty Heart understands, deeply and intuitively, the nature of the changed and in some ways unfathomable world we now live in." "Though a series of big close-ups often places her front and center, Jolie resists the temptation to push too hard or overplay her part," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "Rather she uses her charisma and skill to express not only weariness and fear but also the hard-edged fierceness and lack of patience that are crucial to seeing Mariane as a real person, not a biopic saint." "Jolie is such an expressive actress that there's always a danger she'll overplay the part, but one major misstep aside, she slips into Winterbottom's wide-ranging procedural and asserts herself only when dramatically necessary," writes the AV Club's Scott Tobias. "She simply exercises Mariane's persistent will, and honors her in the process." "Jolie gives a fine performance, but the film still would have benefited from the casting of someone more obscure," argues Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "The better she is, the more aware of her we are: 'What a seemingly natural accent!' we think. It's simply impossible to forget that this is, indeed, Jolie, and not Mariane Pearl." At Nerve, Jessica Haralson calls the film "an oasis of gravitas in a sea of superheroes-gone-emo and little green ogres." Winterbottom chatted with Washington Post readers last week. Nick Schager finds the film "doesn't quite know what it wants to be, which means that it ultimately winds up being not very much at all." "Unlike United 93, which was devoid of context and took liberties with known facts, A Mighty Heart, based on Mariane Pearl's book, constantly refers to events before and after, to people's motivations, to reasons, arguments, and possible explanations," writes Jürgen Fauth. "The film is dedicated to the Pearl's son Adam, and like the child that never met his father, we have much to gain from a better understanding of the complexities of what happened, and why." James Parker profiles Winterbottom for the Boston Phoenix. "Ironically, Danny's murderers were eventually found, tried and punished; although we can take muted pleasure in that fact, it does not really satisfy us," argues Richard Schickel in Time. "We can, as well, admire his widow carrying on, building a new life, which includes creation of a foundation that seeks to protect endangered journalists everywhere (some 250 of them have lost their lives in action since Pearl's death). But again that cannot quite compensate us for our disappointment in this earnest, well-made, consistently interesting chronicle of death we know to be foretold." Michelle Orange is looking forward to the adaptation of Bernard Henri-Lévy's "exhaustive and exhaustingly impressionistic dossier," Who Killed Daniel Pearl?, currently in production. For her, A Mighty Heart prompts the question, "So why does this film, an account of someone who actually was there, and was shot largely on actual locations, leave one wishing for the passion and outrage of the French philosopher's would-be eyewitness account?" "The movie demands your full attention as it unspools reams of information: names, places, events, and questions that must be answered if the crime will be foiled," writes Ryan Stewart at Cinematical. "I'm sure this is a true reflection of those sleepless weeks as Mariane Pearl remembered them in her book, but the sheer tonnage of investigative info A Mighty Heart presents us ends up crowding out Mariane and Daniel as people: their habits, their convictions, their unusual way of life. I know as little about those things now as I did before seeing the film." Updates, 6/23: For the LAT, Rebecca Trounson reports on "an interfaith discussion that followed a screening of "A Mighty Heart" at Paramount Studios this week." Via Movie City News, Peter Howell's conversation with Winterbottom for the Toronto Star. Update, 6/24: "There is one problem with Michael Winterbottom's film of A Mighty Heart - it's not the book." Peter Nellhaus explains.
Brooklyn Rail. June 07."Director Kazuo Hara is known for raw, transgressive documentaries that boldly attack the repressive mores of Japan," writes David Wilentz, introducing his interview with the filmmaker on the eve of the New York premiere of his first narrative feature, Many Faces of Chika. The title of the resulting piece for the June issue of the Brooklyn Rail, "More Freedom and More Shocking," comes from what Hara says he always writes right alongside his autograph. "If 2006 was the year of Werner Herzog, then 2007 belongs to Rainer Werner Fassbinder," declares Jesi Khadivi. "Fassbinder is perhaps the least accessible of New German Cinema," she continues. Really? Regardless, as it happens, Jed Lipinski has a piece on the recent series of Herzog's documentaries at Film Forum: "What Herzog wants has nothing to do with irony, ideology, or abstraction. 'I am not so much influenced by films,' he said one night, 'as by pure, raw life.'" "A major success in Switzerland and that nation's official entry for the 2006 foreign language Oscar, Vitus is a movie about childhood rebellion against adult expectations that is itself exceedingly eager to please," writes Tessa DeCarlo. Also: "While Jindabyne doesn't aspire to be high art, it's an artfully made film that deserves credit for all that it does so well, including the way it sidesteps cheap tragedy and the predictable ending we long for." Warren Fry reports on Larry Miller's Homage to Nam June Paik, "held at James Cohen gallery on April 14th, which treaded a tenuous line between museological nostalgia and unabashed Fluxus banner waving."
June 17, 2007
SIFF. Awards.The Seattle International Film Festival has announced the Jury Award and Golden Space Needle Audience Award winners. From the Jury:
Silverdocs. Awards.Silverdocs was supposed to have wrapped today, but three cheers for this festival, which has announced that it's "had more demand for shows than ever before and, to accommodate the extraordinary response from local audiences, extended screenings through Monday." The awards ceremony went ahead as scheduled yesterday, and Sujewa Ekanayake has the fully annotated list of winners. Updated through 6/19. Updates, 6/18: Juror Matt Dentler has another round of pix. The Film Panel Notetaker was there: "'What's It Worth': Value vs Values" and a Q&A with The Gates co-director Antonio Ferrara. Tom Hall posts a full-blown overview. Updates, 6/19: Agnes Varnum has an overview at indieWIRE. The Pop View Silverdocs reviews: Chicago 10, Big Rig, Fredrick Wiseman's State Legislature, Hip-Hop Revolution and Pete Seeger: The Power of Song.
Observer, 6/17.The Rise and Fall of Tony Blair is a three-hour series that will begin airing on Channel 4 this coming Saturday. In the Observer, writer and presenter Andrew Rawnsley details the tragic turning point, focusing particularly on Blair's scoffing at warnings from his closest advisors and fellow heads of state: Over lunch, Jacques Chirac warned the Prime Minister that he knew what to expect because the French President had been a young soldier in Algeria. Sir Stephen Wall, a former ambassador and one of Blair's senior advisers, was privy to this conversation. He recalls Chirac telling Blair that there would be a civil war in Iraq. "We came out and Tony Blair rolled his eyes and said, 'Poor old Jacques, he doesn't get it, does he?'" Wall remarks: "We now know Jacques 'got it' rather better than we did." Earlier: Worse for his legacy, and for the world, Iraq has wreaked terrible damage on the cause of liberal interventionism, for which Blair became such a compelling and passionate advocate during the Kosovo conflict. In the Balkans, he found a moral purpose for his premiership that he then amplified as a vision of a world in which states would not be free to slaughter their own citizens with impunity. In the killing grounds of Iraq, that ideal lies bleeding to death. And in conclusion: "The casualties of war are to be found not just in Iraq. The deaths will also be counted in Darfur and future Darfurs, Rwandas and Bosnias, where murderous regimes will put people to the slaughter with much less to fear from western intervention. That is the most rending victim of Iraq." Related: Nicholas Watt's front page story. Ok, also in the Observer. Introducing a wide-ranging survey of cinematic comedy (for a contest and poll you can read about at the bottom of the page), Philip French races through a history ranging from the Lumière Brothers through Chaplin and Tati, Hollywood's screwball comedies and Ealing Studios only to sort of strangely peter out in the 70s with Woody Allen and Steve Martin. But then the names pick and riff on their favorites: Bill Bailey on This is Spinal Tap, Rob Brydon on Midnight Run, Meera Syal on Some Like it Hot, Martin Freeman on Sons of the Desert, Zoe Wanamaker on M Hulot's Holiday, Lucy Davis on The Jerk and - get this - Judd Apatow on Terms of Endearment, Edgar Wright on Raising Arizona, Charlie Skelton on Fletch, Laura Solon on Spaceballs, Dan Mazer on When Harry Met Sally, Annie Griffin on Groundhog Day and Penny Woolcock on Bringing Up Baby. "The last time I interviewed him, in sunny Los Angeles, he managed to get himself shot on camera, receiving a small wound to his abdomen from a randomly fired air-rifle," recalls Mark Kermode. "'It's no big deal,' he intoned dryly as he stood there, unfazed, quietly bleeding into his underpants. 'It is not a significant bullet.'" Now Werner Herzog's The Wild Blue Yonder is opening in the UK and Kermode recommends catching it, calling the oddity "a deceptively slight affair which mischievously hijacks documentary footage of space travel and underwater exploration and reworks it into a fanciful tale of alien invasion." "Hammer gave us a world all their own, a place with Home Counties woodland masquerading as Transylvania (it was Black Park near Slough), heavily cleavaged vampire women, lashings of fake blood with a strange milkshake texture, and the occasional bad sets, particularly in the later films, as if Dracula lived in a branch of the Angus Steak House," writes Phil Baker, reviewing A Thing of Unspeakable Horror: The History of Hammer Films. "It's immediately recognisable, this land where 'the inns are full and boisterous only until someone mentions a certain word', and [Sinclair] McKay does a tasty job of evoking it." And then there's...
June 16, 2007
Weekend shorts."Rumors that 20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment was planning a John Ford set have been rumbling through the community for months," writes Dave Kehr. "I've just received confirmation from a Fox publicist that the rumors are not only true, but the project sounds bigger and better than I'd dared to hope." Related: The Self-Styled Siren. I'm not going to clip a quote from this entry. You'll simply have to go and read it, is all. And related to that. Fire up your feed reader. Dennis Cozzalio writes up five blogs that make him think. "Ball of Fire is back in print on DVD; it's a movie for paupers, authors, kings, and you," writes Nathan Kosub at Stop Smiling. "Hollywood, very possibly, never made a gentler film." Most of the parts of Roger Corman's Tales of Terror are top notch, argues Tim Lucas. "So why doesn't Tales of Terror hang together better?" "[S]cale is too easy an answer to the problem of filming Tolstoy," writes Catherine Bray in the Liberal. "Long films can be triumphs - see the 282 minute version of Das Boot for proof - and lengthy books may be adapted successfully for the silver screen, as with Peter Jackson's popular Lord of the Rings epics. Although size undoubtedly matters, it is on a more elusive level of style and structure that Tolstoy challenges us." "I asked Vincent more questions, and his answers became longer and longer until they hit a kind of cruising altitude and I didn't have to ask, he just orated. It was unexpected, like suddenly finding oneself at work on a weekend." The Guardian runs a story by Miranda July, "The Shared Patio." Also: Michael Coveney on Donald Spoto's Otherwise Engaged: The Life of Alan Bates and Neil Bartlett on Armistead Maupin's Michael Tolliver Lives. Related: Josh Getlin in the Los Angeles Times: "This fall, the Barbary Lane Communities for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender seniors will open on Lake Merritt in Oakland. The fully renovated Art Deco building, taking its name from Maupin's fictional community set in San Francisco's Russian Hill, will offer 46 units renting for $3,295 to $4,295 per month. It is one of the first urban retirement communities catering to such a middle-income clientele [!!!] - and the only one known to draw its name from a series of bestselling books." Glenn Kenny: "In the prose, the consistency of the mode of humor - which involves, among other things, [Woody] Allen treating the entire universe as if it's a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, as we'll see in a minute - is its strength, whereas that very same consistency tends to weaken the movies. This is an interesting formal concern that bears further addressing." He doesn't, but Aaron Aradillas more than makes up for it in a comment that follows: "Allen's work in the 90s is his most consistent and revealing of his film career. From 1992's Husbands and Wives to 2000's Small Time Crooks it would be very hard to find a dud during that time period." Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times on DOA: Dead or Alive: "Notwithstanding the success of Paul Verhoeven, [Corey] Yuen has yet to learn that all that jiggles is not cinematic gold." But for Joe Leydon, "if you show up with sufficiently lowered expectations, you can enjoy the flick as an exuberantly trashy trifle, the sort of nonstop, wire-worked kung-foolishness in which increasingly elaborate set pieces are interrupted only sporadically by something resembling a storyline." Also in the NYT, Rachel Saltz on Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, "a giddy romantic comedy with star power (the father-son team of Amitabh and Abhishek Bachchan; Preity Zinta; Bobby Deol; Lara Dutta), wanderlust (I see London, I see France, and, yes, isn't that India?) and a charming can-do, why-not-the-kitchen-sink spirit." More from Abhishek Bandekar at Hollywood Bitchslap. Mark Olsen meets Parker Posey: "'There's no precious preciousness to it,' she said of her willingness to get things done. 'I like getting involved. "I'll take care of it." It comes from independent film, I got used to it - there's tape on the floor, pick it up. It's just an awareness you have, like peripheral vision when you're rollerblading in traffic. It comes from being on a lot of sets.'" Also in the Los Angeles Times, John Horn and Sheigh Crabtree reports on the pirated copies of Sicko floating around out there: "Some have found a certain irony in any protest from [Michael] Moore's camp. The filmmaker has been vocal in his support of downloading pirated movies as long as pirates do not profit." IndieWIRE interviews Unborn in the USA directors Stephen Fell and Will Thompson. Via Movie City News, two where-are-they-now pieces: The Scotsman on Dana Carvey and Mick Brown in the Telegraph with Sylvia Kristel. Also in the Telegraph, Marc Lee talks with John Curran about one of his favorites, Catch-22: "It's ridiculously funny, but that's the horror of it." Online viewing tip #1. Ted Z finds a trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood. Online viewing tip #2. At Twitch, Kurt points to a trailer for James Mangold's remake on 3:10 to Yuma. Online viewing tip. Matt Bradshaw rounds up more trailers for Cinematical.
Weekend fests and events.Austin's Fantastic Fest has unveiled more titles in its lineup and Blake's got them at Twitch: "Perhaps the biggest surprise in this wave of new titles is a retro and extremely rare screening of Sogo Ishii's super sonic punk film meets Mad Max (made while he was in college), Crazy Thunder Road." The Jan Svankmajer season runs at the BFI Southbank in London through June 23 and Marina Warner has an appreciation in the Guardian: "Svankmajer has emphasised how the fantastical needs intense realistic detail to bring it to life, and his way with fantasy can be hallucinatory in its vividness. Yet he's a film-maker in fertile and powerful dispute with his medium: battling against the disembodied immateriality of film with the fleshy sensations he excites, and overturning the deadness of things with his endlessly inventive animation." "[T]here's a growing movement to expand movie-watching venues in the multiplex/home-theater era," notes Susan Gerhard at SF360, where she lists 10 Bay Area spots where you might not expect to find screenings - but will. "CineVegas is disarming," reports Mike Jones, probably indieWIRE's best contributing writer. "It is impossible to be a spectator here. Part of that is artistic director Trevor Groth, relaxed and smooth, who won't let you walk by without a handshake and a smile. His Sundance stripes help, too. And while the selection was more hit than miss, judging the program is almost meaningless."
June 15, 2007
Shorts, 6/15."You could call it The Hours 2 and you'd only be half wrong," writes Brandon Harris. "Strangely satisfying despite its myriad flaws, Oscar nominated DP turned director Lajos Koltai's Evening makes for a fascinating dip into the pseudo feminist/queer fetishization of WASPy leading ladies, trapped, regardless of class, with unfeeling or under-equipped men, that encompasses the entire Michael Cunningham cinematic oeuvre." "Giuseppe Tornatore has won the Best Film and Best Director David di Donatello Awards - Italy's top film honors - for The Unknown, whose leading lady Xenia Rappoport also walked away with the Best Actress prize." Camillo de Marco has more at Cineuropa. James van Maanen reviewed the film, screened as The Unknown Woman as part of the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series, last week. "As the four-year-old Iraq War becomes increasingly divisive in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, Hollywood is betting that moviegoers are ready for a dose of harsh reality," writes Variety's Anne Thompson. "At least six films touching on the hotspot Middle East and its conflicts will roll out between June and early next year. The titles that pop up here: The Kingdom, A Mighty Heart, The Kite Runner, In the Valley of Elah, Grace Is Gone, Lions for Lambs, Charlie Wilson's War and Stop Loss. Why did the first generation of auteurists reject William Friedkin? Dan Sallitt has more than a few ideas. Related: Kevin Lee on how you can watch Dan Sallitt's films. And somewhat related to that: For William Speruzzi and doubtless many others, HD For Indies Premium is a "steal" at $9.95. "On Monday, at age 102, Rudolf Arnheim died. You can read his obituary here, and this is a lovely website devoted to his work. He was one of the most important theorists of the visual arts of the last century, and he had enormous impact on how people, including Kristin and me, think about film." A tribute from David Bordwell. "On June 8, 2007, American philosopher Richard Rorty died at the age of 75.... Slate has asked a number of philosophers and intellectuals to share reminiscences of Dick Rorty, personal and otherwise, so I thought I'd try briefly to summarize why his philosophy deserves to have immodest claims made on its behalf—claims that Rorty, whose characteristic attitude was a shrug and a ho-hum, would never have made himself," writes Stephen Metcalf. Thoughts follow from Richard Posner, Brian Eno, Mark Edmundson, Jürgen Habermas, Martha Nussbaum, Daniel C Dennett, Virginia Heffernan, Michael Berubé and Stanley Fish. The cinetrix discovers the "cinematic equivalent of the human genome project," the HOMER Project. "To Live is To Learn: Kenji Mizoguchi on screen, on DVD." Ryland Walker Knight and Steven Boone's e-conversation at the House Next Door. "Sumurun shares with Anna Boleyn Lubitsch's taste, in many of the major films made in his native Germany, for the lavish spectacle, large casts, and elaborate sets of the historical epic," writes Ian Johnston. "Although, in the case of Sumurun, we should speak more of an ahistorical epic, for its setting is a never-never fantasy world of the Arabian Nights - not for nothing was it re-titled One Arabian Night on its original US release during the silent period - peopled by a bevy of harem girls, a cruel and lascivious sheikh, a platoon of shaven eunuchs, a slave trader, an exotic-erotic dancer, and so forth." Also at Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Megan Weireter gets a kick out of a flick with "Vincent Price and Frankie Avalon and a bunch of anonymous gold-bikini-clad starlets with a predilection for breaking into the mash-potato": Dr Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine. "In my apparent capacity as, and I quote, 'female horror enthusiast,' I've been asked what I think of the level of violence towards women in the current wave of mainstream horror movies, usually referred to as 'torture porn,'" writes Adele Hartely in the Scotsman. "First, I think I might just have been demoted. Female horror enthusiast? Rather than the spotter's equivalent of a gore-hound, I tend to think of myself more as the director of Dead by Dawn, Scotland's International Horror Film Festival (running since 1993) and Curator of the Beautiful Books imprint, Bloody Books, which publishes collections of classic and contemporary short horror fiction." At any rate, "I don't believe that 'torture porn' is a valid term. Nor do I reckon the current concern takes into account the phases of the genre or its far nastier history." Via Movie City News. Though the Chicago Reader's JR Jones reveals himself to be something of a "publishing nerd," he's sure you won't have to be to find Helvetica fascinating: "It turns out that the story of Helvetica encapsulates the postwar struggle between individuality and the common good, as a typeface created in the spirit of democracy gradually became a symbol of blind obedience." Vince Keenan enjoys Bruce Campbell's Make Love! The Bruce Campbell Way, a novel about what happens when "Bruce - yes, he's the star of his own novel - finally gets his shot to bust out of the low-budget ghetto when he's cast in Let's Make Love!, an A-list romantic comedy directed by Mike Nichols and starring Richard Gere and Renée Zellweger." In the New York Times:
Fests and events, 6/15.A heads-up from Dave Micevic: "Janus Films is planning to present a new 35mm print of Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le fou in various cities across the country this summer." Alison Willmore launches the IFC Blog's coverage of the New York Asian Film Festival (June 22 through July 8): "Like Takashi Miike's less successful supernatural cell phone horror pastiche One Missed Call, [Sion Sono's] Exte keeps a straight face through a wacky set-up, and comes up with, if not quite scares, at least imaginative and impressive death-by-tress sequences, including one in which a victim gets up close and literal with the expression 'being given the hairy eyeball.'" Also, Memories of Matsuko, "both a musical and a brilliant whirl of stylized, candy-colored visuals, The Life of Oharu by way of a neon Amélie." In the San Francisco Bay Area? Then you need to check in with Brian Darr. "The 10th Shanghai International Film Festival kicks off this weekend with a line-up stuffed to the gills with new Chinese movies, plus a number from Japan and Korea for good measure." Firecracker has more. Jessica Freeman-Slade previews the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival for the Reeler. Through June 28. About that Tribute to 1982: The Greatest Year in Geek Cinema in Los Angeles this weekend.. If the geeks in question were 12 at the time, sure, concedes the Guardian's John Patterson. Otherwise, "1982 was just another shift toward the soulless cinema that chokes today's multiplexes." The Chicago Reader is tracking this weekend's Bronzeville Film Festival (site), Czech Film Days: The Revolution Will Be Televised and the Onion City Experimental Film and Video Festival. The AP's Clarke Canfield visits Camden, Maine, where Peyton Place was shot 50 years ago. "During the month of filming, more than 500 locals got roles as extras. The movie - starring Lana Turner, Hope Lange, Arthur Kennedy and Russ Tamblyn - was nominated for nine Oscars (it didn't win any) and spawned a 1960s prime-time TV soap opera.... To commemorate the 50th anniversary, the local chamber of commerce is holding a two-day celebration this weekend with a parade, trolley tours, receptions, a panel discussion and, of course, a screening of the movie." Cinekink at the Pioneer: Wednesday, June 20. The site for the Asian American International Film Festival (July 19 through 28) is up. Atonement will open the Venice International Film Festival (August 29 through September 8), reports the BBC. "Once might've made a great Opening Film for the Sydney Film Festival, but it may have to content itself with the Audience Award," writes Matt Riviera. Online viewing and voting tip. You, too, can cast a vote in the Independent Features Festival through June 30. More from the Hollywood Reporter.
June 14, 2007
Shorts, 6/14."It was a marketing gimmick of the first order to open Takeshi Kitano's Kantoku Banzai! and Hitoshi Matsumoto's Dai Nipponjin on the same weekend," writes Mark Schilling in the Japan Times. "This head-to-head duel between films by the two reigning kings of Japanese comedy can only boost the box office of both." In the first, "we get Kitano trying and failing to make an Ozu-esque home drama, a tear-jerking love story, a gritty 1950s family drama, a ninja actioner and a J-horror movie. All have their comic moments, but only the family drama achieves something more than (deliberately lame) parody." In the second, "Matsumoto builds on a simple-but-brilliant comic premise with patience, subtlety and daring. The laughs come slowly at first, but pick up steam as the story progresses and, in my case, kept coming hours after the film was over." Via Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog. Another Night Upon Us, an exhibition at the M+B Gallery from today through June 23, features Joaquin Phoenix as photographed by Michael Muller. Phoenix more or less steps into the role of Marcos Johnson, "a former TV casting agent with an extreme personality," as Chris Lee puts it in his piece for the Los Angeles Times. Visualizing Johnson's poems and on "hiatus in between film roles, Phoenix often worked himself into a state of psychic anguish for art's sake." Also, five photos with hefty captions. Also, Susan King previews the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival, running today through Sunday, and the all-weekend series, A Tribute to 1982: The Greatest Year in Geek Cinema. "In 2000, the final year of the twentieth century, Nikolaus Geyrhalter and his crew set out with a digital video camera to film twelve, self-contained ethnographic episodes, each encapsulating a month-long document of the lives of people who perform their quotidian rituals in a figurative 'elsewhere' - distant cultures and remote geographies seemingly left untouched - or perhaps, more appropriately, left behind - by a ubiquitous, untenable West, unaffected by the media-cultivated sensationalism (and crass commercialism) surrounding the advent of the new millennium." Acquarello reviews Elsewhere. The British Film Institute, established in 1933, is in trouble. Sounding the alarm, Geoffrey Macnab counts the many ways and lights one thin candle of hope: "Prime Minister Gordon Brown may look more kindly on the Institute. After all, one of [the BFI's] former directors, Wilf Stevenson, is known to be part of his inner circle." Also blogging for the Guardian, Shane Danielsen notes that Ousmane Sembène is not the only filmmaker celebrated by cinephiles around the world but practically unknown at home. "I was determined in my coverage of the Transylvania International Film Festival to avoid the one notorious name associated with that part of Romania," writes Ronald Bergan in the Guardian. "My intention in travelling to the lively city of Cluj was to discover the secret behind the great success of Romanian cinema in the last two years which began with the widely acclaimed The Death of Mr Lazarescu and culminated with two prize-winners at this year's Cannes: California Dreamin', which topped the Un Certain Regard section, and 4 Months, 3 weeks and 2 Days which carried off the Palme d'Or. Keeping to my promise was hard, however." Earlier: "New Romanians." "Many movies falsely promise what Rescue Dawn delivers: a thrilling, visceral adventure about what marketers and book flap writers like to call 'the resilience of the human spirit,'" writes Jürgen Fauth. "To [Werner] Herzog's credit, this most American of his films hits all the marks of the genre splendidly without ever resorting to easy shock tactics or vilification of the so-called enemy. Rescue Dawn is that rarest of beasts, a powerful fiction based on fact that sacrifices neither storytelling nor the truth." Jonathan Rosenbaum clears up a few widespread misunderstandings regarding Jacques Rivette's Out 1 and Out 1: Spectre. Scott Foundas's piece on the new 12-screen, 11,500-square-foot Landmark movie theater in Los Angeles, which promises to "offer moviegoers a wide selection of foreign-language and other 'specialized' films in lieu of the mainstream studio movies," turns into a checkup on the current state and near future of theatrical distribution, with the most interesting quotes coming from Balboa Theater owner Gary Meyer: I look at the local grosses on Monday morning, and I see that this film did $400 over the weekend, this one did $600, and that one did $1,200. If you add them all up, it turns out that actually quite a few people went to see independent films in San Francisco over the weekend, but not enough for anyone to pay their advertising costs. I think the market is way oversaturated, and you can blame it to some degree on people being able to make movies inexpensively on digital formats. Most of them are bad and a few of them are good, but even the good ones have a very hard time getting attention.... It's my feeling that within the next 10 years, the screen count in the US will go from the current 37,000 to under 10,000 screens. Also in the LA Weekly:
Fido."The rom-zom-com - the romantic zombie comedy - spearheaded by Shaun of the Dead continues to build momentum with Fido, a candy-colored satire of the Leave It to Beaver 50s, in which the Eisenhower era is reimagined as a macabre world populated by the living dead," writes Michael Joshua Rowin at indieWIRE. "Writer-director Andrew Currie demonstrates equal affection for George A Romero and Lassie, and he mates these cultural opposites with a clever premise, which, before eventually running out of steam, offers some genuinely ingenious delights." Updated through 6/15. "You really want to like Fido, but boy does the movie make it difficult," sighs Matt Singer at IFC News, where he and Alison Willmore present "Zombie Metaphors: An Incomplete History." "Fido never clearly defines its allegorical story's actual allegorical focus, instead mining its tale about the relationship shared by little Timmy Robinson (K'Sun Ray) and his new zombie pet Fido (Billy Connolly, riffing on Day of the Dead's Bub) for stagnant jokes aimed at Douglas Sirk aficionados," writes Nick Schager at Slant. "Not much brain activity, alas, in this Canadian indie," sighs Rob Nelson in the Voice. "Fido is entertaining," writes Marcy Dermansky. "The gentle little film won't, however, blow your mind, or redefine our notion of zombies: they remain stupid and hungry for brains and certainly unwelcome in the home." Earlier: "Sundance. Fido." Update: "[I]t's tough not to imagine how much better the results could have been if Currie had taken the material to the next level and given Fido a purpose beyond homage-heavy representations of multiple issues," writes Eric Kohn at the Reeler. "Witty it may be, but the metaphor dies before the first act and never gets resurrected." Updates, 6/15: "Mr Currie and his collaborators don't push their slave-master allegory far," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "[U]nlike Mr Romero or the zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead, where the living are so zombie-like they don't initially notice the undead, the filmmakers remain content to graze and to nibble, skimming the surface rather than sinking in deep." "Scottish comedian-actor Connolly has the real trench work though, giving what must be cinema's first fully realized zombie portrayal," writes Robert Abele in the Los Angeles Times. "Yes, he nails the growls with expected rabidity and reacts to a playful spray from a garden hose with hilariously stifled joy, but when reacting to the perfumed scent of [Carrie-Anne] Moss's lonely housewife, Connolly subtly suggests all that the undead have lost. It's a surprising moment in a mostly jokey film, but it indicates as much as the cultural satire and gleamingly effective period décor that, ironically enough, there's still a lot of life left in the zombie flick." John Constantine interviews Connolly for Nerve.
Lights in the Dusk."A mood of cosmic desolation seeps like late autumn sunlight filtered through clouds in Lights in the Dusk, the Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki's haunting meditation on the downward spiral of a solitary loser in contemporary Helsinki," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "All of Kaurismäki's work seems to come from the same template; it's deadpan and glum to the core with a late-breaking streak of hard-earned optimism," writes Vadim Rizov for the Reeler. "But Kaurismäki's sardonic director's statement describes him as a "sentimental old man," and Lights in the Dusk - like its predecessor, The Man Without a Past - tends to bears this diagnosis out, though not in a good way." Updated through 6/15. "Much of the comedy in Kaurismäki's latest work of Nordic austerity - and yes, if you're perverse enough some of it is actually funny - derives from the fact that the story belongs to the tradition of Chekhov and Dostoevski and the deadpan acting to that of Robert Bresson, but the damn thing looks like an episode of I Dream of Jeannie," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Funniest thing is, Kaurismäki is not a cynic," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "Fascinated with human drudgery, he has an interest in the common nature of desperate people that is almost affectionate.... The downbeat tone of Lights in the Dusk just escapes offense and self-parody due to Kaurismäki's careful, subtle craftsmanship." More from Nicolas Rapold for the L Magazine and Jürgen Fauth. IndieWIRE interviews Kaurismäki. Earlier: "Cannes. Laitakaupungin Valot." Update, 6/15: Jeff Reichert at indieWIRE: "Lights in the Dusk may not add anything particularly novel to the Kaurismäki formula, but for this viewer, easy familiarity bred content." Lights, "though leavened with Kaurismäki's usual deadpan humor, takes a dispiriting turn into miserabilism - Koistinen [Janne Hyytiäinen] is used and abused so relentlessly that he might as well be in a Fassbinder flick," writes Mike D'Angelo for Nerve. Most of the time, Kaurismäki's sensibility is unabashedly retro, tuned to what was hip 25 or 30 years ago," writes Steve Erickson at Gay City News. "Unfortunately, the film suggests that he's exhausted his influences and sorely needs a new source of inspiration. Handsome-looking and well made, it only lacks a pulse."
Eagle vs Shark."Eagle vs Shark is nothing more and nothing less than a romantic, New Zealand variant of Napoleon Dynamite in which mockery of mental midgets is partially obscured by sympathy for their perfectly klutzy love," writes Nick Schager at Slant. "That Taika Waititi's film attempts to mitigate derision with something approaching sincere compassion gives it a small step up on its cult-fave ancestor, but any minor improvements made to the Napoleon Dynamite template are offset by its wholesale derivation." Updated through 6/15. "[T]he quirky indie is wrong for our time," protests Michael Joshua Rowin. "The insular arrested development peddled by these films signals the regression of their makers and target audience into the Never Neverland of self-deprecating navel-gazing and ridicule. A calamitous, unquirky universe exists too conspicuously inside and outside our selves, and beyond the suffocating confines of ironic amusement, for this film to be the least bit relevant or amusing." Also at indieWIRE, Brian Brooks profiles Loren Horsley. "You can't see the forest for the twee in writer-director Taika Waititi's thicket of cutesy conceits, from the stunted supporting characters to the precious animated interludes," writes Jim Ridley in the Voice. But not everyone's down on it. "Calling it a romantic comedy undermines its charm, because Eagle vs Shark has a goofy sweetness about it that's less interested in playing up the question of whether its two main characters will wind up together in the end than simply indulging the immediate fun of watching them interact," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "It's a perfectly cheerful time at the movies, without any hint of drama or surprise," adds Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. In the Los Angeles Times, Jeff Goldsmith notes that Eagle and HBO's new series, Flight of the Conchords "both star Kiwi actor Jemaine Clement as an off-putting outsider," and explains how that came to be. For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Waititi "about being nominated for an Oscar, a possible career as a fashion designer, and why a time machine would be useless to him." Stephen Saito talks with Waititi and Horsley for Premiere. Chris Willard reports on the NYC premiere for the Reeler. Earlier: "Sundance. Eagle vs Shark." Update: "Eagle vs Shark cannot quite escape the twin traps of forced whimsy and sticky sentimentality," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "That it comes close is the result of Mr Waititi's dry, efficient direction and the devotion of Mr Clement and Ms Horsley, who believe absolutely in the integrity of their characters long after everyone else, in the movie or watching it, has grown tired of them." Updates, 6/15: "There's an undercurrent of savagery to the love story of Lily and Jarrod," notes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. Regardless, "after a while you start feeling like they deserve each other and you deserve better." Peter Smith at Nerve: "[Y]ou're expected to watch this poor girl get picked on by her boyfriend and then be happy for them both when he comes around. That's either cloying or mildly upsetting." IndieWIRE interviews Waititi. Jürgen Fauth notes that it "reeks of the Sundance workshop where it was conceived... which is to say it features a road trip, a quirky dysfunctional family, and a couple of awkward lovers who dress up in silly costumes.... Eagle vs Shark may sound entirely predictable, and it's true that it doesn't add much to the quirky romance sub-genre, but the film does have one major asset: Loren Horsley."
Nancy Drew."So lame it's... cool?" begins J Hoberman's review Andrew Fleming's Nancy Drew in the Voice. On the one hand: "Jokes like the girl detective's solemn announcement that she 'recently discovered movies aren't shot from beginning to end' or casting Mulholland Drive amnesiac Laura Elena Harring as the resident dead movie star, are launched into a void well above the target audience's head." Still: "Unavoidably arch but essentially playful in its wit, Nancy Drew neither wears out its welcome nor compromises its heroine. Nancy is unstoppable." Updated through 6/18. "This is a Hollywood movie that sends up bad Hollywood moviemaking, an ode to conservatism that excoriates conservative hypocrisy," writes Jeffrey Gantz for the Boston Phoenix. "And, like any good mystery, it challenges you to look closer." "It's hard to imagine a better casting choice for the role of the spunky girl detective than [Emma] Roberts, who's transitioned nicely from her television role on Unfabulous to handling lead roles in teen flicks," writes Kim Voynar at Cinematical. "She did a nice enough job in last year's Aquamarine, but in Nancy Drew she's really found a role that fits her perfectly." "With former tween starlets in court and rehab, daily turning up in tabloid stories more suited to Tom Sizemore than perky pink Elle Woods, Hollywood is rediscovering the appeal of a fresh-scrubbed, wholesome face," writes Sheigh Crabtree in the Los Angeles Times. "Starting this summer, a new crop of tween movie characters with big-studio backing — some endorsed by actress-producers Julia Roberts, Jodie Foster and Charlize Theron - are emerging." Also, Susan King offers a brief history of Nancy Drew. Update: "The disappointment of Nancy Drew... is that it trusts neither its heroine nor its audience enough to approach its material with the confidence and conviction that Carolyn Keene, the pseudonymous author of the Nancy Drew books, brought to the franchise," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. The update "corrupts the clean, functional, grown-up style of the books with the kind of cute, pseudo-smart self-consciousness that has sadly become the default setting for contemporary juvenile popular culture produced by insecure, immature adults." Updates, 6/15: "The picture seems to be geared primarily toward preteen viewers (which may explain the youthful-looking casting), but in many ways, it's steadfastly adult, a picture that admits, with every frame, a desire to hang on to everything we value about traditional modes of movie storytelling, instead of just trying to figure out what will win big at the box office," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "Nancy Drew purists may be unhappy with Fleming's admittedly tweaked vision of their heroine. But his movie captures a greater truth, I think, about the way very old and sometimes seemingly out-of-date stories can move us." In the Los Angeles Times, Carina Chocano welcomes Nancy Drew's timing: "Just as it was starting to look as if round-the-clock coverage of rich, debauched teen train-wrecks was the only show in town, along comes a heroine - old enough to drive but too young to get decent rates on car insurance - who isn't a sociopath, a moron or a 'laid-back' invertebrate whose most salient character trait is looking hot while being supportive." Natalie Nichols, writing for the LA CityBeat, approves. Update, 6/16: More good girls. Rebecca Winters Keegan lists a few for Time. Updates, 6/18: In the New Yorker, Anthony Lane imagines a dialogue between Emma Roberts and her aunt, Julia: "'[A] friend of mine said the film was like Lynch without the lesbians or the dwarves. What are lesbians, Aunt? Are they friends of Snow White's, too?' 'More than you will ever know, dear.'" Anyway. "It's one of the few tween movies that isn't in your face; its limpness becomes appealing," writes David Edelstein in New York. For Paul Matwychuk, it's "an odd little movie that’s got just enough interesting things going on inside it to make me wish it was good enough for me to recommend it."
June 13, 2007
Shorts, 6/13.John McElwee's almost grudging appreciation of Katharine Hepburn focuses on Without Love and Undercurrent. The sheer beauty of The Forbidden Street nabs and holds the Self-Styled Siren; and then she realizes who the cinematographer is. "Simply put, Daisy Kenyon is the most bluntly realistic romantic melodrama I've ever seen," writes Mike D'Angelo. "At the same time, however, every element of the film is subtly, expressionistically heightened, creating a mesmerizing tension between naturalism and artifice - which, not coincidentally, is the subject of a recent post by Kenyon fanatic Dan Sallitt." Jürgen Fauth, just briefly for now, on Death at a Funeral: "Frank Oz's morbid farce is the funniest movie I've seen this year so far." David O Russell was chatting at the Ghetto Film School's annual spring benefit dinner at Bottino in Chelsea on Monday, and David Foxley listened in for the New York Observer: "Just to make Mr Russell's party affiliations absolutely clear: He has co-written a film with Al Gore's daughter Kristin, entitled The Girl with the Nail in Her Head. 'It's about a girl with a four-inch nail in her head who goes to Washington with the dream of getting help to have it removed,' he said. Frank Capra, move over!" Signandsight points to and translates a snippet from a piece in the Frankfurter Rundschau by Wim Wenders on Europe's need for a "soul": "If Europe wants to remain credible in the eyes of its own citizens, it should really define itself by what it's fundamentally always been about: the wonderful, chaotic and unique diversity of its culture!" For Julia Wallace, Volker Schlöndorff's Strike is "Iron Curtain porn at its most shameless... but [Katharina] Thalbach's Agnieszka is irresistible: She works so hard that she leads the shipyard in production 10 years in a row, yet still finds time to sing, dance, raise a son, take a lover, and foment a revolution." Related: At the Reeler ST VanAirsdale talks with Schlöndorff and... former UN ambassador Richard Holbrooke? Yep. "One of the most ambitious tonal mash-ups in memory, Noriko's Dinner Table is a domestic comedy, a bloody psychological thriller and a comment on intergenerational tension and the fragility of identity," writes Matt Zoller Seitz. "It's also a sort of sequel to Suicide Club, written and directed by the same filmmaker, Sion Sono, that replays its predecessor's key event from a new vantage point." Also in the New York Times: Orange alerts, yellow tags. Who knew the 00s would be color-coded? David M Halbfinger explains the online movie trailer classification system. And Michael Cieply reports on Oscar's reluctant willingness to bend the rules. Mike at Bad Lit on Parker Tyler's Underground Film: A Critical History: "This is another book that picks an authoritative title all the while knowing it’s not trying to live up to that title." "It is an absolute disgrace. I've never hated a film so much in my entire life." David Marin-Guzman catches up with Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette. Paul Matwychuk talks with Laura Dern about Inland Empire. Steven Spielberg endorses Hillary Clinton, reports the AFP's Rob Woollard. The Guardian's got briefs on an upcoming Big Chill remake (Glenn Kenny comments), William Hurt joining Edward Norton and Liv Tyler in The Incredible Hulk and: "Peter Greenaway is pursuing his exploration of the link between cinema and painting. The British director will next year project images onto the canvas of Las Meninas, the Velázquez masterpiece held in Madrid's Prado." Deputydog lists the top 10 "physical transformations for a film role." Kind of creepy. Via Coudal Partners. "Word is coming in that Dan Epstein, known to most of you through his interviews at SuicideGirls.com, has died suddenly, just shy of his 32nd birthday." Ryan Stewart has more at Cinematical. Online viewing tip #1. Blaise Aguera y Arcas's Photosynth demo at TED. Do stay for the "punchline." Oh, my. Via Jeffrey Overstreet. Online viewing tip #2. A clip from Kurt Cobain: About a Son, via Monika Bartyzel at Cinematical. Online viewing tip #3. David Poland lunches with the LA Weekly's Scott Foundas, Variety's Anne Thompson and "The Geek Culture Artist Formerly Known As Mr Beaks, Jeremy Smith."
Docs, 6/13."To make Czech Dream, two student filmmakers out-flimflammed all their fellow prankumentarians by bamboozling an entire central European nation," writes Ed Halter. "Vít Klusák and Filip Remunda orchestrated a multi-million-dollar marketing campaign for the grand opening of a new superstore that didn't exist, creating a powerful commentary on consumerism that became a media sensation in the Czech Republic." Also in the Voice:
Fests and events, 6/13.The Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (June 29 through July 7) has announced its linuep. Boyd van Hoeij picks out a few highlights at european-films.net. "This year's Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, a co-presentation between the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Human Rights Watch, features one of the strongest lineups in the program's history." Slant launches its coverage. Tomorrow through June 28. More from Nathan Lee in the Voice, where J Hoberman picks out the highlights of the coming week in NYC. Also, James Benning's 13 Lakes and Ten Skies: "Made in 2004, these extraordinary landscape films... are now having what amounts to a theatrical run - screening nightly for a week at Anthology Film Archives. They are, in a word, glorious." And also at the Anthology is Lindsay Anderson's Mick Travis trilogy (If..., O Lucky Man! and Britannia Hospital), reviewed by Vadim Rizov for the Reeler: "Over a 14-year span, Anderson went from being one of England's boldest, most-acclaimed directors to a hard-to-finance bet, but that didn't stop him from trying to allegorically diagnose and decry every perceived weakness in the country. The absurdity of the public school system, bad health care, outdated monarchy, liberal delusions of class revolution, the ever-present scourge of reckless capitalism - all came under his scattershot auspices." Dan Sallitt: "I saw The Thing from Another World last week at MOMA for the first time in 21 years, and found it even more brilliant and organic than before." And it screens again on Sunday. Another night at MoMA, this one with "the American avant-garde's highest-grossing achievement." Andrew Chan: "If anything, I suspect the attraction of Chelsea Girls' cinematic qualities has only grown with time, as we move further into the age of movie-going through TVs, laptops, and iPods (what David Denby calls 'platform agnosticism')." Shooting People. They're converging in San Francisco next week. NY Editor Jesse Epstein, Malcolm Pullinger, SF/LA Editor, US Director Ingrid Kopp and special guests will be at Laszlo on Wendnesday, June 20, from 6 to 9 pm, and they hope to see you there. "Strangely enough, perhaps the most compelling reason to attend the Jackson Hole Film Festival is precisely the reason not to actually see a film: Jackson Hole itself," writes Benjamin Friendland at indieWIRE. "Set in one of the more picturesque spots in America - an old cowboy town surrounded by the majestic snow-capped Teton Range, with the mighty Snake River threading through it, a short drive from both Yellowstone and Grand Teton - the 4th annual film festival here is fighting the great outdoors for crowds. Which is not to say there weren't some great films for those who decided to skip a day of white-water rafting."
It's Only a Movie."On Saturday, the scholarly cineastes at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens will unleash their ingeniously timed It's Only a Movie: Horror Films From the 1970s to Today, a sprawling (splattering?) five-week retrospective complete with 30-odd features and shorts, discussions with critics and academics (no way it's 'only a movie,' man!), and an appearance by the great American satirist Larry Cohen, who'll screen an archival print of his 1974 killer-baby opus It's Alive (currently slated for a remake, natch)." And, for the Voice, Rob Nelson talks with Cohen and, of course, Eli Roth. Updated through 6/14. Then, another good long talk for the City Pages' Culture to Go blog: "Adam Lowenstein, an associate professor of English and film at the University of Pittsburgh, [argues] that it's 'still too soon' to determine whether the Splat Pack films engage the 'post-9/11 moment' as meaningfully as the classic American shockers of the 70s - The Last House on the Left, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, et al - addressed the Vietnam War and other atrocities of their era." Update, 6/14: ST VanAirsdale observes that the "possibility - the potential for intellectual inquiry in the blood and gristle - makes the series unique in New York, where repertory series at the Museum of Modern Art, Film Forum, BAM and elsewhere have long emphasized horror's industrial heritage over its conceptual and emotional forebears. In fact, as Fangoria Magazine editor Tony Timpone told The Reeler, the Moving Image program showcases exceptions to the rules that guide safe, studio-driven horror of the present day."
Online viewing tip. Donald Cammell: The Ultimate Performance."There are enough romantic flourishes in [Donald] Cammell's life to warrant a full-scale biography." Reading Ray Young's new piece at Flickhead, "Cinema Obscura: Ruminations on Donald Cammell & Nicolas Roeg and Performance," you'll find it hard to argue. Performance is now commonly perceived as Roeg's triumph, but Ray finds the Cammell in it, adding, "Cammell's formative years were lived with a father sensitive to the principles of Dante Rossetti and the pre-Raphaelites. A movement against stale, formula-driven art, they mourned the death of one culture's passion and trumpeted the glory of another's birth. In this respect, Performance transcends every other youth and/or counterculture film of its period." Here's the online viewing tip. Donald Cammell: The Ultimate Performance. Related: Leo Goldsmith and Rumsey Taylor's special feature on Cammell at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.
Man Booker. Chinua Achebe."The £60,000 Man Booker International prize goes today to the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe in a decision which confers equal lustre on giver and receiver," writes John Ezard. "In choosing to give the award to a man who is regularly described as the father of modern African literature, the judges have signalled that this new global Booker has achieved the status of an authentic world award in only its second contest." Also in the Guardian, novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on Achebe as her own inspiration, a guide to his work and an extract from Things Fall Apart - which was evidently adapted by German director Hans Jürgen Pohland in 1971. Updated through 6/17. NYT Book Review senior editor Dwight Garner comments and spotlights Bradford Morrow's 1991 interview with Achebe for Conjunctions. Update, 6/17: "[I]t does seem as if African literature is at last getting its place in the sun," writes Paul Harris, who talks with Achebe for the Observer. "Achebe's award followed hard on the heels of fellow Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie scooping the Orange award for fiction with Half of a Yellow Sun and the success of Ishmael Beah's memoir of being a boy soldier in Sierra Leone. For Achebe it is a long-overdue flowering of success for African works."
Frameline 31.The San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, opening tomorrow and running through June 24, often goes by two names - that full-blown mouthful or, more simply, Frameline plus the number of the edition, in this year's case, 31. Johnny Ray Huston opens the San Francisco Bay Guardian's cover package with a brief take on The Witnesses (Les Témoins): "Choosing [André] Téchiné's intimate Paris-set look at love under siege at the beginning of the AIDS crisis as its opening-night film, the Frameline fest... acknowledges its maturity. While LGBT identity might be thriving in the marketplace, The Witnesses does the hard work of looking back. Did gay culture almost die in the 80s?" Updated through 6/18. Also: "Glue is that rare kind of filmmaking so attuned to pleasure and spontaneity that it tickles your palate, opening up new possibilities about how to live. The film's chief subject matter - bisexuality that takes exhilarating form before the constraints of adulthood can arrive - is ideally realized through [Alexis] Dos Santos's sensual and whim-driven approach." "Sexually repressed nuns, naughty prisoners, lustful wardens, and love-thirsty vampires are the celebrated heroines of Triple X Selects: The Best of Lezsploitation, Michelle Johnson's effort to reappropriate 1960s and 1970s sexploitation flicks. Intrigued by these films' soundtracks, the Los Angeles DJ, musician, and cult-film enthusiast hunted for the genre's most precious gems and compiled them into a 47-minute metafilm." Maria Komodore exchanges email with Johnson, who'll be present at the screening on Saturday. Lynn Rapoport on 1983's Born in Flames: "In the thin line of plot running patchily through [Lizzie] Borden's vérité-style feature, surfacing at the Roxie Film Center on June 22, the War of Liberation has brought about a single-party system run by Socialist Democrats, the postrevolution economy is in the toilet, and working women are bearing the brunt of the mass layoffs that have ensued.... Borden's aim, perhaps unrealistic and perhaps naive, is to present an expanding patchwork of radicalized women unified across lines of class and race in the face of overarching sexism." "The cultural divide between a supposed gay agenda and faith-based biases is well represented in several features within Frameline's expansive 2007 program," writes Dennis Harvey. "Its representations run a wide gamut - just as the terms gay and Christian have come to encompass wildly disparate US communities." Marke B previews four docs on "legendary nightlife personalities. Call it the Party Monster effect. Following the release of two films about the tragedy of Michael Alig's breakneck rise and murderous fall, filmmakers have become more attuned to the significance of clubs in gay life - or else they've realized that featuring outrageous club kids in their movies is a shortcut to notoriety." "Short takes" on 10 entries. Meanwhile, at the Evening Class, Michael Hawley offers a lively preview of the festival, too. Update, 6/14: "What can be said about Frameline31, beyond genuflecting to its extreme range of themes, styles and audiences? Nuthin'. But here goes." So begins Dennis Harvey's too modest preview for SF360. Update, 6/18: Last month, Matthew S Bajko filed a story for the Bay Area Reporter on Frameline's decision to cancel a screening of Catherine Crouch's 15-minute short, The Gendercator, after it'd already been lined up for this year's LGBT film festival in San Francisco. Now Moira Sullivan reports on the scene outside the Roxie on Friday, when the film would have been screened.
New Romanians."It's hard to pin down the exact source of the current wellspring of Romanian talent, but critics and filmmakers suggest aesthetic, political, and industrial shifts have all played a part." For indieWIRE, Anthony Kaufman talks with key players in this "newest national film movement to catch fire" and points to KinoKultura's special issue on New Romanian Cinema for further exploration. Beginning with editors Christina Stojanova and Dana Duma's introduction, a couple of observations can be made immediately. First, the French have been onto the Romanians for some time now, with special mentions going to attention paid in the last few years by Cahiers du cinéma and Positif, which itself devoted an issue in January to Romanian cinema. Second, it'd evidently be hard to underestimate the significance of Lucian Pintilie in the history of Romanian cinema, particularly his 1968 film, The Reconstruction. Writes Dominique Nasta in KinoKultura: The violent, savage, supposedly irrational process intended to put an abrupt end to Ceausescu's reign was - as we all witnessed via not always reliable media mise en scènes - much more radical in Romania than in other countries from the Eastern bloc. The long-closed bottle containing the only real dissident film from the late 1960s was miraculously found and opened. The film had barely circulated, so that it looked brand new in 1990. Considering its revolutionary content and stylistic composition, critics and audiences alike developed a "Reconstruction year zero" syndrome, unanimously calling it the first real Romanian work of film art. Back to Anthony Kaufman: "'In my opinion The Reconstruction is the best movie in the history of the Romanian cinema,' says [Corneliu] Porumboiu, who won Cannes' Camera d'Or for his feature debut [12:08 East of Bucharest] last year. 'I think this movie had a huge influence on my generation.'"
Open Roads. Dispatch 7.James van Mannen sees one more film and then wraps this year's Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series with a few thoughts on what it's revealed about the mood of Italy today. Something approaching the "high-concept" documentary found its way into the festival via Primo Levi's Journey (La Strada di Levi), screening Wednesday evening and Thursday afternoon, in which someone decided (presumably the director Davide Ferrario) that it would be a terrific idea to make the same journey taken by chemist, writer and perhaps most famous of Auschwitz survivors, Primo Levi, following his concentration camp liberation and prior to his return to Italy. OK. But why? This is not Primo Levi's journey, after all - even if it does take the same route as Levi took. His journey encompassed so much more than mere points of travel, coming as it did on top of his experience in the camp. His was a forced journey. Levi would have preferred to return immediately to his home in Italy. He could not, and so he made the best of it, as he seemed to do with everything in his life. Rather than being forced into anything, the filmmakers have chosen to re-make this journey. They have their own agenda, and that is what, finally, this movie is all about. Not nearly enough Levi reaches the screen. There are some marvelous quotations here and there, though not so many as we might like, and some sense of history and what was going on in the various countries in Levi's time, but, again, not enough. The film could have as easily been titled Eastern Europe Now, for it is basically concerned with how the various countries visited - Poland, Russia, Romania, Hungary, Austria, Germany - and their citizens are faring (none too well, in most cases) and whether, in some instances, these citizens might not prefer the return of Communism to help lighten their load and save them from the perils of rabid capitalism, as practiced Russian-satellite style. This agenda admittedly has its place, and the filmmakers - as do we - learn a few interesting things along the way. But the bouncing back and forth between Levi's journey then and the filmmakers' now does not really bear much connection. What's here almost seems like two different documentaries, edited into a whole that does not cohere, does not tell us much about what its own title promises and does not in any major manner connect Levi's journey with the present day. I'm sorry, but following the same map is simply not enough. Even failed attempts provide their blessings, however, and watching the film might make some American viewers go back to Levi's original writings (I know I now want to) and take more interest in what is happening today in that sprawling mass of land and peoples we used to think of as being held behind an Iron Curtain. Primo Levi's Journey brings to a close this year's Open Roads series, and I am left with some questions and observations. No classics here, but a number of good films, with even the not-so-good still worth the time spent in the dark. Again (as with the yearly festivals of new films from France and Spain), viewing these Italian movies, sometimes more than once, left me with a much stronger sense than I had going into the festival about the Italy of today. And that Italy seems to be a very thoughtful, quiet, serious and often dark place. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make me wonder if Italians in general are feeling a little "down" lately. And why not, given the state of the world? Even the few films that you might say - if pressed against the wall - offered a happy ending (Billo, One Out of Two, The Unknown Woman, In Memory of Me) were so filled with shadows, guilt, angst and some truly terrible events, that a typical American idea of the Italian character mentioned in my opening piece - "gregarious, loud, fun and sensual" - could hardly be found. Except perhaps in Mario Monicelli's lovely Desert Roses - which, interestingly enough, is set 60-odd years in the past. The only other film that offered a version of "gregarious, loud, fun and sensual" (well, leave out the fun) is set even further back in time: the historically "packaged," beautifully shot but otherwise disappointing Caravaggio. Are Italians simply not making comedies these days? Nanni Moretti's skewering of Silvio Berlusconi, Il Caimano, was much anticipated but then seemed to fall afoul of many critics internationally, so I guess we'll not be able to judge for ourselves. God knows the Spanish and French fests have given us comedic pleasures from Sin Verguenza to I Do! Earlier Opens Roads offered delights such as My Name Is Tanino or romance with laughter and intelligence, as in Bread and Tulips or Casomai. Any romance this year usually ended up rather badly for the romancers. Ok, then, we'll just remain dark, thoughtful, quiet and alert. And wait for next year. Oh, yes - and thank the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Richard Peña and all of the Italian moviemakers, their casts and crews for providing us with this - often quite beautiful - food for thought.
June 12, 2007
Action Heroine Blog-a-Thon.Action indeed. Nearly 40 blogs so far are participating in the Action Heroine Blog-a-Thon hosted by Nathaniel R at Film Experience. "When the subject of classic action heroines comes up, you'd be safe to assume that most people conjure up instant memories of Wonder Woman, Lt Ellen Ripley (the Alien franchise) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer before their minds wander to less famed and obsessed over examples of women who muscled their way through cinematic or literary adventures," he writes, leading straight into a thesis that comes at you from where you'd least expect it. "I think the vanishing point you need to look at for true action heroine perspective is Peter Pan."
Interview. Steve Skrovan.Back in January, Jim Ridley opened a review in the Voice by imagining every American voter back in the booth on November 7, 2000: All at once, there is a lightning-fast stroboscopic blip of the future: two planes, human rain, a shower of debris and dust; tortured prisoners heaped in a pile; flag-draped coffins. Muzzle flashes blink in the Superdome. A grinning man in a flight suit poses before a banner reading, "Mission Accomplished." A flash, a fade, the world unfreezes, and all eyes return to the ballot. Having seen what they've seen, does anyone vote for Ralph Nader? Infuriating, combative, infernally self-righteous - and often right - the vexing vote-splitter is the subject of An Unreasonable Man, Henriette Mantel and Steve Skrovan's sprawling documentary. A cornucopia of talking-head rancor, indefatigable idealism, and livid history, the film argues that the crusading activist, organizer, and working man's champion deserves a bigger place in history than as just the Grinch Who Spoiled the Election. "His impact on these areas of modern life is the focus of the movie's riveting first hour, which is as much the biography of a movement as the story of a single man," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. And just up at the main site is Sara Schieron's interview with Skrovan.
Shorts, 6/12."[I]n its detailing of the aftermath of a tragic hate crime in Rheims, France, Beyond Hatred so utterly avoids gratuitous horrors, exploitative grief, and moral grandstanding that those expecting a traditional cine-postmortem will be baffled," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "In reality, with Beyond Hatred, [Olivier] Meyrou adheres closely to the cinema verite tradition, recently explored by French filmmakers such as Raymond Depardon (The 10th District Court) and Nicolas Philibert (To Be and To Have), whose ethnographic dissections of people and spaces never preclude warmth or respect. Here, the murder of gay twentysomething François Chenu, recounted with melancholy clarity by his surviving parents, siblings, and lawyers, becomes both an inquisitive peek into the justice system and the slow process of healing." "We all know that commercial constraints can limit what artists produce, but is it accurate to call this a form of censorship?" asks Julian Baggini in a blog entry for the Guardian. "Chinese polymath Xiaolu Guo thinks so, and she explained why in a fascinating talk at Bristol's Festival of Ideas last week, in which she also presented her new film, How Is Your Fish Today?" "[A]fter the apotheosis of Tokyo Story, Ozu and his regular screenwriter, Kogo Noda, began examining the Japanese family from other angles, in particular from the perspective of a younger generation," writes Dave Kehr in a review of the new Eclipse collection, Late Ozu, for the New York Times. By the late 50s and early 60s, the "fabric of Japanese culture may be unraveling, but Ozu maintains his steady, stoic gaze, and the pervasive sense of sadness and regret is all the more poignant because of it." Also reviewed is the Sergio Leone Anthology, featuring the "often overlooked" Duck, You Sucker, which "now looks like Leone's conflicted reaction to the political violence sweeping Italy in the early 1970s." Michael Atkinson reviews the new Cabinet of Dr Caligari, "both a respectful and insightful homage to a film history monument and a darkling nightmare all its own... [I]f greenscreening for the moment is all about appropriating the contextual imagery of the past, then you should begin with Caligari, the movie with which modern movies began, shouldn't you?" Also, Sweet Land is "a period film spending serious amounts of time with the Lutheran farm folk of 1920 Minnesota, for one thing. It's also a parable about ethnocentrism, and a magnificently crafted piece of landscape portraiture, for two others." Also at IFC News, R Emmet Sweeney previews the highlights of this year's edition of the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival in New York and Matt Singer reviews Aki Kaurismäki's Lights in the Dusk. euro|topics translates the bit of Tadeusz Sobolewski's interview with Malgorzata Szumowska for Gazeta Wyborcza in which the director defends her casting of Julia Jentsch as the lead in her new film, 33 Scenes From Life: "I want Poland to be seen as part of Europe and not as a strange, exotic country. We come closer to this idea with a film in which Polish actors act alongside German and Danish actors." On Daniel Brühl's IMDb page, you can see that he'll be appearing in The Bourne Ultimatum (the franchise has been good to German actors, and for that matter, studios as well), Marco Kreuzpaintner's Krabat, Julie Delpy's The Countess, Limor Diamant's adaptation of Kafka's Metamorphosis and Jon Amiel's Angel Makers. To that lineup, Andreas Kurtz adds in today's Berliner Zeitung a Chinese historical epic (which is all that's said about that) and hopes for a role in Bryan Singer's biopic of German resistance icon Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg. Brühl also plays down a rumor hounding that one: "I find it very hard to picture Tom Cruise playing Count Stauffenberg." At european-films.net, Boyd van Hoeij has news of three upcoming roles for Italian rising star Elio Germano. More up-n-coming news from Variety:
Silverdocs, 6/12.Hollywood's portrayal of the business world is nearly always overly simplistic, argues Steven Pearlstein, but "you'll find some wonderfully insightful views about business and work life at the Silverdocs," opening opening tonight and running through Sunday. Pearlstein recommends Losers and Winners, Note by Note, Big Rig and Calcutta Calling. Also in the Washington Post, Steve Hendrix: "This year, by securing wind-generated electricity for the entire run, the series is billing itself as the country's first carbon-neutral documentary festival." Update, 6/14: Blogging Silverdocs: Pamela Cohn (Still in Motion), Sujewa Ekanayake (DIY Filmmaker) and Matt Dentler. Update, 6/15: The Pop View is covering the fest as well.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer + summer movies.No, other than Tom Roston's longish backgrounder in the Los Angeles Times, for which he talks with director Tim Story, there isn't much out there on Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer worth pointing to yet - but the other summer movie stuff is stacking up, and it's time for an entry to dump it all into. To start with a promising one, though, Time's Richard Corliss has seen Ratatouille, loves it and tells the story behind it. And Variety's Ben Fritz confirms rumors regarding Pixar's long-term schedule: Ratatouille this summer and Wall*E next; Up, "about a 70-year-old man who teams with a wilderness ranger to fight beasts and villains," directed by Pete Docter (Monsters Inc), in 2009; and Toy Story 3 in the summer of 2010. Updated through 6/17. "He has been stripping naked on the London stage every night for three months as the sexually troubled boy in Equus. Still, Daniel Radcliffe is touchingly coy when I ask him about Harry Potter's first screen kiss." Mike Goodridge for the Scotsman. Also via Movie City News, "They're back!" warns Kevin Maher in the London Times. "They're toting guns, they're kicking ass, and they're old enough to draw a pension! Yes, the superannuated action hero is upon us, with the return of Bruce Willis, Harrison Ford and Sylvester Stallone in the action franchises that time forgot." Updates, 6/13: Ratatouille gets more than the look and the story right, reports Kim Severson in the New York Times: "Although the story line has its charms, the precisely rendered detail of a professional kitchen will appeal to the food-obsessed. The Pixar crew took cooking classes, ate at notable restaurants in Paris and worked alongside [chef Thomas] Keller at the French Laundry in Yountville, Calif." "The first 10 years of the 21st century may go down as the worst in Hollywood history, a candyfloss desert (not dessert) of blockbusters, comic book movies, three-quels, and torture porn," writes Gregg Rickman in a preview for the SF Weekly. "Yet while summer is the traditional playground for the industry's reliable big earners, and them alone, this season's lineup does offer other reasons besides the air conditioning to visit film theaters over the next couple of months." Also: "Of all the expected summer blockbusters, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the most likely to be good, and also the most likely to fizzle like one of Ron Weasley's magic tricks." Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly on Ocean's Thirteen: "It's fairly charming, extremely well put-together, and by this time next week I doubt I'll remember even having seen it." Updates, 6/14: Vue Weekly critics pick the season's best alternatives to the blockbusters. Armond White catches up with Ocean's Thirteen in the New York Press. Erik Davis tells the story of the projectionist who sent an early review of Fantastic Four: Rise, etc, etc to AICN and lost his job: "I'm not trying to crap all over AICN; I'm aware that their writers, like Moriarty (who I've met and can vouch that the guy is one heckuva cool dude), are very knowledgeable and powerful. But they post thousands of these types of reviews each year. And what happens? Some dope making minimum wage in Memphis has to go on unemployment because the powerhouse he's been feeding no longer have any use for him?" Comments ensue. Meanwhile, Brendon Connelly saw the movie on Tuesday: "Ultimately, this was an exercise in lowest common-denominator dreck, speckled with the odd attempt to convince the audience that they were watching something slightly more worthwhile than they actually were (only slightly - they don't even set this fake bar very high)." Justin Chang in Variety: "At a time when tortured superheroes like Spider-Man, Superman and Batman would benefit from some serious psychotherapy, it's almost refreshing to see a comicbook caper as blithe, weightless and cheerfully dumb as Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Faithfully mining one of the Marvel franchise's more intriguing mythologies, the sequel proves every bit as disposable as its predecessor, with even less character definition and several tons more poundage in the f/x department." Updates, 6/15: Manohla Dargis in the New York Times on Silver Surfer: "[T]his crashing bore" is "amalgam of recycled ideas, dead air, dumb quips, casual sexism and pseudoscientific mumbo jumbo." "Yet it must be said that it's something of a relief to confront a comic-book movie that is neither hip nor wised up," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "Earnest, gee-whiz and foursquare, this simple and intentionally inoffensive sequel gets points for being easy to take and scrupulously avoiding obvious sources of irritation." "If you have children, if you feel the need to switch off, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is terrific," writes the Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu. "By almost every other criterion, it is a tragically bad film." So Will Lawrence lifts Telegraph readers' hopes with a quick glance ahead at Ratatouille. The Independent's Anthony Quinn: " Here are some suggestions for future sequels: The Fair-to-Middling Five, The Satisfactory Six, The Serviceable Seven. Not the most scintillating prospects, I agree, but at least they won't raise expectations they can't meet." Salon's Stephanie Zacharek finds it "more ambitious than its predecessor. It's also more cluttered and less fleet: The light, pleasingly casual quality of the first picture has evolved into something forced and metallic." "[A]t least it doesn't overstay its welcome," notes Derek Malcolm in the Evening Standard. "Adult moviegoers may be craving a serious drama after overdosing on a steady diet of mindless sequels that has driven this year's box-office sales," writes Claudia Eller in the LAT. "But whether they'll rush out to see a sobering, ripped-from-the-headlines story set in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks remains an open question for the distributor of next Friday's release A Mighty Heart." "Heading into Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, my expectations were pretty low," admits Erik Davis at Cinematical. ""The original was slow, dull and gimmicky, with too much set-up and not enough punch. That said, I'm about to make a very bold statement - not only is this film far superior to its predecessor, but it's also one of the best sequels this summer has to offer." Jim Tudor, writing at Twitch, agrees: "[T]his movie is actually pretty doggone good." Updates, 6/16: Slate's Dana Stevens finds Silver Surfer "miscast, underwritten, muddily shot, and slackly paced, but there's something captivating about its unabashed shittiness." This is turning into a common theme. Here's Nick Schager in Slant: "In this summer of pretentious, excessively elaborate, overlong blockbuster spectacles, there's something refreshingly modest about Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, a deliberately trivial affair that strains not for classical pop mythology but, instead, for frivolous FX-laden adventure." Two new reviews from Variety: "Ratatouille is delicious," cheers Justin Chang. "In this satisfying, souffle-light tale of a plucky French rodent with a passion for cooking, the master chefs at Pixar have blended all the right ingredients - abundant verbal and visual wit, genius slapstick timing, a soupcon of Gallic sophistication - to produce a warm and irresistible concoction that's sure to appeal to everyone's inner Julia Child.... After the less than universally admired Cars Pixar's eighth feature sees the Disney-owned toon studio in very fine form, and confirms [Brad] Bird's reputation as one of the medium's most engaging storytellers. Compared to his woefully underseen The Iron Giant and Oscar-winning The Incredibles, Ratatouille may be smaller in scope, but in telling the story of a very smart rat striving to enter the very human world of French haute cuisine, it shares with its predecessors an affinity for gifted outsiders seeking personal fulfillment." "The problems with Evan Almighty mostly boil down to questions of scale," writes Brian Lowry. "The movie warns of an imminent flood, yet delivers only sprinkles of laughter or anything approaching magic. It's mildly diverting for kids and families in a way that would be perfectly fine as an ABC Family cable project (perhaps before The 700 Club), but sails into the summer anchored to all the baggage and expectations a comedy with an enormous budget invites. Universal has courted church groups and will need them to line up, two by two and then some, to fully recoup on their epic investment." Online viewing tip. A teaser for Wall*E. Update, 6/17: "Superhero fans have got it made these days," writes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "You want dark and gloomy, you head for the newest Batman movie. You crave earnest and wholesome, you pick one of the three Spider-Man flicks. Whatever mood you happen to be in, there's now a superhero movie (or series) to pick through: Hulk, Daredevil, Hellboy, Superman, Ghost Rider, you name it. Just about all the classic superheroes are now available in cinematic form, some good and some bad, some 'dark and gloomy' and others all 'touchy feely'... but where's the 'family friendly' superhero movie? The one that doesn't deal with tortured psyches, metaphysical angst or some form of anguished misery? Well heck, here's one: It's called Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, and while it's often a pretty goofy little movie, it's also a perfect flick for young dads and their 9-year-old sons."
June 11, 2007
Primer. New Austrian Film."[T]he salient quality of Austrian film's new wave is its willingness to confront the abject and emphasize the negative," Dennis Lim wrote in the New York Times late last year. "In recent years this tiny country has become something like the world capital of feel-bad cinema." At the same time, Austria has become "home to the emerging genre of the intercontinental documentary: travelogues with a global awareness and the frequent-flier miles to show for it." What's more, as Ed Halter noted in the Voice some time back, "Austria has produced some of the finest experimental cinema of the past 50 years." All three strands are woven into Robert von Dassanowsky's latest primer, "New Austrian Film," which picks up where his "Austrian Film to 2000" left off.
Open Roads. Dispatch 6.With just a few days left for the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series, James van Maanen keeps them coming: here're takes on two more. Director/co-writer Laura Muscardin was represented in Open Roads a few years back with Days, her thoughtful take on a pair of gay lovers, one of whom seemed to have courted the AIDS virus. This was a troubling movie, dark and cool, though with enough hints of repressed anger and love to allow the humanity of all the characters to - if not shine through, at least flicker occasionally. Muscardin's new film, Billo il grand dakhaar (or just Billo for us Americans [site]) is not nearly as dark, nor, I think, does it work quite as well - although it is definitely worth a watch. (It plays twice today, Monday.) The movie combines, not always handily, a story of an African immigrant, Billo, and his experience in today's big-city Italy with a family saga that involves a young woman who harbors perhaps deeper psychological problems than the viewer understands or the moviemaker wants to admit (Muscardin does, but almost as a withholding afterthought). The girl's family includes a seemingly distant dad, a too-effusive mom and a brother who is gay. Trailing along are the brother's lover and friends. Billo's life in Senegal, which keeps intruding on his new life in Italy, involves a young love left behind, an arranged marriage, and a mother to whom our hero is extremely close - understandably, given his history, but almost to the point of subservience. This clash of cultures is extremely interesting, even if it is portrayed a bit heavy-handedly and with one coincidence (as big as it is unbelievable) involving a customer of the upholstery shop where our hero finds work. Muscardin films in a near-documentary style and on a budget that looks to be pretty tight. But all her actors do a good job, particularly Thierno Thiam, who plays Billo. This young man, easy on both the eyes and the ears, gives almost as fine a performance as does Siyabonga Melongisi Shibe in James' Journey to Jerusalem - another and even better film about an African working in a foreign land. If you have not seen this amazing movie, do so immediately. It is available in DVD, where I hope Billo will arrive, too, since it has not yet been picked up for US distribution. What finally makes this movie special is the unusual solution to the culture-clash problem arrived at by all concerned parties on the Italian front. (We never learn the reactions of those remaining behind in Senegal.) "Tolerance" plays a large part in this, and while, as a gay man, I have long had mixed feelings about this term (You're going to "tolerate" me. Really? How wonderful!), the manner in which it is used and understood here registers in a stronger, healthier fashion. I hope I've said enough (but not too much) to pique your interest in Billo, a movie that is certainly unusual - and timely - enough to warrant your attention. Among the darker, minimal-action entries in this year's Open Roads is writer/director Giovanni Davide Maderna's Schopenhauer (playing Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday night). Barely an hour long, the movie moves slowly but never uninterestingly. When little happens (see In Memory of Me for another example) the alert viewer must pay even closer attention to what is going on. Schopenhauer rewards this attention bountifully. Two students arrive for a pre-arranged visit with a famous writer/philosopher who is also famously reclusive. He keeps them waiting. And waiting. As the "assistants" of Mr Famous fill in the time with ping pong, meals, minimal conversation and something more, the student suppliants start to unhinge. It's all in the details here, and Maderna has given exactly the right amount of them - and length to his film - so that we watch, learn, puzzle over and finally creep ourselves out. I have never read Schopenhauer (he is definitely on my "Once I Retire" list, along with Proust), so I cannot say if or how this movie connects to his philosophy. But it did make me think and feel strongly about how important it is to give our children a durable enough sense of themselves and their worth that they might better withstand what happens in this short, sad, strange and intriguing film.
Shorts, 6/11.Via Brendon Connelly comes news that Gus Van Sant will direct Lance Black's adaptation of Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Michael Fleming has more at Variety. Also: Lionsgate will be releasing Luis Buñuel's Gran Casino and The Young One on R1 DVD in August. The Boston Globe's Ty Burr spots a DVD release date for David Lynch's Inland Empire: August 14. "You get 75 minutes of additional scenes titled Other Things That Happened, pushing the film as a whole over the four-hour mark. You also get footage of Lynch at home cooking quinoa." "Getting back into the swing of things, [Bill] Murray has signed on to star in City of Ember, the latest Walden Media cinematic adaptation," notes Monika Bartyzel at Cinematical. "He will be joined by Dobby-voice Toby Jones and the girl who outs Keira Knightley in the upcoming Atonement, Saoirse Ronan. This will be the sophomore helming effort for Monster House director Gil Kenan, and the adaptation is coming from an old-pro and quirky stories - Caroline Thompson. Her pen has previously whipped up worlds like Edward Scissorhands, The Secret Garden and Corpse Bride." "Though conservatives regularly accuse Hollywood of being overly liberal on social issues, abortion rarely comes up in film," writes Mireya Navarro. "Real-life women struggling with unwanted pregnancies might consider an abortion, have intense discussions with partners and friends about it and, in most cases, go through with it. But historically and to this day in television and film - historians, writers and those in the movie industry say - a character in such straits usually conveniently miscarries or decides to keep the baby." Also in the New York Times:
Fests and events, 6/11."A deranged man escapes from prison to seek revenge on the woman who put him there in A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929)," writes David Jeffers at the Siffblog. "Revealed in flashbacks and punctuated with rapid montage, this late silent era film displays the mastery of visual narrative achieved just prior to 'the talkies' using lurid metaphor and a minimal number of intertitles." Screens Wednesday at the Seattle International Film Festival and Sunday, July 15, at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. "Luke DuBois's Academy takes each Oscar winner for Best Picture of the past 75 years and compresses it into a single minute," writes Matt Riviera. "The result, 75 feature films in 75 minutes, is a mind-bending assault on the senses and an accelerated journey through American cinema history." Example: Titanic. More reviews from the Sydney Film Festival: How Is Your Fish Today? and La Vie en Rose. "Frameline's SF International LGBT Film Festival arrives in June every year with a surplus of films to please and displease its extremely involved San Francisco audiences, and that's the way the festival likes it." At SF360, Susan Gerhard talks with programming directors Michael Lumpkin and Jennifer Morris. Thursday through June 24. In the New York Times:
The Tonys."The 61st annual Tony Awards last night were dominated by two shows drawn from the 19th century: Spring Awakening, about sexually frustrated German teenagers in that era, won best musical and most of the other musical awards, while The Coast of Utopia, Tom Stoppard's epic period trilogy about Russian intellectuals, set a record for the most awards won by a play in Tony history." Campbell Robertson reports for the New York Times. More from the Guardian's Ed Pilkington: "The extent to which British drama is hogging the Broadway limelight has prompted a degree of backlash locally." "Why does Britain do theatre so successfully?" asks Matt Wolf, introducing the Observer's guide to 50 British actors. "[F]or every cod-psychological theory about why a country in thrall to irony, argument and dressing up should find a natural artistic outlet in the theatre, comes a less sophisticated explanation pertaining, say, to the weather - a culture with so unpredictable a climate is bound to thrive on what can take place indoors." Also, a talk with Eve Best, Gavin Lee, Hugh Dancy, Xanthe Elbrick and Vanessa Redgrave about performing on Broadway. "For the second straight year, Broadway has registered record attendance and gross revenues at a time when other forms of entertainment are looking at bleak bottom lines," notes Paul Lieberman in the Los Angeles Times. "I glance at the Grammys, abide the Emmys, enjoy the Golden Globes and have a morbid fascination with the Oscars, but I love the Tonys," blogs Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Back when I was in high school and discovering David Mamet, I stumbled across a Tonys broadcast one summer night and was stunned to see a live performance of a scene from Mamet's nominated drama Speed-The-Plow, with Joe Mantegna, Ron Silver and Madonna. I'd never realized before that just as the Oscars show clips from nominated films, the Tonys stage scenes from dramas and musicals—scenes I couldn't otherwise see. From that point on, I was hooked." Nathaniel R offers several thoughts on how the evening played out. David Marchese in Salon: "Über-clever Utopia playwright Tom Stoppard briefly broke the fawning monotony with a gag about retitling a musical version of his play 'Serf's Up' but it wasn't long before people whose names and faces I didn't recognize from shows I haven't seen went back to talking about why their production was a life-changing experience and the epic struggle to have it produced."
Sopranos finale."There was no good ending, so The Sopranos left off without one," writes Alessandra Stanley in the New York Times. "Viewers are conditioned to seek a resolution, happy or sad, so it was almost fitting that this HBO series that was neither comedy nor tragedy should defy expectations in its very last moments. In that way at least The Sopranos delivered a perfectly imperfect finish." Updated through 6/12. "My first reaction was to say aloud, 'You son of a bitch,'" admits Tim Lucas. "But after a second viewing, I am aglow with admiration for the way David Chase handled it.... On reflection, I think it was actually a very loving exit, for both the characters and the viewing audience that has followed their family saga for the past nine years. I must say, I'm tickled by the riotous Le Sacre du Printemps-like controversy the finale has provoked." Vince Keenan: "I liked the finale. A lot. Millions of fans didn't. Want to have a laugh? Head over to Technorati and search for 'Sopranos' and 'WTF?' You'll spend the rest of the day there." "It's my nature." For Matt Zoller Seitz, this is key to appreciating the final episode, and key to understanding Chase's attitude toward people; they are what they are, they rarely change, and when they do, they stay changed for as long as it takes to realize that they were more comfortable with their old selves, at which point they revert; and once they're taken out of the picture, by illness or incarceration or death, the world keeps turning without them. Which is a roundabout way of saying, what the hell did people expect from David Chase? Closure? Satisfaction? Answers? A moral? It was the perfect ending. No ending at all. Write your own goddamn ending. Also at the House Next Door, Keith Uhlich rounds up links to several more takes. "Chase wrote the episode alone, and he was clearly enjoying himself, playing on the fact that people had their own expectations — odds were Tony would get whacked — and would bring to these details what they wanted to bring," blogs Mary McNamara for the Los Angeles Times. "He even managed to insert a little lecture about the downtrodden scriptwriter through an old Twilight Zone episode playing in the background of one scene." "The Sopranos has always been a serial mob movie about being a serial mob movie in a culture where everybody's seen a lot of mob movies (and remakes of mob movies) and even low-level Jersey mobsters imagine themselves acting like the mobsters in the movies," writes Jim Emerson, for whom the ending lives up to the show: "Perfectly, in retrospect." "[T]he achievement of The Sopranos is not so much that it puts you in mind of Balzac or Dickens, but that here on television, for most of a decade, were tales that could stand in the company of Fassbinder, and Kieslowski, and Mike Leigh, and Chabrol," blogs Leon Wieseltier at the New Republic. "Was Sunday night's finale Chase's way of telling us all to fuck right off?" asks Salon's Heather Havrilesky: If so, it was fitting that the big F.U. should come from the mouth of the show's least respectable character, self-pitying, idiot-savant A.J., who explodes in an angry outburst after Bobby's funeral. Disgusted with the idle Oscar-related small talk at his table, he rages, "You people are fucked. You're living in a fucking dream!" Then he snipes that Americans distract themselves from their country's atrocious acts by "watching these jack-off fantasies on TV." Later, after A.J. has been coaxed out of following his convictions into the military and to Afghanistan, and led into temptation by his parents with a new BMW and the promise of a cushy job working on - what else? - some crappy film cobbled together by a bunch of halfwits, he sits on the couch with his high school girlfriend, snickering at viral videos of rappin' Karl Rove and Bush dancing. There we are, America! Sending each other YouTube videos, chuckling at The Daily Show, instead of rioting in the streets. Crisis of conscience narrowly averted! [...] Goodbye, Tony. Looks like you won't go to prison (not yet, anyway), and you won't rat, and you won't finally get your come-uppance, dying in a bloody heap. You'll be immortalized eating onion rings, chuckling, focusing on the good times. Just like the rest of us. Going to hell in a red leather booth, with Journey playing in the background. "America wants closure! David Chase gave us a mirror. Bravo," writes Tom Hall. brotherfromanother at Reverse Shot and David Lowery marvel at that final cut. Disappointed, Slate's Timothy Noah is reminded of Frank R Stockton's 1882 short story, "The Lady or the Tiger?": "What a marvelous leaping-off point for discussion, say some people. What a stupid cop-out, say I." Michael Z Newman, too, finds the finale "an awful disappointment." Keith Phipps opens up an active thread at the AV Club. Updates, 6/12: Bill Carter gathers reactions from several television writers, most of whom are mightily impressed. And blogging for the NYT, Virginia Heffernan sees the Leotardo Nephew Theory floated - and shot down. Rounding up more reactions from all over: Richard Adams for the Guardian and Sonia Smith for Slate. "I would argue that all those out there in TV land who have spent the last 48 hours cursing the name of series creator David Chase never really understood or appreciated what made The Sopranos so great in the first place," blogs Scott Foundas. "Contrary to the abrupt plug-pulling that some have accused it of being, the final scene of the final Sopranos was in fact a carefully plotted and ingeniously executed distillation of Chase's three greatest themes: work, death and blood ties. Nothing hasty or unplanned about it."
Ousmane Sembène, 1923 - 2007.Ousmane Sembène, the Senegalese filmmaker and writer who was a crucial figure in Africa's postcolonial cultural awakening, has died at his home in Dakar, Senegal. His family, which announced his death on Sunday, said Mr Sembène had been ill since December. He was 84. Widely seen as the father of African cinema, Mr Sembène took up filmmaking in the 1960s, in part because he believed that film could reach a wider and more diverse African audience than literature.... The tensions between tradition and modernity and between newly independent African nations and their erstwhile colonial masters are sources of drama and comedy in his films, which are nonetheless focused on the lives of ordinary people, frequently women. AO Scott in the New York Times. See also: Samba Gadjigo's site; Serigne Ndiaye's page; Ray Pride's interview for Cinema Scope; the Wikipedia entry. Updated through 6/13. Updates: "His first feature, La Noire de... (Black Girl) in 1966, shot in black and white, is a searing account of the isolation of a young black domestic servant working in Antibes, and the first African feature produced and directed by an African," writes Sheila Whitaker in the Guardian. "'For us, African filmmakers, it was then necessary to become political, to become involved in a struggle against all the ills of man's cupidity, envy, individualism, the nouveau-riche mentality, and all the things we have inherited from the colonial and neo-colonial systems,' Sembène stated." At the House Next Door, Keith Uhlich rounds up more suggestions for further clicking. Updates, 6/12: AO Scott follows up with an appraisal: "[I]t is hard to overstate his importance, or his influence on African film and also, more generally, on African intellectual and cultural self-perception." Online listening tip. Neda Ulaby on NPR. Updates, 6/13: Ed Ward tells a great story. "For me, his masterpiece remains the 1977 period drama Ceddo which fuses his core concerns into his most compelling narrative all coupled with simple but rich production design," writes clarencecarter at Reverse Shot's blog. "Its story of kidnapped princess and internecine warfare is a world unto its own, but given that we're dealing with a most political of filmmakers, its distant history concerning the introduction of Islam to Africa sends out a clarion call to the present moment: beware of interlopers."
Open Roads. Dispatch 5.James van Maanen enjoys a feature and a documentary in the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series, running through Thursday. In going from Private, his 2004 film about a Palestinian family's house occupied by Israeli soldiers to In Memory of Me, his new film dealing with seminary students in Venice who want to leave the secular world for the embrace of the church, writer/director Saverio Costanzo appears to have switched gears - not just from first to second but from fourth into reverse. But, no. He has actually moved from the discipline of the military to that of the church - and from a home that becomes a kind of prison to a kind of prison that might just become a home. It is a fascinating journey that this unusual and - based on these first two films - prodigiously talented, risk-taking young filmmaker is making, and I can't help but wonder and look forward to where it next takes him. As fraught with danger, threat and firearms as was the first film, this second is nearly serene. On the surface, that is. Characters glide through the long hallway, speak quietly, paring their verbiage down to only what is necessary. The widescreen compositions are graceful and full of austere beauty (the cinematography is by Mario Amura), and the use of a lovely piece of classic music off and on throughout the film adds to the serenity. Although the film incorporates everything from faith and renunciation to secrecy and death, we learn very few specifics about any of these. In fact, we become novitiates ourselves, in the sense that we identify most with the character of Andrea, who is attempting to forsake his old world, which seems to have grown stale, flat and unprofitable, and to embrace a new one - of which we learn as we go along. So, while little appears to be going on visibly (save a bucket of water accidentally spilled), inside these characters, one gets the sense of deep waters rising to a boil. While the film's subject can be said to be "faith," it seems more to do with the process of coming to that faith than what the faith might mean or achieve. Consequently, it shouldn't be too difficult for those like me with an atheistic or agnostic bent to appreciate the film. It may take some discipline on the part of the viewer, accustomed as we are of late to movies that move ever faster and scream more loudly, to attend to the quiet travails of Andrea and his cohorts. But attending proves worth the effort. On a personal note, this film stirred up a raft of buried memories for me. 40 years ago, on my first trip to Italy, I stayed in a youth hostel in Venice, near an old church. While exploring the church, I met a young priest (or perhaps a priest in training) who introduced me to several others in his group. For the next two weeks I spent time daily with this happy band of brothers, communicating via Italian, English and French, trying to talk about life and art, right and wrong, philosophy and religion, and everything else of interest (Vietnam was raging at the time). As I recall, I performed some songs I'd written to their enjoyment, and one of them played a guitar and sang, to mine. This was as rich and delightful an experience as I'd ever had, and there seemed to me to be in all of us a longing to understand and confront life and give something good back to the world. Thinking of these young men, who were able to happily discuss and argue amongst themselves (and with me) about religion, God, good and evil, and then comparing them to the somber fellows in Costanza's movie, does make me wonder at what has happened in between. The young men I knew had come of age - and to their calling - during the benign, gentle and humane reign of Pope John XXIII, who died only a few years before my trip. It's certainly a different world - and a different Church - today. We are all of us experts at the fine art of denial, and guests of the Walter Reade Theatre at Lincoln Center got a pretty good dose of it this past Saturday evening, as Enrico Caria introduced and then did a post-film Q&A regarding his new documentary See Naples and Die. In person, the director proved a witty combination of documentarian and rah-rah Chamber of Commerce cheerleader for Neapolitan tourism. His documentary offered interesting glimpses of Naples, past and present, plus lots of charming drawings by school children of killings committed by the Camorra - the Neapolitan version of the Sicilian Mafia. I am unclear as to the specific differences between the two groups, although both appear to murder and maim with general impunity, while dishonoring Italy and everything they touch. Because this documentary features narration by someone with a rather thick Italian accent, some of it was lost on me. The subtitles, too, came and went, not always providing a sufficient translation. We do see an interesting mix of reporters (one of them from his place in hiding), business owners and politicians telling us about the state of affairs, which seemed to improve during the last decade but now may be sliding, perhaps careening back into the darker ages. Especially interesting is the section devoted to how Naples hoped to be the beneficiary of the famous America's Cup race, which would provide thousands of new jobs yearly - only to lose out to Valencia, Spain. Caria clearly loves his hometown, although he seems to spend most of his time in Rome these days. During the Q&A, one person asked about how much danger that journalist who had gone into hiding was actually in. "I don't think the Camorra would really kill him," Caria opined, as we in the audience recalled those children's drawings. In his pre- and post-film talk, Caria encouraged us all to visit Naples and told us how perfect a place it was, even today, for tourists. Please come, he urged us! Then a woman in the rear of the house spoke up to say that she had recently heard about the terrible problems with trash collection and how this is growing worse and creating stench, pestilence and other problems - and making Naples not such a great destination. Ah, yes, Mr Caria admitted. It's all true, and the Camorra and the politicians are involved in this as well. Why, Enrico - you little Cleopatra! (For the uninitiated, she's the Queen of Denial.) But I did enjoy your documentary.
June 10, 2007
Fassbinder's legacy @ 25."Why are you journalists always claiming Rainer was gay? He was never gay, and I would know." It doesn't matter whether Juliane Lorenz, head of the Fassbinder Foundation meant, when she blurted this utterance to critic and documentarian Hans Günther Pflaum in 1992, that Rainer Werner Fassbinder was not gay in the strictest sense or that behind all that famously polysexual activity lurked some closeted heterosexual. The comment, quoted in Christiane Peitz's longish piece on the battle over RWF's legacy for Tuesday's Tagesspiegel, suggests either a skewed sense of reality, a reluctance to face that reality or a full-blown attempt to replace it with a self-serving myth; it's, plain and simple, a nutty remark. Pflaum himself asserts that Lorenz was trying to eradicate a good chunk of RWF's identity. Producer Michael Fengler recalls that Lorenz upped the ante at a gathering marking the 10th anniversary of RWF's death that same year. Not only was he not gay, she insisted, he rarely dabbled in drugs. And yet it was Lorenz herself who found Fassbinder dead on a bed littered with notes for his next film 25 years ago today. The combination of a hefty dose of sleeping pills and cocaine would have been too much for the most robust of hearts. Updated through 6/14. Instead of a collection of neatly cropped Sunday think pieces marking today's anniversary, the German papers have been at it for over two weeks now, thanks to a cat fight that's spread to an all-out mud-slinging brawl drawing in dozens of combatants. I outlined the parameters of the battle in an entry on May 31, a week after Katja Nicodemus's dam-busting interview for Die Zeit with Ingrid Caven, RWF's first and, as we can pretty much safely conclude now, only wife. Two observations, having eagerly drunk from the font of press coverage ever since. First, not a whole lot of new news has broken; instead, isolated details have accumulated, adding texture and a bit of depth to the two opposing versions of what all's gone down since June 10, 1982. Second, as many have remarked, this "family argument," as the papers have taken to calling it, is nearly as fitting a tribute to RWF as any retrospective or exhibition. As the DPA's Wilfried Mommert notes, Fassbinder always claimed that every director makes essentially the same film over and again and that, as RWF put it himself, "For me, it's about the exploitation of emotions, whomever's emotions are being exploited. It never ends." That said, I thought a few notes on the brouhaha might be in order, particularly since that first entry focused on the accusations coming out of the Caven camp, formalized in an open letter signed by 25 people who'd worked with RWF in some capacity or other. Juliane Lorenz has since spoken up in her own defense, most notably in a letter to Die Zeit (not online) and in an interview with Hanns-Georg Rodek of Die Welt. In a radio interview, Nicodemus notes that, in her Zeit letter, Lorenz simply ignores many of the charges aimed her way, most notably, that crucial sticker, her supposed marriage to RWF. To back up, the picture that emerges from several accounts opens with Lorenz as an assistant to editor Ila von Hasperg. Lorenz is 19 and the film at hand is Chinese Roulette (1976). Despair (1978) becomes the fateful turning point. The editor was Reginald Beck, 75 at the time. On the evening before the premiere, with Beck already tucked away in bed, Fassbinder decided, almost on impulse it seems, to reshape the film entirely. Lorenz and RWF got to work and the new version was complete by 10 am the next morning. Few deny that the working relationship evolved into something more, but how much more depends on who you ask. We know the two of them took a whirlwind trip to Florida at some point. Lorenz has revised her version of what exactly happened there a couple of times. In one telling, Fassbinder proposed, she accepted and they were married in a ceremony recognized by US law; she had a certificate and everything, but in a flippant gesture, she gave it up to the wind through a car window. Another telling has a Justice of the Peace in Fort Lauderdale asking for a blood test, Fassbinder refusing and the Justice carrying on with the "show," but insisting they go through the ceremony again at some point to make it official. Which they never got around to. Why does this matter? Because, when Fassbinder died, all rights to all his works went to his mother, Liselotte Eder. Soon enough, Lilo Eder would discover that the definition of "a work by Rainer Werner Fassbinder" is far more porous than would be the case for a filmmaker adhering to bourgeois standards of job descriptions and such, but we'll get to that. Eder found herself tangling with a variety of claims, and so, created the Foundation in 1986. Lorenz "played" the Ehefrau to the hilt, as some witnesses report, and what's more, Eder seemed more than happy to buy into the performance. She may have lost a son, but at least she still had a daughter-in-law. In 1991, the year Peer Raben would go to court to secure his co-authorship of several works from the early Anti-Theater days in Munich, Lorenz, with Eder's blessing, took over the Foundation. Now then. Back to the question of giving credit where credit is due when it comes to a Fassbinder film, TV series, radio play and so on. With regard to anyone's account, we have to keep in mind that it'll be based on a memory of what exactly happened when during one of the most ferociously chaotic and creative storms in cinematic history. Five words: 40 films in 13 years. What's more, this was Germany in the 70s, a time when RWF's generation was anxious to define itself as one opposed to fathers and mothers who, whatever role they played during the Nazi era, were not just tainted by but drenched with catastrophic evil and failure. In all accounts of the making of Fassbinder's oeuvre, the metaphor of the extended family - a substitute family for many involved - appears again and again. The Fassbinder clan was not alone, either. You find this social phenomenon in histories of communes, writers and artists' groups, even "WG's," Wohngemeinschaften, large apartments or houses shared by like minds of about the same age. Among other things, too, of course, it's this group dynamic that differentiates Fassbinder's films from the early works of Wim Wenders, with his existential wanderers, and Werner Herzog, with his crazed loners raging against belligerent nature. Fassbinder brought his fevered working methods from the Anti-Theater days to his films. Everyone did a little bit of everything - or, more often, a lot. Everyone moved lights, held a mic, assisted the director, assisted each other. The point was to get it done. Fast. 50 set-ups in one day of shooting? Not an unusual number, as Harry Baer - actor, director's assistant, production manager, etc, etc on nearly all of RWF's films - recalls in an emotional open letter to Fassbinder, wherever he may be, in today's Tagesspiegel. In their letter calling for Lorenz to step down and to essentially dissolve the Foundation and hand its assets over to the Deutsche Kinemathek, the 25 signatories accuse her of erasing names from film credits - and from history. To some degree, Lorenz can counter that not every stone lifted can or should be credited. But some see a few names systematically shut out while Lorenz's never fails to appear. I find two passages in Rodek's interview particularly intriguing. In the first, Rodek simply mentions that RWF had lots o' love and many loved him back. Lorenz: "Hanna Schygulla is the only one of Fassbinder's women I fought hard to have a good relationship with, and we love and respect each other now. Though I didn't like her in the beginning because she was always in the films. When it came to Lili Marleen, I could barely stand it anymore, and Rainer laughed and said, 'Juliane wants to cut out the lead actress. But she can't!' After all, I myself am not free of... of..." Rodek: "Jealousy?" Lorenz: "Sometimes I ask myself what it was. She was mature, beautiful and smart, and when the two of them worked together, they produced this unbelievable magic." Hello? Every sentence is loaded; every other sentence is a confession. At any rate, Lorenz does like to point out the names of those who have not signed the letter from the 25. Besides Schygulla, there are Rosel Zech, Barbara Sukowa, Armin Müller-Stahl and others. The signatories, she snarls, are second- and third-tier players scrambling to grab a piece of the legacy before their own time's up as well. In some cases, this is obviously way off, but in others... Lorenz makes another point that does have the ring of truth about it. To back up, Rodek offers that there were three phases in Fassbinder's career - Anti-Theater; the early films and recognition in Germany; the international breakthrough with the late films - and that she enters the picture at the beginning of the third and final phase. And she takes Rodek's offer and runs with it. She'd ask Fassbinder, she says, why he wasn't giving a role to this or that actor who was prominent in earlier films. "'I couldn't think of anything for him.' That was his right, wasn't it?" Elsewhere, she's elaborated: The anger many direct at her is misdirected. It would be more appropriately aimed at Fassbinder, but who could bring himself to rail against a fallen hero? The other issue that usually plays out in Lorenz's favor in the papers is the undeniable fact that she has poured untold amounts of time and effort into the restoration, preservation and, periodically, revival of Fassbinder's work. Some commentators have gone so far as to claim that Fassbinder would be forgotten by now if it weren't for Juliane Lorenz - a claim I find patently absurd, but the fact that some can even imagine such an eventuality speaks volumes about what the Foundation has accomplished in the past 20 years or so. Even so, Lorenz's critics not only outnumber her supporters - and, in the case of Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek, for example, whose scathing letter runs right alongside Lorenz's in Die Zeit, can, in terms of cultural capital, outspend them as well - they also agree that the underlying problem here is structural and can be fixed. Unlike the usual Stiftung in Germany, the Foundation is set up in such a way that the only authoritative body it has to answer to is the Finanzamt, the German Internal Revenue Service; one person and one person alone - never mind that this one person has a proven record of truth-bending borne of raw ambition - oversees the legacy of the most important German film director of the postwar period. There is something wrong, very wrong with this picture. To wrap, a few pointers for those who can read German. I've blathered on and on here, but haven't even gotten to the matter of the Foundation's restoration of Berlin Alexanderplatz and the DVD release - on the Süddeutsche Zeitung's label, Süddeutsche-Zeitung-Cinemathek. Naturally, it's hardly a surprise to find a defense in the SZ of the decision to turn on the lights, so to speak, in the process of the digital restoration. Fritz Göttler's trump card is the fact that the cinematographer on the film, Xaver Schwarzenberger, oversaw the restoration "from beginning to end." But Göttler kind of blows it when arguing that leaving Alexanderplatz "in the dark" - as, it should be noted again, Fassbinder wanted and fought hard for - "would be like a museum hanging its Picasso in a darkened gallery." Please. A far more rewarding read on the DVD is Jürgen Kasten's in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. I'll translate just a bit: The radicalism of the direction of the figures, unfocused takes and the disturbingly dark lighting values led to a veritable television scandal when it was first broadcast... In Berlin Alexanderplatz, Fassbinder is concerned with the filmic representation of an inner world. The space in which Franz finds himself is abundant but skewed almost all over. A dusky semi-darkness lays over everything, smearing out the bodily contours. There doesn't seem to be any clear delineation between inside and outside, body and surroundings. The director had filters placed in front of the camera so that most of the shots would take on a delirious haziness. Two more reports on the "family argument": Joachim Güntner in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and Cristina Nord in the taz. 25th anniversary pieces: Harald Jähner in the Berliner Zeitung; Ina Bösecke in Junge Welt; and, in Die Welt, a brief but eloquent appreciation from François Ozon. Update, 6/12: In today's taz, Andreas Busche tries to get Rainer Rother, director of the Deutsche Kinematek, to fan the flames. What does he think about being called out by the 25 signatories to take over the Foundation's assets? Perhaps disappointingly for media junkies but, overall and in the long run, pretty smartly for everyone involved, Rother basically answers: Very flattering, but that's not exactly our charge. Not that he dismisses the possibility entirely. It's just that the Kinemathek has so very much to do and so very few means to get it done. Specifically, 60,000 euros (about $80K) and no more are dedicated to film restoration and preservation. Granted, the Deutsche Kinematek is not the only film archive in Germany; film museums in Düsseldorf and Munich operate similarly - and with similarly miniscule budgets. This necessitates a policy geared toward saving films that are in the most immediate danger rather than taking a film historical approach. In other words, Film A may be more "important" than Film B, but if Film B is about to dissolve altogether, they'll save Film B first. Rother seems reluctant to address the Fassbinder matter at all, but my impression is that he's thinking: We're putting out fires here; at least that oeuvre's got a Foundation to care for it, regardless of how well or how poorly it fulfills its self-assigned mission. He sidesteps the Berlin Alexanderplatz controversy as well, calling instead for more overall transparency when it comes to the restoration of national treasures - call in the 'xperts next time! Busche seems understandably concerned that so little attention and so few resources are given to restoration and preservation in Germany, particularly since other European countries, such as the Netherlands, devote considerably more. Then there's an interesting moment, considering that this is the Tageszeitung - taz for short - which, among all of Germany's papers with a national rather than regional or nichified readership, is politically farthest to the left. "In the commercial sector," he notes, "much more is done for film as a cultural commodity because film is seen there merely as economic capital. This works splendidly in America. Sony, for example, invests millions every year and does excellent conservatorial work." Heavens, where is a taz reporter going to take this question? "Ideally, shouldn't a Kinemathek serve as an intermediary between government, the film industry, filmmakers and private bodies such as the Fassbinder Foundation?" Ah. Regulated profiteering, then. Rother: "One shouldn't overestimate the role of the Kinematheks." Update, 6/13: Joe gathers a collection of posters for RWF's films at Carrie White Burns in Hell. Via James Israel. Update, 6/14: Jon Pais gathers about three items in one entry for Twitch: A decidedly negative reaction to the Berlin Alexanderplatz restoration; German profs pooh-poohing RWF's relevance to contemporary German film; and Herzog noting that he's got dedicated audiences around the world - just not in Germany. "But I do not look for an explanation; I'm too busy with other things."
The Tiger's Tail.Kevin Maher profiles John Boorman for the London Times: "The 74-year-old London-born director of classics such as Deliverance and Excalibur has been savaged in Ireland for his satirical portrayal of the country in The Tiger's Tail. Here Boorman, resident in Ireland for nearly 35 years, depicts the Emerald Isle as a decadent Sodom and Begorrah defined by rampant greed, binge drinking, street violence, suicide, racism and glaring social inequality." Updated through 6/11. One click over, James Christopher writes that the film that opened the EuroCinema: New Films From Europe series in Los Angeles "works like a modern and gloomy fairytale. The premise is wonderful, but the director fails to clamp down a vital sense of credibility." "Brendan Gleeson, so good in Boorman's The General, takes on the double role of separated-at-birth Irish twins, in a plot that suggests The Prince and the Pauper redone as a quasi-Hitchcockian thriller," writes the Telegraph's Tim Robey. "It's a little like the old 1971 Basil Dearden movie The Man Who Haunted Himself, but without the supernatural tension," suggests the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. Ireland is "the country with the largest divide between rich and poor in Europe, its streets full of drunken young people and clogged up with traffic," notes Derek Malcolm, too, in the Evening Standard. "Added to that, its health service is at breaking point." Rob Carnevale talks with Boorman for IndieLondon, where Jack Foley interviews Kim Cattrall and reviews the film as well: "Politically, it has the potential to open a volatile debate about property and wealth that everyone can relate to - but emotionally it fails to grip and operates in dubious moral territory. For a filmmaker of Boorman's calibre that's all the more disappointing." Update, 6/11: "The Tiger's Tail is a flawed movie that works better as a fable than as a direct reflection of reality; some of it is surprisingly heavy-handed, especially scenes involving the left-wing son," writes Philip French in the Observer. "But Gleeson is excellent, there are several deeply moving scenes involving Sinead Cusack and generally it's a fascinating, thoughtful contribution to the dramatic literature of doubles, twins and doppelgangers that stretches from The Comedy of Errors to The Prisoner of Zenda."
SIFF Dispatch. 3.Sean Axmaker pays tribute to a lasting accomplishment of the Seattle International Film Festival.
SIFF runs through June 17. For more coverage, see the Siffblog, the Stranger and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
June 9, 2007
Open Roads. Dispatch 4.James van Maanen reviews two more films in the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series. On some level I am flummoxed by Dark Sea, an odd little movie directed and co-written (with Massimo D'Anolfi) by Roberta Torre. I understand, as will you, I expect, that this is a kind of thriller/police procedural that tracks the investigation of a young woman's death. Yet all that is merely an excuse to explore the growing sexual melt-down of the lead character - a cop, acted with his usual presence and intensity (albeit with a bit more machismo than I've noticed before) by Luigi Lo Cascio of The Best of Youth, Good Morning Night, Light of My Eyes and The Hundred Steps. The cop has a Spanish girlfriend who's a realtor, played by the gorgeous Anna Mouglalis, who moves in with him as the story begins. His investigation takes him into exceptionally transgressive sexual areas, which he begins to enjoy, while we, who very possibly have seen rather a lot of this sort of thing by now, may find it a tad tiring - mostly because the movie deals with almost nothing else. We never learn enough about the lead characters to care more than cursorily what happens to them (or anyone we meet here). In the end, I believe (though I would not stake my life on it) that we are asked to decide if some of the sex we've seen is real or fantasy. It's the film's final line of dialog that calls this into question - and also provoked a good laugh both times I have seen the movie. (During my first viewing, the "screener" was obviously faulty, and since I don't think it's fair to judge any moviemaker's hard-won efforts on the basis of a badly transferred DVD, I returned for a second viewing in the theater.) I suspect Dark Sea was made on a very low budget, yet it looks quite good and shows an interesting capacity for off-key, engaging visuals on the part of the director and her cinematographer Daniele Cipri. The original music by Shigeru Umebayashi is a huge plus, too, and the performances are as good as the slight material allows. The film begins with the dredging up from the sea a remarkable figurative icon, partially destroyed, which makes an appearance later in a remembered dream and yet again in one of the sex scenes. This is a strange and splendid piece of "art," and I would not be surprised to learn that, in some way, it inspired the movie in which it appears. Dark Sea made its American debut this past Friday and will be shown again on Thursday, June 14. Another film with odd and arresting visuals is Paolo Sorrentino's The Family Friend, which makes its debut this Saturday night and will be shown again on Sunday afternoon, following the final Caravaggio screening. Sorrentino made the award-winning The Consequences of Love a few years back, which I could kick myself for not seeing when I had the opportunity. His new one tells the story of a neighborhood loan shark, Geremia de Geremei, the bed-ridden mother he cares for, and the group of diverse people who use him as their "bank." I've now seen this unusual film twice, and the second viewing proved even more interesting than the first - during which I was caught up visually but not so much in the characters or story. Sorrentino certainly has a way of visually capturing the most interesting - and varied - objects. He has a knack for combining subject, composition, angle and spatial relations into something special. (The opening credits alone make the movie a must-see.) In his leading actor, Giacomo Rizzo (who played Rigoletto in Bertolucci's 1900), he has someone who creates an indelible combination of avarice, loneliness and desire. Rizzo gives an almost rodent-like performance, scurrying from place to place in an odd and memorable manner. This strange combination of drama/thriller with comedic overtones will unsettle you, while the terrific cinematography and musical score should keep you on a high. And the interesting mix of qualities possessed by all the characters, ranging from commendable to not-so, make them intensely human (and the film, to my eyes, quite Italian). While there is a Fellini-like quality (exaggerated, dreamy) to many of the people and events, Sorrentino never takes things to the sometimes far-overstated level that Federico managed. The "western" trappings of his character Gino, well played by Fabrizio Bentivoglio (Remember Me, My Love), may seem a bit much at times, but the writer/director gives this such funny, charming visual twists that you'll probably chuckle, shrug and follow along. As I say, The Family Friend hooked me visually from the start, but it took a second viewing to move me - and even then, in some rather bizarre ways.
Weekend shorts.Travis Miles at Stop Smiling: One of the more singular and unheralded cinematic rediscoveries of the past year has been Kazuo Hara, a Japanese filmmaker whose documentaries have long been talking-points but which have been seldom available to view outside of classrooms, and even then it is his magnum opus The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On that usually receives the attention. Thanks to Facets Multimedia, Hara's four major documentaries are now available on DVD and have been touring as prints to select cities in the United States. As with their recent release of essential works by the brilliant German filmmaker Harun Farocki, Facets has re-introduced Hara at a fertile moment, as documentary continues its ascendancy as a popular film genre and as films like Borat trouble the distinction between film production and social activism. Jonathan Rosenbaum peeks into a parallel universe and finds a Disney-animated version of Otto Preminger's Laura. Acquarello reviews Alexander Kluge's first feature, Yesterday Girl, "an acerbic, deliriously fractured, incisive, and darkly comic satire on a young German woman (and archetypal embodiment of the postwar generation), Anita G's (Alexandra Kluge) search for happiness, liberation, and independence in the illusive the wake of a transformative national recovery (a parallel history of postwar reformation not unlike Japan's recovery)." Tim Lucas "was so keen to get to the audio commentary and extras" for the upcoming Criterion release of If... in large part to learn more about Christine Noonan: "[Malcolm] McDowell tells us just enough about this robust yet alluring Eastender to appease our curiosity and keep it vibrant at the same time." "Jaws seems to embody a tug of war between representation and embodiment." Ted Pigeon explains. Nathaniel R on Red Dust: "Lord almighty. How is it that no one ever talks about this movie? Hot." Vadim Rizov at the Reeler on Let's Get Lost: "[Chet] Baker's appeal is his life's failure, and trying to understand him - as [Bruce] Weber does in tiresome detail, pushing and prodding his ex-lovers to recount their affairs' downturn in monotonous, endless detail - is the film's true business, generous performance snippets aside. It's a difficult fascination to understand; unlike, say, Cassavetes, Baker isn't much of a raconteur or personality." Also: St VanAirsdale talks with Weber. "[W]as drink the active ingredient in Cassavetes's genius?" asks John Sutherland. "Was it for him what opium was for Coleridge, or amphetamines for Jack Kerouac? Would a sober Cassavetes, an artist who wasn't (to paraphrase one of his titles) 'under the influence,' have been a less great, or an even greater filmmaker? Did drink damage his talent, or burnish it?" Also in the Guardian:
France for the weekend.Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader on Private Fears in Public Places: "It's an archetypal and at points almost insufferably clever piece of boulevard theater - the sort of thing Resnais has been producing periodically ever since he adapted the French play Mélo in 1986 and began mining his childhood playgoing experiences. At the same time, it's a lyrical lament that doubles as a comprehensive retrospective of his career." "Alternately fascinating and frustrating, Belle Toujours is interesting insofar as it finds one filmmaker trying to engage with a masterpiece of cinema," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "[Manoel de] Oliveira frames his film as a homage to Buñuel and to the legendary screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, who helped adapted Belle de Jour from the Joseph Kessel novel of the same title.... But Belle Toujours is, as well, an act of critical violence. This isn't the annihilating violence of criticism at its most cruel; rather, this is the act of the lover who, having long adored the object, now feels compelled somehow to possess it." More from Daniel Kasman. "I'm as guilty as anybody of indulging in hyperbole far too often than should be permitted, but I mean what I say that a recent revisit of Agnès Varda's Cleo de 5 à 7 (Cleo from 5 to 7) was a rather rapturous experience, if not actually teetering towards the miraculous." A poem follows, and Jesse Ataide explains why, too. Chacun son cinéma (To Each His Own Cinema) gets David Bordwell thinking about why portmanteau films are made and what we're looking for when we watch them. Jürgen Fauth on Molière: "Accomplished and witty, the film even manages to wring morsels of truth out of the highly entertaining complications: who knew Jean-Baptiste Molière was the artistic forebear of Preston Sturges's Sullivan, endlessly distraught over the value of comedy?" "Broadly speaking, Not Here to Be Loved is a romantic comedy, though the romance is tortuous and the comedy tentative," writes Victoria Segal in the New Statesman, where Christopher Bray catches up with Dalí and Film. "If Republicans are still searching for reasons to bash the French, they need look no further than the work of Bruno Dumont," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "But since, I daresay, they probably have other things to worry about these days, I will gladly take up the cudgel myself, in honor of the release of M Dumont's latest, Flanders." More from Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times. At ScreenGrab, Paul Clark dwells on one moment in Godard's Band of Outsiders. Online viewing tip. John Brownlee's found the Coen Brothers' Tuileries. Related: Laura Boyes in the Independent Weekly and Wendy Ide in the London Times on Paris je t'aime.
Weekend interviews."He often takes yearlong intervals between these chapters to study subjects ranging from philosophy to painting to literature, just to expand his understanding of the meanings behind light and color; when he discusses a color, red for instance, he's not just interested in the way we might emotionally react to it on a visual level, but also the manner in which the physical light particles affect our bodies when passing through them." Jamie Stuart introduces his interview with Vittorio Storaro (site) for Filmmaker. "On Tuesday, just moments before the [Nashville Scene] called, [Charles] Burnett learned that he may be forced to cancel the premiere this month in Los Angeles of his new film Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation, a project he's been working on for three years." Jim Ridley explains. Matt Thompson talks with Lars von Trier for Radar. Via Movie City News. "I always hated, when I was growing up, all these directors who wanted to be my Pygmalion," Julie Delpy tells Ryan Gilbey in the Guardian. "When employed correctly, improvisation can be a glorious thing, but I feel like it's increasingly used as a crutch for lazy filmmakers." At the AV Club, Nathan Rabin opens a wide-ranging conversation with Scott Tobias. Also, Sean O'Neal interviews Janeane Garofalo. A Knocked Up double in the LA Weekly: Scott Foundas talks with Judd Apatow, Robert Abele with Seth Rogen. More on the film from Craig Phillips. Earlier: "Knocked Up." For the Philadelphia City Paper, Sam Adams talks to the director and stars of Once. Adam Ross's interviewee of the week is Neil Sarver. The San Francisco Bay Guardian's Kimberley Chun talks with Air Guitar Nation director Alexandra Lipsitz. For the Financial Times, Matthew Garrahan lunches with Jerry Bruckheimer. Online listening tip. From Darren Hughes: "Who knew that Film Forum all of their Q&As?" I didn't. "Good stuff." Online viewing tip. Brendon Connelly points to a video interview with Terry Gilliam.
Weekend fests and events."With Manet's Bar at the Folies-Bergère being showcased alongside the Getty Center's current exhibition Defining Modernity: European Drawings 1800 - 1900 [through September 9], the museum and UCLA are presenting a four-film series this week, The Belly of Paris: Flaubert, Maupassant and Zola on Film." For the Los Angeles Times, Susan King talks with programmer David Pendleton. June 14 through 16. "In his installation On Chapels, Caves and Erotic Misery the Polish-born New York artist Christian Tomaszewski... invites viewers to enter David Lynch's 1986 art-house thriller, Blue Velvet," writes Martha Schwendener in the New York Times. "In his effort to address serious issues of art history, theory and film, Mr Tomaszewski overlooks the humor." Michael Guillén previews five entries in Frameline 31's lineup from Strand Releasing. June 14 through 24. Matt Riviera's snapped pix on the opening night of the Sydney Film Festival. Through June 24. For the Reeler, Simon Abrams finds a few themes running through the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series, both onscreen and off. Related, of course: James van Maanen's preview and dispatches: 1, 2 and 3. "Portland's Living Room Theaters is showing one jaw-dropper of a triple-feature," notes Mike Russell. "The cinema lounge is screening Chan-wook Park's entire 'Vengeance Trilogy' - Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, Oldboy and Lady Vengeance." David Poland offers quick takes on a handful of the many films he caught at the Seattle International Festival, which, of course, runs on through June 17. More from Andy Spletzer at Film.com, the Siffblog and the Stranger.
Weekend books.Jerry Stahl in the Los Angeles Times: As fictioneer, [Woody] Allen has the ear of a comedian and the erudition of a Carnegie Deli waiter with a PhD in European literature. An accusation, incidentally, no one ever laid at the feet of Henry James. Read every story in Mere Anarchy. Then plow through The Insanity Defense, which collects, in one volume, the holy trinity of Getting Even (1971), Without Feathers (1975) and Side Effects (1980). If you're genetically susceptible, such total immersion can trigger the primal Hebraic fun-pain synapse: the mortifying, zombie-like urge to try to write like Woody Allen. The result is not just the awareness that he's Woody Allen and you never will be, but also a compulsive urge to use the word "herring" in every document - not to mention a dawning awareness of how many times Allen himself uses the same words over and over. Mike reads Movie Journal: The Rise of the New American Cinema, 1959 - 1971, "a collection of bits from filmmaker Jonas Mekas's column for the Village Voice... long out of print and, as far as I can tell, hasn't been reprinted since it's 1972 edition.... Some publisher seriously needs to dust this thing off and get it out there again. It's that important." Hadley Freeman: "After an interval of almost 20 years since the last Tales of the City book, Sure of You, [Armistead] Maupin's new novel, Michael Tolliver Lives, is published on June 18." Also in the Guardian Review this week: Jenny Diski on Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union, Steven Poole on Haruki Murakami's After Dark, Christopher Hope on Dave Eggers's What is the What and Louise Welsh: We can no longer read Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in the state of excitement described by a contemporary reviewer in the Times as "passing from surprise to surprise in a curiosity that keeps growing, because it is never satisfied." Morally opposed, mortally linked, the inspiration for movies, ballets, plays, operas, cartoons and sculptures, their names have been given to moody workmates and mild-mannered killers. It's difficult for the modern reader to remember that the nature of the bond between the good doctor and his alter ego isn't revealed until the second to last chapter of the book. So is there any point in reading the novel at all? Oh yes, most definitely.
June 8, 2007
Open Roads. Dispatch 3.James van Maanen on two film screening today in the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series. There are times during Giuseppe Tornatore's new film, The Unknown Woman, at which it becomes exceedingly difficult to stay seated, to resist the temptation to flee from the theatre or at least cover well both one's eyes and ears. I sat through Hostel, so I don't consider myself a lily-livered moviegoer, but so wrapped up in the plight of the title character and those around her had I become that when this woman begins "training" the little girl left in her care, the scene proved very nearly too much. Later, this noted writer/director, perhaps Italy's most currently famous (Cinema Paradiso, The Legend of 1900, Maléna, among others), does dish out too much, going to the top and then over it, and for a time I thought the movie would not recover. Yet it did, leaving me extraordinarily moved and chastened. Tornatore is dealing here with the plight of women who are used for their sexuality then tossed away, but not before they are used for things even worse. The story of this Ukrainian woman seems exceedingly plausible, unfortunately, and it is told in flashbacks that intrude on her present life in Italy via sudden thoughts, sounds, visuals. All this is handled quite well by the director until he has us filling in the last few puzzle pieces, by which time we know far more than we imagined we might - much of it troubling indeed. In the 20 years this filmmaker has been working, he has made but 10 movies, two of these segments of omnibus projects. And while he seems fated to be best remembered for Cinema Paradiso, which some find sentimental and overwrought (I am not among them), it is helpful to recall that, although he has made films like The Star Maker, A Pure Formality (which his current film recalls) and Everybody's Fine, it appears that many "fans" would prefer him to make another and another Cinema Paradiso ad infinitum. That he refuses is all to the good, I think. (And he did provide us with a longer director's cut of that popular film, which, though perfectly fine, interesting and richer in some ways, was finally perhaps no better than the original version.) Rather than give away any more of The Unknown Woman's story, I urge you to see it, if possible. Shockingly enough, it has as yet no US distributor, even though it bears the Tornatore credentials (plus a heavy enough dose of sex and violence that, were it American, would have the film snapped up immediately). Nominated for more David di Donatello awards (the Italian "Oscars") than any other film this year, it boasts a stellar cast including Michele Placido (unrecognizably different from his role in Desert Roses!), Claudia Gerini (Secret Journey), Pierfrancesco Favino (El Alamein), Alessandro Haber (also from Desert Roses), Margherita Buy (Not of This World) and a wonderful young actress named Clara Dossena. The title character is played by Ksenyia Rappoport, a Russian actress who will, I expect, win just about any award for which she is nominated. By turns ugly, beautiful, plain, weird, and utterly real, her performance is simply astounding.
June 7, 2007
Up-n-coming, 6/7.Emir Kusturica, whose Promise Me This was pretty much met with a weary chorus of ho-hums at Cannes last month, returns to France and perhaps happier Cannes memories, reports the Frankfurter Rundschau. On June 26, an opera he's directed based on Time of the Gypsies, the film that scored him a Best Director award at Cannes in 1989, will open at the Opéra national de Paris. "I think I'll leave off cinema and only direct operas from now on," he says. "Opera allows a leap into the abstract, so it fits better with my artistic concepts. I feel right in this abstract world." Sam Raimi will be producing a film based on Priest, a manwha (roughly, a Korean equivalent of Japanese manga) by Hyung Min-woo, reports the Korean Film Council's Yi Ch'ang-ho. "Ken Loach has made his first foray into radio with a documentary about Blackpool in its 1940s heyday for BBC Radio 3." And the BBC reports. At indieWIRE, Jason Guerrasio checks in on five independent films currently in production. "Matt Damon is looking to reteam with Paul Greengrass on an adaptation of Imperial Life in the Emerald City," reports Variety's Diane Garrett. Also: "Naomi Watts is attached to star in the adaptation of We Are All the Same for the Bureau of Moving Pictures." In the Independent, Geoffrey Macnab looks ahead to what we might expect from Ealing Studios' revival of the St Trinian's franchise: "Directors Oliver Parker and Barnaby Thompson have assembled an intriguing cast, complete with supermodels (Lily Cole), Bond girls (Caterina Murino) film stars (Rupert Everett) and such cherished household names as Stephen Fry." "One of the most bizarre forthcoming movie projects sees British director Roland Joffé about to helm a film about defunct Russian pop band Tatu," notes the Guardian. Vincent Bugliosi's Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F Kennedy is headed for the miniseries treatment. Variety's Michael Fleming has the details. Related: Ron Rosenbaum in Slate on this 1600-page tome and on David Talbot's Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years; Bugliosi and Talbot on the Leonard Lopate Show. Variety's Dade Hayes looks ahead to a very crowded fall season, a "traffic-jam of pedigreed films," as the New York Post's Lou Lumenick puts it.
Fests and events, 6/7.Pedro Costa: A Retrospective runs at the VIFC Film Center in Vancouver from June 18 through 28; Still Lives: The Films of Pedro Costa screens in Ontario this summer as well. A simple message from David Thomson in the LA Weekly regarding Seven Masterpieces by Kenji Mizoguchi (tomorrow through June 23): "See these films, for they are as close to the human richness of Shakespeare or Mozart as the cinema has ever come." More from Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times. "Entering the sophomore year of its phoenix-like rise from the ashes of the erstwhile North Carolina Jewish Film Festival, the Triangle Jewish Film Festival has high cause for optimism," writes Neil Morris in the Independent Weekly. "[T]he 2007 festival, which takes place Sunday, June 10, seeks to build upon last year's success more by replication than expansion." "Just nine years' vintage makes the San Francisco Black Film Festival a relative newcomer by Bay Area standards," writes Dennis Harvey at SF360. "But in terms of programmatic diversity and premiering new work, it's got old-soul depth." Opens tonight and runs through June 17. "'A one-of-a-kind cinematic spectacle!' scream the heroically retro print ads for the live-action-and-film extravaganza at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood from Friday to Monday night, adding, as if it were necessary, 'You'll never see anything like it again!'" In the LAT, Kenneth Turan preps the locals for the arrival of Guy Maddin and his Brand Upon the Brain!
Open Roads. Dispatch 2.James van Maanen on a splendid journey and a collection of shorts. The Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series runs through June 14. What do Americans hope for from a good Italian film? Something visually striking, I think (gosh, but we love the Tuscan countryside, although we'll accept other interesting locales, too), as well as something in a narrative that opens a fresh perspective into the lives of Italians today. When I think of many of my favorite Italian movies - from Rossellini's Open City to an unheralded little gem like Verso Nord (Without Conscience is its US title, and, yes, I am recommending that you check it out on DVD) - I realize that these films couple strong passion (for many different things) with reality and beauty. And they strike at the heart without insulting the brain. Of this year's Open Roads array I've seen thus far (10 out of 13 films), the one that had this effect on me most is One Out of Two [site], directed and co-written (with Francesco Cenni) by Eugenio Cappuccio and making its Open Roads debut today. As I age, I grow more tired of movies with obvious heroes and villains. Just give me people, I ask; if possible, let me watch them grow and change. Mr Cappuccio has done this, and well. His leading character, Lorenzo, is quite the go-getter: fast, frisky and just a little dishonest. But he's so clever and likeable that you'll follow him - as do his girlfriend and co-worker - most anywhere. But then something happens. Speaking of fabulous visuals, the director and his cinematographer have staged this "something" spectacularly well. (Open Roads has chosen an image from One Out of Two as its poster child, and rightly so.) From this "something" onwards, the movie becomes a journey on which we and its characters meet new characters. One of the film's strengths is that it resists giving in to the sentimentality that, in a story such as this, must hover near, hoping for an opportunity to strike. Cappuccio maintains a firm hold except perhaps at the climax. I would have preferred the film to end in the office of a certain professional before a bit of news is delivered. At this particular point, perfection is nearly achieved, and for me, what follows is lovely but somehow unnecessary. (I am really going out of my way to not to spoil anything here. The audience for a film this good deserves the surprises, twists and energy that the moviemaker delivers.) In his Open Roads round-up, the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Richard Peña points to One Out of Two as a film that offers a sense of spirituality. I certainly agree; Lorenzo's journey touches on family history and class, as well as physiological changes. Cappuccio has assembled a first-rate cast, including Fabio Volo (Casomai) in the lead, Anita Caprioli (Santa Maradona) as his significant other, Giuseppi Battiston (Don't Tell) as his best friend, and a memorable performance from Ninetto Davoli as the most important member in our hero's new life. (Davoli is a Pasolini graduate: remember the kid in The Hawks and the Sparrows, The Decameron and many more?) While I would like to see all the films in Open Roads graced with an American release, that One Out of Two has as yet no distributor seems particularly sad. Giuseppe Tornatore's The Unknown Woman was not screened prior to its debut on Thursday, so I'll cover it later and devote the remainder of this column to the program of New Italian Shorts, screening first on Friday afternoon. It's a revealing showcase for a pleasant and diverse array of talent - from whom we will probably hear more in the years to come. First in the group of eight is Like Cassano (written by Antonella Gaeta and directed by Pippo Mezzapesa), a so-so, 14-minute, boy's soccer fantasy, nicely photographed, that shows us (from what I was able to gather, at least) how Italian sports stars are groomed and coddled from a young age. The 9-minute Solo Duets by Josef Feltus is one of the two animated shorts in the program. In what looks a like a kind of "wood-mation," or maybe "cloth-mation," Feltus brings an eerie light and shadow elegance to his theme of the doppelgänger. This one is strangely compelling. Do You See Me? (14 minutes), perhaps the most original and interesting piece on the program, is billed as "something by Alessandro Abbate and Alessandro de Cristofaro" and begins with amoeba, protozoa and cells moving and dividing, and then leads into creation, art, Galatea, obsession, and finally an entire alternate universe. Islam is front and center in the 16-minute Zakaria, by Gianlucca and Massimiliano de Serio, in which we learn how to wash our feet, pray and tackle other rites; a sort of do-it-yourself, how-to-be-a-good-Muslim kit. There is beauty in the sounds of the prayers, yes, but it all reminded me a bit too much of my own Christian Science upbringing, which I found - and still find - generally fundamentalist and nuts. Unfortunately, the one-minute La Ferita, came uncredited and unsubtitled on the screener. Was it actually a TV commercial so creative that it made the cut? I guess I'll never know. Also unfortunately lacking subtitles on this screener was Sophie Chiarello's 15-minute Un Filo Intorno al Mondo, one of the most beautifully filmed of this series, which appeared to be about a letter delivered and then read by a postman to the illiterate father and son who live on his route. Since the contents of the missive were lost on me, so was the meaning of the film itself. The longest "short" is the 17-minute Incurable Love by Giovanni Covini, in which a paralyzed patient communicates with his caretaker via a board on which each letter/symbol has a meaning. After a few minutes of this, I began to better understand why the Javier Bardem character from The Sea Inside wanted to end it all - though by the close, I could also see how a deep and caring relationship might form here. The final piece - A Dog's Memory by Simone Massi - was hand-drawn animation in black and white with but one touch of color. The strangest of all the shorts, and the most disturbing, the film combines animation with the sounds of scratching, thunder, music and gunshots. Paging a Dr Freud for canines!
SIFF Dispatch. 2.Sean Axmaker follows up on last week's dispatch from the Seattle International Film Festival (through June 17). For your average SIFF-goer, it's day 13 or so of the 24-day festival. For the press, it's the 6th week of day screenings and DVD screeners, only recently complicated by the addition of the bustling festival screenings on evenings and weekends and the arrival of scores of guests: directors, producers, actors and industry folk, here to promote their films or appear on a panel. The pedigree of the Romanian satire Offset [German site], which saw its North American premiere at SIFF, is more impressive than the interesting but modest film itself. Director Didi Danquart's co-writers, Cristi Puiu and Razvan Radulescu, collaborated on award-winning The Death of Mr Lazarescu, and co-producer Cristian Mungiu just won the Palme d'Or for 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. This is no grueling endurance test but a wedding comedy as metaphor for Romania in the EU. As a German engineer in Romania prepares to marry a Romanian secretary, minor comic disasters come out of the cultural and social disconnection between Romania and the Europeans there for business or for the wedding. The Germans are patronizing, the French are haughty, and the Romanians (still struggling to embrace the capitalist model after decades of Soviet Communism) are defensive and, perhaps, a little provincial by modern European standards. Danquart's point isn't completely clear and more than a few characters slip into convenient stereotypes, but his observation of the lumps in the EU melting pot has its moments. "Emerging Master" Olivier Dahan accompanied La Vie en Rose [site] the Édith Piaf bio that opened the Berlinale this year and won (deserved) accolades for leading lady Marion Cotillard, whose performance is more impressive than the (mostly) convincing make-up. She takes Piaf from teenage street urchin singing for coins on the corner to frail, stooped woman old before her time, hands shaking with palsy thanks to alcohol and drugs and a high life. Dahan skips major events in her career to follow her emotional life, jumping all over her timeline for reasons that he may know but neglects to share with us. Cotillard is the show here, and she is magnificent, never once letting us forget that behind the cultural icon is the spirit and sass of a street kid who muscled her way into polite company and burned out at 47. But no, she has no regrets, or so goes the song. Cotillard convinces you that she lived her life that way. Andrew Currie's Fido [site], a Canadian zom-com dropped into a warped mirror of 50s suburban conformity and surface values with a rotting core, almost snuck under the radar of the festival and threatens to do the same when it gets a release later this summer. This is in a completely different social dimension from that of Shaun of the Dead a world where the "Zombie Wars" have left a no man's land of undead outside the gated communities, a passive underclass of manual laborers and service industry drones, and a legacy of trauma ("families having to kill their own") that all the psychotherapy on Earth is not going to heal. Yet at heart it's a boy and dog adventure, with a zombie in place of the family pet (Scottish comedian Billy Connolly, unrecognizable behind the ash gray complexion and rot-black lips and dialogue consisting of grunts and growls and, in one priceless scene, whimpers). It's a sly, cleverly underplayed mix of cold war sci-fi thriller, Douglas Sirk melodrama, and Lassie movie, with a great cast (Carrie-Anne Moss, Dylan Baker, Tim Blake Nelson and Henry Czerny) having fun with it all. We local critics had hopes for John Jeffcoat's homegrown indie comedy Outsourced [site], which turned out to be a veritable Xerox of the same old culture clash comedy, albeit in color with henna doodles in the margins. Josh Hamilton is amiably generic as the Seattle call center manager sent overseas to "Americanize" his replacement in India, where he ends up overcoming all his hang-ups through a little cultural bonding and curry romance. Even the mercenary little street urchin shows his love for this foreigner when he learns to stop looking down on all the people who live there. E J-yong's Dasepo Naughty Girls (South Korea), based on a popular manga, is a busy, brightly-colored comic-book farce brought to the screen as a series of absurdist skits unconnected by anything other than recurring characters, the high school setting, and an energetically amateurish silliness. The high energy of the opening scene and bouncy musical credits sequence is never recaptured as the film becomes a family menu-styled entertainment, with plenty of dishes piled on the plate without any concern of making a consistent meal of them.
David Jeffers has more on the The Sentimental Bloke at the Siffblog; and the Stranger's "SIFF Notes" are multiplying fast.
La Vie en Rose."That Olivier Dahan's Édith Piaf film La Vie en Rose (La Môme) succeeds where so many others of its type have failed is a testament to the powers of the imagination," writes Susan Gerhard at SF360. "Not so much Dahan's imagination - on fairly bold display here - but the audience's: The chaos of Dahan's Chinese box timeline gives us plenty of room to puzzle over Piaf's life ourselves." "Burdened by the overwhelming weight of its subject's endless tragedies, its running time and narrative are as bloated as its star performance, by Marion Cotillard, is refined to precision," writes Matt Singer at IFC News. Updated through 6/9. "La Vie en Rose trudges dutifully from one costumed 'defining' event to the next, building to a kind of Piaf theme park that plays out like a bad parody of Dickens or Balzac," writes Ella Taylor. Even so, "Cotillard raises France's poor, beloved chanteuse clean out of mundane pathos, into the ruined grandeur she deserves." And, also in the Voice, Leslie Camhi talks with Cotillard. "Altogether The Deluxe Piaf, but, alas, it's not the best," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "Claude Lelouch's 1983 Édith and Marcel (starring the extraordinarily flirtatious Evelyn Bouix) was a superior soufflé of history and legend, music and romance - another of Lelouch's swirling, underappreciated masterworks. Cotillard may be the Piaf the Oscars salute, but Bouix is the Piaf to be remembered." "[T]he movie happily acknowledges what many a biopic fails to: it has taken liberties with the material," writes Kristi Mitsuda at indieWIRE. "The sentimental crescendo reached by film's end as she sings 'Non, je ne regrette rien' feels entirely earned - not just by Piaf but by Cotillard - so that you want to break into applause along with the enraptured audience onscreen." "It's best to think of La Vie en Rose less as a biopic than as a melodrama, in both the literal ('musical drama') and generic sense: the emphasis here is on performance and emotion, and accordingly, the film is built on artifice and overwrought excess, pitched to a feverish, sometimes numbing, intensity," writes Chris Wisniewski at Reverse Shot. "So its structure is a perfect fit, diffusing the moments of excess before they become too exhausting, foregrounding Piaf's emotional journey above the chronology of her life." Earlier: "Berlinale Dispatch. La Môme." and "Rendez-Vous. 2." Update: Michael Guillén talks with Dahan. Updates, 6/8: "[I]t is hard not to admire Ms Cotillard for the discipline and ferocity she brings to the role," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "But it is equally hard to be completely swept up in Mr Dahan's dutiful, functional and ultimately superficial film." The film "only demonstrates that French music-hall warblers lived through the exact same clichés as their hard-rocking counterparts in Britain and America," writes Mike D'Angelo at Nerve. "Cotillard gives the sort of twitchy, self-conscious performance that's often mistaken for great acting, though it must be said that her lip-synching of Piaf's hits ('Non, je ne regrette rien,' 'Padam Padam,' the title song) is technically flawless." "Maybe you will boo-hoo straight through this simple-minded, cheaply sentimental and unrelievedly lugubrious movie," writes Richard Schickel for Time. "Me, I made it to the long-delayed ending by shutting my eyes and ears to its dramatic passages and pretending it was a concert film." Dahan's "approach draws more attention to the filmmaking than it does to the life," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "Dahan seems to believe that chronology is bourgeois: Pure storytelling is all fine and dandy, but he wants us to know he's making art." "We don't need another musty biopic, but clarity has its virtues," notes Robert Cashill. "I think the secret of a good biopic is to choose a selection from the person's life, instead of trying to cram the entire life into two or three hours," writes Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical. "The twin Capote movies (Capote and Infamous) did this well, focusing on presumably the most important chapter of the writer's life. This allows for time to slow down, for the film to linger on smaller moments that build character, nuance and personality, instead of bulldozing over whole months and years within minutes." Update, 6/9: A "technically virtuosic and emotionally resonant performance that elevates the material from a somewhat episodic melodrama into something strange and riveting," writes Carina Chocano of Cotillard's turn. "Disappearing completely into the role, she travels between emotional extremes that today would come each with its own psychiatric treatment and corresponding pill." Also in the Los Angeles Times: Ernest Hardy on Piaf, Billie Holiday and Judy Garland: "Among them, the trio cover the traditions of American jazz, French music hall, Hollywood musicals and American standards. They also have in common crippling drug addictions; tragic love affairs; childhoods defined by abuse, exploitation and abandonment; and brothels. (Piaf was briefly raised in one; Holiday briefly worked in one; and Garland, of course, was a child of the Hollywood studio system.)"
Hostel: Part II."The blood is plentiful, the shock value is extreme, and the performances (particularly Roger Bart as the more conflicted of the two American clients) are pitch-perfect," blogs Matt Dentler. "So many horror sequels are a waste of our time. Hostel: Part II, on the other hand, actually adds to the overall experience and becomes a worthy, and at times superior, companion piece." But David Poland is repulsed - by one scene in particular. "And at that moment, for me, this was no longer just about a stupid, masturbatory, poorly directed shit piece of horror porn. Eli Roth became a little less human to me.... Shame on the LA Times for allowing him to ramble on about how there is a political subtext to his work. Utter bullshit." Updated through 6/11. "I know there are some readers who will think me old-school and fuddy-duddyish for asking this, but is there anything that viewers won't stand for?" asks Jeffrey Wells. "What fascinates me about the film is its marketing campaign, which brazenly uses disturbing images of torture, nudity and depravity to attract attention for the film," writes the LAT's Patrick Goldstein.
Talks with Roth: Peter Sobczynski at Hollywood Bitchslap, Erik Davis for Cinematical, Michael Guillén (Evening Class; parts 1 and 2), Cheryl Eddy in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Rob Nelson in the City Pages and Carson Barker in the Austin Chronicle.Vaguely related: "The Ties That Bind" at Monkey Fluids. Online viewing tip. "Just about every aspect of this film is superior to the first across the board. And it really shows how Eli has continued to mature as an artist," writes Harry Knowles at Ain't It Cool News. "That said... I really felt Eli deserved to be beaten within an inch of his life by people that know how to do it... So for your pleasure, we present the humiliation of Eli Roth..." Updates: "[W]hen no less an expert than Quentin Tarantino puts his name on your movie and dubs you 'the future of horror,' who's to be shocked when the entertainment press just blindly jumps on board and offers up no considered resistance to the idea?" asks Dennis Cozzalio. "Personally - and I'm speaking as a moviegoer, a critic and a fan of the horror genre - Roth's own idea of what a horror movie should be seems a bit too limited for one who's supposed to be the genre's future." The Boston Globe's Ty Burr hints that Wesley Morris's review for tomorrow's paper won't be a rave: "On some level, that's what Roth's counting on: Mainstream outrage that will raise him up as a hero to the hardcore horror fringe." Updates, 6/8: "Benefiting from a higher budget, Eli Roth's follow-up to his generally odious Hostel may sport glossier production values, but its driving motivation - to push the boundaries of exploitative nastiness - remains just as low," writes Laura Kern in the New York Times. "I loathed the first Hostel," writes John Constantine for Nerve. "It wasn't that it was offensive or too extreme. It was just brutish. Which isn't to say that Part II isn't brutish. There's just a great deal more to support the brutishness.... Hostel: Part II isn't redeemed. It is still stupid and mean; a ten year-old boy is shot in the face for no particular reason. But it's hard not to be impressed by Roth's skill and craft." For the Telegraph, Jeremy Kay talks with Roth, too. And James Mottram for the Independent. "'Are you ready for some fucked-up shit?' was how Eli Roth introduced NYC's press screening of Hostel: Part II, and that more or less says it all," notes Nick Schager at Slant. "[W]hat's stunning about Roth's sequel is that its sole creative impetus is to deliver as much button-pushing gruesomeness as it can." "It's too goofy to disturb, too silly to scare, closer in spirit (if not in skill) to the cartoon yucks of Evil Dead II than the transgressive classics it so desperately tries to trump," writes Nathan Lee for the Voice. "The most disturbing thing about this implausibly R-rated spectacle is what it says about the double standard of the MPAA. Apparently, you can linger over a cock in close-up so long as it's being cut in half by a pair of scissors." "Hostel: Part II is pretty much what you expect - some cheap thrills and clever gags from the new golden boy and a couple of toes put briefly over the line before being yanked back," writes Ryan Stewart at Cinematical. "And horror fans will really get a kick out of the cannibal who shows up for a cameo." The storm hasn't quite moved on yet, but David Poland has begun clean-up operations, wrapping loose threads and perhaps spinning a few new ones, too. Update, 6/9: "Speaking from a strictly objective perspective, the movie is an admirably tight piece of construction," blogs Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "Writer/director Eli Roth is, as Christopher Lee once confided to me apropos Jess Franco, 'not an untalented man.' Which isn't to say he's not full of shit." Updates, 6/11: Michael Cieply in the NYT: "Moviegoers put a nail in the coffin of a dying horror boom this weekend, as Hostel: Part II opened to just $8.8 million in ticket sales, far behind the crime caper Ocean's Thirteen in a three-day period of relatively soft box office performance." "What bothers me the most about Hostel: Part II is that employs the same bullshit tactic that BFF/producer Quentin Tarantino applied in Death Proof, namely that it's perfectly excusable to subject your female characters to all sorts of torture and violence as long as at least one of them gets to perform an equally putrid act of revenge in the end," writes Filmbrain. "It's a twisted idea of female empowerment that is as offensive as it is disingenuous. Yet unlike Tarantino, who is clearly in love with his characters, Roth seems to harbor a vile, nasty, misogynist streak towards his female creations, particularly Heather Matarazzo's Lorna."