September 30, 2007
San Sebastian. Awards.As Harold Heckle reports for the AP, the San Sebastian Film Festival has wrapped with a slew of awards (you can download a 5-page list right there from top of the site's homepage). Because many of the winners screened in Toronto, we already know a bit about them, so let's take a look. Winners of the Golden Shell for Best Film and Silver Shell for Best Actor are Wayne Wang's A Thousand Years of Good Prayers and its lead, Henry O. A few voices from Toronto:
NYFF. Blade Runner @ 25."Even as it deliberately harks back to 40s pulp fiction and many of its elements now appear creakily dated byproducts of the 80s (hello, Sean Young's hair!), the radiant image and sound clarity helps reconfirm Blade Runner (loosely based on Philip K Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) as a landmark achievement in inventive prognostication," writes Nick Schager at Slant. "Whether it be its narrative fatalism or its haunting evocation of its urban setting, a multicultural techno-grunge hellhole drenched in rain, infested with advertising and shrouded in mist, the film continues to be the mother of modern sci-fi, blending disparate genres with philosophical queries to produce a work that remains, 25 years and reams of critical analysis later, the style-over-substance [Ridley] Scott's only substantive text." Updated through 10/6. "For the new director's cut, the special-effects footage was digitally scanned at 8,000 lines per frame, four times the resolution of most restorations, and then meticulously retouched," explains Fred Kaplan, who talks with Scott for the New York Times. "The results look almost 3-D. The film's theme of dehumanization has also been sharpened. What has been a matter of speculation and debate is now a certainty: Deckard, the replicant-hunting cop, is himself a replicant. Mr Scott confirmed this: 'Yes, he's a replicant. He was always a replicant.'" And there's an audio slide show that touches on Scott's visual influences. "Let's face it: The re-release of the film in this new form has been occasioned by a desire for closure - Scott finally completes his masterpiece - but also money," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in Stop Smiling, reminding us, too, that a five-disc blow-out DVD set is due in November. Even so, "what can be said in favor of the final cut is that it gives one an excuse to return to Blade Runner at least one more time. Watching it yet again, it's nearly impossible not to appreciate its unique place in Hollywood filmmaking - a big-budget sci-fi epic molded in the cast of a Chandleresque noir, and more influenced in rhythm and atmosphere by the work of Kubrick than that of Lucas. Time has been very kind to Blade Runner." "The latest revision is barely altered compared to the 1992 cut, which had been a remarkable change from the film's original release," explains Christopher Campbell at the Reeler. "Scott has erased some wires here, cleaned up some goofs there and updated some special effects - basically all the good things George Lucas did for the Star Wars special editions without attempting ill-conceived additions.... The true beauty of the cut, which the NYFF is showing in high-def video, is that it looks so perfect it's hard to believe the film is 25 years old." "The new cut confirms Blade Runner's status as a major achievement and the high water mark of Ridley Scott's career," writes Jürgen Fauth. Ted Greenwald talks with Scott for Wired; you can also read the full transcript or listen to the audio version. Via David Pescovitz at Boing Boing. Updates: "Watching Blade Runner: The Final Cut, anyone who lives in Los Angeles today would be struck by how prescient the film was about the direction of society and culture," writes Geoff Boucher in the Los Angeles Times. "To Edward James Olmos, the film, set in 2019, amounted to a crystal ball in many of its details. 'What you see now is how unique this image of Los Angeles is and, in hindsight, how correctly it predicted so much, such as the mix of urban Latino and Asian cultural influences in the city,' said Olmos, who portrayed a taciturn cop in the movie. 'About the only thing in the film we haven't gotten yet is those flying cars.'" Blade Runner comes in at #5 on Snakerati's list of the "Top 50 Dystopian Movies of All Time." Via Fimoculous. Updates, 10/4: "It all plays more smoothly than the 1992 release, with the unicorn sequence and the ending now entirely organic to the picture, and every image with magnificent, tactile textures," writes Robert Cashill. "I still don't buy that Ford's Deckard is a replicant, which is more a case of director Ridley Scott trying to get the unicorn back in the barn once the door had shut than anything concrete in the film, but you can speculate more easily on the notion now." In the L Magazine, Nicolas Rapold revels in the revival as well. At the House Next Door, Matt Zoller Seitz rounds up a handful of linkage and Steven Boone lists "10 images, sounds and ideas from Blade Runner that stand out in 2007 and/or HD." Update, 10/6: Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent: One actor for whom the film has never lost its mystqiue is [Daryl] Hannah. While others in Venice recalled a difficult and sometimes fraught production, she spoke in openly nostalgic terms of her experiences as a teenage actress on Blade Runner. "It's my favourite film that I have ever been in. My inspiration to be in movies was to live in another reality, and in this case it was built for me to the most detailed, beautiful extent. The sets were exquisite, the costumes were exquisite," she said as she proudly displayed a scar on her elbow from one of the scenes in which she slipped on set fell through a window. "I didn't have to work at all to be transported to another reality." Hannah's remark is instructive. The reason that Blade Runner is still being talked about 25 years after it was made is precisely that it takes viewers into a bewitching but highly unsettling futuristic world.
September 29, 2007
Vancouver Dispatch. 1.Sean Axmaker sends word from way west; looks like David Bordwell's having a good festival, too.
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Interview. Béla Tarr.Michael Guillén just comes right out and asks: "What is it about the long take that you love so much? You're famous for this and your long takes are sinuously eloquent. Why do long takes serve your vision?" And Béla Tarr's direct reply may not be immediately satisfying, but over the course of the interview, he does get an answer across. The New York Film Festival will screen The Man from London tomorrow (Sunday) and Wednesday. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes and Toronto and Jay Kuehner's talk with Tarr about Werckmeister Harmonies. Update, 9/30: "[I]f the core of the film seems hollow, thin, and strangely vacuous - sporadically populated and hazily set in an anonymous port, this film will not be burdened with the interpretations of national allegory Tarr's last two features were burdened with - one of the benefits is seeing the director handling uninspired material with his personality intact," writes Daniel Kasman. "The Man From London may not be Béla Tarr's best but it certainly is Béla Tarr's, which makes it a wonder in and of itself." Update, 10/1: For Vadim Rizov, writing at the Reeler, the film "seems like a transitional work - a weird thing to say, seeing as Tarr has made exactly three features in the last 15 years. Nevertheless, In his own way, Tarr is as much of a maximalist as, say, James Cameron: every frame of Sátántangó and Werckmeister Harmonies is calculated to stagger the eye, an orgy of complicated lighting, tracking shots and staging marvels. The Man from London, if not a clean break, is the most determinedly minimal feature Tarr's made since 1988's Damnation." Updates, 10/4: Jürgen Fauth: "Some may argue that the complex movements and spatial relations, along with the extreme shadows and rough-hewn textures they reveal, shed light on the characters' emotional realities, but I found the pleasures of this drowsy film noir limited to externalities: dreamlike vistas of wet brick walls and the ghostly shine of street lamps through the fog." "If we are to deal with Tarr that's merely 'good,' it should be acknowledged that even on this level he remains better than almost anyone else," writes Jeff Reichert at Reverse Shot. "No, The Man from London isn't Werckmeister Harmonies or Sátántangó, but it doesn't need, nor want to be. It's a Béla Tarr film, and that's more than enough." Update, 10/16: "The Man From London finds Tarr's camera (literally) drifting closer to the realm of the subjective," writes Dave McDougall at chained to the cinémathèque. "While still autonomous, it resembles the viewpoints of his characters with a greater fidelity and frequency. There's also a greater commitment on Tarr's part to representing the mechanisms of observation, which also brings us closer to the subjective realm in that we approach information from the perspectives of the film's characters."
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NYFF, etc. The Darjeeling Limited."The Darjeeling Limited amounts finally to a high-end, high-toned tourist adventure," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "I don't mean this dismissively; it would be hypocritical of me to deny the delights of luxury travel to faraway lands. And [Wes] Anderson's eye for local color - the red-orange-yellow end of the spectrum in particular - is meticulous and admiring. But humanism lies either beyond his grasp or outside the range of his interests." Also, in an audio commentary, Anderson discusses the evolution of one scene. "Darjeeling is no departure from Anderson's previous work. Instead, and better yet, it's a vast improvement," argues Michael Joshua Rowin at Reverse Shot. "[T]he film is the first sign of creative integrity from Anderson, America's most overpraised young auteur." Updated through 10/4. Michael Tully explains his "shock and awe about the movie's overall vibrancy and resonance, two things I was convinced Anderson had lost forever." "The Life Aquatic (in which the question of whether Owen Wilson's character is Zissou Jr turns out to be a brilliant red herring) was Anderson's deeply poignant first attempt at growing up a bit, whereas Darjeeling, with its obsessive rituals and inherited mannerisms, represents a sad regression," writes Mike D'Angelo at Nerve. "Anderson still primarily constructs a character by putting an actor in a costume, still illustrates a life by ticking off the decorative stuff in it," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "It's this kind of style-as-substance that has earned Anderson a lot of flack over the years, but I've come to the point where I don't think it's necessarily fair to fault the guy for pursuing his balls-out personal vision." "Each of Anderson's films has displayed progressively more distance, not merely between characters but also between the characters and the viewer, and therefore the melancholy emitting from Darjeeling is noticeably uneven," writes Jenny Jediny at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "It's strange to feel like Margaret Mead, observing these characters through binoculars, especially when there are moments that feel as though they are asking for our empathy and an acknowledgement of the brothers' buried grief." "[I]ts strong similarities to Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums, which dealt so movingly with family bonds and fissures, suggest that Darjeeling may be doomed to wilt in its shadow," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "[T]he twee one's fifth film flashes edifying signs of a slow, stubborn evolution," writes Michelle Orange. "[T]he film's small moments of beauty and wist make it worthwhile." Also at the Reeler, Ben Gold talks with Anderson. "For die-hard Wes Anderson fans, The Darjeeling Limited is the film you've been waiting for all year," writes Erik Davis at Cinematical. "Sadly, everyone else might want to get off at the first stop... although I strongly suggest staying on till the very end." "Darjeeling has great moments for sure, but they works better as vignettes... You'll have favorite chapters on the eventual DVD," suggests Nathaniel R at Awards Daily. Earlier: NYFF previews; and the first round of reviews from Venice. Updates, 9/30: "At bottom, Darjeeling is about the world of rich white boys, a throwback to those 19th century aristos who owed themselves a trot around the globe," blogs Erica Abeel for Filmmaker. "Anderson is too ironically deadpan to embrace any sudden transformations in his characters, so they don't seem remarkably changed by [an event by a river], which effectively reduces it to a plot point with an emotional patina, rendered impotent by a filmmaker who seems to think that he can compensate for the emptiness at his film's core just by pulling away from sentimentality," writes Robert Davis. "He's trying to fill one void with another." Update, 10/1: "Is Wes Anderson's schtick getting tired, or am I simply getting tired of Wes Anderson's schtick?" wonders Matt Singer at IFC News. Update, 10/2: Glenn Kenny takes issue with Jonah Weiner's Slate piece: "Weiner doesn't come out and call Anderson a racist, but the piece's rhetoric does play to the very special, considered self-righteousness of its ideal reader." Update, 10/4: Gary Susman talks with Anderson for the Boston Phoenix.
Weekend shorts."Rereading The Dark Page, I hear Sam [Fuller]'s voice, very clearly, as if he was talking to me, intense, excited, passionate, honest," writes Wim Wenders. "I never met anybody else who would actually talk the same way he would write, let alone anybody who would also make movies with that very same impetus and attitude. For most authors, these are very different waters to swim in, talking, writing, or directing. For Sam it was just one and the same element: storytelling." Also in the Guardian, Michelle Pauli talks with Neil Gaiman; Ewen MacAskill reports on how some of "the world's best-known atheists" were duped into appearing in a pro-creationist doc; Damon Wise talks with John Waters; and a slasher quiz. "As America's involvement in World War II unfolds on TVs across the country in Ken Burns's latest mega-doc, The War, Facets looks at the experience as depicted in non-American cinema." That's quite a list. Somewhat related, and via Movie City News, the Economist on Andrzej Wajda's Katyn: "[F]or all its passion and authenticity, the film is disappointingly muddled, and too narrowly focussed on a Polish audience.... What is really needed is a film with the broad sweep of Schindler's List that will explain the full horror of Soviet dictatorship both during and after the war." "The gang's all here, as are their usual concerns, explored with all the self-conscious, self-censoring agony of youth in the post-slacker age," writes Carina Chocano. "The young strivers in Hannah Takes the Stairs have nothing in common with the depictions of young urban bohemia that come out of Hollywood, and as an emotional snapshot of a narrow demographic during a brief life phase, it's really quite evocative." At the same time, "For a movie so vested in youthful verisimilitude, it's conspicuously lacking in misery." Also in the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan: "Enthusiastically received at Sundance, Great World of Sound is an intriguing look at our obsession with being successful and famous, at the deals we make that we fool ourselves aren't really with the devil." And: "When people think about World War II, wondering what it meant for the fate of museum-quality art is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. Yet as the documentary The Rape of Europa demonstrates, this is a surprisingly vast and involving topic.... It also tells a series of wonderful stories, many of which are fascinating enough to inspire movies of their own." "What good is geopolitical turmoil if you can't have some fun with it?" teases AO Scott. "The Kingdom takes the breathless visual precision of the Jason Bourne movies - what the film scholar David Bordwell calls 'intensive continuity' - out of the abstract hall-of-mirrors universe of intra-CIA skulduggery and into a semiplausible world of international tension. Rather than explore that tension, as some other, more ostentatiously serious movies coming out shortly seem poised to do, [director Peter] Berg and Matthew Michael Carnahan, the screenwriter, do what they can to relieve it with fireballs and frantic chases. The result is a slick, brutishly effective genre movie: Syriana for dummies." And you can watch 3½-minute review. More from Chris Barsanti (Film Journal International), Steven Boone (House Next Door), Bill Gibron (), Rob Humanick (Projection Booth), Leo Goldsmith (Reverse Shot), Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle), James Rocchi (Cinematical), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times) and Scott Tobias (AV Club). And then there are the earlier reviews. Back to the New York Times:
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Other fests, other events, 9/29."Although the British Council has been showcasing British cinema in Russia for six years, London has never hosted a similar event." Until now. For the Independent, Alice Jones previews the Russian Film Festival, running through Wednesday. The Arts on Film Archive series at the Tate Modern runs from Tuesday through October 16. Previewing the highlights of the upcoming London Film Festival (October 17 through November 1): Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times and Sheila Johnston in theTelegraph. Girish offers "not 'reviews' but instead a few thoughts sparked by a few films" he caught in Toronto. And Joanne Laurier continues the WSWS's survey of the festival.
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NYFF, 9/29."Proudly, at times lazily, this is a festival that always demands discrimination from its audience, a sense of adventure, even as it also relies on no small amount of brand loyalty," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, surveying the program before segueing into an explanation as to why this "is an important year for the New York Film Festival." Updated. Perhaps as early as 2009, "the Film Society will have a new public home on the south side of 65th Street called the Elinor Bunin-Munroe Film Center. This large new space will include an education center, gallery, cafe, indoor amphitheater and two theaters (90 and 150 seats) to complement the recently refurbished 268-seat Walter Reade Theater across the street and up one flight of stairs.... The question is how the Film Society will rise to the occasion of these new digs: notably, will it expand beyond its cozy core constituency?" And there's an accompanying audio slide show. For Variety, John Anderson offers an inside view of the selection process. Also, David Hafetz talks with programmer Richard Peña. The NYT and Variety pieces spark a few comments from the cinetrix, who's been "trying to help a hardy band of undergrads find their way into a panoply of world cinema classics": Thank God for DVDs. The cinetrix can serve up some of those big names - Bergman, Truffaut, Antonioni, Forman - that the NYFF has championed over the decades, in far better condition than the shitty Swank 16mms she watched in school. The kids may never have seen anything like 'em before, but they're down for whatever. They ask good questions that demand more than the 'because I said so' cant answers rooted in reputations and history. A "Halfway Re-cap" from Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog: the reviews so far. In his overview for Gay City News, Steve Erickson sees an emphasis on American films and documentaries. Update: Glenn Kenny puts on a tux and mingles through the opening night party.
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September 28, 2007
NYFF podcast. 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days.In our first podcast from the New York Film Festival (through October 10), Andrew Grant and Aaron Hillis talk with Charles Taylor, a columnist at the Newark Star-Ledger and a frequent contributor to the New York Times, Newsday, Slate and the New York Observer, about 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days [site]. To listen or download, click here.
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Fantastic Fest. There Will Be Blood.Though it's unlikely that either intended things to play out this way, today sees an Anderson vs Anderson PR showdown. With all the bluster the New York media establishment can muster, Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited opens the New York Film Festival tonight and 4000 New Yorkers have lined up accordingly, "at upward of $40 a pop," according to Manohla Dargis in the New York Times - for-ty dol-lars! - while down in Austin, that humble haven of true movie fandom, the Fantastic Fest has sprung a surprise screening of Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood. Variety's sent out a "Breaking News" email alert about just one of these events. Guess which. There will be Twitter. Good Twitter. Updated through 9/29. "Certain to be rewarded with year-end accolades, Anderson's film is a true American saga - one that rivals Giant and Citizen Kane in our popular lore as origin stories about how we came to be the people we are," writes an evidently pretty worked up Marjorie Baumgarten immediately following the first full public screening of Blood. "Daniel Day-Lewis is at his brilliant best as the story's Daniel Plainview, a man whose humanity diminishes as his fortunes increase.... Essential to the success of the movie is the original score by Jonny Greenwood, the Radiohead guitarist and BBC composer in residence.... Though the film hardly belongs to the science fiction, fantasy, animation, and crime genres that attendees had been snacking on all week, [Alamo Drafthouse founder and festival host Tim] League attested in his introduction that the film is undeniably 'fantastic.'... [I]t took Ain't It Cool News' Harry Knowles to point out during the Q&A that Plainview was the 'best monster' he had seen all week." Updates: At Cinematical, Scott Weinberg spells out what makes Blood "such a stunning surprise. It's more than a 'departure' for the director; it's a monumental display of 'evolution' that'll wow the established fans and impress a helluva lot more new ones. This is a dark, compelling and effortlessly engrossing film, one bolstered by a lead performance that ranks among the very best of Lewis's impressive career." "Paul Thomas Anderson has demonstrated tremendous instincts as a filmmaker in his previous four features, but, for me, he's always been more of a promising director with great potential than a master," writes Peter Martin at Twitch. "There Will Be Blood shows that he has absorbed the lessons of those directors that have inspired him - notably Robert Altman - and found something new to say, and a new way to say it. He's built on everything he's done before and surpassed his previous achievements. It's definitely not perfect, but it is sweeping and majestic as it moves down a lonely, powerful path." "Make no mistake, this is an amazing work of art," writes Matt Dentler. "[C]o-star Paul Dano delivers a delicious and demented performance that could earn some serious award consideration a few months from now." Michael Lerman wraps Fantastic Fest for indieWIRE; he mentions Blood, but the surprise may still be a little too fresh for an opinion to have gelled just yet. Fantastic Fest announces its awards. Blake Ethridge has posted pix. Updates, 9/29: "There Will Be Blood embodies everything that I want from a film at Fantastic Fest," writes co-programmer Harry Knowles at AICN. "This is a film about the dark places in men's souls. It is a film at the highest possible quality - comparable to many of my favorite films of all time. Movies about monsters on quests like Citizen Kane, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Gone With the Wind, Giant, Oldboy, The Godfather and Taxi Driver.... PTA has created a masterpiece." "Partially shot in Marfa, Texas, and stretching across three decades - just enough time for an infant to rise up and defy his father - it begs comparison to another Marfa production, Giant," writes John DeFore in the Hollywood Reporter. "Blood has none of that film's melodramatic sprawl, though. Instead, it pares allegory-friendly material down to the elementals. It shows not the birth of the American oil business but the origin of a certain kind of oil man - self-made, hands-on, destined for great wealth but doomed to not enjoy it - then pits this capitalistic force of nature against its Bible-thumping mirror image, hinting at the culture-shaping sibling rivalry between the influence of God and of Mammon in America."
September 27, 2007
Shorts, 9/27."There is a quality of science fiction to the landscape: Quatermass (Nigel Kneale's occultist sci-fi teledrama of the mid-1950s) by way of urban Brutalism. In short, it's the terrain that will comprise the mythic landscape of Punk." Michael Bracewell has been watching a two-DVD set, The BBC in the East End 1958 - 1973; he then turns to With Gilbert & George "made over an astonishing 17-year period by one of their former models, Julian Cole... The fact that Cole has made his tightly edited, yet epic film out of nearly two decades of filming, lends a fascinating sense of temporality to the finished piece." Also in the October issue of Frieze, Rosemarie Trockel has evidently been quite impressed by 2001 and Christy Lange reviews Miranda July's collection of stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You and Melissa Gronlund: "Keren Cytter's works play the role of being films but deliberately miss the mark... Films that should be standard love triangles, Western gunfights or neo-noir murder–suicides descend into joyous cacophonies of filmic clichés done just wrong." "If the story was good enough, even the Americans would sit still for the preposterous idea that there might be another country that spoke their language but looked different, with tiny cars and plates with hardly any food on them," writes Clive James, looking back on the BBC's Summer of British Film for the Times Literary Supplement. "There for a triumphant moment and then gone again, exultant at the black-tie awards ceremony and then back scrambling for a pittance, the British Film Industry has always been a creature in oscillating transit, somewhere between a phoenix and a dead duck." What's fresh at Order of the Exile:
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Other fests, other events, 9/27."In this, their 20th year, the aGLIFF [Austin Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival] once again throws open the doors of the Arbor Cinema at Great Hills and invites you to one of the most inclusive occasions on the calendar," writes James Renovitch. "[Programming Director Lisa] Kaselak, in her first year, deserves the praise for casting a wide cinematic net and, just by being herself, an even wider sense of welcome." And the Austin Chronicle previews around a dozen or so features. Tomorrow through October 6. "Every year I remain in awe at what is my favorite festival," writes Jason Whyte, previewing the Vancouver International Film Festival for Hollywood Bitchslap. Today through October 12. "The filmmakers represented in the Boston Palestinian Film Festival at the Museum of Fine Arts [Saturday through October 7] confront the troubles of that hellish area with documentary, fiction, allegory, and combinations of the three," writes Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix. "In his obsessive study of impoverished Cape Verdeans living on the margins of Lisbon, Pedro Costa resorts to those genres and more, including some of his own that I don't think anyone has quite put a name to yet." Colossal Works: The Films of Pedro Costra runs Friday through Sunday at the Harvard Film Archive. With the SF DocFest set to open tomorrow (it runs through October 10), the San Francisco Bay Guardian's Kevin Langson and Cheryl Eddy highlight, respectively, Ghosts and Numbers & Luchando and Golden Days and A Skin Too Few: The Days of Nick Drake. Robert Avila previews a slew of titles, too, for SF360. "We're always up against the New York Film Festival," Coney Island Film Festival founder and programmer Rob Leddy tells John Lichman at the Reeler. "It's a different audience anyway. I think we attract more of an arts crowd than they ever will." Tomorrow through the weekend. "The Rome Film Festival has announced its full lineup, featuring a rich mix of quality crowdpleasers and more esoteric fare, peppered with plenty of stars, including Robert Redford and Tom Cruise, who are expected to come tubthump Lions for Lambs," reports Variety's Nick Vivarelli. October 18 through 27. More lineups in place: Mill Valley (October 4 through 14) and the Hamptons (October 17 through 21). Helen Hill "became an important figure in the New Orleans independent filmmaking scene until her violent death last January," Holly Willis reminds us in the LA Weekly. On Monday, October 1, REDCAT will be screening several of her short films as a memorial. "The more than 60 faces on display at Ace Gallery Beverly Hills belong to some of the most photographed people in the world," writes David Ng. "But this solo exhibition by Martin Schoeller isn't your ordinary paparazzo blitz. The German photographer, whose work has appeared in the New Yorker, GQ, Vogue and many other magazines, looks to turn celebrity portraiture into an act of contemplative scrutiny and artful asceticism." Through October 13. Also in the Los Angeles Times: A roundup of local goings on from Susan King. "Protest, tourism, politics, and labor tend to figure at the center of Romania-born, Paris-based artist Mircea Cantor's short films, but for work that hinges on the display and distribution of power, they are far from didactic," writes William Hanley at Rhizome. "The exhibition marks the beginning of a season with a film- and video-heavy schedule at the [Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden] that culminates in February with the first installment of a two-part exhibition titled The Cinema Effect: Illusion, Reality, and the Moving Image." Through December 9. Todd Brown posts Twitch's "TIFF 2007 Round Up!"
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Anticipating NYFF, 9/27.Once the NYFF opens tomorrow, keep an eye out here for good things coming from Andrew Grant and Aaron Hillis. Now, on the eve, David D'Arcy previews a few highlights - and a cluster of links follow. This year's New York Film Festival has been covered by everyone, even before its first public screening, calling your attention to the stars, the honorees and the greatest hits, so I'll concentrate on some of the lesser-hyped attractions that should not be missed. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is part of a new crop of life-affirming dramas from Romania, if your idea of affirming life is getting an illegal abortion so you can get on with your own, which brings it close to what life used to be like in Romania before communism fell and people could emigrate. I suppose that it's also life-affirming to learn that there is a medical system out there that is worse than the one we have in the US, if you can get access to it. (You saw a more modern version of Romanian medicine in the unforgettable The Death of Mr Lazarescu, which played at the NYFF, after Cannes, like this one, two years ago.) Cristian Mungiu has the right instincts here for realism. Add superb acting, fine story-telling, dead-on production design (which I can't imagine took too much of a stretch in Bucharest), shake with emotion, and you have a film that reminds us that Romania is one of cinema's promising places right now, and Mungiu should be watched for the next two installments in what he says is a trilogy. Make sure not to miss the restored Leave Her to Heaven by John Stahl. In the 1945 film, with stunning locations and a production design by Thomas Little and Ernest Lansing to match, Gene Tierney plays a beauty whose selfishness goes far beyond her allure, and that's saying something. We travel from Maine to the New Mexico of the 40s (though far from Los Alamos) to discover the depths of her character, who can pull a credulous writer played by Cornel Wilde in her trap and then watch his crippled brother die in another trap that she sets. "But he's a cripple," she laments, in a pre-PC plea to her husband that he not accompany them on a vacation. Ultimately, she throws herself down a staircase, fearing that the baby she's carrying will wriggle its way between her and her husband. Tierney is as cold as can be, with every hair and stitch in place. Remember, this was 1945, when even Americans had a hard time getting their hands on nylon stockings or much of anything else. Why Tierney's character had no problem doing so may be the story that the next remake of the film will tell. Her emotionless expression as young Danny (Darryl Hickman) drown as she sits in a boat a few feet away behind the most elegant of sunglasses is so cold that it could be in a fashion ad today. Wilde, who finally cools to her, has the well-meaning demeanor of Tom Hanks. Over the top doesn't come close to describing this one. Just be thankful that it's campy enough to keep you laughing through much of the torture that Tierney practices so easily. I was surprised to see a Mexican film with the aesthetic of large-format German photography - that is, if you think that Stellet Licht by Carlos Reygadas is a Mexican film. The slow deliberate drama about a Mennonite farmer's anguish over a love affair - illicit, of course - is described as the first feature ever to made in the Plautdeutsch dialect, a form of German that settlers from religious sects brought to the New World between the 17th and 19th centuries. I've heard the film's dramatic approach compared to Dreyer and to Terrence Malick. Slow it down a bit and that might hit the mark. With the film's long opening sequence in which the camera follows a star through the sky, from what seems to be a mountaintop - it turns out to be a farm in a wide northern Mexican valley - you are prepared for what is largely a silent movie, albeit one in which the tersest of comments in a language that no one outside this community understands make for performances that expand the vocabulary of stoicism. I was reminded of head-on shots by Bernd and Hilla Becher of buildings standing alone in their environments; the pictures often resemble architectural equivalents of Mennonite garb. I also thought of the mute photographs of Thomas Struth and Rineke Dijkstra, photographers with a high profile in the contemporary art scene, who take pictures of "expressionless" subjects looking straight into the camera against a background that is as spare as the feelings they reveal. (If you can't find pictures by these photographers, who were omnipresent on the art scene a few years ago, you'll find some of Struth's work in the new photo galleries that just opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Dijkstra is Dutch, actually, although Plautdeutsch, also called Plattdeutsch, was spoken in the lowland ares of Germany north of Holland.) Your natural reaction to these pictures is to imagine a narrative that goes beyond the single image. Reygadas has put this kind of imagery - these images really, since the pictures are moving, despite the glacial slowness - in the service of a story built on a wide silent landscape and on the spareness of expressed emotion. The Plautdeutsch is the added novelty. Don't expect to understand any of it. It won't matter. The drama here is visual. Back to the main event. I'm not sure what was behind The Darjeeling Limited by Wes Anderson - there's probably an interview with him somewhere that explains it all in fascinating and allusive detail. As everyone knows by now, the NYFF opening night film is a road movie, a train movie, actually, set on an Indian line that three brothers (Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman) travel to reach something. I guess that had instant comedy written all over it. Of course, they get only a certain distance on the train and then set off for the real goal, what surfers (which is what these guys might have been if this film were made 40 years ago) would have called "The Big Kahuna," except it's their mother. It's a shame the film isn't funny, although the soundtrack is a nostalgic pleasure as it mixes classic music from the films of Satyajit Ray with the Rolling Stones. So is the prologue, Hotel Chevalier. Should Anderson be advised that his real calling is for short films? This one makes you long for Moe, Larry and Curly. Did I notice an homage to the much-underappreciated Three Stooges in Orbit, or was I just dreaming that I was watching another movie? - David D'Arcy
"If the larger film festivals around the world are competitive workshops for filmmakers willing to fight for distinction, the New York Film Festival (Sept 28 - Oct 14) is the class assembly - a place where only the finest craftsmanship gets a spot on the stage," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "That's the idea, anyway, but it's worth noting that this year's rich program at Lincoln Center has traces of unconditional love for old-school talent, as though elders of the art form gain inclusion simply for their perseverance." "I've grumped sporadically over the years about the NYFF's slightly snooty, Manhattan-centric tone of cultural superiority, so it's time to confess to some warm and fuzzy feelings toward the grande dame of American film festivals (this year is its 45th)," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "For one thing, as festival programmer Richard Peña observed in a recent interview with ST VanAirsdale of the Reeler, the NYFF is actively and aggressively curated. 'The public really feels that this is a festival that is carefully selected,' Peña said. 'They might disagree violently with our selections, but they feel like somebody has selected these films - that somebody has said, "This film and not that film."' Peña is taking a none-too-subtle dig at his neighbors to the south, the programmers at the Tribeca Film Festival, who have jostled their way to some degree of global prominence (and/or notoriety) by seemingly screening any damn movie that's less than four hours long and pretty much in focus. There's a lot to be said for his approach." "Comparing movies is a drag, especially in a noncompetitive event, but the choices in this famously selective fest (28 'official' features on top of the sidebars) vary in merit," writes Howard Feinstein at indieWIRE. "Here's the skinny on 13 of the 14 full-length narrative... and the one doc showing during the first nine days; a follow-up on the second half appears next Friday." Online viewing tip. An NYFF-heavy edition of ReelerTV.
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Trade."From its flagrant exoticization-cum-demonization of Mexico City to its predictably trendy, faceless aesthetic to its uproariously hammy acting, Trade is a disaster from the top down," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "Obviously the work of a filmmaker who has genuinely no ideas about the ethics of storytelling or representation, Trade is essentially Hostel Part Two but designed to make you feel good for having learned about 'something.'" "German director Marco Kreuzpaintner's movie looks like Traffic and Syriana - clearly his role models - but is little more than our generation's version of 1979's Hardcore," writes Robert Wilonsky. Updated through 9/28. "It doesn't shy from the facts or the complexities but might still attract viewers with its genre dynamics and appealing performances," suggests Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix. In the Los Angeles Times, Robert W Welkos tells the rough and tumble story of the film's making. Update, 9/28: Kreuzpaintner's "intentions may be laudable but his goals are conflicted: in seeking to educate as well as tease, he ends up doing neither," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "The US State Department estimates as many as 800,000 people are trafficked internationally each year for purposes of sexual exploitation. Of those, 80% are female and 50% are minors," notes Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times. "This mostly effective dramatization paints a suitably ugly picture of the dehumanizing depths people are willing to go for money." "Like Crash, Trade is a pulpy Hollywood-style melodrama disguised as a harrowing message movie about Important Social Issues," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "It labors under the delusion that it's this year's revelatory, eye-opening Maria Full Of Grace, when it's little more than a B-movie with an overwrought conscience."
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The Price of Sugar."The tainted relationship between the dessert on our tables and the suffering of those who produce it gets a horrifying workout in Bill Haney's multi-layered account of Haitian cane-cutters in the Dominican Republic," writes Ella Taylor, reviewing The Price of Sugar in the Voice. Salon's Andrew O'Hehir notes that "the Vicini family, sugar barons of the Dominican Republic, have hired Patton Boggs, a major Washington law firm, to try to halt the film's release, or at least paint it as slanted and defamatory. Narrated by Paul Newman, Haney's film follows an Anglo-Spanish missionary priest, Christopher Hartley, as he tries to bring some justice to the slavery-like conditions under which Haitian immigrants cut sugar cane in the Vicini fields." Updated through 9/28. Nick Dawson talks with Haney for Filmmaker. Earlier: Nick Schager at Slant. Update, 9/28: "Like most documentary polemics, it simplifies the issues it confronts and selects facts that bolster its black-and-white, heroes-and-villains view of raw economic power," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. But what facts. Holden runs down a list himself; if you doubt you'll be able to catch the doc, read the review for that alone.
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Cinema Scope. 32."John Gianvito's Profit motive and the whispering wind recovers the lost history of class struggle in America by filming, in simple, static shots, the monuments left behind: commemorative plaques, statues, and, most often, cemetery headstones," wrote Darren Hughes from Toronto. "Fascinating." Gerald Peary, too, writing in the Boston Phoenix, is impressed with this "pensive and beautiful" doc: "'I was making this film looking for hope and inspiration,' [Gianvito] told the Toronto audience. 'Lots of the people buried in these graves we don't know. But because of them, we have the eight-hour work day, child-labor laws, integration.'"
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September 26, 2007
Toronto and Stranger Than Fiction. Operation Filmmaker."Director Nina Davenport set out to document the experience of a 20-year-old Iraqi whose brief MTV appearance inspired Liev Schreiber to hire him as an intern on the Prague set of Everything is Illuminated," writes Eric Kohn at indieWIRE. "Ultimately, Operation Filmmaker is an essential study in intercultural communication and the ways that it can go so very wrong." Operation Filmmaker has opened Toronto doc programmer Thom Powers's Stranger Than Fiction series at the IFC Center and ST VanAirsdale, the Reeler, attended last night's NYC premiere and took notes on comments from Powers and Davenport. "Whether her subject is serious about the movie business or not, Davenport gives Muthana's plight extra resonance by cross-cutting between footage of real, blood violence in Iraq, and scenes of Muthana on the fake blood-soaked set of Doom," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "Can you blame the guy for pulling out all the stops to stay in the realm where the piles of corpses are only make-believe?" "Operation Filmmaker, much like My Kid Could Paint That, is one of those documentaries that were conceived one way and turned out much differently than anyone intended," notes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "Davenport does a nice job rolling with the punches." "Not since Luis Buñuel have we had such a wonderful joke on do-gooder liberalism," writes Gerald Peary in the Boston Phoenix.
Shorts, 9/26."Zéro de Conduite (Zero for Conduct, 1933), by Jean Vigo, had a massive impact on me," writes Steve McQueen (no, this Steve McQueen). "It's just 45 minutes long and depicts a rebellion in a French boys' boarding-school. The film says everything: it's inventive, it's magical, to some extent it is sexually ambiguous, it's political, it's bizarre and it has a great narrative at the same time. All these ingredients add up to something that's huge, almost too big." Also brought up in the "Life in Film" in this month's frieze: Andy Warhol's Couch and: "I shoot films, but I do other things; at the end of the day it's got to be about the ideas, not one particular medium." "There are ghosts haunting Marco Williams's quietly sorrowful documentary Banished, about the forced expulsion of black Southerners from their homes in the troubled and violent decades after the Civil War," writes Manohla Dargis. "There is so much more to the story than can be told by this 87-minute movie, which only casts glances at Reconstruction, the question of reparations and the bitter, enduring, living legacy of slavery. Although Mr Williams somewhat overstates his case when he says that racial cleansing has 'remained hidden,' there's no denying that this ugly chapter deserves more than an occasional well-meaning documentary." More from Rob Humanick at Slant. Also in the New York Times, Matt Zoller Seitz on Charlie, a movie with "guts and soul, and a keen appreciation of grown-up pain - qualities sorely lacking in American independent film today." Most of us are aware of the danger in relying too heavily on photographs for a sense of final certainty as to what's actually happened. Proposing "a contest to the Times' readership," Errol Morris, in consultation with a handful of curators who've thought long and hard about a pair of photos taken by Roger Fenton during the Crimean War, presents two opposing views - or rather, two sets of views more or less in opposition - on the events of one day in 1855 and considers the varying implications should either side win out. Yesterday, at the bottom of the entry on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, I pointed Nick Dawson's interview with director Andrew Dominik for Filmmaker - but that entry's slipped, so I'm pointing to it again. Dominik considers the split critical reaction to his own film in light of the initial reception that met Raging Bull and Portrait of a Lady, champions Kubrick, particularly Barry Lyndon, and speculates about what he might do next. Liv Ullmann "will star as a grandmother in the Norwegian film In a Mirror, In a Riddle, which is based on a novel by Jostein Gaarder," reports the Guardian. "Ullmann, whose most recent screen appearance was in Bergman's 2003 swansong Saraband, said she had not intended to act again, but had been swayed by the brilliance of the script." This will be her first Norwegian film in 38 years. "Larry Fessenden's The Last Winter isn't the first global-warming horror film, and it surely won't be the last, but it's unlikely there will be a better one anytime soon - or a better horror movie this fall," writes Dennis Harvey, who also reviews Into the Wild for the San Francisco Bay Guardian: "As with the book, opinions may diverge on whether the protagonist was a tragic, noble dreamer or a chip-on-the-shoulder brat with a lot of self-mythologizing, imitative literary pretensions. Either way, this lyrical road trip - which bears the mark of heavy influence from Penn's The Thin Red Line director Terrence Malick - is compelling throughout." More on that one from Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "It's a trifle, [The Trouble With Angels], and done on the cheap, but, oh, to have been a fly on the wall on that set," smiles the cinetrix. "A film that is by turns shocking, observant, picturesque, and thought-provoking, The Violin is a moving expression of the tumultuous existence of countless Mexican lives," writes Doug Cummings. Mr Shoop popped a quiz this summer; Dennis Cozzalio's got his answers now. Not exactly film-related (though not entirely un-film-related, either; take a look at the TOC), but still: Leon Neyfakh in the New York Observer on the launch of Paper Monument: Dushko Petrovich and Roger White did not think art was dead, but there was no question in their minds that it was seriously ill. The gallery shows they went to were dull and derivative, the writing they read in the big art magazines either thoughtless, breathless or reactionary. All anyone seemed to want to talk about was how a work blurred this or that distinction, or challenged this or that perception. "Then you'd go see the art," Mr Petrovich said last week, "and you'd think: It's not really doing that! It's actually behaving pretty conventionally." Fed up but hopeful, the two painters decided to take action. And so, with help from their friends at n+1 - a literary journal founded in 2004 with the modest intention of broadly rehabilitating American thought - Mr Petrovich and Mr White set to work on a new magazine about contemporary art. They called it Paper Monument, and decided that it would come out twice a year. Online browsing tip. Patrick at Creative Review on Scott King's How I'd Sink American Vogue at the Herald St gallery in London. Online viewing tip. J'Attendrai Le Suivant at Subtitles to Cinema.
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Toronto and the UK. Michael Clayton."Does [George Clooney] deliver?" asks Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "Yeah - enough to make you forgive plot holes and emotional string-pulling that could have sunk a film that didn't have him in it." "I guess you could describe [Michael Clayton] as a Manhattan 'legal thriller' - most of the main characters are corporate lawyers - that strikes a delicate tonal balance between the cynical political paranoia of the Bourne movies, the satirical paranoia of Network, the corporate paranoia of The Insider and the legalistic paranoia of Erin Brockovich," writes Jim Emerson. "And, as in all these movies, when you're feeling paranoid, it doesn't mean somebody isn't out to get you." Updated through 10/1. "Michael Clayton is the kind of intelligent, entertaining cinema you thought Hollywood had forgotten how to make," writes Matt Riviera. "[Tony] Gilroy takes his time, refusing to rush into a complex story, getting through the exposition cleverly rather than quickly. He can't afford to take any short cuts: his three-dimensional characters are conflicted, the likeable ones do unspeakable things, the dogy ones surprise us with their intelligense and common sense. Nor does he attempt to pimp his talky script with romance or car chases, sentimentality or even heroics. He trusts the material enough, not to mention the smart and eloquent dialogue." Interviews? Oh, yes. James Mottram (Independent) and David Gritten (Telegraph) talk with Clooney; Kate Muir (London Times) and Charlotte Higgins (Guardian) meet Tilda Swinton. At the Reeler, Christopher Campbell finds this one "a crackling legal thriller so tightly written (by Tony Gilroy, also the film's director), plotted and acted that it's a bit cold, even intimidating," and he, too, gets a few words with Clooney and Swinton. Updates, 9/28: "Tony Gilroy's corporate conspiracy thriller opens with such a powerful sense of foreboding that the ceiling could cave in and you'd still be sitting there, gripped," writes the Independent's Anthony Quinn. "Perhaps it could be objected that Clooney's style and body language as a loser are not so very different from when he plays a winner," supposes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "It's an arresting performance none the less: muscular and pain-racked at once." "Clooney has seldom been better as Clayton, a man beginning to feel that his skill is not exactly being put to good uses, while [Tom] Wilkinson, as the attack-dog lawyer now convinced he's wasting his talent and collapsing under the strain, is as good as ever," writes Derek Malcolm in the Evening Standard. "But it is Swinton, as the nervy chief counsel for the chemical company, who trumps them both. To see her faced by Clayton with the enormity of her position is to see a great actress at work in a film that's good enough to keep her at full stretch." "Clooney is a haunted marvel as Clayton," adds James Christopher in the London Times. "[Y]ou sometimes wonder if Clooney himself would prefer to be admired than loved," writes the Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu. Michael Clayton is "a weighty, sophisticated feature... But it's so self-consciously adult, so deliberately downbeat. You wonder: does Clooney look down on his abilities as a comic actor?" John Horn profiles Clooney for the Los Angeles Times. Updates, 9/30: "What we have at the heart of this excellent thriller is a story of greed, the misuse of the law, the contempt of the powerful for the weak and the small window of decency through which such things can be corrected," writes Philip French in the Observer. John Horn profiles Clooney for the Los Angeles Times. Updates, 10/1: Gilroy "makes Swinton a fascinating face of evil," writes New York's David Edelstein. "She'll do anything to measure up to her boss and mentor (Ken Howard) - which drives home the point that it's the people who are least secure in their power who tend to abuse it so impulsively." "Gilroy is an entertainer, and he wants to show us everything - dirty secrets held by prestige law firms, the moral squalor of big-time corporate power and what it does to people, the moments of conscience and decency in messed-up lives," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "He's good with actors, and Michael Clayton has pace and drive - it's enormous fun. But I hope that as Gilroy continues directing he will let his movies breathe more.... Tony Gilroy has produced a screenwriter's film, which assumes that people who move through different worlds will alter their speech without losing their idiosyncratic style. Against all Hollywood wisdom, he trusts the audience to enjoy the texture and the power of words."
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Toronto. Smiley Face."Gregg Araki plays a very special role in my personal cinephilia," begins Matt Riviera. "The Living End, Totally F***ed Up and The Doom Generation were my introduction to independent queer cinema. They played a key role in my own coming of age, sexually, intellectually and politically.... It took 2004's Mysterious Skin to establish Araki as an A-list director, perhaps America's answer to Almodóvar." Smiley Face "is not the complex multi-layered follow up to Mysterious Skin I was hoping for. If that film was a step towards maturity, this one is pure regression." But for Cinematical's Monika Bartyzel, this one shows Araki "can leave many of his usual, challenging themes behind and make an easy-to-serve, and completely fun, mainstream comedy." And just now, Christopher Campbell passes along news that, after a brief run in LA, this one's going straight to DVD.
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Brooklyn Rail. September 07."Realism and fantasy collide in Les Enfants Terribles, the 1950 collaboration between celebrated directors Jean Cocteau and Jean Pierre Melville," writes Jesi Khadivi. "Cocteau adapted the film from his successful 1929 novel which he wrote in a week-long haze of opium withdrawal. He commissioned Jean-Pierre Melville to direct after seeing Melville's directorial debut, La Silence de La Mer. They're an unlikely pair. Cocteau was known in literary circles as the 'frivolous prince' for his willowy line drawings, poetry, and romantic, navel-gazing films featuring a high beef-cake factor. Melville became famous for his war pictures and hard-boiled Zen noirs. The result is like Bertolucci's The Dreamers with no sex." Also in the September issue of the Brooklyn Rail:
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Toronto and NYFF preview. Paranoid Park."The last four Gus Van Sant movies - Gerry, Elephant, Last Days, and this gorgeous reverie on adolescence - have the quality of a dream, slipping so fluidly through time and space that they practically float on air," writes Scott Tobias. "Perhaps by tethering the movie to some measure of conventional plot tension - the young hero's involvement in the accidental death of a Portland security guard - Paranoid Park [French site] has the weight of real insight that the other movies (which I think are all accomplished in other ways) can't really claim." Also at the AV Club: "Paranoid Park is perhaps Van Sant's most accessible film since he returned to the art-film circuit, because its people and emotions are the most recognizable and relatable—even when the plot takes a turn toward the lurid," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "As was the case with Gerry, Elephant and Last Days, I'm not sure why Van Sant is so fixated on violence, and I'm not totally convinced that he has anything particularly meaningful to teach us about it," writes Darren Hughes. Nonetheless, "Paranoid Park is my new favorite of Van Sant's films." "Van Sant - aided by the masterful camera of cinematographer Christopher Doyle - treat the specifics of the narrative as details of marginal importance, completely honing their focus on navigating an increasingly turbulent emotional landscape," writes Jesse Ataide at DVD Verdict. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes.
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Toronto and NYFF preview. Persepolis."Recounting her early childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood living in (and out of) Tehran in the years following Ayatollah Khomeini's 1979 Iranian Revolution, [Marjane] Satrapi's books - to borrow a phrase from Maus - bleed history, their raw confrontation of the monumental, tumultuous changes that swept the country during the 80s and 90s drenched in intimate, inflamed, and often unpleasant memories and emotions," writes Nick Schager at Slant. "They're stunning works of exposure, and thus it comes as little shock to discover that Satrapi's cinematic version of her stories - co-directed by Vincent Paronnaud - radiates brutal honesty. A hand-drawn 2D triumph produced in France (where Satrapi now lives) by the country's few remaining traditional animators, and shot primarily in black-and-white, Persepolis [site] feels ripped straight from its creator's heart, a sore, scathing, warts-and-all account of her formative years bolstered by its formidable aesthetic inventiveness, and elevated to the near-apex of its art form by its unguarded sincerity." "The film is yet another standout in a year rife with ambitious animated films like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Tekkonkinkreet and Paprika, but for my money it's the most consistent, humanist, and historically relevant of them all," writes Doug Cummings. "More than anything, Persepolis shows us what happens when religious fundamentalism and intolerance - of any stripe - is allowed to be the foundation on which a country's leadership is built," writes Cinematical's Kim Voynar. "It's a very personal and even profound story, and even though the movie loses some of the digressive, impressionistic structure that made the books so charming, it adds a sense of comic whimsy that a single drawing can't exactly replicate," writes Noel Murray. "Persepolis is a crowd-pleaser, and a model for how graphic novels can be filmed." Also at the AV Club: "Persepolis could hardly be more winning," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "The overall impression to Satrapi's coming-of-age adventures is just how vulnerable the individual can be to the forces of history." "A lot of films can break your heart - a precious few can enlarge and renovate it," writes Kenneth R Morefield at Looking Closer. Persepolis "is one of those precious few." "Persepolis streams by in no time, yet manages to convey the sense of an entire childhood into early adulthood," writes Jim Emerson. "Upon getting back to my room I immediately ordered the books, Persepolis and Persepolis 2." France is sending this one into the Oscar race, reports Alison James for Variety. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes.
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September 25, 2007
Shorts, 9/25.Staring Back is Chris Marker's "beautiful new collection of black-and-white photographs and video stills taken between 1952 and 2006," and Doug Cummings pages through it. "It's a rare token of the work of one of our most elusive but commanding of filmmakers, and a revealing portrait of the unspecified faces lingering in his - and now our - ongoing memories." "[A]s I grappled with my own ambivalence about taking on an art form so steeped in tradition, so strangely lumbering and usually so expensive, and - above all - performed for so few, I asked myself how I could possibly hope to conquer and reinvent a form within the really tight restrictions opera seems to impose." Sally Potter, on how she eventually came to decide to direct Carmen for the English National Opera. And look, she's blogging. Also in the Guardian:
Lust, Caution.For the LA Weekly's Scott Foundas, Lust, Caution "plays like the kind of rough assembly that directors sometimes screen for studio executives and trusted confidants when they're mid-way through the editing process. It is, I think, a work of extraordinary hubris - the kind of megalomaniacal enterprise that can spring forth from a director coming off of a major critical and commercial hit (in [Ang] Lee's case, Brokeback Mountain) and allowed by producers to indulge his every whim." It's "a kind of reverse Notorious," suggests Robert Cashill. "Not to spoil anything, but imagine that the Ingrid Bergman character in the classic Hitchcock picture decided to bail on Cary Grant and ally herself with Claude Rains and his neo-Nazi scheming. That roughly approximates the storyline of the film, which should have emerged as perverse but instead registers as sloggy and distasteful." Updated through 10/1. "Yawns were no sooner stifled in the Lush, Comatose screening room when word arrived from the Venice Film Festival that Se Jie, as it's called in Chinese, had tamed the Golden Lion," writes Nathan Lee in the Voice. "Whether or not jury president Zhang Yimou was stirred by patriotism or merely a boob, I'm amazed he convinced fellow jurist Paul Verhoeven to throw support behind a film he'd already made in Black Book - which has twice the passion and way better beaver shots." More from Robert Wilonsky, who finds it'd have been better "boiled down to half its running time." "Lee's attempt to do a revisionist version of a World War II film - with Japanese-occupied China subbing for Nazi-occupied France and charged-up young resistance fighters trying to snare a collaborationist Chinese kingpin (Tony Leung) - is overall a failure, albeit with tell-tale moments of dazzling creativity," blogs Howard Karren at In the Company of Glenn. "Wong and Mr Yee's sexual trysts give Lust, Caution an interesting psychological nuance," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant. "Tang, an actress with a great future, gives haunting expression to Wong's conflictions and sense of entrapment, even as the film begins to give pathetic leverage to the notion that diamonds are a girl's best friend." "Paul Verhoeven's Black Book had a similar scenario (Resistance lass seduces Axis bigwig), but the heroine's Gestapo lover was a sweetie under those jackboots and swastikas," writes David Edelstein in New York. "Leung's Yee has been coarsened by presiding over tortures and executions, and those bad habits come out in the bedroom. He knows that Tai Tai might be a spy - he has ferreted out other would-be lovers/assassins. But the risk brings him out of his paranoid-authoritarian little shell." "If Lee's methods are restrained and conservative, his subsequent career choices have nonetheless exhibited a persistent dedication to risk-taking," writes Nick Schager at IFC News. "Lust, Caution doesn't significantly renovate or subvert spy movie conventions or expectations. During its steamy, highly charged centerpieces, though, it does radically upend the director's usual nippy detachment." "Like the fight sequences in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the sex scenes in Lust, Caution push the story into increasingly feverish and complex directions," writes Anthony Kaufman. "Explicit, yes, but utterly necessary, to depict the use and abuse, or l'amour fou (depending on how you look at it), between the characters." "Lust, Caution revolves around a plot, like a thriller, and we try to read it like that; but it also revolves around character and nature, like a drama, and we see it through that perspective," writes Cinematical's James Rocchi. "The movie - and the audience - jumps from intimate drama to glossy thrills." And an online listening tip: James talks with Lee. For a long backgrounder in the Los Angeles Times, Paul Lieberman talks with Lee and Leung. Logan Hill talks with Lee for New York. Nathaniel R's got pix of the Taiwan premiere. Earlier: Reviews from Venice. Update, 9/26: "Lee and his collaborators (including, here as elsewhere, screenwriters James Schamus and Wang Hui-Ling) have built a pedigreed short story up into a Ralph Bellamy of a period piece: forgettably handsome and sympathetic to a fault," writes Mark Asch in the L Magazine. Updates, 9/27: In "Ang Lee's cunningly effective new period piece, the two main characters contort and distend across bed sheets with serpentine intensity, their motions caught in unvarnished close-up," writes Eric Kohn at the Reeler. "Every move in these hypnotically immersive scenes informs the story, imbuing it with an authentic sense of drama that gives the film a distinctly menacing tone. What might seem like gratuity is actually a strikingly eloquent form of psychological expressionism." "It's the real Eastern Promise - the movie Ang Lee has always been working toward," writes Armond White. Also in the New York Press, Jennifer Merin talks with Lee. Erica Abeel interviews Lee for indieWIRE. Updates, 9/28: "Lust, Caution - a truer title would be 'Caution: Lust' - is a sleepy, musty period drama about wartime maneuvers and bedroom calisthenics, and the misguided use of a solid director," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Like too many films that try to put a human face on history without really engaging with it, Lust, Caution feels at once overpadded and underdeveloped: it's all production design and not enough content." In an accompanying audio slide show, Lee discusses the film. "For nearly an hour, Lust, Caution plays like an exceedingly well-made but conventional wartime spy drama," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "But when the student group's plans are foiled by a sudden act of violence, which Lee shows us in a mercilessly protracted scene, the film turns into something rawer and stranger.... In the end, the movie suggests, both politics and love may be inseparable from the lies we tell ourselves about them." "For more than a decade, Lee has been quietly building an impressive canon about the erotic experience," writes Sarah Hepola. "Sex isn't really the throughline of Ang Lee's films; after all, he did direct Sense & Sensibility. Instead, his running theme is the conflict between what a person wants and what society deems acceptable." Also at Nerve, Gwynne Watkins: "Ang Lee's espionage drama unfolds as a luxurious period piece, but by the end, its loose coils have been pulled as taut as a hangman's noose." "Conceptually, Lust, Caution has been thoroughly thought-through, down to every lipstick stain Wei leaves on her teacups," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "And maybe that's what keeps the film from becoming truly affecting." "I got the impression, here and throughout Lust, Caution, that director Ang Lee just arbitrarily set up his shots without much consideration for what they meant," writes Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical. "His only concern is the story, not the art behind it." "I went into the screening with trepidation. The trepidation was not necessary," writes Marcy Dermansky. "Lust, Caution is a gorgeous film, sweeping you away to a different time and place." And Jürgen Fauth argues, "The story simply wouldn't add up if we hadn't seen what happens between Tony Leung and Wei Tang during the NC-17 scenes." In the Los Angeles Times, Lorenza Muñoz reports that many hope the film will help dissolve the stigma of the NC-17 rating: "'If Ang Lee does well, then maybe others will follow and we can get rid of these myths that have created challenges for this rating,' said John Fithian, president of the National Assn of Theatre Owners." The NYC premiere on Thursday has become ST VanAirsdale's "favorite red-carpet event of the year." Online listening tip. Lee's a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show. Update, 10/1: Via Movie City News, Anthony Kaufman gets Lee to list his five favorite "favorite dark film romances" for the Wall Street Journal.
Anticipating NYFF, 9/25."The 45th New York Film Festival is something of a family affair here at the Village Voice," writes Nathan Lee, pointing out that J Hoberman and Scott Foundas are on the selection committee and then referring to a column Jonas Mekas wrote in the weekly back in 1966, listing "arguments against and pro" the then-4-year-old festival. As for 2007, "We can quibble all we want about who's hot and who's not when it comes to the grand old men of the movies - why choose the latest from Rohmer (The Romance of Astree and Celadon) but not Rivette (Ne Touche Pas le Hache)? Why include a film indebted to Manoel de Oliveira (In The City of Sylvia) but not a film by Manoel de Oliveira (Christopher Columbus, the Enigma)? - yet it seems churlish to do so given a year when 'the death of cinema' has moved from the think piece to the obituary page." ST VanAirsdale, the Reeler, interviews NYFF programmer Richard Peña. At the SpoutBlog, Karina Longworth has newsbits from the NYFF front: a Brian De Palma no-show and a screening cancellation: John Ford's The Iron Horse.
Fests and events, 9/25.Millais, an exhibition of work by Pre-Raphaelite John Everett Millais opens at the Tate Britain tomorrow (through January 13).
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Toronto. Juno."I don't know when I've heard a standing ovation so long, loud and warm as the one after Jason Reitman's Juno, which I predict will become quickly beloved when it opens at Christmas time, and win a best actress nomination for its 20-year-old star, Ellen Page," writes Roger Ebert. "[H]ere's why I dug this movie so much that I wanted to crawl up on the screen and give it a big sloppy kiss." Scott Weinberg presents a bullet-pointed list at Cinematical, where Kim Voynar talks with Reitman and with screenwriter Diablo Cody. "[A]s much as I steeled myself against the wisecracking whimsy of Juno, by the end it had mostly won me over," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "This is an indie crowdpleaser that's much more enjoyable - in other words, not nearly as horrifying - as Little Miss Sunshine." Updated through 9/30: At the AV Club, Noel Murray offers a dissenting opinion: "[T]hough some of the movie is laugh-out-loud funny and even moving almost despite itself, the parade of not-quite-of-this-world characters and their not-in-the-least-believable behavior makes it a trifle at best, and insulting at worst." "10 minutes into Reitman's follow-up to Thank You For Smoking, I definitely wasn't feeling it: The too-quirky dialogue, singer-songwriter Kimya Dawson's cloying music, and the snide attitude carried over TYFS all put me off completely," admits his colleague Scott Tobias. "But from the scene in which Ellen Page... confesses her pregnancy to her family and then later meets a upper-middle-class couple (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) anxious to adopt, the film permanently wore down my defenses." "The Juno screening was a total madhouse!" reports Ali at the Film Experience. "I have certainly experienecd my share of chaotic movie experiences at TIFF, but this is what is must have been like when Borat premiered at the Ryerson last year." ST VanAirsdale talks with Page for the Reeler. Update, 9/30: And the Winner Is... talks with Reitman and Cody.
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Toronto. Lou Reed's Berlin."Berlin is especially controversial among Reed-ophiles, both for its prog-rock pretensions - it's a song cycle about a drug-addicted German prostitute and her children, with contributing performances by the likes of Steve Winwood and Jack Bruce - and for its fashionable nihilism," writes Noel Murray. "Lester Bangs bashed it as 'a gargantuan slab of maggoty rancor,' and fans of the more pop-minded Transformer by and large didn't care to take Reed's journey into the colossally morose in 1973. Me though, I've always loved Berlin.... If nothing else, Julian Schnabel's concert film Lou Reed's Berlin presents the album's ten songs with a force they've rarely shown before.... I'd hardly place Lou Reed's Berlin in the pantheon of great concert films.... But for Reed fans - heck, for rock fans - the movie is an essential document of a noteworthy event." "Praise due again to Jonathan Demme's groundbreaking Stop Making Sense, which convinced directors like Schnabel to keep the cameras tight on the stage and treat moviegoers as the audience," adds his AV Club colleague Scott Tobias. "Julian Schnabel's supple visual instincts perfectly preserve Lou Reed's own rock-opera concept album in Lou Reed's Berlin, a deeply satisfying record of his live performances at St Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn, New York, 33 years after the album's failed initial release," writes Stephen Garrettt at indieWIRE. The San Sebastian Film Festival's got the trailer.
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Toronto. Schindler's Houses.Heinz Emigholz's Schindler's Houses is "a special delight for Angelenos like myself," writes Doug Cummings. "Composed of slightly canted, static shots (creating a playful 'movement' in their juxtaposition) depicting scores of houses designed by RM Schindler in the Los Angeles vicinity, the film becomes a meditation on an artistic persona permeating buildings all around the city, aesthetically joining disparate classes, locations, times and functions." "The form of the homes and the form of the film reflect and suit Los Angeles perfectly," writes MS Smith. "Los Angeles is the antithesis of the concentrated city, the contrary and modern answer to classical design, and the lines and angles of Schindler's houses jut out in varying directions like the city itself. As the film implies, these homes mark not only the history of an architectural movement, but the socio-economic history of this region."
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Toronto and NYFF preview. Stellet Licht."Silent Light [site] is by far the best film I've seen at this year's festival, marking a maturity in [Carlos] Reygadas's vision and a striking purity of the cinematic image," writes Michael Guillén. "Carlos Reygadas disappoints with his follow-up to the brilliant two-fer Japón and Battle in Heaven," writes Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door. "At worst, Reygadas films his subjects with the indifference Bruno Dumont showed to landscape and character alike in Flandres." Updated through 9/26. "Many have called Silent Light an extended homage to Carl Dreyer's 1955 transcendentalist classic Ordet, but they're only half-right, in ways that are telling," writes Scott Tobias. "Yes, the film is set in isolation among the religiously devout. And yes, it closes with a moment of grace that unmistakably connects the two movies. But where Dreyer's world is narrow, suffocating, and punishingly austere - not that there's anything wrong with that, considering that I nearly wrote my Master's thesis on Ordet - Reygadas often proves himself a sensualist with more in common with Terrence Malick than Dreyer." But his colleague at the AV Club dissents: "If I'm going to talk about the nagging artificiality of indie-twee movies like the apparently much-beloved-by-everyone-but-me Juno, it's only fair to note that I have a similar problem with syrup-paced art movies like the latest from the director of Japón and Battle in Heaven," writes a target="_blank" href="http://www.avclub.com/content/blog/toronto_film_festival_07_day_thre_0">Noel Murray. "But a lot of my cinephile friends - ones whose opinions I respect - really love this movie, so take my eye-rolling with a dose of mitigation." "It might very well be a perfect film on its own accord, but for me its implications and staying power fall considerably short of Dreyer's masterwork," writes Doug Cummings. "Silent Light, easily the best film I'll see at this festival, is a masterpiece of tone and form made by a talented man in full control of all his gifts," writes Steve at the Film Experience. Update: "Though much ink has been spilled on Silent Light's magnificent opening and closing shots, it's hard to isolate one image in this film as being more powerful than the last," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "One after another, Reygadas' long, slow ultra-wide shots, occasionally sprinkled with psychedelic lens flares, took my breath away. It's more like watching grass grow than paint dry, but either way, it's undoubtedly a film that rewards a certain viewing temperament. But If Reygadas seems to take a while to get from cut to cut, it's not because he's wasting time: he fills the spaces created by his characters' silences (awkward, intimate) with thunderous diegetic sounds, which themselves become catalysts for furthering the story." Update, 9/26: "A work of singular cinematographic splendor, Silent Light is also a regression for Reygadas as an artist and activist thinker," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant. "It's unfortunate, at once depressing and funny, that the ballsy Battle in Heaven, a tragic story of a kidnapping that cannily zeroes in on the effects a country's racial and class strife has on the consciousness of a lower-class people, gets called pretentious while this aloof, almost condescending study of emotional grief and spiritual conviction gets a free pass."
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Toronto and NYFF preview. Margot at the Wedding."Noah Baumbach's Margot at the Wedding [site] is one of the scariest films ever," declares Jim Emerson. "If I describe it as a horror movie - torture porn about a long-obsolete and class of super-self-conscious but utterly un-self-aware white East-Coast intellectual trash - I trust that also conveys how bitterly, nastily funny the movie is. It's like a Neil LaBute picture co-written by Jules Feiffer. Scalpel-sharp. Merciless. Cruel. Uncompromisingly misanthropic. And really getting off on being so." "A mild disappointment in the wake of the near perfect Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding still has enough sour humour and sharp insight to encourage viewers and critics to keep their faith in Baumbach's abilities as one of the more interesting American directors of his generation," writes Allan Hunter in Screen Daily. From Emily Nussbaum's profile of Baumbach and Jennifer Jason Leigh for New York: "'It's funny, but in a really scathing, brutal way,' Leigh says about the movie, which she praises for the way in which its cruelty rises out of real behavior, a character-centered sensibility she suggests has become a rarity. 'Just to see people so exposed, and the undoing that happens, the destruction that ensues. It all could happen over the course of a breakfast. It's that way in families.'" "[B]ecause Baumbach's style is reminiscent of dynamic French filmmakers like Louis Malle, Margot at the Wedding has a restless energy that culminates in a nerve-jangling final scene," writes Noel Murray. "And Baumbach continues to show an acute understanding of how narcissists need their families to validate their mini-dramas." Also at the AV Club: "Baumbach firmly posits himself as an Eric Rohmer acolyte (naming Jennifer Jason Leigh's character 'Pauline' couldn't have been mere coincidence), specializing in talky, fine-tuned relationship comedies that have some bite to them," suggests Scott Tobias "Noah Baumbach has emerged as possibly the most wrenching and impressive young American filmmaker," writes Patrick Z McGavin at Stop Smiling. "His elliptical new film centered on an impending marriage — made without transitions or exposition — synthesizes John Cassavetes and Eric Rohmer, the drama built around the dramatic and emotionally painful events of a long weekend in the Hamptons." "The absolute highlight of the daring film is the loving way in which Baumbach directs his spouse Leigh to perhaps the most nuanced, relaxed role of her accomplished career," writes Matt Mazur at PopMatters. "The film doesn't quite reach the heights of The Squid and the Whale (which, to me, felt heavily influenced by Wes Anderson), but it's filled with the kind of uncomfortable moments only someone with a lovingly fucked-up family can truly understand," writes the San Francisco Bay Guardian's Cheryl Eddy. For Cinematical, Patricia Chui interviews Baumbach.
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Toronto and NYFF preview. Secret Sunshine."After several plot turns that I refuse to spoil, Secret Sunshine [site] becomes, among many other things, the truest depiction of evangelical Christianity I've seen on film," writes Darren Hughes. "Fortunately, [Lee Chang-dong's] film is not evangelical itself and, instead, wrestles with the strangeness and disappointments of faith in a way that The Mourning Forest, with its contrivances, could only mimic. Damn, I love this film." "The film is brave and unsparing (as is Jeon [Do-yeon]'s performance) and asks some challenging and disquieting questions, among them whether human values such as love, mercy, morality, meaning and forgiveness still have meaning if we shift the ultimate responsibility for them away from human beings onto some (Christian, in this case) concept of God," writes Jim Emerson. "It's a hard film to write about without using superlatives." "My problem with the movie is that I kept resisting the narrative, never quite able to give myself to a story that deals in extremes," writes J Robert Parks. "[F]or now, it's a film I admire more than I like." "It's hard to reconcile the temporal and emotional virtuosity of the first half with the dissipation into rote spitefulness of the second," writes Kevin Lee at Slant. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes.
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Toronto and NYFF preview. I'm Not There."[T]he one film at Toronto with a possible claim on masterpiece status is the one that managed to generate the greatest intensity of feeling through the most preposterously complicated means," writes Nathan Lee in the Voice. After checking off the list of leads, he continues, "More amazing still is how harmoniously [Todd] Haynes arranges and sustains this semiotic free fall through the Dylan history and myth without losing dramatic momentum or indulging the hagiographic impulse. But the deep wonderment of this strange and wondrous picture is how language so aggressively mediated, so insistently postmodern, and so apparently nostalgic can speak with such eloquence about the world right now. A movie about the struggle to negotiate freedom, creativity, and political integrity in a media-addled culture at a time of war, I'm Not There [site] has everything and nothing to do with Bob Dylan." Updated through 9/29. "In some ways, it's the natural companion to Don't Look Back (actually re-enacting some scenes and interviews from that documentary in a new context), the movie Dylan probably wanted Reynaldo and Clara to be, and in other ways the movie Haynes wanted Velvet Goldmine to be," suggests Jim Emerson. "It actually goes back inside these films (Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Richard Lester's A Hard Day's Night and Petulia, Godard's Masculin-Feminin, Fellini's 8½ and others, too) - and the old stories, the album covers, the liner notes, the newspaper and magazine clippings - and recapitulates and reinterprets them in new contexts. I was thrilled by it, moved, dazzled, entranced. I love this movie." "Todd Haynes' new film is, as they would say in semiotics class, a dense text," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "Generally, the depth of the film's referentiality is kind of astonishing—more so when you consider the artists covering the Dylan songs on the soundtrack ([Cate] Blanchett opens her mouth, but Steve Malkmus comes out of it).... I really need to see this film again in order to get deeper into it, but I can't help but note that, given the emotional connection that so many feel to Dylan's work, I'm Not There is awfully cerebral." "I'm Not There may be a brilliant myth-making exercise, a fearsome piece of pop art, a truly fascinating film," proposes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "It may also be a hollow jumble of post-modern pick-up-sticks - a chaotic stack of signifiers and images and in-jokes with nothing at the heart. Part of me wants to see it again as soon as possible; crack its codes, follow the arcs, catch anything I missed. I also wanted to not see it ever again - to let it be a dream, a blur, like a few notes of music that find you at an unexpected moment and you hear the rest of your life." And here's an online listening tip: James interviews Haynes. "I'm still not sure how Haynes pulled it off," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "I only know that I can't wait to see it again. In fact, I'm afraid I'm going to be one of those freaks who see it half a dozen times before it drifts out of the theaters, not necessarily to parse its many allusions and inside jokes (although that's fun) but simply to bask in its crazy, warm glow." "I'm Not There is brilliant, a visual and aural feast that is so complex in structure that it boggles the mind that he or anyone else could stitch it together," writes Howard Feinstein for Filmmaker. "Sure, Haynes was enamored of artifice in Superstar, Poison, Velvet Goldmine and Far From Heaven, but he amplifies the strategy here. Todd Solondz's Palindromes was unsuccessful in its use of multiple actors for a single character, but Haynes's gamble pays off." "Even for a Dylan fan like me, there's a lot of 'huh?' to I'm Not There," blogs Noel Murray at the AV Club. "But there's just as much 'wow.'" For his fellow AV Club member, Scott Tobias, "Haynes's movie smartly sidesteps any attempt to explain the Dylan enigma; on the contrary, the film embraces it, collapsing multiple timelines into a 135-minute soup that I found both intriguingly and frustratingly allusive/elusive." "Styles change from persona to persona, from the Don't Look Back B&W cinema verité look of Quinn's England tour (along with salutes to A Hard Day's Night and Fellini movies) to the steeped Hollywood cinema colors of the actor's life to the mock-doc survey of the early folksinger (with Julianne Moore in the Baez role)," blogs Sean Axmaker for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "As spun by Haynes, they are all different people in the same musical universe rather than steps along a journey. Haynes opens the film on the singer's death and autopsy." "This was maybe the only movie at the festival where I got that overwhelming, I'm-enveloped-by-this-film feeling... which is not to say I was one hundred percent in love with it," blogs the San Francisco Bay Guardian's Cheryl Eddy. "But it was plenty stirring." "Haynes comes out of the dream-like I'm Not There a resounding winner," writes Matt Mazur at PopMatters. "The film looks astonishing. If there is anything missing from the idyllic, disjointed re-telling of singer/songwriter Bob Dylan's life, it is emotional truth; but there is enough present to let Haynes' vision slide." "[E]asily one of the best and most ambitious films of the year, [I'm Not There] fragments the many chapters of the folk-rock troubadour's life and reshuffles the cards to form a fascinating meditation on identity and personal responsibility, transforming the pop prophet's intimidating, cryptic life into a deeply empathetic and surprisingly accessible journey," writes Stephen Garrettt at indieWIRE. For the London Times, Stephen Dalton gets a comment from Haynes on the 60s: "Vicariously, nostalgically, retrospectively, it doesn't matter. It's worth continual reexamination. We are still unpacking the 1960s. It was great because it was a time that demanded you take a stand on what you thought about things. That meant being aware politically and culturally." "The movie's terrific, among the best I've seen in Toronto, but it's not for the casual Dylan fan," warns the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "This exhilarating experiment addresses the question at the root of any biography: Can anything authoritative be said about any person?" writes Time's Richard Corliss. "I'd enjoy sitting through a cut of I'm Not There if it were twice its current length, or half. At 135 mins (about the same as Across the Universe), the film almost dares a viewer to choose favorite parts, and others for pruning. The section in which [Richard] Gere as an older Bob hunts for his lost dog baffled and bored me; the [Marcus Carl] Franklin and [Christian] Bale parts I found quite moving; Blanchett is worth watching through her characters triumphs, disasters and longueurs. Overall, I'm glad I was there." Online viewing tip. At Boing Boing, David Pescovitz points to a clip from Don't Look Back, the infamous interview Horace Judson conducted with Dylan for Time in
Toronto and NYFF preview. At Sea."I discovered Friday night that what I had wanted from Jennifer Baichwal's [Manufactured Landscapes] was, in fact, something closer in spirit to Peter Hutton's At Sea, a 60-minute, silent triptych about the birth, life, and death of a modern ship," writes Darren Hughes. "Of the many films worth anticipating in the New York Film Festival's eleventh annual Views from the Avant-Garde (including new works by Ernie Gehr, Ken Jacobs and Peggy Ahwesh), two that can already be considered highlights come from veteran artists Robert Beavers and Peter Hutton," writes Kevin B Lee, reviewing At Sea and Beavers's Pitcher of Colored Light at the House Next Door. "While one film is shot within the safe confines of a single home and the other depicts a maritime odyssey with epic views of endless ocean, both employ vivid palettes of light and color to evoke feelings of adventurous movement through time and space, underscored by a creeping sense of mortality." "Hutton finds visual patterns in waves and ocean rain that no one let alone James Cameron seems to have thought of before," writes Vadim Rizov at the Reeler. "Two shots in particular stand out: One is of the boat's deck red-painted awning repeatedly swinging over and covering the sea, red and blue battling it out for on-screen color supremacy. The other is an astounding, desaturated shot of black-and-white waves forming patterns so dense and shimmery it seems like if you stared long enough, a secret 3D image might pop out. At Sea isn't consistent from beginning to end, but at least a portion of it is some of [NYFF's] must-see viewing."
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Toronto and NYFF preview. Married Life."[Director Ira] Sachs and [co-screenwriter Oren] Moverman cop to their influences (to these eyes, Married Life's obvious cinematic touchstones are the multifaceted melodramas of Douglas Sirk and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, with shadings of Ophuls, Hitchcock and Preminger), yet they never succumb to them," writes Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door. "Rather, they understand the important ways in which art acts as a stimulus to life, and how cinema, an inherently two-dimensional form, can be revelatory, if never entirely explanatory, of human psychology." "Chris Cooper is sublime, as always," writes David Poland. "He just isn't capable of walking through a film. Patricia Clarkson has become a true master of the camera. You can actually see her using the angles and light with her own instincts sometimes. Rachel McAdams finds yet another character to play who is completely different than what she has done before. But it is Pierce Brosnan who really struck me in the film." Brosnan's "work as a committed bachelor who takes an interest in best friend Chris Cooper's mistress (Rachel McAdams) - and the performances of the other actors... - give Sachs' melodrama, set among people of privilege in post-war America, the precious distinction it needs," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. For Jürgen Fauth, this is "the first film at this year's New York Film Festival that I wish I had walked out of." "Never mind... that the narration in Married Life is redundant or that it provides the would-be suspenseful crime drama with a playfully misdirected tone; the major issue is that Sachs appears to misunderstand the purpose of using voiceover as a storytelling device in which point of view is established," writes Christopher Campbell, who goes on at the Reeler to quote Sachs defending the use of the voiceover at Friday's press conference.
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NYFF preview. Go Go Tales."Like Prairie Home Companion, Go Go Tales [site] is a serio-comic survey of a community on life support, and as Ferrara's elegantly camera prowls the Paradise's rooms and hallways, we catch glimpses of people whose survival depends on the subsistence of the club and the resolve of its emcee, Ray Ruby (Willem Dafoe)," writes Ed Gonzalez, who finds the film to be Abel Ferrara's "most confessional since Dangerous Game." Updated. "Expectedly, some of the improvised scenarios fall flat (a man recognizing one of the strippers as his wife feels like a worn-out premise), but this is definitely one of those films made of moments greater than the whole," writes Kevin B Lee at the House Next Door. "I don't buy the grander claims made for Go Go Tales as an incisive view into the struggle of art versus capitalism, commerce and addiction (there just aren't enough ruminative moments for those themes to come through), but as an object lesson in cinema at play, it's got as much life as the constantly roving and redefining frames of Fabio Cianchetti's camerawork, or the dense, multifaceted nightclub soundtrack. This is a film that's about being alive and cavorting like crazy through both good times and bad." "The press conference was an occasionally hilarious dialogue about the film that offered a glimpse into the sort of tug-of-war of personalities that must have made for a lively movie set," reports Eugene Hernandez. And at the SpoutBlog, Karina Longworth has just a whole lot of quotage from Mr Ferrara. Earlier: Steven Shaviro and reviews from Cannes. Update: "The ensemble (and, I suppose, dancing naked ladies) doesn't hurt," writes ST VanAirsdale at the Reeler. "I asked Ferrara at Monday's press conference how he worked with his cast to develop and corral the surrogate family whose psychodramatic chemistry somehow resulted in perhaps the festival's best comedy." The answer's a long one.
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DVDs, 9/25.For the New York Times' Dave Kehr, Criterion's release of the relatively recently restored 3 Penny Opera, directed by GW Pabst in 1931, is "a revelation." Steven Shaviro describes the ways "Zodiac creates a overwhelming, but distanced, sense of flatness, mobility, and creepiness: a kind of low-key affectivity that is as much an expression of our general mediascape as it is of the mind of a serial killer." A terrific annotated list from Kristin Thompson: "DVD supplements that really tell you something." For The Boss of It All, Lars von Trier "decided to semi-automate the creative procedure, and leave the camera angles and placement up to a computer program, nicknamed Automavision," Michael Atkinson reminds us at IFC News. "[T]he affect works wonders: however 'unmotivated,' the movie's disruptive, off-kilter syntax fits the story like a rubber glove.... and suggests yet again that von Trier's yen for experimental penitence may be merely the smoke of his sideshow, obscuring his real achievements in storytelling and directing actors (there hasn't been a misjudged performance in a von Trier film in the two decades since Medea, and there's been a wealth of world-beaters)." Also recommended is Red Road. "I have a confession to make," offers Kimberly Linbergs. "I love British historical dramas." Yes, me, too. And she writes up two I remember fondly (though it's been years and years): Anne of the Thousand Days and Mary Queen of Scots. "Kino's first Avant-Garde set was an essential release that concentrated on silent cinema," writes Michael Barrett at PopMatters. The "follow-up crosses into the sound era with a few major pieces and some tantalizing minor works from major names." "[T]he only other 'problem film' that is as interesting as The Intruder is Luis Buñuel's The Young One," writes Charles Mudede in the Stranger. "Deeper consideration will surely show this to be the reason why both are fascinating treatments of American racism: They are not products of the Hollywood system." More from Dave Kehr in the NYT and Susan King looks back on early Roger Corman in the Los Angeles Times. Jim Emerson on Zoo: "It's not that director Robinson Devor and his co-writer/-researcher Charles Mudede didn't necessarily get what they needed to make a movie. It's that they only used whatever they got to make this movie, and that didn't feel like enough to me." "The great DVD edition of The Princess Bride contains not one but two worthwhile commentary tracks, one by director Rob Reiner and another by screenwriter William Goldman, who wrote the book upon which the film was based," writes Edward Copeland. "If it weren't already obvious, Goldman spells out clearly his intention with both the book and the movie: He wanted to celebrate good old-fashioned storytelling and it's a joyous tale to be told." "To enjoy Red Dawn from scratch in 2007, think of the film as a Reagan-era mirror of hyperbole, reflecting straight back at us the current Bush Administration's agenda of instilling paranoia and fear in its people," suggests Jason Woloski at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "If Red Dawn was remade today, writer-director John Milius's imagination for Right Wing derangement would juggle the current war on terror by making viewers believe in the possibility of Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan teaming up and sneak attacking the US on a mass scale." "Released in 1979, Alien is very much a film of its decade - cynical towards corporate thinking, distrustful of authority, very much in favor of sex, drugs and rock and roll," writes Andrew Bemis. "And while I love its sequels to varying degrees..., it's the original that retains an iconic perfection." DVD roundups: Cinema Strikes Back, DVD Talk, Facets Features and Kamera.
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Sight & Sound. October 07.Kind of cute: Eastern Promises opens the London Film Festival on October 17, right? So the October issue of Sight & Sound opens with "Eastern Promise," Nick Roddick's survey of contemporary Romanian cinema. Celebratory as it is, the piece ends on a note of warning: "However great the acclaim that greets its films internationally, a national cinema without a national audience is living on borrowed time." This month's cover is enticing, but the three-piece package on Control (which opens in the UK on October 5, that is, well before the LFF) is not online. If it's any consolation, this entry is still being updated (and a Toronto index is forthcoming, by the way). "I think since 9/11 there has been a desire on both sides for more hostility, a cruder division of the world into right and wrong," Michael Winterbottom tells Ali Jaafar, who sees in A Mighty Heart a film "marked by contradictory tensions on almost every level." "Considering the challenges it poses, Syndromes and a Century is an exceptionally easy and pleasurable watch," writes Tony Rayns. "The more you pinpoint the film's central dualities - female/male, country/city, sunlight/electric light, then/now and so on - the more it starts to sound like one of Apichatpong's gallery pieces or installations: an art object rather than a movie. The paradox is that it plays just fine in the cinema." Also: "[I]f Death Proof isn't a proper grindhouse movie, what is it? First and foremost, it's a game of two halves - sort of like an Apichatpong Weerasethakul film, but less so." Tim Lucas reviews The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On, Hara Kazuo's acclaimed documentary on Okuzaki Kenzo, "a Pacific War veteran, one of only 30 survivors of a thousand-strong regiment, who dedicated his post-war life to forcing other survivors of Hirohito's imperialistic campaign to admit the crimes they committed against their fellow men in order to emerge alive.... The day after viewing it, while watching television, I happened to surf past Master of the World, a 1961 film of Jules Verne's 1886 novel Robur-le-Conquérant starring Vincent Price, and was struck by many pronounced parallels. Okuzaki, I realised, was Robur come to life, a man who felt world peace must be achieved by any means necessary, his soul so eclipsed by that quixotic quest that he failed to see the monster he had become and the common sense that peace can only be achieved by living in peace." On a related note, John Adair agrees that the film "serves as a cautionary tale to those so deeply angered and embittered by the injustices of the world." "The giant of the French star-system, the man who has made more than 170 films, the star of Le Dernier Métro and Cyrano de Bergerac, had lately become known primarily for his dodgy, though lucrative, business ventures, his speeding offences and his cameos in blockbusters like La Vie en rose," writes Ginette Vincendeau. "The Singer, by young director Xavier Giannoli, gives [Gérard] Depardieu a wonderful opportunity to display his colossal talent (and physique)."
Posted by dwhudson at 2:06 AM
September 24, 2007
Interview. Robert Benton."Forty years after co-writing Bonnie and Clyde, nearly 30 years after winning a fistful of Oscars for writing and directing Kramer vs Kramer, [Robert] Benton, who turns 75 this month, is now an éminence grise, standing a step behind Clint Eastwood as one of our last remaining masters of humanist drama," writes Patrick Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times. "As Hollywood films have grown increasingly noisy and sterile, Benton's have become more resonant and serene. Most of his best work explores common lives and the connections between family and community, be it the small-town clan of Nobody's Fool or his affectionate portrait of life in his hometown of Waxahachie, Texas, that occupies the center of Places in the Heart." And just up at the main site is Sean Axmaker's talk with Benton about his new film, Feast of Love, about what all he owes Robert Altman and about the ongoing debate over violence in movies. Updated through 9/28. "[I]ndeed, there is much love in the [Feast of Love]," writes Matt Singer at IFC News. "Too much, in fact. If this is a feast, it is one in which the host bought an enormous quantity of food, and now the guests feel obliged to stuff their craws until they're nauseous and bloated. This sort of movie and that sort of meal calls for a kind of moderation that director Robert Benton appears unwilling to provide." "Competent staging and serviceable performances are about the only compliments I can think to pay the film, which charts the romances of some Portland, Oregon simpletons with such laughable pretentiousness that, were it not for everyone involved playing the material for straightforward uplift, it would feel like a parody of Grand Canyon, Playing by Heart, and its faux-profound ilk," writes Nick Schager at Slant. Updates, 9/25: At indieWIRE, Nick Pinkerton empties both barrels before concluding, "All this rancor towards an undoubtedly well-meaning movie may seem a bit much, but when you live somewhere with one 'art'-house option, and a steamer like this clogs up a precious screen for five weeks, it can really ruin your life." The Oregonian's Shawn Levy, too, talks with Benton. "The cast performs as expected," writes David D'Arcy at Screen Daily. "[Margan] Freeman is a stoic sage. [Greg] Kinnear is a bumbling romantic. Jane Alexander has a mature forbearance. Toby Hemingway has the eager radiance of a youth destined for martyrdom. Fred Ward is the odd man out as Oscar's violent alcoholic father Bat. He is a drunk, and hence the nastiest of misfits in this movie about sweet neurotics who do nothing worse than overdose on coffee and then overdose on talking about themselves." Benton's "decided to serve up a film feast consisting only of sweets: a smorgasbord of cream puffs and treacle tarts, all topped with a bracing smear of marshmallow fluff," writes Julia Wallace in the Voice. Updates, 9/26: "Mention the name Robert Benton to anyone who has worked with him and then duck while the superlatives fly," writes Sara Vilkomerson, who profiles him for the New York Observer. Matt Prigge meets Benton for the Philadelphia Weekly. Everyone may love Benton, but Feast is "offensively silly," declares Cathy Erway in the L Magazine. "[I]f a lot of the characters in Feast of Love seem a little too good-hearted to be true, Benton and screenwriter Allison Burnett (adapting a novel by Charles Baxter) make sure that enough bad things keep happening to them to keep the film from getting too cloying," writes Paul Matwychuk. Updates, 9/27: "Feast of Love is a perfectly serviceable romantic drama that slowly builds into something much stranger and even wiser," writes R Emmet Sweeney at the Reeler. Yes, it's "unabashedly sentimental, but also manages to be clear-eyed about the spotty, earth-bound motivations that can drive such sentiment." "Feast of Love is the Fear Factor of romantic dramedies, forcing audiences to endure one false moment of saccharine sentimentality after another until viewers will find themselves wishing they'd opted to stick their head inside a bucket of scorpions," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "Not as incisive or suspenseful as his breakthrough, Kramer vs Kramer, Feast of Love still shows that male directors and writers can get at relationship matters quite well," proposes Marsha McCreadie in the New York Press. Chuck Wilson talks with Benton for the LA Weekly. Updates, 9/28: "Remarks about Greek gods and the foibles of humanity may have their place over brandy and cigars," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "But despite the kindly gravity Mr Freeman puts into them, they sound portentous and condescending in the context of Feast of Love, a hollow contrivance masquerading as a wise and witty contemporary gloss on A Midsummer Night's Dream." "I can't remember when I last saw a movie so maddeningly inconsistent, with incisive observations and credible behavior pressed right up next to material so stupid it practically drools," writes Mike D'Angelo at Nerve. "[I]n the Arcadian, storybook Portland, Ore, in which the movie is set, love is a simple binary system - it's either on or off, pure or compromised, hot or age-appropriately snuggly," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "What it's not is complicated, or nuanced, or interesting." "Maybe Benton's serenely dull time-waster should take a cue from one of its main settings, and become the first Hollywood film released directly to coffee shops," suggests Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. John Patterson talks with Freeman for the Guardian.
Posted by dwhudson at 3:33 PM
Fests and events, 9/24."The UK's largest independent film festival will this week become the first to simultaneously show its movies via the web, claiming the initiative could help establish a new revenue model for independent filmmakers," reports Owen Gibson for the Guardian. "The Raindance Film Festival in London has done a deal with broadband provider Tiscali to make six of its films available to all via the web at the same time as they premiere in London cinemas." Tomorrow through October 7. And Mick Jones - yes, that Mick Jones - explains why he's looking forward to serving on the jury: "Looking back, it strikes me that the Clash were always a very cine-literate group. We'd seen all the right films and knew all the references. People always talk about punk as this Year Zero thing, whereas all popular culture is always stealing from itself, feeding off itself - like Soylent Green." The Mumble Without a Cause series rolls on at the Northwest Film Forum through October 3 and, at the Siffblog, Kathy Fennessy's caught up with Hannah Takes the Stairs. Well, she's not won over: "I didn't find the scenario implausible. Nor did I think the acting was terrible. I just didn't care." Reports from San Sebastian keep coming into Variety's Circuit. "Once again, the Hollywood Film Festival granted Film Threat the opportunity to program and curate their Horror, Sci-Fi and Fantasy film festival sidebar, and we took to the task with rabid glee," writes Mark Bell, presenting the a target="_blank" href="http://hollywoodawards.com/horror.html">lineup they've put together. Dates for the festival: October 17 through 22. And the sidebar: October 19 through 21. Online viewing tip. For later, that is, 1 pm ET, September 28 through October 5. IFC News will be broadcasting live from the New York Film Festival.
Posted by dwhudson at 3:23 PM
Online viewing tip. Philip Roth.Below the jump, five minutes with Philip Roth. You can spare these five minutes.
NYFF preview. I Just Didn't Do It."In I Just Didn't Do It [site], Ryo Kase (dancing Takefumi from Funky Forest) plays Teppei, an alleged groper of a schoolgirl who finds himself up against a legal system that boasts a 99.9% conviction rate," writes Filmbrain. "Though shouted at and browbeaten by detectives and prosecutors alike..., he still believes the truth will set him free.... Back in 1996 I decried that the god-awful Shall We Dance (director Masayuki Suo's previous film) would result in the death of Japanese cinema as we know it. Fair enough, I was wrong. Still, it's wonderful to see what a difference ten years makes. I Just Didn't Do It is the antithesis of that film, devoid of the feel-good syrupy sentimentality that oozed from every frame. Exposé, cautionary tale, and procedural all rolled into one, I Just Didn't Do It is a study in the abuse of state power that no fan of Foucault should miss." Updated through 9/27. "It's a tragic tale of a society at large, one so obsessed with the micromanagement and/or eradication of vague behaviors that it frequently loses its ability to mete out proper and considered justice," writes Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door. "That the film's actions are couched in a familiar and fascinating vein of Japanese politeness only makes its defiant closing passages (as much an appeal to a higher power as to a mortal one) that much more powerful." "Suo's critique of the Japanese legal system is devastating, though he refuses to single out any one group for blame," writes Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog. The film makes for "a fascinating, provoking glimpse into a Kafkaesque system we were complete unaware of. Our blood boiled, and for once, a jury of our peers seemed appealing." Update, 9/27: "[I]f one's cognitive abilities are in full working order, it becomes immediately apparent upon seeing I Just Didn't Do It that the film's fetishistic attention to the policies and procedures of the Japanese court system is precisely what gives it an added layer of perverse fascination if you happen to be watching it through foreign eyes," writes Scott Foundas in Cinema Scope.
Toronto and NYFF preview. No Country For Old Men.First, a bit of fun: the Coens josh in Esquire about casting Josh Brolin. Now then: "There is a polished, poetic plainness to some of Cormac McCarthy's prose in which his admirers might hear echoes of Flannery O'Connor but which usually leaves me exasperated," begins Kenneth R Morefield at Looking Closer. He explains, and then: "One could, I think, rewrite the first two paragraphs of this review by crossing out 'Cormac McCarthy' and inserting 'the Coen brothers' and substituting Fargo (or O Brother, Where Art Thou) for No Country for Old Men." Goes on a bit more, and then: "Since I've no doubt offended the two groups most anxious to see the film, let me hasten to say it did work for me, if only just." "No Country for Old Men is one of those movies I think provides a critical litmus test," proposes Jim Emerson. "You can quibble about it all you like, but if you don't get the artistry at work then, I submit, you don't get what movies are." "The film is somber, austere, yet rich in feeling," writes David Edelstein in New York. "The Coens don't wink at you, but you know they're there and grooving on the barbed-wire witticisms and the actors' Weirdo Factor: [Tommy Lee] Jones's hangdog face; Woody Harrelson's doofus air of infallibility as a cowboy-hatted bounty hunter; and especially [Javier] Bardem's Prince Valiant haircut, basso-Lurch voice, and dark, freaky stare in the extended foreplay before his killings." The "unsatisfyingly rapid narrative closure... may just be a sign that No Country is one of those totally involving stories that one just hates to see end," blogs the Austin Chronicle's Marjorie Baumgarten. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes.
Posted by dwhudson at 9:49 AM
Goings on in Babelsberg.Busy days for the studios that once saw the likes of Lang and Dietrich working here. Tom Tykwer has now begun shooting The International with Clive Owen, Naomi Watts and Armin Mueller-Stahl, reports the AP (in German). Fatih Akin up following up his The Edge of Heaven (opening here in Germany on Thursday; it's Germany's pick for the Oscar race) with, would you believe, a Western, for which he's building a replica of Ellis Island in the studios (the story moves west after the immigrants arrive). The DPA (German Press Agency) reports. And in Die Welt, Peter Zander's got a shamelessly speculative piece about what might happen when Nicole Kidman arrives in Babelsberg to begin work on Stephen Daldry's adaptation of Bernhard Schlink's The Reader. Tom Cruise, you see, will still be here, working on Valkyrie. Sheesh.
New York. NYFF."For the first time in a long while, the New York Film Festival, which opens this Friday, is truly a New York film festival," announces, yes, New York in a cover package fronted by Andrew Eccles's shot of Joel and Ethan Coen, Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson. Other New Yorkers in the NYFF lineup: "Peter Bogdanovich, Abel Ferrara, Murray Lerner, Sidney Lumet, Ira Sachs and Julian Schnabel. Filmmakers from Hollywood: one. You may not have noticed that you are living in a new heyday of New York film, but you are." Bilge Ebiri's got a timeline, "A Short-Cuts History of New York and Film." David Amsden takes a train ride with Anderson, entering "what those close to him affectionately refer to as 'Wes's world,' which resembles a vaudevillian family by way of Evelyn Waugh." As for The Darjeeling Limited, the opening night movie, David Edelstein finds it "hit and miss, but its tone of lyric melancholy is remarkably sustained." He seems to prefer the short that precedes it, Hotel Chevalier. And just about everyone who's reviewed Darjeeling has remarked that it's a shame that that 13-minute short won't be shown in theaters as well. Turns out, as Peter Sanders reports in the Wall Street Journal, it'll be available for free via iTunes starting Wednesday. Via Jason Kottke, who comments: "Three words: Natalie Portman nude. Portman, Anderson, and Jason Schwartzman will be at the Apple Store in NYC to premiere the short. If you go, expect a freakin' mob scene of twee hipster horndogs." Back to New York: David Edelstein recalls bouncing insights off the Coens; they came back as nothing. "Their cinematographer at the time, Barry Sonnenfeld, told me, 'Topics are incredibly unimportant to them - it's structure and style and words. If you ask them for their priorities, they'll tell you script, editing, coverage, and lighting.'" Baumbach and Jennifer Jason Leigh "are clearly aiming for something different from their parents' lives (she's the child of artists who split up as well): marriage as an idyllic, never-ending brainstorm among supportive equals." Emily Nussbaum probes. "I think it's a great time right now for New York film, actually," Lumet tells Logan Hill. John Homans: "Below us and slightly to the north is the meatpacking district, where Jack Schnabel, Julian's father, spent much of his working life. Jack died of prostate cancer in 2004 at the age of 92, and lived with Schnabel for the last year of his life. Schnabel drew heavily on that experience in making The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. In one scene, Bauby's children play ball on the wide Normandy beach as he sits mute and bundled in a wheelchair, his face a fearsome Cubist mask. Another flashes back on a visit to his own invalid father, in which the younger shaved the older, as the older lectured him on his failed marriage. There's a disturbing physicality to these images, the forced intimacies that infirmity imposes on people."
Luis Buñuel Blog-a-Thon."Few filmmakers have held my attention, respect and admiration for as long or as deeply as Luis Buñuel," writes Flickhead, introducing Buñuelathon '07. "A surrealist, a wandering spirit, a cynic, a recovering Catholic... Buñuel used the cinema to explore these areas and took special delight in society's inexorable draw to the seven deadly sins—especially pride, lust and greed. Among the very few masters capable of channeling elevated social and cultural criticisms into popular cinema, he took aim at the whole of humanity, recognizing the folly of our desires." In preparation for the linkage that'll be appearing later in the day, Flickhead reviews the odd double feature recently released on DVD, Gran Casino and The Young One; posts a nice shot with Oscar and another with a few friends; a shot snapped by Dalí; a huge poster gallery; and a sort of bibliography.
Posted by dwhudson at 2:01 AM
September 23, 2007
Toronto. Chop Shop."From the moment I saw Ramin Bahrani's Man Push Cart at Sundance a couple years ago, I knew I'd found a filmmaker I was going to like," writes Kim Voynar at Cinematical. "I was disappointed it didn't do better off the fest circuit; it was one of the best independent films I saw that year, and I eagerly waited to see what Bahrani was going to do which his next film, and I'm pleased to be able to say that with Chop Shop, Bahrani has a solid follow-up." And she interviews Bahrani. "Chop Shop is another film about making a hard living in New York City, and with more time to film and stunning performances by his very young actors, Bahrani has made an even more powerful film," writes Roger Ebert. "Now we have an American film with the raw power of City of God or Pixote, a film that does something unexpected, and inspired, and brave." Updated through 9/26. "I've written quite a bit about how much I loved Bahrani's debut feature, Man Push Cart," adds Jim Emerson, "from its opening shot to its final ingenious moment, and Chop Shop is a piece of filmmaking that is every bit as observant and assured." "Though Chop Shop is an American film, it feels more like an Iranian movie or the Dardenne Brothers' Rosetta; Bahrani introduces something like a plot point in the late-going, but he mostly focuses, to riveting effect, on how his young hero hustles and claws through everyday life," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. ST VanAirsdale talks with Bahrani for the Reeler. Update, 9/26: David Walsh talks with Bahrani for the WSWS.
Toronto and NYFF preview. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead."The best surprise here is a splendid comeback from 83-year-old Sidney Lumet, which will be even more surprising if you've seen anything he's made in the past decade," writes the Telegraph's Tim Robey. "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is raggedly brilliant, sensationally acted, and Lumet's most vital work in 20 years or more." Updated through 9/26. "Both Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke are in fine form as brothers who attempt to knock off a mom-and-pop jewelry store that happens to be owned by their actual mom and pop," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "And also: Michael Shannon, last seen as the mentally disturbed stranger in Bug, has quickly risen to my shortlist of favorite character actors. Definitely someone to watch." Adds AV Club colleague Noel Murray: "[W]e don't watch crime stories to see the plot points fall into line, we watch them to see how people behave when they're misbehaving, and it's here that Before the Devil excels." "Lumet shuttles back and forth in time, juggling narrative blocks in order to examine and re-examine each situation from various points of view," notes Karina Longworth. "The gimmick becomes somewhat tiresome as the film wears on. Paradoxically, though the repetition does offer Lumet and his actors the opportunity to really take each character apart, the chronological shuttling works as a distancing device, forever preventing any real audience engagement with the people on screen. Hoffman's performance could best be described as bloated (and not in a totally negative way), but Hawke, [Marisa] Tomei and Albert Finney are doing some really fascinating, nuanced work, and it's all just slightly diluted by Lumet's formal agitations." Also at the SpoutBlog, a clips of Lumet talking about "the rise of HD, why he thinks 'naturalistic photography' is an oxymoron, and anecdotes on the how the drawbacks of celluloid stifled both Dog Day Afternoon and John Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy." "Sidney Lumet's 45th film is a classical addition to his oeuvre," writes David Poland. "Lumet is no stranger to complex narrative, but here, in his 83rd year, he is playing with time sequencing to tell a story that is more complex than almost any that others proclaimed for the effort have tried, yet narratively clean as a whistle." "If Lumet intended to make a tragedy or even an effective melodrama, he would have done well to expend just a little bit of empathy," suggests Jürgen Fauth. "Tragedy shows a good person who makes a bad choice, but Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is a tale of just desserts. Though the ending is pitched at an intense level of drama, it doesn't register emotionally: the bastards had it coming anyway." "Devil has a bare-bones speed and agility that recalls the director's groundbreaking work in early 1950s TV," writes the Boston Globe's Scott Heller. "An inside-the-park home-run for Lumet, who I hope has at least a few more movies in him." "Despite unexpected pacing and awkward plot twists, Lumet's movie works so well because of his emphasis on domestic drama in the midst of pulp content; and expert acting from a nimble cast combine to make a forceful, haunting thriller," writes Stephen Garrettt at indieWIRE. At the Reeler, Vadim Rizov gathers comments from Lumet's NYFF press conference following a screening of the film that is "for an hour, at least,... as strong as anything Lumet's done. The reasons have as much to do with the cast... as with Lumet's typically low-key approach, a reliance on non-flashy shots and unobtrusive edits that become compellingly bravura the more angles Lumet finds to shoot in claustrophobic situations." Cameron French talks with Lumet for Reuters. Via Movie City News. Deborah Solomon talks with Hawke for the New York Times Magazine. Earlier: The first round of reviews hit about two weeks ago. Updates, 9/24: "They get mean when they get old, these great directors," begins Steven Boone at the House Next Door. "Hitchcock made the merciless, despairing Frenzy at 73. Woody Allen wrote and directed the godless-universe tragedy Match Point at 70. And now 83-year-old Sidney Lumet damns us all with Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. But just like Frenzy and Match Point, Lumet's crime saga pulsates with a sense of its creator's pure joy of filmmaking. 'Unimaginably pleasurable to make,' Orson Welles once told Peter Bogdanovich of the former's ecstatically grim Touch of Evil. Well, even as the bodies slump over bleeding in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, you can almost hear Lumet giggling."
Online listening tip. Matt Singer and Alison Willmore of IFC News discuss the film, Lumet and Hoffman.Updates, 9/25: "It's all dark, dreary and pretty captivating until the blood-soaked conclusion, in which the story goes off the deep end and takes any sense of engagement we had with it," writes Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog. Jeffrey Wells takes a close look at the new poster. Update, 9/26: "It's a straight-up melodrama at its best, which, as Lumet stated at the post-screening press conference, is when the story defines the characters," writes Erik Davis at Cinematical. "The script (written by playwright Kelly Masterson) in other hands, with other actors involved, most likely would have churned out a decent, but easily forgettable drama. But with Lumet, and this cast, we get a film that's exceptional in every way - from its execution to its acting - and is sure to go down as one of Lumet's best in years."
Posted by dwhudson at 3:18 PM
Toronto. Angel."About half the films in [François] Ozon's prolific career... pay tongue-in-cheek, feature-length homage to other movies: See the Sea to Hitchcock, Sitcom to John Waters, Water Drops on Burning Rocks to Fassbinder, 8 Women to Technicolor musicals, etc," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "His latest, Angel, is a cheeky nod to the lavish David O Selznick productions of the 30s and 40s - rich in color and period decadence, swelling with florid melodrama and romance, and concerned with the dreams of a plucky ingénue who goes from rags to riches." "The story of an absolutely tasteless wretch of a provincial teenager named Angel Deverell (a very over-the-top performance by a terrific Romola Garai) whose solipsism allows her to create drivel-laden novels which sell like wildfire in turn of the century England, Angel is a movie that is as of our cultural moment as any of the myriad of finger-wagging films about Iraq playing here," wrote Tom Hall from Toronto. "The film is a pastiche of every melodramatic style imaginable, from the trash of Victorian era theater and literature through mid-century 'women's cinema' to early 21st century celebrity meltdowns while Ozon's lush visualizations and cribbing of everything from Douglas Sirk to Merchant Ivory create a hilarious piss-take on the melodramatic form." "Angel feels less self-conscious than Todd Haynes's faux-Sirk Far From Heaven; thanks to Romola Garai, it is also more engaging," writes Jürgen Fauth. "The unexpected pleasure of the film is that you come out loving Angel - and wanting to strangle her at the same time," writes the Boston Globe's Ty Burr.
Posted by dwhudson at 3:15 PM
Toronto and NYFF preview. Redacted."What [Brian] De Palma may be trying to do here - as he did in his greatest picture, the 1989 Casualties of War to which Redacted is something of a companion piece - is sharpen our moral sense into something more personal, and more cutting," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "He wants us to be informed, but he also wants to make us feel more. Compassion is worth nothing if it doesn't bleed. Over and over again in his movies, De Palma has revisited one crucial question (a question that also obsessed Alfred Hitchcock before him): What happens when human beings fail to act? Redacted is a troubling picture about the price we pay for standing still, and for not standing up." "[T]he connection to his Vietnam movie Casualties of War seems obvious," writes Jim Emerson. "But the stronger connection, I think, is to Greetings (1968) and Hi Mom! (1970), two then-counter-cultural comedies, more influenced by Godard than Hitchcock, that toyed with our perceptions of Vietnam, terrorism, law and order, Black Power and other issues of the day as they were filtered through the mass media.... I don't know when De Palma has ever been accused of being sincere, but Redacted feels to me as close as he's ever come." "The movie is too interesting to dismiss but too muddled to take seriously - which, come to think of it, is my reaction to virtually every De Palma movie," blogs Ben Kenigsberg for Time Out Chicago. "At least there aren’t any obvious cribs from Vertigo." "[I]ts weaknesses should be fatal, but they're not," blogs Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "The version of Redacted that plays back in one's head resonates more than the movie that actually screened has any right to." "De Palma wants to rankle audiences, especially those who may enter the theater anticipating some genteel, hand-wringing, good-little-liberal lament about the physical and emotional scars of wartime," blogs the LA Weekly's Scott Foundas. "Redacted is unapologetically angry and direct, and De Palma does very little to ease you into the movie. Some have suggested that this is evidence of haphazard construction, or shoddy acting by the film's largely unknown cast, but it is the entire point of Redacted that we are observing crude, found video objects, and that their subjects, aware of the camera that's recording them, assume the awkwardly self-conscious stances of people in vacation pictures and birthday-party videos." "The tricky thing about Redacted is that a lot of what's wrong with it is, I'm convinced, intentional," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "If ever a war could use some movie-movie tricks to help audiences feel the terror, it's this one. I respect what DePalma's trying to do, but as much as it hurts to say, I just don't think it works." For his colleague Scott Tobias, all in all the film "sounds like a better idea than it turns out to be." "In certain respects, Redacted has more in common with George Romero's Diary of the Dead than it does with the recent onslaught of documentaries harrowing the war in Iraq," writes Michael Guillén. "Both parry and thrust at the many-headed Hydra known as mainstream media coverage to demonstrate how - as soon as one lie is revealed - five more spring into place to control the spin, let alone the masses. Both turn to the democratized press of blogs and YouTube footage to texturally diversify reportage from the front. How I wish I could have sat down with Romero and DePalma at one of Toronto's ubiquitous Second Cup cafes with a videocam and a laptop to edit together today's version of the truth. Wouldn't that have been a truth and a half?" "Redacted felt like an episode of America's Most Wanted-style cornball re-enactments," writes Mike White. "The film was like making an after school special on the Mai Lai massacre with a handful of C-List actors, a camcorder, and a script banged out the night before." "This crap shared the Venice prize with I'm Not There. So much for the validity of juries," grumbles Howard Feinstein at Filmmaker. Earlier: Reviews from Venice.
Posted by dwhudson at 3:13 PM
Toronto. Frontiere(s)."Yes, Xavier Gens is treading very familiar ground with Frontiere(s), his debut film, and yes, just about all of this has been done before, but by god there's just so much of it here and all of it executed (pun intended) so well that the film defies any horror fans to not have a good time with it," writes Todd Brown at Twitch. "The characters are exhaustingly unlikable from minute one and the handheld camera work is enough to make any mumblecore filmmaker cringe," writes Michael Lerman at indieWIRE. "Frontier(s) is a violent jolt to the senses, not because of its unpolished grotesque imagery which saves the film in the campy final act that plays like the dying breath of a good premise, but because of its anti-human disconnect." "Plot-wise, it's all very familiar and frequently quite predictable - but boring? Absolutely not," declares Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "To say that this French thriller is derivative would be a compliment," writes Mike White.
Posted by dwhudson at 3:10 PM
Toronto. The Band's Visit."Israeli writer director Eran Kolirin's first feature The Band's Visit, a deceptively modest comedy about an Egyptian police orchestra's trip to Israel, comes as sweet balm in a season of terrorist thrillers and vigilante splatter-pics," blogs the LA Weekly's Ella Taylor. "Played mostly by Palestinian actors, the band gets misdirected to a hole-in-the-wall development town where they're hosted in with varying degrees of good grace by local Sephardi families, among them a sexy but lonely free spirit beautifully rendered by Ronit Elkabetz, whom you may remember from another excellent Israeli comedy, Late Marriage. With its arresting powder-blue palette and gentle wit, this goofy charmer, which Sony Pictures Classics will release in 2008, offers the sweet credo that the road to conciliation begins not with politicking but with conversation, tea and sympathy, and a little bit of cross-cultural nookie." Updated through 9/24. "The Band's Visit may be a bit too small-scale to flourish outside of the rarefied atmosphere of a film festival or an art house," writes James Rocchi, but it "plays out remarkably like the event it depicts: Unexpected, but more than welcome." "[H]umorous, touching in spots, and completely understated," blogs the Enzian Theater's Matthew Curtis. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes. Update, 9/24: "The Band's Visit has just swept Israel's Ophir Awards (the equivalent to that country's Oscars) so this means it should be Israel's submission for the Academy Award's Best Foreign Language Film," notes Nikki Finke. "But even with the Kodak Theater ceremony still 5 months away, there's already controversy in this category. Rivals are claiming that the political movie, about an Egyptian police band that mistakenly ends up stranded overnight in a small Israeli town, has more than 50% English dialogue and therefore must be ruled ineligible for the nomination."
Posted by dwhudson at 3:08 PM
Toronto. Chronicle of a Summer."As someone with a special interest in documentaries, I found it thrilling to finally be able to see Jean Rouch's highly influential 1961 account of Parisian life where the question 'Are you happy?' is posed to random passers-by," writes Doug Cummings. "Despite the years, [Chronicle of a Summer] has aged very well, and the playful, inquisitive energy behind its observations and observations of its observations is positively infectious." "It's more of a film to admire than to really love - but the film does manage to transcend its dusty historical importance through the reverberations, for better or worse, that we are still being felt today," writes Jesse Ataide at DVD Verdict.
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Toronto and NYFF preview. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days."Just like The Death of Mr Lazarescu and 12:08 East of Bucharest, [Cristian] Mungiu's debut feature [4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days] is first and foremost a performance piece," writes Noel Murray. Also at the AV Club: "4 Months unfolds like one of those street-level Dardenne Brothers movies (Rosetta, L'Enfant, etc)," writes Scott Tobias. "But just as often, Mungiu keeps the camera running for much longer than other directors would, usually in tight, constricting spaces where the audience can feel the characters' anxiety grow deeper." Updated through 9/27. Mungiu "simply puts his camera in exactly the right spot and lets the scene unfold," writes J Robert Parks. He, too, is reminded of the Dardennes, "though stripped down even more to the basics of character and dialogue. But what dialogue! Exploring the themes of trust, responsibility, friendship, truth, and sex, the film is rich, dense, and compelling." The film, "set in 1987 and centering on the efforts of two female students to procure a pregnancy termination for one of them, is a remarkably engrossing and thoughtful picture, beautifully rendered in an artful mode of realism," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "The work is steady, controlled, disciplined," writes Jim Emerson. "And, like several impressive films at this year's Toronto Film Festival (including No Country for Old Men, Chop Shop, Persepolis, Paranoid Park) it chooses just the right moment to cut to black at the end. (That's a favorite device of mine, and it seems to be quite popular about now.)" "Mungiu's work as the film's screenwriter and director is without fault; he trusts his audience enough to let them work out lapses on their own," writes Ali at Cutting Room Reviews. "Brimming over with sympathetic (but not saintly) characters and a demandingly entangled (but not overstuffed) narrative, Cristi Mungiu's acclaimed film is a rarity." Cinematical's James Rocchi talks with Mungiu. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes. Update, 9/27: "Masters of horror should marvel at Mungiu's masterful deployment of red herrings," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant. "Like Death of Mr Lazarescu, which is only outwardly about the difficulties of securing health care in modern-day Romania, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is an allegory that speaks to the struggles of freedom fighters gripped by the terror tactics of a political machine."
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Toronto. Vexille.Vexille, "the latest by Japanese filmmaker Fumihiko Sori (Ping Pong) is cleanly-plotted and enjoyably accessible. Relatively speaking, anyway... Plus it has some of the most eye-popping animation this side of Miyazaki," writes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "The animators had their fun, but the downtime between cool gadgets and loud chase sequences holds very little weight," writes Michael Lerman at indieWIRE. "Vexille is gorgeous and stunning," writes Mack at Twitch. "Where Vexille, and ultimately Japan, is falling short is in the stories. We're still incorporating the same archetypes and plot devices we've seen in countless other animated films and series coming out of Japan." "Haven't we all been on this mission before - and not only in anime?" asks Mark Schilling in the Japan Times. "This familiarity wouldn't matter so much if the film's execution was more imaginative, but the various plot tropes (two tough chicks put aside rivalry for a higher cause, etc) feel mechanical."
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Toronto. Atonement."Big, classy, Oscar-bait World War II dramas don't really get much better than Atonement," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "A sweeping historical drama in the English Patient/Cold Mountain mode - no small coincidence that Anthony Minghella, the director of those two films, makes a cameo appearance - Atonement offers up the stock romantic majesty of lovers kept apart by war and treachery, yet it ultimately plays more to the head than the heart," writes Scott Tobias. Also at the AV Club: "It's surprising to me that four of my five favorite movies at TIFF so far have been literary adaptations, given that good books so rarely translate into good movies," wrote Noel Murray about halfway through the fest. "But No Country for Old Men, Persepolis, Into the Wild and now Atonement all translate their source material in ways that retain what made them special in the first place, while adding something uniquely cinematic." Updated through 9/26. "Set on a beautiful country estate, the movie's first half is similar to director Joe Wright's earlier film, the amazing adaptation of Pride and Prejudice," writes J Robert Parks. "It's both wonderfully funny and romantic. But when the movie shifts to World War II and specifically the area around Dunkirk, Wright is on less surer footing and it shows. I was thinking during the movie's opening scenes how much I was enjoying it and that I was wondering when Wright would spread his wings and try something different. But after watching the second half, I'm not sure that's such a good idea." "Atonement is an intelligently, evocatively directed movie in every aspect, from the adoring ways in which the romantic leads are photographed (who would have thought James McAvoy could be filmed as gorgeously and lovingly as Keira Knightley?), to a long take along the shore at Dunkirk that is one of the most complex and emotionally shattering single shots in movies," writes Jim Emerson. "Chalk up another stunning achievement for Joe Wright, who must now be recognized as an auteur with few equals of his age and experience in world cinema," writes Ryan Stewart at Cinematical. "The story's emotional gravity is magnetic - and you just know that once the big misunderstanding that fuels the rest of the picture happens, that it will all play out tragically," writes Matt Mazur at PopMatters. "Wright has masterfully set the mood." Ryan Stewart interviews Wright for Cinematical. For Cinematical, Ryan Stewart interviews Christopher Hampton. Earlier: Reviews from Venice and Atonement's UK run. Update, 9/26: "James McAvoy will break out big time with Atonement," predicts Variety's Anne Thompson. "That's because this is his first role in the classic romantic tragic leading man mold. Think Warren Beatty in Reds, Omar Sharif in Dr Zhivago, Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic." And she points to Rachel Cooke's interview for Esquire.
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Toronto. Dai Nipponjin.Scott Weinberg at Cinematical on Dai Nipponjin: "I could rattle off the film's catalog of lunacy (and I will) but it still wouldn't adequately explain how outlandishly, amusingly weird the thing is. Definitely one of those 'not far all tastes' imports, but if you're a fan of Japanese action flicks, monster movies and strangely amusing mockumentaries... then this is one you're going to want to search for." "An attempt to be a This is Spinal Tap for the kaiju crowd, this mockumentary directed by and starring Hitoshi Matsumoto posits what life might be like for a hapless superhero in a world where giant monsters have lost their appeal," writes Mike White. "The film lags on occasion - feeling like the jokes are too far between - and, sadly, it feels like Matsumoto simply ran out of ideas before the film comes to its bizarre conclusion." Updated through 9/24. "Matumoto has, quite possibly, the most incredibly deadpan approach to absurdist humor in the history of the world," writes Todd Brown at Twitch. "Nobody cracks a smile. Nobody winks at the camera. The whole thing plays out with a sort of ho-hum, another day at the office vibe that heightens the ridiculousness of it all to even further heights." "In typical TIFF Midnight Madness fashion, this Japanese superhero mockumentary takes a winning premise and a handful of great scenes and almost squanders them with its fitful pacing and varying depth," finds Noel Murray at the AV Club. "[T]here's no earthly reason that a lark like this should stretch to two hours," writes Steve at the Film Experience. Update, 9/24: "Much of the film felt like it was told very softly at an almost whisper," writes Blake Ethridge.
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Toronto. The Virgin Spring."If asked to choose the highlight of the 32nd Toronto International Film Festival, despite the plethora of exciting new work I'd be hard-pressed to think of anything finer than the screening of a 47-year-old film presided over by a 78-year-old actor," writes José Teodoro at Stop Smiling. "At the final Friday night screening of The Virgin Spring, the effortlessly charismatic Max Von Sydow discussed at length his decades-spanning collaboration and friendship with the late Ingmar Bergman, and had the by-then film-weary audience engrossed in a fluid, open dialogue about lives fully given over to filmmaking of the most passionate, personal sort. Rather than suffuse the festival air with twilight nostalgia, the event was genuinely inspirational, not the least because Von Sydow himself is very much alive and well and working - with two new films screening that week." "Dramatically shot by Sven Nykvist (it was the first of many collaborations between director and cinematographer), the film is certainly not among my favorite Bergman films, but contains a lot of moving, quintessential Bergman moments, particularly von Sydow's harrowing spiritual (and physical) breakdown," writes Jesse Ataide at DVD Verdict. Earlier: Ingmar Bergman, 1918 - 2007.
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Shorts, 9/23."Over the last two decades, the director has developed a reputation for stark, often brutal films that place the viewer - sometimes subtly, sometimes explicitly - in the uncomfortable role of accomplice to the crimes playing out on-screen," writes John Wray in a profile of Michael Haneke for the New York Times Magazine. "This approach has made Haneke one of contemporary cinema's most reviled and revered figures, earning him everything from accusations of obscenity to a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art next month.... Funny Games is a direct assault on the conventions of cinematic violence in the United States, and the new version of the film, with its English-speaking cast and unmistakably American production design, makes this excruciatingly clear. More surprising still, Haneke remade this attack on the Hollywood thriller for a major Hollywood studio, Warner Independent Pictures, and refused to alter the original film's story in the slightest." In an accompanying audio slide show, AO Scott talks about Haneke's "sado-masochistic approach to filmmaking." In the paper:
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Fests and events, 9/23."For 12 days Almost Cinema 07 at the Vooruit Arts Centre, in Ghent, celebrates the variety of contemporary art that can rightfully be called cinema-esque - if not cinematic. A preview from William Hanley at Rhizome. October 9 through 20. "I can't think of a recent NYC retrospective with a higher concentration of great cinema than this one." Dan Sallitt recommends Arnaud Desplechin in Focus, presented at the Museum of the Moving Image with Cahiers du cinéma from October 6 through 14. "The movie has its historical significance as the first great popular success of the freer-form style of filmmaking that came to be identified with the French New Wave, but if you go to Film Forum in Manhattan, where, starting Wednesday, a nice fresh print of The 400 Blows will be showing, you probably won't get the unpleasant sensation of having wandered into an old argument between spluttering, red-faced cinéastes," writes Terrence Rafferty in the New York Times. "Although a certain polemical ardor may have helped stoke Mr Truffaut's creative fires while he was making his debut film (he was very French), the smoke from those life-and-death aesthetic debates has long since cleared. What remains is a lyrical and surprisingly tough-minded little picture about a 12-year-old troublemaker named Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud), as seen by a sympathetic and slightly more seasoned troublemaker named François Truffaut." "The Artists Television Access center in San Francisco is hosting their 2nd annual blowout festival next month, Oct 10 - 12, showcasing 26 short works by a variety of underground and independent filmmakers," notes Mike Everleth at Bad Lit. "As the Madcat Women's International Film Festival heads into its final stretch this coming week in San Francisco, SF360.org felt it was important to catch up with its chief curator, Ariella Ben-Dov," writes Susan Gerhard. Acquarello: "Notes on the Panel Discussion on Turkish Cinema with Zeki Demirkubuz." Also: "Block-C is a flawed, yet seminal film in Demirkubuz's body of work - a complex character study that provides the psychological and visceral paradigm for his subsequent films." "German Currents: New Films From Germany, which opens Friday at the American Cinematheque's Aero Theatre, offers six recent features and one documentary from some of the country's established and new voices," writes Susan King in the Los Angeles Times. Runs all weekend.
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Fantastic Fest. Southland Tales."The first of this year's secret screenings was unveiled tonight with Richard Kelly's long delayed follow up to Donnie Darko, Southland Tales, playing to a packed house with Kelly himself in the audience," writes Todd Brown at Twitch. "It is overly ambitious, incredibly dense with ideas often obscured by stylish diversions," but "for those who make it through the initial overload of information and can latch on to Kelly's vibe, Southland is also a dazzlingly smart, funny, and engaging work, one that fuses political fears with apocalyptic religiosity and techno-dread and wraps it all in a glossy, colorful package. Southland Tales is far from the mess it has been made out to be, a work that rewards as much as it challenges and succeeds in finding the human, emotional core lurking beneath all of its high concepts." Updated through 9/25. "Richard Kelly has set out to create a film of the same ilk as Candy or Slaughterhouse 5 or the original Casino Royale," proposes Harry Knowles at AICN. "These have always been controversial films for a very niche crowd. Films so packed with detail and nuance that to the average viewer it becomes simply a mess, but upon further inspection, you can find a method to the madness." Jette Kernion has "no idea how I'm going to review this movie, it's so strange." Earlier: Reviews from Cannes 06. For more updates on Fantastic Fest, check the blog at the site itself; and a few notes here. Updates: "A movie about (among other things) the end of the world, pop-culture depravity, revolution and interdimensional time travel, it was right at home at the fest," writes John DeFore at the Austin Film Blog. "The sci-fi-steeped audience was clearly delighted to see the film, even if they didn't always seem to connect with its brand of satire. (Dead silence greeted many of the movie's jokes.) Still, they stuck around to ask thoughtful questions of its director, including many that noted the thematic similarities between this and Donnie Darko. Kelly good-naturedly owned up to his proclivities, and promised 'no more movies about the apocalypse.'" Online listening tip. Twitch's Todd Brown talks with Kelly. Updates, 9/24: "Southland Tales managed to captivate and hold my attention despite the fact that I sometimes felt lost or confused," writes Jette Kernion at Cinematical. "It's not hard to see why it's often accused of being self-indulgent and messy. But I would rather see filmmakers (and studios) taking risks with films like this than have to sit through more Hollywood cookie-cutter sequels and remakes. Besides, I like a movie I can watch with a group of friends, then head off to a coffeehouse or bar and have an interesting discussion about what exactly happened and what it all meant. Southland Tales will have us debating through dinner, drinks and dessert... maybe for several meals." It's "essentially Donnie Darko on a global scale with a really engaging post 9-11 discussion," writes Blake Ethridge. Via Karina Longworth, Mike Curtis: "One wonders if the whole thing were just a huge joke on us the audience, the investors, Hollywood, and everyone else desperately watching to see how he'd follow up on Donnie Darko. A big 'Psych!' shout out to all of us - and we stand here confused - was this a joke, a mess, or just a failed multi-layered thingamabob?... And it most definitely isn't worth taking the time to make sense of - life is too short - even though there is a ton of stuff in there." Update, 9/25: Online viewing tip. Matt Dentler points to the Drafthouse's talk with Kelly.
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Marcel Marceau, 1923 - 2007.Marcel Marceau, the world's best-known mime artist who for decades moved audiences around the world without uttering a single word, has died aged 84.... Marceau traced his ancestry back through US silent film greats Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton to the clowns of the Commedia dell'Arte, a centuries-old European tradition, and to the stylized gestures of Chinese opera and the Noh plays of Japan. Francois Murphy, Reuters. Ed Champion has a bit of online viewing; If Charlie Parker... tips its hat. The Wikipedia entry.
September 22, 2007
Toronto. The Duchess of Langeais."So it has finally come to this, Jacques Rivette adapting a Balzac novel about the Thirteen, the mysterious group of do-gooding conspirators that a May '68 cabal tried and failed to emulate in the imagined pre-history of Rivette's magnum opus Out 1 and whose existence would obsesses Jean-Pierre Léaud's character in that film as representative of a secret, hidden order behind things," writes Daniel Kasman. "In contrast to that film's sprawling ambitions and literal evocation of the conspiracy, Don't Touch the Axe [Ne touchez pas la hache, also appearing in Toronto as The Duchess of Langeais] seems downright quaint and cozy, a chambered period piece about the sexless courtship between the Duchess Antoinette de Langeais (Jeanne Balibar) and General Armand de Montriveau (Guillaume Depardieu), the latter of who is a member of the secret cabal in Balzac's book but whose association is not uttered in the film." And his verdict: B+. Updated through 9/23. "One of the best films I saw at Toronto - which showed in Berlin and is inexplicably missing from New York - is Jacques Rivette's eccentric romance," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "The tilt of the duchess's head suggests a thousand and one nightly intrigues; the ravaged contours of the general's face invoke other, more distant torments, while Mr Rivette's direction affirms that he remains at the height of his artistic powers." "I found Rivette's film a masterful, multilayered, sometimes enigmatic work of dark irony, an assured tragicomedy of manners and more," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "Rivette's camera is as sure and engrossing as it's ever been, and Depardieu and Balibar give deeply palpable performances." "[T]he film is constructed as a dazzling array of dances, literal and figurative, in which the man and woman conduct an elaborate pas de deux of flirtation, gamesmanship and erotic possession," writes Patrick Z McGavin at Stop Smiling. "Rivette's lighting and camerawork is typically severe and exquisite; the storytelling is also hypnotic, using interpolated material from the novel in the form of intertitles that function as literary jump cuts, exploding time and space." Update, 9/23: "[T]he film is a perfectly timed and highly nuanced evocation of Balzac's romantic tragedy cum secret society thriller rumination on the sexes; why it has received negative reviews elsewhere is beyond me," writes Doug Cummings. "The adaptation itself virtually transcribes Balzac's prose paragraph by paragraph, taking great care to accentuate the author's attention to physical detail, 19th century social mores, and shifting emotional registers.... It may not showcase the experimental Rivette we all know and love, but that merely accentuates the diversity of his talent." "[T]his was the film that baffled me the most out of all of the films that I saw at TIFF," writes Jesse Ataide at DVD Verdict. "Not because it's a difficult or extremely complex film, but because I was completely at a loss as to why I liked it so much. But some time for reflection and a really insightful article in the last issue of Film Comment (currently is not available online) helped me to realize that a large part of what makes Rivette's film so fascinating is how he dissects and depicts the mechanics of performance and theatricality, but instead of bracketing it in the form of the theater-within-a-film that define much of his most famous work, he strips away the framing device and lets the 'play' perform as the film itself."
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Venice, Toronto and NYFF preview. Useless."Jia Zhang-ke's latest, Useless, is an odd one," writes Darren Hughes. "Like last year's documentary, Dong, Useless is a portrait of an artist, though in this case Jia is less concerned with fashion designer Ma Ke, specifically, than with what she represents to China's leap into consumerism.... [I]t's the finer points - the visual echoes that reverberate throughout the film, the ironies and ambivalences - that make the film so fascinating." Updated through 9/23. Jia "uproots the very issue of individuality and personal expression and cautions against larger dehumanization of mass production," writes Patrick Z McGavin at Stop Smiling. "In weighing the physical and natural deterioration of China's resources, Useless is a revealing and frightening portrait of industrialization. It also proved that whether working in nonfiction or fiction, Jia is one of the world's essential filmmakers. He proves that against all odds, his brand of cinema must not only exist though flourish, by whatever means necessary." "Though at times painfully slow and fairly loosely cut together (in what may have been a bit of a rush job to meet the Venice deadline [where it won the Horizons documentary prize]), Useless is however superbly shot by Jia's regular cameraman Yu Likwai (a film director in his own right) and by Jia himself," writes Dan Fainaru in Screen Daily. "Jia's film looks ultimately as a sort of impressionistic creation, which needs to be approached like a large painting whose various components are to be gazed upon at leisure." "Useless... was one of my most anticipated films of the fest, given his triumph last year with Still Life and Dong," writes J Robert Parks. "And there are flashes of brilliance in his latest documentary.... Another six months of filming and hour of film could've created another masterpiece." Updates, 9/23: "Like Jia's previous documentary on an artistic persona, Dong, it's tempting to read his juxtapositions as critique, but I'm not so sure that's what he has in mind," writes Doug Cummings. "Instead, he seems interested in supplying viewers with ideas and contrasts and entrusting them with the task of interpretation and judgment. It's a free flowing, organic investigation of the form and function of clothes in China today, and a work of tantalizing, lingering complexity." "With Useless, Jia's approach to his social agenda achieves new levels of dexterity, being less obtrusive in announcing its intentions than in Unknown Pleasures or The World," writes Kevin Lee at Slant. "Light on its feet without being lightweight, Useless is a shape-shifting work that overturns expectations at every turn and leaves behind an open-ended consideration of value - of clothing, of human labor, of human life."
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Toronto. Disengagement."Juliette Binoche, who is battling Nicole Kidman in the race to see who can do more work with the world's artiest, most intellectual filmmakers, stars as an Israeli-born woman in Paris who returns to the country of her birth to find the daughter she gave up for adoption 20 years before," writes Howard Feinstein, reviewing Amos Gitai's Disengagement for Filmmaker. "Being an Oscar winner and therefore valued prop, Binoche wanders through an Orthodox settlement, even among praying men in a synagogue for no discernible reason, and it is clear from reaction shots in several scenes that she hasn't a clue what people addressing her in Hebrew or Arabic are saying. These misfires and Gitai's usual pretense irritate." Binoche is "fantastic in Hou Hsiao-hsien's Flight of the Red Balloon, and she's the only reason to watch Amos Gitai's Disengagement," writes Patrick Z McGavin at Stop Smiling. "The Israeli-born, French-based Gitai has talent and verve, but his best films (Kadosh, Kippur) are very specific and precise. Of late, he's been fascinated by the issue of Israel's existence, as a moral and spiritual issue.... The movie's a train wreck, but you can't take your eyes off of [Binoche]." Karl Rozemeyer has a long talk with Binoche for Premiere. Earlier: Reviews from Venice.
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Toronto. Nightwatching.Hello, distributors: Stroke while the brush is wet. With The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art open through January 6, Rembrandt is very much on our minds. See, for example, Holland Carter's personal tour in the New York Times, alongside an audio tour, a note on New York's "other rich holdings in Dutch 17th-century art, some on permanent view, some not," and a reading list. Then there's Julian Bell's piece in the new issue of the New York Review of Books on the exhibition catalogue, Gary Schwartz's The Rembrandt Book and Michael Taylor's Rembrandt's Nose: Of Flesh and Spirit in the Master's Portraits. How about a little synergistic action, distributors (or, for that matter, NYFF programmers)? Peter Greenaway's Nightwatching has just added a few more favorable notices to the generally thumbs-up reviews from Venice. "[I]t was with enormous trepidation that I decided to give Greenaway another chance with Nightwatching," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "Finally, finally, finally, here's a biopic about an artist that actually reflects in a substantive way about his art! For that, and [Martin] Freeman's surprisingly robust performance, I'll give it a pass." "A welcome return to form for a man who seemed hopelessly mired in the formalism of multi-screen, hyper-texted images, Nightwatching has a surprisingly conventional narrative that concentrates on Rembrant's heartbreaking devotion to his wife - and yet never lacks for the thematic complexity of the artistic process that the eminently theatrical and wildly cinematic director's best films exemplify," writes Stephen Garrett for indieWIRE. "The staging is both highly theatrical - like much of Greenaway's work - but also thoroughly cinematic," writes Aaron Dobbs. "His storytelling may still lead to some moments of confusion, but the overall experience is fairly breathtaking."
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September 21, 2007
Toronto. Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who."Paul Crowder and Murray Lerner have packed 40 years of history into two hours and created the definitive historical archive of The Who, arguably one of the greatest rock bands there ever was, is and forever will be," writes Mack at Twitch. "Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who features a wealth of archival footage and snappy interviews with the surviving bandmates and shows how a bunch of working-class lads can inspire each other to transcend enduring rock anthems and create the high pantheon category of rock opera," writes Stephen Garrettt at indieWIRE. November 6 sees the DVD release, but not just any DVD release, evidently. The doc itself is two hours long; an accompanying disc runs another two hours. Amazing Journey: Six Quick Ones features just that: four shorts on each of the band members; another on the Mod and Pop Art visual history of the band; and a sixth, Who's Back, shot by DA Pennebaker, captures a 2003 recording session.
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Toronto and NYFF preview. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly."A textbook example of a director prizing himself over his material, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly finds its true story about paralyzed Elle France editor Jean-Dominique Bauby hopelessly smudged with artist-turned-filmmaker Julian Schnabel's fingerprints," writes Nick Schager at Slant. "It's Johnny Got His Gun (or, at least, the portions used in Metallica's 'One' video) via My Left Foot, stylistically Miramax-ized to within an inch of its life." Updated through 9/27. "Julian Schnabel's third feature is an almost excessively beautiful aestheticization of misery," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "[T]he film is strikingly painterly in a way that Schnabel's actual paintings often aren't." "This was the most purely emotional experience I had at the festival, and it makes me think the movies rather than art may be Schnabel's enduring legacy," writes the Boston Globe's Scott Heller. "What makes The Diving Bell and The Butterfly unique is that Schnabel has taken an idea that, while perfect for literature, seems antithetical to the cinema and turned it into a thing of absolute beauty," writes Tom Hall. "The story of an interior life, forged by a terrible medical condition, that is essentially an act of self-reinvention." At the IFC Blog, Alison Willmore finds it "all bittersweet enough to be bearable." ST VanAirsdale catches Schnabel's appearance at a pre-New York Film Festival press conference. In Esquire, Julian Schabel sings praises of Anne Consigny, Emmanuelle Seigner and Marie-Josée Croze. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes. Update, 9/24: "The imaginative promiscuity in Schnabel's paintings that has so galled critics has here found a context to which it is perfectly suited," writes John Homans in a profile of Schnabel for New York. Update, 9/27: Nathaniel R: "12 Things I Learned (or was reminded of but had forgotten) While Listening to Julian Schnabel at the Press Conference and Watching His New Film The Diving Bell and Butterfly (and how I feel about those things I learned and remembered)."
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Toronto. Munyurangabo."[Robert] Koehler's Variety review penned from Cannes motivated me to catch Munyurangabo at its sole Toronto International P&I screening. Koehler proclaims that Munyurangabo is the flat-out 'discovery of this year's Un Certain Regard batch' and 'is - by several light years - the finest and truest film yet on the moral and emotional repercussions of the 15-year-old genocide that wracked Rwanda.' I couldn't agree more," writes Michael Guillén, who then interviews the director and screenwriter Samuel Anderson at the Evening Class. "To this point in the festival, my favorite of the entire week has been Munyurangabo, which more than lives up to the weighty expectations I had for it," wrote Tom Hall mid-fest. "Lee Issac Chung has done something absolutely remarkable, creating a moving, powerful film about the Rwandan genocide that combines hope and reconciliation with a visual and narrative style that wouldn't be out of place in George Washington; It's an African film that doesn't feel like an 'African film,' a hybrid of styles (American independent film aesthetic and an African storytelling sensibility) that against all odds works magically." "Unlike Hotel Rwanda and Sometimes in April, Munyurangabo plays out the horrendous conflict (Hutus massacred Tutsis and moderate Hutus) on an intimate scale, without the foreign stars the other films found de rigeuer," writes Howard Feinstein for Filmmaker. His verdict: "astonishing."
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Shorts, 9/21.Michael Atkinson Flickipedia: Perfect Films for Every Occasion, Holiday, Mood, Ordeal and Whim "is not a crazy, sophisticated filmhead enterprise," writes co-author Michael Atkinson. "It is instead something devised for the average filmgoer... Hardcore cine-nuts can take no prisoners in their love for Godard and Hou and Antonioni and their disdain for anyone who'd pass up a chance to see Out 1 and would instead attend their child's soccer game or go fishing or read poetry. This book is not for them (my next book, Exile Cinema: Filmmakers At Work Beyond Hollywood, coming in 2008 from SUNY Press, kinda is). Flickipedia is about movies and life - how they intersect, interact, cross-pollinate." Belá Tarr couldn't stay as long in Chicago as originally planned but a discussion of his work at Facets Multimedia carried on without him last weekend. Besides the audience, participants were Facets' Susan Doll, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Scott Foundas and David Borwell, who writes, "I do agree with my fellow panelists that the later films have a significantly different look and feel, and it's on them that Tarr's place in world film history will chiefly rest. As I indicated at the end of Figures Traced in Light, he stands out as a distinctive creator in a contemporary tradition of ensemble staging. Like Tarkovsky, he shifts our attention from human action toward the touch and smells of the physical world. Like Antonioni and Angelopoulos, he employs 'dead time' and landscapes to create a palpable sense of duration and distance. Like Sokurov in Whispering Pages (1993), he takes us into an eerie, Dostoevskian realm where characters are cruel, possessed, mesmerized, humiliated, and prey to false prophets." Apropos of 3:10 to Yuma, The Assassination..., and yes, Sukiyaki Western Django, Richard Corliss offers a history of the Western for Time. "Since his triumph in 1990 with The Civil War, [Ken] Burns has a made an art out of wringing tears and sighs from a nation whose lack of interest in history ranks among its most salient characteristics," writes Beverly Gage at Slate. "Now, 17 years to the day since PBS broadcast The Civil War, he returns this Sunday night with The War, a sprawling account of the American experience in World War II. At 14 and a half hours, The War is a whopper of a film, and often revelatory. It is also manipulative, nostalgic, and nationalistic. Imagine that Burns had narrated The Civil War solely from the Union perspective, and you'll have a sense of both what's right and what's wrong with this latest epic: It's rousing and meaningful and not technically inaccurate, but not exactly the whole truth." And in the New York Times, Alessandra Stanley asks, "The war was necessary, but is this approach?" Also in the NYT:
Toronto. Death Defying Acts."Lately, [Gillian Armstrong's] been losing herself in well-appointed but dull prestige pictures like Oscar & Lucinda and Charlotte Gray, and I'm sad to report that her latest period piece, about the relationship between Harry Houdini (Guy Pearce) and a Scottish psychic (Catherine Zeta-Jones), isn't a return to form," blogs Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "When Armstrong focuses on the Houdini character and runs (randomly) through some of the stories that made him famous, Death Defying Acts is pretty effortlessly diverting," writes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "Unfortunately, the longer the film wears on, the less 'fun' and the more 'dour' it gets." "Last year's The Illusionist and The Prestige located an audience for costume dramas revolving around stage sleight-of-hand and gimmicky suspense narratives, rather than the usual drawing-room or court intrigue," writes Dennis Harvey in Variety. "Death Defying Acts might benefit from whatever appetite those pics whet, but it lacks their revenge-driven mystery hooks, offering instead romping and romance that feel half-baked."
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Fests and events, 9/21."Seeing Mala Noche for the first time in 2007 is a revelation," writes David Schmader in the Stranger. "More than any of his subsequent films, [Gus] Van Sant's debut weaves together the themes that will preoccupy him for the duration of his career so far: youth and danger, the desperate adventures of the American demimonde, and the intricacies of male-on-male lust and love." At the Northwest Film Forum through September 27 and out on DVD from Criterion on October 9. As Strange Culture comes to the Roxie (through Sunday) and the Smith Rafael (through Thursday), Michael Fox exchanges some rapid-fire email with Lynn Hershman Leeson for SF360. "Fiction in art can have a more profound element of truth than documented evidence," she tells him. Not Coming to a Theater Near You opens its NYFF section. September 28 through October 14. "The Chicago Film Festival, despite a paucity of big premieres and a shortage of national coverage, is a pretty top-flight shindig and it's right in my neighborhood." Nick Davis has his itinerary "all kinds of together." October 4 through 17. Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian on Syndromes and a Century: "Profoundly mysterious, erotic, funny, gentle, playful, utterly distinctive, it is the work of the Thai director and installation-artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who now has a claim to be approaching the league of Kiarostami and Haneke, one of modern cinema's great practitioners. He deserves his current retrospective at London's BFI Southbank." Through September 30. The Oregonian's Shawn Levy passes along Esmerelda Bermudez's interview with Maria Osterroth Sussman, who's organized the very first Portland Latin American Film Festival, running through Sunday.
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Toronto. Jimmy Carter Man from Plains."[Jonathan] Demme's latest doc [Jimmy Carter Man From Plains] follows President Carter on a publicity tour for his controversial book on the Middle East, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid," begins James Israel. "Carter comes off as an extremely thoughtful, intelligent person... The film also confirms that at least one reason Carter lost the 1980 election was his refusal to pander to extremist views and kneejerk reactions." "At the age of 81, Carter seems more vigorous than many people half his age," blogs the Austin Chronicle's Marjorie Baumgarten. "The film is a revealing portrait... and is greatly enhanced by the original music contributions of Austin treasure Alejandro Escovedo, whose background guitar work and arrangements help provide a connective through-line for the movie. Escovedo's work as a rock & roller, orchestra conductor, and solo musician all coalesce in this project, and offer great promise for Demme's next documentary project, which is reported to be a film about Escovedo that will be shot in Austin. Can't wait." Updated through 9/22. "Despite Carter's reputation as a wimpy chief executive, he's pretty tough when it comes to making his arguments understood and dispelling other people's distortions," writes the Chicago Reader's JR Jones. "[T]he movie covers a lot of ground, including not only the ex-president's upbringing in Plains but his 1980 electoral defeat to Ronald Reagan, his ultimate vindication with the Nobel peace prize, and the Carters' recent work with Habitat for Humanity building homes in New Orleans. At Ryerson, Carter recalled that their last building project was supposed to take five days, but after Brad Pitt showed up to help, they had so many volunteers that they were finished in four." "It's fascinating during Demme's doc to see the implacable faces that question Carter, with respect, but with the determination to prove him wrong," writes Anne Thompson. "'I fervently support Israel's security, but it's counterproductive for them to persecute the Palestinians,' summarized Carter in Toronto." Brian Brooks and Peter Knegt report in indieWIRE on the appearance by the fest's special guest. As Eric D Snider notes at Cinematical, the film picked up three awards in Venice: "The international critics' jury give the film its top award, while the Human Rights Film Network gave it a prize for best feature film. It also received the Collateral Award for Best Biography, which is presented by the Bologna Film Festival in conjunction with the Venice fest." Update, 9/22: "Carter's 'constituents' here are his eager readers and his mostly-Jewish critics," notes David D'Arcy in Screen Daily. "His job is to make his arguments exciting and acceptable as he moves through media interviews from New York to Los Angeles, and exciting is not a word that describes Jimmy Carter well. Nor is he a particularly good advocate for his own positions, which was Carter's crucial flaw as president. Two hours with the well-meaning man is very long."
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NYFF preview. The Darjeeling Limited."Wes Anderson, we love you, but you're bringing us down," sighs Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog. "The hermetically sealed world of your films - the man-children, the inexplicable melancholy, the flat, wide shots, the fetishized artifacts of adolescence and carefully chosen vintage pop soundtracks - has always resonated so strongly for us. We shrugged off all accusations of tweeness, we defended The Life Aquatic against the most virulent of critics, we saw in that AmEx commercial promising signs of self-awareness and gentle self-mockery. But with The Darjeeling Limited you may have finally vanished into your own well-contemplated navel and, we're sorry to say, lost us entirely." Updated through 9/27. "I believe those who complain about the emotional indirectness of this film, that its carefully controlled visual style sterilizes material that would be better served raw, kind of miss the point," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "Withholding the prospect of a direct connection between the viewer and the brothers is evidence of Anderson's larger purpose - this movie is as much, if not more, about the construction of fictions as it is about its ostensible plot." "Safe is the best way to describe Darjeeling, though a touch of laziness can also be discerned, especially by the umpteenth slow-mo shot of the men set to a from-the-vault pop song," writes Nick Schager at Slant. "Seeing Bill Murray is always nice, the fanciful Godardian pan through the train is enchanting, and the short prologue Hotel Chevalier that will not accompany the film in theaters but will appear on the DVD (featuring Natalie Portman doing her best Jean Seberg) is amusing, but Anderson needs to do like the film's brothers do during the (embarrassingly literal) climax and, once and for all, ditch some of his old baggage." But for Jürgen Fauth, this is "his best work since Rushmore." Earlier: Reviews from Venice. Updates, 9/25: "Even a ten-year-old could point out the aesthetic and narrative similarities between Anderson's films, so consistently do they deploy the same visual tricks and emotional turnarounds, yet to observe The Darjeeling Limited from a simple evaluative distance would deny the immersive pleasures therein," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "Asking Anderson to change (or 'grow,' as some critics would call it) ignores everything that's right with the artistic fluidity from Bottle Rocket to here. If The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou seemed too mechanical, too locked-in to its director's gambits, then with Darjeeling Anderson has found a way to overcome his own limitations without forgoing his expected style." "A companion piece to [The Royal Tenenbaums] more than a step in new directions, Darjeeling is a movie about people trapped in themselves and what it takes to get free - a movie, quite literally, about letting go of your baggage," writes Nathan Lee in the Voice. "We bring our own to the movies, so let me cop to mine. I was moved by Darjeeling, flaws and all, but if my job is to explain why, I find it difficult for reasons that are none of my business. From the minute Wilson walks onscreen, face covered in scars, eyes full of trouble, Darjeeling is warped by the gravitas of his recent suicide attempt. Anderson and Wilson are old friends and frequent collaborators, of course, and it's hard not to sense them working through more than one impasse here." Update, 9/26: "[T]he director's films are mistreated by being rated or hated as a series of dioramas (even if you feel like someone explaining about a terminally fey friend that 'you just have to get to know him')," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine. "A tacked-on ending (starring Anjelica Huston as Mom) suggests that Anderson may think he's made a richer movie than he has, but the filmmaker's past grandiose efforts (and, like Tarantino, his enervating descendants) shouldn't condemn his latest, minor journey." Updates, 9/27: The Darjeeling Limited "is foremost a male weepie (as one farseeing commentator wrote of 2001's The Royal Tenenbaums), chronicling an aching love lost and won between three men," writes Edward Crouse in Cinema Scope. "As a wigged-out affecting text built boldly on uncertainty, it takes cues from other odd melodramas: Renoir's The River (1951) (accidental epiphanies in a ribbony freefloat); Cassavetes's Husbands (1970) (the grief of three professional men gangways into a surreal Olympian bender, pushing women away and around); and Rossellini's Voyage to Italy (1954) (ugly, petty tourists stumbling onto a vision about themselves via some earthy, 'spicy' place)." "The Darjeeling Limited... showcases an obnoxious element of Anderson that is rarely discussed: the clumsy, discomfiting way he stages interactions between white protagonists - typically upper-class elites - and nonwhite foils - typically working class and poor," writes Jonah Weiner at Slate. "The film is gorgeous to look at: The color palette is riotous, and Anderson's rapacious eye for bric-a-brac binges on the Hindu prayer altars and crowded street markets of Rajasthan. But needless to say, beware of any film in which an entire race and culture is turned into therapeutic scenery." "The Darjeeling Limited is more than a movie-buff's grabbag," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "Instead, the film's premiere at this week's New York Film Festival reaffirms the importance of a filmmaker's personal sensibility - an often-forgotten essence in contemporary film culture." Online viewing tip #1. Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman are on ReelerTV. Online viewing tip #2. Jason Kottke's got your Hotel Chevalier link.
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Toronto. Obscene.The subject of Obscene is Grove Press and Evergreen Review founder Barney Rosset, who "continually faced courtrooms and politicians who were offended and/or threatened by things that are embarrassingly tame and bland compared to what we've got nowadays," writes Christopher Campbell at Cinematical. "Rosset was the one who fought to get books like Lady Chatterley's Lover, Tropic of Cancer, Naked Lunch, The Autobiography of Malcolm X and others onto American bookshelves and later to get films like I Am Curious (Yellow) into American theaters.... Unlike their subject, the makers of Obscene seem far from broke, as the film is possibly the most over-produced documentary since Inside Deep Throat." "You may not know Barney Rosset but the world we live in would be radically different without him," writes Todd Brown at Twitch. "Rosset is a fascinating subject, still possessed of a remarkably nimble mind well into his 80s, and gives refreshingly frank interviews. Better yet, he's also a bit of a pack rat and has maintained a sizeable archive of family movies, radio interviews, television appearances and the like, all of which have been made available to the filmmakers." "Visually, however, the film never treads into the territory of he innovation and modernism that embody Rosset's life's work, instead limiting the story to an orthodox, chronological summary of what happened," adds Tom Hall. "I liked this movie a lot, especially because I believe so strongly in Rosset's principled stance that adults should be able to make up heir own minds about what books they read and images they care to take in... but I felt it could use an extra 'oomph' that more concern about the visual strategy (and the better integration of some of the film's talking heads in to the movie's storyline) might have delivered." ST VanAirsdale - you know, the Reeler - talks with directors Neil Ortenberg and Daniel O'Connor, "themselves veteran New York publishers whose close alliance with Rosset (not to mention chats with the likes of Gore Vidal, John Waters, Jim Carroll and others) offer unprecedented access to the 85-year-old's archives and reflections on life, love, business and the perils of publishing the word 'cunt.'"
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Toronto and NYFF preview. A Girl Cut in Two."A Girl Cut in Two isn't exactly a crackling suspense film, though it does contain some hairpin twists, and it hints at a world of secret deviance dwelling behind elegantly carved doors," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "It's mainly a take-off-your-coat-and-stay-a-while piece of storytelling, where all the characters and their motivations get revealed in due course, and in the meantime the audience is expected to ponder the deeper meaning of all the dualities the movie keeps running past us.... It's just another good Chabrol film to throw on the pile." Updated through 9/24. "In 115 calm, non-judgmental minutes, Chabrol tells the story of a TV weathergirl (Ludivine Sagnier) whose affair with an aging, celebrated writer (François Berléand) somehow leads her into the arms of a young, possibly psychotic rich boy (Benoît Magimel)," writes the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "There are no moral messages here - when has Chabrol ever hit us over the head with a stick? - but only human animals elegantly chewing off their own legs." "How both these guys and those around them use their power to screw Gabrielle over is the real subject of this film, which is shot and cut with the ineluctability of a mathematical proof," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "A Girl Cut in Two is almost documentary-like in its examination of bourgeois rituals of wining and dining and modes of self-preservation, but its intriguing bits of psychological observation are not engineered into a particularly sensible or pulsating whole," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant. "Paling next to Raul Ruiz's nutty Chabrolian parody That Day, the film is only as artful, amusing, and thoughtful as the last Woody Allen picture." Earlier: Reviews from Venice. Update, 9/22: "The movie is gloriously 'French,' using the serpentine and voluptuous language as a point of attack that stratifies all lines of demarcation about honor, masculinity, sexual role playing and independence," writes Patrick Z McGavin at Stop Smiling. "Chabrol remains the most acid-toned of the original Nouvelle Vague directors; he's a brisk and incisive portraitist of hypocrisy and social mores that balanced with a visual imagination that gives the movie's title a particular snap." Update, 9/24: "Traditional wisdom holds Chabrol's constant theme to be withering critiques of the hypocritical, mendacious bourgeoisie, yet Chabrol's obviously been one for a while..., and Girl hedges its bets," writes Vadim Rizov at the Reeler. "The first hour is as conventional and sharp as any of Chabrol's early work; hardly a scene goes by without awkward sexual tension... and Chabrol pushes things along speedily. It's like a mean-spirited screwball comedy. The second hour slacks back into Chabrol's recent passive-aggressive house style, and the merger isn't entirely satisfying. But Girl picks up steam in its finale, meaning it's an awkward merger of Chabrol's old and new styles that won't alienate as many viewers as his recent work, but not as formally unified either."
The Kingdom."The Kingdom, about terror against Americans in Saudi Arabia, will confirm some of the worst American prejudices about the Middle East - that most Arabs there hate the US, and that America could eliminate threats there if bureaucrats got out of the way and if a few good men (and a woman) went in with the gloves off and guns ablaze," writes David D'Arcy for Screen Daily. "You can guess who comes out on top in this action movie." "America, fuck yeah, knows how to bring the thunder to terrorists," growls Nick Schager at Slant. "All you have to do is send over a quartet of FBI agents, give 'em five days to smooth out relations with the po-po and a richy rich prince, and ka-boom, ka-blam, ka-pow, national security reestablished!" Updated through 9/27. "If you're a filmmaker planning to juice up an FBI thriller by setting it in the contemporary Middle East and using visceral, highly charged images of suicide bombings and violent religious fundamentalism to drive the story, you'd best be on top of your game, brother," advises Bryant Frazer. "There is an interesting political story to be told here - and, to be fair, the graphic précis of recent events in the oil-rich Saudi Kingdom that opens the film, covering everything from the discovery of oil in the 1930s to the 2001 attacks by al Qaeda under the leadership of Osama Bin Laden, is almost scarily effective - but the screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan is little more than a blueprint for a spin-off TV series: CSI Saudi Arabia." "The issue is whether trained investigators - contending with rogue elements that represent no sovereign nation - would be more effective than full-scale military action in terms of nailing an Osama bin Laden-style evildoer," writes John Anderson in Variety. "Where pic goes astray is inturning anonymous, indigenous peoples into ducks at a shooting gallery. In Black Hawk Down, the alleged good guys mowed down hundreds of faceless Africans; here, it's Arabs, in what seem like comparable numbers. The sense of vicarious sport is the same; anyone in a caftan or a kepi is fair game." David Walters talks with director Peter Berg for Esquire. Earlier: John Horn's backgrounder for the Los Angeles Times. Updates, 9/23: Newsweek's David Ansen suspects that "Berg and screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan don't know what kind of movie they've actually made - or would like to pretend they've made another kind." For the Los Angeles Times, Rachel Abramowitz talks with Ashraf Barhom, "one of a wave of talented actors from the Middle East and South Asia getting a break from Hollywood's newfound interest in geopolitics. With movies such as Syriana, Munich, United 93 and A Mighty Heart as well as the upcoming Rendition, actors such as Ifran Khan, Omar Metwally and Igal Naor have landed some of the most complicated, fraught male roles of the year." Updates, 9/24: "The trouble with Berg's film is not hard to pin down," writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. "Since he made a sour little black comedy called Very Bad Things, in 1998, he has become adept at the marshalling of multiple figures, and the boom and stutter of the action sequences in the new film - whether on the freeway or in the claustrophobic back alleys of Riyadh - leaves you thoroughly winded and wiped. Even in the midst of that response, however, you realize that what whips up the melee is vengefulness. This is not to be confused with justice; the film has nothing but contempt for the traditional methods of diplomacy and international law, and the true villains of the piece are not the terrorists, whose patient bombmaking we watch in horrified detail, but Schmidt, the sweating wimp from the State Department, who is nauseated by the sight of blood, and, even more heinous, the US Attorney General (Danny Huston), with his quibbling reluctance to unleash the FBI on foreign soil." David Edelstein in New York: "[Chris] Cooper has become a master at staying in the background yet upstaging everyone, and [Jennifer] Garner is the ne plus ultra of action heroines: Those pillowy lips say at once 'Kiss me' and 'Kiss my ass.'" Update, 9/25: "Halfway through the movie, the FBI agents go Marine," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "United in vengeance, the combined American and Saudi forces eventually eschew dull procedure for thrilling car-chase action, ending with a firefight in a very bad neighborhood. (Call it 'Black Hawk downtown.') A hand-to-hand slamming-gouging-stabbing denouement got a mild rise out of the preview audience at the Loews 83rd Street, but the movie's main satisfaction is the utopian spectacle of wounded Americans heading home, mission accomplished." Update, 9/26: "One critic's oversimplified drama is another's thriller with a touch of class," suggests Jesse Hassenger in the L Magazine. Updates, 9/27: "There have been enough Middle East / Iraq War-based movies trickling out in 2007 to comprise a film school mini-symposium on what will surely prove to be the most ubiquitous topic and setting over the next decade," writes Neil Morris in the Independent Weekly. "Surprisingly, the best of this year's lot thus far is The Kingdom, an action movie with characters filled by Hollywood central casting." "Out of context, the latter half of the movie would look like a propaganda film for the war on terror," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "In context, however, it adds nothing to the ideas about jumbled international cooperation introduced in the first act." "If The Kingdom were satisfied with being a crackling action movie and police procedural about federal agents trying to find the culprits behind a bombing in Saudi Arabia, it would offer an entertaining night at the movie with overtones of current events," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "But this latest film from director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) has bigger terrorists to fry, and it fails in its attempt to be a serious drama with important things to say about the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East." Ella Taylor profiles Ashraf Barhom for the LA Weekly.
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William Wyler Blog-a-Thon.Heavens, that Mike "Goatdog" Phillips knows how to send invitations. Just take a look at these. At any rate, the William Wyler Blog-a-Thon runs today through Sunday, celebrating the man who scored three Oscars and 12 nominations. Wyler "directed 38 films between 1928 and 1970, from romantic comedies (Roman Holiday) to Westerns (The Westerner) to documentaries (Thunderbolt) to historical epics (Ben-Hur) to social problem films (Dead End) to musicals (Funny Girl) to thrillers (The Desperate Hours) to costume dramas (The Heiress) to cop films (Detective Story)."
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The Jane Austen Book Club."The Jane Austen Book Club's light, slight and clever entertainment is occasionally too-clever, but the cast's performances and [Robin] Swicord's sense of tone give it just enough charm to work," writes Cinematical's James Rocchi. "I have to admit that I found writer/director Robin Swicord's adaptation of Karen Joy Fowler's popular novel pretty often charming despite it being not my bag, baby, and despite my [Amy] Brenneman phobia," confesses Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "The Jane Austen Book Club isn't any better or worse than the recent Becoming Jane, a fantasy of Austen's youthful love life," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Like the other movies and television projects in a Jane Austen boom that continues to gather momentum, it is an entertaining, carefully assembled piece of clockwork that imposes order on ever more complicated gender warfare." Updated through 9/23. This is "a widget carefully engineered to comfort, console and sell like hot cakes since it was but a gleam in the author's eye, and Swicord doesn't mess with the formula," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "[T]here's a difference between connecting to a writer's work and reading too much of yourself in it, and the banal film version of Fowler's book crosses the line six too many times," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "The movie is a celebration of reading, and oddly enough that works, even though there is nothing cinematic about a shot of a woman (or the club's one male member) reading a book," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "Such shots are used as punctuation in the film, where they work like Ozu's 'pillow shots,' quiet respites from the action. The only drawback to them from my point of view was that all the characters seem to be reading standard editions - not a Folio Society subscriber among them." "You can't outright hate a movie that stars Maria Bello (even as the capable singleton who can't commit) or the excellent Emily Blunt (even as the nervous Nellie unable to see the good stuff right under her upturned nose) or Kathy Baker, predictably cast as the much-married port in a storm," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "As for me, I eagerly await the mad bitches of Nicole Holofcener's next movie." "It was love and money that Austen wrote about, because, as she herself observed, what else is there? The second in that equation is acutely absent from the problems of these affluent northern Californians, and it's too bad," writes Michelle Orange at the Reeler. Nonetheless, "Time was clearly taken here to do better than fine with material that had a sizeable no-brainer audience built right into the title. It's an effort as touching (if not anachronistic) as that taken to sit down and write a letter - those critical time capsules so rarely rendered tactile anymore, so rarely labored over with one eye on personal history." "There's nothing particularly stylish about Book Club, which won't lose much in translation to the smallscreen," writes Dennis Harvey in Variety. "But it's expert in matters more crucial to the source material: managing a highly eventful narrative in brisk terms without seeming rushed; drawing moderately complex characters and conflicted relationships with economy and feeling. In those regards and others, the pic is much more satisfying than recent femme-centric adaptations The Nanny Diaries or Evening, let alone the pandering, formulaic likes of Because I Told You So." And Anne Thompson profiles Swicord. "What would Jane do?" asks Sean Axmaker at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "Write more nuanced characters and a less contrived script than this, I'm sure." At IFC News, Matt Singer finds it "so thoroughly anti-dude for most of its running time that the only sensible male reaction to it is guilt." "The self-deluded, Lifetime fantasy of Swicord's film can be felt from the outset," writes Paul Schrodt at Slant. "Each character's story conveniently dovetails with an Austen novel, as they all superficially peck away at the parallels between their own woes and those of characters in the books." "Swicord's literary sense isn't exactly Camille Paglia; her movie is less 'literate' than it is almost frighteningly ill-cinematic," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "If this one doesn't find an audience and/or spawn The Arthur Conan Doyle Book Club, The Bronte Sisters Book Club, and so-on spinoffs for different demographics, I'll eat my hat and read Mansfield Park again," writes Robert Cashill. "The Jane Austen Book Club is both a testament to Austen's continued relevance and a fine example of classroom particulars converted into entertaining banter without losing any of its oomph," writes Brandon Fibbs at cinemaattraction. Online listening tip. Swicord and Hugh Dancy are guests on the Leonard Lopate Show. Liz Hoggard talks with Dancy for the Independent. Update: "Throughout The Jane Austen Book Club, a clear, if bewildering blueprint emerges," writes Emily Condon at Reverse Shot. "It goes something like this: an emotional arc starts to swell, the action nears climax, and then just before it gets there, the camera cuts to something whimsical or silly. Repeatedly executing this pattern, Swicord (who wrote and directed) undercuts nearly every scene that has the potential to resonate deeply just before the moment where catharsis would (i.e. could) occur." Update, 9/22: IndieWIRE interviews Swicord. Update, 9/23: Swati Pandey talks with Swicord and other major players for the LAT.
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More on Eastern Promises."Good as all the actors are - [Vincent] Cassel, in particular, brings a few more tones to his portrayal than I suspected he had - this is [Viggo] Mortensen's show," writes Robert Cashill. "It's remarkable how extraneous Mortensen's character, Nikolai, is to the early proceedings, because from the beginning he looms over the film," writes the New Republic's Christopher Orr. Updated through 9/27. "[G]eneric labels are relatively meaningless in describing the sensation experienced when engaging with [Eastern Promises]," writes Drew Morton at Dr Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope. "While the film begins rather conventionally with the rather gruesome murder of a Russian mobster that evokes both to the murder of Luca Brasi in Coppola's The Godfather and Cronenberg's earlier more visceral efforts, the pacing of the film dodges the rather typical three-act structure of most crime dramas. Instead, he lingers on sudden bursts of violence but, unlike his last film, Cronenberg does not seem as concerned with punishing the audience for their voyeurism. This time, he shifts focus to the faces of the men committing the deeds, derailing the forward momentum that violence normally has on the narrative." "[I]t's a brisk and exciting film for the most part, Viggo and Vincent Cassel are a lot of fun to watch together, and, once again, it's only about 100 minutes long," writes Leo Goldsmith at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "Hardly a glowing recommendation, I know, but middling Cronenberg is still more appealing than Russell Crowe's Glenn Ford impersonation or Jodie Foster's Charlie Bronson." "To discuss Eastern Promises as another of [David] Cronenberg's body-horror shows is to somewhat obscure the fact that, as with 2005's A History of Violence, the film is firstly an underworld thriller emblazoned with an intense performance by Mortensen," writes Nick Schager. "But the urge to confront it on thematic terms is also driven by the fact that its subtextual currents are more compelling than the actual narrative itself, which never wholly coheres into something satisfyingly suspenseful." "It's a movie that's a perfectly good drunken shag with an average partner, nothing that will blow your mind and nothing you haven't seen before," writes Grady Hendrix in a funny but also spoiler-ridden review for Twitch. "I had just about given up on gangster films as a genre." But C Jerry Kutner lists fives ways this one works at Bright Lights After Dark. "Eastern Promises is a sleek, claustrophobic thriller that's disappointing only because it's the follow-up to A History of Violence," writes Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog. Paul Matwaychuk talks with Cronenberg. In the UK: "Audiences will shortly have the chance to see two brilliant films, both made by North American directors, which explore the seedy underbelly of London in a poetic and atmospheric way," writes Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent. One is Eastern Promises. The other: "London is shown in an equally forlorn light in Jules Dassin's Night and the City (1950), which portrays a post-war London in the grip of hoodlums and racketeers. Thanks to the Blitz, there is rubble all over the place. Dassin throws in several sequences in which his lead character, the small-time US nightclub tout and would-be wrestling promoter Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) is seen scurrying like a beetle across grey, decaying cityscapes with heavies in pursuit. Again, the Thames is where the bodies are dumped." For Amazon, Cronenberg makes a list of " some things that I read and watched in preparation for the making of Eastern Promises." Earlier: "Interview. David Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen." "Mortensen is absolutely brilliant: stoic and sarcastic and threatening and, at moments, curiously soft," writes the Oregonian's Shawn Levy. "He somehow presents his face as a meerschaum topped with a subtle pompadour, and he makes three-course meals out of lines like "Sentimental value: I heard of that.'... Cronenberg has, as Guillermo del Toro did in Pan's Labyrinth, crafted both a drama and a fairy tale - and he's done it in an entertainment as cracking as you could wish for." Updates, 9/23: "[T]he glaring difference between his two most recent films is that A History of Violence fetishized mechanical weaponry and its effects on bodies; malforming and mutilated them," writes Ted Pigeon. "However, there is not a single gunshot to be seen or heard in Eastern Promises, and yet many people lose their lives. It does not contain so much as one composition of an automatic weapon of any sort. Here, Cronenberg more explicitly focuses on bodies mutilating bodies and colliding with one another other." For the first time, the Shamus is impressed by Viggo Mortensen: He's dominating, he's sexy, he's mesmerizing, he's impossible to turn away from. He goes so deep into the role that he isn't anybody but this tatted-up, ex-con, Russian mobster harboring a dangerous secret. But why listen to me? Here is what Geoffrey Rush, unbidden, told reporters at the Toronto International Film Festival while he was supposed to be promoting his own movie: Viggo Mortensen gives a great screen performance. He's completely inside his imaginative world, creating a character using invisible technique. There's a great kind of personal stamp that's idiosyncratic for the character. He explores extreme parameters within the character on his own terms and therefore creates someting entertaining and thrilling for an audience to get involved with on their own imaginative level. What's interesting is that Eastern Promises is far from a great movie.... Martin Tsai talks with Cronenberg for cinemaattraction. Update, 9/25: "Eastern Promises is not about the brutal, multi-cultural underbelly beneath London's surface nor the society and culture of immigrant Russians, nor does it unexpectidly turn on its subject and corrode it from within, as with A History of Violence - surprisingly, neither the script nor the film seems to have thematic pretensions," writes Daniel Kasman. "But it is fascinated by this movie surface world it is indulging in, like an old Hollywood film..." Update, 9/27: "In a kind of unexpected loop back to [Cronenberg's] past, the new film's vastly ranging social contexts of in-grown Russian émigrés, isolated Turkish circles and thoroughly Anglicized Russian ethnics acknowledges a far larger world and communities of people that's visible in his early horror films from The Brood to Scanners (1981) and Videodrome (1983)," writes Robert Koehler.
September 20, 2007
Venice and Toronto. Sukiyaki Western Django.Takashi Miike's Sukiyaki Western Django "carries its influences on its sleeve," writes Tom Mes - the author, you'll remember, of Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike - at Midnight Eye. "[T]here is a lot of Kurosawa and a lot of Leone, a generous sprinkling of Corbucci, a touch of Okamoto, and a whiff of Gosha. More than just a reminder of the debt the Italians owe the Japanese through the Yojimbo-Fistful of Dollars connection, the film adheres to the far wiser stance that cross-cultural pollination is the essence of cinema and that there is no such thing as a one-way street of influence. As university professors everywhere like to phrase it, cinema is inherently transnational, and Sukiyaki Western Django is that statement made flesh." Mes also hung with Miike and what can only be described as his entourage (of more than 20) in Venice and his report is a medley of nifty little moments that add up to a mighty enjoyable read. Sukiyaki Western Django "is a loopy explosion of energy, the most overtly crowd pleasing effort from the prolific cinematic freak show since Zebraman," writes Todd Brown at Twitch. "Bright, brash, violent, and intentionally camp Sukiyaki Western Django is that rarest of things: an intentional cult film that succeeds on all fronts." "Both Miike and Tarantino, overpraised and overindulged for years, are now in the baroque phases of their careers, strenuously embellishing by-now familiar themes with ever more convoluted arabesques of cinematic referencing and auteurist posturing," writes Mark Schilling in the Japan Times. "I count myself as a fan of both - but I also think they have both reached an impasse, like aging rockers who jazz up their stage shows as vehicles for their decades-old riffs.... Unlike Tarantino, Miike also has a macho sentimental streak, expressed in Sukiyaki by the gunman's selfless championing of the traumatized boy, his much-abused mother and other decent townsfolk. But the operatic clowning undermines the drama." Via Jeffrey Hill at the House Next Door. This is a "misguided cowboy tale with no twist," writes Michael Lerman at indieWIRE. "Even with a wealth of past ideas to pilfer, Sukiyaki Western Django can't sustain itself for its full two hour running time," writes Mike White. "Things slow down about an hour into the proceedings. In order to inject some life into the faltering action, Miike breaks into the cartoon sound effects library and attempts to make SWD a life action anime film. These instances feel completely out of place, even after the highly stylized pre-credit sequence starring living cartoon character Quentin Tarantino."
Posted by dwhudson at 3:37 PM
Fests and events, 9/20.The Variety España team has landed in San Sebastian, where the festival has opened with David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises. Currently in rotation at the site are umpteen fine photos of Viggo Mortensen in various poses. The fest runs through September 29. "By most accounts, this year's New York Film Festival is one of the strongest in years." Slant revs up its coverage well over a week ahead of time. They're not alone; already, we're seeing previews at the House Next Door, the IFC Blog, the Reeler, the SpoutBlog and from Premiere's Glenn Kenny. Lots of blogging going on from the IFP Filmmaker Conference at Filmmaker - and the Film Panel Notetaker's at work, too. "When the Portuguese director Pedro Costa's Colossal Youth, a nearly three-hour movie about the displaced residents of a gutted Lisbon housing slum, emerged as the most divisive film - among critics, audiences, reportedly even the jury - in the competition of the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, the fracas underscored something that many admirers of Costa's work had already realized: namely, that the debate over Costa (whose six feature films will be screened this weekend at REDCAT) is no ordinary case of some people 'liking' a certain filmmaker and others not," writes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. "Rather, Costa is a kind of cause - a mission - that you either believe in or don't." "Maybe the trauma of another intractable war has sparked the movies' recent interest in 60s headliners: the Beatles in Across the Universe, Dylan in I'm Not There, Vietnam everywhere," suggests Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix. "This flashback wouldn't be complete without a look back at the film œuvre of Norman Mailer. If nothing else, a Mailer retrospective provides a window, however distorted and monomaniacal, to a time when writers could be cultural icons as well-known as Paris Hilton is today, a time when movies were analyzed with a passion now reserved for fantasy football. In the 60s, Norman Mailer was not only a writer, he was a cultural icon. And he aspired to make art movies." The Cinematic Life of Norman Mailer runs at the Harvard Film Archive Sunday through Tuesday. The San Francisco Bay Guardian's Johnny Ray Huston notes that Midnights for Maniacs programmer Jesse Hawthorne Ficks is "reviving one of the greatest space vampire movies ever, Tobe Hooper's 1985 Lifeforce. Now you can ponder space vampirism in its full, bodacious 70mm splendor, as primarily embodied by naked alien Mathilda May, who brought anarchic madness to London almost 20 years before 28 Days Later." Sunday at the Castro. John Waters comes to Duke University tomorrow night. Zack Smith talks with him for the Independent Weekly. Rob Christopher has a brief preview of this year's Chicago International Film Festival (October 4 through 17) at the Chicagoist. Miami's edition of the Italian Film Festival opens October 4, too, runs through October 9, and the lineup's up.
Fall previews, 9/20."As the coming-out party for the fall film season, the Toronto International Film Festival inevitably has its share of dazzling debuts and catastrophic face plants, but the balance was distinctly tilted toward the high end of the scale this year," writes Sam Adams, whacking two birds, fest review and season preview, with one annotated list in the Philadelphia City Paper. "After a $4 billion summer of fun, the film industry now focuses on the real world. It's time to take things seriously and cram for the finals: the Academy Awards." Peter Keough presents the Boston Phoenix's fall preview. Sean Burns previews a healthy handful of highlights for the Philadelphia Weekly. Zack Smith picks the don't-misses for the Independent Weekly. Piper Weiss turns Radar's preview into a quiz: "Can you tell the difference between real movies and fakes?"
Posted by dwhudson at 6:18 AM
Fantastic Fest 3.Austin's Fantastic Fest opens today for a week-long run and the Chronicle's Marc Savlov has quite a bundle of previews, all unstrung out on the same page:
Posted by dwhudson at 1:35 AM
September 19, 2007
Shorts, 9/19."For a born Southerner such as myself, hailing from northwest Alabama, there are basically two kinds of movies set in the Deep South: authentic and inauthentic ones," begins Jonathan Rosenbaum's piece for Stop Smiling's "Issue 31: Ode to the South." "The former are those done by filmmakers who consider it worth the trouble to film in the right locations, with the right actors, using the right accents while giving some attention to the local folkways. The latter are basically those who don't know or don't care about such distinctions." "Though directors of this 'Fifth Generation' once created films like Raise the Red Lantern and Farewell, My Concubine, which exposed cruel realities of country life and the Cultural Revolution, their biggest concern these days is box office numbers," writes Rebecca Chang, mapping a rift in current Chinese cinema for PopMatters: On the other side of the game has been China's industry underdogs; this "Sixth Generation" of directors, often working at odds against censors, have cultivated a pop aesthetic and depiction of quotidian ennui Martin Scorsese has hailed as "some of the finest, toughest, most vitally alive work in modern movie-making." Against a state-run system aiming to reel in ticket sales, the Sixth Generation's work has documented the socially marginalized in urban dystopias, calling attention to a China that the government would just as soon not acknowledge. The filmmakers often shoot without approval or permit (thus earning the nickname of "underground directors"), regularly braving passport revocation and darkroom raids. Zhang Yuan's 1993 Beijing Bastard, Ning Ying's 1995 On the Beat, and Lou Ye's 2006 Summer Palace have all been exemplary works of the movement, though it is Jia Zhangke who has received the loudest acclaim, domestically and internationally. "You have to work very hard, and take yourself very seriously as the keeper of the keys to America, to make a tedious documentary about the Second World War," writes Nancy Franklin in the New Yorker. "But that is what Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have done with their 15-hour series The War, which will begin on September 23rd, on PBS. They've taken a subject that is inexhaustible and made it merely exhausting." Politics or business? Bit of both? Reed Johnson looks into the conflicting takes on why Warner Bros won't be distributing Luís Mandoki's La Democracia Simulada (The Simulated Democracy), a documentary on that incredibly contested election in Mexico last year. Also in the Los Angeles Times:
Posted by dwhudson at 3:54 PM
Non-English 100."After nearly two months of preparation, the time has come to officially unveil the choice for the list which I've elected to give the title of The Satyajit Ray Memorial Anything-But-Definitive List of Non-English Language Films," announces Edward Copeland. "The name comes, of course, from the great Indian director who failed to land any of his acclaimed works on the final list of 122 nominees."
Posted by dwhudson at 6:57 AM
Into the Wild."Ladies and gentleman, writer-director Sean Penn did not ruin the story of Christopher McCandless, aka Alexander Supertramp, in his big-screen adaptation of Jon Krakauer's nonfiction book, Into the Wild," announces Jim Emerson. "The movie has awkward patches... But Penn's empathy with his driven hero is unmistakable and deeply felt." For the New York Times, Charles McGrath talks with Penn about his "deeply affecting movie version of the Krakauer book, with cinematography so beautiful it makes the Alaskan landscape seem seductively otherworldy," but not before noting that Krakauer suggests in his book that "McCandless was a hero in the tradition of Jack London and Thoreau: a solitary quester, an explorer of his own interior landscape, in search of a more authentic relation to the natural world. The Krakauer view has prevailed among a small band of pilgrims who over the years have visited the bus and made it an informal shrine." Updated through 9/24. "To these eyes, Into the Wild is an unusually soulful and poetic movie that crystallizes McCandless in all his glittering enigma, and allows us to decide for ourselves whether he was the spiritual son of Thoreau, Tolstoy and John Muir, or the boy most likely to become Theodore Kaczynski," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice. "As screenwriter, Penn has done a superb job of giving shape and dimension to characters who passed only fleetingly through Krakauer's pages—the fellow travelers McCandless encountered on his journey and whose lives, in some cases, he irrevocably altered.... Penn also seems more engaged with the language of cinema here than he has in any of his previous directorial efforts (which include the excellent The Pledge and the overwrought The Crossing Guard)." "For better or worse, Penn sees this saga as kinetic; he attempts to evoke McCandless's restless odyssey by leaping around in time and space," writes David Edelstein in New York. "That means fast montage, lyrical slow motion, fleeting encounters, narration by several different people, lines from the protagonist's letters scrawled across the screen, and magnificent scenery held just long enough to register.... After all the nits are picked, Into the Wild has a crazy integrity—Penn believes. The actor in him understands what McCandless in his journal calls 'the climactic battle to kill the false being within.'" "It is one of those peculiarly American odysseys, with echoes of Huck Finn, Woody Guthrie, Kerouac and Easy Rider, in which the true heart of America is found still beating among its drifters and outcasts," writes Nick Roddick in the Evening Standard. "But the film, like the book, also speaks to a younger generation, for whom the word 'career' is more threat than aspiration." "Krakauer's novel held McCandless in esteem but not with the rose-tinted glasses through which Penn views him, as the director casts his protagonist as a veritable Christ figure to be not only revered but envied," writes Nick Schager at Slant. "I walked into the film knowing nothing about the book, not even if it was fiction or nonfiction," blogs Sean Axmaker for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "The film certainly has the feel of a memoir, but it (like, I assume, the book) is much more: an odyssey, an escape, a personal journey, and an experience both exhilarating and devastating." "It features zooms, split screens, jump cuts, and a song score by a growling Eddie Vedder that wouldn't feel at all out of place on 70s radio," notes Bryant Frazer. "Cinematographer Éric Gautier (The Motorcycle Diaries, Clean, Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train) favors long lenses here, the kind that can isolate one subject twixt foreground and background and then, dramatically changing their plane of focus, seek out another. They emphasizes the distances involved in the open spaces where much of the film takes place, and their voyeuristic qualities echo the book's theme of observation across a temporal distance." Tom Charity, reporting from Toronto for CNN, found Into the Wild "maybe the best surprise of the festival." "[T]he wonderful thing about Penn's Into the Wild is that it dramatizes McCandless' cross-country journey so artfully, and with such specificity, that viewers can take away from it whatever they want," suggests Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Penn has the directorial chops to extract low-key performances that percolate rather than boil (notably, Jack Nicholson in The Crossing Guard and The Pledge)," writes Benjamin Strong in the L Magazine. "But the laid-back SoCal vibe emitted here by lead actor Emile Hirsch (who played skate god Jay Adams in Lords of Dogtown) only thickens the fog surrounding his character's motivations.... We're left with little understanding of what nature had to offer McCandless other than a void." Hillary Frey profiles Hirsch in the New York Observer. Updates, 9/20: Joe Donnelly talks with Penn for a longish LA Weekly cover story. Also, Ella Taylor: "Honestly, I'd rather be talking to [Catherine] Keener about her more muscular roles, like The Ballad of Jack and Rose (in which she also plays a hippie, but with a more feckless edge), or her dryly sardonic turn as Harper Lee in Capote, or just about anything she's done for Nicole Holofcener." "The terrains change from lush greens and browns to the blank white of winter as he grows disillusioned by loneliness," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "The Alaskan setting isn't the only reason why Into the Wild should be considered alongside Fessenden's horror flick. Both stories illuminate the travails of a world far stronger and insurmountable than its notoriously ambivalent inhabitants care to admit." "Even though the movie is packed with familiar faces, Penn's ability to draw previously unseen facets from his cast makes for one revelation after another," notes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "There are a few too many overly sincere attempts at profundity (the movie opens with a Lord Byron quote), but Penn's insight into his subject's core desire - his need for 'ultimate freedom' and a desire 'to kill the false being within' - propels the film past its flaws," writes Matt Singer at the Reeler. Updates, 9/21: "Mr Penn, even more than Mr Krakauer, takes the Emersonian dimension of Chris McCandless's project seriously, even as he understands the peril implicit in too close an identification with nature," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "The book took pains to defend its young protagonist against the suspicion that he was suicidal, unbalanced or an incompetent outdoorsman, gathering testimony from friends he had made in his last years as evidence of his kindness, his care and his integrity. The film, at some risk of sentimentalizing its hero, goes further, pushing him to the very brink of sainthood." Still, Into the Wild is "alive to the mysteries and difficulties of experience in a way that very few recent American movies have been." "Too much of Into the Wild is reminiscent of, as Alice Cooper once put it, those songs about how good water tastes," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "But if you strip some of that dewy-eyed nature worship from Into the Wild, it becomes clear that Penn cares deeply about presenting this spoiled, privileged, misguided kid as someone we should care about.... In fact, all through the movie, Chris - supposedly interested more in souls and people than in money - seems not just detached from life but disinterested in it. Detachment, at least, can be active as well as passive. Disinterest is just boring." "It's [Penn's] warmest, most celebratory and most completely realized film and, though you might not guess it from the material, it is also arguably his most personal," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "Tempting as it might be to dismiss McCandless as a hare-brained hippie, he's not so easily reduced, and Penn does well to honor his slippery nature, even as he's clearly awed by his grand adventure," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "Hero or asshole, McCandless has a story worth watching," writes John Constantine at Nerve. "I happen to think Sean Penn is one of our more admirable knotheads - a fearless actor, a bold controversialist and, as he proved with The Pledge, a very strong director, capable of far subtler moral complexity than Into the Wild affords," writes Richard Schickel for Time. "I think the central mistake of this film derives from its lack of irony, a sense it refuses to impart that the world may not be exactly as the zealous Christopher perceives it to be. The film needs at least to entertain the possibility that its protagonist was driven less by high principle than by lamentable screwiness. And we need to leave it carrying some sense of tragic consequence with us. Instead, we're simply glad to be finished, at last, with this annoying man-child." "Perhaps the best indication of the film's richness and maturity is that one's appreciation of it isn't predicated on whether McCandless is perceived as a holy naif or a callow backpacker," writes Elbert Ventura at Reverse Shot. "Penn performs one bit of sleight-of-hand on the book that's borderline unforgivable," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "It's a Lifetime TV rule that this movie should have risen above: Every questionable moral action must be explained by an equal and opposite childhood trauma." Update, 9/22: Gina Piccalo talks with Hirsch for the LAT. Update, 9/24: Anne Thompson's attended the LA premiere.
Posted by dwhudson at 6:30 AM
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford."Westerns are the stories we used to tell ourselves about our origins, about the sources of our native pluck and resilience," writes Terrence Rafferty in the New York Times. "They were part of the messy, improvisational process by which Americans define — and revise, and define again — a national self-image, and one of the many reasons to regret the demise of westerns is that without them it's just a little tougher for us to figure out who we are.... Is it safe to say that the national mood has darkened in the last six years?" The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford "doesn't know quite how to feel about either of its main characters, except that each, in his different way, is something of a con artist, and that each, also in a different way, is an extremely sad man." Updated through 9/25. This is "is a deeply, unsentimentally nostalgic movie - but nostalgic for what exactly?" asks J Hoberman in the Voice. "Gritty but mythic, a dirty western with clean shirts, oblique in some ways and obvious in others, Jesse James is a bold, even wacky, reinvention. This is a psychological chamber drama in which the wide-open spaces are geographic as well as mental." "Not content to be poetic, it aims squarely for Poetry and imbues its simple sonnet of a story with the heft of an ancient song," writes David Lowery. "And by and large it works, and works beautifully, running through a gamut of contrasts - mythic and intimate, grandiose yet delicate - and binding them with a deep sense of melancholy." "It's beautifully shot and acted, but languidly paced in a way that blunts most of the movie's emotional impact," finds Matt Singer at IFC News, where R Emmet Sweeney offers a history of the legendary outlaw on screen: "Jesse James has gone through infamy, idolization, deconstruction and dissolution in the Hollywood system. With his genre moribund and his legend fading, it might be time for the James myth to take a break." "Similar problems plague this Brad Pitt vehicle that did last week's 3:10 to Yuma but they move in opposite directions from a base misunderstanding of their genre, and its current demands," writes Ryland Walker Knight at Vinyl Is Heavy. "Andrew Dominik's Jesse James picture tries so hard to be special it can only fail to live up to its amplified flamboyance; James Mangold's 3:10 remake is so flat it never gets going, even with a barn-burning at the opening. Or: one tries to re-invent the wheel with borrowed gimmicks while the other tries to fasten the wheel back in place with worn (however trusty) tools at hand." It's likely the most 'difficult' film produced with Hollywood money and starring an A-list star since Eyes Wide Shut," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "It demands repeat viewings, and as such, it'll either be a massive commercial failure, or it'll touch off a new wave of American cinephilia." "The Assassination is first and foremost a meditation on American myths and the nature of fame," writes Matt Riviera. "Unfolding like a Greek tragedy, it examines the debilitating impact of violence on the killer's soul and its parallel, opposite effect on his reputation. It also charts the transition from a time when one's exploits were widely celebrated, to an era when one could be famous simply for being famous." "Among the large supporting cast members, James Carville, the liberal media spokesman and the brains behind Bill Clinton's two victorious presidential elections, startled me at first in the role of Missouri's Governor Crittenden, the mortal enemy of Jesse James, but I was quickly won over by his unquiveringly straight-faced actorish zeal," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "For my money, Mr Carville is more than a match for Fred Thompson of Law and Order and the Republican Presidential Sweepstakes, but there is always the possibility that I am politically prejudiced." "It walks like a classic cowboy movie but talks like a graphic novel, possessing the former's baroque mythology but the latter's revisionist empathy for the marginal," writes Jason Bogdaneris in the L Magazine. Logan Hill talks with Casey Affleck for New York. Earlier: Reviews from Venice. "Throughout, Dominik indulges in a level of self-consciousness and artifice so pronounced that his film stands not as a historical record or even a slice of neo-western revisionism so much as a contemplative mood piece-by-way-of-character study intent on examining the nature of hero worship, capturing the tumultuousness of the West's transition from gritty reality to fabled past, and deconstructing the era's myths even as it upholds them," writes Nick Schager at Slant. "As with 2007's other great American work, David Fincher's Zodiac, Dominik's triumph focuses on an iconic criminal from the country's past, and the way in which that personage, refracted through the media's filter, epitomized our love-hate rapport with fame. Moreover, it shares with Fincher's film a detail-oriented fascination with procedure, albeit not that of the police or the newspaper, but of fate itself, the director languorously, purposefully depicting the titular act as the culmination of a carefully arranged series of events that could lead to only one, fateful outcome." Updates, 9/20: "Epic and intimate, brutal and poignant, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford aims higher than practically any other American film this year and hits the target with aplomb," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "The entire film is a conceit," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "It signals Dominik's intention to reproduce the now-vaunted postmodern aspects of 70s moviemaking—those great westerns by Peckinpah, Aldrich, Altman, Penn and Hill. Yet, while recalling the comically extended title of Robert Altman's great 1976 Buffalo Bill and the Indians, Or Sitting Bull's History Lesson - where Altman used Paul Newman's star power to analyze the beauty and terror of American showbiz and gangster legend - Dominik stops short of true revisionism. He uses Brad Pitt's iconography without the inquiring skepticism of Altman's satire. Instead, Dominik merely swoons over Pitt/Jesse, entrapped by macho mystique." Updates, 9/21: "The lachrymose new film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford adds another gauzy chapter to the overtaxed James myth, if not much rhyme or reason, heart or soul," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "A narrator, his voice floating toward us from the great beyond, describes the action as we're seeing it, on the off-chance we're suffering from temporary blindness," notes Stephanie Zacharek, offering a few painful-sounding examples in Salon. The film "represents a breakthrough in the moviegoing experience. It may be the first time we've been asked to watch a book on tape." Similarly, Gwynne Watkins at Nerve. "It happened with regularity in the 70s, but every once in a while, a major studio accidentally produces a work of art like The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford - a dark, iconoclastic Western that lacks clear heroes and villains, tucks its only shoot 'em up sequence in the opening reel, and closes on a note of profound ambiguity and regret," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "In look and tone, it recalls moody revisionist Westerns like McCabe & Mrs Miller and The Shooting, but with a special attentiveness to the natural world that's closer to Terrence Malick. But perhaps its closest antecedent is Walter Hill's underrated Wild Bill, another story of an outlaw who had the misfortune of being a legend before his death, thus inviting fame-seekers to strike him down. Both films derive a sick sort of tension from the inevitable, as their paranoid anti-heroes wait for an end that they seem to know is coming." For the Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan, this is "a film whose reach exceeds its grasp. Hugely ambitious and not without moments of success, this indulgent 2 hour and 40 minute epic ends up as unwieldy as its elongated title. It's a movie in love with itself, and few things are more fatal than that." Also: Susan King's history of Jesse James on the screen. "The mere phrase 'Brad Pitt as Jesse James' makes for a kind of mini-reflection on the evolution of celebrity culture," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "It's a shame that The Assassination... never goes much deeper than that tag line." "I was hoping for a chance to see The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford a second time before I wrote my review, but only to confirm my suspicions that it's a surprising near-masterpiece, certainly one of the year's best films, and the best Western to come across the range since Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven (1992) and Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man (1996)," writes Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical. "I had been looking forward to the film, mainly because 2007 had previously yielded two very good Westerns in Seraphim Falls and 3:10 to Yuma (we'll say nothing more about the wretched September Dawn). I had also admired New Zealand director Andrew Dominik's previous and only other feature, Chopper (2000). But none of this prepared me for the scope, artistry and brilliance of this new film." Update, 9/24: "It is no mean feat to make a boring film about Jesse James, but Andrew Dominik has pulled it off in style," writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. Updates, 9/25: "I like the movie a lot. He had such reverence - or fidelity, at least - to my words that I couldn't help but love it," novelist Ron Hansen tells Paul Wilner in the LAT. For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson: "When I spoke to Dominik on the phone in Los Angeles, there was a great awareness that the ultimate fate of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - whether it end up a seminal film, or simply a footnote in history - was still very much in the balance."
Posted by dwhudson at 6:24 AM
The Last Winter."Mother Earth taking revenge for a localized intrusion is one way to parse this canny conceptual horror film," proposes Nathan Lee, reviewing The Last Winter in the Voice. "Another way to see it is as a fable of speculative evolution: This is what happens when our time on the planet is up; this is, literally, the last winter of humankind." "It's amazing what you can do with a low budget, an expansive imagination and a smooth-moving camera," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "An heir to the Val Lewton school of elegantly restrained horror, wherein an atmosphere of dread counts far more than a bucket of blood and some slippery entrails, the director Larry Fessenden is among the most thoughtful Americans working on the lower-budget end of this oft-abused and mindlessly corrupted genre." Updated through 9/21. "As in Wendigo, The Last Winter eventually, unwisely opts to outright depict the paranormalities that have previously remained hidden from sight," writes Nick Schager at Slant. "Any such momentary obviousness, however, is wholly eclipsed by a stunningly poignant, unexpected climactic flashback that silently encapsulates the omnipresent idea of 'home,' as well as by a cheesy yet haunting final note that spreads around blame for our current environmental crises with nihilistic fury." "The Last Winter was shot in northern Iceland and Alaska, and despite some too-explicit imagery in the final moments, the claustrophobia-to-psychosis continuum is harrowingly fluid," writes David Edelstein in New York. "There's an ethereal evil akin to J-Horror, a mood that spells disaster without actually spelling it out," notes Cullen Gallagher in the L Magazine. "Think The Thing meets The 11th Hour and you'll realize that Fessenden may have found the best way to address the global warming issue in a film - by scaring the crap out of us." Aaron Hillis introduces his interview with Fessenden for IFC News. "The Last Winter is an intriguing film, and one that's easy to admire for its use of old-school character development and a small-scale sense of dread, but it never feels fully realized," writes Bryant Frazer. "It's the rare case where I might actually look forward to a more generously budgeted remake." "Apart from helming psychological horror movies, Fessenden is an actor (The Brave One, Broken Flowers), producer (Ilya Chaiken's upcoming Liberty Kid), and passionate advocate for sustainable living," writes Damon Smith, introducing his interview for Filmmaker. "In 2006, he launched a Web site dedicated to educating the public about global warming, and has even written a how-to book on carbon-neutral film production." ST VanAirsdale talks with Fessenden at the Reeler; indieWIRE's got an interview, too. Updates: "Larry Fessenden is one of the most important figures in New York City cinema today. Period." Pioneer Theater programmer Ray Privett: "Here is a truly generous man of cinema: one who constantly supports visionary filmmakers, in part by making a community of them, and for them." Also, comments from performance artists David Leslie. "It would be overstating things a bit to say that Fessenden is seriously challenging the rules of horror (there's nothing particularly radical in his narratives), but he does ask his audience to focus on character, environment, and allegory, which make his films somewhat anomalous," writes Michael Koreskey for indieWIRE. "It's a horror film that sneaks up on you with an effectively unsettling and brooding atmosphere before unleashing an apocalyptic fury," writes Chris Barsanti at Filmcritic.com. "The idea of an environmental horror film isn't necessarily new, but it is executed here with an admirable precision and economy, not to mention relevance (permafrost that's been frozen for thousands of years is in fact melting in Alaska and Canada at a shocking rate as you read this).... Less a horror film than a creeper, The Last Winter takes a smart and terrifying scenario and plays it out to the logical extreme, with a climax that's all the more disturbing for its minimalism that leaves all too much to the imagination." "Fessenden is canny about how to handle what could be stock figures - we're set up to think that Ron Perlman's team leader will be the 'bad guy' and James Le Gros's environmentalist the hero, but the script shakes things up unpredictably," notes Robert Cashill. "It's colder than Alaska these days for indie films, but I hope Great World of Sound and The Last Winter survive the deep freeze." Updates, 9/20: "[Y]ou may find yourself leaving the theater after Fessenden's new film, The Last Winter (which opens this weekend), and staring, as I did, into the horror flick playing itself out on Wilshire Boulevard, with its parade of Range Rovers, Escalades and Armadas locked in traffic purgatory and its lines of buildings powered by carbon-huffing coal plants," writes Judith Lewis in the LA Weekly. "You may look at all this and think: I see dead people. Because if you're thinking clearly, you actually do. 'We're smokers who can't quit while the cancer's spreading,' is how Fesssenden puts it. 'I take it personally.'" "Fessenden's monsters are poorly represented with lo-res CGI, but that's essentially part of the point," finds Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "The beasts of global warming don't have to look real since, in reality, we still have trouble accepting their existence." "The Third Act appearance of the heretofore unseen enemy might not infuse the Kubrickian awe intended (apparently, it repeats imagery from Wendigo), but I thought there was a certain majesty to what hoofs it dangerously close to hooey," wrote Movieforum's Robert J Lewis when he caught the film in Toronto last year. "Gruesome and terrifying things happen in The Last Winter, but there's no gratuitous gore or torture, and the film's real power comes from its building sense that something really, really bad is about to happen, not just to this lonely band of oil-field workers but to all of us," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Larry Fessenden is a self-confessed horror filmmaker, and not only perhaps the greatest one working today - his potential rivals being Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Bong Joon-ho - but also the most pointedly political, emotionally invested, and unguardedly honest," writes Andrew Tracy at Reverse Shot. "Unlike his dissembling contemporaries, his films are defiantly about what they are about. Rather than the comfortable 'archetypes' with which so many horror faux-teurs skim across any real investment in their material, Fessenden always has an actual subject, whether it's the self-destruction of addiction in Habit or the familial breakdown of Wendigo, and it's from these subjects that the atmosphere and fright emanate. Fessenden is not making art movies (or political tracts) in horror-film clothing, but employing the genre to break open the dread at the heart of his subjects, to give their terrifying formlessness a transitory form. In The Last Winter, his most ambitious and masterful film thus far, he deliberately pushes the capabilities of cinematic representation to incarnate that unimaginable fear." Updates, 9/21: "It's billed as an environmental horror story, but The Last Winter bears all the hallmarks of an ever-popular genre that has always pitted science, technology and reason against emotion, awe and nature," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "It bears all the hallmarks of the gothic: ghosts, death, alienated sexuality, decay, secrets, madness and, of course, awe and trepidation in the face of the sublime power of nature. It also accomplishes with a modest budget and a talented cast what bigger, slicker, gorier contemporary horror movies rarely do. It taps into a collective dread compounded by the guilt of our complicity. The scrappy, familiar banality of Fessenden's vision - the base camp is a dump, the crew unglamorous, their mission compromised - only amps up the visceral dread. You know these people wouldn't stand a chance against nature if it decided to fight back against the parasitic virus that's destroying it, and you know you wouldn't, either." "Larry Fessenden's indie horror oeuvre hasn't always gelled, but it's never been dull," writes Steve Erickson at Gay City News. "He's one of the few directors whose work suggests an equal affection for John Carpenter and John Cassavetes." "Fessenden should concentrate on what he does well; namely direct actors, and get away from nu-horror music-video stylings," advises Wiley Wiggins.
Posted by dwhudson at 1:57 AM
The Landlord."Materializing during the Kent State spring of 1970, with M*A*S*H in release and The Angel Levine, not to mention Where's Poppa?, on the horizon, The Landlord - revived for a week at Film Forum in a new 35mm print - remains one of the funniest social comedies of the period, as well as the most human," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. For the New York Times, Mike Hale talks with Beau Bridges, who stars, and with Norman Jewison, who didn't direct (instead, he moved himself and his family to Europe and made Fiddler on the Roof). This revival presents "a chance for audiences to see a pivotal moment not only in the career of [Hal] Ashby - presaging the style and themes of his breakout, Shampoo, five years later - but also in the histories of American film and, coincidentally, of New York real estate.... The Landlord, which brought Mr Ashby together with the cinematographer Gordon Willis (who would soon shoot Klute and go on to film the Godfather trilogy) and the cameraman Michael Chapman (who would be the cinematographer on Taxi Driver), can call itself one of the best early products of the now-hallowed American mavericks of the 1970s. Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather, Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets and George Lucas's American Graffiti were still two to three years to come." Updated through 9/20. Update, 9/20: "Thirty-seven years on, The Landlord is still shocking, but not because it's salacious or cynical," writes Steven Boone at the House Next Door. "The film is shocking because of how tenderly and patiently Ashby attends to certain transgressive moments while asserting that in a sane, just world, they wouldn't be taboo at all." Further in: "Oh, man, Gordon Willis. Even though The Godfather series, Alan J Pakula thrillers and Woody Allen flicks were still in his future, The Landlord, with its use of naturalistic lighting and underexposure, might be his wildest adventure. Rooms and faces have an 'unlit,' documentary feel, but what modest light there is lends a warmth and ruminative feeling in perfect step with Ashby's stealth seriousness. Impenetrable shadows fall in precisely jagged sheets, swallowing up figures like tar pools. In the Enders estate scenes, Willis goes bright and flat, but the brownstone interiors are visual Soul."
Posted by dwhudson at 1:54 AM
Toronto. The Orphanage."Bolstered by a flawless lead performance by Belen Rueda, The Orphanage is out to chill your bones, to be sure, but there's also a great air of mystery (and a wonderfully welcome sense of poignancy) that elevates the film beyond that of a simple thriller," writes Cinematical's James Rocchi. "And while some of the themes and ideas may feel familiar to those who follow the 'south of the border' horror exports, there's more than enough originality and freshness to satisfy those fans... Half-drama and half-horror, The Orphanage is entirely captivating from start to finish." "The Orphanage takes its characters to the deepest, darkest places imaginable and dares them to fight their way back," writes Jim Emerson. "There's a distinctively Spanish/Mexican sensibility at work here, in which the gruesome realities of loss and death and decay are acknowledged in the open, a part of life as it is lived, and there are no guarantees of a fairy-tale Happy Ending for anyone. That's because, as these cultures understand in their bones, the genuine, non-Disnified fairy tales don't necessarily have happy endings." Updated. "My hand remained over my mouth through most of this movie; a sure sign that I'm ready to stifle a scream," writes Michael Guillén. "Guillermo del Toro's executive production of The Orphanage lends winning pedigree to the project but the film survives quite on its own merits and through its own tonalities." "As a scare machine, it's hard to beat: There are three or four shocks that had me bolt upright in my seat, and yet it still sustains a creepy ambience throughout," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. But Ed Gonzalez, previewing the film as a New York Film Festival entry for Slant, is not boarding this bus: "When in Spain, do as Guillermo del Toro does. Or Victor Erice. Or Alejandro Amenábar. That is the modus operandi of the fetid The Orphanage, a haunted-house spooker that is all notations and no text." Online listening tip. Cinematical's James Rocchi talks with Bayona. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes. Update: Nick Schager finds The Orphanage "little more than a nonsensical, frequently ludicrous version of The Others, a ghost story in which character motivation is haphazard and scares as scarce as narrative logic."
Toronto. In the City of Sylvia."Virtually a silent movie apart from the everyday sounds of the French city of Strasbourg, Spanish director José Luis Guerín's lyrical tale of forlorn love, In the City of Sylvia, is a treat for romantics and people watchers," wrote Ray Bennett when he caught the film in Venice for the Hollywood Reporter. "But the movie is deliberate to a fault," objects Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Is there anything conveyed in a 20-minute walking scene that couldn't be gotten across in a 5-minute walking scene? Slot Sylvie alongside Silent Light as yet another well-shot, precisely shaded mood piece that I admired in fragments, but that on the whole, I didn't much like. But for what it's worth, many of the same people who've been raving about Silent Light called this their favorite film of the festival." As it happens, on Darren Hughes's list, it's the only "Masterpiece." Boyd van Hoeij talks with Guerín for Cineuropa.
Posted by dwhudson at 12:44 AM
Interview. William Friedkin."In a strange way, Cruising has come full circle and become a part of gay history, a creepily affecting time capsule of a subculture the mainstream otherwise ignored completely," wrote Nathan Rabin a couple of weeks ago at the AV Club. Now the film's out on DVD, and at the main site, Jeffrey M Anderson talks with William Friedkin about "the existence of good and evil in all of us, which is what all of my films are about," and about what binds Cruising to The Exorcist. Reviewing the release for the New York Times, Dave Kehr sees the connection, too. Friedkin's "enduring theme is the reality of evil and its uncomfortable proximity to sex, a theme the world embraced when he adapted William Peter Blatty's theological best seller, The Exorcist, in 1973. But applying a similar gothic approach to Cruising - a film noir that turns into a horror movie - got Mr Friedkin in trouble, and not only the political kind." Updated through 9/21. "Maybe now, thanks to Larry Craig, Cruising will at long last get its due," suggests Trenton Straube at Slate. Updates, 9/21: Nathan Rabin talks with Friedkin, too - for the AV Club. "Cruising does stand as a fascinating relic of its era," writes the Guardian's Danny Leigh. "If it is possible to separate the purely cinematic from the furore Friedkin caused, what's left is a febrile and oddly melancholy movie which, although roughly finished, offered any number of indelible moments and a portrait of a lost New York every bit as powerful as Taxi Driver, the first couple of Ramones albums or the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe."
Posted by dwhudson at 12:40 AM
Cineaste. Fall 07."For the 40th anniversary issue of Cineaste editors were asked to pick their favorite political films from 1967 - 2007," blogs Robert Cashill. "The lists make for interesting reading - how did I, of all people, forget about Dawn of the Dead?... Left off, however, were the explanations for each entry." But that's what blogs are for. But there's another list, too, a list of ten films in no particular order, each reviewed by a staff member and chosen because it has "a special personal meaning and/or which reflects significant aesthetic, social, or political distinction." 20 years ago, the editors wrote, "Cineaste believes that a cinema which engages its audiences in issues of social and political concern, and which succeeds in doing so in a dramatically compelling or artistically innovative manner, is a cinema truly worthy of support and critical attention." In this issue, the editors reaffirm that mission. What's more, they place Cineaste in it historical context: "40 years is a longevity rarely seen in the publication of film magazines in the US. The roll call of American film periodicals that have ceased publication during Cineaste's lifespan is a long one, including Film Society Review, Cinema, Film Heritage, Film Culture, Film Reader, Women & Film, American Film, The Independent, and, most recently, Premiere. Among critical film quarterlies in this country, only Film Quarterly... has published longer than Cineaste." The editors also "present a special opportunity to lift the lid on Cineaste's archives and take a first-hand glimpse at the magazine's origins, its evolution, and some of the highlights of its first 40 years." That glimpse includes four editorials, three interviews and two reviews. "When histories of Cineaste come to be written - after the first one, there are sure to be rebuttals - the magazine's interviews are likely to be of primary importance." And so they're at the center of Robert Sklar's "interim report from a single, unofficial point of view, focusing on the magazine's early years of struggle, in more than one sense of the word." The interview online from this issue is Cynthia Lucia's, with Patrice Leconte. "The only mensch among the New German wunderkinder who invaded the American art house in the mid-70s - the other marquee names were Rainer Fassbinder and Wim Wenders - [Werner] Herzog has proven the most durable and prolific of the lot, his career sustained by the same thick-skinned tenacity and fleet-footed adaptability that compelled him to walk from Munich to Paris to meet film critic Lotte Eisner and that kept him from being frightened off a mountain by something as trivial as an impending volcanic eruption." Thomas Doherty reviews Rescue Dawn. Oliver William Pattenden reviews Cinema and Northern Ireland: Film, Culture, and Politics: "Because of the attention paid to which of the contesting groups had greater influence in the film industry, [John] Hill's informed and frequently engrossing text ultimately serves as a broader analysis of Northern Ireland's cultural history, as well as a meticulous catalog of film production in Northern Ireland." Robert Cashill watches his way through two robust DVD packages, Criterion's Monsters and Madmen and Warner's Cult Camp Classics and marvels: "These figures were the kings and queens of the drive-ins in their day, the creepy-crawly side of the supposed age of innocence, yet still a little stuck in their conservatism. Something far scarier and more unpredictable than the giant behemoth was waiting for them all, promising liberation and annihilation, and this monster mash of countercultural currents was just around the corner: the 60s." "As the Tribeca Film Festival gradually develops into an annual fixture on the New York movie scene, it's become increasingly clear that its documentary offerings are consistently the strongest," argues Richard Porton. "Tongues Untied is both a documentary and a work of poetry," writes David A Gerstner. "[Marlon] Riggs was a unique figure who fused his roots in journalism with an embrace of the arts in general (including dance, music, film, and poetry). Tongues Untied and (arguably) the later Black is... Black Ain't (1994) meld the qualities of reportage with an experimental esthetic form that seeks to grasp the black-queer experience."
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Toronto. Honeydripper."I have seen fourteen of John Sayles's first fifteen films, most more than once, and the only one I didn't like was his last one (Silver City)," writes Kenneth R Morefield at Looking Closer. "So it was with an odd mix of excitement and anxiety that I approached the world premiere of Honeydripper at the Ryerson Theater in Toronto. Two hours later the anxiety was gone and I just felt the excitement. Honeydripper had the scope of Lone Star, the eye for detail of Limbo, the great acting of Casa de los Babys and the depth of understanding of human nature of Matewan and Eight Men Out. In other words, it had and was everything I love about Sayles's films. It also had something relatively rare in a Sayles film: joie de vivre." Updated. "Honeydripper is slow and simple, following the attempts of Alabama juke-joint proprietor Danny Glover to save his business by booking a hot rock 'n' roll guitar player - in 1950 no less," blogs Noel Murray at the AV Club. "[C]ompared to Sayles's recent sprawling social dramas, Honeydripper's relaxed pace and familiar milieu have a lot of charm." "The pitch-perfect cast is almost entirely black (Charles S Dutton, Sean Patrick Thomas and Vondie Curtis-Hall are especially memorable) and the music is sensational," writes Nick Roddick in the Evening Standard. "But Honeydripper, at 123 minutes, is in need of a trim; its script is a little stagey, and the result is a loving slice of alternative Americana that finally fails to engage as a film." "While it has its faults, the film is a joy if only as a showcase for one of America's greatest screenwriters," writes Matt Dentler. "Exactly like Casa de Los Babys, the last Sayles film I saw - nicely acted, sensitively written, intelligent and completely inert," writes Steve at the Film Experience. At Filmmaker, Alicia Van Couvering has notes on the session with Sayles and his producer Maggie Renzi at the IFP Filmmaker Conference: "They remember showing up at the IFP Market twenty-seven years ago with The Return of the Secaucus 7 and hoping someone would tell them what to do next." And so, they offered some "hard-earned pearls of wisdom." ST VanAirsdale talks with Sayles and Renzi about their marketing plans. Online listening tip. Cinematical's James Rocchi talks with Sayles. Update: "When Honeydripper opens, we see two young boys," writes Monika Bartyzel at Cinematical. "One's fingers are pulling away at a string, while the other's are pounding piano keys painted on a piece of wood. While their music echoes only in their minds, their passion is palpable. This sweet scene is, in a way, a perfect metaphor for the work of John Sayles - his films are, at once, both subdued and sonorous. However, where most of them seek to reveal hidden layers and webs, Honeydripper is a simple and plainly executed ode to the start of rock 'n' roll."
Posted by dwhudson at 12:12 AM
Toronto. Flash Point.The "premier of Flash Point saw Midnight Madness program head Colin Geddes reading an e-mailed manifesto from [Donnie] Yen about how he's enthusiastically moving towards using 'Mixed Martial Arts" for better, stronger, faster fight scenes," notes Cinematical's James Rocchi. "I don't know what, exactly, 'Mixed Martial Arts' means, but having seen it, I know I like it. A lot." "Flash Point is the third consecutive collaboration between Yen and director Wilson Yip, the film that began life as a sequel to their first collaboration, SPL released on these shores as Kill Zone. The film marks a definite return to the gritty style that drove SPL after the highly stylized comic book adaptation Dragon Tiger Gate," writes Todd Brown. Updated through 9/23. Also at Twitch: "Donnie Yen may very well have the toughest job in Hong Kong right now," suggests Mack. "His work in Flash Point is unlike anything that I have ever seen. Yen is on a hot streak and he continues to raise the bar instead of lapping in the luxury of our lauding." Update, 9/23: "Flash Point delivers a great payoff, if you miss old-school Hong Kong action films," blogs Wiley Wiggins from his iPhone.
Posted by dwhudson at 12:09 AM
September 18, 2007
DVDs, 9/18."It's been proposed that the restrictive conditions of life under Franco's dictatorship somehow brought out the best in [Carlos] Saura, and one can certainly argue that Saura's subsequent work, which started to make a habit of looking backwards, suffered from having too few limitations," writes José Teodoro at Stop Smiling. "But for Cría Cuervos..., this notion feels reductive, especially given the film's debt to Saura's collaborators: [Geraldine] Chaplin, who was Saura's lover, muse and co-financier; producer Elías Querejeta, who helped groom Saura's career toward such prestige that the censors let the film pass; and, of course, [Ana] Torrent, who, in keeping with her unforgettable debut in 1973's Spirit of the Beehive, provides the film with its enduringly compelling core." 24 or 25 frames per second? Criterion's been debating its presentation of Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz; Peter Becker presents the cases for two sides. Steven Shaviro on Dusan Makavejev's Sweet Movie: "Two allegorical/sexual sequences, then: one is capitalism and the other is communism. Both are sinister: both are fueled by libidinal energies, which they co-opt and transform into a surplus of seductive power. Makavejev shows us these transformations, without explicit judgment. We have to make what we can of them, and of their juxtapositions." "From the start, [Sansho the Bailiff] declares its intention to examine what truly defines being human, living in a civilisation," writes Ian Johnston at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "Coeurs is, for Resnais detractors, one of a long line of confusing domestic light comedies or dramas that Resnais has been engaged on since at least his Melo (1986)," writes Alex at motion picture, it's called. "Confusing because these films seem to reject Resnais's early, more political and seemingly more experimental work. Careful examination (as with Resnais’ Pas sur la bouche) indicates the opposite." "'Criminal mutilation,' says Woody Allen. 'Artistic desecration,' says the Directors Guild of America. 'Cultural vandalism,' says the Western branch of the Writers Guild of America." That's from a 1987 piece for Time from Charles Krauthammer, and the mutilating vandal they were talking about was colorization. Now, Ray Harryhausen has been supervising the colorization of three of his black-and-white science-fiction films from the 1950s - It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955), Earth vs the Flying Saucers (1956) and 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) - as well as the 1935 version of She, a fantasy adventure produced by Merian C Cooper of King Kong," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "And his stake in the original films gives him a moral authority: In recent interviews, he's said that he'd always wanted to make his 50s movies in color, but budgetary restrictions wouldn't allow it. (Today, of course, science-fiction and fantasy films seem to command almost unlimited funds in Hollywood, while it's the other genres that go begging.) If anyone is entitled to a do-over, it is Mr Harryhausen, one of the real heroes of this medium." This week, reviewing a new set of films featuring Vincent Price, Dave Kehr notes that they "belong to the later stage of Price's career, when he had essentially become a comic actor, executing entertainingly campy pirouettes.... In this context Witchfinder General stands out like Raymond Chandler's proverbial tarantula on a slice of angel food cake." More from Tim Lucas, John McElwee and Kimberly Lindbergs, who also celebrates "the work of my favorite Bollywood star, the stunningly beautiful and incredibly talented Helen." Rob Humanick compares the two versions of Death Proof we have so far, the one that appeared in theaters as part of Grindhouse, and the one that appears on the newly released DVD: "Shorter or longer, though, I still believe that Death Proof is indicative of a new phase in Quentin's artistic career, though I suspect it is one we won't be able to truly appreciate except in retrospect." "Having finally seen [Horrors of Malformed Men], I can say that, taboo-bursting freak-out that it is, films of more recent vintage have certainly surpassed it in terms of sheer offensiveness and grotesquerie," writes David Austin at Cinema Strikes Back. "However, to say that is not to say that they have surpassed it in terms of artistry or creative vision. There, Horrors of Malformed Men has the advantage of being the child of three fathers, each ground-breaking in their own field: director Teruo Ishii, theatrical pioneer Tatsumi Hijikata, and author Edogawa Rampo." "Seeing Il Posto for the first time made me think about how inconstant the critical landscape is, with the 'discovery' of newer filmmakers, or of other past films and filmmakers that at an earlier time were considered less worthy of serious evaluation," writes Peter Nellhaus. "Something magical happens between a viewer and their favorite films," writes Edward Copeland. "Perhaps it's close to being in love, but I'm not sure. All I know is that every time I watch my favorite film of all time, Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game, I feel as if I'm seeing it for the very first time, even if I know the film intimately well." "[F]inally Stuart Gordon's From Beyond (1986) and Dan O'Bannon's The Return of the Living Dead (1985) arrive on DVD, blasts from the not-so-distant, Reagan-befouled past when horror farce wasn't harmlessly Mel Brooks or Scary Movie, but something much more perverse and bizarre," writes Michael Atkinson at IFC News. Also: "On the Silver Globe is an unfinished thing; it's both difficult to say it's a successful film as it stands - that was certainly never [Andrzej] Zulawski's intention - and to imagine what it might've amounted to, almost 30 years since its plug was pulled. But you're not likely to see anything remotely like it, ever." In Flak Magazine, Aemilia Scott considers the broader cultural implications of 300: Civil Libertarians should not be worried about Bill O'Reilly defending the existence of Guantanamo Bay; instead they should be worried about how fucking awesome it is when Jack Bauer goes dark and interrogates the Russian Ambassador by breaking his nose and chopping his fingers off with a cigar clipper. Jews should not be worried about Mel Gibson's anti-Semitism; instead they should be seriously worried about a movie theater full of people totally on board with Spartan eugenics. That - that amazing, intoxicating feeling of being swept up in something so badass that you can barely stand it - that is the real enemy of those who fight for principles like the rule of law and civil liberties, principles that are exercised more for those in the minority than those in the majority. That feeling is what starts the parade. Via Bookforum. Michael Wood reflects on the deaths of Bergman and Antonioni in the London Review of Books and revisits Wild Strawberries and L'Avventura. "Though Flicker Alley's new Valentino collection doesn't feature his best-known films, such as The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Blood and Sand, The Sheik and his final film, Son of the Sheik, the four-film disc, arriving Tuesday, is a great example of Valentino's enduring screen magnetism," writes Susan King in the Los Angeles Times. Adds Michael Atkinson: "He was clearly the first male movie star made famous only and exclusively by his ability to ignite the loins of his female viewers. All other considerations were off the table." After Hours is a "comedy that tightens the knots in your back," writes Victoria Large at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "Perhaps what intrigues me most about the film is the deep-seated ambivalence - about New York City, about our protagonist Paul, about human interaction in general - that's wedded to the jittery laughs it inspires. In particular, After Hours taps into the tension between the dull-but-safe conformity of button-down desk job life and the alluring, but threatening, prospect of venturing outside of that mainstream. It's a tension that the film never fully resolves." Noel Vera revisits Popeye, "easily one of my favorites of Altman's misfires (if, again, we consider it a misfire - a slippery concept when it comes to Altman). Popeye is comic poetry; rickety, broken-down poetry but nonetheless poetry that staggers, stumbles (hence the term 'comic'), and on occasion, flies. And when it does take flight, it's a sight like nothing on earth." Charles Mudede in the Stranger on Stranger Than Paradise: "Every time one watches this groundbreaking movie, one is amazed by the extent and beauty of American nothingness." DVD roundups: Bryant Frazer, DVD Talk, Antonio Pasolini (Kamera) and the Telegraph.
Posted by dwhudson at 11:31 PM
Toronto and NYFF preview. Les Amours d'Astrée et de Céladon."Les Amours d'Astrée et de Céladon is a Rohmerian delight, another ritualized romance (highly mannered behavior, poetic language) played out in a naturalistic pastoral setting (an unblemished slice of French countryside around the River Lignon)," writes Jim Emerson. "It's all an elaborate game of appearances, deceptions, seductions and betrayals - about what is seen or not seen, what is said or not said, and how love comes in at the eye, but is sealed with the mouth. The characters - high-born and common-folk; shepherds, shepherdesses, nymphs and druids - intermingle in a realm of symbols and prophecies that is both fleshly and spiritual, earthy and philosophical. It's a moral tale, a comedy, a proverb, and a seasonal story (midsummer, I'd say) that toys enchantingly with the paradoxical nature of love, and the contradictory distinctions between the lover and the beloved." Updated through 9/25. "The film's mix of intellect, sensibility and eccentric deadpan goofiness strikes some as insufferably precious; for myself, I came out of the screening giddily refreshed," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny in an excellent entry. "This is a profoundly strange film, one that could only have been made by a long-standing master of cinema, one in full control of his art and long past worrying about squeezing his stories into convenient little holes," writes Paul Clark at ScreenGrab. "If it's not my favorite film of Toronto so far, it's the one I've thought about the most since I first saw it, and the one I've discussed and argued about most with other festival-goers." "Great erotic cinema to (ever so gently) knock your socks off: the final reel of the Rohmer film," writes Girish. Earlier: Reviews from Venice. Updates, 9/20: "The Romance of Astreé and Céladon is by no means meant to be grimily realistic, but it is unfortunately reminiscent of watching a high school drama club bedeck themselves in flowers and cunning little outfits made from old sheets and head out to the park to rehearse A Midsummer Night's Dream," sighs Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog. For her, this one "will prove watchable only to stalwart Rohmer completists." "It'd be unfair to spoil anything - let it suffice to say that the 'dilemma' here would never occur to anyone in the 21st century. Rohmer's greatest joke is to present it with a straight face, then force the audience to try to take the story's weirder elements - which eventually expand to include seemingly unconscious lesbianism and a cross-dressing fetish - as normative values of the past," writes Vadim Rizov at the Reeler. "Yet Astree isn't just a mindfuck - it's a delightful movie that manages to make hanging out in sheep-littered fields and forests look like the most fun you could possibly have.... [I]t's one of the best films I've seen all year." Update, 9/21: "[T]he Rohmer picture feels like a true farewell, and as final films go, I can't imagine a more poignant send off," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. Update, 9/22: "In telling a story of love and rapture, Rohmer maintains some of his customary themes, argumentative and digressive explorations of sexuality and movement and the tension that results from declarations of love and fidelity," writes Patrick Z McGavin at Stop Smiling. "It's an exceedingly odd film, a contemporary interpretation of how the 17th century imagined and thought of the distant and unknowable past. Rohmer was always the most culturally conservative of the Nouvelle Vague figures. Even so, his cinema retains a sensual power and gentle eroticism." Updates, 9/23: "It is rumored that this may be 87-year-old Rohmer's final movie (a decision he affirms in the massive Criterion box set released last year), and if so this is a delightful, accomplished, auteurist mark to end on; fare he well," writes Doug Cummings. "Roger Ebert once accurately described Rohmer as 'a Catholic intellectual who wears his faith lightly, but in all weathers,' and this film contains several lengthy discourses on faith, love, and fidelity, but like the filmmaker's best works it does so with an unfailing eye for physical beauty and the desires of the flesh. It's also increasingly comical in tone, ending on an uplift perfectly rendered and richly deserved." "At the final, inevitable kiss closes the film I was shocked to realize how subtly Rohmer had built to a rapturous concluding crescendo - I exited the theater beaming like an idiot," writes Jesse Ataide at DVD Verdict. "A delight, and without a doubt my biggest surprise of the festival." Update, 9/25: "In the interlude between disaster and reconciliation, Rohmer treats the audience to various symposiums on the nature of romantic fidelity, the majority of which stop the film dead in its tracks," writes Akiva Gottlieb at Slant. "Naturally, the filmmaker stacks the deck in favor of his moral conservatism by portraying the story's puckish anti-romantic as a pompous buffoon instead of letting his challenges provide the proper counterbalance, but Astreé and Céladon seems more interested in pursuing a near-utopian vision than giving credence to relativism. In that sense, Rohmer's work here feels a bit too complacent, and the dialogue lacks the intellectual rigor of his best screenplays, My Night at Maud's and Claire's Knee."
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Ken Loach, 9/18.First Venice, then Toronto, then a theatrical preview in the UK before it's broadcast on Channel 4 next Monday. It's a fast life for It's a Free World... - the DVD's out in the UK on October 1. For the Guardian, Simon Hattenstone talks with director Ken Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty about their award-garnering collaboration; James Mottram interviews Loach for the London Times; and in the Telegraph, Naomi West meets Free World's Kierston Wareing. Updated through 9/25. Ryan Stewart spoke with Loach in Toronto for Cinematical, where he writes, "Despite limiting us to only a few main characters, Loach is able to convincingly paint a whole world that exists comfortably outside the boundaries of the law - the legal system has no dispute with them.... What begins in an almost quasi-documentary format, showing us the ins and outs of this down and dirty way of life, eventually escalates into a tense, effective thriller." Meanwhile, in the US, viewers are still catching up with Palme d'Or winner The Wind That Shakes the Barley. "It's safe to say that The Wind is the greatest, most observant and most authentic-feeling film ever made about the civil war (not that very many filmmakers have dared to begin with), and that Loach is a virtual godsend as a cultural voice, in these days of pernicious spin, political mercenariness and neo-imperial slaughter," writes Michael Atkinson at IFC News. Update, 9/21: Amy Raphael meets him for the New Statesman: "Loach says that his primary motivation was not to effect change, but to examine 'why [exploitation] happens. Angie's logic is inexorable... The clothes are in the supermarkets. We're buying them. People are living in tin container sheds with no windows. That's central to our economy now. Families fall apart because of flexible labour - which is something Gordon Brown advocates.'" Update, 9/22: Paul Laverty writes in the Guardian about the research he did for Free World and wonders, among other things, "Will the worker dumped at Victoria station with his broken leg in plaster and ordered to catch a bus back to Poland, or the Portuguese worker who broke his back after being told to climb and trim a tree with wellies on, feel we have been too soft?... I'd like to imagine Gordon Brown meeting these men and women and explaining that in the interests of 'efficiency, modernity, and flexibility in a globalised environment,' it will be impossible to repeal Thatcher's anti-union legislation or give temporary workers the same rights as others have - so they better cheer up and appreciate that they are part of the Anglo-Saxon miracle." Update, 9/25: Andy McSmith talks with Loach for the Independent.
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Toronto. Inside."Believe the hype on this one," advises Todd Brown at Twitch. "Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury's debut film is one of the harshest, most brutal and disturbing things to hit celluloid in recent years, an unrelenting cavalcade of pain and fear. It is an absolute bloodbath featuring some stunningly graphic imagery, imagery that shocks and chills to the core. It is also surprisingly classic in form, a film that nods to the masterful psychological thrillers of old and recognizes that true horror lies in the soul rather than outward behavior. Anchored by a pair of powerhouse performances from its female leads Inside is a film that will stick with you well beyond the final frame." "[I]f you are looking for a good, old classic scare, one need look no further than Inside, the Rear Window cum href="http://www.greencine.com/webCatalog?id=133396">High Tension splatter flick that is timed so meticulously that one feels their neck will snap at any minute from the anxiety," writes Michael Lerman at indieWIRE. "From Calvaire and Haute Tension to new arrivals like Frontiere(s) and À l'intérieur, I'm starting to think the French take their horror fare very seriously," writes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "Some may call it sick and others may call it shamelessly ugly garbage, but as someone who's seen hundreds of horror movies from every corner of the globe - I'm convinced that À l'intérieur is some sort of maniacal mini-masterpiece. Or if it is just 85 minutes of well-polished genre crap, then it's crap that had me cringing, cheering, clapping, howling and gaping slack-jawed at the screen." "Tasteless in the extreme - including many 'kid in peril' shots from inside the womb - Inside shoots for the amped-up art-horror of Frenchman Alexandre Aja (Haute Tension) and its deliberately overwrought execution is as undeniably effective as it is sleazy and unconscionable," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club.
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Fests and events, 9/18.Let's break this down geographically, starting with San Francisco and the Bay Area:
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Profiles and interviews, 9/18.SiouxWIRE scores a coup: the first interview with the mysterious director of LYNCH. Also: "Born into a life of art, Eszter Balint has been a musician, an actor in both stage and film, and a witness to the vibrant art scene of New York since the late 70s. Known to many for her role in Jim Jarmusch's Stranger than Paradise, her deadpan performance as John Lurie's cousin Eva encapsulates a beat mentality that together with Lurie and Richard Edson create the fascinating trio that's the backbone of the film." The Stranger has unveiled this year's Genius Awards (Christopher Frizzelle explains) and Annie Wagner profiles the winner of one, Linas Phillips: "With both Walking to Werner and his work-in-progress
Toronto and NYFF preview. The Man From London."[W]hy is The Man from London my disappointment of the day?" asks J Robert Parks. "Because images and slow pacing are all [Béla] Tarr has this time around." "My qualms with Tarr have always concerned his view of the world, which is too misanthropic for my tastes," writes Darren Hughes. "Which is probably why his latest film is my favorite of the three [he's seen, the other two being Damnation and Satantango]." Updated through 9/23. "I was perhaps taken aback most by Tarr's precision, by his sense of rhythm," writes MS Smith of one of his "favorite films from this year's TIFF." "He begins or ends a shot and has characters enter and exit the frame at exactly those moments that reveal something about a character's experiences or feelings, that move the plot one plodding step forward, that place a vital punctuation mark on a visual statement: a panning shot that ends with a moment of joy as men dance in the bar; a lengthy close-up of a woman that conveys her struggles with loss and dignity; metaphorical imagery throughout that suggest changes in Maloin's destiny. The craftsmanship seemed seamless and, honestly, left me amazed, sitting after the house lights went up, trying to amass what I had just seen." "The Man from London is moral rot captured with religious fervor, a journey from an abandoned (all-the-world's-a-)stage to a hard-hitting final close-up of grievous loss internalized," writes Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door. "From theater to cinema in other words, punctuated by a perhaps damning, perhaps redemptive fade-to-white." "[B]asically, Tarr has taken a genre premise involving robbery, murder, and ill-gotten money, and deliberated sucked all the fun out of it," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. Earlier: The Cannes reviews. Update, 9/23: "The Man From London somehow manages to make its real-life Portuguese locations feel as generically sterile as a movie set; instead of inhabiting the authentic grime and dolor of local Hungarian life, Tarr seems to be working in a pan-European purgatory through which his elaborate camera movements are more clinical than communitarian," writes Kevin Lee at Slant. "As such, this at times robotically-executed story depicting misguided greed as a palliative for existential emptiness has more in common with the Coens' The Man Who Wasn't There than Tarr's more heartfelt efforts."
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Up-n-coming, 9/18."In what is perhaps the perfect storm of talent for this project, John Hillcoat, director of the bloody fantastic Aussie western The Proposition (a favorite around these parts) is to direct an adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy's post apocalyptic knock out of a novel, The Road," reports Kurt Halfyard at Twitch. "Viggo Mortensen (on a roll with two dynamite Cronenberg films) is set to star and the adaptation is being written by the screenwriter of the tragically underseen Enduring Love." With an adaptation of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged in the works (Vadim Perelman will be directing Angelina Jolie), now might be a good time to take a look at Harriet Rubin's primer on the history of the tome's reception over the past half century. "At long last a film is being made of the life - and tragic death - of one this country's most ground-breaking and bewildering music-makers, Joe Meek," reports Chris Mugan in the Independent. Nick Moran is adapting James Hicks's play, Telstar. At indieWIRE, Jason Guerrasio checks in on five films currently in production. "A 1993 New Yorker story by John Seabrook called 'The Flash of Genius' is being made into a movie starring Greg Kinnear," notes Jason Kottke. James Gray will be directing Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow in Two Lovers. Christopher Campbell has details at Cinematical. "A Palestinian suicide bomber is the unlikely star of a new Israeli film billed by its director as an effort to destroy prejudices that fuel conflict in the Middle East," reports Allyn Fisher-Ilan, who talks with director Dror Zahavi for Reuters. Shabat Shalom Maradona (Good Sabbath Maradona) is scheduled for release early next year. "Fight Club stars Brad Pitt and Ed Norton are to appear on screen together once again in a big screen adaptation of the BBC political drama series State of Play," notes the Guardian. "The Last King of Scotland's Kevin MacDonald will direct the Hollywood production, which will relocate the action from Westminster to Washington." Also: "Sean Penn has signed on to play the assassinated gay politician Harvey Milk in a fact-based drama by Gus Van Sant." "Roman Polanski has pulled out of a screen adaptation of Robert Harris's best-selling novel Pompeii." The BBC passes along news from Screen Daily. "Jude Law is to play Shakespeare's Hamlet in London's West End, under the direction of Kenneth Branagh," reports the BBC. Related: "Just as King Lear is the greatest challenge for a senior actor, Hamlet is the supreme test for a performer in the earlier half of his career," writes Paul Taylor in the Independent, where he lists his six top performances.
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Toronto. Fengming, A Chinese Memoir."All of Fengming, A Chinese Memoir is summed up in the opening minutes of the first interview," writes Darren Hughes. "He Fengming takes her seat in front of the camera, where she will remain for nearly all of the next 180 minutes, and begins to tell the story of how her life was forever changed in 1949, when at the age of 17 she left the university to join the staff of a newspaper. 'And that," she laughs, 'was the start of my revolutionary career.'" This is "one of my favorite films of the fest." Updated through 9/23. "This film engaged me from its first shot to its final dissolve and on occasion was so moving that I had difficulty maintaining my composure," writes MS Smith. "Wang [Bing] uses the gestures of everyday life to edit and order his film, to shape Fengming's story. His approach might be the purest form of narrative.... Fengming: A Chinese Memoir gravitates beyond sheer personal history. It is the history of thousands of people, even millions, who lived in Mao's China or in Nazi Europe or in Stalin's Russia." Earlier: Robert Koehler in Variety. Update, 9/23: "Fengming's resilience, humor, sadness, and descriptive powers are in ample evidence from the start, and the film is an emotionally immersive document on par with the most confessional Holocaust accounts or similar recordings of personal histories caught up in major world events," writes Doug Cummings. "Not to be missed."
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Toronto Dispatch. 7.David D'Arcy on Battle for Haditha; notes on Battle for Haditha and an online viewing tip follow. Was 2007 the year of revenge at the Toronto International Film Festival? In Battle for Haditha, a film that has not been given its due, at least not yet, a crew of Marines in that city north of Baghdad turn from frat boys into killers overnight after one of their sergeants is killed by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). A total of 24 Iraqis are killed in a reprisal by the Americans. Five Marines are on trial for those murders. Three of those Marines have already been cleared. Director Nick Broomfield tries to look at the events from all sides - through the eyes of American kids from poor backgrounds who are under-trained for the jobs that they are being asked to perform, from the point of view of ex-Baathist soldiers from the disbanded army who plant the IED for Al Qaeda fighters in exchange for $1000, and through the eyes of a family whose house is taken over by the bombers as a vantage point from which they can observe and videotape the explosion that destroys a US Humvee. The American boys were acting out of revenge. They have said as much in interviews, after Time Magazine revealed that the official US report saying that the victims all died in an IED explosion were false. Broomfield has said that he wanted to show the perspective of the young soldiers. It doesn't win them much sympathy, but it does bring plenty of realism to his film about one of the worst massacres of the war committed by US troops. Let's not forget that revenge for the attack of September 11 got us into this war in the first place. Bear in mind, too, that none other than Bush himself said that one of the reasons for invading Iraq was to go after "the man who tried to kill my Dad." The other element of revenge comes from the ex-Baathist soldiers who plant the IED. The Americans dissolved the Iraqi Army, a stupid mistake that Bush is now trying to blame on some underlings. The bombing was the revenge of the little guys in need of cash.
"Nick Broomfield's Battle for Haditha is a rare fiction film from the controversial documentarian (although Courtney Love would probably disagree), and it's close to a stunner," the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "I haven't seen [Redacted], but everyone I've spoken with who has seen both films, and I mean everyone, has said Battle for Haditha makes the De Palma look like a crayon drawing. The irony is that Redacted has a theatrical distributor and the Broomfield film doesn't. Hopefully that will change." "Younger viewers may not realize Broomfield's dramatic re-creation of the November 2005 Marine massacre of civilians in Iraq is in a Blighty cinema tradition of you-are-there pics - stemming back to Peter Watkins as well as Gillo Pontecorvo's Battle of Algiers - and are likely to receive pic as a complicated but kick-ass war movie," warns Robert Koehler in Variety. "Politically, Broomfield's [film] is far more humanist and less strident [than Redacted], refusing to convey soldiers in blunt good guy-bad guy terms, while granting much dramatic space to the lives of civilian onlookers and insurgents - nonexistent in De Palma's docudrama." Online viewing tip. In the NYT, No End in Sight director Charles Furguson sends in a letter to the editor in response to L Paul Bremer III's September 6 op-ed in which Bremer claimed that disbanding the Iraqi army immediately after the US invasion was the "only viable option."
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Elizabeth: The Golden Age."Coming almost a full decade after its progenitor, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, is every bit its equal," writes Will Lawrence for the Telegraph. "As with its predecessor, The Golden Age examines the price of power, exposing the sacrifices that the Queen must make in order to protect her emerging nation state." "There comes a point when these Hollywood picture shows become so incoherent, when the camera movements become so unmotivated, and when the performances become so irrelevant that there's nothing left on screen but pure Surrealist spectacle," writes Darren Hughes. "And people say avant-garde cinema can't find an audience." "The handsomely mounted film, in its cute ADD way, soon forgets its half-hearted attempt to make History Relevant To What Is Going On In The World Today and morphs into a sort of Classic Comics on acid, or as a friend so brilliantly put it, 'the longest Eurythmics video ever made,'" blogs Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "What a strange hybrid The Golden Age is: a sequel, a costume fantasy, a romantic melodrama, a CGI war spectacular, a puzzling celebration of beauty over substance," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "It's sort of an historical epic, although it doesn't seem to care much about historical accuracy. If anything, it recasts the Anglo-Spanish War as a battle between superheroes (ie: British Protestants) and villains (ie: Catholics, particularly of the Spanish variety), with the former's only impediment to success the pesky distractions of romantic rejection." "Mainly it's an extended game of 16th-century Barbie, an eye-popping pageant parade masquerading as rapturous religious art (it even climaxes with a pieta: the Virgin Queen, you see?)," writes Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door. "Pardon me while I whip out my Hogwarts wand and shout 'Ridiculus!' at this awards-baiting gobsmack, which nonetheless has a good many pleasures in which to partake." "Cate [Blanchett] is marvelous and [Clive] Owen dashingly charming, but the film is a bombastic costume drama that reduces European historical conflict to a numbing simplicity of religious tyranny and Catholic intolerance versus the enlightened rule of England's Protestant Queen Elizabeth, done up with plenty of international intrigue watched over by loyal advisor, Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush)," blogs Sean Axmaker for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "I'll keep it simple," writes David Poland. "The movie has way too much story, way too few places where an audience can link in emotionally, an absolute waste of a parade of excellent Oscar-nominated and winning actors including Clive Owen, Samantha Morton and this time, even Geoffrey Rush, enough music to choke an iPod, and a hyperkinetic parade of cool, but logic-free shots that at some point feels like you are choking on the Scott Brothers' leftovers." "This is not historical drama so much as heritage cinema for the North American market, replete with rolling English hills and soaring English cathedrals," notes Nick Roddick in the Evening Standard. The AFP reports that Shekhar Kapur would really like to do a third film; Blanchett, on the other hand, is more "hesitant." Via Movie City News. Online listening tip. Back in July, there was a terrific segment on the Leonard Lopate Show featuring Susan Ronald, author of The Pirate Queen: Queen Elizabeth I, Her Pirate Adventurers and the Dawn of Empire. She explains why "The Golden Age" is actually a pun of sorts. Earlier: Todd McCarthy in Variety.
September 17, 2007
Wrapping Latinbeat.As the Latinbeat series comes comes to a close, James van Maanen takes a look at two more films. Pointers to notes on Déficit from Toronto follow. Déficit (an appropriate, nicely ironic title with at least a couple of meanings) is Gael García Bernal's first full-length directorial effort (almost; it runs 75 minutes, including credits), and it is a perfectly fine first-time-out. It will set no standards stylistically (in fact a couple of rather lame attempts at "style," including bizarre reflections of glass, indicate that Bernal might want to concentrate his efforts elsewhere), but as a director, he certainly knows how to cast well and to make maximum use of that cast. Literally every performer nails his/her role, and even though the ensemble is quite large, it is surprisingly easy to keep track of them all. While Bernal has given himself the leading role, this is not what I would call a vanity production because the role he essays is such an unpleasant one: that of a faint-hearted, tiresome loser. Moreover, this is no villainous Iago-type, given to showy, razzmatazz riffs. Instead, the guy is a creepy little user, a never-grew-up hypocritical coward who embarrasses himself almost as much as he embarrasses us. He represents a sample of the Mexican rich and powerful, who are - here, at least - about to lose their precious standing. Bernal and his writer Kyzza Terrazas are quite good at keeping their movie on-track and at capturing the many and varied responses that separate Mexicans by race and class. And while their sympathies clearly lie with the underclass, the filmmakers do not endow these people with sainthood. Anything but, in fact. Because they've kept the film short, it does not wear out its welcome, if you can use that particular word. What it does not do is break any new ground, though the one day and night of partying that the film encompasses does give us a slightly different spin on the subject of nailing the leisure class. Mexican society may not have seen something like this for awhile, although, from Buñuel to Y Tu Mama Tambien, Mexico has given us its share of variations on the theme, and much of Latin America has, too, from Argentina's La Ciénaga to Peru's Don't Tell Anyone. (One of America's recently - released and rare home-grown Spanish-language films Ladrỏn que Roba a Ladrỏn is another lightweight version.) Not surprisingly, Déficit's single screening this past Saturday night was a sell-out, the only one during Latinbeat other than its opening night attraction La Misma Luna. Bernal clearly has his following, including a greater number of high school-aged kids than I have ever encountered during a foreign festival at the Walter Reade Theater. Overhearing them discuss the movie post-screening was almost as interesting as the film itself. Though the kids got neither the film nor the "star" turn they'd expected, some were able to rise to the challenge and confront what they'd seen, and so the conversation was animatedly pro and con. I should think Bernal would be pleased. As director and co-writer of one of my favorite Cuban movies, La Vida Es Silbar (Life Is to Whistle), Fernando Perez and his new film Madrigal were at the top of my much-anticipated Latinbeat list. And for a while, I was alert and appreciative. A gorgeous young man, a member of a Cuban theater troupe, sees an overweight young woman - oddly, the only person in the audience that night - walk out after he makes eye contact with her during the performance. Currently sponging off relatives, he has no home of his own, while she lives alone in an enormous inherited apartment. (How does this work? Does anyone actually "own" real estate in present-day Cuba?) And so the two fall in love. Or do they? Our hero may only be interested in that spacious flat. Following an "accident," he takes over the lead in the theater piece, an old girlfriend screws up his new idyllic love life, and Romeo and Juliet seem destined to stay apart. But then... But then what? Perez and his co-writer Eduardo del Llano seem unable to clarify anyone's feelings here. Who is this gorgeous guy and what the hell does he care about? He flirts/flits one way, then another, while the girl just goes to pieces. Finally, for the last half hour, we are in a story within a story that tries to turn the whole thing into a sci-fi meditation on "serious" subjects but comes off more like camp. The movie ends with a kind of coup de theatre, which it isn't, or course, since this is a movie, not a legitimate theater piece. So its "coup" comes off as little more than a "special effect." In fact, the "play" that is central to all we've seen seems itself to be a willfully ostentatious piece of hooey, as men dressed as nuns speak in unison, conflating religion and sex (or maybe it's love). Madrigal may not be quite as pretentious as the piece de theatre that anchors it, but it comes awfully close.
"Another TIFF film dealing with anxiety-riddled juvenescence, Déficit, suggests Richard Linklater by way of Andrew Bujalski," writes Eric Kohn at indieWIRE. "While not always successful at conveying believable exchanges, Deficit manages to be frequently funny and likable." "There's a lot of comedy in this film, mixed in and surrounding the overall class tensions and underlying current of criminality, and it's to the credit of Bernal that it all meshes together so well," writes Ryan Stewart at Cinematical. "I noticed the audience members paying very close attention, undoubtedly because they had no idea where this film was going but were intrigued by the possibilities."
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September 16, 2007
Peter Falk @ 80."Heh, wat denn, is det Columbo?" one Berliner asks another as Peter Falk walks by in Scene 5033 of Wim Wenders's Wings of Desire. Even given the incredible work he did with Cassavetes, rarely has an actor been so closely identified with a single character all around the world. Columbo, after all, has been exported to 80 countries. The role seems to have been such a natural fit that he'd often wait to learn his lines until moments before a scene was shot, as he readily admits on Tuesday on the BBC's Just One More Thing: Columbo! (great listening after the corny beginning). Salutes, downright odes, in the German papers: Fritz Göttler in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Andreas Kilb in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (lots of pix), Frank Noack in Der Tagesspiegel and Daniela Pogade in the Berliner Zeitung. Online browsing tip. Falk's drawings, posted at his site. Update, 9/19: Ray Pride's got a bit of online viewing.
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September 15, 2007
Wrapping Toronto.No, no, not "wrapping" as in "the last word." Not by any means. But, even though not a lot of emphasis is put on awards in Toronto, that doesn't mean none are given at all. IndieWIRE's got a list of seven and mentions a few runners-up. These awards signal that it's time for an entry gathering pointers to the overview-type pieces that have already begun appearing and will likely carry on appearing for the next few days. Meantime, I've been having a blast sorting through reviews, shaping entries and marveling (appreciatively, I should say) at the many varied ways critics can disagree. Look for those entries in the coming days as well. "More than any other major festival, Toronto makes clear the divide between those movies that matter aesthetically and intellectually - think the work of Hou Hsiao-hsien, the Dardenne brothers and Gus Van Sant - and those movies that matter largely because of their awards potential and the presumed interest to what remains of the discriminating, adult audience," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Think The Queen, Good Night, and Good Luck and any number of films nominated for best picture in recent years." "The party’s over, but Hollywood’s marketing campaigns have only just begun," Stephen Garrett reminds us, blogging for Esquire. "Ever since 1999’s American Beauty went from a Toronto world premiere to scooping the Academy Award for Best Picture six months later, Canada’s September bacchanal of film has been the unofficial starting gun for kudos season." Time's Richard Corliss and Susan Canto celebrate a landmark year for Midnight Madness: "This was where to find Peter Jackson before The Lord of the Rings (with Meet the Feebles and Braindead). James Wan launched his Saw franchise here; and Eli Roth, helmer of the Hostel horror movies, got his first international exposure with Cabin Fever.... The section, now in its 20th year, championed prime work from Tsui Hark, the Hong Kong action master, and France's Argentinian-born filmmaker Gaspar Noé, whose films might euphemistically be called depraved. The gaudily talented, impossibly prolific Takashi Miike got his start here and soon became a Madness regular." A fun read: Ben Kenigsberg's Toronto index. We can also look back on big and lively special sections, guides laced with blogs and audio and video and all, in the Globe and Mail, NOW Magazine, and of course, the Toronto Star. Updates, 9/16: Tom Charity reviews the highlights for the Observer. "What was striking was how many of the American movies on display were throwbacks to the cinema of the 60s and 70s, both in subject matter and in style," writes David Ansen in Newsweek. Updates, 9/19: "[E]ven the grumpiest of the lot would have to admit this was a particularly strong edition of the festival - and, weirdly, it was much of the major pictures, already acquired, that showed some of the boldest risk-taking." Jason Clark wraps his TIFF at Slant. The Chicago Reader's JR Jones caught a preview of Bill Maher and director Larry Charles's doc-in-progress, Religulous as well as, on the big screen, Jirí Menzel's Closely Watched Trains, introduced by Ken Loach: "As Loach explained, he's always been a fan of the politically oriented Czech films that predate the Prague Spring of 1968, particularly this one and Milos Forman's Loves of a Blonde (1966), but I was still fascinated that, of all the movies he might have chosen to introduce, he picked this buoyant, almost giddy comedy." "[T]he average film quality this year was better than any of the past fests I've attended," writes Darren Hughes, introducing a list of his rankings. Girish ranks the films he saw. Andy Horbal: "11 TIFF screenings in 11 words or less." Nathan Lee runs through his highlights in the Voice. "There's something magical, transformative, about being in this kind of environment even with people you know well already: a stress-free openness, desire to share ideas, and travelers' fellow feeling takes over," writes Criterion editorial director Liz Helfgott, who also lists her favorite films from this year's edition. Cheryl Eddy lacks back on the highs and lows; also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: Midnights for Maniacs programmer Jesse Hawthorne Ficks picks six. Variety's Anne Thompson's picks and pans. David Poland assesses the state of indie business. IndieWIRE indexes its coverage. Jim Emerson puts faces to the bloggers you've been reading. Steve lists away at the Film Experience. Updates, 9/20: The Nashville Scene's Jim Ridley: "One Week, Seven Days, 33 Films." More peaks and valleys from Eric Kohn in the New York Press and Josef Braun and Brian Gibson in the Vue Weekly. Update, 9/21: "[B]ecause it arrives at the end of the festival cycle, Toronto is a way to assess the state of the world right now," writes Patrick Z McGavin at Stop Smiling. Henry Sheehan's Toronto ranged from blah to rah - read about it in the LA CityBeat. Updates, 9/22: "Simply put, Toronto is closest we have to a single (if expansive) snapshot of the state of international cinema of the 'moment' (that moment stretching back to the Cannes Film Festival in May)," blogs Sean Axmaker for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "The line-up is an invigorating balance of elegance and egalitarianism, Hollywood class and indie ambition, international masters and daring young turks." "In the foreign-language offerings at Toronto, three of the founding members of the French New Wave - Jacques Rivette, Claude Chabrol and Eric Rohmer - had the North American premieres of their new films." And so these are the films Patrick Z McGavin concentrates on in the second part of his Toronto report for Stop Smiling. John Ortved's got an overview for Vanity Fair. "[T]he actual workings of the festival offer fascinating insight into some of our contemporary social and intellectual problems as well as the possibility of overcoming them," writes David Walsh at the WSWS. Update, 9/24: Dan Sallitt's posted a TIFF top ten.
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The Rape of Europa."Impressive in scope if unremarkable in style, The Rape of Europa provides a chronology of World War II as it was experienced by David, Mona Lisa, and other artistic treasures the Nazis plundered," writes Michelle Orange in the Voice. "The Nazis' taste in 20th century art ran to Aryan kitsch, or at most to the attenuated Modernist stylings of an Arno Breker, but they knew a Vermeer when they saw one and they knew how to snatch and grab on a scale that Napoleon, an art thief of the first magnitude, could only dream about," writes Time's Richard Lacayo. Updated through 9/20. And, as Rachel Saltz reminds us in the New York Times, "This story is still playing out, contentiously and emotionally, as art is recovered and heirs sue for restitution." "[A]s the directors cogently and captivatingly illustrate, the Americans' acts of preservation and the Nazis' destructiveness and inquisitiveness both, ultimately, confirm art's status as an intrinsic, defining facet of national identity," writes Nick Schager at Slant. Online listening tip. Director Richard Berge on the Leonard Lopate Show. Updates, 9/16: The Los Angeles Times talks with Robert M Edsel, whose book, "Rescuing da Vinci: Hitler and the Nazis Stole Europe's Great Art - America and Her Allies Recovered It, "focuses on the Monuments Men, a mostly volunteer cadre of about 350 men - and women - who worked for the Allied Forces' Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section." Could make for a companion piece to the book the film is based on, Lynn H Nicholas's The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War. "[W]hile it's well known that the führer hated modern art and had examples of so-called 'degenerate art' destroyed, he also systematically set out to decimate the Slavic cultures he deemed inferior - that of Poland and Russia - by ordering the destruction of art, architecture, monuments and libraries that his armies found in their path," writes Cathleen McGuigan in Newsweek. "Much of the documentary shows in gripping detail the efforts to save Europe's treasures from Hitler's clutches and the ravages of war. The Louvre in Paris and the Hermitage in Leningrad were practically emptied before the Germans arrived, as eerie photographs of the galleries attest, with barren gilt frames scattered about." Update, 9/20: "Maybe the best way to convince you to check out the enthralling documentary The Rape of Europa is to say that I, too, had no desire to see another damn film about the terrible things that happened in World War II," confesses Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "And at first glance, this film's subject seems trivial: Who cares what happened to the art and cultural artifacts of Europe when umpteen million people were slaughtered? Well, what Bonni Cohen, Richard Berge and Nicole Newnham's film (based on the award-winning book by art historian Lynn Nicholas) convinces you is that there's really no separating those things."
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Fests and events in the UK."Hardly any Britons know that in 2004, [Alain] Robbe-Grillet was elected one of the 40 'immortals' of the Académie Française in recognition of his great contribution to French literature," writes Stuart Jeffries in the Guardian. "And yet Robbe-Grillet's work will be celebrated in London this weekend with a season of films and discussions about his influence on literature and the visual arts at the Serpentine Gallery [tonight!] and the Institut Français [tomorrow]. The season could be taken as both remedy and apology for decades of neglect. It will culminate with the premiere of Gradiva, his 10th film since his directorial debut in 1963 with L'Immortelle." Also tonight: Pandora's Box, with the world premiere of a live Paul Lewis score, at Colston Hall in Bristol. Paul McGann writes, "It represents the peak of silent-era cinema and is one of the most adult pictures ever made." "The 51st London film festival will play host to new features from Ang Lee, Michael Moore, Julian Schnabel, Sean Penn and Todd Haynes," reports Xan Brooks. "Inevitably, the ongoing war in Iraq will be taking a supporting role.... Lightening the mood, the festival also promises master-classes with the likes of Harmony Korine, Laura Linney and Robert Rodriguez. The most quirky event of all, however, looks set to be an on-stage double-header in which the director David Lynch and the singer Donovan discuss the merits of transcendental meditation." Simon Crerar passes along the enthusiasm for the lineup from the co-sponsor, the London Times. October 17 through November 1. For the Independent, Charlotte Cripps previews the London Spanish Film Festival, through September 27.
Posted by dwhudson at 6:21 AM
September 14, 2007
Toronto Dispatch. 6.As the Toronto International Film Festival approaches its closing day, Jonathan Marlow must bow out a few hours early and head to the IFP Filmmaker Conference (Sunday through September 21 in New York). Meantime, coverage of the coverage has only just begun. As the third week of living out of a suitcase begins, I find myself delighted to arrive at the end of yet another film festival. Toronto, of course, isn't just any festival nor is it just any city. It is one of a half-dozen or less necessary stops for folks in the industry. Yet, unlike other similarly star-studded events, the festival successfully caters to its regional audience as well. It officially ends Saturday evening with a screening of Paolo Barzman's Emotional Arithmetic but, since I'll be in New York at the time, TIFF ends for me tonight with Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring, introduced by Max Von Sydow. I cannot imagine a more satisfying finish. Perhaps the most under-reported achievement at TIFF was evidenced by the consistently packed houses for the exceptional Wavelength series. I could praise any number of the films selected for this important sidebar but I'll specifically mention Apichatpong Weerasethakul's The Anthem and its mere five minutes of exuberant, unexpected joy. When it begins, you'll wonder where it is going. When it is over, you'll wonder where it went.
Toronto Dispatch. 5.In the waning days of the festival, Seattle-based writer/filmmaker Shannon Gee discusses a handful of TIFF films with San Francisco-based writer/filmmaker Jonathan Marlow. Fortunately, there was a laptop between them to capture the brief conversation. Marlow: Since we're all inclined to look for patterns - it's hard-wired into our species, I wager - I've noticed a trend that I failed to note in the earlier installment. There are plenty of films in the pipeline about our blundering into Iraq but there are a number of others that could be metaphorically hinting at the state of things over there. I'm thinking specifically of the earnest return of the "best laid plans" genre, such as Cassandra's Dream and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead - capers in which "nothing could possibly go wrong" and then everything, naturally, goes terribly wrong indeed. Gee: You could say that everything goes wrong in every film - conflict makes for interesting viewing. Marlow: It might be as simple as conflict-as-the-driver-of-drama. After seeing folks work through similar themes, I may be drawing some larger and possibly unnecessary conclusions. Sometimes a cigar is a cigar. The slight resurgence of the western genre caused me to suspect that perhaps something else was at play. Gee: Looking over the list of films I've seen here at TIFF 2007, I don't see one that is a pure tribute, straight documentation or can-do-no-wrong profile - except for maybe Captain Mike Across America, which is very much about the blundering into Iraq and all about "how great Michael Moore is." I have to say I was disappointed with it and had to wonder what the point was of putting this account of Moore's Slacker Uprising Tour in the months before the 2004 election into film form. Unlike some other current political docs I've seen here, Moore ends with how the tour was successful in getting young people registered to vote (which is obvious if you're paying even the smallest amount of attention to the film) but gives no other updates on how that has impacted the political scene in the three years since. Along with "conflict making interesting viewing," it's nice to have a resolution to things, even if it is as loose as a call to action or questions for viewers to ponder. Marlow: I don't suppose I'd expect either of those things from a Michael Moore film. Regardless, by my count, when I finally leave this city I'll have seen 60 films in the programme. I'm not sure how I feel about that. Not all here in Toronto, of course (too many meetings for that), but between Cannes, Telluride and elsewhere, I've seen an outrageous number by nearly any standard. Perhaps not by the standards of the journalists that cover SIFF in its entirety! Gee: Right. Cannes. Many of the films I saw here played at Cannes and Venice and, while seeing them here serves a scheduling purpose for press who don't travel to either European festival, it seems that, to really hit things when the irons are hot, one needs to go to Cannes. It's not like Sundance, where things debut without anyone knowing a whit about them (and I still remember watching Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later and not knowing what was hitting me). There is a bit of a pressure to play catch up here, let alone catching up with you! Even when we see four films a day, we feel like we're behind and not doing enough. Marlow: Fortunately, there are several films amongst the many screenings that might be considered great on reflection. I'll have to re-evaluate my initial impressions in a few weeks. Granted, my "great" isn't the "great" of others. I'll continue to encourage folks to see Silent Light even if they'll likely become impatient with it. I ran into director Carlos Reygadas a few days ago and he expressed some concern (I won't use his exact phrase here) about the acquisitions folks in the US. Without the salacious material found in his first two films, this one unfortunately will prove to be a hard sell in this conservative climate - and yet it's easily his finest work to date. Gee: I haven't seen Silent Light and I also missed Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg, Peter Greenaway's Nightwatching, the Catherine Breillat film and The Who documentary - all things I wanted to see. You saw the first three of those films. What did I miss?
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Great World of Sound.Great World of Sound is "a wrenching fable of life at the ass-end of the music business that was one of the few real surprise pictures to emerge at Sundance this year," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "This is independent filmmaking with genuine ambition and an unfaltering vision, depicting unglamorous lives with sympathy but without much sentiment, and thoroughly devoid of the pallid quirkiness that might make it a crossover candidate." Now, before carrying on with all this, I have to point you to Vadim Rizov's profile of one of Great World's producers, David Gordon Green, in which he explains how Green's become the bridge between two of this summer's hot topics, Judd Apatow and "mumblecore." A must-read. Also at the Reeler is January's chat with director Craig Zobel and Vadim Rizov's review: "On its surface, Great World of Sound has little in common with news reports on Enron and its heirs, focusing as it does on the smallest of scams in the least significant of towns. But dishonesty has to start somewhere, and Great World implicitly shows us where it leads." Updated through 9/19. "I found Zobel's film touching and amusing, but it also left me a bit queasy," writes AO Scott. "Most of the gospel crooners and keyboard noodlers we see on screen - some of whom sound pretty good, by the way - had answered talent-seeking ads. They thought they were trying for a record deal, not appearing in a movie.... But there is no doubt that the auditions, like the no-frills cinematography and the worn sets, contribute to the downbeat authenticity that is the most striking feature of Great World of Sound. Mr Zobel may be a scam artist, but he's also the real thing." "Great World of Sound is painfully specific about the music-scouting grind, which involves listening to a thousand moribund variations of the slop already on the charts, but it's even sharper - Tin Men and Glengarry Glen Ross sharp - about the lies salesmen tell themselves to get through the day," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Zobel's directorial debut is as bleak a look at working as [Arthur] Miller's or [David] Mamet's earlier efforts, but what's most striking about this bittersweet drama is its absence of indignant rage," writes Tim Grierson in the Voice. "Sure, it's got some wry humor, but it's also depressing as hell, an ambiguous story about soul-deadening ethical transgressions carried out in drab strip-mall America," writes Peter Smith at Nerve. "Yet bleak as it is, Great World of Sound is also weirdly uplifting; written and acted with admirable subtlety, it shows without telling." "Before the inevitable sets in, the film is a gently, sometimes brilliantly, discomforting evocation of music-industry fringes - a seedy B-side to Once," writes Jesse Hassenger in the L Magazine. For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Zobel "about working with Terrence Malick, his love of I Heart Huckabees, and his desire to make the seventh Bourne movie." And Matt Singer talks with Zobel for IFC News. And for the New York Press, Eric Kohn talks with him, too, "about his experiences since the film premiered at Sundance in January." Update, 9/16: A "smarter, post-reality-television generation of novels and movies is beginning to emerge," writes Caryn James in the New York Times. "The clever little film Great World of Sound (which opened on Friday) and the graphic novel The Homeless Channel (published in May) tackle the issues behind reality television with subtlety and a true understanding of the genre's appeal. And even movies like last year's satire American Dreamz and the current fantasy The Nines, which don't go far in analyzing the genre, appreciate its allure." Sound Updates, 9/19: "Zobel's method lends the movie a psychological depth that'd be difficult to achieve in conventional fictional filmmaking," writes Robert Levin at cinemaattraction. "The experience of watching real people negotiate their ways through genuine emotions and concerns strips the film of any artifice." IndieWIRE interviews Zobel.
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My Brother's Wedding."A few years after breaking new cinematic ground with the astonishing black-and-white drama Killer of Sheep, shot on the streets of Los Angeles in 1976, African-American director Charles Burnett scrounged up a somewhat larger budget to make a second feature in color," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. " That movie, My Brother's Wedding, has been an object of controversy, and virtually MIA, ever since.... I only wish I could tell you the film was a masterpiece." But the New York Times' AO Scott finds the newly edited version "an 81-minute feature of astonishing richness and density" and "a film that is so firmly and organically rooted in a specific time and place that it seems to contain worlds." By the way: "At a moment when the term independent film is taken to refer either to midbudget studio projects anchored by Oscar-soliciting performances or to the aimless navel-gazing of under-stimulated hipsters (Speak up! Stop mumbling!), Mr Burnett's work is an indelible reminder of what real independence looks like." Updated through 9/19. "Bound to a narrative instead of Sheep's tone-poem spontaneity, its nonprofessional performances feel more noticeably scruffy, and even its of-the-era color palette looks dated when held up against the black-and-white timelessness of '77," writes Aaron Hillis. "Still, Wedding is a treasure that demands to be unearthed in all its funny-sad tenderness." "[A]s in Sheep, the film's real force comes from Burnett's ability to unflinchingly portray the details, faces, and voices of a marginalized community, both in realistic humor and sorrow," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine. Update: "Who would deny that the revival of Charles Burnett's career has been the major film event of the year?" asks Andrew Chan at the House Next Door. Wedding "shows us how deep his humanist perspective goes, yielding more evidence of the subtlety and patience with which this filmmaker explores one of the great subjects of his career: the problem of dignity among a demoralized underclass." Updates, 9/15: "Where the slogan-ready provocations of Boyz n the Hood and Do the Right Thing don't spend any time beating around the bush ('Fight the Power,' 'Increase the Peace'), Burnett provides a window into the everyday details through which to frame black struggle," writes Paul Schrodt for Slant. "In S Torriano Berry's book The 50 Most Influential Black Films, Charles Burnett says black cinema needs a major female director, but in a Hollywood bent on the false theatrics of gangsta life (from Menace II Society's inhumanity to Get Rich or Die Tryin''s inanity), he may be the closest to one we ever come." Kathy Fennessy, writing at the Siffblog, is reminded of 70s-era sitcoms: "If anything, My Brother's Wedding is even funnier than a boxed set of Sanford and Son, Good Times or What's Happening.... Burnett's targets may be similar - shiftless sons, judgmental parents - but the combination of real people, authentic locations, and higher-stakes situations only makes the humor seem that much richer." Update, 9/19: An exchange at Shooting Down Pictures.
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Milarepa."Whether you believe in sorcery or not, Milarepa is a magical film," writes Jennifer Merin in the New York Press. "Characters paint symbols on their soles so they can walk with the speed of wind, they cross the screen as shimmering and transparent clouds of dust, they levitate rocks, move mountains, cause thick fog that clouds the minds of those who would harm them and summon huge storms with striking displays of lightening. Even more spectacular, all of this is achieved without a big budget, CG, pyrotechnics or animatronics. The effects are stunning in their simplicity." Updated through 9/19. "The story of [11th century mystic] Milarepa is one of persecution, revenge and spiritual redemption, fairly standard in the inspirational biopic but hardly what we associate with Tibetan Buddhism," writes John Anderson in the Los Angeles Times. "And while the tale is told in broad-stroke acting and a soberly respectful script, the elements of the case are pure romanticism." Update, 9/19: "There are stunning locales but not much subtlety on display in Milarepa, a straight-as-an-arrow mythical-historical telling of a mystic's early life," writes Laura Kern.
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Forever."Death, beauty and the persistence of art are the vast topics addressed in Forever, Heddy Honigmann's frustrating documentary set mainly in Père-Lachaise, the cosmopolitan Paris necropolis where artists including Proust, Chopin, Ingres, Maria Callas and what's-his-rock-star from the Doors are buried," writes Rachel Saltz in the New York Times. Updated through 9/19. Honigmann "belongs on the short, short list of documentary filmmakers whose work has the richness and ambiguity of the best narrative films," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Out of this apparently simple and even trite subject - the evanescence of human life; the supposed permanence of art - Honigmann develops, with deceptive casualness, a few unforgettable character studies and one of the purest, most moving motion pictures of the year." "[W]hile it's unmistakably sad and bittersweet, it's seldom depressing," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "As many of the subjects talk about the writers, musicians, and icons they love, they're also talking about themselves, solidifying and expounding upon their emotional connection to the art and artists in their personal pantheon." Earlier: Stuart Klawans in the Nation. Update, 9/19: "The ambient camera work can be obvious in groping for the beauty of moldering pathos (not for nothing are cemeteries the classic go-to for amateur photographers), but interludes of the sublime and unexpected are never far off," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice.
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Toots.Toots "isn't simply a puff piece on a beloved relative; rather, it's a snapshot of a particular post-prohibition, post-WWII period in which looking glamorous and having fun were the prime objectives, as well as a warts-and-all portrait of a self-made man who defined the era," writes Nick Schager at Slant. "Copious clips of [Toots] Shor on vintage interview shows - This Is Your Life, Person to Person - help to illustrate his rise from a street-fighting Jew holding his own in Italian South Philly to the bon vivant public face of postwar New York nightlife," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. Appreciation will be "largely determined by one's taste for Madison Avenue back-slapping, broiled steaks, alcoholic journalists, and self-amused 'You had to be there' celebrity prankishness, all lovingly recalled by a litany of gargle-voiced sportswriters and Gay Talese, who hogs the best one-liners." Updated through 9/19. "Cheers to [Kristi] Jacobson for keeping alive the memory of New York nightlife’s golden era, and a man who embodied it," toasts Laura Kern in the New York Times. For the Reeler, Benjamin Gold talks with Jacobson "about what drew her to Shor's story and if a place like Toots Shor's could exist today." Tribeca's got an interview, too, and a great clip. Updates, 9/19: Jody Rosen talks with Jacobson for the NYT: "'What I want people to understand is that New York at one time - at the time when it emerged as the capital of the world - wasn't just slightly different,' Ms Jacobson said over lunch on the Lower East Side. 'It was drastically different. I wanted to look at this slice of history and ask: What are those things that New York has lost, the things we mourn?'" "The movie has a joyous swing that would have gladdened its subject's heart," writes David Edelstein in New York. "Toots leaves you longing for a more public culture, for places where the palship isn't just the upshot of intoxication. It's a cinematic happy hour."
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King of California."King of California proves light on its feet but often less funny or wise than it purports to be, its air of self-satisfaction partially interfering with its genuine insights," writes Nick Schager at Slant. "Regardless of its preciousness, though, there's a shrewdness and heart to the relationship between Miranda [Evan Rachel Wood] and Charlie [Michael Douglas], largely due to [director Mike] Cahill's perceptivity about the affection children have for their parents—a love so deeply rooted and inextricable that it often drives one to behave out-and-out illogically." "It's A Woman Under the Influence meets The Goonies, but not half as good as that sounds," writes Chris Wisniewski at indieWIRE. Updated through 9/19. "Mr Douglas, giving his strongest screen performance since Wonder Boys, creates a portrait of a fanatic on a tear that is at once endearing and maddening, and not overplayed," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "As parent-teenager stories go, King of California runs pointedly against the grain. The exact opposite of Ms Wood's character in Thirteen, Miranda doesn't run wild. She is the responsible one, but on her own terms. The child is caretaker to the parent, who may be mad but who is also a holy fool, and holy fools are worth protecting." "A melancholy, astute fable about mass conformity, King of California lets its characters successfully escape the encroaching monoculture via history and fantasy," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "I admired Cahill's sly juxtaposition of the California of Charlie's imagination, one of yellowing maps and shimmering doubloons, and the California of Charlie's life, which is littered with chain stores and restaurants and where the most exotic wildlife is found on a carefully landscaped golf course," writes Matt Singer at IFC News. "But speaking personally, there's only so much forced whimsy I can take." "Much like the underappreciated Down in the Valley, which also stars Wood, King of California has an evocative feeling for locale, as civilization and order encroaches on SoCal dreamers who don't fit into their homogenous designs," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. Cristy Lytal tells the backstory, including the bit about how Alexander Payne ended up co-producing, in the LAT. "King of California is a cute, quirky film; when I first saw it at Sundance it felt a little light and fizzy compared to some of the heavier fest fare, but it's kind of grown on me over time," writes Kim Voynar at Cinematical. Update, 9/15: Patricia Chui interviews Douglas for Cinematical. Update, 9/19: "Hard to tell what's more annoying in this empty character study of eccentrics and the suckers who love them: the braying, blurting soundtrack or Douglas himself, who can't find his way into a man tortured by dull demons," writes Robert Wilonsky in the Voice.
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More on The Brave One.The Brave One's "none-too-subtle governing idea is that even the most effete, brownstone-dwelling public radio listener (or New York Times reader) might feel the occasional urge to blow someone’s head off," writes AO Scott in, well, you know. So why are vigilante movies baaaack? In Slate, Eric Lichtenfeld argues that, for one thing, they never really went away; but yes, as he traces their history, he can see parallels that might link The Brave One and Death Sentence with Death Wish et al: "Today, as in the 70s, America faces economic, environmental, and energy-related crises. In both generations, Americans wrestle with political powerlessness, on fronts ranging from their own health care to the country's role on the global stage.... And both generations of Americans watch as the executive branch flouts its accountability to the public and to the law, proves unable to 'win' an increasingly unpopular war, and refuses to acknowledge the reality of the war's downward spiral." "It hurts to see Neil Jordan's name attached to something as deplorable as The Brave One," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant. "You can't talk about The Brave One without bringing up Ms 45, yet it seems unnecessarily cruel to hold the riches of Abel Ferrara's classic B, about a woman who is raped twice (!) in one day and subsequently enacts revenge on any man who annoys the shit out of her, against this lousy corporate facsimile." "If Jodie Foster weren't such a fiery, intensely engaging performer, nothing in her new thriller, The Brave One, would allow it to rise above the realm of mediocrity populated by direct-to-DVD genre quickies," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "Foster's feminist victimization complex seems to be looping around to meet Nixon and Agnew," suggests David Edelstein in New York. "Next she'll be hunting Commies for the FBI." "The Brave One is among the year's more transgressive - even guilty - pleasures," declares ST VanAirsdale. But, also at the Reeler: "After two hours of hand-wringing, the moral of The Brave One comes clear: Killing a bunch of people can take a toll on your soul," notes Vadim Rizov. "Great. Bring back Bronson." "Jordan - who was born in Dublin - also has a surprisingly strong grasp of what living in New York is like," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "The movie understands the way New Yorkers sometimes look after one another even when they're pretending they couldn't care less. And the movie's violence - particularly the attack sequence - is difficult to watch, but deftly handled. There's a lot to admire in The Brave One. It just doesn't cut as deeply as it needs to." "The Brave One lacks the alchemy of Jordan's best work, which brings gender and race subtexts to the surface," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine. "Any success rests to a perilous extent on Foster's shoulders, because something about this American template clearly slips through Jordan's fingers (like an attempt at suggesting the centerless media-doubled society). All these distractions can't take away from the film as a mood piece - clenched and reeling." "[T]he story's finale is riddled with staggering cop-outs that completely sidestep the hard questions about Erica's choices, hand-wringing voiceovers aside," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "[T]his small, fierce woman's brute cheekbones are an axiom of modern American cinema," writes Ray Pride. "Like David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises, The Brave One is fearless even at its most foolish." "Trapped in a no man's land between seriousness and pulp trash, it plays like a combination of Death Wish and The Hours," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "If that sounds like an awkward fit, it is." "The line 'Bitch, is you crazy?' is uttered," notes the San Francisco Bay Guardian's Cheryl Eddy. "[T]he creative marriage of Ms Foster and Mr Jordan is one made in heaven, admittedly in its most hellish precincts," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "An ungodly mash of revenge fantasy, 9/11 paranoia, and abysmal storytelling, The Brave One is only remarkable for the caliber of talent failing so spectacularly before your eyes," writes Bradley Steinbacher in the Stranger. Erica "knows she's disintegrating, but if she can take some evildoers down with her, she's willing to relinquish her own morality," writes the AV Club's Tascha Robinson, and then adds: "(It's so tempting to see this as yet another metaphor for America's post-9/11 foreign policy - particularly the populace's reluctant, tacit acceptance of state torture - that it seems like it's time to found a new anti-war movement: 'Get the US out of Iraq to save American cinema from itself.')" Earlier: "The Brave One." "In a nearly quarter-century career spanning a dazzling array of genres, Neil Jordan has made several masterworks and a number of pictures that fascinate despite their flaws," writes Matt Zoller Seitz at the House Next Door. "The Brave One... occupies a unique place in his career. It's his first really bad movie - silly, confused, pandering, and in places, loathsome." "The film put me in mind of another incident from the 70s," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "I worked for a woman whose 18-year-old daughter was bicycling through Central Park when a 15-year-old boy stopped her, stole her bike and killed her with a tire iron. The grieving mother's response to this atrocity was to write a letter to the Times asking for the murderer not to be taken down by vigilantes or executed by the state, but treated with justice and mercy. It probably wouldn't make a very good movie, but that woman was heroic. She knew that if wrongful violence begets righteous violence, we all become criminals. She was the brave one."
September 13, 2007
Awake + Polis."In the opening frames of the documentary Fully Awake: The Black Mountain College Experience, one is enticed by a heady list of artists who were part of the phenomenon known as Black Mountain College," writes Amy White in the Independent Weekly. "Josef Albers, Anni Albers, Arthur Penn, David Tudor, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, MC Richards, Charles Olsen, Robert Creeley, Franz Kline.... It is amazing to think that all of these art world luminaries once constellated and immersed themselves in creative experimentation in a remote, isolated college in the mountains of North Carolina. This weekend, the film will have a one-time screening at the NC Museum of Art." As it happens, William Corbett has a related recommendation in the Boston Phoenix: "From director Henry Ferrini and writer Ken Riaf, Polis Is This is the best film about an American poet ever made.... Ferrini and Riaf present the complex American literary figure Charles Olson (1910 - 1970) in a clear way by focusing not on the facts of his life but on the facts of his work."
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Latinbeat, 9/13.A preview of two more films screening in the Latinbeat series from James van Maanen.
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Anthology and Toronto. Polonsky and Trumbo.As the Anthology Film Archives opens the series Unamerican Activities: The Films Abraham Polonsky tonight in New York (through September 19), a documentary on blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo is getting raves in Toronto. Coincidence? Well, yes, actually. Still, these two events resonate so nicely, they belong in an entry together. "If the artist's worst fear is to be denied the right to create, then the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s lavished the ultimate punishment on Abraham Polonsky," writes Fernando F Croce at Slant. "At the height of his talents, after the acclaimed directorial debut of Force of Evil in 1948, the fiercely Marxist dramaturg was blacklisted by the HUAC and effectively shunned from Hollywood filmmaking for the next two decades." The Anthology retrospective "honors both his work as writer and director and also offers an in-depth look at the impact of blacklisted artists in Thom Andersen and Noël Burch's 1995 documentary Red Hollywood." In the Voice, J Hoberman previews a few of the series' highlights; more from Cullen Gallagher in the L Magazine. "Many of the documentaries you tend to see at film festivals represent one of two polar extremes," notes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "One is the trenchant, heartfelt exploration of some issue of politics - which, while fascinating, can be a bit of a slog. The other is the breezy, buzzy exploration of some aspect of show business - which, while fun, can be a bit light. Trumbo - directed by Peter Askin and based on Christopher Trumbo's play taken from his father Dalton Trumbo's letters - manages to hit a perfect sweet spot between those two extremes. It's informative, impassioned, insightful; it's funny and fabulous and filled with film-love." And an online listening tip: James interviews Askin. In the doc, the letters are read by the likes of David Straithairn, Nathan Lane, Michael Douglas, Joan Allen, Liam Neeson and Paul Giamatti. For the New York Times, Michael Cieply talks with Christopher Trumbo. "What makes Trumbo so fascinating to watch is that it captures a writer's life at the farthest swings of a pendulum," writes Patrick Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times. "Listening to actors read from letters can often be a tedious experience, but these are no ordinary letters. Often written when Trumbo was in desperate straits, they soar and sizzle, capturing the sassy sophistication of midcentury Hollywood movie talk."
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Toronto Dispatch. 4.Michael Guillén reviews some of the best - and the rest. Some people get stuck between a rock and a hard place. Others between the Devil and the deep blue sea. Myself, at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, I'm stuck somewhere between the Masters and the Discovery programs, keen to the breadth of the selection, where first-time directors reveal promising vision and seasoned filmmakers hold onto or sometimes lose grip of their own. Shall we start with the Masters? I've heard disgruntlements with Béla Tarr's The Man From London; but, for my money (fortunately, not found in a valise), this lustrous film is the most accessible of Tarr's films I've seen. Based on Georges Simenon's novel, The Man From London configures suspense as a question of faith. It measures the gradations and degradations one is willing to indulge to escape the banal dissatisfactions of everyday life. And it assigns the spiritual task of recognizing that it is in the performance of our everyday tasks that our radiance shines through. Our protagonist, Maloin (Miroslav Krobot), hasn't yet achieved that recognition and - as a consequence - is irremediably tempted by an unexpected windfall; namely, a suitcase full of stolen money.
September 12, 2007
Latinbeat, 9/12.James van Maanen previews a few more films screening in the Latinbeat series, running through September 18. Returning to the country of one's roots is at the core of Mitch Teplitsky's pleasant documentary Soy Andina (site; the film closes the festival on Tuesday, September 18, at 8:30 pm). Two women make this journey to Peru - Nélida Silva, after living in New York for 15 years, and Cynthia Paniagua, born and raised in Queens by her Peruvian mom and Puerto Rican dad. Folk dance is what connects the two and packs the documentary with rhythm, music and color. The movie concentrates more on Cynthia than on Nelida, as the former applies for a Fulbright scholarship to study Peruvian folkdance on its home turf. The film itself is choppy and homemade but well-enough thought-through and photographed to keep us alert. It doesn't fully come together until well over the half-way point, as Cynthia - a fine dancer - discovers Marinera and suddenly seems to have found her style and however-you-say-raison-d'etre-in-Spanish. Two questions remained dangling at the film's close - for me, at least, and I would hazard a guess for others, as well: In order not to spoil anything, I'll just ask, Where did this come from? And have we met - or even seen - the Peruvian or American who is co-responsible? We don't get to see all that much moviemaking from Bolivia, but I suspect that, whatever the country it came from, Martin Boulocq's The Most Beautiful of My Very Best Years (Lo más bonito y mis mejores años; site) would attract attention. The film (Sunday, September 16 at 8:30 pm) opens (and closes) with shots of a bridge that might have something to do with one of the main character's interests/studies, as well as having symbolic, social and political resonance. Then the writer-director simply tosses us into media res and the world of his main characters, two males who are soon joined by a female who is a friend to one and a lover to the other. The men love each other, too, in their way, dancing around this with the not entirely surprising Latin America machismo. Boulocq's dialog is odd: believable yet so startlingly specific to country, character and class that it takes us slightly aback in its few concessions to expected exposition. We learn about the relationships haltingly and come to see the likeable and dislikeable qualities of each character pretty thoroughly within the film's well-paced 95 minutes. Although shot on a miniscule budget, the bleached and slightly blurry photography works well enough, and the performances are fine indeed. That Boulocq was a mere 25 when he filmed this would seem to bode well for a lengthy and interesting career. Based - rather loosely, I think - on a 2003 news story about a group of Colombian soldiers who stumbled upon a huge stash of money and drugs left behind by guerillas, A Ton of Luck (Soñar no cuesta nada; site) would seem to be a can't-miss movie. And indeed it doesn't, although it doesn't quite make it, either. Unlike the slick and up-to-the-minute Bluff (Colombia's other entry in Latinbeat), this one has some of the simplicity and naiveté of El Salvador's Pinta the Bird although it's nearly ten times as long. The soldiers are all good Joes who don't even consider "offing" the one honest man among them who insists that they should not take the money. Nope, these mucho macho sweethearts, including their leader, are all diamonds in the rough, if a little dumb at times. (It's a sleazy gal who's the villain of the piece, but fortunately she is balanced by the pure-as-the-driven-snow wife and mother.) Despite all this, the mostly male cast manages to differentiate nicely between the many shaved-head soldiers, and the movie generates some suspense, a few laughs and a point or two scored at the expense of the big boys who take it all away from those of the lower echelon. Director Rodrigo Triana (who has worked mostly in Colombian television) and writer Jorge Hiller accomplish just about what you'd expect from a Colombian-style mainstream movie that's "based on a true story." A Ton of Luck screens Saturday, September 15, at 3 pm.
Toronto. Heavy Metal in Baghdad.Heavy Metal in Baghdad (site) "follows the Iraqi metal band Acrassicauda as they try not only to survive in the war torn city but to practice and eventually get gigs," writes Mike Plante for Filmmaker. "Proudly lo-fi, and all the stronger for it, the film shows how totally fucked the band is, stuck in a homeland that doesn't really exist, where you can live 15 minutes away from your best friend yet go six months without seeing them because you could get killed outside of your home." "I don't care how tired of Iraq documentaries you think you are–you need to see Heavy Metal in Baghdad," demands Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "It's got a little too much filmmaker presence for me (voice-over, appearing on-camera, and so on), but it's hard not to love any film that delivers a political message for the kiddies snugly wrapped in a burrito of heavy-metal appreciation (with some intimate glimpses at post-Saddam Iraq, where the sounds of machine-gun fire are just part of the urban landscape)," writes the San Francisco Bay Guardian's Cheryl Eddy.
Toronto. Encounters at the End of the World.With Encounters at the End of the World, Werner Herzog "takes Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom and gives it existential balls," writes Mike Plante for Filmmaker. "He comes to the conclusion that nature will not put up with humans forever, sooner or later taking the Earth back from us." "I'm starting to understand that I'll never grow tired of Herzog's films," writes the San Francisco Bay Guardian's Cheryl Eddy. "Normally, voice-over makes me want to kill, but he's just so right-on with his observations, filming someone who's just launched into some long anecdote and then breaking in on the soundtrack: 'Her story goes on forever...'" This doc "finds Herzog at his least committed - still curious and irascible as ever, but not as engaged as he was for superior films like Grizzly Man and Little Dieter Needs To Fly," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. Eric Kohn talks with Herzog for the Reeler. Update, 9/16: "The portrait of Antarctica - the people who work there and the animals who live there - is fascinating," writes J Robert Parks. "Encounters can't reach the pinnacle of Grizzly Man, though, in part because it's too diffuse.... But I also sympathize with Herzog, who wonders if our settling of Antarctica is a mistake–that maybe we should leave some white, uncharted spaces on our maps just to inspire our dreams." Update, 9/19: "Herzog is utterly hilarious in his questioning of the inhabitants of Antarctica, and his impressions of the footage that he assembled has the benefit of being simultaneously haunting and funny," writes Tom Hall. "That said, some of the grand themes and formal conceits that made films like Fata Morgana and Lessons Of Darkness so beautiful and so haunting are absent here, replaced by a pithy, humorous narration that feels more like the travelogue of a curious and cranky uncle than a profound statement on the human condition."
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Toronto. Mother of Tears."An instant cult classic and easily the most entertaining film of the festival to date - or maybe ever? - this orgy of crazed plotting, magnificently bad acting, cheap special effects, and priceless conviction meditates on the second fall of Rome (riots, road rage, mothers chucking babies off bridges), which antiquities restorer Asia Argento precipitates by releasing an ancient evil witch from an urn," enthuses Nathan Lee in the Voice. "Plus unholy monkeys, plus psychic lesbians, plus Japanese goth freakazoids, plus Udo Kier - and that's so not the half it, I can't even tell you." "As painful as it is to write this, there is nothing on offer in Mother of Tears for folks outside of the cult-of-Argento or gore-hounds looking for a few inventive kills," writes Kurt Halfyard at Twitch. "This may very well be an indication that Argento's brand of horror was of its time and place (the 1970s and 80s), and ill equipped to survive in the 21st Century." Updated through 9/14. It's an "Ed Wood-esque send up of 70s horror that would make Michael Lerman at indieWIRE. "I haven't seen any recent Argento," admits Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "I've been warned that his newer movies don't have the nutball stylishness of earlier pictures like The Bird With the Crystal Plumage or Four Flies on Gray Velvet or, my favorite, Suspiria. But The Mother of Tears is so unapologetically loopy and lush and ridiculous that I found it irresistible." "I walked away entirely positive that Argento wanted the movie to be half spooky and half ridiculous," writes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "If I'm right and that was his intention, then I'd offer the opinion that Mother of Tears is the master's best flick since... hell, since at least the mid-80s." "It is an absolute B-asterpiece," writes David Poland at Movie City News. "So why isn't it pushing my buttons?" "These days, Argento is all cheese, no style," grumbles Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "Laughing derisively at a director I used to admire just isn't a great feeling." Online viewing tips. The Midnight Madness Blog has video of the premiere and a longish interview with Argento conducted in 1990. Update, 9/14: "'What you see does not exist, what you cannot see is true' goes the central prophecy of Mother of Tears, perhaps a meta shout-out to those many horror films that cherish the shadow-world implicative over the balls-out blunt," writes Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door. "But Argento's triumph comes in fusing these two schools of cinema-thought together, cranking the gore and monster quotient up to 11, while simultaneously building up a sneaky and pointed subtext."
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Toronto. Diary of the Dead."Fear not, Romero junkies. The old guy still has it," announces Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "Just to be clear: [Diary of the Dead] is not another chapter in the series that began with Night of the Living Dead and continued on with Dawn, Day and Land of the Dead. Instead it's a stand-alone and entirely fresh take on the inevitably impending zombie apocalypse." "Any time's a good time for a new George A Romero zombie movie, but perhaps the best time is midnight, at a world premiere screening at which the director will speak, for which several rowdy viewers have come dressed as zombies, and for which you have arrived slightly inebriated," blogs Ben Kenigsberg for Time Out Chicago. "An allegory the media's failure to question the rush to war with Iraq, [Diary] is shot in the manner of Blair Witch, with the no-name cast members taking turns videotaping each other. What initially seems like amateurishness is actually the film's style - a call to advocacy, to record reality through DIY means before it can be distorted by the media and the government." "[J]ust when you thought he had nothing left to do but make fun of himself, Romero reminds you that he can bring the creepy too, in a handful of well-timed, dark corridor sequences," writes Michael Lerman at indieWIRE. "Am I going to go to hell if I say I liked the Dawn of the Dead remake more than Diary of the Dead?" asks the San Francisco Bay Guardian's Cheryl Eddy. Romero "undercuts" the film "with running narration that keeps stating and restating the theme, effectively dulling its impact, and marring what otherwise might've been a ripping good time," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "A very mixed bag for me, though opinions from my colleagues are all over the map," adds Scott Tobias. Updates, 9/14: "The 'handheld camerawork' device fails miserably as we're never privy to the team of gaffers that run ahead of our intrepid heroes to light everything (flatly) before they arrive," writes Mike White. "Also, the 'handheld shots' are obviously steadicam. I'm sorry to geek out about this but Romero never lets up on the 'you're watching people tape this' aspect, causing me to see all of the ways in which it wasn't." Diary "gleefully engages with themes of spectatorship and subjectivity," writes Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door. "It's the most labyrinthine and multifaceted of the director's Dead films, possessing a master's grasp of visual/aural interplay, in addition to a wicked mix of humor and pathos - in Romero's universe, a deaf, scythe-wielding Amish dynamiter is at once a ridiculous figure of fun and a tragic hero prone to a selfless (and gruesome) act of martyrdom.... By the end of Diary of the Dead, the camera has become a conduit to death and resurrection (cinema as simultaneous remembrance and perpetual life-force)." Update, 9/19: Nathan Lee talks with Romero for the Voice: "'I once had an idea for a script about a guy who just sits biting his fingernails watching the news,' he says, laughing. 'Like a Warhol thing.'" Updates, 9/20: "'It's too easy to use,' remarks one of Romero's film-student characters, first of a camera and later of a gun, which is roughly the same lesson learned by the cameraman protagonist of Haskell Wexler's 1969 cinema verité classic Medium Cool," blogs the LA Weekly's Scott Foundas. "Like that movie and David Cronenberg's 1983 Videodrome (which, a good two decades before 'reality TV' became a media-world buzz word, offered the sage forecast that 'Television is reality, and reality is less than television'), Diary of the Dead and Redacted both posit that our culture's so-called 'democracy of images' comes with certain responsibilities - that what, where and when one chooses to film are decisions not to be made lightly, and not without significant consideration of the moral and ethical consequences." Marc Savlov talks with Romero for the Austin Chronicle. Update, 9/24: "Romero's attempts at mock-verite are very convincing - he began his career as a documentary filmmaker in Pittsburgh before taking a gamble on features - and while Diary of the Dead is serious-minded, it's not all so Costa Gavras that it skimps on the stuff that keeps us coming back to these movies again and again: the flesh-eating is plentiful and gruesomely entertaining, and KNB's makeup effects are amongst the most convincing yet realized (and there have been a lot of zombie yarns since 1968) and are greatly aided by seamless CGI substitution," writes Robert J Lewis for the Movie Forum.
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Toronto. Captain Mike Across America."It seems that [Michael] Moore has finally made a 102-minute commercial for himself, which possibly has been his dream all along," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "One could easily carve an interesting hour-long docu out of Captain Mike Across America, Michael Moore's ungainly account of his 'Slacker Uprising' campaign to encourage young people to vote for John Kerry - and, more importantly, against George W Bush - during the 2004 US presidential election," writes Joe Leydon in Variety. "In its current form, however, this repetitious and self-indulgent hodgepodge comes across as a nostalgia-drenched vanity project, with far too much footage of various celebs at assorted gatherings introing Moore as the greatest thing since sliced bread." Updated through 9/14. "Captain Mike, which played to two packed houses of Toronto Mooreomaniacs, mixes the forms of a rock-concert movie (with reaction shots of adoring fans, including one woman holding a 'Hug me, Michael' sign) and Triumph of the Will (the star lands in a city, meets the locals, attends a rally with guest speakers, then wows the crowd himself)," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "For those who remain highly agitated by the results of the 2004 election, this picture, its upbeat 'we gotta keep fighting' coda notwithstanding, might play as a particularly unpleasant bout of scab-picking (hey, there's an alternate title for ya)," suggests Premiere's Glenn Kenny. This is "easily Moore's weakest film, a self-congratulatory mess that has nothing to say about the American political process and tells you everything you need to know about the numbing cult of personality that's sprung up around Moore," writes Cinematical's James Rocchi. "Why did Moore feel that this material needed to be so tediously regurgitated?" asks Ben Kenigsberg at Time Out Chicago. "Rather than inspiring his audience to action, Captain Mike does little other than call attention to the arrogance of the man who made it." "The single largest-scale vanity project since Caligula," says the Reeler's ST VanAirsdale. Update, 9/14: In the Guardian, Rory Carroll looks into Moore's claims in Sicko for the superiority of Cuba's health care system.
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Toronto. My Winnipeg."I think My Winnipeg is the finest, funniest, saddest film I've seen in Toronto or at any festival this year," announces Time's Richard Corliss. The night of its premiere, "Guy Maddin did live narration for his first 'documentary,' a valentine to his hometown," writes Ben Kenigsberg for Time Out Chicago. "It's Maddin's funniest film since Cowards Bend the Knee, and - as was to be expected - it's perhaps the loosest use of the term 'documentary' in film history." "Hell, let's be honest: My Winnipeg isn't about Winnipeg at all," writes Todd Brown at Twitch. "This is a film purely about Maddin himself as presented by himself and as such it will be embraced and beloved by Maddin enthusiasts - of which there are several around here - while completely baffling those outside the cult." "My Winnipeg taps into his last film, the eerie and humorously-wonderful Brand Upon the Brain!, and merges personal experience with city history through silent film and narration," writes Monika Bartyzel at Cinematical. "[T]he poetic, repetitive narration... has the same tone and liveliness of Brand.... [T]he continuing, roaring laughter from those around me assured me that this is more than just a cult gem. It's a memorable blending of art, experience and history." "Frankly, a little Maddin goes a long way for me," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "Based on the recreated family scenes alone, I'm kind of hoping that he makes a permanent transition from silent-movie pastiche to early sound, but that's probably not going to happen." AJ Schnack gathers more reviews. Conversations about My Winnipeg with Guy Maddin: Joe Friesen (Globe and Mail) and Chris Knight (National Post). Earlier: Jonathan Marlow. Update, 9/14: "[I]t is outrageous, illogical, hilarious, and imaginative, in short, Maddin in top form," writes Howard Feinstein for Filmmaker. Update, 9/27: Jason McBride in Cinema Scope: "Of course, this is no way to dispatch ghosts. And that's not really Maddin's aim. What he's really trying to figure out is how Winnipeg made him and how he, in turn, made it.... It's an incubator, a refuge. The train he rides keeps chugging along, its lethargic passengers lost in their dreams."
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Across the Universe."Julie Taymor's long-awaited Beatles-fueled musical seems to have split critics neatly into two camps," notes Karina Longworth, opening her review of Across the Universe at the SpoutBlog. "There are people like Aaron Dobbs and Anne Thompson, who give Taymor's spin art 60s pastiche an A for effort, but ultimately concede that the film could, at the very least, stand to have some rainbow-hued fat cut. Then there are the full-on haters, like the journalist I spoke to immediately after yesterday's press screening, who used the phrase 'literally retarded,' and Glenn Kenny, who compares the 'mortifyingly soft-headed' experience to 'watching Sesame Street. They're all right, and they're all wrong." For Ella Taylor, writing in the Voice, it "ends up both reductive and smugly condescending to a presumptively know-nothing audience." Then for Jason Clark, writing at Slant, this is "a two-hour-plus Forrest Gump-on-acid pageant tracking a group of idealistic, artistic souls through the Vietnam era, unfortunately plays more like one imagines next year's film version of Mamma Mia! will be: a catalog of pop tunes cobbled together via a rather trite and forgettable storyline, except here you can't dance along to 'Waterloo' at the end." "How is it possible for one of the premiere theatrical stylists of our era to make a movie filled with some of the most memorable pop songs ever written, and yet only achieve a few scattered moments of transcendence?" asks the AV Club's Noel Murray. Variety's Anne Thompson profiles Taymor. Christopher Campbell gathers comments from Taymor for the Reeler. Updates, 9/14: "Somewhere around its midpoint, Across the Universe captured my heart, and I realized that falling in love with a movie is like falling in love with another person," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Imperfections, however glaring, become endearing quirks once you've tumbled." "Would the visionary stage director Julie Taymor have embarked on this folly - a decades-late adaptation of songs by the Beatles as pretext for a story about social unrest - if she had seen Neil Jordan's Breakfast on Pluto, a glorious personal interpretation of Irish history through pop music?" asks Armond White in the New York Press. "Or would she have bothered shoe-horning the Beatles catalog into an operatic Iraq War allegory if she had seen Ken Russell's wildly inventive Tommy, the definitive interpretation of a classic work of rock music?" A "grandiose folly," writes Ray Pride. "Bono, performing 'I Am The Walrus,' and Eddie Izzard, as Mr Kite, are merely insufferable; the SDS and terrorism elements less offensive than oddly unenlightening and an anti-Catholic-cum-dervish musical number is just jejune. All you need is rewrite..." "Although her movie is certainly unique, Taymor clearly owes much to Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge," writes Jessica Reaves for the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times. "Even tunes that zip by too quickly on an album can feel overlong when they're being used as shallow illustrations of teen angst in the all-too-often-explored tumultuous 60s," notes Tasha Robinson at the AV Club. Update, 9/15: "Four decades may have passed since the Summer of Love, but our cultural fascination with the music, fashions and social upheaval of the 1960s refuses to fade away," begins a piece from Stephen Dalton in the London Times. Update, 9/19: "Pasting Beatles songs onto this storyline makes no more sense than scoring every Western set in the 1870s with the arias Verdi was composing at the time," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "But even those resistant to or unmoved by the story can appreciate Taymor's settings of the songs, and the arrangements by T-Bone Burnett and other studio masters."
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In the Valley of Elah.Picking up from the Venice entry, "Paul Haggis's In the Valley of Elah is vital in spite of its mustiness," writes David Edelstein in New York. "As a narrative, it's clunky. As a whodunit, it's third-rate. As the drama of a closed-off man's awakening, it's predictable. But Haggis has got hold of a fiercely urgent subject: the moral devastation of American soldiers serving in (and coming home from) Iraq. At its heart are deeper mysteries - and a tragedy that reaches far beyond anything onscreen." It's a "a mostly inoffensive detective film that's also a confused prestige picture about American soldiers fighting in Iraq," writes Chris Wisniewski for indieWIRE. "Haggis's film charts Hank's journey from certainty to uncertainty and from conviction to confusion, and [Tommy Lee] Jones, delivering one of his finest performances, almost makes Haggis's improbably telegraphed transformation believable." Updated through 9/14. "A synthesis of A Few Good Men and Norma Rae, In the Valley of Elah plays out as a calculated attempt to appeal to jockboy political science majors and the Daughters of the American Revolution," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant. "If that sounds like a nightmare, it mostly is, but when Haggis casts his sights on Emily Sanders ([Charlize] Theron), the film is almost tolerable, even as it stirs up bad memories of Theron's self-righteous Joan of Arc routine from North Country." "There are a lot of actors showing up in multiple films at Toronto, but Tommy Lee Jones stands apart with his performances in Paul Haggis's In the Valley of Elah and the Coen Bros adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's No Country For Old Men," blogs Sean Axmaker for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "It's not just the accomplishment of his performances, but the backbone of strength and integrity he provides each film." "It's a vital American story, and a rare assumption of responsibility for what we ask our soldiers to do, how we ignore them when they can't, and what happens next," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "My main problem with Elah is the same problem I have with the films Haggis has written for Clint Eastwood: they feel too 'writerly,'" writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "[H]e may be the most polarizing filmmaker since Michael Moore." Aaron Hillis talks with Haggis for IFC News. Updates, 9/14: "In the Valley of Elah is Haggis's attempt to weigh in on the second Iraq war, and weigh it does; it weighs and it weighs and in the final frames finally cuts loose positively revels in the weight of its own weightiness," writes Michelle Orange a the Reeler. "Elah is so heavy, in fact, that Haggis seems to have deemed simple properties of good narrative and efficient filmmaking beside the point. The weight is the point; just ask your ass as you finally dislodge it from under two-plus hours of leaden portent." "[C]onsidered strictly as a crime drama, In the Valley of Elah is a bit pedestrian, with a few too many set pieces, extraneous subplots and predictable turns," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "At heart it is a somber ballad about young men who remain lost in a dangerous, confusing place even after they come home." "In the Valley of Elah is designed to stress us out only so much: Instead of sending us home thinking about things in a way we never did before, it only meets - barely - the milder requirement of confirming things we already know," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "Even that would be OK if the movie worked adequately on dramatic terms." "This central story packs an undeniable punch, but the film's plodding, overstated style comes off as both needlessly busy - the central mystery feels unnecessarily drawn out, with new clues introduced at strategic intervals - and dumbed-down preachy," writes Andrew Wright in the Stranger. "But then there's Jones, whose resolutely nonlovable performance as a man increasingly adrift does what it can to transform the rampant sentimentality into honest sentiment. He can't single-handedly save this frustrating film from its overly earnest impulses, but when he's onscreen, at least the hokum burns cleaner." "[T]hough this film in fact does have something crucial to convey, this is not the way to go about it," writes Kenneth Turan. Also in the Los Angeles Times, Gina Piccalo profiles Jake McLaughlin, "a US Army infantryman whose battalion was the first on the ground for the invasion of Baghdad." He plays Specialist Gordon Bonner. "'A lot of people will say, "Oh it's an antiwar film,"' McLaughlin said. 'If anything, it's pro-soldier.'" "At its best, the film coolly mixes incisive political commentary with a case so engrossing it's tempting to whip out a notepad and jot down clues alongside Hank," writes Stephen Snart in the L Magazine. "At its worst, it stoops to liberal fear-mongering and weary television procedural standbys like the discovery of encrypted cell phone videos that manage to get unscrambled one by one, perfunctorily on cue to introduce plot points." "Where Crash relentlessly pushed every conflict to a fever pitch, Elah takes its cues from Tommy Lee Jones's low-simmering lead performance as a tradition-bound man who wants very badly to believe the best about his country, its leaders, and his family, in the face of evidence to the contrary," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "Haggis, despite the somber self-absorption that basically sinks the film (the final shot is a doozy!), isn't attempting a flower-in-the-rifle-barrel call for peace at any cost," writes Mark Keizer in the LA CityBeat. "Nor is he disrespecting the troops, aligning himself with terrorists, or advocating anti-Americanism. Whether the right wing likes it or not, generals plan the wars, but artists help weave their long-term effects into the cultural fabric." Online listening tip. Alex Chadwick talks to Haggis for NPR. Slate's Dana Stevens writes that the film "wants to be the Deer Hunter or Coming Home of the Iraq war, even if it veers at times into the tawdry territory of The General's Daughter. Because of two superb central performances from Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron - and because Haggis's heavy-handed message about the war happens to be true - the film is vividly painful to watch. At times, it's a police procedural, a lurid thriller, and a passionate anti-war manifesto. Needless to say, that's a tough combination to fit together." "I love the way Tommy Lee Jones acknowledges the change in his son, the changes in the army he faithfully served, the changes in the world we all inhabit," writes Time's Richard Schickel. "It's no more than a fleeting expression, a flicker in his eyes, and the result is not obvious anger or weary cynicism. It is a kind of acceptance that does not vitiate his desire to see justice done. This is, I think, a great performance by one of the great movie minimalists."
Posted by dwhudson at 6:01 AM
Toronto. Control and Joy Division."Directed by Grant Gee (Radiohead: Meeting People is Easy), Joy Division may not be as immediately striking as [Anton] Corbijn's [Control] - with its stark-yet-warm black-and-white photography and Sam Riley's performance as [Ian] Curtis - but it's just as compelling," writes Cinematical's James Rocchi, who also interviews Gee. "Just about everyone still living who had anything to do with the band chimes in on the doc, which benefits from director Grant Gee's ability to contextualize Joy Division's place in landscapes physical, sonic, and artistic," writes the San Francisco Bay Guardian's Cheryl Eddy. "[S]eeing the doc so soon after seeing Control made me truly appreciate actor Sam Riley's portrayal of Curtis. The resemblance is pretty spooky." "As sad as the Ian Curtis story is, Corbijn and his actors let so much air and light into the movie that it's never oppressive," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek of "the most beautiful-looking picture I've seen all year... What's most touching about "Control" is that it reminds us that these four guys making some very heavy music were really just kids. 'The movie doesn't try to make them into big mythological people,' Corbijn says. 'It's very down-to-earth, really. It's very human. It's basically the story of a young boy finding his way, and getting lost.'" Then: "Gee's movie dovetails perfectly with Corbijn's. He has a knack for nonfiction storytelling: He never resorts to frenetic editing to capture our attention, nor does he bore us to death with expository voiceovers." "Control smashes the music biopic mold by portraying the star at its center not as a mythological creature, but as a real-life, fucked-up kid in over his head," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "Particularly in the balance it finds between transcendence and dread in suburban family life, Control has a lot more in common with the British realism of the films of Mike Leigh than it does with even the recent wave of rock-star-as-antihero pics like Walk the Line." "Personally I prefer the doc, though it needs more performance footage, and it hits the same wall that Control does when it tries to explain how married working class bloke Ian Curtis wrote songs so bleakly, timelessly poetic," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. J Robert Parks offers a dissenting opinion on Control: "It's just a story I've seen too many times before, and this one doesn't have any larger context to provide a balance." "Verity definitely isn't the problem with this uncompromisingly bleak Ian Curtis biopic; it's just the task of making a biopic about Curtis at all that turns out to be the film's eventual undoing," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. Online viewing tip. Corbijn's on ReelerTV. Earlier: "Cannes. Control." Update, 9/14: Mike White: "Too often you'll find me kvetching about biopics. Auto Focus, The Notorious Bettie Page, The Man in the Moon - all of these films left me shaking my fist and crying out, 'Why couldn't I just see a decent documentary instead?'... This time, my cries were heeded and I was able to see Grant Gee's documentary, Joy Division. Wouldn't you know, I find myself a bigger fan of the biopic than the documentary." Update, 9/15: Stephen Dalton talks with Corbijn for the London Times: "The director intended Control to be 'more in the vein of Andrei Tarkovsky than Sid and Nancy.' But even this highbrow stylistic flourish is grounded in the gritty northern realism that helped to shape Joy Division’s urban, minimalist aesthetic." Update, 9/16: Paul Morley has a long piece in the Observer on the making of Control. Also, Carl Wilkinson lists ten "classic" rock biopics. Updates, 9/19: Karina Longworth proposes that it may be "useful to simply think of hauntology as a tool with which to posit Ian Curtis as spectral presence in Control, and Joy Division as the ghost haunting Manchester in Joy Division." Blogging for the Guardian, Sean Dodson sorts through the soundtrack. Updates, 9/25: "Initially I was dead against visiting the set of Control, the film about my father's life directed by photographer Anton Corbijn," writes Natalie Curtis in the Guardian. But she did go, met Sam Riley, who plays her father, and hung with Samantha Morton, who plays her mother, and stayed around long enough to be an extra in a few scenes, too. Related: Brian Brooks profiles Riley for indieWIRE and Craig Mclean interviews Morton for the Independent. More Morton: Chrissy Iley in the Guardian.
Slapstick Blog-a-Thon.It's wrapped, but it's archived, too: the Slapstick Blog-a-Thon, hosted by Thom at Film of the Year: "We've learned about slapstick conventions, shared new ways to look at slapstick films, recognized talented performers and creative filmmakers, including some truly obscure names from the past, discussed a few of the more contemporary slapstick moments on film, and a lot more."
Posted by dwhudson at 5:40 AM
Venice. 12."Sidney Lumet turned Reginald Rose's fine play 12 Angry Men into a splendid movie in 1957 and it has been revisited on stage and television but never better than in Russian filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov's triumphant new film version titled simply 12," announces Ray Bennett in the Hollywood Reporter. "The essential debate about democratic justice remains, but making the defendant a Chechen youth charged with killing his Russian stepfather permits an illuminating exploration of the post-Soviet era as each juror reveals his background, life choices and prejudices."
Posted by dwhudson at 5:38 AM
September 11, 2007
Toronto Dispatch. 3.Entries for TIFF highlights are taking shape; look for several towards the end of the week. In the meantime, David D'Arcy has a recommendation for you. I haven't seen much horror at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, but I can recommend Stuck by Stuart Gordon, a dark tale of an accident gone awry - if that's not a conceptual oxymoron. A nursing home aid, driving home drunk and zonked on pills, gets distracted by her cell phone and hits a homeless man who goes head-first through her windshield and just stays there, bleeding and groaning, pleading for help. That's why they call it Stuck. Instead of reporting the accident - she's expecting a promotion at work and needs a raise desperately - she drives home and tries to make it all go away. As Richard Nixon and many others eventually learn, the cover-up can be a lot worse than the crime. Now, the accident that inspired Stuck actually happened. About five years ago in Fort Worth, Texas, a "caregiver" from a local nursing home did hit a homeless man and drove him back to her house with his body halfway through the shattered windshield. The man begged to be treated at a hospital and bled to death after three days when the driver failed to help him. The driver, who made the mistake of talking about the accident which no one had witnessed, is now serving a 50-year term in a Texas prison. You might say she's gotten off light, considering that Texas executes far more prisoners than any other state in the nation. I won't give away how Stuck ends, but it begins with Brandi (Mena Suvari) on the way home to her bad-ass boyfriend, Rashid (Russell Hornsby); the man she hits is newly-evicted Tom (Stephen Rea), who is crossing the street with a shopping cart in the middle of the night after a cop has just rousted him off the park bench where he was sleeping. It's the old comedy of errors scenario. It seems so obvious that Brandi won't be able to get away with getting rid of a living bleeding body, yet she tries just the same, enlisting dope-dealer Rashid, who turns out to be a lot less ballsy than he would like you to think. The script by John Strysik is the classic story of an innocent person who becomes a criminal by trying to hide the truth and avoiding responsibility for her actions. There's also a socio-economic side to this movie that Marxist critics would love. Tom, the victim, is also a victim of downsizing. Jobless, he's evicted from his rented room, and he heads out, clothes in a shopping cart, for an appointment at an employment agency with an application that he's told to mail in. The police throw him out of a "public" park, and that's when Brandi thunders into him and he vaults into her car. Bloody Rea should get an Oscar nomination for his role as a half-dead man oozing all over the screen, that is if Stuck - below the commercial radar screen at this festival - gets a distributor and a release.
September 10, 2007
Jane Wyman, 1914 - 2007.Where did Jane Wyman's greatest fame lie? Was it as an Oscar-winning actress? For her frequent work with Douglas Sirk in the 1950s? As the first wife of a future US president? As the wicked matriarch on one of the lesser nighttime soap operas of the 1980s? The answer probably varies from person to person as they recall Wyman, who passed away this morning at 93. Edward Copeland. See also: Claudia Luther (Los Angeles Times), Reel Classics and the Wikipedia.
Toronto Dispatch. 2."It's all true," comes the word from Jonathan Marlow. "Except, of course, for the parts invented for the sake of convenience. A parting gift, if you will, since the next few days will likely see my last words that you'll find among these pages." Damn. But we've got him for the duration of the Toronto International Film Festival. From Venice to Telluride to Toronto - if you're fortunate enough to live in these cities, or to be able to travel to them, during the month of September, you will find yourself overwhelmed by an entire year's worth of motion pictures packed into a handful of days. One screening leads to another. One day into the next. One week blurs into the week that follows. Print and, increasingly, online journalists suffer these days in the dark to protect you from the horrible pictures and promote the remarkable ones that might otherwise go unnoticed. A public service, perhaps, but not one that will likely find much sympathy from the reader. You're looking for a verdict, even in light of the expected biases and the unreliability of the juror. "Get on with it," you'll say. You'd be right to say it. How does one make such an experience more manageable? An option, though not always particularly useful, it to find arbitrary unifiers or themes that can cross or connect otherwise unrelated films. For instance, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, fresh off of its Venice win for its actor/producer (who arguably gives the lesser performance here) surfaced in Toronto beautifully photographed but overly long. Much that fails to resonate in the movie could be solved with some trimming of unnecessary narration - sequences that feature the dodgiest imagery and the worst bits of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis's plaintive score. Werner Herzog's latest, Encounters at the End of the World, documents iconoclasts of the non-criminal sort. Throughout the southern-most point on the globe, the filmmaker ventures to various outposts of scientific research, speaking with a number of fascinating people that he finds along the way. While not consistently great, it is never tiresome and genuinely shows the continent and its few inhabitants without an overwhelming agenda. What thin thread holds this film to the other? Herzog and James were born on the same day. Granted, many years apart.
Posted by dwhudson at 10:02 AM
Interview. David Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen."If an audience is seeing a movie to live another life - which I think is one of the attractions of seeing movies; you get to be out of your own life and live some other life that maybe you [wouldn't] ever really want to live but you're curious about - so, I'm saying, if you're a Nikolai in the movie, then you're going to experience this. I'm not going to throw it away, do it off camera, and do it frivolously. All the hard work and the difficulty of killing someone, if that's what this character has to do, I want you to feel it and see it." That's David Cronenberg, talking to Michael Guillén at the main site about his new film, Eastern Promises. Also on hand to talk about this character, Nikolai, is the man who plays him, Viggo Mortensen. Updated through 9/16. Updates: "Eastern Promises (a flaccid title for such a taut film) has some sensational set pieces," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "But at heart it's a two-family drama... The movie doesn't rise above its genre conventions so much as it burrows into them, finding complexities and contradictions in the standard tropes." "Violence is to threat, in his movies, as punch line is to joke: a source of glee to his fans, although with every year I find it less amusing," writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. "Does it honestly drive home the malice of Semyon, Nikolai, and their rivals to see a knife blade gouging a throat, or does the image not pride itself on its flourish of Guignol and thus divert attention from the main business of Eastern Promises, which is to delve into the spiritual sump where these characters live?" Mortensen's "character here is nowhere near as layered as in A History of Violence, and neither is the movie," writes David Edelstein in New York. "Eastern Promises is finally conventional, even sentimental - or as sentimental as a film in which a knife gets driven through someone's eyeball into his brain in a gruelingly extended medium close-up can be. There's nothing comparable to the mirror-image sex scenes between Mortensen and Maria Bello that anchored History - only a lot of [Naomi] Watts trudging back and forth with that damn diary-McGuffin." "The story is clear-cut, which is something of a bummer after the heady, one-two punch of the serpentine Spider and iconic splendor of A History of Violence, but Cronenberg's exquisite framing provides the film with arresting psychological dimensions; only Polanski is better at framing the world along diagonal lines, but Cronenberg's images are more insinuating, leaving one feeling wary of what may be bubbling beneath the surface of things," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant. Online listening tip. At IFC News, Matt Singer and Alison Willmore discuss the film. Updates, 9/12: "I've said it before and hope to again: David Cronenberg is the most provocative, original, and consistently excellent North American director of his generation," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "From Videodrome (1983) through A History of Violence (2005), neither Scorsese nor Spielberg, and not even David Lynch, has enjoyed a comparable run.... As slick as it is, Eastern Promises could, like A History of Violence, almost pass for an exceptionally well-made B-movie." And Nathan Lee interviews Cronenberg. "David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises is a failed film," declares Andrew Tracy at Reverse Shot. "And it fails for a reason which many critics consider banal and irrelevant (a good indication of its continuing truth): the script is Bad." "[T]his isn't a mystery story so much as a cool look at the extremes individuals will go to to achieve an end," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "Containing one of the most cinematically virtuosic set pieces of Cronenberg's career - a bone-crunching battle in a bathhouse that Mortensen (whose performance is entirely remarkable) plays in the nude - Eastern Promises is nonetheless one of Cronenberg's subtlest, most insinuating pictures." "Without spoiling too much, Eastern Promises plays out exactly like A History of Violence in reverse," writes Martin Tsai at cinemaattraction. "Nothing wrong with that, since A History of Violence is such a triumphant meta-thriller." "It's essentially an efficient gangland mini-saga, dressed up in stylish, not always well-fitting Cronenberg clothes," writes Noel Murray. Also at the AV Club: "I couldn't dig up much behind the surface, which is either my failing or his," writes Scott Tobias. For the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Kimberley Chun interviews Cronenberg (and has more at Pixel Vision), while Michelle Devereaux talks with Mortensen; and Gina Piccalo talks with Mortensen for the Los Angeles Times. Updates, 9/14: "I often think about David Lynch when I think about David Cronenberg, and vice versa," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "These two cult heroes are so dissimilar in so many ways, yet they attract similar audiences and draw their water, so to speak, from the same deep wells. Both are informed simultaneously by classic genre movies and by European art film. Both draw on the subconscious in their movies, both are attracted to the grotesque at least as much as the sublime. (You could say that both find each element in the other one.) If you ask me, Lynch could use a little more of Cronenberg's cool control, and Cronenberg could use a dose of Lynch's intuitive dream logic. But that's a topic for another time." At any rate, he, too, has an interview with Cronenberg, which you can read and/or listen to. "Mr Cronenberg's deliberate, almost stately pacing - the way he lingers in scenes for an extra beat or two, as if studying the faces of his actors for clues - transforms what might have been a routine thriller into something genuinely troubling," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Eastern Promises, like [screenwriter Steve Knight's Dirty Pretty Things and Amazing Grace], is fundamentally about the moral scandal of slavery, the traffic in human bodies and human misery that persists, in secret and in the shadows, even in the modern, cosmopolitan West." "[W]here once Cronenberg created veritably uncomfortable movie experiences ranging from exploitation horror (Shivers) to nightmarish sci-fi (Videodrome) to ludicrous perversion (Crash), he now seems entirely at home indulging viewer comfort," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine. "Since many of the encomiums doled out to Violence bordered on the delusional, it'll be interesting to read the contorted excuses given on behalf of Eastern Promises, an extension of Violence not in aim - it makes no attempt to expose a hypocritical social, cultural, or familial framework - but in tone, in its bathos that pretends the tragic dimensions of Serious Drama." "For a director so frequently devoted to the transgressive, Eastern Promises offers a different kind of spectacle: Cronenberg on auto-pilot," writes Vadim Rizov at the Reeler. "His chilly style is firmly in place, along with the requisite moments of gore; unfortunately, what he's serving up is sub-par Oscar-bait." "Cronenberg delivers his most lifeless movie to date, an unrepentant hack-job that can neither satisfy on a narrative level or disturb on a stylistic level," writes Bilge Ebiri for Nerve. Cronenberg is "interested in the social uses of violence, whether as a tool of the powerful, a rite of initiation, or an erotic game," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "And even when - here as in A History of Violence - you're not quite sure what his meditations on the subject add up to, you leave his movies feeling unsettled in the best sense. Eastern Promises is only deceptively genre-bound; it's a conventional gangster film that morphs, Jeff Goldblum-style, into something far richer and stranger." "[A]mong his countrymen, Cronenberg is an aberration as puzzling as any genetic mutation his films have described," notes Shane Danielson, blogging for the Guardian. "His sensibility is not refined. He is driven, sordid, faintly dangerous - the latter, not a term commonly associated with Canadian filmmaking, or indeed Canadian art in general. Yet unlike many of his peers, who have decamped to Hollywood to make careers as ersatz American film-makers (Ivan Reitman, James Cameron, Norman Jewison, Paul Haggis), he has remained mainly in his own country." "Eastern Promises has a lot going for it, which makes it all the more disappointing when the story takes a fatal turn towards the end," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "Not to give any spoilers, but it's the sort of audacious plot turn that some audiences will accept, while others won't; I'm in the latter category, and this script flaw made me start noticing other implausibilities like rapidly healing tattoos and well-behaved, heroin-addicted newborns." "[W]hat's so fascinating about Cronenberg's progress is the way in which his films virtually always reveal something of his distinctive approach and ongoing preoccupations even when their milieus seem virtually antithetical to his established horror/sci-fi background," writes Josef Braun in Vue Weekly. "The director's career has in some ways been a reprise of the greatest fears of the 1950s, so it makes sense that technophobia and fear of the unrecognizable self have given way to xenophobia and fear of the unrecognizable society," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "Cronenberg brings his usual cool intensity to the film, but not his usual gift for getting under the surface of things," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club. "For all the moments of visceral shock (which are many and memorable), the film remains unexpectedly bloodless." "When one fluke is joined by a second, similar fluke, they're not flukes anymore," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "The joint gravitational pull of A History of Violence and the new Eastern Promises forces a change in what constitutes a 'characteristic' Cronenberg film." "[I]t seems like Cronenberg has made the movie for one reason, and one reason only: Mortensen's body," suggests Anthony Kaufman. "A new Godfather trilogy may be in the works," suggests Brad Brevet in the Stranger. "Eastern Promises is audacious in its simplicity and pared-down qualities," writes Ray Pride. "There's so much more here than a stylized Russian mafia story and the fact of contemporary sex slavery." "Eastern Promises is a pretty hollow viewing experience," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "Too bad Cronenberg didn't get the Dirty Pretty Things script; that story about illegal trafficking in body parts might have been ideal for him." At any rate, Jennifer Merin talks with Cronenberg. "After 2005's scathing A History of Violence, it didn't seem possible for the Canadian native to possibly be able to top himself, but with the bold, tight Eastern Promises, he actually does," writes Matt Mazur at PopMatters. Updates, 9/15: "Knight throws in a twist that scrambles the movie’s moral compass so late in the game, so perfunctorily and so pointlessly, as to render any final reckoning incoherent," writes Mark Asch for Stop Smiling. "But, lest we savage a screenwriter to salvage an auteur, let us at least note that Cronenberg’s deployment of Howard Shore’s damp score... hits the same generic marks as their collaboration in A History of Violence, with none of the quotation marks; that under his direction, Peter Suschitzky’s cinematography... buys into Knight’s Two Londons schematic; and that, on Knight’s side of the ledger, the archetypal dynamic between Mortensen, [Armin] Mueller-Stahl, and [Vincent] Cassel is anchored by flavorsome dialogue, well-delivered in low Russian and accented English." Eastern Promises "manages to be a surprisingly superficial gangster picture, ploddingly directed with a minimum of passion or visual invention," writes Michael Koresky for indieWIRE. "In fact, Eastern Promises, even when it snaps out of its narrative somnolence, seems almost mechanical in its deploying of its director's greatest hits: when does a trope just become a mannerism?" Ryan Stewart brings up a point other reviewers have mentioned as well: "As for Naomi Watts, she has a more or less thankless role as the straight woman reacting to events around her and trying to protect the baby." "It begins like a Cronenbergian horror movie, and becomes... a Cronenberg gangster movie - an elemental struggle between good and evil, life and death, east and west, blood and money, trust and betrayal, commerce and morality, mind and body," writes Jim Emerson. "Remember, that's 'elemental,' not 'simplistic.'" Update, 9/16: "When you have a culture that's embedded in another, there's a constant tension between the two," Cronenberg tells Katrina Onstad, who notes in the New York Times: "While Eastern Promises was shooting last year in London, the Russian dissident spy Alexander Litvinenko was fatally poisoned. In Hyde Park, about a half block from where Mr Cronenberg and much of his team were staying, traces of radioactive polonium were found in a building owned by the Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, one of the accused in Mr Litvinenko's murder."
Latinbeat, 9/10.The Latinbeat series runs through September 18 at the Walter Reade Theater in New York. Here, James van Maanen offers takes on several films screening in the next few days. A little more than halfway through Four Barefoot Women (screening again tomorrow, Tuesday, at 4:30 pm), a quiet, slow-moving but generally fascinating film about four middle-aged, modern-day Argentines, I found myself wondering if the movie had been directed by a woman or a man. I was heavily leaning toward the former, but no, it turns out the director is Santiago Loza, and I can't help wondering what women think of this attempt (a damn good one, I feel) by a male to explore the thoughts, actions, inactions and general condition of women's lives in a country that has not given its citizens - male or female - much stability over the decades. Updated. Loza, who gave us Extraño a few years back, brings this group to life with humor, sadness and pain (once scene in particular should provoke more than a mere "Ouch!"). Religion, life/death, money, sex, employment, unwanted phone calls, mothers and children occupy their minds and bodies and offer the viewer, by extension, plenty to mull over. Odd as these women may seem initially, they grow into surprisingly full-bodied characters. A primitive movie about primitive people, Russian writer/director Kirill Mikhanovsky's Fish Dreams (Wednesday at 6:15 pm) tracks a young man who makes his living by diving into the sea for whatever fish or crustaceans he can find. We learn a little - very little - about him, the girl he fancies, his coworkers and some of the townspeople of the seaside village where he resides. By "primitive," I don't mean that the film is set in the prehistoric past (this is definitely the present), but rather that our lead characters seem unable to think clearly, let alone communicate. They fish by day and watch soap operas at night, but there is not much connection between the two. (A mother likens her daughter to a character on the soap, but communication doesn't go much farther than this.) In the end, people make such ridiculous decisions that all you can do is shrug. The filmmaker seems content to observe and observe and observe, spending far too much time watching villagers push boats into the water (and a giant-screen TVs into a house). Mikhanovsky has found an extremely likeable and photogenic lead actor in José Maria Alves, and the other characters are believable, as far as they are allowed to behave. But after nearly an hour and 45 minutes, I would have expected to learn - and maybe even feel - something more about these people and their plight. I'll remember the movie, its characters (to an extent) and certainly the locale, but, as usual, when I see almost anything set in Brazil, I come away thinking about how rotten it is that its people are left in such near-complete and constant disarray. Films like Fish Dreams seem to appear and win awards (this one has won several) simply by virtue of their offering up the third world, slackly, in all its primitive appeal. Fair enough, I suppose. But, what the hell: in its own way, an exploitation movie like Turistas (also set on and near the beaches of Brazil) makes for more intelligent, certainly more rousing - and even politically correct - viewing. Writer-director Andrés Di Tella calls his documentary Fotographías (tonight at 6:15 pm) a personal essay about his mother, based on a box of photos left to him by his father. With his pre-teen son, he travels to his mom's birthplace in India to retrieve it, and they meet, for the first time, a number of relatives. This sounds like a fascinating journey, but in the rather bizarre hands, eyes and mind of Di Tella, we learn practically nothing more than we could from a curt plot summary. If the director is suffering from palsy or bad arthritis, I sympathize. Otherwise, couldn't he have held his camera just a bit more firmly? I can't recall another film this headache-inducing from the sheer, non-stop wobbly-ness of its camera-work. Every time fact or other about the mother appears on the verge of coalescing, Di Tella seems to take pleasure in robbing us of the moment. Yes, I realize that the character of one's parent is not easy to ferret out (see 51 Birch Street for further verification). Still, I felt I actually knew his mom better before the movie than after it. Even after such nifty, upscale, rapid-paced crime capers as Lucky Number Slevin, Nine Queens and its good American remake, Criminal, Bluff (today at 1:45 pm) adds a few twists to the repertoire: a narrator who talks to the camera; characters who are so venal, stupid and nasty that we couldn't care less what happens to them; and a sense of humor that pervades even the most unpleasant moments. This is certainly the most "mainstream" movie I've encountered from Colombia (granted I have not seen that many), so I would not be surprised to find it in American art-houses sooner than later. Everything about the film - from its slick photography and editing, to its clever writing and swift direction - is pretty near the top of the genre. The only caveat here is that this genre, even at its best, remains a little less than first-rate. One of Bluff's saving graces, however, is that, rather than providing us with twist upon twist and double-cross after double-cross, the plot instead relies more on chance and character for its resolution. Which, in the end, makes it more interesting, even surprising, than certain others of its ilk. Immigration, the theme of Latinbeat's opening film, La Misma Luna, gets another going-over via the Tania Cypriano's Brazilian/US documentary My Grandmother Has a Video Camera (tomorrow at 6:30 pm). Ms Cypriano tracks her grandmother, as well as her entire extended family, as they move, little by little from Brazil to the US - some legally, some (it appears) maybe not. But then the American Dream darkens, and they go home, only to return and then depart, return and depart. Along the way, the filmmaker toggles between the workplace and leisure - finding the arrangement bizarre for one major family member, who seems to have worked her entire life to earn money that she uses to return to Brazil for vacations. Cypriano must also come to terms with her own naturalization proceedings, which she finds troubling. This is not exactly the kind of immigrant story Americans are used to seeing, and it broadens our horizons considerably, I think. Also on this program are two shorts from Central America: Temporal from Costa Rica, the screener for which claimed to have English subtitles but did not, and Pinta the Bird from El Salvador. Both narratives make use of their respective country's beautiful and colorful location. At 22 minutes, Temporal is undoubtedly the more engaging of the two; in terms of story and style, Pinta the Bird, barely ten minutes in length, is simplicity incarnate. Update: Another quick note on the Latinbeat series from James van Maanen. Viewers of a certain age might be forgiven for thinking first of Melina Mercouri and Jules Dassin when they hear the title Never on Sunday (Morirse en Domingo), to be shown tomrrow at 2 pm and on Wednesday at 8:45 pm. A better - and more correct - translation for this very black comedy from Mexico might be "Don't Die on Sunday." The film begins with the last breaths of an expiring uncle to some sad, slow musical strains and then, on a dime, turns ice-cold funny. Had the film ended about half an hour sooner and kept its temperature at freezing, it might have been a classic. But the introduction and handling of a maybe-love story attenuates the story and softens its blows. Still, there are not many comedies this dark that follow the trail of a corpse with such redolent style (and smell), all the while exposing Mexican corruption from the petty to the maximal. Writer Antonio Armonia and director Daniel Gruener (Sobrenatural) have concocted a ruthless and funny tale of users doing what they do best that should delight fans of bleak humor. The cast assembled is crackerjack, too - alternately amusing us and then creeping us out.
Earlier: Michael Guillén spoke with Gruener in January.
September 9, 2007
Fall previews. NYT, LAT, etc. September.The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times have run their fall preview packages, meaning it's time to revisit the season's release schedule, do a little reshuffling and have ourselves a linkfest. Here we go: September 12
Fall previews. NYT, LAT, etc. October.Cinephiles usually spend most of October revisiting horror classics or wallowing, guilt-free, in the trashy pleasures of the Halloween season. There'll be new trash, too, this month, but plenty of promising alternatives as well. October 3:
Posted by dwhudson at 4:14 PM
Fall previews. NYT, LAT, etc. November.Release dates are not only subject to change, of course, they're also, admittedly, pretty New York-centric. But then, when they play in NYC, that's when you're going to be hearing all about them. November 2:
Posted by dwhudson at 4:04 PM