November 30, 2007

JLG. EFA.

Die Zeit: Jean-Luc Godard First, an online viewing tip. Cahiers du cinéma and arte have an interview with Jean-Luc Godard. I can only gather the vaguest sense of what he's saying, but for those of you who really do understand French, enjoy.

The occasion is the honorary European Film Award he'll be receiving tomorrow night in Berlin, sort of a lifetime achievement nod (and, for heaven's sake, this is the European Film Academy's 20th year; it's about time), and the same goes for Katja Nicodemus's interview in Die Zeit this week; unfortunately, it's not online. It wouldn't be right for me to simply translate and post the whole thing (I'm hoping signandsight will see to that), but I have marked a few moments in the conversation I thought I'd pass along.

Updated through 12/1.

At 77, Godard seems to smile more easily than he used to. You can see that in the video and you can practically feel it between the lines in Nicodemus's interview. Which isn't to say that one of just-as-present subtexts of the talk isn't loneliness. He likes to say he's 80: "Old age shows you can persevere. Or that you'd like to carry on persevering."

It's the Zeit interview that the wires picked up on Wednesday and yesterday. For whatever reason, it was decided that the big story here is that Godard, as a young man, stole money to make films (and in at least one case, to help another director make a film, namely, Jacques Rivette). Which is ridiculous because, for starters, this isn't news at all; it's long been part of JLG lore. But more importantly, the conversation is riddled with passages that are far more interesting.

As the interview opens, Nicodemus is evidently fiddling with her recorder and Godard assures her that there's no reason in the world for her to be nervous. And - she's good - she reminds him that before Bernardo Bertolucci and Serge Daney met him for the first time, they barfed, they were so out of whack. "I really wouldn't know why," he seems to murmur in return.

Then, further in:

Godard: You know, it seems strange to me, receiving an award for my life's work in Berlin. For films that precisely these people who hand out awards in Berlin don't watch.

KN: Maybe that's the fate of all legendary directors.

Godard: You mean they're buried before they're dead?

KN: No, that the work disappears behind the name.

Godard: That may well be.

Several Qs and As later...

KN: What does the nouvelle vague mean to you now?

Godard: A feeling of youth. But youth wasn't really youth then, either. I shot Breathless in 1959. At the age of 30. That's not very young for a directorial debut. At 30, most people are in the middle of their careers. What I really liked about the nouvelle vague was the exchange among directors. It was a pretty happy time. These days, when I'm shooting, I only talk with the technicians, and I have no idea what they think about my film.

KN: What keeps you from calling up Jacques Rivette or Eric Rohmer?

Godard: We're not in touch anymore. And I don't like the films Rivette makes these days. I respect Rohmer. We were in touch for a while because I was living in the house in Paris where he worked. I'm alone, but I don't want to complain about it....

[...]

KN: When Alfred Hitchcock died in 1980, you wrote in your remembrance that it was the end of an epoch. And when, not too long ago, Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni died, the end of an epoch was declared again. How many deaths does cinema have?

Godard: Cinema, painting or literature - none of these die with their authors [he may have used the word "auteur"; the German is "Autor," used for both].... [same answer, but several sentences on...] The politics of the nouvelle vague auteurs concentrated on recognition of a director's contribution as a creator of images as opposed to the screenwriter. It was about treating the grammar of cinema as an independent visual grammar and saving [what] was invented by certain silent film directors - Griffith, for example. It's a grammar of narrative imagery which must constantly be renewed to ward off stereotypes and routine. And which places an image in relation to previous images. There are still films that stake claims for this position. But it's harder to make them. Not because it's harder to find the money. But the ideas that we had then have disappeared; they aren't being renewed. For me, it's become difficult to - have an idea, as they say.

[...]

Godard: It's not as easy as it used to be to use a camera to see something you otherwise wouldn't see. Directors are either confirming what they already know - or they're confirming themselves with the camera. Like a knight would confirm himself with a lance. I'm going to shoot my next film alone - but really alone. I'll adapt. I won't film the actors together, but instead, one after another. I'll make reservations in the hotel, too, if they come here to Switzerland. These are different films, but they're possible. Fortunately, I wasn't able to make all the films I wanted to.

KN: Why "fortunately"?

Godard: [laughs] Because they wouldn't have been good.

[...]

Godard: There's something that's stayed with me from the days of the nouvelle vague, even though it no longer exists in this form: arguing about cinema. Because the beautiful thing about cinema is that it still always allows us to argue. Fundamentally. You can get far more upset about an opinion about a film than one about a painting or a piece of music. For example, when I say to someone, "It doesn't surprise me at all that you like the new film by Robert Redford because I always knew you were daft." That sets things off immediately: "Who do you think you are! How dare you!" And if I want to get to know someone, let's say, for example, you, then I wouldn't ask for your opinion about Iraq or Yugoslavia or the train strike, but instead ask you to name a film you like.

KN: The Idiots, by Lars von Trier, what a coincidence!

The joke here is that, earlier, JLG pronounced The Idiots Lars von Trier's best. Which isn't exactly the same as saying he likes it, of course. (Probably does, though.) When Nicodemus asks him about his moviegoing habits these days, you do get the impression that he's seeing more on DVD now than in the theater.

Godard: And when it comes to the American DVDs, I always break off at the moment when I figure out how they're going to give the story a happy end after all. This dogged insistence on happy endings - I admire it quite a lot. And I'm like everyone else. I'd rather watch a bad American film than a bad Norwegian film.

Nicodemus asks him whether Anne-Marie Miéville will be involved in his next project.

Godard: She'll absolutely be involved in the next film. We imagine the film together. We call it forth into memory. It's as if clouds were, bit by bit, slowly taking shape. That's why I work best when I doze in my chair.

KN: How so?

Godard: I try to see things. With my eyes closed. Because you don't see the same thing with your eyes open. It's not any different with a camera. You use open eyes to see with closed eyes.

That's way less than a quarter of the conversation; just some passages I marked as I read through the first time, and I've translated here very quickly, very loosely. Here's hoping Berlin and the EFA give JLG a warm welcome tomorrow evening.

Update, 12/1: Spiegel Online is reporting that JLG has decided not to come to Berlin to collect his award. "If someone says I've created a life's work, I'll have to accept that. But my form of criticism is not to go."

For those who speak German: Click on the video link to see the arte interview with a German translation.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:03 PM | Comments (5)

Shorts, 11/30.

White Sun of the Desert White Sun of the Desert, a western, or rather, "eastern," made in the USSR during the Brezhnev era, remains one of the top five bestselling DVDs in contemporary Russia. Cosmonauts like it, too. "Bizarrely, White Sun has become a lucky talisman, ritually watched to this day before each and every launch." Lucy Ash examines its appeal in the New Statesman.

They've seen There Will Be Blood and they're all revved up: Jürgen Fauth, Glenn Kenny and Josh Modell.

Sneak peeks at French films in the works (Bruno Dumont, Alain Resnais and more): Fabien Lemercier (Cineuropa) and Boyd van Hoeij (european-films.net).

For Stop Smiling, Patrick Z McGavin talks with Marina Hands, who's "currently shooting her English-language debut, portraying French fashion icon Coco Chanel in William Friedkin's period drama Coco & Igor, which focuses on the relationship between Chanel and the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky (played by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen). She is also completing work on Agatha Christie's Le Grand alibi, the latest feature from Cahiers du Cinema critic and editor Pascal Bonitzer."

Also, Michael Joshua Rowin on I'm Not There, "an ambitious, rich, but unfulfilled film." Related: the Nashville Scene's Jim Ridley talks with Murray Lerner about The Other Side of the Mirror.

New blog on the block: Yair Raveh's Cinemascope.

Juno "Everywhere a cynic turns, ready to dismiss this story as another Rushmore rip-off or Knocked Up knock-off, there Juno is waiting," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "[Jason] Reitman shatters those conventions swiftly and mercilessly, thanks in large part to his secret weapon, a young actress who, in just two leading roles, has convinced more than a few observers that she may be one of the greatest talents of her generation. Ellen Page, a 20-year-old Canadian, has used her unconventional looks and her razor-sharp flair for sarcasm and understatement to subvert the notion of a leading lady."

"Willard Christopher Smith Jr hatched his scheme for global supremacy at 16, after his first girlfriend cheated on him." A profile for Time from Rebecca Winters Keegan. "The math of moviemaking enthralls Smith, who calls himself a 'student of universal patterns.'"

"Miles Brandman's earnest Sex and Breakfast features two LA couples in their 20s who choose to chase away the relationship doldrums with the help of a group sex therapist (Joanna Miles) and approach it as if they were unlocking the mysteries of the universe," writes Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times. "The results are predictable, but an attractive and willing cast eases some of the tedium."

Scott Foundas meets James Marsden, talks with him for the LA Weekly, likes him, then jokes that he'll probably like him less after 27 Dresses comes out. Which, of course, he means in the best way.

James Mottram talks with Robert Duvall for the Independent.

"When Woody Allen arrived in Barcelona in July to start making his latest film, he was greeted with open arms," writes Paul Hamilos in the Guardian. "Just how open those arms were has become the cause of a dispute that has led to the cancellation of the director's plans to film in Spain." Meanwhile, Woody Allen will be joining the "Speechless" parade next week, reports Andrew Wallenstein.

Also in the Guardian, Jason Wood interviews Nick Cave, David Teather sorts through the numbers in that widely discussed report, "Do Movies Make Money?," and: "What's the most overrated film of 2007?" asks Xan Brooks. His nomination: The Lives of Others.

Priscilla At Tribeca: "12 Great Cross-Dressing Movies."

"[Robert] Zemeckis's Cast Away was a great, sadly underrated piece of minimal, elemental filmmaking," writes Jeff Reichert in Reverse Shot. "Beowulf strives for similar elegant grandeur and, by virtue of its general allegiance to the spirit of its source material and occasional moments of restraint, brushes against success."

Chronicle of an Escape "belongs to that large, undistinguished subset of historical dramas that achieve little more than informing viewers that the events onscreen did in fact take place," writes Mike D'Angelo for Nerve.

"[T]here was something that depressed me about Enchanted, a grim reality that occasionally peeped through the whimsy like New York City glimpsed from the animated fields of Andalasia," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "This sinking feeling had little to do with what could be seen as the movie's retrograde affirmation of true love and happy endings—after all, if you're going to start complaining about marriage as a plot resolution device, you have to throw out every comedy from Shakespeare on down. No, that intermittent sense of yuckiness sprang from the movie's solemn celebration of a ritual even more sacred than holy matrimony: shopping."

The San Francisco Bay Guardian's Kimberly Chun sits in on a spoiler-ridden Lust, Caution roundtable with Ang Lee and Wei Tang.

Now then. The only thing this next piece has to do with film, really, is that it's been written by a film critic, one of our best, Michael Atkinson. But it's astounding, and, in some horrific way, beautiful, and if you've only got time for one read today, skip everything above and read this one.

Online viewing tip. Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay and the SpoutBlog's Karina Longworth comment on Harmony Korine's new ad for Thornton's.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:58 AM | Comments (2)

The Magic Flute.

The Magic Flute "The Magic Flute is Kenneth Branagh's third release this year after As You Like It and Sleuth, completing his most prolific directorial run since the early 1990s," writes the Telegraph's Tim Robey. "It may well be the best of the three, but dare we ask him to get back to acting now? Plonking Mozart's phantasmagorical opera down in the trenches of the First World War is vintage Branagh - daring but silly."

"The horrors of Flanders provide a strange but satisfying glue," counters Charlotte O'Sullivan in the Evening Standard. "For the first time ever, the plot made sense to me."

Updated through 12/1.

"Despite the talent involved - Branagh is joined by Stephen Fry, who has written a new libretto - and the ambitious staging, this flute blows all right, but it's short on the magic," writes Wendy Ide in the London Times.

"It may not be pushing the envelope, exactly, and it perhaps won't find favour with purists," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "But it seemed to me that this Magic Flute is offered to the moviegoer in a generous, uncynical spirit, and what a refreshing change it makes to the relentless samey diet of dumbed-down formulae and charmless schlock often to be found sloshing about the cinema."

Earlier: Reviews from Venice 06.

Update, 12/1: "Fortunately the singing is uniformly amazing," writes Sarah Manvel at cinemaattraction. "Branagh and his casting director, Sarah Playfair have picked the cream of global operatic talent (the main cast of ten come from seven different countries) to provide a stunning soundtrack."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:38 AM | Comments (1)

Fests and events, 11/30.

Rotterdam 08 At Twitch, Ardvark spots a bit of news from the International Film Festival Rotterdam (January 23 through February 3): "The final list of films and showings will be released only a few weeks in advance but their website already lifts a corner of the veil."

"The 13 documentaries featured in Art on Screen 2007, a three-day festival of award-winning art documentaries from around the world running this weekend at the Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles, are a good deal more sober than the Hollywood biopics that usually exploit the turbulence lurking in the creative spark," writes Steve Dollar. Also in the New York Sun, Grady Hendrix previews Film Forum's Ousmane Sembène retro.

"Memories of Tomorrow is the first movie I've seen about [Alzheimer's] that is told from the sick person's point of view, not that of family members," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "The director, Yukihiko Tsutsumi, often uses a subjective camera to show the commonplace world melting into bewildering patterns and meanings." At Facets through December 6.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:00 AM

Sweeney Todd, 11/30.

Sweeney Todd "Well I'm just in from Sweeney Todd and it's utterly magnificent," announces David Ehrenstein. "A perfect melding of the sensibilities of Sondheim and Tim Burton in ways I couldn't quite imagine working until I saw the finished film. Johnny Depp is not only a great star he is a cinematic genius. Helena Bonham Carter is perfect as Mrs Lovett. Alan Rickman and Timothy Spall were born to play Judge Turpin and Beadle Bramford (respectively)."

For David Carr, "This film displays a director in his prime, with a fully realized execution - sorry about that - of one of Broadway's darkest fables."

Updated through 12/6.

"[T]he most important movie of 2007," declares Tom O'Neil. "Certainly, it's the best I've seen all year, although, of course, I'm a bit biased as a diehard fan of the Broadway show."

Updates, 12/3: "Sweeney Todd will earn a rash of Oscar nominations, including cinematography, production design, costumes, and Depp," predicts Anne Thompson, who also rounds up more reactions - not reviews!

"The movie's sense of humor, when not dripping blood, is a bit limited," writes David Poland - and yes, this is a review. "This is unusual for Burton, but the subject is more directly serious than any other film he's ever made. This is not a fairy tale. There is symbolism and non-literalism, but it's a harsh, brutal story about loss and revenge and the futility of our rage... and Burton has embraced that tone completely, along with his actors."

"Where much could have gone wrong, things have turned out uniformly right thanks to highly focused direction by Tim Burton, expert screw-tightening by scenarist John Logan, and haunted and musically adept lead performances from Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "schewing trademark mannerisms and flights of fancy, and yet fully imprinting the film with his signature, Burton strongly delivers the dark core of this story of a lower-class London barber whose thirst for revenge against a venal judge gives birth to a prodigious serial killer."

"The show couldn't have fallen into better hands," writes the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt. "More akin to Burton's Sleepy Hollow, where heads rolled like so many bowling balls, his Sweeney Todd places its emphasis on Grand Guignol and the deeply human story of twice-lost love and the horrifying destructiveness of revenge." And so: "Depp is the movie's heart and guts."

"Depp and Rickman intone their lyrics like villains in a parable, with Rickman's guttural bass particularly haunting," writes David D'Arcy for Screen Daily. "Bonham-Carter has a flair for pies of dust and soot, but her small creaky voice doesn't put terror (or much of anything else) in your heart. The 'hole in the world that's a big black pit,' of which Sweeney Todd sings doesn't seem so threatening here. Where's the horror?"

Update, 12/6: Online viewing tips. Via everybody, 9 clips.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:47 AM

Docs, 11/30.

The Outsiders of New Orleans: Loujon Press "Strolling the streets and alleyways of New Orleans in Wayne Ewing's The Outsiders of New Orleans: Loujon Press, Louise [Webb], lucid and lively in her 90s, points to the buildings and rooms where she and her late husband Jon Edgar Webb once lived and worked," writes Ray Young. "This hour-long documentary reflects back to her days as a sidewalk artist selling watercolors in the 1950s and 60s, when the locals gave her the nickname 'Gypsy Lou.' At home, she and Jon ran Loujon Press in their cramped apartment quarters, publishing books by Charles Bukowski and Henry Miller, and editing and publishing Outsider, a legendary literary review."

At indieWIRE, Brian Brooks sends impressions of a string of docs he's caught at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.

"I just had a chance to watch Chris Hansen's documentary short, Clean Freak, a follow-up to his feature-length mockumentary, The Proper Care and Feeding of an American Messiah," writes Chuck Tryon. "Equal parts Morgan Spurlock and Caveh Zahedi, with a twist of Alan Berliner, Clean Freak documents Chris's somewhat obsessive need for a clean house.... [T]he film's sharpest move is his connection between his need to tidy things up in real life and his desire for narrative completion; in essence, filmmaking becomes a means of cleaning up the messes of everyday life."

"While comparing the loss of paintings and sculptures to human life may seem at first blush to be a facile subject, Rape of Europa makes clear that an attack on cultural history is as direct a strike against a people as a bomb dropped on their homes," writes Shaun Brady in the Philadelphia City Paper.

"Rather than endorsing conspiracy theories, Oswald's Ghost studies them as anger-driven symptoms of cultural obsession," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. More from Noel Murray at the AV Club: "[Robert] Stone has assembled Oswald's Ghost well, with few of the stylistic tics that marred his Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst.... Late in the film, Stone interviews Norman Mailer, a one-time conspiracy-believer who eventually wrote a book that tried to get inside Oswald's head, explaining how Oswald's story is America's story. In less than a minute, Mailer describes the documentary Stone should've made."

Ryan Boudinot in the Stranger on Lynch: "What's on display here is [David] Lynch's work life, not his private life, and so be it. It's still pretty nifty to watch a fellow carefully dip a suit jacket in lime-green paint. Hot dog!"

Posted by dwhudson at 5:20 AM

Online viewing tip. The Key to Reserva.

The Key to Reserva "It's one thing to preserve a film that's been made. It's another thing to preserve a film that's not been made."

Scorsese does Hitchcock. Wow: The Key to Reserva.

Major league thanks to the Shamus.

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

The movies' (and Charlie Wilson's) war.

IW: Iraq War Movies So there's the cover of the current Independent Weekly. David Fellerath's got the long list of miserable box office numbers and then suggests a few possible answers: war fatigue; our soldiers are too laden with gear to distinguish between them (no, really); Vietnam was "a more interesting visual setting" than Iraq or Afghanistan, though his heart isn't really in any of these - which is a good thing, because, for one thing, Afghanistan can be startlingly beautiful on the screen. "More importantly, I think, the American culture of the 1960s infiltrated Vietnam in ways that were conducive to movie drama." Then, even more ideas are floated before finally getting to the heart of the matter, the filmmaking: "What's missing from the GWOT films that are being made is a sense of poetry, a sense of genuine drama and, above all, a sense of the surreal and the absurd."

"Because it is so angry, Redacted is the first important fictional film on the subject of America's current and senseless occupation of Iraq," argues Charles Mudede in the Stranger. "Because it is so angry, the film crosses the line into hysteria. Yes, Redacted is out of control, out of its mind. But what other emotional register could adequately express the desperate state of things in Iraq - the hourly crimes, the daily murders of civilians, the rising weekly toll of American deaths, the monstrous monthly expense of this endless hell (over $8 billion)?"

"In a year when big-name Hollywood talent has plunged headlong into films about war, terrorism and politics, Charlie Wilson's War is both refreshing and disappointing," writes Mike Goodridge for Screen International. "Refreshing, because it tells its story with such brisk narrative skill and wit. Disappointing, because it assiduously avoids taking its subject matter into the more ambiguous territory which might risk alienating a wide moviegoing audience."

For Variety's Todd McCarthy, the film's "a smart, sophisticated entertainment for grownups. Based on the late George Crile's sensational bestseller about how an unlikely trio of influential and colorful characters conspired to generate covert financial and weapons support for the Afghan Mujahideen to defeat the Russians in the 1980s - and armed America's future enemies in the process - Mike Nichols's film is snappy, amusing and ruefully ironic."

A somewhat related online listening tip. On the Leonard Lopate Show, Craig Unger talks about his new book, The Fall of the House of Bush: The Untold Story of How a Band of True Believers Seized the Executive Branch, Started the Iraq War, and Still Imperils America's Future. Unger's not exactly a smooth talker, but that doesn't make what he has to say any less interesting - or for that matter, exasperating.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:21 AM

LA CityBeat. Holiday Film.

LA CityBeat: Jeff Bridges "Opening next week in extremely limited release (four theaters in four cities), [The Amateurs is] an intricately sweet comedy about a motley collection of small-town friends who band together to make an adult film. [Jeff] Bridges plays Andy, a middle-aged guy who's lost his job and family, but reclaims his self-worth as the plotter of the porn flick." So this gives Erik Himmelsbach an opportunity to talk with Bridges through his entire career; and of course, the conversation's one long build-up to the big one:

"God, I don't know how many times I've seen that movie," Bridges says. "Normally when a movie of mine comes on I'll turn the channel, but when Lebowski comes on, I'll say, 'I'll just wait until Turturro licks the [bowling] ball, then I'll change the channel.' Then he licks the ball, and I'll just wait until... it's just one thing after another coming at you. Great performances, wonderful writing. I often get people who say, that was all improvised, right? Oh no, that was all on the page, every ellipsis, every 'man.' I think it's great filmmaking. That's all there is to it."

Also in the LA CityBeat's "Holiday Film" issue:

"Back before Sex, Lies, and Videotape... before Reservoir Dogs... before there was much of anything that could be called an American independent film movement, John Sayles was the quintessential indie filmmaker. And, 27 years after his debut feature, Return of the Secaucus 7 (which, among other things, introduced David Strathairn to moviegoers), he remains resolutely outside the studio system with his latest, Honeydripper." Andy Klein:

Sayles has written films with mainly female characters and mainly Latino characters, but I'm curious as to whether he felt any discomfort writing dialogue for an essentially all-black cast.

He seems to think it's not the smartest question (and maybe he's right). "Look, you're always pretending to be a lot of different people and writing about a lot of people. I've written movies in Spanish, and my Spanish isn't even that good; I had to get help later making it better.... I mean, it's America. If you're a 25-year-old writer, you don't just write 25-year-olds. At least I hope not. You don't just write men if you're a man. I mean: Who's this straight Chinese guy who made a movie about gay cowboys? How does that make all the gay cowboy directors feel?"

Andy Klein also talks with Hadrian Belove about "Reviving the Revival House," the Silent Movie Theatre, now the Cinefamily, revisits Diva and reviews The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: "Much of the picture's power derives directly from the fact that the narrative is defined by relationships rather than events. It is through these scenes - notably those involving Bauby's estranged wife (Emmanuelle Seigner) and increasingly infirm father (Max von Sydow) - that a portrait of the real man takes shape.... It's an undeniably bold experiment by any measure, well worthy of the Best Director award [Julian] Schnabel picked up at this year's Cannes Film Festival. But it's also an imperfect experiment, too often undone by its own ambitions."

Rebecca Epstein talks with Schnabel.

Mick Farren welcomes the future: "All that Google lacks is full-length, original motion pictures, and if it takes their production out of the inept hands of Disney and its studio ilk, I won't experience the slightest pang of regret."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:42 AM

November 29, 2007

Fests and events, 11/29.

Fusion "Fusion, Outfest's program of films about LGBTQ people of color and the only festival of its kind, pulls in audiences like no other: Think queer theorists, questioning teenagers, the next generation's Vaginal Davis and, of course, your usual entertainment industry professionals," writes Margaret Wappler in her preview for the Los Angeles Times. Tomorrow through Sunday.

Also: Kevin Crust previews The Cinema Cabaret: Neo-Benshi Live Film Narration on Monday at REDCAT; briefly: the Jules Verne Adventure Film Festival, December 5 through 15. Plus, Edgar Wright's "Wright Stuff" at the New Beverly Cinema; and more.

Her Name Is Sabine It's SF360 Movie Night. As Susan Gerhard explains, Sandrine Bonnaire's Her Name Is Sabine will be screening all over the Bay Area tonight.

On the occasion of today's screening of Lav Diaz's Death in the Land of Encantos in Manila, Tilman Baumgärtel describes a previous screening of Heremias in the Philippine Inquirer: "Members of the audience were free to enter and leave the cinema as they wished - go to the bathroom, get something to eat, or take a stroll. When one returned, there was a good chance it would be the same scene - which was at once comforting and awkward."

Romanian Cinema: The Golden Age is running in Tribeca Cinemas from today through December 2, and Tribeca Film Festival director Peter Scarlett offers an overview.

In the Austin Chronicle, Louis Black introduces Marc Savlov's interview with Lou Perryman and Sonny Carl Davis, the stars of The Whole Shootin' Match; a restored version will be screening at the Alamo Drafthouse from tomorrow through Thursday.

Cinematexas Also, Josh Rosenblatt describes how the Cinematexas International Short Film Festival will be going out with a bang this weekend.

And Mark Fagan talks with Vincent Gallo, whose band RRIICCEE plays the Alamo on Monday night.

"In recent years, Peter Greenaway has vanished so thoroughly into self-willed obscurity that it's hard to remember he was once discussed with the attentiveness that contemporary scholars of gnomic, overstuffed cinema lavish on Guy Maddin," writes Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper. "Dating back to the dawn of Greenaway's feature film career, The Draughtman's Contract (1982) and A Zed & Two Noughts (1985) are clockwork contraptions encrusted with weighty ideas and sumptuous tableaux, a feast for the eyes and a puzzle for the head." And they're screening tonight and tomorrow at the International House.

Also, Shaun Brady: "The title of this quirky, eclectic collection of animated films and music videos from Sweden - Daydream Nation - may simply refer to the country's apparent penchant for surrealistic diurnal imaginings. But the immediate reference is to Sonic Youth's landmark 1988 album, a comparison that isn't entirely off the mark, given the way that these films echo the record's blend of off-kilter experimentation and harsh noise with pretty pop leanings." Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at local theaters.

Flesh and the Devil

At the Siffblog, David Jeffers is looking forward to Saturday at the Castro in San Francisco and the screenings of Intolerance and Flesh and the Devil. Update: More from Robert Avila at SF360.

If you're in London anytime between now and January 19, the Guardian's Jonathan Jones recommends catching new work by Jeff Wall at the White Cube; and I'll add that Jeff Wall: Exposure's on at the Deutsche Guggenheim through January 20. Related, and via wood s lot: Shep Steiner on Wall in Image and Narrative.

The Berlinale has given its short films section, now in its second year, a new, more straightforward name: Berlinale Shorts.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:35 PM

2 plays.

Vue Weekly: BitchSlap! BitchSlap! opens tonight at the Roxy Theatre in Edmonton and runs through December 9. For the Vue Weekly, David Berry talks with playwright and sound designer Darin Hagen, who also happens to play Joan Crawford, and Trevor Schmidt, the director - who plays Bette Davis:

"People ask why gay men love those women so much, and the reason is that in the 40s, when there was no such thing as gay rights, or at least they weren't very visible, people like Bette and Joan became the politicians in gay mens' minds," says Hagen, ably transitioning, as he frequently does in both person and script, from ribald outrageousness to sedate cogency. "They were the strong, feminine creatures, they got the man, they got the gigs, they got everything."

Updated through 12/2.

"I've got nothing against gay rights, there's just nothing in it for me," paraphrases Schmidt, joined by Hagen for the last bit.

"It goes beyond that, too," continues Hagen. "They were men in dresses, in a lot of ways, because they fought like men, they didn't take any shit like men, they basically played a game that very few women were willing to play; they'd risk everything to keep their career going."

Othello "Othello is arguably the most intense and immediate of Shakespeare's mature tragedies," writes Paul Taylor in the Independent:

Casting is crucial to the chemistry that bubbles in a production between hero and villain. In this [sold out] account [at the Donmar Warehouse], Iago is played by Ewan McGregor, last seen on stage as charming, personable Sky Masterson in [Michael] Grandage's production of Guys and Dolls and better known as a screen actor who embraces both the indie end of the spectrum (Young Adam) and the mainstream (Star Wars, Moulin Rouge!).

The role of Othello is taken by Chiwetel Ejiofor who, though he has lately concentrated on movies (for directors ranging from Woody Allen to Ridley Scott), boasts an impressive list of theatrical credits.

Update, 12/2: More on Bitchslap! from Paul Matwychuk.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:15 PM

Sundance. Lineup, round 2.

Sundance 08 "New films from Michel Gondry, Boaz Yakin, Mark Pellington, Brad Anderson and Barry Levinson fill out Sundance's star-studded Premieres section, which considerably ups the Park City glitz factor." At indieWIRE, Anthony Kaufman's got the lineup for that one, plus the other non-competitive sections: Spectrum: Documentary Spotlight, Spectrum (the dramatic features), New Frontier and Park City at Midnight.

Updated through 11/30.

Updates, 11/30: Karina Longworth's got notes on this round, too.

Wiley Wiggins "super proud of and excited for David and Nathan." Zellner, that is.

"As noted in our commentary last week, neither the IDA nor Full Frame (nor, it should be mentioned, the Independent Spirit Awards) give any annual craft awards for documentary," writes AJ Schnack. "Sundance has taken the lead on this point for several years and boldly continues to recognize artistic craft in documentary filmmaking and should be applauded for doing so."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:28 PM

Amsterdam Dispatch. 3.

Ruhnama David D'Arcy on three more docs screening at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, running through Saturday.

As your morning paper's friendly travel writer might blithely put it, "If you're thinking of going to Turkmenistan...," The Shadow of the Holy Book (site) might be worth viewing before you book non-refundable tickets. Director Arto Halonen and writer/lawyer Kevin Frazier examine the eccentricities of one-man rule in the post-Soviet autocra-stan which sits on vast reserves of gas and oil, making it a friend these days of the United States and other countries who covet those energy sources. Turkemenistan has the world's third-largest gas reserves.

And you thought There Will Be Blood was the oil film of the season. From the fall of communism until 2006, Turkmenistan was ruled by Saparmurat Niyazov, who declared himself president for life. Like so many of his petroleo-crat peers, Niyazov built huge marble palaces and other gargantuan "architectural" tributes to himself. His own residence in Ashgabat resembled the Chateau de Versailles, or at least Frenchmen seeking to do business with him told him so. Like so much else in Ashgabat, it looked like a super-sized knock-off somewhere in Las Vegas or Orlando.

Niyazov even had a favorite French architect who became the Albert Speer of Ashgabat. Niyazov's taste looked a lot like Saddam Hussein's, with a special preference for what we might call Authoritarian Vegas. No coincidence that Ashgabat is in the middle of the desert. (Niyazov himself looked a bit more like Leonid Brezhnev, only larger.) As with Saddam, western countries tried to get as much of his oil, gas and money as they could.   Flattery was a sure way to open the door.

Saparmurat Niyazov But Halonen and Frazier are more eager in Niyazov's grotesque uniqueness than in the generic life-style that befits membership in the dictators' club. Niyazov's delusions and his means to put them into practice made him his region's Kim Jong-Il. Niyazov was nutty enough to think that was a compliment. Citizens in kitschy folkloric costumes were required to swear allegiance to him at mass rallies. Part of that oath involved wishing that their body parts would fall off if, God forbid, they were to do anything to hurt their leader. (Once the police beat a confession out of someone accused of anything suspect, they'll know what to do next.)

Halonen and Frazier have fun with Ashgabat's contribution to monumental sculpture, a 30-foot illuminated book that opens to different pages. (It's something that the operators of Bible theme parks can only dream of.) The book is the gold, green and purple the Ruhnama, the official text of Turkmenistan since 2001. It makes claims for Niyazov - now called Turkmenbashi - which most religious texts wouldn't even make for God.

Turkmen citizens have to endure this, at the barrel of a gun, as the old saying goes. They also have to endure unemployment at 60 percent and quixotic policies from their leader, who closed rural libraries "because rural Turkmen don't read," banned opera, ballet lip-synching, and stashed some $2 billion away in a German bank.

But Niyazov's gospel is taken beyond his borders with dozens of translations of the Ruhnama, and it turns out that each of these translations is paid for by a major corporation. Halonen and Frazier set out to talk to these corporations like Siemens, John Deere, Caterpillar and Bouygues about the Ruhnama, and the firms respond by ignoring calls, hanging up, slamming doors, and throwing the filmmakers out of corporate lobbies. All of the search for accountability is captured on the jostling camera. If this sounds a lot like Michael Moore, there are similarities.

Yet if publishing the Ruhnama is a noble undertaking, why don't the companies funding it say so? It's the same reason that companies which bribe officials in other countries don't talk about. It's embarrassing, sometimes illegal, although translating the epic by Niyazov doesn't seem to be a crime against anything but sanity.

(To be fair, Turkmenistan isn't the only place where flattery is offered for a quid pro quo. Think of the film festivals that "honor" distributors with career achievement awards while they hold their noses, or put sales agents on juries, in order to ensure that they get the films that they want from these industry types.)

Deere and Company, the makers of John Deere tractors, puts a copy of the Ruhnama in its company museum in Moline, Illinois, but makes excuses when the filmmakers visit. An employee of Caterpillar in Peoria, Illinois, sets up a web guide to the Ruhnama, complete with offerings of Ruhnama souvenirs, yet protests that his corporation had nothing to do with the site when the filmmakers go searching for him. The site now seems to be down, although Caterpillar is still doing business in Turkmenistan. You'll have to go to another global corporation for a Ruhnama t-shirt.

The businessman who seems to have profited most from Niyazov's vanity is Ahmet Calik, the head of a Turkish energy and construction conglomerate, who has worked his way up to the post of minister. No surprise, he commissioned the Turkish translation of the Ruhmana, and his firm is flourishing there. Again, no surprise: we never hear from him, although the dodging and evasion from his press spokesman could be inspiration for a skit on The Simpsons. Close behind him is French tycoon Martin Bouygues, whose industrial group has its signature on much of what is mock-monumentally new in the capital. Bouygues controls TF1, France's largest private television channel, which prepared a special laudatory program devoted to Niyazov. The program, presented as a TF1 production, only aired in Turkmenistan. Did Niyazov know this? When Kevin Frazier calls Bouygues to inquire whether the company sees an ethical problem in trading with a government that violates human rights, the firm's flacks decline comment with Gallic scorn, and hang up on him.

Those who do talk are critics - Farid Turbatullin, a human rights activist now in exile in Vienna, and his son, Ruslan, who makes satirical cartoons about Niyazov and oppression in Turkmenistan, and Boris Shikmuradov, Jr, exiled in Moscow, who has been searching for his father, a former official, since he was arrested in 2002. It would have been good to see something more concrete about human rights abuses. Naturally, the government wants to keep cameras far away from that.

One businessman who does talk is the CEO of the Finnish energy firm ESCO, who regrets any role his firm had in commissioning a Finnish translation of the Ruhmana. The executive is clearly embarrassed, but he's the only one who comes close to admitting it. Accountability among those doing business with this dictator is rare indeed.

The Shadow of the Holy Book was shot on the run, and looks like it, although it also has the no-budget research look, since Kevin Frazier often gets no farther than a hang-up from a major firm thwn he calls from his threadbare office in Helsinki.

The team almost lost their project in late 2006, when the Turmenbashi dropped dead of a heart attack. When hopes for a commitment to human rights in Turkmenistan collapsed under Niyazov's successor, the filmmakers knew they still had a movie. These days in Ashgabat, natural gas is worth more than ever, and the Ruhnama remains a sacred text. (The Shadow of the Holy Book was funded in part by ITVS, and will be shown on American television next year.)

Up the Yangtze

Also at IDFA (and eventually to be seen on PBS, via ITVS) is Up the Yangtze (site), a Canadian doc by Yung Chang about jarring displacements of families in the Yangtze valley, as high-rises go up like monstrous weeds above the projected high-water line and cruise ships carrying comfortable tourists ply their way along the river.

There must be a Chinese translation of the Ruhnama. When it comes to oil, it sems that Beijing hasn't met a dictator it doesn't like.

What's filling up the Yangtze is water from a dam, which will cover many thousands of homes. It's great for the cruise ships that bring thousands of tourists. It's less encouraging for a young girl from a displaced family who gets a job washing dishes and serving on one of the ships. We follow her in her first contact with western consumer culture. This is progress? The culture clash has a standard PBS look, but even that is an achievement - Yung Chang shot his film without any official permits, which can get you into a lot of trouble.

There's a lot of testimony from aggrieved Chinese, who remind us of the project's huge human cost, and we see that cost on their faces, and on the riverbanks. This is not lost on all the tourists, who watch the rising river from the treadmills where they walk in place to elevator music in the ship's exercise room. Whatever happened to the old adage that a rising tide lifts all boats.

Mechanical Love

One of my favorites so far is Mechanical Love (DFI), a Finnish-Danish doc. If the title set you off looking for sex toys or for prostitutes in chains and futuristic chastity belts, you were in the wrong neighborhood in Amsterdam.

Phie Ambo's film looks at people creating and interacting with lifelike man-made creatures. The Paro is a stuffed seal robot, complete with a cry, if not a voice, that is given to patients with dementia. As a pacifier for people who can't be left completely alone, it's cheaper than a real babysitter. When patients in Japan, Germany and Italy take the seals and make them whine, scientists can record an intensity of brain activity. The seal enhances the life of the person holding it.

Yet there's something of a Frankenstein effect, which we can see in the case of the Geminoid, a life-like android that is sculpted to the likeness of the scientist Hiroshi Ishiguro, who is leading a team of scientists studying robots and the problems that arise when you bring them into a human community. Ishiguro cooperates with gentle good humor in the studies that he conducts, sitting with an android that looks just like him, and speaking through that android to his frightened daughter, who is also a guinea pig in the tests.

Will there ever be a time when human life is no longer necessary, the scientist asks, as a skittish poodle jumps around, dramatizing the undeniable inconvenience of living things. The scenes with Ishiguro are charming vignettes that remind you of the philosophical plays of Marivaux, with witty interplay among the scholars, soliloquies by Ishiguro on his family and work, tender family scenes, and experiments with the scientist's only daughter. Talk about a Faustian bargain. Few of the fundamental questions are answered.

It's a shame Mechanical Love won't be showing anywhere soon. You could see it along with the stage version of Young Frankenstein.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:59 AM

British Independent Awards.

British Independent Awards "Control, the biopic about late Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, has scooped five prizes at the British Independent Awards, including best film," reports the BBC. The other four: Most Promising Newcomer (Sam Riley), Best Director and the Douglas Hickox Award, given to the best debuting director (Anton Corbijn) and Best Supporting Actor/Actress (Toby Kebbell).

Other winners:

Updated.

Update: The Guardian hosts a roundtable discussion with the jury. First question: "What have been the main advances in British film over the last couple of years?"

Posted by dwhudson at 12:49 AM

November 28, 2007

Shorts, 11/28.

Death in the Land of Encantos "Lav Diaz's Kagadanan sa banwaan ning mga Engkanto (Death in the Land of Encantos, 2007) might be the possible result if you took Spike Lee's 2006 documentary When the Levees Broke, recast it in Andrei Tarkovsky mode, stretched it to Béla Tarr length, added a dash of Abbas Kiarostami-like meta-cinema, sprinkled it with a few ideas from Mario O'Hara, and set it in the Bicol region," writes Noel Vera. "Possible, though I wonder if said bastard offspring will be anywhere near as strange as this."

"[O]n a one-to-10 creep-o-meter scale, [Awake] gets a seven," writes Kent Sepkowitz, a physician, at Slate. But is there really such a thing as "anesthetic awareness"? "Yes, it happens, yes, it is awful, and while it doesn't happen as much as you might fear, it does so more often than the specialists think. But no, there is no vicious coverup. That part is all Hollywood."

"Writing about Laurel and Hardy comes easy. Finding previously unpublished photos is the challenge." But John McElwee's got a great batch at Greenbriar Picture Shows.

Hitchcock's I Confess is "actually an even stronger film than I remembered, one so claustrophobic that would be downright neurotic if it wasn't so tightly reigned in by a pious overlying Catholic sensibility," writes Jesse Ataide.

The Legend of Time "Named after legendary flamenco singer Camarón de la Isla's groundbreaking record album (which, in turn, was inspired by the works of Andalusian poet, Federico García Lorca), Isaki Lacuesta's The Legend of Time melds the improvised encounters of Johan van der Keuken's ethnographic documentaries with the quotidian intimacy of Mercedes Álvarez's El cielo gira to create a understated, yet meticulously observed meditation on grief, identity, and self-expression," writes acquarello.

"He's the most visionary filmmaker of his generation, a genius toiling away in relative obscurity while others of his ilk milk the Internet and festival circuit for every last fame whoring morsel," writes Bill Gibron at PopMatters. "Yet when compared to their weak-minded (and -kneed) efforts, Damon Packard stands apart. Born in the 60s, reared in the 70s, and gifted with the amazing ability to channel post-modern moviemaking into a stream of savant-like subconsciousness, he is single-handedly reinventing the idiom of film."

In the Voice:

The Rocket

  • The Rocket: The Legend of Rocket Richard "reminisces on the era of the homegrown, working-class, day-jobbing pro athlete," notes Nick Pinkerton. "There's not much, finally, to lift this thing above its necessarily niche appeal." Also: "A strong performance at the Argentine box office confirming its national-historical import, Chronicle of an Escape dramatizes the testimony of escapees from General Jorge Rafael Videla's right-wing junta, in power during the long 'Dirty War' years of the late 70s and early 80s."

  • Michael Fox finds Oswald's Ghost "riveting yet ultimately unsatisfying." More from Vadim Rizov at the Reeler: "With virtually no fresh territory left to cover on the JFK documentary front, [Robert] Stone offers up a history not of the assassination, but of the many theories surrounding it. Dull but well-meaning, it neither adds to nor subtracts from that other Stone movie about JFK, but it's a necessary attempt."

  • "An appalling mix of bird-brained satire, sub-protozoan thesping, and (non-)direction, Be My Oswald, about the attempted murder of Santa Claus, is a lame attempt at aping the looseness, sincerity, and campy surfeit of Paul Morrissey and Andy Warhol's film collaborations," writes Ed Gonzalez.

  • "Never had a chance to catch the long-running Off-Broadway show Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding?" asks Julia Wallace. "Don't worry - the not-exactly-long-awaited movie version is here, trading in stereotypes just as ineptly as the original."

  • Aaron Hillis on Badland: "Barely a ripple in this year's wave of returning Iraq War-veteran dramas (Home of the Brave, In the Valley of Elah, et al), writer-director Francesco Lucente's overconfident, emotionally forced 160-minute opus offers trite antiwar platitudes - at best - in chronicling the anguished existence of a soldier who can't shake the horrors he experienced in Fallujah."

The Rape of Europa The Rape of Europa is "a documentary that's, in its way, as exciting as any superior Hollywood product," writes Matt Prigge in the Philadelphia Weekly.

Newsy bits from the Guardian: "Mark Ruffalo is joining Leonardo DiCaprio on the set of Shutter Island, a 50s-set crime thriller directed by Martin Scorsese." And "Gong Li and John Cusack could make sweet love in a second world war epic entitled Shanghai."

Many thanks to Jerry Lentz for these bits:

  • The British man driving the car that killed Cristian Nemescu, director of the Un Certain Regard Award-winning California Dreamin', as well as his sound engineer and taxi driver back in August 06, will not be allowed to leave Romania.

  • news that fashion designer Tom Ford is considering directing an adaptation of Christopher Isherwood's A Single Man.

  • "Montreal filmmaker Mehrnoushe Solouki, who was arrested in Iran after stumbling across a mass grave, says she believes the government is using her as a warning to other dual citizens."

  • Hannah Brown profiles Lost and Found director Savi Gabizon for the Jerusalem Post: "Asked how he feels about the renaissance in Israeli film over the past few years, he says, 'It's wonderful, like a miracle. I can't believe it's happening. Every festival all over the world has to have an Israeli film now, and Israeli films are winning all over.'"

  • Joel Barkin talks with Robert Greenwald (Outfoxed, Wal Mart: The High Cost of Low Price) for Progressive States Network.

"[I]t's time to rain praise on [Ross] Lipman," announces Johnny Ray Huston in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "Not only has he directed his and UCLA's attention toward [Kenneth] Anger and Charles Burnett - two filmmakers whose non-Hollywood artistry would have deteriorated and vanished otherwise - he's delivered superb restorations that will change the way you see classic works. Both Anger collections deserve a place next to the just-released Killer of Sheep: The Charles Burnett Collection as one of this year's most vital and rewarding DVD collections."

At Cinematical, Peter Martin has a round-up of Asian films just out on DVD.

"Strand Releasing announced that it has acquired all US rights to Fatih Akin's The Edge of Heaven, Germany's entry for this year's Academy Awards," notes Peter Knegt at indieWIRE.

According to Michael Cieply in the New York Times, Disney and Pixar are "wrestling with a conundrum posed by" Ratatouille: "Any move to promote it as the year's best picture might lead to ballot-splitting that would diminish its chances of getting the less prestigious but more easily won Oscar for best animated film. More than a technical issue, the dilemma goes to the heart of Hollywood's evolving attitude toward animated movies."

65 Revisited Also: "The great relief of DA Pennebaker's 65 Revisited - which pulls together never-released footage shot for his documentary Don't Look Back - is that this time you can hear the songs in their entirety," writes Manohla Dargis. After all, "the songs were as much a part of this youthquaking sensation as his pipe-cleaner-skinny legs, his fuzzy 'fro, bobbing head, sly smile, riffs, rants, puns and playful, otherworldly genius." More from Bill Weber in Slant and Camille Dodero in the Voice. Related: Steve Dollar talks with Pennebaker for the New York Sun.

How bad did David Edelstein want to like I'm Not There? Bad. And he tried. A lot harder than other detractors, most definitely.

"[T]he notion among certain conservatives that Redacted's failure represents some sort of milestone in the imminent death of the entity they sometimes refer to as 'Hollyweird' is more than slightly ludicrous," blogs Glenn Kenny.

Gill Pringle profiles Paul Giamatti for the Independent.

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with He Was a Quiet Man director Frank Cappello "about making Christian Slater bald, ugly and awkward, the best way to handle Russell Crowe, and how Dirt Bike magazine taught him how to write."

Nathaniel R's got a list: "10 Performances From 2007 That Deserved Better Films."

Erik Davis at Cinematical, Mr Skin's "Top 20 Movie Nude Scenes of 2007."

Online viewing tip. The Webby Awards' "12 Most Influential Online Videos of All Time," via Steve Bryant.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:03 PM

Sundance. Lineup, round 1.

Sundance 08 "While the dramatic competition lineup for the 2008 Sundance Film Festival includes a few familiar names, such as the return to Park City by Half Nelson filmmakers Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden or the new film from All the Boys Love Mandy Lane director Jonathan Levine, and even an American feature by Rain director Christine Jeffs, the roster of American independent features is dominated by first timers," writes indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez, who listens to festival director Geoff Gilmore's take on the lineup and, before unfurling today's list, notes, "The Sundance feature film roster is spread across the four competitive sections being unveiled today and five out-of-competition sections which will to be announced tomorrow."

Updated through 11/29.

Updates, 11/29: "Personal stories, individual solutions to society’s problems and an unexpected strain of optimism will supplant diatribes, exposés and gloom at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival in January." An assessment from David M Halbfinger in the New York Times.

Karina Longworth plucks out a few highlights at the SpoutBlog.

The Reeler spots the New Yorkers.

Karina Longworth has several good reasons to be optimistic about Isaac Julien's Derek, an "experiment in narrative" about Derek Jarman exec produced by Tilda Swinton and produced by Colin MacCabe.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:25 PM | Comments (1)

Books, 11/28.

Penguin Ray Pride has news that Penguin Canada will be publishing David Cronenberg's debut novel.

The New York Times Book Review list of "10 Best Books of 2007" is up.

"Polling our nearly 800 members, as well as all the former finalists and winners of our book prize, we asked, What 2007 books have you read that you have truly loved?" blogs John Freeman for the National Book Critics Circle. "Nearly 500 voters - from John Updike and Robert Hass to Carolyn Forché, Anne Tyler, Julia Alvarez and Cynthia Ozick - answered the call."

And Dwight Garner points to more lists and recommendations.

The Star Machine "The star system existed only because the movies used to be a volume business," writes Scott Eyman, reviewing The Star Machine for the New York Observer. "If a studio is making 10 or 12 movies a year, you can just go buy people, which is what happens today. But if you're making 40 or 50 a year, as was the norm in the 1920s, 30s and often in the 40s, it's much more economical to develop talent in-house.... That some of the types Jeanine Basinger writes about in her long, luxurious, often delicious book no longer exist - the classy WASP gentleman, for instance, exemplified on the high end by the miraculous, saucy William Powell, and on the low end by the frigid Robert Montgomery, or by distaff equivalents such as Irene Dunne and Claudette Colbert - doesn't negate what they meant to previous generations, and what they can still mean to us."

The Literary Saloon notes that Alberto Moravia would have turned 100 today.

And William Blake would be turning 250: If Charlie Parker... and wood s lot.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:16 PM

Fests and events, 11/28.

Ousmane Sembene "Ousmane Sembéne, the Senegalese filmmaker who died last spring at age 84, was African cinema's founding father. More than that, Sembéne was a political organizer, a novelist, a self-taught intellectual, and the celluloid equivalent of a traditional taleteller, the village griot." The Voice's J Hoberman previews Film Forum's retrospective, opening Friday and running through December 13.

Miriam Bale writes up more NYC goings on at the Reeler.

"You can draw the time line of the Japanese new wave in scores of different ways - there were multiple possible launching points, and the big players evident in the 50s and 60s were young, old, and in between - but Shohei Imamura was an unarguably major, and quizzically ambiguous, figure in the landscape, an artiste among pulp mavens and a pop comic amid tragedians, a deep-dish cynic and a folksy absurdist," writes Michael Atkinson in the Boston Phoenix. "Dead last year at 79, the two-time Palme d'Or winner was one of the last of his slowly dying breed, survived still only by Seijun Suzuki, Kon Ichikawa and Nagisa Oshima." Vanishing Points: The Films of Shohei Imamura runs Saturday through December 14 at the Harvard Film Archive.

Turin Film Festival The Turin Film Festival, running through Saturday, is radically different from its old self now that Nanni Moretti's been put in charge. For better or worse? In Cahiers du cinéma, Eugenio Renzi sorts through a first round of mixed impressions.

Hannah Takes the Stairs screens tomorrow through Monday at the Red Vic in San Francisco and, in the Bay Guardian, Max Goldberg's got a preview: "[Joe] Swanberg's warts-and-all approach may not be for everyone, but it's an important redress of Knocked Up's mismatched fantasy. These kids are all right, even when they're not."

"On Thursday at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is presenting a 25th-anniversary screening featuring an onstage cast-and-crew reunion of Steven Spielberg's beloved fantasy E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial." The Los Angeles Times' Susan King talks with Dee Wallace, producer Kathleen Kennedy and sound designer Gene S Cantamessa.

David Walsh wraps the WSWS's coverage of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:09 AM

The Golden Compass. London premiere.

The Golden Compass "If Darth Vader wore a blond wig, a slinky dress and a dab of Chanel behind each ear, he could hardly be as evil as Nicole Kidman, playing the gorgeous villainess Mrs Coulter in this spectacular new movie version of [The Golden Compass], the opening episode of Philip Pullman's fantasy series His Dark Materials," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "This is the very best sort of part for her: statuesque, elegant, seductive, with a hint of cold steel. In many ways, it's her juiciest character since the sociopathic meteorologist in To Die For."

"When she walks down the hall of fictional Jordan College in a figure-hugging gold lamé gown, her honey-blonde locks permed into place, the men on screen fall silent - and my mouth fell open and an involuntary 'wow!' fell out," confesses Baz Bamigboye in the Daily Mail. "Now, that's what I call a movie star entrance, and I haven't seen it done with such aplomb in years."

Updated through 12/4.

For James Christopher of the London Times, "The books weave a magic that the film simply cannot match.... The power of Pullman's novels is that he invents an imaginary world just an inch out of kilter with our own.... The problem with the film... is the haystack of derivative film twists and the fatal lack of genuine drama."

Ray Bennett finds it "lacks dramatic structure, wit and charm."

"[T]here is one formidable obstacle in the path of the film, which opens to the public on 5 December: the intense antipathy of the American Catholic Church, which has turned its wrath on the production for promoting what it deems a viciously sacrilegious message that boils down to nothing less than 'atheism for kids.'" Ciar Byrne maps the battle lines for the Independent.

Peter Chattaway's POV: "Why the 'it's not anti-religious, it's only anti-abusive forms of religion' meme doesn't fly."

Earlier: Donna Freitas in the Boston Globe.

Update: "By casting [Christopher Lee and Ian McKellen], and in all sorts of other ways, Chris Weitz's movie bends over backwards to refit Pullman's saga as an effects fantasy for a Rings audience, and in this, it just about succeeds, conjuring a last hour of mounting excitements and leaving us hungry for more," writes the Telegraph's Tim Robey, who's got his problems with the movie, but: "You can't fault the film for its pacing, which is fleet and often breathless - the way Weitz gets the characters tumbling into battle at the end is a nice, brisk rejoinder to all Peter Jackson's portentous martial foreplay, not to mention the galumphing finale of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.... Whether The Subtle Knife gets made is conditional on this film's success, and I think it'll be touch-and-go - there's a little too much compromise here, and only an embryonic feeling of soul." Via Lou Luminick.

Update, 11/29: Peter Chattaway has a longish email interview with Pullman.

Updates, 11/30: "Weitz (About a Boy), who has never directed a film with anything like these logistics before, is saddled with conveying loads of exposition but handles the big scenes competently," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "Still, the prevailing tone is cold, which has nothing to do with the frigid settings of the second half, and the pic doesn't invite the viewer to enthusiastically enter into this new dramatic realm."

"Several grand fights, one key revelation, a rescue of Lyra's playmate plus an old-fashioned 'To Be Continued' ending make for a rousing finish," counters the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt. "Witches sweep out of the night sky, bad guys when shot vanish in balls of flame and the glories of free will get celebrated by championing a child who never does what she is told. What kid won't go for all this?"

In the Guardian, Harriet Lane meets Dakota Blue Richards. The Telegraph's Will Lawrence talks with her, too.

"A more well-tooled and expertly crafted beginning to a late-year franchise is hard to imagine, yet it's this very gleaming perfection that may leave The Golden Compass open to accusations of soullessness and artifice," writes Roger Clarke in Screen Daily. Even so, he argues, "it's a terrific adventure ride."

Updates, 12/1: For another version of the movie's making, see Charles McGrath's piece in the New York Times. And actually, if you haven't read any of the others and you're looking for a quick run-down of the need-to-knows, this will more than do.

"If there is indeed a 'deceitful stealth campaign' afoot to lure children to Pullman's books - as William Donohue, spokesman for the Catholic League, insists - it's remarkably short on stealth," writes Laura Miller in the Los Angeles Times. "What's really astonishing, and telling, is how long it's taken America's religious fear-mongers to notice Pullman."

Update, 12/2: "[W]hile New Line people play down the connection between The Golden Compass and The Lord of the Rings in conversation, they're quietly planting seeds all over the place, hoping for another bumper crop," writes Newsweek's Devin Gordon. "It's fortunate that the story of The Golden Compass is so singular, and that Weitz's film is an honest, admirable adaptation."

Updates, 12/4: "I want my children to understand that human beings and institutions are fallible," writes Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams, a Catholic:

That sometimes those who claim moral authority can traffic in corruption and abuse. I want them to be angry at every wrong perpetuated in the name of God. To question authority. To be feisty troublemakers for positive change. I've told my daughters that no one knows for certain that there's a God or a heaven. I always thought that was the beauty of faith - that it rests on our willingness to believe in the things we can't prove, to consider, when we look up at the stars or contemplate the elegance of a DNA sequence, the possibility of a higher architecture. I hope that my daughters will find contentment and community in their religion. But I would rather they grow up to be kind, generous unbelievers than sanctimonious, blindly dogmatic Christians.

Jerry Lentz sends along an online viewing tip. Pullman reads at Barnes and Noble. If you get Tom Brokaw first, just look down to the first box on the left in the second row and click.

More online viewing. The first five minutes.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:13 AM | Comments (1)

Gotham Awards.

Gotham Awards "The 17th Annual Gotham Awards were handed out tonight at Brooklyn's Steiner Studios, with no films taking multiple honors and Sean Penn's Into The Wild winning best feature of the year," report Eugene Hernandez and Peter Knegt at indieWIRE. "In addition to Wild, Michael Moore's Sicko was named best documentary feature, Juno's Ellen Page won the breakthrough actor award and Craig Zobel was named best breakthrough director for Great World of Sound. The casts of Talk To Me and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead tied for the best ensemble cast award, while Before the Devil's Marisa Tomei presented Gotham's unique 'Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You Award' to Ronald Bronstein's Frownland."

Updated through 11/29.

And they take note of several highlights of the evening; of the six tributes - six! - the one most remarked on elsewhere is surely Roger Ebert's. Sidney Lumet did the honors and "Ebert loved every second of it, his eyes dancing as he surveyed the crowd and gave a long hug to his old friend Mr Lumet," blogs David Carr. "And as he left the stage, Mr Ebert did a few steps in time with the band, smiling all the while."

Hours before the evening began, David Poland posted an open letter from Jeff Lipsky, an appreciation of Ebert well worth reading. You may already know the My Dinner With Andre story, but Lipsky tells it well.

Update: Anthony Kaufman on Roger Ebert: "Here is a guy whose voice has been synonymous with movies who can no longer speak. It's a cruel human tragedy that's sad and touching." And Noel Murray comments: "[T]hough I think he went through a creative lull a few years back, his work of late has been full of passion and vitality and keen observation. The man's a national treasure, and indirectly responsible for as much good criticism as he himself has generated."

Updates, 11/29: "For me, Ronnie's win is especially nice," blogs Matt Dentler. "It was almost precisely a year ago that I fished Ronnie's film out of the submissions, put it on, and was instantly hypnotized. For all those filmmakers out there who feel you have to have 'connections' and 'legacy' to get attention or noticed, Frownland is proof against that."

More congrats for Bronstein come from David Lowery, Joe Swanberg and Michael Tully.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:25 AM

November 27, 2007

Senses of Cinema. 45.

Chacun son cinéma "Try writing an essay on 'leaving the movie theatre' in this day and age." Introducing their new issue, Senses of Cinema editors Rolando Caputo and Scott Murray pick up on the tone set by Chacun son cinéma (To Each His Own Cinema), the compilation of three-minute films by 33 renowned directors commissioned to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Cannes this year: to enter a movie theater now is to pay a 21st century tribute, suffused with respect and nostalgia, maybe even mourning, to a fading 20th century custom as the films themselves slip out onto smaller, more portable screens or harrumph and go all 3D and loud. Nicholas de Villiers reviews the shorts themselves: "It is apparent that many share a strong 'cathexis' to the actual movie hall itself: the red auditorium chairs, the dust-motes in the cone of light from the projector, the architecture of old theatres."

"Curse of the Demon is a subtle exploration of the terror conveyed by the supernatural on the imagination," writes Pedro Blas Gonzalez. "Jacques Tourneur goes through great pains to offer a sophisticated script that raises the level of the film to much more than just a tale of spooks in the night."

"Sam Newfield is, in all probability, the most prolific director in American sound-film history, but very little archival material survives on his career." So Wheeler Winston Dixon does some digging, talks with Newfield's nephews and finds he's been "able to piece together a rough sketch of the man behind such a torrential output of work."

Gertrud "Dreyer wanted mass catharsis, the way Greek theatre did, or maybe the way college basketball does, with thousands of pulses synched to that ball's movements," writes Tag Gallagher. "Curious it is, then, that some people complain Dreyer is slow and intellectual, talkie and dull, Gertrud particularly. They never spot the ball."

"The canonization of Kane as the great film has not only fossilized the film itself. It has fossilized its maker as well." Benjamin Kerstein assesses Orson Welles's last films.

"A self-made filmmaker without any film school education, Paul Thomas Anderson has written all of his films himself; he is the purest auteur of the contemporary movie industry - even obtaining the exceptional right of final cut on his projects," writes André Crous, who examines how "Anderson's tracking shots normalise the extraordinary with equally extraordinary panache."

Virginia Bonner aims to bring Agnès Varda's "documentary work into as prominent a position as her narrative films. I will focus here on Varda's recent and highly acclaimed documentary Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse (The Gleaners and I, 2000) in light of her earlier narrative work and on its own unique terms, but I will begin by demonstrating that documentary practices have informed most of Varda's narrative films; in retrospect, these texts point the way toward Glaneurs."

In the Heat of the Sun "In exploring the relationship between nostalgia and history on film, I would like to look at four Chinese films, made between the early 1990s to the year 2000, that depict modern Chinese history," writes Jie Li. "The first two are both multi-decade historical epics made by two of the most famous representatives of the 'Fifth Generation': Zhang Yimou's Huozhe (To Live, 1994) and Chen Kaige's Ba wang bie ji (Farewell My Concubine, 1993). Against the grain of these two films, I would like to read in greater detail Yangguang Canlan de Rizi (In the Heat of the Sun, 1994) by Jiang Wen and Zhantai (Platform, 2000) by Jia Zhangke. Both Jiang Wen and Jia Zhangke are commonly referred to as members of the 'Sixth Generation' by film critics in China and abroad, but since neither of them willingly identifies with this designation, I shall refrain from using the term. However, I would like to argue that the two younger directors, in spite of huge divergences in style, engage in a more reflective and critical kind of nostalgia than their Fifth Generation forerunners."

"Sigmund Freud theorized that two forms of joking existed: innocent jokes and tendentious jokes," writes Arthur Rankin. "Charlie Chaplin creates a cinematic world where the innocent joke serves to focus of the tendentious comic intent."

There are three pieces in this issue's section on Australian Cinema:

  • Glen Donnar considers the initial critical reception of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith.

  • "Australia, a nation with distinctive origins as both a penal colony and an immigrant frontier, negotiates a unique discourse on feminism, race and colonialism, with the three issues often painfully entwined." Lorrie Palmer revisits Flirting.

  • "Sarah Watt's film Look Both Ways was, at the time of its release in 2005, heralded as a sign of recovery for Australian cinema after several traumatic years of critical gloom and box-office flops," writes David Carlin. "The curative discourse we can detect associated with the film, in relation to the local industry, is apt, I would argue, given the articulation within Look Both Ways of a widespread contemporary preoccupation in Western culture with traumatic memory."

"Phantom India and Calcutta are definitely the major works in a new DVD box set, The Documentaries of Louis Malle, released by Eclipse," argues Peter Hourigan. "However, there are other riches as well."

Avant-Garde 2 Avant-Garde 2: Experimental Cinema 1928 - 1954 "is both a revealing and somewhat incoherent snapshot of American and French avant-garde cinema from the late 1920s to the early 1950s," writes Adrian Danks. "It is most valuable as a repository of several seminal and formative works by key figures in film history, and a partial resurrection of some relatively forgotten and under-represented figures like Willard Maas and Sidney Peterson." Special attention is paid here to "Isidore Isou's monumental, egotistical, maddening but undoubtedly influential Venom and Eternity (Traité de bave et d’éternité, 1951)."

And the issue is rounded out by a dozen festival reports, five book reviews, 14 new annotations and one new addition to the Great Directors critical database: Anna Rogers on Sofia Coppola.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:30 PM

Resnais. Prix Fipresci.

Alain Resnais Just now tumbling across the German wires comes news that FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics, is saluting Alain Resnais by awarding its "European Film Award of the Critics 2007 - Prix FIPRESCI" to Coeurs (Private Fears in Public Places). For Christian Viviani, Resnais "treats the characters the way an affectionate puppeteer would treat his creatures. He contemplates their comings and goings with the benevolence of one who knows that agitation is vain, but who prefers that people find it out for themselves."

The prize will be presented during the European Film Awards ceremony on Saturday in Berlin.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:13 AM

Spirit Awards. Nominees.

Spirit Awards 08 Film Independent presents the full list of 2008 Spirit Awards Nominees.

At indieWIRE, Peter Knegt has already done the math and sees four films leading the pack with four nominations each: I'm Not There, Juno, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and The Savages. There nudges a nose even further ahead, though, as it's also won the inaugural Robert Altman Award, given to one film's director, casting director and ensemble cast.

Updated.

Updates: Karina Longworth's got a great round of first impressions at the SpoutBlog.

Matt Dentler counts the SXSW alums in the list.

"[D]oes this list really represent 'Independent Cinema' 2007?" asks David Poland.

"I would like to applaud the nominating committee members for spotlighting so much great work," blogs Michael Tully, following that ovation with a damn well-observed set of notes.

Jeffrey Wells makes his predictions.

"Now we're talking," smiles AJ Schnack. "Picking up where the Academy left off, the Independent Spirit Award nominations were announced today and - aside from two-timing Lake of Fire - the list of films in two separate categories steared clear of the 15 films Shortlisted last week by the Academy. In total, the eight features mark some of the most interesting and stylistic films of 2007." An in-depth look at each follows.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:10 AM

Shorts, 11/27.

Zizek: Enjoy Your Symptom! Opening a special issue of the International Journal of Zizek Studies devoted to "Zizek and Cinema," Todd McGowan lays out the many arguments that have been made against taking Slavoj Zizek seriously. "Given Zizek's lack of attention to the specificity of filmic texts and of the filmic medium, it is difficult to understand his prominence in the film studies world, a prominence especially pronounced among young film theorists." Then, the turn: "Zizek has sparked a renewed interest in Lacan and psychoanalysis in the world of film studies because his thought opens up possibilities within the interpretation of cinema that that would otherwise not exist. It does so through the particular focus that runs through all of Zizek's filmic analyses. Though Zizek does often ignore textual and medium specificity, what he doesn't ignore is the way that films organize and deploy the spectator's enjoyment." Via Bookforum.

The Golden Compass opens next week and, in the Boston Globe, Donna Freitas offers her take on what Catholics are really afraid of:

These books are deeply theological, and deeply Christian in their theology. The universe of His Dark Materials is permeated by a God in love with creation, who watches out for the meekest of all beings - the poor, the marginalized, and the lost. It is a God who yearns to be loved through our respect for the body, the earth, and through our lives in the here and now. This is a rejection of the more classical notion of a detached, transcendent God, but I am a Catholic theologian, and reading this fantasy trilogy enhanced my sense of the divine, of virtue, of the soul, of my faith in God.

The book's concept of God, in fact, is what makes [Philip] Pullman's work so threatening. His trilogy is not filled with attacks on Christianity, but with attacks on authorities who claim access to one true interpretation of a religion. Pullman's work is filled with the feminist and liberation strands of Catholic theology that have sustained my own faith, and which threaten the power structure of the church. Pullman's work is not anti-Christian, but anti-orthodox.

Via Brainiac Joshua Glenn. Related: Peter Chattaway in Christianity Today.

Charlie Wilson's War "Charlie Wilson's War is a very good-but-not-great political dramedy with a very solid and settled Tom Hanks, an agreeably arch and brittle Julia Roberts (in the finest sense of that term) and a brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman," writes Jeffrey Wells. More from David Poland: "It is a wonderful, misshaped, inspired, insipid mess of a good movie." And it "feels more schizophrenic than any [Mike] Nichols film I can recall." And Lou Lumenick asks, "Is it a coincidence that the fall's two most strenuously 'even-handed' war movies (and make no mistake, this is another war movie, no matter how entertaining) are released by Universal, whose corporate parent is a major war contractor?"

Nick Schager in Slant on Youth Without Youth: "Coppola so doggedly seeks to create a level of romantic/spiritual contemplativeness via formal experimentation that his reckless abandon - the plethora of repeated motifs, the oblique references, the deliberate artifice - does generate a modicum of intrigue and admiration. However, given his general failure to synthesize his ideas into either a compelling dramatic whole or an impressionistic conceptual treatise, the film principally stands as a great director's blast-off into crazy."

Also: "Oswald's Ghost only skims the surface of the short- and long-term social and political ramifications of JFK's death, and in the face of dueling conclusions - conspiracy buffs' staunch belief that Oswald didn't act alone, and others' conviction that he did - the film ultimately just shrugs its shoulders as if to say, 'Got me. You decide.'"

"I was dumped, flat broke, at a career low after watching my life fall apart in three months and working at a video store on New Year's Eve when I started to consider, In Search of a Midnight Kiss," writer-director Alex Holdridge tells Film Threat's Zack Haddad.

La Chinoise

"Like [Wes] Anderson's typical heroes," suggests Evan Kindley at Not Coming to a Theater Near You, "the students in Godard's [La Chinoise] are both disciplined and listless at the same time: they do calisthenics to the rhythm of passages from the Communist Manifesto, then playfully grab each other's asses; they quiz each other about the fine points of dialectical materialism and shout down those of their number they consider 'revisionists'; they read aloud, always in that bored, sated way people read aloud in Godard movies; they do surprisingly little else.... And yet the kids are undoubtedly appealing - I don't think it's possible not to like Jean-Pierre Léaud - and their idealism and passion is in its way very moving."

"I have a confession to make: I don't much like Im Kwon-taek's films," admits Duncan Mitchel. "Oh, I respect them: the old man learned his trade doing hackwork, and worked his way up to arthouse fare and international fame.... Chang (aka Downfall) isn't one of Im's best-known films, but it's a good example of his virtues and his limitations." Also at Koreanfilm.org, Adam Hartzell: "D-War is more valuable as pedagogy for globalization than as entertainment."

Movie City News has ten questions for Roger Ebert.

"The buzz is that My Dream has the right stuff to earn an Academy Award." In the Los Angeles Times, John M Glionna tells the story behind the doc about the China Disabled People's Performing Art Troupe.

WGA On Strike Writers' strike roundup:

  • The strike "may have finally solidified [Nikki Finke's] position as a Hollywood power broker," reports Brain Stelter. For his New York Times piece, "more than a dozen executive producers, writers and agents offered to attest to her influence. But with those plaudits also come complaints - only anonymous ones - that Ms Finke plays favorites.... For many of her readers, Ms Finke's Web site has supplanted traditional media as a primary source of strike news. Before the strike, Ms Finke said Deadline Hollywood Daily averaged 350,000 page views a day. Since the beginning of the strike, she said the daily average had soared to about a million."

  • Writers have kind of been having themselves a good time, to hear Brooks Barnes tell it, also in the NYT. What's more, they're winning on the PR front. Even Variety readers would agree, reports Cynthia Littleton, though her headline maintains: "WGA wins hearts; studios retain muscle."

  • Online viewing tips. Scott Solary gathers links to the "Speechless" videos that've been posted so far at Deadline Hollywood Daily and points to Karina Longworth's take on the series at NewTeeVee.

At the House Next Door, Lauren Wissot finds I'm Not There to be "a beautiful wreck, one worth rubbernecking for." Related: The Shamus offers "20 Reasons to Be Stuck Inside a Multiplex with the Overpriced Popcorn Again." More from Ed Howard.

No Country for Old Men roundup: Alec Baldwin, Peter Chattaway, Edward Copeland, Glenn Kenny, Tasha Robinson and the Shamus.

In the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer, Joanie Baker has a few fun stories about a local horror movie being made with a mere $25K. Thanks, Jerry!

"The most challenging and often the best-reviewed films of the autumn have all - almost without exception - done lousy business." Geoffrey Macnab looks into it for the Independent.

Online fiddling around tip. Dennis Cozzalio's word puzzle.

Online viewing tip #1. The trailer for In Bruges, the film that'll be opening Sundance. Via Coudal Partners.

Online viewing tip #2. Video from Ray Pride: "Diego Luna on Los Angeles Vs Mexico and politics in Mexican filmmaking."

Online viewing tips. Creative Review rounds up a selection of music videos.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:53 AM

Fests and events, 11/27.

Berlinale "The Greek-French director Costa-Gavras will be the President of the International Jury of the Berlinale 2008." And! The Homage "will be dedicated to the renowned Italian director Francesco Rosi," who "will receive the Golden Bear for Lifetime Achievement on February 14, 2008."

IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez reports on an expansive state-of-the-doc program/party thrown by the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA, through Saturday), while Brian Brooks reports on a film anyone with any interest in documentaries is going to want to at least know about. In Wild Blue Yonder, Celia Maysles "exposes a deeper family rift that emerged after her father David Maysles's death, when her own mother battled Albert Maysles for control of previous films, against an internal pact made by the two brothers."

IndieWIRE also posts a heads-up for the busy week ahead: following an announcement of the Indie Spirit Awards in a couple of hours, the winners of the IFP Gotham Awards will be named; then, tomorrow, the Sundance competition lineup will be unveiled, followed on Thursday by lineups for the festival's other sections.

These "mumblecore" movies, they're "massively indulgent, irritating and aimless, or fantastically real, insightful and uncontrived. Either response is totally legitimate; these movies are totally a matter of viewer taste, mood, perspective," writes Dennis Harvey at SF360. "Hannah Takes the Stairs, which opens at the Red Vic this Friday, is the perfect case in point."

Kubrick at the Seoul Art Cinema: Through Sunday. Thanks, Jerry!

Posted by dwhudson at 7:14 AM

DVDs, 11/27.

Sawdust and Tinsel "It was the autumn of 1952, and with a bad conscience, a rocky relationship, and little work for him in Stockholm, Bergman set to work on synthesizing all of this guilt, betrayal, and dissatisfaction into the first major work of his career." Leo Goldsmith at Not Coming to a Theater Near You on Sawdust and Tinsel: "[T]his is the world of all of Bergman's subsequent masterpieces, fully formed, if more savage on its surface."

More from Fernando F Croce at Slant: "It's easy to see why the film became one of Bergman's popular early successes: There's still a reliance on ponderous metaphors (phallic cannons, a scurvy old bear, a return-to-the-womb dream) that Bergman would prune as he moved toward the asceticism of the 1960s, but there's also a new intensity and directness of feeling, expressed in a series of powerhouse one-on-ones."

Updated through 11/28.

"It's been nearly two years since we started running our list of the '100 Greatest Films to Build Your DVD Collection,'" writes Tom Charity in the Vancouver Sun. "So, it's about time we confessed to a few infractions and inconsistencies." Take those into account and download the list as a PDF.

For IFC News, Michael Atkinson reviews Hans-Jürgen Syberberg's Our Hitler, "an astounding, intellectually adventurous monument, and obviously a cinephile's required viewing, if in fact the cinephile in question wants to remain worthy of the label," and Peter Watkins's The Freethinker, "a four-and-a-half-hour essay on the life and legacy of August Strindberg, famed Swedish playwright, controversial misanthrope, notoriously disastrous family man and self-destructive genius. But it's not a straight-on mock-doc - like Syberberg's gargantua, it's a collage of formal ideas, mixing faux-documentary elements with cohesive dramatization, archival footage, photos, huge chunks of Strindbergian text, direct camera address, group discussions, documentary footage of the making of the film itself, texts by Watkins about Strindberg, the film and Watkins's outrageous, but indisputable, summary evaluation of modern media, and so on, at Herculean length and with the defiant seriousness of an obsessive Luddite."

Drunken Angel This week, the New York Times' Dave Kehr reviews Akira Kurosawa's Drunken Angel, "his first to feel solidly like a Kurosawa movie" (more from Fernando F Croce in Slant), A Cottage on Dartmoor, revealing an Anthony Asquith who "still seems drunk on the possibilities of cinematic form," and Curtis Harrington's The Killing Kind, "an overlooked independent release from 1973... Harrington expertly balances camp humor and shocking cruelty to create a disturbing little movie that merits rediscovery."

"Gesualdo: Death for Five Voices is a typically ludicrous [Werner] Herzog production, stretching credibility to such a degree that I was surprised to find out, in research after the documentary, that a great deal of the film was actually true," writes Ed Howard.

"We, the viewers of today, like the viewers of yesterday (or the year the film was completed, 1977), can't see this film because nothing in it is recognizable." The film is Killer of Sheep. Charles Mudede explains in the Stranger. Related: Alex at motion picture, it's called on My Brother's Wedding.

"Visually there is plenty to appreciate and enjoy with Pickup on South Street but [Sam] Fuller's use of the close-up is the visual element that resonates deepest with me," writes Steve-O at Noir of the Week. Related: Annie Nocenti at Stop Smiling on Fuller's novel, The Dark Page.

Back in Slant, Rob Humanick recommends the Ultimate Edition of Nosferatu.

Dennis Lim spells out what makes for a good - and bad - set of DVD extras. Also in the Los Angeles Times: Casey Dolan's list of notable titles and sets slated for release just in time for Christmas and a shopping guide from Noel Murray.

"It's the dirty little secret that the DVD industry doesn't want you to know about, the scam that gives them more than one crack at your entertainment dollar while conning you into thinking you're getting more cinematic bang for your beleaguered buck." Bill Gibron at PopMatters on "The 'Unrated' Conspiracy."

DVD roundups: Bryant Frazer; and as always, keep an eye on the Guru.

Updates: John Waters has a list of DVD recommendations for NPR.

Jeff watches the second volume of The Films of Kenneth Anger at Cinema Strikes Back.

Bill Weber in Slant: "As part of this season's revival of Bobmania, 65 Revisited confirms the icon as a willing confessor of the calculation in his rich mythos." More from Camille Dodero in the Voice: "Watch these 63 minutes for the first time and you'll be haunted at least once by Cate Blanchett's Dylan avatar Jude Quinn."

Peter Martin writes up the "Indies on DVD" released today for Cinematical.

Dave Kehr on the state of the Ford a Fox box so far: "Having watched The Iron Horse in the new Fox version (with its excellent orchestral score by Christopher Caliendo), I can say with some confidence that Ford's first epic (the fourth of five features he would release in 1925) remains an astounding achievement, a suite of embedded narratives that expand and comment on each other, as audacious in its way as Griffith's Intolerance."

Update, 11/28: "[H]aving just watched Sawdust and Tinsel, a key developmental work for Bergman and yet probably the weakest of the many films I've seen by him, I nevertheless remain more convinced than ever that Bergman is a cinematic great," writes Ed Howard.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:31 AM

November 26, 2007

Interview. Jessica Yu.

Protagonist Jessica Yu's followup to In the Realms of the Unreal, Protagonist, premiered at Sundance and we had two people on the ground who caught it and sent immediate word to the Daily. Brian Darr sets up the doc: "Posed with the problem of making a documentary with the great tragedician Euripides as an inspiration, Yu put out a call for people ready to tell their stories of a cathartic awakening that they had been traveling for too long down the wrong path." Craig Phillips noted that it "reminds me a bit of Errol Morris's Fast, Cheap, Out of Control, as it's an ambitious film with a quartet of subjects that don't always fully connect with each other but fascinate anyway."

Now that Protagonist is beginning a tour of theaters around the US, Aaron Hillis talks with Yu about interweaving four personal tales of catharsis and resolution.

Updated through 11/30.

"[E]ven if Yu is ultimately less interested in the intellectual, philosophical, or the spiritual than the strictly dramatic, her film makes for an engaging look at how we can lie to ourselves even as we search for an elusive truth," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE.

ST VanAirsdale talks with Yu, too, at the Reeler.

Updates, 11/27: "[F]ascinating, often touching stuff... is too neatly sculpted into highly intellectualized mounds of human observation intended for no other reason than to flatter Yu's fetish with Greek narrative plot structure and give her a platform to exhibit her latest animated achievements," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant.

In the Voice, Lisa Katzman tells the story behind Protagonist and Aaron Hillis follows up on his interview with a review: "Yu's rousing, difficult-to-classify exercise in parallel storytelling is surprisingly accessible, and all the more insightful for it."

Updates, 11/28: "Perhaps we're missing out on the whole classic-tragedy bit that is as true in contemporary society as it was in Euripides' time, but the film is at its best when it's allowing its subjects to tell their stories and not distracting us with, you know, puppets," writes Sara Vilkomerson in the New York Observer.

"[M]y respect for puppeteering has gone up tenfold," notes Robert Cashill. "Protagonist is a unique treatment of an unlikely subject, one that manages to be quite compelling even if you're at first a little resistant to its unorthodox aesthetic. But this was all, ahem, Greek to Yu as well, and that she approached the various aspects of the production with an open mind and heart makes for an absorbing, and fully cinematic, experience. She has pulled the strings extremely well."

Updates, 11/29: "Everyone in Yu's production has enough stories to fill an entire movie, but that's essential to its effectiveness," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "The plots follow similar trajectories, but the revelations are in the individual details."

Cathleen Rountree also talks with Yu.

For Filmmaker, Damon Smith talks with Yu "about Greek tragedy, human nature, and the creative challenges she faced making Protagonist."

Updates, 11/30: "The four men who relate their life stories in Protagonist, Jessica Yu's enthralling documentary exploration of people with obsessive needs for control and self-mastery, are all disillusioned (and extremely articulate) true believers," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "In all four men, the loss of certainty has far-reaching consequences."

"The film bears the mark of a real directorial talent, eager to push the documentary form in inventive directions, just like Errol Morris and Werner Herzog, and for that alone, it deserves a nod of appreciation," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "But while Yu is a hell of a filmmaker, her work to date has been ridiculously overdetermined. Where some documentarians approach their subjects and say, 'Tell me your story,' Yu seems to say, 'Let me tell you what your story is.'"

Online listening tip. Yu's a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Protagonist and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly might not seem to have much in common at first glance, admits Anthony Kaufman. "But perhaps proving Yu's point: the story of French Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby is similarly Euripidean: brash workaholic womanizer suffers stroke and finds redemption and humanity in the end..."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:47 PM

The Savages.

The Savages "It's not something one often praises in a film, but there's a mundaneness to The Savages that is incredibly appealing," writes Matt Singer at IFC News. "The film is about a brother (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and a sister (Laura Linney) dealing with their ailing father (Philip Bosco). That is all. There is no wacky road trip where they all reconnect, or a romanticized bank heist that solves all their unaddressed problems. That simplicity is refreshing, even if the movie's tone is a little uneven."

New York's David Edelstein finds it "a delightful movie - the perfect companion piece (and antidote) to the year's other superb convalescent-dementia picture, Away From Her.... [T]he funny bubbles up from the sad, the sad gives the funny weight."

Updated through 11/30.

"[Tamara] Jenkins's sweet and tart sensibility is located halfway between the compassionate satire of an Alexander Payne and the comic sang-froid of a Todd Solondz," writes Newsweek's David Ansen.

"Linney, grinning like a teen-ager over her fibs, does her naughtiest, most secretive work yet," writes David Denby in the New Yorker.

Earlier: Reviews from Sundance.

Updates, 11/27: "Linney and Hoffman dutifully embody their roles, yet Jenkins never justifies having any interest in these cretins' plight," argues Nick Schager in Slant.

"An instinctive provocateur, Jenkins gleefully rubs the more graphic symptoms of dementia in our faces - as well she should, given the emotional fallout of dealing with a man who covers a bathroom wall with his own feces," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "But the movie also comes with the wistful sadness of a maturing filmmaker who understands that in matters of death, sorrow and black comedy often walk hand in hand."

Jenkins is a guest on Fresh Air.

"If any film comedy prior to The Savages so fully earns the characterization 'painfully funny,' I'd like to know about it," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "Or maybe I wouldn't. Tamara Jenkins's long-awaited sophomore directorial effort - her debut, the sharp and strangely sweet Slums of Beverly Hills, is nearly a decade old - would be a farce of mortification were it not for the sad but stout heart that centers it."

Updates, 11/28: "Ms Jenkins has a gift for family brutality, but she herself isn't a savage talent," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "There isn't a single moment of emotional guff or sentimentality in The Savages, a film that caused me to periodically wince, but also left me with a sense of acute pleasure, even joy. It's the pleasure of a true-to-life tale told by a director and actors who've sunk so deep into their movie together you wonder how they ever surfaced."

"It's kind of a bummer, then, that Jenkins cops out a bit at the end, tying up things a little too neatly for characters who have been so wonderfully ragged around the edges," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "But thankfully, the climax isn't so awful that it wipes out all of the film's wonderfully snappy, snippy, spiky dialogue and relationships."

"One of the best movies of the year so far," declares the Los Angeles Times' Carina Chocano. "For a tender, uncommonly perceptive look at sibling relationships and a profound meditation on death and the meaning we draw from experience, The Savages is singularly funny and seriously moving."

"In a welcome zap of cultural synergy, this week the Gallery Met opens an exhibit of artworks inspired by Hansel and Gretel, just in time to hold the sweaty, sibling hand of The Savages, Tamara Jenkins's warm, itchy, woolen jumper of a family film, as it sidles into the holiday fare fray," writes Michelle Orange at the Reeler. More a series of snapshots than family portrait, one figure is conspicuously missing from the frame: the Mother Savage. Shrugged off in a single line, her handling (as well, to some extent, as that of Lenny, who bears allusions to misbehavior that are vague at best) is symptomatic of the parental misfire in a series of recent adult sibling movies, including The Darjeeling Limited and Margot at the Wedding."

Updates, 11/29: "[S]ince the movie only teeters on the brink of a pity party without relishing the mood, the grief doesn't venture beyond the point of softcore sadness," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press.

For Marcy Dermansky, "this well intentioned project... falls horribly flat."

Tribeca has video of Jenkins, Linney and Bosco talking about The Savages.

Ella Taylor profiles Jenkins for the LA Weekly, while Mark Olsen profiles Linney for the LAT.

Michael Guillén talks with Linney.

Updates, 11/30: Scott Tobias talks with Linney and Jenkins for the AV Club, where he writes: "As a sibling duo, Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman have a dynamic like Linney's with Mark Ruffalo in You Can Count On Me, at least in the sense that she's more together and responsible than her brother, though emotionally brittle in her own way.... The Savages charts their struggle with a humor and honesty that goes down surprisingly easy."

"The Savages has been rapturously received, not entirely without reason - Linney and Hoffman are both typically excellent, mining coarse nuggets of emotional truth from the sediment created by years of buried discontent," writes Mike D'Angelo for Nerve. "But I also think people are just inordinately happy that Jenkins - whose only previous feature, the ticklish comedy Slums of Beverly Hills, came out nine long years ago - has finally made another movie."

Mina Hochberg talks with Jenkins for Nerve.

Online listening tip. Jenkins and Bosco are guests on the Leonard Lopate Show.

"There's much more wrong than right with The Savages," writes Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door. "I can conceive of extended tortures more preferable to watching Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman (as Wendy's sad-sack professor brother Jon) play-act at sibling rivalry.... [T]here's no getting past the Actor's Studio performances of Linney and Hoffman, both awful, both confusing actorly tics and mannered tears for the subtlety and insight of a blood-tied familial relationship."

"I wouldn't call the film inspirational - it is too well observed to succumb to easy sentiment - but its realism is patiently engaging and subtly insinuating," writes Richard Schickel for Time. "And Linney and Hoffman are extraordinary; refusing to beg for our sympathy, they earn it moment by quotidian moment in performances so good, so lacking in showy effect, that they are almost certain to be overlooked this awards season. But that's OK. Honesty tends to receive its own, more lasting rewards in our remembering hearts."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:05 AM | Comments (1)

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly "Whatever [Julian] Schnabel's posturings as a painter, he's a major film director, alive not only to light and texture but to characters' emotions - which twist the light and warp the textures and permeate the canvas," writes David Edelstein in New York. "Mathieu Amalric is heartbreaking in both his incarnations - as the lover in flashbacks and the légume (his word) in the present. It's his boyishness that gets to you: At 43, he has been hurled into the final stages of life before having had the chance to grow up, to atone, to contemplate his own mortality."

"You may think you've seen one too many 'uplifting' tales of handicapped heroes overcoming adversity: they are a staple of our therapeutically inclined culture," writes Newsweek's David Ansen. "[The Diving Bell and the Butterfly] is something else: ravishing to look at, mercifully unsentimental, blissfully avoiding almost every cliché of the genre."

Updated through 12/1.

The New Yorker's David Denby finds "some of the freest and most creative uses of the camera and some of the most daring, cruel, and heartbreaking emotional explorations that have appeared in recent movies.... [Jean-Dominique] Bauby's book is concise and lyrical; the film is expansive and sensual, pungent and funny - a much larger experience. The impossible subject has yielded a feast of moviemaking."

Michelle Orange talks with Amalric for IFC News.

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes, Toronto and New York.

Update, 11/27: "It's the most sensually assaulting movie in recent memory with the possible exception of Michael Bay's Transformers, and yet many of the same people who criticized Bay for his attention-deficient aesthetics are falling over each other to praise Schnabel," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice. "Why? Because instead of ransacking the storehouse of commercial advertising for his inspiration, he steals his visual tricks from more highfalutin sources like Fellini and Stan Brakhage.... The Diving Bell and the Butterfly feels grotesquely calculated, especially the more Schnabel ratchets up the inspirational platitudes of exactly the sort that Bauby - who maintained an acerbic sense of humor about his situation until the very end - would have despised."

Update, 11/28: ST VanAirsdale has a note on Scott Foundas's review.

Updates, 11/29: "Painter, musician and general cultural dilettante, Schnabel shows genuine moviemaker instincts. Strangely, [Anton] Corbijn and other pseudo-biographers - such as Todd Haynes and Gus Van Sant - don't." Armond White elaborates in the New York Press.

At the Reeler, ST VanAirsdale talks with Max von Sydow.

Jesse Ashlock gathers comments from a recent junket roundtable with Schnabel.

Online viewing tip. David Poland lunches with the bunch.

Updates, 11/30: "[C]uriously enough, a movie about deprivation becomes a celebration of the richness of experience, and a remarkably rich experience in its own right," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "In his memoir Mr Bauby performed a heroic feat of alchemy, turning horror into wisdom, and Mr Schnabel, following his example and paying tribute to his accomplishment, has turned pity into joy."

"With his unusually expressive and already slightly bulging eyes, Amalric makes an ideal Bauby; the disjunction between his sarcastic and penetrating thoughts (heard in voiceover) and his imploring, stricken gaze is genuinely heartrending," writes Mike D'Angelo for Nerve.

"The picture is so imaginatively made, so attuned to sensual pleasure, so keyed in to the indescribable something that makes life life, that it speaks of something far more elemental than mere filmmaking skill: This is what movies, at their best, can be," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek.

"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly manages to be an exemplary film about the so-called triumph of the human spirit by largely upending every cliché the usual cinematic treatment of the triumph of the human spirit indulges," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny.

"Much of the picture's power derives directly from the fact that the narrative is defined by relationships rather than events. It is through these scenes - notably those involving Bauby's estranged wife (Emmanuelle Seigner) and increasingly infirm father (Max von Sydow) - that a portrait of the real man takes shape," writes Andy Klein. "It's an undeniably bold experiment by any measure, well worthy of the Best Director award Schnabel picked up at this year's Cannes Film Festival. But it's also an imperfect experiment, too often undone by its own ambitions." Also in the LA CityBeat, Rebecca Epstein talks with Schnabel.

"Perhaps the most unexpected thing about Diving Bell is that this constant repetition of spoken letters, which sounds tedious in the abstract, becomes, because of the use of the supremely melodic French language, an almost sensual pleasure," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "Finally finished with his pages, Bauby anxiously blinks the question, 'Does that make a book?' Indeed it does, and a most unexpected film as well."

"At times, Bell seems heightened and romanticized, particularly in the way everyone around Bauby remains supportive and attentive, even at their own expense," writes Tasha Robinson in the AV Club. "But that just prevents the film from becoming standard-arc disease-of-the-week fare, with its programmed trials and inevitable victories."

Online listening tip. Schnabel's on the FilmCouch.

Erica Abeel talks with Schnabel for indieWIRE.

"Schnabel has an alert, imaginative and unsentimental cinematic eye," writes Richard Schickel for Time. "He does everything he can to involve us in Jean-Do's struggle against stasis, which is perhaps less a 'triumph of the human spirit,' a fatuous phrase that ought to be banned from critical discourse, than it is a triumph of the human ego. This is all right with me - I don't think anything worthwhile is created without egotism pushing the effort along and it is good to see it functioning in such extreme circumstances. But still, somewhat shame-faced I have to admit that at some point in the film I began to hear a subversive voice whispering in my ear, and what it was saying was, 'Could you blink a little faster, pal?'"

Update, 12/1: "Amalric, previously best known in the United States as the neurotic, intellectual hero of the movies of Arnaud Desplechin (Kings and Queens, My Sex Life or How I Got Into An Argument) is a perfect choice for the part," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "A compact, cerebral actor, he's able to convey the brain at work behind that one left eye.... The figure Julian Schnabel cuts in the press - a Bacchanalian narcissist who openly revels in the money, power, and connections his artistic success has brought him - always makes me want to despise his movies. But his touch becomes finer with each one, and with The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, I have to cry 'uncle' - I don't know much about his paintings, but as a director, the guy is a true artist."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:29 AM

Thessaloniki Dispatch.

William Klein The festival wrapped yesterday, and Ronald Bergan takes a moment to fill us in on the highlights before heading out to Gijón tomorrow. See, too, his entry at the Guardian on the panel he was on in Greece, "Film Criticism on the Internet."

The buzz at the 48th Thessaloniki International Film Festival was around the big names, more of them than ever, that it managed to attract this year: John Sayles, John Malkovich, Danny Glover, William Klein, Alfonso Cuaron, Diego Luna, David Strathairn and Chris Cooper, all of whom gave master classes to packed houses. Giving the general public a chance to meet these luminaries and being able to question them is one of the strengths of this invigorating festival.

Updated through 11/27.

As usual, the accompanying exhibitions were an added attraction, one of them being photographs by the 79-year-old William Klein, the American (in Paris) director, photographer, painter and graphic designer. The exhibition could have been called, like the title of a recent book on portrait photography, The Theatre of the Face. There are wonderful faces that Klein has captured from all over the world, always seen affectionately. However, exceptionally, his eye on America is a savage one. They are mostly the faces of The Ugly American.

This was emphasized in his overwhelming feature-length film The Messiah, in which a fine performance of Handel's oratorio is illustrated, counterpoised, interrupted and contradicted by rhythmically cut images of contemporary life, mostly American, in which Las Vegas seems to stand in for Hell. The setting of one of the most sacred of texts by Klein, who announced that he was anti-religious and that Handel is his favorite composer, is almost more topical than it was in 1999 when it was made.

Frozen Apart from the guilty pleasure I had in watching as much of the 10-film Mikio Naruse retrospective as I could (guilty because I should have being seeing more Greek films), and realizing how modern his touching and humorous films are, I was able to see several of the movies in the international competition. Though the winner was the excellent Cai Shogun's The Red Awn, which won the Fipresci prize in Pusan a couple of months ago, when I was on the jury, by far the best and most original film, in my opinion, was an Indian film by Shivajee Chandrabhushan called Frozen (site). Shot in the northern Himalayas in superb black-and-white photography, as good as any in the past, it is a remarkably humane film that says much about ecology and politics without the slightest didacticism.

A curiosity was PVC-1 (site) by the 28-year-old Greek-born Spiros Stathoulopoulos. Shot in Colombia in one 85-minute continuous take, it shows the struggle of a woman to free herself from a time-bomb fitted around her neck. Intentional or otherwise, it comes over as a satire on the incompetence of the army and police rather than a thriller.

The best Greek film in competition was Thanos Anastopoulos's correction, which covered various themes such as redemption, immigration, nationalism and racism, in an understated manner. Although these themes, as treated, have a particular Greek significance, the film could be seen in a wider European context. At least it did not aim for an international market like the monumentally bad Greek-Spanish co-production, El Greco. The variety of Greek, Spanish and British actors struggle manfully against unspeakable dialogue in English and a dreadful screenplay, in which the narrator tells you throughout what you can see. It never for a moment suggests what made El Greco a great painter, and an upbeat ending is one that even Hollywood at its most puerile would have turned down. Incidentally, the big-budget movie is a huge box-office success in Greece.

- Ronald Bergan


More from Thessaloniki: Ray Pride on the Circuit.

Update, 11/27: Ray Pride's got more photos: parts 2, 3 and 4.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:02 AM

Shorts, 11/26.

The Rake's Progress "Director of stage and screen, Robert Lepage is criminally little-known by name in the US and yet he is arguably the most imaginative and talented multi-hyphenate of his generation," writes Jonathan Marlow, introducing his interview for SF360. Lepage's staging of The Rake's Progress can be seen at the San Francisco Opera through December 9.

"Though the infant mortality rate in filmed opera is high - famed fiascos include 1953's Aida with Sophia Loren miming to Renata Tebaldi's voice - we can think in compensation of Syberberg's Parsifal, Losey's Don Giovanni, Bergman's The Magic Flute," writes Nigel Andrews. "Next week we have the UK release of Kenneth Branagh's The Magic Flute: very different from Bergman's, possibly a candidate for smacking, but with moments of giddy grandeur."

Also in the Financial Times, Emanuel Levy talks with Daniel Day-Lewis about There Will Be Blood.

Sliding Doors Here's a great idea for a list, and what's more, it's a fun read: Johnny Dee matches scientific theories - Hugo de Vries's Reality of Mutations, Schrödinger's Cat, for example - and matches them with movies based on, inspired by or simply inadvertently suggestive of. Even better is the news hook for the piece: Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives, airing Monday on BBC 4, in which Mark Everett, better known as Mark E of the Eels, goes off in search of an explanation for his father's theory of many worlds. Matching movie: Sliding Doors.

Also in the Guardian: Emma Brockes talks with Ian McKellen and John Patterson dreads another season of Christmas movies. Related: Collin Souter's list of "the Worst Christmas Movies Ever!" at Hollywood Bitchslap.

Elite da Tropa José Padilha's Elite Squad, "a violent look at Rio's drug wars from the perspective of a SWAT team, has put him at the center of a furious debate over police violence and middle-class drug use and has become the most talked-about movie here since City of God in 2002. Critics have called Mr Padilha everything from an extreme leftist to a right-wing fascist." Alexei Barrionuevo talks with him about, among other things, the way the film has been "grossly misunderstood by some, in Brazil especially."

Also in the New York Times:

  • Citing deals between HarperCollins and Sharp Independent and Random House and Focus Features, Rachel Donadio notes that the publishers "will get a cut of the box office sales, as well as revenue from DVDs, cable TV and other media. And the authors involved will get more say in choosing screenwriters, actors and directors. Some worry that the increasingly cozy relationship between Hollywood and publishing companies is changing expectations of literary success - and may even be changing the way novelists approach their work."

  • "When Brad Pitt dropped out of the political thriller State of Play at the 11th hour on Wednesday, he did more than throw a wrench into the works of one of the highest-profile movie productions under way in a Hollywood already overheated by strike-related contingency planning. He might have helped tip the balance of power between actors and studios, at least temporarily, in the employers' favor." David M Halbfinger explains.

  • David Carr lunches with Woody Harrelson: "He can riff on hemp, the dark ends of Big Pharma and the wages of conformity with alacrity. And he lives in Maui, a tough commute for a working actor, partly because he does not want himself or his family to be imprisoned by a grid of consumer culture and Los Angeles ambition."

  • "When Sex and the City, the movie, began shooting in New York this fall, the sight of its stars was both commonplace and traffic-stopping, breathlessly chronicled by bloggers and gossip writers." Melena Ryzik, too, is on the set.

  • Anna Kisselgoff remembers Maurice Béjart, "he French choreographer whose flamboyant and populist ballets made him the equivalent of a pop star in Europe.

Sweeney Todd "How do you solve a problem like a bloody, R-rated musical about a serial killer, starring movie actors who aren't professional singers?" Paul Brownfield tells the story behind Sweeney Todd and talks with Tim Burton.

Also in the Los Angeles Times, book reviews: Leslie S Klinger on Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters and Andrew Lycett's The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes: The Life and Times of Arthur Conan Doyle; Erika Schickel on Steve Martin's Born Standing Up; and Nick Owchar on Giuseppe di Lampedusa's The Leopard.

Why would Peter Bart perpetuate the myth of "Bob Shaye the Gambler" in Boffo! How I Learned to Love the Blockbuster and Fear the Bomb, wonders Kristin Thompson.

"Over his entire career [Steve] Erickson has challenged readers with a fiercely intelligent and surprisingly sensual brand of American surrealism that can, at times, seem impenetrable," writes Jeff VanderMeer in the Washington Post. "For this reason, it surprised me that almost everything in Erickson's new novel Zeroville entertains so readily without seeming watered down or slight."

"Since 2000, the year Jimmy Corrigan was published, [Chris] Ware has contributed to the New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine and the latest Penguin edition of Voltaire's Candide," writes Jeremy N Smith in the Chicago Tribune:

His work has been chosen for separate exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. He has edited or helped edit at least three major anthologies of the best of the last century of American comics.

Now Ware has been called away once more from the drawing board, this time to edit The Best American Comics 2007, which includes exactly zero kids stories or superhero adventures. For several reasons, it is a strange book, and that strangeness speaks, I think, to why reading comics may currently be almost as challenging as it is rewarding.

And you'll have heard and/or seen that Ware's designed the poster for The Savages, a film we'll be hearing a lot more about this week.

An all-star list of avid readers chooses the best books of 2007 for the Observer, where Craig McLean profiles Natalie Portman and Jason Solomons braces himself for awards season: "Making art into competitive sport is clearly ridiculous - but you look a right curmudgeon saying such things when you're clutching a statuette and wearing a fancy dress."

Jo Van Fleet and James Dean

The year is 1955... at StinkyLulu's place, home of the Supporting Actress Smackdown.

"[T]he burden of criticism, as an elucidation and not as an explanation, is not to build a film up (trumpet its many virtues) nor to tear a film down (harp its many deficiencies) - it is to simply offer the best (say the most interesting and comprehensive) picture of the object at criticism for the reader," argues Ryland Walker Knight.

It's not even December yet, but Entertainment Weekly has already chosen its "Entertainers of the Year: 25 Top Stars of 2007."

Damon Wise profiles Casey Affleck for the London Times.

Online listening tip. Colin Murray talks with Kevin Smith for the BBC. Thanks, Jerry!

Posted by dwhudson at 2:01 AM

November 25, 2007

Fests and events, 11/25.

Thessaloniki 48 "At the 48th Thessaloniki International Film Festival in the north of Greece, the moderator for a 'DIY' Masterclass with Joe Swanberg (Hannah Takes the Stairs) and Ry Russo-Young (Orphans, in competition here) begins precisely with the dread 'M' word, which the pair ably dismiss." At Filmmaker, Ray Pride introduces a clip and then describes what all happened next.

Ben Slater is organizing and moderating a panel on film blogs for the Singapore Writers Festival, running December 1 through 9. Click his name for participants and linkage.

For the New York Times, Terrence Rafferty previews The Cinema of Max Ophuls, running at BAM from Wednesday through December 18:

The consistency of his themes and his visual motifs from the first movie in the series - the elegant romantic tragedy Liebelei, made in Germany in 1933 - to his last completed work, the elaborate picaresque called Lola Montes (1955), is striking. Echoes of Liebelei can be heard very clearly in the American Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948) and then again five years later in the French Earrings of Madame de...; and Lola Montes seems, in its less felicitous moments, just a gaudier version of Ophuls's 1934 Italian melodrama La Signora di Tutti.

In all these pictures, and in La Ronde (1950) and Le Plaisir (1952) as well, love and honor are tricky, maddeningly slippery things, and the camera, you often feel, has no choice but to remain in motion, framing and reframing the intimate moral geography of the characters' constantly changing situations.

Brian Darr's got a list: "Ten reasons to come to the Silent Film Festival's winter program at the Castro Theatre this Saturday, December 1."

"The title to Douglas Gordon's exhibit currently at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art - Pretty Much Every Film and Video Work from about 1992 until Now - could mistakenly give the impression that it's a single compression, a montage, of elements of various moving-image works by various creators from the past five years," writes Marc Weidenbaum at Disquiet. "In fact, the works in question are all Gordon's own, and they're displayed..., not as a constant stream but as an installation, a darkened and nearly silent room full of monitors of varying sizes, some equipped with headphones."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:06 PM | Comments (1)

Amsterdam Dispatch. 2.

IDFA David D'Arcy reviews three docs screened at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, running through December 2. For pix from the fest, look to indieWIRE.

At IDFA, there should be a special category for documentary comedy. The comedy tends to be unintentional, which is often the best kind.

Donkey in Lahore

Take Donkey in Lahore (site), an Australian documentary on what passes for love between a dreamer from Brisbane and a girl whom he encounters o the streets of Lahore, in Pakistan. You might as well call this doc The Life of Brian II. Faramarz K-Rahber's film follows star-eyed Brian as he travels from Brisbane to Pakistan to put on a puppet show. He's a talented puppeteer, but that isn't a craft that draws the groupies. In a huge square, he poses for a picture with a dark-eyed teenager named Amber who tells him teasingly that she wants to marry him. It turns out that this is one of the few sentences in English that she knows. No matter. Brian believes her, and he takes her up on it. And she's innocent enough to go along with it. And that's not the last stupid thing that he does.

In France, they call this kind of love-at-first-sight infatuation le coup de foudre - the thunderbolt. Brian is so dumb-struck after meeting the cute 15-year-old in Lahore with the big smile who asks him to marry her that he converts to Islam, taking the name Aamir. His hard-drinking wide-bodied Australian parents are amused. So are his lesbian sister and her partner. His fate is in Allah's hands.

Brian's hare-brained scheme to raise the funds to marry Amber involves building a puppet in the form of a donkey and convincing Pakistani television to film his puppet show. The puppet is a charming quirky creature in Brian's hands, but no one takes him up on the show, which leads to more miscommunication with a family that once thought all foreigners were rich.

Donkey in Lahore This odd couple of Brian and Amber makes for the perfect extended sit-com. It's the clash of cultures where a quixotic man falls for a beautiful girl who turns out to be wrapped in several layers of tradition. When he's dealing with her family, half the time it's in translation with parents who speak no English.

The telephone calls between Brisbane and Lahore are skits in miscommunication that defy belief. Even more unbelievable, in the vein of Curb Your Enthusiasm, is Brian's resolve to go through with the marriage, even though he sells his house and spends most of his money while he waits dutifully for permission from Amber's parents. He rushes to Pakistan for his wedding, and then rushes back to Australia on his wedding night, because he can't afford the fee to change his flight. He's seen off by his wife in a wedding dress. Now that's a scene for a screwball comedy. In case you're wondering, they don't sleep together that night.

Sometimes the jokes come right out of a burlesque show. Brian shocks Amber and her parents when he tells them that his parents drink alcohol, as do his sister and her partner. When asked for more information about his sister, no one understands what a lesbian is, so Brian uses a vulgar Urdu word that is translated as "poofter." The jaws drop.

Donkey in Lahore is a fool's paradise in another way. Pakistan here is seen from inside Amber's family home, or from taxis taking Brian to and from the airport. It's a long way from the blocked streets of Karachi in A Mighty Heart, and it's odd to see a view from Pakistan that is so domestic, at a time when crowds are demonstrating in the streets and the government is condemned internationally for jailing its critics. But hey, at least our principal Asian ally in the war on terror is good for a few laughs.

The Empire of Evil

The Western encounter with Islam, particularly its misperception of Iran, is what Mohammad Farokhmanesh wants to redress in Empire of Evil (site), a view into everyday life in Tehran through five people there. The director said that he made the film for a western audience in the hope of refuting the assumptions behind his title. (It's also for a western audience because it probably couldn't be shown in Iran.) You leave his film knowing more about Iran and Iranians than you might get from western media stories on the Iranian quest to make a nuclear bomb. For the whole picture, you'll have to see a lot more than this movie.

Yet Farokhmanesh won't let you forget that most Iranians are struggling with the strict rules of the Islamic Republic, and with an economy that keeps talented, motivated people underemployed. Serayesh, a young woman who teaches fencing to Iranian women, explains how she has been at a disadvantage in international competitions because she's forced to wear a headscarf under her helmet, and also required to wear an overgarment over her fencing suit. Married to a swimmer, she is not allowed to watch her husband compete. Her story reminds you of Offside, Jafar Panahi's brilliant film about girl soccer fans who dress as boys to sneak into matches at Tehran's largest stadium. When police catch the girls and cordon them off outside the stands, the guards are a captive audience for a debate on whether girls should be segregated out of sports events. You can guess who wins the argument, and you can also assume that nothing changes.

The Empire of Evil In one touching scene, young Golsa, a piano prodigy, is fitted for a headscarf that she will wear to school. A gentle mullah, another of the characters observed in the film, tries to argue that the veil honors women and does not demean them. None of the women interviewed in the film feels that way.

Women are also the most damaged economically by religious laws, but we follow characters through their daily lives and see that men, too, are hurting. Serayesh and her husband manage to get green cards, allowing them to live in the United States, but the two of them can't raise enough money to go there. She can't even find a part-time job. Abbas is a computer specialist who has to sell his computer for cash. He lives in a bare set of rooms with his retired father and disabled mother. He is also a Basiji, a volunteer to martyr himself in war. One brother, also a Basiji,  was killed in the Iran-Iraq War, and we visit his grave with Abbas. We also see Tehran on the national day to commemorate those martyrs, some of whom were between 13 and 15 when they were sent onto battlefields to die. Would a new generation of martyrs volunteer to fight in the event of the US invasion that we keep hearing about? The Bush administration would do well to consider that possibility before it declares that Iran will be the next "slam dunk."

Farokhmanesh, a resident of Germany for the last 15 years, spent a year (including 50 days of shooting), with official permission, to assemble his small "cast" and film The Empire of Evil. He admits that the title on his application for permission to shoot was The Wrong Picture, which may help explain why he got official clearance for a documentary that shows ordinary people chafing at the limits on their lives.

The Empire of Evil has a clean PBS look to it and a "balanced" tone in its gentle probe into the lives that Iranians actually live. No protesters are on-screen, no participants in the movements of students, women and bloggers who have been targeted for persecution by the regime. Like Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, it shows an Iran that stands somewhere between militant Islam and militant pro-Americanism. That's likely where most Iranians are.

The Putin System

For more on the West versus Islam, The Putin System, by Jean-Michel Carre and Jill Emery reminds us that Vladimir Putin mobilized his electorate in the wake of the 1999 bombings of apartment buildings in Moscow that he blamed on Muslim Chechens whom Putin called "wild animals." It turned out that the wild animals were really trained agents of the FSB (former KGB), where Putin had received his training. It also turned out that Russians were willing to believe anything about Chechens. It didn't help that Chechen commandos were responsible for the attack on a school in Beslan in 2000 that took the lives of 334 civilians. It was Putin's 9/11, the doc's narrator tells us.

The inquiry into a system that returns Russia to Soviet-style repressive government (and vast wealth for a business elite) deploys interviews, archival images and first-person narration, Adam Curtis-style. Not quite at Curtis's edgy level, but worth a view for a one-stop primer, The Putin System shows you post-communist Russia in the hands of a hard-line communist. And Putin's approval ratings are at more than 60 percent. The film has already played on television in Australia and Canada. More to come.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:16 AM

November 23, 2007

Shorts, 11/23.

Sam Peckinpah "With all the ink spilled over the resurgence of the western, [Sam] Peckinpah, the most influential and talented director of westerns of the past 50 years, and for my money the greatest of all American filmmakers, has received short shrift," writes Michael Sragow in the Los Angeles Times. "His erratic output and excesses, his long-declining energy and his pop-culture image as a purveyor of mindless (versus brainy) machismo long ago gave the genteel and ungenerous excuses not to take him seriously. In that way, and others, he was like Norman Mailer.... Peckinpah would have been the ideal director for movie versions of Mailer's most disreputable novels."

"Several years ago a producer approached me to make a feature film about Boudica (yes, Boudica, not Boadicea), the queen of the Iceni who gave the Roman invaders a bloody nose in AD 60." And then, several years went by. But, as he explains in the London Times, Ken Russell did eventually get to make his film and, if you click on his name, you can watch two clips from it.

"Reg Park, who passed away yesterday after a long struggle with cancer at the age of 79, was first and foremost a world champion bodybuilder, but his brief and all-but-accidental acting career in the 1960s brought to the screen the most fully realized portrayals of Hercules ever filmed," writes Tim Lucas, who's revisited Hercules in the Haunted World - with the sound turned off.

Michael Caine: "Can we stop for two minutes so I can have a glass of water. I haven't been this fucking nervous since I did live television." Kenneth Branagh recalls a real-time run-through of Sleuth with Harold Pinter on hand for the first time. Related: "It is unaccountable that Branagh, still under 50, has sunk so low and felt bound to accept the invitation to remake Sleuth," blogs David Thomson. "Perhaps he was over-praised once. Perhaps he was too willing to believe all his notices. It is a long way back, but half an hour of Conspiracy will convince you - this is a real firebrand of an actor with an uncommon sense of wickedness."

Also in the Guardian:

The Criminal

  • John Patterson remembers Stanley Baker, "that transitional figure between the Richard Burton generation (Baker was Burton's drinking pal and understudy), and the regional actors who came after Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. He had the classical training of the former, and, with his impoverished background, his Rhondda Valley socialism and his air of menace and sexual confidence, he was not just 'authentic' like his regional juniors Finney, Caine and Connery; he was real."

  • "[T]he Hollywood blacklist forced artists to purge themselves and inform, or use fronts, pseudonyms and/or go into exile. La-La-Land leftists relocated to sanctuaries in Mexico, France and even Franco's Spain to make movies. The Yanks came to Britain, too." And it's these UK stories that Ed Rampell, author of Progressive Hollywood: A People's Film History of the United States, tells.

  • "Today, Hollywood is often derided for its liberal agenda, but is it switching sides on abortion?" asks Cath Clarke.

  • "It used to be the case that studios would simply adapt a graphic novel for the screen, usually with dubious results," writes Ryan Gilbey. "Increasingly, though, the traffic is moving in the opposite direction, with film-makers themselves branching out into graphic novels, incorporating that art form as an alternative storytelling tool rather than simply an adjunct or cash-in."

  • Peter Bradshaw likes Rescue Dawn - but not Sleuth. Related: James Mottram talks with Werner Herzog for the Independent.

  • And: "The studio behind the long-awaited big screen adaptation of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass is to take the makers of a documentary with a similar title to court over claims they are are trying to unfairly cash in on the film's release."

For the Age, Philippa Hawker talks with Kriv Stenders about Boxing Day, "partly improvised, made on the tightest of budgets, shot on digital video with a single location and a cast of six."

Steven Bach: Leni Among the New York Times' "100 Notable Books of the Year" is Steven Bach's Leni: The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl, reviewed in March by Clive James, alongside an excerpt from Jürgen Trimborn's Leni Riefenstahl: A Life.

Also in the NYT:

  • Another list: Boxed Sets. Of music, that is.

  • With Who Is Norman Lloyd?, Matthew Sussman "has made a valentine to a show business legend," writes Matt Zoller Seitz. "But luckily this is a rare case in which the subject is, by consensus, such an accomplished man and decent fellow that the director can't be accused of overdoing it."

  • Also: "Based on a novel by Tetsuo Takashima, Midnight Eagle addresses the strained, unequal military relationship between the United States and Japan, likened in various subplots to that of a distant, inept or otherwise inadequate parent and his dependent child."

  • "Everything's Cool, a documentary directed by Daniel B Gold (who narrates) and Judith Helfand, and adorned with clever animations by Jeremiah Dickey and Emily Hubley, traces the politics of global warming politics back to 1987, when the phenomenon was more commonly called the greenhouse effect," writes Stephen Holden. "According to the movie the issue didn't become politicized until the oil and coal industries recognized a threat to their economic well-being and undertook a misinformation campaign that continues to this day."

  • Also: "He Was a Quiet Man, a surreal creep show with a scatological sense of humor, tosses out ideas about vigilante justice, sanity and madness, personal redemption and corporate duplicity with the abandon of a crazed juggler tossing pins too high to catch."

The pace has picked up again at A Film Canon.

"Why is it that museums can't get enough of [Kara] Walker's work?" asks Barry Schwabsky in the Nation.

Online viewing tip. The "Speechless" campaign is rolling out a video a day at Deadline Hollywood Daily.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:28 AM | Comments (2)

Fests and events, 11/23.

Le Vent de la Nuit "French director Philippe Garrel is one of the true enigmas of the film world," writes Josh Rosenblatt in the Austin Chronicle. "Born in Paris in 1948, an up-and-coming director by the time he was 21, friends with Godard and other big names in the New Wave, a longtime lover and collaborator of singer and Velvet Underground icon Nico, an award-winning director of more than 25 movies over the last 40 years, and still he's essentially unknown here in America." French Maverick, Rebel Auteur: Four Films of Philippe Garrel runs from Tuesday through December 18.

In Paris, through December 1, the 14th Rencontres Internationales will create during 10 days a space of discovery and reflection between new cinema and contemporary art at the Centre Pompidou, the Palais de Tokyo, the Jeu de Paume national museum, the movie theatre l'Entrepôt, the Beaux-arts de Paris, the Laboratoire." Quite the guest list, too.

"The City of the Future consists of 68 pieces of film footage, assembled after deep delving in the National Film Archive, shot around the turn of the 20th century," writes Robert Hanks in the Independent. "Most of the footage consists of single shots, lasting perhaps a minute, of street scenes in London, Bradford, Liverpool, Bristol, Glasgow, Dublin and elsewhere. Crowds waving at trains, a ship being launched, the mayor of Halifax entering his carriage; or, more usually, crowds and traffic obliviously going about their business. It is, as you will know if you have seen any of Mitchell and Kenyon's films of late Victorian and Edwardian Britain, utterly riveting." Through February 3 at the BFI Southbank Gallery.

"The African Diaspora Film Festival has grown each year since its genesis in a kitchen-table conversation between a couple of film fanatics frustrated by the shallow pool of black films in New York," writes Felicia R Lee in the New York Times. "Starting today the 15th edition of the festival will offer something for just about anyone interested in the global black experience: 102 films from 43 countries in a 17-day feast of documentaries, comedies, musicals, dramas and romances." Through December 9.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:51 AM

Pasolini, 11/23.

Pier Paolo Pasolini: Poet of Ashes "Poet, playwright, screenwriter, filmmaker, Communist, Christian, moralist, pornographer, populist, artist: 32 years after he was murdered by a teenage hustler (who later tried to recant his confession), Pier Paolo Pasolini remains, perhaps above all, a subject for furious argument," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "No single institution, art form or political tendency could contain his angry, exquisite energies, so it makes sense that a New York retrospective of his work would be spread around the city, encompassing concerts, performances and exhibitions as well as film screenings. The program, called Pier Paolo Pasolini: Poet of Ashes and organized by the Italian Cultural Institute, continues through Dec 18. The heart of it - an 11-film program at the Film Society of Lincoln Center called Heretical Epiphanies - opens next Wednesday with a screening of Mamma Roma."

Updated through 11/29.

"Pasolini's shadow hangs over much of contemporary European art cinema," writes Steve Erickson in Gay City News. "Directors like Catherine Breillat, Gaspar Noé and Michael Haneke, who've combined sexual provocation with a grim view of consumerist culture, owe a great deal to him. Indeed, Haneke put Salò on a list of his favorite films for Sight & Sound magazine in 2002. He claims that his first viewing made him physically ill for weeks; he owns it on DVD but has yet to work up the courage to watch it again."

The Passion of Pasolini series runs on through December 1 at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley and the East Bay Express blurbs The Canterbury Tales and The Arabian Nights.

Update, 11/27: "A kindred spirit of Luis Buñuel, with an inferior sense of humor but more palpable existential compulsions, Pier Paolo Pasolini perpetually rebelled against moral hegemony, commiserating with outcasts and creating and dying as one." In the Voice, Ed Gonzalez walks us through the films slated for screening.

Update, 11/28: "No other major filmmaker from the 60s continues to seem as strikingly contemporary," Film Society of Lincoln Center program director Richard Peña tells Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. Thanks, Jerry!

Update, 11/29: The series "summarizes how Pasolini went against the classical conventions of Italian cinema (heresy) and innovated ways to find the sublime in the lowest, meanest aspects of social experience (epiphanies in the sense of transcending ordinary Italian Neorealism)," writes Armond White in the New York Press.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:35 AM | Comments (1)

Amsterdam Dispatch. 1.

IDFA David D'Arcy on two films he's caught at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, which runs through December 2.

The IDFA is celebrating its 20th anniversary. I began my stay in Amsterdam by watching a film that was more than 35 years old, a relic of the anti-war movement from the early 1970s.

FTA, directed by Francine Parker, is a film of the tour of the Fuck The Army show, a theater revue put on by Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, Holly Near (remember her?) and the singer Len Chandler in 1972. The troupe's goal was to broaden protest against the Vietnam War by performing at army bases in the US and in Asia - right outside the gates of bases in Okinawa, the Philippines and Japan. Local activists were happy to join in the fun.

The message was one of solidarity with the troops. Skits about the idiocy, brutality and petty tyranny of military life (with Fonda singing and dancing) are intercut with tour footage and often poignant interviews with soldiers about their opposition to the war. "FTA" also stands for "Free The Army." Crew members of the USS Coral Sea   aircraft carrier present a petition condemning the bombing of the mainland by planes from their ship. Len Chandler, a singer with an easy and friendly stage presence shares the duties of MC with a young Sutherland, fresh from the Robert Altman film, M.A.S.H.

FTA Calling the film FTA must have seemed like just the right marketing approach. Using the abbreviation for the title meant that you could use the word "fuck" while not using it, satisfying your audience's predilection for shocking and being shocked, saying something provocative and unsayable (on screen) about the war and American politics, but not doing anything that would keep the film out of theaters.

What did keep the film out of theaters, until now, was Jane Fonda's trip to Hanoi in 1972, which she made without telling anyone else involved in the movie, according to Len Chandler, who spoke briefly after the film was shown last night. Fonda went to Hanoi in July of 1972. Her photographs there, notably a beauty shot of her sitting at the controls of an anti-aircraft gun, were just the high-octane that the Nixon administration needed to fuel its campaign to discredit the anti-war movement among the huge mass of mute patriots that Nixon liked to call the "Silent Majority." Once the photos were all over television and on the front pages of every newspaper, and the reaction from Middle America seemed fiercely negative - the Nixon dirty tricks crowd made sure of that, in a rehearsal for its slime strategy in the 1972 presidential campaign - the film was pulled from theaters by its distributor at the time, American International Pictures. Bear in mind that AIP was the distributor of no-budget classics like I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Wasp Woman, A Bucket of Blood, and the youth revolution saga, Wild in the Streets. You might have thought that mini-mogul Sam Arkoff of AIP would have had some sympathy for guerrillas, but not if it mobilized the folks in Nebraska against his films. You can also bet that Nixon had his friends in Hollywood apply the thumbscrews.

In the film, with her fist in the air much of the time, Fonda describes the show's improvisational theater as "political vaudeville." Its parodies of officious officers and dance numbers skewering male chauvinism in the military tend toward the earnest, yet you won't hear anyone (but soldiers) saying "fuck the army" these days. "Support our troops" is the mantra you get throughout most of the media - and certainly from all the presidential candidates. If there were a military draft, you'd be hearing "fuck the army" a lot more. But if we had a draft, there never would have been an invasion of Iraq by the Bush administration. Remember that it was the end of the draft in 1973 that brought most of the demonstrations against the war to an end.

Some of the music is poignant, especially "Soldier, We Love You," sung by its author, Rita Martinson - so poignant that it's haunting to see this revue at a time when the war in Iraq drags on, amid the completion of the largest US embassy ever, costing more than half a billion dollars in Baghdad, a long-term commitment if there ever were one - not to mention talk of a possible invasion of Iran. If you're wondering where Jane Fonda is now, she is a self-described "liberal feminist Christian." According to film web sites, FTA was not on the bill in the tribute to her earlier this year at Lincoln Center. It's a shame, but no surprise. These days, Fonda's battles seem to be with Botox.

Word on the Internet is that Fonda is the obstacle to releasing FTA again. No mention of her opposition to releasing the film was made last night by a heavier and greyer Len Chandler, who is in Amsterdam to show the film. Chandler, who noted the recent death of director Francine Parker, spoke optimistically about bringing FTA back to theaters, but said no deal had been made. Releasing the film is enough of a challenge, but don't expect much of an audience in the event that a miracle takes place and the film gets a theatrical distributor. When Rialto Pictures re-released Peter Davis's classic Hearts and Minds a few years ago, there was a chorus of approval from the press, yet barely anyone showed up.

Chandler told the audience last night that the film was in the hands of David Zeiger, director of the 2005 doc, Sir! No, Sir!, about the anti-war movement among the military during the Vietnam War.

The Champagne Spy Another war story is explored in The Champagne Spy, by Nadav Schirman, which tells one of the many adventure tales of Mossad agents in the early days of Israel who took on the most improbably identities as spies. This documentary is the story of Ze'ev Gur Arie, a German-born Jew who was set up in 1960 as Wolfgang Lotz, a German ex-SS officer who became a horse breeder in Egypt, where German atomic scientists after the war were at work on developing a nuclear bomb program.

The film is, in part, an adaptation of Lotz's autobiography, also called The Champagne Spy, which gives more details about the nature of his espionage than you'll get in the film. Here's a 1970 report from Time.

The Champagne Spy tells the spy's story from the perspective of his son Oded (Udi), who must be 50 now, living in the US with his family. Udi recalls living in Paris in the 1960s, with his father "away on business" most of the time. It didn't take long for the boy to figure out his father was a spy, although the details weren't all spelled out. We hear about the operation from a series of ex-Mossad officers who tell of how the charming Lotz found his way into the tiny German scientific circle, and into Egyptian society. Lotz loved the good life, and it was his new identity that enabled him to live it. His weakness was that he became addicted to that life of champagne and women, and to the character that enabled him to live a masquerade. Eventually he fell in love with a German woman in Egypt, and married her, a move which made his ruse even more credible, until a servant discovered a transmitter in a bathroom scale and told the authorities. What else made the servant turn in his master?

When Lotz, his wife Waltraud, and other Germans are arrested, Lotz maintains his German identity. He claims that he's been blackmailed, that he worked for the Israelis because they were threatening to reveal his Nazi past. It worked. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison, not hanged, as he would have been if the Egyptians had learned that he was an Israeli. Once a prisoner exchange happens after the Six Day War, Lotz is hailed as a hero in Israel.

This documentary sees him as something different - a man who betrays his wife, even if it is in the service of spying for Israel. His son can forgive him for going to live in Germany, which Lotz does, but he never forgives him for abandoning his mother. Mossad commanders and agents confess regretfully that they knew about it all, and allowed Lotz to do as he wanted. There certainly seems to be a feature film here. If one has already been made, please correct me. Let's hope this one is better than Munich.

There's no denying that the personal story of The Champagne Spy is heartbreaking, which is what most dramatic feature producers are after. Missing from Schirman's documentary is a picture of the people whom Lotz was observing. Why did the Germans work for the Egyptians? Schirman suggests it was mere money, that there weren't too many jobs for Nazi nuclear scientists (although we now know that most of them did find employment, thanks to the US). I imagine that's partly true, although somehow I think there was probably more to it. How did the Germans feel about developing a bomb that must have been intended for use against Israel? Also, the action taken by Israel against the Germans in the film is limited to a few letter bombs, which indeed do plenty of damage. What information did Lotz get? What happened to the German community in Cairo after his arrest, and after his identity was revealed once the prisoner exchange was completed? Perhaps the Israeli audience that grew up with the Wolfgang Lotz myth knows these details all too well. The rest of us don't.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:16 AM

November 22, 2007

Fernando Fernán Gómez, 1921 - 2007.

Fernando Fernán Gómez
Fernando Fernán Gómez, one of the most respected veterans of the Spanish stage and film industry, died in Madrid on Wednesday after several days in the hospital.... The multi hyphenate is mainly known as an actor but was also active as a director, screenwriter, novelist and poet. He starred in over 200 film and television roles and many more on stage and wrote and directed almost thirty features.

Boyd van Hoeij, european-films.net.

Hundreds of mourners filed past the casket of Fernando Fernán Gómez in Madrid on Thursday to pay their last respects to one of Spain's most important filmmakers. Fans, colleagues from the Spanish cinema and theater world and politicians all gathered at Madrid's Teatro Espanol.

The AP.

See also: Wikipedia (English), El Pais (Spanish) and Der Tagesspiegel (German).

Posted by dwhudson at 2:00 PM | Comments (1)

November 21, 2007

Shorts, 11/21.

In the Shadow of the Moon "[M]ore than the films that were selected for this year's Oscar Shortlist is the stunning list of films - both in length and in quality - that did not hear the Academy's call," writes AJ Schnack, who not only considers the each of the films now in the running for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar but also lays out "some of the important facts behind this list of 15." In a followup entry, AJ comments: "In one fell swoop, the Academy's decade-long campaign to repair its scandal-plagued 1990s reputation of nominating television-styled or extremely conventional films, was reversed."

"There Will Be Blood is a vivid, sprawling parable about greed and moral corrosion," writes David D'Arcy for Screen Daily. "[Paul Thomas] Anderson's film joins a long line of moral dramas about the allure of riches and the corruptibility of Americans in the stampede to accumulate wealth. Based loosely on Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel, Oil!, it evokes the race for gold in John Huston's 1948 The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. It also calls the mind the exploitation of the desert in Giant (1956) and Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole (1951), and, like Citizen Kane (1941), it culminates in the wretched gilded loneliness of a friendless tycoon." Related: PTA in Mean Magazine at goldenfiddle.

Peter Chattaway, who's been keeping an eye on The Golden Compass, spots what may be the first review. The Telegraph's John Hiscock writes that "the investors who put up the £90 million cost of the film can rest easy - though it lacks the impact or charm of The Chronicles of Narnia, the special effects are extraordinary and the film is sure to be a success with young audiences." Here's the bit many have been curious about: Director Chris Weitz "has changed the story's rejection of organised religion, in particular the Roman Catholic Church, in favor of a more general attack on an unspecified dogmatic authority that seeks to rid the world of 'free thinkers and heresy.'"

"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly makes a strong bid to be the best foreign-language picture of the year, if not, flatly, the best picture in any language," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer.

The L Magazine's Mark Asch is less enthusiastic: "Beholden both to the whirling subjectivity of a cloistered mind and to the excruciating labor of blinking memory into words, the film achieves immersion in neither: too impressionistic to evoke paralysis and too process-oriented to offer more than a skim over lust-for-life shorthand by way of product."

Also, Cathy Erway on The Savages: "Tamara Jenkins's new film is not merely a sensitive, well-acted black comedy." Related: Ben Gold's report: "The Reeler squeezed into a cramped press pen Monday night near Union Square for the New York premiere."

Poetics of Cinema "Eleven years since the publication of Poetics of Cinema Raúl Ruiz continues his articulate, erudite, and insightful rumination in Poetics of Cinema 2, a lithe and infectious, yet densely referential, cross-pollinated exposition on the art and nature of image-making in an age of an overexposed cinema that, in its aesthetic democratization and crass commercialization, has fostered a paradoxical culture that is both sacred and banal, rarefied and dying." Writes acquarello.

"Hollywood is to fill in the Bible's 'missing years' with a story about Jesus as a wandering mystic who travelled across India, living in Buddhist monasteries and speaking out against the iniquities of the country's caste system." Randeep Ramesh reports on the project to be based on the Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ.

Also in the Guardian: "The arrival of the French nouvelle vague at the start of the 1960s seemed to have swept all before it," writes Ronald Bergan. "However, clinging to the wreckage were representatives of what François Truffaut and his new wave colleagues pejoratively called le cinéma du papa. The line of classic cinematic French storytelling was continued in the shape of Claude Sautet, Bertrand Tavernier and Pierre Granier-Deferre, who has died aged 80."

The BBC's planning to produce new versions of all 37 of Shakespeare's plays, report Chris Hastings and Stephanie Plentl in the Telegraph: "It has enlisted Sam Mendes, Oscar-winning director of American Beauty and Road to Perdition, and his Neal Street company to produce the entire canon over a 12-year period. Some of the country's biggest stars - including Kate Winslet, who is married to Mendes, Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen, Jude Law, Dame Helen Mirren and James McAvoy - are being tipped to take part in what will be one of the BBC's most expensive and ambitious drama series." Via Jason Kottke.

Roger Ebert writes an open letter to Werner Herzog: "You have done me the astonishing honor of dedicating your new film, Encounters at the End of the World, to me."

Jürgen Fauth bumps into yet another reason one of greatest magazines in the US really needs to renovate its film department.

At the Reeler, Lewis Beale summarizes all that's wrong with "entertainment journalism," which "has practically become an oxymoron, often uttered derisively," and offers two suggestions as to what might be done about it.

"Based on the video game franchise of the same title, Hitman exploits every action-flick cliché imaginable and still manages to be dull," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "It's bang, boom, blah - action movies for bored dummies." More from Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times: "This may only be my quirky way of thinking, but if you wanted to move through the world as an invisible hit man responsible for more than 100 killings on six continents, would you shave your head to reveal the bar code tattooed on the back of your skull? Yeah, not me, either."

Raymond De Felitta's been reading Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King: "The main thing you come away with is how tough - really tough - old show-biz guys were."

Flicker Dennis Cozzalio's book of the moment: Theodore Roszak's Flicker.

For New York, Sam Anderson reads Steve Martin's memoir, Born Standing Up: "In the wildest and craziest decade of American pop culture, the only figure to emerge with the official tag of 'wild and crazy' was someone with the disposition of an accountant."

Cineuropa's new "Film in Focus": White Palms, from Hungary.

Boyd van Hoeij turns his attention at european-films.net to contenders for the Foreign Language Oscar.

Peter Nellhaus on Rivette's latest: "What perhaps wrongly bothered me was that [The Duchess of Langeais] resembled the kinds of films that the Cahiers du cinéma crowd objected to fifty years ago - too well mannered, too dependent on dialogue, and no surprises of any kind."

"Everyone knows what a Steven Spielberg movie is, or a Jerry Bruckheimer film. But few people could describe a Brian Grazer project, except to say that it will probably make a lot of money." Allison Hope Weiner profiles the producer for the New York Times.

Margot at the Wedding gets Dennis Harvey thinking about Jennifer Jason Leigh: "It's true that mainstream audiences never really embraced Leigh... Leigh resisted being ingratiating or easy to understand and consistently played gawky characters in difficult moral circumstances.... She's as gifted as any actress of her generation but hasn't quite scaled the high-profile heights of variably contemporary thespians such as Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, or Nicole Kidman." And Scott Tobias interviews Leigh for the AV Club - where Nathan Rabin talks with Jeremy Davies.

Kurt Cobain About a Son Back in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: "By turns moving and excruciating, [Kurt Cobain About a Son raises as many questions as it answers," writes Kimberly Chun. "Eerily dovetailing with About a Son by way of a cover of Bowie's 'The Man Who Sold the World' and a Queen joke regarding ex-Germs guitarist Pat Smear, the Unplugged performance has long been loaded with the stuff of quintuple-platinum legend and fan speculation regarding Cobain's death, which occurred just four months after the program aired on Dec 14, 1993 on MTV."

Writers' strike roundup:

  • "According to [one] theory, the writers strike seems likely to last a long time, pushing studios to grab promising material that's ready to go. Some even speculate that the demand could be a boon to the foreign-film market as buyers look for inexpensive movies of quality," writes Gina Piccalo in the Los Angeles Times. "That's one view of the upcoming festival season. The other is that dismal box-office returns from a string of fall indies have made some buyers more cautious than usual about festival films."

  • "[A]s the writers strike enters its third week, I think the future belongs to a tantalizing new hyphenate: the writer-entrepreneur," writes Patrick Goldstein, also in the LAT. An example, he argues, can be found in filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, John Lasseter and George Lucas, "filmmaker-entrepreneurs, artists-turned-businessmen who helped start their own companies to further their work, became financially independent and created a world that operates under a radically different set of rules from the vacuous studio assembly lines. It's telling that the current strike is about new media yet both sides seem to be following old-school models. Writer Guild members, listen up. There is a lesson here."

  • Mark Evanier offers a history of WGA strikes past in the New Republic.

  • Online viewing tip #1. "David Poland sits down and talks with Oscar-winning Writer-Director Paul Haggis, Actor Scott Wilson, and Showrunner Marjorie David to discuss the current WGA strike." Parts 1 and 2.

  • Online viewing tip #2. Starting tomorrow, that is. That's when Nikki Finke will be hosting a series of PSAs featuring movies stars - lots of movie stars, and big ones, too - in the WGA's "Speechless" campaign.

As the calendar drags us toward list-making season, it's heartening to see a fun one early on: Film Threat's "Frigid 50: The Coldest People in Hollywood."

Sweet Sixteen "In a mystifyingly complex world, I think a British film should probably say something about our identity, or our past, or our shared vision of the future." James Nebitt, who'll be hosting the British Independent Film Awards next Wednesday in London, writes up a top ten.

Mike D'Angelo writes up Esquire's "six best performances of 2007."

In the Voice:

  • Ella Taylor on the "gentle homage," Yiddish Theater: A Love Story. More from Jeannette Catsoulis in the NYT: "[A]s we watch the dwindling audiences and desperate fund-raising attempts, the survival of the theater becomes the gateway to a passionate argument for the survival of an entire culture." And Vadim Rizov at the Reeler: "As Yiddish Theater jogs along, it becomes an unintentional time-capsule of a New York that has changed radically in just seven years (never more revealingly than when actor Joad Kohn offers up a brief tour of Hasidic, pre-hipster Williamsburg). For better or worse, [Zypora] Speisman (who died shortly after her theater) believed that people need their culture and their roots whether they know it or not; for everyone else, cultural flux is a frustrating but undeniable force."

  • Julia Wallace on Everything's Cool, "a well-intentioned but glib documentary about global warming."

  • Aaron Hillis on the "weirdly maudlin" Midnight Eagle and on This Christmas: "The cast has spirit, but the dialogue and situations are phonier than the Yule log on TV." More from Laura Kern in the NYT: "Boisterous and bittersweet, the film is not dull, but it does feel hopelessly overstuffed, with scant time to devote to any one story line."

Sheila Weller profiles Michelle Phillips for Vanity Fair.

"My favorite Hammer bad girl turns 70 today and I want to wish her a very happy birthday!" Kimberly Lindbergs salutes Ingrid Pitt.

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving In Slate, Troy Patterson revisits A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving: "It affirmed the conviction that Charlie Brown is not just a good man, but a beautiful loser."

"Nearly two years after his passing, two biographies - and we use that word in the most liberal sense - arrive to theoretically sort out the details and attempt to explain Thompson and his methods." Ray Young reviews Jann Wenner and Corey Seymour's Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S Thompson and Anita Thompson's The Gonzo Way: A Celebration of Dr Hunter S Thompson.

Also only somewhat film related, but Ronald Jones comments in frieze on a 16 billion pixel image of Leonardo's The Last Supper. "What's the importance? The online version is 1,600 times more concentrated than an image taken with a typical 10 million pixel digital camera, meaning that it is literally more than the naked eye can see."

Online viewing tip #3. At Filmmaker, Jason Guerrasio's got the trailer for Teeth.

Online viewing tip #4. As you'll have heard, Cloverfield has a site and a new trailer.

Online viewing tip #5. "It's currently available only in a Spanish-dubbed form but the first trailer for Spanish cult director Alex de la Iglesia's English-language debut has arrived." Twitch's Todd Brown will point you to the trailer for The Oxford Murders.

Online viewing tip #6. Flickhead's got a fine montage by Slavko Vorkapich.

Online viewing tip #7. Amazon's infomercial for the Kindle. Seriously. It ain't cinema, but you do need to know about this device. For some quick yet sharp analysis, turn to Anil Dash. To really wallow in the implications of an e-reader from the most powerful company in the book business, see Stephen Levy's cover story for Newsweek. Meanwhile, Ed Champion asks, "Is Amazon Screwing Over Bloggers?" And he hears plenty of answers. And more.

Online viewing tips. "That Guy with the Glasses is a popular comedian who has mainly showcased his work on YouTube, consistently appearing in the top ten comedy providers on the site," blogs Anna Pickard for the Guardian. "And YouTube is, many would believe, the perfect medium for his satirical "five-second movies" - that is films reduced to, well, some small number of seconds, if not five, including the ever popular version of All the Rocky movies (in five seconds), and the even more succinct Titanic (in five seconds). These are very funny. And he's put a lot of work into them. Applause to that man."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:02 PM | Comments (5)

Fests and events, 11/21.

an RKO Picture "Bringing RKO back to the big screen, [RKO Lost & Found] features true rarities: six films made between 1933 and '38 that have pretty much gone unseen since then, due to a complicated series of rights issues." In particular, Dennis Harvey recommends A Man to Remember: "Written by Dalton Trumbo (Johnny Got His Gun) and directed by Garson Kanin, it's an effective do-unto-others lesson with an offbeat structure that somewhat anticipates both Kane and It's a Wonderful Life. The New York Times considered it one of the best of its year, and if it's not quite an excavated masterpiece, it's certainly a moving yet unsentimental drama that packs a lot into 80 trim minutes." The series runs from Friday through November 29, and to read more about it, turn to Odienator's February entry at the House Next Door.

Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, for Glen Helfand, Takeshi Murata: Escape Spirit VideoSlime, on view at "the recently relocated and vastly expanded Ratio 3 gallery" through November 30, offers "videos, in which cinema - transferred to digital media - begins to transmogrify into something that slithers like mercury and soaks into our psyches."

Norman Lloyd: Stages Armond White in the New York Press on Who Is Norman Lloyd?: "It's one thing to see an elderly performer recall the Golden Age of Hollywood, but due to the sheer volume of Lloyd's work with iconic talent, he seems to represent it." At Film Forum, Friday through November 29. ST VanAirsdale talks with Lloyd for the Reeler; and Lloyd's a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

"It's a source of daily frustration that the films of Max Ophuls are not more widely available, and BAM's extensive retrospective comes like a long-awaited oasis of rare and incomparable cinema." Cullen Gallagher has an overview in the L Magazine. November 28 through December 18.

Dan Callahan saw Bibi Andersson introduce a screening of Persona last night at BAM and has a fine report at the House Next Door: "The novelist Jonathan Lethem asks her a few questions about working with Bergman, and she starts to talk about him in the present tense, then corrects herself. 'I have to remember that he's gone,' she says, again, with no fuss, no sentimentality."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:41 PM

Starting Out in the Evening.

Starting Out in the Evening "Faithful in style and spirit to the award-winning novel by Brian Morton, which [Andrew] Wagner adapted with Fred Parnes, this wise, observant, and exquisitely tacit chamber piece complicates every May-December, academic-novel cliché in the book," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice.

And in this corner: "Mostly, this film is a smug literati's interpretation of a May-December romance, with the not-very-celebrated, aging novelist Leonard Schiller (Frank Langella) agreeing to be interviewed by a pixieish, opportunistic grad student (Lauren Ambrose) and developing a rapport with her, all while trying to keep the faith of his middle-aged daughter ([Lili] Taylor), who is juggling two men while trying to decide if she wants one of them to raise the baby she desperately wants to have." Jason Clark in Slant.

Updated through 11/24.

As for Langella, "as William Paley in Good Night, and Good Luck and Nixon (onstage in Frost/Nixon), he was better than good; he was perfect," writes David Edelstein in New York. "As Leonard Schiller, a forgotten literary novelist in Starting Out in the Evening, he is better than that. This is what great screen acting is about."

"Starting Out never builds to the explosive climax it seems to be heading for, which I suppose is a good thing for its overall integrity, but maybe not so good for its motion-picture value," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny.

"If not for the delicate craftsmanship of the cast and the sure hand of Wagner, whose HD shot movie has a lyricism and a brisk immediacy unusual for the infant format and without ever seeming flashy or manipulative, the material could have slipped into a rote unpacking of timeworn narrative strategies, but it doesn't, resolving to proceed into a tough and indecisive third act that left the audience unambiguously disliking one of the central figures, even as the filmmaking suggest the follies of youth are to be forgiven, or at least tolerated, especially by the wise, who, of course, are still learning, even in the evening of life." Writes Brandon Harris.

The Reeler's ST VanAirsdale gets Wagner to tell him the story behind the film.

Earlier: Reviews from Sundance and Toronto.

Update, 11/22: "Starting Out in the Evening is unabashedly literary in its overall tone but never dead on the screen, and is in welcome contrast to the more bombastic entertainments being offered up for seasonal distraction," writes Robert Cashill.

Update, 11/23: For the New York Times' AO Scott, this is "one of the most delicate and peculiar romances recently depicted on film.... There are not too many screen performances that manage to be both subtle and monumental. Watching Mr Langella's slow, gracious movement through Starting Out in the Evening, I was reminded of Burt Lancaster in Luchino Visconti's adaptation of The Leopard. In some ways the comparison is absurd - Visconti's film is a sweeping historical symphony, while Mr Wagner's is a stately string quartet - but both movies concern an old man who has outlasted the social order in which his life made sense. And what is so remarkable about Mr Langella is that he seems to hold Leonard's intellectual cosmos inside him, to make it implicit in the man's every gesture and pause."

"Intelligent, involving and conspicuously adult, Starting Out in the Evening is almost shocking in its distinctiveness, its ability to create high drama from an unlikely source," writes Kenneth Turan. "If another American independent film deals with the nature of writing and a writer's life by focusing on the central relationships of a novelist in his 70s, it doesn't come to mind."

Also in the Los Angeles Times, Susan King talks with Langella.

"[I]t's rare to see a movie adaptation in which a filmmaker has taken so much care in translating the odd little qualities that make a particular novel special, to preserve the complex and fragile threads of feeling between characters that are often much easier to grasp on the page," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "Starting Out in the Evening is a small picture - it was shot on location in New York City, in high-definition video, in 18 days - but it's from a filmmaker who's used his brains to make up for any monetary resources he might have lacked. The picture feels both intimate and immediate, a model for what smart young filmmakers can do with good material."

Online listening tip. Langella and Taylor are guests on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Update, 11/24: "Starting Out In The Evening is intended to be Schiller's story, an intimate portrait of a writer; instead, I was interested in his women, beaming and glowing and also talking their way into fully realized, flawed, fascinating characters," writes Marcy Dermansky. "Ambrose and Taylor's time on screen rarely intersects; that would have been a different movie, but one I would have preferred."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:06 PM

Enchanted.

Enchanted "Enchanted, an unexpectedly delightful revisionist fairy tale from, of all places, Walt Disney Pictures, doesn't radically rewrite every bummer cliché about girls of all ages and their dreams," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "But for a satisfying stretch, the film works its magic largely by sending up, at times with a wink, at times with a hard nudge, some of the very stereotypes that have long been this company's profitable stock in trade."

"[T]he energetic film eventually peddles the same old ass-backwards messages, equating physical beauty with goodness (and ugliness with vileness), and positing that a woman's greatest dream is that a hunk will materialize out of thin air and make her a contented homemaker and wife - corrosive ideas that aren't upended by the faux-girl power, Giselle-saves-Robert finale," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

Updated through 11/25.

"The trailer... at least suggested that it aspired to Princess Bride greatness; if nothing else, it didn't look like something concocted in a test lab," writes Robert Wilonsky in the Voice. "But somewhere between conception and execution, what could have been so much smart, sharp fun turned decidedly pedestrian."

"[Amy] Adams, who was Oscar-nominated for her breakout role in Junebug, is equally splendid here as the ultimate Disney princess whose every step echoes Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "Playing perky and gee-whiz, Adams never overdoes the earnestness or even hints at condescending to the role, and it is impossible to think of Enchanted without her."

For Roger Ebert, this is "a heart-winning musical comedy that skips lightly and sprightly from the lily pads of hope to the manhole covers of actuality, if you see what I mean. I'm not sure I do."

"In entertainments such as this, aimed, as the blurbs say, at 'the whole family,' there is always a tricky balance between earnestness and irony, between jokes intended for the kids and jokes intended for their parents," writes the New Republic's Christopher Orr. "The makers of Enchanted have clearly opted to err on the side of the former, and while this results in a number of dull and/or groan-worthy gags throughout the film, it is nonetheless something of a relief from the pervasive knowingness and inside-jokery of our Shrek-soaked age."

Killian Fox talks with Adams for the Guardian.

Update, 11/22: The AV Club's Keith Phipps notes that "Disney's mostly live-action fantasy Enchanted briefly returns to the 2D animation of old; the scene is cheeky and self-parodying while still capturing everything great about the old approach.... Adams's winning performance and the light touch director Kevin Lima (a veteran of animation and live action) brings to scenes not tasked with advancing the plot all suggest that, silly as they may look once you take it apart, irony-free, romantic fantasy - animated and otherwise - still has a place on the big screen."

Update, 11/25: "Since Disney doesn't exactly lay out its playbook, Enchanted offers a rare window into the company's thinking about how one of the world's most powerful brands is best managed," suggest Brooks Barnes in the New York Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:53 AM | Comments (2)

November 20, 2007

Hoberman. Haynes. Dylan.

Bob Dylan: Self-Portrait "I'm Not There is the movie of the year - but to whom does Todd Haynes's Bob Dylan biopic actually belong, and when was it really made?" asks J Hoberman in the Voice.

Some pieces need an entry all their own, and this, most certainly, is one of them. Hoberman not only presents probably the closest and sharpest reading yet of I'm Not There (if you know of one that's closer and/or sharper, do drop a line), he also notes that it's "part of the larger, ongoing Dylan revival brilliantly orchestrated by his manager, Jeff Rosen." And he doesn't seem to mind. At all.

"[A]s Haynes's film opens at Film Forum, DA Pennebaker will premiere an hour's worth of outtakes from his 1967 Dylan portrait, Don't Look Back, at the IFC Center, and the Walter Reade will run Murray Lerner's The Other Side of Mirror, a straightforward documentary of Dylan's mid-'60s appearances at three consecutive Newport Folk Festivals." That one gets a smart review here, too.

But wait, as they say, there's more. A "Dylan and the Movies" primer is folded into all this, with special attention lavished on Renaldo & Clara, an endurance test I'll admit to having endured more than once.

As for I'm Not There: "It's an essay that derives its intellectual force from the idea of Bob Dylan, and its emotional depth from his songs. Haynes doesn't deny his subject's insistence that his authentic self could never be explained or portrayed - and might not even exist. 'I don't know who I am most of the time,' little Woody confesses in the midst of his compulsive mythmaking. We don't either, although, then again, we really do."

I'm Not There updates are happening here.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:52 PM | Comments (1)

Fests and events, 11/20.

Host and Guest Host and Guest will be screening tomorrow evening at 9:30 and again on Thanksgiving Day at 5 pm as part of the Chinese American Film Festival in San Francisco. Yes, it's a Korean film, but Adam Hartzell explains how this has come about in his introduction to his interview with director Sin Dong-il at Hell on Frisco Bay.

William Kentridge's "art has an affecting, hand-made, do-it-yourself quality that is matched by a natural storytelling ability and a critical intellect," writes Adrian Searle in the Guardian. "If his adoption of stop-motion animation and his almost expressionist, graphic use of charcoal appear old-fashioned, they are purposefully so. The more one looks, the more references pile in." William Kentridge: Fragile Identities, an exhibition, symposium and performance series is taking place at various venues Brighton through the end of the year.

In an entry for Artforum's diary, Jennifer Allen describes Bruce LaBruce's "theatrical debut as both director and dramatist. In moving from behind the camera to behind the scenes, LaBruce - affectionately known as BLAB to friends, fans, and those in a hurry - mixed race, class, gender, and sexuality to make an explosive combination of the nuclear family." Cheap Blacky's just wrapped in Berlin.

Zodiac Vadim Rizov attended Monday night's screening of David Fincher's director's cut of Zodiac: "[F]or my money, it's one of the finest films of the decade. Host and chief interrogator Kent Jones wasn't the only one confessing to having seen the movie five times or more; one man prefaced his question with such ecstatic praise that Fincher interrupted him before he could even get to the question: 'Thank God for you, sir.'"

Also at the Reeler: There's still a lot of Ingmar Bergman to be seen in NYC, notes Miriam Bale.

"As a Brooklyn-raised upstart in the 1930's New York theater scene, [Norman] Lloyd had the luck to work with some great directors, including Elia Kazan and Orson Welles," writes Julia Wallace. "The high point of his 70-plus-year career was his role as the saboteur in Saboteur, which will be paired as a double feature with Who Is Norman Lloyd? for the week of its run at Film Forum." And John Anderson talks with Lloyd.

Kathy Fennessy at the Siffblog on The Landlord: "Though Harold and Maude would secure his reputation the following year - once it caught on, that is - [Hal] Ashby's first film proves he had the touch from the start." At the Northwest Film Forum from Friday through Thursday.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:11 PM | Comments (1)

It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE.

It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE "Co-directed by David Brothers and written by its late star, a cerebral palsy sufferer named Steven C Stewart, It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. is a hallucinatory, psychosexually violent, avant-garde fantasy that explores a disturbing theme: even the physically handicapped can act like tyrants." Aaron Hillis introduces his interview with Crispin Hellion Glover.

"A movie about a serial killer with cerebral palsy - as the brainchild of the long-suffering Stewart, it's hard to dismiss out of hand," writes Chuck Wilson in the Voice. "If you duck out early, you may meet Glover's gaze as you head up the aisle. All these factors—weird movie, tragic backstory, and the on-site presence of its maker—combine for a nerve-jangling hour-plus. Moviegoing is rarely this fraught."

Updated through 11/22.

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Glover "about his unique writer-star Stewart, fearlessly tackling taboo subjects, and how he reacted when Robert Zemeckis stole his face."

Ben Gold talks with him, too, for the Reeler.

Earlier: John Constantine in Nerve.

Updates, 11/21: "Like last year's Part 1, What Is It?, this follow-up (with David Brothers as co-director) will attract only the most adventurous filmgoers, who will have to wade through some rather repugnant material to weigh the movie's merits," writes Laura Kern in the New York Times. "Ever the tireless, traveling showman, Mr Glover will again be on hand before each screening to present his hourlong Big Slide Show, which, like his films, is wildly impassioned and macabrely fascinating."

"Once you're past the shocking imagery, there is a poignancy to be found within the film, and it certainly makes a statement about living with a handicap (though we're not yet completely sure what that statement is)," writes Sara Vilkomerson in the New York Observer. "Mr Glover is clearly proud of the final result. 'This will be the best movie of my career,' he predicted."

"If Stewart were just an average Joe with a fetish for long hair and dreams of killing his partners, would anyone care?" asks Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine. "Doubtful."

"Conceptually, the merits of the process are apparent: Just as What Is It? gave actors with Down Syndrome a chance to indulge in creativity, It Is Fine allows an outsider's plight to define the mood and give significance to the art," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "Yet it's hard to take that endeavor seriously when the movie operates under the guise of exploitation. Stewart comes across as an object of pity, but his descent into madness doesn't underscore his difficulties. It takes advantage of them."

Update, 11/22: David Wolinsky talks with Glover for the AV Club.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:29 PM

August Rush.

August Rush In the Independent, Geoffrey Macnab talks with Kirsten Sheridan: "The Dublin-based writer/director received an Oscar nomination for her contribution to the screenplay of her father Jim Sheridan's In America (2002). Now, barely into her thirties, she has directed her first Hollywood movie, the $30m (£15m) August Rush."

"This mawkish film pathologically adheres to the belief that musical ability is an innate thing, and so it is that when renowned cellist Lyla Novacek (Keri Russell) and Irish guitarist Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) bump uglies during a one-night stand staged within eyesight of Washington Square Park's magical marble arch, they unknowingly collaborate on an embryo that will one day become an avant-garde musical prodigy with an uncanny ability to mix styles old and new (which basically comes down to playing a guitar as if it were a drum," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "In spite of its flabbergasting self-absorption, August Rush's devotion to following through on its screwy internal logic is almost genius."

Update, 11/22.

"Acclimate yourself to the frenzied vibe," advises Ella Taylor in the Voice, "and you'll feel the movie grow into itself as an urban fairy tale whose rapturous finale stakes a wishful claim on the redemptive power of love and art."

"While many films require a suspension of disbelief, August Rush asks viewers to terminate their disbelief without severance and have security escort it from the building," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC.

"The problem with August Rush - much more than its unapologetically sentimental, melodramatic plot - is that the music in it isn't very good," finds Paul Matwychuk.

Updates, 11/21: "The movie... is acted in a style best described as overawed," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Oblivious to persecution and exploitation, [Freddie] Highmore's August glides through the movie with a beatific smile on his face. Mr Rhys Meyers and Ms Russell, who have no romantic chemistry, wander about in an emotional limbo."

Robin Williams plays "a Faginesque former musician who lives off the musical talents of his young, errant wards," notes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "How absurd is Williams in this role? He makes Patch Adams look like a good career move."

Jennifer Merin talks with Sheridan for the New York Press.

Updates, 11/22: "The film is what might be called a musical urban fairytale, which is to say its characters are one-dimensional archetypes (The Singer, The Musician) pumped full of saccharine and hot air," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club.

Robert W. Welkos talks with Sheridan for the Los Angeles Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:16 PM

The Mist.

The Mist "Frank Darabont ditches the warm and fuzzies for out-and-out cynicism about mankind's capacity for goodness and altruism with The Mist, the filmmaker's third feature-length adaptation of a Stephen King tale," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "[E]ven if it's not entirely convincing, The Mist's damn-everyone-to-hell finale still proves a refreshing rebuke to the Capra-esque pap peddled by the director's prior The Majestic."

For the New York Times, Charles McGrath talks with King and Darabont, and writes, "The Mist, originally published as part of Mr King's Skeleton Crew collection, is early, classic King. It's not a character study like Shawshank and Green Mile; nor is it, like so many recent King novels, about the tortures of the imagination, the horrors of being a writer. It's about a small town in Maine that is one day enveloped in a mysterious, impenetrable fog that isolates many of the residents inside the local market."

Updated through 11/27.

"How did a straightforward little tale about prehistoric monsters gobbling down the hapless citizens of a modern-day town become such a lumbering and depressing movie?" wonders Chuck Wilson in the Voice. He lists several possible routes, and then: "All this would be disappointing, but not infuriating, if the film's ending weren't so unforgivably bad.... The Mis made me want to scream, but for all the wrong reasons."

"The Mist is itself a supermarket of B-movie essentials, handsomely stocked with bad science, stupid behavior, chewable lines of dialogue, religious fruitcakes, and a fine display of monsters," writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. "The finale - a cruel Stephen King joke - is designed to convince us that we have been watching something more than hokum, but I am unpersuaded."

Updates, 11/21: "Until the director Frank Darabont decides that he's saying something important instead of making a nifty horror movie, The Mist isn't half bad," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "In the haunting images of men and women cautiously venturing outside, their bodies melting into the mist, he offers a stronger, more palpable sense of what it means for human beings to be truly frightened than he does with any of the dialogue. He makes fear visible."

"As for that ending (very different from King's), well, it's certainly brave," writes the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips. "It's probably braver than it is dramatically effective. But the film is absorbing, and by the time the ending arrives, you may be willing to cut it a break, as I was, even if Darabont's nervy resolution cuts the audience no break whatever."

The film "features Marcia Gay Harden as a haranguing prophet of doom so obnoxiously over-the-top that she makes Jim Jones look like Jesse Jackson," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "Harden's Mrs Carmondy would bring the whole production down if it weren't already flawed for other reasons."

"[G]ive her a break; it's not a plausible or playable role," counters Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times.

"Darabont makes the switch from middlebrow Oscar-bait to the horror genre, but the result is just as overwrought and sentimental as his previous efforts," writes Eli Goldfarb in the L Magazine.

Updates, 11/22: "The Mist is a large-scale Twilight Zone episode," writes John Constantine for Nerve. "And despite some glaring missteps, it's a decent one."

Tasha Robinson finds it to be "one of the scariest King films since Stanley Kubrick's The Shining."

Updates, 11/24: "The Mist may very well be one of the most quietly subversive movies of the year," argues Ed Champion.

Gilbert Cruz talks with King for Time.

Update, 11/26: "The Mist builds toward a climax so wrenching that I hesitate to recommend the film, but I think Darabont earns his vision," writes David Edelstein in New York. "He touches on so many sore spots: schisms of class and religion, fear of the technology's impact on the environment, fear of God's vengeance—or the vengeance of people on behalf of their gods. The movie could be called The Miasma."

Update, 11/27: "The Mist... is a blend of horror cult films such as Them! (1954) and The Fly (1958, 1986) - among many, many others - and John Carpenter's The Fog," writes Maria Komodore at Pixel Vision. "And that's exactly why it's sooo good."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:06 PM

Other DVDs, 11/20.

The Tree of Wooden Clogs "Born in 1931 to a peasant couple who'd moved into Bergamo in Italy, and learning his craft making documentary films while working as a clerk at the Edison-Volta electric factory, Ermanno Olmi kept the humanist spirit of neo-realism alive in the 60s and 70s with films featuring non-professional casts." The Observer's Philip French recommends Olmi's "masterpiece," The Tree of Wooden Clogs.

Glenn Kenny revisits Close Encounters of the Third Kind in order to focus on "Spielberg's reconception of [Roy] Neary [Richard Dreyfuss], which was instated in the Special Edition and remains in the Director's Cut. It really does change the whole timbre of the film, and does so in a fairly ruthless way."

Keith Phipps, too, reviewing the 30th anniversary edition for Slate, focuses on Neary rather than the spaceships. "[P]articularly if you haven't seen the movie in a while..., you realize the movie has a rather un-Spielbergian subtext. The protagonist, a young suburban dad penned in by the responsibilities of fatherhood, leaps at the first chance to leave those responsibilities behind. Given the opportunity, in the movie's final scene, to board the aliens' mother ship and fly away, he doesn't spare a thought for the wife and kids he's leaving behind. The stars await."

Kevin Lee offers an insider's glimpse into the making of extras for DVDs from New Yorker Films.

The White Hell of Pitz Palu "The White Hell of Pitz Palu came by its title honestly, for making this was indeed a five month's hell on frozen earth, with primitive equipment there to record cast suffering unprecedented in movies before or since," writes John McElwee in another great entry at Greenbriar Picture Shows. "Much was mined from the frozen husk of White Hell. You could build entire serial chapters out of footage spectacular as this, and on at least two occasions, Universal did."

"Jennifer Baichwal's Manufactured Landscapes is the year's most chilling horror film, a cold-stare portrait of planetary waste that makes An Inconvenient Truth look like, well, an Al Gore lecture," writes Michael Atkinson for IFC News.

Dave Kehr in the New York Times on Susan Hayward: "Agony was her business, and she knew it inside out." More from Dan Callahan in Slant.

Ray Young watches Maurice Jarre: A Tribute to David Lean, a combination DVD and CD of the composer's 1992 concert with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. It's a pleasure to watch him conduct and comment on his own work. Superbly orchestrated despite a limited rehearsal period, he plays selections from [Lawrence of Arabia], Dr Zhivago (1965), Ryan's Daughter (1970) and A Passage to India (1984), performed just months after Lean's death at 83."

DVD roundups: DVD Talk; Bryant Frazer and Peter Martin at Cinematical. And, as always, the Guru.

Online viewing tip. For the Guardian, Xan Brooks and John Domokos talk with Werner Herzog about Rescue Dawn. More (in text) from Related: Christopher Goodwin in Sunday's London Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:36 PM

Slant. Kubrick.

Kubrick Collection Warners' Stanley Kubrick Collection has practically sparked a mini-Kubrick festival at Slant. To follow the films' chronological order, start with Rob Humanick on 2001: A Space Odyssey: "Central to the profundity of the film is the notion that few things are more meaningful than a child's first steps, the emotive impact of this scenario manifest in every one of the film's dizzying set pieces, albeit multiplied to epic proportions. At its core, 2001 is a journey (or, as indicated by its subtitle, an odyssey), a summarization of those questions that are both the simplest in their inquisition and most profound in their answers: who are we, where do we come from, and where are we going?"

"If there's an inherent problem in Clockwork Orange, it's that Alex's cruelty is depicted with such bravura cinematic technique and such harsh irony that there's a whole audience that tunes in just for the shock and awe," writes Jeremiah Kipp. "But I don't hold that against Kubrick's film, which in fact is about uninspired moral negligence, and about its hero tuning into violence as entertainment and institutions using violence and brainwashing as a means of control. It's Kubrick's most prescient work, more astute and unsparing than any of his other films (and he had more where that came from) in putting the bleakest parts of human behavior under the microscope and laughing in disgust."

"It's the experience more so than the actual content of The Shining that radiates cold, anti-humanly indifferent terror," writes Eric Henderson. "Having conflated the sadistic struggle between a man and his family into a horrific epic tragedy, Kubrick ultimately slaps the film back into a reversal of 2001: A Space Odyssey's coda, swapping accelerated evolution in favor of a regression so primordially violent it disrupts the fabric of time."

"Somehow after the decadence of Barry Lyndon and a philosophical look at horror in The Shining, Stanley Kubrick settled into a film of unrestrained vitriol and aggression, and - once again proving his genius as a cinematic storyteller - made it intellectual and appealing," writes Arthur Ryel-Lindsey. "Full Metal Jacket states its primary concern fairly loud: Private Joker (Matthew Modine) is grilled for wearing a peace pin on his combat uniform while having 'Born to Kill' scrawled across his helmet. He responds that it is a comment on the duality of man, warring and peaceable - or, in this case, the Marine-brand, courageous, thoughtless, instinctual killer, the human beneath it, and the difficulties if not the futility of one suppressing the other."

"The great joke of Eyes Wide Shut is that the star with the megawatt smile plastered across the covers of tabloid magazines as the sexiest man alive is made to run around the streets like a jerk, desperately in need of a good fuck," writes Jeremiah Kipp. "If the film seems to be a morality play drifting along with the erratic rhythms of a dream, then it begs the question of what is the moral, and how much we're meant to relate to these nervous cosmopolitans."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:19 AM | Comments (2)

Milestone's I Am Cuba.

I Am Cuba "The only thing that's missing from what may be the DVD release of the year, which comes to us inside a makeshift cigar box, is an actual Cuban cigar." At Slant, Ed Gonzalez opens up Milestone's I Am Cuba: The Ultimate Edition.

"Still, in my experience, the movie bedazzles regardless of its condition or format," writes Michael Atkinson for IFC News. "[T]here's just no acclimating to, or being blasé about, the famously superhuman cinematographic stunt work and the unearthly white-wheat-dark-sky exposures (achieved with infra-red stock), all of it mated to an unfettered revolutionary outrage that abstractly details life before and during Castro's rebel war, from decadent tourist pool parties to police brigade atrocities to guerrilla righteousness in the mountains."

Updated through 11/22.

It's "a stylistic exercise so inventively extravagant that it still provokes gasps of amazement," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "The Soviet government had commissioned the director Mikhail Kalatozov, whose 1957 Cranes Are Flying was one of the few postwar Soviet films to attract international attention, to create a stolid, Socialist Realist monument to the Cuban Revolution; what it got instead was an avant-garde freakout that continues to cast a spell over filmmakers, including Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson."

"Disc two offers a fascinating 90-minute Brazilian making-of docu called The Siberian Mammoth," notes the DVD Savant. "Disc Three contains a two-hour docu on director Mikhail Kalatazov, featuring lengthy input from Claude Lelouch and many film clips. As with many another Soviet director, Kalatazov's career veered between 'accepted' status and long periods when he'd be forbidden to work because of perceived ideological flaws in his work. Finishing off the disc set is an insert booklet containing Milestone founders Dennis Doros and Amy Heller's annotated account of the film's eventual rediscovery."

Update: "What's most impressive about I Am Cuba is how effectively dialectical the film is." Dave McDougall illustrates his case at Chained to the Cinémathèque.

Update, 11/22: "In truly socialist fashion, Kalatozov and his screenwriters decided that no one character in their film would be more significant than any other; Cuba, rather, would be the star of the show," notes Josh Rosenblatt in the Austin Chronicle. "[T]here's no denying the daring at the heart of a film that laughs so loudly at convention." This set does "a convincing job of making the case for I Am Cuba as one of the most important artistic achievements of the last 50 years."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:23 AM | Comments (1)

November 19, 2007

Fests and events, 11/19.

Sundance 08 "Playwright Martin McDonagh's first feature, In Bruges will open the 2008 Sundance Film Festival on January 17, 2008 in Park City," reports indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez. "McDonagh's film, described as a 'twisted tale of two London hit men ordered to take a forced vacation in Bruges, Belgium,' stars Ralph Fiennes, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. In the words of a Sundance announcement, "their subsequent time in exile goes awry.'"

The Denver Film Festival's wrapped; indieWIRE has the award-winners and Matt Dentler has stories and pix.

SXSW and ON Networks are partnering to "recognize the best in digital entertainment with The Greenlight Awards, a competition aimed at discovering the next great, original and episodic Digital Series."

Online viewing tip. "Come, See, Experience, Real Time Movie, Borough Market, 30 Nov 07, 11.30am." The trailer, featuring Jude Law, is appearing in London cinemas. Creative Review's got it and explains: "The film, directed by Jason Martin, is one of a series of artworks by Pawel Althamer, and forms part of the exhibition The World as a Stage, currently on show at Tate Modern."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:46 PM

Docs, 11/19.

Titicut Follies The Academy's released a short list of 15 contenders for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar; Steve Rhodes and Alison Willmore have taken that list and added links to each of the film's sites.

Titicut Follies, having been made in 1967, is, of course, not on that list. But it's "both a landmark piece of journalism and a landmark work of art," writes Jesse Walker in Reason. "It is also notable for two reasons that have nothing to do with its merits. It was the first picture to be directed by Frederick Wiseman, a former law professor who at age 37 was beginning a long series of rich and challenging films. And it is the only movie in US history to be banned for reasons other than obscenity or national security." And Walker talks with Wiseman about "free speech, complexity, and the trouble with Michael Moore." Via Bookforum.

"For those who are spending a lonely Thanksgiving in New York (I don't mean to presume that all of us film buffs are socially damaged; perhaps you are simply getting away from your extremely close-knit families for a few hours), think about seeing some of the Humphrey Jennings documentaries that Anthology Film Archives has programmed this Friday through Sunday," suggests Dan Sallitt.

Kevin Kelly recommends The Heart of the Game: "The great draw of this film is the marathon span of filming."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:59 PM

Queer Film Blog-a-Thon.

"I am of the opinion that gay film, in many ways, still seeks to operate within the margins of the system... queer film, on the other hand, does not cooperate. In fact, it wants to pervert the system."

Queer Film Blog-a-Thon

At Queering the Apparatus, Damion introduces today's Queer Film Blog-a-Thon, already well over a dozen entries strong. This is a good one, folks. Go, explore.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:03 PM

Sight & Sound. December 07.

I Don't Want to Sleep Alone "With two films about to be released theatrically in the UK and a 50th-birthday retrospective scheduled at BFI Southbank, Tsai Ming-Liang seems suddenly back with the wordless, delinquent version of a vengeance," writes Roger Clarke in the new issue of Sight & Sound. "As well as the vaudeville and pornographic pleasures of The Wayward Cloud (2004) - like The Hole (1998), but with watermelons - British audiences will now get to see I Don't Want to Sleep Alone (2006), Tsai's first feature made in his native Malaysia. It's the latest in a series of cinematically refined, intensely personal films from one of the key figures of Taiwan's second-generation New Wave, whose members include the rather better-known Ang Lee."

"This magazine doesn't often look at television matters, but Channel 4 has had such an impact on UK culture since it crash-landed in 1982 into a staid broadcasting world that its silver jubilee can't be ignored. To assess its history and worth to us all, Alkarim Jivani talked to some of those involved in its creation."

Reviews:

Breathless

  • "Regardless of how one feels about Breathless - whether one sees it as a trashy pastiche or as the moment when self-consciousness first dawned in the cinema - it is in many ways one of the movies' most compelling invitations to dreaming," writes Tim Lucas, reviewing the "typically magnificent Criterion offering."

  • Tim Robey on Into the Wild: "[E]ven [Sean] Penn's more indulgent flourishes seem to enhance the film's keen feeling. With its swooping hunger for landscape and new experience, it plunges headlong into the giddy, passionate convictions of its hero, then pulls back to show us what he's missing - and how badly he is missed."

  • "The Darjeeling Limited isn't just complacent, though it is that: the stock elements employed by [Wes] Anderson for more than a decade - slow-motion shots set to 1960s British pop, former writing partner Owen Wilson as a melancholy loser, robotic tracking shots that glide sideways for comic effect, excitable whip-pans - have never felt less inspired, or more like a safety-net," writes Ryan Gilbey.

  • Lisa Mullen on Lagerfeld Confidential: "[L]ike a favored puppy, the filmmaker revels in his privileged access to his master. And since Lagerfeld turns out to be an extraordinarily clever and monstrously interesting character, the film can hardly fail to be diverting."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:03 AM

Interview. Todd Haynes.

I'm Not There "When it was over, I couldn't move," writes David Gates in Newsweek. "Despite a couple of slow stretches - and Dylan has them, too - I'm Not There turns out to be worthy of its subject. This isn't faint praise. It's a full-on rave."

And now, at the main site, Sean Axmaker talks with Todd Haynes about a cinematic highlight of the year, I'm Not There.

"Todd Haynes has devised a Bob Dylan biopic that not even Dylan, for all his self-mythologizing, would have had the audacity to conceive," writes David Edelstein in New York. "Directly answering the charge - made by devastated idolaters when the singer-songwriter abandoned folky protest songs for rock in the mid-60s - that Dylan is an opportunist, a Judas, a hollow man, a fabulist who believes in nothing and picks up and discards one fake persona after another, Haynes makes a passionate case that this protean quality is, in fact, the source of Dylan's greatness.... Haynes works from the outside in, and at his most inspired (parts of Poison, Safe, Velvet Goldmine, and his little-seen Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story), he meets himself coming from the inside out - a magical fusion of mimicry and heart that's not unlike Dylan's."

Updated through 11/25.

But the New Yorker's Anthony Lane is not on board: "The problem for I'm Not There is not one of credibility (after all, these tales are meant to be tall) but of what authority a movie retains when its component parts fly off in different directions.... To come at a stubborn subject from multiple angles was a smart move, but Haynes is so enthralled by the stylistic opportunities that his plan affords, as he was in the 50s-hued Far from Heaven, that he ends up more interested in the angles than in anything else, leaving the elusive Dylan, once again, to slip away."

The Oregonian's Shawn Levy talks with Haynes, too.

Earlier: an 11/11 entry and reviews from Venice, Toronto and New York.

Update: "Haynes's film, overambitious though it may be, is something of a wonder, a challenging concept movie with grace, energy, and style to spare, and proof enough that American cinema can still be vital and rousing," writes Chris Wisniewski at indieWIRE. "Some viewers are likely to pour over I'm Not There, performing studious exegesis, deciphering and perhaps denouncing Haynes's version of the Dylan myth, but that misses the point. This is a movie, not a riddle or dissertation, and an invigorating one at that - a thrilling jolt of pure cinema, clearly the product of an inquisitive mind and a genuine heart." Go catch the opening bit on the coming month's avalanche of top tens, too.

Updates, 11/20: "Even as it dances between visual styles and color palettes (the [Cate] Blanchett portions are Felliniesque black and white, the [Heath] Ledger chapters are filled with rich greens, the Gere segments sooty and brown), there remains something inexplicably cold about I'm Not There," writes Matt Singer at IFC News. "I deeply respect its intentions, admire both its filmmaker and its subject, but have very little affection for the finished product."

"Like the Barbie dolls in Superstar, the casting at first seems like a distancing joke, but Haynes is brilliant at tearing off the top of his own head and giving audiences a peek into his pop obsessions," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "Whether it's the music of the Carpenters or the outlaw romance of Genet (Poison) or the delirious melodrama of Douglas Sirk (Far From Heaven), Haynes is a master at translating old cultural phenomena into new and bold statements, and that's exactly what he does with Dylan here."

Updates, 11/21: "I would not subtract a minute of this movie, or wish it any different," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Nor do I anticipate being finished with I'm Not There anytime soon, since, like 'Subterranean Homesick Blues,' it invites endless interpretation, criticism and elaboration. Instead of proposing a definitive account of Bob Dylan's career, Mr Haynes has used that career as fuel for a wide-ranging (and, if you'll permit me, freewheeling) historical inquiry into his own life and times. In spite of its title, I'm Not There is a profoundly, movingly personal film, passionate in its engagement with the mysteries of the recent past."

"[I]f you force yourself to stop playing spot-the-reference, I'm Not There turns into an often-moving emotional journey not just about art-making and culture and America, but about a deeper disconnectedness," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "The sense of alienation and temporal drift, particularly in the [Richard] Gere section, which I initially considered the weakest, is directly reminiscent of another picture about a strange, um, rock star: Nicolas Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth. There's another kind of richness within this film that goes beyond the cerebral, chasing a transcendence that I'm not sure Haynes actually believes in."

Matt Prigge talks with Haynes for the Philadelphia Weekly, where Sean Burns writes, "Goofy, symbolically overwrought and shooting for the moon, I'm Not There is an often drop-dead funny, rambling collision of acting styles, film techniques and silly, reckless dares. It's also the most go-for-broke, energizing movie I've seen all year, and if you're looking for some sort of easily encapsulated, psychologically sound statement about the subject... well, I think the title song just about says it all."

And Stephanie Zacharek talks with Haynes for Salon, where she writes, "Qui êtes-vous, Monsieur Bob Dylan? That's the question Jean-Pierre Léaud asked in Jean-Luc Godard's Masculine Feminine, a question so essential it was unanswerable, even in 1966.... I'm Not There is Todd Haynes's version of the question, framed not as a demand but as a ballad sung in the language of movies, as if the only way to get to the meaning of Dylan were through another type of song."

Sam Adams talks with Haynes, too, in the Philadelphia City Paper, where he writes, "Jude's defense of the politics of personal transformation echoes Haynes's own journey from ACT UP activist to engaged auteur, one who realizes that queering the canon can be as powerful as shouting slogans.... One way to read I'm Not There is as a bootleg biography that skirts primary sources and focuses on the cultural shock waves sent out from his epicenter."

Another interview: Noel Murray for the AV Club.

"Like all of Haynes's films, this movie burrows into your mind and stays there, bringing up questions, for some time after it's over," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "On the other hand, it feels at times like a formal exercise that, although interesting, doesn't quite cohere into anything larger. Maybe it's because it's hard to extrapolate symbolism from Dylan's life and persona - he isn't a symbol of anything but himself, as Haynes seems to acknowledge."

"I may not have been a huge Dylan fan before I'm Not There, but I was a Haynes fan," writes Cheryl Eddy in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "With this, his most ambitious work to date, the director's affection for re-creating the past finds its match in his innovative dissection of a complex artist's soul."

"Martin Scorsese's 2005 documentary No Direction Home settled on Dylan's enigmatic search for an authentic pose as a quest to keep communicating - to keep getting through," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine. "The same is true of I'm Not There, which, like Haynes's other movies, works on gut and cerebral levels, within the movie's time period and within contemporary times - both more and less complex than you think."

"I'm Not There shows how the other docs of Dylan have imposed consistency upon an elusive and mercurial person," writes Roger Ebert for the Chicago Sun-Times. "What Haynes does is take away the reassuring segues that argue everything flows and makes sense, and to show what's really chaos under the skin of the film."

"Altogether, I'm Not There is a presumptuous act of reverse hubris," grumbles Armond White in the New York Press. "No one should expect to be entertained by the story it doesn't tell or the blind alleys it revisits. After all, it's not about Bob Dylan, it's about Todd Haynes' own art-confusion, refracted through the notoriety of Bob Dylan - just as Haynes pilfered the lives of 70s Glam Rock icons in the atrocious Velvet Goldmine merely to glorify himself."

"All right, I confess," sighs Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "I was bored and confused most of the time, but I plead ignorance as a critic to the many nuances of Mr Haynes's pop cavalcade of Mr Dylan's golden oldies, enmeshed as these are in Mr Haynes's hopelessly and interminably cluttered mise-en-scène."

"Even if you're one of those viewers who finds Haynes an overly cerebral director (I'm not), this music provides an emotional scaffolding that sustains the film," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "When Dylan himself appears in some old concert footage just before the final credits, the close-up on his real, live, harmonica-playing face is all the more affecting in light of the multiple Dylans who've come before: Hey, it's him! Whoever that is."

"One can understand an ambitious filmmaker like Haynes, whose Far From Heaven was a quite successful Douglas Sirk pastiche, being fed up with biopic clichés and pieties, and trying radically to reanimate the genre," writes Richard Schickel in Time. "The trouble is that he does not escape these conventions in I'm Not There. He just dresses them in different clothes."

"I don't hate Dylan. I don't love him either, but I really can't stand his fans," writes Vadim Rizov at the Reeler. "But you don't need to even like or particularly care about Dylan to admire Todd Haynes's I'm Not There. It's a gorgeous, technically adept piece of filmmaking - the world's longest, most expensive montage."

"Todd Haynes (whose aforementioned Velvet Goldmine remains one of the most critically misunderstood and daring films of the last decade) turns out to be the perfect director," writes Tom Huddleston at Not Coming to a Theater Near You, "creating a film which is at once confounding and utterly appropriate, deconstructed but still deeply involving, a glorious fantasy rooted in real life, and dreams, and songs, and lies, and lofty ambition."

Peter Sobczynski talks with Haynes for Hollywood Bitchslap, where Brian Orndorf writes, "A marriage of surrealism, idolatry, and psychological babbling, I'm Not There is an especially intoxicating witches brew for the Dylan faithful, with enough directorial cartwheeling to keep the rest interested in the journey as well."

Rob Nelson talks with Haynes - "I'd hope [Dylan] could watch the film and have a chuckle" - for the Boston Phoenix, where Jon Garelick notes that this is a film "not so much about Bob Dylan as about what we think about when we think about Dylan.... Haynes captures the Dylan - and the old, weird America - of our dreams and nightmares." Also, Charles Taylor works his way through the soundtrack, song by song, cover by cover, and James Parker has a story to tell: "I had just removed his hand - gently, I hope - from my knee when the man in the off-white linen suit told me that he was the one who recruited Bob Dylan into the CIA."

"At least Haynes has been mightily discriminating in applying his talents to the screen," writes Dennis Harvey at SF360. "There's somebody I can think of who hasn't been nearly so careful... and his name is Bob Dylan.... Every artist is entitled to blunder into the wilderness once in a while, but arguably this one's most embarrassing (as opposed to simply controversial) public expressions were all on celluloid. Herewith a Hall of Shame list, most of it mercifully unavailable for home viewing..."

In some theaters, audiences will be receiving an official guide to the movie. Ray Pride has the press release.

"With I'm Not There, Portland director Todd Haynes, has crafted one of the densest and most intellectually challenging films you can conceive," writes the Oregonian's Shawn Levy. "But he has made it delightful as well, packing it with gorgeous filmmaking, thrillingly exact detail and a deep sense of play and risk. It's demanding in the best sense, leaving you dazed and wondering and eager to see it again so you can piece together the bits that escaped you with the bits that didn't."

"[T]here's only one direct allusion in I'm Not There to Dylan's Jewish background," notes Douglas Wolk in an excellent piece for Nextbook: "A tightly wound reporter who's been investigating Quinn triumphantly announces on television that the rock 'n' roll idol's real name is 'Aaron Jacob Edelstein.'... If you're looking for Jewish content in Dylan's songs, you'll find it for sure, because their glory is that everything is in there - his lyrics are impossibly rich in connotation and subtext, and he seems to have absorbed, synthesized, and transfigured everything he's ever read or listened to. Some of those sources, inevitably, are Jewish sources, right alongside the lines from Confederate poet Henry Timrod that show up on Modern Times, or the phrases from Junichi Saga's Confessions of a Yakuza that resurface on Love and Theft, or the fragments of Keats's 'Ode to a Nightingale' that Christopher Ricks has found peppered throughout 'Not Dark Yet.'"

LA Weekly: I'm Not There Updates, 11/22: "Though we first met back in 1991, when the NEA-funded homoeroticism of his first aboveground feature, Poison, was rattling the halls of Congress, Todd Haynes and I 'bonded' (as the saying goes) in April of 1995, when we served as jurors for the short-film competition at the USA Film Festival in Dallas. On our day off from jury duty, we went downtown and visited the spot where John F Kennedy was assassinated - Dealey Plaza and the Sixth Floor Museum created out of the erstwhile Texas School Book Depository - and came to the immediate conclusion that not only did Oswald 'do it,' but that shooting fish in a barrel would have presented a greater angle of difficulty." And now, David Ehrenstein talks with him again, this time for the LA Weekly. But first: "I'm Not There is an instant classic of the most experimental end of the rock-movie genre - which is to say, Peter Watkins's Privilege, Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell's Performance, and a little-known film called Renaldo and Clara made by Dylan himself (see 'Dylan by Dylan' sidebar)."

That sidebar's by Tim Grierson; Scott Foundas writes the review: "I'm Not There turns out to be a triumph of intellect and cinematic imagination that feels light rather than heavy, and such a novel approach to film biography as to leave every Ray and Walk the Line looking especially clueless. Haynes pulls off the seemingly impossible - he takes one of the most discussed, written-about, imitated, lusted-after public figures of the 20th century and shows us not something new, but something deeper."

"In presenting Dylan's life as a song for six parts, Haynes neglects to show the sacrifice Dylan's metamorphoses necessarily entailed. I'm Not There diminishes Dylan's legacy by failing to name the price at which it came," argues Jacob Rubin in the New Republic:

It occurred to me while watching I'm Not There how much we associate Dylan with the concept of betrayal. Alone among the musical pop culture icons of the 20th century - more than the Beatles, the Stones, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles - Dylan has been accused of treason, an offense usually reserved for the realms of politics and war. He betrayed the folksters at Newport. He betrayed the rockers when he found Jesus. He betrayed the Christians when he found Judaism. He betrayed the purists when he did Victoria's Secret. He betrayed the Poetry when he stole from the Japanese writer Junichi Saga. He betrayed Joan Baez. He betrayed Sad-Eyed Sara. He betrayed his secret wives of the 80s. It would be very tidy to say something like: In betraying everyone around him, Dylan never betrayed himself. But this isn't true. In each instance, he did betray himself, and with each betrayal became less himself-less human. He had to. He had no room for his own humanity. It all went into the songs.

For Film & Video, Steve Erickson talks with Haynes about visual style. It's in Gay City News that Steve writes, "According to Haynes, the key to self-expression is creatively appropriating other people's influences.... With the greatest respect, Haynes takes the singer off his pedestal, raising prickly questions about the relationship between art and politics and the merits of authenticity within pop culture." There, too, Gerry Visco talks with Haynes.

Spencer Parsons talks with Haynes for the Austin Chronicle.

"I'm Not There is suggestive, not instructive; poetic, not prosaic," writes Chas Bowie in the Stranger. "It is also, I strongly feel after only one viewing, one of the smartest, most innovative, and most beautiful films of this era."

"[A]s a cartwheeling whole, I'm Not There is energizing and expansive, not reductive," writes Jim Ridley in the Nashville Scene. "It unfolds and recombines in our heads, ensuring that the Dylan who emerges from this prismatic portrait is, like the movie itself, larger than the sum of his dazzling and maddening parts."

"[I]t's worth noting that Dylan's hipster indifference to celebrity has now been punctured by two officially sanctioned motion pictures this decade (the previous being 2003's woeful Masked and Anonymous) that promote and capitalize on Dylan's iconography," writes Neil Morris in the Independent Weekly. "Ultimately, Dylan has always been what he claims to be - a master songwriter and storyteller—and what he will not admit to being—a brilliant, strategic self-marketer."

"The more Dylan you take into I'm Not There, the more you'll get out of it," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club. "And even for the devout, Haynes' daring and reference games don't always pay off.... But the missteps don't detract from the thrilling brilliance of the filmmaking (aided by the remarkable cinematographer Ed Lachman), or dim the sense that Haynes was right in deciding that the fractions of the man would add up to more than the man himself."

"[W]hen I'm Not There is good, it's very, very good, and when it's bad, it's merely annoying," writes Bilge Ebiri for Nerve.

Updates, 11/23: "Haynes is calling Dylan out for creating public confusion even while he does his part to keep that confusion going," writes Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader. "I've seen I'm Not There three times now, and apart from the politically correct sections with suffering Claire, I find it both nimble and gripping. But whenever I try to commit myself to any idea about what I think it's doing, I ultimately balk at having too many choices. You might say I'm not there - at least not yet."

Scott Heller talks with Haynes for the Boston Globe, where Ty Burr writes, "The experience of watching I'm Not There is almost exactly like that of being dropped into one of Dylan's knottiest, most epic songs - 'Desolation Row,' say."

Desson Thompson talks with Haynes for the Washington Post, where Ann Hornaday lists a few aspects "more haunting" than Blanchett's performance: "Marcus Carl Franklin, who plays Dylan in his early self-invention as hobo-waif; Charlotte Gainsbourg, who embodies the stable relationships in Dylan's past; and the Altmanesque landscape of pastoral Americana that serves as a backdrop while Richard Gere (as aging fugitive Billy the Kid) listens to Jim James deliver an ethereal cover of 'Goin' to Acapulco.' Shivers."

"Is it a coincidence or some sort of cultural sign that I’m Not There arrives so closely after Julie Taymor's Across the Universe, which takes a wholly different approach in looking at the Beatles?" asks Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "Despite - or maybe because of - the political degradation of the last couple decades - the 60s continue to exert a gravitational pull."

Update, 11/25: "I'm Not There is the first time that a Todd Haynes movie has left me with the feeling that others have complained about getting from his other pictures, that the people on screen are just delivery systems for his clever ideas and that they have the weight of holograms," writes Phil Nugent.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:53 AM | Comments (9)

Interview. Robert Stone.

Oswald's Ghost "The central and most persuasive interview [in Oswald's Ghost] is with the late Norman Mailer, author of Oswald's Tale, who died on November 10," writes David D'Arcy, introducing his latest interview. "Although I'm a fan of Robert Stone's work, especially his hallucinatory doc, Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst, I was skeptical at first, not about the notion of a film that might put conspiratorial explanations of the JFK assassination to rest, but about the idea that there was anything left to be said about the shooting of JFK and the search for a 'mastermind.' I can recommend Oswald's Ghost to skeptics like myself, and to anyone else. If you're in Dallas today, go to the free public screening and discussion with Robert Stone and some of the interviewees from the film at the Texas Theater, where Oswald was arrested after he shot and killed police officer JD Tippit."

Updated through 11/23.

Updates, 11/20: "Oswald's Ghost impresses as a concise, intelligent and rigorously well-researched piece of work," writes Joe Leydon for Variety. The film "is structured so that its emotional climax unmistakably is the scene in which Norman Mailer - whose recent death makes his weary gravitas here all the more affecting - admits, with equal measures of sadness and resignation, that he reluctantly came to believe Oswald changed the course of history on his own."

"It may well be one of the best movies ever offered about the assassination, and it took on an eerie power being shown in a handsomely renovated theater that will forever be central to the darkest moment in Dallas history," writes Michael Granberry in the Dallas Morning News of last night's screening.

Update, 11/21: Conspiracy or no conspiracy, JFK did plan to have the US pull out of Vietnam. James K Galbraith has details in a letter to the New York Review of Books.

Update, 11/23: Online listening tip. Stone's a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:25 AM

November 18, 2007

Shorts, 11/18.

Julian Schnabel With The Diving Bell and the Butterfly set to open in a couple of weeks, Randy Kennedy pays a visit to Julian Schnabel's studio, where he finds the artist a little ticked off that there are "a lot of people describing Mr Schnabel as a director who paints, and not the other way around. This development does not always sit well with a man who has made thousands of paintings — and millions of dollars from them — over the last 30 years and who once declared that he was the 'closest you'll get to Picasso in this life.'" And there's an accompanying audio slide show.

Related: In the Los Angeles Times, Kevin Thomas profiles Max von Sydow and Choire Sicha meets Emmanuelle Seigner.

But back in the New York Times:

Atonement "The acclaim Joe Wright's Atonement has garnered prior to its release illustrates how Oscar hype impacts the review process," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "Released any other time of the year, the film may have been seen for what it is: an unspectacular adaptation of a modern literary classic." And, as for The Kite Runner, Marc Forster "has shat on it, transforming a presumably brutal and nuanced account of class difference and innocence lost into Disney-style kitsch."

More on that one from Nick Schager: "Forster exhibits nary a hint of genuine interest in his story's underlying issues of class difference, tradition, and cultural standards of masculinity, too busy is he filling everyone's mouth with hoary platitudes and lavishing attention on cheesy CG kite-flying sequences."

According to David Bordwell, this would be the "Law of the Adolescent Window":

Between the ages of 13 and 18, a window opens for each of us. The cultural pastimes that attract us then, the ones we find ourselves drawn to and even obsessive about, will always have a powerful hold. We may broaden our tastes as we grow out of those years—we should, anyhow—but the sports, hobbies, books, TV, movies, and music that we loved then we will always love.

A pretty Blog-a-Thon-ready concept. And there is a corollary: the "Law of the Midlife / Latelife Return." In yet another marvelous entry, he offers a "view onto the pop-culture landscape in 1960 - 1965," and then addresses you, dear Reader: "Whatever called out to you when your window opened... Make no apologies."

"In a war that, at least in its early stages, was stage-managed as carefully as a Hollywood blockbuster (the 'Shock and Awe' f/x extravaganza, the 'Mission Accomplished' stage spectacular, the Jessica Lynch rescue drama), perhaps it was inevitable that actual movies about Iraq would begin to resemble 'making-of' films - the DVD extras to accompany the feature presentation," writes Jessica Winter in Slate.

Heima "Heima is a bit of an exception in the genre of concert films, which primarily fall somewhere between uninterrupted concert recordings at specific, often high profile venue shows, and more in-depth documentaries that often capture ruptures between band members (such as Metallica: Some Kind of Monster or the more ambient, but still tense Meeting People Is Easy)," writes Jenny Jediny at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "Heima, aside from containing live performances, strongly emphasizes the link between Sigur Rós and their native country. The Icelandic Tourism Board should strongly consider licensing images from Heima for promotional purposes; although I hope it's common knowledge that Iceland isn't a vast and empty tundra, it's still overwhelming to see the striking landscape captured on camera in Heima, a jaw-dropping array of sun drenched valleys, craggy mountains, and lucid, cascading rivers and waterfalls."

"Just when you thought that the Hollywood novel had fizzled out with all the eclat of an inebriated Mickey Rourke driving through Miami on a Vespa, another writer has come along with high-octane fuel for the form," writes Ed Champion in the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Set mostly in Los Angeles between 1969 and 1982, the years mirroring Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Steve Erickson's [Zeroville] is a feral and entertaining ride with cultural references, quirky koans, and a few surreal pit stops."

Via Bookforum comes news of a new special issue of Film-Philosophy: "The Occluded Relation: Levinas and Cinema." Editor Sarah Cooper opens the proceedings: "Emmanuel Levinas never wrote about cinema.... There is something provocative, then, in wanting to ask what Levinas's philosophy has to say about cinema, if we understand this realm as the location par excellence of the moving image. Yet this is precisely the guiding question of this Special Issue, which is the first to bring together articles on the work of Levinas and the insights that his philosophy can offer to film studies."

For Stop Smiling, Patrick Z McGavin talks with Laura Linney about "her art and métier, and the professional wonder and personal discovery of working opposite the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Sean Penn."

"Gregg Araki's delirious Smiley Face is an unabashed valentine to Anna Faris, an opportunity for the actress to show that she can carry a movie composed of often hilarious nonstop misadventures," writes Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times. "No matter how outrageously or foolishly Faris' Jane behaves, she remains blissfully appealing - such are Faris's fearless comedic skills and the freshness of her radiant blond beauty." And indieWIRE interviews Araki.

Rogue Matt Riviera has seen Rogue, Greg McLean's followup to Wolf Creek: "It's telling that the CGI crocodile has more charisma than the lead actor.... There's no reason Australia shouldn't make good genre movies. But in a time when Hollywood is running out of ideas and looking elsewhere for inspiration - remaking every good genre film from France to Korea - is it really a good idea for us to remake bad Hollywood films?"

"First of all, let us not fool ourselves: there may be three major westerns, retro-westerns or quasi-westerns just about to arrive in cinemas, but the western per se - the western as a thriving movie genre - is to all intents and purposes deader than Billy the Kid, Jesse James, John Ford and Sam Peckinpah put together," writes John Patterson.

Also in the Guardian, interviews: Geoffrey Macnab with Anthony Hopkins, Laura Barton with Imelda Staunton and Andrea Hubert with Jason Schwartzman.

And: "Tim Burton has signed a major deal with Disney to direct the 3D films Alice in Wonderland and Frankenweenie."

Ken Russell in the London Times: "Allow me to tell you what I have learnt from a few awful mistakes I have never, until now, bragged about."

"The price of early success is the heightened standard against which lesser achievements are judged a failure. Few careers illustrate this unforgiving rule more clearly than that of Kenneth Branagh." A profile from Andrew Anthony. Benjamin Secher also talks with Branagh - for the Telegraph.

Bookish shorts: Jane Smiley in the Los Angeles Times on Truman Capote and, in the Guardian, Margaret Atwood on Aldous Huxley, Fiona MacCarthy on the Bauhaus and Andrew Motion on Ezra Pound.

History on Film / Film on History Bookforum rounds up recent reviews of rock 'n' roll biographies and points to James Chapman's review of RA Rosenstone's History on Film / Film on History for the Institute of Historical Research, Mark Welch's review of Alan A Stone's Movies and the Moral Adventure of Life for Metapsychology and Jonathan Walter's review of Eric Lichtenfeld's Action Speaks Louder: Violence, Spectacle and the American Action Movie.

"Not enough credit goes to our best character actors, actors who, more times than not, never fail, even if they seldom get near top billing." Edward Copeland salutes Burgess Meredith at 100.

Writers' strike roundup:

  • "As the former CEO of Disney and the founder of a privately held company that invests in the digital future, you were recently speaking at a conference when you used the words 'stupid' and 'insanity' to describe the Writers Guild strike. Can you explain?" Deborah Solomon talks with Michael Eisner for the New York Times Magazine.

  • "About 150 audience members in a tiny Manhattan theater were the only folks in the world to witness a totally new Saturday Night Live episode starring guest host Michael Cera and musical guest Yo La Tengo," reports Derrik J Lang for the AP. "The SNL cast and writers collaborated on staging the special Saturday Night Live — On Strike! event at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre to benefit the behind-the-scenes staff affected by the strike."

  • "A follow-up to The Da Vinci Code has become the first big-screen casualty of the Hollywood writers' strike," reports the BBC. "Angels & Demons, a prequel to the movie adaptation of Dan Brown's novel, is being delayed by Columbia Pictures because its script needs more work."

"Creators Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick - the upper-middlebrow maestros behind thirtysomething and My So-Called Life - have launched quarterlife both as a MySpace TV series and as its own social-networking site," writes Troy Patterson in Slate. "The target audience for the latter is, according to Herskovitz's profile page on quarterlife.com, 'creative people, passionate people, people who want to change the world' - in other worlds, people with enough youthful idealism to tolerate the show's high-gloss navel-gazing." More from Rex Sorgatz.

Ed Howard announces that his Short Film Blog-a-Thon has been expanded to a full week, December 2 through 8.

Michael Blodgett "Writer/actor Michael Blodgett died yesterday at the age of 67," notes Erich Kuersten at Bright Lights After Dark. "Best known for playing hunky hedonist Lance Rocke in Russ Meyer's classic cult film, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. A true Hollywood 'b-list beefcake,' he was an iconic presence through the swingin' 1960s, also appearing in Roger Corman's The Trip and feminist filmmaker Stephanie Rothman's The Velvet Vampire."

Online viewing tip #1. Jeffrey Overstreet has video of things getting way out of hand at a David Lynch lecture in Berlin.

Online viewing tip #2. Jeffrey Wells finds John Candy as Orson Welles.

Online viewing tips. Trailers for "a solid handful of more obscure [Yoji] Yamada titles" at Twitch.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:27 PM

Is there a Beowulf curse?

David D'Arcy looks into it; and a few notes follow.

Beowulf Beowulf is back, but perhaps not for long. Robert Zemeckis's "performance capture" 3D animation, based on the earliest surviving poem in what would evolve into the English language, has won this weekend's box office scurry - but has fallen short of expectations nonetheless.

It's hard to know why filmmakers persist in trying to adapt the story of a Viking warrior who appears with a group of men to vanquish Grendel, a monster terrorizing a kingdom in Denmark. In the version of epic that survives - and you can access all you'll want to know about it here - Beowulf then defeats the monster's vengeful mother. It's bit like making a movie about Vincent van Gogh. It has never been done well, but that doesn't seem to stop anyone from trying.

Updated through 11/22.

What's particularly amusing about this latest version - and here's my review for Screen International - is that Zemeckis admits that he didn't like Beowulf when he read it, and that the screenwriters, Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman, determined that the Irish monks who copied the poem repeatedly over the centuries most likely censored much of the "flavor." They then seem to have concluded that the flavor was sexual in nature, so we have sexual mockery among the revelers in King Hrothgar's lodge (under siege from the monster Grendel) and bawdy innuendo from Beowulf's men when they arrive. We also get a serving girl with large breasts - video game large - who naturally gets the juices pumping in one of Beowulf's men. some might call her a wench. All this, in the name of authenticity.

Still, however Beowulf fares in the long run, animation is very much alive and well. Ratatouille is still cooking up savory international returns and thriving on DVD. And here comes Persepolis, the animated film adaptation of the four-part graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian-born resident of France who cites Art Spiegelman and Maus among her influences for her tale of adolescence and young adulthood in Iran and Europe at the end of the Shah's reign and the early days of the Islamic Republic. It's a little obvious, but no less true, to say that Satrapi (with her collaborator Vincent Paronnaud) has created a humanizing animation to cut through the preconceptions that tend to rule our views about Iran in the United States. Persepolis is satirical, but it's also tender, especially in Satrapi's depiction of her relationship with her freethinking grandmother. (The implication is that free thought is just as Iranian as Islamic tyranny, and perhaps with deeper roots.) And there's sex, too.

That's about all it has in common with Beowulf, though, to be fair, it's not that there aren't some moments of humor in this new version of the saga. When Beowulf (voiced by Ray Winstone) strips to fight the invading monster Grendel, Zemeckis makes sure that there is always something between the viewer and any body part that might imperil the movie's PG-13 rating. You thought you were watching a video game about Beowulf, but it turns out that you're playing "Where's Willie." Did the monks leave this part of the epic poem on the monastery floor?

Zemeckis shows us that you can get Vikings to do pretty much whatever you want, and to look any way you wish. Which leads us to Angelina Jolie, as Grendel's mother, clothed in nothing but a gold sheen and... high heels? Now that's a monster. If this is what those monks intended, they must have spent quite some time at the confessional.

Beowulf Zemeckis's Beowulf goes the state-of-the-art route. Beowulf and Grendel (2005) is an example of the blood and guts approach, shot in Iceland in the rain on tidal plains and barren fields, with actors who looked as if they had been on medieval diets for years. For an account of the making of the film that might make you think there's a Beowulf curse, see my review of the documentary about shooting the epic. Everything seems to have gone wrong. Maybe the first thing that went wrong was to try to make a film about Beowulf.

How else can you explain The 13th Warrior, John McTiernan's battle epic about an Arab voyager's (Antonio Banderas) trip north to a kingdom of warriors who are being killed and eaten by monsters - sound familiar? Vladimir Kulich plays a fighter named Buliwyf in this dream-team flop (Omar Sharif's in there, too) that tries to turn Beowulf into something of a travelogue. If that sounds preposterous, at least you didn't invest in it. And then there's the Christopher Lambert Beowulf. No need to dwell on that one.

So far, no adaptation even comes close to toppling the cliché. The book really was better. Give it a try, with Seamus Heaney's modern translation.

- David D'Arcy


In his piece for Wired on the state of 3D, Frank Rose quotes Avary: "It's so large and extraordinary and hyperreal that I can't be anything but giddy. When I left the theater, I wanted the rest of the world to look like that."

"The most interesting thing about Beowulf, alas, is its technology," writes Newsweek's David Ansen. "It's the work of a man who has fallen in love with his toys, but I miss the wicked satirist who made Used Cars."

Earlier: "Beowulf."

Updates, 11/20: In the Guardian, Paul Arendt talks with Michael Morpurgo, author of a version of Beowulf for children: "Eventually, the film leaves you no room to use your own imagination. As a viewer you're not treated with enough respect."

"Inspired by the new film of Beowulf, I decided to go back to the source," blogs Stephen Moss. "To be honest, I assumed I would hate it: how could an everyday story of a sixth-century dragon slayer connect with someone waiting for a plane in drab 21st-century Stansted? How wrong I was. I adored it: the fantastic story, the muscular, lyrical verse, the drama of the battles and the pathos of Beowulf's end."

You might be surprised by the number of films that've been made based on poems. Joshua Glenn's got a list; via Dwight Garner.

"The CGI performance-capture version of Angelina Jolie as 'Grendel's Mother' (the only name ever used to refer to her) in Robert Zemeckis's 3-D Beowulf is just the latest in a line of cartoonishly exaggerated femmes fatales to be found in Zemeckis's work," writes C Jerry Kutner at Bright Lights After Dark. "Beowulf, for all its technical accomplishment, already looks more dated than his [Who Framed Roger Rabbit?], its CGI animation providing no competition for old-fashioned ink and paint. Thus, my ranking of Zemeckis's femmes fatales: Grendel's Mother - Somewhat Sexy; Lisle von Rhoman - Sexier; Jessica Rabbit - Sexiest!"

Update, 11/21: "In Beowulf, Zemeckis isn't interested in history or mankind's warrior instinct; he's concerned about 3-D effects that make beer mugs and rodents project from your lap more than how they come toward you," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "This advance feels like a regression."

Updates, 11/22: "As an exercise in pure mise-en-scene, there's literally nothing else like it, and I can't wait to see it again," writes Dave Kehr.

In the Times Literary Supplement, Carolyne Larrington takes us on a tour of past cinematic adaptations; as for this one, "there is much to enjoy in the noisy, action-packed spectacular effects of the fights. Grendel in particular, half-foetus, half-corpse with the flayed skin of a Gunther von Hagen figure, is both grotesquely terrifying and pitiable; the fear evoked in the poem when the monster realizes that he has met his match, and his miserable death in the mere are brilliantly realized."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:11 PM | Comments (1)

Fests and events, 11/18.

Frownland "Frownland is a film whose synopsis screams, 'Avoid at all costs,'" writes Matt Zoller Seitz at the House Next Door. "Yet the movie's energy is so peculiar, its vision of socially maladjusted loners so scathingly funny and its creative choices so uncompromising that the result is not just memorable, but haunting." Filmmaker Ronald Bronstein will be on hand for tomorrow evening's MoMA screening.

Still Lives: The Films of Pedro Costa is a series running at the Gene Siskel Film Center through December 4. Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader:

Costa's films have the reputation of being difficult, but I would argue that three of them are relatively accessible. I had no trouble diving headfirst into his first color feature, Casa de Lava (1994, stupidly translated as Down to Earth), a voluptuous remake of Tourneur's 1943 film I Walked With a Zombie; the zombie here is Isaach de Bankolé, playing a construction worker in a protracted coma. And Costa's black-and-white first feature, The Blood (1989), was gripping even though I couldn't follow all of the plot, its fairy-tale poetics evoking Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter (1955) and its milky whites, inky blacks, and delicate balances of light and shadow suggesting Lang's The Big Heat (1953) and Bresson's Pickpocket (1959). Where Lies Your Hidden Smile? shows Straub and Huillet editing their 1999 feature Sicilia!, making only five cuts per day and quarreling endlessly over each one; it reveals the difference a single frame can make and how much the two need each other. Aptly described as a romantic comedy, it's the only Costa feature that isn't sad and the best film ever made about filmmaking.

On Tuesday, the Academy celebrates the 30th anniversary of Saturday Night Fever. "[John] Travolta, who returned to his musical roots this year in the hit Hairspray, will participate in the panel discussion with other members of the cast, including Donna Pescow, and Newsweek critic David Ansen will moderate," notes Susan King, who's got a nice conversation with Travolta in the Los Angeles Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:59 AM | Comments (1)

Coens, 11/18.

I'm a Lebowski, You're a Lebowski "Though they are habitually described as snotty formalists with nothing on their minds but cinematic gamesmanship, the Coens' body of work is one of the most sneakily moralistic in recent American cinema," writes Matt Zoller Seitz at the House Next Door. "The Coens aren't nihilists. There may or may not be a God in their imagination... but the lack of theological clarity doesn't necessarily mean that the Coens endorse their characters' decision to be indecent or cruel. Quite the contrary, the Coens' movies strongly endorse the notion that one should honor certain bedrock principles for their inherent rightness (or, barring that, for the benefits such a life might confer). Decency is the Coens' version of piety."

"There is a reason why the Coen Brothers' The Big Lebowski is one of the great cult films of all time," writes DK Holm for the Vancouver Voice. "It's because it is one of the great films of all time.... Now comes I'm a Lebowski, You're a Lebowski: Life, The Big Lebowski, and What Have You, written by four guys just as obsessed and ticked by the film as I am and everyone I know."

"When the filmmaking fraternity of Joel and Ethan Coen loosely adapted Dashiell Hammett's The Glass Key into Miller's Crossing, Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep into The Big Lebowski or Homer's Odyssey into O Brother Where Art Thou, the magic of those projects was their distance from the source material," writes Sean Weitner in Flak Magazine. "What makes No Country for Old Men a queer duck is that there's nothing askance about it at all — it's the most doggedly faithful novel adaptation in memory from any filmmaker... The movie rewards all these right choices by being unreservedly gangbusters.... Still, what's striking is the uncharacteristic faithfulness: Why? What was it about this book that yielded such reverential treatment?"

More from Zach Campbell: "Is Bardem in fact the thing, the object, that gives Jones ('the human subject') meaning, or at least its promise?"

"No Country for Old Men... is, quite simply, the most perfect fusion of literary and filmmaking sensibilities since Polanski's hallowed Rosemary's Baby - and might even be a finer, rarer breed," writes Andrew Wright in the Stranger. "Five minutes in, the damn thing already feels like a classic."

Update, 11/19: In the New Yorker, Nora Ephron imagines a conversation between a he and a she who meant to read the book before catching the movie - but didn't.

Updates, 11/20: Jim Emerson on one shot in No Country for Old Men: "It's a directorial (and photographical) coup in many ways, but I was delighted to discover that it's one of those images the Coens visualized in advance and actually chose to record in an early version of their screenplay (which deviates from the finished film in several significant aspects)."

At ScreenGrab, Paul Clark has an explanation for what went wrong with The Hudsucker Proxy.

Update, 11/21: "[T]he movie's revelation is its gentleness," writes Nathan Kosub in a piece emphasizing No Country as a Texas movie in Stop Smiling. "Animals have a presence here, but in dogs and cats instead of horses. No metaphor for innocence (the only dog to engage Llewelyn attacks him on the banks of the Rio Grande), they participate as pilgrims and serve less as a contrast to the violence than a flattening of the reasons men impart to instinct."

Updates, 11/22: "Promoting Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country for Old Men, resident Alamo mad professor Edwin Wise (of DorkbotAustin.org) whipped up a functioning simulacrum of the murderous main character's weapon of choice: a hand-held, pneumatic cow-killer, that, as seen above, drove a steel bolt through a weekendlong series of suitably strawberry-and-banana-filled pumpkin "heads" at 4,000 feet per second." Marc Savlov has that snapshot in the Austin Chronicle.

"Both [Before the Devil Knows You're Dead] and No Country deal forcefully with the reality of evil in the world around us," writes Godfrey Cheshire in the Independent Weekly. "While Lumet's film sees evil as an age-old product of the human character and the social conditions it fosters, McCarthy and the Coens' apocalyptic vision imagines a Satanic force rampaging across our land like an unstoppable killer, implicitly dragging America toward an inexorable destruction. Though I find the former view more persuasive, the two films are similarly challenging and timely in posing tough questions about the blood on American hands and minds."

Update, 11/23: "I've always felt more than a little out-of-step when it comes to Joel and Ethan," blogs the Guardian's Danny Leigh. "Although conventional wisdom traces their decline back to the limply faux-screwball Intolerable Cruelty, I actually found the ole-timey pratfalls of O Brother Where Art Thou every bit as uninvolving - just as, in truth, I've always felt the achievements of the charming but slender Big Lebowski seemed wildly disproportionate to its Godhead cult status. On the other hand, the widespread indifference to the The Man Who Wasn't There still strikes me as bizarre, and while, yes, it's got flaws on its flaws, I think The Hudsucker Proxy may also be as ambitious and interesting a film as they've ever made. So, in short: what do I know?"

Update, 11/24: At the WSWS, Emanuele Saccarelli finds No Country to be "a vacuous and disappointing film. The work of these filmmakers has up to this point been uneven, featuring a widely, and rightly recognized cinematic talent paired to a definite tendency toward detachment and cynicism. Out of this contradiction has come a number of flawed, and in some cases interesting works. No Country For Old Men, however, is irredeemable, marking a regrettable downturn in the career of the filmmakers."

Update, 11/25: More notes on No Country: Peter Chattaway, Glenn Kenny (spoilers!) and the Shamus.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:39 AM | Comments (2)

White Mane and The Red Balloon.

The Red Balloon Albert Lamorisse's White Mane and The Red Balloon are screening at New York's Film Forum through November 25 before floating out across the country in the coming weeks.

"The stories are simple, fablelike; the heroes are boys; the subject in each case is the purity and power of a child's imagination; and the tone of both films is that of open-mouthed wonder," writes Terrence Rafferty in the New York Times. "Yet these movies are also shot through with a very adult melancholy, an awareness that life tends not to measure up to the glorious pictures in our minds. The young are enchanted by White Mane and The Red Balloon. Grown-ups, who know too well how fragile this beauty is, are likely to cry."

Updated through 11/20.

"For all the seraphic beauty of the boys, neither movie resorts more than briefly to cuteness; both are escape fantasies that pay homage to the inventiveness of children in the face of dour adult oppression," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice.

The boy who "got to run around Paris followed by a magical red balloon" was Lamorisse's son, Pascal, who's now 57. Susan King talks with him for the Los Angeles Times.

Updates, 11/20: "The Red Balloon is whimsical; White Mane (a small masterpiece) touches, in 31 minutes, all the emotions of a classic coming-of-age picture about a child and a legendary animal, like National Velvet, The Yearling, or The Black Stallion," writes Steve Vineberg in the Boston Phoenix. "In both movies, the object of the boy's affection is an embodiment of the spirit of childhood that can't be constrained by the traditions of bourgeois society (in Red Balloon) or repressed by the machinations of the self-interested, mercenary adult world (in White Mane)."

"There are some things you should never be too old to experience, and The Red Balloon is one of them," writes Dennis Harvey at SF360. "With very little dialogue and boundless charm, The Red Balloon transcends all cultural barriers - despite the flavorful specificity of its Paris setting."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:14 AM

November 17, 2007

Weekend fests and events.

"For the second year running, MoMA's Department of Film, in collaboration with Independent Feature Project (IFP) and its quarterly publication Filmmaker, will screen the five nominees for the Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You award."

Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You

The screenings are happening as you read this (in fact, they started yesterday) and run through tomorrow. At indieWIRE, Kim Voynar introduces each of the nominees, while at Filmmaker, Jason Guerrasio's got a video intro. The films: August the First, Frownland, Loren Cass, Mississippi Chicken and Off The Grid: Like on the Mesa.

"Warhol Week Is On!!" at Facets in Chicago.

"Horror is not, nor has it ever been, my thing," clarifies Nancy Rosenbaum at the outset. "That's why when MovieMaker asked me to find out why so many horror film festivals have started up in recent years, I hesitated at first. But then I reconsidered: I thought that perhaps people like Belofsky could explain the appeal of this seemingly unseemly genre and shed some light on why so many indies are making films about zombies, slashers and headless horsemen on their own dimes." A related list: "Horror Fests in Your Neighborhood."

Among the highlights of this year's Viennale for Ronald Bergan: Hartmut Bitomsky's Staub, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet's Europa 2005, 27 October, a lecture from Jean-Pierre Gorin, "19 programs of mostly fascinating short films made from 1919 to the Anschluss, depicting various aspects of proletarian life in Austria," and a tribute to Jane Fonda.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:04 PM

Peter Zinner, 1919 - 2007.

Peter Zinner
Film editor Peter Zinner, who worked on the first two Godfather movies with director Francis Ford Coppola, has died in California aged 88.... Coppola paid tribute to Zinner's "great contribution" to his mob drama. Zinner went on to win an Academy Award for his work on The Deer Hunter in 1978, which also won best picture. Coppola told the Associated Press that the music which accompanied the film's final baptism sequence was Zinner's idea.

The BBC.

"Peter is definitely in the top rank of editors of two or three generations," said screenwriter-director Frank Pierson, whose A Star Is Born and four other movies Zinner edited.... Zinner considered "The Godfather" to be "the most classic movie" he ever worked on.

Dennis McLellan, Los Angeles Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:00 PM

Writers' Strike, 11/17.

WGA On Strike "Hollywood's film and TV writers and its major studios have agreed to return to the bargaining table, offering the first glimmer of hope that a deal to end a costly two-week strike could be within reach," report Richard Verrier and Meg James in the Los Angeles Times. "The Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said late Friday that they would resume talks Nov 26 on a new contract for 10,500 writers to replace the one that expired Oct 31. The two sides announced the plan in identical statements, a rare show of unity."

Updated.

Updates: Broadway and Hollywood, GM and Chrysler: "Do the walkouts portend a resurgence of labor, even a new union militancy? The answer, for various reasons, appears to be no," writes Steven Greenhouse in the New York Times.

An online viewing tip from Virginia Heffernan: "Irving Brecher, who wrote Meet Me in St Louis and Bye Bye Birdie, weighs in on the writers' strike. He's 93. His agent died. He's seeking representation. He's mad."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:43 AM | Comments (1)

November 16, 2007

Bookforum. Dec/Jan 08. (And a bit more on other books, too.)

The Leopard "While you are reading The Leopard, and particularly while you are rereading it, you are likely to feel that it is one of the greatest novels ever written." So begins Wendy Lesser's fourth paragraph. The first three, by the way, are fantastic. At any rate, The Leopard "is as ephemeral as the state of mind it chronicles, which is, in turn, part of a vanishing civilization, and no amount of nostalgic remembrance or effortful evocation will do it justice. This is partly why the Luchino Visconti movie of the book, beautiful as it is, is such a betrayal: The movie cannot help celebrating in a rather simpleminded way the visual glories of the faded past, whereas [Giuseppe Tomasi di] Lampedusa's skill lies precisely in puncturing those glories with a pinprick of subtle wit."

Also in the new issue of Bookforum, John Banville reads The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps: The Best Crime Stories from the Pulps During Their Golden Age - The 20s, 30s & 40s: "[Raymond] Chandler perhaps labored too long and too hard at effecting the transmutation of life's raw material into deathless prose. A far greater writer, James M Cain, who was happy to keep it raw, who gloried, indeed, in the rebarbative, created a masterpiece, seemingly effortlessly, in The Postman Always Rings Twice.... Crime fiction flourishes in hard times.... At their best, and even, perhaps, at their worst, these yarns express something of the unforgiving harshness and dauntless optimism of life in America in the decades between the wars."

Related: "So what exactly is The Long Embrace?" asks Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "[Judith] Freeman lays out her goals in the first chapter: 'I did not want to write a biography of Chandler and his wife. But I did want to write a book about them... I was not looking to create a fictional relationship, and yet I did want to be free to imagine their lives.' That's a fair enough description.... It's the sort of balancing act that Joan Didion - an obvious model - can pull off brilliantly. While Freeman never quite falls off the wire, she also fails in the end to bring together her knowledge of Chandler, her own experience, and her insights into Chandler's work in any sort of revelatory way.

Zeroville Back to Bookforum: "Fading in with an epigraph from Josef von Sternberg - 'I believe that cinema was here from the beginning of the world' - Steve Erickson adapts nearly the oldest story in the book (Abraham and Isaac), threads it through the projector through which all film history spins, and, having cast a hero who's part Being There's Chance the gardener and part 2001's Starchild (endowed, no less, with an infinite perspective worthy of Borges's Aleph), throws light and shadow onto the backs of our eyelids in this love letter to celluloid," writes Andrew Hultkrans. "The mash-up of cultural references in the preceding sentence gives you an advance sense of Zeroville, a novel that mingles Erickson's own characters with historical figures both real and reel. This conceit will make film geeks like myself weep with joy but may be daunting for those who can't tell Elizabeth Taylor from Natalie Wood - not only by appearance but by what they mean."

Noah Isenberg reviews Foster Hirsch's Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King:

As a director, Preminger will likely be remembered for his most critically acclaimed work (Laura [1944], Angel Face [1952], and Anatomy of a Murder [1959], among others) and, stylistically speaking, for his exquisite long shots and touches of seemingly uncharacteristic subtlety. Yet as "a genius for publicity," as Dwight Macdonald once called him, Preminger will be most remembered for his controversies: as the man who fought back against the Catholic Legion of Decency and defied the Production Code Administration (The Moon Is Blue [1953]); who boldly depicted drug addition (The Man with the Golden Arm [1955]) and homosexuality (Advise & Consent [1962]); who directed - and had an affair with - the first African-American nominee for best actress (Dorothy Dandridge, for Carmen Jones); who held a much-hyped international competition for the role of Joan of Arc, in which Iowan Jean Seberg, of later Breathless fame, rose to the top (Saint Joan [1957]); and who hired, fully credited, the blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo (Exodus [1960]). The portrait that Hirsch paints, showing the director in all of his guises, is appropriately rich in nuance.

Miracles and Sacrilege "More than a full portrait of the man, [Hollywood's Censor: Joseph I. Breen and the Production Code Administration] is a record of decision making, of rulings and reversals," writes Liz Brown. [Miracles and Sacrilege: Roberto Rossellini, the Church, and Film Censorship in Hollywood], too, is more history than film analysis."

"Declaring the book inert - 'written by a dead man about dead things,' Sartre wrote in 1947, 'it no longer has any place on this earth' - he advised contemporary writers to 'learn to speak in images' and to work for newspapers, radio, and film," notes Sam Stark. "Tamara Chaplin's vivid, thorough, and irreverent cultural history Turning On the Mind: French Philosophers on Television presents this moment and its consequences from an unfashionable point of view, not that of the editors of Tel Quel, but that of a Parisian couch potato.... Most important, she profiles and interviews the people who thought it was a good idea to put philosophy on television: the pompous technocrats, earnest producers, skeptical hosts, and baffled cameramen, as well as the often-inscrutable philosophers."

Plus: Kera Bolonik talks with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; Peter Brooks and Colm Tóibín on Henry James, Marjorie Perloff on John Ashbery, Morris Dickstein and Lewis Dabney on Edmund Wilson, Albert Mobilio on Edward Burtynsky and, of course, much more.

"This is a legacy-burnishing project, plain and simple," writes David Kamp, reviewing Eric Lax's Conversations With Woody Allen for the New York Times Book Review before eventually moving on to Woody Allen's own Mere Anarchy and The Insanity Defense: The Complete Prose:

Husbands and Wives

Conversations reveals, happily, an Allen who's game to range freely over his oeuvre. We learn that his favorites of his own films are The Purple Rose of Cairo, Match Point and Husbands and Wives (the last one a bit of a surprise), with Stardust Memories and Zelig ranking a notch below. Sometimes Allen's assessments are bracingly contrarian. He expresses bafflement over the high regard in which Annie Hall and Manhattan continue to be held ("People really latched on to Manhattan in a way that I thought was irrational," he says) and makes a strong case for Manhattan Murder Mystery, his underappreciated 1993 reunion picture with Diane Keaton. In other moments, no less fascinating, he borders on the delusional. He can't fathom, for example, how Hollywood Ending, a patchy, forgettable effort from 2002, "was not thought of as a first-rate, extraordinary comedy."

Bob Balaban "has spent much of his five-decade film career playing unassuming nebbishes who seem to feel mildly embarrassed that someone has shooed them in front of a movie camera. But if anyone was born to be a star, it's Balaban: his family owned and operated an impressive empire of movie studios, including a number of legendary cinemas in his native Chicago, and his uncle Barney was the president of Paramount Pictures for almost thirty years." And now, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Nerve's Leonard Pierce talks with Balaban about his book, Spielberg, Truffaut & Me: An Actor's Journey.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:30 PM | Comments (4)

Coppola. Interviews.

The Independent: Francis Ford Coppola "I think it's good to be overly ambitious," Francis Ford Coppola tells James Mottram in the Independent. "I think it's better to be overly ambitious and fail than to be underambitious and succeed in a mundane way. I have been very fortunate. I failed upward in my life!" As for Youth Without Youth, Mottram writes, "there's no doubt that this is the strangest film of Coppola's career. A Faustian tale of Nazi scientists, dopplegängers and Sanskrit-speaking paramours, it's as intriguing as it is baffling."

Updated through 11/23.

"A remarkably challenging and absorbing film that Coppola paid for himself, Youth Without Youth is a return to the intensely personal work that characterized his early career." Introducing its interview with Coppola, Bookforum notes that it's "also a rather faithful adaptation of Romanian philosopher Mircea Eliade's 1976 novella.... The result is not only Coppola's most personal film in decades but also one of his most complex and haunting."

Earlier: Bruce Handy talks about his interview for Vanity Fair.

Updates, 11/23: John Hiscock talks with Coppola for the Telegraph.

Robert Levin at cinemaattraction on Youth Without Youth: "The ideas he posits about aging and the futility of recapturing one's lost youth must play better on Eliade's page, in a less immediately visceral medium more apt for intricate philosophical digressions. Here, in failing to provoke thought and reflection he leaves us with little beyond an overwrought, bifurcated narrative that transitions from a jumpy first half to a stagnant conclusion, in which most of the action plays out in an over the top theatrical fashion within a constrained setting."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:25 PM

Brick Lane.

Brick Lane "Sarah Gavron's feature version of Monica Ali's novel represents a modest slimming down of the original's dimensions; what emerges could almost be described as a chamber-piece, set in one cramped east London flat," writes Peter Bradshaw. "Perhaps venturing out into the real Brick Lane would have been impolitic, considering the unedifying row that surrounded its filming, and some might argue that there is a sense of withdrawal or retreat in the movie as a whole." The Guardian also offers an accompanying "quick world tour" of major cities as they've been depicted on film.

"In every respect, Brick Lane is a shadow of its source material," writes Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman. "I was sure the film would show some guts once it turned to the post-9/11 hostility toward Muslims. But all that happened was that everyone started talking as though they knew they were characters in a film about multicultural Britain."

"Whatever the arguments against it - and we must remember that Stephen Frears's My Beautiful Laundrette was savaged in some quarters for suggesting that not all Pakistanis were heterosexuals - Gavron's debut is honest, sincere and sympathetic," writes Derek Malcolm in the Evening Standard. "In fact, it is the product of a first-time director who is clearly promising and probably more than that."

"Writers Abi Morgan and Laura Jones use regular flashbacks to contrast the grimy housing outside to her bucolic past in Bangladesh, an apparently eternal summer in which young children gambolled and plunged into picturesque lakes," writes the Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu. "Unfortunately the romance at the heart of Brick Lane never comes alive."

Wendy Ide talks with Gavron for the London Times.

Earlier: "There were threats of demonstrations, book burnings and even violence among some members of the Bangladeshi community. But was the controversy surrounding the filming of Brick Lane as heated as the media suggested? Not at all, writes author Monica Ali."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:36 PM

Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium.

Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium "Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium was written and directed by Zach Helm, whose previous major credit was the screenplay for the Will Ferrell comedy Stranger Than Fiction, which envisions a sophisticated adult version of the same kind of magic," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "But if the concept is ingenious, its execution is erratic. The story is arbitrarily divided into chapters of varying length that have no clear beginning, middle or end, and the movie's narrative drive is sporadic."

"Everything is wrong with this film," writes Charles Mudede in the Stranger. "In it, zero is new; dead tired are its plot, imagery, themes, and acting. The movie wants to look and feel fresh, but it instead presents us with a series of heavy corpses: the corpse of the music, the corpse of the set design, the corpse of the dialogue. Even the special effects are not special."

Updated through 11/20.

"Helm fills scenes with the organic trinkets in Magorium's store, but he doesn't give it any greater significance beyond the hodgepodge of clever special effects," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "[Dustin] Hoffman puts on the weirdest performance of his career, playing the crazed Magorium with vigor matched only by his goofy hairstyle, but there's nothing in the story to match that otherworldly sprightliness. He's like Willy Wonka without the chocolate."

"Beneath shrubby eyebrows and upswept hair, Hoffman is, at times, impishly charming," writes Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times. "But Magorium feels more like a collection of eccentric ticks and mannerisms who slips in the occasional life lesson amid a stream of non-sequiturs than a fully realized character. One can almost imagine Hoffman, à la Michael Dorsey in Tootsie, building Magorium up bit by bit as the makeup, wig and false teeth were applied, then perfecting the affected, lispy intonation to complete the transformation."

"[T]he film grows tediously familiar, stuffed with PSAs about the importance of belief and the life you make for yourself until the time comes to croak without fuss," sighs Ella Taylor in the Voice.

"The plot is forever being upstaged by the emporium," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times.

"Helm's directorial debut is such a fluffy cotton candy confection that it can't be bothered to manufacture any legitimate dramatic tension," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

"So who is Zach Helm, anyway?" asks Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "He's been hailed as a prodigiously talented young writer, but two films into his career, it's hard to see much beyond a gift for mimicry."

Mary McNamara talks with Helm for the Los Angeles Times.

Update, 11/20: For Alonso Duralde, writing for MSNBC, "Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium represents some kind of miracle. The trailers make the movie look like the ickiest kind of whimsy, accompanied by obstreperous special effects, but the film itself is gasp-worthy. And who would think that a movie about the sheer joy and magic of life - and how we need to keep believing in it - could also be a moving and life-affirming story about death? For kids, even?"

Posted by dwhudson at 12:34 PM | Comments (2)

The Life of Reilly.

The Life of Reilly "The funniest and most poignant documentary of the year is The Life of Reilly, the final will and testament of the great Charles Nelson Reilly," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant.

"Rambling, blithe, nostalgic, and out for revenge, Reilly presents a witty anecdotal timeline of his life, and the bittersweet milestones play like a Spalding Gray monologue loosened up with a few shots of tequila," writes Aaron Hillis in the Voice.

"[I]t's one of the winning eccentricities of The Life of Reilly, a taped distillation of CNR's autobiographical one-man-show, that it - feigned modesty aside - takes for granted that its subject's accomplishments are worthy of our attention and esteem," writes Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE.

Reilly's one-man show Save It for the Stage "treads lightly around the rich subject of Mr Reilly's experience as an out gay man in the pre-Stonewall era," notes Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times. "The directors address it obliquely via man-on-the-street interviews asking strangers if they remember Mr Reilly. (Most do, and a couple of them attempt impressions.)"

"[E]ven abridged, The Life of Reilly is spellbinding," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club.

"Reilly takes the stage, empty but for a set of chairs, and adeptly summons an entire span of existence that leaves the audience hushed and heartbroken," writes Steph Auteri for Nerve. ". And then, while all are on the edge of their seat, he just as adeptly cuts that mute tension with a look or a throwaway comment that brings both belly laughs and relief."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:19 AM | Comments (1)

What Would Jesus Buy?

What Would Jesus Buy? "Possibly the feeblest entry yet in the anti-corporate theatre-of-muckraking genre, What Would Jesus Buy? chronicles a prefabricated cross-country crusade led by the New York-based comedic agitator Reverend Billy (Bill Talen)," writes Bill Weber at Slant. "With lefty agitprop this tepid, the Bush and Clinton clans will be alternating presidencies well into the 22nd century."

"Neatly embedded in the Reverend's strident enunciations of unholy behavior lies the clear-cut delivery of brilliant performance art," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "His ability to raise the ire of authorities illustrates the nature of his brazen cause, but it also shows how his actions are often misconstrued as deleterious or harmful to the public. Ironically enough, the Church of Stop Shopping is mostly nondenominational and apolitical, but unequivocally on-message."

Updated through 11/23.

"Much like [producer Morgan] Spurlock's hit Super Size Me, this production is slick, well-paced, and tremendously entertaining," writes Julia Wallace in the Voice. "Unfortunately, WWJB never pushes past the surface of [Reverend Billy's] shtick to explore the deeper forces behind our impulse to buy."

"At the very least, the film might make a viewer think twice about that next purchase at the Gap," suggests Laura Kern in the New York Times.

IndieWIRE interviews director Rob Vanalkemade.

A collection of only somewhat related links from Bookforum: "Shopping for God."

"What Would Jesus Buy? is one of those all-too-common issue-docs that's so clear about its point that it's practically pointless," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Of course, ultimately What Would Jesus Buy? isn't about Van Alkemade's point of view, but about Reverend Billy's, and frankly, The Church of Stop Shopping's act ain't much."

Updates, 11/17: "What Would Jesus Buy? may be a kitschy title, but the film is anything but," writes Marcy Dermansky. "Would you buy those sneakers, that striped sweater, if you knew that children were working eighteen hour days in a factory in Indonesia to make them? The film explores the direct correlations between our compulsive consumption and the sweatshops across the world."

Dennis Harvey talks with Reverend Billy for SF360.

Update, 11/19: Michael Guillén talks with the Rev and his wife, Savitri D.

Update, 11/21: "Like global warming and other environmental problems that have been the focus of recent documentaries, the horrors and causes of what Rev Billy terms the 'Shopocalypse' are right in front of us - people living far beyond their means bombarded by hard-sell advertising and spurred on by promises of easy credit - but chronicled in documentary form they are a lot harder to ignore," writes Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times.

Update, 11/23: Emily Wilson talks with the Rev for Alternet: "'We want to collapse the distance between the product and labor,' he says. 'Our present economy is based on alienation from products.'"

Posted by dwhudson at 7:58 AM

November 15, 2007

Shorts and books, 11/15.

The Cinema Book, 2nd Edition Having adeptly summarized a history of Cahiers du cinéma by Emilie Bickerton back in February, Girish now turns his attention to Movie, whose run span roughly the same period in Britain, albeit in the shadow of Sight & Sound.

Related (you'll see): Harriet Margolis reviewed the second edition of The Cinema Book for Screening the Past back in 2000.

"During the crowded rush of award-season, when both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times have recently published stories titled, respectively, 'Not Just Some Movies: This is a Glut of Cinema' and 'Arthouse Depression,' there's one type of non-studio film that's nearly absent from both theaters and the debate surrounding the packed release calendar: world cinema." Anthony Kaufman looks into it for indieWIRE.

The Annotated Godfather "[A]s Jenny M Jones reminds us in The Annotated Godfather: The Complete Screenplay, the film was almost never made," writes David L Ulin. "Based on Mario Puzo's bestselling 1969 novel, the project was turned down by 12 directors before Paramount executives Robert Evans and Peter Bart offered it to the then-little-known Francis Ford Coppola; he, too, originally passed, considering the material 'sleazy,' according to Jones. That's a harsh assessment - Puzo's novel is in fact a pretty good piece of popular fiction. There's no question, though, that it was in the translation to the screen that The Godfather became, well, The Godfather."

Also in the Los Angeles Times, Robert W Welkos reports on how Paramount Vantage is tapping into the base of fans of The Kite Runner, the novel, to promote the film: "All across the US, with the encouragement of the studio's digital marketing division, those fans have been setting up 'Kite Runner Clubs,' which are enlisting dozens or even hundreds of people to join their ranks for online messages and discussion groups about the book and movie. To date, 1,215 clubs have formed from Southern California to New York with many of the clubs in smaller towns in between. In all, 15,664 people have joined the clubs."

Born Standing Up "Even for readers already familiar with [Steve] Martin's solemn side, Born Standing Up, is a surprising book: smart, serious, heartfelt and confessional without being maudlin," writes Janet Maslin in the New York Times. "Decades after the fact he looks back at a period of invention and innovation, marveling at the thought that his efforts might have led absolutely nowhere if they had not wildly succeeded. While there is much to validate his sense of having been lucky, nobody put it better than Elvis Presley, whom Mr Martin once encountered backstage when both were enjoying the status of show-business kings. 'Son,' he says Presley told him, 'you have an ob-leek sense of humor.'"

Speaking of books, "Tree of Smoke, a sweeping novel by Denis Johnson about the Vietnam War that features intersecting stories of an array of American and Vietnamese soldiers and intelligence officers, won the National Book Award for fiction last night," reports Motoko Rich. Other winners: Tim Weiner for Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (nonfiction), Sherman Alexie for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (young people's literature) and Robert Haas for Time and Materials (poetry). And:

The National Book Foundation also awarded its Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to Joan Didion. Ms Didion, the essayist and novelist, won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 2005 for The Year of Magical Thinking.

In presenting the award, the novelist Michael Cunningham said: "I cannot think of another contemporary writer who has so thoroughly shown us to ourselves."

Ms Didion, who received a standing ovation, also paid tribute to [Norman] Mailer, who won the same award in 2005 and died last week. "There was someone who really, truly knew what writing was for," she said.

Scott Raab has a refreshingly relaxed conversation with Paul Giamatti for Esquire.

Gendy Alimurung reports in the LA Weekly on "a new breed of Hollywood agent... Until a year ago, none of the Hollywood agencies had divisions devoted exclusively to mining and developing the Web for talent. And the industry is watching to see how these young agents do."

Online viewing tip #1. The trailer for Joe Swanberg's Butterknife, presented by Spout and featuring a cast and crew that've won you over in films such as Frownland, Team Picture, Quietly on By and Cocaine Angel.

Online viewing tip #2. At Facets Features, Phil Morehart's got Andy Warhol eating a burger. Behind the camera: Jørgen Leth. The sound is fantastic, but this will make you thirsty.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:40 PM

Kurosawa Blog-a-Thon.

Akira Kurosawa Squish invites you to first take a look at the page he's devoted to Akira Kurosawa and then watch the "Kurosaw-a-Thon" take shape all week long.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:56 PM | Comments (1)

Fests and events, 11/15.

The Orange Revolution First, a free screening at the Seattle Art Museum that GreenCine's co-sponsoring: The Orange Revolution, a rousing, award-winning doc - tomorrow evening at 7.

"For me November always means 3rd i, or the San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival," writes Frako Loden at the Evening Class. "Launching this Friday, November 16, at the Victoria Theatre, it spends Saturday at the Castro and touches down at the Roxie Sunday for a final full day's viewing."

"How to describe the oeuvre of Mr Phil Chambliss?" asks Dennis Harvey at SF360. "Well, they're sort of absurdist trailer-park melodramas, twisted morality plays, gags chasing a punchline he alone might suss out. They're backwoods Beckett-except with more flavorful dialogue, and no sense that the author struck various postures of abject despair while writing them." Tonight and tomorrow at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco: Phil Chambliss: The Arkansas Auteur.

"The American Cinematheque's Argentine New Cinema 2007 kicks off Friday night at the Egyptian Theatre with a diverse weekend-long program of films rich in that country's distinct flavor," writes Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times. Also, there's Virtuosic Siblings: Berlin-Los Angeles Festival of Film and Art and PXL THIS 17 on Saturday and a few more local goings on.

Tonight and tomorrow at the Anthology Film Archives in NYC: Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation. The Reeler's ST VanAirsdale talks with the guys who spent a few years making it. Also, Ben Gold on MIX NYC, "a platform for queer experimental film" running through Monday.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:49 PM

The Whole Shootin' Match.

The Whole Shootin Match The Whole Shootin' Match, described by the Walter Reade, where it'll be screening from tomorrow through November 21, as a "lost classic of American independent cinema," is said to have inspired Robert Redford to launch Sundance. Among the other filmmakers it made an impression on was Richard Linklater, who talks with the Reeler's ST VanAirsdale about the early promise of filmmaker Eagle Pennell - and the eventual disappointment.

"It's no revolution, but comic-pastoral traditionalism refined to its essence," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. "Knowing and indulgent about lower-middle-class white life, the film lives on talk: Vignettes of Frank cracking Lone Stars at the drive-in with his family, making a never-to-be-fulfilled list of home fix-ups in a moment of temporarily flush euphoria, or settling back to watch a Cowboys game are absolute bull's-eyes."

Earlier: Daniel Stuyck in Film Comment.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:47 PM

Writers' Strike, 11/15.

NYP: Scabs! "[W]e wanted to meet the scabs, the men and women waiting—with naked and immoral ambition coursing through their veins—to replace the 12,000 members of the Writers Guild of America currently on strike against the television and movie industry," writes Matt Elzweig. So the New York Press posted a job offer on Craigslist: "Network Television Comedy Writers Needed." And the responses poured in.

In Slate, Dana Stevens has an excellent piece on why browsing The Daily Show's new site serves "as a lesson in what the strike is all about and how much is at stake in the current media wars over intellectual property." Which leads, via Movie City News, to the Daily Show writers' video laying out the absurdities of positions like Viacom's.

"Why the journalistic fixation on the strike?" asks Jack Shafer at Slate. "The national impact of the strike (even a lengthy one) won't be great. But dailies such as the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, whose bottom lines depend on movie advertising acreage, will feel the pain if Hollywood closes shop."

"One of the Writers Guild membership's most contentious issues in the strike's early going has been Strike Rule No 8, or the Script Validation Program, which compels writers to submit copies to the Writers Guild of all their works in progress for struck companies." Jay A Fernandez reports in the Los Angeles Times.

Joe O'Connell reports in the Austin Chronicle on how the strike is effecting the local scene.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:38 AM | Comments (2)

November 14, 2007

Reverse Shot. 21.

Gus Van Sant 21 issues already? When you consider all the other things the Reverse Shot team gets up to, week in and week out, that's pretty amazing. 21 cheers!

Michael Koresky and Jeff Reichert: "[Gus] Van Sant is an artist whose career has been more controversial than it would initially appear, whose genre-hopping has been tagged as opportunistic as often as visionary and whose aesthetic has been as malleable as putty - what better way to try and pierce the core of a wholly unique (if not wholly successful, in our eyes) oeuvre than with an in-depth symposium? So, despite the consternation, or at least bored eye-rolls, of some of our staff writers, we've forged ahead and devoted our 21st issue to Gus Van Sant."

"How did it happen that Van Sant became one of the leading lights of the moment that birthed Jim Jarmusch, Hal Hartley, Spike Lee, Richard Linklater and others?" wonders Jeff Reichert. "His first film, Mala Noche, is a perhaps too-ready answer. Classic 'indie' to the core, Van Sant's debut is ultra low-budget, features grainy black-and-white cinematography, a queer storyline, and a little punk rock playing over the closing credits for good measure.... In the end, Mala Noche survives the unanswered racial and sexual questions it raises by being simply, hokey.... Even so, for all the intellectual confusion Mala Noche engenders, it might just remain Van Sant's best, most honest movie."

"Drugstore Cowboy is a moderate exercise in sentimental filmmaking that suffers for being the bearer of the next 20 years' bad news," writes Nathan Kosub in a piece that surveys the career as well: "[T]ime and again, the merits of Van Sant's films are undercut by fundamental flaws; to my mind, these errors in judgment do not dog Van Sant's reputation so much as define it."

"One of [Van Sant's] many achievements is to take the most obvious clichés of the teenage Grove Press rebellion genre - which stretched from the purity of Kerouac and Ginsberg at the top to its embarrassing corruption in Tom Robbins's Even Cowgirls Get the Blues at the bottom - and make it seem more than glorious adolescent shock, even somehow socially conscious," writes Travis Mackenzie Hoover. "So My Own Private Idaho wasn't just gay, it was about Street Youth, and by dint of mentioning it suddenly became a serious movie rather than an extremely persuasive piece of fetishism."

My Own Private Idaho "Let's acknowledge up front that, no matter how hard we strive to focus on directorial matters, the star personas of River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves must come to the forefront of any discussion of My Own Private Idaho, and we might as well let them do so rather than prevaricating uncomfortably," writes Marianna Martin. And she does, lavishing most of her attention on Phoenix.

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues "may be the exact opposite of Last Days (maybe Van Sant's best film) in that Cowgirls' exploration finds a safe, pat resolution and pumps it up as profound instead of playing it deadpan," writes Ryland Walker Knight. "Perhaps best recognized as Edward Scissorhands' feminist mirror, complete with fake fingers as metaphors for fucked-up phalluses, Van Sant's film fails its characters by setting up each one as a grotesque object of ridicule."

"A satire about the now-dying medium of broadcast television, inspired by the then-timely true story of a New Hampshire woman who convinced her teenage lover and his friends to kill her husband, To Die For is an artifact of a passed cultural moment, and it plays better in memory than it does upon re-viewing," writes Chris Wisniewski. "Where once it felt fresh, funny, and challenging, it's hard now to overlook its flaws - the lopsidedness of the storytelling, the luridness and messiness of the filmmaking."

"It's not often that a director disappears quite so purposely as Gus Van Sant did into Good Will Hunting," writes Justin Stewart. "It's an almost ass-covering conceit, with a whiff of pretension - 'This isn't my art,' it says, while providing the people some capital-E entertainment. The next year would reveal the personal project that had to be put on hold while Van Sant condescended to the masses: a shot-by-shot Psycho remake, which you have to admire, if only for its sheer gumption."

Psycho Speaking of which, Michael Koresky: "Certainly the easiest line of thought was that this is a 'failed' experiment - yet wasn't it designed to fail from the start? Watching Psycho is a remarkably rigorous activity for the spectator: Van Sant actively engages your attention and film-history knowledge from first image... to last.... In this sense, by design Van Sant's experiment couldn't have truly failed for any of its critics, all understandably aghast at its existence - scanning the boundaries of every one of its frames for minute alterations in composition, construction, and performance, each viewer of Psycho found either something or nothing, but they were looking."

"I won't apologize for Finding Forrester, and given how reticent my fellow Reverse Shot writers were to address it, it doesn't seem like many of them are willing to either," writes Brendon Bouzard. "But as much as I'm reiterating how bad this movie is - and yes, it is bad - it simply cannot be ignored." His question: "[W]hat distinguishes it as a Van Sant work?"

"Some of Van Sant's early films reveal an artist finding his voice; Gerry gave its aesthetically restless director the chance to try on some eye-catching formalist clothing," writes Adam Nayman. "Its enduring value, then, is that it motivates the viewer to seek out the source of its hand-me-downs."

"Many critics labeled Elephant as irresponsible, accusing it for not being insightful enough, or for not providing sufficient rationale for the massacre," writes Ohad Landesman. "This, however, seems to be missing the point. Because if there's one thing Van Sant achieved in this film by painstakingly observing a typical high school day, is to provide context, and a fairly sufficient one. What I still fail to understand, though, is why he needed to offhandedly disperse further moralizations when he had it all in his hands in the first place. So we come back to Psycho, wondering if both films, hardly cautious about their thematic challenges, can be seriously taken as anything else besides mere exercises in form."

Last Days "What Van Sant has done with Last Days... is offer an elegiac form appropriate to a mass culture that has long exhausted the integrity it once might have claimed in reconciling audiences with the existential fact of death," writes Michael Joshua Rowin. "That's the overall point, I think, in Van Sant's 'Death Trilogy,' but one that never reaches fulfillment until Last Days."

"Gus Van Sant acknowledges the weighty presence of Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr's influence on the 'Death Trilogy,'" writes Sarah Silver. "That influence is felt in Last Days in the elegiac camera movements and overwhelming importance of architecture and environment."

"No grand artistic summation or even a proper refining of pet themes and motifs, Paranoid Park finds Gus Van Sant further whittling on the same piece of wood," writes Michael Koresky. "It must be a nub by this point." That said:

Paranoid Park is most notable for the ways it effectively synthesizes the early and later parts of Van Sant's film career, melding the angsty male character studies of Mala Noche, Drugstore Cowboy, and the River Phoenix sections of My Own Private Idaho with the heavier formal experimentation of the 'Death Trilogy.' And Van Sant's ever-tightening technical precision here shows how far he's come: whereas today, Drugstore and Idaho seem like patchwork assemblies of early indie trends (Drugstore's 'trippy' drug scenes and erratic, at times misplaced irony) and narrative spare parts (Idaho was a compendium of three separate story treatments that Van Sant smooshed together during preproduction), Paranoid Park shows a remarkable sense of focus, if not purpose.

Much of the rest of this issue, particularly the reviews of recent theatrical releases, has appeared over the past several weeks, so pointers to those pieces have appeared in the appropriate entries.

One DVD review is new, though: "It's rare to say that a film will never be topped, but that may be the case with The Opening of Misty Beethoven," writes Sean Cunningham. "Never again will a porn flick be shot on film with a decent budget and feature a director with artsy tendencies and a cinematographer who goes on to win an Oscar and two leads who can actually act. It even has a story."

Posted by dwhudson at 10:47 AM | Comments (11)

Shorts, 11/14.

The Elephant and the Sea At the House Next Door, Andrew Chan offers a bit of background on the Malaysian "New Wave" and reviews of "three new movies set and shot in Malaysia, all of which were directed by ethnic Chinese filmmakers": Patrick Tam's After This Our Exile, Tsai Ming-liang's I Don't Want to Sleep Alone and Woo Ming Jin's The Elephant and the Sea.

Along with Hoop Dreams and Murderball, Darkon is "one of the great documentary dissections of how Americans play," argues Grady Hendrix at Slate. "So what happened in Darkon when the adventure was over and the moviemakers went home? It all depends on whom you ask."

Twitch's Todd Brown has news of Christopher Doyle's second directorial effort, Warsaw Dark.

Peter Chattaway points to director Chris Weitz's furious response to Hana Rosin's "hatchet-job" in the Atlantic "on my film of Philip Pullman's novel The Golden Compass (and by extension, me)." Plus, a few ideas as to "why the Christian community that was so accommodating to The Da Vinci Code (2006) has suddenly turned against The Golden Compass."

Parents "Icelandic filmmaker Ragnar Bragason won six major Edda awards (Iceland's top film honors) for his film Parents and another two for his television drama The Nightshift at the 9th Icelandic Film and Television Awards ceremony held last Sunday," reports Annika Pham at Cineuropa.

Up-n-coming:

For years now, awards season has been even more irritating than Christmas, but for the past couple of weeks, the Los Angeles Times has been pretending that we're in the thick of the Oscar race; every couple of days, its pages are flooded back stories and profiles, none daring a critical word, but if you can take the puff, you may be interested in a few:

A No Country for Old Men roundup:

No Country for Old Men

  • David Lowery describes how the beginning hit him, then: "The rest of the movie, God's honest truth, I could take or leave, and since I've still got the book sitting on the shelf I'm likely to leave it. But that beginning, and especially that ending - they're going to stick."

  • "[T]he strengths of No Country, and the filmmaking, are as complete as they are precedented," writes Mark Asch in the L Magazine. "The true, blood-simple value of this efficient, classical thriller may come into much sharper focus if a certain rumored production ever thunders into town: an adaptation of McCarthy's westward opus Blood Meridian, under the direction of Ridley Scott."

  • The Coen Brothers "create occasions where mundane world and movie world intersect to our shivery satisfaction," writes Richard T Jameson at MSN.

In the Guardian, Feargus O'Sullivan, author of Pulp Kitchen, offers a survey of food in the movies.

ST VanAirsdale reviews four holiday preview packages that, together, comprise an "inspired, libidinous orgy of hype, supposition and bullshit that could have your eyes rolling until they cramp." Sean Burns's got a good one, though, in the Philadelphia Weekly.

It's not much of a surprise that year-end best-of lists aimed at shoppers would start appearing about now. Amazon posts its "Best Books of 2007" spread.

Online listening tip. The BBC's Andrew Collins on the rockumentary. From Jerry Lentz, who notes that guests include DA Pennebaker, Albert Maysles, Susan Steinberg, Julien Temple, Ondi Timoner, Bob Smeaton and Joe Berlinger.

Online viewing tip. Faisal A Qureshi finds Alex Cox introducing Moviedrome.

Online viewing tips. From Anne Thompson: "Anyone who likes old movies and freebies might want to check out Amazon Unbox's Free Classic Movie Week (ends Nov 18). They're all digital downloads, most for rent, a few to own, all for free."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:17 AM

Fests and events, 11/14.

Andy Warhol (and hat) Warhol and the Film Factory are heading to Chicago. The series runs at Facets from Friday through November 22.

"As the name suggests, the two-week African Diaspora Film Festival's 72-film-deep program stakes claim to a vast territory—there's work here to represent almost every spot on the map that black people have made home," writes Nick Pinkerton. "A big, borderless family-reunion vibe, with shared memories and heartaches remembered, is at the center of this thing." November 23 through December 9.

Also in the Voice, Saul Austerlitz: "Perhaps because it never threw the industry into a tizzy of equal proportions, the advent of color on-screen is often given relatively short shrift—marginalized or ignored entirely as a fundamental turning point in the history of film. Glorious Technicolor, a series running at the Museum of the Moving Image from November 18 to December 2, and a new book from Wesleyan film professor Scott Higgins (who helped put the series together), may go some way toward changing all that."

Live Cinema/Return of the Image: Video from Central Asia, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from Friday through February 17.

The BBC reports that Baghdad will host its first film festival in two years.

The Source "'The body, and its pleasures and powers, is rarely far from the spirit in California,' Erik Davis writes in his introduction to Isis Aquarian's firsthand account The Source: The Untold Story of Father Yod, Ya Ho Wa 13, and the Source Family," quotes Max Goldberg in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "Many generations of Californians have enjoyed a mix of healthy eating, nature appreciation, and magical thinking, but few have done so with as much colorful exuberance as the Source Family, a group of angelic longhairs that thrived in the Hollywood hills in the late 60s and early 70s under the guidance of Father Yod (aka YaHoWa, Shin Wha, and Jim Baker), a fast-talking rascal with the hair, beard, and robes of a latter-day Zeus.... Three events this week - an audiovisual-enhanced discussion at Artists' Television Access, a signing at Aquarius Records, and a live performance at Cafe du Nord commemorate the publication of Isis 'Keeper of the Record' Aquarian's Source Family primer, a stitching together of testimonies and primary documents."

IndieWIRE has the AFI Fest award-winners. The grand jury prize-winner, Lee Isaac Chung's Munyurangabo is easily one of the best American debut features of 2007," blogs Matt Dentler. And Mark Bell wraps the festival for Film Threat, while Doug Cummings offers his takes on three docs.

Meantime, see the latest entry on I'm Not There for news of an eyebrow-raising event in a modest German city.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:41 AM

Monika.

Sommaren med Monika As J Hoberman notes in the Voice, there's a lot of Ingmar Bergman on New York screens right about now. But one film's the highlight of the bunch: "When revived in Paris, then-critic Jean-Luc Godard hailed Monika in a frenzy of enthusiasm as 'the cinematographic event' of 1958... Bergman's tale of heedless teenage love is a sort of neorealist Rebel Without a Cause - except that sex is acknowledged and the outlaw is a girl."

"Shot in rich black and white, Monika shows a director in absolute control of his medium and its singular expressivity," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "In the early city scenes Bergman crowds the frame with objects and people, creating a sense of claustrophobia for the lovers and for those of us watching them struggle to find a place of their own. Once they make their escape, the jammed, Cubistic cityscape gives way to pastoral vistas that melt into one another as the shimmering sun dissolves into images of glistening water and a sky as sheltering as it is limitless."

Updated through 11/15.

At the IFC Center through November 27.

Update, 11/15: "By Monika's closing scenes, Bergman's original opposition between the bubbly young couple and the assortment of unhappy adults (bosses, co-workers, neighbors and parents) has collapsed into itself: Monika and Harry, now separated, epitomize the misery they wanted so badly to escape," writes Benjamin Sutton in the New York Press. "This relentlessly tragic narrative, longtime Bergman collaborator Gunnar Fischer's outstanding cinematography and the central pair's impeccable acting, make Monika a fully realized Bergman psychodrama, rather than an early model for his later work."

"Ingmar Bergman made eleven films before his breakthrough, Summer with Monika (1952), where he seemed to be stimulated by filming his lover at the time, Harriet Andersson, a bluntly carnal brunette," writes Dan Callahan at the House Next Door. "Andersson is also crucial to his next film, Sawdust and Tinsel (1953)." This would be "Bergman's first film where the idea of humiliation, specifically sexual humiliation, becomes crucial to his conception."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:27 AM | Comments (1)

I for India.

I for India "I for India isn't content just to mold years of personal footage into a fascinating drama, as we've already seen in such camcorder-obsessed tales of domestic dysfunction as Capturing the Friedmans and Tarnation," writes Aaron Hillis in the Voice. "[T]he film manages to lyrically explore the meaning of filial responsibility with a lasting but unsentimental tenderness. November seems late enough to call this one of the richest documentaries of the year."

"When Dr Yash Pal Suri, the filmmaker's father, left India for England in 1965, he remained in touch with his parents and siblings by using matching sets of Super 8-millimeter cameras and audiotape recorders," explains Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "The resulting missives, lovingly shaped by the filmmaker into four decades of familial intimacy, form the core of a movie that's both deeply personal and surprisingly universal."

Updated through 11/15.

"I for India speaks painfully to the woes of familial separation brought about by immigration (bringing to mind the devastating Balseros), showcasing both decades-old footage recorded by Yash and his family as well as official BBC programs concerning the growing population of foreigners," writes Rob Humanick in Slant. "The film, directed by Yash's daughter Sandhya Suri, is poignant in its evocation of a single family's fractured identity, but it is this very approach that gives its core cinematic leanings such a universal quality; hazy home-movie footage appears to flow as if out of some dreamlike ether, while the recorded voices of Yash and his family are not unlike unseen, disembodied spirits echoing across the cosmos."

Update, 11/15: Sez Anthony Kaufman: "This Weekend's NYC Must-See."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:01 AM

More on Southland Tales.

Southland Tales "What is Southland Tales? It's a romp, for starters, a genre pastiche, a blast of conscience," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times before recounting the film's nightmare reception in Cannes and springing to its defense:

American cinema is in the grip of a kind of moribund academicism, which helps explain why a fastidiously polished film like No Country for Old Men can receive such gushing praise from critics. Southland Tales isn't as smooth and tightly tuned as No Country, a film I admire with few reservations. Even so, I would rather watch a young filmmaker like [Richard] Kelly reach beyond the obvious, push past his and the audience's comfort zones, than follow the example of the Coens and elegantly art-direct yet one more murder for your viewing pleasure and mine. Certainly Southland Tales has more ideas, visual and intellectual, in a single scene than most American independent films have in their entirety, though that perhaps goes without saying.

Updated through 11/20.

Neither disaster nor masterpiece, Southland Tales again confirms that Mr Kelly, who made a startling feature debut with Donnie Darko, is one of the bright lights of his filmmaking generation.

"Here it is, at last: the worst film of the year," announces Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine. "Don't worry, though - smart-aleck apologists (including certain senior NY-based critics who should know better) will inevitably praise Southland Tales as 'so off-the-wall it's subversive,' but Richard Kelly's sophomore film is really nothing but a train wreck."

"Like an angry hormonal teenager armed with a copy of Philip K Dick's Now Wait for Last Year and a $100 lifetime subscription to dailykos.com, wannabe enfant terrible Richard Kelly has emerged from his post-Donnie Darko silence with the sprawling, ungainly Southland Tales," counters Jeff Reichert at indieWIRE. "But while Southland seems intent on staking claim for itself as this generation's Blade Runner or Brazil, it stumbles on its way to greatness (far, far away from it, actually), instead playing like a terribly conceived single-theme-episode of Saturday Night Live co-hosted by Sarah Michelle Gellar and The Rock. Special musical guest: Moby."

"Sure, if you squint hard enough and engage your imagination, you may be able to construct a Southland Tales of the mind that's a lot more coherent than what's on screen, but it's not my job to review the movie that might have been," writes Jürgen Fauth. "As it stands, you'll probably leave the theater with a few new catch phrases about pimps, teen horniness, and the New York Times, a couple of belly laughs, and a nagging sense of disappointment."

Earlier: "Southland Tales" and reviews from Cannes and Fantastic Fest."

Updates: This new version "is a not inconsiderable improvement over the sprawling, sophomoric picture he brought to France," concedes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "That said, the thing's still no damn good.... A good number of this film's defenders, incidentally, have been taking Kelly's cue and making noises that those who aren't with the program 'don't get it' or somehow resent it. The normally sensible J Hoberman of the Village Voice took the latter tack, which is disappointing - what's there to resent, really, about puling, know-somethingish post-adolescent angst? In any case, to paraphrase Robert Christgau, I dare you to spend money to find out which camp is right."

"Richard Kelly's Southland Tales is a mess, but it's a gonzo, unsettling, semi-coherent, barnstorming near-masterpiece that had me glued to my seat in anticipation of witnessing how far this multi-dimensional funhouse of madness could go," writes Brian Orndorf at Hollywood Bitchslap.

"Kelly must have had Karl Marx's remark - that 'history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce' - in mind while writing because Southland Tales takes reality as far into absurdity as it will go without ever crossing the line into comedy," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "If it had, it might have been as effective as Mike Judge's brilliant, buried Idiocracy. You get the sense that Kelly is too angry to really find any of it funny. It's easy to empathize with his position, not so easy to remain engrossed in a film that's occasionally inspired but ultimately manic and scattered."

"For all its headline-ripping, its political sophistication is roughly equivalent the kind you'd find in, well, a late-night discussion in a dorm room in possession of a Donnie Darko DVD," writes Mark Asch in Stop Smiling. "And, at around 140 minutes, it's incoherent. Not a 'mindfuck' like the eventually explicable Darko, but jumbled with allegiances, intersections, twists, switchbacks and characters whose presence in the scene seems a matter of contrivance for some uncertain purpose. It's as ultimately (and superfluously) sloppy as some Shaw Brothers adaptation of a wuxia novel."

"Particularly in the film's spectacular final 20 minutes, Southland Tales contains some of the most purely beautiful digital effects that I've ever seen on a big screen," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "And the rest of it? It really comes down to what you're willing to let Kelly get away with.... Southland Tales may fail on a lot of levels, but it's fairly successful as an epic satire on the very notion of 'alternative' culture. In practice, the Darko faithful may be the only viewers who will have patience enough to deconstruct Kelly's vision, but I suspect that he's not playing to his base so much as trying to shake it."

"Re-edited to minimize such nuttier notions such as infant flatulence's triggering the Apocalypse, Richard Kelly's wildly ambitious and widely loathed Southland Tales now seems among the most believable works of film futurism ever made in this country. Indeed, sci-fi satire hasn't come so dangerously close to imagining reality since Terry Gilliam brought Brazil to a horrified Hollywood in 1985," writes Rob Nelson, who also interviews Kelly for the Boston Phoenix.

Updates, 11/15: "Kelly's partisans acknowledge that Southland Tales is 'messy,' but insist that its young (31) director is trying to 'say a lot' about politics and the culture," writes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. "Having seen the film again, in its re-cut version, I remain unconvinced. As I wrote from Cannes, Kelly seems to think that to merely mention Fallujah or global warming - or to name a bank after Karl Rove - is the same as actually having an opinion about them, and his all-you-can-eat buffet of cinematic in-references (to say nothing of his Bartlett's-style quoting of Eliot, Yeats and the Book of Revelation) operates on pretty much the same superficial level."

"By relying on mainstream codes to convey his ideas about civilization, Southland Tales becomes a mainstream creation, albeit a confusing one," writes Eric Kohn at the Reeler. "Southland Tales really needs to be seen to be believed, or at least admired for its ambition."

For Sam Adams, writing in the Philadelphia City Paper, Southland Tales "is a movie of limitless ambition and dazzling ineptitude, a movie of ideas with no ideas to speak of... [F]or all its artistic daring, the movie places very little at risk. Trolling through LA's underbelly with the windows rolled up, Southland is a spoiled suburbanite's Repo Man."

Interviews with Kelly: Mark Olsen (LAT) and Spencer Parsons (Austin Chronicle).

"[W]riting Southland Tales off would be too easy," argues Victoria Large at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "So would defensively disregarding the film's faults in an attempt to salvage it as a kind of misunderstood masterpiece, the way that some critics inevitably do once a work has been sufficiently savaged by a majority of pundits. The truth about Southland Tales lies - as it often does with messy films like this one – somewhere between these two extremes."

Updates, 11/16: "It is indeed a muddled, overreaching, and astoundingly pretentious mess," writes Bradley Steinbacher in the Stranger. "But there's also a lot of talent on display, and few films are as likely to provoke, and even enrage, viewers this year."

"About a third of Southland retains Darko's foreboding tone, which Kelly handles masterfully," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club. "The other two-thirds are given over to broad comedy and surprisingly obvious satire, all played to the hilt by a cast that never appears to be on the same page."

"It's fun for an Angeleno to watch the apocalypse playing out in familiar nearby locations," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "And there are some strong bits within. But they get lost in the frantic rush of plot complications and the constant cultural references, many of which seem more 'clever' than helpful."

"I recommend that Kelly keep right on cutting until he whittles it down to a ukulele pick," suggests Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times.

"It's undeniable that Southland Tales is high-concept filmmaking," writes John Constantine for Nerve. "But a great high-concept movie can be summed up in a single sentence, and Southland Tales is too confused to be summed up in two hours and twenty minutes."

Updates, 11/20: "The best thing about Southland Tales is that it allows one to cherry-pick from a buffet of goony delights," writes Chris Barsanti in Film Journal International. "The worst thing about Southland Tales is that it seems ultimately no more than an agglomeration of such high-caloric, giddy treats; the buzz, once it becomes clear that little will cohere, eventually wears off."

"Southland Tales is a disaster, and a damningly dull one at that," writes Michael Atkinson. "[T]he problem with Kelly's film is simple: it's incoherent, not in a broad view, which is easy to take and sometimes easy to enjoy, but within virtually each and every scene."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:13 AM

Ira Levin, 1929 - 2007.

Ira Levin
Ira Levin, a mild-mannered playwright and novelist who liked nothing better than to give people the creeps - and who did so repeatedly, with best-selling novels like Rosemary's Baby, The Stepford Wives and The Boys From Brazil - died on Monday at his home in Manhattan. He was 78.

Margalit Fox, New York Times.

See also: the NNDB, Jane W Stedman and Wikipedia.

Updated through 11/15.

Update: "Some might regard him as an example of that charmed and clownish breed: hack writers who inspire great movies," blogs the Guardian's Xan Brooks. "Yet it's not as simple as that. Yes, Levin was a rudimentary prose stylist - but then a Nabokovian prose style doesn't amount to a hill of beans in Hollywood. What matters are stories and ideas, and Levin had these in abundance."

Update, 11/15: "There can be no better way to mourn the passing of the novelist and playwright Ira Levin, at the age of 78, than late in the evening to pour a glass of bourbon, start reading his first novel, A Kiss Before Dying - and wonder what that knocking in the pipes might really be," writes Christopher Hawtree in the Guardian. "For, at his best, Levin plumbed the depths. He wrote only seven novels, but... [a]long with these was a real stage stunner, the long-running Broadway comic thriller Deathtrap."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:25 AM | Comments (1)

November 13, 2007

Beowulf.

Beowulf "Robert Zemeckis's Beowulf is so rousingly entertaining that you'll feel guilty for not reading the epic poem all the way through when you were in ninth grade," announces Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "[S]creenwriters Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary have taken broad liberties with the ancient text, although their departures translate to the screen quite well for the most part."

"It is pop. But as pop goes, it's damned good pop," writes David Poland, who insists that you see it in 3D, preferably IMAX 3D.

Updated through 11/17.

"Every age, it seems, has its own private Beowulf, a retelling of the 8th century Anglo-Saxon classic in the context of its tastes and preoccupations," writes Louis Sahagun in Los Angeles Times. "In the movie Annie Hall, after Diane Keaton expresses an interest in enrolling in college classes, Woody Allen advises, 'Just don't take any course where you have to read Beowulf.' But scholars, authors and fans say the poem endures because it is a timeless yarn about brave souls purging peaceful societies of agents of evil. Beyond that, the story's built-in ambiguities and rough edges have always invited meddling." A brief history of such meddling follows.

"Hollywood is forever searching for a new toy, a new medium, anything to lure ever-dwindling audiences away from their state-of-the-art home viewing systems and back to the multiplex," writes Lesley O'Toole. "It thinks it has found it in this new amalgam encapsulating 3D and a technique once called 'motion capture' now called performance capture ('perfcap' in the industry). As James Cameron, a pioneer in the field likes to explain, 'Actors don't do motion, they do emotion.'" And O'Toole talks with most of the cast of Beowulf. "John Malkovich says: 'To me it was remarkably reminiscent of doing plays. You get up in the morning and put on all your dots. And then you act all day. A lot of the things that might have come into play in normal filmmaking don't: you don't wait for lights, or for camera repositioning. Continuity doesn't really matter. For most of us it was quite liberating.'"

For Premiere, Stephen Saito lists "20 Benchmark Films in Computer Animation History."

Online listening tip. At IFC News, Matt Singer and Alison Willmore discuss "whether or not motion capture can be considered animation, and the benefits of keeping things stylized."

Updates, 11/14: "Beowulf, you'll be pleased to hear, is a vast improvement, and the use of a technology which creates an altered version of reality seems somehow appropriate for a story so entirely routed in fantasy," blogs Ben Child for the Guardian. "On the other hand, for a movie which features what should be appalling scenes of men having their heads bitten off and gently crunched by Grendel, perhaps the most hideous creature ever to be shown on the big screen, not to mention Angelina Jolie starkers, it somehow fails to really get the blood pumping. And I can't help feeling that's down to the fact that the use of CGI is less affecting than live film. If it's not real, why should we react to it as though it were?"

"Beowulf is only one of a slew of recent movies that wouldn't have been possible without The Lord of the Rings, and Zemeckis lifts dozens of shots directly from Peter Jackson," writes Jürgen Fauth. "Of course, Tolkien in turn would be unthinkable without the Anglo-Saxon poem - and so we come full circle."

Updates, 11/15: Beowulf's "cathartic journey, from boorish egotist to self-lacerating Christ figure, is effortlessly compelling and, at times, moving," writes Kevin Maher in the London Times.

"Crispin Glover portrays Grendel, certainly the most strange and hideous character of his 26-year acting career," writes Chris Lee in the Los Angeles Times. "Which is really saying something if you're at all familiar with Glover, a guy known for his bizarro behavior, indelibly weird performances and aesthetic of elaborate hideousness. He has, after all, filled his underpants with cockroaches (in David Lynch's 1990 film Wild at Heart), shepherded murderous rats (in the oddball 2004 horror flick Willard) and tortured snails (in Glover's controversial 2005 directorial debut, What Is It?). Although 'eccentric' is the description that comes up most frequently in describing the writer-director-author, who is currently in the midst of a career transformation."

"Ladies and gentlemen, I have seen the future of motion-picture entertainment, and to tell you the truth, it's a little goofy," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "Director/would-be visionary Robert Zemeckis's second feature-length foray into computer-animation enhanced 3-D digital whatever-the-hell-you-call-it is - in stark contrast to the kid-oriented first, The Polar Express - a rip-roaring, rip-snorting, rip-your-arm-out-of-its-socket, gore-steeped, and sex-soaked medieval (on-your-ass) adventure. As a boyhood-and-beyond fan of Ray Harryhausen pictures, I like a good flying, fire-breathing dragon as much as the next fellow. Beowulf's excesses, though, are such that the film ought to carry the subtitle ...But This Is Ridiculous."

Updates, 11/16: "Stripped of much of the original poem's language, its cadences, deep history and context, this film version of Beowulf doesn't offer much beyond 3-D oohs and ahs, sword clanging and a nicely conceived dragon, which probably explains why Mr Zemeckis and his collaborators have tried to sex it up with Ms Jolie, among other comic-book flourishes," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "The same no doubt accounts for why [Ray] Winstone, an actor of substantial stomach girth who is every inch a sexy beast in his own right, has been transformed into a generic-looking gym rat complete with six-pack. Somewhere in B-movie heaven Steve Reeves is smiling."

"Zemeckis takes real actors - fancy, expensive actors - and pays them to act, and then covers them up with dead-in-the-face computerized bullshit," writes Lindy West in the Stranger. "Because it's the future, or something.... Beowulf would be a perfectly enjoyable, corny, exciting, dumb action movie if it weren't for the criminally unnecessary Madame Tussaud makeunder. Bullshit, I say."

"[A]m I the only one who suspects that the intention of director Robert Zemeckis and writers Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary was satirical?" asks Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times.

"Beowulf is wildly silly and there are a few groanworthy moments," writes Peer Bradshaw in the Guardian. "But once you have acclimatised yourself to the animation style, it tells a cracking good story, and the screenplay by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary conjures a secret history of vulnerability and human weakness behind the legend. Their inventions are witty and sometimes rather brilliant."

"Making heavy weather of its lesser plot-strands, Beowulf seems to peter out halfway and then rallies for a mighty dragon fight, over forests and bridges and castle turrets, its hero and audience clinging on for dear life," writes Tim Robey in the Telegraph. "It's a wild, lusty and exhilarating spectacle - catch it in Imax 3D if you possibly can."

Nick Schager in Slant: "In essence, Beowulf is porn for 13-year-olds, as it caters to two of the most basic, primal fantasies of hetero adolescent males: slaying a dragon and bedding Angelina Jolie."

"To assuage the fears of the poem's fans, let me say that Robert Zemeckis's Beowulf has as much to do with Beowulf the poem as that Bob Hoskins movie does with Super Mario Bros," writes John Constantine for Nerve. "Zemeckis even says as much in the movie's press kit: 'Frankly, nothing about the original poem appealed to me.' With that out of the way, the movie's pretty swell."

"What is most troubling about Beowulf, aside from the obvious, is what it says about the career of Robert Zemeckis, who has gone from being a director of stories like "Forrest Gump" to an orchestrator of eye candy and a willing slave to technological advances," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "If you want to understand what the pressure of Hollywood does to talent, if you want to experience where the movie business is heading in a big way, this benighted but likely remunerative film is the place to start."

Updates, 11/17: The NYT's Dave Kehr gets visual effects artists Ken Ralston and Jerome Chen on the phone to talk about "the new challenges posed by Beowulf and how the Imagemotion technology has evolved to keep up with them."

"The big problem is that Beowulf, like The Polar Express before it, is just so damned creepy to look at," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "The characters, in their chain mail and woollies and rough homespun gowns, move more smoothly than any mere human being ever could; their skin has a weird, clammy look, and they peer out of glassy humanoid eyes. There's something very Children of the Corn about them.... It has become hard to remember the days when Robert Zemeckis - formerly a wonderful filmmaker - made real movies, things like Cast Away, Death Becomes Her and Back to the Future, though they weren't all that long ago."

"You want to read Beowulf?" asks Time's Richard Corliss. "Get the book, I'm not stopping you. You want bloody adventure with a brain, see the movie."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:32 PM | Comments (4)

Love in the Time of Cholera.

Love in the Time of Cholera "Gabo's 1985 novel is a magical realist chronicle of a man who pledges his fidelity to one woman for a lifetime - in spirit if not in body," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "Now it is a film, directed by [Mike] Newell from a screenplay by the Oscar-winning Ronald Harwood that is as noble as Florentino Ariza's life-long infatuation with Fermina Daza, though something of a failure."

"The book, moving toward its triumphant conclusion, is a wonder," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "The long, magnificently adorned sentences - a stately river depositing alluvial riches of Colombian culture, décor, sexuality, humor, and manners into the reader's heart - are as intoxicating a literary experience as any available to us. Alas, the movie doesn't have that rich allusiveness or strong dose of foolish passion. It's a well-crafted, handsome period piece, and pleasant to watch, but the intensity of an obsessional style - something that matches Florentino's crazy single-mindedness - is beyond Newell's range."

Updated through 11/17.

"Easily the worst adaptation of a major novel by a Nobel Prize–winning author. Easily," emphasizes Robert Wilonsky in the Voice.

Earlier, Jürgen Fauth (only this time I'll snip a different quote): "It's fruitless to count the ways in which Love in the Time of Cholera fails. Critics' screenings here in New York are usually quiet affairs where you can get shushed for looking at the screen funny, but at the one I attended, people were talking back at the movie, Rocky Horror-style."

Update, 11/15: For Eric Kohn, writing in the New York Press, Love in the Time of Cholera's "an extravagant costume drama with a heavy bag of visual splendor, but nothing that really distinguishes it as an original work of art. Scenes play out as though the descriptive rhythms of Márquez's style were scrawled on the back of lavish animated postcards."

Updates, 11/16: "Faithful to the outline of the novel but emotionally and spiritually anemic, it slides into the void between art and entertainment, where well-intended would-be screen epics often land with a thud," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times.

"There's nothing in this movie except obsessive devotion and accidental death," writes Annie Wagner in the Stranger. "I found it exceptionally dull."

"Instead of an immersive, decades-spanning love story unfolding against a backdrop of political and social upheaval as the 19th century fades into the 20th, we get to see the stars stage selected scenes in period costumes, as if the cameras had caught an expensive game of dress-up," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club.

"That, after all these years of playing hard-to-get, the novel has made it to the screen in the form of a plodding, tone-deaf, overripe, overheated Oscar-baiting telenovela smacks of just the kind of deliciously ironic prank an 80-year-old Colombian Nobel laureate could really get behind," suggests Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times.

Update, 11/17: "With Love in the Time of Cholera, Newell - whose last movie was the fine Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - has somehow come up with a picture that's both florid and stiff," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "Of all the supporting actors, Catalina Sandino Moreno, as Fermina's cousin Hildebranda, is the liveliest presence: You forget, momentarily, what a stinker you're watching while she's on-screen."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:54 PM

Other DVDs, 11/13.

Dear Pillow "Today marks, at long last, the release of Bryan Poyser's Dear Pillow on DVD." And David Lowery's celebrating: "Made in 2004, beloved by festival audiences around the world, nominated for an Independent Spirit award and cited by John Pierson as the best film to come out of Austin since Slacker, this smart, dirty debut feature somehow managed to slip through the distribution cracks and into that substrata of unreleased festival gems - until Heretic Films came to the rescue."

For Film International, Jordan Summerlin listens to Children of Men.

Updated through 11/15.

For the Telegraph, Marc Lee talks with Terry Jones about The Life of Brian and the scene written by Eric Idle that didn't make the final cut at the time: "A new DVD edition of the film includes the deleted 'Otto' scene, which features a radical, first-century Jewish revolutionary who has the same dreams as the young Adolf Hitler. Otto sports a toothbrush moustache, and, in case we still haven't got the message, his disciples all wear a symbol that combines the Star of David with a swastika. These are 'Nazi Jews.'" Via Movie City News.

Glenn Kenny's "Monday Morning Foreign-Region DVD Report: The Blue Lamp, "a tight little number that goes for suspense, poignancy and Social Relevance."

Come Dance With Me In PopMatters, Bill Gibron revisits the films of Brigitte Bardot: "Like Marilyn Monroe before her and Raquel Welch after, Bardot gave physical beauty a larger than life sense of wonder. She was a cupie doll coquette, a pert pixie whose sensual suggestiveness offered sin without the skin (or much of it), erotica without the odious undercurrent of exploitation, hype, or a sense of shamelessness."

Also: "Typically, a surrealist tackles the real world from a ridiculous yet recognizable avenue. But [Alejandro] Jodorowsky isn't content to simply shock and confuse. His is an aesthetic of contradiction, the juxtaposing of the sacred with the profane, the beautiful with the grotesque, the simple along with the complex."

"Birth is the most misunderstood movie of the past five or 10 years," argues JJ.

"If Chinatown is considered the last 'studio' picture, in the old sense, then the mutual hosannas passed between Robert Towne, Robert Evans, Roman Polanski and Jack Nicholson in each interview since are perhaps the gentlest of refutations to the predominant academic theories concerning auteurs," writes Nathan Kosub in Stop Smiling. "But still there is John Huston, who as a director was both auteur and studio man. Central to Chinatown is Huston, the man as much as his character, Noah Cross." More from Rick Klaw in the Austin Chronicle.

Robinson Crusoe on Mars "Robinson Crusoe on Mars still holds up incredibly well, not simply as a time capsule but also for its ability to tap into our cultural intrigue with the Martian landscape," writes Robert Humanick at the House Next Door.

For Kimberly Lindbergs, Tattooed Flower Vase is "a beautiful piece of erotica with a dark sadistic edge." Also: "When I was a kid The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming was one of my favorite comedies for reasons I can't really explain, except it seemed to portray adults as I saw them then - easily frightened big kids who projected their fears onto their children and conformed to every bad idea that society and the government tossed their way. I was afraid the film wouldn't hold up after such a long period of time between my last viewing so my expectations were extremely low going into the movie, but once it ended my appreciation for it remained."

"A wryly funny, surreal take on an epochal event, 12:08 East of Bucharest reminds us that revolutions aren't always grand, ideal affairs to be nostalgic about, but can involve the mundane and the trivial, moments argued or regretted," writes Brian Gibson in Vue Weekly.

"Prozac Nation isn't a bad film at all... in fact, it's quite good in spots," writes Flickhead. How'd he end up watching it? Jessica Lange. "[N]ot only does the woman Do It For Me - she's stunning and crazy, just look into her eyes - but she's one of the finest actors to come along in the last thirty years, and no matter how dire the material, she's always worth watching."

DVD roundups: Bryant Frazer; Peter Martin at Cinematical.

Update, 11/15: "An 85-minute tribute to erotic confusion, Dear Pillow is both fascinated by and hostile to the absurdities of our culture's Puritanism and takes obvious joy in poking holes in them," writes Josh Rosenblatt in the Austin Chronicle. "[A]long with several deleted scenes, audition footage, and commentary from Dear Pillow's cast and crew, it offers a glimpse inside the mind of an artist fascinated by the thrills and consequences of desire."

Dear Pillow screens at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco on November 21.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:55 PM

Writers' Strike, 11/13.

A World Without Writers First, a string of online viewing tips. Ze Frank: strike #2; via Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay, "Voices of Uncertainty"; via Nikki Finke, "A World Without Writers"; and Ray Pride's got "Phil Robinson's 4-minute history of the Writers Guild."

Notes Dwight Garner: "One of the few good things to come out of the 1988 Writers' Guild of America strike was a small, photocopied comedy zine called Army Man - a publication that, happily, has been getting its due (here, here, here and here) recently."

"The studios' problem is that they see the sweeping change represented by the Internet as more of a threat than an opportunity," argues Patrick Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times. "For all the talk of how the industry needs a titan like Lew Wasserman to mediate the strike, everyone seems to have forgotten that Wasserman's greatest coups, like buying the Paramount movie library for a song, involved a belief that entertainment would always have future value.... If the studios really believe they can't share a sliver of profits with the people who create what they sell, they'll be the losers. If you don't believe in the future, you shouldn't be in show business."

"As moguls and writers fight over the spoils from DVD and digital-download revenue and celebrities on both coasts pound the pavement in solidarity with the scribes, there's an unintended casualty in the Great Hollywood War of 2007: independent filmmaking." Anthony Kaufman reports in the Voice.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:04 PM

Criterion's Berlin Alexanderplatz.

Berlin Alexanderplatz "Is it a dream that two of cinema's holiest of grails, Berlin Alexanderplatz and Killer of Sheep, arrive on Region 1 DVD on the same day? If so, don't wake me up," bids Ed Gonzalez at Slant, wrapping his comments on Criterion's handsome package for the project one could say Rainer Werner Fassbinder lived to see through. Further up that same page is Keith Uhlich's original review, dating back to April, when Berlin Alexanderplatz was screened in New York, following the example set by the Berlinale, as what can only be termed a Butt-numb-a-thon. The series' 940 minutes were never meant to be gorged on, so we can be all the more glad for this set, which allows us to take it all in as it was presented: episode by episode. C Jerry Kutner, writing in Bright Lights, you'll remember, has the right idea.

Anyone reading the Daily this summer when they should have been out having fun instead may recall the controversy kicked up by the remastered version screened in Berlin and New York, then presented on DVD by the Süddeutsche-Zeitung-Cinemathek, and now, by Criterion. In short, is it too bright and crisp? Well, I was sympathetic to arguments for leaving Berlin Alexanderplatz murky - before sampling the SZ and Criterion DVDs. Ed Gonzalez sums up my own revised take on this pretty damn well: "The transfer is ravishing, but I wonder if the apparent fudging of color levels, brightness, and contrast - a practice confirmed on the featurette Berlin Alexanderplatz Remastered - counts as a defilement of Fassbinder's original vision. I'll deal, but when you also take into account Criterion's much-contested pictureboxing practice (which, if truth be told, I don't have a problem with) and the disc's apparent PAL slowdown (click here for more details), cinephiles with nerdier a/v needs and wants than me will probably want to sign a petition of some kind."

Exactly; given the rapturous experience provided by Criterion's package, that's one battle I'm more than happy to leave to, well, the nerds. What's more: we have no idea how RWF would have approached a remastering. If, then, there's a second-in-command alive to be entrusted with the project, it'd be cinematographer Xaver Schwarzenberger, who, of course, was tapped to oversee it. Let's also not forget that the complaints filed in the German-language papers against this remastering were stirred up in the wake of a much, much larger argument over the fate of RWF's legacy, still in the hands of the Fassbinder Foundation; they seem in retrospect almost like an afterthought, while in the meantime, there are greater concerns to be dealt with. For now, though, we have, yes, a "ravishing" presentation of the centerpiece of an immeasurably vital postwar German oeuvre.

"Fassbinder's world of lurid emphasis is strong drink - his characters rail at the heavens, spittle flies at every dramatic turn, and the actors often play to the silent-era back row - and Berlin Alexanderplatz is such an immense manifestation of its maker's sensibility no one can be surprised that, as the largest chunk of the almost 23 hours of film Fassbinder finished in his last three years, it did its part in killing him," writes Michael Atkinson for IFC News. "If you are not, like I'm not, an unqualified RWF acolyte, then think of this mammoth not as an auteurist explosion but as a troubled country's troubled dream about itself, iconic and overwhelming." And that, see, is what makes me a RWF acolyte - not an unqualified one, certainly, but still.

"[W]here Fassbinder's version still has to get by on a studio simulacrum of Weimar Berlin, the vanished city is very much present in the first film adaptation of Alfred Döblin's 1929 novel," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "Directed by Phil Jutzi, that 1931 Berlin Alexanderplatz is included here as an extra, though it is a powerful work in its own right that offers a vivid portrait of the metropolis that was about to sink under Nazi rule." To watch this version, he argues, "is to be plunged both into history being made and history yet to come. Fassbinder, for all his brilliance, can't compete with that."

"This will be a frontrunner in DVD of the Year 2007 balloting for both the film as well as the transfer/supplements - no matter which edition you end up buying," advises Gary W Tooze at DVD Beaver.

Just yesterday, by the way, it was announced that Günter Lamprecht, who plays Franz Biberkopf, "a great, bullish, dim lug of a man" (Atkinson), will receive this year's Herbert Strate Award from the Filmstiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen: "His extraordinary screen presence and the intensity of his performances have made him an unforgettable face in German cinema."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:40 AM | Comments (2)

Milestone's Killer of Sheep.

Killer of Sheep Killer of Sheep "is a genuinely great film, and now it has reached DVD as only one component of a superb two-disc set from Milestone Film and Video," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. The set includes My Brother's Wedding and four short films by Charles Burnett. "If it were a short story by Faulkner, The Horse would have become an anthology piece decades ago."

"On the surface merely a mood piece about the enervating, dead-end existence of being black in 1970s America, Killer of Sheep attains an inexplicable elemental power, an almost primal thrust and mystery that suggests, at least to the willing viewer, millennia of godless desperation, human embattlement and food-chain horror," writes Michael Atkinson at IFC News. "It's a ghost movie, returned to haunt us."

Updated through 11/14.

"Among the first fifty films to be inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, and named one of 100 Essential Films of all time by the National Society of Film Critics, the reputation Burnett's work has earned is richly deserved," writes David Walker at DVD Talk. "Killer of Sheep is a brilliant film, stunning in its perceived simplicity, heartbreaking in its honesty, and unparalleled in its humanity." As for the DVD, "While the picture quality on this disc may not be up to some people's standards in general, it is amazing given the quality of older prints that were in circulation." What's more, "because My Brother's Wedding is not really the sort of film that necessarily warrants its own release, it makes for a great bonus on this disc."

Earlier: "Interview. Charles Burnett" and "My Brother's Wedding"; and Ed Gonzalez at Slant.

Update: This set is "a remarkable conveyor of the sheer range of Burnett's work," writes Glenn Kenny. "The freedom, the humanity, the sheer strangenes of his movies is immeasurable; I've said it before and I'll say it again, but these are the qualities that make Burnett a kinsman of Jean Vigo."

Update, 11/14: "I'm not sure what to add to the praise to get people to see Killer of Sheep, so maybe it's time to roll out the blurbs: if you buy one DVD this year, make it this one." Credit: Nicolas Rapold, L Magazine.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:39 AM

November 12, 2007

Brooklyn Rail. Nov 07.

Staring Back "For Staring Back, an exhibition of 200 black-and-white photographs dating from 1952 to 2006, Chris Marker selected only what he calls instead 'Superliminal' images: those exceptional shots that stand out strikingly from many virtually the same," notes Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle.

"This was the best Film Festival in years," writes David N Meyer, looking back on the NYFF. "It's been a good while since the Festival got accused of being too smart, too historical, too in touch with the times, too educational, too aware of the debt it owes the very universe it created. Let's hope they hear the same accusations next year."

"What Gone Baby Gone recognizes is that, much as we like to pretend 'it's all about the kids,' most of the time it isn't," writes Tessa DeCarlo. "On the public stage and often even in the privacy of our homes, we cherish (or abuse) children as stand-ins for ourselves, symbols we use to express our need for love and community, our anger at the ways the world has disappointed us, our fears and hopes about the future.... That same theme emerges from Amir Bar-Lev's documentary about Marla Olmstead, a four-year-old from Binghamton, New York.... At its most disturbing, My Kid Could Paint That suggests how much damage can be inflicted on a child with the best of intentions."

"'Pandering' hardly seems an adequate word for American Gangster, a biopic of 1960s Harlem heroin king Frank Lucas directed by middle-aged white millionaire Ridley Scott, written by middle-aged white millionaire Steve Zaillian, produced by middle-aged white millionaire Brian Grazer, and designed to soft-sell an African American audience on the proposition of the druglord as symbol of heroic honesty and self-determination in a racist society," argues Mark Asch.

"Seinfeld, Friends, and even Sex in the City were about transplants (some pulling up roots only from Long Island, but non-native species nonetheless)," writes Sarahjane Blum. "However, the world the adults from most New York stories aspired to and achieved in remains but a playground that Gossip Girl's privileged kids have pretty much outgrown.... Everyone has, at best, mixed feelings towards their hometown, and if you can't dream of moving to New York, what's left?"

Posted by dwhudson at 3:27 PM

Delbert Mann, 1920 - 2007.

Delbert Mann
Delbert Mann, who transformed Paddy Chayefsky's classic teleplays Marty and The Bachelor Party into big-screen triumphs and helped bring TV techniques to the film world, died Sunday. He was 87.

Jeremiah Marquez, the AP.

See also: The Museum of Broadcast Communications.

Updated through 11/13.

Updates, 11/13: "Describing Mann as 'the quietest, most wonderful guy,' [Ernest] Borgnine said he 'was the kind of director that you get home at night and say to yourself, "Gee, I gave a pretty good performance," without realizing that he was the guy that got it out of you,'" notes Dennis McLellan in the Los Angeles Times.

His films include one "that would haunt him to the end of his life: Heidi, whose ultrapunctual broadcast on NBC in 1968 famously eclipsed the final minute of a dramatic football game between the New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders," writes Margalit Fox in the New York Times. "A past president of the Directors Guild of America, Mr Mann was made an honorary life member of the guild in 2002. But for all his accolades, it was Heidi that interviewers unfailingly seemed to ask him about."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:51 PM

Interview. Brian De Palma.

Redacted "Brian De Palma is one of cinema's most hypnotic stylists, a virtuoso whose multilayered tracking shots can expand your perception of space, time, and motion onscreen; so it's a major statement when he throws away his jazzy technique and goes for something rough-hewn and immediate," writes David Edelstein in New York.

And that's precisely what he's done in Redacted, "a controversial film, a fictionalized portrait of real-life war crime in the current Iraq occupation, which De Palma has made more provocative by using the techniques of non-fiction filmmaking, TV news reporting, video diaries, and propaganda pieces to challenge audiences to question what exactly they're seeing," notes Sean Axmaker, introducing his interview with the director.

Updated through 11/18.

"The movie is a grimly mischievous emblem of our media-blitzed world," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "Redacted takes all kinds of risks, and so it's perhaps not surprising that it has already been charged with fomenting anti-Americanism, or that De Palma himself has been accused of exploitation. But the movie explores an issue that has been debated for years, by Susan Sontag, among others - the morality of visual representations of atrocity - and it comes off as the opposite of exploitation."

Back to David Edelstein for a moment: "[I]s it unpatriotic to point out that soldiers on their third tours of duty in a place where they have little knowledge of the culture, where they can't tell who is on their side and who wants to blow them up, stand a good chance of losing both their moral compass and their minds?"

Earlier: Reviews, lots of 'em, from NYFF, Toronto and Venice.

Updates, 11/13: "The level of invention is so impressive in Redacted, and its rebuttal of Hollywood's narrative model so uncompromising, that it pains me to say the film is rarely convincing," writes Ryan Gilbey in a piece for the New Statesman focusing on the hurdles none of the Iraq war movies have yet leapt.

For Stephanie Zacharek, Redacted "is the messiest, most confounding picture about the Iraq war that has yet been made. It's also possibly the most direct, and the most potentially upsetting." She talks with De Palma for Salon.

"Opening amid a momentary lull in public antipathy for Bush's war - attributable to an otherwise incompetent administration's sensational ability to repress images and control the story - Redacted has been variously attacked as arty, cartoonish, and even overly familiar," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "One might similarly characterize Fernando Botero's Abu Ghraib paintings; earlier this year, Philip Haas's noir analysis The Situation was dismissed in comparable terms. But whatever their temperaments, Botero, Haas, and De Palma are fashioning something other than propaganda. Redacted wasn't made to change your mind, but to unburden De Palma's."

"If Redacted were a well-intentioned artistic miscalculation, that would be one thing - but unfortunately its heart as well as mind and technique doesn't always seem to be in the right place," writes Dennis Harvey at SF360. "As scenarist (seldom his strongpoint), De Palma creates one-dimensional stereotypes his no-name actors are hapless to flesh out.... Memo to Brian De Palma: Exercise your politics via checkbook and at the polls. Leave the screen commentary to more cogent thinkers."

Updates, 11/14: "The result of this grand, subversive and infuriatingly erratic talent trying at long last to recapture the youthful vigor of his earliest piss-and-vinegar, take-no-prisoners, underground Vietnam-era satires Greetings and Hi, Mom!, Redacted is at once both outraged and outrageous," writes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "It's a low-budget, angry-as-fuck provocation—and something of a call to arms from an embittered old man who saw us going down this very same road many years ago, and desperately hates that he can still remember how it worked out the last time around. Too bad Redacted is also kind of lousy."

"[I]t's the year's most subversive American film," argues Benjamin Strong in the L Magazine. "At a time when the Democratic candidates for president are debating whether to invade Iran or Pakistan next, De Palma steadfastly insists that there's no such thing as a just war."

The Boston Phoenix's Gerald Peary listens to De Palma defend his film in Toronto.

"Redacted aims to blame us all for the horrors of war, saying in its meta-narrative way that we're all swept up in the same hypocritical web that makes us into passive and voyeuristic hyenas," writes Chris Barsanti for Film Journal International. "While it's a fair point, when the director threw a tantrum after Magnolia blacked out the faces of the real Iraqi people who appear in the photo montage that ends the film (an admirable desire to conceal the civilians' identities), it became clear that this film is just one more strand in that same web."

Online listening tip. Keith Uhlich talks with De Palma for Zoom In Online.

Online viewing tips. Wow, if you've been away from American TV for a while... Goodness. Anyway: Bill O'Reilly goes after Mark Cuban for distributing Redacted. It's quite personal, and I wouldn't be surprised if O'Reilly's angling for some sort PR-rousing tussle in the courts. Part the second.

Updates, 11/15: "Because Redacted is the first film by a major artist to address the Iraq War, its sketchiness is maddening," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "De Palma's like a kid discovering the Internet, presuming that it liberates all information, then grousing that the technology doesn't solve political or private problems. The trouble is that De Palma confuses his personal geek alarm with geopolitical concern."

The Philadelphia City Paper is pro-Redacted. Cindy Fuchs has the review and Sam Adams talks with De Palma.

Scott Foundas talks with De Palma for the LA Weekly.

"Despite some ungenerous notices from critics so far, the ensemble cast... is excellent," insists Adam Nayman in Eye Weekly. "Those who decry the acting as stagy miss how carefully the performances have been modulated to suit De Palma's rigorous formal strategies. The troupe's overbearing machismo in the moments where they know they're being filmed gets abandoned when things get candid - as in the horrific mid-film rape scene, staged from the ghostly-green POV of a hidden helmet-cam."

"While some reactionary observers who haven't seen Redacted have labeled Brian DePalma's latest film with such calumnies as 'arthouse snuff-porn,' there is at least the courage of his anger, which brings this rapid-fire, if indifferently written and acted, montage to a consistent boil," writes Ray Pride. "There are levels of staging and acting and phoniness and fear that work despite shortcomings."

Updates, 11/16: Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times: "To see Brian De Palma's Redacted is to be reminded of what a 17th century French nobleman, the Duc de Villars, famously asked Louis XIV: 'Defend me from my friends; I can defend myself from my enemies.'"

"The problem with Redacted is that the representation is an unwieldy hodgepodge of brutal naturalism and self-conscious theatricality, its potential power undermined by schematic storytelling and clumsy acting," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "What those handheld, low-definition recording devices capture is less unvarnished reality — or a persuasive simulacrum of it — than dinner theater or underrehearsed made-for-television drama.... Its formal novelty aside, Redacted rarely hits the audience with a genuine shock or a clarifying insight."

"It looks and feels cheap, knocked-out," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "As an expression of from-the-gut anti-war rage, Redacted is admirable, but as art, it's undercooked." And he, too, interviews De Palma.

"For a while, I assumed De Palma was making a pitch-black comedy - 'Barrage,' the French bit, with its mournful strings and pseudopoetic voiceover, positively garrotes a particular strain of pompous European docmaking (Varda, Ophüls, even Herzog to some degree)," writes Mike D'Angelo for Nerve. "But the joke was ultimately on me, since Redacted resorts to the same shameless pandering when it finally arrives at its tragic conclusion."

"Redacted is a metaphor for what De Palma and others believe is the fatal flaw of our Iraq strategy: You cannot enforce 'freedom' at gunpoint," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "Now that some 200,000 Iraqis have died in the war, for whatever reason and at whatever hands, it is hard to see how many of the rest would be as grateful for our presence as we are assured they are."

Watching Redacted, Noah Forrest (Movie City News) "couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps Brian De Palma was really a Republican trying to make a polemic so one-sided and trite that it would turn off most liberals."

Updates, 11/17: "Brian De Palma's Redacted is a movie that gives war criticism a bad name," writes Fred Kaplan in Slate. "It's a nasty piece of work - and not in a good way. He means to shock, but his film is merely distasteful.... Some have denounced the film as anti-American or as propaganda for al-Qaida, but that exaggerates its potency. De Palma's grist is too thin for a sophisticated terrorist's mill."

"[O]f all the war-themed pictures that have been released so far this fall, it stands apart, and it stands alone: Redacted is confrontational, rough, immediate and confounding," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "[T]he nakedness of its anger, of De Palma's anger, is its very strength. Debating its numerous problems - the weakness of some of the acting (De Palma uses a group of relatively unknown actors here), or the effusiveness of the music over the final, devastating set of images - is like critiquing an open sore. This is one of those rare pictures that's more significant for what it asks of us than for what it is."

"While in some respects this multi-point-of-view chronicle of a war crime and its burial is formally ingenious, that ingenuity is mostly conceptual, which is to say it doesn't actually play," writes Glenn Kenny in Premiere. "The problem here, which vitiates the picture's ingenuity and causes it, finally, to sink like a stone, is in the physical execution of the material."

Update, 11/18: Via Robert Cashill, a discussion at the Mobius Home Video Forum.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:21 AM | Comments (2)

Writers' Strike, 11/12.

WGA On Strike James Surowiecki looks to the history of labor walkouts and explains, in his view, "why the longer a strike lasts, the less likely it is to produce a big victory for either side: you're willing to cut a deal after a long strike that you wouldn't have been willing to cut before in part because the strike has told you that the other side wasn't just bluffing.... A strike isn't always a mistake: sometimes workers do win big. But if both sides think a strike will help their cause at least one of them must be wrong."

Updated.

Also in the New Yorker, Larry Doyle jokes around.

"It was actually pretty upbeat. There was music, I saw people I knew and there was a spirit in the air." That's picketing screenwriter Bradford Winters, as quoted by David Carr. And that was the first week. As now we enter the second week, Michael Cieply brings news that things may turn a little less jovial. "Do Movies Make Money?" is a "report, prepared by the research company Global Media Intelligence in association with its partner Merrill Lynch, [which] concludes that much of the income - past and future - that studios and writers have been fighting about has already gone to the biggest stars, directors and producers in the form of ballooning participation deals."

Also in the New York Times, Joanne Kaufman notes, "The strike - over whether producers and studios can profit from the writers' work on the Web without paying them specifically for it to appear there - has so outraged guild members that in some cases they are writing on the Web, free, about how they don't want to write on the Web free."

How many episodes has your favorite TV show got before it either slips into reruns or off the air completely? Not as many as you might think. The Los Angeles Times has a chart.

Meantime, Nikki Finke holds out a "glimmer of hope."

Update: CNBC's Jim Goldman's nabbed some terrific quotes from Netscape founder Marc Andreessen: "So imagine you're a major media mogul... You're faced with a massive, once-in-a-lifetime shift in mainstream consumer behavior from traditional mass media... to new activities that you do not control: the Internet, social networking, user-generated content, mobile services, video games... Is this really the right time to pick a fight with the writers over royalties from DVD and Internet sales...?" That was last week. Today, Andreessen's got a followup entry: "Rebuilding Hollywood in Silicon Valley's image."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:42 AM | Comments (2)

Shorts, 11/12.

The Gore Vidal Trilogy Flash Art's running Francesco Vezzoli's 2005 interview with Bob Colacello and the very first Q and A is the must-read of the day. If you get a kick out of that anecdote, do read on; if not, don't. Related: The Gore Vidal Trilogy poster.

"A few years ago, [Slavoj] Zizek asserted that 'we should not oppose something just because it was appropriated by the wrong guys; rather, we should think about how to re-appropriate it,'" Jim Cocola reminds us in n+1. "This accurately describes the mission of [The Pervert's Guide to Cinema]: to take back post-code Hollywood's unwritten codes for cultural criticism - even for the left - while turning various independent and international films on their heads in the bargain."

"While canonical critics such as Jonathan Rosenbaum, Adrian Martin, David Bordwell, Dave Kehr, J Hoberman, James Naremore and others have provided a tremendous critical influence on cinephile bloggers, there is also evidence of Gilles Deleuze's theoretical influence on cinephiles in the blogosphere," notes Jason Sperb. "For example, Mirror/Stage's Andy Horbal, Traumdeutung's Amy Konig and The Cinematic Art's Ted Pigeon each reference his work, openly confessing to his influence on their writings."

Meanwhile, Ted Pigeon points to "something that's happening there right now: critical debate." At Jim Emerson's place.

Citizen Kane Fred Camper's found a review of Citizen Kane by Erich von Stroheim in the June 1941 issue of Decision, an arts periodical founded and edited by Klaus Mann:

To be truthful, during the first twenty minutes of viewing the film, I, who have been thirty years in this business of making films, did not know what it was all about. I may be dumb, but I have asked at least fifty people who in more or less articulate form described the same experience. I may be hyper-conservative or just plain old fashioned, but I believe in all sincerity that the form of telling the story of Citizen Kane is not the desired or successful form in which to tell a screen story. All of us have been accustomed to hear or to see a story start at the beginning. Welles's way of telling the story may have its place in a novel or on the stage, but I am convinced that in the cinema it is entirely out of place.

Via Wellesnet.

Roman Polanski will direct an adaptation of Robert Harris's new novel, The Ghost, reports Tatiana Siegel for Variety. Via Christopher Campbell at Cinematical. The Guardian notes that the "political thriller... has been read as a thinly veiled attack on the former British prime minister Tony Blair." Meanwhile, the BBC passes along news that film about Polanski's in the works.

More from Tatiana Siegel: "Guillermo del Toro will write, direct and produce the sci-fi actioner Champions," based on the British TV series. Via Peter Smith at ScreenGrab.

Two interviews with Francis Ford Coppola: Bruce Handy for Vanity Fair (via Movie City News) and Rebecca Winters Keegan for Time.

Help! At the AV Club, Keith Phipps talks with Richard Lester about seeing his Beatles movies again. More from Randy Lewis in the Los Angeles Times.

"Eisenstein has suffered from both too much influence and not enough," writes Owen Hatherley for the New Humanist. "In a sense, he wanted to be to cinema what his heroes - Leonardo da Vinci, Marx, Freud - were in their fields, and a vaulting overambitiousness is as evident in his theoretical works as in the end product." Via infinite thøught.

"You can't quite get your hands around The Woman Chaser, and that's all for the good," writes Kim Morgan at Noir of the Week. "Directed by Robinson Devor, whose only credit up to this point was a wonderfully weird 30 minute documentary about Hollywood billboard star Angelyne (he has since directed Police Beat and the infamous horse sex documentary, Zoo. You can't say Devor isn't multi-faceted) The Woman Chaser is something of a lost film.... It's an unnerving, hilarious slice Los Angeles life and wildly unique on top."

The Self-Styled Siren points to Raymond De Felitta's appreciation of Rita Hayworth, parts 1 and 2.

It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine Crispin Glover's "new film and second in the planned It trilogy, It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine, finds Glover not only tightening his skill and artistic vision but also cementing his new identity as a confident and confrontational creator," writes John Constantine at Nerve.

At european-films.net, Boyd van Hoeij sees parallels between Renny Harlin's return to Finland to make the war drama Mannerheim and Paul Verhoeven's return to Holland to make Black Book. Also, a preview of Roberto Faenza's I vicerè (The Viceroys), an adaptation of the fin-de-siècle novel by Federico De Roberto.

Cineuropa's new "Film in Focus": Roy Andersson's You the Living.

For indieWIRE, Jason Guerrasio checks in on five independent films currently in production - good thing they're already written.

Peter Chattaway has found a full version of Hanna Rosin's Atlantic Monthly piece on The Golden Compass, "How Hollywood Saved God."

Peter Popham reports that the Italian village of Sant'Anna di Stazzema is concerned that Spike Lee "risks doing a grave injustice to history." Part of Miracle at St Anna, based on the novel by James McBride, deals with "the day in August 1944 when four columns of Nazi stormtroopers poured down from the hills and slaughtered everyone in sight, including dozens of women and children.... One scene in the film has convinced some villagers that he is going to depict the massacre as a reprisal for partisan attacks; in fact, the German attack was gratuitous and planned in minute detail." The mayor, though, is trying to reassure his constituents: "I am sure Spike Lee will make a masterpiece."

Also in the Independent, a heart-wrenching piece from Ivy Meeropol, granddaughter of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, on the making of Heir to an Execution.

Filmbrain catches the new print of Diva: "Would the film hold up after all these years, or would it feel horribly dated? Would Jules, Gorodish and Alba still seem as cool now that my own mobylette years have long passed? The answer is a resounding... yes."

Albert Ayler "Named after one of his albums and built around snippets of audio interviews with Mr Ayler, My Name Is Albert Ayler attempts and often achieves a fresh, playful style that's equally informed by jazz traditions and Mr Ayler's urge to shatter them," writes Matt Zoller Seitz.

Also in the New York Times:

  • "Holly is one of several recent films that explore sex trafficking, a phenomenon the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime describes as the world's fastest-growing criminal enterprise," writes John Anderson. "The recent Trade, which starred Kevin Kline, followed human cargo being smuggled from Mexico to New Jersey. Very Young Girls, a new documentary produced for Showtime by David Schisgall, confines itself to New York City but reveals a homegrown world of predatory sex and the legal view that the seller, rather than the buyer, is culpable. Holly, however, exists in a world without borders."

  • "Saawariya announces itself as an adaptation of Dostoyevsky's White Nights, but whatever Russian soul may dwell deep within it is pretty well drowned in Bollywood style," writes AO Scott. Scarlet Cheng has background on the film in the Los Angeles Times.

  • Cocalero "is a film that feeds the established [Evo] Morales legend: The gregarious, unsophisticated leader of the coca-leaf growers wins the presidency in December 2005 with a combination of unpretentiousness, honesty and grass-roots support," writes Neil Genzlinger. "But pay close enough attention and you may end up a bit skeptical that you're seeing the full Morales picture."

  • "Fred Claus is a tacky would-be comedy about family dysfunction that fronts some Scrooge attitude only to dissolve into slobbering sentimentality and canned uplift," writes Manohla Dargis. "Neither here nor there, the film is Elf without the goofy jokes, Will Ferrell or heart, Bad Santa without the smut, Billy Bob Thornton or spleen."

  • "Swift and stealthy P2 is a canny exploitation of one of the urban woman's greatest fears: the after-hours parking garage," writes Jeannette Catsoulis. "Throw in a car that won't start, a creepy security guard and a filmmaking team with perfect synchronicity, and the result is a minimalist nightmare." More from Andrew Wright in the Stranger: "[T]hink Red Eye with twice the gore and triple the dumb."

  • Eventually, The Sacred Family's "dizzying visual style — shaky, fast-moving hand-held camerawork and heavy use of close-ups — settles down enough to reveal elements of absorbing drama, layered with black humor and rare sexual and emotional frankness," writes Laura Kern.

  • "An architect who helped raise a bustling new quarter from the industrial mess of southeast Paris will now get his shot at a section of this city best known for its automotive repair shops, tumbledown cottages and slapdash sidewalk posters," writes Michael Cieply in Los Angeles. "At a board meeting on Tuesday night the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences chose the architect, Christian de Portzamparc, and his Paris-based firm to design the grand movie museum it is planning for a site just south of Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood."

  • Jon Pareles has a background piece on Tom Stoppard's play Rock 'n' Roll: the story of the Plastic People of the Universe.

  • Jesse Green profiles Edward Albee: "Of the generation of theatrical giants who came to international prominence in the 1950s with plays that not only won Tony Awards and Pulitzer Prizes but actually seemed to register in the culture as well, he is the only one, with the possible exception of Horton Foote, still going strong. On the heels of excellent Broadway revivals of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Seascape in 2005, the current theater season includes four major New York-area productions of his work."

Peter and Jerry
  • "A palate-whetting curtain-raiser to a season plump with plays by Mr Albee, who turns 80 in March, Peter and Jerry twins The Zoo Story, his first play (written in 1958), with Homelife, a companion piece written six years ago, now receiving its New York premiere," writes Ben Brantley. "There are telling differences in inflection and timber between these creations of a man in his 20s and his 70s. But there is no mistaking that they are products of one enduring and consistent voice, a voice unparalleled in American theater for its surgical elegance in exploring the animal in humanity." Related: "What Albee is trying to flush out into the open here is the elusive way in which the unconscious can short-circuit desire," writes John Lahr in the New Yorker. "Jerry's gesture - and Albee's accomplishment - is to force Peter to face his own murderous feelings and the anarchy of desire."

  • Jeanine Basinger reviews Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis: "[Ed] Sikov, author of biographies of Peter Sellers and Billy Wilder, is both a respected scholar and a delicious gossip, which makes him perfect to chronicle Davis's bravura life."

  • "Comparative courses in how Al Jazeera, CNN, the BBC and US networks portray the Iraq war and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be taught in all U.S. high schools and colleges," argues Roger Cohen.

Savage Grace Tom Kalin's Savage Grace has Paul Burston looking back at the origins of "New Queer Cinema" and asking, "where exactly did it go?"

Also in the Guardian, Xan Brooks talks with Wes Anderson about The Darjeeling Limited and Owen Wilson - so does Jonathan Romney for the Independent - and Damon Wise interviews Rose McGowan.

"Roger Deakins refers to the Coen Brothers, charmingly, as 'the boys.' When you've worked with the Coens for as long as he has, though, you're permitted to be a little familiar." And Paul Matwychuk has a chat with the cinematographer.

For Time Out, Mark Salisbury talks with Andrew Dominik about The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - which Deakins shot as well. Also via Movie City News, Colin Covert of the Twin Cities' Star Tribune talks with the Coens about "their enduring ties to their home state and the comedy-drama they will make here." That'd be A Serious Man, an "upper Midwestern comedy of manners. This is a Minnesota story, the Coens insisted, born out of specific memories of their youth."

Twitch's Todd Brown exchanges email with Adam Mason. The subject line: Blood River.

"The conflict between policies that support national security and those that protect civil liberties are embodied in the bizarre, terrifying story of Steve Kurtz, an artist, activist and State University of New York at Buffalo professor for whom a personal tragedy led to a Kafkaesque nightmare courtesy of the War on Terror," writes Carina Chocano, opening her review of Strange Culture.

Also in the Los Angeles Times, Rafer Guzmán: "Pete Seeger: The Power of Song could have been called Pete Seeger: The First Punk."

"Anton Corbijn's Control, about the life and death of Ian Curtis, the singer for Joy Division, is a film that is fully worthy of its subject," writes Steven Shaviro. "Control is beautiful and bleak, affectively compelling because of (rather than in spite of) its reticence and downbeat everydayness."

Thailand's National Legislative Assembly is on the verge of passing a Film Act that would forbid anyone under 25 years old from seeing certain films, reports Kong Rithdee in the Bangkok Post. "No country in the world (except some Taliban-ruled badland) takes away the right to choose to go to a movie from its 24-year-old citizens." Thanks, Peter!

In the Observer, Chrissy Iley meets Sam Rockwell and Elizabeth Day honors an appointment with Paula Wagner, "so frequently described as the most powerful woman in Hollywood that it is hard not to be utterly terrified at the prospect of meeting her."

American Gangster "American Gangster is a big, brash and brilliant cinema tour de force," writes Earl Ofari Hutchinson in New American Media. "But it also reinforces a glaring stereotype - one of America's most enduring stereotypes - that the drug problem and drug kingpins come with a black face." Via Alternet. More on the film from Hiram Lee at the WSWS and from Neil Young.

Joe Bob Briggs is the "the head Online Doorkeeper" for the Wittenburg Door, "the pretty much only magazine of religious satire, nailing the church since 1517."

ST VanAirsdale extends the deadline for the Totally Unrelated Blog-a-Thon.

The latest list from Richard T Kelly: "Ten Great Movie Walks."

Online grinning tip. Design Sponge steps into Amy Sedaris's home. Via Coudal Partners.

Online browsing tip. John Coulthart remembers poster artist Richard Amsel.

Online listening tip. For the BBC, "Paul Gambaccini explores how stage works have been adapted for the cinema." Specifically, in this edition, Ken Russell's adaptation of Sandy Wilson's The Boy Friend. That's a tip from Jerry Lentz, who also passes along news that Russell's working on a movie at Swansea Institute's Dynevor Centre for Art, Design and Media. No word there as to what the movie might be, though.

Dream of the Rarebit Fiend

Online viewing tip #1. At Boing Boing, Mark Frauenfelder points to Joshua Glenn's excellent slide show at the Boston Globe on Winsor McCay's far-reaching influence on cinema as demonstrated by Ulrich Merkl's book, Dream of the Rarebit Fiend. For more on the book and accompanying DVD, see John Adcock's review.

Online viewing tip #2. The Washington Post's Desson Thompson's "Top 10 Tear-Jerkers."

Online viewing tip #3. Designboom interviews Bill Viola. Via Coudal Partners.

Online viewing tip #4. In the Independent, Claire Beale goes wild over an ad: "The Walkman is going for a superior sound-sell, and Fallon's work captures it beautifully."

Online viewing tips, round 1. From Daniel Murphy for Esquire: "The Five Worst Fight Scenes Ever Filmed."

Online viewing tips, round 2. "Long Live the New Flesh!: Top 12 Real Bodily Transformations on Film" at ScreenGrab, parts 1 and 2.

Online viewing tips, round 3. "With the online video revolution in full swing, it's high time for a field guide," insists New York. "Here's our take on the best comedy, cartoons, dramas, and vintage YouTube classics on offer." It's a lot, but Logan Hill and Bilge Ebiri have taken it a step further, creating a "highlight reel of more than 100 vintage New York videos, [in which] CBGB never closed, James Brown never died, and Madonna is still learning how to vogue."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:22 AM | Comments (4)

Margot at the Wedding.

Margot at the Wedding "Margot at the Wedding, which opens Friday, has already prompted some inquiries about whether it draws on personal history, [Noah] Baumbach said. That may be because it shares thematic elements with [The Squid and the Whale] - separation, adultery, adolescent sexuality - and is likewise focused on intrafamily alliances and intergenerational relationships," writes Dennis Lim in the New York Times. "But the new film, centered on a country-house reunion, has a more volatile emotional temperature."

And in an audio slide show, Baumbach talks about some of the themes he was interested in exploring when writing the film.

Updated through 11/18.

"Leaving behind Squid's relatable adolescent's-eye view on divorce for a hackneyed, adult-oriented dysfunctional family dynamic, and replacing Squid's modest realism for incongruent deep-shadow gothic, Margot attempts more but really offers less," writes Michael Joshua Rowin at indieWIRE. "Inasmuch, Baumbach's weaknesses are devastatingly exposed - the compassion he once showed toward his neurotic characters, starting from his 1995 debut, Kicking and Screaming, has turned into rancor. Margot at the Wedding is mean-spirited, and its insufficient attempts at humor underline a tonal imbalance that hasn't before been present in a Baumbach film - a depressing thing to witness."

"There's a vibrant tradition of plays and films in which invasive guests dredge up all the household's buried traumas," writes David Edelstein. "Usually, though, there's a baseline of order, however shaky. Margot at the Wedding doesn't develop; it just skips from one squirmy scene to the next." Also in New York, a chart from Lane Brown and Dan Kois: "Downer Films."

"There are many ways of frustrating and boring an audience, but setting up a bunch of characters who are so inept that they can't hit a croquet ball, or run through the woods without tripping, or chop down a tree without the tree's landing on a wedding tent may be the most infuriating way of all," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "Margot is sensually as well as dramatically impoverished."

Earlier: an NYFF podcast with Mike D'Angelo and reviews from Toronto and NYFF.

Update: "Do you know people who act as scathingly as this?" Aaron Hillis asks Baumbach at IFC News.

Update, 11/13: "An immersion in sibling malice and simmering resentment, with one of the most infuriating characters in recent movies holding us under, Margot tramples the commandment that only the pure of heart and noble of deed are worth a viewer's scrutiny," writes Jim Ridley in the Voice. "Hard as it may be to imagine a comedy that inflicts all the psychic torment of Cries and Whispers, Baumbach has pulled off a more psychologically acute - and funnier - version of the Bergman pastiches that Woody Allen attempted 30 years ago, with a jumpy, nerve-rattling rhythm all his own."

Updates, 11/14: "The candid Baumbach touch makes more of what's, at base, a rather standard, holiday-movie premise, a visitor returning to a packed (Northeast) house and catalyzing the family/spousal sagas," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine. "Eric Rohmer and his fine-tuned emotional-behavioral miniatures are the obvious touchstone: the thorny byways and cul-de-sacs of love, resentment, despair and fraught dialogue that distills so much."

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Baumbach "about the autobiographical aspects of his work, his love of Yellow Submarine, and the legendary director he and Wes Anderson call 'Pop.'" Might not be your first guess, by the way.

Updates, 11/15: The Reeler's ST VanAirsdale talks with Baumbach, too.

Peter Knegt talks with Baumbach for indieWIRE.

Cinematical's James Rocchi talks with Jennifer Jason Leigh.

"Margot is a fleet, strangely enjoyable film, animated by the acuity of Baumbach's perceptions and - this helps a lot - the frequent laugh-out-loud wit of his dialogue," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "The filmmaker is only gaining in assurance as both a writer and director; this picture brought to mind Rohmer's work of the early to mid-80s, if Rohmer were more depressive and had a nastier social circle."

"Margot at the Wedding is as notable for what it avoids getting wrong as what it does right," writes Steve Erickson for Gay City News. "At times, it recalls the brief moment in the late 90s when Neil LaBute and Todd Solondz's misanthropic visions seemed like a breath of fresh air in American cinema. Yet even as it milks dysfunctional families for humor, it avoids seeming sadistic itself, partially because it never treats any individual character as a wholly innocent - much less pathetic - victim."

Updates, 11/16: "Margot at the Wedding is often mercilessly, squirm-inducingly funny," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Mr Baumbach, the child of literary parents, has an unfailing ear for the idioms of the intelligentsia and an acute sense of family politics.... The Gallic influence is evident not only in the quick, sometimes abrupt cuts between scenes and the intimate, breathless camera work, but also in the way the film is entirely absorbed in the particulars of its characters and their world."

"Despite the apparent shift toward naturalism that began with The Squid and the Whale, Baumbach remains at heart a consummate caricaturist; no adult in the real world speaks as heedlessly and cruelly as does his bevy of hyperintellectual neurotics," writes Mike D'Angelo for Nerve. "At the end, your stomach may not ache from laughing - the humor is subtler than that - but your shoulders will be sore from wincing."

"Margot has a kitchen-sink realism that's genuinely unsettling, like a John Cassavetes movie populated by the hyper-articulate," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "If nothing else, Baumbach deserves credit for refusing to cozy up to the audience."

"Baumbach presents incisive portraits, not flattering ones, and he refuses to sanitize the unpleasant ways in which people allow their harshest qualities to hang out in the open with family," writes Kristi Mitsuda at Stop Smiling. "But his compassion comes through via careful shadings of character: Alluding to Margot's domestic traumas, including a decaying marriage and her son's burgeoning adolescence, he makes understandable how such a person might use her cerebral tendencies and competitive streak as armor, a way to maintain distance and mastery over emotional turmoil."

Updates, 11/17: ""Noah Baumbach thinks he's funny, though his intermittent gags fizzle painfully," writes Richard Schickel for Time. "He also thinks - and this is his larger sin - that he is a serious fellow, which he definitely is not. He is merely unhappy in a vague and annoying post-graduate sort of way. He's the kind of filmmaker who thinks that if he sets his star to masturbating on camera, he's making a statement, when all he's actually doing is signifying the true spirit of his movie."

It's bad enough that the movie is about uninteresting people's problems," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "What's worse is that it's about snobs, and Baumbach buys into their snobbery. The neighbors "are presented as morons with no manners - they wind up being the movie's way of reassuring us that rich people may be messed up, but the unwashed masses aren't what they're cracked up to be, either. The attitude is superior at best and cheap and stupid at worst." Oh, and another thing: "[E]ven though Kidman claims, in the current issue of Marie Claire, that she is "completely natural," there's no way around the question: What has she done to her face? The question of actors (men and women) and plastic surgery is a delicate one, but at this point, it's disingenuous to pretend not to notice any change.... [M]ore and more actresses are choosing beauty over expressiveness, as if the two were mutually exclusive. If only there were a way to make them see that they're mutilating not just their faces but their talent."

Marcy Dermansky finds the opening scenes "so sharp and funny and good, that it's upsetting to report that the film cannot maintain its momentum, but flails and flounders, before finally giving way to a deluge of histrionics and an unsatisfying conclusion."

"While Margot at the Wedding is certainly a smart and honestly ugly film, with well-toned dialogue and an acute understanding of neurotic compulsion, it's hard to see it as anything but a minor piece of work; a stop-off on Baumbach's road to (hopefully) bigger things," writes Chris Barsanti at Filmcritic.com.

Update, 11/18: For the LAT, Chris Lee meets Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:47 AM

November 11, 2007

Fests and events, 11/11.

Jeremy Blake Jeremy Blake's "New York gallery Kinz, Tillou, and Feigen (KTF) is opening a Memorial Exhibition from November 10 to January 5." Writes David Michael Perez at Rhizome: "In hindsight, it is sadly poignant that the couple's tragic demise would embody so many aspects of the salacious celebrity arc that they set out to critique then."

"Another Festival of Films from Iran opens at the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Bush Administration still hasn't started bombing Tehran," notes Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix. "George and company had better hurry up, because, to judge from its movies, the country is closer to developing American culture than it is to developing a nuclear bomb." Through November 24.

Doug Cummings posts reviews of a few films he's caught at AFI Fest, wrapping tonight and "one of the few events here in Los Angeles sponsored by AFI worth attending." Also, quick takes on several of the festival's animated shorts.

More on AFI Fest from Michael Lerman at indieWIRE, where you'll also find lots of pix.

"It's common knowledge that Frisco Bay is home to a lot of film festivals," writes Brian Darr. "But this November is the busiest month for them in my memory." Dates, places and links follow thick and fast.

A Casa Nostra "Few Italian movies make it to American cinemas now, for various reasons - including the fact that most are pretty routine.... But that doesn't mean there aren't still good films worth catching... if you have the chance, of course," writes Dennis Harvey at SF360. "Which is why the NICE (aka New Italian Cinema) is an annual bright spot on the calendar for our city's sizable Italian-heritage populace and Italophiles of all stripes." Tonight through November 18.

At the San Francisco International Animation Festival, Michael Guillén enjoys The Pixar Story ("great, rousing, inspiring") and Film Noir.

"The western grew up with 1923's The Covered Wagon, a sprawling epic about the settling of the Wild West in the late 19th century that was shot on location in Utah and Nevada with a cast of thousands," writes Susan King in the Los Angeles Times. "James Cruze, a former actor who had directed some Fatty Arbuckle and Will Rogers comedies, helmed the sagebrush saga, which was the second film to play at the newly opened Egyptian Theatre. This Wednesday, it will screen at the venerable movie palace as part of the Egyptian's 85th anniversary celebration. Daniel Redfield provides the live piano accompaniment."

In the Guardian: "A few years ago, I embarked on an exploration of landscape in early film, with the idea of discovering something about the evolution of urban space that I would convey in a work made with some of the films called, rhetorically, The City of the Future," writes Patrick Keiller, whose work will be on view at BFI Southbank from November 23 through February 2.

"Marco Mueller will be re-appointed artistic director of the Venice Film Festival for four additional years thanks to a move by Italian culture minister Francesco Rutelli, which will give the Lido some much-needed continuity," reports Nick Vivarelli for Variety.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:32 PM | Comments (2)

Writers' Strike, 11/11.

Not a word "The head of the British screenwriters' guild has urged members to seriously consider the consequences of working on US films while their American counterparts are on strike," reports the Guardian. Also: "Even though I haven't been to Los Angeles for 10 years it's odd to find myself palpably embroiled in an American labour dispute - and financially disadvantaged thereby," writes William Boyd. "But it's a good and noble cause and I am happy to stand - albeit metaphorically - on the picket lines in Hollywood with my fellow screenwriters."

Motoko Rich has a piece in the New York Times on how natural allies, book publishers and authors, are being affected by the strike: "Over the last few years [Stephen] Colbert and his fellow late-night Comedy Central 'news' anchor, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, have established themselves as prime movers in the book world, and an appearance on one of their shows is highly coveted by authors and publishers. To make matters worse, fall is the biggest time of the year for booksellers, who schedule many of their heavyweight titles to appear in October and November." For more, the WGA's a Times topic.

On a separate front: "Most of Broadway was dark yesterday as stagehands went on strike over new work rules that producers have imposed or have been pushing during months of contentious negotiations." Campbell Robertson reports.

Via Sujewa Ekanayake, Mark Harris in Entertainment Weekly on "Why the Striking Writers Are Right."

Christopher Campbell lists seven of the "Most Memorable Screenwriter Characters" at Cinematical.

The WGA East has lashed out at Ellen DeGeneres: "We find it sad that Ellen spent an entire week crying and fighting for a dog that she gave away, yet she couldn't even stand by writers for more than one day - writers who have helped make her extremely successful." And her people have responded: "Ellen has not done anything in violation of the Writer's Guild of America agreement, or the WGA's internal 'Strike Rules.'" The Los Angeles Times is tracking the ongoing tussle.

Not a word.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:10 PM

Books, 11/11.

Silent Movies: The Birth of Film and the Triumph of Movie Culture "[A]s I page through Peter Kobel's handsomely designed and illustrated pictorial history of the voiceless cinema, my thoughts are tinged with a certain sadness," writes Richard Schickel in a review of Silent Movies: The Birth of Film and the Triumph of Movie Culture. "It occurs to me that the entire history of the movies has become the property of a variety of cults. They gather not merely around historical periods of the kind Kobel examines - his book is a companion piece to a traveling exhibition mounted by the great Library of Congress film archive - but around stars, genres and, of course, directors. There have been no recent attempts to situate film within a broader cultural history." As for the subject at hand, "it is, I think, impossible to restore the silent cinema to a truly vital role in our time."

Updated through 11/14.

Also in the Los Angeles Times: In his new novel, Zeroville, Steve Erickson "manages to wipe clean the presumptions typically guiding the Hollywood Novel, which suggest either that Hollywood is irredeemably corrupt or that moviemaking is a tainted beauty requiring the ministrations of a pure artistic vision to recover its virtue," writes Christopher Sorrentino. "He embeds in his story a deeply thoughtful look at the art of filmmaking, not the pathology of the film industry."

Born Standing Up Steve Martin's Born Standing Up "covers the period from his childhood to his early 30s, when, with audacious ambition, he left stand-up comedy to take a shot at movie stardom," writes Emma Brockes, introducing her interview with him for the Guardian.

Also: "It seems remarkably courageous of Thames Television to risk a venture on such a scale - 25 episodes, each an hour long, screened over six months - with work beginning on April Fool's Day 1971. [Producer Jeremy] Isaacs recalls that it 'took 50 of us three years to make: we talked to hundreds of survivors and printed a million feet of film.'" With the publication of The World at War: The Landmark Oral History from the Previously Unpublished Archives, Richard Holmes looks back on the series that "Dr Noble Frankland, then director of the Imperial War Museum, [affirms] 'launched the idea of history on screen.' It certainly did so for me."

Rowan Walker reviews Marianne Faithfull's Memories, Dreams and Reflections.

Cecil B DeMille and the Golden Calf Also in the Observer: "Almost half a century after his death, [Cecil B] DeMille's name is shorthand for spectacle, heaving bosoms and epic excess," writes Peter Preston. "He made more than 80 movies, start to finish, and almost all of them coined a profit. What more could anyone ask? Surely, a little shrewd critical assessment to mix with the hype, and Simon Louvish supplies exactly that, playing scholar as diligently as he tours the gossip circuit." The book: Cecil B DeMille and the Golden Calf.

Otto Preminger, writes Richard Schickel, this time in the New York Times, was "a civilized, upper-class Jewish émigré from Vienna, son of Emperor Franz Josef's chief legal defender; a political liberal; a man capable of courtly kindness and generosity to favored colleagues; a shrewd showman with a genius for manipulating the press; a producer who in the 1950s became one of the first great masters of independent (as opposed to studio system) production; and, finally, a cinematic stylist with a unique, if sometimes limiting, manner. Still, as in the movies, legend trumps reality, and it is Otto the Ogre who dominates much of [Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King], Foster Hirsch's earnest, sympathetic, but rather pedestrian biography."

More from Gerald Bartell in the Washington Post, where you'll also find Charles Matthews on Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis, Michael Dirda on Portraits and Observations: The Essays of Truman Capote and Jonathan Yardley on two new books on Ethel Merman.

A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years, 1917 - 1932 Back in the NYT and not directly film-related, but still: Jed Perl on John Richardson's A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years, 1917 - 1932: "This powerhouse of a book spans a dauntingly complicated time in Picasso's life and in European history as well, taking us from World War I and Picasso's adventures with Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes to the riotously erotic images of Picasso's youthful mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter, and the darkening situation of the early 1930s." Related: Time's Richard Lacayo has been reviewing the book in installments; more from John Freeman in the LAT.

Thomas Mallon on Michael S Sherry's Gay Artists in Modern American Culture: An Imagined Conspiracy: "What Sherry calls a 'queer moment' of midcentury creative ferment saw gay artists like Tennessee Williams and Aaron Copland producing an 'accessible; modernism, whose achievements sometimes seemed to portray American ways and ideals more attractively than the work of their heterosexual colleagues."

Related: Stacey D'Erasmo reviews The Third Sex, a "little book from 1927" to which Henri Gauthier-Villars, or Willy, first husband of Colette, attached his name: "It's not about the love that dared not speak its name; it's about the love that didn't quite know what its name was yet and was trying on many different ones, all at the same time."

Updates, 11/13: Richard Lacayo talks with John Richardson about his Picasso biography.

Powell's has a Q&A with Steve Erickson (Zeroville).

Ryan Gilbey: "While reading Emma Brockes' interview with Steve Martin in Saturday's Weekend magazine, I had a thoroughly pleasant sensation. I'm not ashamed to say that I experienced a faint kind of love for Martin. I realised suddenly that this man and his films had once been incredibly important to me - and, evidently, still are. To paraphrase an annoying mid-1990s advertising campaign for breakfast cereal, I had forgotten how good he was."

Update, 11/14: Nancy Dalvy in the New York Observer on Picasso: "Immersing oneself in this biography is like taking a grand tour through the life of the artist; a telegram home might read, 'Apollinaire dead. Cocteau increasingly annoying.'"

Posted by dwhudson at 2:01 PM

I'm Not There, 11/11.

I'm Not There "I'm Not There crystallizes a particular viewpoint that's dominated Dylan talk for more than a decade," writes Los Angeles Times music critic Ann Powers. "It's the Trickster take, in which the singer-songwriter's gift for theft and chameleonic behavior is played up so strongly that he no longer seems like an individual at all, but a harmonica-slinging humanoid archive of American mythology."

Updated through 11/16.

Todd Haynes "realizes that die-hard Dylan fans in particular may have trouble watching the film; the commentary tracks in their heads won't match the events as they unspool on screen - Allen Ginsberg and Dylan really met in 1963, not 1966, that kind of thing," adds Lisa Rosen. "And it's a joke sometimes," Haynes pointed out, "like [Dylan] as a little black boy called Woody Guthrie and everyone is so swept away by his personality and his performance and they don't even mention his color, as everyone was persuaded to never question Dylan's middle-class Jewish background when he was performing his grass-roots persona."

And here's a bit from further up in that piece:

The Conquest of Cool

Said Haynes, "Even if you look at Life magazine layouts throughout the decade, there's an ad in 1966 that literally looks like a Godard poster, but it's for lipstick." His reference material included The Conquest of Cool, Thomas Frank's book on the advertising campaigns of the period. "That intelligence, that sophistication was actually on Life magazine pages way before it was the way Dylan was being photographed on the covers of his new cutting-edge record," he said. "It's not that counterculture changed the society - that's really the thesis of that book - it's that the society was changing and it was hitting every single sector, and sometimes it was hitting the commercial sectors before it was hitting the artistic sectors."

And there's another interview with Haynes in today's papers, a long one in the Observer, Sean O'Hagan's. Two sidebars follow: Geoff Dyer on "I'm Not There," the song, and a very short Dylan-at-the-movies list.

Earlier: The NYFF podcast with Glenn Kenny, reviews from NYFF and Toronto, Venice and Telluride and Larry Gross in Film Comment.

Update: "There weren't many pretty voices at I'm Not There, a tribute to Bob Dylan at the Beacon Theater on Wednesday night tied in with the coming Todd Haynes film," writes Jon Pareles in the New York Times. "Mr Dylan wasn't there, but echoes of his voice were. Singers rasped, cackled and near-yodeled, and the songs thrived on the treatment. They were written to provoke, not to soothe."

Update, 11/13: "It is almost impossible to believe that such amateurism came from a director of his stature," blogs DK Holm for the Vancouver Voice. "It's all very modern and post-modern and structuralist and all that. But as Andrew Sarris wrote a long time ago, a great director has to first be at least a good director, and the incompetence evinced in this film is beyond belief."

Update, 11/14: Bob Dylan: The Drawn Blank Series is on view at the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz through February 3. Kate Connolly tells the story behind the exhibition in the Guardian. The gallery's director, Ingrid Mössinger, "moved by hearing his 1965 song 'Subterranean Homesick Blues,'" simply got in touch and asked if he had anything she might show:

He replied within days. "I couldn't believe it when I got a positive answer - I think he was just waiting to be asked, and quite simply until then, no one had," she said. Mössinger's ambitions remained modest - to display his snapshot-style drawings and sketches compiled while on tour in Europe, America and Asia between 1989 and 1992 in a small exhibition in the gallery that she has managed for 11 years. "But like a true artist, he wanted to make new works," she says.

In a burst of creativity over eight months he created 320 works in watercolour and gouache, digitally enlarging them on deckle-edged paper. In a similar approach to his songs, Dylan produced three or four versions of a single motif by altering both the medium and the colours. "I was fascinated to learn of Ingrid's interest in my work, and it gave me the impetus to realise the vision I had for these drawings many years ago," the 66-year-old writes in the exhibition notes. "If not for this interest, I don't know if I even would have revisited them."

Mössinger chose 140 of the paintings plus a further 30 for the accompanying catalogue, for what is the first exhibition of the singer-songwriter's works.

Update, 11/16: "I'm Not There, a vignette oriented tale of the folk singing troubadour told in distinct personality 'acts,' is wildly over the top and often too enraptured by its own chutzpah," writes Bill Gibron for PopMatters. "It shouts when it should whisper and defies when it should redefine. But when it's wrapped up in a visual grace this astounding, and populated with performances that actually boggle the mind, we can forgive the loftier, sometimes loony ambitions."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:57 AM

Bob Fosse Blog-a-Thon.

Fossethon! "A lot of things happened in between Sweet Charity and Star 80, a lot of it in the world and and a lot of it in Bob Fosse's head, or perhaps I should say his tortured soul. While I'll try to avoid too much psychobiography..., the two films make an intriguing contrast as the unsuccessful bookends of a wildly successful career," writes Bob Westal in the first of three pieces that kick off the Fossethon! And here are the second and third.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:49 AM

November 10, 2007

NYT Magazine. "Hollywood Goes West."

NYT Magazine: Hollywood Goes West "From the beginning, the western has been saturated with nostalgia, mourning and the sorrowful reckoning of lost things and times past," writes AO Scott in a historical overview of the genre that might as well be an introduction to a special issue of the New York Times Magazine. "The sun has been setting for as long as anyone can remember. The official death of the West, after all, was virtually synchronous with the birth of the movies."

All five features have sidebars; for this one, novelist Robert Stone revisits The Searchers. And there's an accompanying video: "American Character and the Western."

With the eagerly anticipated release of Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood well over a month away, Lynn Hirschberg's got a long profile of Daniel Day-Lewis, who tells her, "Where I come from, it was a heresy to say you wanted to be in movies, leave alone American movies." Hirschberg:

He is most voluble and passionate on the subject of film. He loves even bad movies and likes to analyze the work of actors past and present. Day-Lewis reveres the greats - Brando, DeNiro - but he is intrigued by all kinds of performances. He dislikes John Wayne, loves Gary Cooper, prefers the Jimmy Stewart of Capra's classic pictures to the Stewart of Anthony Mann's westerns and is fascinated by Clint Eastwood. "I used to go to all-night screenings of his movies," Day-Lewis recalled. "I'd stagger out at 5 in the morning, trying to be loose-limbed and mean and taciturn." He paused. "My love for American movies was like a secret that I carried around with me. I always knew I could straddle different worlds. I'd grown up in two different worlds and if you can grow up in two different worlds, you can occupy four. Or six. Why put a limit on it?"

The cover piece gets two sidebars: "Daniel Day-Lewis's All-Time Top Westerns" and Jane Smiley on Broken Arrow: "Peace, as the movie shows, is often dangerous and difficult, but worth it. That wasn't a bad lesson for a girl growing up in the shadow of the cold war."

Walter Salles, currently working on an adaptation of Kerouac's On the Road, goes searching for the essence of the road movie and considers the first documentaries, Paris, Texas, The Searchers, Detour and Easy Rider: "Such films suggest that the most interesting road movies are those in which the identity crisis of the protagonist mirrors the identity crisis of the culture itself." Sidebar: Nicole Krauss on that Wenders movie: "It took a German to capture on film the seduction of American space, and how it would look to vanish into it."

Philip Weiss's feature is two things: a profile of maverick producer William Pohlad and a primer on a modest yet respectable segment of the business, namely, making movies for grownups that cost somewhere between $10 million and $40 million."

McCabe and Mrs Miller Sidebar: Jonathan Lethem on at least two great death scenes in McCabe and Mrs Miller.

"No Country for Old Men is sort of a western, and sort of not," Ethan Coen tells Lynn Hirschberg. And cast members of various Coen brothers films poses for a fashion show.

"Food issues - a sign of weakness in many parts of our nation - are celebrated personality traits in Hollywood," writes Jennifer Steinhauer. "Refusing to eat food the way it is meant to be prepared is apparently one way of projecting discipline and by proxy its close cousin, power."

"I had written a novel, a western called Appaloosa, about two gunmen, Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, who come to free a town from its thrall to a thuggish rancher." And so it came to pass that Robert B Parker would meet Ed Harris, who'll direct and star as Cole. Viggo Mortensen'll play Hitch.

"The current crop of westerns may not yet represent enough swallows to officially constitute a summer, but certain themes are visible," writes Luc Sante in a short yet fine essay. "The principal one, naturally, is violence. We are at war again, after all, and the world looks even more lawless than it ever has. And moral ambiguity runs a close second."

"As a professor of American history at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the chairwoman of the school's Center of the American West, what do you make of the flurry of new films that revisit Jesse James and the town of Yuma and the empty space of the desert landscape?" Deborah Solomon asks Patty Limerick. And the prof's got a pretty good sense of humor about it, too.

Cowboys and Aliens. There it is. "'I just really liked the title,' said Roberto Orci, who helped write Transformers and recently signed on as a producer." But the focus of Ben Ehrenreich's piece is on Platinum Studios' "full-circle commercialization" model.

"Respect for stark contrasts - visual, moral - may in fact make today's videophiles the ideal audience for westerns, just as audiophiles were once the ideal audience for recorded jazz," suggests Virginia Heffernan.

Buffalo Bill's Wild West

"The selling of the West preceded the settling of it." That's a quote from Larry McMurtry and it nicely introduces Rob Walker's piece on Buffalo Bill Cody.

"In a culture industry fueled by formula, no genre has been more important to Hollywood than the western," writes Tom Schatz, author of The Genius of the System. "From the birth of 'the movies' through the classical Hollywood era (1920 - 1960), the western played not only a vital role as a popular narrative form - and one that would comprise nearly a fifth of all feature films from the silent era through the 1950s - but also in shaping the business of filmmaking itself."

William Safire has some fun with "Hollywords."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:41 PM | Comments (4)

Norman Mailer, 1923 - 2007.

Norman Mailer
Norman Mailer, the combative, controversial and often outspoken novelist who loomed over American letters longer and larger than any writer of his generation, died today at Mt Sinai Hospital in New York. He was 84.

Mr Mailer burst on the scene in 1948 with The Naked and the Dead, a partly autobiographical novel about World War II, and for the next six decades he was rarely far from the center stage. He published more than 30 books, including novels, biographies and works of nonfiction, and twice won the Pulitzer Prize: for The Armies of the Night (1968), which also won the National Book Award, and The Executioner's Song (1979).

He also wrote, directed, and acted in several low-budget movies, helped found the Village Voice and for many years was a regular guest on television talk shows, where he could reliably be counted on to make oracular pronouncements and deliver provocative opinions, sometimes coherently and sometimes not.

Charles McGrath, New York Times.

Updated through 11/16.

[I]t was nonfiction, not fiction, that would prove his most lasting contribution. The Armies of the Night, his noisy, self-dramatizing account of his own experiences in the 1967 antiwar march on the Pentagon, became a founding document of what Tom Wolfe would call 'the new journalism': nonfiction that possessed all the ardor, attitude and body language of a novel but remained grounded in old-fashioned legwork and observation. It was a genre particularly suited to covering the tumult and cacophonous change abroad in the 60s, a decade so surreal, so stupefying, so confounding, in the view of some, that it surpassed anything a novelist might plausibly imagine.

Michiko Kakutani, NYT.

On the films: Gerald Howard (NYT), Peter Keough (Boston Phoenix), Gerald Peary (Boston Phoenix), Carl Rollyson (Voice) and AO Scott (NYT).

See also: Books and Writers and Wikipedia.

Online listening tip. Don Swaim's 1991 interview.

Updates: The Paris Review has set up a special memorial section with Philip Gourevitch's interview this spring (audio); Andrew O'Hagan interview (plus video of an event with Günter Grass, "The 20th Century on Trial"); Steven Marcus's 1964 interview and Mailer's 1961 interview with himself.

"All through his career Mailer would carry with him a few persistent preoccupations. One was that technology as the devil's instrument, the means by which everything that made us human would be gradually leached away," writes Richard Lacayo in an excellent remembrance for Time. "His other great topic was manhood, and the problem of how to achieve it in a culture subsiding into room temperature.... My favorite Mailer quote will always be this one. 'How dare you scorn the explosive I employ?' Norman come back. Nothing is forgiven."

"He was a grand provocateur with an unapologetically macho sensibility who, in acts on and off the page, reaped more glory, failure and notoriety than any other major writer of his generation," writes Elaine Woo in the Los Angeles Times.

"'When two men pass one another in the street and say "Good morning,"' he once said, 'there's a winner and a loser," writes James Campbell in the Guardian. "And it was a characteristic inseparable from his skill at playing the news-media game, which kept him to the fore of the cultural stage for more than half a century."

Observer literary editor Robert McCrum interviewed Mailer in February.

Online viewing tips. Mailer on Charlie Rose: February 07, January 03, May 98, April 97 and December 96.

Updates, 11/11: "Now would come the final calling to account; not just for the literary legacy of a man who believed that 'a really great novel does not have something to say. It has the ability to stimulate the mind and spirit of the people who come in contact with it', but for a life he had lived on the margins of credibility, packed with so many fights, love affairs and downright violent feuds that it always threatened to overshadow his work." Vanessa Thorpe on the news of Mailer's death. "One of his longest-running battles was with the liberal thinker and writer Gore Vidal. Their dislike for each other often led to violence. In one of their tussles it seems that Vidal came off best. As Mailer threw a punch in his direction, Vidal is said to have quipped dryly: 'Lost for words again, Norman?'"

Also in the Observer, Alexander Linklater recalls Mailer's appearance in a British bookstore in 1997, pulling "out his obituary - written, naturally, by himself. It was a fabulous burlesque of a life peopled by dozens of wives and tribes of children, of creative incontinence and egotism, of his liabilities outweighing his assets by $8m and critics still baying for his blood. The last word was reserved for Andy Warhol: 'I always thought Norman kept a low profile, that's what I liked about him.'" But seriously, folks: "In 1965 Truman Capote's In Cold Blood may have set the standard for thrilling, close observation of the sociology of a crime and the characterisation of its protagonists. But in 1979, with The Executioner's Song, Mailer achieved the more profound novelisation of actuality."

Dana Cook compiles a verbal memorial; Salon's also running AO Scott's entry on Mailer from The Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors.

"He was a slugger," writes Louis Menand in the New Yorker. "He swung at everything, and when he missed he missed by a mile and sometimes ended up on his tush, but when he connected he usually knocked it out of the park." Via John Freeman, whose got quite an interview himself at Critical Mass.

In 1986, Roger Ebert visited the set of Tough Guys Don't Dance; via Movie City News.

Ed Champion not buying into "the approbations, the lionizations, the veritable bullshit that Norman Mailer was a gift to the world... Someone needs to do an HST-style obit for the man."

Christopher Hitchens in Slate:

Flung in the back of a paddy wagon with Noam Chomsky and an American Nazi for company; mixing it up down in the Congo waiting for the Ali-Foreman brawl; running for mayor of New York with Jimmy Breslin as a campaign manager; duking it out with the Stalinist fellow-travelers in the company of his old friend Jean Malaquais, individualist Trotskyist, as intellectual mentor; getting the point of Gary Gilmore in The Executioner's Song, and appreciating that a stone-cold killer who really wanted to die was the negation of bleeding-heart liberalism and an intuitive curtain-raiser for the Reagan years.

Pint-size Jewish fireplug that he was, Mailer also continually ran a great risk that very few are willing to run. I mean the danger of simply seeming ridiculous.

"He had a great life, a multi-storied career, a molecular-altering impact on postwar culture, and he never tamped down his iconoclasm and risk appetite for a cozy fade into the sunset as a senior statesman of letters," writes James Wolcott.

"I think the greatest American writer of my lifetime so far is probably Philip Roth," writes Phil Nugent. "I always grab Roth's latest whenever it comes out, and I've spent time wondering how it'll feel like, someday, to live in a world without him. I respect and admire him. But I loved Norman Mailer! Mailer wrote a lot of books that I've never had the guts to read; when he was bad he could stink up the whole building, and the ones that look unpromising to me tend to be doorstops." That said, "[N]obody else in his position was honest enough, or vain enough in his peculiar way, to actually detail how many false starts and missteps are involved in becoming a genius."

Esquire's running Tom Junod's profile from its January 07 issue; they claim it's the last to have been done before he died.

Lou Lumenick revisits his 1987 interview with Mailer.

Online listening tip. Over five hours of Mailer on Bookworm.

"When Mailer founded the Voice in 1955 with his friends Daniel Wolf and Edwin Fancher, he had already published three novels, including The Naked and the Dead, a Tolstoy-esque debut novel set during World War II, which sold 200,000 copies in its first three months and instantly brought him a near-universal critical renown," writes Harry Bruinius in that very weekly. "But it was at the Voice, in the handful of cultural and political articles he contributed in 1956, that Mailer first began to develop the outrageously sober-minded and superciliously self-effacing voice that would define his subsequent writing and make him one of the great stylists - and journalists - of his generation."

Updates, 11/12: "Throughout his almost 60-year career, this author was the prophet and pioneer of a culture in which fact and imagination overlapped," writes Mark Lawson in the Guardian. "Mailer steered the journey to a world where journalism and documentary routinely borrow the techniques of fiction, while a majority of movies and plays seem to be biographical and novels regularly conclude with extensive lists of the volumes consulted as research."

Mike Everleth suggests that there are ways you can get your hands on Mailer's movies.

Dwight Garner has posted a brief but very fine appreciation.

"Calling ego 'the buzzword of the century,' Mailer boldly explored his passions in nine different decades, leaving behind a secret second body of work — amazing stories about the story-teller's life." Destiny rounds up a few at 10 Zen Monkeys.

Another online listening tip: a 1991 interview on Fresh Air.

And another online viewing tip. Mailer faces off against Marshall McLuhan on The Summer Way. The year is 1968, and they both start off sounding pretty freaky before they calm down. Via Fimoculous.

"Of the generation of American novelists recently passed - Bellow, Styron, Vonnegut - none is harder to come to terms with than Norman Mailer," argues Jim Lewis. "In part that is because his celebrity is nearly unimaginable today, and in part because his personality was so outsized; but mostly it's because no great writer - and he was, at his best, as great as he said he was - ever wrote quite as much crap." And Slate gathers links to all its other Mailer pieces, too, at one handy URL.

Updates, 11/13: "Since the existence of an afterlife was one of the things we both agreed on, I'm going to assume he's now fully ensconced in it, and has already got a few feuds going - including one with God," writes Arianna Huffington. "If only I could get him to blog about it." And the Huffington Post has set up a "Norman Mailer Memorial."

"More grand reactionary than great writer, Mailer was a faux-radical who used the taboo-breaking atmosphere of the 60s as cover for a career of lifelong self-promotion," argues Joan Smith in the Guardian.

The New Republic gathers its Mailer pieces.

Updates, 11/14: The New York Observer has a four-piece tribute.

John Walsh in the Independent: "[I]t was an ideal that brought with it a holy grail: that of a single perfect work of fiction that would encapsulate the heart of the US, interpret its history through the light of a single, outstanding consciousness, unite the private lives of the characters with the public drama of its politics. It would be the War and Peace of the great plains and the Manhattan skyline. It would be the Great American Novel. Mailer believed in it utterly."

In 1979, Boston Magazine asked Mailer (as they'd asked others) to write his own obit; now the magazine's running that "hilarious and contentious" piece online. Via Dwight Garner.

Update, 11/15: Dick Cavett recalls "without doubt the damnedest show I ever did." Then, after the transcript and a few comments: "I know someone who sure as hell hates being dead."

Update, 11/16: In the LA CityBeat, Anthony Miller recalls Mailer's last visit to the city in June. "[H]e had words for those who too easily equated the situation in Iraq with Vietnam, cast a cold eye on television and its baleful effect on generations of readers, and took shots at a few political figures. Novelist Bruce Bauman, who grew up reading Mailer, was at the Dorothy Chandler that night. For him, Mailer was 'a supreme prose stylist with prodigious powers that portrayed the conflicts of the human soul and peered into the darkness of his time, often with great humor, as profoundly as any writer of his generation.'"

Posted by dwhudson at 6:26 AM | Comments (1)

November 9, 2007

There Will Be Blood, 11/9.

There Will Be Blood "The film is an overwhelming, intense experience, as [Paul Thomas] Anderson's pictures often are, but with one key difference," blogs Ryan Gilbey for the Guardian. "His 1996 debut, Hard Eight (aka Sydney) was a sinewy thriller overly indebted to David Mamet. Boogie Nights and Magnolia seemed artificially pumped-up, dependent on gargantuan structures that the writing itself wasn't mature enough to justify, while Punch Drunk Love, (the most mysterious and magical of his films before now) felt like an experiment that could spiral out of control at any moment. But There Will Be Blood represents the moment at which Anderson's material and his sense of scale are in perfect harmony: it needs to be this vast, this long."

Updated through 11/13.

For Jeffrey Wells, this "is one of those legendary, go-for-broke, fiercely psychological big-canvas art movies that you need to see twice - the first time to go 'whoa!' and recoil and get all shaken up and bothered about, and the second time so you can reconsider and see what a masterwork it is, despite your feelings about the malignant emotional content," writes . "If you're a film maven of any kind you can't let your piddly emotions get in the way of recognizing diseased greatness." Via Anne Thompson, who comments: "He nails it."

Like Wells, Michael Guillén caught the film in San Francisco: "By internet buzz alone the benefit screening of There Will Be Blood packed the Castro Theatre. You have to understand, this is a big theatre.... As for the film, I can't say much more than has already been shouted from the rooftops. It's a stately, elegant piece of work... Anderson's film, however, is much too long and unnecessarily obscure at key points."

Earlier: Reviews from Fantastic Fest.

Update, 11/12: "This film will beat you down, bury you under its weight. But your beating will be beautiful," writes Ryland Walker Knight at the House Next Door. "It should come as no surprise that the final credit on screen in There Will Be Blood is a dedication to Anderson's mentor and one-time boss, Robert Altman, for it is a film that could not have been made were it not for McCabe & Mrs. Miller, or 3 Women; nor without Days of Heaven, nor The Shining, nor, especially, Anderson's own Punch-Drunk Love. Yet it is a distinctive work. As much as it inherits from its antecedents, it bears Anderson's signature throughout."

Update, 11/13: "[U]tterly superb," writes David Ehrenstein. "Paul Dano is the real breakout here. We expect DDL to be terrific but I would never have suspected the very promising young man from Little Miss Sunshine had a performance like this in him."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:50 PM

Comedy Blog-a-Thon.

Comedy Blog-a-Thon Via the Shamus comes news of an ongoing Comedy Blog-a-Thon at newcritics. If you, too, are just hearing about this, we're in luck. We have the weekend to catch up with the contributions so far and a couple of more days, too, to contribute, if the spirit moves.

The Shamus's own entry? That landmark final monologue from Manhattan: "Why is life worth living?..."

As it happens, today Jerry Lentz sent along a terrific little online viewing tip. CBC takes a walk through New York with Woody Allen. In 1967.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:25 PM

War Dance.

War Dance "War Dance, a visually ravishing documentary that follows a group of schoolchildren from a refugee camp in northern Uganda to a national music competition, raises a fundamental issue for filmmakers confronting unimaginable suffering in war-torn African countries," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "To what degree should human savagery be softened, sweetened and presented in a spirit of hope to make it palatable to a movie audience?"

"[I]n the existing marketplace, entertainment, not social consciousness, is the currency - hence this wake-up call couched in a strenuously upbeat inspirational sports doc," writes Jim Ridley in the Voice.

Updated through 11/14.

"To make a memorable documentary, a film like Hoop Dreams or Spellbound that can't be forgotten once seen, you have to be more than gifted, you need an instinct for an unusual story and, frankly, you must have luck on your side," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "War Dance... has all that and more."

"Between the two of them, filmmakers Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine have written, produced and shot documentaries in over 30 countries and for outlets like National Geographic, ABC News Frontline and The Discovery Channel. But it wasn't until War Dance (now without the slash between the words as it was titled on the festival circuit) that the married couple had ever directed their own feature together, for which they won the Directing Award at this year's Sundance Film Festival." And Aaron Hillis talks with them for IFC News.

IndieWIRE's got an interview, too.

Update, 11/11: For the Los Angeles Times, Tom Roston talks with ThinkFilm's Mark Urman about why he's picked up this doc and with the directors about their choices. Says Fine: "I mean, a little girl is talking about her parents' heads being taken out of a pot in front of her, and she's telling me this story interwoven with impressions of heat coming off of grass and the sound of flies in her ear. That's what inspired those shots."

Update, 11/14: "Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine artfully interweave politics, personal stories and performance, and all three areas of the film seem in perfect harmony as they inform and inspire one another," writes Cullen Gallagher of this "unique and highly effective documentary" in the L Magazine.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:08 AM

Steal a Pencil for Me.

Steal a Pencil for Me "It's a scenario that sounds like the romantic tragicomedy Woody Allen never wrote (but might have): Unhappily married, impoverished Dutch Jewish accountant Jack Polak meets young, wealthy beauty Ina Soep at a birthday party and is instantly smitten," writes Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times. "Unfortunately, it's 1943 and Holland is occupied by the Nazis. Within months, Jack, Ina and Jack's wife, Manja, are all picked up and find themselves in the same concentration camp. But this is no piece of fiction. Director Michèle Ohayon's striking documentary Steal a Pencil for Me tells this most unusual love story with grace and compassion. Through the Westerbork and Bergen-Belsen camps, Jack and Ina's relationship - kept alive primarily through letters - survives against all odds."

"What makes Ms Ohayon's movie special is its recognition that epic horrors don't erase private dramas," writes Matt Zoller Seitz. "Graphic atrocity footage and revealing anecdotes about the Dutch Jewish experience in World War II coexist organically with the film's central love triangle."

"Steal a Pencil combines readings of the surviving letters (voiced with touching sensitivity by actors Jeroen Krabbe and Ellen Ten Damme), period footage and interviews with Jaap (now a spry 93) and Ina (who knows, but she looks fantastic) to bring to bear the most moving story about infidelity you may ever hear," writes Michelle Orange at the Reeler. "Compared to the lurid, tabloid-esque elements of Crazy Love, this year's other oldie 'true love' saga, which finds elderly Burt Pagach and Linda Riss reminiscing about that time he disfigured her all those years ago, scenes of Jaap and Ina revisiting the grounds where they fell in love and stole smooches behind his wife's back at ye olde concentration camp are positively heartwarming."

"The filmmaking isn't in the same league as a vastly complicated exploration of despair like Claude Lanzmann's Shoah, but their shared setting is misleading.," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "Less dreary and poetic, Steal a Pencil for Me has an uplifting, personalized thrust."

"The film can't help but be moving, but not as cinema," claims the AV Club.

For Rob Humanick, writing at Slant this is "a misguided documentary that mistakes cutesy, polished aesthetics for meaningful sentiment."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:01 AM | Comments (1)

November 8, 2007

Writers' Strike, 11/8. And dessert.

Writers explain Still haven't had time to read up on why the writers are striking? John Rogers has a 4-minute online viewing tip and adds, "Nicely done, promo boys."

Once you've heard them out, and only then, you may proceed to...

Tipping Point, "the most expensive Guiness ad ever made... Shot up an Argentinian mountain, the ad shows a community coming together to create the mother of all domino-toppling spectacles." At Creative Review.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:34 PM | Comments (2)

Young Frankenstein.

David D'Arcy previews Mel Brooks's latest musical. Notes and pointers follow.

Young Frankenstein Is there life after The Producers, even after the DOA bomb of the film of the stage play? At this reckoning, there is at least $25 million of it, given the reported pre-sale of tickets to Young Frankenstein, the Broadway adaptation of the 1974 Mel Brooks film which opens tonight at the Hilton Theater.

"Opens" is something of a formality. The musical has been "previewing" some time now to packed houses. I don't have attendance figures, so I can't report with precision on how many more people have already seen Young Frankenstein onstage (for more than $100, sometimes a lot more) than paid to see the 2006 version of The Producers on the screen. (Note that Susan Stroman, who directed the film that tanked so famously, is the director of this stage production, as she was for The Producers onstage.)

Updated through 11/14.

As with the 1974 Brooks original (an adapatation and spoof of Frankensetein, The Bride of Frankenstein, and every other cliché of the first generation of monster pictures in the talking-film era), this is a story about bringing life into a dead body. The revival about the revival of Dr Frankenstein's original process is also a romantic comedy about a young man's pilgrimage to Transyvania to shed his sex-averse fiancee and find love - through sex, of course.

Was it worth another shot? The bottom line already suggests that it was.

And Brooks (co-writing with Thomas Meehan) has made it a whole lot of it, and even better, if you like leering burlesque shows with every gag in the book - and who doesn't? Almost all of the original film is still there in the script, plus long bawdy elaborate musical numbers that take you back to the Marx Brothers of the 30s (with raunchy updates of what was innuendo in those days) - and to the 60s of Get Smart, the TV spy-spoof that Brooks created, with Don Adams as the schlemiel version of Robert Vaughn in The Man from UNCLE. Could Get Smart be the next Mel Brooks musical?

Young Frankenstein

The stage sets for Young Frankenstein draw, like the script, from the screen original. Casting is one of the musical's strengths, mostly because no one in the cast lets real acting get in the way of a laugh. Roger Bart is innocent and driven as the young brain surgeon who is determined to get beyond his family's legacy. As his fiancee, Elizabeth, who spurns every overture for sex, Megan Mullally parades through an encyclopedia of recyscled Jewish princess jokes. Christopher Fitzgerald, as Igor (Eye-gor in Brooks's script, just as the young doctor insists that his name be pronounced Franken-STEEN), is as funny a twist on the character as wide-eyed Marty Feldman's was back in 1974. The same can be said of Andrea Martin, who plays the love-lorn house-keeper Frau Blucher (whom Cloris Leachman played in the original). In Brooks's stage version, she is the old Dr Frankenstein's former lover, still longing for the mad scientist, which gives her the chance to do a Marlene Dietrich lament with the dirge, "He Was My Boyfriend."

The songs let Brooks go over the top here. He turns the monster's famous stumbling walk with arms outstretched into a dance, the "Transylvania Mania," spoofing "Beware of the Blob" numbers from the 1950s, and "It's Me," which Elizabeth belts out when she arrives unexpectedly in Transylvania (catching her husband en flagrant delit), must have been inspired by decades of work with self-absorbed actresses.

There is nothing in Young Frankenstein that will scare you, except the ticket prices. (There are now "business class" seats for the show, selling officially at $450. Bear in mind that it was The Producers that proved that show's producers that they could get away with charging that high.) Young Frankenstein isn't even as scary as the under-appreciated Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), which led the way for this kind of parody. For fright, you'll have to try Hostel: The Musical (Roger Bart could play the same sex-tourist role that he played in Hostel 2), which doesn't sound so brazen as a show about a flop called Springtime for Hitler. Don't hold your breath.

But Young Frankenstein is not just a parody of horror movies. It's a ride through the cliches of cinematic romantic comedy, with an ocean liner, evening clothes, a quixotic young genius with a blonde assistant who has an accent and a huge voice (Sutton Foster), and a runaway fiancee who finds fulfilment when she's ravished by a monster. Rather than try to make new romantiic comedies by tinkering with cookbooks from the 1930s and 1940s, Brooks is just mocking them with crazy entries and exits and music-hall bawdiness. (See Tom Stoppard's 1985 play, Rough Crossing, for an earlier stab at that approach.)

Young Frankenstein Since you won't get a ticket to the play for some time - at least not for anything resembling a reasonable price - go back to the 1974 film. Gene Wilder, always a great nebbish (and with a comb-over that rivals Donald Trump's), brings a whine to the role that we don't hear onstage, and Cloris Leachman finds her inner hissing Transylvanian, who just seems to sound a lot like Marlene Dietrich. I had forgotten that Teri Garr was the sexy assistant, Inge [Good Lord, I hadn't - ed.]. Peter Boyle is a dead-pan comic monster. Close-ups make it a different kind of comedy than the broad burlesque onstage. Watching the film again, you see that Brooks's humor is based largely on stage gags. More often than not, his sequences are filmed theater. And why not? This is a guy who grew up on vaudeville.

Sitting there for three hours in the theater, I couldn't help but think of our own Frankenstein's monster, Dick Cheney, a man of sinister bald mien and chronically weak heart, who disappears for days (or more), only to emerge from "the dark side" of an undisclosed location, revitalized, to perform for sympathetic audiences who are expected to cough up a lot more than the extortionate Broadway ticket prices. Running Halliburton may be too stressful for Cheney after Bush's second term ends, what with all the inveestigations into profiteering and sweetheart deals. But when you're looking for a new career, there's always entertainment. Can we look for him as the monster in the film that's inevitably going to come after the Young Frankenstein play?

-David D'Arcy


Paul Mazursky and a few of Brooks's friends from "the third floor at Fox in the 70s" caught the preview in Seattle. He writes in Salon: "We told Mel how much we loved the show. We advised him to cut a few minutes. He nodded in agreement. 'I told you. I gotta fix some stuff.' But he was relieved and so were we. Then Mel suddenly turned dark. 'I know you guys think I'm on top of the world. But right now I feel like an empty shell. I wish Annie could be here with us.' Tears came to his eyes, and to mine. We all commiserated, but we all knew it couldn't do much good. 'I love you guys,' Mel said."

Update, 11/9: "Despite its fidelity to the film's script, The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein (to use its sprawling official title) feels less like a sustained book musical than an overblown burlesque revue, right down to its giggly smuttiness," writes Ben Brantley in the New York Times.

"Well, the sparks surely fly in Young Frankenstein's oversized 30s-horror-film stage laboratory," writes Paul Kolnik in Time. "But the show, which opened Thursday night at Broadway's Hilton Theatre, is missing much of the electricity that made The Producers such a monster hit. What went wrong? A few theories."

Update, 11/12: "With its slack plot and its inflated production numbers, the show transforms a tale of romantic agony into a theatrical agony," writes John Lahr in the New Yorker.

Update, 11/14: "Mel Brooks is the Norman Mailer of comedy, a pugnacious little guy who comes out swinging," writes John Heilpern in the New York Observer. "He's written several enduring classics that changed the landscape; he's unembarrassed to fail; he fires scattershot; and when he misses the target - boy, does he ever. Young Frankenstein misses."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:18 PM | Comments (5)

Fests and events, 11/8.

Attica "It only took 33 years and what director Cinda Firestone quantifies as 'a zillion bootlegs,' but the landmark documentary Attica is on the verge of a major revival," writes ST VanAirsdale. "A detailed, unflinching chronicle of the 1971 riots at the titular prison - where 29 inmates and 10 hostages died in one of the bloodiest domestic uprisings in US history - and the inquiry that followed, Attica found instant acclaim before slipping into an obscurity of distribution hell." And he interviews Firestone; the film screens in just a couple of hours at the Walter Reade in NYC.

Also at the Reeler: "There's nothing wrong with the festival season hoopla in New York, but there's always been something alluring about the underdogs," writes Mat Newman. "One of those blossoming events - the Queens International Film Festival - opens its fifth year tonight in Astoria." Through Sunday.

Pierre Rissient "We had a lot of directors in common, because he knew John Ford and Howard Hawks and Fritz Lang, and we would discuss our shared memories of those sacred monsters." Peter Bogdanovich remembers Pierre Rissient and then talks with Todd McCarthy about his doc, Pierre Rissient: Man of Cinema, screening at AFI Fest tomorrow and Saturday.

Also in the LA Weekly, Scott Foundas has an overview of Michael Haneke: A Cinema of Provocation, a series of eight TV films touring the US for the first time and now screening at the Silent Movie Theatre through the end of the month.

"[Don] Rickles is 81 and enjoying a little bit of a renaissance, as it happens, with a memoir, Rickles' Book, and now Mr Warmth: The Don Rickles Project, a feature-length documentary directed by John Landis, of Animal House and The Blues Brothers movie fame," writes Paul Brownfield. "The film screens at the AFI Film Festival Friday night and debuts on HBO Dec 2."

Also in the Los Angeles Times, Liane Bonin looks ahead to Tuesday's offering from the Grindhouse Film Festival.

Electric Apricot "Electric Apricot, the directorial feature debut from Primus' slap-bass mastermind, [Les] Claypool, (playing in a limited run at the Alamo South Lamar this weekend), dissects the minutiae of the jam-band scene in a way no Phishy concert film would ever dare to attempt: via outright parody," writes Marc Savlov.

Also in the Austin Chronicle: Anne S Lewis talks with Thom Andersen about Los Angeles Plays Itself, screening November 14.

And: The Austin Asian Film Festival opens today and runs through Sunday.

Neil Morris hits the highlights of the Cucalorus Film Festival for the Independent Weekly. Through Saturday in Wilmington NC.

"The primary objective, to capture the attention of the media, has been achieved: judging by the press conference, the risk of handing over the artistic direction of the 25th Turin Film Festival (November 23 - December 1) to Nanni Moretti seems to have paid off," writes Gabriele Barcaro at Cineuropa.

Stanley Kubrick "I was taken aback when I'd recently read in Catching the Big Fish that David Lynch considers Stanley Kubrick to be one of his all-time favorite filmmakers," writes Josef Braun, previewing The Films of Stanley Kubrick, a series running on Sundays in Edmonton. "He was inventive, witty, a superb craftsman, he cultivated some of movies' most chilling moods and possessed of a singular eye for tectonic visual design. But his talents are tempered by a nagging soullessness." Also, Pierrot le Fou, "which Metro Cinema will be showing this weekend to what I hope will be an eager, alert and sizable crowd."

"In [Shohei] Imamura's movies, five of which will be screened at the International House's retrospective, men and women's bestial urges are always surging to the surface," writes Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper. "But Imamura himself stands apart, which makes him in some ways closer to Ozu than, say, Seijun Suzuki." November 14 through 17.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:17 PM | Comments (2)

November 7, 2007

Film + Faith Blog-a-Thon.

Film + Faith Blog-a-Thon "As the film medium has been used to entertain, inspire, escape, understand other cultures, to make political statements, I believe it still frequently says something about faith, God, and other spiritual ideas," wrote RC, announcing the Film + Faith Blog-a-Thon back in September.

And now it's underway at Strange Culture through Friday.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:12 PM

Shorts, 11/7.

All That Jazz "[T]his mere asteroid in the blogospheric firmament has apparently made a small but intriguing bit of history, or something, with the upcoming Fossethon, still scheduled to kick off this very upcoming Saturday, November 10, 2007," writes Bob Westal. And ArtsWom explains: "In a motion that may be the first of its kind, Sky Arts are lending their own support to the blogathon by airing the Fosse tribute on Saturday 10th November. This follows a personal request from ArtsWom and may very well be the first time that a national television station has had its schedule altered due to activity in the blogosphere."

"What is far more important than explicit or implicit political statements on the level of character constellations, dialogue and setting, is a politics of the cinematographic image. It is, one can argue, this aesthetic version of a political consciousness or this implicitly political aesthetics that lies at the core of what - in spite of all differences in mood, subjects, personal temperaments and obsessions - really connects these directors and justifies the ever problematic use of a label like 'Berlin School' or 'Nouvelle Vague Allemande.'" Via Girish, an excellent introduction from Ekkehard Knörer in Vertigo.

"I really appreciate you guys getting so into a Todd Solondz discussion yesterday," writes Dennis Cooper. "It was top notch, and I found it really fascinating." The previous entries: "Life During Wartime is the title of Todd Solondz's new film, currently in the production stages"; Palindromes; Storytelling; Happiness; Welcome to the Dollhouse; "So the other day I was thinking about Todd Solondz..." Thanks, Steve!

Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona, "if the three-minute trailer is anything to go on, nails the warm Mediterranean sensuality of Barcelona," blogs Variety's John Hopwell. Glimpsed: "Javier Bardem takes Scarlett Johansson on a carpet; Penelope Cruz and Johansson snogging in a photography dark room." Meanwhile, at Cinematical, Erik Davis posts a trailer for Cassandra's Dream.

Samara Halperin / Kerry Laitala The San Francisco Bay Guardian presents its Goldies this week. Stands for Guardian Outstanding Local Discovery Awards. There are two winners in the Film category, Samara Halperin and Kerry Laitala. Cheryl Eddy: "All of Halperin's works - especially the ones that use her trademark technique, stop-motion with plastic toys - convey the filmmaker's ability to find gleeful joy in unexpected places, be it a construction site (as in 2006's Hard Hat Required), the Wild West (1999's Tumbleweed Town), or the homoerotic subtext of Beverly Hills, 90210 (2001's Sorry, Brenda)." And: "A self-described "media artist-archaeologist" whose art hinges not just on subject matter but on the physical manipulation of film stock, Laitala makes movies for viewers who're willing to leave their preconceived notions about cinema at the screening-room door."

"[W]omen have a love for Hitchcock's movies that they often don't feel for other suspense directors," writes the Self-Styled Siren:

His movies do an uncanny job of tapping into the darkest, toughest and most common female insecurities - something that has helped keep the movies alive over all these years.... A woman looks at a Hitchcock movie and sees the heroine confronting the same questions that may torment her. Does my sexual history make me unlovable? (Notorious, The Birds, North by Northwest). Is he just biding time with me, or will he make a commitment? (Rear Window). Is he crazy? am I crazy for loving him? (Spellbound).

And the two movies that Hitchcock made with Joan Fontaine go very deeply indeed into these questions. In Rebecca, the woman wonders, does he really long for his previous lover? (Which is the same question asked in Vertigo, to be answered in one of the darkest endings Hitchcock ever filmed.) And in Suspicion, the question becomes the worst one a lovelorn woman can ask - did he ever really care for me at all?

In the City of Sylvia David Bordwell analyses a series of images: "Even if the later scenes weren't as compelling as they are, this café sequence would make [In the City of Sylvia] one of the most adventurous films I've seen this year. By revising the simple, long-lived POV schema, [José Luis] Guerin has made it yield fresh feelings and implications. As with Lubitsch's film, an imaginative sequence like this provokes the jubilation you feel in the presence of calm, precise artistry."

"Ever since I started reading about cognitivism in cinema and media studies, a movement popularized by David Bordwell in the 1980s, it's been difficult to take a stand on the issue of affective response," writes Ted Pigeon. "The general problem I have with the cognitivist camp is that it seems to leave very little wiggle room for the social components of the biological and physiological aspects of sensory perception and experience."

"From her first documentary, 1981's award-winning Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter, a key strategy has been introducing audiences to their own history," writes Robert Avila, introducing his interview with Connie Field for SF360. "This is again the case with her latest project, a mammoth six-film series covering the global struggle against South Africa's apartheid regime. The first completed installment, Have You Heard from Johannesburg: Apartheid and the Club of the West," is now playing in the Bay Area.

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills and Paradise Lost 2: Revelations, two docs by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, follow the cases of the West Memphis Three. "Now evidence, including DNA samples, has emerged to suggest the real killers are still at large and that three innocent men have been behind bars for almost 15 years," reports Paul Harris.

Also in the Observer, Philip French reviews Elizabeth: The Golden Age; Alison Weir, author of Elizabeth, The Queen, tells Paul Arendt that the film's "just a travesty of history." Jesse Ataide doesn't mind, though.

Sean Penn And Sean O'Hagan talks with Sean Penn. Related: Richard T Kelly, author of Sean Penn: His Life and Times and Ten Bad Dates with De Niro, offers a list of "Ten Best Sean Penn Barnets on Celluloid."

In Tarrafal, acquarello finds "a metaphor for Pedro Costa's densely layered themes of dislocation and statelessness." Also: "In Eros Plus Massacre: An Introduction to the Japanese New Wave Cinema, David Desser examines the creative and revolutionary spirit that defined the 1960s Japanese new wave movement (nuberu bagu) apart from the facile identification and synchronicity associated with the coincidental emergence of the French new wave, and more importantly, refocuses his exposition within the indigenous specificity of Japanese culture in the face of postwar social, economic, and geopolitical transformation."

"[D]espite the best efforts of its actors, much of [Lee Myung-Se's] M feels like an inside joke," writes Darcy Paquet at Koreanfilm.org.

"Though he polarized critics in his prime, African-American avant-garde saxophonist Albert Ayler has come into favor as a cult hero and jazz pioneer long after his body was found floating in the East River in 1970," writes Aaron Hillis, opening his review of My Name Is Albert Ayler. "Swedish filmmaker Kasper Collin's melancholy, beautiful feature debut does more than just chronicle this undervalued musician; it brings Ayler and his message of spiritual unity back to life."

Also in the Voice:

Cocalero

  • "In the midst of this consultant-polished election season, 's inside look at Evo Morales's successful 2005 run for the Bolivian presidency is both refreshing and just plain fun," writes Julia Wallace, reviewing Cocalero for the Voice.

  • Ella Taylor: "At once tender and tough-minded, Steal a Pencil for Me offers a useful corrective to the sentimental prevailing notion that the Shoah only happened to saints." Related: indieWIRE interviews director Michele Ohayon.

  • Abigail Deutsch: "La Sagrada Familia (The Sacred Family) - which bears the name but none of the inspiration of Gaudí's masterpiece - stars Néstor Cantillana as Marco, an atheist and aspiring architect who believes that if God existed, he'd be hanging out in that very church, smoking.... [T]he ending is cheaper than the girlfriend, and that's saying something."

  • Chuck Wilson: "If it weren't for two excessively violent deaths, P2 could be termed a refreshingly old-fashioned thriller, one dependent on hairbreadth escapes and the pluck of its heroine."

  • Nick Pinkerton on Holly: "[T]hough the storytelling is haphazard, artistry often transcends mere good intentions."

  • "Lacking the absurdist je ne say what of fellow crank Bill Murray (who tried his hand at Christmas fare with Scrooged), the demonic physical comedy of Ben Stiller (amassing kid cred with Night at the Museum), or the freestyling innocence of Will Ferrell (Elf), [Vince] Vaughn brings to the kiddie party the same thing he brings to the adult party: a six-foot-five attitude problem," writes Michelle Orange, reviewing Fred Claus. At Slant, Nick Schager gives it 1½ out of 4 stars and, in the Los Angeles Times, Susan King lists past Clauses.

Making Movies Book Jason Sperb's been reading Thomas Cripps's Slow Fade to Black and Making Movies Black: "Cripps is a historian first, not a film scholar--and so he is not under the obligation to provide a tightly wound thesis which would neatly draw together everything he wants to say. Rather than form a linear argument, Cripps is more interested in constructing a linear timeline, with incidental arguments dropped in here and there. Of course, larger concerns emerge."

Stop Smiling recommends a batch of "Essential Hollywood Books."

"Tom Lisanti's latest book Glamour Girls of Sixties Hollywood has just been released and it's definitely one of his best," writes Kimberly Lindbergs.

For MTV, Josh Horowitz talks Chinatown with Jack Nicholson. Via goldenfiddle. Related: "Written by [Robert] Towne, directed by Nicholson and released in 1990, The Two Jakes may not be a masterpiece, and it certainly never approaches the Greek-tragic grandeur of Chinatown," writes Dennis Lim. "But it's also a richer, more resonant movie than its nonexistent reputation suggests."

Also in the Los Angeles Times:

  • Not only are all of Hollywood's Iraq war movies floundering at the box office, they probably won't be winning any Oscars, either, writes Ann Donahue: "Where's our Platoon? Where's our Deer Hunter? Where are the movies that capture both the hearts of the academy and the dollars of the general public?"

  • Paul Lieberman talks with Nicole Kidman about how "she rediscovered her love of acting in writer-director Noah Baumbach's dark comedy," Margot at the Wedding. And Elizabeth Snead meets Golden Compass costume designer Ruth Myers.

  • Patrick Goldstein has a question for John Lasseter: "According to Metacritic.com, Ratatouille remains the best reviewed American movie of the year. Yet none of the Oscar pundits even mentions it as a best picture contender. Doesn't that bug you?" Also: "What we have now is a specialty business in dire need of reinvention, from the kind of movies that are made to when they're released. You don't need a business degree to know that every over-saturated market eventually has a shakeout."

Heima

For the Independent, Kaleem Aftab heads to Abu Dhabi to talk with Harvey Weinstein: "What he may lack in elegance of appearance... is forgotten as soon as he opens his mouth. As they say in the industry, he talks a 'good game.'"

Dennis Cozzalio carries on his long conversation with Don Mancini, covering in this round the states of film criticism and horror.

In the New York Times:

  • "Get out your handkerchiefs, if you please, for Rock 'n' Roll, the triumphantly sentimental new play by Tom Stoppard," writes Ben Brantley. "Writing about the political and cultural legacy of the late 1960s in his own late 60s (Mr Stoppard recently turned 70) has, for better or worse, exposed this playwright's soft side - mostly for better."

  • "The history of so-called gangsta rap is inseparable from the history of gangster movies." Kelefa Sanneh previews Jay-Z's American Gangster. Adds FishbowlNY: "In his new video ('Blue Magic' from the American Gangster soundtrack), Jay-Z drives through the streets of Harlem flashing huge stacks of 500 Euro bills. Not dollars. Euros. Some commentators think it marks a cultural watershed." Related: Paul Krugman finds a couple of models of the falling dollar.

  • "A paean to the rewards of old-fashioned craftsmanship in an age of mechanization, [Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037] directed by Ben Niles, amounts to a de facto infomercial for Steinway & Sons, the 150-year-old company that is the biggest name in the high-end piano business," writes Stephen Holden. More from Jim Ridley in the Voice and from Tom Hall.

Flower in the Pocket "Flower in the Pocket is endearing in its many straightfaced comic moments," writes the Visitor at Twitch. "This double-winner at this year's Pusan International Film Festival is a strangely beautiful and funny ode to neglected human beings."

Stephen Moss talks with Ridley Scott, who's "currently shooting Body of Lies in Morocco 'with Leo [DiCaprio] and Russell [Crowe]; a 90-day shoot would be usual, but I'll do it in about 76'; and he is planning Nottingham, a revisionist take on the Robin Hood story to be shot next year, with Crowe (who is becoming a Scott fixture) starring as the sheriff, upholding the law against a dubious bandit hiding out in the woods." A click or two over at the Guardian's film blog, Ryan Gilbey asks, "Who is the worse director out of the Scott brothers - Ridley or Tony?"

Also for the Guardian, Stuart Jeffries talks with Timothy Spall.

At IFC News, Alison Willmore talks with Anton Corbijn about Control.

Eastern Promises, "or at least what's best in this movie before it succumbs to sheer gore and then to terminal resolution anxiety, producing happiness and relief when it should have quit while the going was bad, is all about a violence and horror that come from somewhere else, invading the ordinary world from a zone as strange as the individual angry mind," writes Michael Wood. Also in the new issue of the London Review of Books: Slavoj Zizek on "What to Do about Capitalism," Nicholas Guyatt on Chris Hedges's American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America and Mike Davis's diary, "California Burns."

MS Smith's seen Resident Evil: Extinction: "I'll admit that my fondness for Milla Jovovich got me into the theater, but my belief in this film's relevance has really evolved from my interest in cultural history, in moving from the kind of functional film criticism that would condemn Extinction as anything but empty popcorn entertainment towards the connection between the film's subject matter and the environment in which its makers live and create. For all of its B-movie and action-horror characteristics, Extinction is almost ideal in this regard; that fiery, burnt sky is appropriate for a film essentially about destructive forces, particularly the kind that have recently preoccupied or plagued the public imagination."

When you think of studio-era musicals, certain directors come to mind. Other directors don't. But a few "considered to be our best directors also stuck their toe into this genre's waters at least once, with fairly good results," writes HighHurdler at Movie Morlocks.

The AV Club: "21 good books that need to be great films, like now."

Hollywood Science For Discover, Sidney Perkowitz, an Emory University physics professor and author of Hollywood Science: Movies, Science and the End of the World, picks the "5 Best and Worst Science Based Movies of All Time." Via Coudal Partners, also pointing to a 30-minute doc, A History of Sci-Fi Television.

Oh, but I do love James Israel's irregular feature, "Movies I Will Never Ever See Based on the Stills."

Not film-related, but: "Required reading," sez Jim Coudal. "AIGA Interview with John Berg, art director of Columbia/CBS Records from 1961-85. Via DO."

Oh, and today's Doonesbury.

Online lookit tip. At Cinematical, Erik Davis has pix from Righteous Kill, featuring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.

Online browsing tip. Animation Backgrounds. Via Mark Frauenfelder at Boing Boing.

Online listening tip #1. I Was Peckinpah's Girl Friday. Thanks, Jerry!

Online listening tip #2. Aaron Dobbs recommends Radio Lab.

Online viewing tip #1. Valkyrie, a featurette. Related: The Reeler's ST VanAirsdale stumps Tom Cruise on the evening of his gala tribute at the Museum of the Moving Image.

Online viewing tip #2. The Listening Dead, via Collin A at Twitch: "After playing to great acclaim around the world, Mucci's painstaking ode to silent cinema now floats about the digital ether, waiting to ensnare adventurous web surfers with its charms."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:53 PM

Writers' Strike, 11/7.

The Office on Strike An online viewing tip from Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay: "The writing staff of The Office shot on the picket line this informative and funny YouTube piece explaining why they're part of the WGA strike."

And add Nikki Finke to the list of sources of constantly updated news.

Earlier: 1, 2 and 3.

Update: Diablo Cody.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:42 PM | Comments (2)

Fests and events, 11/7.

Divorce Italian Style "The capstone of Film Forum's Pietro Germi mini-retrospective is the director's most popular work, his mid-career turn to wheeling commedia all'italiana ([Divorce, Italian Style] gave the genre its moniker) after compiling an eclectic filmography with roots in Neorealism," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice.

In her overview for the Reeler, Miriam Bale focuses on Stefania Sandrelli. "Her beauty is less bold and sometimes almost ethereal, but she wiggles across the screen with the best of them. There's a feline quality to her movements, even her face, and when her nostrils flare expressively, she looks like she might pounce." Through November 22.

Back in the Voice: You know all about the Iranian New Wave. "The CinemaEast Film Festival - which runs November 8 to 15 at the IFC Center - wants to combat such stereotyping by presenting a fuller-bodied portrait of the region's films," writes Saul Austerlitz. "This requires highlighting the silly as well as the high-minded, the crowd-pleasing as well as the brain-stimulating."

"The Margaret Mead Film and Video Festival, the Museum of Natural History's annual documentary showcase, often gravitates toward the anthropological," writes Ed Halter. "With a focus on cross-cultural music, ranging from Cambodian psych- rock to American paleo-folk, this year's lineup includes sounds that wouldn't seem out of place on a WFMU playlist."

And J Hoberman recommends Panoramas of the Moving Image: Mechanical Slides and Dissolving Views from 19th Century Magic Lantern Shows, Ernie Gehr's five-screen installation at MoMA.

And back at the Reeler: "The idea is simple - take some leading directorial talent from France, a class of aspiring filmmakers from the United States - and mix." Mat Newman notes that this year's On Set With French Cinema program is off and running with Benoit Jacquot.

"I don't know whether Croatia makes high-quality films, or whether the Croatian series at the Walter Reade is unusually well curated, or whether I'm just having good luck. But my nearly random sallies into Croatian film culture keep coming up roses," writes Dan Sallitt.

SF Asian Festivals

"This year the 10th Annual San Francisco Asian Film Festival joins forces with the 5th Annual San Francisco Korean American Film Festival to provide Bay Area audiences a spectacular selection of films from Hong Kong and South Korea, running November 8 - 18 at both the Four Star and the Castro Theatre," writes Michael Guillén. "The full schedule for both festivals can be found here. Synopsizing his portion of the program, Adam [Hartzell] writes: 'San Francisco audiences have not had an opportunity to watch older South Korean films from the 50s, 60s and 70s that preceded the recent wave of dynamic South Korean cinema in the 00s and late 90s. That is, until now.'" And Michael has a good long talk with Adam.

More from Cheryl Eddy in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, where you'll also find Garrett Caples on Bruce Conner - Works: 1961 - 2002, at the Gallery Paule Anglim through November 24.

Eve O'Neill: "SF360 caught up with Sean Uyehara, who has programmed the San Francisco International Animation Film Festival for both years it has been running, to talk about his personal influences, upcoming trends in animation, and what to look forward to when the festival opens this November 8th."

"The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is presenting a special one day event on December 1, 2007 at the historic Castro Theatre in San Francisco." Anne M Hockens has a preview at the Siffblog.

"Botched opportunities, bad acting and misguided directorial decisions seem to be recurring themes among the premieres at this year's AFI Fest," reports Michael Lerman at indieWIRE. "Though boasting quite an impressive array of great cinema out of the North American festivals from the last six months, the AFI programmers seem to be struggling to keep it together when it comes to newer material."

William Castle and Val Lewton

Susan King previews two docs screening tomorrow at AFI Fest, Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story, "a lighthearted look at the wizard of ballyhoo who never met a gimmick he didn't employ," and The Man in the Shadows: Val Lewton, "produced and narrated by Lewton champion Martin Scorsese."

Also in the Los Angeles Times: Geoff Boucher previews the After Dark HorrorFest, hitting 300 screens in the US this weekend.

Film as a Critical Practice: a symposium (Thursday and Friday) and a screening program (Saturday) in Olso; Caitlin Jones has details at Rhizome.

The Tempo Documentary Festival: Thursday through Sunday in Stockholm.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:42 AM

Choking Man.

Choking Man At Slant, Ed Gonzalez takes a deep breath and writes, "Suggesting the bastard child of Miranda July and one of the Dardenne brothers, raised by Jessica Yu and mentored by Steven Soderbergh ('Choking Man is everything an independent film should be,' says the director of Bubble), the film evokes a comatose state, revolving around a Jamaica diner where Ecuadorian dishwasher Jorge (Octavio Gómez Berríoz) spends much time marveling at his navel lint, gawking at everyone beneath his bangs, scurrying through a hole in the fence out back to sit beneath a tangle of branches, and staring at the 'Choking Victim' poster above the sink."

Updated through 11/9.

"Choking Man has a tepid plotline, some stilted dialogue, and way too many pointless shots of the subway rumbling overhead. But the tender and spirited performances of its diverse cast elevate [director Steve] Barron's portrait of contemporary Queens life," writes Julia Wallace in the Voice, where she reminds us that Barron directed the "classic" 1985 video for a-ha's 'Take on Me,' directed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and produced While You Were Sleeping.

At the Reeler, ST VanAirsdale talks with Barron.

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Barron "about his surprising move into indie filmmaking, spending his childhood on movie sets, and how Anthony Minghella got him the job directing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Earlier: David D'Arcy.

Update, 11/8: "While never achieving the full potential of its ethereal design, Choking Man has the guts to focus on an irritatingly distant character with enough nuances to turn him into an object of sympathy," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "Like an upright David Lynch movie, Barron's story drifts between places both real and imagined, while faces and themes remain the only constants."

Update, 11/9: "Barron's ambitiously kaleidoscopic treatment of the experiences of a pathologically shy dishwasher from Ecuador draws together a compelling mix of characters but isn't always successful in its attempt to merge social and magic realism," writes Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:23 AM | Comments (1)

Glass Lips.

Blood of a Poet

"Originally shown as a gallery installation of 33 video artworks titled Blood of a Poet, Glass Lips contrasts natural sound - a gurgling stream, a wailing infant - with unnatural behavior, and meticulously controlled images with emotional anarchy," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "After a while the film's expressiveness becomes so hypnotic that it's difficult not to make your own connections: the discovery that the gaping mouth of a blow-up doll resembles nothing so much as a silent scream no doubt says as much about me as it does about [Lech] Majewski."

Updated through 11/8.

"There are no words - nor, given the precision of Majewski's images and the haunting musical score that he composed, are they necessary," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. Opens today for a week-long run at the Pioneer in NYC.

Back in August, Philip Kennicott wrote in the Washington Post, "Majewski, born in 1953, is a major discovery, a brilliant filmmaker whose haunting aesthetic is formed of much deeper stuff, processed through a lively mind and idiosyncratic imagination, chastened and tempered by history, and captured on screen with the rigor and perfectionism of an artist who might also carve castles out of toothpicks."

Update, 11/8: "It's arguably the best thing going this weekend in New York," writes ST VanAirsdale at the Reeler.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:49 AM | Comments (1)

November 6, 2007

Southland Tales.

Southland Tales "A doom-ridden pulp cabalist with a dark sense of purpose as well as humor, Richard Kelly shoots the moon with his rich, strange, and very funny sci-fi social satire, Southland Tales," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "[F]lirting with sensory overload and predicated on a familiarity with American TV, political rhetoric, and religious cant, it's a movie without a recognizable genre or ready-made demographic.... Southland Tales is obsessed but not overweening, free-associational yet confident. After seeing it in Cannes, I wrote that 'there hasn't been anything comparable in American movies since Mulholland Drive' - a movie that Kelly references nearly as often as Kiss Me Deadly and The Manchurian Candidate."

Updated through 11/13.

"If Donnie Darko was Kelly's Eraserhead, then maybe Southland Tales is his Dune, an unfortunate folly before a more substantial, velveteen Blue period," suggests Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "Southland Tales is itself no more Lynchian than a big-bosomed Rebekah Del Rio singing the national anthem during the film's climax, and nowhere near as clever, irreverent, or purposeful as Mike Judge's similarly themed Idiocracy."

"[N]ow that this train wreck is here, the disaster that is Southland Tales raises some interesting issues." These are the ones DK Holm looks at for the Vancouver Voice: "The End of the Auteur Theory," "Novelty Casting," "Homage Frenzy," "Bad Influences," "The SNL Curse" and "The Sin of Pretentiousness."

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes and Fantastic Fest.

Update: The press notes "make for an amusing subway ride back to Vulture HQ, as we counted the number of times the notes tried to remind us that, whatever we thought of the movie, it was important to remember that the whole thing was Richard Kelly's idea, and the blame for Southland Tales falls squarely on him (and no one else)." Via Movie City News.

Update, 11/7: Michael Koresky at Reverse Shot:

The term "sophomore slump" doesn't even begin to describe the catastrophic lengths Kelly goes to prove himself (to himself and his hopefully loyal fans) with Southland Tales. Neither utterly disingenuous nor completely honest in its political aims, it falls somewhere in the lukewarm middle. Southland Tales may be closer to the disaster its noisy Cannes detractors had so fervently hissed about back in 2006... than the hellzapoppin American crassterpiece that J Hoberman and Amy Taubin have been championing since day two - yet neither response gets us anywhere with a film as wide-ranging, confused, and infantile as Southland Tales, which deserves a little more parsing out.... The film seems to embrace itself as a clever commentary on everything from partisan politics to global warming to star texts, and this is where it goes from charmlessly abnormal to downright irritating.

Update, 11/9: At Nerve, Peter Smith saw Southland Tales "last week, eager to love it, and I hated it. It is astoundingly misguided, a muddle of half-baked ideas, undeveloped characters and plots that go nowhere. I hated it so much that I almost think you should see it." At any rate, he interviews Kelly, who "took my hostile questioning without batting an eye."

Update, 11/10: The Guardian's Danny Leigh has a bone to pick with DK Holm: "[I]f Southland Tales is pretentious, well, it can join forces with Fassbinder, David Lynch, Zodiac, Apocalypse Now, Michael Haneke and Lynne Ramsay - with The Heartbreak Kid and 300 for the opposition. I know which side I'll be on when it kicks off - and I'll be quoting Baudrillard when it does."

Update, 11/12: "Kelly aims high and must have shot off his own ear, which is the only way to account for the dialogue," writes David Edelstein in New York. "Southland Tales doesn't go off the rails because it never has rails to go off."

Update, 11/13: "With so many different threads and so little driving the movie... Southland Tales basically adds up to the sum of its gags and ideas," writes Matt Singer at IFC News. "Southland Tales defies good and bad categorization because it's hard to tell at any moment whether Kelly even wants to be good, or minds being bad, or even cares which is which."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:39 PM

Writers' Strike, 11/6.

On Strike John Rogers has an immensely informative and perceptive entry on the writers' strike that also happens to be ingeniously organized. By that I mean: you get the basics up front and the fine print gets finer the further down you read and scroll. In other words, do start, then get off anytime you like.

Notes the Guardian: "One officer looking at the placards said: "They're writers. Couldn't they come up with anything better than 'on strike'?"

Earlier entries: 1 and 2.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:10 AM

Film Comment Nov/Dec 07.

Kent Osborne, Greta Gerwig and Andrew Bujalski of Hannah Takes the Stairs It's the South By Southwest 2007 issue of Film Comment!

Not really, of course. But my own two favorite viewing experiences at SXSW back in the spring were Hannah Takes the Stairs and The Whole Shootin' Match, two American independent films achieving uniquely impressive ends with the barest-bone means of their respective eras. And it just so happens that the two features online from the November/December issue of FC are Amy Taubin's "Adieu" to "mumblecore, the indie movement that never was more than a flurry of festival hype and blogosphere branding," and Daniel Stuyck's retelling of the tale of Eagle Pennell, whose "first two efforts - the short Hell of a Note (77) and the feature-length The Whole Shootin' Match (78) - coincided with the emergence of 'regional cinema' in the US, a forerunner of today's American indie."

Updated through 11/12.

Taubin, an early champion of Andrew Bujalski, really lays into Joe Swanberg. Hard. The "mumblecore" backlash was always a given, but who knew it'd be so damn personalized? In Aaron Katz's Dance Party USA and Quiet City, she finds "a lyric beauty rarely associated with digital cinematography." Ry Russo-Young may be the bunch's "token female director," but Orphans, "with its heavy-handed visual metaphors and anguished examination of the symbiotic bond between two sisters, seems closer to Bergman than Bujalski." Ronald Bronstein's Frownland "is both an unnerving literalization and a clammy slap in the face of mumblecore, although Bronstein began production in 2002, three years before the word was uttered." But all that's off-putting, maybe even offensive or just downright wrong about "mumblecore" finds its corollary in the work of Joe Swanberg.

"That Swanberg believes that his life and those of his friends are separate from the war or the global meltdown that is upon us seems to me reason enough to bring back the draft," writes Taubin. Yikes. Presumably, we would be spared such "smug and blatantly lazy" movies by a director "(I employ the term merely as a description of function)" whose most infuriating affront seems to be that "women [are] ever ready to get naked for his camera." She neglects to mention that there are just as many dicks flopping around in Joe's movies as boobs; that'd be a minor point if it weren't seemingly so important for Taubin.

Look, I have tremendous respect for Amy Taubin, whom I've read and learned from over many years. It takes well-seasoned smarts to suggest that "one might think of mumblecore as an update of the 'New Talkie,' the strand (not quite a genre) of no-budget indies that emerged in the early 90s with such landmark films as Richard Linklater's Slacker, Kevin Smith's Clerks and Rose Troche and Guinevere Turner's Go Fish. Within a broader history, one might trace it back to Warhol's The Chelsea Girls and his related 60s talkies." But I'm taken aback by the suggestion - from, again, a Bujalski fan - that anyone who picks up a camera is morally obligated to use it to issue a state-of-the-world manifesto or to be thematically strapped in any other way. Mostly I'm surprised, though, for how little consideration is taken for the way Joe's films are made, shaky cameras and nude scenes aside. Does Amy Taubin know that Hannah, for example, was co-concieved by a woman playwright (Greta Gerwig) or that the entire cast and crew has emphasized again and again, in countless interviews, that Hannah could hardly have been a more collaborative effort? Many of the criticisms leveled over this entire year at the loose bunch of films tumbling, willingly or not, into the "mumblecore" bucket are well worth taking seriously; that won't happen if we go rushing out into the night, torches held high, looking for a straw man.

Lou Perryman and Sonny Carl Davis of The Whole Shootin Match At any rate, Eagle Pennell's life was as meandering as his films, and Stuyck not only captures the tragic appeal of both but also finds a center of gravity, noting that his "biggest cinematic influence" was John Ford. But: "For everything Pennell has in common with Ford (a populist faith in individuals, a classical, space-oriented mise en scène), he is about 30 years too late, existing at the losing end of the Fordian equation. The communities that form to solve conflict, absolutely central to Ford, are unattainable for Pennell."

Chris Chang's call for a distributor this month is devoted to Jia Zhang-ke's Useless.

Rob Nelson on Paul Schrader's The Walker: "Original, no. But this movie's strangeness is in full bloom."

Then, the online exclusives. Phillip Lopate's review of Chris Marker's Staring Back runs here in an "extended version," quoting Bill Horrigan, who curated the original exhibition, which we can now hold in our hands in the form of a book, "an image archipelago, dispersed over continents horizontally and demolishing time vertically."

Graham Fuller interviewed Joe Strummer for the July/August 1987 issue, and he "might just be the best thing in Straight to Hell, which in itself isn't much of an achievement, although he personally emerged from the shoot a 'natural' actor."

And another "blast from the past": James Blue's interview with Pier Paolo Pasolini back in 1965, when it seemed to him that we were about to witness "the birth of two completely different cinemas. The high level of cinema - that is, the cinema d'essai - will cater to a selected public and will have its own history. And the other level will have its own story."

Update, 11/10: Making the rounds, I've come across some good commentary on Taubin's article from Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog, Vadim Rizov at ScreenGrab and ST VanAirsdale at the Reeler.

Updates, 11/12: A damn good entry from AJ Schnack: "In Defense of SXSW & Matt Dentler."

Notes Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay: "As reported on the Oxford University Press blog, 'mumblecore' is a runner-up 2007 'word of the year.'"

Posted by dwhudson at 7:47 AM | Comments (46)

DVDs, 11/6.

Anton Ego "You couldn't ask for a better match of new school and old, of bleeding-edge digital technology and antediluvian pen and ink." With a dash of theory and a good measure of history, the New York Times' Dave Kehr riffs on the releases of Pixar's Ratatouille and the fifth volume of Warners' Looney Tunes Golden Collection.

Meanwhile, Ratatouille continues to dominate the foreign box office "for a fifth consecutive weekend" (Hy Hollinger, Hollywood Reporter) and, sez Erik Davis at Cinematical: "Ratatouille will go down as one of the great films of 2007, and if there ever was a time to slide an animated film in the Oscar's best picture category, it's now."

Adds Bryant Frazer: "A-freaking-plus, man."

Sicko's out today. Michael Atkinson:

Here's the thing about Michael Moore, beyond which all critical discourse has the import of self-entranced flatulence: he is an unsubtle slob with no respect for the ethics of discourse, but he is absolutely imperative. He routinely backloads his arguments, slants reality, makes unfair mockery, ignores mitigating material and draws simplistic conclusions, but he is virtually the only public figure in America who puts his movies where his mouth is in terms of believing in a few simple truths: that corporations shouldn't be allowed to fuck us and our resources, that government should serve us and not vice-versa, that the self-serving lies politicians tell shouldn't be indulged as "spin," that capitalism is no excuse for exploitation, that economic equality is not only desirable and viable but necessary, that the citizen comes first, not the dollar. In other words, he's a full-on, pragmatic, new-world-order socialist, and he's not afraid to say so.

Also reviewed this week at IFC News, Basket Case 2, Frank Henenlotter's "magnum opus [which] remains biting for the outrageous subtexts (biological, sexual, racial, you name it) worming around not far beneath the even more outrageous surface."

"A few nights ago, I listened to two DVD commentaries that reminded me why I love alternate audio tracks and especially those that feature eloquent filmmakers on personal films: Terence Davies on 1988's Distant Voices, Still Lives (released in the UK a couple months ago) and Charles Burnett on 1977's Killer of Sheep (coming from Milestone later this month)," writes Doug Cummings. Related: "A glaring gap in movie history has now been filled with the long-awaited release of Burnett's Killer of Sheep on DVD," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant.

"What [Joe] Swanberg and his collaborators have succeeded in doing is isolating those moments where the virtual world takes precedence over reality, displaying how out of touch we have become with ourselves," writes Zachary Wigon, reviewing LOL at the House Next Door. "The ultimate effect is one of realization - of the conditions surrounding us, which were previously so murky as to be unrecognizable."

The Shamus "watched [Zodiac] again last night and I am convinced it is the best mainstream American film of 2007."

Glenn Kenny takes a close, close look at Stanley Kubrick in high-definition.

"On air, Twin Peaks was a water-cooler phenomenon; for a decade and a half, it was a cult object; now, with Paramount's release of the Definitive Gold Box Edition, containing both seasons (the second was released separately this spring) and the pilot (in both versions), it's a cultural artifact." Mark Asch for Stop Smiling.

John McElwee suggests that a series of star-studded shorts promoting the philosophy of Father James Keller, wildly popular in the 50s, would make for a great DVD collection.

Online hmmm tip. Chris Stangl: "Strange visual resonance found on the covers of two upcoming Criterion Collection releases."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:37 AM | Comments (2)

November 5, 2007

Online viewing tips. strike day + more.

Ze Frank Ze Frank. Click it. Via Michael Sippey, who's been hearing things.

You can hear other things, for example, this week's IFC News podcast.

Updated: Following more online viewing tips, the latest on the writers strike.

Bet you haven't seen this scene from Blade Runner before. Thanks, Doug!

"Two weeks ago, critic Robert Horton and I discussed [David] Cronenberg's work as part of Robert's Magic Lantern Series at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle," writes Jim Emerson. "This short film, conceived as a self-contained critical essay/appreciation, has been expanded and refined from the seven-minute version I assembled the night before that occasion, tracing Cronenberg's thematic obsessions and the development of his artistic vision across 40 years of filmmaking."

At Drawn!, a trailer for Tara Wray's Cartoon College, a doc on the Center for Cartoon Studies.

"Hello, Olafur Eliasson's studio has a YouTube channel," notes Greg Allen.

Craig Keller's got some Orson Welles.

And a couple of listening tips. Rory Bremner (and others) on Jacques Tati. Thanks, Jerry!

Sound Opinions #101. Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot discuss Ian Curtis and Joy Division. Also via Coudal Partners, for diehard fans with $170 to spare for a poster, a purchasing tip. Love will tear us apart again.

Updates: For the Baltimore Sun, Rick Pearson reports that Barack Obama's on the writers' side. Via Chris Barsanti. No word yet, far as I can tell, from Hillary Clinton.

Blogging for the Guardian, David Thomson argues that the strike "is being fought to preserve and enrich the lives of rather less than 2,000 members. Over the decades of its existence, the Guild and the membership have elected to fight for more money. They have therefore determined not to fight for the one thing that screenwriters lack, the thing that might improve their long-term fortunes in remarkable ways, and which might improve the standard of American movies. That is copyright."

Erik Davis snaps pix of picket lines in NYC; also at Cinematical, Patrick Walsh lists his favorite screenplays of the decade.

David Poland tries his hand at the math in all this: "[T]he search for some clear financial answers is rather frustrating. The main reason is that the surface is accessible, but the depth on both sides is quite elusive."

One of the complications, as David points out, is that some writers are also producers. But as Bonnie Goldstein notes at Slate, they're putting their pencils down. And she's got the full-page ad in Variety to prove it.

Ongoing roundups: the Writers Guild, of course; Variety; the Los Angeles Times; and an update from the New York Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:33 PM

Peter Viertel, 1920 - 2007.

Peter Viertel
Peter Viertel went fishing with Ernest Hemingway, fox hunting with John Huston and stepped into the arena with bullfighter Luis Dominguín. For 47 years, the Hollywood beauty Deborah Kerr was at his side. The actress (From Here to Eternity) died in mid-October - now, Peter Viertel has died, too... in a private clinic in Marabella....

[The novelist and screenwriter] worked for such great directors as Clint Eastwood, Alfred Hitchcock and John Huston... From Viertel's pen came the screenplays for such films as African Queen and The Old Man and the Sea.

The German Press Agency.

Updated through 11/8.

See also: a fan site and Wikipedia. In 1992, Janet Maslin reviewed Viertel's Dangerous Friends: At Large With Huston and Hemingway in the 50s for the New York Times.

Online listening tip. Don Swaim's 1992 interview.

Update, 11/8: "Brought up in Santa Monica, California, from the age of six, he spent his early years surrounded by artistic émigrés in and around Hollywood, including Sergei Eisenstein, Jean Renoir, Bertolt Brecht, Arnold Schoenberg, Heinrich and Thomas Mann, Aldous Huxley, WH Auden and Christopher Isherwood," writes Ronald Bergan in the Guardian. "His bisexual mother was also a great friend of Greta Garbo, for whom she co-wrote a number of screenplays.... Among his other accomplishments, Viertel is credited with introducing surfing into Europe."

Posted by dwhudson at 10:25 AM | Comments (1)

Interview. Tommy Lee Jones.

No Country for Old Men Cormac McCarthy is "our best living prose stylist," Tommy Lee Jones tells Sean Axmaker. And he'd know. After all, the Oscar-winning actor graduated from Harvard with a degree in literature. What's more, he's sure McCarthy's Blood Meridian "would make a terrific movie."

For now, though, following his widely praised performance in In the Valley of Elah, Jones is starring in an adaptation of another McCarthy novel, the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men. And planning to direct an adaptation of another great writer, too.

There are, of course, already plenty of reviews of No Country out there. First there was the round from Cannes; then, Toronto and New York. The latest:

Updated through 11/9.

"The travesty of recent years (how much would you pay not to watch Intolerable Cruelty or The Ladykillers again?) is all but wiped out by the new film, although, as with those two fumbles at comedy, there remains a nagging sense that the Coens are not so much investing their emotions in a cinematic genre—in this case, the Western revenge drama—as picking it up, inspecting it, and then setting themselves the task of constructing a perfect copy," writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker.

"It's a near masterpiece," writes David Edelstein in New York.

"I've seen over 80 new releases in the five months since I saw No Country For Old Men at this year's Cannes Film Festival, including fine works by directors like Steven Soderbergh, Michael Winterbottom and Abel Ferrara," writes Matt Singer at IFC News. "But none has stayed as fresh in my memory - or, hell, just straight-up kicked as much ass - as the Coen brothers' No Country For Old Men."

A ricochet at Reverse Shot. At the NYFF, Michael Joshua Rowin was glad to see the Coen Brothers "back," but Andrew Tracy is less enthusiastic: "Making a superior thriller is no mean feat, but to burden it with assertively existential meaning takes more than merely a dab hand. The Coens, whose technical aptitude has never been in doubt but whose artistic depth frequently has, have accordingly been led into something of a self-defeating enterprise. In a genre which depends upon expected moments of unexpectedness, they've foregrounded the mechanism but are patently unable to endow it with McCarthy's mystical fatalism."

Updates, 11/6: "The mechanics of No Country for Old Men recall those of a vintage film noir—as gripping and mordantly funny a treatise on the corrosive power of greed as The Killing and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre were before it," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice. "In terms of filmmaking and storytelling craft, it is a work destined to be studied in film schools for generations to come, from the threatening beauty of cinematographer Roger Deakins's O'Keeffe-like images to what is surely the most pulse-raising scene of motel-room suspense since Marion Crane took her fateful shower."

"The term 'return to form' may be overused, but it certainly applies to... No Country for Old Men - in its visual economy, maddeningly beautiful symmetry, and eccentric mundanity the film is a reminder of why the Coens were initially tagged as wunderkinds," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "It's easy to derive pleasure from the Hitchcockian virtuosity of No Country's mouse-trap set-ups, but the sweet surprise here is that Joel and Ethan Coen, genre vagabonds and occasional wise-asses who had been stuck in a rut as of late, have shot their latest film through with palpable, evocative melancholy and purpose."

Updates, 11/7: "Tommy Lee Jones will co-host the Nobel Peace Prize concert for former Vice President Al Gore - his roommate at Harvard University - and representatives from the United Nations' climate change panel," reports the AP.

"No Country for Old Men is the kind of film that will only cement the opinion you already have about its uniquely eccentric makers," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "Approach the ticket booth accordingly."

"Stripped of fancy editing and visual high jinks, devoid of a musical score, consisting of long shots of desolate Texas badlands and close-ups of equally weather-battered faces, No Country for Old Men is the brothers at their most polished, austere, and humorless," writes Peter Keough. Also in the Boston Phoenix, Keough's interview with Josh Brolin.

Updates, 11/8: "When it came time to cast a small but pivotal role... - a down-home West Texas trailer park housewife who serves as one of the cerebral thriller's moral compass points - the Coen brothers did what any self-respecting oddball auteurs of their stature would do," writes Chris Lee in the LAT. "The Oscar-winning writer-directors chose an actress whose native accent is as diametrically opposite the written character's laconic Texan drawl as just about any in the English-speaking world: Glasgow, Scotland-native Kelly Macdonald."

"This is the Coens' first crime movie since they began to master the medium, and the way No Country morphs from noir into contemporary-western moral struggle makes it deeper, funnier and even stranger than Fargo, their 1996 hit," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "You know what national cataclysm happened since then, so it should be no surprise that the Coens have made a crime movie that seems quietly aghast at the likelihood of death and menace occurring on American soil. Unlike American Gangster's sensationalized crap, this is a crime movie/western exercise that contemporizes the miasma of a world at war."

"It's also, since Fargo, the movie that wrestles most directly with the existence of evil," adds Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper. "The Coens' critics like to paint them as vapid stylists, but few American filmmakers have demonstrated their moral seriousness. No Country for Old Men is gripping and fantastically entertaining, but it's also almost unspeakably dark."

"The summative superlatives being aimed at No Country for Old Men belie the film's individual significance," writes Eric Kohn at the Reeler. "[T]he movie only shares superficial qualities with the previous work of filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen. As a result, the stream of hyperbole declaring No Country to be the Coen brothers' finest accomplishment... don't do justice either to the film or its creators' oeuvre."

No Country for Old Men Updates, 11/9: "The picture of human nature in No Country for Old Men is... so bleak I wonder if it must provide for some a reassuring explanation for our defeatism and apathy in the face of atrocity," writes Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader. "I admire the creativity and storytelling craft of the Coen brothers, but I can't for the life of me figure out what use they think they're putting that creativity and craft to. As I left the screening in Toronto, all I could think was, 'America sure loves its mass murderers.'"

"No Country for Old Men is purgatory for the squeamish and the easily spooked," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "For formalists - those moviegoers sent into raptures by tight editing, nimble camera work and faultless sound design - it's pure heaven.... The surprise of No Country for Old Men, the first literary adaptation these filmmakers have attempted, is how well matched their methods turn out to be with the novelist's."

"This is the rare movie so moment-to-moment riveting that you're sometimes in danger of forgetting to breathe," writes Mike D'Angelo at Nerve. That said, "The film's abrupt, deliberately unresolved ending, which is quite faithful to the book, comes across less here as an elegy for civilization than as a mere failure of imagination."

"The movie opens with the flat, confiding voice of Tommy Lee Jones," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "When I get the DVD of this film, I will listen to that stretch of narration several times; Jones delivers it with a vocal precision and contained emotion that is extraordinary, and it sets up the entire film, which regards a completely evil man with wonderment, as if astonished that that such a merciless creature could exist."

"Jones was born to play this kind of character, but Brolin, who has done a lot of competent, unmemorable work, makes a great leap forward, both in terms of chops and of being able to hold center screen," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "This is all the more impressive when you consider how absolutely great Bardem is."

The Coens' "adaptation is impeccable, a perfect mirror of McCarthy's prose – sparse, suspenseful, probing and profoundly disturbing," writes Rick Groen in the Globe and Mail. "In an earlier novel, ironically titled Child of God, McCarthy's portrayal of a dispossessed serial killer had a measure of empathy. But there's no empathy here, or irony either, just a paralyzing fear in the face of Chigurh's deadly menace."

"An intense, nihilistic thriller as well as a model of implacable storytelling, this is a film you can't stop watching even though you very much wish you could," writes Kenneth Turan in the LAT. "That's because No Country escorts you through a world so pitilessly bleak, "you put your soul at hazard," as one character says, to be part of it."

"The ultimate vision here is of a hard world in which civilization is the aberration, and the things we fear are always waiting for an excuse to make life normal again," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club.

"What we have here is a classic Coen Brothers situation: like Fargo, Miller's Crossing or Blood Simple this movie is about the intrusion of hyperkinetic violence in a normally peaceful setting, a place where the inhabitants truly treasure the phlegmatic life and are profoundly puzzled by people who would disturb their peace," writes Richard Schickel in Time. "Does this make No Country for Old Men a black comedy of sorts? I suppose it does. But that's not a thought that occurs to you until the movie is over and you find yourself shaking your head and chuckling over the curiously exaggerated behavior you've just witnessed. Caught in the movie's grip, you are simply hypnotized by the damned thing."

"At first, No Country for Old Men seems like another crime story, smarter than most, filmed and acted with extra care and attention, but a crime story all the same," writes Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle. "And then a shift comes - not an abrupt shift of plot or mood, but something that has been gradually built, shot by shot, scene by scene - and it begins to dawn that this is something remarkable."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:35 AM

Bright Lights. 58.

Bright Lights Film Journal "With so many possible cataclysms looming - World War III, eco-armageddon, and our personal fave, violent revolution - it's good to remember that whatever happens, you'll need reading material." Editor Gary Morris, at your service, introduces the new issue of Bright Lights Film Journal.

"Would Hamlet have wallpapered his rooms?" asks Kevin L Furgeson. "What about Bogart's Sam Spade? Or even a character as colorful as Bruce Banner?" Silly questions, maybe, but you've gotta see where he's going with this.

"Is it just an inescapable fact that we're always more interested in and convinced by stories that reveal - and sometimes revel in - a seemingly inexhaustible human capacity for violence?" asks DJM Saunders in a piece on youth and crime. "If so, the best that art and entertainment can ever do is to mirror our worst traits in the hope that - without too much prodding - we'll eventually get the message."

The intro to John Minson's "Wages of Skin": "Having seen how 60s San Francisco spawned a generation of irreverent young celluloid porn barons - 'Before the Green Door' in Bright Lights 57 - we now look at these events from the perspective of exploitation film history. The series concludes in the next issue."

"[D]espite the abundance of technological hooks, the IMAX format seems to be relegated to the fringes of the entertainment world; the theme park ride struggling to find its fan base," writes Nick Goundry.

Brand Upon the Brain! "Although the uninitiated may be perplexed by this most fucked-up of children's movies, Brand Upon the Brain! abounds with the dark humor, melodramatic excess, eccentric minutiae, heightened sensation, and cryptic archaism so often praised by critics and fans," writes David Church. "Not only is this one of the year's best films, but it stands as perhaps the finest achievement of Guy Maddin's oeuvre."

"Starting with I, the Jury in 1947, [Mickey] Spillane's Mike Hammer mysteries were among the best-selling books ever written. But they were so damn lurid, not to say sadistic, that Hollywood scarcely had the nerve to lay a hand on them." Alan Vanneman revisits Kiss Me Deadly.

Also, Superbad, "the latest 'geeks get pussy' vehicle from the Judd Apatow/Evan Goldberg/Seth Rogen/Greg Mottola money machine," plus a piece on The Gold Rush, "Charlie Chaplin's masterpiece - the one film in which his desire to make the audience laugh and the desire to make the audience love him are held in perfect balance."

"With Wong Kar Wai's remake of The Lady from Shanghai (1948) set for release in 2008, it is a fitting time to re-evaluate Orson Welles's original," proposes Jason Mark Scott. "The editorial mauling that The Lady from Shanghai suffered at the hands of the studio is a great shame, resulting in a film that is, in [Simon] Callow's view, "compromised, butchered, coarsened, cheapened." However, as Chris Justice asserts in Senses of Cinema, 'the film's remaining 87 minutes represent some of the best in American art-house cinema.'"

"A powerful irony becomes clear - as Martin realizes Ethan intends to kill Debbie when he finds her, the audience must puzzle over exactly what is driving Ethan. Revenge? Racism? Duty? Professionalism? Unsuppressable violent impulses? [John] Ford abets the character in this cat-and-mouse game by similarly playing with audience expectations and comprehension of the character." A close reading of The Searchers from Gary Morris.

Still Life "Still Life (2006) marks a substantial advance on The World," writes Ian Johnston. "This is not only in the way Jia [Zhang-ke] has deepened his themes and characterisations - once again, his concerns are with individuals whose lives are disrupted and displaced by ongoing societal changes, but for the first time his central characters are older, more mature.... Working with his constant cinematographer Yu Lik-wai in high-definition digital video, Jia has made a film that is as beautiful and as deeply felt as any you are likely to see nowadays, the work of one of the foremost directors working anywhere in the world today."

Lesley Chow on Teddy Chan's Wait 'Til You're Older: "Chan shows us all the maps we use to navigate a regular film - and then makes them redundant. The movie is about the shock of the finite: a narrative that keeps growing to fruition and then drops off. All of the characters are dismayed by the prospect of limited time: partners have been chosen and gestures inhabited on the assumption that there would be time to erase everything and start again. Even the least imaginative people are incredulous about aging: surely this isn't the only story, the only body I get to inhabit." Also, a long look back at the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Matthew Sorrento on this year's Hairspray: "[John] Travolta's failure, along with a moralistic re-imagining of [John] Waters's light-as-air racial angle in the 1988 film (beware of a maudlin march led by Queen Latifah's Motormouth Maybelle), is all the more apparent next to Nikki Blonski, who has nailed an innocent and exuberant Tracy Turnblad."

"After seeing the film, I had dreams about Perfume for a week," writes Kristen Elizabeth Thompson. "Or perhaps they were nightmares. I'm not sure. It is a psychological reckoning I wish more people could experience. Luckily, Perfume is now on DVD."

"Berlin Alexanderplatz in both its written and filmic incarnations is a classic proto-noir, emerging from the same zeitgeist that produced Pabst's Pandora's Box (1928) and Lang's M (1931) in Germany, and Mervyn LeRoy's I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang and Two Seconds (both 1932) in the United States," writes C Jerry Kutner. "Given its length and scope, the best way to approach Berlin Alexanderplatz - to see how certain themes are introduced and developed - is to examine it episode by episode."

3 Penny Opera Speaking of Pabst, he "apparently was wild to obtain the rights to Threepenny Opera, but he must have known all along that he'd have to jettison a lot of its music, and, to make the movie he wanted, reimagine the entire piece," writes Gordon Thomas. "Narrative films, including Pabst's, most often beg to be mistaken for reality; the Brecht/Weill show does not." Also, a big DVD roundup: The Valentino Collection, True Heart Susie, She, The Call of Cthulhu and El Bruto.

Robert Keser celebrates "the recent find at the Czech National Film Archive of a nitrate print of Her Wild Oat, First National's witty farce released as the studio's 1927 Christmas holiday offering, and a lively vehicle to showcase Colleen Moore, chosen as America's number one box-office attraction in 1926 by the annual Quigley Poll of exhibitors. Refreshingly light on its feet, the film equally makes a muscular argument for the talent of Marshall Neilan, a shameful casualty of the newly consolidating studio system, yet at one time the country's top director (only Ernst Lubitsch commanded a higher salary)."

Also: "Just ask Hou Hsiao Hsien, Jane Campion, Charles Burnett, Abbas Kiarostami, Rolf de Heer, John Boorman, Olivier Assayas and Clint Eastwood. All these luminaries join the dazzling line-up in Todd McCarthy's enterprising new bio-documentary, Man of Cinema: Pierre Rissient, testifying alongside Oliver Stone, Werner Herzog, Dusan Makavejev and other filmmakers to celebrate the cinematic passion of the blunt-spoken but indefatigable Rissient."

Interviews:

  • Bert Cardullo with Zhang Yimou: "If in twenty years, after I've made a lot more films, they write one sentence about me in a textbook, I'd be satisfied if they said: 'Zhang Yimou's cinematic style is strongly visual in a distinctly Chinese fashion.'"

  • Damon Smith talks with Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky about Manufactured Landscapes. Burtynsky on his work: "This is about the other side of our built environment and the other side of our consumer culture. There's this other world that is massive and ever-growing, and it has consequences both to the diminishment of natural resources and to the expansion of China and the externalization of a lot of the dirty stuff that it takes to make the stuff we like."

  • Damien Love with Ray Harryhausen: "The astounding is no longer astounding, because you're inundated on television and on the movie screen with the most amazing visuals. So, the spectacular really doesn't have the same connotations as some years ago."

Autumn Sonata "Bergman vs Bergman." In Autumn Sonata, Dan Callahan sees "less a confrontation between daughter and mother, between nonentity and star... as it is a buried sexual stand off between Ingmar and Ingrid."

"Léon is meant to disturb and challenge our definition of adulthood, but not quite perhaps in the way that critics thought," writes Henry Midgley. "It reminds us that adulthood means accepting constraints, both physical and emotional; and that humanity is empathy."

"For a long time, the New York Film Festival was the inarguable heavyweight in town, practically on a direct feed from Cannes, Venice and Berlin," writes Megan Ratner. "This year, a few new members joined the selection committee, but too many commercial films that don't need the NYFF push still clogged this edition. Aside from the crowd-pleasers, some of the choices were simply perplexing, yet the best of the picks threatened to transform this honorably venerable showcase to its once daringly seminal place in cinema."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:53 AM

Lions for Lambs.

Lions for Lambs "Anyone keen to know why the Democratic party lost the last two general elections - and worried they might still lose the next - should look no further than Lions For Lambs, Robert Redford's shallow, verbose and ultimately convictionless take on the war on terror, a film which pretty much defines the term 'wishy-washy,'" writes Tom Huddleston at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

"[G]iven the box-office fates of A Mighty Heart, In the Valley of Elah, Rendition and (probably) Lions for Lambs, it might be 30 more years before some liberal executive says, 'Hey, let's put our movies where our mouths are,'" writes David Edelstein in New York. "The new antiwar pictures are all clunks and wind, but they're full of fervent acting and affectingly rough - they lack the usual studio overpolish. Robert Redford's Lions for Lambs is the clunkiest, windiest, and roughest of the lot. Most of it is dead on the screen. But its earnestness is so naked that it exerts a strange pull."

Updated through 11/9.

"Time Out called Lambs 'Politics For Dummys' and even the Times, which sponsored the world-premiere gala, said, 'You can't fault the anger, but the drama glows as brightly as a five-watt bulb,'" notes Matt Mueller at In the Company of Glenn. "Hate to say it, but they're both right. I wasn't sure what to expect from the first film out of Cruise's revived United Artists label, but - in spite of early warning signs - it wasn't this stagebound theatre piece."

"Lions for Lambs is, to put it mildly, beyond stagey," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "And it runs a brisk 88 minutes in large part because it doggedly, frustratingly refuses to truly delve into the issues it brings up, mistaking newspaper headline-based speeches full of tired talking points for thrilling, incisive debate."

"Boy, this is a cheap-looking picture," sighs Paul Matwychuk. Still, "Screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan (who also wrote the much flashier Middle East action picture The Kingdom) is onto something with this script. Anyone who's ever mocked George W Bush from the safety of their living-room couch will probably feel their conscience pricked by the film's argument that criticism that isn't backed up with some kind of action - what one might call 'Daily Show activism' - doesn't count for much, especially now, when the global stakes are so high. But Carnahan and Redford's schematic presentation of this theme throws a wet blanket over the entire film."

"It winces with liberal self-chastisement: Redford is surely smart enough to realize, as the professor turns his ire on those who merely chatter while Rome burns, that his movie is itself no better, or more morally effective, than high-concept Hollywood fiddling," writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker.

John Horn profiles Carnahan for the Los Angeles Times.

Ginny Dougary talks with Redford for the London Times.

Update, 11/6: "Known for making stately, linear films with lovely sunsets, Redford has none of the piss and vinegar, the technical bravura, or the hip irony of younger directors making political films, like Stephen Gaghan or Paul Greengrass," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "His editing is artless, the action scenes listless, the characters almost entirely representational of the political attitudes they strike.... What can I tell you? The movie is awful - and also oddly touching, even adorable in its dogged sense of responsibility, its stubborn refusal of style."

Update, 11/7: "Robert Redford has directed a great movie about a nation losing its sense of purpose, a savage indictment of our increasingly bought-and-paid-for mass media, and a cutting depiction of our country's core values ebbing away while a curiously indifferent American public remains too lazy and distracted to even bother noticing," writes the Philadelphia Weekly. "Unfortunately, the movie I'm talking about was called Quiz Show, and Redford made it 13 years ago. His latest effort Lions for Lambs attempts to tackle all the same subjects, only with a much greater sense of urgency and an absolutely breathtaking absence of artistry."

Updates, 11/8: "[A]mid the torrent of similarly opportunistic fare coming out of Hollywood this fall, Lions for Lambs is the singularly sanctimonious, heavy-handed and counterproductive of the lot," writes Neil Morris in the Independent Weekly.

"In the best directing of his auteur career, Redford turns Carnahan's original script into a modern-day version of what Sergei Eisenstein called 'Intellectual Montage,'" proposes Armond White in the New York Press. "Not sneaking-in pinko-Clooney cynicism, but an upfront visual dialectic. The three group exchanges (in a faculty office, a Senator's inner sanctum, a secret military mission) alternate the passions of those who observe the war, monitor its execution or actually fight it; their opinions and provocations have head-spinning fervor but are always rooted in character."

"The film, really more a forum than a film..., collects commonplace talk on the issues at hand, things you hear spoken all around you these days, and it crams them into the mouths of tenuously connected, sketchily conceived fictional characters," writes Duncan Shepherd in the San Diego Reader: "('Didn't we also arm Saddam in the 80s?' 'How about a strategy to bring the troops home?' 'Rome is burning, son.' That sort of stuff.) Presented for the most part in a constricted face-shot style, and rather sickly in complexion for so eminent a cinematographer as Philippe Rousselot, it comes to us out of the evident conviction that we are at too critical a time in our history to be bothered with amenities such as art and artfulness, imagination and invention. (Still another indicator, like no shampoo on airplanes, that the terrorists have won.) And - despite an A-list cast of Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep, and Robert Redford, the last of whom also directed - it logs in at several ticks under ninety minutes, as if any greater elaboration would have dangerously delayed the delivery of the message."

"Robert Redford's direction is so bizarrely airless that Lions's advocates may soon be calling it 'experimental,'" writes Vadim Rizov at the Reeler. "It's a movie that feels like it skipped off-Broadway for reasons unknown.... It's so creaky, so basic-cable in its production values, you have to wonder if it's not meant to be taken at face value."

"[B]etween the three stories, the Cruise-Streep storyline is most fulfilling," writes Omar Mouallem in Vue Weekly. "The other two are either unimportant or uninspired."

"Redford admits, 'I think this film will probably have a rough time getting traction,' a prediction bolstered by the underwhelming box office of In the Valley of Elah and Rendition," writes Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper. "And that, he worries, may mean that the fall's glut of war-themed films may be followed by another drought."

At Alternet, Sari Gelzer has a guide to all those Iraq movies out there this season.

Updates, 11/9: "It tells us everything most of us know already, including the fact that politicians lie, journalists fail and youth flounders," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Mostly it tells us that Mr Redford feels really bad about the state of things. Welcome to the club."

"Lions for Lambs is just about everything I hate in a movie: It's self-righteous, didactic, dramatically and visually static and, in places, extremely boring," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "But I found myself thinking about it for hours, even days, after I saw it, which is more than I can say for most of the politically themed fiction movies - In the Valley of Elah, Rendition that have trickled quietly into and out of theaters this fall."

"[I]t gives liberalism such a bad name that on leaving the cinema, I felt like going out and getting a nude study of Norman Podhoretz tattooed on my inner thigh," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw.

"The most aggravating thing about Lions for Lambs isn't its earnest attempt to instruct," writes Annie Wagner in the Stranger. "It's that Carnahan didn't do the research that would've made the details remotely plausible."

"If it weren't for Streep and Cruise, looking like an old lion and a young jackal circling each other warily in the jungle, Lions for Lambs wouldn't feel like a movie at all," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "Redford may have played The Candidate once, but Cruise is a guy you get the feeling people will be voting for in the not-too-distant future."

It's "a hopelessly stilted political drama that plays like US News & World Report: The Movie," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club.

"Lions for Lambs appears to have been created by someone who's never seen one of these newfangled contraptions called 'movies,' or for that matter, witnessed that phenomenon known as 'speech,'" writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "Everyone in the movie talks incessantly... but not a line of dialogue sounds like something that anyone has ever actually said. After a while, the script's denatured quality takes on a fascination of its own: Just how does this earnest, well-intentioned movie, crammed to the rafters with talent, manage to feel so thoroughly phony?"

"Worse, for all of Carnahan's and Redford's attempts to clear the air, Lions for Lambs actually clouds it with the same misguided liberal antiwar strategy that's made the last five years such a battle of political attrition - after standing by or even abetting the Iraq War equivocating dissenters now march to the same 'we love the troops' drumbeat as neocon apologists in order to ensure their moral infallibility," writes Michael Joshua Rowin at Reverse Shot.

Adam Balz has a story to tell at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

"This is no perfect work of art, but neither is a report from the front," writes Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle. "Its strengths are the strengths of journalism, not the strengths of, say, a Tolstoy novel."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:20 AM | Comments (4)

November 4, 2007

Fests and events, 11/4.

Am Ende Kommen Touristen "With And Along Come Tourists, writer-director Robert Thalheim has made an understated film about a particularly sensitive place where past and present collide with unforgotten atrocities: the present-day town of Oswiecim, Poland, site of the Auschwitz extermination camp," writes Jürgen Fauth, noting, too, that the film's opened Kino! 2007, Featuring Kino! Berlin at MoMA, running through November 14.

Related: Dan Sallitt recommends catching Maria Speth's Madonnas.

"Walther Ruttmann's Symphony of a City, screened twice at Zankel Hall on Saturday, was conceived as an abstract exercise in composition: think Rodchenko turned to film (though Ruttmann does not quite have Rodchenko's eye for a detail that is both telling and original)," blogs Anne Midgette from the Berlin in Lights Festival for the New York Times. "But though avant-garde in 1927, today it awakens primarily a voyeuristic response: what was life like then?"

"The Croatian series at the Walter Reade is turning up a lot of interesting work that isn't well known here in the US," writes Dan Sallitt. "My favorite so far is Veljko Bulajic's Train Without a Timetable, from 1959."

Jeff Wall The exhibition Jeff Wall: Exposure is open at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin through January 20 and includes a film series programmed by the photographer.

"A new British Film Institute season provides the opportunity not just to reassess a remarkable outsider, but to reflect on the place of music in the cinema," writes David Thomson for the Guardian. "I cannot say that every [Jacques] Demy film is as good as Lola or The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. The Pied Piper, a fairy tale made in Britain with music by Donovan, is not as lyrical or inspired as it needs to be - it is not as good as The Magic Donkey. A Slightly Pregnant Man, in which Marcello Mastroianni is expecting, proves too broad for Demy's style. But Bay of Angels is as good as anything he did." Through November 29.

The Observer's Jason Solomons has a suggestion for the London Film Festival: "Some form of competition would, I think, lend the festival a narrative and create that vital elixir of all film festivals, 'buzz'.... A Golden Nelson or a Golden Pigeon would make London a festival worth winning on the global circuit."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:05 PM

"Writers in Hollywood."

Raymond Chandler "I am not interested in why the Hollywood system exists or persists, nor in learning out of what bitter struggles for prestige it arose, nor in how much money it succeeds in making out of bad pictures," wrote Raymond Chandler in the Atlantic in 1945 (while Warner Bros was reworking The Big Sleep). "I am interested only in the fact that as a result of it there is no such thing as an art of the screenplay, and there never will be as long as the system lasts, for it is the essence of this system that it seeks to exploit a talent without permitting it the right to be a talent. It cannot be done; you can only destroy the talent, which is exactly what happens - when there is any to destroy."

Related: For the Los Angeles Times, Richard Rayner reviews Judith Freeman's The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:23 PM | Comments (2)

Antarctica and Abu Ghraib.

Werner Herzog / Errol Morris After watching Werner Herzog and Errol Morris talk docs, David D'Arcy has a quick one-on-one with Morris. A couple of notes follow.

Werner Herzog is taking his new film, Encounters at the End of the World, on a victory lap around the festival circuit, and Errol Morris is about to finish his latest, S.O.P.: Standard Operating Procedure, which examines the photographs taken by US soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison, mostly through interviews with the people who took them.

Both directors were once outsider mavericks - as much by their exclusion from the movie marketplace as by their own artistic decisions. Yet each has found his way inside, toward the mainstream, if not quite there. Herzog's Encounters will play on the Discovery Channel, which produced the picaresque film about Antarctica. Morris's film was produced by Participant and by Sony Pictures Classics, which should help get it beyond the art-house circuit. And beyond the art-house circuit is exactly where a film about Abu Ghraib should be. Let's hope it's out there in time for the electorate to take into consideration. This comes at a time when an Abu Ghraib t-shirt, with a pile of nude bodies drawn on it, is being hawked on the Internet as "the most comfortable t-shirt ever!" No news on whether there's a money-back guarantee on that claim. There sure wasn't on the promise by the Bush team that the slam-dunk Iraq war would be financed by oil revenues.

S.O.P. will also be published as a book, co-authored by Philip Gourevitch, which will include fuller accounts of the marathon interviews that Morris conducted with the amateur photographers and with others up the chain of command. As with most things that make sense, you wonder why filmmakers hadn't done this before.

I reviewed the Herzog adventure in Antarctica for Screen at the Toronto International Film Festival, and on October 23, I was fortunate to hear Herzog and Morris talk about documentaries and a range of other things at Brandeis University, where Alice Kelikian, director of Film Studies, promises that there will be more such conversations to come. Let's hope so.

You can listen to Herzog and Morris on the Brandeis site, beginning with Herzog's provocative assertion that verite documentaries are dead - this, in the city where Fred Wiseman still lives and works. This is not just wish fulfillment. Encounters is evidence, once again, of the impact a narrative voice can have.

The Herzog-Morris conversation then moves on to war stories about the two of them keeping vigils in the chilly Wisconsin town where the serial killer Ed Guine lived and "worked," and about visiting another vicious killer in a California penitentiary. Morris and Herzog address the problematic notion of "truth-telling" in non-fiction films - a panel subject if there ever were one - which seems to be taking up where discussions of "objectivity" left off. Part of that conversation involves the strategy of "withholding," not giving the audience all that it wants. (For Herzog, that involved not playing the audio of a man being eaten by a grizzly bear in Grizzly Man. He also resists the temptation to track a penguin in Antarctica that inexplicably walks into the interior of the continent, to certain death.)

After the event, Errol Morris shared a few thoughts and opinions:

Standard Operating Procedure On the interview process on which he built Standard Operating Procedure: "At first no one would talk to me, and then as I did additional interviews and additional interviews, it became easier and easier. Now I have a backlog of people who want to be interviewed, and I have a movie that's almost done, if not, for all intents and purposes, completely done. So, I don't know what I did. At the New York Times, my editor suggested that I release some of this material to the Times."

On the origins of the Abu Ghraib project: "I ended up with Abu Ghraib photographs... through [the photographer] Roger Fenton, through a passage by Susan Sontag for a series of articles that I'm doing for the Times. I originally though that I would make a movie about Fenton, Alexander Gardner and the Abu Ghraib photographs, and then it quickly morphed into just Abu Ghraib."

On acceptance by the mainstream: "It hasn't happened yet. It would be nice. It's odd. You make these movies, and then you make other movies. I somehow seem to forget about what I've done in the middle of struggling to produce something else, and that is always in the forefront of my mind. I like to think I'm doing something daring each time, but there's no market calculation - will people be interested in this, or will people be interested in that? I had just made Fast, Cheap and Out of Control, and an interviewer asked me whether this was a calculation on my part to create an obvious audience-pleaser, by making a movie about a robot scientist, a topiary gardener, a mole rat photographer and a lion tamer. I tried to assure him that there was no market calculation there. I was actually surprised that anyone went to see the movie. I hope I'm presently surprised the next time around, if I'm lucky."

On the relationship between technology and creativity: "I don't think it hinders creativity. Creativity is creativity. I think the tools are something else. I know that my interviews have been transformed by new technology. When I first started doing interviews, I was what I call the eleven-minute psychiatrist - 16 mm, 400-foot roll; 35 mm, 1000-foot roll. With eleven minutes and a couple of frames, you're basically the eleven-minute psychiatrist. Every eleven minutes you have to stop. Someone takes the magazine off the camera. Someone reloads the magazine, or a magazine that's already loaded is put in its place. You have to slate again. So it's this interview interruptus, this process of putting something together, and it's expensive. I never had the money to really shoot all that much. Now I have this high-end Sony camera that I used for Standard Operating Procedure, a high-def 24-frame camera. It's the same camera that was used to shoot Star Wars, and I never have to stop. All that's involved is popping out a 2-hour cassette and popping in another one. Total elapsed time, a couple seconds. No need to re-slate, no need to stop the interview, no need to do anything. You just go on. The result is that it's changed my interviewing. My first interview  for Standard Operating Procedure with Janis Karpinski (commanding officer of the prison) was 16½ hours over two days - the woman with the strongest bladder in the human race."

On penguins in documentaries today: "The publisher of the book, Standard Operating Procedure is Penguin. There is a penguin in my life. There you go. I've been shown up."

On watching his earlier films: "Sometimes I'm forced to, because I'm invited to a festival and they show the movie. Robert Ebert has been a fan of Gates of Heaven for years and years and years, and he has a festival in Champagne-Urbana. I've been invited there, and watched the film, because he always shows it. It's a strange feeling. I've seen most of my films long after the fact, but it's not something that I try to do. I suppose I could try to purge myself of them before beginning anew, but it would be purging myself of myself. I'd love to purge myself of myself, but somehow I think I'm un-purgible."

On what is perceived to be his predilection for odd characters, and his stated belief that the human species has an inexhaustible capacity for self-delusion: "Very fortunately. God in his infinite wisdom has provided an almost unending supply of wackiness in this world. One never has to go wanting for a crazy story. And sometimes they come to me."

-David D'Arcy


"Harry Knapp, an assistant director, said, 'There is a silent war on the set. We're all in a state of shock.'" Daniel Zalewski has a long piece in the Observer on the making of Rescue Dawn.

Christopher Sturman talks with Herzog for the Telegraph.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:01 AM

November 3, 2007

NYFF. Views. 4.

Following the first, second and third parts of his overview of the Views from the Avant-Garde series of this year's New York Film Festival, Michael Sicinski here considers the work of Lewis Klahr, Luther Price and Ernie Gehr. One note follows.

NYFF 07 As November looms and the rest of the (sane) film world has long since moved on, I struggle to complete this cycle of essays on 2007's Views from the Avant-Garde, a writing project that has become much more involved than I ever anticipated. This is due in no small part to the sheer breadth and richness of the work on display, and the relatively short amount of time in which to absorb it. But it's also a testament, for good or ill, to a certain compulsive streak in my own nature, as both a writer and a viewer. In addition to the usual anxieties that keep any given writer in line, such as the drive for accuracy or the race against the clock for preserving timeliness, I often feel saddled with a sense that there is far more to see than I ever actually could, and much more to say about those films I do see than there's ever time (or brain-power) to achieve. This is only compounded as Views recedes into the rearview mirror, and its specific weekend nexus of concentrated art-shock gets thinned out into the bloodstream, rejoining other strands of life such as (in my own case) teaching, chasing after a toddler, and sneaking in the occasional new film. It gets a bit maddening.

Arcades Project / Mnemosyne Atlas So unsurprisingly, I've been thinking about obsession and compulsion. These are states of mind that are routinely trivialized in our culture, reduced to a punch line about Tony Shalhoub having to tie and retie his shoes 47 times. We tend to favor the relative stability of the generalist, along with a multi-tasking ability that implicitly signals a somewhat blasé attitude about any given activity, a diversification of our libidinal portfolio, as it were. Don't get fixated on any one thing. However, there's a particular breed of artwork that tends to emerge from the headspace of obsession. We sometimes misunderstand it, slotting it into available cultural tropes about "mad genius," which is really beside the point. Actually, the obsessive artwork is usually a perfectly reasonable response to a set of data in the world that just don't add up. It can be a doomed effort to retrieve a lost paradise, real or imagined (cf. Stan Brakhage's elusive "untutored vision"); an attempt to transmit impressions of a trans-temporal world of the spirit through available material remnants (Joseph Cornell's curio-cabinet sculptures as little time-machines); a record of an altered consciousness the visual description of which was already a "coming-down" (the psycho-molecular film world of Harry Smith); or a philosophical inquiry into the gaps and silences that secretly organize our thinking, and possibly the entire culture around us in its catastrophic decline (Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project, or its tremulous, paranoid twin, Aby Warburg's Mnemosyne Atlas).

Works such as these are both illuminating and at times intractable, perhaps demanding of our temporary submission to a total vision. A drop-in visit won't really illuminate anything; we have to stay for a while, sift through the clutter and find our own ordered path. This is often hard. I personally don't always know what to make of individual works or even entire careers steeped in this form of obsessive creation. This is partly circumstantial - how many of us have the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the oeuvre of a particularly challenging experimental filmmaker? But it's also a sensibility issue, one I struggle against. I feel more comfortable with clean lines and strict parameters, even as I know that in the long run it's the unruly, the schizo-expansive, the tendril-like, the images that quiver and ooze beyond the careful confines of the screens in our minds - the films that threaten us - that most possess the capacity to change who we are and how we see.

Lewis Klahr The radically singular cinema of Lewis Klahr is a case in point. It seems like I had seen nearly eight or nine of Klahr's films, all of them thoroughly confusing to me, until it finally clicked... sort of. Klahr is our preeminent master of cut-out animation film, a daunting and powerful sub-lineage in avant-garde cinema that encompasses the great works of Harry Smith, Lawrence Jordan, and certain aspects of the work of Robert Breer. Klahr is virtually alone in continuing this heritage; among his contemporaries, only Martha Colburn works in remotely the same register. But whereas Colburn's work exhibits a grungy, paint-slathered punk vibe, Klahr follows the Jordan road - clean lines, careful layering, resulting in highly composed chamber works of image and texture. Upon encountering earlier works such as Pony Glass and Downs Are Feminine, they struck me as accomplished but rather hermetic, speaking to a set of private concerns I could not entirely access. And, as with Jordan's films, Klahr's work tantalized its viewers with a barest hints of narrative cohesion - often a single semi-humanoid protagonist in an enclosed world with rules all its own - but withheld the usual signposts that made narrative films "go." Diachronic development above all was an intermittent trickster presence; vertical time relationships were far more common, leading to a deceptive density.

Two Hours to Zero These films looked as though they should be open and inviting, drawing as they did on a recognizable image-bank (1950s interiors, heterosexual pairings, and especially the world of classic comic-books). But more often they described inchoate, barely-defined anxieties and yearnings. In particular, his early magnum opus, the multi-film Tales of the Forgotten Future series, dangled clues before the copy stand but always held their secrets back, at least to me. In time, I realized that even though Klahr's work does indeed thrive on an esoteric, private-world quality, that world was clearly less accessible to me than to some viewers, since I had no personal history with comic books. It's ridiculously literal and painfully reductive to harp on this as some sort of passkey to Klahr's films, but I now think that perhaps the films, at least in part, represent tentative records of one (young) mind and its reading strategies, a visual and sonic compendium of the dreams and half-understood (grown-up) promises those comics may have stimulated - a half-fantasy, half-dystopia conjured under the sheets by flashlight. In this regard, it probably stands to reason that my own breakthrough with Klahr's work came with 2004's Two Minutes to Zero Trilogy, which in many respects is one of his most purely formalist efforts. A close-up series of whip-pans and zooms around the surface of a crime comic, the narrative nuts and bolts of which come through in tiny cognitive shards, the trilogy finds Klahr exploring Ben-Day patterns, the camera's kinetic properties, and the shifting temporal effects created by radically different soundtracks. (The second film, Two Hours to Zero, bears a particularly funky Rhys Chatham riff.)

Antigenic Drift

In a way, this rather abstracted version of Klahr's approach - using the camera to "cut and paste," really - helped clarify for me just how much of Klahr's artistry has to do with the unique collision of textures, surfaces and hues he uses to invoke not mere nostalgia but all-encompassing psychic states, alluding to particular historical moments while hovering in a non-time all their own. His newest work, Antigenic Drift, moves these concerns into the realm of video, and it's odd the extent to which it matters so little while at the same time being an unavoidable sensation, possibly an obstacle. Drift is every inch a Klahr film, treating the screen as a field of activity for unmoored images and fragmentary environments. The piece's title refers to mutations a virus undergoes to remain viable against increased immunity. This partly explains a sense of atmospheric quarantine, in particular an almost 2D Joseph Cornell propensity for pinning mobile objects down, sealing them under translucent blankets of rubber and plastic, giving hints of eminent travel but curtailing free movement at almost every turn. Bodies want to drift, and perhaps we are the viruses ourselves, forever trying to outstrip a world that wants to annihilate us at every turn. At the same time, Antigenic Drift self-reflexively addresses the medium of video, the unavoidable dominance of new image technologies in response to celluloid's alleged death. The hot-white glow of video projection seems strangely out of place, partly because the piece is mostly a study in matte surfaces, with video's electric glisten thrown incongruously into the mix. But the themes of mutation and virulence force us to consider how Klahr's own artistic practice has adapted to the changes we can no longer avoid. He is by no means alone. Video is a virus that, in the end, will probably infect every last one of us.

Still, a likely candidate for celluloid's Omega Man is Luther Price. Just as Klahr has adopted the cutout animation style and bent it to his own idiosyncratic needs, Price has virtually reinvented the found-footage idiom. Price's approach is difficult to describe; he produces dense, often terrifying filmworks that turn both the material he appropriates and much of the history of found-footage cinema inside out. Most film-collagists attempt, in some form or another, to create new, integral contexts for the images they recycle, be they personal reverie (Cornell's Rose Hobart), social criticism (the films of Bruce Conner), rhythmic invention (Abigail Child and Julie Murray), or media jamming (Craig Baldwin). Price, in a sense, does the same thing, but in reverse. His films usually refuse to cohere, seeming to resist the clear meanings or interpretive semiosis that recognizable imagery seemingly should enable. But more than this, the physical filmstrip as Price assembles it frequently appears to be on the verge of snapping apart into its component parts, as though their coalescence into "a Luther Price film" were some sort of momentary aberrant clusterfuck of dirty celluloid.

Luther Price: Me Gut No Dog Dog In some ways this may be the case. Early work by Price, including lengthy Super-8 films and some documented performances, seemed to entail film-objects that came apart and went back together (sometimes) in radically different configurations, picking up where Jack Smith left off in terms of ephemera and gonzo queer aggression. But even the "solid" films bear traces of hard living - rough splices, deep gashes, the chug and thwap of soundtracks carved deep into the optical strip. The first Price film I saw, 1989's Sodom, exemplified this attitude and the visceral shocks it can provide far in excess of content alone. Although the film incorporates a fairly wide variety of imagery, all of it subsumed in darkness and a generally menacing, unnatural firelight, its primary refrain consists of a row of naked men sitting on the floor of an undefined dungeon-space and autofellating, a single leg thrown behind their own heads as they form some sort of perverse chorus line, a dark fantasy of the sort Gaspar Noé would have liked to achieve in the opening scenes of Irreversible but perhaps lacked the imagination. But even on the level of the filmstrip, Price perforates the celluloid colon with puncture wounds, cracked frames, and compressed and even interpenetrating image fragments. Sodom the object, then, is both dirty and delicate, and its run through a projector is liable to leave some shit on both partners. Far less shocking on the surface but actually even more diffuse and dilapidated as a piece of projectable film, 1994's Run is a Super-8 study of a bird on a wire, twitching and sputtering beneath scratches, crumbling emulsion, and a washed-out gray that flattens space to an almost absurd degree, the film image hanging there like a rained-on pencil drawing from another century left in the elements to fend for itself. Against this dominant aesthetic, Price inserts jagged, thrusting bits of suburban landscape, crisscrossed telephone wires against a hollowed-out sky, and other bits and pieces that threaten to form a tentative mise-en-scène but instead simply push the slightest compositional elements - thin lines, Scotch-taped patches, blotchy areas - around the frame like smoke.

Price has been prolific in recent years, working mostly in 16mm. According to those far more immersed in his work than I, his current work mode frequently entails assembling multiple copies of a given reel of found-footage material and composing several different films from that same image group. Having seen only one configuration-film of his last two Views works, I can't compare. But hearing this doesn't surprise me, since Price's recent work even in a single arrangement evinces a compulsive de-structuring of images and sounds, a tendency toward separation and coagulation in which groups of frames form single textural units while being kept apart from traditional montage forms which would coax parsed meanings from the blur. Last year's Turbulant Blue [sic] is a throbbing formal study in midnight blue and shadow black, as well as the staging of an embattled tension between total abstraction and recognizable content. Price takes bits of a Charles Bronson film, with its exploding buildings and cat-and-mouse shoot-'em-ups, and carves out certain formal and graphic commonplaces of the action / cop-drama idiom - a lurking, bald-headed white man striking medium-range, gun-toting poses against an icy environment filled with the alienated dread of architectural modernism - here, as if cutting out the middleman, done up in blueprint blue. Price frequently presents the images upside down but consistently segments them horizontally, resulting in a stuttered frame divided into thirds, these fraught masculinized spaces reduced to interpenetrating surfaces. In fact, Turbulant Blue clarified for me a possible connection between Price's work and that of another found-footage obsessivist, Michele Smith. What she does to mass media images horizontally and temporally, Price does vertically and spatially.

Price's film from Views 2007, The Mongrel Sister, moves in an altogether new direction while retaining a sense that the mere act of putting one image against another can generate a veritable vortex of doom. More so than in the earlier works of Price's I've seen, The Mongrel Sister makes use of the straight cut, the most basic form of cinematic decoupage. There are small hiccups of black leader, of chunky splices keeping the images separate, but still, in theory, The Mongrel Sister's straightforward construction should at least gesture toward a greater coherence. In fact, it is the most inexplicable Price film I've seen yet, a warped filmstrip from a combination science and health lesson in which the object is to invade the students' nightmares as a means of social control. Price gives us close-up shots of a bright green tree frog, intercut with a nervous looking young woman of what appears to be the 1970s, the two species hovering in mutual mistrust. As with earlier Price films, The Mongrel Sister seems like it could snap apart in the projector gate, but in this case the consequences are unclear. Would the young woman feel liberated from a gawking irrational presence? Or would both she and frog, faded culture and dead-eyed nature, crumble and fall to the floor in a heap of emulsion and dust? To paraphrase Godard, The Mongrel Sister is, like most of Luther Price's work, a film adrift in the cosmos, its hermetic yet visceral evocation of emotional turmoil bordering on psychosis. That's one menacing frog. After a single viewing, I barely recall the specifics of Price's film, only a set of flashes and jangled nerves, and this seems to be by design. Even in the mind, his films insist on coming apart at the seams.

Ernie Gehr As the paradigmatic examples of Klahr and Price demonstrate, filmmaking in the obsessive mode is not just about furtive toil on myriad little cities of a private universe. It also has to do with a particular way of shaping the object, a fussy perfectionism that nevertheless eschews the fine sheen of traditional presentation quality. Film-objects that are worked and overworked will often resemble the canvases of Cy Twombly or the drawings of Alberto Giacometti, with visible hashmarks and retraced lines demarcating the path that perceptions take as they shift across time. In short, the obsessive mode is deeply formalist, but that can sometimes be difficult to see. This works in reverse as well. After a nearly 40-year career, it might at last be possible to definitively state the obvious - Ernie Gehr is not a "structuralist" filmmaker. Yes, his earliest masterworks such as Serene Velocity (1970) and Table (1976) display an uncanny sense of mathematical rigor and precision. But as they've taken their place in the long, distinguished roll-call of Gehr's filmography, alongside deeply observational works like Still (1971), gentle materialist haikus like Untitled (1977), hypothetical autobiographies like Signal - Germany on the Air (1985) and visceral examinations of the toll of rootless cosmopolitanism in Side / Walk / Shuttle (1991), we can perhaps finally see them more clearly for what they are: quirky, highly personal expressions from a modernist film poet, for whom "formalism" is merely a means for skirting the solipsism that usually sinks less rigorous autobiographical art. Gehr's cinema is just as much about how its maker perceives his sensory and emotional life as Brakhage's cinema, or Ross McElwee's, or Abel Ferrara's for that matter. Shame on us if we confuse a fundamental modesty of approach with "cold" abstraction.

Before the Olympics Gehr's turn to video work has in some ways extended this personal element, since the trajectory of this second stage of his career is characterized by the artist learning what video can do. Ever since 2001's Cotton Candy, a study of pre- and proto-cinematic penny-arcade toys, Gehr's video work has explored his fascination with the optical world, particularly early technologies like the camera obscura (Glider, 2001), the thaumotrope (Before the Olympics, 2006), and early cinema itself (The Astronomer's Dream, 2004; The Morse Code Operator (or The Monkey Wrench), 2006). How can digital video both bring these distant formats and the dreams they represented closer to us, and how does digital simultaneously thrust them further into the past? These works exhibit humor and a dedicated intellectual inquiry, but again, they are also examples of Gehr bringing his own obsessions into a new arena, testing the current reality to see whether or not those long-gone preoccupations can make some different sort of sense. They are, in some significant way, self-portraits of a way of seeing, one that is increasingly cognizant of its mortality in a hostile, super-mediated present.

This year Gehr presented four new video works at Views, and although it may not have been readily apparent (especially to those still fixated on formalist categories), each represents an elaboration of this cumulative project of understanding the digital image-world and Gehr's own place within it. The most striking of the new works, Shadow is perhaps the most old-fashioned, which is to say, most cinematic in the 20th-century sense. A series of interiors, the video provides us with lengthy shots of light and shadow on blank white walls, the evening sun through the trees creating a dense magic-lantern play along the lengths of empty rooms. We see the shadows unfurl themselves and eventually dissipate. In conversation after the Views program, Gehr told the audience that this work was most concretely about loss and the passage of time, implying both on a personal and a filmic level that fixing those flickers on the wall that give so much meaning to our dreams and our waking lives is a futile struggle against the inevitable. If both we and film are dying, it seems, the best we can achieve is to be attentive, to watch and wait so as to retard time's decay.

10th Avenue

The three remaining videos represented varying degrees of intractability, leading me to more questions than conclusions. They may well reveal their secrets as their place in an overall trajectory emerges, or simply as they sit and unfold in my mind. The two videos entitled Cinematic Fertilizer use the rapid alternation of single images to create a highly kinetic thaumatrope structure, one which combines organic forms (most notably trees in various states of autumnal baldness) with manmade architectural features. Although the larger aims of the piece remain significantly less clear than other Gehr works (apart from the obvious - that cinema's enlivening power makes things go, and grow), they hint at greater possibilities. The longest of Gehr's new works, 10th Avenue (aka Work In Progress), is both the most complex and in many ways the most obdurate. The video, which consists of an at-first fragmentary but increasingly comprehensible spatial study of fixed-frame views around the titular avenue in Manhattan, harks back to earlier Gehr films such as Still and Signal. But whereas those films used structured repetitions and measured pans to orchestrate spatial ambiguities, 10th Avenue adopts a modular, serial pattern in which single views' connection to those that precede and follow remain difficult to discern. In fact, the rather uninflected video images, with their glossy televisual quality, tend to flatten out differences between the shots, so that even in radical dissimilarity, a surface haze of uniform light and texture emerges. Eventually, Gehr's straightforward medium-long shots give way to medium shots taking us into the spaces from which we've been kept so far removed, and at times he even peeks behind fences to give us close-ups of tar machines and other building equipment, resulting in strange eyeline inserts unlike anything in the Gehr filmography. What does it mean? Well, considering the fact that Gehr has recently returned to New York City after a 15-year stint on the West Coast, it's hard not to read the video as a revision of earlier work, as well as a kind of record of dislocation and discomfort. Like a stakeout, 10th Avenue watches and collects data, but the video conveys the sense that Gehr is not yet sure what that information will yield, or how he feels about it. Like a true obsessive, Gehr is recording impressions that will lead to other impressions, and will certainly reveal their meanings only after more and more fragments come into focus, to form the strange new world that is, indeed, a work in progress.

-Michael Sicinski


Gehr's Serene Velocity "invites a really intense viewer participation," writes Zach Campbell, and this leads to a few more generalized thoughts:

I would like to think... that those of us who advocate for a-g cinema, or specific a-g films, are not trying to reproduce a vanguard to which only a happy few may join (i.e., I don't want to be part of a recruitment campaign for an elite). I would like to think that those of us who watch, love, and recommend these works of cine-poetry do so out of affection and even, in a way, impersonal interest: the field may always be small or minoritarian; that's OK; the room can be small or out-of-the-way so long as the door is open to anyone. And the directions to that room, the advocacy for this kind of cinema, should not be openly or tacitly about building a clique, but about relating certain kinds of knowledge and experience even in an a priori limited capacity.


And yes, November can loom even after it's begun.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:46 PM

European Film Awards. Nominations.

Nominated for Best European Film

"At the Seville Film Festival the European Film Academy and EFA Productions announced the nominations for the 20th European Film Awards. The 1,800 EFA Members will now vote for the winners which will be presented during the Awards Ceremony on 1 December in Berlin."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:03 PM

NYT & LAT. Holiday previews.

Sweeney Todd Something slightly macabre tinges the special holiday preview sections set up this weekend in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. Of course, they were prepared long before the writers' strike became a sure thing and all the movies on parade here, too, are wrapped and ready to roll. But as Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes point out in their NYT piece on the strike set to begin on Monday, if the TV talk show circuit is thrown into repeat mode for weeks on end, how will these movies get promoted? In general, depending on how long this strike lasts and how bitter the standoff between writers and their employers becomes, this holiday season may turn out to be one of the least festive in many years.

Updated through 11/4.

At any rate, like the papers, let's buck up and see what they've got on the movies slated for screens over the next couple of months come hell or high water. David Carr, bracing himself for another awards season spent blogging as The Carpetbagger, reminds us (as if we needed to be reminded) that, in Hollywood, this season's all about the Oscars. But he's got a fresh twist here; he argues that the Academy's "growing tendency to nominate and vote for ambitious, risky films - movies that reside outside the forest of studio blockbusters - suggests that the annual bacchanal actually nurtures important work."

Caryn James spots a running theme: "There Will Be Blood may be the title of a film opening the day after Christmas, but it could be the slogan for this entire holiday season."

White Christmas The NYT gets prominent film folk to write up their favorite holiday movies, so we get Harvey Weinstein on Miracle in Milan and White Christmas; James Schamus on The Apartment; Marjane Satrapi on Pink Flamingos; and Christine Vachon on The Poseidon Adventure.

I'm going to collate and reshuffle the papers' specials and lay out pointers in order of the movies' releases again - but I won't be as thorough with the listings as I was earlier this fall because, really, Dave Kehr's already done his usual herculean job so well, why mimic it meekly? Here's what he's got for November, December and January. And Charles Taylor and Stephanie Zacharek have studied the DVD release schedules and picked out the highlights. But these are the theatrical releases the papers are spotlighting:

"[T]he Iraq war is happening in the time of blogs, camcorders and the Internet, and Redacted, which opens Nov 16, tells its entire story through a montage of those media, as well as surveillance cameras, news reports, terrorist websites - nearly all of it re-created from what [Brian] De Palma found on the Web," writes Charles Taylor. "Paradoxically, though there are more outlets for them, images from Iraq have not dominated the public consciousness in the way images from Vietnam did. That, De Palma says, was the prime inspiration for Redacted. 'Where are the pictures?'"

Sarah Lyall meets Heath Ledger in talk about I'm Not There, opening November 21. "[B]ecause Christian Bale, the actor who plays [an] early Dylan in the film, was scheduled to film his scenes after Mr Ledger, Mr Ledger said he was faced with 'playing an actor portraying Christian portraying a Dylanesque character, and not being sure what Christian was going to do.' Or, to put it another way, 'Who was I playing when I was acting?'... He is here in London filming the latest episode of the Batman franchise, The Dark Knight. (Mr Bale, as it happens, plays Batman; Mr Ledger plays the Joker.)"

"In Disney's Enchanted, which is to open on Nov 21, [Amy] Adams stars as Giselle, first as the tinkly-voiced citizen of the animated land of Andalasia, and then, after she is pushed down a watery portal by the evil Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon), as a three-dimensional woman in modern-day New York," writes Margy Rochlin. "'Too much wink,' is how [director Kevin] Lima described other actresses' coy takes on Giselle. Ms Adams, on the other hand, could imitate a hand-drawn Disney heroine's zero-gravity etherealness and dainty gestures and still convey plenty of feeling."

The Savages

"Devoid of the quirks and sappiness that increasingly typify American indie cinema, [The Savages, opening November 28] captures the sorrow, anxiety and sheer disruptive tumult involved in dealing with aging, dying parents — a subject at once universal and vaguely taboo," writes Dennis Lim, who talks with director Tamara Jenkins.

"As the eponymous heroine of Juno (Dec 5), a comedy about a pregnant 16-year-old that is being touted as this year's Little Miss Sunshine, [Ellen] Page owns her character the way Audrey Hepburn owned Holly Golightly, and the role is going to make her a star," writes Karen Durbin. And Susan King has a brief chat with Jason Bateman, who "seems 180 degrees removed from his character in Juno."

Ian McEwan's novel, Atonement "is among other things a novel about the nature of storytelling," writes Charles McGrath. "In the seminar room, if not at the pitch meeting, you could even call it a meta-text." Here's how that translates to the screen: "For someone who has directed only one other movie - the 2005 Pride & Prejudice, also starring [Keira] Knightley - Joe Wright has a head seemingly stuffed with cinematic history. In Atonement, which opens on Dec 7, he smuggles in a lot of sly and knowing touches." More from Michael Ordoña: "Wright, [cinematographer Seamus] McGarvey, [production designer Sarah] Greenwood and [set decorator Katie] Spencer sat down at the director's temporary home in the Hollywood Hills (where he's staying while they work on his next film, the Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr drama The Soloist) on a remarkably windy evening to discuss the abundant pros and imagined cons of working together so often."

The Golden Compass Gina Piccalo talks with Chris Weitz, who worked "closely" with Philip Pullman on The Golden Compass, opening December 7: "If you properly adapt a book, you should do a miniseries of it. But that's financially impossible. So you're working in the movie form. You are reducing it to its essentials without making it feel rushed. That's the tough thing." Earlier: New Line's "in a precarious spot, trying to please fans who relish Pullman's philosophical and theological puzzles without alienating the very bankable Christian masses."

"In I Am Legend (Dec 14), a lean and lonely [Will] Smith grapples with the isolation of being the last healthy man on earth, three years after a deadly virus - meant to cure cancer - has all but wiped the planet clean of people." A backgrounder from David M Halbfinger. More from Chris Lee: "Over the previous 12 years, a panoply of A-list actors have been attached to the role - notably Tom Cruise, Michael Douglas and Arnold Schwarzenegger - but until Smith came along, none could shepherd the high-concept project into production."

Cahiers: Coppola "Alexandra Maria Lara, 28, doesn't shrink from a challenge," writes Karen Durbin. "Francis Ford Coppola has given her not one but three women of different cultures and eras to play in Youth Without Youth (Dec 14)."

Also: "Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada was 11 when he was chosen to play his first movie role, one of two Afghan boys — Hassan and Amir — who are friends in The Kite Runner (Dec 14).... [H]is Hassan ranks among the great child performances on film."

"The most perceptive and authentic satire is just 10% different from the real thing, and that's the narrow target [Jake] Kasdan and [John C] Reilly's Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is aiming for," writes John Horn. "While movie spoofs are as common these days as comic-book sequels, there's a marked distinction between Walk Hard, which opens Dec 21, and such broad parodies as Epic Movie, The Comebacks and Scary Movie. While all spoof films naturally try to have fun and make moviegoers laugh, Walk Hard wants to be silly by being smart."

"Any way you slice it, it's a gamble," writes Sylviane Gold in her piece on the making of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, opening December 21. "Transferring a stage work to the screen is always dodgy; for musicals, so dependent on the artificial world of the proscenium, the risks are multiplied. To further complicate things [Tim] Burton entrusted the lead roles in this operatic, difficult-to-sing work, which scooped up no less than seven Tony Awards in 1979, to two movie stars [Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter] whose vocal abilities, like those of all but one of the supporting players, were untested. (They include Sacha Baron Cohen, as the competing barber Pirelli.)"

"Despite having won best actress Oscars for 1999's Boys Don't Cry and 2004's Million Dollar Baby - or maybe because of it - the whippet-slender 33-year-old [Hilary] Swank knows she isn't the first person who comes to mind for a romantic comedy." Susan King talks with her about PS I Love You, opening December 21.

Persepolis Rachel Abramowitz listens to Marjane Satrapi talk about Persepolis, opening December 25: "Anybody can relate to the story - for a human being, because of the changes around you, you as an individual feel completely pushed down. This movie is about peace and love. [Co-director] Vincent [Paronnaud] and I were hippies for six months talking about this movie."

"Since his standout performance in the 2001 L.I.E., as an emotionally abandoned suburban teenager who falls under the sway of a predatory older man, [Paul Dano] has contributed solid supporting work in nine feature films," writes Karen Durbin. "But none of those roles allowed him to cut loose the way he does in There Will Be Blood (Dec 26), Paul Thomas Anderson's ambitious reworking of Oil!, Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel about the California oil rush." And Michael Ordoña meets Dano, too; and gets an email from PTA, "saying that Dano 'has more focus than any other young actor I've met... There are a few young actors coming around right now who are very exciting, and I consider Paul the leader of the pack.'"

"In Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Jan 25) the Romanian actress Anamaria Marinca plays Otilia, a college student in her early 20s in Bucharest, who, by the story's end, has the disillusioned gaze of someone who isn't young at all," writes Karen Durbin. "On the screen her transformation is remarkable."

Entertainment Weekly Update, 11/4: Entertainment Weekly's got its "Holiday Movies 2007" package up now, too. Via Anne Thompson.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:51 AM

November 2, 2007

Shorts, 11/2.

"The Kite Runner, based on the bestseller novel by Khaled Hosseini, pushes those [Marc] Forster buttons: political fear and sexual panic," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "Forster's titillating approach keeps the story provocative rather than complex. Politics aside, it recalls sexual and political themes in Vincente Minnelli's great 1960 melodrama Home from the Hill. But Forster's mix of topicality and sensationalism makes The Kite Runner sentimental, not profound."

There Will Be Blood / Southland Tales / The Kite Runner

"Boldly and magnificently strange, There Will Be Blood marks a significant departure in the work of Paul Thomas Anderson," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "The film's zealous interest in a man so alienated from his brethren can be alternately read as a work abnormally fascinated by cold, antisocial behavior, or as a deeply humanistic tract on the wages of misanthropy. Either way, Anderson has embraced his study of a malign man intimately, as has [Daniel] Day-Lewis, who, as always, seems so completely absorbed in his role that it's difficult to imagine him emerging between takes as just an actor playing a part. Daniel is a man who will stop at nothing to achieve the unnatural state of becoming an island onto himself, and Day-Lewis makes him his own."

David Poland would agree - up to about the second hour, when it starts tumbling toward "the absolutely disastrous last major scene in the film." At any rate, Karina Longworth notes at the SpoutBlog that Variety's got a coupla more reviews, too.

"Southland Tales, re-cut since its world premiere at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, is apocalyptic vaudeville, as politicians, cops, Iraq veterans porn stars and an amnesiac actor scramble to fulfil or forestall conspiracies in Los Angeles, culminating in a world-ending Fourth of July," writes David D'Arcy in Screen Daily. "It's an incoherent cataclysmic comedy, and often a wildly funny one."

For Emerging Pictures, Charles Burnett posts an entry on Honeydripper: "[I]t is a joy to watch [John] Sayles, as he does in his other films, work socially relevant issues into his stories without compromising the narrative.... Race is an ongoing issue that good people are not afraid to tackle. John Sayles' films are out front on that issue."

More stars than you can shake a wish at turned up at the Guggenheim last Saturday evening for Francesco Vezzoli's staged reading of Pirandello's 1917 play Right You Are (If You Think You Are, but according to Artforum's Linda Yablonsky not too many seemed happy to be there.

Up-n-coming:

The Talking Cure

If Black Irish "is predicated on some threadbare Irish-American clichés, it's saved by some compelling and committed performances," writes Mike Miliard in the Boston Phoenix. "The story was originally set in New York, but after scouting locations in Boston, [director Brad] Gann writes that he 'immediately understood that these neighborhoods, infused with Irish culture, have retained customs and mores that have remained virtually impervious to outside influence.'" Also, you may remember that gathering of top-o'-the-line critics Glenn Kenny blogged about last week; Gerald Peary gets some good quotes.

Austin Chronicle: Puttin' on the Ritz In his Austin Chronicle cover story on the resurrection of the original Alamo Drafthouse, one of the best-loved movie theaters in the country, Marc Savlov offers a brief history of its new digs: The Ritz.

"Not since Garbo has an actress transfixed the camera with a more unwavering, uncompromising stare than Isabelle Huppert," blogs James Wolcott. "Where Garbo's gaze was an opaque window into the supreme indifference of a deity fatigued by centuries of boredom - a sublime abstraction ('that magnificent mare's head of hers will puzzle our descendents,' wrote Graham Greene) - there's nothing transcendental in Huppert's death-ray stare; it's very much nailed in the here-and-now, the expressionless expression of a temperamental force whose motives are enigmatic even to herself."

"Why is it that these films feel so urgent today, when a decade ago I found them unwatchable?" For Nerve, Bilge Ebiri revisits the work of Kenneth Anger.

"John Huston has three of the greatest film noir efforts ever on celluloid to his credit." At Noir of the Week, William Hare takes a three-part look at the director's career: parts 1, 2 and 3.

Love and Honor "Love and Honor, the final episode in Yoji Yamada's samurai trilogy, maintains the grace and resonance of its predecessors as well as their focus on class inequality," writes Jeannette Catsoulis. But for Aaron Hillis, writing in the Voice, "Yamada's refined Merchant-Ivory approach to the Edo era (slow pace, genteel storytelling, restraint) produces more yawning than fawning."

Back in the New York Times:

  • "The ocean is just large enough to contain the ambition of Sharkwater," writes Matt Zoller Seitz. "This beautiful and horrifying debut feature by the underwater cameraman Rob Stewart of Toronto characterizes the depletion of the world's shark population as an ecological catastrophe with dire consequences for humanity." Aaron Hillis, once again in the Voice: "Stewart is his own star, a would-be Speedo model and whoa-dude narrator whose droning reflections (one finned shark feels 'like part of my family is dying') get in the way of his stunning underwater cinematography."

  • "A triptych of short films set on and immediately after 9/11, A Broken Sole is based on a stage production by its screenwriter and co-producer, Susan Charlotte," writes Matt Zoller Seitz. "One hopes the material played onstage, because it dies on screen."

  • Did the Beaufort team alert the Israeli film academy to the percentage of dialogue spoken in English in The Band's Visit, thereby ensuring its disqualification in the race to be Israel's representative in the Foreign Language Oscar race? Or is the Visit team simply making a fuss for the sake of free PR? Isabel Kershner talks to both sides. But that's not all: "The Arab world's ban of The Band's Visit seems to be less personal, more clear-cut."

  • "The mesmerizing ghost of Richard Burton, at the height of his fame, materializes and dissolves again and again in the Wooster Group's meticulous re-creation of a production of Hamlet staged on Broadway 43 years ago, starring Burton and directed by John Gielgud," writes Ben Brantley. "This downtown troupe's sometimes ravishing, often numbing homage to a fabled theatrical event turns Burton's performance as the Prince of Denmark into a tantalizing on-screen disappearing act at the Public Theater, where the show opened last night."

  • And Douglas Martin remembers Robert Goulet.

"Along with the equally pessimistic and misanthropic A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Blade Runner sets the standard for movies about androids in the post-Metropolis era," writes Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader. "Blade Runner's long journey from commercial flop to cult classic is a complicated, slapstick saga. All but this most recent chapter is recounted in Paul M Sammon's exhaustive Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner (1996)."

You are feeling the urge to invade Poland "Wagner's influence on cinema is much more pervasive than you might expect," writes Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent. "The real measure of his influence is that it can be felt everywhere, from war movies like Apocalypse Now to the work of determinedly offbeat and experimental directors like [Harmony] Korine." Also, an assessment of the strange state of British cinema at the moment.

"Numbed by all the fleshy and opulent come-ons, eternally frustrated and restless, many Americans cannot even be sated with an open-ended snuff show that's Iraq, now in its fifth season," writes Linh Dinh in Dissident Voice. "Many are clamoring for a sequel in Iran, so they can channel surf between a Kobe slam dunk, nuclear war and American Idol." Via wood s lot.

"An exposé of a controversial and rarely seen subculture, Meeting Resistance in theory should have been a revealing documentary," writes the Los Angeles Times. "In truth, however, the measures taken to protect the informants' identities dilute the potency of their statements and diminish the film's efficacy as a historical document."

Also:

  • "A flotilla of LA residents gathers in an unlandscaped recreation area in Baldwin Hills to canoodle, attempt suicide, plot revenge and dig into one another's psyches in writer-director Kurt Voelker's high-spirited if slight comedy, Park," writes Kevin Crust. "Set almost entirely in and around a quartet of vehicles parked on the parched bluffs southwest of downtown, the film's expediently connected vignettes are played out as loud and broad farce with flurries of social commentary but work best when Voelker gets around to humanizing some of his characters at the 11th hour."

  • Borzou Daragahi and Raed Rafei report that The Kingdom won't be playing in Saudi Arabia, which, of course, is no surprise since the country has no public movie theaters. But it's also being shut out of Kuwait and Bahrain: "'The film vilifies a brotherly country, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,' the Bahraini official said in a phone conversation from Manama. 'It attempts to show Saudi Arabia as a country that supports terrorism or helps propagate it.'"

  • "When Primo Levi was liberated from Auschwitz in January 1945, he wanted to return immediately to his birthplace in Turin, Italy," writes Kenneth Turan, reviewing Primo Levi's Journey. "That journey of a thousand miles ended up taking 10 months as Levi crossed country after country before finally making it back home.... Italian documentary filmmaker Davide Ferrario, who specializes in what he calls 'on the road' documentaries, decided to retrace Levi's steps in modern Europe. It was a wise choice."

  • Dennis Lim on 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days: "Among other things, [Cristian] Mungiu's film provides an unsettling counterpoint to the squeamishness with which American movies tackle the subject of unwanted pregnancy: See Knocked Up, Waitress, the forthcoming Juno."

  • Cristy Lytal talks with the Juno team about Jason Reitman.

Secret Sunshine "Weeks after catching Secret Sunshine at the New York Film Festival, I'm still at a loss for something original to say about it," writes Steven Boone at the House Next Door. "Many have already reviewed the film at Cannes and Toronto, returning roughly the same verdict: This flick takes a chain gun to the old maxim, if the actor cries, the audience does not."

Jeffrey Overstreet spots a theme for the year so far: "The elusive nature of evil. No matter what folks try to accomplish, the dark side is getting the better of things, and escaping every strategy we devise... if we even get around to fighting back at all. The big screen seems to be a giant sandwich board shouting THE END IS NEAR."

Everything's Cool "is notable for continuing where An Inconvenient Truth left off, delving into the political censorship that has kept global warming a non-issue in the United States for so long, and doing so through a uniquely character-driven method that shows how foot soldiers like Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Ross Gelbspan and Weather Channel climate expert Heidi Cullen continue to fight the good fight against ghouls whose hands are in the pockets of the country's gas and oil companies," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. Also, Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037: "For sure, no human has been conceived and reared with as much fuss, but this idea that grands are like snowflakes is repeated almost ad nauseam."

In the Guardian:

"The academic community appears to concur that the behavior of fans can be better understood as a thriving desire to achieve a type of symbolic ownership of their favorite characters and movies." At PopMatters, Marco Lanzagorta offers an overview of the development of the technology that's made ownership more feasible and tractable than ever.

"Actress Cate Blanchett has said she hopes the Sydney Theatre Company 'flourishes' when she and husband Andrew Upton take over as directors," reports the BBC. "Her comment follows the resignation of one of the theatre's actors, Colin Moody, in protest at the appointment."

At Film of the Year, Thom takes stock.

Stylus "As of today, Stylus Magazine is closing its doors," noted Jason Morehead, well, yesterday. They've gathered some of their best work in "The Bluffer's Guide to Stylus" and, though you'll probably find something to distract you along the way, if you scroll about three-quarters down that page, you'll hit a baker's dozen of their favorite pieces on the movies.

For Tribeca, Mulberry Street director Jim Mickle picks "13 Awesome Independent Horror Movies."

Online viewing tip. The Boston Globe's Ty Burr points to an onstage chat between Errol Morris and Werner Herzog. The quality of that stream may be a bit strange now and then, but it seems to catch itself. After crashing your browser.

Online browsing and viewing tip. "Dougal Wilson's Bat For Lashes video ['What's a Girl to Do?'] is nominated for the Best Video award at this year's MTV Europe Awards, which will take place tomorrow night in Munich." Creative Review has more than the video itself; they've also got Wilson's sketches for it and a few comments on its making as well.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:29 PM | Comments (1)

Terror's Advocate again.

Terror's Advocate Simply because a few strong pieces have appeared recently, yet one more entry on Barbet Schroeder's Terror's Advocate, which "frames [Jacques] Vergès's story as a mirror of the recent history of terrorism in Europe, with attention to all of the ambiguity that term implies," writes Stephen Beachy in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "If one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter and the term itself a strategy to disparage the warfare of those without governments, it doesn't follow that every act of terror is ethically equivalent."

"Terror's Advocate has little to tell us about the moral universe of those who defend the horribly evil, simply because Vergès has little to say about morality," writes Dahlia Lithwick in Slate. "But in introducing us to a lawyer who thinks of the law simply as great theater - something to be enjoyed with a good cognac and a cigar - the film is devastating.... He is every ethical lawyer's worst nightmare. And every terrorist's dream."

Updated through 11/7.

And she points to Daphne Merkin's piece for the New York Times Magazine: "Barbet Schroeder has referred to Vergès as a 'perverse and decadent aesthete,' and yet his decision not to take an overt position in the film is precisely what makes it so unnerving."

More from Tamara Straus in the San Francisco Chronicle, where, on that same page, you'll also find quick reviews of King Corn, Have You Heard from Johannesburg? Apartheid and the Club of the West, The Price of Sugar and The Gates.

Earlier: Reviews from mid-October, David D'Arcy's interview with Schroeder and reviews from Cannes.

Update, 11/7: "What does Barbet Schroeder think of Vergès, who speaks smugly and comfortably before the filmmaker's camera?" asks Gerald Peary in the Boston Phoenix. "(He might remind you of Robert McNamara reminiscing chummily with Errol Morris about Vietnam in The Fog of War.) Schroeder's point of view isn't very clear. We know from the films he's made about Idi Amin and Barbie that he's fascinated with the faces of evil. Is that preoccupation enough?"

Posted by dwhudson at 4:03 PM | Comments (1)

Books, 11/2.

Dark Victory "The last time I saw Bette Davis, she was in her dotage, the painful ravages of cancer and a paralyzing stroke cruelly evident." The New York Times Book Review has gotten Rex Reed to review Ed Sikov's Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis. "We had tea in a Manhattan hotel room, and she admitted her two favorite words were 'What's next?' Her days in front of a camera were mortgaged beyond revival, but with her flaring nostrils and incendiary nicotine butts, and still walking like an anchovy, she slashed the air with one parting shot: 'You have not seen the end of Bette Davis!'"

Oh, and the book? He's not impressed.

"When studios adapt books into films, there is always a risk: No matter how compelling a literary property may be, producers must find