October 31, 2007

Fests and events, 10/31.

The Trespasser "Thursday at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science's Linwood Dunn Theater, The Trespasser will have its first screening in Los Angeles in decades." This is a movie with a great story behind it and Susan King tells it. Also in the Los Angeles Times, Mark Olsen previews AFI Fest, opening tomorrow and running through November 11.

Romania "has no business being so exciting onscreen because (a) it's Romania, for god's sake, still hobbling out of Nicolae Ceausescu's 20th-century dark ages, and (b) it only produces six features per year. They can't all be good, can they? Oh yes, they can." Dennis Harvey previews Revolutions in Romanian Cinema, running at the Pacific Film Archive from Saturday through December 9.

Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Cheryl Eddy: "Marking National American Indian Heritage Month, the American Indian Film Festival kicks off with a pair of ballet-dancer biographies." Friday through November 10. More from Eve O'Neill at SF360.

Plus, Harvey on Red State Cinema: Rural Auteurs, tomorrow through November 16.

"Ostensibly an annual plunge into the Jewish diaspora as it has taken seed all over the planet, the Boston Jewish Film Festival has always been more about the tenuous experience of that global community than about great films," writes Michael Atkinson in the Boston Phoenix. Tomorrow through November 11.

Videogrammes of a Revolution "In the film Videogrammes of a Revolution (1992) by the German experimental filmmaker Harun Farocki and his Romanian colleague Andrei Ujica we are catapulted back into the events in Romania in December 1989, which led to the execution of the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Yet the film shows that what we don't see may be just as important as what we see." See Us Act is an exhibition at the Lunds Konsthall through November 11.

Michael Guillén reviews three films from Lebanon that have screened at the Arab Film Festival.

The Observer's Jason Solomons reviews the highlights of the London Film Festival. Also: "There is now an established cinematic language of stripped-down, jittery naturalism that is a good fit for investigations into the harsh brutalities of the current Middle East conflicts, but it's not easy to get it right: even [Michael] Winterbottom allowed it to get horribly diluted on A Mighty Heart," writes the Guardian's Andrew Pulver, reviewing Battle for Haditha. "But [Nick] Broomfield, as he showed in his anti-gangmaster fusillade Ghosts, is a true adept."

"Somerset may be about to earn the title of Britain's sauciest county: it is to host the first ever British erotic film festival next June," writes Francesca Martin in the Guardian.

Bath Film Festival For the Independent, Charlotte Cripps previews the Bath Film Festival, running Thursday through November 11.

The Denver Film Festival (November 8 through 18) turns 30 this year and the Denver Post's Lisa Kennedy counts the ways the city'll be celebrating. Via Movie City News. More from Peter Nellhaus.

"The Gijón International Film Festival, in the Spanish region of Asturias, has recently unveiled portions of the main programme of its 45th edition, which runs from November 22 - December 1," reports Vitor Pinto. Also at Cineuropa, Fabien Lemercier: "Having opened last Friday with Emir Kusturica's Promise Me This, the 29th edition of the Mediterranean Film Festival in Montpellier will be in full swing until November 4."

"Although one may instantly presume that Turkey has only one international film festival to offer, in the form of Istanbul, it is in fact Antalya that garners the most prestige and respect, as the country's oldest and more lavishly funded," writes Kerem Bayraktaroglu at indieWIRE.

At Filmmaker, Jason Sanders has the award-winners from the Hawaii International Film Festival.

"Genna Terranova, former Vice President of Acquisitions at the Weinstein Company, has joined the Tribeca Film Festival as senior programmer," notes Gillian Reagan at the New York Observer. "Co-founder Jane Rosenthal also announced that the festival will create a year-round department."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:29 PM | Comments (2)

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), 10/31.

The Shining "I asked the world to send me a list of 31 films that scared the pee out of them," writes Ed Hardy Jr. "Many more people than I would have thought possible heard, and answered, the call. 183 films were nominated and voted on. The resulting list is not perfect, but it is a fascinating picture of what our little community considers canonical horror cinema."

"From fetid canals to glitzy high rises, the physical aspects of his home city of Amsterdam repeatedly inform [Dick] Maas's [site] work..., at once serving to ground his films in the believable everyday world, display how the everyday can be horrifying, and present a distinctly Dutch take on the horror/thriller genre." Not Coming to a Theater Near You wraps its 31 Days of Horror with Dark Passages: The Films of Dick Maas, a collection of four pairs of succinct takes on four films: Leo Goldsmith and Thomas Scalzo on The Lift; Adam Balz and Rumsey Taylor on Amsterdamned; Balz and Jenny Jediny on Silent Witness; and Goldsmith and Jediny on The Shaft.


"Fuck hyperbole - George A Romero's debut film Night of the Living Dead may be the purest horror film ever made," proposes Rob Humanick, capping off his 31 Days of Zombie! Related: a double bill at Facets Features: "Remakes generally fall into the "bad idea" category, but on occassion one comes along that holds its own against the original work," writes Phil Morehart. "Tom Savini's Night of the Living Dead (1990) is one such film. Yes, George A Romero's 1968 original is an untouchable zombie masterpiece, but Savini brings a unique flair to the events, most notably regarding the undead."

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein "Like Bram Stoker's Dracula, its much more successful companion piece, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein aspires to combine the intellectual depth and philosophical preoccupations of art with the visceral, lurid sensuality of pulp - a feat Coppola, who produced Frankenstein, also pulled off in The Godfather," blogs Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "Instead Frankenstein combines the ridiculousness of pulp with the pretensions of art."

"[T]he modern haunted house film is fundamentally about gentrification," argues Sam J Miller in PopPolitics. "Again and again we see fictional families move into spaces from which others have been violently displaced, and the new arrivals suffer for that violence even if they themselves have done nothing wrong."

"Now this is how to make a list," writes Jim Emerson, pointing to Richard Corliss's "Top 25 Horror Movies" for Time. "Argue all you like with RC's choices (that is the point), this list strikes me as a brilliant balancing of the expected and the unexpected, the mainstream and the marginal, from 1896 to 2004." Also, there's his own "4 undervalued scary movies on DVD."

"Over the next six months, a crew of able young women will be duking it out for audience affection in an array of horror-thrillers that will showcase the power of the Y chromosome," writes Rachel Abramowitz in the Los Angeles Times. Among them: Rachel Nichols (P2), Jessica Alba (Awake), Emily Browning and Arielle Kebbel (A Tale of Two Sisters, "a redo of the highest-grossing Korean horror film of all time"), Brittany Snow (Prom Night, "the remake of the Jamie Lee Curtis artifact from the 1980s") and Sarah Michelle Gellar (Possession, "another Asian redo").

At Bright Lights After Dark, C Jerry Kutner casts a ballot: "This is my ranked list of 31 Essential Horror Films culled from Ed Hardy, Jr's 183 Official Nominees for the 31 Flicks That Give You the Willies List." Also, Erich Kuersten recommends Let's Scare Jessica to Death: "A fine example of a 'is she is or is she ain't a nutcase' horror picture that's lived a consistently below-the-radar life since its brief theatrical premiere in 1971, Jessica contains almost no gore but watching it alone late at night a few months ago, I finally understood the term 'spine-tingling.'"

Testament of Doctor Cordelier Doug Cummings has a recommendation, too. The Testament of Doctor Cordelier is "a pretty fun and fascinating film, both as a dark variant on Renoir's typical themes and as a technological experiment: the film was shot with multiple cameras and long takes to capture the actors' energy with few interruptions and prove that feature films could be made cheaply with television methods. (Hitchcock would himself use a black-and-white television crew to film 1960's Psycho.)"

For Craig Keller, the last 15 minutes of Michael Curtiz's Doctor X "are among the greatest in all of American cinema."

The Hollywood Bitchslap team names their Halloween picks.

For the Guardian, Jeremy Dyson pits Christopher Lee's Dracula against Max Schreck's Nosferatu. Related: At Cinematical, Jeffrey M Anderson on Murnau's Nosferatu and Richard von Busack on Werner Herzog's Nosferatu. Meanwhile, the Dracula Blogged project rolls on, a reminder from Thom at a Film of the Year, where he's also pointing to Frankensteinia and Final Girl, devoted to "the slasher flicks of the 70s and 80s."

"As someone who's required to pay attention to cinematic trends, I think it's reasonable to assume that studios and other purveyors of film and video products now anticipate the weeks leading up to Halloween with same drooling relish they once reserved for the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas," writes Gary Dretzka at Movie City News. "Although there's never been a drought in the supply of fresh horror flicks, the quantity, quality and diversity of niche titles has never been greater."

Michael Guillén notes that Herschell Gordon Lewis will be on hand for two "outstandingly rare screenings of The Wizard of Gore in San Francisco at midnight on Friday and Saturday. And Cheryl Eddy talks with him for the Bay Guardian.

Dennis Cooper's been posting Halloween entries and tops off the series today with a 1991 essay on the Friday the 13th movies.

"The Others directly recalls and inverts Jack Clayton's masterful Deborah Kerr vehicle The Innocents," writes cnw for Reverse Shot. "Like that film, it relies almost entirely on cinematic form - shot composition, sound, and lighting - to evoke fear, and hinges on a remarkably effective, histrionic star turn from its female lead, as well as formidable supporting performances, particularly by the children."

"The Tall Man has to be one of the best original monsters of the past few decades." Adam Ross revisits Phantasm.

Them! David Austin's got three capsule reviews at Cinema Strikes Back: The Manitou, Feast and Them!

At Cinematical, Monika Bartyzel lists seven "Halloween Flicks That Could Ruin Relationships." And James Rocchi rounds up Cinematical's Halloween madness. It's been going on all month, you know.

Catch up with Sam Katzman, suggests the New York Post's Lou Lumenick.

For Shahn, it's Robert Siodmak's The Spiral Staircase.

Ted Pigeon looks back on "Memorable 'Slasher' Title Sequences."

Via Dwight Garner comes news that John Updike is writing a sequel to The Witches of Eastwick: The Widows of Eastwick.

John Coulthart's got a Halloween playlist, a followup to last year's list. Related: Kenji Fujishima at the House Next Door on Gustav Mahler's "unsettling" Sixth Symphony. Michael Tully's got a scary tune for you, too.

Online browsing tip. I Am as You Will Be: The Skeleton in Art at Cheim & Read, via Coudal Partners, where you can read and/or listen to Jim's essay, "All Hallows'."

Online browsing tips. Kimberly Lindbergs rounds up several fun links.

Online viewing tips, round 1. 10 Zen Monkeys presents "10 Best Monster Ads."

Online viewing tips, round 2. The Guardian's Kate Stables has eight shorts for you. And more from Phil Hoad.

Online viewing tips, round 3. Andrew Bemis's Halloween trailers.

Updates: Really fine piece from Noel Vera:

An especially vivid passage from Dickens's Oliver Twist gives us, I think, a clue as to why Romero's zombies are so much more memorable [than the running kind]:

- these fears were nothing compared to the sense that haunted him of that morning's ghastly figure following at his heels.... He could hear its garments rustling in the leaves, and every breath of wind came laden with that last low cry. If he stopped, it did the same. If he ran, it followed - not running too - that would have been a relief - but like a corpse endowed with the mere machinery of life, and borne on one slow melancholy wind that never rose and fell.

See, it's those words, "it followed - not running too - that would have been a relief," that nail it for me. Romero's zombies are frightening because they're never in a hurry; they operate on a different sense of time from our own, and we feel, no matter how fast we run, that they will somehow overtake us - if not now, later; if not today, tomorrow. With today's sprinting zombies, you feel as if a tranquilizer and a long hot shower might help improve their mood. Not so with Romero's undead: they seem as inevitable as the cold that will someday creep up our bones, and invariably, inevitably claim us for its own.

"So, the big question, of course, and it's a valid one, is why?" At Reverse Shot, robbiefreeling on Rob Zombie's Halloween: "[L]ike Tarantino, who with the great Kill Bill Vol 1 and Death Proof has been moving toward ever-more inventive ways of reappropriating pop culture, Zombie is smart about playing with audience's expectations as well as emotions. Kill Bill seemed the ne plus ultra of epic pop collage (it created its own symphony of colors, sounds, and cinematic intuition); and Death Proof took seemingly familiar 'trash' tropes and then stretched and pulled time like taffy, creating an entirely new experience, almost a visual essay, on the very films Tarantino only seemed to be aping. Halloween isn't quite so heady an experience, but in subtly shifting perception, in making us identify with Michael Myers (a shocking, sickening prospect for the audience), we engage with the film's mythology in new, invigorating ways."

At the SpoutBlog, Karina Longworth has more online viewing - fun stuff.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:47 AM | Comments (2)

Croatian Cinema. 3.

On Monday, James Van Maanen reviewed three films screening as part of Beyond Boundaries: The Emergence of Croatian Cinema. Today, he talks with the directors. See, too, Nick Pinkerton's overview of the series for the Voice and Kinoeye's Croatian archive.

Krsto Papic I'm sitting in a kind of combination storeroom/interview room at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's NYC offices. Gathered round the table are three extremely affable and talented Croatian filmmakers who almost perfectly represent three different generations and whose command of the English language is shockingly good.

At age 73, Krsto Papic has been making movies since 1965 (his 1973 A Village Performance of Hamlet is part of the current FSLC series, Beyond Boundaries: The Emergence of Croatian Cinema). Dejan Sorak, 53, directed his first film in 1979 and is represented here by his award-winning 2005 feature Two Players from the Bench. The youngster of the bunch is Ognjen Svilicic, 36, whose first full-length feature arrived in 1999 - and this year's Armin (site), which makes its US debut here at the festival, is Croatia's choice to compete for this year's Best Foreign Film Oscar. As Mr Papic is the senior in the group, we'll start the conversation with him.

Papic: I was born on the border of Montenegro, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, so I have three mentalities - and... [laughing] three of them very bad! In the ex-Yugoslavia, as we now call it, we had six republics and each republic had its own productions and its own small film industry. When a film would be released, it would be known as "Yugoslavian," but the general public would always know from which specific republic that film had come.

Svilicic: Even in the US, a New York filmmaker such as Abel Ferrara still refers to himself as a Bronx filmmaker!

JVM: For most Americans of an adult age (and perhaps others around the world), hearing the words Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and the like brings to mind the war and the atrocities of a decade past. After seeing several recent films from your part of the world - Armin, Two Players from the Bench and Vinko Bresan's Witnesses - I can't help wondering if there is anything except the war and its aftermath for modern Croat filmmakers to explore?

Svilicic: I think it goes both ways. Yes, you see the effects of the war, but Croatian cinema has always been so good about developing relationships between characters. Armin is basically about a father/son relationship. But as a journalist you have to make connections, and so you make the connection with the war because that is all you have seen on CNN. But it is not fair to the movie to do just this. My character Armin is an accordion player first. But in all movies, you do start with a set of circumstances. In a western, you have the wild West. And in Armin, you have a movie-within-the-movie being made about the war. So, yes, you do make those connections. But still, we try not to make a political statement. We try to stick to characters. We feel we should use our movies to tell stories rather than make political statements.

Two Players from the Bench JVM: This seems true particularly about Armin, while Two Players from the Bench does seem to make more of a broad political statement.

Sorak: Yes, this does seem to be, but still I hope it isn't. It's a sort of paradox because my purpose as filmmaker is not to send a message, not to be a postman, not to change the world. With Two Players from the Bench, I want to create a fictional world that is entertaining and touches you that also attends the question of human destiny. I am taking the reality I see around me in my world and creating a story with it. After this war, when the International War Crimes Tribunal was set up by the UN, this became a very politically hot issue and very interesting to all the regions of the former Yugoslavia - the question of guilt and innocence for the war. We had our first screening in the biggest outside cinema in all the world, in front of thousands of people and the audience was delighted. Both sides, Serbia and Croatia, liked the film. The film seems to be about politics but the reality is that it is really about the mentality of an open mind and open eye without prejudices. And though audiences delighted in it, the media did not. Perhaps because the film does not spare anyone or anything. It is ironic and has something of a cathartic effect.

JVM: The ending of the film struck me a hugely cathartic. I was also impressed with the technical achievements of Two Players; everything from the sound to the music, the photography, editing. It's a big canvas and it looked as good as anything Hollywood might have done on maybe 20 times the budget.

Sorak: When you have a big production, you need to get all the details correct. Then, even if you are doing a low-budget movie, it is going to look high-budget. We do professional work!

Svilicic: Every Croatian movie now tries to achieve this level.

Dejan Sorak Sorak: Nowadays in Croatia, we are living in the golden age of moviemaking.

JVM: That's funny, because I had heard that the golden age of Yugoslav moviemaking happened back in the 60s, 70 and 80s.

Papic: Well, that was the first golden age! Now it is the second.

Sorak: And you [pointing to Papic] have lived through both of them!

Papic: Well, it is a very good thing right now, I think, because the government gives us the money to pay for the budget for the film and they don't ask any kind of questions.

JVM: In the press materials for the festival, there is mention made that the Yugoslav film industry had become at one point almost extinct. Was this due to the war, or to something else?

Svilicic: Yes, the war, but more for our filmmaking, because we ceased to make any money from the films.

Papic: We never really had any "industry" the way you have in Hollywood. It's not like that in Europe. It always had to be supported by government money. Here you have a big film industry, big corporations and a very big audience. You are competing better than anyone else in the world in the field of cinema. In Europe, film is considered part of culture, so governments help pay for that culture.

JVM: I don't think so many people over here - at least the ones making most of the mainstream movies - consider film as part of culture. It is primarily something to make money from. Culture may follow if we are lucky.

Papic: Also, there is a difference in our countries because we were formerly a socialist country and now we are not, so it is a long story and depends on a number of things. Also, our cinema has always been different from that of Austria, Denmark and the rest. Originally, Yugoslavian cinema was part of one system, and each of our republics - Slovenia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia - competed against the others for who would be the best of all. It is also about living under a one party system without democracy. Now we have democracy, but we have new problems.

JVM: Do the people of the former Yugoslavia ever long for the past and the days of Tito, in the way that some countries of Eastern Europe now seem to long for the relative "safety" of communism again?

Papic: I think our communism was not equal to the Russian communism. It was a more "soft" communism. We had passports and the freedom of traveling all over the world - as long as you were not a political enemy. Tito was constantly dancing between the Russians and America, between East and West and between NATO and the Russian power, so sometimes he was more pro-Russian, sometimes more pro-America. When he was pro-Westen, this was good for us filmmakers. And in general, for the artists because we had more freedom. When he turned toward the Russians - not himself really, but the hard-liners - then we had difficult and hard times.

I had a different experience because I began my film career in the good period when everything was easier in the 1970s. At the end of the filming of A Village Performance of Hamlet, everything changed. We had the Croatian Spring and suddenly Tito stopped everything. The film was attacked - blocked for two years from being shown anywhere. I could not go to the foreign festivals - Cannes, Berlin, Venice - and I could not represent my country. After almost two years, however, the selector for the Berlin festival came to Zagreb and he saw the film and liked it and so he put this condition in front of the government: "If you are not going to give me this film to show in the Berlin festival, then I will not take any Yugoslav film for maybe the next five years."

JVM: Blackmail!

Papic: Yes. And so finally I did go the Berlin festival with the film that year.

JVM: Let's talk about the ironic use in Armin of a filmmaker wanting to make a documentary of the boy and his family's experience in wartime. This is both funny and a real slap at filmmakers, in its way. And yet, it is not really their fault, as they are simply doing what they do.

Ognjen Svilicic Svilicic: Of course! They are trying their best. Usually filmmakers from these "big" countries have good thoughts, good wishes to do these things. But it is superficial. I did not mean this as a comparison between the West and the East but between the rich and the poor countries. When you are a rich country, you can just do everything.

JVM: In addition to writing and directing, you also did some of the music for your earlier films, right?

Svilicic: Yes. But it wasn't such a good idea. So I don't anymore.

JVM: The music used at close of Two Player from the Bench is exceptional, I think. It is simply gorgeous, rich and moving.

Sorak: Yes. We had a very talented composer who did this. In fact, this person is a very good screenwriter as well. He has written scripts for some of Papic's films.

Papic: He is very, very good. His name is Mate Matisic, and you should mention this because then perhaps he will get some work! Here, I will write it down for you. [And he does.]

Sorak: He composed the entire score, the folk song, the song sung at the beginning and the wonderful piece that closes the film.

JVM: Have any of these films been picked up by a distributor?

Sorak: No, but last year Two Players had a screening at the Tribecca Film Festival, and the New York Times wrote that this film should be picked up. Also Variety, and Richard Brody in the New Yorker placed this film as among the five best undistributed movies. But still, nothing.

Papic: Getting distribution for a foreign film in America is more difficult now than it used to be.

JVM: Maybe we'll have the chance to see these on DVD?

Sorry for Kung Fu Svilicic: One of my movies - Sorry for Kung Fu - is now on DVD from a small company here in New Jersey. You can order it from Amazon. You can get a really, really cheap price. Maybe one dollar.

Sorak: DVD or the internet is the only way to see most Croatian movies.

JVM: Anything else you would like to add?

Papic: Yes. I think this festival is really very important for us. A very good thing to have it here at the Lincoln Center Film Society and especially here in New York. I think this festival is the most important thing to happen to Croatian cinema so far - in my opinion.

Sorak: Also, Croatia has just been made a member of the United Nations Security Council for the first time. This, too, is a very good thing.

Svilicic: This is all part of a kind of renaissance for this little unknown country. Maybe we are going to be a big thing, like America's film industry. Or India's.

JVM: There might be Hollywood, Bollywood - and Croatia-wood?

Papic: Once, back in the 70s and 80s, we did have one of the biggest film studios in the world in Yugoslavia. Film companies would come from all over to use it. Now it looks like a Roman ruin. So we lose the great studio. But maybe we'll become something again.

JVM: Now I must ask a really stupid and naive question. But I can't help it. Do you think it possible that something like what happened in the 90s could happen again? Or has the war, the atrocities, been put to rest somehow?

Papic: I think it is not possible to happen again.

Svilicic: I would say for Croatia, not. But I am pretty sure it could happen again in Bosnia because it is still unresolved. In my opinion, there is a reason that the Second World War did not happen again. You had Nazis killing Jews. They were stopped. We knew what had happened. It all came out. But in Bosnia, this is not true. Things are still hidden. They have not all come out.

Papic: Still, I think that this will not happen because the European community will not allow it. It is not in the interest of Europe or the new rich or the big corporations to allow this.

* * *

At this point, our time is up, and the Film Society representative clears us out and readies the room for the next interview. But I thank these wonderful filmmakers for their time, energy and talent. And hope more of the world has the chance to see examples of their excellent work.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:48 AM

October 30, 2007

Shorts, 10/30.

Los Angeles Plays Itself JC Gabel and James Hughes introduce an interview for Stop Smiling: "In June, filmmaker Thom Andersen opened the doors of his home - a Schindler house tucked in the hills of Silver Lake - and spoke eloquently, if not mordantly, about the city he's been chronicling for decades (see [Sam Sweet's] piece for more on his authoritative 2003 documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself). Looming beyond the windows of the kitchen where Andersen quietly sat, pinpointing his replies to each question, was a clear view of the famed Hollywood sign, the seemingly eternal landmark that takes on a new shape after sustained exposure to Andersen's forensic analysis of the movie business and its endless byproducts."

"Heath Ledger and Sean Penn are in talks to star in Tree of Life, with River Road Entertainment finally bringing writer-director Terrence Malick's long-gestating drama to life." Gregg Goldstein has more in the Hollywood Reporter. Via Christopher Campbell at Cinematical. Related: Sarah Manvel at kamera on The Cinema of Terrence Malick: Poetic Visions of America.

The New York Observer's Gillian Reagan points to Leslie Simmons's HR item on Rebecca Miller's adaptation of her own novel, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, starring Robin Wright Penn, Julianne Moore and Winona Ryder. Related: Chris Stangl wishes Ryder a happy birthday.

Shawn Levy has a friend who's seen a very rough cut of Pixar's Wall-E.

A "cache of theater-related photographs, scrapbooks, journals, scripts and more" related to Katharine Hepburn's stage career being donated to the New York Public Library "offer a revealing glance at her personality, profession and obsessions," reports Patricia Cohen in the New York Times.

Naked Spaces: Living Is Round "In Naked Spaces: Living Is Round, Trinh T Minh-ha expounds on the themes of postcolonial identification and the geopolitical (and social) apparatus of disempowerment in Reassemblage to create dense, thoughtful, and articulate ethnographic essay film on indigenous identity, the impossibility of translation, and architecture as cultural representation," writes acquarello.

Hollywood's writers may well be on strike starting Thursday. "While a spate of not-so-good movies is likely to emerge from the 2007/2008 strike-film bubble, a boom in original scripts will only be good for the movie industry," blogs Anne Thompson. "But many people will lose money in the meantime. The cost of the five-month 1988 writers strike was some $500 million."

If the Cheney administration really is cooking up an attack on Iran, its "Hollywood Revenge" is going to be a harder sell in the UK than in the US, argues the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw.

Also: Christopher Hawtree remembers screenwriter Marc Behm and Eric Shorter remembers Moira Lister, "an elegant, intelligent and funny actor who enchanted connoisseurs of postwar comedy on stage, screen and television."

Every evening next month, a different celeb programmer will be presenting a film on TCM. Robert Cashill has the match-ups.

Shirley MacLaine fills out Vanity Fair's questionnaire.

Stylus Magazine lists the "Top Films of the Millennium." So far, of course. Via Jason Morehead.

Not film-related, but still: Elatia Harris interviews BibliOdyssey's Paul K for 3 quarks daily. Via wood s lot.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:04 PM

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), 10/30.

Wind Chill "It's almost too late for Halloween movie recommendations, but I want to mention a few past and current DVD releases that will give you a good spooky night indoors," blogs David Edelstein. "[T]ry Gregory Jacobs's little-seen Wind Chill, a trim, claustrophobic, and unnerving little ghost story." This, after a few fun stories starring Robert Duvall and Isabella Rossellini, among others.

"Claire Denis isn't generally ranked amongst horror's foremost auteurs, but if she were to be judged solely on the basis of her overlooked (yes) masterpiece from 2001, Trouble Every Day she'd far outshine the competition," argues clarencecarter at Reverse Shot.

David Cronenberg's The Brood and Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds "use the pretext of horror to deal with something far closer to home, something not even terribly far removed from the experience of the normal, non-psychotic members of the film's audience," writes Leo Goldsmith in a piece for Not Coming to a Theater Near You that also compares and contrasts The Brood with David Lynch's Eraserhead.

An airplane, a school, a hospital. It doesn't have to be a house to be haunted. IFC News has got 11 examples. Also, Nick Schager presents a list of five collections "which in their own special way epitomize the good, the mediocre, and/or the sublimely ridiculous that horror anthologies have to offer."

"Neither the Sea Nor the Sand is not a great film and many people won't enjoy its atypical plot or be impressed with its strange charm, but it manages to create a somewhat unnerving atmosphere and sustain it throughout its 110-minute running time," writes Kimberly Lindbergs. "It also makes great use of its coastal locations and offers viewers an interesting look at love after death."

Bob Turbull wraps Toronto After Dark.

Satan's Satellites At Movie Morlocks, Medusa points to In My Arms, a site devoted to monsters and robots carrying nubile young women (often unconscious) off to who knows where.

Ryan Stewart lists "Horror Movies to Watch for in 2008." Also at Cinematical, Jette Kernion revisits Tim Burton's Ed Wood.

"Much has been written about George Romero's Dawn of the Dead," begins Rob Humanick. True. At any rate, he's watched it again and finds that "Romero's carefully calculated deconstructions on social woes of the time seem most brilliant in their simultaneously identifying the film as a distinctly American work rooted in the cultural anarchy of the 1970's as well as one packed with universal truths on the human condition, borders of time and place notwithstanding."

At the AV Club, Andy Battaglia's got suggestions for what to serve at your It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown party.

Online listening tip. The Drive-In Speaker Box Halloween Special.

"Ghost Story is a spooker that always seems to fall through the cracks when "scary movie list time" rolls around," writes , introducing today's clip at Facets Features. "Not only is it genuinely creepy, but it also features a powerhouse quartet of old school stage and screen legends Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, John Houseman and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:51 PM

DVDs, 10/30.

Our Hitler "A seven-hour-long film about Hitler caused quite a stir when it was shown in New York in January, 1980," writes Richard Brody in the New Yorker. "Hans-Jürgen Syberberg's Our Hitler (a two-disk set from Facets) is anything but a bio-pic. Its original German title, which translates as Hitler, A Film from Germany, makes clear the scope of the director's ambition: to investigate Hitler as a psychic and aesthetic phenomenon, or, as is said in the film, as 'fantasies of the mind and their blood realization.'"

"An unlikely, perhaps unrepeatable phenomenon, Twin Peaks went from national sensation to ratings pariah in just over a year," writes Dennis Lim. David Lynch's "singular sensibility made the show an object of instant fan ardor, but for the general public - and certainly for the network, ABC - it soon proved alienating. Twin Peaks, in other words, was a cult item that somehow found a mass audience and almost immediately suffered the consequences." More on the Definitive Gold Box Edition from Keith Uhlich and Ed Gonzalez in Slant, who agree that it's just that: definitive.

Somewhat related is Bill Gibron's piece in PopMatters on ABC's followup to Twin Peaks with Lynch and Mark Frost, On the Air: "As filtered through their revisionist mindset, and with the critical acclaim they’d accumulated, they were being rewarded with a half hour of primetime real estate to, essentially, do anything they wanted. The plan was to have something that resembled a 30-minute laugh-a-thon, the normal situational contrivances leading the perfectly timed punchlines and acerbic pop culture critiques. What they got, instead, was anarchy posing as programming." Not on legit DVD, unfortunately.

Back in the Los Angeles Times, Kate Arthur talks with My So-Called Life creator Winnie Holzman and exec producer Marshall Herskovitz. More from Ginia Bellafonte in the New York Times.

"Criterion's Eclipse label debuted early this year," writes Doug Cummings, and Raymond Bernard's Les Misérables "is my favorite discovery of the series so far, a richly conceived and fully-formed adaptation that does admirable service to the novel's timeless moral and social themes. A forgotten masterpiece not to be missed."

O Lucky Man! "Criterion released [Lindsay] Anderson's brilliant If... (1968) on DVD earlier this year and they recently announced their plans to release This Sporting Life (1963) in early 2008," notes Kimberly Lindbergs. "Now Warner has entered into the Anderson DVD arena with their impressive Deluxe 2 Disc release of O Lucky Man! which as I mentioned over at Cinedelica earlier this week, promises to be one of the best DVD releases of the year."

"There's a fascinating tension in [Into Great Silence] between what [Philip] Gröning wants to show us and exactly how little he can - that is the point, after all, of the monastic life, that what happens in the material world is irrelevant. Yet it's all you can film," writes Michael Atkinson at IFC News. "The technology of cinema is, therefore, standing in for spiritual struggle itself, the desire for the atheists and agnostics and wannabe devotees among us to genuinely commune with the heavens, and our straining failure to accomplish the task." Also reviewed is Adanggaman, "an Ivory Coast historical micro-epic that claims to have been the continent's first movie about the slave trade, as it was experienced on African soil, where the victims and enslavers were both native peoples."

"No one would be more surprised than the shy, self-denigrating Mario Bava, who died in 1980, to learn that he had become one of the best-known Italian filmmakers in America." Dave Kehr reviews the second volume of Anchor Bay's collection.

The Shamus enjoys "the jumpy, gun-popping nature" of Godard's Masculin Feminin, "But more than the nostalgia, the film seemed to resonate with who we are as a modern species: Self-absorbed. Nothing's changed."

"Even if you're used to the edgy sleaze of precode movies like 1933's Baby Face, it's stunning to see how the activist films of the early 20th century engaged head on with social issues that today's films go to comical lengths to avoid." The Stranger's Annie Wagner reviews Treasures III: Social Issues in American Film, 1900 - 1934.

DVD roundups: DVD Talk and the DVD Savant; Bryant Frazer; JA at the Film Experience; the Lumière Reader; and Peter Martin at Cinematical.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:56 AM

Darfur Now (and related bits).

Darfur Now "Darfur Now, Theodore Braun's infectiously optimistic, if perfunctorily realized, documentary about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Sudan arrives in theaters at a crucial moment," writes Jeff Reichert at indieWIRE. "While the civil war in that wartorn region rages unabated, demanding more international visibility, the wave that brought documentary film (and a host of media-silenced issues) to commercial prominence here in the US seems to have crested.... The fact remains that if documentary is going to remain politically relevant, it must maintain commercial viability.... [I]deologically Darfur Now is unimpeachable. Aesthetically, not so much."

Jesse Ashlock talks with directors Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern about The Devil Came on Horseback, out on DVD today. Also at Tribeca's site, a list of "Social Justice Documentaries" on DVD.

Updated through 11/5.

"I'll wager that President Bush hasn't done anything about Darfur not because he has acquired humility about the projection of American power, and not because his sissy White House aides won't give him a plan with cojones, and not because the Darfur portfolio keeps passing from one desk to another, and not because the Pentagon and the State Department are dragging their feet," writes Timothy Noah in Slate. "Rather, I would guess that Bush hasn't done anything about Darfur because the vice president won't let him."

The New York Observer's Gillian Reagan has news of the lineup for MySpace's November 10 Rock for Darfur concert.

Updates: "If you evaluate Darfur Now against the goals it sets for itself—as a stirring call to action—it must be considered lacking," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice.

"Despite the picture's noble intentions and blessedly non-aggressive approach to a very strong subject, there's very little here you couldn't learn from a casual glance at Time magazine now and then, and its 99 minutes could have easily been about 65 if you removed all of the celebrity do-gooder filler," writes Jason Clark in Slant.

Updates, 10/31: "Darfur Now's most noteworthy accomplishment is taking a subject like the genocide in Darfur - to which the most natural human responses are empathy, horror, and anger - and, for an hour and a half, making it almost impossible to care," writes Neal Solon at cinemaattraction.

Howard Feinstein interviews Braun and Don Cheadle.

Updates, 11/2: "The United Nations has estimated that by 2007, 200,000 people had been killed and 2.5 million displaced from their rural villages in Darfur," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "What Darfur Now offers is a collective vision of actions, small and large, taken on many fronts, to end the crisis. The movie is a quiet, methodical call to action."

"The best material is the result of the rare opportunity to shoot inside those refugee camps: hearing firsthand testimony from victims about the catastrophic horrors inflicted on their villages is forceful and persuasive," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "Though they are completely committed and are doing difficult, meaningful work, the Americans in the film just do not hold the screen with the same force and power."

"The film is undeniably on the side of the angels, but any of its subjects' stories might have worked better if told in greater depth," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club.

"Each of the six stories is surprisingly optimistic, and if there's one flaw with the film, it's that it almost conclusively portrays the Darfur problem as no longer a problem," writes Christopher Campbell at Cinematical. "But even if so, Darfur Now is not really a film about the Darfur problem, anyway. It is solely about the power and the conviction of these people, which extends to other featured activists, celebrities ([George] Clooney), Darfurians and, most essentially, the Sudanese representative to the United Nations, His Excellency Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, who serves as the antithetical force of the documentary, offering that one bit of negativity in an otherwise positive forum."

Update, 11/5: "[T]he depressing subtext is that even with detailed proof of ongoing genocide, it takes movie stars to get to the movers and shakers, and to get worthy movies like this one into theaters," writes David Edelstein in New York.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:40 AM

Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten.

Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten "Tales of meteoric rise, inevitable burnout and slow climb back to something resembling normalcy are familiar from the biographies of a thousand haunted artists, but Julien Temple's The Future is Unwritten stands out for its extraordinarily smooth filmmaking, which incorporates clips from contemporary films, photos, [Joe] Strummer's own artwork, and music from his BBC radio show to good effect," writes Jürgen Fauth.

At Slant, Nick Schager finds it, "for the most part, some sort of incredible. In a fashion similar to his 2002 Sex Pistols portrait The Filth and the Fury, Temple confronts not only his legendary punk rock subject but also the cultural and political upheaval of the 70s and 80s British culture from which they emerged."

Updated through 11/4.

"It's the film equivalent of what journalists with elusive subjects call a 'write-around,'" suggests David Edelstein in New York. "[Y]ou only get a taste of what made the Clash for a brief period the most exciting band on that side of the Atlantic (the Ramones dominated ours) in an early live performance of 'I'm So Bored With the USA,' which makes you want to pogo up and down and throw up your fists. It doesn't matter who Joe Strummer was. He was that moment, and will never die."

"You can see why someone would make such a moony doc on this (multi) culture warrior - and why it'd be so inadequate." Mark Asch explains in the L Magazine.

"Old punks are just as bad as old hippies," Temple tells Aaron Hillis in an IFC News interview. "But the ideas are part of a ground rebel human tradition that become more and more important as we get closer to maybe [becoming] the first species to design our own extinction. If you want to be human, you should have some of those ideas aired again."

And indieWIRE interviews Temple, too.

Updates: In another interview, this one at the Reeler, Temple tells ST VanAirsdale, "I never understood that [Martin Scorsese] was such a nutty Clash fan. He was showing me pictures of his parents having dinner with The Clash at their house."

"Temple's engrossing portrait of the Clash's late frontman uses endlessly suggestive montage to show how he kept punk's precepts alive, even after he left the music and eventually the earth itself," writes Jim Ridley. "The Future Is Unwritten is less a eulogy than a wake, and one in which the subject is startlingly present."

Updates, 10/31: Nick Dawson talks with Temple "about his unusual first meeting with Strummer, keeping his punk sensibility and why he wishes he'd made Méliès's A Trip to the Moon."

"The Future Is Unwritten is no radical departure in content from most print-the-legend rock docs: that is, it burnishes down complex social frustrations, individual crises, and years of bad beer and crap gigging, to create one smooth, aerodynamic entertainment," writes Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE. "What merit it has comes mainly through hooking onto the momentum of the Clash's music--the editing decoupages archived rehearsal video over excerpts from Zero de conduit, Orwell adaptations, and streetfighting footage, making for a crackling melange of generalized 'rebellion' that fits the band's own fist-in-the-air bosh."

Updates, 11/2: "[I]nsofar as I can drag myself back from raving fandom to some kind of detachment, I think The Future Is Unwritten - which is Temple's preferred title; the distributors have added Joe Strummer over his objections - is the most powerful documentary I've seen all year, and one of the two or three best films ever made about an artist or musician," writes Andrew O'Hehir, who has a good long talk with Temple for Salon.

"It's history, criticism, philosophy and politics, played fast and loud," writes AO Scott in the New York Times.

"Strummer's story is less exciting than the Sex Pistols (whose isn't?), but it holds interest as a classic tale of how life happens to youthful aggression," writes Armond White in the New York Press.

"A large part of what made The Clash superior to other Class Of 77 bashers was Strummer's wit and curiosity, and after absorbing the whole of The Future Is Unwritten, fans will better know where that side of Strummer came from, and how it evolved before he died," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club.

"The curious Mr Temple is the closest thing the UK has to a national music historian," writes Vadim Rizov at the Reeler, and Unwritten is "a nuanced and comprehensive biography; like most music docs, you have to care about the subject to care at all, but that's the only stumbling block."

"A beautiful, evocative collage composed of concert footage, photographs, interviews and film clips, as well as interviews with people who knew him, the film is a rigorously thorough biography and an impassioned accolade," writes Carina Chocano. Also in the Los Angeles Times, Natalie Nichols talks with Temple.

"It's a great story arc, and this alone makes the movie worth seeing, but Temple's filmmaking may frustrate more than it enlightens," writes Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical.

Update, 11/4: Phil Nugent:

When London Calling came out, just as the 70s were collapsing into the 80s (as Greil Marcus put it at the time), I remember there was a huge push by the rock press to pronounce it not just a good album, not just a great album, but the kind of cultural event of which new beginnings and significant shifts in the wind are made. It was much like the hype that had surrounded Apocalypse Now a few months earlier, and I think it came from the same impulse: a desire to write off what people were seeing as a dead-ended culture and kick-start something exciting and new. But it just didn't happen; Apocalypse Now wasn't as good as The Godfather and wasn't fated to be the same kind of blockbuster hit, and while London Calling had some terrific songs on it, it didn't signal, as some in the rock press wanted it to, the transformation of the Clash into the Beatles in terms of mass popularity, and the ability to affect a whole generation on a deep and visibly detectable level. Neither the movie nor the record headed off the conservative takeover of the culture at the pass; instead, both signalled that doing work in the popular arts that wasn't aimed straight at the lowest common denominator was now a niche activity, aimed at cultural consumers who saw themselves, even congratulated themselves, on their cultishness.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:01 AM

October 29, 2007

Interview. Joss Whedon.

Joss Whedon "Joss Whedon's 'Buffyverse' included both his brilliant series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff, Angel," notes Richard Harrington in the Washington Post. "Factor in Firefly, the space cowboy series canceled by Fox in 2003, and you've got a good case for Whedon being one of television's visionaries."

On the occasion of the DVD doorstop, Angel: Complete Series, Sean Axmaker asks Whedon, "What is it about TV vampires that they all want to become detectives?" But there are more questions, too, of course - about what else he's been up to lately and about the movie he's "finishing a polish on" even now.

Update, 11/1: "Whedon and Buffy buddy Eliza Dushku (Faith from the show) will be launching a new series, Dollhouse, with Fox," blogs Jevon Phillips for the Los Angeles Times. "Though a writers' strike could delay production, it's scheduled for fall 2008."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:03 PM

Shorts, 10/29.

The French New Wave: An Artistic School "I've been re-reading Michel Marie's book, The French New Wave: An Artistic School," writes Girish. "Even though it's a slim 140-page text, this book is packed with 'bloggable' ideas. Let me focus on one: the role that scriptwriting played in the aesthetic of the French New Wave."

"Cinema is in the head, not in the projector," writes Harry Tuttle.

"Jihad; torture; suicide bombings; terrible things done by and to American soldiers; official secrets and government lies; the failures and responsibilities of journalists, politicians, law enforcement officials and ordinary citizens in the face of terror - such matters will be hard to avoid in movie theaters between now and Christmas," writes AO Scott. And of course, as widely reported, these movies aren't doing very well at the box office, at least so far. "It may also be that even the most zealous opponents of the president and his policies don't want to be preached at when they go to the movies." That said, "What is notable about this new crop of war movies is not their earnestness or their didacticism - traits many of them undoubtedly display - but rather their determination to embrace confusion, complexity and ambiguity."

Also in the New York Times:

  • "Part of me feels like I got away with murder," Richard Kelly tells Dennis Lim. "It's a film some people might consider an inaccessible B movie, and it's been slaughtered at the biggest film festival in the world. They could have been like, 'You want more money now?" But Southland Tales, now 19 minutes shorter than the version screened at Cannes and outfitted with new prologue and voice-over, will indeed open on November 14. "Citing the viral popularity of Donnie Darko, [Kelly] said: 'We're hoping with this to get kids turned on in a more political way. You can use subversive humor as your delivery mechanism.'"

The Deal
  • Caryn James talks with prolific screenwriter Peter Morgan about The Deal, about the mid-80s to mid-90s rivalry between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, about Frost/Nixon and a bit about the script he's working on now, depicting Blair's relationship with Bill Clinton and George W Bush.

  • Michael Cieply on what ails Indiewood: "[I]f the movie business is to keep making these smart little dramas in which ambitious actors and prize-hungry filmmakers take their annual shot at the gold, it will have to start doing what car makers and packaged-goods companies have always done: sharpen the message and narrow the targets." To heighten the challenge: "One of the film industry's dirty little secrets is that its nearly obsessive reliance on testing of movie trailers and ads has been undercut by the relatively primitive methodology of some research techniques."

"In some ways, newspaper and magazine critics are more like reporters than proper critics: We record our reactions in the heat of the moment, and hope that history will vindicate us." Noel Murray at the AV Club.

"Unsurprisingly, given the depth of his experience as a filmmaker in Peru, a fisherman in Alaska, a restauranteur in New York and other disparate activities, reflected in the breadth of topics explored in his documentaries, [King Corn director Aaron] Woolf is well-versed on any number of subjects," writes Jonathan Marlow, who talks with him for, oh, about two or three pages or so at SF360. Somewhere, there's more. "The excerpt that follows was excised from 55 pages of transcripts."

"Cate Blanchett's impending debut as artistic director of Australia's national theatre company has not been widely welcomed, amid reservations that she was given the role ahead of more experienced candidates, and [on Saturday] the controversy surrounding her appointment deepened," reports Barbara McMahon.

Also in the Observer:

  • Andrew Davies, "master of the period television adaptation," has now tackled EM Forster's A Room With a View and "immediately thought that Timothy [Spall], 50, and Rafe [Spall], 24, would be perfect as Mr Emerson and his son George: the working-class father desperate for his isolated, detached son to fall in love." Amy Raphael meets father and son.


"How could anyone say 'No, thanks' to David Mamet?" Nancy De Los Santos tells the story of how her house became a location for Mamet's martial arts flick, Redbelt. Via Movie City News.

What Happens Next Also in Written By, Marc Norman writes and talks about his book, What Happens Next: A History of American Screenwriting, and Georgia Jeffries addresses her fellow screenwriters: "The vital question - the one I believe we are duty-bound to ask-is this: What messages are we sending?"

"There are many Philip Ridleys," writes Hermione Eyre in the Independent:

There is the children's author, winner of a Smarties Book Prize and creator of well-loved characters such as Poppy Picklesticks. There is the playwright of the apocalypse, feted and reviled in equal measure, who so terrified the bourgeoisie with Mercury Fur (2005) that Faber and Faber refused to publish it and theatre-goers walked out nightly. There is the filmmaker: author of the screenplay of The Krays, the mesmerising 1990 biopic starring the brothers Kemp, and director/writer of the cult classic The Reflecting Skin, with Viggo Mortensen in the lead. Then there is the St Martins-trained performance artist, photographer and painter. Philip Ridley is akin to a hologram: different every way you look at him. And the first thing this intimidating polymath says, when I meet him in his rehearsal space at the Pineapple Dance Studios? "Hello. I'm Phil. Doesn't it smell like the school gym in here? Terrifying."

"A script and just two minutes of footage were enough to sell upstart distribution company Summit Entertainment on North American rights to the unfinished sophomore feature from filmmaker Rian Johnson (Brick)," reports indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez. "In one of the most aggressive acquisitions ever, Summit poached The Brothers Bloom, a movie that many expected would go on the market at the Sundance Film Festival early next year."

The Golden Compass puts New Line Cinema "in a precarious spot, trying to please fans who relish [Philip] Pullman's philosophical and theological puzzles without alienating the very bankable Christian masses." Gina Piccalo maps the battle lines.

"Ang Lee's spy thriller Lust, Caution leads the nominations for the Chinese language Golden Horse Awards." The BBC reports. Related: a story from Criterion's Lee Kline: "Like many filmmakers, Ang Lee knows that it’s as important to grade the video master as it is the prints."

Not film-related, but still: Gerry Canavan, briefly yet arrestingly, on 1973.

Online viewing tip #1. "One of the films featured at the International Museum of Women's Online Film Festival is Melis Birder's fascinating documentary short, The Tenth Planet: A Single Woman's Life in Baghdad," writes Chuck Tryon.

Online viewing tip #2. "In an industry where filmmakers continue to play by the same tired rules, it's always refreshing to see someone come along and mix things up like Michael W Dean has done, making his documentary fully available to watch on YouTube and, consequentially, here as well," notes Film Threat, noting that you can also order DIY or Die: How to Survive as an Independent Artist on DVD as well. Thanks, Jerry!

Dreams with Sharp Teeth Online viewing tip #3. The trailer for Dreams with Sharp Teeth: A Film about Harlan Ellison. Via John Coulthart, who notes, "The film site has nearly an hour of clips to watch, including a tremendous speed-reading of Prince Myshkin, and Hold the Relish."

Online viewing tip #4. "Last week, I posted this magnificent promotional poster that comic artist Jaime Hernandez created for Bob Dylan's XM satellite radio show, Theme Time Radio Hour," writes David Pescovitz. "Boing Boing reader Simon Nielsen was so taken by the poster and the show that he made a short movie tribute using Hernandez's artwork and the audio from Ellen Barkin's noir voiceovers that open each episode of Theme Time Radio Hour."

Online viewing tip #5. Rare footage of Charlie Chaplin, "relaxed and doing mocking imitations of his contemporary Hollywood stars," at the Guardian. Via Javier Espinoza.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:20 PM

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), 10/29.

Dawn of the Dead Bob Westal finally watches Dawn of the Dead. But there's no review here. It's the journey that counts, and what an entertaining journey it is (well, for everyone but Bob, I'm guessing). "I was just happy I'd finally met it head on and endured the entire 126 minute running time. After all, Edmund Hillary didn't review Everest." If it's any consolation, Bob, Dawn was the very first zombie movie I ever saw. Before Dawn, I'd never seen any film, clip or series of flickering images of any sort with a gore factor that would even register when set against Dawn of the Dead. The theater was packed and yelping and shrieking and generally having a grand old time, but I was simply stunned to silence. That housing project scene you describe? That's when I turned to the lovely friend that'd suggested this movie: "I'm leaving, ok?" "Ok." My first walkout. Over the many years since, I've calloused up quite a bit, but I'm not sure how I actually feel about that.

Rob Humanick: "Unlike Night's evocations of racism or Dawn's attack on consumerism, Romero's zombies here aren't terrorists or AIDS or any single meaning to be interpreted. To this point, my colleague Eric Henderson summarizes Romero's matter-of-fact approach so perfectly that I simply must recount it here (kudos to him, too, for his brilliant review of the film, which can be largely thanked for my current involvement with the online film community). 'With Day of the Dead, Romero is through fucking around with allegory.'"

Blogging at PopMatters, Bill Gibron counts the many possible reasons zombies are so damn popular:

Maybe it's the monster's malleability, its ability to be anything to anyone at anytime. Vampires and poltergeists come with certain situational truths, be it nighttime only visitations or projections placed within the ethereal plain. In order to accept them as terrifying, we have to fall into their traditions and buy into their entire heritage. Not true with the undead. Aside from one or two simple rules, they remain transient, capable of taking on any form we feel is necessary. And they keep on coming - never giving up or lessening their resolve (quite a capitalist conceit, when you thing about it). In truth, we love zombies because they are flawless reflections of our own inner fears. No other creature can claim that mantle of meaning. Like their prehistoric need to feed, the undead are forever - and we will always celebrate them as such. When other monsters have lost their snap, the living dead will continue to haunt our darkest nightmares. And we can't get enough.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers "Philip Kaufman's 1978 remake of Don Siegel's rightfully beloved 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers has always been embraced as a successful reimagining of the classic existential terror of identity theft made sci-fi - yet has it ever gotten its full due?" asks Reverse Shot's robbiefreeling, who finds it "an almost perfect intermingling of the physical and the psychological, a horror film that functions as an emotional, humane allegory on the difficulty of maintaining the self as well as a confrontation with the sickening realities of the flesh." Also: Paperhouse, "a not-quite-supernatural, almost-horror, killing-free, absolutely terrifying late 80s British film."

In a recent "long workday chat," Dennis Cozzalio and Don Mancini "touched on everything from the movies of the year, to the state of the horror genre (as evinced by this past weekend's Saw IV grosses, it's apparently still alive and kicking), to critics and criticism, and finally what's coming up next for the writer-director. But in the first segment we talk about Seed of Chucky - how the movie was received, the philosophy behind the direction of the Chucky series, and what it's like to be an award-winning director."

At Cinematical, Scott Weinberg rounds up more of the "Best Horror Movies You Haven't Seen Yet."

"Horror and underground film go together like chocolate and peanut butter, but it's more difficult to find pure avant-garde and experimental/abstract films that are composed solely of horrific theme," writes Mike Everleth. "That curator Noel Lawrence found enough to fill up a totally kickass DVD for Other Cinema's Experiments in Terror 2 is a spectacular achievement."

The first horror film? Jonathan Lapper on the myth and reality behind The Golem.

Sam Raimi's "vigorous methods have always produced a uniquely dynamic style that exudes an effervescent energy, but his earliest films appear fuelled by undiluted creative instincts, displaying a distinctive willingness to act on any artistic impulse," writes Chiranjit Goswami at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "Regrettably, Army of Darkness appears to be last project in which Raimi was allowed such creative autonomy, having now become thoroughly entrenched within the Hollywood blockbuster system and apparently content to operate within its artistic restrictions."

In the Age, John Elder checks in on Greg McLean, who's following up Wolf Creek with Rogue, which "isn't nearly as scary," nor is it meant to be. "There's even a kind of well-worn naughty fun to be had in waiting to see who, in a small party of tourists, gets chomped next by a giant territorial crocodile."

Alone "Alone is an incredibly effective piece of filmmaking," writes Bob Turnbull. "Perhaps Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom's follow-up to 2004's well received Shutter is not the most original piece of cinema you'll see, but it succeeds in just about every way in scaring and entertaining the audience." Also, in Nightmare Detective, Shinya Tsukamoto "brings... his unique view of humankind, technology and death."

s "I had to made sure that these were two different films," writes Peter Nellhaus, having just viewed Andrea Bianchi's Malabimba and Mario Bianchi's Satan's Baby Doll. "Both stories take place in huge remote castles. The nubile daughter is possessed by the angry spirit of her dead mother. Both girls have uncles confined to a wheel chair. Both films have Mariangela Giordano in similar roles, wearing almost identical nun's habits. And both films are directed by guys with the same last name, both using the time-honored tradition of signing their films with Anglo pseudonyms."

Online viewing tip. Phil Morehart's clip at Facets Features today comes from Dead Alive.

More online viewing. Paul Clark's got a few trailers at Screengrab; earlier: a spoilerific movie moment from Takashi Miike's Audition.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:52 PM | Comments (5)

American Gangsters, 10/29.

American Gangster Before getting into American Gangster, opening this week, and perhaps catching up with a few stray reviews of Mr Untouchable, which opened last week, you've got to see this: "During the Harlem heroin plague of the seventies, few dealers were bigger than Frank Lucas and Leroy 'Nicky' Barnes," begins Mark Jacobson in New York:

When the possibility emerged that these two old-school street rivals might be willing to engage in what could only be called a historic conversation - they haven't spoken in 30 years - it was easy to envision yelling, phone slamming, and maybe even a death threat or two. Lucas, as I knew well (from writing in this magazine the original piece upon which American Gangster is based), could go off at any moment. And Barnes, who likes to quote Moby Dick and King Lear, mocks Lucas's "country boy" lack of education and perceived lack of finesse in Mr Untouchable. When it came down to it, however, the two old drug-kingpins-in-winter revealed a familiarity that bordered on a kind of love. Or at least respect for a fellow tycoon.

Updated through 11/4.

Alright then, to the movies: American Gangster "unfolds in the 60s and 70s in a New York plagued by drug abuse and police corruption, by the trickle-down effects of the Vietnam War, Nixon, racism, and, implicitly, the internal contradictions of capitalism," writes New York's David Edelstein. "But for all the sprawl, American Gangster feels secondhand. It's like Scarface drained of blood, at arm's length from the culture that spawned it."

"Our loyalties are split between the hero of virtue and the hero of vice," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "We don't have to choose, which is fine—irresponsibility is one of the pleasures of narrative movies. But can we accept the movie's glorification of Frank Lucas in the terms in which it's offered?... Frank's ascent is presented simply—not with irony, or as a mini-tragedy, or as a cruel joke on his own community, but as a long-delayed victory of black capitalism."

"Not only is American Gangster dumb as a rock, but it's also far too convinced of its import to be any fun," growls Nick Schager in Slant. "There may be no other prestige pic this year as mistakenly convinced of its own weightiness, with its title and subsequent scenes featuring Frank positing himself as the embodiment of can-do Yankee spirit ('My country!,' 'This is America!') failing to elevate the tale to the realm of the symbolic, but succeeding in giving this already klutzy, derivative gangster saga an added measure of pomposity."

EW: Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe Josh Rottenberg talks with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. Also in Entertainment Weekly: Simon Vozick-Levinson tells the story of the making of Jay-Z's American Gangster, "a new CD embracing the very theme he built his reputation on: the risks and rewards of slinging drugs, familiar to a rapper who long ago spent his days dodging cops on the streets of Brooklyn.... It's not the film's soundtrack; Jay played no part in the entirely separate set of Vietnam-era hits that fits that bill. Instead, Jay's Gangster tale follows a striking, dramatic arc of its own, transporting listeners from a young hustler's ambition ('Pray,' 'No Hook') to a kingpin's arrogance ('Roc Boys,' 'Ignorant S---') to a career criminal's inevitable ruin ('Fallin'')."

Susan King offers "a look at some seminal gangster films, as well as some unusual twists on the traditional mob story."

Also in the Los Angeles Times: "With roles in two of winter's most eagerly anticipated films - a small part as an evil narc in Ridley Scott's drug dealer epic American Gangster, which reaches theaters Friday, and a breakout performance in the Coen brothers' adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel No Country for Old Men, out Nov 9 - [Josh] Brolin is poised to convince audiences and A-list directors alike that his sudden multiplex ubiquity is no fluke," writes Chris Lee.

Earlier: "American Gangsters, 10/21."

Updates, 10/30: "At the American Film Market, which begins here on Wednesday, no fewer than three prospective movies about the [Medellín] cocaine cartel and its kingpin, Pablo Escobar, are expected to vie for attention," reports Michael Cieply in the New York Times. "Escobar was killed in a 1993 shoot-out with the law in Colombia. For nearly 14 years, his story kicked around the film world, inspiring the Entourage plot line about a movie that can't quite be made. But suddenly, and for no obvious reason, the real-life drug tale has inspired a cinematic battle, pitting players like Oliver Stone and Joe Carnahan against one another."

"American Gangster doesn't add anything new to the dialogue between the cop and criminal archetypes," writes Matt Singer. "It's not as pensive as Heat, not as dynamic as Hard Boiled, not as sardonic as The Departed." Also at IFC News, Singer and Alison Willmore discuss Scott's director's cuts.

"Ridley Scott - Overrated?" asks Noah Forrest at Movie City News.

Ryan Stewart's got a junket report at Cinematical.

"American Gangster is a movie with obvious gravitas and a familiar argument: Organized crime is outsider capitalism," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Still, for all of American Gangster's discreet period markers and cleverly cobbled-together locations, it doesn't get the period's putrid exhilaration - the sense of irreversible decay and giddy disorder.... Albeit directed with high-powered panache, American Gangster lacks The French Connection's messy human drama and, a choreographed final bust notwithstanding, thrill-machine set pieces. The movie never spins out of control."

Updates, 10/31: "The charisma projected by both Mr Washington and Mr Crowe makes American Gangster the most felicitously magnetic dual vehicle of the year," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "It is also perhaps the most damning account ever of the longest and most disastrous war in our history, the 80-year war on drugs, which has jailed so many of our citizens while, in effect, enriching the criminal gangs around the world and multiplying the menaces of addiction."

"The whole thing is derivative, by the numbers and shamelessly entertaining," writes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "Just between you and me, [Crowe's] is the awesomest Al Pacino performance I've seen in years. Crowe acts exactly the way all my friends and I do whenever we get drunk and watch Heat for the 4,000th time, and I desperately love him for it."

"American Gangster is quite a high-caliber affair, with a star-studded cast (including several hip-hop artists) and close attention to period details — but it's overlong, a little too morally precise, and spends too much time on Crowe's character, who is hardly as interesting as Washington's smooth, sinister schemer," writes Cheryl Eddy in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Updates, 11/2: ST VanAirsdale talks with Scott and Mr Untouchable co-producer Damon Dash about the "real Harlem" at the Reeler, where R Emmet Sweeney writes, "American Gangster has the feel of a once-cherished idea that lost momentum with every script rewrite and director change," writes at the Reeler.

"It's hard not to fall for these men pumping like pistons across the screen, which is as much part of the movie's allure as its problem," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Mr Scott doesn't escape the contradiction that bedevils almost every Hollywood movie about gangsters, which cry shame, shame, as they parade their stars, crank the soul and showcase the foxy ladies, the swank digs and rides."

"American Gangster offers only the stingiest platform for its actors, and as a piece of storytelling - built on the foundation of a great story - it's an epic that's been sliced and diced into so many little morsels that almost nothing in it has any weight," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "The script... is by Steven Zaillian, writer of Schindler's List and Gangs of New York, and, more recently, the director of the deadly, prestige-bloated All the King's Men. Zaillian's credit is supposedly one of the movie's big selling points, but the picture comes together as an abstract clutch of scenes rather than a fluid whole, or even a jagged one. Its serrated, corroded edge never cuts clean."

"It takes nerve to call a film American Gangster: It's more than a movie title, it's the name of a venerable genre that dates to cinema's beginning," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "But once you see this finely made and richly satisfying film, you understand it's the only title possible."

"If you think the title American Gangster sounds generic, wait until you see the movie," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "A shopworn compendium of charismatic crooks, scruffy cops, corruption, temptation and absolution, the film makes one regret that Denzel Washington already made a movie called Déjà Vu, since that's what he's trafficking in here."

"Not since Spike Lee's Malcolm X has there been such an over-scaled, all-star, studio-financed film set in black America - and Scott's impetus is as questionable as Lee's," argues Armond White in the New York Press. "Being a Ridley Scott film, American Gangster is no more a critique of social history or political behavior than 1492 or Gladiator. It's basically a big-budget glorification of ambition as in the current documentary Mr Untouchable, director Marc Levin's latest white-negro obsession."

"Director Ridley Scott is going for 70s grime and sprawling 70s pacing, but Washington comes across as a slumming 90s film protagonist, a New Jack City star enduring the cast of Serpico with barely contained contempt," writes Tasha Robinson at the AV Club.

"There's just too much talent and compelling material here for anything to go seriously wrong," writes Bilge Ebiri for Nerve. "Nothing does: American Gangster moves well, its acting is solid, the direction elegant. But it turns out there's a drawback to making a movie about a subject who seems to have walked straight out of a movie, a kind of odd, off-putting familiarity that renders much of it lifeless."

"In the final analysis, it's just another mega-budget Hollywood movie that repackages familiar genre moves with A-level stars for a result that proves dismayingly hackneyed and poorly imagined," writes Geoffrey Cheshire in the Independent. "Of course it will make boatloads of money. Indeed, that's the kind of gangster movie it is - one determined to make out like a bandit, no matter what else may be said of it."

"[T]he movie is never quite pop enough to get audiences hooting and hollering and quoting favorite lines, nor smart enough to inspire passionate post-movie debate," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "Scene by scene, the film is unassailably well-crafted.... But there's something oddly dull, even respectable, about Scott's adherence to the rules of gangster-film grammar."

Scott's "goal is epic, and he would gladly drag his feet to get there," writes Duncan Shepherd in the San Diego Reader. "At two and a half hours plus, he indeed does get there. Washington, to pay him a backhanded compliment, is never quite as credible as a through-and-through baddie, even though that seems to be the way to the Oscar (i.e., Training Day). Crowe on the other hand is a perfectly credible crusader, overcoming no greater obstacles on the road to respectability than his buoyant white sneakers and his unflattering, inexpensive period haircut, framing his face with folded wings."

"This is an engrossing story, told smoothly and well, and Russell Crowe's contribution is enormous," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times.

"As corny as this relationship may be, it returns again to the movie's central problem: It loves Frank but has to hate him, too," writes Cindy Fuchs in the Philadelphia City Paper.

Will Lawrence talks with Scott for the Telegraph.

"Our love affair with wealth and fame is now untrammeled by doubts," writes Richard Schickel, following a brief overview of American gangsters past in Time. "It is our big good thing, and eventually Crowe's character, like the rest of us, must surrender to its cheerful demands. That makes American Gangster, which is rather leisurely paced but richly detailed in the way it pursues the minutiae of conspicuous criminality as well as consumption, a more disturbing movie than its makers may have intended."

"[I]t can be classed as a respectable second-tier entry, our decade's equivalent of Michael Mann's Heat," writes the San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle.

Update, 11/4: "The film's best scene... comes when the two confront each other one-on-one," writes Rob Humanick. "Its quality could be the result of the two actors finally being allowed to play off one another, or it could be the fact that it comes near the tail-end of this lifeless stretch of empty craftsmanship. Take your pick."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:55 AM

Croatian Cinema. 2.

With three reviews - and an interview on the way - James Van Maanen picks up where he left off here.

Two Players from the Bench Beyond Boundaries: The Emergence of Croatian Cinema (through November 14 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater) got off to a splendid - if depressing - start with its initial offerings. I say depressing for two reasons: the content of the three films I was able to see - chosen because the director of each would be present and "up" for an interview - and because the audience for this series appears to be remarkably tiny. This is a shame, considering the quality of these first three movies and, I will presume, much of what is to follow.

In describing one of these films, Two Players from the Bench, Richard Brody, writing in the New Yorker, refers to the film as "what the West calls black comedy and the Balkans call life." Well said and too true. While there are things to savor, enjoy and laugh at in all three movies, the underlying feelings of gloom, disappointment and discouragement are simply too strong to exorcise. The miracle here is an ability to persevere.

Armin (site), which is Croatia's entry in the Foreign Language Oscar race, is the least bleak of the three. With very little exposition, it tells a tale of a father and son journeying from a small town to a larger one where the son hopes to audition for a role in a movie. Dad is among the "stage mothers" of all time, but in an exceedingly Croatian manner. Despite his persistence (and his son's great embarrassment), you will not mistake him for Momma Rose.

Armin Little by little we learn the details - some of them, at least - of these two lives. And yet, what many might consider the most important details (certainly the film crew making the movie-within-a-movie does) remain hidden.  This is a daring thing to do, particularly as it concerns, we suspect, past war experiences. But this is also how director/writer Ognjen Svilicic keeps his slim story focused on relationship and character. We come to know about as much as possible about this father and son, given the long weekend time frame and the truthful parsing of exposition (the minimal dialogue allows us to see and hear only what, in reality, might occur).

By film's end, we've traveled back and forth with our duo, experienced a slice of Croatian life today in various venues, and have come to understand what separates - and finally unites - our pair of protagonists without a false moment or undue sentiment.

If Armin is the least depressing of this trio of films, Two Players from the Bench is the most - at the same time as it is hugely funny, nasty, shocking, ugly and full of life. From almost the beginning, when a policeman orders a car trunk opened, sees a bound man inside, and does absolutely nothing about the situation, you'll know you're in strange (yet uncomfortably believable) territory.

Writer/director Dejan Sorak has crafted a gangbusters story - twisty, rich in irony and surprise - in the service of a political/philosophical statement that is extraordinarily humane. Sorak is on record as saying his film is not political. But this is only in terms of not specifically pointing a finger at one side or the other. For anyone who sees the political as constantly impinging on the personal, the economic and everything else, Two Players will seem about as "political" as it gets.

The story unites two unlikely men needed by the state for their similarity in appearance to two other men who could provide an alibi for a Croatian military man accused of war crimes. By the time the film reaches its conclusion, the concept of identity (the individual's and the state's) has been given a shake-down that calls into question the actions of everyone in the film - and by extension its viewers, whom I suspect, will be asking themselves what they might have done in this most nasty and stupid of wars.

In addition to the first-rate concept and execution of the story, I was equally impressed with the quality of filmmaking: everything from the cinematography to the sound, editing, performances (the two leads are terrific) and music. The wondrous finale, which manages profundity and catharsis, will bring you about as close to the continuing aftermath of the destruction of Yugoslavia as you are likely to experience.

A Village Performance of Hamlet Seeing these two modern movies and then watching an equally fine 34-year-old Yugoslav film makes for a fascinating juxtaposition. The now-legendary A Village Performance of Hamlet, directed and co-written by Krsto Papic (from the play by Ivo Bresan) takes a great idea and makes hay with it. The leader of a hick "cooperative" hears about the play Hamlet (or, as they call it here, "Omlete") and decides that his village must produce it. Of course, nobody can fathom the dialog, so the leader then forces the village school teacher to rewrite Shakespeare so that he can be better understood.

Simultaneously, one of the prominent villagers has been falsely accused of embezzlement, and his son tries to come to his rescue. As this story begins to mirror that of Hamlet's, the movie takes on dimensions of social and political critique, in addition to the fun it has with the play itself and how the villagers insist on turning it into a hack political tract. In the lead role, a young Rade Serbedzija, who came to international prominence as a very handsome middle-aged leading man in Macedonia's Before the Rain in 1994 and now works mostly in Hollywood (The Saint, Space Cowboys, TV's South Pacific) here proves an equally handsome young man and helps carry the film as its would-be Hamlet.

As usual, with movies made decades previous, the pacing may seem a bit slow for the modern viewer. Were it shot today, even at its relatively short 98 minutes, it would probably move more quickly and include additional scenes and details. As it is, A Village Performance of Hamlet remains a kind of hallmark of Yugoslavia toward the end of Tito's reign, with Communism deteriorating but nothing quite ready or able to replace it. The penultimate scene - full of feasting and dance - is so festively shocking and unpleasant in its awful celebration of the corrupt status-quo, it's little wonder that the film (which began production during one of Tito's pro-West spells but ended production when he had moved entirely toward the Soviets) was removed from circulation for nearly two years. In any case, A Village Performance is a treat - one that I'd like to think even Shakespeare could enjoy.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:07 AM

October 28, 2007

Interview. Carla Garapedian.

Screamers When a resolution calling on the president to "accurately characterize the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1,500,000 Armenians [between 1915 and 1917] as genocide" was introduced, debate raged in the House of Representatives until, just this past week, sponsors of the measure decided to postpone a vote on the issue. Among those bound to be deeply disappointed are System of a Down, the multi-platinum, Grammy-winning band and centerpiece of the unique film, Screamers.

The documentary is something of a hybrid between an uproarious concert film and a brisk and urgent history lesson, linking that first genocide of the modern era to the all too many that have followed. The congressional resolution may be tabled, but campaign for recognition of the atrocity is far from over. David D'Arcy talks with filmmaker Carla Garapedian about becoming a Screamer.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:43 PM

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), 10/28.

Near Dark "Horror films are regularly (and forgivably) derivative of lores of varying prestige, and although Near Dark does not deny its precursors in horror, it doesn't pronounce them either," writes Rumsey Taylor at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "The result is a horror film of rare substance, poetic in ways that many of its contemporaries fail to be."

Are you voting in Shoot the Projectionist's "31 Flicks That Give You the Willies" poll? You have until midnight to get your ballot in. Here's Bob Turnbull's.

For a snapshot of the current state of horror, see Twitch's collection of reviews from the recently wrapped Toronto After Dark Festival.

"[A]fter you've watched Bride of Frankenstein and Nosferatu ad nauseam, the thrill has a tendency to fly out the window." So Flickhead's been looking for fresh Halloween viewing and finds "Two tricks, two treats."

Evil Dead 2 Rob Humanick's zombie movie today: Evil Dead II, "something of a masterpiece unto itself; with a substantially larger budget at his disposal, director Sam Raimi essentially remade the film that jumpstarted his career, largely cutting down on the horror quotient and instead recasting the tale as one of frightful slapstick. Laughs notwithstanding, however, the film is just as unforgiving as its darker predecessor; viewers with heart conditions may want to keep their thumb near the pause button, lest their own health be put at unnecessary risk."

At Cinematical, Jeffrey M Anderson lists seven of the "Funniest Horror Movies," while Christopher Campbell delights in a reviewing of the #1 film on that list, Shaun of the Dead.

"The 1957 Hammer Films horror classic The Curse of Frankenstein meets Destiny's Child." And another clip from Phil Morehart at Facets Features: The Bride of Frankenstein.

Online browsing tip. Jonathan Lapper's "All Hallows Feast of Photos."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:19 AM | Comments (1)

October 27, 2007

Shorts, 10/27.

David Bordwell: Poetics of Cinema David Bordwell's Poetics of Cinema is out, and he's got all sorts of news about book sales and thoughts on whether or not he'll publish the next one as a book. As for this one, though:

I argue that we ought to study how films are constructed architecturally, as revealed for instance in plot structure or narration.... I want to know how filmmakers have confronted problems set by others, or created problems for themselves to solve. I want to know how they draw on the past to borrow or modify or reject creative strategies. I want to know filmmakers' secrets, including the ones they don't know they know. And I want to know how all this creative activity is shaped to the uptake of spectators in different times and places.

"Thousands of passers-by watched Doug Aitken's monumental video Sleepwalkers last winter when it was projected nightly across the facade of the Museum of Modern Art for nearly a month," writes Carol Vogel in the New York Times. "Now Mr Aitken is adapting Sleepwalkers for the Miami Art Museum's new building, designed by the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron and scheduled to open in 2011."

"The idea is not simply to conduct a survey of 20th-century classical composition but to come up with a history of that century as refracted through its music." Reviewing Alex Ross's The Rest Is Noise, Geoff Dyer finds the point at which "the debate at the conceptual heart of Ross's undertaking is thrown into sharpest focus: is the history of music self-contained or can a larger, extramusical history be distilled from it? Actually, as Ross makes clear, the alternatives are mutually implicated and imbricated: 'precisely because of its inarticulate nature,' music is 'all too easily imprinted with ideologies and deployed to political ends.'" And here's another parallel with the history of film: "Who could have imagined that, as a 'surreal' consequence of the rise of fascism, many of the giants of European classical music - Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Rachmaninov and Otto Klemperer (to say nothing of Mann and Adorno) - would end up living on each others' doorsteps in Los Angeles?" The parallels, in fact, converge: "[S]coring music for films became one of the principal ways in which new orchestral music maintained a viable position in the cultural marketplace."

And this leads off a special music issue of the Book Review with all sorts of good stuff.

Beautiful Sunday "Beautiful Sunday has encouraged me to watch out for Jin Kwang-kyo in the future," writes Adam Hartzell at Koreanfilm.org.

"Three women from Germany unexpectedly end up in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam over the holidays in Angelina Maccarone's assured drama Vivere," writes Boyd van Hoeij at european-films.net.

"The similarities to Godard's Two or Three Things I Know About Her are striking." At chained to the cinémathèque, Dave McDougall offers a few thoughts on Pedro Costa's In Vanda's Room.

For the Financial Times, Emily Stokes talks with François Ozon about Angel - and about why he became a filmmaker in the first place.

Monica Ali, who wrote the novel, Brick Lane, and Sarah Gavron, who directed the adaptation, "are responding to a public hunger for some insights into British-Bangladeshi life," editorializes the Guardian. "They are providing reportage from an under-reported community. There is a price for that, and it comes in treating one's subjects with greater care than if they were made up."

Also, Holly Griggs on Machinima.

Indiewood's faring far better this year than the Los Angeles Times tells it, argues David Poland at Movie City News.

Online urban adventure. Ray Pride's "Impact of the Cities."

Online viewing tip #1. That conversation between Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson.

Online viewing tip #2. Via Wiley Wiggins, the Zellner Bros's video for The Octopus Project.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:04 PM | Comments (3)

Fests and events, 10/27.

RomeFilmFest The RomeFilmFest, wrapping today, has announced a slew of awards-winners, including Juno (Best Film), Rade Šerbedžija (Best Actor, Fugitive Pieces), Jiang Wenli (Best Actress, And the Spring Comes) and Hafez (Special Jury Award).

Neil Young's rating films he's caught at the Viennale, running through Wednesday.

Michael Guillén talks with Lotfi Abdelli, who plays the lead in Nouri Bouzid's Making Of, which opened the Arab Film Festival. Abdelli had been detained for five hours at San Francisco International Airport and Michael asks him about the incident:

They are respectful but they ask me questions for five hours and sometimes the same question, sometimes I didn't understand which kind of question. They ask me why I come here and I explain to them that I am invited by the festival. They tell me why you come here again and I explain again, "I'm here for the festival." What is your job? I explain what is my job. What is your business? I explain what is my business. What kind of film? After they take the DVD and they see the film they ask me, "You are encouraging and glorifying the fundamentalist in your film," and I said, "It's not true. We are against this and it's very nice for American people to see this film because we explain how it's fragile to become terrorist. It's good to know about this." They ask me what I think about America. After, they take my telephone and they go through the [contacts list] and they ask me what is this names? Who are these people? What is my relation with these people? Sometimes they left me waiting for half an hour and they come back and they ask me again the same questions.

Steve Dollar looks back at Sitges 07 for Paste.

David Walsh opens the WSWS's review of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:29 PM

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), 10/27.

Dracula "Fifty years ago, in a cramped studio on the banks of the Thames in Berkshire, the director Terence Fisher called the shots on the Hammer version of Dracula," writes Matthew Sweet in his history of the vampire on screen for the Guardian. "The original print has just been restored by the British Film Institute and is now ready to manifest itself again. Its color palette, which always looked crude and garish on television, is now a rich mix of autumnal browns and priestly purples. Only the fake blood - which gathers inside Christopher Lee's vampire contact lenses, spurts from staked hearts and spatters inexplicably from the air - reads as improperly, unnaturally bright, like Kathleen Byron's tarty lipstick in Black Narcissus."

"Why watch Terence Fisher's Dracula when you can watch Browning's, Murnau's, Herzog's, Maddin's, or even Coppola's instead?" asks Nathan Kosub at Reverse Shot. "For Lee, of course." Which is also why he's just watched The Devil Rides Out.

Back in the Guardian, Kate Mosse on Algernon Blackwood and his "readership hungry for his peculiar blend of nature and the supernatural."

"Although the social relevance of Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is likely to have had greater impact (and well-earned shock value) during its initial release, its intelligence in approximating the cultural conflicts of the day has since earned it the quality of timeless relevance, even if the film itself is relatively unknown compared to many of its 70s horror brethren," writes Rob Humanick.

Louis Bayard reviews Susan Tyler Hitchcock's "delightful" Frankenstein: A Cultural History: "No one, it seems, can quite agree on what this monster means, and for more than a century, no one could be sure what he looked like - until director James Whale tapped a minor, 40-something actor named Boris Karloff for the 1931 film adaptation."

Also in the Washington Post:

  • Alan Lightman's Ghost "is by no means the scariest supernatural tale you could read on Halloween - King is still king - but it may be the smartest, and for that reason it ends up being a hell of a lot more unsettling than a horde of flesh-eating zombies," writes Ron Charles.

20th Century Ghosts
  • In his collection 20th Century Ghosts, Joe Hill's "subject matter is steeped in the pop culture and tabloid detritus of the last 50 years: serial killers, abducted children, families living on the fault lines between divorce and poverty, horror movies and supernatural fiction," writes Elizabeth Hand. "Yet his real focus is an almost obsessively nuanced exploration of the nature of American manhood." More from Chris Bolton at Powell's.

  • "By finding the horrors that exist in everyday life - always the most fertile source for fear - [Joyce Carol] Oates has crafted a suspenseful and satisfying collection," writes David J Montgomery. "Some of the stories in The Museum of Dr Moses hew more closely to mystery than to the macabre, but they are all a ghoulish delight."

  • And April Austin reviews Susan Warren's Backyard Giants: The Passionate, Heartbreaking, and Glorious Quest to Grow the Biggest Pumpkin Ever.

"Night of the Lepus is one of those movies in which a fabulous premise is realized in exactly the wrong way," writes Megan Weireter at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "A few major problems prevent us from having too much fun with this. For one, there's not one single instance of anyone saying, 'Giant killer rabbits? That's crazy talk!'"

I Married a Monster from Outer Space "is much better than you’d ever expect," writes Jeff at Movie Morlocks. "Imagine a feminist sci-fi version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers where all of the men in town are slowly replaced by these hideous imposters (they drop their 'human' disguises occasionally, especially during electrical storms)."

The Telegraph lists the "31 Scariest Moments in Film."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:02 PM

Saw IV.

Saw IV "Over the course of two sequels, the Saw franchise took a novel, if distasteful, idea and basically tortured it to death," begins Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times.

"[S]ince the sole justification for Saw IV's existence is potential box-office riches, it's hardly surprising that the story is merely an excessively convoluted rehash of its predecessors, and that its signature set pieces both lack ingenuity and posit only facile, exploitative photocopies of actual ethical quandaries," writes Nick Schager at Slant.

Updated through 10/30.

"If the original Saw was the kernel of a potential terror universe, Saw IV is, by this time, a series of satellites and lesser celestial bodies bound together by some of the best bloodletting in modern macabre," writes Bill Gibron for PopMatters. "Call this the 'fill in the blank' film, a movie made to specifically address the minor issues still hanging from the previous three installments."

"If the terrible craft of [director Darren Lynn] Bousman's film doesn't turn your stomach, the borderline pornographic violence will," writes Scott Schueller for the Chicago Tribune. "It's disconcerting to imagine anyone enjoying the vile filth splashing the screen."

But of course, as Reuters reports, Saw IV will be the weekend box office champ.

Online grinning tip. Potentially, a fan's accessory.

Update, 10/30: "As with the Friday the 13th films, critics sit in front of the Saw movies but they don't see them," writes DK Holm for the Vancouver Voice. "They also tend to review the audience rather than the movie, fret over the demise of the culture, and attempt to figuratively cleanse themselves after the experience by making sure we know that they garnered no pleasure from watching people being tortured. But any film series this popular demands more serious consideration. Sadly, the sobriquet 'torture porn' doesn't accurately reflect what happens in these films, as the characters are tortured per se but put in excruciating situations and asked to make a choice. Be it Hobson's or not, it is a choice. And it must reflect something of the weird culture we find ourselves living in."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:55 PM

October 26, 2007

Shorts, 10/26.

Chuck Tryon on Jem Cohen "Jem Cohen's lyrical, observant documentaries, Chain and Building a Broken Mousetrap, offer a fleeting glimpse of how we inhabit public space in the early 21st century, well over a century after the Paris Arcades that Benjamin so attentively studied throughout the last two decades of his career," writes Chuck Tryon in Art Signal. "Cohen's films self-consciously evoke a Benjaminian approach to mass culture that builds upon and extends the cine-essays of Chris Marker, focusing his lens on the contemporary equivalent of the Paris Arcades, the shopping malls, theme parks, and chain restaurants that dominate our landscape."

Acquarello on Pedro Costa's In Vanda's Room: "Composed of long take, stationary shots, often of cramped interior spaces or narrow alleys framed against neglected building façades, doorways, and even gouged walls that reflect the characters' economic bondage and spiritual captivity, the film's oppressive moral landscape and interminable stasis are also revealed through repeating episodes of inarticulate, idle conversations, hardscrabble drug use, door to door peddling, acts of petty theft, and habitual rummaging (most notably, in Vanda finding an antique model ship that had been inadvertently left outside that alludes to the country's own historical change in fortune from colonial empire to increasingly marginalized country within the economic homogenization of a borderless European Union)."

"Costa's first film, O Sangue... while stunning to look at, doesn't quite work aesthetically or even at a basic narrative level," writes Darren Hughes. "By contrast, Casa de Lava is much more assured and coherent. Costa claims to have begun the project out of anger with Portugal's turn to the right amidst the formation of the European Union, which precipitated a dramatic restructuring of the nation's economy, including the privitization of television."

Klassenverhaeltnisse With the Edition Filmmuseum release of Class Relations in a package that includes "two major short films... that offer rare and illuminating glimpses of the filmmakers' working methods... the number of films on DVD (with English subtitles) about Straub and Huillet now outnumber the films on DVD by Straub and Huillet, which is unfortunate given the importance of their work," notes Doug Cummings.

"Alain Resnais gives no signs of retiring anytime soon," reports Boyd van Hoeij at european-films.net. "After his well-received choral work Coeurs (Private Fears in Public Places), which premiered at Venice last year, the 85-year-old director is currently in pre-production on L'incident (The Incident), an adaptation of the eponymous novel from Christian Gailly."

Ted Z passes along news that Michel Gondry is working on a documentary about his aunt.

Glenn Kenny has a fun entry on what happened when he, "Stephanie Zacharek of Salon, Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly, Armond White of the New York Press, Ty Burr of the Boston Globe, Scott Foundas of LA Weekly, the venerable David Sterritt and the venerable Phillip Lopate and moderators Richard Porton and Cynthia Lucia of Cineaste" all "ad a grand time arguing over the course of three 150 minute panels over two days." Heavens. "It was kind of exhausting."

Michael Snow gets Girish thinking about how we perceive what we see (and hear) when we watch.

"Ring the bells! Storm the gates! Raise the flags! And spread the word over the mainstream, fascist-controlled media!" yelps Josh Rosenblatt in the Austin Chronicle. "Friday, Oct. 26, Alex Jones, Austin's greatest freedom fighter, radio-show host, filmmaker, and "speculative historian" (my term; copyright pending) is releasing his latest movie, Endgame: Blueprint for Global Enslavement, on his website, InfoWars.com."

"This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Hollywood 10 and the Hollywood Blacklist, an epidemic of censorship in the movie industry that set the stage for 'McCarthyism,' a term that evokes the fearful and oppressive mood of that bygone era and resonates with our current age of repression under the Bush regime." Ed Rampell looks back at Truthdig. Via Bookforum.

Blame It on Fidel "The conventional cinematic portrayal of unconventional parents, particularly those of a left-wing bent, is as wacky, irresponsible people who place bizarre ideals above their progeny's need for a nutritious supper and regular music practice," writes Melissa Benn. "From Mrs Banks, the mother in Mary Poppins who would rather campaign for 'Votes for Women' than stay at home and tidy the nursery, to Hideous Kinky, the tale of a hippie chick (played by Kate Winslet) who hauls her two young daughters through a series of exotic adventures in North Africa, film has captured the clash between adult self-absorption and the childish need for security and attention. Blame It on Fidel, a low-key masterpiece out now on selected release, is the latest addition to the genre."

Also in the New Statesman: "The overwhelming majority of black actors of my generation have found that their only hope of a career lies in America (an old maxim states that 'in Britain, white actors have careers and black actors have jobs')," writes Kwame Kwei-Armah. "This is not just an issue about acting. It also presents a huge problem for my work as a playwright, and for the visibility of stories from the black community in general.... So, how can we begin to turn this inequality around? There is hope, as we have proved in the past that it can be done."

From David Byrne's Journal: "Dinner at the home of Susan and Leonard Nimoy. They are big art collectors and a Joseph Beuys piece in their living room features a photo of the Beuys clan sitting in a room all gazing up at the TV, giving it their full attention. They're watching Star Trek."

"Redacted is an act of voyeurism that becomes a part of the thing that it claims to denounce," blogs George Packer for the New Yorker. "If the pictures from Abu Ghraib and Zarqawi's homemade videos are war porn, Redacted is film-theory porn—a stylized snuff film inside a meta-critique of the media." Via Movie City News.

"Steve Buscemi and Daniel Bruehl (Good Bye, Lenin) have joined the cast of John Rabe, Florian Gallenberger's true story about a German businessman who saved more than 200,000 Chinese during the Nanjing massacre in 1937 - 38," reports Ed Meza.

Also in Variety:

Shutter Island

Michael Mann will also likely direct a film about Alexander Litvinenko, reports the AFP.

Screenwriters are racing to wrap up their first, third or final drafts before their Guild's contract runs out on Halloween night. Rachel Abramowitz and Robert W Welkos report in the Los Angeles Times.

Also: Indiewood's having a rotten year, reports Rachel Abramowitz: "[T]he specialty divisions en masse are having a down cycle. So far, 2007 has not borne any breakouts like Little Miss Sunshine, Brokeback Mountain or The Queen. 'We're all suffering. It's the entire business,' says Focus Features Chief Executive James Schamus. 'At least someone should be succeeding. It's as bad a fall as I've ever seen.'"

And: "In a year that has seen a veritable logjam of movie musicals, rockumentaries and biopics about famous singers - and at a time when more such films are being green-lighted every month - it was bound to come along: a magazine dedicated to the intersection of pop music and moviemaking," writes Chris Lee. "Enter Movies Rock, a custom publishing supplement that will be mailed to about 16 million subscribers of 14 Condé Nast magazines - such as Vanity Fair, Vogue and GQ - beginning Nov 1."

In the New York Times:

  • "Hollywood directors have been doing commercial work for decades - usually to bring in extra cash, turn a project around quickly and show the range of their talent," writes Claire Atkinson. "These days, however, there are new reasons people with boldface names make ads: to keep up in a multimedia world where the ability to master various platforms is at a premium and where consumers are as likely to see their work on YouTube or TiVo as at the multiplex."

  • "Although the Walt Disney Company has always had a bit of a translation problem in France - remember those pitchfork-wielding farmers who showed up in force to protest the 1992 opening of Euro Disney? - the company seems to have found a new ambassador in Remy the rat," reports Brooks Barnes.

  • Lia Miller reports that Wes Anderson's short Hotel Chevalier will be screening in theaters after all as The Darjeeling Limited opens wider.

  • And David M Halbfinger reports that Ed Burns's Purple Violets will be the first feature to make its commercial debut on iTunes.

  • Jordana Lewis reports that New York's Legislature will soon be considering a version of California's Dead Celebrities Bill, which ensures that families of, yes, dead celebrities will maintain control over rights of publicity.

Revamped theaters: Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly and Elina Shatkin in the LAT on the Silent Movie Theatre and Andrew Repasky McElhinney in the Philadelphia Weekly on the Ambler Theater.

Vue: FAVA "The Film and Video Arts Society of Alberta - more commonly truncated to FAVA - is hardly a standard arts organization," writes David Berry. "Founded in 1982 by a group of 16 Edmonton filmmakers trying to find a way to make film equipment more accessible, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that the organization maintains a certain kind of boundless creativity—after all, it still boasts an impressive number of original members." Also in the Vue Weekly, Josef Braun talks with filmmaker Gary Burns about why co-ops matter.

The Observer's Jason Solomons talks with Buscemi about Interview, his remake of a film by Theo van Gogh, whose career Kate Connelly reviews while looking ahead to further planned remakes.

More interviews: Boyd van Hoeij with Nocturna directors Victor Maldonado and Adrià García at european-films.net, Patrick Barkham talks with Cate Blanchett for the Guardian, Will Lawrence meets Clive Owen for the Telegraph and Gill Pringle interviews Josh Hartnett for the Independent.

"Jan Kounen is a French music video and feature film director who has specialized in bringing the spiritual world to the screen." Rak Razam talks with him for Filmmaker.

Online browsing tip. From Jim Emerson: "Guy Budziak makes film noir woodcuts in high-contrast black and white."

Online viewing tip. Ryland Walker Knight's got a string of clips from the night in 1970 when John Cassavetes, Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara were guests on the Dick Cavett Show.

Online viewing tips. The Guardian's Phil Hoad rounds up clips sampling fashion on film.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:50 PM

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), 10/26.

Nosferatu "More than 80 years after its completion, FW Murnau's Nosferatu remains among the most potent and unsettling horror films ever made," writes Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent. "Among the reasons the film remains so resonant to contemporary audiences is its fascination with the links between sex and disease, its anatomy of physical and moral corruption, and the way it plays on the fear of the 'other.'"

"Can my jaded 7-year-old be scared, or at least have his pulse set racing, by a little old-fashioned smoke-and-mirrors, black-and-white moviemaking?" wonders Wendell Jamieson in the New York Times. "So for the last several weeks he and I have watched a series of clever horror movies from the 1940s, including a few exciting recent releases. I'm happy to report success. Dean has learned to allow his imagination to frighten him, and he doesn't seem any the worse for wear."

In the San Francisco Chroncle, Violet Blue counts down her top ten lesbian vampire flicks - a well-annotated list.

The Saw movies are "radically conservative," argues Grady Hendrix in Slate. "Like the creaky old Republic serials of the 1930s, they're full of deathtraps, nerve gas, slow-acting poisons, and a complete misunderstanding of how electricity works. But their greatest crime is rejecting the anarchic thrills of the slasher movie in favor of reinforcing modern-day corporate culture."

"This time last year, enervated by the hollow experience of watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and then energized by a late-night viewing of John Carpenter's lovely and terrifying The Fog, I began a week-long blog expedition to reclaim horror for myself," blogs robbiefreeling for Reverse Shot, and he's off: "Even more so than in its gruesome, creative killings, Inferno locates its fear through hallways, basements, shadows, colors, and crawlspaces." Also: "With her mix of panic and pity, [Dee] Wallace gets what makes Cujo such a thoroughly untraditional horror movie: the central monster lacks motivation, it's just a lumbering, besotted animal, yet its insatiable hunger forms a nearly insurmountable obstacle."

Night of the Creeps "An unapologetic amalgam of sci-fi monster schlock, college campus comedy, and, of course, gory zombie horror, [Night of the Creeps] avoids the hazards of genre mingling by pitting its heroes against a believable undead threat, and not allowing its audience many uneventful moments to dwell on the film's inanity," writes Thomas Scalzo at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "Even when a joke falls flat or a bit of dialogue is especially painful, the frenetic pace, occasional hilarity, and solid horror set pieces overcome the letdown, and pull us irresistibly deeper into this manic tale of cops and coeds fighting to kick the ever-increasing numbers of undead permanently off campus."

At Cinematical, Ryan Stewart explains "Why I Don't Care for Zombie Movies" and argues that Candyman "h does so many things right I can hardly list them all. This is a horror movie that gets depressing right - how many movies can hit that note?"

"Despite the strongly emphasized exoticness its Haitian scenery, The Serpent and the Rainbow may be Wes Craven's most pedestrian film," writes Rob Humanick. "This says a lot about a director who has defined his career largely through the presentation of everyday scenery perverted by the unexpected and the supernatural, from Freddy Kreuger's creepy distortion of his surroundings to the tight, uncanny claustrophobia of the seemingly innocuous Red Eye."

Eric Alt introduces Premiere's DIY Halloween Film Fest, 24 hours of disturbing home viewing.

The Chicago Reader rounds up local screenings of Halloween movies.

Online browsing tip. "I'd like to direct you to some of my favorite sites, and their thoughts on the looming All Hallows." Movie Morlocks' Richard Harland Smith is your guide.

Online sing-along tip. The AV Club presents "14 Songs About Vampires."

Online viewing tip. At Facets Features, Phil Morehart posts "a disturbing, disorienting, panic-filled seven minutes" from the real Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:28 PM | Comments (2)

Fests and events, 10/26.

Insect Woman "Ozu's project was to uphold the traditional Japanese family; Imamura's was to explode it. The rebel's dynamite? The will and sexuality of the poor Japanese female." For the Stranger, Charles Mudede previews A Man Vanishes: The Legacy of Shohei Imamura, a series running at the Northwest Film Forum through November 12.

"The sky over Vienna remains dark and ominous today." Cyril Neyrat carries on filing Viennale journal entries for Cahiers du cinéma. "Last night, a capacity crowd gathered at the Filmmuseum to listen to [Jean-Pierre Gorin's] improvised lecture on Vertov and got more than their money's worth. A summary in four points..."

"The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) will open on November 22 with Richard Robbins's Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience, based on the letters, poems, essays and diary entries of American soldiers in Iraq," reports indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez.

AJ Schnack notes that the Denver Film Festival has unveiled its lineup. November 8 through 18.

The Chicago Reader previews the Chicago Humanities Film Festival (Monday through November 8) and remaining highlights of the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema and the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival (both through Sunday).

The Tate Modern will be showing five programs of films by Ernie Gehr from Friday, November 2, through Sunday, November 4.

"The Retrospective of the 58th Berlin International Film Festival will honor Spanish director Luis Buñuel." February 7 through 17.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:11 PM

Lists, 10/26.

Premiere: Will Smith 06 Premiere unveils its "Power List 2007," a top 50.

Doug Block has now posted all "Ten Rules of Personal Documentary Filmmaking."

"Five years ago on the IMDb Classics Board long-time poster bkamberger hosted an extensive poll on the best LGBT films," notes Jesse Ataide. "Fast forward, and he's at it again." An annotated list of his own follows.

Screengrab's got a new list: "Top Thirteen Greatest Fictional Movie Presidents." Parts 1, 2 and 3.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:02 PM

Croatian Cinema. 1.

Armin Launching his coverage of another promising series, James Van Maanen has a quick preview Beyond Boundaries: The Emergence of Croatian Cinema.

This evening marks the debut of a 20-day festival of 25 films from Croatia: eleven recent examples (including Armin (site), the movie Croatia is submitting to qualify for this year's Best Foreign Film), 13 more that span the past five decades, and a compilation of some of the best shorts from the world-class "Zagreb school of animation." Half a century of cinema from a land that was only a part of what most of us beyond the age of 20 used to call Yugoslavia. Who knew?

Beyond Boundaries: The Emergence of Croatian Cinema is the title given to the series by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and it turns out that this is just the beginning: the first of a four-part look at the national cinemas of the former Yugoslavia that the FSLC will host over the coming years. Richard Peña, program director at the FSLC calls Croatia "an extraordinary crossroads between east and west, north and south, and for many years the entry point for new waves and modes of filmmaking while part of the former Yugoslavia. Its long-standing tradition of innovation has helped a vibrant, critical cinema emerge, making Croatian films popular not only at home but increasingly with international audiences."

Three Croatian directors, representing three generations of filmmakers, will appear at the festival to introduce their films: Krsto Papic (whose 1973 A Village Performance of Hamlet screens Sat, Oct 27 and Sunday, Oct 28); Dejan Sorak (Two Players from the Bench, 2005, Saturday, Oct 27 and Monday, Oct 29); and Ognjen Svilicic (Armin, 2007, Sunday, Oct 28 and Monday, Oct 29). An interview with the three directors, along with reviews of their films, will appear soon.

In a surprise move that may encourage more viewers to take a chance on a cinema that is probably quite new to them, FSLC is issuing an unusual series pass ($40; $30 for Film Society members) for Beyond Boundaries, which admits one person to five titles in the series and is available for purchase (cash only) at the Walter Reade Theater box office, a savings of $3 off the single ticket price ($11) for non-Film Society members and $2 off the $7 single ticket price for members.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:04 AM

Rails & Ties.

Rails & Ties "It's probably not the easiest thing in the world to direct your first feature film when your dad is an icon like Clint Eastwood, but with her feature debut, Rails & Ties, helmer Alison Eastwood makes some smart decisions, most of which involve surrounding herself with people who know what they're doing," writes Kim Voynar at Cinematical, where she talks with Eastwood and Marcia Gay Harden.

"Ms Eastwood's smartest move was to tap Kevin Bacon for one of her leads," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "As Tom Stark, an emotionally tamped-down railroad engineer with a dying wife, Mr Bacon gives the film gravity and energy. Unlike Marcia Gay Harden, an appealing actress who takes on the role of the terminally ill wife, Megan, with rather too much enthusiasm, Mr Bacon plays it as cool as he can."

"The acting is great," agrees Ella Taylor in the Voice, but "there's no saving this mawkish tale - whose best feature is its sense of railway life, and whose worst is its reduction of life's common hurts and losses to puppetry."

"Eastwood opts for the tried-and-true approach of tearjerkers past," writes the AV Club's Keith Phipps, who disagrees with the accolades for the performances: "Bacon in particular is so ungiving here that it's never clear if he's grieving for his wife's plight or preparing to track the cancer down for some vigilante-style justice. That points to the biggest problem with Eastwood's film: Nobody feels anything they're not explicitly told to feel. Not even the audience."

The "one-track thematic obsession that brings everything back to trains... make it hard to resist employing railroad-related clichés generally used to describe things that go badly wrong," writes Carina Chocano. "Having had enough of those to last me a while, I think I'll resist the temptation."

Also in the Los Angeles Times: "The Premise: Megan Stark (Marcia Gay Harden) is suffering from stage 4 (metastatic) breast cancer that, though being "cured twice," has spread to her bones." For the Los Angeles Times, Marc Siegel, an internist and an associate professor of medicine at New York University's School of Medicine, examines the realistic chances for her recovery.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:03 AM | Comments (1)

Dan in Real Life.

Dan in Real Life "Dan in Real Life isn't crap, but it's about as pleasant as a movie can get without actually being any good," writes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "The movie is so warm and cozy it might as well be wearing a big, fuzzy sweater."

"Steve Carell's pursed-lipped awkwardness and sweet buffoonery are both in fine form in Dan in Real Life, but those endearing qualities aren't nearly enough to salvage Peter Hedges's incorrigibly hackneyed film," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

"Dan in Real Life is neither wildly farcical nor mockingly cruel, but rather, for the most part, winningly gentle and observant," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Yes, there is the maudlin back story of Dan's widowhood, and the familiar scenario of all that quirky kin stuffed into one house for a few days. But Mr Hedges, a seasoned screenwriter, showed in his directing debut, Pieces of April, that he could infuse tired conventions of domestic comedy with fresh life and real intelligence. And here, working in a less self-consciously eccentric mode, he does it again."

Updated through 10/28.

"There's nothing remotely real about this over-confected romantic comedy, in which Carell plays a newspaper advice columnist and single dad who falls in love with his brother's girlfriend during a weekend at the family beach house," writes Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post. "Come to think of it, that house - a magnificent shake-sided pile on Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay - might be the only believable character in a movie in which the idea of resolving a scene is for everyone to engage in some adorable group activity, whether it's a crossword puzzle contest, charades, aerobics, a Kennedyesque game of touch football or, heaven help us, a too-cute-for-words talent show. (What, no potato-sack race?)"

"It's a much funnier and moving film than that description would suggest," counters Keith Phipps at the AV Club.

"There's nothing groundbreaking about Dan in Real Life - it's a picture that could have been made 10 or 20 years ago - and yet its easygoing, affable nature is exactly what makes it pleasurable," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek.

"Steve Carell of The 40-Year-Old Virgin has a personality, or maybe it is a lack of personality, that is growing on me," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "He is content to exist on the screen without sending wild semaphores of his intentions, his uniqueness and how funny he is. He's an everyman like a very (very) low-key Jack Lemmon."

Robert Wilonsky in the Voice: "One could fill this entire space with the titles of films from which writer-director Peter Hedges nicks his story, but for the sake of expediency, we'll narrow it down to a desert-island handful: Home for the Holidays, The Family Stone, Sleepless in Seattle, What About Bob?, and Hedges's own excellent Thanksgiving-dinner-flavored Pieces of April."

"If we could remotely believe in any of these characters or situations, a cast this strong might have pulled this movie off," sighs Alonso Duralde at MSNBC.

"[I]f what you want is a star-driven sophisticated romantic comedy that is successfully aimed at actual adults, the wait can seem like forever. Until now," heralds Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times.

"Dan, in real life, is a jerk," writes Mike Russell. "Seriously: In no universe (other than the precious little microcosm created by this film) would Dan be considered anything other than a self-involved, passive-aggressive, stalkerish, pathetic, traitorous emotional amateur."

Update, 10/27: Bryant Frazer offers a bit of advice.

Update, 10/28: "The men in dude comedies are Neanderthals," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "he men in chick comedies have evolved into losers.... A mainstream comedy with an indie vibe, Dan hopes to be the film that gets couples back in the theater for something they'd both respond to.... One of the effects of the rowdy, guy-centric Judd Apatow movies is that, by establishing new rules for movie comedy, they've make milder romantic ones seem like relics from the 1950s."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:00 AM

Pete Seeger: The Power of Song.

Pete Seeger: The Power of Song Pete Seeger: The Power of Song "reminds us, with admirable thoroughness, why we shouldn't take Pete Seeger for granted," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "He is, for one thing, more complicated than he might seem at first, much in the way that the folk music he adores reveals hidden nuances beneath apparently simple stories and tunes.... The son of an academic musicologist and a gifted violinist, he has always looked and sounded less like the product of Eastern boarding schools than like a figure out of 19th-century legend: gangly, with a deliberate manner of speaking and the zealous gleam of true belief in his eye."

"Shallow, very officially sanctioned, and overly compressed, The Power of Song plays like a PBS infomercial for the inevitable DVD box set, which will surely include even more archival footage," writes Brian Miller in the Voice.

But writing at cinemaattraction, Robert Levin finds it a fascinating portrait of a man driven to do more than make his mark on musical history. To Seeger, his music served the greater purpose of providing a source of unification for those outside the societal mainstream, a means for communal healing and a place for peaceful dissent from the injustices promulgated in Vietnam and elsewhere."

Tribeca has a video interview with director Jim Brown.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:45 AM

Music Within.

Music Within "A bad movie with a good heart, Music Within is a biography of Richard Pimentel (Ron Livingston), a debating champion who suffered severe hearing damage in Vietnam, then reinvented himself as an activist for the handicapped," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times.

"Pimentel's story of perseverance is a worthy and inspiring one, but on-screen it never comes together as a fully actualized dramatic narrative, despite the presence of strong performances by Ron Livingston, Michael Sheen, Melissa George and Yul Vázquez," writes Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times.

"Sheen is often the saving grace of Music Within, thanks to an aggressively profane wit that gives an otherwise tapioca-bland story a little edge," writes Tasha Robinson at the AV Club.

For Robert Wilonsky, writing in the Voice, "a little earnestness goes a long way, and Music Within has a little too much of it."

At indieWIRE, Michael Joshua Rowin concurs: "[T]erribly earnest and mostly forgettable."

Steven Sawalich's "TV movie-grade direction isn't up to the task of enlivening material that eventually settles into a predictable, torpid narrative structure," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:37 AM

Total Denial.

Total Denial "Total Denial is, to put it lightly, a niche film," writes Julia Wallace in the Voice. "Directed, produced, and edited by the Bulgarian journalist Milena Kaneva, it tells the story of human-rights abuses committed by the Burmese military on behalf of Unocal, an American oil company laying a pipeline there."

"Its central figure, Ka Hsaw Wa, is the stuff heroes are made of (even if the film only narrowly escapes overglorifying him)," writes Laura Kern in the New York Times. "Documentaries like Total Denial are less interested in exhibiting a particular filmmaking style than in telling stories that cry out to be heard."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:24 AM

How to Cook Your Life.

How to Cook Your Life "A documentary about Edward Espe Brown, a Zen priest and cook who wrote the popular Tassajara Bread Book, How to Cook Your Life may gently preach about organic cooking—and the bonds shared by eater and food - but gentle preaching is still preaching," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

"In typical [Doris] Dörrie fashion, the film is wry, ingratiating, and ultimately ambitious in ways too low-key to announce themselves," writes Dennis Harvey in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "However, viewers are advised to bring along at least a casual interest in Zen philosophy - the unsympathetic may find themselves rolling their eyes at the seemingly flat simplicity ('When you wash the rice, wash the rice') of the many wisdoms offered here."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:10 AM

October 25, 2007

The Living and the Dead.

The Living and the Dead "A bizarre psychological study of degeneration and dependency, The Living and the Dead is a horror movie only in the most literal sense," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "Skirting genre conventions, Simon Rumley's twisted feature inhabits shores where the gore is minimal and the demons unseen - neither of which makes it any less disconcerting."

"Part neo-gothic horror, part empathetic schizoid freak-out, The Living and the Dead suggests an unlikely cross between Spider and Requiem for a Dream, albeit one whose whole is less than the sum of its parts," writes Rob Humanick at Slant. That said, "Rumley - who wrote the film in response to his mother's short-lived battle with cancer - is a great humanist. The Living and the Dead, then, is most effective as a promise of greater things to come."

"The Living and the Dead is not an easy movie to sit through, and its darkness may be a little mannered, but it's an elegant construction with real emotions buried deep inside," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. It's also "a combination of the crumbling-old-house and protagonist-gone-mad genres that utterly lacks ghosts or monsters but might be an indie-horror classic of the future."

For Nick Pinkerton, writing in the Voice, the film "superficially recollects superior art shockers like In a Glass Cage and Fists in the Pocket, but substitutes jittery, unconvincing "in the mind of a madman" foolishness for the hard work of psychological acuity."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:58 PM


Lynch The lesson of the new documentary Lynch - well, one lesson, along with the sound advice not to perforate a bloated cow with a pick-ax - is that producing a fugue-state apocalypse ripped bleeding from the subconscious isn't as easy as it sounds," writes Jim Ridley in the Voice. "Chronologically vague and associative rather than linear in its linkage of sound and image, the film intersperses fly-on-the-wall footage of Lynch brooding, joking, and tending his website with the minutiae of the director shaping his unclear vision - from personally distressing a set with hammers and wheat paste to coaching Laura Dern on how to best fake a knifing on the Hollywood Walk of Fame."

Updated through 10/26.

"Lynch would make a great character for a straightforward portrayal, but that's not the intention of the documentary's director. But who is the director?" asks Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "The credit has been attributed to 'blackANDwhite,' leading curious sorts to speculate that it was helmed by Lynch himself. Whether or not that's the case, it certainly looks like an element of his universe."

"At his request, I have kept blackANDwhite's identity secret, and so the mystery surrounding him remains, and we can shift focus to his excellent film," writes Nick Dawson. "Filmmaker conducted a (typographically distinctive) interview with blackANDwhite over email, and corresponded with him about spending two years filming David Lynch, his shadowy identity, and fond memories of childhood cinemagoing with his grandmother."

"Lynch offers a fascinating view of Lynch's irascible personality (and insatiable appetite for coffee and cigarettes," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "I suppose you could say that Lynch's creative process also comes into clearer focus - in this case, he was making the shit up as he went along, and it shows, too."

But for Rob Humanick, writing at Slant, "this slipshod creation feels like a special feature rightfully nixed from the Inland Empire DVD.... [T]he film would be better entitled Lynch for Beginners."

Updates, 10/26: "[I]t's precisely the worshipful feel of Lynch - including scenes in which the camera points up at Mr Lynch from what seems to be the floor, as if it were a faithful dog — that makes the movie so sweet and so appealing," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "It's like watching a schoolgirl crush unfold, through a glass darkly."

Online viewing tip. "Revisiting Twin Peaks." David Lynch narrates an audio slide show for the Washington Post. "I think the Internet will be the place for continuing stories."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:51 PM


Slipstream "What in the name of...?" asks Nick Schager at Cinematical. "Anthony Hopkins goes way, way, way off the deep end with Slipstream, a straight-outta-crazyland film written and directed by the actor in some sort of feverish attempt to mimic the work of former The Elephant Man collaborator David Lynch."

"Amazingly, Sir Anthony Hopkins has raised the bar to batshit insanity with this maddening passion project, which he wrote, directed, scored, and stars in with as much slack-jawed discombobulation as he's likely to inspire in his audience," writes Aaron Hillis in the Voice.

Updated through 10/30.

"[I]f this were a sonata, it would be called 'Mulholland Drive in Oliver Stone Flat," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "Blaring its pretense to Lynch-ness, Slipstream crumbles under the weight of Hopkins's self-indulgence, yet there is some measure of sincerity to this senseless upchuck."

"I thought the talking spider was kind of cool, but the movie as a whole is nonsense," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "I'm glad that Hopkins has apparently been using the bland, middlebrow stage of his acting career to experiment with massive doses of psychotropic chemicals and open the doors of perception and all that. Next time, maybe he'll just write a manifesto."

"Slipstream calls to mind David Lynch's Inland Empire gone horribly awry," writes Jeff Reichert at indieWIRE. "Lynch, an expert in bending cinematic reality to his will, had the good sense to masterfully seduce audiences into his rabbit hole. Hopkins, seemingly less sure of himself, hyperactively assaults from the start."

Earlier: Reviews from Sundance.

Updates, 10/26: "Anthony Hopkins has written and directed a very peculiar film. He is the first to say so," writes Roger Ebert, introducing his interview for the Chicago Sun-Times. In his review, Ebert writes:

I trust you enough, dear reader, to tell you something I should keep private: During a period after my surgical emergency, when I was on what Mr Limbaugh so usefully describes as prescription medications, I had dreams more real than my waking moments. Then the fog cleared, my health returned, the medication stopped, and I resumed writing brilliant and lucid reviews like this one. But I know Hopkins gets it right, because I've been there.

"[F]or an actor like Mr Hopkins, disappearing into another character, especially a historical figure, must be a far more unsettling deconstruction of reality than for the casual moviegoer observing the transformation," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "That is a notion Slipstream might have explored more fruitfully, had it focused its wandering attention span, kept its camera steadier and figured out what it wanted to say."

"Slipstream is an experiment in visual stream-of-consciousness, but stream-of-consciousness fares better as a literary form than a cinematic one, possibly because the Parallax View-style atrocity montage has long been such a favorite among film students, possibly because literary stream-of-consciousness better mirrors the thought process," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times.

"Perhaps one could find a prose equivalent in Joyce or Beckett, but basically this is 'all cinema, all the time,'" writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "I'm a sucker for this sort of narrative playfulness, so I fully enjoyed Slipstream. Perhaps it's best thought of as Inland Empire Lite: At half the length, it's easier going down but less filling. And there is pleasure to be had in watching [Christian] Slater and [John] Turturro chew the scenery. Most of all, for any died-in-the-pod film buff, there's the thrill of seeing old fave Kevin McCarthy on screen, looking remarkable at 92."

"What do we know about Anthony Hopkins, really?" asks Noel Murray at the AV Club. "If nothing else, Slipstream is astonishing just for the way it lets us in on what Hopkins has been thinking about all these years. Turns out, he's been pondering the slipperiness of identity among people who make their living pretending."

"Hopkins's film offers modernism without any rigor or discipline, and experimentation based on other people's ideas," writes Steve Erickson in Gay City News. "I haven't seen such a pseudo-avant-garde muddle since Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers."

Online listening tip. Hopkins is a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

"I suspect most viewers will find that the only enduring outcome of Hopkins's admittedly bold but nonsensical film is an acute headache," writes Emily Condon in Reverse Shot.

Update, 10/27: Peter Sobczynski talks with Hopkins for Hollywood Bitchslap.

Update, 10/30: "This is a screen artist wrestling with the memories, fears, dreams and regrets that rage at the twilight of a brilliant career - and of life," writes Steven Boone in the Star-Ledger. "It is also, sad to say, unwatchable."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:42 PM | Comments (1)

Interviews, 10/25.

Hannah Takes the Stairs With Hannah Takes the Stairs set to open in Austin, Spencer Parsons has a few points to make before getting his Chronicle interview started: "'Improv' has often been too often invoked in discussions of independent filmmaking since Cassavetes put that prankish title card at the end of Shadows, but no other American filmmaker I know, mumbling or not, engages in such radical and rigorous improvisation on every level. It's a dangerous sort of process to discuss, sure to be used as ammunition by detractors or to become the downfall of would-be disciples who think it can be easily imitated.... So I talked with Joe [Swanberg] and some of his chief collaborators about how they wouldn't have it any other way."

Meanwhile, dave at chained to the cinémathèque: "Hannah Takes the Stairs is one of the finest American independent films I've seen."

Shooting People "is helping filmmakers collaborate not just by accessing virtual communities, but also facilitating live gatherings, expanding into book publishing and even selling a DVD or two," writes Susan Gerhard, introducing her SF360 interview with Ingrid Kopp.

This week it's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. Next month, The Savages. Then there'll be Charlie Wilson's War. We're seeing a lot of Philip Seymour Hoffman and, as William Georgiades notes in his profile, we'll be seeing a lot more, too. "In the last few months, he's wrapped production on screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York, and directed a play in Australia and is now preparing to film Doubt, alongside Meryl Streep, after which he'll direct a play in New York."

In the LA Weekly, Ella Taylor talks with Amy Ryan about Gone Baby Gone.

For the Guardian, Stuart Jeffries meets Ben Kingsley. Also: Ed Pilkington on how Tony Kaye's Lake of Fire is being received in the US and Sarfraz Manzoor on the making of In the Shadow of the Moon.

Kim Voynar profiles Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody for indieWIRE.

James Mottram talks with Viggo Mortensen for the Independent.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian's Cheryl Eddy talks with Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman about, yes, The Darjeeling Limited.

In the Philadelphia City Paper, Sam Adams talks with Anton Corbijn about Control.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:31 PM | Comments (1)

Lagerfeld Confidential.

Lagerfeld Confidential "With Lagerfeld, of course, what [director Rodolphe] Marconi has as a subject is not just an enormously successful man or an ingenious talent but what every documentarian hopes for: a full-blown creature," writes Michelle Orange, reviewing Lagerfeld Confidential. "A self-constructed cipher whose supreme confidence and supreme artifice interact on a sliding scale of psychic codependency, Lagerfeld has clearly mastered the art of answering prying questions with perfect frankness while revealing absolutely nothing." Also at the Reeler, Ben Gold meets Marconi for coffee at the Soho Grand.

Updated through 10/27.

In the Voice, Nathan Lee notes that Marconi's "indifference to detail extends to any consideration of what, exactly, Lagerfeld does for a living, not to mention the history of his rise in the fashion world."

For the New York Times' Stephen Holden, it's "simply an extended interview, without talking-head commentary," and what's more, "the designer continually eludes his interrogator."

The doc "allows its subject to dictate the terms of his portrait," writes Felicia Feaster in the New York Press. "In an era of ever-present spin, it's a popular - though less than satisfying - approach."

Updates, 10/26: IndieWIRE interviews Marconi.

"We barely even get to see what Lagerfeld does for his paycheck, let alone why it's so large," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club.

"Karl Lagerfeld, like so many among the impossibly rich, famous, and creative, is very proud of himself. And why not?" asks Sarah D Schulman in Gay City News. "After decades of success as the creative director of Chanel - with fingers in other haute couture pies such as Fendi and Chloë - his career shows no signs of slowing down. He speaks fluent German, French, and English, and in 2001 he dropped an astounding 92 pounds in just a little over a year. And now, thanks to French director Rodolphe Marconi and the documentary Lagerfeld Confidential, he has a whole 88 minutes of screen time in which to showcase his brilliance and snark."

Update, 10/27: "Nicole Kidman, who was the face of Chanel when the documentary was shot, is a shadowy presence throughout too, with Lagerfeld repeatedly fretting about where Nicole is, when she'll be there and, most agonisingly, what bit of the carpet she should walk on," writes Hadley Freeman in a piece for the Guardian on matching Hollywood stars and fashion brands. "When she does show up I finally understand why Lagerfeld chose this actress, who always struck me as cold, sexless and dull, for his label: she looks exactly like him. It's extraordinary seeing them stand next to one another for the first time: equally pale, equally facially frozen, equally ignorant of the concept of eating for pleasure and both wearing too-tight suits making them look like a pair of 1920s Weimar lesbian twins."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:13 PM

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), 10/25.

World War Z For the WSWS, Christie Schaefer reviews World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War: "Unlike much of the work in science fiction and horror genres today, Max Brooks (son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft) approaches his work with a straight face—there is not the expected and desired wink that would make it seem 'all right' and less frightening. From the first pages of this book, which is written as a series of interviews with survivors of a future 'zombie war' from every level of society, Brooks is in character."

The New-York Ghost presents its Halloween issue.

When Not Coming to a Theater Near You's 31 Days of Horror got rolling this year, David Carter placed dibs on Thursdays for a mini-series on cannibal movies. This week, he's made a pretty surprising choice, and a thought-provoking one, too. In a good way.

In The Testament of Dr Mabuse, Fritz Lang "takes M's disembodiment of evil to its logical conclusion, allowing Mabuse to be both everywhere and nowhere; or, rather, transforming him into an omniscient, invisible eye - the presence, rather than evidence, of surveillance," writes Billy Stevenson.

Today at Rob Humanick's Projection Booth, The Evil Dead: "Sam Raimi's grueling debut feature toys with the viewer not unlike its own doomed characters, simultaneously playful and merciless."

"The Horror of Fairy Tales." A list from Monika Bartyzel at Cinematical, where Erik Davis lists the "Most Easily Escapable Movie Monsters" and Peter Martin looks back at Wolfen.

Bill Gibron lists "10 Outsider Genre Gems" at PopMatters.

Big Brother is Watching You Another list: "he 10 scariest characters in literature according to visitors to AbeBooks." Via Dwight Garner.

And Jason Kotte's got another scary list.

Scott Kirsner notes that the Devil Music Ensemble is touring with Nosferatu.

Mike Everleth has info on Saturday night's Experiments in Terror 2 screenings at Artists' Television Access in San Francisco.

At the Reeler, ST VanAirsdale talks with Dr Reinhardt van Nostrand, Professor Emeritus of Schlechtendingen at the University of Wurms in Germany, about the Pioneer's 4th annual Month of Horror, Terror and General Mayhem.

Bob Turnbull reports on Z-Day (for zombies, of course) at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, wrapping tonight.

"Tim Lucas has made a believer out of me. As much as I've enjoyed Bava films over the years I really had no idea of the scope of his career or contributions to cinema." At Twitch, Canfield reviews Mario Bava All the Colors of the Dark.

Online browsing tip. Jonathan Lapper's got some nice artwork for The Most Dangerous Game.

Online viewing tips. Phil Morehart's got a double feature today: Ed Wood directs Bela Lugosi; Tim Burton directs Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi.

More online viewing. The trailers keep coming at Cinevistaramascope.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:58 PM


Bella Now here's something you don't see every day. Governor Rick Perry is encouraging his fellow Texans to go see Bella and has even sent a guest review into the Austin American-Statesman: "Not only will Bella give you hope that Hollywood can still make an inspirational movie, it might also renew your faith in humanity."

"Bella, the People's Choice Award winner at last year's Toronto International Film Festival, is already getting some buzz among Catholics and pro-lifers in the blogosphere, who've pinned it as the crossover anti-abortion hit they've been waiting for," writes Julia Wallace. "Sorry to break it to you guys, but... no."

Updated through 10/26.

In the Austin Chronicle, Joe O'Connell profiles director Alejandro Gomez Monteverde.

Certainly readable but not handily quotable: Ed Gonzalez in Slant.

Updates, 10/26: "This is a movie that wears its bleeding heart on its sleeve and loves its characters to distraction," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Nothing - not even significant plot glitches and inconsistencies - is allowed to get in the way of its bear-hugging embrace of sweetness and light."

"Despite the presence of a lovely leading lady and an impossibly handsome co-lead, the most dazzling star of the quixotic Bella is actually New York City," writes Gary Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times. "Director Alejandro Monteverde presents the melting pot that is 21st century Manhattan with an infectious vibrancy that makes you want to hop on the next plane and partake in the Big Apple's colorful ebullience. If only that vitality carried over to the film's wispy script, which Monteverde wrote with Patrick Million and Leo Severino."

The AV Club's Scott Tobias can't believe "this gooey pro-life advertisement, masquerading as a cheap-looking Mexican telenovela, robbed the likes of Volver, Away From Her, Borat, Rescue Dawn, and other popular favorites" in that afore-mentioned People's Choice race.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:35 PM

Books, 10/25.

Conversations with Woody Allen "[J]ust as Match Point opened up Allen to a new generation of moviegoers and brought him a return to critical relevance, so too should Eric Lax's Conversations With Woody Allen: His Films, the Movies, and Moviemaking," writes Tod Goldberg in the Los Angeles Times. "Compiled over 36 years of interviews, conversations and experiences one could only glean from gaining Allen's confidence and respect, Conversations is essential reading for aspiring filmmakers and those who wish to eventually put finger to keyboard in hopes of telling a story, but it is no less intriguing for simple cinephiles." And for the New York Press, Eric Kohn talks with Lax.

"There have been thousand of books about actors and hundreds about directors, but you can practically count the number of books about screenwriters on two hands. This latest is the best - by far." In the New York Observer, Scott Eyman reviews Marc Norman's What Happens Next: A History of American Screenwriting.

Bookforum points to the Introduction to Shyon Baumann's Hollywood Highbrow: From Entertainment to Art.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:14 PM

Fests and events, 10/25.

Fresh Docs "As the war in Iraq grinds on, one of the era's most iconic happenings continues to be Camp Casey, the makeshift encampment erected by Gold Star mom and anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan during August 2005 in Crawford, Texas, just a stone's throw from a vacationing President Bush," writes the Independent Weekly's Neil Morris, noting that a 45-minute trailer for a doc-in-progress, Crawford, Texas, will be screening tomorrow evening at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.

Via Wiley Wiggins:

Film Actions VI

"Since its inaugural year in 2002, the Global Lens film festival has gotten around, rather restlessly around, crisscrossing the country from Manhattan to Vashon Island with many far-flung points in between like a Beatnik with a yen for riding the rails," writes Robert Avila at SF360. "Which is more or less the idea. Except that instead of setting out to discover America, the traveling series of recent Third World cinema - a cornerstone of the nonprofit Global Film Initiative (GFI) - is out to help overwhelmingly passportless Americans discover the world."

"Is cinematic love, like, so last century?" Looking back over 15 films caught at the New York Film Festival, Filmbrain may have spotted a trend, but he's not sure. Even after drawing up a chart (which you really should go take a look at).

"In the past few months, I have visited four festivals much apart geographically and in the length of time they have been established," writes Ronald Bergan in roundup for the Guardian: "55-year-old San Sebastian in Spain; a 12-year-old youngster, Pusan in South Korea, which offers the widest possible window on Asian cinema; and babies Copenhagen and Reykjavik, five and four respectively. All of them were exciting in their own way. Besides the cream of the year's crop of world cinema, they offered the best of their own national products, the opportunity to question many film directors and tasty retrospectives."

Ken Russell grabs some free stuff at the London Film Festival. Related Tom Huddleston's been reviewing about a movie a day at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. The Guardian's special section rolls on, and of course, so does that of the co-presenter, the Times.

At the Reeler, Mat Newman has an overview of DocFest 07. New York, through November 1.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:04 PM

Frieze. Nov - Dec 07.

frieze Nov Dec 07 Bert Rebhandl on the Romanian wave:

The praise these films have received is well-deserved, because their achievements constitute a striking example of a Modernist form of "national cinema": their approach to examining Romania's recent history encompasses the entire experience of European auteur cinema since Roberto Rossellini started filming in Rome in the early 40s. Narrative cinema (like any other art, but more so because of its potential to "write history" in its own way) has a threefold task in "liberated" or "revolutionary" societies: to remember and reconstruct the time before the change, because the overthrown regimes have usually been audio-visually restrictive; to remember and re-evaluate the "revolutionary" events themselves; and to chronicle the aftermath (the new era) and measure it against what preceded it. Now, 18 years after the revolution, Romanian filmmakers assume these tasks with a confidence and a variety of formal strategies that is all the more astounding for the fact that, with the exception of the work of director Lucian Pintilie (The Afternoon of a Torturer, 2001, for instance), there is really no tradition of this kind of filmmaking in Romania.

Also in the new issue of frieze:

"Oh, and this morning I saw another amazing film," writes James Benning:

I was at my school, which has been rented out to a high school summer arts programme. The halls were filled with teenagers. Off to the side in one of the main galleries a young man was playing Erik Satie's Vexations (1893), a piano piece with 840 repetitions that is composed to go on for ever. I went in and listened for a few hours. What a treat and surprise to hear this being performed. Occasionally a few students would come in, most of the time for less than a minute, and then wander off. Two young girls stood in the doorway for 30 minutes, mystified and perhaps a bit afraid to enter the genius of this work. They reminded me of myself, the first time I saw and heard John Cage. Then a blind student came in and sat down. He carried a red and white cane that folded into itself. He listened intently and was still there when I left. Imagine what he saw.

Claire Gilman on Corey McCorkle: "Film is a growing component of McCorkle's production, not least because of its presumed transparency."

Dominic Eichler on Haris Epaminonda: "In the last few years, the artist has produced a series of radiant, emotional, audio-visual vignettes, which are long enough to soak into the viewer's consciousness yet short enough to assume the qualities of a vision: they come and go fleetingly, but linger in the head like an afterimage. Reality is kept at arm's length, its absence not particularly noticed, while the present is lost in a fictionalized past."

Catrin Lorch: "In front of [Bojan] Šarčević's two new films, one can submit to nostalgia for the magic of celluloid: this is what it might have looked like, back when cinecameras were still blithely pointed at goodness and beauty in any form; an earlier age, before the links between sculpture and electronic image had been subjected to art-historical fine-tuning."

Nicola Harvey on "the rudimentary domestic bliss of [Guy] Ben-Ner's video work Stealing Beauty (2007)."

"The glow of 65 televisions outlines the nave of a deconsecrated church, the sound from each jostling in the musty air." Chris Fite-Wassilak on Andrew Kötting.

"The British artist Lucy Skaer works between these two poles of mystery and decipherment with a practice that includes drawing, sculpture, film and a number of collaborations." A monograph by Melissa Gronlund.

Amanda Coulson on new work by Bjørn Melhus: "Known for his adept procedure of using snippets of dialogue from television and film - himself lip-synching to the often-recognizable sound bites - to create video works that are comic yet socially pertinent, visitors expecting more of the same will not be disappointed."

Christy Lange contextualizes Nedko Solakov's Quixotic attempts to use a camera "to resolve the heated ten-year dispute between Russia and his native country, Bulgaria, over who owns the right to produce one of the world's most popular automatic weapons, the Kalashnikov rifle."

"It is hard to convey the uncanny effect of American English slowly and, it seems, irrevocably becoming the first language at Berlin openings," writes Tirdad Zolghadr.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:12 AM

NYFF. Views. 3.

Following up on his first and second pieces on the Views from the Avant-Garde sidebar of the New York Film Festival, Michael Sicinski focuses on five "modern masters at mid-career."

Ernie Gehr: Cinematic Fertilizer In film criticism, exposure (and overexposure) is relative. Certainly where experimental cinema is concerned, any reasonable and nominally sympathetic observer would have to concur that no one working in the field has ever received the attention they deserved. Fortunately no one except Matthew Barney makes experimental film in the hopes of conquering the universe and getting a spread in GQ; the respect of a small but devoted audience is usually enough to sustain most of the a-g's hardcore lifers. Naturally it's difficult to sustain one's career as grant monies become increasingly scarce, film stocks are discontinued left and right, and the demands of academia (where many experimentalists find refuge) inevitably pull one's time away from the work itself.

In short, it's hard out there. Over two decades ago, a major American critic quipped that Ernie Gehr "need[ed] critical attention like Bob Hope needs real estate." Try, for a moment, to imagine a world in which the cinema of Ernie Gehr is ubiquitously over-praised, discussed to death over espressos in movie house lobbies and parsed into deconstructive oblivion in the halls of academe. Has anyone actually glimpsed this Bizarro-world? (If so, perhaps you could also let me know how President LaDuke faired at the G8 Summit.) One of the indispensable functions of Views each year is its family-reunion vibe, which is due in no small part to the fact that anyone making challenging, defiantly uncommercial artworks is fighting an uphill battle. Yes, the invited filmmakers come to the Walter Reade to show their latest, but even if they've been given a one-person showcase program, they're still "the featured filmmaker" for a tiny fragment of the weekend. The rest of the time, they're the audience. What do they see?

There is a group of filmmakers, all pretty much of the same generation, whose profile is woefully inadequate to the order of their achievement. In this essay I'd like to focus on five filmmakers who, to my eyes, are modern masters at mid-career, whose work should absolutely be better known and whose contributions to Views 2007 were, as usual, among the finest selections overall. I am tempted to call them "filmmakers' filmmakers," since all of them are widely recognized as major artists by their peers and colleagues and have been for quite some time. But that phrase, "filmmakers' filmmaker," could give the mistaken impression that their work is abstruse or arcane, reliant on intricate historical knowledge and / or formal training for full (or even partial) appreciation. Nothing could be further from the truth. The visceral pleasures their cinema provides, and in particular its openness to the uncertain textures of the everyday, actually make it some of the most directly engaging filmmaking around. These five demonstrate an all-too-rare combination of accessibility and rigor.

North Shore Fred Worden's films have distinguished themselves over the years with their ability to provoke a unique ocular agitation while exhibiting bone-dry humor. His inkwash animations, such as Automatic Writing (2000) and The Or Cloud (2001), play on the spatial terms available through basic drawing, such as density and fragmentary depth. These films turn brushstroke or the individual calligraphy of the painter's hand into scenarios for anxiety and, eventually, systematic breakdown. In his recent digital works, Worden has reintroduced concrete imagery in order to reduce its power of signification. In 2005's Here, a static proscenium and the horizontal drive of costumed Hollywood knights combine and alternate to enfold space and pin down the would-be actors within it. Worden took a bold step towards an aggressive, almost primal formalism in last year's Everyday Bad Dream, a flickering, clanging, semi-abstract animation that moved from the eyeball out and locked onto the frightening face that banality seldom shows you. That piece was a mean comic gem that grabbed you by the lapels. His 2007 selection, North Shore, once again moves in a new direction. A confounding pool of viscous semi-images against jet-black, the video flickers to generate opposing, symmetrical forms which become complementary receptacles for one another's oozings. Soon, spots and slashes cut away at the vast black expanse, and eventually Worden is hitting us with a full-tilt barrage of viscous semi-forms, some horizontal, like liquid spills across an eye-level coffee table, some vertical and pendulous, like motor oil pooling around an elongated, amber-colored disc. These forms mutate and flow, always flickering by so quickly as to prevent any actually visible motion. Tiny shifts of light glinting across the black field are the only hints that objects are there. Incomplete concentric circle-slashes, like the stains left by the bottom of a coffee pot, swirl and evaporate as well. Is Worden taunting us, seeing just how little solidity is necessary for the human brain to perceive an on-screen form? Although far less scathing than Bad Dream, North Shore is a throbbing, shimmering mirage that bears its own traces of a deep nightmare logic.

Interieur Interior Perhaps gentler at first glance but possibly harboring a wicked passive-aggressive streak, the recent video works by Vincent Grenier have consistently been highlights of the Views line-up, and this year was no exception. Grenier has been making witty, elegant experimental films and videos for over 30 years, and his approach has always been defined by its eclecticism. His earlier film works partake of the orthodoxies of experimental film history but refuse to be defined by it. For example, 1978's Interieur Interiors (To AK) is a high-modernist exploration of adjacent geometrical planes, an intimate domestic study, and a collection of wry perceptual miscues organized not unlike a series of blackout sketches. Works from the early 90s such as Out in the Garden and You display a sensitivity to portraiture that allows figure and landscape to merge and separate in a kind of mitosis / meiosis. And most recently Grenier's career has been characterized by a rigorous exploration of digital video and its unique properties. Rather than attempting to duplicate the style of his films by other means, as many film-turned-videomakers have done, he has embraced video's defining traits - relative flatness, a capacity for inner framing and image juxtaposition, and a more tightly controlled capability for superimposition - in order to produce video artworks distinguished by their subtlety and grace, to say nothing of their quirky humor. Where video has been an impediment to others, it has expanded Grenier's creative vocabulary.

Armoire The last four years of Views have included videos by Grenier. 2004's Tabula Rasa fragmented but deepened our apprehension of a particular space, a high school in the Bronx through staggered sound and internal superimpositions. 2005's North Southernly is a single view from a window slowly transformed, although discerning rack focus from digital manipulation is quite tricky, perhaps a sly acknowledgment of DV's relative indifference to older avant-garde traditions of fussy handicraft. 2006 brought us This, and This, a tape which can only be described as a comedy of the horizontal wipe. In it, numerous less-than-flattering views of the so-called natural world bump against one another, get in each other's way, and yet refuse to actually connect through genuine montage. Reminiscent of Scott Stark's video SLOW from 2001, Grenier's piece is less complicated, more straightforward, resulting not in ambiguous space but in a confounding metonymy of images, splashing us with a puddle then driving on. This year's Grenier video, Armoire, is one of his briefest (three minutes), and its humor is so deadpan I actually didn't immediately recognize it as such - a true "way homer." In it, Grenier has "trapped" a bird in a reflection on the water and essentially chases it around the screen with increasingly narrow frames-within-frames, pinning it down, making it sing for the artist's own supper. Its sense of eventual claustrophobia recalls the glass box sculptures of Joseph Cornell, tight spaces where imaginary living things went to gain immobility / immortality. But here, we're so used to equating the very image of a bird in a tree with absolute freedom that Grenier's comic aggression is a slow-burn, provoking a tense grimace of discomfort by minute three, and a chuckling nod of assent by the second viewing. Even those of us fiercely devoted to the field of experimental cinema know all too well that it can be rather humor-impaired. No surprise, then, that a stealth anarchist like Grenier is like a breath of fresh air.

Prague Winter Speaking of anarchy, or at least the breakdown of established order, it was delightfully perverse this year to find two films, made almost in answer to one another, by two filmmakers whose sensibilities could hardly more divergent. Both Jim Jennings and Henry Hills were represented in Views this year by films shot in the heart of Prague, and according to Mark McElhatten, it was Hills who tipped him off to the existence of Jennings's film and suggested the unlikely two-fer. Played back to back, it was a rare opportunity to observe two masters at work on outwardly similar material. But their remarkably dissimilar handling of it exemplifies the working methods of these two exacting, meticulous craftsmen. Working in cinema since the 1970s, Jennings is in many ways the preeminent New York City film poet. Although he has worked in color on occasion (for example his 2001 Venice film Impossible Love), and sometimes with sound, the majority of his films are silent and shot in luminous black and white, accumulated from scenes Jennings observes during his day-job rounds. His films are a balancing act between a transformative, camera-stylo approach which abstracts small segments of the urban environment, and a commitment to rendering that street life with a fidelity that keeps the shadows of its lives intact. 1998's Painting the Town is an at-first-confounding swirl of lights in the night sky that, over the course of the running time, coax the viewer into embracing their swooping and diving patterns and discerning a loose but tangible method. From the same year, Silvercup may be Jennings's finest work of a particular sort. It lets movement and the built environment do much of the work as it observes elevated trains, old billboards, and other urban features against the sky and ground, cutting their dense, darkened forms into the celluloid. (A sign shown in the film bears the slogan, "Quality is not an accident," and this could be said of Jennings's exquisite filmmaking as well.) Jennings has consistently challenged himself to expand his technique and turn his attentions to a vast array of the world's surfaces. 2004's Close Quarters is a domestic interior and, in its combination of exacting visual detail and stark emotional vulnerability, is a flat-out masterpiece; last year's spry, funky Silk Ties took to the streets once more but with a percussive in-camera editing scheme that lent Jennings's Manhattan a feel almost equivalent to stop-motion animation.

Making Money In fact, before this year, Silk Ties is probably the only Jennings film that would ever in a million years prompt someone to think of Henry Hills. A polymath steeped in multiple fields of avant-garde creativity and a key figure for the consideration of "composition" as a practice across disciplines, Hills's filmwork is inseparable from his involvement with the (sorry to use the contested term) "language poets" as well as the Downtown NY experimental music and dance scenes. The music of John Zorn, Christian Marclay and Tom Cora wends its way throughout Hills's key films, along with fragments of writing and speech by Charles Bernstein, Ron Silliman and Bruce Andrews. Hills shares with these highly distinctive artists a focus on the structures of signification, the poetics of colliding fragments, and above all a Futurist commitment to the intellectual power of clamor and speed, only this time - this is crucial! - harnessed for the political left. Hills's films display a preference for what Peter Kubelka called "strong articulations," extreme differences between edits and even frames which push our capacities for understanding to the limit and then some. A film such as Kino Da! (1981) takes a single poetic performance (or possibly several - it's admittedly hard to tell) and, through jump cuts and manic compression, squeezes meaning from the speech like juice from an orange, with only key words and primal hiccups coming through the flurry. His Porter Springs films, which are personal favorites of mine, find Hills applying his jagged, staccato editing style and phoneme-level sonic manipulations to home movies from what once was a quiet lakeside retreat. Nature becomes processed and reprocessed into a series of semiotic gestures and code-images while retaining the very qualities that distinguish any good landscape study - attention to specifics of light and shadow, depth and shallow space. However more than any other single film, Money, from 1985, is probably Hills's clearest statement of purpose. Slicing and dicing a vast collection of street scenes, conversations, readings, public dance works, skronky avant-jazz riffs and the occasional dab of urban negative space into a rapid-fire turntablist extravaganza, Hills breaks up nearly every linguistic and imagistic unit of comprehension he can find and reconnects them as interlocking language Legos, forming an entirely new logic of organization based on formal affinities (shape, timbre, gesture, framing) rather than mundane rules of communication. Henry Hills is such a form-buster that watching his films inevitably prompts a momentary disquieting thought: what's it like inside this guy's head?

So, naturally, Jennings and Hills went to Prague, rode the same inner-city rails, and found completely different worlds. However, they are surprisingly complementary. Jennings's Prague Winter is a relaxed, not quite melancholy effort that slides between two related poles. The title, of course, refers to the post-68 Soviet crackdown on liberal reform, but also on the time of year Jennings's film depicts. He shows us the cityscape, the rusty, trusty tram system, the cobblestone streets, all bathed in the shadows that almost always preoccupy his films. In between, Jennings focuses in on the faces of individual citizens, mostly seniors who have withstood the political turmoil of the last century, along with the uncertainties of today's post-Communist economic shock-therapies. Although it's a cliché, I know, these men and (mostly) women have this history indelibly etched upon their faces. Jennings's film attends to their uniqueness while returning to the larger urban situation, resulting in a firm part / whole structure. In fact, Prague Winter is one of Jennings's most clearly organized films, giving the sense that his outside-observer status made him too reticent to indulge in more thorough abstraction.

Electricity Hills's Electricity (a video work which appears to have been begun on film) perhaps deals with the same dilemma but in an entirely different way. The piece is a crackling montage of the tram wires just above the city streets, with the tram's diamond-shaped electrical conductors poking in and out of the image with brusque periodicity. As per usual, these enjambed fragments form a kind of concrete poetry of shape and noise, a Prague city symphony that averts its eyes from most of the city and its inhabitants in favor of the sort of once-triumphant technology over which Vertov, at least, would have openly wept. As a contrapuntal image, Hills shows us the Zizkov Television Tower, a Soviet-imposed device for jamming Western TV signals. So in one respect, Hills's semiotic is just as manifest as Jennings's. We're looking at the transmissions and dis-transmissions, energies and invisible waves of communication and isolation. In zeroing in on that which we can't see but know is there, Hills reminds us of Prague's history, still lingering in its aftereffects. And, as befitting a film entitled Electricity, the work just sizzles, its percussive editing and tape-funk soundtrack belying any stodgy preconceptions about "the old country." It's hard not to think that perhaps this is how the original Prague Spring felt, and I could easily see bookending a rep screening of Vera Chytilóva's Daisies with these films, Hills at the front and Jennings at the back. Or maybe vice versa. At any rate, the trip abroad finds these two modern masters accepting new challenges, handily rising to meet them, and passing the complex results along to us.

Muktikara The films of Jeanne Liotta likewise pose their own perceptual challenges. But Liotta's style and tone has tended to avoid the grand gesture in favor of subtle transformations. The standpoint evident from her films often recalls the amateur scientists of the 19th century, taking it upon themselves to break the world down into its component parts and see what's inside. Muktikara, Liotta's 1999 masterpiece, exemplifies this approach while embracing sheer pictorial beauty. In it, Liotta trains her camera on a lake and the sky above it, photographed in grainy, hazed-out black and white. Time-lapse and minor aperture adjustments make the mostly still image of the landscape pulse and tremble, as if this scene by the water were being presented to us in time as a series of invisibly replenishing photocopies. In fact, what Liotta's flutter does tell us is that this "stable" environment is renewing itself endlessly. Eventually, Liotta flattens out the space of the image, its reflected double-form of the shore in the lake turning a bulbous black void into a solid entity. Muktikara resembles nothing so much as a filmic riff on Robert Motherwell's Elegies to the Spanish Republic, his canvas-splitting mega-form replaced by Liotta with a natural feature and the perceptual discrepancies it gathers around itself. Operating in an entirely different register, 2003's Loretta displays a woman's shadowy form against a canary yellow background, as an aria strains to sweep the figure into a drama disproportionate to her physical circumstance. Liotta exposed the film with a flashlight, marking shadows directly onto the strip.

Observando El Cielo This jewel-like miniature points the way toward Liotta's work becoming more intimate, which makes her 2007 film Observando El Cielo all the more breathtaking. In her latest, which many in attendance considered to be the best film in the entire festival, Liotta assembles seven years' worth of field recordings from her astronomical observations - accelerated night skies in over a dozen distinct locations, all with their own unique character. The film is remarkable for its meticulous, neo-Constructivist organization; her edits feel both agile and inevitable, like stonemasonry achieved through light. We see stars streaking by, stars in frozen time, slices of the sky at differential moments of the night. Sometimes a sky is shown bare unto itself, sometimes offset with a jutting red roof or the horizontal jab of a tree branch. These non-sky images are astonishing in themselves; the searing red interior of a planetarium dome or the alternating light on a house façade, first amber and then a harsh neon green, represent gorgeous cinematography that any narrative filmmaker would kill for. But perhaps the film's most typical maneuver is to show the stars slowly arcing past at a 45° angle to the frame, only to have a countervailing movement - stratus clouds or a comet-like streak - bisect the screen from the opposite angle. These images do more than transform the familiar; they practically vanquish the familiar, preconceived images of the skies we've accumulated over time, along with their needless symbolic freight. Observando El Cielo asks us to watch the skies for themselves, as an ever-shifting set of locations, trajectories and triangulations. The soundtrack, composed by fellow filmmaker Peggy Ahwesh, is a dense yet buoyant collage of broadcasts, short waves, and palpable interference. If there is anything up in these skies, it isn't God or Superman but human communication, the invisible traffic of modern technological endeavor. In every possible way, Liotta's film scrupulously resists metaphor in favor of attentive, awe-struck empiricism. And in this regard, Observando El Cielo exemplifies a capacious but strictly rationalist aesthetic sensibility. Once, science and the aesthetic were not considered opposing epistemologies. Both rely on a partially distanced stance that steps outside the everyday; only with increased professionalization and the subsequent battles for funding did these attitudes decisively part ways in the public imagination. But before that point, the beauty and elegance of natural phenomena was a necessary component of the drive to examine, to learn more. (Near the end of the film, Liotta inserts a droll but telling shot of a sign outside a planetarium: "OBSERVATION IN PROGRESS.") Liotta's latest film casts its lot with this fröhliche Wissenschaft. Whether or not Liotta intended to make a celestial symphony for agnostics and atheists, I do not know. However, at a time when both science and art are under attack, and we're continually asked to supplicate ourselves to the heavens instead of subjecting the world to legitimate human inquiry, Liotta's film certainly has a political dimension as well.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:53 AM | Comments (1)

October 24, 2007

Fests and events, 10/24.

Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors "There are few films one can, in all seriousness, call perfect," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine. "A personal list might include Sunrise, Rear Window, a few films by Fellini and Bresson, and that's about it. Except there's Russian visionary Sergei Parajanov's 1964 masterpiece Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors." And it opens on Halloween for a week-long run at BAM Rose Cinemas.

As noted in some dark obscure corner of "Books" entry days and days ago, War and Peace is haunting the zeitgeist again, primarily because two translations have just appeared (New York Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus is currently moderating a discussion of one), but also because Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate is back on our minds as well (it's just appeared for the first time in German, for example, and the papers over here are agog). As John Lanchester writes in the current issue of the London Review of Books, "War and Peace hangs over Grossman's book as a template and a lodestar, and the measure of Grossman's achievement is that a comparison between the two books is not grotesque." But that's not all: "Sergei Bondarchuk's seven hour epic is currently enjoying an ultra-rare theatrical run at New York's Film Forum - with a national tour certain to follow," writes Kevin Lee, introducing an entry on Part III. Naturally, this follows entries on Parts I and II.

"When will we finally see a Peter Hutton retrospective in France?" Cyril Neyrat writes a journal entry from the Viennale for Cahiers du cinéma.

For the Voice, Nick Pinkerton previews New French Films: "BAMcinématek's five-film showcase - the latest incarnation of an annual series that premieres a selection of recent French films as yet without stateside distribution - offers an alternative to the brand-name auteur output and harmless, dorky comedies that routinely make the Atlantic crossing."

"As we docu-nerds know, there exists a thriving community of documentary aficionados in our city, and [Thom] Powers saw an opening to 'build continuity from the past to the present,' conceptualizing a night at which 'film is half the experience, and the other half is the discussion.'" For the L Magazine, Danielle DiGiacomo has an overview of the Stranger Than Fiction series running Tuesdays at the IFC Center.

"Much of [William E] Jones's work has an air of intended distance - it can range in effect from the warm, generous irony of 1997's Finished to the sensual parsimony of 2004's too-tentative Is It Really So Strange? - but his new film [Tearoom], also screening this week, is so detached that he didn't even make it." Jason Shamai previews a weekend of screenings at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Dennis Harvey previews a screening of The Silencers, starring Dean Martin as Matt Helm: "In Donald Hamilton's original books Helm is a tough customer involved in relatively realistic adventures. But the Helm movies - the prime inspiration for Austin Powers - are consummate 60s expressions of Playboy middle-class-male masturbation fodder, surrounding the leather-skinned, martini-slurred star (Martin's line readings often suggest he'd been propped up for the take) with chesty starlets half his age, clad in the loudest possible peekaboo showgirl or allegedly mod attire." At the Mechanics' Institute on Friday.

Charles Burnett's My Brother's Wedding "screens at the UCLA film archive this week, and it's not to be missed as a rare and important portrait of black, lower-middle class life in south central Los Angeles during the early-80s," writes Doug Cummings; "its seriocomic tragedy suggests provocative consequences to the kind of existential pressures so memorably introduced in Killer of Sheep]."

The Chicago Korean Film Festival runs from November 1 through 4.

In San Francisco, Extraordinary Cinema from Asia: Classic to Contemporary, November 8 through 18.

Beur is Beautiful: Maghrebi-French Filmmaking, November 10 and 11 in New York; via Robert Cashill.

To Die in Jerusalem opens the Paley Center for Media's documentary festival tonight before HBO broadcasts it on November 1. In the New York Times, Elizabeth Jensen tells the story behind the doc about the mother of a Palestinian suicide bomber and the mother of an Israeli victim of that bomb.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:12 PM

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), 10/24.

Bride of Frankenstein "Frankenstein would go on to create new life in subsequent Universal sequels, but director [James] Whale, in congress with Karloff's brilliant portrayal, would assure that their achievement in The Bride of Frankenstein, a masterful blend of supreme emotional resonance and mordant wit, truly bringing life to the dead, would never be equaled," writes Dennis Cozzalio.

As part of Entertainment Weekly's "Halloween 2007" special, Mike Bruno talks with John Carpenter: "In addition to sharing with us his encyclopedic knowledge of the original vampire movies, like Nosferatu and Bela Lugosi's Dracula, Carpenter also weighs in on the so-called 'torture' horror genre, touches on Rob Zombie's remake of Halloween, and explains why he thinks the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is ''hilariously funny.'" Via Movie City News.

"In anticipation of Halloween, we invited [Eli] Roth to program a virtual 24-hour horror-film festival for AV Club readers," writes Keith Phipps. Via Vince Keenan, who got linkage to other Halloweenish goodness and notes that Roth's "line-up starts with John Carpenter's remake of The Thing, includes a surprising but fully justified appearance by Fellini, and ends with a little gem called Torso. He also makes the supremely idiotic suggestion that you watch Dario Argento's Suspiria at two o'clock in the morning. All that's missing is a handy list of local sanitariums you can check yourself into when you're finished." Related: John Lichman at the Reeler: "Dark and stormy nights aside, one of October's best local draws is the New York City Horror Film Festival, now in its seventh year with only the finest in terms of slashers, thrillers, ghost stories - and Eli Roth." Tonight through Sunday.

Valerie et al

"Women are regularly degraded in film, but seldom, if ever, with so little subtext as in Boxing Helena," writes Rumsey Taylor. "It is so blatantly misogynistic that it becomes something of a marvel - a film rigidly intent to spin a tale of gothic sexuality, and failing on that promise, emerging as something impressively tasteless and ridiculous. It's elitist camp, an accidental work of art, captivating for reasons for which its author did not intend."

"It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, directed by Bill Melendez and written by Peanuts creator Charles M Schulz, provides us with one of American filmmaking's most lucid depictions of the struggle between existentialism and religious determinism," writes Michael Koresky at Reverse Shot.

A top ten from Nathaniel R: Witches.

At Twitch, Canfield talks with Tim Lucas about Mario Bava All the Colors of the Dark. And look at this: Jason Gargano's cover story for Cincinnati's CityBeat.

The Howling At Cinematical, Matt Bradshaw lists seven "Science Fiction Horror Films" and Peter Martin revisits The Howling.

Ted Pigeon reflects on "the wonder of horror as a genre. It's both amazingly versatile as well as inherently nostalgic, limitlessly calling upon audiences desires to feel fear deep in their blood."

"Occupying that unfortunate space between the not-quite-painful atrocity and the so-bad-its-good spectacle of disaster, The Dead Pit instead stuns with its ineptitude around every corner without ever giving in to the trashy joys potentially affording by its bottom-of-the-barrel decor," writes Rob Humanick.

"The Blood-Splattered Bride is as much about masculine power and the fear of the feminine as it is about a vampire seeking revenge," writes Peter Nellhaus.

Online listening tip. "Haunted Bela."

Phil Morehart's clip today at Facets Features: Lucio Fulci's Zombie, "awesome for many reasons."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:56 PM | Comments (1)

Totally Unrelated Blog-a-Thon.

Dionne Warwick ST VanAirsdale hopes that the Totally Unrelated Blog-a-Thon will serve as "a useful diversion for film bloggers and film blog readers who feel like mixing a little variety into their days.... [T]he idea is to aggregate a collection of what we think about when we're not thinking about film. I think it'll be fun. I've gone ahead and fired the first shot with this appreciation of Dionne Warwick. Yes, you read correctly."

This very welcome vacation from cinephilia will carry on at the Reeler through November 1 (and I, too, will be submitting an entry once this blessed week simmers down).

Posted by dwhudson at 3:29 PM

Online viewing, listening, etc. Lumet and more.

Lumet One shot, 18 minutes. Jamie Stuart talks with Sidney Lumet not just about Before the Devil Knows You're Dead but also about what makes shooting in New York unique and about what we all owe Jonathan Demme.

More fun stuff:

Online browsing tip. "00s Indie Rock as Depicted by Old Elektra Sleeves" at Marathonpacks.

On or offline reading tip. Jason Thompson and Atsuhisa Okura's "How Manga Conquered the US, a Graphic Guide to Japan's Coolest Export" at Wired, via Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing, where he's also noting where you can pick up your Dumbledore Pride tees.

Online listening tip. On NPR: "The Danny Elfman Gemini No Way Can I Ever Decide Anything List."

Online listening tips. MM Serra's interviews with the likes of Philip Glass and Bill Morrison, Jonas Mekas and Carolee Schneemann. Scroll down; via Jennifer Macmillan.

Matt Singer and Alison Willmore of IFC News "consider the sophomore slump, whether literal or just in spirit, and take a look at how and why it's affected some of our favorite directors."

And more online viewing. "'It's a really simple film, I promise,' director Richard Kelly (of Donnie Darko) assured a crowd at an indieWIRE event at the Apple Store in Soho last Friday, where IFC News caught up with him to find out a bit more about the 'pop fever dream' that is Southland Tales."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:56 AM

Jimmy Carter Man from Plains.

Jimmy Carter Man from Plains "[E]ven someone as astute as [Jonathan] Demme could not have predicted that after he agreed to make the movie, [Jimmy] Carter would re-enter the news in a big way by titling his 2006 book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," writes David Carr in the New York Times. "Mr Demme had planned to travel with Mr Carter to Iran and the scene of the 1979 hostage-taking that doomed his presidency, to ask whether that crisis was really the defeat it had been portrayed as. But what might have been a nice bit of hagiography and re-contextualization was overtaken by the debate that roiled around the former president and his not particularly felicitous choice for a book title."

Updated through 10/26.

"Demme reveals Carter as a highly intelligent, dedicated, religious, humble, and concerned man constantly engaged with the world around him, and for that the film is time well spent with a human being who, even if one doesn't agree with his ideas, must be at least admired for his unwavering integrity," writes Michael Joshua Rowin at indieWIRE. "Nonetheless, [Jimmy Carter Man from Plains] is a limited documentary, unavoidably dependent on Carter's public speaking appearances and talk and radio show interviews for much of its material, making Man from Plains a compromised product and nowhere near a full accounting of Carter's legacy."

"Carter is scarcely the first commentator to characterize the enforced, unequal separation that exists in Israel's occupied territories as apartheid—the Israeli left has called it that for years," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "But, waving the term like a red cape before the American public, Carter has been notably disingenuous in exploiting it." As for the film, "a book tour isn't even a political campaign, and traveling with Jimmy Carter isn't exactly going backstage with the Rolling Stones."

At Slant, Ed Gonzalez finds the doc, "like Neil Young: Heart of Gold and The Agronomist... a poignant portrait of a great man."

Earlier: Reviews from Toronto.

Updates, 10/25: "I'm still not quite sure why it's so compelling," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "I think this movie's appeal is overdetermined, as we used to say in sophomore Marxist-theory class, meaning that it derives from so many sources you can't keep track of them all. If Jimmy Carter Man From Plains sometimes feels like the portrait of a saint, it also reminds us that saints are strange and private people pursuing a personal compact with an invisible deity, in solitude and often in sadness."

"As a feature-length experiment in point-of-view, Man From Plains ranks alongside Demme's paranoia-tinged remake of Keith Uhlich at the Reeler.

"Like a scientist studying some unspecified virus, [Demme] shows Carter weathering the ire of political correctness," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "Man from Plains portrays a powerful man struggling to maintain humility in the face of political tyranny."

Updates, 10/26: "Man From Plains isn't about engagement; it's about disengagement from Mr Carter's critics and his more provocative beliefs," argues Manohla Dargis in the New York Times.

"Jimmy Carter is still Jimmy Carter: A measured man of principle, given more toward substantive policy discussions than soundbites and fiery rhetoric, and inclined to find common ground rather than pick fights," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "These may be the qualities of a great man, but they're not exactly the stuff of a great documentary subject, especially given how hard Carter works to defuse the emotions stirred up by his book."

"[T]his admiring documentary is more interesting than you might think, though not as interesting as it should be," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:52 AM

October 23, 2007

Louis Malle @ 75.

Louis Malle If he were still with us, Louis Malle wouldn't actually turn 75 until next Tuesday, but as Thom at Film of the Year points out, TCM is celebrating now. Writing TCM's profile, Lorraine LoBianco opens with a quote from Pauline Kael:

The only quality common to the films of Louis Malle is the restless intelligence one senses in them. A new Chabrol or a Losey is as easily recognizable as a Magritte, but even film enthusiasts have only a vague idea of Malle's work. Had Malle gone on making variations of almost any one of his films, it is practically certain he would have been acclaimed long ago, but a director who is impatient and dissatisfied and never tackles the same problem twice gives reviewers trouble and is likely to be dismissed as a dilettante.

And TCM's featuring essays on each of the ten films it'll be broadcasting this evening and tomorrow:

Posted by dwhudson at 11:52 AM

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), 10/23.

The Return of Dracula At Greenbriar Picture Shows, John McElwee presents a "Halloween Harvest for 2007."

"As one of the last zombie productions before George Romero revolutionized the genre with Night of the Living Dead, and as the only work of the genre ever made by the infamous Hammer production company, The Plague of the Zombies is a prime example of routinized filmmaking done right," writes Rob Humanick.

Also: "Gleefully tossing aside any perceived notions of good taste, Re-Animator established its maker as a premiere genre master in the same vein that Blood Simple and The Terminator announced the Coen Brothers and James Cameron to the world. Stuart Gordon's foray into the outer limits of life, death, and heads carried about by their decapitated former bodies is a nearly operatic exercise in splatter, hilarious and horrific all at once and utterly without apology."

And: "In this most apocalyptic of genres, Shaun of the Dead is not unlike a ray of unexpected sunshine - even if it has a little red on it."

"Even if it is by any estimation little more than a cheesy movie, the strange Hammer/Shaw hybridization that is The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires offers an unique object lesson in confused cross-cultural perceptions of East and West and even a kind of odd early model of an increasingly globalized film industry," writes Leo Goldsmith at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

Also: In The Penalty, Lon Chaney plays Blizzard, "a Mabuse-like figure, moving his underlings like figures on a chessboard, laying down his spider's web over the city," writes Ian Johnston. "There are some striking similarities with Lang's master criminal, but the connections with both Norbert Jacques's novel and Lang's film Dr Mabuse the Gambler (respectively appearing one and two years later) are doubtless coincidental.... There's a historical background to what seems now a rather bizarre twist to the film's story. The late 19th and early 20th centuries had seen a series of anarchist attacks and assassinations (the background to novels like Dostoevsky's The Possessed, Henry James's The Princess Casamassima, and Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent) and in 1919, the year before The Penalty's release, a series of bombings and attempted bombings took place, part of the so-called Red Scare."

Blood and Roses "One of the my favorite vampire films is Roger Vadim's haunting and surreal Blood and Roses (Et mourir de plaisir, 1960), which recently made my list of '31 films that give me the willies,'" writes Kimberly Lindbergs. "I truly think that Vadim's impressive horror film is equal to other revered classics made at the same time such as Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face (1960) and Mario Bava's Black Sunday (1960)."

Bill Gibron at PopMatters: "How to Become a Homemade Horror Director in 10 Easy Steps."

"Ottawa's prolific Duke of Doom Brett Kelly is springing his remake of Kingdom of the Vampire onto DVD buyers and is now in preproduction on a redo of the fondly remembered 1959 swamp monster flick Attack of the Giant Leeches," and Harvey F Chartrand talks with him for Penny Blood.

In the San Francisco Bay Area? Brian Darr has several seasonal recommendations.

Online viewing tip. "Theme Song Sondheim returns, just in time for... HALLOWEEN!" exclaims Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door.

Online viewing tips. "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure is no horror film, but the scene in which young Pee Wee encounters truckdriver Large Marge on a dark lonely stretch of desert highway bears all the makings of one," writes Phil Morehart at Facets Features. Also, another from "the grandfather of the 'torture porn' genre, the Japanese film, Evil Dead Trap."

Posted by dwhudson at 10:04 AM

Awards and noms, 10/23.

Great World of Sound What, already? Evidently... "More than four months before Oscar night, the annual awards season essentially got underway this morning as the IFP announced the nominations for its 17th annual Gotham Awards, honoring the best in independent film," wrote Eugene Hernandez yesterday at indieWIRE. "Craig Zobel's low budget indie Great World of Sound was the biggest single nominee with three nods - for best feature, breakthrough director and breakthrough actor - topping a list that included double nominees Into the Wild and Margot at the Wedding, as well as Julia Loktev's Day Night Day Night. In total, 28 films were nominated in six categories: Best Feature, Best Documentary, Breakthrough Director, Breakthrough Actor, Best Ensemble Cast, and Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You."

And as Ted Z notes, you can download some of these screenplays.

More from ST VanAirsdale at the Reeler.

"Anyone who thinks that the rest of the world is peeved with the United States simply because of the go-it-alone policies of the Bush administration should spend some time at an international film festival," advises Patrick Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times. "Whenever the subject of the Oscars pops up, filmmakers begin to mutter all sorts of colorful anti-American imprecations - badmuts, I have learned, is Dutch slang for 'idiot' - especially when talk turns to the bizarre, impenetrable prohibitions involving foreign films."

AJ Schnack lists the awards a slew of docs have won so far this year.

"Control, the biopic of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, leads the nominations for this year's British Independent Film Awards." The BBC reports.

He may never get around to more than one entry, but there's Cristian Mungiu, blogging at the Guardian. You have to wonder if he wrote the entry's title. "Winning the Palme d'Or has changed my life."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:32 AM

Fests and events, 10/23.

Trevi Fountain in Red An anonymous group has turned the waters of Rome's Trevi Fountain red, protesting "expenses incurred in organizing the Rome Film Festival and symbolically [referring] to the event's red carpet," according to the AP. Boing Boing's David Pescovitz points to Antonio Amendola's Flickr stream. For news on how various films are being received at the festival, check Cineuropa.

At Rhizome, Caitlin Jones previews Performa 07, running Saturday through November 20. Among the works featured is Cast No Shadow, which, as the programmers put it, "brings to life [Isaac] Julien's extraordinary triptych of films - True North, Fantôme Afrique and Small Boats - in a remarkable work for the stage." Martina Kudlácek interviews Julien in the current issue of BOMB Magazine.

Senses of Cinema has now begun updating its site with festival reports, book reviews and the like. The first update features:

Gail Jones: The Piano

"Mikel Rouse's latest music-theater piece - the third in a trilogy that includes meditations on trash TV talk shows (Dennis Cleveland) and a murder case made famous by Truman Capote (Failing Kansas) - turns to movies and their demise, at least as an art form. That's a bad thing. And a good thing." Mark Swed on The End of Cinematics in the Los Angeles Times.

IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez reports from "this weekend's 3rd annual 'Filmmaker Forum' organized by Film Independent. Some 250 emerging producers and filmmakers participated in the engaging event - at a cost of up to $400 each - held this year at the DGA on Sunset Blvd."

The Film Panel Notetaker's been busy in the Hamptons. More from Charlie Olsky at indieWIRE and ST VanAirsdale at the Reeler.

Online viewing tip. For the Guardian, Rebecca Lovell reports on the Oska Bright Film Festival, "the only ceremony in Europe that showcases films made by and for people with learning disabilities."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:15 AM | Comments (1)

DVDs, 10/23.

A Cottage on Dartmoor It's a good week for Kino International, which has released, for starters, Anthony Asquith's rediscovered and restored A Cottage on Dartmoor, "a legitimate revelation," according to Michael Atkinson at IFC News. "A kind of modern-Gothic psycho-thriller that is astonishingly frank for its day, Asquith's movie manifests what old-school movieheads have long said about silent-vs-sound cinema - that had sound come along a few years later, rather than in the silent-renaissance year of 1927, then film itself would've reached heights of expressive power it didn't attain for years afterwards (if it ever has)."

"The Odessa Steps are back, seemingly in their bloody entirety, in the new DVD of Battleship Potemkin that Kino International is releasing today, and so are the squirming maggots and countless other details that have been excised over the years," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. Of all the versions out there, for now, and "for visual and aural quality, the Kino disc is now the one to beat."

Updated through 10/25.

Meanwhile, in the wake of Warner's release of its three-disc Jazz Singer package, a debate rolls on. "How to deal with the significant 'racist relics' of our culture, the things that would have better never been made?" asks Premiere's Glenn Kenny, arguing that, above all, willful forgetfulness won't rewrite history.

Tim Lucas watches The Graduate, newly released as "a splendid two-disc set, with the best-looking transfer the film has ever had on home video, numerous supplementary trailers and featurettes... and, best of all, two compellingly listenable audio commentaries."

Days of Heaven "To hell with equivocation or beating around the bush: Terrence Malick's 1978 Days of Heaven is the greatest film ever made," declares Nick Schager at Slant, and Criterion's release is a "DVD fit for a masterpiece."

"Xperimental Eros, a DVD compiled by Noel Lawrence and released by Other Cinema, chronicles the resurgence of raunch in avant-garde cinema," notes Brian L Frye in the Stranger.

"Criterion's new DVD release of Mala Noche doesn't try to shed much contemporary light on [Gus] Van Sant's first feature, instead pitching it as a 'time capsule,'" writes Paul Schrodt at the House Next Door. "As an introduction to the New Queer Cinema movement, it is. But Mala Noche has also given modern gay films (from Mysterious Skin to Hellbent) a language through which to frame gay existence."

PopMatters: "TV That Should Be on DVD."

Online listening tip. Movie Geeks United! celebrate Stanley Kubrick. Via Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door.

DVD roundups: Bryant Frazer, DVD Talk and Peter Martin at Cinematical and Nathaniel R.

Updates, 10/24: Days of Heaven seems to spark this sort of reaction. "Objectivity be damned: no movie has ever been shot more rapturously," writes Benjamin Strong in the L Magazine.

"Warner Home Video's 23-DVD Pedro Infante collection is largely a tribute to the many mediocrities that this phenomenally popular singer-actor made during the 1940s and 50s," writes J Hoberman. What follows are notes on films by Luis Buñuel, some already out on DVD, others on the way, and on Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Once again: "As much as I love watching Days of Heaven, I dread having to write about it. The experience of seeing Terrence Malick's masterpiece invariably leaves me awestruck and overwhelmed, and gushing is not criticism." This time it's Elbert Ventura at Reverse Shot.

Update, 10/25: Raoul Hernandez in the Austin Chronicle on Days of Heaven: "All classical styles of painting can be found in the lionized 1978 film, pastels from the south of France tilting into Hopper's Midwestern glow before darkening into Dutch. Oils, acrylics, watercolors, they all pool together: Bergman, Bertolucci, Fellini, Kubrick."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:52 AM

October 22, 2007

Online viewing tip. Always Crashing in the Same Car.

Always Crashing in the Same Car Always Crashing in the Same Car stars Paul McGann and Richard E Grant and is freely downloadable, courtesy of the London Times.

Many thanks to Faisal A Qureshi at Screengrab.

Update, 10/23: Not unrelated: The video for the Pet Shop Boys' "Integral" at the DVblog.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:01 PM

Joan Fontaine @ 90.

Joan Fontaine "Today, Oct 22, Joan Fontaine turns 90 years old. And this week the Siren intends to do her doggonedest to post as much as possible, and devote each post to Joan. There are precious few stars from the glory days of Hollywood who are still with us, and none are dearer to the Siren than Ms Fontaine."

Among the many reasons listed: "Joan Fontaine didn't merely give her finest performance in Letter from an Unknown Woman, which the Siren firmly believes is the greatest woman's picture of all time. Ms Fontaine also selected the Stefan Zweig story, developed the project with her then-husband William Dozier and was instrumental in hiring the great Max Ophuls to direct."

And, as the Siren points out, it's Joan Fontaine's day at TCM, too.

Update: JJ has the inside lowdown on Suspicion and a bit of online viewing to boot.

Updates, 10/24: The Siren revisits Fontaine's autobiography, No Bed of Roses, and watches Blond Cheat.

At Movie Morlocks, moirafinnie6 walks us through a history of Fontaine's career.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:52 PM

Double Bill-a-Thon.

Utopia Double Bill "It is that time of the year when the air outside starts to take on a slight chill, when the spirit of the day is a tickling ghoul, when Charles Dickens would start writing ghost stories just in time for publication during Christmas, when the warmth of festivity starts to settle in and single servings don't quite satisfy our hunger," writes Gautam Valluri at Broken Projector. "It is time to re-visit, remember and re-explore the world of the notorious phenomenon that is the Double Bill! Starting today, for the next five days the best of the cinema blogs in the blogosphere will churn out articles on back-to-back cinematic masterpieces that will have your back nailed to wall and your eyes cello-taped wide open."

Speaking of double bills, Janus Films will be sending newly restored prints of Albert Lamorisse's The Red Balloon and The White Mane around the country beginning in mid-November.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:02 PM | Comments (1)

NYFF.45 #4 + Filmmaker. Fall 07.

Filmmaker Fall 07 Jamie Stuart's found a fun way to wrap the New York Film Festival, which you can see in what looks to be final installment in the series, NYFF.45 #4.

While you're there, you'll also notice that the first articles from the Fall 07 issue of Filmmaker are going up, including Jamie's review of the Panasonic AG-HPX500P, in which he describes - besides the camera's attributes, of course - making Gravity Wins, a test that plays like whatever the opposite of drowning would be.

Also online is Jason Guerrasio's talk with Amir Bar-Lev about making My Kid Could Paint That and Scott Macaulay's conversation with Anthony Hopkins about the making of Slipstream.

Lizzie Martinez describes meeting John Sayles and Maggie Renzi and working as their casting director. "And what better way to make a movie than to surround yourself with people you care about and to make something together that you all feel has worth in the world. It is a method that is underrated in our country and, these days, seems almost nonexistent."

"Over the last six months, I‘ve been experimenting with a collision of gaming, movies, music and technology know as a MIG (media-integrated game play)," writes Lance Weiler (The Last Broadcast, Head Trauma). "The MIG is a way in which the audience can experience a story across multiple platforms and devices. Characters from a film interact directly with an audience via live encounters, phone calls, text messages and e-mails. These interactions lead to clues consisting of hidden media, sites, blogs and social networking pages, all of which extend the film‘s storyline and provide life for its characters beyond the screen." Samples with links follow.

And editor Jay Cassidy reviews Avid's ScriptSync.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:50 AM

Midnight Eye. A book and five films.

Forest of Pressure Jasper Sharp reviews Forest of Pressure: Ogawa Shinsuke and Postwar Japanese Documentary, a...

fabulous new book from Abé Mark Nornes, whose previous publications include Japanese Documentary Film: The Meiji Era through Hiroshima, and The Japan/America Film Wars: WWII Propoganda and Its Cultural Contexts, a collection of essays which he edited with Yukio Fukushima. It should be pointed out right away, that Nornes's latest is not strictly about Shinsuke Ogawa, who died on 7 February 1992 from cancer of the colon, but about Ogawa Pro, the collective that bore his name. This is an important distinction; it is not often made clear where the dividing line between the man and those who congregated around him has been. Certainly Ogawa alone could not have immortalised the turmoil faced by Japan's more rural communities against the threat of a new, more economically-driven modern reality without the support, assistance and sacrifice of the loyal entourage that gathered around him, as becomes very clear in the opening chapters of this fascinating chronicle.

Film reviews:

  • "In a 1993 interview with Dartmouth professor Jeffrey Ruoff, Kazuo Hara was quoted as saying that documentaries "should explore the things that people don't want explored," writes Lindsay Nelson. "His own documentaries have become famous doing just that, and for displaying images that the public doesn't necessarily want to see. Though his inaction in the face of the violence and potential suffering that happens in front of his camera raises serious ethical questions, The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On should be applauded for its sheer audacity, and for the important questions it raises about the roles and responsibilities of filmmaker, audience, and subject."

  • "With its pan-European cast and Umbrellas of Cherbourg-director [Jacques] Demy behind the camera, Lady Oscar is hardly recognisable as a Japanese movie," writes Jasper Sharp. "However this lavish Toho production is in fact based on one of the most phenomenally popular shojo mangas (girls' comics) ever released."

Nightmare Detective
  • "I was beginning to worry that Shinya Tsukamoto was becoming lazy and more impulsiveness and imprecise as a filmmaker," writes Nicholas Rucka. "Nightmare Detective has made me reconsider that notion."

  • "Before discussing The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai by Mitsuru Meike it might be prudent to consider the peculiar story of its journey from the far from glamorous sex theaters of Tokyo to the relative respectability of Cinema Village in New York, where it recently became the first Pink film to gain a theatrical release in the American art cinema circuit," begins Dean Bowman.

  • And again, Dean Bowman: "Jun Ichikawa's film version of one of Haruki Murakami's most elegant short stories, Tony Takitani, somehow manages to redefine the whole process of literary adaptation, though with the same quiet, unassuming grace of the original story."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:40 AM

Sight & Sound. November 07.

Sight & Sound November 07 Online, the new issue of Sight & Sound opens with a questionnaire. The four questions: "What is Bresson's significance for you?," "What is your favorite Bresson film and why?," "What, if anything, have you borrowed from Bresson's cinema?" and "What do you see as Bresson's true legacy?" Following Michael Brooke's quick primer, filling out the form are Olivier Assayas, Bruno Dumont, Paul Schrader, Eugène Green and Aki Kaurismäki.

Nick James looks back on the Venice Film Festival: "This has been a strong year for American cinema, but a weaker one for its alternatives. And if festival director Marco Müller's program reflected that problem, it was so rich in star-encrusted excitements - most of them packed around the opening weekend to satisfy anyone departing for Toronto midweek - that we can already say that Venice has trounced its main rival, the nouveau riche Rome festival, in both the quality of the selection and the glamor it flaunted."


The Third Secret

Posted by dwhudson at 8:23 AM

NYFF. Honorably mentioned.

To wrap up coverage of the coverage of the New York Film Festival, here are some loose ends, tied.

Feature Films:

Calle Santa Fe:

  • Calle Santa Fe - "whose ostensible goal is to exhume lost leftist political history and provide a framework for future progressive movements - is the political equivalent of a rambling, numbingly-long lecture from a smug 60s boomer who wants you to understand that music peaked in 1967 and no one will ever be as awesome as Jimi Hendrix," writes Vadim Rizov at the Reeler.

  • "As a portrait of one woman's difficult attempts to reconcile with the past, and as a study of the long-term efficacy of revolution (and revolutionary zeal), Calle Santa Fe draws out its arguments until they no longer have any impact," writes Nick Schager at Slant.

A Girl Cut in Two:

A Girl Cut in Two

  • "Not unlike Chabrol's recent works, Merci pour le chocolat and The Flower of Evil, A Girl Cut in Two takes a pragmatic, almost laidback approach to its sensational narrative, situating scandal as something of a given within such privileged settings," writes Michael Koresky at Reverse Shot. "Though superficially similar to his 1994 film L'Enfer, which depicted the unraveling of a untrusting husband's psyche as a headfirst plunge into fiery, sweaty derangement, the jealousy on display here is naturally dispassionate, a fact of life for those who never felt the need to learn to trust."

  • "An opening sequence in which red visual tinting and opera music are abruptly replaced by natural light and sound conveys the director's aim for de-romanticized inquiry, but there's almost no insight to be gleaned from the subsequent story other than that the wealthy are priggish snobs and intellectual artists are selfish pigs," writes Nick Schager.

  • Earlier: Reviews and previews from Toronto and NYFF and a first round of reviews from Venice.


  • "Useless, the new documentary by Jia Zhangke, avoids grand statements about fashion or the apparel industry or the rapid changes that are transforming Chinese life, though it is decidedly about all of these things," writes Chris Wisniewski at Reverse Shot. "Clocking in at under 90 minutes, and deploying no voiceover, Useless is actually a deceptively modest piece of work - some may call it 'minor' - but its modesty should not be taken for lack of ambition or for a failure on Jia's part to grapple with his film's subjects."

  • "This isn't the first time Jia has bifurcated his structure this way (Still Life does the same thing, though it eventually ties together its threads), but Useless has about four distinct stories, which is at least two too many," writes Vadim Rizov at the Reeler. "The film goes from the hypnotic formalism of the fashion world to the slow, less-aestheticized world of the village. The mystery departs. The most surprising revelation of the press conference following the screening is that Jia sincerely admires Ma Ke's work, taking it at face value as 'an engagement with critical thinking about the state of China from the point of view of fashion.' She's his on-screen alter ego, her brand name his plight."

    Earlier: Reviews and previews from Venice, Toronto and NYFF.

Special Events:


  • "Fados is Carlos Saura's art-gallery fête of a popular genre of Portuguese music whose influence can be traced to the Moors," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant. "Saura's latest exaltation of a native dance may not frazzle the nerves, but its hybridization of interplaying cinematic and musical techniques is still an orgy for the eyes and ears."

  • Saura "wonderfully attunes his film to bodies in motion, superimposing silhouettes of people over bustling street crowd imagery as a means of fostering a sense of collective cultural harmony," writes Nick Schager.

  • Online listening tip. Keith Uhlich interviews Saura at the House Next Door.



  • "Vengeance as a woman or a prince? This 1921 version of Hamlet, starring Danish silent screen goddess Asta Nielsen, poses that intriguing question," writes Jenny Jediny at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "Originally created and supported through Nielsen's own production company, this interpretation of Shakespeare's tragedy proposes that Hamlet was in fact a woman, forced by her family from birth to disguise herself as a man in order to inherit the throne.... Full credit deservedly goes to Nielsen for the film's success, as her embodiment of the tragic prince is as visually exciting as it is provocative for its time period; her melancholy yet astute prince seems as aware of not merely the character's place in history, but her own unforgettable performance."

Leave Her to Heaven:

  • "The story of a manipulative bride who destroys everyone around her with an all-consuming need to be loved, the film felt extremely contemporary and was a a hoot," writes Tom Hall. "I watched the movie with nothing but sympathy for Gene Tierney's portrayal of the 'crazy' bride and something just this side of eye-rolling contempt for über-stiff Cornel Wilde's 'marriage-by-numbers' groom."

  • "If [John M] Stahl seems close to Carl Dreyer in his 30s work, with Leave Her to Heaven he plunges headfirst into a sort of cruel, thin Daliesque landscape where an inscrutable beauty's liberating vengeance has no limit whatsoever," writes Dan Callahan at Slant.

Runnin' Down a Dream: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers:

  • "I did it: I survived Peter Bogdanovich's 4 hour and 15 minute Tom Petty documentary, Running Down a Dream," announces Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "I cannot call myself a Tom Petty fan - in fact, I'd probably be more inherently receptive to a four hour documentary about Peter Bogdanovich - but there's something about this film that fascinates me. I think maybe it's that, in terms of the nature and total efficiency of the production, it actually achieves Bogdanovich's apparent lifelong ambition to emulate Howard Hawks."

  • "Whether or not you consider Petty a major artist, the fact that he's walked the walk, integrity-wise, most faithfully over his entire career is no small thing, and he comes off here as a far more personally appealling non-compromiser than, say, John Mellencamp," writes Glenn Kenny. "He's also a good storyteller himself, and he gathered a lot of interesting pals in his travels - Dylan, coupla Beatles, Roy Orbison. So while this is more Petty than I ever imagined I would want to sit still for, I actually had a really good time with this one."

  • At IFC News, Bogdanovich tells Aaron Hillis that "Tom's a big movie fan. He watches Turner Classic Movies all the time. When he goes on tour, the hotel has to have TCM or he won't stay in the room. One of the first things we talked about was Rio Bravo, which is the first clip [shown in the doc]. He loves that movie, and I do too. I think westerns, Hawks and Ford were a bonding element."



  • "Josef von Sternberg's Underworld is a fascinating early cornerstone of both the director's worldview and the gangster genre," writes Fernando F Croce at Slant.

  • "I know Underworld may be more exceptional than typical, yet it's a good reminder that Sunrise or other more widely seen silent classics are not alone in what they do," writes Chris Cagle.

"Chinese Modern: A Tribute to Cathay Studios, nominally a retrospective celebrating one of the seminal production companies in Hong Kong cinema, could just as well be a celebration of a seismic talent known as Ge Lan, aka Grace Chang," writes Kevin B Lee at the House Next Door. "Ensconced in cosmopolitan culture, from airliners to mambo clubs, Cathay's urbane entertainments envisioned a Hong Kong jet set that presaged the city's eventual ascendance as an economic powerhouse. Central to this modern vision were the stable of actresses who portrayed headstrong, independent leads in these films, not the least of which was Chang. Of the seven films in the sidebar, five feature Chang, she of the sultry, man-eating gaze and volcano voice." And he concentrates on Mambo Girl and The Wild, Wild Rose.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:16 AM

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead "Most directors do not go on to make one of their best films after receiving their lifetime achievement Oscars," writes Dennis Lim in the New York Times. Sidney Lumet's "first feature, 12 Angry Men (1957), earned him an Oscar nomination for directing. His latest, a bracingly bleak crime melodrama called Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (set to open Friday), has been upstaging filmmakers less than half his age on the festival circuit this fall.... While slipping from one genre to another he has remained very much a New York filmmaker, not just in his preferred locations but also in his politics, his temperament and his work ethic."

Updated through 10/28.

"On the occasion of his bloody and tumultuous new film," writes New York's David Edelstein, "critics have hailed the 83-year-old director Sidney Lumet as an American master, generously neglecting to mention that for every great picture (Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon), there have been maybe four breathtaking stinkers (The Wiz, Equus, Deathtrap, Family Business, Guilty As Sin, Gloria, A Stranger Among Us, Garbo Talks...). I note Lumet's batting average to underscore his present achievement. His touch in Before the Devil is so sure, so perfectly weighted, that it's hard to imagine him capable of making a bad movie. The thing is just enthralling. It's a crime-and-punishment story that is finally about (to borrow an earlier Lumet title) family business: primal injuries that lead, inexorably, to primal sins."

"Despite the oscillation between past and present, Devil is so feverishly acted that it feels as if it were always hurtling into the future," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "Devil is devoted to the chaos unleashed by a single terrible idea. The fractured time scheme brings out the unsurprising but still enlightening lesson that crime should be left to the professionals, and that greed humbles smart-asses like Andy, who think they're invulnerable."

"Philip Seymour Hoffman has carved out a special niche for himself as a character actor in contemporary Hollywood, and his Andy Hanson in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is quintessential," writes Leo Goldsmith at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "Pervy, belligerent, self-loathing, substance-dependent, greedy, oily, spiteful, pathetic — he is an omnibus of Hoffman types and tropes." Even so, "For all of their greed and stupidity, and all of the usual rashness that money inspires in those who need it (and need it quickly), Hank [Ethan Hawke] and Andy are still highly sympathetic (if pitiable) characters."

"As embodied by Hoffman, Andy is a clusterfuck of First World Problems - a failing marriage, financial overextension, and piteous delusions of grandeur," writes Brendon Bouzard at Reverse Shot. "It's a showy role, yes - Hoffman pounds on tables, weeps pathetically, shouts wildly - but Lumet's elegant staging and Hoffman's commanding presence depict one of the most recognizably tragic figures on screen in recent memory."

"Kelly Masterson's relentless script takes a turn into near-Greek tragedy, which the film can't quite sustain; the final developments beggar belief, and a fetching Marisa Tomei, as a femme sort-of fatale, is stranded by indecisive screenwriting," writes Robert Cashill. "But this slick, sick picture, with a gallery of supporting rogues including Brian F O'Byrne, Amy Ryan and Michael Shannon, is largely satisfying."

"It's a bluntly effective, methodically detailed B movie that proves Lumet's continued fidelity to a tried-and-true credo: all institutions corrupt," writes Akiva Gottlieb at Slant. "In the case of Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, that institution is the American family, and its victims are everywhere."

For Brandon Fibbs, writing at cinemaattraction, this is "very possibly his strongest work in decades."

"The robbery goes horribly wrong, and the tension that Lumet builds around the events that unfold in jagged, perspective-driven shards works beautifully - until it doesn't," writes Michelle Orange at the Reeler.

Earlier: Reviews from early September and then Toronto and NYFF.

Updates, 10/23: "Auteurists who look down their noses at Lumet's half-century career can reject him on the grounds of his seeming lack of distinctive visual technique, but that sort of tunnel vision ignores his almost unparalleled skill with actors," writes Matt Singer at IFC News. "His characters are big and broad, and actors, even good ones, could easy turn into their parts into enormous slices of ham. If the man can keep Al Pacino and Vin Diesel in line, he must be doing something right."

"Hawke's need to ingratiate himself as an actor usefully informs his character; he makes an excellent baby brother, a frisky pup and appealing nitwit whose moist smile and frightened eyes are impossible to resist," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead doesn't always compute, but there's little chance to complain. Even as the shuffled chronology adds to the angst, it's the location of murderous violence within a single family that pushes the action toward Greek tragedy.... Shot like a bleary morning after, full of powerhouse scenes and over-the-top situations in nondescript locales, it's a pulverizing experience."

Updates, 10/24: "If our cultural arbiters are to be believed, the 70s are back," writes Elbert Ventura at indieWIRE. "Directed by someone who actually defined the period, [Before the Devil Knows You're Dead] is no homage by a 'last golden age' devotee - it's the genuine article."

"After Tarantino's genre-remixing Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction inspired a legion of inferior knockoffs, two tropes that many film lovers became quite skittish about seeing combined were 'heist movie' and 'narrative that plays with the timeline.' But a great film can certainly vindicate genres that have been botched by lesser filmmakers." And for Alonso Duralde, writing for MSNBC, this is one of those.

"While a lesser actor might have perished in the subtext, Hawke is lately coming into his own and brings a courageous amount of vulnerability to a performance begging to be picked apart for clues to his private life," writes Benjamin Strong in the L Magazine.

At Stop Smiling, Lawrence Levi breaks with the crowd. Noting all the film's assets, he asks, "So why is it so bad?"

"Hoffman and Hawke both overact to their hearts content, but Lumet's direction is crisp and brutal," writes Nick Schager. "And if the filmmaker's desire to elevate his story to the realm of epic tragedy is neither justified nor successful, his latest nonetheless proves to be a triumphantly brisk, bleak B-movie."

Updates, 10/25: For Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, Before the Devil is "a Rorschach test for filmgoers. What you see in it says more about you than it says about Lumet and his straightforward, throwback-style entertainment, which is richly played and dazzlingly blinged up with sex and drugs, but virtually devoid of human insight or narrative ambition."

"The surge of critical praise for his newest entry in this career-length exploration, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, comes across as appreciation for a devout moralist whose beat hasn't changed after all these years," writes Eric Kohn at the Reeler. "The only element of the film that doesn't work is Lumet's most unexplored terrain: experiments with tension.... Structural flaws aside, the movie contains a flurry of richly directed scenes."

The film opens with "an image meant to shock but is just gruesome" and "goes down the toilet from there," finds Armond White in the New York Press.

Scott Foundas meets up with Lumet for the LA Weekly. So, too, does Eric Kohn in the New York Press.

Online listening tip. Lumet, Hawke and Hoffman are guests on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Updates, 10/26: "Mr Lumet takes what might have been a claustrophobic genre exercise and gives it both moral weight and social insight," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "His great New York movies of the 1970s and 80s - Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Prince of the City, Q & A - were realist fables, often based on true stories and always full of dense local knowledge. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is relentlessly focused on the terrible events of a few days, but as it zigzags back and forth in time it takes in a larger, longer story, a history of upward mobility and family displacement."

"Lumet's fascinated by lived-in spaces - from suburban kitchens with food containers stacked near piles of books, to high-rise drug dens that look hermetically sealed - and he and Masterson continually emphasize how in New York everything costs more than even rich people can afford," writes Noel Murray at AV Club. "Ultimately, the film is just a smart caper picture with some good performances, but at times it's very smart, and Hoffman's performance in particular is one of the most natural and unexpectedly affecting that he's given in years."

"Stop to think of it and you realize that Before the Devil Knows You're Dead... is some kind of ultimate answer to the 'family values' poppycock that has polluted our socio-political discussions for so many years," writes Richard Schickel for Time.

Updates, 10/27: "Fall 2007 is shaping up to be the season of illogical movies," writes Ryan Stewart at Cinematical. "First there was the much-praised Gone Baby Gone, which has a third act twist that's logically crazy and impossible in practicality, and now there's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, a film from the aging non-master Sidney Lumet that twists its narrative into a pointless and annoying timeline-pretzel and in doing so drains every ounce of energy and motivation from the piece, only to arrive at a Greek tragedy climax that has a plot hole so large you could drive a Hummer through it."

And Looker passes along a friend's complaint.

Updates, 10/28: Mark Olsen profiles Lumet for the LAT.

"When I think about Lumet and the tragedy, I flash back to Long Days Journey into Night (1962)," writes Kathy Fennessy at the Siffblog. "More so than his '70s-era police pictures and corruption classics (Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, Network, etc), Before the Devil Knows You're Dead evokes Eugene O'Neill, Anton Chekhov, William Shakespeare, and even a few of those Greek guys."

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

October 21, 2007

Shorts, 10/21.

Clown Paintings In the New York Review of Books, Larry McMurtry marvelously captures 28 years of friendship with Diane Keaton in a few brief sentences, and then:

Over the years, sometimes with the help of the New York writer-curator Marvin Heiferman, Diane has sniffed out collections or archives of photographs that she feels are unjustly overlooked, neglected, or lost—like, very often, the tarnished human beings who appear in them. Once convinced, she mothers these archives and attempts to arrange for their exhibition and safekeeping and, so far, publication in five books to which she's written prefaces. They include pictures of actors doing publicity stills in the Technicolor era (Still Life, 1983), clown paintings (Clown Paintings, 2002), salesmen in training (Mr Salesman, 1993), tabloid photographs from the long-defunct Los Angeles Herald Express (Local News, 1999), and citizens of Fort Worth, Texas, as captured over a quarter of a century by the commercial photographer Bill Wood (to be published in the forthcoming Bill Wood's Business). All these groups are, in the eyes of Keaton and Heiferman, about to be sucked forever into the labyrinth of oblivion, to take their places among the billions of the forgotten.

Cormac McCarthy "is famous for two things: his omnivorous curiosity and his extreme reclusiveness. In his 74 years, he's given a total of three interviews. But here he chats freely with the Coen brothers, who have a tendency to finish each other's sentences. Time's Lev Grossman was invited to observe." Also via Movie City News, Adam F Hutton in the Brooklyn Paper on how the Coens are giving back to the neighborhood that's put up with them, not to mention George Clooney, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich and Frances McDormand, during the filming of Burn After Reading.

"[T]o help you tell your Rendition from your Redacted, Salon has compiled this handy guide to the current (and upcoming) spate of movies dealing with the war." A cute chart, presented by Eryn Loeb.

Jack Nicholson Ron Rosenbaum notes a coincidental connection between Hillary Clinton Chinatown fundraising mini-scandal and, well, Chinatown, "the greatest American movie of the past half century." Watching it again, he recalls an amusing Jack Nicholson anecdote.

"B-movie superstar Bruce Campbell and Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson first met on the set of 1992's Army of Darkness," blogs Mike Russell, who chats with both. The occasion: "Richardson is producing My Name Is Bruce, a forthcoming horror-comedy in which a sleazy actor named 'Bruce Campbell' is kidnapped by small-town yokels in the fictional town of Gold Lick, Oregon; they believe the thespian really is the zombie-slaying hero of the Evil Dead series, and want him to battle a real-life Chinese demon. Campbell co-wrote, directed and stars in the movie, and shot much of it on his property in Jacksonville, Oregon."

Also, a talk with Karen Black following a screening of Brand Upon the Brain!.

Nehemiah Persoff studied at the Actors Studio under Elia Kazan and Lee Strasberg and went on to rack up credits in around 50 films and 400 TV shows. "At 88, the retired actor admits to feeling conflicted and wonders if perhaps he should have ignored the siren song of Broadway and Hollywood and returned to Israel to help build the country," writes Harvey F Chartrand in the Jerusalem Post.

Boyd van Hoeij at european-films.net on The Secret of the Grain: "With this third film, [Abdellatif] Kechciche establishes himself clearly as one of the primary voices of immigrants in Europe, a French equivalent, at least in spirit, to Germany's Fatih Akin."

"Lars and the Real Girl may be a self-consciously cute, low-budget art-house comedy, but its central conceit is a perfect metaphor for what's happened to male and female characters in mainstream comedies," argues Carina Chicano. "He's a schlub, she's beautiful. He's active, she's passive. He's maladjusted, she's placid. He's unreliable and immature, she's patient and forgiving. He's funny and charming, she's conventional and dull. He's the subject, she's the object."

Also in the Los Angeles Times:

  • "Director Michael Verhoeven has dealt with the issues of Germany's heritage from World War II in such fiction features as The Nasty Girl and The White Rose," notes Mark Olsen, "but [in The Unknown Soldier] he turns to documentary to examine the emotions stirred up by a museum exhibition that not only explored the accepted villainy of the SS but also questioned the extent to which common foot soldiers had knowledge of and were culpable for the Holocaust and related crimes and atrocities."

  • Lael Loewenstein argues that "as compelling as The Price of Sugar is, it also represents a squandered opportunity. A stronger connection could have been made between the film's subject and our own responsibility as consumers."

New Statesman: Michael Moore The New Statesman's put Michael Moore on its cover:

  • "Moore's deftness and dark humour in Sicko, which is a brilliant work of journalism and satire and filmmaking, explains - perhaps even better than the films that made his name, Roger and Me, Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 - his popularity and influence and enemies," writes John Pilger. "Sicko is so good that you forgive its flaws, notably Moore's romanticising of Britain's National Health Service, ignoring a two-tier system that neglects the elderly and the mentally ill."

  • "Journalism and documentary-making are about the truth - otherwise they would be called fiction - and if either of them presents untrue information, it is betraying its reason for being," writes Brian Cathcart. "Yet the idea that people must always get their facts right, like almost everything that is labelled common sense, is incomplete and unsatisfactory."

  • Jonathan Beckman asks seven professionals: "Michael Moore: hero or villain?"

In the New York Times, Dave Itzkoff talks with Jerry Seinfeld ahead of the November 2 release of Bee Movie, "by far the most substantial project that this 53-year-old comedian has taken on since pulling the plug on his Seinfeld television sitcom in 1998." Also, Lynne Hirschberg talks with Marion Cotillard and Deborah Solomon asks Marjane Satrapi all about Persepolis.

The Island Ed Gonzalez at Slant on The Island: "After exorcising a demon from a young woman, a person from Anatoly's past appears, and though the stage seems set for an examination of the man's regret for having wasted his life, director Pavel Lungin has long blown his load on the chilly vistas of the White Sea to care much, and so Anatoly's crisis never feels resolved, simply dissolving into the gauzy ether of the film's Orthodox pageantry."

"For a lot of actors, not being able to act would be an obstacle, but Jean-Claude [Van Damme] has transformed it into his trademark." At Slate, Grady Hendrix turns in an oddly amusing tribute.

Alice Jones talks with Mark Strong, who plays Septimus in Stardust and is "currently shooting Ridley Scott's new Middle Eastern epic, Body of Lies, in which he plays the smooth-talking, Savile-Row-suit-wearing head of the Jordanian Secret Service. 'A fantastic wildcard,' he admits." Also in the Independent, James Mottram talks with David Cronenberg.

"It's official: the Harry Potter movie franchise has now made enough money to buy a small planet (£2.2 billion worldwide!), making it the highest-grossing film series ever, topping 22 Bonds and six Star Wars films," writes Daniel Etherington. "It's no wonder then that there's a gold rush among the movie studios to find 'the new Harry Potter.'"

Also in the Guardian:

  • Peter Bradshaw tries to imagine what that new Star Wars TV show's going to look like.

  • It "may be that the very idea of any national New Wave is a relic," suggests Danny Leigh, "that in a world this tech-accelerated and truly global (for good and for bad), the best and most radical filmmakers are now unlikely to appear en masse from Bucharest (or Tehran, or Bangkok), but to be getting their inspiration from all corners of film history, with their peers scattered across the planet."

Heavier Than Heaven

In the Observer, Susannah Clapp reviews London stage productions of Glengarry Glen Ross and Swimming with Sharks.

Online viewing tip. Arthur Lipsett's first film, Very Nice, Very Nice, a must-view via Doug Cummings.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:18 AM

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), 10/21.

Muoi: Legend of a Portrait Muoi: Legend of a Portrait "is a serviceable horror film with two or three effective jolts, but the real reason for any viewer to watch it to the finish is to gawk at its two incredibly beautiful lead actresses," writes Kyu Hyun Kim at Koreanfilm.org. "Don't expect anything like a thoughtful, self-reflexive take on the (potentially ironic) position of Koreans now exploiting Viet Nam as an exotic land of the ghosts with unrequited love." More (plus a trailer) from luna6.

"Even though it is marketed as another J-Horror entry, Vital indicates that Shinya Tsukamoto has more on his mind than frightening his audience with another genre exercise," writes Peter Nellhaus.

31 Days of Horror roll on at Not Coming to a Theater Near You:

  • "Part supernatural mystery, part psychological thriller, part grisly zombie horror, [Lucio] Fulci's City of the Living Dead is a multifaceted, character-driven tale of terror that manages the impressive feat of creating an appreciable atmosphere of fear while holding its death-defying denizens in check for the bulk of the picture," writes Thomas Scalzo.

  • For Megan Weireter, The Wicker Man "resonates with a sadness that we as a species can't live up to the beauty of our rituals, our music, our poetry—that all this has no bearing on the fact that we are an immoral scourge on the earth. Everyone is so full of faith, and still they can't be bothered to just be nice to everyone else. The outlook for humanity is bleak."

  • "Unsurprisingly, Maniac Cop is not one for the wine-and-cheese crowd," writes Victoria Large. "But for those willing to roll with the B-movie punches, including the straight-faced delivery of some unabashedly hackneyed dialogue ('This isn't about romance. This is about murder.'), Maniac Cop does have its pleasures. It is essentially an 80s slasher picture dressed up in a blue uniform, but that very premise carries a glimmer of originality and even subversion."

They Came Back "It's a mark to writer/director Robin Campillo's singularity that They Came Back only incidentally recalls the works of Romero (the shots of the slowly returning dead marching through the city streets eerily recalls the opening of Day of the Dead), for his film is one of primarily intangible horrors," Rob Humanick. "The living dead may not be an immediate threat, but outside of their tucked away graves they remain a constant reminder of our imminent mortality." Also, "Resident Evil: Apocalypse is a good bad bad movie, or something like that."

"The Mummy plays out certain anxieties about British imperialism, but it's hard to tell where its sympathies ultimately lie," writes Billy Stevenson.

"Blacula is more about empowerment than exploitation," writes Eric D Snider.

Also at Cinematical:

In the Los Angeles Times, Susan King reports on a revival of Poltergeist, newly struck print and all.

"The inventive and unnerving DIY shocker Mulberry Street may seem to take its cues from 28 Days Later, but since Danny Boyle's zombie-virus hit was the British response to George A Romero's very-American undead allegories, director Jim Mickle and his resourceful collaborators can be excused for taking a little something back thru Ellis Island: all is fair in love and the zombie war, it can be supposed," writes Robert J Lewis.

At Facets Features, Phil Morehart posts two clips from Ed Wood's Orgy of the Dead. Also, Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera; and the shower scene from Psycho: "50 cuts, between 71 to 78 angles, screeching strings, chocolate syrup and casaba melons."

More online viewing from Todd Brown at Twitch: a trailer for the newly restored version of Dario Argento's Suspiria; and another for Deaths of Ian Stone, "aptly described as the Groundhog Day of horror films."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:29 AM

Fests and events, 10/21.

Andy Warhol Screen Tests "Through Nov 11 the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, is presenting a 33-title retrospective of [Andy Warhol's] work, including new prints of films like his 1966 sensation The Chelsea Girls; a sampling of the 472 Screen Tests he shot of Susan Sontag, Lou Reed and other fabulous scene-makers; and excerpts from early minimalist epics like the eight-hour Empire (1964) and the 5-hour 21-minute Sleep (1963). The museum will also present A Walk Into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory, a documentary about a filmmaker who had been one of Warhol's intimates, and Beautiful Darling, a work in progress about Candy Darling, a notable figure in what the museum is calling Warhol's World," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "For film lovers there is no more important show in town."

For Gay City News, Ioannis Mookas presents 13 ways of approaching Warhol's films; via Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door.

"Now 70 and light years from the era when he and his New York University film school buddy Scorsese collaborated on Mean Streets, New York, New York and Raging Bull, [Mardik] Martin is not bitter seeing the great heights to which Scorsese has ascended in the intervening years," writes Robert W Welkos in the Los Angeles Times. Mardik: From Baghdad to Hollywood, a doc screening as part of the Hollywood Film Festival, "chronicles what the filmmakers note is Martin's unlikely journey from Iraq to NYU film school, from busboy to writing Raging Bull, from being the hottest writer in New York to losing it all in LA, and from forsaking his craft to becoming a favorite screenwriting teacher at USC."

The Chicago Reader has recommendations for what to catch during the Chicago International Children's Film Festival (through October 29); also, Andrea Gronvall on the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema (through October 28).

Doug Cummings catches the Academy's animation tribute. "I was particularly glad [critic Charles] Solomon highlighted the difference between the loving, handmade feel of all of the works in the program versus the kind of homogenous CGI work that increasingly defines the genre today, short form as well as long form." He's also checked out The Art of the Motion Picture Illustrator: William B Major, Harold Michelson and Tyrus Wong, on view through December 16.

The Observer's Jason Solomons has newsy bits from the London Film Festival, including one on a short that reunites Withnail and I's Richard E Grant and Paul McGann.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:59 AM

Lists, 10/21.

Lined Notebook Paper "On January 26, 1958 (the date is written in pencil), I began keeping a list of all the movies I'd seen, using lined notebook paper that I further divided in half so that I could get upwards of 50 movies per page. I was 12 years old." Newsweek's David Ansen is still updating that list and he's closing in on 8000 titles:

It's the diary of my life: the titles transporting me back to the theaters and cities I saw them in, the people I saw them with....

These titles defined my generation: they told us who we were, what others thought we were supposed to be (John Wayne, Doris Day), who we wanted to be (Bogie, Audrey Hepburn, Brando, Kim Novak, Cary Grant, Elizabeth Taylor). Between the lines of my list I can read the convulsions of a country that was radically redefining itself as it passed from the big, affluent, homogenized Eisenhower 50s through the roller-coaster ride of the 60s, all the way up to our fragmented and fearful present. It's a long way from Prince Valiant and Three Coins in the Fountain to Borat and Brokeback Mountain.

The Toronto Star's Peter Howell presents an "alphabetical and highly subjective list of the 10 coolest movies currently in production." Via Movie City News.

In the Independent, Anthony Quinn counts down the "10 best film endings."

"Far from being the wilful travesty, [Todd] Haynes's [I'm Not There] actually taps into a great tradition of 'out-there' pop movies." In the Financial Times, Ben Thompson lists five.

Queens on film. No, not what you're thinking... real blue-blooded royalty: Bronwyn Cosgrove picks the ten best for the Guardian.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:57 AM

American Gangsters, 10/21.

Mr Untouchable / American Gangster Leroy "Nicky" Barnes "was the heroin kingpin, dubbed by some the Al Capone of Harlem, an underworld superstar who had tauntingly posed for the cover of the New York Times Magazine in 1977 with the headline 'Mister Untouchable,'" writes Robert W Welkos in the Los Angeles Times. "Barnes, who is now 74, is the subject of a documentary from director Marc Levin titled Mr Untouchable." Its "premiere comes only a week before the arrival of director Ridley Scott's feature-length film American Gangster starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. Washington plays Frank Lucas, who in real life was a key competitor of Barnes. Lucas, who became a prosecution witness, is also now a free man. Even today, debate rages over which of the two was Harlem's bigger drug kingpin. 'And there was a third guy too,' Levin pointed out. 'His name was Frank Matthews. [He] was also a legendary character. No one knows what happened with him, whether he escaped, ended up living in a villa in Africa, or if he was killed.... They were contemporaries and, in a sense, I guess, business competitors."

Updated through 10/26.

As for American Gangster, Kirk Honeycutt's got a review for the Hollywood Reporter: "[T]his is a gangster movie focused on character rather than action and on the intricacies of people's backgrounds, strategies and motivations. Whether it means to, the film plays off a clutch of old movies, from The Godfather and Serpico to Superfly and Shaft. But Scott and writer Steven Zaillian make certain their Old Gangster is original and true to himself and his times rather than a concoction of movie fiction. Consequently, the movie is smooth and smart enough to attract a significant audience beyond the considerable fan base of its stars."

Updates: American Gangster "is absorbing, exciting at times and undeniably entertaining, and is poised to be a major commercial hit. But great it's not," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "Maximizing a gritty big-city story requires a credibility composed of thousands of small details, and this is one area where a citizen-of-the-world director like Scott can't excel. It's akin to asking Lumet or Scorsese to make a definitive film about crime in 70s Newcastle - they could do a respectable, even exciting job of it, but it probably wouldn't ring deeply true."

Jeffrey Wells respectfully disagrees: "But it does ring true. For me, anyway. Brits are famous for delivering American-set crime dramas with great chops and authenticity (as Karel Reisz managed with Who'll Stop the Rain and John Boorman did with Point Blank), and this is one of those cases. I believed every New York second of American Gangster. For my money, Scott has not only skillfully chanelled Lumet and Scorsese but the entire hallowed universe of 70s urban filmmaking itself."

Back to Mr Untouchable. Levin "may avoid outright idol-worship, but any restraint exhibited by his film is disingenuous, since its preference for gangster tall tales over law enforcement realities - as well as its goofily staged interviews with Barnes himself - reveals an uninhibited, fawning fascination with the infamous criminal," writes Nick Schager at Slant.

Update, 10/23: Reviewing Mr Untouchable for the Voice, Michelle Orange notes "the uneasy balance that this film strikes between telling the straight story and glorifying a stone-cold snake in the grass."

Update, 10/24: Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine on American Gangster: "Somehow the fact that Jay-Z, inspired by a sneak preview, has returned to record a tribute album, seems entirely apt for this handsomely mounted display of well-rehearsed ironies and insights."

Update, 10/25: At the Reeler, Vadim Rizov finds Mr Untouchable "so blinkered and unthinking (and its filmmakers so imaginatively bankrupt) in portraying its title subject that a potentially unique story is retrospectively flattened into yet another gangsta crime saga, blander than the blandest of 50 Cent songs.... Mr Untouchable's ultimate achievement is to flatten a real, colorful life into something less original than its fictional equivalent. Scarface is the documentary; this is the pale imitation."

Updates, 10/26: "Mr Levin's film, though it duly includes testimony from police officers, prosecutors and journalists who covered the crime beat in those bad old New York days - how filmmakers seem to miss them - takes a tolerant, even admiring view of its subject" and "clings to the standard hip-hop mythology of the pusher as entrepreneur, rebel, celebrity and folk hero," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "That narrative is complicated somewhat by the fact that Mr Barnes was also a snitch" and "a true capitalist hustler who will use anyone, criminal, lawyer or documentary filmmaker, to serve his own interests."

"Levin makes sure to highlight the devastating human cost of the heroin epidemic, yet the gorgeous girls, fancy clothes, and expensive cars on display illustrate that the wages of sin can be pretty damned irresistible," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "If Barnes ultimately emerges as a heartless, duplicitous villain, he's nevertheless got the devil's slippery, seductive charm."

The Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan finds it "less a dispassionate examination than a celebratory infomercial on its central character."

"It isn't that American Gangster is an empirically bad film or is even unenjoyable," writes Brandon Fibbs at cinemaattraction. "While the lights are down and the screen is aglow, you're sure to be perfectly entertained. But don't be surprised if, when you walk out of the theater, you forget the film ever existed."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:57 AM

October 20, 2007

Online viewing tips, 10/20.

Norman Bates As a contribution to the ongoing Close-Up Blog-a-Thon hosted by the House Next Door (and just look at that thing - it's huge!), Jim Emerson has put together an amazing "movie/essay/dream" based on an earlier "free association dream sequence."

Jonathan Rosenbaum introduces a clip from Orson Welles's Don Quixote. Stick with that clip; it crescendo's into something pretty damn rousing.

At Filmmaker, Nick Dawson points to a batch of videos for Ola Podrida by Todd Rohal, Michael Tully and Joe Swanberg.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:23 PM

Rome. Youth Without Youth (and related bits).

Youth Without Youth "The most awaited film of the RomeFilmFest may also be its most divisive," writes Natasha Senjanovic at Cineuropa. "Although it screened today to a lukewarm reception from the press, Francis Ford Coppola's Youth Without Youth has everyone talking."

"Long stuck on completing his unrealized Megalopolis project, Coppola found Romanian philosopher/author Mircea Eliade's novella about the limitations of time a compensating balm for his own frustrations," writes Jay Weissberg in Variety. "Perhaps Eliade's investigations into Jungian theory and a nascent form of New Age spirituality also appealed, not to mention the excitement of getting back to the kind of artistic control only possible with low-budget filmmaking. Decamping to Romania (with a small section shot in Bulgaria), Coppola used mostly young local talent and had the Balkan nations stand in for Switzerland, Malta and even India. Unfortunately, the results are as phony as the back projection and lack the kind of Eastern European magical realism that would have made it resonate."

Updated through 10/23.

The AP's Marta Falconi has quotes from Coppola's press conference: "[P]art of being an artist who wants to look at new areas (is knowing that) it will take a while for people to be familiar with the film. I only ask you to think that my film was interesting."

Meanwhile, as Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay notes, there's quite a discussion going on at Hollywood Elsewhere regarding the out-of-nowhere news that Hearts of Darkness will finally see a release on DVD. One of the thread's participants is George Hickenlooper, officially listed as one of three of the doc's directors. For him, too, this news is a big surprise. He thought he was getting close to a deal with Criterion, "who are dying to put it out," but evidently, the matter's been out of his hands for some time. Still, he has stories to tell and hopes to be able to at least record a commentary some day.

And as for those comments regarding Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson, the AP reports that Coppola's claiming they were taken out of context and that he has "nothing but respect and admiration" for all three.

Update, 10/21: "Ten years after the polished, anonymous professionalism of The Rainmaker, Francis Ford Coppola returns with an epic, magic realist tale of miraculous rejuvenation," writes Allan Hunter for Screen Daily. "Anyone who hoped that life might imitate art will be sorely disappointed by Youth Without Youth.... It may have moments of great beauty and tenderness but it overall it is a jumble of half-baked metaphysical musings and disjointed story threads that mainstream audiences will find as unfathomable as Kurtz's mumblings in the jungles of Apocalypse Now."

Update, 10/23: The Hollywood Reporter's Ray Bennett finds Youth to be "a muddled fantasy about the transmigration of souls. Handsomely made on a low budget, the film has the polished look of a Coppola film with expert contributions from some master craftsmen. But the story is full of arcane references that many will find nonsensical, and the performances are a letdown. Lacking coherence and suspense, the picture is likely to attract a cult following while disappointing Coppola's fan base."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:54 PM

Brooklyn Rail. October 07.

Brooklyn Rail Oct 07 "Although she's made just two feature films, director Miwa Nishikawa has proved a singular voice in contemporary Japanese cinema," writes David Wilentz, introducing his interview. "Nishikawa broke into film as an assistant director under the tutelage of acclaimed auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda (Afterlife, Nobody Knows)." Her "second feature, Sway, is a stunning, modern meditation on repressed emotions, also examined through a story of a troubled family."

"Since his 1995 movie Kids, Larry Clark has slid around the photographic line between document and exploitation, and to this reviewer there is something greasy and repugnant about this artist's gaze," writes Cassandra Neyenesch, who caught his recent exhibition at Luhring Augustine.

"An intuitive grasp of the blues sensibility may be what allows Charles Burnett to portray his characters so lovingly, whether they sin or not," writes . "He applauds the morally righteous, while reserving a tenderness for men who laze around, steal TVs, or even plot murders." And he talks with Burnett about Killer of Sheep, Senbene Ousmane, blaxploitation and more.

Brother Cleve draws a line from France through Italy to Turkey: Fantômas, Danger: Diabolik, Kilink in Istanbul.

Beat Mala Noche "takes its simple narrative from the 1977 book of the same name by Oregonian poet Walt Curtis," writes Sarah Kessler. Gus Van Sant's "adaptation marries the Beat of Curtis' writing to rich, rough-and-tumble, black-and-white imagery.... No mere 'first feature,' Mala Noche has a low-budget visual decadence that alone makes it worth seeing." Speaking of Beat, Benjamin Tripp reviews Christopher Felver's Beat, an "assemblage of images and text" that "evokes the ephemeral sense of a photo-album or personal scrapbook."

Tessa DeCarlo: "In the Valley of Elah isn't about vast conspiracies; it recognizes that incompetence, laziness, and reflexive cover-your-ass dishonesty can achieve what a conspiracy never could."

"In the morning she gave me her phone number when she left. That was the start of a two year romance. It turned out Patty was the wife of Claes Oldenburg, the famous Pop artist, known for his giant sculptures, soft and otherwise, of food and appliances." Richard Hell's working on his autobiography.

"Like many people - at least, that's what I tell myself these days - I wrote Naomi Klein off when she first appeared on the scene in the late 90s," writes Nicholas Jahr. And now? "The Shock Doctrine is required reading for anyone concerned about the struggle for a better world."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:00 AM

October 19, 2007

30 Days of Night.

30 Days of Night "Adapted by the director David Slade from Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith's graphic novel about vampires taking over an Alaska town, 30 Days of Night is a series of gory set pieces that seems to have been edited with a meat ax," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times. "[T]he performers have little to do besides spill and drink blood in this tedious, inconsequential B picture."

"[W]hile Slade confirms (after the sleek but specious Hard Candy) that he knows how to position a camera, he never infuses his tale with any sense of real consequence, killing characters off one by one and indulging in one supremely nasty (and gratuitous) decapitation without ever plumbing intimated moral dilemmas that might have truly turned this carnage horrifying," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

Updated through 10/22.

Slade "takes the film adaptation halfway home by getting the look exactly right," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "However, the film runs into problems when trying to expand a concise, gut-punch of a story into an ungainly two-hour narrative, bogged down by perfunctory elements that take the edge off the material."

But Peter Hartlaub, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle finds this a "well-paced and entertaining horror debut... For a movie that is almost entirely devoid of sunlight, a refreshing amount of action takes place in full view of the audience - without any of that shaky camera blood-on-the-lens nonsense that lesser directors use to mask their inability to shoot action scenes. There are close-ups, wider shots and even a sort of Google Earth view of the carnage."

"It's as much a western as it is a horror film, with [Josh] Hartnett as Will Kane and Huston's posse as the evildoers come to do him in," writes Rober (?) in the Voice. "Get it? High Noon, when it's always midnight. Shrug."

"Among the grazing herd of young, virtually transparent Hollywood heartthrobs, Josh Hartnett could probably be voted Least Likely to Have a Reflection in a Mirror," writes John Anderson. "So it's apt that he's in a vampire movie, even one as silly as 30 Days of Night."

Also in the Los Angeles Times: "We got Steve Niles, the author of the 30 Days of Night graphic novels that led to the film, to pry open the vault of vampire cinema and pick the best of the best, the bluebloods of bloodsuckers," writes Geoff Boucher. "There are some surprises: William Marshall from Blacula made the list, but there's no Kiefer Sutherland in The Lost Boys? 'Yeah, sorry,' Niles said, 'I draw the line at vampires with mullets. That's like a rule for me.'"

And John Horn meets Slade.

Online listening tip. At IFC News, Matt Singer and Alison Willmore discuss "Vampires Through the Ages."

Update, 10/21: "Whatever power the original comic had, this film adaptation lost it in translation," writes Steven Boone in the Star-Ledger. "Truly laughable vampires, snuff-porn levels of gore and unsubtle, jolt-and-scream direction gradually do this film in."

Update, 10/22: "I like my vampires less feral, but Danny Huston is screamingly funny as the alternately finicky and savage Head Ghoul - he's like something spewed forth from the bowels of the Politburo," writes David Edelstein in New York.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:26 PM

Things We Lost in the Fire.

Things We Lost in the Fire "Things We Lost in the Fire is rough going at times, and not just because of its downbeat subject matter, its examination of catastrophic loss and the different ways people attempt to deal with it," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "But though it is erratic and can come off as manufactured, this film has the gift of gathering strength as it goes on. Potent when it needs to be, it harnesses the talents of stars Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro in ways that ultimately make us sit up and take notice."

"[W]here Monster's Ball went for pummeling working-class intensity, Fire opts for a more upscale form of griefsploitation," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "Here, Berry is gorgeous 'n' grieving instead of ragged and raw, but the Oscar-baiting emotions remain the same.... Well-acted yet strangely inert, Fire explores the messy human emotions of grief, but it'd be a lot more resonant if the guy everyone's mourning weren't so fatally perfect, so unforgivably superhuman."

Updated through 10/25.

Susanne Bier "knows the difference between drama and melodrama," writes Walter Addiego in the San Francisco Chronicle. "The director, whose After the Wedding won an Oscar nomination this year, has a penchant for emotionally rich stories often set in a family context (as in her powerful 2004 drama Brothers) and is adept at creating a sense of intimacy with her lead characters."

"Where the film's ambitions crumble is in its avowed refusal to make its audience too uncomfortable," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "Problems get resolved quickly, comic relief is injected, strangers express kindness - there's always something going on to relieve any tension that might build up, and it feels like a cheat."

For Richard Schickel, writing in Time, it's "Del Toro who drives us out of sympathy with this picture. The director, Susanne Bier... either can't or won't control him, and he is a shameless performer - constantly suing us for sympathy, by tricks that are either too cute or too crude.... He makes us tired. And he makes the movie unforgivably tiresome."

At the Reeler, ST VanAirsdale has notes on Berry's comments at a recent preview in New York.

Updates, 10/21: "No doubt there is an audience that will enjoy Things We Lost in the Fire for an easy cry, but the dry-eyed know that Bier can do better," writes Robert Keser at Slant.

James Rocchi talks with Bier at Cinematical. So does Peter Sobczynski, at Hollywood Bitchslap.

Gina Piccolo profiles Berry for the LAT.

Update, 10/25: "Bier goes after the grace of the supernatural climax in The Best of Youth where beneficence reaches in from beyond the grave, but it feels contrived here," writes Armond White in the New York Press.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:23 PM


DarkBlueAlmostBlack "Sufferable in the moment, DarkBlueAlmostBlack immediately evaporates from the mind, a rather anemic, schematic, and impersonal meditation on family ties and self-imposed prisons that ends with a condescending unpacking of its titular metaphor," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant.

"Elegantly shot by Juan Carlos Gómez, DarkBlueAlmostBlack juggles characters trapped by circumstance and poor choices, trying feebly to free themselves from dead-end lives and low self-esteem," writes Jeannette Catsoulis of "this tender-hearted drama" in the New York Times.

Nathan Lee in the Voice: "Writer-director Daniel Sánchez Arévalo derives his title from the color of the suit Jorge [Quim Gutiérrez] covets - and his ideas about the life of the Madrid working class from: a) Almodóvar; b) Sundance; c) Uranus."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:21 PM

Online viewing tip. Todd Haynes.

Carol White "How great is this?" asks Nathaniel R. Rhetorically.

"Todd Haynes spoofs his own filmography for a special screening of his 1995 masterpiece [safe], part of the Eco Sicko special program at the Northwest Film Center in Haynes hometown of Portland, Oregon."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:12 AM

Pusan. Wrap.

Film historian, critic and frequent Guardian contributor Ronald Bergan looks back on the festival that wrapped last week.

Pusan 07 This year's Pusan International Film Festival was bigger than its 11 predecessors - with 274 films from 64 countries - while still maintaining its pre-eminence among festivals in promoting, discovering and rediscovering Asian films. Bigger does not necessarily mean better, and there was some criticism in the local press (and in Variety) about the choices and organization - there were delays, last-minute cancellations and a shortage of stars and directors. Apparently, Ennio Morricone complained about the way he was treated on stage at the opening rain-sodden ceremony. (The courteous festival director Kim Dong-Ho even made a public apology for some of the mishaps.) All this passed me by as I was holed up in the Megabox multiplex where most of the films were shown.

Life Track The reason one goes to Pusan is to feast on Asian movies (and Korean food, for that matter). The New Currents competition section featured 11 of new first or second Asian features, of which at least five are worth looking out for, not a bad average: Flower in the Pocket (Malaysia), Tribe (Philippines), Wonderful Town (Thailand), The Red Awn (China) and Life Track (China-Korea), my own particular favorite, which consisted of haunting silent long takes, observing the strange relationship between an armless man and a deaf-mute girl.

The Korean Cinema Today section was less good than previous years, prompting comments that the local industry was in decline. Nevertheless, it could still boast Lee Chang-Dong's powerfully impressive Secret Sunshine, Kim Ki-Duk's Breath and Im Kwon-Taek's Beyond The Years.

Hometown in My Heart However, the most fascinating and rarest part of the festival was the Korean Cinema Retrospective, which included the earliest extant Korean film, Sweet Dream (1936), overly melodramatic but interesting in that it questioned the traditional model of a woman during the times when fidelity and maternity was considered as a virtue in Korea and in Korean films. The heroine runs away from home, abandoning her husband and daughter for money and and the pursuit of pleasure. Above all, I discovered a little masterpiece, Yoon Yong-gyu's Hometown in My Heart (1949), which tells of a 11-year-old monk, yearning to leave the temple for the big city to find his mother.

The festival also gave audiences, who must be the best-behaved on earth - they even eat popcorn silently - to (re)aquaint themselves with eight films by Edward Yang, who died in June. There were also packed master classes given by Volker Schlöndorff, Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Claude Lelouch. My only complaint was that the hundreds of willing, ubiquitous young volunteers only knew about their specific tasks so that if you asked any of them a question for which they were not programmed, they would get into quite a spin, consulting each other earnestly, and then coming up with no answer.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:29 AM

NYFF. Views. 2.

In this second part of his overview of the Views from the Avant-Garde sidebar at the New York Film Festival (and here's the first), Michael Sicinski focuses on the work of Damon Packard, Jacqueline Goss and Ken Jacobs. A couple of notes follow.

SpaceDisco One In the world's remaining cinematheques, and at film festivals everywhere, experimental film and video too often finds itself accompanied by a telltale sound. It's the thunka-thunka-thunka of an auditorium chair as the spring pulls the cushion back up into the folding position. In other words, the walkout, that pivotal moment when, for whatever reason, a spectator has had enough and their butt is compelled to defy inertia. Naturally, this sound accompanies challenging cinema of any stripe, and festivals seem to encourage the behavior more than other screening situations. And really, so what? No need for excess hand-wringing over the situation, since walking away from an unsatisfying film is a liberating experience, and besides, at any given screening, those who stay prove that the experience was worth offering.

This issue is only on my mind for a couple of reasons. First, in his GreenCine NYFF podcast, Armond White bemoans the fact the Views from the Avant-Garde segregates formally challenging films from the rest of the main slate. In theory, I completely agree, and anyone involved in nurturing film culture - critics, programmers, educators, preservationists, as well as filmmakers themselves - should adopt as catholic and capacious an attitude to cinema as possible. Cut the fence! Let Robert Breer commingle with Joel and Ethan Coen. But in practice, there's the thunka-thunka problem, and a showcase like Views is a practical, reasonable solution to that dilemma. The Views audience is well-informed and self-selected; virtually no one will wander into Ken Jacobs's hour-long Nervous Magic Lantern performance and wonder where the sets, costumes, and characters are. Yes, a hypothetical moviegoer who stumbled upon an avant-garde film could very well experience a religious conversion. (Ernie Gehr frequently tells the story of wandering the streets as a young man and ducking into a random film show to get out of the rain, thereby accidentally discovering Stan Brakhage, "and the rest, as they say...") But more often, folks will just be ticked off.

The smarter strategy, and one that Mark McElhatten and Gavin Smith have adopted over the years, is to keep that imaginary fence intact but demonstrate its permeability, and even its arbitrary nature, through careful, intelligent programming. In recent years Views has presented work by Godard and Mièville, Guy Maddin, Straub / Huillet, and this year, the Memories omnibus from the Jeonju International Film Festival. (Sadly, I was only able to see one of the three works in the group, Harun Farocki's Respite, which I found precise and irrefutably argued but lacking the formal depth of his finest efforts.) So I both agree and disagree with Mr White's statement. From the Views side, the avant-garde "ghetto" is, like most actual low-rent neighborhoods, far more welcoming to the outsider than the cultural imagination typically allows. But from the other side? Well, that's another issue. If, like me, you think filmmakers such as James Benning or Heinz Emigholz should have a place in the main program, you probably have the selection committee's home numbers. Give 'em a call. (But hey, until there's détente, at least there's Film Comment Selects.)

SpaceDisco One This brings me to my second point about walkouts. In a bit of delicious irony, a number of members of the Views audience took their leave (some in an audible huff) about ten or fifteen minutes into SpaceDisco One, the latest video-film by LA nutjob Damon Packard. As rapid-fire in its delivery as anything Craig Baldwin has spewed forth, but perhaps more prone to read politics through the filter of Packard's own bizarre obsessions, SpaceDisco One is practically a two-reeler (45 minutes) compared to Packard's infamous homemade epic, Reflections of Evil. Rhyming, when you stop to think about it, in odd ways with Michael Robinson's much more plangent work, Packard's video also describes a contemporary scene bereft of all utopian hopes. Channeling this despair through cracked science-fiction lenses (notably idea-lifts from Logan's Run and Battlestar Galactica, with some Orwell thrown in for stodginess), Packard gives us a roller-derby spaceship of glinting light, a final citadel against the forces of ignorance (theme parks, shitty fast food, Fox News, and above all NBC's Dateline: To Catch a Predator). Through it all, we get behind-the-scenes banter from B-rate starlets with rayguns, Winston Smith's media-saturated trip to Room 101, a whole lot of wind-up and very little pitch.

Obviously if you don't share Packard's sense of humor you'll find SpaceDisco overbearing to the point of claustrophobia, so walkouts are no surprise, regardless of venue. But was Space Disco One really some sort of barbaric gleet from beyond the pale, unworthy to screen alongside Peter Hutton and Robert Beavers? Hardly. Whether or not we can see it from up close, Packard is probably this generation's version of the Kuchar brothers. The obsessions may be different (George and Mike favored 1940s melodrama; Packard engages in ironic fanboy worship of Spielberg and Lucas), but the jaundiced-eye reflection of Tinseltown is very much the same. Likewise, Packard's propensity for exaggerated, white-hot video flares on anything and everything shiny (spangled disco suits, mirrorballs, the chrome wheels on a classic roller-skate) makes him a true heir to Kenneth Anger. (If we find the results less appealing, them's the breaks. Video killed the celluloid star.) Packard is an avant-garde video artist through and through, and hats off to Mark and Gavin for sticking their necks out to make the point.

Stranger Comes to Town Crazy as it may seem, Packard's was one of the few explicitly political works in this year's Views selection. This is no criticism, simply a statement of fact, and as various commentators have pointed out, this is actually true of world cinema as a whole in 2007. Even in the main selection, only four of NYFF's films are about ongoing political situations (the De Palma, the Jia, the Sokurov and the Pincus / Small Katrina doc), and naturally none satisfies every critic's vision of an "appropriate" political intervention (too ham-fisted, too abstruse, too non-interventionist, etc). In Views, works aiming for political criticism are also struggling to find new forms of communication, recognizing that ideas running counter to the dominant ideology most likely require a shift in the way spectators engage with media itself. One such work is Jacqueline Goss's video Stranger Comes to Town. The piece explores post-9/11 border patrol abuses and the Department of Homeland Security's unprecedented leeway for harassing foreign nationals entering the US. Goss draws on interview material from individuals who have been subject to such harassment, and as is appropriate under the circumstances, the video maintains the interviewees' anonymity. The testimonies are thoroughly damning of our government's frequently irrational compulsion to control the flow of human beings across national borders, always relying on racial and religious profiling and a general distrust of anyone articulate enough to question official practice. It's next to impossible to listen to these accounts without one's teeth involuntarily clenching.

Now, there are lots of ways Goss might have solved the problem of obscuring the identities of her subjects. As her solution, she combines Homeland Security training and demo animations with environments from the World of Warcraft videogame. Each interviewee is disguised as an avatar from the game, so we have the odd sight of hairy electronic cavemen and warlock-looking humanoids casually delivering their testimony. Granted, this decision is in keeping with a theme one finds in other of Goss' works, that being the collision of human desires with technological indifference. (Her 2001 tape The 100th Undone is a fine example of this approach.) But why Warcraft? The discrepancy provides easy laughs, but ultimately it's bizarrely off-putting. After all, the choice to use the videogame avatars is the single biggest creative decision Goss makes, and after one-and-a-half viewings of Stranger, I'm still at a loss as to what exactly this format contributes to the piece as a whole. One audience member likened Stranger to Nick Park's short Creature Comforts, a spot-on comparison that encapsulates the video's complex but rather tin-eared approach. I applaud Goss's willingness to adopt a playful attitude toward a subject that's too often treated with grim leftist humorlessness. The comedy isn't the problem. Rather, my inability to derive meaning from the dominant metaphor sticks in my craw as both an aesthetic and a political concern.

Dreams That Money Can't Buy World cinema, experimental or otherwise, has too few mavericks capable of forging the necessary connections between radical ideas and bold new forms, changing both what we see and how we see it. This is why, without question, Ken Jacobs is a modern master and a cultural treasure. Of course, we'd have to have a very different kind of culture in this country for Jacobs, or any radical artist, to receive proper recognition, and in a way this is a paradox to which Jacobs's work indirectly speaks. In a society based on accumulation and greed, Jacobs produces ephemeral performances and, in his recent video works, turns single images from old stereoscopes (the epitome of handheld vision) into eyeball-quaking events that simultaneously lend objects onscreen a 3D solidity and melt them back into the all-over convulsion of un-forms. Jacobs was represented by four videos and a performance in this year's Views, all of them evolved from the Nervous System performance work he began in the mid-70s. These works have their basis in flicker and parallax, with two slightly shifted views of the same material alternating in time to produce vibrating 3D effects. Jacobs's live Magic Lantern performance with musician Rick Reed, Dreams That Money Can't Buy, was the most abstract and at times the most sensually absorbing of the group. Dedicated to Phil Solomon (whose ill health has limited his ability to travel, making his Manhattan appearance a significant event), Dreams consists of sliding sheets of textured light, ebbing and flowing in density. Paradoxically functioning as shadowy slices of oil-based impasto, these semi-forms indirectly allude to the encrusted surfaces of Solomon's own film work. What's more, more than other Nervous works I've seen, Dreams foregrounds the intangibility of many of the effects Jacobs can produce with his System. In his program notes, the artist lamented "Ubu and YouTube ripping off my more durable goods." Dreams That Money Can't Buy struck me as a deliberate reposte: "YouTube this!"

Regrettably, I missed Jacobs's two-minute video Nymph, wherein a woman is torturously subjected to a battalion of male gazes. This was a work I heard about all weekend from those who saw it, and all found it potent and frightening. Jacobs's other videoworks were of sufficiently high caliber that I have no reason to doubt those reports, and all combine piercing vision with trenchant social commentary. 2006's Surging Sea of Humanity uses digital superimpositions, kaleidoscopic reverb and flange, and differential focus to take us around an image of a late 19th century crowd gathered at the World Columbian Exposition of 1893. Jacobs shatters the picture but always brings it back together with a tunnel-like focus on a single individual from the crowd, as though both the orthogonals of the image and the crowd itself were organizing and reorganizing itself around a single body. In time, figures become paneled excerpts which strobe and flicker, and the two parallax views of the stereoscope are presented in rapid succession, giving the visual field the hovering shape and glow of a hologram. But Jacobs's continual realignment of "the mass" around shifting individual souls hints at a social theory, a radical democracy of both the image and the public sphere. Surging Sea provides a glimpse of how we might act collectively without sacrificing our subjectivities to the mob. Back in the realm of sexual politics, the one-minute-long Hanky Panky turns a split-second of old-fashioned courtship ritual into a vibration in the surfaces of the flesh, heterosexuality as both particle physics and stymied dialectic.

Capitalism: Child Labor But by far the most emotionally shattering of Jacobs's Views entries, at least for me, was his 2006 video Capitalism: Child Labor. In this piece, Jacobs trains his digitized Nervousness on yet another stereoscope image. It's a factory scene. Early Indusrial Revolution. Here, we see the faces of young boys - no more than twelve years old, in all likelihood even younger - stationed around cotton-thread spinning machines, their expressions deadened beyond all pain or fear. These are blank gazes into hopelessness. Near the center of the image stands a foreman, his visage evincing complete self-possession. He is a slavedriver, of course, but his expression belies any sense of the unnatural in this scenario, as one finds in the bizarrely sexualized racist power slavedrivers typically exercised over slaves. Here, the foreman's demeanor is just an extension of the hard patriarchal prerogative that the boys' own fathers would lord over them in a different context. So in a way, Capitalism: Child Labor is a portrait of paternal cruelty and the horrors already implicit in childhood, put to work in the service of capital. Jacobs shakes the scene like a crystal ball, demanding truth from the still image, forcing it to life and also calling forth the ghostly memories of these lost, long-dead boys. In a manner somewhat similar to the photographs of Christian Boltanski, Jacobs displays the haunted corridors of the American past and its reverberations in the present. But the use of Nervous System animation - binocular vibration, looped partial rotations, details in the image folding inward against the larger photographic ground - makes the film screen itself into a kind of factory, a space for the production of a devastating counter-narrative against the authoritarian abuse of power. In conjunction with Rick Reed's skull-rattling machine-thump soundtrack, Jacobs gathers up the human toll of American progress and vicariously shifts the agony onto the viewer. In its combination of rage, sadness, and willingness to make stern demands of the sense, Capitalism: Child Labor is a superlative work of political modernism, and exemplifies why we need Ken Jacobs so very much.

-Michael Sicinski

Acquarello and Daniel Kasman review each of the three films that make up Memories: Farocki's Respite, Pedro Costa's The Rabbit Hunters and Eugéne Green's Correspondences.

"Correspondences is not composed visually like anything Baroque, per se - or rather, Baroque is a competing element with a certain (neoclassical?) austerity of line, color, and object that marks Green's frames." Zach Campbell is "about to take out Robert Harbison's Reflections on Baroque out from the library."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:11 AM | Comments (4)

Out of the Blue.

Out of the Blue "Out of the Blue tells the true story of the Aramoana massacre in which, on November 13, 1990, unemployed gun collector David Gray shot and killed 13 people in the sleepy fishing village near Dunedin, [director Robert] Sarkies's own hometown," writes Nick Dawson at Filmmaker. "Despite Sarkies's personal connection to the tragedy, Out of the Blue is a film that tells the story of the horrific events without melodrama or emotional manipulation but gains remarkable, haunting power from the unadorned manner in which it places the viewer in the center of the massacre." And he talks with Sarkies "about the challenge of telling the story of New Zealand's darkest day, his love of Tim Burton's movies and how going without lunch for four years changed his life."

In the Voice, Aaron Hillis asks, "If it's possible to pick around the scab of United 93: Who benefits from this kind of hindsight-free re-enactment?"

Which is precisely the question Matt Zoller Seitz addresses in his review for the New York Times: "[U]nlike [Paul] Greengrass's film, which treated its immense cast of characters like figurines on a diorama and let them blur together in the memory, Blue sketches its people as individuals, often in a few vivid strokes. The result is an inspiring film on a bleak subject, an account of everyday people who struggle to protect their loved ones from horror while processing and judging their own reactions to it."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:56 AM

October 18, 2007

Shorts, 10/18.

Wild Thing "We've Got Dave Eggers's and Spike Jonze's Script for Where the Wild Things Are," announces New York, "... and it's really, really good." Via Ted Z.

Wiley Wiggins is "headed to San Francisco to start rehearsals for Sorry, Thanks - Directed by Dia Sokol. The only other actor I know for sure that has been cast is Andrew Bujalski, who plays my buddy."

Hearts of Darkness Ardvark has amazing news at Twitch: Hearts of Darkness, one of the best making-of's ever, will finally be out on DVD in November. Related: The Guardian's Dan Glaister is one of many passing along news of Francis Ford Coppola's comments in a recent GQ interview regarding Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson and Robert de Niro.

In the Los Angeles Times, Claudia Eller tells the story of American Gangster's "long road to the silver screen."

"Chuck Griffith was a good friend and the funniest, fastest and most inventive writer I ever worked with." A remembrance by Roger Corman in the LA Weekly.

"Funny Games is a cheat - subverting its own well-established terms for the sake of its director's gratification." And ST VanAirsdale has told Michael Haneke, too. If you haven't seen the film, don't click if you're not in the mood for spoilers. Related, and via Movie City News: Dave Calhoun's interview with Haneke for Time Out. Also at the Reeler, through, a talk with Chris Eigeman about Turn the River.

"Michelle Johnson is a good egg, a good filmmaker and a good interview." At the Siffblog, E Steven Fried talks with her about The Best of Lezsploitation.

Ladrón que roba a ladrón, displaying "wit, intelligence, charm and quite a bit of heart," may be "'small' by Hollywood standards, but it has certainly struck a chord with the immigrant and Spanish-speaking population, who during the first week of release in September gave it the distinction of being not just the second highest grossing film, per screen average, in the country, but also the highest grossing Spanish-language film produced in the United States," notes Ramón Valle, who also talks with screenwriter JoJo Henderson for the WSWS.

Why Did I Get Married? Tyler Perry " is one of the most successful actor-director-producer-writer hyphenates today, but there remains a shocking disconnect between his work and the mainstream media," writes Armond White. "Most critics don't 'get' Tyler Perry basically because most critics are whites who are not only clueless about Perry's African-American culture, but unsympathetic to his particular expression." Also in the New York Press: Eric Kohn talks with Mike Mills about Does Your Soul Have A Cold?.

"It's not easy to turn one of the most controversial events of the 20th century into a movie that makes your eyes roll, but O Jerusalem does this and worse," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "Shaping the founding of the State of Israel into a middle school history lesson — complete with textbook dialogue and strained neutrality — Elie Chouraqui's clunking film would much rather bore than offend." Adds Ella Taylor in the Voice: "Though no one actually breaks into song, the cheesy battle scenes and even cheesier romantic backstory will have you waiting in vain for a musical." More from Nick Schager in Slant.

Also in the Voice, Aaron Hillis on The Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell: "A couple of chuckles actually stick, but for post-apocalyptic anarchy and thrills, you're better off renting Six String Samurai or a Mad Max flick."

"Like a joint that waits to kick in until after Dumbo's pink elephant dream sequence has already unraveled, Weirdsville's pleasures come too little too late," writes Rob Humanick.

Also at Slant: "Any film that slams Gandhi as something of a selfish, thoughtless prick deserves credit for audaciousness," writes Nick Schager. "Regrettably, though, Gandhi, My Father weakly opts for lionization at precisely the moment it should go in for the killshot."

Lagerfeld Confidential And Eric Henderson on Lagerfeld Confidential: "Lagerfeld's unwillingness to open up and [director Rodolphe] Marconi's skittishness about invoking his wrath result in a perfect storm of dull."

For Spiegel Online, Marc Pitzke talks with Alex Gibney about Taxi to the Dark Side.

"For filmmaker Tim Kirkman, a gay man who grew up harboring both love and an element of loathing for [North Carolina], the catharsis came only with perspective - 'I didn't know my home state until I left,' he says - and in making his debut film, the 1998 documentary Dear Jesse, which is now being released to DVD." Neil Morris talks with him. Also in the Independent Weekly, Godfrey Cheshire reviews Into the Wild.

Jon Henley interviews Emmanuelle Béart for the Guardian.

Shelley Leopold talks with Anton Corbijn. Also in the LA Weekly: "Though he sometimes stumbles in navigating his feature debut's admittedly conventional narrative, Control gets closer to approximating music's emotional essence than its more literal rock-bio counterparts," writes Tim Grierson. "By not wasting time convincing us of [Ian] Curtis's tortured genius - or even worrying that such a debate is relevant - the movie is free to become the cinematic equivalent of Joy Division songs: melancholy but vibrant, bleak but never unbearable." And Siran Babyan: "Curtis's afterlife seems like it's been one big after-party."

At Cinematical, Jeffrey M Anderson talks with Tony Gilroy about Michael Clayton. Related: "Reading this thread on Hollywood Elsewhere responding to Kim Masters's Slate story on George Clooney and the boxoffice fate of Michael Clayton depressed me," blogs Anne Thompson.

Shaun Brady has a quick talk with Werner Herzog and another with Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman in the Philadelphia City Paper. More from Capone at AICN. Related: Dan Sallitt: "While watching Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited (which I liked a lot), it occurred to me that there's a kind of dialectic working in Anderson's style."

At Slate, Rebecca Onion reviews Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea, "a movie about the environment that isn't content with the good-bad dynamic of your average gloomy enviropic."

Me and You and Memento and Fargo Craig Phillips reviews JJ Murphy's Me and You and Memento and Fargo: How Independent Screenplays Work, "a most useful approach to writers and filmmakers (often the same person, it should be noted, commonly a major difference between Hollywood films and independents) who broke the mold, the Syd Field model of the standard script paradigm, to bring their unique voices and visions to the screen via the written word."

At PopMatters, Matt Mazur salutes Paul Newman in The Hustler and The Verdict.

Tarantino loves women? Glenn Kenny "can see it, sorta."

"A record 63 countries have submitted films for consideration in the Foreign Language Film category." At indieWIRE, Peter Knegt reports on one Oscar race that's off and running. And of course, he's got the list.

"Apparently, early autumn, rather than the holiday season, has become the preferred time to release the the films that make Hollywood feel good about itself," notes Ross Douthat at the Atlantic.

"Six Best Food Movies Ever"? John Mariani's got a list at Esquire.

Offline OMG! tip. BibliOdyssey. The book.

Online viewing tips, round 1. Lunches with David Poland.

Online viewing tips, round 2. Cosmosfilm.tv's video for Lyapis Trubetskoy's 'Capital' at the DVblog. Also: László Moholy-Nagy.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:53 PM

Wristcutters: A Love Story.

Wristcutters: A Love Story "On one level, I want to leap to the defense of [Goran] Dukic's wry, lovelorn film, which presents the hereafter reserved for suicides as a gray, trashed and spiritless realm that's just "a little worse" than the world of the living," writes Andrew O'Hehir at Salon. "I feel like I should assure you that [Wristcutters: A Love Story] is life-affirming and morally responsible, that by gosh it's against suicide and doesn't make offing yourself look cool or glamorous. On the other hand, I also think: Screw life-affirming and morally responsible. Dukic is entitled to follow his perverse muse down any dark corridors he wants to, and if we don't believe that all the offensive films glorifying murder have any direct correlation to crime (and I don't), I certainly don't believe that anybody's going to kill themselves because of a low-budget comedy."

Updated through 10/21.

"Adapting [Etgar] Keret's 1998 novella Kneller's Happy Campers, Dukic can't be accused of shying away from or failing to appreciate its morbid theme," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "But he does dilute it." Still, "Keret's metaphor for Israel comes through, as if from afar - the sense of displacement, the uncertain boundaries, the youthful alienation, the crummy beaches, the desert wandering, the military detritus, the Russian immigrants, the magic-realist kibbutz, and the enigmatic bureaucracy, not to mention the cult of the false Messiah King that figures in the final act."

"To the tunes of Eugene's Russian rock band (music provided by NY-based Gogol Bordello), Wristcutters bops blithely along, and it's easy to give in to its grooviness," writes Kristi Mitsuda at indieWIRE. "Ultimately, the trio makes a pit stop at Kneller's Happy Campers, and the community's namesake, played by (who else?) Tom Waits, guides them toward what they've been seeking, and us toward an ending both infuriatingly pat and perfectly fitting."

"The movie has some authentically bittersweet moments, but a sarcastic mentality ruptures its sincerity," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "Storytellers have always been interested in the spiritual world, and the genre is best represented by the dreary Dante's Inferno on one end of the spectrum and blithely subversive tales like Nightmare Before Christmas and Grim Fandango on the other. We don't need good fiction to provide us with resolute answers about the afterlife, but it should propose something wholly original. On that front, Wristcutters quickly bleeds itself dry."

"The story's dialogue may be wry, but what should have been a jumping-off point for a lively discussion about the meaning of life is really just a philosophically shallow wasteland," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant.

At IFC News, Matt Singer and Alison Willmore list "10 High-Concept Movie Visions of the Afterlife."

Updates, 10/19: "[W]hen the conceit works, you may wind up with It's a Wonderful Life, Defending Your Life or the various iterations of Heaven Can Wait," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Wristcutters: A Love Story is not quite at that level; it's more likely to live on as a cult favorite than as a consensus classic. But this movie... has an offbeat, absurdist charm that turns a potentially creepy conceit into an odd, touching adventure."

"This might have played like gangbusters in 1996," suggests Bilge Ebiri at Nerve. "[I]n its mixture of lyricism and brutality, and its uneasy balance between surreal plotting and deadly serious subject matter, Dukic's film recalls the boisterous, magical realist Balkan romanticism of Emir Kusturica (Time of the Gypsies, Arizona Dream, Underground). But it lacks Kuristica's freewheeling energy and visual dazzle."

"Dukic is bitterly funny rather than maudlin, and his carefully plotted grunge chic, in addition to being cheap, lends the film a great deal of Jim Jarmusch grime to go with its unmistakable Jim Jarmusch quirk," writes Tasha Robinson at the AV Club. "[I]t's a surprisingly playful romantic drama, one less about death than about the quiet, necessary grind of living."

IndieWIRE interviews Dukic.

Update, 10/21: Marcy Dermansky finds "enjoyable if aimless ride." Besides: "Seven years after Almost Famous, Patrick Fugit still sports that winning, dorky haircut, bangs flopping over his eyes."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:44 PM

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), 10/18.

The House with Laughing Windows "Unfortunately the name Pupi Avati tends to elicit chuckles instead of respect, which is a shame," writes Kimberly Lindbergs. "Avati created some of the most fascinating and chilling horror films to ever come out of Italy during the 70s and 80s, and he's worked with many well-known Italian filmmakers such as Pier Paolo Pasolini, Lucio Fulci and Lamberto Bava."

Doug Cummings has "caught the West Coast premiere of George A Romero's latest zombie allegory, Diary of the Dead, and judging from memory, I think it's my favorite installment since the 1968 original... It's got all the ingredients you might expect - slow moving and ravenous dead, resourceful and opportunistic characters, black humor, and creature feature gore - but this time out, the elements seem particularly impassioned and conscientiously formed."

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed Dennis Cozzalio presents a special Halloween edition of his ongoing SLIFR 100 series. This one's all about Terence Fisher, with the emphasis on Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed.

At PopMatters, Bill Gibron lists the "20 Greatest Splatter Films of All Time."

"Phantasm II takes the hazy chiaroscuro smears, fractured and opaque nightmare-narrative structure, and the thickly ladled ambiance of the original and polishes it, streamlining the meandering terror of the first entry into a tonal shock, a muscular horror-action flick," writes Paul Garcia. Also at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals is at first glance an exploitive mix of sex and violence, but there is additionally a strong element of psychological horror," argues David Carter.

"With apologies to Shaun of the Dead, Braindead remains the original rom-zom-com, its tale of Oedipal suppression and distressed romance writ large in what is easily the bloodiest coming-of-age story ever filmed (seriously, Passion of the Christ pales next to this monster)," writes Rob Humanick.

Freaks In Freaks, Billy Stevenson finds "the radical continuity that exists between 'freakdom' and 'normality' - or between circus and outside world - evident in the protagonist's confidence that he will eventually be able to move from one to the other, as well as in [Tod] Browning's revelation of physical beauty as something repulsive; just another deformity."

Eric Kohn talks with director Jeremy Saulnier for the New York Press: "While Murder Party is a send-up of the Williamsburg scene, most of the lampooning is of my friends and myself. We're artists with frustrations, rivalries and annoying dynamics like any other group of knuckleheads. It was quite cathartic to put it all on screen."

At Cinematical, Monika Bartyzel lists the seven "Hottest Hunks of Horror," while Jeffrey M Anderson tags the seven "Hottest Chicks of Horror." And Eric D Snider looks back at Twilight Zone: The Movie.

Coffin Joe "Double feature of weirdness time!" At Facets Features, Phil Morehart posts the opening title sequences from At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul and This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse. And: "Viewed now, The Lost Boys is dated. It's mildly entertaining, but mostly a mess of '80s fashion and music, with neglected horror and scares." Phil Morehart's got a clip anyway.

Online snickering tip. "28 Years Earlier" at Monkey Fluids.

Online viewing tip #1. This has been making the rounds, but if I've mentioned it before, it's certainly been long enough to mention it again. Ed Champion gathers the three parts of a 1982 roundtable discussion featuring David Cronenberg, John Carpenter and John Landis: "The three directors are coming off, respectively, from Scanners, The Thing and An American Werewolf in London."

Online viewing tip #2. "We've been following the progress of Turkish horror picture Musallat (Haunted) here for a few months now, drawn in by the simple but compelling story of a young family haunted and possessed." And now, at Twitch, Todd Brown's got a trailer.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:28 PM | Comments (2)

Other fests, other events, 10/18.

Rome Film Festival "The Rome Film Festival opened its second edition Thursday, harkening back to the Eternal City's 1960s cinematic heyday." Marta Falconi reports for the AP.

London Film Festival roundup:

  • "Eastern Promises certainly gets the festival off to a powerful start with a gruesome assassination right at the top of the film in that most traditional of mafia settings, the barber's shop," writes Peter Bradshaw. "But I have to confess, on the whole, to being disappointed with Cronenberg's film." More from the Telegraph's Sheila Johnston. Related, and with fair spoiler warnings, Kristin Thompson's comparison of Eastern Promises and A History of Violence.

  • The Guardian's opened a special section on the festival, which includes Xan Brooks's take on Hannah Takes the Stairs, "a film that showcases much of what is good about independent American cinema: its naturalistic, free-form rush comes embroidered with the sort of casual epiphanies that a bigger production would have either ironed out or ignored altogether. But it is also prey to much that is bad: it is solipsistic, aimless and faintly self-satisfied." Related, and via Movie City News, Ed M Koziarski on Joe Swanberg, the "Starving Auteur."

  • The London Times, one of the festival's co-presenters, also has a special section, of course.

Through November 1.

Chicago International Film Festival The Evening with Malcolm McDowell sounds like quite an evening indeed. Or it would have been if the Chicago International Film Festival hadn't cut him after... 20 minutes? Wow. The Chicagoist's Rob Christopher writes an open letter.

"In a country with an increasingly influential and acclaimed cinema culture, the Morelia fest is emerging to fill an important role as what IMCINE's Marina Stavenhagen calls a 'meeting point,'" writes Eugene Hernandez. "It is drawing international visitors to a warm, picturesque city, but even more important the event is fostering bonds among Mexican filmmakers, industry, and audiences."

Also at indieWIRE, Charlie Olsky reports on how the Austin Film Festival has found a niche and helped it flourish: screenwriting. And Brian Brooks notes that the lineup for the Virginia Film Festival is, well, lined up. November 1 through 4.

For the Austin Chronicle, Josh Rosenblatt previews Torn from the Motherland: Films from the African Diaspora, running through November 20.

Johnny Ray Huston has a quick overview of the highlights of the CounterCorp Film Festival (Thursday through Saturday). Similarly, Kevin Langson and the United Nations Association Film Festival (through October 28). Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Max Goldberg picks seven favorite films from the Vancouver International Film Festival.

The Oregonian's Shawn Levy's got a couple of "Only-in-Portland" events.

Firecracker's excited about the London Korean Film Festival, November 2 through 8.

Online browsing tips. The slide shows accompanying two pieces in the NYT on two shows of photography: Roberta Smith on Foto: Modernity in Central Europe, 1918 - 1945, at the Guggenheim in New York through January 13, and Alan Riding on Steichen: Lives in Photography at the Jeu de Paume in Paris through December 30.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:55 PM

LA. Goings on.

Wu Wenguang "The REDCAT theater in Los Angeles just screened the three hour documentary Fuck Cinema by legendary doc filmmaker Wu Wenguang, made in 2006," writes Mike Plante at Filmmaker. "With a single handheld camera, he follows a man who hangs out front of the Beijing Film Academy, showing the surprising world of film in China, which seems to have some of the same hang ups the West does.... And leave it to hardcore programmer Berenice Reynaud to put a short film in front of a three hour verite doc. Alas, lucky us, as we got to also see the 8-minute film Ten Years by the great Jia Zhangke, a beautiful piece about change in his country and a nice train ride."

"A onetime heroin addict who worked as a stripper and prostitute, [Elise Hill] is also an accomplished painter, sculptor and maker of costume jewelry who was evicted from the home she had known for two decades - above an elevator shaft in a converted maids' quarters on the roof of an upscale building in Midtown Manhattan," writes Robert W Welkos. "Her poignant story is captured in a feature-length documentary titled Begging Naked, by director and writer Karen Gehres, who spent nine years chronicling Elise's story, beginning with her friend's love of painting, to her work in a brothel catering to well-heeled clients, including members of the United Nations, to her gradual descent into paranoia and mental illness." The film's screening at the Hollywood Film Festival, which runs through Monday.

Also in the Los Angeles Times:

The Egyptian in 1922

Speaking of Scott Foundas, he recommends catching Edward Yang's A Brighter Summer Day tomorrow evening at 7:30.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:25 PM | Comments (1)

NYC. Goings on.

Spain (Un)Censored "In Spain (Un)Censored, MoMA presents a series of 20 films made during Franco's 35-year dictatorship, from early efforts like Furrows (1951) and Welcome, Mister Marshall! (1952), which explored rural poverty at a time when it was rarely seen or discussed, to The Cuenca Crime (1979), a graphic depiction of torture and repression made after Franco's death, but before Spain's full transition to democracy." An overview from Julia Wallace; through November 5.

Also in the Voice, J Hoberman previews Warhol's World (weekends through mid-November at the Museum of the Moving Image), the Pordenone Silent Film Weekend (Thursday through Sunday at BAM) and a weekend at the Anthology Film Archives devoted to Lionel Rogosin.

The Living Wake ST VanAirsdale was reluctant to go to Woodstock, but it was there that he fell hard for The Living Wake.

Also at the Reeler, Annaliese Griffin talks with Jonathan Lethem about Jonathan Lethem Selects, "a series that offers both a film history primer (to the extent that can be accomplished in eight films) and an illustration of his personal cinematic hagiography." Through November 19.

And: "From Oct 19 - 25, the [Fordham Law Film Festival] screens one film per night, each offering a different view of America’s legal system and accompanied by a specific guest speaker," notes Ben Gold.

Jürgen Fauth notes that New York is about to get Lynchian.

At indieWIRE, Kim Adelman previews the New York City Short Film Festival (October 24 through 27).

Posted by dwhudson at 12:44 PM

Arab Film Festival (and somewhat related notes).

Arab Film Festival "By now it's natural to expect a lot from the Arab Film Festival, which is opening its 11th annual survey of cinema from the Arab world and diaspora with veteran Tunisian filmmaker Nouri Bouzid's excellent feature Making Of, then presenting more than 80 features, docs, and shorts from 13 countries in screenings around the Bay and, for the first time, in Los Angeles," writes Robert Avila in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "Ghassan Salhab's The Last Man (2006), on the other hand, delivers something probably less expected: the first Lebanese vampire movie. As it turns out, a Lebanese vampire movie not only makes perfect sense but is also the best thing to happen to the genre in a long time."

And Robert Avila previews the festival some more at SF360.

At the Evening Class, Michael Hawley has a whopping preview of several highlights. Also, more on Making Of from Michael Guillén.

The dates: The festival's already on in San Francisco, where it runs through October 28. Then, San Jose: Saturday and October 26 and 27. Berkeley: October 23 through 28. Los Angeles (this is new this year): October 31 through November 4.

One Nation Many Voices

Now then, two somewhat related notes. Link TV is hosting the One Nation Film Contest. Anyone in the US can submit a film that runs five minutes or less. It needs to be about the Muslim American experience. There's a total of $50,000 in cash prizes and among the judges are Danny Glover and Mariane Pearl. The deadline is November 25.

"Iran is bending its religious restrictions on television series in an effort to attract more of the country's audience to state-run television," reports Nazila Fathi in the New York Times. "One result: a spate of mini-series that depict love stories between characters who are not necessarily pious, and that allow women to show more of their hair - both of which have been considered un-Islamic." Related online viewing: Scenes from Zero Degree Turn, which "depicts the Iranian Embassy in Paris during World War II, when employees forged Iranian passports for European Jews to flee to Iran.... Scenes of terrified Jewish men, women and children being loaded into trucks by Nazis are arousing feelings of sympathy for Jews at a time when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has denied the Holocaust."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:26 PM

Joey Bishop, 1918 - 2007.

Joey Bishop
"Joey Bishop, the stone-faced comedian who found success in nightclubs, television and movies but became most famous as a member of Frank Sinatra's Rat Pack, has died at 89.

He was the group's last surviving member. Peter Lawford died in 1984, Sammy Davis Jr in 1990, Dean Martin in 1995, and Sinatra in 1998.

Jeff Wilson for the AP.

See also: Wikipedia and a site devoted to the Rat Pack.

Update: Shawn Levy, author of Rat Pack Confidential, has some stories to tell.

Update, 10/19: In the New York Times: Richard Severo and a bit of online viewing.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:20 AM | Comments (3)

Summer Love.

Summer Love "The first feature by the conceptual Polish artist Piotr Uklanski, Summer Love is a mock spaghetti western that manages to be both parody and homage, albeit less western than spaghetti," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Or rather 'kielbasa,' to use the term that's been applied to the 50 or so amateur oat-operas made over the past two decades by Uklanski's countryman Josef Klyk."

"If it sounds like a bad joke - think 'Once Upon a Time in Poland,' 'The Good, the Bad and the Polish' or even 'A Fistful of Poles' - it isn't, quite," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times.

"Mr Uklanski is a serious artist," she continues, "or at least a semiserious artist, whose works have been exhibited around the world, including at the Museum of Modern Art. Among his most well-known is The Nazis, an installation (and later a book) of photographs of actors like Clint Eastwood, Marlon Brando, Yul Brynner and David Niven glammed up in National Socialist costume, a project that owes a strong debt to Susan Sontag's important 1974 essay 'Fascinating Fascism,' if without the corresponding intellectual rigor and moral unease.... There's a flicker of a political critique embedded in Mr Uklanski's playful intervention and mocking tone, something about the displacement of the American cowboy ideology, though the film finally weighs in as more cynical and detached than passionate and engaged."

At the Whitney through December 9.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:19 AM

Black White + Gray.

Black White + Gray "Most obviously, [James] Crump's [Black White + Gray] is a tribute to a nearly forgotten man, the art collector and curator Sam Wagstaff, who was Robert Mapplethorpe's lover and (according to many sources) orchestrated much of the legendary photographer's career, including his notorious shift from portraiture to pornography," writes Andrew O'Hehir at Salon. "It's also a highly ambiguous portrait of a hedonistic New York era that was artistically and culturally fertile, but also immeasurably narcissistic and, not incidentally, self-destructive. Finally, Crump appears to argue that Mapplethorpe's fame, and the wealth of the foundation he left behind, were built on his manipulation and betrayal of a man who loved and shaped him."

Updated through 10/23.

"At its core, the film is an exploration of the complications that arise amidst two different elements (whether between two seemingly unrelated works of art or between Wagstaff and Mapplethorpe themselves), and through a finely, sensually assembled montage of images, interviews, and generally unobtrusive narration, it is one evoked with a crystalline clarity," writes Rob Humanick at Slant.

"Everyone (Patti Smith, Dominick Dunne, assorted gallerists and curators) recollects Wagstaff's extraordinary beauty, charm, intelligence, and prescient views on art," notes Nathan Lee in the Voice. "He was an early, influential advocate of Tony Smith, Agnes Martin and Ray Johnson, and one of the first to appreciate the terrible beauty of medical photography."

Jesse Ashlock talks with Crump for the Tribeca Film Festival.

Updates, 10/19: "The reputations of its subjects are almost certain to benefit from the film's portrayal of them as visionary aesthetes and collaborative geniuses at career management and the promotion of photography as a fine art with a high price tag," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "In the movie's many pictures of them, they exude the glamorous mystique of insolent movie and rock stars: think of James Dean and Jim Morrison but with a kinky gay twist. Talent, beauty, sex, death and finally pots of money; their story is a perfect storm around which to spin a profitable legend."

At the AV Club, Noel Murray suggests viewing the doc "as a companion piece to recent art-history docs like Peter Rosen's Who Gets To Call It Art? and Andy Warhol. On its own, Black White + Gray is fine, but a little dry."

Ben Gold talks with Crump for the Reeler.

Update, 10/23: The Guardian runs an adapted essay from Sylvia Wolf's Mapplethorpe: Polaroids, a "remarkable treasure trove of more than 1,500 photographs, the majority of them never published [that] reveal how instant photography provided Mapplethorpe with a mode of entry into his creative ambition, his sexual desires and the art world at large."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:06 AM

Deborah Kerr, 1921 - 2007.

Deborah Kerr
British actress Deborah Kerr, who shared one of cinema's most famous kisses with Burt Lancaster in From Here to Eternity, has died, her agent said Thursday. She was 86.

The AP.

Nominated six times for an Oscar, Kerr never won the best actress award despite starring in several memorable roles, opposite the likes of Robert Mitchum and Cary Grant.... While the gold statue may have eluded her, she was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1993 in recognition of the "perfection, discipline and elegance" of her screen work.... Her "breakthrough" role came in Black Narcissus in 1947, and, shortly afterwards, she was well on her way to Hollywood.

Mark Tran in the Guardian.

Updated through 10/19.

If she still looked more at ease on screen as a nun than as a nymphomaniac, or as a governess rather than a seductress, Deborah Kerr loved to hint at what she called "banked fires," the volcano steaming away beneath the ice cap. And though she used merrily to deny that in younger days she had tried to seduce one of her old co-stars, Stewart Granger, in the back of a London cab (as he asserted in his autobiography), it was the contrast between her very British gentility and her sexual vulnerability that often gave her screen persona its savour.

The Telegraph.

See also: screenonline, Wikipedia, Classic Movies, Phillip Oliver, Reel Classics.

Updates: "Throughout her career, Miss Kerr worked at being unpredictable," writes Richard Severo in the New York Times. "She was believable as a steadfast nun in Black Narcissus; as the love-hungry wife of an empty-headed army captain stationed at Pearl Harbor in From Here to Eternity; as a headmaster's spouse who sleeps with an 18-year-old student to prove to him that he is a man in Tea and Sympathy; as a spunky schoolmarm not afraid to joust and dance with the King of Siam in The King and I; as a Salvation Army lass in Major Barbara; and even as Portia, the Roman matron married to Brutus, in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. She could be virginal, ethereal, gossamer and fragile, or earthy, spicy and suggestive, and sometimes she managed to display all her skills at the same time."

"For me though, her finest work came in films for which she wasn't nominated, such as her triple role in Powell and Pressburger's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp," writes Edward Copeland. "Often, she was the best thing in otherwise lackluster films such as Otto Preminger's Bonjour tristesse and John Huston's adaptation of Tennessee Williams's The Night of the Iguana."

The Siren has a lovely quote from Michael Powell.

"An actress of great distinction, and one who was perhaps undervalued in her time," writes Robert Cashill.

JJ posts clips, including one for Wiley, from The Innocents.

"I had planned on writing about The Innocents in the coming days because frankly, there is no film that I find more chilling or haunting then that film made by Jack Clayton in 1961, which starred the lovely Deborah Kerr," writes Kimberly Lindbergs. "The Innocents is the first movie that comes to my mind when I think of 'films that give me the willies' and that's saying a lot, since I've literally watched thousands of horror films throughout the course of my life at this point. Due to Deborah's passing, I figured I'd write a little bit about my favorite horror film today...."

"She could make dross and mediocrity worth watching, recognized quality in the making, and held the lens with ease," writes Flickhead.

Updates, 10/19: The NYT adds links to its reviews of films starring Deborah Kerr, a slide show and a remembrance by Douglas Martin: "It is likely that her role in The King and I, as Anna in her famous hoop skirt, tops many people's list of favorite Kerr characters. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune in 1986, Miss Kerr suggested it might not have been hers. 'I'd rather drop dead in my tracks one day than end up in a wheelchair in some nursing home watching interminable replays of The King and I,' she said before hooting with laughter."

In the Guardian:

  • Brian Baxter looks back on "a long career that sailed on rather majestically like an elegant ocean liner, only occasionally hitting a squall or rough passage. There was little to interest gossip columnists or to shock the public and, at least on the surface she seemed rather serene in the midst of such a frantic profession."

  • Ronald Bergan finds her to be "perhaps one of the most unlikely and most subtle of sex symbols in the cinema of the 1940s and 1950s."

  • Deborah Kerr was what the movie world professes to admire but perhaps too rarely promotes: a class act," writes Peter Bradshaw.

  • And a gallery.

"[I]nspired by the House Next Door's ongoing Close-Up Blogathon, I thought I'd share some screen captures from the first of her three roles in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp in which the 24-year-old Deborah Kerr gives the best performance in what I really think might be the most perfect and most agreeable film ever made," writes Bob Westal.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:39 AM | Comments (3)

October 17, 2007

NYFF. Views. 1.

As he did last year (1, 2), and hopefully will every year, Michael Sicinski takes a multi-part look at the Views from the Avant-Garde sidebar of the New York Film Festival. Here, he focuses on the younger generation of experimental filmmakers.

Victory Over the Sun Berlin, Cannes, Venice, Toronto - 2007 has been ridiculous. Masterpieces and near-masterpieces seem to be falling from the skies. Cinephiles everywhere have a song in their heart and a spring in their step, the streets are paved with gold, your daddy's rich and your mama's good-looking. Naturally, critics and audiences alike happily quarrel and quibble over this or that film. Does Silent Light represent a new sincerity for Carlos Reygadas or just a less-obvious form of cynicism? Is Sokurov's take on the Chechen War somewhat right-wing, or does the post-Communist dilemma require an altogether different political framework? But oh, how wonderful to be grappling with these questions, as opposed to the usual, "Why is contemporary cinema so crappy?" or "Will film just hurry up and die already?" Every serious filmgoer is forging his or her own unique path through the Films of 2007, but the consensus, for once, is mostly positive. This year is kicking major ass.

As always, this brings us to the New York Film Festival. The relatively tiny main selection (usually 25 films or less) is, we're to understand, the cream of the crop, and in a year like 2007, such intense selectivity is mostly a winning formula. There were a few sins of omission (where's the Rivette?), and one or two sins of commission (cherchez le sponsor - i.e., HBO Films), but by and large the NYFF showcased the most acclaimed films from a banner year. In this regard, the NYFF is typically not a place for discoveries, but for consolidation. The one major exception to this rule, year after year, is Views from the Avant-Garde, the festival's so-called "sidebar" which, under the direction of Mark McElhatten and Gavin Smith, has become one of film culture's highest-profile showcases for new experimental film and video.

Although Views wisely refrains from harping on the premiere status of the films it includes, most of the selections are either US or world premieres, and so the jam-packed weekend consistently serves as an opportunity not only to delve into exciting new work, but to take the temperature of the field of experimental media production, to see where we are as a community and as a creative force. And whether or not we realize it, this aspect of Views is even more crucial in a year like 2007. Can the best and brightest of the avant-garde stack up against the heavy-hitters of world cinema? This isn't a question of competition or misplaced chauvinism. For those of us who deplore the ghettoization of non-narrative, formally-driven film and video work and harbor a desire for an all-encompassing "unified field" of advanced art cinema (in the realm of criticism, certainly, if not exhibition), Views is more than just an intensive weekend seminar on the power of pulsating light. It's also a bit of a proving ground. How are our masters faring? And where are the new voices coming from?

Victory Over the Sun Good news. By and large, the Avant-Garde Class of 2007 is a rousing success story. This year's crop included a number of evocative, mind-rattling new works which demonstrate the vitality and sheer visceral excitement of experimental cinema at its best. Last year's startling new discovery, Chicago-based Michael Robinson, has, if anything, upped his game from last year. To my mind there can no longer be any question that Robinson is the most significant new experimental filmmaker to emerge in the last decade. And part of what makes his work so overwhelming is the fact that he refrains from grand statement, preferring to explore the unique headspace of his (and my) generation. We are living in the hangover of postmodernism. We were promised that the end of so-called "metanarratives" (Marxism, psychoanalysis, hermeneutical philosophy, utopian social engineering) would usher in a new era of anarchic pluralism and self-styled bricolage. Liberated from the chains of History, we were supposed to become 24-hour party people. Robinson's films expose this bill of goods and mourn the lie. His Victory Over the Sun is a plangent, earthbound science fiction landscape study, an orchestration of fragmentary views of what's left of World's Fair architecture - geodesic domes, people movers, International Style abstractions. He plants his camera in the weeds, showing the ruins of these broken dreams in the natural present, an unplanned world that unthinkingly reclaims these once-intentional spaces. Just as the fairgrounds are overtaken by uncleared brush, Robinson's soundtrack is slowly overtaken by a collection of voices droning in unison, the precise contents of their language frequently indecipherable. What we can glean, however, is a litany of preparation for some undefined future event. The chanting is cult-like, as it should be; today only cultists are allowed to have utopian dreams, to think about seismic changes in society coming under human control. As Victory Over the Sun concludes, Robinson provides exit music for the broken fairgrounds, in the form of an orchestral rendition of Guns N' Roses' "November Rain." It's only funny for a second, and then it hits you. The power ballad as genuine human expression is as ludicrous as, say, daring to hope for a better world. At the time, we were all so relieved when Nirvana vanquished Axl. Now, we stare into the distance, waiting in vain for Chinese Democracy. Without polemic or a shred of didacticism, Robinson's film captures the anguish of waiting not for a dream deferred, but the deferral of dreaming itself. I have no doubt Victory Over the Sun will prove to be one of the defining films of the decade. See it at all costs.

Light Is Waiting Robinson's other Views contribution, Light Is Waiting, is every bit as masterful, although its impact is more formal and the questions it engages are primarily related to the history of video art. The piece begins with an unaltered clip from TV's Full House, and as a TV set falls from the upstairs banister, we are transported into a throbbing netherworld of strobe and grinding audio. After a slightly attenuated journey by boat, Robinson has stranded us on a tropical island with the cast of Full House, doing the hula and behaving like buffoons. The episode, with its colonialist, ooga-booga depiction of "natives," is eerie enough, but Robinson manipulates the image with symmetrical mirroring, red-and-blue strobing filter effects, and satanically slowed audio. The results are two-pronged. Light Is Waiting allows us to take a critical stance toward the source material, but perhaps more importantly, Robinson's alterations liberate subterranean formal properties already at work within this artless "TGIF" drivel. Light, as it were, is waiting for its own showcase. Deliberately retro in its effects (the piece most explicitly recalls the mid-80s video work of media-scavenger Dara Birnbaum), Light Is Waiting finds Robinson working in an altogether different vein but succeeding nonetheless.

Old Dark House This year's most noteworthy new discovery was the work of Britain's Ben Rivers, a relatively young and highly prolific filmmaker represented in the program by five films made between 2003 and 2007. There are certain commonalities among Rivers's films, most notably a preference for black and white film stock with a thick, tactile grain, lending the films an antiquated quality not unlike the early photography of Fox Talbot. (Rivers does work in color, but those films were not included.) What's most striking about Rivers's work, apart from the sheer physical pleasure of his hazy chiaroscuro, is its resonance with specifically British cinematic traditions. The films look ahead to the contemporary avant-garde in their pacing and fluid organization, but look back to earlier sources for under-explored possibilities. His films Old Dark House from 2004 and House from this year both adopt a similar technique. Rivers enters decrepit homes, some with the remnants of furnishings and all in various states of structural disrepair, and lights small areas with a flashlight. Through multiple exposures, Rivers is able to present several beams of light illuminating the darkened spaces at once, or, in the case of House, more fully control the sweep and intensity of lamplight. What one finds is a sort of non-narrative corollary to the post-Kitchen Sink cinema of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh. Rivers shows us familiar, echt-British interiors (middle-class two-stories or possibly broken-down counsel flats), but allows their physicality to do the talking. In his films The Coming Race (2005) and The Hyrcynium Wood (2007), Rivers reaches even further back, adopting a lyrical semi-documentary element and gently Constructivist treatment of landscape that recalls the great British documentary tradition of the 1930s and 40s, particularly the films of John Grierson and Humphrey Jennings. Like those earlier directors, Rivers attends to the specifics of his subjects - their homes, their demeanor, their interactions with one another, the landscape they inhabit - while organizing that experience according to poetic rhythms and subtle, non-didactic montage. Here's hoping North Americans receive more opportunities to experience Rivers's gentle, poignant cinema.

Frontier Step Of the newer faces on the scene, Boston-based videomaker Gretchen Skogerson and self-described "itinerant" Ben Russell also distinguished themselves with significant contributions this year. Both artists have garnered significant attention in the past few years, although as is usually the case with experimental media, "significant attention" is a relative term and seldom does anyone really receive their due. Skogerson's video Drive-Thru, featured in last year's Views, has slowly built a significant following, with many critics and programmers considering it one of the key works of the past few years. In that video, Skogerson surveyed the aftermath of a Florida hurricane, paying particular attention to electric road signs which had lost their plastic signage, resulting in bare fluorescents piercing the night like errant, upright Dan Flavin installations along US 41. Although I frequently found the images themselves quite arresting, I had significant doubts about Skogerson's rather vague organization of the material, which seemed stranded between deliberate montage and baldly serial presentation. But her latest work, Frontier Step, represents such a step forward in that arena that I want to look back at Drive-Thru to see if perhaps I just missed the boat. Frontier Step is a widescreen video work that describes an arc across the daytime sky, that arc being the rounded roof of New Orleans' Superdome. Skogerson trains her camera on the sparse work crew repairing the Katrina damage (clearly a theme is emerging in Skogerson's work), keeping her distance and maintaining a long shot that obscures the figures' specifics but conveys their comportment, interaction, and precarious balance. Visually striking and shot in some of the crispest digital video I've seen, Frontier Step recalls Dominic Angerame's suite of films documenting San Francisco's clean-up from the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and could reasonably borrow one of his titles as a subtitle for her own piece: "in the course of human events." Sadly, Skogerson undermines some of the video's power with an ill-judged soundtrack of skittering jazz-rock, vaguely reminiscent of The Red Krayola or Art Bears but lacking their formal precision.

Black and White Trypps Number Three Ben Russell has been moving about the cabin for a few years now with his Black and White Trypps series, and thankfully our kindly impresarios Mark and Gavin saw fit to include his latest, Black and White Trypps Number Three. I make particular note of the inclusion because Russell's film has shown around quite a bit, having world premiered this January at Sundance. Unloosed on an uncomprehending and utterly unsympathetic audience, Trypps garnered some of the worst reviews of the entire festival (yes, even worse than the "Dakota Fanning gets raped" movie), mostly because virtually no one understood what Russell was up to. Trypps Number Three which, by the way, is not in black and white, is a sumptuous study in classical portraiture brought into what seems at first to be an unlikely realm - a hardcore punk show by Rhode Island's Lightning Bolt. Much like Ben Rivers did with the collapsing British homes, Russell films the audience with a single handheld spotlight as the individual members bob and weave out of the darkness and into the light. The deep blacks and warm golden hue play off one another to form chiaroscuros that practically leap from the screen. This formal aspect combines with the hypnotic character of the music itself, and the trancelike state it produces in the listeners we're watching. The end result is a filmic portrait of secular rapture that harks back to the great annunciation canvases of Titian and Caravaggio. Trypps, indeed.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:54 PM | Comments (5)

Montgomery Clift Blog-a-Thon.

Montgomery Clift Blog-a-Thon "Hollywood's ultimate troubled child is unquestionably one of the great film stars but he still exists somehow apart from the Brandos, Bogarts and even the Taylors in Classic Hollywood's pantheon." With well over a dozen entries from far and wide, Nathaniel R's Montgomery Clift Blog-a-Thon has a fine showpiece in his own entry on A Place in the Sun:

For those inclined to enjoy readings of star performances through the distorting prism of what we know of their personal lives - in Clift's case: addictions, homosexuality, depression, and "pathological compartmentalization" of his social life - this also makes George Eastman and A Place in the Sun an ideal vessel for carrying nearly all the crucial pieces of the Clift mythology. It's here in one classic package: implosive sensational talent (this was the second of four Oscar nominations) beauty you can drown in (boy is Shelley Winters in trouble... in both senses of the word), self-destructive sexual behavior (George is living dangerously for an up and comer, isn't he?) and existential angst that doesn't overpower his charisma so much as inform it (check out how quickly Liz loses her ground as seductress to become both seduced and matronly, desperate to sex him up and save him). Just about the only missing piece of the Clift myth is the homo eroticism but there's always Red River for that.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:48 PM

Trigger Man.

Trigger Man "Imagine Old Joy reconceived as a horror movie and you'll be at least partially prepared for Trigger Man, the startling sophomore feature by 26-year- old writer-director (and Larry Fessenden protégé) Ti West, whose vampire-bat epic The Roost played briefly back in 2005," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice.

"Devised for minimum fuss and maximum tension, Trigger Man is the little thriller that could," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "Only the patient will be rewarded.... When violence occurs - with jolting swiftness - the director maintains his composure, staging his steel-trap finale in the eerie emptiness of an abandoned factory complex. It will be interesting to see if this reserve survives the increased pressures and budget of his current project, Cabin Fever 2."

Trigger Man opens today at the Pioneer Theater in New York and hits Los Angeles on Friday before expanding throughout the season.

Update, 10/18: "Trigger Man is a tense little production whose budget probably makes The Last Winter look like Waterworld, but it's undeniably effective," writes Andrew O'Hehir at Salon.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:47 AM


Klimt "If there's one film that holds its place on my ever-shifting list of the best films of the last decade, it's Raoul Ruiz's 1999 Time Regained, a brilliantly stylized visualization of the blurred borders between Proust's life, art, and social milieu," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "Klimt, by contrast, feels like a listless grafting of similar strategies... onto an artist whose work was dismissed by many in his day as oversexed, and by some today as eye candy."

"John Malkovich has virtually cornered the market on portraying cold, obsessive aesthetes in the thrall of demonic visions," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "And in Klimt, Raúl Ruiz's lavish biographical fantasia, his depiction of the Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt adds another Mephistophelean figure to his gallery of elegant monsters.... I have not seen the 130-minute director's cut of Klimt that was shown at the 2006 Berlin and Rotterdam film festivals, but I imagine it was structurally more sound than the 97-minute blur of a movie that opens today in New York."

Updated through 10/19.

Earlier: Sharon Mizota talks with Ruiz for the Los Angeles Times.

Updates, 10/18: "For the cosmetics heir Ronald S Lauder, who drew global attention last year by acquiring a lustrous portrait by Gustav Klimt for $135 million, the exhibition opening today at the Neue Galerie is something of a love fest," writes Robin Pogrebin in the NYT. "The show, Gustav Klimt: The Ronald S Lauder and Serge Sabarsky Collections, celebrates not only Klimt and his fin-de-siècle milieu in Vienna, but Mr Lauder's fervent passion for acquiring art.... But for some experts in Holocaust restitution research, the show raises another issue related to Mr Lauder's trove: He declines to issue documentation of his private collection for public scrutiny."

Somewhat related: Julia Rothman admires Egon Schiele: Drawings and Watercolors.

Update, 10/19: "Arriving at the Neue Galerie on Monday evening for a screening (in fact, the US premiere, though it could hardly have been less red-carpet) of Klimt..., I noticed that not one but two seats bore the name tags of its star, John Malkovich," writes Michael Wilson in an entry in Artforum's diary. "It was as if my best efforts at suppressing thoughts of Spike Jonze's mischievous fantasy Being John Malkovich (1999) - in which the actor is used and abused in the strangest of ways - were being consciously derailed; sipping my champagne in the tiny basement screening room prior to curtain up, I couldn't help but picture the arrival of multiple Malkoviches, perhaps all squabbling with one another in the manner of Jonze's unnerving restaurant scene. But of course, it was not to be; Malkovich turned up unaccompanied by clones..."

NYT art critic Roberta Smith finds the setting for that premiere "less a coherent Klimt exhibition than a slightly rambling, something-for-everyone Klimt-o-rama. Filling this small museum from top to bottom, it is constantly changing gears, focus and levels of seriousness."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:36 AM

Meeting Resistance.

Meeting Resistance "Billed as an 'intimate' portrait of Iraq's insurgency, Meeting Resistance - the debut doc from photojournalists turned filmmakers Steve Connors and Molly Bingham - does a remarkable job of being the opposite," writes Anthony Kaufman in the Voice. "Still, the film manages to capture the palpable frustration on the ground... For every additional day the Americans stay, the film suggests, they are only breeding more hatred and digging themselves into a deeper hellhole."

"[T]hough I have no idea how widespread the sentiments expressed in the film happen to be among the Iraqi population at this precise moment, I found a certain depressing logic in the film as a whole," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "When a resistance fighter asks his interrogators how Americans would feel if tanks and troops from a conquering foreign country strutted along the streets with their weapons pointed at American mothers, wives and children, I had to stop to think for a moment. Who actually is it that our troops, both low-paid regulars and high-paid mercenaries, are protecting against whom?"

Updated through 10/19.

"Meeting Resistance remains an interesting companion piece to No End in Sight, trying as it does to make sense of violence as a natural response to oppression," adds Ed Gonzalez at Slant.

Online viewing tip. Know Thine Enemy, a video featured on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times, seems to be an extract from the film.

Related: In the New Yorker, Lawrence Wright cites polls showing that, throughout the occupation, a consistent and overwhelming majority of Iraqis have wanted and still want Coalition forces out of their country: "We didn't ask the Iraqis if we could invade their country; we didn't ask them if we could occupy it; and now we are not asking them if we should leave. Whatever we end up doing, we need to remember that eventually the only people who are going to occupy Iraq are the Iraqis, and that the decision of when we leave, as inevitably we will, should be as much theirs as ours."

Update, 10/19: "If nothing else, Meeting Resistance should dispel any lingering misconception that the Iraq insurgency is mainly the work of outside agitators," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times. "The movie incidentally verifies that without Mr Hussein, a hated strongman lionized after his overthrow, there is no Iraq - just ethnic factions united in hatred of 'infidels.'"

Posted by dwhudson at 5:20 AM

Gone Baby Gone.

Gone Baby Gone "[A]s a crime picture, Gone Baby Gone is a big success - well-plotted, engrossing, and full of tangy, grimy details of life in lower-class Boston, land of meth addicts, white-trash thugs and terrible housekeepers," writes Paul Matwychuk.

"[T]his debut marks [Ben] Affleck as a major directorial talent," announces Peter Keough. Also in the Boston Phoenix, Cole Haddon interviews Casey Affleck.

"In his strikingly downbeat directorial debut, Affleck has created something of a blue-moon rarity: an American movie of genuine moral complexity," writes Jim Ridley in the Voice.

Updated through 10/23.

"So how did Ben Affleck learn enough about directing to get a curmudgeon like me - who had no fucking use for him even in his widely lauded cred-grabbing performance in last year's Hollywoodland - to break out the purple prose?" asks Bryant Frazer, who gives the film an A-.

"Affleck shot the film in Boston, and he captures the city's unfathomable layout, intense tribalism, and the existential separateness of its neighborhoods better than Scorsese in The Departed," writes David Edelstein in New York. "But his hand is often heavier than it needs to be. He lingers on the mottled, leering visages of the working-class locals, so that the city becomes a circus-freak show. And he lets his actors stride into the minefield that is the fake Boston accent: It's all 'pahk ya cah' and 'fock yah muthah.' The actors are amazing in spite of those accents. Casey Affleck has never had a pedestal like the one his brother provides him, and he earns it."

"[I]f Gone Baby Gone surpasses Mystic River as an adaptation of one of Dennis Lehane's Boston-set novels, it's because debuting director Ben Affleck zeros in on his hometown fiercely, with perverse pride," writes Mark Asch in the L Magazine.

Belinda Luscombe profiles Affleck for Time.

In his profile for the New York Times, Charles McGrath opens by focusing on the mutual love Affleck and Boston have for each other: "The result is one of the most authentic-looking and -sounding movies ever made about this city, which even as it has become a 21st-century financial center has preserved a provincial culture and accent all its own."

Updates, 10/18: A "funny thing happens on the way to the Razzies: [Affleck] generates a film that is taut, thought-provoking and one of this year's best," writes Neil Morris in the Independent Weekly>

"And the film looks great, thanks in part to cinematographer John Toll (Braveheart), who brings a little bit of beauty to a town filled with dirt, steel and sleaze," adds Erik Davis at Cinematical. "It doesn't appear to have enough juice to land a best picture Oscar nod, but it definitely has enough taste to linger in your mouth, heart and mind for a long time to come."

"[D]espite a somewhat predictable preference for giving each of his actors a big, showy speech, [Affleck] otherwise generally displays remarkable discipline and tact in guiding his tale," writes Nick Schager at Slant. "Gone Baby Gone's surprises are somewhat ruined by a familiar casting blunder - namely, the use of A-list thesps (including Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman) for supposedly peripheral parts - but its prickly quandaries remain vigorous, as does Affleck's portrait of a fetid urban landscape where innocence is not only spoiled on a daily basis, but by the very people charged with its protection."

"As a thriller/procedural Gone Baby Gone's predominant tone is lethargic, never clicking into the register Affleck seems to be going for - that of a talky, tense, intricately woven urban opera of greed (both emotional and monetary), ambition and ethical relativism," writes Michelle Orange at the Reeler.

"Affleck goes for the same sham realism that won acclaim for Scorsese and Eastwood," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "It has something to do with privileged filmmakers' disdain toward urban America and, at the same time, uses a generic plot that condescends to folk who suffer the social misery they have escaped."

"You gotta give it up for Ben Affleck," blogs Jane Hamsher at the Huffington Post. "The guy showed up yesterday for an event with no glitter and glam but a whole lot of people simply trying to better their lives - the healthcare workers at Boston's teaching hospitals who are struggling to get the CEOs of these institutions just to agree to let them have a fair, supervised union election."

Patrick Goldstein has a long talk with Affleck in the Los Angeles Times.

Updates, 10/19: "I'm not sure exactly when Casey Affleck became such a good actor," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Most actors want you to love them, but Casey Affleck doesn't seem to know that, or maybe he doesn't care.... [O]ne of the graces of Gone Baby Gone is its sensitivity to real struggle, to the lived-in spaces and worn-out consciences that can come when despair turns into nihilism. [Ben] Affleck doesn't live in these derelict realms, but, for the most part, he earns the right to visit."

"There are lots of movies about criminals in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and points between, but somehow in Boston the wounds cut deeper, the characters are angrier, their resentments bleed, their grudges never die, and they all know everybody else's business," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. He finds this one "a superior police procedural, and something more - a study in devious human nature."

"Ben Affleck is smart about setting the scene - he's even better at it than Clint Eastwood was in another Lehane adaptation, Mystic River," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "But he's less adept at defining individual personalities, at making us care about the characters who deserve our sympathy - or, maybe more important, the ones who don't."

"Behind the camera, Affleck's presence is as modest and workmanlike as his performances in front of it have often been brash; as a Bostonian and a new father, he has a strong connection to the material that makes itself felt in the well-tended performances and the authentic portrait of working-class Dorchester," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club.

"Somewhere along the line a perception has arisen that Ben Affleck needs to do something to redeem himself," writes the San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle. "I'm not sure what exactly he did wrong or if it's a combination of things or just some lingering Gigli fallout, but if Gone Baby Gone doesn't make the case for Affleck as a genuine talent, nothing will."

For the LA CityBeat's Andy Klein, the "thriller has too much plot for its own good, but the underlying moral issues are handled delicately enough to keep things afloat."

"[B]y and large a notable piece of work," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. That said, "this brooding, somber film is also ragged around the edges and not without problematic aspects. Two shadows from the past hang over it, one affecting the kind of film it is and the other the way we perceive it."

"Gone Baby Gone turns out to be a sure-footed, high-intensity drama, expertly written, expertly played and, yes, expertly directed," writes Bryan Whitefield for Nerve.

Updates, 10/22: "Affleck's movie feels more grounded in the specific geography of Boston than any other major Hollywood production ever has. And more populated by real Bostonians," concedes Patrick Radden Keefe at Slate. "But in striving to capture Boston in all its sordid glory, Affleck overapplies the grit. The problem struck me in an early scene in which the camera lingers on a gaggle of daytime boozers, and I swear, more than one of them has a cleft palate. In an effort to cast aside the Hollywood airbrush, Affleck has zoomed in on the freakish underbelly of Boston and somewhat overstated the case. The result is not so much what Mean Streets did for New York as what Deliverance did for Appalachia."

"George Pelecanos, another crime novelist and Wire writer, recently told the New Yorker, 'If it's not about something more than the mystery, the thriller part, I'm not going to do it. Life's too short.' Dennis Lehane evidently agrees, and with Gone Baby Gone, it's clear that Affleck does, too," writes Justin Stewart at Reverse Shot. "It's when the movie reaches for this 'something more' that it stumbles."

"[M]iraculously enough, Affleck's strengths as a director far outweigh his weaknesses. Gone Baby Gone is a thoughtful, serious film, whose strong moral undercurrents carry it beyond mere genre," writes the New Republic's Christopher Orr.

"I have trouble sitting through reality-TV shows, but I could spend all day watching Amy Ryan (from The Wire) play the world's most awful mother in Gone Baby Gone," writes David Denby in the New Yorker.

Update, 10/23: "Gone Baby Gone proves to be an intense, gritty little thriller that would have made a great discovery if it had played on a double bill with a similar crime film back in the 1970s," writes DK Holm for the Vancouver Voice. "Its cousin, Mystic River, was a dull, slow, plodding, Oscar whoring enterprise with a big cinematic ego. This film is tight, efficient, with an ingenious plot, a good action scene or two, and several great acting turns."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:16 AM | Comments (1)

Reservation Road.

Reservation Road "Yes, Reservation Road is one of those movies where the characters suffer early and often," sighs Scott Foundas in the Voice. "Will Dwight's [Mark Ruffalo] guilty conscience speak up before Ethan [Joaquin Phoenix] figures things out and goes all Jodie Foster on him? While we await the answer with something less than breathless anticipation, the bathos piles up like autumn leaves."

"Reservation Road, the new film from Hotel Rwanda director Terry George, doesn't deal in the clashing of mighty armies or the conflict between nations; it looks at a smaller slice of the world. At the same time, the themes here - guilt, sorrow, anger, forgiveness - are explored with power and passion thanks to two extraordinary lead performances," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. And an online listening tip: James interviews George.

Updated through 10/19.

"I made it through 25 minutes of this horribly directed melodrama, a botched version of novelist John Burnham Schwartz's decent literary thriller," grumbles the Boston Phoenix's Gerald Peary. "'I'm canceling my interview,' I called Focus Features on the phone. 'Is there a reason?' an annoyed PR flak queried. 'Not really,' I answered. This Focus Features rep wouldn't have been happy with my explanation: chatting in a hotel room with Jennifer Connelly wasn't enough payoff for sitting through the entire excruciating movie."

"Director Terry George should be mentioned as derisively as Paul Haggis by this point, having made a maddeningly innocuous film about the horrors of the Rwandan genocide and, now, one about the grueling pain of losing your child to a hit-and-run driver that exhibits all of the dramatic urgency of waiting for your number to be called at a supermarket deli," writes Jason Clark at Slant.

"Thanks mainly to the four actors; the opening sequence is unnerving and tense," writes Matt Mazur at PopMatters. "They seem to rise above the genre trappings. Unfortunately, the film loses steam after this well-crafted build-up."

"By the film's agonizing climax - a vice grip on the senses - the central players emerge distorted by inner pains that no quaint Connecticut backdrop could negate," writes Andrea Rosen in the L Magazine.

Updates, 10/18: At the Reeler, Vadim Rizov finds Reservation "overwrought and unabashedly allegorical, begging us to consider the implausible events on screen as a fresh and convincing examination of how revenge corrodes the soul. This movie corroded mine, at any rate."

"Reservation Road isn't a major achievement like The Brave One, but it's a significant attempt at showing contemporary moral confusion," writes Armond White in the New York Press.

"Would-be screenwriters are advised to catch Reservation Road on cable as it provides an object lesson of three awful script clichés that are to be avoided at all costs." Alonso Duralde counts them off at MSNBC.

"Reservation Road's physical and emotional clash might've given rise to an interesting examination of class - Dwight initially seems a salt-of-the-earth counterpoint to Ethan; but the former's profession, soon revealed as a pivotal plot point, is as white-collar as they come, and relegates the film to the conventional realm of the Hollywood revenge drama," writes Kristi Mitsuda at Reverse Shot.

Updates, 10/19: "Mr George has neither enough ice in his veins nor the filmmaking skill to pull off the wretched business of sacrificing a child for a fictional contrivance," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "He made me tear up while watching this movie, but he also made me grit my teeth."

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Robert Abele finds the Road to be "a misery windup so schematic and obvious it reduces its crisis-stricken characters to little more than emotional bumper cars."

"Reservation Road is stuffed fat with humanities-class essay themes: Grief, manhood, responsibility, revenge and hatred - discuss!" Stephanie Zacharek in Salon: "But even though the actors work hard to give the movie the illusion of depth and substance, the real meaning of those themes doesn't emerge in any significant way: They're flat colors dabbled onto the surface of the movie with a dark, dainty brush, not powerful, saturated hues that radiate from its core."

"If a film is going to place a dead child, and a grieving parent's subsequent revenge, at the center of its story, it had better (like the far stronger In the Bedroom) have all its other ducks in row: a great script, tight characterizations, believable suspense," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "Otherwise it runs the risk of appealing to the lowest common denominator of audience identification: 'Can you even imagine living through something so awful?' Yes. Yes, I can. But you'd better not make me imagine it without a pretty damn good reason."

"It's a relentlessly downbeat, well-acted melodrama that's easy to admire, but intentionally impossible to enjoy," finds the AV Club's Nathan Rabin.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:11 AM


Rendition "As the folks at New Line Cinema were quick to point out in an e-mail sent less than an hour after the decision, the Supreme Court last week refused to hear the 'extraordinary rendition' case of Khaled el-Masri, a Lebanon-born German who accused the CIA of kidnapping him in 2003 and flying him to Afghanistan for interrogation and torture," writes David Edelstein in New York. "Rendition is the same Kafkaesque nightmare done in Saturday-Afternoon-at-the-Movies style, with multiple crisscrossing plots, a cliff-hanger climax, and a strong current of hope - that an individual's conscience can triumph over careerism and bureaucratic moral blindness. It's pure Hollywood, but the humanism gets to you."

Updated through 10/19.

"For all its brave rhetoric about 9/11 and the Constitution, Gavin Hood's slick thriller about American outsourcing of terror interrogations is far more interested in the hydraulics of torture in exotic foreign parts than in serious debate about human and civil rights," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice.

"Hollywood kick-starts another Oscar season with a modish globetrotting guilt trip that histrionically explores how government policy and our involvement in the Middle East affects people in America on a personal level," sighs Ed Gonzalez at Slant. "The aura of self-importance that surrounds these tongue-cluckers is an intolerable cruelty, but Gavin Hood's follow-up to the despicable Tsotsi takes the cake."

"Obviously this is an important subject, and indeed I found myself trapped in an infuriating post-screening conversation with a colleague who kept insisting this is a motion picture every American needs to see," writes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "I argued that the topic demands discussion, but the movie itself is actually really boring and kind of shitty. He claimed such things don't matter - so I guess you all have your marching orders."

"[I]t's well-meaning, liberal-minded, and of serious intent, but completely devoid of nuance," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club.

Premiere's Glenn Kenny: "My frustration with this picture can be summed up by noting that this movie believes its audience is smart enough to put together the fact that one of its several parallel storylines is actually contiguous rather than parallel with the others, but dumb enough to buy the notion that there's an actual country named 'North Africa' on that continent."

Updates, 10/18: "[L]aughably melodramatic and agonizingly inert," finds Nick Schager.

Hood "and writer Kelley Sane have made such a mess of what could have been an urgently topical film that you wonder if they got paid off by Dick Cheney and Ann Coulter to muck things up," sighs Alonso Duralde at MSNBC.

"There's something depressing about the idea that events such as the abduction and murder of an American journalist (A Mighty Heart), the murder of a returning soldier suffering from PTSD (In the Valley of Elah), and now the extraordinary rendition of prisoners to other countries for purposes of torture, need to be "brought home" any closer than they already are," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "What, exactly, is abstract about the suffering we're confronted with in the news every day? The trade papers like to puzzle over why Iraq- and 9/11-themed films have so consistently failed to draw large audiences, but maybe staying away from these movies is just the public's way of saying, 'Enough!'" At any rate, as for this one, "forget the thin characters and showoffy temporal structure. Rendition's worst flaw is its political deck-stacking, with its willingness to win the viewer's sympathy by showcasing the least defensible instance of extraordinary rendition imaginable."

Updates, 10/19: "Rendition may be earnest, but it is hardly naïve," writes AO Scott in the New York Times, going on to call it "a well-meaning, honorable movie. Which is not to say that it is a very good one. It suffers especially from a familiar kind of narrative overcrowding.... The filmmakers obey the current rule in Hollywood that states that a picture with large themes and a one-word title must also have multiple, chronologically de-centered storylines. (For your consideration: Crash; Syriana; Babel.) But they don't handle the complications very well, and try to pull off a third-act surprise that is less a plot twist than a logical unraveling."

"It is now so well-established that the United States authorizes the practices shown in this film that when President Bush goes on television to blandly deny it with his 'who, we?' little-boy innocence, I feel saddened," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "He may eventually be the last person to believe himself. What the film documents is that we have lost faith in due process and the rule of law, and have forfeited the moral high ground."

"At least by the most cursory checklist standards, Rendition has everything going for it," writes Stephanie Zacharek at Salon. "But maybe that's just the problem: Now that more movies are wrangling with the Iraq war mess specifically, and with the United States' complex and fraught relationship with the Middle East in general, can a checklist of qualities - solid acting! nicely curved dramatic arc! - be enough to cover the more nebulous, smoke-and-mirror-obscured angles of how any of us really feels about the mess we're in?" In contrast, "Maybe A Mighty Heart and Redacted feel so vital to me because they refuse to reorder and reorganize chaos for our safety and convenience."

In the Los Angeles Times, Carina Chocano finds Rendition "a pat and generic, if serviceable, political thriller."

"Like The Kingdom, which was released in September, Rendition tells parallel stories of an American and an Arab family," notes Christine Smallwood, blogging for the Nation. "If it seems like another ensemble picture of interlocking lives brought together on one fateful day, well, it is. But there's also a twist that changes the picture somewhat at the end. It's a movie that holds you - even the shlocky music can't detract from the power of its images and the drama of the story."

"The filmmakers fail to acknowledge how the world turns to suit [Reese] Witherspoon's will solely because she's well-heeled and well-connected, and they grant zero humanity to power brokers like [Meryl] Streep, who won't let misgivings over torture keep her from sipping another glass of Chardonnay," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "With a cast this stacked, the performances are predictably strong (particularly from [Peter] Sarsgaard, whose slow-burning role recalls his work in Shattered Glass), but the first impression they make is the same as the last."

"Despite the almost unbearable weight of its good intentions, Gavin Hood's film does all the things you want a drama to do: it engages your sympathies, creates suspense, and the narrative is superbly paced (though the denouement delivers a bizarre and totally superfluous twist in the chronology)," writes Robert Hanks in the Independent.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:51 AM | Comments (1)

October 16, 2007

Film Quarterly. Fall 07.

Film Quarterly: Fall 07 Thanks to Girish for the heads-up on this:

Four pieces from the new issue of Film Quarterly are available online, beginning with Rob White's "Editor's Notebook," in which he explains a few tweaks in the format: "[A]s well as timely essays of about three thousand words, book reviews, and articles, Film Quarterly now includes columns, each of them with a clear brief.... The model is something like a civic meeting - a structured forum for conversation and contention in which seminar-room topics mingle with wider debates."

One of the new columns is Adrian Martin's; this one celebrates the release of Stephen Dwoskin 14 Films. "It is easy to bemoan the lack of attention which Dwoskin's work has so far received within the institutions of international film culture - to wonder why he is not routinely put up alongside Brakhage, Snow, Frampton, Rainer, and all the rest in the long-established Mount Rushmore of avant-garde cinema. Dwoskin himself seems to view this DVD project in a different, altogether positive spirit, with nothing of what would be an understandable ressentiment."

"[N]o candidate has yet demonstrated the innovative aptitude for Internet communication that Roosevelt showed for radio or Kennedy for television," writes Ben Walters; in a sense, his piece is an astute collection of online viewing tips.

"[H]istory is a nightmare from which movies cannot awaken," writes Joshua Clover. "The least (perhaps the only) thing one can do is ask what fi lms of the current killing season have made something interesting of history's most recent maneuvers, and how? And try not to feel too proud of ourselves for discovering a subtext that can't help but be there."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:22 PM

Shorts, 10/16.

The Star Machine "The movies made during the studio era - what the cineastes have dubbed 'the classical Hollywood cinema' - are, along with jazz, America's best creative work from the late 1920s to about 1950." And yet, "ny Hollywood history illuminates the dichotomy between those movies that the system most highly prized and those we love now, raising some doubts about the much-vaunted 'genius of the system.'" The Atlantic Monthly's Benjamin Schwarz reviews Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis, What Happens Next: A History of American Screenwriting and The Star Machine.

"The older Funny Face gets, the more mixed feelings it's likely to arouse, but for three things [fans will] say it gets wrong, there'll be one that redeems all of that, for this is a musical filled with moments still hypnotic and evocative of the 50s in ways few others are," writes John McElwee.

"There's a certain kind of twisted logic to it: a novel about the persistence of love has turned, in the hands of a mediocre director, into a a campy, puffed-up piece of rotten Oscar bait, a movie of such boundless badness that it would take somebody with a Nobel Prize in literature to truly fathom the extent of its wretchedness." Jürgen Fauth has seen Love in the Time of Cholera.

Brazil made Girish a cinephile.

For Esquire, Cal Fussman asks Dustin Hoffman what he's learned.

"Why do young men, who have grown up in the safe bosom of Scandinavia, want to sacrifice their lives for Allah?" asks Ivar Ekman in the International Herald Tribune. "That is the question posed by a Swedish documentary that provides a glimpse into the world of young European Muslims who dedicate themselves to jihad, or holy war. The film, Aching Heart, will open in Sweden on Oct 19 but has already gained much attention."

Yella When Yella appeared in German cinemas last month, Christiane Peitz interviewed director Christian Petzold for Der Tagesspiegel. Now Lucy Powell translates that interview for signandsight. Petzold:

German actors are filmed as if they were stars, they make appearances on the red carpet or in Gala magazine, but there are no films surrounding them. How else do you explain the loneliness of Nastassja Kinski? Why weren't 30 films made with Franka Potente after Run Lola Run? And what is Jessica Schwarz up to? And why is Martina Gedeck not permanently surrounded by a culture which she carries, like Isabelle Huppert in France? They are celebrated for a single film, stars for half a year - and then the gazettes move on to the next one.

"'Koreans like dreamers, and [D-War director] Shim [Hyung-rae] is a dreamer,' says Chin Jung-kwon, a prominent South Korean cultural critic who trashed the movie on national TV and was quickly pegged the most villainous dissenter. 'The Korean media turned Shim's going to Hollywood into this great patriotic success story. So if you criticize him, it makes you a public enemy.'" Which is precisely what he's become, as Bruce Wallace reports in the Los Angeles Times.

Sam Fuller "wasn't only a great filmmaker," Geoffrey Macnab reminds us in the Independent. "In his younger years, he was a celebrated New York crime reporter and pulp novelist. Now, more than 60 years after its original publication, his 1944 bestseller The Dark Page is being republished. It is an embroiled Oedipal tale about Carl Chapman, the editor of a New York tabloid, and his young star reporter, Lance McLeary. The reporter is investigating a murder that the editor knows more about than he is letting on. The book works both as a hardboiled thriller and as an evocation of a lost era in US tabloid journalism, when the hard-drinking and endlessly cynical reporters all behaved as if they were on leave from The Front Page."

In the New Yorker, Margeret Talbot profiles the creator of The Wire, David Simon, "a former Baltimore Sun reporter who figured that he'd spend his life at a newspaper, a print journalist who has forged an improbable career in television without ever leaving Baltimore."

Gene Kelly "There's an undertone of contemptuous misanthropy to many of [Gene] Kelly's performances, and never moreso than when he's trying to be sympathetic and relatable," blogs Noel Murray at the AV Club. "When he's acting 'human,' part of him is mocking the very idea of humanity, as though he were saying, 'I know how you rubes behave.'"

Doug Block's got a #1 Rule about personal documentary filmmaking, "the rule of rules, the rule every other rule is rolled into."

On Sunday, an explosion "ripped through a crowded cinema, killing six people and injuring dozens more in the northern Indian state of Punjab in what police described as a terrorist attack," reports Randeep Ramesh.

Also in the Guardian:

  • "One of the key religious themes of Philip Pullman's award-winning series of children's novels, His Dark Materials, has been watered down to appeal to a wider audience in the new Hollywood film version of the first book," reports Vanessa Thorpe. "The original story's rejection of organised religion, and in particular of the historic abuse of power in the Catholic Church, has been altered to avoid offending followers of the faith in the UK and in America."

  • David Smith reports that the Ronald Grant Cinema Museum, one of "Britain's most eccentric museums, a treasure trove of cinema nostalgia collected by one man over 60 years, is facing closure after being told to vacate its premises in six months."

The Brave One

  • "The Brave One is far grittier than a standard revenge fantasy with a femme twist, because its subtext is one of the suppression and subsequent explosion of female anger," argues Bidisha. "It can be read as an analysis of what happens when women refuse to accept fear and take on the idea of fighting actively against deliberate macho intimidation."

  • "Internet video is no longer a 'new media'; it's an industry standard," blogs Casey McKinnon. But "is Hollywood really creating 'new' media if they bring television to the internet?"

In the New York Times:

Peet Gelderblom's weekly webcomic Directorama debuts at the House Next Door.

King Corn IndieWIRE interviews King Corn director Aaron Woolf.

Online browsing tip. Paintings Alain Delon's putting up for auction. The Spanish media's been snickering at his taste.

Offline viewing tip. For Chicagoans. Jonathan Rosenbaum will be talking about Discovering Orson Welles in an interview for CAN TV that'll include "a silent, five-minute sequence (scroll down article to four paragraphs before the end) from Orson Welles's unfinished Don Quixote that is arguably the greatest sequence he shot for the film, even though it can't be found in the execrable version cobbled together by Jesus Franco in 1992."

Online viewing tip #1. Grand Central, a short film by Jeff Scher.

Online viewing tip #2. "I concur with [Noël] Burch and pretty much everyone else interested in experimental cinema that Robert Breer is a master," writes Zach Campbell.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:52 PM

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), 10/16.

Planet Terror "Planet Terror - Robert Rodriguez's contribution to his Grindhouse collaboration with Quentin Tarantino - is a first-rate homage to the schlocky, sleazy B-movies of decades past, loading on the gore, clichés, and self-referential dialogue like there's no tomorrow with a cascade of influences from John Carpenter, James Cameron, George A Romero and Lucio Fulci (just to name a few), all the while topping off its gimmicky (though totally effective) construction with countless scratches, blips, audio/visual inconsistencies and even a carefully placed 'missing reel' in its loving ode to the almost lost end-of-the-line theater experience," writes Rob Humanick before catching his breath. But Jürgen Fauth agrees.

Also: White Zombie and King of the Zombies.

He asked for 31 Flicks That Give You the Willies, and now, Ed Hardy Jr lists "the 181 official nominees from the 67 nominating ballots I received." Lists of their own: Jonathan Lapper and Kimberly Lindbergs.

Murder Party Murder Party is "part of the new 'hipster horror' (as coined by Radar), a style playing to the generation that grew up disillusioned and ironic through the late 80s and 90s, sucking all the weird out of Fangoria and Starlog that they possibly could," writes John Lichman at the Reeler. "It's a media-convenient label to be sure, but Murder Party filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier is happy to call it whatever people want as long as they see his film." Related: Matt Dentler talks with SXSW vet Saulnier, too.

Phil Morehart's got another clip at Facets Features: "For those not indoctrinated into the cult of Troll 2, you are missing one of the best/worst horror films ever created. Watch immediately. Repeat." And then there's Exorcist III, "a surprisingly fine addition to the brand."

"Kenneth Anger's dense, eleven-minute film Invocation of My Demon Brother shares almost none of the narrative conventions associated with classically labeled horror films," concedes Leo Goldsmith. "But as much as any film - and certainly any horror film - Invocation of My Demon Brother is one whose ultimate purpose is to prompt a visceral, even chemical response in its viewers. It is, as the filmmaker himself famously described it, 'an attack on the sensorium,' and as such is as aggressively horrifying as any more conventional horror film."

Also at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "As the director of The Fury, Sisters, Obsession and especially Carrie, De Palma samples heavily from the Hitchcock playbook (I do not believe, as some do, that he is a rip-off artist), and he frequently pushes forward the intensity of scenes, often to the brink of absurdity," writes Teddy Blanks. "Body Double, though, is in its own universe, a sublimely ridiculous piece of schooled filmmaking that embraces the sheen and excess of cheap 80s Hollywood as a flashy new avant-garde."

Halloween "You know a horror movie is great when you can't pinpoint just what it is about it that scares you." Adam Ross revisits Halloween.

Billy Stevenson on Vampyr: "This is the most impressive horror film that I have seen since Nosferatu, mainly because Dreyer also identifies the camera's gaze with that of the vampire, complicating Joan Of Arc's monochromatic starknesses to construe subjectivity as negotiation between moonlight and darkness."

At Cinematical, Richard von Busack lists seven "Horror Movie Gimmicks That Always Work."

Online listening tip. The he 4th Annual Drive-in Speakerbox Halloween Spooktacular!

More online viewing from the Shamus: "The Devil's Commercials!"

Posted by dwhudson at 11:42 AM

DVDs, 10/16.

The Jazz Singer In popular lore, it was The Jazz Singer that single-handedly knocked silent cinema dead. "But the truth is more complicated and a bit less poetic," writes the New York Times' Dave Kehr in a must-read primer on the turning point in the history of cinema.

"[T]he new eight-film DVD box set of film from [Roger] Corman's prime era, while being helplessly filthy with mid-century kitsch, is rich in universal anxieties," writes Michael Atkinson at IFC News. Also reviewed is the four-disc set, Treasures III: Social Issues in American Film, 1900 - 1934: "The historical frisson here comes with the passionate take on sociopolitical issues which are no longer issues - anti-Bolshevism is hot, as are prohibition, WWI-era pacifism, suffrage, the need for universal schooling and mail-order marriage. But of course, the films feel remarkably timeless in their arguments for or against humanism, war, poverty, capitalism, social control, social freedom and equality."

Updated through 10/17.

More on that set from curator Scott Simmon on NPR and Susan King; and also in the Los Angeles Times: "I think DVD menu guy is a pretty good title." A profile of Devon Downs. Plus, a note from Milestone's Dennis Doros on the delay of the release of I Am Cuba: The Ultimate Edition.

Le Corbeau "Le Corbeau would easily have made the Siren's Top 25 Foreign Films had she seen it in time. Set in 'the present,' it shows a small French town convulsed by a series of poison-pen letters, many of them directed at the place's popular young gynecologist (Pierre Fresnay). On this simple framework Clouzot and his co-screenwriter Louis Chavance build that rare and precious cinema specimen, a genuinely subversive film." And, along with Un amour à taire (A Love to Hide), it leads to thoughts on "the problems she has with certain fictionalized Holocaust movies."

Glenn Kenny's "Monday Morning Foreign-Region DVD Report: Toni: "On the commentary track of this superb disc, critics Phillip Lopate and Kent Jones mention that some scholars consider this 1934 film as one of the five best directed by the great Jean Renoir."

"In today's [New York Post, I interview filmmaker David Stenn, who brings to life a long-forgotten scandal involving a dancer who thought she was going to a film shoot but ended up at a boozy party-cum-orgy that MGM sold for its sales rep, where she was raped by a salesman from Chicago," blogs Lou Lumenick. And Girl 27 is out on DVD today.

A Mighty Heart is out on DVD this week, and Cinematical's Erik Davis sees a missed opportunity: "[W]hen the film ends, you race over to the extras to learn more - see more - but find very little."

Dear Pillow Jette Kernion notes that Dear Pillow will be seeing a DVD release on November 13.

"[I]t is quite possible that like Resnais's past films, especially Je T'Aime, Je T'Aime, which were not appreciated at the time of their initial release, [Christoffer Boe's] Allegro may well find its audience in the future," writes Peter Nellhaus.

"Despite the over-the-top title, Hitler: The Rise of Evil actually makes Adolf Hitler seem less evil than insane, portraying his steady, methodically documented rise to power as the chance ascension of a mere madman on the shoulders of a people too stupid or afraid to disobey orders to do anything to stop him," writes Erica C Barnett in the Stranger.

DVD roundups: DVD Talk; Bryant Frazer; Logan Hill in New York; Susan King in the LAT; Movie City News.

Update, 10/17: "[M]y old Entertainment Weekly colleague Steve Daly, in his review [of The Jazz Singer], just can't [get] past the fact that [Al] Jolson spends the sizable part of the movie's back half in blackface," notes the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "Well, yes, he does, and to focus on that and that alone is short-sighted at best, naive at worst."

Posted by dwhudson at 10:06 AM | Comments (2)

Fests and events, 10/16.

The Band's Visit "The Band's Visit, it turns out, has not been welcomed with open arms," writes Anthony Kaufman. "While first-time filmmaker Eran Kolirin's much-beloved movie about a group of Egyptian musicians astray in Israel won a special prize in Cannes, a distribution pact with Sony Pictures Classics and was looking like a shoo-in as a foreign-language Oscar nominee, the fish-out-of-water comedy has recently faced a series of roadblocks. In the same week the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS) deemed The Band's Visit ineligible for the foreign-language category because it contained too much English dialogue, the film found itself at odds with two Middle Eastern film festivals, the Cairo International Film Festival and the new Middle Eastern International Film Festival (MEIFF) in Abu Dhabi, neither of which will be showing the film."

Also at indieWIRE, Ryan Harrington's dispatch from Woodstock.

"The Hessischer Filmpreis for Best Film was presented on Friday evening at a gala ceremony in Frankfurt-am-Main to Maria Speth's second feature Madonnas, the story of an irresponsible mother of five delinquent and instable children," reports Bénédicte Prot at Cineuropa.

Trans-Video Express: Recent Video Art From Germany, Thursday and October 25 at the Sara Meltzer Gallery in New York.

Bruce Conner at the Michael Kohn Gallery in Los Angeles: Saturday through November 24.

Generation Tehran With the Hollywood Film Festival opening Wednesday and running through October 22, Robert W Welkos, in the Los Angeles Times, previews Generation Tehran, a documentary "made by a 30-year-old West Hollywood filmmaker named Sara Bavar, who traveled to Iran's capital last year and chronicled the thoughts of young people living in a country that the Bush administration has labeled an 'axis of evil' and a 'terrorist state.'"

At Film Threat, Mark Bell presents the schedule for the Hollywood Horror, Sci-Fi and Fantasy Film Festival, sort of a weekend sidebar that'll be opening with Damon Packard's Spacedisco One.

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw picks ten to catch at the London Film Festival, opening tomorrow and running through November 1.

At SF360, Dennis Harvey looks back on the just-wrapped 30th edition of the Mill Valley Film Festival.

Signandsight translates Jann Ruyters's report for Trouw from the Netherlands Film Festival, which wrapped last week.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:37 AM | Comments (1)

In Austin: SXSW, Juno and the Devil.

SXSW Film 08 Early word from Matt Dentler:

Organizers at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Conference & Festival are happy to announce the first batch of new panel topics scheduled for the 2008 panels. The SXSW Film Festival takes place in Austin, TX from March 7 to 15. The SXSW Film Conference and Panels, will occur during March 8 to 11. Here's a sneak peek at one topic already taking shape:

Film Miss-Takes
(Saturday, March 8)
When it comes to making a film, "nobody knows anything," and novice filmmakers know even less. Poor choices can ensure that no one will watch what you've made. Early attention to legal and technical issues could mean the difference between having a viable film, or just an expensive calling card. Are you ready to talk about your project? Who should you talk to and what should you say (or not say)? Veterans of the industry discuss how filmmakers most often sabotage themselves, and discuss how to avoid it by doing their homework.

Stay tuned to the SXSW Film Conference site for updates on panels and confirmed speakers.

Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody: "I could blog all about how 'aus'-some the Austin Film Festival has been, and how delightful our screening at the Paramount was this evening. However, I'm fixated on the drawer." You'll have to read that one.

The American-Statesman's Chris Garcia has the list of AFF competition winners. Also, he's had a grand time listening to John Milius and Oliver Stone butt heads on a panel entitled "In the Trenches: Writing the War Film."

And: "As the Austin Film Festival wraps on Thursday (with the superb Before the Devil Knows You're Dead), this mad movie town gears up for two more film bashes this weekend." And they'd be the Austin Polish Film Festival and the Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:23 AM

October 15, 2007

Profile. Tim Lucas.

Mario Bava All the Colors of the Dark 1,128 pages, 12 pounds and gorgeously designed, Mario Bava All the Colors of the Dark is much, much more than the coffee table book of the year.

"Besides the life and career of Bava himself, the book also features essays on the theory and appeal of horror films, a history of Italian cinema, essays on cinematography, special effects, movie poster art and advertising, and biographies of most of the key personnel associated with Bava's career, including Barbara Steele. It is perhaps one of the most interesting, dedicated, thoroughly researched books ever published," writes DK Holm in his engaging profile of the author of this magnum opus, Tim Lucas.

Update, 10/18: Stuart Galbraith IV has a long talk with Tim Lucas at DVD Talk.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:39 PM | Comments (2)

Online viewing tip. NYFF.45 #3.

Jamie Stuart, in his latest short film shot at the New York Film Festival...

NYFF45 3

... now on view at Filmmaker, let's Todd Haynes get a few more words in than other directors have in his other NYFF pieces. And for good reason, too.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:06 AM

NYFF. Persepolis.

David D'Arcy sings the praises of the film that's closed the festival. Pointers to other reviews follow; and there'll be more entries on more films as well as on the Views from the Avant-Garde sidebar over the next few days.


Persepolis [site] by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud won over the closing night audience of the 2007 New York Film Festival last night. Will an animated film based on a comic book in French by an Iranian woman win over the heartland of America ? Will it win the Oscars that its US distributors are hoping for?

Updated through 10/18.

Sony Pictures Classics already seems to have made one decision about taking its movie to an audience. According to Tom Bernard, who spoke after the film played at Avery Fisher Hall last night, Persepolis will not be released in the US in the dubbed version that already exists, with a cast that includes Sean Penn (big in France and in Iraq) and Iggy Pop. You heard it here first, although he could change his mind tomorrow. The dubbed Persepolis will be available when the film is released on DVD, Bernard said. Did Bernard and company decide that it wasn't worth releasing an English version of the film? No less of a salesman than Daniel Toscan du Plantier, the former head of Unifrance, tried to bring French films in English to Middle America with a version of Les Visiteurs dubbed under the direction of Mel Brooks, who does know something about making audiences laugh. The gambit failed, and it hasn't happened since.

Let's hope that the clever and tender Persepolis, already a crowd-pleaser in France, does reach the US heartland, or at least deep enough that Dick Cheney has a chance to see it. This is a crucial opportunity. The man from the Dark Side seems determined to leave his mark on history, possibly with an attack on Iran, especially if someone gives him the intel that indicates that a pre-emptive strike on the Islamic Republic would be a slam dunk. He believed it about Iraq. Why won't he believe it again?

I'm basing all this on the assumption that, with the departure of Karl Rove, Cheney is now Bush's brain. Seeing Persepolis might convince him that Iranians are not a separate species that can be scheduled for bombardment. The real achievement in Persepolis is that Satrapi and Parronaud have humanized Iranians through cartoons, at the same time that the Iranian president has been turned into a cartoon (with plenty of help from Ahmadinejad himself).

In Jonathan Demme's new documentary about Jimmy Carter, Man From Plains (also a Sony Picture Classics release), the former president is less than eloquent on many subjects, but he is clear and persuasive when he says that bombing Iran during the hostage crisis in 1980 would have cost many thousands of Iranian lives as well as the lives of the hostages that the attacks were presumably intended to save.

Another uncomfortable (inconvenient?) truth for Cheney when and if he ever sees Persepolis will be its repeated mention of the role of the US and other Western powers in the war between Iraq and Iran from 1980 to 1988. Back then, Saddam was our guy, and more than a million Iranians died in the war that he started. Satrapi isn't breaking any new ground by reminding us of that brutal war. She is breaking new ground, though, in her ambition (with Vincent Parronaud) to give animated characters real, grownup emotion. Cinema has tended to fail when it depicts the world of art in biopics about everyone from Jackson Pollock to Modigliani to Frida Kahlo. Satrapi says far more about art when she shows post-Revolution Iranian art classes in which students are painting the "anatomy" of models draped from head to toe, or when she draws the same students looking at reproductions of "nudes" with bodies obscured by the Islamic thought police.

In The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Julian Schnabel abandoned the world of painting once again to tell the story of an accident victim who has lost almost all control of his body - in French. The elegant film points to the likelihood that Schnabel could be admired more for his filmmaking than for his painting. Satrapi's case is something different. She doesn't seem to think independently of image-making. And her image-making makes you think. She is the first to say that she wouldn't be doing what she does without the influence of Art Spiegelman, who told his father's story of surviving Auschwitz in Maus. (Remember, Maus was turned down by more than a dozen publishers, including the publisher who eventually published it.)

Will Persepolis beget more of this kind of image-making? Dozens of comics are at least as cinematic as Persepolis. The forthcoming Wristcutters: A Love Story, is a live-action film adapted from a graphic novel. So was Ghost World. Keep them coming.

-David D'Arcy

"Lovingly detailed in its stark, layered and wonderfully expressive animation (at times reminiscent of Edward Gorey, with a little Yellow Submarine thrown in) and featuring the voices of Chiara Mastroianni and her mother Catherine Deneuve, Persepolis is history lesson, family drama, war story and young adult picaresque in one, handling its considerable dark elements with the same wary, worldly steady hand as the lighter ones," writes Michelle Orange at the Reeler. "Combined with Satrapi's endlessly inventive, expressive animations, Marjane becomes one of the most compelling, endearing heroines of the year, offering in two dimensions what many ingenues can't manage in three or four: genuine ingenuity."

"Persepolis pulls off something that's not easy for any film, even a live-action one, to do: It gives us a sense of how a kids'-eye view of the world - particularly the way kids are capable of grasping the idea of injustice, even when more delicate political arguments are beyond their reach - can emerge and grow into an adult sensibility," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek.

"[T]he movie is so enthralling that it eroded my longstanding resistance to animation, and I realized that the same history translated into a live-action drama could never be depicted with the clarity and narrative drive that bold, simple animation encourages," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times.

For Michael Joshua Rowin, writing at Reverse Shot, Persepolis, "despite its successes, feels ever so slight, the sort of product that, while not unintelligent, flatters its sophisticated but undemanding audience with the constant reassurance of tasteful propriety."

"Marjane Satrapi stole the show at the post-screening Q&A, talking to the crowd about her life and the projects it has inspired," reports Christopher Campbell for the Reeler.

Earlier: Reviews and previews from Toronto and NYFF; and reviews from Cannes.

Update, 10/18: "Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel Persepolis made an enormous impression upon me," writes Marcy Dermansky. "Satrapiri's story is both extraordinarily moving and wildly informative. The gorgeous and faithful film adaptation... is no less remarkable."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:13 AM | Comments (2)

October 14, 2007

NYFF. Actresses.

Actresses "Actresses is a meek approximation of a Jacques Rivette film," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant. "Though lighter on her feet than Rivette, [Valeria] Bruni Tedeschi does not recognize the abstract in the real, and so this irritating doodle is ultimately best enjoyed as another example of the woman's uncanny ability to volley between states of bliss and misery on the turn of a dime."

"Method acting is a form of insanity," suggests Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog. "Valeria Bruni Tedeschi should know; she's been acting in films for over two decades. In "Actresses," her second effort as a director, she prods the malleable, unstable temperaments of those who choose to spend their lives contorting their personalities into those of fictional characters by way of a stage production of Turgenev's A Month in the Country.... Bruni Tedeschi is radiant and milky-eyed as Marcelline, and also fearlessly loony."

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:51 PM

NYFF. I Just Didn't Do It.

I Just Didn't Do It "Masayuki Suo's I Just Didn't Do It [site] is a taut, painstakingly observed, and incisive procedural on the intricacies of Japan's highly efficient, juryless, one judge criminal justice system," writes acquarello. "At the heart of his sobering social realist drama is the country's boasted 99.9% conviction rate, a daunting statistic that implicitly assumes a defendant's guilt, despite the founding tenets of blind justice."

"I Just Didn't Do It doesn't present Teppei as a martyr or even much of an idealist but, rather, as a man simply unwilling to bow to a legal machine that considers an innocent plea to be a dishonorable act of treason," writes Nick Schager at Slant. "Depicting all 15 stages of the trial as well as the assistance offered Teppei by his lawyers (led by Koji Yakusho's former judge), his mother, and his friends, Suo's film is riveting in its case minutia, and righteously infuriating in its comprehensive portrait of a system that values public approval ratings and a high conviction rate above the truth."

Katey Rich talks with Masayuki Suo for Cinema Blend. Via Jeffrey Hill at the House Next Door.

Earlier: NYFF previews.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:28 PM

NYFF. The Last Mistress.

Une vielle maîtresse "Catherine Breillat's reputation preceded her and along with the very positive reviews that came out of Cannes I couldn't wait to see Une vielle maîtresse (The Last Mistress)," wrote Jesse Ataide at DVD Verdict when he caught the film in Toronto. "The film, much to my relief, was everything that I had hoped for. Visually sumptuous (Breillet had mentioned that she had been particularly inspired by the paintings of Manet and Delacroix), the film never lets the sheer beauty of the period Parisian locations or opulent costumes weigh down the story or shield the sexual heat."

"By the midpoint of Une vieille maîtresse I already knew that Catherine Breillat would be my next project," writes Darren Hughes. "It probably goes without saying that Asia Argento steals every scene, but Breillat's staging of their bodies, more than anything else, is what has provoked my curiosity about her work."

Updated through 10/16.

"In a way, Catherine Breillat's infusion of subtle humor in the film reflects a certain accessible, newfound sensibility to her cinema," writes acquarello. "Breillat diverges from the (explicitly) transgressive elements that have come to define her cinema towards a more implicit and refined, yet still sensual, atmospheric, and deeply romantic tale of fidelity, passion, and obsession."

"While bodice-ripping historical romances are nothing new, Breillat brings her indelible mix of braininess and rawness; mixing verbal and physical sexual exchanges, she aims both high and low where other films settle for a tastefully soft-core middle," writes Kevin B Lee at the House Next Door.

"Breillat pulls away the magnifying glass from this couple in the final moments, reminding us that this insistent greed, not merely for power, but for money, rank, and any number of superficial delights, is an affliction of nearly every party concerned in this drama," writes Jenny Jediny at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

For Slant's Ed Gonzalez, with the exception of a few "great scenes," this is "a rather predictable costume drama about l'amour fou and the difficulty a man has getting a dangerous woman out of his system."

And for Marcy Dermansky, all the "pathos does not ring true; The Last Mistress is nothing but pure, laughable melodrama."

"Argento is excellent as the snarling, one-earring-ed, unstoppable lover (I imagined the second earring had always just been fucked away), though her synthetic and much bared breasts prove highly distracting for a film set in 1835," writes Michelle Orange at the Reeler. "Breillat fans will see Breillat films regardless - as they should - and this one, despite pacing problems and a prolonged third act, has much to offer for the uninitiated as well."

"Mistress is so Gallic, in the way it prioritizes sexual desire, practically elevating it to a lifetime achievement, and assuming its longevity," writes Erica Abeel for Filmmaker.

Bilge Ebiri talks with Breillat for Nerve.

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes.

Update, 10/16: In both The Last Mistress and Go Go Tales, Argento "is at once ultra-feminine and masculine, sexy and 'scary,' in a way that maybe hasn't been seen on screen to this extent since the height of Marlene Dietrich," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "In fact, The Last Mistress feels very much like a Dietrich film, with various themes and plot threads borrowed from The Blue Angel and Morocco. Breillat's method of directing actors is also not totally dissimilar to that of the director who made Dietrich's Hollywood career, Josef Von Sternberg, in that both tend to privlege physical choeography over the development of a character's inner life."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:23 PM

NYFF. Flight of the Red Balloon.

"[N]ever has a film felt so spontaneous, slapdash, and utterly controlled all at once," writes Michael Koresky at Reverse Shot. "It's become a cliché to say that a film floats, that it exists in reverie, yet The Flight of the Red Balloon may come closer to embodying an earthbound heavenly state than any film I've seen. Its casual bliss is buoyed by a regard for beauty so accessible that, in its self-reflexive final scene, even a group of schoolchildren can notice it."

Flight of the Red Balloon

Acquarello, too, admires this "slender and diaphanous, but accessible and finely rendered homage to Albert Lamorisse's beloved postwar short film, The Red Balloon."

Updated through 10/16.

Hou Hsiao-hsien limits "the once-central object to intermittent appearances that keep its narrative and metaphorical significance ambiguous to the brink of frustration," writes Kevin B Lee at the House Next Door. "But the marginalization of the balloon conveys the film's essential structure, in which people are in a perpetual state of movement, convening and dispersing with no overt motivation other than to live as best as they can manage. Likewise, the film itself is a red balloon, held at arm's length, but in plain sight, inviting engagement."

"In honor of the film's elliptical episodes," Daniel Kasman offers "a descriptive analysis or review of Flight of the Red Balloon in similar fragments."

"[T]he notion of cinema as a conduit for remembering—for communing with the past—is ever-present," writes Nick Schager at Slant. "At once commanding and vulnerable, Binoche is a revelation, dominating space in ways ultimately almost as masterful as her director."

"In films like A Time to Live and a Time to Die and A Summer at Grandpa's, the collective sense of responsibility for the children in the film is expressed as a sort of poetic reality of life in the provinces (one Hou himself is said to have experienced personally)," notes Tom Hall. "For me, The Flight of the Red Balloon fits perfectly among Hou's earlier 'coming-of-age' films as being focused on the wonders of childhood while simultaneously exploring the sacrifices and concerns of maternity."

"There's much to be observed, but like in real life, stories are truncated or unfinished, and take detours," writes Marcy Dermansky. "Flight of the Red Balloon is an unusual accomplishment, slow, unassuming, and strangely mesmerizing."

Flight of the Red Balloon Meanwhile, back in Toronto:

  • DVD Verdict's Jesse Ataide notes that "the entire film is composed of elaborate ten-minute takes, which is the all the more impressive considering the bombshell the ever-elegant [Juliette] Binoche revealed in the audience Q&A that concluded the screening, informing a gasping audience that all the dialogue and action was improvised, and what's more, that the first takes were the only takes. After that revelation, the film more than ever seems like a happy cinematic miracle to treasure all the more."

  • "I have to agree with critics who complain that the movie is slight and sometimes aimless," writes J Robert Parks. "But Hou's many fans (I know that Girish and Darren were ecstatic after the screening) will be pleased, and some may even be overwhelmed. I was merely happy to bathe in his images."

  • "A friend asked after the screening if I thought the red balloon was integral to the film - if it was necessary at all - and I realized in answering that, for me, the balloon had acted as a kind of emotional locus: a splash of color and beauty, less symbol than catalyst or accelerant," writes Darren Hughes.

  • "It's a film that I find growing in my memory, simply because its leisurely pleasures need time to sink in," writes Steve at the Film Experience.

Earlier: Michael Guillén; and reviews from Cannes.

Update, 10/16: "Flight of the Red Balloon is buoyant artistry and wondrous cinema," Michael Joshua Rowin at Stop Smiling.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:57 PM | Comments (3)

NYFF. In the City of Sylvia.

In the City of Sylvia "[I]t is this work's simplicity that makes it impossible to summarize; jettisoning plot for an enigmatic, open-ended cinematic tone," writes Daniel Kasman. "To allegorize the man's search is certainly possible, but considering the anonymity of the city, the abstraction of the search, and the incredible, lucid, and devastating interactions he eventually has with the city's women after his ardent, almost too-fixated stalking, it would be a disservice to the simple, sublime artistry of In the City of Sylvia to tie it down to a static, stable meaning that its vision of life, of cinema, and of life as cinema - as searching for recognition, reclaiming memories, furrowing through a tumult of incredible sounds and visions to find that meaning so personal to the viewer - that the film so lucidly rejects."

Updated through 10/15.

"At its most basic, In the City of Sylvia is about the male gaze on the female, and much of its 84 minutes is spent lingering on a seemingly endless sea of beautiful female faces," writes Filmbrain. "It's the type of film that could easily slip into pretentious twaddle, but skillfully manages to avoid doing so."

"What would be a two minute interlude in a Ho'wood dramedy for twentysomethings occupies roughly 80% of this film. Sounds like something to test your patience, but In the City of Sylvia actually tests your sensitivity - emotional, sensual and philosophical," writes Steven Boone at the House Next Door.

"The man with the movie camera, writer-director José Luis Guerin, conjures a spellbinding relationship between background and foreground planes," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant. "Seemingly aimed at voyeurs, the film is built on sensuous interplays between people and objects, reality and representation, implying something profound is at risk here, and the simultaneous thrill and danger of every scene nearly stops the heart."

"As in [José Luis Guerín's] En Construcción, the seemingly incidental, interstitial sequences of passing shadows become a reflection of a resurfaced, dislocated past - a transformed memory that not only grows more ephemeral with the passage of time but also continues to reinsert its own vitality in the present," writes acquarello.

Girish likes the film but wonders "if Unas fotos en la ciudad de Sylvia ('Some Photographs in the City of Sylvia'), the film he made as a sort of 'sketch' or 'study' to precede it, is as good, perhaps even better."

Earlier: Reviews from Toronto.

Update, 10/15: At european-films.net, Boyd van Hoeij talks with director José Luis Guerín and actress Pilar López de Ayala, who plays the woman the dreamer has decided must be Sylvie.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:33 PM

NYFF. Alexandra.

Alexandra "One of my favorite films from this year's festival is Aleksandr Sokurov's Alexandra, a spare, poetic, and understatedly affirming elegy on the spiritual and moral consequences of a corrosive, interminable war," writes acquarello.

"Aleksandr Sokurov merges the focus of his trilogy of films on political power (such as The Sun) with those about the intensely chambered, loving intimacy between family members in Alexandra, a film about the grandmother of the title (Galina Vishnevskaya) traveling to a Russian army base in contemporary Chechnya to visit her grandson Denis (Vasily Shevtsov)," writes Daniel Kasman. "The combination is an uneasy one."

"What is most interesting about his latest film... is how straightforward it seems to be," writes Leo Goldsmith at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "The style of Sokurov's work has a certain variety - from the dour, utter impenetrability of his Oriental Elegy to the lush emotionality of Mother and Son - that may not be apparent to those who know the director solely through his relative blockbuster, Russian Ark. This new film is a far more intimate work, and as in the conjectural biographies in his 'trilogy of power,' Sokurov here strives for a perspective so intimate that it is almost constrictive."

"For better or worse, the film passes along with the fey twilight of a late Manoel de Oliveira film, content to record another chapter in the steady procession into mortality," writes Kevin B Lee at Slant.

"Through a bare-bones plot Sokurov ponders such heavy duty issues as the conscience of Russia and cost of war," writes Erica Abeel for Filmmaker. "And Alexandra is also a love story with a heart as big as the steppes, between, improbably, the titular grandmother and her grandson."

The IFC's Alison Willmore finds the scenes between Alexandra and her grandson "quiet marvels of rueful familial adoration, with Denis, a career soldier, proudly showing off his men and tank while Alexandra gently chides his choices in life."

Earlier: Michael Guillén; and reviews from Cannes.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:28 PM

NYFF. Secret Sunshine.

Secret Sunshine "More of a constant stream than a succession of wildly unpredictable events, Secret Sunshine [site] mimics something of the rhythm and fluctuation of real life - long lulls are punctuated by tiny repetitions or occasional, unforeseen swerves - such that even a cursory description of the film launches one right back into the gentle but insistent torrent of its narrative." Leo Goldsmith at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

"Secret Sunshine ends on a note at once ambiguous and hopeful," writes Dennis Lim in a piece or the New York Times in which he talks with director Lee Chang-dong about the role of Christianity in the film, whose "limpid, humble approach to suffering and grace suggests something like Breaking the Waves stripped of mysticism, or a rationalist version of The Pilgrim's Progress."

Updated through 10/15.

"Although religious faith only plays a part in Lee Chang-dong's new film—his first after a tenure as South Korean Minister of Culture after making 2002's excellent Oasis - one has to be impressed by the way he and actress Jeon Do-yeon approach one of the hardest possible things to express in cinema - conversion," writes Daniel Kasman. "They do it not through some remarkable conceit or technical expression, but rather they provide perhaps the most vital of all interpretive aspects - context."

"Teeming with incident, full of emotions, roiling with anger, Secret Sunshine is nevertheless something like a blank canvas," writes Michael Koresky at Reverse Shot. "Director Lee Chang-dong's protracted yet endlessly involving tale of grief and regeneration is a classically tailored assemblage of small, clipped moments, prizing human behavior but also acknowledging it as remote and difficult to define."

"I loved this movie," writes Tom Hall in a quick review he warns is full of spoilers. "Shin-ae is one of the most difficult characters in this year's festival because of the singularity of her emotions, but at the same time, the monotony of grief and its consequences may never have been more precisely examined."

"Secret Sunshine belongs to actress Jeon Do-yeon, who gives a wonderfully evocative performance that deserves to be seen and celebrated as widely as possible," writes Jürgen Fauth.

Earlier: Reviews and previews from Toronto and NYFF, and the first round of reviews from Cannes.

Update, 10/15: "[T]he best thing about Secret Sunshine is that it found the right director," writes Tim Wong in a review for the Lumière Reader that contains what some might consider a spoiler. "As Korean filmmakers persist with high-pitched, bloodthirsty stylisations of retribution, the key is not to overlook the quieter touchstones that emerge from their national cinema every year."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:58 PM

NYFF. Married Life.

Married Life "Married Life is a hermetic, sardonic, downright chilly production, vaguely in debt to the surface sparkle of Douglas Sirk's postwar melodramas but lacking even an ounce of their compassion," writes Akiva Gottlieb at Slant.

Ira Sachs "just doesn't have much to say about marriage other than that it's complex, and often fraught with disappointment, deception and conflicting urges, none of which comes across as particularly enlightening to anyone who's ever been in a relationship (or seen a movie about one)," writes Nick Schager.

"[W]hat is most surprising in this day and age of our country's non-stop hypocritical, sanctimonious ramblings about the 'sanctity of marriage' is how the film balances on the knife's edge between kitschy period pastiche and heartfelt melodrama," writes Tom Hall.

"The film doesn't quite come together but it's better, and certainly less cynical, than generally dismissive notices in the New York Times and Variety might suggest," writes Robert Cashill. "And sartorially it does for 1949 what Mad Men does for 1960; we need to start wearing good hats again."

"Married Life isn't set in actual period America, it's set in movie period America," writes Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog. It "emerges not as another winking exercise in genre stylings but as a believable and darkly funny account of a time in the lives of four people."

Online listening tip. Keith Uhlich talks with Sachs for the House Next Door.

Earlier: Reviews and previews from Toronto and NYFF.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:43 PM

NYFF. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly "With their forthrightly idiosyncratic central voices and struggling-artist self-consciousness, [Julian] Schnabel's films should rightfully be overly precious, or for the filmmaker, furtively self-aggrandizing - the scenester conveying artistic kinship with diseased or disabled poets, painters and writers," suggests Michael Koresky at Reverse Shot. "Yet as he did with the elegantly designed and finely humane Before Night Falls, Schnabel again manages to overcome such kneejerk responses with [The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; site], which looks at the world and its very self with genuine awe."

Schnabel specializes in "something like a Hollywood blockbuster version of a European art film," writes Leo Goldsmith at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "In biographing Jean-Michel Basquiat, Reinaldo Arenas, and now Jean-Dominique Bauby, Schnabel combines a style of excess and personal vision with excellent 'name' talent and high production values. It is a strange hybrid, but an often beautiful one, with a visual sensibility that virtually bleeds off the screen, even as it sometimes occasionally seems to distract from the stories themselves."

Online viewing tip. IFC's got video from the press conference.

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes and Toronto.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:32 PM

NYFF. The Orphanage.

El Orfanato "It's a horror movie for the Merchant Ivory set: tasteful, restrained and technically excellent," writes Grady Hendrix at Twitch. "The Orphanage [site] is a movie made by and for grown-ups and it's so good, so rich, and so accomplished that it makes growing up look cool."

"There may not be Spanish Fascists or political allegories in The Orphanage, but as a sophisticated horror movie, the film succeeds beautifully," writes Jürgen Fauth, referring, of course, to the fact that the film is "produced and 'presented' by Guillermo Del Toro."

Updated through 10/15.

For Tom Hall, it "provides cheap thrills and breaks no new ground while going bump in the night.... It is, however, one of the most grim portrayals of maternal anxiety at the festival."

"Sad to report, it's well-executed schlock with delusions of grandeur," writes Vadim Rizov for the Reeler. "I haven't been this scared in a theater in recent memory, but file it alongside similarly retarded but effective works like The Ring and The Others."

"At a time when most entries in the horror genre strive to find the most gruesome, gratuitous ways to violate flesh, The Orphanage returns to the triptych of shame, psychoanalysis, and suspense so effective in horror classics like Psycho and Carrie," writes Emily Condon at Reverse Shot.

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes and Toronto.

Update, 10/15: The Orphanage has seen "the second-best opening ever" in Spain, reports John Hopewell for Variety.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:04 PM

NYFF. The Romance of Astrée and Céladon.

The Romance of Astrée and Céladon "Although Eric Rohmer's fresh, unadorned style rarely sits heavily on his films, The Romance of Astrée and Céladon, his adaptation of 17th century writer Honoré d'Urfé's 5th century fable of affronted love, not only features an usual absence of intellectual banter, but is more importantly the lightest, silliest the director has been in ages," writes Daniel Kasman. "These are not pejorative descriptions—the film's wholesome delight in d'Urfé's modest whimsy amongst the 5th century Gauls of druids, nymphs and many amorous declarations of assured sincerity and flighty infidelity, Rohmer's sweet, unexpected eroticism, and the film's gentle spirit simply make a work that is light, lovely, and strange."

At Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Leo Goldsmith finds the resolution of the film its "most surprising (and for Rohmer, innovative) element: a quite decisively and unreservedly happy ending. It is both tidy and witty in a manner reminiscent of Shakespeare's comedies, and in comparison to the searching, equivocal, ever-questioning endings of Rohmer's other films, it has a sense of finality that seems unusual. It is, for Astrea and Celadon, a new beginning, attended by all of the hope and searching and uncertainty of love that we expect from Rohmer, but as the ending of a film and a career, it is final all the same."

Earlier: Reviews Venice and Toronto.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:52 PM

Shorts, 10/14.

Mary Pickford and Frances Marion Glenn Kenny comments on the "Chicks behind the flicks" roundtable held at Salon in the wake of the brouhaha sparked by Nikki Finke's reporting that Warner Bros has issued a decree: "We are no longer doing movies with women in the lead." Sitting round the table are producer Lynda Obst (moderating), screenwriter and director Nora Ephron, writer and producer Laura Ziskin, screenwriter and director Callie Khouri, writer and director Patty Jenkins, producer Cathy Konrad, writer, director and producer Kimberly Peirce, writer and producer Andrea Berloff, writer and producer Margaret Nagle and Universal president Donna Langley:

Naturally, the words "meaning" and "art" don't occur here with nearly the frequency as do the words "career" and "ambition." Which is why none of these specimens, who we are to believe are so very passionate, ever feel compelled to pack up the high-end lifestyle aspirations and go make films the way, say, Kelly Reichardt does. And is also why if Catherine Breillat or Claire Denis or Chantal Akerman or Liv Ullmann had been in the room with these bozos, they would have laughed in their faces.

FW Murnau's long lost 4 Devils may - or may not - have turned up. DK Holm has details at the Vancouver Voice.

In the Independent, Geoffrey Macnab, who'll be having a book on Ingmar Bergman coming out next year, sorts through the director's unpublished letters and finds that, particularly in the 60s, Hollywood came courting quite often and earnestly.

"In the 30 years since Abigail's Party was first shown on television, the drama has taken on a life of its own," writes Amy Raphael. "Richard Eyre, the film and theatre director who is a contemporary of Leigh's, says it has reached classic status. 'Abigail's Party has become adjectival. You can describe an event as being "Abigail's Party." Which, of course, means that Mike [Leigh]'s work has acquired the status of a playwright such as Pinter.'"

Also in the Observer:

Michael Caine

  • Michael Caine and William Orbit do lunch and talk music.

  • Viv Groskop talks with the trio behind Once. Director John Carney's turned down all sorts of offers to go Hollywood: "Instead he is filming Zonad, a 'very silly comedy', outside Dublin with his brother Kieran. It is a Mel Brooks spoof about a prison escapee who persuades an entire Irish village that he is a visitor from outer space. This seems strangely apt: Carney is a Catweazle type with a reddish, wispy beard and an unwashed smell."

  • Mark Kermode recommends Tell No One, an "excellent French generic hybrid which deftly cross-pollinates fanciful murder-mystery thrills with intensely believable emotional spills."

"The chief criticism of the new experimental documentary Kurt Cobain: About a Son, advanced by Manohla Dargis in the New York Times and furthered by clever bloggers everywhere, is that were he alive, Kurt Cobain would hate it," writes Sean Nelson in the Stranger. "This projection isn't relevant - since he's not alive - nor particularly damning, because, frankly, who cares?... This is probably the ultimate reason that About a Son is the only way to do a film about Kurt Cobain, who was, for all important reasons, the last rock star: There's no thesis, no exegesis, no attempts to put him in a frame he didn't choose. It's just: Here he is, his words, his version - unfiltered, unmitigated, unmagnified even by his own blinding beauty."

Boyd van Hoeij at european-films.net:

A Perfect Match

  • "After exploring the drab, working-class environment of a Walloon industrial town in his feature debut Miss Montigny, Belgian director Miel Van Hoogenbemt looks at the brighter side of life in his second feature Man zkt vrouw (A Perfect Match), a Dutch-language treat that suggests that life in Flanders is both wackier and more loveable than in Wallonia - at least, based on these two films."

  • Also: "The extreme highs and lows of a Finnish child growing up in 1980s Sweden are explored with both spunk and compassion in Nanna Huolman's Kid Svensk (That Special Summer)."

  • And: Elle s'appelle Sabine (Her Name is Sabine) is actress Sandrine Bonnaire's documentary focussing on her autistic younger sister: "The rage of the director can be felt in each frame and clearly shapes the pamphlet-like narrative, though the film is still a compelling examination of autism and the way the outside world tries - and, more often, fails - to deal with it."

"Even before it hit theaters, Elite Squad [Tropa de Elite] has already on its way to becoming one of Brazil's biggest movies. A pirated DVD version was seen by nearly 11.5 million people," reports Alexei Barrionuevo. "Residents of the Vila Cruzeiro slum here, one of the more violent in Rio, say they have been under siege for the past month from the black-clad, beret-wearing State Police Special Operations Battalion, better known as BOPE by Brazilians. Battalion members ride in on heavy armored vehicles bearing the force's symbol, a skull and crossed pistols, or on foot, moving with frightening, catlike speed and efficiency."

Also in the New York Times:

  • There are still a couple of weeks to go before Jimmy Carter Man From Plains, Jonathan Demme's record of the Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid book tour hits theaters, but Carter himself is already on tour - promoting the next book, Beyond the White House: Waging Peace, Fighting Disease and Building Hope. Patricia Cohen reports.

  • "Landlocked between the world's two most populous countries — India and China — Bhutan has aggressively preserved its cultural identity by insulating itself. Three decades ago the fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, coined the phrase Gross National Happiness, which sought to measure prosperity through well being rather than consumption." And now, following the introduction of television in 1999 and the Internet shortly thereafter, the country's got a modest but growing film industry, too. A report from Anupama Chopra.

Bhool Bhulaiyaa
  • Stephen Holden on Bhool Bhulaiya, "a lavish comic epic about psychiatry, mythology and spiritualism." Also: "Canvas, Joseph Greco's drama about schizophrenia, is obviously a labor of love."

  • "Directed and written by Peter Brosens, an anthropologist and documentarian, and Jessica Woodworth, a former journalist, Khadak is a trippy spectacle," writes Matt Zoller Seitz. "It boldly tries to find visuals to describe complex metaphysical and political concepts. But the results often suggest aestheticized eye candy, along the lines of Ken Russell's Altered States or Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi and its sequels." Related: indieWIRE interviews Woodworth. Also, King Corn "is a gentle, meandering entry in the Truth-Seeking Comic Hero genre, as practiced by Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock." Related: At the Reeler, Cathy Erway talks with the film's makers.

  • Celia McGee offers a sneak peek at How to Lose Friends & Alienate People, a comedy starring Simon Pegg based on Toby Young's rambunctious days at Vanity Fair.

  • Why Did I Get Married? is "a buppie ensemble piece featuring [Tyler] Perry at his most restrained and mainstream-accessible," writes Jeannette Catsoulis. "More than anything, a Tyler Perry movie is an interactive experience... At the screening I attended, it was often difficult to hear the dialogue between bouts of enthusiastic applause and shouts of 'You go, girl!' This reflected pleasure is crucial to understanding Mr Perry's appeal; it's also extremely seductive. If you can make it through a viewing without at least one outburst of 'Right on!,' then you're a better woman than I am." Also, Naked Boys Singing!: "Alternately campy and coy, smirky and serious, the 16 original songs (newly arranged by Troy Christian) celebrate the male anatomy - and the gay lifestyle - with playful wit and unabashed explicitness." More on both movies at Slant from, respectively, Ed Gonzalez and Paul Schrodt.

  • "A fascinating blend of musical, melodrama and feminist fairy tale, Laaga Chunari Mein Daag shows Bollywood's moral universe in transition," writes Rachel Saltz. More from Abhishek Bandekar at Hollywood Bitchslap.

  • Stephen Colbert hints at a potential run for the White House.

  • "[A]n entertainment industry that was supposed to be fretting over next-wave technology finds itself on the verge of a shutdown over issues that have mostly been off the bargaining table since home video came on clunky cassettes and the movie mogul Lew Wasserman was brokering labor deals." Michael Cieply explains.

"More than an exposition on abortion, Lake of Fire feels like seminal document in the American culture wars," writes Carina Chocano. Also in the Los Angeles Times: "There is really no anticipating the way Summer '04's complex relationships will play out," writes Kenneth Turan. "Director [Stefan] Krohmer creates a fine sense of erotic tension, and actress [Martina] Gedeck provides more than enough emotional resonance. This is one tricky film, but it stays with you nevertheless."

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir talks with Valerie Harper about Golda's Balcony - and of course, the character she'll always be associated with.

At the Reeler the other day, ST VanAirsdale: "The best read of the day is probably over at the New York Press, where Eric Kohn cornered David Cronenberg into a candid exchange about the nature of selling out... and his conception of Jewishness - which evidently includes distance from Israel and a fondness for Jewish Eskimos." Speaking of Cronenberg, Time Out's Dave Calhoun introduces a list: "When it was first announced in August that Eastern Promises would open the London Film Festival, Cronenberg declared that London is the 'home of so many of my most potent film influences.' With that in mind, we asked him to share a few of those influences with us."

"Ask anyone in the street to name five American black actors and they can do it; but ask them to name five British counterparts and they will be stuck," writes David Harewood. "That is not because the talent does not exist, but because we just don't get that exposure here." Also in the Guardian, Harriet Lane interviews Michelle Pfeiffer.

Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay points to a healthy laugh at the Onion, "Independent Film Made By Dependent 27-Year-Old," noting, "Some of the funnier (and more painful) bits occur later in the piece."

Steve Appleford talks with John Waters for the LA CityBeat.

Online viewing tip. Mel Blanc with David Letterman in 1981 at Drawn!

Posted by dwhudson at 11:56 AM

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), 10/14.

Carnival of Souls "David Lynch and George A Romero both cite Carnival of Souls as an influence on their work, but Carnival of Souls isn't just influential; it's worth seeing on its own as a very different kind of horror film, one that works as a dream-like slow poison as opposed to the short sharp shocks of modern horror films," writes James Rocchi. Also at Cinematical, two lists: Patrick Walsh's "Non-Horror Movies that Scared the Crap Out of Me as a Kid" and Peter Martin's "Best Asian Horror Films That Haven't Been Remade."

"A straw poll of the Times office has revealed the cinema frighteners that still haunt us and thirteen of the most distressing are listed below." Michael Moran introduces a list laced with comments and clips.

And another list: Piper's "Ten Dumbest Monsters," via Jeffrey Hill at the House Next Door.

Andrea Bianchi's The Nights of Terror "cares for nothing but zombie mayhem, and subsequently pushes the cynical, eternal apocalypse-style of zombie film to its endurable limits," writes Thomas Scalzo.

Also at Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Eva Holland on Death Becomes Her: "I suppose there is some decent commentary about aging, death, and the pursuit of physical perfection in this movie, as well as some clever parodying of aspects of the classic horror film. But for my part, it is hard to notice those good bits when Meryl Streep has her head on backwards and Goldie Hawn has a volleyball-sized hole in her stomach."

And Jenny Jediny on Alice, Sweet Alice, "a cut up version of far more famous scary flicks, but cheap and dirty."

I Walked With a Zombie

For Rob Humanick, Val Lewton's I Walked With a Zombie is "a miniature masterpiece of contorted human emotions and uneasy personal broodings emphasized by a gothic melange of sight and sound," while Lucio Fulci's Zombie 2's "abandonment of generally accepted cinematic 'necessities' is in fact the key to it's semi-brilliant indulgences into monstrous spectacle."

Phil Morehart's latest clips at Facets Features: Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me, Your Teeth Are in My Neck and Return of the Living Dead. Also: "Chicago horror fans, don't forget: The Music Box Massacre returns to town this weekend. As usual, the movies run 24-hours straight, along with music, DJs, contests and all that freaky stuff. There are some gems in the bunch this year, including The Cat and the Canary, Peeping Tom, Equinox, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Deathdream, Freaks, The Shining, Videodrome, The Monster Squad, and more."

Brian Elza's got a clip, too, from Don't Look Now.

Meanwhile, Andrew Bemis carries on posting scary trailers.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:30 AM

Other fests, other events, 10/14.

Anna Wiazemsky and Jean-Pierre Léaud in La Chinoise "In recognition of their outstanding dedication to cinema, Jean-Luc Godard and Michael Ballhaus will receive honorary awards at the 20th European Film Awards on 1 December in Berlin."

Anne Wiazemsky's Jeune Fille, recalling her time with Robert Bresson during the making of Au Hasard Blathasar, was published at the beginning of the year and evidently well-received in France. On the occasion of the Bresson retrospective running at BFI Southbank through Wednesday, Hannah Westley revisits the book and notes, too, her relationships with Pasolini and Godard.

"Early Wednesday evening, I stopped by NYU's La Maison Française to take in a moderated conversation between my favorite filmmaker, Arnaud Desplechin, and Cahiers du cinéma editor-in-chief Jean-Michel Frodon about issues surrounding 'globalization in cinema and its effects on "French" film.'" Tom Hall's got notes and video. And Daniel Kasman reviews the film: "A small but far from diminutive gift comes from Arnaud Desplechin between fictional features Kings and Queen (2004) and the upcoming Un conte de Noël, a documentary (the director's first) set while the family moves out of one of several of the Desplechin family homes in the town of Roubaix."

Portland Lesbian & Gay Film Festival The Oregonian's got a sprawling Portland Lesbian & Gay Film Festival preview package. Through October 21.

"The Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival is slumming this year," writes Annie Wagner in the Stranger. "Perhaps its producers at Three Dollar Bill Cinema are nervous about the specter of elitism after programming a run of high-minded 50s melodramas this spring (wasn't Tea and Sympathy fantastic?). Perhaps they actually think TV is interesting. Whatever the case, and in the absence of a generally acknowledged cultural moment in gay TV, this year's Lesbian and Gay Film Festival is dedicated to television." Related: "[T]he bears presented in Bears come across as a pretty nice, caring bunch of guys," writes E Steven Fried at the Siffblog.

Stephanie Fischette files a first dispatch from Woodstock at Filmmaker. Update: IndieWIRE's got the award-winners.

The American-Statesman's Chris Garcia is blogging from the Austin Film Festival: 1 and 2.

At the Evening Class, "Frako Loden offers up some off-the-hip commentary on three documentaries she caught at this year's Mill Valley Film Festival," which'll be wrapping today.

Animated Painting "Showcasing one the hottest trends in contemporary art, Animated Painting features 25 cinematic works by 14 international contemporary artists who adapt traditional painting and drawing methods to the concepts and technologies of animation." Today through January 13 at the San Diego Museum of Art. Trailer.

"Recognising a spirituality in the work of Sam Taylor-Wood, [curator Meryl] Doney has chosen three of the artist's films for this three-week show at Wallspace, with each being shown on a continuous loop in successive weeks," writes Constance Wyndham in the Financial Times.

Art Machines / Machine Art: At the Shirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt through January 27.

The Observer's Jason Solomons has tips on what to catch at the London Film Festival, opening Wednesday and running through November 1.

The 11th Marc Davis Celebration of Animation "casts its spotlight on five Academy Award-nominated female animators from Canada: Janet Perlman, Caroline Leaf, the duo of Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis and Torill Kove, the last of whom picked up the animated short film Oscar this year for her enchanting The Danish Poet," writes Susan King in the Los Angeles Times. On Wednesday, "The women's Oscar-nominated work will be screened, and critic Charles Solomon will moderate a panel discussion among them that will also celebrate the contributions of the National Film Board of Canada, for which all have worked."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:02 AM

Wrapped. Pusan, Sitges, Vancouver.

Sitges 07 The 40th Sitges Film Festival has wrapped and Blake Ethridge has the award-winners at Twitch, where he also talks with Frontier(s) director Xavier Gens and lead actress Karina Testa.

Also, The Visitor notes that "Liew Seng Tat's feature debut, the digital family dramedy, Flower in the Pocket, picked up the New Currents Award at the Pusan International Film Festival." It shares the award with Guang Hao Jin's Life Track and Aditya Assarat's Wonderful Town.

Related: Lee Hyo-won wraps the festival for the Korea Times and Doug Jones sends in a dispatch for indieWIRE.

The Vancouver International Film Festival's also wrapped; click on its name to see a variety of awards. Susan Gerhard's filed a recent dispatch at indieWIRE and Rob Nelson's got an amusing one, too, at Filmmaker.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:52 AM

Terror's Advocate.

Terror's Advocate For the AO Scott, Terror's Advocate "is one of the most engaging, morally unsettling political thrillers in quite some time, with the extra advantage of being true."

Also in the New York Times, Alan Riding meets the documentary's subject, Jacques Vergès: "'I felt that if the film is about me, I will appear in a good part of it,' he said, a smile playing on his lips. 'People will see that I don't have two horns, a tail and forked tongue. What I say will be of my choosing. I will be judged by what I say, either to criticize me or agree with me, but not through rumors and mysteries. So I accepted. And, the film being as it is, I think I was right.'... Still, one of the strengths of Terror's Advocate, which won plaudits at the Cannes Film Festival in May and was well received in France this summer, is that it goes beyond Mr Vergès to offer a fascinating account of terrorism as a political weapon since Algeria began its fight for independence from France in the 1950s."

"Imagine the notorious lawyer at the center of a vast and intricate set of lines connecting Algerian freedom fighters to the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine to Pol Pot to Germany's Red Army Faction to Carlos 'The Jackal,' and you'll have some idea of the ambitious, yet confused diagram that is Barbet Schroeder's latest documentary," writes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE.

"Terror's Advocate is well-paced, and has the kind of professional sheen - right down to a dramatic soundtrack - that a veteran like Schroeder knows how to provide," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "There's scarcely a necessary interview that Schroeder doesn't get, and he cuts them together with file footage and newspaper headlines to make the whole movie play like an interactive magazine article. But what's missing is any kind of definitive judgment on what Vergès has done and why."

But for Kenneth Turan, "It is the gift of Terror's Advocate... to simply present Vergès as is, to say 'here is the man' and let things speak for themselves. Do they ever." Also in the Los Angeles Times, David Ehrenstein has a good long talk with Schroeder.

"The very title of Terror's Advocate gestures toward contemporary political relevance, but it's likely to have a bigger impact on European spectators than Americans," writes Steve Erickson at Gay City News. "The American political spectrum has shifted so far to the right that a cautionary tale about the dangers of radical chic doesn't mean as much here."

Earlier: David D'Arcy's talk with Schroeder.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:05 AM

October 13, 2007

Weekend books.

Otto Preminger "Otto Preminger was not what you'd call a mild man," writes Liz Brown, reviewing Foster Hirsch's Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King for the Los Angeles Times. "Elaine Barrymore remembers the forbidding, bald Preminger as 'so Germanic that I felt he was more a nation than a human being.'... This comprehensive biography of the redoubtable impresario is the first since Preminger's ghostwritten account in 1977."

The exhibition Dalí: Painting & Film is on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art from Sunday through January 6; Richard Schickel reviews the catalog:

Updated through 10/15.

Judging by this volume, the exhibit is mostly an excuse to gather a large number of Dalí's works and perhaps encourage an upward reevaluation of his reputation, in decline for decades, in part because of his clownish, indefatigable self-promotion. The catalog contains many drawings and paintings that Dalí made for the numerous, mostly failed attempts to insinuate himself into the commercial movie world after 1930, but most of the work it reproduces are paintings and other art objects that he either created coincidentally with his film projects or that take up themes and symbols he proposed to use in aborted movie work. Dalí & Film thus becomes a curious enterprise - one is tempted to call it a celebration of nothingness. Or, if not that, an excuse to contemplate frustration and failure on a grand scale.

"[M]y novel - about a young Bangladeshi woman who exchanges her village home for a flat in the East End of London - has had a far from easy ride in its journey from page to screen.... There were promises of large demonstrations, book burnings and thinly veiled threats of violence." None of which came about. Brick Lane author Monica Ali surveys the damage left by the media looking for a controversy that never was.

The Guardian's Review this week features another writer whose book has just been adapted for the screen. But Neil Gaiman backs way up, offering a brief history of fairy tales before getting to this: "I started writing Stardust in 1994, but mentally timeslipped about 70 years to do it."

Polanski Then there's Chris Petit's review of Christopher Sandford's Polanski: "Another reading might have made more of the combination of Jewish chutzpah and Polish melancholy; or the fractured, jet-trash world of European night clubs and international coproduction; or the rivalry with Godard, not just for accepting or refusing to work for Hollywood." Good stuff; the review, that is.

At Flickhead, Steve Fiorilla reviews Joseph Jacoby's Boy on a String: From Cast-off Kid to Filmmaker Through the Magic of Dreams: "Although the Museum of Modern Art held a retrospective of his work in 2006, Jacoby has led a shadowy, quiet career. That most of it’s been spent educating, enlightening and entertaining children reveals a man sensitive to the needs of the human spirit."

"It's marathon season in New York, and I'm delighted to announce that a panel of limber readers... have agreed to join me in going the distance with Tolstoy's War and Peace, all 1200-plus pages in the new translation, by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, which we'll be reading and discussing during the next four weeks," announces Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus. "Why War and Peace? Well, it's one of the greatest novels ever written–the very greatest, some would say. It is, moreover, almost eerie in its timeliness, with its sweeping detailed narrative of military invasion and occupation (by France of Russia in 1812) set against political and social intrigue in Moscow and St Petersburg, as experienced by aristocratic families, some of them in decline."

Update, 10/15: Malcolm Jones has a terrific piece in the new Newsweek on the new translation of War and Peace.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:46 PM

A list of lists.

Ten Bad Dates with De Niro Richard T Kelly's Ten Bad Dates with De Niro: A Book of Alternative Movie Lists has a site that's barely a month old but already hopping. The real fun seems to be in the book itself, though, and it comes out on Thursday. To drum up interest, the Guardian's running quite a few sample lists:

  • Steven Soderbergh: "Let me just say that I'm sick of people digging up obscure masterpieces designed to make me feel like a philistine; or, worse, arguing that an acknowledged masterpiece isn't, in fact, a masterpiece at all, but the beneficiary of some collective cultural hypnosis. I'm going in the opposite direction: I'm going to call attention to a classic that, in my opinion, is even better than we all think it is." Go take a look.

  • DBC Pierre: "Five films to avoid on medication."

  • Mike Figgis: "Five films with great sex - or at least interesting sensuality."

  • Mavis Cheek: "Five embarrassingly sentimental film scores to make the spine tingle."

  • David Hare: "Five great films that defy genre."

  • Andrew O'Hagan: "Five of the baddest hair days on film."

  • Ryan Gilbey: "Five great drag acts."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:33 PM | Comments (2)

October 12, 2007

NYFF podcast. The Darjeeling Limited.

This last podcast from the New York Film Festival brings us full circle. Andrew Grant and Aaron Hillis talk with Armond White of the New York Press about the film that opened the festival, Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited (site). Also discussed: The Views from the Avant-Garde sidebar. To download or listen, click here.

The Darjeeling Limited

Earlier: NYFF previews and reviews and the first round of reactions from Venice.

Entries on a slew of other films that have screened at the festival will be spilling out over the weekend.

Updated through 10/14.

Updates, 10/13: "[I]t's really just a mess," writes Nick Pinkerton at Stop Smiling. "But Anderson deserves a discriminating moviegoer's forbearance. If you're the sort of person who's unafraid to use the phrase 'film art' in mixed company, you should be invested in what he's doing: situating himself with such a respectful, knowing relationship to world film history, announcing his own desire to add to it - who else is privileged to skip the posterity waiting-list at Criterion? - he gives hope, in an age of enervated expectation, that that history isn't over just yet, and that something is happening around him.... Being faintly disappointed by a new Wes Anderson film - films whose primary form of emotional address, after all, is faint disappointment - remains one of the few consistent pleasures of American moviegoing."

"So does it work?" asks Brandon Harris. "For the most part, yes.... Mr Anderson once again tries to have his cake and eat to, and I for one, loved the frosting."

"By now, you know exactly what to expect, which is both good and bad," writes the Oregonian's Shawn Levy.

Update, 10/14: "As a movie, The Darjeeling Limited... is a grating, crushing failure," writes Christopher Kelly in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "But it also features the best and bravest acting [Owen] Wilson has ever done - a performance that might just point the way forward for this troubled soul, both professionally and personally." Via Movie City News.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:16 PM | Comments (7)

The Counterfeiters in the UK.

Die Fälscher To hear Jonathan Freedland tell it, you'd think German cinema has only just now begun to deal with Nazism, WWII and the Holocaust. If "Downfall and The Counterfeiters suggest a watershed has been reached," we'll have to write a few names out of history, including, just for starters, Fassbinder and Syberberg, Wolfgang Staudte and Frank Beyer.

Besides, The Counterfeiters is Austria's entry in the Oscar race, not Germany's. Meantime, the Guardian's review: "Stefan Ruzowitzky's tale is fascinating because the material is so rich in dramatic potential, lifting the lid on a clandestine scheme in which a disparate group of concentration-camp inmates were corralled into propping up the German war effort," writes Xan Brooks. "And it is flawed because the moral implications of this scheme are so charged and turbulent that they defy neat resolution. If the film's inhabitants are walking a tightrope, it occasionally seems that that its writer-director is too."

In the Independent, Anthony Quinn gives it four out of five stars and writes, "This parable of fakery and compromise asks the most difficult question: how much would you be willing to sacrifice in the interest of your own survival? And how grateful do you feel that you will probably never have to answer it?"

It "plays like the first ever Holocaust heist movie," writes the Telegraph's Tim Robey. "It would be a stronger film still if survivor guilt took hold as its subject: a touch more of the chilling Faustian bargain from István Szabó's Mephisto (1981) might have helped. But it is a very thoughtful and imaginative effort all the same."

"When we meet the central character, Salomon Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics), it doesn't seem that he's the kind of man who might be plagued by a bad conscience," writes Wendy Ide in the London Times. "Salomon's character arc is the spine of the film; it's a testament to Markovics's impressive performance that this very flawed man is so fascinating."

"It's another example of the new German cinema reaching the world outside with honor," writes Derek Malcolm in the Evening Standard. "Not perhaps as good as The Lives of Others but as horrifyingly watchable."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:20 PM

Nobel. Al Gore.

Al Gore "The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded today to Al Gore, the former vice president, and to the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for its work to alert the world to the threat of global warming." In the New York Times, Walter Gibbs has the story, while Jim Rutenberg has the immediate commentary, calling the Prize "the latest twist in a remarkable decade of soaring highs and painful lows... Even before Mr Gore won an Emmy for his so-called 'user generated' cable television network, Current, or an Oscar for his film on climate change, An Inconvenient Truth, he was growing in stature for another reason: his early opposition to the Iraq war."

Updated through 10/13.

The Guardian has video on a page riddled with related linkage. Earlier in the day, Mark Lynas, author of Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, commented in the paper on the recent decision "by a high court judge in a case about a government plan to show [An Inconvenient Truth] in schools. He said the film contained nine scientific errors - but still ruled that pupils could see it.... But the case serves to illustrate how science and politics collide on climate change: so long as the political debate demands absolute scientific certainty as a prelude to serious action, a tiny seed of doubt on any issue - a single lake or mountain among 10,000 - can be used by the denial lobby to cast doubt on the entire global warming thesis, and so undermine public understanding."

Update: "One of the best things for Al Gore about winning the Nobel Peace Prize is that the sound bites are finally all on his side," writes John Dickerson at Slate. "For decades the two-term vice president has been championing environmental causes to public scorn and derision. Now he's been rewarded with one of the most coveted prizes on the planet.... Gore will have to face the toughest test of political instinct.... What makes Gore such a powerful force in Democratic politics is that he is also emblematic of an entire set of arguments. For many, his rise is a natural rebuke of the current president, but it's also become a rebuke of the perverted political process in which style is rewarded over substance. This is an argument that Gore expands on and applies to policy in his recent book The Assault on Reason." Still, he very well may not run, despite the likes of Christopher Hitchens arguing a couple of weeks ago that he would have to if he scored this Prize. Dickerson: "He is, by all accounts, happy. He's got a great life full of comfort and a stack of opportunities to do good while enjoying the comforts of fame and international renown. 'He is now on a different path,' his former top strategist Carter Eskew is fond of saying."

Via Bookforum, "the Snopes.com search of Al Gore urban legends."

"Al Gore has arrived at the point that most politicians can only imagine in their wildest dreams," blogs John Nichols for the Nation. "The entire world is asking him to be not merely a candidate but an ecological - not to mention, ideological - savior. And there is simply no question that he is viable. In fact, he is more viable than he has ever been. Can Gore resist? Probably. Should he resist? Probably not."

Updates, 10/13: "One can generate a lot of heartburn thinking about all of the things that would be better about this country and the world if the Supreme Court had done the right thing and ruled for Al Gore instead of George W Bush in 2000," sighs the New York Times. 'Strue, though. "What the citation didn't mention but needs to be said is that it shouldn't have to be left to a private citizen - even one so well known as Mr Gore - or a panel of scientists to raise that alarm or prove what is now clearly an undeniable link or champion solutions to a problem that endangers the entire planet. That should be, and must be the job of governments. And governments - above all the Bush administration - have failed miserably."

Also in the NYT, Bob Herbert: "The first thing media types wanted to know was whether this would prompt Mr Gore to elbow his way into the presidential campaign. That's like asking someone who's recovered from a heart attack if he plans to resume smoking.... Al Gore is a serious man confronted by a political system that is not open to a serious exploration of important, complex issues. He knows it. 'What politics has become,' he said, with a laugh and a tinge of regret, 'requires a level of tolerance for triviality and artifice and nonsense that I have found in short supply.'"

"There was a widespread view in liberal circles on both sides of the Atlantic in early 2000 that Gore was just a bore," writes Martin Kettle in the Guardian. "Those who belittled Gore then are rooting for him now. But to build Gore up in 2008 is as self-indulgent as it was to knock him down in 2000."

Blogging for the Atlantic, James Fallows draws on history to make a point about how Gore may be viewed in the future.

"[W]hen news came Friday that Hollywood's favorite environmentalist, former Vice President Al Gore, had won the world's most prestigious prize, members of the entertainment industry not only felt that the honor had been bestowed on one of their own, they also shared in celebrating his victory." No, really. Tina Daunt and John Horn report in the Los Angeles Times.

Susan Gerhard writes up a shortlist of environmental filmmakers SF360 has profiled.

Online listening tip. Gore on Fresh Air in May 2006.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:06 AM | Comments (7)

Close-Up Blog-a-Thon.

Dr Mabuse With nearly a dozen entries already, the Close-Up Blog-a-Thon is off and running at the House Next Door. It's on through October 21, so there's time to join in even if you're only hearing about it now.

As Matt Zoller Seitz outlined in his announcement last month, the parameters here are pretty loose and all-embracing.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:42 AM

October 11, 2007

Shorts, 10/11.

LA Weekly "Years go by, and my career takes off. Harlan Ellison becomes a fan of a film I wrote, A History of Violence, and invites me to write with him, adapting his short story 'The Discarded' for the ABC series Masters of Science Fiction. In the process, we become spectacular friends." But that's only one small part of the incredible story Josh Olson has to tell.

Also in the LA Weekly, Scott Foundas recommends Heinz Emigholz's Schindler's Houses as a film to set alongside Thom Andersen's Los Angeles Plays Itself, "Michael Mann's Heat and Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep on the short list of essential movies about our city's physical and social geography." He also talks with Tony Kaye about Lake of Fire and Chuck Wilson profiles Paul Schneider.

"It's always vital to listen to filmmakers, but we shouldn't limit our analysis to what they highlight," argues David Bordwell in an entry that calls on examples ranging from DW Griffith and Orson Welles to Paul Greengrass and Michael Mann. "We can detect things that they didn't deliberately put into their films, and we can sometimes find traces of things they don't know they know.... And it doesn't hurt, especially in this age of hype, to be a little skeptical and pursue what we think is interesting, whether or not a director has flagged it as worth noticing."

The Man Who Wanted to Classify the World Reviewing The Man Who Wanted to Classify the World, Kevin Kelly explains that Paul Otlet's "most amazing invention (in retrospect) was his invention of hypertext, multi-media, and the web. He didn't use these words of course," but decades before Vannevar Bush and Ted Nelson, he'd mapped out the essential concepts. "And more importantly, he actually built a analog hypertext system."

"I like to play the game of taking a single moment from a movie I like, and seeing how many general observations about the film flow naturally from that moment." For this round, Dan Sallitt picks a scene from Arnaud Desplechin's Comment je me suis disputé... (ma vie sexuelle).

"Leonardo DiCaprio and George Clooney are to star in a film loosely based on the rise and fall of presidential hopeful Howard Dean," reports the Guardian.

At PopMatters, David Sterritt reviews Claudia Springer's James Dean Transfigured: The Many Faces of Rebel Iconography, "a flawed but fascinating study that blends intellectual insight with pop-culture savvy."

Tim Lucas is captivated by Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

"As a part-time ethnic militant, let me just say that the anti-Anderson animus is nutso," blogs Reihan Salam at the Atlantic. Meanwhile, at Vinyl is Heavy, Steven Boone and Ryland Walker Knight exchange thoughts via email on The Darjeeling Limited.

Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea, "narrated by none other than John Waters, examines the sad history of the sea and its steadfast champions, some of whom persistently believe another economic heyday is just around the corner, along with a cautionary tale about the consequences of tampering with Mother Nature," writes Neil Morris in the Independent Weekly.


"A gorgeous panoply of natural wonders and far-flung mysticism, the Mongolian-made drama Khadak is a unique adventure," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. Also: "As theater goes, Golda's Balcony follows a very standard one-woman show routine," writes in the New York Press. "It hasn't exactly been rebuffed as a 'film,' although director Jeremy Kagan throws in plenty of rear projection featuring archival footage, along with jump cuts and the off-putting construction of several Goldas seemingly engaged in conversation with each other as they embody various characters.... At best, these devices enliven the material; at worst, they turn into gimmickry."

"Blood bath." Someone had to say it in David Carr's New York Times piece on the current "glut of films" that's "rapidly becoming nearly a year-round state of affairs," and that someone in this case is Paramount Vantage president John Lesher. But there's another side to this that shouldn't be underplayed: "Nancy Utley, chief operating officer of Fox Searchlight... said many of the films flooding theaters today would not have been made just a few years ago. The result, she said, is that 'it is much more difficult to let a film breathe for a few weeks.'" Sure - difficult during its theatrical release. But that's not the end of the road. Main thing is, that film's been made.

Kim Masters writes up a quick-n-easy primer on Hollywood's looming writers' strike.

"[T]oday on National Coming Out Day we celebrate one of the underrepresented brave minorities of Hollywood." An impressive list from Nathaniel R.

Ironic Sans revisits a 13-year-old "Must See Movies Checklist." Via Coudal Partners.

Online browsing tip. The Realist Archive Project, via Flickhead in an entry that also points to Bhob Stewart's terrific piece on the title (and titles) of North by Northwest.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:44 PM

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), 10/11.

Guillotine "What does it feel like to drown? If you're decapitated, how long do you remain conscious?" asks David Pescovitz at Boing Boing. "New Scientist has a fascinating feature on how it feels to die from a variety of causes."

But back to movies. "The horror genre is, by its very nature, cannibalistic," writes David Carter at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "Umberto Lenzi has repeatedly denied the connection between his Cannibal Ferox and Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust, but the two films essentially pose the same conclusions, albeit using vastly different methods. Cannibal Holocaust blurred the lines between an art film and a horror film; Cannibal Ferox never positions itself as anything but a pure horror film, and a considerably effective one at that."

The Old Dark House Phil Morehart's latest clip at Facets Features comes from The Old Dark House: "The film is [James] Whale at his best: the perfect combination of spooky details, fluid camerawork and a wry, dark gallows humor. And what a cast - Boris Karloff, Melvyn Douglas, Charles Laughton, Gloria Stuart, Raymond Massey and the great Ernest Thesiger."

In the 1931 version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Rouben Mamoulian "successfully takes advantage of the (waning) laxity of the Hays Code to perform a kind of social psychoanalysis, bringing [Robert Louis] Stevenson's implicit conflation of convention with repression - and marriage with sexual satisfaction - to the surface," writes Billy Stevenson.

"Resident Evil purports to reinvent its classic horror roots as a modern rock-out action scenario, made by and for fans of the popular PS2 videogame line in which the dead are brought back to life by the deadly T-virus agent," writes Rob Humanick. "Consider this long-time fan dissatisfied, then."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:14 PM

Fests and events, 10/11.

Hungarian Film Festival of Los Angeles Adam Nayman previews the Hungarian Film Festival of Los Angeles, opening today and running through October 18.

Also in the LA Weekly, Luke Y Thompson: "In its sixth year, Screamfest continues to make itself a must for any LA-area horror fan, with a mixture of hot new releases (30 Days of Night three days early, George Romero's new Diary of the Dead), big-screen showings of anticipated DVD titles (the extended cut of Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror, Joel Silver's House on Haunted Hill 2), special events (Friday the 13th Part 3 in the original 3-D!) and some of the best new upstart fright flicks out there."

Susan King rounds up local goings on in the Los Angeles Times.

Similarly, the Oregonian's Shawn Levy, only, you know, for Oregon.

Funny Games "No wonder Hollywood wants to assimilate [Michael] Haneke - who is the subject of a comprehensive retrospective at the Harvard Film Archive and the Museum of Fine Arts - and, if possible, corrupt him," writes Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix. "To this end, perhaps, he's been enlisted to remake his relentlessly assaultive Funny Games (1997; MFA: October 20 at noon). The 2007 English-language version will receive its local premiere at the HFA (October 19 at 7:30 pm), with Haneke on hand to answer questions. Although this new film features Hollywood stars Naomi Watts, Tim Roth and Michael Pitt, Haneke insisted on a shot-by-shot duplication of the original, à la Gus Van Sant's 1998 Psycho. So maybe it's he who's corrupting Hollywood."

At Facets Features, Phil Morehart files a first report from the Chicago International Film Festival (through October 17).

"With the help of author Ty Burr, the Belcourt has put together a movie series to get parents and kids in the same room, on the same page, watching the same thing." The Nashville Scene's Jim Ridley previews the Belcourt's series of family weekend classics.

The Morelia International Film Festival opened the other night with a screening of The Orphanage and a visit from Mexican President Felipe Calderón. IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez reports.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:49 PM

Nobel. Doris Lessing.

Doris Lessing "Doris Lessing, the novelist whose deeply autobiographical writing has swept across continents and reflects her feminist engagement with the social and political issues of her time, today won the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature," announces Motoko Rich in the New York Times. "Ms Lessing's strongest legacy may be that she inspired a generation of feminists with her breakthrough novel, The Golden Notebook. In its citation, the Swedish Academy said: 'The burgeoning feminist movement saw it as a pioneering work and it belongs to the handful of books that informed the 20th century view of the male-female relationship.'"

The NYT has set up a "Featured Author" page linking to its reviews and related articles.

Updated through 10/15.

Not a whole lot of Lessing's work has been adapted for the screen. Here's her IMDb entry; on DVD, we have Memoirs of a Survivor, an adaptation of Lessing's dystopian, post-apocalyptic novel starring Julie Christie, and it's "what one might kindly call a flawed film," writes Richard Scheib at the Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Review.

Updates: "She is a refreshingly uncosy presence in the pally world of literary London," blogs Claire Armistead at the Guardian. "Perhaps her biggest achievement is to end where she began - as an outsider, who, whatever her faults, could never, ever be parochial. A natural, then, for the international pantheon of the Nobel."

And the Guardian's set up a special page as well.

"[T]o this day her taste for alternative worlds has not waned," notes London Times literary editor Erica Wagner, mentioning both the Children of Violence and Canopus in Argos series and her collaboration with Philip Glass on the opera The Making of the Representative for Planet 8. "It is peculiar, perhaps, that 'science fiction' is perceived as 'male' genre when so many of its serious and gifted practioners - Lessing, Ursula K LeGuin, Margaret Atwood - have been women."

Ed Champion's happy and rounds up linkage.

More at the Literary Saloon.

"Her quote today, in the Guardian, was priceless: 'I've won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one. I'm delighted to win them all, the whole lot. It's a royal flush.'" Dwight Garner also points to the best bits of his 1997 interview with Lessing for Salon.

Also: Word from Motoko Rich at the Frankfurt Book Fair on how Lessing's publishers are celebrating (and planning to capitalize on) the big win.

"Although both feminism and Communism have laid claim to Lessing, she avoids being identified with movements or ideologies, political or literary," writes Time's Lev Grossman. "She refuses to settle for simple answers or received wisdom, and she has never been afraid to commit heresy."

Updates, 10/12: For the Guardian, Lisa Allardice and Sam Jones gather gracious quotage from Lessing herself and other writers, including AS Byatt: "Lessing, she said, was one of the 'few prophets' of literature who had 'an uncanny instinct for writing about things that are going to be a problem before they come over the horizon - not many writers can do that.'"

And the editors comment: "The lack of romance can make for a tough read. Even fans acknowledge that her writing is often unforgiving and metallically hard, but a softer voice could not plausibly convey 'that hell which is multiplied all over the world, everywhere human beings make our civilization.'"

"Doris Lessing's books have irritated me as much as delighted me," blogs Erica Jong at the Huffington Post. "I believe that the greatest writers are irritants. (Think of Jonathan Swift). The Golden Notebook inspired me because its heroine was a woman as engaged by her intellectual and political life as her sexual life. She was a woman in full."

"This week it's books, books, books." Rounding up highlights from the German papers, Signandsight reflects the state of my own real-life desktop, groaning under the weight of a rapidly growing stack of dead trees and ink. With the Frankfurt Book Fair underway and literary prizes being announced practically by the hour, it may take weeks to wrestle that stack back down to size.

"Earlier this year, Lessing also published a passionate introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover," notes Boyd Tonkin in the Independent. "She wrote in defense of the writer demonised by many of the very feminists who once lionised her: DH Lawrence. 'What we do have from him,' she argues, 'is a report on the sex war of his time, and no one has done it better.' Except, perhaps, Doris Lessing in her time. And, as with Lawrence, her unblinking dramatisation of conflict, cruelty and devastation extends from sexual and family relationships through the state of politics to the state of the planet. 'The furious energy of his talent, his power,' she writes on Lawrence, 'set him above his contemporaries, on whom he had an extraordinary influence.' Change the pronoun and the judgement stands."

euro|topics adds reactions from Austria and Spain.

"If the Swedish Academy has awarded Lessing based on the fact that she is 'that epicist of the female experience, who with skepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilization to scrutiny,' then it is perhaps part of the bargain that she would have her missteps," writes Dan Kellum in the Nation. "In order to scrutinize, one must take risks, and if Lessing is political, her political significance as a writer is that she doesn't just throw stones. Instead she grapples. She makes her missteps, but at the end of the day she is still asking an all-important question - in an age that values the individual, how is the individual supposed to stem the tide of what appear to be the increasingly catastrophic forces that threaten our world?"

Updates, 10/13: "A very common way of thinking in literary criticism is not seen as a consequence of Communism, but it is." The New York Times runs a 1992 op-ed by Doris Lessing.

More linkage at the Literary Saloon.

Update, 10/14: "Here is a great contemporary woman novelist and London intellectual who has dedicated her long life and impressive body of work to the tireless and unflinching exploration of man's (and woman's) place in the world, together with issues of race, gender and social justice," writes the Observer's Robert McCrum. "This prize finally acknowledges what has been true for at least 40 years: that she is one of the most important literary voices of her generation." Praise from a slew of other writers follow.

Update, 10/15: "Almost intoxicating to see the Nobel committee do something honorable and creditable for a change," writes Christopher Hitchens at Slate. "It's as though the long, dreary reign of the forgettable and the mediocre and the sinister had been just for once punctuated by a bright flash of talent. And a flash of 88-year-old talent at that, as if the Scandinavians had guiltily remembered that they let Nabokov and Borges die (yes, die) while they doled out so many of their awards to time-servers and second-raters. Had they let this happen to Doris Lessing as well, eternal shame would have covered them."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:03 AM | Comments (6)

October 10, 2007

Shorts, 10/10.

Suspense "Last week, Chris Marker released a new minute-long small movie to the Internet, which can be viewed here at the Cahiers du cinéma website," writes Craig Keller. "Accompanying the video at the same place is a new essay by Marker that provides a little bit of context to this latest work. I've translated his remarks into English," and you can read the translation at Cinemasparagus.

"We all know that genius director and New Wave godfather Jean-Pierre Melville makes a hugely memorable appearance in Jean-Luc Godard's neither particularly good nor influential (...psych!) 1959 debut feature Breathless... but do we all know that Melville based his mandarin novelist character Parvulesco on none other than Vladimir Nabokov? It's true!" And Glenn Kenny can prove it, too.

"Not to take anything away from the achievements of the Romanian New Wave, but the fact that these sublime, modest, inconclusive, off-the-cuff, on-the-shoulder movies are currently considered the global-fest cat's meow is, I think, indicative of how far mainstream cinema has strayed from anything substantive, engaging, convincing or resonant," blogs Michael Atkinson.

An adapatation of Edgar Rice Burroughs's John Carter of Mars from... Pixar? Perhaps even a trilogy? Peter Chattaway gathers newsbits.

Flawless At european-films.net, Boyd van Hoeij gets a kick out of Michael Radford's Flawless: "Michael Caine and Demi Moore clearly enjoy themselves as two unlikely allies who conspire to rob the fictional London Diamond Corporation of £2 million worth of diamonds ('a small quantity like that, they won't even notice') before things spiral out of control in the clever screenplay from newcomer Edward A Anderson."

David Carr lists a slew of music docs and biopics just out or in the works and wonders what's up; part of the answer lies in the technology that makes a "kind of audio-visual spectacle" possible, as NYFF program director Richard Peña puts it. Another part of the answer: "When pop culture became the culture, stars of the two forms interacted and blended, inspiring desire for all sorts of crossover projects," James Toback tells him.

On a related note in Slate, Jessica Winter notes that Control and I'm Not There "are worlds apart in their tone and approach, but they share an aversion to the usual checklist of biopic signifiers. And though both films feature some ace mimicry, they're more interested in their subjects as screens for projecting our own desires, interpretations, and educated guesses.... Though the title of Deborah Curtis's book, Touching From a Distance, is a line from a Joy Division song that sums up the failed Curtis marriage, it also happens to describe the methodology of the best music biopics."

Back in the New York Times:

King Corn

  • Joe Drape talks with Aaron Woolf and Curt Ellis about their documentary, King Corn, which "takes the position that America's most valuable crop is overproduced and looks at the toll it takes on the environment, public health and family farms." More from Robert Wilonsky in the Voice: "A worthy companion piece to Super Size Me and Fast Food Nation (more the book than the movie), King Corn will put you off corn for a long, long time, but this is as much a thoughtful meditation on the plight of the American farmer as it is a rant against our expanding waistlines."

  • "Brian Springer's bizarre documentary The Disappointment: Or, the Force of Credulity, which crams a surplus of ideas into 70 brief, often head-scratching minutes, is, among many things, a treatise on how history is passed along, altered and sometimes lost through archaeological findings," writes Laura Kern. More from Nathan Lee in the Voice: "Singer patterns his ideas with such daunting complexity it's easy to get lost. But The Disappointment doesn't - it's amazing to explore."

  • Jeannette Catsoulis finds Golda's Balcony "inert yet strangely compelling." In the Voice, Ella Taylor praises Valerie Harper, who "superbly serves up Israel's least photogenic and (next to Yitzhak Rabin) best-loved prime minister... in Jeremy Kagan's excellent adaptation of William Gibson's stage play." At Slant, finds it "breathless yet stylistically disconnected" and "one of many recent works that represent the ripples cast outward from the dialogue begun in Steven Spielberg's masterful Munich."

"[W]hile passably adopting several familiar modes of art-house style - the minimalism of figures in a gaping landscape, excruciatingly paced anomie, vague apocalyptica, monumentalist spectacle - Khadak doesn't exhibit full, dynamic fluency in any of them," writes Nick Pinkerton. Also in the Voice, Aaron Hillis: "[Director Joseph] Greco's sincerity is so palpable that the frequent uplift feels deserved, but with just-passable filmmaking and the demeaning score, Canvas falls somewhere between powerful indie and made-for-TV diversion." More from Ed Gonzalez in Slant.

Cineuropa's new "Film in Focus" is Fatih Akin's The Edge of Heaven.

The New Republic's Christopher Orr on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford: "[I]t is the thematic richness of [Andrew] Dominik's film that makes it not only the best film of the year so far but a strong contender for the greatest Western since Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West nearly 40 years ago."

In the London Review of Books, Michael Wood watches the 1957 and 2007 versions of 3:10 to Yuma: "[B]eneath all the differences, the contours and issues of both films remain the same, and both are faithful in their way to the Elmore Leonard story where they started, which means the new work also has its share of moral suspense and complexity."

"In many ways SpongeBob reincarnates some of the most distinctive traits of the slapstick characters of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin," writes frieze contributing editor Jan Verwoert. "A subversive quality of their performances always lies in the way in which they set their protagonist up against the hostile reality of capitalist America - shaped by poverty, exploitation and random police brutality - and make them triumph over these realities through the resilience of a simple mind and flexible body."

Stranger Than Paradise "[Jim] Jarmusch's hipness offers its own distinct pleasures - how could an encounter between Bill Murray and the Wu-Tang Clan's RZA and GZA (in 2003's Coffee and Cigarettes) fail to amuse? But there's also something distracting about this aspect of his work—it tends to obscure the qualities that distinguish him as one of the great American filmmakers of his generation," argues Nathaniel Rich. Also in Slate, Ann Hulbert asks, "[W]hy is it that the [Up] series remains, quite literally, irresistible - to [Michael] Apted, his audience, and his participants themselves?" Somewhat related: Ed Champion quotes "moment of wisdom from Richard Russo's Bridge of Sighs (another book I'm tempted to include among the best of the year)."

At indieWIRE, Anthony Kaufman assesses the race for the foreign-language Oscar.

"[T]he dynamic, dexterous Oswald's Ghost isn't trying to solve a murder mystery," writes Cheryl Eddy. "Instead, it compiles the perspectives of those who were there (including Dan Rather and, naturally, Abraham Zapruder) with a broader look at the aftereffects of John F Kennedy's death, from the still-brisk conspiracy-theory book trade to the Vietnam War and beyond."

Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Maria Komodore: "At first glance, For the Bible Tells Me So comes across as a fairly conservative film.... In terms of content, Daniel G Karslake's first feature is anything but unchallenging."

And Dennis Harvey: "If you watch many documentaries these days, you're sick of filmmakers putting their mugs and ruminations on camera, whether germane to the subject or not. But there's a real intensity to [Amir] Bar-Lev's soul-searching in My Kid Could Paint That."

"Gone is the requirement for a 14-city theatrical roll-out. In its place, a complete reversal of the direction the Academy's Documentary Branch has been headed for the past several years - instituting stricter rules in an attempt to guarantee that nominees were in fact theatrical films." AJ Schnack comments on the new rules of the game.

"All the action in contract talks between screenwriters and Hollywood studios has taken place behind closed doors," writes Peter Sanders in the Wall Street Journal. "But as the negotiations continue, and a possible strike looms next month, a pair of writers who belong to the union have emerged as influential public voices in the debate via a closely watched blog. The blog, www.artfulwriter.com, is showing the ways in which the Internet can become an important public sounding board in union negotiations that largely take place in private."

Online listening tip #1. The Drive-In Speaker Box.

Online listening tip #2. Peter Bogdanovich's Saturday Morning Pictures on BBC 4. Thanks, Jerry!

Online viewing tip. There's a man in the habit of hitting me on the head with an umbrella at Subtitles to Cinema.

Online viewing tip #2. The trailer for Jumper's at the site. Via Movie City News.

Online viewing tip #3. Kimberly Lindbergs introduces Henry Miller - Asleep & Awake.

Online viewing tips. Promos for Douglas Coupland's The Gum Thief, via Todd Brown at Twitch.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:50 PM

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), 10/10.

Edgar Allan Poe "Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary over many a quaint and curious volume of blogs, while I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there comes a tapping, as of some one gently rapping, rapping on my bloghouse door: 'Shamus, it's October! Everybody is writing about horror movies, Shamus! You can't be a movie blogger and not write about horror movies!'"

Like Dennis Cozzalio, for example, who's seriously getting into that Halloween spirit.

At Cinedelica, Kimberly Lindbergs has ten questions for Tim Lucas, whose Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark would surely be the treat of the season. One of those questions: "Do you have a favorite Mario Bava film or a few favorites that you could share with our readers?" His answer: "Kill, Baby... Kill! is my favorite. It's the most dizzying, disorienting, metaphysical horror film of them all, made with more ingenuity than means, and I also love that it's a classic hidden behind the worst title in the history of horror movies."

At his own blog, Tim Lucas matches imagery from Persona to The Exorcist.

28 Weeks Later Rob Humanick on 28 Weeks Later: "Upon its initial release, many (myself included) saw the film primarily as an allegory on the War on Terror and the US government's inability to maneuver the rocky terrain it created for itself. Such a reading remains both potent and rich in parts, but more timeless and penetrating are the film's ruthless morality plays; what remains to define love when even giving your life amounts to an act of futility?" Also, Revolt of Zombies.

Phil Morehart introduces the latest clip at Facets Features: "The recent war of words between Roger Ebert and Clive Barker (visit Roger's website for the low-down) sparked reminiscences of Barker's creative breakthrough, the 1987 feature, Hellraiser, about a young woman who mistakenly solves an odd puzzle box and unleashes otherworldly beings - the Cenobites, led by the iconic Pinhead - expert in the extremes of pleasure and pain.... Unfortunately, the years have not been kind to Hellraiser." Plus, a cartoon from 1949.

Victoria Large at Not Coming to a Theater Near You on Wolf: "Who could have foreseen [Jack] Nicholson taking up the mantle of one of the famous monsters of filmland without chewing the scenery?" Also, Adam Balz: "The final ten minutes of David Hemmings's The Survivor are absolutely astounding—a testament to the power of cinematography, the delicate art of dialogue, the rare genius of twist endings. They're also a complete mess."

At Cinematical, Jeffrey M Anderson revisits The Fly, "[David] Cronenberg's most seamless exploration of the changing of the human body via the introduction of outside elements, a theme he has very recently attempted to expand and deepen with Spider (2002) and his gangster films A History of Violence (2005) and the new Eastern Promises."

Dracula "Dracula conflates two different types of horror, evident in the contrast between the generally naturalistic directing, acting and scripting, and the performances by Bela Lugosi and Dwight Frye (as Dracula and his assistant Renfield), which provide a camp rupture of this naturalism," writes Billy Stevenson.

"I continue to seek out films mentioned in Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs' Immoral Tales: European Sex & Horror Movies 1956 - 1984," writes Peter Nellhaus. "What makes Mill of the Stone Women striking to watch is the atmospheric color photography."

Adam Ross lists his "31 Flicks That Give You the Willies."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:46 PM

Fests and events, 10/10.

Joseph Cornell: Medici Boy Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination is an exhibition at SFMOMA open through January 6 as well as an online environment developed by the Peabody Essex Museum, which you can experience even now. In San Francisco, though, there's also a film and video series, and that's what Matt Sussman previews for the Bay Guardian:

As with ballet, books, and music, film offered Cornell sustained aesthetic sustenance and pleasure. Though he approached filmmaking tentatively and always at a remove - his films are composed of preexisting footage, bits from films he had either collected or directed others to photograph - he had long been enraptured by the moving image, particularly in its earliest incarnations. Cornell and his invalid brother Robert had even met DW Griffith when they were young men, while America's burgeoning film industry was still largely based in New York. In a 1942 tribute to Hedy Lamarr published in View magazine, Cornell gushed unguardedly in florid prose about silent film's "profound and suggestive power... to evoke an ideal world of beauty, to release unsuspected floods of music from the gaze of a human countenance in its prison of silver light."

Update: More from Max Goldberg at SF360.

The Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival opens Friday and runs through October 21 and, at the Siffblog, Kathy Fennessy previews André Techiné's The Witnesses, "an elegy for lives lost in vain. And forgotten. 'Life-affirming' may be a stretch, but The Witnesses is anything but depressing."

Also, E Steven Fried: "I know very little of Michelle Johnson, but I adore her for the simple fact that she possesses a large collection of cult erotic films, has absolutely fucking impeccable taste in music and has utilized both resources to compile The Best of Lezsploitation." And: Vivere.

Big Vancouver roundups: Johnny Ray Huston at Pixel Vision (parts 1 and 2) and Josh Timmermann at PopMatters (parts 1 and 2).

"[I]t is a point of view, and if the NYFF likes to think of itself as an act of criticism, it's fair to consider what kind of critic it's trying to be." Nathan Lee assesses the final round of offerings. Also in the Voice, Ed Halter: "For the past few seasons, Anthology Film Archives has hosted the Walking Picture Palace, a roving series organized by [Views from the Avant-Garde] curator Mark McElhatten, which serves as a generous expansion pack for the uptown program, featuring additional works by Views artists, solo retrospectives, and related pieces. Since the programming at Views typically offers tight back-to-back group shows, the relatively casual format at Anthology allows more breathing room for the material, but otherwise the two events share enough of the same spirit that they've come to feel like an unofficial autumn film festival in their own right."

au hasard Balthazar "Perfection is where great filmmakers eventually arrive. For Bresson it was a point of departure." Gilbert Adair urges Guardian readers to catch the Bresson retrospective at BFI Southbank, running through October 17.

Eugene Hernandez: "The first AFI Fest lineup under the programming leadership of new artistic director Rose Kuo has been announced for the upcoming AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival (November 1 - 11, 2007)." Doug Cummings has plucked a handful of titles he hopes to catch.

Back at indieWIRE, Doug Jones sends in a dispatch from Pusan, Brian Brooks sends another from Reykjavik and Susan Gerhard sends yet another from Vancouver.

In the Philadelphia Weekly, Matt Prigge talks with the founders of the Terror Film Festival (October 16 through 21); a list of other local goings on follows.

At Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Tom Huddleston previews a Danish entry lined up for the London Film Festival: "Proving that a reliance on cliché need never be a stumbling block as long as you have the wit, energy and intelligence to back it up, Island of Lost Souls is a superbly constructed and enormously likeable fantasy: my 12-year-old self would have eaten it up with a spoon, despite the subtitles." Also, "Garage is a bleakly comic study of a frustrated outsider living on the fringes of a small country town. But Garage is not tied to its obvious antecedents, blending the familiar with the wholly surprising, eschewing predictable sentimentality in favour of a warm, dry wit, and a steadily encroaching sense of impending, unavoidable tragedy."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:17 PM

Interviews, 10/10.

SOMA: Oct07 Nick Schager profiles Michael Pitt for SOMA Magazine.

"John Ashbery, perhaps the most revered American poet living today, has won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in poetry, and has collected numerous other laurels," write Greg Purcell and Fred Sasaki at Stop Smiling. "We asked him to talk a little about the movies he loves and has written about - both as a poet, less frequently as an essayist - over the years."

Michael Guillén has a few questions for Olivier Assayas about Boarding Gate - and another for Robert Redford, who's taken Lions for Lambs to Berkeley: "He genuinely wants to know if his critique of student apathy is accurate or not." Update: A good long talk with Wes Anderson, Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola.

At Movie City News, Ray Pride talks with Tony Kaye about Lake of Fire. Related: "[T]here's no way pro-choice activists can win the war of symbols," blogs David Edelstein.

Travis Nichols talks with Guy Maddin for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Related online listening: An entertaining 37 minutes with Maddin and Robert Davis.

In the City Pages, Peter S Scholtes profiles Michael Bodnarchek, who "co-founded A Band Apart Commercials in the summer of 1995 with celebrated director Quentin Tarantino and producer Lawrence Bender, but his specialty was TV ads, not motion pictures." Then, in 2003, he was out. His business is running fine, but it's been quite a ride.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:25 AM

NYFF Dispatch. Mr Warmth.

David D'Arcy on the film that raised the most eyebrows when the lineup for the New York Film Festival was announced. Notes will follow.

45th NYFF Don Rickles has the face of a comedian, with a strange head extruding from his body like a turtle's head from a shell. He has the voice of a traffic cop, when there use to be traffic cops, and if you see his act, as you do in John Landis's Mr Warmth, The Don Rickles Project, he has people paying lots of money for the chance that he might notice them in the crowd and insult them personally. It's the comedy version of Let's Make a Deal.

Updated through 10/11.

Part of Landis's film is Rickles onstage - hunched like an aging penguin, tuxedo and all, he targets members of the audience for whatever they are - Chinese, Italian, Black, Filipino, etc. He also ranges into the crowd to insult whomever he can find. He tells Nazi jokes and goose-steps when he meets someone of German origin, and brings people in the crowd onstage to mimic Asian stereotypes, and he even sings, although not everyone would call it singing. In interviews, people who worked for him tell of offering "good seats" to obese and ethnically identifiable people so Rickles would be sure to have pigeons to shoot. The people who work with Don Rickles stay with him for a long time, whether they are his managers or his musicians. This is the nasty guy with the heart of gold.

Rickles' Book Now he's at the New York Film Festival with "dummies" like Eric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, Todd Haynes and the Coen Brothers. What a fertile field for insults. I can just imagine Rickles's classic imitation of Hou Hsiao-hsien.

And Rickles has fans. We learn from Chris Rock that Black fans considered him the "first Black comic" for his in-your-face approach to comedy. Judging by the Vegas crowds, most of Middle America seems to agree.

Landis's documentary isn't so much a film about Rickles as it is a television salute to the comic destined for its TV date of December 2 on HBO. Besides the look at Rickles onstage, we have interviews with the musicians who are there with him every night - they truly seem to love him - and we hear from other comics, from to his friend Bob Newhart to his fan Sara Silverman. Naturally, Landis is also a fan, and he's nostalgic for the entertainment era that sustained Rickles for so long. People used to dress up to see this guy. That was the era before Vegas went corporate and down-market.

The film has the look of another recent low-budget doc about comedy, The Aristocrats, with interviews about comedians and comedy intercut with Rickles in Vegas, where he's still a star at 80. The punch line here is a huge kiss from Landis. You'll like the doc if you like Rickles as much as he does. Otherwise, you might feel that you're at a tepid version of a celebrity roast - although there is some great footage of Rickles roasting his peers. He could be funny, and it's astounding what he got away with, asking Ronald Reagan if he was "going too fast" for the President's impaired attention span. Reagan laughed, just as they all did.

Another film emerges here. It is a hymn to the old days of Los Vegas, when, as many of the comics interviewed explained, the mob ruled the town. As they see it, it was a more civilized place in those days, and the talent was treated better. I guess almost anything can look better in retrospect.

Landis does not view Rickles as a comedian, but as a performance artist. No one would be more surprised by that characterization than Rickles himself. When he started out in Vegas, performance artists usually performed on the trapeze. Now they are written about in Artforum and given genius grants and denied government money for things that are a lot tamer than what Rickles says in Vegas every night. But there's some truth to what Landis says. Onstage, Rickles doesn't tell a single joke. Most of his act is unscripted, although Rickles works from memory with a flexible vocabulary of insults and stock lines like, "You're English/Chinese/Italian? So how did you get these seats?" The audience roars when they hear it. The insulted parties seem to be enjoying it most. And Rickles is saying some of the same things that got Don Imus thrown off the air.

Rickles Speaks Although you can almost smell the mothballs when you watch Rickles perform, he sells out the big rooms in Vegas and packs them in at what his fellow comedians call "Indian casinos." The crowd seems to love him, although the median age seems to be about 60. Casino employees who speak to Landis tell him another reason for booking Mr Warmth: he brings out the high rollers when he's on the bill. Somehow, after hearing Don Rickles's routine, gamblers want to go right to the crap tables and the slots. Do insults make you feel that good? Mr Warmth might have a good line to explain this behavior, but we never hear it.

At the press conference after the film screened for media, Landis said Rickles wasn't eager to be the subject of a documentary, and certainly not for a concert film that would have shown his entire act. Why the reluctance? The trade secret which rarely gets out is that most comics do essentially one show, which they have assembled over time, sometimes over years. They perform that same show wherever they go. This helps explain why there have been relatively few concert films by comedians, with the exceptions being improvisers like Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock. I'm sure there are others, but generally comics don't want to give away the store. Back in the 1950s, Jack Benny said, "Television is the great destroyer. They know your act." If it weren't for gambling, a lot more comedians would be waiting tables.

Though his act is unscripted, Rickles was still wary of putting it all on film and risking that his fans would rent that movie instead of coming to a casino to see him perform. When he finally agreed to cooperate with Landis, who has known him for years, Rickles passed the project to his son (credited as a co-producer on this project), who wanted to make a doc about his father in the style of The Fog of War. Rickles as Robert McNamara. I can just imagine the cabinet meetings.

No one wanted a film about Don Rickles the man, on the assumption that "no one gives a fuck about Don Rickles," although Landis says everyone wanted to back a concert movie. He ended up making the film by itself. Once Rickles decided to cooperate, besides the shooting of two Vegas shows, the real cost was archival footage from films in which Rickles acted and from his endless TV appearances. He was quite an actor, yet the evidence is in still images and film footage which carry huge licensing fees. There's a common perception that the threat of litigation is what keeps controversial footage out of documentaries. The truth is that it's the fear of the cost. We would know much more about Don Rickles the actor if the TV clips hadn't been so expensive to use. This is not the documentary that it could have been if Landis had twice his $500K budget, and Landis would be the first to say so. The real Mr Warmth is in cold storage at the studios.

-David D'Arcy

Aaron Hillis, who interviewed Landis for the Voice, recounts his adventures with the director - and a copy editor.

Updates: "Self-aggrandizing asshole or magnanimous, overgrown kid?" asks ST VanAirsdale at the Reeler. "It's hard to know exactly how to take director John Landis, particularly following yesterday's New York Film Festival press conference for his hilarious new documentary Mr Warmth: The Don Rickles Project. I lean toward the latter characterization; sure, he's namedroppy ('So I called Clint...') and condescending ('I'm sorry to disappoint you; I know you're a journalist'), but as a pure storyteller, Landis wields an acute magnetism similar to that of his poison-tongued subject. And Rickles, arguably in an eternal prime even at age 81, is that rare misanthrope you just can't help but exhort to more and more corrosive levels of acidity."

IFC has video from the press conference.

"Some real meat is provided during the too-brief history of Rickles' career, which is itself a chronicle of changing showbiz mores and practices," writes Glenn Kenny. "'Say what you will about the boys,' Bob Newhart - Bob Newhart! - notes of the days when the mob ruled Vegas - 'but they knew how to run a gambling joint.'"

Update, 10/11: "As Mr Warmth, and Rickles's still-thriving career, bears out, the message is often inextricably tied to the messenger, and Landis's depiction of the comedian as a universally beloved, loyal, and kindhearted figure helps explain how he continues to get away with doing such politically incorrect material," writes Nick Schager at Slant.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:05 AM

We Own the Night.

We Own the Night "The film centers on two brothers - one (Joaquin Phoenix) a druggie and the manager of a shady nightclub, the other (Mark Wahlberg) a cop with a broomstick up his butt," writes David Edelstein in New York. "Don't stop me if you've heard this one because you have. The larger question is, If [James] Gray and his (great) actors see destiny where I see cliché, will the strength of their belief make a difference to the finished product - give it a core of authenticity that lifts it out of the B-movie gutter? The answer is a guarded but affectionate yes. We Own the Night plays like gangbusters."

Updated through 10/15.

"Helpless with comedy, heavily reliant on coincidence, and out of step with all current cinematic vogue - the film received a divisive Cannes reception - We Own the Night finally resonates as a beautiful, dolorous nocturne," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. "The closest thing Gray's done to a commercial actioner, the film also applies his genius for tone (aided by superlative sound work) to set pieces that throb with trauma: a tinnitus-soundtracked shoot-out and a rain-slick car chase set to the tempo of windshield wipers."

"The family and relationship dynamics, with Robert Duvall as the brothers' deputy police chief father and Eva Mendes as Bobby's Puerto Rican girlfriend, are largely by the numbers, but the A-list cast, led by Phoenix as the black sheep, keep things humming until Gray's direction brings We Own the Night to the promised land of tough-guy poetry," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine.

Edward Douglas talks with Gray for Coming Soon. Via the SXSW News Reel.

Online listening tip. Matt Singer and Alison Willmore's latest podcast for IFC News: "An Appreciation of Mark Wahlberg."

Update, 10/11: "Is it really possible, as Gray suggests in our conversation, for a film to succeed on two apparently contradictory levels at once, as a 'popcorn, pulpy' shoot-'em-up as well as a story that is morally ambiguous and even subversive?" asks Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. The talk's also available as a podcast.

Updates, 10/12: "In his previous films, Little Odessa (another grim story involving the Russian mob) and The Yards (an unjustly neglected tale of political corruption), Mr Gray evoked the urban crime dramas of earlier eras without being showy or self-conscious about it," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "And there is certainly nothing fancy or gimmicky about this movie. But there is nothing especially interesting or new, either."

"We Own the Night seems less original than the first two, maybe because of [The Departed], maybe because Russian gangsters have become the villains du jour (see them portrayed more urgently in David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises)," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "Still, the film is made with confidence and energy and is well acted by the principals."

For Dan Callahan, writing at Slant, this one "confirms James Gray's position as a major American film director.... We Own the Night is ambitious, gritty, and finally elating, and it represents a large leap forward for Gray, who hopefully won't have to wait quite so long between projects as he develops his delicate poetic vision further."

"We Own the Night is a movie instinctively convinced of its own tragic dimensions, a would-be saga of familial division and reconciliation, the futility of revenge and the bitter dregs of dishonest living: news for the clueless, a prodigal son redux," writes Vadim Rizov at the Reeler. "Brisk but boring."

"It's difficult to fault, but also hard to remember after viewing, which speaks either to Gray's conservative take on the genre, or his failure to bring anything new to the table," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "Whatever the case, We Own the Night plays like a masterpiece because it skillfully appropriates actual masterpieces, not because it earns the label on its own merits."

"It's a bare-knuckled crime drama set in 1988 that stylistically could have been made that year and emphasizes Gray's strengths as a director while drawing attention to his limitations as a writer," writes Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times.

"The problem is not that the movie's point of view is too subtle or complex, but rather that it becomes indistinct and contradictory," argues the San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle.

Updates, 10/15: "On the evidence of [Gray's] three films, you would never guess him to be under forty; he has none of that Tarantino-like urge to be cock of the walk—to preen one's feathers and crow over the comedy of strong emotions," writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. "Rather, the Gray approach recalls the sombre, mirthless style of Alan J Pakula or Sidney Lumet."

Bryant Frazer talks with Gray.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:25 AM | Comments (1)

Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age "The way Elizabeth: The Golden Age tells it, the Spanish Armada's defeat by the British Empire was the orgasm The Virgin Queen never had." That would be Ed Gonzalez at Slant.

"[Shekhar] Kapur's sweeping spectacle forgoes all musty pretensions of middle-brow edutainment, and if you expected a history lesson you'll emerge from the theater deaf and dumb. Elizabeth: The Golden Age is the work of a director who is intoxicated with the power of cinema, and as an aficionado of Revenge of the Sith, I felt right at home in his world," writes Jürgen Fauth.

Updated through 10/12.

It's "an unholy mixture of the banal and the bombastic," writes writes David Edelstein in New York. "[Cate] Blanchett drops her voice, stiffens her cheekbones, sends out daggers with her eyes, and rises above the mess—locked in her own battle with Bette Davis, Glenda Jackson, Helen Mirren, and the armada of other Elizabeths that keep her on guard."

"The original was no less a fanciful soap opera - Dynasty in Renaissance Faire drag, Dallas with a fancier Southfork Ranch," writes Robert Wilonsky in the Voice. "But the sequel is considerably more garish and voluble. If Elizabeth was BBC stuff writ large, a history lesson made enchanting for soap fans, its successor is more like an Indian import: How is it these people don't break into song or skip into a dance routine every five minutes, honestly?"

"Personally, I'd rather watch Blackadder, but The Golden Age packs some kind of laughs with its music-video bombast and back-after-a-commercial break score," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine.

"[T]he sequel's excesses are so hyper-exaggerated as to disconcert even the most ardent fan of the original," finds Brandon Fibbs at cinemaattraction.

Paul Fischer profiles Blanchett for the Scotsman. Via Movie City News.

Earlier: Reviews from Toronto.

Update: "Elizabeth: The Golden Age really only works as a showcase for one acclaimed actress to wow the audience," writes Nathaniel R at Zoom In Online. "And wow she does."

Update, 10/11: Kapur's "made a completely useless, over-enunciated film - an instant antique," writes Armond White in the New York Press.

Updates, 10/12: "The blurring of fact and fancy is, of course, routine with this kind of opulent big-screen production, in which the finer points of history largely take a back seat to personal melodrama and lavish details of production design and costumes," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "In this regard The Golden Age may set a standard for such an adulterated form: it's reductive, distorted and deliriously far-fetched, but the gowns are fabulous, the wigs are a sight and Clive Owen makes a dandy Errol Flynn, even if he's really meant to be Walter Raleigh, the queen's favorite smoldering slab of man meat."

"Protestants rule, Catholics drool in this absurdly overheated dish of anglophilia by a director whose very name indicates that he might know better," writes Michelle Orange at the Reeler.

"It's about 30 years later, and she's hardly aged a day. How does she do it?" asks Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "By sheer force of fantasy, apparently - the same force that has led director Shekhar Kapur to give us Queen Elizabeth as a cross between Joan of Arc and Joan Crawford, Sir Walter Raleigh as a bodice-ripping pirate sprung from the cover of a supermarket romance novel, King Philip II of Spain as a mincing lulu with a bizarre politico-erotic fixation on the virgin ('Whore!') queen, and the battle against the Spanish Armada as a series of chopped-together outtakes from Pirates of the Caribbean."

"[I]t is an overwrought mess, equally unpersuasive as history and as melodrama," writes the New Republic's Christopher Orr. "Him: 'Why be afraid of tomorrow, when today is all we have?' Her: 'In another world and at another time, could you have loved me?' Perhaps in another movie."

"Kapur, once again, has taken a story with plenty of juice and bled it into something pale and limp," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek.

"The question is not whether it's okay to rewrite history in a big-budget entertainment," writes Bilge Ebiri at Nerve. "It's just how stupid you think your audience is. And not even Gary Oldman could help with that one."

"The events beg for Shakespearean gravity, but the only tragedy here is that so little could be made of so much," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club.

Alonso Duralde's parenthetical remark at MSNBC is definitely worth noting: "Incidentally, here's hoping the distributors of Elizabeth: TGA aren't expecting to be a hit in Spain. The film depicts everyone on the Iberian peninsula as a black-clad, wild-eyed Catholic fanatic."

"Tracking shots, twisting boom shots, placements that are either radically high or low — they all betoken a director who doesn't trust his material," writes Richard Schickel in Time.

Gill Pringle talks with Geoffrey Rush for the Independent.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:19 AM | Comments (3)

Lars and the Real Girl.

Lars and the Real Girl "Ryan Gosling's winning streak continues with his radiant performance as Lars Lindstrom in Craig Gillespie's crowd-pleasing dramedy Lars and the Real Girl; an unconventional yet poignant love story," wrote Michael Guillén when he caught Lars in Toronto.

"While the title insinuates that it's a wacky comedy, it's actually a smart, well-crafted, and heart-wrenching film that smoothly discusses the intricacies of loss and depression," writes Monika Bartyzel at Cinematical. "It has many humorous moments, but they serve to relieve tension, not drive the story."

"How painful to watch Ryan Gosling, one of the most elastic actors of his generation, smirk and gawp and grimace his way through Craig Gillespie's smarmy little number about a pudgy Midwestern office drudge so terrified of human contact that the only, um, person he can bond with is a mail-order Brazilian sex doll," counters Ella Taylor in the Voice.

"Lars is the second film from director Craig Gillespie after Mr Woodcock, and his dedication to bittersweet humor and unpretentious storytelling bodes well for his developing oeuvre," notes Eric Kohn at indieWIRE.

"Lars and the Real Girl is the Feel Good movie of the season," declares David Poland. The supporting cast is "sterling" and Gosling may see another Oscar nomination, he adds.

The New York Observer's Andrew Sarris went in cold, was thrown off for a while, then won over.

"This isn't the first time a film has spun an outrageous fetish-based premise into something softer and soulful - in fact, the kinder, gentler tale of unconventional sexuality has become a trend, particularly in indie film." Alison Willmore's got a list at IFC News.

Margy Rochlin profiles screenwriter Nancy Oliver for the New York Times.

Peter Knegt talks with Gillespie for indieWIRE.

Logan Hill talks with Emily Mortimer for New York.

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Gillespie "about his two, highly contrasting first features, the influence of 70s cinema, and why Crocodile Dundee forced him to lose his Australian accent."

Update: "There's no denying that Lars and the Real Girl's defiantly good nature comes as something of a refresher, especially given that the oddball subject matter would normally be exploited for gross-out gags," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "Yet as a result, Lars feels wholly neutered, a wishful-thinking portrait of a reliably lovable outcast, who not only is almost entirely embraced in his antisocial behavior but also never comes up against much conflict."

Updates, 10/11: "Judging from the specificity of his roles, Gosling has got to be one of the most unconventional movie stars in years," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "Should his glitzy stature convince fans to check out the wonderfully bizarre humor of Lars and the Real Girl, then maybe there's a virtuous point to this luminary business after all."

At Slant, Nick Schager finds Lars to be "an SNL sketch reconfigured as quirky-corny Sundance pap."

Updates, 10/12: Are you the audience for this movie? At the AV Club, Scott Tobias seems to have found the litmus test: "At one point in the sickly sweet Lars and the Real Girl, a fresh-faced young woman who still has barrettes in her hair and hearts on her socks weeps in quiet despair because an officemate has killed her teddy bear. The hero, a dysfunctional fantasist played by Ryan Gosling, then proceeds to revive the bear by giving it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the break table. It's that kind of movie."

"It's part comedy, part tragedy and 100 percent pure calculation, designed to wring fat tears and coax big laughs and leave us drying our damp, smiling faces as we savor the touching vision of American magnanimity," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "American self-nostalgia is a dependable racket, and if the filmmakers had pushed into the realm of nervous truth, had given Lars and the town folk sustained shadows, not just cute tics and teary moments, it might have worked."

"This relaxed, character-first sensibility seems to come easy to Gillespie, whereas his attempt at a broader style of comedy in his debut, Mr Woodcock, was an admitted failure," writes R Emmet Sweeney at the Reeler. "With Lars, Gillespie seems to have found his footing, easing into a Hal Ashby-style poker face, although this film wears its heart on its sleeve far more than Being There, an influence Gillespie notes in an interview with Filmmaker Magazine.

"[T]his is a film whose daring and delicate blend of apparent irreconcilables will sweep you off your feet if you're not careful," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times.

In fact, the LA CityBeat's Andy Klein finds it "emotionally richer and more tasteful than one could imagine, given the tawdriness of the concept. It's an impressive triumph over yechhh."

Update, 10/16: Gosling "plays a classic borderline-brain impaired character - one that might well have been portrayed by the likes of Jon Heder, David Arquette or Dumb & Dumber-esque Jim Carrey - without a false or predictable note," writes Dennis Harvey at SF360. "His bad haircut, dweeb wardrobe, and hapless 70s mustache mark Lars as a hilarious geek caricature. But the performance is so deft that you'll find yourself earnestly pulling for Lars' return to the realm of the living - the living love object, that is."

Updates, 10/18: "Lars and the Real Girl has more in common with It's a Wonderful Life - or, more pointedly, Harvey - than any modern grotesque," writes an approving Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper.

"Lars and the Real Girl couches its outrageous concept in classic Amer-indie trappings, including a naturalistic setting that incorporates small-town vistas, snowy cinematography, and a Sundance Channel–ready cast," writes Cheryl Eddy in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. But Gosling's "got a way of elevating even uninspiring material to a more meaningful plane, in the manner of Edward Norton or Sean Penn."

Pam Grady talks with Gosling for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:09 AM


Sleuth "It's tempting to call the new Sleuth a soulless remake, but that would imply that the original had a soul," writes Fernando F Croce at Slant. "What keeps the film's motor running is the interplay between the two actors. [Jude] Law has the opaque agility of a cunning scam artist, but it's [Michael] Caine's look of bemused wryness (the way he sizes up his younger co-star as if to say, 'I were you once, kid') that almost makes one believe there's something remotely human at stake in the picture's vacant ingenuity."

"[Anthony] Shaffer's play had a political context that, however crude, gave it some urgency," writes David Edelstein in New York. "At the height of the counterculture, he was trying to expose the snobbish, reactionary, patriarchal bigotry and xenophobia at the heart of the drawing-room English whodunit. [Director Kenneth] Branagh and [screenwriter Harold] Pinter don't have any larger purpose."

Updated through 10/13.

"[T]his tiresome rehash seems motivated by little more than the urge to bludgeon us with uppercase Cinema," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "Shaffer's tired bromides about the potency of wealth and cunning, and the supposedly primal struggle of two males more in love with one another than with the woman they seek to possess, remain in Branagh's hands little more than a pissing contest energized by crude homophobia and misogyny."

For the New York Times, Sarah Lyall profiles the screenwriter: "Pinter writes in a handsome study on the second floor of a two-story brownstone in west London, just behind the house he shares with his wife, the writer Lady Antonia Fraser. Tucked in a corner of the downstairs office is a table covered with awards he has amassed in his career as a playwright, director, actor, political provocateur, poet and screenwriter, including the French Légion d'Honneur, the Franz Kafka Award and the 2005 Nobel Prize in Literature."

Earlier: Reviews from Venice.

Updates, 10/11: "Sleuth is well acted, and directed by Branagh with chilly, distant ingenuity," writes Andrew O'Hehir at Salon. "It has a certain edge and daring, or more to the point it pretends to. That goes some distance toward concealing that Sleuth is a horrible mismatch of writer and material, and that the story (if we must dignify this fevered paranoid fantasy with that term) is absolute nonsense."

"Kenneth Branagh's direction imitates De Palma's multi-angled voyeurism, but the trite visual tricks interrupt the clipped language and tense interaction that are British theater's domain," writes Armond White in the New York Press.

LA CityBeat: Michael Caine Updates, 10/12: Michael Caine tells the LA CityBeat's Andy Klein about getting searched at the airport: "The guy said, 'I love you, you're my favorite actor!' And I said, 'Well, what are you treating me like a terrorist for if I'm your favorite actor?' He said, 'Because we have to. The computer says we've got to do that.'" The great fun of this piece is that Andy Klein clearly loves Michael Caine as much as those of us who really love Michael Caine do: "Listening to that iconic voice, it's as though you're in the presence of Harry Palmer from The Ipcress File, Peachy Carnahan from The Man Who Would Be King, Alfred Pennyworth from Batman Begins, and Milo Tindle from the first Sleuth - almost 35 years ago."

But as for the new one, "what was once insignificant is now insufferable, though, at 86 minutes, almost an hour shorter," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times.

"So what went wrong? Why is this new Sleuth so flaccid, so pretentious, so unengaging?" asks Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "Let's start with the material..."

"Language this lethal has all but disappeared from the movies, and it's an unmitigated pleasure to observe Caine and Law attack it with such ferocity," counters Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "Sleuth is nasty fun." And Patrick Goldstein profiles Caine.

Updates, 10/13: "On consecutive weeks back in December 1972, the Palomar production company and 20th Century-Fox teamed to release two films: Sleuth and The Heartbreak Kid," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "Now, on consecutive weekends in October 2007, come remakes of those movies. As it happens, the original Sleuth and Heartbreak were smart and funny and took a fairly brutal view of their main characters. The remakes, though honoring the basic plots of their predecessors, are dumb, witless and humiliating to all parties."

Online listening tip. Alex Chadwick talks with Caine for NPR.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:03 AM

La Chinoise.

La Chinoise "With each new season, an old Godard film makes it back into circulation," writes Nathan Kosub at Reverse Shot. "La Chinoise should be ubiquitous. It anticipates not just the student riots in 1968 Paris but also the greatest in DVD supplements, the archived audition.... [I]t was Truffaut who spliced [Jean-Pierre] Léaud's tryout for The 400 Blows - an improvised question-and-answer - into the final cut. But where Truffaut courted naturalism through the unrehearsed scene, La Chinoise solicits the fleet-footed mechanics of invention."

"Not just a period film, La Chinoise, blazing in all its glory for nine days this month on the Film Forum screen, is a chunk of the period," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "It's also a spectacular accomplishment within a sustained performance unique in movie history. From Breathless (1959) through Weekend (1968), Godard reinvented cinema. There are no analogies - imagine Faulkner's eight-novel run, The Sound and the Fury (1929) through The Wild Palms (1939), as a cultural intervention with the pow of Warhol's 'silver' period or the three Dylan-goes-electric LPs."

Updated through 10/11.

Hoberman debunks the "cineaste myth" Benjamin Strong passes along in his review for L Magazine, namely, that there's any sort of cause-n-effect linkage between La Chinoise and the students' occupation of Columbia University buildings in April 1968. Still, "La Chinoise represents a last idealistic salvo before a disillusioned Godard retreated to the apocalyptic doom of Weekend, One Plus One, and Tout va bien."

The House Next Door runs the first part of what'll be a week-long series in which Kenji Fujishima examines the question: "[I]s Tarantino really a Jean-Luc Godard of the 1990s and today?... If Godard is a reflection of a politically-conflicted, self-aware, industrializing society, Tarantino is perhaps an example of Godard's convictions taken to a perversely logical conclusion."

Update, 10/11: "La Chinoise may be Godard's funniest work (it was part of the one-two punch followed by Week End in 1968)," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "In fact, the subsequent fall of Communism and the triumph of Capitalism make this comedy about the received opinions of political fanatics even funnier - a welcome, thorough-going check on the biases of political filmmaking. This revival may be the most important movie event of the fall."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:34 AM


Control "The worst and most common failing in movies of this kind — biographies of artists, musicians in particular — is that they turn creativity into a symptom and fate into pathology," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "One of the great virtues of Control is that it does not fall into this trap. Where it might have been literal-minded and sentimental, it is instead enigmatic and moving, much in the manner of Joy Division's best songs."

Updated through 10/12.

"On a technical level, the film is a fantastic accomplishment - possibly one of the prettiest movies released this year - but the script hardly justifies the extreme panache," writes Eric Kohn at the Reeler. "If [Anton] Corbijn had something to say beyond the obvious - that Curtis was one unhappy rocker - the ideas are lost in a sea of pretty pictures."

"It's difficult to imagine a film adding much to the existent wealth of JD lore, but Control at least catches glimpses of its subject, and allows the music (competently rerecorded live, by the actors) screen time enough to breathe, and seem as though it's being played out for the first time," writes Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE.

"Praise for the film's supposed kitchen-sink realism is perplexing given that Corbijn's arrangement of people across his frame is infinitely more sensitive than his purview of Manchester at the time," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant. "Far from the fierce social consciousness of Mike Leigh, Control's images, if not its equally arresting performances, suggest a kitchen sink scrubbed clean."

"Control is like a wake where the guests forgot to bring the booze and, for the most part, have nothing very nice or even particularly interesting to say about the deceased," writes LD Beghtol in the Voice. "Curtis was young, fucked-up, given to petty cruelties, and - by his own estimation - doomed. After seeing this banal flick, who cares?"

"Control may intrigue through a certain blankness and circumscription (almost amusing alongside the season's other story of a musician, the voracious, protean I'm Not There)," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine. "But besides the collapse of the film's confidence, its still-novel world comes to feel too pristine, weirdly aloof from a hardscrabble period."

"The movie calls a spade a spade: Curtis was a pill, a 24-hour perpetual pain in the ass," writes Robert Cashill. Still, "Distance and discretion sum up Control."

Anthony Lane's FWIW-yet-honest endorsement in the New Yorker: "Speaking as someone so irretrievably square that I not only never listened to the band but didn't even know anyone who liked it, I can't imagine a tribute more fitting than this."

Amy Odell talks with Corbijn for New York, where Sara Cadace's got a chart: "Transmission: The Many Children of Joy Division."

Online listening tip. Jeffrey Wells calls up Corbijn.

Earlier: Far more enthusiastic reviews from Cannes, Toronto and the UK.

Update: "Control will certainly mean something to people who consider Joy Division part of the music of their lives. (I stand accused.)" Salon's Stephanie Zacharek: "But the picture is so beautifully made, and so sensitive to its subject, that I hesitate to set it before my fellow late-baby-boomers as just a nostalgia trip: In addition to being one of the most beautiful movies ever made about rock 'n' roll, it also works, quite simply, as a story about a gifted and deeply troubled young guy who just couldn't hold it together. Sometimes the stories you think you've heard a million times before are merely universal." Also, a talk with Corbijn.

Update, 10/11: Jennifer Merin talks with Corbijn for the New York Press.

Updates, 10/12: "Corbijn and [screenwriter Matt] Greenhalgh can't shoulder too much blame for not answering what may be an unanswerable question, but they do deserve to be rapped for wasting the kinetic rush of Control's first hour on a second half so turgid that it would verge on overkill even at half the length," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club.

Hugh Porter profiles Corbijn for Time.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:30 AM

October 9, 2007

NYFF. Redacted.

Redacted "Whether blunt or sharp, the film's impact is impossible to dismiss," argues Jürgen Fauth. "[T]he infuriating familiarity of Redacted [site] is exactly what gives it its overwhelming power: of course we know that war is hell, that it makes monsters of people, that innocents suffer and die in ways and numbers beyond our comprehension - and yet, we still allow it to happen, again and again."

Then came the press conference that's got the film blogs buzzing. Jürgen's got video and explains the brouhaha: "When selection committee member J Hoberman asked about the black bars that now cover some of the photographs at the conclusion of the film," director Brian De Palma replied, "Redacted is now itself redacted... My cut was violated."

When De Palma fingered Mark Cuban as the redactor, Eamonn Bowles of Magnolia Pictures, which'll be distributing the film in November, sprang to Cuban's defense, followed by co-producer Jason Kliot, who "saw the problem not as a 'Cuban vs De Palma type silly debate' but an issue of Fair Use laws, which he considered completely unfair: 'they set it up so we cannot use images of our own culture to tell the truth about our own culture.'... At Spoutblog, Karina Longworth gets a statement from Cuban, and Bowles comments at Movie City Indie." Filmmaker editor Scott Macaulay, a producer himself, comments, "I suspect the argument here is complicated by the fact that, at the end of the day, Redacted is a work of fiction, not a documentary, so the argument that these images fall into the realm of 'news' may be emotionally but not legally true."

"The most ambitious American film this year is a high school theatre quality production shot in varying forms and styles of digital video by Brian De Palma and labeled Redacted," writes Daniel Kasman. "Accepting Redacted as a broad, unreasonably stupid and over-obvious drama of American wartime behavior or an unbelievable, hollow simulation of digital media formats is simply what De Palma is warning against. That none of Redacted seems to 'work' is exactly its purpose; in its unavoidable exaggeration one must see that the answers it seems to provide for both the behavior of the military and its representation in media are totally, ridiculously bankrupt."

"Those who sense a touch of the late-night sketch comic in Brian De Palma's latest are not far off from the point - Redacted is as much about media infiltration of the senses as it is about documenting (by fictionalizing) the 2006 rape of a teenage Iraqi girl (Zahara Al Zubaidi), and the subsequent murder of herself and her family by several members of the US military," writes Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door.

"I'll write about Redacted at greater length in November, when it opens commercially," blogs David Edelstein. "But it's important to deal now - before the noise machine gears up - with the question of De Palma's alleged misogyny and anti-Americanism." And he dives right into laying out both of his arguments.

"To take on such a topic and then fumble it so badly reveals in De Palma either profound arrogance or a general contempt for the American people he's apparently looking to inform," fumes Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog. "That the film will be prime, indefensible fodder for the next round of attacks on liberal, "out of touch" Hollywood is just the cherry on top."

"Redacted feels like the work of a director so righteously angry and so pleased with his formal experimentation that he doesn't realize how painfully, inelegantly obvious he's being," writes Nick Schager.

"That none of this footage matches the authenticity of any of the media it references is beside the point; those looking for real-life versions of these videos can easily find them online or on DVD," argues Kevin B Lee at Slant. "Perhaps a better version of Redacted could be made of the seemingly endless real video footage readily available from a stunning array of sources and perspectives. In the meantime, De Palma has offered a film both emotionally crude and formally sophisticated, a Michael Moore-meets-Lars von Trier war movie, whose chief value is in its ambition to take stock of the many ways that war is being consumed today."

"Clever, clever, or so the director clearly thinks, but Redacted manages to be overdone and undercooked at the same time, both disingenuous and entirely self-serious," writes Michelle Orange at the Reeler.

Anthony Kaufman talks with De Palma for the Voice: "The audience should be upset. I'm upset. I'm upset that the Fourth Estate has collaborated with the administration and sold a bill of goods to the American people about why we're there and what we're doing."

Earlier: Reviews and previews from Toronto and NYFF and initial reactions from Venice.

Update, 10/10: "While Paul Haggis's In the Valley of Elah was a self-consciously interiorized, safely melancholy, and dull-edged take that played like its director's unspoken penance after the shrieking histrionics of Crash, Brian De Palma takes the opposite approach with Redacted, moving painfully far from his comfort zone and ending up with a rigid, vital, infuriating, and hugely imperfect film, a guttural yawp that exemplifies what's right and wrong with this controversial director's aesthetic and moral approach to filmmaking," writes Michael Koresky at Reverse Shot. "Redacted has been both overpraised and too easily dismissed—an unsurprising reaction to a film that feels alternately as rushed and angry as this week's hot Youtube clip and as devilishly calculated as the work of a seasoned master."

Updates, 10/11: "[I]f the legal issue is a smoke screen, then the photos need to go back at once," argues David Edelstein. "They're intended to convey De Palma's outrage over the death and destruction happening beyond the film frame - happening this instant."

"[T]he discussion about the movie may be (intentionally or unintentionally) more challenging and illuminating than what is in (or not in) the movie itself," writes Jim Emerson. "Then again, once you posit that idea (especially about a film that so deliberately toys with reflexivity, dialectics and alienation effects), it automatically becomes an extension of the movie.... Unless I'm wrong and De Palma didn't really want to shake anybody up."

"DePalma's Redacted seems to have already served whatever function it's going to," writes Glenn Kenny. "It's already been excoriated by right-wing pundits who will never see it.... Film blogs have had their back-and-forths.... The ado at the press conference, when I heard of it, just gave me a dispiriting feeling that everything surrounding this picture added up to little more than an addled game of Capture the Flag enacted by various media... I can't believe I'm gonna use this word... elites."

Meantime: "It looks like the 'battle' over Redacted is over," announces Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog, where she quotes De Palma: "I exhausted my legal options about 24 hours ago."

Update, 10/13: "For every one of us who sees a bold visual stylist and a daring satirical intelligence, there seem to be five very loud people who think he's a crude, hyperbolic shlockmeister and a sadist," notes Phil Nugent of De Palma. "I know some smart people who think his career is more of less a big sack of crap, and I respect their opinions, but I do suspect that some people, prominent critics among them, have a bad reaction to his work partly because there's something there that they'd rather fight off."

Update, 10/16: Redacted's "flaws might be intentional considering De Palma's love of fakery, and, however unexpectedly, they do buttress the film's main theme," concedes Michael Joshua Rowin at Stop Smiling. "But they also leave a strong impression of De Palma's tone-deafness when it comes to generating actual empathy and understanding of the film's real-life referent."

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

Tati @ 100.

Tati Jacques Tati would be 100 today if he hadn't taken the ultimate holiday in 1982.

Arte (French/German cultural programming) celebrated for five hours straight on Sunday; today, Anke Westphal and Gerhard Midding are celebrating in the Berliner Zeitung and Berliner Morgenpost, respectively; and starting Friday, a Tati retrospective runs at the Babylon in the Berlin district of Mitte through October 21.

Since you're probably over there and not over here, an online browsing tip. This way to Tativille.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:57 AM

NYFF, 10/9. Axe & Country.

David D'Arcy on two of the festival's features; pointers to more on The Axe in the Attic and No Country for Old Men follow.

45th NYFF The title of The Axe in the Attic [site], one of the few documentaries at the New York Film Festival, comes from a survival strategy used by homeowners in flood-threatened areas of New Orleans. Families who saw the waters rise and fall over the years, and who watched their neighbors fend for themselves when the government was nowhere to be seen, leave an ax in the attic. If the waters rise high enough, and people are trapped in their houses, they can chop through the roof and wait there - either for help, or for the waters to recede.

Updated through 10/12.

The lesson here is: Buy your own ax, because the odds are that you will need it. And if you're lucky enough to be rescued, sitting alone on your roof, then you're on your own once again. Sounds a lot like what we saw during and after Katrina hit. For a lot of those who survived the hurricane itself, the nightmare is still going on.

We enter that nightmare in the documentary by Ed Pincus and Lucia Small, who drove from New England through the South to the most stricken parts of Louisiana, visiting refugees from New Orleans on the way. (Small is the director of My Father the Genius, a doc about her father, the quixotic futurist architect and mostly-absent dad, Glenn Howard Small. Anyone interested in architecture and/or families should see it.)

The Axe in the Attic

In the course of the road movie, Pincus and Small meet hurricane victims trying to rebuild their lives. In some cases, those families are still trying to rebuild their houses. Most haven't gotten too far, nor will they, despite all the official rhetoric from Washington and elsewhere. In many cases, the damage is too extreme to continue where their houses stood.

I'm not sure whether the filmmakers intended it, but there's a parallel that's hard to escape between New Orleans and Iraq, not just in the ravaged landscape that they drive through but also with regard to the administration committed to "rebuilding" that's lost control of the situation and forced people to fend for themselves. The people in New Orleans, black and white, whose testimony the filmmakers gather are casualties of a natural disaster - neglected in the hope that they might go away. Watching Axe in the Attic, I couldn't help thinking of them as wounded; nor could I help contrasting their desperation in campgrounds and crumbling buildings to the Iraq War wounded who turned out to be sharing space with cockroaches and mice in Washington as they waited for authorization to be treated by military doctors. As the current government mantras go, it's more "mistakes were made" than "thanks for your service."

It took a lot of pressure to get a vacationing George W Bush to even look at television coverage of the disaster in New Orleans, and when he finally got around to responding, he gave us a new mantra: "Heck of a job, Brownie." I nominate him for a best supporting actor Oscar for his work (or his lack of work) in this film.

Axe doesn't have the poignancy Spike Lee's epic When the Levees Broke, and the filmmakers' hand-wringing about getting too involved in the story when interviewees ask for help or money seems beside the point. The Axe in the Attic reminds you that it could all happen again to whatever's left of the families and their houses.

No Country for Old Men

In No Country for Old Men [site], a series of murders across West Texas is framed through the eyes and reflections of a sheriff who is a war veteran. Another vet, Lewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin), is hunting for antelope when he comes upon the aftermath of a gunfight among drug dealers. All that's left are the bodies and a briefcase full of money. Moss takes off, not knowing just yet that a determined killer (Javier Bardem) is after him. The killer's weapon of choice is a stun gun, which can shoot the lock out of a door just as easily as it can put a hole in a man's head without a bullet. What can kill a cow can kill pretty much anything. It's an odd twist that helps set this saga apart from any other Western that you've ever seen. Tommy Lee Jones plays the sheriff who goes after them both.

The landscape here, not quite desert, seems to go on forever, while the sun rises and falls on the horizon like footlights on a stage, and it dominates this tale that has gotten as much attention as anything that came out of this year's Cannes Film Festival. Cormac McCarthy's novel has a glacial momentum to it, as the murderer Anton Chigurh (who strangles a cop with a pair of handcuffs) takes off after an opportunist, with both pursued by a sheriff who spends pages reflecting on what it all means. It doesn't mean all that much, especially when he sees innocent people slaughtered, most of them in disputes over dope.

The Coen brothers capture the wide expanses where the antelope, scared off by Moss's rifle, are replaced by pickup trucks riddled with bullet holes, carcasses that hold the carcasses of the men who were driving them. This is the landscape of the new Southwest and the new war over drugs; yet it's not so new,  as we've seen in McCarthy's other novels set the same region on both sides of the border a century ago.

At the screening for press that I attended, the audience laughed at situations of quirky pain and powerlessness, even when the result on the screen was murder. Bardem's ridiculous bobbed haircut and his systematic, fastidious manner of murdering at almost every encounter fed into the humor. So did his victims' flatfooted response to his cold approach to killing. The Coens have been accused of being mean-spirited, of turning pain into jokes. (Isn't pain at the base of most humor?) McCarthy's book only got me laughing when I was listening to the West Texas twang and the dry everyday irony of the dialogue. The laughter in the theater seemed more like relief from a relentless parade of murder.

-David D'Arcy

For the Voice, Julia Wallace talks with Pincus and Small about their "raw examination of misery and hope in post-Katrina New Orleans."

The Axe in the Attic "Rather than reducing their meditation on the Katrina diaspora into a navel-gazer, the filmmakers' insertion of their white, Northern liberal selves into profoundly disenfranchised Southerners' testimony actually expands the film's relevance and renders it more honest," writes Lisa Rosman at the Reeler.

Nick Schager, writing at Slant, disagrees: "In a manner exactly contrary to Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke, The Axe in the Attic becomes as much the story of its makers as one about the economic and personal cost of Katrina, a wrongheaded transference of focus that finally manages to overshadow - as well as minimize - its various Katrina victims' stingingly visceral reactions to the calamity."

"It's not the concept that's inherently flawed - one day when the time is right and the execution works somebody will have created an illuminating portrait of both the legacy of Katrina and the unavoidable difficulties of engaging the issue from across racial and economic divides," writes Michael Joshua Rowin at Reverse Shot. "But until then we'll have to learn from the mistakes of others, and that's probably the most generous way to view The Axe in the Attic."

"Anti-Michael-Moores who are not afraid to cry, fight, or throw up their hands in front of the camera, they display admirable honesty - but that doesn't make The Axe in the Attic a satisfying documentary," writes Jürgen Fauth.

"Already being touted by a number of publications as a 'return to form' for the Coens, No Country for Old Men will probably enjoy a initially rapturous reception followed by a significant period of admiration and exaltation, before eventually encountering a raucous chorus of dissenting opinions who are reluctant to grant the film commendation without exposing its flaws," predicts Chiranjit Goswami at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

No Country for Old Men "This is really a movie about the hearts and lives of Men, capital M, a metaphor for the way the old signposts of masculinity - those phallic wooden things you could always find here and there to tie your horse to for a spell - have all but disappeared in today's world," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "That's not necessarily a bad subject by itself; Sam Peckinpah certainly made some great pictures mining variations on it. But it doesn't work so well when it's filtered through the Coens' knowing, self-aware lens."

Cinematical's Erik Davis hangs with Javier Bardem.

Earlier: Reviews and previews from Toronto and NYFF; and the first round of reviews from Cannes.

Update: "It's good to have the Coen Brothers back," writes Michael Joshua Rowin at Reverse Shot. "No Country for Old Men is such an about-face in the brothers' filmmaking that the most obvious of phrases can be unashamedly employed to describe their latest venture: an astonishing return to form. The clearest reason for the rebound is the new film's source material and, through it, the reestablishment of gravitas in the Coen universe. A minor but assured novel by one of our greatest living novelists, Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men is perfect for a Coen screen adaptation: it's the sort of macabre/quotidian genre-bender rife with crime, violence, and a kind of everyman pondering that caters to the Coens' greatest strengths as absurdist chroniclers of the American ethos."

Updates, 10/10: "Brusque exchanges and austere violence are the story's stock-in-trade, with both elements so downbeat and harsh that they occasionally veer close to absurdity, thereby providing the filmmaking siblings with opportunities to wryly alleviate the oppressive despair and viciousness that hovers over the proceedings in the same way that the enormous Western landscape and its weighty silence hang over its human inhabitants," writes Nick Schager at Slant. "As Tommy Lee Jones's sheriff Ed Tom Bell says in reference to a particularly grim anecdote, 'I laugh sometimes. 'Bout the only thing you can do.'"

"The outcome is already known - the Coens easily tap into horror, western, and thriller genres enough to broadcast how badly this all will end - but, to play off the title of Christopher McQuarrie's admirable attempt at a similar movie, it is the way of the gun that matters," writes Daniel Kasman.

Update, 10/12: "It all works well enough for the first half of the film, when every click and jingle against the prevailing silence and whistling wind sets your nerves on edge, and Bardem enthralls as pure evil - the man in black," writes Michelle Orange at the Reeler. "But as No Country moves on (and on) and into idea after idea (about genre, Vietnam, violence, immigration, American dreamers) with what feels like only passing attention, I found myself wondering if I cared where the film ended up."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:25 AM

DVDs, 10/9.

Oskar Fischinger: Ten Films The Center for Visual Music is rolling out what sound like two amazing collections, Oscar Fischinger: Ten Films and Jordan Belson: 5 Essential Films. "Oskar Fischinger (1900-1967) was one of the earliest pioneers of abstract animation, placing him in the company of filmmakers like Walter Ruttmann and Hans Richter, who were working only a few years after Kandinsky's first entirely nonrepresentational painting in 1910," Doug Cummings reminds us, while Belson "began his career as a painter, moved into animation and experimental film, and later joined electronic composer Henry Jacobs to create psychedelic Vortex Concerts at a planetarium in San Francisco in the late-50s. Like many Beats, Belson was highly influenced by Eastern mysticism and he began formulating abstract, audiovisual presentations that often utilized circular motifs, solar imagery, lasers, star fields, and billowing, ethereal vapors."

At Filmmaker, Mike Plante recommends Apart From That: "One of our favorite films from CineVegas 2006 is being self-released on DVD in a beautiful special edition with a photo book. Variety critic Robert Koehler told me it was his favorite American film made last year."

"One of the sobering lessons of the new anthology from the National Film Preservation Foundation, Treasures III: Social Issues in American Film 1900-1934, is that the pictures of the early 20th century were in many ways more open to the social and political world: people struggle to make a living, fight against disadvantages and prejudices and are confronted with confounding moral choices on a daily basis," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times.

12:08 East of Bucharest "[U]nlike The Death of Mr Lazarescu, also shopped by Tartan in this country as a comedy, 12:08 East of Bucharest is authentically funny, in a boozy-Renoirian kind of way," writes Michael Atkinson at IFC News. "[T]he laughs drip organically from the characters." Also: "Fantoma's new Vol II of [Kenneth] Anger's collected films, following up the juvenilia and precious early films of Vol I, includes the opuses that made him famous."

Sean Axmaker has a fun feature at MSN: "What's in Your DVD Player?" Among those he's asked: Viggo Mortensen, Michael Douglas and David Lynch.

"What Stage Door does, that so few films have ever done as successfully, is address the doubts and anxieties experienced by struggling performers trying to keep their hopes and spirits intact in the face of an uncertain future," writes Josh R at Edward Copeland on Film. "While the film is very much an ensemble piece, the most interesting aspect of the film has always been the relationship between the two central characters." Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers "play off of each other brilliantly."

Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical on Cinema16's collection of European Short Films: "What we have here is a wide selection of shorts from many decades, by filmmakers both famous and unknown. Probably not too surprisingly, the best shorts come from folks you've never heard of." More from Rob Humanick at the House Next Door: "Even assuming the vast diversity of taste and viewing experience of potential viewers, the wealth of material here makes it unlikely that one won’t find something of value, whether in one or more of the individual films themselves, or in the bulk of material overall with its many fascinating comparisons and contrasts."

PopMatters launches a week-long series: "The Best of TV on DVD."

DVD roundups: Bryant Fraser, Movie City News.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:10 AM | Comments (3)

Toronto 07. Index.

Coverage of the coverage of the 2007 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival, by section:

Canadian Retrospective:

TIFF 07 Contemporary World Cinema:

Dialogues: Talking With Pictures:




Midnight Madness:

Real to Reel:

Special Presentations:




And then there're stray notes on dozens of others.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:44 AM | Comments (1)

Toronto. Cleaning up.

Toronto International Film Festival Ok, let's wrap this up. Throughout the Toronto International Film Festival, I'd occasionally come across a comment or two worth noting on a film that would not eventually get matched up with enough further commentary to warrant a full-blown entry.

Some of those notes, then, by section:

Canada First!:

  • "I need to come up with a new phrase for comedies like Just Buried," writes Scott Weinberg. "Something like 'not exactly laugh-out-loud funny, but certainly amiable, clever and diverting enough to warrant some attention.'"

  • Young People Fucking: "Since the movie isn't really explicit (no genitalia was hurt in the making of this film), it feels closer to the work of Joe Swanberg than to Shortbus," writes Eric Kohn at indieWIRE. Monica Bartyzel in Cinematical: "What is refreshing about the movie is that while it uses some slapstick gags, the writing and performances deliver it with class and restraint."

Contemporary World Cinema:

  • "Yes, it's slow, and yes it features a fair amount of Christian symbolism (starting with the title), but anyone who saw The Return had to expect both of those things," writes J Robert Parks of The Banishment. "Of course, for me those aspects are part of why I like the movie, but even viewers turned off by them have to admit the movie is undeniably beautiful; director Andrei Zvyagintsev and cinematographer Mikhail Krichman create painterly compositions of exquisite elegance and use natural light in spectacular ways. I've seen a lot of beautiful movies at the festival so far but none that has so consistently knocked me out. And like his admitted influence Tarkovsky, Zvyagintsev focuses on elemental visual motifs, which reinforce his spiritual themes."

  • "A film that I found extremely moving was Jacques Nolot's Avant que j'oublie (Before I Forget), the story of an aging gay hustler and his search for meaning in his own life when his lover (and sugar daddy) passes away," writes Tom Hall. For DVD Verdict's Jesse Ataide, this is a "film more fascinating to ponder after the fact than while actually watching," but he "walked out of the screening not liking it much, but my feelings have become much more favorable in the days that have since passed."

  • "Sarah Gavron's Brick Lane is a subtle and beautifully acted adaptation of of Monica Ali's novel about a Bangladeshi woman living in an arranged marriage in the Muslim community in London," writes Matthew Curtis. "A worthy (if familiar) immigrant drama of cultural disapproval and forbidden love."

  • "Far and away the best film I saw at Toronto this year was Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitsky's The Counterfeiters, a fact-based drama about a Jewish crook who's forced by the Nazis to make fake foreign currency designed to destroy the Allies' economies," blogs the LA Weekly's Ella Taylor. "[T]he movie blows a fresh wind through Holocaust cinema, which needs it badly."

  • Gone With the Woman is "a clever, incredibly deadpan sex comedy with flashes of incredible visual style. While it never overcomes some core weaknesses enough to truly excel as a whole there are some devastatingly funny - and accurate - moments to be found," writes Todd Brown at Twitch.

  • J Robert Parks on Hur Jin-ho's Happiness: "[T]he story hits its marks, and even a bit of narrative vindictiveness feels like it could've come out of the 50s. And when the two lead actors are as good and as appealing as these, you can't help but fall in love with them. There might not be a better feeling at the movies."

  • "I've gotten in the habit of describing Saverio Costanzo's In Memory of Myself as a genre film, a suspense thriller in which the central, driving mystery is faith," writes Darren Hughes. "This is "a film I like more than it might 'deserve,'" writes J Robert Parks. "Those uninterested in films about spirituality probably won't enjoy it, but it held my attention."

  • "Jar City is a thriller focusing on genetic propensities in Iceland, an island of 300,000 that has a limited gene pool," writes Howard Feinstein, who talks with director Baltasar Kormakur for Filmmaker. He "tells me that Americans have expressed interest in remake rights and in him as a director. 'They want me to do horror!' he says with a mix of surprise and disgust. 'But in my film the crimes are motivated! I'm lucky I produce my own films. Most foreigners go to the US, make some crap, and go back home.' For now, he is happy on his farm in Northern Iceland." And "beautiful camerawork and lush, operatic music glides over the gorgeous Icelandic landscape," notes James Israel. Earlier: David D'Arcy.

  • "Just Like Home is the first bad film I've seen at the festival," writes J Robert Parks (and this was on his fifth day). "Not that it's terrible, but Lone Scherfig's follow-up to Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself is pointless, not terribly funny, and spends much of its time pandering to its audience."

  • "The key to [Mutum's] success, I think, is [Sandra] Kogut's camera, which never escapes the subjective perspective of her protagonist, a ten-year-old boy who struggles to make sense of the adult world around him," writes Darren Hughes.

  • "The Pope's Toilet is a drama from Uruguay that starts out promisingly but loses steam in its last act," writes J Robert Parks. "The story didn't do much for me... But I loved the portrait of this community."

  • "Like a fast-paced and more furious Cavite (which previously would have been hard to imagine), [Brillante] Mendoza's breathless account of desperate lives in the mean streets of Manila is a pummeling and visceral experience intensified by his decision to film most of [Slingshot] with a standard lens in the middle of the action - never is the spectator allowed to step outside the mayhem and evaluate the drama from a distance," writes Doug Cummings. "It's a highly impressive technical exercise, yet at heart offers a penetrating glimpse into lives lived on instinct, predation, and reaction alone, whose complicated loyalties and person to person networks teem beneath empty political posturing and massive outpourings of religious sentiment."

  • "Son of Rambow is a film literally years in the making, a film [Garth] Jennings simply refused to give up on despite years of being denied financing, a film that surely represents who Jennings is much, much better than did Hitchhiker's and, thus, is a film that marks Jennings as simply an enormous talent blessed equally with the visual whimsy of a Michel Gondry and the earnest heart tugging of the Millions-era Danny Boyle," writes Todd Brown. "The man is a technical whiz who employs his wizardry in the service of humanity, someone who managed the difficult task of growing up without losing any of the wonder of childhood. Yes, I flat out love this film." On the other hand: "Put succinctly, this one tested my gag reflex," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club.

  • "[I]t wasn't until the 90s that [Allan] Moyle hit his stride, directing two music-laden, teen cult classics - my beloved Pump Up the Volume and the goofy yet lovable Empire Records," recalls Monika Bartyzel at Cinematical. "Weirdsville is more stylish... and definitely darker." And: "Strained, to say the least, but unexpectedly amusing in places, and very Canadian," finds the Boston Globe's Ty Burr.

  • "Wolfsbergen is not a happy film, but I found the characters compelling," writes J Robert Parks. "The final sequence snuck up on me, which I always enjoy." And: "[H]ad Leopold given each character the same time and careful attention, all could have been interesting enough to carry a film on their own, I think," writes Darren Hughes. "Instead, some are barely fleshed out at all, and I found myself becoming increasingly curious about the people who were too often left off screen."


  • "In Blind, the first narrative feature from Tamar Van Den Dop, a fairy tale romance plays out between a blind, frustrated young man Ruben (Joren Seldeslachts) and his viciously scarred mentor, Marie (Halina Reijn)," writes Eric Kohn at indieWIRE. "It's a simple and engaging premise, but it follows a practically sedated pace without a single unexpected development." And: "Van den Dop has created a truly sensual film: one that explores sound, smell and touch vividly, even within a medium that is primarily visual," writes Aaron Dobbs.

  • "Shivaji Chandrabhushan's debut feature Frozen paints in black and white the stark landscape of sparsely populated Ladakh," writes Gautaman Bhaskaran at the Lumière Reader. "Extremely arty," but it "works all right."

  • "Set amid the wheat-filled farm country of Australia in the late 1960's, September (directed by first timer Peter Carstairs with impressive competence) follows two teenage friends of different ethnicities whose class differences and varying interests threaten to ruin their relationship," writes Eric Kohn at indieWIRE. Part of what "saves the movie from becoming too lost in its own beauty stems from the strength of the two young leads."

  • "I was shocked to learn that Rodrigo Pla's Mexican film La Zona garnered the FIPRESCI (international critics) prize," Howard Feinstein at Filmmaker. "After a fabulous opening shot in which a crane carries the camera from a trashy trailer in poor man's land over a security wall into a wealthy, restricted residential community, the film rings false (and rather commercial for a critics prize)."


  • "Set in the volatile and lawless city of Shanghai in the 30s, Blood Brothers is an impressive technical debut from Alexi Tan which explores themes of brotherhood, greed, love and betrayal," writes Mack at Twitch. "So why does trying to put your finger on what doesn't work in Blood Brothers hurt? It hurts because I want applaud this debut effort of Tan. It hurts because I appreciate the talent in front of the lens as well. But there was always this little nagging thought in the back of my head while I was watching Blood Brothers. I've seen this movie before."

  • "One of the best films of the year, Days of Darkness takes what could be a difficult and tedious subject - getting old - and makes if poignant and gripping by filtering it all through the prism of one man's declining years as a sexual being," writes Ryan Stewart at Cinematical. "French-Canadian actor Marc Labreche plays Jean-Marc, a Walter Mitty sort with thick, coke-bottle glasses and a mousy speaking voice, who has a mundane office-cubicle existence, helping injured people file claims against the state in what seems to be a near-futuristic, independent state of Quebec."

  • Rendition is "well-meaning, liberal-minded, and of serious intent, but completely devoid of nuance," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. Premiere's Glenn Kenny: "My frustration with this picture can be summed up by noting that this movie believes its audience is smart enough to put together the fact that one of its several parallel storylines is actually contiguous rather than parallel with the others, but dumb enough to buy the notion that there's an actual country named 'North Africa' on that continent."


  • Four Women: "Adoor Gopalakrishnan is a highly lauded Indian filmmaker, but he only has a single DVD available in the US; on the basis of his newest film, I consider that a loss for North American film culture," writes Doug Cummings. "In what I believe is the film's sole use of a zoom lens, a woman nobly states, 'You have to hold yourself as a pillar holds a house,' which could easily serve as the empowering and compassionate theme of this elegant and memorable film."

  • "I can't help but think of Glory to the Filmmaker! as a weird, overly self-aware version of Mel Brooks meets The Three Stooges packaged within a Sullivan's Travels story and framework," offers Aaron Dobbs. "Yes, the snake has truly swallowed its own tail here and while it seems a nicely seasoned dish in the early going somewhere around the mid point it starts to tickle the back of the throat and it gets a little hard not to gag," writes Todd Brown at Twitch. "It's really time to move on now."

  • "Buddhadeb Dasgupta is one of the last among India's fast vanishing tribe of art filmmakers," writes Gautaman Bhaskaran at the Lumière Reader. "The Voyeurs is a critique of the modern surveillance system that makes a mockery of individual privacy."

Real to Reel:

  • "Body of War, directed by docu-doyenne Ellen Spiro and [Phil] Donahue, intercuts the 2002 war debate with the postwar life of Tomas Young, a soldier who was paralyzed with a shattered spine within a week of arriving in Iraq," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "The contrast of the Congress' surrender to political dictates and Young's heroism, in Iraq and back home, makes this superb documentary almost unbearably moving - as pathetic as it is inspiring." And Donahue's on ReelerTV.

  • Callas Assoluta is "a highly conventional documentary portrait of the great American soprano Maria Callas [that] has moments of absolutely searing beauty, almost always when we hear the great woman singing," writes Tom Hall.

  • "[D]espite its best intentions, [Darfur Now] plays more like an activist recruitment tape that one would show to wealthy potential donors than a detailed telling of the story of Darfur," writes Tom Hall.

  • The Dictator Hunter "focuses on a human rights lawyer seeking to bring the Chadian dictator Hissène Habré to justice after his exile in Senegal," writes Tom Hall. "While an impassioned look at the almost hopeless process of trying to bring a former head of state to justice, the film also focuses rather narrowly on the personal life and dilemmas of its subject, the human rights lawyer Reed Brody." Earlier: David D'Arcy.

  • "Dinner with the President is structured around a liberal elite couple (the directors Sabiha Sumar and Sachithanandam Sathananthan) in Pakistan who interview President Musharraf over dinner and then on a different day over tea," writes J Robert Parks. "Far better are the scenes when the directors travel through Pakistan, interviewing various people about their ideas of democracy and the current state of the nation."

  • Brian Brooks and Peter Knegt talk with Arthur Dong about Hollywood Chinese, which sure enough, "tells the overwhelming story of over a hundred years of Chinese representation in Hollywood." And: "It's something of a scattershot documentary that tries to be too many things while not being enough of any one thing," writes Mike White. "At the heart of the film is The Curse of Quon Gwon by Marion Wong, a 'lost' film directed by a Chinese American woman in 1917.... It feels as though Hollywood Chinese came about as an afterthought around which to hang items around The Curse of Quon Gwon like so much tinsel in a Christmas tree - it's pretty to look at but there's not a lot of substance."

  • "'I think my entire life has been leading up to this film,' said Parvez Sharma, director of the documentary, A Jihad For Love, which is produced by Sandi DuBowski (director of Trembling Before G-d, which told the stories of Jewish Orthodox gays), and playing to sold out screenings and standing ovations here in Toronto," reports Peter Knegt for indieWIRE. "Jihad details the five-year project Sharma undertook exploring the lives of Muslim homosexuals in Europe, South Asia, the Middle East, South Africa and beyond."

  • "I saw [Pierre Rissient: Man of Cinema] in Telluride and picked up a lot of history, hearing the tales of his life among filmmakers: immersing himself in cinema alongside Godard and Truffaut at Langlois's Cinematheque Française, taking Fritz Lang to see Deep Throat, trying to keep John Ford sober and awake on a press junket to Paris," recalls Criterion's Peter Becker. "He has been relentless in promoting the filmmakers he believes in, from Abbas Kiarostami to Clint Eastwood to Hou Hsiao-hsien, and, for their part, they credit him with opening the door to the recognition they deserved."

  • "Doug Pray's Surfwise is a sun-drenched portrait of the nine children (eight boys and one girl) and two parents that make up the Paskowitz family," writes Tom Hall. "Living in an RV on the beach and surfing their the days away in the golden sun of the 1970's, the family ends up fractured and scarred by their collective experience.... [T]he film stood out as one of the best in the festival, a sort of Crazy Love as a family's social experiment gone awry." And indieWIRE's Brian Brooks talks with Pray.

  • Terror's Advocate "is almost paralyzingly thorough in the wealth of information it presents and the various documents employed to tell the greater narrative," writes Ali at Cutting Room Reviews. "Present-day interviews with [Jacques] Vergès and other key personalities, archival and secret government footage, photographs, audio clips, phone interviews, and newspaper clippings... With all these valuable sources in his arsenal, [Barbet] Schroeder is able to transcend the kind of dull history lesson lecturing most films like these fall back on. However, the fact remains that there are five potential films contained within this beast of a project." And: "Schroeder for his part only covers the biographical highlights, forsaking an in depth look at Vergès's cases in favor of his personality and history," writes Tom Hall. "So, we never see him defending the butchering dictators of Africa or Slobodan Milosevic or even discussing their cases.... Pay attention, or you'll miss something, and you won't want to miss anything." Earlier: David D'Arcy's interview with Schroeder.

Special Presentations:

  • "It's really stunning that it is none other than David Auburn, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his universally hailed Proof, at the helm of this mess," writes Jesse Ataide, reviewing The Girl in the Park at DVD Verdict. "Actually, the film isn't bad so much as painfully average." But Cinematical's Ryan Stewart finds it "succeeds as drama because of above-average performances all around and the steady hand of first-time director David Auburn." What's more, he's expecting an "Oscar nod" for Sigourney Weaver.

  • "Along with collaborators Adam Vollick and Adam Samuels, [Daniel] Lanois has set out to chronicle a year or so of his professional life explaining his ideas and philosophies along the way," writes Todd Brown at Twitch. "The result is Here Is What Is, a fascinating look at an enormous artistic talent and his creative process."

  • "In Bloom is structurally uneven at times, and definitely not as profound in its revelations as it wants to be, but with strong acting and a strong visual palette, it's a success," writes Ryan Stewart at Cinematical. "Director Vadim Perelman's second directorial feature, following 2003's House of Sand and Fog, is a similarly funsy romp," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "As affecting as [Evan Rachel] Wood and [Eva] Amurri make the movie's central relationship, the movie itself is overstated and overwrought.... I read that [Perelman's] in line to helm the Angelina Jolie-starring adaptation of Atlas Shrugged. Perfect."

  • "[Sergei] Bodrov's [