June 29, 2007

John Pierson: Dear Mike...

Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes "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.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:19 PM | Comments (1)

Cinema Scope. 31.

Paranoid Park 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."

Flight of the Red Balloon 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."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:40 AM

Sight & Sound. July 07.

Women in Love 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.

Sight & Sound July 07 Reviews:

  • Tim Lucas on the relatively new release of Don't Look Back: "DA Pennebaker's impressionistic black-and-white documentary of Bob Dylan's 1965 British tour, his farewell to purely acoustic performances, somehow retains a sense of immediacy in its fifth decade while other music films of its time have succumbed to nostalgia or irrelevance." Also: "For a film composed of 'things that didn't seem important at the time but now, looking back, do,' [Bob Dylan 65 Revisited] has surprising structural integrity of its own."

  • "Lunacy's raw material comes from Poe, one of Svankmajer's long-term influences," writes Michael Brooke. "But de Sade's influence is most keenly felt at a more fundamental level."

  • Hannah McGill on Flanders: "While the film's humourlessness is a bar to emotional engagement, there's focus and intelligence here, conspicuously lacking in [Bruno] Dumont's 2003 misfire Twentynine Palms. Sparsely and elegantly shot, with punishing battle scenes, Flanders engages pertinently with the emotional dynamics of war and the concept of sacrifice."

  • Sam Wigley on Wild Tigers I Have Known: "Cam Archer's stunning debut film pulses with the libidinous fever of adolescence.... It would be easy to damn Wild Tigers as an uncomfortable alliance of avant-garde tropes and advertising chic if its insistent gorgeousness were all one remembered later, but there is more here..."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:51 AM

Revisiting Ghosts of Cité Soleil.

David D'Arcy has a few comments to add to those gathered in the earlier entry.

Ghosts of Cité Soleil

In Ghosts of Cité Soleil, Asger Leth has made a strikingly cinematic documentary, but there's another compelling story in the filmmaking process and in the politics of its reception at film festivals. So far, it's also one of the best documentaries of the year.

Shot in Port-au-Prince (Haiti) in 2004, before and after the flight of Jean-Bertrand Aristide as his regime collapsed, the doc surveys the atmosphere of anarchy as it follows young heavily-armed chimeres (ghosts) who were once enforcers for Aristide but now vie for territory in the city's vast slum, Cité Soleil. (It remains a hotbed of support for the dictator who was removed from power, many say, by the Central Intelligence Agency. Because of his enemies, and the hope many placed in Aristide, the former Haitian leader, now living in South Africa, is revered as a substitute Fidel Castro.) <

Underneath the semblance of armed anarchy in Leth's doc, shot on the run by Milos Loncarevic, is more deadly anarchy, an infinite black hole if you're unlucky enough to be born there. Dozens of people are killed every day. The young protagonists who tell Leth their stories, Winson "2Pac" Jean and James "Bily" Petit Frère, are now all dead.

The look of the film draws on the mythologies of gangster music videos, action futurism, and gladiator movies - except it's all real, from the gang-bangers to the guns. Leth's characters, as you might expect, are seeking to mythologize themselves. One of them is a would-be Port-au-Prince rapper, for whom hip-hop records seem to have been English-language instructional tapes. He auditions his raps over his cell phone to a receptive Wyclef Jean in New York. He'd like to go to Miami, yet Haitians are among the most unwelcome of unwelcome immigrants. So much for violence or poverty as a reality check.

It all raises questions. Leth had remarkable access - although he says it's too dangerous to go to Cité Soleil now. How do you make a realistic documentary in (and about) circumstances that threaten your life and the lives of your subjects? How do you bring coherence to anarchy once your cameras record hundreds of hours of footage? That's part of the story. (There's a much more tactile immersion here than in Iraq in Fragments, War/Dance or even Gunner Palace.) Leth is the son of Jørgen Leth, the Danish cameraman, documentarian (his work is featured in the much-admired The Five Obstructions) and teacher of Lars von Trier.

Ghosts of Cité Soleil

Another element of the story is the odd balance that Leth strikes between the visual seduction of the squalid Cité Soleil (the chimeres could qualify as Benneton models, and I can only imagine what Caravaggio would have done with these guys) and the horror of the place and many places like it, from Manila to Gaza to various neighborhoods of Mexican cities. Despite the throbbing Wyclef Jean soundtrack, the documentary doesn't buy into the myth of buffed men in armor - far from it - but it does build a disturbing sub-plot - all true, of course - on the story of a pretty French aid worker who does. She sleeps with one of them, and tries with everyone else from the non-governmental organizations to stop the violence, or just to bring food.

Another thing to consider is the film's accuracy, especially when images of Haiti become a substitute for much-needed journalism at a time when dozens of Haitian deaths at sea are eclipsed in the news by higher or more topical body counts in Baghdad or Tripoli or Darfur. The events addressed by the film's "journalism" are more than two years old. That didn't keep Leth from coming under attack a month ago at the San Francisco International Film Festival from furious Aristide supporters (all white Americans) who called the film seriously inaccurate. (For some die-hard radicals, as I said, Aristide was their generation's Fidel Castro - it's ironic that the aging and ill Castro is a lot more alive than most of the chimeres - and ought to have been treated with the proper veneration, as they saw it, but that's another story that would probably involve being on the ground in the Cité Soleil for a while.) Is Ghosts of Cité Soleil the prophetic image of the "failed state" that we hear so much about, presented through a close look at its eloquent failures? Or was Leth thrown off by the tight focus of his gritty doc? I think Leth is right on target.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:24 AM | Comments (2)

Vitus.

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.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:40 AM

June 28, 2007

Shorts, 6/28.

The Trap "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.

Werner Herzog and Christian Bale 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:

  • "The first revival of Stalag 17, the 1951 comedy-drama about American prisoners of war written by two former POWs, Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski, is scheduled to arrive on Broadway in late spring next year," reports Campbell Robertson. "And in one of the more surprising combinations in recent Broadway history, the director of the new production will be Spike Lee. Yes, that Spike Lee."

  • Alan Riding sees Le Temps des Gitans (Time of the Gypsies), Emir Kusturica's adaptation of his film for the Bastille Opera in Paris: "Closer to riotous spectacle than lyric opera, the 100-minute one-act show is held together as much by imaginative staging as by a score alternating between folksy Gypsy music and hard rock. The voices blasting out of banks of loudspeakers in turn seem closer to those of musical comedy than in Mozart or Verdi."

  • Michael Cieply: "Though it's unclear whether the forthcoming contract expirations of the entertainment industry's writers, actors and directors will lead to a work stoppage over the next year, Hollywood is nonetheless frantically hedging its bets."

The Ties That Bind Acquarello on The Ties That Bind: "Eschewing the interview format by replacing oral questions and observations with scratch film, the prominence of her mother's lone voice ironically reflects [Su] Friedrich's own process of personalization, introducing a physical self-imprint - the figurative ties that bind - that connects her mother's life experience with the formation of her own identity."

"British animation powerhouse Aardman have announced a slew of stop frame and CG animation projects, following on from its new feature film deal with Sony Pictures," reports Naman Ramachandran for Cineuropa.

Michael Fleming reports that Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko) has written a screenplay, The Box, based on a Richard Matheson short story, that he'll direct. The "PG-13 horror film" will star Cameron Diaz. No mention in the piece of Southland Tales.

Also in Variety: "Russell Crowe will join Leonardo DiCaprio in Body of Lies, the William Monahan-scripted adaptation of the David Ignatius novel that Ridley Scott will direct for Warner Bros," reports Fleming. And Fleming and Pamela McClintock: "Ryan Gosling is set to star opposite Rachel Weisz in Peter Jackson's feature adaptation of Alice Sebold's bestselling novel The Lovely Bones for DreamWorks."

The Guardian has a bit of news regarding Righteous Kill: "De Niro and Pacino will be onscreen together for nearly the entire film." And 50 Cent will "play a drug dealer who helps two detectives... as they try to catch a serial killer."

Also:

  • "Fans of the genre have long known that quality sci-fi and its sister genre fantasy hold up a mirror to the times in which they were created, but never before have the TV shows involved seemed so resonant or indeed so influential," argues Gareth McLean. "Science fiction has never been more now, fantasy never more real." Related: Rashomon points to the SF Cover Explorer.

The Alchemist

In One to Another, Michael Koresky, writing for indieWIRE, finds "a teasing, half-formed approach to character, and the film, tiptoeing around its own narrative and ideas of sexuality, feels not fully formed." More from Armond White in the New York Press: "Youth exploitation is the rule in Hollywood, but for art filmmakers Pascal Arnold and Jean-Marc Barr, it's a convenient rationale for porn."

With his first feature, Mala Noche, one can see that Gus Van Sant "possesses a penchant for pure lyricism that puts him in league with Terrence Malick," posits Max Goldberg in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Via Movie City News, the AFP: "Forget Freddy Krueger and Norman Bates - here comes burqa man. The first serious Pakistani horror flick for a quarter of a century features a psychopath dressed in a blood-soaked version of the traditional garb of Islamic women." Zibahkhana, it's called, Hell's Ground.

Rivette: Duelle Jacques Rivette's Duelle (une quarantaine) "draws from classic genre films as much as it does from the canonized arthouse," writes Mike at Esotika Erotica Psychotica.

Craig Keller on CinderFella: "This 1960 film is the third work by Frank Tashlin to feature Jerry Lewis somnambulantly broadcasting the treasures of his dreams; therefore, it's Tashlin's most psychoanalytic film to date."

At Dr Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope, Scott Balcerzak finds a pleasingly "unspectacular" number featuring Eddie Cantor in the 1933 picture Roman Scandals: "Even if his suggestion to 'Build a Little Home' is intensely optimistic and trite, there is something comforting in watching a chorus of the Depression-era families encircle their populist comedic hero."

Marsha McCreadie in the New York Press on Dr Bronner's Magic Soapbox: "If you missed the whole thing first time around - the 1960s - here's a chance to catch up. For others it's a nostalgic hoot, even if they never used the all-purpose, 'all-one' soap."

Electroma "With zero dialogue and none of Daft Punk's own propulsive beats, Electroma has been met with some ire by critics and fans expecting one of the group's high-energy music videos, such as the Michel Gondry-directed 'Around the World' or Spike Jonze's 'Da Funk.'" But as Margaret Wappler reports for the Los Angeles Times, that's not what they were after.

David Lowery on A Mighty Heart: "[Angelina] Jolie was attached to the project before [Michael] Winterbottom was, which puts the entire film into perspective: it's not so much the work of an auteur as it is that of a celebrity doing her best to subjugate herself to her material."

J Robert Parks recommends The Boss of It All: "Fans of [Lars] von Trier's meta-approach will find much to appreciate." Also, Once: "Don't miss it."

"Drama/Mex is the best film Alejandro González Iñárritu never made," writes Paul Schrodt of this "lean, 93-minute picture of life's delicate dramas uncoiling before Acapulco's burnished vistas." Also at Slant, Rob Humanick: "Steadfast tradition and encroaching progress lock horns in the surprisingly cheerful Hula Girls."

Pointing to the TCM Movie Database, Dave Kehr asks, "Am I the last person in the world to notice that Turner Classic Movies has been quietly constructing a much-needed alternative to the error-plagued Internet Movie Database?"

For the Globe and Mail, Gayle Macdonald reports on the concerns of Canadian filmmakers and cinephiles as Alliance Atlantis prepares to sell its massive library to Goldman Sachs.

Online listening tip. Nobuhiro Hosoki takes part in a roundtable with Christian Bale at Hosokinema.

Orson Welles: The One Man Band Online viewing tip #1. Of the many offerings at the invaluable Ubuweb, wood s lot chooses to highlight Orson Welles: The One Man Band, directed by Vassili Silovic in 1995 in cooperation with Oja Kodar. Ubu: "Granted exclusive access to Welles's heretofore unseen archives - and drawing from almost two tons of film cans containing fragments, shorts, project ideas, and sketches - the filmmakers are led by Kodar through the rich but unfulfilled Welles legacy."

Online viewing tip #2. MoMA's one-minute video of Richard Serra's Torqued Ellipse IV (1998) and Intersection II (1992) being installed in the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, via Bryan Whitefield at ScreenGrab.

Online viewing tip #3. "New York City ate the identity of the Public Theater, in a way." Paula Scher: Type is Image, via Darren Hughes.

Online viewing tip #4. The trailer for David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises. Via MCN.

Online viewing tip #5. Anthony Kaufman introduces Incarcarex at the Daily Reel: "Created for the Drug Policy Alliance by Brooklyn-based artist Haik Hoisington, this brilliant and satirical faux ad-spot highlights the wonders of a fictitious drug."

Online viewing tips, round 1. Louis CK's got clips all over his site.

Online viewing tips, round 2. The films and videos of GJ Echternkamp, via Mark Frauenfelder at Boing Boing.

Online viewing tips, round 3. Phil Hoad's got some horror clips.

Online viewing tips, round 4. Jerry Lentz rounds up all sorts of things to spend time with.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:38 PM

Fests and events, 6/28.

Durban International Film Festival 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.

Bicycle Film Festival 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.

Exte 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 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.

San Francisco Silent Film Festival 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 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:46 PM | Comments (1)

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.

I Don't Want to Sleep Alone

David Lowery catches Tsai Ming-Liang's I Don't Want to Sleep Alone: "Once again, longing and the need for physical connection are Tsai's overriding themes, and one might ask how many hilariously awkward sex scenes between Lee [Kang-Sheng] and his usual costar Chen Siang-Chyi he can get away with before he starts repeating himself. But that's sort of the point, I think: Tsai is one of those directors who has found a way to circumvent traditional modes of progression. He swims ever deeper into the same waters, and his films, familiar as they might be, keep getting richer."

IndieWIRE profiles Scott Prendergast, whose debut feature, Kabluey, has premiered at the fest.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:02 PM

DVDs, 6/28.

La Jetée / San Soleil "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.

Thomas Mann Collection 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."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:32 PM

Books, 6/28.

Orwell Subverted 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."

Things I've Said, But Probably Shouldn't Have< "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.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:56 PM

Le Doulos.

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.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:28 AM

June 27, 2007

In Between Days.

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.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:18 PM | Comments (1)

iPhone.

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."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:46 AM

Live Free or Die Hard + summer movies.

Live Free or Die Hard "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."

Posted by dwhudson at 10:55 AM | Comments (1)

LAFF, 6/27.

The Fall "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.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:33 AM

New Romanians, 6/27.

How I Spent the End of the World "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."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:26 AM

BOMB's 100.

BOMB 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:10 AM | Comments (1)

June 26, 2007

Slate. Summer Movies.

Die Hard "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.

A Tragic Honesty 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:54 AM

"What is Animation?"

Warhol: Mickey 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."

Fantastic Planet "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."

Posted by dwhudson at 10:00 AM

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.

Ratatouille

"Pixar manages to achieve something that few other big Hollywood films do these days: a convincing reality. The body language & emotions of the characters, the machinations of the kitchen, the sights and sounds of Paris, and the dice of the celery, Ratatouille gets it all right, down to the seemingly insignificant details." So begins a must-read entry from Jason Kottke, referencing Meg Hourihan and Christopher Alexander's concept of the "quality without a name," put forward in his book, The Timeless Way of Building, and wondering out loud how director Brad Bird got the characters "(especially the rats)" acting more realistically than many actors in live action films.

Updated through 7/3.

"Ratatouille is Pinocchio for foodies," enthuses New York's David Edelstein. "It's Anthony Bourdain and Bill Buford with chases. Jaw-dropping chases: With a hero who's a rat and enchantingly light on his feet, the space is endlessly subdivided. The world is constantly opening up and whizzing by. Now we're dropping to the floor, flipping under a table, bursting through a crack, racing along a pipe... Bird clearly knows the great silent clowns: The slapstick he devises is balletic."

Earlier: "June 29."

Update, 6/27: Bird "deserves to be considered one of the most inspired storytellers at work in American movies," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice. "With Ratatouille, he takes the raw ingredients of an anthropomorphic-animal kiddie matinee and whips them into a heady brew about nothing less than the principles of artistic creation."

Updates, 6/28: "Brad Bird offers a luminous third feature act on the heels of his equally superb Iron Giant and The Incredibles and firmly ensconces himself as Hollywood's animated film laureate," writes Neil Morris in the Independent Weekly. "Here, the Parisian setting is the film's appetizer, an enchanting first course before an entrée of complex, even poignant life lessons."

"Although Ratatouille is a technical delight, right down to the texture of a freshly chopped red onion, there are times when its story falls surprisingly flat," writes Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper. "For all its technical wizardry, Pixar's chief achievement has been at the level of elementary storytelling.... Bird, by contrast, has taken sole writing credit on his two Pixar films, and they don't seem as finely honed."

For the Austin Chronicle, Marrit Ingman talks with Janeane Garofalo "about art, food, some spoilers from the film Variety anticipates will be 'a gastronomical success worldwide,' and why Christopher Hitchens and Ann Coulter are like Anton Ego, Ratatouille's evil critic." Also, a quicker chat with Patton Oswalt, the voice of Remy (pictured above).

In the Los Angeles Times, Susan King talks with Bird about how, when he took over, he rewrote the script and "re-rigged" the rats.

"Ratatouille moved me to tears because it was just so well-done - not kinda cute, not OK-for-a-kids'-movie, but a work of art crafted with as much passion and attention to detail as its hero, Remy the rat chef, puts into every vat of soup he makes," writes Dana Stevens at Slate. "And the animation, oh, the animation. Every hair in Remy's coat, a shimmering field of blues, grays, and greens, appears to have its own life.... I have no question that Ratatouille will be both a great critical success and a durable children's classic on DVD. But I wonder whether it will draw summer audiences to theaters in the numbers it should."

Online listening tip. Brad Bird and Patton Oswalt are guests on Fresh Air.

Updates, 6/29: "Ratatouille is a nearly flawless piece of popular art, as well as one of the most persuasive portraits of an artist ever committed to film," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "It provides the kind of deep, transporting pleasure, at once simple and sophisticated, that movies at their best have always promised."

"One of the great pleasures of Brad Bird's Ratatouille - just one of many in a picture that is itself about the rewards and the frustrations of seeking pleasure - is its inherent lightness, the way it seems wholly unaware that it's a grand achievement of animation, even though it is," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "Bird is one of the great modern animators - as well as an astonishingly gifted filmmaker, period - precisely because he doesn't set out to wow us."

"In addition to ranking among the greatest animated films in recent years, Ratatouille is a foodie movie on par with Big Night, and puts the first original spin on the Cyrano story since Steve Martin's Roxanne," writes Peter Hartlaub in the San Francisco Chronicle.

"If we are living in a golden age of animation - and we are - one of the reasons is writer-director Brad Bird," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times, where Susan King talks with Oswalt and Garofolo.

Tasha Robinson at the AV Club: "Ratatouille never hits the heights of The Incredibles, if only because it's operating on a much smaller and less mythic, culturally resonant stage, but it's solid enough to prove that Bird hasn't let success, critical or otherwise, go to his head."

It "will certainly be the best comedy of the year," claims Charles Mudede in the Stranger.

Update, 7/1: "Why are so many animated features bursting with wild imagination, coherent characters, glorious visualizing - all we should expect from film - and 'real' movies aren't?" asks Time's Richard Corliss. "[A]nimation directors don't get the respect they deserve," he argues, and quotes Brad Bird: "An animation director has never been nominated for best director. Ever. People don't understand what directors of animated films do."

Newsweek's David Ansen: "Brad Bird, the unconventional creator of The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, has come up with a film as rich as a sauce béarnaise, as refreshing as a raspberry sorbet, and a lot less predictable than the damn food metaphors and adjectives all us critics will churn out to describe it. OK, one more and then I'll be done: it's yummy."

"God bless Pixar for doing it the hard way," writes Bryant Frazer. "There's a new wave of banal, aggressively condescending talking-animal cartoons being shoveled out of the Hollywood CG-image factories these days, but Ratatouille is everything those films aren't and it's nothing that kids raised on lowest-common-denominator cartoon pablum expect."

Updates, 7/2: "It wasn't the home run launch of Pixar's biggest successes, but Ratatouille left Walt Disney Co's Pixar Animation Studios with an enviable Hollywood streak: eight movies, eight hits." Josh Friedman reports for the Los Angeles Times: "The G-rated tale of a young rat who dreams of becoming one of France's finest chefs took in $47.2 million in US and Canadian ticket sales to easily rank No 1 for the weekend, according to Sunday's studio estimates."

"Remy will succeed partly by emerging as an anti-Mickey and partly because the big guy has taken him under his arm," writes Troy Patterson after racing through a brief history of rodents on screen. Also at Slate, "Brad Bird, Animation Auteur," a slide show from Josh Levin.

Online viewing tip. "CG food has the potential to look... really disturbing?" Cooking up CG Food. Via Jason Kottke.

"Ratatouille is sweet and charming and I had a grin on my face and laughed throughout, but what does that really tell anyone?" wonders Daniel Kasman. "So perhaps I'll try to approach the movie from a different angle: Brad Bird's Ratatouille is the first Pixar film that feels like a studio film and not an event picture. If that doesn't sound like praise I assure you it is."

The other night, Jürgen Fauth and Marcy Dermansky pretended they weren't reviewers and had a grand time: "The crowd roared, gasped, and applauded on cue, clearly enjoying the ride, giving itself over to the movie. Like redeemed food critic Anton Ego (voice of Peter O'Toole), we were delighted not to be holding our pens. From where we were sitting, rumors of the death of the theater experience have been greatly exaggerated - as long as the movie's any good."

"I have seen 'serious' films that feel less believable than this fairy tale," writes Tom Hall. "Ratatouille is a tremendous accomplishment; An animated fable that feels more painstakingly true to life than most movies dare attempt."

Update, 7/3: Noel Murray at the AV Club: "[M]y only significant quibble with Ratatouille is that I don't think Bird really believes in the movie's most prevalent theme: 'Anyone Can Cook.' A cynical person might even say that Bird waves that theme around to quiet some of the outcry about The Incredibles, and to distract from the fact that Ratatouille says, essentially, the opposite."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:55 AM | Comments (1)

Ghosts of Cité Soleil.

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."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:17 AM

June 25, 2007

The Scientologists are among us.

Der Spiegel: Juli 20 1944 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:24 PM | Comments (16)

Shorts, 6/25.

DW Griffith's America "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."

Blade Runner

"25 years ago, the Ridley Scott film Blade Runner became an instant science fiction classic," writes Adam Savage for Popular Mechanics. "Set in a sodden, squalid Los Angeles of 2019, the neo-noir masterpiece influenced a generation of filmmakers and video-game designers. Long before I teamed up with Jamie Hyneman to form the MythBusters, I was a special-effects modelmaker, and Scott's cyberpunk gem almost instantly became the most important film in the canon of movies I love." Via Xeni Jardin, who's got more related linkage at Boing Boing. Related: Phillip Martin.

"Frank Oz transplants his sitcom sensibilities to the UK drawing-room comedy with Death at a Funeral, a strained farce in which lots of one-dimensional Brits converge at the memorial service for their family's patriarch and proceed to act like buffoons." Nick Schager at Slant.

Une Vieille Maitresse "With her feral magnetism, [Asia] Argento, 31, is indeed sexy and, for some, undoubtedly scary," writes Dennis Lim. "But her taste for the outré, easy to dismiss as provocation, hints at a deeper fearlessness, apparent in her headlong performances as well as in her willful career choices.... Ms Argento's latest films, which prompted festivalgoers to crown her the 'queen of Cannes, are the most generous showcases yet of her charms. An Old Mistress and Boarding Gate feature the trademarks that have made her an all-purpose mystery lady - her salacious scowl, her damaged-goods vulnerability, her unplaceable exoticism, her many tattoos - while also throwing fresh challenges in her path."

Also in the New York Times:

  • "Existentialism long ago went out of fashion," writes Adam Cohen. "But [Woody] Allen remains, in his way, one of its most prominent exponents. He has not let the increased religiosity of the times, or his own advancing years, shake his firmly held uncertainty." More from Scott Eyman in the New York Observer.

  • Dave Itzkoff meets Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, the screenwriting team behind Mission: Impossible III, Transformers and a projected Star Trek prequel. Kurtzman: "'It doesn't matter if people think what you're doing is camp,' he said. 'You have to take your genre seriously. If you write it tongue-in-cheek, the audience will see it, and they'll feel they're being talked down to. And,' he added, 'they'll kill you.'"

  • "National Lampoon is trying to escape its doldrums," reports Andrew Adam Newman, and now "plans to release four of its own movies annually and acquire up to eight more for distribution."

  • Michael Cieply: "Having already provoked parents, women's groups and the ratings board with explicit ads for the coming torture movie Captivity, [Courtney] Solomon and his After Dark Films now intend to introduce the film, set for release July 13, with a party that may set a new standard for the politically incorrect."

  • 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 Live Free or Die Hard.

  • The iPhone arrives on Friday and, "in Hollywood," reports Laura M Holson, "where [Steve] Jobs's convention-defying tactics are all too familiar, media executives are eagerly preparing for a new era as they hope to position more content where consumers want it: in their hands."

  • Allison Hope Weiner: "TMZ.com has become the celebrity handler's worst nightmare."

"[Werner] Herzog's new film is something of an event, being his first widely distributed feature since the early 1980s. Due out July 4, Rescue Dawn is another one of his fables about the dark recesses of human nature." Patrick Goldstein talks with him for the Los Angeles Times. Related: In New York, Logan Hill talks with Herzog, too, and David Edelstein finds Rescue Dawn "so good it makes you wish that Herzog had gone Hollywood earlier in his career."

Also in the LAT, John Clark profiles Dennis Farina and Susan King watches Cult Camp Classics.

Dore: Divine Comedy "[P]erhaps we should rightfully consider Brueghel, Bosch, Fuseli, Munch, Goya, Dore, Rembrandt and Dalí as vital forgers of horror culture," suggests Marco Lanzagorta at PopMatters.

The Guardian launches an annotated list of "1000 Films to See Before You Die," 200 a day for five days - and of course, a quiz. Andrew Pulver, blogging on how the list was put together, insists it's not about "great" films: "if it is moving, funny, clever, beautiful to look at, then it at least deserved consideration for our list."

Also:

  • Robert McKee's Story "could only have come out of America, birthplace of Fordism," writes Mark Ravenhill.

  • John Patterson: "I like to think of myself as a veteran of the gore-wars of the last 30 years, but I may finally have hit my tolerance threshold."

  • "Earlier reports had suggested it could be 15 years before Tarantino got round to making sequels to Kill Bill, but [producer Bennett] Walsh's comments, if confirmed, suggest the process might begin somewhat earlier than that."

  • Gavin Gaughan remembers Herman Stein: "As a staff composer at Universal Studios, he contributed to more than 200 films."

A touching tribute: Richard Harland Smith wishes his friend, Adrienne Shelly a happy birthday.

Sujewa Ekanayake talks with Jennifer Fox about Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman, a "six-part documentary that explores the life of Fox and her female friends around the world as they deal with major issues as well as minor challenges and interesting details that come their way. Among other situations, the movie deals with Fox's own debate regarding getting married and also regarding having children, her romantic relationships, a major illness of a friend, and a divorce of another friend."

Brand Upon the Brain! / Killer of Sheep Paul Matwychuk: "I talked with Guy Maddin last week about Brand Upon the Brain!, the chronic unreliability of Lou Reed and the universal evilness of children - and in the process he more than lived up to his reputation as one of the most entertaining interviewees in cinema today."

For Stop Smiling, Mark Asch reports on a recent screening of Killer of Sheep with Charles Burnett in attendance.

The latest from the Film Panel Notetaker: a Q&A with Revolution '67 filmmakers Marylou Tibaldo-Bongiorno and Jerome Bongiorno.

IndieWIRE interviews Taggart Siegel, director of The Real Dirt on Farmer John.

Shane Danielson talks with Eli Roth for the Independent.

Jason Whyte's list at Hollywood Bitchslap: "The Best Films of 2007 - So Far, Anyway..."

Nick Schager: "Bug is William Friedkin's best film in at least two decades, a compliment that must be tempered by the disclaimer that, after its first thirty minutes, this adaptation of Tracy Letts's stage play (written by Letts) begins to lose its sure-footing."

Twisted Sex Online purchasing tip. From Tim Lucas: "I recommend the Twisted Sex compilations, and also another equally fascinating comp called The Late Late Show, because - at their best - they are like archaeological digs into a buried world of lost, or nearly lost, cinema. No one who truly loves movies can fail to become absorbed in the revelations they have to show and tell us."

Online viewing tip. The Manny's not nearly as good as the story behind it, as told by Lauren Collins in the New Yorker. Much funnier than that video is Jack Handey's treatment: "My Nature Documentary."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:33 PM

Alamo Downtown Blog-a-Thon.

Alamo Drafthouse 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."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:19 PM

Fests and events, 6/25.

Sydney Film Festival 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.

NYAFF 07 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.

Strangers on a Train

Farley Granger will be "discussing his career - and no doubt his love affairs with such luminaries as Ava Gardner, Leonard Bernstein and Shelley Winters - at the American Cinematheque's Aero Theatre in Santa Monica on Wednesday after a screening of one of Granger's best-known films, the 1951 Alfred Hitchcock classic thriller Strangers on a Train," notes Susan King in the Los Angeles Times

Michael Guillén: "The morning after Frameline31's sold-out screening of Out at the Wedding at the Castro Theater, Mink Stole and I met over coffee at the Hotel Rex."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:29 AM

Evening.

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.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:16 AM

Sicko.

Michael Moore 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.

Pasadena Weekly: Michael Moore 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."

The Nation: Michael Moore "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."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:47 AM | Comments (1)

June 24, 2007

Online viewing tip. Leonard Retel-Helmrich.

Flaherty Seminar 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?

Posted by dwhudson at 3:21 PM

June 23, 2007

Weekend shorts.

Gruz 200 "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.

Gianni Schicchi 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.

Street Thief 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."

McCabe and Mrs Miller 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.

Chacun sa nuit "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."

Gigi "[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.

Documenta Magazine 1 "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."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:14 PM

Critics, weekend edition.

Roger Ebert "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.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:39 AM

Other fests, other events.

Sitges 07 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.

Projecting Time 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:01 AM

LAFFing weekend.

Billy the Kid "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.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:24 AM | Comments (3)

Platform. Preview.

Platform International Animation Festival "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.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:03 AM

HRWIFF + Manufactured Landscapes.

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.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:58 AM

June 22, 2007

NYAFF, 6/22.

Getting Home 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:48 PM

LAFF, 6/22.

Constantine's Sword 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:18 PM

Film Music Blog-a-Thon.

Danny Elfman: Batman 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)."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:45 AM

Colma: The Musical.

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."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:57 AM

June 21, 2007

Schwarzenberger. Berlin Alexanderplatz.

Berlin Alexanderplatz DVD 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:08 PM | Comments (2)

AFI 100. Again.

Citizen Kane 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:51 PM | Comments (6)

Black Sheep.

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."

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

LAW & LAT. LAFF.

LAFF 07 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:37 AM

1408.

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."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:43 AM

June 20, 2007

Broken English.

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.'"

Posted by dwhudson at 1:03 PM

You Kill Me.

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.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:52 PM | Comments (1)

Shorts, 6/20.

Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese 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:

Mon Amie Edith Piaf

  • Ginou Richer lived with Edith Piaf for 15 years - "sometimes she'd mother me, sometimes I'd mother her" - and served as a script consultant on La Vie en Rose. She tells Hannah Westley that Marion Cotillard "has it exactly, the way she walks, talks, her way of laughing."

  • "British women are flocking to Bollywood right now, desperate to be the next Aishwarya Rai," writes Wersha Bharadwa. "Despite the fact that few of them are fluent in Hindi or have an acting background, many producers and directors seem keen to cast them in leading roles, often over and above the thousands of Indian women who pour into Mumbai's Film City each month."

  • Mark Lawson talks with Matthew Macfadyen about, among other things, Frost/Nixon and keeping his flesh firm during the making of Pride & Prejudice: "[Y]ou don't want a flabby Darcy. But it was quite a shock. As soon as I wasn't in a scene, I'd be taken running round the park. And I was put on a low-fat diet. Every morning, this black cool-box would arrive with everything I was allowed to eat for the day. It was reassuring to find that I could get in shape quickly if I needed to, but it made you think about what women go through in this business."

Aaron Hillis on Longing: "Deceptively minimal, as if anticipated sequences were excised from the final cut, Valeska Grisebach's magnificent and moving chamber drama is a roaring mouse that offers ample room for extrapolation though its episodic editing, with Dardenne-style observations so astute that typically inexpressible passions and angst become raw and visible."

The Real Dirt on Farmer John Also in the Voice, Julia Wallace on the "absorbing" The Real Dirt on Farmer John.

"The most intriguingly circumscribed romance of the year," announces Ed Gonzalez at Slant, "In Between Days is also an oddly gripping show of sexual one-upmanship, and something of a fuck-you to reprocessed cheese like When Harry Met Sally that passes for an authentic depiction of the way genders relate to one another."

"The term 'sports film' doesn't do justice to the director Szabolcs Hajdu's movie White Palms, a punishing, beautiful drama about a troubled 30-something Hungarian gymnast who gets a job as a coach training 2001 Calgary Olympic hopefuls," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times. More from Aaron Hillis in the Voice.

Stanley Kauffmann in the New Republic on 12:08 East of Bucharest: "[Corneliu] Porumboiu's film, sadly funny though it sometimes is, is an act of daring in itself, challenging our expectations of drama in order to show us that, for most people most of the time, life is not dramatic; it is only - if they are lucky - sequential." Further down that same page, you'll find takes on Private Property and Ten Canoes.

Pretty Poison Some of the most important things a director can do are practically invisible even to specialists," writes Dan Sallitt. "Case in point: Pretty Poison, directed by Noel Black from a script by Lorenzo Semple, Jr.... Black has a pleasing penchant for serene long shots that not only place the characters squarely in the bucolic-but-industrial small town environment, but also give full play to Anthony Perkins's unique bodily grace."

Cheryl Eddy in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: "American Cannibal the documentary proves far more fascinating than American Cannibal the failed reality show ever could have been."

Dave Misevic posts notes on The Saragossa Manuscript, Day of the Jackal, Vanishing Point and Tristana.

In the L Magazine, Jason Bogdaneris reviews Anthem: An American Road Story, which features "some compelling footage with the likes of Studs Terkel, Hunter S Thompson or George McGovern, along with more obscure activist types who thankfully have a more cynically tinged view of 'The American Dream,'" and Nixon: A Presidency Revealed. Plus, Phillippe Aghion's DVD roundup.

"If celebrity is a credit card, then I'm using it," George Clooney tells Tina Daunt who asks him about his political activities for the Los Angeles Times.

David Thomson: Nicole Kidman For the Scotsman, Jackie Hunter talks with Nicole Kidman about turning 40. Via Movie City News.

The Independent's Paul Taylor has caught the ferociously expensive musical The Lord of the Rings: "Is it now the one show to rule them all? I wonder what the Elvish word is for 'no'."

"What's your personal best - or worst - of food movies? And why?" Variety's The Knife asks and the answers are pouring in.

YouTube on your iPhone? You bet. Reuters reports.

Online viewing tip #1. Harry Knowles points to the trailer for The King of Kong.

Online viewing tip #2. A rerun, yes, but Michael Tully recommends watching Four Eyed Monsters. For free. "As if these kids weren't already indie film trailblazers for the 21st Century, this month they have taken things to a whole 'nother level."

Online viewing tips, round 1. Phil Hoad gathers some colorful musical numbers.

Online viewing tips, round 2. More musical numbers. In this roundup from David Chute, they're from Bollywood classics. Via Anne Thompson.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:26 PM

Fests and events, 6/20.

Young Guns International Student Film Festival 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.

Hard Boiled 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:23 AM

HRWIFF, 6/20.

Enemies of Happiness 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."

Manufactured Landscapes "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.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:49 AM

Ambitious Failure Blog-a-Thon.

Francis Ford Coppola "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."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:24 AM | Comments (1)

Evan Almighty + summer movies.

Evan Almighty "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.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:15 AM

June 19, 2007

Shorts, 6/19.

James Baldwin: One Day When I Was Lost 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.

Victorian Narrative Painting 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.

Raining Stones "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.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:00 PM

Fests and events, 6/19.

Telecom 2007 New Zealand International Film Festivals 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.

Strange Culture 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:50 PM | Comments (5)

Lady Chatterley.

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.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:47 AM

June 29.

Ratatouille / Sicko 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.

Evening 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: Sick 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."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:48 AM

June 18, 2007

East German Cinema.

Die Mörder sind unter uns "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."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:11 PM

Shorts, 6/18.

Choking on Brando 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."

Twin Peaks 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 "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."

Blink 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:01 PM

Fests and events, 6/18.

Bertolucci Images "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."

Talk to Me 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 a related YouTube gallery his take: "For those who like to flex their brain, Man From Earth is a rewarding workout."

Matt Riveria asks "10 questions inspired by" the Sydney Film Festival.

Mark Bell wraps CineVegas for Film Threat.

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

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.

NYAFF 07

Park Chan-wook "is a prodigious pop filmmaker, and while I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK doesn't zip along like his earlier work, it offers a snappy, sun-soaked view of the shelter from an unkind world," writes Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog.

Also: "The Banquet, directed by Feng Xiaogang, is a Gertrude-centric Hamlet transposed to tumultuous 10th century China and cut through with generous dollops of balletic, wired-assisted fight scenes. It's a categorically sumptuous film — from cavernous palace halls to the elegant unfurling of blood in forest stream, there's no chance at visual extravagance passed up. It's not enough to make up for the film's almost complete lack of vitality, but it sure is nice to look at."

Aachi & Ssipak At Cinema Strikes Back, David Austin gives 3 out of 4 stars each to Johnnie To's Exiled and Jo Boem-jin's Aachi & Ssipak.

ST VanAirsdale notes that the Reeler is "a proud sponsor... like 'really proud,' like if I had a respectable kitchen I'd cater lunch for Grady Hendrix and the gang every day for two weeks to pitch in one less thing they'd have to sweat."

Logan Hill has a touch more on the fest in New York.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:18 PM

SIFF Dispatch. 4.

Sean Axmaker wraps the Seattle International Film Festival, "the longest, largest and most well-attended film festival in the country."

Seattle International Film Festival 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.

Sex and Death 101

I did, however, catch up with the World Premiere of Sex and Death 101, a deviously dark comedy written and directed by Heathers screenwriter Daniel Waters, who wrote the role of an avenging dark angel known as "Death Nell" for Winona Ryder. True to the title, there is plenty of both sex and death as "devilishly handsome" bachelor Simon Baker discovers an email featuring the names of every woman he ever slept with and, apparently, every woman he will sleep with, and watches his spiral from tomcatting euphoria to out-of-control sexaholic to depressed prisoner of fate dreading the next joke of destiny the list spring on him. Audiences seemed divided on the film, either loving or loathing it, while to me either response seems excessive for a film that lacks the conviction of the often hilarious route it takes: sexual degradation and alternately spurned and embraced idealism with regard to true love and parenthood.

The most engaging production I watched all week was the delicious discovery A Cottage on Dartmoor, a dynamic 1929 dramatic thriller from the end of the silent era (the film cheekily has characters go on a date to a soundie) and the most visually expressive film I've ever seen from the career of Anthony Asquith (who makes a cameo as a man in Harold Lloyd glasses). It played at Telluride last year and is headed for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in July, where it looks like it will be the find of the fest.

Noir City in Seattle

San Francisco's "Czar of Noir" Eddie Muller was also back with a film noir double feature that included a newly restored print of Joseph H Lewis's The Big Combo, one of the toughest and most visually striking noirs every made. The evening was in many ways a promise of things to come, as SIFF Cinema will launch its new calendar of year-round programming with the Muller's Noir City festival, 14 films in seven nights in what has become a traveling package hosted by Muller himself. The program can be found here.

Molière

Closing night film Molière, directed by Laurent Tirard and starring Romain Duris as the shabby young pre-playwright actor Molière in flouncy duds and a disastrous mane of shaggy black hair, is a tiresome attempt at a French Shakespeare in Love that inadvertently offers up perfect self-critiques in its own text. "This is like a bad play," complains one character forced to play out a farce within the farce, while another proclaims: "I know what touches me and I know what bores me." I do, too.

Molière brought to close (symbolically if not quite literally, as screenings continued in the final 9:30 pm slot) the longest, largest and most well-attended film festival in the country. This year programming grew to a record 405 features, documentaries and short films over 25 days; attendance was up once again, and box-office grew by an estimated 6 percent.

Outsourced

Audiences watched globally but voted locally when it came to the Golden Space Needle awards, handing out Best Film to Seattle filmmaker John Jeffcoat's Outsourced [site], a locally produced comedy shot in India (appropriately). "Hometown boy makes good" may have been a stronger motivation that the production itself, which I found to be too cute, conventionally colorful and utterly predictable in its tepid tale of the culture clash between an American call center manager and his India crew. Jeffcoat was also a runner-up in the Best Director category, which went to another American director, Daniel Waters. Best Documentary went to For the Bible Tells Me So [site], an examination of the campaign by religious conservatives to stigmatize the gay community, which just beat out the audience-pleasing first runner-up King of Kong, another Seattle-connected production.

Cannes and Venice and other top festivals have their critics polls and FIPRESCI awards. SIFF has the "Fool Serious Awards," an independent poll run by and limited to the Full Series Passholders, which gives a fan's eye take from the more obsessive members of the audience. Over 160 ballots were collected, counted and run through a program to determine "Likability Ratings." Neither Outsourced nor Sex and Death 101 made the top 10 (in fact, Sex and Death fell into the negative numbers of the likability scale), whereas the German drama Emma's Bliss [site], the East African-set Sounds of Sand [site], the Edith Piaf biopic La vie en Rose [site] and another German film, Four Minutes [site], topped the "Most Liked" list. Passholders did agree with the general audience, however, on For the Bible Tells Me So as top documentary (it scored the second highest likability rating of the list).

A complete list of "Golden Space Needle" winners, runners-up and special mentions can be found here.

I was also invited to write the Festival wrap for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, where I delved into a few other aspects of SIFF. That's one of the reasons I hit burnout earlier in the week, though I still came out having seen a respectable 66 films. Of course, that's still only about 20 percent of the features in the program.


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.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:11 AM

A Mighty Heart.

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."

Newsweek: Angelina Jolie 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."

Esquire: Jolie 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.

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

Brooklyn Rail. June 07.

Many Faces of Chika "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."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:20 AM | Comments (3)

June 17, 2007

SIFF. Awards.

Seattle 07 The Seattle International Film Festival has announced the Jury Award and Golden Space Needle Audience Award winners. From the Jury:

Audiences have voted to give the Lena Sharpe Award to Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern's The Devil Came on Horseback. Also:

And here's the full list of winners and runners-up.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:51 PM | Comments (1)

Silverdocs. Awards.

Silverdocs 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:06 PM

Observer, 6/17.

The Observer 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.

M Hulot's Holiday 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."

A Thing of Unspeakable Horror "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...

Laura Cumming sends in a dispatch from the Venice Biennale, good enough reason to mention a few others: Randy Kennedy and Michael Kimmelman (New York Times), Richard Lacayo (Time), Walter Robinson (Artnet) and Linda Yablonsky and Sarah Thornton (Artforum).

Posted by dwhudson at 8:37 AM | Comments (1)

June 16, 2007

Weekend shorts.

John Ford "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."

Michael Tolliver Lives 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.

Emmanuelle 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:52 PM

Weekend fests and events.

Crazy Thunder Road 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."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:51 AM

June 15, 2007

Shorts, 6/15.

Evening "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.

Bug 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.

Sansho the Bailiff "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:

Strike

  • "There is a delicious poetic justice in the way [Volker] Schlöndorff, in telling part of the story of Poland's Solidarity movement, has used some of the crude, effective techniques of Socialist realism to depict the collapse of socialism," writes AO Scott. "He calls [Strike] 'a ballad inspired by true events,' and its occasional bouts of clumsiness and sentimentality are inseparable from its power." More from Nicole Ankowski at Nerve. Related: Jeff Reichert interviews Schlöndorff for Reverse Shot.

  • Manohla Dargis: "As a music document and as a labor of unabashed love, the nonfiction feature Gypsy Caravan could hardly be better; as a movie, it could stand some improvement."

  • "And Then Came Love is "an inept romantic comedy that for reasons known only to God drew Vanessa Williams, Eartha Kitt, Ben Vereen and Stephen Spinella into its swamp of clichés," writes Stephen Holden. Also, Czech Dream.

  • Matt Zoller Seitz: "Unborn in the USA is billed as a rigorously objective look at the anti-abortion movement, and that's accurate - but only to a point." More from Nerve's Bilge Ebiri: "[O]ne of the best documentaries released so far this year, and regardless of your stance in the abortion debate, you owe it to yourself to see it."

  • Matt again: "Beyond Hatred, a documentary about a murder victim's family struggling to heal, is an example of a film whose style doesn't merely suit its story but amplifies its meanings."

  • "Any attempt to elucidate the most vitriolic turf dispute of our time in just 73 minutes may seem insanely ambitious, but Isidore Rosmarin, the documentary filmmaker and producer, was not deterred," writes Jeannette Catsoulis. "In Blood and Tears: The Arab-Israeli Conflict, he methodically traces the battle from its biblical origins to the fragile present through the eyes of everyone from fundamentalist Muslims to committed Zionists."

Tell No One The Telegraph's Tim Robey reviews Tell No One ("one of the most glossily pleasurable French imports in some time"), Opening Night ("30 years old and hasn't aged a day"), Vacancy (an "irritatingly cheapjack snuff-horror thriller"), Exiled ("[Johnnie] To proves himself the snazziest choreographer of those coats-flapping, bullets-flying, aerial-view slo-mo showdowns since John Woo left the continent"), Frankie ("borderline unwatchable") and Messages: "Quite the worst supernatural thriller ever made starring Jeff Fahey. This is saying something."

"I found Johnny To's last film, Election, to be clotted and slow-moving, with characters who were humourlessly drawn," writes Peter Bradshaw. "But [Exiled] is miraculously different, with a gang of five whose thumbnail-sketched identities are delineated with great efficiency, and differentiated quite well enough for their lives to be interesting and exciting."

Also in the Guardian, Andrew Pulver interviews Charlotte Gainsbourg and Ryan Gilbey notes that there sure are a lot of remakes out there.

The Independent explains all:

  • James Mottram on "How Ioan Gruffudd is embracing Tinseltown."

  • Geoffrey Macnab on "How Marlon Brando was tamed."

  • Hannah Duguid on "How a film about monks has become a surprise arthouse hit."

    Ryan Gilbey reviews The War on Democracy for the New Statesman: "The documentary is essentially a compilation of US atrocities - a kind of Now That's What I Call Human Rights Violations."

    El Violin "A number of Mexican film critics have pronounced [Francisco Vargas's El violín] an unalloyed masterpiece," reports Reed Johnson. "One prominent Mexican journalist, Carmen Aristegui, said it ranked among 'the most important movies that have been produced in our country in the last years.' Yet because Hollywood movies dominate the multiplexes, it has taken Vargas more than a year to bring his film to his native land."

    Also in the Los Angeles Times:

    "Some films seem to be made with a view to narcissistic pleasure, totally without productivity. If one doesn't bring along one's euphoria, the films themselves are nothing." From this quote from Rivette, Ray Pride segues into The Sopranos.

    Jhoom Barabar Jhoom "A cast including some of India's biggest film icons, supported by more than 1,000 extras and 400 dancers, descended on the capital to film a movie described as 'a madcap chick flick.'" For the Evening Standard, Louise Jury reports on this weekend's opening of the London-set Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (Dance Baby Dance).

    From Time readers: 10 questions for Al Pacino. Rebecca Winters Keegan hosts the audio version.

    Jennifer Merin talks with Jennifer Baichwal about Manufactured Landscapes for the Reeler.

    More interviews: Mike Goodridge (Evening Standard) with Angelina Jolie - related: The Daily Show News: "Angelina Jolie Responds to Allegations of Media Censorship" - and Cassandra Jardine with Kristin Scott Thomas.

    Adam Ross's interviewee this week: Peter Nellhaus.

    "[W]e are all post-Freudians now: we have lost our innocence. We are too knowing." Fay Weldon mourns the loss of romance on the screen and launches the London Times' romantic films contest.

    Online listening tip. Spout talks mumblecore.

    The Picture the Photographer Took Online viewing tip #1. "What the First Moviegoers Saw," a slide-show essay by Jana Prikryl at Slate.

    Online viewing tip #2. Jerry Lentz finds a BBC profile of Woody Allen. Interesting Q&A about death at the end of Part 1.

    Online viewing tip #3. "This Fall on Fox, indie queen Parker Posey hits the small screen to star in The Return of Jezebel James, a new sitcom by Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino." James Israel has a clip. Ehhh....

    Online viewing tip #4. Ted Z finds Michel Gondry on MTV's Cribs.

    Online browsing and viewing tip. The CR Blog's stills from the Live Earth Films.

    Posted by dwhudson at 1:02 PM | Comments (3)
  • Fests and events, 6/15.

    Pierrot le fou 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.

    AAIFF 07 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.

    Posted by dwhudson at 10:53 AM

    June 14, 2007

    Shorts, 6/14.

    Kantoku Banzai! / Dai Nipponjin "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.

    Transylvania International Film Festival "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:

    Dr Seltsam

    • Paul Malcolm: "Both a testament to Kubrick's abilities and a sad reminder of Hollywood's current vacuum, the 43-year-old Dr Strangelove - digitally restored and presented in brilliant 4K digital projection - just may be the summer's best film."

    • "[D]espite its small scale, a premise that recalls (of all things) the 1993 Ivan Reitman comedy Dave, and the best efforts of its own maker to disparage its significance, The Boss of It All finds [Lars] von Trier once more staking out new - if somewhat troubling - formal ground," writes Scott Foundas.

    • The Treatment "is richest when it zooms in on the testy co-dependence between analyst and analysand," writes Ella Taylor. "It's high time for a comedy about the decline and fall of traditional psychoanalysis, a hermetically sealed, outrageously high-priced enterprise that, in its most egregious forms, strands clients in years of fruitless theorizing about their monster moms and dads instead of encouraging them to move forward with their lives."

    Nick Schager at Slant on Black Sheep: "Sadly, [Jonathan] King's debut offers a cheeky premise but little payoff, its humor so listlessly broad and its bloodshed so tepidly tongue-in-cheek that most of the post-set-up action feels like an exercise in going through the motions."

    Salon's Andrew O'Hehir talks with Volker Schlöndorff about Strike and reviews other offerings "Beyond the Multiplex":

    • "I think the best thing I can say on behalf of Jasmine Dellal's thoroughly wonderful Gypsy Caravan is that I was thrilled and transported by it. It's a two-hour movie, and I'm only sorry it isn't two or three times as long. Let me read your thoughts: You're not much interested in Gypsy music, and the historical and cultural stuff might be pretty dry. That's what I thought too: Wrong and wrong."

    • Unborn in the USA: "Whatever your personal feelings or political opinions on abortion, [Stephen] Fell and [Will] Thompson's film is likely to make you feel wretched."

    • And Czech Dream is "in some ways my favorite film of the week."

    Sweet Land "Far and away the best Amerindie I've seen in the past year - winner of the Independent Spirit Award for Best Debut Feature, it was No 3 on my 10-best list for 2006 - [Sweet Land] gives new meaning to 'American independent' by reclaiming the term's original meaning and promise," writes Godfrey Cheshire. Also in the Independent Weekly: Neil Morris on the "mature but thematically bloated" Jindabyne.

    "In time, Breach may well be esteemed as one of the best films of 2007, but for now it is a 'disappointment' that went to DVD in four months." For ScreenGrab, DK Holm calls up FBI agent Eric O'Neill (portrayed in the film by Ryan Phillippe) to talk about why Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper) betrayed the Bureau.

    Two profiles via Movie City News: Michael O'Sullivan with Elliott Gould for the Washington Post and David Michael with Danny Huston for the Sydney Morning Herald.

    Janet Maslin reviews Mere Anarchy for the New York Times: "Just as [Woody] Allen brought his own New York with him when he recently began making films in Europe, so he has sustained a writing style that remains impervious to the changing world around him."

    For the Times Literary Supplement, John Stokes reviews three books on performing Shakespeare.

    "With a budget of around £25m, The Lord of the Rings is the most expensive musical ever produced in the West End," writes Paul Arendt in the Guardian. Now, "after three years of development, a lengthy dry run in Toronto and an unprecedented six weeks of London previews, [it's] ready to face the critics."

    Stefan Ruzowitzky (Anatomy, The Counterfeiters) is now shooting a kids' film, Lilli the Witch. Bénédicte Prot reports for Cineuropa.

    Sam Adams rounds up the best of recent DVD releases; also in the Philadelphia City Paper: Ted Hesson on From Mambo to Hip Hop: A Bronx Tale, screening today, and Cindy Fuchs on Brand Upon the Brain!

    "Waterloo Bridge (1931), Red-Headed Woman (1932) and Baby Face (1933) feature three working class women who use men to better themselves economically and/or socially," writes Charles Bogle at the WSWS. "The cover on the set promises the 'nudity, adultery, and prostitution' that made Hollywood enforce its production code, but this viewer is more inclined to believe that the three movies' greatest threat to the Code's commandments was their portrayal of a society riven by economic and social inequality and the narrow range of options for advancement available to a working class woman."

    Army of Shadows Army of Shadows is, of course, " not a sequence of illustrations," writes Michael Wood in the London Review of Books. "It just looks like one for a while as it discreetly and elegantly turns into something else: a portrait not of the work of the Resistance but of the workers."

    Peter Nellhaus on The Two of Us: "[T]he story is less important than the pleasure of watching Michel Simon on screen."

    Eric Kohn in the New York Press on Hostel: Part II: "Sadly, the director's proven creative finesse has given way to boring self-imitation." More from Dennis Cozzalio. Meanwhile, Jennifer Merin previews the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, opening today and running through June 28.

    Online listening tip. Joel Heller opens his Silverdocs coverage with "a podcast interview with director Cynthia Wade, who's latest doc Freeheld will screen as part of Shorts Program 3 on Friday afternoon and Sunday night."

    Online viewing tip. Karen Russell lays out a campaign's options when faced with a fake fan video like I Got a Crush... On Obama.

    Posted by dwhudson at 8:28 AM

    Fido.

    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.

    Posted by dwhudson at 7:25 AM

    Lights in the Dusk.

    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."

    Posted by dwhudson at 7:16 AM

    Eagle vs Shark.

    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."

    Posted by dwhudson at 7:06 AM

    Nancy Drew.

    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."

    Posted by dwhudson at 6:55 AM | Comments (1)

    June 13, 2007

    Shorts, 6/13.

    Without Love 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.

    Noriko's Dinner Table "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.

    Las Meninas 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."

    Posted by dwhudson at 4:08 PM

    Docs, 6/13.

    Czech Dream "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:

    • Jim Ridley on Gypsy Caravan: "This joyous portrait of the 2001 'Gypsy Caravan' tour - a stateside showcase of Romani musicians representing their culture as splintered across Romania, Macedonia, Spain, and India - deserves to have its brilliant colors, lavish costumes, and vivacious musical numbers seen on the big screen." In Slant, Nick Schager concurs.

    • "That we never see the faces of the victim nor the murderers in Beyond Hatred is a fascinating component to director Olivier Meyrou's experiment in concentrated humanism," writes Aaron Hillis.

    • Julia Wallace finds Unborn in the USA "too focused, too unwilling to waver from its mission of taking us inside the pro-life movement, even when it turns out that it's a pretty boring place to be."

    Back in Slant, Arthur Ryel-Lindsey finds that Glastonbury "nicely captures the wide variety of the festival" and Keith Uhlich reviews Manufactured Landscapes: "The work of still-photographer Edward Burtynsky is the film's ostensible subject, but [director Jennifer] Baichwal is more concerned with macro-meditating on the quickly deteriorating state of planet Earth."

    Michael Guillén listens in on (and takes part in) a Q&A with Enough Man director Luke Woodward.

    "Black Gold is the best film on trade policy you are likely to see," advises the Guardian. Also:

    • "The War on Democracy is my first film for cinema," announces John Pilger, who's made 55 television documentaries and recalls Richard Nixon's remarking of all of Latin America, "'No one gives a shit about the place.' The War On Democracy is meant as an antidote to this."

    Sicko
    • Ed Pilkington: Sicko's "release in the UK later in the summer may come as a reminder to the British that, despite the faults of the NHS, the provision of free healthcare is something to be fought for. And perhaps a warning against the creeping privatisation of the health service, too." Related: "Blending a movie premiere and a political rally with a savvy that even Gov Arnold Schwarzenegger might admire," Michael Moore took the doc to Sacremento yesterday, reports Jordan Rau in the Los Angeles Times. And Alison Willmore gathers more related items at the IFC Blog.

    "Two new documentaries about Abu Ghraib - Rory Kennedy's Ghosts of Abu Ghraib and Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein's The Prisoner; or, How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair - recently hit DVD shelves, and they should be required viewing for all American citizens," writes Anthony Kaufman at the Huffington Post:

    Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Errol Morris is hard at work on his own Abu Ghraib/Iraq War doc, S.O.P.: Standard Operating Procedure, which is supposed to come out in time to make an impact on the 2008 elections. It would be about time. If torture doesn't work, eliciting wrongful confessions and going against universally recognized principles of human rights, why do 1/3 of American troops still support torture in Iraq, as last month's study on "Battlefield Ethics" by the US Army Medical Command shows? Education is needed, both among the American people and its generals. A few good documentaries may not be enough to change policy, but at least they're a start.

    "The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) are pleased to announce that twenty filmmakers have been chosen to attend the seventh annual CPB/PBS Producers Workshop to be held at WGBH in Boston, June 16 - 22, 2007."

    Posted by dwhudson at 3:21 PM | Comments (1)

    Fests and events, 6/13.

    Karlovy Vary 07 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."

    The Thing 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."

    Posted by dwhudson at 2:59 PM

    It's Only a Movie.

    It's Alive "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."

    Posted by dwhudson at 2:11 PM | Comments (2)

    Online viewing tip. Donald Cammell: The Ultimate Performance.

    Jagger + Cammell "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.

    Posted by dwhudson at 1:13 PM

    Man Booker. Chinua Achebe.

    Things Fall Apart "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."

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:35 AM

    Frameline 31.

    The Witnesses 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.

    Born in Flames 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.

    Posted by dwhudson at 8:28 AM

    New Romanians.

    Reconstruction "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.'"

    Posted by dwhudson at 6:52 AM

    Open Roads. Dispatch 7.

    Primo Levi's Journey 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.

    Italian Cinema 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.

    Posted by dwhudson at 1:21 AM

    June 12, 2007

    Action Heroine Blog-a-Thon.

    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."

    Posted by dwhudson at 2:18 PM

    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:

    An Unreasonable Man

    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.

    Posted by dwhudson at 1:44 PM | Comments (1)

    Shorts, 6/12.

    Beyond Hate "[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."

    The Cabinet of Dr Caligari 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:

    Dalí, Surrealism and Cinema Kamera's Antonio Pasolini talks with Elliott H King about his book, Dalí, Surrealism and Cinema.

    "Alberto Cavallone is a virtually unknown director who created a handful of incredibly potent films between 1969 and 1983," writes Mike at Esotika Erotica Psychotica. "His work is (somewhat) notoriously political and nihilistic; he seems to approach his films as conduits for his extreme, somewhat anarchic ideas, and his films are often incredibly difficult and enigmatic. Eventually, according to one of the only English language articles on the director (which is available here), he ended up directing 'gritty underground porn.' Within the context of what I know of his filmography, La Gemella Erotica is somewhat of an anomaly."

    For MSN, Jim Emerson lists 10 "Movies That Shook the World."

    Responding to yesterday's LAT piece on the studios' fear of Apple TV, Scott Kirsner asks, "What's So Scary About iTunes?"

    Posted by dwhudson at 7:37 AM

    Silverdocs, 6/12.

    Silverdocs 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.

    Posted by dwhudson at 7:05 AM

    Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer + summer movies.

    Fantastic Four</a>: Rise of the Silver Surfer 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."

    Posted by dwhudson at 6:17 AM

    June 11, 2007

    Primer. New Austrian Film.

    Crash Test Dummies "[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.

    Posted by dwhudson at 3:00 PM

    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.

    Billo 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.

    Schopenhauer 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.

    Posted by dwhudson at 2:36 PM

    Shorts, 6/11.

    The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test 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."

    City of Ember "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:

    • "I recently indulged in an orgy of watching horror DVDs, including several over Memorial Day weekend while my family was at the beach," confesses Charles McGrath. At least he got something out of it, which he passes along to us: "[C]ertain themes, devices and principles stand out, and may serve as a guide, or a warning, to viewers contemplating a similar splurge."

    • Hasbro, the company that makes Transformers, has just switched talent agencies, leaping from Creative Artists to William Morris, which represents Transformers director Michael Bay. Again, Michael Cieply: "So it goes in the new Hollywood. Loyalty stops at the bottom line, and even the most powerful of agencies is finding it can be tougher to meet the needs of a corporate customer than to baby-sit for a temperamental star."

    • Patricia Cohen: "Richard Rorty, whose inventive work on philosophy, politics, literary theory and more made him one of the world's most influential contemporary thinkers, died Friday in Palo Alto, Calif. He was 75." More from Waggish.

    Art and Visual Perception The DPA reports that media theorist and perceptual psychologist Rudolf Arnheim died at the age of 102 on Saturday.

    The Literary Saloon: "As widely noted, translator-from-the-German Michael Hamburger passed away last week. See now obituaries in the Telegraph and the Times."

    Brian Darr has been watching movies, anticipating movies, and is now once again writing about movies.

    Girish creates a "Pedro Costa One-Stop."

    While the Observer presents a guide to British acting talent on the boards, Liz Hoggard looks ahead in the Independent to a new generation of British film actors "who may just be the saviours of the Hollywood film industry." Oh, good! "They include actors well on the way to becoming household names, such as James McAvoy and Emily Blunt, and up-and-coming performers such as Sacha Dhawan and Hayley Atwell."

    Otherwise Engaged For Vanessa Thorpe, reviewing Donald Spoto's latest biography for the Observer, Otherwise Engaged: The Life of Alan Bates "makes it clear that the point about Bates, both as a man and actor, is how completely he embodied the vital cultural revolution of the 1960s, with its emphasis on truth, complexity and the 'real' world. He was a sophisticated matinee idol, sure, but of a gritty, emotional kind."

    Flickhead's holding onto his VHS copy of Psych-Out; it's seven minutes longer than the version you'll see on DVD. "From the coffee houses and galleries to crash pads and be-ins, we encounter the giggling burn-out (Max Julien, one toke over the line when proclaiming 'Owsley is a saint!'), the beads-and-sandals realist (underrated b-movie player Adam Roarke), a capitalist-in-denial with control issues (pony-tailed Jack Nicholson as 'Stoney'), a jittery poster artist (Henry Jaglom, taking a circular saw to his wrist during a lysergic meltdown), and the cosmic intellectual (an absolutely mesmerizing Dean Stockwell, one step ahead of 'the plastic hassle'). Even the police, er, uh, pigs are represented, headed by a young Garry Marshall who sighs, 'I can't wait until this costume party is over!'"

    So what's up with The Hobbit? Kristin Thompson rounds up the latest.

    In Venice, on his way back to the main Biennale, Time's Richard Lacayo comes across a video installation by Bill Viola in a church on the Campo San Gallo. "I have mixed feelings about his work, big, portentous, slow motion videos in which we're approached by figures who feel out our need for transcendence the way Christmas cards feel out our need for seasonal warmth.... [I]t's devotional art, and of an indiscriminate kind. But to see it in a church, in this world poised between the fanatically religious and the radically desanctified, is something that will stay with me for a while."

    The Treatment "In The Treatment, an adaptation of Daniel Menaker's 1998 novel about an emotionally crippled New York English teacher in psychoanalysis, a self-described 'last great Freudian' sums up the malaise of his patient Jake Singer, played by beloved indie regular Chris Eigeman, thusly: 'You make from the world a banal comedy, and you are a spectator.'" Adam Baer profiles Eigeman. Related: NYT Book Review senior editor Dwight Garner explains why Menaker may have more time now to write another novel.

    Also in the Los Angeles Times, Dawn C Chmielewski and Michelle Quinn: "Some movie fans hope Apple TV will do for Internet video what the iPod did for digital music. That's precisely what some Hollywood executives are afraid of."

    Filmmaker's running Braden King's Sundance Lab diary.

    Charles Rector's been reviewing film blogs. Here's one in full: "GreenCine Daily is a vulgar, left wing anti-American blog that covers movies and movie news. Special interest is in so-called 'independent' movies."

    Online viewing tip #1. Orson Whales. "One of the Daily Reel's favorite avant-garde filmmakers, Alex Itin, is at it again with this dizzying mashed-up tribute to famed director Orson Welles (Citizen Kane) and Herman Melville's classic novel Moby Dick."

    Online viewing tip #2. Joe Leydon asks, "Who is this guy?"

    Online viewing tip #3. The trailer for Control, via Coudal Partners, also pointing to the Daily Swarm's story on the Joy Division sneakers.

    Posted by dwhudson at 1:57 PM

    Fests and events, 6/11.

    A Cottage on Dartmoor "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 Blob

    • "On July 13 - a Friday, no less - the Blob makes a homecoming of sorts at BlobFest, a two-day rolling carnival of horror in downtown Phoenixville [PA], where part of the movie was filmed," writes Franz Lidz. "With about 5,000 people expected this year, attendance keeps swelling, much as the Blob once did."

    • Stuart Klawans previews the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, running Friday through June 28 at the Walter Reade: "A verifiable theme — a highly appropriate one too — has come together at this festival's core, in films that both praise and challenge the role of photography in human rights."

    • Jason Zinoman previews It's Only a Movie: Horror Films From the 1970s and Today, a series running at the Museum of the Moving Image from Saturday through July 22: "The retrospective is based on the idea that the renaissance of scary movies, sometimes called torture porn, has been inspired by the golden age of horror, when mainstream directors like Brian De Palma and Stanley Kubrick made some of their finest work and genre masters like Tobe Hooper, John Carpenter, David Cronenberg and [Wes] Craven (all of whom are represented in the festival) got their start."

    Annaliese Griffin listened in on the Four Independents That Turned the Tide panel at BAM - Albert Maysles, Barbara Kopple, Nick Broomfield and Raoul Peck - and reports back to the Reeler. And the Film Panel Notetaker has, well, notes on an evening with Maysles.

    Brand Upon the Brain! "I wish I could provide an objective perspective on Guy Maddin's Brand Upon the Brain!, but the experience of seeing it on the big screen at the Egyptian, with the orchestral accompaniment, the foley artists and Barbara Steel's magnificent narration was such an ecstatic one that you probably should take it at face value when I say that the film may well be Maddin's masterpiece (Heart of the World aside, of course)," writes David Lowery. "At the same time, I don't think there's even been a more perfect presentation of the man's work; the pure theatricality, the showmanship of the live performance elevates Maddin's style to delirious new heights."

    More on Cannes from Hannah Eaves at PopMatters.

    Online viewing tip #1. Todd points to the trailer for the New York Asian Film Festival from Twitch.

    Online viewing tip #2. At Bad Lit, Mike has the trailer for the Sydney Underground Film Festival.

    Posted by dwhudson at 11:40 AM | Comments (3)

    The Tonys.

    The Coast of Utopia "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."

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:10 AM

    Sopranos finale.

    The Sopranos "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."

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:06 AM | Comments (12)

    Ousmane Sembène, 1923 - 2007.

    Ousmane Sembène
    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."

    Posted by dwhudson at 12:09 AM | Comments (1)

    Open Roads. Dispatch 5.

    In Memory of Me 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.

    See Naples and Die 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.

    Posted by dwhudson at 12:05 AM | Comments (1)

    June 10, 2007

    Fassbinder's legacy @ 25.

    Rainer Werner Fassbinder "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.

    Despair 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.

    Lili Marleen 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.

    Berlin Alexanderplatz 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."

    Posted by dwhudson at 2:18 PM | Comments (6)

    The Tiger's Tail.

    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."

    Posted by dwhudson at 2:12 PM | Comments (3)

    SIFF Dispatch. 3.

    Sean Axmaker pays tribute to a lasting accomplishment of the Seattle International Film Festival.

    Max Havelaar

    Filmmaker Dan Ireland (The Whole Wide World, Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont) returned to the festival he co-founded in 1976 to pay tribute to Fons Rademakers, the Oscar-winning Dutch director who died earlier this year, with a revival screening of Max Havelaar (1976), the film many consider to be Rademakers's masterpiece. In the process, Ireland threw a spotlight on perhaps the most important legacy of the Seattle International Film Festival: its support and discovery of new Dutch cinema in the 1970s and earlier 1980s.

    In a way, Max Havelaar, shown at the second annual SIFF, started it all. The festival had shown Paul Verhoeven's Katie Tippel in the inaugural festival, but this production established a legacy of seeking out films from the Netherlands. Founders Ireland and Darryl Macdonald helped get the film distributed in the United States (it played for 22 weeks straight in Seattle alone) and formed a lasting friendship with director/producer Fons Rademakers. By 1979, SIFF was launching the American premieres of films by Rademakers and other Dutch directors, among them Paul Verhoeven's Spetters and The Fourth Man, and in 1986 SIFF audiences awarded the Golden Space Needle award to another Rademakers film making its American premiere. The Assault went on to win the Academy Award for Best foreign Language Film.

    Max Havelaar

    The epic drama Max Havelaar (170 minutes), set in 19th Century colonial Indonesia, remains unavailable in the US in any video format and is all but impossible to see on film (SIFF reportedly got a print direct from the Netherlands). More than just a poignant tribute, the screening was a rare opportunity to see a forgotten classic, just the kind of revival that festivals should be nurturing. Based on a 19th century novel by Multatuli, the film follows the idealistic (if naïve) efforts of Dutch colonial officer Max Havelaar (Peter Faber).

    The filmmaking itself direct and simple. The opening images, of Dutch soldiers on a simple raft poled down the river by Indonesian peasants, evokes Werner Herzog in its portrait of Europeans striding into an alien landscape, but without the mysticism or the grandeur of the wild untamed world. They are not adventurers, merely colonial conquerors blithely policing their conquest, but they are just as out of place.

    Havelaar is a civil servant with a conscience and a calling in a job that requires functionaries to keep the system running. He takes his oath to protect the natives against abuse, exploitation and tyranny seriously and when he's promoted to an impoverished province (which he's convinced he can "heal" with his enlightened ways), he's all shocked (shocked!) to find that abuses of the local native leaders are actually condoned by the Dutch government.

    Max Havelaar

    I'm usually frustrated that most films about colonial oppression view the drama from the position of the lone moral European (invariably a white male) who stands up against his own race to defend the native peoples. It's as if the privileged white man's defiance is more heroic because he risks position and wealth where the natives merely risk their lives in the face of tyranny and crippling poverty.

    Max Havelaar works because it's not about Max's heroism - it's about how his idealism is shattered and the hypocrisy of his entire service is laid bare. Havelaar is a well-meaning naïf and his willful naiveté makes him hard to take at times. He's full of reckless courage and righteous indignation, yet he's utterly impotent, unable even to shield the peasants he vows to protect from retribution if they only give evidence against the corrupt Regent and his tyrannical chiefs. Those few that dare resist are quickly targeted and handled. The rebellions are snuffed out, the peasants are pillaged, and the cycle continues. The outrage of Rademakers's film comes through not in emotional melodrama, but in the systematic peeling away of layers of lies behind the hollow rhetoric of justice and spiritual responsibility.

    To the best of my knowledge, SIFF's tribute to Rademakers is the first such in the country since his death. Here's hoping it isn't the last.


    SIFF runs through June 17. For more coverage, see the Siffblog, the Stranger and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

    Posted by dwhudson at 3:55 AM | Comments (1)

    June 9, 2007

    Open Roads. Dispatch 4.

    James van Maanen reviews two more films in the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series.

    Dark Sea 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.

    The Family Friend 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.

    Posted by dwhudson at 12:21 PM

    Weekend shorts.

    Extreme Private Eros Love Song 1974 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.

    Red Dust 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:

    Radio On

    Daniel Kasman on Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's first collaboration, The Spy in Black: "This is the way a spy tale should be told, with fun and invention, with darkness and with light, with unexpected sympathies and surprising enemies, and finally with death and betrayal as well as romance and magic."

    In the New York Times:

    • Stephen Holden on Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman: "The wrenching movie ends with a 1974 quotation from Pierrepoint, made nearly two decades after he retired from the profession: 'The fruit of my experience has this bitter aftertaste. Capital punishment, in my view, achieved nothing except revenge.' As this sad, shambling antihero swings from one pole to the other on the issue of capital punishment, you are inclined to follow every step of the way toward his tragic enlightenment." Alan Vanneman comments. More from Noel Murray at the AV Club.

    • Also: "Chalk, which follows three teachers and one administrator over nine months, is so convincingly acted that if it didn't include brief interludes in which the grown-ups suddenly break into musical-comedy mode or reflect out loud in video diary segments, you might not guess it is fiction." And indieWIRE reviews director Mike Abel.

    You're Gonna Miss Me

    For Premiere, Stephen Saito presents an annotated list of "20 of the films we'd still like to see dug out of development hell and brought to a multiplex near you." Via Movie City News.

    "One of the most striking developments seen in Cannes last month was the emergence of Latin America as a filmmaking hub," writes Geoffrey Macnab for the Independent. "All of a sudden, the Latin Americans were everywhere, buying, selling and announcing new projects." An impressive survey follows.

    On the one hand, besides the docs, there've only been a few movies dealing the with war that's "rightfully, dominated our national conversation" for the past four years, notes Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix. "But in a deeper sense, Iraq War movies are everywhere, haunting the images of every film we've loved and hated since American boots and missiles first hit the ground. It's a familiar pattern, one seen four decades ago during our other unpopular, unending war."

    Four reviews by Ed Gonzalez at Slant:

    • 1, Nancy Drew: "[T]he filmmakers extol her cunning without the necessary irony... trading in the sort of Scooby-Dooish character arching the Nancy Drew of the 1930s would have seen through in a heartbeat."

    Colma
    • 2: "After film versions of Dreamgirls and Rent, Colma: The Musical feels like a palette cleanser, but don't expect theater queens to lavish any attention on this unpretentious little story about the relationship between home and our sense of self."

    • 3: "Bad Michael Winterbottom movies are not uncommon, but none have been as useless as A Mighty Heart."

    • 4, Strike: "There is a sense that [Volker] Schlöndorff either didn't believe strongly enough in his heroine's struggle or feared making a stylish hagiography, settling for a rather passive-aggressive account of a resistance fighter's life made up of strung-together vignettes that lack for specificity and motivating example."

    At Twitch, Mack has news that's tentative but appetizing: "Neil Gaiman will be making his directorial debut when he helms the screenplay based on one of his own works, Death: The High Cost of Living. Guillermo [del Toro] is said to be executive producing this film."

    "Tea Leoni will star alongside Ricky Gervais and Greg Kinnear in writer-director David Koepp's Ghost Town," reports Pamela McClintock for Variety.

    "If the [Michael] Haneke we've embraced recently displays a breadth and vision that reaches far beyond the quotidian (psychology, self-reflexivity, and political resonance are areas he used to avoid), the first-phase Haneke was clearly inspired by the unanswerable existential questions rising like fumes from the most dreadful of ordinary newspaper stories," writes Michael Atkinson. Also in the Stranger, Annie Wagner on Backstage and Bradley Steinbacher on The Call of Cthulhu.

    Vadim Rizov on Hoop Dreams: "A lot of otherwise reasonable people (including the good folks at the Criterion Collection) for some reason think this is one of the greatest (if not the greatest) documentary ever made. Spare me."

    Also at ScreenGrab:

    Hud

    • "When I first heard the name 'Paul Newman' as a child, he'd already been a star for a couple of decades, but the only clear thing that his name seemed to communicate was that he was one gorgeous hunk of man." A tribute from Phil Nugent.

    • Leonard Pierce writes up five great trilogies.

    • The "Weekly Top 10: Great Fight Scenes," parts 1 and 2.

    BBC reports on Al Pacino's lifetime achievement award from the AFI. More from Susan King in the Los Angeles Times.

    Online browsing tip. Propaganda III: online gallery.

    Online listening tip. Cinematical's James Rocchi talks with... me.

    Online viewing tip #1. Film, a 17-second loop at the DVblog.

    Online viewing tip #2. Robert Rodriguez's Sin City Breakfast Tacos. Mmmmm... Via Michael Sippey. Waxy adds a see-also tip, Cooking with Rockstars.

    Online viewing tip #3. Decades before Forrest Gump shook JFK's hand, Stalin visited Berlin. Also via Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing, a call for contributions to Steal This Film II.

    Online viewing tip #4. Matt Dentler: "For one week only, you can load the entire film Four Eyed Monsters, via YouTube. That's right: all 71 minutes for free (obviously, it takes a bit of time to completely load). Plus, if you join Spout via their Four Eyed link, Arin and Susan get a dollar. Each time. You know you want to... It's completely worth it for this great great film (and SXSW 2005 prize-winner)."

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:43 AM

    France for the weekend.

    Coeurs 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.

    Cleo from 5 to 7 "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.

    Band of Outsiders 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.

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:17 AM

    Weekend interviews.

    Vittorio Storaro "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.

    Julie Delpy "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.

    Alexandra Lipsitz 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.

    Posted by dwhudson at 7:30 AM

    Weekend fests and events.

    Bar at the Folies-Bergère "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.

    Sydney Film Festival 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.

    Posted by dwhudson at 7:08 AM

    Weekend books.

    Woody Allen: Mere Anarchy and The Insanity Defense 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.

    Movie Journal 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:

    Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

    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.

    Posted by dwhudson at 6:50 AM

    June 8, 2007

    Open Roads. Dispatch 3.

    James van Maanen on two film screening today in the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series.

    The Unknown Woman 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.

    Caravaggio

    And now we come to the showpiece of the Open Roads series, the movie pared down from a 200-minute Italian television series to approximately 130-minute length. Helmed by theatre, film and television director Angelo Longoni with cinematography by one of the masters of the art, Vittorio Storaro, and starring Italy's man of the moment, Alessio Boni, in the title role and featuring an international cast that hails from France, Spain, England, Germany, Canada and elsewhere, Caravaggio makes its debut this evening, with a Sunday matinee replay. Both are screenings are sold out. While I found this the series' biggest disappointment - particularly given the inflated expectations - if you love the work of the famed Italian artist, I should think the film, despite its faults, will be a must-see.

    American audiences will have no way to judge the original, missing, as we are, more than an hour's worth of film. (Does this compare to the manner in which 20th Century Fox bowdlerized its original release of Visconti's The Leopard? Probably not, since The Leopard was not originally produced for television.) This remaining compression makes for an extremely episodic narrative; so many characters come and go so quickly that, if we manage to become interested in them, whoosh, that's it, bye-bye. Those who do stick around are the sort of stock figures often favored in film biographies. The actors try to give them as much depth as possible but they are consistently thwarted by a screenplay (credited to James H Carrington and Angela Purgatori) and editing that allows us to learn who the characters are and their major purpose in the film - and that's about it. There is certainly no strong narrative drive remaining.

    Caravaggio Mr Boni acquits himself as well as possible, but even he, with the lion's share of screen time, comes off as a good-looking cipher who paints. What we mainly learn about him is that he's got quite a temper and is afraid of death (wow: we all have something in common with Caravaggio!). Death, in fact, is seen about as frequently as anybody else (except the title character). He appears (and appears and appears) as a faceless figure in a black hood and cape on a black horse who, from childhood onwards, scares the pants off our leading man. More than any other single thing, it is the introduction (and then re-introduction) of this tiresome cliché that reduces the entire endeavor to television level.

    There is nudity aplenty (this was made for European TV, remember) plus one naughty scene between a courtesan and a clergyman that I imagine caused the Catholic Church much agita. The handling of the artist's homosexual proclivities is given its moment, too. How much of the story is true to history, I cannot say. This may very well be "as it was" (as the late Pope declared about Mel Gibson's Passion. These days, everyone's a film critic).

    And yet. Would I sit through Caravaggio again? Yes - if only for the re-creation of those amazing paintings. And we do indeed learn something about how this artist worked and why his place in the history of art is so assured. Mr Storaro's cinematography is as spot-on as you'd expect. To watch the film is to get lost in its beauty and light. Sets, costumes, art direction: all splendid. Even the grime looks real.

    Posted by dwhudson at 2:22 AM | Comments (3)

    June 7, 2007

    Up-n-coming, 6/7.

    Time of the Gypsies 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."

    The Belles of St Trinian's 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.

    Posted by dwhudson at 2:16 PM | Comments (2)

    Fests and events, 6/7.

    Pedro Costa 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!

    The Tiger's Tail

    Also, Susan King previews EuroCinema: New Films From Europe, tonight through July 7. More from the LA Weekly's Scott Foundas, who focuses on John Boorman's The Tiger's Tail and Theo Angelopoulos's The Weeping Meadow.

    And Michael Berick: "Parents seeking an alternative this summer to Hollywood's overly familiar offering of green ogres, talking penguins and clever rats might want to head downtown to REDCAT in Disney Hall for its second annual International Children's Film Festival."

    Mala Noche "This week's revival of Gus Van Sant's 1985 Mala Noche (Bad Night) and Bruce Weber's 1989 Let's Get Lost offers the chance to get our bearings on pop history—rethinking Van Sant and Weber's undeniable impact on movie culture," writes Armond White. "Long past the time in which these movies germinated—and with hindsight knowledge of where their idiosyncrasies led—neither Mala Noche nor Let's Get Lost justifies what once seemed their promise." Also in the New York Press, Eric Kohn looks back on Cannes.

    The Bryn Mawr Film Institute salutes Danny DeVito on Sunday. For the Philadelphia City Paper, Mickey Jou previews the event.

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

    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.

    One Out of Two 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.

    Solo Duets 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!

    Posted by dwhudson at 5:19 AM

    SIFF Dispatch. 2.

    Sean Axmaker follows up on last week's dispatch from the Seattle International Film Festival (through June 17).

    Offset 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.

    Fido 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.

    The Sentimental Bloke

    The archival highlight of the festival to date is The Sentimental Bloke (1919, Australia), adapted from a popular World War I era book written in verse. The images are largely illustrative of the text, which is written in 20s-era Australian street slang in the form of first person narration and reads as gruffly honest and poetic. Many of the verses have apparently been dropped right in to the intertitles and they would threaten to overwhelm the visual drama were it not for the efforts of director Raymond Longford and actor Arthur Tauchert, who bring the story of this street thug on the road to redemption and love to buoyant life. It's unexpectedly sweet and touching and sentimental in the best ways.


    David Jeffers has more on the The Sentimental Bloke at the Siffblog; and the Stranger's "SIFF Notes" are multiplying fast.

    Posted by dwhudson at 1:43 AM

    La Vie en Rose.

    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.)"

    Posted by dwhudson at 12:43 AM

    Hostel: Part II.

    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."

    Posted by dwhudson at 12:39 AM | Comments (2)

    June 6, 2007

    Interview. Corneliu Porumboiu.

    Before Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days took the coveted Palme d'Or at the 60th Cannes Film Festival, the declaration of a Romanian new wave seemed to rest on the singular success of Cristi Puiu's quotidien epic The Death of Mr Lazarescu," writes Jay Kuehner, introducing the latest interview up at the main site.

    12:08 East of Bucharest

    "Modest by design but no less ambitious in its formal conception, Corneliu Porumboiu's 2006 Camera d'Or-winning 12:08 East of Bucharest stakes out the relative calm amid the Balkan tide. Where Puiu's long day's gurney into night is indebted to ER and Eric Rohmer, as envisioned by a painter, Porumboui's droll evocation of the Romanian revolution owes something to the narrative torpor of Jarmusch and the tableaux of Vermeer."

    Updated through 6/8.

    Bucharest "offers a decidedly crumb's-eye view of Romanian history," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Porumboiu's film is, at first glance, as rumpled and unassuming as its weary, fatalistic inhabitants. Though it is modest, almost anecdotal, in scale, 12:08 East of Bucharest is also characterized by a precise and sneaky formal wit."

    "Focusing on personal eccentricities and foibles, East of Bucharest has a sly modesty reminiscent of the long-ago Czech new wave, exhibiting a sense of film form that evokes the best of the rueful Czech comedies," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "The movie's circular structure suggests that if history is a joke, the forces that disrupt its progress are nothing short of miraculous."

    Earlier: "Cannes. 12:08 East of Bucharest.," May 06.

    Update, 6/7: "[W]ould that half the first features to be feted at Sundance year after year felt this conceptually and aesthetically whole," writes Jeff Reichert at indieWIRE. "Unexpectedly, and delightfully, Poromboiu uses the occasion of a two-bit civics lesson, poorly lensed by a youthful camera operator with cinematic ambitions, to spin out a droll meditation on both his chosen medium and the way history is shaped through personal reportage."

    Updates, 6/8: "In my experience, Romanian films are often divided almost explicitly into a setup (which may demand patience) and a payoff (which may reward it). So it is with 12:08 East of Bucharest, in which the first half, for all its implied drollery, will do little more than make you chuckle, in a sighing, Bill Murray kind of way," writes Stuart Klawans in the Nation. But by the end, "You will laugh till the streetlights blink on again in the damp Romanian twilight."

    "Porumboiu starts off making a mordant slice of life, but he gradually entwines the personal and the historical, then ends on a poignant note," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "The story and situation are slight, but in the best possible way."

    In the second half, "while the performances remain sharp and funny, the visual monotony eventually becomes oppressive," writes Mike D'Angelo for Nerve. "Still, might as well jump on the Romanian bandwagon now, lest you be forced to admit in years to come that, unlike the hipsters, you didn't get the message until sometime after 12:09."

    "60s Czech films like Milos Forman's The Firemen's Ball and Jiri Menzel's Larks on a String hid social critique inside a gently ironic but cutting sense of humor as a way of speaking about the failures of their nations' institutions indirectly," notes Steve Erickson for Gay City News. "Porumboiu's film implies that their sensibility has outlasted the Iron Curtain."

    Posted by dwhudson at 1:05 PM | Comments (2)

    Shorts, 6/6.

    The Guatemalan Handshake Nick Dawson talks with Todd Rohal for Filmmaker: "Somebody in LA came to see The Guatemalan Handshake, and they were like, 'I thought this was going to be like Andrew Bujalski's film, and then it opens up and it's widescreen anamorphic film.' Right in the first two minutes, they said, 'There's no logic to whatever that Mumblecore thing is.'"

    Somewhat related: David Lowery points to Tipper Newton's The Timebox Twins!, co-starring Joe Swanberg.

    Adam at Another Green World on Jacques Rivette's 12-hour mini-series Out 1: "At a certain point, the details of the film become fact, and it seems no more valid to criticize (or notice) fluctuations in 'quality' or 'success' than it would to do so in your daily life. Which isn't to say that the details aren't important: the incidental observations vastly overwhelm the portions of the film that contribute to the narrative(s). The film becomes a place the viewer inhabits."

    Dave McDougall throws Manoel de Oliveira's The Fifth Empire: Yesterday as Today into historical perspective and then comments:

    Let's review: in the midst of a long, existential conflict with the Muslim world, a ruler tries to replicate the success of his father - sorry, grandfather - and embarks on an ill-advised mission against the advice of experienced leaders in the country, leading to the ruin of his nation. Oh, and he believes that God put him on the throne to begin with, and hears voices encouraging his actions? Perhaps now is a good time to remind you of the subtitle of the film...

    Belle Toujours Related: Michelle Orange in the Voice on de Oliveira's nod to Belle du Jour: "The intent of an homage is intensely personal and its merits therefore rather tricky to parse, but even on those terms de Oliveira's tribute aspires to shimmering enigma. Belle Toujours' deliberative narrative dance eventually reunites matinee hooker Séverine and her tormentor Husson after 38 years, but falls too often into didactic post-game analysis for its delicate mysteries to retain their luster."

    Ghost Train "ultimately proves more unnerving than terrifying," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times.

    "There's something inherently fascinating about the backstories and eventual fates of big stage musicals," writes Dennis Harvey, reviewing "the absorbing new documentary ShowBusiness: The Road to Broadway" for the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "The egos involved and the radical revisions that take place during tryouts and previews (a process far more public than movie retweaking) make for high drama, even before you add the Russian roulette economic factor." More from Gerald Peary in the Boston Phoenix.

    Colour Me Kubrick "is really the story of Kubrick as a phantom, perhaps even more explicitly than its symbiotic kin, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004), which somehow manages to have Stanley Tucci and Geoffrey Rush (as Peter Sellers) 'embodying' Stanley Kubrick," writes Jason Sperb at Dr Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope.

    Related: Jason Kottke points to all four parts of Vivian Kubrick's Making The Shining: 1, 2, 3 and 4.

    Pandora and the Flying Dutchman "Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, from 1951, seems to have been the final gasp of an odd 1940s micro-vogue for romantic movies about the afterlife," writes the Self-Styled Siren. "These are movies for specialized tastes, but if you happen to have those tastes, Pandora is a doozy."

    You're Gonna Miss Me "is entertaining," writes Aaron Hillis. "But with battered archival footage and celebrity worship, [director Keven] McAlester skimps on perspective and complexity, instead focusing in on the courtroom battle over 53-year-old Roky [Erickson]'s custody and painting Roky's brothers as heroes and Mom, who's against giving her son psychiatric meds, as the villain."

    Also in the Voice: Albert Pierrepoint's "monomaniacal focus on efficiency and his capacity for compartmentalization are creepy—and scary. In other words, delicious fodder for a pungent piece of retro-noir, which is not what we get in Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman," writes Ella Taylor.

    "The president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, is about to become one of the few serving heads of state to have a feature film made about his life," reports Rory Carroll. The director is Tonchi Antezana and at least some of the funding comes from the British company Buena Onda, "which was involved in the commercially and critically successful film City of God." Danny Leigh comments. Also in the Guardian, Bidisha proves once again that all you need to attract a swarm of comments is a riff on Star Wars. Somewhat related, and via Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing: Steam Trek.

    In the Los Angeles Times, Robert W Welkos: "Laura Kightlinger is suing Mike White in Los Angeles County Superior Court, claiming she gave him her script, We're All Animals, to read only to discover he was making a film called Year of the Dog, which the suit contends relied on the script about her life as a cat rescuer."

    Online viewing tips from Todd at Twitch: Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo's Inside; Wong Kar-wai's My Blueberry Nights and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis.

    Posted by dwhudson at 12:19 PM

    Up-n-coming, 6/6.

    Tom Waits: Hold On Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus will feature Heath Ledger and Tom Waits, notes Brendon Connelly, who points to and translates bits of an interview in El Pais. "Exciting? I'd say so. With an exploding cherry on top."

    Jim Stark, who's produced films by Jim Jarmusch and others, is putting together a project that'll bring together Aki Kaurismäki, Bent Hamer and Dagur Kari. Swarez has more at Twitch.

    Yesterday brought news of Spike Lee's intentions to follow up on When the Levees Broke; today, Reuters reports that he also plans to "pay tribute to black US soldiers who fought during World War Two with a new film to be shot in Italy."

    Zack and Miri Make a Porno is the title of the just-completed screenplay by Kevin Smith, reports Jay A Fernandez for the Los Angeles Times. "And he hopes to squeeze in filming of his low-budget ($3 million) horror script, Red State, by the end of the year. Smith is aiming to give the politically charged screenplay, about outsiders who stumble into 'fundamentalism gone to the extreme' in Middle America, a naturalistic, drive-in feel."

    "Oscar-winning actors Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson are taking a chance on a new romantic comedy for Overture Films entitled Last Chance Harvey." Chris Tilly has more at Time Out.

    Posted by dwhudson at 11:44 AM | Comments (3)

    Fests and events, 6/6.

    City of Violence "Subway Cinema has announced the lineup of this year's New York Asian Film Festival, which runs June 22 - July 8," notes Robert Cashill. "Of the selections, I've only seen Johnnie To's Exiled, a virtuoso piece of gangster filmmaking, though Korea's City of Violence seems like it could top it for sheer bad-assedness."

    "The Brueghelian panorama of black-market profiteers, shopworn bar hostesses, American soldiers behaving badly, and amateur pornographers [Shohei Imamura] captured from the 1960s onward is on full display in the 12 remaining features of the Pacific Film Archive's current embarrassment of riches Shohei Imamura's Japan," writes Matt Sussman. Through June 30.

    Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: "Now in its ninth year, the San Francisco Black Film Festival continues to expand its scope, with two long weekends of narrative films and documentaries plus several shorts programs." Cheryl Eddy picks a few highlights.

    And: "For more than 25 years, Portland, Ore, film archivist, historian, professor, and writer Dennis Nyback has been searching for rare films in the catalog The Big Reel as well as in thrift stores and flea markets," writes Maria Komodore. "F@ck Mickey Mouse is the title of a 16mm film program Nyback has assembled to showcase, as he puts it, 'rare cartoon precursors that beat Disney to the punch, imitators that ripped him off, and parodies that made vicious fun of some of Disney's greatest animation shorts." Saturday evening. Michael Guillén talks with Nyback for SF360.

    CineVegas Peter Martin looks ahead to CineVegas (through June 16) for Cinematical.

    Starting Friday, the films of Charles Burnett will be screening at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston for ten days straight. The most well-known of these films, of course, is Killer of Sheep. For the Phoenix, Steve Vineberg previews many of the others.

    "Let's Get Lost stands as a gorgeous gravestone for the Beat Generation's legacy of beautiful-loser chic," writes Jim Ridley in the Voice. "Bruce Weber's transfixing 1988 portfolio of the artist - ravaged jazz trumpeter Chet Baker - as a junkie wraith unmoored in time seems doubly poignant almost 20 years later, when the bloom of its own newness is gone." At Film Forum, Friday through June 28.

    At Twitch, Todd rounds up a slew of trailers for films slated for the Worldwide Short Film Festival (June 12 through 17 in Toronto).

    David D'Arcy will be hosting a summer series of Woody Allen films at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the way New York's Alexandra Peers sees it, this is an all-out "tweaking" of "its crosstown rival, MoMA." Ach, please. Maybe David just happens to be very good at this hosting, moderating and interviewing thing.

    The Surreal Delicacy of René Clair: Tuesdays through July at the French Institute Alliance Française; Mark Asch has more in the L Magazine.

    REDCAT David Lowery's been to LA, where he's seen Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Unknown Forces.

    "Overcoming jet lag and time difference, then plying through crowds to experience one red carpet event, one press conference, one party in a villa, one day trip and one big celebrity arrival is a must-do for every first-time goer." Hannah Eaves on the Cannes experience for PopMatters.

    Reporting for Film.com from the Seattle International Film Festival, Andy Spletzer is surprised to find he actually likes Anthony Hopkins's "crazy little fever dream of a film," Slipstream.

    More SIFF: the Siffblog and the Stranger.

    Posted by dwhudson at 10:43 AM

    June 5, 2007

    Open Roads. Dispatch 1.

    James van Maanen previews the film opening the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series tomorrow and Secret Journey, also screening tomorrow.

    Desert Roses Much will be made of the fact that Mario Monicelli, director and co-writer of Desert Roses (Le Rose del Deserto), is 92 years old. While it's the quality of the film rather than the age of its maker that counts, reaching this age is worth something. I happen to know the age rather personally, as my companion's 92-year-old mother has resided with us for five years now, and imagining her traveling to the African desert and filming for weeks on end is almost beyond comprehension. Yes, people age differently, but under any circumstances, surviving into one's 90s, having experienced a good deal more than one's fair share of "heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to," and still to be working at one's craft - well, this is due a shout-out.

    The good news - and it is very good news - is that Desert Roses is a wonderful film: moving, funny, ironic, consistently interesting and old-fashioned in the best sense (professional, straightforward, not a lot of "effects" or razz-a-ma-tazz editing). And yet it speaks to us in a way that is timely and meaningful. It also seems - to this non-Italian, at least - quintessentially Italian. Monicelli is able to make great fun of certain characteristics (bumbling, running away, the place of religion, truth-telling and the Italian version of l'amour fou) while finally celebrating these very qualities as absolutely necessary for life, if not always helpful for survival.

    Desert Roses An Italian medical unit sets up camp in the North African desert toward the final months of WWII (though the soldiers are certainly unaware of this finality). As the men get to know the terrain and its Arab population, we get to know the men - including a tolerate-no-nonsense Italian Friar who predates the soldiers in this desert location (he's played by a getting-better-all-the-time Michele Placido). The soldiers' interaction with their Arab hosts (and hostesses) is especially interesting, in light of all that is going on today, and it is always salutary to observe something like WWII seen from the other side (El Alamein, Letters from Iwo Jima).

    I don't recall Monicelli being a prize visual stylist. Here, with the desert as his backdrop, he does not need to be. He puts his faith in story, dialog, pacing and performance and brings home a winner. Based upon a novel by Mario Tobino, the film does have an episodic quality that probably reflects the need to pick and choose from among a much larger assortment of scenes than time (102 minutes) allowed. Yet each scene is integral and has been wisely chosen. The ending - abrupt, ironic, memorable and humane - will stay with you, I suspect, for a good long while.

    The desert roses of the title are lovely little rock-like formations given as dinner gifts by the Arabs to their guests. The real desert roses, of course, are the soldiers themselves who bloom surprisingly and beautifully in this foreign clime.

    Secret Journey Question: In terms of motion pictures, does Sicily provide for Italy what the American South does for the United States? I posit this having, during the same week, immersed myself in Roberto Andò's Secret Journey (Viaggio Segreto) and the Oxford American 2007 "Southern Movie Issue." I'm sure I am not the first to make this connection, for the two locations share such obvious commonalities: wonderful old mansions (often in decay) and dark family secrets, the Risorgimento and the Civil War, Garibaldi and Grant, Donnafugata and Tara (I'll take Lampedusa/Visconti over Mitchell/Fleming any day). And if the Mafia and the KKK don't exactly compute, well, they reveal a certain similarity regarding power and the insider/outsider, us-versus-them mentality.

    Secret Journey, which makes its US debut on Wednesday at Open Roads, is a gorgeously photographed, quietly melodramatic movie that traffics in family secrets and a decaying house and does this in an interestingly measured, almost stately manner. Repressed memories surface slowly, intermingling with present and past. This is not, let me say, anything particularly new. But under Mr Andò's interesting hand and eye (freely adapted by the director and Salvatore Marcarelli from the novel Reconstructionist by Josephine Hart) and as performed by a crack cast of exceedingly beautiful people, the film is, at worst, a guilty pleasure, at best a dark and thoughtful character study of two people chained to a past that can never stop haunting them. Actions have consequences, the movie insists, and though lies can cover, they do not erase.

    Secret Journey If you decide to go the "guilty pleasure" route, these pleasures will include copious sexuality, nudity and two of the most beautiful actors currently gracing Italian film: Alessio Boni and Valeria Solarino. Both give quiet, repressed performances, in keeping with their characters. Boni, probably best-known to Americans as the tragic brother from The Best of Youth, is a sturdy, studly actor of the sort we used to call the "strong, silent type." Here he is less strong than usual and, though not gorgeous in the Brad Pitt/Jude Law manner, he is still a "looker" who, for his full, finely-sculpted lips alone, is compulsively watchable. Solarino, of whom we see all-and-then-some, possesses a beautiful face and a body that is slender, supple and stunning, and which she uses in a manner that manages to be provocative, child-like and still secretive - a combination that is as about as alluring and dangerous as I can recall.

    The parents of these two are seen in flashback - also nude and often rutting - and are played by Claudia Gerini and Marco Baliani, two more gorgeous actors. It's always a pleasure to see mature adults engaged in sexual passion on-screen, and Gerini (Don't Move) and Baliani (who also appears in this year's In Memory of Me) are as open and ravenous as their children are cowed and afraid when young, reserved and guilty as adults. (Also on hand is the not-particularly-beautiful Yugoslav writer/director Emir Kusturica, here essaying acting duties as the daughter's fiancé.)

    So much for guilty pleasures. If you approach Secret Journey as a psychological puzzle full of symbols and visual beauty (the estate used here is alone worth a theatrical visit), your enjoyment might be relatively guilt-free. Though there do seem to be a few unanswered questions, or those not answered very well (the priest's role in all this, and - to evoke briefly the Nixon era - exactly what do some of these characters know, and when did they know it?), the movie remains consistently engrossing and oh-so-beautiful to see and hear, thanks to director, actors and crew, especially the cinematography by Maurizio Calvesi and the music from Marco Betta. Finally, although Ms Hart's novel was set in Ireland, Andò has jiggered the locale almost perfectly: Secret Journey seems to me a Sicilian movie through and through - but one that Faulkner might have understood and appreciated.

    Posted by dwhudson at 10:59 AM

    Shorts, 6/5.

    Robin Wood: Rio Bravo Robin Wood has stepped down from the editorial board of CineACTION! and, in general, is now officially a retired film critic. Again, as DK Holm notes in an engaging and informative appreciation for ScreenGrab.

    "More than half a century has not proved sufficient to solve the mystery of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, nor to diminish their appeal," writes Dave Kehr, reviewing the second volume of Paramount's Collection for the New York Times. One theory: "If Martin was what America wanted to be - the young country suddenly pushed to the world stage, matching the Europeans and the Soviets with a manner and cunning of its own, a John F Kennedy before the fact - then Mr Lewis was what 50s America was afraid it was, still a klutzy naïf, an overgrown child playing with dangerous toys."

    Sharon Waxman has announced she's leaving the NYT to write a book - and won't be back. Variety's Anne Thompson reflects on what it takes to stay on the Hollywood beat.

    Laura M Holson, who's been covering the business end of Hollywood for the paper, is exiting, too. David Poland argues that neither reporter was right for their respective beats.

    Up-n-coming:

    • "Spike Lee has said he will return to New Orleans to film a follow-up to his documentary about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina." The BBC reports.

    The Thirteenth Tale

    Michael Guillén talks with Jennifer Baichwal and the subject of her documentary, Edward Burtynsky, about Manufactured Landscapes.

    A Man Vanishes Shohei Imamura's A Man Vanishes is "an ingeniously constructed, provocative, and subversively intellectual, yet captivating and understatedly elegant rumination on the malleability, inexactness, and ephemerality of truth and reality," writes acquarello.

    "Longing is a Michael Haneke-lite wank job," argues Keith Uhlich. Heavens. Also at Slant, Robert Keser on Ghosts of Cité Soleil: "No travelogue, it's not even a cry for action and seems ultimately extraneous except as a vivid document of a nation pushed into hell. Haiti's despair demands a Buñuel, but here gets a Ridley Scott." And Ed Gonzalez on Surf's Up: "[E]ven if one were to ignore the film's laziness, then turn a blind eye to its superficially clever mockumentary design, cute critter animation, and one or two funny gags..., we're essentially being asked to swallow an animated version of The Karate Kid. That, dude, is so not cool."

    "When [Adrian] Shergold strays from this marital focus," writes Chris Wisniewski, Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman "begins to feel like an over-directed, broadly written social problem picture." Also at indieWIRE, blurbing the festivals of June alone, Eugene Hernandez and Brian Brooks fill one long scroll of a page.

    Paris, Texas "[W]atching Paris, Texas on a steamy afternoon in Michigan and discovering yourself is entirely that feeling, articulated in every line on Travis's face, every empty desert road leading to God knows where," writes Tom Hall, inspired by the New Yorker's "Summer Movies" package.

    Michael Atkinson reviews Tears of a Black Tiger, "as rabidly earnest and drolly ironic as any film by Douglas Sirk, RW Fassbinder or Guy Maddin," and a set of features by Fernando Arrabal: "Along with Alejandro Jodorowsky and Roland Topor, Arrabal was a founding member of the neo-Surrealist 'Panic Movement' in 1960s Paris, which manifested, as these kinds of things used to, in theater performances, movies, books and heaps of public outrage. Arrabal's films are even more 'Panicky,' or subversively profane, than Jodorowsky's much more famous El Topo and The Holy Mountain."

    Also at IFC News, an annotated list from Matt Singer and Alison Willmore: "[Manoel] De Oliveira's impressive late career output got us thinking about how other directors fared in the autumn of their years."

    "Clive Owen and Angelina Jolie used the backdrop of dying African children to fuel their passion in Beyond Borders, and although The Situation isn't quite as howlingly terrible, it too falls victim to the vampiric impulse to use the real suffering of people as a form of strange entertainment," writes Dorothy Woodend at Alternet. "Real war, real death, real carnage become fictionalized stories, merely something to watch. This is not just in bad taste or exploitative, it's parasitic."

    Girish: "I happened to remember the other day that there were two large and interesting Best Films Of The 90's polls conducted at the end of that decade, one by Cinematheque Ontario and the other by Cinema Scope magazine, and neither is available on the Internet. This might be a way to put some of the poll results out there, within reach of future googlers of the world."

    Non-film-related item: Anne Applebaum in Slate on how Bush has lost even "New Europe." Seriously, the man's propensity for striking out when thrown the softest pitches is almost supernatural. Related: Jonathan Freedland in the New York Review of Books on "Bush's Amazing Achievement."

    Ok, one more, different subject entirely. In the Guardian, Jonathan Jones goes out on a limb, arguing not only that For the Love of God "redeems" Damien Hirst but also that it may be the first truly great work of the 21st century. Update: In an excellent entry, Greg Allen does a little math, then comments: "If there's any significance at all to Hirst's skull, it's as a symbol of a far-reaching, manipulative cartel of dubious ethics at the center of an elaborately collusive web of mutually beneficial delusion. Which, for a subject, is not all that bad."

    DVD roundups: The Film Experience and DVD Talk.

    The Thomas Crown Affair Online bidding tip. Vintage Film Posters, on the block at Christie's on Thursday. Via Looker.

    Online listening tip #1. Joel Heller talks with Ido Haar about 9 Star Hotel, a documentary on "a group of Palestinian teenagers who have been hiding in the forest outside the Israeli town of Modi'in.... In this podcast, Ido shares how he developed trust with the young subjects, and how he approached shooting and editing a film in a language he didn't speak."

    Online listening tip #2. A visit to a bar in Sibiu for a sampling of Manele, "Romanian Gangsta Rap," as Spiegel reporters Antje Blinda and Jörg Pfeiffer classify it.

    Online viewing tips. "Directors of the 80s" at Daily Film Dose, via Reel Pop.

    Posted by dwhudson at 8:46 AM

    The Simpsons Blog-a-Thon.

    The Simpsons The 400th episode of The Simpsons rolled out last month and, as you may have heard, there's a movie on the way, too.

    This week, all week, Matthew Clayfield is hosting a Simpsons Blog-a-Thon.

    Posted by dwhudson at 6:09 AM

    Offscreen. Vol 11, Issue 4.

    The Creeping Flesh "The recent death of Freddie Francis (on March 17, 2007) at the age of 89 signaled the loss of one of Britain's premier cinematic artisans and one of the last remaining icons of the great Hammer Films studio," writes Donato Totaro in the first essay of an issue of Offscreen dedicated to Francis. As an homage, Totaro analyzes "one of his more interesting films as a director, The Creeping Flesh (1972)."

    David Church, introducing his piece, "Notes Toward a Masochizing of Cult Cinema: The Painful Pleasures of the Cult Film Fan": "My starting point will be an understanding of all film spectatorship as masochistic, a theory most usefully advanced by Gaylyn Studlar and Steven Shaviro."

    Carnival of Souls Carnival of Souls "continues to exert a strange fascination for many viewers," writes Peter Wilshire, and we can now add, most recently and impressively, Christian Petzold.

    Daniel Garrett reviews Killer of Sheep and then turns to Mark A Reid's Black Lenses, Black Voices, "one of the most intelligent books I have ever read on African-American film - not the one of the most academic, or the most theoretical, but simply one of the most intelligent: it is informed, perceptive, sane, thorough, about much that has been subjected to hysteria, ideology, and pretension."

    Philip Gillett looks back on the Bradford International Film Festival.

    Posted by dwhudson at 1:48 AM | Comments (1)

    June 4, 2007

    New Yorker. Summer Movies.

    New Yorker: Summer 07 "Summer Movies," the centerpiece of the New Yorker's "Summer Fiction" issue, features seven literary A-listers and shooting stars reliving not, thank heavens, the Summer of '07 but, instead, summers long gone.

    "Did every one of us know how to do Ralph Macchio's victory kick at the end of The Karate Kid?" asks Dave Eggers. "This goes without saying. After seeing Breaking Away, did we, while riding at top speed, stick bicycle pumps into each other's spokes to see if this would indeed cause a horrific wipeout? Yes, and it did."

    Marisa Silver recalls the first day on the set of her first film, Old Enough: "I realized that the minute I said the word, things would hurtle forward - the film, my life. They waited. I said it. Action."

    Gary Shteyngart: "At the movie theatre, my father and I were essentially two immigrant men - one smaller than the other and not yet swaddled in a thick carpet of body hair - sitting before the canned spectacle of our new homeland, silent, attentive, enthralled."

    "Summer movies aren't classics and don't always make money, but they make friends," writes Roger Angell. "Some of them are counter-classics, like Remember the Night, the 1940 Barbara Stanwyck-Fred MacMurray thing that isn't Double Indemnity." And then there's Quest for Fire...

    Walkabout Jeffrey Eugenides on Walkabout: "As we went to our car, my mother and I made appreciative noises about the film in order to disguise the awkwardness of having seen it together."

    "My friend's mother wore a batik skirt that flowed softly from her hips like light through a lampshade. She was lovely and sophisticated, and I was infatuated," recalls Charles D'Ambrosio. They're walking to the theater to see... Summer of '42.

    Miranda July looks back on the hot summer she made her first movie: "I recorded my soundtrack by playing the Thunderball album while the camera was rolling. I chose track six from side two, 'Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.' I've never seen Thunderball, so in my mind this wonderful music by John Barry can be paired only with my portrayal of a mother doing an inappropriately sultry dance for her pre-pubescent daughter."

    Elsewhere in this issue of the New Yorker: David Denby reviews Mr Brooks, Crazy Love and Ocean's Thirteen.

    Posted by dwhudson at 11:44 AM

    Frieze. Summer 07.

    Frieze: May "Writers-turned-directors are a familiar breed, but [David] Lynch is rare in being a major filmmaker who began his career as a painter," writes Kristin M Jones, whose next sentence has a certain Lynchian zip: "Texture crossed with light and movement gets him going." Inland Empire is discussed, of course, but so, too, are Lynch's big plans for the future: an arts center in Lodz, Poland, for example. "Plans are also in the pipeline with architect and urban planner Rob Krier, who is involved in a larger urban redevelopment expected to include a museum addressing Lynch's film, art and ideas, post-production and sound recording facilities, a festival centre, contemporary art and technical museums and various cultural facilities." Then: "Interestingly, Lynch's transition to digital video coincides with that of certain revered filmmakers working in the avant-garde, an arena that not long ago saw adamant resistance to video. Who could have imagined visionary filmmakers would make it seem easy to leave film behind?"

    To further catch up with the last couple of issues of Frieze: "Even if you believe that art takes on a life of its own in the realm of its reception, this in no way implies that biography and subjectivity are taboo subjects to explore," reads an argument in an unbylined piece. "Rather, it is often when this happens that the excitement starts: biography and subjectivity collide head-on with the indeterminacies of production, the formal questions of physical, technical and social process - all of which brings us back to [Mark Raidpere's video work] Shifting Focus."

    Là-bas "Given the languid pace and relentless atmosphere of angst, Là-bas at first seems painfully esoteric, but for those with patience there is, as promised, a pay-off," writes Joanna Kleinberg. "Rather than being self-centred or indulgent, [Chantal] Akerman's malaise is sophisticated, culturally minded and, to an extent, well founded."

    "A sense of blissful isolation permeates [Robert] Beavers's jewel-like films, generally composed of precisely edited and exacting sequences of images and short scenes that rapaciously cap-ture the processes of filmmaking itself, Beavers's intense emotional and intellectual relationship with [Gregory] Markopoulos, and the vividly beautiful rural and urban landscapes encountered in their newly adopted European surroundings," writes Andrew Bonacina. "Structural and mechanical devices used to suture together the image sequence or to emphasize the 'objectness' of the depicted forms frequently interrupt these elegantly composed visual chains."

    Emily King on Helvetica: "Desktop publishing technologies may have made us ready for a film that touches on spacing and kerning, but they haven't eradicated the need for a substantial amount of scene-setting.... For good or ill, Helvetica's geometric forms litter the urban environment so densely that most of us barely notice them. Over the course of the film they are likened, with differing degrees of affection, to air, gravity, fast food and perfume."

    "My formative viewing experiences came from the many films and documentaries that my dad recorded from tele-vision throughout his video-owning life," writes Luke Fowler. "Although his timing was somewhat unreliable (films would often miss their beginning or run out of tape before their conclusion), his knowledge and appreciation of British and world cinema were flawless. I am indebted to him for this induction." An anecdote-enlivened list follows.

    Frieze: June July August "At 82 minutes long [Eve] Sussman's [Rape of the Sabine Women] is a lush, strange spectacle: video art-cum-film that basks in the cinematic glow of its own complexity, adding sumptuous, almost frilly, layer on layer of art-historical, popular and filmic references," writes Jenni Sorkin. "It is easy to appreciate, even praise, Sussman's know-it-all approach, but it can only be called kitsch couture, a highbrow, unironic presentation of sheer excess."

    "[Grace] Ndiritu's work has the most impact in the moments where it loads undetermined gestures with implied significance," writes Melissa Gronlund. "The photojournalist in Responsible Tourism is a recorded fact; Ndiritu's actions in Still Life are quite possibly the idle caresses of one whose mind is elsewhere - to read these as, respectively, a metonym for Western colonialism and cultural fetishization, and purposeful eroticized behaviour, arguably reflects the viewer's expectations of what the work of a young, black, female British artist might be about."

    Also: Sam Thorne on the music and films of Phill Niblock (who once worked with Sun Ra), Brian Dillon on what two of Andy Warhol's Screen Tests suggest about Susan Sontag's then-evolving persona, Claire Gilman on the work of Yoshua Okon and Jan Verwoert on a soft left / hard left divide in the art world.

    Posted by dwhudson at 7:50 AM | Comments (5)

    Rosalind Russell @ 100.

    Rosalind Russell What a year for centennials. Today, we can celebrate Rosalind Russell's, and Josh R does the honors at Edward Copeland on Film:

    No one would ever mistake her for an ingénue or a sex goddess - which probably suited Russell just fine. Never beautiful in the conventional sense, she could generate more heat with an arched eyebrow and a deadpan retort than any of the glamour girls could with smoldering looks and coy displays of their natural assets. She could be side-splittingly funny in films that tapped into the zanier side of her nature, but made surprisingly few comedies during her four decades as a cinema fixture. It’s a testament to the impact she had in the handful of films that allowed her to cut loose that she is remembered first and foremost as a comedienne.

    Posted by dwhudson at 7:05 AM

    Ocean's Thirteen + summer movies.

    Ocean's 13 "Is it disheartening for Steven Soderbergh that his best movie in years is his swank Vegas caper comedy Ocean's 13 - and not his searching remake of Tarkovsky's Solaris; his rough-hewn study of the dark side of working-class life, Bubble; or his subversive anti-Casablanca, The Good German?" wonders David Edelstein in New York. Also: "I wonder what it's like to grow up in a world in which so many kid shows and movies are 'meta'.... In short, the kids won't know how terrific Surf's Up is." More from Susan King in the Los Angeles Times.

    So another summer movies entry picks up where Pirates, Shrek and Spider-Man, 3's all, left off.

    Updated through 6/9.

    Dave McDougall on Transformers: "This is the most ideologically dangerous component of the film: the perpetuation of an outmoded strategy - and perhaps more importantly, an outmoded myth of warfare.... If Transformers can be taken as representative of our present response to myth-disillusionment as much as Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and Edmund Blunden were of the WWI generation, then the present response is instead one of nostalgia for the definable enemies of past days."

    Bashing this year's blockbusters, let's not get carried away, argues Noel Murray at the AV Club:

    Not so long ago, the big summer blockbusters were being helmed by the likes of Roland Emmerich, Chuck Russell, Stephen Sommers, Simon West and Dominic Sena - all middling technicians with no clear vision - and Michael Bay, a visionary with no finesse. The movies were frequently sloppy, ugly, and dispiriting. By contrast, [Sam] Raimi and [Gore] Verbinski make movies with personality, crafted with skill. Critics and film buffs may not like that personality, but they should at least appreciate that definite choices were made, by directors with a clear plan in mind. They've given us something intelligible to engage with.

    David Poland looks ahead to how the box office numbers may pan out.

    Online viewing tips. Pirates stuff at 10 Zen Monkeys.

    Earlier: Josh Tyrangiel's rambunctious conversation with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Ellen Barkin for Time and "Cannes. Ocean's Thirteen."

    Update: Spider-Man 3 gets Kenneth Anger ranting about Hollywood and time.

    Update, 6/5: "Where does the animosity for Ocean's Twelve come from?" wonders Matt Singer at IFC News. "Watch the movie again, as I did last week, and reconsider it as an exceedingly stylish, beautifully paced, and sometimes shockingly romantic caper movie." Anyway, as to the number at hand, "[W]hile Ocean's Thirteen is better than Ocean's Twelve, that's not necessarily damning with faint praise. This Thirteen is better than Twelve sentiment is coming from an unabashed fan of Twelve."

    Updates, 6/6: Chuck Wilson writes up a summertime guide for the City Pages, where John Behling surveys the Twin Cities area and presents "How to Make Out at the Movies: Summer Cinema in the Rough."

    "One could hardly be blamed for getting worked into a cynical corner by Ocean's Thirteen, which is pretty much like its brethren, minus Julia Roberts's microgram of dramatic fuel," writes Michael Atkinson for the Boston Phoenix. "But that doesn't mean, as summer movies go, that it isn't witty, or grown-up, or sly, or diverting. It is, but it's also absolutely disposable."

    "The installation of the hand- and footprints of Ocean's Thirteen stars George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and super-producer Jerry Weintraub in the sidewalk outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre on Tuesday morning was one of the biggest promotional events of the year." Deborah Netburn reports for the Los Angeles Times.

    "It's a spectacle blatantly predicated on a smug gaggle of mega movie stars in boss threads ostentatiously having fun by pretending to steal the house's money, while actually taking yours," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. That said, "The scene uniting onetime maniacs [Elliott] Gould and [Al] Pacino is not without its autumnal poignancy - California Split on a Dog Day Afternoon."

    "It's Pirates of the Careless Being," quips David Poland. "It's a summer movie, damn it!" But there's more, too: "I expect that most people who love great cinematography will look right past it due to its location is this lightweight fare, but Soderbergh makes himself the absolute #1 get for Bond on any other action movie with style with O13."

    Update, 6/7: "Soderbergh has made a movie so cool it's practically comatose," writes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. "Sputtering along from one half-cocked gag line and self-satisfied in-joke to the next, Ocean's Thirteen is as slapdash and slipshod a three-quel as any in this summer's box-office sweepstakes. It's as if, like Sinatra in the days when he was playing short sets and forgetting lyrics, Soderbergh and company thought they just had to show up and we'd be entertained."

    Updates, 6/8: "[I]t's a mistake to separate Mr Soderbergh's personal visions from his professional commitments," argues Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "All the films are strictly personal; it is just that some, like The Good German, have been made more for Mr Soderbergh's pleasure than for ours. Part of what makes the Ocean's films, even the self-indulgent second installment, so enjoyable is that they're not only about Mr Soderbergh's obsessive aesthetic investment in every single shot, but they're also about him trying to make the audience love his images every bit as much as he does."

    "It almost begs to be read as a comment on Hollywood," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club. "A maverick committed to working within the system and reshaping it for his own purposes, Soderbergh has aligned himself with some of the few stars who seem to understand that cashing a paycheck doesn't have to come at the expense of finding quality projects, even when those projects have no higher purpose than two breezy, familiar hours of sophisticated entertainment."

    "We're drawn to these films because they make us feel we've been offered a privileged glimpse into the actors' lives," writes Nerve's Bilge Ebiri. "Said actors are the anti-Cruises; their power comes not from their kooky aloofness, but from their seeming availability. That these privileged glimpses only serve (go figure) to make these folks seem even cooler and more appealing is all the better. It insures that we'll line up the next time another Ocean's rolls out. Meta never seemed so sexy."

    "All of the Ocean's movies, including the long-ago Sinatra version (1960), are remade or inspired by a great French caper movie, Jean-Pierre Melville's Bob le Flambeur (Bob the Gambler, 1956), in which Bob actually laid down chalk lines in an open field to walk his accomplices through a raid on a casino," writes Roger Ebert. "The movie is available on DVD in the Criterion Collection; see what you're missing now that the formula has been adapted for ADD sufferers."

    Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat: Here's "what to do in LA when you've had it with threequels."

    "Of all the guilty summer pleasures Ocean's Thirteen is the easiest to forgive," writes James Christopher for the London Times.

    "Another week, another big fat threequel," sighs the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "Now it is the turn of this fantastically smug, empty picture, which comes complete with a nasty-tasting dab of misogyny. As this and all the other franchises continue their triumphant march through the nation's cinemas, I now feel like one of those patriotic French civilians in newsreel footage of the Nazi occupation in 1940: blubbering with futile rage on the pavement while the goosestepping victors crash unstoppably down the Champs-Elysées."

    The Independent's Anthony Quinn also gives it merely one star.

    "[T]he veneer is wearing irreparably thin," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "Once again, there are a zillion guys running around... and most of them just don't have enough to do. That's particularly true of Don Cheadle's Cockney explosives expert and Bernie Mac's - wait a minute, what, exactly, does Bernie Mac's character do? In the previous pictures he was a safecracker. This time around, his big scene involves trying to sell a gaming table to Pacino's Willy Bank. If that's the best you can come up with for a marvelous comic actor like Mac - the script is by Brian Koppelman and David Levien - then it really is time to pass the dice."

    But the San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle to be "the rare case of a movie franchise following The Three Bears pattern: The third one is just right."

    "Post-Limey, Soderbergh's visual sense has been in steady decline," argues Keith Uhlich at Slant. "It's now clear that the decision to act as his own DP on each film since was a colossal miscalculation, revelatory of an intellectual and emotional bankruptcy that stems from both a misguided cinephilic nostalgia and an arrogant courting of current fashion."

    "While there's no real narrative tension in the new installment, it's delightful in almost every frame and each particular," writes Ray Pride.

    "It's fun, it's campy and it's worth the gamble - that's if you don't mind shoddy character development, regurgitated gags and an unrealistic story," writes Cinematical's Erik Davis.

    "From USA Today: If you adjust for inflation, the record-breaking blockbusters of Summer 2007 are under-achievers compared to summer hits of yesteryear," notes Joe Leydon.

    "Ocean's Thirteen is grimmer, more dutiful and plot-driven, as functional as its purely place-holding title," writes Vadim Rizov for the Reeler. "Regardless, it's also one of the weirdest movies of Steven Soderbergh's already bewildering career."

    Updates, 6/9: Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times on Thirteen: "One of the film's characters sums it up best: 'It's not a great idea, but it's an idea.'"

    "[T]he art of all-star piffle reaches Parnassian heights," writes Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times. "There are no human beings here, just zodiacal luminaries doing glittering things."

    Jeffrey Overstreet's just seen Ratatouille: "Finally... a summer movie that delivers. That enchants. That makes you glad to be a moviegoer."

    Posted by dwhudson at 6:37 AM | Comments (1)

    Shorts, 6/4.

    Corless & Darke: Cannes Kristin Thompson congratulates Kieron Corless and Chris Darke "on presenting substantive historical material in such a clear and readable fashion" in Cannes: Inside the World's Premier Film Festival."

    "Killer of Sheep is quietly, heartbreakingly beautiful, even from its first few frames," writes John Adair, who has notes from a Q&A with Charles Burnett as well: "As an introduction to the film, Burnett spoke about a question he hoped viewers would ask themselves after seeing it. He wanted people to ask 'How can we help these people?'"

    David Lowery has more, a one-on-one with Burnett: "Did David Gordon Green call you when he made George Washington?" Answer: "Yes, everyone brings that up! He sent me a tape of it. He's doing very well now."

    Yes, and as it happens: "It took me a little while to find my groove with Snow Angels," writes Michael Tully. "While I was on board with everything that I was seeing from the very first shot, I had that weird hyper-sensitive inability to suspend my disbelief that happens when you watch a friend's film for the first time, rough cut or otherwise. But there's a nine-minute sequence that happens towards the middle that officially pushed me over the edge and had me frozen in shock and awe, which is where I stayed for the rest of the film."

    And the Film Panel Notetaker has notes from that Q&A.

    More Q's, more A's: Annaliese Griffin listens to Paul Auster talk about The Inner Life of Martin Frost. Also at the Reeler, Jana Prikryl's overview of Magnum in Motion: Photographers and the Moving Image. Related: Magnum Festival: Celebrating the Art of Documentary and Wallpaper's Magnum gallery, both via Jason Kottke.

    Sunday was all about the music in the New York Times movies section:

    I'm Not There

    • Among the musician biopics opening in the relatively near future are La Vie en Rose (Marion Cotillard as Édith Piaf), El Cantante (Marc Anthony as Hector Lavoe), and somewhat later, Todd Haynes's I'm Not There (Bob Dylan, as portrayed by a cast of thousands) and Anton Corbijn's Control (Sam Riley as Ian Curtis). Steve Chagollan: "And then there are the films in development, including a Janis Joplin biopic starring Zooey Deschanel, Don Cheadle's portrait of Miles Davis and a project about Keith Moon, the Who's drummer, starring Mike Myers." Related: Mark Olsen talks with Cotillard for the Los Angeles Times and Dan Callahan reviews Rose for Slant: "[T]his is bravura popular filmmaking, marked by both precision and gusto."

    • Four - four! - Sammy Davis Jr projects are in the works, two biopics, a love story and a doc, reports Pat H Broeske: "Davis's life holds obvious attractions for filmmakers. Beyond the drug problems and his love affairs, he offers a vehicle to consider an American obsession: race. But Hollywood history does not bode well for multiple movies about the same subject coming out around the same time, especially when biopics are involved."

    • Terrence Rafferty on Let's Get Lost: "Film Forum, which gave the movie its New York premiere 18 years ago, is reviving it for a three-week run (beginning Friday) in a restored 35-millimeter print, and [Bruce] Weber's black-and-white hipster fantasia is as beautiful, and as nutty, as ever. Now, as in 1989, the filmmaker seems bent on stopping time in its tracks, preserving the illusion that nothing important has changed since the early 1950s, when [Chet] Baker was a handsome young man with a sweet-toned horn, the great white hope of West Coast jazz."

    Fantastic Voyage "More than most of its contemporaries, the 1966 scifi thriller Fantastic Voyage has stayed on the right side of the line separating vintage kitsch from risible camp," writes Dennis Lim in the Los Angeles Times. "It's a movie that potently evokes bygone attitudes and aesthetics — a relic of the age of pre-digital effects, a product of both Cold War paranoia and midcentury techno-utopianism."

    "Jack Black is starring in Year One, a comedy Judd Apatow is producing for Columbia," reports Diane Garrett for Variety. "Harold Ramis, who appears in a small role in Apatow's Knocked Up, will direct and co-produce, and Michael Cera, who stars in Superbad, another Apatow production for Col, is also attached to star."

    "Due to the sheer amount of cultural diversity in Hong Kong, the island has been described by some as being a 'borderless' region between the East and the West," writes Drew Morton at Dr Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope. Wong Kar-wai's "utilization of Hong Kong as central character in his films and its linkage to his eclectic use of music only broadens this cultural spectrum." Part 2.

    Just up at Koreanfilm.org:

    • Kyu Hyun Kim on Jo Eui-suk's A World of Silence: "Despite more than a few serious flaws, the most glaring of which are its pointlessly overlong expositions and almost fatal lack of suspense, the film nonetheless has its moments."

    Mutt Boy
    • Adam Hartzell on Kwak Kyung-taek's Mutt Boy: " It's not a great movie, lacking the energy and right-film-right-time zeitgeist exploitation of the dialectical Friends."

    • Tom Giammarco on My Name is Dokgotak, the second and "arguably the best" film in a trilogy based on a popular comic book series.

    Nicholas Barber talks with Simon Pegg for the Independent.

    For the Los Angeles Times, Geoff Boucher profiles Eli Roth, who "has long modeled his career on Sam Raimi, who made The Evil Dead and other horror classics before putting the knife down and going into the crowd-pleasing Spider-Man franchise. Roth may do the same, but his next project, an adaptation of Stephen King's bloody novel Cell, is certainly staying in his old familiar red zone."

    Malcolm Jones suggest in Newsweek that Tony Soprano and Harry Potter have a lot more in common than you might think.

    Susan King's got an overview in the Los Angeles Times of The Spirit of Adventure, a series at the Egyptian Theatre through July 5 and arriving June 28 at the Aero Theatre.

    The BBC reports on the MTV Movie Awards winners.

    Offline viewing tip. Tomorrow is Michael Moore's day on Oprah.

    Online viewing tips. Rooftop Film Festival shorts, one a day, evidently viewable to anyone in the US. Ahem. Via Michael Tully.

    Posted by dwhudson at 6:00 AM

    Open Roads: New Italian Cinema. Preview.

    Following a terrific Rendez-vous with French Cinema, James van Maanen prepares for an 8-day week of Italian cinema by getting a few words with FSoLC program director Richard Peňa.

    Cinema Paradiso With the advent this Wednesday of Open Roads, the Film Society of Lincoln Center's annual festival of new Italian cinema - it's a good time to consider the role of Italy in world cinema today. As did many of us older movie fans, I came of age when, playing in our favorite big-city cinemas at any given month might be a new film from De Sica, Rossellini, Visconti, Fellini, Germi, Bolognini, Lattuada, Zurlini, Antonioni, Bertolucci or Bellocchio. Ask an American moviegoer today - even one who frequents art houses and is unafraid to tackle subtitles - about a current Italian director, and you'll be lucky to hear Scorsese mentioned. (Talented as he may be, as an Italian-American, Marty doesn't fill the bill). So few Italian films open theatrically here in the US, is it any wonder most of us might have trouble identifying the filmmakers? (The one Italian film currently playing in "selected" US cities is Emanuele Crialese's Golden Door.)

    Rose del Deserto 2007 marks the 7th edition of Open Roads and, as usual, there are a few directors/writers making a return engagement, along with some first-timers and one - Mario Monicelli (remember Big Deal on Madonna Street?), who, at 92 years of age, will introduce his wonderful new film, Desert Roses. Certainly one of the grand old men of cinema (I believe that only Antonioni at 94 and Portugal's Manoel de Oliveira at 98 best him as working directors), Monicelli proves he can still make an old-fashioned, mainstream movie full of humor, pathos, humanity, irony and art.

    "One of the great things about finding Italy's new directors, which we do try to showcase," explains Open Roads program director Richard Peňa, "is watching them move into new and different areas, discussing things overlooked or not talked about in the past. It's the sense of their trying to use cinema to discover or rediscover their own country." For many Americans, notes Peňa, the image of Italians as gregarious, loud, fun and sensual is perhaps the major impression, but it is only one impression and does not apply to the entire country. "Italy is a varied place of many different regions. Regionalism has always been important to our festival, and it will be again this year, too."

    For this viewer, one of the joys of experiencing the entire festival is the sense one can perceive - vaguely perhaps, but it's there - of what Italy has been thinking, feeling and experiencing over the past year. Having thus far seen 10 of the 13 programs in this series, I can attest to this yet again. There may be less overt politics/economics/sociology on view this time (which was also the case with the recent Rendez-vous with French Cinema series), but, as Peňa explains, "While it's true that there is nothing here like last year's Crime Novel - a classic Italian political film showing the inter-workings between mafia, police and the left - other films do touch on aspects of contemporary politics." The program director cites the documentary See Naples and Die as one example. "It looks at the city of Naples, which had a remarkable renaissance in the late 1980s and 90s, but has since slipped back a bit into certain traits, habits that don't easily disappear: Mafia and family structure, along with new problems like immigration."

    Immigration (which figures prominently these days in every western country's politics and economics) also appears as a motif in films as disparate as Paolo Sorrentino's The Family Friend, Laura Muscardin's Billo, Davide Ferrario's Primo Levi's Journey and perhaps most strongly in Giuseppe Tornatore's The Unknown Woman. (I say "perhaps" because the latter is one of the three films not available for advance screening.)

    Viaggio Segreto Tornatore's movie has just swept this year's David di Donatello nominations (Italy's "Oscars"), so it looks to be a very hot ticket at the festival. Other nearly sold-out films are Desert Roses and Caravaggio, with Roberto Andò's Secret Journey also selling briskly (nudity, sex, Sicily and Alessio Boni? Well, of course!). None of the films - not even Tornatore's (Cinema Paradiso, Legend of 1900, Maléna... hello, distributors? Mainstream art here!) - has as yet garnered a US release, which makes it all the more imperative, if one is an Italian film buff, to see them here at Lincoln Center.

    When prompted for a theme or idea that might characterize this year's festival, Peňa points to "the sense of spirituality that certain of the films offer - of characters finding their place in terms of faith - even if this faith does not follow the manner of prominent religions." Past years have seen such disparately "spiritual" films as Ferzan Ozpetek's Sacred Heart (from last year's festival) and Riccardo Milani's Il Posto dell'anima (from 2004). While one man's spirituality may be another man's poison (I'll place my faith in the human over the divine, thank you), I did indeed perceive a strong sense of faith (or its noticeable absence) expressed in films as different as Monicelli's Desert Roses, Eugenio Cappuccio's One Out of Two, Laura Muscardin's Billo, Roberta Torre's Dark Sea and Davide Maderna's Schopenhauer.

    More on each of the films on or near the day it makes its Open Roads debut.

    Posted by dwhudson at 12:06 AM | Comments (12)

    June 3, 2007

    Cineaste. Summer 07.

    12:08 East of Bucharest "Balkan films, once on the periphery of world cinema, have begun to move to center stage," begins the editorial in the summer issue of Cineaste - written evidently before Cristian Mingui's 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days won the Palme d'Or, too. "Despite this upsurge in visibility, international audiences usually have limited knowledge of the region's cinematic traditions. This issue of Cineaste addresses that problem with a supplement that places recent Balkan films into a broad cultural and historical context."

    That supplement is edited by Dina Iordanova, and it's not online; but you can browse the TOC and decide whether or not to seek out the latest issue in print.

    Update: Just up at the site now, too, "Is There a Balkan Cinema?: A Filmmakers' and Critics' Symposium," organized by Andrew James Horton (you may remember him as the editor of Kinoeye who's written our primers on Polish, Czech & Slovak and Early Russian cinema), with Dan Georgakas and Angelike Contis. You'll recognize more than a few names among the respondents, too.

    On a related note, in today's New York Times, Alan Riding talks with Corneliu Porumboiu about 12:08 East of Bucharest and comments: "In one sense the country's entry into the European Union this year has made it easier to forget what happened before 1989. Yet if Romanians prefer to look forward, now thinking of themselves first and foremost as Europeans, Mr Porumboiu has at least reminded them that the past is unresolved or rather, as he puts it, it has been turned into fiction."

    Cineaste: Summer07 Back to Cineaste: "[T]here remains a glimmer of hope for those who wish to rekindle the magic of discovering small films on big screens amid likeminded cinephiles," writes Rebecca M Alvin. "Makeshift theaters have spread across a wide range of communities and are taking up residence not only in actual movie theaters, but also in alternative spaces like tractor trailers, cafes and bars, church basements, and even health clubs. They call themselves microcinemas, and they bring with them the promise of a communal cinema experience, showing films with virtually no marketing campaigns, no stars, and no budgets."

    Mitchell Miller interviews Avi Mograbi, who "draws freely upon both the American direct-cinema tradition - seeking out preexisting crises to reveal character - and the 'Rouch tradition' of cinéma-vérité - precipitating a crisis in order to test it."

    "Even as Zodiac implicitly extols the professionalism of its reporters and cops, and quietly mourns their emotional collapse and internal decay as their professionalism is negated by a seemingly unsolvable case, it contemplates our information age and its unintended consequence of overwhelming the information gatherer," writes Robert Koehler. "To watch Zodiac unfold is to witness a once-cocky and full-of-beans director of stylish and sometimes self-consciously postmodern movies grow up and turn into a fully mature filmmaker."

    Bette Davis Collection Vol 2 "The largest film library in the world - which, thanks to mergers and acquisitions, contains not just Warner Bros releases but MGM's pre-1986 titles, RKO and United Artists films, and more - has thrown open its doors, and is in unprecedented circulation." Robert Cashill offers an engaging, leisurely paced summer read as he makes his way through one DVD box set after another.

    Michael Sicinski opens his review of F is for Phony: Fake Documentary and Truth's Undoing by noting that the editors of the collection warn right off the bat "that the reader should watch out for dubious entries... The hall-of-mirrors that is the 'fake documentary' can, it's implied, best be critically explored in an environment of thoroughgoing readerly suspicion. Most of the essays in the collection provide their own, less shell-gamey version of this thesis. That is, the critical power of the fake-doc is its ability to problematize the transparent styles and truth claims of 'normal' documentary, thereby demanding a higher level of hermeneutic engagement on the part of their viewers."

    Posted by dwhudson at 1:59 PM

    June 2, 2007

    Weekend shorts.

    Andrea Chénier Terry Gilliam will be directing opera for the first time in July - a production for La Scala, no less, "a staging of Umberto Giordano's Andrea Chénier, the tale of the poet guillotined during the French revolution," reports Tom Kington.

    Also in the Guardian:

    • "In one of the most talked-about works of the Biennale, the Italian video installation artist Francesco Vezzoli has created two 2008 White House campaigns, Democrazy," reports Angelique Chrisafis. "Amazingly, some of Washington's top political advisers rushed to take part. [Sharon] Stone's campaign ad has been produced by Mark McKinnon, Bush's top advertising strategist in 2004, who is senior adviser to Senator John McCain's presidential campaign. Meanwhile, [Bernard-Henri] Lévy, known as 'BHL,' was managed and directed by Bill Clinton's advertising gurus from 1996."

    • "An exploration of the lives of Hindu widows during the turmoil of pre-independence India and the caste hierarchy that forced some into prostitution, Water was hailed the finest Indian movie made for a generation, and went on to become the most successful Hindi-language film ever in North America." Randeep Ramesh talks with Deepa Mehta about the film's arduous journey to the screen. And Andrew Pulver reviews "the conclusion to Mehta's taboo-confronting trilogy (preceded by Fire and Earth, her takes on lesbians and partition respectively)." More from Derek Malcolm in the Evening Standard.

    • "Why has London been so poorly visualised by filmmakers over the years?" asks John Patterson.

    • Sydney Pollack tells the story behind his first documentary, Sketches of Frank Gehry.

    • Kevin Sampson: "On one level, Grow Your Own is a celebration of a world and a lifestyle that seemed confined to bygone times; but it also packs a real punch by opening up the lives behind all those shed doors to tell a hope-filled story of contemporary Britain. Not too many passers-by would associate these reclaimed urban plots with a major initiative to reintegrate the UK's most troubled refugees into society."

    • Xan Brooks argues that many British stage actors wouldn't mind at all following the trajectory of Anthony Hopkins's career.

    4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days "The new Romania is probably happy to throw money at films that dig the Ceasescu era into a deep grave," Financial Times film critic Nigel Andrews suggests to 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days director Cristian Mingui, who replies, "But I don't think that trend will continue. The good thing that has happened already is that our vision is different from the films shot immediately after 1989. Those were full of anger and little else. They were made by people less attentive to cinema than to their political beliefs and grievances."

    Sheila Johnston also talks with Mingui - for the Telegraph, where Jeremy Brock explains how his adaptation of Brideshead Revisited will differ from the 1981 mini-series. Related: Christopher Hitchens reviews Alexander Waugh's Fathers and Sons: The Autobiography of a Family for the New York Times.

    S Mickey Lin and Genevieve Yue interview Apichatpong Weerasethakul for Reverse Shot:

    Your upcoming film, Utopia, will take place in a foreign country. As it deals with issues of memory, which suggests something personal, why wouldn't it take place in Thailand?

    It's part of a project where nine international filmmakers were asked to take a look at America. Utopia developed from wanting to take all my crew on a trip to America, so we would be on the Amtrak, making a film together. The main idea is that we would live on the train and just make something up and try to talk about our memory of Thailand. But at the same time the landscape outside would be America: its changing, the snow, the desert. We would stop sometimes and look at people. At the same time, there would be some kind of connection to the memory of each crew: there would be a scientific device that is sent to the cabin somewhere in the snow landscape, and a grandmother that controls our memory. It kind of developed from there, but now it's changed to something totally different. Now it's become a prehistoric man's journey into the snow landscape.

    "J-horror legends director Hideo Nakata and producer Taka Ichise, the pair responsible for bringing us the terrifying films Ringu and Dark Water, are set to start work on their new film Inhuman later this year," notes Aleida Strowger for Time Out.

    The Fifth Empire "With The Fifth Empire, a drama about a young Portuguese king hoping to unite his troubled nation by embarking on a foreign adventure, the prolific 98-year-old director Manoel de Oliveira pushes his minimalist style as far as it can go," writes Matt Zoller Seitz. Also, Four Lane Highway is "affable but dull."

    And also in the NYT: "Set in New Jersey in 1978 and based on events in [Elisabeth] Shue's life, Gracie connects the adversity-drama dots - the beat-down, the bounce-back, the last-minute support from an unexpected quarter - with a subtle awareness of the shock waves of bereavement," writes Jeannette Catsoulis. "Balancing the emotional complexity is Chris Manley's refreshingly unaffected cinematography; the drama of a free kick, like that of a good movie, is best viewed through a steady lens." (Related: Ellen McCarthy talks with Elisabeth and Andrew Shue for the Washington Post.) Also: "Sweetness and whimsy fill the screen to capacity in I'm Reed Fish a rural coming-of-age tale that's so laid-back that its cast is almost horizontal."

    "Lunacy owes rather more to Michel Foucault than it does to Frankenstein, more to the Marquis de Sade than to Dracula," writes Christopher Bray. "A lifelong surrealist, [Jan] Svankmajer is obsessed with the idea of absolute freedom... My own view is that a society that repressed nothing wouldn't be a society."

    "It always seems surprising today that in his own day Ernst Lubitsch's reputation as a silent filmmaker was based as much on his big historical epics - works like Madame Dubarry and Anna Boleyn - as on comedies of the likes of The Oyster Princess," writes Ian Johnston at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "Certainly modern taste favours the effervescence and frivolities of Lubitsch's comic touch rather than the heavier hand at work in these epics. There are nice touches, and Anna Boleyn is relatively successful, but it is hard to escape a certain turgidity inherent in the genre."

    Bonnie and Clyde The Toronto Star's Peter Howell listens in as James Gray and Robert Duvall, director and one of the stars of We Own the Night, butt heads over Bonnie and Clyde:

    Gray: "You don't like Bonnie and Clyde? You're wrong."

    Duvall: "No, you're wrong. The acting was so overstated. C'mon. The acting sucked, Jimmy! You know that!"

    Gray: "I don't know. I loved that movie. I'm sorry."

    Duvall: "Arthur Penn. A guy from New York doing something rural!"

    Gray: "The movie doesn't play like a realistic thing. It's a whole other thing."

    Duvall: "See if it holds up, Jimmy! See if it holds up!"

    Via Movie City News.

    "A city with such majestic memories, both naughty and nice, can only evoke magic on the silver screen. At the movies, New York City is shorthand. When she popped up, the director didn't need to explain further. It was a big, naked city with 8 million stories and, depending on the background music, you knew whether they'd be happy or sad." At the House Next Door, Odienator is forced to limit his list of New York movies to just five; but the lists and extensions come fast and furious in the comments.

    "As the husband of a high school social studies teacher, Chalk - a mockumentary about educators that's shot in the style of The Office - strikes me as the definition of a missed opportunity," writes Nick Schager. Also at Slant, Ed Gonzalez on Unborn in the USA: "Filmmakers Stephen Fell and Will Thompson, having gained unprecedented access to the inner workings of pro-life groups across the country, have created an ungainly, distracted, but nonetheless fair-minded look at people who actively work to chip away at Roe v Wade. And: "Beyond Hatred arrives at essential truths about suffering and loss through abstract means."

    To Live and Die in LA A "great Movie Moment is one that illustrates the greatness of the movie around it, and occasionally, it will transform an otherwise good movie into a pretty great one." And this week, Paul Clark finds that moment for his ScreenGrab column in William Friedkin's To Live and Die in LA.

    In the LA CityBeat, Andy Klein celebrates the fresh release of Rio Bravo, "one of the very greatest westerns."

    Kaleem Aftab meets (again) Philip Seymour Hoffman who "keeps grounded" these days by returning regularly to theater. Also in the Independent, Bob Flynn talks with John Boorman: "The Tiger's Tail, his latest film, is a parable about his adopted homeland, centred around a soured prince-and-the-pauper tale of doppelgangers exchanging lives in the midst of the Irish Republic's raging 'Celtic tiger' economic boom."

    Michael Guillén talks with John Carney, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova about Once for SFF360.

    Adam Ross's latest interviewee: Johanna Custer.

    "Advertisers have long linked up with Hollywood by placing their products within films or trotting out stars as their official sponsors," writes Lorenza Muñoz. "But some companies are now going a step further, investing directly in movie productions in the hopes of striking even deeper connections with film audiences." Also in the Los Angeles Times, Michael Ordoña reviews The Devil Came on Horseback; and Congresswoman Diane Watson (Democrat, Los Angeles) "wants to ship DVDs of classic Hollywood movies overseas, hoping they will reshape an image she believes has been tarnished by the Iraq war." Jim Puzzanghera reports.

    Artkrush 59: "Time-Based Art."

    Online scrolling and gazing tip. Stills from the work of cinematographer Owen Roizman at the Art of Memory.

    Online listening tip. Bruce Dern on the Leonard Lopate Show.

    Posted by dwhudson at 2:15 PM | Comments (1)

    Weekend fests and events.

    Daughters of Wisdom "In 1990, in an attempt to resurrect Buddhists practices in Tibet, the Kala Rongo monestary was formed and began to admit and incorporate women into mystical fold," writes Benjamin Crossley-Marra at Filmmaker's blog. "If you're around Brooklyn next week you might stop by the Brooklyn Film Festival [through June 10] and check out Bari Pearlman's new film Daughters of Wisdom [site], which highlights the struggles and accomplishments of the female initiates."

    Annaliese Griffith has more on the festival in general at the Reeler, where she also previews the Hip-Hop Odyssey (H2O) International Film Festival (through June 16).

    Peter Nellhaus sends word from Colorado's Aurora Asian Film Festival.

    At Bad Lit, Mike's got the lineup for the Portland Underground Film Festival. June 7 through 10.

    The John Cassavetes season is on at the National Film Theatre from June 15 through 30 and, for the London Times, John Russell Taylor, evidently the first and, for a while, the only British critic to appreciate his work, recalls meeting him now and then over the course of two decades.

    Cornerstone Festival Jason Morehead preps for the Cornerstone Festival: "Each year's program has a special theme. This year's theme is 'J-Pop' and the line-up looks to be an otaku's dream. Speaking of otaku, I'll be giving a presentation on otaku and Japanese pop culture - what it is, why it has become so prevalent and successful here in the States, and why it resonates with so many people." June 25 through 30.

    Dan Sallit recommends two titles lined up for Leading Ladies of Italian Cinema, July 6 through 29.

    Michael Guillén looks ahead to the Fabulous Fashion in Film Festival, July 27 through August 3 in San Francisco.

    Online viewing tips. Ted Z's got more trailers for films screening at the Seattle International Film Festival. Speaking of which, it's worth mentioning again: the Stranger and the Siffblog.

    Posted by dwhudson at 12:52 PM

    Interview. Danny Glover.

    Bamako "In deciding to bring the World Bank to 'trial' in the spacious, picturesque courtyard of his childhood home in Mali, gifted writer-director Abderrahmane Sissako has made one of the most powerful, urgent African films ever," writes Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times. "Bamako is an attack on globalization that is endlessly cogent, confrontational - and, best of all, as captivating as it is illuminating."

    And just up at the main site is Michael Guillén's interview with Danny Glover, activist, executive producer of Bamako and star of "a short film-within-a-film, an African spaghetti Western called Death in Timbukto," as Walter Addiego notes in the San Francisco Chronicle.

    "But the comic mood ends when we see that this bloody shoot-'em-up draws laughs from its African viewers," Addiego continues. "It's a chilling touch, as is the remark by a character who is a cameraman and recounts that he prefers to shoot pictures of corpses, because they are 'more real' than the living."

    "[I]n the film's supple overlaying of documentary realism and dramatic fiction comes the illuminating cinematic juxtaposition of center and periphery, elite discourse and social reality, hallowed halls and the hovels of the unemployed, mouthpieces of power and sidewalk hucksters," writes Robert Avila at SF360. "Bamako is a film of rare political and dramatic force, which substitutes for the deadening rhetoric of globalization (and the pernicious evolutionary ideology behind its concept of 'development') a profoundly potent economy of human faces and stories."

    Earlier: "Cannes. Bamako."

    Posted by dwhudson at 12:36 PM

    Ten Canoes.

    Ten Canoes "Shot in glorious widescreen by cinematographer Ian Jones, Ten Canoes offers unforgettable panoramas of the swamps and temperate forests of Arnhem Land, which are entirely different landscapes from the stereotypical Outback deserts so often seen in Australian film," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "What [Rolf] de Heer, [David] Gulpilil and co-director Peter Djigirr have tried to accomplish is a blending of the discursive, long-winded and allegorical aboriginal storytelling tradition with the 90-minute, three-act structure of movies. I'm not sure Ten Canoes is absolutely successful on that front, but it's a fascinating immersion within a highly ritualized Stone Age oral culture that, at least according to tradition, existed almost unchanged for thousands of years before the European arrival."

    Updated through 6/3.

    "Once you become accustomed to the mystical vocabulary describing a world without modern science and technology, it amounts to using different terms to describe universal experience," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Both the Storyteller's tale and the movie that contains it transport you out of time and leave you wondering if sorcery, religion and psychotherapy are different forms of magic."

    "The legend, full of warring factions, mysticism, and sorcerers skirts the line of the expected tropes, but in the end, De Heer's frame sets the color sections up as a surprising, hilarious cautionary tale about a covetous nature-the utterly deflating concluding joke undercuts the potentially staid, tentative traditionalist bent that's often a hallmark in this arena," writes Jeff Reichert at indieWIRE. "The best praise I could level at Ten Canoes is that it reminds me most of Ousmane Sembene's seminal historical fiction Ceddo, which felt at once ancient and wholly modern, a bridging of gaps - for all the differences between the viewers and those viewed, it was the kind of film that brought all involved in the experience just a hair closer."

    "Though set 1,000 years ago, it is a story that demands to be seen not as an audacious experiment but as a cautionary tale with contemporary relevance," declares Derek Malcolm in the Evening Standard.

    "The movie - which comes with a host of attached side projects and goals for the Australian aborigine community - is off the hook on the ambiguous intentionality issue," writes Vadim Rizov at the Reeler. "Which also makes it more of a curious experiment than a functioning movie, adventurous if not quite successful storytelling."

    "What unfolds here on screen is so gently and obliquely laid out that I have to admit my attention very occasionally wandered, and I even suspected that bush spirits were silently attaching tiny weights to each of my eyelashes," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "Regular moments of enchantment removed them."

    "[H]aving de-romanticized its subject matter, Ten Canoes is easier to admire than to embrace," writes Nerve's Bilge Ebiri.

    "Like a lot of folk tales, Ten Canoes peters out into something more prosaic than profound, but it flows like water, and has a deceptively gentle pull that proves hard to escape," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club.

    "I decided from early on that they should choose their own film - that I would simply be the medium for them to tell it. Nobody has ever made a film about their culture. They have never seen anything in their own language. I wanted to enable them to do that," de Heer tells Nicola Christie in the Independent.

    "It's a shame in today's increasingly competitive theatrical marketplace that a lush, inventive picture such as Ten Canoes is relegated to a mere footnote (or a 'Tracking Shot,' as the Voice dubs their lesser-profile mini-reviews) in our film culture pages," notes Anthony Kaufman.

    Update, 6/3: "Like the recent Malian film Bamako, a satire on the activities of the World Bank and IMF in Africa, Ten Canoes is highly sophisticated in its narrative structure and strategy, with three levels of narration," notes Philip French in the Observer. And another film comes to mind, too: "Ten Canoes throws a revealing light on [Jindabyne], explaining the nature of the offence given to the Aborigines through the ignorance and insensitivity of the white Australians involved."

    IndieWIRE interviews Rolf de Heer.

    Posted by dwhudson at 12:33 PM

    Day Watch.

    Day Watch "The novelty of a supernatural blockbuster rendered in a Russian idiom lent Night Watch extra zest, but apocalyptic vampire spectaculars are, after all, a universal language, and director Timur Bekmambetov brought plenty of post-Matrix aplomb to the proceedings," writes Nathan Lee in the Voice. Now, here comes the sequel, Day Watch, and it "looks terrific: Imagine what Wong Kar-wai might do with Blade 4. But the human touch is less than inspiring, and Bekmambetov's thrown a big, fat hug around the inconsequential psychodramas of his vague principals."

    Updated through 6/8.

    "I enjoyed Day Watch for a couple of reasons," notes Vadim Rizov at the Reeler. "I have a major ax to grind with my country of origin and the relentless shittiness of virtually all the settings gave me plenty of ammo; and the film's too much of a spazzy spectacle to not at least hold your attention.... I wish Day Watch well - it beats most Hollywood blockbusters on their own terms for sheer moment-to-moment distraction - but only with the mildest of interest."

    "Less coherent than its predecessor, if equally creative, the movie depicts hidden dimensions teeming with beings who transform into clouds of mosquitoes, swap bodies at will and rewrite destiny with something called the Chalk of Fate. Perhaps the Fickle Finger was otherwise engaged," quips Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times.

    "[T]here's something very Russian about the Night Watch films, from their loser heroes to their overwrought plotting," finds Bilge Ebiri at Nerve. "Even the idea of the end of the world as a party thrown by the Devil is straight out of Bulgakov."

    "As the title suggests it's a somewhat lighter film than its predecessor, for all the Russian breast-beating about fathers and sons that goes on when the movie stops long enough to consider the emotional, rather than the technocratic gee-whiz, side of things," writes Robert Cashill. "But it's also a longer one, and the low-budget inventiveness that marked the first installment feels slicker, and emptier, this time."

    "If one doesn't take the cosmology too seriously, there's fun to be had in the action-driven mishmash of fantastic folklore," writes Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times. "The allegorical father-son tale (so very Russian) is a veritable venti frappuccino of Star Wars-like philosophizing with a triple infusion of The Matrix and a dash of The Omen, plus a plethora of other movie reference points."

    Update, 6/3: "Bekmambetov seems to be making up the contradictory rules of his supernatural universe as he goes along," notes Jürgen Fauth. "[C]ardboard characters with mysterious powers can turn around airplanes in mid-flight and are said to trigger the apocalypse at the drop of a magic rubber ball, but there is no apparent interior logic to the mayhem."

    Update, 6/5: "Sure, Day Watch may be a lousy vampire movie and an aggressive assault of light and sound, but beneath all that it's also a brilliant essay on justice, gender, class, and politics in contemporary Russia," writes Lauren Kaminsky for Reverse Shot.

    Update, 6/7: "Bekmambetov succeeds in crafting a movie so fast-paced and stylish that it doesn't matter why there's a battle sequence or car chase, you just sit back and enjoy the ride," writes Matt Peterson in the New York Press.

    Update, 6/8: "[A]s with similar films, like the Underworld movies and the Matrix sequels, Day Watch is all charging incident and no depth, no matter how much the characters natter on about their angst or their love between battles," writes Tasha Robinson for the AV Club.

    Posted by dwhudson at 12:29 PM

    Mr Brooks.

    Mr Brooks "Mr Brooks is a serial-killer thriller starring Kevin Costner, William Hurt and Demi Moore," writes Paul Matwychuk for openers. "No, you did not fall asleep and wake up back in 1988 - although the film was written by the team of Bruce A Evans and Raynold Gideon, who had a pair of big 80s hits with Starman and Stand by Me before the fiasco that was Cutthroat Island landed pretty much everyone connected with it in movie jail for the better part of a decade."

    "Mr Brooks is one deliriously ridiculous movie, and a bona fide contender for status as a camp classic," writes Nick Schager at Slant.

    "No one should ever accuse Costner of being a great thespian, but whether atop a horse or a pitcher's mound, he is always Kevin Costner," notes Neil Morris in the Independent Weekly. "Thus the allure of a film like Mr Brooks, in which the perennially nice guy actor aims to reveal a dark side, á la Jimmy Stewart in The Naked Spur or Henry Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West, for example.... It is all the more disheartening, then, that this potentially compelling character study becomes hijacked by some infuriating subplotting."

    "Beneath its drab veil of self-seriousness, Mr Brooks is nothing but just plain silly," writes Stephanie Zacharek at Salon.

    "Mr Brooks, alas, is not a comedy," sighs Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "A werewolf movie masquerading as a thriller, it looks like a canny attempt by Bruce A Evans... to establish a Saw-like franchise using the names of fading 80s stars to lend the project a semblance of respectability. If it is not as sadistic as the Saw and Hostel movies, it is as malignant in its insistence on the omnipresence of evil."

    "[W]hile unsatisfying in some ways, [it's] interesting enough that I won't have to use my overworked invective muscle," writes Andy Klein at the LA CityBeat.

    It's "Dark, Tense, Suspenseful as well as Loud, Bloody and Gruesome - which means its witty concept goes into the gutter," writes Armond White in the New York Press.

    "If only Mr Brooks weren't trying so hard to make some point about the hereditary nature of addiction, it might have been fun," sighs Robert Wilonsky in the Voice.

    "[L]overs of big-budget accidental camp looking to fill out a double-feature with this year's Perfect Stranger need look no further," suggests Keith Phipps at the AV Club.

    "Like many movie stars, Costner doesn't always get his due as an actor. He's played criminals before - notably in Clint Eastwood's underappreciated A Perfect World - but never before has he appeared to have so much fun being bad," writes Kevin Crust. Also in the Los Angeles Times, Paul Cullum talks with Costner.

    Posted by dwhudson at 12:26 PM

    Weekend books.

    Oscar Micheaux: The Great and Only "[Oscar] Micheaux, who died in 1951, has reemerged as a touchstone of African American culture," writes David Ehrenstein in his review of Patrick McGilligan's Oscar Micheaux: The Great and Only for the Los Angeles Times:

    Chicago's teeming black district, known as "The Stroll," clearly figured in his decision to make films for what he saw as an increasingly sophisticated black public, who were not only barred from most entertainments but also had never seen their own lives portrayed realistically on film.

    He was savvy enough to arrange The Homesteader's premiere as a "roadshow"-style attraction - 2½ hours long with full orchestral accompaniment, like the DW Griffith films it was designed to counter in presenting black life through black eyes.

    Still, there would be protests from his community - particularly the church, since, as McGilligan notes, his films "routinely mocked organized religion and hypocritical preachers." God's Stepchildren (1938) raised the hackles of Harlem Communists: "His characters were comfortable in gin joints and flophouses. They gambled and drank to excess and smoked reefer. The women wore sexy underwear or less, sometimes cohabitating with abusive men who had no intention of marrying them."

    This heady mixture of pulp and uplift, conveyed with storytelling flair, was often popular with black audiences, yet Micheaux made and lost money with his projects over and over again.

    Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey At Dr Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope, considers - at length - a collection edited by Robert Kolker, Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey:

    Kolker's introduction is less an introductory essay to the ones that follow, or even a broad discussion of the historical and aesthetic contexts for 2001, and more a defense of the continuing need to study Stanley Kubrick. "2001 has had much written about it," Kolker writes:

    but given its richness, its history, and the changes in its audience since its first release, more is ready to be said. Like the narratives of Kubrick's films, the critical responses they call forth move in a kind of eternal return, coming back again and again to reconsider, reinterpret, and even recreate their meanings.

    The latter sentence is one of my favorite scholarly quotes on Stanley Kubrick - I've used it before and I will use it again. On some (affective, intellectual) level, Kubrick's films are just meticulously ambiguous enough to regenerate new readings constantly. This isn't meant as a call to warmed-over "reader response" criticism. It testifies instead to the sheer power of these films.

    A heads-up from Jürgen Fauth: Next Stop Hollywood: Short Stories Bound for the Screen. Click that title.

    Considering Doris Day "What accounts for the stupefying popular success of Doris Day?" asks Nellie McKay, recipient of the Doris Day Music Award in 2005, opening her review of Tom Santopietro's Considering Doris Day. "She is the No 1 female box-office star of all time, setting the record over three seismic decades - the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Did she embody McCarthyism or transcend it? As John Updike once said, 'I'm always looking for insights into the real Doris Day because I'm stuck with this infatuation and need to explain it to myself.'"

    Also in the lively summer reading issue of the NYT Book Review, Liz Brown reviews James Robert Parish's It's Good to be the King: The Seriously Funny Life of Mel Brooks and Don Rickles and David Ritz's Rickles' Book.

    A few reviews suggest pairing a book and a movie. Candice Millard reads three books about pirates, for example; should be easy enough to think up a trilogy to go with those.

    Robert Christgau reviews Chris Salewicz's Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer, to be read, maybe, before or after seeing Julien Temple's The Future is Unwritten.

    Or how about Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America, reviewed here by Dick Cavett ("It's all here: a sense of this country's benevolence, its community relations, civic wars, social strata, sexuality and sexism as well as our capacity for having a good time"), with The Swimmer?

    Kevin Baker considers From a Cause to a Style: Modernist Architecture's Encounter with the American City; Nathaniel Kahn's My Architect.

    Stretching a bit further, Lucy Moore's Liberty: The Lives and Times of Six Women in Revolutionary France (reviewed by Judith Warner) and, say, Rohmer's The Lady and the Duke.

    Chuck Barris, subject of the underrated fantasia Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, has a new book out, a novel. Neil Genzlinger reviews the "shamelessly entertaining" The Big Question.

    Then, for the Washington Post, Pamela Constable reviews Deborah Rodriguez's Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil. So: The Beauty Academy of Kabul.

    Posted by dwhudson at 11:35 AM

    June 1, 2007

    Bookforum. Fiction into Film.