December 31, 2007

Lists, 12/31.

Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton 'Tis an honor to serve on Modern Fabulousity's Cinema Jury. Voted best film: No Country for Old Men. Best performance: Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton. And Gabriel Shanks writes up his own bests, adding "a few snarky awards" to boot.

Good Lord, look at Michael Tully's list. That's a page to spend some time with.

Anyone who's been following Filmbrain's entries over the past couple of weeks will not be surprised to find There Will Be Blood at the top of his list; but that doesn't mean there aren't other surprises. His Benten Films cohort Aaron Hillis always finds a fun way to present his list. This year, it goes to 30.

Zach Campbell presents a "diaristic, quick-and-dirty breakdown of the things I liked, as a cinephile, in 2007."

"Lumière Editor Tim Wong recaps a year's worth of highlights, frustrations, and small triumphs in the world of film, with Top Ten lists from David Levinson, Alexander Bisley, Philip Matthews, Jacob Powell and Darren Bevan."

Free Thai Cinema Movement Opening a list of "Top 5 Thai films of 2007" at Wise Kwai's Thai Film Journal, Curtis notes of his #1, Syndromes and a Century: "Thai authorities had no good reason to pick on this gentle ode to [Apichatpong Weerasethakul's] parents. But, the censorship of the film galvanised the Free Thai Cinema Movement, which formed to call for a change in the way films are treated by the government."

Via Peter Martin at Cinematical, where:

Andrew Dominik and Brad Pitt Nick Dawson rounds up "choice tidbits" from the Director Interviews he's conducted this year for Filmmaker, adding: "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was, for my money, the best film of this year, but frustratingly my request for an interview with its writer-director, Andrew Dominik, was not responded to until after my deadline. Ultimately, I did the interview after the movie had already opened, and ran an almost unedited transcript as a Web Exclusive. To this date, it remains the only interview I am aware of that Dominik has done in the American press, a sign of just how little desire Warner Bros had to publicize the film."

"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is easily my choice as best film of the year with Andrew Dominik best director," agrees Ray Bennett. Also: favorite performances of the year.

Nathaniel R lists the top three "Over-Appreciated Films" before opening the 2007 Cinematic Hall of Shame. A deluge of comments ensues.

"[G]rab a stiff drink and revisit the lowlights of a thoroughly depressing year as we recap The Top 5 Issues in Nonfiction 2007," advises AJ Schnack.

At the SpoutBlog, Karina Longworth takes issue with Bryan Appleyard's suggestion in the London Times that "greatness" died in 2007: "Does preserving the future of auteur theory really require such advantageous amnesia?"

"The Best New Film seen in a Theater: Exiled," says Peter Nellhaus.

In the Guardian, Steve Rose looks ahead to the highlights of 08.

For the Evening Class, Sergio De La Mora lists his "Top 10 Mexican Films." #1: El Violin, most recently reviewed by Sheila Cornelius at cinemaattraction. And Michael Guillén talks with director Francisco Vargas.

Koreanfilm.org contributor Q lists ten favorite DVDs of 2007.

"Some of 2007's finest films arrived in the final stretch - Carlos Reygadas's Silent Light, fractured Dylan biopic I'm Not There - and so, for that matter did two of the worst, Richard Kelly's Southland Tales and Francis Coppola's Youth Without Youth, both convoluted, bombastic and downright barking," writes Jonathan Romney. Also in the Independent: Nicholas Barber.

Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Thomas Anderson "American cinema produced one flat-out masterpiece this year - Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood - and at least three more great movies that might legitimately be called "art," if you'll pardon the expression." Tom Charity introduces his list for CNN.

The New York Post's Lou Luminick and Kyle Smith discuss the best and worst films of the year.

Bob Turnbull's "Favorites of 2007" is a casual sort of thing - performances, moments, viewings of older films.

David Walsh posts two lists at the WSWS: films released and not yet released in the US.

Yair Raveh notes that this was "The Year of the Anton."

"Year in Review," Ilya Bernstein in n+1.

The New York Times looks back on the "Notable Deaths of 2007." When your time comes, will you make this list?

Posted by dwhudson at 8:12 AM

Shorts, 12/31.

"After globetrotting through England and Spain for his recent films, Woody Allen says he's returning to familiar terrain," writes Steven Zeitchik. "The director, whom Risky Biz caught up with last week at the premiere for his Cassandra's Dream, let slip that he will shoot his next project in the Big Apple."

Manhattan

"Following on the success of Paris, Je T'Aime, the powers that be have opted to repeat their formula of love stories set in famous cities, this time anthologizing stories set in New York in a collection titled, surprisingly enough, New York, I Love You," notes Todd Brown at Twitch. Among the directors on board: Park Chan-wook and Fatih Akin. Todd's got more names.

Sacha Baron Cohen will play Abbie Hoffman in Steven Spielberg's The Trial of the Chicago 7, notes Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing.

Comrade Rockstar The AP is reporting that Tom Hanks will soon begin shooting Comrade Rockstar, a biopic of Dean Reed, the "Red Elvis," in Berlin.

Journey "will see [Daniel] Radcliffe play Dan Eldon, a 22-year-old who was among four journalists stoned to death by a mob in Mogadishu in July 1993," reports David Smith. "His mother, Kathy, says that she has rejected numerous bids for film rights to the story, and met but turned down leading actors including Orlando Bloom, Heath Ledger, Ryan Phillippe and Joaquin Phoenix, all of whom were eager to play the part. But then she sat down with 18-year-old Radcliffe and his parents at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles." Radcliffe "has a puckishness, sense of humour and energy inside him which remind me of Dan," she says.

Also in the Guardian: "The Lady Vanishes is one of the least analysed pictures in the Hitchcock canon; critics have always preferred to pick over the railway-bookstand Freudianism of his American films," writes Matthew Sweet in a piece centering on Charters and Caldicott, "the men who hold the key to the mystery of the title - and yet refuse to yield it and save the heroine.... And while swastikas flying over Whitehall were a real and frightening possibility, it's easy to understand why these two characters became so attractive to audiences sitting in the dark of the Essoldo, dreaming of peace - dreaming of living in a country fit for fools like Charters and Caldicott."

"At Dennis Cooper's blog, the novelist has posted a long and detailed 'oral history' of the cult actress Tuesday Weld," notes DK Holm at the Vancouver Voice. "Perhaps the most interesting revelation of the oral history is the comment on Miss Weld's hidden life as a Satanist."

"There would seem to be an enormous distance between the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where the central events in Taxi to the Dark Side take place, and Enron's headquarters in Houston, where the machinations of white-collar criminals brought down the giant energy company and became the backdrop for [Alex] Gibney's entertaining 2005 documentary, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," writes Adam Liptak in the New York Times. "But Mr Gibney said the two projects have common themes. 'The subject of corruption unites my films,' he said. 'Enron was about economic corruption, and Taxi is about the corruption of the rule of law.'"

Cinema Now In Taschen's Cinema Now, "Andrew Bailey takes us on a guided, visually-articulated tour through today's world cinema. Along with his directorial profiles and capsule reviews of their respective films, the volume includes a DVD with such extras as trailers, music videos and short films by Alexander Payne and Carlos Reygadas." And Michael Guillén talks with him.

In the New York Review of Books, Ian Buruma calls for a fresh translation of Alfred Döblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz. Meantime, "Those who are not blessed with the good fortune to be able to read the novel in German can still enjoy Fassbinder's great film." Buruma speculates as to what Döblin may or may not have owed Joyce and what Fassbinder may or may not have owed Douglas Sirk and Max Beckmann.

For the New Yorker, Lillian Ross meets James Thiérrée, grandson of Charlie Chaplin, to talk about his latest show, Au Revoir Parapluie.

52 Pick-Up is not exactly a good movie," writes Vince Keenan. "It's an enjoyably unpretentious one. It's mean and it plays dirty. It's trashy and it knows it. And sometimes that's exactly what you're in the mood for."

In the Los Angeles Times, Chris Lee explains the "Sweding" campaign for Be Kind Rewind.

James Robinson profiles Ang Lee for the Observer, where Barbara Ellen talks with Laura Linney.

Online grinning tip. "Proving once again the centrality of James Bond to contemporary British identity, the Royal Mail releases these stamps on January 8th, 2008, the 100th anniversary of Ian Fleming's birth," notes John Coulthart.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:29 AM

Fests and events, 12/31.

Preminger at Film Forum "Starting on Wednesday with a double feature of Laura (1944) and Daisy Kenyon (1947), Film Forum in Manhattan will present 23 films by Otto Preminger over 16 days," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "Even today, more than 20 years after his death, Preminger is remembered less as an artist than as a Teutonic tyrant, famous for his glistening bald head, piercing blue eyes and volcanic temper - an image partly drawn from his occasional acting appearances as a heel-clicking Nazi (as in his own 1943 comedy Margin for Error) and partly from reality, as Foster Hirsch illustrates in his fine new biography, Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King.... But as the personality fades, the films remain and seem to grow in stature."

"No doubt the programmers of the British Film Institute's forthcoming Wim Wenders retrospective didn't plan it this way. But dividing the German director's 40-year career across two months has left a distinct 'before and after' look to his work." A preview from James Mottram in the Independent.

Intolerance Earlier this month, Brian Darr saw Intolerance at the Castro Theatre, "courtesy of the SF Silent Film Festival and Photoplay Productions, whose Patrick Stanbury brought a tinted print from London, introduced the screening, and performed 42 manual projection speed changes to ensure that we had the best presentation of the film possible. What a revelation it was to see the film exhibited this way! For the first time, I felt I was starting to understand not only the technical scale and skill involved in the film's making, but also the way the four interlocking stories joined to create a unique and modern narrative." Recommendations for upcoming events in the Bay Area follow.

The House Next Door on runs another piece in conjunction with All That Fosse, the Film Society at Lincoln Center series on through tomorrow. Aaron Aradillas: "On stage, choreographing sexual-playful spasms of intricate movement, Fosse seemed to revel in his naughty-boy sense of play. But on film, he examined the self-destructive component of celebrity and asserted that self-loathing was the driving force of show business."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:31 AM

Anthony Hopkins @ 70.

Anthony Hopkins "Childhood friends of Oscar-winner Sir Anthony Hopkins are joining celebrities at a New Year's Eve 70th birthday party near his south Wales birthplace," reports the BBC.

In German: Johannes Bonke interviews Hopkins for the Berliner Zeitung. More congrats and such from Alexandra Stäheli in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Christiane Peitz in Der Tagesspiegel and Peter Zander in Die Welt.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:13 AM | Comments (2)

December 30, 2007

NCTATNY. 07 in Review.

Not Coming to a Theater Near You has a new special feature up: "Two-Thousand Seven in Review."

Not Coming to a Theater Near You: Two-Thousand Seven in Review

As usual, it's splenderifically designed.

Matt Bailey: "The only movies that really surprised me this year were Breakfast for Two, an uncelebrated 1937 Barbara Stanwyck screwball comedy (which I only discovered because I have an Eric Blore wishlist on my TiVo), and Cria cuervos, Carlos Saura's spooky 1976 film about they way they fuck you up, your mum and dad (which I only discovered because I still have a compulsion to watch every film released by the Criterion Collection)."

"[A]ny year I get to see some of my favorite actors and actresses in some of their best roles is an undeniably great twelve months," writes Adam Balz. And he opens with well-justified praise for John Carroll Lynch's performance in Zodiac, the film at the top of his list.

Among the events that have run through David Carter's mind this year: "The Rise and Fall of the Boutique DVD Label" and "The Death of 'Cult' Film Magazines."

"I thought I'd take this space to mention a few things that I saw this year that you, in all likelihood, didn't," decides Leo Goldsmith. "Given that you probably saw all the same good and bad films that I saw this year – and more – I thought this might be a better use of both your time and mine." What follows is primarily derived from viewing work by Harun Farocki and Adam Curtis.

After remarking on all the swollen bellies this year had to offer, Chiranjit Goswami writes: "While it might be more acceptable to choose something obscure, exotic, or classic as the pinnacle of this year's achievements, in my mind, no film in 2007 examines, exhibits, and exemplifies the concept of exhaustive determination better than David Fincher's Zodiac." Lists and "Memorable Moments" follow.

"2007 was a year of revelations: a year of discovering previously-overlooked films, actors, even whole genres that I had ignored or written off, and a year of learning about myself, through film," writes Eva Holland. An example: "Revelation #3: I do like thrillers."

Tom Huddleston goes for the "Heroes & Villains" approach: "It may not have the authoritative stamp of a 10 Best countdown, but it's a lot more fun to write." Among the heroes: Harmony Korine. Among the villains: "Critics and Awards Judges - For me, 2007 will forever be remembered as the Year of the Bizarrely Overrated."

Jenny Jediny presents a list "alphabetized by title, and highlighted with designated 'award' categories of sorts (some serious, but mostly for amusement)." Example: "Most Lovable Dysfunctional Family: Love Streams."

Bergman and Antonioni

"What was the stand-out moment for film in 2007?" asks Ian Johnston. "In one sense for me it was the almost simultaneous deaths of Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni, a symbolic passing of two giants from another age of cinema. It's not that there aren't great directors at work today but they're working in a wider film culture that's been transformed, above all in two respects. Firstly, in Bergman and Antonioni's day there existed in the general culture an awareness of and an interest in the directors of foreign subtitled films that simply does not exist nowadays. And secondly, it's impossible to imagine any arthouse director today being given the opportunity as Bergman was of developing his craft through ten years of experimentation involving as many outright failures as successes." Further down, a list follows, topped by Aleksandr Sokurov's Alexandra.

"I laughed and whooped through Edgar Wright's comedy-actioner Hot Fuzz (more than once); I tried not to breathe too loudly at a screening of Philip Gröning's meditative documentary Into Great Silence," writes Victoria Large. "I have no desire to sum up twelve months of moviegoing with a list that I will inevitably grow to regret. So in lieu of that, I'll zero in on one genre - the musical - and the welcome growth I saw in it this year."

"By nature I am a nostalgist in regard to film, and this marks the third consecutive year that I've refrained from listing my contemporary favorites in any form, and this year I find it especially daunting and uninspiring. Great cinema is often, and perhaps implicitly, something that is to be sought, and we live in an age in which the availability of film has taken precedence over the opportunity to discover it." That's how Rumsey Taylor wraps a lovely remembrance of a man he never met, Dennis J Arruda, owner of Video Oasis, a store in East Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:43 AM | Comments (2)

Interview. Gregg Araki.

Gregg Araki With Smiley Face screening at the IFC Center through Tuesday and out on DVD on January 8, David D'Arcy talks with Gregg Araki about stoner movies in general and about why this one simply had to be carried by Anna Faris.

Araki also looks back to Cannes ("When I'm on my deathbed, I'll be thinking about that screening") and ahead to his next film: "I'm working on a forward-looking project that's an internet series, but also functions ass a feature movie, along the lines of Mulholland Drive or Twin Peaks - sort of a multi-platform thing which can exist as a little series that you can watch on your iPod or your cell phone or whatever, but then it also can exist as a movie that you can watch in a big theater."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:13 AM

December 29, 2007

Jerzy Kawalerowicz, 1922 - 2007.

Jerzy Kawalerowicz
Oscar-nominated Polish film director Jerzy Kawalerowicz died aged 85 in the Polish capital Warsaw late Thursday after suffering a hemorrhage, Poland's Association of Cinematographers confirmed Friday. Among the fathers of the 1950's "Polish school" of cinematography, Kawalerowicz directed 17 feature films during his life-time.

The AFP.

The films of Kawalerowicz are uneven; it is as though the filmmaker, after momentary triumphs and outstanding artistic achievements, would lapse into a crisis that prepared him for yet another masterpiece.... Only in a very few directors' works do we find such range, from the realistic film to the profound psychological drama, from the historical epic to the political drama.

Vacláv Merhaut, Film Reference.

See also: Ray Privett interviewed Kawalerowicz for Kinoeye in 2001; acquarello reviews Night Train and Mother Joan of the Angels; and then, of course, there's the Wikipedia entry.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:49 PM

Weekend books.

The Star Machine "The nostalgia for old Hollywood often seems to point to something beyond a desire for the comforting regularity of the well-run factories, for those assembly-line films that satisfy just by virtue of their refined craft, perfect lighting, unpalsied camerawork, spatial coherence and unrushed rhythms," writes Manohla Dargis, reviewing Jeanine Basinger's The Star Machine (excerpt). "From the outside, the old studio system seemed to run effortlessly, its gears slicked and slippery smooth, but in truth it was always plagued by cycles of uncertainty and retrenchment; it was a perpetual mutating machine."

Also in the New York Times: "In a new book, Carmontelle's Landscape Transparencies: Cinema of the Enlightenment, the historian Laurence Chatel de Brancion steps back into prerevolutionary France to explore the pastimes created by Louis Carrogis, known as Carmontelle, in his role as resident entertainer at the court of the duke of Orléans," writes Kathryn Shattuck. "At the heart of the volume are Carmontelle's experiments with light and moving images: rouleaux transparents, or 'rolled-up transparent drawings,' a precursor to modern cinema."

And: Jeremy McCarter on Andrew Lycett's The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes: The Life and Times of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and a new collection, Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters; and Tom Shone on Judith Freeman's The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved.

Physical Evidence Glenn Kenny's been reading Physical Evidence: Selected Film Criticism, "the first compilation of movie writing by the great Kent Jones, whose ever-probing acuity illuminates not just individual films and filmmakers but the condition of cinema in the here and now." He quotes a bit on Wes Anderson and remarks: "Damn. That is movie criticism."

"Is [Detour Edgar G] Ulmer's statement about the failed American dream? Does it echo the hazily Marxist Frankfurt school of philosophy?" In the Austin Chronicle, Joe O'Connell reads The Philosophy of Film Noir and The Philosophy of Science Fiction Film, noting that the "two books meet over Blade Runner, which is described as a 'future noir.'"

"American fiction lost three of its most warmly admired figures this year, all dead at the age of 84 after long careers," writes Morris Dickstein in the Los Angeles Times. "Critics love the idea of literary generations, but it would be a challenge to find themes or ideas to link the disparate work of Norman Mailer, Grace Paley and Kurt Vonnegut."

Guardian readers pick their books of the year and the Review looks ahead to the books of 08.

In the NYT, Janet Maslin, Michiko Kakutani and William Grimes make their selections.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:49 AM

Interview. John Sayles.

Honeydripper "From his home base in New Jersey to Louisiana, Texas, Alaska and Florida, novelist-turned-hyphenated filmmaker John Sayles has crisscrossed the country weaving sprawling stories in such films as City of Hope, Passion Fish, Lone Star, Limbo and Sunshine State," writes Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times. "Unique among his peers, Sayles travels his own road dramatizing an Americana streaked with social realism and a touch of the magical.... Changing times are a dominant theme in Sayles' work and most of his films put forth very specific social issues, but in Honeydripper, these matters are mostly percolating beneath the surface. The film evocatively charts a time and place where change has been a longtime coming and buoyantly imagines a turning point where, at least musically, anything is possible."

Looking back on her September conversation with Sayles, Cathleen Rountree notes "he displayed his impressive encyclopedic knowledge of music, expounded on 'comic book movies' and border politics, and shared a liberal's fears about the final days of the Bush administration."

Updated through 12/31.

"Honeydripper, John Sayles's shambling fusion of pop mythology and social mosaic, imagines the world-changing moment, around 1950, in the rural South when a blues guitarist first plugged in his ax and rocked the joint," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. Sayles "is primarily interested in fusing archetypes from the Jim Crow South, both black and white, with mythic dimensions. An affable blind bluesman, Possum (Keb' Mo'), whose enigmatic smile hints at his possession of secret knowledge, turns up now and again. Everywhere and nowhere at once, his elusive presence helps push the movie toward the realm of fable."

"The movie's less interested in maintaining an accessible narrative arc than in presenting what's essentially a verité depiction of segregated life in rural Alabama, circa 1950," writes Robert Levin at cinemaattraction. "The screenplay contains a wealth of lived-in, authentic dialogue, expressed with natural precision by the gifted ensemble, and the gold hued cinematography perfectly captures the setting's wooden buildings, dusty roads and sun-drenched fields. The particular genius of the filmmaker, then, lies in his evocation of the recognizable emotions latent beneath that unfamiliar surface."

"Honeydripper so slowly builds up to its climax - the excitement only begins as the townsfolk doll up and descend upon the club en masse, the vivid colors of the weekend-best clothing providing a lovely visual jolt - that when Sonny finally plays, the film too feels like it has suddenly, literally, gone electric," writes Kristi Mitsuda at indieWIRE. "Sadly, Honeydripper ends just as it gets going."

"Honeydripper is more hopeful than Sunshine State but possibly more naïve: Music saves the day and racial strife is no more dangerous than Stacy Keach's almost huggable Sherrif Pugh arresting a young musician, Sonny Blake (Gary Clark, Jr), and putting him on cotton-pickin' duty for 'gawkerry with intent to mope,'" writes Nick Schager at Slant.

"When tracking the career of John Sayles, who began writing and shooting low-budget independent movies long before it became fashionable, it's clear he can be as much a muckraker as a filmmaker," writes Steve Dollar in the New York Sun. "But Mr Sayles's new film, Honeydripper... doesn't feel like an Op-Ed commentary or a yellowed news clipping sprung to life. It has a more intimate, down-home agenda." But for Nicolas Rapold, this one's "a slog, replete with thudding characterization, bankrupt direction, and childlike plotting. And there's not nearly enough electrified music for one to just wait out the rest of the movie."

"Writer/director John Sayles takes a relaxed approach, letting characters congeal, and [Danny] Glover is the keystone in an ensemble of very human performance," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. "But that same leisurely attitude becomes a problem when the plot starts demanding attention again - the twists of the film's final section will feel excruciatingly inevitable to anyone who's seen a movie before, and the payoff isn't there."

"Sayles's films are generally celebrated for their leavened characterizations and authentic grit; Honeydripper, produced with a much larger bankroll than his previous work, lends credence to the notion that independents need to hover around the poverty line to produce anything substantial," writes Leah Churner in Reverse Shot.

For Robert Cashill, Sayles "would make a better playwright than filmmaker. When a friend told me that his latest film as writer and director was 'a John Sayles movie, like every other John Sayles movie,' it wasn't really a dig; it's just that Sayles, at the vanguard of American independent cinema, has been tilling this soil for 30 years now, and hasn't much changed."

"For all his good qualities, Sayles has never been much of a sensualist, and that's the problem at the root of Honeydripper," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "It needs to be electrifying, and instead, it's a John Sayles movie."

Choire Sicha talks with Sayles and his partner and producer Maggie Renzi for the Los Angeles Times.

Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay has an online viewing tip: "At the recent Monterey Jazz Festval, two film legends - Clint Eastwood and John Sayles - talked about about the blues in an onstage discussion."

Stephen Saito talks with Sayles for IFC News.

And Patrick Z McGavin talks with Sayles for Stop Smiling.

Update, 12/31: "Like some of Sayles's earlier films - Passion Fish and Sunshine State, in particular - Honeydripper is at its best when the characters sit around, dither, and ruminate," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "Moviemaking seems to have become almost magically easy for this independent writer-director. He builds a detailed atmosphere, brings his good people and his bad together, and lets them jabber at one another; the virtuosity is rhetorical rather than visual."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:52 AM

December 28, 2007

Lists, 12/28.

Bamako "I always root for the underdog and grade on a curve in this annual exercise, and this year more than ever I practiced affirmative action on behalf of adventurous, difficult-to-categorize pictures that fared poorly in the marketplace," writes Andrew O'Hehir, introducing his top ten at Salon. His #1: Bamako.

From the Art of Memory, the year's best music, DVDs, movies and books.

As Dana Stevens opens up her top ten - an alphabetical list - she reminds us that Slate's "Movie Club" will be convening next week.

"Putting Cristian Mungiu's 4 luni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) on the top spot of the Best of 2007 might seem both risky and conservative," writes european-films.net editor Boyd van Hoeij somewhere in the middle, actually, of his list of the "Best European Films of 2007." "Conservative because it is the one film everyone else has been praising ever since it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and won the Palme d'Or. Risky because adding to the hype is never a good thing and going into a film heaped with so much critical praise from all corners might set viewers up for a disappointment. But here's the thing: it is the best film of 2007."

Marcy Dermansky agrees, topping her list with this "riveting, wrenching, horrifying and beautifully told story."

Heavens, here's a batch: "The contributors to SF360.org were asked to ponder the best and worst movies of the past 365 days, to organize their thoughts about film moments into discrete categories, and/or offer prognostications for 2008," writes Susan Gerhard, and ten lists, a few from names you'll be glad to see again, follow.

Judex "As 2007 closes, we thought it appropriate to wish happy birthday to the most powerful and pervasive approach to filmic storytelling the world has yet seen. That would be classical continuity cinema, synthesized in what was coming to be known as Hollywood." Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell celebrate 1917 - and yes, there is a list.

"It was touch and go at times, but 2007 shaped up to be a pretty good vintage," writes Nicolas Rapold, introducing his top ten (#1: Day Night Day Night). "Notably, American auteurs of the 90s resurfaced - with a vengeance: Haynes, Fincher and Anderson (Paul Thomas, but we still love you, Wes) were joined by their predecessors, the Coen brothers, on the marquee. Equally striking was the little-remarked success of female filmmakers, including Pascale Ferran (Lady Chatterley), Tamara Jenkins (The Savages), So Yong Kim (In Between Days), and the late Adrienne Shelly (Waitress). 2007 also boasted innovative popcorn flicks: Sunshine, The Host and The Bourne Ultimatum all bucked the implications of the fourth straight year to see a sequel as the leading grosser."

Also in the New York Sun:

  • "With major retrospectives devoted to Max Ophuls, Rouben Mamoulian, Mikhail Kalatozov and Fritz Lang, 2007 was the repertory year of the moving camera," writes Bruce Bennett. "Mindful as always of cineaste-turned-director Paul Schrader's observation that 'list making is the junk food of criticism,' let us nevertheless unwrap this year's 10 most toothsome classic-film-going experiences."

  • Grady Hendrix presents "a list of the best 10 movies that came and went before anyone had a chance to see them."

  • S James Snyder writes up his "top four movie moments of the year."

  • Steve Dollar: "Not so much a fearless prognostication as a tip sheet tilted toward the cinematic promise of the next dozen months, here's a list of the 10 best movies of 2008."

"The 2007 Bad Lit Movie of the Year is: Mike Z's Wanted: New Talent! The Walt Gollender Story," announces Mike Everleth. "This is also the most simply shot film I've seen year. Basically, it's just a close-up of the film's subject, Walt Gollender, as he relates the epic story of his life as a struggling songwriter and talent scout in New Jersey from the early 60s to the present. However, the depths of Walt's story and the background of the filmmaker make this a highly complex documentary."

"Our big Best of 07 stories run Sunday, but because I'm such a smug gasbag there wasn't enough room to bloviate about the acting I loved this year," writes the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris. But of course, this, too, is what blogs are for.

The Guardian's Danny Leigh lists his "film blog highlights of 2007."

Available Men At the Guru, James Van Maanen presents his list of the "Best Gay-themed Films of the Year on DVD (in alphabetical order)."

Alonso Duralde tops his list at MSNBC with 4 Months... while Dave White compiles a different sort of list: "[T]he bad movies that blow your mind, the kind that plop into your life like magical bird droppings on your brain, those that excel at badness in a virtuosic way, the kind that make you wish you could peer inside the brains of the people who made them so you can see what crazy actually looks like, the kind that make you glad you’re alive and living right now and able to scratch your head in puzzlement over their very existence, instead of having to live back in the olden days, back when life was boring and they didn’t have movies at all, those are the ones I bring to your attention here."

At AICN, "Fathergeek lays out the 25 Films he found most enjoyable over the last twelve months."

Michael Guillén lists ten favorites of the many interviews he's conducted this past year.

"Reviewing this year's best films, it's tempting to summon up the spirit of the early 70s, fondly remembered as a veritable golden age in which a new generation of American filmmakers threw off convention and produced a series of iconoclastic movies," writes Gregg Kilday in the Hollywood Reporter. "This year's movies almost seemed to beg for the comparison." Via Matt Dentler.

Andy Klein didn't have such a great year. "[I]t's been about six months since a single film made me want to rush out and evangelize... and then just barely." His and Amy Nicholson's lists are alphabetical, while lists from the other LA CityBeat critics (appearing on the same page) are ranked.

Cinematical's Erik Davis: "[I]nstead of giving you another top ten list, here are my official awesome awards for 2007."

"All we can say is hooray for the DVD," sighs Chicagoist's Rob Christopher. "On Monday we'll present a list of the ten best movies we saw this year, but for now here's ten that we wished we'd seen."

"Another look back at 2007" at indieWIRE, "this time featuring top ten lists from industry insiders and bloggers."

"[T]here were some major events in 2007 that didn't happen, creating an effect that was arguably even more profound." A list from Timothy M Gray and Variety.

Gabriel Wardell lists his "Top Ten 'Best of 2007' Lists."

Variety's Circuit declares Telluride the "Best Fest of 2007."

"The votes are in for the Best Film Noir of All Time (1941 - 1945)," announces Noir of the Week.

MS Smith's "Year of Listening."

Online viewing tips. YouTube's "Most Memorable Online Videos of 2007" get Steve Bryant thinking: "Of all the facets of online video, one that's consistently unremarked upon is the degree to which videos' appeal is confined to niche audiences."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:52 PM

Shorts, 12/28.

Coming Attractions Happy birthday, Greenbriar Picture Shows!

The Austin American-Statesman's Chris Garcia spots news of the spaghetti western the Coen brothers are planning. Sounds like there will be gore.

"Filmmakers create meaning and context through montage," writes Dave McDougall at Chained to the Cinémathèque. "The image, like the word, contains meaning only in the interplay between context and image, whether the context is intrinsic or extrinsic to the image itself."

"What is it with all these movies showing New York City utterly obliterated?" asks Sewell Chan. "To be sure, movies showing New York being destroyed are nothing new — and have a long history in cinema. (New York Magazine's Vulture blog recently had an item on the Top 10 movie destructions of New York.) But the resilience of the urban-destruction theme seems notable - and, after a brief post-9/11 lull, the theme seems more prevalent than ever."

Also in the New York Times:

  • "To a degree that would make any adult desperate to get into the film industry jealous, [Malcolm Mays, 17] has mustered the support of studio executives, a powerful producer and a top talent agent," writes David M Halbfinger. "It would be easy to tell this as the story of a bunch of Hollywood people doing a good deed in time for Christmas, except that it isn't. They all say they hope to get as much out of Mr Mays as he gets out of them."

  • For Neil Genzlinger, Alien vs Predator: Requiem "may not be classic sci-fi like the original Alien, which it has in its DNA, but it's a perfectly respectable next step in the series."

  • Joanne Kaufman reports on Paramount Vantage's efforts to make all its releases carbon neutral.

Nazi Attrocities Daniel Anker "should be commended for bringing up the debate over whether 'Holocaust movies' are inherently suspect, or if it's worse to avoid the topic altogether," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "But [Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust] merely mentions the controversies; it doesn't really engage them."

The celebrity screenwriter was about to go the way of onscreen smoking until - in the year of the writers' strike, oddly enough - along came Diablo Cody (Juno) and her media-ready backstory. In one of the chapters in that story, she was an editor at City Pages. Matthew Smith conducts the homecoming interview: "Following her Golden Globe screenwriting nomination earlier in the day and a media marathon around town, Cody arrived a little worn out but game. Within minutes she was on a roll and ready to talk about the upside and downside of sudden fame, her second thoughts about calling herself 'Diablo,' and why she showed up drunk to her first meeting at City Pages."

"In less than a decade the Iranian Kurdish filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi has become one of cinema's most potent lyric poets," writes Sheri Linden in the Los Angeles Times. "From an amalgam of broad comedy, gentle absurdity and the harrowing consequences of war, he sparks a deeply humanist alchemy in unsentimental tales peopled by nonprofessional actors. Half Moon, Ghobadi's fourth feature since his 2000 debut, A Time for Drunken Horses, strikes a more forthrightly elegiac tone than any of his preceding work."

Stephen Applebaum talks with Tony Leung for the Independent.

The Washington Post's Bonnie S Benwick talks with Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney about King Corn.

Pat Kirkwood "Noel Coward wrote a musical for her, she was wooed by Hollywood, and Kenneth Tynan declared her legs to be 'the eighth wonder of the world,'" writes Sam Jones in the Guardian. "But the British actor and singer Pat Kirkwood, who died on Christmas day aged 86, was equally famed for her friendship with the Duke of Edinburgh - a friendship that was the subject of gossip and innuendo for decades."

"If Atonement registers as a disappointment, unmet expectations can be partially ascribed to outsized anticipation," writes Jeff Reichert in Reverse Shot. "Joe Wright's highly successful debut, the Academy Award–nominated Pride and Prejudice, tagged him as a legitimate filmmaker sensitive but never fully enslaved to the rhythms of literary adaptation, while Ian McEwan's source book was one of the more universally and justly lauded contemporary novels in recent memory."

A Sweeney Todd roundup:

"Although Charlie Wilson's War is more watchable than such dreck as In the Valley of Elah or De Palma's discombobulated Redacted, it is worse than either just because it is so slickly watchable," writes Armond White. But Dan Sallitt's pleasantly surprised by Charlie.

At the AV Club Kyle Ryan talks with Reilly and Kasdan about Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.

In I'm Not There, "[Todd] Haynes may be on to something, about Americans' 'changeability,' but, unhappily, the idea is never pursued in any depth," writes James Brewer at the WSWS.

Garbo "What makes a star?" asks Ken Russell. "In my experience, there are ten attributes, which one is either born with or learns, to qualify for stardom." Also in the London Times, Ed Potton talks with Harry Connick Jr.

In Slate, Constance Casey notes the ways some movies get gardening right, while many get it wrong.

Online listening tip. The December 17 edition of the BBC's On Screen features an interview with Andrew Piddington (The Killing of John Lennon), a report on Berlin's "thriving film industry" and a talk with producer Graham King (The Departed, Young Victoria). Thanks, Jerry!

Posted by dwhudson at 5:27 PM

DVDs, 12/28.

Edvard Munch "Arguably the last half-century's least seen, least documented, and most marginalized filmmaking master, ex-Englishman-cum-global-exile Peter Watkins has finally emerged on the public radar as a titanic figure to be reckoned with, a slow burn that began when his six-hour epic La Commune (Paris, 1871) began touring world festivals in 2001 after being, typically, dumped by the French TV networks for which it was made," writes Michael Atkinson in the Stranger. "Up to then, and having endured every form of media and bureaucratic blackout conceivable, Watkins was famous here only for Edvard Munch (1974), a massive, Norwegian-made historical tapestry that is an easily declared champion in the Greatest Artist Biopic Ever drag."

"What's in Your DVD Player, David Cronenberg?" asks Sean Axmaker at MSN.

Why did Two-Lane Blacktop die "a quick death at the box office" in the summer of '71, never to be seen again, at least on video, until 1999? Elbert Ventura offers a theory or two in Slate: "Two-Lane Blacktop held up a mirror, and the audience didn't like what it saw: a counterculture whose rejection of society had curdled into soul-killing solipsism." It was "a meditative and elliptical mood piece in a crowd of rowdy and flashy peers - a sui generis convergence of Antonioni and Americana."

Fantastic Planet "Winner of the Special Jury Prize at Cannes, and the first animated film to ever be considered for such an honor, Fantastic Planet made an unprecedented impact upon its initial release, though its handful of elements that are inappropriate for kids - like the nudity, philosophical digressions and rampant death - probably handicapped it in terms of its staying power in the cartoon canon," writes Josef Braun in the Vue Weekly. "Neither an easily digestible family film nor a raunchy, Ralph Bakshi sort of R-rated film, it hovers in its own bizarre little universe, slowly nurturing its small cult following, which will hopefully continue to grow with the release of Accent Cinema's nicely supplemented new DVD."

Wells Dunbar in the Austin Chronicle on Kino's edition of the restored Nosferatu: "One of the most influential films of all time, it's almost superfluous to discuss the film itself and its considerable merits. But if anything, this crystalline edition imprints Murnau's fascination with nature's grotesqueries - carnivorous plants, plague rats, and tentacled polyps, not to mention the titular bloodsucker - even deeper on the psyche."

"In my opinion, It's a Wonderful Life is a masterpiece, but a disturbing one," writes Graham Fuller in the Guardian, tracing the history of the critical reception of "the beloved Christmas movie, one of the most iconic and misunderstood in American cinema."

DVD roundup: Peter Sobczynski at Hollywood Bitchslap.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:32 PM

Fests and events, 12/28.

Berlinale "Next to renowned directors like Laetitia Masson, Brad Anderson or Lucia Murat, newcomers like Javier Gutierrez from Spain or Ozgür Yildirim from Germany will present their works in the Panorama 2008," announces the Berlinale. "Music star Madonna will give her directorial debut alongside the works of underground star Bruce LaBruce and TEDDY winner 2007, Zero Chou from Taiwan."

For the Austin Chronicle, Belinda Acosta previews 3 Mexicanas en Hollywood: Dolores del Río, Lupe Vélez, and Katy Jurado, a Tuesday evening series running January 8 through February 12: "While it seems a shame to limit the roster to these three actresses, there's a reason: They are the three most visible Mexican actresses who built successful careers in Mexico and in Hollywood, navigating cultures, challenging stereotypes, and becoming icons on both sides of the border." And Kimberley Jones has a note on the Agrasánchez Film Archives.

SXSW Film 07 Jones also tallies up the titles so far confirmed for SXSW Film.

"I've got no beef with anyone who considers this Chaplin's masterpiece - it's certainly the movie most suffused with economic and romantic pathos." J Hoberman previews the week-long run of City Lights at Film Forum and mentions a couple of other NYC-area events: Silly Symphonies at the Museum of the Moving Image (through Sunday) and All That Fosse at the Walter Reade (through Tuesday).

Related: Bob Westal at the House Next Door: "Lenny is a fascinating, beautifully wrought black and white film with a number of outstanding scenes, but I think it's for more than gonadal reasons that I keep returning to that early sequence featuring 'Hot Honey Harlow.' Like so many sequences in Fosse's films, it strongly hints that a show business and human dignity are unavoidably at odds, but also beautiful."

And: A "movie musical is more than the sum of its numbers," writes Lauren Wissot. "Fosse knew this, which is why his own film version of another Kander and Ebb musical, Cabaret, shot over three decades ago, feels less dated than Marshall’s 2002 Academy darling," Chicago.

Chuck Close: An Elegant Portrait of the Art World's Leading Portraitist Back in the Voice, Michelle Orange on Chuck Close: An Elegant Portrait of the Art World's Leading Portraitist, "an open, vivid symposium on not just Close's career, but that of many artists of the same vintage: Kiki Smith, Philip Glass, Robert Rauschenberg and Brice Marden speak eloquently about Close, but [the late director Marion] Cajori goes further, constructing a primer on the work of those individuals as well, who define their own aesthetics by setting themselves in relief to Close."

Close's process "entails blowing up photographs by way of a grid system and rerendering each section as a huge, abstracted square," notes Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times. "The technique somehow combines uncanny intimacy and intellectual distance, much like Ms Cajori's splendid movie, which captures Mr Close at work via a combination of probing close-ups of paint-daubed canvas and wide shots that situate him within his work space."

"Film Forum is kicking off 2008 with a far-from-complete but nonetheless welcome retrospective of the formidable Otto Preminger, one of the most distinctive sensibiities in the history of American cinema," writes Dan Sallitt. "Just in case anyone out there is looking for guidance, here are my two cents about which titles in the series are required viewing." January 2 through 17.

The Korngolds "[H]alf a century after his death, mention of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, another great musical son of Vienna, often draws blank stares here and elsewhere - despite his legacy as the founder of the 'Hollywood Sound,'" writes George Jahn for the AP. "The city's Jewish Museum is devoting a major exhibition to the man whose classical career fell victim to a triple whammy: a domineering music critic father, the advent of atonal music and, finally, the rise of Hitler that perpetuated his self-exile to the US."

Michael Guillén previews Fatih Akin's The Edge of Heaven, which'll be opening Berlin & Beyond: New Films from Germany, Austria & Switzerland, running January 10 through 16 at San Francisco's Castro.

In the Independent Weekly, Neil Morris notes that the resignation of Nancy Buirski as head of the Full Frame Documentary Full Frame Festival "comes amid speculation about the financial stability of the Durham mainstay."

Online listening tip. Errata looks back on the New York Film Festival.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:18 PM

Interview. Juan Antonio Bayona and Sergio Sánchez.

El Orfanato "The Orphanage is a film that often makes something out of nothing - something being scaring the bejesus out of you. Director Juan Antonio Bayona and screenwriter Sergio G Sánchez ratchet up the tension to such excruciating heights that, while you're watching the film, your impulse is to scream out loud just to feel some sense of release," writes Mark Olsen in the LA Weekly.

At the main site, Michael Guillén talks with Bayona about his debut feature and with Sánchez about the screenplay everyone'd told him was "wrong, wrong," and with both about their producer, Guillermo del Toro, and their touchstones, ranging from Henry James to Steven Spielberg.

Updated through 1/1.

Back to Olsen in the LAW: "[T]here's not really a bogeyman in The Orphanage and not much blood; just insane intensity and a building sense of bad vibes. Staring into that face of inky blackness is actress Belén Rueda." He talks with her, while Ella Taylor interviews Bayona.

"Even though The Orphanage is Juan Antonio Bayona's first feature film, there is no doubting his skill," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "But like his patron Guillermo del Toro (who is both producer and 'presenter' of this movie), Mr Bayona is interested in using the horror genre to explore emotions beyond mere fright. Though there are plenty of sudden jolts and eerie atmospherics, The Orphanage is ultimately concerned with grief, remorse and maternal longing."

"If The Orphanage were boiled down to a few isolated moments of skillfully executed terror, Bayona would surely have crafted a masterpiece," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "Because its pace-heavy plot goes too many directions and fails to pick up all the pieces, the result is something less than that - but admirable nonetheless. Let the anticipation of Bayona's next move begin."

"The Orphanage gets steadily more engrossing - and scary, as Rueda's performance takes hold," writes Jim Ridley in the Voice. "Wandering the empty house in jittery despair, Rueda gives as gripping a screen solo as Will Smith in I Am Legend (the season's other ice-bath in the isolation of parental grief)."

"Although Bayona shows a surprisingly steady hand for a first-timer, his horror flick - neither incompetent (admittedly, I screamed out loud at one point) nor particularly imaginative in fulfilling its generic aims - simply doesn't leave much of an impression, no matter its artier, Cannes and New York Film Festival-anointed veneer," writes Kristi Mitsuda at indieWIRE.

"It's a bedtime story: if you let Bayona and Del Toro scare you, they'll reassure you that there's nothing to be scared of," writes Mark Asch in the L Magazine.

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Bayona "about ghost stories, growing up on a diet of great movies, and the inherent appeal of Stephen King's Sugar in the Raw.

For the Los Angeles Times, Geoff Boucher talks with Bayona - and Sánchez, who tells him, "We've made a horror movie for grannies. Seriously, the film is difficult to describe to people. It's not a drama; it's not a horror film. But it is also both."

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes, Toronto and New York.

Updates: "There's a single gory scene in The Orphanage, and it's so fleeting and uncannily naturalistic - it happens in broad daylight on a crowded street - that you almost long to see it again just to confirm what you think you saw the first time," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "Bayona can distill more dread from a simple party scene with attendees wearing creepy face masks than the usual horror film can wrench from a chain saw."

"When I first saw The Orphanage, I found it an overly clinical genre exercise whose sentimental moments felt forced, but it will also plant roots in your subconscious and linger there for weeks," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir.

For Bruce Bennett, writing in the New York Sun, "the film almost feels like Spanish Scary Movie's Greatest Hits Volume One."

"The Orphanage's joys come from the experiential: Bayona's cultured technical skills, including some phenomenal sound design, and sustained anxiety," writes Aaron Hillis for Premiere. "It's about as healthy as junk food gets."

"[W]hile some of the trappings and even some of the plot elements could easily be called unoriginal, Bayona and screenwriter Sergio G Sánchez arrange them in a fresh way, crafting an emotionally resonant, nerve-jangling experience," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club.

"So lovely and lyrical is the film's opening shot - a group of small children playing a stop-and-go variant of tag, with the pursuers advancing a few menacing steps at a time - that few seem to have noticed that the remainder amounts to little more than the usual grab-bag of cheap shock effects and pro-forma eerieness, plus subtitles," writes Mike D'Angelo at Nerve.

"Agnosticism has killed the horror genre in the United States. Take away the afterlife, take away a belief in the spirit world, and horror becomes about nothing but the fear of death and stories about sadism," writes Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle. "Add in those ingredients, and horror can return to its real subject - the line between the seen and unseen, where the living meet the dead and the mysteries of life are revealed. Until we figure that out, we may have to keep importing our horror, and if that means more movies like The Orphanage, all the better."

"Now here is an excellent example of why it is more frightening to await something than to experience it," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times.

"It's been exactly a year since the release of Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, the best movie of 2006," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "Now, del Toro is back, this time as producer only, of this genuinely creepy ghost story - Spain's entry for the Foreign Language Oscar - which, if not the year's best, is certainly among the best."

Update, 12/30: "When the star of The Orphanage, Belén Rueda (The Sea Inside), said in a telephone interview that her film should be thought of as 'something that could happen in real life,' she meant losing one's way, losing one's child or losing one's mind: not the stuff of the everyday, perhaps, but far more plausible than blood-sucking ghouls, flesh-eating viruses or 'torture porn,' techniques that work on the nervous system the way a reflex hammer works on a kneecap," writes John Anderson in the NYT. "What Ms Rueda is talking about is a fear of the possible."

Update, 1/1: "It seems to be a rarer and rarer thing to actually watch a film that gives you the creeps (in a good way) and gets you to jump," writes Edward Copeland. "The Orphanage follows the basic template of horror stories, but first-time director Bayona still manages to build some surprises and suspense within the formula."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:48 AM

December 27, 2007

Lists, 12/27.

Alexandra "If there's one common theme that continues to surface in these year's selection, it is probably the idea of 'ghost people' - living in the periphery, taking refuge in the shadows, abandoned and forgotten in their desolation, or who, in their absence, continue to haunt the imagination of those left behind." Acquarello presents a top ten (in preferential order; #1: Alexandra) and ten honorable mentions.

"Wherever my travels have taken me this year..., the sentiment has been the same: What a banner year it has been for American movies," writes Scott Foundas. "And at a time when there isn't much about our country that everyone the world over can agree on, these words of praise have been spoken by critics, filmmakers and just plain moviegoers of myriad tongues and nationalities. Far be it from me to argue: Of the 17 titles I've managed to shoehorn into the 10 slots below..., all but four are American or American co-productions." His #1: There Will Be Blood.

Also in the LA Weekly, and also warming up for the Voice/LAW poll in works: "[T]he only trend worth mentioning in 2007 was the unseemly war of words between print critics and bloggers, the former an endangered species and the latter an emergent group with all the testy insecurity that entails," writes Ella Taylor. "To my mind, this battle goes nowhere [Amen!], not just because sooner or later we'll all be bloggers, but because I can't remember a year of such across-the-board consensus in Top 10 lists on and off the Web - mine included, unranked, arbitrary and subject to change."

And Robert Abele presents an annotated list of the best of what was new on TV this year.

Time Crimes Harry Knowles springs a surprise on us all with the Ain't It Cool Awards. He, Moriarty, Massawyrm and Capone each name their "AICN Discovery of the Year"; consensus has decided the rest of the traditional categories. Those Discoveries include Danny R McBride, Diablo Cody, Time Crimes and Mongol. Click to see who was wowed by what.

"Sure, 2007 took quite a while to get rolling, and I believe it was about halfway through Transformers that I started seriously considering a career in real estate," writes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "But then sometime around August the damnedest thing happened - movies started getting good again. Really good." Top of his list: I'm Not There.

Kathy Fennessy presents her list of "Movies for Music Lovers" (for the list alone, see the Siffblog) and Songs for Swingin' Cineastes!

"This year, the desire for revenge ripped free from its moorings, catching innocents in its unfriendly fire," writes Sam Adams, introducing his list. "More frightening by far than Rendition's chest-beating was The Bourne Ultimatum's casual depiction of innocents being snatched off the street: a hypo in the neck, a hood over the head, and into the unmarked Suburban you go." But his overriding theme goes like this: "In No Country for Old Men, in There Will Be Blood, in We Own the Night and Into Great Silence, actions spoke louder than words."

Also in the Philadelphia City Paper, Cindy Fuchs: "This year's best films are structured as quests. While they rarely achieve their stated aims - truth, justice, a sense of moral order - they find in their seeming failures more remarkable ends."

"The critics have spoken, and the American West is winning in many year-end polls," writes Susan Gerhard. "But a quick survey of Bay Area programmers, curators, distributors, and filmmakers reveals a much richer picture of 2007's best movie events, from avant-garde showcases to locally programmed extravaganzas. SF360.org offered some of the Bay Area's leading voices a chance to weigh in on their film favorites and disappointments for the year, as well as their hopes for the next."

IndieWIRE editors and contributors add comments to their top tens.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly Kirk Honeycutt introduces the Hollywood Reporter's collection of top tens by its reviewers: "Only one film made all six lists. Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a remarkable work about a seemingly unfilmable subject."

"Top ten lists do not represent the ideal model for reminiscing on a cinematic year," argues Ted Pigeon. "But their flaws and their strengths enable them to endure; keeping us in eager anticipation of writing and reading them each year, and informing the perspectives of others interested in this medium we - critics - so passionately value."

At Dr Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope, Drew Morton's got a "Highly Subjective List of 2007's Best Media Offerings."

"Every year I read a lot of commentary on how the prior twelve months haven't produced any music of lasting value, and every year I disagree." Michael Tully charts his "Year in Music: 2007."

Modern Fabulousity presents the "Heroes of 2007."

Online browsing tip. For the Independent Weekly, Derek Anderson presents the year in pictures.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:51 AM

Michael Kidd, 1915 - 2007.

Michael Kidd
Michael Kidd, the award-winning choreographer of exuberant dance numbers for Broadway shows like Finian's Rainbow and Guys and Dolls and Hollywood musicals including The Band Wagon and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, died on Sunday at his home in Los Angeles.... "I always use real-life gestures, and most of my dancing is based on real life," Mr Kidd said in an interview. He defined his choreography as "human behavior and people's manners, stylized into musical rhythmic forms."

Patricia Eliot Tobias, New York Times.

In addition to directing for stage and television, Kidd worked sporadically as an actor - most memorably, in Michael Ritchie's 1975 cult-fave Smile, masterfully playing Tommy French, a sly, sardonic beauty pageant choreographer ("No, dear, if you kick and bend at the same time, you're going to knock yourself out!") whose inspirational speeches to comely teen-age contestants are somehow all the more effectively uplifting for being transparently (to the audience, at least) bogus.

Joe Leydon.

In his half-century career as a dancer, choreographer and director, Michael Kidd won friends and awards with equal alacrity. And he lived long enough to see some of his best films acknowledged as classics. He even aged gracefully, never settling into a role as the grand old man of Broadway and Hollywood dance but rather staying energetic, perceptive, witty. His stories about working with pop diva Lena Horne on a revival of the Rodgers and Hart musical Pal Joey could curl your hair, and his death from cancer on Sunday at age 92 deprived the dance world of one of its most sunny raconteurs.

Lewis Segal, Los Angeles Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:32 AM

GP Sippy, 1915 - 2007.

Sholay
Veteran Bollywood film producer GP Sippy has died in the western Indian city of Mumbai at the age of 93. Mr Sippy was best known as the producer of Bollywood's biggest ever commercial success, Sholay (Flames).

The BBC.

Directed by Mr Sippy's son Ramesh, Sholay revolutionized Hindi filmmaking and brought true professionalism to Indian script writing. Written by Mr Sippy's favorite scriptwriting team, Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar, Sholay was loosely styled on The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven, and has been called India's first "curry western."... On its release, the film ran for a record 286 straight weeks at the Minerva Theater in Mumbai, then called Bombay.... Sholay made Mr Sippy and many of its cast members — including Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar, Hema Malini, Jaya Bhaduri and Amjad Khan - into some of Bollywood's biggest stars.

Haresh Pandya, New York Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:22 AM

Oscar Peterson, 1925 - 2007.

Oscar Peterson
Oscar Peterson, whose dazzling piano playing made him one of the most popular jazz artists in history, died on Sunday night at his home in Mississauga, Ontario, outside Toronto. He was 82.

Richard Severo, New York Times.

Though Peterson has sometimes been criticised as a musician in thrall to his own runaway technique, he remained a great virtuoso of piano jazz, and an equally effective populariser of the music among those who might otherwise not have encountered it. He was the kind of jazz musician who invited a sometimes-daunted general public in, and he always performed as if making the music was the most fun it was possible for a human being to have.

John Fordham, the Guardian.

Perhaps not a maverick like Art Tatum or Thelonious Monk, Peterson nevertheless brought a new level of sophistication and a higher standard of musicianship to his instrument that many have learned from, but few have mastered.

Stephen Cooke, If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger....

See also: Drawn! posts Begone Dull Care, the groundbreaking abstract animated film from 1949 by Norman McLaren, featuring the music of the Oscar Peterson trio."

And of course, the Wikipedia entry.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:18 AM

Jonathan Rosenbaum turns a leaf.

Jonathan Rosenbaum I did not know this. Via Steve at Film Damaged comes news, reported by Time Out Chicago's Hank Sartin, that Jonathan Rosenbaum will be retiring on February 27, evidently his 65th birthday. "This is not, contrary to your first assumption, one more sign of new [Chicago Reader] owners Creative Loafing trimming the budget," notes Sartin. "In fact, Rosenbaum tells us that his new bosses at Creative Loafing will be setting him up with a website of his own so that even in 'retirement' his writings on film will continue to be part of their franchise. He's not the sort to lounge on a beach, so expect a lot more thoughts on film from JR."

That, at least, is good news for most of us, including Steve @ FD: "Rosenbaum is one of those writers who has become like a friend for me, certainly like a beloved professor, his thought-provoking opinions something I'd miss terribly.... Rosenbaum caused two major controversies this year - the first when he wrote in the Times that Ingmar Bergman needed to be reassessed, the second when he ran a review that disagreed with the general acclaim for No Country for Old Men.... Blogs and message boards oozed vitriol and the more opponents... frothed, the worse they looked by comparison."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:53 AM | Comments (1)

National Film Registry 07.

12 Angry Men "The 25 titles to be added this year to the National Film Registry were announced this morning by the Librarian of Congress, James H Billington," announces Dave Kehr, who's got the list. "Once again, it's a diverse, wide-ranging selection, not intended as any kind of 'best' list (though inevitably it is interpreted that way) but instead as a reflection of American film culture in all of its forms and fashions, from home movies (the extraordinary Our Day, a 1938 film by Wallace Kelly of Lebanon, Kentucky, that displays a more sophisticated sense of mise-en-scene than the great majority of current Hollywood features) to the most expensive and elaborate industrial products (Back to the Future, Close Encounters of the Third Kind)."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:39 AM

December 26, 2007

More on There Will Be Blood.

"There Will Be Blood is very much a personal endeavor for [Paul Thomas] Anderson; it feels like an act of possession," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times.

There Will Be Blood

"Yet it is also directly engaged with our cinematically constructed history, specifically with films - Greed and Chinatown, but also Citizen Kane - that have dismantled the mythologies of American success and, in doing so, replaced one utopian ideal for another, namely that of the movies themselves.... But the film is above all a consummate work of art, one that transcends the historically fraught context of its making, and its pleasures are unapologetically aesthetic. It reveals, excites, disturbs, provokes, but the window it opens is to human consciousness itself."

Updated through 1/1.

For Salon's Stephanie Zacharek, Blood "is an austere folly, a picture so ambitious, so filled with filmmaking, that its very scale almost obscures its blankness.... An epic stands or falls on the strength of its emotional details, and by that measure, There Will Be Blood, sprawling and grand as it tries to be, fails. There Will Be Blood only pretends to be elemental and raw: It's really tempered and wrought, to the point of dullness. It rings with false humility, something I never thought I'd see in an Anderson picture."

At the SpoutBlog, Karina Longworth confesses that Blood "has pretty much slain me.... I feel like the first step to defining what this film is, and why it's had such an impact on me, is to figure out what it isn't. So, I'll now proceed to blatantly rip off Filmbrain, and review TWBB in more-or-less list form." She offers an "analysis of five common misconceptions about this film."

"It's important to remember that [Upton] Sinclair was as much a committed socialist as a novelist, someone who probably wrote for political purpose more than for dramatic effect," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "So while [Daniel] Day-Lewis's gorgeous acting largely disguises it, the people in Blood tend to be schematic and the film as a whole has a weakness for the didactic. In its willingness to push everything, even personality, to extremes, this is a film with the defects of its virtues, so it's fortunate that those virtues are very great indeed."

"Now that Brando is gone, no other actor can match Day-Lewis for sheer wacko mystique," writes Mike D'Angelo in Esquire. "There Will Be Blood only serves to confirm him as the screen's most gifted ham."

Earlier: Reviews and such in entries launched on 12/19, 12/10, 12/5 and 11/9.

Updates: "It is the genius (and I use that word advisedly) of Daniel Day-Lewis's performance to slowly, patiently, show the madness replacing his former rationalism, to prepare us for the film's astonishing ending, an ending one dare not reveal, but that contains what I - resistant as I am to superlatives - consider to be the most explosive and unforgettable 10 or 15 minutes of screen acting I have ever witnessed." And overall, for Time's Richard Schickel, this is "one of the most wholly original American movies ever made."

"The past few months have hardly lacked for audacious exercises in cine-hubris - The Assassination of Jesse James, Southland Tales and I'm Not There, to name three excellent examples - but, as bizarre as it often is, There Will Be Blood is the one that packs the strongest movie-movie wallop. This is truly a work of symphonic aspirations and masterful execution," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "The last 20 minutes are as shocking in their way as the plague that rains from the sky in Magnolia's finale. By the time the closing words 'There Will Be Blood' appear (with a burst of Brahms) inscribed in heavy gothic letters on the screen, Anderson's movie has come to seem an Old Testament story of cosmic comeuppance and filicidal madness - American history glimpsed through the smoke and fire that the lightning left behind."

Updates, 12/27: "For all its measured pacing, exquisitely framed long takes and parched period beauty, There Will Be Blood finally cannot contain the reservoirs of Day-Lewis's intense melancholy," writes Michael Koresky in one of the longest pieces Stop Smiling's ever run on a single film. "Not so much a slow burn as a damning accumulation of moments, unforgiving in their spareness, the film seems structured like a two-and-a-half-hour self-denial capped by a horribly therapeutic self-actualization."

"If the style of There Will Be Blood is decidedly naturalistic, its resonances are distinctly mythopoeic," writes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. "The story feels less invented than divined, as if it were lying there all along, like the oil in the ground, waiting for Anderson to discover it.... It is hard to overstate the case for this movie.... With There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson has taken a stab at making The Great American Movie - and I daresay he's made one of them."

For Matt Zoller Seitz, Blood "isn't perfect or entirely satisfying, but it's so singular in its conception and execution that one can no more dismiss it than one can dismiss a volcanic eruption occurring in one's backyard. It cannot be diminished - as Hard Eight, Boogie Nights and Magnolia could, and to my mind, rightly were diminished - as another instance of a facile, energetic director hurling homage at the audience." Spoilers follow, just so you know.

Also at the House Next Door, NP Thompson declares it a "debacle" and "a bomb, and an overwrought one at that."

"There's a biblical simplicity to these events, as brother turns against brother, father betrays son, and son strikes back at father," writes Jeffrey Overstreet of this "masterpiece" for Christianity Today. "If there were categories in the video stores called 'The Wages of Sin' or 'The Nature of Evil,' this film could fit perfectly in either section."

Ray Pride's got a link to the screenplay and steaming audio of selections from Jonny Greenwood's soundtrack. And he adds: "Highly recommended: don't read the script until you've seen the film."

Updates, 12/28: "More than anything, There Will Be Blood is a breathtakingly well-made film," writes Bilge Ebiri for Nerve. "Dramatic, suspenseful, and with real sweep, for most of its running time it's the kind of film you'll want to take your grandparents to; just hustle them out of the theater before it comes to its stark conclusion."

"Part of the reason I am less enamored of There Will Be Blood than most of my colleagues is that I'm not sure there is any central anything here," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "For roughly two and a half hours, we watch things happen - incidents that are generally interesting, but which seem of more or less equal dramatic weight.... The throughline seems to be the souring of Daniel's soul, but whatever transformation takes place is (if you'll pardon me) hiding in Plainview."

Blood is "what Scorsese's Gangs of New York should have been," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "As long as money retains the power to poison men's souls, Anderson's uncompromising masterpiece will continue to resonate as a harrowing cautionary warning to a country with oil pumping through its veins, clouding its judgment and coarsening its soul."

Update, 12/29: "Me, I agree with Anderson himself who once said something to the effect that Magnolia was the best film he ever made or ever would be capable of making," writes C Jerry Kutner at Bright Lights After Dark. "I admire There Will Be Blood, but like it somewhat less than the ensemble films, finding it to be a flawed but compelling work by one of America's most singularly talented filmmakers."

Update, 1/1: "What Blood doesn't have is much in the way of politics - so much for social justice," writes Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix. "Instead, Anderson offers up sophomoric satire, but with a redeeming, anarchic mirth."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:43 AM | Comments (6)

Smiley Face.

Smiley Face "Despite its laid-back script, Smiley Face is as prankishly political as [Gregg] Araki's Doom Generation, evincing a deep unease with the media-saturated capitalist nation that Jane crawls inside her bong to escape," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times. As for Anna Faris, her "freakishly committed performance as Jane F suggests Amy Adams's princess from Enchanted dropped into a Cheech and Chong movie."

"What's going on here, I think, is mumblecore through a marijuana haze," proposes Vadim Rizov at the House Next Door. "Behind Jane's surprisingly depressing hijinks is post-grad malaise: a rare copy of the Communist Manifesto drives a lot of the plot, with Jane occasionally delivering moments of lucid intelligence to remind us that she must've learned something in college." Still, "despite the hit-and-miss jokes that keep Smiley Face consistently engaging and occasionally hilarious - it's the most depressing comedy of the year."

Updated through 12/28.

"A rambling, rudimentary, profoundly unoriginal stoner comedy, Smiley Face falls apart by its third scene, imploding not only due to a lack of solid material, but also due to the existence of another film that, three years ago, reminded us of just how good the stoner comedy can be: Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun.

The Reeler interviews Araki. And speaking of the Reeler: Stu and I have exchanged email over this, and we can't seem to figure out what's going on: Is anyone else having problems accessing the Reeler? Drop a line; it might help us figure out what the problem is. Thanks.

Earlier: Reviews from Sundance and Toronto. And Craig Phillips's notes on a Sundance roundtable featuring Araki, Hal Hartley, Tamara Jenkins and David Gordon Green, who, of course, is working on his own stoner comedy (of sorts), Pineapple Express.

Update: "Truth is, in a perfect world pot wouldn't turn my mouth into a sandbox and my nervous system into one giant, uptight twitch," offers Nathan Lee in the Voice. "Can't stand the stuff, frankly, so I'm not exactly an ideal candidate to evaluate the blunted verisimilitude of Smiley Face, stoner farce par excellence. On the plus side, 100 percent sober when I watched it, I can say with some authority that Dylan Haggerty has written an eleventh-hour candidate for the funniest movie of 2007, that Gregg Araki has directed his finest film since 1997's Nowhere, and that Faris, flawless, rocks their inspired idiot odyssey in a virtuoso comedic turn."

Update, 12/27: Smiley Face was originally to be called "The Being John Malkovich of All Pot Smoking Stoner Movies," notes Eric Kohn, who tells the story of its long trip to theaters in the New York Press, noting, too, that "it's virtually impossible not to read Smiley Face as a loopy generational statement."

Update, 12/28: "It's a fittingly loose, shambling little nothing of a comedy that's occasionally inspired, but at least a draft or two short of its potential," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "Still, it's a pleasure to watch Faris - a gifted, likeable comedian who tends to be the best element of many terrible movies - wander slack-jawed through a surreal day in Los Angeles."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:23 AM

Spanish Cinema Now. 10.

James Van Maanen wraps the series with one day left to go.

Poster for a past edition of Spanish Cinema Now The Film Society of Lincoln Center's annual Spanish Cinema Now series comes to a close tomorrow, Thursday, after three full weeks of films new and old. 2007 was the first year in which I managed to see every single - count 'em: 28 - piece on the program. Not coincidentally, I think, this was also my favorite SCN of the ten or so I have attended. While the experience can sometimes seem daunting during those 21 days, the payoff is immense. The more you see, the more there is to like (or not) and, most importantly, the more there is to understand. The personality of a country's present and past begins to come together - culturally, politically, economically, socially, artistically - and, while you'll never comprehend the entire package, you'll certainly be wiser going out than coming in. What has been happening in the country over the past year? This fest certainly offers a kind of barometer, together with some of the themes that were on the mind of moviemakers and, most probably, of the populace at large.

Nothing like this opportunity exists anywhere else that I know. SCN lasts longer than either the French or Italian yearly series sponsored by the FSLC, perhaps deservedly so. The energy, enthusiasm and talent of Spanish filmmakers young and old is pretty extraordinary. Unlike Cannes, Toronto and many other noted festivals, where you must choose among many more movies than a single body is able to view, here, you can actually see them all. And if a "specific country" festival such as SCN does not have the caché of the FSLC's New York Film Festival or New Directors/New Films, that's all the better because it renders the programs more available, with tickets easier to procure. (The French fest does seem to be selling out more rapidly year by year, so book early for that one). Moreover, your chances of discovering films you like (or don't) are no less here than at any festival. But since you or I are not calling the shots as to which films are chosen, there'll be plenty of disagreement, as usual.

Take, for instance, the retrospective of films by the late Pilar Miró. Going into it, I knew little of her work. Now that I have seen seven of her films, I am not a fan - though I did find much to appreciate in two of them: The Cuenca Crime and The Dog in the Manger. Further, I am enormously grateful to the FSLC for giving me the opportunity to sample her work - which, with one exception, does not seem to be available in the US on DVD. Ditto La Guerra filmada, the Spanish television series on the Civil War that saw its US premiere during the series. I found it a missed opportunity, yet looking back, even at this short distance of time, I realize that I did learn from it (though perhaps not quite enough to match the eight hours I spent watching).

One accomplishment of La Guerra filmada was to help link Spain's present with its past - which seemed a particularly strong theme at this year's fest. It surfaced in a myriad of ways, some of them more obvious than others. Watching La Guerra filmada's newsreel footage of the war, then seeing Miró's Your Name Poisons My Dreams and its investigation of the Fascist aftermath, then watching Icíar Bollaín's new Mataharis, with its look at a present-day (and just as insidious) method of keeping the powerful in power is to note a rather disturbing-but-typical timeline. If the Miró retrospective offered a look into the mind of (particularly) women in the period during and after the Franco years, new films like Judith Collel's 53 Winter Days and Rodrigo Cortes's Contestant showed us the somewhat precarious state of urban Spain today.

Other more charming links from past to present can be found by observing certain actors in both their early and current films. Blanca Portillo makes a lovely gentlewoman in Miró's The Dog in the Manger; twelve years later, here she is in a terrific performance as an angry but wonderfully decent ex-con in Gracia Querejeta's new Seven Billiard Tables. Likewise, the lovely Emma Suárez can be seen in Miró's Manger, Your Name Poisons My Dreams and the new Under the Stars. Both actresses (plus Ms Portillo's Billiard costar Maribel Verdú) have been nominated for Goya awards this year - the Spanish equivalent of the Oscars. SCN often hosts a number of Goya-nominated films, and this year I counted some 27 nominations among the 17 new films in the SCN roster, from best production to direction, acting, writing, editing, cinematography and score.

La Soledad Speaking of the Goya awards brings us to the one possibly great film of this festival, Jaime Rosales's La Soledad. I hesitate to use the word masterpiece for a movie I have seen only once. Time will tell. Meanwhile, this new work from the maker of The Hours of the Day uses an often stationery camera (abetted by the occasional split screen) plus a visionary screenplay (with its dialogue given life by a wonderful acting ensemble) to allow an observation of life that we have rarely, maybe never seen. A young woman whom I met at the SCN luncheon told me that her parents, who live in Spain, called La Soledad the best film in the SCN festival, although she herself felt it was "more art than cinema." I found it both: high art that is rigorous yet accessible. That it has been nominated for a Best Picture Goya is most encouraging, although it is up against the enormously humane Seven Billiard Tables, 13 Roses (which I have not seen) and The Orphanage, soon to be released here via Picturehouse and already Spain's top-grossing movie of the year (also as yet unseen by me).

If the Goyas function as anything like our Oscars, the outcome, I should think, is foregone. "Entertainment" is still king internationally, of course, but unlike your average city cineplex, the FSLC's Walter Reade Theater offers its patrons the increasingly rare and precious opportunity to think, feel and learn - in addition to being entertained. Still, this Goya nomination might bring La Soledad one step closer to a deserved release here in the US.

Immigration, a hot topic in most of the western world, figured importantly in much of the SCN roster, including Barcelona (A Map), Doghead, The Education of Fairies, 53 Winter Days, Mataharis, Scandalous, Septembers, Under the Stars, Yo and Said's Journey (part of the Shortmetraje program).

Another link from past to present in this edition of SCN occurs via, of all things, the two musicals on offer, one distinctly old style (Lola, la película), the other quite new (Scandalous). Though neither is anything like a conventional musical, both feature musical numbers. The former, set in the 1930s and 40s, gives a rich sense of period (even if it manages to completely leave out the Spanish Civil War!) and a look at the phenomenal actress/singer/dancer Lola Flores, brought to wonderful life by Gala Évora (another Goya nominee). The latter, directed and co-written with an unusual combination of reticence, spirit and charm by Álvaro Begines, has almost nothing in common with the Lola film, except perhaps its own Lola, via the wonderful Lola Herrera, an integral part of the acting ensemble who possesses the flamenco spirit and hauteur.

These two movies, one concerned with Spain's past, the other with her present (and perhaps future) make a lovely pair of bookends to the festival. I can't help imagining Lola Flores herself, looking down on (perhaps up at?) Spanish Cinema Now - and smiling with surprise, pleasure and approval.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:07 AM | Comments (2)

December 25, 2007

More lists, 12/25.

Vibrator "[A]s we should all know by now, fewer films can be (or at least are) affordably shown theatrically than ever before, and as a result, scores of worthwhile movies see their first 'release' in the US on DVD every year." So at IFC News, Michael Atkinson salutes "The Best Non-Theatrical Debuts of 07," topping that list with Ryuichi Hiroki's Vibrator: "Urban cool, until it sneaks up to your soft side with a sledgehammer." And at his own site, Michael Atkinson posts his annotated top ten.

Stephanie Zacharek presents a top ten, "somewhat in order of preference, although beyond the top three I always find making such distinctions difficult." And those three are: I'm Not There, Control and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

Also in Salon, Andrew O'Hehir and Matt Singer look back at the year's best documentaries and Tom Tomorrow presents "2007: An Incomplete, Subjective and Altogether Inadequate Year in Review, Part the First."

No Country for Old Men Matt Riviera lists 20 films, "a mental snapshot," with No Country for Old Men at the top. "Some of my favourite filmmakers turned in slightly underwhelming pictures (Van Sant, Ozon, Anderson, Winterbottom, Araki) but newcomers dazzled. Debuts by Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton), Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories), Matthias Luthardt (Pingpong), John Carney (Once) made my heart beat faster for an hour or two, and Ryan Gosling, Ellen Page, Casey Affleck and Eva Green became stars (at least in my eyes)."

The "2007 Top Tens" chart at Movie City News is now thick enough to provide an overview of critical consensus.

"I decided to compile a tiny list of Malaysian films, but not pertaining solely to their quality or box-office performance," writes The Visitor at Twitch. "They're just a small bunch of films that got notable attention for whatever reasons."

The Creative Review Blog Top Ten.

Online listening tip #1. Back at IFC News, Matt Singer and Alison Willmore "look ahead to 2008 and list some of the things we're looking forward to, from the bad movie month of January (hello, two films from Uwe Boll!) to upcoming work from our favorite directors to fabulous films we caught at festival in the past year that are finally making their way to theaters."

Online listening tip #2. On Fresh Air, John Powers weighs in on the "Top 10 Cultural Trends of 2007."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:51 PM

DVDs, 12/25.

Ace in the Hole 'Tis the season, so how about starting off this roundup with a list: "There were so many impressive DVDs that it was hard to whittle the releases of 2007 down to just the ten top discs. For that reason the review staff at DVDTalk decided to expand their list to the Top 20 DVDs of 2007." And topping that list is Ace in the Hole: "Billy Wilder's cynical, noirish tale of a big-city newspaper reporter (Kirk Douglas) manipulating the news for a small-town rag has been a sort of holy grail for film fans for decades now.... Snappy dialogue, excellent performances, and a compelling plot that was ahead of its time and still socially relevant today, the movie more than lives up to its mythical reputation."

Speaking of Wilder, Noir of the Week's running an excerpt from Ed Sikov's On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder.

On the surface, Eastern Promises... is one of [David] Cronenberg's most straightforward films: a gangster thriller about blood ties and Oedipal tensions, set in a damp, noirish London," writes Dennis Lim in the Los Angeles Times. "But in almost every aspect, from the sumptuous atmosphere to the nuanced characterization, the film is richer and stranger than its contours suggest."

"Last year at this time Walt Disney Studios announced that it would be discontinuing the limited-edition Walt Disney Treasures series, but thanks to a grass-roots write-in campaign, fans have been rewarded with a seventh group of three releases," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. And this one's "a good crop."

"The Wire is a show that builds up your heart, even as it's breaking it," writes Chris Barsanti at filmcritic.com.

DVD roundup: Peter Martin at Cinematical.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:46 PM

Lists. Girish and STP.

Screening the Past Via Girish, who himself has just posted an alphabetical list his favorite new films, a chronological list of his favorite older films seen for the first time, plus films he's revisited this year "that look better every time" and "10 great writers I had been aware of but only started reading seriously this year":

"As part of Screening the Past's tenth anniversary, we invited about 300 colleagues around Australia and the world to nominate the most important contributions to the field in the past decade - books, articles, reports, conferences, archival work, DVD reissues or commentaries, documentaries, online material, software - anything, not limited to any particular source, certainly not STP." Culled from 60 responses, "What we have is a semi-random, semi-self-selecting mosaic showing us what we, as a field, are thinking about, valuing, and using. It's also a great reading list."

And here and there, just plain good reading, too.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:55 AM

Interview. Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud.

Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi "Persepolis is a simple story told by simple means," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Like Marjane Satrapi's book, on which it is based, the film, directed by Ms Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, consists essentially of a series of monochrome drawings, their bold black lines washed with nuances of gray. The pictures are arranged into the chronicle of a young girl's coming of age in difficult times, a tale that unfolds with such grace, intelligence and charm that you almost take the wondrous aspects of its execution for granted."

At the main site, David D'Arcy talks with Satrapi and Paronnaud about the importance of humor, perils of miserabilisme, the current state of comics and animation, and the ways the world sees (and often misunderstands) Iran.

Updated through 12/28.

"The pleasingly simple, hand-drawn characters, and flat, often abstractly patterned backgrounds show the influence of everything from Charles Schulz to German Expressionism to Persian miniature painting to shadow puppetry," writes Dana Stevens in Slate. "But the resulting mood is never cerebral or self-consciously postmodern. The story of Marjane's coming of age has the emotional directness (a cynic might call it sentimentality) of a classic of adolescent literature, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn or The Catcher in the Rye."

"A familiar story set in an unfamiliar context, it's a paean to the universality of human experience, a testament to the endurance of individuality during great political and fanatical upheaval, and a reminder that even the most complex situations, identities and stories are heartbreakingly simple," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times.

"In his review of Persepolis in the current issue of Cineaste, my colleague Rahul Hamid nails what bugged me about the film, a wholly worthwhile endeavor that I enjoyed watching despite a creeping dissatisfaction," writes Robert Cashill. "Rahul says the books are much more time- and place-specific; the film is more of a gloss, humorous and poignant, but too simple, more of a primer. The Western, 'just-like-us' side of the film dominates."

Matt Singer talks with Satrapi and Paronnaud for IFC News.

This entry'll pick up where last Tuesday's entry leaves off; earlier: reviews from Cannes, Toronto and New York.

Update, 12/26: "[B]y some strange and fortunate circumstance born out of vision, patience, luck, and sheer unmitigated talent, [Satrapi and Parannoud] have managed to incorporate each of [the books'] weighty topics into a work of art that's light as a feather, in the manner of the true masterpiece," writes Chris Barsanti at filmcritic.com.

Updates, 12/28: "At times, the film Persepolis resembles a succession of moving political posters, graphically simple and profound; and at times, it's like an old UPA cartoon, cutesy and funny," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Though there's a bit too much 'and then this happened' to the structure, Paronnaud and Satrapi succeed smashingly in translating the original's spirit into animation."

"As one of the great things about the world of an animated film is that it's a totally created one, there's not even a hint of the disconnect that would have been unavoidable in a live-action picture," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "[T]he story brims with incident and pertinence. As awful as the things that happen in it are, the viewer is happy to be in its world anyway, because Satrapi is such a companionable guide through it."

"Everyone who hasn't read Persepolis should see it, and anyone who's felt misery or shame about America's place in the world lately will probably come out comforted; in me, at least, the film induced a profound gratitude for life in a free society," writes Peter Smith at Nerve. "Yes, this decade has been a bit of a hell-ride, government-wise, but trust Satrapi: things could be a lot worse."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:41 AM

Spanish Cinema Now. 9.

James Van Maanen offers his take on a last couple of films screening in the Spanish Cinema Now series before his final wrap-up.

Septiembres Foolishly, as it turns out, I was putting off watching Septembers (Septiembres), the new documentary by Carlos Bosch, because I had been unimpressed with his Academy Award-nominated Balseros of a few years back. That fleeing-from-Cuba film was so disjointed and all-over-the-place that I could not keep up with who was who, where we were, or just about anything else I saw through the miasma of crummy photography and editing. Granted, that whole documentary must have needed to be filmed on the sly, since everyone involved, including Bosch, was breaking Cuban law.

No worries this time out, as Bosch appears to have gained legal entry into several Spanish prisons to tell his story of various inmates who compete in and hope to win the yearly Festival of Song contest, in which they karaoke to wonderful songs, some known here in the US, most not. As fine as a few of the performers are (particularly the woman who has won these contests for several years running - by the finale when she sings "Fly Me to the Moon," never one of my favorites, I was a convert), Septembers is not really about the songs or the contest but is instead about the performers.

One fellow, gay but closeted here in prison, is awaiting extradition back to Argentina where he embezzled money. He makes periodic phone calls to his beloved grandmother, explaining that he is working on a cruise ship. Another, serving time for knifing his ex-girlfriend's current boyfriend, plans to marry another girl prisoner he's met and fallen for. A gypsy drug trafficker pines for his wife and family, while a Lithuanian forger forms a bond with a woman incarcerated for trying to provide her drug-addicted children with what they need.

Comparisons may be odious, but I defy viewers not to hold up our own prison system against what we see here (and it does not appear to be whitewashed - it's prison, after all, and the inmates are not too keen on it). I can think of only one American documentary, Shakespeare Behind Bars, that depicts prison life stateside as anywhere near as humane. Without any sugar-coating, Bosch captures so much about these people - their needs, wants, sorrows, joys and regrets - that you will probably wish them as well as I did, while realizing very clearly that, for most of them, life on the outside will be no picnic, either. Septembers will be shown again on Thursday, December 27, at 8:30 pm.

The Dog in the Manger At last: a Pilar Miró movie I can whole-heartedly embrace - even if I do not call it a masterpiece. The Dog in the Manger (El Perro del hortelano) from 1996 is a genuine treat, especially for those of us who love the classics - and rhymed couplets. Lope de Vega, who wrote the original play on which Miró based her movie, was a contemporary of Shakespeare. Given the plot of this romantic comedy of manners, I would guess they were familiar with each other's work and probably cribbed a bit, too. (One of the final lines of dialogue also makes me wonder if Oscar Wilde didn't do a little cribbing of his own.)  In any case, the play and film are full of le mots just and phrases picked up for use by Bartlett. So fast, in fact, does the dialogue fly by, that you may have a little trouble keeping up with it. I did - but found it so much fun and the performances so delightful that I didn't mind at all.

What a joy it is to see Carmelo Gómez in particular do such a fine job in a buoyant, humorous role. We're used to him in darker films (Días Contados, Entre las Piernas, Nos Miran, El Método, as well as Miró's Your Name Poisons My Dreams), so it's lovely to see him lighten up and cut loose. Emma Suárez is his equal as the noble lady who's having trouble accepting a commoner as her mate. The supporting cast is fine, as well, and includes Blanca Portillo (from this year's Seven Billiard Tables) and a very funny Fernando Conde.

Having now enjoyed two of the seven Miró's movies included in SCN's retrospective - this one and El Crimen de Cuenca - I am tempted to suggest that the late director worked better with "period" pieces and on projects for which she may have felt more "bound" to keep within a certain framework: the "facts" regarding The Cuenca Crime, and the already rather "known" and certainly beloved dialogue of Lope de Vega. (It's been years since I've read The Dog in the Manger, but it seemed to me that Miró did not stray too far from the original but simply gave the Rafael Pérez Sierra version used here a little gloss.) In any case, her story-telling comes across best in these two movies; make of that what you will.

The set and production design by Félix Murcia and costumes by Humberto Cornejo and Pedro Moreno also give enormous pleasure, and the locations are simply dynamite. (Part of my trouble keeping up with the subtitles was due to my eyes trying to take in more of the gorgeous tile work in some of the scenes.) I believe the movie was filmed partially in one of Portugal's famous historic castles/homes, and the often non-stop visual glories here are extravagant indeed.

The Dog in the Manger, which will screen again on Thursday, December 27, at 2 and 6:15 pm, concludes for me this edition of Spanish Cinema Now: a total of 28 individual programs of varying quality that, taken together, offered one of, very probably the most worthwhile film experiences of my movie-going year. This past weekend I received a phone call from a friend who'd read some of my postings and told me, "Well, I guess this was not one of your favorite years for Spanish film." But no: it was, as usual, a vital and generally splendid compilation that offered a fine overview of Spanish film today - and yesterday. But my friend's comment made me realize even more strongly that, just because I did not like a film - or two or ten - does not mean that I was in any way sorry to have had the experience of viewing it. More on this next time, together with a wrap-up of the entire festival - and why it is so important to those of us who treasure international film.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:21 AM | Comments (2)

Merry Christmas, all.

Je vous salue, Marie "Godard's controversial take on the gospel story of Mary ranks in my mind as his most sensual work, startlingly direct in its exploration of the aching rift between material and spiritual reality," writes Kevin Lee, introducing a collection of perspectives on Je vous salue, Marie (Hail Mary).

"One of the most unusual putatively-hoiday-themed pictures ever made, Robert Siodmak's 1944 Christmas Holiday features beloved child/teen songstress Deanna Durbin in pretty much her first real adult role, and a doozy it is, too." Glenn Kenny's "Very Special Monday Morning Foreign Region DVD Report."

"For many people the holidays wouldn't be complete without a viewing of It's a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street or some version of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol whether it features Reginald Owen, Alastair Sim or Mr Magoo. But there's no reason why Preston Sturges's Christmas in July shouldn't became a regular seasonal favorite as well," argues Jeff at Movie Morlocks. And Dave Kehr would probably agree.

"Santa Claus has assumed many guises in the cinema," writes Odienator at Edward Copeland on Film. "Last year, I wrote about some of his naughtier instances. This Christmas, in order to avoid another year of coal in my stocking, I thought I'd talk about one of his nicer incarnations." I'll bet you can guess which one.

Have you been keeping up with the "12 Days of Cinematicalmas"?

Facets Features has been celebrating all month.

Why Christmas, why now? A euro|topics roundup.

At Boing Boing, Jasmina Tešanović sends season's greetings from Serbia.

Kimberly Lindbergs has loads of online listening, browsing and a bit of viewing as well.

Online gazing tip. "'Xmas Tree, Madison Square' circa 1915," at Shorpy.

More online gazing from shahn.

And Jason Morehead has quite an online listening tip.

Online viewing tip #1. Sujewa Ekanayake's got some Tom Waits for you.

Online viewing tip #2. Raymond De Felitta offers "the complete Brats, Laurel and Hardy's brilliantly funny 1930 short comedy where, with the help of a couple of modest in-camera superimpositions and a lot of magnificent oversized sets, they play their own children. This has always been, along with The Music Box, my favorite L&H short and, to me, represents them at their zenith."

Online viewing tip #3. "Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander offers one of the great Christmas movie sequences ever," writes Variety's Anne Thompson.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:24 AM | Comments (8)

The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep.

The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep is "family-friendly escapist fare that should enthrall, without insult, fantasy-minded viewers of any age," writes Laura Kern in the New York Times.

For Ella Taylor, writing in the Voice, this is "the best kiddie picture of the season and, along with Ratatouille, of the year.... Drawing on just about every tough and tender rite-of-passage fairy tale worth its salt, The Water Horse is a graceful meeting of talents between screenwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs, the digital effects team that juggled cute and scary so deftly in The Chronicles of Narnia, and director Jay Russell, who already has the children's classics My Dog Skip and Tuck Everlasting under his belt."

Updated through 12/28.

The "fondly cherished folk myth [of the Loch Ness Monster] becomes a rite-of-passage adventure for the somber young protagonist, Angus MacMorrow, affectingly played by freckle-faced Alex Etel (Millions)," writes Steven Winn in the San Francisco Chronicle. Russell "has a keen sense for the emotional fluidity of his main character. He uses the film's fantastical elements and surging special effects (by the Lord of the Rings and King Kong team of Weta Digital and Weta Workshop) to conjure up a realm of rhapsodic bravery for Angus."

Update, 12/28: "For a modern take on Pete's Dragon by way of The Secret of Roan Inish, it's surprisingly dense and meaty," writes Tasha Robinson at the AV Club.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:23 AM | Comments (2)

December 24, 2007

Shorts, 12/24.

"For a year or two during the mid-1970s, living in New York, I was a moviegoer. I was in my early 20s then, working off and on, driving a cab, setting up the stage at rock shows, writing occasional pieces for the Village Voice." So begins a memoir of sorts by Mark Edmundson in the American Scholar.

Annie Hall

He had two obsessions: "[Robert] Altman and [Woody] Allen are in their ways adroit anti-filmmakers. The medium they worked in is all about Titanism. It loves amazing acts, heroic leaps, kisses of world historical grandeur. Allen and Altman ran against the formal predispositions of movies without being any less entertaining." Good reading, via Bookforum.

Chris Stangl opens Pt II of The Ballad of the Hermeneutic Circle.

New blog on the block: Intense Guys: "Great Movie Moments, One Clip at a Time."

Craig Keller: "I've translated into English the following excerpts from the greater part of an interview with Jacques Rivette, conducted by Jean-Marc Lalanne and Jean-Baptiste Morain for the March 20th, 2007 edition of French culture-weekly Les Inrockuptibles."

Cloverfield At AICN, Capone interviews Cloverfield director Matt Reeves. In the London Times, Christopher Goodwin recounts the series of events that've kept movie buffs talking about the movie for months.

Twitch's Todd Brown strongly suspects that Lars von Trier's Antichrist is on again. Related: the trailers for all of LVT's features.

"It's OK to be confused by Richard Kelly's Southland Tales," Thomas Rogers assures us in Salon. "In the hopes of helping you make sense of the movie, we've decided to unravel Southland Tales as we've done for Mulholland Drive, The Wire and, of course, Donnie Darko." A synopsis and FAQ follow.

Also: "What kind of year was it for independent film?" Andrew O'Hehir takes that question to publicist Jeremy Walker, IFC Entertainment prez Jonathan Sehring, superheroine producer Christine Vachon and Facets Multi-Media director Milos Stehlik and observes, "[O]ver the three years I've been conducting a year-end survey of the indie biz, one grand theme has emerged. You could almost call it a gigantic free-floating anxiety, rather than a theme: Nobody has a clue how audiences will be watching adventurous, modestly scaled, sub-Hollywood films in five or eight or 12 years, but everybody's pretty sure they won't be watching them the way they are right now." Karina Longworth comments at the SpoutBlog.

Scott Foundas visits the set of Changeling, the 28th film Clint Eastwood's directed and finds state-of-the-art technology being used to keep things quiet and almost eerily efficient.

Also in the LA Weekly, Scott Foundas meets Homayoun Ershadi.

"Does every Brazilian love a fascist? That's the question raised by the new film Tropa de Elite, which is on its way to becoming one of the country's most popular movies of all time," writes Holmes Wilson for In These Times. "The protagonist in Tropa de Elite, or 'elite squad,' is a cop who kills for revenge, executes corrupt cops and tortures suspects - including children - for information. And the film's phenomenal success is frightening."

Shotgun Stories "There's plenty to admire in Jeff Nichols's debut feature, Shotgun Stories. I grew up in southeastern Arkansas and often wondered why nobody ever set a movie in a world I could recognize. Now, somebody has tried. And bless his indomitable heart." Derek Jenkins, who guest edited that excellent "Southern Movie Issue" of the Oxford American earlier this year, is one of three Arkansas Times staffers to weigh in on the film.

The Vatican has now officially condemned The Golden Compass, reports Philip Pullella for Reuters.

Variety's Adam Dawtrey reminds us that JK Rowling, Philip Pullman and Roald Dahl's widow all wanted Terry Gilliam to direct Harry Potter, The Golden Compass and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, respectively, but the studios nixed the idea at the outset each and every time. "That's the story of Gilliam's career. He's loved by fellow creatives, but he scares the suits to death." Now he's shooting The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, "his first wholly original screenplay, and his most personal statement, since Brazil in 1985." And Brendon at film ick's got the first couple of pix.

Filming Paris

"For his upcoming film Paris, a kaleidoscopic portrait of the French capital, [Cédric] Klapisch regular Romain Duris will play the pivotal role of a possibly terminally ill Parisian, while the director has also recruited some of France's finest talent to star alongside Duris, including Juliette Binoche, Albert Dupontel, François Cluzet, 2007 French Shooting Star Mélanie Laurent, Fabrice Luchini, Karin Viard and Gilles Lellouche. The film will premiere in France in February 2008." A preview from Boyd van Hoeij at european-films.net.

"Sold internationally by Wild Bunch, the French/Irish co-production Dorothy Mills by Agnès Merlet is already shaping up to be one of the big titles of 2008," reports Fabien Lemercier for Cineuropa.

"The bravest and most important movie musical of the last several years isn't even close to being the best film musical this year - the mysteriously perfect Once is probably going to be my favorite, with an honorable mention for Hairspray, and however I wind up reacting to Sweeney Todd fitting in there someplace as well," writes Bob Westal. "Colma: The Musical - which had only a token theatrical release in San Francisco and San Diego, after a healthy run on the festival circuit - is flawed in the way of most films from first-timers, but it reconstructs the modern musical in ways none of those other films dare. There are moments in it that just may outshine any musical made in decades."

Dustin Luke Nelson talks with No Country for Old Men cinematographer Roger Deakins for InDigest. Via Movie City News.

Nathaniel R meets "Jennifer! Jason! Leigh!"

Steven Boone's conversation with Armond White? There is a Part III. Earlier: Parts I and II.

For Apple, Joe Cellini talks with Francis Ford Coppola and Walter Murch about editing Youth Without Youth. Via Movie City News. At the AV Club, Scott Tobias talks with Coppola.

"New York street photographers and indie filmmakers say their First Amendment rights are still at risk under newly revised regulations put forth by the Mayor's Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting," reports Anthony Kaufman in the Voice. "Following a summer-long outcry from artists and activists over the first draft of rules published on May 25 - which largely prohibited shooting in the city without a permit and $1 million insurance policy - the city redrew its guidelines and released a friendlier version on October 30. But the battle is far from over."

Also in the Voice: "As befits a movie that enjoyed cult status virtually from the moment it premiered in late 2003, Bad Santa exists in multiple versions," notes J Hoberman. "There's the original release, sanitized by anxious elves at then-Weinstein-owned Miramax; there's the so-called Badder Santa, released on DVD the following summer, which claimed to restore a number of deleted scenes; and there's the director's cut, which appeared on DVD late last year and is now having its theatrical premiere.... This third Bad Santa may be the shortest version but, in every way, it's the strongest."

Jane Russell Raymond De Felitta's been writing up an appreciation of Jane Russell.

Mike at Esotika Erotica Psychotica on Jean Rollin's Lost in New York: "After a series of failures in attempting to get new projects off the ground in the mid-80s, Rollin made one of his most personal films yet, and, as Pete Tombs and Cathal Tohill argue in Immoral Tales, 'a final salute to his twenty five year struggle to find a place of his own inside the commercial film world.'"

Girish:

So, here are my concerns: (1) If silent film accompaniment exists primarily to fill the void of silence, we can probably agree that's an aesthetically weak raison d'etre. (2) Irving Thalberg once said: "There never was a silent film." Can we use this as evidence to claim that it's natural for every silent film to be accompanied by music? The history of silent film development demonstrates this to be not so (more on this in a moment). (3) Does silent film music exist to echo or underline moods and feelings during the course of a film? If so, isn't this kind of musical accompaniment somewhat redundant? Worse, can't such an approach actively dilute the power of image-driven silent cinema?

As always at Girish's place, comments - good comments - ensue. And somewhat related: John McElwee's fascinating entry on the Vitaphone.

Mainland Chinese have been flocking to Hong Kong to see the uncut version of Ang Lee's Lust, Caution, reports Howard W French: "The phenomenon of so many people voting, as it were, with their feet has highlighted the public's rapidly changing attitudes toward the long unquestioned practice of government censorship of the arts, and prompted debate about the way films are regulated in China."

Also in the New York Times:

  • "Had it been made a decade ago, Steep would have been relegated to ESPN or the video sections of sports stores," writes David Browne. "Steep is a sign of how legitimate so-called action sports have become, and the peculiar ways that this mainstream crossover manifests itself." Browne looks into how this has come to pass. While Steep "often sounds like a promotional film," it's "undeniably impressive," offers Stephen Holden. In Slant, Nick Schager calls Steep "a skin-deep history lesson on extreme skiing." And writing in the Voice, Aaron Hillis wonders, "Is the lifestyle of an adrenaline junkie any less self-destructive than a drug addict's?"

Flakes
  • "A business course on cutthroat capitalism disguised as a slacker comedy: That's the kindest way to describe Michael Lehmann's Flakes, a movie that shares the smug, hipper-than-thou sensibility of its sour protagonist, Neal Downs (Aaron Stanford)," writes Stephen Holden. "One look at Aaron Stanford's chain-smoking, long-haired musician in a Hanes t-shirt and you know Flakes wants so badly to be hip," sighs Paul Schrodt in Slant. More from Julia Wallace in the Voice and John Lichman at the House Next Door.

  • "The hyperactive sequel National Treasure: Book of Secrets sends its archaeologist hero, Ben Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage, flexing his deadpan), on a globetrotting quest that might have been devised after a long night of Wikipedia surfing," writes Matt Zoller Seitz. "Like its predecessor, National Treasure, this sequel amounts to a bunch of crossword puzzle answers stitched together with explosions, chases and displays of intuitive reasoning that the Twin Peaks FBI agent Dale Cooper would reject as too right-brained."

  • "PS I Love You looks squeaky clean and utterly straight and very much removed from the shadow worlds in which [Hilary] Swank has done her best work," writes Manohla Dargis. "Yet as directed by Richard LaGravenese, who shares screenwriting credit with Steven Rogers, it has a curious morbid quality." Then there's Nick Schager in Slant: "[I]t's hard to think of any female star who could salvage PS I Love You, a bromide-filled contrivance in which Swank's Holly gets over the death of her beloved Irish husband Gerry (Gerard Butler) with the help of letters written by Gerry and then sent to her after his death." For the sake of all Voice Media publications, Ella Taylor's suffered through this one as well.

  • "To store a digital master record of a movie costs about $12,514 a year, versus the $1,059 it costs to keep a conventional film master." Michael Cieply mulls that one over with a few industry folk.

  • Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann bicker amicably over what actually constitutes a real Christmas present.

Empire of Dreams "For Andrew M Gordon, an associate professor of English at University of Florida, Spielberg's canon is deserving of the best in Freudian and Jungian consideration," writes Phil Hall, introducing his interview with the author of Empire of Dreams: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Films of Steven Spielberg.

Also at Film Threat: Don R Lewis talks with Aaron Katz about Quiet City.

Which Kevin Lee quite likes.

David Lowery proves that it is possible, ten years on, to fondly remember Titanic for good reason.

"My impression is that the general direction of the pans in The Passenger are from left to right," notes Zach Campbell. "[I]t is as though the camera is reading the material of the image it is creating, that is, analyzing its framing as it simultaneously records."

For SF360, Laura Irvine talks with Ivan Jaigirdar about his new Bollyhood Café.

"When it comes to blaxploitation horror films, the genre doesn't get any better than Sugar Hill," writes Kimberly Lindbergs.

LA CityBeat: John Turturro "How weird is John Turturro's Romance & Cigarettes?" asks Carina Chocano. "Almost indescribably weird, though also strangely involving." And Andy Klein has a good long talk with Turturro for the LA CityBeat.

Back in the Los Angeles Times: "A little history: In the 1950s, aspiring American writers declaimed poetry in smoky cafes," writes Seth Greenland. "A decade later, they were writing songs for bands that materialized at the nexus of inspiration and dissipation before disappearing in a fog of 'bad vibes.' By the 1970s, all this had been supplanted by that bastard stepchild, the screenplay." But now, it's novels. Greenland, himself "a recovering screenwriter who is now a novelist," has an idea or two as why this has happened.

Also, interviews with Oscar hopefuls: Mark Salisbury with James McAvoy and Michael Ordoña with Keri Russell and Ellen Page.

"[A]mong Juno's distinctive charms is that it seems to have disarmed both sides of the family values debate," notes Ann Hulbert in Slate. "And the feat gets pulled off in the wry style of the eponymous hero: The film doesn't offer up a formulaic or fervent call for family harmony. Instead, it takes idiosyncratic aim at everybody's pieties." Related online viewing: Shadowplay's opening titles for Juno, via Drawn!.

"We're just ending a season in which a series of highly touted dramas about the Iraq War and its domestic consequences have flopped both critically and commercially," notes Godfrey Cheshire in the Independent Weekly. "Meanwhile, the real ground zero of our geopolitical distress, Afghanistan, like Freud's 'return of the repressed,' reappears as the setting and subject of two works that unequivocally deserve to be hailed as among the year's most fascinating, worthwhile and successful entertainments." And they would be The Kite Runner and Charlie Wilson's War. More on Kite Runner from Steve Erickson in the City Paper: "A competent director with little personality, Marc Forster never finds a style appropriate for the tension underlying the period."

The Savages In the Philadelphia City Paper, Sam Adams talks with Tamara Jenkins, whose The Savages is recommended by Shaun Brady. More on that one from Bradley Steinbacher in the Stranger and Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times.

James Mottram talks with Mischa Barton for the Independent, where Sheila Johnston interviews Josh Brolin.

Interviews in the Guardian: Matthew Hays with Gus Van Sant, Laura Barnett with Mickey Rooney, Andrew Purcell with Jason Bateman, Patrick Barkham with Henry Winkler, Xan Brooks with Tang Wei (Lust, Caution) and John Patterson with Joel and Ethan Coen. Also, Paranoid Park gets Steve Rose thinking about skateboarders in movies.

Steven Shaviro: "I've been reading Steve Erickson for quite some time; he is one of my favorite living American writers. His new novel, his eighth, Zeroville, is one of his best ever - I am inclined to say it's the best thing he's written since Arc d'X (1993)."

Wired has brought David Byrne and Thom Yorke into the same room to talk about the future of the music industry. You can listen to audio clips from the conversation as well. Then Byrne lays out a few "Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists - and Megastars." Via Rex Sorgatz.

Also Wired is Michel Gondry, as profiled by Jennifer Hillner.

Welcome to the NHK Welcome to the NHK "represents the rise in the new anime fan, a Neo-Otaku," writes John Lichman at the House Next Door. "Someone who is painfully self-aware of what they are watching, yet refuse to admit it is anime."

"Much like other overlooked greats - M Emmet Walsh, Dylan Baker, Timothy Spall - [Philip Baker] Hall has taken roles destined for notoriety without ever eliciting much renown," writes Adam Balz at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "Duck is above all else Hall's film, and rightly so: he is never absent from sight for more than a few seconds, and the role is delightfully atypical."

The Walker "seems to be the operative word. [Paul] Schrader's work refers only in passing and under duress, so to speak, to the political repression and moral degradation associated with the Bush administration," argues Joanne Laurier at the WSWS.

"Leukemia has claimed the life of Floyd Red Crow Westerman, the Native American activist, actor and country/folk singer best known for his roles in Kevin Costner's Dances With Wolves (as Sioux leader Ten Bears) and TV's Walker, Texas Ranger (as Uncle Ray Firewalker)," notes Joe Leydon. More from Michael Carlson in the Guardian.

Browse this: Dennis Cozzalio's "favorites out of the 80-some full responses to Mr Shoop's Surfin' Summer Quiz." Plus: "Professor Bertram Potts's Hella Homework for the Holidays Christmas Break Quiz."

Online seasonal desktop tip. "February 1940. Shoveling snow away from the movie entrance in Chillicothe, Ohio." At Shorpy.

Online browsing tip. The Art of Memory presents "some examples from Robert Motherwell/George Wittenborn's documents of modern art (1944-1972), covers and typography by Paul Rand."

Online viewing tip #1. Drawn! points to a short clip from Coraline, Henry Selick's feature based on the book by Neil Gaiman. Also, Ronald Searle's title designs for the 1970 Ronald Neame film, Scrooge.

Online viewing tip #2. Vulture listens and watches as the Beatnix, slipping into Hard Day's Night mode, cover "Stairway to Heaven."

Online viewing tips. At Filmmaker, Benjamin Crossley-Marra posts a couple of music videos by Cam Archer and Aaron Platt.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:48 AM

Fests and events, 12/24.

City Lights "It seems appropriate that Film Forum is observing the 30th anniversary of Charlie Chaplin's death this month by showing the great filmmaker at his liveliest," writes Darrell Hartman in the New York Sun. "Perhaps more than any other Chaplin film, City Lights was shaped by its creator's manic perfectionism. For nearly three years, Chaplin choreographed its physical routines down to the last detail and nearly tore his hair out trying to get the story to make sense." More from David Denby in the New Yorker.

"[T]he film programming at the Gallery Theatre at the National Museum of Singapore has quietly, over the last year become really rather essential for cineastes," notes Ben Slater. And "on January 8th, the first film in the series for 2008 is going to be a British film, Chris Petit's criminally undervalued late-70s-into-the-80s black and white road movie, Radio On, showing for the first time ever in Singapore, alongside Chris' impressionistic revisiting of his debut feature Radio On remix (Click that title to read about my involvement with that particular project). And this time I'm honored to be doing the intro and Q&A. Rather than blather on about how wonderful Radio On is in this space, here's a link to someone else doing that."

Michael Guillén looks over the lineup for Berlin & Beyond: New Films from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, running January 10 through 16 at San Francisco's Castro.

There's a rumor running around that Madonna's directorial debut, Fifth and Wisdom, will see its world premiere at the Berlinale. Patrick Goldstein reports for Die Welt (and in German).

Posted by dwhudson at 5:12 AM

The Great Debaters.

The Great Debaters "The Great Debaters has the ingredients for a great motion picture: starched collars, a sweaty speakeasy, a teacher who will become a serious poet, rousing rhetoric, dog-eared Bibles, ferocious battles of wits," writes Annie Wagner in the Stranger. "But there are two influences at work on this story, weighing it down like damp laundry on a line: its completely competent director, Denzel Washington, and its totally unimaginative screenwriter, Bob Eisele. Together, they take most of the bounce out of the story."

"[T]he film avoids potentially interesting frictions by always letting the team debate (and win) on the 'correct' side of every issue - that which aligns with generally accepted modern liberal sympathies," notes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. "The kids follow their party line all the way to the big game, a ridiculous, fallacy-riddled face-off against Harvard. Nobody gets to root for their teammates from a hospital bed, but I'll bet the idea was at least floated."

Updated through 12/28.

"Washington's second directorial effort is a threadbare affair, his tale about the triumphs achieved by the 1935 debate team from Texas's all-black Wiley College proving barely more than a litany of rote personal and social conflicts and victories," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "Such cozy familiarity extends not only to screenwriter Robert Eisele's plotting and Washington's respectably nondescript direction but also to the latter's lead performance as professor, debate team coach, and union-organizing rabble-rouser Melvin B Tolson, a role which, after American Gangster's villainous posturing, lets the star slip back into the comfortable skin of a noble, wise mentor with a gift for bellowing oration."

"Although all of its characters are based on actual persons, screenwriter Robert Eisele (working from a story by himself and Jeffrey Porro) does quite a bit of concocting here, the better to enhance the, shall we say, 'movieness' of the story," notes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "Nothing wrong with that, on principle, except that the embellishments tend instead to enhance the triteness of the story as our heroes advance with standard inexorability to a bittersweet triumph. Which isn't to say the picture's not without both its moments and a good amount of backbone."

"Washington knows that to get what he wants he must first give the financiers what they need, and that's his name up on the marquee as an actor," writes Jason Guerrasio. "He talked about this dilemma, along with taking artistic liberties with this lesser-known historical moment when Filmmaker interviewed him over the phone a week before the Golden Globe nominations where announced (the film got a nomination for Best Picture)."

"Actress Jurnee Smollett knew from the moment she read Robert Eisele's script that the role of Samantha Booke embodied all the dramatic elements that young black actresses of our own era crave but so seldom get to play on-screen." Robert W Welkos talks with her. Also in the Los Angeles Times, Welkos meets Nate Parker, whose "career is receiving a big boost in the new film The Great Debaters, in which he portrays Henry Lowe, a member of the 1930s-era Wiley College all-black debate team."

Updates, 12/25: "I've seen many of Washington's eloquent and dignified performances over the years without quite grasping, until now, that his defining characteristic as an actor is anger," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "This is a raging cliché to apply to a black actor, and borderline offensive to boot. That doesn't stop it from being true. His is a controlled, inner anger, contained behind his hooded eyes and amused, superior expression, but it's anger all the same. You might almost call it contempt: As Malcolm X or Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter or the corrupt Alonzo Harris of Training Day, Washington's demeanor always suggests that he understands the way the world actually works, and one day he'll manage to pound it into our thick and stupid heads."

"Its steadfast humanity, its literacy, its passionate belief in education, its faith that history teaches invaluable lessons and its strong, emotionally grounded performances: There are enough things to admire about The Great Debaters, the heavily fictionalized true story of The Little Debate Team That Could, that your impulse is to forgive the movie its shortcomings," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times.

"Resolved: The Great Debaters is an emotionally and dramatically satisfying piece of work, solidly crafted and intelligently affecting," writes Joe Leydon in the Houston Chronicle.

"It's a great family movie, if not historically perfect, and something that a lot of people are going to like a lot," writes Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post.

"Working hard on both sides of the camera, Washington has grafted his intensity onto this production, giving it a kind of backbone it would not otherwise have," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times.

"[M]ake no mistake: Denzel Washington's The Great Debaters is every bit the sports flick that Hoosiers, The Natural and Remember the Titans are," writes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "It's only the extra-curriculars that have changed. Whether or not that's a good thing is entirely up to you, but if you're a big fan of totally predictable yet effectively entertaining 'competition' movies, then there's very little chance you won't dig what's offered here. And even if you find the screenplay to be the pinnacle of all things obvious, the performances are still pretty excellent. Plus, hell, if cheerleading is a sport, then so is debate."

Update, 12/26: "The film may be manipulative in its construction, and cliché-ridden in some of the incidents it recounts, but it has a good, large heart," writes Richard Schickel in Time. "You could do worse, this holiday season, than to take your children to see this movie and encourage them to reflect on where we have quite recently and shamefully been in this country - when it comes to matters of race - and, perhaps, on how far we have yet to go."

Updates, 12/27: "Denzel Washington's sanctimonious The Great Debaters makes one look back in gratitude to Clarence Brown's 1949 masterpiece Intruder in the Dust," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "Of course, it would take Denzel Washington's transparent, do-gooder attempt at balancing the affront of his American Gangster to turn a movie about lynching into a pious bore, but it is The Great Debaters' distance from those historical atrocities that causes it to fall so short of Intruder in the Dust's authentic, haunting details."

Patrick Walsh files a junket report for Cinematical.

Update, 12/28: "[F]or a movie about a debate team - one with the word 'debaters' in the title, no less - Denzel Washington's second effort as a director doesn't have that much interest in what a debate looks and sounds like," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club. "It's like a karate movie in which the fight scenes have been cut to a couple of punches, and it's sadly indicative of Debaters' unwillingness to engage the issues it raises with any depth."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:01 AM

The Bucket List.

The Bucket List "You go to a studio and say: 'I've got this movie about old guys dying of cancer. Give me $45 million,' they're not going to do it so fast," Rob Reiner tells David M Halbfinger in the New York Times.

"This terminally ill, terminally awful dramedy marks a sad cinematic milestone: The Bucket List is the first film in history to feature a truly wretched [Jack] Nicholson performance - and we're not talking about the character he plays," sighs Aaron Hillis in Premiere.

"Not since Patch Adams has a film more insistently aimed to convey a life-affirming sentiment and instead ended up advocating euthanasia," writes Eric Henderson in Slant.

Updated through 12/28.

"At the heart of the movie is, of course, the Jack and Morgan [Freeman] Show," writes Julia Wallace in the Voice. "Nicholson seems to be gunning hard for another Oscar nomination with a frenetic, tic-y performance, full of grunts and heavy breathing, that just screams CANCER PATIENT. And Freeman's Poor But Wise Man, who narrates in plummy tones, is as mournful and wry and knowing as ever."

Updates, 12/25: "Any moron can make a bad movie," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "But it takes a special breed of schemer to make a picture as shameless as The Bucket List.... [E]ven if you can gloss over the things about The Bucket List that are merely boring, you'll still have to reckon with the things that are reprehensible - or so absurd that they defy parody."

"The Bucket List arrives on Christmas Day to remind us to live life to its fullest and leave no cliché unturned," writes Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times. "Its watchability almost entirely depends on your tolerance of Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson doing the things that made them stars and won them Oscars, only much more so."

"The Bucket List operates on the hope that two beloved stars rubbing their signature screen personas together can spark warm, fuzzy box office magic," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "I wouldn't count on it."

Update, 12/27: "The actors—distracting recognizable idiosyncrasies intact—exhibit an unwarranted level of jubilance as terminally afflicted hospital roommates intent on experiencing their unrealized dreams before heading to the grave," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "Their faux denial translates into nonchalance. Watching Nicholson trade ratty grins with Freeman's shrewd mannerisms engenders a cheap thrill, working against the bleak nature of the material. There's a reason why Bob Hope and Bing Crosby never made a movie about getting cancer together."

Update, 12/28: "Let's face it: with a movie like this, audiences should already know what to expect," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Both characters are bound to learn a few important life lessons on their way to the grave, and they'll be grumbly and vulgar in calculatingly endearing ways. The trick for any filmmaker with an assignment like The Bucket List is to punch through those presets as painlessly as possible, which for the most part, Reiner does."

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

More on The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly "Although it bears a passing resemblance to any number of generic stories of trial and uplift, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is sui generis," writes Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper. "It is a chronicle of death that is robustly alive, never bowing to defeat but never hiding the truth of what it confronts. It is terrifying and exhilarating, morbid and vivacious, sardonic and sentimental. Like Jean-Do's existence, it is something of a miracle." And he talks with Julian Schnabel.

"But what's more significant than the visual style of this film is the way Schnabel can take a static sequence - almost a painting, really, with a soundtrack - and make it shake with emotion," writes the Stranger's Annie Wagner. "It's the essential problem of a movie about a paralyzed man, and Schnabel nails it." And she, too, talks with Schnabel.

"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a film about a man who experiences the catastrophe I most feared during my recent surgeries: 'locked-in syndrome,' where he is alive and conscious but unable to communicate with the world," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. The film "not what you could call inspirational, because none of us would think to be in such a situation and needing inspiration. It is more than that. It is heroic. Here is the life force at its most insistent, lashing out against fate with stubborn resolve."

"Thanks to Bauby's courageous and honest writing, and Schnabel's poetic interpretation, what could have been a portrait of impotence and suffering becomes a lively exploration of consciousness and a soaring ode to liberation," writes Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post, where Hank Stuever profiles Schnabel.

"A new kind of art movie, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly fuses experimental techniques with a highly accessible and sometimes humorous narrative; it’s deeply personal yet universal in its humanism," writes Andrea Gronvall in the Chicago Reader, where she notes two significant departures Schnabel's taken from Bauby's actual story.

Paul Brownfield meets Schnabel for the Los Angeles Times and finds him to be quite a fan of Mexican food.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:48 AM

I'm Not There in the UK.

I'm Not There The Observer's Philip French calls I'm Not There "a challenging film, but a rewarding one. It demands patience from the viewer and invites exegesis of a sort that was once thought obligatory for the understanding of Eliot, Pound and their contemporaries. Back in 1963, someone wrote dauntingly of Thomas Pynchon's first novel, V, that you shouldn't open the book unless you were prepared to read it twice. There's something like that about I'm Not There, but you've always got the music."

"True to Rimbaud, [Todd] Haynes the director is never remotely 'himself' in the film," writes Jonathan Romney. "Just as the film resembles an oddly selective Dylan compilation set on shuffle, tentatively gesturing at linear biography while scrambling and distorting it, Haynes's own style zips around crazily: one moment he's pastiching DA Pennebaker's Dylan documentary Don't Look Back, with additional splashes of Fellini, Godard and Richard Lester (there's a lovely Beatles-as-Chipmunks gag here); the next he's illustrating 'Ballad of a Thin Man' in disconcertingly literal MTV style. As for Robbie and Claire's divorce, it's set in a domestic-realism mode that may or may not be deliberately evoking the banality of Kramer vs Kramer."

Also in the Independent, Kaleem Aftab interviews Haynes; so does Howard Feinstein, but for the Guardian.

And so does David Gritten in the Telegraph, where Sukhdev Sandhu writes that "this is as much a film about Haynes's obsessions as it is an obsessive film about Dylan: his very first picture was Assassins: A Film Concerning Rimbaud (1985), about the poet whose line 'Je suis un autre' prefigures the title and conceit of this one.... Dylan may not always be visible in I'm Not There, but Haynes's distinctive vision clearly is."

"It's a crazy film which shouldn't work, but for most of the time does," writes Derek Malcolm in the Evening Standard, where it's Larushka Ivan-Zadeh who interviews Haynes.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:41 AM

4 Months... in LA.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days "The extraordinary Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, more comfortably known as 'that abortion movie that won this year's Palme d'Or,' sheds its secrets slowly, a high-end realist drama quickening skillfully into a thriller," writes Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly.

"The reason 4 Months, which has a one-week run in Los Angeles to qualify for Oscar consideration, has such resonance is because it believes with fearless audacity in the power and possibility of the medium," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "Writer-director [Cristian] Mungiu has an almost old-fashioned faith that film can explore the most painful subjects, ask the deepest questions, deliver the most important meanings."

And Hugh Hart talks with Mingui.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:40 AM

December 23, 2007

Lists and awards, 12/23.

Juno "It was a time of wonders, an autumn of miracles, one of the best years in recent movie history," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "One great film after another opened, and movie lovers found there were two or three, sometimes more, must-see films opening on a weekend. I gave up rationing my four-star ratings and went with the flow." His #1: Juno.

While we're in Chicago, how about an online viewing tip? Jim Emerson presents his "10 best list: the movie (WGA strike/Antonioni edition)... Ten movies, two or three shots apiece (more or less), 76 seconds, no dialog, no annotations."

Twitch's Todd Brown presents "a baker's dozen of my favorite films, one I loathed, and a stack I'm looking forward to in 2008."

"From where I sat, 2007 was a breakthrough year for movies, no matter that the very best of them - Charles Burnett's American independent classic Killer of Sheep - came out a full 30 years after it was made," writes Rob Nelson in the MinnPost.

The Independent asks the likes of Stephen Frears, Edgar Wright, Ken Loach, Gurinder Chadha and others for their favorite films of 2007.

Jürgen Fauth laces his top ten (#1: There Will Be Blood) with quick descriptions of a favorite scene in each.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford tops Jeffrey M Anderson's list: "I think I can honestly say that I've thought about this film every day since I've seen it." Jeffrey's also got a list of the year's worst films.

Movie City News tracks another couple of rounds of critics circle award-winners: San Diego, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Florida and Detroit.

A round of top tens in the Oregonian: Shawn Levy (whose #1 is The Lives of Others), Marc Mohan (Children of Men) and Mike Russell (There Will Be Blood). And Mike's "director's cut" of his list at CulturePulp's a lot of fun.

True Heart Susie In the New York Times, Dave Kehr presents "not a Top 10 list per se, because by what cosmic criteria could you rank Murnau over Griffith, or Charles Burnett over Kenneth Anger? Here are my choices for the most notable DVDs of 2007, in alphabetical rather than hierarchical order."

In the Los Angeles Time, Jen Chaney offers a list of DVDs that "provide an alternative to the typical It's a Wonderful Life - A Christmas Story - Miracle on 34th Street trifecta. Every one of these choices fits in tonally with the holiday season and includes at least one crucial scene set at Christmastime."

Yair Raveh's decided that Control edges ahead of There Will Be Blood for the #1 spot on his top ten - but only just.

At the AV Club: Nathan Rabin's "Favorite Movie Year" is 1994.

Observer readers write up the highlights of their year.

Chuck Tryon: "21 Media Moments in 2007."

From Matt Dentler, "The Top 45 Albums Worth Your Dime in 2007."

Online viewing and listening tips. "Hooray. It's time, once again, for my definitive guide to the best music of the year." Fraser Lewry's got your clips.

Online viewing tips. Alternet lists its "Top Ten Hottest Videos of 2007."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:41 PM

Lists. New York Times.

"I know it's hard to believe, but during the past 12 months I sometimes went two or three weeks in a row without finding anything to mock, deflate or be disappointed by, and my inner curmudgeon was frequently elbowed aside by a wide-eyed, arm-waving enthusiast," writes AO Scott. His list is topped by 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, then Ratatouille, then a slew of "pairs (and in one case a trio) of films that complete, complement, contradict or otherwise engage each other."

NYT lists 07.

"More than anything [lists] are a public ritual, which is their most valuable function," writes Manohla Dargis. "I tell you what I liked, and you either agree with my list (which flatters us both) or denounce it (which flatters you). It's a perfect circle." And she's got a top two - There Will Be Blood and Zodiac, which "shook up my world in the best possible way" - and 21 more.

"The betrayal of the body, decrepitude and death: in 2007 an unprecedented number of serious films, along with the usual slasher movies, contemplated the end of life," writes Stephen Holden, introducing a more traditional top ten. His #1: There Will Be Blood.

Rounding off the New York Times lists package this Sunday is Caryn James declaring that "2007 was a year when stars broke free of their confining boxes, when the most appealing work often came out of nowhere, while big names landed with giant thuds."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:28 AM

December 22, 2007

Spanish Cinema Now. 8.

Once again, James Van Maanen.

Scandalous Back-to-back delight was provided yesterday at Spanish Cinema Now with double showings of a frothy, funny musical and a richly rewarding extended-family drama - bringing to an almost-close another memorable visit by Spain to New York City.

It's been a while since I have heard so many individual patrons laughing out loud at odd moments all around a movie theater - not with huge "group" laughs you'd hear at something like Superbad, but the smaller sort, arising from a moment that's tickled an individual's fancy. For his first full-length feature, Scandalous (¿Por qué se frotan las patitas?), director/co-writer Alvaro Begines has chosen a musical comedy - not the easiest of genres to tackle early on. Yet his utterly captivating, non-pushy style works well to draw us in and, by virtue of his grasp on character, humor and happenstance, keeps us consistently interested and amused.

Three generations of women have had it up-to-here with their men and, unbeknownst to each other, stage individual coups. At the same time, a group of free-floating, squatter musicians have intersected with two of the women (in one case, rather vitally), causing disappearances that involve a private detective, a nosy neighbor, a TV talk show and more. In this giddy, sweet film, Begines smartly balances social comment with song and comedy. His tone is easy-going and off-the-cuff, yet his terrific ensemble knows how to make the most of its many memorable moments. The cast includes some of Spain's most interesting actors from all three generations: Lola Herrera and Carlos Álvarez-Novoa, Antonio Dechent and Manuel Morón, and Raúl Arévalo as the lonesome loner who holds the movie together and asks the question that comprises its original Spanish title: "Why do they rub their feet together?" The subjects here are flies, and the answer we learn at the finale is sweet, sad and symbolic.

Ms Herrera, in particular, is a commanding presence, with such a load of barely buried fire, that she makes her grandmother a thing of beauty, as well as someone to contend with. A few years ago, Señor Dechent seemed to be in every other SCN film. We don't see early enough of him these days, so his reappearance here is most welcome. Señor Morón (who also appears in this edition's Theresa, the Body of Christ and Mataharis) nearly steals the movie with his precise and hilarious turn as Manolete, the private eye. And Señor Arévalo - who opens, closes and, in a sense, carries the movie and its many themes via his ample talent and slightly crazy charm - is a young man we're sure be seeing more of. In this fest alone, he appears in Scandalous, Seven Billiard Tables, and the short subject Traumalogia.

7 Billiard Tables In Seven Billiard Tables (Siete mesas de billar francés), Raúl Arévalo registers strongly again, but so differently from his role in Scandalous that I failed to recognize him until midway through the movie. He's part of a large ensemble that works with precision and polish in Gracía Querejeta's enormously likeable drama that takes off from that sad point at which a parent becomes so life-threateningly ill that a child and grandchild must travel immediately and fast. In the three of Ms Querejeta's movies I have seen (Cuando vuelvas a mi lado, Hector and this new one - the latter two co-written with David Planell), I've been struck with how cleverly and gracefully this writer/director parcels out exposition. This is done bit by bit throughout her movies so that the mystery of who her characters are comes to us over time, with little and large surprises along the way.

Each film of hers I've seen seems more accomplished than its predecessor, though all are quite good. Seven Billiard Tables is an extended-family drama that takes in a rather large cast of characters, giving each his/her due. It's already shared a Best Screenplay award at the San Sebastian fest, and last week was nominated for six Goyas: best actress nods for Maribel Verdú and Blanca Portilla, best director, and best supporting actor and actress (Señor Arévalo and Amparo Baró). Everyone does such as good job - including little Víctor Valdivia, lately of The Education of Fairies, who plays the Verdú character's son - that choosing among them all must have proven difficult.

All of Querejeta's movies are character-driven, and when the direction, writing and acting is on a level this high, enjoyment is a surety. We learn quite a bit about billiards and family ties along the way, but mostly we grow to understand and love these people - for their faults as much as their occasional kindnesses and humor.

Seven Billiard Tables will be shown again Sunday, Dec 23, at 7 pm. And because the movie opens with that very familiar Universal logo, there may be hope that a US distribution deal is in the works.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:02 PM

December 21, 2007

Dream DVDs.

The Koker Trilogy Berlin Alexanderplatz. Witchfinder General. Killer of Sheep. Duck, You Sucker.

It's been a great year for DVD releases, and Sean Axmaker's got no complaints. But he does have dreams. What special editions and box sets could we hope for in '08 and beyond? Sean's drawn up a wish list. And it's based on what's actually feasible, too: "This is no fantasy of lost films found (like the 132-minute version of Magnificent Ambersons, the 40-reel Greed, or magically rediscovered prints of London After Midnight or Four Devils), but a modest proposal to pull out films from the vaults, restore and remaster them where necessary, and give them the presentation they deserve on DVD."

Take this list, he offers, "not as a provocation but an invitation: let us know what is at the top of your wish list."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:40 PM | Comments (1)

Spanish Cinema Now. 7.

Another round from James Van Maanen. Spanish Cinema Now runs at the Film Society of Lincoln Center through December 27.

Mataharis Icíar Bollaín's Take My Eyes (Te doy mis ojos) won some 39 international awards, including a bundle of Goyas in 2004/05. Her earlier film Flowers from Another World (Flores de otro mundo) managed a half-dozen awards back in 2000. A triple threat, Bollaín boasts an even longer career as an actress, with leading roles in films as diverse as They're Watching Us (Nos miran) and Ken Loach's Land and Freedom. In this year's SCN series, she is represented as writer/director by the new movie Mataharis (site; and yes, it's the plural of that famous femme fatale spy). I caught up with Flores de otro mundo only a couple of years ago and found it quite special: as real as it was charming and honest about loves present and past, foreign and domestic. If I was not as bowled over as were most Spaniards by Take My Eyes, that is probably due to being earlier inundated here in the US by far too many movies and too much television nonsense on the subject of wife abuse. Granted, Bollaín's version placed some of the responsibility on the wife - not for the abuse itself but for returning to it time after time - and its mountain city setting and art museum ambience added immense beauty to her film.

Mataharis, interestingly enough, deals in an off-kilter manner with a subject even more timely: surveillance. The setting is a small Madrid detective agency run by a fellow (a very believable Fernando Cayo) as stupidly macho as he is sure of himself and staffed by three very different women. We learn about the three - their lives and their cases - as the film progresses, slipping deftly and quickly in and out of their stories. Bollaín forces us to look at surveillance a bit differently because we don't, at first, see what is going on here in the same manner as we might look at, say, the Bush Administration's unwarranted trampling of our civil rights. Instead, we perceive it, as does the oldest of the three women, as a private company simply doing what it has been paid to do. But then one of the cases turn out not to be what it initially appeared to be, and we - like the characters - are caught up short.

Bollaín and her casting director Eva Leira have assembled a very good group led by Najwa Nimri (Asfalto, Lovers of the Artic Circle, Sex & Lucia, The Method) and Tristán Ulloa, as the young marrieds-with-children, Nuria Gonzáles and Manuel Morón as the oldest couple, and María Vázquez and Diego Martín as a problematic detective and her prey. The entire cast is fine, and Bollaín keeps her story moving well. She tamps down the emotions and melodrama so that events that could go over the top stay grounded. In the end, you may feel, as I did, that being any kind of spy goes so thoroughly against the social contract as to leave one bereft of humanity. This was shown most clearly by Robert De Niro's fine film The Good Shepherd. Ms Bollaín, in her own simpler, quiet way, brings the point home just as well - while stirring up a meaty stew of economics, corporate policies, family lives and sexual attraction.

Gary Cooper, Who Art in Heaven On the other hand, sitting through two movies in the current Pilar Miró retrospective, back-to-back, as some of us Spanish Cinema Now fans did last Wednesday (the only day these two were shown), proved pretty heavy-going. In the first of these, Mercedes Sampietro stars as what I'd guess might be a Miró surrogate (she plays a TV director given her first chance to make a theatrical motion picture) in the delightfully titled Gary Cooper, Who Art in Heaven (Gary Cooper, que estás en los cielos). Unfortunately, the title is the only delightful thing about this 1980 film. You might expect something light, a bit of charm, perhaps a laugh or two. Forget it. On the basis of the Miró films included in this retrospective, I would suggest that the woman, as a writer/director, had no sense of humor. This, as much as anything else, accounts for my opinion that her movies simply can't reflect much more than the - understandably - stunted perspective she must have had on what life offers.

Added to this are her generally woeful filmic vocabulary and storytelling skills: lots of close-ups but no more than a cursory sense of composition, color, editing, music or much else. After an unusually off-the-cuff beginning in which the lead character greets friends and co-workers in the TV studio, everything else comes across as "hard work." The dialogue especially seems forced and expository; people talk about ideas and feelings as if they were from some book or other (often, they are). The plot, as such, has the Sampietro character discovering that her body has become a medical emergency, to which she responds by bringing in, one way or another, just about everyone important from her past. I find it odd that a movie dealing with love, death, career and more should fail so thoroughly to engage us on any visceral level. Instead, we - and the film - just plod along toward a finale that is, well, let's call it very "expected."

Beltenebros In 1992, with Beltenebros, Miró tried her hand at film noir, which apparently she understood to mean, "Don't turn on the lights." This is one of the danker movies I can recall. Faces, thank goodness, are lit up enough to register and, as they belong to the likes of Terence Stamp, Patsy Kensit and Geraldine James, we enjoy watching them.

The film was shot in English - no surprise, given the lead actors - and this adds yet another layer of distance to Miro's usual, somewhat inert dialogue. Toward the end, there is a silly and unbelievable showdown/shootout in a boarded-up movie theater in which the antagonists shout at each other in language that borders on camp and sounds more like the libretto to an opera than anything "real" people might utter. In this scene, an actual movie is screening behind the man on stage. Why - since there is no audience in the theater? For art's sake, I would guess, and if so, the movie misses by a mile. The FSLC program notes that Beltenebros is based upon a "taut thriller." If Miró ever knew the meaning of "taut," the seven films in this retrospective certainly do not prove it. Moments that should last a single beat go on for several and this builds and builds until the viewer is nearly nodding off.

The Spanish Civil War and its aftermath hovers here, as in so many movies by Miró and other filmmakers of this period. The question of who is a traitor is raised, along with the consequences of acting on this knowledge without the assurance of its veracity. This is a perfectly valid premise, and it makes an interesting bookend to Miró's penultimate feature, Your Name Poisons My Dreams, in which vengeance is seen to destroy a life almost as thoroughly as does the initial crime around which the story is based. Miró certainly knew how to zero in on interesting themes for her movies. I only wish she'd had the skill to do better by them. Her final theatrical film, The Dog in the Manger, rated by some as her masterpiece, will be shown beginning this Sunday. I maintain high - well, mid-level, at least - hopes.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:03 AM

Jane Fonda @ 70.

Coming Home On Jane Fonda's 70th, Ronald Bergan looks back to a recent tribute in Vienna and on a remarkable life and career. A few notes follow.

In Hal Ashby's Coming Home (1978), Jane Fonda plays a politically naïve, conventional army wife, who works at a local hospital while her gung-ho husband (Bruce Dern) is away in Vietnam. There she meets former high-school classmate and ex-athlete (Jon Voight), now an embittered war veteran, paralysed from the waist down. This doesn't seem to have affected his sexual prowess and they become lovers. She becomes more liberated, changes her hairstyle and goes for rides along the beach with Voight in his wheelchair. She is made aware of the shabby way that the veterans are treated and even begins to question the war. Her transformation echoes, to a certain extent, the politicization of Jane Fonda.

Coming Home was shown at the Viennale (the Vienna International Film Festival) in October this year as part of a slightly premature 70th birthday tribute to Jane Fonda who, bewilderingly, becomes a septuagenarian today, December 21. (1937 was a vintage year for Hollywood stars. Warren Beatty, Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman were all born in the same year and are still active.)

When the lights came up after the film in Vienna, Fonda stepped onto the stage to enormous applause. Wearing a silver lame trouser suit, she had hardly altered from the 41-year-old star we had just seen on screen. Taking the microphone, she tearfully declared, "What is so sad for us seeing the film now is to realise that we Americans have learned nothing. We are still sending our young men and woman to die in Iraq. And that we're doing nothing for them when they come back. Not forgetting what we're doing to the Iraqi people. Although there was a draft back then, there is now a poverty draft. Poor people are being bribed by the military to go to war." This was the Jane Fonda that ex-hippies like to remember.

Jane Fonda at the Viennale How did the privileged daughter of Henry Fonda, brought up in a totally film oriented environment in California, turn into an iconic radical figure? Her mother was Frances Seymour Brokaw, the widow of a multimillionaire who married Henry Fonda in 1936 and who died, when Jane was 12, by slitting her throat in a sanatorium where she had been confined after a series of nervous breakdowns. Jane, it is said, only discovered the facts of her mother's suicide when a school-mate casually handed her a magazine containing the story.

Notwithstanding this early trauma, her childhood was a relatively happy one. In 1955, when her father took the lead in the hit Broadway play Mister Roberts, she and younger brother Peter (born 1940), moved in with their grandmother who owned a mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut. At this period, acting for Jane was solely confined to high school plays, except for a couple of appearances with her father in an Omaha Community Theater production of Clifford Odets's The Country Girl and a summer stock performance of James Thurber and Elliott Nugent's 1948 play The Male Animal. In the latter, the professor character, played by Henry Fonda, confronting his Red-baiting trustees, says, "You can't suppress ideas because you don't like them. Not in this country. Not yet."

But Jane's early ambitions lay elsewhere, and though she dutifully attended and graduated from Vassar, there was enough nascent rebellion in her to make her decide to go to Paris to study art. On her return to the US, she decided that she was, after all, her father's daughter and, encouraged by Lee Strasberg, she signed on at the famed Actors Studio, paying for her courses by modelling. (She was twice featured on the cover of Vogue.)

1960 was the breakthrough year, but she didn't exactly make it on her own. Joshua Logan, a good friend of her father's, who had directed Mister Roberts, allowed Jane to make her Broadway debut in his production of There Was a Little Girl which, despite running a mere 16 performances, won her the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and the magazine Theatre World's award as the season's most promising actress. Logan then cast her in her first film, Tall Story. With false eyelashes and falsies, she was quite pleasing in an irritating role as a girl with only marriage on her mind - a long way from the feminist she was to become. Though both the play and the film were received with indifference, they gave her the push she needed into stardom. Other films followed that exploited her persona as an All-American girl.

Roger Vadim and Jane Fonda Her personal and professional life drastically changed direction in 1964 when she went to France to make La Ronde, a new version of the Schnitzler play which had been turned into a classic film in 1950 by Max Ophüls. The director this time was Roger Vadim, celebrated as the Svengali of "sex kitten" Brigitte Bardot. Fonda fell under his spell, married him and settled in Paris. Vadim then set about trying to turn her into another Bardot. Father Henry was reportedly mistrustful of his new son-in-law, and there was a great deal of sensationalist publicity; but Fonda remained friendly with her ex-husband after their divorce and, although critical of the way he treated women as sex objects, never made any slighting remark about him personally.

It was in France that she became radicalized. "All over French television one would see tens of thousands of American people in the streets protesting the war. It was the people on the streets of America that forced me to think of Vietnam." Another turning point was when she visited India in 1969. "I had never seen people die from starvation before or a boy begging with the corpse of his little brother in his arms... I met a lot of American kids there, hippies from wealthy or middle-class families in search of their individualist, metaphysical trips. They accepted that poverty. They even tried to explain it away to me."

On her return to California, where the contrast with the spectacle of wretchedness which she had just witnessed couldn't have been more flagrant, and emboldened by Marlon Brando, she began to speak out on various burning issues in the United States: the plight of Native Americans, the Black Panther movement, her support for which earned her numerous enemies and even alienated her father who once commented with disdain at her tendency to champion every social issue imaginable, calling her "Jane of Arc"; and, of course, the anti-war movement.

In 1970, she told a University of Michigan audience of some two thousand students, "If you understood what communism was, you would hope, you would pray on your knees that we would some day become communist." At Duke University in North Carolina, she repeated what she had said in Michigan, adding, "I, a socialist, think that we should strive toward a socialist society, all the way to communism."

Jane Fonda's War In 1971, at the risk of surveillance and blacklisting, she founded an anti-war troupe, Entertainment Industry for Truth and Justice, which toured Southeast Asia, and went on to produce a film entitled FTA (Foxtrot Tango Alpha, Free the Army, Fuck the Army). This was intended to counterpoint the USO shows put on by Bob Hope and other performers who gave positive support to American soldiers.

Three years later, in defiance of government restraints and at the expense of alienating her public, she went with her future husband, the political activist Tom Hayden, to North Vietnam. A documentary of the trip, co-directed by herself and the cinematographer Haskell Wexler (who shared the platform with her in Vienna, calling her "a true patriot"), was made under the title Introduction to the Enemy.

The moving film, demonized at the time, was never released and only got shown at some university campuses. Screened again in Vienna, it revealed that, despite rumours to the contrary, the journey was far from being an ego trip for Fonda. She listens carefully to what the Vietnamese have to say, sometimes translating from the French, keeping herself very much in the background. But she was reviled by conservatives and called "Hanoi Jane." Especially shocking to many was the photograph circulated of Fonda sitting smiling on a Vietcong anti-aircraft tank, something which she apologized for many years later. As late as 1984, protesters picketed a department store in Chicago when she appeared there to promote a new line in exercise clothing.

Tout Va Bien In Paris, her political instincts drew her to the radical filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard for whom she made Tout Va Bien (1972), which co-starred her with the then-Communist sympathising French singer and actor Yves Montand. Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin, who founded the Dziga Vertov Group in 1968 as a Marxist alternative to commercial cinema, made Letter to Jane (1972), a 52-minute film, in which the two directors discuss, in terms of what could be called applied semiology, a photograph of Fonda talking to a North Vietnamese soldier. They ask how we can assess a Vietnamese who is subject to the war daily and an American star, who is deeply concerned and has come to support him. How can reality and symbol co-exist? "Is it the film star who is making history or the people?"

It was only in the late 70s that Jane Fonda was able to paddle in the mainstream again when America was falling victim to a kind of collective amnesia. Few of her later movies echoed her social concerns, though she said, "I believe it's important to make responsible films," at the time of The China Syndrome (1979) - concerning the danger of a meltdown at a nuclear plant - presciently made just before the near meltdown at Three Mile Island nuclear plant.

Although her image gradually mellowed, she still spoke up on women's issues. In a speech about patriarchy given at the National Women's Leadership Summit in Washington DC in June 2003, Fonda said: "It is altogether possible that we are on the verge of a tectonic shift in paradigms - that what we are seeing happening today are the paroxyisms, the final terrible death throes of the old, no longer workable, no longer justifiable system... It's patriarchy's third act and we have to make sure it is its last."

However, many have seen her embracing of capitalism (her fitness empire is worth millions of dollars, and her marriage to media mogul Ted Turner, from whom she separated) as a sign of hypocrisy and/or betrayal. Nevertheless, her melding of a political consciousness with an acting career has been hugely influential. It was heartening in Vienna, as she fulminated against the war in Iraq, to see that she had lost none of her political passion on reaching the age of 70.

- Ronald Bergan


Congrats in the German-language papers: Michael Althen in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Daniel Kothenschulte in the Frankfurter Rundschau, Rita Neubauer in Der Tagesspiegel, Susanne Ostwald in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Susan Vahabzadeh in the Süddeutsche Zeitung - and Mariam Schaghaghi talks with Fonda for the Berliner Zeitung.

Online listening tip. Kulturwoche's podcasts are usually in German, but they do have an edition featuring Jane Fonda speaking at the Viennale - in English, of course.

Earlier: David D'Arcy caught FTA last month in Amsterdam.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:05 AM | Comments (2)

December 20, 2007

Lists, 12/20.

Werner Herzog Five of the great folks who run the SXSW Film Festival have each chosen a "Top 7 of 07." The mix shows more docs than most lists do - and Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World makes a fine showing.

"Vulture Salutes the Wangs of 2007."

Glenn Kenny's top 25 "has been posted on Premiere's 'proper' website, here, in slideshow form, with pretty pictures once you click the prescribed geometric shape[s]." But he's also posted it as a blog entry to get a conversation going - and lo, it is going.

Guardian readers have voted The Lives of Others to the top of their list. Related online listening tip: Jason Solomons hosts a Guardian/Observer roundtable discussion of the highlights of 07.

Marcy Dermansky and Jürgen Fauth pick their "Most Talented Newcomers of 2007."

At First Showing, Alex Billington presents "54 reasons why 2008 will be an awesome year for movies and an even better year than 2007." Via Coudal Partners.

"Which cultural events - books, films, television shows, operas, plays, concerts - have been most overrated and underrated this year? We put this question to over 50 Prospect writers." Via the Literary Saloon.

Rex Sorgatz presents a list of 30 of the "Best Blogs of 2007 that You Maybe Aren't Reading."

From Forbes, the "Web Celeb 25," via Gabriel Shanks.

Regret the Error presents "The Year in Media Errors and Corrections." Via Jim Coudal, who advises, "make sure to check the 'Apology of the Year.'" Yes.

Online viewing tips. Antville's "500 best music videos," via Listmaster Rex Sorgatz.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:49 PM

Fests and events, 12/20.

Palm Springs International Film Festival "A roster of 222 films from 66 countries are on tap for the 19th Palm Springs International Film Festival, including 69 premieres (4 World, 40 US and 25 North American) in addition to 55 of the 63 films submitted for best foreign language Oscar consideration," reports Brian Brooks at indieWIRE. "As previously announced, Helen Hunt's US debut Then She Found Me will open the festival taking place in the California desert community January 3 - 14. Romantic comedy Priceless by French director Pierre Salvadori, starring Audrey Tautou and Gad Elmaleh will close the festival January 13."

Also: "Director Andrew Fleming's Hamlet 2 has been added to the non-competitive Premieres section at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival."

Lou Reed will be the keynote speaker at this year's SXSW Music Festival - and Julian Schnabel's Lou Reed's Berlin will be screened as well.

Replay Marclay

"American artist Christian Marclay turned to video in the 1980s. His work has featured in two Venice Biennales and in major exhibitions at the Tate, Pompidou and Guggenheim Museums. As a musician and DJ, he has collaborated with groups as diverse as Sonic Youth and the Kronos Quartet." Replay Christian Marclay is on view at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image through February 3.

"1,2,3... Avant-Gardes - Art as Contextual Art is the next stage of an exhibition and research project that explores the 'continuous' history of experimentation in film and art and the interaction of both fields." At sala rekalde in Bilbao through March 30.

The Berlinale's Perspektive Deutsches Kino will open with 1. Mai - Das Ende vom Lied (1st of May - All Belongs to You: "This episodic film directed by Jakob Ziemnicki, Sven Taddicken (Emmas Glück/Emma's Fortune), and duo Carsten Ludwig and Jan-Christoph Glaser recounts legendary and true tales about Labor Day in present-day Kreuzberg. 24 hours set between a local square and a hospital, the Lausitzer Platz and the Urban Krankenhaus; something between a political pageant and a carnival of afflictions. Three stories - unfolding at the same time and place - merge into a film."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:39 PM

Blade Runner, 12/20.

Blade Runner "The prevailing meme - that over time, scales fell from prejudicial eyes, and Blade Runner's true value as an extraordinary act of filmmaking bravado was recognized - is appealing, but also incomplete," writes Stephen Metcalf in Slate:

It may not have flattered the times, but in one sense Blade Runner benefited, and benefited enormously, from them. Blade Runner is among the first movies - if not the first - whose fortunes revived in the new channels of "ancillary distribution." This is no accident. The movie's unalloyed virtue, admired even at the time of its release, is an assaultive and wildly original production design, a mix of that rain, nuzzling gouts of smoke, and an eternally shifting kaleidoscope of artificial lights - all of it suggestive of a richly dystopic society and a wretchedly fatigued planet Earth. If nothing else, Blade Runner is mesmerizing when caught in pieces; it murmurs beautifully in the background. Unloved on the big screen, Blade Runner found its perfect medium in VCRs and cable TV - in the fragmented, ambient multiplatform afterlife that has become, over the past 20 or so years, the common stuff of movies.

"Last Thursday I caught the last local theatrical screening of Blade Runner: The Final Cut and it took my breath away," writes Peter Martin at Cinematical. "As much as Blade Runner's graphic schemes have been appropriated by and influenced others, the original maintains a great deal of authentic power, a bold mix of past, present and future."

Online listening tip. Ridley Scott is a guest on Fresh Air.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:23 PM

Docs, 12/20.

Austin Chronicle: Steve Bilich "Every film has a backstory just like every life has a history, but rarely do the two commingle to such a fantastic and phantasmagoric degree as they do in Austin filmmaker Steve Bilich's 13-minute short Native New Yorker, which took home the Best Documentary Short award at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival." Marc Savlov tells that story in the Austin Chronicle.

Also: "Turns out there's money to be made in selling supplies to people bringing drugs into this country and in incarcerating those unlucky enough to get caught holding them." Josh Rosenblatt previews American Drug War.

"Today is the 4th day of our 5-day online discussion on The D-Word with key staffers from the Independent Television Service (ITVS)," notes Doug Block. "It's a rare opportunity for doc makers to get their questions answered and glean insights into the submission and decision-making process of one of the biggest funders around (and not just for US projects)."

"Nancy Buirski, the founder, CEO and Artistic Director of the influential Full Frame Film Festival, announced yesterday that she is stepping down from the festival." AJ Schnack has more.

For the Los Angeles Times, Addie Morfoot talks to a slew of documentary filmmakers and discovers: "When the cameras stop, many filmmakers find the relationship with their subjects goes on - for better or worse - sometimes for years."

Les Blank's "enthusiasm and fun practically radiate from the screen; a documentarian for nearly 50 years now, he doesn't seem to be interviewing or investigating his subjects so much as amiably hanging out with them," writes Dennis Harvey at SF360. "[T]he vast majority of Blank's movies have been celebrations of good-time music and good food, sometimes both at once. Really, who wouldn't like this guy's job? His latest, All This in Tea (which was co-directed with his editor Gina Leibrecht), is typical Blank."

Imaginary Witness In the Voice, Nick Pinkerton finds Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust, "a survey of how American cinema has historically interpreted Nazi atrocity," to be "a serviceable, abridged guide to his subject, though some omissions do rankle."

For the New York Times, Felicia R Lee talks with Jamie Kastner about his doc, Kike Like Me, which he calls "a black comic road movie about identity."

"The occasion of the Berlin Philharmonic's 125th anniversary November 4 saw the premiere of the documentary film Das Reichsorchester (The Reich's Orchestra), directed by Enrique Sànchez Lansch (Rhythm is it!, 2004)," notes Verena Nees at the WSWS. "The question hung in the air—how could such an outstanding orchestra, which embodied the heights of a developed culture, allow itself to be used by barbarous dictatorship? Unfortunately this question remained largely unanswered after the film."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:17 PM

indieWIRE. Critics Poll 07.

There Will Be Blood "Still unseen by the general public as the year comes to a close, Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood dominated indieWIRE's annual survey of more than 100 North American film critics," announces Eugene Hernandez. "Set for a limited US release starting next week, the exceptional fifth feature by PT Anderson was named best film of the year.... Notably, the film topped five categories: Anderson was singled out for best director and best screenplay, while Daniel Day-Lewis's role as oil man Daniel Plainview was named the best performance of 2007 and Robert Elswit was singled out for best cinematography."

So here's the master list, and it's so thoroughly criss-n-cross-referenced, with every title, name and critic linking to ballots and lists that you could lose hours in here. It's worth it, though. This is one of the major events of the cinematic year. Hopefully, Eugene and Dennis Lim won't mind my quoting this bit at length:

Updated through 12/23.

Developed to celebrate film culture and criticism, the second annual poll by indieWIRE, conducted in recent weeks with critics casting their ballots online, focuses primarly on film critics who write for alternative outlets and online publications, including blogs. Inspired by a similar poll previously launched by the Village Voice in 1999, iW continued the survey last year after the Voice abandoned its popular poll, hoping to give North American cinephiles a direct opportunity to highlight the best in international cinema. The Village Voice is working with sister publication the LA Weekly on a film poll this year.

"When we did our first poll in '99, it was before the explosion of film blogs and websites," noted former Village Voice film editor Dennis Lim, who administered the iW poll last year. "There was no real counterpoint to the groupthink of critics' circle awards and there were many critics and writers whose tastes and opinions weren't represented in the year-end accounting." Continuing in comments to indieWIRE yesterday, Lim added, "Obviously it's a different landscape today and at this time of year especially, it can seem like there are too many lists, too many blogs, too much white noise. But even more so, you could argue, the poll serves a valuable aggregating function, by trying to tease out a consensus from a loosely defined community of serious, cinephilic writers."

On a minor note, in your crissing and crossing, you might run across my ballot. First, please read the comments; they'll explain why, when I post another top ten here at the Daily in another week or so, that list will look fairly different, as I'll be including films that haven't yet seen a US release.

Update, 12/23: And now, the critics' comments: "In Part 1, a look at some of the orphan #1 picks from the critics, while in Part 2, feedback on the best and worst of the year. Finally, in this edition, thoughts on the business side of things, as well as insights on films about the war in Iraq, considering Apatow, and talk about some of the year's stand-out performances."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:26 PM

John Harkness, 1954- 2007.

John Harkness
We at NOW are hurting at the sudden loss of our founding film writer, John Harkness, who, we believe, was the greatest Canadian film writer of the last 26 years. John was the kind of live-large guy you would hope worked at an alternative newspaper, and yes, a great screenwriter making a movie about NOW would have to have invented him. Fortunately for us, Harkness invented himself and walked through our front door.

Michael Hollett.

Updated.

John Harkness was - is - Canada's most important film critic.... Born in Montreal, John Harkness grew up in Halifax and Sarnia, and studied under Andrew Sarris in Cinema Studies at Columbia University. As well as writing for NOW, John also wrote for publications including Sight & Sound and Take One. He was a huge supporter of the Toronto International Film Festival and Cinematheque Ontario. He was also, we're told, really, really good at poker.

Matthew Kumar, Torontist.

When I was editor of Take One, I asked John for his considered opinion on the current state of affairs in the Canadian film culture. His response is reprinted here. Needless to say, it ruffled a few feathers, but that's what John was all about. [Toronto Sun film critic and Toronto Film Critics Association president] Bruce Kirkland called him a "truth serum."

Wyndham Wise, Northern Stars.

As passionately articulate on vintage American movies and European art cinema as he was on the most recent commercial Hollywood releases, Harkness was also known for the resoluteness of his judgements. Once he'd arrived at a rating for a movie, it stuck.

Geoff Pevere, Toronto Star.

Update: "Canadian film critic John Harkness and I crossed paths many times over the past quarter-century during my annual trek to his Toronto turf for the world's greatest film festival," writes Joe Leydon. "And while I would not presume to describe us as close friends, I must say I always enjoyed our spirited conversations - during which, more often than not, John did most of the talking, and made by far the funnier wisecracks (which, of course, I would later repeat and claim as my own) - even as he gleefully trashed a movie I meekly admitted to half-liking. He was an excellent writer with a devoted following. Indeed, I remember one of my film history students appearing extremely impressed when I told her I knew the author of her favorite book, John's The Academy Awards Handbook. Later, when I told John about this, he smiled wickedly and inquired: 'So, did that help you get laid?' That it most certainly did not seemed to genuinely disappoint him."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:41 AM | Comments (4)

SAG. Nominations.

SAG The road-trip drama Into the Wild received a leading four Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations Thursday, including honors for lead actor Emile Hirsch and supporting players Hal Holbrook and Catherine Keener," reports the AP's David Germain. Update: David Carr posts the full list.

Related: Tim Grierson profiles Holbrook for the LA Weekly.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:52 AM

December 19, 2007

There Will Be Blood.

There Will Be Blood "There Will Be Blood is a chamber drama on the scale of an Old Testament allegory, an epic Western, a parable of rapacious capitalism," writes David Edelstein in New York. "It's sublime - beautiful and ghastly at once.... [Paul Thomas] Anderson's fearless, bighearted filmmaking is an antidote to the toxic cloud of Manifest Destiny. He has made a mad American classic."

"What a relief when Daniel Day-Lewis, in the final reel of There Will Be Blood, at last makes good on the title's promise," whews Benjamin Strong in the L Magazine. "Relief because for two and a half hours director P.T. Anderson sustains an atmosphere of potential threat so unremitting that even I, a dyed-in-the-wool horror enthusiast, cowered at every one of Day-Lewis's menacing sidelong glances."

Updated through 12/25.

"Call it being coy, humble, or maybe even naïve, but Messrs Anderson and Day-Lewis seem genuinely surprised by the gushing accolades and the minute analysis the film has invited," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun, where he weighs the critical response so far to the film that's still a week away from showing itself to non-credentialed audiences.

"There Will Be Blood is the sort of film you stumble out of, desperately searching, like a drowning man frantic for air, for an adjective that is both descriptive enough to encompass your experience and distinctive enough to convey your stratosphere-bound senses," writes Brandon Fibbs at cinemaattraction. "There was but a single word for me: gobsmacked."

The New York Observer's Sara Vilkomerson talks with Day-Lewis: "'Paul thought we were making a blockbuster... I thought we were making a film that would have us sort of drummed out of town with bell, book and candle...' A blockbuster? The 158-minute film is slow, detailed to the extreme and has almost no dialogue for the first 20 minutes. Mr Day-Lewis laughed heartily and shook his head. 'It's just so great Paul thought that. I just love it: There's no woman, no romance, no nothing - just fucking filthy guys digging holes in the ground.'"

The Los Angeles Times meets Anderson and Day-Lewis: "In a suite at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills to talk about the movie, which opens in Los Angeles on Dec 26, the two notoriously media-shy artists are disarmingly loose and engaging.... Anderson is unshaven and rumpled, and radiates the youthful energy of someone who is still very much in love with film." Well, that's good news.

Online listening tip. Anderson is a guest on Fresh Air.

Earlier: About a week's worth of reviews and impressions beginning on 12/10; more dated entries: 12/5 and 11/9.

Updates, 12/20: "You might expect the man behind the mask to have at least some of Plainview's fire. Or a flicker of that fixed, maniacal stare. Or at least a little bit of that thrust-out lower jaw set hard against the rest of humanity. But it's not so." Judith Lewis profiles Day-Lewis for the LA Weekly.

"It is actually not hyperbole to say Lewis creates here one of film history's greatest performances," writes Chris Barsanti at Culture Cartel. "[T]his is a film that has been directed with a skill and grace that one just doesn't honestly see anymore."

"I'll admit it - I've become obsessed with Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood, easily the best film of the year," writes Filmbrain. "It's been burning inside my brain for weeks now, and I've spent countless hours dissecting Anderson's stylistic, thematic and directorial nuances, for I believe this to be that rarest of things - a perfect film. There isn't a wrong note, or single unnecessary moment, shot, or line of dialogue throughout.... I've decided to post some of these miscellaneous thoughts in the hopes of encouraging discussion."

It "very well be the best American film of the year," but Kevin Lee does have his reservations.

Updates, 12/23: "There Will Be Blood, a nerve-racking American epic written and directed by PT Anderson, is so remarkably self-assured, so fully realized - hell, it's such a flat-out masterpiece - that it's surprising to think that this Anderson, this ferocious, uncompromising genius, is the same pastiche artist who made Boogie Nights and Magnolia," writes Bryan Frazer.

In the Los Angeles Times:

  • Paul Lieberman tells the lively story of the casting of Dillon Freasier as HW.

  • Michael Ordaña talks with Day-Lewis.

  • Reed Johnson: "The planetary and human costs of overconsumption reemerged as a major cultural theme this year, but it's an idea with deep roots in the national psyche, as evidenced by two of the year's best films: Sean Penn's Into the Wild and Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood."

"Together, Messrs Anderson and Day-Lewis, two exacting auteurs doing some of their best work to date, have crafted what is at once a mesmerizing, slow-building tragedy and an effortlessly atmospheric and beautiful historical piece, redolent of sunbaked earth, oil spurts, and Plainview's bristling walrus whiskers," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "There Will Be Blood is the sort of sure-handed, well-composed movie that is rounded out with just the right detail, and you sense you're in good hands from the first shot."

"It could be argued that the two most corrupting influences on humanity today are oil companies and organized religion, and as There Will Be Blood demonstrates, 'twas ever so — or at least since the turn of the 20th century," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC.

Update, 12/24: "With his fifth film, There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson goes from the brainy poet of new American cinema to its deranged visionary," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "Even those of us who've always admired Anderson's work (for me, Boogie Nights was one of the best films of the 90s) never suspected he had anything like this in him. This two-and-a-half-hour saga of frontier capitalism resembles the parched Western landscape in which it takes place: a vast, craggy, forbidding expanse, rife with potential danger. It was shot in Marfa, Texas, the location of George Stevens's 1956 oil epic Giant. Elsewhere, Anderson has cited The Treasure of the Sierra Madre as his favorite film, and no portrait of an isolated, half-mad American tycoon can escape the shadow of Citizen Kane. But influences be damned: There Will Be Blood looks and, especially, sounds like no movie you've seen before."

Updates, 12/25: "Why not combine Altman's panoramic outlook with Stanley Kubrick's formal bravura with John Cassavetes's messy candor?" asks Dennis Lim in a piece for Slate on what sets PTA apart from other American filmmakers of his generation. "While Anderson fits the profile of a 'hysterical realist,' to evoke the pejorative literary buzz-phrase of a few years ago, his films never indulge in excess for the sake of excess. He's a born showman - his first three films bore the Barnumesque credit 'A PT Anderson picture' - but his go-for-broke tendencies are tied to an expansive, humanist impulse.... Anderson's detractors may be right when they complain that he can work only at a grandiose pitch. But there are worse challenges for a young director than having to find new ways to satisfy his enormous appetites - and his appetite for enormity."

"Sitting down with indieWIRE earlier this month in New York City for a one-on-one conversation about There Will Be Blood, the exceptional new film that dominated iW's 2007 film critics' poll, American auteur Paul Thomas Anderson caught a first glimpse of Upton Sinclair's re-issued 1920s novel, Oil! resting on a small table nearby," writes Eugene Hernandez. "Examining the book's cover, he groused briefly about the need to place an image of Daniel Day-Lewis on the front of the book, explaining that he had intially hoped the promotional item could be re-released with that same simple cover that first caught his eye in a London bookstore years ago. Picking up the book back in Britain started him on the long journey to making his epic new film."

"I wish There Will Be Blood had a bit more blood - not literally, but figuratively," writes Matt Singer at IFC News. "As terrific as both stars are, there is something a bit inevitable about their conflict, and as convincing as [Paul] Dano is, he's never really a true equal or rival for the power that Plainview craves and eventually wields. Their battle is a little one-sided and so the ending, however appropriate, is also bit of a foregone conclusion."

Online viewing tip. "[T]he bulk of Charlie Rose's 54 minute conversation sidesteps Paul Thomas Anderson in favor of his There Will Be Blood star," writes Ted Z. "Rose, who has interviewed Daniel Day-Lewis a couple of times, was fixated on trying to crack the shell of the tight-lipped enigma, to varying degrees of success."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:02 PM

DVDs, 12/19.

Chameleon Street Wendell B Harris Jr's Chameleon Street "won the grand jury prize at Sundance but has barely been seen since, perhaps because it so stubbornly refuses to conform to art house ideas of what a black independent film should be," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "The great mystery of this accomplished, erudite film is why it had no follow-up; Mr Harris's only other screen credits are for small roles in Out of Sight (1998) and Road Trip (2000). With luck, this well-produced DVD will refocus attention on his mercurial talents." Also reviewed this week are Two-Lane Blacktop and a giant thunker from United Artists: "Containing 90 films on 110 discs, packaged in a metal container that tips the scales at 30 pounds, this has got to be the biggest DVD bundle of them all - and possibly the most soporific."

This week in IFC News, Michael Atkinson explains why it's hard not to overhype Once and watches Feed, "a found footage portrait of the 1991 campaign circus, in and around the New Hampshire primaries, that eventually led to Bill Clinton's party nomination and presidency. The primary visual tool at work here is the satellite feed, the video footage sent out to the networks (and therefore out into space, only to be captured by satellite geeks) during the unbroadcast moments of the candidates - Clinton, Paul Tsongas, Jerry Brown, George HW Bush, Bob Kerrey - combing their hair, making lame jokes, picking their noses, chatting inanely with makeup people, and often sitting and doing nothing at all. The upshot is access to precious visions of our ostensible leaders, whose political machines work so hard to exalt them as leaders, as little more than opportunists, showbiz canards and empty-headed buffoons."

"There are very few 'perfect' films," begins an entry at the Vancouver Voice from DK Holm. "The handful that exist are a precious resource to viewers who, say, suffering from the flu and numerous aches and pains, require an entertainment to delight and distract them. There is The Apartment. There is The Searchers. There is North by Northwest and Charade and LA Confidential and The Seven Samurai. The Lady Vanishes is another member of this elite group, and it now enjoys a re-release as part of the Criterion Collection in a new double disc set. It is a joyful opportunity to reacquaint oneself with this wholly American entertainment."

Do the Right Thing Diablo Cody lists her top ten Criterion releases.

Howard Hawks's Scarface "gets away with giving us enormous pleasure from unspeakable actions because it promotes in us a sense of intellectual and emotional mobility," writes Dan Sallitt. "It does not have to romanticize violence or violent people to get its effects; it does not have to create a narrative that denies us one perspective or another on the violence. In this context, our thrilled response to killing registers simply, a fact among other facts."

"Climates is partly about encroaching isolation and separation, about the growing distance between two people in a doomed relationship," writes MS Smith. "But on a more precise level, the film centers on the enduring ambivalence that results from separation; parting is not sweet sorrow, but a prolonged, painful exercise full of compromises, equivocations, lies, advances, and regressions."

Mala Noche "harkens from a time when independent cinema was often regional cinema and films could grow from within a community, drawing identity and color from the crucible of local culture and the physical world of its environs," notes Sean Axmaker at TCM. In the interview included with this Criterion release, Gus Van Sant "describes his most recent films - Elephant, Last Days and Paranoid Park - as a return to the freedom and evocative simplicity of Mala Noche."

Lola For Ed Howard, Lola "is Fassbinder at his witty, delirious best, deftly blending political satire and overwrought melodrama, with a stunning set of performances from some lesser-known lights in the director's stock company."

"[I]f the 1929 novel is Fassbinder's primal scene, then [Berlin Alexanderplatz] is his monumentally encompassing dream-work," writes Michael Joshua Rowin. "And it's a dream that has as much to do with studying the Weimar origins of fascism as it does with using its colossal canvas to push the exploitation and suffering Fassbinder explored in every one of his other films into deeper psychological, political and aesthetic territory."

Also in the L Magazine, Nicolas Rapold on John Ford's "breakout 1924 epic," The Iron Horse: "Ford can capture in a single shot so very much: early on, a manifest-destiny pioneer gazes warmly at a mountain pass - perfect for dynamiting as a railroad shortcut - like he's fallen in love."

Bob Turnbull watches the Eclipse collection, Carlos Saura's Flamenco Trilogy: "I popped in the first of the three Saura films with pretty high expectations - and had them all exceeded."

Mike Everleth finds Other Cinema's Xperimental Eros to be "a nice mixture covering a wide range of sexually contemplative positions. True, there are some pieces that may induce arousal, but for the most part watching these shorts may cause one to never look at sex quite the same way again."

Millennium Actress "I don't know much about anime, per se, nor do I know much about film history, per se, but I know plenty about both to know that Satoshi Kon's Millennium Actress is one of the best movies I've seen about either subject," writes Ryland Walker Knight.

The Cat and the Canary is "a mildly amusing horror-thriller-comedy hybrid, but what really makes the film is the visual look that it has been given," writes Ian Johnston at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

DVD roundups: Sean Axmaker for MSN, Bryant Frazer, Peter Martin at Cinematical and Peter Sobczynski's "Happiest DVD Column On Earth" at Hollywood Bitchslap.

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

Fests and events, 12/19.

Joan Blondell "The wisecracking, self-reliant, brash, and bubbly blonde acted in nearly 100 features in a career that spanned over 50 years. She could play gold diggers and dumb bunnies, but was most memorable as warm and honest Depression dames who knew the score." For the Voice, Elliott Stein previews Joan Blondell: The Bombshell from 91st Street, running from tomorrow through January 1 at MoMA. More from Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. Update: Charles Silver, associate curator of MoMA's Department of Film, and Matthew Kennedy, author of Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes, are guests on the Leonard Lopate Show.

"An exciting chapter of recent German film history is the focus of a special Berlinale series, 'Rebellion of the Filmmakers' (Aufbruch der Filmemacher). The starting point is the documentary film Gegenschuss - Aufbruch der Filmemacher (Reverse Angle - Rebellion of the Filmmakers) which deals with the origins, development and crises of the legendary film publisher, Filmverlag der Autoren, in the early 1970s. Producers and authors such as Werner Herzog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Wim Wenders, Thomas Schamoni, Michael Fengler, Veith von Fürstenberg, Hans W Geißendörffer and Hark Bohm are synonymous with this turbulent, vibrant and also contentious period in the history of German film."

Also: a preview of this year's Generation 14plus program.

War and Peace "It seems almost ungrateful to complain that a 400-plus-minute film adaptation is too short, but when the book in question is Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, seven hours is not enough," writes in the Boston Phoenix. "The adaptation is Sergei Bondarchuk's celebrated 1967 effort, which the Museum of Fine Arts is showing this month in four installments; if you go on Thursday December 27, you can see all four, in order, on the one day."

"Carlos Reygadas's Stellet Licht (Silent Light) made a sweep of the 29th Havana International Film Festival of New Latin American Cinema, winning nods for best picture, director, cinematography and sound," reports Anna Marie De La Fuente for Variety's Circuit.

"Two international film festivals wrapped things up on Sunday with the traditional awards ceremonies: the 9th Jakarta fest and the 4th Dubai fest." Eric D Snider's got winners at Cinematical.

Ahmed Atef's Al-Ghaba "is an unsettling portrait of Cairo today, brutally exposing the disheartening conditions of those living at the edges of a society that has become highly polarized," reports Noha El-Hennawy for the Los Angeles Times. "The 90-minute movie was screened for the first time at Egypt's major annual cultural event, the Cairo International Film Festival, which wrapped earlier this month."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:23 PM

More lists and awards, 12/19.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly "From the murder of an underage Ukrainian sex slave in Eastern Promises to the family carnage in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, the best films of 2007 hold their own when it comes to despair, evil, and treachery," writes Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix. "So am I being a cockeyed optimist in thinking they also offer a glimmer of hope?" His #1: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

The votes are in: Witchfinder General is Video Watchdog's DVD of the Year 2007.

"Taking the top slot this year is Lionsgate's The Silent Partner," writes the DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson), unveiling his list of "Most Impressive DVDs of 2007": "I chose this modest thriller not only because it's terrific, but to represent the fact that no single release of 2007 jumped out and said 'pick me.'" There's a top ten, yes, but also a looong supplemental list of "discs or disc sets from 2007 that Savant heartily recommends."

Bug Topping Paul Matwychuk's list: Bug: "I'm as surprised as you are to see this one sitting in the top slot, but William Friedkin's claustro-phobic thriller about two lonely people succumbing to paranoia and madness inside a dusty motel room is the movie I find myself thinking back to more than any other film from 2007."

The AV Club blasts away at the worst of 07: "[H]ere are 16 films we hope never to see the likes of again."

In the New York Sun, S James Snyder offers "a chronicling not of 2007 movies but of 2007 moviegoing: the year's six best experiences, as compiled by one compulsive movie buff."

No surprises from the Southeastern Film Critics Association; Movie City News has their list and the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association's as well.

The Association of Women Film Journalists echoes pretty much all their choices in their round of EDA Annual Achievement Awards. What they bring fresh to the table are the EDA Female Focus Awards and the EDA Special Mention Awards.

Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus will be receiving a Bavarian Film Award for his life's work in January, report the German wires.

For the Voice, RC Baker surveys the year in comics and graphic novels.

Online browsing tip. Via Jason Kottke, Billboard's "25 Best Rock Posters of All Time."

Online listening tip. David Edelstein discusses his top 11 on Fresh Air.

Online viewing tips. Director File's top ten music videos, via Jason Kottke.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:04 PM

Skandies. Best Undistributed Films of 2005.

Tale of Cinema Your first question might be: Skandies? The short answer is: a poll among a modestly sized group of cinephiles who've known each other for some time now. As he's the one who does the conducting and the math, Mike D'Angelo explains.

Your second question might be: Don't you mean 2007? No, as Mike D'Angelo explains again, the list he's posting today is comprised of films that appeared in 2005 yet still remain undistributed. The poll itself is fresh, see; it's the movies that aren't anymore - from a marketer's standpoint only, of course.

As Anthony Kaufman points out, introducing indieWIRE list of best undistributed films (released in 07, but still orphans as the year closes), Hong Sang-soo's Woman on the Beach topped last year's list. At the top of the Skandies list is Hong's Tale of Cinema; what's more, notes Mike D'Angelo, "This is the criminally undistributed Hong's second victory in this category, following 2002's Turning Gate."

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

MPAA vs Gibney.

Taxi to the Dark Side "The MPAA has rejected THINKFilm's initial poster for Alex Gibney's Taxi to the Dark Side, one of the year's most acclaimed films, over a Corbis photograph of a two US soldiers leading away a hooded prisoner." AJ Schnack talks with Gibney and points to Anne Thompson's report in Variety on the decision that's quickly drawn fury and flame from a, well, variety of voices (see, for example, the cinetrix, Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog, Ray Pride, Chuck Tryon, Patrick Walsh at Cinematical and so on).

The problem, evidently, is the hood. Which, of course, is nuts. Talking with AJ, Gibney "likened the MPAA's desire to eliminate the hood to political figures denying that torture or mistreatment occurs in US facilities. 'Removing the hood is the ultimate cover-up. (The US) didn't use to do that sort of thing. Removing the hood sends the same message as the Bush administration with the CIA tapes. It's OK to do it, it's just not OK to show it.'"

Posted by dwhudson at 1:36 PM | Comments (5)

indieWIRE Critics Poll: Ten Best Undistributed Films of 2007.

Secret Sunshine "What is it about Korean auteurs that have critics salivating and distributors running for the exits?" asks Anthony Kaufman. "Last year, Hong Sang-soo's Woman on the Beach topped indieWIRE's best undistributed films list for 2007. This year, Hong compatriot Lee Chang-dong's Secret Sunshine was far-and-way the winner of the honor."

Tomorrow sees the results of the whole shebang, not only the complete list of more than undistributed 250 films that received at least one vote in iW's poll of over 100 critics but also the results for best film, director, first film, performance, supporting performance, screenplay, documentary and cinematography.

Earlier: Reviews of Secret Sunshine from New York, Toronto and Cannes.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:02 PM

AV Club. "The Year in Film 2007."

AV Club "We at the AV Club spent much of the spring and summer suspecting that 2007 would offer only a modest helping of great films. Then, almost as soon as the leaves started to turn, 2007 transformed from an okay film year to a pretty good film year to the best film year in recent memory."

No Country for Old Men tops the "Master List," the conglomerate of all five Club film writers' votes. The notes on each film are fine, but the fun starts with the individual lists, each featuring a top ten, naturally, but also "The Next Five," a notable performance (e.g., Scott Tobias praises Carice van Houten's in Black Book), notes on an overrated and an underrated film (Keith Phipps defends The Darjeeling Limited}, a "Most Pleasant Surprise" (for Nathan Rabin, it's The Year of the Dog), a "Guilty Pleasure" (Tasha Robinson picks Across the Universe) and a "Future Film That Time Forgot" (Noel Murray tags Slipstream).

Posted by dwhudson at 10:54 AM

TFCA. Awards.

Away From Her The Toronto Film Critics Association has a blog, but again, it's Movie City News that's got the list of awards. No Country for Old Men wins Best Picture, Best Supporting Performance, Male (Javier Bardem), Best Director and Best Screenplay (Joel Ethan Coen).

Away From Her is named Best Canadian Film, Best First Feature (for Sarah Polley) and Julie Christie ties for Best Performance, Female, with Ellen Page (Juno).

Viggo Mortensen wins Best Performance, Male, for Eastern Promises, a film that appears as a runner-up in a few more categories.

Cate Blanchett wins Best Supporting Performance, Female, for I'm Not There.

Best Animated Feature: Ratatouille.

Best Foreign-Language Film: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

Best Documentary Feature: No End in Sight.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:31 AM

AFCA. Awards.

There Will Be Blood The Austin Film Critics Association has a site, but it's Movie City News that's got the list of their awards - pretty much a sweep for There Will Be Blood: Best Film, Best Director (Paul Thomas Anderson), Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Best Cinematography (Robert Elswit) and Best Original Score (Jonny Greenwood).

Juno fares well, too: Best Actress (Ellen Page), Best Supporting Actress (Allison Janney), Best Original Screenplay (Diablo Cody) and Breakthrough Artist (Michael Cera, also mentioned for Superbad).

No Country for Old Men scores Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Joel and Ethan Coen).

Other awards:

And there's a top ten - and an Austin Film Award, which goes to Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez for Grindhouse.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:18 AM

Rouge. 11.

Abel Ferrara Nicole Brenez, author of one of the most superlatively praised film books in recent memory, Abel Ferrara, opens the new issue of Rouge with "Shops of Horror: Notes for a Visual History of the Reification of Emotion in a Capitalist Regime, or (to put it more bluntly) 'Fuck the Money,'" a piece so musical it's got an overture. The parameters are laid - "Three low-budget auteur films" - before we head out on explorations within them, circling first close to home, then wider. Not too far along, for example: "The Shop Around the Corner takes, as its premise, the female fantasy of the Ideal Man - in order, finally, to describe the relations of force in the world of work. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie invents nightmarish narrative forms and deconstructs its narrative so as to liberate figurative possibilities linked to the female body. Go Go Tales addresses - under the cover of a lighthearted reverie - the nightmare that human relations have become in a capitalist regime."

"Chiloé is a world of wonder and a normal, quiet island at the same time - which makes me think of Ruiz's films," writes Gonzalo Maza. "Raúl Ruiz may have been born in Puerto Montt, but he is chilote. His stories seem like lies, but they are not. Or at least we can say they are straight-faced, as if they are about to burst into laughter."

"In Sylvia's City is, in its very modesty, a very ambitious film," writes Miguel Marías, "since it is something which cannot be imagined in any other art form: not enough fiction or plot even for a novella; too much reality and cityscape for a theatrical piece; made wholly of movements and gazes as several human bodies wander through the space of a city, mostly outdoors - where the spectator is asked only to watch and listen attentively as things happen naturally and unhurriedly before him on the screen. Precisely what spectators may have become increasingly unaccustomed to do - so they may have to learn anew how to sit through a movie."

Ebrahim Golestan "The non-Iranian audience in the US who have been exposed to a good dosage of post-Revolutionary Iranian cinema are probably unaware of the rich pre-Revolutionary film culture of Iran," writes Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa. "One has to know the sacred place of literature - in particular poetry - and the important role of cinema in Iranian culture to appreciate the significance of [Ebrahim] Golestan as a writer and filmmaker. In the late 60s, many Iranian youths wanted to be poets; in the early 70s, with all the publicity about films and film festivals, every young person I knew dreamt of becoming a film director."

"There is a survivors' Chinatown, and a victims' Chinatown, a Chinatown of the committed and a Chinatown of fatalists," writes Ross Macleay. "In the canon this is registered as an overpraised Chinatown and an underexamined Chinatown; or one Chinatown dismissed by its doubters and another unappreciated by its devotees. And in my own aesthetic judgement there have been two Chinatowns."

"If 'the air is on fire,' as David Lynch states in the title of his hugely successful exhibition in Paris, then it is also the author who is part of this flame," writes Yvette Bíró. "Lynch's work is different from the surrealists, the Magritte-like, playful inversion of limbs. Neither is it Bacon's flesh-penetrating, screaming distortions, his famous 'cry.' The stiff aura that strikes us in Hopper's quotidian, chilly-vacant characters does not come readily to mind, though all three are Lynch's admitted inspirations."

Ecrire l'espace "As much or more than anyone associated with Theory - be it Deleuze, Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard - it was she who most effectively mobilised and practiced its principles. And it was she who worked through it with unequalled care and acumen. It might even be said the history of theory can be understood in view of her career with which this person became familiar, alas, at a moment after it had begun."Tom Conley remembers the late Marie-Claire Ropars-Wuilleumier, two of whose texts appear in this issue. Editor Adrian Martin introduces the 1960 essay "A Cinematic Language," in which "the guiding theme of her lifelong exploration - into the complex interchange between literary language and cinematic language - is already evident; "On Filmic Rewriting: Contamination of the Arts or Destruction of Art's Identity?" would appear 47 years later.

In September 2005, George Kouvaros had a very long conversation with Paul Schrader.

A poem by Donald Phelps: "Homage to Carole Landis."

A piece from Roger Tailleur, written in 1963: "Markeriana: A Scarcely Critical Description of the Work of Chris Marker."

A painting by James Clayden: Chinese Bookie - After Cassavetes.

RougeRouge gets pretty fancy this issue, with more animated sequences and a few traced vectors. Richard Misek examines "Wrong Geometries in The Third Man."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:52 AM | Comments (2)

The District!

The District! "The Hungarian cartoon feature The District! is a last-minute shoo-in for the title of 2007’s most original animated film, no small triumph in a year that also included the releases of Persepolis, Ratatouille, Beowulf and Paprika," declares Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times. "The movie is a sexually explicit, scabrously funny portrait of multiethnic European urban culture, similar to Ralph Bakshi's early-1970s adults-only animated movies Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic, but richer and more coherent... On top of its other considerable achievements, this is a dazzlingly assured piece of filmmaking. Merging seemingly hand-drawn, two-dimensional characters and deep-focus, intricately shadowed, simulated 3-D backdrops, The District! is like a dirty, thrilling pop-up book you can step into."

"Eye-popping as The District! is, the overarching geopolitical satire is a haphazardly lobbed grenade too dim-witted to be explosive," writes Aaron Hillis in the Voice.

"This consistently mesmerizing Hungarian film follows in South Park's footsteps, artfully hitching cogent social commentary to an absurd, offensive and hilarious narrative," writes Kate Folk in the L Magazine.

This film's been around since 2004, so you'll find more reviews at the IMDb.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:07 AM

Lists. L Magazine.

L Magazine Year End Issue The L Magazine's year end blowout features five "Best Films of 2007" list, plus art quotes, albums and singles (and disappointments), Nate Brown's overview of the "Year in Independent Publishing," the "Eli James Theater Awards 2007," and New York bars and restaurants, fashion and parties.

But. To the movies:

Posted by dwhudson at 4:09 AM

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story "John C Reilly hops aboard the Judd Apatow gravy train with Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, a parody of biopics that finds the comedic impresario working in the absurdist mode of 2004's Anchorman rather than the vulgar-sweet rom-com vein of this year's Knocked Up," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

"As Dewey Cox, a hard-livin', hard-lovin', hard-everythingin' singer with a Zelig-like proximity to every major music figure of the past 50 years, Reilly cuts a hilarious and electrifying figure - live," writes Jim Ridley in the Voice. "On a recent promo tour, playing Nashville's Mercy Lounge in a concert that was part Spinal Tap, part Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and completely riotous, Reilly slipped hungrily into the guise of a surly, self-obsessed spotlight hog.... [H]e was funny as hell. Sadly, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story isn't."

Updated through 12/23.

But Dennis Harvey, writing at SF360, finds it "pretty funny.... Incongruously, 2007 has given us a bumper crop of good movie musicals: Dreamgirls (a 2006 film that didn't reach most viewers until the new year), Hairspray, Sweeney Todd, Enchanted, the low-budget local indie Colma: The Musical and others raised the bar for a genre many had thought extinct. Walk Hard isn't strictly a 'musical' - at least no more or less so than This Is Spinal Tap - but it is hands-down the funniest of the bunch."

"While Walk Hard isn't the most gut-busting product ever to tumble from the Apatow factory, it's got some priceless moments," writes Cheryl Eddy in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "[A]ccomplished warbler Reilly is nothing if not totally committed to the role, and the supporting cast (including big-name stars portraying the Beatles, Elvis, and others) make damn sure they bring the funny, including some extraordinarily gratuitous full-frontal nudity."

For the New York Times, Eric Wilson talks with costume designer Debra McGuire: "The best way to make the clothes funny from my perspective was to make them as real as possible."

Update: For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with director Jake Kasdan "about his wide-ranging work, the comic potential of the name 'Cox,' and the current WGA strike."

Updates, 12/20: "Could we be so lucky that the Judd Apatow revolution that ruled Hollywood last summer with Knocked Up and Superbad is already over?" asks Armond White in the New York Press. Walk Hard "has considerably less smut humor to flatter the TV-bred audience's own sexual insecurities, so Apatow's desperation is exposed."

Brent Rolen talks with Reilly and Kasdan for the Nashville Scene.

"It is, perhaps, difficult to keep gags afloat for 90 minutes when a show like Robot Chicken can smartly satirize all six Star Wars movies in 22 minutes, and the strain of keeping the plates spinning definitely shows in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, which starts out brilliantly playing with the tired tropes of musical biopics before utterly losing its way," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC.

For Cinematical, Ryan Stewart files a junket report.

"[T]his is unabashedly a goof from the get-go, and the presence of past and future Saturday Night Live alums ensure that 10 seconds do not go by without another joke," writes Eric Alt in Premiere. "Such rapid-fire silliness, as you might expect, results in some jokes hitting, some falling flat, but very few moments of absolute boredom. There are certainly a lot of laugh-out-loud moments, which is more than can be said about a lot of alleged comedies."

Updates, 12/23: "Born to be mild, Dewey is cuddly and cute, not Iggy or pop," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Partly as a consequence, the film is more funny ha-ha than LOL."

"Walk Hard is pieced together from scraps of agreeable silliness; at moments it shows a certain throwaway brilliance," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "But in the end, it's just a concept decorated with jokes, more of an extended sketch than a canvas with every inch filled in."

"Apatow and Kasdan are skilled at getting the most out of gifted ensembles, but there's a world of difference between the sweet, character-based comedy of Apatow's The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, and the vaudevillian wackiness of Walk Hard," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "Fortunately, they're blessed by having John C Reilly, an endlessly nimble and endearing performer, to lead the film through its rough patches."

Reilly "can do plausible versions of Johnny Cash, Elvis, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and on and on," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "He's like a kid who locked himself in his room singing along with his record collection and finally made it pay off."

"[T]his gleefully jaundiced skewering of American popular music in general and biopics like Walk the Line and Ray in particular knows that humor comes from both loving your source material and knowing it inside out," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times.

"Not since This is Spinal Tap have I had such a good time watching amiable idiocy stumble on toward uncertain glory," writes Richard Schickel in Time.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:35 AM

Spanish Cinema Now. 6.

Once again, James Van Maanen.

The Education of Fairies A quiet little fairy tale that might easily get lost in the shuffle of bigger, bolder films at Spanish Cinema Now, The Education of Fairies (La educatión de las hadas) plays only twice more (tomorrow, Thursday, at 2 and 6:15 pm), so I'm giving a quick shout-out to a movie that doesn't shout at all. Instead, it sneaks up, lays out its odd plan and gently sets it in motion. Expect no "real" fairies here, nor any special effects.

From its first frame to its last, director José Luis Cuerda, adapting a novel by Frenchman Didier Van Cauwelaert, offers up a storybook look. His characters: a King, a Queen, their little Prince, and a very unusual immigrant fairy. Immigration is all over the place at this festival; here, it's both as benign as you might want and exceedingly rough, too. There is coincidence aplenty (as in most fairy tales), secrets withheld and bared, and a lovely "bird" motif that doubles as one of the principal's occupations and a metaphor for flight and freedom.

Interestingly, this bird motif plays an important role in one of the films covered yesterday, Chaotic Ana, as does one of its leading actresses. Using the single name Bebe, this striking woman looks a bit like the pre-surgery Cher. She's a chanteuse, too (that's her voice over the end credits, singing last year's Goya-winning song "Tiempo Pequeño"). Bebe herself was nominated for a Goya for her role in Fairies as an Algerian supermarket cashier who's short-listed for a place at the Sorbonne. (In Chaotic Ana, she's part of a small ensemble, in a much gruffer role as a man-hating, daddy-damaged video artist.)  We'll probably be seeing more of her in future SCN fests.

In the role of the daddy/King, Argentine actor Ricardo Darín gives another of his effortlessly glamorous, utterly sexy incarnations. At 50, Darín (The Aura, Kamchatka, Son of the Bride, Nine Queens) may be one of the most comfortable-in-his-body actors currently visible, and he easily brings this quiet, hesitant character to life. Irene Jacob (The Double Life of Veronique, Three Colors: Red, and the shamefully under-seen but tremendously fun Incognito) plays the Queen with gentle class and usual beauty. Most pivotal of all is the Prince-ling, played by Víctor Valdivia (he's also in the upcoming Seven Billiard Tables). If his character does not convince us that he buys into his stepfather's "fairy" tales, we'll never buy into them, either. The young actor comes through beautifully: he's smart, suspicious, needy and hopeful, and he, as much as anyone, brings the movie home. A sweet film about sweet characters, The Education of Fairies is a film for which it might be best to check your excess cynicism at the door.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:56 AM

December 18, 2007

FilmInFocus. And a Jamie Stuart alert.

FilmInFocus I'd heard the rumor, and now the cinetrix has confirmed it: FilmInFocus, a new site from Focus Features, working in collaboration with Faber and Faber and Filmmaker (smarts and alliteration!), is up. James Schamus himself states its purpose: "Rather than devote our resources to the usual film marketing sites for our movies (though you'll get lots of great Focus film-specific content here, don't worry!), we decided to create a place that expresses our joy in movies, our admiration for great filmmaking, and our insatiable curiosity about film and the discussions that truly challenging films engender, wherever they may come from."

Now then. On top of everything thing else I'll get to in a moment, you need to know that the highlights here are four shorts by Jamie Stuart, all of which are accessible here. His challenge is to rethink the promo clip, and not terribly surprisingly, he's done so with fearless originality.

I also need to go ahead and mention that there's an interview with me here, but also! Andrew Grant (Like Anna Karina's Sweater), who, once again, shows me how it's done.

Here's a nifty feature: "Week That Was," milestones in film history, one for each day of the current week. There're also news and events roundups.

And of course, there are pieces tied into Focus Features releases. You can learn a lot about Atonement, for example:

Hampton on Hampton

Eastern Promises will be out on DVD next week (and finally in German theaters on December 27). Let's see...

Cronenberg on Cronenberg

The Lust, Caution package:

  • Here we see what a sharp move it is to team up with a publishing house, especially one as prestigious as Faber and Faber: "Sealed Off," a short story by Eileen Chang. And Ang Lee: "To me, no writer has ever used the Chinese language as cruelly as Zhang Ailing (Eileen Chang), and no story of hers is as beautiful or as cruel as 'Lust, Caution.'"

  • Novelist Rick Moody, whose The Ice Storm became a film directed by Ang Lee (a film that'll be getting the full-on Criterion treatment in March), considers himself lucky.

  • Novelist Alan Furst goes looking for a good espionage movie.

But wait, there's more! No, really, there is. And that'd be just the reading material. You'll also find extensive linkage... and again, all that online viewing.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:25 PM

Persepolis.

Persepolis "At a moment in history where Iran, famously dubbed one-third of an 'Axis of Evil' by Dubya, has again been making headlines as the next country with whom the Republicans wanna preemptively rumble (though the NIE's latest report on its lack of a nuclear weapons program throws this political gambit into a tailspin), Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical and surpassingly exquisite Persepolis, co-written and directed with fellow comic book artist Vincent Paronnaud, is a corrective bomb of beauty launched lovingly into a terrified world," writes Kristi Mitsuda at indieWIRE. "Based upon Satrapi's likewise superlative graphic novels and detailing her upbringing in Iran and eventual departure to (and return from) Austria amidst the Islamic Revolution, the personal-is-political telling deconstructs the absolute Otherness attributed to Iranians in an era scarred by boys who cry terrorist, even as the film rises to the status of coming-of-age classic."

Updated through 12/24.

"Satrapi and Paronnaud say they were inspired in part by silent-era German Expressionism, which is evident in the film's dynamic gouges of black; some of their most striking scenes are in silhouette, suggesting Lotte Reiniger's lacework-detailed Orientalist animation of the 20s," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice, where he also notes that "many a scene open-ends onto a lingeringly poignant coda (the emotion, I should say, never feels chintzy)."

For New York's David Edelstein, Persepolis "feels as if it had jumped right from the page to the screen. And since the novels feel as if they had jumped right from Satrapi's head to the page, the immediacy is startling. If only The Kite Runner could have been freed from its clunky realism!"

"I found it, if anything, too simple," sniffs Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. "I was left with the nagging, if ungallant, impression that I had been flipping through a wipe-clean board book entitled Miffy and Friends Play with Islamic Fundamentalism."

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes, Toronto and New York.

Updates, 12/19: "The variety-platter structure is entertaining but scattered; Satrapi gives us history lessons, first loves, human faces of the Iraq-Iran conflict and the occasional Western culture reference (little Marjane buys Sabbath tapes on the black market), and all of it stays on the film's gorgeous surface," writes Jesse Hassenger in the L Magazine. "Despite its vague present-day relevance, Persepolis turns out to best address another, less hot-button cultural concern: the idiosyncratic power of hand-drawn, '2-D' animation."

Michael Guillén talks with Parannaud.

Updates, 12/20: "Satrapi is eager to make another movie with Paronnaud, but after pounding the promotion trail for weeks, she says, 'My soul is poor. I'm empty. I need to lie down and read, sit on my balcony, look, smoke my cigarette and think. When I have a rich soul again, then I will be generous enough to write another story.'" But as Ella Taylor discovers in the LA Weekly, she's not all talked out yet.

"Satrapi (both storyteller and star) makes an engaging memoirist," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "Since the movie remains within the confines of her selective recollections, it never becomes dogmatic, nor does it present clear-cut alternatives to religious fundamentalism. Satrapi leaves those questions aside, settling to champion the perseverance of the human mind."

Erica Abeel talks with Satrapi and Paronnaud for indieWIRE.

Updates, 12/23: "When I first saw Jafar Panahi's Offside, I was startled by its combination of feminism and Iranian nationalism," writes Steve Erickson in Gay City News. "Persepolis shows that one can rebel against Iranian misogyny without capitulating to 'Axis of Evil'-style rhetoric or idealizing the West."

"Persepolis doesn't pretend to have grand answers about Iran or geopolitics; it tells a very simple story about an ordinary girl caught in extraordinary circumstances," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "Yet there's nothing ordinary about Satrapi's skills as an artist or storyteller, and her film does justice to both of those gifts."

Geoff Boucher talks Satrapi for the Los Angeles Times.

Update, 12/24: Satrapi's a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:16 PM

Peter Jackson and The Hobbit.

The Hobbit "After months of bitter legal wrangling, Peter Jackson, New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc have agreed to make two movies based on the book The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien," reports Reuters. "In a statement Tuesday, the companies said Jackson, the director of the smash hit Lord of the Rings movies, and producer Fran Walsh will executive produce both a Hobbit movie and a sequel, but Jackson was not named as the director."

Updated through 12/19.

Looking forward to commentary from Kristin Thompson, author of The Frodo Franchise: "The Lord of the Rings" and Modern Hollywood.

Updates, 12/19: David M Halbfinger has more details on the deal in the New York Times.

Blogging for the Guardian, Jeremy Kay asks: If Jackson won't be directing, who should?

Posted by dwhudson at 11:08 AM

Spanish Cinema Now. 5.

Around round from James Van Maanen; a few notes follow.

Fuego de Angel Spanish Cinema Now continues its mixed bag of attractions with Shortmetraje, a program of seven short subjects of unusually diverse style, subject and length. I am not a particular fan of shorts, but this combination, gathered by film curator Marta Sanchez strikes me as about as interesting a blend as you're likely to see in any 90-minute sitting. 

Libra (yes, the astrological sign) begins the program on a brief, quizzical note, as a young woman faces her questioner and explains the problem she has with taking her final law exams. In only four minutes, writer/director Carlota Coronado and her two-person cast Helena Casteñeda and José Angel Egido manage to hold us rapt and then surprise us.

Updated through 12/19.

At the screening I attended, an audience favorite, garnering spontaneous applause, appeared to be Lucina Gil's fourteen-minute The Happy Man. Concerning three foreign anthropologists studying the phenomenon of happiness in Spain, this would get my vote as the clinker in the bunch due to its utterly simple-minded approach and conclusion. Our learned educators discover an elderly married man who is happy, yet - shock, shock - does not own the latest hot sports car or vacation property and is not even famous. Can Spaniards - or Americans or any Europeans - really be so dense as to imagine that some people might find happiness elsewhere? Guess so. There's no mention, either, of the basics of life - food, shelter and so forth - being necessary to achieve this much-vaunted state of being. Produced and acted pleasantly enough, this is, I presume, the work of a very young filmmaker.

Weird and oddly memorable, Avant pétalos grillados harks back to those low-budget, black-and-white sci-fi films of the 50s - and appears to have been pieced together from found footage having to do with slaughter, space aliens and laundry. Beginning in the middle of things (ending there, too), Velasco Broca's ten-minute compilation is utterly bizarre and occasionally hilarious (intentionally? who knows?). But it's short and, in its freaky manner, quite fun.

Claymation gets a 12-minute Spanish slant in Said's Journey, a lovely fable of imagined immigration from North Africa to Spain by Coke Riobóo. Full of bright color, music and charm, this little gem is at once a "Welcome to Spain/You Have No Idea What You're In For" warning and a short subject interesting enough to mull over, post-viewing. Is it an anti-immigrant statement posing as advice? A slap-on-face to the Spanish immigration system? Maybe a sweeter version of the old Monkey's Paw saw about being careful what you wish for. All three, I think, and all the stronger for this special combination.

The longest piece in the program is also one of the most accomplished: Traumalogia, from writer/director Daniel Sánchez Arévalo. If the usual eight minutes of commercial breaks were added to this 22-minute narrative, it would qualify as a clever, classy, half-hour sit-com, and I would not be surprised to learn that the filmmaker is already working on a full-length feature based on what's here. Why not? He already possesses a keen understanding of character, storytelling, dialogue, cinematography, composition, editing and more, as he spins a funny, witty, quick-paced tale of family, wedding and hospitalization. We'll be hearing more from Señor Arévalo soon, I suspect.

That old misogynistic chestnut comparing a woman to a dog walking on its hind legs gets a kind of comeuppance in the penultimate short on the program. Cristina Lucas's ten-minute You Can Walk, Too begins with a young woman (perhaps the director herself) musing on this ineffably stupid quote, and then provides a visual compilation of dogs, all kinds, walking on their hind legs. It's funny as hell and, after a while, you ask yourself, Why is this quote so famous? This is, I would guess, Ms Lucas's point. The "comparison" is clever, nasty and stupid. Replace women with blacks, gays, Irish - your pick - and the result is the same. Still, the idiotic aperçu continues to haunt us. Which may also be Ms Lucas's point.

The final segment, Fuego de angel (Angel's Fire), a documentary about the child labor in the Peruvian brick industry, is brief (13 minutes), quiet and compelling, as it uses visuals of the children at work and play, along with bits of their own explanation, to create a portrait of lives mostly harsh and unfair. The film's most evocative moment comes as one child, with a tact that seems extraordinary, given the circumstances, tells the filmmaker that he would prefer not to speak about the beatings he gets from his father. By simply allowing us to watch and listen, writer/director Marcelo Bukin contributes more than do certain famous documentarians who prefer to sermonize and scream. The program of Spanish shorts was screened last Saturday and will be screened twice today, Monday.

Bolboreta, Mariposa, Papallona One of the most annoying, forcefully random movies I've had to endure in awhile, Bolboreta, Mariposa, Papallona (site) could drive one bonkers (or asleep, if you're already a tad tired). After its 87-minute running time, you still don't know who half the characters are or what the point of it all might be. (Here's one reason we don't know who's who: In the scene in which several of the school kids introduce themselves by name and interest, the director keeps the camera focused on the actor playing him and his assistant, rather than on the children he is "interviewing.")

The film's description in the FSLC program notes that it "moves back and forth between fiction and documentary" but I challenge anyone to figure out which is which. Which may be the point. Or one of them.  Gosh, I enjoy watching differing forms and formats, too, but I guess I need more discipline and rigor than writer/director Pablo García Pérez de Laura chooses to use.

There is certainly beauty in the land/seascapes and in the faces of all the townsfolk - what a good-looking bunch is here assembled! Among the "actors" are Fele Martínez (Bad Education, Darkness) who plays (behind a scruffy little beard) the visiting film director. The three-word title, explains one helpful villager, aided by the assistant director, means the same thing ("butterfly") in Galician, Spanish, Catalan and maybe Portuguese (there was a bit of disagreement on this point). Bolboreta, Mariposa , Papallona will be screened Monday, December 24, at 4 and 7:45 pm.

Doghead Juan José Ballesta, the 20-year-old actor who made his motion picture debut in the terrific (and multi-award-winning) El Bola back in 2000, has already appeared in ten films, including Carol's Journey, The Shanghai Spell and (from last year's SCN) Seven Virgins. One can easily understand why he chose to appear in Doghead (Cabeza de perro): the chance to flex his acting chops in a story about a neurologically damaged young man who must suddenly pull his life together, on his own, and in a new city.

Ballesta grows more gorgeous with each new role, possessing the kind of face over which the camera creams ("Muy guapo!" croons an older woman in the film, as she sits on his lap and begins to grind.) The actor's approach to this role is understated and questioning - his usual style - and he allows us to enter the character via a tabula rasa tactic. This works fine, to an extent. Or perhaps writer/director Santi Amodeo insisted on it, using camera tricks to take over whenever Ballesta's Samuel has one of his "attacks." (The most inventive camera work occurs as Samuel begins his first day on a new job, and this is a lovely, energized moment indeed.)

Subsidiary characters are given not much more than cursory attention; they keep the incident-laden "plot" moving along. The roles are acted with aplomb by Adriana Urgarte, as the would-be girlfriend; Manuel Alexandre as the old man for whom Samuel becomes caretaker; and (I believe) Alex O'Dogherty as the old man's reprobate son. Amodeo did a superior job with his earlier Astronautas, which also featured a lead character with problems who becomes a care-giver. But that film featured a 40-year-old character (played by Nancho Novo, who had both maturity and stronger acting ability) and, odd as it was - more inventive, too - it also managed to be more believable. In this movie, Samuel's parents appear to have simply given up finding him, and he them, which I find pretty hard to swallow. I've been around families with children who have physical/behavioral problems; there are many ways to deal with this, none of which these rather well-off characters seem to have encountered or applied.

Doghead diddles around, piling incident upon incident without allowing us to understand its lead character any better than we did at the beginning. Finally, rather than coming to an end, it simply stops, and not in a particularly satisfying manner. While one might say that this prevents undue sentimentality, I might counter that it's difficult to feel sentimental about a near-cipher. Doghead will be screened Saturday, December 22 at 7:20 and Monday, December 24, at 2 and 6pm.

Chaotic Ana Aside from Pedro Almodóvar and, to a much lesser extent, Alejandro Amenábar (Open Your Eyes, The Others, The Sea Inside), I suspect Julio Medem (Lovers of the Arctic Circle, Sex & Lucia) may be the Spanish filmmaker most recognized by American cineastes. This year Medem comes to SCN with his new film, Chaotic Ana (Caótica Ana), touted as a kind of homage to his late sister. While I've enjoyed this filmmaker's works, I've also found his visuals to finally be more interesting than his content.

Chaotic Ana is yet another such movie, although this time Medem's subject is the life/lives - over centuries - of an unusually creative young woman, as unearthed via hypnotism. I place reincarnation theory at approximately the same gimme-a-break level as I do the nativity story and other religious myths, but for art/entertainment's sake, I'll willingly watch a film with these subjects and treat them as acceptable fantasies that may have other meanings and uses. In his new film, I think Medem is putting forward an argument for the empowerment of women and the downtrodden - which is certainly an idea whose time has come (and gone and come again) a number of times.

To get his point(s) across, however, this writer/director uses an awful lot of incident and shortcut, buoyed by intermittent exposition. How much of what we see is real or fantasy, I'm not too sure, nor do I think it probably matters much. The art used here - the originals were evidently done by Medem's late sister, with recreations by another Medem (maybe his daughter?) - is colorful and sumptuous in its somewhat primitive manner. The performances from his young, attractive and talented cast, most of whom play art/video students (and one hypnotist), are very game. These kids seem to give themselves over fully to the reincarnation/hypnotism/spirituality thing. Adults might find it a bit more difficult, as can be sensed in Charlotte Rampling's performance. For an actress this intelligent and accustomed to tacking some heavy-duty roles and coming through splendidly, this turn as an "arts patron" must have bored her to tears and is reflected in a perfomance that she could have phoned in (and from the looks of thing, did).

Medem does have one ace up his sleeve, however, and he saves it for near the finale. It is still relatively early in the worldwide filmmaking game of discovering new and creative ways to bash the highly deserving Bush administration. But if anyone tops the moment of glory delivered by Medem (via Ana), I'll be very surprised. A special note of commendation must be given to Gerrit Graham (remember him: Phantom of the Paradise, Tunnel Vision, Used Cars and so many more) for his selfless turn as a ruthless pig. Chaotic Ana, which might just get a theatrical or video release (sexual envelope-pushing often does) was shown last Saturday and will be screened twice today, Monday.

- James Van Maanen


"Based on playwright Lluïsa Cunillé's Barcelona, Map of Shadows, Ventura Pons's richly textured nocturne, Barcelona (A Map) [Barcelona (un mapa] is an intimate and atmospheric rumination on urban architectures and shared spaces as integral projections of anonymous, emotional landscapes," writes acquarello.

Also: In Lola, la película, "[Miguel] Hermoso's demythologized approach to [Lola] Flores's biography is perhaps best illustrated in rumba guitarist El Pescaílla's (Alfonso Begara) repeatedly derailed courtship of Flores (played as an adult by Gala Évora), insightfully framing her artistic accomplishments as everyday milestones in an all too human search for unconditional love and acceptance."

Update, 12/19: Acquarello reviews the program of shorts.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:31 AM

Sight & Sound. Jan 08.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, you'll remember, tops Sight & Sound's "Films of 2007," the results of the magazine's annual poll (and again, you can download the handsome collection of dozens of individual ballots as a PDF). As much as I'd have liked to be more original about it, Cristian Mungiu's Palme d'Or and European Film Award winner will be at the top of my own year-end list as well. And now it's S&S's "Film of the Month" for the January issue. Ben Walters: "A technical tour de force, gripping in its awful banality and not without deadpan wit, the film works as a companion piece to Cristi Puiu's The Death of Mr Lazarescu (winner of Un Certain Regard in 2005); together, they form mordant bookends to life, stringent redresses to sentimental fantasies of birth and death."

Jonathan Romney reviews another film that'll be going on my list, Jacques Rivette's Don't Touch the Axe, "a surprisingly faithful adaptation of Balzac's 1834 novel La Duchesse de Langeais, the central part of his trilogy L'Histoire des Treize - the conspiracy motif of which provided the underpinning of Rivette's vast experimental drama Out 1 (1971).... Elegantly staged and meticulously paced, right down to the suspensefully extended penultimate act..., Don't Touch the Axe, for all its austerity, offers a more satisfying and direct emotional reward than many of Rivette's films."

Tim Lucas follows up (well, in a way) his choice of If... as the top single-feature DVD of the year with a review of Lindsay Anderson's own followup, O Lucky Man!: "[N]owhere else in cinema will you find such a bleak worldview infused with such infectious, ebullient, indomitable joy, attentive to the magical propensities of life even when at its darkest."

One more review before popping up to the features. Mark Fisher notes the references to Taxi Driver and The Catcher in the Rye in The Killing of John Lennon and notes that "the film works best as an analysis of assassination as plagiarism. Chapman appears as a kind of bad but spectacularly successful postmodern author, synthesising his influences not into an act of artistic production, but murder, acting out in the (hyper) real what had previously only happened on the page and on the screen."

Summer in the City "Wenders's early work proved that the spirit of the American road movie could be imported into films that were truly European," writes Nick Roddick. "It wasn't a case of pastiche, like Sergio Leone's Westerns - rather, this was a genuine reinvention, the assimilation of the language of one culture with the experience of another. From his 1970 graduation film Summer in the City (dedicated to the Kinks) to his 1984 Palme d'Or-winner Paris, Texas - and maybe even up to Wings of Desire in 1987 - Wenders reworked American cinema tropes (with just a hint of Ozu) into something profoundly European."

And editor Nick James talks with Ang Lee about Lust, Caution. For Lee this one and Brokeback Mountain "are almost like sister works. At the age of 45, I started to have a midlife crisis because of the way I was living out my childhood fantasy. So I got into subject matter I'd never paid attention to before, namely romance. Both films are based on stories that are not much more than 30 pages long, both tales of impossible romance written by gutsy women."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:36 AM

December 17, 2007

Lists. IFC News.

IFC News You'll find three top tens all on one page at IFC News. Matt Singer's whittled his down from a first draft of 49 movies. The #1 he's settled on: No Country for Old Men. Alison Willmore concurs on that one, but she's got a #2 that doesn't even appear on Matt Singer's list: Rescue Dawn. And Michael Atkinson tops his list with Syndromes and a Century.

Aaron Hillis lists "Five Shamefully Overlooked Performances," among them, Kate Winslet in Romance & Cigarettes and Paul Dano in There Will Be Blood.

Nick Schager lists the "Five Best Directorial Debuts": "Amidst all the new features from established auteurs, it would be easy to overlook the fact that 2007 was a banner year for debuts."

R Emmett Sweeney lists the "Five Best Retreads": "From the silent period when film serials were the rage, whether it be The Perils of Pauline to Les Vampires, to the Charlie Chan and Mr Moto cycles of the 1930s, the Thin Man films of the 1940s, and all the way up to the James Bonds and Jason Bournes of today - the film business is built on regurgitation - and the key is in how it is presented rather than what."

And there's about half an hour of listening to go with all this. Matt Singer and Alison Willmore discuss "the trends and themes of 2007."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:48 PM

Lists and awards, 12/17.

If... Tim Lucas unleashes his massive year-end best-of DVD list, which is actually a couple of lists. At the top of the "Single Film Releases" list is If...: "Of all the DVDs I viewed in 2007, this is the one that lifted my heart highest." Of the "Multi-Title Releases," Berlin Alexanderplatz takes the top spot; and "12 Notable Restorations" are, well, noted.

Tim's list follows more lists from Video Watchdog contributors not yet noted here: novelist, comics artist and blogger Steven R Bissette's (whose #1 is Kino's Avant-Garde 2: Experimental Cinema 1928 - 1954), novelist and audio commentator Kim Newman (site; an all-Region 2 list, topped by Life on Mars: Series One and Series Two and filmmaker Shane M Dallmann's (who goes alphabetical).

"Variety columnist and In Contention owner Kris Tapley has chosen his top ten films of 07," notes Jeffrey Wells. Tapley's #1: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

"Spain's foreign language Oscar candidate, Juan Antonio Bayona's The Orphanage, has nabbed 14 nominations for the country's 22nd Goya Awards, in a tie with Emilio Martinez Lazaro's 13 Roses, also up for awards in 14 categories," report John Hopewell and Emilio Mayorga for Variety, where they've got the full list of all the nominees.

Myra Breckinridge Lauren Wissot opens her list at the House Next Door, "2007: Six Camp Highlights (and One Lowlight)," with an "Ultimate Rediscovery": "The many critics who panned Myra Breckinridge decades ago when it was first released were as clueless as John Huston's Buck Loner, for the film is nothing less than a brilliantly, thoughtfully, stupendously conceived work of art."

Edward Copeland's got the list of the International Press Academy's Golden Satellite award-winners.

Online browsing tip. AdFreak's "Freaky Ad Moments of 2007." Via Coudal Partners.

Online browsing and reading tip. Esquire's "What I've Learned" feature turns 10.

Online viewing tips. Pitchfork's "Top 50 Music Videos of 2007."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:06 PM

Powell and Pressburger Blog-a-Thon.

Powell and Pressburger Blog-a-thon At Beyond the Valley of the Cinephiles, Justine is hosting a Powell and Pressburger Blog-a-Thon that runs through Saturday.

I've come across it via Jonathan Lapper's entry: "For Powell and Pressburger, artificiality was the path to reality."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:27 PM

St Clair Bourne, 1943 - 2007.

St Claire Bourne "Acclaimed filmmaker St Clair Bourne [site and blog] passed away [Saturday] at the age of 64," reports indieWIRE. "Bourne's many films included Making "Do the Right Thing", Paul Robeson: Here I Stand!, Let the Church Say Amen, In Motion: Amiri Baraka, The Black and the Green, Langston Hughes: The Dream Keeper, New Orleans Brass and John Henrik Clarke: A Great and Mighty Walk, among numerous others." IW follows its report with a remembrance from friend and filmmaker Floyd Webb.

Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay points to Agnes Varnum's entry at Renew Media, where she makes note of a New York Times video in which Bourne discusses his work, past and present. Agnes Varnum comments: "His passing is untimely and I predict more delving into his work and significance to the documentary and black communities he served so intently."

"Bourne was in Durham to screen the doc as part of the Power of Ten program [at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival], which looked back over the fest's first decade," notes the cinetrix, who runs an excerpt from his program note for Making "Do the Right Thing."

"While most making-of docs are often treated as supplements to the original film, Bourne's treatment of DTRT also serves as a larger meditation on the process of making independent movies, as well as reflecting on the evolution of Brooklyn and the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood where Lee filmed," writes Chuck Tryon.

More from Bill Egbert in the New York Daily News.

Update: AJ Schnack notes that "in a posting for Mediarights.org, Bourne came up with a shortlist of films that had an impact on him as a filmmaker and an activist." And he presents them, with Bourne's commentary.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:30 PM

Operation Filmmaker.

David D'Arcy issues a call for distribution.

Operation Filmmaker We're back at that time of year when talk runs to the best and worst of the past dozen months, and to the growing number of films that won't qualify for the races because they never made it to theaters. It's a long list, and near the top of mine, simply because I can't determine which film is most aggrieved for being undistributed, is Operation Filmmaker by Nina Davenport. It's a comic documentary allegory of the US adventure in Iraq, seen through the misadventures of a would-be Iraqi filmmaker who learns that American charity can be the black hole that nourishes the right con-man.

The Toronto International Film Festival showed Operation Filmmaker, as did Woodstock, Denver, Sheffield and others, all to their credit. (Apologies to those whom I left out.) Where are the distributors on this one? Huddling somewhere, wondering why almost nobody went to theaters to see documentaries this past year. (We can also lament unseen distributed docs like Manda Bala, Crazy Love, Zoo and Terror's Advocate.)

The protagonist is Muthana Mohmed, a young guy with what looks like a grin of innocence, who turns up on camera in an MTV report from Baghdad that lists the destruction of his school's screening room among the many unforeseen consequences of the US invasion. One of the couch potatoes all over the cabled world who watched the MTV coverage was Liev Schreiber, the actor and director who was moved by Muthana's testimony and decided to help him by hiring him on to the crew of Everything Is Illuminated, which Schreiber filmed in the Czech Republic in 2004. I guess Schreiber was just doing his part, as they say, post-9/11. Nina Davenport was initially hired to document the endearing Muthana's transformational experience - a sort of "making of... homo Iraqus novus cinematicus."

Like just about everything in movies, war and nation-building, nothing goes according to plan once the smiling Muthana is greeted in Prague with hugs and tears. He's cocky, and he's lazy, and he's not allergic to the camera. Muthana screws up every task he's given - sort of like the Iraqi government - and gradually wears out much of the good will that brought him to the Czech Republic in the first place. Things start going downhill when he tells the liberal producer of the film that he "loves George Bush." Yet he worms cash out of people, and somehow gets his Czech visa extended when work on Everythihng Is Illuminated comes to an end. His pitch to credulous film types is that he can't possibly return home because he'll be a target for retribution in Iraq for having worked with Americans on the film - all the worse because the subject matter and the company were "Jewish." Muthana lands on his feet miraculously with work on another movie, Doom, starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, which features mass machine-gunnings and piles of bodies daubed with blood. (Think of the film factories of Prague as another low-budget US deployment. It looks like some version of the military, but it's just a movie.)

Muthana befriends The Rock and even finds a girlfriend in Prague with whom he can't communicate, as he borrows money right and left, eventually getting The Rock's blessing to enter a film school in London that he can't afford.

Operation Filmmaker

It's not all air-kisses and handouts, though. Intercut is footage from Baghdad of carnage and dead-end musings on the devastation by friends of Muthana to whom Nina Davenport has sent cameras. Also in the story are arguments between Davenport and Muthana when he asks her for more money, while refusing to get a job. After threatening repeatedly to quit the film - presumably a maneuver to get more money out of her - he does just that.

We end with Muthana down and out in London, operating the camera on a small film, but the remarkable thing is how far he's managed to travel on guile, a nice smile, and the kindness of credulous strangers. In one scene, the administrators of the New York Film Academy consider him for a scholarship. They watch Muthana's audition tape with the worst acting this side of Tony Danza, and all agree that there's a film career of infinite possibilities in store for him. Bear in mind that Muthana is not necessarily a bad actor; it's just that, like Ronald Reagan, the only role he can play convincingly is himself.

The parallels are unnervingly comic. Good intentions, bad intelligence, a charity case who won't work at a plumb job, endless requests for money, and excuses at every turn from the recipient of largesse and the foolish good-hearted people who are providing his life-support. Just before the credits roll, Davenport says that she's looking for an "exit strategy." You have to wish her luck.

Why are we not seeing this film? Part of it may be due to the poor performance of films about Iraq this year, although the larger and more troubling fact is that audiences aren't going to see any documentary films, with a few exceptions. Another problem is that Muthana is now in London (we have to wonder how he's supporting himself there), and he is now reportedly warning (or is the proper word threatening?) that screening the film anywhere will once again put his family in Iraq at risk - and that Davenport faces a potential lawsuit, since his friends in Baghdad did not sign releases for the footage she's got of them. Davenport says she has the signed releases. Let's hope that this dispute won't deter distributors.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:41 AM | Comments (1)

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Sweeney Todd "Once you get past the absence of the immortal 'The Ballad of Sweeney Todd' (hard) and the fact that the leads, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, have little in the way of pipes (harder), Tim Burton's film of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd is spellbinding," writes David Edelstein in New York. "Most directors open up Broadway musicals - adding meaningless busyness - to make them more 'cinematic,' and they end up diluting them. Burton, bless him, constricts the space and concentrates the melodrama; he finds the perfect balance between the funereal and the ferocious. Above all, he treasures these ghouls: He digs both their bloodlust and their melancholy. You can imagine the moment he decided to make the movie: 'Edward Scissorhands is out for revenge, with no time for topiary! He cuts hair and throats!'"

Updated through 12/23.

"The whole work drips with a camp savagery (hence the presence of Sacha Baron Cohen as Pirelli, a rival barber and faux-Italianate fop), which in turn relies on the conviction that death itself, like sexual desire, exists to be sniffed at and chuckled over," writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. "That is fine for a film like Beetlejuice, but Sondheim is serious about the misanthropic malice of his hero, whereas Depp's Sweeney comes across as one more mournful Burton wacko.... The best reason to see Sweeney Todd is Toby (Edward Sanders), a boy from the workhouse who helps, in all innocence, to dish out the pies. Some of the gravest performances this year have come from children - Shélan O'Keefe as John Cusack's daughter in Grace Is Gone, and Dillon Freasier as Daniel Day-Lewis's son in There Will Be Blood - and Sanders, like them, has the extraordinary gift of appearing to age, in sorrow as in knowledge, with the unfolding of the film."

For the New York Times, Jesse Green talks with Sondheim, who understood "that remaking Sweeney would be risky and involve major surgery. Still, he eagerly wielded the razor on perhaps his greatest work."

And by the way, congrats are in order for Burton and Bonham Carter. As the AP reports, their 4-year-old, Billy, now has a little sister.

Earlier: "Sweeney Todd, 11/30."

Updates, 12/18: "Burton's richly atmospheric evocation of the nightmarish metropolis with its grimy alleys and dismal byways is no surprise, but the director redeems past wobbly-toned disappointments like Big Fish and Sleepy Hollow (let alone Planet of the Apes), by working here with iron focus, no doubt responding to the composer's on-set presence throughout shooting," writes Robert Keser in Slant. "Together with Johnny Depp's commanding performance in the title role, they impressively sustain the single-minded momentum of an anvil dropping and succeed in elevating Sweeney's revenge from mere payback to earth-turning tragedy.... Keeping every performer on point, Burton draws the strongly structured material together to produce a black comedy and still blacker tragedy surging with jugular urgency. It haunts the mind for days."

"Burton has taken Sondheim's quasi-operatic, mock-penny-dreadful exercise in Dickensian-Brechtian Grand Guignol as the pretext for something highly personal and typically obsessive," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "From its magnificently gory credits to its climactic bloodbath pietà, the director makes it clear that this is his meat. As much as he's a filmmaker, Burton is also a graphic artist in the tradition of Charles Addams and Edward Gorey - and here he's successfully incorporated Sweeney Todd into his own distinctively dank and spidery gothic world."

"Sweeney Todd isn't just a work about splintered morality that requires the ability to sing. It's high culture, full of deliciously bitter contradictions, made of concert-caliber music, sharp words and a pentameter that would send mainstream theater singers running for a Wicked audition. And it's low culture, based on a 19th century legend of a serial killer who slices throats." For the Los Angeles Times, Adam Baer talks to the main players to get the story of the film's making.

Updates, 12/19: "Sondheim's characteristic mix of sentimentality, misanthropy, and high art is as Broadway as an $18 souvenir program," writes Dennis Harvey in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "And Burton's best movie since Ed Wood 13 years ago succeeds precisely because it finds ways to be faithful to the source material in particular details while turning the whole into a Tim Burton film - a black comedy–cum–horror movie, albeit one blacker and more horrific than any he's made before."

"Burton's gotten his groove back," agrees the Philadelphia Weekly's Sean Burns. "Depp and Bonham Carter are wonderful, save for one teensy caveat: They can't sing.... I guess it's testament to both the gonzo power of the source material and the completeness of Burton's vision that Sweeney Todd still works in spite of this rather large and crippling flaw."

"After a run of baggy tall tales and mannered creepy-looniness that's felt thuddingly familiar from frame one of each film, Tim Burton is clearly crafting to scale and to order here instead of working over Sondheim's much-loved musical into another 'idiosyncratic' extravaganza," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine.

In the Boston Phoenix Brett Michel revels in "the thrill of Burton and Depp making music again, for the very first time."

Online viewing tip. Erik Davis introduces a clip featuring Burton and Depp talking about their working relationship.

Updates, 12/20: Burton's Sweeney Todd "isn't a groundbreaking or innovative piece of filmmaking, but it's as satisfying a screen version of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's Grand Guignol operetta as I can imagine," writes the LA Weekly's Scott Foundas. "And of all the new-generation Hollywood musicals (Chicago, Hairspray, et al), it's the only one that succeeds both musically and cinematically. It breathes new life into the genre by dousing it in buckets of blood."

"Burton is at his best using flesh-and-blood figures for his comic-macabre visions (Mars Attacks, Sleepy Hollow) and his eccentric empathy for outsiders might have redeemed composer Stephen Sondheim's ghoulishly unfunny theatrical conceit about 'The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,'" writes Armond White in the New York Press. "Instead, this well-sung and perfectly acted adaptation falls way short of a triumph because Burton misplaces his sense of humor."

"Burton and Depp continue to evoke the silent film-era partnership of director Tod Browning and actor Lon Chaney, vivifying a shared love of the macabre and creating a gallery of doomed heroes," writes Laura Boyes in the Independent Weekly. "But, in spite of some tasty bits, Sweeney Todd is a disappointing holiday treat."

"Sweeney Todd ranks among this year's most intense, haunting, and startling films; the fact that it also features great songs by Stephen Sondheim is just gravy on the meat pie," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC.

"Like Atonement, this season's other high-profile adaptation of a highbrow contemporary text once thought to be unadaptable, Burton's crack at Sweeney Todd works best when it serves to support the inherent perversity of its source," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "The director's mashup of Steven Sondheim's musical with his own, patented, teenage Goth sketchbook aesthetic may play like German Expressionists-do-Torture Porn, but the brutality is mostly farce. As in Sondheim, Burton's Sweeney Todd is most disturbing when it's talking about love."

"Burton has been trying to get this project off the ground for two decades, but unlike so many Hollywood directors' pet projects, this one doesn't feel locked up in its creator's head," writes Paul Matwychuk. "It's got a mad, slashing excitement that hopefully will get people past their squeamishness at the sight of blood. As Sweeney himself cries out, 'I'm alive at last, and I'm full of joy!'"

"[A]udiences accustomed to the comparatively more restrained musical will be covering their eyes and ears and not noticing the absence of 'Ah, Miss' and 'Parlor Songs,'" writes Robert Cashill. "I suggest leaving them open, simply to enjoy the lush orchestrations (by Jonathan Tunick, wisely retained from the Broadway original) and the ripely decayed and decadent Victorian atmosphere conjured by production designer Dante Ferretti, in Hammer horror mode. Using the 'bleach-bypass' technique that gave 1995's Se7en its sickly serial killer sheen, cinematographer Dariusz Wolski has all but drained the imposing imagery of its color, the better for the red to stand out."

Sweeney is "one of the odder and, certainly the most compelling of the short stream of Broadway-to-Hollywood transplants of recent years," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "The interweaving of the music and the visuals casts an unusual, restive spell of delight and unease, and the performers - Depp the most protean of them - have a grand time with it all. Sweeney Todd is an apt cinematic paradox, a beautiful nightmare."

Updates, 12/23: "It must say something about my mood of late that it wasn't until the sprays of arterial red splashed the screen en masse in Sweeney Todd that I felt an inkling of Christmas spirit." David Lowery.

"Sweeney is as much a horror film as a musical: It is cruel in its effects and radical in its misanthropy, expressing a breathtakingly, rigorously pessimistic view of human nature," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "It is also something close to a masterpiece, a work of extreme - I am tempted to say evil - genius."

The Stranger's Dan Savage: "If I were less of a fag, I wouldn't have the original 1979 Broadway cast recording of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd on my iPod. If I were less of a fag, I wouldn't have watched the 1982 Emmy Award–winning television broadcast of the national tour of Sweeney Todd - featuring Angela Lansbury and George Hearn - seven or eight thousand times.... In short, if I weren't such a great, big, huge, fucking faggot... I might have enjoyed Tim Burton's new film version of Sweeney Todd more than I did."

"Sweeney Todd the musical is filled with death but it will never die," writes Nathaniel Rogers at Zoom In. "No matter which production you see: the grand and comically-tinged Harold Prince original Broadway production; the recent John Doyle Broadway revival which used minimalism and haunting abstract suggestions; and now Tim Burton's (mostly) deadly serious and macabre telling, you're still seeing Sondheim's masterpiece.... This is Tim Burton's best film in years... and in every way it's a Tim Burton film. But Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is still blessedly always the work of the greatest living musical theater composer, Stephen Sondheim."

For Tom Hall, this is "towering achievement, a near-perfect cinematic interpretation of one of the theater's most staggering compositions."

"[T]here's a note of discomfort to the film that grows as the ghoulish humor finally drops away," writes Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog. "There's no space at all for softness in the latter part of Sweeney Todd, and as a result the film seems a little lost, uncertain in what, to avoid spoilers, we'll leave as a very unhappy ending."

Noel Murray presents a Sondheim primer at the AV Club, where Keith Phipps writes, "Though it took 28 years to make it to the screen, this musical about revenge and its repercussions seems fitting for our revenge-steeped times."

"Sweeney Todd might have been written for Burton," suggests Richard Corliss in Time. "Batman: a mysterious crusader prowls through the night, administering justice as he sees it. BeetlejuiceSweeney, "it's bloody great."

"[N]o matter what I think of the music in Sweeney Todd, I'm willing to believe there have been terrific, entertaining stage productions of the show that both make the most of the story's grim wit and make you feel something for the characters," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "But in this Sweeney Todd, Burton has ground those possibilities into a grayish chalky powder. The picture throws off no feeling, not even the misanthropic kind; at best, it manages a dull, throbbing energy, as if Burton were dutifully pushing his way through the material instead of shaping it."

"Critics seem to have settled on 'Grand Guignol' as operating principle here, but Sweeney Todd is maybe a bit too Grand for its own good," writes Mark Asch in Stop Smiling. "It's all danse, no macabre."

"Many have dismissed Tim Burton as a goofy Goth visionary who has never met a narrative he couldn't defang," writes Bill Gibron at PopMatters. "Even worse, some have suggested that, as his mainstream acceptance has grown, his artistic acumen has faded. Not true - and his brand new version of Sweeney Todd is more than enough proof. As the perfect marriage of maker and material, this dark, disturbing splatter-etta stands as the best film of 2007."

"Sweeney Todd may be the most outrageously macabre piece of musical theater ever created, but Burton can't help but make it pretty too - from the gloomy, rain-slicked streets of Victorian London, to the moony Goth stylishness of its leads, to the split-open pomegranate throats of Sweeney's unsuspecting victims and the various torrents, geysers and wellsprings of glow-in-the-dark blood that spurt from them," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times.

In the Washington Post, Peter Marks approves of the pruning: "If anything, John Logan's screenplay homes in more deftly on the psyche of Sweeney, who in the handsome Depp's smudgy eye makeup and deathly pallor somehow seems more Byronic, less demonic than his Broadway predecessors."

"Had Baz Luhrmann directed, we might've had something sensational," suggests JJ at As Little as Possible. "Instead, with fauxteur Tim Burton at the helm, Sweeney Todd is a makeup-caked dirge, an Edward Gorey strip come to life, the type of musical a depressed and/or homicidal high-schooler might enjoy."

"[T]here is an exhilaration in the very fiber of the film, because its life force is so strong," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "Its heroes, or anti-heroes, have been wounded to the quick, its villains are vile and heartless, and they all play on a stage that rules out decency and mercy.... As a feast for the eyes and the imagination, Sweeney Todd is... well, I was going to say, even more satisfying than a hot meat pie made out of your dad."

"Yes, the sung dialogue tells the story, but having it whispered insinuatingly into your ear stops it feeling horribly unrealistic," writes David Benedict in the Observer. "Instead, the music amplifies the characters' thoughts and dramatizes their deeds."

"Depp - the most extraordinary film actor of his generation - has the luxury of closeups and carefully controlled lighting, so he can act in infinitely subtler gradations," adds Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "As a result, his Todd is simultaneously far scarier and far more poignant."

"Depp's intense committed performance along with Sondheim's music and lyrics (most likely his best score) upstage Tim Burton's direction, and that's as it should be," writes C Jerry Kutner at Bright Lights After Dark.

For Edward Copeland, it's "nowhere near as bad as I feared, but neither is it as good as it could have been."

"Stylized but spasmodic, this Sweeney seems more interested in distancing than captivating an audience," writes Steven Winn in the San Francisco Chronicle.

"Sweeney starts off strong but outstays its welcome by half an hour," writes John Constantine at Nerve.

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

Charlie Wilson's War.

Charlie Wilson's War "Whole chunks of rapid-fire exposition tumble from the mouths of Washington politicos, Central Asian despots, and Texan bluebloods in Charlie Wilson's War, unmistakably the artificial rat-tat-tat of Aaron Sorkin, who adapted the true tall tale of an alcoholic, womanizing East Texas congressman operating behind the scenes to arm Afghanistan's mujahideen guerrillas against the brutal Soviet occupation of the 1980s," writes Bill Weber in Slant. "With its chickenshit elisions, and despite the last-minute feint at reversing its celebratory Cold Warrior tone, Charlie Wilson's War is Gumped-up history."

"It has hustle and colorful talk and snappy acting and peek-a-boo insights into How Things Work in the free-for-all corridors of power," writes David Edelstein in New York. "Philip Seymour Hoffman carries the movie. As the CIA operative who hates Communists and his myopic superiors in equal measure, he has a wily, don't-give-a-shit drive that makes you wish he'd been in Baghdad in 2003."

Updated through 12/23.

Sorkin's "scripts operate on the principle that there is no affair of state, however tangled or burdensome, that cannot be breezed through at a brisk dramatic pace," writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. "That breeze is enviable (you feel it in an idealist like Capra, as well as in a cynic like Preston Sturges), but it comes with a risk: watch too much TV, relish the ease and aplomb of a movie like Charlie Wilson's War, and you may start to wish—even to believe—that all government can be run this way, with so little friction and such style." And as for PSH: "[Director Mike] Nichols has a problem here, in that, ever since Hoffman slid over the hood of a car in The Talented Mr Ripley, he has developed a habit of bursting into well-behaved movies and taking them hostage."

"Comedy or not, the spin from its creators is this: Don't lump us with those box office disasters with ponderous Iraq-related messages." Richard L Berke talks with the film's makers for the New York Times.

Glenn Kenny profiles Nichols for the Los Angeles Times.

Updates, 12/18: So Mike Nichols "has now made a movie about how his wife's ex more or less put an end to the Cold War without anyone really noticing," notes Robert Wilonsky in the Voice. "The big-screen Charlie Wilson's War, clocking in at 93 fly-by minutes, is dark and funny and mean and sexy, damned near pitch-black-perfect considering that at the end of this boozy comedy you wind up with, oh, Osama bin Laden. And Nichols is suited to the tale - this being the Mike Nichols of Catch-22, The Graduate and Primary Colors (which is to say, the satirist), not the Mike Nichols of Working Girl, Postcards From the Edge and Regarding Henry (which is to say, the moralist)."

"Had the US invested in a devastated Afghanistan's post-war reconstruction and democratization one whit as enthusiastically as it funded the war itself, the world we live in today might well be a different, better, safer place," notes Dennis Harvey at SF360. "That substantial point, which reportedly delivered quite a wallop in Sorkin's original script, is pretty much a whispered afterthought in the Charlie Wilson's War you'll see starting this Friday. A few tactful lines toward the very end, so low-impact most viewers will probably just take the whole film as an incongruous gung-ho throwback to the Cold War anti-Russkie satires of yore. Taken as is, this War is trivial and irresponsible. Even what it likely intended to be, it's less contemptible than pitiable - an emasculated movie."

Update, 12/19: "Mike Nichols turns in a brisk and undoubtedly entertaining episode, er, movie; it’s over before it has a chance to really sink in," writes Jesse Hassenger in the L Magazine.

Updates, 12/20: "Largely performance-driven, Charlie Wilson's War will delight anyone old enough to remember [Tom] Hanks's debut on television's Bosom Buddies or his scene-stealing turn as the gruff coach in A League of Their Own," writes Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly. "Levity becomes this fine actor, and his cheery élan as Charlie relieves him of a certain stuffiness when he takes on soldierly heroes or mentally challenged innocents.... Laden with broad shtick..., Charlie Wilson's War is a rollicking populist caper that panders shamelessly to America's love of the maverick."

"Like most great Hollywood comedies, of course, this isn't primarily a film of ideas but of character," writes Godfrey Cheshire in the Independent Weekly. "And Charlie Wilson's War matches its wonderfully eccentric trio of main characters with the expertly engaging performances of Hanks, Roberts and Hoffman; it's the kind of movie that needs stars as much as they need it."

"As it turns out, the previous Nichols movie this one most resembles is the 1988 romantic comedy Working Girl," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "Charlie Wilson's War is a funny, sprightly tribute to the American can-do spirit, with a bleak ending that suggests that our plucky protagonist may have just dug his own (or, in this case, his country's) grave. This film does have glaring faults. Its storytelling verges on the slapdash, and its vision of politics as a game of personal brinksmanship can ring sentimental and shallow. But like its priapic hero, the movie charges forward with a lusty vitality that helps the viewer forgive it a multitude of sins."

"There's a potential for wicked satire here - particularly since a line can easily be drawn from the US support for those Afghan rebels to Al Qaeda and 9/11 - but Nichols would rather show us Hanks slapping his secretaries' fannies while Robert sports a truly awful wig and an even worse Texas accent," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC.

"Aaron Sorkin's script is alternately witty and too on-the-money, as always, while Mike Nichol's direction is so deft and brisk you'd think he was adapting Noel Coward or something," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "He's not. But he is making something that critics like to call 'a grown-up entertainment.' I myself used to find the invocation of that false category nauseously banal; War is good enough, and rare enough, to make me almost appreciate it."

Updates, 12/23: "This movie probably gets the Washington process better than any since Otto Preminger's underrated Advise and Consent back in 1962," writes Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post. "It's not about men of virtue doing the impossible, but men of flaws doing the doable, but just barely. You don't want to look too carefully at the process, which is haphazard, greased by alcohol and a barter system of favors and flattery, big moneybags in the home state, and a lot of gumption and git-'er-done ingenuity."

"[I]f this movie succeeds in convincing Americans that the US support went to Ahmad Shah Massoud alone, it will have effectively let the CIA and Wilson off the hook for their contribution to the circumstances leading up to 9/11," argues Melissa Roddy at Alternet. "During the 1980s, Wilson engineered the appropriation of approximately $3.5 billion to help the Afghans fight the Soviets. According to Milt Bearden, CIA chief of station to Pakistan, Massoud received less than 1 percent of it. So, if Massoud was not receiving the $3.5 billion that Congress was sending, who was? There were seven factions based in Pakistan who were the recipients of American largesse, but about 40 percent of it went to a blood-thirsty, fundamentalist, loudly anti-American bastard named Gulbaddin Hekmatyar."

Still, the New York Times' AO Scott finds that Charlie "may be more of a hoot than any picture dealing with the bloody, protracted fight between the Soviet Army and the Afghan mujahedeen has any right to be."

But for the Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan, this "is an anachronism, the wrong movie at the wrong time. Not only does it tell its tale in a style that feels dated and artificial, the story itself focuses on events that history has overtaken. The moving finger has written and moved on, and not even the combined star power of Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, writer Aaron Sorkin and director Mike Nichols can do anything about it."

"Nichols doesn't turn this story into an essay on political morality; he's more interested in telling the story of a couple of rogue guys (and one rather upscale rogue woman) who put their shoulders to the wheel in the service of their principles," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "Agreeing with those principles isn't the point; Nichols is more interested in exploring their urge to take action as something quintessentially American."

For Time's Richard Corliss, Charlie "is that seemingly impossible object these days: a picture about war and politics that has manages to be both rational and inspirational. It is also the year's funniest smart movie."

"It's the first legitimate marriage between Nichols the comedian and Nichols the commentator," argues Bill Gibron at PopMatters. "Witty, wacky, and wildly inappropriate for our Puritan PC times, this story of a lecherous Congressman and his anti-Commie compunction sails along on breezes of effortless engagement, filled with performances so potent they act like double shots of soothing Southern Comfort."

"It isn't quite Three's Company Goes To Kabul, but Mike Nichols and Aaron Sorkin's leering adaptation of George Crile's too-strange-for-fiction bestseller boasts a lightness of touch that proves both a strength and a weakness," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club.

"Charlie Wilson's War is pretty entertaining - and thus, in a way, that much more obscene," writes Bilge Ebiri at Nerve.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:46 AM

Brooklyn Rail. Dec 07 / Jan 08.

Alex McQuilken: Joan of Arc "It would seem a safe bet to dismiss Alex McQuilkin's Joan of Arc out of hand," writes Thomas Micchelli. "Regarded in passing, the 27-year-old artist's short video, a mirrored homage to Carl Theodor Dreyer's 1928 masterwork, La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, appears to mark a disappointing backslide into the stewpot of cultural cannibalism.... The cut-granite purity of Dreyer's images and the spiritual obsession incarnated by Maria Falconetti in the role of Jeanne should by all rights overwhelm whatever context they're boxed into. That McQuilkin's project manages to avoid these pitfalls is an accomplishment in itself; that it fails to strike a single false note, and is in fact quite moving, is another story altogether."

DA Pennebaker's 65 Revisited "gives insight into how unhinged and strangely enchanting Dylan's world could be," writes Sophie Gilbert. As for I'm Not There, "the kooky collage effect and obvious symbolism jars. Hyper-naturalism is what Haynes does best, and that mixes poorly with his psychedelia and heightened realism. As a portrait of Dylan, the film is an accurately fragmented jumble of ideas that doesn't quite make sense."

Sarahjane Blum on The Future is Unwritten: "The surprise here is not that a rock documentary trades in clichés, it's that director [Julien] Temple trades in such uninspired ones.... Temple has taken on punk before, and with different emphasis, most notably in The Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle and The Filth and the Fury. He's made a career (and a number of enemies) re-envisioning the story of punk rock and its antiheroes. Here, he relegates the movement to irrelevancy because few of the relevant parties had anything to say which fit into Temple's revisionist take on [Joe] Strummer."

Caligula "Caligula could have been a contender," writes Sarah Kessler. "A description of its storyline makes the film sound campy, sexy, tragic and, best of all, perverse. Unfortunately, Caligula's attempts at depravity are not polymorphous enough to remain captivating."

"If... remains a riotous pleasure, but plays too farcical for someone of my generation to find foreboding," writes Ben Popper.

"The combination of media drama and political impact determines the winner." Theodore Hamm explains why Larry Craig is the Brooklyn Rail's Person of the Year for 2007:

Throughout his three terms in office, Craig, of course, has been an ardent foe of gay rights; in 2004, he received a rating of zero from the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT advocacy group. Yet the ongoing revelations about his proclivities have made it difficult for the Republicans to renew the gay-bashing agenda that worked so well for them in 2004. True to form, Republicans have since moved on to demonize a new group, undocumented immigrants, or a constituency unable to vote. Shifting his party's focal point of hatred was certainly not on Craig's mind at the Northstar Crossing that fateful day. But the genius of American politics is that even a visit to the airport john can transform our national debate.

And then, also not particularly film-related but nonetheless interesting are Jed Lipinski's thoughts after hearing David Byrne and Geoffrey Miller in conversation: "Connections between biology and culture, sex and beauty, genes and creativity."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:34 AM

December 16, 2007

AFI Awards 2007.

AFI 10 movies, 10 TV shows. The juries.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:24 PM

Shorts, 12/16.

Le Petit Soldat "Even if you're not that interested in Godard, everybody should be aware of what video cropping can do to the film image." But here, David Bordwell turns to the example of Godard to explain why and how aspect ratios matter.

"Can singing change history?" asks Matt Zoller Seitz. "The Singing Revolution, a documentary by James Tusty and Maureen Castle Tusty about Estonia's struggle to end Soviet occupation, shows that it already has." More from Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun and Nick Schager in Slant.

Also in the New York Times, Jeannette Catsoulis on Arranged: "Packed with the stereotypes it aspires to challenge, Diane Crespo and Stefan C Schaefer's well-meaning but oblivious film presents ostensibly modern young women who are nevertheless defined solely by their faith." More from Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun.

And Andy Webster has made it through Alvin and the Chipmunks: "Despite its shout-outs to the holiday season, this is essentially airplane fodder, not a perennial. Don't hold your breath waiting for the sequel."

Starting Out in the Evening Starting Out in the Evening "induced me to read [Brian] Morton's beautifully realized novel, which is so much a literary creation that it hardly seems like movie material," writes Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader. "Arguably nothing of importance is lost as far as characterization is concerned, and in this sense at least [Andrew] Wagner's movie is an uncannily faithful adaptation. These are essentially the same people, fully and complexly realized—all the more interesting since Wagner asked the actors not to read the book." More from Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times, DK Holm for the Vancouver Voice, Charles Mudede in the Stranger and Amie Simon at the Siffblog.

At Koreanfilm.org:

  • "Shadows in the Palace is the debut work of writer/director Kim Mee-jeung, who served on the production team of King and the Clown and Once Upon a Time in a Battlefield," writes Darcy Paquet. "Shooting on a comparatively low budget using pre-existing sets from King and the Clown and other productions (not that you can tell: the imagery is dazzling), the film can be considered a fusion of genres: part costume drama, part mystery, part J-Horror."

  • "Resurrection of the Butterfly (the Korean title translates as 'Shadow') was a project coupling a student director (Kim Min-sook) with a more experienced director (Lee Jung-gook)," writes Adam Hartzell. "This is something to salvage from the film. I would encourage more such projects regardless of the less than succulent fruits born of this particular seedling."

  • And two regular contributors are now blogging: Tom Giammarco and Kyu Hyun Kim.

Michael Guillén lunches with Carlos Reygadas and then asks two questions about Silent Light.

Beaufort For a preview of Beaufort, Israel's entry in the Oscar race that'll be opening in January in New York, see Diana Bletter's piece in Nextbook on the novel the film's based on, Ron Leshem's If Heaven Exists.

Justin Fatica is a "27-year-old self-proclaimed prophet is hellbent on 'raising up warriors for the Lord,' and finds his recruits on the fraying edges of the MP3 generation," writes Lorraine Ali in Newsweek. "In Hard as Nails, an HBO documentary by David Holbrooke (producer of the documentary The Trials of Henry Kissinger and son of former UN ambassador Richard Holbrooke), Fatica's MO is more akin to the 'Scared Straight!' phenomenon of the early '80s than the traditional Roman Catholic sermons he grew up with in Erie, Pa."

Anthony Frewin, a former assistant to Stanley Kubrick as well as a typographer and editor, is left unimpressed by Helvetica: "The film was a great opportunity to educate and engage people in typography and it is an opportunity that has been roundly and firmly squandered. Don't bother with this. Go to YouTube and type TYPOGRAPHY into the search box (view here). You'll find dozens of things that really are worth watching."

Referencing Quentin Tarantino, Park Chan-wook, westerns, The Godfather, Don Siegel, Jean-Pierre Melville, Robert Siodmak and more, Mark Cousins establishes revenge as one of the prime character motivations and storylines in the movies. "So how do we explain the fact that the continent of Africa - which, with all the iniquities of colonalism, has more reason to be vengeful than the Anglophone world - has hardly produced any films about getting its own back?"

Also in the Guardian:

  • Oliver Burkeman surveys Forbes' calculations determining movie stars' real value, that is, how many dollars come back for each dollar a star's paid: "If you plotted Crowe's career on a graph, with the x-axis representing his salary per film and the y-axis representing the amount recouped by the studio, the line might resemble, say, the trajectory taken by a hotel lobby telephone when picked up and hurled through the air at an employee's face."

  • Geoffrey MacNab talks with Ang Lee.

The Pirate's Daughter

Robert Avila talks with Crispin Glover for SF360.

"Me and rock biopics go back a long way." Tony Litt's mini-memoir in the New StatesmanControl and I'm Not There.

Jonathan Romney profiles Todd Haynes, whose "films tend to require him to immerse himself totally in his subjects. He effectively had to become a 1950s director to make Far from Heaven, and to evolve an uncharacteristically glacial style for his 1995 medical psychodrama Safe. There's a touch of Method actor in his identification with his topics: embarking on Velvet Goldmine, Haynes went glam himself, clomping around on chunky platform soles, hair in a 1970s feather cut. 'I literally wanted to physically feel the air whistling up a short little shirt that doesn't meet the top of your jeans and feel a little totter on platform heels. I felt that all that stuff was important to getting into that period.'"

Also in the Independent: John Walsh talks with Rupert Everett. Related: The Telegraph's Will Lawrence visits the set of the St Trinian's movie.

"An extraordinary war of words has broken out between actress Dame Helen Mirren and director Michael Winner," reports Simon Crerar in the London Times.

Online viewing tip. Heard Bill Muthafuckin' Murray: The Steve Zissou Remix yet? Erik Davis has it at Cinematical.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:13 PM | Comments (2)

Fests and events, 12/16.

Then She Found Me "Helen Hunt's feature directing debut will receive its US premiere at the 19th annual Palm Springs International Film Festival as the opening-night feature on January 3," notes the Hollywood Reporter's Gregg Kilday. "Then She Found Me revolves around a New York teacher (Hunt) encountering a midlife crisis. Bette Midler, Colin Firth and Matthew Broderick also star." Ryan Stewart sent an early impression of the film to Cinematical from Toronto; more from Joe Leydon in Variety.

Michael Guillén has the lineup for Noir City 6, happening January 25 through February 3 in San Francisco.

"The Dubai International Film Festival, like the city itself, does not want for extravagance," notes Charlie Olsky in his latest dispatch at indieWIRE. "Every night, there's a major gala screening followed by a lavish after-party, one for each section of DIFF's programming."

"Filmmaker's Managing Editor, Jason Guerrasio, returned from the film festival in Dubai this weekend and, like most visitors, he was knocked out by the pace of construction there," writes Scott Macaulay, pointing to his photo-essays (1 and 2). "In fact, a discussion of Dubai's explosive growth - the political, social and design repercussions of such - is a hot topic at the moment, and two very different takes on the build-up of Dubai can be found online." He then quotes from and links to pieces by Stephen Zacks in Metropolis and Mike Davis in the New Left Review.

More on the festival itself from Stephen Garrett at Variety's Circuit: "[T]he festival is doing a commendable job not only representing cinema of the Middle East but also creating opportunities for these filmmakers.... 'All the world comes to Dubai,' says Nabil Ayouch, whose debut feature, Mektoub, won the top prize at the Cairo Film Festival and whose charming romance Whatever Lola Wants had its world premiere on Tuesday night. 'The city is a crossroads; it's the Hollywood of the Arab world. And the festival is really putting a spotlight on Arabic cinema as we try to build an identity for ourselves and show our complexity.'"

Warhol Stedelijk "Music by the Velvet Underground, the band Warhol launched from his famous Factory, accompanies visitors as they roam through a film landscape that includes Screen Tests, Sleep, Blow Job, The Chelsea Girls, Kitchen [not this one] and Mrs Warhol [not this one]." Andy Warhol: Other Voices, Other Rooms is on at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam through January 13.

For the Guardian, Ronald Bergan looks back on two festivals in Spain: "Valladolid, whose symbol is Marilyn Monroe's inviting red lips, has been going for 51 years and is still the perhaps the broadest shop window for Spanish films.... Gijon, in its 45th year, is almost as old as its sister in the north of Spain, but gets a youthful spirit from its past as a children's film festival."

Posted by dwhudson at 10:57 AM

Lists. Los Angeles Times.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly Carina Chocano insists that hers is a list of favorites, "rather than the year's best, acknowledging that this is a subjective endeavor undertaken with sketchy methodology." And there's a tie in the top spot: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and The Savages.

Diving Bell tops Kevin Crust's list as well (his #2 is Once), "And everywhere I turned, Philip Seymour Hoffman seemed to be staring me in the face. He was actually in only three films, but they were the performances that most got under my skin this year."

Kenneth Turan goes alphabetical and notes that, thanks to the increasingly intensified awards season rush, more than half the films on his list are still in theaters.

"In terms of home entertainment, viewers had an embarrassment of riches to choose from this year," writes Dennis Lim, overseeing the DVD list. "[A]t the top of the heap, the most expansive box set ever devoted to a single director": Ford at Fox.

More lists: Ann Powers on music, Charles McNulty on theater and TV and the Web.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:34 AM

It's a Wonderful Blog-A-Thon.

It's a Wonderful Life "Welcome, folks, to the It's a Wonderful Blog-A-Thon," announces Dan Eisenberg. "There will be posts throughout the day on my various takes on the cinematic 'classic' It's a Wonderful Life. I happen to think it's overrated, and I will spend my posts attempting do deconstruct various aspects that annoy me about the film, including a more feminist perspective on the world without George Bailey and a look at various inconsistencies which tug at the string that hold It's a Wonderful Life together."

Updated through 12/20.

And the first of the contributions are beginning to appear as well.

Updates, 12/20: "Voted 'the greatest Christmas film of all time' in a recent poll for the HMV, It's a Wonderful Life keeps getting drooling admiration from critics and public alike," blogs Ronald Bergan for the Guardian. "But although it is a fine example of a well-crafted, well-acted classic Hollywood movie, it is also a deeply reactionary one. By the time Capra made It's A Wonderful Life, his best work was behind him."

"Is there a keen cross-demographic strategy behind the IFC Center programming a one-week double bill featuring It's a Wonderful Life and Bad Santa?" asks Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "Regardless of any commercial strategies, a closer look at the juxtaposition of these seemingly disparate works suggests more in common than three letters and a holiday milieu."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:28 AM | Comments (1)

Lists. Observer.

Sam Riley in Control "This year saw a revival of the musical, what is claimed as a Romanian New Wave, and another perceived renaissance of the western. But, more than anything else, politics have been in the air," writes Philip French, introducing his top ten (alphabetical, ranging from The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford to Zodiac). The Observer's "Review" section this week features more top tens (art, theater, novels, etc) and among its "Faces of the year 2007" is Sam Riley (Control).

Posted by dwhudson at 7:19 AM | Comments (2)

December 15, 2007

Lists, 12/15.

My Winnipeg "Put together by the Toronto International Film Festival Group (TIFFG) Canada's Top 10 was established a few years back as a way to issue press release that yea, Canada has a film industry outside of granting Hollywood studios tax breaks to film in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal," writes Kurt Halfyard. Also at Twitch: "Logboy's Five Best for 2007."

Video Watchdog contributor, author (J-Horror) and All Day Entertainment head David Kalat puts Dr Who: The Complete Third Series at the top of his DVDs-of-the-year list, while VW contributor and Movie Morlocks blogger Richard Harland Smith tops his list with Three Films by Hiroshi Teshigahara.

Jim Emerson presents his Exploding Head Awards, given for moments or some aspect of a movie that "made my head feel that it might explode."

At the AV Club, Keith Phipps writes up his favorite movie year: 1967.

Michael Z Newman offers "a collection, in no particular order, of some favorite movies, TV shows, videos, recordings, websites, books, etc, of 2007."

Daratt "The trouble with cinema in 2007 has not been the films themselves," writes Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman. "On the contrary, you could never be sure which part of the world would yield the next pleasurable surprise - it might be Chad (Daratt), Egypt (The Yacoubian Building), France (Beyond Hatred, Lady Chatterley), Germany (Yella), Turkey (Climates) or even those impoverished marketplaces, the US (Letters from Iwo Jima) and the UK (Hallam Foe). But few of these titles made it very far out of specialist cinemas - and when they did, you had to move fast to catch the few randomly scheduled screenings on offer." He then looks ahead to 2008.

For the Guardian John Patterson looks back on the year stateside: "With the exception of marvellous movies by established auteurs, including David Fincher and the Coen brothers, most of the action was in the independent sector, or in the DVD reissue section." Also, the Guardian's got a list of superlatives along to lines of "Most Dignified Comeback" (Michelle Pfeiffer in Stardust), "Dodgiest History Award" (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) and so on.

Cinematical's "Lamest of 2007." Quite a roundup.

ScreenGrab lists the 13 "Greatest Long-Ass Movies of All Time."

The Independent's critics pick the best and worst Christmas movies; more from Matthew Sweet in the Guardian.

DanceCrasher's counting down the "100 greatest Rocksteady tunes." Via Andrew at gmtPlus9 (-15).

Posted by dwhudson at 3:46 PM | Comments (1)

Spanish Cinema Now. 4.

James Van Maanen previews four films screening as part of the Spanish Cinema Now series, running in New York through December 27.

La Petición Next up in Spanish Cinema Now's Pilar Miró retrospective are La Petición (The Engagement Party or The Request) and El Pajaro de la felicidad (The Bird of Happiness). The former film, from 1976, was initially banned in Spain. Even though, upon the demise of Franco, sexual matters appeared to be immediate fair game while political themes took longer to surface, La Petición stirred up some kind of hornets' nest with its depiction of a femme fatale teenager who - surprise! - becomes a full-fledged femme fatale woman, ruthlessly dispensing with a couple of would-be lovers.

Updated.

My, how 30 years can change things. Although American film noir had handily outdone any shocks Miró's movie has to offer - with infinitely more style and subtlety, too - with this film, the writer/director comes on as though she's telling us something new. Hardly. And Ana Belén's one-note performance in the lead role is little help. Miró perhaps imagined that her movie dealt with "class" because her anti-heroine's victims are from society's lower rungs, while Belen's character's family has money. So what, if the film is not going to bother to go any deeper? This particular "case study" might enter the chronicles of Kraft-Ebbing, but I challenge you to find much more meaning - power? female empowerment? - than that.

We do get a good notion of life in 19th century Spain, via the sets, costumes, and a capable supporting cast (Carmen Maura is listed among the players, though I couldn't pick her out). But the movie, short as it is, stills drags. Further, we're treated to a murder that, with just a tiny push from supporters, might enter the annals of wonderfully camp killings (it goes on and on until you find yourself suppressing a guffaw). In the end, the movie seems little more than a cautionary tale about the results of rough sex in an era prior to air conditioning. La Petición was shown this past Wednesday only, and, to my knowledge, is not available on DVD in the USA.

The Bird of Happiness A moderately stronger movie, The Bird of Happiness (1993) reunites Miró with one of her favorite actresses, Mercedes Sampietro (The Cuenca Crime, Gary Cooper Who Art in Heaven) and offers a lead character possessing a good deal more humanity than the single-characteristic lady of La Petición. With this, my fourth Miró movie, I am beginning to suspect that the writer/director did not have any particular knack for storytelling. She was willing to try different genres - period pieces, thrillers, woman's melodramas - united perhaps by an underlying sense of class struggle and injustice.  She certainly had a keen interest in film but shows not much of those innate filmmaking skills - pacing, editing, dialog, composition and the like - that might set her apart.

Change usually provides a more interesting situation than stasis, and The Bird of Happiness offers as much of the former as La Petición does of the latter. Not only does the lead character, played by Sampietro, undergo a change of partner, locale and mindset, Spain itself is waking from its long restless sleep under Franco's rule.  Neither country nor character seems to know quite what to do or how to handle itself. (One of the more interesting scenes plays out between the lead character and her father, whose speech about the old and new Spain strikes a dissonant chord of unpleasant reality.)

Assailed by family problems, housing problems, even a nasty and violent sexual encounter (interestingly, some 30 years later in this edition's 53 Winter Days, Sampietro plays a character also recovering from traumatic violence), this fascinating and beautiful woman travels south to the sea and sun, trying to make peace with herself and others. Oddly, for a film so packed with incident, there is not all that much dialogue, and what's there often includes lengthy quotations from other sources. This, together with Miró's somewhat generic abilities, leaves us with a movie in which a lot happens but little of it is moving or thoughtful or even particularly believable. We'll accept it, I suppose, but can be forgiven for not quite knowing what to make if it. The Bird of Happiness screens Wednesday, December 26, at 2 pm and 6:40 pm.

Barcelona, a map Ventura Pons is very nearly a regular at Spanish Cinema Now (Amic/Amat, Morir (o no), Anita no perd el tren, Amor Idiota, among others) and this year it's Barcelona (A Map) (Barcelona (un mapa)). As usual, Pons enjoys creating ensemble pieces, but this time his ensemble is made up less of the intellectual upper-class (there are a couple in this bunch) and more from the working class and immigrants.

The location is a rather large apartment run by a husband and wife team, the former of whom is dying (this is a favorite theme with Pons). The relationships between owners and tenant, different and deeper than we initially suspect, are laid bare via dialogue and very short trips into either the past or what a character might have preferred to have happened (here the photography turns grainy and bleached). As odd - bizarre, really - as some of these relationships may be, Pons makes them believable via his direction and characters' interaction (he adapted his screenplay from a play by Lluïsa Cunillé), and his actors do him proud.

With Barcelona (a Map), Pons may have given us his most mature work, even though, like so many of his films, the dots are not all connected - which his fine with me. (One scene even channels Stephen's King's Firestarter, but you'll probably go along with it.) The Spanish Civil War hangs over the movie like the memory of a stillborn child: it colors everything and everyone, even if the characters are not aware of it. The saving grace is that Pons understands and deeply loves his people, no matter how outside the realm of "normalcy" they may be. And so, finally, do we. Barcelona (a Map) screens again Sunday, December 16, at 8:45 pm and Tuesday, December 18, at 1 pm.

Lola, la pelicula Anyone looking for a good, old-fashioned show biz biography will find one in Lola, la película (site). One of Spain's most famous actress/singer/flamenco artists, Lola Flores was evidently something else, and this movie, written with some intelligence and flair in better-than-average biopic style by Antonio Onetti and directed with a nice combination of panache and tact by Miguel Hermoso, does the lady a good deal of justice. Rather pleasantly old-fashioned in its handling of sex and sin (of course, the period here is Spain of the 30s and 40s, so why not?), there is very little skin, and since Lola had a number of affairs in her life, this is a bit surprising. In fact, the romantic scenes are generally sealed with a kiss, rather than the usual bump-and-grind, and each kiss with each new man seems interestingly nuanced and carries its own hallmark: economic need, passion, exploration, sheer sexual attraction - and love.

All this is handled crisply yet with genuine feeling, and so it generally works. Gala Évora is terrific in the title role. She looks enough like the real Lola to pass muster, and she has a fine sense of "period" in her appearance and manner. The supporting cast is excellent as well. Hermoso and Onetti tell Lola's somewhat clichéd story with brevity and a good sense of pacing. They know when to leave out the excess we can easily ascertain on our own, thus sparing us further clichés. Lola, as seen here, was a woman who acted out of necessity first and passion second, at least until her career revved up to full throttle, at which point she began to want more.

I do wish we got some sense of the politics of the day, however. Considering the era during which the film takes place, you might imagine there'd be at least a hint of the Civil War. Nope; it's left out completely. There are certain scenes when people appear to be hungry. Why, we never learn. Did Lola side with the rebels or the Republicans? Or did she, like so many others, out of necessity, become a Franco-phile once victory belonged to the little dictator? Or was she the only person in Spain upon whom the war had no impact? We get no clue.

Perhaps it would not have met with much popular approval had the moviemakers weighted down the love and music with war and politics. Maybe they felt this might make the film too long; it comes in at just under two hours, as is. Whatever: Lola, la pelicula makes for a very odd entry in a festival which is devoting an entire 8-hour series to the Civil War. But you might as well simply lean back in your seat, drink in those gorgeous colors and compositions, listen to the music, watch the dance - and put that other part of your brain to sleep.

At the Spanish Cinema Now luncheon, I queried some of the younger crowd about both this film and the TV series La Guerra Filmada. Turns out none of them had seen either. (One director told me that he recalled Lola being criticized when in opened in Spain because of its completely apolitical "take.") Spain's younger generation seems to have little interest in a history that predates it, and in fact, is noticeably tired of having to see and hear about it. This is not unusual, I suppose. I remember my daughter coming home from Hebrew School one day and telling me that she no longer wanted to attend because she was so tired of constantly hearing about the Holocaust. Spanish filmmakers closer in age to the Franco era have been making movie after movie about the war and its aftermath. It's a national obsession and pastime, and for good reason. Yet the farther away our younger generation gets from this event and others like it, the harder it will be to remember and learn from, until - in whatever country - it happens again.

Lola, la película will screen Saturday, December 15, at 9:15 pm and Monday, December 17, at 5 pm.

- James Van Maanen


Updates: Acquarello reviews Contestant and Solitary Fragments.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:27 AM

December 14, 2007

Interview. Walter Murch.

Walter Murch "The Godfather - in the months before it came out - there was a general feeling that that film maybe wasn't going to work. Certainly when Apocalypse Now came out it was critically not very well received," recalls legendary editor Walter Murch.

But critics and audiences came around, of course. Will they come around to Francis Ford Coppola's Youth Without Youth? To further wear out a cliché (albeit one that has a certain ring to it when speaking of Youth Without Youth), only time will tell.

It may seem odd to mention a couple of books when introducing Michael Guillén's interview with a film editor, but Walter Murch is more than simply a superb craftsman. Filmmaker Brian Fleming has called Murch's In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing "one of those books about one topic that, like Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, transcends its original purpose and becomes a useful filter for considering a range of subjects." Certainly Michael Ondaatje's The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film belongs on any cinephile's top shelf but also within reach of anyone who cares about any art. And I just have to mention again two immediately clickable nuggets, talks with Murch in the Transom Review and BLDGBLOG.

For now, though, the subject at hand is Youth Without Youth (and here's the entry that'll carry on being updated). Take it away, Michael...

Posted by dwhudson at 12:10 PM | Comments (1)

MSN. "Moments Out of Time."

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford Sean Axmaker's alerted me to this, so I'll let him tell it: "Richard Jameson and Kathleen Murphy have revived their annual 'Moments Out of Time' feature (created decades ago in Movietone News and carried over the Jameson years of Film Comment) for MSN."

A sample of one of my favorites (and from one of my favorite films of the year, too): "In The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, the pebbles sliding away from the vibrating rail as Jesse's boot rests there, waiting to stop his last train."

While you're there, you'll notice MSN Movies' Top Ten poll. Lead Editor Dave McCoy has tossed his ballot in with those of nine contributors and notes:

Three interesting things happened. First, 49 films received votes, proving that this year's Oscar race is wide open. Second, this isn't something a cranky critic writes very often, but 2007 was a damn fine, rich year for movies. In fact, although we're only highlighting the top 10 films here, 15 to 20 films came within a point or two of making the list. Third, despite this year's abundance of great films, one title steamrolled the competition for the top slot, earning 106 out of a possible 120 points.

And Sean lists his top DVDs of the year.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:29 AM

Half Moon.

Half Moon "For his poetic fourth feature, Half Moon, the Kurdish-Iranian writer and director Bahman Ghobadi returns to the breathtaking desolation of the Kurdish borderlands and the enduring optimism of his people," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times.

For Aaron Hillis, writing in the Voice, the film's "picturesque road trip is less about preserving a musical heritage than accepting one's fate, a mythic trek that's both heartrending and boisterous - often as hauntingly absurdist as a Kusturica carnival."

Updated through 12/15.

"Half Moon displays both a sharpening of Ghobadi's filmmaking (his use of landscapes for both wry absurdism and somber reflection is especially assured) and, somewhat more problematically, an intensification of his penchant for the fantastic," writes Fernando F Croce in Slant. "Such flourishes prove redundant, however, in a film that at its most earthbound already poetically articulates the need to keep Kurdish tradition from falling into the grave of cultural crisis."

Earlier: Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine.

Update, 12/15: Online viewing tip. Tribeca artistic director Peter Scarlet has an 18-minute-long, clip-sprinkled talk with Ghobadi. Scarlet gets him talking about each of his films - A Time for Drunken Horses, Marooned in Iraq, Turtles Can Fly and, of course, Half Moon - as well as about the importance of national borders in his work, about what oil has done to the Middle East and about music.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:37 AM

Jones.

Jones "Preston Miller's Jones offers an outsider's perspective on contemporary New York rarely seen on film, and almost never acknowledged by natives," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "Opening [tonight] for a one-week run at the Pioneer Theater in New York, Jones is the kind of lo-fi, no budget, non-traditional narrative that, without the support of a festival like SXSW, has an extremely difficult time making waves. But Miller finds a few ingenious ways around his limitations, and the unprofessional look of the video is actually one of my favorite things about it."

Miller "isn't out to burden his character with easy signifiers...; he's out to gaze at Jones in all his recumbent mystery, not to define him in any definitively concrete way," writes Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door. And he interviews Miller for Zoom In Online.

"Forgoing a Haruki Murakami reading, Jones takes a long stroll through Times Square, and what begins as an impersonal tour of Manhattan's soulless new façade ends with Jones searching for himself in his reflection and in the faces of the people passing him by," writes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "The sidewalks of New York have woven their pernicious magic. Before long, Jones begins to come loose from the ethical anchor of his life back home, and curb-level Manhattan reverts to the citywide moral sinkhole it was before decades of Disneyfication filled the cracks."

"What we've got here is a sly real time comedy with the sad undertow you'll invariably get when confronting addictions," writes Nathaniel R. "The substance abused here is sex, or more specifically, Asian prostitutes.... Jones may be slight, but I enjoyed it."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:32 AM

Look.

Look "The gimmick of Adam Rifkin's forgettable Look is that it's comprised entirely of footage from surveillance cameras, or at least footage from cameras meant to simulate surveillance cameras," writes Michael Joshua Rowin at indieWIRE. "So guess what happens in its very first scene? Two teenage girls strip and cavort in a clothing store dressing room! Doesn't that just shock and arouse you? Allow you to see private events you weren't meant to see while also forcing you to question your own motivations for watching them? No?"

"There's plenty of gimmick here, but no gravity," writes Aaron Hillis in the Voice. "At least Brian De Palma's Redacted and George Romero's Diary of the Dead wield their peeping-tom filters for more ambitious purposes, and Michael Haneke's Caché teases and implicates audiences by drawing focus to the camera's eye. Look isn't processing, critiquing, or even warning; in the end, it's just recording."

Updated through 12/15.

"[B]etween the likelihood of surveillance cameras capturing every dramatically significant moment (with crystal-clear sound) and the filmmaker's deployment of ripped-from-the-tabloids ugliness to amp up viewer involvement, Look grows less compelling and believable as it unreels," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times.

"Look is really less about what is observed than what is revealed - each story line relies on plot twists rather than being fully realized character sketches with telling behavior," writes Michael Ordoña in the Los Angeles Times.

"The whole thing feels so heavily scripted that it brings down the overarching impact," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "The misguided route raises the question of what kind of juicy stories might be produced by the real thing. It's hard not to imagine a better movie buried in some CIA vault—assuming that it hasn't already been burnt."

"If it's less an artistic statement than it appears to be, Look is a healthy reminder that paranoia is not always a bad thing," writes Steve Dollar in the New York Sun. "Just because you can't see anyone doesn't mean they can't see you."

"[T]he real question might be 'Who does Adam Rifkin, the director of Detroit Rock City, think we are when nobody's watching?' and the answer is a bunch of farting, drunk, murderous, teenager-fucking louts," writes Peter Smith at Nerve.

Update, 12/15: Hugh Hart talks with Rifkin for Wired News.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:28 AM

WFCC. Awards.

Enchanted The Women Film Critics Circle has a nicely understated site... that hasn't been updated for a year. But we can turn to Movie City News for this year's list of awards. Besides the categories, the picks differ considerably from those of other critics' organizations. For starters, Enchanted's named three times: Best Comedic Performance (Amy Adams), Best Animated Female and Best Family Film.

There's a tie for Best Picture by a Woman: Away From Her and Talk to Me. Best Picture about Women: Juno (and Diablo Cody's named Best Woman Storyteller).

Best Actress: Laura Linney (The Savages). Best Young Actress: Saoirse Ronan (Atonement). Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood.

A few more ties: Best Female Images in a Movie: Hairspray (also tapped for Best Music) and Life Support; Best Foreign Film: La Vie en Rose and Persepolis; Best Equality of the Sexes: Away from Her and Becoming Jane.

A set of dedicated awards:

  • Adrienne Shelly Award, "For a film that most passionately opposes violence against women": Redacted.

  • Josephine Baker Award, "For best expressing the woman of color experience in America": The Great Debaters.

A Mighty Heart
  • Karen Morley Award, "For best exemplifying a woman's place in history or society, and a courageous search for identity": A Mighty Heart. And Angelina Jolie wins another for Acting and Activism.

Three documentaries are named Best, in three categories:

Lifetime Achievement: Judi Dench. Special Mention for a Female's Right to Male Roles in Movies: Cate Blanchett (I'm Not There).

And then there're two lists: Most Offensive Male Characters and the WFCC Top Ten Hall of Shame; once again, the complete list is here.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:50 AM

CFCA. Awards.

CFCA "No Country for Old Men, Joel and Ethan Coen's adaptation of the acclaimed Cormac McCarthy novel, was the big winner in the voting for the 20th annual Chicago Film Critics Association awards. In a year with no clear front-runners in the majority of the 15 categories, it led the pack with four awards. The only other film to win multiple prizes was Jason Reitman's Juno, which came away with three awards from the 60-member group."

Not many of these critics circles have a site as clean and functional as the CFCA's, by the way. Nice logo, too. At any rate, No Country scores Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem). Juno's wins are for Best Original Screenplay (Diablo Cody), Best Actress (Ellen Page) and Most Promising Performer (Michael Cera, who's also mentioned for Superbad).

The other awards:

Posted by dwhudson at 1:15 AM

December 13, 2007

Shorts, 12/13.

Pedro Almodóvar and Penélope Cruz "Pedro Almodóvar's next film will be Los abrazos rotos, a 'four-way tale of amour fou, shot in the style of 50s American film noir at its most hard-boiled,' in Almodovar's words, and toplining Penélope Cruz, Blanca Portillo and Lluís Homar," reports John Hopewell for Variety.

Movie City News has the London Critics' Circle Film Awards nominations.

For indieWIRE, Jason Guerrasio checks in on five independent projects in production: The Arrangement, "a dark comedy that's been sitting on the shelf for close to thirty years"; Desdemona: A Love Story, Phillip Guzman's second film; The Only Good Indian, from Kevin Willmott (CSA: Confederate States of America); Prisoner of Her Past, a doc from Gordon Quinn; and Push, based on the novel by Sapphire.

Pierrot le fou 1965 "saw the advent of the second Beatles' romp, Help!, and the third James Bond opus, Goldfinger," notes Godfrey Cheshire in the Independent Weekly. "Though it is decidedly more intellectual, rarefied and, well, French, Pierrot le fou deserves being bracketed with those films: all are cheeky, self-conscious, quasi-anarchical, gorgeously crafted pieces of pop art."

From "Polymorphous Perversity: The Origins of Cinematic Pornography and the Absence of Contemporary Pleasure," a paper by infinite thøught:

The main historical claim I want to make about the archive [described early on] is that there is a break in cinematic pornography that happens in the post-World War II period, and that the rapid raise in consumerism is reflected in the changed relation to sexuality through commodities. At the same time, as you can see from the example of the American stag film (one such example is found here), there is a switch from the viewer as voyeur on a private scene to the viewer as explicitly addressed by the participants in the film - it is no surprise that this break coincides with the reduction in sexual participants on camera. In the pre 1950s films, there is a tendency for many characters to enter the stage, in various combinations (combinations that would be broken up these days into gay porn/straight porn/real lesbian porn/lesbian porn for men, etc, etc) - hence the 'polymorphous' claim of the title. It is as if John Berger's claim in The Ways of Seeing with regard to painting, namely that 'almost all post-Renaissance European sexual imagery is frontal - either literally or metaphorically - because the sexual protagonist is the spectator-owner looking at it' is recapitulated in cinematic pornography - speeded up, we might say, in a matter of decades rather than centuries.

"Many critics have placed Silent Light firmly in the grip (and what a grip!) of Carl Theodor Dreyer's howling laments - fair enough, though [Carlos] Reygadas can more broadly be said to be mining the soul-seeking vein of filmmaking running from FW Murnau to Terrence Malick," writes Max Goldberg at SF360. "In its total, free-floating immersion Silent Light reminded me of nothing so much as Phillip Gröning's meditative document of the Grand Chartreuse monastery, Into Great Silence. However, Gröning's film had nothing like Silent Light's bookending shots, two unfathomably elapsed dollies which seem to tear right into the fabric of space and time - one could do worse for a working definition of cinema at its best."

Akira Kurosawa Via Bookforum, James Bowman in the American on Akira Kurosawa: "The man who took the essence of film noir and turned it into a style that could be effectively transmitted across national borders and to succeeding generations had two important qualifications for the job besides his genius: he started out as a painter and took the point of view of a defeated culture."

Michael Guillén asks Gus Van Sant about the sound design of Paranoid Park.

"Atonement, Joe Wright's version of Ian McEwan's novel, is visually snappy but emotionally inert, and it distorts the novel's much talked-about, already problematic, extra-narrative twist so profoundly that it left me aghast," writes Matt Zoller Seitz at the House Next Door.

"Ike Turner, the musician who gave the world what many historians consider the first rock 'n' roll record - 'Rocket 88' in 1951 - but bitterly acknowledged in his later years that he was most famous for being the abusive husband of Tina Turner, died Wednesday in suburban San Diego," writes Geoff Boucher. "He was 76." Glenn Kenny comments; and Esquire reruns its "What I've Learned Session" with Turner.

Also in the Los Angeles Times, Robert W Welkos: "Freddie Fields, a onetime vaudeville booker who became a high-flying Hollywood talent agent for such stars as Judy Garland, Henry Fonda, Steve McQueen and Barbra Streisand, and who later headed production at MGM and United Artists studios, has died. He was 84." Shawn Levy comments.

Brandon Harris asks Daryl Hannah about her environmental activism.

"Born in Birmingham, England, [Adrian] Lester, whose parents are Jamaican, speaks with an accent that's crisp and warm, although when you see him in Starting Out in the Evening, he'll probably strike you as thoroughly American, a trick Lester pulled off most famously in 1998, when he played a thinly fictionalized George Stephanopoulos to John Travolta's Bill Clinton in the film of Joe Klein's White House roman á clef, Primary Colors." A profile in the LA Weekly from Chuck Wilson. Related: Gerald Peary in the Boston Phoenix on Evening: "This enchanting, civilized feature, based on a sublime 1998 novel by Brian Morton, is a practically note-perfect work, with miraculous performances from Frank Langella and Lili Taylor."

And Scott Foundas reports on an evening spent taking in the European Film Awards.

European-films.net editor Boyd van Hoeij reports on this year's lineup of European Shooting Stars.

"Hammer Films, the studio whose blood-soaked, scream-inducing productions kept the British film industry alive during its bleakest years, is making its first production since 1976," reports Andy McSmith. "But instead of playing at a cinema near you, Beyond the Rave will be shown in episodes on MySpace and released as a DVD." Also in the Independent, David McKittrick: "Belfast, not normally associated with movie glamour, is actually becoming accustomed to encounters with [the] glitterati as filmmakers develop a taste for its unique character."

ON Networks and SXSW have put out a call for entries for their new "competition aimed at discovering the next great, original and episodic Digital Series," the Greenlight Awards.

Online reading + viewing tip. David Segal's "Smoke Screens: How Hollywood Really Made Cigarettes Cool," at Slate, with sumptuous clips.

Lost in Translation Online viewing tip #1. Is this what Bill Murray whispered in Scarlett Johansson's ear at the end of Lost in Translation? Via Jason Kottke.

Online viewing tip #2. At 'boards: "Director Roel Wouters delivers another eye-catching single-take video, this time for New York-based electronic act, My Robot Friend." Via goldenfiddle: "You snooze you lose, White Stripes!"

Online viewing tips. A slew of new items at or via Twitch: a trailer for Takashi Miike's Tantei Monogatari; another for An Empress and the Warriors, with Donnie Yen; another for Miguel Bardem's Mortadelo and Filemon; and the opening of Marc Caro's Dante 01.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:40 PM

Books, 12/13.

Frank Sinatra: The Man, the Music, the Legend "More profoundly than any figure excepting perhaps Elvis Presley, Sinatra changed the style and popular culture of the American Century," writes Benjamin Schwartz in the Atlantic. "Frank Sinatra: The Man, the Music, the Legend, a long-awaited collection of essays gathered from a famed 1998 conference at Hofstra University and edited by Jeanne Fuchs and Ruth Prigozy, probes various aspects of Sinatra's influence in his long career... But it insists, both explicitly and in its editors' selection of subjects and themes, that the 'proper historical setting' for its subject 'is the 50s.'"

Also:

Photo by Sammy Davis, Jr assembles beautiful and revealing snaps that this gifted amateur took in the 1950s and 60s of the Hollywood elite at play (including a sad and sweet image of a little-black-dressed Marilyn tucking a small boy into bed as a late-night party hums in the other room), of Vegas showgirls, of politicians and mobsters, of Martin Luther King Jr. And of course there is Sinatra, in all his dangerous glamour - joshing with Shirley MacLaine and the rest of his band of nocturnal carousers, brooding, on the phone in sharply tailored pajamas (no doubt after sleeping through a good chunk of the day). Speaking of that glamour, Davis said, 'Only two guys are left who are not the boy next door: Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra.'"

Eine Pinot Grigio, Bitte "A novel-in-disguise, Eine Pinot Grigio, Bitte is a dark foray into capitalism gone awry," announces Sterberg Press. Bernadette Corporation's book appears in the format of a screenplay: "Set against a backdrop of decadent zombies, the screenplay follows John Delp and Aude as they shoot a movie in the cities of Paris, Berlin and Mexico City. With its wild and messy sense for the absurd, Eine Pinot Grigio, Bitte unravels that conventional Hollywood repertoire of screenwriting all to better recycle both fiction and the real."

In the Austin Chronicle:

The Playboy Interviews: The Directors

Via Bookforum, Owen Richardson reviews Fawlty Towers: The Story of Britain's Favourite Sitcom for the Age.

"[B]ooks remained the most consistently refreshing, illuminating, diverting, original and enriching sources of entertainment in our lives," writes Laura Miller, introducing the Salon Book Awards 2007.

Slate editors and contributors choose their favorite reads of the year, too.

Three Percent lists "recommendations for the best translated works of 2007." Via the Literary Saloon.

Meantime, sad news. "Author Terry Pratchett is suffering from a rare form of early Alzheimer's disease," reports the BBC. Chris Barsanti comments: "Here we have one of the greatest living satirists, not just of this but of any age, facing down a horrible bastard of a disease in the prime of his career; no, it isn't fair.... Pratchett has termed the disease 'an embuggerance,' which I move should be added to the O.E.D. with all due speed."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:46 PM

DVDs, 12/13.

Breathless Tim Lucas posts more Video Watchdog "Favorite DVDs of 2007" - from associate editor John Charles, who's got an alphabetical list of eight releases; contributor, filmmaker and educator Bill Cooke, who tops his list with Witchfinder General; and contributor and filmmaker Sheldon Inkol, who puts the Twin Peaks Definitive Gold Box Edition in the #1 slot.

"Perhaps the most important DVD release of the year is Jean-Luc Godard's 1959 Breathless (Criterion)," suggests Armond White in the New York Press. "It is the best way to start a DVD exploration of film history, Movies 101." A handful of further recommendations follow.

Quite a gift guide in this week's Austin Chronicle:

  • Josh Rosenblatt on the Essential Directors Series: Jean-Luc Godard: "It's a remarkable thing when a piece of art that was once considered the height of aesthetic insolence and rebellion develops into a cultural given, but one look at Jean Seberg in her New York Herald Tribune T-shirt or the defiantly cocked angle of Jean-Paul Belmondo's fedora, and it's clear that Breathless is a film that exists free of time and context."

  • Also, The Wire "represents the high-water mark of the medium, so far beyond the intellectual and artistic scope of almost every other TV show that came before it as to constitute its own category of entertainment."

  • "Riding its customary wave of controversy, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's epic 15-hour adaptation of Alfred Döblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz arrives, at long last (and longer), in a Criterion Collection box to end all Criterion boxes," writes Spencer Parsons.

The Steel Helmet

Another fine guide: Robert Abele in the LA Weekly on box sets to watch once "new episodes of your favorite TV series run out, and they will, even if the studios and striking writers settle their differences soon."

More recommendations? Turn to Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper.

The Big Sleep "If Americans were indeed gripped by the postwar driving obsession I've read about, surely we may credit The Big Sleep for starting them in that direction." But of course, there's more to John McElwee's terrific entry at Greenbriar Picture Shows on this most compelling of nonsensical noirs.

"The last half hour of Dames features some of [Busby] Berkeley's most dazzling numbers," writes Kevin Lee, who's also got an accompanying video essay.

"[M]any of the things that make [Drunken Angel] more than just a taut, well-made populist film are its playful insertions of incidental moments most other directors would likely cut out, such as when the doctor makes repeated attempts to do nothing more than prop open a door, or when the restless gangster ostentatiously wiggles his ass to a rousing song (with lyrics by Kurosawa!) performed in a dance hall," writes Josef Braun in Vue Weekly.

At ScreenGrab, Leonard Pierce and Phil Nugent discuss Fargo.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:25 PM

A Walk into the Sea.

A Walk into the Sea "Danny Williams, subject of Esther Robinson's documentary portrait A Walk into the Sea, was a 60s casualty," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "His brief life derives cultural significance from his association with the Silver Age of the Warhol Factory - and a particular poignance in that the survivors of that epoch barely remember him."

"[A]s Robinson plumbs deeper into what her uncle's emotional state might have been in the weeks and months leading up to his unexplained departure, what her film becomes is not only a haunting whodunit and a glimpse inside a nasty, ruthless artistic environment, but also an example of the limits of nonfiction biography," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

Updated through 12/15.

"Seeing the images of laughing, giddy and glamorously decadent Warholians compared to how they look in the unblinking bright light of today is rather sobering. (Read: Yikes!)" yelps the New York Observer's Sara Vilkomerson.

"Their scars and insecurities - still visible 40 years on - come off as humanizing foibles rather than demonizing vices," writes Benjamin Sutton, introducing his interview with Robinson for the New York Press.

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Robinson "about Warhol's continuing influence, spending high school dressed as Edie Sedgwick, and how Stranger Than Paradise changed her life."

Earlier: E Steven Fried talks with Robinson at the Siffblog, parts 1 and 2.

Updates, 12/14: "Ms Robinson, who is Mr Williams's niece, does a pretty good job of reconstructing the creative and psychological whirlwind around Warhol," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "His critics and his apologists have their say, as do old associates whose ambivalence is as acute now as it must have been in the mid-60s. The conflicting, occasionally harmonizing testimony of Brigid Berlin, John Cale, Paul Morrissey and others is fascinating, but Danny Williams himself remains the missing piece, despite clips from 16-millimeter films he shot."

"The filmmaker Ronald Nameth attests to Williams's little-known behind-the-camera success in taking the Factory cast in a very different cinematic direction than the one Mr. Morrissey and others pursued under Warhol's aegis," notes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "Those who made up the Warhol crowd, says the Velvet Underground's John Cale, were mostly 'incomplete people who found a certain completion' in the sybaritic, narcissistic, and competitive Factory scene. Though it is a marvelous oral history of a time and place rarely explored with such unromantic honesty, the haunting thing about A Walk Into the Sea is that it gently exposes the ultimately fatal psychic wounds that Danny Williams received at the Factory and those he brought with him."

"A Walk in the Sea is at its best when Robinson contrasts the haziness of the Warhol crowd with the specificity of Williams's family, who can recall every anecdote he ever told them, including every perceived slight," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "To them, Warhol and company are those creeps from New York who treated their boy badly, and then wouldn't help find him when he disappeared. And in a way, Robinson follows her relatives' lead."

Update, 12/15: IndieWIRE interviews Robinson.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:04 AM

Golden Globes. Nominations.

A Golden Globe As one of the announcers of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's nominations for the Golden Globes, Quentin Tarantino didn't bother to hide his preferences. Twice, he lifted a raised fist and added a mini-"Yay!" - when reading out the names Diablo Cody, one of the nominees for Best Screenplay (Juno), and Daniel Day-Lewis, nominated for Best Actor (There Will Be Blood.

Updated through 12/14.

Seven films have been nominated for Best Motion Picture, Drama: American Gangster, Atonement, Eastern Promises, The Great Debaters, Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood.

Again, here's the full list. Commentary will surely be pouring in all day.

Updates: With seven nominations, Atonement leads the pack, note Michael Cieply and David Carr in the New York Times. Also: "Denzel Washington had a huge day, with both Great Debaters, which he directed and wherein he played a role, and American Gangster, in which he starred, picking up best-drama nominations. Mr Washington was also nominated as best actor for American Gangster." However, "I'm Not There and Into the Wild, two films that have shown up on a number of critic's lists this year, received no nominations from the press association."

Nathaniel R comments up and down the list and nods in silence to those who have been snubbed.

Jeffrey Wells offers his thoughts on nearly every category. For example: "The HFPA's belief that David Cronenberg's Russian penis movie is among the year's best dramas while not even including Zodiac and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is amusing, at the very least. History will judge their lack of vision and backbone accordingly."

Variety's Anne Thompson lists a few "Globe surprises that may not be mirrored on the Oscar side of the ledger."

Monika Bartyzel rounds up some of the nominees' reactions at Cinematical.

The New York Times' David Carr and the New York Post's Lou Lumenick post strings of Globe-related entries.

Gabriel Shanks measures the noms against his predictions.

Along comes the HFPA "to remind Hollywood that there is a middle way between ornery independent films and the mindless mainstreamers: the period romantic drama," suggests Time's Richard Corliss. "It's still OK, the HFPA said, to have an elevated, old-fashioned cry at the movies." Then: "Random notes from a Thursday morning quarterback."

For Variety, Jeff Sneider and Stuart Levine round up a whole lot of nominee reactions.

Update, 12/14: You'll find more Globes sorting than you'll know what to do with in the Envelope and Variety.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:58 AM

December 12, 2007

Slant. "2007: Year in Film."

Slant Westerns, Iraq, "quantum leap[s] forward" for Paul Thomas Anderson and David Fincher, the varieties of the animated experience, Judd Apatow and Killer of Sheep. Introducing Slant's "2007: Year in Film," Nick Schager contextualizes the highlights tightly and well.

Then come the annotated top tens from Schager and Ed Gonzalez and a slew of "Superlatives" such as "Most Insane Metaphor" and "Worst Performance by an Inanimate Object."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:48 PM | Comments (3)

Shorts, 12/12.

Southland Tales Southland Tales "is not only a brilliant film, but an extraordinarily important one, in that it is one of those rare works that is 'as radical as reality itself,' and that reflects upon our real situation while at the same time inserting itself within that situation, rather than taking a pretended distance from it," writes Steven Shaviro. "The film is a demented fabulation, but in such a way that it can best be described as hyperreal. Its 'science fiction' is scientifically and technologically unsound, and could best be described as delirious - but that is precisely why it is directly relevant to a world that has increasingly come to be 'indistinguishable from science fiction.' Southland Tales makes nearly all other contemporary movies seem inadequate, outdated, and guilty of fleeing our actual social world in search of nostalgic consolations."

So what's Errol Morris up to, really, in the New York Times? "I believe it should appropriately be called... 'Cartesian Blogging.'"

Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell talk Beowulf - and the future: "So far, the more blatantly 3-D something looks on the screen, the less it makes 3-D seem like something we want to watch on a regular basis. Think of the best films of this year: Zodiac, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Ratatouille, Across the Universe, and so on. Would any of them be better in 3-D? Probably not."

Les Blank's "All in This Tea delights on myriad levels, from history to humor to simple human interest," writes Dennis Harvey. "It's all of 69 minutes long and packs in more information (not to mention pleasure) per celluloid foot than just about anything you'll see this year, fiction or non." Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: "Silent Light lacks the bracing pairings of the sacred and profane that characterize Battle in Heaven, but its starry-eyed beginning and end prove that that [Carlos] Reygadas's scrutiny of the ineffable is far from complacent," writes Johnny Ray Huston. "If cinema is a corpse, his kiss just might bring it back to life."

"I've supposed the word 'didactic' to always possess a slight whiff of disparagement. Perhaps I've been mistaken." Girish on "Didactic Cinema."

Now you've heard everything: "Producer Thomas Schuehly (Alexander) has acquired the remake rights to Fritz Lang's Metropolis and is partnering with Mario Kassar on an updated version of the 1927 silent sci-fi classic," reports Ed Meza for Variety.

A People's History of the United States This is more like it: "Production is finally set to begin on a long-delayed TV version of Howard Zinn's landmark 1980 tome A People's History of the United States." As Michael Schneider reports, this has been a long time coming.

And: "Gabriele Salvatores will start shooting in February on Come Dio comanda (As God Commands), the Oscar-winning Italo helmer's second film based on a book by best-selling novelist Niccolò Ammaniti," reports Nick Vivarelli.

"Impressive as his shape-shifting talents are, it may well be that [Joseph] Mankiewicz's protean ability to work with any type of material is precisely the quality that has excluded him from the pantheon of Great American Directors," suggests Kevin Jackson. "To put it in marketing terms, he failed to establish a recognisable brand identity. In film-speak, he has never quite cut it as an auteur."

Also in the Guardian:

  • "Randall Poster has one of the best jobs in Hollywood, compiling soundtracks for some of the coolest movies for over a decade." Damon Wise asks him about ten of the best films he's worked on.

  • "[D]oes underground film still exist? If so, where is it, and what does it actually do?" Andrea Hubert goes looking.

Anouk Aimée

Peter Nellhaus remembers Eleonora Rossi Drago, 1925 - 2007.

Accepting an award from Women in Entertainment last week, Jodie Foster "thanked her nearest and dearest, including 'my beautiful Cydney who sticks with me through all the rotten [sic] and the bliss,'" notes Andrew Gumbel in the Independent. "What was striking was not the acknowledgement itself. (Websites that breathlessly proclaimed Foster had 'come out' were surely overstating their case.) Rather, it was the sadness of everything that had gone before and the peculiar agony of being anything other than a straight up-and-down heterosexual in a town as supposedly progressive and forward-thinking as Los Angeles." Also: Hermione Eyre on the current crop of child stars.

"Film is a form of resistance, but you have to identify clearly what you are fighting against and what are the principles you are going adhere to. You must realise the world has changed," Chilean director Miguel Littin tells T Ramavarman in the Hindu.

"Two years ago a young executive at Leonardo DiCaprio's production company, hungry for some good scripts to read over the holidays, asked 100 peers to send him their 10 favorite new screenplays that would not make it into theaters before the New Year," reports David M Halbfinger. "He whipped up a spreadsheet ranking the responses, titled it 'The Black List,' emailed it around and then watched it become a Hollywood phenomenon, the kind of underground document that writers with projects stuck in development pray will mention their script." And from that page, you can download the lists for 05, 06 and 07. What's more, Nikki Finke'll point you to this year's screenplays themselves.

Also in the New York Times:

  • The Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles is treating its archive of video art, "larks and all, with the seriousness that befits a significant slice of art history," reports Carol Kino, and its new "Long Beach acquisition suddenly transformed its collection into one of the world's largest. And since then, as a tiny team of institute staff members carefully catalog and conserve these holdings, they have in several cases rediscovered and reunited artists with long-lost work."

  • Patrick Healy talks with Ian McShane just before "he opens as the patriarch Max in Harold Pinter's Homecoming, a man-monster of diminishing powers and, of course, many vulgarities."

  • "There's precious little to laugh at in The Sasquatch Gang, a sad attempt to board the loser-nerd comedy bandwagon," writes Jeannette Catsoulis.

  • "Not since his nice-guy turns in Thelma & Louise (1991) and Free Willy (1993) has Michael Madsen, ever the designated heavy, played someone as huggable as Sean Kelleher, the Irish ex-boxer and tragic hero of Strength and Honour," writes Laura Kern. More from Allison Benedikt in the Voice.

Desert of the Heart

More on that one from the Nation's Katrina Vanden Heuvel, who's got a clip: "[Robert] Greenwald is aiming to create an environment which mobilizes outrage in populist and intelligent ways, and makes these titans of greed and their money toxic. Look for the next three in this series of short films to feature interviews with workers around Martin Luther King, Jr's Birthday; workers screwed by Kravis on Valentine's Day; and promoting actions to take around legislation to close the loophole, culminating with an April 15 demand to make the richest among us pay their fair share."

"A reverent, humbling, and impassioned observation of life among the landless, peasant farmers of the semi-arid Carriri region of Ceará in northeastern Brazil, Jean-Pierre Duret and Andrea Santana's poetic ethnographic documentary Romances de terre et d'eau bears the deep humanism and trenchant, sociopolitical commitment of its venerable producers, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne," writes acquarello.

At Film of the Year: "Aware that Pearl Harbor Day was quickly approaching I redoubled my efforts this week at searching for DVD versions of films made in Germany, Italy and Japan during World War II that might provide broader perspective on how the war was presented in cinema by both sides." And Thom's search has paid off.

"Like a rolling blackout, Hollywood is shutting down," reports the Los Angeles Times. "Fallout from Friday's collapse of negotiations for a new contract between writers and studios will in the weeks and months ahead leave audiences with dwindling entertainment choices. If the five-week-long strike by the Writers Guild of America continues, it's also poised to affect the awards season, the annual ritual of self-congratulation and promotion that runs through the winter." More from Patrick Goldstein and, in the NYT, Michael Cieply.

Also in the LAT:

  • "There are no laughs to be found in writer-director Michael Traeger's would-be comedy The Amateurs, but there is one big mystery: how actors of this caliber could have been convinced to take part," writes Dennis Lim. "The movie's one-joke premise is of the Decent Folks Doing Naughty Things variety, familiar from such whimsical Brit-coms as The Full Monty (unemployed steelworkers strip), Saving Grace (old ladies grow pot) and Calendar Girls (old ladies strip).... It's no surprise that The Amateurs... has been languishing on the shelf nearly three years." Related: At ScreenGrab, Leonard Pierce lists five of the best non-porn films on porn.

  • "There's a smart, hip, perhaps even necessary film to be made about a sophisticated African American coming out to his small-town Georgia family, but Dirty Laundry isn't it," warns Gary Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times. More from Matt Zoller Seitz in the NYT: "[Maurice] Jamal's direction ranges from clumsy to competent, and the film's overwhelming desire to be loved blunts any edge it might have had. Fortunately, even as Mr Jamal's characters hit notes reminiscent of a half-baked television pilot, they disclose eccentricities that his cast spins into comic gold." And more from Julia Wallace in the Voice.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

"In spite of the apparent flourishing of adaptation study, Thomas Leitch predicts a bleak future for the field, if it continues down the road already taken," writes Thomas Van Parys, reviewing Film Adaptation and Its Discontents: From Gone with the Wind to The Passion of the Christ for Image and Narrative. "In his first chapter, he argues that adaptation theory has not only had little connection with film theory over the years, it has consistently tended to privilege literature over film as well.... According to Leitch, the failure of adaptation theory and study is caused by the notion of fidelity, and the underlying assumption that the original is a touchstone of value."

Philosophy and the Interpretation of Pop Culture "Philosophy and the Interpretation of Pop Culture is an edited collection resulting from a conference on the topic held in Buffalo in April 2004," writes Sarah Worth for Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. "But this collection is not just another group of essays connecting various aspects of popular culture to philosophical topics. This is meta-philosophy of pop culture - philosophy about philosophy of pop culture." Also via Bookforum: Andy Fogle at PopMatters on Undead TV: Essays on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "[T]his should be a compelling book, but it's not. Intellectual, scholarly, and academic to a fault, the language is often impenetrably fluffed (a truly frustrating paradox), and the ideas generally unfocused."

Nick Pinkerton on The Singing Revolution, documenting Estonia's struggle for independence: "It seems an odd fit for theatrical release, but the film offers a functional primer in Baltic history, as well as choice video footage of one small country as it weathers a tectonic shift in world politics."

Also in the Voice:

  • Julia Wallace on The Perfect Holiday: "[T]he actors distinguish themselves mainly by their ability to make the material, directed and co-written by Lance Rivera, seem even more painfully awkward and unfunny than it already is - which is very." For Salon's Stephanie Zacharek, it's "so modest and good-natured that its flaws are hardly glaring," but the NYT's Stephen Holden finds it to be "that most dispiriting product, a formulaic movie that doesn't believe in itself."

  • "A film setting out to tell of the unlikely friendship between an Orthodox Jew and a devout Muslim must struggle mightily to avoid building-bridges PSA terrain," observes Nick Pinkerton. "Arranged simply surrenders to expectation." More from David Pratt-Robson in Slant and Michael Joshua Rowin in indieWIRE.

"Atonement is a film out of balance, nimble enough in its first half but oddly scattered and ungainly once it leaves the grounds of the Tallis estate," writes Christopher Orr. Also in the New Republic: "Ian McEwan is one of the most gifted literary storytellers alive--where storytelling means kinesis, momentum, prowl, suspense, charge. His paragraphs are mined with menace," wrote James Wood in 2002. Even so, he wasn't 100 percent pleased with the way Atonement ends.

"[Rhys] Ifans is perhaps the most rock'n'roll actor working in Britain today, which isn't saying much, but it's a role he plays with relish," writes Sean O'Hagan in his profile for the Observer.

Rob Gonsalves inducts Mickey Rourke into the Hollywood Bitchslap / eFilmCritic Hall of Fame.

Frank Bidart, "An American in Hollywood." A poem in the New Yorker.

"This spring, Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) is revealing the reality of the US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. In what will be history's largest gathering of US veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Iraqi and Afghan survivors, eyewitnesses will share their experiences in a public investigation called Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan."

Those hundreds of hours of video the CIA's destroyed? "They were and are critical to proving - in a way that could not be denied or buried - that we have a war ciminal in the Oval Office," argues Andrew Sullivan. Also blogging for the Atlantic: Matthew Yglesias on how that "National Intelligence Estimate on Iran wound up getting released when it... (a) made the administration look ridiculous, (b) pissed off the administration's key pyschotic warmonger allies, and (c) the administration has stated earlier that NIEs weren't going to be released in the future."

"Orson Welles's personal working script of Citizen Kane sold for almost $100,000 Tuesday, but his Oscar for the 1941 film was withdrawn after bidding failed to rise above the seller's minimum price," reports the AP.

New blog on the block: Luc Sante's Pinakothek.

Online browsing tip #1. Richard Beymer's Twin Peaks gallery. Via Jason Kottke.

Online browsing tip #2. Woudnitbecoolif pop-up books at Something Awful. Via Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing.

Joris Ivens: Rain Online viewing tip #1. "Quickly rising to the top of my bedside stack, Joris Ivens's The Camera & I presents a sometimes wonky but always fascinating portrait of the early days of documentary," writes Derek Jenkins. "Situated somewhere between the Russians & Flaherty, Ivens had a major impact on the art from his very first film experiment: a meticulous account of the daily operations of an Amsterdam bridge. His second film in the documentary mode, Rain - later canonized by Erik Barnouw in his seminal history of the genre - was at the time dubbed a 'cine-poem,' a descriptor that neatly characterizes the heady seriousness of the times."

Online viewing tip #2. Matthew Yglesias comes across The Case Against Kant.

Online viewing tip #3. It's 1982 and America's best band at the time was getting a little bloated. But goldenfiddle's got a nifty soundcheck video.

Online viewing tips, round 1. In Anhedonia, Aleksandra Domanovic lays Getty stock video over audio from Annie Hall. Via Jason Kottke. Related: Woody Allen: A Life in Film, made for TCM in 2002.

Online viewing tips, round 2. The Guardian's Kate Stables has a handful.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:23 AM | Comments (1)

December 11, 2007

Nanking.

Nanking "The Japanese army's authorized mass rape, pillage, and murder of the Chinese has until recently (thanks also to Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking) remained one of the Second World War's forgotten stories, and Nanking brings the facts to harrowing life," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in Reverse Shot. "Nanking may center on courageous people like John Rabe and Minnie Vautrin, both of whom harbored and saved the lives of hundreds of civilians (and were rewarded with postwar poverty and suicide), but it's the Chinese massacre victims who emerge with, and as, its real story."

"While the footage and survivors of Nanking are gray and decaying, its unbearable story is not something out of the past; the evil and ignorance it describes are alive and thriving today," writes Michelle Orange in the Voice.

Updated through 12/17.

In the New York Times, Dave Itzkoff profiles Ted Leonis, "the gregarious and sometimes polarizing Web entrepreneur and sports-franchise mogul who, early this year, traded away his day-to-day responsibilities as vice chairman of AOL to devote more time to the decidedly less lucrative field of documentary filmmaking."

Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay points to a couple of pieces by Leonis that address the concept of "filmanthropy." It was Chang's suicide in 2005, at the age of 36, that inspired Leonis to fund Nanking, Michelle Orange reminds us.

And indieWIRE interviews Leonis.

Earlier: Reviews from Sundance.

Updates, 12/12: "Nanking suggests that in a world grown jaded by images of violence, written testimony read aloud still carries a weight that the most horrifying images cannot exert," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Shown sparingly in the film, the pictures of the dead and seriously injured may sear your mind, but the act of recalling the unspeakable and giving it voice creates a deeper reality."

"Not many who see this film will ever forget the emotion with which an old man describes how he was forced to watch as a Japanese soldier bayoneted his mother and his baby brother, still at the breast, when he was a small child," writes James Bowman in the New York Sun. "Yet on standing back a bit from it, you've got to ask yourself just what the filmmakers thought they were doing here by putting so much raw feeling on the screen. At the end, they say the film was made not out of hatred for the Japanese but as a reminder of 'how horrible war is.' That seems to me a cop-out. It treats 'war' as a force of nature and not as a product of human choices that can be both right and wrong."

Update, 12/15: The Atlantic runs David M Kennedy's review of Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking: "In the final accounting, this book does a much better job of describing the horrors of Nanjing than of explaining them."

Update, 12/17: For the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (and in German), Frank Hollmann reports from the set of John Rabe: A True Story, a German-American co-production directed by Florian Gallenberger and featuring a cast that includes Ulrich Tukur, Daniel Brühl and Steve Buscemi.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:59 PM

Lists, 12/11.

Performance "This week, Video WatchBlog begins its week-long accounting of our contributors' favorite DVD releases of the past year," announces Tim Lucas. "We'll wrap up at the end of the week with my own Editor's Choice selections and the naming of Video Watchdog's annual selection for DVD of the Year (the release that appeared most frequently and placed most highly in our collected lists). We begin with... Rebecca and Sam Umland," who put Performance at the top of their list.

DK Holm, who wrote that excellent profile of Lucas in October, has his favorites of the year at the Vancouver Voice.

At IFC News, R Emmet Sweeney lists 2007's "Awesomest Action Scenes," Lily Oei picks "The Year's Best Soundtracks" and Nick Schager takes note of "Five Directors Who Shifted Gears for the Better."

The Guardian's critics review the highs and lows of the year in the arts.

Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door: "Frames and Flashes: A Photo Essay for Movie Year 2007."

The Film Panel Notetaker looks back on 2007 and lists away: "My Top 10 Favorite Notes of the Year."

"Film Threat contributor John Berado shares his favorite holiday season films that may, or may not, actually exist..."

The Center for Media and Democracy unveils its "2007 Falsie Awards for the Biggest Fraudsters in the Media."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:49 PM

DVDs, 12/11.

Two-Lane Blacktop "Released in 1971 by the newly created youth division of Universal Studios, Monte Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop is both a generational artifact and a movie that seems to exist out of time," writes Dennis Lim in the Los Angeles Times. "Richard Linklater has called it the last film of the 60s and the first film of the 70s.... Despite its period specificity, Two-Lane Blacktop, out this week in a director-approved edition from the Criterion Collection, is a strange, even abstract film."

"No cultural testimony tracks our national alpha waves as eloquently as road movies," adds Michael Atkinson at IFC News. "Blacktop might be a definitive American expression of roadness - uncompromised, Rorschach-inconclusive, mythic, yet as real as highway weeds, and so eloquent in its mumbling way about basic existential identity and destination dilemmas that every frame has the poignant and needy ache of a child fruitlessly asking about God. It has little competition as the great lost and found movie of the much-missed American New Wave."

Also: "Catalin Mitulescu's feature debut, The Way I Spent the End of the World (2006), is one of the [Romanian] movement's key films, and the closest thing young Romania has to a generational anthem movie." It "sings with the Slav-style mordant wit that so much of Eastern Europe does so well, and it also does the neo-naturalism jig with enormous skill (and without the longueurs and middle-aged grumpiness of many other Romanian hits)."

At ScreenGrab, Phil Nugent and Leonard Pierce face off over Children of Men. Good stuff.

Luis Buñuel's Susana "could both please matinee audiences with its rip-roaring melodrama and enchant more skeptical viewers with its bizarre imagery, acidic social observation and casual subversion of cherished values," writes the New York Times' Dave Kehr, who finds a neat bridge over to Twin Peaks in Dan O'Herlihy.

Le Samouraï "The opening shot of Jean-Pierre Melville's 1967 noir masterpiece Le Samouraï establishes the tone of Melville's contemplative crime film, defines its amoral protagonist Jef Costello (Alain Delon), and introduces the connections between Costello, a hired assassin, and the concept of the Japanese samurai, particularly the ronin, or masterless samurai." Brandon Colvin writes the latest entry in Jim Emerson's Opening Shots Project. "The nearly three-minute shot maintains a simple but wonderfully expressive composition throughout, remaining within the drab gray-blue confines of Jef's apartment."

Back to the Blacktop: "'This is a movie that stars James Taylor, and you're telling me it's great?' My Lovely Wife asked when the package arrived, more genuinely perplexed than irritated." And actually, Glenn Kenny's recommending a double feature of sorts. Odd sorts, but good sorts.

J Hoberman reviews two big boxes in the Voice this week. First, Our Hitler, a Film From Germany: "[Hans-Jürgen] Syberberg was the only filmmaker of the German neue kino to successfully synthesize the spirit of Wagnerian romantic megalomania and that of Brecht's sardonic cabaret theatricality, infusing both with a sense of cosmic melancholy. Hitler often seems to be a circus staged by and for a single impoverished aristocrat pondering the mystery of Germany in the night." And: "Berlin Alexanderplatz was made for TV, and that's how its 15 hours should be savored." Hoberman also notes: "Although faithful to his source, [Rainer Werner Fassbinder] imbues it with considerable autobiographical resonance."

For Robert Humanick, writing at the House Next Door, Berlin Alexanderplatz "is a work representative of what is nowadays being made possible in the union between film and television (of the ever-growing terrain of cinema), fusing the relatively compact, carefully manicured narrative of the feature-length film with the more episodic approach of the television format. Together, the two multiply (rather than simply add upon) their myriad possibilities."

"Innocence, the astounding feature film debut from French director Lucile Hadzihalilovic, feels as though it should begin as stories do—with 'once upon a time,' like the click of a latch in the door to the imaginary," writes the Stranger's Annie Wagner. "This DVD release includes two stiff but essential interviews with the director and perceptive commentary by 9-year-old Zoé Auclair, the film's star."

Not Coming to a Theater Near You:

  • "A superb film in its own right, [filmmaker Ken McMullen and writer Tariq Ali's Partition is] also a reminder of a different age of filmmaking (only twenty years ago!)," writes Ian Johnston. "This is not only in the sense, as Ali and McMullen both stress, of it being a time when radical work - radical both politically and aesthetically - could be made and shown on British TV. It's also a different age of political cinema, when filmmakers were concerned, in equal balance, with both the political content and finding a suitably radical form in which to express that content."

I Am Cuba
  • Also, I Am Cuba: "This is not profound filmmaking - after all, The Cranes Are Flying, the earlier Cannes prize-winner that made [Mikhail] Kalatozov's international reputation, had an otherwise banal storyline that was kicked into life by the energy of the camerawork - and it operates pretty much on the surface of things; but what a surface!" More from Chris Barsanti in PopMatters: "[F]or all its propaganda, I Am Cuba is more than just an advertisement for the workers' revolution. It's ideology presented with a vibrantly avant-garde vision that is constantly threatening to overstep its bounds. One can almost imagine the Mosfilm apparatchiks saying, 'Okay, that's great, but could it be less... revolutionary?'"

  • With Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea, Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer "have crafted a visual photograph of the men and women who live and work around the Salton Sea, one that alternates between humorous and heartbreaking and serves to capture a society on the edge of abandonment," writes Adam Balz. "But they've also cast a seventy-three-minute record of happiness and survival in the face of desertion."

"With the DVD version of the summer hit The Bourne Ultimatum arriving at stores this week, it's time to look back on the entire Bourne film franchise to date," decides PopMatters' Bill Gibron.

"Charles Burnett's legendary Killer of Sheep exemplifies how little distance sometimes exists between a sketchbook of ideas and an accomplished masterpiece, especially when, as here, the film recurrently locates the glory and the nausea of sublimity within stunted, inchoate, evanescent experience rather than long character arcs, complex narratives or abstracted political structures," writes Nick Davis for Stop Smiling.

"In the midst of the screwball-inflected 30s, Dodsworth stands out as an extraordinary evocation of adulthood, presenting a couple caught in the vacuum between middle and old age, retirement and renunciation, marriage and companionship, and, above all, America and Europe," writes Billy Stevenson.

Garbo Silents Reviewing Flesh and the Devil (following a spoilers alert), Anne M Hockens focuses on what this 1926 silent film featuring Greta Garbo shares and doesn't share with the noirs that would follow.

Five discs for a single two-hour film? "The fact is, whether you see Blade Runner retouched, re-edited, raw, voiced-over, deleted, rescored or even upside-down and backwards, it still looks and sounds fantastic," writes Carrie O'Grady in the Guardian. "After 25 years, its cyber-grime aesthetic and ontological riddles still fascinate; it hardly needs a good wash and a brush-up, but it certainly deserves one." More from Kenneth R Morefield and Doug Cummings at the Matthew's House Project.

"Kurosawa considered Drunken Angel, his ninth film, to be his breakthrough," writes Steve Erickson for Nerve. "In hindsight, it's most noteworthy for its combination of violent action and humanist emotion, a hallmark of much of his work. The film combines styles that shouldn't gel, but miraculously, they do." In the Austin Chronicle, Raoul Hernandez focuses on Toshirô Mifune: "[T]he lean, mean, late-twentysomething ex-Army pilot son of a photographer unleashes a naked rage that anticipates James Dean by a half-dozen years."

"Whatever the more serious intentions Park [Chul-soo] may have had for 301, 302 give way to the fetishistic treatment of surfaces," writes Peter Nellhaus.

DVD roundups: DVD Talk, Bryant Frazer, the Lumière Reader and Peter Martin at Cinematical.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:39 PM

Fests and events, 12/11.

Daoud Aoulad-Syad "[M]y fellow Pasolinians will be interested to know that Moroccan filmmaker Daoud Aoulad-Syad's new film, entitled Waiting for Pasolini, has just won the prize at the 31st Cairo Film Festival for Best Arab Feature," notes Doug Ireland. Click the title for a story on the film, which sounds like a pretty fun watch.

"Washington's trade embargo bars almost all Americans from coming to Cuba - but it can't keep US films out," writes the AP's Will Weissert. "21 full-length US movies and 22 experimental American shorts are being shown as part of Havana's international film festival, which began Tuesday and runs through Dec 14 at 23 movie theaters and video clubs across the city."

"Standish Lawder, the rightly lauded subject of an upcoming retrospective at Anthology Film Archives, serves as another welcome blast from our brain-stretching cinematic past," writes Ed Halter in the Voice. "His haute-puckish short films tickle the human thalamus with their carefully crafted compositions of wry visual wit, technological reflexivity, and luscious celluloid textures, often set within envelopes of psychedelic soundscape." Friday through Sunday.

GreenCine is co-sponsoring the Warren Report's free screening on Friday of China Blue at the Seattle Art Museum.

Kirikou and the Sorceress Also Friday, the Museum of the African Diaspora will screen Michel Ocelot's Kirikou and the Sorceress - free for children, $10 for adults. (Scroll down.)

Jennifer Macmillan: "Just a note to check out Jeanne Liotta's program, Of Dark And Luminous Matter at Millennium Film Workshop, Sat, Dec 15."

Video Vortex.2, through February 3 at the Netherlands Media Art Institute.

Scott Weinberg previews Sundance's horror offerings for Cinematical.

Damn, to hear Matt Dentler tell it, that Harry Knowles's Butt-Numb-a-Thon must have been something else this year. At Variety's Circuit, Jette Kernion's got the list of films and preview clips screened.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:05 PM

Boone and White.

Armond White "The best [Armond] White writings agitate, scold, flail, balk, intimidate, insult and weep for the state of the world," writes Steven Boone at the House Next Door. "But they're not an act. They give movies and pop culture a messy, personal reaction.... Though he writes in a kind of crisp, omniscient-sounding voice, White's work expresses heartbreak at most folk's refusal to make/let culture enter their hearts/minds and change their lives/worlds. He's a grandiose dude." He then cuts and pastes "ten fragments from White's writing that I've wanted to frame and hang on a wall."

Then, at his own blog, Big Media Vandalism, Boone has a long, long talk with White.

Update, 12/15: Steven Boone's conversation with Armond White has a Part II. And there'll be a Part III, too.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:45 PM | Comments (1)

Dubai, 12/11.

Dubai International Film Festival "At the fourth annual Dubai International Film Festival, which opened Sunday night on the shores of this Persian Gulf kingdom, dozens of movies dismantle, deconstruct and deflate the Manichean view of East-West relations that permeates much of US cinema and television," writes Borzou Daragahi in the Los Angeles Times.

Dubai "has already become one of the most prestigious film festivals in the Arab world," writes Julian Sancton in the Observer. "Just 75 miles down the coast, Abu Dhabi inaugurated its own fest in October, the Middle East International Film Festival. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are vying to become cinema hubs of the Middle East."

"One does not hear discussion about how improbable a phenomenon the city represents, a major international city which has sprung up out of nowhere in the past decade, whose thousands of cranes and billboards are a constant reminder that the city's main attraction lies in its future," writes Charlie Olsky in his first dispatch for indieWIRE from the festival which "thrives on both the contrasts throughout the city and the rapid growth."

Jason Guerrasio has arrived in Dubai and will be blogging for Filmmaker.

Look for more reports and lots of pix at Variety's Circuit.

AME Info reports on an exhibition of photographs by filmmaker Youssef Chahine in Dubai.

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

Time. "50 Top 10 Lists of 2007."

Time Those Time magazine folks, they do like their lists. 50! For a single year. That's practically a top ten for every week of the year. As it averages out, there's just over one notable thing about each day this year to remember.

To cut to the movies, though: Richard Corliss tops his list with No Country for Old Men and, though you have to click your way through to #10, it goes pretty quickly. I'll bet you find a few surprises.

Speaking of which, Richard Schickel goes for Michael Clayton. More surprises follow.

And Richard Corliss picks the top ten DVD releases of the year.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:33 AM | Comments (1)

Berlinale. Maddin & Rossellini.

Berlinale "The 38th Forum opens on February 8, 2008 in the Delphi Filmpalast with Guy Maddin's new film My Winnipeg and Isabella Rossellini's short films Green Porno as international premieres.... In her one-minute Green Porno short films, Isabella Rossellini sets off on colorfully costumed expeditions into the microcosm. Disguised as a male insect - as a firefly, dragonfly, and spider - she investigates the illuminating question: How do the insects do it?"

Posted by dwhudson at 8:54 AM

SFFCC. Awards.

Casey Affleck It's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford for the San Francisco Film Critics Circle. What's more, Casey Affleck's their choice for Best Supporting Actor. As great as the front-runners surely are, it's nice to see the accolades spread around a bit.

And Best Supporting Actress? Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone) streaks on. Actor: George Clooney (Michael Clayton). Actress: Julie Christie for Away from Her, which has also been awarded Best Adapted Screenplay (Sarah Polley; she based the film on Alice Munro's short story, "The Bear Came Over the Mountain").

Director: Joel and Ethan Coen.

Best Original Screenplay: The Savages (Tamara Jenkins).

Best Foreign Language Film: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

Best Documentary: No End in Sight.

Strange Culture The Marlon Riggs Award for courage and vision in the Bay Area film community goes to Lynn Hershman-Leeson (Strange Culture).

And a Special Citation for under-looked independent film goes to Colma: The Musical.

"I walked out pretty happy this year," blogs the San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle.

More on the awards front via Movie City News: the Broadcast Film Critics Association puts forward thousands (well, dozens) of nominations for their awards.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:41 AM

Scorsese (and Lewton), 12/11.

Martin Scorsese You remember The Key to Reserva, Martin Scorsese's wink at Alfred Hitchcock. It's an ad, of course, and Brandweek tells the story behind the short. Thanks, Jerry!

Ireland Online reports that Dustin Hoffman's said he turned down Taxi Driver because, when he met Scorsese, he "thought the guy was crazy!"

Updated through 12/14.

"I had a need to tell a story in pictures - literature was not in the house. I had a need to tell stories that came from my world, stories that were very different than what was on screen, but just as dramatic. These stories moved me so much, I felt desperate. I saw a whole universe right there, very vivid. It took only a short while before I realized that such a universe could be expressed in film." Scorsese, in Stephen Hunter's profile for the Washington Post.

Val Lewton "[I]n tandem with the Turner Classic Movies premiere broadcast of Martin Scorsese's new documentary Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows [directed by Kent Jones] on Monday, January 14, 5:00 pm PT, I thought now would the perfect time for this perfect opportunity," writes Michael Guillén. "So I'm announcing the Val Lewton Blogathon starting Monday, January 14, 2008, and running throughout the week so that writers can either react to the TCM program lineup or wax eloquent from memory on their favorite Lewton film."

Update, 12/14: "At this week's Marrakesh Film Festival, no event has been as keenly anticipated as the masterclass with Martin Scorsese," writes Arifa Akbar in the Independent. "Plot, in his opinion, is secondary - or, at least, it has never much interested him. Character development is everything. 'I don't know about plot,' he says. 'In The Departed, I didn't do plot because I got sidetracked by characters, even if I did get really mad at myself about it. There was no plot in Taxi Driver, The Last Temptation of Christ hardly had a plot, Aviator and Raging Bull didn't.'"

Posted by dwhudson at 7:36 AM | Comments (3)

Youth Without Youth.

Youth Without Youth "Youth Without Youth may not fully 'work' as a commercial film, but it is a fascinating veering off from the director's usual track," writes DK Holm in a survey of Francis Ford Coppola's career for the Vancouver Voice. "But that is to be expected from a director with a robust appetite for films as vehicles for ideas and observations of lived life. If some of Coppola's work-for-hire films failed to live up to his ferocious talent, those projects in which it gains full sway are among the greatest films ever made."

"Half the time in the mystical saga Youth Without Youth, I had no idea what the movie was about, but I always felt that the director and screenwriter, Francis Ford Coppola, did, and that he was deeply in tune—and having a hell of a time—with the material," writes David Edelstein in New York. "Coppola takes a subject that once would have made him gaga and explores it with tenderness and lucidity."

Updated through 12/17.

"Imagine if Peter Parker discovered he had the proportionate strength of the spider, shrugged his shoulders and went right back to working on his science fair project," suggests Matt Singer at IFC News. "Though Coppola would almost certainly never couch it in these terms, he's made a comic book flick, albeit one that looks like a beautiful old Italian movie and is based on a Romanian novel." And Aaron Hillis talks with Tim Roth, who tells him he's got two projects in mind he'd like to direct.

And Sean O'Hagan (Observer) and Peter Hartlaub (San Francisco Chronicle) profile Coppola.

Earlier: Last week's roundup.

Update: "Simply put, it's a Faustian romance about the reversal of time and transmigration of souls which, shot mainly in Romania, adds a soupçon of Balkan chic and anti-Nazi iconography to its rich stew of twaddle," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "From its charmingly retro credits through its Third Man atmospherics to its bingo-bongo decade-collapsing climax, Youth Without Youth is a cinematic time machine - at once sillier and more desperate in its convictions than such kindred trips to the mystic East as Bertolucci's Little Buddha or Scorsese's Kundun. Variety has predicted that Youth Without Youth will translate to 'cinemas without audiences,' as if that were the point. This is hardly Coppola's greatest movie, but it's far from his worst - its bid for a new beginning is one from the heart."

Updates, 12/13: "Youth Without Youth could only be the work of a seasoned master," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "In fact, opaque and challenging though it may be, and even if it was shot cheaply and on the fly in Romania, Coppola's new film isn't so unlike many of the director's other works in terms of its radical visionary charms. Even at his admittedly small moments, Coppola can't help but think big, and Youth Without Youth is nothing if not an eloquent expression of the director's grandiose dreams for a philosophy of cinema, inextricable, of course, from time, consciousness, and memory."

"It's a Twilight Zone-meets-Jack movie: half-sci-fi speculation, half-love story," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "Excusing Youth as Coppola's plea for a rejuvenated career is beside the point. Unless Coppola achieves mature perspective - or regains the human touch of the Godfather films and The Outsiders - he's doomed himself to out-of-town techno-tryouts and brainy debacles."

"It progresses from abstruseness to absurdity," grumbles the San Diego Reader's Duncan Shepherd.

To hear Coppola and Lucas tell it, the Godfather and Star Wars franchises derailed prospective careers as experimental filmmakers. Blogging for the Guardian, Shane Danielson isn't buying these late plaints.

"Strikingly shot and art-directed, the widescreen movie is a very European-style art flick in the tradition of vintage Resnais - beautiful, immaculately crafted, semi-abstract, a bit remote," writes Dennis Harvey at SF360. "If Youth Without Youth is greater by far in leap-of-faith reach than viewer reward (though Coppola advises it should be seen more than once for full effect), it nonetheless feels the work of a genuinely re-invigorated rather than near-senile 'old master.'... I can't exactly recommend Youth Without Youth - opaque, ornate, emotionally removed and 124 long minutes long as it seems. Yet it gives one hope for Francis Ford Coppola, who'd laid off movies too soon and returns equipped to surprise us for at least another decade or so."

"It's telling that Francis Ford Coppola described the third installment of his legendary Godfather crime saga (in which the formerly stone-cold Don Michael Corleone is forced to reckon with the last vestiges of his spirit) as a 'coda': For better and for worse, he's been making codas for years now," writes Keith Uhlich at the Reeler.

"This is a comeback and a personal project, and from the very opening frame - a gorgeous opening-title tableau - I could see Coppola straining very hard to make it count," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "Every beautifully conceived shot, every camera pivot, every deployment of ultra-Romantic music by Certified Real Composer [Osvaldo] Golijov, seems to bellow 'Look at me! Do you feel the fantastic emotional and/or metaphysical effect I'm trying to convey?' It becomes a bit oppressive after a while — like chasing a fettuccine alfredo with a lasagna with a tiramisu in the space of five minutes, and then doing it all over again."

Updates, 12/14: "[B]y turns bewitching, inspiring, enervating and confounding," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times:

Not long ago Mr Coppola - whose greatest films have long been holy places for some of us - wrote that his adaptation of Youth Without Youth is "all about" consciousness. ("The reality in which we live is beyond our immediate perceptions.") I think it's all about movies, the pre-eminent mind-machine of the modern age, and the desire of an older, established, long-dormant director to tap into creative (metaphoric) youth by exploring some of the same cinematic concerns that possessed modernist filmmakers like Antonioni. In this film Mr Coppola blurs dreams and everyday life and suggests that through visual and narrative experimentation he has begun the search for new ways of making meaning, new holy places for him and for us. He may not have found them yet, but, then, he's just waking up.

"[T]hink of Youth Without Youth, Francis Ford Coppola's first new movie in ten years, as the jump-start equivalent of Steven Soderbergh's goofy Richard Lester tribute, Schizopolis," suggests Mike D'Angelo at Nerve. "Both films are fascinatingly flawed, borderline incomprehensible, and deeply, almost embarrassingly personal. But Soderbergh's nutty experiment paved the way for Out of Sight and the various triumphs that followed; with any luck, Coppola's dose of insanity will prove similarly rejuvenating."

"A self-consciously ambitious riddle of love, regret, and cursed metaphysics, Youth Without Youth implicitly acknowledges Mr Coppola's anxieties as a great director, but, sadly, fulfills many of them with a murky folly of genre-blurring, scattered epiphanies, and wordy philosophizing that might sound better in French,"writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun.

"This is something Coppola has obviously put his heart into, but the result is a mystery-romance that succeeds in being not very mysterious and not very romantic," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "Yet for all this, the film is not completely awful; it is often watchable in a barking way."

"Roth does an almost too credible job of playing a man living outside of time and his own identity, but there's something about the role that requires him to shrink back from the screen," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "Ultimately, Youth Without Youth is more intriguing than it is satisfying. It hooks you, then lets you flounder."

Coppola's "renewed sense of discovery comes with a fatal lack of clarity, as if he finished without successfully paddling his way through a sea of abstraction," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "It's somehow both incomprehensible and not experimental enough; the more Coppola hangs onto his stilted narrative, the less vibrant his free-wheeling ideas become."

"The ideas that underlie the film are both cosmic enough and abstract enough as to suggest utter bullshit - not unlike those in Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain - but Youth Without Youth is buoyed by the contrast between its artsy style and its many genre elements," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat.

"[I]t might as well have been written in Klingon," writes the Telegraph's Tim Robey. "It's a fascinating train wreck in many ways, with flashes here and there of the painful disquisition on mortality it might have been. Salvaging much more was beyond me."

"In short, and with some regret, I have to report that this is a weirdly unsatisfactory movie, codswallop set before us with a strange lack of real cinematic conviction," writes Derek Malcolm in the Evening Standard. "Perhaps Coppola has been drinking too much of his own wine. But he's young enough yet to make another masterpiece."

Updates, 12/15: This "is a vast, lumbering white elephant of a movie - but I sort of love it," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "This film is stubbornly, almost insanely, itself, and the convoluted journey it makes - from age to youth, ignorance to omniscience, despair to bliss - can't help but evoke the filmmaker's long strange trip of a career, from Dementia 13 to the Godfather movies and Apocalypse Now, through Bram Stoker's Dracula and The Rainmaker, all the way to... whatever this is."

"I will have to see Youth Without Youth a few more times before I can begin to decode how, exactly, the film blends playful mysticism, political allegory, pulpy adventure, high-minded artistic inquiry, fairy tales, and unabashed romance into a sweeping dream of considerable mystery and beauty - but I'm looking forward to it," writes Jürgen Fauth.

"[I]'s far too astonishing and complex to be easily dismissed," argues Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical. "[L]ike Welles, Coppola's less-appreciated films tend to improve over time and multiple viewings. I saw a print of the restored One from the Heart in early 2004 and found it quite astounding, an amazing piece of work. But at the same time, I'm not sure I want to see Youth Without Youth again. Recalling it now, I think of a film lacking in energy, pulse and life-blood. But I have too much respect for Coppola to let that stop me. Perhaps a few more years will do the trick, when I'm older and wiser."

Early on, Salon's Stephanie Zacharek was still holding onto "hope [that] it might turn out to be a lush, nutty romantic melodrama. Instead, it's merely nutty, a picture that appears to have been made by an individual who has fallen off the edge of reason. Watching it was misery."

"I always figured eternal life would get boring after a while, and Francis Ford Coppola confirms my suspicion with Youth Without Youth, an inert thumb-twiddler," writes Robert Cashill. "On some level, Youth Without Youth is another take on his Dracula, warmed over for pedants."

Updates, 12/16: Deborah Solomon talks with Coppola for the New York Times Magazine, while David Colman watches him indulge in a hobby: "Long fascinated with the curious process that makes espresso the heady brew it is, Mr Coppola has, by his estimate, owned as many as 300 machines. Yes, 300."

"Some people will find this picture heavy going in its seriousness," concedes the Observer's Philip French. "Others may welcome the unfashionable boldness of its engagement with ideas. Quite a few I'm sure will be engaged by a sweeping romanticism that shares many of the elements of those Hollywood films of the Forties about encounters with revenants and ghosts, the product of yearning feelings from the war years. It is certainly made with considerable assurance and has a surprisingly convincing performance from Tim Roth."

Choire Sicha talks with Roth for the Los Angeles Times.

Update, 12/17: "Youth Without Youth isn't intended to conciliate anyone," writes Nick Pinkerton at Reverse Shot. "It's a billowing, shapeless thing, ever flirting with disaster, but it passes my 'Is it Art?' litmus test just fine: upon leaving the theater, the objects of the world seemed briefly rejuvenated, closer, more real. Bless the guiltless profligacy of it all - having been silent for a decade now, FFC decamped for Romania and, with his vineyard dividends behind him, produced precisely the movie he wanted to make (inasmuch as his talent allowed). Indulgent? You fucking bet. Coppola, big and fleshy, a notorious Hollywood sybarite in his younger years, reborn as a well-to-do vintner, remains one of the screen's great, wallowing sensualists."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:01 AM

Spanish Cinema Now. 3.

James Van Maanen previews two new features and two films screening in the Pilar Miró retrospective. Spanish Cinema Now runs through December 27.

Solitary Fragments For all those who - frequently and with abandon - toss out the dismissive phrase, "It's only a movie!", and for others who claim that no movie can approach the breadth and depth of "real life," here comes Solitary Fragments (La Soledad) as one of - perhaps the - best corrective you'll encounter. This is not a documentary, although it possesses the feel and sound of one, if not the look. Most of us by now know that, while the documentary may be truthful, it can also be biased and judgmental, coming, as it does, from a single viewpoint and often taking in a single character, subject or event. But La Soledad is a narrative feature.

How has writer/director/co-producer Jaime Rosales (The Hours of the Day) managed this feat? Let's start with the "look" of the movie. The cinematography, by Oscar Durán, from the first moment is a knockout - beautifully composed and rendered (it's a scene of cows, yet!), and the film continues in this fashion for its two-hours-plus, not-boring-for-a-moment running time.

Generally, the camera is placed back a distance at the point of maximum inclusion and beauty of design and composition. It is then left stationary, so that characters enter and leave the frame as needed. This technique, while rarely used, is not without precedent, of course. What makes the difference here, I suspect, is that the director and crew appear to have set everything up perfectly, let the camera roll and then taken a powder. Is this possible? Without anyone there, watching them, the actors can more easily imagine the camera to be invisible, unseen. I suggest this because the entire cast - including not only the adults, but also some very young children, one of whom is pivotal to the movie - acts as though nobody is there. Very young children almost always look toward the camera and modify their behavior. Not here. (Adult actors have the smarts to try to fight this impulse.)

Speaking of adult actors, the cast chosen for the film looks remarkably "non-actory." Though new to me, their resumes show that most have worked often over the years. I think Rosales has cast them not only for their talent, which is front and center, but for their "everyday" look. While the camera loves certain actors (when it caresses them, they glow, looking larger, more beautiful than life), the cast here simply looks like life at its most ordinary. (Casting director Sara Bilbatúa surely deserves a good chunk of the credit.) Each performance not only looks right, it sounds right, and there will be times when the audience may imagine that the dialog has been improvised. I doubt it has. Rosales has written his screenplay far too well and too specifically. Improvisation - real conversation, too - is often boring. Rosales's is never that. Sounding random yet precise and structured, it weaves reality into art.

Structured, too, are the many scenes that comprise the screenplay.  Rosales has chosen carefully what he wants to show us, lengthy or short, meaningful or seemingly off-the-cuff, alternating humor with annoyance, the mundane with the profound. Two scenes especially are stunning, shocking; I've never witnessed anything quite like them. And yet they are quiet. I have not gone into content here, but there is certainly plenty of it, involving health, relationships, real estate and - oh, my - so much more. By the end, I felt I'd experienced fictional life on-screen in a manner than seemed... new. Offering none of the affect-free, non-behavior of Bresson, perhaps some of the serenity of Ozu, not much irony (which I usually love), but a directness and an honesty that are restorative, Solitary Fragments will be shown again Friday, December 14, at 9:15 pm.

Theresa, the Body of Christ Normally, a movie about a 17th Century Italian nun who makes sainthood would not ring my bell. That Ray Loriga's new movie Theresa, the Body of Christ (Teresa, el cuerpo de Cristo) comes close surprises even an agnostic reprobate like me. Anybody remember the 1973 camp classic Story of a Cloistered Nun with Suzy Kendall, Eleonora Giorgi and Catherine Spaak? Well, this new film does star Paz Vega, whom I happen to think can act (Sólo Mía, Spanglish, 10 Items or Less) in addition to being awfully beautiful; ditto Leonor Watling and Geraldine Chaplin, even if Ms Chaplin is part of the gorgeous grandmother set (but, ah, that bone structure!).

What writer/director Loriga has done is give us a relatively straightforward, researched (not up to snuff, according to my knowledgeable seat-mate, though it seemed pretty good to me), and beautifully set/photographed/costumed drama of a wealthy young woman's call from God, or in this case, from the literal body of a very sexy and appealing Christ. Loriga manages to make this a religious movie (Theresa does indeed struggle mightily with and for her calling) but he cleverly hedges his bet by giving us a perfectly believable psychological/sexual basis for this calling. He also introduces - with only a bit more exposition than necessary - politics, power, class and economics.

This is quite a dazzling film to view, colorful and visually smart, even though Loriga keeps his camera relatively close-up in his exteriors, interiors, and even in crowd scenes and one small orgy. What was probably a costly film would only have been more so had the camera panned outwards for very long. But it all works rather nicely, as this is in actuality an intimate movie, more character study than spectacle (the character of Chaplin's Prioress is especially interesting). Not particularly exploitative, the film impressed me as genuine and appreciative of Theresa, just as (according to Loriga's post-screening Q&A) Teresa's character seems to have genuinely impressed the writer/director. Given its cast, colorfulness and occasional skin, it would not surprise me to find Thersea, the Body of Christ in US theaters at some point. For now, it screens once more only, Tuesday, December 11, at 3:30 pm.

El Crimen de Cuenca Spanish Cinema Now's Pilar Miró retrospective got off to a difficult and rewarding start last Saturday with a rare screening of El Crimen de Cuenca (The Cuenca Crime), one of Miró's first motion picture ventures after a number pieces for Spanish television. Just prior to the screening, noted Spanish film critic, former director of the San Sebastian International Film Festival and Miró biographer Diego Galán gave us a fine intro to this writer/director and her work, more than ably translated by the FSLC's Richard Peña. I hope Mr Galán will appear at all the Miró screenings and share even more of his knowledge with the audience.

Miró, who died of a heart attack ten years ago at the age of 57, grew up in a military family that included her grandfather, father and brother. She appears to have despised men in uniform for rather good reason, if two of the three films of hers that I've seen so far are any indication: Cuenca Crime and Your Name Poisons My Dreams (Tu nombre envenena mis sueños). Señor Galán calls her a seminal woman and hugely important figure in Spanish cinema who was in part responsible for its growth and international acclaim following the Franco decades.

The Cuenca Crime details an event that took place in Spain in 1910, in which, after the disappearance of a somewhat slow young man in an outlying town, two other men are arrested, imprisoned and tortured by the Civil Guard until they finally confess to his murder. This story of power, politics and class involves everything from the three figures at the center of the "crime" to landowners, officials, judges, the Civil Guard, parents, wives, children and townspeople. Nobody comes out of it with his or her halo intact, and this film, about one of the most horrible miscarriages of justice in modern Spanish history, forces us to endure watching some truly horrible scenes of torture. (Galán mentioned that, during the film's premier run in Spain back in 1980, ambulances were stationed at theaters because patrons were fainting and worse from watching these scenes. Trust me, this is no William Castle gimmick: As someone who has sat through Hostel 1 and 2, Wolf Creek and more, I found these scenes about as difficult to endure as anything I've witnessed on screen - probably because they appear not only real but all too human and therefore even worse than the can-you-top-this gore and slaughter some of our current filmmakers seem to cherish.

If detailing torture were the main point of Cuenca Crime, it might still warrant an asterisk in movie history, but there's much more to this film. It culminates in an embrace that is passionate, meaningful and - infused as it is with everything we have just witnessed - easily one of the most powerful in screen history. Based on the two Miró films I've now seen, I'd say that she was no great stylist, at least not at this point in her career. Cuenca has a certain made-for-television look, and the dialogue is serviceable but not especially literate. Yet the director's sense of decency, justice and her strong need to document, coupled with her ability to move the story along quickly and with few melodramatic flourishes, have enabled her to create not only the biggest box-office success in Spain of that era but a movie that holds up beautifully today and will, I suspect, do so for a long time to come. Among the supporting cast are a much-younger-than-I-am-used-to-seeing Hector Alterio and Mercedes SampietroThe Cuenca Crime will screen again Wednesday, December 12, at 1 and 5pm.

Your Name Poisons My Dreams When I heard that the FSLC was doing this retrospective, I immediately sought out any Miró titles I could find from various movie internet services but came up with only one: Tu nombre envenena mis sueños (Your Name Poisons My Dreams or, as it was called in its DVD release, Amor y Venganza). Her penultimate theatrically-released film, this one shows an enormous leap over Cuenca Crime in certain areas such as budget and style, and its crack cast includes Emma Suárez, Carmelo Gómes and Toni Cantó. Supposedly a return to the thriller format for this director/co-writer (with Ricardo Franco from a novel by Joaquín Leguina), the film is hardly "thrilling." It waddles along rather lethargically for over two hours, as it flips back and forth among at least three different time periods - all of which take place during or in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War.

At stake here is why a certain fellow, and then another, have been killed and by whom. In his investigation, a policeman (Gómez) attends a funeral at which, upon seeing the daughter (Suárez) of the deceased, he is whisked back down Memory Lane to their meeting years before. We're whisked along with him, and then taken back even farther as the Suárez character begins explaining to Gómez her own family history. All this involves the war and who was on which side (families were often as divided internally over this subject as were the classes), along with love, assassination and revenge. Not just dreams, it turns out, are poisoned here. Whole lives are misspent in the quest for vengeance.

Miró's hatred of uniformed men is apparent once again, especially via the character of the Falangist. Her police, though they wear street clothes, still run the gamut between anti- and pro-Franco stances. The increasingly convoluted plot offers us some fairly interesting characters and incidents; the photography is gorgeous in terms of color, and sometimes composition; and performances are as good as they are allowed to be. Both Suárez and Gómez have been better elsewhere (there's not much chemistry between these two or any of the actors in the film), and the writing (perhaps taken directly from the novel) too often comes across as a kind of affected, tending-toward-the-purple prose. I suspect that this is not one of Miró's better movies. We shall see, as her retrospective continues... Your Name Poisons My Dreams will screen on Wednesday December 26, at 4:15 and 9pm.

- James Van Maanen

Posted by dwhudson at 5:13 AM

Ion Fiscuteanu, 1937 - 2007.

Ion Fiscuteanu
Ion Fiscuteanu, a Romanian stage and film actor known to international audiences for his role in The Death of Mr Lazarescu, died early Saturday in Bucharest. He was 70.... The Death of Mr Lazarescu directed by Cristi Puiu, won the Prix un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival in 2005, a watershed moment in the current renaissance of Romanian cinema. Mr Fiscuteanu, who went on to win acting awards for his performance at the Copenhagen and Transylvania film festivals, appears in nearly every frame of the movie.

AO Scott, New York Times.

See also: the Wikipedia entry.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:20 AM

December 10, 2007

There Will Be Blood, 12/10.

There Will Be Blood There Will Be Blood "is as astounding in its emotional force and as haunting and mysterious as anything seen in American movies in recent years," declares David Denby in the New Yorker. "I'm not quite sure how it happened, but after making Magnolia (1999) and Punch-Drunk Love (2002) - skillful but whimsical movies, with many whims that went nowhere - the young writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson has now done work that bears comparison to the greatest achievements of Griffith and Ford. The movie is a loose adaptation of Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel Oil!, but Anderson has taken Sinclair's bluff, genial oilman and turned him into a demonic character who bears more than a passing resemblance to Melville's Ahab.... As for Daniel Day-Lewis, his performance makes one think of Laurence Olivier at his most physically and spiritually audacious."

Updated through 12/16.

"There are great films (like No Country For Old Men) and then there are films that send shock waves through the very landscape of cinema, that instantly stake a claim on a place in the canon," blogs Scott Foundas, promising more on the film in the LA Weekly in the coming weeks. "Often, such vanguard works fail to be fully understood or appreciated at the moment they first appear, as some of the initial reviews that greeted Psycho, 2001 and Bonnie and Clyde attest. There Will Be Blood belongs in their company, and I consider myself fortunate to belong to a group with the foresight to recognize it in its own moment."

Earlier: the 12/5 and 11/9 entries and reviews from Fantastic Fest. And Lynn Hirschberg's profile of Day-Lewis for the New York Times Magazine.

Updates, 12/11: "Both Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd and Paul Thomas Anderson's (yes) masterpiece There Will Be Blood are built around protagonists who harbor an unquestionable disdain for their fellow man," notes Filmbrain. "These are no lightweight run-of-the-mill haters, but rather echt misanthropes that would make Vonnegut, Kafka or Jean-Paul Sartre proud. For Sweeney Todd and Daniel Plainview, hell truly is other people."

David Carr nabs quotes from the New York premiere.

Updates, 12/12: "In this moviegoing year of unrestrained morbidity and malfeasance, There Will Be Blood fits in very nicely with all the prevailing paranoia on and off the screen," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer.

"Another film-school-in-a-box by Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood is a triumph of vivid, overly assertive aesthetic minutiae - crammed to its oil-slicked rafters with highly stylized forms of art direction, cinematography, performance, dialogue, and music," writes Ed Gonzalez. "All that's missing from it is a sense of humanity."

His fellow Slant reviewer disagrees. Nick Schager on the first 15 or 20 minutes: "Never before has the writer-director's hand seemed so assured and attuned to the rhythms of his material, his gorgeously poised compositions and elegant narrative-advancing edits not only clearly setting up the themes (religion, family, deceit, self-interest) that will come to dominate his tale, but also conveying a formidable level of technical expertise and slowly building volcanic tension. Such authorial command doesn't waver once Daniel and those around him begin speaking."

Updates, 12/13: "Minute for minute, There Will Be Blood still thrills more than anything else I've seen this year, and that's even more true for the second viewing," blogs Jürgen Fauth, who's got a couple of pix from a press conference.

"There Will Be Blood has all the trappings of a conventional, albeit inspired, period epic," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "The production design by Jack Fisk, who's worked on all of Terrence Malick's films, is meticulously and beautifully detailed. Robert Elswit's widescreen cinematography often has an epic sweep. Certain scenes, such as the out-of-control gushing of an oil well that Plainview sees (correctly) as his vindication have a vigor and a pull that recalls the big-scale classicism of Lean. But There Will Be Blood is, in fact, not a historical saga; rather, it's an absurdist, blackly comic horror film with a very idiosyncratic satanic figure at its core."

Updates, 12/15: "[T]here's no doubt in my mind that Anderson has made the defining movie of 2007 - a year, after all, when the world may have passed peak oil production and continues to shed rivers of blood over who controls it," writes Jürgen Fauth. "There Will Be Blood opens as an epic history with a sprawling canvas and a keen eye on vivid period detail, but its fearless gaze keenly zeroes in on the final tunnel vision, a merciless conclusion so appalling that it threatens to curdle your very bodily fluids."

Sample Jonny Greenwood's soundtrack at Modern Fabulosity.

Updates, 12/16: Blood is a "shock to the system," writes Michael Atkinson, "an adaptation of Upton Sinclair that sheds everything I've always felt self-infatuated and annoying about Anderson's films (never-say-when sophomoricism, pointless epic-ness, aimless traveling shots, excessive quirk), and comes at the turn-of-the-century oil-prospecting morality tale with a stunning sense of grandeur (every image has an iconic feel), a bewitching respect for actors and viewers (you'll find no other recent American film so full of multi-character set-piece shots), a disorienting soundtrack that keeps you on the balls of your feet (by Jonny Greenwood), and Daniel Day-Lewis, making good on the small but entertaining bet he lost, via caricature and cheese, in Gangs of New York. Also, this is a film of uneasy textures and elisions; like Punch-Drunk Love, what we witness sometimes seems to evoke things we didn't, and the filmmaker has no interest in spelling things out for us, but instead lets us stew and grapple with the mysteries of history. The best new American film of the year, and in the nick of time."

"[T]he cast looks as though they walked out of late nineteenth century photographs, not merely giving There Will Be Blood the distinction of feeling like a exquisite period piece, but sealing this world into an epochal part of America's past while echoing strains of our present state of progress," writes Jenny Jediny at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "Occasionally it feels as if little has altered, that greed is no less overpowering today than it was nearly a century ago, and that little separates church and state; rather they remain intertwined in what feels like malignant co-dependency. There Will Be Blood is as frightening as it is engrossing; with a single viewing I felt a bit shell-shocked, if giddy, while the second was far easier to absorb, and to take note of the smaller details that remain in my mind like a well-written novel."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:34 PM | Comments (9)

I Am Legend.

I Am Legend "[T]he first two thirds and change of I Am Legend is terrific mindless fun: crackerjack action with gnashing vampires barely glimpsed (and scarier for that) and how'd-they-do-that New York locations," writes David Edelstein in New York. "Then some boring characters show up and a dangling cross on a rearview mirror signals faith and hope are about to make a dispiriting comeback. The finale is swift and senseless. So far no one has gotten the ending of this story right. We should get on it before the real plague hits."

"I Am Legend, the third or fourth film - depending on what you count - based on the 1954 apocalyptic science fiction novel by Richard Matheson, nails the emotional core in [Richard] Matheson's story," writes the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt. "What would it be like to be a last man on Earth?"

Updated through 12/15.

"The mutants first appear in a terrifically tense set piece half an hour in," writes John Hazelton for Screen Daily. "They're more like monsters than the vampires of the Matheson tale and though actors are credited with playing them they appear to be as much the product of CG work as of flesh and blood performance. They're certainly scary, but making them less recognizably human than Matheson's creatures removes an element of pathos from the story."

Alex Billington talks with screenwriter Akiva Goldsman for First Showing.

MoviesOnline interviews Will Smith.

Earlier: Last week's first impressions and reviews.

Updates, 12/11: "About 10 minutes into the new Will Smith movie I Am Legend, which opens in Manhattan theaters on Friday, my heart rate went up to about 200 and stayed there for the next hour and a half," writes the New York Observer's Sara Vilkomerson. "Staggering back out into Times Square's holiday crush from the screening room it seemed we'd just been through an aerobic workout before even facing the crowds of tourists and commuters - surprisingly not zombies."

"Smith is simply dazzling here, and for all the undeniably impressive work the actor has done on his physique for this role, what's most appealing about him is his active intelligence - how he thinks his way through a role - and his capacity for human weakness," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice. "If, as a movie, I Am Legend is less stylistically mind-blowing and intellectually ambitious than last year's yuletide dystopia, Children of Men, it's not far off.... [Director Francis] Lawrence takes things slow and easy, staging much of the film in long, dialogue-free handheld camera shots that use space, production design, and intricately layered sound effects to deliver us into Neville's desolate existence. But when the time comes for the inevitable showdowns between Neville and the Infected, Lawrence is no slouch."

Online viewing tip. At ScreenGrab, Leonard Pierce's got a video interview with Matheson.

Updates, 12/12: "I Am Legend is so good for so long, and Lawrence so adept at dragging out the tension of ingeniously devised, small-scaled suspense sequences, not even a massive flurry of explosions, fake-looking CGI and treacly Hollywood nonsense can undo the goodwill," writes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "Two thirds of a great movie is better than nothing."

"[U]nwise use of CGI is eventually no more debilitating a defect than I Am Legend's wayward third act, which begins with Neville cornily reciting lines from Shrek (whose titular, lonely character he relates to) and crooning Bob Marley, and then swiftly devolves into a morass of shabby, barely developed spirituality in which Neville learns to believe in God's plan and, as a result, finds the strength and courage to transform himself into a modern-day Jesus," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

Updates, 12/13: "Like a number of similar films released recently - including 28 Weeks Later, Children of Men, The Invasion and The Mist - Legend, in part, reflects a culture both alienated from reality by media images and voyeuristically drawn to fantasies of death and destruction," writes Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix. "These sole-survivor-of-doom movies are a symptom of the times, as they were before when previous editions of Matheson’s story shared the screen with a host of other films about being the sole survivor of mass human extinction. Each of these films mirrors the subconscious of the audiences who watched them." As for this one, he likes it.

"It's a fascinating restructuring of cultural history that I Am Legend presents Smith as the Alpha African-American movie star," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "In the film's most impassioned moment, Smith's scientist-soldier character shouts, 'I can save everybody!' Let's anatomize this phenomenon...."

"I Am Legend is a solid, handsomely mounted addition to the zombie-metropolis canon," writes Godfrey Cheshire in the Independent Weekly. "Anchored by Smith's subtle and resourceful performance, it may not win over those who feel that 2007 has seen too many zombie movies already - does this have anything to do with the impending elections? - but its vision of an uninhabited New York comprises some of the year's most riveting movie imagery."

Up to the second half, I Am Legend was "developing into one of the finest science fiction movies of recent years," writes Andrew Stuttaford in the New York Sun. "It's good, but it should have been - could have been - great."

Will Smith has "become Hollywood's biggest post-racial movie star," write John Horn and Chris Lee in the Los Angeles Times.

"A big part of the reason for this movie's nose dive around the one-hour mark is that, seen up close, the Infected just aren't that scary," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "Sure, they're startling when they pop out at you unexpectedly from the shadows, but so is my building superintendent. As rendered by a combination of CGI and motion capture, these beings - speeded-up zombies on the 28 Weeks Later model, wearing only torn trousers à la Incredible Hulk - are too familiar to elicit more than a mild 'eww'; and the movie trots them out so often that they start to become almost cute."

"Eerie and breathtakingly evocative, the solid I Am Legend nevertheless tries to be too many things to too many people, weighed down with cheap horror-film shock effects and barely passable CGI, instead of trusting in its legitimately captivating last-man-on-Earth scenario," writes Brandon Fibbs at cinemaattraction.

"Overall, I Am Legend is a wasted opportunity - a rickety, weather-beaten framework around an otherwise strong central performance from Smith," writes Eric Alt for Premiere.

Updates, 12/14: "Lawrence, who previously directed the hectic, obnoxious Constantine and many music videos, uses elaborate, computer-assisted means to create simple, striking effects," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "While I Am Legend... fits comfortably within the conventions of the sci-fi horror genre - here come those zombies! - it mixes dread and suspense with contemplative, almost pastoral moods." As for Smith, "There is something graceful and effortless about this performance, which not only shows what it might feel like to be the last man on earth, but also demonstrates what it is to be a movie star."

"I Am Legend is 28 Days Later on steroids," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "Or on Hollywood, which amounts to the same thing."

"[S]omehow, I Am Legend turns out to be a largely terrific, meanly gripping movie, anchored by a central performance from Will Smith at his most serious-minded," writes Andrew Wright in the Stranger. "I'm as shocked as you are."

But for Tasha Robinson, writing at the AV Club, it "feels like two movies jammed awkwardly together."

"In the early 21st century, a perfect world is not as engaging, or as seemingly likely, as a post-apocalyptic world" notes John Constantine at Nerve, taking a cue from Fredric Jameson. "In a movie devastating in its moments of quiet realism, it's too bad the antagonists look like cartoons. Put them aside, and you should enjoy the haunted Manhattan of I Am Legend."

"[I]f it is true that mankind has 100 years to live before we destroy our planet, it provides an enlightening vision of how Manhattan will look when it lives on without us," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "The movie works well while it's running, although it raises questions that later only mutate in our minds."

"[W]e jump, we cringe, we even weep," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "Sometimes it goes just a little beyond the predictable as well. There is a funny scene not far from the end that shows how years without human contact can make you squirrelly in ways that aren't obvious until other people are around. It points up the movie's thematic resemblances to Cast Away, which remains the gold standard on the subject."

Updates, 12/15: "I'm wondering whether, for that first hour at least, I Am Legend isn't the most meditative blockbuster ever made," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "In short, until the movie's false and flashy faux-religious climax, I Am Legend barely seems like an action movie at all. And though it has its flaws, including numerous cracks in its logic, I've never seen a blockbuster quite like it. Lawrence has pulled off what Steven Spielberg failed to do in War of the Worlds: He gives us an apocalyptic vision in which enforced loneliness and isolation almost become a state of grace. This is big-budget filmmaking that shows a human touch, and for that reason alone, I fear for its box-office potential."

"I'm hesitant to say how well I Am Legend will endure the test of time, but while you're watching it, you're caught in an iron grip, moved and manipulated and carried away by filmmakers who know exactly how to make you sink into our seat with dread," writes Cinematical's James Rocchi. "I shivered and tensed throughout I Am Legend, and at the end of the credits, I was dumbstruck to learn it was PG-13; it felt far more gripping and grim and upsetting than that rating would suggest."

The Last Man on Earth "has an unforgettable flashback to [Vincent] Price searching a ghastly funeral pyre for his little girl as the contagion spreads," notes Robert Cashill. "This new one being an impersonal, crowd-pleasing, A-list/PG-13 studio project, it ties our stomach up in knots over the fate of the dog while barely raising the hackles over the fate of mankind."

"The word 'mixed' isn't mixed enough to fit my response to this film," writes Time's Richard Corliss.

"[T]he film crackles with intelligence and terror," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "[Z]ombies have been, pardon the pun, done to death in recent years, but Lawrence makes these beasties into a formidable threat. He also ratchets the suspense level up into the red, making for a wonderfully squirmy experience. As for Smith, he has to carry about 80 percent of the movie solo, and he's utterly compelling."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:31 PM | Comments (2)

Tbilisi Dispatch. 1.

David D'Arcy takes a first look back at the festival that wrapped yesterday.

Tbilisi International Film Festival The former Soviet republic of Georgia is a land of wine, gorgeous landscapes, crumbling dusty urban architecture, Joseph Stalin and "George Bush Avenue," the now-renamed road that Bush took from the airport to the center of Tbilisi when he visited in 2204. Would anybody consider naming a road for Bush now? Certainly not in Iraq, but maybe in Washington, if it were a one-way street that led away from the White House.

I was a member of the jury at the Tbilisi International Film Festival, which has just wrapped in the eighth edition. The country is up for grabs right now, with elections coming soon, and the police going slightly easier at the moment on the demonstrators from the opposition whom they tear-gassed just a month ago.

Our prizes were given to the best film and best director. The top honor went to Andrzej Jakimovski of Poland for Tricks, a tender drama about a headstrong young boy's search for his father in a forgotten mining town where nothing much happens, unless it happens in your family.

In the warm days of July, when life in a place like this looks a lot more pleasant than it would in January, Stefek sneaks away whenever he can to the railroad station, where he often spies his father, or at least we're led to believe that the man is his father. Stefek lives in a dingy apartment with his shop clerk mother (whom the father has abandoned) and his wispy blonde freckle-faced sister, Elka, who at 17 seems to be getting her first taste of love from a local auto mechanic who drives a motorcycle. The girl's job is to take care of her younger brother, and that keeps her from using her rudimentary Italian to be hired at a local firm that seems to do business with Italy. The Italian executive drives the best car in this little town, not that this means much.

Tricks The main action, if you can call it that, is at the local train station, where Stefek can count on running into his father, who always seems to be on his way to a meeting somewhere, and missing his train the process. Stefek throws toy soldiers and coins on the tracks, waiting to see who'll take the bait, fishing for a father, who could be obliterated just as easily as he could be identified. Who said kids weren't confused?

The father is more confused than malevolent, as Tricks shifts between Stefek's mischief and the random happenings in the ensemble of locals. In the hands of Czechs, who seem to have highjacked the small-town approach to domestic comedy in Eastern Europe, it all too often becomes a winking and annoyingly playful magic realism. Add syrup and serve.

Not here. Jakimowski cast non-professionals Damian Ul and Ewelina Walendziak as Stefek and Elka, and they play the roles as naturally as the story requires, a tribute to Jakimowski's direction and to the realism that he's after. Adam Bajerski's fine cinematography is what we have come to expect of Polish films. (Too bad we don't see more of them outside Poland.)

There is an affection for characters here which reflects the autobiographical nature of the film. The director's parents split up, although they did remarry later, and he was cared for by his older sister. No character is exploited, no cheaps shots are fired at life in the provinces, and there's no sentimentality. There have been some poignant films about childhood from Poland in the last few years - The Cows and I Am (Jestem), two remarkably lyrical movies by Dorota Kedzierzawska, and Hi Teresa, by Robert Glinski, a harsh look at childhood lost to peers and the delinquency of the grim Warsaw suburbs. Tricks is a worthy addition to that number, and much more.

Simple Things The film which won the prize for best director came from Russia: Simple Things (site), Aleksei Popogrebsky's sly dark comedy about a middle-aged anesthesiologist juggling a pregnant wife, a girlfriend, a runaway daughter who acts as if she'll become pregnant any day now, and a dying actor in his care who is looking at the end of his life and considering making the exit sooner rather than later. Of course, the simple things like love, death and making a living are never so simple. Think of the doctor as a member of the struggling middle-class, in a place like Moscow where businessmen bathe their harems in Cristal. In the larger picture, of course, he's one of the lucky ones.

Two years ago, Popogrebsky was on the festival circuit with Koktobel, a road movie co-directed with Boris Khlebnikov in which an unemployed father and young son hop railroad trains from Moscow to the seaside resort of Koktebel because they're broke. Now he's gone from rural to urban, with a collision of stories that are as vivid a reflection of a certain kind of everyday life as the gently told stories of Tricks. Holding them together as Dr Sergei Maslov is Sergei Puskepalis, a theater director whom Popogrebsky cast as the hapless anesthesiologist who keeps finding new ways to feel pain. He's the protagonist in this ensemble cast, yet his face is so expressive in reaction shots that he becomes a kind of solo chorus, the hapless man to whom everything happens as he watches it all. There's no stylistic breakthrough in the look of the film shot by Pavel Kostomarov (which premiered in competition in Karlovy Vary), just a consistently funny twist on the perennial comedy of errors. No surprise, there's no US distributor. Try to see it at a festival, or on your next visit to Russia.

Relations are not good these days between Georgia and Russia. That's an understatement. The Russians have banned the sale of Georgian wine, which is a major export from the small country, and also its identity. (The country's patron female saint, Nino - yes, it's Nino - is typically depicted holding a cross made from vine branches.) And all flights between the two countries have been cancelled, at Russia's instigation, making it an ordeal to get to Moscow. Those who are still brave enough to visit Russia need a visa, and the Goergian's have retaliated by requiring visas for Russians. Popogrebsky's comedy reminded the public in Tbilisi of Russia's human side, which tends to get lost as Putin flexes his muscles.

More on new Georgian films soon...

- David D'Arcy

Posted by dwhudson at 2:58 PM

NYFCC. Awards.

Sight & Sound: Coens Another round for No Country for Old Men and Javier Bardem, this time courtesy of the New York Film Critics Circle, who throw in Best Director and Best Screenplay for Joel and Ethan Coen to boot. Just two awards for There Will Be Blood today: Best Actor (Daniel Day Lewis) and Best Cinematographer (Robert Elswit).

Looks like we're beginning to see some solid favorites in the Actress categories: once again, it's Julie Christie for Away from Her and Amy Ryan for her supporting role in Gone Baby Gone. And Sarah Polley wins the Best First Film award (for Away from Her).

Updated through 12/11.

Best Foreign Film: The Lives of Others. Best Animated Film: Persepolis.

Sidney Lumet receives a Lifetime Achievement Award and a Special Critics' Award goes to Charles Burnett for Killer of Sheep.

Now, by the way, is a good time for a first look at the Awards Scoreboard over at Movie City News.

Updates, 12/11: Time's Richard Corliss on the critics' awards: "[W]e're essentially passing notes to one another, admiring our connoisseurship at the risk of ignoring the vast audience that sees movies and the smaller one that reads us."

"I dropped out of the New York Film Critics Circle a few years back because I thought its awards voting process was corrupt," writes Jack Matthews in the New York Daily News. "The New York Times doesn't allow its critics to belong to critics groups and I think that's the right policy." So he's got his own list, and No Country for Old Men tops it. He also lists his favorites for Best Actor (Viggo Mortensen for Eastern Promises) and so on. Via Movie City News.

Dave Kehr isn't in complete agreement with the NYFCC's choices. No Country, he argues, is "a series of condescending portraits of assorted hicks, who are then brutally murdered for our entertainment, like an Errol Morris documentary with extra added splatter effects.... It’s disheartening to see this kind of facile cynicism become the default moral position of so many critics (the film also won the Boston and Washington, DC critics awards), particularly in a year when there is so much complex, considered cynicism readily available: There Will Be Blood, Michael Clayton, Beowulf, Sweeney Todd."

Glenn Kenny responds to Richard Corliss.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:38 PM

The Kite Runner.

The Kite Runner "As a purported sympathetic view of Muslims from a dream factory that has always painted them as buffoonish terrorist fodder for Schwarzeneggerian dispatch, The Kite Runner is undeniably something of a baby-steps breakthrough," writes Michael Koresky for indieWIRE. "Yet [Marc] Forster's touristy exoticization infuses nearly every frame, and, with the exception of one brief, late visit to a mosque, religion seems to play little to no part.... The film version of The Kite Runner is less a work of passion or political commitment than an utterly expected big-screen version of a pricey hot property."

New York's David Edelstein finds it "brisk and bland, but its blandness might work at the box office, where movies in which little boys get raped don't tend to pack in the crowds."

Updated through 12/16.

"The best things in The Kite Runner are the portrait of Kabul's flourishing upper-class life before the Soviets and then the Taliban took over, and the depiction of the bleak hypocrisies of the Taliban period - the disgusting cruelties performed in the name of righteousness, and the madness that makes it an offense to look at a woman's face but acceptable to keep a young boy as a sex slave," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "The movie's heart is certainly in the right place—it's a quietly outraged work—but I wish there were more excitement in it from moment to moment."

"There is something unexpected about the actor Khalid Abdalla. Watch him as the terrified, babyish 9/11 lead hijacker in the harrowing United 93 and then see him as the guilt-ridden, middle-aged Afghan-American author in the new film The Kite Runner, and you would barely believe he is the same person." Patrick Barkham profiles him for the Guardian.

"Usually stories about Afghanistan fall into 'Taliban and war on terror' or 'narcotics' - the same old things," Khaled Hosseini, who wrote the novel, tells Erika Milvy in Salon. "But here's a story about family life, about customs, about the drama within this household, a window into a different side of Afghanistan."

Earlier: An October entry; Newsweek's David Ansen; and Rahul Hamid's interview with Forster for Cineaste.

Update, 12/11: "[Y]ou'd think Forster, who made the admirably strange and lively Stranger Than Fiction, would seize the day and all manner of audience demographics with the colorful movie equivalent of a page-turner," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "Instead, he's made a drama as bland and beige as its tasteful palette."

Updates, 12/12: Dan Lybarger talks with Homayoun Ershadi for Hollywood Bitchslap.

In the New York Times, David M Halbfinger profiles "bankroller" Sidney Kimmel: "For the past three years Mr Kimmel- a garment-industry titan and philanthropist who built Jones Apparel Group into a $5 billion publicly traded company - has been spending tens of millions of dollars on small but often daring movies. His quirky comedies and high-minded dramas have frequently won favorable reviews, but none have become hits." And following The Kite Runner will be Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York.

Updates, 12/13: "In spite of being lovingly realized and creatively cast, The Kite Runner is a simplistic adaptation of a powerful, multi-layered story," writes Chris Wangler in the Boston Phoenix. "Your feeling leaving the theater might be less 'I should read the book!' than 'Where's the beef?'"

Robert W Welkos meets Ershadi for the Los Angeles Times: "He avoids discussing the political situation in his country, describing as 'so far so good' the questions posed to him by American journalists. Indeed, he appears eager to answer any question put to him. 'As long as they don't ask me about politics,' he says."

"John Kiriakou, the CIA agent who led the team that waterboarded a high-ranking member of Al Qaeda in 2002, served as the security consultant for Paramount's soon-to-be released film, The Kite Runner." For In These Times, Lindsay Beyerstein tells the story behind the whisking away of those kids and the delayed release of the film.

Jason Guerrasio talks with Forster for Filmmaker.

Updates, 12/14: "Like the recent film version of Ian McEwan's novel Atonement, another story ignited by the destructive behavior of a pubescent child, The Kite Runner presents a world informed by a variant of original sin," notes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. But Forster "has been soundly defeated by The Kite Runner. Despite the film's far-flung locations (it was shot primarily in China), there is remarkably little of visual interest here; the setups are banal, and the scenes lack tension, which no amount of editing can provide."

In the New York Sun, Nicolas Rapold lists ten literary adaptations appearing in theaters this season alone: "Of these, Kite Runner, which tracks a class-crossing boyhood friendship in Soviet-era Afghanistan, might be the worst, but it bears valuable lessons. For one thing, the hackneyed, bland drama reaffirms that the industry's chief interest is an adaptation's built-in audience of readers and name recognizers."

"The film's main departures and omissions come in its final act, where Hollywood regulations require that the pace must accelerate, and anything resembling reflection or languor is verboten," writes Bilge Ebiri at Nerve. "These scenes also feel like the film's weakest spot, not because it stops being ridiculously faithful to the book but because, in trying to make the story more cinematic, Forster and [screenwriter David] Benioff take some of the more melodramatic elements of the novel and send them over the top."

"The Memoirs of a Geisha ordeal (another enervating DreamWorks buy-up) comes to mind, but instead of shooting for glamorous sex as filtered through the vibe of a high-end LA massage parlor, Foster's film envisions Afghan life to have the melodramatic simplicity of a kebob-house raga, or, more pertinently, American TV shorthand and stereotype," writes Michael Atkinson in the Stranger.

"It takes a special kind of heartlessness not to be moved by moments in The Kite Runner," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club. "But it also takes an unusual amount of guilelessness not to be a little suspicious of it as well."

"One reason the movie version of The Kite Runner gets into trouble despite being faithful to the book is that things play differently on screen than they do on the page," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "Even though Amir's actions are identical in both places, on the page, because he is the narrator, we have an instinctive sympathy with him. On screen, he is presented as one of many characters, and though we understand why he feels so glum so much of the time, it is not as involving to be with him as an adult as it is as a child."

"How long has it been since you saw a movie that succeeds as pure story?" asks Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "This is a magnificent film."

Updates, 12/15: "Kabul has changed a great deal since I last saw it in 1976," writes Khaled Hosseini in the Guardian. "As I gazed out the car window at the endless destruction blurring by, I realised that there is not a single block in Kabul that hasn't in some way been scarred by war.... The poverty and disarray in many areas is unspeakable."

"The Kite Runner is a tear-jerker for the politically conscious," writes Laura Flanders at Alternet. "Unfortunately, when it comes to real-life U.S.-Afghan relations, the metaphors hit more bases than what's actually on the screen.... We know from President Carter's advisor Zbigniew Brzezinkski that the official version of Afghan history is hokum. US intervention didn't follow the Soviet Army's invasion, it preceded it.... Some will say it's unfair to hold the movie of a novel to task for repeating the propaganda version of US history, but the myth of the United States as macho rescuer is not only misleading, it's deadly - for people in Afghanistan and around the world."

For Cinematical's James Rocchi, the film is "worthy of at least a little praise, not only as a sensitively and beautifully made film but also as a deliberate attempt to reclaim Afghanistan - and the Afghan people - from an image that we in the West have crafted mostly from brief news reports of trouble or newspaper articles explaining a broken nation's shattered past." And he interviews Hosseini, too.

"Banned during the Taliban's rule, kite flying is once again the main recreational escape for Afghan boys and some men," reports Kirk Semple in the NYT.

"This is a confident and honorable movie - and a gripping one," writes Richard Schickel in Time. "I've come to think that stories about ordinary people blown helplessly through the world on the winds of endless war were the central narrative of the 20th century and, likely, the central one of the 21st century as well."

"The sap factor runs high here, with the phrase 'There is a way to be good again' popping up not once but twice," writes Alonso Duraldo for MSNBC. "Fans of the book may be delighted to see this story writ large upon the screen, but those approaching the material cold may wonder what all the fuss is about. The pacing is lugubrious, the performances unremarkable, and the movie itself mostly disposable."

Update, 12/16: Cinematical's James Rocchi talks with Benioff.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:40 AM

Kino-Sine.

Kino-Sine "Beginning in the mid-1970s and continuing through the 1980s and into the 1990s, a number of German film directors, theorists and other movie people came to work or teach in the Philippines." Tilman Baumgärtel has edited a new book, Kino-Sine: Philippine-German Cinema Relations, with contributions from Lav Diaz, Harun Farocki and many other names you'll know, and best of all, it's free. Click the title for more info on the book to and a link to the free PDF.

And there'll be presentations of the book at the the Annual Southeast Asian Cinemas Conference (ASEACC) in Jakarta on December 18 and at the Asian Hotshots Festival in Berlin on January 18.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:16 AM

Berlinale. Competition, round 1.

Berlinale The Berlinale's announced its first round of Competition titles, eight so far:

Katyn

For a few more details on each of these, Klicken Sie hier.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:50 AM

WDAFCA. Awards.

Film Comment: Javier Bardem "In the fourth and final critics' award announcement of the day, Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country For Old Men swept the Washington DC Film Critics Awards," indieWIRE's Peter Knegt noted last night. "Bringing the day's best picture tally to a tie between No Country and There Will Be Blood [yep, it was a good year to shoot in Marfa], the Coens' film took best picture, best director, best cast ensemble and best supporting actor for Javier Bardem."

Movie City News has the full list. Amy Ryan's on a roll - for now, anyway. Best Actor: George Clooney (Michael Clayton); Best Actress: Julie Christie (Away From Her).

Update, 12/10: Online listening from David Carr: "Tom O'Neil and Jeffrey Wells, crown princes in the Kingdom of Kudos, spend time deconstructing the critics' awards last night."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:57 AM

New York. 2007 Culture Awards.

New York: Best of 07. "[W]e're about to behold the rarest of all hopeful monsters in entertainment's evolution: a brilliant film adaptation of a musical," announces New York, opening its year-end best-of all-round cover package. "Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd, starring the other guy on our cover, opens December 21." And it's the only cultural artifact of the waning year to get an entry all its own here, Logan Hill's quick chat with Burton and Johnny Depp.

Besides a poll, a chart and a preview 08, it's mostly lists, of course. David Edelstein's movie list isn't strictly hierarchical, though there is a #1: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. The other ten slots (yes, it "goes to eleven") are more categories than rankings; e.g., "Best Unreal Movies That Made You Rethink Reality" (Ratatouille and Persepolis).

Update, 12/11: David Edelstein carries on listing.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:10 AM

December 9, 2007

LAFCA. Awards.

Vlad Ivanov "Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood, an epic tale of the oil business in early 20th-century California, won four awards from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association in their year-end voting Sunday including best picture, director and actor honors," announces the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt. "The other multiple-award winner was Christian Mungiu's Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days - the Palme d'Or winner at Cannes this year - which won both best foreign language film honors and best supporting actor in Vlad Ivanov, who played the abortionist in the film."

Updates, 12/10: Scott Foundas "couldn't help but chuckle" as he read some of the blogging Oscar prognosticators yesterday: "If I may, for a moment, part the veil: On a Sunday morning each December, a majority of LAFCA's 50-some-odd members meet at the home of our current group president and spend the next four or five hours hashing out our awards based solely - drum roll please - on the films and performances we consider to be most deserving of those awards. As un-sexy as that may sound compared to some sort of conspiratorial plot or agenda, it is, simply, the way things work."

And Robert Koehler replies to Jeffrey Wells.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:25 PM

NYFCO. Awards.

There Will Be Blood Just when you were beginning to fear a Helen Mirren-like juggernaut in the Best Film category this year, along come the New York Film Critics Online. With a tie. And neither film is No Country for Old Men. Instead, they've split the vote between There Will Be Blood and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

But look over the complete list as Ed Gonzalez has posted it at Slant's blog. While the top notch is Diving Bell's only showing, Blood nabs Best Director (Paul Thomas Anderson), Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Cinematography (Robert Elswit) and Score (Jonny Greenwood).

The only other film with more than one mention: Persepolis (Foreign Language, shared with The Lives of Others, and Animation). And here's to Julie Christie (Best Actress, Away From Her) and Cate Blanchett (Best Supporting Actress, I'm Not There).

Posted by dwhudson at 4:06 PM

BSFC. Awards.

No Country for Old Men The Boston Society of Film Critics has declared No Country for Old Men the Best Film of 2007 and Javier Bardem Best Supporting Actor. One other film gets two nods: Gone Baby Gone (Amy Ryan, Best Supporting Actress, and Ben Affleck, Best New Filmmaker).

But The Diving Bell and the Butterfly gets three: Best Foreign-Language Film, Best Director (Juilan Schnabel) and Best Cinematography (Janusz Kaminski).

Also: Frank Langella's named Best Actor (for Starting Out in the Evening), Marion Cotillard, Best Actress (La Vie en Rose).

Best Documentary: Crazy Love. Best Ensemble Cast: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. And this one's interesting: Best Screenplay goes to Brad Bird for Ratatouille.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:15 PM

Newsweek. Holiday movies.

Newsweek's David Ansen reviews six of the big holiday movies slated for release between now and New Year's Eve; each review comes with a compact sidebar, and I'll add a few extra pointers, too.

Holiday Movies

Sweeney Todd: "[Tim] Burton isn't interested in class warfare or the industrial-age political metaphors that [Hal] Prince emphasized onstage: his Sweeney, from John Logan's adroit screenplay, is an up-close-and-personal tale of blighted passions and dark obsessions," writes . "It has an emotional intimacy that allows you to see the work with fresh eyes.... Who knew Burton would have such an uncanny feel for how to film a musical?" And Marc Peyser chats with Burton.

Elsewhere:

Sweeney Todd

  • "In both conception and execution, Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is the perfect marriage of artist and material," writes Nick Schager. "Yet there's nonetheless something missing... Proficient and estimable in almost every way, Sweeney Todd is deliriously bloody but never truly gets one's blood pumping."

  • "Sweeney's always had a fitful second act, and it's always been more of an intellectualized exploration of class conflict than an emotional powerhouse on the scale of Sondheim's Into the Woods or Sunday in the Park with George," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club's blog. "Burton's trims and tightening make a musical that can seem exhausting on stage come off as fleet and gripping."

The Kite Runner The Kite Runner: "[Marc] Forster's solid, unpretentious movie hits its marks squarely, and isn't afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve. Only a mighty tough viewer could fail to be moved." And Lorraine Ali talks with novelist Khaled Hosseini, Forster and Khalid Abdalla "about their hopes for the film, their love of the book and their fear of Hollywood."

Elsewhere: "Forster - whose second feature, the interracial love story Monster's Ball (2001), earned an Academy Award for its leading lady, Halle Berry, and whose third, Finding Neverland (2004), picked up seven Oscar nominations, including one for best picture - is in town promoting his sixth and most recent film, The Kite Runner," and Terrence Rafferty is there for the New York Times to hear him talk about it - and his next one: "Forster may be one of the few available movie directors to whom the complex logistics of a James Bond picture could seem like a relief."

Persepolis Persepolis: "A wonderful spirit—defiant, funny, tender, self-mocking suffuses Persepolis, the entrancing animated film that Marjane Satrapi and codirector Vincent Paronnaud have made from Satrapi's autobiographical graphic novels.... In a year that has given us such marvelous animated movies as Ratatouille and Paprika, this vibrant, sly and moving personal odyssey takes pride of place." And Ramin Setoodeh meets Satrapi.

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes, Toronto and New York.

Charlie Wilson's War Charlie Wilson's War: "In this version of history, based on George Crile's nonfiction bestseller, the credit for the routing of the Soviet Army by the mujahedin rebels in Afghanistan belongs to a little-known congressman named Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), a womanizing, scandal-plagued, hard-drinking, liberal pol from Texas.... At the end of this story, any informed viewer knows, lies big-time blowback. Surprisingly, [director Mike] Nichols and [screenwriter Aaron] Sorkin play this trump card timidly. Is this admirable restraint or cold feet? Are they afraid of spoiling the feel-good uplift of Charlie's victory with the harsh downdraft of history? It's as if Titanic ended with a celebratory shipboard banquet, followed by a postscript: by the way, it sank."

And Cathleen McGuigan profiles the director: "Nichols's films seem to speak for their time - The Graduate, Carnal Knowledge - and sometimes uncannily so. Primary Colors, about a presidential candidate of voracious appetites, opened just after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke.... But politics isn't Nichols's motivation. He's after singular characters he can unpeel in front of the camera."

There Will Be Blood There Will Be Blood: "Because of its subject, its grand Western landscapes and its tycoon protagonist, [Paul Thomas] Anderson's movie has already been compared, somewhat misleadingly, with Giant and Citizen Kane. However, its uncompromising portrait of egotism and greed run amuck has more in common with Werner Herzog's hallucinatory Aguirre, the Wrath of God. And as a harrowing account of an obsessively anti-social man, its emotional temperature is closer to Raging Bull. What it shares with all of Anderson's work is a blistering intensity - and filmmaking that can make your jaw drop." And Ansen recalls a visit to the set.

Earlier: Reviews and first impressions from around 12/5 and 11/9 and from Fantastic Fest.

The Great Debaters The Great Debaters: "As you would expect from a movie from Oprah Winfrey's production company, Harpo Films, The Great Debaters is a story of self-actualization, self-reliance and the triumph of the underdog.... But if [Robert] Eisele's screenplay relies too heavily on tried-and-true Hollywood plotting, the wonderful cast does its best to make it feel fresh, finding subtleties and grace notes in roles that could have been clichés."

Allison Samuels: "Though he's hesitant to admit it, [Denzel] Washington's choices in characters have always leaned toward the noble, much as Sidney Poitier's did.... Washington, 52, is having one of the best years of his career, even as he gets ready to make his 37th film: The Taking of Pelham 123, costarring John Travolta. [American Gangster] was his biggest box-office opening to date - so he seems he's worth $40 million after all."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:21 AM

December 8, 2007

Awards and lists, 12/8.

Lust, Caution "Ang Lee's controversial spy thriller Lust, Caution has won a host of prizes at the Golden Horse awards in Taiwan," reports the BBC.

"Continuing the most head-scratching year-end awards season in recent memory, the International Documentary Association named Mary Olive Smith's A Walk to Beautiful as the Best Feature Documentary of the Year, capping an awards night in Los Angeles marked by no-show winners and surprise guest presenters." AJ Schnack's got a report and the full list.

The Australian Film Institute has announced its many awards, among them, Best Film: Richard Roxburgh's Romulus, My Father. Via Patrick Walsh at Cinematical.

Jeffrey Wells puts Zodiac at the top of his "10 Best Films of 2007" list.

"Because I loved this post about the top ten films of the millennium (thus far), and because I love lists, and probably because I'm sometimes a copycat, I decided to compile a list of the twenty most defining films released since 2000," blogs Brett McCracken. Via Jason Morehead, who also points to a couple of non-film-related lists.

The New York Times Magazine presents "70 of the ideas that helped make 2007 what it was."

In the Los Angeles Times: "Favorite Books of 2007."

Angel Gurria-Quintana compiles the Financial Times' list of "best books of 2007."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:11 PM

Lists. Sight & Sound.

Sight & Sound: January 08 "Each year we ask a selection of our contributors - reviewers and critics from around the world - for their five films of the year," writes Sight & Sound editor Nick James. "It's a very loosely policed subjective selection... From this we put together the top ten you see here. What distinguishes this particular list is that it's been drawn up from one of the best years for all-round quality I can remember. 2007 has seen some extraordinary films. So all of the films in the ten are must-sees and so are many more. Enjoy."

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days tops that list (and so far, it tops my own 2007 list as well). Download the PDF for 46 more pages of list browsing.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:57 AM

Spanish Cinema Now. 2.

A two-parter: James Van Maanen surveys an eight-part series on the Spanish Civil War - and lunches with a few Spanish filmmakers. Spanish Cinema Now runs through December 27.

La Guerra filmada No doubt about it, The War on Film (La Guerra filmada) is an event. This first-time showing anywhere outside Spain of the landmark Spanish television series should have "patriots" of all stripes - now mostly, I should think, in their senior years - lining up and ready to lap it up. First aired in 2006 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the war in July of 1936 (the war ended, rather appropriately, on April Fool's Day, 1939, with rebel General Francisco Franco assuming dictatorship over Spain), the series is actually an assemblage of newsreel and propaganda films shot during the war, grouped (by topic and time) and presented by Spanish historian Julián Casanova.

The key word in the above paragraph is propaganda, which should probably be added to the duo of death and taxes as the new triumvirate of life's "unavoidables." I write this, having just finished the nearly eight hours of The War on Film over four days at approximately two hours per pop. The propaganda, particularly during the first two hours, is nearly non-stop. One would expect that any series devoted to the defining event of modern Spain, one that echoed around the entire world, might offer something more.

The decision to simply assemble these archival films, from both the Republic and rebel viewpoints, and have Señor Casanova introduce them by explaining to viewers in quiet, measured tones what each contains may be commendable in terms of circumventing polemic. But it offers neither depth nor detail about the war. Nor is there any commentary to leaven the nitwit propaganda. And, ohmigod, is it boring! This is especially true of the first two hours - which is too bad because the repetition and boredom might cause viewers to give up on the series. Fortunately, The War on Film grows somewhat more interesting as it progresses. The original television series was divided into eight parts of approximately one hour each; for the Film Society of Lincoln Center presentation, two parts each are packed into a single bill of four programs.

Buenaventura Durruti Program One includes The Republic at War, three pieces offering a look at the Republic side early in the conflict. The first, Spain in Arms, though written and produced by - yes! - Luis Buñuel, makes it appear that the master's entire oeuvre was somehow made in reaction to this propaganda piece. The Burial of Durruti (we see the noted anarchist alive and well in other portions of the series) catalogs the fellow's funeral, but unfortunately bears no subtitles. The original episode was filmed with an English soundtrack, so presumably someone thought subtitles were unnecessary. Yet the spoken English has been over-dubbed in a Spanish that effectively drowns out the English dialogue. The final section covers the initial meeting of the Spanish Parliament and features a famous speech by Parliament President Largo Caballero. The rebels (so called because Franco's military coup unseated the democratically elected government) are represented by Heroic Spain, which is mostly the same blather, less poetically stated, and from the other side of the fence.

Program Two: Part Three begins with a 24-minute Report on the Revolutionary Movement in Barcelona, which includes the following gem, recited over the shot of a young soldier holding a rifle: "This magnificent specimen of a libertarian guerrilla is keeping constant watch, like a young eagle, so as not to be caught unaware by fascism." In the propaganda battle, I admit the left does seem to hold the upper hand in its use of metaphor; the right could have benefited from a Spanish Ayn Rand. The most shocking part of this section is its attack, after the fact and via film, on the Catholic clergy, who were mostly in the pocket of Franco. Also included is a gentle actual attack on a local lunatic asylum so as not to harm the inmates. The following section takes us to the countryside to watch the soldiers interact with the populace, and the irony and sadness of seeing fresh, smiling faces you know will soon go down in defeat is particularly unsettling. Next we see the living Durruti, who, we are told, "has muscles of steel!"

Liberterias Around now, you may begin to realize why narrative films such as Ken Loach's Land and Freedom, Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth and Vicente Aranda's Libertarias (among many, many others) handle so much better the delicate questions of guilt, complicity, doubt, and that mixed bag called humanity than do all the propaganda dished out by either side - even when, as here, it's accompanied by music military and faux majestic.

Barcelona: Working for the Front takes us back to the city and factories, showing how the left helped distribute and organize food, clothing, medical supplies and the like. We get a lesson in sheep skinning, another in vermicelli- and macaroni-making; and we see a sausage factory and the canning process. Newsreels are particularly fascinating for their capture of time and place. Fashions, cars, architecture: They're all here. The section ends with a visit to the Ritz Hotel, formerly a haunt of the wealthy elite, now used as a meeting/dining place for the common folk.

Part Four, The Defense of Madrid, Section 1, shows the anarchists to be in control in Barcelona, while Section 2 reflects the Communist/Soviet control over Madrid. Sections 3 and 4 were filmed by Soviets sent to Spain as war correspondents. We see everything from actress Montserrat Blanch urging resistance by the Republic to preparations needed in case a building should collapse. Catalonian anarchist Buenaventura Durruti appears again, leading Madrid's defense columns, and we go to Casa de Campo Park in Madrid, as it becomes a battleground. The program ends from the rebels' viewpoint: a "Re-conquest of the Fatherland."

Hitler and Franco The propaganda quotient in Program Two is sometimes so high that you wonder if it won't turn a hardened liberal into a frothing fascist (or, I would hope, vice versa). At one point, I found myself thinking: If I see or hear "No Pasarán" one more time (it appears on posters, signs, banners, plaques; it's sung, danced and chanted), I would not only let Franco pass, I'd hand him the keys to the city. The amount of time devoted to/wasted on pomp and circumstance, parades and marching easily surpasses the entire director's cut of Waterworld. I'd gladly have sacrificed much of the marching and replaced it with some intelligent commentary.

Program Three: Part Five begins with an Homage to the Brigadier of Navarre, ten minutes more of pomp and ceremony with commentary that is weak to nonexistent, in which Franco gives a speech to new officers which is described as "a just speech, full of sobriety and style." Of course, we don't hear an actual word of it. Following five minutes more showing the Basque President, we have Mr Casanova, again telling us what we are about to see. And then we see it. No further explanation, discussion or questioning ever occurs. (It's a bit like a Bush press conference - without the planted questions.) Later we can appreciate the sexy looking, leather-clad motorcycle cops of the Republican side (Hmmm... Early Wild One?), as well as the ambulances sent to Spain by the American left. Then follows a newsreel more interesting than most, perhaps due to its more realistic and less pompous narration, showing a Falangist theatrical production, Franco in Morocco, and the capture and re-capture of Teruel. A demonstration takes place in Barcelona regarding Teruel, and in a final clip, the Falangist General Yagüe addresses a Latin American audience, telling it that "Franco is building a just Spain."

Part Six deals with the International Brigades who aided the Republic, the German and Italian forces who sided with the rebels, and how both sides used the foreigners for propaganda purposes. This "internationality" of the Spanish Civil War is among its most important aspects, and it's here, I think, that the documentary simply flattens. Sure, it's interesting the see the Brigade from Turkey taking its leave. But why did it depart? There was a lot going on here: divisions between the Anarchists and Communists, a ploy by Republican leader Juan Negrín to get the rebels to withdraw their foreign troops, problems in the home countries from which each Brigade came - all fascinating and rich stuff, of which you'll learn nothing. But you will see a lot more pomp and ceremony and, oh, yes, more marching.

Otherwise, there is some interesting left and right propaganda on how each side treated its prisoners, the most telling being a British interview with two foreign fighters: an Italian solider, Gino Foggi, and a German, Rudolf Ruecker. This interview appears to have proven - to the Brits, at least - the existence of international intervention in the war. Other short scenes show Americans (some politicians of the time) visiting the American wounded, international writers congregating to show their support, and finally, the German "Condor Legion" returning to Germany.

Program Four, covering the end of the war and the final Franco victory, begins with Part Seven and the idea that the non-intervention policies of the western democracies helped other countries fall to the Axis powers - and then gives us more propaganda. Following this, a thoughtful French documentary warns of the upcoming danger to the free world and shows that the French, frightened legitimately early on, knew quite well that they were surrounded on three sides by fascist enemies - Germany, Italy and Spain - whose troops together vastly outnumbered their own. (Seeing this short film helps make it clearer why France fell so quickly and completely. Sure, it could have put up more of a fight, but to what end? At that point in time, England, America and so many others had adopted a non-intervention policy.) We also observe the French "Milk Day," created to save Spanish children. Overall, some four million tons of food, clothing and medical supplies were sent to Spain from France.

La Guerra filmada Two pro-Franco documentaries conclude this episode: The March on Barcelona, in which we see the general populace embracing the rebel cause, bringing to mind how quickly and easily people will rouse themselves to whichever side gains power. When a smiling woman is shown trying to tear down a street sign dedicated to Durruti, you may flash forward to that bust of Saddam Hussein being toppled during our first (and only) victorious moment in Iraq. However staged both of these events may have been, a conquered people is always willing to comply, usually with a smile. Perhaps the funniest moment comes in the next documentary that tours the torture chambers of the "Reds," offering up cells "with hallucinogenic designs on the walls that worked on the victims' brains." These "designs" looked to me like small-potato modern art, but I suppose if the particular prisoner were an art critic, this might have proven a horrifying incarceration.

Part Eight, Victory, pays homage to the fallen heroes who fought for Franco. Religion, missing from the Republican propaganda since the early chapters' condemnation of the Church, is now almost ever-present in the message of the rebels. We see the jail in Alicante where the founder of the fascist movement, Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, was executed, and the mass attended by remaining family members. Outside masses, several of which are shown, were all also a big draw. In La Liberation de Madrid we learn that the University is evil and the Church good. More poetic propaganda ensues and medals are presented to Franco. Cue the applause, parades, pomp - boy, they are really rubbing it in - with everybody and his brother (and their horses) marching before our tired eyes.

The series ends with Franco promising Spaniards that "the laurels of this victory shall never wither." And though it did take nearly 40 years before the little dictator died, "wither" those laurels now have done. (Though I wager that plenty of the current Spanish populace would love to be experiencing the Franco time again, just as many Chileans would enjoy a return to Pinochet. And once the Bush administration is out of power, you can bet just as many Americans will be praying for its return.)

In the final two minutes of these nearly eight hours, historian Casanova at last lets his hair down. Suddenly, there is more urgency and meaning in these brief moments than in the entire series. During his recitation of the many brutal statistics about the war and its aftermath, Casanova's hatred is very nearly palpable. "The Civil War was followed by an uncivil peace," he explains with barely concealed rage, "but that is another story." Indeed it is, and one that Spanish filmmakers have been telling over and over, in all its incarnations, since the death of their dictator and a return to the democracy - difficult, as democracy always is - that was denied them nearly 75 years ago.

I suppose, were I a Spaniard, this series might have meant more to me. Seeing films made at the time of a war that I had studied in school would count for something, and these old newsreels do fill in certain visual blanks. Still: I am no historian, yet I am probably more genuinely interested in the Spanish Civil War than most Americans (who barely know their own - let alone foreign - history). I came to The War on Film hoping to increase my knowledge and understanding. Despite some interesting moments and scenes, it didn't begin to happen.


For the press, one of the unalloyed pleasures of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's various national movie festivals - French, Italian, and currently Spanish - is the special luncheon held around the time of the opening of each series. Here, distributors, filmmakers, actors, press and others can spend two to three hours chatting, making the rounds, enjoying some splendid cuisine, and most especially, talking one-on-one with some of the artists who grace these festivals with their work. It is particularly surprising to me (and I would think rather galling to the FSLC) that more of our mainstream press, those gatekeepers and cultural guardians, don't bother to attend. Well, their loss.

At Thursday's gathering, full of the same energy, humanity, curiosity and charm that you'll find in many of these new Spanish films, I was able to chat for a good length of time with a young woman involved in the marketing of the movie Concursante (Contestant), one of my favorites in the fest so far. I learned that in Spain the film relied heavily on YouTube and even created a blog, which, instead of being about the movie, was written from the perspective of its main character.

Bajo las estrellas From there we sat down at our respective tables and I found myself seated next to Félix Viscarret, director of Bajo las estrellas (Under the Stars), and his wife Pilar, one of the loveliest, most charming and helpful women I have encountered in a long while. She was a lifesaver, making certain I avoided any food that might set off my shellfish allergy, while filling me in on all sorts of fun facts about the making of the film. Viscarret himself is possessed of a sturdy charm factor, and spoke quite interestingly and honestly about his experiences on the film. (For everybody connected with Under the Stars, from its director and writer to all the crew, this was their first full-length feature. Although I had some qualms about the movie, I find this rather amazing because the technical level achieved is so high.)

Because so much of this particular festival is devoted to the Spanish Civil War, I mentioned that the films of the three younger directors represented today - Viscarret, Rafa Cortés (Yo) and Rodrigo Cortés (Concursante) - did not seem to touch at all upon this topic. "I think," noted Viscarret, "that we feel so much has already been done on this - and that often it is so one-sided - that we should move on. There are plenty of other subjects to explore."

At a nearby table, I talked with Rodrigo Cortés and got a mini-course in banking, the Federal Reserve and other subjects close to the heart of his fascinating and very unusual little movie, Concursante. "Were you an economics major?" I asked, at the conclusion. "Oh, no, " he laughed. "If I'd studied economics, I'd never have been able to make this film!" I think I know what he means. His movie so determinedly hacks away at conventional wisdom and things so many of us take for granted. If he'd had a more typical education, he might have fallen for the rhetoric and we'd never have been blessed with this crackerjack film.

The one actor at the luncheon - appearing in two of this year's films: Yo and 53 Winter Days - was Alex Brendemühl. Each time I see this fellow, he's so different as to be almost unrecognizable. (Once you've seen these two films, watch him as the missing husband in the Leonor Watling/Luis Tosar comedy Unconscious.) His ability to get inside each new character seems to me to be the equal of anyone here in the USA. And he does this is a very "un-showy" manner, subtle and truthful. Speaking with Brendemühl, a German actor who now works often in Spain, made me realize once again how much international talent there is that we provincial Americans (yes, even here in NYC) hardly know.

The luncheon also made me even more aware of the tremendous spirit and energy present in Spanish filmmaking today.  Even though I found two of the films mentioned above more worthwhile than the other two, I would not discount any of the talent on display. This is a country - and a generation of young filmmakers - to watch, enjoy and learn from.

- James Van Maanen

Posted by dwhudson at 5:46 AM

December 7, 2007

Lists, 12/7.

Control As a sort of warmup, the Guardian's film critics - Xan Brooks, Cath Clarke, Andrew Pulver, David Thomson and Peter Bradshaw - each write up a hit, a miss and a surprise from the year in film. Then they've put their votes together and come up with this list, the top 20 films of 2007. And now, they're asking you.

"Lee 4ème Prix DVD des Cahiers du cinéma."

"With all the talk about 2007 as a singularly great year for movies, we at the AV Club have been discussing among ourselves what years we'd nominate as the best-of-the-best," writes Noel Murray. "For the next several weeks, the AV Club's regular film reviewers will offer our individual choices." And he's going for 1974.

Updated.

Jerry Lentz lists, "in no meaningful order," 19 favorites of the year.

The Shamus nominates some of this year's best non-original songs heard at the movies.

Matt at Drawn!: "Favorite Comics and Art Books of 2007."

Rex Sorgatz, Keeper of the Lists, has a list of his own: "Top 25 Albums of 2007."

"Pick of the bunch." The Economist's list of best books of 07.

Update: Sean Axmaker lists his top ten DVDs of the year at MSN - and adds a set of extras, so to speak, at his new site.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:40 AM | Comments (7)

Karlheinz Stockhausen, 1928 - 2007.

Karlheinz Stockhausen
Karlheinz Stockhausen, who has died aged 79, was one of the great visionaries of 20th-century music. He was fond of quoting Blake's lines "He who kisses the joy as it flies, lives in Eternity's sunrise"; and like Blake, the pursuit of his vision led him down strange, and often awkward paths. The results earned him a reverence among a cult following which is unique among 20th-century composers; but they also earned him a fair amount of ridicule....

Updated through 12/13.

The title of his most famous (and some would say best) piece, Gruppen, has a marvellous exuberance, in which fantasy and rigour feed off one another.

By this time Stockhausen had already become the acknowledged leader in what was then a fledgling medium; electronics. In the threadbare studio of the Paris Technical College he worked on a new dream: "I now wanted a structure, to be realised in an Etude, that was already worked into the micro-dimension of a single sound, so that in every moment, however small, the overall principle of my idea would be present."...

[I]t makes no sense to divide his career into a rationalist and a mystical phase; both were intertwined from the beginning, and they came together in the serial principle, to which Stockhausen, remained loyal to the end.

Ivan Hewett, the Guardian.

See also: Alex Ross has a press release from Stockhausen Verlag; the Wikipedia entry.

Update, 12/8: "Stockhausen had secured his place in music history by the time he was 30," writes Paul Griffiths in the New York Times. "He had taken a leading part in the development of electronic music, and his early instrumental compositions similarly struck out in new directions, in terms of their formal abstraction, rhythmic complexity and startling sound.... Mr Stockhausen produced an astonishing succession of compositions in the 1950s and early 60s: highly abstract works that were based on rigorous principles of ordering and combination but at the same time were vivid, bold and engaging.... By the 1960s his influence had reached rock musicians, and he was an international subject of acclaim and denigration."

Update, 12/9: "[T]he fact is: no Stockhausen, no Pink Floyd, no Stockhausen, no Velvet Underground or Yes, certainly no Brian Eno," writes Ed Vulliamy in the Observer. "Probably no Radiohead either. This was the man who realised that Wagner was rock'n'roll and that rock'n'roll is Wagner."

Update, 12/13: For the Guardian, Tom Service collects remembrances from friends and collaborators (including the Quays) and writes, "The one thing Stockhausen had more than any other composer of the 20th and 21st centuries was unshakeable self-belief. He was as sincere and single-minded in his adoption of Sirian cosmology in the 1980s and 90s as he was of serialism in the 50s."

Posted by dwhudson at 10:44 AM

Looking for Cheyenne.

Looking for Cheyenne "The French, lesbian-centered Looking for Cheyenne is grown-up fare," writes Ernest Hardy in the Voice. "Director Valérie Minetto, working from a screenplay she co-wrote with Cécile Vargaftig, has fashioned a beguiling comedy from a Marxist-inflected thesis that is filled with characters who rage against the machine with pessimism, optimism, and naïveté - sometimes in rotation."

"As is often the case with French films, the characters' sociopolitical stances can be far less relaxed than their sexual outlooks, and that dichotomy gives this import its real depth," writes Gary Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times. "This one's worth looking for."

Updated through 12/9.

"Despite the intimate nature of the relationships that make up this slight and ultimately repetitive chronicle of lost love, Looking for Cheyenne is on the whole a chilly, murky, and passionless enterprise," writes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "Perhaps sensing what little material she has given herself to work with, Ms Minetto embraces almost every conceivable form of modernist and postmodernist conceptual lily gilding to plump up a sigh of a short film into some sort of personal and political feature-length statement."

But back in March 06, Lisa Nesselson wrote in Variety: "An utterly refreshing look at work, love and politics centered on two attractive young women who are nuts about each other, Looking For Cheyenne is suspenseful, funny, touching, sexy and painlessly pertinent."

Update, 12/9: "In many ways, Looking for Cheyenne is reminiscent of the HBO film Gia - a tragic lesbian love story that succeeded because the performances were so grounded in reality," writes Ryan Stewart at Cinematical. "Looking for Cheyenne caps a semi-decent year for French film that began with one of my favorites of the year, The Page Turner. Let's hope 2008 will be better."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:51 AM

Dylanology, 12/7.

Blonde on Blonde "The reason why many Dylan fans fixate so strongly on his mid-60s career is that it passed by so quickly: between 1965, with the release of Bringing It All Back Home, and 1966, when his motorcycle accident took him off the road (he returned to touring eight years later), he released two more albums, Highway 61 Revisited... and Blonde on Blonde..., meanwhile touring to increasingly schizophrenic audiences." For Stop Smiling, Michael Helke surveys Early, Middle and Late Dylan via this year's avalanche of theatrical, DVD and CD releases.

"Celebrations of reinvention have come easily to poetry, fiction, music and dance but with much difficulty to the still costly art of moviemaking," writes Kent Jones in his piece on I'm Not There for the Nation. "The comparatively inexpensive nonnarrative films of Kenneth Anger and James Broughton aside, a very special temperament is required to follow in Whitman's footsteps with the expenditure of millions of dollars hanging over your head and a flock of smiling executives pecking away at you as you're trying to get your movie in the can. 'Rebel' or 'maverick' doesn't even begin to cover it. Only militant aesthetes need apply, and I can think of no better term to describe Todd Haynes."

The New York Times' AO Scott reviews The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival, 1963 - 1965: "It's a remarkably pure and powerful documentary, partly because it's so simple. The sound mix is crisp, the black-and-white photography is lovely, and the songs, above all, can be heard in all their earnest, enigmatic glory, performed by an artist whose gifts are at once mysterious and self-evident."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:46 AM

The Band's Visit.

The Band's Visit "I'd be lying if I said that The Band's Visit isn't touching and uplifting and all those other audience-friendly emotions against which film critics are believed to religiously steel themselves," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice. "But in a season rife with movies (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Grace Is Gone, The Kite Runner) that aggressively pry open viewers' chest cavities and yank on their heartstrings, [Eran] Kolirin's film merely plucks gently. It has an elating lightness that belies its heavy subject - peace, or at least conversation, in the Middle East - and it leaves you filled with a sense of possibility."

Updated through 12/9.

"The Band's Visit, the Israeli film that's become celebrated for what it lacks - enough Hebrew to contend for the best foreign language Oscar - can now be seen and appreciated for what it has in abundance: visual wit, verbal charm and a completely droll sense of humor," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "Debuting today for a one-week run before a February opening, this story of an Egyptian band's visit to Israel is both sweet-natured and sharply pointed, a film whose poignant, emotional effects and subtle acting sneak up on you."

"Amid the awkward conversations (spoken in lightly halting and fluid English), the even more uncomfortable silences, bits of music and some nicely executed physical comedy, the Egyptians and the Israelis circle one another warily," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Love doesn't exactly bloom in this desert, but a sense of unarticulated longing does."

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes and Toronto.

Update: "Though it's both a predictable culture-clash comedy and a gentle plea for people of different political backgrounds to 'just get along,' The Band's Visit nevertheless manages to use its central contrivances and inevitable cliches to its favor, and becomes something ethereal and winning," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE.

Update, 12/9: "It all goes pretty much exactly as you expect, but Kolirin holds it together with a perfectly judged narrative pace, slowed to the measure of mutual awkwardness and minor trepidation," writes Michael Sicinski. "Add to this the director's innate sense of space and framing, continually drawing subtle, often forlorn compositions from the exurban landscape, and voila. The Band's Visit is a lovely middlebrow entertainment, one that actually generates warmth rather than imposing it from above."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:39 AM

Eraserhead.

Eraserhead "Eraserhead was ushered into an unsuspecting world during the same season as Star Wars and, in its infinitely perverse manner, was just as much a mythic fable destined to infiltrate pop culture and generate a cult audience of repeat viewers," writes Steve Dollar in the New York Sun. "It was like watching Tod Browning's Freaks directed by Samuel Beckett, a bad acid trip hallucinated in shades of charcoal and luminous gray, scored to the hydraulic wheeze of steam issuing from a radiator (albeit one that houses a tiny stage and a matching, furry-faced chanteuse who pledges, 'In heaven, everything is fine')."

Updated.

"The film suggests various influences - its writhing bodies recall Francis Bacon's paintings, the baby's head evokes Georges Franju's lyrical slaughterhouse film Blood of the Beasts - traces of which continue to appear in Mr Lynch's films and fine-art works. The baby's head resembles that of a skinned lamb, and foreshadows the title character of The Elephant Man (1980) and the colossal worms of Dune (1984)," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, where she notes that a new 35mm print is screening at the IFC Center through December 20.

Related: "Published in 1983, Stuart Samuels's Midnight Movies was the first book to address a brief but notable moment in film culture: El Topo, Night of the Living Dead, Pink Flamingos, The Harder They Come, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Eraserhead were immensely popular in the 1970s, but only in the then-trendy witching hour slot," writes Ray Young at Flickhead. "Two decades later, the author revisits the phenomenon in Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream, a fast and engrossing documentary produced in 2005 for Starz that's now available on DVD."

Update: For Dennis Cozzalio, Eraserhead was not a midnight movie when he first saw it. Or rather, saw enough of it to decide to bail. He tells a fun story of surrender - and then, of catching up with it again years later, via Elephant Man, in a way. And he also sparks a string of comments on repertory fare in the late 70s and early 80s.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:34 AM | Comments (6)

Man in the Chair.

Man in the Chair "Finally, stripling movie nerds get their own art-house Karate Kid!" shouts Nick Pinkerton, tracking Man in the Chair for the Voice.

Ed Gonzalez in Slant: "When the promise of a college scholarship convinces the delinquent Cameron [Michael Angarano] to go straight, he enlists the help of crotchety Flash Madden (Christopher Plummer), a gaffer who worked on Citizen Kane, to help him make a short film, at which point the stage is set for a didactic harangue about (a) the way the movie industry treats its behind-the-scenes talent, (b) nursing home abuses, (c) pet euthanasia ('cause, you know, dogs are people too), and (d) how much Nietzsche sucks."

"The movie, written and directed by Michael Schroeder, wants to confront hard truths about old age in what one character disgustedly labels a throwaway society," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "But it also insists on applying a thick sugar coating to this very bitter pill."

Schroeder "takes a well-meaning if intermittently naïve story and renders it nearly unwatchable," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun.

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

Posted by dwhudson at 9:32 AM

Interview. James McAvoy.

Atonement He's only 28, but James McAvoy has already played roles originally conceived by a mini-pantheon of British literary greats: Shakespeare and Jane Austen, for starters. Evelyn Waugh and CS Lewis. And contemporaries such as Zadie Smith, Giles Foden, and now, Ian McEwan.

Jeffrey M Anderson talks with James McAvoy about Atonement, class, war and getting into "the zone" for one very long, very celebrated shot.

Meantime, Atonement updates will still be going on here.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:14 AM | Comments (1)

December 6, 2007

Spanish Cinema Now. 1.

James van Maanen launches a series of previews of Spanish Cinema Now, a series running from tomorrow (Friday) through December 17. A few notes follow.

Under the Stars According to the Film Society of Lincoln Center, annual film production in Spain has increased from around 40 in 1992, the year of the first Spanish Cinema Now series, to the triple digits this year. What's more, the connection between Spanish film and that of Latin America has never been stronger, with actors, filmmakers and crews working in both areas and co-productions at an all-time high.

This year's series is comprised of a total of 28 programs, including 17 new features, a collection of Spanish shorts, the first exposure outside Spain of an eight-part (shown in four programs) television series on the Spanish Civil War titled The War on Film, and the seven-movie retrospective featuring the work of the late Pilar Miró.

This weekend alone, six new features will unspool: Under the Stars (Bajo las estrellas), 53 Winter Days (53 dias de invierno), Contestant (Concursante), Yo (site), Theresa, the Body of Christ (Teresa, el cuerpo de Cristo) and Solitary Fragments (La Soledad), along with the first in the Pilar Miró retrospective, The Cuenca Crime (El Crimen de Cuenca) and the first section of the four-program series The War on Film (La Guerra filmada), a review of which will appear tomorrow. The first four films mentioned above are covered below; the latter three will be reviewed on Monday.

A pretty fair choice for the opening night festivities is Félix Viscarret's Under the Stars, which he's adapted from Fernando Aramburu's novel. This feel-good melodrama (about the return home from Madrid to a small Spanish town of a hasn't-grown-up-yet trumpet player who gets word of his father's impending death) is chock-a-block with good performances, smart cinematography and editing, and a nice feel for life in the provinces. It is also utterly predictable. Once you know the set-up (unless you're a relative newcomer to cinema), not only can you guess the outcome, you can also figure out some of the dialogue prior to the characters' mouthing it. That the leads - Alberto San Juan as the trumpeter, Julián Villagrán as his alcoholic artist brother, and Emma Suárez as the brother's girlfriend who once promised the trumpeter a blow-job - give this dialogue life and truth is a big help. But the film still possesses a manufactured quality in its too-obvious plotting and execution. Under the Stars won several awards at the Festival de Málaga; I find this surprising, but then, I have no idea of the competition it faced. Showing Friday, Dec 7, at 2:15 pm and 6:45 pm; and Sunday, Dec 9, at 12:45 pm.

Yo Winner of the FIPRESCI prize at this year's Rotterdam International Festival (plus a Málaga fest award and other nominations) Yo, the first film from Rafa Cortés (director and co-writer), plays around to little effect with themes of identity, community and the immigrant life. None of these are particularly new, god knows, though immigrants have come in for more than a little filmic interest of late. By the finale, what Cortés hoped to achieve with this story seemed to me to be so obvious - and so tired - that I had to mull over the whole movie before setting thoughts to print. The mulling did not help. Part mystery, part psychological tract, part study of a doofus German immigrant and the Mallorcan community - nasty, needy and uncaring of others - into which he plops, the movie finally holds nary a surprise for any inveterate film fan. Your ability to stick with Yo may depend on the appeal held by leading man (who doubles as co-writer) Alex Brendemühl (Ausentes, Inconscientes). Onscreen nearly the entire time, his gorgeous green eyes and buoyant body may suffice, unless, like me, you're growing too old and impatient for silly games such as this. My gut feeling tells me that, had Cortés stuck more directly with his immigrant theme, or his thriller, or his identity search, he'd have come up with a more cogent, interesting movie. Instead, he whips them all into a so-so soufflé. Showing Saturday, Dec 8, at 6:30 pm; Sunday, Dec 9, at 9:30 pm; and Tuesday, Dec 11, at 1:30 pm.

Concursante Another Cortés - Rodrigo - fares much better in this festival with his surprising, bullet-speed Concursante (Contestant). Every so often Spanish Cinema Now offers a new film that seems to be on top of the headlines as it covers a particular political/social/economic issue. (The Method, from SCN 2005, and The Archimedes Principle, from 2004, are two that immediately come to mind.) This new film wraps economics, banking, taxation and TV game show prize-winning into a fast-paced story of one man's windfall that ends up a downfall. I'm not giving away anything, since the film begins with the dead man's musings about the universe, its stars and how many of these one's eye can actually perceive. We're then taken swiftly through a tour of the life of this smart, attractive economics professor at a Spanish university. That he is played by perhaps the smartest, most attractive leading man in current Hispanic cinema, Argentina's Leonardo Sbaraglia, should only add to your pleasure.

Writer/director Cortés paces his film so speedily that you'll barely keep up with events - which is good, because certain of them (the leftist economist's explanation of banks and their loans) don't quite hold up to prolonged scrutiny. (Cortés simply leaves out those people who profit from their loans by making them work for them and then paying them back.) Still, most of his points are well-taken and applicable to far too much of the populace of western democracies. In less than 90 minutes, the movie manages to hold a gun to the head of our consumer society and gleefully pull the trigger. After a quiet, thoughtful beginning, the next 70-odd minutes are so fast-paced that, when suddenly, the finale slows down to a mournful dirge, it should leave you stunned. Yet few filmmakers of recent times have managed to create an ending so simultaneously dark and bleak that opens up into something so somber and beautiful. I was impressed, highly amused and oddly moved, and if this film receives the theatrical/DVD release it deserves, I think you will be, too. Showing Saturday, Dec 8, at 3:45 pm; Friday, Dec 14, at 3:10 pm; and Sunday, Dec 16, at 1:30 pm.

53 Winter Days Alex Brendemühl (Yo) is back in another, better role in the ensemble drama 53 Winter Days. Led by the great Mercedes Sampietro (Common Ground, Queens), the cast does a wonderful job of giving life to characters barely linked but who, taken together, bring us a most interesting group of people who might well stand-in for urban Spain today. We, not they, know that three of them share a pivotal moment, and from here the movie spreads out to encompass their lives and problems: love, money and coping with a return from a traumatic incident of violence.

As a security guard with a wife, child and twins in the oven (and now a dog), Brendemühl is on screen perhaps a quarter of the time he commands in Yo, yet he creates a devastating portrait of a quiet, decent, caring man driven to a breakdown over finances and fear of losing the love of his wife. The luminous Sampietro (my lord, she grows more beautiful with each passing year!) brings such clarity and honesty to every moment that she rivets us, first scene to last. Aina Clotet completes the threesome as a talented cellist (or does she play the double base?) with man problems - absentee father, sleazy lover - and a mother on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

No mention is made, but these three (and the characters who surround each) appear to represent the working, middle and upper classes, and the filmmakers, director Judith Colell and writer Gemma Ventura, are able to identify with and care equally about all three groups. They do a marvelous job of connecting their dots with subtlety and an unusually honest appreciation of the difficult lives of their protagonists - and of their subsidiary characters, too. They never push events or emotions - increasingly rare in films these days - and so the audience is free to ruminate, question and appreciate. Which we do, in spades. Showing Friday, Dec 7, at 4:30 pm; Saturday, Dec 8, at 9 pm; and Thursday, Dec 13, at 1 pm.

- James van Maanen


"First shown in Spain last year to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War, The War on Film is a vast compilation of wartime documentaries from both sides of the battle line - Loyalists, Communists, and anarchists on the left, and Spanish and German Fascists on the right," writes Saul Austerlitz in the Voice. "The result is less mural than palimpsest, with each voice-of-God narrator asserting a version of the truth.... The only thing the two sides can agree on is the significance of propaganda."

Dan Sallit readies himself for the series with a few notes.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:36 PM

Shorts, 12/6.

Freakonomics "Did Morgan Spurlock Find Osama Bin Laden?" asks FishbowlNY as Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? heads to Sundance. Get real, counters Mike Nizza, blogging for the New York Times.

Whether or not Spurlock's found Public Enemy #1, he's already signed up for another project. As Michael Fleming reports in Variety, a doc based on the runaway bestseller Freakonomics is going to have quite a roster of filmmakers: producers Chad Troutwine (Paris je t'aime) and Seth Gordon (The King of Kong) "have enlisted Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me), Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing (Jesus Camp), Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), Laura Poitras (My Country My Country), Eugene Jarecki (Why We Fight) and Jehane Noujaim (Control Room) to each direct a docu segment on chapters in the book."

Also: Michael Mann and Johnny Depp are teaming up for Public Enemies, a crime thriller set in the 30s.

"Like everyone else I know, I'm bone-tired of stunt books of the 'Year I Ate Nothing But Gummy Bears' variety," blogs Dwight Garner. "But every once in a while, an advance copy of a memoir crashes on my desk with a premise that makes me happy to contemplate. Such a book is The Film Club by the novelist David Gilmour, which comes out next May. Here's the cover line: 'The true story of a father who let his son drop out of school - if he watched three movies a week.'"

"A refreshing burst of irreverence is always in order from Mike Nichols and with his new film Charlie Wilson's War he's serving up a 'true' 1980s Washington satire, an era of blissful naivete concerning our military commitments, with panache and something resembling abandon - it's a light and breezy ride that doesn't tire even as it befuddles," writes Brandon Harris.

The Great Debaters "depicts Wiley [College]'s most glorious chapter: 1935, when the black poet and professor Melvin B Tolson coached his debating team to a national championship," writes Laura Beil in the New York Times. "No one knows whether the story will raise the college's fortunes, but Wiley, which has not been able to support a debate team for decades, is suddenly feeling the glow of celebrity."

Elizabeth Hardwick: Sight-Readings Also: "Elizabeth Hardwick, who as a studious Kentucky belle set her ambitions on becoming a member of New York's glittering intellectual elite and then achieved them, as a critic, essayist, fiction writer and a co-founder of the New York Review of Books, died on Sunday in Manhattan," writes Christopher Lehmann-Haupt. "She was 91." More from Phil Nugent and, at Slate, Jim Lewis.

AJ Schnack comments on "where we find ourselves in the documentary community in early December 2007. We have film critics admitting that they will look the other way, maybe give an extra star or a higher letter grade if the film deals with the right issue, the right topic. And why shouldn't they? No one within the documentary community has given any indication that craft is the thing we hold most dear. If they look to the prestigious Full Frame Film Festival, they see that awards are handed out to the film 'that best portrays women in leadership,' to the film 'that best exemplifies the values and relevance of world religions and spirituality,' and to filmmakers who 'lay bare the seeds and mechanisms that create war.' Nothing for editing, composing, cinematography or directing."

"Koji Wakamatsu needs little introduction," writes Tom Mes, prefacing his interview at Midnight Eye. "But if the earlier works of this pink film pioneer have conquered their place in the pantheon, it's less well known that he continues to make movies that touch the sore spots of Japan's post-war history. His latest epic, United Red Army (Jitsuroku Rengo Sekigun: Asama Sanso e no Michi), an engrossing, three-hour plus retelling of the final days of the titular terrorist group and the famed Asama-sanso hostage case, is a film that fills in some of the blanks in the officially sanctioned accounts of history."

The Embryo Hunts in Secret Related: A Zootrope Films petition "to lift the 'X-rating' ban on Koji Wakamatsu's The Embryo Hunts in Secret."

Signandsight translates Jan Schulz-Ojala's piece in Der Tagesspiegel on the new wave from Romania: "These new filmmakers call themselves - in reference to the fall of Ceaucescu in December 1989 - 'December children.' And unlike old masters such as Lucian Pintilie, who has lived in exile in France for so long that Romania might as well be Absurdistan to him, or Radu Mihaileanu (Train of Life) another emigrant to France, they make realistic cinema albeit with a satirical twist - testaments to a lively confrontation with the past that double as imposing critiques of the present."

For acquarello, Jean-Paul Civeyrac's Fantômes "presents a reconstituted contemporary mythology of human desire and frailty, where limbo is the banal reality of unreconciled memories, and immortal love exists only in the illusion of an irretrievable, transitory bliss."

"Sam Mendes is to direct his first operatic production at Glyndebourne in Sussex," reports the BBC. "The former director of London's Donmar Warehouse theatre will debut with Mozart's Don Giovanni in 2010."

"Ridley Scott is to take on the bloody saga of the Gucci dynasty, chronicling the ups and downs of the Italian fashion family as it developed its world renowned brand," reports the Guardian, where Simon Hattenstone talks with Donal MacIntyre about A Very British Gangster. Related to both items: Michael Wood in the London Review of Books on American Gangster.

I'm Not There I'm Not There "is an ode to joy," writes Jim Emerson. "I laughed, I cried. Afterwards, I was elated, stoned, so happy just to be alive." More from Tom Hall: "I'm Not There would not be sustainable as an entertainment if each of the Dylan narratives were pure pop brilliance, and this is why, in my opinion, the much-maligned Billy the Kid section of the film, which evokes Altman's McCabe and Mrs Miller and other psychedelic westerns of the early 1970s, works." Also: "Sometimes I doubt Richard Kelly's commitment to Sparkle Motion."

For Hollywood Bitchslap, Peter Sobczynski talks with John Turturro about Romance & Cigarettes.

Cinema Strikes Back has notes on a recent Q&A with Jirí Menzel.

For SF360, Jennifer Young listens in on a Q&A with Holly filmmakers Guy Jacobson and Guy Moshe.

In the Los Angeles Times, William Georgiades has a quick talk with Marion Cotillard, who, since playing Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, has been campaigning for two years now and has just two more months to go.

For Stop Smiling, Drew Fortune meets Crispin Hellion Glover.

"Wir sagen Du! Schatz (Family Rules) is an original idea; it tells the story of a man, who faced with the rather triste prospect of spending Christmas alone, decides to steal some relatives and subsequently barricade them, and himself, into the 17th floor of a tower block for festivities en famille," writes Tamsin Walker for Deutsche Welle. "There has been a shift in perception of high-rise blocks in recent years, and they are now seriously en-vogue among German directors."

Louis B Mayer In American Heritage, Jack Kelly tells the story of Louis B Mayer. Via Bookforum.

Sand and Sorrow, a documentary on the ongoing (and even worsening) crisis in Darfur produced and narrated by George Clooney and debuting on HBO on Thursday, is recommended by Joanne Ostrow in the Denver Post: "Its smart political, historical, even literary and spiritual discussion eases us out of our detachment and into the horrors of genocide."

Bella rolls on: "Behind the scenes of the heartwarming indie film is an aggressive grass-roots marketing campaign that began more than a year before the film's release in October," reports Robert W Welkos in the Los Angeles Times. "In the campaign, such unlikely forces as adoption advocates, Latino groups, church leaders, businessmen and an army of folks from various walks of life took up the cause of Bella and its pro-adoption theme."

"[O]ver the past few weeks, I've put a passel of portable DVD players through their paces, and they no longer feel like an extravagance." A shopper's guide at Slate by Sam Eifling.

Faces Dennis Cozzalio loves.

Online wow: "America Calls for More..."

The Rite Online browsing tip #1. Wood and lino-cut film posters by Peter Strausfeld, via Will Kane, via Coudal Partners.

Online browsing tip #2. "Mark Mothersbaugh started designing rugs in earnest six years ago. From his exhibit catalog: 'I liked the idea that you had a functionality with rugs that you missed with framed art pieces. They are much more pleasant to lay on, walk on, play on than pieces of paper. Rug burns are generally better than paper burns.'" Also in the LA Weekly: a profile by Randall Roberts.

Online browsing tip #3. At AICN, Merrick's points to USA Today's pix from the Wachowski brothers' Speed Racer.

Online desktop tip. The Wong Kar-Wai calendars at Lossless.

Online listening tip. Ed Ward on Fresh Air on The Other Side of the Mirror, capturing Bob Dylan's performances at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963, 64 and 65.

Online viewing tip #1. Kevin Lee compares George Sluizer's The Vanishing (1988) with David Fincher's Zodiac (2007); and gathers more critical voices on The Vanishing as well.

Online viewing tip #2. Phil Nugent's got Jessica Yu's Sour Death Balls at ScreenGrab.

Online viewing tip #3. Via Ted Z, a clip from David Gordon Green's Pineapple Express with Seth Rogen and James Franco.

Online viewing tip #4. Michel Gondry's video for Björk's "Declare Independence." Via Coudal Partners.

Online viewing tip #5. "Hitler Gets Banned (His Ultimate Downfall)." Thanks, Jerry!

Online viewing tip #6. Woody Allen is "Speechless."

Online viewing tips, round 1. "Several Parisienne People cigarette ads by, in order, Emir Kusturica, Giuseppe Tornatore, Robert Altman, Joel & Ethan Coen, Roman Polanski, David Lynch and Jean-Luc Godard/Anne-Marie Miéville," all at the House Next Door (scroll down).

Online viewing tips, round 2. Phil Hoad's screen crushes.

Online browsing and viewing tip. Nerve's "Hollywood Sex Scene Database."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:32 PM

Fests and events, 12/6.

Forever "Meditative and often the filmmaker's stream-of-consciousness, Forever, at 95 minutes long, is a highly constructed yet meandering exploration of what the dead take away and what they leave in their absence," writes Anne S Lewis. More from Austin Film Society Director of Programming Chale Nafus. Heddy Honigmann's doc screens at the Alamo Drafthouse in downtown Austin.

Tomorrow night at the Alamo Lake Creek: Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead with Lloyd Kaufman. And also in the Austin Chronicle, Josh Rosenblatt talks with Kaufman "about his battles with oversized rats, the importance of staying independent in a corporate world, and why he's a better filmmaker than the Coen brothers."

The Matinee Idol For the LA Weekly, Hazel-Dawn Dumpert previews "the three movies that conclude Cinefamily's series of silent works by master filmmakers": Josef von Sternberg's Underworld, Howard Hawks's Fig Leaves and Frank Capra's The Matinee Idol.

"Somewhere between iPhone and YouTube there's a wee festival known as miniPAH," writes Robert Avila at SF360. "So drastic a departure from an industry-oriented approach may seem surprising coming from a member of so storied a filmmaking family (Christopher [Coppola] is nephew to Francis Ford Coppola and brother to Nicolas Cage). Then again, there's always been a maverick aspect to the Coppola clan."

"The roster of 83 short films that will screen at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival (January 17 - 27) were chosen from a record 5,100 entries, festival organizers noted on Wednesday." Eugene Hernandez has the report and the list at indieWIRE.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:01 AM

Revolver.

Revolver "The press materials for Revolver include an interview with [Guy] Ritchie in which he explains how to con people," writes Matt Singer at IFC News. "'Feed them an opinion of themselves that makes them feel superior in someway,' he instructs. 'Make them feel clever, special or attractive.' Revolver's empty style, empty enlightenment, and empty story all suggest Ritchie pulled his ultimate con on himself. What kind of movie sits on the shelf for two years before its theatrical release? This kind."

And Aaron Hillis talks with Ritchie.

Updated through 12/7.

Nick Schager in Slant: "Having perfected the art of British-accented Tarantino mimicry, Ritchie here takes a different course, pushing the gangster film into gobbledygook abstraction that, via some end-credit sound bites from supposed philosophers, eventually reveals itself to be a guns-and-nudity version of What the Bleep Do We Know!?"

"[A]t times, I halfway admired the suicidal gambit of making such a gnomic self-actualization gangster pic," admits Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. But...

In the LA CityBeat, Andy Klein blames Madonna. Not really, of course. "There are plenty of ways to turn empty-headed that don't involve the multi-talented M or her mighty mojo. And Ritchie's tumble here is a bit more complicated."

Updates, 12/7: "Guy Ritchie single-handedly revived cockney cool with Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch," Martin Tsai reminds us in the New York Sun. "But despite all the con men, thugs, assassins, guns, and drugs at play, Revolver is something else entirely."

Here's "film that's main crime is inducing stupefying boredom with little payoff in the end," writes Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times.

"[T]he movie clearly has so much more on its mind than escapism that viewers may demand, 'Who is this director, and what has he done with Guy Ritchie?'" writes Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times, where he also notes that Revolver "doesn't stint on fun."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:46 AM

Books, 12/6.

Defining Moments in Movies "Defining Moments in Movies, edited by Chris Fujiwara, is an 800-page, 4-pound bag of potato chips," writes Girish. "You can’t just read one entry and stop; instead, you dive in at random and go snacking all over the place." Also noted: Jonathan Rosenbaum's Essential Cinema "contains a canon of 1000 personal favorites that is available online, thanks to Harry Tuttle."

"The Shamus has been bewitched, bothered and bewildered by Wilfred Sheed's marvelous book, The House That George Built."

Liv Ullmann Changing Meanwhile, the Siren snips a fine passage from Liv Ullmann's Changing.

Joe Queenan reviews Dennis McDougal's Five Easy Decades: How Jack Nicholson Became the Biggest Movie Star in Modern Times for the Globe and Mail. Also via Bookforum: Blogcritic Eric Whelchel on I'm a Lebowski, You're a Lebowski: Life, The Big Lebowski and What Have You and an excerpt in Reason from Thomas Doherty's Hollywood's Censor: Joseph I Breen and the Production Code Administration.

For the Austin Chronicle, Melanie Haupt reviews Ed Sikov's Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis.

"Voice writers pick their favorite 20 books of the year."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:27 AM | Comments (1)

December 5, 2007

Fests and events, 12/5.

A Walk Into the Sea I'll let E Steven Fried explain at the Siffblog why he's in a rather unique position to be talking with Esther Robinson about her documentary, A Walk into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory. It's an awfully fun explanation. At any rate, Walk screens at Seattle's Northwest Film Forum from Friday through Wednesday. What's more, Danny Williams's Factory films will be screened with live accompaniment on Friday and Sunday. If you've seen Walk, with its clips from these films, you won't need me to convince you to be there.

"Only when Robinson uncovers lost footage produced by her uncle does Williams's character take shape as a genuine artistic talent stifled by his need to piggyback on Warhol's celebrity," asserts Andrea Rosen in the L Magazine, where Nicolas Rapold looks ahead to the opening of Half Moon at New York's ImaginAsian: "The fanciful new film from Bahman Ghobadi (Turtles Can Fly) feels like a half-remembered folk tale coming into focus with sudden fantastical epiphanies."

"This weekend, Whitechapel Art Gallery, in London's East End, celebrates the work of the multi award-winning documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis," notes Warren Howard in the Independent. "As entertaining as they are informative, Curtis's films reveal a rare instinct for the importance of fleeting moments of history, and offer a compelling insight into the dreams and delusions of society. Through mosaics of archive footage and interviews, he pieces together a vision of the present woven from fragments of the past."

At the Reeler, Miriam Bale previews The Cinema of Max Ophüls. At BAM through December 18.

Writing in the Guardian, Agnès Poirier does not approve of "the new sexed-up Turin film festival.... Is [Nanni] Moretti serving the festival or is the festival serving Moretti? The Italian press appears to love this new cult of personality, lapping up the great man's every word, but cinema seems to be the real victim here."

And Woo Ming Jin, whose Elephant and the Sea won the Special Jury Award in Turin, has filed an entry on the experience at Swifty.

Ben Goldsmith reports on last weekend's Screenscapes conference.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:35 PM | Comments (1)

Grace Is Gone.

Grace Is Gone "Eleven months after winning the screenplay and audience awards at this year's Sundance Film Festival, writer-director James C Strouse's Grace Is Gone has received a musical makeover care of Clint Eastwood," notes Scott Foundas in the Voice. "The music - a gently jazzy piano-and-strings theme - is just fine, and a good deal less cloying than what was there before. One can only regret that Eastwood didn't offer to reshoot the whole movie while he was at it."

"The movie dramatizes a contemporary situation with utter specificity, following a devoutly conservative family man (John Cusack) through the immediate aftermath of his enlisted wife's death in Iraq," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "While 9/11 was thoroughly revisited last year in mainstream storytelling with the double threat of World Trade Center and United 93, history may record 2007 at the movies as the Year of Iraqi Freedom.... Strouse's movie is a more believable and deeply felt exploration of modern conflict than pretty much anything else this year."

Updated through 12/7.

Tasha Robinson talks with Cusack for the AV Club.

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

Updates, 12/7: "In a year that has seen wave after wave of films addressing the war in Iraq with varying degrees of anger and frustration, Grace serves as a gently thoughtful coda and reminder of what continues," writes Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times. "Simple and straightforward in its approach to its subject, Grace Is Gone never condescends to its characters nor strays from its mission. Strouse proves to be an adept storyteller with difficult material."

"[I]t's the Paul Haggis version of National Lampoon's Vacation, though a whole lot less amusing than that description might imply," grumbles Nick Schager in Slant.

"Mr Cusack demonstrates once again that he is Hollywood's second-most-reliable nice guy, after Tom Hanks," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Devoid of vanity, with no hidden agendas, he never strains to be likable. Good will, integrity and a native common sense ooze out of him."

"Where Martian Child started off sweetly sentimental and turned cloying, Grace Is Gone starts raw, gets rawer, and fights for honesty over commercial calculation," notes Tasha Robinson at the AV Club.

"While I admire the film's premise and recognize the quality of the performances, especially the daughters who are both making their debuts, I found myself increasingly irritated as the film headed to its inevitable, heart rending conclusion," writes Marcy Dermansky.

Grace "is, in large part, as good a movie as it can be," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "Which is why it would be a bit of a shame if it got lost in the seeming shuffle of Iraq-based films, which for the most part have failed to make overwhelmingly positive impressions on either the majority of critics or the moviegoing public."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:31 PM

Slamdance. Lineup.

Slamdance "The Slamdance Film Festival announced the titles for its 14th year. The festival will run alongside Sundance in Park City, Utah Jan 17 - 25. This year's Opening Night Film is Randall Cole's Real Time."

And Jason Guerrasio's got the full lineup at Filmmaker.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:17 PM

Writers' Strike, 12/5.

WGA On Strike "Hollywood's striking movie and television writers received the most votes by far in an online poll by I Want Media to name the 2007 Media Person of the Year."

Judd Apatow tells the Toronto Star's Peter Howell that the studios are acting like they want this strike to carry on. Via Jeffrey Wells.

"The strike should end now," argues Alec Baldwin in the Huffington Post. "The writers should go back to work. Continue negotiating, but go back to work."

"On the surface, the impasse revolves around how to divvy up future Internet media revenues," writes Patrick Goldstein in the LAT. "But the real problem is that nobody knows the value of anything anymore. Whether we're reading horror stories about the mortgage meltdown, watching the dollar plummet or gagging on the prices at our neighborhood gas station, we're all stumbling around with a nagging feeling that the value of things has become unmoored." Happy holidays.

"[W]e're not trying to make a new deal, with a fresh approach to a rapidly changing business," blogs Guild member Rob Long for the Guardian. "We're trying to fix the old deal. We're trying to unscrew ourselves. Which is the very best way to screw yourself. Again."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:48 PM

Marit Allen, 1941 - 2007.

Marit Allen Sad news via Nathaniel R: "Australian costumer designer Marit Allen died this week. She's the woman who brought you those shirts hanging famously, one inside the other, in Brokeback Mountain as well as that black sheath that the nude backside of Nicole Kidman slipped into in Eyes Wide Shut."

"When I met Allen, she was living in a gorgeous rooftop flat along the Thames in Hammersmith, with a massive 360-degree wraparound terrace teeming with plants," recalls the Oregonian's Shawn Levy. "I'll share a few of the stories she told me to convey something of her spirit and experience..." And you've got to spare a few moments for these.

"Tiny, precise, almost ethereal, Marit Allen burst on to the London fashion scene in the early 60s like a shooting star," writes Sandy Boler in the Independent. "As an editor at Queen and Vogue magazines, she revolutionised fashion journalism, and was responsible for setting up many of the images of Jean Shrimpton, Twiggy, Penelope Tree and Marianne Faithfull that came to define the era. She was equally successful in her second career as a costume designer, working with some of the greatest names in the film industry, including Nicolas Roeg, Ang Lee and Stanley Kubrick. The director

I Am Legend, 12/5.

I Am Legend I Am Legend's going to be a big hit, predicts the New York Post's Lou Lumenick: "It's full of 'wow' moments, beginning with Will Smith - as a medical researcher who is apparently the sole survivor of an epidemic that has either killed everyone else or turned them into zombies - hunting deer in a waist-high weeds in Times Square and Madison Square Park."

Updated through 12/7.

Blogging for Commentary, Kyle Smith finds a "surprising subtext about how religion and science can co-exist. Call this the first movie of the post-stem cell-debate era." Via Peter Chattaway.

Related online viewing from the Broken Saints team: Awakening and Isolation.

Lou Luminick points to Logan Hill's piece in New York on the effects that got all these weeds in downtown NYC. Nice photos.

Update, 12/6: Carrie Rickey looks back on previous "three-makes."

Updates, 12/7: Gill Pringle profiles Smith for the Independent.

"Remarkably eerie yet annoyingly larded with cheap horror-film shock effects, I Am Legend stands as an effective but also irksome adaptation of Richard Matheson's classic 1954 sci-fi novel," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "In what is to a considerable extent a solo turn as the last healthy human on a post-plague planet Earth, Will Smith strongly holds the screen in a one-man Alamo besieged by marauding cannibals."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:28 PM

The Walker.

The Walker "[Paul] Schrader has denied that The Walker is a political film," notes J Hoberman in the Voice. "However, it's not only political, it's nostalgic for politics.... This is a serious movie and, gliding around the center of power, a stylish one. But, like its protagonist, The Walker is unable to close the deal."

"[Woody] Harrelson plays the latest incarnation of the Schrader hollow man, Carter Page III, the swishy scion of a Virginia political dynasty," writes Benjamin Strong in the L Magazine. "Living off his inherited fortune and a part-time gig as professional gossip monger, Carter passes his days escorting DC dames, albeit only in the non-conjugal sense. Like his forbearer in the Schrader canon, American Gigolo's Julian Kaye, Carter becomes entangled in a plodding, slightly incomprehensible murder investigation that may or may not ruin him, but that definitely bores us."

Updated through 12/7.

"[A]s The Walker wears on and the corruption spreads further up the Washington food chain, one can't help but admire how deftly director Paul Schrader has inserted some fascinating contemporary political concerns into a fairly conventional whodunit," writes Brandon Harris.

Sara Vilkomerson talks with Schrader for the New York Observer.

Earlier: First impressions from the Berlinale.

Updates, 12/6: "It looks shiny and boasts a great (or at least committed) lead performance, but has absolutely no spark, infuriating or otherwise," writes Vadim Rizov at the Reeler. "Copping out under the label of 'character study' (and inadequate even at that), The Walker marshals charged present-day time and place to no apparent effect; it's the story of an ethical freak-out that could have taken place, with only slight tweaks, 30 years ago."

"Schrader alternates between delivering cockeyed Cat People compositions and frail barbs at the current government, the latter almost as transparent and simplistic as his thriller plot is opaque and inconsequential," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "The director's interests lie not with generating any sense of real intrigue but instead with examining the inner turmoil of Carter, who, alas, can't hold up to such scrutiny, since he's basically a caricature pretending to be a real person."

"Schrader's final entry into the so-called 'night worker' or 'lonely man' saga, loosely beginning with his Taxi Driver script for Scorsese and crystallized in writing-directing combos American Gigolo and later Light Sleeper, sees the filmmaker reworking the same movie again, but without illuminative expansion or revision - save for a more downbeat ending - and so the gesture goes wasted," writes Kristi Mitsuda at indieWIRE.

Updates, 12/7: "Nothing in Paul Schrader's film The Walker can quite match its delicious opening scene of sniping repartee over canasta among three Washington grandes dames and their pet gay playmate," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Lynn (Kristin Scott Thomas), Natalie (Lauren Bacall) and Abigail (Lily Tomlin) constitute what may be the screen's most formidable threesome of jaded, dirt-dishing socialites since The Women."

"Mystery writers and filmmakers rarely make piss-elegant queens their detective heroes," writes Steve Erickson in Gay City News. "Paul Schrader's decision to do so in The Walker is the sole interesting choice he made."

"[T]he whole thing feels fusty and forced," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "The big political issues of the day (and the past several days) are uncomfortably wedged into each nook and crevice - there's a war on every TV screen, for instance, and an artist character makes giant collages using Abu Ghraib photographs. The broader the canvas, the more the movie loses focus and the more it renders the problems of the central character sort of silly by comparison."

"Schrader steers The Walker carefully, but as a murder mystery - complete with a foot chase - creaks into action, the movie starts to lose its fraught atmosphere," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "In the end, The Walker is indelibly a Schrader film for the sheer intensity of its character scrutiny, even when we know exactly, and tragically, where everything must be headed. And if not to the extent of Mr Schrader's Affliction and its ragged star, Nick Nolte, The Walker is palpably aided by Mr Harrelson's lead performance."

"What might have been a first-rate character study... instead devolves into a routine morass of Beltway intrigue," writes Mike D'Angelo at Nerve.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:26 PM

The Holy Modal Rounders: Bound to Lose.

Holy Modal Rounders "With voices like a sackful of rusty hinges, ramshackle playing a broken string away from careening madness, and a repertoire filled with itchy-balled ballads like 'Fucking Sailors in Chinatown,' the Holy Modal Rounders came on the Greenwich Village acoustic scene of the 60s like horndogs humping the folk movement's leg," writes Jim Ridley, reviewing The Holy Modal Rounders: Bound to Lose. "Forty years later, they stand as perhaps the truest heirs to the Harry Smith Anthology's wild and woolly Americana - a point Sam Wainwright Douglas and Paul C Lovelace's affectionate doc makes with a minimum of fuss and lots of bawdy hilarity."

Updated through 12/7.

"The late folksinger Dave Van Ronk testifies that 'the unwashed' never comprehended the Rounders' joyful subversion of the often deadly earnestness of their MacDougal Street milieu, but the climactic end of the partnership that created 40 wiggy years of musical frenzy casts a poignant glow on this cult troupe's odyssey," writes Bill Weber in Slant.

Update, 12/6: "They opened for Pink Floyd. The Rounders' single on the Easy Rider soundtrack - 'Bird Song' - will forever be synonymous with Jack Nicholson waving his arms on the back of a motorcycle. They were the first band to use the word 'psychedelic' in a song." For the Reeler, Mat Newman talks with one Rounder, Stampfel, and one filmmaker, Lovelace.

Updates, 12/7: "As much the chronicle of an era as of a band, The Holy Modal Rounders... Bound to Lose casts an affectionate eye on the kind of hedonism no one is meant to survive," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "Though the movie builds loosely toward a 40th-anniversary reunion concert in Portland, Ore, its real subject is the rocky reconnection of the founders after almost 20 years."

"The film makes a convincing case for the Rounders as standard-bearers for a warts-and-all style of acoustic string bending and harmonizing that has quietly crept into the mainstream since the group was greeted with shrugs and puzzled looks in the deadly serious Greenwich Village folk scene 45 years ago," writes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "At a recent reading from his excellent biography of Gram Parsons (a more celebrated renegade of musical Americana), Twenty Thousand Roads, the author David Meyer compared being in a band with being married to each band member, only to an exponential degree. Messrs Stampfel and Weber's musical coupling is a union whose level of strife and dysfunction has exponentially increased into the double digits.... On screen in The Holy Modal Rounders... Bound to Lose, Messrs Stampfel and Weber resemble Goofus and Gallant, the comic strip personification of how to behave and not to behave from Highlights for Children magazine, as much as they personify the radical architects of the American folk revival that they are."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:24 PM

The Violin.

El Violin "Much appreciated by Mexican cineasts, writer-director Francisco Vargas's accomplished first feature The Violin is a solemn, suspenseful, extremely well-shot political drama," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "This evocation of the 1970s Guerrero peasant revolt has an old-time feel that variously suggests a Soviet silent picture, one of B Traven's Chiapas stories, and an updated legend from Mexico's revolutionary past."

"[I]t blends fablelike simplicity with documentary touches to tell the story of a near-primordial struggle between the haves and the have-nots," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "For the three generations of one indigenous family who travel to small, dusty towns, playing their music for coins, the struggle is written on their unsmiling faces and in their plaintive, haunting songs."

"Mr Vargas believes that less is more, and he does his best to hide the motivations of his characters from the audience, with the result being an oblique, plodding flick that looks and sounds good but serves up the same old stock characters," writes Grady Hendrix in the New York Sun. "Maybe it's me, but this film was boring."

Earlier: David D'Arcy last year.

Update: "The Violin has a chillingly effective atmosphere focused on surreal, barren terrain," writes Eric Kohn at the Reeler. "The movie puts forth such simple character motivation that it could function as an extended music video for the folk song synopsizing the events heard at the end of the movie. Nevertheless, the climax has fist-clenching efficaciousness worthy of the finest suspense films."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:23 PM

There Will Be Blood, 12/5.

There Will Be Blood The Boston Globe's Ty Burr has seen There Will Be Blood: "Very weird, very funny, very scary, and I wasn't sure I liked it until I couldn't get it out of my head all night."

Much more from Todd Brown at Twitch:

Opening with an extremely lengthy sequence played entirely without dialogue [Paul Thomas] Anderson's oil patch drama is, in many ways, an anti-Anderson film, one based on minimalist rhythm and tone and entirely absent Anderson's trademark stylistic flourishes and pop culture savvy. It is an interesting approach for Anderson, one entirely at odds with his entire body of work to date. And, thanks in no small part to an absolutely riveting performance from Daniel Day Lewis, his willingness to change things up has resulted in arguably Anderson's finest film to date, the high point of an already sterling career. The length, content, minimalist approach and lack of major star power virtually guarantee that it will die an ignoble death at the box office - a fate Anderson should be well familiar with by now - but financial success or no There Will Be Blood is a prototypical, archetypal example of purely American cinema at its finest.

Sample the soundtrack via the Playlist's preview.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:21 PM

The Golden Compass.

The Golden Compass "The Golden Compass has more snap and personality - at its bear-centric best, wintry and strange - than that Narnia movie but lacks the sophistication of the post-Columbus Harry Potter series," writes Jesse Hassenger in the L Magazine. "Enjoyable but thin, the film ends as it begins: with exposition, only now the characters explain what's supposed to happen next time. The filmmakers are so busy preparing us for an epic adventure that they crowd out the audience's sense of discovery."

"Desperate to retain as many of his source material's details as possible, writer-director Chris Weitz crams his story full of magical terms and concepts with a rapidity that leaves things confusing and thus meaningless, his film's breathless pace allowing for none of the gradual narrative build-up (or character establishment) that might give the later, cataclysmic events any sense of import," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

Updated through 12/9.

"[W]hile some of the explanations - and, in fact, the film itself - seem a tad rushed, The Golden Compass is a breathtakingly exciting creation of a thrilling universe and its characters," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC.

"Pulling even the diaphanously cloaked punches of the book, Weitz avoids Compass's one relatively direct indictment (involving Adam, Eve, and a pile of bollocks called 'Original Sin') altogether by having the film end three crucial chapters before the book does," writes Michelle Orange in the Voice. "Those punches, unfortunately, are intrinsic to Compass's valorous narrative fight (i.e., trying to get kids to swallow some sense with their fantasy). By insisting on many of Pullman's heady conceits but diluting the doctrinal antidote encoded within them, the intricate plot becomes an empty challenge. In drawing and quartering much of the novel's intent, Weitz ends up with a film that feels not just unfinished but undone."

"[T]here's something deeply unsatisfying about an ending that explicitly promises a confrontation that it declines to deliver," adds Bryant Frazer.

Online listening tip. "There are a lot of hysterical Christians out there speaking in ignorance about Pullman’s books and the upcoming film," writes Jeffrey Overstreet, pointing to Ken Myers's interview with literary critic Alan Jacobs. "But there are also some Christians offering perceptive examinations of the stories... at least as perceptive, if not more so, than any other reviews yet published."

Weitz is "helping the industry further infantilize film culture," argues Armond White in the New York Press.

Updates, 12/6: "The neutering of Pullman's most pointed atheistic and anticlerical themes raises the possibility that the book's most fervent fans may be the ones who get angry," suggests Zack Smith in the Independent Weekly.

"In a nutshell, a lot of shit goes down in The Golden Compass, and very little gets explained to audiences unfamiliar with the book," writes Jonathan Busch in Vue Weekly. "And surprisingly, that's fine, as the fictional wonderland is alluring in its unfettering mystery and senselessness."

"I swear, if I wasn't a grown woman with a freakish love for juvenile fiction involving magic, British children, talking animals, and MAGIC - if I hadn't already read this book (twice, okay? and maybe once on audiobook!) - I would be so confused right now," admits Lindy West in the Stranger.

"[Peter] Jackson created a world, but Weitz settles for setpieces," writes Peter Chattaway for Christianity Today. "The filmmakers have been at pains lately to say that they toned down the book's anti-religious content, and that may be true to the extent that the movie never uses words like 'church' or 'God.' But the word 'magisterium' does refer, in the real world, to the teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church, and the film is still peppered with religiously significant words like 'oblation' and 'heresy,' as well as a cryptic reference to 'our ancestors' who 'disobeyed the Authority' - that is, to Adam and Eve and their disobedience against God in the Garden of Eden."

Updates, 12/7: "The Golden Compass has many of the virtues of a faithful screen adaptation and many of the predictable flaws," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Agnostics and atheists may, for starters, regret the explicit absence of the Church (others may see lingering traces), but the movies have never been a particularly good pulpit for any gods other than those of cinema's own creation. It's a tradition that this film honors with a goddess of icy perfection played by the wickedly well-cast Nicole Kidman.... The sequels are a welcome idea, if only because they might persuade Mr Weitz and his team to take it slower next time."

"This is the kind of movie that was made by throwing dollars at stuff, as opposed to using imagination, thought or even just common sense," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "Whatever complex or interesting ideas might have been found in the source material have been watered down, skimmed over, mashed into nonsense or simply ignored."

Slate's Dana Stevens decided to go in without having read the book "because Pullman's fictional universe seemed so sui generis, so dazzlingly weird, that I wanted to see if the movie could establish that universe's laws and logic on its own terms. I'm here to tell you that, without at least a working knowledge of the Dark Materials cosmos, Weitz's adaptation is a near-impenetrable murk, a blur of CGI beasties, shimmering dust clouds, and vaguely mystical blather."

"I came prepared for a mixture of storytelling exuberance and intellectual irreverence - a sort of Paradise Lost for the Dawkins era," writes the Independent's Anthony Quinn. "It doesn't end up like that."

"For the prickly atheists, the Pullman authenticity police and for myself, I will get this out of the way first: God and the Bible are nowhere in the movie version of The Golden Compass," announces Hanna Rosin, writer of that Atlantic article, "How Hollywood Saved God." "Nothing in the movie should make the Pope blanch or America's self-appointed censors ring the theater in protest. One Christian reviewing site did warn this week that 'the real goal is to lead young, impressionable minds into the deception of atheism.' But this is a preemptive objection based on the trilogy of books, which reach many layers deeper than the movie in their subversion, sense of danger and intellectual scope."

"When it comes to conjuring another world," writes Andrew Stuttaford in the New York Sun, "the very literalness of computer-generated imagery can conspire against it, especially when it has to compete with author-generated imagery such as this:

"...The main interest of the picture lay in the sky. Streams and veils of light hung like curtains, looped and festooned on invisible hooks hundreds of miles high or blowing out sideways in the stream of some unimaginable wind...

"When Mr Pullman is good, he is very good. The film, by contrast, is just okay."

"The Golden Compass is a darker, deeper fantasy epic than the Rings trilogy, The Chronicles of Narnia or the Potter films," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "It springs from the same British world of quasi-philosophical magic, but creates more complex villains and poses more intriguing questions."

"[T]hough it takes some doing, The Golden Compass retains enough tastes and traces of the original to fascinate and involve viewers," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "This is especially important because, as opposed to, for instance, The Lord of the Rings or even the Harry Potter books, this is a noticeably cool story, one whose most memorable connections are intellectual rather than emotional."

"There's a lot to like about Weitz's adaptation, and while not all of it has to do with the fussed-over production design and relentless CGI effects, more of its virtues are tied up in those than should be," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club.

Rick Bentley profiles Sam Elliott for the Fresno Bee. Via Movie City News.

For Vanity Fair, Christopher Hitchens profiles the author:

He lives in the haunted medieval city of Oxford. In this ancient setting, the rules of childhood fiction were long ago laid down and reinforced. The Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who wrote under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, sent a pretty little girl down an Oxford rabbit hole into Wonderland (and beguiled his own lazy hours by taking photographs of her contemporaries which might now be banned from the Internet). Lewis pushed a group of children through a hole in his wardrobe. Tolkien reworked the Norse myths into a cumbersome Baggins saga. All three were ostentatious Christians, and they did their stuff in Oxford, a town which had been the Civil War capital of King Charles I, the last upholder of the divine right of kings. Philip Pullman is an unbeliever and a republican, and he says bullshit to all this - let us storm the heights of heaven and put humanity on the throne.

"The look of the film is not the problem," writes Mike Russell. "No, the problem is the story. Because the thrust of the story (which stops a few chapters short of the juicy ending of Pullman's book, by the way) is this:

  1. Lyra gets taken to various exotic locales by older, cooler characters who tell her their exciting stories and then promptly disappear.
  2. Lyra occasionally looks into a sort of super-secret clockwork Game Boy called an 'alethiometer' and catches glimpses of exciting stories involving those same older, cooler characters.

"As this beautiful, boring movie wears on, this fundamental story problem starts getting kind of ridiculous."

"Whatever The Golden Compass is, this PG-13 film is not for young children," warns Premiere's Deborah Day. "Despite trailers showing Nicole Kidman knee-deep in wee ones and furry CG creations flitting about as if animating a fantasy romper room, Compass's better parts - which will alternately be missed by and potentially traumatize kids - subsist of high-minded allegorical pronouncements and gruesome twists (the polar bear fight gets particularly nasty) in the story's unnatural universe."

New York's Vulture's got some online viewing; via Ray Pride: "[T]his neutered adaptation of the first entry in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy will probably not kill God or turn America's children into atheists like the Catholic League promised. But given half a chance, any of the films on our list of the Ten Most Anti-Christian Movies of All Time just might." The video they thought would go down has indeed gone down.

Update, 12/9: "If moviegoers are unaware of the Is-God-Bad? debate, they simply will not notice any theological elements, pro or con," writes Richard Corliss for Time, the newsweekly that once famously asked, "Is God Dead?" Corliss: "That's how rigorously Weitz has secularized and sanitized the novel.... The movie lacks an elevating passion, a cohesive vision, a soul. It's as if The Golden Compass has misplaced its artistic compass. Somebody stole its daemon."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:18 PM

Youth Without Youth, 12/5.

Youth Without Youth "[P]retend Youth Without Youth, [Francis Ford] Coppola's first film in a decade, is by a filmmaker without [his] past," suggests Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine. "It's fairly exciting. It's the kind of film that frequently inspires with its inventive storytelling in the same way that Silent Light and No Country for Old Men do - films by directors feverish with ideas, who are also at the top of their craft, and know how to balance audacity with restraint.... It's [the] balance of baroque élan and classical sensibility that makes the film something of a marvel."

Updated through 12/7.

"'They always play The Godfather [theme] when I come down at these things,' said Francis Ford Coppola, looking jovial and scruffy in colorful layers last night at a screening of his new movie Youth Without Youth at the Paris Theater. 'I beg the audience to let me move on, find new ways of expressing myself.'" Gillian Reagan reports for the New York Observer.

The Reeler's ST VanAirsdale was there, too: "Legitimately independent and utterly impenetrable, Youth follows the travails of 70-year-old linguist Dominic Matei (Tim Roth), whose life's search for the source of human language is interrupted by a broken engagement, a lightning strike that restores him to his 35-year-old self, Nazis chasing him as the planet's most coveted specimen, the return of his lost love (Alexandra Maria Lara) in the form of another lighting-addled atavist who relapses into Sanskrit and Sumerian when not aging at a rate of a year per day. Do they share a curse, or is it all just a dream? Moreover, as the first hour's exposition folds into the second hour's metaphysics, do you get it? Do you even care?"

Related online listening: Coppola's a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Update, 12/6: James Mottram talks with Roth for the London Times.

Updates, 12/7: "Given the parallels that Francis Ford Coppola draws freely and eagerly between his own career and that of the fictional character at the center of his new film Youth Without Youth, it's difficult to not also notice the aptness of the title," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "Oh, to be young again - but it's only a movie."

"Any return by Coppola to personal filmmaking is to be applauded, even if that applause has to compete with incredulous laughter," writes Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman. "[T]his is an intensely silly film, but its silliness is bound up with the good stuff - the lushness and idealism, the cinematic grandeur. Many fantastical things happen in the picture, but Coppola and his visionary editor-cum-sound designer Walter Murch keep faith with old-school techniques."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:16 PM

Undoing.

Undoing "In Undoing, Chris Chan Lee takes up where Raymond Chandler left off (sort of) and turns the bowels of Los Angeles into a stage for a noirish meditation on the nature of good and evil," writes Julia Wallace.

"The movie's Korean-American reimagining of film noir clichés holds your attention," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times. "Unfortunately, an arsenal of unnecessary editing devices - including jump cuts, montages of still frames and gratuitously sped and slowed motion - plays like unnecessary insurance against audience boredom and betrays a lack of faith in a movie that's tough and heartfelt enough to get along fine without them."

"If Lee had simply shot the film straight on, he might have had more time and energy for the characters," suggests David Wiegand in the San Francisco Chronicle. "Lee might have done well to consider a bit of advice Hemingway once gave a famous actress about the dangers of confusing motion with action. In this case, that would include shaky-camera shots."

But Bruce Bennett, writing in the New York Sun, finds Undoing "a film of discrete sensitivity and unusual emotional intelligence.... Sincere, smart, and exceptionally well-cast and performed, the film clicks in ways that similar low-budget gangster dramas simply can't."

"In its best moments, the film seems to metamorphose into a wordless horror film, its characters solemnly wandering their modern landscapes as if prisoners of their bodies," writes Rob Humanick in Slant. "Come for these occasional moments of visual elation, but stay for Ceiri Torjussen's sporadically great score, which seems to echo from some distant netherworld were the ghosts of the departed continue their aimless drift."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:15 PM

NBR. Awards.

No Country for Old Men "The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures announced their annual awards Wednesday afternoon, naming Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country For Old Men 2007's Best Film of the Year," writes Peter Knegt, who's got the full list at indieWIRE. "The awards, which kick off a series of critics' awards announced throughout December and early January, also awarded the Coens best adapted screenplay and gave the cast, which includes Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem and Kelly MacDonald, its award for best ensemble cast."

Commentary: Ty Burr, Brandon Harris, Glenn Kenny, Karina Longworth, Nathaniel R and ST VanAirsdale.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:13 PM

December 4, 2007

Billy the Kid.

Billy the Kid "Don't miss this one," advises Paul Harrill. "It's easily one of my favorite films - fiction or non-fiction - of the year, and probably the best film about growing up that I've seen since Spellbound."

Billy the Kid "is both good and entertaining in the most primal senses imaginable: its direct cinema roots nurturing all the gangly awkwardness and candor of its subject, Billy compels compassion, humor, pity and revulsion on both sides of the camera," writes ST VanAirsdale, introducing his talk with director Jennifer Venditti at the Reeler. "It's a vacuum into which haters will hyperventilate their disapproval while admirers gaze on speechlessly from the outside."

"Coming at similar themes from different corners, assaulting New York audiences on the same day, Juno and Billy the Kid uncommonly and uncannily illustrate the industry's current, massive split between art and commerce," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog:

Updated through 12/8.

In this climate, a servicable teen sex com like Juno can show up in September and, with corporate marketing budget in hand leapfrog over a years worth of comers to become, in the day before its release, an all-but-certain sure thing at the Oscars and at the box office. Meanwhile, a film like Billy the Kid, which in one fell swoop all but changes the game of real teen representation, works the circuit for nine months collecting accolades, misses out on a much-needed Oscar boost and is now - like any true indie in this market - relying on first weekend gross to shape its distribution future. If you're in New York and can only see one film over the next days, I promise you - Juno isn't going anywhere. Billy needs you more.

"It's already scooped up awards at Edinburgh, Los Angeles, and South by Southwest film festivals, and it's easy to see why: this compelling, ingratiating portrait of some days in the life of a charming and troubled fifteen-year-old New Englander, with its canny intimacy and sharp editing, manages to be up-close-and-personal as well as safely discreet," writes Michael Koresky. "What the film lacks in painful revelation it makes up for in the way it avoids exploiting its subject; and, refreshingly, in these days when most documentaries seem couched in meta-commentary, the film never falls back on the crutch of having the filmmaker's ethical dilemma as a pivotal plot thrust."

Also at indieWIRE, Brian Brooks interviews Venditti.

"Venditti's aim isn't to vilify or condemn Billy, only to portray honestly the complex life of a real American teenager," writes Matt Singer at IFC News. "Billy's confused and, yeah, maybe a little unsettling at times, but he's also well-intentioned, honorable, funny and smarter that you expect. Like another similarly potent documentary from earlier this year, The King of Kong, Billy the Kid finds relatability and universality in a story of outcasts."

"This is Vendetti's first film, after a decade as a casting director," notes Julia Wallace in the Voice. "Perhaps this explains her remarkable ability to distill a character in one well-placed shot, a quality that more than makes up for her slightly amateurish camera skills. I have seen more than 25 documentaries this year, and after a while they all start to run together, both structurally and thematically. Billy the Kid is utterly original in both respects."

Updates, 12/5: "Presenting neither an argument for medication nor its rejection, Billy the Kid is a deceptively simple portrait of a shockingly self-aware and articulate young man," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "Yet the filmmaker's decision to eschew other viewpoints underscores the fundamental friction at the heart of the documentary process: the flattery of observation is difficult to resist."

"Venditti's sensitivity allows viewers to see that this accidental loner, who lives in a trailer with his respectful mother Penny, is uniquely intelligent and sensitive, bestowed with a sense of chivalry that harkens to a more innocent time," writes Danielle DiGiacomo in the L Magazine.

"Cannily, the film leaves unnamed whatever syndrome or disorder Billy has surely been diagnosed with," notes Darrell Hartman in the New York Sun. "'To me, there's no such thing as madness,' he says, and by approaching Billy not as a curiosity or a case study but as a human being, the filmmakers are in implicit agreement. Of course, it helps their cause that Billy, whom Ms Venditti, a casting director, discovered while working in Maine on another film, is a particularly fascinating individual."

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Venditti "about her progression to documentary directing, working with Spike Jonze, and the problems of turning up late to see Margot at the Wedding."

"Billy the Kid, a disarmingly funny and genuinely poignant low-budget documentary, sports old-fashioned comedic charm and the psychological weight of a Freudian wet dream," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press.

Update, 12/7: "Billy The Kid often plays more like an extended home movie than something intentional and artful, writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "But there's something to be said for Venditti's ability to build the kind of trust with a subject necessary to get full participation."

Update, 12/8: For the New York Times, Dennis Lim talks with Venditti - and with Billy: "Speaking by telephone, Billy, now a senior in high school, referred to the documentary repeatedly as 'my film.' He said that he had quickly developed a trust and a rapport with Ms Venditti. 'I actually think of her as family, kind of like a sister,' he said."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:46 PM

'Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris.

Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris 'Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris is an "affectionate portrait [that] distinguishes itself from the ongoing epidemic of musician docs by mere virtue of staking out ground that hasn't already been thoroughly tilled," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice.

"That the film also makes a convincing case for Paris as one of last century's most underappreciated singers and paints a vivid picture of the be-bopping 40s and 50s jazz scene are icing on the cake of this first-rate documentary, which compassionately locates in Jackie the pain of unfulfilled aspirations, and also the wellspring of anger that helped thwart his ambition," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

Updated through 12/7.

Update, 12/7: "Raymond De Felitta seeks out the man whom the singer Billy Vera describes as 'Chet Baker times 10,'" writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "[T]he film's most powerful voice is the singer's own. In the background of most scenes and the foreground of some, his honeyed vocals - 'like the first time you hear Streisand,' swoons the novelist Norman Bogner - make an argument for the tragedy of fame denied that no fan could best."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:38 PM

DVDs, 12/4.

Something Weird Video "Ever since its inception as a fan-oriented tape trading collective (back in the late 80s/early 90s) [Something Weird Video] has marched to its own dare to be bare drummer." And now, PopMatters' Bill Gibron bids a fond farewell.

Filmbrain announces the next release coming from Benten Films: Quiet City and Dance Party, USA: Two Films by Aaron Katz.

"A semi-secret, anxiety-cranked daydream movie released briefly to a few American cities in 2005, and one of the most original French films of the decade, Lucile Hadzihalilovic's Innocence (2004) is pure code, metaphor and mystery, and at the same it's seethingly tangible," writes Michael Atkinson. "[T]he movie feels genuinely sui generis, a verdant, ambiguous reverie on childhood, consciousness and oppression." Also, Drunken Angel, "a rarely seen classic of the Japanese postwar era, which is distinctive in world cinema as out-noiring noir."

Also at IFC News: "There's no safer present for the cinephile in your life than a DVD box set — even (or especially) if that cinephile is you," write Matt Singer and Alison Willmore. "Here are our picks of some of 2007's most covetable collections."

The Lady Vanishes "The Lady Vanishes represents a major turning point in Hitchcock's career, and not just because it was the last film he made before producer David Selznick lured him to Hollywood in 1939," writes Nathaniel Rich. "The film displays the best qualities of his British career - immaculate timing, delicacy, and danger - but here Hitchcock delves more deeply than ever before into the anxieties and secret terrors of prewar English society. By doing so, the film provided a template to which Hitchcock often returned in his American masterpieces, revisiting the same narrative strategies in increasingly devious and innovative ways." Also in Slate, a slide show essay from Juliet Lapidos, "The Man Who Did It All."

"Jim Jarmusch's Night on Earth is a love song to the beauty of city streets at nights," writes Ed Howard. "It's also a love song about conversation, and storytelling, and the collisions (fortuitous or ugly) of strangers that make up the fabric of the urban landscape."

"Killer of Sheep presents people the movies haven't found," writes Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe:

Wasn't that the guilty Beltway shock after Hurricane Katrina? We didn't know these people were there. (The rapturous critical response to the movie last spring has led the professionally combative critic Armond White, in the DVD's liner notes, to accuse the film's enthusiasts of "do-gooder condescension.") Obviously, [Charles] Burnett's movie is pre-Katrina yet post-Watts riots, post-Raisin in the Sun, post-"I'm Black and I'm Proud," post-Black Power, post-jive, and anti-pity, anti-empty uplift, anti-blaxploitation. It unfolds in a limbo of urban progress and upward mobility.

Via Movie City News.

For the Observer's Philip French, Sansho the Bailiff "is a heartbreaking story, tragic, unsentimental, but suffused with a belief in the ability of decency and dignity to survive under the most terrible circumstances."

"Nowadays, some consider Baby Doll a classic, others a disappointment or even an embarrassment," writes Kathy Fennesy at the Siffblog. "To me, it's none of those things. Rather, it plays more like parody - self-parody (specifically of Kazan's previous Williams adaptation, A Streetcar Named Desire), Tennessee Williams in general (his first script combines two one-act plays), the Actors Studio (from which the core trio originated), and the Deep South (though the cast denies it)."

"Behold a Pale Horse is Fred Zinnemann's most visually accomplished film," writes Peter Nellhaus.

Peter Sobczynski has a huge DVD roundup over at Hollywood Bitchslap.

Joe Leydon calls out to Warner Home Video: Give us a DVD release for Claude Lelouch's Les Miserables!

DVD Roundups: Bryant Frazer; Susan King in the Los Angeles Times; and Peter Martin at Cinematical.

"The DVD businesses, one of the movie industry's biggest sources of profits, is expected to post a year-over-year sales decline for the first time since the format's rise a decade ago," reports Brian Garrity for the New York Post. "The DVD drop isn't unexpected. Some analysts at the end of last year were forecasting a 2007 decline due to saturation, advances in technology like video-on-demand, Internet downloading and growing competition from entertainment like video games."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:32 PM | Comments (3)

Lists. frieze.

frieze Jan/Feb 08 For Thierry Jousse, a film director who edited Cahiers du cinéma in the early 90s, Zodiac is "a deep reflection on the evaporation of truth.... Assisted by Harris Savides, formerly Gus van Sant's director of photography, [David] Fincher combines visual beauty and narrative virtuosity to arrive at melancholy drift that has no equivalent in the American cinema of the last 20 years." Van Sant's Paranoid Park is among his highlights of the year in film as well.

Further down that same page in the January-February issue of frieze, programmer Juliane Wanckel prefaces her own list by noting, "War and sickness suffused the cinema of 2007, from multiplex fodder to art-house fare. The most resonant of these films sought historical perspective on the fractured, divided, threatened individual at the end of the 20th century and the start of the 21st."

More year-end roundups: Eugenia Bell on design, Ali Smith and Liz Brown on books and Jace Clayton on music - speaking of which, Ann Powers and Simon Reynolds do just that. Discuss the year in music, that is.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:19 AM

Hollis Alpert, 1916 - 2007.

Hollis Alpert
Hollis Alpert, a film critic and author who co-founded the National Society of Film Critics more than 40 years ago in the living room of his New York apartment, has died. He was 91....

The society was started in 1966 after Mr Alpert - then a critic for the weekly Saturday Review magazine - and other reviewers were denied membership in the New York Film Critics Circle, which then favored critics who worked for newspapers.... Joe Morgenstern, who was then Newsweek's film critic, recalled that one reason he helped found the group was to counteract Bosley Crowther, the New York Times movie critic "who was the really dominating influence on the New York film scene. And it was a deadening influence."... The world of entertainment also permeated Mr Alpert's many fiction and non-fiction books.... Film critic and historian Leonard Maltin said in an email that Mr Alpert "was an erudite man at a time when that was a virtue, not a liability, in the world of journalism and film criticism."

Valerie J Nelson, Los Angeles Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:23 AM

Ford at Fox.

Ford at Fox "Reviving some extremely rare works in fully restored versions, presenting critical editions of the major titles (in three instances, complete with alternate cuts) and reintroducing several overlooked masterworks, Ford at Fox finally does for a filmmaker what the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade in France and our homegrown Library of America have long done for writers," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "Scattered, individual films have been recast into a body of work - an oeuvre - easily accessible for the first time."

Updated through 12/7.

"It's neither complete nor perfect, but taken together with recent Warner Bros collections, it puts within bookshelf reach most of this very great artist's surviving pictures," writes Gary Giddins in the New York Sun. "For a director who drew on diverse literary sources, accepted many studio assignments, and lost countless studio battles, Ford was one of our most consistent filmmakers. Yet his perspective was neither static nor predictable. I find myself treasuring his collected works even more than the masterpieces because I care about what he saw and how he thought at each stage of his long career."

"To those who know Ford as a director of Westerns, the range of subjects he filmed with consummate skill is surprising," writes Lou Lumenick in the New York Post. And on his blog, Lumenick chats with Nick Redman, who's directed a doc included in the hunky, 21-disc box.

DVD Beaver has an extensive rundown on the stats for this thing on one page from which comparisons with earlier releases of some of the films - My Darling Clementine, for example; and heavens, will you look at that! - are linked.

Update, 12/5: This is "the greatest director survey ever released on DVD," argues Sean Axmaker.

Update, 12/7: What should a review of a demanding and expensive milestone set like this one... do? Glenn Kenny considers - and sparks more consideration in comments that follow.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:01 AM

Accattone in Jazz.

David D'Arcy on a series' finale. But take note: other events in the Pier Paolo Pasolini: Poet of Ashes project carry on through December 18.

Accattone Tonight at Lincoln Center, Accattone in Jazz: An Homage to Pier Paolo Pasolini brings an end to the much-overdue tribute to the filmmaker and poet. (I can still remember MoMA's great Pasolini retrospective 20 years ago.) It leaves you wondering where a film director with Pasolini's literary and artistic talents might be found today.

Pasolini's first film, set outside effortlessly dramatic Naples, is a sympathetic portrait of a small-time pimp, Accattone, whose heart is just a little too good to make him good at his job, although calling anything Accattone does a "job" would already be exaggerating. In a landscape, far from the center of anything, where the ruins of World War II stand alongside the ruins, rising out of the swamps, of housing projects under construction, local hoodlums kill time abusing each other and preying on any girls who happen to be around. Scorned by the family of his young wife, bullied by his unemployed peers, Accattone finally meets blonde Stella, a whore's daughter who might turn out to be more than that. Can fate be beaten? The toughs who gamble in the local cafes are betting on it.

All the neo-realist ingredients are here - like most serious artists, Pasolini knew the traditions he was emerging from - but Accattone is a stylistic step beyond, with a Neapolitan chorus of louts observing every misfortune mercilessly, reminding you that pain is a sadly reliable source of comedy, and with airs from Bach's St Matthew Passion playing as if Accattone were walking up Calvary - which, as Pasolini sees it, he is. The director's gilding the lily here. He won't convince you that this loser is divine, although you can sense that Pasolini found him divinely handsome. But convincing you he's human is itself an achievement.

Mama Roma opened the series, with the pro forma speeches by a slew of Italians from this or that institute. My favorite was one who spoke disparagingly about the ordeal of a mother trying to save her son from the life on the streets that would eventually kill him, and faulting the character for her petty bourgeois delusion of trying to lift her son above his class background. What would his mother think?

Anna Magnani is mockingly funny, poignant and vulnerable, infusing the classic story of a mother's sacrifices with the emotional rough-housing that you find in commedia dell-arte, which Pasolini would draw on again and again. Magnani gets all her laugh lines right, as if by instinct, and Pasolini's instincts, too, are right to keep the camera on her as she watches a scene and breaks into laughter, or simply cracks a sly irresistible smile. How much of that was improvised? A lot, I imagine, given the looseness of Pasolini's filmmaking, which got looser and looser over the years.

But this is Italy, and Magnani's motherly instincts win out. Where are the actresses like her now?

Posted by dwhudson at 12:37 AM

December 3, 2007

Turner Prize 07.

Turner Prize 07 "It was the man in the bear suit who won it," announces the Guardian's Charlotte Higgins. "Mark Wallinger, 48, has been awarded this year's Turner prize, 12 years after his first nomination, when he lost out to Damien Hirst. His film Sleeper, 154 minutes of footage of the artist wandering around a deserted German gallery disguised as a bear (but recognisable by his very particular gait), has baffled and entranced visitors to the Turner prize exhibition by turns. The prize was officially given, in fact, not for Sleeper, but for State Britain, his meticulous re-creation of peace campaigner Brian Haw's anti-war protest in Parliament Square."

Updated through 12/6.

Updates, 12/4: For Adrian Searle, this is the right decision: "An Essex-born intellectual with a lugubrious laugh, Wallinger has over the years taken Jesus, Tommy Cooper, the 1966 World Cup, the first world war, racing, poetry, passion and unseemly goings-on inside a pantomime horse as his subjects, in his examinations of Britishness and national identity, wealth and breeding, religion and politics. His work is as accessible and funny as it is deadly serious." And there's much more in the Guardian's special section devoted to the Turner Prize.

"I can't remember the Turner Prize ever going to such entirely political work," blogs Time's Richard Lacayo. "This is probably a good time to point out that no less an institution than the New York Public Library has been doing its part to keep alive the tradition of protest art in the US. I think I'll head over and take a look at this show this week."

Update, 12/5: Charlotte Higgins talks with Wallinger for the Guardian.

Update, 12/6: "What does awarding the Turner Prize for such an explicitly political piece of work as State Britain say about what we want from contemporary art in the UK today?" Dan Fox contrasts 1995 and 2007.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:06 PM

Interview. Jon Else.

Jon Else If you're anywhere near Chicago over the holidays, you might consider catching Doctor Atomic at the Lyric Opera. Composed by John Adams, with a libretto by director Peter Sellars, Doctor Atomic is an intense countdown to the very first test of the nuclear bomb - in short, the dawn of a new age.

The making of the opera was not without its drama, either. That story's told by Jon Else in Wonders Are Many. Brian Darr talks with him about revisiting the themes of his widely lauded The Day After Trinity: J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb and about why Wonders would make for a good double feature with his friend Steven Okazaki's doc, White Light/Black Rain.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:35 PM | Comments (1)

Annies. Nominations.

Ratatouille "Ratatouille leads contenders for the Annie Awards honoring animation, picking up 13 nominations, among them best picture and voice-acting honors for Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm and Janeane Garofalo," reports the AP's David Germain.

The complete list.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:08 PM | Comments (4)

Juno.

Juno "Like the titular character's accidental pregnancy, Juno has a fumbling start and an affecting delivery," writes Fernando F Croce in Slant. "Just when one is about to write off Diablo Cody's much-praised screenplay as less than the sum of its ornate quips, a scene will be flipped in an unexpected direction and a hidden vein of emotion suddenly struck."

"[L]et's hope the critical chorus brings the volume down to a reasonable level, before it gives this good film a fatal case of heightened expectations," warns Gabriel Shanks.

Updated through 12/8.

"Young [Jason] Reitman was mysteriously acclaimed for his ugly, inept film of the libertarian hipster comedy Thank You for Smoking, but that movie didn't break out the way Juno will," writes David Edelstein in New York. "It's the Knocked Up - the family-values picture with four-letter words—that the tweeners will want to see." As for Ellen Page, "She has a talent for making her motormouthed lines sound like they're really coming from her head." Logan Hill profiles her: "Just 20, Page was born two years after The Breakfast Club, and she has a very different movie legacy in mind for herself."

"[I]t's fun, it's cute, it's got a wicked sense of humor and it's got one of this year's best on-screen female performances," writes Erik Davis at Cinematical. Similarly, Robert Levin at cinemaattraction: "Of all that stands out about the film, including Reitman's assured direction, which belies his relative inexperience and Cody's sharp and moving script, nothing resonates quite so much as the uniformly strong performances."

"If you are a fan of the indie version of the human drama, it would be tough to top the one about the plucky Midwestern girl who used a stripper pole to shimmy her way up and out of a drab office cubicle and grab her piece of the Hollywood dream." For the New York Times, David Carr profiles Diablo Cody. And: "The Bagger was talking with an experienced Oscar campaigner last night and they both agreed that Juno might be the year's little movie that could."

"My favorite cover all time - Sonic Youth's version of The Carpenters' "Superstar" - will be on the Juno soundtrack," notes Rex Sorgatz.

Earlier: Reviews from Toronto.

Updates: "Juno is occasionally funny, rarely intelligent, and often annoying," writes Elbert Ventura at Reverse Shot. "A crowd-pleaser for people who like to think they're above crowd-pleasers but are actually not, it's going to be huge.... Is Juno this year's Little Miss Sunshine? You bet."

"Far less funny and shrewd than Knocked Up..., Juno pretends to care about real-world situations but is really interested only in its own trendier-than-thou cleverness, an obnoxious fantasy vision of teendom slathered in self-satisfied snark," writes Nick Schager.

Updates, 12/4: "The problem with too much buzz is that it sets up impossible expectations," writes Marcy Dermansky. "Though too precocious and polished, Juno manages to charm, with many lovely moments. In the tradition of maladjusted teen comedies, however, Juno doesn't rank among the recent greats. The pacing and soundtrack are wholly indebted to Wes Anderson's Rushmore. Ghost World's Enid outclasses Juno with her ruthless lack of sentiment. This year's overlooked Rocket Science offers more hilarious moments, as well as Anna Kendrick, who has her own way with words."

"[O]nce it works its way through the first-timer's lookatme! snark, Juno evolves into a thing of beauty and grace," writes Robert Wilonsky in the Voice. "By the end, it's unexpectedly moving without ever once trolling for crocodile tears. It's a sneak attack."

"For all its posturing as a take-no-guff whippersnapper, Juno is finally a square, predictable crowd-pleaser, timid on politics and reaffirming on family," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "[I]t's endlessly schematic, from its post-Wes Anderson (and post-Napoleon Dynamite, and post-Rocket Science, etc) fetishizing of goofy objects (orange tic tacs! yellow sweatbands!) to its rattling off of Diablo Cody's favorite things (The Stooges! Herschell Gordon Lewis!), to its Belle & Sebastian and Moldy Peaches interludes and twee, closing guitar sing-along. This final moment brings to mind a much more honest movie that Fox Searchlight has savvily marketed to major success: yet a film as delightful, odd, and innocent as Once doesn't come along very often. Something like Juno seems to open every other week."

Updates, 12/5: "The passive-aggressive pseudo-folk songs, the self-consciously clever dialogue, the generic, instantly mockable suburban setting - if you can find Sundance on a map, you'll swear you've been here before," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "But Juno... respects the idiosyncrasies of its characters rather than exaggerating them or holding them up for ridicule. And like Juno herself, the film outgrows its own mannerisms and defenses, evolving from a coy, knowing farce into a heartfelt, serious comedy."

"I'm dreading the inevitable: that Juno will be seized upon by groups and individuals with all sorts of pregnancy-related agendas," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "But this is a story about people, not about political or even moral convictions. If anything, it stresses that even though the whole idea of pregnancy and childbearing is an intensely personal issue for any woman, it's still the sort of thing that invites random aggressive pronouncements and proclamations - generally disguised as helpful advice - from friends, family members and total strangers alike.... Juno doesn't make judgments or pronouncements. Its great beauty lies in how generous it is toward all its characters."

"Juno is hilarious and sweet-tempered, perceptive and surprisingly grounded," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "It's also a gust of fresh air, perspective-wise, in that it follows the gestational misadventures of a girl, whose hotness is not actually her most salient characteristic, from the girl's point of view."

"If you love to hate the ellipsis-riddled speech of the mumbleborg, then you'll have an apoplectic blast with the baroque geek-snark pouring forth from Juno's little trooper," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine. "What keeps Juno bearable is Page's bobbing and weaving her way to a semblance of character."

Tricia Olszewski talks with Cody and Page for PopMatters.

"[T]here is no point in complaining that every character in the movie, right down to the clerk at the convenience store - who notes of Juno's predicament, 'This is one doodle that can't be undid, home skillet' - talks as if they're in a hipster screwball comedy," argues Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "Because every character in this movie is, in fact, in a hipster screwball comedy, take it or leave it. I for one am fairly happy that I took it, not least because of Page's enthusiastic, note-perfect work, which actually convinces you that a person such as Juno could actually exist."

"Juno is a wildly appealing heroine, a bright, tart-tongued girl with a self-possession beyond her years," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "But what saves her - and the movie - from foundering in a sea of snark is Juno's slow realization that brains, wit, and good taste in music aren't enough to get her through an experience as lifeshaking as pregnancy."

Online viewing tip. Cody and Page talk about their favorite movies at Cinematical. Briefly.

"It's a nice surprise to watch Juno, who trafficks, if lightly, in the usual teen angst bullshit, get a taste of actual disillusionment, and Page does a solid job with some fairly tricky scenes," writes Michelle Orange at the Reeler. "Though the dynamic between Juno and Bleeker is not explored to much satisfaction, the tentative sweetness of Cody's ending feels earned."

Update, 12/6: "I'm not sure I'd call Juno ground-breaking - for that you'd need a pimply heroine who stays that way and still gets the guy - but what sets this engaging little movie above the pack of glib, brit