July 31, 2007
Michelangelo Antonioni, 1912 - 2007.Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni, whose depiction of alienation made him a symbol of art-house cinema with movies such as Blow-Up and L'Avventura, has died, officials and news reports said Tuesday. He was 94.... Antonioni depicted alienation in the modern world through sparse dialogue and long takes. Along with Federico Fellini, he helped turn post-war Italian film away from the Neorealism movement and toward a personal cinema of imagination.... "In the empty, silent spaces of the world, he has found metaphors that illuminate the silent places our hearts, and found in them, too, a strange and terrible beauty: austere, elegant, enigmatic, haunting," Jack Nicholson said in presenting Antonioni with the career Oscar. Nicholson starred in the director's 1975 film The Passenger. The AP. See also: Acquarello, James Brown's profile for Senses of Cinema, Dennis Yuen's Antonioni archive and the Wikipedia entry. "'With Antonioni dies not only one of the greatest directors but also a master of modernity,' said Rome mayor Walter Veltroni this morning. A quiet funeral is planned in Ferrara, his birthplace in northern Italy, this Thursday," reports Xan Brooks in the Guardian. Also, Penelope Houston recalls L'Avventura's tumultuous reception at Cannes in 1960: "Affronted critics leapt to the director's defence. In 1962, L'Avventura was runner-up in Sight and Sound's poll of the top ten films of all time, coming closer than anything else in four runnings of the event to toppling Citizen Kane from its decennial perch. In 1972 L'Avventura held fifth place, in 1982 it was seventh, but by 1992 and 2002 it was out of the money. This seemed a fair enough reflection of altered attitudes, the eclipse of the European art-house cinema which Antonioni's work exemplified." Further down that same page, John Francis Lane writes, "In the years following his stroke, in addition to making Beyond the Clouds, though impaired in speech and with a paralysed right arm, Antonioni enjoyed travelling and accepted most of the invitations that poured in, attending festivals and cultural events in Italy and around the world, with his wife Enrica always at his side.... Among Antonioni's nostalgic trips, the most moving was his visit to the Taormina film festival in 2000. He stayed at the San Domenico Hotel where he had shot the last scenes of L'Avventura (in which I had a cameo role)." "Ingmar Bergman left in the early hours of yesterday morning. Within a few hours, Michelangelo Antonioni had followed him through the exit door," blogs Xan Brooks: It remains to be seen whether this signals the onset of some art-house apocalypse - some Biblical purge of revered European auteurs - but the omens are hardly encouraging. How are Godard, Resnais and Rohmer bearing up?... If Bergman was the great high priest of the European art-house, then Antonioni was its puckish intellectual. His films were at once more playful and more spare than Bergman's. L'Avventura and L'Eclisse are cerebral, teasing puzzle pictures. Blowup is a roguish, vogueish mystery play. Zabriskie Point offered a freewheeling, anthropological tour of an American counter-culture that - one suspects - never really existed outside of Antonioni's head to begin with. I also feel that Antonioni has aged less well than Bergman. Perhaps it is the fate of all "modernists" to eventually turn antique, or even retro, and through no fault of his own Antonioni seems finally to have been too fashionable, too much an index of his age, so that his cool inquiries can now look a little mannered and arch. Heavens. I couldn't disagree more. Now as we head into the late 00's, the almost standardized "festival film" bears the mark of no other director more than Antonioni's. At any rate, the Guardian has now set up a special section for Antonioni as well. Initial reactions in the German-language papers: Andreas Kilb in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Bernd Graff in the Süddeutsche Zeitung and Tomas Fitzel in Die Welt. "In a generation of rule-breakers, Mr Antonioni was one of the most subversive and venerated," writes Rick Lyman in the New York Times. "He challenged moviegoers with an intense focus on intentionally vague characters and a disdain for such mainstream conventions as plot, pacing and clarity. He would raise questions and never answer them, have his characters act in self-destructive ways and fail to explain why, and hold his shots so long that the actors sometimes slipped out of character.... 'What is impressive about Antonioni's films is not that they are good,' the film scholar Seymour Chatman wrote. 'But that they have been made at all.'" Coudal Partners points to Charles Thomas Samuels's 1969 interview with Antonioni; that's at EuroScreenwriters, which has another that ran in Cahiers du cinéma in 1960. A few clicks over, you'll find Bergman on Antonioni (in an excerpt from an interview with the Sydsvenska Dagbladet): He's done two masterpieces, you don't have to bother with the rest. One is Blow-Up, which I've seen many times, and the other is La Notte, also a wonderful film, although that's mostly because of the young Jeanne Moreau. In my collection I have a copy of Il Grido, and damn what a boring movie it is. So devilishly sad, I mean. You know, Antonioni never really learned the trade. He concentrated on single images, never realising that film is a rhythmic flow of images, a movement. Sure, there are brilliant moments in his films. But I don't feel anything for L'Avventura, for example. Only indifference. I never understood why Antonioni was so incredibly applauded. And I thought his muse Monica Vitti was a terrible actress. Not one for junket niceties, that Ingmar Bergman. Pix and discussion at the House Next Door. "Last year, BAMcinématek ran a series called The Vision That Changed Cinema: Michelangelo Antonioni, a three-week retrospective in which they screened most of the filmmakers work," recalls Aaron Dobbs. "It gave me an opportunity to see one of his earlier films - Chronicle of a Love, an interesting mixture of Neorealism and American noir. The film is particularly interesting as an artifact of Antonioni's artistic development, showing the glimmers of many of his later themes within the more standard story structure one might expect from a younger filmmaker." "As much as Antonioni's films bemoaned the state of man in the modern world, they never were whiny about it. And as precise a picture-maker as Antonioni was, he was never clinical or antiseptic." Glenn Kenny on why Antonioni's is not a cinema of "alienation": "I don't know if it's objectively better, but my preferred word is 'disengagement.'" I'm posting this in both the Bergman and Antonioni entries: Do read all Glenn Kenny's "Thirteen Ways of Looking at Ingmar Bergman," which he posted yesterday; here's "XIII," addressing some of what we're talking about in the comments: "Today, we are aswarm with Antonioni imitators, but no one seems to want to be the new Bergman," Michael Atkinson notes. That's partly because nobody can be the new Bergman. And not just for the obvious reason. Unlike a lot of younger filmmakers today, Bergman was a highly, richly cultured individual. He knew the Bible backward and forward, Shakespeare too; fine art, music, and so on. All of his knowledge did more than inform his work - his work is suffused with it, it gains much of its texture and heft from it. Of course, Antonioni is similarly cultured, but his depth in this area doesn't play so much upon the surface of his work; it motivates the form, rather than thickens it. Today's young filmmakers aren't, for the most part, as polyglot. For a lot of them, all the culture they've got is film. And Antonioni's got a signature style that's accessible to them, and seems imitable: shoot some architecture and negative space, have characters disaffectedly utter banalities, and you think you've got it. To emulate Bergman, you've got to know what he knew, and knowing that... go on to be yourself. Dennis Cozzalio on Bergman and Antonioni: "L'Avventura remains for me a mournful, rich and exquisitely moody canvas of sun-baked despair, but in general I'm afraid I value the Italian director's movies more for the influence they have had on directors I revere (Robert Altman, Brian De Palma) and respect (Gus Van Sant, Peter Weir) than for the films themselves." "Some admirers feel that Antonioni didn't have much more to say than he said back in L'Avventura. But nobody ever pretended that he didn't say it beautifully." Phil Nugent at ScreenGrab. An online listening tip from the Shamus: "The great Brazilian performer Caetano Veloso wrote a song called 'Michelangelo Antonioni' for the title sequence and breaks between [Eros'] three segments, and it remains one of the most haunting, absorbing pieces of music I've ever heard." "When watching his films, whether it's the first time or the 58th viewing, there always seems to be something new popping up, some moment or detail you had missed before," writes Blake Ethridge. Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay: If I had to name a single favorite film, it would most likely be his The Passenger, in which Jack Nicholson plays a reporter who impulsively assumes the identity of a similarly featured dead man - a gun runner - and allows that man's appointment book to dictate his drift through North Africa and Europe. The film was re-released last year by Sony Pictures Classics, and I hadn't seen it in years. My memory of the film was solid, but when I screened it at 20 years old I was compelled by its thinking about the ways in which the Western media represents the third world. The theorist and filmmaker Peter Wollen had co-written the screenplay, and embedded within its story and Antonioni's compositions was an essay on the ideologies of the narratives we create for ourselves. When I watched it again, so many years later, these ideas were all still there, of course. But I hadn't remembered how purely beautiful, emotional, and finally devastating the film is, from its carefree moments of abandon with Maria Schneider in a convertible to Nicholson's concluding, crushing monologue in which, clearly consumed by depression, he recounts the story of a blind man who, after suddenly regaining his sight, becomes disenchanted with the world around him. At the end of this film, Antonioni staged perhaps his most famous shot in which the camera departs the film's deceased protagonist, melts through a wall and, like our world, lives on. Jim Emerson points to a letter written to Roger Ebert in 1999 by Ronan O'Casey. Here's how it begins: A friend recently sent me your column in the Nov 8, 1998 Denver Post about the movie Blow-Up. As I actually played the blow-up in that fine movie, I thought you might enjoy knowing the behind-the-scenes story of how the film was made (or not made, in fact). Your column proclaims it to be a great film, and I am not trying to discredit that opinion. But it is nonetheless an unfinished work, and it raises the fascinating question of how much of the "art" of a final film is intentional - or accidental. Updates, 8/1: "As I watched the attractive aristocrats and climbers in his films mope through their empty lives, a part of me wanted to be just like those people: self-absorbed and miserable, perhaps, but also fashionable and sexy," recalls Stephen Holden. "The ever-acute critic Pauline Kael recognized this contradiction in a famous essay, 'Come-Dressed-as-the-Sick-Soul-of-Europe Parties,' which aroused the ire of Antonioni devotees like me. More than four decades later, that contradiction remains unresolved in popular culture." Then: "For all their differences of temperament, Mr Bergman and Mr Antonioni were staunch moralists.... If both had bleak apprehensions of the decline and fall of Western civilization in an increasingly secularized age, Mr Antonioni's vision was more urbane and cosmopolitan." The NYT's also posted a piece by AO Scott on Bergman and Antonioni that'll be running in Sunday's paper: "The two of them upheld, as filmmakers, TS Eliot's observation that 'poets, in our civilization, as it exists at present, must be difficult.'... There was, among certain filmgoers in the 1960s, an appetite for difficulty, a conviction that symbolic obscurity and psychological alienation were authentic responses to the state of the world. More than that, the idea that a difficult work had special value - that being challenged was a distinct form of pleasure - enjoyed a prestige, at the time, that is almost unimaginable today. We would rather be teased than troubled, and the measure of artistic sophistication is cleverness rather than seriousness." "Unlike Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni is poorly represented on DVD," writes Dave Kehr. "He did not have the good luck to make most of his films for a single, state-subsidized production company, and as a result rights to his films are spread around the world and are often difficult to track down." "There's no point in comparing Antonioni and Bergman," argues David Thomson in the Guardian. "There's every reason to wonder whether the climate and culture of film - I mean the extent to which we and film-makers need it, desperately - is likely to go on producing masterpieces. In any comparison between film and the novel, Antonioni may have made films as subtle, as nuanced, as filled with doubt and certainty as the best modern writing. In 1960, or so, I think there's no doubt that the world craved such work, even if they booed it when they saw it. Now? I'm not so sure." For the Los Angeles Times obituary, Dennis McLellan talks with Jack Nicholson, who tells him "Antonioni was in a ranking 'by himself. I don't know how to put this, he's just a maestro, and everybody loved him,' Nicholson told The Times, emotionally searching for words to describe his longtime friend. Describing Antonioni as 'a father figure to me as a few other people I've worked with somehow became,' Nicholson said they had great affection for one another. 'He was a man of joy and impeccable taste,' he said. 'His whole life was dedicated to modestly being a brilliant artist.'" "Unlike his fellow countryman Federico Fellini, who believed in imbuing his movies with as much life as possible, Antonioni was often quoted as believing all existence was meaningless and human interaction a futile joke," writes Bill Gibron at PopMatters. "Many found his abstractions more demanding than delightful, and in a new millennial dialectic where all expression - good, bad, naïve, ill-conceived - is outwardly championed, it's easy to see how Antonioni would be ignored. He wasn't flamboyant or foolish. Instead, he was fastidious and arcane - personality quirks often associated with philosophers and fools. And true to his all-encompassing aesthetic, Michelangelo Antonioni was often both." Mathieu Lindon opens today's cover package in Libération. More in the German papers: Christina Nord in die taz, Daniel Kothenschulte in the Frankfurter Rundschau and Christina Tillman in Der Tagesspiegel. "Bergman once staged a memorable chess game with Death, of course, in The Seventh Seal - one of the few films whose every image is invested with such power and inevitability that they seem to preexist the film itself, like carvings in ancient wood or stone - but it was Antonioni who was truly the chessmaster, one of cinema's rare geometric thinkers, possibly its first and without question its most definitive," argues Tim Lucas. "A significant number of today's most acclaimed art-house filmmakers, from Béla Tarr in Hungary to Abbas Kiarostami in Iran to Carlos Reygadas in Mexico to Jia Zhangke in China, owe an enormous debt to the languorous style that critic Andrew Sarris once evocatively termed 'Antoniennui,'" writes Dennis Lim at Slate. "If Bergman was, as Slate's Dana Stevens noted, a master of faces, Antonioni was a poet of landscape." "It has become a cliche to say that buildings and landscapes are as much characters in Antonioni's films as the isolated nomads who inhabit them, but if we are taking cliches to be the contrail of an artist's influence, traceable across the works who kindred spirits who followed, then Antonioni irrevocably changed the way film looked at and used urban and natural space," writes Matt Sussman at Pixel Vision. "Tsai Ming Liang, Pedro Costa, Ridley Scott (specifically Alien), Wong Kar Wai, Stanley Kubrick and Dario Argento are some of the directors who come to mind, who conscious or not, are indebted to the way in which Antonioni foregrounded landscape - never letting us forget the topography of the chess board on which he orchestrated his sublime stalemates, again and again." "Blowup is Antonioni's masterpiece," argues Flickhead. "There isn't a bum frame in the entire film." "After a while, life and work and a few laughs turn us all into Mary Wilke (Diane Keaton) in Woody Allen's Manhattan," writes Dan Callahan at the House Next Door: "I mean, the silence, God's silence... OK, OK... I mean, I loved it at Radcliffe, but alright, you outgrow it!" Surely Allen means us to reject the self-loathing, brittle Wilke, who churns out novelizations of popular movies instead of trying to create serious art. But her comments nail the Bergman/Antonioni pretensions and the mindset that would most appreciate them. She also sees Bergman's "fashionable pessimism" as "adolescent." This hits even closer to the bone. Wilke has a point. Several points, actually. She is also evil. Her pop mindset rules today, and we have to do everything we can to topple it. Paying attention to the virtues of Bergman and Antonioni is definitely a step in the right direction. "I know that Antonioni is often described as a filmmaker who explored alienation, and whose techniques reinforced this," writes Nick Rombes. "But there is such a brightness to films like The Passenger, such a flooding of light, like that you might get right before an eclipse, right before it all starts - as it always does - to go very, very dark." Updates, 8/2: "Goodbye Maestro." Wim Wenders writes a poem in Sicily. WSWS revives Richard Phillips's 2004 assessment of Antonioni's "flawed legacy." "I hate Antonioni films," admits Spencer Parsons in the Austin Chronicle. But: "I can remember scenes and sequences and images by Antonioni better, more precisely, and viscerally than I can recall anything from numerous films I supposedly enjoy." Signandsight translates Arno Widmann's response to Stephen Holden's NYT piece in the Frankfurter Rundschau: "The quick succession of the deaths of Bergman and Antonioni seemed to fill him with a sense of relief. No obituary of the filmmakers makes it so clear how necessary they were - and how bitterly we will miss them - as this attempt to portray them as spectres of a morose, gloomy old Europe, unable to accept the lightness of being." "Of course, 'Antoniennui' always risks bloated inanity, and no one threw darts better than critic Manny Farber," blogs Max Goldberg at Pixel Vision: Antonioni gets his odd, clarity-is-all effects from his taste for chic mannerist art that results in a screen that is glassy, has a side-sliding motion, the feeling of people plastered against stripes or divided by verticals and horizontals; his incapacity with interpersonal relationships turns crowds into stiff waves, lovers into lonely appendages, hanging stiffly from each other, occasionally coming together like clanking sheets of metal but seldom giving the effect of being in communion... Antonioni's aspiration is to pin the viewer to the wall and slug him with wet towels of artiness and significance. Goldberg: "I find nothing to disagree with in Farber's barrage, though it still takes nothing away from my absolute pleasure in something like Red Desert, a film in which all elements - color, score, composition - align to bring Vitti's lost woman well past the verge of a nervous breakdown." At any rate, "both Antonioni and Bergman were monumentalized long ago. More than anything, their deaths make one wonder if the pantheon itself is passing in today's increasingly fragmented film culture." "Many people I respect feel passionately about Antonioni's pictures, and one could definitely argue that his influence is more evident and more widespread in contemporary culture than Bergman's," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon: I've always felt similar reservations about Antonioni's work as I do about Alfred Hitchcock's; in both cases, an extraordinary technical facility seems to put form ahead of content, style ahead of substance. Perhaps it's more accurate to say that for both directors form was content, and that this idea flowed from their most basic understanding of the world. In both cases, my problem is not so much with Antonioni or Hitchcock's movies (which I find powerful and impressive, though hardly ever moving) but with what I see as their baleful influence on later generations. "In Michelangelo's Gaze, the director enters a church and contemplates the statue of Moses by Michelangelo - the other one," writes Sheila Johnston in the Telegraph. "Everything is here: the breathtaking use of space, the interlocking looks between man and statue, the subtle soundtrack. The immodest comparison of himself with the Old Master; the poignant physical contrast between the frail filmmaker and the mighty prophet. And, above all, a defiant, almost decadent elegance. The closing credits note that the director was dressed by Giorgio Armani. Naturalmente." The BBC reports on the funeral. Another online listening tip. "Like Antonioni, Scanner is a student of the urban - a realm of aesthetic scholarship that is exemplified by his nightjam.org.uk project." Marc Weidenbaum offer two samples. "I felt a bittersweet shock of recognition while considering [Jim] Cheng's observation [in USA Today] that '[e]ven for those who were not intimately familiar with his work, Michelangelo Antonioni's name was synonymous with art-house cinema of the 1960s and 70s,'" writes Joe Leydon. "Yes. Quite so. Thinking of Antonioni and Bergman reminds me of a bygone era - a time when I came of age as a lover of film - when campus film societies programmed subtitled imports out of the Janus Films catalogue, book stores prominently displayed anthologies of serious film criticism (Pauline Kael, Stanley Kauffmann, Judith Crist and Andrew Sarris, etc) and art houses that routinely booked 'the new Truffaut' or 'the latest by Fellini' served free coffee in the lobby to encourage interaction, conversation and an overall sense of a 'film community.'" "Maybe I have a thing for impending mortality, but I find the last works by Bergman and Antonioni to be among the most chilling, compelling and enthralling works that either made," writes Kevin Lee. Of Michelangelo's Gaze, he adds, "The film's nearly silent soundtrack is the polar opposite of the typically chatty Bergman, but in actually it expresses itself in much the same way as Bergman's films do - in gazes. And Antonioni's gaze in this film is without equal." Brandon Harris on Zabriskie Point: In making a film that deliberately jettisoned any notion of fulfilling its audiences' expectations, Antonioni doomed his projects commercial and critical prospects, while leaving a film that merits much greater attention than anyone, including Mr Antonioni's fiercest supporters, has been willing to give it. Zabriskie Point is ostensibly about the highly ambiguous road toward liberative struggle. Its climax, one in which Daria Halprin's character appears to blow up a beautiful cliff bound home, one in which her boss and his partners are discussing their plans for developing the area, before the curtain is pulled back and we understand that she has only imagined the destruction, is both a self-reflexive nod to the crassness of American popular cinema and an earnest indictment of its culture. Mrs Halprin gets back in her car and drives off into the sunset mourning an ephemeral cause that she never truly grasped, much like almost every baby boomer I know.... Since this liberative struggle is something that real life new left groups like the Black Panthers and the Weather Underground could never fully articulate into a coherent ideology and subsequent post Civil Rights films like The Spook Who Sat by the Door or The Final Comedown, both earnest and flawed films made by Black Americans that failed to give much credence to revolutionary action or depict such an uprising with some semblance of verisimilitude, its no surprise that Zabriskie Point fails, both in the conversations between committed, poorly dubbed young people or the larger, highly ambiguous thematic mission of the picture, to sell its vision of a truly radicalized American youth scene to the audience.... What is so ironic about this is that Zabriskie Point became a grand failure commercially and critically at a cultural moment when middle class Americans, entering a new decade that would be rife with scandal and national malaise, had tired of liberative struggle, were moving to the suburbs (Sunnydunes!) in droves and taking up arms, not to rid the country of Nixon or Hoover, but for personal protection from barely perceived, media generated threats (urban crime). Perhaps, Antonioni's greatest "failure" was his most prescient film. Liz Helfgott at Criterion's On Five blog: Working on [the history of Janus Films] with Peter [Cowie] and my colleagues here was incredibly enriching, full of surprises, and one of the most touching was a story told by Janus cofounder Cy Harvey about Antonioni coming to New York with Monica Vitti in 1960 for the premiere of L'avventura, and the director's first encounter with the endlessly dim-witted New York Times critic Bosley Crowther. "Antonioni was very different from either Truffaut or Bergman," Harvey recounted. "He was extremely shy, very emotional. So at ten thirty at night, we walked to the corner, bought the New York Times, and, of course, it was clear that [Crowther] didn't understand it." Crowther's review began, "Watching L'avventura... is like trying to follow a showing of a picture at which several reels have got lost." Harvey, who was distributing the film, remembered, "Antonioni starts to sob, Monica Vitti starts to cry, and the tears are streaming down their faces, and they don't quite understand what's going on." Happily, Crowther's critical influence was more limited than his stupidity, and L'avventura enjoyed a healthy first run. "Who are the heirs to those esteemed filmmakers - some living (such as Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer), most dead (Bergman, Antonioni, Francois Truffaut, Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa, many others) - who came to prominence during the post-WWII era, who I would label The Art House Elders?" Joe Leydon offers a "modest proposal." Online viewing tip. Tribeca's artistic director Peter Scarlet reminisces about Bergman and Antonioni. Updates, 8/3: "It was said that Antonioni could be as difficult as his films. Yet on a drizzling January day - perfect Antonioni weather - during production in 1969 on Zabriskie Point, his only film shot in the US, he proved to be unfailingly gracious, open and friendly, and remained so over the years to me even though a 1985 stroke impaired his speech." Kevin Thomas reminisces in the LAT. "So to commemorate the passing of those monolithic, for-so-long-seemingly-immortal titans of 1960's European cinema I pulled out my DVD of... Before Sunset. What?" You'll find an explanation at Memories of the Future. Works for me. "The old-style 'auteurs' are fast disappearing," sighs Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent. "Their impact was once enormous. The British filmmaker Mike Leigh has talked about his experience of arriving in London from Salford in the autumn of 1960 and immediately being 'blasted from here to eternity by the French cinema, the Italian cinema, the Russian cinema, the Japanese cinema, the cinema of Satyajit Ray, etc.' In other words, the cinema of auteurs. His experience was far from unique." "Both directors were old men, and so grief is bested by appreciation," writes Nathan Kosub at Stop Smiling. "Beyond themselves, there is nothing to compare the accomplishments of Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni to: not literature, not music. Quite simply, there is nothing that compares to the joy of movies." Richard Phillips, WSWS, part 2. Gerhard Midding remembers Antonioni in Freitag (and in German). "In Europe, when I first came upon Bergman and Antonioni, we called their work films, not movies, and we honoured them as among the great artists of the century," writes Derek Malcolm in the Evening Standard. "This is a difficult concept for us Brits, with our literary and theatrical traditions to contemplate. We tend to find it difficult to admit that filmmakers such as Bergman, Buñuel and John Ford should be accounted along with the best writers, artists and composers of the century." But "long live cinematic art. And long live movie entertainment, too. It is perfectly possible to love Antonioni's L'Avventura and the Carry On movies as well. Or Bergman's Wild Strawberries and Creature from the Black Lagoon." "I've always felt that the people who describe Antonioni's movies as being about ennui, anomie, and alienation are... not wrong, exactly, but largely missing the point," writes Steven Shaviro. "The point being that Antonioni's movies, above all, are about seeing and feeling the world, about the look of things - including when those things seem to look back, or when they seem to look through us, to ignore us." Notes on endings, time and the body follow, and then: "In all these ways, Antonioni gives us his own, highly original and unusual, inflection of modernism. The combination of ravishing (if severe) visual beauty and an underlying despair is, of course, very much a familiar modernist stance or trope. But Antonioni gives it a particular inflection, through the ways his characters are absorbed into a landscape (usually not a 'natural' one) that changes them even as it reflects them: both expresses them and absorbs and digests them." And then, of course, politics: Antonioni's films work as critiques of class relations, and of gender relations, precisely because they don't at all moralize (and also because they don't portray any working class alternatives to the lives of the bourgeoisie, in the manner of the neorealist films that Antonioni was reacting against). Rather, these films draw us into a paralysis, which we as viewers share with the characters whom we are watching on screen. This paralysis is the absurd consequence of what happens when class domination and gender stratification are pushed to the extreme points that they are in a certain sort of (medium-late) capitalist society. The characters' neuroticism, their narcissism, their sterility, is the rigorous 'subjective' consequence of an 'objective' regime of accumulation for its own sake. And then, he gets to his favorite Antonioni film. Must reading. Filmbrain stumbles across a quote that has him muttering, "Oh, Orson..." "[F]ew films yield as much satisfaction upon repeated viewings as... L'Avventura." Walt Opie at the Guru. "Making movies seems to depend on a distinct sort of unstated psychic carnage. I've seen variations of this several times since. Lots of invisible geometries in play. A transfer of unwitting energies to the last man standing. Antonioni, damaged but resolute, would always be that last man." That's John Foxx, just a clip of a generous and thoughtful reminiscence he sent along to Glenn Kenny; Foxx (you may remember Metamatic) composed music for Identification of a Woman. Updates, 8/5: "Of all the other great Italian directors, probably none were so unremittingly secular as Antonioni," writes Peter Steinfels in the New York Times. "His world is severely postreligious, a circumstance that made reflective believers intensely interested in his work, too. For Antonioni, however, the passage from religion was simply a fact; for Bergman it was a struggle.... [W]ere believers, and again Christians foremost, drawn to these directors as powerful witnesses to what happened when God was declared dead? No doubt some religious defenders wanted to employ these bleak visions in a smug apologetic for faith, a greater temptation perhaps in the case of Antonioni, a post-Christian Italian, than of Bergman, an ex-Christian Swede. But for the most part, religious admirers of these directors treated them and their films not as object lessons for nonbelievers about the consequences of nonbelief but rather as revelations for believers about the true challenges of faith." For the Observer's Philip French, Antonioni's "final masterpiece" is The Passenger: "It's an enthralling, demanding movie with a final seven-minute take that is among the most remarkable in film history. Antonioni may have rejected neat conclusions, but his films end memorably - in the case of Zabriskie Point, with one of the cinema's greatest bangs." Then: I met Antonioni only once, at a film festival in Delhi in 1976. He was short, handsome, quietly authoritative. One day I attended a discussion, arranged by Indian TV, for which he was joined on stage by Satyajit Ray, Akira Kurosawa and Elia Kazan. The two Asians towered over the diminutive Occidentals. It was a civilised occasion and the four ended up agreeing that in their different ways they were all humanists. I felt I was observing a moment in history, just as this past week can be seen as the end of an era. Short interviews with Sarah Miles and Peter Bowles follow. "[W]hat I've been mourning these past few days is not so much the passing of these difficult, masterful old men but of the cinematic era they dominated - which sputtered out, its passing largely unremarked, well over 30 years ago," writes Richard Schickel in the Los Angeles Times. "[T]o an unprecedented degree, we redefined the nation's high and middlebrow culture. In this era, collegiate film studies burgeoned, publishers flooded the market with books about movies and, when I began my career as a movie reviewer at Life, which had the biggest weekly circulation among American magazines, I wrote regularly, without objection from editors or readers, about all the great directors listed above." And they are: "Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica, Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu, Federico Fellini and Satyajit Ray, the entire French New Wave (Truffaut, Godard, Rohmer, Melville) and, lest we forget, the cheeky Czechs of the Prague Spring." Anyway, get this: "At one point, the competition from foreign films grew so intense that the Los Angeles Times, no less, called for a protective tariff on cinematic imports." "Things always look nearer and dearer in pop culture's rear-view mirror," writes the Toronto Star's Peter Howell. Yes, last week was a sad one, he concedes, but come on: "In many ways, there has never been a better time to be a lover of intelligent film, especially if you live in a city as fortunate as Toronto." Via Movie City News. "A glacial anatomist of love, despair and the alienating tropes of modern life, he seemed to come from another country and culture than the one inhabited by Fellini, De Sica, Visconti, Pasolini and Bertolucci," writes Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times. "In his most creative decade, the 1960s, Antonioni's sensibility as an artist seemed closer to a northern European heritage - Camus, Sartre, existentialism - than to anything Mediterranean." "Michelangelo Antonioni was, if nothing else, a director of moments," writes Tom Sutpen at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger...: This is not to say that he excelled at individual sequences at the expense of the whole, or even that he had an abiding gift for dramatic, carefully constructed epiphanies. His unique gift, his genius (to use a word pressed into backbreaking service this week) lay in depicting with immense precision the most agonizing hours of inner torment, documenting on film that which cannot be documented so directly: The moment when an artist begins to know the limits of art; the moment when a marriage can no longer go on; the moment when a man's inanition of will finally reduces every personal illusion to dust; the moment when a revolutionary impulse dies; the moment when loss becomes irretrievable. It was something no other filmmaker, then or now, was capable of. It was literally like photographing heartbreak. Also, an online viewing tip. Antonioni's 1949 documentary, Sette Canne, un vestito. "[H]e seemed to follow fashion as much as set it, particularly in the English-language phase of his career," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "Blowup started this, and Zabriskie Point, his one American studio venture, confirmed it; I remember vividly his hobnobbing with Bay Area radical chic types before and during production, and their desperation to be accepted by him." Via Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker. Online viewing tip. Facets Features has a short clip from an interview with Bergman in which he references Antonioni. Antonioni "was the first true modernist in commercial cinema," argues Time's Richard Corliss. "Pro or con, a filmgoer had to be diverted by the beautiful people in an Antonioni cast: stunners like Marcello Mastroianni, Jeanne Moreau, Alain Delon and especially Monica Vitti, the director's mistress and muse for five crucial films. These stars helped Antonioni make anxiety glamorous, passivity photogenic, entropy entertaining. You could say he made 'boring' interesting." "The mystery of L'avventura is not an unresolved disappearance but the unresolved continued existence of everything, of form and of void," writes Chris Stangl. "The puzzle of Blow-Up is not a beguiling amateur sleuth story, but a genre implosion, demolishing the entrance and exit points of detection drama. Not anti-mystery: ur-Mystery." Updates, 8/6: Online listening tip. David Denby for the New Yorker. "It's important to remember that Bergman and his fellow Euro-titan Michelangelo Antonioni, who both died on the same day last week, were big-name commercial directors - who also helped moviegoers worldwide see the relatively young, originally low-brow, populist medium in a new light: as a (potential) art form," Jim Emerson reminds us. "(The Beatles, who in 1964-65 were the most popular youth phenomenon on the planet, even wanted Antonioni to direct their second feature, after A Hard Day's Night!) And if they hadn't been so popular and famous, they would not have been so influential. These guys won plenty of high-falutin' awards at film festivals, but they were also nominated for Oscars in glitzy Hollywood." Updates, 8/7: A little something from me at the Reeler: "[I]f we're to peg Antonioni and Bergman as modernists... there's something missing: the city." "Near the end of the last millennium, I decided to do something difficult and convoluted and thoroughly silly," confesses Jim Emerson. "On this particular occasion I determined to figure out which 100 movies were the most highly regarded at the close of the century.... came up with some complex point scale for rating the movies by the awards and honors they had received, using a mixture of domestic and international, popular and critical sources.... Point of interest: Bergman had three films on the list: Persona (22), Wild Strawberries (66), and Fanny and Alexander (84). Antonioni had one: L'Avventura (8)." The staff at IFC News lists "ten (and more) songs, shorts, movies, shows and novels that pay tribute to the [Bergman and Antonioni's] work." Continued here.
July 30, 2007
Sight & Sound. August 07.The August issue marks Sight & Sound's 75th anniversary; to celebrate, the editors have asked "critics from around the world to nominate their favourite overlooked masterpiece. The result: 75 lost films you just have to track down." But first, you'll have to track down the print version of this issue; this feature's not online. What is online: Amy Taubin's conversation with Gus Van Sant about Andy Warhol and Andrew Roberts arguing that the "Harry Potter films are the most commercially successful entries in the time-honoured British boarding-school genre." Reviews:
The Bourne Ultimatum + summer movies."Summing up the first two films, Manohla Dargis (then at the Los Angeles Times) said that the drama of [The Bourne Identity] was existential (Who am I?), and the drama of [The Bourne Supremacy] was moral (What did I do?)," recalls David Denby in the New Yorker. "I would say that the drama of [The Bourne Ultimatum] is redemptive: How can I escape what I am?... The material is formulaic, but, of all the current action franchises, this one is the most enjoyable." "If they could bottle what gives The Bourne Ultimatum its rush, it would probably be illegal," gushes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "The third and purportedly final installment in the mountingly exciting series is a pounding, pulsating thriller that provides an almost constant adrenaline surge for nearly two hours." "Robert Ludlum died six years ago, but that has done nothing to slow the release of books published under the name of the actor-turned-novelist who specialized in thrillers built on a foundation of paranoia," writes Richard Sandomir in the New York Times. "The business is deployed now as a kind of film studio, presenting books completed by others or new ones written using his name." Updates, 7/31: "The Bourne Ultimatum opens at a dead sprint, and doesn't much slow down; even its quiet, contemplative moments have a sense of unease and their own careening forward momentum," writes Brent Simon for Screen Daily. "Anchoring the movie in resolute fashion, [Matt] Damon delivers another intense performance, absorbing information at a high rate of speed and translating that into both rapid analysis and breathless action. The combination of massive raw intelligence and swallowed grief and self-torture that inform Bourne is captured as much in Damon's clenched jaw and hard-set eyes as any dialogue (after all, who is left for Bourne to really open up to?), and he feels every bit the chariot driver here." "The punches are quick, brutal, and relentless," grants Paul Schrodt at Slant. "In one memorable set piece, Bourne and another vacant-eyed secret agent rip each other apart inside a Tangiers apartment, stripping away the home's décor as the shots literally shatter into tiny fragments. It may be the most breathless action sequence of the year, but, put together, the film's stunts seem as empty as Bourne's head - a globetrotting exercise in urban combat punctuated with control-room zingers like 'Sir, he drove off the roof!'... If the film's glowing early reviews are any indication, what [Paul] Greengrass lacks in soul he more than makes up for in artifice." A "chase movie of breathtaking purity," declares Jürgen Fauth. It "makes the 'seriousness' of Casino Royale look sentimental. Speaking of Bond: The Bourne Ultimatum shows just how slack and self-satisfied the much-praised Casino Royale really was. Bond has the glossier locations, juicier women and flashier cars, but in a fight, Bourne would slit 007's throat and make off with the suitcase nuke before Bond had time to put down his martini." In the Voice, Nathan Lee draws the comparison as well: "[W]here Bond movies are juiced by a conflict of egos, the Bourne adventures are all about competing intelligence systems - as manifested through action set-pieces. In the case of Ultimatum, make that flabbergasting, mind-boggling, next-level action set-pieces." And get this: "This is director Paul Greengrass's second Bourne picture after Supremacy, but it's also a stealth sequel to his last film, United 93." Updates, 8/1: "This trim, efficient, preposterously entertaining popcorn picture isn't just a model of craftsmanship, it's also a rousing rebuke to the idiotically widespread notion that turning off your brain is a requirement for enjoying an action movie," writes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "This is whip-smart genre filmmaking with a seething political undercurrent keyed directly into the here and now. Who says blockbusters can't be art?" But in the L Magazine, Benjamin Strong asks, "How did the thinking man's blockbuster get here?" For him, Ultimatum is just "Bruckheimer-Bay gunplay with prestige acting." With Supremacy, "Greengrass stayed true to his leftish politics in the big-budget potboiler, but he grafted them on awkwardly and strayed from the taut action, concise characterizations, and nuanced relationships of the first film in the franchise, Doug Lyman's The Bourne Identity," writes Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix. "He's learned a lot since then, however. His United 93 was one of the best films of 2006. And his The Bourne Ultimatum is the best action film so far this summer." Also: "Matt Damon has argued that his Jason Bourne has supplanted James Bond as the hero of our time. 'Bond is an imperialist and a misogynist,' Damon said, sounding not a little like his mentor, lefty historian Howard Zinn. 'Bourne's not the government. The government is after him... He's the opposite of James Bond.'... Action heroes aren't the only ones confronting the institutions and ideals they always believed in. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the boy wizard contends not just with puberty but also with the realization that the he and hierarchy at the Ministry of Magic might not be on the same page.... Maybe the fundamentalist groups demanding a ban on JK Rowling's novels are onto something. Harry might not be seducing kids into the black arts, but he sure is suggesting that they challenge authority. Those same religious groups are going to be even more pissed off at Chris Weitz's upcoming adaptation of The Golden Compass, the first volume in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy." Updates, 8/2: "Everything but the enchanted kitchen sink shows up in the sprawling fairy tale Stardust," writes Vareity's John Anderson, "including evil witches, airborne pirate ships, double-parked unicorns and Robert De Niro as a cross-dressing sea captain. Sprinkled with tongue-in-cheek humor, fairly adult jokes and some well-known faces acting very silly, this adventure story should have particular appeal to fans of The Princess Bride, but in any event will never be mistaken for a strictly-for-kids movie." "Brett Ratner, The Popcorn King" is the title of Scott Foundas's cover story in this week's LA Weekly, though as it opens, it's all about Chris Tucker. It's "language - specifically, the acrobatic juggling of it - that has established Tucker as the most verbally dexterous screen comic since the young Eddie Murphy. On the Rush Hour 3 set, he rarely says a line the same way twice, and the more he improvises, the better things tend to get.... Meanwhile, despite a decade of actively working in Hollywood, [Jackie] Chan's English remains spotty." As for the movie, it's costing around $120 million, so New Line seems a little nervous. "Ultimately, the person most responsible for making sure people see and like Rush Hour 3 is the director whose seven feature films have generated more than $1 billion in global ticket sales, putting him in the elite company of Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, M Night Shyamalan and a select few others who have reached that milestone before their 40th birthdays.... [T]he curious thing about Ratner is the uniquely vicious tenor of the criticism he engenders, as if he didn't deserve his success and the perks that come with it; as if to be seen in the same room with Paris Hilton were an unforgivable sin; as if, quite frankly, he were enjoying his life too much." Also in the LAW, Ella Taylor on this week's popcorner: "Greengrass treats us to an escalating collection of exquisitely choreographed car chases, blowups and - Bourne being the do-it-yourself, one-man-against-the-system fellow that he is - hand-to-hand combat and the use of common electric fans as nifty decoys. With every twist of the final pileup on the streets of Manhattan - a sequence of unbelievable technical chutzpah - the man next to me rose in his seat, grunted happily and gently resettled. In other words, The Bourne Ultimatum is fully critic-proof." "As pointed an indictment of Bush's War is Ultimatum's depiction of the metastasizing of the covert Bush-era intelligence apparatus," notes Neil Morris in the Independent Weekly. This batch of CIA operatives "operate in a netherworld where contract assassins are code-named 'assets' and the combatants of power joust among the nameless, faceless masses. 'You start down this path and where does it end?' asks agent Pamela Landy (Joan Allen, reprising her role from Supremacy). 'It ends when we've won,' retorts [Noah] Vosen [David Strathairn]. That themes this weighty could fit within the confines of what is essentially an extended adrenaline rush bears continuing testament to the talent of director Paul Greengrass, who can amass a mountain of import by training his handheld camera on a single sidelong glance." But for Eric Kohn, writing in the New York Press, "There's nothing remotely political about the exploits of Jason Bourne; his god-like ability to eradicate imminent danger is so far removed from our sense of reality that those nasty CIA folks chasing after him look like MacGuffins in suits." "Much is being made of the large-scale, smash-'em-up Big Apple climax, for which the production managed to shut down Manhattan's Seventh Avenue," notes Drew Lazor in the Philadelphia City Paper. "But for the money, it doesn't get much better - or more Bourne - than the utterly enjoyable gambit set in Tangier, where the hero tears through streets on a dirtbike, hops from roof to roof and engages in one hell of a washroom scuffle with silent operative Desh (Joey Ansah)." "It's not often that nearly 2,000 people burst into spontaneous applause at the sight of four men being brutally pulverised on the backstairs of Waterloo station," reports Kevin Maher in the Times of London. "But such was the euphoria created by a recent West End screening of Paul Greengrass's shamelessly propulsive The Bourne Ultimatum that those gathered, all well-heeled culturati, could not help but whoop loudly with delight when the first-act pursuit of the action-man protagonist Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) culminated in an unforgettably visceral bout of five-way fisticuffs in the bowels of the station." Via Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door, Andrew Dignan: "The thing fucking cooks; even when it's unclear what direction we're heading in there's no downtime to get worked up over it. Plus (and this is a big one) it certainly compares favorable to most of the summer's big event films." Cinematical's James Rocchi finds "a blunt metaphor for what's happening in the real world, as troops have tours of duty extended in Iraq, and soldiers and civilians both suffer and die so that the dignity of our leaders might be maintained, so that all the death and pain that's come before won't be seen as a failure or an embarrassment for the people who demanded it. But these thoughts come to you later on; in the theater, The Bourne Ultimatum holds you in a fierce grip that gleams with the sheen of sweat and effort, dragging you across the globe from hazy winter shades to sun-drenched streets." "What may disappoint viewers is that all of this is familiar stuff if you've already seen the previous films," writes Jeremiah Kipp at the House Next Door. "Granted, anyone interested in checking out this latest entry will want some more of the same, but even the Harry Potter series has been able to find ways of breathing fresh life into its formulaic trappings through the strength of its great cast of character actors and imaginative directors." "[T]he movies, even more than the Ludlum books (which long ago I consumed with equal velocity and voraciousness), are themselves machines: beautifully constructed, splendid to behold," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "And in this third and possibly final episode... the series has come close to attaining a kinetic perfection. If Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down was the all-war war movie - nearly two hours of nonstop battles - The Bourne Ultimatum is the all-action action movie. A pounding of the eyes and ears (John Powell's score is all urgent percussion), the movie is one continuous, exhausting, exhilarating chase." "Six years after their last adventure, Lee and Carter, one of the movies' oddest crime-fighting tandems, are slowing down a bit in Rush Hour 3," writes Variety's Robert Koehler. "Though late summer timing is just right for the franchise, Rush Hour 3 opens just a week after The Bourne Ultimatum, and while auds may take some relief in the bouncy comic rapport between Chan and Chris Tucker, they're bound to find the action mild if not downright tame by comparison." Back to Bourne: "I found United 93 almost too skillful for its own good, surer of how to wring a cold sweat from its audience than of what it wanted to say," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "But when the source material is a Robert Ludlum spy thriller rather than one of the worst days in our country's history, that level of directorial calculation is more than welcome." And this is nice: "He may not be able to remember his own name, but he can't forget Marie (and given that she was played by Franka Potente, possibly the coolest moll in the history of spy thrillers, who can blame him?)." "The Bourne Supremacy was a passable time-waster, but three years later I can't remember anything about it, aside from wondering why the world's dullest spy was getting his own franchise," writes Vadim Rizov at the Reeler. "Fortunately, The Bourne Ultimatum is an improvement on its predecessor - more concerned with the soothing sounds of screeching metal than the irritating chirping of one vacant character to another." Updates, 8/3: "For Bourne, who rises and rises again in this fantastically kinetic, propulsive film, resurrection is the name of the game, just as it is for franchises. This is the passion of Jason Bourne, with a bullet," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Death becomes the Bourne series, which, in contrast to most big-studio action movies, insists that we pay attention and respect to all the flying, back-flipping and failing bodies. There's no shortage of pop pleasure here, but the fun of these films never comes from watching men die. It's easy to make people watch — just blow up a car, slit someone's throat. The hard part is making them watch while also making them think about what exactly it is that they're watching." "Jason Bourne emerges as the kind of troubled but resolute hero we most need these days, a figure who insists on peering through the murk rather than letting it block the truth," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "Jason Bourne, clawing his way out of madness, still has a conscience even though he has lost most of his mind. The Bourne Ultimatum is a great action movie, exhilarating and neatly crafted, the kind of picture that will still look good 20 or 30 years from now. And while it isn't a cheerful picture, I found it to be an oddly comforting one, perhaps more so than its two predecessors." "[T]he profusion of frantic shots never feels like showboating, and the closeness never feels claustrophobic," writes Carina Chocano. "This is also saying something, considering how thoroughly action films have used similar techniques to come out resembling steroidal video games. Greengrass is not out to 'entertain' in the dismal, specious sense. He can be trusted to never dangle a shiny Tom Cruise object in front of us and expect us to sit back in brain-dead amazement as it flies across a green screen just out of singe range of an exploding CGI fireball. Greengrass's camera may scurry and dart like a rabbit trapped in a mall, but he keeps the tone grounded, the effects in-camera and the acting low-key and real." Also in the Los Angeles Times, Sheigh Crabtree talks with stunt coordinator Dan Bradley who, speaking from experience with all these flicks, is sure Bourne could beat the shit out of Indiana Jones, James Bond and Spider-Man. A "clear winner in the three-peat paradigm," blogs Bill Gibron at PopMatters. "Frenetic to the point of crazy while achieving a mark that barely exceeds the mediocre, The Bourne Ultimatum does have a few nice touches," allows Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post. "But I reached my pain threshold halfway through the opening credits, so the rest was pure hell." "A fairy tale based on Neil Gaiman's four-part DC Comics book from 1997, Stardust is an ambitious high-concept adventure which is one of the few non-sequels, non-toy or non-TV adaptations to arrive in theatres this summer," writes Mike Goodridge. "British director Matthew Vaughn has certainly crafted an energetic, handsome film, but it's a tough sell. On the one hand, it's a romance for teenage girls with a handsome leading man in Charlie Cox and a feisty lead female character played by Claire Danes; on the other hand, it's a comic adventure for nerdy comic-loving teenage boys along the lines of classic Gilliam like Time Bandits and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Whether the girls will respond to the adventure and the boys to the romance is questionable... Likewise it's not a sure thing for smaller children, who prefer the more simple, less smart-ass mythology of Narnia, while adults might think it looks too childish to commit to sans kids." Also at Screen Daily: "No matter how fast Chris Tucker shoots his mouth or Jackie Chan flashes his fists, they can't recapture the charm of the original Rush Hour in this third installment," writes Tim Grierson, who also reviews Underdog: "This live-action reinvention of the 1960s cartoon works best when lightly spoofing the conventions of superhero cinema, but the film goes to the dogs thanks to a drab story and frequent stabs at heartwarming bromides." And back again: "The Bourne Ultimatum continues to refine the stripped-down, built-for-speed approach of its predecessors," writes Andrew Wright in the Stranger. "For two solid hours, it moves relentlessly, intelligently forward, as everything extraneous gets chucked over the side." "Set into motion with a brilliantly choreographed sequence at London's Waterloo Station - the filmmaking logistics hurt the brain - The Bourne Ultimatum essentially amounts to one long chase scene, yet the tension never really flags," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. What's more, "the Bourne movies have left behind perhaps the strongest residue of mainstream anti-government paranoia since 70s thrillers like The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor. And all while kicking ass, of course." "What actually happens to Jason Bourne is essentially immaterial," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "What matters is that something must happen, so he can run away from it or toward it." 3½ stars. "The peculiar achievement of The Bourne Ultimatum is conveying a sense of genuine resolution to its story while dispensing for the most part with, well, its story," writes Bilge Ebiri at Nerve. "Indeed, one can talk about character and plot all day long and still not get to the essence of what makes The Bourne Ultimatum so ruthlessly effective. The real intelligence at work here is that Greengrass and co. know not to gummy up the works with extraneous plot or exposition. Call it what you will, but the correct word is 'awesome.'" "[I]t might be best to watch the movie as Greengrass' second 9/11 statement," suggests the San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle. "If United 93 showed the tragedy, The Bourne Ultimatum shows an America living with the aftermath.... This is a movie about fear - a government's fear of its citizens and citizens' fear of their government. It's a movie about surveillance, with people being watched at virtually every moment. Finally, it's about philosophies in collision, about how much safety can be bought at the price of freedom and about the kinds of personalities that gravitate toward the totalitarian mind-set." "I find it hard to express how welcome a movie like this feels right now, coming as it is like a big meaty dinner after three straight months of sugar-laden desserts," writes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. Updates, 8/5: "The Bourne movies are perfect thrillers for our slippery, uncertain times: globe-spanning, technocratic, cool-temperature epics of high-speed information and fractured identity," writes Sight & Sound editor Nick James in the new Observer Film Magazine. "They enjoy the frisson of Cold War nostalgia, yet they also revel in the moral chaos of the now, as much as in their signature car chases. They are the perfect revision of James Bond as if by John le Carré. And conversely, they are also the most obvious influence on Daniel Craig's new James Bond in Casino Royale, a less far-fetched creation than of old. But there's one particular aspect of the Bourne movies that tells us more about ourselves, and about the way Hollywood sees the world now, than anything else, and that is their idea of the enemy." Related: Dan Bradley on coordinating the stunts. Rebecca Winters Keegan talks with Greengrass and Damon for Time. Mick Brown talks with Greengrass for the Telegraph. Online listening tip. Greengrass on All Things Considered. "What Greengrass excels at in his recent movies is sustaining moment and momentum," writes Ray Pride. "The Bourne Ultimatum is a sensationally entertaining rush of wall-to-wall, wire-to-wire, pedal-to-metal excitement, an uncommonly satisfying mix of pulp-fiction plotting, dead-serious emotion, steel-trap intelligence and razzle-dazzle technique," writes Joe Leydon: For me, the most powerful image in the entire trilogy is in a scene that appears early in The Bourne Supremacy (and is reprised, briefly, in Ultimatum), as Jason Bourne sees the woman he loves literally floating out of sight, becoming a mere memory even as he helpless watches. (It's an image I suspect Jean Cocteau would have been proud to include in his Orpheus.) These days, it's not uncommon for an action movie to post a three-digit body count, and make a joke about it. But this scene in Supremacy puts the sting back into death, and none-too-gently reminds us that such carnage is something we blithely take for granted, and usually accept unthinkingly, in films of this sort. "I'd like to use The Bourne Ultimatum as a stick with which to beat modern American movies," blogs Michael Atkinson, "which may not be completely fair to Paul Greengrass's movie, mildly mature and refreshingly nitty-gritty summer-actioner that it is. But there's something wrong on display here, something essentially amiss with the basic syntax of contemporary moviemaking as it has evolved in Hollywood - and, yes, I'm talking about camera style, which in this case (as in The Bourne Supremacy and countless other new films) suggests nothing so much as what a movie would look like if it were shot from inside of a high-speed clothes dryer." "The Bourne Ultimatum gets, as of the moment of this posting, a 94 percent positive rating over at Rotten Tomatoes, which makes it, if my calculations are correct, only second to Ratatouille in the best-reviewed-movies-of-the-summer contest," notes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "I liked it fine myself, but looking at some of the writeups I wonder if I shouldn't have been harder on it, just to counter the near-ridiculous rapturousness." Updates, 8/6: "In this day and age where it seems like more and more things that would normally be considered evil are being allowed in order to supposedly bring about good, Ultimatum feels especially relevant and charged," writes Jason Morehead, who also points to Steven Greydanus's review. "But here’s the thing that makes Ultimatum so great: Greengrass never brings up these thoughts and comments at the expense of the film’s story and characters." Ultimatum's pulled in $70.2 million in the US, "giving Universal Pictures one of the strongest openings in its history," reports Brooks Barnes in the NYT. John Patterson talks with Greengrass for the Guardian. "The film has such an assured, documentary-style texture (and Damon brings such effortless gravitas to the Bourne character) that you barely register that every aspect of the plot, from its amnesiac superpowered hero to the miraculously preserved clue Bourne retrieves from a car explosion, is utterly ludicrous," writes Paul Matwychuk. "The Bourne Ultimatum is a hot mug of moviegoing adrenaline (yeah, that's right: moviegoing adrenaline. It tastes a little like cinnamon); I wanted to run out of the theatre, then run back in and see it again. But I didn't. I'm not Jason Bourne, and I was too afraid the ushers would catch me."
Michel Serrault, 1928 - 2007.French actor Michel Serrault, whose performance as a transvestite in the film and screen versions of La cage aux folles (The Birdcage) catapulted him to international stardom, has died, his priest said Monday. He was 79.... Serrault appeared in more than 130 films during a career that spanned half a century. After debuting as a comic actor, Serrault became one of France's most versatile stars, playing a serial killer, a grizzled farmer, a crooked banker and accused rapist.... French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid homage to Serrault's "impressive filmography," calling the actor a "monument of the world of the theater, the cinema and the television." The AP. Updates, 7/31: "Mr Serrault, who appeared in more than 130 films, worked with some of the most celebrated directors in French cinema, among them Claude Chabrol," writes Margalit Fox in the New York Times. His films shown in this country include The Butterfly, The Girl From Paris, Artemisia, The Swindle and Beaumarchais: The Scoundrel." In the German-language papers: Verena Leuken in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Daniel Kothenschulte in the Frankfurter Rundschau and Alexandra Stäheli in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.
Ingmar Bergman, 1918 - 2007.Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, an iconoclastic filmmaker widely regarded as one of the great masters of modern cinema, died Monday, local media reported. He was 89 years old.... He was "probably the greatest film artist, all things considered, since the invention of the motion picture camera," Woody Allen said in a 70th birthday tribute in 1988. Bergman first gained international attention with 1955's Smiles of a Summer Night... The Seventh Seal, released in 1957, riveted critics and audiences. An allegorical tale of the medieval Black Plague years, it contains one of cinema's most famous scenes - a knight playing chess with the shrouded figure of Death.... Though best known internationally for his films, Bergman was also a prominent stage director.... The influence of Strindberg's grueling and precise psychological dissections could be seen in the production that brought Bergman an even-wider audience: 1973's Scenes From a Marriage. First produced as a six-part series for television, then released in a theater version, it is an intense detailing of the disintegration of a marriage. Bergman showed his lighter side in the following year's The Magic Flute, again first produced for TV. The AP. See also: Ingmar Bergman Face to Face, the official site; Acquarello, Books and Writers, Hamish Ford's profile for Senses of Cinema and, of course, the Wikipedia entry. "Mr Bergman dealt with pain and torment, desire and religion, evil and love; in Mr Bergman's films, 'this world is a place where faith is tenuous; communication, elusive; and self-knowledge, illusory,' Michiko Kakutani wrote in the New York Times Magazine in a profile of the director. God is either silent or malevolent; men and women are creatures and prisoners of their desires," writes Mervyn Rothstein in the NYT. "For many filmgoers and critics, it was Mr Bergman more than any other director who in the 1950's brought a new seriousness to film making. 'Bergman was the first to bring metaphysics - religion, death, existentialism - to the screen,' Bertrand Tavernier, the French film director, once said. 'But the best of Bergman is the way he speaks of women, of the relationship between men and women. He's like a miner digging in search of purity.'" "What worries me is how his stock has fallen over the years and how many younger film buffs have little exposure to his works," writes Edward Copeland. "Sadly, not one of his many remarkable films made the final 100 on the list put together by The Online Film Community announced yesterday.... Even though Bergman began making films as far back as 1944, the first feature that grabbed me and one of my very favorites, even though it's somewhat uncharacteristic of his later works, is 1955's Smiles of a Summer Night." Brendon Connelly offers a modest proposal for a web-wide tribute. "In Europe, movie directors such as Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut helped break visual and narrative rules, but Mr Bergman stood out for dreamy and often disturbingly psychological films that expressed emotional isolation and modern spiritual crisis," writes Adam Bernstein in the Washington Post. "He is often mentioned as one of the three most influential directors in the world next to Fellini and Ozu, whom he has now joined," notes Boyd van Hoeij at european-films.net. "With his death a reassessment of his impressive output positions him among such talents as Antonioni, Kurosawa, Ray, Wilder, Visconti," writes Brian Baxter in the Guardian, which has opened a special section devoted to Bergman. "These second rung, but never second rate, directors hover fitfully behind the handful of geniuses - Bresson, Dreyer, Ozu, Renoir, Rossellini - where poetry and originality transcend matter and realism. What Bergman and the others lack is the (seeming) simplicity of expression that belies inspiration: an inspiration which makes true what would not otherwise have been apparent. In short there is an over-emphasis, an over-weaning power of expression, that obscures the counter currents of emotion lying beneath the surface of the work of those five pantheon directors, in such of their masterpieces as Voyage to Italy (Rossellini), Gertrud (Dreyer), or Lancelot du Lac (Bresson) which are truly beyond criticism." The "final phase of his career as director is notable for the magnificent Fanny and Alexander (1982), shown worldwide in two versions - at 312 and 197 minutes. The period is 1907, and the setting is a Swedish university city. Arguably the most optimistic of his works, it proved an international success and received four Oscars, including one for best foreign film in 1983. It was the culmination of a cinema career that has few equals in terms of quality, volume and integrity." "Bergman, dead at last, I think," writes Spurious. "Did his demons subside as he grew older? Was he calmer? Some kennels keep old dogs apart from young ones, housing them in a 'contemplation room.' Did Bergman contemplate at the end of his life? Was he more content, less fiery? What was his last wife like? He found happiness with her, didn't he? or did he? Happiness - and for Bergman?" Via wood s lot. Michael Atkinson thinks back on Bergman, "at once a dinosaur, a one-man New Wave, a mammoth formal influence, a pioneering pop existentialist, a despot in his own nation of cinematic currency, an unexploitable navel-focused artiste who did not bow to the world's entertainment will but instead made it bow to him, an unestimable provider of cultural fuel to the rise of college-educated counter culture between 1959 and 1980, and, let's face it, an astonishingly adventurous sensibility that embraced virtually every stripe of expression available to him, from melodrama to the world's most overt symbolism to gritty realism to epic pageant, farce and avant-garde psycho-obscurism.... Today, we are aswarm with Antonioni imitators, but no one seems to want to be the new Bergman.... Still, as cinephiles with memories know, fashion will not win in the end, and Bergman, a classical giant with modernist ordnance, will eventually reemerge as essential for all ages.... When will he reenter the pantheon?"
July 27, 2007
Very short shorts, 7/27.
Tips and tidbits, short attention style, as we head into the weekend.
Aaron Hillis, writing in the Village Voice this week, about YouTube's uneasy relationship with experimental video art (and Scanners, Lincoln Center's annual vid fest): "Yes, content-delivery systems have evolved enough to render us an even more attention-deficient culture, dulling our senses or at least sating us with heaping piles of free media. While Scanners (a/k/a the New York Video Festival) once served as a practical conspectus for the handful of video pioneers whose work stood out from the pack, the fest will soon become a bimonthly affair just to keep up, a valiant yet uphill battle to cut through the explosion of online video—two-inch QuickTime windows are not exactly the ultimate format for experimental work, by the way—and catch the attention of the hypnotized masses who are growing more and more accustomed to getting their 'art' between checking e-mail and the RSS feed." [Whew. Take a deep breath. And then...]
It then prompted a nice continuation at The Reeler.
Johnny Depp, in a Dark Shadows movie? Yep, says Variety: "Depp has said in interviews that he has always been obsessed with "Dark Shadows" and had, as a child, wanted to be Barnabas Collins, the vampire patriarch of the series. The role was originated by Jonathan Frid."
On Cinematical, Matt Bradshaw with another edition of Trailer Park. By the way, watching the new coming attraction for Darjeeling Limited, I was struck by how quickly I could tell it was a Wes Anderson movie (honest, without having heard, or remembered hearing anyway, anything about it). Literally ten seconds. I saw the cast, heard the peppy soundtrack, the deadpan dialogue, the color - yep, you, too, can play Name That Director in ten seconds. (I love Wes Anderson; I'm just sayin'.)
Interesting marketing tool here:
The documentary No End in Sight now has its own customized an IM chat that can be embedded on one's site. The film's director, Charles Ferguson, will participate in chats with users at scheduled times. Their marketing folks are asking people to embed this app on their web sites so users can participate in a dialog with Ferguson. Interesting concept.
More on the film here and here.
That's all for now. Welcome back, David!
Primer: Writers and Poets in Film.
With the release of the film Molière today, over on the main site Simon Augustine, in kicking off his new primer on Writers and Poets in Film asks, "Could writers working prior to the 20th century have imagined their creations and characters being expressed in films, with all the dramatic innovations that moving pictures afford?"
"The journey from book to film is reversed and turned in upon itself: we witness not the translation of the mind's eye of the writer into a visual, fixed medium," writes Augustine. "Instead, the fixed visuals of film are used to dramatize the writer in the act of using their mind's eye. In these films, viewers are hopefully exposed to new inroads toward understanding the traditional literary experience and its modes of creation."
Read on for a look at films depicting Bukowski, Plath, Capote, Rimbaud, Burroughs, Shakespeare and many others, as well as some of the best examples of fictional writer characters in moviedom, in this insightful new exploration of the writer's life on the screen.
A summertime question for Fraser Lewry.Just this past Thursday, Jemima Kiss announced in the Guardian, "Magazine publisher Development Hell has appointed Fraser Lewry as its first digital editor, leading the relaunch of music titles The Word and Mixmag online." I hope they realize what a very smart decision that one is. Pardon another digression. Another episode. Just after the turn of the millennium, I decided that if I were going to say to my grandkids someday, "Ah, the dotcom boom. Yes, I was there," I'd better hurry. I was invited to meet the CEO of an Italian online music company at the Hotel Adlon, Berlin's finest, a legend in its own right. This wasn't that unusual in those days, but I broke my pattern by saying, Yes. I would be his Vice President for... what was it? Editorial? Community? Whatever. And so, for half a year, I flew around Europe, doing that VP thing, and of course, eventually realized that it was well and truly not my thing at all. I did meet several great people along the way, though, and one of them is Fraser Lewry. Londoner, world traveler, connoisseur of fine food and fine music and one of the smoothest writers I know. Seriously. See his Blogjam entry on silkworm pupa pizza and you'll see what I mean. I've asked Fraser, What's the greatest rock 'n' roll movie of all time? Stop Making Sense. The Last Waltz. Woodstock. Presley's '68 Comeback Special. These are the names that tend to crop up again and again when people are asked to reveal their favourite rock 'n' roll movies. They appear so often in polls and best-of lists that their greatness becomes self-perpetuating, unquestionable, to the point where others equally worthy of attention are never mentioned. Take Music Is The Weapon, for instance, a 1982 French documentary devoted to Afro-pop legend Fela Kuti. Not only does it feature some truly incendiary live footage shot at Kuti's Lagos club, The Shrine, it manages to get much closer to its subject than any of the movies listed above, and in one priceless sequence the singer is shown holding forth on Nigerian politics and sexuality, visibly intoxicated and clad in nothing but a tiny pair of pastel blue y-fronts. This is the kind of stuff you really don't get from David Byrne. Another fine film is Driver 23, which documents 7 (seven!) years in the life of Dan Cleveland, leader of terminally hopeless metal band Dark Horse. Cleveland, a serious OCD sufferer and eternal optimist, does not make for comfortable watching, and has a huge blind spot where his own talent is concerned. The viewer knows they'll never "make it," but is compelled to watch despairingly as the band stumble from one harrowing failure to the next. It's Spinal Tap without the jokes. The greatest rock 'n' roll movie of them all is just 22 minutes long. Shot on black and white film with a hand-held camera, The Cramps: Live At Napa State Mental Hospital chronicles perhaps the unlikeliest show ever organised. The footage is grainy, the editing abrupt, but the power of the performance is undeniable. It's absolutely electric, and all the more entertaining for the environment in which it takes place. Stage right, two patients spend the entire show rocking back and forth and jogging on the spot, lost in delirium. During "Love Me," a man climbs on stage, slowly turns to the house, screams long and loud, then quietly rejoins the audience. All the way through, singer Lux Interior engages the crowd, at one point writhing around on the floor with two female onlookers and, by the end of the show, it's quite clear that all concerned are having the time of their lives. It's brilliant footage, and a genuine reminder of the vivid, visceral power of live music.
July 26, 2007
The Simpsons Movie.
The Simpsoonnnns... You've heard the theme music for an astonishing run of eighteen years now. Years ago, you probably wondered if there would be a feature film, as did the show's pantheon of creative talent, before they, and you, gave up. It would never happen, and maybe it's just as well.
Well, the time is nigh, The Simpsons Movie has arrived. If the show's been uneven over the past several seasons - or, some would argue, past ten seasons (and I'd argue even the down years have presented us with their share of hilarious, near classic episodes), causing many to doubt, well, if this thing would be any good, the movie's out and the reviews are streaming in slowly. So far, there are less "D'oh!"s than there are "Woo hoo!"s.
We'll collect many of the reviews here (including, hopefully this weekend, my own) as more people give their own yellow thumbs up or down.
TimeOut London: "The Simpsons Movie does not feel at sea on the big screen and, crucially, it is very funny." TimeOut Chicago, only slightly less enthusiastic: "It's a feature-length Simpsons episode, and possibly not even the Best. Episode. Ever. Still, there’s nothing disposable about a very special Simpsons, especially one that keeps cracking jokes about how it isn’t actually TV."
Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum gives it a B+ (marking down a tic for action sequences that "sometimes falter"): "Turns out what they've done is make everything bigger, longer, and uncut, but let Homer be Homer, an average American screwup in a recognizable, screwed-up world of hypocrisy and lardy foodstuffs. The best thing about this long-awaited feature-length project, a classic Simpsonian interplay of family psychology, social commentary, and brainy visual and verbal jokes tossed off at rat-a-tat speed, is how relaxed it manages to be."
The Guardian (U.K.)'s Peter Bradshaw, not one to toss around rave reviews lightly: "So many movies promise what they could never deliver in a million years. The Simpsons Movie gives you everything you could possibly want, and maybe it's a victim of its own gargantuan accomplishment. Eighty-five minutes is not long enough to do justice to 17 years of comedy genius. It's still great stuff."
The AP's Jake Coyle wasn't as enthused: "Not to sound too much like the Comic Book Guy, but the Fox sitcom, which once brilliantly satirized TV's conventions, has gradually settled into its own ruts - which usually entail Homer acting silly for silliness' sake."
More from Andy Klein of LA City Beat: "Film adaptations of TV action series can benefit from more expensive special effects and from the kind of widescreen immersion that can’t be achieved at home. Comedies can go raunchier. For cartoon material, more money can lavished on smoother animation. But The Simpsons isn't particularly action-oriented; it's too family-oriented to significantly up the ribaldry; and it would be catastrophic to monkey with the characters’ trademark visual simplicity.
"In fact, director David Silverman and his team, including 11 – count 'em, 11 – credited writers and four vaguely defined consultants, have done some of the above in minor ways. Mostly, however, they’ve constructed a longer, more complex story and exploited the compositional differences of a widescreen format. (For all but the first few minutes, the film is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, the widest ratio currently in common use.)"
The San Francisco Chronicle's David Wiegand: "Here's the shorthand verdict: No one will be bored with the feature film, but everyone who knows the show well will have a nagging feeling that something is missing."
LA Weekly's Scott Foundas calls the satire "a 90-minute, years-in-the-making comic wind-up machine that begins by mocking its own audience for paying good money to see what it can watch at home for free and proceeds from there through the most wickedly funny arsenal of assaults on big government, organized religion and corporate America this side of Borat (which, like The Simpsons Movie, somehow managed to use Rupert Murdoch’s money to do it)."
The Onion AV Club's Nathan Rabin, who likes it overall, adds: "The fingerprints of co-writer/producer James L. Brooks are all over the genuinely tender moments sprinkled amongst the silliness."
More reviews linked here as they come in.
Online viewing tip: From MTV's Movie Blog: Brooks and Matt Groening debate the merits of a live action Simpsons movie.
Another: David Cassel with the Simpsons greatest drug moments.
Online listening tip: Matt Groening on NPR's Fresh Air.
July 25, 2007
Hirayama Hideyuki's Three for the Road Premieres at Lincoln Center
Jim Van Maanen attended a Japanese film premiere in NYC, and reviews the evening for us, covering raccoons, Kabuki theater and warm baths.
It's a good thing that Japanese film director Hirayama Hideyuki told his audience at yesterday's world premiere of his new film Three for the Road (Yajikita dôchû Teresuko), at New York's Walter Reade Theater, that he has always loved those half-dozen Hollywood "Road" movies that starred Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour. Otherwise some of us occidentals in the crowd might not have known quite what to make of this charming little "throw-away" concoction. One of the film's three stars, Kanzaburo Nakamura, in his enjoyable pre-movie remarks, told us to think of the film as a nice, warm bath. "Nothing much happens, but you'll find it relaxing." He also warned us, "If you don't enjoy it, I don't want to know."
Not to worry, Kanzaburo-san: your film is sweet, silly, occasionally funny and -during that fantasy reconciliation with your character's dead wife and child- even a bit moving. My favorite moments, however, belong to a trapped raccoon - initially meant for dinner - who is freed and then morphs into a child, various animals and even one in a pair of dice, thus saving our beleaguered trio during their visit to a rigged gambling den. Yes, it's that kind of movie, and if you were expecting a more classical Japanese film a la Mizoguchi, Kurosawa or Ozu, never mind. The film is of the light, popular sort that we rarely see here in America, probably due to cultural differences and references that go right over our collective head. (Mr. Nakamura's bath metaphor was not, as it turned out, inappropriate; I had to pinch myself a few times along the way to stay awake.)
Nakamura, one of Japan's more famous Kabuki actors, just the previous day finished a run at the yearly Lincoln Center Summer Festival in "Hokaibo," for which he received glowing reviews. His performance in Three for the Road is as relaxed and easy-going as Kabuki is stringently traditional (though his performance in Hokaibo was certainly not stringent), so it will probably be a treat for his fans to see him in such a role when Three for the Road opens in Japan this coming November. His two co-stars, Akira Emoto and Kyoko Koizumi (in the Lamour role) are also popular staples of Japanese cinema and television, and they work together like good old friends. (All three stars, dressed in the 19th Century garb of the film itself, were present at the premier, and addressed the audience genially, even posing for photographs.) The screenplay by Abe Teruo begins with a comical suicide pact between elderly lovers interrupted by a Jaws-like moment from the deep--which leads to the problem of "naming" the sea monster and then sprawls into everything from Kabuki to geishas, marriage vows, whacked off pinky fingers, and that raccoon. Mr. Hirayama's direction serves this pastiche as well as could be expected, and technically, the movie is certainly up to snuff: seamless, slick and full of beauty.
A colorful and fascinating article on Kanzaburo Nakamura and Kabuki appears in the 2007 Summer issue of KIE (Kateigaho International Edition), the magazine of Japan's Arts & Culture.
A summertime question for Kevin Kelly.At first glance, True Films would seem to be nothing out of the ordinary. It's a film blog. It's got an angle: docs, or any other film that might be defined as non-fiction. But it's also a book, and here's where things start to deviate from the norm. The book is available in a variety of formats, explained here: "You have about 5 different ways to get this book." By this point, you'll have noticed the name of the author: Kevin Kelly, editor of the Whole Earth Review in the late 80s, a co-founding editor of Wired and author of Asia Grace, Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems and the Economic World (required reading for the cast of The Matrix) and New Rules for the New Economy: 10 Radical Strategies for a Connected World. That last one appeared about ten years ago, when I was editing a site called Rewired, a zine as we called them back in the day and one that was highly critical of Wired when the magazine was the talk of the town - that town being either San Francisco or what was then a cyberspace far, far less populated than it is now (and of course, in the mid-90s, there was a lot of overlap between the two). Wired has since drifted away from its cyberlibertarian roots and Rewired has simply drifted away. At any rate, the record of a series we ran on Kevin Kelly's New Rules can be seen here (scroll down for a sort of impromptu index). Kevin Kelly, it seemed to me, was always extraordinarily good-natured about critiques of his and/or Wired's theses and hypotheses; his is an acutely inquisitive mind, after all, and currently, he's working on a new book, The Technium, about which he writes: It's a word I've reluctantly coined to designate the greater sphere of technology - one that goes beyond hardware to include culture, law, social institutions, and intellectual creations of all types. In short, the Technium is anything that springs from the human mind. It includes hard technology, but much else of human creation as well. I see this extended face of technology as a whole system with its own dynamics. Now, if you're going to watch over 150 documentaries with someone or simply turn to them for good tips on a few, this is the sort of fellow you'll want to consult. Which you can do at True Films.
Kevin, I wonder if you could imagine one of your books adapted as a non-fiction film, and if so, any ideas as to who you'd like to see make it? Second, are there any other books, ideas, events, subjects that you think just cry out for a good documentary treatment? Over the years I have had a few nibbles from filmmakers interested in translating both my first book (a heavy-weight tome on how bee hives, robots, the internet, and organizations all operate by similar laws) and my second one (on the new economy built upon ideas) into educational documentaries but the treatments seem far-fetched to me. There were so many abstractions to explain. Later when Brian Greene's remarkable and high-budget NOVA series on quantum string theory came out, I decided that maybe if you can make string theory pop cinematically then it could be possible to make complexity theory visual. But I've changed my mind again in the last 5 years as I've watched many hundreds of documentaries. I find that I really crave narrative structure in documentaries, and my first two books did not lend themselves to that arc. It remains to be seen whether my third in-progress book will. Without contradicting myself too much, I think that almost any subject can be viewed through the lens of a documentary. The more of them I watch, the more excited I become when I find one that takes the least interesting subject possible - say vanity music recordings, or old girlfriends, or chickens - and transform it into something extraordinary. That selective gaze has always been the boon of photography, and it works wonders in film. Now that film is no longer film, but cheap bits captured by cheap cameras, filmmakers can "waste" footage making films about all kinds of small-time things. Which is paradise for us viewers. I think there is a whole unexplored genre of films about what people do as they work, how they do it. The runaway success of series like Project Runway, or Dirty Jobs, are examples of how making things can be inherently fascinating. Take me behind the scenes anywhere and I'll watch.
Ulrich Muehe, 1953-2007.
Well, this is awful - and, to me at least, entirely unexpected - news:
From the BBC:
A well-known TV and theatre actor in his homeland, he had been receiving treatment for stomach cancer.
Muehe's performance as a Stasi agent who secretly protects a dissident playwright won him a best actor prize at the European Film Awards in 2006.
More from Der Spiegel.
I'll be doing up a wee batch of "shorts" tomorrow, just to post something here that isn't about someone's death, but wanted to get this out there. [Thanks, Evan.]
July 23, 2007
Laszlo Kovacs, 1933-2007.
"Laszlo Kovacs, the Hungarian-born cinematographer who shot counterculture classics such as Easy Rider as well as Ghost Busters and Miss Congeniality died Saturday in his sleep in Beverly Hills. He was 74.
He was in his last year of school in his native Budapest when a revolt against the Communist regime started on the streets. With classmate Vilmos Zsigmond, he borrowed a school camera and filmed the conflict. They smuggled the footage into Austria and entered the U.S. as political refugees in 1957. The historic footage was later featured in a CBS docu narrated by Walter Cronkite.
He started working in television, moving into features with The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies [hard to believe he started there - ed]."
More from Stephen Whitty:
"He drew pictures with light.
Over an amazing 40-year career, cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs made some of the most haunting images you ever saw.
(I'm partial to Five Easy Pieces, myself. You have to hand it to Kovacs, he was diverse.)
And much more from Glenn Kenny.
Update, 7/24: Jason Whyte's tribute at Hollywood Bitchslap. (Thanks, William!)
A summertime question for Stephan Geene.How refreshing it is to see a new film made in Berlin, a film that is even somewhat about Berlin, that has next to nothing to do with the Berliner Schule other than that the lead's played by Sabine Timoteo (probably best known for her roles in Christian Petzold's Gespenster [Ghosts] and Matthias Glasner's Der Freie Wille [The Free Will]). Not that the Berliner Schule, a school with pretty porous walls in the first place, isn't still a source of fresh and invigorating work, but Stephan Geene's After Effect reminds us that there's more than one way to tell an unconventional tale in this city.
Stephan, even though you shot After Effect two years ago, I think it's a happy coincidence - and maybe you do, too - that it's seen its premiere in what the papers are calling "Art Summer 2007," a season of a highly unusual alignment of major art events: Venice and Basel, Kassel and Münster. Each of these shows has its own brand identity which takes over its respective city and overwhelms it for the duration. Among the many other things going on in After Effect, Carl Celler Culture, an agency of sorts, commissions creative types to do more or less the opposite: to absorb a city's identity into a campaign - though the nature of that campaign is an impossible-to-define fusion of marketing and art. To what extent is Berlin, if maybe not perfect, at least very, very good in its role? I wasn't really trying to keep the film focused specifically on Berlin, although, arriving in 1991, I did find the Berlin mix of this deluge of freelancers from all over, a temporarily undefined public space, a real estate vacuum, empty buildings everywhere as an echo of the expulsion of the city's Jews - it all struck me as quite unique, and this may have been the spark of the film, a deep-set feeling and a concrete experience that work is not the be all and end all and that everyone involved is a producer and consumer (of his/herself). You wouldn't have had this experience in Munich - and not in Paris, either. Other than that, with After Effect, I wanted to create something, an artificial space that would accentuate this odd liveliness of the characters. Their unlimited matter-of-factness when it comes to the projects they're working on. And the extent to which this idea of animals is an indication of a certain discomfort that undercuts their confidence without their actually being aware of it. But sure, for me, this culture-saturated summer makes for a pretty good background, especially since I'm in Kassel right now: b_books and Pro qm are running the Documenta Bookshop. This allows for an amusing angle on all the brouhaha. It may be the first time in my life I'm doing something that might be called "business." But at the same time, it's also very much a "collective."
July 22, 2007
To Spoil or Not To Spoil.
Just a quick posting here, because Nathan Lee's article in today's NY Times, "Giving It All Away," addresses a topic that had made its away around the table amongst me and several fellow cinephiles just yesterday.
"I’m that terrible thing, the film critic armed with spoilers who isn’t afraid to use them....
"To spoil or not to spoil involves larger questions about the role of the critic, the needs of the reader and the changes to both caused by the scale, speed and outlaw spirit of Web-based commentary. In February, I tested that relationship — and roused the ire of some ardent online cinephiles — in my review of The Wayward Cloud, a lousy movie by a great director. Because I admire the work of Tsai Ming-liang, I gave myself license to fully explore where it went wrong."
I'm one of those people who are probably overly conscientious about revealing major plot twists, so it's interesting to see Lee's perspective here, even if I still disagree with some of it. What do you think? Is it pointless for a critic to even worry about it? Or obnoxious to reveal major twists?
July 21, 2007
8 Things (and a bit more).Mike Everleth at Bad Lit and Sujewa Ekanayake, who's just wrapped what sounded like a fun week of screenings of his Date Number One, have both tagged me with that 8 Things meme running around. I decided to hold off on it until my holiday, which begins today (as you read this, I am gone), so after the 8 Things, a few words about what'll be going on around here this coming week. Also, if I offend anyone, you'll have 8 or 9 days or so to get over it, and if I say anything deathly embarrassing, I'll have 8 or 9 days or so to get over it. On several occasions, I've met people, virtually or in person, who say they like the Daily and all, but they'd like to know a little more about the person who writes it. If you're not one of those, for heaven's sake, stop reading now. First, though, a cut-n-paste of the rules: 1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
3. People who are tagged write their own blog post about their eight things and include these rules.
4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names. Don't forget to leave them a comment telling them they're tagged and that they should read your blog. Ok, go: 1. My parents will be visiting us in Berlin next month, and this seems like a good way into this list: I am extraordinarily lucky. 20 years ago, probably 25 (I turned 48 this summer, by the way), someone was asking about my father, and I was going through the usual kid-profiling-his-father rigmarole, when suddenly, out came, "He's a good man." And that "good" just came welling up from deep, deep gut, a shocking physical sensation. I remembered that a few weeks ago when it happened again. Same sentence, same feeling, though probably even more pervasive now that I'm a father myself and can appreciate him all the more. My mother's someone people open up to immediately. She gets on a plane and, whether she wants it or not, she'll be carrying the full emotional history of the person sitting next to her when she gets off. That kind of ear - and heart - when you're growing up... just invaluable. Together, these two, my father and mother, they're a dynamic combo. 2. I used to think my resume was spotty. On paper, I thought, you'd be looking at a guy who starts things, gets distracted, drifts on over, then again and so on. At some point in the 90s, I realized that this is simply the way things are now. We live in an age of episodic lives. Creatively (rather than, say, job-wise, love-life-wise or otherwise), my first episode was probably my longest. As a kid, I had a poem published in a children's magazine. Years later, must have been junior high, some teacher told me that my poems reminded her of TS Eliot. I took that very, very seriously, believe it or not, and began reading the man. Through two years of theater (Baylor), a degree in film and a masters in English (both UT Austin), and years afterwards, I kept it up. Until I didn't anymore. In forgotten literary journals lost in stacks across America, faint traces of me sink further into deepest obscurity. I don't mind. Still love reading poetry. 3. I guess I should devote one of the 8 to moviegoing. Let's think back to the 70s. I was a teenager in Arlington, Texas, a suburban town that sprawls between Dallas and Ft Worth. As soon as I had my driver's license, that is, at 16, I'd drive to repertory theaters in one of those two cities to watch movies. These were the days before home video, kids. That monster Janus Films box set? Give or take a few titles, that was more or less my self-administered cinematic education. Plus the occasional cultish thing. Great times, but my two favorite moviegoing experiences have nothing to do with all that. And they couldn't be more different. First, with two friends, I saw Jaws the week it opened. The theater was packed and every last one of us screamed and jumped and yelped and held onto each other or batted each other away or laughed or hid... I'd never gone through anything like that. Fantastic ride. Second, I drove to Ft Worth one afternoon and paid one dollar to see a double feature: The Godfather and The Godfather Part II. This time, the theater was nearly empty. The Godfather was old, old news. There may have five or six other people in there, but I soon forgot that I was in a theater at all. About six hours later, I walked out into the dark absolutely bedazzled, still smelling that sauce with meatballs, and thinking now in the rhythms of threat and anxiety and power. 4. Before my voice changed, I sang in the Texas Boys Choir. Years later, I'd drive to jazz clubs in Dallas and blues joints in Ft Worth. Musically, I've gone through the zillion phases we all tend to go through. But if pressed, I'd guess that the album I've played most often in my life is Joni Mitchell's Hejira. 5. When I was very young, pre-kindergarten age, our family lived in France for a couple of years. I remember only snippets. I stuck a bobby pin in an electric socket, for example. Blew me across the room and knocked out half the town's electricity. I wouldn't see Europe again until we spent a long weekend in Amsterdam when I was 14. We took a bus from the airport to the hotel, and I remember that first step off that bus very, very well. I was looking down, literally watching my step. The street was black with rain pasting broad yellow autumn leaves against the asphalt. I looked up, the canal, the bridge, the stone steps, the sky, which no kidding, really was a Rembrandt sky. You may be expecting, "And from that moment on, I knew I'd have to live in Europe some day," but no, that's silly. What took over me wasn't anywhere that concrete. 6. I've lived nearly half my life in Germany. 7. I still have a "John Anderson for President" T-shirt. Sheesh. 8. I'd love to collect art but have no money. So. I still haven't decided which Democrat to back in the 2008 presidential campaign, and so, I tag, in alphabetical order, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, John Edwards, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama and Bill Richardson. Meantime, this year I thought I'd do something like I did last year when I went away, only with a twist. Summertime questions, only instead of asking film bloggers, writers and editors, I'd go in search of widening the circle a bit and get in touch with people who might add another angle or two to the fragmented portrait of this 8 Things thing. I should have started a whole lot earlier. At least weeks before leaving, in other words, rather than days. In its conception, the project's not half-bad, I think, but much more time for explanation and coaxing is evidently required for this sort of thing than for, well, film bloggers contacted by another film blog. In short, the roster of respondents this year is far shorter. Like, three. I'm grateful to each of them for coming through. In between those days, the Daily will be in the capable hands of Craig Phillips; there's a dandy primer coming up, and of course, more.
July 20, 2007
Shorts, 7/20.Tim Lucas watches the trailer for Todd Haynes's I'm Not There and sets out on virtual journey in search of the song and anything he can learn about it. Great stuff. Emily Gordon and a friend take apart David Denby's piece in the New Yorker on the supposed devolution of the romantic comedy. For one thing, Gordon wishes it'd been written by someone "whose ideas about sex and love were informed in great part by John Hughes, David Lynch, Kevin Smith, Cameron Crowe, Nicole Holofcener, Amy Heckerling, Todd Solondz, Woody Allen (the movies and the man), Martha Coolidge, Nora Ephron, Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino - now there's a ripe and unstable blend.... What I'm saying is that just as screwball comedies were shiny fairy tales for the eras of disappointing early marriages, stock-market crashes, and limited opportunity for personal expression, There's Something About Mary is a shiny fairy tale for ours." Daniel Day-Lewis's "choices seem to reflect more than just industry realities or access to the juicy roles someone of his stature commands," argues Jim Cullen in Common-place. "Actually, his recent body of work shows a remarkably textured, yet consistent, vision of American history." Via Bookforum. AJ Schnack launches About A Blog. Via Michael Sippey, I see that Errol Morris is now blogging for the New York Times. Just one several-day-old entry so far, but what an entry. Also in the NYT: "JK Rowling's monumental, spellbinding epic, 10 years in the making, is deeply rooted in traditional literature and Hollywood sagas - from the Greek myths to Dickens and Tolkien to Star Wars," writes Michiko Kakutani, reviewing the publishing event of the year. "And true to its roots, it ends not with modernist, Soprano-esque equivocation, but with good old-fashioned closure: a big-screen, heart-racing, bone-chilling confrontation and an epilogue that clearly lays out people's fates. Getting to the finish line is not seamless - the last part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final book in the series, has some lumpy passages of exposition and a couple of clunky detours - but the overall conclusion and its determination of the main characters' story lines possess a convincing inevitability that make some of the prepublication speculation seem curiously blinkered in retrospect." Rowling, by the way, is not at all happy that reviews are already appearing. Mike Collett-White and Robert MacMillan report for Reuters - and the AFP reports on the reply: "'Our feeling is that once a book is offered up for sale at any public, retail outlet, and we purchase a copy legally and openly, we are free to review it,' said culture, books and theater editor Rick Lyman in a statement." Related: "Might the hive mind of fanfiction predict the plot of the seventh Harry Potter?" asks Kevin Kelly. Meanwhile, Marc Savlov on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: "This is the first of the eventual septet's volumes to be directed by [David] Yates, and it's also the first to improve, literally, on its source material." Also at the Austin Chronicle:
Fests and events, 7/20."From this Friday until the beginning of August, Sao Paulo's Galeria Vermelho hosts one of the most riveting exhibitions of the summer," announces Miguel Amado at Rhizome. "Curated by local critics Fernando Oliva and Marcelo Rezende, Communism of Form: Sound + Image + Time - The Music Clip Strategy brings together works by 30 Brazilian and international artists that reflect, examine, or evoke the aesthetics of the music clip within contemporary visual culture." Through August 4. Michelle Phillips joins a prestigious lineup of bloggers filing entries from the Mods & Rockers Film Festival for the Huffington Post. Through August 1. Hoping he won't mind, I want to quote the entire first paragraph of Michael Fox's piece at SF360: As recently as a decade ago, the various local "identity" film festivals provoked minimal interest and sold few tickets beyond their niche constituencies. Those days are long gone: A full 40 percent of the audience of the SF International Asian American Film Festival is now comprised of non-Asians. The SF Jewish Film Festival reports 25 to 30 percent of attendees aren't Jewish. What's going on? For one thing, savvy moviegoers outside the target demographic have learned to scout the niche fests' programs for films that premiered to raves at Berlin or Cannes (too late, that is, to make it into the SF International Film Festival). The Jewish Film Festival specifically benefits from broad and urgent local interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which manifests itself as an insatiable appetite for documentaries from the region. The biggest factor, though, may be the number of interfaith and interracial relationships in the Bay Area. Looking for insights into your partner's culture or family? Tag along with them to a festival flick. All of which is to say you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy the SF Jewish Film Festival. Also, program director Nancy Fishman points out a few highlights. Through July 26. For the Reeler, Chris Willard talks with New York Asian American International Film Festival director William Phuan. Through July 28. "Outfest programmers have once again assembled... a world-class collection of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered-themed shorts," writes Kim Adelman at indieWIRE. Through Monday. Also, Brian Brooks previews the New York International Latino Film Festival, July 24 through 29. Matt Riviera previews the Melbourne International Film Festival. July 25 through August 12. The Lumière Reader has more from the Telecom New Zealand International Film Festivals. "A retrospective on Pedro Almodóvar and a tribute to US director David Lynch will be the main events of the Estoril European Film Festival, whose first edition will be held from November 8 - 17," reports Vitor Pinto at Cineuropa. The Wine Country Film Festival's just opened in American Canyon; later, it'll be moving on to Napa and Sonoma. For the LA Weekly, Hazel-Dawn Dumpert previews The Late, Great Kate: A Centennial Tribute to Katharine Hepburn, running through August 21. Susan King rounds up other local goings on for the Los Angeles Times. The Philadelphia City Paper writes up the highlights of the second week of the Philadelphia International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. Through Tuesday. "Convention never could get its claws into Norman Mailer." Michael Joshua Rowin previews The Mistress & The Muse: The Films of Norman Mailer for the L Magazine. More from AO Scott in the New York Times: The objection can be made that all of this stuff is trivial and secondary, an amusing distraction from the substantial and vexing edifice of Mr Mailer's real work, which is his books. Many of them, it seems to me, are too infrequently and poorly read, and some of their boldest gambits and thorniest truths are overshadowed by their author's reputation for excess on and off the page. To see him as he was in his various nonliterary incarnations - as cinéaste and talk-show guest, as politician and polemicist - is to understand some of what he was up to in books like Advertisements for Myself (1959), Armies of the Night (1968), Of a Fire on the Moon (1970) and The Prisoner of Sex (1971). And Mr Mailer's first three films - Maidstone in particular - are worth seeing for the insight they provide into the ideas and ambitions that fueled Mr Mailer's writing in the 1960s and 70s, the wildest, most productive and most contentious period in a career that has never been especially calm or easy to comprehend. More from acquarello and the Leading the Charge: Woodfall Film Productions and the Revolution in 60s British Cinema series: Tom Jones and The Charge of the Light Brigade. "The Magnificent Revolutionary Cycling Cinema is the only UK touring bicycle-powered cinema." Thanks, Jerry! "The short film evening Short & Sweet, which has been held weekly in Brick Lane for over a year, has arrived in the West End of London." More at the Creative Review. 10 mph may be making its way to you next month. "The 19th Galway Film Fleadh came to an end on Sunday and by all accounts it was a rousing success," writes Mark Rabinowitz at indieWIRE. Michael Guillén has a Robert Osborne double and, at the Siffblog, Anne M Hockens and David Jeffers wrap the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Earlier: "SFSFF's 12th." Rachel Leers has a Silverdocs overview for In These Times. An Atheist Film Festival? Jim Emerson floats the idea and the suggestions roll in.
Film & Music. Punk.In a punk-themed issue of the Guardian's Film & Music section this week, Alex Cox quotes Luis Buñuel looking back on Surrealism: The movement was successful in its details and a failure in its essentials. Surrealism was a cultural and artistic success, but these were the areas of least importance to the surrealists. Our aim was not to establish a glorious place for ourselves in the annals of art and literature - and certainly not in the cinema! - but to CHANGE THE WORLD. This was our essential purpose, and we completely failed. "What Buñuel wrote of the surrealists is equally true of punk," writes Cox. "Whether a money-making scam or revolutionary movement, punk was decisively and swiftly killed by the double-whammy of the music business: CDs and pop videos. In the cinema, punk's presence was even more tentative." So then he asks, "What would a punk cinema look like, if one still existed?" Rules for breaking the rules follow. Stuart Jeffries tells the story behind Derek Jarman's Jubilee. "I recently discovered that I'm in The Filth and the Fury DVD eating cake and talking to Sid," muses Jez Scott. "I've been a policeman for 20 years - I'm a sergeant now - but I'm still a punk, as are a lot of coppers. I still go to gigs and crowd-surf with my boss. He's an inspector." Keith Cameron: "Australian punk happened for the same reasons as British and American punk: a sense of disillusionment with what was on offer, musically and socially. But unlike the UK and US scenes, which were concentrated in London and New York, where musicians could feed off each other, Australian punks were scattered across the vastness of the country, and had only the flimsiest idea of what punk even meant." Laura Barton sets out in search of the spirit of a groundbreaking tune, "Roadrunner," by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers. Dave Simpson: "If 1977 was the year of the punk rock explosion, it also saw the rise of another musical movement, intimately entwined with punk - a massive eruption in British reggae, which became the black counterpart to the white heat of punk." "Many years ago, when the cold war was still a recent memory and John Major lived on Downing Street, I bought a copy of Greil Marcus's book Lipstick Traces, the 'secret history of the 20th century' that draws ornate lines between the Sex Pistols, the French Situationists and Dadaism, and remains awe-inspiringly great - 'a coruscatingly original piece of work, vibrant with the energy of the bizarre happenings it maps out,' according to the venerable Terry Eagleton, and he should know." John Harris explains why he's writing about "Kleenex, once fleetingly cracked up to be the 'Swiss Slits' and forced to change their name to Liliput (which should actually be written LiLiPUT, apparently) by the international tissue manufacturers. They lasted from 1978 until 1983, and have since been pretty much lost to history." But I want to add this: In a few days, I'll be bringing up the subject of docs that need to be made. My nomination: Lipstick Traces.
July 19, 2007
Melville, segueing into the Brooklyn Rail and MovieMaker.Premiere's Glenn Kenny binges on Jean-Pierre Melville: "The current perception of Melville here is that of a somewhat hardboiled cinephile, which he certainly was to a certain extent, what with the likes of later crime pictures such as Le Samouraï and Le Cercle Rouge. But of the four pictures I chose... only one, Le Doulos, is a genre picture. The other films give a different means of access to Melville the cinematic poet and thinker. After my immersion, I'm almost ready to put him alongside Buñuel." "Le Doulos shows a director in transition," writes Jesi Khadivi in the July/August issue of the Brooklyn Rail. The film "shares some of Bob Le Flambeur's light-heartedness and predates the distilled existential dread of Melville's masterpiece Le Samouraï." "The Siren can understand the admiration for the steel-colored perfection of Le Samouraï's look," she conceded a couple of weeks ago. "But watching [Alain] Delon dart around the Metro, in fear for his life, left her as cold as Harry Lime looking down from the Ferris wheel. The Siren has resigned herself to more lonely iconoclasm, but she did find this. Merci, M Rosenbaum, for expressing a few reservations. And apologies to Girish." Back to the Brooklyn Rail. What else is in this summer issue: Godard "once said that sport, in contrast to politics, literature and cinema, does not lie because it is the only action where the body does not act," writes Jenny Schlenzka in a review of Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. "This might be one reason why [Douglas] Gordon and [Philippe] Parreno refuse to tell the story of Zidane's heroic rise. Instead, they focus on the power of his image, the image of him doing what he knows best: playing soccer. The premise of their film is as strikingly simple as it is effective." "What does legendary singer Edith Piaf have in common with a secretive guy who murders innocent strangers for thrills?" asks Tessa DeCarlo, reviewing La Vie en Rose and Mr Brooks. "Both are hostages to their own dark sides, according to two films that use addiction as a shorthand way to pose a fundamental question: is it possible to become a better person?" Related: Joe Leydon talks with Kevin Costner for MovieMaker. Sarahjane Blum on Nancy Drew: Generations of women have learned from Nancy, Bess, and George that girls can dream, and think, and act. Now they see that girls can't, but Nancy can. Outside of the fantasy land of River Heights (where Bess and George remain full of moxie) a powerful girl remains an aberration. A circular argument arises: girls like to shop, Nancy would rather sleuth, Nancy isn't really a girl. And it's true: Nancy isn't really a girl. Even after hundreds of books and films devoted to her, the character barely feels human. "Since the mid-90s, director Shane Meadows has defined himself as the definitive voice of lower-class Northern England," writes Karl O'Toole in a review of This Is England. "Meadows' films come across as the observations of a concerned insider rather than an outsider taking a quick tour." Hong Sang-soo's Woman is the Future of Man sparks an association in Jed Lipinski's with Jules and Jim: "[U]nlike Jeanne Moreau, who 'revealed her goals only after she'd achieved them,' Sung Hyunah seems almost entirely a product of her mistreatment by guys; a clean slate covered in lewd men's room scrawl." With Pete Tombs's guide Mondo Macabro as a starting point, Br Cleve is off in search of Bollywood horror. David N Meyer and David Wilentz line up a string of reviews from the New York Asian Film Festival. And MovieMaker: Henry Jaglom argues - occasionally in italics - that "this is the very best time in history to be an independent moviemaker!" Related: Jennifer M Wood has a good long talk with Jaglom, who then also adds a good short list of "Things I've Learned as a Moviemaker." "While autonomy used to be the battle cry of the generations of both John Cassavetes and Martin Scorsese, today's indie studios are in a better position to expose a film to an array of audiences," writes Jerry Weinstein. "No two outfits share the same business model, even though they do share a mission of broadening the audience for independent film." "With all the entertainment options and technologies vying for audience attention, today's movie theaters are under attack." Mark Sells counts the many, many ways. "In the movie industry as we knew it, production was always production and post was always post—but the buzzword of the future is 'workflow.' With digital technology enveloping all stages of the moviemaking process, it is now easier than ever to transition seamlessly from shooting a film to editing it and getting it viewed by an audience." Then Nick Dager gets geeky. Jennifer Straus talks with Julia Stiles about writing and directing her first short, Raving. And Bob Fisher talks with cinematographer Guillermo Navarro about shooting Pan's Labyrinth.
Sherman Torgan."From Hollywood Elsewhere comes sad news from the very heart of Hollywood," writes Dennis Cozzalio. "Sherman Torgan, owner and manager of the New Beverly Cinema, died unexpectedly yesterday while bicycling in Santa Monica." "I imagine he died doing what he loved, which is a happy thing; I don't think anyone could run a theater like the New Beverly for three decades without having a passion for it," writes David Lowery. "There's an art to showing movies, a sort of showmanship crossed with curatorial craft, and it's slowly being lost. It'll never fade completely (not as long as devotees are willing to set up screenings in Parisian catacombs), but as of today its its lustre is a little bit dimmer than it was before." "[S]ome of you may have noticed he got a thanks in the Grindhouse credits," notes Blake Ethridge at Cinema is Dope. "Condolences to everyone that knew Sherman and were touched over the decades with his charge and dedication in providing films old and new a place to still breath and to be discovered all over again."
Offscreen. Issues of Representation.In the latest issue of Offscreen to go online, editor Donato Totaro considers "one of Québec's national treasures," Pierre Perrault, as the National Film Board reissues his work on DVD. Guan Soon Khoo revisits one of Zhang Yimou's most controversial works: "[D]ue to the dualist nature of the filmmakers' intentions - of a blockbuster for the world and a culture-conscious film - Hero's technical merit, both in its narrative structure and metaphorical showmanship, elevates it to a contemporary masterpiece, not a timeless work of art." "Comparing the iconographies of Anna May Wong and Lucy Lui exemplifies the marginalized roles Asians are given in Hollywood, as well as showing the transition of the Asian American female from a desired to a feared figure," writes Krystle Doromal. In an essay on Chronicle of a Disappearance, Lindsey Rock writes, "Through the exquisite use of rupture, fractured non-linearity, repetition, irony, and wry humor, Elia Suleiman exposes the fractured Palestinian identity: the lack of cohesive unity, the denied, the negated and the absurd." Robert Robertson: "In the case of both [Sergei] Eisenstein and [Frank Lloyd] Wright the experimental process was crucial to the realisation of the ideal of an organic unity in their work, and integral to this approach was the method of testing for Nature's equilibrium."
July 18, 2007
Reverse Shot. Take Two.With "Take One," Issue 17 of Reverse Shot, contributors were asked to "pick a single, memorable shot and use it as a springboard for reconsidering a film, filmmaker, or even cinema itself." Now, a year later, with Issue 20, editors Michael Koresky and Jeff Reichert present their writers with a topic that "couldn't be more open to interpretation": "Even though the shot may be the most instantly relatable element of film form, the captured image isn't the exclusive domain of cinema; it's the cut, the edit between two images, that has most clearly defined the unique character of the seventh art." Hence the issue title, "Take Two." Chris Wisniewski reinforces the argument with a quote from, naturally, Sergei Eisenstein: "Cinema is, first and foremost, montage." And he adds, "For Eisenstein, it's not just that the juxtaposition of two images or shots can be meaningful in the hands of the right filmmaker; it's that cinema is images, sounds, and moments of time colliding with each other to produce new meanings. The cut is not simply one cinematic tool among many; it is the essential characteristic of the cinema." Now, to the film at hand: "If this is the way we conceive of the art and theory of film, then what do we do with a movie like Rope?" Lauren Kaminsky revisits a cut you'll surely remember in The Unbearable Lightness of Being: "[I]t's so narratively jarring because it undermines plot, setting, and characters entirely. Without warning we are yanked from a love story and dropped into what might have been war, ripped from the safety of eternally recurring, fictional time and thrust into the gravity of causational, irreparable and unrepeatable History. As Kundera might say, the buoyant narrative never recovers from the weight of these Russian tanks, all the weightier for being real." Michael Koresky looks back to the year 2000: "It would be too simple and clichéd to say that Spike Lee was on the cutting edge; by all accounts Bamboozled seems to have been shot in its fashion out of necessity. Yet rarely has Lee's aesthetic been so accurately, spiritually wedded to his ideology - the erratic sound mix, the inconsistent lighting, the sense of multiple cameras jostling for screen supremacy... all fruitfully aid this tale of woe and compromise." Elbert Ventura can still hear Juliette Binoche scream: "Code Unknown up to that point had largely unfolded in discrete scenes all filmed in long single takes. Cutting within the scene, [Michael] Haneke reverts to conventional film grammar—and, in the process, calls attention to the scene's artifice." Nicolas Rapold considers the effect of Steven Soderbergh and editor Sarah Flack's use in The Limey (1999) of footage of Terrence Stamp in Ken Loach's Poor Cow (1967): "The cut to the past helps Wilson transcend the typical fictional character's limitation: namely, that he's created for the occasion, for this film.... The cut also posits film as something to be quoted and reused." "There's a cut late in Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ that does more than connect, surprise, or demonstrate: it quakes and shifts the ground below," writes Eric Hynes. "The entire film anticipates this cut, as does one's expectations of the climax to the greatest - or at least most repeated - story ever told, but still there's no preparing for it." White letters against a black background: "MEANWHILE." Daniel Cockburn: "Coming ten minutes into Hal Hartley's first feature The Unbelievable Truth, it predicts much of what is to be admired in the coming 80 minutes and dozen or so features: spelling-out of cinematic and dramatic fundamentals that we take for granted, that we don't need to elucidate because they're... well, fundamental." "[W]hat's so striking about the Bressonian universe, and probably most responsible for his lasting reputation, are his editing decisions," writes Jeff Reichert. "[I]t's rare that a shot ends exactly when you might expect it to, and even rarer that what follows provides easy linear causality." Then: "Throughout Au hasard Balthazar, Bresson employs that most traditional of cinematic devices - the reaction shot - to incorporate Balthazar's silent observation into the emotional fabric of the film. We don't, and can't know what the donkey is thinking at any given time, but don't need to because the editing does the work for us." "Kenneth Anger was the first American filmmaker to understand the pop song's dark potential for the realm of moving images," writes Michael Joshua Rowin. "And Scorpio Rising, the 1964 avant-garde short that marks the summit of Anger's vision, was the first American film to not just acknowledge in sound and image a youth culture whose hold on the American imagination had achieved a theretofore unprecedented power and influence, it was the first to seriously study the consequences of such a break.... To understand a film by Anger is to understand the use of sound in accordance to the cut. It is to learn from a master." "To a certain extent, the disruptive Surrealist practice of the 1920s where one would walk in and out of films randomly in order to craft one's own dream narratives - the first of many 'appropriative' challenges to the supposedly ironclad discourses of Hollywood cinema - was already inherent within any given film," writes Andrew Tracy. "Surrealists sought to void the various texts of meaning in order to build a new text made up of evocative fragments, the assembly line fantasies of Hollywood often had only the most tentative of holds on meaning in the first place.... The particular case in point: Going Hollywood (1933)." Travis Mackenzie Hoover decides "to write about the greatest cut in the [Claire] Denis canon, if not cinema itself. For years, I have isolated one surreptitious shot match in her largely overlooked Nenette and Boni as defining her particular brand of brilliance, which merges hyperstylized formalism with gentle realism to create something at once tactile and relaxed. Now it can be told: a single cut related to classical film grammar while also expanding and redefining its emotional range, it places the director astride the line of cinematic convention." "The first few minutes of Days of Being Wild (credits for executive producers, cold opening, title card) are my favorite few minutes in a movie made in my lifetime," declares Nathan Kosub. "The opening scene is edited quickly, to the assured click of Yuddy's heels on concrete. It isn't that the ensuing transition from Maggie Cheung's backward glance to the title is unexpected, or particularly unique. It is, however, the essential cut for understanding the themes of Wong [Kar-wai]'s career: namely, memory and dreams." Ryland Walker Knight: Andrei Tarkovsky's Mirror "says we are each immortal, forever unbounded by the 'robes of a skeleton' that 'sheath' our bodies; therefore I find the defining edit of the film near its close when, abruptly, the narrator finally flies, unlocked and awakened, into the immortal, eternal life the film attempts to define and inhabit." "Perhaps the quintessential example of the philosophical martial arts film is A Touch of Zen (Hsia Nu), by the legendary King Hu," writes Kevin B Lee, who then focuses on the impact of a single cut towards the end of the film. "Where to start with a cut like this, a cut that explodes questions of documentary mode, genre, and the construction of personal narrative?" Brendon Bouzard studies "a classic variation on the shot/reverse shot," that moment between Charlton Heston and Michael Moore in Bowling for Columbine. "The Parallax View seems to tell us that representational democracy is nothing but a duping fantasy framework to make us feel as acting players in the country's governance," writes Vicente Rodriguez-Ortega. "Others do the actual work. The Parallax Corporation rules almighty. And to reinforce this, a highly elliptical editing style is utilized, every twenty minutes or so, reminding the spectator of who's pulling the strings." The big build-up, and then the fight scene that wasn't in Raiders of the Lost Ark: Indiana Jones pulls out a gun, fires, fight's over. "What gives the sequence its memorable charge is Indy's bemused reaction shot - an interruption to the sword-twirling antics that announce spectacular danger, but don't black out his practicality," writes Eric Kohn. This issue's "Shot / Reverse Shot: Kristi Mitsuda argues that Julia Loktev's Day Night Day Night is "profoundly frightening" yet "eschews sensationalism." But for Michael Joshua Rowin, it's "not about the morality or immorality of terrorism, it’s about generating a rush." Interviews:
Scrap Heaven."Sang-Il Lee's Scrap Heaven stands as something of a companion piece to David Fincher's Fight Club," notes Rob Humanick at Slant, "both works examining the effects of economic dehumanization and oppressive social constructions with a refreshingly youthful vigor, like a ribald twentysomething with everything to prove and nothing to lose in the process." "Lee's visual jazziness and cast are compelling, but nothing can compensate for a deflated, toilet-humored script that negates its potential for sharp social satire with increasingly adolescent and superficial vilifying philosophies," writes Aaron Hillis in the Voice. "Scrap Heaven has style to spare," allows Laura Kern in the New York Times. "Yet while stumbling between comedy, meditative drama and action, it ultimately develops an identity crisis similar to that of its loosely drawn lead characters (whose own stories are considerably enhanced by a talented cast)."
Cashback."There are a few moments of truth in Cashback, but those... are all cribbed from other movies and television shows," grumbles Matt Singer at IFC News. "The movie is too cute by half," concedes Jim Ridley in the Voice. "But the flaky humor of wage slaves serial-killing time is good, rude fun; the trompe l'oeil camera trickery creates a woozy sleepwalking effect; and [director Sean] Ellis (a fashion photographer who's collaborated with David Lynch) and cinematographer Angus Hudson shoot the immaculate rows of paper towels and canned veggies with an Andreas Gursky-like eye for symmetrical splendor." Matt Riviera finds "real beauty - and not a little humor." Updated through 7/20. Updates, 7/19: IndieWIRE interviews Ellis. "Cashback aims for a Risky Business-type meld of sex comedy and art film, but doesn't have the steam to satisfy either," writes Stephen Snart in the L Magazine. Updates, 7/20: "With its depressive, wishy-washy hero and alterna-pop soundtrack, Cashback wants to be a 21st-century answer to The Graduate (whose hero was also named Ben)," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times. "But between the film's validation of Ben's adolescent concept of beauty, its wafer-thin characterizations, its gorgeous but overwrought widescreen photography and its abundance of 'How did they do that?' trick shots, Cashback instead suggests a Malcolm in the Middle episode directed by Paul Thomas Anderson." "Though graced with luscious imagery and dramatic soundtrack swells of Ravel and Bellini, all that useless beauty serves to prop up a conventional romantic comedy that's neither affecting nor funny," adds Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "Ellis draws a very romantic portrait of a young artist as he ponders love, beauty and living in the moment," writes Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times. "In expanding the story to feature length, he makes some missteps, but all in all maintains the charming tone that dominated the original version."
Live-In Maid."Live-In Maid is modest in scope, but it feels complete, fully inhabited, in a way that more overtly ambitious movies rarely do," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Its story and themes are outwardly straightforward, but as the film develops, it acquires a glow of mystery, as [director Jorge] Gaggero invites you to contemplate, within the context of two perfectly ordinary lives, the paradoxes of friendship and the challenge of maintaining dignity in a world that conspires to undermine it." "Gaggero wisely confines almost all of the action to Beba's hermetic apartment, where the surfaces are kept polished to a high sheen, and pays deep attention to the grunts, wrinkles, and sighs of daily life," writes Julia Wallace in the Voice. Updated through 7/20. Earlier: Larry Rohter's backgrounder in the NYT. The film screens at Film Forum through July 31. Updates, 7/19: Salon's Andrew O'Hehir calls Live-In Maid "a wrenching, often painful comedy with its roots in Bergman and Bresson and Chekhov, as well as in the extremely unfunny condition of the Argentine economy. Not a shot or a sentence or a line is wasted. Live-in Maid surely won't get much play here, but it's exquisite, diamond-tipped filmmaking, further evidence of the fine work Argentina's artists are producing under extreme circumstances." "[W]hat we see in Live-In Maid is an odd but fascinating co-dependency," writes Aaron Dobbs. "But what is truly fascinating to me about this relationship is the question it presents: can these two women truly ever be friends? Can the power and class struggle which is ingrained in them due to their 30 years together ever put them on an equal plane? Will Dora ever be able to address Beba by her first name? Will Beba ever understand why maybe she should call before showing up with storage items at Dora's, even if she thinks that she's being generous in giving them to her?" Update, 7/20: "Live-In Maid's premise would be ideal for a play, or a bravura performance piece like Rainer Werner Fassbinder's The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Instead, writer-director Gaggero shoots for a kind of docu-realism, with a few overtly cinematic interludes, like one well-paced split-screen sequence. Gaggero's style is serviceable, but it doesn't really give Aleandro and Argentina the time or space to establish their tangled relationship."
Sunshine."Reigniting the sun: it's a science-fiction proposal that's naturally grandiose and metaphorical in concept... and promising in terms of narrative stakes, yet [director Danny] Boyle and [screenwriter Alex] Garland wisely throw a bunch of curve balls at the audience," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE.
Shorts, 7/18.Noah Baumbach has written an adaptation Claire Messud's novel The Emperor's Children; Ron Howard will direct; Diane Garrett reports for Variety. Also, Michael Fleming: "Fox 2000 has set John Carney to direct Town House, a Doug Wright-scripted comedy that begins production in January. Pic marks the studio debut for the director of the Sundance prize-winning film Once." "Satoshi Kon's Paprika is the finest, most exhilarating animated feature film that I have seen in quite some time," writes Steven Shaviro. "Paprika's style is something that I am a total sucker for: it's wildly, floridly psychedelic, but at the same time somehow harsh and astringent." "I know of few recent films that have proved as polarizing as Funny Ha Ha (2005), but somehow I've managed to find myself in a place suspended between what seems to be the typical 'love it' or 'loathe it' reactions," writes Jesse Ataide. "It seems many of my peers have had no problems in enthusiastically proclaiming [Andrew] Bujalski 'the voice of our generation,' but like Jonathan Rosenbaum finally admits in his review of Regular Lovers (another film about young people coming to grips with the banalities of everyday living), I can recognize what it is that may give the impression that this film is capturing the essence of my particular generation at this particular moment in time, but when it comes down to it, as much as I like the film itself, I just don't really recognize the portrait." At the House Next Door, what a double bill: Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century and Tsai Ming-liang's I Don't Want To Sleep Alone. Ryland Walker Knight caught it last Friday and was evidently not alone as he found it easy to fall in love with the first while the second turned out to be pretty rough going. "Is [Bruno] Dumont repeating himself in Flandres?" wonders Gerald Peary in the Boston Phoenix. George Ratliff's "sense of characterization is extraordinary, and he creates a satisfying psychological model of family life that can be picked up and looked at from any angle," writes Dan Sallitt. "Joshua is not just a character drama, however: it is a suspense film. After a strong first hour, the suspense format becomes dominant in the last forty-five minutes; and, though the characters remain more or less coherent, the movie's back somehow breaks anyway." Also: "I'm still baffled at how a filmmaker as assured and expressive as [Claire] Devers could have vanished from our collective consciousness." "I expect a lot of things when I delve into Bonus Features on a DVD, but discovering an obscure, forgotten game show pilot that is the only known collaboration of William Castle, Robert Bloch, and Groucho Marx is not one of them." Tim Lucas elaborates. The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw responds to Nick Cohen's piece in Sunday's Observer: "Why is Hollywood so keen to create terrorists who are not al-Qaida, not Islamist, not Muslim? Why not name the elephant in the living room?... I think The Case of the All-American Terrorist is at once more simple and more complex than Nick Cohen implies. It's more a psychological symptom of denial - a distant cousin to the denial suffered by pro-war parties in politics and the media." Now, this is a subject line: "CNN Throws in Towel, Admits to Two Errors, and States That All 'Sicko' Facts Are True to Their Source (or something like that)... Moore Realizes All This is Huge Distraction and Then Spends More Precious Time Thanking Paris Hilton for Seeing 'Sicko'... Meanwhile, More than 300 Americans Die Because They Had No Health Insurance During the 8-Day Gupta-Moore War..." In the Voice:
Fests and events, 7/18."Easily trouncing the recent Hollywood heat rash of over-extended superheroes and Hasbro infomercials, this summer's most satisfying sci-fi blockbuster is a crypto-Marxist, proto-Fascist spectacle first released 80 years ago: Fritz Lang's Metropolis, the legendary art deco futuro- fable of industrialist excess, proletarian rebellion, and robot romance, one of the last big-budget exhilarations of the pre-talkie era." Ed Halter celebrates another run, this one at Film Forum for a week starting Friday. Update: More from Vadim Rizov at the Reeler. Also in the Voice, Carl Rollyson previews The Mistress and the Muse: The Films of Norman Mailer (July 22 through August 5) and wonders why Mailer turned to filmmaking in the first place. "One of Mailer's inspirations was surely John Cassavetes... Mailer wanted to create a stark black-and-white cinema verité/faux documentary that would blur the boundaries between fact and fiction - a harbinger of what he would produce in his nonfiction novels. But in Maidstone, the best of Mailer's filmmaking efforts, the results are, as Vincent Canby wrote in the Times at the time, a 'mixed bag,' veering from tedious to terrifying." "[T]he number of films produced during Hollywood's first decades meant a few Jewish movies slipped onto the screen, if only for novelty's sake," notes Dennis Harvey in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "One is a 1925 feature called His People. This rediscovered gem is the centerpiece attraction of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival's 27th annual program" and it's "a major exception to the silent era's ironic general avoidance of Jewish imagery beyond the occasional comic stereotype, scheming shopkeeper, or biblical flashback." Also, a few more tips for the festival that opens tomorrow and runs through July 26 in SF before traveling on to other Bay Area towns. Michael Hawley has previewed 14 films in the lineup and writes at the Evening Class, "My favorite of the bunch by far is Oliver Hirschbiegel's Just an Ordinary Jew." Toronto's added more titles, including David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises, and Brian Brooks has got them at indieWIRE. More from Kurt at Twitch, where reviews from the Fantasia Festival are still coming in. The Philadelphia Weekly offers a guide to the second week of the Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. More from acquarello and the series Leading the Charge: Woodfall Film Productions and the Revolution in 60s British Cinema (through July 26): A Taste of Honey and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. "The [Dallas Video Festival] kicks off its 20th year in two weeks, and the just-released lineup represents the festival's rebellious, mixed media idealogy better than ever," notes David Lowery. July 31 through August 5. Alleyball's the winner at the Independent Features Film Festival.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry."Tremendously savvy in its stupid way, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry is as eloquent as Brokeback Mountain, and even more radical," argues Nathan Lee in the Voice. It's "the first movie to effectively hijack that all-purpose justification for right-wing bigotry, 'protecting the children,' and redeploy it as a weapon of the homosexual intifada.... This sodomite had a gay old time." And Ed Gonzalez? Not so much: "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry is pro-gay but it's less interested in collapsing straight-male hang-ups about gay men than is in putting on a surprisingly mawkish show of political correctness against distinctly retrograde forms of homophobia," he writes at Slant. "This is one of the stranger straight-male fantasies out there: The filmmakers sincerely believe that homophobia is easily resolved, but they seem to desperately want a cookie from the gay community for realizing that 'the word faggot is a bad word.' Their vulgar self-congratulation compromises their goodwill." Updated through 7/20. "Like Mary Poppins's spoonful of sugar, a little comedy makes it a whole lot easier for audiences to swallow exposure to concepts that make them otherwise twitchy," writes Alonso Duralde at AfterElton.com. "There are, in fact, three main methods employed by comedies (and even some dramas) that allow filmmakers to teach audiences a civics lesson about equal rights without being thuddingly didactic about it." Check 'em out. John Hazelton, writing for Screen Daily, finds the film "turns out to be a pretty inoffensive but not terrifically funny buddy comedy that slips its vague pleas for lifestyle tolerance in between bursts of the kind of broad, un-PC humour for which its star is best known." Following a "list of moments that made me cringe," Rob at I Don't Like Renee Zellweger writes, "I don't usually consider myself easily offended, and am all for humor that pushes the boundaries of taste, but I am honestly disgusted that GLAAD has stamped this movie with their approval and even say so on their website." Thanks, Nathaniel. Updates, 7/19: "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry is not as hilarious as it thinks it is, profound as it pretends to be, or tolerant as it intends," writes Bill Gibron for PopMatters. "Yet none of this will matter to the throngs who only think of film as a way to waste two hours. For them, this crackerjack comedy will allow them to remain bigoted and have a belly laugh or two. And Hollywood scores another monetary hash mark in the category of knowing audience underestimation." "[L]ove him or hate him, [Adam] Sandler understands - sometimes more in the breach than the observance - that winking at the audience can derail a comedy in seconds, and that if you're going to offend liberal sensibilities, you have to go all the way. For all the sitcom capering, he and [Kevin] James play out their skittish partnership absolutely straight, if that's the word," writes Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly. She wanted to hate it, but just can't. Two more observations: "If nothing else, Chuck & Larry should open up a whole new career path for the ineffably funny, unselfconsciously buck-naked Ving Rhames as an übermacho firefighter who's been sitting on a little secret of his own. Astonishingly, Chuck & Larry's screenplay is credited to Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, with whom one doesn't associate such go-for-it vulgarity, though there were hints of raunch to come in the famous hotel sequence between Thomas Haden Church and Sandra Oh in Sideways." "Chuck & Larry has more laughs per minute than any movie since Hot Fuzz," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "Half the fun is knowing how thoroughly these jokes will outrage the PC brigade - especially with other bad-boy gags in the mix.... This is no Staircase, yet Chuck & Larry ascends - past our seemingly instinctual prejudices. It's a modern classic (despite a cheap-shot plug for Giuliani). By comparison, Hollywood's most celebrated gay comedies - In & Out, Chuck and Buck, Blades of Glory, even the laughable Brokeback Mountain - were all failures of nerve." "Thirty minutes of this movie will bring the chuckling, immature inner bigot out of even the most staunchly mature liberal," Cullen Gallagher gleefully warns us in the L Magazine. Alonso Duralde's back at AfterElton.com, this time with a review: "While it's very easy to eviscerate Chuck and Larry from an activist point of view - the pre-enlightened Sandler makes jokes about 'Olympic Baton Swallowing,' while Dan Aykroyd tells the leads, 'What you shove up your ass is your own business' - all one really has to do to slam the flick is look at the lazy, contrived writing and the traffic-cop direction by frequent Sandler accomplice Dennis Dugan (Big Daddy, Happy Gilmore)." "I'm sorry, what year are we living in?" asks Aaron Hillis at Premiere. "That anyone in their right minds could be fooled into thinking that two hours of overt homophobia with a disingenuous punch line about tolerance is okay makes me pig-biting mad. That the seemingly prototypical audience I watched it with laughed like stoned hyenas makes me somewhat embarrassed to be an American. And that an inane Adam Sandler comedy of lowest-common-denominator gags could rile me up this much just makes me want to cry. It's almost ugly enough to be considered a perverse work of art." Updates, 7/20: "Fear of a gay planet fuels plenty of American movies; it's as de rigueur in comedy as in macho action," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "But what's mildly different about Chuck & Larry is how sincerely it tries to have its rainbow cake and eat it too." The film "has been deemed safe for conscientious viewing by a representative of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, a media watchdog group. Given the movie's contempt for women, who mainly just smile, sigh and wiggle their backdoors at the camera, it's too bad that some lesbian (and Asian) Glaad members didn't toss in their two cents about the movie." Josh Ralske agrees: "Maybe we're scouring the film so conscientiously for signs of homophobia that we don't notice the way women are portrayed. But in hindsight, the film is more repugnant in its treatment of women than in its (still somewhat troublesome) portrayal of gay men." "[N]o matter how crass and clueless the trailers make it look, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry is something sweeter, and quite a bit messier, than I expected," writes Stephanie Zacharek at Salon. "[W]ith its tepid gags and faltering pacing, [it] may not be a very good movie. But at least, within its clumsiness, it strives for some kind of solidarity." "There are two ways to look at it," suggests Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "Either be depressed that the culture hasn't evolved past its crude stereotypes and gay-panic jokes, or be encouraged by signs that the masses are slowly inching toward tolerance. Whatever the case, the film's desire to simultaneously mock and embrace makes it the most schizophrenic comedy of its kind since Shallow Hal, which chased fat jokes with an earnest message about how real beauty comes from within. Good intentions can only carry these films so far, and this one falls woefully short." "The depiction of gay life (or more precisely Chuck and Larry's experience of it) is more pathetic than offensive," writes Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times. "Chuck and Larry's message of acceptance is about as believable as Liza Minnelli's last marriage," quips Kate Worteck at Nerve. "Perversely, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry uses gayness as a metaphor for male friendship," writes Steve Erickson at Gay City News. "Just as abortion is the unmentionable hovering over [Judd] Apatow's view of unwanted pregnancy as the route to male maturity in Knocked Up, bisexuality is the absence felt everywhere here." If the film "were more daring, it might suggest that his extensive sexual history with women isn't a sign of exclusive heterosexuality, but a high sex-drive potentially aimed in several directions."
Filmmaker. Summer 07.No, Steve Buscemi is not one of Filmmaker's "25 New Faces of Independent Film." That's one face that's been around; but chances are you'll have seen one or two of the 25 new ones, too - a few names at least will ring a bell. But of course the point of the feature is to introduce us to faces and names we don't know - yet. "In the current debate over the Iraq war, Charles Ferguson's debut documentary, No End in Sight, takes what is perhaps the most troubling position of all: the war could have gone right." Scott Macaulay talks with Ferguson about "making a first doc, post-Michael Moore political filmmaking and the future of Iraq." Updated. Jason Guerrasio talks with Jason Kohn about Manda Bala (Send a Bullet), which "has three main threads. One centers on the corrupt politician Jader Barbalho, who created the largest frog farm in the world for money-laundering purposes. Another looks at plastic surgeon Dr Juarez Avelar, who has performed miracles for deformed former captives by reconstructing the ears their kidnappers have sliced off. Finally, we meet a kidnapper, 'Magrinho,' who puts the whole film in perspective when he says, 'You either steal with a gun or a pen.'" Peter Bowen talks with George Ratliff about Joshua - and its lead, Jacob Kogan: "He seems to have read everything that we have read and seen all of the same movies, but he is only 10. One of the most amazing things is how quick Jacob was. The character is a piano protégé, but Jacob did not play any piano, and in two weeks he learned to play a Beethoven sonata that would have been difficult for most adults." James Ponsoldt talks with Werner Herzog about Rescue Dawn: "It's the physicality of the jungle that attracts me — the looming and dangerous beauty in it. But I've never used a jungle as a scenic backdrop. It's always somehow like an inner landscape, like fever dreams of a landscape." "[M]aking the credits, grants, refunds and rebates work for an independent film demands a very close inspection of a state's tax incentive program and, just as important, the specific needs of one's production." Alicia Van Couvering peers into the labyrinth. Updates: Anthony Kaufman adds a note to his piece in the print version on "the ongoing clusterfuck of indie film." Matt Dentler spots several SXSW alumni among the 25 new faces. The Oregonian's Shawn Levy spots two from his corner of the country.
July 17, 2007
Sock Puppets of Cité Soleil.David D'Arcy asks the real Asger Leth about the faux "Asger Leth." You may have read about the Wall Street Journal's expose and all the fallout over the revelation that the CEO of Whole Foods has been blogging for years on behalf of his own cause under the faux-biblical Internet alias of "Rahodeb". He's far from alone, as we've seen in the much-publicized Lee Siegel case at the New Republic. Sockpuppetry is also alive and well in the world of movies, and in the latest case that's surfaced, we see that it has moved far beyond the pre-blog practice of creating "film critics" and parading their flattering judgments in ads and on posters, as Sony did with the reliably quotable "David Manning" back in 2001. Updated through 7/20. In an email sent out Friday from the address email@example.com to firstname.lastname@example.org, someone who gives the impression that he's Asger Leth, director of the documentary The Ghosts of Cite Soleil, is sending out a review entitled "Leni Riefenstahl Goes to Haiti," by Charlie Hinton of the Haiti Action Committee. Hinton has been a public critic of the film. The Leni Riefenstahl comparison tips you off to what's coming, an attack on the documentary that is purportedly endorsed by the director himself, even though the film is stigmatized as this era's version of Nazi propaganda. (And we thought that we had almost figured out what the neologism "blogofascism" actually meant.) In the message, "Asger Leth" praises the review that accuses him of carrying water for the Bush administration and neglecting crucial facts about Aristide. Reached in his native Denmark, Leth claimed that neither "Asger Leth" address on the mass email was his and laughed at the effort at impersonation. "They want to discredit the film as much as they can, but they're pissing up against a hurricane," he said, citing a high percentage of positive reviews of the documentary. He described Hinton as an "Aristide freak." In a previous dispatch, I described attacks on Leth at the San Francisco International Film Festival by Bay Area Aristide supporters who treat the former Haitian president with the same reverence once reserved by American leftists for Fidel Castro. Now, if you see a message that begins, "Fantastik!.... as you know for nearly 3 years I have worked tirelessly to bring my dark vision of Santo Domingo into the light...," you'll know: That's not Asger Leth. - David D'Arcy.
Updates, 7/20: "What makes Ghosts of Cité Soleil so gripping, and so troublesome, is the intimacy that the Danish director Asger Leth has engineered with the Chimerès, without which there would be no picture," writes Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman: Several times during this film, I thought of Man Bites Dog, the 1992 mockumentary in which the complicity of a camera crew in the life of the hit man they are filming increases until they are raping and murdering along with him. Leth doesn't cross the line into criminality, but you can't be entirely sure that he wouldn't comply if 2Pac asked him to pass those bullets, or load that gun. It doesn't make me proud to admit it, but that moral ambiguity is what gives this documentary its heat, and its edge. As with the best work of Errol Morris or Nick Broomfield, you never know from one scene to the next where your sympathies will fall. "Leth's movie is politically and morally illiterate," argues the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. Yikes. But at the AV Club, Noel Murray argues that "Leth has made something undeniably exciting" and gives the film a B-.
Online viewing tip. 12.5 Seconds Later....It's delightful, it's whimsical, it's funny and maybe just a tad cruel. But in a good way. It's 12.5 Seconds Later..., a new 4.5 minute short by Jamie Stuart for Filmmaker. After you watch it, read this: "Jamie Stuart walks us through how he used Final Cut Studio 2 to make his latest short film."
Shorts, 7/17."What Ever Happened to Queer Cinema?" asks Alonso Duralde at AfterElton.com. "Yes, the success of [Brokeback Mountain] lifted long-gestating projects like The Mayor of Castro Street, The Front Runner, Stone Butch Blues and The Dreyfus Affair out of development limbo, but as of today none of them have a firm shooting date set. And independent cinema, where queer voices have been breaking the rules of cinema and exciting audiences with new possibilities for at least the past few decades, seems content to make one toothless genre picture (lesbian romantic comedies! gay thrillers!) after another." Via Jenni Olson. Jason Sperb relaunches Jamais Vu. Girish opens "a series of occasional posts I'm planning on the subject of surrealism and cinema." At Cinematical, Patrick Walsh has news of a followup to The Golden Age, meaning, yes, Shekhar Kapur and Cate Blanchett would be making a trilogy about Elizabeth I, and Erik Davis hears that Jonathan Demme will be shooting Dancing with Sheba this fall with Anne Hathaway. For more up-n-coming news, see Boyd van Hoeij at european-films.net, the Guardian and Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. For The Big Sellout (Der grosse Ausverkauf), Florian Opitz "travelled to four continents to draw attention to the destructive consequences of the wave of privatisation carried out internationally in the 1980s and 1990s." Bernd Reinhardt at the WSWS: "Opitz graphically and tangibly shows the dramatic consequences of vital services such as water, electricity, healthcare and transport being put into private hands." Ed Gonzalez on Descent: "Director Talia Lugacy understands how rape can leave a woman without the authority of expression, and so she pitches her feature-length debut as a work of careful instruction and, finally, rebellion—a means for victims of sexual aggression to grapple with, if not necessarily overcome their feelings of powerlessness." Also at Slant, Nick Schager: "With The Sugar Curtain, documentarian Camila Guzmán Urzúa cinematically strives to reconcile herself with her memories, an endeavor motivated by her still vibrantly warm feelings for the Havana of her 1980s childhood and the harsh, depressing reality of its present state." "Curt Johnson's documentary Your Mommy Kills Animals takes an expansive look at the American animal-rights movement, and all the savagery, nobility, and hypocrisy therein," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. It "makes for a surprisingly level-headed, appropriately balanced primer on the current state of this multifaceted activism." Dave Kehr's DVD column in the New York Times this week takes on the latest package from Eclipse, Raymond Bernard's Wooden Crosses and Les Misérables: "Mr Bernard, who did his best work before World War II (and then spent the war in hiding from the Nazis), is little remembered today, even in France. But on the evidence of these two very powerful, very personal films, he's a vital figure much worth reclaiming." Also, "excellent new versions of five CinemaScope films of the 1950s featuring Joan Collins, two of which are quite watchable." Michael Atkinson at IFC News on Harry Kümel's Malpertuis: "Truth be told, no film could quite live up to the decades of subterranean fanboy hype it's inadvertently produced... Kümel's first feature, Les Lèvres Rouges (Daughters of Darkness), released earlier the same year, is a widely appreciated elegant-decadent rejigger of vampire lore set in a bedazzlingly barren off-season seaside hotel. Malpertuis is as inelegant a movie as you can imagine, in your face, lit like a carnival and entranced with its own grotesqueries.... You have to see it, of course, and I'm glad I did, finally, after all these years." Also, Terry Gilliam's Tideland "may be one of those films that require a distanced cultural context, not the demands of the marketplace now, to frame it." "The term 'Euro pudding' referred to a flood of films from the 1960s and 70s like The Cassandra Crossing, Woman Times Seven and The Fifth Musketeer, combining a melange of international talents such as a German actress, French actor and Italian director in hopes of luring coin (and audiences) from each country," writes Ali Jaafar in Variety. "Now, a new generation of European filmmakers is creating a more organic flavor of Euro pudding. Filmmakers like the Teuton-Turkish Fatih Akin and French-Algerian Rachid Bouchareb are making films that tackle the growing interconnectivity of European society." Via Ray Pride.\ "The opening is that point of the film which is the most purely cinematic. Image, mood and feeling are uppermost, all working on our senses before the narrative drama takes over." Peter Bradshaw introduces yet another list at the Guardian, with honorable mentions going to the openings of The Seventh Seal and Tokyo Story. Xan Brooks then takes over, writing up ten more. Also, Germaine Greer blasts Richard Neville, his book, Hippie Hippie Shake, the upcoming adaptation and any and everyone that has anything at all to do with it whatsoever. Then there's Graeme Allister's guide to summer counter-programming in the UK. "Welles's best sequences brim with the sheer ecstasy of simultaneously living and creating, and doing both freely and to the fullest," writes Tom Huddleston at Not Coming to the Theater Near You. "F for Fake is perhaps the most glorious and sustained example of this tendency." Kamera runs an extract from Colin Odell and Michelle LeBlanc's David Lynch. What if Harry Potter were black or gay? wonders Malena Amusa at Alternet. Related: Motoko Rich talks with Jim Dale, Harry Potter's voice in the audio versions, for the NYT and two pieces on wizard rock: Joshua Zumbrun and Sonya Geis for the Washington Post and Tim Dowling for the Guardian. Frank Dietz, an artist whose work is often based on classic horror film characters dreamt up by someone else, has announced that "the selling of my work is apparently illegal, which I did not realize after 12 years of doing so, so I will no longer sell my monster art." Tim Lucas wonders if he's been contacted by this or that studio and writes, "As someone who owns a couple of Dietz originals (a painting and a charcoal portrait), I find the possibility of such bullying both galling and reprehensible. I say this as someone with intellectual property of my own, toward which I feel a sense of vigilance and responsibility." "[T]he main reason cinemas are going digital is that they are desperate for an edge," argues the Economist. Also: "3-D films can earn three times as much revenue per screen as 2-D versions on their first weekend. They are also immune to piracy... And even the most advanced home-cinema system cannot do 3-D." David Poland posts the Women's Wear Daily profile of Nikki Finke that she evidently made disappear. Via Eugene Hernandez: "The constant battles and bickering between must-read Hollywood industry bloggers David Poland (The Hot Blog), Nikki Finke (Deadline Hollywood Daily) and Jeffrey Wells (Hollywood Elsewhere) often deliver engaging insider tales from LA." "The long, sad decline of Robin Williams: a timeline" by Willa Paskin at Radar Online. Via Bookforum, also pointing to Carla Meyer's piece for the Sacremento Bee on journalists in the movies. Online viewing tip. The Walk: Wiley Wiggins reinterprets David Lowery's The Outlaw Son.
Fests and events, 7/17.Tonight at Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles, Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier host the opening of Crazy 4 Cult, an exhibition featuring 50 artists riffing on favorite scenes in cult movies. Via Drawn! "2008: Man With a Movie Camera is a participatory video shot by people around the world who are invited to record video according to the original script of Vertov's Man With a Movie Camera and submit it to a website which will archive, sequence and deliver the submissions to The Big Screen in 2007-08. When the work streams your contribution becomes part of a worldwide montage, in Vertov's terms the 'decoding of life as it is.'" Via Coudal Partners. At Twitch, Blake's got another round of titles slated for this fall's Fantastic Fest. Acquarello's posting reviews from Leading the Charge: Woodfall Film Productions and the Revolution in 60s British Cinema, a series running through July 26: Look Back in Anger and The Entertainer. "Tropfest and Tribeca team up for Tropfest@Tribeca, a free, public, outdoor short film festival. Now taking entries." "John Sayles will be saluted at the 48th Thessaloniki International Film Festival in Greece, November 16 - 25, 2007, where his new film, Honeydripper, will have its European premiere," reports Eugene Hernandez at indieWIRE. Online viewing tip. At IFC News, Alison Willmore talks with Grady Hendrix about how well the New York Asian Film Festival went - and with Sion Sono about Exte. Lots of clips from the full festival lineup - fun stuff!
July 16, 2007
Shorts, 7/16."Long unavailable on revival or official video circuits, Robert Bresson's first feature - made during the occupation in 1943 shortly after his one-year German imprisonment - was digitally restored by the Centre Nationale de la Cinématographie in 2005, screened at the Cannes Film Festival, and recently released on DVD by Éditions Gallimard." And Doug Cummings reviews Les Anges du Péché at Robert-Bresson.com: "Bresson would later disparage the film's melodramatic elements as well as its occasional theatrical acting, but what might have seemed like indulgence by his later standards has widely been recognized as restraint by others.... Moreover, the film projects a distinct Bressonian sensibility in its fascination with the darker side of religious life, not only the suffering and struggling that occurs between spirit and flesh, but also the psychological turmoil that can flourish within religious codes and institutions." "A minor America: the term was used regarding the US films selected at the Cannes Film Festival - Zodiac by Fincher, Death Proof by Tarantino, No Country for Old Men by the Coen brothers and Paranoid Park by Gus Van Sant," notes Hervé Aubron in Cahiers du cinéma. "Since then we've been wondering if this migration of concept described by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in their book, Kafka for Minor Literature (Minuit Publications, 1975) would hold up. It's not doing much better for the time being. It remains gimmickry, but it does have staying power, and is spreading to other recent American films, from Cronenberg to Shyamalan, Friedkin to Scorsese." A special edition of the News Reel at Wim Wenders's official site: "20 Years of Wings of Desire." "The cinema added something invaluable to the romantic comedy: the camera's ability to place lovers in an enchanted, expanding envelope of setting and atmosphere." How, wonders David Denby, have we come from an era in which the "best directors of romantic comedy in the 1930s and 40s - Frank Capra, Gregory La Cava, Leo McCarey, Howard Hawks, Mitchell Leisen and Preston Sturges - knew that the story would be not only funnier but much more romantic if the fight was waged between equals" to what is currently "the dominant romantic-comedy trend of the past several years - the slovenly hipster and the female straight arrow.... the slacker-striver romance." Related: Zach Campbell on Knocked Up and Judd Apatow in general. Also in the New Yorker:
Barbara Stanwyck @ 100."The tributes to Barbara Stanwyck this year, which marks the 100th anniversary of the year of her birth, started early and frequently," writes Edward Copeland. "Dammit, she deserves it. Still, I saved my salute until today, the actual 100th anniversary of her birth." The Odienator comments: "This is a great piece about a grande dame." Anne Thompson points to earlier tributes by Anthony Lane in the New Yorker, Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times and Terrence Rafferty in the New York Times, notes TCM's Stanwyck-a-Thon and reminds locals that "the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has mounted its largest-ever exhibition dedicated to one star, featuring more than 70 posters and lobby cards from Stanwyck's pics." Updated. Peter Nellhaus revisits Roustabout: "That Barbara Stanwyck took the role may have been as a favor to producer Hal Wallis as well as an admission that at age 57, her choices of roles in theatrical films was limited.... [T]his is Stanwyck at her most self-effacing, with the possible exception of her last big screen role in The Night Walker. At least compared to some of the films her contemporaries were doing, Stanwyck was able to end her screen career with a modicum of dignity." More in German from Gerhard Midding in the Berliner Morgenpost. Updates: "Here is just a small sample of what the Siren turned up in her search for what other professionals thought of 'Missy,' as her friends called her." What a round-up. The Shamus is rattled by Stanwyck's biography, but then decides, "Maybe Barbara Stanwyck could have spent more time addressing her personal life, but she didn't care about her personal life. She cared about her work. Her work was her life, and the people she worked with loved her for what she gave to that work. And so in the end, that is what we must judge her on." Jonathan Lapper celebrates "one of her earliest and most unglamorous films, So Big!."
Goya's Ghosts."The official portraitist of Amadeus and The People vs Larry Flynt will return to theaters Friday with Goya's Ghosts, a costume drama and controlled historical epic that marks his first film since the Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon in 1999," writes Paul Cullum. Profiling Milos Forman for the Los Angeles Times, he finds in the new film "a startling allegory for modern geopolitical adventurism - a subject the 75-year-old director has had much time to reflect on as of late." But for Nick Schager, writing at Slant, Foreman "goes astray with Goya's Ghosts, a beautiful disaster of a period picture that weaves its preposterous story around Francisco Goya (Stellan Skarsgård) during the Spanish Inquisition and Napoleon's invasion of Spain." Updated through 7/20. The Reeler meets the director and notes that "Goya's Ghosts stands apart [from Forman's other films] in that Forman primarily exaggerates the world the artist lives in, not the artist's personal life." Forman's a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show. Updates, 7/17: Dan Persons talks with Javier Bardem, who sees his character, Brother Lorenzo, as "a victim of the totalitarian regimes that happened in that moment in history." "It's certainly refreshing to see Forman, who wrote the film with legendary screenwriter and Buñuel partner-in-crime Jean-Claude Carrière, forgo his usual tendency of beating viewers over the head in order to convince them of the immaculate saintliness of his outsider heroes," writes Michael Joshua Rowin at indieWIRE. "Unfortunately, things start getting a little silly and, in typical Forman fashion, more than a little overwrought when Goya's Ghosts arrives at the Napoleonic War." Updates, 7/18: "A prestigious, handsomely mounted costume piece with a messy, modern sensibility, Goya's Ghosts doesn't have to stretch very far to find present-day parallels," writes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "Religious fanaticism and state-sanctioned torture have made great comebacks recently, and if nothing else the screenplay (by Forman and Jean-Claude Carrière) possesses the outsized, commendable fury of some extremely pissed-off aging hippies. Unfortunately it's also more than a little daft." "[T]he film takes as many plot-twists as Pirates of the Caribbean; distinctly Goya in its emphasis on the grotesque, it shows none of the Spaniard's artistic economy," writes Charles Petersen in the Voice. Nick Dawson talks with Forman for Filmmaker. "So Milos Forman gets to hang women upside down and torture them, but Eli Roth can't?" asks DK Holm at ScreenGrab. Update, 7/19: Salon's Andrew O'Hehir recalls the glory days of the costume drama: The Lion in Winter, Anne of the Thousand Days, "and, I don't know, Becket and A Man for All Seasons." So what happened? "No contemporary actor (except, maybe, Meryl Streep) has the mixture of theatrical respectability and movie-star cachet that [Richard] Burton and [Katharine] Hepburn and [Peter] O'Toole had, and the old high-culture audience has been whittled and niche-marketed down into insignificance.... Maybe all these circumstances go some way toward explaining the incoherent dreariness of Goya's Ghosts," which "has no clear purpose, no clear message and no clear central character. Like most costume dramas these days, it dwells on the gore, filth and violence of the past (if not as much as Patrice Chéreau's outstanding Queen Margot or Tom Tykwer's intriguing failure Perfume), but toward what end is never apparent." "Goya's Ghosts spins a compelling narrative with an excitingly subversive hook," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. Mark Asch in the L Magazine: "Pure paper tiger, Goya's Ghosts seems destined to resurface as part of a retrospective a decade or two hence, at which point rep-house completists will survey the synopsis and credits and ponder: Why haven't I ever heard of this movie?" Bilge Ebiri for New York: "It's hard not to see resonances with the Iraq war while watching Goya's Ghosts." Forman: "The script was finished months before the Iraq war. There's a line in the film about how the French think they will be greeted with flowers as liberators... that was in the script! Napoleon said it to his generals. And then they said it to their troops. It's difficult to explain to people that the line was there before our vice-president said it." Via Phil Morehart at Facets Features. Updates, 7/20: "By recreating Inquisition brutality, Goya's Ghosts aims to denounce the West's bludgeoning response to terrorism," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times. "But its rhetorical tactics are jejune; its comparison of 21st-century America and Inquisition-era Spain doesn't track; and its second half abandons satire for half-baked historical melodrama." "A logy, rambling period piece, it feels about as far away from the spirit of Amadeus as it's possible to get with wigs and britches," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "[I]n spite of all the vivid little details, the big picture never comes into focus," adds Tasha Robinson at the AV Club. Bilge Ebiri at Nerve: "'What are an artist's responsibilities to history?' Forman seems to be asking. He never quite finds his answer."
Hairspray + summer movies."The emergence of Hairspray as a hit Broadway musical was the ultimate joke," writes David Edelstein in New York. "Now busloads of suburbanites could thrill to what began as a gay boy's wet dream of the fusion of early rock and roll and outlandish middle-class tackiness. Adam Shankman's movie of the Broadway Hairspray gets better as it lumbers along, but there's something garish about its hustle - it's like an elephant trumpeting in your face. Every number is a showstopper: pumping arms, ecstatic frugging, hyperactive editing, climax on top of climax. The songs have the same manic pitch and blur together; there's nothing as seductive as the centerpiece of [John] Waters's movie, the sinuous 'Limbo Rock.'" "Shankman's movies make a shitload, and often stink like one, but somewhere along the way, he must have picked something up (maybe in choreographing truly great modern films like Boogie Nights and Stuck on You), because this new candy-colored version of John Waters's affectionate ode to the music of Baltimore in the 1960s and embracing your girth is the kind of movie tuner that we've been promised for years now," writes Jason Clark at Slant. Updated through 7/20. "I admire John Travolta, but using this movie star, rather than the show's Harvey Fierstein, as Edna Turnblad, Tracy's hefty mother, is an idiocy on the same level as replacing Julie Andrews with Audrey Hepburn for the movie version of My Fair Lady," argues David Denby in the New Yorker. "[T]his bright, bouncy movie musical is a happy surprise, a candy-colored ode to outsiders that left me with a big grin," writes David Ansen. Also in Newsweek: "A white actor wouldn't dare put on dark makeup to appear black today," notes Jennie Yabroff. "So why is it still OK for male actors to wear dresses?" "The fact that Hairspray is a mildly amusing one-note crock isn't bothering the critics so far," notes Jeffrey Wells. Jesse Green talks with Travolta for the New York Times. Earlier: David D'Arcy (Screen Daily), Dennis Harvey (Variety) and David Poland (Movie City News). Updates, 7/18: "Shankman has gotten Hairspray on the screen, all right, but he hasn't rethought the material in cinematic terms (the way, for example, that Frank Oz did when adapting the similarly stylized Little Shop of Horrors)," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice. "The result is an odd hybrid that lacks both the rambunctious energy of a live performance and the expressionistic pull of a great movie musical." "Hairspray stands as one of 2007's great films," declares Bill Gibron at PopMatters. "It's intoxicating and invigorating, jumpstarting your long dead belief in the art of the movie picture while systematically saving the summer from such standard operating ordinariness as sequels and remakes." "The movie business has been heading this way for years, but this summer is proving the apotheosis of the one-week blockbuster," writes David M Halbfinger in the New York Times. "The blur of big-budget films may have left moviegoers with whiplash, given how quickly each film announces itself in television ads and then disappears from marquees, yet few in Hollywood are complaining. Far from it, since the steep drop-offs are largely fueled by a run of blockbusters from every major studio, and Hollywood has a chance of breaking 2004's summer box office record." Chris Braiotta, writing for the Boston Phoenix, finds Hairspray "absurdly likable, with its go-get-'em energy and unironic joy." Kristin Thompson sorts through some old magazines and finds herself comparing Hollywood's fare in two summers: 1994 and this one. "In his marvelously esoteric obsession with outsiders, Waters draws inspiration from the likes of bohemian pariah Jack Smith," notes Eric Kohn at the Reeler. "But the musical Hairspray is closer to the vitality of the lavish Hollywood productions that Smith's avant-garde creations naughtily deconstructed. Its brash subversive edge hides beneath the rhythms.... It's easy to see how a fluffy project like Hairspray could get squashed by the distinctly separate boundaries of film language, but the movie finds a solid balance between a gloriously stagy feel for its big numbers and old-fashioned movie magic to lift the overall feeling to the level of a big-screen sensation. It offers a fleeting excitement, but an impressive one; the movie might not change your life, but it's sure to brighten your day." Matt Dentler asks Todd Rohal, "What is your favorite movie of Summer 2007 and why?" The answer may have you calling up your friendly bootlegger. Update, 7/19: "That Hairspray is good-hearted is no surprise," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "The surprise may be that this Hairspray, stuffed with shiny showstoppers, Kennedy-era Baltimore beehives and a heavily padded John Travolta in drag, is actually good.... [T]he overall mood of Hairspray is so joyful, so full of unforced enthusiasm, that only the most ferocious cynic could resist it. It imagines a world where no one is an outsider and no one is a square, and invites everyone in. How can you refuse?" "Hairspray isn't noxious like the Dreamgirls movie-musical, but it isn't nearly good enough," declares Armond White in the New York Press. "[T]his movie-musical adaptation makes the same mistake as the 2002 Broadway incarnation - it domesticates Waters's parodistic anarchy into general-audience silliness." Richard Corliss profiles Travolta for Time, and the piece opens with a terrific story. But that photo by John Russo is disturbing somehow. Updates, 7/20: "Hairspray is reasonably entertaining," concedes Stephanie Zacharek at Salon. "But do we really need to be entertained reasonably? Waters' original was a crazy sprawl that made perfect sense; this Hairspray toils needlessly to make sense of that craziness, and something gets lost in the translation. But the one thing that's truly wrong with Hairspray isn't the fault of the filmmakers: It simply has no Divine. Still, her ghost, dressed in a muumuu of moonlight, insists on shimmering over the proceedings. It's little wonder everything below her pales in comparison." "[T]he movie's style and exuberance torpedoed my initial misgivings within seconds," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "[A]s film versions of stage musicals go, Hairspray is infinitely funnier and quicker on its feet than The Producers or Chicago," writes the Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu. "At the screening I attended, when the audience wasn't laughing at lines such as Queen Latifah's 'If we get any more white people in this record store this is going to be a suburb,' sections of it were dancing in the aisles." "Though the film is too slick and heavy-handed in its pro-integration sloganeering, and it's burdened by Travolta's ill-conceived star turn, its infectious high spirits and catchy tunes still pack one hell of a sugar rush," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. For the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, Hairspray "manages to be not completely outrageous, not completely relaxed and not completely funny, with daubs of satire applied with a paintbrush eight inches across." Also, Alice Wignall interviews Nikki Blonsky. "The movie seems guileless and rambunctious, but it looks just right (like a Pat Boone musical) and sounds just right (like a Golden Oldies disc) and feels just right (like the first time you sang 'We Shall Overcome' and until then it hadn't occurred to you that we should)," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "Thanks to the casting, to Shaiman's genuinely memorable score, and to Shankman's direction, Hairspray is - reservations be damned - totally enjoyable," writes Andy Klein. For Aaron Dobbs, Hairspray is "the best movie musical in years."
July 14, 2007
Weekend shorts."Tarantino's masterpiece is also the film via which he takes leave of structure," writes Emmanuel Burdeau. "Death Proof sees the fast paced succession of two similar parts which no reason binds, twice the same story... Tarantino contents himself with bouncing from one to the other, unraveling two times two ribbons, language and the road." Also freshly translated for Cahiers du cinéma, Cyril Neyrat notes that Tsai Ming-liang's I Don't Want to Sleep Alone "has the simple confidence of a new start" and Jean-Michel Frodon looks back to Cannes: "After the generalized disappointment in the 2006 edition, the Festival has incontestably succeeded its 60th birthday." And no, currently, there's nothing new in English at the site regarding Juliette Binoche, but isn't she lovely? An unusual sort of update, but this really is the place for it: Jean-Michel Frodon explains how the project Boyd mentions in the comment below came about. Why now? "The precise circumstance is Juliette Binoche's decision to work with, in a little more than one year, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Amos Gitai, Olivier Assayas and Abbas Kiarostami." But that's just for starters. "[N]o one working in modern cinema, a culture that supposedly prizes originality (at least outside Hollywood), may be as brave, as politically vital, and as utterly intolerant of the medium's systemic compromises as [Peter] Watkins," writes Michael Atkinson in Good Magazine. "So, again, can you teach art? Or dreaming? Or cinema?" For the Financial Times, Nigel Andrews meets Stephen Frears, 66, who's working with Josué Méndez, 30, "a Peruvian pupil-protégé," on the younger filmmaker's next feature. They're just one pair in a mentoring project: "Rolex hands $50,000 to each team and tells them to get on with it." Jason Morehead may be a tad more of shoegaze fan than I am, but if so, only a tad. Regardless, good news: Matthew Solarski reports on a shoegaze doc in the making at Pitchfork. "Naomi Watts has signed on to star opposite Clive Owen in The International, an action thriller that Tom Tykwer is directing for Columbia Pictures," reports Borys Kit for the Hollywood Reporter, where Gregg Goldstein has this story: "Tim Robbins, Martin Landau, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Harry Treadaway will star opposite Bill Murray and Toby Jones in 20th Century Fox's fantasy City of Ember from Walden Media/Playtone and producers Gary Goetzman and Tom Hanks." Both via Cinematical. Flickhead reviews Andrew Semans's All Day Long: "Comparisons could be made with some of the ideas found in the works of John Cassavetes, Hal Hartley and Eric Rohmer, but only superficially. Those filmmakers operate from vantage points of idealism, where characters are capable of verbal communication, seduction and deception. With Mr Semans, humanity is tongue-tied by want and desire." "By the time the last section wraps up with a mighty act of surgical self-destruction, you know you're in the grip of a full-blown Cronenbergian imagination." Phil Hoad talks with György Pálfi about Taxidermia, in which Peter Bradshaw finds "a certain tendency to sub-Rabelaisian scenes of music, dancing and rumpy-pumpy that reminds me of Emir Kusturica's recent movies: much surface activity that masks a lack of ideas. Kusturica could well be an influence. One to be wary of. Aside from this, Taxidermia is a visually striking, provocative dish served up with the most horrid ingredients imaginable: greed, revulsion, alienation and loneliness." Also in the Guardian:
Weekend fests and events."[M]y Fish Kill Flea co-directors and I have been waiting half an eternity for this one," writes Aaron Hillis. The NYC premiere will be July 21 at Rooftop Films, and what's more, the film is only part of what looks to be quite a program for that Saturday night. "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, stop the presses!" yells Todd at Twitch. "Uwe Boll has made a good movie. This is not a joke." It's Postal and he caught it at the Fantasia Festival. Meantime, more reviews, they just keep on coming. Michael Moore has announced the lineup for the Traverse City Film Festival. July 31 through August 5. The lineup's in place for the Edinburgh International Film Festival. August 15 through 26. "Like the jury of the 50th anniversary edition, for its 75th anniversary the jury of the Venice Film Festival will be made up exclusively of directors." Boyd van Hoeij's got the roster at european-films.net. And Fabien Lemercier has news on probable French entries at Cineuropa. And the BBC reports that Ang Lee's Lust, Caution will be competing. August 29 through September 8. With the series of Midnight Mass weekends underway, Michael Guillén has a long talk with Joshua Grannell (aka Peaches Christ): Parts 1 and 2. Vince Keenan: "On the last night of Noir City, bad girls ruled." The Lumière Reader posts another round of reviews from the Telecom New Zealand International Film Festivals. Sujewa Ekanayake is blogging the week-long run of Date Number One in Kensington, MD. Michael Tully interviews him, too. "For those of you in the Eastern Pennsylvania region who missed the massive SouthSide Film Festival in Bethlehem last month (you know who you are), you have one night to catch up on the best films, July 19." A heads-up from Mike Everleth at Bad Lit. At the Reeler:
Bergman @ 89.Edward Copeland wishes Ingmar Bergman a happy 89th. Well, absolutely. If he wants a happy one, by all means. For the Independent, Geoffrey Macnab heads up to Fårö: As a guest at Bergman Week, you can't help but feel like a naturalist hoping to catch a glimpse of a rare and near-extinct breed. This impression is reinforced by one of the week's main events - the Bergman Safari. On a blustery Saturday evening, when the light is grey and overcast (just as Bergman and his cinematographer Sven Nykvist used to like it), we clamber aboard an old bus and set off round the island. Our hosts are Arne Carlsson, a bluntly-spoken islander who worked as his truck driver and cameraman for Bergman, and the formidable Katinka Farago, who was an assistant and production manager on many of his films. We wander across "Persona beach," are shown where Liv Ullmann and Max Von Sydow's farmhouse was burned down in Shame ('Bergman's only action movie') and drive past various houses that he has built for his family and collaborators. We also stop briefly on the north side of the island for a 'Bergman burger.' En route, there are anecdotes about Bergman's reckless driving, his rivalry with Tarkovsky, his plans to make a film about Jesus on the island and also - by way of contrast - his attempts to make an erotic portmanteau film with Federico Fellini and Akira Kurosawa. (The project fell through when Bergman was the only one to finish his screenplay.) In the Guardian, John Patterson looks back on the moviegoing days of his youth: "Where Bergman, the northern Protestant miserablist, had Death, miserable and implacable as all-get-out, doomily playing chess by a frigid fjord, Fellini, the Catholic of the exuberant south, would routinely match Ingmar and then raise him a dozen luridly painted, first-century hermaphrodite hookers dancing naked around a phallic birthday cake."
July 13, 2007
Friday the 13th Blog-a-Thon."All 'round Ye Olde Internette, people are talking about the Friday the 13th films," writes Stacie Ponder, host of the Blog-a-Thon at Final Girl. "It's glorious in a sort of Hands Across America kind of way, don't you think?" Related online viewing. Phil Morehart posts the original trailer at Facets Features.
SFSFF's 12th.Jonathan Marlow previews the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, opening today and running through the weekend. Several notes follow. Not quite a decade ago, while I was briefly living in Berlin, I chanced a last-minute flight to Venice to attend a festival that I'd read about for years - Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, more commonly known as the Pordenone Silent Film Festival. Presented each year by film historian/author/festival director David Robinson, every accolade for the event proved absolutely true. The week-long fest is the oldest and greatest of its kind, devoted exclusively to films created with unsynchronized sound (primarily, but not limited to, feature-length and shorter works from the period of 1935 and earlier). Along with Cineteca Bologna's Il Cinema Ritrovato, these two festivals place Italy among the forefront of countries to see the remarkable restoration work of film archives around the world. Slightly more than a decade ago, a similar (if slightly smaller) gift to cineastes debuted in San Francisco. Founders Melissa Chittick and Stephen Salmons' Silent Film Festival, now spread over three days each July, arguably represents the best opportunity in the Americas to catch a sizeable dose of these remarkable works over a compact timespan (although it should be noted that there are regular Bay Area silent screenings at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Niles, the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley and the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto, and elsewhere up and down the coast from Seattle to San Diego). Updated through 7/19. For their 12th installment, Salmons and Executive Director Stacey Wisnia have collected an exceptional assortment of classics (Ernst Lubitsch's The Student Prince in Ole Heidelberg; William Wellman's Beggars of Life, starring Louise Brooks and Wallace Beery) and relative rarities (The Valley of the Giants and a program of French shorts "saved from the flames" by Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films). Add to this a pair of features by the DeMille brothers (William's Miss Lulu Bett and the better-known Cecil's The Godless Girl, soon-to-be-released in the aforementioned National Film Preservation Foundation box set); a quartet of comedies from Hal Roach Studios; a well-deserved tribute to Turner Classic Movies (with the Valentino-and-Nazimova Camille and hosted by the affable Robert Osborne); the Cineteca Bologna-restored legendary Maciste; and the Telluride-by-way-of-Pordenone discovery A Cottage on Dartmoor, directed by the under-rated Anthony Asquith and introduced by Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation (and due to direct a film of his own a few days later). With such an outstanding assortment of films, it could be claimed that the SFSFF team have crafted their greatest program to date. Film aficionados would be richly rewarded by venturing to the Castro Theatre and spending this weekend in the dark. - Jonathan Marlow
Time."Turning Vertigo on its head, Time's brilliantly absurdist premise gets at the fundamental, misery-inducing disconnect between passion and intimacy like no other film I've ever seen," writes Mike D'Angelo at Nerve. "Haunting and incisive, Time's a rare film that dares to tell the truth about scars that never heal." "At first, and even most of the way through, [Kim Ki-duk's] Time seems like a social-realist relationship movie, full of poetic observations about the fallacies of love and the fragile nature of identity in contemporary life," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "Our central couple, the suave Ji-woo (Ha Jung-woo) and the leggy Seh-hee (Park Ji-yeon), seem like hip and fashionable Seoul-dwellers, exactly the kind of young Koreans who go see Kim Ki-duk movies. Sure, Seh-hee is a bit pathologically jealous, prone to starting an angry scene if Ji-woo sneaks a peek at a cute waitress. But none of that conveys how dangerously insane this movie and its characters are." Updated through 7/19. "Kim has lost his damn mind," declares Vadim Rizov at the Reeler. "There were rumors of this when The Bow debuted at Cannes in 2005 to such disastrous response that it never screened in New York. Summaries say that film was the story of a 60-year-old man who raises an adopted girl from infancy for the purpose of marrying her nubile teenage ass when she turned 17. Gross - and apparently unredeemed by stylish execution. But Time is almost as conceptually nutty." At indieWIRE, Jeff Reichert declares that this "thirteenth film by that most disposable of Asian auteurs, Kim Ki-duk, should finally, definitively, expose the filmmaker's patented layering of ambiguities as nothing more than the tawdry covering-up of an empty imagination.... If you've seen Hiroshi Teshigahara's The Face of Another or John Frankenheimer's Seconds, then Time is certainly not worth a passing thought." "There's a gothic chill to the film's raw depiction of going under the knife, as well as to the Vertigo-ish early going, during which Ji-woo begins to fall for the clearly bonkers Seh-hee version 2.0," writes Nick Schager at Slant. "Yet there's a persistent, frustrating glibness to [Kim's] depiction of vanity, distrust, and possessiveness that undermines any serious examination of the thematic issues at hand." "Time has been described as a comedy about the hollowness of relationships in a global consumerist culture, and it certainly is," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times. "But while the film's cultural context is of the moment, its depiction of romantic desperation is timeless." "[A]ny unreserved accolades for this wayward talent will have to wait until next time," writes Jason Bogdaneris in the L Magazine. "Time has an unbeatable premise, and writer-director Kim could've taken it in just about any direction, from black comedy to poetic romance to Hitchcockian dread to trenchant social commentary," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "It's a minor disappointment when he tries to do everything at once - in his preoccupation with scattered genre effects, he literally loses the plot." Update, 7/14: "Kim Ki-duk has never had what you could call a light touch, and "Time" has the awkwardness of his work at its roughest, shuddering between flat-out allegory and shrill portrait of a demented relationship," writes Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog. "And yet, before the film ventures into the realm of the isolatingly ridiculous, there is something to its morose portrayal of the trouble with men and women, and of love inconveniently enduring while novelty and passion inevitably fade." Update, 7/16: "The film quickly sets itself up not as the deeply internal psychological portrait of the Hitchcock, nor the modernist socio-historical art film of the Teshigahara but rather moves in Kim's usual rhetoric of breezy allegory," writes Daniel Kasman. "It is a rhetoric using both generic conventions to structure narrative and deploy characters and what may be termed art-house cinematic conventions that use minimalism and coolness to distance the story and present it as a fable. This allegorical style has worked for the director in the past, but in Time the emotional melodrama and thriller semantics of the former seem to try and make up for just how thinly written the film is, with the pretensions and purported weight of meaning implied by the later approach 'enabling' the film to so poorly grapple its own subject under the guise of fable-like simplicity and cool, measured consideration." Update, 7/19: "Ultimately, it's a strange and subtly told tale that successfully hacks into the desires and fears of most us who are trying to figure out how to make love work - without sewing it all back together into a nice, pretty package," writes Jerry Portwood in the New York Press.
Tekkokinkreet."A clutter-bomb vision of a colorfully decaying pan-Asian metropolis that spurs a few of its fiercest defenders into violent battle, Tekkonkinkreet is a Japanese anime feature that for all its stylistic bravado is sharply attuned to a modern world afraid of change," writes Robert Abele in the Los Angeles Times.
July 12, 2007
Shorts, 7/12."Charles Ferguson's new film No End in Sight exemplifies what's missing from the public equation: a sense of justice, a conviction that men who lie and thereby kill, maim and destroy on a federal, governmental level should be held accountable in, at minimum, the same manner in which such a criminal would on a personal, social level," writes Michael Atkinson. "Kings and czars have had their heads on pikes for as much, and rightly so. The Hague operates on this dictum, and every nation in the world respects its process except us." "As someone who despised Crash so much that I was almost moved to a physical fight on the night it won all its Oscars... I have to say I was pretty surprised by writer/director Paul Haggis's new picture, In the Valley of Elah," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "[G]iven the near-brain-numbing chorus of blogosphere voices screeching about how this entity they call 'Hollywood' isn't doing enough to get the populace properly agitated about the Islamist threat, it's interesting to see what a 'Hollywood' filmmaker who takes on the subject of the Iraq war actually does." "[Pascale] Ferran's Lady Chatterley isn't remotely bawdy, but it is candidly, tenderly carnal in a way rarely seen in contemporary cinema, where sexuality crouches, trapped like a frightened deer, between prissiness and prurience," writes Ella Taylor. "Coming from a director who hangs out with pomo ironists like Arnaud Desplechin, this is surprisingly naturalistic filmmaking that refuses to engage with the feminist theories that have sent Lawrence's posthumous reputation careening from literary god to chauvinist devil. In fact, Lady Chatterley is a resolutely unintellectual movie whose primary language is its earthy physicality." "The French film industry has been enjoying a box office resurgence of late, both at home and aboard," reports Anthony Kaufman, who's got the numbers and the quotes at indieWIRE. "The unreconciled ghosts of colonialism and its legacy of economic stagnation, currency devaluation, and underdevelopment among emerging contemporary African nations lies at the core of Djibril Diop Mambéty's whimsical, yet incisive (and sadly, unfinished) series of envisioned fables, Tales of Little People," writes acquarello. A brisk and bracing read: Henry Woolf looks back over six decades of friendship among six friends, led, you might say, by Harold Pinter: "If you want a glimpse of what we were like then, how particular, how different from each other, yet sharing a common language, a common stance, read The Dwarfs. It brilliantly captures young men in all their pride and peacock before society closes in and squeezes the life out of them." Also in the Guardian:
Other fests, other events."The Golden Age by director Shekhar Kapur will open the Premiere section of the RomeFilmFest," reports Camillo de Marco for Cineuropa. "The non-competition section of large-scale premieres will roll out its red carpet for leading actress Cate Blanchett in the highly anticipated follow-up to Elizabeth (1998), in which she will once again play the Queen of England." October 18 through 27. "High-profile film festivals are also highly exclusive, often resembling the closed society of a debutante's coming out ball. But the local short film festival Hi Mom!, now almost 10 years old, is more like a high school kegger: rambunctious, loosely organized and open to anyone who shows up thirsty. Forget hors d'oeuvres and distribution deals; think stacks of free pancakes and flaming trophies." Brian Howe profiles one of five winners of the Independent Weekly's 2007 Indies Arts Awards. On Saturday, there'll be a "Best of the Fests" outdoor screening in Carrboro, NC. Vince Keenan has another fine night at Noir City Northwest: "For me The Spiritualist, aka The Amazing Mr X, is the find of the festival, the B-movie perfectly executed," and it "set up the audience for the main attraction. Nightmare Alley, according to Eddie Muller, is not only one of the greatest noirs but one of the finest American films of the 1940s." "If you love movies, seeing Napoléon on the big screen, in a rare 70 mm print, is a must - the film's greatness is physical and theatrical, rather than in its depth of content," writes FX Feeney in the LA Weekly.
Philadelphia Int'l G&LFF.Sam Adams profiles Alan Cumming, "arguably the most visible queer actor in the English-speaking world, a position he's achieved not by downplaying his sexuality but by flaunting it.... He has been a prominent activist for gay causes and received numerous awards, including the 2004 Artistic Achievement Award from the Philadelphia International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, which will screen his solo directorial debut, Suffering Man's Charity, on July 21." Thusly opens the Philadelphia City Pages cover package on the fest opening today and running through July 24. Besides an annotated list of the first week's highlights (compare, contrast or simply pair with the Philadelphia Weekly's), there's also Sam Adams's profile of another honoree, Farley Granger, recipient of this year's Artistic Achievement Award.
Outfest 07."Born out of frustration, it has evolved into a celebration: Outfest's Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Film Festival is turning 25 today. It is the city's oldest continuous film festival and one of the largest gay and lesbian film festivals in the world." Lisa Rosen files a good and long one for the Los Angeles Times. But the LA Weekly's taking a less celebratory approach: "Watching most contemporary queer movies, particularly the American ones, is to see art reflect the downside of the progress achieved in the culture wars, in gays and lesbians securing that much-coveted 'seat at the table,'" writes Ernest Hardy, clearly saddened and frustrated to find that Queer Cinema has become "infantilized art." Updated through 7/16. "[A]s much as I and my fellow LA Weekly reviewers root for Outfest, it's time for me to state in print that the festival's programmers often make me more than a little crazy," adds Chuck Wilson. "Year after year, they fail to trumpet the few truly interesting films that come their way, opting instead to promote the tried and true. It's as if they have no faith in their audience, believing them to be as shallow minded as the rest of America thinks LA queers are." Still, the critics pick the ones worth catching. One of the highlights will be a restored version of Bill Sherwood's 1986 film, Parting Glances, "one of the best American movies ever made" about AIDS, writes Ella Taylor, who talks with Steve Buscemi about the film that launched his career. Updates, 7/13: "As a transsexual woman, I realize I watch trans-themed movies through a different filter," writes Christine Daniels, reviewing Another Woman and Red Without Blue for the LAT. "Minor details that clank off-key can ruin an entire production for me. In both of these films, there is dialogue that rings so laser-beam true to what I have experienced and what my friends have experienced, it made me squirm with discomfort." "[A]fter previewing a number of the films slated to appear, I am tempted to ask the various filmmakers and producers: Didn't you see the movies that screened last year? And, if you did, why have you all decided to make those movies again?" Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. Update, 7/14: AJ Schnack talks with Mike Roth, whose Saving Marriage debuts at Outfest: "I know the log line of Saving Marriage is 'the fight to keep gay marriage legal in Massachusetts,' but when you watch the film, you realize it's not so much about gay marriage as it is just about marriage. It's also about people who stand up and fight for what they believe in, and that is an inspiring theme with universal appeal. So the audience response is pretty much the same at both GLBT and general film festivals. They're reacting to the characters and the story, and it doesn't really matter if they're gay or straight." Update, 7/16: "There is so much new documentary and dramatic work exploring the explosive intersection of spirituality and sexuality that this week's Outfest... has created a five-film series, 'Queers in Christ,' on the subject," notes John Horn in the LAT. "Although diverse in story and tone, the movies are linked by a common argument: That God and Jesus would welcome every member of the human family into their realm, regardless of sexual orientation. Since good storytelling involves conflict, though, there are any number of people in these films - including Scripture-quoting anti-gay activists and not-in-my-house Pentecostal parents - taking a dramatically different view of inclusion."
Mods & Rockers."The Mods & Rockers Film Festival is getting real," writes Steve Hochman in the Los Angeles Times. "After seven years of emphasizing the fantasy and frivolity of the 60s... co-founder, producer and host Martin Lewis has put together a series this year that highlights some of the era's top music documentarians." John Patterson, too, is glad to see the fest "shed its 007-inspired side." He elaborates in the LA Weekly: Mods & Rockers has always been predicated upon the rich pop-cultural exchanges and transfusions that were effected in the 1960s between swinging, mod-pop London and hippie-trippy California, London having been the cultural capital of the decade until early 1967, when it was briefly superseded by Haight-Ashbury. But Los Angeles was always waiting in the wings as hippiedom's Second City (although musically, LA always kicked SF's ass!). This year, that rich cultural seam is once again successfully strip-mined, with an emphasis largely, by hazard or design, on the westward movement from London to the Golden State. Then: "If forced to choose a single exemplary movie from this teeming cornucopia, I'd make it Tony Palmer's legendary BBC documentary All My Loving. The 8th edition opens tomorrow and runs through August 1.
July 11, 2007
Shorts, 7/11."Now that a filmmaker can bypass the need to make costly film prints, he or she can burn their finished film to DVD, screen it theatrically through digital projection, or make it available for download. But still the question remains: How does an independent filmmaker compete in a very competitive marketplace?" For PopMatters, Brian Holcomb directs this and several other questions on many minds at the moment to Lance Weiler, whose latest film, Head Trauma, "has been very well received and continues Weiler's DIY approach with a personally supervised theatrical tour leading up to the DVD release." "Matt Hanson is a noted British author, filmmaker and film futurist interested in expanding the boundaries of traditional filmmaking," writes Elina Shatkin. "His latest project is A Swarm of Angels, a crowdfunded, open source filmmaking venture that aims to create a £1 million movie with the help of 50,000 participants around the globe." This interview is one of many stories in an "experiment in 'pro-am' journalism" and "crowdsourcing" conducted by Assignment Zero in collaboration with Wired News. Executive Editor Jay Rosen: "I wouldn't say it's easy for widely scattered people working together voluntarily on the net to report on a big story unfolding in many places at once. But we know a lot more about it now than we did when we started, and one of the goals of Assignment Zero was to test whether pro-am methods had potential. I think they do, but we haven't really unlocked it yet. We are, however, getting closer." For more on all this, see Emily Gordon's interview with the New Yorker's James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds, at Rosen's PressThink. Much of this is via Bookforum's still-outstanding new blog. Filmbrain points us to five blogs that make him think. "As has been pointed out by others, what the serious film bloggers do best is write about past films in the present tense," writes Peter Nellhaus. "Yes, there are current films worth writing about that are often shabbily or superficially evaluated by the so-called professionals. What I think those of us within our virtual communities do best is create little chain reactions of re-looking at films." The cinetrix passes along word that For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism, a unique documentary in the making, written and directed by Gerald Peary, is in need of a last round of funding for completion. Click the title, look around and then consider clicking that yellow star. Meantime, Gerald Peary's also been reading Patrick McGilligan's Oscar Micheaux: The Great and Only and sends out a call: "We need a national tour of restored 35mm works by Oscar Micheaux, this essential African-American filmmaker artist." "There's a tendency, in the blogosphere and elsewhere, for varied and sundry commentators to talk about movies not in terms of what they see... but in terms of what they don't." Premiere's Glenn Kenny explains. Mike D'Angelo has a theory as to how Kim Ki-duk became international cinema's "designated punching bag" and, after floating it, decides, "The only way to get behind Kim Ki-duk, really, is to confess that his unsavory scenarios resonate with your personal experience. And who the hell wants to admit that? Thing is, I can't see how anybody, no matter how keen to preserve a positive self-image, could fail to identify with Time, Kim's cheerfully lunatic allegory about two young lovers who undergo radical plastic surgery in a quixotic attempt to rekindle their fading romance." Also in the Voice: Julia Wallace on Tekkonkinkreet (more from Scott Green at AICN) and Aaron Hillis on Hula Girls. Kevin Lee views Ousmane Sembene's Ceddo: "It's hard to say for sure whether this film is anti-Islam, as it makes equally dour observations of European colonialism and Catholicism, and most stunning of all, the complicity of Africans in their own subjugation, trading their own children for guns and liquor. The overall vision is one examining and decrying power plays from both without and within that threaten to extinguish the culture of a people." Jamie Lee Curtis went along with husband Christopher Guest & Co when Spinal Tap played Live Earth. That being London and all, the recently defused threat of a car bomb was on her mind. She writes for the Huffington Post: "Going to Wembley, for the reason I walked into the minefield in the first place, was oddly calming. The sheer magnitude of humanity and noise and perhaps the talisman of a stage version of Stonehenge somehow deafened my terrorist mind meld. Since anyone can be a terrorist, no one can? Isn't that what Brad Bird said in The Incredibles: When everyone is a super-hero, no one is?" Cineuropa's latest "Film Focus": 2 Days in Paris. In the Guardian:
DVDs, 7/11."Digging into the murky depths of the United Artists film library, MGM Home Entertainment has come up with four significant films noirs, all independent productions released in the 40s and 50s." In the New York Times, Dave Kehr reviews Kansas City Confidential, directed by Phil Karlson and starring John Payne, "a popular crooner of the 40s who was working his way down from Technicolor musicals at 20th Century Fox"; Fritz Lang's "slow-moving, deliberately morose" Woman in the Window; The Stranger, which "may be Welles's most explicitly political work, made at a time when his activism was at its height"; and Lewis Allen's "minor but enjoyable" Bullet for Joey warrants a passing mention. Related: Vince Keenan from Noir City: "Phil Karlson is a treasured name among noir aficionados because he made spare, no-nonsense films." "As one of the key members of the informal Japanese New Wave of the 1960s, Masahiro Shinoda was a youthful survivor of World War II, an event that so marked his psyche, he has been attempting to understand his country's national character ever since." So begins the first half of Doug Cummings's essay on Silence, the latest release in the Masters of Cinema series. MS Smith has been watching Ozu lately: "The End of Summer, as the title implies, is about the inevitability of change, the temptation to resist it, and the fading of tradition and the onset of modernity." "Call it art film nostalgia, but every newly forgotten, newly resurrected "classic" from the post-Truman era of international cinema still looks as bold, brave and original as the next, and is often more telling and pertinent than the frequently lugubrious art films of today," writes Michael Atkinson at IFC News. "The new Criterion box of films by Japanese modernist Hiroshi Teshigahara proves the point, and not just with the justly hallowed, yet today mostly forgotten Woman in the Dunes (1964)." Also: "Missing Victor Pellerin isn't a hoax, or a documentary, or a mockumentary - it's something for which we have no proper name, a kind of speculative tale told in non-fiction form, like a Borges story. Maybe." In the Voice, Nathan Lee tops a DVD round up with a list of the five best of this week's releases. "My mother refers cynically to A Dry White Season as 'Hollywood does Apartheid,' and at times it does feel like a sort of cinematic SparkNotes, checking off the key themes of the apartheid years in South Africa one by one," writes Eve Holland at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "But there are other times when the film moves beyond the bullet-point presentation of information, and manages instead to powerfully recreate the attitudes and harsh realities of the time. It is particularly strong in its depiction of the whites who sustained, and benefited from, the regime." Marking the 25th anniversary of Tron, Scott Kirsner chats with director Steven Lisberger. Another roundup: Cinema Strikes Back.
Nice Bombs."With Nice Bombs, [Usama] Alshaibi joins a growing number of filmmakers who, having abandoned war-torn homelands for the US as children, decide to make pilgrimages as adults and see what they've been missing. You can go home again - sort of," writes Michelle Orange in the Voice. Even if home is Iraq. "Jumping from home movies to news clips to an insurgency training video, Nice Bombs feels as sad and directionless as the country it documents," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "Lacking the range and idealism of Maysoon Pachachi's Return to the Land of Wonders or the mournful intimacy of Laura Poitras's My Country, My Country, the movie struggles to engage. At this stage of the war, that may be the saddest thing of all." Ray Pride's followed the film's development for some time and asks Alshaibi, "So finally it's locked, loaded and out there: I'm sure there's something to be gained from the stock question of, what have you learned?" Earlier: Ignatius Vishnevetsky's interview.
Fests and events, 7/11."The Czech Surrealist film Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Valerie a týden divů, 1970) is a film that, once seen, cannot be forgotten," writes Andrea Feldman at Warped Reality. "Greater still is Lubos Fiser's exquisite score, which has finally been restored to print by the lovely people at Finders Keepers." What's more, "Greg Weeks, an ardent fan of Fiser's score, has nevertheless been inspired to create one of his own.... The Valerie Project has already performed the score as an accompaniment to the film in London (as part of Jarvis Cocker's Meltdown fest), in NYC (at Jonas Mekas's Anthology Film Archives), and in Philly (where many of the musicians reside). More shows are planned for the fall (including one at the Museum of Modern Art in NY), and the fall should also see the official release of the score in its entirety on CD." And Andrea's got samples of both the original and new scores. Anthology Film Archives is also celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Living Theatre with a doc and a meta-doc; that and more in J Hoberman's roundup of NYC goings on for the Voice. "The Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival is back and stronger than ever." Opens tomorrow and runs through July 24, and the Philadelphia Weekly previews several titles screening during the first week. Also opening tomorrow: "A massive cross-section survey of what's current and courant in French filmmaking as of early this year, the 2007 Boston French Film Festival adheres to a mainstream through-line — the menu bops between feel-good indies and full-on commercial fare, with a few seasoned auteur numbers thrown in like rosemary twigs," writes Michael Atkinson in the Boston Phoenix. "Which is to say, few risks are taken, mush-minded Hollywoodized entries already slated for stateside release proliferate, and a sense of homogeneity is inescapable." Through July 29. Just opened at the BAM/PFA in Berkeley and running through August 30: Abbas Kiarostami: Image Maker, an exhibition and film series. Miguel Amado draws Rhizome readers' attention to Particulate, a show in Eugene, Oregon of videos created for "MP4 micro players (iPods, etc) hung in single row on all the walls of the gallery." "Viewfinder provocatively suggests that we see photographically and that contemporary artists assimilate the camera's mechanics as they compose technically and conceptually complex work." At the Henry Art Gallery from Saturday through December 30. From Noir City Northwest, Vince Keenan sends word of two noirs written by Roy Huggins: I Love Trouble and Pushover. San Francisco Frozen Film Festival opens tomorrow and runs through Sunday; Cheryl Eddy has a brief preview in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "To mark Bastille Day, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art will screen Abel Gance's legendary 1927 epic Napoléon, which has rarely been shown publicly since its 1981 restoration by film historian Kevin Brownlow, complete with tinted sequences, and presented by Francis Ford Coppola with a score composed by Coppola's late father, Carmine, that is as glorious as the silent classic is itself," writes Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times. "Napoléon is history as an action-filled pageant, filled with as many cliffhanging flourishes as a serial, relieved from time to time with scenes of intimacy and humor. Gance was as natural and energetic a storyteller in the silent screen medium as Cecil B DeMille - and could stage an orgy with similar zest. His visual flair remains awesome and richly varied. He staged complex battle scenes with ease yet could create images as richly textured as those of Josef von Sternberg." The lineup for BRITDOC 07 is in place. July 25 through 27. Also set: the schedule for Dead Channels, a festival of fantastic film running from August 9 through 16 in San Francisco. Speaking of which: "One of the things that comes up from time to time when doing festival programming here in North America is the lack of a local equivalent to the European Federation of Fantastic Film Festivals, an organization that pools the resources of several festivals to help operate the festivals efficiently, give them a collective pull with distributors that they may lack individually and give film makers a central organization that can help them navigate the submission process to get their films seen," writes Todd at Twitch. "Well, it's lacking no more, with Fantasia, the Fantastic Fest and San Francisco's Dead Channels banding together to launch the North American Fantastic Festival Alliance." "Goldfinger is one of seven iconic British films selected as part of a groundbreaking partnership between the UK Film Council and BBC2 to celebrate the classics of the big screen as part of the Summer of British Film season running from late July to September," reports Rebecca Smithers in the Guardian. For the Independent, Geoffrey Macnab reviews the selections while Sight & Sound editor Nick James offers a few alternatives. Considering Marlon Brando on the occasion of the ongoing season at BFI Southbank, Michael Wood, writing in the London Review of Books, works his way toward Last Tango in Paris: "'Vous êtes américain?' she asks when they meet, but we already know the answer. He is not only American, and not only Paul, the bereaved character in the film seeking to find a renewal of life in [Maria] Schneider's youth and weirdly submissive attraction to him. He is Marlon Brando, a man who has made a career out of not saying what he wants, perhaps even not knowing what he wants, and getting it all the same. Bertolucci, like the great cineaste he is, made a hymn to old movies, and to an old movie star, before they were even that old." And BFI Southbank has scheduled a Laurence Olivier season for August 2 through 27. "Marking the centenary of Olivier's birth, the season celebrates the actor's "staggering achievements" in a screen career that spanned six decades. All of which sounds positively splendid if you buy the line about him being our best ever practitioner of the thespianic arts and rather less splendid if you don't," writes the Guardian's Xan Brooks. "My own personal suspicion is that the screen was not his natural surface." Variety's Anne Thompson has news of more additions to the Toronto lineup. The cinetrix returns from the Harvard Film Archive's Independents Week: New American Independent Cinema 2007 with reviews of Mike Gibisser's debut feature, Finally, Lillian and Dan, Joe Swanberg's Hannah Takes the Stairs and Aaron Katz's Quiet City. With pix and impressions, David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson say, "Arrivederci Ritrovato." Mark Rabinowitz wraps Karlovy Vary for indieWIRE. Related: "A father and his 14-year-old son travel from contemporary rural Bosnia to the Croatian capital for a film audition in director Ognjen Svilicic's Armin," writes Boyd van Hoeij at european-films.net. "Going the exact opposite route of the riotous bombast of Sarajevo-born filmmaker Emir Kusturica, Svilicic (Oprosti za kung fu/Sorry for Kung Fu) films his drama as an intimate two-hander that mainly plays out between father and son. The film's contents may not be revolutionary enough to travel far and wide, but its sweet nature and good humour will certainly seduce some. It won the main prize in the East of the West Competition at the recent Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and was also screened at this year's Berlinale." With reviews of Opera Jawa, I Don't Want to Sleep Alone and Syndromes and a Century, Richard Phillips again picks up WSWS's overview of the Sydney Film Festival. Also: "Some documentaries from China, Israel and Australia." Online viewing tip. Douglas Gordon: Between Darkness and Light. Works 1989 - 2007, a video introduction to the exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg through August 12.
Drama/Mex."Drama/Mex means to say something about its country of origin, though it's hard to know exactly what," writes Manohla Dargis. "[Director Gerardo] Naranjo may want or need to take the measure of Mexico at its best and at its worst, but first he needs to ditch the narrative and visual clichés, notably the palsied hand-held camerawork, which turn too many movies from too many countries into generic art-house mush." "Amores Perros is a yappy whelp compared to this striking degrees-of-separation drama," writes Jim Ridley in the Voice. "Like Chano [Emilio Valdés], the movie hums with sexed-up voltage, and it's just as hard, handsome, and shifty." Updated through 7/13. For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Naranjo "about his passion for film, the renaissance in Mexican cinema and why La Jetée makes Werner Herzog miserable." And indieWIRE interviews Naranjo, too. Earlier: Paul Schrodt at Slant and "Cannes. Drama/Mex." Update, 7/12: "Gerardo Naranjo's deliriously trashy Drama/Mex may not do much to burnish the international prestige of Mexican cinema, but it's an entertaining blend of obvious influences, from softcore cable-TV porn to Tarantino to Less Than Zero and Leaving Las Vegas," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "Furthermore, if you've recently been to Acapulco, the one-time jet-set resort city where these interlinked sleaze-fables unfold, you may well accept the outrageousness of Drama/Mex at face value." Updates, 7/13: "Perhaps the highest praise I can offer Naranjo's film is the fact that it was nearly half over before I realized that I was watching one of those damn fragile-connection triptychs," writes Mike D'Angelo at Nerve. "Title/Stupid, however." "Executive-produced by New Mexican Cinema heartthrob Gael García Bernal, Drama/Mex is perhaps less groundbreaking than Bernal's landmark vehicles Amores Perros and Y Tu Mama Tambien, but it nonetheless affirms Mexico's continuing role as one of the leading forces in contemporary cinema," writes Cullen Gallagher in the L Magazine. "[W]hile Iñárritu shoots Guillermo Arriaga's weighty scripts in a self-consciously arty style, Naranjo shoots his own script more loosely, in a performance-driven style reminiscent of the French New Wave, John Cassavetes, and mid-80s American independent film," writes someone at the AV Club (one comment: "My guess: Tobias").
Manhattan and the Voice.A new 35mm print of Woody Allen's Manhattan screens at Film Forum for a week starting Friday. In a piece entitled "Defending Manhattan," J Hoberman does just that over four glorious paragraphs before recalling the hubbub the film sparked at the Voice nearly 30 years ago.
Film Comment. July/August 07."Kes remains one of [Ken] Loach's best-loved films," writes Chris Darke in the July/August issue of Film Comment. "His hallmark traits of effortless naturalism and unpatronizing attention to working-class lives are on show here, fully formed and deeply affecting." "Dans Paris is not merely allusive to the French New Wave, it's practically Tarantino-esque," writes Robert Horton. "One of the gifts of the New Wave was the idea that movies could convey the delight of making films, watching them, thinking about them.... With Dans Paris, [Christophe] Honoré circles back to those pleasures, without being glib." Chris Chang calls out for a distributor for Patrick Tam's After This Our Exile, a "simple tale... given enormous dynamism and depth by Tam's visual style." "What kind of a movie is Sicko?" asks Stuart Klawans. "The question echoes beyond the little circle of critics, with our mania for classification. People argue over whether to call it a documentary, an essay, a polemic, a piece of agitprop, or a work of performance art, because each name asserts something different about the film's relationship to truth. Everyone knows what Sicko is about - but once in the theater, nobody (myself included) can define what's on the screen." Then there are the online exclusives, which, on the whole, are longer than the samples from the current issue. "Lonely are the Brave is something rare, and almost unique: a leftist American western," writes Alex Cox: Its hero, flawlessly portrayed by Kirk Douglas, is John W Burns, a cowboy anarchist who carries no ID, respects no authority, and pays attention only to his friends and his horse. [...] The cast is surprising - and perfect. Gena Rowlands plays the woman who loves the cowboy, Walter Matthau the bored sheriff who methodically tracks him, George Kennedy the prison guard who fails to break him, and Carroll O'Connor the deus ex machina who succeeds. Lonely are the Brave was released in 1962, yet it still seems totally modern - probably because it deals with so many issues that matter now: individual freedom versus authoritarian clampdowns, the criminalization of sanctuary for "illegal aliens," ID cards, military helicopters in border manhunts, and an increasingly militarized and regimented America. A Norman Mailer double: Michael Chaiken's interview and Karen Jaehne's long piece on Tough Guys Don't Dance from the November/December 1987 issue, which opens at Cannes and the recalls the whole Godard/King Lear episode. Harlan Jacobson has a long talk with Steve Buscemi. A festival report from Laura Kern: "Tribeca, now in its sixth year, still seems to be finding its way."
My Best Friend."Light, airy, and sweet, Patrice Leconte's latest comedy swings his favorite premise - fruitful encounters between opposites - away from romance and into the wistful hunger for friendship in a careerist world," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "Leconte embraces sentimentality with the wisdom of a seasoned man and the goofy, light heart of a teenager, but he's never glib or condescending, and his mastery of tone makes this delightful farce a nutty feel-gooder about the difference between a friend and a contact." Updated through 7/16. But for Nick Pinkerton, writing at indieWIRE, My Best Friend "[displays]a total dearth of invention, relying only on its air of toothless benevolence." A "handful of viewers will get what they came for and pronounce the thing 'Very charming, very French!' while everyone who knows any better will keep a wide berth, and in a few months the next interchangeable pile of Gallic piffle will cross the Atlantic, as inevitably as the changing of seasons." Earlier: "Unfortunately, Leconte is mainly drawn to sitcom scenarios, which might have been a reasonable tack to take if his material weren't so cautious and staid," writes Nick Schager at Slant. And Wade Major's interviewed Leconte for LA CityBeat. Update: Alison Willmore talks with Leconte for IFC News. Updates, 7/12: The New York Press's Armond White calls Leconte "an art machine. He makes stylish, intelligent, professional, never-bad movies practically on schedule. And there's always an element of humane piquancy—sort of like a twist of lemon in a soft drink or espresso—that makes you feel you aren't simply watching product. Leconte's proficiency has sometimes been overpraised as with Monsieur Hire (the 1989 film that made his US art-house reputation) and the somber Man on the Train; just as his glittering, capricious Girl on the Bridge was underrated. My Best Friend comes somewhere in between his earnest and frivolous modes." "I guess My Best Friend is just cannily crafted entertainment, but what in hell is wrong with that?" asks Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. Another talk with Leconte: Susan King in the Los Angeles Times. Updates, 7/13: "Predictable from start to finish, this is the type of dramatic comedy that often gets labelled as pleasant, which means that it is not laugh-out-loud funny and inoffensively hobbles along to an ending that could have been spotted miles away," writes Boyd van Hoeij at european-films.net. "My Best Friend is a comforting, sentimental tale of a kind that would be insufferably maudlin if made in Hollywood and unbearably affectless if it showed up at Sundance. Somehow it's easier to take in French," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. Steve Erickson, writing in Gay City News, finds the film "shies away from exploring the real pain of loneliness in favor of pat morals about the importance of not using people." "Too serious to be an out-and-out comedy, too funny not to be one, My Best Friend is a lot easier to enjoy than to classify," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "[I]t doesn't fit into a tidy category, and this is very much part of the plan." "Leconte (Les Bronzés, The Girl on the Bridge) has been vocal about his plans to retire soon after some more lightweight fare, and he is indeed coasting with My Best Friend," notes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine. "It's not awful, but it is a cut below his abilities." Update, 7/14: David Poland lunches with Leconte. Update, 7/16: IndieWIRE interviews Leconte.
July 10, 2007
Talk to Me."A rather standard and unexceptional what-comes-up-must-come-down narrative arc is the blueprint for Talk to Me, the story of controversial DC deejay Ralph Waldo "Petey" Green Jr (Don Cheadle), who ignited the capitol's airwaves with his blunt straight-shooting during the tumultuous mid-to-late 60s, and then fell into alcohol abuse and disrepute before his untimely death in 1982," writes Nick Schager at Slant. "Textured by ego trips, boozing, red velvet tuxedos, and a soundtrack jammed with rousing, if predictable hits of the era, Talk To Me lacks every kind of specificity (historical, psychological, socio-cultural) but redeems itself through the dedication of its Cheadlicious lead," writes Nathan Lee in the Voice. Updated through 7/17. For the New York Times, Sharon Waxman talks with Kasi Lemmons about why, after initial reticence, she felt compelled to make this film: "One of the things that happened was the Iraq war. We were invading. People had strong opinions, and they were afraid to say anything. There was fear, you could feel it. People were afraid. I was. So I was attracted to a character who spoke loudly, without censoring, who let the chips fall where they would. There was something about a loud, uncensored, brave voice that attracted me." At the Reeler, ST VanAirsdale talks with Cheadle. And Susan King talks with Taraji P Henson for the Los Angeles Times. Updates, 7/11: "Like most big-time movie directors, Kasi Lemmons had a studio driver to take her to and from the set of her new film, Talk to Me. So driver and passenger did some chatting, and one of the their conversations stuck in her mind. 'He said he'd driven 130 directors,' Lemmons recalled. 'And I was the first woman director he'd driven.'" So begins Mary F Pols's piece for the Contra Costa Times, "They're Women, Directors and Few." A reminder: Women represent a mere 7 percent of all directors working in film. Via Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay. "Cheadle is absolutely magnetic as Greene, particularly when he's loosed on the airwaves of 'P-Town,' mixing it up with his listeners or bashing targets like Berry Gordy and President Nixon. He's Howard Stern, if Howard Stern were more political and dressed like Superfly," writes Matt Singer at IFC News. That said, "In its second half, the movie is far too focused on cramming in every important event in Greene's life. This is narrative suicide." "Talk to Me should generate awards talk for Cheadle, Ejiofor and the very talanted Taraji P Henson," writes Bryan Whitefield at ScreenGrab. "It's easily one of the best American movies I've seen this year." Updates, 7/12: "I'd hoped to send only good thoughts the way of Kasi Lemmons' biopic of Washington disc jockey Ralph Waldo ('Petey') Greene Jr, if only because it tries to snatch shock-jockery back from the right and reclaim it for the populist black left," writes Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly. "The visual daring that showed off Lemmons' first feature, Eve's Bayou, translates here into a rousing, kinetic mounting of the downtown 60s DC scene that Greene helped create.... Neither Lemmons nor screenwriters Michael Genet and Rick Famuyiwa, however, have much of a feel for character, let alone story." "Taking a nostalgic view of that period and its styles, director Kasi Lemmons attempts to re-animate stereotypes; she misreads the music, clothes, afros and attitude as the essence of Petey, his woman Vernell (Taraji P Henson) and Dewey (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the radio exec who put him on the air," writes Armond White in the New York Press, where Jennifer Merin talks with Lemmons. Online listening tip. Lemmons is a guest on The Treatment. Updates, 7/13: "Presidents come and go, as do parties, issues, wars, crises, hostesses and even movie critics, but for the longest time, one thing in Washington was solid as the pillars at Treasury: This was Petey Greene's town," writes Stephen Hunter in the Post. Talk to Me "makes you feel the joy people experienced in the wash of his raucous, truth-saying humor (for a sample, check out 'How to Eat Watermelon' on YouTube), but also his wisdom and his calm.... Petey died young, cut down by cancer, his work started, not finished. The movie is a tribute to a truth, however: Talent and guts can get you farther than you think, and you don't even have to sell out to make it." Salon's Stephanie Zacharek finds Talk to Me to be "an imperfect picture that's alive every minute, a movie that perfectly captures the vibe of a person, a place, a time and a way of being, and even gets, indirectly and without a whiff of sanctimoniousness, to the heart of what being an American ought to mean." "Talk to Me starts out broad and schematic only to surprise you with its subtlety as it unfolds," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Conveying the passage of time through the usual shorthand of clothes, hairstyles and vintage pop music, the movie nonetheless steers clear of the usual biopic conventions.... 'You say the things I'm afraid to say,' Dewey remarks, 'and I do the things you're afraid to do.' While Petey brushes this off as greeting-card hooey, Talk to Me explores the idea of their symbiosis in a nuanced and insightful manner." In the Los Angeles Times, Carina Chocano notes that the film "observes the fervor of a bygone activist culture longingly, as if to ask, what's with everybody now?... Part of what drew Lemmons to her subject was the contrast between Greene's uncensored candor, emblematic of the era, and the mealy mouthed timidity of today, so you don't begrudge her the occasional image mash-up, hammy though they sometimes are, or even the way she drives the message home at the movie and then walks it to the door." "Lemmons generates energy around her story and rapport between her leads, though uneven period details (was use of the 'n-word' among blacks really so liberal in 1966 - or 'oh, hell no,' for that matter?) distract here and there," writes Michelle Orange at the Reeler. "It's not until the first blaring 'biopic moment' - on the air without permission, Greene is on the brink of being tossed out of the studio, until the phone lines light up, you know, like a Christmas tree - that you realize you've actually signed on for a Profile in Courage. All right, that's overstating it. But the sense of a machine taking over, albeit a very well-oiled one, threatens to overshadow two very strong performances." "The movie begins with a whirlpool of comedy and manic energy, and then grows, as it must, more serious and introspective," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "Cheadle, that superb actor, embodies the complexities of Petey Greene in a performance that goes from high through second into low (that's harder and more interesting than the usual shifting)." "Viewers should be excused a sense of déjà vu when the film hits its rise-to-fame montage set to period music," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club. "Fortunately, Talk to Me has a pair of assured performances to keep it grounded." Peter Smith talks with Lemmon for Nerve. "By failing to fulfill our generic expectations, by letting its protagonist sink back into local hero status it cheats us of the good feelings we have come to expect from movies about show biz paragons," writes Richard Schickel for Time. "It's only later, as you think the movie over - and it does stay with you - that you realize it has kept faith with the essential Petey Greene, a man who knew his limits and was determined to live within them.... Eventually you may come to think of Talk to Me as a true movie rarity - a very honest yet curiously affecting experience." Marcy Dermansky gives it 4½ out of 5 stars. Update, 7/17: "Talk To Me is something of a political movie with little politics," argues David Corn at Alternet. "What the real Greene had to say about Vietnam, the Black Panthers, Malcolm X, the civil rights movement, the women's movement, drugs, elections - and I'm presuming he had some things to say on these and other hot-button subjects - is not in the movie.... Talk To Me, an engaging film, would be more powerful if it showed more of what Greene had actually said."
Charles Lane, 1905 - 2007.Charles Lane, the prolific character actor whose name was little known, but whose bespectacled face and crotchety persona made him instantly recognizable to generations of movie-goers, has died, his son said Tuesday. He was 102.... Lane, whose career spanned more than 60 years, appeared in such film classics as It's a Wonderful Life, Mr Deeds Goes to Town and Twentieth Century.... In 1934, Frank Capra, then on his rise to eminence, cast Lane in a horse racing film, Broadway Bill. Capra liked the actor's work so much he included him in nine more movies, including Mr Smith Goes to Washington and You Can't Take It with You. Bob Thomas for the AP. Updated through 7/14. Joe Saltzman livens up his piece on "Frank Capra and the Image of the Journalist in American Film" with several stills, one of them from Mr Smith. Scroll down to see Jimmy Stewart this close to punching out Nosey, that is, Charles Lane. See also: Wikipedia. More from Edward Copeland. Updates, 7/11: "Mr Lane was busily employed from the 1930s to the 90s, playing hotel clerks, cashiers, reporters, lawyers, judges, tax collectors, mean-spirited businessmen, the powerful as well as the nondescript," writes Robert Berkvist in the New York Times. "Sometimes he was little more than a face in the crowd, with only a line or two of dialogue, which made it easy for him to trot from one movie set to another and rack up two or three film credits in a single day." "Starting in the early 1950s, Lane was also on dozens of TV programs, including The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show," notes Claudia Luther in the Los Angeles Times. "Perhaps most famously, he appeared in classic episodes of I Love Lucy, playing several characters who all seemed to have in common a stunned if comical lack of patience with the bumbling Lucy. He said it was on this show that he perfected the crusty skinflint role." Update, 7/14: Richard Harland Smith at Movie Morlocks: "I've lived most of my life wanting Charles Lane to yell at me."
Michael Atkinson."So, here is my inaugural blog-gout, sent spraying into an abyss already crowded with free-falling voices, yowling and yelping (in too often incomplete sentences and reckless and subliterate opinionation) for a readership that may not, probably won't, often shouldn't, come." But they will. Lord knows I will. With a bustling inventory of "the state of my head in regards to cinema, right now," Michael Atkinson launches Zero for Conduct. Via Dave Kehr.
Interview."Those who know that Steve Buscemi's new film, Interview is a remake of a 2003 film of the same name by Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, who was brutally murdered in 2004 by a militant Islamist for his outspoken condemnation of Muslim treatment of women, may be surprised by how commonplace the film is," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "A psychological pas de deux between a reporter and a starlet, Interview, transplanted to a cavernous downtown Manhattan loft, resembles nothing so much as a proficient, glib off-Broadway piece, purporting to examine preconceived notions about celebrity and journalism but more often interested in actorly histrionics." Updated through 7/16. "Intended as an examination of the combative dialogue between the media and celebrities, Interview is chiefly a showcase for actors Steve Buscemi and Sienna Miller, as well as a case study in how to cinematically cope with stagy material," writes Nick Schager at Slant. "[T]he two lead performances [are] rock solid, and Buscemi's direction is consistently invigorating." Earlier: Steve Appleford's talk with Buscemi for the LA CityBeat and "Sundance. Steve Buscemi x 2." Updates, 7/11: "Star profiles are essentially hostage negotiations, a bartering of self-respect for access," writes Jim Ridley in the Voice. "How little can the subject reveal and still make the interviewer think he has a scoop? Buscemi and [screenwriter David] Schechter heighten this head game, making the Pierre-Katya "interview" a transaction in which each party means to screw the other, literally and figuratively. The characters' whip-smart monologues, accusatory and confessional, lash both ways: Are they lying to themselves or each other, or just to us?" Buscemi's on ReelerTV. Harlan Jacobson talks with Buscemi about Interview, but also more for Film Comment. Aaron Hillis interviews Buscemi for IFC News, where Matt Singer writes, "The film places us in a room with two characters and their accumulated mishegas but it doesn't have enough intellectual curiosity about them to keep our attention." Updates, 7/12: "It quickly becomes exhausting trying to figure out when Katya or Pierre is being sincere; they don't know themselves," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "This veneer of pseudo-adult psychological realism doesn't stop the film from being trashy, awkward and implausible, something like a stage play that might have seemed challenging in 1976. If Eugene O'Neill had tried to write a play about celebrity culture and the decline of journalism, this would be it." Online listening tip. Buscemi and Miller are guests on the Leonard Lopate Show. Updates, 7/13: "Vaporous and chilled to freezing, Interview lacks a single honest moment, but it does have plenty of diverting ones," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "[T]he movie is one of those chatty, catty, conceptual face-offs that are often best left to the stage and for which sports metaphors seem to have been invented. Two well-matched opponents enter, spar, punch, clinch, flail, break, draw blood (metaphoric, literal), block and knock down. Do they score? Yes and no." "Buscemi and Miller nail their roles well enough, but the dynamic between them is never quite as sensational as the screenplay seems to think; much of the repartee is awkward and airless and the exchanges meant to shock (things get personal very quickly) don't make much of an impact," writes Michelle Orange at the Reeler. "Buscemi works to open up the space visually once inside Katya's spacious loft, where the bulk of the film occurs, but when you start noticing the blocking of the actors as blocking, something's not working." "[I]f you can get past the total absence of handlers from the big star's life, there's enough peril and potential for betrayal involved in the situation to keep you interested," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "And Miller is quite good at playing the actress people underestimate at their own peril. Wonder why?" "Interview reaffirms its indie film audience's superiority over a 'separate' realm of cultural activity," writes Michael Joshua Rowin for the L Magazine. At the AV Club, Nathan Rabin finds it "mannered, implausible, and stagy, but queasily compelling all the same." Buscemi picks his top ten Criterion discs. Online listening tips. Hosoki Nobuhiro's got audio with Miller and Buscemi. Update, 7/16: David Edelstein in New York: "I wonder if Sienna Miller came up short as Edie Sedgwick because, no matter how hard she tried (and how good she was), she couldn't be a blank, a non-actress. She's a stupendous actress."
Anticipating Sunshine.Sunshine doesn't open in the US for another 10 days, but a few reviews and some anticipatory press coverage are already coming in. "Like the films it grandly and unabashedly pays homage to, Sunshine is serious science fiction for those who prefer to think of space's real possibilities rather than escapist fantasies," writes Gabriel Shanks. For the New York Times, Dennis Lim meets Danny Boyle, who tells him that he and screenwriter Alex Garland "embraced the idea that Sunshine, precisely because of the vastness of its subject, would be a space odyssey in the most interior sense: a head trip. 'It's like films about mountains,' he said. 'They're not about mountaineering. They're about the mind. Movies about space raise those questions of what we're doing here, and that inevitably introduces a spiritual dimension.'" Updated through 7/14. "[D]espite all that talent on display, Sunshine is a philosophical blank slate," writes Jeremiah Kipp at Slant. Earlier: "Sunshine.," the UK run. Update, 7/14: "Sunshine is a technical marvel lacking the necessary conviction in its blistering vision of mortality - the film borderlines on masterpiece in its feverish sensory explosion, but is less than revelatory in its deliberate verbal exposition," writes Rob Humanick. "That Boyle's direction - like that of Alfonso Cuarón in Children of Men - is so good as to largely compensate for the unsatisfactory script is indeed a relief, but it also makes one long more for what simply could have been."
July 9, 2007
Shorts, 7/9."Cecil B DeMille's sensational reformatory exposé, The Godless Girl; Redskin in two-color Technicolor; Lois Weber's anti-abortion drama Where Are My Children?; The Soul of Youth by William Desmond Taylor; and dozens of rare newsreels, cartoons, serials, documentaries, and charitable appeals are showcased in the National Film Preservation Foundation upcoming four-DVD box set, Treasures III: Social Issues in American Film, 1900-1934." I'll post the full press release with the lineup as a comment below. "When I left the BFI in 1998, it was regarded worldwide as the outstanding example of an educational and cultural film institution," writes Colin MacCabe: In international circles the BFI is now mentioned not as an enviable model but as an awful example of political vandalism.... In recent weeks the institute has announced that it can no longer support its publication division; its great library, the recipient of hundreds of valuable donations, from Derek Jarman to Richard Attenborough, is being offered to any university that will house it; and most recently the film archive itself has been declared in grave danger through lack of resources. This is the archive which houses not only the films of Hitchcock and Lean but also the biggest collection of silent film in the world and documentaries which record British life in every decade of the 20th century. Also in the Observer, Killian Fox caught that Simpsons Movie preview (10 minutes and a Q&A) and has five spoilers, if you don't mind that sort of thing. "One filmmaker who set out to check the pulse of rock and roll's angry bastard fistwaver spikehair stepchild, just to see if it still has one, is filmmaker Susan Dynner," writes Graham Rae at Film Threat. "In her fine, comprehensive new documentary Punk's Not Dead, Dynner examines the origins, evolution and current state of those hated in the nation... and comes to some interesting, though not particularly surprising (to those who know anything about the punk scene at all) conclusions. And does she find punk dead? Of course not." "Julian Fellowes, an Oscar winner for his screenplay of Gosford Park, spoke last week about his fascination with Victoria and how he intends to replace the image of her as an aloof, dowdy widow with that of a feisty, romantic teenager played by Emily Blunt," reports David Smith. The Young Victoria, produced by Graham King and Martin Scorsese and also starring Miranda Richardson, starts shooting next month. Also: "I came across a short film recently which blew everything else I had seen that week out of the water," writes Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw. "It had come into my hands as part of a DVD that the UK Film Council had made as part of its Cinema Extreme project: commissioning short films on provocative, extreme subjects from new British filmmakers.... Soft is shocking and violent, and ingeniously, intimately upsetting in a way I can only compare to the controversial scenes in Gaspar Noé's Irréversible." "So what exactly is a 'chick flick'?" asks Gloria Steinem at Alternet. "Just as there are 'novelists' and then 'women novelists,' there are 'movies' and then 'chick flicks.' Whoever is in power takes over the noun - and the norm - while the less powerful get an adjective. Thus, we read about 'African American doctors' but not 'European American doctors,' 'Hispanic leaders' but not 'Anglo leaders,' 'gay soldiers' but not 'heterosexual soldiers,' and so on. That's also why you're left with only half a guide. As usual, bias punishes everyone. Therefore I propose, as the opposite of 'chick flick' and an adjective of your very own, 'prick flick.'" "Invisible City chronicles the ways people attempt to leave a mark before they and their histories disappear," writes Stefan at Twitch. "From an avid amateur film director trying to preserve his decaying trove of Singapore footage to an intrepid Japanese journalist hunting down Singaporean war veterans, Tan Pin Pin draws out doubts, regrets and the poignantly ordinary moments of these protagonists who attempt immortality. Through their footage and photos rarely seen until now, we begin to perceive faint silhouettes of a City that could have been." Wellesnet finds "a wonderful piece about the cinematography for [Citizen Kane], written only a few months after it premiered by Gregg Toland for the September, 1941 issue of Theater Arts." "Choosing to sit and behold it, one can't help but think how perversely it agitates the urban sense of what constitutes wasted time." Andrew Chan on James Benning's 13 Lakes and the ways the film "serves to make us hypersensitive to the moments when art does interrupt, when the switch between the appearance of objectivity and the camera's essential subjectivity is flipped." Also at the House Next Door: "While the gourmet kitchen is a tidy metaphor for the collaborative food-chain process of filmmaking, it's Ratatouille's theatrical puppetry and visualization of the non-visual senses that makes it explicitly about movies," argues Ryland Walker Knight. Related: "I'm not sure that two decades ago, or even a decade ago, it would have been possible to make and successfully market a Cinderella story set in the fussy world of haute cuisine, a furry fairy tale that presents a snooty dismissal of inferior victuals as a badge of honor and path to glory," writes Frank Bruni in the New York Times. Also in the NYT, Charles Taylor looks back to what went wrong with Factory Girl and finds "a tale of how tensions between behind-the-scenes financiers and filmmakers, a frantic push for awards glory and the horrendous influence of bad buzz can doom a movie before it even opens." Glenn Kenny comments: "[T]he thing is actually worse than I remember." Paul Matwychuk: "Charles Burnett graciously took some time out from editing Namibia to talk to me about the experience of making Killer of Sheep." The Shamus: "The Candidate, despite the sideburns and old cars, hasn't aged a bit in 35 years. It's one of the best films of the 70s, one of Redford's watermarks as an actor, a worthy Oscar winner for Jeremy Larner's screenplay, a brilliantly naturalistic feat of direction by Michael Ritchie and the most cynically realistic view of the modern political machine." Also: a happy 65th to Richard Roundtree. "Myra Breckinridge might just end up being one of the most ambitious bad movies you ever see," writes Megan Weireter at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "I can't help but compare it to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (also released by 20th Century Fox in 1970); I kept thinking about how that film, though just as ambitious in its own way, takes itself far less seriously and is so much more fun to watch." "[I]f there were a film that looked like a zine, it's this." Mike Everleth watches Ennui. And Westsider, too. IndieWIRE interviews Richard Wong, director of Colma: The Musical. Haitians are making about 10 features a year, "rivaling Cuba as the Caribbean's biggest movie producer and often outselling better-financed imports," reports Stevenson Jacobs in the Los Angeles Times. "The ultimate dream? To transform the impoverished, politically volatile country of 8 million into a cinema powerhouse - Haitiwood - following the lead of India and Nigeria." "It was learned over the weekend that Kerwin Mathews, the star of Ray Harryhausen's epochal fantasy The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) and several other important genre films of that period, passed away in his sleep during the early hours of July 5," writes Tim Lucas. "He was, unbelievably, 81 years old." Online browsing and viewing tips. "My interest in matchbox labels lies primarily in the design but also the concept that these small images can communicate to a large number of people," writes Jane McDevitt. "1950s and 60s Eastern European labels captivate me most. Why did this area of the world embrace modern design and imagery when many countries, including Britain, still preferred the Victorian aesthetic?" Via Coudal Partners, also pointing to the trailer for I Met the Walrus. Online viewing tip #1. Mystery Man on Film pulls together the complete Cinema Europe series. Via wood s lot. Online viewing tip #2. SiouxWIRE, having just completed that list, finds Mark Eastwood's typographic version of a sketch on class written by Marty Feldman and John Law featuring John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett. Online viewing tips. The Shamus: "Here are a bunch of one-minute commercials made by famous directors for Parisienne cigarettes." Seriously, though: Godard, Polanski and so on.
Fests and events, 7/9."Lucas McNelly, who I've known for some time through his blog 100 films, is premiering his new film Gravida (2007) at the Hollywood Theater in Dormont this Thursday at 7:30 pm." That would be near Pittsburgh, and Andy Horbal chats with him. "Last night Rosemarie dreamt an entire film noir, featuring her, me and Raymond Burr. These movies can be hazardous to your health. And we've still got four days to go." Vince Keenan and gal watch Desert Fury and Leave Her to Heaven. The Animation Block Party 2007 Summerfest: July 27 through 30 in NYC. Calling all zombies. The world record for the largest zombie walk ever stands at 894. Happened last October - in Pittsburgh! British zombies are not going to let this stand. In conjunction with the release of The Zombie Diaries and its screening at FrightFest on August 27, Mike Hewitt is organizing a concerted effort to beat that record. Details here.
July 8, 2007
Fests and events, 7/8.Ignatius Vishnevetsky talks with Usama Alsaibi about Nice Bombs, named Best Documentary at last year's Chicago Underground Film Festival.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix + summer movies."So here we are: at the end of the Harry Potter decade. The books have been printed and are under lock and key. (Presumably.) JK Rowling has made her choices." The New York Times asks four writers and one artist to dream up possible endings to a remarkably successful franchise. But the real ending will be revealed when 12 million copies (in the US alone!) of the 7th and last volume in the saga, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, appear in bookstores, whether virtual or brick-n-mortar, on July 21. But first, there's a movie to see to, of course, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, based on book #5, opening pretty much around the world over the final days of this week. Updated through 7/14. "After the triumph of the last two movies, directed by Alfonso Cuarón and Mike Newell, this is a letdown," writes Newsweek's David Ansen. "Let me hasten to add that there are delights to be had." Special mentions: Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge, Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood, Gary Oldman as Sirius Black, "And, as always, Stuart Craig's production design offers endless visual delights." All in all, though, "The storytelling seems occasionally disjointed, but more important, for all the special-effects wizardry, that touch of film magic never surfaces." "Daniel Radcliffe and his young co-stars are maturing into decent actors, and director David Yates delivers plenty of warmth, humour and stunning settings," writes Nick Curtis in the Evening Standard. "But there aren't many surprises or scares here, nor even any major abracadabra set pieces until the very end. Devotees of the series, even as they sink once again into the comforting embrace of JK Rowling's world, may feel they've seen it all before." "This movie is more Narnia-like, with its motley collection of folks amassing to fight the coming war against the forces of darkness," writes Variety's Anne Thompson. "And it even brooks comparison to A Wrinkle in Time: it all comes down to fighting evil with good, doesn't it?" Jeffrey Wells: "I found it a spookier-than-usual mood piece, although there's nothing so dark to me personally as the idea of having to sit through two more of these things." Writing in Der Tagesspiegel (and in German), Christina Tilmann notes that with Order of the Phoenix, the series leaves the realm of the children's film once and for all. Further, Yates and screenwriter Michael Goldenberg have streamlined the story while, at the same time, gleefully referenced a slew of cinematic popular mythology: "It begins with a James Bond-like chase over the Thames along the Houses of Parliament. Harry's encounter with a Dementor is reminiscent of Japanese horror films. Fragile Hermione falls, like Naomi Watts, into the hands of a King Kong-sized giant baby who immediately falls in love with his catch. The repressed rebel, Kreacher, the treacherous house elf of 12 Grimmauld Place, recalls Gollum of The Lord of the Rings. And Sirius Black, too, Harry's unjustly hunted godfather, clearly bears traces of Aragon, the hero of Tolkien's Ring parable, with his wild hair and dark, melancholy eyes." "Two years before she was offered the role of Dolores Jane Umbridge in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix a friend of Imelda Staunton's called her up to say he'd just read JK Rowling's book and that there was a part in it she'd be perfect for. 'So I read it,' Staunton says, 'and thought, "Small, squat, ugly, toad-like woman — thanks a lot."'" Mark Salisbury picks it up from there - and talks with Daniel Radcliffe, too. Also in the Los Angeles Times, Amy Kaufman rounds up local events pegged to the publication of Deathly Hallows. AICN's Quint also talks with Radcliffe. John Walsh profiles Rowling for the Independent. Earlier reviews: Mike Goodridge (Screen Daily), Kirk Honeycutt (Hollywood Reporter), Leo Lewis (Times of London) and Todd McCarthy (Variety). Updates: A few more, via Jeffrey Wells: Time's Richard Corliss calls this one "[p]erhaps the best in the series" and "not just a ripping yarn but a powerful, poignant coming-of-age story." "This is not a family movie," warns David Edelstein in New York. "It's not even a borderline gothic horror movie"; instead, it's downright "Orwellian.... Did I mention that, for all its portentousness, this is the best Harry Potter picture yet?" Then there's a "B" from Emanuel Levy and 3½ out of 4 stars from Rolling Stone's Peter Travers. Updates, 7/9: Kenneth Turan on Phoenix for NPR: "Though many of its elements are strong, it finally can't transcend being a way station in an epic journey - a journey whose cinematic conclusion is several years in the future." "The filmmakers and studio have gone to great lengths to merge the movies and books in fans' minds, even beyond trying to make 'faithful' adaptations," writes the Chicago Tribune's Mark Caro. "Still, the books and movies - and their respective cultures - are not the same, a point being driven home this month by the great Harry Potter convergence." Via Movie City News. Cinematical's James Rocchi lists and riffs on 7 "Reasons Why Summer Movies Keep Getting Dumber." In the Los Angeles Times, Sheigh Crabtree talks with Hairspray director Adam Shankman, who tells her, "Here's what I'm scared of. This movie is so right-thinking at its core and its heart is in such a special place that if critics are mean to this movie it will hurt me." Emanuel Levy gives the film a B+. Laura M Holson reports on the online conversations - and confrontations - between fans and makers of Transformers. Also in the New York Times, Brooks Barnes's box office report. Ryan Stewart recalls a rumor that, of course, turned out not to be true: that Paramount would offer Transformers, during same week of its theatrical release "a premium pay per view choice for somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 and assuming the experiment turned out to be a rousing success - and it would have - the vaunted 'window' would be good and smashed for all time.... The interesting thing about all of this is that most of the people I talked to who believed the story was going to turn out to be true were not outraged by it in the least - and neither was I. I've come to believe that 'smashing the window' is an idea whose time has truly come, mainly because of the ever-deteriorating movie theater experience." Phoenix is "easily the best film in the franchise," announces Jim Schembri in the Age. "When it comes to Harry, part of me - a fairly large part, actually - can hardly bear to say goodbye," writes Stephen King in his Entertainment Weekly column: Although the only thing we can be sure of is that Deathly Hallows won't end in a 10-second blackout (you're going to hear that a lot in the next few weeks), my guess is that large numbers of readers will not be satisfied even if Harry survives (I'm betting he will) and Lord Voldemort is vanquished (I'm betting on this, too, although evil is never vanquished for long). I'm partly drawing on my own experience with The Dark Tower (reader satisfaction with the ending was low - tough titty, since it was the only one I had); partly on my belief that very few long works end as felicitously as Tolkien's Rings series, with its beautiful pilgrimage into the Grey Havens; but mostly on the fact that there is that sadness, that inevitable parting from characters who have been loved deeply by many. [...] And here's something I believe in my heart: No story can be great without closure. There must be closure, because it's the human condition. And since that's how it is, I'll be in line with my money in my hand on July 21. Via Dwight Garner. John Ortved puts together a looong oral history of The Simpsons for Vanity Fair and interviews former series writer Conan O'Brien as well. Plus: 10 funniest episodes. Via Waxy.org. Updates, 7/10: Order of the Phoenix, "which begins like a horror movie with a Dementor attack in a suburban underpass, proceeds as a tense and twisty political thriller, with clandestine meetings, bureaucratic skullduggery and intimations of conspiracy hanging in the air," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Perhaps by design, the films never quite live up to the books. This one proves to be absorbing but not transporting, a collection of interesting moments rather than a fully integrated dramatic experience. This may just be a consequence of the necessary open-endedness of the narrative, or of an understandable desire not to alienate Potter readers by taking too many cinematic chances. Although Order of the Phoenix is not a great movie, it is a pretty good one." "If director Chris Columbus represented risk aversion with the first two Potter films, Alfonso Cuarón and Mike Newell in the third and fourth stood up for artistry while British TV director David Yates seems intent in this fifth chapter on not jeopardizing what has been accomplished up to now," writes Kenneth Turan. "Though Yates hasn't brought any overpowering directorial style to Phoenix, he does have some advantages. As the terrifying wizard Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) grows in power, Potter's world noticeably darkens and gets more involving. Plus, having a cast that includes the cream of current British actors - think Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, Jason Isaacs, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Imelda Staunton, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, and that's not the entire list - certainly doesn't hurt." Also in the Los Angeles Times, Gina Piccalo reports on the local premiere. "It takes guts to tackle a movie musical," writes Variety's Anne Thompson. "Fail to achieve just the right balance between believable, accessible reality and attention-grabbing, stylish entertainment and you fall on your face.... So when New Line Cinema decided to turn its hit Broadway musical Hairspray into a $70 million movie, it was no surprise that chairman Bob Shaye selected Chicago exec producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron." Time's Richard Corliss updates his first impression with a longer consideration of the entire series: "The early novels we fell in love with now look, in hindsight, like charming children beguiled with their own ripe sense of play - the Quiddich games and eccentric ghosts, the in-school rivalries and disappearing acts. This fifth film shows the great tale in transition, embracing mature themes, hurtling toward a possibly tragic conclusion. All of which makes Potter 5 not just a ripping yarn but a potent, poignant coming-of-age story." "The finest moments of The Order of the Phoenix are the ones in which Harry and his friends and fellow students band together to help themselves - to reject the complacent ideals of the establishment, as they're reflected in the mincing, insidious Dolores Umbridge, and to jump-start their own world - their own adult lives - by harnessing the energy and idealism of youth," writes Stephanie Zacharek at Salon. "Whatever the flaws of Yates' movie may be, he does grasp the countercultural vibe of Rowling's book, and, as she does, he makes sure it feels modern and vital instead of like some musty fantasy imitation of Woodstock." "The Order of the Phoenix takes things further into teenage rebellion and weaves the beginning of the series' backend into maybe the best of the series to date leaving us in a state of anticipatory bliss of how it will all end," writes Erik Childress at Hollywood Bitchslap. More from EricDSnider: "It feels like an exciting and fast-paced fantasy adventure - which is exactly what it's supposed to feel like." "Are there still so many Christians determined to believe that the Harry Potter stories are some kind of occultic conspiracy to lure children into the devil's clutches?" asks Jeffrey Overstreet. "Have the countless testimonies and interpretations about the value and meaning of these stories done nothing to persuade the skeptics to give the series a second look?... Read 'The Sacrificial Boy Wizard' at Christianity Today." For the San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle, "It all depends on the perspective: Taken as a motion picture, the new Harry comes up short. But taken as a visual aid to the experience of reading a book, the new Harry does its job." "The darkest and most threatening of the five Potter films, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is also the only series entry outside of the third, Alfonso Cuarón's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, that feels like the product of a vivid cinematic imagination and not just a faithful transposition of a kid-lit bestseller," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice. Yates "infuses the heretofore storybook atmosphere with a grittiness that's as startling to our senses as it is to young Mr Potter's." Updates, 7/11: "My fantasy would be to see the series remade by David Lynch, complete with time shifts, character body-swaps and elliptical dialogue," writes Bidisha in the Guardian. "Or Kathryn Bigelow, who could shoot this very male tale with her characteristic muscularity. Mary Harron, who adapted American Psycho with slick, creepy perfection, would wrench breakthrough performances from the young actors. Best of all (and least likely) would be David Cronenberg, whose lurking homoeroticism and yuppie body horror would easily accommodate Rowling's nimble mix of genres." "With a plot dominated by political infighting at the Ministry of Magic, Order of the Phoenix could easily have been as dull as one of those Star Wars prequels, a CGI-enhanced version of congressional coverage on C-SPAN," writes Dana Stevens in Slate. "Instead, the movie is brisk and lively, if not exactly action-packed." And again, production designer Stuart Craig comes in for a very special mention indeed. His work here "is beyond genius, from the living paintings to the Deco-on-drugs Ministry corridors to the town houses that split in half to reveal hidden buildings inside. And the Hogwarts school, densely imagined and lovingly created from the ground up, is one of the great examples of movie architecture, up there with Kane's Xanadu and the Bates Motel." "[F]our sequels into this saga, it finally feels like we're watching a bona fide, honest to God movie," writes the Philadelphia Weekly's Sean Burns. "It's a tight, thematically unified piece of work, and the moral of the story is: Adolescence sucks." But R Emmet Sweeney, writing for the Reeler, finds it to be "a flashy complement to its source novel but incapable of standing on its own. As drama, it is bloated and unevenly paced, never establishing any kind of narrative rhythm. It lunges from plot twist to plot twist, squeezing in drops of character development that never cohere. As a visualization of a fictional world, however, it is consistently impressive: Stuart Craig's Victorian gothic set design, the convincing magic of its visual effects, and the superb work of the supporting actors create a buzzing background far more fascinating than the nth re-telling of the hero-as-Jesus figure yarn." "For full blown Potter heads, there is no need to worry about the infusion of new creative forces," PopMatters' Bill Gibron reassures us. "While some of the subtlety and depth from Phoenix's fleshed out pages may be missing, this fifth installment is still immensely entertaining. Beginning with a bang and ending on an incredible display of martial magic, Yates is a director who understands cinematic shorthand." "Pallid, morose grays encircle Harry like a noose, a lethal pallor in keeping with the film's replacement of the franchise's familiar juvenilia (Quidditch, pal Ron's wisecracks) with an adult sensibility marked by enraged indignation," writes Nick Schager at Slant. "If only that anger received suitable resolution, Order of the Phoenix might have approached the superlative heights of Alfonso Cuarón's Prisoner of Azkaban." Rebecca Traister interviews screenwriter Michael Goldenberg for Salon. Online listening tip. Yates and producer David Heyman are guests on the Leonard Lopate Show. Annalee Newitz in the San Francisco Bay Guardian on Transformers: "The film has this sort of murky, inexplicable opening sequence that takes place in what we're told is 'Qatar, Middle East,' where good US soldiers encounter mean, scorpion-shaped Deceptacons who smash the crap out of them. The Middle Eastern 'bots look bizarrely like improvised explosive devices come to life; made of scrap metal and old tires, they hide in the sand and strike at unwary troops who are trying to be nice to the native folks. This is possibly the only part of Transformers in which Bay attempts to grasp feebly at political relevance and make something other than a zoomy truck commercial. Of course, he fails miserably." For the WXWS, Hiram Lee looks way back to Live Free or Die Hard and Evan Almighty. Back to the Phoenix - and the Boston Phoenix: "As a viewing experience and not as a kabbalistic colloquium among Potterians (who will overlook its scant values and over-digitization), Phoenix is crammed and quick, a shorthand version of a thick-as-a-brick pulp tale already well understood by the initiated and of no consequence to the trifling rest of humanity," writes Michael Atkinson. Robert Cashill catches Transformers: "Jurassic Park got the digital ball rolling, and Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies and the new King Kong ran with it, but this is it. Flesh and fantasy are now one. It helps, maybe, that the transformers are machines, with no irksome fur or skin to replicate. But here we are.... And that saddened me. All that wizardry leaves no room for dreaming." "At a few points in [Order of the Phoenix], we get flashbacks to Harry's younger days—to scenes from the earlier movies," writes Peter T Chattaway at Christianity Today. "It is startling to realize just how much growing up Harry has done since the first film came out seven years ago. It is also sobering to think that a series that began with such potential is beginning to show serious signs of sequel fatigue." Interesting: Chattaway asks, "Why does the fifth Harry Potter film show so little feeling for its characters?" Whereas, the Oregonian's Mike Russell writes that Phoenix is set "a difficult in-between place [between Books 4 and 6], as author JK Rowling lines up her dramatic chess pieces and builds a sense of dread. Fortunately, the filmmakers... understand this, and respond by focusing on Rowling's characters (and small moments between them) to a degree that's unprecedented in the movie series." Hm! "[W]ithin its cautious parameters, the Harry Potter series remains arguably the most consistently enjoyable blockbuster franchise around," writes Paul Matwychuk. "I always enjoyed the Potter movies far more than Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, for instance. That's not exactly an acceptable critical opinion, I know, but JK Rowling's sly, whimsical humour and her ever-growing cast of Dickensian professors and students just seems so much more inviting to me than the dreary self-importance of Tolkien." Time's Rebecca Winters Keegan: "Now that the summer movie season is officially half way through, we wanted to single out some of the smarter marketing ploys so far." "Like many, the Potter fan inside of me... enjoys these films enough in the moment, but their Xeroxed joys are fleeting ones, despite their undeniable visceral thrills," writes Rob Humanick. Updates, 7/12: "Because I am an outsider to the culture of Harry Potter, I turned to the expertise of Laura Boyes, an [Independent Weekly] contributor and film curator at the NC Museum of Art, and her 18-year-old daughter, Adrian, for help in understanding Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," writes Neil Morris. Dialogue ensues. "Although Phoenix contains a singularly awesome showdown between Voldemort and Dumbledore - featuring computer-generated spells rivaling the strongest sequences in Bryan Singer's X-Men movies - the latest Potter story continues to construct one of the most drawn out build-ups in the history of pop culture," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "The academic woes and struggles with magical red tape remain engaging to a point, but they also carry the scent of distraction." Updates, 7/13: "[O]nce again the emphasis on that most over-rated and under-understood concept: dark," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "And so the Harry Potter saga continues. It's essentially deeply conservative, with battles, and crashes, and giants and explosions and is shaping up to be an extraordinary real-time experiment for Daniel Radcliffe. Plenty of young actors complain that they did their growing up in public. For Radcliffe that is literally true.... Will it amount to anything more than just very good family entertainment - or will it assume a lofty Tolkienesque grandeur? I think and hope not.... But every time I sit down to a new Harry Potter movie, I'm struck by how very, very similar it is to the previous one - and how forgettable, even disposable, the plot twists are." "Whatever happened to the delight and, if you'll excuse the term, the magic in the Harry Potter series?" wonders Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "As the characters grow up, the stories grow, too, leaving the innocence behind and confusing us with plots so labyrinthine that it takes a PhD from Hogwarts to figure them out." "For those coming to the story fresh, the most helpful thing I can say is: don't worry, it's not you, it really does make this little sense," writes Robert Hanks in the Independent. "It's a shame that Yates isn't able to bring his television experience to bear on the story's subtext. In the more recent books, it seems clear that JK Rowling is trying to develop a political point; what isn't clear is what that point is." "It is nearly impossible for an adult to watch Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix without seeing blatant echoes of current politics," argues Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "Fudge is the befuddled leader, trapped in a self-imposed bubble of ignorance; Umbridge is the bureaucrat whose sense of righteousness easily justifies revocation of civil liberties and the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, all in the name of a greater cause. The irony is that, were their real-world counterparts to view the film, they probably wouldn't recognize themselves for a second." The Washington Post's Desson Thomson finds Order of the Phoenix "one of the most pleasurable films in the series." Scott Tobias at the AV Club: "Though there are moments of levity scattered throughout Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the workmanlike fifth entry in the franchise, the overall feeling is that it sucks to be Harry Potter, and it's only going to get suckier from here on out." "Blissed out, seemingly stoned to highest heaven, her smile is bliss." For Ray Pride, Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood is one of the margins of Phoenix to revel in. Related: An Evanna Lynch FAQ from Phelim O'Neill in the Guardian. "The series has reached the unusual stage where actors of the calibre of Maggie Smith, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman and David Thewlis appear in the background like beautifully upholstered furniture, doing little more than exuding classiness," notes Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman. "This makes Staunton's forceful comic turn all the more welcome." "Staunton is actually one of the few high points during a film that feels much longer than it actually is," agrees the Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu. "Staunton is great fun - she's certainly one of the more colourful villains to strike fear into the hearts of the Hogwarts students," writes Wendy Ide in the London Times. "While this serviceable addition to the Potter series is unlikely to win any new fans, it's probably not going to disappoint too many of the existing ones. The formulaic structure notwithstanding, the Potter films continue to be one of the most visually inventive and meticulously detailed franchises." "It doesn't really matter whether Order of the Phoenix is any good," writes John Constantine at Nerve. "It could be ten minutes of a guy in glasses with a lightning-bolt scar singing 'Everybody Dance Now' and people would eat it up. But it is good. Everybody wins." "There have only been 13 films in history to open to $100 million or more in their first four days. Four of them have been this summer," notes David Poland at Movie City News. "Yet with all these massive openings, the total grosses over two months and ten days have only been a small bit better than in years past." Also, a review of Hairspray: "I liked the movie the first time I saw it. I loved it the second time. There are a couple of saggy spots, but the movie runs nicely in third gear for about seventy minutes ('Good Morning, Baltimore,' 'I Can Hear The Bells,' and 'Run & Tell That' are the home runs.) And then the film really comes to life when [John] Travolta and [Christopher] Walken have their duet." "As an adaptation of an adaptation, Hairspray beats the odds against turning a musical based on a film into a credible movie, with a punchy cast that delivers the musical numbers without sacrificing the comedy," writes David D'Arcy for Screen Daily. Related: John Hiscock talks with Travolta for the Telegraph. "[W]hat are the crucial factors that will allow the studio to produce a cash cow instead of a lame duck?" The Guardian's Phil Hoad has some fun breaking down the formula. Update, 7/14: The NYT tries an interesting exercise: AO Scott and Manohla Dargis discuss, ever so briefly, various aspects of the Harry Potter series over video clips lasting a few seconds each. It's the latest addition to what is, in contrast, an abundant "Times Topics" page.
July 7, 2007
Weekend shorts."Yes, they do things differently in Europe," writes Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times.
Wrapping NYAFF.The New York Asian Film Festival roars on through tomorrow and, at indieWIRE, Michael Lerman surveys the highlights and finds that, on the whole, things have gone very well: "'We've been really lucky with attendance this year,' said Grady Hendrix, one of the founders of Subway Cinema, 'Lots of walk-ups at IFC.'"
More Sicko.Not surprisingly, Michael Moore's Sicko turns out to be one of those films that needs a "live" entry for weeks on end, so this one follows the Cannes entry, "June 29," the one pointing to John Pierson's open letter and, of course, the week-of-release entry, last updated on 7/5. Even less surprisingly, the buzziest of the most recent items comes from Moore himself, who passes along a leaked confidential memo: "BlueCross VP [Barclay] Fitzpatrick seems downright depressed about the movie he just saw. 'You would have to be dead to be unaffected by Moore's movie,' he writes. 'Sicko' leaves audiences feeling 'ashamed to be... a capitalist, and part of a "me" society instead of a "we" society.' He walks out of the theater only to witness an unusual sight: people - strangers - mingling and talking to each other." Updated through 7/13. David Walsh makes the all-or-nothing argument you'd expect to find at the World Socialist Web Site: "To imply that health care is 'above class and above politics,' as Sicko does, is nonsense; it has everything to do with such matters. America offers some of the best health care in the world... for those who can afford it. No advance will be made in the direction of providing high quality medical treatment for the entire population without a radical, massive redistribution of wealth and change in social priorities." Roger Rapoport, author of Citizen Moore: An American Maverick, asks in the Independent, "[C]ould Michael Moore be running out of steam?" As for the prospect of Moore turning to dramatic features, "It's as if the sheriff has decided to get out of Dodge City and take up macramé." Updates, 7/9: Edward Copeland: "Moore asks pointedly at the end, 'Why can't we adopt better ways?' reminding us that we all sink or swim together. Still, many of the most salient points are made by [Tony] Benn, the Labour Party stalwart, reminding us that the government should fear the people, not the other way around." In an entry entitled "Nearly Twenty Years Later, We're Still Talking about Roger and Me," AJ Schnack sorts through three widely varying yet related pieces in the Los Angeles Times and parses the discussion that's followed John Pierson's open letter. Then: "Few outside the rabid anti-Moore forces or the overly thoughtful docu-theorists (and I include myself in that category) care what Michael Moore did or didn't do five films ago. But it seems likely that for better (in my opinion) or worse, Moore and Errol Morris - the other doc filmmaker that dramatically burst onto the scene in the late 1980s - have, through their own dramatic loosening of the rules (not to mention their commercial success), forever changed the dynamic for every documentary filmmaker that came after." Online listening tip. Jonathan Oberlander, "a political scientist with an expertise in health-care politics and policy," discusses health care in the US - and Sicko - on Fresh Air. Updates, 7/10: An online viewing tip. Moore vs CNN's Wolf Blitzer, via Alternet's Adam Howard, who notes, "I have always noticed that Michael Moore only receives one kind of coverage from the mainstream media: the bad kind." This video "is really about the whole mainstream media getting called out on their bullshit, which makes it so much more satisfying. Naturally smug bigots like Lou Dobbs act amused by what they consider Moore's 'act.' Little do they know, they're the ones making asses out of themselves day in and day out." There's more on Moore's site, of course, including the Twin Cities Daily Planet's James Clay Fuller commentary on the commentaries: "Apparently there is a rule in corporate journalism that every mention of Moore and his films, or Moore without his films, must contain at least two snide observations about his biases, his ever so naughty attacks on rich and powerful but somehow - in the eyes of the corporate journalists - defenseless people such as the chairman of General Motors, and, if you can slide it in, Moore's physical appearance." Adam Howard follows up: "Sicko Truth Squad Sets CNN Straight." From Susan J Blumenthal, Jessica B Rubin, Michelle E Treseler, Jefferson Lin and David Mattos at the Huffington Post: "US Presidential Candidates' Prescriptions for a Healthier Future: A Side-By-Side Comparison." For Dissent, Theodore Marmor looks into the current state of the universal health care debate and asks, "Can we learn from the past?" And in the Washington Monthly, Ezra Klein argues that "the 'laboratories of democracy' can't achieve universal health care." These last three items are all via the must-read blog at Bookforum. "'I don't think Michael Moore set out to make a balanced movie,' said Karen Ignagni, president of the trade group America's Health Insurance Plans, regurgitating the industry's key talking point," writes Terry J Allen for In These Times. "But truth is not always found in the balanced middle. ('Now, for the other side of Hitler,' ' Cannibalism: the pros and cons'; 'Sex with children: Don't throw out the baby with the bath water.') Not surprisingly, some groups staging responses to Sicko, including the Manhattan Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Pacific Research Institute, are hooked on pharmaceutical company funding, according to Sourcewatch. They are part of a system that is rotten to the marrow and should be put out of its, and our, misery." Via Chuck Olsen, Joe Morgenstern's review in the Wall Street Journal: "When the government stripped Mr Incredible of his superhero status in The Incredibles, he was reduced to working in the claims department of an HMO, where his job was to deny claims. His testimony would have been a worthy addition to Sicko, though Michael Moore's argumentative blogumentary about health care is shockingly funny - and sometimes genuinely shocking - without him." Updates, 7/11: Moore vs Blitzer, round 2. Alternet runs an excerpt from Don Sloan's Practicing Medicine Without a License: The Corporate Takeover of Healthcare in America: "[W]ithout a healthy and literate people, a society cannot succeed. World history has proven that over and over again. Where then does America stand on the ladder of accomplishments when stacked up against the rest of the nations of the world? Sadly, with all of its opulence, power, wealth, and resources, nowhere near high enough." "What kind of a movie is Sicko?" asks Stuart Klawans in the new issue of Film Comment. "The question echoes beyond the little circle of critics, with our mania for classification. People argue over whether to call it a documentary, an essay, a polemic, a piece of agitprop, or a work of performance art, because each name asserts something different about the film's relationship to truth. Everyone knows what Sicko is about - but once in the theater, nobody (myself included) can define what's on the screen." Updates, 7/12: Michael Falcone, blogging for the New York Times, reports on Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee's latest jab: "Michael Moore is an example of why the health care system costs more in this country." Meanwhile, an NYT editorial begins: "Even those who have grown cynical over the Bush administration's relentless manipulation of scientific views to fit its political and ideological agenda must have been surprised at the sheer breadth of interference described by the former surgeon general, Dr Richard Carmona. The official job description calls for the surgeon general to serve as 'America's chief health educator.' But the Bush administration instead tried to turn Dr Carmona into a propagandist and political cheerleader, and when he refused to go along, it stopped him from speaking at all on a host of essential health issues." Update, 7/13: More online viewing from Alternet's Adam Howard: [N]ow [Moore] finally gets to sit down with someone who's on his wavelength - MSNBC's Keith Olbermann. This interview is a virtual lovefest, but there are also some significant points made. The reason Moore's criticism of CNN hit such a nerve, is because so many of us are still angry with networks like them, who played such a crucial role in selling Bush doctrine nonsense to the public."
Weekend fests and events.At Twitch, Kurt is wowed by Tekkon Kinkreet, which has just opened the Fantasia Festival in Montreal: "Paradoxically, Tekkon Kinkreet is both a melancholic and relentless fantasy which careens at breakneck speed through a sprawling metropolis on the verge of significant change. It is puberty viewed through the eyes of an old man." More from Paul Schrodt at Slant. The fest runs through July 23. Update: Kurt on The Signal. For the Baltimore Sun, Chris Kaltenbach talks with Todd Hitchcock, who's programmed Totally Awesome! Films of the 1980s, running at the AFI Silver Theatre through September 6. Via Movie City News. David Bordwell sends along more notes and observations from Cinema Ritrovato. Eddie Muller's brought Noir City to the northwest and Vince Keenan is there, taking in a "dead-of-night double feature," Thieves' Highway and Deadline at Dawn. "Nearly 40 years after his death, the National Film Theatre is urging us to take Mikio Naruse very seriously. To which the obvious question arises - what have we been doing for nearly 40 years?" David Thomson in the Guardian. The Lumière Reader posts more dispatches from the Telecom New Zealand International Film Festivals. MediaBridge: Global Exchanges in Youth Filmmaking, Monday through August 12 in Chicago. Agnes Varnum looks back on the Flaherty at MoMA series for indieWIRE. "Owl and the Sparrow is one of those movies that you hope you'll run into at a film festival," writes Kevin Kelly, catching with the Los Angeles Film Festival for Cinematical. "The kind that you wander into, not knowing much about, maybe something from the logline in the festival guide caught your eye, maybe you liked the poster, or maybe it just filled a time slot nicely and you thought you'd check it out. However, once the film starts rolling and the story gets going, you count yourself lucky for having found it."
The Performance That Changed My Life Blog-a-Thon."Films can change our lives for many reasons, whether it be making you emotionally stronger, guiding you through a difficult time in life, or wanting to be like a movie character you've seen on the big screen," writes Emma, who's hosting the Performance That Changed My Life Blog-a-Thon at All About My Movies. She's discussed four performances already but is holding off for the moment before revealing the Big One. There are over a dozen entries so far, among them DL's at the Cellar Door on Samantha Morton in Morvern Callar, Nathaniel R on Marni Nixon in West Side Story and the Self-Styled Siren on Ginger Rogers in 42nd Street.
LA CityBeat. Indie Film 2007."[Steve] Buscemi is pleased with Interview, he says, but the process of interrogation has not been made more inviting as a result of making this new film. He will continue to avoid being interviewed when he can." Nonetheless, Steve Appleford gets enough face time to warrant a cover story. One click over in the LA CityBeat's "Indie Film 2007" package, Wade Major discovers that Patrice Leconte, whose new film, My Best Friend, "deconstruct[s] the very concept of friendship in ways both humorous and deeply disturbing," has an entirely different disposition: "I love meeting people." Dances With Films, LA's festival of independent film opened yesterday and runs through July 12. Andy Klein introduces a few highlights with a conversation with cofounder/director Leslee Scallon, who tells him, "In general, there's no place for filmmakers who are cutting their teeth to get a platform to show their work because the industry seems to want people coming out of the gate at top speed. It's our mission to provide that platform."
July 6, 2007
Karlovy Vary Dispatch. 3.From the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, which wraps tomorrow, from David D'Arcy considers the implications of a remarkable doc. Karlovy Vary's documentary competition is a relatively new category at this festival. It wasn't until near the end of the festival that I had a chance to sample it, with an Austrian film by Elisabeth Scharang. My Dear Republic (Meine Liebe Republik) considers the experiences of an ordinary man who transcends extraordinary circumstances, Friedrich Zawrel, now 76, whose life is a reflection of some of the century's horrors that the little republic of Austria would like to forget, and if not to forget, to push aside. KVIFF has a good record in showing what we might call "what did you do in the war, daddy?" films. My favorites included Fighter, by Amir Bar-Lev, who returned here this year with My Kid Could Paint That, and Mit Bubi Heim ins Reich, by Stanislaw Mucha, here this year with his feature debut, Hope. There have been many others, including some chilling Czech documentaries on the Theresienstadt concentration camp, the "model" camp that was shown to the Red Cross - before it was emptied out and its prisoners were shipped to Auschwitz. It's a short ride from Prague. Friedrich Zawrel is the odd persistent reminder who makes forgetting difficult. As a young child of an alcoholic, he was adopted along with his brother by a proper Viennese family. This foster parenthood was a common practice. Their adoptive mother took Fritz along as part of the deal, despite her protests that he was "ugly." The young boy misbehaved, and eventually ended up in Spiegelgrund, a children's prison and research institution where Nazi doctors carried out experiments on children and practiced euthanasia. Zawrel doesn't have the exact number of children who died there - the official count is around 500 - but he does have vivid memories of the man who killed them, a Dr Heinrich Gross, who reappears after the war as a witness in the trials of war criminals. Forcing some accountability on Dr Gross is a plot that runs parallel to Zawrel's biography in this documentary, which tells much of its story with Zawrel today looking straight into the camera and discussing events that he must have spent years thinking about behind bars. There are similarities with the straight-ahead interview style in which another Austrian film dealing with the same period, Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary, was shot. In My Dear Republic, there's a lot more context with the testimony. The print that I saw was in 35 mm, but a bit muddy. I'm not sure it was the print or the projection. Once you're a few minutes into it, Zawrel's story takes over.
The Method.James van Maanen's got a recommendation for you. Notes'll follow. How often does one encounter a narrative film tackling the themes of globalization, capitalism, employment and other current big-business practices? Documentaries may approach this (The Yes Men, Life and Debt, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, etc). But a drama? And one that is also a witty, nasty satire? Forget it. Particularly if you're imagining such a film might come from the US. We're still waiting. Spain, however, gave one to the world two years ago, with El Método - which made its American debut as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Spanish Cinema Now program in 2005 and, thanks to Palm Pictures, is finally opening in NYC today as The Method. Updated through 7/7. A man in a rush takes a car to a hi-rise, at the foot of which, in the streets, a political/economic protest is raging. He elevates to the upper floors, and we discover he is actually one of several candidates for a rather cushy job at an important international company. So begins a movie that is about as timely, funny, fast-moving (considering it takes place mostly in one room), surprising and important as anything you'll see this year. You'll have to pay attention to keep up with the quick subtitles and subtleties, but the payoff is extraordinary. That is, if you appreciate being made to think, laugh, gasp and stay alert. The director, Argentina's Marcelo Piñeyro, gave us the wonderful Wild Horses and the interestingly overwrought Burnt Money, and the screenplay - based on a play by Jordi Galcerán - is co-written with the director by the very talented Mateo Gil (Thesis, Open Your Eyes, Nobody Knows Anybody, The Sea Inside). If this doesn't ring your bell, then the opportunity to see a large handful of Spain's finest actors should clinch the deal. Here are Eduardo Noriega (hunk alert!), Carmelo Gómez, Eduard Fernández, Pablo Echarri (hunk alert #2), Héctor Alterio and on the distaff side (these ladies, beautiful to a fault, are mostly ball-breakers here) Adriana Ozores, Natalia Verbeke and Najwa Nimri. Each nails his/her character quickly and cleverly, and pulls us along at a break-neck pace. This is an actor's movie, certainly, but among its ten international awards are also those for film, screenplay and editing (Iván Aledo). If The Method does not finally quite live up to it promise - either there are a few too many twists and turns, or I may have missed a connection or two due to my eyes racing between subtitles and visuals - I think you may forgive it. I certainly did. When faced with something this intelligent, timely, entertaining, full of politics, economics and class (in both senses of the word), one does not look that gift horse in the mouth. If you can't get to one of the few major cities where The Method plays theatrically, the DVD will be out, so Palm promises, later this summer.
"The setup promises a corporate cousin of 12 Angry Men, but as this film... unreels, it seems more like Glengarry Glen Ross with splashes of Samuel Beckett and Survivor," finds Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times. "The sum total of this gamesmanship is a suspenseful, funny film that touches on a corporation's responsibility to society, the price of ambition, the persistence of workplace sexism, the destructive competition between women, and why it's a good idea to take an extra shirt to your next interview." Earlier: Nathan Lee in the Voice. Update, 7/7: Marcy Dermansky enjoys the "spellbinding skullduggery and bare-knuckles sexual politics."
July 5, 2007
Shorts, 7/5.Towards the end of Geoff Manaugh's extraordinary interview with Walter Murch back in April, the legendary editor and sound designer referred to a piece by Michelangelo Antonioni on what Manhattan sounds like - or at least sounded like nearly 40 years ago. Now BLDGBLOG is running that essay in full, with an introduction by Murch. "One purpose of Genius Party is to show the world that there is more to Japanese animation than big and old familiar names like Hayao Miyazaki, Katsuhiro Otomo and Mamoru Oshii," writes Mark Schilling in the Japan Times of the new omnibus film. "Mission accomplished, though one would hope the film also serves as a calling card for bigger things." Also, a visit to Studio 4°C. Nanking debuts in Beijing. The BBC reports. At the New Republic Online, Judea Pearl, father of Daniel Pearl and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, explains why he worries that A Mighty Heart "will play into the hands of professional obscurers of moral clarity." But the article itself, argues Jim Emerson, is proof that moral relativism is not dead. The Boston Globe's Ty Burr points to documentary filmmaker Bill Cody's blog for Thank You For My Eyes. He's writing it from northern Iraq and "it makes astonishing reading - a testament to lives that go on and minds that keep growing even as disaster looms." At the House Next Door, Travis Mackenzie Hoover finds that Pedro Costa's In Vanda's Room "is about people who live painful, desperate lives and yet refuse to budge from the fates they may or may not have chosen but decide to play out either way – people poised on the brink of self-pity who never fall off into the abyss, and who carry on in the face of addiction, invisibility and a general ennui that mere social realism can't contain." "Studly art-world charlatan Matthew Barney's ritualistic, mythology-making esoterica has always played better as gallery installation than projected on a screen, as his seeming ignorance of (noncompliance with?) cinematic language only emphasizes how superficial and wildly self-indulgent his imagery tends to be," writes Aaron Hillis. "But with his hour-long featurette De Lama Lâmina, a hypnotically rhythmic collaboration with Brazilian-guitar wunderkind Arto Lindsay, the key to appreciating the filmic Barney has finally been made as clear as boiled Vaseline: It's better in tiny doses." Also in the Voice:
DVDs, 7/5.Lately, I've been wondering - and I've been sure I'm not alone - if the collective love beamed at the festival-friendly art film will turn sour in much the same way a long lost love for the "quirky" American indie did more than a few years ago. Turns out, this has been on Michael Atkinson's mind, too. "[Y]ou know the drill, the long static shots, the non-communicative acting, the oblique narratives, the attention to passing time and natural phenomena and what exactly we don't know about what's going on. But I sometimes grow suspicious; it seems so easy, doesn't it?" At any rate, the film at hand in his piece this week for IFC News is Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Climates: "Rather than a one-man Turkish new wave, Ceylan seems to be the Turkish representative in a global trend, inspired by Antonioni and guided by Kiarostami and Hou, and meant not just for local audiences but for the Earthly citizens of Cannes-istan." "The Falls turns cinema into a puzzle or game - one that [Peter] Greenaway continues to play, with increasing indifference to the amusement of lesser minds." Nathan Lee surveys the oeuvre in the Voice. "Dorothy Arzner's 1940 Dance, Girl, Dance was intensely examined by the feminist critics of the 1970s," notes Dave Kehr. "But now that the ideological battles have moved on to other territories, and the smoke around Dance, Girl, Dance has cleared, it's probably safe to admit that it isn't a very good movie." Also reviewed is Yasuzo Masumura's Black Test Car, a "slippery, intriguing film [that] hovers between blunt moral outrage and sly social satire." Jason Bogdaneris in the L Magazine on Criterion's release of Three Films by Hiroshi Teshigahara: "Seemingly tethered to nothing except his own socially conscious imagination, the films are a remarkable testament to the wedding of a rigorous, if overextended talent and a uniquely damaged moment in the history of a culture." "Watching the opening sequence of Tony Scott's Déjà Vu on DVD, I had a feeling of... déjà vu!" exclaims C Jerry Kutner at Bright Lights After Dark. "There was something familiar about the tone, the editing, the elegiac music, the way these fragmented images of people arriving at a port - specifically, the port of New Orleans - passed in front of the viewer like shards of recollection. Then it hit me. I was watching yet another version of Chris Marker's 1962 time-travel film, La Jetée." "As far as The Shamus is concerned, The Great McGinty is the most important motion picture in film history. Not because it's a great film, although it's mostly a very good one. But because for the price of 10 bucks, Preston Sturges sold the script of this political-romantic comedy to Paramount with the proviso that he would also be able to direct it. And in 1940, thus began perhaps the greatest decade-long run of any filmmaker. He made eight classic films (nine, if you wish to count The Great Moment), and American film (not just American film comedy) owes a monumental debt to his peculiar genius." "The Black Pirate (1926) was lightning in a bottle, set on the high seas with relentless action, energetic humor, the absence of a pointlessly convoluted plot and held to a sensible 88 minutes." A recommendation from David Jeffers at the Siffblog. "The Seventh Seal, released 50 years ago when it won the Cannes Jury Prize, marked a turning point in cinema." David Gritten tells its story. Also in the Telegraph, Tim Geary talks with William H Macy about David Mamet. And Sam Adams has got a DVD roundup in the Philadelphia City Paper.
Up-n-coming, 7/5.SiouxWIRE collects linkage to what's known so far about Lars von Trier's semi-autobiographical comedy Erik Nietzsche: The Early Years. Brendon Connelly hears that Michel Gondry might take over the Ripley's Believe It or Not project from Tim Burton. Update: See comments. "Anthony Minghella will write the libretto and direct a new work by composer Osvaldo Golijov that has been commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera," reports Ronald Blum for the AP. Jamie Lee Curtis is coming back after all. Monika Bartyzel has details at Cinematical. Also, Ryan Stewart has the latest on Woody Allen's Midnight in Barcelona. First Run/Icarus Films has picked up Ulrike Franke and Michael Loeken's Losers and Winners. Yep, there'll be a Sex and the City movie, reports Michael Fleming for Variety. Time's James Poniewozik comments: "It is only a slight exaggeration to say that I could count on the fingers of one foot the movie versions of series that have improved on, or even lived up to, the original. (And no, I have not seen The Simpsons movie, thanks for asking.)" Charlie Kaufman isn't making any friends in Williamsburg, notes William Speruzzi.
Books, 7/5.At Bad Lit, Mike Everleth finds Sheldon Renan's An Introduction to the American Underground Film to be "a fantastic book and an invaluable resource.... For anyone interested in the 60s underground film movement, this is a must read." For American Heritage, Allen Barra talks with Patrick McGilligan about his new biography, Oscar Micheaux: The Great and Only: The Life of America's First Black Filmmaker. Via Bookforum, also pointing to Douglas Kennedy's piece for Seven on "why authors should expect the worst when their novel is turned into a film." At the AV Club, Keith Phipps launches another: The Big Box of Old Paperbacks Book Club. Variety's Anne Thompson finds a list of "1001 Books You Have to Read Before You Die."
Lists, 7/5."There is a distressing inevitability about the fact that the Guardian's recent 1000 Films To See Before You Die should be overwhelmingly dominated by American films, thus giving a distorted view of the landmarks in cinema history," blogs Ronald Bergan for the Guardian. "At the same time, looking at the American Film Institute's Top 100 American films (headed once again by Citizen Kane) made me think how much richer in masterpieces would be a similar list of non-American films." Then come the fightin' words: Updated through 7/7. By the highest standards of cinema, American films fall short. There are no living American directors who can compete in innovation and depth with the likes of Theo Angelopoulos, Ingmar Bergman, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Marie Straub, Bela Tarr, Pedro Costa, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Abbas Kiarostami, Manoel de Oliveira, Alexander Sokurov, Jia Zhang Ke or Tsai Ming-liang. It has always been thus, but to a far lesser extent. The only American-born film directors that truly belong in the Film Pantheon are John Ford, Howard Hawks and Orson Welles. Emigrés Ernst Lubitsch, Fritz Lang, Douglas Sirk, Billy Wilder and Alfred Hitchcock brought what they had learnt in Europe with them to America. Glenn Kenny addressed this last point a little over a week ago. Thoughts? Meanwhile, the Guardian picks out some of the loudest reader reactions to its list. The Telegraph's Rebecca Davies calls for another list. And then there's Matt Riviera: "My Life in 5 Films." Also: Just up at the main site, a fresh list of films we direly need to see on DVD from Craig Phillips. Updates, 7/7: Jim Emerson passes along the results of Steadycam's most recent poll: "See, these are not just favorite films. They are the 30 most favorite films of the participating critics and filmmakers." And he follows up with his own. SiouxWIRE starts a list of "World Cinema Films & Directors." And, as noted in the comments: Lucid Screening's Top 7 Project.
Fests and events, 7/5."The Toronto International Film Festival always begins on the first Thursday in September. It's my favorite day of the year, and this site is one more way for me to indulge my obsession with it. Think of it as a First-Timer's Guide to TIFF." Darren Hughes launches 1st Thursday. Meantime, Toronto's announced a fresh batch of titles and Variety's Anne Thompson's got them. David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson file a scrumptious report from Bologna and the Cinema Ritrovato festival, which runs through Saturday. "Second-city, easily overlooked, clearly insecure Manchester has just entered the festival racket," reports Mark Swed for the Los Angeles Times. "[T]he Manchester International Festival 2007, which began Thursday and runs for 18 days, is trying very hard with 25 world premieres. The festivities include opera, drama, concerts, literature, film, food, debates and art projects all over the place and all intended to culturally spice up the metropolis that gave rise to the Industrial Revolution, communism and the computer but now is best known as a haven for sports and 24-hour party people." The Cambridge Film Festival opens today and runs through July 15. Charlotte Cripps has a preview in the Independent. "It was just about midnight July 4 by the time Omar Ali Khan's Pakistani splatter exercise Hell's Ground (Zibahkhana) flickered to life onscreen at the New York Asian Film Festival, getting both an early start on the pyrotechnics to follow much later in the day and assuring viewers in attendance that no fireworks, barbecues or general holiday revelry would surpass the bedlam imported that night to IFC Center," reports ST VanAirsdale. Also from the NYAFF, Michael Wells for Twitch: Dasepo Naughty Girls, The Show Must Go On, Trouble Makers and I'm a Cyborg But That's OK. "Falling is just now concluding a US premiere engagement at Anthology Film Archives in New York," notes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "Especially in contrast to the star-loaded awkwardness of Evening, [Barbara] Albert's film stands out as a pitch-perfect depiction of female friendship with all its intimacies and deceptions. Wrenching, redemptive and marvelously acted, it's among the best things I've seen this year." "After Hostel director Eli Roth gave a copy of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation to Steven Spielberg, the movie reached a whole new level of exposure," Eric Kohn reminds us in the New York Press, where he talks with the dedicated adapter, Eric Zala. "An adorable tribute that works as more than pure pastiche (teenagers wearing false beards somehow reflects the childlike joy of escapism), the movie screens July 6 and 7 at Anthology Film Archives, with Zala in attendance." Ball of Fire: Barbara Stanwyck Centennial opens Friday at the Pacific Film Archive and runs through the end of the month. Max Goldberg and Johnny Ray Huston celebrate in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "Describing itself as the 'last independent independent film festival,' Dances With Films celebrates its 10th edition beginning Friday at Laemmle's Sunset 5," writes Susan King in the Los Angeles Times. "It's billed as the only festival in the US in which all the features, shorts and documentaries feature no known actors, directors or producers." "The RomeFilmFest is going for Gallic flair, opening with Alain Corneau's gangster pic remake Le deuxieme souffle (Second Breath), for which stars Monica Bellucci and Daniel Auteuil are expected on the red carpet," reports Nick Vivarelli for Variety. "[A]fter giving up on his career as a dancer, [Ken] Russell freelanced as a photographer," writes Jasper Rees in the Telegraph. "Submitting work to the Pictorial Press agency, his photographs appeared in publications such as Illustrated Magazine and Picture Post." Ken Russell's Lost London Rediscovered: 1951 - 1957 is on view at Proud Central through August 21. Next week in Austin, notes Josh Rosenblatt, "as part of our continuing quest to map all the side roads, dark corners, and back alleys of local culture, the Chronicle will be taking readers inside the 48 Hour Film Project." "A one-hour flight north of Helsinki and 120 kilometers by road through softly rolling pine-covered countryside dotted with bracing lakes fed by rivers from which countless Reindeer drink, in the Lapland region of Finland well within the Arctic Circle, lies the small town of Sodankyla. In this place twenty-two years ago, celebrated Finnish filmmakers Aki Kaurismäki and Mika Kaurismäki decided to throw a film festival, one essentially dedicated to the worlds most influential auteurs and a celebration, Finnish-style, of their great contributions to world cinema." For indieWIRE, Christian Gaines treks up to the Midnight Sun Film Festival. The Oregonian's Shawn Levy wraps the Platform International Animation Festival. Richard Phillips begins WSWS's look back at the Sydney Film Festival. NP Thompson looks back to the Seattle International Film Festival. Online viewing tips. The SXSWClick! finalists: Narrative and docs, animation, music videos and shorts that make you go, "Huh?"
Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman."By turns playful, sexy, tragic and contemplative, Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman is an addictive soap about sexuality and sisterhood," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "[W]hat truly redeems this self-indulgence is that [director Jennifer] Fox uses her overwrought, Nora Ephron-ish personal crises as a jumping-off point to explore the emotional lives of dozens of women around the world—women who tend to be more interesting and engaging than Fox herself (and certainly have more common sense)," writes Julia Wallace in the Voice. "In the end, Flying is a gentle monstrosity, swollen and silly, but shot through with some wonderful stories. And after six hours, I know this for sure: Fox is far more competent behind the camera than in front of it, better at observing life than living it." "Fox knows she is risking ridicule with this material, and there were moments over the six-hour stretch of Flying when I found her insufferable and whiny," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "Furthermore, I'm suspicious of her essentialist notion that men and women have fundamentally different modes of communication, and that the extended, talky, personal-meets-political mode of Flying is inherently female.... At some point, I finally swooned and surrendered before the raw power of Fox's reiterative method. (She has boiled down these six hours from something like 1,600 hours of raw video.) While I still found the director's on-screen persona irritating, she had become an irritating person I cared about." "Depending on your tolerance for this sort of thing, and how willing you are to invest in the foibles of someone who calls her boyfriends 'lovers' and has been in therapy for 20 years but only recently decided it was 'time to face my mother,' Flying can be infuriating, insipid, embarrassing, compelling and sometimes all of those things, all at once," writes Michelle Orange for the Reeler. "It is also rather consistently a fascinating look at the lives and attitudes of women around the world - many of them women whose suffering and subjugation are proscribed from birth - and the ways that Fox's extreme privilege has not deterred her from finding a set of obstacles to stand in the way of her own 'happiness.'" And IndieWIRE interviews Fox. Cathleen Rountree interviews Fox, too.
July 4, 2007
SFBG. Midnight Movies.Johnny Ray Huston opens a package for the San Francisco Bay Guardian with a slew of voices sketching a "brief, hazy, and far-from-official" oral history of midnight movies in the Bay Area. Dennis Harvey revisits Psych-Out, "perhaps the all-time high-water mark in cinematic hippiesploitation" and "a camp classic that nonetheless makes you desperately wish you were there then. It's a 'bad' movie, yet wonderful in ways that aren't silly or dated at all. Its freak flag is on." Peaches Christ is the "savior of midnight movies in San Francisco," writes Jason Shamai, who talks with Joshua Grannell, "the surprisingly subdued and clean-cut gentleman behind the character of Midnight Mass's holy hostess." The 10th anniversary edition launches on Friday, July 13, with appearances by Mink Stole and Tura Satana; the following night features John Waters, also live, also in person, and the fun rolls on all through the summer. Landmark After Dark is something of a hub for midnight programming in a cluster of San Francisco Bay Area theaters; Cheryl Eddy checks in with the programmers. Also: the thrill of Thrillville. And: "Ask Jesse Hawthorne Ficks what his favorite movie is, and he won't hesitate: it's Ski School. Ficks, who programs and hosts the Castro Theatre's monthly Midnites for Maniacs triple feature, interprets 'favorite' literally: the 1991 raunch-com might not surface on any highbrow top-10 lists, but it's likely no scholar loves Citizen Kane (1941) as much as Ficks loves Ski School."
Karlovy Vary Dispatch. 2.David D'Arcy sends in another round of reviews from the Czech Republic. A couple of notes follow. As of this writing, it looks as if the competition at this year's Karlovy Vary International Film Festival has a likely winner - Jar City, a thriller about genetic codes and DNA determinism by the Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur. I hazard this prediction with no inside information, and with the admission of fallibility. As a father pores through medical information to find the origins of a brain disease affecting his daughter, a detective (Ingvar Sigurasson) probes the death of an old man who lived in a basement filled with porn videos and kept the slimiest of company. This is not the Iceland of any tourist brochures. Kormakur, who adapted the script from a recent novel by Arnaldur Indridason, sets the detective story against a realistic background, in which the purity of Iceland's genetic information has been sought by bioengineering speculators, and the country's medical records have been sold. Alongside this picture of the seduction of genetic perfectibility is Iceland's underside of undersides - violent criminals, pathological porn freaks, junkies, and the people they prey upon. Updated through 7/5. Jar City (referring to the jars of medical specimens and the jars of DNA codes that promise health and happiness) twists its stories enough times to confound any but the most attentive viewers. There's plenty of humanity here - the humanity that seeks truth and justice after a crime has been committed, and the gross violent "humanity" that oozes upward from the swamps of pathology to assure that crimes won't be encrypted away by the technological optimists. The original title in Icelandic means swamps - no surprise. Kormakur's competitors don't come too close. One is Conversation with My Gardener, by Jean Becker, in which a frustrated painter (Daniel Auteuil) flees stressful Paris for the countryside and bonds with a retired railroad worker who tends the urbanite's garden. It's a story of a sophisticated man learning simple truths from a person whom, except for chance, he would never have met. The concept is common enough, but the banality of this film is its only extraordinary quality. Auteuil learns how to plant vegetables and catch a fish, to his constant surprise at all things ordinary. It sort of reminds you of George Bush, Sr's surprise, at a photo-op at suburban Washington supermarket, that prices were read by electronic scanners. What planet had he been living on? Becker's glimpse of "intimacy" among two friends is the kind of French factory product that only comes to the US in French film series that attempt to sell the unsellable. Or perhaps I'm wrong. At KVIFF, the standing ovation for the film's international premiere went on for almost ten minutes. Am I missing something, or am I just underestimating the market for platitudes with a French accent? Saturno contro [site], by Italian/Turkish director Ferzan Ozpetek, is another would-be bearer of truths, which are supposed to emerge from conversations around the epicurean dinner table of gay friends and the women who seek their company - lots of camp and wit. This is the kind of film that was made more than 20 years ago in the US. Amid all the banter comes the death of one of the group, and the march of mourners from the table to the hospital, like zombies in a George Romero film, as Nick Roddick said to me. It seemed to me like warmed-over Denis Arcand (The Barbarian Invasions), which wasn't much to start with. Someone needs to tell Ozpetek that he's no Dorothy Parker. Bear in mind that critical unanimity against the film didn't keep it from becoming a hit in Italy. In the East of the West section at Karlovy Vary, one film that caught my eye was Hope, a feature debut. Stanislaw Mucha is the director of two previous documentaries - one on the Carpato-Russian region where the family of Andy Warhol comes from (Absolut Warhola), one on the retracing of a vicious Nazi's steps during and after World War II (Back Home to the Reich, with Bubi). He makes the transition to the dramatic feature with the help of the DP Krzysztof Ptak, who shoots the film with elegance. Mucha also gets the trajectory of an art crime with as much plausibility as I've seen on the screen, although we can all agree that the bar is not too high. There's a picture of an angel above the altar of an old wooden church, where young Francis's father, a former orchestra conductor, now plays the organ. We're not told who painted it, although it is from the Renaissance. The angel figure is too chubby to be Italian, which it seems to be for the purposes of the story. It has the proportions of a Bohemian Gothic figure - this is Karlovy Vary, after all. And young Francis - angelic with curly red hair - has set up cameras in the church to catch a thief. It takes the criminals a minute or two to remove the painting. Overseeing it all is a local contemporary art dealer, who looks right into the camera when a pigeon somehow flies through the church. The dealer, who is also a politician, makes a mournful appearance at a press conference deploring the theft, and when Francis confronts him, he can't believe that the young man isn't just interested in money.
At european-films.net, Boyd van Hoeij also reviews Jar City and Saturno contro. "Czech auds gave Hal Ashby's 1971 cult romancer Harold and Maude five minutes of sustained applause at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival on Monday, bringing a tear to the eye of thesp Bud Cort," reports Will Tizard for Variety. Updates, 7/5: Dan Fainaru for Screen Daily on Jar City: "Deeply ingrained in Icelandic soil, which comes up as a constant reminder all through the picture, richly textured with everything from a crime story to heart-breaking personal tragedies and past sins that refuse to stay buried, this is possibly Kormakur's best effort to date, strongly confirming his position as one of Iceland's leading filmmakers." Also, Conversation with My Gardener: "Inoffensive and unconfrontational, and never trying to scratch under the neat lacquered surface of cheerful double entendres and sunny repartees, this is a natural platform for the talents of Daniel Auteuil and Jean-Pierre Darroussin." And at european-films.net: Boyd on The Art of Negative Thinking.
Introducing the Dwights."Introducing the Dwights, directed by Cherie Nowlan from a script by Keith Thompson, is a funny-sad, icky-sweet comedy of family dysfunction - a genre that seems to flourish in Australia, this film's country of origin," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Shrieking like a banshee has unfortunately become Brenda Blethyn's stock in trade ever since her remarkable breakout performance in Mike Leigh's Secrets & Lies over 10 years ago," writes Jason Clark at Slant. "And now those who love to watch her boozily wobble in and out of rooms have ample opportunity to do so in this shrill, TV-lite Aussie picture (called Clubland in previous showings—a better-matched title) that plays like a cinematic version of unstable menopause." Updated through 7/7. "As in her first feature (known alternately as Thank God He Met Lizzie and The Wedding Party), Nowlan gears the audience up for silly, obnoxious antics only to slowly strip away the superficially 'fun' exterior to reveal a darker core," writes Kristi Mitsuda for indieWIRE. "But unlike that debut, which somehow straggles its way towards an affectively disillusioning conclusion on relationships (mostly due to its piercing description of the inner world of a couple), her latest candied vision with a cynical center lacks emotional resonance." "With its broad, toothless humor and ham-fisted fits of melodrama, this sitcom-grade embarrassment aims to dethrone Muriel's Wedding as the quirky Aussie feel-gooder of all time, except it hurts too much to watch," writes Aaron Hillis in the Voice. For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Nowlan "about why Brenda Blethyn is 'a freak,' not knowing Frances O'Connor from a bar of soap, and filming herself asleep in bed at night." Online listening tip. Nobuhiro Hosoki talks with Nowlan and Blethyn. Update: "For all its cathartic kicking and screaming (and drinking and blubbering), there's not much of a story here, just a lot of conventional wisdom about growing up and growing older, that we've all seen and heard before," writes Cullen Gallagher in the L Magazine. Updates, 7/5: In the Los Angeles Times, Jessica Gelt gets 60 seconds with Blethyn. Blethyn is a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show. "It's sweet, quirky, sincere, and provides a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of those big-budgeted extravaganzas currently invading your local theater," finds Cinematical's Erik Davis. Updates, 7/7: Scott Tobias at the AV Club: "The few laughs are stifled by awkwardness, and the psychodrama is undermined by the fact that these characters are supposed to be loveably dysfunctional, not a disturbing mass of hard boozing, emotional dependency, and Oedipal anxiety." ST VanAirdale talks with Blethyn.
July 3, 2007
Joshua."Some have called Joshua a class act, when all it does is transplant The Good Son to Birth's snooty upper Manhattan hood," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "Joshua might have been delicious if it weren't so blatantly hateful toward women, queers, and religion. Only a fool would consider the film a sincere look at post-partum blues, and only a bigger one would take it seriously as a commentary on nurture versus nature." "Ultimately, [director George] Ratliff hasn't done much more than add a particularly stupid entry to the 'little boys in suits are scary' subgenre, and this one comes with a thoroughly uninvestigated stench of homophobia," writes Michael Koresky at Reverse Shot. Updated through 7/7. "The movie traffics in many clichés - like the one that demands all wealthy families look absolutely perfect in the first act and downright monstrous by the end credits - and it owes more than [Vera] Farmiga's haircut to Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby," writes Matt Singer. "But director George Ratliff manages to put a fresh spin on the material with a unique perspective and a wicked sense of humor." In the end, "why quibble over a few minor flaws in one of the most effectively paranoid visions of New York City parenthood, well, ever?" Also at IFC News, Aaron Hillis talks with Ratliff, who tells him, "I think Hell House is a very, very funny movie. Sometimes I'd be in a screening, and I'm laughing the whole way, and people think I'm just a sick bastard. And Joshua was funny to begin with. I mean, for God's sakes, we cast Sam Rockwell and Michael McKean in it. I don't think that's a conflict because I think there's a deep connection between anxiety and laughter that goes way back in human development." Earlier: Sylviane Gold's profile of Rockwell for the New York Times; and "Sundance. Joshua." Update: Nick Schager: "I'm not sure whether Joshua's campiness outweighs its offensiveness - it's got both in spades - but there's no getting around the fact that George Ratliff's creepy-kid thriller is seriously awful." Update, 7/4: Jesse Hassenger in the L Magazine: "The experience of watching the film is less visceral and more reflective than most horrors; its chief point of interest is not wondering when or who little Joshua will kill, but the way Ratliff and co-writer David Gilbert creep around typical evil-kid clichés." Updates, 7/5: Joshua is a "delicately arty, robustly nasty horror movie about a family rotting to its haute-bourgeois core," writes Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly. "And though the rote mother-blame of the horror movie gets a little tedious, Joshua gets one thing right: Slathered in how-to parenting books and post-feminist anxiety about doing right by the kids, the modern mother has forgotten how to do the one thing that makes her kids blossom and flourish - enjoy them." "Joshua intentionally generates an enigmatic aura of mismatched storytelling cadences as a means of studying the frustration of childhood supposition," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "To that end, it's a wonderful mess." "Only viewers with some appreciation for the odd, bloodless character of moneyed family life in New York will really understand how hilarious and deadly accurate this movie is," notes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "But then again, New York parents are the last people who will want to see it." Michael Tully: "I dig the shit out of this movie." Chris Willard: "The Reeler made a quick stop Tuesday at the Lighthouse Theater for a special cast and crew screening of the thriller Joshua before the film opens Friday in New York." "I'll gladly confess that Joshua had me in its grip for most of its running time," writes Jürgen Fauth. "The film provides an involving experience while it lasts, but the payoff is less than satisfying." "Ratliff offers up a polished but hollow core, a mélange of vague fears deftly served but with no reward or catharis," writes Vadim Rizov at the Reeler. "It's not that he needs a definite moral - Hell House demonstrates the dangers of having an all-too-coherent worldview - but ultimately, it's hard to know or particularly care what Joshua's really about." Updates, 7/6: "Ratliff and co-screenwriter David Gilbert play brilliantly on the common but rarely acknowledged fear of spawning a child who resembles you in no way whatsoever," writes Mike D'Angelo for Nerve. "What are the limits of unconditional love, the movie dares to ask, and it's Rockwell's heroic performance, which begins in determined empathy and ends in black-comic revulsion, that makes Joshua more than the sum of its atonal frissons." "Uneasily straddling age groups and genres, Joshua is a highly effective family drama cloaked in the stale tropes of the demon-seed thriller," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "[T]here is so much on screen to enjoy that the movie's endgame flight into excess is disappointing but not disastrous." "So, it's not Rosemary's Baby, but George Ratliff's Joshua is nevertheless languidly seductive and creepy, perfect for a hot summer night when nobody has the energy to pose a lot of questions," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. Updates, 7/7: Nathan Rabin at AV Club: "Rockwell and [Jacob] Kogan's relationship is initially sketched with tenderness and vulnerability, but as the film devolves unadvisedly into standard horror-thriller territory, it becomes increasingly one-dimensional. The film follows suit." Ryan Stewart at Cinematical: "Vera Farmiga must be one of our great actresses - for the first two-thirds of Joshua, she not only kept me enraptured by her performance, but also made me think I was watching a good movie." ST VanAirsdale talks with Ratliff.
July 2, 2007
Shorts, fests and such, 7/2."Val Lewton held on to integrity, but little else. He was a talent to admire, but forget about emulating him if you wanted a future in movies." John McElwee traces the rise and fall at Greenbriar Picture Shows. "I will offer no apologies or explanations." Peter Nellhaus presents his list of "100 Films, 100 Filmmakers." And Dennis Cozzalio shows us his: "I hope you enjoy it, I hope it drives you crazy, I hope it inspires you to comment on what I included and what I left out, and I hope it reminds you of movies you love as well as movies you have yet to see." "Morocco is my favorite movie, and I've visited it on a regular basis over the last 35 years," writes Dan Sallitt. "When a movie becomes so much a part of one's life, one watches it differently: it becomes a psychic space to explore, and whole viewings might be devoted to coaxing details out of the background, or creating a new schema and seeing how extensively one can apply it." Mike builds an index at Esotika Erotica Psychotica and posts a list of rare titles he's trying to track down. Oliver Stone was hoping to make a doc about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but the Iranian president has turned him down, calling him "part of the Great Satan," reports Robert Tait in the Guardian. Eric Rohmer? Claude Chabrol? Claude Miller? "While Venice Artistic Director Marco Muller will be in Paris this week, rumors are reaching fever pitch regarding the French contenders at the 64th Venice Film Festival (August 29 - September 8), whose program will be revealed on July 26," reports Fabien Lemercier at Cineuropa. More fests and events:
Rescue Dawn."After making the 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly - which recounted the life of German-American pilot Dieter Dengler shot down in 1966 on a secret bombing raid over Laos and held by the Viet Cong under near-Deer Hunter conditions - Werner Herzog decided to try it again with actors, among them Christian Bale," writes David Edelstein in New York. "The film, Rescue Dawn, is so good it makes you wish that Herzog had gone Hollywood earlier in his career." "The issue, I suspect, is one not of Herzog selling out but of Hollywood wanting to buy in, and Bale duly serves up a chipper portrait of courage under pressure, remaining fresh-faced even as his cheeks wither to a monkish gauntness," writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. "Yet his dramatized sufferings, however intense, pale beside the real ones recounted by Dengler - a middle-aged survivor, his courtesy and boyishness undimmed—in Little Dieter Needs to Fly.... Werner Herzog is the last great hallucinator in cinema, so why break the spell?" Updated through 7/8. "Just as Grizzly Man was regularly and erroneously read as a Very Special Animal Planet segment, so may Rescue Dawn be boxed-in as a proficient, survival action flick," writes Fernando F Croce at Slant. "On the surface a disconcertingly mainstream project for the existential German maverick, the film gradually stretches its generic skin to reveal flashes of Herzog's visionary eccentricity, which, while for the most part subdued as to not disrupt the overall inspirational mood, continually throw the material into a myriad of fascinating angles." Brandon Harris: "In genre it rests firmly in the POW escape film tradition of The Bridge Over the River Kwai or The Great Escape, but this slice of 'Nam kammerspiel belongs on its own plane, as it traces at delicate path between Herzog's career long motifs (Man vs Nature, the line between madness and genius, random grotesquery, how our ideologies collapse under the weight of stress and mania) with Hollywood conventions, a grammar of set-ups, pay-offs and leading musical cues which seem foreign to the German auteur's oeuvre." "The fine cast includes a haunted, haggard Steve Zahn and the jittery, dangerously emaciated Jeremy Davies as fellow prisoners driven half mad by their ordeal," notes Newsweek's David Ansen. "This being a Herzog movie (and a thumping good one), you can't be sure if they are acting or if their director's zeal for authenticity has indeed driven them round the bend." Mekado Murphy talks with Herzog for the New York Times; and there's an accompanying audio slide show Herzog narrates as well, in which he explains why he's happy that circumstances have conspired to see this film open on July 4. Updates, 7/3: "Is there anything going on in the world today on a political level that you think may resonate with Dieter's story?" asks Anthony Kaufman asks Herzog for IFC News. The answer: We should be cautious, because there are an abundance of films that are anti-American or at least question American's attitude in the world. Strangely enough, this is a film that praises the real qualities of America. In Dieter Dengler, you had the best you can find in America: courage, frontier spirit, loyalty, the joy of life. He's the quintessential immigrant. He wanted to fly and America gave him wings. As you may know, I live in America, and it's not for no reason. I like America, even though I see there's trouble at the moment and turmoil. But in my opinion, America always has a kind of resilience and youthfulness to overcome all these things. Everyone is desperate about the situation right now and I keep saying, "Look back 50 years ago, how America overcame the McCarthy witchhunts." There is something I like about America, it's dear to my heart and I'm a guest in your country. It's not that I don't have some ambivalent feelings, but strangely enough, the film is against the trend. Also: "In a strange way, the added information Dengler provided Herzog before his death might make the fictional Rescue Dawn more truthful than the non-fiction Little Dieter Needs to Fly, a very Herzogian notion indeed," writes Matt Singer. Online viewing tip. Zahn's on ReelerTV, where ST VanAirsdale discusses the film, too, with Vadim Rizov. "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 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." Nick Schager talks with Herzog for SOMA Magazine. Update, 7/4: "Dengler is also an advertisement for capitalist democracy: a German immigrant who survived Allied bombing during World War II, settled in the United States and became a baseball-and-apple-pie American," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in the NYT. "In the past, Mr Herzog has been criticized for his tendency to treat residents of the third world as part of the scenery, but in Rescue Dawn he has empathy for Dengler's captors. They are prisoners, too.... The film's most daring aspect is its portrait of the love that blossoms between men in bleak circumstances.... [T]he film's tenderness goes so far beyond male-bonding cliché that it becomes a political statement: a radical reimagining of the phrase 'doing what a man's gotta do' that rejects John Wayne as a masculine ideal and replaces him with Jesus." "[I]n its stirring depiction of an American serviceman whose certainty and resolve renew hope within his downcast fellow fighters, Rescue Dawn offers a fitting story of tenacious courage appropriate for release on America's birthday," writes Christian Hamaker at Crosswalk. In the L Magazine, Nicolas Rapold finds it "necessarily less riveting" than Little Dieter. Aaron Hillis talks with Herzog for the Voice. Scott Macaulay posts an excerpt from James Ponsoldt's interview with Herzog for the upcoming issue of Filmmaker. "Although suffused with Herzog's own particular brand of jungle madness, Rescue Dawn - which was shot mainly in Thailand - has as much in common with James Fenimore Cooper novels and Viet-era Indian westerns (A Man Called Horse, Jeremiah Johnson) as it does with The Deer Hunter," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "The lone conquistador has joined the club. Rescue Dawn is a Rambo movie without the Man (who, if I remember my Rambology, was himself of German descent). Here, Herzog demonstrates his own American-ness by applying Stallone's triumphalist logic." Updates, 7/5: As part of this week's LA Weekly cover package, Joe Donnelly profiles Christian Bale: So what attracted Herzog to the young actor in the first place? "What drew me to Christian is that he is the best of his generation," he says. Oh, yeah. There's that. Also: "Ten Christian Bale movies not to be missed." And then, of course, there's Scott Foundas's review. Rescue Dawn is "an intensely physical, distinctly Herzog-ian chronicle of one man's battle against nature, hostile combatants and, finally, himself.... Dengler plots and executes an escape that rivals, in its sure-footed methodicalness, that of the jailed French Resistance lieutenant in the greatest of all prison-break movies: Robert Bresson's A Man Escaped." At the same time, "it's probably the most unapologetically patriotic American movie since Yankee Doodle Dandy.... But this resolutely apolitical movie sees love for king and love for country as two separate and distinct things.... [I]n a time of überfashionable USA bashing, Herzog has the temerity to suggest that homilies like 'land of the free' and 'home of the brave' haven't entirely lost their meaning." This is Herzog's "best film since his great 1970s period," argues Armond White in the New York Press. "Divorcing oneself from the passions of the moment may help," advises Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "Rescue Dawn is in no sense pro-war propaganda, even if right-wing critics and viewers may wish to spin it that way." And at least a few on the left, too, it'd seem. "If anything, Rescue Dawn views the Vietnam conflict in ironic and fatalistic terms, although, as always in Herzog's films, the moral questions are difficult to parse." "It's odd, isn't it?" ponders Richard Schickel in Time. "A fictional movie that is in some sense more literal and less haunting than the documentary version of the same story. Werner Herzog is a great and demanding filmmaker - sort of a Joseph Conrad for our time - and there is nothing notably wrong with Rescue Dawn. If you have the stomach for it, it will hold your attention. But it is still Little Dieter, toying with the unspoken enigmas of heroism, which elevates this tale to the level of art." Updates, 7/7: Nathan Rabin interviews Zahn for the AV Club, where Scott Tobias gives the film a B+. "You wonder, watching Rescue Dawn, if Herzog might have had a future making American action films," writes Bilge Ebiri at Nerve. "But alas, the film we're left with is too well-made to ignore, but too small-minded to rank with Herzog's better work." The LA CityBeat's Andy Klein isn't buying Lewis Beale's accusation of racism. "One can only imagine a Rescue Dawn with Chuck Norris in the lead; as it is, it suggests a granola version of an 80s Vietnam War film," writes Steve Erickson for Gay City News. "Mostly by omitting any discussion of the war's merits, it may lean to the right." "Herzog and Bale aren't being creative together in Rescue Dawn: they're sharing pathologies," proposes Dan Callahan at Bright Lights After Dark. "Just because Herzog loves to endure filming in remote locations, and just because Bale likes to punish his body for his art doesn't make their masochistic predilections interesting, at least not here; they bring out the worst in each other. This is not a good movie, but it is fairly telling. Underneath Rescue Dawn's rather sunny, seemingly neutral point of view, bug-eating and knee-jerk militarism stand in for the uncomfortable position of America, culturally, politically and morally." Updates, 7/8: "Actually, Rescue Dawn feels to me like the worst of both words: conventional but not fun," writes Phil Nugent. "Herzog is still a one-thing-at-a-time kind of director, and when he's working on this material and wants to steer clear of politics and mysticism and hallucinatory views of nature, that mostly means actors shuffling around a muddy set suffering their asses off." "In an age when US soldiers are seen as villains or victims, the movie offers a GI who bravely, or madly, simply refuses to die," writes Richard Corliss for Time. "Herzog is another of those extraordinary creatures. He wants to fly blind and see clearly. That way a man can make art as strange or twisted or ennobling as the lives of the people he puts into his remarkable movies."
Transformers + summer movies.Picking up where the Live Free or Die Hard entry leaves off (even as the Ratatouille and Sicko entries continue to be updated), this one's a little different: before the usual slo-mo deluge of pointers and quotes regarding the movie at hand and summer fare to follow, a dialogue on Transformers between Jonathan Marlow and Calvin Souther. Marlow: Admittedly, I don't have the same connection to the original series as yourself. I never much watched the show when it debuted in the mid-1980s but clearly I was in the minority at the screening. When the semi truck appeared, the audience cheered. I didn't realize until later that I was witnessing the introduction of Optimus Prime. Forgive my ignorance. Souther: Forgiven... although a slight rush did overcome me, the intro of Optimus (Peter Cullen from the original series) really didn't carry the emotion I thought it might. Perhaps I'm just seeing it through the eyes of a 31-year-old wanting too much from a movie that is essentially geared towards fanboys and children. Updated through 7/7. Marlow: James Cameron and William Wisher (Terminator 2) should get royalties from this film, given its basic young-boy-saves-the-world-against-destructive-robots plot. By extension, the premise has more than a passing resemblance to Harlan Ellison's Soldier, with the titular fighters transmuted to Autobots and Decepticons. Granted, I always felt that the concept (and the Hasbro toys themselves) were an inferior knock-off of Gundam anyway. Call 'em mobile suits and be done with it. Their ability to become some kind of vehicle is swell for a toy but doesn't solve much of a purpose otherwise. Souther: That's an interesting point. I was taken a little aback when the "young-boy-saves-the-world" plot began to reveal itself. It kinda left a bad taste in my mouth (and that wouldn't be the only time during its 140 minutes). I was familiar with Gundam and Macross, but never really watched either of them or owned any of the actual toys. I'd agree about the concept being superior, not to mention their production seemed far more sophisticated. Marlow: Perhaps it was the filmmakers' acknowledgment of the same to have the main protagonist mistake them as Japanese-made. Souther: I was plenty disappointed by the lack of development in the relationships between the Transformer characters. As a child I understood that Megatron was a relentless megalomaniac (even if I didn't know what the word meant at the time). I knew that Optimus Prime was a benevolent and unflinching leader. And let's not forget about Starscream, who's cowardly conniving and back-stabbing nearly made him the leader of the Decepticons, however worthy or unworthy. Bad as the cartoon was, these character traits were made clear through actions and dialogue. These robots were more than just metal and laser rifles, smashing each other. They were personalities, archetypes and, most importantly, individuals with a history. That didn't seem to come across in the film. Marlow: It's really only during the robot roll-call sequence about halfway through the film that the audience is informed of the distinct roles of the various Autobots. It is really the first and last time that we get the impression that they're much different at all. Optimus is a leader that doesn't do much leading; Bumblebee is actually more fundamental to the plot as the guardian angel 'bot. I get the impression that screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman and/or director Michael Bay didn't care too much about that aspect of the story. Should I be annoyed that the recognizably African-American Autobot (voiced by actor Darius McCrary) is the only one [spoiler; highlight to read] to "die" in the end? I thought we were beyond that particular Hollywood device. Souther: Ah, the robot roll-call... It's true, none of those Autobots really went on to perform any of their individual duties, specifically. I mean, did you see Ratchet (the medic) actually fix anyone? Or Ironhide, the so-called weapons expert, do anything that would set him aside from the rest of the orgy of CGI mayhem? It really seemed to be quite a half-assed and ineffective way of helping the audience distinguish between these "characters." Marlow: In contrast to the flesh-and-blood characters, surprisingly. I don't see many tentpoles, admittedly, but the acting was a bit better overall than I expected. The interplay between Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox was believable enough - in the context of a purely implausible movie, of course. For a premise designed to appeal to men, the writers fortunately give much of the heavy lifting to the women. The smartest person in the film is a woman (and an Australian, no less) - Rachael Taylor. Those Australians are taking over, I tell you! Unfortunately, the men all seem to be transported in from other movies. Someone forgot to tell Josh Duhamel that the film wasn't to be taken too seriously; conversely, John Turturro evidently thought that the Sector 7 agents should be played in the vein of Buckeroo Banzai. I don't disagree with his decision, under the circumstances, but it is a bit disorienting. Only Jon Voight seems to be balancing between one extreme and the other. As such, it makes for one of the most dysfunctional movies in recent memory. Souther: I'm still saving that spot for The Brothers Grimm. But on the subject of Jon Voight [who plays the Secretary of Defense], I have to say that after reading a few articles about the production, I was mildly concerned that the picture would come off overly militaristic, spending a lot of screen time glorifying the US war machine. That didn't seem to be the case. Granted, a sizeable amount of US military vehicles, weaponry and gadgets are showcased but it really didn't turn into one of those "USA versus evil" analogies... and I'm pretty sensitive to that. I would have really been turned off had I been tricked into sitting through a $150 million dollar recruitment commercial. Marlow: An interesting thesis paper could be written about the portrayal of the military between this film and Starship Troopers. Much has changed in the decade between the two, even when it comes to the cinematic glorification of the military-industrial complex in fantasy films. That stated, could you find yourself recommending Transformers to anyone, on any level, given its obvious weaknesses? Souther: I was just thinking about that very question. Yes, I could. I didn't hate the movie. I can't say that I'm the kind of person that goes out of their way to see action films, but Transformers seems to have touched a socio-psychic nerve and in my opinion falls into a separate and distinct category. The movie is packed with some impressive CGI work created by Industrial Light and Magic that features sequences showing off the utter coolness of, for example, a muscle car screaming down the highway at 120mph and then quite gracefully turning into a 20ft robot without skipping a beat - or losing momentum, for that matter. The 8-year-old boy inside me was satisfied, though not overly, but the adult was fairly disappointed by what seemed to be... well, laziness in filmmaking, for lack of a better way to put it. Marlow: Therein, it is essentially 48 times longer (in duration) than your average roller coaster, yet with about the same amount of exhilaration over the various peaks and valleys and about as memorable when it's all over. At least the lines are seemingly shorter, the ticket prices a bit lower and the chance of accidental death significantly reduced!
Transformers "has been designed as the ultimate in shock-and-awe entertainment," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "The result is part car commercial, part military recruitment ad, a bumper-to-bumper pileup of big cars, big guns and, as befits its recently weaned target demographic, big breasts.... On the face of it Transformers is a story as old as the Greeks versus the Trojans, the difference being that these warriors are visitors from another planet, the 1980s-sounding Cybertron, and there isn’t a jot of poetry, tragedy, beauty, meaning or interest in this fight." "This shield-the-kid plot is pilfered from Terminator 2, and there are matching nods to Godzilla and the recent King Kong, but, if you really want to know what Transformers feels like, think of a hundred-and-thirty-five-minute, hundred-and-fifty-million-dollar retread of Herbie Goes Bananas," suggests Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. "In previous movies, Michael Bay dabbled wearily in Homo sapiens. At last he has summoned the courage to admit that he has an exclusive crush on machines, and I congratulate him on creating, in Transformers, his first truly honest work of art. Not that he needs my plaudits; as a passerby exclaims in the midst of the film, 'This is easily a hundred times cooler than Armageddon!' To be proud of your achievement is one thing, but to plant film critics inside your movie and review it favorably as you go along: that takes genius. Where it leaves real critics - rusty old Concepticons, with failing firepower - I hate to think." "If this film were a lot shorter — it clocks in at an inflated two hours, 23 minutes — and kept its focus on the toys, it would be hard to argue with," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "Fearing, however, that even enormous wonder toys can't just tromp around on the screen forever, screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have concocted a narrative to go with the robots. The problem is not only that there is way too much of it but also that it isn't very good." Also in the LAT, Josh Friedman on how Paramount's been aiming Transformers to the audience they've targeted. Stuart Jeffries talks with David Yates about directing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and next year's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. "The choice of celebrated UK TV director David Yates to take on the fifth in the Harry Potter series proved a wise one for producer David Heyman and Warner Bros," writes Mike Goodridge for Screen Daily. "Yates ramps up the adrenalin and menace while adding new layers of emotional anguish befitting the adolescent years now reached by the teenage protagonists. 20 minutes shorter than the previous film and a good deal tighter on plot and action, The Order of the Phoenix delivers the goods, and will set the worldwide box office alight when it opens on July 11." For the Sydney Morning Herald, Helen Barlow meets Emma Watson (Hermione Granger). Update: Back to Transformers: "Even when the director stumbles upon something that works, he still manages to muck it up," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "[T]he film mostly adheres to the typical Bay template: a mise-en-scène defined by its willful indifference to spatial dynamics (Lord only knows how one image is geographically related to the next), cinematography so glossy one fears the actors and sets will slide right off the screen, one-dimensional performances, and simplistic lip-service to the concepts of patriotism, sacrifice and courage." "The old Transformers cartoon was made for kids," notes Matt Singer at the Reeler. "The new live-action Transformers movie is so infantile it could have been written by one." Updates, 7/3: Ray Pride: "[P]erhaps Steven Spielberg should be the only person to make pseudo-Steven Spielberg movies." "Credibility is worthless if it isn't coupled with integrity, and with that in mind I will freely state - not admit - that yes, I enjoyed a Michael Bay film, in the same way that I sometimes enjoy a Happy Meal with a meaningless yet fun toy inside," states Rob Humanick. What other toys need their own movie franchise? Matt Singer and Alison Willmore list a few. I'll bet Nathan Lee's review for the Voice is a whole lot more fun than the movie: "The decline of western civilization, etc. Now let's return to the only thing worth discussing - indeed, the only thing the movie shows any legitimate interest in. Transformers is a showcase for next-level special effects, but its transformations deliver the idea of astonishing virtual engineering without exactly representing it. Each transformation sets off the super-complex shift/flip/pivot of a thousand hydraulics, hatches, gears, and gun barrels in an impressive, but largely unintelligible, blur." Updates, 7/4: Just saw that Wired's got a big fat Transformers cover package. David M Halbfinger rounds up several "blatant examples of the explosion of the old gentlemen's agreement by which the Hollywood studios screened movies early for critics, and the critics held their reviews until opening day. Its destruction has been several years coming. The rise of film blogs like MovieCityNews.com and Hollywood-Elsewhere.com - for whom there is currency in being first to have seen an important new movie - has prompted the trade dailies to view them as competition.... For film critics from major newspapers, standing by while the available positions on a given movie are staked out by multiple competitors, whether online or in print, can be too much to ask." At PopMatters, Bill Gibron presents his "2007 Summer Movie Scorecard (So Far...)." Transformers is "cheerfully forgettable," chimes Cheryl Eddy in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "You almost have to congratulate Michael Bay," writes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "Most directors would be content to retire knowing that Armaggedon was the stupidest film on their resume. Let it not be said that this man doesn’t know how to top himself." Rob Nelson reports back to the City Pages on the LA premiere and party, which, all in all, "was like a lot of ordeals in which we find ourselves these days: I fought like hell to get in, and then, before I knew it, I was dying to get out." "You might conclude that, after almost a hundred years of banging bumpers, American movies had run out of things to do with cars," notes Time's Richard Corliss. "That's not true, as was proved by last week's auto-neurotic action film, Live Free or Die Hard. The Bruce Willis picture showed off some brain-melting car stunts - clever and crazy, and plausibly attached to the (clever) story and the (crazy) main character. The action in Transformers is divorced from the characters; the actors are frequently photographed staring up, in simulated awe or fear, at events that the effects techies were putting together somewhere else. Divorced from reality, even movie reality, Transformers becomes an action film in traction." Related: "80 Years of Robots in Hollywood." Updates, 7/5: For the LAT, Susan King talks with the special effects team. "Bay's outburst of metal, pyrotechnics and sheer effrontery amounts to a vision, a megaplex embodiment of the possibilities that children invest in toys," argues Armond White in the New York Press. "This should have been simple - you're making a big summer blockbuster based on toy robots that change into cars and planes and boomboxes. Minimize the plot, maximize the action, and the damn thing writes itself," notes Shaun Brady in the Philadelphia City Paper. "But for all its $150 million budget, near-two-and-a-half-hour running time, and state-of-the-art special effects, Transformers is a 1950s B-picture in all but name." Scott Weinberg at Cinematical: "If Michael Bay's intention was to make a Transformers movie that would have the established fans peeing in their pants and clapping with nerdly glee, he's succeeded in fine form. If, however, Michael Bay's intention was to create an accessible sci-fi adventure movie that could bring in moviegoers who believe a 'transformer' is something you stick into your fuse box... he's failed pretty miserably." Adds James Rocchi: "I don't think it's too much to ask that it could, at least, be competently and coherently made, which it isn't." This'll probably be the best Transformers-related blog entry possible: John Rogers, who wrote the story the screenplay's based on, begins, "I hate to rain on your "Transformers is a great conservative, Republican movie" parade..." Updates, 7/7: "I think Michael Bay sometimes sucks (Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, Bad Boys II) but I find it possible to love him for a movie like Transformers," writes Roger Ebert. "It's goofy fun with a lot of stuff that blows up real good, and it has the grace not only to realize how preposterous it is, but to make that into an asset." "The Transformers really do look like tangible objects, and they're exciting to watch," grants John Constantine at Nerve. "But the other hundred-plus minutes aren't really about anything at all." Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat: "Bay's notion of excitement is to smash up bunches of stuff on screen, with no rhyme or reason, no characters to care about, and no clarity or structure to the action. If that floats your boat, go ahead and have a blast. I'll be in the next auditorium, rewatching Live Free or Die Hard." The AV Club's Tasha Robinson gives Transformers a C- ... and heavens, that's a lot of comments. Cinematical's Erik Davis has news of a possible sequel. No, really. "I see every Bay movie for the same reasons I see every Tony Scott movie: whatever their flaws, the filmmakers and their films are working on the visual cutting edge," writes Daniel Kasman. "Even if this edge is defined by incomprehensibility, loss of spatial definition, or, speaking morally, dangerous forays into misanthropy determined solely by inadequate shot coverage and knee-jerk editing (if such a thing were possible), movies like Déjà Vu and now Transformers are often as interesting as anything put out by favored impressionistic art-house formalists like Wong/Doyle or Denis/Godard." Not this one, though. He gives it a C-. Jason Woloski at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "I'm a huge fan of both The Rock and The Island, but even I can't bring myself to defend Bay when he messes up this badly."
Marty at the Walter Reade.James van Maanen's appreciation of work by an often overlooked Hollywood partnership is roused by one of cinema's great evangelists. This past Saturday afternoon marked the first Martin Scorsese appearance (sold out, of course) for the Film Society of Lincoln Center since shortly before 9/11 and was dedicated to unearthing the work (and burnishing the reputations) of mainstream Hollywood collaborators writer/director/producer George Seaton and producer-only William Perlberg. The former was one of Hollywood's better journeyman directors who seemed to have a special eye and perhaps preference for darker, ambivalent stories and characters - though he was equally handy with lighter fare such as the original Miracle on 34th Street and Teacher's Pet. The latter managed to produce (or associate-produce) 57 films, from Josef von Sternberg's 1936 The King Steps Out to the 1965 James Garner/Eva Marie Saint thriller 36 Hours. It took a few moments for Scorsese and his co-host (FSLC's associate program director Kent Jones) to warm up, but once film clips started rolling, the conversation perked along beautifully. While I have long run hot and cold to Mr Scorsese's oeuvre (and for the past few years, the temperature's been very cold), I find the director a wonderfully open and appealing movie buff, and reading him or listening to his banter is an unalloyed pleasure, particularly when he's in tandem with another buff as knowledgeable and inclusive as Jones. Beginning with film clips from The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954, directed by Mark Robson and co-produced by Perlberg-Seaton), continuing with The Proud and Profane ('56) and closing with The Counterfeit Traitor ('62), the hosts managed to interest us anew in these fine films (Bridges and Traitor are available on DVD; P&P is not) while weaving much of the filmmakers' other work into the conversation. Among many interesting observations, Scorsese pointed out how unusual it was to find Hollywood product of the battened-down 50s providing truly different views: anti-war (Toko-Ri), showing Americans as both naive and bullying (1950's The Big Lift) and providing main characters who are dishonest and ambivalent (Proud & Profane). You might find some of this in film noir, our hosts admitted, but the films of P/S were not noir; they were mainstream. Scorsese also pointed out that, while other more famous directors like Otto Preminger were actively bashing certain censorship barriers - The Moon Is Blue, The Man With the Golden Arm, Anatomy of a Murder - these films were, in places, somewhat "overstated" (I believe that is the term the director used, and it's so much gentler than, say, "ham-fisted") at the same time that the Perlberg-Seaton films were coming in under the radar with their own pointed and relatively subtle social critiques. At times, the program threatened to become a love letter (and a deserved one) to Oscar-winning (and thrice-nominated) actor William Holden, whose "star" work in Toko-Ri, Proud/Profane and Counterfeit Traitor was, as usual, sterling. My biggest objection - I had it, as well, to Scorsese's wonderful documentary on Italian film, My Voyage to Italy - is that the director, who clearly loves and appreciates these films and is able to communicate this in spades, often chooses to show clips that reveal major plot points and even climaxes that will partially spoil the viewing for anyone who has not yet seen the film. I would think that he might be able select his scenes more carefully - or at least tell us in advance: "Spoiler Ahead!" During the Q&A, a question came up about a list of "Guilty Pleasures" the director had compiled during the 70s (Jones opined that this was perhaps the first "Guilty Pleasures" list Film Comment magazine had ever run), and Scorsese talked incisively and charmingly about films as diverse as Land of the Pharaohs and The Uninvited. During the 70s, he told us, these films - not being perhaps "auteur enough" - were on the outs. Today, he suggested, any one of them might offer reams of pleasure but little guilt. All in all, this was an hour-and-a-half so pleasantly spent that I wish the FSLC might invite Marty back yearly. He's done yeoman work in helping us re-discover the films of post-war Italy, Powell & Pressburger, and now Perlberg-Seaton. I wonder if he's a fan of Alberto Lattuada, whose dark and funny Mafioso was "rediscovered" last year (and whose utterly gorgeous and sprawling Fraulein Doktor ought to be)? Just a thought. Or maybe a request.
Karlovy Vary Dispatch. 1.David D'Arcy sends word from Karlovy Vary, where the festival runs through Saturday. In the old spa town of Karlsbad, filled with rich new Russians and old Germans taking the waters, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival is marking its 42nd edition with its annual survey of East European and Czech films along with its sampling of world cinema. It opened with an act of courage from none other than Renée Zellweger, one of this year's special guests - and in this case, the courage didn't involve co-starring with Jim Carrey in anything. The blonde star was here to honor the Czech animator Bretislav Pojar, now 83, who is being awarded the festival's Crystal Globe for lifetime achievement. It was clear that Zellweger hadn't heard of the filmmaker until she was asked to hand him the award onstage, although she did learn to pronounce his name haltingly, in her best starlet's voice. Updated. According to a press release pasted to the desk at the festival press office, the Texan actress also agreed in extremis to present the prize, since the white ball gown that she was supposed to wear for the act was lost on route. Usually when a celebrity "loses" property, you can assume that it's stolen. She appeared in a black top and jeans. No one seemed to mind, not even the president of the Czech Republic in attendance, not even Pojar, who was game enough to limp across the stage, as he did yesterday when some of his films were shown. Had Pojar ever heard of Zellweger before? Pojar's films, which incorporate elements of dada and Bauhaus collage, have been some of the festival's best moments. There's a lightness in his stories and characters that you find in the most beguiling fairy tales, which open up to darkness once you look at them closely. They call to mind the novels of Antoine de St Exupery or the delicate paintings of Paul Klee that create exotic landscapes or grotesque scenes in a few square inches. So far my favorite is the stop-motion animation The Lion and the Song (1959), a fable set in the desert. A harlequin enters the landscape, playing an accordion. Lizards, a fox and an antelope hear his music and watch his moves, adroitly moving in and out of sight, an effect that Pojar achieves with a magical deftness. These creatures understand fear because they have lived under the regime of the lion, who stalks, kills and eats the harlequin. Yet the lion commits a fatal mistake in making too much a pig of himself, even ingesting the accordion, which plays whenever he breathes, revealing his presence and denying him the element of surprise. The great hunter starves to death. Years later, when another traveler passes through the area, he finds the lion's bones there. It's a simple lesson. This is nothing if not an allegory about the self-destructiveness of all-consuming power. Did the Czechoslovak authorities feel threatened by Pojar, as they should have been? Perhaps that's why he left the country in the mid-1960s and emigrated to Canada. (He moved back in recent years.) Before he left, Pojar made another satirical gem, Bombomanie (1959), a cartoon warning about the dangers of playing with toxic chemicals. Think of it as an allegory about nuclear weapons. We call them weapons of mass destruction today. It starts as a boy with a chemistry set fools around and blows up his room, and then destroys his house. Next the bombs head up the food chain. Then the police get hold of chemicals, and broaden the damage, and then absurdly pompous political leaders take things to even worse effects on a larger scale, with all the bombast that you might expect. Finally, as the world seen from space is observed by a dog in a satellite (this is 1959, remember?), the Earth blows up, and the politicians and officers whom we watched prepare the conflagration are catapulted into space beyond the vanishing point. They're gone, but so is everything else. Films like Bombomanie remind you that even the censors of the communist days couldn't kill surrealism in Czechoslovakia. Once again, there's a sweetness to Pojar's storytelling, but a dark grim foreboding about the future. I can only assume that Pojar got away with this subversive satire because, following the official propaganda of the time, the Czechoslovak government believed that the public thought that only the Americans could be capable of such stupidity. In crutches on the stage on Sunday, Pojar was the wry, sweet man that you would expect him to be, telling a mostly young audience (it was encouraging to see so many kids born after 1980 there) that the gatekeepers of the television business tend to keep films like his from being made, and certainly from being seen. Even in the Cold War, and even in the dark days of Czechoslovakia, and they were indeed dark, short films were shown before each theatrical feature. This enabled Pojar to make his animation on film. We're lucky to have it. So far the competition is predictably hit or miss. The Art of Negative Thinking [site] from Norway describes itself as a feel-bad comedy by Bard Breien, whose previous credits include the feature Frank's Prolapse. Its ensemble of characters are from a group therapy session for the severely handicapped, as angry as they are disabled. And they are indeed very disabled. There's a stroke victim who can only groan when we first meet him. A doll-like blonde with porcelain skin is in a wheelchair from the results of a mountain-climbing accident. An old woman whose husband abandoned her is in a neck-brace. And our hero is Geirr, who is in a wheelchair after a traffic accident. He sits in his upstairs room at home and smokes pot to the sounds of Steppenwolf - he must have gotten a hell of an insurance settlement. But he's angry. His pretty wife is now sleeping with the handsome tanned coiffed husband of the blonde in the other wheelchair, and Geirr is boycotting the group sessions. The sessions rely on a novel approach to readjusting victims of traumatic injury to mainstream society. To minimize outbursts of anger, or to contain them, the therapist passes around a "shit bag," into which members of the group spew out their frustrations. The action unfolds over a long night after the therapy group arrives at Geirr's comfortable house, to anything but a welcome. After a revolt against the therapist, the members of the group turn against each other. It's nasty. There's no one angrier than a quadraplegic who thinks you haven't pitied him enough, at least not here. Mix in some vengeful sex and alcohol (consumed, in case you haven't guessed, by people who are not supposed to be drinking) and you'll get the idea. Many of our folks get close to suicide, or simply fail when they attempt, and there is a game of Russian roulette. By dawn the house is trashed, but all our patients seem happier, having taken things into their own hands. Is this empowerment of the incapacitated a proto-libertarian critique of Norway's famous welfare state? I suppose that you could view it that way, although the film seems produced to achieve a more obvious political incorrectness. For those who are looking for physical comedy, there is plenty of it, but this is still a Norwegian film. You'll need to read the subtitles to get the jokes. Bard Breien's movie is shot in small rooms, and plays like theater. It looks as if it was adapted from a play, an effect that's compounded by the fact that in Norway most actors have no choice but to do most of their work on the stage. Breiein knows how to make a competent film, although the unexpectedly wholesome conclusion built on awareness that comes from booze and brawling makes us wonder if he knows how to end one. The eponymous hero of Karger [site], directed by Elke Hauck, faces his own handicaps. In an unnamed East German town, he loses his industrial job when French investors buy the firm and downsize it (it's the least the French can do, given what the Germans did to them for much of the last century), his wife leaves him, and he struggles to see his daughter. To make things worse, the only color in his city seems to be gray, and he drinks with the constancy of a divorced, downsized and despondent soul who knows his fate. I've seen this film or versions of it many times before. The Germans seem to be producing these movies the way they used to produce Volkswagens - and it's contagious. There was a Finnish story that resembled Karger in the KVIFF competition just last year. Predictably, Karger recycles the pessimistic tour of another corner of East Germany, which seems to prefigure what's in store for much of industrialized Europe. Still, I can't imagine that even Germans would go to see this grim film for entertainment, although an American remake with a star might have a chance. Renée Zellweger, maybe.
Update: Take a look at Mark Rabinowitz's shot at indieWIRE of David with Baltasar Kormákur in Karlovy Vary. Related: Boyd van Hoeij at european-films.net: "The death of two young girls some thirty years apart set in motion a story that will eventually encompasses the story of two fathers in particular and an entire nation in general in Baltasar Kormákur's masterful Myrin (Jar City)."