January 31, 2008

Slamdance. Paranormal Activity.

Paranormal Activity "A couple decide to document poltergeist-like disturbances in Paranormal Activity," writes Dennis Harvey in Variety. "Oren Peli's crew-less debut feature is one of the best genre spins on the pseudo-nonfiction 1st-person-cam since The Blair Witch Project, with which it shares improvised performances, no explicit violence or 'solution,' and a gradual escalation of chills."

"Despite its miniscule production values and somewhat rudimentary concept, this intelligently paced ghost story creates a stripped-down intensity that the horror genre often sorely lacks," writes Eric Kohn in indieWIRE.

"Suffice it to say that it sufficiently freaked out those of us who watched the screener in my hotel room in the wee hours of a Sundance night, and that I ended up asking a coworker to crash in my room for the night because I was afraid I wouldn' t be able to get to sleep alone," writes Kim Voynar at Cinematical. "Dreamworks just acquired Paranormal Activity, and we'll keep you apprised of when it might be coming to a theater near you. You'll want to bring a friend - this film is scary as all get out. In the meantime, you can watch the trailer on the film's official website."

John Horn profiles Peli for the Los Angeles Times.

Online listening tip. Dread Central interviews Peli.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:18 PM | Comments (1)

Park City Dispatch. 8.

Cathleen Rountree looks back on several docs she won't be forgetting anytime soon.

Sundance 08 As in recent years, the documentaries once again stole the show at Sundance 08. Among the 41 films I crammed into nine days, 23 were nonfiction titles. Topics included: social activism, environmentalism, economic concerns, anti-war issues, the corrosion of democracy, world politics, displacement, gender identity, inspiring senior citizens, and entertaining biographies of Roman Polanski, Hunter S Thompson and Patti Smith.

One festival highlight was certainly the premiere of U2 3D, a genuine concert experience utilizing the technology of 3-D and surround-sound. Leave it to Bono, the Edge, Adam and Larry (all in attendance at the screening, along with Al Gore) to merge rock-and-roll with social activism. After the screening, Bono's response to an audience question about whether the band might consider doing a "deeper" show, inadvertently spoke to the festival's raison d'etre: "Underneath there is a narrative running: social activism, human rights, non-violence. Taking human rights on the road is not a flippant thing to do," he reasoned. "I think you might know that in this country."

IOUSA I marveled at many of the documentaries' timeliness and the prescience of the filmmakers, many of whom spent upwards of three, four, and five years in production. For example, I.O.U.S.A., Fields of Fuel, Secrecy, Flow: For Love of Water, Dinner with the President, The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo, Slingshot Hip Hop and Bigger, Stronger, Faster each address topics of immediate national and international concern.

In the wake of Bush's tax cuts and, even as the Federal Reserve cuts interest rates in an attempt to ward off recession or worse, I.O.U.S.A. (Patrick Creadon), looks at the history of the US economy: the over-burdened social security system, the national health crisis, the ever-expanding military-industrial complex and the growing debts to foreign interests, all of which foreshadow a future of national economic and spiritual bankruptcy. But Creadon, wisely moving beyond partisan entanglements, suggests sound solutions for a future fiscally sound nation.

With the price of oil having recently topped $100 a barrel, Fields of Fuel (Josh Tickell), winner of the Audience Award for Documentary, uncovers desperately needed alternatives which might lead to a decentralized, sustainable energy infrastructure: a new Brooklyn biodiesel plant serving three states, a miraculous Arizona algae-based fuel farm. Tickell's passionate and generous film tracks the rising domination of the petrochemical industry in the second half of the 20th century and, concurrently, summons citizens' action.

Flow Remember Frank Herbert's Dune? In Flow: For Love of Water, French director Irena Salina sounds the alarm: water, our most precious resource, is in peril, and, given the goal of privatization by billion-dollar water companies, impoverished nations could be headed for extinction. But people around the globe are fighting back (the Cochabamba protests of 2000, also known as "The Cochabamba Water Wars," were a series of triumphant protests that took place in Bolivia's third largest city in reaction to the World Bank's plans to privatize the municipal water supply. Salina interviews African plumbers who secretly reconnect shantytown water pipes to ensure a community's survival; a California scientist who exposes toxic public water supplies; and a "water guru" who promotes community-based initiatives to provide water throughout India. As both I.O.U.S.A. and Fields of Fuel point out, we have been fighting wars for oil for more than 100 years. But, as Flow demonstrates, unless we instigate change, we face a world in which water wars are inevitable and even more urgent.

Secrecy corrupts. From unprecedented rendition to warrant-less wiretaps and Abu Ghraib, we have learned that, under the veil of classification, even our leaders can give in to dangerous impulses. Secrecy (Peter Galison and Robb Moss) uncovers the vast, invisible world of government secrecy and explores the tensions between our safety as a nation and our ability to function as a democracy. This stylistically elegant and provocative film combines animation, installations, an effective score and riveting interviews with lawyers, CIA analysts and the ordinary people for whom secrecy becomes a matter of life or death.

Slingshot Hip Hop Slingshot Hip Hop (Jackie Reem Salloum), one of my favorite docs, follows the Palestinian rappers - Tamer , Joker, and Suhell of DAM (the first-ever Palestinian hip-hop group) and PR (Palestinian Rapperz) - through Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank as these activists for (nonviolent) social change prove that a revolution of music, rising above decades of conflict, is as powerful as bombs. We observe their struggle to produce an album despite crushing poverty, walls of separation and internal checkpoints - and cheer as they progress to jubilant sold-out shows in Europe. And the triumphant female soloist Abeer challenges gender roles and cultural traditions.

After the December assassination of Pakistani presidential hopeful Benazir Bhutto, Dinner with the President (Sabiha Sumar and Sachithanandam Sathananthan) is a welcome entrée into a country with cultures as ancient and complex as Pakistan's. Projected to be the world's third most populous country by 2050, this nuclear-capable nation has stood at the crossroads of East and West for centuries. President Pervez Musharraf is the center of a tripartite that includes the Islamic theocracy, the military, and tribal leaders. Sumar and Sathananthan did indeed have "dinner with" Musharraf, his silent wife and doting mother. Dinner with the President is an in-depth look at one of the world's potential powder kegs.

The Greatest Silence The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo (Lisa F Jackson), which won a Special Jury Prize for Documentary, regards Congolese women's bodies as a wartime battleground and recognizes rape as a key destabilizing method in a corrupt cycle. Jackson interviewed women who survived rape in war-ravaged remote villages of the Congo (where, since 1998, more that four million citizens have been murdered), thereby providing an intimate glimpse into the struggle of the lives of these survivors of rape. Jackson recounts her personal gang-rape experience to the women and fearlessly interviews the warring rapists themselves.

Bigger, Stronger, Faster (Christopher Bell). With Barry Bonds, Marion Jones and Roger Clemens in the news and, worse, Chris Benoit's "'roid rage" slaying of his wife and 7-year-old son, and subsequent self-hanging last year, Bell examines America's win-at-all-cost malady by exposing his two brothers' membership in (and his own brief flirtation with) the steroid subculture. The film opens with images of 1980s super-heroes: Rambo, Conan and Hulk Hogan, but then analyzes the extent of (even rappers and R & B stars admit to using steroids and human-growth-hormones) and deeper issues surrounding these drugs: ethics in sports and the ramifications in terms of both psychological and physical health. Bell takes on a serious topic and infuses hilarious archival footage into his study of America's love of winners.

Up the Yangtze For the stunningly beautiful and riveting Up the Yangtze, director Yung Chang spent five years chronicling the life transitions of families who live near the gargantuan Three Gorges Dam and, subsequently, must find a way to adjust to the rising waters in a dramatically changing China. During my interview with Chang, he mentioned that by now two million residents have been displaced. Then there's the destruction of countless cultural and archaeological sites. And the government anticipates an additional four million may be forced to leave their homes along the river's edge. But, by focusing on the stories of two teenagers who leave their families to work on a cruise ship that ferries primarily American tourists along the river, Chang humanizes a situation that contains apocalyptic overtones.

The three bio-docs ranged from superb - Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, to very good - Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr Hunter S Thompson, to good - Patti Smith: Dream of Life.

In Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, director Marina Zenovich explores the infamous 70s case, in which acclaimed director (Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown, The Pianist) allegedly had unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, and uncovers a very different story than the one that the legal system, fired by the media, sold to the public. Rather than face certain jail time, Polanski fled to Europe, where he remains to this day. This riveting investigative documentary dispels much of the myth and mystery that have haunted this professionally respected, personally reviled, controversial character for more than 30 years.

Gonzo Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr Hunter S Thompson (Alex Gibney) follows on the heels of Jann Wenner and Corey Seymour's oral history of Thompson. Gibney (The Trials of Henry Kissinger, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and the Oscar-nominated Taxi to the Dark Side) creates an intimate and revealing portrait of the writer. Focusing on his work between 1965 and 1975 and using never-before-seen clips of Thompson's home movies, newly discovered audiotapes and passages from unpublished manuscripts, Gonzo creates a multi-faceted portrait of a true American icon.

Patti Smith: Dream of Life (Steven Sebring). The legendary musician/poet/painter/activist/wife/mother and sometime lover of Sam Shepard once wrote: "Life isn't some vertical or horizontal line. You have your own internal world, and it's not neat." Amen to that. Sebring - whose gorgeous black and white cinematography contributes to the dreamlike quality - tracked this punk pioneer and spiritual child of Rimbaud, Blake and Burroughs for 11 years, from the intimacy of her temporary home in the Chelsea Hotel to her mesmerizing public performances. Never having been much of a Smith fan myself, this insightful and often poignant film converted me.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:06 PM

Sundance. Anywhere, USA.

Anywhere USA "Any festival you go to there's going to be one film that most people don't get and just spend their time discussing why they didn't like it and question why it was ever made," writes Jason Guerrasio at Filmmaker. "Chusy (Anthony Haney-Jardine)'s Anywhere, USA has become that film at Sundance 08... but I'm in the minority. I thought it was one of the most fun viewing experiences I had there."

"Anywhere, USA revolves around three separate stories - a torn relationship, a family born of crisis, an old man's journey of self-discovery - but those brief capsules can't possibly convey the loopy energy and bizarre brilliance Haney-Jardine splashes up on screen in strong, sloppy brush strokes," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "And I don't use that metaphor lightly; at times, Anywhere, USA feels more like a modern art project than a film."

Robert Koehler, writing in Variety, finds it "dressed up in postmodern smarty pants, only to resolve as an excessively overlong personal project that chases its own tail. A triptych on, respectively, a trailer-park couple, a bright child and her slacker relative, and a wealthy Anglo man runs on and on, even as each elaborately written and staged part amounts to little."

"On one level, Anywhere is experimental hokum, a parade of Southern stereotypes and trailer park jokes," writes Steve Ramos at indieWIRE. "Yet, beneath the trashy humor and broad-stroke characters, Anywhere claims striking visual beauty, a standout performance and pride in its Ashville, NC locations and residents."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:31 PM

4 Months..., 1/31.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days In the New Republic, Richard B Woodward recalls meeting Cristian Mungiu when 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days screened at the New York Film Festival:

After the Romanian screening, women approached him and related one horrifying story after another. There was the fiancee who became pregnant and was promptly dumped by her husband-to-be before the wedding. "It was inconceivable to have a child out of wedlock then, as difficult as having an abortion," he said. She was lucky to find someone in a tiny village who agreed to do it. "He took her to the basement and showed her two large jars, one of water and the other of acid. He said that if the procedure went well, the fetus would go in the water. If it didn't, he would put her in the acid and no one would ever know what had happened to her."

Updated through 2/6.

"No surprise that, after winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes last year, Cristian Mungiu's brilliant and brutal record of a day in the life of two distraught women failed to make even the Oscar short list of 10 for Best Foreign Language Film," writes Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix. "It embodies everything the Academy shuns, especially in that gelded category: ambiguity, lack of closure, a refusal to judge, and an uncompromising regard for reality." And he, too, talks with Mungiu.

So do Dennis Lim (Los Angeles Times) and Scott Foundas (LA Weekly) - and Anamaria Marinca joins in on that conversation.

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes, Toronto, New York, LA, 1/16 and 1/23.

Updates, 2/1: "Although every member of the ensemble cast delivers a tone-perfect performance, the movie belongs to Marinca, who conveys a welter of emotions - sweetness, anger, shame - with flawless conviction, often in wordless glance or gesture," writes Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post. "American audiences who have been treated to such consoling fictions as Knocked Up and Juno in recent months here finally have an example of filmmaking that dares to be honest about the high stakes of women's reproductive lives."

"First, this movie should be enjoyed," suggests Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle. "Later, marveled at. And then, once the excitement has faded, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days really should be studied, because director Cristian Mungiu creates scenes unlike any ever filmed. Moreover, he builds and reinforces a mood with unexpected techniques that are simple, personal and resoundingly effective."

"[T]he tale is so compelling that it seduces viewers as a fairy tale does a child," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "They simply must know, as the plot knot coils tighter around the characters, What Happens Next."

Update, 2/6: "4 Months is a grinding, expertly crafted slice of Eastern European miserablism, an unquestionably overpowering experience that nonetheless left this reviewer with a nagging sense of unease," writes the Philadelphia Weekly. Also: Matt Prigge lists "Six Films That Deal With Illegal Abortion."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:45 AM

Fests and events, 1/31.

Zizek Good news from Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay: "On the 25th anniversary of the International Film Festival Rotterdam's Cinemart, the prize for the 'best project' has gone to Sophie Fiennes's The Pervert's Guide to Ideology, a follow-up to her The Pervert's Guide to Cinema which also features philosopher Slajov Zizek."

More from Ian Mundell in Variety.

Peur(s) du Noir "Being part of the IFFR's Rotterdämmerung program, a section featuring amusing, hallucinogenic and sometimes downright scary films, Peur(s) du Noir [Fear(s) of the Dark] brings a mix of black and white animation logically aiming at the last: being scary," writes Peter van der Lugt at Twitch. "Several of today's best illustrators and comic-strip artists went back to the origins of their terrors and agreed to animate their drawings for this French omnibus feature which is obviously targeted at adults. The result is a 82 minutes viewing experience in which a total of 6 intertwined stories made by Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Pierre Di Sciullo, Lorenzo Mattotti and Richard McGuire, have been smartly crafted into one piece of work under the art direction of Étienne Robial."

Alfred Hitchcock "[W]hen you look at the script notes, production design elements and the sketches he would make of camera angles that would be elaborated upon by his cinematographers, you can really see how intensely collaborative he actually was." That's Ellen Harrington, who's programmed the Academy's exhibition Casting a Shadow: Creating the Alfred Hitchcock Film (through April 20), talking to Susan King in the Los Angeles Times.

"Like a mirror the morning after, UCLA's series of restored pre-Code films from the Universal and Paramount libraries reflects a country stunned by a crushing post-Prohibition hangover, abashed and facing down ruin, but with enough mettle left to insist on righteousness before the Depression finally grinds its fight out and sends it running for fantasy." Hazel-Dawn Dumpert in the LA Weekly.

Alexander Nevsky At SF360, Dennis Harvey has an overview of the Pacific Film Archive's series, The Medieval Remake, "a fascinating assortment of some of the less commercially-minded, artistically imaginative, philosophically thoughtful treatments the era has gotten from international filmmakers over a 60-year span. From the severe to the surreal to the serene, these are highly individual visions from a clutch of great directors." Through February 16.

"Exhumed Films is presenting a giallo double feature this weekend that grabs entries from two extremes of the tradition," notes Shaun Brady in the Philadelphia City Paper. "Be prepared for black-gloved killers, homicidal maniacs fueled by adolescent sexual traumas and key information just out of reach of a character's conscious memory."

In the New York Press, Eric Kohn looks back over Sundance: "While the documentary categories gleamed with calculated topicality and observant portraiture, quality among the narrative features was sparse. Fortunately, a relatively barren creative landscape left ample room for several contemplative works to blossom as heralded discoveries, and only a few remain in the chilly festival void without theatrical distribution."

David Wilson, filmmaker and co-founder of the True/False Film Festival, at FilmInFocus: "Five Things I Took Away From the 2008 Sundance Film Festival."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:25 AM

Oscarology, 1/31.

Oscar How's your Oscar history? Good? Good. Edward Copeland's conducting another survey and there're just hours to go before ballots are due: "In 2006, we did a survey to determine the best and worst of the Oscar-winning best pictures. Last year, we turned our focus to the best and worst of the leading ladies. This year, it's the leading men's turn."

Updated through 2/3.

Meanwhile, any suspense there might be over the questions of who'll win what is out-suspensed by the question of what sort of night Oscar Night'll actually be. David Carr has the latest: "The Oscar ballots went out yesterday, and contingency plans for the show are in the works, just in case Hollywood is still beside itself come Oscar time."

At the Film Experience, Brian Darr has an overview of the Oscar-nominated documentary shorts.

The San Diego Reader's Duncan Campbell is pulling for the Coen brothers.

In the predictions game: Ed Gonzalez.

Update, 2/1: "In a country where the ebb and flow of movie releases constitutes a kind of liturgical calendar (right now, we're in Lent), there's something profoundly destabilizing about the concept of a year without an Oscar ceremony," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "The writers' strike... attacks the Oscars from the inside. It reminds us that the show is an artifice, an object created by human effort, and hence something that conceivably might not happen."

Updates, 2/2: Edward Copeland posts an annotated ballot for his survey. The Self-Styled Siren posts hers, too.

TCM has begun its "31 Days of Oscar" and the site for it is pretty fun. Jonathan Lapper picks out several highlights.

At Movie Morlocks, Jeff lists his "Favorite Oscar Embarrassments."

Update, 2/3: "Who needs the Oscars, anyway, other than the chosen few nominees and the hangers-on who love them?" asks Marc Peyser in Newsweek. "The fact is, the Oscar telecast (scheduled for Feb 24, assuming some sort of miracle) is the worst three hours and 27 minutes on television, and it has held that distinction for years and years and years."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:53 AM

Sundance. Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr Hunter S Thompson.

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr Hunter S Thompson Reviewing Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S Thompson for Cinematical, James Rocchi notes that Alex Gibney has "previously looked at greed (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) and war's madness (Taxi to the Dark Side) in prior documentaries that combined journalistic integrity with artistic expression. Looking at the life and work of another journalist who gave what read like track reports for the four horsemen of the apocalypse must have seemed like a natural idea."

"When [Hunter S Thompson's son] Juan found him dead from a self-inflicted gun-shot wound, he went out an fired one of Thompson's guns, three times, into the air," writes kjolseth at Movie Morlocks. "It was my understanding... that Thompson had been dealing with a lot of pain from a personal injury and that this may have contributed to his suicide, but no mention is made of that in the film. Instead, what lingers is the feeling that Thompson saw things getting worse, not just for himself, but in the political landscape around us all, and felt it was time to check out."

"In retrospect, I think Thompson found what he was looking for in the outsized life he created for himself, but Gibney also clearly conveys Thompson's despondency that the dream was never shared by his fellow citizens," writes Tom Hall. "While Thompson embraced the fullness of experience and followed his interests with an unrivaled passion, he saw our America as a land of 'used car salesmen who... don't give a damn' about the suffering they inflict on others. Gibney clarifies Thompson's moral stance as being a true extension of the uncompromising life he lived, and as Thompson's suicide comes into focus, the film somehow manages to transform itself into a celebration not only of the maverick, but a longing to forge a society that embraces him."

The Reeler talks with Gibney; so does Sadia Latifi for New York's Vulture.

Online listening tip. James Rocchi talks with Gibney for Cinematical.

Online viewing tip. Zoom In Online's "Meet the Artists" video with Gibney.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:51 AM

Sundance. Savage Grace.

Savage Grace "Savage Grace is a quiet stunner, a reserved but engrossing psychodrama whose cumulative impact is devastating," writes Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper. It "builds to a series of incidents that would seem outrageous in another context. But without relying on reductive foreshadowing or pat psychobabble, [Tom] Kalin and screenwriter Howard Rodman earn the movie's final scenes, when what has seemed like a poisoned take on Edith Wharton suddenly becomes something out of Edgar Allan Poe."

"One of the more controversial films at Sundance, Savage Grace dramatizes the real-life story of Barbara and Tony Baekeland, a bizarrely intertwined high-society mother and son whose Oedipal relationship ended in tragedy," writes Kim Voynar at Cinematical. "Tom Kalin, whose prior film Swoon re-told the 1924 Leopold and Loeb murder case, seems fascinated by exploring these unusual true-crime type stories, and Savage Grace, while frequently difficult to watch because of the nature of the storyline, is both intense and fascinating."

"I didn't love the movie, but I admired its precise dialogue - a lot of ingeniously worded lines like, 'My French reading skills are not what they will be,' and, 'She would've been happy to know that you would've been there' - and it gets absorbingly creepy in the final half hour," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "It's one of the few films I've seen at this festival that feels like an original."

"Howard A Rodman passes for the 'it' scribe of Sundance's opening days, as writer and co-producer on two debuts at Sundance, August, directed by Austin Chick (XX/XY, Sundance 2002), and Savage Grace, the welcome return of Tom Kalin to feature-making." And Ray Pride talks with him.

And so does the Oregonian's Shawn Levy.

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:41 AM

January 30, 2008

Caramel.

Caramel "Beauty-parlor romantic comedy has been done to death and beyond, but what Caramel lacks in originality is redeemed by its exuberant sensuality and astute commentary on the way Lebanese women sit uncomfortably in the crosshairs of their country's clash between patriarchal tradition and Westernized modernity," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice.

"It's a reassuring and delicious film, but in no sense an adventurous one," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Still, there's no doubt that [writer-director-star Nadine] Labaki gets extra credit for making a film in an Arab country that casually depicts friendship between Muslims and Christians, never mentions violence or political strife, and in its own gentle fashion sidles up against social issues that remain sensitive in that part of the world."

Updated through 2/2.

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Labaki "about watching Dallas and Dynasty while the bombs fell, using an entire cast of non-actors, and believing she was Disney's Snow White."

More interviews with Labaki: Annsley Chapman (Vulture) and Dan Persons (IFC News).

Earlier: Joanne Nucho in Reverse Shot.

Update, 1/31: "For large portions of the story, it's like Sex and the City with prettier scenery," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "That's not a detriment to Labaki's intentions: She slightly alters a familiar genre to take into account the local setting, but these abnormalities quickly retreat behind the shield of homely conventions."

Updates, 2/1: "Caramel has an optimism born not of dreamy romanticism but of resilience and a degree of hard-headedness," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Life for these women is not easy or especially fair, and each of them faces moments of humiliation, loneliness and potential heartbreak. But in the best melodramatic tradition, their toughness, good humor and loyalty see them through. Those qualities, and Ms Labaki's evident affection for the battered panache of her native city, make Caramel hard to resist."

"From the regular power outages to the intrusive military checkpoints and variously deep-stitched religious divides, Labaki deftly and often humorously infuses her story of beauty, friendship, longing and constraint with that so painfully epitomized in the plight of her native Lebanon," writes Michelle Orange at the Reeler. Plus, a talk with Labaki.

"Caramel introduces lots of conflicts and subplots without resolving any of them, which is much of its meandering, laidback appeal," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "At its best, Caramel boasts a quietly engaging slice-of-slice casualness."

"It is sweet but not saccharine, an intimate film that doesn't stint on the desperation and anxiety that go along with the search for love," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times.

"Caramel (the title derives from the name of the preparation used for leg-waxing in the salon) testifies to the power of American popular culture at least briefly to override the endless traumas of our ever-more-violent political lives," writes Richard Schickel in Time.

Update, 2/2: "As expected, these women laugh and cry and talk about love; but while formulaic in structure, the film is actually quite lovely," writes Marcy Dermansky.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:19 PM

Sundance. Flow: For Love of Water.

Flow "Much of Flow deals with the inevitable clash with capitalism as water supplies become privatized by corporations around the world and the poor are literally charged for what falls out of the sky or what they take out of the ground," writes James Israel at indieWIRE. "Critical of those who are beholden more to their stockholders than the poverty stricken people of parts of Africa and South America, Flow condemns this alarming trend and offers other alternatives to clean water, such as inexpensive, community owned water co-ops used in India, as well as other ways to conserve this essential element. A tight 83 minutes, Flow tackles a number of issues regarding what will be the 'oil' of the 21st century."

Updated through 1/31.

"Even the World Bank gets knocked in the film for funding massive water diversion projects that have displaced 80 million people, instead of smaller, cheaper and more eco-friendly community projects to bring fresh drinking water to the poor," notes the AFP's Michel Comte.

At Filmmaker, director Irena Salina writes a bit about what she learned making the doc.

Online viewing tip. At Zoom In Online, a "Meet the Artists" interview with Irena Salina.

Update, 1/31: "Far from the festival's most polished documentary but, by a hair, its most galvanizing," writes Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper. "Irena Salina's urgent and unsettling film is an unrestrained attack on corporations like Suez and Vivendi, who have privatized a substantial portion of the third world's water supply at the expense - and rarely to the benefit - of its poorest residents. In a remote South African hamlet, the villagers pay more per gallon than affluent city dwellers; those who cannot afford it drink standing or polluted water, and frequently die of it."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:16 PM | Comments (1)

Slamdance. Dear Zachary: a letter to a son about his father.

Dear Zachary Dear Zachary: a letter to a son about his father is "one of the best documentaries I have ever watched in my entire life," writes Erik Davis at Cinematical. "And here's a note to any programmer from any fest reading this review: Play this film. And here's a note to anyone looking to purchase a doc to distribute and whatnot: Buy this film."

"Excuse the hyperbole, but Dear Zachary is one of the most alarmingly forceful documentaries in years," writes Eric Kohn at indieWIRE. Let's back up: Kurt Kuenne's "childhood friend, Andrew Bagby was shot under mysterious circumstances in 2001. Kuenne initially sets out to create a collage of testaments to Bagby's virtues so that his newborn son has a record of his lineage. A late act twist, however, upsets the innocence of Kuenne's intentions, darkening the tone and transforming the film from a cinematic scrapbook into an effective activist plea."

Much more at the site.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:26 PM | Comments (1)

Sundance. Man on Wire.

Man on Wire "On August 7, 1974, a French tightrope walker named Philippe Petit and a team of sympathetic raconteurs constructed a cable between the rooftops of the two towers of the World Trade Center," writes Tom Hall. "For 45 illegal minutes, Petit performed without the safety of a net, walking the wire, laying down on it and dazzling the crowds below.... In James Marsh's beautiful new documentary Man on Wire, Petit's walk, known among his collaborators as Le Coup, is examined in detail. Through detailed interviews with Petit and his collaborators, the entire planning and execution of the daring walk is shown. As such, the movie is a celebration of the beauty art (and the film leaves no doubt that Petit is an artist) and also a heist movie on par with, say, Rififi."

For Robert Koehler, writing in Variety, this is "one of the most wildly entertaining docs of recent years.... [and] an adventure tale that astonishes in every respect.... Petit's final walk - seen here mainly in still photos - is stunning enough, but the aftermath is unexpectedly emotional and overwhelming as human drama. The immediate effect on Petit of sudden, post-WTC notoriety mixes erotic comedy and personal loss that seems possible to be conveyed by only the best screenwriters."

"It's a story worth telling, yes - but maybe not for an hour-and-a-half," writes the AV Club's Noel Murray.

The Reeler talks with Marsh.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:46 PM

Sundance. Red.

Red "Even the most fervent dog-lovers don't generally believe in the death penalty for killers of canines," notes Eric D Snider at Cinematical. "That's the dilemma at the heart of Red, an emotionally gripping if slightly over-wrought drama based on a novel by Jack Ketchum."

"Although [Brian] Cox does his best to sell it, I just didn't buy the story of the old man (Cox) whose dog, good 'ol Red, is senselessly shot by a roving band of wealthy punks... while he and Red are fishin' at the lake just outside of town, triggering a rash of outsized vigilante justice that grows more ludicrous by the minute," writes Rob Davis for Paste.

"Whereas many people might watch Red and dismiss it as a third-rate television movie, I find it to be an unexpected ante-upping of the revenge movie genre," writes Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail. "The elements that make it feel like a third-rate television movie cannot be denied - classical camera set-ups, two-dimensional supporting characters, obvious dialogue, a Hallmarkian score - but in the case of Red, the Norwegian offness adds an unsettling dimension to the proceedings."

It's "pure pulp fiction," concedes Steve Ramos at indieWIRE, "a revenge tale, but one of dramatic substance and cinematic polish."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:35 PM

Sundance. Nerakhoon (The Betrayal).

Nerakhoon "The wounds inflicted by the US military's covert Vietnam-era operations in Laos still run deep, as evidenced by The Betrayal (Nerakhoon), which details one Lao family's harrowing efforts to start a new life in America," writes Scott Foundas in Variety. "More than two decades in the making, this heartfelt debut docu feature by veteran cinematographer Ellen Kuras brings an affecting personal dimension to a sprawling sociopolitical narrative, intimately detailing how the agendas designed to advance the interests of nations can destroy individual lives."

"Even by the standards of independent documentaries, Ellen Kuras's Nerakhoon is the ne plus ultra of ultra-marathons," writes David D'Arcy in Screen Daily. "Kuras shoots the American Dream for one family as a collection of cases of survival and compromise, shifting from scenes of war, the stark sequences of Brooklyn squalor, to the Americanization of the younger generation.... Nerakhoon is a powerful work of anthropology. That should not be a reason to avoid seeing it."

"Thoroughly different in tone from the considerably more arch and self-conscious [The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins], Nerakhoon is another deeply personal story about the way nationality and a sense of place shape identity and how their lack can be distorting," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times.

"POV correspondent Kris Wilton spent the day with cinematographer-turned-documentary-director Ellen Kuras at the Sundance Film Festival on Sunday, January 20."

IndieWIRE interviews Kuras; so does Sadia Latifi for New York's Vulture.

Online viewing tip. Zoom In Online's "Meet the Artists" video with Kuras and Phrasavath.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:26 PM

Sundance. Assassination of a High School President.

Assassination of a High School President "For people who thought that Brick was too slangy and obscure, and Veronica Mars too... well, too awesome, I guess... Assassination of a High School President offers a shallower, more cliché-ridden gloss on the adolescent detective concept," writes the AV Club's Noel Murray.

"We'd liked Brick an awful lot, so seeing something that dances to the same beat is both fun - Brett Simon's feature directorial debut is funny and light on its feet - and a reminder that another film took the novelty set-up of noir teenagers and made it into something more than a clever teen movie," writes Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog. "It's a gleeful cartoon and not much more."

"The movie's obvious comparisons, from Lord Love a Duck to John Hughes's cycle of high school comedies to more recently Heathers, Dazed and Confused and Rushmore, of teenage culture told from the perspective of a nebbish outsider, creates a glancing and off-beat quality that proves more appealing than ingratiating," writes Patrick Z McGavin in Screen Daily.

"All in all, director Brett Simon's film is a cute, fun little lark that produces its fair share of chuckles, but it's not going to break the genre mold," writes Jamie Tipps for Film Threat.

Online viewing tip. MTV has clips. Via Coudal Partners.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:14 PM

Sundance. The Visitor.

The Visitor Rob Davis for Paste on Thomas McCarthy's latest: "His previous film, The Station Agent, was - as others have said - completely in love with its characters, and the same is true of The Visitor, but the stakes are significantly higher this time.... "Like a title by the Dardennes, the title of the film shifts its object intriguingly from scene to scene, and McCarthy's sensitivity to class and culture is worthy of the same Belgian masters," writes Rob Davis for Paste. "It's a quiet, rich, and rewarding tale, with a wonderfully restrained performance by [Richard] Jenkins."

"There's a squick factor to any scenario in which vibrant, idealized people of color bring joy into the lives of the uptight and white, but The Visitor maintains a balance by keeping conscious of the complexity of its relationships," writes Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog.

"The film brims with anger over US immigration policy with characters that we can't help but feel for," writes Jeremy Mathews at Film Threat. "By the time the film abruptly switches from quiet understatement to overbearing didacticism, we already care enough about its characters that we don't mind."

"[I]f it isn't quite as fresh or as strangely moving as The Station Agent, it's still a damn fine film with a good heart and some really excellent performances," writes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "Kinda like The Station Agent."

Earlier: Reviews from Toronto.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:52 PM

Shorts, 1/30.

Xiao Wu "Last year marked the tenth anniversary of Xiao Wu, a low-budget Chinese film that was never distributed in the United States. In 1997, few could have anticipated this work would usher in a new generation of Chinese filmmakers, or have guessed that director Jia Zhangke would become one of the world's leading auteurs while still in his early thirties," writes Andrew Chan.

In a related piece at the House Next Door, Andrew Schenker: "If Jia's four previous features trace the trajectory of a rapidly modernizing China by focusing on a group of young men and women who either bear direct witness to change (Platform) or who have already absorbed it (The World), then this latest feature, Still Life, offers an entirely different perspective by directly transplanting its unwitting central figure from the margins of history to its turbulent center."

Robert Elswit has won the ASC Cinematography Award for There Will Be Blood. Related online viewing: David Poland asks Anjelica Huston about Daniel Day-Lewis's performance, which many have noted bears at least some debt to her father.

Brainiac Joshua Glenn casts Spielberg's The Trial of the Chicago 7.

Heya Fawda In the Los Angeles Times, Noha El-Hennawy talks with Khaled Youssef, co-director (with Youssef Chahine) of Heya Fawda (Chaos), "which has elicited a storm of controversy over its ruthless critique of the police establishment in a state where the guardian of the ruling regime is believed to be the iron fist of the security apparatus rather than genuinely politically legitimate. While exploring the most notorious extrajudicial practices of the police, the movie explicitly condemns the regime of President Hosni Mubarak."

"I'm off to hang with American right-wingers obsessed with the threat of Islamic terrorism.... We're here to watch a documentary called Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West." Steven Wells reports on an odd evening out.

Also in the Philadelphia Weekly, Sean Burns: "This rape-happy Rambo is amazingly disturbing and weirdly hung up on unsettling psychosexual flourishes. In other words, Stallone is a lot like Mel Gibson, only without the talent."

"At once cowboy and Indian, GI and VC, Rambo was arguably the great pop icon of the Vietnam War," writes J Hoberman, looking back. "Or rather, this puppy-eyed, Nautilus-built killing machine was the great pop icon of the decade-after Vietnam War revisionism that characterized the reign of Ronald Reagan. It's as though the ongoing political discourse, with some politicians claiming to be the new Reagan and others denying it, had conjured his reappearance: Rambo redux." Related: A terrific, essay-length comment from Godfrey Cheshire at the House Next Door: "[T]he political mindsets shaped by that era don't fade as quickly as its action icons; they are with us still."

Back in the Voice:

Praying With Lior

At the SpoutBlog, Karina Longworth comments on the news that the Detroit Free Press will not be replacing "forcibly retired film critic Terry Lawson, and will fill his coulmn space with wire reviews.... There's no question that smaller films have the potential to be hurt the most by the wildfire-spread of wire reviews, especially when it comes to films of specific regional interest. But in the longterm, the hope is that dedicated moviegoers who are accustomed to a relationship with a no longer practicing local critic will go online, where they can develop new relationships with critics based not just on geography, but maybe more significantly, based on genre concentration and personal taste."

Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah Derek Halm looks back a few years to the point when "Godzilla's allegorical significance needed to be altered for the monster to remain relevant. The last great Godzilla film, Shusuke Kaneko's Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)... recognized this. One self-referential scene has the characters wondering why Godzilla always returns to Japan. Kaneko's answer is embedded in the question: Japan needs to recognize the horrors it has inflicted on others and its own people."

Also at PopMatters, Bill Gibron on evil kids and what needs to be done about them. On screen, anyway.

"No one can take away Juno's $100 million gross or marketing savvy, but its loyalists are now in the position of having to defend a film whose assiduous charm, like Little Miss Sunshine's before it, is suddenly its biggest liability," writes ST VanAirsdale, commenting on the Oscar race for Vanity Fair. "I know it's an honor just to be nominated, Juno, but I really wish you had quit while you were ahead." Not Andrew Sarris, though.

Meantime, Crash is going to be a TV show. Variety's Brian Lowry gets to "thinking about how studios might turn the trick with the current crop of best-picture candidates, including how they'd be sold and which networks would be the most logical fit." Via Joe Leydon.

Christopher Nolan, currently completing post-production on The Dark Knight, remembers Heath Ledger in Newsweek: "I see him every day in my edit suite. I study his face, his voice. And I miss him terribly."

Guardian theater critic Michael Billington has "a sneaking feeling that few new movies bear comparison with the best of the past." Also, news bits: Julie Christie gets married; Mark Romanek walks away from The Wolf Man; and Sean Young checks into rehab after heckling Julian Schnabel. Cut to the video.

Online viewing tip. Arin Crumley: "Social Checks & Balance in the Digital Karma Information Age."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:23 AM | Comments (3)

Fests and events, 1/30.

Who's Afraid of Kathy Acker? "Who's Afraid of Kathy Acker?, premiering here in Rotterdam, is Barbara Caspar's thoughtful and creative film biography/essay on the late writer, whose formally inventive novels, published from the 70s through the mid-90s, challenged assumptions about gender roles, sexuality, and the literary canon," writes Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay. "Caspar has made a film that captures the essence of both Acker the writer and Acker the person while arguing convincingly for the continuing relevance of her work today."

"[W]hat was particularly noticeable this year was that the feeling of 'place' in each film in Sundance is growing in diversity and richness every year, in parallel with the strength and reputation of its world cinema programming," writes Susan Gerhard at SF360. "To associate Sundance with the cliches of American Indiewood is to miss where the festival is headed: across borders."

"2008 turned out to be the year that Sundance returned to its roots," writes B Ruby Rich in the Guardian. "The best films in the US competitions restored the spirit of the festival's early days: regionally shot films on restricted budgets with new or non-actors, by film-makers more passionate about what they were shooting than where their career was heading."

The 3rd Voice "Noir City 6, czar of noir Eddie Muller's yearly celebration of not-on-DVD rarities and shadow-dappled classics resurrected from studio vaults, offers plenty of fodder for noir-or-not debate," writes Matt Sussman in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "The programming spans from the critically enshrined (Jules Dassin's 1950 Night and the City) to the relatively unknown (1960's The 3rd Voice) and the not so old (the Coen brothers' 2001 neonoir The Man Who Wasn't There). Perhaps more than past incarnations, Noir City 6 makes a case for film noir as a set of stylistic conventions - or, alternately, for noir as an inspired malaise that permeates a film like stale cigarette smoke - rather than something hard-and-fast that sports a time stamp."

"If the rest of the programming is as good as the first two days then noir lovers are in for a hell of a week," adds Anne M Hockens at the Siffblog.

The latest from the Film Panel Notetaker: Q&A with Cinema 16 vet Jack Goelman following a screening of Paul Cronin's Film As a Subversive Art: Amos Vogel & Cinema 16, part of the ongoing Stranger Than Fiction series at New York's IFC Center.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:30 AM

The Witnesses.

The Witnesses André Téchiné's The Witnesses is excitingly convoluted," writes David Edelstein in New York. "It begins as a romantic quadrangle with unruly emotions and hints of violence to come - think Almodóvar by way of Hitchcock."

"Téchiné is expending the full force of his imagination, in his keenest work since Strayed (2003), and, perhaps, his finest overall since the 1994 coming-of-age classic Wild Reeds, to reach back for a handle on the terrifying moment when the uninhibited world of gay men, and those who loved them, fell into the abyss," writes Nathan Lee in the Voice. "Disclosing its purpose as memorial and testament, The Witnesses forms a magnificent trilogy with Son Frère (2003), Patrice Chéreau's devastating account of fraternal devotion in the face of death, and the amazing, acerbic Before I Forget, a brooding and bitter tale of survival coming soon from Jacques Nolot."

Updated through 2/5.

"Téchiné has tried to capture the uneasy moment when the AIDS virus first hit Paris." David Denby in the New Yorker: "Téchiné is unusually adroit at manipulating a complex set of relations within a very mixed group of people. This movie is easy to take - chatty and sociable, with a brightly lit, even sunshiny gloss and an open sensuality.... The Witnesses is highly intelligent, but, still, one wants more out of this particular subject than lucidity and good sense."

"Téchiné has matched the humanist power of his mid-90s run of My Favorite Season, Wild Reeds and Thieves, bolstering his credentials as perhaps France's leading filmmaker," writes Bill Weber in Slant. "'You can ask anything of your friends,' one of Téchiné's witnesses insists in an early scene, and through the pain of betrayal, accusation, and grief, they do - the price of redemption or forgiveness is high but not unimaginable."

"As with most historical fictions, The Witnesses is unavoidably about something, but Téchiné does not hold this against us," writes Max Goldberg in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "His film happily eschews the typical 'message movie' ploys of impregnable one-to-one meanings, instead offering a prolonged gaze at temps perdu. Like Christian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, The Witnesses renders the mid-1980s with a subtly graded approach to periodization - that we're in a bygone decade is unmistakable, but it still has the fresh, unresolved scent of living memory."

"Téchiné's mastery has become routine to the point where he's now largely taken for granted, a shame because The Witnesses is still something of a rare bird these days, miraculously blending social commentary, character study and sexual politics with nary a hint of strain or manipulation," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine.

"Instructive without ever falling into cheap bromides, dramatic without ever veering into overzealous melodrama, The Witnesses is a penetrating, even essential narrative," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "Téchiné is fascinated by the ways in which lives interact, personalities cross-pollinate, wounds are compounded, exacerbated, or even healed, yet never in that increasingly mundane American style of overlapping stories that prize fate or coincidence; he paints specifically, creating not vague character sketches but full lives, however defined by enigma or contradiction."

Update, 1/31: "In 1995, when André Téchiné's masterpiece Wild Reeds opened, the critical establishment from the Times to the alternative press took sides calling it inferior to Cold Water by Olivier Assayas, a Téchiné acolyte," recalls Armond White in the New York Press. "By extraordinary coincidence, Téchiné's latest film, The Witnesses, opens this week opposite the Anthology Film Archives' Assayas retrospective. There's never been a New York retrospective for Téchiné - the best French director most Americans don't know - but The Witnesses will bring lucky viewers up to date. This new movie, set in 1984, flashes back to a moment in human history that altered the personal-political lives of most people on the planet."

Update, 2/1: "The Witnesses may frustrate those who prefer movies that tell clear-cut stories in which hard lessons are learned," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "But in the director's farsighted vision of life, the ground under our feet is always shifting. As time pulls us forward, the shocks of the past are absorbed and the pain recedes. In its light-handed way, The Witnesses is profound."

Updates, 2/2: "This film need not be approached with dread or trepidation; life, as witnessed by this small group of flawed but always empathetic characters, is a messy, ugly, and unfair business, but sometimes still surprisingly wonderful," writes Marcy Dermansky.

David Wiegand, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, finds it "a kind of film opera without music."

Updates, 2/5: "Téchiné has grown increasingly assured in terms of technique throughout [his] sometimes-labored vehicles, and in his new film, The Witnesses, his mastery of editing and sensitivity to performance has resulted in his second almost-great work, after the deeply felt, flawed beauty of his mid-90s Wild Reeds," writes Dan Callahan at the House Next Door.

"The Witnesses doesn't celebrate the last days before AIDS awareness shook the world so much as it shows keen, insightful appreciation for them, in all their scary/invigorating complexity," writes Steven Boone in the Star-Ledger.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:44 AM

The Silence Before Bach.

Die Stille vor Bach "At once cerebral film essay and unsweetened ear candy, Pere Portabella's The Silence Before Bach is nearly as tough to categorize as its maker," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "[I]t's a high-toned experimental feature that eschews narrative and ponders the social history of music, creating a dialectic between sound and image, as well as between a costumed 18th-century and a contemporary post-national Europe."

"Through a series of seemingly disconnected set pieces - some transpiring in present-day Europe, some in the past - Mr Portabella creates a film that doesn't address Bach in the usual biopic terms but instead as a jumping-off point for different visual and aural ideas and associations, including the cross-cultural reality of European identity," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "I didn't find The Silence Before Bach immediately accessible, though this is far from a complaint. The film demands engagement and a kind of surrender, a willingness to enter into a work shaped by correlation, metaphor and metonymy, by beautiful images and fragments of ideas, a work that locates the music in the twitching of a dog's ears, in the curve of a woman's belly, a child's song and an adult's reverie. Like the music it celebrates, this is a film made in glory of the world."

Updated through 2/5.

"There are no traditional historians in Portabella's film, no critics, and no commentators explaining to us about the importance of Bach's music," writes Cullen Gallagher at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. Much like in Jem Cohen's documentary on Fugazi, Instrument, Portabella eschews the conventional MTV approach and refuses to tell the audience why the music is important and leaves it up to the performance and the audience to develop a relationship. By having the camera be the only intermediary between them, Portabella nurtures a much more intimate and boundless relationship between the music, the image, and the audience."

"The film's purpose is nothing more than to demonstrate the reach of Bach everyday, everywhere, and for everyone - twaddle pitched somewhere between a music appreciation class and a modernist experiment attesting to art's ability to ennoble the quotidian," objects David Pratt-Robson in Slant. "As if Bach were a new totalitarian, and Pere Portabella his propagandist, The Silence Before Bach doesn't glorify everyday living but substitutes it altogether for a world governed by Bach devotion."

"It's a bit of a mishmash, but even at its weakest moments, the film implies that the true majesty of music is to be found in the melding of perfection and imperfection - the marriage of the flawless composition on the page and the unpredictability of the human performer," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun.

Screening at the Film Forum through February 12 and once more at the International Film Festival Rotterdam on Friday.

Update: "Portabella, a veteran avant-garde director, moves through abstract and literal locations with effortless, arbitrary contentment," writes the Reeler. "Viewed as the sum of its parts, the conceits of The Silence Before Bach are slight, but that doesn't detract from its hypnotic ability to pull viewers into the expressive components of the music."

Update, 2/5: "The Silence Before Bach may never push its meditation on the music to the extremes of Straub/Huillet, but its smoothness and its ease, its eloquence and tangents bespeak an wise, open vision of the world, the way music measures it, and the way we measure it to music," writes Daniel Kasman.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:39 AM

January 29, 2008

Other fests, other events, 1/29.

Arthur Penn "The fascinating Harvard Film Archive series Arthur Penn, American Auteur pays tribute to his early days as well as to the decade that followed Bonnie and Clyde (Sunday at 7 pm); it even includes one of his early television dramas, The Tears of My Sister (Friday at 7 pm), from 1953," notes Steve Vineberg.

Also in the Boston Phoenix, Gerald Peary talks with Franco Sacchi, "the Boston-based filmmaker whose documentary This Is Nollywood opens the Museum of Fine Arts' Eighth African Film Festival this Friday, February 1, with an encore screening February 9." Saturday through February 29.

The Grindhouse Film Festival meets a print collector.

In the Voice, Nick Pinkerton sketches the story of Olivier Assayas's career and notes: "The eight-film retro at Anthology Film Archives showcases a virtuosity so unaffected it frequently goes unnoticed, not to say unsung." Saturday through February 10.

"With arms akimbo and legs planted firmly apart, James Ellroy delivered a hardboiled (and hilarious!) introduction to Noir City's doublebill of Gun Crazy (1950) and The Prowler (1951), both written by the infamously blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo." And Michael Guillén's got his remarks.

The Grand Inquisitor

But there's more: The Grand Inquisitor features "the return to the screen of Marsha Hunt after a nearly 30-year absence. As well as hometown pride in the film's local pedigree: produced by Anita Monga, directed by Eddie Muller, filmed by Jonathan Marlow, and edited by Hannah Eaves. Muller's imaginative spin on San Francisco's notorious Zodiac killings is not only a riveting short story but an effective piece of film as well."

At SF360, Michael Fox talks with Alan K Rode about his book, Charles McGraw: Biography of a Film Noir Tough Guy.

"Now that serial killer musicals are back in fashion, LACMA's screening last Friday of Michael Powell's rarely seen Bluebeard's Castle (1964) - with Powell's widow and longtime Scorsese editor Thelma Schoonmaker in attendance - seems especially appropriate," writes Doug Cummings. "Made for West German TV in the doldrums of Powell's post-Peeping Tom (1960) blacklisting, it's a startlingly expressionist, one-act, one-hour adaptation of Bela Bartok's sole opera (with lyrics by film theorist Bela Balazs)."

"Anthology's series on the short films of [Apichatpong] Weerasethakul offers a great deal of insight into this amazing Thai director," writes Daniel Kasman. More from Vadim Rizov in the Tisch Film Review.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:01 PM

Rotterdam, 1/29.

Rotterdam 08 "In its 37th year, [the International Film Festival Rotterdam] defines itself by its independence — specifically its focus on young filmmakers, many of whom are from developing nation," writes R Emmet Sweeney at IFC News, noting that the Tiger Awards Competition is exclusively for first- or second-time filmmakers. "So far, I've seen five of the Tiger contenders, and the most impressive is Waltz in Starlight, directed by noted Japanese still photographer Shingo Wakagi." Also reviewed are Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Ploy and Matsumoto Hitoshi's "brilliantly eccentric" Dai-Nipponjin.

At european-films.net, Boyd van Hoeij is reminded of Aki Kaurismäki and Roy Andersson, but Ping-pongkingen - Jonsson's feature debut after a long career in shorts and commercials - lacks an overall cohesiveness that makes the slightly askew worlds of Kaurismäki and Andersson come alive. Nevertheless, Jonsson is clearly a talent to watch, and the chemistry between the actors adds a nice warm glow to the otherwise wintry landscapes." More from Jonathan Romney in Screen Daily.

Ardvark at Twitch on Tomas Alfredsson's vampire movie, Let the Right One In, "It's a genuine surprise just how delightful a genre-mash this movie is. For of all gory movies I've ever seen, this is without a doubt the sweetest. And of all sweet movies I've ever seen this is without a doubt the goriest!" Also, TBS "is a tense, scary and on occasion even funny thriller, no mean feat considering the dreadful subject."

For Reverse Shot, Genevieve Yue offers her takes on Rail Road Crossing and Own Death.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:41 PM

That was Park City, 1/29.

Sundance 08 "Someday, statisticians will study the 'Sundance inverse-proportional-law,' which can be applied in two, equally, but converse rules: 1) the greater the magnitude of buzz that a film goes into the festival with, the lesser quality said film will be, and 2) the lesser the magnitude of buzz surrounding a film, the better it will be." Anthony Kaufman at FilmCatcher. Also, at indieWIRE, a second look at the deal-making.

In the Voice, Scott Foundas offers an overview of the highlights - and one lowlight - of his Sundance.

Tim Wu can't find any Sundance 08 films on the major pirate sites. Nor any Sundance 07 films. "The online pirate world and the Sundance world are, as far as I can tell, separate domains." And so: "When it comes to content piracy, obscurity, not security, is the best defense. It also demonstrates that movie pirates are fundamentally parasitic, not predatory."

James Rocchi has a story to tell from a Sundance past.

Online viewing tip. Eugene Hernandez slips and slides out of Park City.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:31 PM

Other DVDs, 1/29.

El Cid "With the 1961 roadshow spectacular El Cid, the Weinstein Company has made an appropriate choice to inaugurate its prestige label, the Miriam Collection," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "Filmed largely at historical locations in Spain in Super Technirama, a 70-millimeter widescreen process, El Cid remains, even on home video, a feast of visual detail. Under Anthony Mann's direction, the film overflows with deep-focus vistas, towering sets, densely crowded battle sequences and the imposing presence of two remarkable physical specimens, Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren."

More from Glenn Kenny: "The pictorialism, the kineticism, the ferocious visual intelligence displayed by Mann, cinematograhper Robert Krasker, and the rest of the film's production team lift this epic into a realm rarely touched by any of the arts."

"You can argue over what is the greatest historical movie epic, but El Cid is surely the brawniest," writes Sean Axmaker at MSN. "Not in the gladiator sense of muscled bodies and mano-a-mano combat (like Ben-Hur) but in the strength of its storytelling and its visual display of force and pageantry."

Godard Collection "Anybody who values artists over politicians and bureaucrats takes an extra measure of pleasure in the imminent release of a Sergei Paradjanov DVD boxed set," writes Michael Fox at SF360. "Similarly, anyone who cherishes filmmakers above critics and financiers welcomes the arrival of a Jean-Luc Godard box spotlighting his underrated mid-80s work."

Criterion's Lee Kline's been hard at work on The Thief of Bagdad: "We enlisted Oscar-winning editor Thelma Schoonmaker, who was married to Michael Powell, to help with this one, since Powell was one of the directors of the film and she has a lot of knowledge about his involvement in Thief and is invested in preserving his archive. Scorsese holds an original 35 mm nitrate print of the film in his vaults, and we set off to try and screen it together. This was no easy task."

Los Muertos is "a trip through the Argentine jungle that measures out to be about 10 percent action, dialogue and motivation, and 90 percent raw vision," writes Michael Atkinson at IFC News. "Less is absolutely more - those stingy dollops of context have a seismic punch, and what we don't know makes the ellipses all the more troubling and resonant."

"If someone should feel compelled to make a film about 9/11 - specifically, about the social and psychic toll that the attacks have and haven't taken - a good model would be Akira Kurosawa's I Live in Fear, out on DVD in the Criterion Collection's Eclipse series," suggests Fred Kaplan in Slate.

Mondo Cane Collection "Having effectively and lastingly blurred the line between reality and fabrication, it became necessary for [Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi] to completely destroy it. Thus Goodbye Uncle Tom," writes David Carter at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

"I've recommended a lot of films in the past year, but The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is one you definitely must see," advises Erik Davis at Cinematical.

"I Walked With a Zombie, director Jacques Tourneur's second collaboration with producer Val Lewton after the huge commercial success that is Cat People (1942), is laced with such enigmatic flavor that despite its B-movie roots, it begs to be seen and re-seen, understood and re-understood for beneath the overly simplistic plotting is an indiscriminate mystery, forcing varying reactions and appreciations in every viewing," writes Oggs Cruz.

With Red River, "Hawks Hawks betrays what could have been a powerful film with a lackluster and uneven second act, and a climax that simply doesn't exist," argues Ed Howard.

DVD roundups: DVD Talk; Monika Bartyzel and Peter Martin (Cinematical); Paul Clark (ScreenGrab).

Posted by dwhudson at 1:36 PM

Benten's Quiet City + Dance Party USA.

Quiet City and Dance Party USA Andrew Grant and Aaron Hillis, prez and vice-prez, respectively, of Benten Films, are friends. So if I go on and on about the painstaking care they've put into their second release - two films by Aaron Katz, his first and second features, Dance Party USA and Quiet City - that belies an almost fetishistic attention to design (gorgeous) and completeness (director and cast commentaries, extra clips, shorts, a trailer, sharp essays), my words would shrivel in all the salt you'd take with them. So let me turn to James McNally, who writes in Toronto Screen Shots, "Benten are quickly becoming the Criterion of the indie film world." An idea that's occurred to Matt Dentler as well.

Updated through 1/30.

But what about the films themselves? Quiet City "is filthy with intimate images of the kind that epitomize cinema's infectious glow," writes Michael Atkinson at IFC News, while Dance Party USA "makes up for its weightier degree of awkwardness with sharp-edged sexual frisson."

"The other moviemakers in Katz's orbit - Swanberg, Bujalski, and so on—all have talent and ideas," writes Glenn Kenny. "But none of them have Katz's eye, or anything like Katz's sensibility. This is the second release from my friends at Benten and it's one of the most sensitively, beautifully constructed packages I think you'll see this whole year."

"Both films are about a young boy and girl who venture out into urban spaces looking for an authentic experience," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "What sets them apart from traditional coming-of-age stories is, in part, the patience Katz shows in allowing his characters to take the time to settle into a tentative trust together. The films are both languid and totally economical; in terms of action, virtually nothing 'happens,' and yet if there's any fat to cut on either, I can't find it."

"Katz distinguishes himself by embodying their anxieties rather than merely observing them," agrees Sam Adams in the Los Angeles Times. "Shots of traffic lights changing in perfect harmony or an airplane cutting through a burnt orange sky resonate with a depth of feeling the movie's protagonists can only express in the furtive spaces between words."

"This 2-disc release is loaded with quality extras that start with the 10-page accompanying booklet that includes an essay by Chicago film critic Ray Pride on Dance Party, USA, and another on Quiet City by film scholar Ray Carney," writes Chris Neilson at DVD Talk. "In the interests of disclosure, I'll note that I'm a fan of professor Carney's writings on John Cassavetes and independent cinema, and I was impressed to find that this generally, but not wholeheartedly, favorable review of his was included in the booklet."

And you can read that essay in full at Filmmaker.

Online viewing tip. You may remember this one; now, as Bilge Ebiri notes at New York's Vulture, it's an extra in the set: Joe Swanberg's Quiet City, "a six-minute lark, hilariously lo-fi and shot on a dime, and it manages to poke some gentle fun at all the key style points of Generation DIY. As such, it'll probably unite mumblecore lovers and haters alike."

Earlier: Reviews of Quiet City from August and reviews of Dance Party USA from November 06.

Update, 1/30: "[I]f the evidence displayed in Dance Party USA can be trusted, Aaron Katz has already carved a place for himself among the new voices of American independent film," writes Dennis Cozzalio. "I can't wait to see where he takes me on that second disc, and in the many fine films he's likely to make in the future."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:20 PM

Berlinale. Jury, Kamera, buzz.

zitty: Berlinale 08 Some go to the first Berlinale press conference each year simply because that's your first opportunity to get your hands on the schedule. Gives you a week to start sorting out what you'll see when between February 7 and 17. Others go because their papers actually want stories on how many world or international premieres from how which countries can be tallied up for each of the festival's sections. Or to nab sound or video clips for radio or TV. I go because this is the morning the buzz kicks in.

It's not that there isn't any actual news. The lineups may already be out, and you may have already been able to tell on your own that, say, there sure are a lot of films this year that have something or a lot to do with music - starting, of course, with the opener, Shine a Light, Martin Scorsese's Rolling Stones doc. Among all the other stats, the press booklet helpfully lists 16 more.

What I found particularly interesting to hear about was that, though the Stones are coming - and so are Madonna, Patti Smith, Neil Young, plus dozens and dozens of other Names more commonly associated with film festivals rather than rock concerts - it's the imminent arrival of Shah Rukh Khan to present the Bollywood hit Om Shanti Om that's given organizers the greatest logistical challenge in the How to Handle the Fans Dept. They're coming en masse, evidently, and the Berlinale's been compelled to publish a FAQ devoted to this single event.

But on to other announcements. The International Jury, headed by Costa-Gavras, will be comprised of Danish director Susanne Bier, actress (and director) Sandrine Bonnaire, production designer Uli Hanisch, actress Diane Kruger, the one, the only, the great Walter Murch, producer Alexander Rodniansky and actress Shu Qi.

Berlinale Kameras go to Karlheinz Böhm and Otto Sander.

And the schedule? It's online, too. I can already tell you, though, that Tuesday, February 12, is a big day: Hong Sang-soo for breakfast, Mike Leigh for lunch and Errol Morris for dinner.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:31 AM | Comments (3)

January 28, 2008

Butterknife.

Butterknife "It's finally here," announces Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. Joe Swanberg's new web series, Butterknife, features Ronald Bronstein (Frownland) "as a private detective whose frustration on the job is counterbalanced by his happy home life with his wife (played by Ronnie's real-life wife, Mary Bronstein)."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:13 PM | Comments (1)

SFBG. Video Mutants.

SFBG Video Mutants "Video is exploding, and the mutants have taken over the means of production," writes Johnny Ray Huston, introducing the San Francisco Bay Guardian's video issue. "YouTube ululations, Day-Glo animation, and crazed acts of appropriation are stretching like Shmoo from black boxes to boob tubes to white cubes and from laptop screens to live performances. Each video-active blast favors impulse and expression over obedience to old conventions - and further blurs forms and styles."

He then offers an overview of Douglas Gordon: Pretty Much Every Film and Video Work from about 1992 until Now, on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art through February 24, and previews Zidane: A Twenty-First Century Portrait, screening at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts from February 1 through 7.

Also, "[Kalup] Linzy has stolen the show at a number of New York group exhibitions, and he's represented by a gallery in Manhattan, Taxter and Spengemann. But his work and creative identity extend beyond traditional art spaces via YouTube, an official Web site, and two different MySpace accounts." Samples pepper Johnny's interview with Linzy at Pixel Vision.

Nightmare USA Then: "[Stephen] Thrower's [Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents, Fab Press, 528 pages, $79.95] deserves a spot next to Carlos Clarens's An Illustrated History of the Horror Film (Capricorn, 1967), Carol Clover's Men, Women, and Chainsaws (Princeton University Press, 1992), Michael Weldon's The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film (Ballantine, 1983), and Bill and Michelle Landis's Sleazoid Express (Simon and Schuster, 2002) on a healthily horrific bookshelf. Its closest relative in terms of loose format and interview content might be Incredibly Strange Films (RE/Search, 1986), but Thrower casts aside V Vale's coolness for the passion found in Danny Peary's series of Cult Movies books."

Kimberly Chun: "[Mike] Kelley's work can be found in major museum collections around the world, and he's collaborated on video pieces with artists like Paul McCarthy in the past, but Day Is Done, which screens Jan 31 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, is his first feature, revamped as a narrative-ish stream from the installation version shown in 2005 at Gagosian Gallery in New York City."

Cheryl Eddy talks with Damon Packard about SpaceDisco One and other works, which you can sample here.

"[A]nyone who's recently hung out with a certain brand of cued-in, mid-20s clubber knows that the neon-splattered, inverted Internet psycho-vids of Ryan Trecartin are the new now," writes Marke B. Plus, an interview. Earlier: Holland Carter in the New York Times.

"It wasn't until I stumbled across an early viral video, This and That by Chris Crocker (of 'Leave Britney alone!' fame), that I seriously considered making one for the Internet," writes Miles Cooper of the Passionistas. "It wasn't necessarily erotic, but there was something completely invading about Crocker's gaze into the webcam - it was as though he activated that little gray box perfectly. He had the excitement of a Pinocchio with his strings recently cut and the entertaining intent of a sociopath like Chucky. I knew this was a car crash waiting to happen, and I immediately became addicted to Crocker's videos."

Johnny Ray Huston wraps the package with a list, "Video Mutants: Eight for 2008," and naturally, a bit of online viewing: Paper Rad's umbrella zombie datamosh mistake.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:45 AM

Shorts, 1/28.

Katyn "This film wasn't made for the benefit of those who are unacquainted with Polish history." In the New York Review of Books, Anne Applebaum explains why Katyn is "a classic Wajda movie." She tracks reaction to the film inside and outside Poland and comments on Wajda's reasons for making the film in the first place: "Wajda said he wanted to reach 'those moviegoers for whom it matters that we are a society, and not just an accidental crowd.'"

"We have travelled some way from second world war classics The Longest Day, The Great Escape, or The Bridge on the River Kwai," writes David Hearst, who covered the Chechen war for the Guardian. Back then, "the collective cause - the fight against fascism," was "just":

After Vietnam, Apocalypse Now and Platoon, this paradigm has been reversed. The individual can only see clearly by taking leave of his senses, because the collective cause is so wrong. In Iraq there is no collective cause, just individual survival.... The Battle of Haditha consciously eschews judgment, although if it points the finger at anyone it is the marine officers who sanction the shootings as they take place, recommend the staff sergeant for a bravery award, and then hang him out to dry when the truth emerges. The Iraqi insurgents also have their evil alter ego in al-Qaida. It is not history, because both the war in Iraq and the court caseare still going on. It is not fiction, because it actually happened. But it is not documentary, either. It is a blend of all three, for an age that does not pause for judgment."

Also in the Guardian, Maddy Costa meets Donmar Warehouse artistic director Michael Grandage, whose "sparse, heart-wrenching production of Othello" stars Chiwetel Ejiofor and Ewan McGregor and who's lined up a season featuring "Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi and - the big draw for many - Jude Law, playing Hamlet." Grandage "has transformed the Donmar into 'a big house of ideas,' focusing on lesser-known plays and European writers, work that is cerebral and emotionally challenging, with a passion that has proved, for audiences, unexpectedly exciting and enticing."

And Hadley Freeman on Waitress, Knocked Up and Juno: "It is surely no coincidence that these films are emerging from a country that has had eight years of ultra-conservative Republican rule."

There Will Be Blood "There may be no scarcer commodity in modern Hollywood than a distinctive and original film score," writes Alex Ross in the New Yorker. "[Jonny] Greenwood's sources of inspiration are easily identified. He has worshipped Olivier Messiaen since his teens, and during his university stint he encountered the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, whose assaultive avant-garde creations of the 1960s - notably the Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima - inspired the glissandos of There Will Be Blood."

As for the film itself, Chuck Tryon writes, "I found the film's bleak characterization of the oilman, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), and the religious huckster, Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), to be a pretty compelling critique of the seemingly intertwined politics of oil and religion." Spoilers follow.

"Guillermo del Toro is in talks to direct back-to-back installments of JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit, which is being co-financed by New Line and MGM." Borys Kit has the story at the Hollywood Reporter.

"Aesthetically, Andrew Bujalski is Maurice Pialat's cousin," suggests Ignatius Vishnevetsky. "He is also Pialat's opposite. We see the same techniques in their films, but used for completely different reasons."

A Peoples History of the United States At Alternet, Sue Katz reports on the making of a four-hour celebrity-studded series "based on the words of the original primary sources for Howard Zinn's unique perennial A Peoples History of the United States, now approaching sales of 2 million copies."

"Perhaps the most overtly Bressonian of Pedro Costa's body of work (albeit suffused with the brooding shadows of a Jacques Tourneur film), Costa's first feature, O Sangue, nevertheless bears the characteristic imprint of what would prove to be his familiar preoccupations: absent parents, surrogate families, unreconciled ghosts, the trauma and violence of displacement, the ache (and isolation) of longing," writes acquarello.

"Santouri the Music Man, a harrowing account of a greatly gifted artist's slide into heroin addiction, is another sweeping yet incisive film from Dariush Mehrjui, one of Iran's most accomplished and courageous filmmakers for four decades," writes Kevin Thomas. Also, Undoing is "a sleek neo-noir set in Koreatown's underworld. Around the edges it's arty, murkily plotted and derivative of too many other movies, but at its core it is impassioned and gains power and traction as it goes along."

Also in the Los Angeles Times: "Day," which has just won one of the United Kingdom's most important awards, the Costa prize, concerns itself with Alfred Day, a British airman who, five years after the end of World War II, has returned to Germany where he had been a prisoner of war and participates as an extra in a movie about that experience." Thomas McGonigle reviews the latest AL Kennedy novel. Related online listening tip. Ed Champion talks with Kennedy.

With Jerry Springer: The Opera set for a two-night run at Carnegie Hall (Tuesday and Wednesday), Charles McGrath meets its star, Harvey Keitel: "Seated at a little table, with two volumes on Buddhist meditation in front of him along with a giant green crystal, he touched on all the legendary names of [the Method] acting movement - Stanislavski, Boleslavsky, Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg - and threw in Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther for good measure. Acting, he kept saying in the course of an hour's conversation, was a 'journey.'"

Also in the New York Times:

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

  • Motoko Rich meets Brian Selznick, whose "obsessions with old French movies, automatons, clockworks and the filmmaker Georges Méliès inspired [The Invention of Hugo Cabret], which earlier this month won the Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children."

  • "As of Friday, when David Moreau and Xavier Palud's film The Eye creeps into multiplexes around the country, this young movie year will already have seen two English-language remakes of Asian horror pictures," notes Terrence Rafferty; the other one, in case you've already forgotten, was One Missed Call. "Rhythm is often the most significant difference between Asian horror movies and their American versions: the good Far Eastern directors know that the most interesting part of any ghost story is the buildup, the dawning dread that gradually makes the world feel alien, uncanny."

  • How She Move, a feature by the director Ian Iqbal Rashid (Touch of Pink) about a disaffected young woman competing in dance contests, is the latest incarnation of the up-by-your-bootstraps musical drama," writes Matt Zoller Seitz. "There's nary a twist you don't see coming. But the film's strong acting, spectacular dance routines and culturally specific details turn clichés into catharsis. It's the sort of film that sends you home with a spring in your step." More from David Denby in the New Yorker.

  • Jeannette Catsoulis takes on Meet the Spartans, a spoof as "redundant and tasteless as Queen Margo's crab-infested chastity belt." More from Joe Leydon.

  • Also: "Simultaneously delicate and earthy, Alice's House anchors its soap-opera plotlines - adultery, avarice and incipient blindness - in the tired body and vaguely ruined features of its dreamy heroine." More from Martin Tsai (NY Sun).

  • And: "In the intriguingly layered documentary Orthodox Stance, a determined young boxer strives to prove that the laws of God and the laws of the ring need not be at odds." More from Bruce Bennett (NY Sun) and Lauren Wissot (House Next Door).

  • "You may view Untraceable, as I do, as a repugnant example of the voyeurism it pretends to condemn," writes Stephen Holden. "Or you may stand back and see it as a cleverly conceived, slickly executed genre movie that ranks somewhere between Seven and the Saw movies in sadistic ingenuity." More from Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), John Lichman (House Next Door) and Ryan Stewart (Cinematical). And Joe Leydon talks with Diane Lane for the Houston Chronicle.

  • Samuel G Freedman reports on Ethan Isenberg's efforts to make a documentary about Rabbi Soloveitchik. Who? "Within the Orthodox sector, he had been so revered as a philosopher, Talmud scholar and teacher of young rabbis that he was known, in worshipful tones, as The Rav, The Rabbi, a proper noun implying there were no equal."

  • Margy Rochlin tells the story behind HBO's In Treatment. More from Nancy Franklin in the New Yorker and John Leonard in New York.

  • Melena Ryzik reports on what writers have been doing to stave off boredom and frustration during the three months they've been on strike.

  • "Once a dumping ground for movies considered virtually unwatchable, the direct-to-DVD pipeline is becoming increasingly important to mainstream film franchises," reports Brooks Barnes.

To further catch up with a few more of the movies that opened this past weekend, first, The Air I Breathe:

The Air I Breathe

  • "The mad dash to summarize the year in film is only now coming to an end, but allow me to rush ahead and prematurely pronounce The Air I Breathe the best bad movie I'll see in '08: So risibly pompous it has the meta-effect of making filmic conventions translucent, it really can't get much better (i.e., worse) than this," writes Kristi Mitsuda in indieWIRE.

  • "Why do so many 'independent' movies look and sound exactly alike?" asks Matt Singer at IFC News. "Isn't that kind of a contradiction with the whole independent thing?"

  • "Ah, January, hallowed dustbin for projects half-baked, too-cooked, or both, as in the case of this overstuffed noir actioner from Korean-American newcomer Jieho Lee," sighs Ella Taylor in the Voice.

  • "The Air I Breathe has a more random arrangement of star power than Southland Tales, and its conceits are a lot harder to figure out," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "Forest Whitaker, Kevin Bacon, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Andy Garcia have never been impeccable performers, but they look like frayed magazine cutouts in this uneven mash-up of jagged conflicts. It's particularly frustrating to watch Whitaker, the strongest thespian of the bunch, desperately mine for gold in a narrative landslide."

  • "A hard-boiled allegory that consists of four vignettes whose characters bleed from one episode into the next, the film was inspired by a Chinese proverb that divides life into four categories: happiness, sorrow, pleasure and love," explains Stephen Holden in the NYT. "What unfolds is a flashy example of the everything-is-connected mode of filmmaking embodied by movies like Short Cuts, Crash and Babel, but the connections in The Air I Breathe are paradoxical philosophic abstractions lacking geographic and cultural resonance."

Lost in Beijing:

Lost in Beijing

  • "A nervy love-quadrangle story that contains much less than the sum of its attractive parts, Lost in Beijing is just the kind of lost generation film that a country entering the full throes of a yuppie consumer crisis would be expected to make," writes Chris Barsanti at Filmcritic.com.

  • "Poised as a gritty study in urban loneliness, Lost in Beijing instead becomes lost in clichés." Fernando F Croce in Slant.

  • In the Voice, Nick Pinkerton finds but one redeeming asset: "No performance registers quite so much as the capital city itself, a burgeoning-but-sepulchral range of skyscrapers receding into a sheetrock-toned sky."

  • "There are, at last count, something like 17 million stories in this naked city," writes AO Scott in the New York Times, and Li Yu "relates a tale that is at once representative of the social and economic tensions afflicting 21st-century China and ripely, improbably melodramatic. The director and her cast work in a rough, naturalistic style, but the narrative offers both the pleasures and the limitations of old-fashioned class-conscious pulp. In spite of its raw, explicit moments, the film is at heart a sturdy morality tale about innocence and corruption, wealth and want, sex and power."

The 2008 edition of Rambo:

Rambo

  • It has "its own kind of blockheaded poetry," writes AO Scott. "The first installments in the cycle were better films than polite opinion might lead you to believe. At the time their politics made some people nervous, but to dwell on Rambo's ideological significance was (and still is) to miss his kinship with the samurais and gunslingers of older movies. [Sylvester] Stallone is smart enough - or maybe dumb enough, though I tend to think not - to present the mythic dimensions of the character without apology or irony."

  • But at the House Next Door, Matt Zoller Seitz, can't get around the politics: "The I-word is never spoken in Rambo, yet in its coded way, the film makes a case for why we are in Iraq and should stay there until the job is done, whenever that may be."

  • More from Bruce Bennett (New York Sun), Kevin Crust (LAT), Alonso Duralde (MSNBC), David Edelstein (New York), Peter Martin (Cinematical), Nathan Rabin (AV Club) and Nick Schager (Slant).

  • For the Los Angeles Times, Choire Sicha talks with Julie Benz.

Chris Cagle on an "impossible" shot in Zodiac: "[I]t strikes me that [David] Fincher exemplifies two primary uses of CGI in non-spectacle-oriented cinema. First, there's the cost-saving or verisimilitude-creating measure for historical/geographic setting; where a classical film would build backlot sets or use glass painting, the CGI film can "create" objects, buildings, and scenery. Second, there's the stylistic flourish."

Darren Hughes illustrates the ways Abderrahmane Sissako's camera "is obsessed with relationships and with the geography (geometry?) of social interaction."

Girish is "curious to know: what film magazines do you search out, read, and find valuable?"

Two interviews newly "Full-text-ified" at the Believer: Miles Marshall Lewis with August Wilson and Jonathan Lethem with Paul Auster.

Susan Hayward "Was five time Oscar nominated (and once winning) actress Susan Hayward a great actress?" asks Raymond de Felitta. "Or was she a basic studio starlet who evolved into a dark and expressive force that came to represent the dark side of the postwar feminine cliché?"

"You know things have gone a bit wonky when the light relief among this year's Oscar nominations comes from a tale in which the CIA covertly arms the mujahideen during the 1980s Russian invasion of Afghanistan," writes Andrew Collins. "This is, without a doubt, the best crop of mainstream American films we've seen for more than 30 years."

Also in the Observer: Elizabeth Day meets Claude Mendibil, who spent two months taking dictation from Jean-Dominique Bauby as he composed what would become The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (excerpt): "In [Julian] Schnabel's film, Mendibil is played by Anne Consigny, who has captured exactly her quiet self-containment and her expressive silences."

And Philip French launches a new series, "Screen legends." First up: Spencer Tracy.

"I've had loyal TFE reader Felippe send me a rundown of what's going on over at Fernando Meirelles's Blindness blog," notes Nathaniel R.

Edward Copeland presents his "film awards for 2007," while Andrew Bemis posts an annotated top ten. Then, another top ten and more from Steve at Film Damaged.

"Every year the glossy magazines pour on the love for Austin's mighty film scene," blogs Chris Garcia. "It's only January, yet already we're blushing and shuffling our feet about the compliments coming in."

The Independent profiles Julie Christie; also, Lesley O'Toole talks with Jennifer Garner.

Happy 10th, Nick's Flick Picks!

Adam Ross's interviewee this week: Paul Clark.

"Christian Brando, the troubled eldest son of the late famed actor Marlon Brando, has died from pneumonia at a Los Angeles hospital, an attorney said Saturday. He was 49." Robert Jablon reports for the AP.

Online cover art. The White Stripes at Sleevage, the Strokes at Golden Fiddle.

Online browsing tip. "More Annie Leibovitz Celebrity Disney Dream Photos" at the Disney Blog, via Monika Bartyzel at Cinematical.

Online listening tip. Steve Erickson talks about his new novel, Zeroville, on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Online viewing tips. Yair Raveh presents a "2008 Oscar Viewing Companion," adding up to a couple of hours.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:24 AM

Fests and events, 1/28.

Vanity Fair Portraits Vanity Fair Portraits: Photographs 1913 - 2008 will be on view at the National Portrait Gallery in London from February 14 through May 26. Rob Sharp in the Independent: "If Hollywood is a dream factory, then this magazine is its ethereal brochure."

Channing Tatum Unwrapped breaks the news that Kimberly Peirce's Stop Loss will be screening at SXSW in March. Karina Longworth comments at the SpoutBlog.

Good Morning, Mr Nam June PAIK, at the Korean Cultural Centre UK, February 1 through March 7.

"Sundance 2008 will go down as one of the worst in recent memory for the quality of its lineup," argues Screen International's Jeremy Kay at the Guardian's blog.

Online browsing and viewing tip. For Make, Michelle Kempner wraps a tour of New Frontier on Main at Sundance with clips, pix and comments. Thanks, Jerry!

Posted by dwhudson at 8:28 AM

Jamie Stuart. Cut Short.

Cut Short As Jason Guerrasio notes at Filmmaker, the film Jamie Stuart's come back from Sundance with this year features George A Romero, Ellen Kuras and Stacy Peralta.

The ending's a surprise, so I'll cut myself short right here.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:34 AM

Sundance. Be Kind Rewind.

Be Kind Rewind "The big concept behind Michel Gondry's new film Be Kind Rewind is the remaking of classic movies on a shoestring budget," writes Kaleem Aftab in the Independent. "These new 'home-made' films are called 'Sweded' versions, as Jerry [Jack Black] claims that the home-made tapes at the video store are special bootleg versions made in Sweden. Films remade include Robocop, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ghostbusters, Driving Miss Daisy and Rush Hour 2.... [E]ver since consumer cameras have been available on the high street, people have needed no encouragement to recreate classic films at home.... And, of course, Be Kind Rewind has itself already been Sweded."

"It's a jaunty, outrageous and visually inventive fantasia that is wondrous, beguiling and dazzlingly executed," writes Patrick Z McGavin in Screen Daily.

Updated through 1/30.

"There's a lot to like," concedes the AV Club's Noel Murray, "But boy howdy is this movie ever a mess, with a plot that takes forever to get going - and to explain, frankly - and with an improvisatory style that thuds as often as it connects."

Variety's Todd McCarthy finds that Gondry's "flights of fancy can't overcome the egregious illogic of the premise.... [I]nspiration is as meager as the antics of Jack Black and Mos Def are lame."

"Not far beneath the slapstick humor and communitarian spirit of Mr Gondry's movie (which had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last week and is set to open Feb 22) lies a strong nostalgia for a technology that revolutionized home viewing but now seems destined for the dustbin of history." In the New York Times, Dennis Lim tells the VHS story, from beginning to end.

"So your world premiere was Sunday - how did it go?" asks the Reeler. "It was intimidating," Gondry replies, "but I think it went well. We got a lot of love and some emotion at the end, I guess. And then afterward Jean-Michel Bernard - the film's composer - Mos Def and I played some songs and opened for Patti Smith. She has a movie here." Yes, she does.

Earlier at the Reeler, Ben Gold reported on a recent Q&A with Gondry in NYC: "[T]he real backbone and emotional core of Rewind lie in the idea of community. After moving from Versailles to Paris he noticed quite a few abandoned movie theaters, which, according to Gondry, was disconcerting but rich with potential." Charlie Olsky has more at indieWIRE.

Rick Giles profiles Gondry for the Telegraph.

Monica Corcoran talks with Gondry for the Los Angeles Times.

Online listening tip. James Rocchi talks with Gondry for Cinematical.

Online viewing tip. David Poland lunches with Gondry and Black.

Update, 1/30: Online viewing tip. Michel Gondry swedes the trailer to his own movie.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:50 AM | Comments (2)

Awards, 1/28.

SAG "[I]n a year when a writers' strike has all but shut down much of Hollywood, the Screen Actors Guild Awards - as anonymous in most years as 'Cop No 3' in a summer blockbuster - took top billing Sunday and drew an inordinate amount of star wattage," writes Edward Wyatt, who runs through the evening, checking off winners' names. If you're in a hurry: Daniel Day-Lewis, Julie Christie, Ruby Dee and Javier Bardem.

Updated through 1/30.

Also in the New York Times. More from Alessandra Stanley, who finds the show "moved fast, looked effortless and fun and turned out to be a worthy substitute for the more glamorous Golden Globes and, should the writers' strike continue, maybe even the Oscars."

Joel and Ethan Coen have won this year's Directors Guild Award for No Country for Old Men.

Meanwhile, more trouble on the Oscar front. Via Movie City News. "'Falling Slowly,' the achingly pretty song from Once written by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, may be ruled ineligible" in the Best Original Song category, reports David Carr. Editor & Publisher's Greg Mitchell notes that, in a comment to the Bagger's entry, "Antonio Jr" points to the trailer for Kráska v nesnázích, a 2006 Czech film, that features the song.

Update, 1/29: "Falling Slowly" is too eligible, argues the Irish Independent. Again, via MCN.

Update, 1/30: David Carr has the latest in the "Falling" saga: the Academy rules it's eligible.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:34 AM

January 27, 2008

Other fests, other events, 1/27.

Miracles of Life The 1st Ballardian Festival of Home Movies? Ballardian has details. Via John Coulthart.

"While the Sundance 2008 comes to close and the air clears around the buzz for the big sales out of the premiere and competition sections, the often wrongly overlooked New Frontiers and Midnight programs float to the surface as some of the year's most interesting offerings." Michael Lerman looks back on the highlights for indieWIRE.

"This was the year that independent, personal cinema surpassed celebrity-driven genre films, hands down and no debate about it," writes Tom Hall, just back from Park City.

Lotte Reiniger's The Adventures of Prince Achmed will be screening a few more times at Seattle's Children's Film Festival, notes David Jeffers at the Siffblog.

It's a good week at the Silent Movie Theatre, notes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat.

"Pre-Code is back," announces Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "For the third time in less than five years, the UCLA Film & Television Archive has come up with a series devoted to this most exciting era of American film, a time when movies were just learning to talk and had the irrational exuberance to prove it." Universal Preservation: Pre-Code Films from the Universal and Paramount Libraries runs through February 27.

Eddie Muller's opened Noir City 6 with a few words and Michael Guillén's taken extensive notes. Plus, chats with writers of noirish tales.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:32 PM

Rotterdam, 1/27.

Go with Peace Jamil "Palestinian-Danish actor Omar Shargawi debuts as a writer-director with Ma salama Jamil (Go with Peace Jamil), in all likelihood one of the first Dogme-inspired films mostly spoken in Arabic," writes Boyd van Hoeij at european-films.net. "The film about two small warring factions of Muslims, one Shi'ite, the other Sunni, is set in Denmark but could be set anywhere - even in predominantly Muslim countries, as the film is not interested in culture clashes or adapting to life in a non-Muslim country. Instead, it focuses on the age-old battle to break the cycle of violence that begets violence, and as such, the film is a promising if overlong debut."

"A few years have past since the last Appleseed movie, so with more powerful technology available you'd expect greatly improved visuals" in Appleseed: Ex Machina," writes Ardvark at Twitch. "Both movies have been very ambitious in what they tried to achieve and both have successes and failures." Still, "If you liked the first film I'd be really surprised if you didn't like this one."

Also, Dai-Nipponjin: "While Cloverfield is easily (and often) described as Godzilla meets The Blair Witch Project, this film is far more original and therefore harder to describe. With its wit and focus on media-manipulation, Godzilla meets Network comes close though. It's also damn funny."

"For the first time in nearly 20 years, domestic films in Japan have outsold foreign imports at the box office," notes Genevieve Yue at Reverse Shot. "Adding to this the fact that Naomi Kawase's The Mourning Forest, Kobayashi Masahiro's The Rebirth, and Takeshi Kitano's Glory to the Filmmaker! all won major prizes at international film festivals in the past year, and it would seem that Japanese cinema is experiencing its own rebirth of sorts (though significant developments have long been underway). For all the renewed vitality, however, the three films are notably elegiac in tone or subject matter. In each there's a sense of aftermath, but distance doesn't necessarily bring clarity or well-being."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:25 PM

Sundance. Made in America.

Made in America "Stacy Peralta's Made in America is an effective and selectively comprehensive, fascinating and frustrating examination of the history of gangs in South Los Angeles," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "For a film that makes a convincing and valuable case that gang warfare is, at its root, an economic problem, it's baffling how little attention is paid to how the rise of the superstar gangster in pop culture has impacted the real people living this life."

"Peralta builds a case that the long-running gang war and all its associated pathologies resulted from a perfect storm of toxic ingredients: restrictive real-estate covenants, the notorious paramilitary racism of the LAPD, the rapid deindustrialization of Los Angeles in the decades after World War II and the implosion of the African-American family," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Some of that may sound like old-school, blame-society white liberalism, but the film is far more complicated than that.... As Peralta told me during a fascinating interview on Tuesday (see the video here), his central intention is to humanize these young men, so often regarded as members of some predatory, not-quite-human species. 'These are American teenagers, and we need to treat them that way,' he said. 'If 28 percent of the white male population were in prison, I kind of think we'd be doing something about it.'"

"The film is incredibly well crafted," writes Mike Raffensperger at Zoom In Online. "Powerful scenes of heartbroken mothers, desperate children and powerless participants invoke feelings of desperation, strengthening the empathy felt for those living inside the undeniable hopelessness the situation spawns. Mercifully, the concluding portion of the film offers a possible solution, or at least a step in the right direction; a mature choice which adds emotional reprieve and tangible social value to the work."

And he points to Jon Saraceno's piece in USA Today on Golden State Warrior Baron Davis's role as a producer and Eric Lavallee's interview with Peralta for IonCinema.

Chris Lee talks with Peralta for the Los Angeles Times and notes that the film "posits that Los Angeles' gang strife has lasted longer and claimed more lives than the so-called Troubles in Northern Ireland and resulted in a higher incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder among the children in South LA than among those in Baghdad."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:03 PM

Envisioning Russia - and Mosfilm.

James Van Maanen previews
Envisioning Russia: A Century of Filmmaking and talks with the head of Mosfilm, Karen Shakhnazarov. A few notes follow.

Mosfilm Mother Russia has come to Manhattan's Walter Reade Theater, and she'll be staying a while: three weeks to be exact, through February 14. As Richard Peña, program director for the Film Society of Lincoln Center, pointed out (to much laughter) during his introductory remarks at the opening night of Envisioning Russia: A Century of Filmmaking, the closing of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the opening of the Walter Reade Theater both took place in the same year: 1991. Russian film, not coincidentally, has long been among the staples of the WRT's programming. The Russian Ministry of Culture has designated 2008 as the centenary of Russian Cinema, so the time seems most appropriate for the FSLC and its partner in this event, Seagull Films, to host a Russian program this all-encompassing.

Updated through 1/30.

Unlike the FSLC's annual French, Italian and Spanish festivals that give cinephiles a look at what's currently happening in those countries, Envisioning Russia is much more concerned with the past than the present. Of the 29 programs/films, only four are from the 21st Century: last year's festival favorite, Aleksandr Sokurov's Alexandra with Galina Vishnevskaya; Aleksei Balabanov's Cargo 200 (given a small rave by David Denby in this past week's New Yorker); Sokurov's Rostropovich/Vishnevskaya documentary Elegy of Life; and the grand prize winner at the most recent Moscow International Film Festival, Vera Storozheva's Traveling with Pets.

The New Moscow Opening night festivities included the thankfully brief and rarely seen 1938 movie by Aleksandr Medvedkin, The New Moscow. This extremely odd combination of comedy, documentary, farce, musical, romance and propaganda has a few very funny moments and some enchantingly fresh-faced actors who spin a story involving city vs country, a "living" model of the future Moscow, a missing pig, polar bear costumes and more. There are a couple of nice songs, some interesting views of the Moscow of the 30s, and lots of love on the loose. At just 80 minutes, the movie does not outstay its welcome, and there is irony aplenty in the smiling, positive attitude of all these youngsters on view, so thrilled to be looking forward to all the upcoming Russian delights - including, of course, Joe Stalin. (The New Moscow will screen again on Thursday, January 31, at 8:15 pm and on Sunday, February 3, at 4 pm.)

The remaining films span the 1920s through the 1990s, with stalwarts such as Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (1925) and Tarkovsky's The Mirror (1974) screening along side two New York premieres: a John Ford-inspired 1936 "eastern" by Mikhail Romm entitled The Thirteen and the Russian folktale/American western combo White Sun of the Desert (1969), one of the most popular Russian films ever made. Other record-breakers include the 1980 Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language film, Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears and writer/director Karen Shakhnazarov's Jazzmen (1983) and Courier (1986).

Mr Shakhnazarov is currently the head of Mosfilm Studios, the most famous and long-lasting of any Russian film studio, the output of which is the main focus of Envisioning Russia. You'll undoubtedly recognize the Mosfilm logo - a man and woman holding aloft a symbolic torch - which seemed to precede just about every Russian film I can remember seeing.

Mosfilm

I snagged a few minutes of Shakhnazarov's time to learn what is happening these days at Mosfilm, which, since the time of perestroika and glasnost, has undergone some major changes. "Ten to 15 years ago," explains the studio head, "the Soviet film industry was nearly in ruins. The middle of 90s - it was a disaster. But the Russian film industry is these days growing very fast. There is much production now in both films and TV. TV channels, in particular, are growing fast, getting bigger and more numerous - and they are especially now investing money in theatrical films. Mosfilm is involved in more than 100 projects, both theatrical and TV. Sometimes we don't even divide this up: We just call them 'projects.'"

The downside - and of course there is one - notes Shakhnazarov, is that now, "Everything has become, in general, very commercial, which is not so good for creative projects. In this, I can say that Soviet cinema was much more creative before perestroika. This is strange. But the big Soviet filmmakers had more interesting and creative ideas then than we seem to have currently. I suppose today you could say that we have a crisis in terms of creative ideas."

What does Shakhnazarov see ahead for his studio? "My idea was to make Mosfilm a modern powerful factory for making films. And we have very well succeeded in modernizing. Now I would like to see us have more artistic projects, not only commercial. We could have a better balance, I think. This is just my opinion, of course."

Of course. But it sounds like a good one to me. Why would the embrace of capitalism in a country such as Russia not lead to the almost total commercialization of its film industry? Could it be any other way - at least for awhile? Unlikely.

Jazzmen I took a look at the two Shakhnazarov movies included in this festival and found one of them, Jazzmen, surprisingly commercial, given its pre-perestroika time frame. This unusually zestful film, full of energy and sly visual and verbal wit, is an homage to the early days of jazz in Russia. It features wonderful performances from its quartet of jazzmen and a raft of funny scenes, the best of which involves the senior member learning to improvise. At times the movie threatens to become a full-fledged musical but then stops short. And there's plenty of coincidence. Do our boys need to find a fellow who plays brass? You can bet they'll wake up in jail right next to one.

"Jazzmen was a huge hit in Russia," Shakhnazarov explains. "I suppose when it first appeared, jazz was a new theme. Not that Russians didn't know jazz, for it was already in the Soviet Union. But it has always had an up-and-down history, sometime forbidden, sometimes allowed. But to make a film about such things was very new. And to make a musical without political themes was even more new." The writer/director tells me that, at the time of the film's release, a journalist from Hungary told him that the movie was such a big hit because "It was so unexpected in Hungary - 'like a breath of freedom for us!' Jazzmen was filmed just prior to perestroika, and because of censorship, certain things had to be cut out." Even so, 25 years later, the film still seems surprisingly fresh - and very enjoyable. (Jazzmen will screen Sunday, January 27, at 7:15 pm and Wednesday, February 6, at 4 pm.)

Even better is Shakhnazarov's other film in the program, Courier, made in 1986 during the perestroika period. Beginning with a scene in divorce court, it lays out its characters - mother, father, son - with economy and wit. It also offers as good a depiction as I have seen of youth trying to figure out adulthood before it arrives there and fucks it up. The lead actor, a young man named Fyodor Dunayevsky, is priceless: Imagine a combination of Tom Cruise (circa Risky Business) and Michael Cera and you'll have an idea how very unusual is this character, Ivan. Cynical, bright and refusing all offers of peace, he consistently charms his way into something good - and then shoots himself in the foot. Perhaps the most surprising thing about this fine film is how little it has dated. It holds its own against any teen movie, past or present, that I can recall.

Courier "Courier," explains Shakhnazarov, "was adapted from a novel I had written that was published prior to perestroika. It was not possible to make this film before perestroika, and it was among the first films from that period. The hero was very unusual for Soviet cinema at that time, someone who is against everything." As big a hit as was Jazzmen, Courier achieved even more. "It had the biggest success of any of my films in the Soviet Union." When I mention to the director that, even today, his character seems new and timely, Shakhnazarov notes that teenagers are always trying to find themselves. "They try to clear a place for themselves, but it's never easy." When we talk about the ending of the film, the director points out something, time-wise, that I had not realized and that impacts hugely upon its concluding scene: When the film was made, Russia was smack in the midst of losing its war against Afghanistan. (Courier will be shown Sunday, January 27, at 3:15 pm and Thursday, February 7, at 9 pm.)

Before we part, I asked the writer/director if he can suggest any particular must-see film in this festival. "I think that Richard Peña has done a very important job in choosing these movies. The problem is to show the reality of Soviet cinema over a long period. All the films are interesting, but I would suggest you see the film of Marlen Khutsiyev called July Rain. Khutsiyev influenced directors such as Tarkovsky, and I think he influenced very much the whole development of Soviet cinema. I would recommend that film. But, still," he pauses for a moment, "all the other films are interesting too!" (July Rain will be shown Saturday, February 9, at 2 and 6 pm.)

- James Van Maanen


Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun: "This three-week retrospective of classic movies produced under Soviet rule and recent fare created to compete in today's global economic free-for-all is an unusually far-reaching survey of Russian film's unfathomably deep creative well."

Earlier: Aaron Hillis in the Voice; and Lucy Ash in the New Statesman on White Sun of the Desert.

Update, 1/28: Online listening tip. Shakhnazarov is a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Updates, 1/30: Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine on The New Moscow: "Alexander Medvedkin’s 1938 comedy... cruises along blithely with a loony charm beyond standard patriotic kitsch, although throwaways about the desire to build and to love never hurt.... Of course, Medvedkin, who died just before the fall of Communism, has already gotten the full historical treatment in Chris Marker's 1993 essay film The Last Bolshevik, devoted to the filmmaker, the 20th century, cinema and the usual sardonically philosophical 'Etc.' But even without harvesting its ideological import, The New Moscow can stand on its own two silly feet."

Current series at the New Museum's Night School: After the Red Square. Post-communist art and film.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:36 AM

Cloverfield revisited.

Cloverfield Most moviegoers hate the Jan/Feb/Mar slump. Not David Borwell: "I have to admit I enjoy checking on those quickie action fests and romantic comedies that float up early in the year. They're today's equivalent of the old studios' program pictures, those routine releases that allowed theatres to change bills often. In their budgets, relative to blockbusters, today's program pix are often the modern equivalent of the studios' B films." And yes, "I enjoyed Cloverfield. It starts with a sharp premise, but as ever, execution is everything. I see it as a nifty digital update of some classic Hollywood conventions."

Updated through 1/28.

"In my heart of hearts," writes Tim Lucas, "I have a creeping suspicion that Cloverfield may be the most important horror movie (or horrifying movie) I've seen in a long time, maybe since The Exorcist or Taxi Driver or Cannibal Holocaust, because it gave me the same apocalyptic feeling those films did when I first saw them - a sense that movies, as I knew them, would never be the same again."

"At a time when remakes and sequels are the norm, and audiences have a library of classic films on DVD at their disposal, a good original horror or science fiction film should be celebrated and Cloverfield is well worth celebrating," writes Kimberly Lindbergs. "Instead of appreciating what the film does get right, many critics seem to enjoy pointing out what they consider to be the films three main flaws, so I thought I'd address them in three easy to follow steps."

"Hollywood uses the stunt to sell movies all right," writes Brooks Barnes in the New York Times. "If Americans go to see the Statue of Liberty's head ripped off, as they have in droves for Cloverfield, all the better. But the fans the studios are really trying to attract with such imagery are in Eastern Europe, South Korea and Latin America."

Updates: "[M]y second viewing of Cloverfield felt less like the apocalyptic arrival I described in my previous column and more like a bracingly tense, disconcerting, out-of-control entertainment - which, of course, is all it really needs to be," amends Tim Lucas.

Benji Wilson has "10 things you need to know about JJ Abrams" in the Observer.

Earlier: the 1/17 entry.

Updates, 1/28: "I hesitate to dismiss Cloverfield as a novelty," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in Stop Smiling. "The seamlessness of its effects and the blatant echoes of its imagery - whether vulgar or not - redefine the parameters of realism in an otherwise by-the-numbers apocalyptic nightmare."

"Cloverfield is a fantasy that wants you to buy into it, and thanks to bravura technical skill it works on its strictly limited terms, but the closer you are to its Ground Zero the more keenly you'll feel its evasions and compromises," writes Robert Cashill.

"The real disappointment, the one that makes the whole thing feel like a complete waste of time, is the monster: never mind where it's from or what it wants, it just has zero personality and visual interest." Phil Nugent.

Matt Reeves directed, but most people think of Cloverfield as a JJ Abrams movie. At the IFC Blog, Stephen Saito lists "10 Directors Overshadowed By Their Collaborators."

Structurally, Miracle Mile "bears a striking resemblance to Cloverfield," argues Phil Nugent at ScreenGrab.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:29 AM | Comments (2)

Sundance. Awards.

Sundance 08 The Sundance Film Festival's announced its awards, and I've rounded up the links I could find.

"GCD" denotes an entry here at the Daily; and there'll be more over the next couple of days as the last of the first reviews for these films trickle in. And an index is in the works, too.

Updated.

Fields of Fuel Mermaid Aquarium

And from the press release: "Now in its twelfth year, the Sundance/NHK International Filmmakers Award was created to honor and support emerging filmmakers - one each from the United States, Japan, Europe and Latin America - who possess the originality, talent and vision to be celebrated as we look to the future of international cinema. The winning filmmakers and projects for 2008 are Alejandro Fernandez Almendras from Chile with Huacho; Braden King from the United States with Here; Aiko Nagatsu from Japan with Apoptosis; and Radu Jude from Romania with The Happiest Girl in the World."

Update: Howard Karren has a special awards report at In the Company of Glenn.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:04 AM

January 26, 2008

Park City, 1/26.

Sundance 08 "If there can be some crossover between new film and new art that's symbiotic, that's going to be an important part of the future for Sundance - and for film," Robert Redford tells Steven Henry Madoff, who tours the exhibitions for Artforum.

"[I]n a year when the absence of Iraq films has been one of the big stories at Sundance, Russia has emerged as the program's most prominent foreign country. No fewer than four titles this year - tellingly, only one of them actually produced in Russia - approach the country's growing pains from different angles, offering a thorough portrait of a nation in which corruption, violence, cynicism, and despair mingle with a weak twinkle of hope and the shreds of a once-lively folk culture." Darrell Hartman in the New York Sun on Transsiberian, Alone in Four Walls, Durakovo: Village of Fools and Mermaid.

In the Los Angeles Times, David A Keeps profiles "the queen of Sundance," Melonie Diaz, "who this year is actually in four festival entries - American Son, Assassination of a High School President, Be Kind Rewind and Hamlet 2 - is the latest to be handed the crown. She joins such esteemed predecessors as Parker Posey, Lili Taylor, Christina Ricci, Kirsten Dunst, Chloë Sevigny, Catherine Keener and Patricia Clarkson. 'It's an honor,' Diaz says, 'but it's intimidating, and a little embarrassing. In industry terms, I'm still a newbie.'" She's 23.

"This year, it's the ever-proliferating bloggers - Spout, Cinematical, Movie City News and Hollywood Elsewhere - that have become the instant barometers for how a film plays," writes Variety's Michael Jones.

"The upheaval in the music world has tipped the balance of power away from the big corporations and towards the artist: the small-scale is thriving. Will low-budget, DIY production also be the future for movies? It's an exciting, unpredictable time." Tom Horan files a longish report for the Telegraph.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:53 PM

Park City Dispatch. 7.

Brian Darr is "always in the midst of processing [James] Benning's films." Here, he considers Benning's most recent.

casting a glance Because I'd been so enamored of his recent 13 Lakes and Ten Skies, I was looking forward to James Benning's New Frontier film casting a glance perhaps more eagerly than any other Sundance selection. 13 Lakes set Benning's camera on the edge of a baker's dozen of America's most ecologically fascinating lakes from Okeechobee in Florida to Lake Iliamna in Alaska, to the Great Salt Lake here in Utah, and shot a continuous ten-minute roll of 16mm film capturing each. casting a glance returns to Utah's iconic lake, where Benning perches his camera at various vantage points in view of the Spiral Jetty, a renowned piece of environmental art created by Robert Smithson in 1970. This artwork is, as its name describes, a spiral of carefully arranged stones jutting from the lakeshore into the water. Smithson made a film (which I have not seen) also called Spiral Jetty at the time of its creation.

Instead of using shots of ten minutes in length, as 13 Lakes did, the 80 minutes of casting a glance are broken up into segments of much shorter shot length, perhaps a few minutes each. Both films invite the viewer into a different mode of, borrowing the title of one of the filmmaker's CalArts classes, "looking and listening" to filmed nature. But with less time for us to contemplate how compositions, rhythms and ripples in each shot are functioning, casting a glance becomes more dependent on shot juxtapositions. For example, a particularly stunning pair of shots show chunks of ice being blown over the Jetty and tumbling into the lake, first from a high camera angle and then, in a reverse shot, apparently from atop the artwork itself. The film is organized into sections showcasing the shifting appearance of Smithson's piece at different times of year. Each seasonal variance is preluded by a title card indicating a date sometime in the life of the Spiral Jetty. Seemingly, each title card denotes the day that Benning set up his camera to record, suggesting that this is a project he has been working on for nearly his entire filmmaking career, which began with did you ever hear that cricket sound in 1971.

However, things are not quite as they seem. The program guide states that the footage we see in casting a glance was all captured between mid-2005 and early last year (when Benning had a contribution to another New Frontier film at Sundance, entitled Lunchfilm.) Are Benning's shots of the Spiral Jetty in various seasons and states of submersion over that 18-month period intended to simulate the transformations the artwork has undergone in relationship with its environment over its 37-year life-span? That's what some who have written about the film seem to have concluded from the discrepancy. But the dated title cards are not necessarily inaccurate; they might actually be labeling the soundtrack and not the image, as Benning's soundtracks are not always diegetically matched to the images they accompany. For instance, his One Way Boogie Woogie/27 Years Later retains an older film's soundtrack while showing images of the present. I understand the entire soundtrack to Ten Skies is taken from recordings used in various previous films. One could say Benning is misleading us with these devices, but in doing so he's pointing out the how film watchers can privilege visuals over audio when processing information. I must wonder if some of the soundtrack of casting a glance might have been recorded in locations other than Utah, on the specific dates Benning is using as section markers for his film.

casting a glance

If Benning's images and sounds for casting a glance were not recorded at the same time and place, he was skillful in disguising the evidence from someone like me, who lacks direct experience of what a visit to the Spiral Jetty might sound like. Most of the sounds we hear are of wind blowing, or water lapping against the shore, and fit with what we see on the screen. There is even a shot accompanied by the sound of geese honking. Soon we see a "V" of birds reflected on the lake's surface, and if we look hard enough we can see them in the air above as well. Less congruous sounds that do not appear to emanate from an on-screen source are few and far between: distant gunshots accompany one vantage of the artwork, a few bizarre yelping sounds appear at another, and there is even a group of shots accompanied by a recording of the song "Love Hurts" that sounds as if it could be coming out of an off-screen boombox or car stereo. This last example is noteworthy, however. Since the music plays seamlessly on either side of a cut, it could not have been recorded while multiple images were being filmed, unless Benning was using multiple cameras, which I highly doubt. Once the door to mismatching sound and image has been cracked, it's impossible to know from the material film itself just how how wide Benning has opened it.

This dispatch has been long on speculation and short on conclusions; as you can see, I'm still in the midst of processing casting a glance, as I am always in the midst of processing Benning's films. However, I will draw two concrete conclusions. One, that I love how an apparently minimalistic film like casting a glance can become an instrument for contemplating techniques we take for granted in more "conventional" documentaries. And two, that though the other New Frontier features I watched at this year's Sundance were a mixed bag (Eat, for This Is My Body was tremendous, Half-Life rather weak, and Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest, Part 4 somewhere in between, making me wish I'd had the time to fit in the other four parts screened this week), I really appreciate the presence of all these explicitly art-minded films at a festival where the business end of filmmaking can so often dominate the conversation.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:15 PM

Sight & Sound. Feb 08.

Death Proof "How is Inglorious Bastards going?" Sight & Sound editor Nick James asks Quentin Tarantino before they get into it over Death Proof. But it's a relaxed, meandering conversation, too.

The first part of the BFI Southbank's Burt Lancaster season runs throughout February. Philip Kemp considers the career: "Through all Lancaster's best roles - and through his own personality - there runs this element of ambiguity. Lindsay Anderson spotted it early on, noting "this odd mixture of violence and decency, this goodwill that has not quite found a satisfactory channel of expression.'"

In Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, "Andy and Hank can't help but evoke memories of Biff and Happy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman: they can't accept that they are failures or that they haven't managed to be the sons their father wanted, hence their decision to countenance deeds that risk ruining not only their own lives but those of everyone close to them." Geoffrey Macnab gets a few words with Sidney Lumet.

Reviews:

Alibi

  • Roland West's 1929 Alibi "would seem to have everything going for it," writes Tim Lucas. And he lists its assets; they're impressive. But "it fails to conjure a story of sufficient substance or irony to warrant such impressive treatment" as Kino gives it.

  • Ben Walters and JM Tyree on No Country for Old Men: "Conventional narrative models demand an obstacle between the hero and the object of his desire; in the Coen brothers' films, that obstacle is usually the hero's stupidity."

  • Kieron Corless on Our Daily Bread: "[Nikolaus] Geyrhalter's film is kin to Workingman's Death, the 2005 film by Michael Glawogger (another of the current crop of dazzling Austrian documentary film-makers unaccountably overlooked by British distributors), in its immersive focus on people at work, its reluctance to editorialise and its often mesmerising rhythms and imagery." Related: Phil Hoad talks with Geyrhalter for the Guardian.

  • Tony Rayns on Still Life: "Plenty of earlier Chinese movies have looked at the human and social cost of the Three Gorges Dam (from Zhang Ming's Rainclouds over Wushan, 1995, to Yan Yu and Li Yifan's documentary Before the Flood, 2005, the latter also shot in Fengjie), but Jia [Zhangke]'s film is the first to rhyme the loss of a very ancient human settlement with the transience and fragility of human relationships in general."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:09 PM

Slamdance. Awards.

Slamdance "The 14th annual Slamdance Film Festival has announced 15 film and screenplay prize winners in three categories who will share more than $200,000 in cash and prizes, plus, for one winner, guaranteed production of a feature film."

So here we go, with related linkage:

Updated through 1/30.

The Project

Update, 1/30: Now at the main site: The updated list of past Sundance award-winners.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:55 AM

January 25, 2008

Park City, 1/25.

Sundance 08 Manohla Dargis has had an "unexpectedly rewarding week.... [T]his felt like a year of discovery." Specifically, she awards the New York Times seal of approval to Sugar, Ballast and Momma's Man:

One theme of that discussion will be the emergence of a new American realism. Although my favorite fiction films at Sundance were different in theme and tone, they were united by stylistic commonalities, a feel for the still moment - and, importantly, for beauty — a grounded sense of place and some obvious influences, including the Belgian filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. What was missing from even the most intimate of these works was the solipsism that characterizes one Sundance mainstay, the kind with anguished young men who yearn to break free of their families and towns so they can run away to film school (or a Sundance Institute lab) and turn their suffering into entertainment.

"Most of the so-called major premieres in Park City this year have been widely viewed as disappointments, and beyond the brief and bizarre bidding war that erupted over the high-school musical farce Hamlet 2 (which went to Focus Features for $10 million), there's been far less acquisition activity than expected," notes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir in his festival wrap-up. "It was business as usual in the gifting villas and corporate-sponsored party spaces here, but the mood at industry events has been muted and muddled, between the still-unresolved writers' strike and the death of Heath Ledger.... But I'm not saying this was a bad Sundance. To my own enormous surprise, in fact, I'm saying the opposite."

AJ Schnack's found more evidence at the festival of "a 'Nonfiction New Wave' that rejects dogmatic strictures of form and that is, ironically, a return to the genre's roots."

"There's nothing all that groundbreaking about the idea that visual artists and filmmakers can share similar practices and tools," writes Glen Helfand at SF360. "A far more interesting dynamic emerged from the edgier portions of Sundance 08, that being a sense that a broad swath of features, docs, installations, and projected art shared similar socio-political concerns, which they grappled with via well-honed aesthetic filters."

"Robert Redford and Geoff Gilmore need to make a course correction at Sundance," argues Anne Thompson in Variety. "[T]his year's Sundance crop seemed to be heavy on Hollywood-indie hybrids that were neither fish nor fowl." Also, a list of faves.

Matt Dentler wraps his stay, too, and posts more pix.

"Blimey, it's all so American." David Bloom blogs for the Guardian.

"This week, I attended the Sundance panel, Alternative Storytelling For New Digital Media Platforms at the New Frontier on Main." And Brian Chirls has a clip at Filmmaker.

Photos: Ray Pride.

Online viewing tips. David Poland lunches his way around Park City.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:10 PM

Sundance. A Good Day to Be Black and Sexy.

A Good Day to Be Black and Sexy "A groundbreaking film, Dennis Dortch's A Good Day To Be Black and Sexy is, despite its provocative title, getting only a smidgen of the notices that Lance Hammer's Ballast is when people begin to talk about so called 'Black' films in Park City," writes Brandon Harris. "The films exist on almost completely opposite ends of the filmmaking spectrum - Black and Sexy is a frank, joyous, aesthetically alive comedy of manners, where Ballast is an oblique, joyless superimposition of the Dardenne Brothers style on the overwrought concerns of tragedy stricken Blacks living in the Mississippi Delta.... Full of jump cuts, naturalistic camera work, and situations never before glimpsed in narrative films before, A Good Day To Be Black and Sexy exorcises the demons of Toms, Coons, Mammies and Bucks that honest black cinematic representation is constantly attempting to dislodge from the American psyche. Never salacious or mean spirited, the vignettes don't shy away from the uncomfortable aspects of modern sexuality and maintains a healthy irreverence in its sexual politics."

Oddly enough, though, just the other day... "One chapter is like something the Dardennes might do if they wanted to make a sex picture (it's a big might, but still)," suggests the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris.

"I had one industry person chuckle as he mumbled, 'So, it's like a Black art film?'" writes Dortch at Filmmaker's blog.

Online listening tip. Kevin Buist at the SpoutBlog: "Stars Mylika Davis and Jerome Anthony Hawkins discuss why they were happy to portray black sexuality in a fresh way."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:05 PM

Sundance. The Wave.

The Wave "To call The Wave 'a German Fight Club' would be both accurate and misleading," writes Ryan Stewart at In the Company of Glenn. "The Wave is a somewhat more grounded drama with a more specific focus: to stare deeply into the eyes of today's German youth and find the grandfathers inside.... Many references, such as to anti-Nazi heroine Sophie Scholl, may fly over the heads of American audiences, and The Wave loses steam considerably in its final act, but overall it's one of this year's most compelling Sundance offerings."

"Dennis Gansel turns the true story of a high-school history experiment gone awry into a glossy, pulse-pounding thriller, employing methods almost as fascistic as those of The Wave itself. Intentional irony?" asks Mike D'Angelo at ScreenGrab.

"The Wave is by no means a bad film; it's just already been done," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "And when it was done before, it was aimed at teens. Grown-ups shouldn't expect to get much out of it."

Justin Chang explains in Variety: "Though it's not mentioned in the writing credits, Morton Rhue's 1988 novel The Wave - a fictional retelling of the 1967 experiment conducted by Palo Alto, Calif, history teacher William Ron Jones (who served as a consultant on the film) - has become a staple of many a high school curriculum. In relocating the story to Germany, Gansel and co-scenarist Peter Thorwarth (drawing from Jones' original account and a 1981 teleplay) pointedly raise the question of whether a Third Reich-style regime could emerge again - and find the answer to be an unambiguous yes."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:59 PM

CulturePulp meets Satrapi.

Mike Russell: Marjane Satrapi Mike Russell's got a terrific comic in which his own drawing style meets that of Marjane Satrapi.

Fitting enough, since it depicts a conversation between the two artists about Persepolis - and is based on this lengthy interview right here.

Update, 1/27: Sean Axmaker has a long talk with Satrapi, too.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:16 PM

Jamie Stuart on NPR.

Jamie Stuart on NPR First, an online listening tip. Alison Stewart of NPR's Bryant Park Project interviews Jamie Stuart: "'I'm not a journalist. I'm a filmmaker,' he says. Making films about film festivals, he says, gives him the exposure he needs to get where he wants to be."

The video they talk about at the end there? It's here. And look for Jamie's anxiously awaited Sundance 08 film at Filmmaker on Monday.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:58 PM

Sundance. The Object.

The Object Not a collection of reviews this time, but an online reading and viewing tip. "Partizan director Leslie Ali travelled to the Sundance Film Festival this week, after her darkly humorous short film The Object was selected from thousands of submissions to be entered in the official competition," notes Creative Review in an entry that includes the film. "Ali kept a diary about her experiences in Utah for CR, which included meeting with a talent scout from William Morris, watching The Object shown on the big screen at the Egyptian Theatre, and gossiping with an ex of Jack Black's at a screening of Michel Gondry's latest feature Be Kind Rewind."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:05 PM

Rotterdam, 1/25.

Rotterdam 08 The International Film Festival Rotterdam opened on Wednesday with Lucía Cedrón's first feature, Lamb of God (Cordero de Dios). It's "an assured debut," writes Geoffrey Macnab in Screen Daily, "a skillfully told and affecting tale which straddles the line between political thriller and family melodrama. The elaborate flashback structure – the film is set in Argentina in 1978, when the country was still under the control of the military Junta, and in 2002, during the economic crisis – is initially disconcerting. It takes a moment or two to realise that we are watching the same characters at different points in their lives. In the long run, though, Cedron's subtle and richly layered storytelling style adds an emotional depth that a more conventional narrative would surely have lacked."

One of the highlights of the festival is surely Rediscovering the Fourth Generation, a series curated by Shelly Kraicer, who writes in his introduction to these 12 Chinese films from the late 70s and early 80s: "The Fourth Generation's double misfortune is to have been squeezed out by two phenomena: one political, the other aesthetic.... This led to their relative obscurity in the West, one that is entirely circumstantial, and not commensurate with their artistic achievements."

Filing a first dispatch from the festival for Reverse Shot, Genevieve Yue writes, "Two visions of rural life, Uruphong Raksasad's short film The Rocket (2007) and Sandra Kogut's Mutum (2007) presented distant places as intimate experiences, timeless wonders with sly hints of the present."

For Twitch, Ardvark reviews "Russian director Alexei Balabanov's newest picture, Gruz 200 (Cargo 200), a film which starts as a 'man meets crazy inbred family' thriller but gradually turns into a very cold kidnap drama.... Balabanov meant this film to be the harshest possible condemnation of early 1980s USSR and wants it to give people who longingly talk about the 'good old days of communism' a good kicking. In the teeth. Hard."

Earlier: James Van Maanen on Mutum.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:24 AM

Cesars. Nominations.

Cesars "With 11 nominations each, Olivier Dahan's La Vie en Rose and Claude Miller's Un Secret dominate the nominees selected for the 2008 Cesars, to be awarded on February 22," reports Fabien Lemercier, who lists the nominees in the major categories at Cineuropa.

Earlier: Boyd van Hoeij on Un Secret at european-films.net.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:46 AM

Sundance. The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins.

The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins "New Zealand director Pietra Brettkelly was in the Darfur region of Sudan working on a documentary when she happened to meet international renowned artist Vanessa Beecroft. Little did she realize that this chance meeting would lead to her next film - The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins." Melissa Silverstein talks with her for Zoom In Online.

Greg Allen is most definitely not a fan of Beecroft, a "vapid, superficial, self-absorbed aesthetic fetishist." He points to Logan Hill's "takedown" for New York's Vulture: "The doc cluster-bombs her faddish fascination with Sudanese orphans and paints Beecroft as a hypocritically self-aware, colossally colonial pomo narcissist. The film is brutally effective because it lets Beecroft hang herself with damaging quotes and appalling behavior." Greg also points to Matthu Placek's interview with Brettkelly for V Magazine.

Updated through 1/26.

"Beecroft discovers a pair of infant twins whose mother died," explains Stephen Farber in the Hollywood Reporter. "She becomes obsessed with the idea of adopting them and bringing them back to New York... But as her husband, Greg Durkin, asks pointedly, is she motivated by humanitarian impulses, or is she mesmerized by the exotic allure of underprivileged orphans? Has she been inspired by celebrities like Angelina Jolie? In short, does her attraction to the twins have the same exploitative element visible in her art?"

The doc "is challenging, fascinating, self-excoriating and often infuriating," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir.

Update, 1/26: This is "a brutally honest, remarkably self-critical reflection on foreign adoption that touches unexpectedly on issues of alienation and loneliness," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:05 AM

Sundance. Baghead.

Baghead "Is it too early for the 'mumblecore' movement to spoof itself?" asks Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Evidently not, and it's a good thing too. A group of underemployed, ultra-indie filmmakers and actors head to the woods to make their own brilliant new film, in the latest work of deadpan comedy from brothers Mark and Jay Duplass (The Puffy Chair)."

Updated through 1/30.

"The Duplass Brothers... are growing as filmmakers," writes Steve Ramos at indieWIRE. "They're trying new things in Baghead and building upon their strengths as craftsmen of approachable characters, zippy dialogue and warm romance. As a result, Baghead, premiering in the Spectrum program at the Sundance Film Festival, is the Duplass Brothers' best film yet."

Back in November 06, Bryan Poyser filed a set report for the Austin Chronicle.

Online listening tip. James Rocchi talks with the brothers for Cinematical.

Online listening tips. Kevin Buist interviews Greta Gerwig for the SpoutBlog; also, Jay Duplass.

Online viewing tip. At the SpoutBlog, Joe Swanberg watches the cast and crew promote Baghead in Park City.

Updates: Brian Brooks reports at indieWIRE that Sony Pictures Classics has picked up Baghead: "The deal, brokered by Submarine, is understood to be a mid to high six-figure pact."

"Brother filmmaking teams abound: the Maysles, Coens, Hugheses, Wachowskis. With the Duplass and Zellner brothers, who specialize in micro-budget indie comedies that mine humor from the banal, dreary and heartbreaking, Austin lays claim to two of the funniest, most frugal and most prolific of these blood-bound couples." And the Austin American-Statesman's Chris Garcia talks with all four of them. Via Matt Dentler.

Updates, 1/26: "Baghead is a complete blast, a meta-exploration of the creative process, genre and relationships that gets just about everything right," writes Tom Hall. "Most excitingly, the film's tonal shifts between comedy, romance, horror and drama all feel completely natural and earned, which is no small feat."

"Reflecting on their first two rousing screenings in Park City, Jay Duplass noted that the film played more distinctly as a comedy during its first showing at the Prospector theater, while two days later at the more intimate Holiday Village theater, some tense aspects of the story came across more distinctly," reports indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez.

Online viewing tip. Matt Dentler points to Andrew Rossi's New York Post video report on the Duplass brothers.

Update, 1/30: "After being suffocated by so many well-made but unoriginal independent films at Sundance, Baghead is like a blast of fresh air," writes Eric D Snider at Cinematical. "It has warmth and innovation, and the mischievous good sense to subtly make fun of the type of film that it is."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:42 AM

Sundance. Momma's Man.

Momma's Man "Momma's Man pierced me to my core," writes Michael Tully. "It is, without question, the most beautiful expression of a child's love for his parents that I have ever seen, heard, or read."

"A portrait of a young man at very loose ends - Matt Boren as Mikey - the film is at once a valentine to the bohemia of a lost New York and to [director Azazel] Jacobs's parents, the avant-garde filmmaker Ken Jacobs and his wife, Flo, who play Mikey's tenderly loving mother and father," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Shot mostly inside Mr and Mrs Jacobs's actual downtown loft, a wonderland of clutter chockablock with books and all manner of cinematic ephemera, the film beautifully combines the idioms of independent fiction narrative with the personal expressiveness of the avant-garde for a work of surprising emotional and structural complexity. This is independent cinema defined."

Updated through 1/26.

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir awards his own Narrative Grand Prize: "For a film about a man who is arguably sliding into paralyzing depression, Momma's Man is a work of haunting loveliness and Proustian delicacy, shot through with unexpected humor. Jacobs's previous film, The GoodTimes Kid, was an appealing zero-budget indie in a Jim Jarmusch vein, but Momma's Man is a vast leap forward. It's a film of acute perceptions, great sadness and wordless, ecstatic joy, and the one unforgettable narrative film I saw at this year's festival."

"There's a lot of comedy in Momma's Man - Ken Jacobs, so deadpan he's almost sinister, is particularly fun to watch - but as it slinks towards a sweet/sad climax between mother and son, it's devastatingly melancholy," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "Momma's Man is, essentially, a chick flick for cool, bridging-30 boys."

"The strength of this film lies largely in Boren's capturing of Mikey's sense of confusion and helplessness," writes Kim Voynar at Cinematical. "As Mikey's parents, Flo Jacobs and Ken Jacobs hit all the right notes of a mixed concern for their son's well-being and a desire to help him figure out what's going on."

Sara Cardace talks with Jacobs for New York's Vulture.

The Reeler talks with Jacobs, too.

Update: Online listening tip. Kevin Buist talks with Jacobs for the SpoutBlog.

Updates, 1/26: Michael Tully has more to say at Hammer to Nail: "Almost everyone I know who saw Momma's Man considers it to be by far the best film they saw at the festival, but it's interesting to discover that the only other people I know who shed tears over it were males.... I'm such a fan of the charismatic Jacobs that I was disappointed to realize he wasn't acting in the film alongside his parents. But it didn't take me long to understand that he couldn't have played the lead role. That would have been the worst decision of all (something a lesser artist would not have been able to understand). There had to be a level of remove.... To Jacobs, Momma's Man is a home movie he can watch when his parents, and the loft, are gone. To me, it might very well be the finest American independent film of the decade."

At indieWIRE, James Israel quotes Boren: "When we finished shooting the film I would stay up late dreaming about this incredible loft. It was like I always visualized Aza's Dad like a Willy Wonka and I thought if he pulled a book out that the walls were gonna change and I'd fall into something."

"Like Sugar and Ballast, the festival's other great narrative films, Jacobs's low-fi third feature forges unique stylistic territory for the American independent film while specifically recalling such disparate classics as Alexander Sokurov's Mother and Son and Albert Brooks's woefully underrated Mother," writes Rob Nelson at indieWIRE. "Jacobs's work is a rare cinematic expression of heartfelt matriphilia; someone in the industry with love to spare needs to pick up this gifted orphan right away."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:07 AM

Sundance. The Order of Myths.

The Order of Myths "Many here were looking forward to Margaret Brown's second feature after her well-regarded music doc Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt, but Brown surpassed expectations with her remarkably assured The Order of Myths," writes AJ Schnack at indieWIRE. "Beautifully shot by Lee Daniel and Michael Simmonds and expertly edited by Brown, Michael Taylor and Geoffrey Richman, the film examines the time-honored tradition of Mardi Gras in Mobile, Alabama, where celebrations remain segregated between white and black residents."

"Handsomely shot and intelligently edited, with none of the maddening sloppiness that distorts too many nonfiction projects, the film explores the secret societies, the fancy-dress balls and the celebratory parades for a story that is at once very site-specific and seemingly simple and as big and richly complex as the United States itself," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times.

It "may find an audience," suggests John Anderson in Variety, "but it will likely be because of the derisive nature of its portraiture rather than the weightier issues of race and class that helmer Margaret Brown attempts to grapple with - when not making some easy targets look ridiculous. Film's concern with entrenched sociopolitical attitudes is commendable, but snideness will more likely be the factor that broadens its appeal."

For Michael Ryan, writing at Hammer to Nail, this doc's far superior to Traces of the Trade.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:19 AM | Comments (2)

Sundance. Sunshine Cleaning.

Sunshine Cleaning "Following her beautifully impressionistic debut Rain and the Gwyneth Paltrow vehicle Sylvia, New Zealand director Christine Jeffs lands somewhere in between with Sunshine Cleaning an affecting, well-acted drama that casts an even brighter spotlight on rising starlet Amy Adams," writes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE. "What could have been merely an exercise in quirky indie comedy... becomes a more serious dramedy about strained family relationships and overcoming the loss of loved ones."

"People, this sort of Freudian nonsense is killing narrative fiction," argues Mike D'Angelo at ScreenGrab. "Characters are far more intriguing and memorable when their behavior can't be reduced to the sum of their childhood traumas."

"It's in the assorted subplots of Megan Holly's script that the project's self-consciously calculated quirkiness rubs the wrong way," argues Variety's Todd McCarthy.

"It seems almost impossible that as people root through Sundance looking for the next Little Miss Sunshine (aka the little indie that was critically acclaimed, award-nominated and a big hit at the box office), the best contender is a film called Sunshine Cleaning and also stars Alan Arkin," writes Sara Vilkomerson in the New York Observer. "This one seems to have it all: fun and quirky plot (two sisters who go into business cleaning up after crime scenes), terrific performances from Emily Blunt and Amy Adams, with an undercurrent of sad family drama that had more than few members of the audience sniffling."

But for Mike Goodridge, writing for Screen Daily, "Sunshine Cleaning has none of that film's dark edges or eagerness to entertain, and is unlikely to follow its path to breakout box-office success."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:11 AM

January 24, 2008

Midnight Eye. Best of 07.

Strawberry Shortcakes The gentlemen behind Midnight Eye, "the latest and best in Japanese cinema," present their generously annotated lists of the "Best (and Worst) of 2007." Both Tom Mes and Jasper Sharp top their lists with Hitoshi Yazaki's Strawberry Shortcakes. Mes: "Incontestably the best Japanese film of the year. Everything about it seems calculated for the Sex and the City and shojo manga crowds, but the result is closer in spirit, integrity and perceptiveness to Ryuichi Hiroki's Vibrator and It's Only Talk." And it's reviewed in this issue by Paul Spicer.

Nicholas Rucka's list is alphabetical, while Jason Gray comments, "In my Top 10 for this year there seems to be a mini-theme of films that explore little seen sides of Japanese society. This might be the strongest 12 months since I started doing annual lists for Midnight Eye."

And now, it's your turn. The Readers Poll is open for votes.

More reviews:

Identity

Then Tom Mes recommends the "fully revised and redesigned edition" of Mark Schilling's No Borders, No Limits: Nikkatsu Action Cinema.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:40 PM

Shorts, 1/24.

The Moviegoer "The third round of the Book Review's Reading Room series is up and percolating," announces the New York Times' Dwight Garner. "The topic this time: Walker Percy's odd, winsome 1962 novel The Moviegoer."

"I personally would propose these three words, which are certainly at the driving heart of my own practice: richness, intensity and gesture." Adrian Martin in a terrific interview that originally ran in the Slovenian magazine Ekran nearly a year ago and appearing in English now, thanks to the interviewer, interviewee and Girish.

"[I]t is only when the human interest is understood within its wider contexts specifically - not as the dramatic heart of a social message but as micro-developments within a macro-narrative - that I think Still Life emerges as one of the very richest and most important 'festival films' of recent years that I've had the fortune of seeing," writes Zach Campbell.

Reviewing Don't Touch the Axe at Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Ian Johnston stress how much it "is in keeping with Rivette's other films. And I have to say I'm simply left in awe at the formal mastery of this film. Rivette's firm, steady hand guides the film, scene by scene, with a calm precision; there's a finely-calibrated weight and solidity to every level of the film, from individual shot to sequence to the effect of the film as a whole.

Jimmy Carter Man from Plains Jimmy Carter Man from Plains gets Godfrey Cheshire thinking about the moment "when America's mind turned a fateful corner, the one separating a polity based on observable reality and one heavily infused with solipsistic fantasy." You'll want to read that Independent Weekly piece. Then, at the newly redesigned site for Vue Weekly, Brian Gibson has more on Jonathan Demme's doc.

"Oliver Stone has set his sights on his next directing project, Bush, a film focusing on the life and presidency of George W Bush, and attached Josh Brolin to play the title role." Michael Fleming's piece is more than the usual Variety news item. He gets Stone to tell him quite a lot about what he's got in mind, e.g., "if Nixon was a symphony, this is more like a chamber piece, and not as dark in tone," and to talk about losing Pinkville three weeks before shooting was to start.

Also: Jeffrey Wright and Adrien Brody are lined up for Cadillac Records, playing Muddy Waters and Leonard Chess, respectively, reports Dade Hayes.

Daniel Kasman annotates a list of his "favorite films that were given a theatrical run of at least a week in the United States in 2007."

Nick Davis revs up his countdown.

Caramel "Caramel, the directing debut of Lebanese actress/music video director Nadine Labaki, concerns five women who frequent a beauty salon in Beirut, their lives unfolding onscreen in between hair stylings and waxings (the latter accomplished with the sticky, burnt-sugar mixture for which the film is named)," writes Joanne Nucho at Reverse Shot. "[D]espite its ethnographic accuracy and refreshing open-endedness, Caramel is still a traditional movie, and an ultimately pleasing 'chick flick' at that, warm and charming. Though Caramel manages to steer clear of directly addressing the war, its specter haunts the film... At the same time this portrait is a hopeful one, and in some ways it's directed at people outside of Lebanon as well as those within, for whom everyday life goes on despite decades of conflict and turmoil."

"If Marlon Brando remains one of the very greatest of screen actors, perhaps it lies in a paradox: that he was the screen actor who more successfully than anybody else suggested the intimacy of the stage whilst in fact acting in front of a camera." Tony McKibbin in Film International.

A few months ago, Ztohoven, a Czech art collective, hacked the country's early morning weather broadcast with a video depicting a nuclear blast: "Across the Krkonose Mountains, or so it appeared, a white flash was followed by the spectacle of a rising mushroom cloud," writes Michael Kimmelman:

Some Czechs expressed outrage over Ztohoven's action, naturally, but in general it drew a mild, tolerant, even amused public response, in contrast to how terrorism-related pranks, or what might seem like them, have been widely greeted elsewhere. The incident instead has highlighted an old Czech tradition of tomfoolery that is a particular matter of national cultural pride.

Not long ago a film that became a local hit, Czech Dream, documented a boondoggle by two young Czech filmmakers, who enlisted advertisers and publicists to devise a marketing scheme for a nonexistent supermarket. The movie's goal, like Ztohoven's, was to wag the dog: lampoon media manipulation and public gullibility.

Umut "Part social realism in its searing depiction of the plight of the underprivileged against the transforming economy of an increasingly modernized Turkey, and part poetic essentialism in its psychological portrait of a desperate man succumbing to the mania of a delusive, blind faith, Yilmaz Güney and Serif Gören's Umut (Hope) captures the precarious atmosphere of a nation at a political and economic crossroads." Writes acquarello.

Tyler Cowen (Marginal Revolution) and Ross Douthat (Atlantic) both disagree with Manohla Dargis's take on Cloverfield - but for different reasons. More from DK Holm in the Vancouver Voice. Dave Itzkoff looks back on literary monsters. And then, for comic relief, there's John Rogers.

"Sumptuously photographed in glossy digital video by cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr, Youth Without Youth is extremely well crafted, handsomely mounted and almost impossible to sit through," writes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly.

For IFC News, Aaron Hillis talks with Woody Allen about Cassandra's Dream.

Juno "[F]or Kimya Dawson, the 35-year-old den mother of the tiny anti-folk scene, all the attention for her music in the film Juno is a little troubling." Ben Sisario talks with her for the New York Times.

Laura Barnett talks with Jane Birkin for the Guardian. Also, Mark Brown reports on stage version of Brief Encounter and Eric Shorter remembers Don Fellows, 1922 - 2007.

Novid Parsi interviews Roger Ebert for Time Out Chicago. Via Movie City News.

Teeth: In the Austin Chronicle, Melanie Haupt talks with Mitchell Lichtenstein, while, in the Philadelphia City Paper, Sam Adams interviews Jess Weixler.

Nathan Lee: "Directed by Gregory Hoblit from a screenplay by a trio (a trio!) of whomevers, Untraceable hasn't the brains of a class-act psychothriller like The Silence of the Lambs (though it does reprise that film's titillating homophobia); worse yet, it lacks the balls to juice up the trashy verve of the Saw series. Stuck in the middle, it leaves everyone stranded, actors and audience alike."

Also in the Voice:

Orthodox Stance

  • Ella Taylor on Orthodox Stance, "Jason Hutt's mildly absorbing vérité trot through the pugilist's quest for a junior title that will put him on the pro-boxing map." More from the Reeler and Bill Weber in Slant.

  • Julia Wallace on Trailer Park Boys: The Movie: "I'm sure the pot-laced antics of these trashy dudes are, like, totally hilarious on Canadian TV, but they don't translate well to America or the big screen." Also, Alice's House, "an utterly average foreign art-house film, with all the strengths and flaws that label implies."

  • Jim Ridley on How She Move: "Apart from the exuberant athleticism of the step battles... the movie's chief appeal is a largely unknown cast." More from Armond White in the New York Press.

"Seen 40 years after its initial release, Melvin Van Peebles's [Story of a Three-Day Pass] is a wildly uneven first feature that is often as awkward as the lovers in the film," writes Peter Nellhaus.

Tim Lucas: "The final ballot for the Sixth Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards has been posted, and I'm proud to announce that Video Watchdog and its contributors have received a total of nine (9) nominations this year." Also, a memorial fund for Maila "Vampira" Nurmi.

Offline reading tip. Doug Cummings recommends Beyond.

Online viewing tip #1. Jacques Prévert and Salvador Dalí at the DVblog.

Online viewing tip #2. The trailer for Dead On: The Life and Cinema of George A Romero. Via Coudal Partners.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:58 PM | Comments (2)

DVDs, 1/22.

The Manchurian Candidate "Even the best work from [John] Frankenheimer's prolific 60s heyday (he made 11 films that decade) has been unfairly overshadowed by the iconic status of The Manchurian Candidate (1962), one of the four films in [a new] set," writes Dennis Lim in the Los Angeles Times.

More from Fernando F Croce in Slant: "Had Seven Days in May and Seconds also been included, it would have provided a fuller, scarier view of the paranoid urgency that made Frankenheimer such a wicked director in the 1960s. As it is, however, this DVD set gives a sturdy outline of the paradoxes in his lengthy career: a graduate of live television productions who loved baroquely cinematic setups, an admirer of classic craftsmanship nevertheless plagued with contemporary anxieties, a jittery modernist who ultimately found himself typecast as a terse action filmmaker."

"Venus in Furs remains a brilliant film, whether taken as a microcosmic view into the wild world of director Jess Franco or as a prime example of European Genre Cinema, exploding with creativity and style," writes Mike at Esotika Erotica Psychotica.

"King Kong the success was born in 1933. King Kong the smash happened in 1952." John McElwee tells the story at Greenbriar Picture Shows.

Gandahar Ardvark at Twitch on Gandahar: "Once again René Laloux provides nearly 80 minutes of excellent eye-candy, and this time it supports an interesting story. While his efforts never seem to be as accomplished as, say, Hayao Miyazaki's, he is more like Mamoru Oshii: preaching to his own choir, concentrating on the things he himself does best."

For IFC News, Michael Atkinson reviews Saved from the Flames, a "cattershot collection of 'orphans' - scatterings of film that, by definition, profit nobody, and so are therefore only salvaged and restored by cinephilic charities and archives." And: "For story, coming at you like a stampede of wildebeest, Lars von Trier's The Kingdom - Series Two (1997) continues his 1994 saga with this nearly five-hour sequel."

In the Austin Chronicle, Rick Klaw reviews two films that "transformed movie storytelling by using revolutionary stop-motion techniques to produce realistic-looking monsters, aliens, and even spaceships": It Came From Beneath the Sea and Earth Vs the Flying Saucers.

In Vue Weekly, Brian Gibson recommends No End in Sight and The Devil Came on Horseback.

DVD roundups: Paul Clark (ScreenGrab), Bryant Frazer, Peter Martin (Cinematical) and Gina McIntyre (Los Angeles Times).

Posted by dwhudson at 1:59 PM

Other fests, other events, 1/24.

Noir City 6 "Noir City 6 has the usual spread of special guests, rare titles, and newly struck prints across ten nights of double-features," writes Max Goldberg at SF360. "Plenty of notable tidbits for the hardcore, in other words, and for everyone else a chance at the kind of immersion long underlying noir appreciation." Tomorrow through February 3.

Michael Guillén launches his coverage with an interview with Alan K Rode, a frequent contributor to Film Monthly and The Big Chat who can also be heard in more than a few DVD commentaries. Rode's new book is Charles McGraw: Biography of a Film Noir Tough Guy.

Aaron Hillis previews Envisioning Russia: A Century of Filmmaking, running tomorrow through February 14: "Expect film-school staples like The Battleship Potemkin and The Cranes Are Flying, as well as Soviet comedies and musicals, special-effects extravaganzas, Cold War dramas, a perestroika-era gem, contemporary stand-outs (including a special screening of Aleksander Sokurov's wartime allegory and NYFF selection Alexandra) - and, yes, the requisite Andrei Tarkovsky picture."

Also in the Voice: "First, a faith in the possibility of unknown quantities is a necessity when approaching Anthology Film Archives' selection of Polish films in Polish New Wave: A History of the Phenomenon That Never Existed," advises Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. "The featured fare here screens with Brigadoon frequency, and is inaccessible even in the videotékas of deepest Greenpoint. I've had only a partial glimpse at the contents of the canisters en route to Anthology from Polska; nothing has been uninteresting." More from Steve Dollar in the New York Sun. Tomorrow through Sunday.

Acquarello has the lineup for this year's Film Comment Selects series, running February 14 through 28.

American Psycho Mary Harron's coming to Durham "to launch the inaugural Filmmaker Residency Program sponsored by Duke University's Film/Video/Digital Program (FVD)," notes Neil Morris in the Independent Weekly. She arrives Monday; American Psycho screens Tuesday.

In the Austin Chronicle, Josh Rosenblatt previews the Austin Jewish Film Festival. Saturday through February 1.

"They didn't really anticipate going on with the Antoine Doinel character." At the Evening Class, Laura Truffaut, François's daughter, discusses The 400 Blows, its director and star, on the occasion of Jean-Pierre Léaud: The New Wave and After, at the Pacific Film Archive through February 29.

Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King is on at the American Cinematheque through the end of the month and, in the LA Weekly, David Thomson urges you to "watch everything, not just every film they're showing but every frame of each, because Preminger knew that film was a natural corridor into desire and violence."

Stunt folk will be getting some of the attention they deserve on Tuesday at the Silent Theatre, reports Margaret Wappler in the Los Angeles Times.

The Lumière Reader's Tim Wong previews the tenth World Cinema Showcase, set to tour New Zealand this spring.

For Variety, David Mermelstein previews the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, running today through February 3, and Alissa Simon previews the Gothenburg Film Festival, running tomorrow though February 5.

"Last Friday night, people lined up around the block at the Anthology Film Archives to watch the avant-garde shorts of a Thai filmmaker whose last film made $16,000 in the US. Total," notes Vadim Rizov in the Tisch Film Review. "What was really weird was that, if Apichatpong 'Joe' Weerasethakul's work already borders the completely inscrutable and non-narrative, his shorts abandon it almost entirely."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:36 PM

Sundance. Pretty Bird.

Pretty Bird "Written and directed by the engagingly rumpled young actor Paul Schneider (Lars and the Real Girl, All the Real Girls), this strident comedy about a deluded entrepeneur (Billy Crudup) trying to invent a rocket belt with the help of a paranoid scientist (Paul Giamatti) is notable for having no real people in it whatsoever," writes the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "It's the kind of precious oddball whimsy that Sundance used to take to the bank and that here reaches a thundering dead end."

Updated through 1/26.

"File [Pretty Bird] under Fascinating Failure, and mark Schneider down as a talented eccentric who needs someone a little more grounded, à la David Gordon Green, to prevent him from escaping Earth's atmosphere," writes Mike D'Angelo at ScreenGrab.

Don't write it off completely, argues Scott Weinberg at Cinematical: "Worth seeing for Crudup, Giamatti and [David] Hornsby alone, the film also does a fine job of deflating a capitalist system that allows any old moron to make a quick buck. Toss in a typically amusing supporting turn from Kristen Wiig, and a few really unexpected plot contortions, and you've got a fine indie flick that's definitely worth a look."

David Carr observes Giamatti coping in Park City.

Update, 1/26: "Smart, sharp and lovely to watch, Pretty Bird... is all one can hope for from an actor making the transition to feature filmmaking," writes Steve Ramos at indieWIRE.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:44 AM

Sundance. Phoebe in Wonderland.

Phoebe in Wonderland "First time writer/director Daniel Barnz knocks it out of the park with Phoebe in Wonderland, an imaginative, layered tale about a young girl struggling to fit in and find her place," writes Kim Voynar at Cinematical. "Elle Fanning (younger sister of Dakota Fanning) stars as Phoebe, a nine-year-old girl who finds herself struggling against the conformity and rules around her. Phoebe is an intelligent and creative child with a passion for Alice in Wonderland."

"In a tour-de-force performance by Fanning (do the Fanning siblings do any less?) we see her deteriorate before our eyes but Barnz creates a Heavenly Creatures-like world in which she travels into as Phoebe finds solace in the Alice in Wonderland characters," writes Jason Guerrasio at Filmmaker. "As the film moves on fantasy overtakes reality leaving to a conclusion that many may feel is a little too campy but it's the journey you take to get there that's the thing that kept me into it."

"It's frustrating to see a movie come so close to articulating something specific and important about being the parent of a special needs child - or any child, really - and then retreat into broad strokes, out of fear of losing the audience," writes the AV Club's Noel Murray.

"The main reason to see Phoebe in Wonderland is for yet another astonishing Fanning performance," writes Mike D'Angelo at ScreenGrab. "How these little girls are able to summon such powerful reserves of fear and anguish and terror, I have no idea. I'm not really sure I want to know, to be honest."

The Reeler and indieWIRE talk with Barnz.

Online viewing tip. Zoom In Online's "Meet the Artists" video with Barnz.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:28 AM

Sundance. Choke.

Choke "The adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's novel Choke had its world premiere as a part of the the dramatic competition [Monday] evening at the Sundance Film Festival, and a packed audience of 600-plus were treated to a film that mixed Palahniuk's dark and acid conceits with a playfully sardonic tone and some terrific acting and craft," writes the Oregonian's Shawn Levy.

Updated through 1/30.

"[I]t concerns the misadventures of Victor (Sam Rockwell), sex addict, scam artist, colonial re-enactor, and momma's boy," writes the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "There are as many laughs as gasps of calculated shock in Choke, and everything to do with Victor's job at a historical theme park is blitheringly funny. The film loses focus, though, and eventually it loses its nerve, although always entertainingly."

"Palahniuk's blend of slapstick and social satire can play pretty heavy-handed on the page, but [director Clark] Gregg has transformed Choke into a light-hearted, filthy-minded farce loaded with delightful performances," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Rockwell slithers through the film with the self-mockery and self-loathing of a certified cad and lounge lizard, and Brad William Henke is especially good as his compulsive-masturbator best friend. (Don't miss Joel Grey, in a brief but marvelous cameo as the battered senior member of Rockwell's 12-step group.)"

"Clark Gregg sets himself a formidable task for his first feature effort: Adapting the manic, farcical, disturbing world of lit cult idol Chuck Palahniuk," writes Dennis Harvey in Variety. "Palahniuk's antic absurdism is duly present, but the hurtling pace and barely-underlying nihilism that transferred to screen so vividly in Fight Club aren't much in evidence here.... To be sure, certain narrative ideas and verbal tropes will still tickle tome's fans and may strike the gamely uninitiated as uproarious."

IndieWIRE interviews Gregg.

Online viewing tip. Zoom In Online's "Meet the Artists" video with Gregg.

Updates: "[A]fter a fantastically funny opening at a sex addict support meeting, Choke begins to slide, the gaps between laughs steadily grow and by film's end you're left wondering how something with so much potential could end up so ordinary," writes Steve Ramos at indieWIRE.

"The performances are solid and kudos are in order to Gregg for directing a varied cast," writes Mike Raffensperger at Zoom In Online. "Rockwell nails the conflicted, tacitly hostile yet still lovably scruffy demeanor of Victor. Anjelica Huston who plays Ida, Victor's mother, embodies the ubiquitous eccentric aunt archetype perfectly but punches it up to just the right amount of crazy.... When all is said and done, Choke is an enjoyable, albeit twisted, romp birthed from the work of one of America's freshest and uniquely talented novelists. Apparently, Fox Searchlight agrees as they picked the film up for distribution for a cool $5 million."

Update, 1/28: Online viewing tip. David Poland lunches with Rockwell and Huston.

Update, 1/30: For the IFC's Alison Willmore, Choke "demonstrates that without an audacious filmmaker behind them, most of [Palahniuk's] ideas don't seem more remarkable than any in the average Sundance quirk-off. Not that Choke isn't amusing, salacious and halfway touching, but its elements of working in a colonial-themed tourist attraction, pretending to choke in restaurants so that strangers will take an interest in you and picking up women at sex-addition group meetings do blend into the festival's other offerings of abused agoraphobic porn addicts and orphaned professional suicide note writers."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:22 AM | Comments (1)

Sundance. The Merry Gentleman.

The Merry Gentleman "Various critics I respect wandered out into the near-zero cold after the Eccles Center premiere of The Merry Gentleman complaining about [Michael] Keaton's technical limitations as a filmmaker, so I can only presume they exist," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "But I felt tremendously grateful for the stillness and quietness of Keaton's picture, its ominous, anonymous American atmospherics and its reticent refusal to open its characters and story to us beyond a certain point, especially considering it's a movie about - wait for it - a suicidal hit man!"

"Latest addition to the resurgent hitman genre sees Keaton, in a very enigmatic role, gentlemanly yielding acting honors and the lion's share of screen time to the ever-impressive Kelly Macdonald," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "Macdonald alone provides the film with a raison d'etre, but another one is the way the picture is composed visually. Keaton and cinematographer Chris Seager... worked out a way to shoot the action that can best be described as discreet. Scenes are observed quietly, with thoughtfulness and tact embedded into the luminous, highly textured imagery. The subtly dynamic camera style represents a rarified pleasure, perhaps, but emerges as the film's most distinctive achievement."

At Cinematical, Scott Weinberg finds it "a deliberately paced (some might say 'slow') crime drama that brings a strange sense of warmth, dark humor, and even some odd romance to a potentially dreary tale.... But what a pleasure it is to see Michael Keaton back on the big screen again, and the veteran actor does a fantastic job on both sides of the camera."

In the New York Times, David M Halbfinger talks with Keaton about how, at the last minute, he came to direct "his first feature with one unproven star, a shoestring budget, just five weeks of prep time and a shoot lasting all of 25 days."

Online viewing tip. Salon's Andrew O'Hehir interviews Keaton.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:12 AM

Sundance. Blind Date.

Blind Date "If you're a big fan of Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, then I have some potentially good news: the actors' latest film consists of little more than the two of them... sitting in a bar... talking... for about 80 minutes," writes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "And since these are a pair of exceedingly fine actors, the experience of Blind Date is not what you'd call unpleasant - but it sure isn't all that exciting."

Updated through 1/28.

"This is a claustrophobic, deliberately anti-realistic picture about a middle-aged married couple (Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) who are so seriously estranged in the aftermath of tragedy that they adopt various unconvincing personas and go on dates as if they've just met," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Like Steve Buscemi's Interview, which premiered here last year, Blind Date is an adaptation of a film by the late Dutch director Theo van Gogh (who was infamously murdered by an Islamic extremist, an irrelevant but irresistible fact). Both are exercises in nihilism and/or misanthropy set in an artificial nowhere-space, and much as Tucci and Clarkson pour their estimable talents into Blind Date - it has many moments of delicacy, humor and wrenching, unbearable loss - there's only enough oxygen in the film to support a chilly little flame that flickers a little before going out."

Sara Cardace talks with Tucci for New York's Vulture.

Update, 1/25: Online viewing tip. At Zoom In Online, a "Meet the Artists" interview with Tucci.

Update, 1/28: "Blind Date makes the case that serious melodrama is not Tucci's strong suit as a storyteller," writes Steve Ramos at indieWIRE.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:02 AM

Sundance. Downloading Nancy.

Downloading Nancy "Sundance Festival Director Geoff Gilmore introduced Downloading Nancy as 'the most intense film of the festival,'" notes Erik Davis at Cinematical. "Not only is he absolutely right, but it's also powerful, emotional, overwhelming and, most importantly, extremely uncomfortable. God bless whoever takes a chance on this film and attempts to market it, honestly, to a mass audience, because Downloading Nancy is a sick and twisted rollercoaster ride that climbs fast and drops slowly... leaving you plenty of time to absorb its raw insanity along the way."

Updated through 1/30.

"The film was shot by legendary cinematographer Christopher Doyle (Wong Kar-wai's frequent collaborator) in various shades of cadaver-dishwater gray and blue," notes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "[Maria] Bello's skin-peeling, ultra-depresso performance is wrenching and brave, calling for both emotional and physical nakedness. Can a film with those attributes also be insulting garbage? It's a difficult aesthetic-philosophical conundrum, but having sat through this damn thing I now have an answer."

"A forbidding and morbid piece of psycho-sadomasochism, Downloading Nancy is chilly enough to cause global cooling all by itself," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "Built around a swimming-in-the-deep-end performance by Maria Bello that is the definition of fearless, this first feature by big-deal Swedish commercials and music vid helmer Johan Renck feels like a walk-on-the-wild-side Euro entry rather than anything that would normally come out of the Amerindie movement. Commercial prospects, at least Stateside, are below zero."

"Downloading Nancy is one of those films that goes beyond in its pretentious efforts to top some of the worst Sundance bad habits," writes David Poland. "At first, I just thought it was going to be the Actress Over The Top Where's My Indie Spirit Award film. But that is actually insulting to those films, which generally fail in their goals, but at least make a game effort."

IndieWIRE interviews Renck.

Updates, 1/26: "This is not only the best film at Sundance this year, it provides insight into where you might be headed if you don't start fighting for yourself," declares Jesse Hawthorne Ficks at Pixel Vision.

"The energy of the film belongs entirely to Bello, who shows dimensions of sadness she's never revealed to audiences until now," writes Ryan Stewart at In the Company of Glenn.

Update, 1/30: "This is a grim film from beginning to end, but it's not without its merits," writes Rob Davis for Paste. "And yet I wish I understood how or why things came to this and knew more about the rope whose end Nancy has reached. I wish I'd been able to slip into the head of one of the characters, past the abraded skin and vibrating skull and into the hurting brain, but the psychobabble offered no entry, nor did the 'Inspired by True Events' title that appeared at the end, thumbing its nose at anyone who'd been thinking, 'Right. Give me a break.'"

Posted by dwhudson at 8:55 AM

Sundance. Sugar.

Sugar "No one-hit wonders, Half Nelson writer-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have created another stunning, subtle achievement with Sugar, a deeply resonant story about a Dominican baseball talent recruited for America's minor leagues," writes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE. "If Half Nelson showed off the duo's skillful attention to character, verite camerawork and progressive politics in their native Brooklyn, Sugar proves they are just as adept working on a wider canvas, away from home."

Updated through 1/30.

"[I]'s a resplendent fuck-you to overwrought sophomore expectations: it has a cast of mostly unknowns, much of it's in Spanish, and it is, unapologetically, a baseball movie, albeit one about the dingier parts of the pro game that don't often make it to screen," writes Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog. "Not even romance gets romanticized in film as much as baseball, but Sugar is adamantly naturalistic, using its main character's journey to brush on themes of race and globalism with the lightest of touches."

"[Algenis Perez] Soto is an absolute delight as Sugar: handsome, charming and with a killer smile, he's in every scene and carries practically the entire show," writes Kim Voynar at Cinematical. "Despite its backdrop of baseball, Sugar is more a coming-of-age tale than a sports movie, but the baseball scenes are incredibly shot; in fact, the entire film is just gorgeous, like a painting brought to life. Credit cinematographer Andrij Parekh (who also shot Half Nelson) for that. So many indie films lack that true artistry around looking beautiful on the screen. Boden and Fleck know what they're doing, and I'd expect we'll see many more films from this pair in the coming years. They're just warming up."

"Sugar's story takes some unexpected shifts in the last third of the film, but what's wonderful about Boden and Fleck's movie is that it never tries to psychoanalyze its protagonist, never inserts a helpful voice-over or an Anglo girlfriend to explain everything," writes Andrew O'Hehir. "Sugar's journey and destination just make sense, and if the hero of this tender and lovingly constructed film is a dignified young man who holds himself at a distance from us, we'll respect him all the more for it in the morning."

And by the way, Salon should not be all but hiding "Beyond the Multiplex."

Meantime, the Reeler talks with Fleck and Boden.

Online viewing tip. Zoom In Online's "Meet the Artists" video with Boden and Fleck.

Updates, 1/25: "It's one thing to get a great performance out of [Ryan] Gosling; it's something else entirely to guide an unknown like Mr Soto to find the emotional truth of his character, tears and a persuasive knuckleball included," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "It's a lovely turn that rides out a tricky drama all the way to a muted, wonderful finish that resists the usual sports-movie clichés."

Sugar is "the most realistic narrative film about baseball that I can ever remember seeing," writes Jason Guerrasio at Filmmaker, "part fish-out-of-water, part rags-to-riches, but always intriguing and at times heart wrenching to watch, whether you're a baseball fan or not."

Updates, 1/26: "Sugar lacks the tough edge of Half Nelson," writes Howard Karren at In the Company of Glenn. "But Boden and Fleck's beautifully polished style of filmmaking, with its low-key dramatics and pitch-perfect performances (often using baseball players and nonprofessionals as actors), more than makes up for it."

"Sugar offers an array of thoughts on the many variations of the American dream, the struggle of immigrants hoping to assimilate into American culture, the pressures facing professional athletes, and the allure of performance enhancing drugs," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "'I certainly hope it's bigger than just baseball,' Mr Fleck said on the night of the Sundance world premiere."

Update, 1/29: "It's a gorgeous film - subtle, observant, full of life - yet the surprise isn't how good it is but rather how true it rings," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice.

Update, 1/30: "Whether the end is a frustrating side-step or a personal triumph depends on whether you've taken the many opportunities for understanding Miguel that Boden and Fleck offer," writes Rob Davis for Paste. "I found it sublime."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:23 AM

Berlinale. Panorama, Forum. (+ Rotterdam.)

tip Berlinale Preview Another Berlinale lineup's complete now: "This year's Panorama will present 17 feature films in its main programme, 15 in Panorama Special and 18 in its Panorama Dokumente series. 31 of these films are world premieres and 17 directorial debuts."

"Forum expanded will accompany the Forum with exhibitions, films and video programs, performances, and discussions. More than fifty artists, filmmakers, musicians and performers are represented from over ten countries." And the Forum elaborates on ten "Special Screenings," featuring, among others, Václav Havel and Wolfgang Tillmans.

"Organised by the Berlinale in cooperation with the Frankfurt Book Fair for the third time, the event 'Breakfast & Books' enables representatives from publishing houses, literary agents and producers to meet for a pitching session, followed by breakfast together."

And the Berlinale's devoting a compact series to US films dealing with the Vietnam War, too.

"If it's true that the buzz must begin before a film hits its first big market, then Rotterdam - cleverly positioned from Jan 23 through Feb 3, just before Berlin and therefore the first major Euro fest of the year - holds an ideal spot," writes Jay Weissberg for Variety. "It's the old one-two punch, where pics lauded at Rotterdam drop into Berlin with their reputations already aglow." Via They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?

Posted by dwhudson at 6:52 AM | Comments (3)

Park City Dispatch. 6.

Blue Eyelids Brian Darr on one of the best films he's caught yet at Sundance.

Making my Sundance home base here in Salt Lake City has given me opportunities to see certain films before they've played 30 miles up the mountain in Park City, where buzz can become deafening. Yesterday evening I saw one such film: Blue Eyelids, which will have at least three Park City screenings over the festival's last few days. I took note of this debut feature from director Ernesto Contreras when it appeared on film scholar Sergio de la Mora's list of last year's best Mexican films, and I'm so glad I made sure to fit it into my schedule here.

Blue Eyelids is a tale, almost fable-like at times, of a loner (Cecilia Suárez) so isolated that when she wins a trip for two to a beach resort she invites along an equally solitary man (Enrique Arreola) who may or may not be a total stranger to her. Before heading on the vacation together, the pair go through the motions of falling in love but struggle to connect. They go on several dates: a picnic in which they each end up lost in their own thoughts, a movie date (the film-within-a-film they watch is also called Blue Eyelids) and a dancing date that turns into a near-disaster.

Each of these sequences blurs the separation between reality and an inner world by drawing our attention to the soundtrack. The recurring use of Dave Berry singing "This Strange Effect" reinforces the achingly melancholy mood Contreras has summoned up for his perhaps fundamentally dissociated characters. I'm not precisely sure what an occasionally reintroduced parallel plot about an elderly woman and her nurse means for the film overall, though I have my theories.

Blue Eyelids brings to mind Eric Rohmer's The Green Ray, if only for its middle class milieu and its use of a summer vacation as a metaphor for a wider condition. It may not be the masterpiece The Green Ray is, but it's among the best films I've seen at this festival so far.

-Brian Darr

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

Bookforum. Feb/Mar 08. (+ Atlantic.)

Bookforum Feb/Mar 08 "It's amazing to think that Paranoid Park the film originated as a novel, and it's even more amazing to think that the film is rather faithful to its source," writes Bilge Ebiri. Besides his engaging telling of the story behind the adaptation, there's little else in the new issue of Bookforum that's directly film-related. Even so, this'll probably be the highlight of my reading day; maybe yours, too.

If you begin at the beginning, that'll be James Wolcott's piece on Donald Barthelme, a Glenn Kenny favorite (and some day, I'll have to relate my own brush-with-greatness Barthelme story). How about an appetizer first, though: Barthelme's "The Rise of Capitalism," hand-picked from Jessamyn West's barthelmismo by wood s lot.

And course, there's much more essential reading in this issue; Nathan Heller's piece on Guy Debord's war board game, for example. In keeping with the decision made several issues back, it's all here, online, front to back.

In other welcome news, another magazine has decided that the best plug for the magazine is, in fact, the magazine. The Atlantic's site is freely accessible to all as of today: "Now, in addition to such offerings as blogs, author dispatches, slideshows, interviews, and videos, readers can also browse issues going back to 1995, along with hundreds of articles dating as far back as 1857, the year the Atlantic was founded."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:00 AM

January 23, 2008

Park City, 1/23.

Sundance 08 Peter Knegt relays one great Sundance moment.

"And on the fifth night, the wallets opened," writes David M Halbfinger in the New York Times.

"It happened maybe a day later than last year, but the acquisitions floodgates have opened a bit at the Sundance Film Festival." Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay has news and pointers; indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez has the names and the numbers.

"At the halfway point at this year's Slamdance Film Festival, few films have emerged as consensus favorites among festivalgoers," writes Brandon Harris for Filmmaker. "So far, the documentary competition seems to boast a much stronger roster of titles than the narrative side. Although it hardly qualifies as a market, in this year's of cautious buyers in Park City, no films have picked up significant sales buzz, the way The King of Kong did at last year's festival, where it sold to Picturehouse before it's first screening."

"Sundance ranks among the youngest of major film festivals, both in the average age of its filmmakers and of its attendees, which on the one hand makes it a reliable nexus of new filmmaking voices, and on the other makes it susceptible to more than its share of Salinger-lite exercises in adolescent naval-gazing," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice.

At Cinematical, Kim Voynar reports on the Women in Film panel - and she's got pix.

Stephen Garrett's blogging from Park City for Esquire.

Photos: Shawn Levy (more) and Ray Pride.

Online listening tip. Matt Singer and Alison Willmore assess the fest so far at IFC News.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:55 PM

Sundance. American Son.

American Son "Politics turn very personal in American Son, director Neil Abramson's standout drama about a young Marine (Nick Cannon) on leave before shipping off to Iraq," writes Steve Ramos at indieWIRE. "It's the Iraq War movie audiences have been waiting to see, one that reduces the Iraq debate to the conflicts of one man facing his decision to enlist and coming to terms with all that he may lose back home as a result.... Abramson has made quality films before, dramas Without Air and Defining Maggie, documentaries Bob Smith USA and Soldier Child but American Son... looks to bring him the attention he deserves."

"Really, though, this isn't an Iraq movie," pleads Mike D'Angelo at ScreenGrab. "Think of it more as 25th Hour with combat duty in lieu of prison. Nothing that happens, least of all Mike's 'character arc,' is especially revelatory, but the film boasts an immediacy and specificity that puts most of this year's other American indies to shame. It's a rare film in which you genuinely feel as if you've just been plunked down in the middle of a life in progress; every character, no matter how small or insignificant, seems to have an existence that extends beyond the requirements of that particular scene."

"What a thrill to watch a small story get told with a focused intensity that leaves you breathless and simply in awe of the power of watching actors give honest direct performance," writes Mike Ryan at Hammer to Nail. "Not one second of this film felt off or untrue... Hollywood hasn't done a realistic romance like this one in a very long time, if I were a distributor I would be on this film in a second."

"American Son is blessed with a powerful, honest screenplay by first-timer Eric Schmid, and Cannon - who has always been charismatic, if nothing else - displays a remarkable talent for drama," writes Eric D Snider at Cinematical. Abramson's "eye for real human drama helps make American Son a compelling picture."

"This is conventional dramatic material played with an occasionally heavy hand, but sculpted with care and quiet assurance," writes Justin Chang in Variety.

Online viewing tip. Zoom In Online's "Meet the Artists" video with Abramson.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:53 PM

4 Months..., 1/23.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days "Cristian Mungiu's Palme d'or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days is as good as you've heard - ravaging, provocative, deeply moving, and expertly crafted -but it may not be what you expect," writes Chris Wisniewski at indieWIRE. It's "a tense, riveting thriller (of a sort) that subtly evokes the experiences of women in a society that fiercely regulates their lives and bodies, often reducing them to commodities to be bought, sold, and bartered, no different at the extreme from the Kent cigarettes and orange Tic Tacs traded on the Bucharest black market."

Updated through 1/30.

"For all its long behavioral takes, 4 Months is remarkably unshowy," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Where [The Death of Mr Lazarescu] was an exceedingly dark comedy, 4 Months is a shockingly matter-of-fact horror film." Then, there's a second part to this piece in which Hoberman looks back on 2007 as "the year of the abortion - or perhaps we should say the abortion-not":

There can be no female agency in Knocked Up, Waitress and Juno - not because they are comedies, but because, in each scenario, unwanted pregnancy is the joke played (by God?) on the female lead. As the most successful of the preg protags, she who is Knocked Up is necessarily the most smacked down - the glass ceiling turns out to be Alison's own uterus. Jenna and Juno are less formidable, but unexpected fertility mocks their dreams of autonomy. All three are taught their place by their own bodies - and what's more, they learn to like it.

[...]

4 Months is too specific to suggest a tract, let alone an allegory. As I said, it's a thriller. In the most visceral sense, this is a movie about living with terror - political and biological. Like Knocked Up and the others, it's set in a world where unwanted pregnancies occur, and legal abortion is not an option.

"There is plenty here to fuel both sides of the abortion debate," writes Anthony Lane before divulging what some might consider a spoiler in his New Yorker review. "Yet this is not an issue movie. We are not being forced to vote, and the characters are defined less by any stated beliefs than by the moral texture of their actions."

"From Italian neorealism onward, every realistic film has been as much about the present as about the past," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "Hence, as I watched Mr Mungiu's work, I had the feeling that, thanks to its palpable location realism, certain aspects of Romanian life have not become idyllic in the two decades since the removal of the Communist overlords."

Earlier: Cannes, Toronto, New York, LA and 1/16.

Updates, 1/24: "It's momentously drab, obvious and guilt-inducing," writes Armond White in the New York Press of this "mystifyingly over-praised entry in what's being sold as the Romanian New Wave."

"4 Months isn't even about abortion; it's about the underground black economies which pop up when the command variety cease to function properly," argues the Reeler, adding that the film should end 20 minutes before it does.

Updates, 1/25: "[T]he camera doesn't follow the action, it expresses consciousness itself," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. 4 Months... is "a pitiless, violent story that in its telling becomes a haunting and haunted intellectual and aesthetic achievement." It "deserves to be seen by the largest audience possible, partly because it offers a welcome alternative to the coy, trivializing attitude toward abortion now in vogue in American fiction films, but largely because it marks the emergence of an important new talent in the Romanian writer and director Cristian Mungiu."

The House Next Door's going all out on this one with reviews from Keith Uhlich, Lauren Wissot and Steven Boone.

"It is a stroke of subtle inspiration that it is Otilia and not Gabita who is the focus of the story," writes Daniel Kasman. "Mungiu's evocation of the almost ever-present fear and guilt that invades every physical space of the film becomes all the more poignant and heartrending because it comes not from the most obvious sufferer but from one at the immediate periphery."

Mungiu "knows when to cut someone out of a frame and when to include them, and when he does decide to include something, you can't take your eyes from it," writes Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical. "In one scene, Otihttp://www.cinematical.com/2008/01/25/review-4-months-3-weeks-and-2-days-jeffreys-take/lia decides to look through the doctor's bag while he's in the other room, then fumbles to put everything back as he approaches. That's an ancient gambit - almost Hitchcockian - but Mungiu's single-frame, single-take approach adds freshness to it. That's the film's secret. Rather than asking why Gabita needs to go to a back-alley hotel-room doctor for help, it asks, more directly: will Gabita survive?"

"It's a riveting, wrenching, horrifying and beautifully told story," writes Marcy Dermansky.

Online listening tip #1. Mungiu and Anamaria Marinca are guests on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Online listening tip #2. David Edelstein on NPR.

Updates, 1/27: "4 Months unfolds like one of those street-level Dardenne brothers movies (Rosetta, L'Enfant), especially once Marinca has to hustle to secure the hotel or satisfy her self-centered boyfriend's request to attend his mother's birthday party," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "But just as often, Mungiu keeps the camera running for much longer than other directors would, usually in tight, constricting spaces where the audience can feel the characters' anxiety deepening."

"[T]his nonstop anxiety-fest could never be mistaken, as Lazarescu frequently was, for black comedy," writes Mike D'Angelo at Nerve.

Howard Feinstein talks with Mungiu for indieWIRE.

Update, 1/29: Online listening tip. Salon's Andrew O'Hehir talks with Mungiu.

Update, 1/30: Jason Shamai in the San Francisco Bay Guardian on the birthday dinner scene: "Stubbornly stationary, this sequence is as impressive as that famous kinetic take in Children of Men. And the subtleties of the conversation, together with a chillingly apropos conversation with her boyfriend shortly after (he's a massive shit, but is she also covering her bases?), prove the party to be less a dramatic contrast with the preceding events across town than a thickening of the septic social context in which those events occur. It is, as much as abortion, what the film is about."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:35 PM

Lawrence Weiner.

Lawrence Weiner Lawrence Weiner: As Far as the Eye Can See, an exhibition on view at the Whitney through February 10, "includes his foundational pseudo-syllogism Declaration of Intent (1969)," notes Ed Halter in the Voice, "which encapsulates his career-long modus operandi: '1. The artist may construct the work. 2. The work may be fabricated. 3. The work may not be built.' But for all his rejection of object-making, Weiner is no slouch behind the camera: During the past four decades, the artist has made over 30 videos and films, ranging from brief animations to feature-length cinematic productions. Presented in a generous Whitney-programmed series at Anthology Film Archives, Weiner's moving-image output continues his interest in forebrain language play, but reveals a more sensual, even unabashedly pervy side not seen elsewhere."

Updated through 1/24.

In the New York Sun, Bruce Bennett focuses on two of the films on offer, Passage to the North (1981) and: "Just as Mr Weiner's early painted propeller studies and 'shaped canvas' experiments were informed and influenced by the work of Jasper Johns and Frank Stella, A First Quarter [1973], which was produced under the auspices of New York's Leo Castelli Gallery, owes a stylistic debt to vanguard French filmmaking of the 60s."

The series opens today and runs through Tuesday.

Earlier this month, Christian Viveros-Fauné reviewed the Whitney exhibition for the Voice: "At the butt end of a decade-long spending spree, folks today are anxiously casting about for models - old and new - of creative austerity. To consider Weiner in this light is to see the work of this 65-year-old artist as what it is not: Hardly an aesthetic countermeasure, his books and sign paintings present instead the artistic equivalent of a hairshirt."

Lawrence Weiner will be "Talking Art" with John Slyce at the Tate Modern on February 2.

Update, 1/24: At the Reeler, Miriam Bale has a few recommendations. "Another selection worth seeing is the feature A Second Quarter (the last in an intended series of four); its gorgeous color cinematography consists of compositions so static that every movement within the frame is emphasized. The movie is the distillation of a feature film - any feature film - to the basics of its own rhythmic progression: a mysterious plot unfolds dramatically but is communicated solely through lists, question/answers and recitations of the alphabet."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:51 PM

On the Foreign Language Oscar nominees.

Oscar Besides 4 Months... and Persepolis, were any other worthy contenders for the Foreign Language Oscar overlooked? But of course. Ronald Bergan revisits a wide open field. A few notes follow.

As I was on the Fipresci jury at the Palm Springs International Festival, I must be one of the few people on earth who has seen almost all of the 63 submissions for the Foreign Language Film Oscar. I say this not to boast but to elicit pity. However, it makes me more qualified than most to judge the final round of Oscar nominees.

Because of its proximity to Los Angeles, the self-styled "movie capital of the world," it is a particularity of the Palm Springs Festival, now in its 19th year, to screen as many of the Foreign Language submissions as possible just prior to the announcement of the short list. Our jury of three had the unenviable task, with the help of DVDs sent to us a few weeks before the festival, to find a winner from the 53 submissions from countries ranging from Argentina to Vietnam. Unfortunately, only 10 percent were of a level worth considering.

Denias Most of the films were either too bad or too good to have any chance of winning an Oscar. One wonders what criteria were used by the committees of the countries in choosing their candidates. Some obviously had in mind what they believed to be the kind of film that the Academy goes for. Obviously this was the reasoning behind Indonesia's choice of Denias, Singing on the Cloud, a simplistic propagandist piece for the government, over the extraordinary Opera Jawa. It was sad also to watch the Philippines representative, Donsol, a crudely made film about white whale sharks, when they had an excellent gang film called Tribe at their disposal.

Presumably, Peru could come up with nothing better than Crossing a Shadow, a leaden biopic, with faint echoes of Fitzcarraldo, about a pioneering engineer (played by an actor who would have won a prize for the best moustache). Other disappointments were the submissions from India (a spectacular but conventional Bollywood melodrama entitled Eklavya: The Royal Guard), Norway (the unfunny misogynistic Gone With the Woman), Thailand (a 165-minute gory swordwielding saga, King of Fire - presumably they considered Syndromes and a Century too advanced for the Academy), Switzerland (a feel-good geriatric comedy called Late Bloomers), Iran (M for Mother, a sentimental soap opera lacking anything that one has come to admire in that country's cinema) and Colombia (Satanas, a distasteful episodic drama featuring a serial killer).

The Art of Crying The countries which came up with excellent films (maybe not their best) were Denmark (The Art of Crying, about a remorseful abusive father), Japan (I Just Didn't Do It, a gripping "Wrong Man" condemnation of the Japanese legal system and beyond), Bosnia (It's Hard To Be Nice, a delightfully sardonic view of the country, ably illustrating the title) and Turkey (Takva, A Man's Fear of God, a brave exposure of religious - Muslim - corruption). Hats off to Sweden for submitting Roy Andersson's quirky black comedy You, The Living, knowing (or not) that it would be too singular for the conservative Academy.

Although 4 Months, Three Weeks, Two Days (Romania), Persepolis (France), Belle Toujours (Portugal, because of the director, Manoel d'Oliveira) and Secret Sunshine (Korea) were among the cream of the crop in competition (Silent Light was not shown in Palm Springs), we decided that it would be somewhat pointless to add to the myriad plaudits they have received. (However, we presented acting awards to the two fine female leads in 4 Months, and to the hitherto overlooked Song Gang-Ho in Secret Sunshine.) We, therefore, presented the Fipresci prize to Armin, a Croatian movie directed by Ognjen Svilici, "because of its sensitive portrayal of a father and son relationship and the subtle intimations of unseen horrors, brilliantly evoked in a serio-comic manner."

Not surprisingly, the Academy has gone for content over style, the academic (they are the Academy Awards after all) over the innovative, the respectable over the adventurous - obtusely ignoring the far better films mentioned in the previous paragraph - the nominees being The Counterfeiters (Austria), Beaufort (Israel), Mongol (Kazakhstan), Katyn (Poland) and 12 (Russia).

-Ronald Bergan


You the Living "Roy Andersson and his tragicomedy about humankind, You, the Living, was the darling of [Monday] night's annual ceremony in Stockholm for the Guldbagge Awards, taking home the most prestigious statuettes for Best Film, Best Director and Best Script," reports Annika Pham for Cineuropa.

Over at the Evening Class, Michael Hawley looks back on the best European films he caught at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Earlier: James Van Maanen on Armin and his discussion with three of the Croatian directors represented in last fall's series, Beyond Boundaries: The Emergence of Croatian Cinema.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:30 PM | Comments (6)

Jeanne Moreau @ 80.

Jeanne Moreau The German press congratulates Jeanne Moreau on her 80th birthday: Michael Althen (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, lots of pix), Thomas Klein (film-dienst), Claudia Lenssen (die taz), Gerhard Midding (Die Welt) and Christina Tilmann (Die Tagesspiegel).

And in French, Libération.

For something in English, you might turn to Chris Wiegand's profile for the BBC.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:51 AM | Comments (2)

Sundance. Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?

Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden? "Perhaps the most anticipated documentary of this year's festival, Morgan Spurlock returns to Sundance with Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden, a follow up his 2004 debut, the piquant Super Size Me," writes Mike Raffensperger at Zoom In Online. "Thankfully, the film is about much more than a singular manhunt, evolving into a primer on the history of geopolitical affairs in the Middle East, particularly that of applied American foreign policy."

Updated through 1/25.

"Inspired by the impending birth of his first child, Spurlock hits upon one thing he can do to make the world a safer place for his yet-to-be-born offspring; find and capture Osama bin Laden," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "As Spurlock notes in his introduction, 'If I've learned anything from big budget action films, it's that complicated world problems are best solved by one lonely guy....' And while Spurlock may not actually answer the question of where, he actually tackles, with humor, probing wit and a certain grace, the much more important question of why."

In the Los Angeles Times, Patrick Day answers the question posed in the title and adds, "It may seem like I'm spoiling the movie, but I'm really not. Because as Spurlock himself discovers in his odyssey across the Middle East, Bin Laden the man is beside the point now. His ideas and followers have grown much larger than anything a single person could hope to harness and locating him would do nothing to stop the horrific tide of violence in that part of the world."

"We started with the intention of actually finding the man, but at the end of the story, of course it comes out that we didn't find him," Spurlock tells the New York Sun's S James Snyder. "But there are so many other answers here as to what helps create someone like Osama bin Laden, what pushes rational people to come to him with this idea of, 'If I strap myself with explosives, it will solve these problems.'" And Snyder adds: "Mr Spurlock, who uses an array of techniques to make Where in the World seem lighter in tone - from cartoon sequences to a subplot involving the birth of Mr Spurlock's first child to a mock-up of a video game that pits a digitized Mr Spurlock against a digitized Mr bin Laden - said he believes his more humorous approach to the subject matter will have a better chance of connecting with audiences that have thus far ignored a wave of Iraq-based documentaries and dramas."

"[Y]ou'd assume he knew nothing about the War on Terror - which should make pic very appealing for those who know nothing about the War on Terror," writes John Anderson in Variety.

Updates, 1/24: "As Super Size Me proved, Spurlock is no journalist; rather, he is a direct activist with a camera who tries to use his platform to engage audiences in an age where the blizzard of technology and information causes people to lose sight of one basic truth." Jeremy Kay talks with him for the Guardian.

"Comparisons to Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 are well deserved," writes Kevin Buist at the SpoutBlog. "Both rely heavily on darkly comic animated history lessons about the underbelly of American foreign policy. These segments are very entertaining, but also frustratingly simple."

Online listening tip. James Rocchi talks with Spurlock for Cinematical.

Update, 1/25: "I wearied of the director's 'Global Politics for Dummies' schtick long before he did," writes the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "There are some laughs and a few insights, but mostly I found myself wanting a good policy wonk to put things in perspective."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:13 AM

Doc.

Doc "As exhaustively, rather sycophantically chronicled at the outset of Doc, Harold 'Doc' Humes knew everyone (Baldwin, Duchamp, Dietrich, Ornette Coleman, Timothy Leary) and did everything," writes Nathan Lee in the Voice.

"Lovingly assembled by Mr Humes's daughter Immy Humes and jam-packed with interviews with notable 20th-century cultural figures (including George Plimpton, Norman Mailer, William Styron and Timothy Leary), Doc is one part cultural analysis, three parts home movie," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times. "Mr Humes, who was born in 1926 and died in 1992, came of age in Paris during the 1950s. He wrote the politically radical novels The Underground City and Men Die; helped create the New American Cinema Group with Jonas Mekas and others; founded the Paris Review with Mr Plimpton and Peter Matthiessen; advocated massage and marijuana; designed a fireproof, waterproof paper house; and gave lectures to anyone, anywhere, at the drop of a hat."

Updated.

"The stylistic success here is so great that it's easy to lose sight of the film's central figure, a brilliant and inventive (and perhaps slightly insane) figure with a mind as divergent and curious as the construction of the film itself," writes Rob Humanick in Slant.

"The renewed attention to Mr Humes is no doubt aided by the growing interest in American writing of the 1940s and 50s, and a better understanding of the mental instabilities that can stall a creative career," writes Celia McGee in the NYT. "But also intriguing to many is the documentary's revelation of a CIA connection to the history of the Paris Review. In the film, Mr Matthiessen, best known as a novelist, environmental activist and advocate of American Indian rights, admits publicly for the first time that he was a young CIA recruit at the time he helped start the magazine, and used it as his cover.... Some critics belonging to a younger generation have discerned in Mr Humes's behavior and beliefs the seeds of the 60s and 70s counterculture. One, Alan Cheuse, also finds in Mr Humes's writing early intimations of what he has called the 'paranoiac fiction' of Thomas Pynchon."

Updates: "While complaining about earnest but hopelessly underwhelming documentaries is as effectual as candlelight vigils for world peace, Immy Humes (Oscar-nominated for a 1991 documentary short) earns a few extra words of condemnation for not even bothering to get a tripod," writes the Reeler. In short, "Doc is a collection of reasonably amusing anecdotes in search of relevance."

"The destructive swath that Doc Humes's insanity and narcissism cut through his family, we learn, was in the end balanced by the piercing intelligence that he freely shared and doggedly worked to awaken in those brave enough to stick with him through the paranoia, chemical misadventures, scarring object lessons, and manipulative freeloading," writes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "The film's coda discovery about the veracity of Doc's later-life delusions is too deliciously ironic to describe in detail, other than to say that it gives sobering new weight to Woody Allen's old joke that 'paranoia is knowing all the facts.' It ends this fine film on an exuberant, exasperating, and crusading note that perfectly befits its subject."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:55 AM

January 22, 2008

Heath Ledger, 1979 - 2008.

Heath Ledger
The actor Heath Ledger was found dead this afternoon in an apartment building at 421 Broome Street in SoHo, according to the New York City police. Mr Ledger was 28....

Mr Ledger, a native of Perth, Australia, won acclaim for his role as a co-star in Brokeback Mountain, a 2005 film.... Reviewing the film in the New York Times, the critic Stephen Holden wrote, "Mr Ledger magically and mysteriously disappears beneath the skin of his lean, sinewy character. It is a great screen performance, as good as the best of Marlon Brando and Sean Penn."

Mr Ledger met the actress Michelle Williams while filming Brokeback Mountain. The two actors fell into a very public romance. They had a daughter, Matilda Rose, who was born on Oct 28, 2005. They moved to Brooklyn, but then separated last year.

Sewell Chan, New York Times.

Updated through 1/24.

Updates, 1/23: "He was what we call in Australia a bloke, a guy who could rough it and wasn't given much to talking," writes Belinda Luscombe, who interviewed Ledger for Time in 2005. "Ledger was very serious about his work, trying to forge a path like that of Sean Penn or Jack Nicholson, trying to walk the line between what the studios wanted him to be (a romantic hero such as those he played in 10 Things I Hate About You and A Knight's Tale, his first two big hits) and the more renegade figures he was drawn to (Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain, the iconic Australia outlaw in Ned Kelly or the junkie in Candy)."

For indieWIRE, Peter Knegt reports on how the news hit Park City; and quotes a few statements, including one from Todd Haynes, who directed Ledger in I'm Not There: "This is an unimaginable tragedy. Heath was a true artist, a deeply sensitive man, an explorer, gifted and wise beyond his years. There is no finer person on this earth."

Cinematical contributors offer their thoughts.

"For every one person that ever gave two shits about Ledger as a friend, peer, or admirer of his work on-screen, there's a hundred that just need their tragicomic celebrity scoops, and another thousand that, truth be told, just want the tragedy," writes Ted Z.

"In eight years doing the job, I've never had to write about something as purely and genuinely miserable as this," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "Without going into Diana-style rhetoric, I can hardly think of a newsflash which would really shock me more. Heath Ledger - the name is short for 'Heathcliff' - is an actor who had grown in stature, in sensitivity, in feeling and in creative intelligence. We had all watched him transform himself from the likeable young dude who played the bad boy teen in 10 Things I Hate About You to the tragic cowboy Ennis Del Mar in Ang Lee's magnificent Brokeback Mountain, who movingly discovers that the love of his life is a man. His stunningly persuasive transformation from young hunk to lonely old man in that film really was remarkable. His director, Ang Lee, called him a young Brando."

"He had just begun work on the Terry Gilliam fantasy The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus, leaving the state of that project (and its seemingly cursed director) in temporary limbo," notes Bill Gibron at PopMatters. As for The Dark Knight, "Now, its name is nuclear."

"It is hard to know exactly when Mr Ledger discovered his range, and set about trying to explore it, but it is clear that he covered a lot of ground in a very short time," writes AO Scott in the NYT: "He had a taste for portraying troubled, brooding, self-destructive young men, it's true... but the temptation to blend their fates with Mr Ledger's own should be resisted at all costs. Those roles should be seen less as expressions of some imagined inner torment than as evidence of resourcefulness, creative restlessness and wit.... Mr Ledger's work will outlast the frenzy. But there should have been more. Instead of being preserved as a young star eclipsed in his prime, he should have had time to outgrow his early promise and become the strange, surprising, era-defining actor he always had the potential to be."

"Heath Ledger's death is particularly poignant to me because he is, like yours truly, 28 years old," writes Reihan Salam in the American Scene. "My generation will, I suspect, be the last human generation in either a very good way (we will transcend our limitations, we will live incredibly long lives, we will expand our moral imaginations, and in the process we will become something better than human) or in a very bad way (we will all be killed by nanite goo). So I hate the thought of any one of us biting the dust and missing the adventure to come, though of course that is as it must be."

Via Andrew Sullivan, who points to another appreciation by Rex Wockner and adds, "Gay men responded to Ledger and not just because he was surpassingly handsome. He really inhabited a dark place many of us escaped from, and he evoked it with enormous restraint and integrity. The darkness clearly haunted him, but he turned it into a thing of beauty and redemption. For a while."

"Focus Features CEO James Schamus, who worked with Ledger on Brokeback Mountain, today remembered him thusly: 'Heath Ledger was a courageous actor, and a great soul. He gave us the gift of sharing his fearless and beautiful love - of his craft, and of all who worked with him - for which all of us will be eternally grateful.'" FilmInFocus sets up a page where people can post their memories and/or thoughts.

Updates, 1/24: "Ledger's death illustrates the unusually intimate relationship the public has with movie stars," writes Joe Queenan in the Guardian. "This generation-spanning affection for actors can also be explained by the fact that no matter how reclusive and mysterious the star may be, the public feels that it knows him or her."

"It's difficult for me to write anything about Heath Ledger, still, without reflecting on the awfulness of the old-and-new media circus surrounding his death, and I suppose that while spitting out a little bit of my anger could be useful (at least to me and those of similar inclination), harping on it would have me ending up as self-righteous as anybody on the never-heard-of-him/who-cares-about-self-destructive-celebrities side of the fence," writes Glenn Kenny. "And as exercises in futility go, counseling the world that it ought to keep its yap shut until all the facts are in is a noble one, but it's an exercise in futility nonetheless."

"It will be depressing to see the inevitable cult of martyrdom and glam fatalism that's formed around male stars from James Dean to River Phoenix build a fresh shrine around Heath Ledger," writes Dennis Harvey at SF360. "But not half so depressing as the simple fact that we had so much yet to anticipate from him."

Nathaniel R: "It comes to this: I didn't realize that I was as attached to Heath Ledger as I was. But I understood this morning that it all goes back to Brokeback Mountain. Something about that movie settled deep inside me. I feel protective towards all involved. It must be part of the reason that I keep writing about Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal. It's why I feel all warm inside when I see Ang Lee smile. It's why I perked up so much when Michelle Williams wafted into frame in I'm Not There looking and feeling nothing like Alma Del Mar. It's why."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:19 PM | Comments (4)

Sundance. Secrecy.

Secrecy "This is a strong, probing essay that asks necessary questions," writes the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris, offering a quick take on Secrecy. "Its biggest intellectual shortcoming is that, while the movie has no shortage of proof of how secrecy is corrosive, it provides little positive evidence to support the assertion that more transparency is ultimately better for us. Regardless, it's a movie worth talking about."

Updated through 1/26.

"Directors Peter Galison and Robb Moss don't attempt to hide their belief that the US's government's increasing obsession with classification does more harm than good, and is being used today primarily as a means for the executive branch to avoid accountability," writes Mike D'Angelo for ScreenGrab. "To their credit, however, they also give ample screen time to former CIA and NSA employees, who make a strong case for the opposing viewpoint - so strong, in fact, that I left the movie feeling as if the problem might be inherently insoluble."

"Galison and Moss have found a group of well-spoken people on both sides of the classify/don't classify argument, and listening to them explain themselves is both enlightening and entertaining," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club.

Galison and Moss introduce their film to Filmmaker readers.

IndieWIRE interviews Galison.

Update, 1/26: "The film's a balanced polemic (no, that's not a paradox) about our government's rapidly growing fetish for hiding information from its citizens; you can actually feel the movie focusing your understanding of the issues as you watch," rites the Boston Globe's Ty Burr.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:23 PM

Sundance. Patti Smith: Dream of Life.

Patti Smith: Dream of Life "Is Patti Smith: Dream of Life, which premiered here last night, actually a documentary?" asks Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "I don't think so, and I don't think the film's director, Steven Sebring, or the film's subject/inspiration/creative collaborator Ms Smith do, either.... Some of it doesn't work but most of it does and as a whole, while it's not likely to win any converts, it's a spellbinder. But it's not a documentary, it's a document."

"The movie suggests a context for Smith's life and work, as she talks about carrying the torch of Walt Whitman and William Burroughs and passing it on to the next generation, and as she sits in cluttered rooms filled with all the accumulated artifacts that continue to define and inspire her," writes the AV Club's Noel Murray, but "the film never penetrates beyond how Smith chooses to define herself. And the paltry amount of live performances in Dream of Life is a crime."

"For me, the authenticity is in the way Sebring has captured (or emulated) the grit and textures of Smith's prose, and the fierce spiritual tension that her band music has always injected in one form or another," writes Jeffrey Wells.

IndieWIRE interviews Sebring.

Update: "Having not seen her for a while, the Bagger had forgetten her gifts as a shaman, the way she used movement - is it OK to say that she is a mighty fine dancer? - to bring a room to heel and then show it love."

Update, 1/23: In the Guardian, Francesca Martin reports on Smith's upcoming show at the Fondation Cartier in Paris: "It will include found objects, such as a stone taken from the river in which Virginia Woolf committed suicide, and Polaroids of cutlery belonging to the writer Arthur Rimbaud, Jimi Hendrix's guitar, and slippers once worn by the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, Smith's former lover. Also on display will be a total of 250 Polaroids, 25 drawings and film extracts, alongside examples of Smith's collaborative work, including The Coral Sea, a prose elegy Smith wrote in 1996 in memory of Mapplethorpe, set to music with former My Bloody Valentine leader Kevin Shields."

Update, 1/30: "[W]hereas I viewed [Kurt Cobain: About a Son] as both death poem and a film about absence, Dream of Life - a film about continuing in the face of absence - is almost its mirror image," writes AJ Schnack. "While the first hour of the film was a complete success for me, it felt to me as if the film goes off the rails in the third act."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:55 PM

Sundance. Diary of the Dead.

Diary of the Dead "In a stark departure from the storytelling in his legendary films Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead and the more recent Land of the Dead, [George A] Romero takes a page from Cannibal Holocaust and The Blair Witch Project in that what we see on screen is 'footage' filmed by a character in the film," writes Charlie Prince, reviewing Diary of the Dead for Cinema Strikes Back. "The allegory is most evident in the main character, Jason. Jason begins by insisting on filming his friends throughout their fears and trauma, which of course prompts us in the audience to side with Jason’s friends in thinking 'now is not the time to make a movie.' But Romero quickly makes clear that he is moving beyond the standard use of this as a plot device... and is instead inserting a surreal element to the story to make a point - in fact, the insistence on filming is the point."

Updated.

"In traditional Romero fashion, guts are spilled, necks are bitten, brains are splattered, and a mirror is held up to America," writes Jim Rohner at Zoom In Online. "Before I go on, let me just elaborate on how much it pains me to talk ill of Romero: he is my filmmaking idol, my inspiration, the reason I became interested in cinema. Criticizing his work is like Bogdanovich criticizing Welles, Oasis bringing down the Beatles, Stephen King bad-mouthing Lovecraft. But there comes a point in every director's life where his craft begins to slip, even if it's a craft he practically created."

"The film is filled with some of the most inventive zombie deaths this side of the UK and has a friendly sense of humor to go along with its deeply cynical view," writes Jesse Hawthorne Ficks at Pixel Vision.

Online viewing tip. Joe Swanberg and Ronnie Bronstein meet Romero.

Earlier: Reviews from Toronto.

Update: Online listening tip. Kevin Buist at the SpoutBlog: "In this interview stars Michelle Morgan and Shawn Roberts talk about the mood on set, not knowing if their characters will undergo zombification, and their favorite zombie flicks."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:54 PM

Sundance. The Great Buck Howard.

The Great Buck Howard "One might not expect a sweet, funny and warm-hearted crowd-pleaser from the man who wrote movies like Sexual Roulette, Sonic Impact and Venomous, but I guess filmmaker Sean McGinly has spent the last eleven years churning out schlock flicks just so he could get to something good," writes Scott Weinberg. "And I'm very pleased to report that his newest offering, a smoothly, strongly appealing comedy called The Great Buck Howard, is definitely the 'big break' that McGinly's been working for. Backed by a fantastic performance by John Malkovich - and some really fine work from young actors Colin Hanks and Emily Blunt - The Great Buck Howard might be the most affectionate look back at old-school entertainment since Peter O'Toole boozed his way through My Favorite Year."

Updated through 1/24.

Also at Cinematical, James Rocchi talks with Hanks and Blunt.

"In the last few years, there have been a few movies set within the world of magic and illusion," notes Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay. "The best of these, like Neil Burger's The Illusionist, makes the craft of the film's magician character integral to the story. The Great Buck Howard deals with magic's sister art of mentalism, which, due to the work of performers like Derren Brown, is experiencing something of a revival these days.... But The Great Buck Howard doesn't have any insights into the art, and, considering that mentalism deals with issues of psychology, personality and influence, the film's inability to use this subject matter to create more dramatic situations for its characters is pretty disappointing."

"A smoothly turned-out entertainment centered around an Amazing Kreskin-style mentalist comes down with an unfortunate case of the warm-and-fuzzies," writes Justin Chang in Variety. "[W]riter-director Sean McGinly's decision to frame the story as a relationship movie, as Buck's impressionable young assistant deals with some very familiar life issues, tilts the comic seesaw toward sentiment over satire."

Update, 1/24: "Despite Malkovich, The Great Buck Howard still manages to deflate itself to mediocre sketch comedy at nearly every turn," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "McGinly's efforts to spoof both trendoid celebrity culture and the bush-league entertainment circuit are broad and obvious, and Buck, by far the most interesting character, is never really the center of the story."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:45 AM

Sundance. Sleep Dealer.

Sleep Dealer "Synthesizing the concerns of third world with elements of mainstream sci-fi films like Kathryn Bigelow's Strange Days and David Cronenberg's Existenz and a touch of William Gibson's futuristic cynicism, Sleep Dealer, Alex Rivera's long awaited directorial debut premiered last night at Sundance to a mostly appreciative audience, although this particular critic was left cold by the film's lack of urgency and it's simplistic take on the challenges of globalization," writes Brandon Harris.

"In some ways an independent, Spanish-language version of The Matrix, Sleep Dealer posits that the technology that helps make the world a global community will also enslave its less fortunate," writes John Horn in the Los Angeles Times. "In Rivera's story, laborers in Mexico are able to connect electronically to work sites in the United States via wires plugged into nodes installed on their bodies. So when a worker moves his arm, for example, a robot arm moves 2,000 miles away. 'Human labor will never disappear,' says Rivera. 'For every technical advance we see, there is someone, somewhere, who is building it - a ghost in the machine.'"

"Sleep Dealer is a film with lofty dramatic aspirations, an ambitious visual palette and a folksy heart," writes Steve Ramos in indieWIRE. "To their credit, Rivera and co-writer David Riker have come up with something unique and yet engaging; the nervy combination of social politics with future shock storytelling. While Sleep Dealer sometimes skips a narrative beat, it's a fantastic journey."

IndieWIRE interviews Rivera.

Update, 1/23: The Reeler interviews Rivera.

Updates, 1/26: IndieWIRE's Peter Knegt reports that Sleep Dealer has won this year's Alfred P Sloan Prize.

"Much of Sleep Dealer resonates with multiple metaphors, both political and aesthetic," writes Howard Karren at In the Company of Glenn. "Rivera, a first-born American of Mexican heritage, rarely sees anything in simple terms." As for the Prize, "The foundation cash heaps on a bit more irony, which is probably apt: Sloan was a GM corporate baron and a union buster."

Update, 1/28: "Rivera and co-screenwriter David Riker have come up with an arresting vision, one that's teeming with cruelty condoned for the sake of capitalism," writes Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog. "The film's weakness is the story that carries us through it."

Update, 1/30: "It is films like Sleep Dealer that give hope for Sundance's future," writes B Ruby Rich in the Guardian. "Rivera revives the promise of an American independent cinema that can intervene in our world, imagine the worst, hope for the best - and entertain like mad along the way."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:10 AM

Oscars. Nominations.

Oscar What a fine day for Cate Blanchett. So the Academy's announced its nominations for this year's round of Oscars. Of course, it's still up in the air as to what sort of show there'll be on February 24.

Meantime, as commentary rolls out, I'll gather pointers here.

Updated through 1/24.

Updates: "Whether the eight nominations for both PT Anderson's There Will Be Blood and the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men lead to Oscar night payoffs is another thing altogether, but for today the two best films of 2007 received their just deserts," writes Ted Z.

A "lot of prognosticators had left Paul Thomas Anderson off the list of director nominees until fairly recently. I can't say enough good things about how well Paramount Vantage and Miramax have handled this release," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. Blood "is as least as difficult a film as Jesse James, but they've truly managed to sell it as must-see for grown-ups."

"The noms yielded a bunch of surprises, some pleasant (Viggo Mortensen for Eastern Promises - awesome; Tamara Jenkins for The Savages in original screenplay, well done) others not so much (Lars and the Real Girl for original screenplay wins, hands down, my 'Are You F**kin' Kidding Me' award, especially given that I was hoping for a Darjeeling Limited nod in screenplay)." And Premiere's Glenn Kenny has a few other angles as well.

Joe Leydon is "especially happy to see Ellen Page among the Best Actress finalists - shameless plug: I have an interview with her in the new issue of MovieMaker - and Tommy Lee Jones getting the attention he deserves for the criminally under-rated In the Valley of Elah."

Vulture explains why Jonny Greenwood's Blood soundtrack was kept out of the running - and notes who else got snubbed. More commentary.

"How did my picks fare?" Gabriel Shanks runs down the list.

Nathaniel R's "Tues Top Ten" this week: "Oscar Nomination Talking Points."

More commentary from Alonso Duralde at MSNBC.

For Jim Emerson, the best nomination's the one for Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter Kurland - "and un-nominated co-conspirator, Carter Burwell - for sound in No Country for Old Men."

Dennis Cozzalio comments on the list.

More from Nick Davis.

"Seriously, Atonement?" asks Kim Masters at Slate.

The Boston Globe's Wesley Morris assesses the races.

Updates, 1/23: "Why not just change the name, from the Oscars to the Independent Spirit Awards?" asks Time's Richard Corliss.

More thoughts: Ray Bennett, Peter Chattaway, Aaron Dobbs and Bob Turnbull.

Updates, 1/24: Ross Douthat weighs in on "The Good," "The Bad" and, yes, "The Ugly."

"Let's take a moment to honor some of the people who will have to content themselves with asking Marty how it feels to hold one." An annotated list from Phil Nugent at ScreenGrab.

"The announcement of the Academy Award nominations is always the saddest day of the year, not because the voters' choices are lousy (although they tend to be) but because so many worthy movies suddenly lose their luster," writes David Edelstein. "The biggest omission is Frank Langella for Starting Out in the Evening - proof, if any were needed, that the Academy Awards is not a meritocracy."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:52 AM | Comments (2)

Park City Dispatch. 5.

Brian Darr on the highlights of this year's Animation Spotlight at Sundance.

Lapsus Not only has one of the shorts in this Sundance's Animation Spotlight the audacity to channel the spirit of the Chuck Jones masterpiece Duck Amuck, but it actually turns out to be worthy to stand in its self-reflexive shadow. Lapsus, made by Argentine animator Juan Pablo Zaramella, is funny, elegant, and very aware of animation as an arena where an artist can make up laws of nature (or seem to) as he or she goes along. It's a 4-minute monochromatic piece about a nun with an amusing mantra, but revealing much more is liable to spoil the surprises and/or the laughs. What I will say is what Zaramella said about the film's title in the Q&A after the program: that it's Latin for an unconscious error. It would be a Lapsus to let this one slip by you if you've got a chance to see it.

The Animation Spotlight program this year is somewhat stronger, if more consistently macabre, than last year's edition. No one film bowled me over quite as forcefully as last year's Everything Will Be OK, but by the end of the afternoon I was bowled over all the same. Some absolutely terrific titles more technically ambitious than Lapsus include The History of America, Yours Truly and Madame Tutli-Putli. And every selection in the program has something to recommend it. Chonto has a hilarious deadpan voiceover narration. For the Love of God has a singularly depressing worldview. Dog has brevity, The Pearce Sisters has a great sense of atmosphere, and 1977 has me scratching my head to figure out exactly what I was watching. (I think I liked it...)

Madame Tutli-Putli

Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski's Madame Tutli-Putli surely deserves an Oscar nomination in the animated short category, and by the time you read this you'll probably know whether it earned one or not. In addition to a fun, suspenseful story, this Canadian film is a compendium of classic locomotive film references; there's an Arrival of a Train, Strangers on a Train, and a Great Train Robbery, for starters. But it's also a beautifully seamless combination of traditional stop-motion puppet animation with eye-popping computer-aided imagery.

I asked Osbert Parker, director of Yours Truly, if he was familiar with the films of Janie Geiser, and he assured me he wasn't. Nevertheless, Yours Truly shares a similar aesthetic to the likes of Immer Zu and The Fourth Watch, though with a slightly more straightforward narrative approach. Classic film noir cut-out images of Humphrey Bogart, Barbara Stanwyck and Dana Andrews are placed into a dark shadowbox world of nefarious plots, urgent messages, dizzying car chases, and horrifying revelations, to soundtrack excerpts from Max Steiner and Bernard Herrmann. If the noir cycle was the closest Hollywood came to unmasking the smiling sheen of Truman- and Eisenhower-era America, Yours Truly uses animation-only images (like vacuuming up bloodstains) to ask what might have been seen when peeling yet another layer.

The History of America

And then there's The History of America. There's no way I can do this one justice in a few sentences, but it's amazing, even when it doesn't seem to know when to stop. I'm glad it didn't. Forget Beowulf - this is the season's must-see epic of mayhem and mythology, also a live-action/animation technological mutt. The film chronicles this country's great battle between the forces of the cowboys and the astronauts - it wasn't so long ago, as you probably recall. But I'm sure you've never seen these landmark moments, like the astronauts' raid on the cowboys' fortress of Las Vegas, depicted with such vibrant color, exhilarating camera movements, and completely unrestrained imagination. Even President Elvis Presley himself would enjoy this one, I bet.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:57 AM

Agnès Varda.

Agnès Varda "In 1985's Vagabond, which won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and is still probably her masterpiece, [Agnès] Varda's affinity for the conceptual manifests itself both stylistically and thematically," writes Andrew Chan at the House Next Door. "But her career-long suspicion of any conclusive vérité that might be extracted from cinema makes for a film that revolves around ambiguities and questions rather than big statements."

Dennis Lim talks with Varda for the Los Angeles Times: "You're often called the mother of the French New Wave. Do you think that's an accurate label?" Varda: "Or even grandmother sometimes. It's fine with me."

Updated through 1/26.

"It is Ms Varda's eye that gives [La Pointe Courte] unity," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "Each of the carefully massed, densely textured black-and-white images (spectacularly reproduced by the Criterion DVD) seems to constitute an individual moment of grace, like Cartier-Bresson photographs with an added element of artful, dancelike movement. These are not self-effacing visuals designed to be subsumed by a narrative, but rather images meant to stand alone, generating stories of their own. With her enduring passion for puns, Ms Varda described this style as 'cinécriture' - implying a sort of writing with, rather than for, the filmed image. It is a style without parallel among her New Wave 'children' - or, effectively, anywhere else."

"[I]t's thrilling to confirm how many similarities Agnès Varda's celebrated Cléo from 5 to 7 shares with May Spils's overlooked classic Zur Sache, Schätzchen." Jürgen Fauth explains.

Update: "For audiences used to experiencing female martyrdom, either real or imagined, in this era of Lars Von Trier, Cléo from 5 to 7 is almost distractingly refreshing at every turn," writes Eric Henderson in Slant. "Varda's experimental impulse is more assured than Truffaut's, her fractures in time less abrasive than Resnais's. Just as Cléo's apartment is replete with bounding kittens, Varda's film itself is capricious and fully alive. All throughout, Varda deploys hints of artifice - starting with the fact that this supposed bit of real time cinema tells two hours in 90 minutes - that playfully dispel any hint of academicism that colors Godard's work. Varda is the supreme sensualist of the New Wave."

Update, 1/24: More from Andrew Chan at the House Next Door: Cléo from 5 to 7 and La Pointe Courte.

Update, 1/26: Jared Rapfogel on Criterion's set in Stop Smiling: "Even the usual making-of featurettes are of special interest since, thanks to her Godard-like dedication to the concept of film-criticism-through-filmmaking."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:57 AM | Comments (1)

January 21, 2008

Park City, 1/21.

Sundance 08 "With Sunday's announcement in Park City, the Cinema Eye Honors, a new award for nonfiction filmmaking that grew out of debate here over the Academy's shortlist in November, stands prepared to exist not as a counter-punch to another organization but as a new tradition within the nonfiction community and an important New York-based annual event for documentary excellence." AJ Schnack's got the list.

"So much for the sellers' market," writes David M Halbfinger in the New York Times. "The Sundance Film Festival's opening weekend, often the setting for rapturous audience reactions and frenzied all-night bidding wars, drew to a close looking more and more like a disappointment, if not an outright dud."

"It's a little early to be calling this year's fest a dud just because Geoff Gilmore programmed a bunch of films that aren't selling the first weekend," counters Variety's Anne Thompson.

"So far nothing has breakout buzz, and the highest-profile titles, that is, the ones with the big name actors, are faring particularly poorly." The Oregonian's Shawn Levy offers his take on the first weekend.

S James Snyder has another overview in the New York Sun.

Ian Olds at FilmInFocus: "Five Things for Short Filmmakers to Know Coming to Sundance."

Photos: Matt Dentler, Chris Garcia (more) and Ray Pride (more).

Posted by dwhudson at 3:50 PM

Sundance. I.O.U.S.A.

Boy, today's the day for this one.

IOUSA "Federal fiscal policy, trade imbalances and politicians mortgaging the lives of future generations may not sound like a Saturday night at the movies with a tub of popcorn, but Wordplay director Patrick Creadon's Sundance documentary competition film I.O.U.S.A. is crucial viewing for anyone who claims to care about America," writes indieWIRE's Brian Brooks. "Presented from a non-partisan viewpoint, the film deftly describes the country's looming fiscal brink. Mounting federal debt, combined with a huge trade imbalance and a decade of cheap credit that gave gluttonous consumers a material high. But, the bill to pay for the party is coming due."

Updated through 1/28.

"A poignant, terrifying and engrossing look at a topic normally relegated to powerpoint presentations by polyester suit clad professors, I.O.U.S.A. is a powerful documentary that makes no qualms about espousing its point of view," writes Mike Raffensperger at Zoom In Online. "Centered around the 'Fiscal Wake Up Tour' of former US Comptroller General David Walker and The Concord Coalition Executive Director Robert Bixby, the film provides historical context for the ever increasing national debt and commentary on its economic, political and social ramifications.... [F]ar and away the best trick Creadon pulls are the montage sequences that express profound or complicated topics in succinct, entertaining ways. Of particular note were the opening montage showcasing decades of presidencies all spitting out identical rhetoric and an early sequence which elegantly sums up 300 years of American economic history."

And Zoom In's got a video interview with Creadon.

Update, 1/28: "IOUSA is most successful when it finds ways to entertainingly and concisely convey decades of economic history through animated charts, archival photos, and, even, a Saturday Night Live skit," writes Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker. But it "punts when it comes to the public policy specifics needed to resolve the problem as the film formulates it."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:40 PM | Comments (4)

Sundance. Trouble the Water.

Trouble the Water "A survivor of Hurricane Katrina gets it all on camera in Trouble the Water, a blend of DIY footage and filming by co-directors Tia Lessin and Carl Deal that considers the impact and aftermath of the New Orleans catastrophe from the perspective of a family that stayed at home during the storm," writes Robert Koehler in Variety. "Though tinged with the sheer gumption and personal resolve of amateur vidmaker and would-be rapper Kimberly Roberts, this is ultimately a minor doc contribution to the bulging library of Katrina-related films and TV reports."

For the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan talks with the co-directors and with Roberts, who, 9 months and 2 weeks pregnant, nonetheless arrived in Park City: "Being a witness for the voiceless, impoverished and dispossessed is the role that Kim felt strongly enough about to make the trip to Utah. 'I watched the coverage on TV and I said, "They ain't telling the real stories. What happened to the real citizens of New Orleans?" I wanted to be a voice of the black community. We're speaking for everyone who stayed, everyone who suffered, everyone who died.'"

"As the credits rolled, the audience jumped to its feet, giving the film a rapturous applause, one of the warmest witnessed so far," reported Brian Brooks in indieWIRE yesterday.

Later, that same night: "At 12:47 AM, the film's co-producer T Woody Richman got the call to ferry Roberts and husband Scott down the mountain to a Salt Lake City hospital," reports Variety's Anne Thompson. "Roberts gave birth on Monday, January 21, at 6:14 AM. The parents named their healthy 7 pound 1 ounce baby girl Skyy Kaylen Roberts."

"New snow on the mountain and new life in our midst. It's a lovely day in Park City," adds David Carr.

Updates, 1/24: "No human being I can imagine could watch Trouble the Water and not be overwhelmed by grief and joy, and humbled by one's sudden awareness of one's own prejudices about the lives, passions and dreams of poor people," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Danny Glover, who helped produce the film, spoke eloquently afterwards about New Orleans as a place where 'the global South meets the global North' and where a brief window of opportunity exists to do battle against a redevelopment model that's based on the tourist and service economies - and on a policy of malign neglect toward neighborhoods where people like Scott and Kim Roberts live."

"In the age of reality TV, where no live unscripted footage ever comes across as truly genuine but performed as 'ideas' of reality, Trouble the Water and its brutally intimate journey of two survivors feels rather bracing," writes Nathaniel Rogers at Zoom In Online. "It’s a reminder that camcorders are not just toys. And telling your story to the camera is not just exhibitionism."

Update, 1/25: Salon's Andrew O'Hehir his own Documentary Grand Prize: Trouble the Water is "a transformative story about passion, resilience and heroism among the poorest residents of America's most downtrodden city."

Updates, 1/26: "Since Trouble avails itself so heavily of the amateur video-camera footage of 9th Ward resident Kimberly Rivers, the movie functions as a real-life Cloverfield," notes the Boston Globe's Ty Burr, "a monster-movie where the monster is weather. Which makes George W Bush, FEMA head Mike Brown, and a soulless post-hurricane bureaucracy the equivalent of those arachnoid mini-monsters that jump on people and rip their hearts out."

Variety's Anne Thompson has background on the doc's making.

Update, 1/28: For Cinematical's Kim Voynar, this is the "most powerful documentary I've seen at Sundance."

Updates, 1/30: "[T]he professionally shot material, of Roberts and her husband's struggle to rebuild their lives after the storm, tells as powerful a story about the New Orleans diaspora as I've seen on film, from an angle unfamiliar," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "It plays out like a love story, with the Roberts' turning their backs on their city in times of crisis, only to realize that their hearts are there after all."

"Rarely have the personal consequences of government malpractice been so well told," adds B Ruby Rich in the Guardian.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:10 PM

Sundance. What Just Happened?

What Just Happened? "One of the most expensive movies ever to come to Sundance played to one of the most distributor-heavy screenings ever to hit the festival on Saturday night," blog the Hollywood Reporter's Steven Zeitchik and Gregg Goldstein. "Buyers from pretty much every major company turned out for Barry Levinson's What Just Happened?, the serio-comic study of a studio producer (played by Robert De Niro) plagued by personal and professional issues over the course of one turbulent week. The movie is loosely based on producer Art Linson's memoir."

Updated.

Premiere's Glenn Kenny is "pleasantly surprised... I usually can't stand this kind of inside-baseball moviemaking, wherein showbiz figures prove what good sports they are by essaying appalling versions of themselves... But these guys - not to mention Sean Penn (another self-player [besides Bruce Willis), Catherine Keener (in a very low-key variant of the talent-disembowelling studio exec), John Turturro (as a repellent wreck of an agent) and the too-rarely-seen Michael Wincott (as a dissolute 'visionary' director) made me like it."

"De Niro is very funny as a guy trying to hold onto what little power he has, and Levinson does as good aging directors often do, letting scenes play on until he finds the right level of beautiful chaos," writes the AV Club's Noel Murray. "The biggest problem with What Just Happened is that not much actually does happen... but the movie contains a lot of funny lines, and it captures the business side of show business with an only slightly jaded eye."

Variety's Anne Thompson finds it "a delightfully amusing backstage Hollywood comedy. Think an update of The Player, maybe, or an episode of Entourage (complete with Cannes finale) on steroids."

Back in the Hollywood Reporter, Kirk Honeycutt finds that Levinson and Linson "have too much love and genuine affection for the movies and the way they get made to cut very deep. Everything here is a paper cut."

For Entertainment Weekly, Missy Schwartz talks with De Niro, Levinson, Linson, and then in comes Willis.

Update: "It's meant to be outrageous and unbelievable how art turns into pure commerce, but there have been plenty of Hollywood satires that demolish the 'test screening' mentality, the 'beleaguered producer' conceit, and the oh-so-cynical insinuation that Hollywood has no integrity whatsoever," writes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "So while much of the material in What Just Happened? is insightful and accurate... it's just not all that new or shocking anymore."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:46 AM | Comments (2)

Sundance. American Teen.

American Teen "Love trauma, bullying, spin the bottle, cat fighting, sexual experimentation, alienation, alcohol use, parental stress, insecurity and the pressure to get into college... These issues and more form the backdrop to Nanette Burstein's spectacularly received American Teen, which had its world premiere Saturday afternoon in the Sundance documentary competition," writes indieWIRE's Brian Brooks. "Over the course of their senior year in a conservative mostly white small town in Indiana, the film intimately captures the lives and tribulations of four different teenagers."

Updated through 1/25.

"It was clear that the film had generated interest by the flashes of blue light in the audience, as acquisition folks frantically texted their business affairs departments to start negotiations," reports Monica Corcoran, who talks with Burstein for the Los Angeles Times. On Sunday morning, she "said that she had been 'in talks' until 4 that morning with potential buyers. 'It's been surreal in a good way,' she said. 'I just want it to find the right home.'"

Writing in Variety, Dennis Harvey finds the film "so packed with high dramatic incidents among classic character types that a skeptical viewer may well wonder just how freely direction and editing sculpted real life into something more like... well, The Real World.... [A]ll the boring and routine parts [are] mysteriously absent from edited-within-an-inch-of-its-life package."

The Reeler talks with Burstein.

Update: "Burstein's trim, fast-moving film utilizes tricks and techniques that would give old-schoolers such as [Frederick] Wiseman and the Maysles Brothers rage attacks," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "The pop soundtrack, the voiceovers, the graphic collages, the ANIMATION SEQUENCES illustrating the dreams and desires of some of its subjects... none of it's a surprise, coming as it does from the co-director of the Bob Evans fantasia The Kid Stays in the Picture, but all of it does raise the question of just how documentary is defining itself these days."

Updates, 1/25: Online listening tip. James Rocchi talks with Burnstein for Cinematical.

"Warsaw Community High School may not be the place to find a perfect statistically average high school that represents America (as if any such school really exists) - it's mostly White, impressively well-appointed, and looks fairly new - but it's where Burstein shot, every day, for 10 months. And you get drawn into these kid's lives - their struggles, their challenges, their triumphs -- so fiercely that you cannot help but be enthralled." Now James Rocchi's got a review, too; at Cinematical, where Eric D Snider declares, "It's absolutely my favorite movie of the festival."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:52 AM

Park City Dispatch. 4. Funny Games.

Funny Games Brian Darr's now seen both versions of Michael Haneke's Funny Games within a week. He warns that some might consider just a bit of what he's got to say here spoilerish in a very minor way. If you know absolutely nothing about the film(s) and want to keep it that way, skip down to the pointers to other reviews that'll be gathering over the next few days.

After years of hearing recommendations for and warnings against it, I finally mustered up the courage to see Michael Haneke's 1997 Funny Games last week at San Francisco's Berlin & Beyond Film Festival, where it played as part of a posthumous tribute to actor Ulrich Mühe. I watched it knowing I'd soon have a chance to compare the experience against seeing Haneke's new English-language remake here at Sundance.

Funny Games Reports that this version would be essentially identical intrigued me further. I couldn't help but start crafting a review of v.2.0 in my head even while v.1.0 was still running on the Castro Theatre screen in front of me. Something about the way reading subtitles can add an extra level of remove from the experience of watching a film, and how Anglophone viewers will no longer be allowed to read Funny Games as a specific critique of German-speaking society. (If indeed they ever did.)

All that might be true, but upon attending the US premiere of the 2007 Funny Games in Salt Lake City midnight on Saturday, I'm more interested in discussing what occurred to me at that screening than my anticipatory thoughts. I guess a plot summary might be nice too, but I'll be quick about it: a bourgeois family's vacation home is invaded by a pair of calmly homicidal preppies, who physically and psychologically torture them with a series of arbitrary "games" for the audience's "amusement."

First question: how faithful is this remake? The term "shot-for-shot" has been bandied about a lot, and that seems accurate enough. Of course the cast is different, and a few props and locations have changed character accordingly, but the musical selections, the color scheme, the geography of the three rooms in which the majority of action takes place, and even a great many of the camera set-ups, are all identical. The dialogue was tweaked very little in the translation process, other than a few remarks about cellphones and one "joke" missing from the 90-minute mark. Directors from the Lumiere Brothers to Alfred Hitchcock to Trent Harris have remade their own films for various reasons, but this is the closest copy I've seen.

Being so similar, what's it like to watch for someone who's seen the original and knows what's coming? For me, it was just as emotionally wrenching, if not more so. Foreknowledge of plot points made the on- and off-screen violence feel all the more inevitable, and difficult to sit through. Without subtitles, I didn't have to keep my eyes fixed on the bottom of the screen as much, and could pay more attention to the details of performance found in the characters' faces and line readings. That said, I sometimes noticed myself looking looking at a "neutral" corner of the screen space, as relief from the misery on display in another section of the camera image.

Funny Games The casting of Tim Roth in Mühe's role as the emasculated father does diminish some of the innocence found in that character, at least for those of us who've seen Roth play villains and hoodlums. His performance is adequate to the material, as are those of Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet as the tormentors. But, not to diminish what Susanne Lothar achieved as the mother in the 1997 Funny Games, Naomi Watts in that role changes at least one of the "rules of the games" for the remake. Specifically, her star stature is bound to make the audience feel more complicit in the moment when the physical violence turns into sexual humiliation and threat of rape. This is the scene that provoked the most walk-outs each time.

After sitting through this film essentially twice in little over a week, I can't help but think that the people who walk out in the middle are the sane, well-adjusted ones. That the rest of us are, at worst, just the kinds of casual sadists Haneke seems to be accusing us of being. Or at best, addicted to narrative to the degree that we can't turn away when we sense resolution, any kind of resolution, around the corner. Perhaps it's just the peak-bagger's instinct to check an unpleasant film off of our "life list." Having now climbed Mount Funny Games from two different faces, I'm here to tell you that the view from the top is just about the same. Maybe that'll save you a trip.

- Brian Darr


Reviewing Funny Games US, as it's being referred to now, for Screen Daily, Ed Lawrenson finds it "retains the emotional intensity, visceral impact and gripping hold of the original.... With cinema's shock value arguably greater than 10 years ago - through the emergence of arthouse provocateurs like Miike Takeshi and Gasper Noe and the development of mini-genres like the torture porn of Hostel in mainstream horror - there was a danger that the impact of the new Funny Games would be diminished. In fact, with the exception of a memorable moment of cathartic bloodletting (tellingly a fantasy scene) the violence is all off screen. It is through the emotional consequences of Paul and Peter's actions that the film makes its exacting demands on viewers."

Update, 1/22: Haneke "isn't torturing the family and the audience for the sake of torture, but for the sake of showing us how preposterous it is to assume that such films are accepted under the guise of entertainment, and every single aspect of the film exists to support this commentary," argues Jim Rohner at Zoom In Online. "Many can argue that the Saws and the Hostels carry their own social commentaries, but Haneke has shown how a skilled filmmaker can craft the macabre, how to use the torture for his own devices and has produced a film not to be missed."

Updates, 1/25: "To be honest, I've never felt too sure what to make of Funny Games in the first place, or whether Haneke's comments about it were entirely straightforward," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir:

Add to that the puzzling question of why he chose to remake it in English, 10 years later, and the conclusion I reach after a great deal of high-powered cogitation is this: He's fucking with us.

Because Haneke professes left-wing political views, some critics react to his films as if they all encoded crude Marxist dogma: The creepy videotapes sent to the family household in Caché express the French nation's guilt over colonialism; the sadistic invaders in Funny Games represent the true price of the middle-class family's soulless affluence, etc. Maybe those aren't totally wrongheaded interpretations, but they're no better than partial and reductive ones. Haneke's central concerns, I believe, are more formal and symbolic and ironic than they are narrowly political.

"It's hard to say which Funny Games stirs up more - your guts, or your brain," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "It gives you what you want and asks why you want it in the first place, and it does both those things superbly. It is cruel, cold and darkly thrilling."

Update, 1/26: "At its heart, Funny Games was always an act of intellectual terror, the story of a culture (and a cinema) reaping what it sowed," writes Tom Hall. "But in a post-9/11 world, in a nation whose daily obsession with the sensationalist press constantly keeps the most grotesque and cruel acts front and center in our minds, acts for which we as a nation harbor so much responsibility, well, at this point, Haneke seems to be piling on."

Update, 1/27: Online listening tips. James Rocchi talks with Corbet and Pitt for Cinematical.

Update, 1/31: "Haneke's exercise might seem even more fruitless (and more bananas) than Gus Van Sant's Psycho, but for those who've seen the original, the remake - known for convenience's sake as Funny Games US - is a fascinating endeavor," writes Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper. " Within the otherwise identical frames, the differences pop out like the variables in a scientific experiment."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:46 AM | Comments (7)

Park City Dispatch. 3. Update: David D'Arcy Responds.

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired David D'Arcy offers his take on one of the most talked about docs to screen at Sundance so far. Related linkage will keep on piling up here.

In this country, Roman Polanski tends to be known for one thing - a sexual adventure with a young girl in 1977, for which he was accused of rape. The film director eventually pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of having sexual intercourse with a minor and, in a special deal with a judge who turned out to be vain and corrupt, he was left with a 90-day "diagnostic" period in a California State prison.

Updated through 1/23.

Never mind that Polanski directed Chinatown, one of the best American films of its time, and classics like Knife in the Water and Repulsion, and the unappreciated gem of black comedy, Bitter Moon. Never mind that he won the best director Oscar for The Pianist, not even one of his best movies. To a lot of Americans, he's first and foremost a sexual predator, a jailbait junkie. To Europeans, he's a great director with a few very forgivable pecadillos - hardly the first person in the arts to have divided opinion along those lines. Think of Fatty Arbuckle, or Charlie Chaplin, or Michael Jackson. Think of Bill Clinton.

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, the new documentary by Marina Zenovich about the director which premiered at Sundance on Friday, focuses on the sex case, and presents evidence, most of it readily available, which shows the prosecution to have been be as wild a miscarriage of justice as the trial of OJ Simpson, with a judge, Laurence Rittenband, who makes Lance Ito look like Louis Brandeis.

The documentary is an impressive work of archaeology, which reconstructs the life and career of a man who was smeared by the press and the courts. The truth about Polanski may be lurid, but it's not necessarily the "truth" that we read in media reports about him. Rittenband made a deal with prosecutors and Polanski's lawyers (and with counsel for the victim), all of whom are in the film, which enabled Polanski to resume his work after a diagnostic stay in prison was completed, with a certification from a prison psychiatrist that he was not a psychopath. The judge's pride was hurt when pictures were taken after the director's release from prison, of a free Polanski, in Munich, at the Oktoberfest with beautiful women at his side. When Polanski returned to the US, Rittenband was determined to throw the director in jail for another 48 days. Fearing that, or worse, Polanski left the country (with funds provided by Dino De Laurentis) and he has never come back.

Polanski's biography has always been at least as dramatic as the stories in his films - bear in mind that it was Polanski's childhood wartime exploits in Nazi-occupied Poland that Jerzy Kosinski was said to have presented as his own in the harrowing "novel," The Painted Bird. Once you read that book, nothing that Polanski has imagined in his films, or has been accused of in court, seems so grievous. And let's not forget that his wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by the Manson family.

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired

As with all archaeology, the puzzle that is reconstructed is never complete, although Zenovich is exhaustive and entertaining. We never hear from Polanski - no surprise. You can imagine why he would be suspicious of any American reporter. We never hear from the mother of Samantha Geimer, the sexy 14 year old (now a mature mother of her own children), who Polanski says set up his meetings with the girl at Jack Nicholson's house on Mulholland Drive with the intention of blackmailing him. What really did happen? We know that Geimer has publicly "forgiven" Polanski.

We are likely to learn more, since the film will be shown in theaters in the US and Europe, and in the UK on the BBC. International rights are being sold by the Weinstein Company, with the added prospect that Polanski himself may be able to promote the film in France, which may mean at the Cannes Film Festival. Are we looking at If I Did It: Part Deux?

Revenge is rarely so unexpected - or potentially so profitable - since Polanski's discussion of his involvement in the incident in the inevitable interviews to come could well eclipse the information in the film, and become even more newsworthy. Just imagine Polanski and his wife and children walking up those long steps in Cannes with Harvey Weinstein at his side. Polanski can "correct" any assertions made in the film that he doesn't like, and place the documentary showing him to be a victim of California justice in the frame of his choice. For the European market that chews up anti-American stories like raw meat, this is steak tartare. And steak tartare is not cheap.


Update, 1/23: Polanski Revisited: Revulsion

Oh God. What reactions. Not entirely unexpected, but is there anything about Roman Polanski that doesn't inspire controversy and disagreement? I wrote in a short dispatch about Marina Zenovitch's very fine documentary that Polanski was prosecuted for a "sexual adventure." And adventures can come in many forms, not all them pretty or legal.

Initially, Polanski was charged with rape, but then he was prosecuted for a lesser charge of having sexual intercourse with an underage person, which is a far lesser offense in the State of California. Zenovich interviews people involved in the case who say that most defendants charged with such an offense would have gone unpunished. My implied point, which I should have made more explicit, is that the nature of his encounter with young Samantha Geimer is still not clear. Since when do prosecutors allow a defendant to plead down a rape charge, if their own evidence makes it clear that indeed it was rape? The point I was trying to make in urging everyone to see the documentary is that there remains ambiguity in the court record and in the fact that Geimer's mother, who seems to have set up the encounter between Roman Polanski and her daughter, at Jack Nicholson's house on Mulholland Drive (which the mother seemed to know well), is absent from Marina Zenovich's film. If the adventure was rape, the alleged rapist should have been prosecuted for just that. I am hoping that the closer examination of all those events will make clear exactly what Polanski did. Then the word "adventure" might not be necessary. Let's all bear in mind that Geimer has publicly "forgiven" Polanski. What exactly does that mean? Perhaps, with the release of the film and the new attention it brings, we will learn a lot more about what she is forgiving.

The last thing I would do is approve of rape in any form. I was noting that there remains ambiguity here, one of the many factors that motivated Zenovich to make the film. I wasn't condoning anything that Polanski did to this young woman. But the mission Zenovich gave herself in this documentary is to explore what really happened. There are still some gaps.

As to my joking prediction of Polanski walking up the stairs at the Palais in Cannes with Harvey Weinstein this spring, this was a joke and an exaggeration. I'm sorry that my literal-minded friends couldn't see that. Beware of their reviews of comedies. But don't for a moment assume that whoever is distributing the film in France or anywhere else in Europe won't use Polanski's legally free status to promote the movie. When has Weinstein held back? Who's kidding whom here? This means that we'll probably see reporters trying to interview Polanski about the events in question and trying to explore and clarify the very ambiguities at the core of the new documentary. He was there, remember.

Here's how my friend Bingham Ray of Sidney Kimmel Entertainment reflected on the prospect of Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired being released in the spring:

My feeling about Polanski is that this film here in North America, as a marketing and distribution guy, is that this film will do - I would really take my left arm off to have the opportunity to use this film as the engine, as the vehicle, to end all this torment, this 30-year torment for Roman Polanski. I really think it could be the vehicle to do for RP what Thin Blue Line by Errol Morris did for Randall Adams - got him off death row in Texas, and now he's a free man. For me, that's the hook for the film. That could be the driving element.

Thanks to David Hudson for letting the opinions fly. That's what we're here for. As Frank Mankiewicz notes in Alex Gibney's entertaining new doc on the highly opinionated Hunter S Thompson, Gonzo, Thompson's colorful (even psychedelic) coverage of the 1972 US presidential campaign was "the least accurate and most truthful." We could use more of that.

Yet facts, as they say, are stubborn things. The Polanski case is still missing some crucial ones.

-David D'Arcy

Posted by dwhudson at 5:29 AM | Comments (10)

January 20, 2008

Park City, 1/20.

Sundance 08 "I ran into producer Mike Ryan, whose Choke is screening here at Sundance, and he told me about a new website he's involved with," blogs Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay. "Hammer to Nail has just launched, with Ryan and, soon, Mike Tully filing film reviews from Sundance - reviews that are intended to be provocative conversation-starters that eschew the niceties that sometimes inhibit writing from not only the MSM but also the blogosphere." Also, the buzz and news of a "Creative Producing Initiative."

Photos: Ray Pride and Jeffrey Wells.

Online listening tip. Filmspotting's ongoing coverage.

Online viewing tip. IFC's ongoing coverage.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:11 PM

Sundance. Frozen River.

Frozen River "Frozen River is adapted from a short, and you can see the promise in it and its world of rundown desperation," writes Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog. "In its expanded form, though, it's a scattering of unbelievable elements... and a perspective that flirts with condescension."

"The practice of smuggling illegal aliens across the Mohawk Indian Reservation in Upstate New York is real; the characters are not, but could be," writes James Greenberg in the Hollywood Reporter. "Written and directed by Courtney Hunt, this is no-frills filmmaking delivered with earnestness and honesty."

"Hunt builds a lot of tension in the film's final half-hour, and emerges with something that's about on the level of really good TV - which makes [Melissa] Leo the perfect actress to anchor it," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club.

IndieWIRE interviews Hunt.

Online viewing tip. Zoom In Online's "Meet the Artists" video with Hunt.

Update, 1/21: "For Leo, somewhat recognizable thanks to her years on the TV cop drama Homocide: Life on the Street and the films 21 Grams and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Hunt's incredible film offers her a chance to truly stand out and shine," writes Steve Ramos in indieWIRE. "In return, Leo makes Frozen River a movie to champion."

Update, 1/22: The Reeler talks with Hunt.

Update, 1/28: "The Grand Jury Prize winner from the Dramatic Competition at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Frozen River is anchored by strong performances, carefully crafted and shot on DV with an eye on art, not mere economy," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:17 PM

Sundance. Reversion.

Reversion "Like Alphaville or Code 46, [Reversion] visits a future that resembles the present, with ordinary spaces (in this case, west Los Angeles) dominated by bizarre social pathologies, technological dislocation, the erosion of conventional morality, and in the case [of Mia] Trachinger's fascinating if not entirely satisfying film, a sub-caste of outsiders afflicted with a strange, debilitating ability to see into their own futures," writes Brandon Harris.

"Eight years after her slightly daft debut, Bunny, writer-director Mia Trachinger appears in over her head in the deep end of the pool with Reversion, which will be proof to some that God(ard) is not dead," writes Robert Koehler in Variety. "This time trip will be quickly forgotten, though hardcore Bunny-ites will take notice."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:10 PM | Comments (1)

Sundance. Stranded.

Stranded "The saga of the Uruguayan rubgy team that resorted to cannibalism after crashing in the Andes in '72 has been told maybe too many times... but it's no exaggeration to say that Gonzalo Arijon's [Stranded: I've come from a plane that crashed on the mountains] is the story's definitive version," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club.

"Stranded is neither sensational nor evasive about what the survivors did, and what they had to do as their meager food supplies ran out and they had to turn to the bodies of their fallen friends," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "In the current-day interviews, the survivors are careful and sensitive and judicious in discussing their experiences; at the same time, you can feel the sting of cold logic when one survivor explains how after word came that the air search was called off, 'We, the Strauch cousins, prepared the meat...'"

"There's nothing about this story or the way it's told that would make any viewer feel anything but sympathy for their ordeal, and certainly, this is a case where asking us to take a second to contemplate the image of someone saying 'I didn't want to do it, but I had to' has far greater impact than the words themselves," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "Those shots, of an eye twitching almost imperceptibly while a survivor recovers from an admission, tell us everything we need to know."

Earlier: David D'Arcy.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:14 PM

Sundance. Good Dick.

Good Dick "This is a Sundance movie like crazy," writes the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris. "Video store clerk (Jason Ritter) stalks weird antisocial chick (Marianna Palka) who comes in to rent porn. She has some severe intimacy issues, and the object of the movie - it's a comedy - is for the sexually dysfunctional, psychologically damaged woman to succumb to the weirdo who won't leave her alone."

Updated through 1/25.

"By it's ambiguous finish, Good Dick has turned into a missed opportunity by a filmmaker who displays plenty of technical promise," writes Steve Ramos at indieWIRE. "All one can do is tuck away the disappointment, celebrate the film's brief sparks of life, and anticipate what an emerging talent like Palka will do next."

Variety's Todd McCarthy finds it "an annoying example of self-therapy posing as art." It addresses "deep psychological issues that should have been addressed on a psychiatrist's couch instead of at the Sundance Lab, where the script was developed."

"Alternately compelling and dramatically limp, the film scores points for exploring unfamiliar territory but lacks the emotional depth to make some very strange behavior believable. Still, subject matter could make this a provocative date movie with the right handling," suggests James Greenberg in the Hollywood Reporter.

Updates, 1/21: "Not a single line or gesture has anything to do with the world in which real people live, outside of some observations about Polish culture that clearly come from Palka's personal experience," writes the AV Club's Noel Murray. "Good Dick mostly proves that TV actors make good indie-film hires, because they'll go along with whatever ridiculous horseshit a novice filmmaker concocts."

"I believe a brave distributor will come along and show this fine little film some love - despite its frequent proclivity for very frank and seriously explicit sex talk," writes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "Fortunately, the film comes from a very sincere and heartfelt place, which makes the few 'uncomfortable' moments perfectly acceptable... and frequently quite fascinating."

Update, 1/23: "Their courtship is more bizarre than funny, with Palka's nameless heroine tending toward the realistically damaged rather than the Sundance movie damaged, which would be where all deep-rooted psychological problems can be solved by a few realizations, a confrontation and a montage," writes Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog, where she adds, "(This is, until the end of the film, when that turns out to be exactly the case.)"

Update, 1/24: Besides Ballast, the "festival's other favorite American debut is Marianna Palka's exceptionally acrid, and exceptionally funny, romantic comedy Good Dick," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Why does Ritter's cheerful movie-geek character put up with all this abuse, when he could probably find (in her words) 'a normal girl you could fuck like a punching bag whenever you want'? You know, it's a good question but one that never bothered me.... Good Dick is a dark, sweet and sophisticated confection that might find a surprisingly large audience."

Updates, 1/25: Online viewing tip. Salon's Andrew O'Hehir talks with Palka.

Sara Cardace talks with Ritter for New York's Vulture.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:03 PM

Sundance. Transsiberian.

Transsiberian "The long sidelined subgenre centered on mysterious doings aboard exotic trains is put back on the tracks in Transsiberian, an engagingly up-to-date melodrama steeped in local color and steered by a treacherous sense of morality," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy.

Zoom In's Jim Rohner is glad to see Brad Anderson "skillfully blend crime thriller with human drama. By doing so, he has created an inescapable atmosphere of tension that grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go until the end, proving that he belongs in the upper echelon of today's filmmakers.

The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt finds it "a vigorous, fast-paced tale that entwines plot with character and psychology set against an incredibly exotic backdrop.... Adding to the attractions, Anderson has cagily cast against type in several roles including Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer and Kate Mara, plus Ben Kingsley is on hand to demonstrate once again that he is among the cinema's very best character actors."

"The film is a marital drama meets police thriller and has what every good train ride should: lust, murder, Russian cops, a lot of vodka," writes Harlan Jacobson in USA Today. "And then some: a bag full of heroin, windows nailed shut, a tough female Russian conductor, a train wreck with lives hanging in the balance. And enough suspense to bridge a few plot holes and overripe character details."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:58 PM

Slamdance. Frost.

Frost "Nick Hornby would know what to do with a bachelor like Jack Frost - after all, such emotionally stunted thirtysomethings come to their senses in High Fidelity and About a Boy, two Hornby adaptations first-time director Steve Clark surely had in mind when fashioning his own man-child-makes-good fable, Frost," writes Peter Debrugge in Variety. "Though Jack himself is incredibly earnest, the process of watching him outgrow his Peter Pan complex feels mushy and mostly contrived, and seems inspired more by similar films (with debts not only to Hornby but also to Cameron Crowe's oeuvre) than by personal experience."

For Filmmaker, Brandon Harris talks with Clark and producers Mike Landry and Carlos Velasquez. And there's more with Clark from Luis Pedron at Fanclubx.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:06 PM

Sundance. The Wackness.

The Wackness "I was pretty impressed with director Jonathan Levine's debut film, the retro-slasher horror throwback known as All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, and so logically I was looking forward to the filmmaker's follow-up project," writes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "Based only on his first two films, it's pretty clear that Levine has a gift for the visual side of the equation - but as far as the writing goes... The Wackness... feels like something that was written by a bored 17-year-old during one lazy afternoon in detention."

"The Amerindie annals are over-full of withdrawn male loners hoping to quirk or cathart themselves out of teenage purgatory," writes Dennis Harvey for Variety. "But like Donnie Darko, Thumbsucker and a few others, The Wackness treads this familiar terrain with assurance and distinction."

Updated through 1/24.

"I've watched five films so far here at Sundance, one was fucking fantastic (The Wackness), one was flawed but very good (In Bruges), two were mediocre as all hell (Sunshine Cleaning and The Yellow Handkerchief), and one I just plain did not care for at all (The Broken)," writes Rav at AICN. As for The Wackness, "Much like 2000's Sexy Beast Ben Kingsley's performance elevates the film to a whole other level, completely knocking it out-of-the-park." Adds Quint: "I wouldn't be surprised if The Wackness becomes the 'big sell' of this year's festival. It really is that good."

The Reeler talks with Levine.

Updates: "A filmmaker who matters is someone capable of re-invigorating genres with spunk and a playful lack of caution. That's Jonathan Levine," writes Steve Ramos at indieWIRE. This is "a fun-loving movie that audiences will find impossible to resist."

"The story, which director-writer Levine apparently based on his own adolescent wanderings, is well told but the basic points seem familiar as hell in numerous ways, and the visually murky, sepia-like photography starts to feel almost claustrophobic after a while," writes Jeffrey Wells.

Update, 1/23: "Bad memories of Igby Goes Down and The Chumscrubber abound, and yet, The Wackness turns out to have a surprisingly sweet center, particularly in the scenes between its brooding, pot-dealing Holden Caulfield surrogate (Josh Peck) and his sorta-kinda girlfriend (well played by Juno co-star Olivia Thirlby)," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice.

Update, 1/24: "A concluding moment that pines for the majesty of New York City's pre-9/11 skyline would register as ham-handed if Levine's overwhelming affection for the island of Manhattan had not been so thoroughly established in the hundred or so minutes hence," writes Josh Slates at Hammer to Nail. "In short, The Wackness is a film that is quite acutely aware of its target audience, simultaneously pandering to and honoring its nostalgic remembrances of days of yore."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:49 PM

Shorts, 1/20.

The Paper Will Be Blue "Though they might be reluctant to admit it, the new Romanian filmmakers have a lot in common beyond their reliance on a small pool of acting and technical talent," writes AO Scott in a longish survey for the New York Times Magazine of the Romanian wave (in which Cristi Puiu insists that there is no wave, and what's more, he's not a filmmaker). "Because of the stylistic elements they share - a penchant for long takes and fixed camera positions; a taste for plain lighting and everyday décor; a preference for stories set amid ordinary life - Puiu, [Corneliu] Porumboiu and [Cristian] Mungiu are sometimes described as minimalists or neo-neorealists. But while their work does show some affinity with that of other contemporary European auteurs, like the Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, who make art out of the grim facts of quotidian existence, the realism of the Romanians has some distinct characteristics of its own."

One national cinema flourishes, another flounders: "When Americans see the new Italian cinema they're shocked, because they're used to the old masterpieces," Saverio Costanzo (In Memory of Me) tells Nick Hasted in a wide-ranging piece on the state of the country's film scene. "[W]e are scared of showing the beauty of Italy, or an open story. The maestros were too open, too happy to work in cinema. They used the country up."

Also in the Independent, Nicola Christie talks with Helena Bonham Carter and Susie Rushton profiles Johnny Depp. Related: "Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street,... first slashed his way into public consciousness in 'The String of Pearls: A Romance,' serialised in 18 parts in publisher Edward Lloyd's journal the People's Periodical and Family Library between November 1846 and March 1847," begins a brief history by Louise Welsh for the Guardian.

Also in this week's Review: Jane Campion recalls how, in late 1982, when she was 28, she went to meet Janet Frame to ask for the rights to turn the writer's autobiography into a television mini-series:

An Angel at My Table

Frame sensibly suggested I wait until I had read the next two volumes of her autobiography, due out in 1983 and 1984. In the meantime, she would not sell them to anyone else. She liked boldness, she said, and made me hopeful despite my being just a student. Her taste in film was more sophisticated than mine. She talked about Last Year at Marienbad and said she favored films with strong atmosphere.

Eventually, the "television series became a film, and I have often tried to think through why people loved it so particularly."

"While Katyn - Andrzej Wajda's latest film - is enjoying worldwide exposure (an international premiere at the Berlinale, inclusion in the pre-selection of nine films vying for the 2008 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film), the director has revealed a few details about his new production," reports Dorota Hartwich in Cineuropa. "In May or June, shooting will begin on his screen adaptation of the short story 'Tatarak' by writer and poet Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz."

Though it won't see its official premiere until the Berlinale, Doris Dörrie's Kirschblüten (Cherry Blossoms) has won the Bavarian Film Award. Other winners include Fatih Akin (Best Director, The Edge of Heaven) and Veit Helmer (Special Jury Prize, Absurdistan).

"Lust, Caution and The Warlords collected the most nominations for the upcoming Asian Film Awards," reports Patrick Frater. "Ceremony, in its second year, will take place in Hong Kong March 17."

Also in Variety:

Overlord "I spent approximately 3000 hours in that dark cell between 1971 and 1975, briefly interrupted by a couple of other projects. It was during the archival research that I developed the idea of a dramatized feature film about an English soldier who sees his first action on D-Day, interweaving the archive footage to expand and tell the story." In the Guardian, Stuart Cooper recounts the making, forgetting and rediscovery of Overlord - plus, a compliment from Stanley Kubrick.

Also, Stuart McGurk meets people who collect screenplays.

Tim Lucas has just seen Dario Argento's The Mother of Tears: "As I expected, it's not in the same league with Suspiria (1977) or Inferno (1980) - its dazzling precursors in the 'Three Mothers' trilogy; its visual look is so subdued that it doesn't seem a close relative at all.... I'm mostly disappointed that Argento's staging of horror sequences has lost its former sense of beauty so entirely."

"Stephen Lowenstein's interview collection My First Movie: Take Two is both instructional manual and warning for the young guns, offering the remarkable stories of 10 directors' first films, while also making clear just how draining directing a film is," writes Saul Austerlitz in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Nikil Saval is not at all won over by I'm Not There and writes in n+1: "At least one critic has compared, without embarrassment, the film's incessant referencing and cataloguing as analogous to Finnegan's Wake. A more reasonable interpretation is that [Todd] Haynes is drowning in his film school education, just as his audience is drowning in allusions, and not a single original idea floats by to rescue him or us."

Back in the New York Times: "A meticulous record of a vanishing world - [Jia Zhangke's] cinematographer, Yu Lik-wai, surveys the wreckage with slow panning shots that evoke the horizontal expanse of Chinese scroll paintings - Still Life is an act of commemoration and of stoic protest," writes Dennis Lim in the New York Times. "'I don't start from a political standpoint,' Mr Jia said. 'But if you make a film about China right now, you have to talk about the politics and the changes that are affecting people.'... At 37 he has amassed a body of work - seven feature-length fiction films and documentaries - that is remarkable for its formal ambition, ethnographic richness and moral weight."

Let Yourself Be Charmed by an Italian And: "After the clobbering Italian fashion has taken of late - in some accounts for its inability to produce a new generation of hot designers, in others for using underpaid Chinese immigrants to make overpriced handbags - Isabella Rossellini is making a stand for Milan," reports Eric Wilson.

"Texas State University announced last week the acquisition of Cormac McCarthy's papers for its Southwestern Writers Collection, part of the Wittliff Collections at the Alkek Library in San Marcos," reports Kimberly Jones.

Also in the Austin Chronicle, Burnt Orange Productions "is officially in 'hiatus' after making four films, according to Tom Schatz, the longtime UT film professor and former Radio-Television-Film Department chair who championed the notion of connecting film academia with film business realities." Joe O'Connell reports.

Persepolis "is the furthest thing from the limitless taffy-pull of contemporary computer animation," writes Duncan Shepherd in the San Diego Reader. "It is in fact quite deliberately reactionary, a return to "nature" if you will, a homespun product of the human hand... The general effect, overriding any risk of trivialization, is something in the vicinity of the Brechtian 'alienation effect,' something distancing, something cushioning, so that we experience such painful subjects as political oppression, imprisonment, torture, execution, etc., less viscerally and (for all the outward resemblance to a Saturday-morning TV kiddie cartoon) more cerebrally."

Persepolis More from Shaun Brady in the Philadelphia City Paper, where Sam Adams talks with Marjane Satrapi. "Remember, on 9/11 there was a huge candlelight vigil in Tehran in sympathy with us," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. At any rate, "While so many films about coming of age involve manufactured dilemmas, here is one about a woman who indeed does come of age, and magnificently."

For the LA CityBeat, Steve Appleford talks with producer Lawrence Bender about the long-term impact of Pulp Fiction and An Inconvenient Truth and about his support for Barack Obama.

In the Independent, Bob Flynn talks with Nick Broomfield about Battle for Haditha.

With Cassandra's Dream out, Cineaste has gone ahead and posted Cynthia Lucia's interview with Woody Allen from its forthcoming Spring issue.

Tasha Robinson interviews Glen Hansard for the AV Club.

"The Dutch government is bracing itself for violent protests following the scheduled broadcast this week of a provocative anti-Muslim film by a radical right-wing politician who has threatened to broadcast images of the Koran being torn up and otherwise desecrated," reports Jason Burke in the Observer.

For a special issue of the Observer's Review that looks back 40 years to 1968, Philip French writes, "The two key film's of the year were Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and Lindsay Anderson's If... Kubrick's picture managed to combine pessimism about the Cold War with a mystical vision of the future in space. If... was an ambiguous, allegorical film that distilled the confusion of the zeitgeist and was an apparent call for a root-and-branch revolution. It went on to win the Palme d'Or at Cannes the following year."

Taking Adam Ross's "Friday Screen Test" this week: Annie Frisbie.

New blog on the block. The New Yorker's Goings On.

Andrew Morton: Tom Cruise Online listening and viewing tips. Borders offers a clip from the audio version of Andrew Morton's Tom Cruise: An Unauthorized Biography. Thanks, Jerry! Then there's more Scientology proselytizing. At Slate, Troy Patterson comments on Gawker's version: "The strangest thing about this video is that it feels only moderately strange. An action hero and an against-the-odds evangelist shine with the same righteousness, and both are pushing redemption."

Online viewing tip #2. New York's Bilge Ebiri has Marlene Rhein's Let Me Tell You a Story.

Online viewing tip #3. David Poland lunches with Ellen Page. Related: Gwynne Watkins's "Hollywood Guide to Pregnancy" at ScreenGrab.

Online viewing tip #4. The trailer for The Vanishing of the Bees. Via David Pescovitz at Boing Boing.

Online viewing tips, round 1, from Creative Review.

Online viewing tips, round 2, from the Guardian's Kate Stables.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:22 AM

U2 3D.

U2 3D U2 3D "is precisely what it should be: a great setlist, a bag of visual tricks spread evenly throughout, and a great band in top form," writes Matt Dentler. "I'm biased, I'm a U2 fanatic, but this quartet of musicians is so tight, so focused and so talented, that they shine brighter in the third dimension. Bono is Bono, and he's a ham and he's a rock star, but something about Bono in 3D actually feels normal. The Edge is such a virtuoso on guitar, that his riffs feel even more radiant when you see it up close."

"[I]t is certainly opening the door for a brand new kind of movie experience, one that will likely be the standard in coming decades, if not years," writes Christopher Campbell at Cinematical. "Not being a fan, I actually had planned to only watch a little bit of U2 3D, just enough to appreciate the new technology. But I was sucked in completely and watched the whole film... Fortunately, the 3D increasingly gets more interesting as the film goes on. When the band comes back on stage for their encore song, 'The Fly,' the screen (and seemingly the space in front of it) is filled with a ton of graphics and words that really blow your senses away."

Updated through 1/24.

David Carr caught the Sundance premiere: "Robert Redford was there. Al Gore was there. U2? All four members were there.... People at the Eccles responded in very rock fashion: In one scene where phones were held aloft in the concert, the people watching the movie did the same thing. It was hard, visually, to tell where the movie ended and the people watching the movie began."

Jeffrey Overstreet asks, Seen these reviews?

Earlier: "U2 @ Cannes."

Update: "This is an extraordinary concert film because it does what I wouldn't have thought a concert film was capable of doing any longer - it shows you something new," writes Bryant Frazer.

Updates, 1/21: "Directors Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington and the production company 3ality Digital bring U2's high-wattage act to life with surprisingly mobile high-tech cameras and a robust illusion of the human eye's depth distinctions," writes Darrell Hartman in the New York Sun. "To make the film, the directors employed a formidable battery of 18 digital cameras linked to 3-D recording decks, as well as an in-camera motion control that gives the crystal-clear footage an extra kinetic kick. Diehard U2 fans in particular may have their socks knocked off."

Cathleen Rountree's rubbed shoulders with Bono and Gore and, all in all, had a grand time.

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Catherine Owens "about working in 3D, future possibilities for the new technology and making a romantic comedy with Emily Brontë."

Update, 1/22: "U2's fist-pumping anthems are hard to resist, and even the most determined Bono hater is going to be nodding along to the opening riff of 'New Year's Day,'" writes Jürgen Fauth at Ugo. "You may snicker at the 'coexist' headband, but the battle-worn classics of the U2 catalog command respect.... [T]he newfangled 3-D trickery turns this feature length concert video into an involving experience, no matter what you make of the music."

Updates, 1/23: For Matt Zoller Seitz, writing in the New York Times, U2 3D is "the first Imax movie that deserves to be called a work of art.... The very idea of self-contained screen geography is thrillingly reconceived."

"Given rock's erotic pull, it's fair to compare U2 3D, U2's foray into 3-D digital film technology, to a shot of Viagra," suggests Ann Powers in the Los Angeles Times. "And guess what? The potency drug does its job: 85 beautifully paced minutes of crystal clear, artfully lit shots of Bono and his mates doing their inspirational thing for an arena crowd whose joy surges forth like a tiger in an Imax nature presentation is enough to renew the spark with longtime fans and draw in kids who otherwise might not go for older men."

"[T]he performances, culled from seven shows on the 'Vertigo' tour from Mexico City to Buenos Aires, burn with the old unforgettable fire," writes Jim Ridley in the Voice.

Updates, 1/24: For Nick Schager, writing in Cinematical, "the visuals come off as merely a stunt aimed at gussying up what is, in the end, a solid if rather unremarkable concert film that just reconfirms a point already definitively made by 1988's superior Rattle and Hum - namely, that U2 is great live, with or without superfluous effects."

For Lauren Wissot, writing at the House Next Door, U2 3D "has more in common with one of artist Jeff Wall's hyper-real light box photographs than it does with the film many consider the gold standard in concert docs, Jonathan Demme's Stop Making Sense."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:27 AM

Sundance. Ballast.

Ballast "A rock-ribbed sense of committed, personal cinema and a core belief in people being able to pull themselves out of misery supports Ballast, an extraordinary debut by editor-writer-director Lance Hammer," writes Robert Koehler in Variety. "Hammer quickly establishes himself with the only film he's ever made as a humanist artist working confidently and quietly with the cinema's most basic and expressive tools. Following a Mississippi Delta family shattered by suicide and violence, pic runs a course from wrenching death to possible uplift that seems real every second, but will prove a challenge to potential distribs even while winning over fests worldwide." And he's sent a note to the Circuit: "I predict now that this will be a major awards contender in Berlin."

Updated through 1/26.

Mike D'Angelo comments.

"Ballast is a slow-burning revelation," writes Tom Hall. "What a relief to find an American filmmaker telling a compelling story, telling it so assuredly and in such a way as to invite comparison to greatness. In a festival that promised us more than its fair share of quirky families in crisis, Ballast feels like a genuine discovery; A film with the courage and ambition to treat its audience like adults and to bring American cinema the serious, compelling voice of a fully developed artist."

"Movies like this have shown up at this festival before (drugs, guns, poverty in African American lives; from 1994's Fresh to 2006's Half Nelson), usually from sensitive white directors," writes the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris. "Ballast is different, closer to the Dardenne brothers than to most American movies.... The movie needs a loving American distributor right now."

"The poignancy of the final scenes redeems a lot of what goes before," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club.

IndieWIRE interviews Hammer.

Earlier: David D'Arcy.

Update: James Rocchi talks with Hammer for Cinematical.

Updates, 1/21: "Ballast marks the arrival of a major American talent in Lance Hammer," writes Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail. "It is a subtle, honest, heartbreaking work that shatters stereotypes and captures life at its most tender and fragile."

"[F]alling for a movie is like falling for anything, I guess; you don't really know it's happening until the undeniable gut punch," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "For me, that moment came about two thirds of the way through Ballast, with a shot of a young boy lying on the floor, listening to adults speak off camera while absentmindedly stroking the belly of a giant dog. Like every shot in Lance Hammer's feature directorial debut, it's dead simple but beautifully composed, and it gets you by playing hard to get."

Updates, 1/22: "People mock 'Sundance films,' or joke that 'Sundance' spelled backwards is 'massive depression,'" writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "The reality of the matter is that if mainstream film offers us escape, independent cinema offers a necessary escape from escapism. Movie characters don't seem to worry about paying the bills; most moviegoers do. But films like Ballast - concerned with struggle, loss, poverty and wounded hearts - are easily ignored and dismissed.... Cineastes, looking for an American film that offers something on-screen other than glossy consumerist fantasies, will embrace Ballast with the ardent fervor of a drowning victim offered a rope."

"Alas, since I don't subscribe to the self-congratulatory notion that a film's worth hinges on the degree to which it reflects your own worldview, thereby making you feel good about yourself for admiring it - a phenomenon I've dubbed 'soup kitchen cinema' - I can't join in the hosannahs," writes Mike D'Angelo at ScreenGrab.

"Ballast is a tough movie, no doubt," writes Anthony Kaufman in indieWIRE. "But it's far from impenetrable (the conclusion, in fact, is perhaps too obviously telegraphed.) On the contrary, what emerges is a crystal clear humanist vision of broken-down people who find a semblance of stability in each other."

Online listening tip. Kevin Buist at the SpoutBlog: "In this interview Hammer and stars Michael Smith, Tarra Riggs and Johnny McPhail talk about working without a script, the bonds formed on set, and why throwing away the script is the first step toward truth in film."

Update, 1/23: "Ballast is a movie marked by the most unusual mix of inspirations: Charles Burnett's impressionistic renderings of black American life, the Dardenne brothers' neo-realist city symphonies, and Mexican director Carlos Reygadas's ecstatic widescreen exploration of rural vistas," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice. "But Hammer has digested those influences and formed from them a wholly original meditation on lost souls trying to gain a foothold in a bleak, treacherous landscape. It is, I think, the single most impressive film to premiere at Sundance since Half Nelson in 2006, and the high-water mark by which all others in and out of this year's competition should be judged."

Update, 1/25: "My colleague Howard believes that what I call the arty longueurs of the first half to be essential, that the process of the film finding its own voice is an essential part of what it's about. I'm not so sure," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "Nevertheless, this is the only film I saw at Sundance for which such a question even came up, which may be indicative of the ambition, or lack thereof, of most of the other pictures I saw there."

Updates, 1/26: "The movie has a slow arc toward redemption but nothing in it seems forced or remotely Hollywood; everything's rooted in the low skies and endless spaces of the setting," writes the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "Daringly, Hammer doesn't use a musical score of any sort, and the silence is both oppressive and ultimately liberating."

"In making the film, which was shot over 45 days in the Mississippi Delta, Hammer was adamant that the film reflect the complex and tumultuous spirit of the region. 'I wanted people to play parts who were from the region, [and] I wanted to create a story that reflected the tone of the place... The fields are dripping in blood.'" A report from indieWIRE's Brian Brooks.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:18 AM

Lists, 1/20.

Syndromes and a Century "Arriving only a couple of weeks late, here's my list of favorite movies released in US theaters in 2007," writes Rob Davis. "I've got twenty-eight of them for you, plus five undistributed films that only played at festivals, followed by some brief comments."

Robert Cashill presents four lists: the first gathers films "that pleased me because of a key performance or two, or good writing and direction, or memorable scenes, that didn't quite have the heft or gravity to put them on the 'big board,' as they say in Glengarry Glen Ross." Then come the overrated, the underrated and the worst of 2007. Update: The best.

Kimberley Lindbergs presents "Top 20 Favorite Soundtrack CDs of 2007. Not surprisingly, Italy's Cinedelic Records, Japan's Hotwax Trax, Sweden's Fin de Siècle Media and Universal Music France all have multiple releases on my list."

Dan Eisenberg looks back, adds clips and argues the cases of a few overlooked films of 07.

Adam Ross: "Wrapping up the year a little late, here are my personal highlights of what I saw on DVD/DVR in 2007."

At the top of Edward Copeland's list of "10 best films of 2007": The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

Maxine Harfield lists a top 11 at cinemaattraction.

And Reverse Shot is really, really, really wrapping its 2007 now. With six honorable mentions.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:09 AM

Sundance. Timecrimes.

Timecrimes "[E]ven though it's not too hard to stay a step or two ahead of Nacho Vigalando's Timecrimes, it's still a nifty little genre piece, examining what happens when an ordinary middle-aged guy gets chased by a masked villain into the lair of a man who offers to hide him in his time machine, which then - whoops! - activates, sending our hero back into the very recent past," writes the AV Club's Noel Murray. "[W]hile the film as a whole could be a little funnier and/or scarier, it really couldn't be much zippier."

"Vigalondo is certainly channeling Philip K Dick with his singular plot line that quickly grows in complexity when the moral and logical conundrums of archetypal time-travel dilemmas come into play," writes Kevin Buist at the SpoutBlog. "The question is whether Timecrimes finds a unique voice within this well-explored genre."

Updated through 1/25.

Twitch's Todd Brown has news that producer Steve Zaillian is angling for the English-language remake.

IndieWIRE interviews Vigalondo; so does Scott Weinberg at Cinematical, where he notes that Jette Kernion called it one of "the most pleasant surprises of Fantastic Fest."

Update, 1/25: Online listening tip. Kevin Buist talks with Vigalondo for the SpoutBlog.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:01 AM

Suzanne Pleshette, 1937 - 2008.

Suzanne Pleshette
US actress Suzanne Pleshette, best known for playing the wife in 1970s sitcom The Bob Newhart Show, has died.... Pleshette started her career in Broadway in the late 1950s before moving into TV shows such as Dr Kildare and movies including The Birds, in which she played Annie, and Nevada Smith with Steve McQueen.

The BBC.

See also: the Wikipedia entry; and Ray Bennett, Ronald Bergan (Guardian), Edward Copeland, Richard Corliss (Time), Anita Gates (New York Times), Glenn Kenny, Dennis McLellan (Los Angeles Times) and Ray Young.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:14 AM

January 19, 2008

Sundance. Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired "He grew up in terrible conditions; he directed great movies; his wife was murdered; he fled the country; he made some more good movies. Roman Polanski's life story sounds like it would make a great film, and Marina Zenovich focused on one aspect to make her documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," writes Peter Martin at Cinematical. "The film had its World Premiere at Sundance on Friday night, and instantly sparked a bidding war. The Weinstein Co won, according to Variety."

Updated through 1/25.

For Karina Longworth, writing at the SpoutBlog, the doc "rides a shaky line between critiquing media seduction and engaging in it.... Wanted and Desired convinces that this seemingly trivial footnote in cinema history is actually a story about the media’s role in turning the very idea of justice into a farce. Zenovich goes some way towards crafting a valuable historical document, but its credibility on that front is weakened by its clearly imbalanced sympathies."

"The film has lengthy interviews with the victim, the attorneys, the prosecutors, and the policmen involved in the case - but not Polanski himself - and teaches a great deal about what actually happened," notes the Oregonian's Shawn Levy. "Polanski was dead wrong of course, but the second villain in the case was the oddball judge who ate up the publicity it engendered with a big spoon."

For Variety's Justin Chang, this is "a mesmerizing portrait of the director as acclaimed artist and tortured human being.... Judge Laurence J Rittenband is one of the few figures involved with the case not interviewed here and, unsurprisingly, emerges as the true villain of the piece. He comes across as a self-aggrandizing sleaze.... Zenovich cleverly if somewhat glibly underscores its psychological insights with clips from the director's films, sampling from Repulsion, Knife in the Water, Chinatown, The Tenant and, most prominently, Rosemary's Baby, whose own horrific rape scene and haunting lullaby (a remix of which plays over the end credits) here convey a sense of innocence violated. Best use of all, however, is of his 1961 black-and-white short film The Fat and the Lean, which wittily sums up the relationship between Rittenband and Polanski."

Updates, 1/20: "Polanski's story is really two stories," writes Tom Hall. "The story of a brilliant artist whose life is shattered by a series of tragedies (the death of his mother in a Polish Concentration Camp, the brutal murder of his wife Sharon Tate by the Manson family) and the story of a manipulative playboy whose outrageous desires run him afoul of American law. Polanski is both men at once, and Zenovich understands the fractured relationship between Polanski's dark, creative impulses, the horrors that he endured in his personal life, the charming smile he wore for the cameras and his seductive qualities as a brilliant artist living in hard-partying Hollywood. As Zenovich paints him, you'd think Polanski is capable of doing something terrible while also sensing he couldn't hurt a fly." All in all, "a gorgeously assembled record of the era and it features some incredible footage put to brilliant use."

"Even for those familiar with the general details of the case," writes Mike D'Angelo at ScreenGrab, "Wanted and Desired will likely prove revelatory."

"Perhaps the most fascinating fact (and this was something I did not know) came in the reveal that, when a new judge was assigned to the case in 1997, he agreed to throw out the charges if Polanski were to return to the States - on one condition: that the hearing be televised. Because of that, Polanski decided against coming back," notes Erik Davis at Cinematical. "And who can blame him?"

Updates, 1/24: "Zenovich doesn't make excuses for Polanski's crime, one that would almost certainly be prosecuted with even more fervor today, in the age of To Catch a Predator and Megan's Law," writes Rebecca Winters Keegan for Time. "But she does make a compelling case that Polanski was the victim of a kind of 70s version of celebrity justice. 'People have been more interested in the lurid details, because this is such a sensational case,' says Zenovich. 'This part of the case somehow got lost.'"

"[W]hat makes this exercise truly remarkable is Zenovich's thorough knowledge of Polanski's canon and the ways she subtly argues that the exorcism of one's basest and most deviant desires belongs in a realm of artistic expression and not in the arena of the flesh-and-blood," writes Josh Slates at Hammer to Nail.

Updated, 1/25: The Guardian's Danny Leigh comments on reactions to the doc so far, including David D'Arcy's: "Ugly as it is, the post does highlight the eternal conundrum of whether and to what extent our feelings towards a filmmaker are coloured by their personal failings."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:35 PM | Comments (1)

Will there be more Blood? You bet.

There Will Be Blood "John Ford taught us to regard every Western as an allegorical comment on America," writes C Jerry Kutner at Bright Lights After Dark. "And most of them are in some way. But Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood is so abstract, primal, and fundamentally ambiguous that it lends itself to any number of readings. Which is maybe why cinebloggers can't stop writing about it. If it doesn't work for you as a Western, try looking at it as a horror film."

"There Will Be Blood seems headed for the Mount Rushmore of Ecstatic Overreaction," writes Godfrey Cheshire. "Though I've regarded Anderson as something of a fraudulent striver from the first, I go into every new film hoping to be won over. And I must stress that in the first half of There Will Be Blood, I was - completely." But then: "I'll tell you exactly where he loses it." And he does. "Ultimately, I think Anderson has nothing to say other than that he wants to make movies like the great ones of yore. And critics, seeing no new Altmans or Kubricks on the horizon, are all too ready to mistake his pretensions for the real thing."

Updated through 1/25.

As if in reply, Neil Morris writes, also in the Independent Weekly, "The itch to remonstrate any Paul Thomas Anderson film as pretentious is not without justification." But: "No film in the past year has haunted me longer after departing the theater. Within Anderson and cinematographer Robert Elswit's panoramic stereogram is a Faustian fever dream that deconstructs both the Horatio Alger myth and the American ethos of success through diligent, pious striving."

For the Vue Weekly's Josef Braun, Blood "is something fiery and looming, controlled and eccentric, and fully deserving of the superlatives it continues to attract."

Earlier: 12/5, 12/10, 12/19, 12/26, 1/4 and 1/11.

Updates, 1/21: "I can see it approaching, like a dark cloud in a blue sky: the Daniel Day-Lewis backlash," sighs Peter Bradshaw, recalling a recent email "from a very good friend: 'Perhaps next time we see each other you can explain to me what is so brilliant about Daniel Day-Lewis essentially performing like a crazed panto pirate in his last two big movies....' Is Day-Lewis overpraised? I don't think so, no. But I have to confess there is a strange whispering-in-church tone that comes over journalists when writing about him."

"To paraphrase Bob Dylan's 'Maggie's Farm,' Anderson has a head full of ideas that may be drivin' him insane," writes Edward Copeland. "Now many great films have been made that toiled in the soil of the ambiguous, but they aren't all as goddamn boring as There Will Be Blood."

Update, 1/24: "If this film is a character piece - and I think it's more that than anything else - then Anderson needs to give us a person to work with," writes Darren Hughes. "What a fascinating mess of a movie."

Updates, 1/25: "Truly, the first step in measuring Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood is to note the underplaying, the restraint and the terrible repression in the man - for this is a cannibal who is trying with all his might to think vegetarian thoughts," argues David Thomson in a post to the Guardian's film blog. "Another step in describing this great performance is to ask, who is honestly surprised? After all, an actor with Brando's zest and skill is working with Paul Thomas Anderson. What did anyone expect? Don't you remember what Anderson did with Tom Cruise, Philip Baker Hall and Jason Robards in Magnolia? Can't you see that this is a director always going to go farther than others?"

Jim Emerson examines "Three kinds of violence: Zodiac, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:21 PM

Sundance. Eat, For This Is My Body.

Eat, For This Is My Body "The surreal, virtually non-narrative first feature from filmmaker Michelange Quay, Eat, For This is My Body is the rare Sundance title that unquestionably bears the mark of an obstinately independent vision," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "It's by turns exhilarating and totally confounding, and it's certainly not always successful, but it is always a challenge, and for that alone it pops out of the pack. It's also incredible to look at. The opening series of arial sweeps across Haiti, from postcard-perfect coastline to inland slums to desolate mountain terrain, is absolutely breathtaking."

"Personally, I found Eat fairly enjoyable, though I largely ignored the heavy-handedness of Quay's black-and-white symbolism and just grooved on the sumptuousness of his imagery and the rhythm of his camera moves and editing," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club.

IndieWIRE interviews Quay.

Earlier: Andrew Tracy in Cinema Scope.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:13 PM

Sundance. Anvil! The True Story of Anvil.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil "Anvil! The Story of Anvil is not just better than you'd think that a documentary about a 30-year-old Canadian metal band led by two lifelong friends in their 50s to be," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "It's better than most music documentaries. It's better than most documentaries, period. I am about as metal as your aunt, and I was spellbound by Anvil! The Story of Anvil - laughing, yes, but also inspired to think feel and literally moved to the edge of tears by the complicated-simple, stupid-smart, goofy-serious story that it tells thanks to Sascha Gervasi's inspired and impressive direction. Anvil! The Story of Anvil is a documentary about a metal band, sure. And The Catcher in the Rye's about baseball."

This "is an alternatively moving and hilarious love story - a tale of two people hopelessly devoted to playing heavy metal music," writes John Horn in the Los Angeles Times. "The late 1970s and early 1980s saw a gold rush of hard-core rockers: Scorpions, Iron Maiden, Whitesnake, Metallica, Anthrax and Motorhead among them. With its outrageous stage antics and pulsing rhythms, Anvil was right in the mix too, its album Metal on Metal envied by the band's head-banging brethren. As a teen living in London, screenwriter Sacha Gervasi saw one of Anvil's first British gigs. 'I was blown away,' he recalls. 'It was heavy music with really funny entertainment.'"

"For the first half of this documentary one admires the tenacity of the rock and roll dream but in the latter half, an increasingly humiliating sense that the dream has been over for decades and they just haven’t woken up begins to take over," writes Nathaniel Rogers at Zoom In. "After a particularly difficult therapy session of sorts with their record producer on their 13th record This is Thirteen they visit Stonehenge. Yes, Stonehenge! This is Spinal Tap roars back into mind."

"The effusive, downright giddy crowd response had director Gervasi and Anvil's bald guitarist wiping away tears as they thanked everyone and answered questions," notes the Austin American-Statesman's Chris Garcia.

IndieWIRE interviews Gervasi.

Update, 1/22: "Who would've guessed that the second movie to move me to tears at Sundance - following Stranded, way back on day two - would be a documentary about an obscure Canadian heavy metal band, still grinding it out after 30 years?" asks the AV Club's Noel Murray. "[W]ithin the portrait of Anvil's endurance, we may see why they never became big stars: They're too nice."

Updates, 1/25: James Rocchi talks with Gervasi and producer Rebecca Yeldham for Cinematical.

"Anvil is this year's American Movie, albeit less wildly funny and more poignant," writes David Poland.

Update, 1/26: "A must-see for dreamers everywhere," declares Tom Hall.

Update, 1/30: "Right off the bat, this story plays right to my personal preferences," writes AJ Schnack. "Gigantic, after all, is also a story of two boyhood friends who are two decades into a career that has been filled with ups and downs, yet who are still looking for ways to make music.... Already we've seen writers bending over backwards to explain that they loved Anvil: The Story of Anvil even though they aren't metal fans. I'm not sure that anything can be done to break that vicious cycle, but a committed distributor would do right to gamble on Anvil."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:05 PM | Comments (1)

Park City, 1/19.

Slamdance "Slamdance officially got underway last night with the underwhelming Real Time, which despite containing the best dramatic performance of Randy Quaid's career, left something to be desired in the originality category," writes Brandon Harris in his first dispatch for Filmmaker, where he's been interviewing directors with films at Slamdance - films that will, hopefully, soon have entries here of their own.

Craig Zobel (Great World of Sound) at FilmInFocus: "Five Things To Know in Going to the Sundance Film Festival."

Cathleen Rountree is catching one doc after another.

"While many film festivals have midnight sections that screen outré and impolite genre films, there is something about Sundance's 'Park City at Midnight' that defies expectations," writes Mark Olsen in the Los Angeles Times. "Frequently brimming with frenzied horror, outrageous mayhem and dark comedy, the section has consistently featured some the most commercially successful films to emerge from Sundance."

Photos: Matt Dentler.

Online viewing tip. David Carr "chats it up with industry folks and keeps warm in a promotional hat."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:47 PM

Park City Dispatch. 2.

Brian Darr's found a highlight in the Documentary Spotlight program.

La Corona Do you like women-in-prison films? Sundance has got a doozy in its lineup this year. It's called La Corona, and it's co-directed by Isabel Vega and Amanda Micheli, whose Double Dare introduced us to the backlot world of superstar stuntwomen Jeannie Epper and Zoe Bell. But this is no grindhouse movie for the exploitation crowd (not that there's anything wrong with those); it's the 40-minute closer to the Documentary Spotlight program of sub-feature-length non-fiction films. La Corona came on the screen just before midnight, the last film of the first evening of screenings here in Salt Lake City. I doubt anyone in the audience was checking the time, though. This is one of those shorts you hope might get expanded into a feature, just so you can spend more time with its characters.

Did I mention that La Corona is about a beauty pageant? It just happens to be held in Bogota, Colombia's largest women's penitentiary. Here's the only film I know where you'll see a would-be beauty queen with a disturbing gang tattoo at the base of her thumb. Or one who gives her lesbian lover a smooch just before being paroled. The narrative's preparation-competition-denouement structure may be palatable to audiences used to so-called 'reality' television (will you root for the guerrilla fighter doing 13 years of time, the contract killer in for eight, or the thief, a relative short-timer with a three-year sentence?) But interviews with the contestants and prison authorities aside, none of these women seem to be playing for the camera; they're just doing what they'd be doing if Micheli and Vega weren't around. The pageant is a major annual prison event but there are much bigger things at stake in its inmates' lives.

La Corona declines to show the context of everyday life around the cellblock, before dunking the audience headfirst into the pageant activities. This places particular importance on the film's coda in which winner and runners-up alike are revisited a month after the event. Thankfully it's a sequence no less riveting than the competition itself. The co-directors are willing to let their film brush up against uncomfortable issues such as racism and relations between prison staff and inmates, even when it doesn't delve deeply into them.

The Documentary Spotlight program, reportedly particularly strong this year, contains two more films in the 20-40-minute range: Lauren Greenfield's unsettling piece on materialistic minors in Los Angeles, kids + money, and Tadashi Nakamura's account of an annual Pilgrimage to the Manzanar site of Japanese-American internment during World War II. Both are solid, though both occasionally bothered me with techniques that seemed calculatedly 'hip.' The program is rounded out with three very short films that broaden the scope of the 'documentary' label. My favorite of these is Ken Wardrop's Farewell Packets of Ten, which should be available to view online.

- Brian Darr


Brian found a link for "online" and notes that Farewell Packets of Ten will be screening in Rotterdam.

Also, if you click on kids + money, what you'll be seeing is an abbreviated version - an appetizer.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:01 AM | Comments (3)

January 18, 2008

Park City, 1/18.

Sundance 08 Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay has a long list of films he's looking forward to catching.

Rob Davis is blogging the festival for Paste and, via Peter Knegt, Bruce LaBruce is blogging for CBC.

Time's Rebecca Winters Keegan reports on the "BlackBerry to BlackBerry" buzz in Park City as news of the DGA's deal with producers broke yesterday.

Celluloid Dreams has picked up Ballast, reports Brian Brooks at indieWIRE, where Eugene Hernandez has news of HBO Documentary Films' acquisition of Elvis Mitchell's The Black List: Volume One.

Also, Kim Adelman previews the best of the shorts. Speaking of which, Midnites for Maniacs programmer Jesse Hawthorne Ficks picks his favorite shorts so far.

"While, in the eyes of some, there remains a clear distinction between fine arts and the relative pop art of cinema, Sundance is the latest in a long line of institutions to acknowledge the influence of the moving image on the art world, and vice-versa," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun.

"Sundance says it wants a 'webolution.' Just don't look for it at the indie film fest's website, which has slashed its online offerings even as internet video is taking off." For Wired News, Jason Silverman asks programmer Trevor Groth why.

Also via Movie City News: "[T]he festival has always had a mandate to explain Americans to themselves," writes Liam Lacey in the Globe and Mail.

"Heading into this year's Sundance, a look at the recent past enforces the idea that a festival pedigree doesn't guarantee a happy ending in and of itself." Another look at the Class of 07, this time from Chris Lee in the Los Angeles Times.

Photo galleries: Ray Pride (more), Chris Garcia and Shawn Levy.

Online viewing tip. Michel Gondry's curating YouTube's homepage throughout Sundance. Via Fimoculous.

Online viewing tips. Joel Heller rounds up links to video interviews with documentary directors.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:04 PM

Ugo Pirro, 1920 - 2008.

Ugo Pirro
Italian scriptwriter Ugo Pirro, who co-wrote two Oscar-winning films, has died at the age of 87 in Rome....

Indagine Su Un Cittadino al Di Sopra Di Ogni Sospetto - or Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion won best foreign language film in 1971. And Giardino dei Finzi-Contini - or Garden of the Finzi-Continis - won the same Oscar in 1972.

The BBC.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:51 AM

Berlinale. Competition, round 3.

Berlinale With today's announcement of eight more titles, the Berlinale's Competition lineup is now complete.

As it happens, at the top of this alphabetical list is Ballast, Lance Hammer's Sundance entry that David D'Arcy's just reviewed today.

Next up is no less than Hong Sang-soo and his Night and Day. Click the title for more from Twitch.

Michel Gondry's Be Kind Rewind, also premiering at Sundance, will close this year's festival.

Black Ice Dennis Lee's Fireflies in the Garden stars Julia Roberts, Ryan Reynolds, Willem Dafoe and Emily Watson.

Philippe Claudel's I've Loved You So Long.

Petri Kotwica's Black Ice - that's the poster, there.

Screening out of competition will be Justin Chadwick's The Other Boleyn Girl, in which Eric Bana is flanked by Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson.

Majid Majidi (The Color of Paradise) will bring The Song of Sparrows.

The first two rounds of announcements: 1 and 2.

And another section saw its lineup lined up today: Berlinale Special.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:58 AM | Comments (2)

Beaufort.

Beaufort "This was a particularly exceptional year for Israeli cinema," writes Nick Dawson. "Beaufort, Joseph Cedar's third film as writer-director, won the Silver Bear (for Best Director) at Berlin, and then The Band's Visit, Eran Kolirin's feature debut, won the hearts of critics at Cannes and came away with a distribution deal with Sony Pictures Classics." And for Filmmaker, he talks with both directors.

"Based on the popular novel by author Ron Leshem, which was inspired by real events, Beaufort is a tense drama about a young Israeli commander and his troops guarding a mountaintop outpost in the waning days of Israel's 18-year occupation of Lebanon," writes Robert W Welkos, introducing his interview with Cedar in the Los Angeles Times. "In 1982, Israel's army invaded Lebanon, capturing the mountain and routing its Palestine Liberation Organization defenders; the mountain contains a magnificent 12th century Crusader fortress."

Updated through 1/20.

"Cedar's understated humanism - passionate but never glib or easy - renders all the more painful the unstated coda that, six years after Israel's retreat from Lebanon, the wounds opened all over again," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice.

"[E]ven if it does not entirely rise above cliché, Beaufort has an earnest, sober intelligence that makes it hard to shake," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "It suggests that, for those who fight, the futility of war is inseparable from its nobility."

"In the larger scheme of things, the film seems to reflect and respect the feelings of mothers, lovers, sons and daughters - Israelis and those from other nations - who are tired of war, who abhor war, who think war is futile, who question the ultimate value of heroism expended in war efforts and under war-incurred circumstances," writes Jennifer Merin in the New York Press. "That said, Israel is known - and shown in this film - to be, of necessity, a nation of warriors."

For Bruce Bennett, writing in the New York Sun, "Beaufort coolly traces the conviction, loyalty, and consciousness-distorting contours of wartime with a forthright and supple narrative dexterity unseen in the war movie genre since Russian Elem Klimov's mid-1980s World War II masterpiece Come and See."

"Mostly, Beaufort is a deliberate, reserved dramatization of how an army stands down," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "The movie could use some 'why' to go with that 'how'... There's also a little bit in Beaufort about how a long-term occupation loses track of its original purpose."

Earlier: David D'Arcy and Michael Guillén.

"Beaufort remains a powerful vision of war and its bedrock futility, but only in the widest terms; on a human level, the mountain itself is a stronger character than any of the people portrayed here," writes Chris Barsanti in Film Journal International.

Update, 1/19: Lee Thomas reviews the novel for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Update, 1/20: Isabel Kershner talks with Cedar for the New York Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:29 AM

Mad Money.

Mad Money "In the breezy, amoral heist comedy Mad Money, Fun With Dick and Jane meets 9 to 5 on the way to recession," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "If this uncomfortably timely movie lacks the political bite of the first and the cozy star chemistry of the second, it sputters to fitful life in the crooked grin of Diane Keaton, whose character, Bridget Cardigan, an upper-middle-class homemaker in suburban Kansas City, Mo, develops an insatiable lust for larceny."

Updated through 1/20.

"There's something nicely satirical about the way that Bridget feels absolutely entitled to all this money - as if no jury in the world would possibly convict her of doing everything she can to avoid giving up her cushy upper-middle-class lifestyle," writes Paul Matwychuk. "I'm not sure the movie notices the joke, though - when Bridget and Don are almost brought to tears by the thought of having to live in an apartment and smell other people's cooking, director Callie Khouri shoots the scene in a way that suggests she's on their side."

"The big problem with Mad Money is not that the situation is implausible - this is a caper; it's supposed to be over the top - it's that it doesn't do the work necessary to con us into believing it," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times.

"And there are montages. Lots and lots of montages," adds Ruth Graham in the New York Sun.

"The scheme works for a while. Sadly, the movie never does," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club.

"I can't discern any real reason for Mad Money to exist, other than as a vehicle for three appealing actresses, Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "And if this is the best they can get, then what, exactly, are the privileges of stardom?"

Mad Money is "the second comedy in a row - on the heels of last year's embarrassing Because I Said So - to waste the prodigious comedic talents of Diane Keaton," sighs Alonso Duralde at MSNBC.

"[W]hile it's all so breezy and zippy and girl-power peppy, it's Keaton who makes Mad Money worth a few bucks," writes Robert Wilonsky in the Voice.

"Keaton can't help turning up the volume of her 'plucky' persona - most likely to drown out the gaspings of a thin script by Fracture screenwriter Glenn Gers," writes Deborah Day for Premiere.

"We would all like to think that Diane Keaton is more than just hats and belts and Woody Allen jokes, that she's a person with dignity, a person who's learned from herself, a person who wouldn't subject herself, and the audience she's built, to flaming piles of crap, but Mad Money is a flaming pile of crap," writes Christopher Frizzelle in the Stranger.

Update, 1/20: Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times on Keaton's career: "We want to see what's happened to Annie Hall since we met her in 1977, when she was wearing men's ties and vests and venturing out on her own for the first time to pursue a singing career and see where life took her."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:20 AM | Comments (1)

27 Dresses.

27 Dresses "'From the writer of The Devil Wears Prada,' screams the poster for the new comedy 27 Dresses, and while that earlier film was a sprightly and entertaining adaptation of a contemporary best-seller, its 1950s heart was loaded with propaganda telling women that they needed to focus on getting a man instead of on their careers," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "Writer Aline Brosh McKenna's latest effort instructs women to be doormats for men who treat them like crap, because heaven forbid they wind up never getting married. Is Phyllis Schlafly using a pen-name?"

"27 Dresses is a chick-flick on a sugar high, so giggly-bouncy and nostalgic for the fantasy-girlhood of its audience that the DVD, which should follow relatively quickly, should come packaged in big pink bows and include a coupon for a free pony ride," writes Ryan Stewart for Premiere.

The New York Times' AO Scott has a little fun with the lay-out-the-plot mid-section of his review: "For ease of reference let's call the one the heroine ends up with the Right Wrong Guy and the one she rejects the Wrong Right Guy. In the case of 27 Dresses the Right Wrong Guy is James Marsden, who recently played the Wrong Right Guy in Enchanted, while the Wrong Right Guy is Edward Burns, who gets to be the Right Wrong Guy mostly in movies he writes and directs himself."

"[T]here's something undeniably interesting about how formula has superseded logic, significance or character in so much studio product that certain types of genre stories have become closed circuits, infinite loops," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "Do we need to keep hearing the same comforting story over and over again like toddlers, or does somebody just think we do? It doesn't matter. A movie like 27 Dresses has its pleasures, but to enjoy them it's best to approach it with the eyes - and experience, emotional maturity level and love of repetition - of a child."

"Made 10 years ago, it probably would have starred a vacationing cast member from Friends," suggests Keith Phipps at the AV Club.

"27 Dresses cobbles ideas from The Devil Wears Prada, The Wedding Planner and Runaway Bride, but it's actually more like last year's obnoxiously cute Juno and bizarrely flirtatious PS I Love You," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "Each film features a heroine who is not like women you know but an unbelievable woman you'd hate to know."

"It's not the job of Hollywood fluff to proselytize, but the story could have been so much smarter and sharper had it not swallowed the big, white, sugary pill wholesale," writes Mary Elizabeth Williams in Salon. "Even Four Weddings and a Funeral allowed for a gay union and the possibility of happily unmarried ever after."

"Like the wedding section of many newspapers, 27 Dresses often relies more on the female obsession with all things bridal than on a strong story," writes Meghan Keane in the New York Sun.

"A forgettable, formulaic comedy so predictable that seeing it and skipping it are the exact same thing," sighs Robert Wilonsky in the Voice.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:14 AM

Day Zero.

Day Zero "Day Zero chickens out of exploring the stickier consequences of a possible national draft, which, if recent history is any guide, would probably involve among other byproducts of civil disobedience a sharp rise in Canadian tourism," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in indieWIRE. "Intentionally or not, Day Zero ends up positing that the only responses to the obligation of fighting in a useless war are cowed acceptance or death, making the film not only an exercise in superfluity, but stupidity."

"With ludicrous gravity and a narrow-minded view of courage and conviction, the film's what-if scenario is presented as a reality check to every ostensibly unimaginative male who's come of age in the draftless years since Vietnam," writes Ed Gonzalez in the Voice. "One caveat: The many shots of the New York skyline are haunting, as if a military or monster attack could bring it all down in the blink of an eye."

"Its view of the near future may be vaguely plausible and its performances persuasive, but its formulaic construction, internal inconsistencies and fuzzy ending undermine its integrity," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "It has nothing to say about the big issues - manhood, war and friendship - that hasn't been explored with more depth and honesty in a hundred other movies."

"Risking one's life for one's country is a difficult, serious decision. But Day Zero makes it look at once trivial, naïve, and absurd," writes Meghan Keane in the New York Sun.

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with director Bryan Gunnar Cole about "real politics, imaginary wars and his disinclination to see the film he calls The Bucket Line."

And Jesse Ashlock talks with Cole for Tribeca.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:05 AM

More on Honeydripper.

Honeydripper Honeydripper's "uncommon pleasures derive not from any comprehensively created world but from its cast - mostly African-American veterans of the Broadway stage, of productions of August Wilson plays in particular - and [John] Sayles's graceful way of handling them," writes Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader. "[Danny] Glover's as hard-rock reliable as Spencer Tracy in his prime, [Charles] Dutton's exchanges of sexual innuendo with an appreciative lady friend are delivered with a kind of relish verging on joy, and [Yaya] DaCosta and [Gary] Clark make a cute couple. The music is a pleasure throughout. [Stacy] Keach and Mary Steenburgen turn in juicy performances - in fact, everybody on-screen seems to be enjoying themselves."

Honeydripper's coming to Austin, and if you're there this weekend, Kimberley Jones has details on how you can catch it and a live post-screening show - twice. More Honey in the Austin Chronicle:

  • Margaret Moser talks with Gary Clark Jr: "I thought, 'What would I be doing in 1950?' I'm fortunate to be in Austin with the support I have, outlets, and lots of opportunities, but I think this is what I'd have been doing 50 years ago, kicked out of the Army, hungry, looking for a gig. So I tried to draw on that struggle. There's more of a struggle for Sonny than me."

  • Austin Powell: "What's appealing about this soundtrack is that nothing would sound out of place screeching at 45 rpm."

  • "Honeydripper is a joyous film, not a tragic one," writes editor Louis Black. "It is much more a celebration of redemption than a depiction of oppression. As with all Sayles' films, it is about people and their lives – but here that's set against the spontaneous, 'just grew' spread of the people's music, 'and they called it rock & roll!'"

"John Sayles has made 19 films, and none of them are two-character studies," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "As the writer of his own work, he instinctively embraces the communities in which they take place. He's never met a man who was an island. Everyone connects, and when that includes black and white, rich and poor, young and old, there are lessons to be learned, and his generosity to his characters overflows into affection."

Peter Sobczynski interviews Sayles for Hollywood Bitchslap.

Earlier: "Interview. John Sayles."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:01 AM

Park City Dispatch. 1.

We've got a few people in Park City this year, and of course, David D'Arcy is one of them. Here, he offers first impressions of In Bruges and Ballast.

Martin McDanagh Sundance always seems to open with a British film. When the festival's programmer John Cooper was asked why that was on the NPR affiliate KPCW's morning show yesterday, he shrugged his shoulders and laughed.

This year it was In Bruges, a first feature by Martin McDonagh, the much-awarded British playwright of Irish origin who had a string of hits and successes with The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Pillowman, and who won the 2004 short film Oscar for Six Shooter, which featured Brendan Gleeson as a man who learns of the death of his wife and then encounters a violent teenager on a train.

Setting a film like that on a train is a logistical nightmare. Filming in Bruges is something else, since concerns about historical preservation in a medieval town tend to make anything that moves difficult to shoot, hence the whimsical absurdity of the premise of McDonagh's story - that two hit men would bolt from London after accidentally killing a child while aiming for a priest, and take refuge in beautiful Bruges. Will culture redeem these reprobates? (And what, by the way, was the priest doing with the child?) The EU policy to ease passage across borders enables them to try elevating themselves through art.

McDonagh has a great sense of fun, which you worry about a bit when his film takes its plodding time to begin its story. We see Ken (Gleeson) and younger Ray (Colin Farrell) take in the sights of the city, an extraordinary place. Nowhere in the press notes did I see that the city of Bruges was a partner in the movie, which warns you that there might be hired killers in your hotel. It can't be all that good for tourism. But as we learn, thanks to McDonagh's flair for the absurd, hired killers are people, too. They love art - at least one of them does. They have a mentor-student bond, and Ken will protect Ray when their lunatic boss back in England (Ralph Fiennes) orders that the child-killer be killed, mashing a telephone to bits from his posh house in what looks like Oxfordshire (as at least one McDonagh character has done on-stage). The wild man then turns up in Bruges to pull the trigger when Ken loses his nerve.

In Bruges In Bruges gets amusingly nutty when Ken and Ray take to the streets at night, and meet Chloe (Clemence Poesy), a drug-dealing gamine servicing a film crew. They also meet one of her best clients (Jordan Prentice), who is shooting a Dutch film there. The film becomes a march, and then a chase, through a medieval fun-house, set to the music of Carter Burwell, who (no surprise) has written music for a number of films by the Coen Brothers, an influence here.

One of the film's wildest scenes is a drug-fest with Farrell, Prentice and some whores from Amsterdam (one of them responds to Farrell's question as to why she's in Bruges, saying, and I'm paraphrasing, "there's more in it here for my pussy.") In what might be called the film's Tarantino soliloquy, Prentice predicts a future race war which will, among other Boschian ordeals, pit "Black dwarves against White dwarves." It's the sort of scene that makes you think, "I knew there was a reason why people took drugs," but you're also thinking, "Now that's a film I would pay money to see." It's crazy enough to have been pulled out of Chaucer.

In Bruges has plenty of these crazy moments, plus a violent arrhythmia of explosions of temper that you might expect from hit men under stress. If the serenity of Bruges can't calm them down, what can?

McDonagh ends his film with the gruesome consequences of deciding between preserving your honor and preserving yourself, and there's plenty of raw dialogue testing the honor among killers before the inevitable splat on the cobblestones. His filmmaking isn't all there yet, but McDonagh's dialogue sure is. Reason enough for writers to see In Bruges. They're on strike. What else do they have to do?

Ballast A film that couldn't be more different is Ballast, the first feature by Lance Hammer, set in winter in the Mississippi Delta, where the sky is either grey or rainy, and the fields are rows of puddles that extend beyond the trailers out into the distant horizon. Hammer, a set designer for studio films, has made anything but a commercial film. He says he was struck by the tone of the place, and his story, acted by non-professionals from the area where Ballast is filmed, is as grim as the landscape. Think of the paintings of Jean-Francois Millet. Think of Bruno Dumont.

A large black man is found dead of an overdose of pills in a house set in the middle of the fields. (Information is provided meagerly as the film unfolds.) The dead man's twin is near death with a gunshot wound, but his life is saved. From the ruins of those lives, we see other lives that depend on them, not the best of fates - James, a boy being raised by a single mother, who seems to be fending for himself emotionally, now that the man who turns out to have been his father is dead; Marlee, his mother, abandoned by the dead man, who works at a dead-end job as a janitor, and then gets fired; and Lawrence, the twin of the dead man, who seems ready to give up on life.

Soon, although nothing in this film happens all that quickly, we see that James has begun hanging out with the drug dealers whom he admires, and he owes money to teenagers in a local gang, who speak a monosyllabic argot that might as well be subtitled. If these young hoods had more style, they would remind you of the fighters in Asger Leth's Ghosts of the Cite Soleil in empty space, young men with no future. Their careers seem to be the next step in life for most boys like James in this corner of Mississippi, where there is no economy. The boy stays afloat in his debt to them by shaking Lawrence down for money with a stolen gun, but there's not enough to settle what he owes. He extorts more money with the gun from his Uncle Lawrence. When he fires at members of the gang, they force his mother's car off the road and beat them both. The realism is as grim as the landscape.

Somehow this is a welcome dose of shock therapy for all involved. Marlee takes over Lawrence's store, and James begins a home school course. But relations sour after Lawrence makes an extreme show of affection toward his dead brother's ex-wife, and the family falls into crisis again. We're left hanging, as they head off in a car toward a grey destination.

Here's what Lance Hammer has to say about his film:

There is an energetic resonance in the Delta that moves me, especially in winter. It has to do with the dignity of endurance in the face of sorrow. Being energetic in nature, language is inherently incapable of communicating the totality of the sensation. For many years, I've had the desire to make a film that, at its core, is an attempt to convey some portion of this essentially tonal phenomenon. Because tone is inherently formless, I realized that some degree of narrative structure would be required - some poles to give form to an amorphous tent. My hope is that the narrative has remained minimal and unobtrusive. I hope that is has served to convey the sense of sorrow that envelops this beautiful and complicated place.

Ballast is a product of intensive collaboration with non-professional actors. With one exception, all characters are portrayed by residents of the Delta townships where the scenes were recorded and have no prior film acting experience. Though a script was created, it was not distributed. Scenario was discussed, then given form, in the course of a two-month rehearsal process. Actors contributed their own language to the rehearsals, dialogue evolved as the result.

All imagery was photographed in existing locations with available light on 35mm film.

Even taking this approach into account, Lance Hammer still wants his film to reach an audience, and this one just might. His producers, Andrew Adamson and Mark Johnson, have The Chronicles of Narnia and other more commercial movies on their resumes. Maybe they can help this ambitious uncommercial film have its moment in theaters. After all, isn't that part of what Sundance is supposed to be about, amid the limo-lock, extortionate prices and "gifting opportunities" - using your skills, contacts and cash to support an alternative to studio product?

- David D'Arcy


Note: Jordan Prentice was misidentified in an earlier version of the review as Peter Dinklage. Many thanks to Glenn Kenny for pointing out the mistake.

Meantime, the earlier In Bruges entry's been updated quite a bit.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:18 AM

January 17, 2008

Other fests, other events, 1/17.

Mel Brooks "Springtime is coming early for Mel Brooks at the American Cinematheque," writes Susan King in the Los Angeles Times. "On Wednesday, the director will be at Santa Monica's Aero Theatre to launch a retrospective of his movies, beginning with perhaps his best-loved film, 1968's The Producers, and the rarely seen 1970 comedy The Twelve Chairs."

"A new season begins this week at Cinematheque Ontario." Girish picks out the highlights.

"Austin's already dangerously overengorged film-fest circuit is at long last playing host to Fangoria's Weekend of Horrors, a Cronenbergian electrified-clay-wall-to-electrified-clay-wall of horror-show hysterics, with everyone from semireviled director Uwe Boll (fresh off his surprisingly untraumatic appearance at last year's Fantastic Fest) to Donnie Dunagan, the one-and-only, once-upon-a-time Son of Frankenstein slated to appear, speak, mingle, and, as likely as not, get entertainingly smashed at some point." Marc Savlov in the Chronicle.

"Music is a healing art, many argue, and this weekend the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival will present a trio of documentaries that make that claim from a variety of standpoints." Shaun Brady in the Philadelphia City Paper on Knowledge Is the Beginning, Two Hands and Beethoven's Hair.

For Vue Weekly, Brian Gibson previews Women Photographers on Film, running at Edmonton's Metro Cinema from tomorrow through Monday.

In the Independent Weekly, Zack Smith offers an overview of Saturday's Riverkeeper Film Festival.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:49 PM

DGA and studios deal.

DGA "Hollywood directors have reached a tentative contract deal with studios after five days of negotiations, the directors union said Thursday. The agreement puts pressure on striking writers to end their walkout that has lasted more than two months and idled work on dozens of TV shows." Lynn Elber reports for the AP.

Updated through 1/18.

Updates, 1/18: "I wouldn't be surprised to see a WGA deal before Sundance ends," blogs David Poland.

"In the directors' opinion, digital media revenues will become significant only after 2010." More from Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes in the New York Times.

John Rogers points to United Hollywood's take and adds, "Short answer: this is not a bad deal for a Guild that doesn't really give a crap about residuals. Which, for a variety of reasons, is precisely the DGA.... At the very least, if this is what the AMPTP is willing to start with, we're in a good place. If they are indeed willing to negotiate in good faith."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:16 PM

Park City, 1/17.

Sundance 08 "OK, ritual complaints out of the way, along with the annual shock of feeling a new year of movies suddenly come squealing out of the starting grid and bang into fourth gear, just as we've put the old one to bed," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "Fact is, it looks like Sundance has a terrific lineup this year, heavy on back-to-basics indies likely to please film buffs more than investment bankers." And he presents a "list - 100 percent guesswork and rumor - about the films I'm most excited to catch over the next week."

"As for which of Sundance's more than 100 new feature films - most of them world or North American premieres - will generate the lion's share of 'Ohmigod, it's the next Sex, Lies and Videotape/Reservoir Dogs/Little Miss Sunshine chatter over the next 10 days, it's anybody's guess," blogs Scott Foundas at... the Dallas Observer? Ok. "It's a safe bet, though, that buyers will cast their eyes with particular scrutiny on the festival's glitzy Premieres section, where one can find slightly bigger-budget, more overtly commercial offerings than in the more prestigious competition sections."

Up the Yangtze "Fortissimo Films has announced a deal for worldwide sales rights to the Sundance Film Festival's closing night film, CSNY Deja Vu," reports indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez, following news of the first deal made at the fest: Zeitgeist has picked up Up The Yangtze, "a documentary about the effects of the construction of the massive Three Gorges Dam that is displacing millions and destroying national landmarks in [China]."

Also: "Since the turn of this new century, much to the dismay of festival organizers, sanctioned and guerrilla marketers alike have spent millions trying to capture the attention of the Sundance Film Festival's coveted audience of celebrities, industry-types, filmmakers, journalists, and socialites.... This year at Brand-Dance, as we now label the collective swirl of parties, gifting suites and sponsor events that run primarily during the first five days of Sundance, it seems as though there is more happening outside the movie theaters than ever before."

"With no end in sight to the writers' strike, studio specialty divisions and a slew of relatively new distribution companies will be looking for movies to fill their threatened schedules for later this year and 2009," writes David Carr. "And that could drive up prices for the undiscovered gem even more from last year's busy - some would say overheated - market that left more than a few buyers singed."

Also in the New York Times, David M Halbfinger: "With a comedy and two dramas at the Sundance Film Festival opening this week, Milk set to begin filming on Monday in San Francisco, two more films awaiting release this spring and at least two others that could go into production before a potential actors' strike this summer, Groundswell is kicking up a lot of dirt in the indie world."

"While heated bidding wars are most always a certain at Sundance, distributors are hoping cooler heads prevail this time out." Anthony Kaufman talks with a few for the Wall Street Journal.

Roman Polanski Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, Marina Zenovich's "compelling, smartly told film, debuting Friday night in Sundance's documentary competition, takes the seemingly familiar story of the circumstances surrounding Polanski's fleeing the country after pleading guilty to having sex with a minor and tells it with such intelligence, dispassion and detail that it's like we've never heard it before," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "Which is exactly the point."

"I came to Sundance in 1996 as the head of Pandora Films in the US with a little Australian gem called Shine." If you've read Peter Biskind's Down and Dirty Pictures, you may remember the fight over rights to that one; Jon Taplin looks back to a wild night and sunny morning.

On the way to Park City, the Hollywood Reporter's Gregg Goldstein ran into Morgan Spurlock and family and found them to be just as nice and normal as you'd like.

Park City Specials: indieWIRE, Variety and the Hollywood Reporter.

Online viewing tip. Joe Swanberg and Ronnie Bronstein present their first video for SpoutBlog: "The Sucker and the Crank."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:05 PM

Rotterdam. Lineup.

Rotterdam 08 Via Aardvark at Twitch comes news that the full lineup and schedule for the International Film Festival Rotterdam is now up for the world's perusal.

The festival runs January 23 through February 3.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:31 PM

Cloverfield.

Cloverfield Click the "Early words on Cloverfield" and you'll see they've begun to segue into full-blown reviews, so here we go, starting with Grady Hendrix, who follows up on his first take in Twitch with a second in the New York Sun: "[W]ith great hype comes great expectations, and the question on the minds of every man, woman, and child infected by the Cloverfield campaign is: Does it live up to its marketing? The answer, in short, is no."

"Back in 2001, movie companies were rushing to cut images of the World Trade Center from movies like Men in Black II and People I Know," recalls Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. "In 2008, a decapitated Statue of Liberty has become the primary marketing iconography for the movie that is 'tracking' to be the year's first bona fide blockbuster." But "the cheap and opportunistic Cloverfield suggests nothing so much as an earlier Abrams-authored disasterpiece, Armageddon, if it were rewritten by Mumblecore doyen Andrew Bujalski and shot on The Blair Witch Project's steady-shot-deficient handycam."

Updated through 1/21..

"After months of annoying PR stunts, trailers devoid of titles and titles devoid of context, questions about the actual quality of the damn thing almost seemed irrelevant," writes the Reeler. "Now that it's here, the outer layers of producer JJ Abrams's commercial machine have fallen to the wayside and we can see the final product as it is: a clunky, occasionally frightening monster-takes-Manhattan adventure that's hardly worth all the presumptuous hype."

"Finding out that Cloverfield isn't nearly as clever as its epic advertising doesn't detract from Abrams's ability to make the movie look very appealing, but another revelation emerges when comparing the commercial to the final product," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "With 9/11 parallels all over this thing, if Cloverfield were pumped up for what it is, it probably wouldn't sell."

"[E]ven though Cloverfield isn't the Godzilla-for-the-YouTube-generation picture that everyone may have been hoping for, it's still a terrific movie, filled with spectacle and a surprising amount of humor, which makes up for its lack of terror or emotional impact," writes Peter Hartlaub in the San Francisco Chronicle.

"Despite its indie-flavored shooting style, first-rate visual effects, reasonable intensity factor, nihilistic attitude and post-9/11 anxiety overlay, this punchy sci-fier is, in the end, not much different from all the marauding creature features that have come before it," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy.

Updates: At Fear.net, Scott Weinberg is "very happy to report that not only is Cloverfield a very good monster movie, but it represents a very welcome advance for the aged sub-genre. Between this flick and the Korean import The Host, one can't help but enjoy the mega-monster resurgence we're being treated to. Enjoy it now... before all the chintzy copycats show up."

Much of the film appears overly familiar to Richard Corliss, but there does seem to be one fresh innovation: "Earlier, we saw the monster shedding parasites that had attached themselves to its hide like barnacles. These dog-size, cricket-faced, crablike creatures can bound like kangaroos, stick to ceilings and attack people without so much as a 'Boo!'" Also in Time, Rebecca Winters Keegan talks with Abrams.

"Cloverfield is structured like a latter-day porno, complete with blandly fresh bodies, ugly video aesthetic, and full-on facial climax, though it plays most disquietingly as a snuff film concocted by PG-13-minded eggheads possessed of a shallow obsession with 'post-9/11' allegory," writes Keith Uhlich at UGO.

"Despite a first reel entirely devoted to establishing characters, Cloverfield is basically a line-'em-up, pick-'em-off horror movie that's effective without being either viscerally frightening or emotionally moving," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "Watching it is like going through a car wash: You come out of it thoroughly Cloverfield-ized, but essentially unchanged."

Nick Schager at Slant: "'It's about moments, man. That's all that matters,' muses Jason, and Cloverfield strictly adheres to that belief. What it doesn't ultimately do, however, is make those individual moments coalesce into something more than just a loud, frantic, hollow gimmick."

"Cloverfield never stops to identify the why, whence, or whereto of its rampaging meanie - this relentless thriller stops for nothing - but as for what to call it, behold... al-Qaedzilla!" yelps Nathan Lee in the Voice. "And how delicious that it comes to feast on the neo-yuppies.... Coupled with Kevin Stitt's complex cutting, Cloverfield is a sustained triumph of expanding and contracting perspectives, its whip-pans from human-scale panic to skyscraper-toppling spectacle raising the bar set by Spielberg's War of the Worlds - if not Sokurov's Russian Ark. The mechanism is the message in Cloverfield, a movie so aluminum-sleek, ultra-portable, and itsy-bitsy sexy, it's amazing Steve Jobs didn't pull it out of an envelope at Macworld."

"[I]ts decision to focus on ground-level humanism rather than epic disaster is what separates it from the pack," writes Eric Alt for Premiere. He also draws parallels with Frank Darabont's The Mist.

Updates, 1/18: "Like Cloverfield itself, this new monster is nothing more than a blunt instrument designed to smash and grab without Freudian complexity or political critique, despite the tacky allusions to Sept 11," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Like too many big-studio productions, Cloverfield works as a showcase for impressively realistic-looking special effects, a realism that fails to extend to the scurrying humans whose fates are meant to invoke pity and fear but instead inspire yawns and contempt. Rarely have I rooted for a monster with such enthusiasm."

"Maybe we're supposed to give Abrams and [director Matt] Reeves extra points for cleverness, for the way they've adapted traditional narrative into YouTube-style storytelling, using seemingly homegrown video footage to heighten the sense of immediacy," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "But we've already seen a far more effective version of that approach in Brian De Palma's Iraq war drama Redacted, and George Romero's upcoming Diary of the Dead makes use of some similar techniques. It's no longer good enough to be among the first; you have to be an effective storyteller, too, and that's where Reeves, [screenwriter Drew] Goddard and Abrams fail."

"Cloverfield is adept at wringing maximum suspense and might have reached the heights of the Korean monster film The Host but for the limitations of the camcorder ploy," writes Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times. "While it injects the film with a run-and-gun urgency, the device grows tiresome and ultimately leaves the film shortchanged."

"At one point, a solider is asked what the monster is," notes Bradley Steinbacher in the Stranger. "'We don't know,' he replies, 'but it's winning.' That's Cloverfield right there, and it's a hell of a lot of fun to watch."

The AV Club's Keith Phipps finds it "absolutely terrifying, and it's all the more effective for the way it lets viewers spend time getting to know the terrified stars, and the emotions and regrets behind their seemingly futile efforts to survive." Grade: A-

"[A]ll in all, it is an effective film, deploying its special effects well and never breaking the illusion that it is all happening as we see it," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "One question, which you can answer for me after you see the film: Given the nature of the opening government announcement, how did the camera survive?"

"Cloverfield is a kick," blogs David Edelstein. "The kid in you might crave a more objective view of the creature - not to mention the catharsis that comes from watching science and the military collaborate to bring the monster down, etc. That said, we've sat through that kind of movie again and again, but we've never sat through anything with Cloverfield's subjective sting. You'd have to be tougher than I was not to be blown sideways by it."

Online viewing tip. Vulture cuts together two minutes of man-on-the-street reactions. Good stuff!

"The biggest surprise about Cloverfield... is that for the first time in recent memory (if not ever), a January release doesn't royally suck," writes Aaron Dobbs. "[O]ne reason Cloverfield is so good is because it remains thoroughly gripping even though none of the big plot 'twists' really come as much of a surprise."

Updates, 1/19: "For a film that allegedly cost only 30 per cent more than Chris Tucker got for Rush Hour 3, Matt Reeves's first feature since The Pallbearer (you read that correctly) looks and sounds remarkable," writes Adam Nayman at Eye Weekly. "But - and it's a big but, I cannot lie - there's something cynical and even objectionable in the way these filmmakers are playing off collective memories of 9/11, as if a B-movie scenario about a gigantic, otherworldly beastie laying waste to a city were an acceptable allegory for a real-world act of terrorism."

"But while the Manhattan setting seems crucial to Cloverfield, I also found myself thinking, at least during one or two key moments, about the war in Iraq," writes Chuck Tryon. "During one key scene late in the film, Rob Hawkins confides to the camera that he and some of the other survivors are 'caught in the middle,' trapped between the unknowable, unpredictable, and utterly amorphous monster and the US military attempts to contain it. And, of course, the battle itself is unwinnable. During the attack on Manhattan, smaller monsters - possibly recalling terrorist cells - splinter off of the main monster, and all of the attempts to bomb the enemy into submission seem doomed to failure and, in fact, quite often endanger civilians, despite the best intentions of the military itself (in retrospect, I may be over-reading here)."

Update, 1/21: At culturemonkey, Gerry Canavan and Co "found ourselves wrestling with the question of the origins of apocalyptic fantasy, why these sorts of productions are so very popular. We basically hit upon five overlapping and sometimes contradictory motivations."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:26 AM | Comments (3)

Sundance. In Bruges.

In Bruges "Something strange is in the air at Park City, Utah, where the prestigious Sundance Film Festival opens tonight," writes Andrew Gumbel in the Independent. "People are talking about a golden year for British film - the most extraordinary flowering of our filmmaking talent for years." And at the top of his list of "The magnificent 23: British films showing at the Sundance Festival" is, naturally, the festival opener, Martin McDonagh's In Bruges.

For the New York Sun, S James Snyder talks with McDonagh, who "adamantly maintains that regardless of how mainstreams audiences react to In Bruges there are a handful of moments he deems perfect - scenes that have made the adventure worthwhile." There's one in an art gallery. "And then there's the scene on the bridge, where Brendan [Gleeson] and Colin [Farrell] talk about heaven and hell, and then go on to talk about hitting that guy at the restaurant in the face with a bottle - that's the kind of moment I always go for, something that's really funny but in just two lines it becomes really sad and kind of distressing in a way."

In the Los Angeles Times, Mark Olsen profiles Farrell: "In both In Bruges and Cassandra's Dream, Farrell plays men of simple tastes who are thrust into situations far beyond their abilities to cope.... Whereas Farrell's star rose based largely on his winning smile, bright eyes and healthy head of hair, both of these recent roles find him exploring aspects of tender uncertainty and emotional fragility that will likely surprise audiences looking for a flashy, flippant movie-star turn."

Earlier: Sylviane Gold profiles McDonagh for the New York Times.

Updates, 1/18: Besides David D'Arcy's take in his first dispatch from Park City, he's written another review for Screen Daily: "McDonagh so far shows better instincts for directing actors than for the camera. Gleeson is tender as a culture-loving killer with a paternal duty. Farrell is true to type as he curses beautiful Bruges ('a boring shit-hole') and mocks ubiquitous American tourists, flooring one, who turns out to be Canadian, for objecting to cigarette smoke - 'that's for John Lennon.' [Jordan Prentice] is hilarious, cock-sure in a drug stupor, ringed by whores, as he predicts a global race war."

"Closer to pics like The Hit and Miller's Crossing than to any of McDonagh's bristling, funny plays, this half-comic, half-serious account of two Irish hitmen who are sent to the titular Belgian burg to cool their heels after a job is moderately fair as a nutty character study, but overly far-fetched once the action kicks in," writes Robert Koehler in Variety.

"In Bruges is a comedy with a heavy heart, and frankly, I didn't really go for the jokes or the emotional pull," writes the AV Club's Noel Murray.

"Martin McDonagh's script moves in unexpected directions - and, more importantly, in unexpected directions which are the kind of unexpected that you do not actually expect," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "In Bruges, with two killers exiled to Brussels after a badly botched London hit until the heat comes off, turns into something different from the standard-issue post-Tarantino film; it becomes the post-post Tarantino film, one where the talk talk bang bang is actually, just as it was in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, about something."

"As bright and fully considered as a good play (no surprise) with affecting portions of heart, compassion and symmetry," writes Jeffrey Wells. "And laughs - it's a very funny piece."

"The Bagger is no critic - though he had a nice dinner with one earlier in the evening - but In Bruges had the stuff the Bagger goes to movies for: Some laughs, a good story and characters that will stay with him for a while."

"[F]or all its very snappy dialogue and daringly crass humor, In Bruges aims to be about, in one character's words, 'guilt and sins and hell and all that,'" writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "Good for [McDanagh] for going big. It makes In Bruges a fairly auspicious kickoff for the festival."

"In the long history of British (or, technically, transplanted Irish) gangsters on film, Ray, Ken and Harry evoke neither the cool of the stylized nor the sympathy of the grittily naturalistic," writes Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog. "Neither amoral fun nor plausible subjects for compassion, they're just, like the film, curiosities."

Update, 1/19: Online viewing tip. Variety's Anne Thompson talks with Farrell, Gleeson and McDonagh.

Update, 1/20: James Rocchi talks with McDanagh for Cinematical.

Update, 1/21: "Colin Farrell is the most underrated, overhated actor of the the past few years," argues Jesse Hawthorne Ficks at Pixel Vision. "[W]atch In Bruges and his pitch-perfect performance in Woody Allen's misunderstood masterpiece Cassandra's Dream, and you too will become a believer."

Update, 1/24: "I had the odd sensation of really enjoying the caustic thrill ride of In Bruges the whole way, and then coming out into the frozen night feeling a little unsure about it," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Its mixture of tenderness and brutality is deliberately awkward, but something about the blend didn't quite work for me in the final scenes, when McDonagh allows himself to be dragged into action-movie cliché."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:30 AM

Berlinale. Forum. (And stars.)

Berlinale "The 38th Forum of the Berlinale is showing a truly world-spanning and diverse program with films from 33 countries and all continents," announces the festival. "One emphasis again this year is the experimental, unconventional, imaginative work of young filmmakers; the program presents a total of 16 directorial debuts."

In addition to the 36 films unveiled here, there'll be this nifty salute: "On the occasion of the international premiere of his impressive three-hour feature film on the Japanese terrorist group United Red Army, a tribute is paid to maverick director Wakamatsu Koji by three 'pinku eiga.' Along with Secrets Behind the Wall, with which the director caused quite a stir in the 1965 Berlinale Competition, the Forum is also showing the classics Go, Go Second Time Virgin (1969) and Ecstasy of the Angels (1972)."

Updated.

Update: Meanwhile, in Der Tagesspiegel, Andreas Conrad confirms that all four Rolling Stones and Martin Scorsese will attend the premiere of Berlinale's opening night film, Shine a Light, on February 7.

Patti Smith will be giving "an exclusive-to-Germany concert of poetry and music" in the Passionskirche on February 8 to accompany the screening Steven Sebring's documentary about her, Dream of Life.

Among many other celebs likely to make a showing:

And Tilda Swinton will be in Berlin for three reasons: Julia, in Competition; a documentary on Derek Jarman, screening in the Panorama section; and she'll be accepting an honorary Teddy for doing to so much to keep Jarman's memory alive.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:12 AM

January 16, 2008

Shorts, 1/16.

Dario Argento "Italo horror-meister Dario Argento will shoot Giallo, an English-language homage to the genre that made him a cult helmer, with Ray Liotta, Vincent Gallo and Argento's daughter Asia Argento attached to star," reports Nick Vivarelli.

In the meantime, Final Girl's rowdy Film Club has just been watching and blogging Suspiria.

Also in Variety, though: "Charlize Theron has signed on to join Viggo Mortensen in the bigscreen adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's bestselling novel The Road," reports Tatiana Siegel. Plus, Ellen Page has signed up for Drew Barrymore's directorial debut, Whip It!.

"The Culture Ministry has quietly banned the importing of The Kite Runner, a film based on the best-selling novel about childhood betrayal, ethnic tension and sexual predation in Afghanistan," reports Abdul Waheed Wafa from Kabul. Related: For the Independent, Arifa Akbar talks with Khalid Abdalla, not only about The Kite Runner, but also about Paul Greengrass's The Green Zone, "which begins filming in Spain this week and stars [Matt] Damon as a disillusioned American captain opposite Abdalla as his Iraqi translator, provides a first-hand view of life inside Baghdad's fortified zone, with all its iniquities and excesses."

"Vertov, in Man with a Movie Camera constantly slows down images to stills, then lets them speed up again, giving lie to the illusion and affirming its power," writes David Pratt-Robson. "[Ken] Jacobs, in his avant-garde films, does so more obsessively: playing films, then stopping them, slowing them, juxtaposing frames from seconds apart in which the background is the same, and the figure, who we've seen walk towards the camera, now lurches forward and back in a close-up and long-shot. Jacobs returns film to a magic-lantern show: a two-dimensional background photo, with silhouetted figures superimposed onto this world who move on their own as if in it."

William Wellman "You can add William Wellman to the Siren's list of Favorite Directors With Shaky Auteur Status, along with Mitchell Leisen, Jean Negulesco and the award-laden but Cahiers-dissed William Wyler."

"An elegant prelude and illuminating companion piece to Carlos Saura's ¡Ay Carmela!, Fernando Fernán Gómez's Voyage to Nowhere chronicles the turning fortunes and endemic poverty that had befallen the itinerant, road theater performers during Franco-era Spain, resulting from both strictly enforced censorship within the regime's repressive agenda of instilling a selective national culture, and an out of favor, traditional form of entertainment against the popularity of a vital cinema," writes acquarello.

Claude Miller's Un secret (A Secret), based on Philippe Grimbert's novel "is an old-fashioned drama about family secrets set against the background of WWII and the following years," writes Boyd van Hoeij at european-films.net. "Though occasional stylistic flourishes feel unnecessary, on the whole, Un secret makes for compelling viewing despite its many familiar elements, and Cécile de France and Patrick Bruel finally prove they are bona fide star material."

Giuseppe Andrews Bill Gibron on Giuseppe Andrews: "Long an icon for those who appreciate his outsider oeuvre, the 28 year old auteur has amassed a creative catalog so important that it's only a matter of time before he's declared the most important filmmaker of the last decade."

Also in PopMatters: George Reisch introduces and excerpt from Nick Bostrom's More Matrix and Philosophy: Revolutions and Reloaded Decoded: "This is Bostrom's claim: that there's a real chance - one in five, he roughly estimates - that me, you, and everyone else you know is a computer simulation of a person, not too unlike those characters in The Matrix."

And Bill Gibron lists "The Most Anticipated Films of 2008."

"There are weird movies, and then there is Mystics in Bali: the film against which other weird movies are measured," writes Jeff at Cinema Strikes Back.

Dick Maas "In response to our Halloween feature Dark Passages: The Films of Dick Maas, the Dutch filmmaker was kind enough to respond to some questions in regard to his work, which spans over twenty-five years, a variety of genres, and two films (to date) concerning killer elevators," write Rumsey Taylor and Thomas Scalzo at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

Roger Avary, the "Oscar-winning co-writer of the film Pulp Fiction, who was accused of driving drunk when he was involved in a fatal car accident over the weekend, released a statement today expressing his 'heartfelt condolences to the family of the deceased,'" reports Rene Lynch.

Also in the Los Angeles Times, Patrick Goldstein on Disney's new winning formula: "Of the 11 movies it released in 2007, eight were Disney label movies, allowing the company to remain relentlessly focused on its brand. By releasing so few films, Disney was able to make more high-quality films by putting extra time into solving script, production and marketing issues than competitors like Sony and Warner Bros, who roll out more than 20 a year."

Nancy Franklin in the New Yorker on PBS's The Complete Jane Austen: "[T]he Austen logjam has many pleasing aspects - as well as aspects that will vex Austen maniacs, but, as far as I can tell from the various Web sites devoted to the author, being vexed is part of the joy of being an Austen maniac."

Julian Schnabel "[W]hen The Diving Bell and the Butterfly... took the director's prize at Cannes earlier this year, then a Golden Globe at the weekend, it was a triumph that seemed almost without precedent. Could it really be that an artist - an actual, paint-splashing, gallery-hung, privately collected artist - had finally made a film that might lure punters into cinemas?" asks Kevin Jackson. "And could that triumphant artist be, of all people, Julian Schnabel, the smashed-plates bloke in the crumpled pyjamas, the charismatic, loud-mouthed beneficiary of Manhattan's new money in the bull markets of the 1980s?" Related: Jonathan Romney talks with Schnabel for the Independent.

Back in the Guardian: Allegra Stratton reports on which Hollywood celebrities have donated to whose presidential campaigns and David Thomson: "[J]ust because the movie audience has rejected all signs of warfare this year, don't think it isn't preoccupied with dread and bloodletting.... It may be fanciful to read national impulse in the tropes of art. Yet there may be no better way. It seems America is getting ready for a great interior violence. Don't think its civil war was ever settled."

"The story is all about its ending, and so is the film; but the film has to find creative ways to linger." Michael Wood in the London Review of Books on Lust, Caution.

"Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov [12] said Tuesday that he planned to set up a new post-graduate film academy in Moscow with an emphasis on art and intellect rather than commercial craft," reports Nick Holdsworth in Variety.

Jürgen Fauth and Marcy Dermansky will be editing an issue of Mississippi Review Web devoted to the movies. Click Jürgen's name if you'd be interested in submitting work.

"Described as a new 'online social marketplace connecting filmmakers and fans,' Indiegogo.com is launching today, offering a new web-based venue that will 'address the fundraising challenges and market inefficiencies affecting independent filmmaking today,'" notes indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez. Scott Kirsner has more.

Oprah Winfrey's getting her own TV network. Phil Rosenthal has more in the Chicago Tribune.

Online photo. Shall We Dance @ Shorpy.

Online listening tip #1. Sound Opinions: "This week Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova of The Swell Season and the film Once join Jim [DeRogatis] and Greg [Kot] for a conversation and live performance."

Online listening tip #2. "For his first full-length feature [Disappearances], Jay Craven convinced Michael J Fox to work for free. Kris Kristofferson not only worked for scale on Craven's latest, but he played two benefit concerts to raise money for the production." Jon Kalish reports for NPR. Thanks, Jerry!

Online browsing and viewing tips. Contributors to Worth 1000 incorporate sci-fi elements into non-sci-fi movies. Via Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing, where he's also pointing to Lainy Voom's The Dumb Man, a film created in Second Life.

Tom Cruise Online viewing tip #2. Gawker's got a video of "Tom Cruise, with all the wide-eyed fervor that he brings to the promotion of a movie, making the argument for Scientology, the bizarre 20th-century religion.... [I]t's newsworthy; and we will not be removing it." Naturally, the "Church" has already sicced their lawyers after 'em.

Online viewing tip #3. New York's Bilge Ebiri introduces Seith Mann's five deep breaths, a short that "screened at Sundance and won Best Narrative Short at the Los Angeles and Chicago Film Festivals. Mann has since also directed episodes of Grey's Anatomy, Friday Night Lights and Entourage [as well as The Wire]. He is currently at work on his debut feature. If it's as good as this short, we'll be very, very impressed." Via Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker.

Online viewing tip #4. Peet Gelderblom's Socutera Prize-winner.

Online viewing tips. NewArtTV, via Caitlin Jones at Rhizome.

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

Slouching towards Park City, 1/16.

Sundance 08 At the AV Club, Noel Murray and Scott Tobias list "10 Sundance Sensations That Changed Filmmaking" and "10 Sundance Films That Died In The Real World."

"Yesterday, I made a list of five films amongst Sundance's four competition slates that I'm particularly excited to see," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "Today, here's a look at another film films that I'm looking forward to, culled from the Spectrum, New Frontier, and Park City at Midnight sidebars."

"Last year's Sundance worked for Waitress, Once, No End in Sight, The Savages among others, but how does the buzz get started at Sundance? Or, more to the point, how do some films get on festgoers' short list of must-see titles even before the event begins?" Steven Rosen looks into for indieWIRE. Also, the Park City Diaries turn a fresh page.

"As always with Sundance, the documentary competition offers the most reliably involving films. This year things roughly break down into two categories, the personal and the societal." And Kenneth Turan offers a list of the most promising in each.

Also in the Los Angeles Times, Deborah Netburn lists "23 Facts About 23 (Official) Years of Sundance."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:45 PM

Opera Jawa.

Opera Jawa "Barely two weeks into the new year and here comes Opera Jawa, a surrealist Indonesian pomo-folkloric/funkadelic musical–slash–avant-garde pop-and-lock revolutionary romance–slash–Hindu song-and-dance-installation art extravaganza," writes Nathan Lee in the Voice. "Visually, the movie is a radiant folk fantasia, at once sophisticated and elemental, freewheeling and composed."

"Based on The Abduction of Sita, from the Hindu epic The Ramayana, this bizarre musical extravaganza is the seventh feature by the Indonesian filmmaker Garin Nugroho and probably the first to open with a song about pig livers," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "Filled with shadow puppets, leaping villagers, animal carcasses and tinkly gamelan music, Opera Jawa places its lurid love triangle against a backdrop of social unrest and erotic fantasy."

Update: Jonathan Rosenbaum takes exception to Jeannette Catsoulis's review.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:09 PM

DVDs, 1/16.

The Naked Prey "The Naked Prey burns with Darwinian fury: the struggle between Man and his pursuers is played out in the context of fierce, interspecies predation, much of it courtesy of stock footage far too rough for the Discovery Channel," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. Also reviewed: Eclipse's Postwar Kurosawa and: "Whereas Altman's [Nashville] endeared itself to East Coast intellectuals by portraying Southerners as mentally impaired pawns in a cynical capitalist scheme being played out far above their tousled heads, [Daryl Duke's] Payday - though not without its caricatures - takes a more levelheaded look at the country-western milieu."

"[T]he Nazi phenomenon was apparently almost cosmic in its limitless and deathless ability to re-manifest itself as jaw-dropping news, even 60 years later," writes Michael Atkinson at IFC News. "One of the most original and philosophically fluent documentaries on the subject ever made, Rex Bloomstein's Kz (2005) casts a gimlet eye on not only the mass exterminations but the ways they are considered today — not in films, but on the ground." Also, Raúl Ruiz's Klimt is "a lush, ridiculous fantasy of an artsy, clichéd Mitteleuropa that never quite existed (brothels full of mustachioed women, a bulging-eyed Egon Schiele, played by Kinski scion Nikolai) peopled by symbolic personages (dream muse Saffron Burrows, nameless bureaucrat Stephen Dillane), all revolving around Klimt as if he were a walking martyr for misunderstood geniuses everywhere."

"It's striking when a movie says more, even indirectly, about the nature of modern commerce in 90 minutes of near-silent footage than you've heard from the clichés and homilies and pre-spun phrases of all the presidential debates so far," writes James Rocchi at the Huffington Post. The film: Manufactured Landscapes.

The Day After Trinity "What sets The Day After Trinity apart from most if not all documentaries on the nuclear age is the attitudes, the mannerisms and the odd behavior on display by all the participants, recording history by eyewitnesses before they die, setting itself up as a vital record to be studied not just cinematically but sociologically for the years ahead," writes Jonathan Lapper.

"How has Bourne become the only gargantuan Hollywood franchise that's impressed both mainstream and alternative presses (along with contrarian, smug bastards like myself)?" asks R Emmet Sweeney at IFC News.

"I don't generally recommend films on this blog (I think I've only done it only twice before) but Münchhausen is that rare classic fantasy film that deserves to be seen and discussed," writes Thom at Film of the Year.

"[E]ven at its most frustrating, Into Great Silence is hypnotic - and legitimately attuned to the spiritual - in a way few cinematic works are," writes Nick Schager.

Dragon Wars is "as silly as you'd expect, but maybe twice as much fun," writes James Van Maanen at Guru.

DVD roundups: Paul Clark (ScreenGrab), DVD Talk, Susan King (Los Angeles Times), Peter Martin (Cinematical) and James Rocchi (San Francisco Chronicle).

Posted by dwhudson at 12:00 PM

Last Year at Marienbad.

Last Year at Marienbad "Hopelessly retro, eternally avant-garde, and one of the most influential movies ever made (as well as one of the most reviled), [Last Year at Marienbad] is both utterly lucid and provocatively opaque - an elaborate joke on the world's corniest pickup line and a drama of erotic fixation that takes Vertigo to the next level of abstraction," writes J Hoberman in the Voice.

"Resurrected by Rialto Pictures in a new 35 mm print for a two-week run beginning Friday at Film Forum, Last Year at Marienbad is still a kick to watch," writes Steve Dollar in the New York Sun. "The film's purgatorial chic remains audacious now because no one really makes movies like this anymore."

Earlier: Mark Harris in the New York Times.

Updated through 1/18.

Update, 1/17: "Resnais' projects haven't aged because they defy time," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "He's a playful formalist, tickling the boundaries of temporal coherence through meditative nonchalance."

Update, 1/18: "Even if one doesn't enagage with Marienbad on a theoretical level, one cannot fail to engage with its aesthetic - its visuals are as breathtaking as its concept is ambitious," writes Zachary Wigon at the House Next Door. "Everything in Marienbad is enormous: the dollies are epic (as are the hotel hallways they track through), the costume design is over-the-top (perhaps not as much in 1961, but significantly so now), and the locations are too gorgeous for words.... Marienbad has inspired numerous interpretations, but it necessitates exactly none of them, for it is the film's formal qualities that beget its content. As Susan Sontag writes in Against Interpretation: 'What matters in Marienbad is the pure, untranslatable, sensuous immediacy of some of its images, and its rigorous if narrow solutions to certain problems of cinematic form.'"

Posted by dwhudson at 11:44 AM | Comments (8)

Docs, 1/16.

Joy Division A "minority found [Control] a slug-paced, insight-free bore - and you can count me in on that judgment," writes Dennis Harvey at SF360. "The other movie, Grant Gee's documentary simply titled Joy Division, is, for my money tar superior analysis of the band's, and [Ian] Curtis's, legacy. It is playing the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts screening room this weekend - and hie thee there, because this gorgeously B&W-shot (like Control) work should ideally be seen on the big screen."

"'He was trouble and he was beautiful,' an interviewee muses early in Let's Get Lost, and it might as well be the film's byline," writes Max Goldberg. "Though less remembered today than James Dean or Jack Kerouac, [Chet] Baker had a comparable rogue appeal, his missing front tooth suggestive of wounded sensitivity, his shoulders bent under the unknowable weight of being himself."

Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Cheryl Eddy on Lake of Fire: "[T]o bypass this provocative film would be to miss one of the best docs ever made on the subject." The subject being abortion, of course.

AJ Schnack responds to Tom Roston's take on the new NonFiction Awards at the new POV Blog.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:34 AM

Plays, 1/16.

Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps Ben Brantley on Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps: "Adapted by Patrick Barlow from both the classic spy movie and the John Buchan novel of 1915, this fast, frothy exercise in legerdemain is throwaway theater at its finest. And that's no backhanded compliment."

Also in the New York Times: "[I]n a promotion for his play November, which will open on Broadway on Thursday, David Mamet will continue to write a blog from the perspective of his leading character, Charles HP Smith (played by Nathan Lane), a sitting president about to lose a re-election bid," reports Andrew Adam Newman. And for New York, Boris Kachka talks with Mamet.

"Theater is a resilient little shit of an art form that will go on long after any of us are around to worry about it," writes Neil LaBute. "But it can get stuck, and I believe American theater is currently in danger of this."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:22 AM | Comments (1)

Series and fests, 1/16.

Jean-Pierre Léaud "The critic Philippa Hawker once offered an amazingly accurate and concise definition of the actor Jean-Pierre Léaud's unique performing style: 'He is himself, he is his character Antoine Doinel, he is New Wave incarnate, he is the past-in-the-present, the past remembered and re-evaluated.'" A fine introduction to Maria Komodore's San Francisco Bay Guardian overview of Jean-Pierre Léaud: The New Wave and After, running from Friday through February 29 at the Pacific Film Archive.

Related: Abby Lustgarten at the Lipp.

"The fleeting few years between the very early talkies (1927 - '29) and the institution of Hollywood's self-imposed censorship in the form of the Production Code in 1934 produced some of the liveliest and most adult entertainment in the history of the movie industry," writes Steve Vineberg in the Boston Phoenix. "Nothing remotely like it would be seen again until the Code finally fell apart in the 60s, exhausted by repeated challenges from filmmakers. Inspired by Brandeis film-studies professor Thomas Doherty's new book, Hollywood Censor: Joseph I Breen and the Production Code Administration, Vice vs Virtue in Pre-Code Hollywood, at the Harvard Film Archive this weekend, is the latest entertaining series to pay tribute to this fascinating era."

At the Reeler, Miriam Bale salutes Film Forum's Otto Preminger retro, wrapping tomorrow.

International Film Festival Rotterdam "The International Film Festival Rotterdam 2008 will be starting next week, and the press office has just released the list of all premieres this year, be it World premieres, European premieres or International (first time shown outside of their own countries) premieres," notes Ardvark at Twitch.

The San Francisco Independent Film Festival has its program set for its 10th edition. Susan Gerhard at SF360: "The festival opens February 7th with the David Gordon Green-produced Shotgun Stories, set in Southeast Arkansas, and directed by Jeff Nichols. The festival closes 12 days later with Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park, with Van Sant - who's in San Francisco shooting the Harvey Milk biopic - expected to attend."

The Berlinale's Panorama section unveils 17 more titles.

"The 29th edition of the Max Ophüls Prize Film Festival in Saarbrücken (January 14 - 20) opened yesterday with the screening of Love Made Easy, the second film by young Zurich-born director Peter Luisi (32), who won the festival's Promotional Award in 2004 for his debut feature Verflixt verliebt," reports Bénédicte Prot for Cineuropa.

"Marco Mueller has been officially reappointed Venice Film Festival topper for four additional years in a move that will give the Lido stability and bolster its status as it undergoes an infrastructural makeover," reports Nick Vivarelli in Variety.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:55 AM

4 Months..., 1/16.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days The failure of Cristian Mungui's Palme d'Or-winner "to advance to this penultimate round of the nominating process is as embarrassing a blunder as any in the Academy's history: You can put it right up there with the Best Picture win by Crash (2004)," argues the LA Weekly's Scott Foundas, who looks into the nominating process and calls up Foreign Language nominating committee chairman Mark Johnson: "Asked if further retooling (including the possible involvement of more active Academy members earlier in the nominating process) may lie in the future, Johnson was unambiguous. 'That's what has to be done, because in my mind it can't continue like this,' he said. 'I don't believe these choices reflect the Academy at large.'"

Updated through 1/19.

Meanwhile: "The frigid stoicism of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days barely contains the filmmaker's fury," writes David Edelstein in New York. "It's a movie that centers on the subjugation of women, but the plight of Otilia and Gabita is also a window on a world in which everyone is stunted, in which fear has metastasized into malignant self-interest."

Emine Saner talks with Anamaria Marinca for the Guardian.

Earlier: Cannes, Toronto, New York and LA.

Update, 1/17: "The journey of the picture's protagonists is often harrowing and sometimes thriller-caliber suspenseful," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "Although many of the critical notices on the picture have focused on its "social problem" aspect - which does of course exist, and is well articulated - for me 4 Months really hits home as a character study."

Updates, 1/18: "Not unlike her strong and resourceful character, [Marinca] carries the movie on her shoulders. Captured in long, single takes in which the camera remains still and soaks in every impression, her face is an ever-shifting map of calculations, negotiations, raw nerve, paranoia, disgust, and resolve." Steve Dollar talks with her for the New York Sun.

"4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a social problem drama that often feels like a horror movie," writes Phil Nugent. "Though less formally audacious than [The Death of Mr Lazarescu], which used up a lot of footage showing you nothing getting done in real time to make you appreciate the ineffectiveness of the system, I think that 4 Months..., which was written and directed by Cristian Mungiu, is the better, more powerful movie.... The people in it may not know that the government is crumbling from within and has only a couple more years to live, but they're just going about their business. Their world only seems scary when they're doing something they shouldn't and things don't go smoothly - and then, suddenly, it's terrifying."

Update, 1/19: "Two-thirds of the way through the screening - at a point when the viewer is fully immersed in the helplessness and dread that are the film's governing emotions - I bumped into Mungiu just outside the theater doors," recalls AO Scott in a piece on the new Romanian wave for the New York Times Magazine. "He appeared to be listening intently to what was going on inside. 'I think there are a lot of Romanians here tonight,' he said, looking up. I asked what gave him that impression. 'They're laughing,' he said. 'They always do.'... What followed the screening was less the anticipated Q-and-A session than a trip down memory lane, which spilled out into the theater lobby and continued well into the night. 'That was exactly like my dorm room at university,' one woman announced. Another wanted to know how Mungiu found the brands of soap, gum and other items that had been staples of the Ceausescu era. ('You can find anything on the Internet,' he replied.)"

Posted by dwhudson at 7:53 AM | Comments (1)

Brad Renfro, 1982 - 2008.

Brad Renfro
Brad Renfro, the former child star who played a witness to a mob lawyer's suicide in the 1994 legal thriller The Client and a suburban youth tutored in evil by an elderly Nazi war criminal in the 1998 film Apt Pupil, was found dead Tuesday morning in his Los Angeles home. He was 25....

His career was short, but busy and varied.... Mr Renfro carved out a niche playing inarticulate, vulnerable, alienated youths in everything from glossy Hollywood blockbusters to hardscrabble independent dramas. His acting was naturalistic and emotionally transparent; he played humiliation and frustration with disarming and sometimes upsetting frankness.

Matt Zoller Seitz, New York Times.

See also: Bernard Weinraub's 1994 profile for the NYT and the Wikipedia entry.

Update, 1/18: "He longed to belong in the alien world which perhaps in the end overwhelmed him," writes Ian McKellen at his site. "He was only 25 and it is dreadful we shan't see all that he might have achieved."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:51 AM | Comments (5)

Baftas. Nominations.

British Academy of Film and Television Arts "Atonement is leading the field at this year's Bafta film awards, after receiving 14 nominations," reports the BBC. No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood follow with nine each, and of course, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts has the full list.

Update: "With the Globes and perhaps even the Oscars having their glitz doused by the writers' strike, and with secondary picketing action in this country unlikely to materialise, this could be the most glamorous Bafta event in years," comments the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "And they've got some outstanding films to go with it."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:17 AM

January 15, 2008

Slouching towards Park City, 1/15.

Sundance 08 "[A]bout 100 new feature films are arriving at the [Sundance Film Festival] with available US rights," reports indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez. "Coming off what was by all accounts a bad year for documentaries and low budget indies theatrically, not to mention the pressures created by the ongoing WGA strike, Sundance 08 has the potential to be a busy one for buyers at the festival."

"For many of the sleep-deprived, debt-saddled filmmakers trekking to the Sundance Film Festival this week, gaining acceptance to the world's most competitive indie market was the easy part," writes Gina Piccalo in the Los Angeles Times. "It's finishing their films in time that will take nothing short of a miracle."

Daniel Kreps previews the music-related movies for Rolling Stone. Via Movie City News.

Glenn Kenny's wondering how Tom Arnold got himself into two Sundance films this year.

Online viewing tip. "One particularly fascinating entry is Carlos Moreno's Columbian crime drama Perro Come Perro (Dog Eat Dog), a film revolving around corrupt cops, hired killers, betrayal, revenge, and the drug trade with a bit of South American witchcraft thrown in for good measure," notes Todd Brown, who's got the trailer at Twitch.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:21 PM

Summer Palace.

Summer Palace "With Summer Palace, Lou Ye speaks more plainly in his own voice, tired at last of affecting Wong Kar Wai's florid style of filmmaking, though he is still treading the Wongian terrain of lovelorn melodrama," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "Very similar to his Purple Butterfly, another story of beautiful young things whose personal lives are pinched by the politics of their time, Summer Palace is also less fussy."

"The director's use of jump cuts and a handheld camera, combined with Yu's [Hao Lei] solemnly lyrical and literary narration, makes Summer Palace feel, at times, like a French New Wave film from 1967, with a lot more explicit sex," suggests David Denby in the New Yorker.

Updated through 1/19.

"Summer Palace uses recent events in China's history as a backdrop for an intimate story about young lovers," writes Marcy Dermansky. Its "early, vibrant scenes are aimless and appealing," but: "Ye's back-and-forth storytelling insinuates that the lives of Yu Hong and Zhou Wei are incomplete without each other, but because their young love was never convincing in the first place, the bittersweet conclusion rings hollow."

Writing in the Voice, Julia Wallace finds it "combines flashes of insight and scintillating cinematography - grainy, fumbling, light-blinded - with stretches of inscrutable mediocrity."

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes.

Update, 1/16: Comparisons with Philippe Garrel's Regular Lovers don't quite hold up for Nicolas Rapold, writing in the New York Sun. Summer Palace "stands on its own in its running take on regular lovers in exceptional times, without being either as sappily hackneyed or as artily oblique as that might sound."

Update, 1/18: "[I]n spite of its 2-hour-20-minute length, Summer Palace moves with the swiftness and syncopation of a pop song," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Like Jean-Luc Godard in the 1960s, Mr Lou favors breathless tracking shots and snappy jump cuts, and like Mr Godard's, his camera is magnetized by female beauty.... Summer Palace can be seen as a companion piece, or even a sort of sequel, to [Jia Zhangke's] Platform which followed a group of Chinese young people through an earlier period of cultural and social transition, from the early 1970s into the 1980s."

Update, 1/19: "Summer Palace's real triumph is the performance by Hao Lei, as well as the character she plays - a passionate, sulky, headstrong girl who defines herself via her lovers," writes Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:16 PM

Teeth.

Teeth "Inarguably the best film about a woman with a toothed vagina to ever screen at the Museum of Modern Art, Teeth premiered in Midtown Monday night with breakthrough star Jess Weixler and first-time filmmaker Mitchell Lichtenstein in attendance," writes the Reeler's ST VanAirsdale. "Generally underwhelmed by the film upon its Sundance premiere in 2007, I found its genre-hopping from horror comedy to political satire to rape-revenge flick a little more intriguing after viewing it last week in New York - particularly the latter theme, which acquires some clever superheroic muscle as young Dawn (Weixler) harrowingly discovers her body's capacity for self-defense, vengeance and, ultimately, total ownership of her sexual experience."

Updated through 1/20.

"Weixler's appealing, sympathetic presence removes any misogyny from the premise: Indeed, the movie's best joke is its cock-chomping vengeance upon predatory male sexuality, an inversion of the slasher-movie same-old, same-old," writes Jim Ridley in the Voice.

Lichtenstein "imagines a fairly standard coming-of-age trajectory, as Teeth intriguingly, if awkwardly, morphs into an exploration of burgeoning, unique female sexuality and its empowering possibilities," writes Kristi Mitsuda at indieWIRE.

"The jokes aren't particularly funny and the scares aren't particularly scary," writes Matt Singer. "Maybe there's no other way to make a movie about a woman with a toothed vagina, though I'd like to think there is." Also at IFC News: "There are often guys who storm out at some point in the movie, which I usually find satisfying," Lichtenstein tells Aaron Hillis.

For Nerve, Ken Mondschein traces the history of the vagina dentata, "a universal motif, showing up in myths originating everywhere from the Indian subcontinent to the Plains Indians," while John Constantine interviews Weixler.

Updates, 1/17: "It works until it doesn't," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "There's a delicate irony to Lichtenstein's two-pronged narrative: He subverts oversexed tomfoolery by giving the upper hand to a young woman, but the uncouth set-up condescends to the notion of the body as a temple. Instead, Lichtenstein views it as a battleground."

Jason Guerrasio profiles Weixler for indieWIRE.

For Premiere's Glenn Kenny, Teeth "aspires to be a fond parody of 50s science-horror pictures, a satire of particularly American prudishness, and a gross-out comedy to gross out even the likes of John Waters, and fails on every count."

Updates, 1/18: "Lichtenstein mercilessly skewers the way the evangelical obsession with chastity results in people thinking and talking about sex constantly, putting them in a state of perpetual, hysterical excitement," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "Campy, shameless and sophisticated, Lichtenstein's debut is gutsy and original, and it makes Juno look positively tame by comparison."

"As much as you applaud its satiric nerve, once Teeth, has demonstrated how far it will go, its joke becomes repetitive," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "The problem with shockers, comic or otherwise, is that once the coup de grâce is delivered, there are no big surprises left."

"This former 2007 Sundance offering is best enjoyed as lightweight camp entertainment, as if it were a B-horror flick with a sense of humor, instead of the tonally risqué fable of sexuality that first-time director Mitchell Lichtenstein halfheartedly pitches," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun.

"If nothing else, Lichtenstein has made a great discovery in Jess Weixler, who proves adept at expressing every stage of her character's development, from good-girl naïveté to trepidation and shock to a frightening, darkly funny sort of self-possession," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club.

"[T]he very idea of the movie is tastelessly funny, and while the director is willing to drive through midnight movie country, he doesn't want to live there," writes Lauren Wissot at the House Next Door. "Lichtenstein calls the vagina dentata myth 'a tricky subject that can too easily be misconstrued as misogynist or sexist.' To head off such accusations, Lichtenstein has imbued Teeth with what can only be described as misplaced gravitas."

Update, 1/20: Capone talks with Lichtenstein for AICN.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:04 PM

Lists and awards, 1/15.

Oscar At indieWIRE, Peter Knegt's got the list of the nine finalists in the running for the foreign language Oscar: "The Academy's dismissal of heavily favored duo Persepolis, from France, and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, from Romania, is sure to cause considerable criticism." Yep. Nathaniel R comments.

Reverse Shot's "'Two Cents' for 2007," a slew of annotated misc awards.

Ryland Walker Knight has several points to make before revealing his list. Also at the House Next Door, Steve Boone and Odienator start out talking about American Gangster and end up talking about all of 2007.

"Anyone saying 2007 was a terrific year for movies is full of it," argues David Cornelius, introducing his list of "Best and Worst Films of 2007." The year "was, simply, a perfectly average year: a handful of truly great movies, a handful of truly awful movies, and whole lot in the middle." Also at Hollywood Bitchslap, Greg Ursic presents a list of "10 Films that almost made me forget Because I Said So."

Sean Axmaker presents "the results of the Axman's Tenth Annual Seattle Film Critics Top Ten Party, an unofficial, purely personal event that in no way stands in for the critical consensus of the Seattle Film Critics at large, merely those few critics that I prefer to spend a few hours arguing with." Collectively, they go for No Country for Old Men; the individual lists posted further down that entry get a little more varied.

For Robert Levin, writing at cinemaattraction, "The Lives of Others, this list's headliner and the one film I saw in theaters during the past year that did affect me in the sort of visceral, immediate fashion one associates with a future classic, stands far above the pack."

At IFC News, Alison Willmore lists "Five Films in Which Women Actually Go Through With Abortions."

Barry Lloyd at Ten Bad Dates with De Niro: "10 Great Up-Chucks."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:49 PM

Berlinale. Opener. And Africa.

Berlinale Via indieWIRE's Brian Brooks comes news that Martin Scorsese's Shine a Light, documenting two Rolling Stones concerts in late 2006, will open the Berlinale on February 7.

Also, the Berlinale Talent Campus and Germany's Foreign Office will be launching a new initiative, "Focus Africa," which'll bring several young African filmmakers - and their films, of course - to Berlin.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:39 PM

SXSW. Lineup news, 1/15.

SXSW Film Variety's Michael Jones is reporting that the SXSW Film Conference and Festival will be premiering Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, the raucous sequel to Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle.

Stuart Townsend's Battle in Seattle, Harmony Korine's Mister Lonely and Emily Hubley's The Toe Tactic have also been added to the lineup. And the conference has added "A Conversation with Michael Eisner."

SXSW Film producer Matt Dentler is confirming the news as it breaks. Meanwhile, FilmInFocus has asked him all about his blog.

Updated.

Updates: The Austin-American Statesman's Chris Garcia adds a couple of more titles to the list: David Modigliani's Crawford, a doc about how the town's changed since W's arrival, and Steve Conrad's The Promotion, with Seann William Scott and John C Reilly.

Another "Conversation": Helen Hunt. Matt has more.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:01 PM

Macworld Expo.

Apple "We're back with Apple TV Take II." Says Steve Jobs. For the New York Times, Damon Darlin is blogging live from Macworld Expo and notes, "Here's what you can do with Apple TV: rent movies directly on your widescreen TV with Apple TV. Rent them in DVD quality and you can rent them in HD Quality (The crowd starts going crazy, like Barack Obama was in the house.)"

Updated through 1/16.

Then there's the iTunes movie rentals store. "Touchstone, Miramax, MGM, Lion's Gate and New Line Cinema and Warner Brothers, 20th Century, Paramount, Walt Disney and Sony Pictures." Never mind the overlap: "The crowd goes nuts. 'We're going to have all the first-run films,' Mr Jobs says. And great library titles, he says, including Hunt for Red October (no clapping here; possibly a crowd that prefers light romantic comedies)."

Updates: "What the analysts seemed to miss is that the MacBook Air, a very cool small body laptop, also has a built-in step towards changing the entire technology," notes David Poland. "[T]here is no DVD or CD-Rom drive on the machine. None. Why? Because the hardware is suggesting, quite clearly, how you should interact with the software. Rent or buy movies online... no need for a pesky disc."

The Hollywood Reporter's Andrew Wallenstein comments: "We knew 20th Century Fox was coming down the pike, but there was no indication that everyone else was jumping on the bandwagon, too - there could be no bigger vote of confidence for the new service."

Update, 1/16: "Apple is about to turn the movie rentals business on its ear," writes Eliot Van Buskirk for Wired News. "'They really nailed it,' Jupiter Research Vice President and Research Director Michael Gartenberg said of Apple's move into movie rentals. 'This is going to be extremely disruptive, doing for movies what the iTunes music store did for music.'"

Posted by dwhudson at 10:20 AM

Berlinale. Germans, shorts and kids.

Berlinale 08 Besides its new posters, the Berlinale's announced the full lineup for the Perspektive Deutsches Kino, touting the "bold, topical and volatile themes in the works of this latest generation of filmmakers," and the Berlinale Shorts program and jury: "experimental animations will screen alongside lyrical experimental films. Documentaries contain staged moments; and staged works, strong moments of undiluted reality."

Generation, the festival's section for children and youth, is also set. "24 feature and 31 short films from 20 countries will be screening this year. This includes eight world and seven international feature film premieres."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:31 AM

Palm Springs Dispatch.

With the festival just wrapped, Michael Guillén takes a look back at several highlights.

Palm Springs International Film Festival All of the tenants at the Old Abraham Hotel - be they Jewish, Christian or Muslim - seemed disgruntled with the landlord upstairs in several of the films offered and caught at the 19th Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF). If it wasn't the superb central performance of Erkan Can as Muharrem, a devoutly religious man thrown off his moral compass and driven mad by worldly affairs, in Takva: A Man's Fear of God (Turkey's submission for the foreign language Oscar); then it was Jeon Do-yeon in her Cannes-acknowledged tour de force as Shin-ae, a widow riddled with grievous fury at God's presumption of her right to forgive, in South Korea's entry Secret Sunshine.

And if not Jeon Do-yeon, then it was César Troncoso's energized portrayal of Beto in The Pope's Toilet, wherein he stakes more than faith and is shortchanged by the Holy See's visit to his small Uruguayan village. And if not Troncoso, then Assi Dayan as Rabbi Abraham in Israel's My Father My Lord, where faith demands he accept a father's ultimate sacrifice. All of these fine actors and actresses represented crises in faith as voices shouting into the whirlwind. Each of their performances melded intensity to existential doubts and outrage and each honored their respective countries with consummate craft.

After railing against God, there isn't much else to do than to trust in love. But even that's an enterprise fraught with hazard, if not humor, as several of PSIFF 08's rom-coms demonstrated. The ensembles in The Silly Age (Cuba, 2006), City in Heat (Argentina, 2006), Lovesickness (Puerto Rico, 2007), Burn the Bridges (Mexico, 2007) and Caramel (Lebanon, 2007) all dealt with the human need for relationship, a need that transcends both gender and generations, inflecting itself through braided entanglements, chance encounters and tiered narratives. I don't necessarily consider these arthouse films as much as I enjoy them for being mindful and entertaining films. They remind us that what remains essentially resonant about human beings is their requisite interdependence, captured in nuanced ensemble performances, comically accented by all the quirks and foibles that characterize individual follies and obsessions.

Several of the above entries were part of the Awards Buzz program, compiled from the submissions from countries vying for the coveted handful of nominations for the Academy Awards, foreign language category. Being part of the PSIFF 08 lineup is, as indieWIRE's Brandon Judell phrases it, "an astute campaign strategy" since, according to Variety, over 30 Oscar voters call Palm Springs "home."

XXY Among those campaigning for Oscar nominations were Lucia Puenzo's Argentine film XXY about an intersex youth facing choices foisted upon her/him. By even having to qualify gender via a diagonal slash, the film effectively portrays the anger resident in such culturally contrived, if not essentially artificial, dualities. I haven't met an intersex individual yet who hasn't expressed anger at being coerced to make a choice that decimates or violates his/her original psychological and/or biological wholeness. XXY reminded me of the prescience of William Goyen and his compassionate portrait of intersexuality in his 1983 novel ArcadioXXY approaches a difficult subject with reasoned care. Where its surface symbolism falters in depth, its strong performances persevere in compassion. Especially noteworthy is Martin Piroyanski who is brought to an anguished pitch of confusion by his own budding desires and the choices, likewise foisted upon him by his family, his community and his own changing body.

Bulgaria's submission, Ilian Simeonov's Warden of the Dead (Pazachyt na myrtvite), could be, as Variety's Jay Weissberg proposes, "a metaphor for Balkan society." Compellingly atmospheric, at times haunting and lyrical, I often lost my way because too much was going on. But I remain morbidly enchanted by these tales of children intimately associated with the death horizon. For me, they're a specific genre of ghost story (The Curse of the Cat People, The Innocents, Poltergeist, Spirit of the Beehive, The Others, The Orphanage) wherein the luminous innocence of youth attracts a great inevitable sadness from the dark beyond. Vladimir Georgiev plays "the boy" and he's a dead ringer for a pre-teen Mark Wahlberg. He is wise (and responsible) beyond his years and occasionally exhibits supernatural - though shamanic would be a better word - abilities. In other words, he's a psychopomp of sorts. I didn't dislike the film, I floated on its mood, but I wished I could have understood it better or, more accurately, that it had expressed itself more cogently.

I'm not exactly sure why Israel's entry, Beaufort, won Joseph Cedar the Berlinale's Silver Bear for Best Director, unless it was an acknowledgement of his deft and fluid maneuvering within the claustrophobic confines of this infamous hilltop fort; the scene of one of the Israeli government's most misguided acts of arrogance. It's a solid enough film, albeit with a familiar theme (somewhat linked to the railing against God contingent, though here the military brass stand in for the capricious overlords who place the value of human life at the level of cannon fodder). I was distracted the entire film by commanding officer Liraz's (Oshri Cohen) striking beauty. Lashes by Maybelline. I just couldn't believe someone this beautiful would be foolish enough to accept such a military assignment, let alone command such authority, when they're destined to be a movie star. At about the halfway point, I began to realize who was going to be killed off in the next reel through less-than-subtle scriptural alerts that finally succeeded in compassion fatigue. What a pity that, for a little English, The Band's Visit, a film with genuine heart and considerable charm, didn't get its rightful due.

I Just Didn't Do It (Soredomo boku wa yattenai), Japan's submission, is not a very cinematic film. It eschews all the techniques available to embellish its story and, by doing so, actually achieves a thoroughly compelling and streamlined indictment of the closed world of the Japanese legal system where claims of innocence are grounds for increased prosecution. Its economy of focus is rich beyond words.

12 Speaking of legal systems, Nikita Mikhalkov's 12 (12 Razgnevannyh Muzhchin), a loose remake of Sidney Lumet's 1957 12 Angry Men, was, hands down, my favorite film at PSIFF 08. I'm nearly reluctant to write about it at all until I've seen it at least one more time; it's that dense, that important, that complex. I'm grateful to Ronnie Scheib's glowing Variety review for encouraging me to take a chance. As Lumet's 12 Angry Men is one of my favorite films, I was concerned with all that might go wrong, and (admittedly) kept looking for things to go wrong. When the film expanded out of deliberations to reference external events, I bemoaned the loss of the original's claustrophobia, until I realized that 12 had masterfully expanded that sense of claustrophobia to encompass a country in the grip of wartime atrocities. From its opening nightmare sequence, in which charging soldiers are gunned down (superimposed upon a victory parade where onlookers are cheering), to its grisly closing image that has been incrementally emerging from the shadows throughout the film, 12 is a masterpiece of moviemaking that adds a twist to Lumet's original, lifting it into a whole new debate on the role of the individual's civic responsibility in administering justice. I can hardly wait to see this film again.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:47 AM

January 14, 2008

Slouching towards Park City, 1/14.

Sundance 08 "Just in time for this week's Sundance, you can read my annual grouse at the new film website FilmCatcher," blogs Anthony Kaufman. "[M]y main argument here is that the festival itself is not to blame for the obliteration of true art in American independent cinema, but it's Hollywood's sneaky insinuation into the culture of art-house filmmaking, whether it's mainstream television-based directors, producers, and writers going 'indie,' or studios themselves getting into the 'specialized' business."

"New York arrives in Park City en masse this week," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "[N]early two dozen of the event's most anticipated entries bear the mark of the Big Apple, featuring settings, directors, or actors that we can call our own."

"For decades, a prime force at the Film Arts Foundation, [Gail] Silva's been behind the curtain for years, advising filmmakers at all stages of Sundance dreaming," writes SF360's Susan Gerhard, introducing "a few of her thoughts on getting in, being in, and surviving the annual trip that is Sundance."

As Michael Tully sets out for his first Sundance, he hints at an intriguing new site to come.

AJ Schnack readies himself (and his readers) for the 15 docs in Competition.

Film Threat's set.

Online listening tip. IFC News' Matt Singer and Alison Willmore "attempt to define what, exactly, makes a "Sundance film," pick out some of the genre's favorite themes and elements, and test how notable Sundance films of the past few years stack up."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:36 PM

Val Lewton Blog-a-Thon.

Val Lewton Michael Guillén welcomes readers "to the Val Lewton Blogathon, hosted by the Evening Class in tandem with the Turner Classic Movies premiere broadcast of Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows, directed by Kent Jones and produced (and narrated) by Martin Scorsese." Michael's not only got the schedule for TCM's two-day Lewton fest, he's also rounded up a robust list of online resources and, of course, he's tracking Blog-a-Thon contributors.

"You cannot accuse TCM of underestimating the intelligence, or at least film geekiness, of its viewers," writes Mary McNamara in the Los Angeles Times. Evidently, things whip by pretty quickly at first, but "once Shadows settles into a more standard narrative of Lewton's life and career, it explores most effectively not only the man and his legacy, but also the history of Hollywood, the language of film and the exquisite tension between vision and fear one finds in so many creative people."

Update, 1/18: Michael indexes a big, big 'Thon.

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

PGA. Nominations.

Producers Guild of America "The Producers Guild of America has tapped The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Juno, Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood as nominees for its top feature film award," reports Dave McNary for Variety. "The winner of the PGA's Darryl F Zanuck Producer of the Year award will be announced Feb 2 in ceremonies at the Beverly Hilton."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:41 AM

Interview. Alex Gibney.

Taxi to the Dark Side "Alex Gibney's Taxi to the Dark Side is the documentary that many of us have prayed for, the one that could break through even to people who relish the torture set pieces on 24 and will hear no evil about the War on Terror," writes David Edelstein in New York. "It's the equal of No End in Sight [which Gibney produced] in its tight focus on the nuts and bolts of incompetence, and it surpasses any recent melodrama in the empathy it evokes for both its victims and - surprisingly - victimizers. More important, it leaves you brooding on the human capacity for cruelty in a way that transcends the gory details."

At the main site, Hannah Eaves talks with Gibney about his previous work (The Trials of Henry Kissinger, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) and about the ways the US might regain the moral high ground. Gibney's Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr Hunter S Thompson premieres at Sundance on Sunday.

Updated through 1/19.

More interviews: James Rocchi at Cinematical and Scott Macaulay in Filmmaker.

Update, 1/15: "Gibney's experts answer the central question - 'Does torture ever work?' - with something close to a pat 'No,' but maybe Taxi has to cut messy issues clean, so they'll fit as building blocks in its splendid polemic architecture," suggests Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. "When you step back, it is something to admire: Without cheapening the suffering of American or Afghan, the film retrieves the torture issue from the realm of the abstract and gives the plain facts of this world right now. As long as we still care about people and power, they will matter."

Updates, 1/16: S James Snyder in the New York Sun: "Nearly a year ago, when Taxi to the Dark Side first devastated audiences at the Tribeca Film Festival, director Alex Gibney expressed a simple aspiration when speaking to one downtown festival audience: 'I hope it provokes some rage.' Well, to borrow a quote from his less-than-favorite politician: Mr Gibney, "mission accomplished.'"

"I hope that every concerned moviegoer sees this film, but I doubt that many will," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer.

Update, 1/17: "94 percent of the prisoners in Bagram are arrested by Afghan militiamen, who work for cash bribes and petty vendettas," notes the Reeler. "It's a circle of death and treachery that spans the globe and depends on the darkest stretches of human nature to be complete; Gibney's tracking of this country's part in that circle - our recent moral hairpin curve - shows how quickly and how completely we can forfeit what makes us good, as people and as a people." , a talk with Gibney.

Updates, 1/18: "A year from now, the presidency of George W Bush will end, but the consequences of Mr Bush's policies and the arguments about them are likely to be with us for a long time," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "As next Jan 20 draws near, there is an evident temptation, among many journalists as well as politicians seeking to replace Mr Bush, to close the book and move ahead, an impulse that makes the existence of documentaries like Alex Gibney's Taxi to the Dark Side all the more vital. If recent American history is ever going to be discussed with the necessary clarity and ethical rigor, this film will be essential."

"What is really appalling is how readily torture was embraced by officials as an absolute necessity and how easy it was for soldiers to, in the words of one, 'lose your moral bearings' and become a party to atrocity," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "For though the official line out of Washington is still 'we do not torture,' it's impossible to watch this film - and hear testimony not just from soldiers but also veteran FBI men and former Bush administration officials - without coming to understand that torture is exactly what we are engaged in."

Online listening tip. Salon's Andrew O'Hehir talks with Gibney.

"Gibney's film isn't merely an anti-torture polemic: it goes beyond partisan politics and asks whether the American character has been irreparably sullied by thuggish terrorist-fighting tactics," writes Kenji Fujishima at the House Next Door. "Taxi to the Dark Side also marks a step up for Gibney as a filmmaker - particularly in its argumentation."

"Gibney knows what constitutes torture, and he makes it abundantly clear in Taxi to the Dark Side, which uses as its springboard the true story of Dilawar, a 22-year-old Afghani cab driver who was murdered by his American captors in a Bagram prison, his death occurring after extended, painful bouts of psychological and physical torment," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "One could argue that with such morally righteous subject matter Gibney's got a relatively easy game ahead of him (who, outside of war hawks unlikely to find themselves within fifty feet of an art-house theater, would deny the argument for human rights?), so it's to his credit that he mounts a compelling narrative, structuring his film in a riveting hide-and-reveal manner."

Update, 1/19: James Hughes talks with Gibney for Stop Smiling.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:53 AM

Still Life.

Still Life "Jia Zhangke has an uncanny knack for grounding his portraits of Chinese alienation in settings that are at once schematically allegorical and tangibly lived-in," writes Fernando F Croce in Slant. "The town of Fengjie is both backdrop and main character of the Venice Film Festival winner Still Life: Gradually vanishing under rising water levels as a result of the nation's mammoth Three Gorges Dam project, it is a transitory landscape that beautifully evokes the existential malaise - the helpless feeling of spiritual drowning - that so many of Jia's characters find themselves locked in."

"In Fengjie, as far as we can see, there's no social structure or authority, and the commercial life of capitalism hasn't taken hold," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "Inanition and mere things have overwhelmed the human presence, as in one of Antonioni's empty urban landscapes.... As in The World, the story is minimal, or intermittent, the mood everything."

Updated through 1/20.

"Perhaps no nation on Earth has endured more social, economic, and artistic change in the last century than China - and perhaps no modern artist is more qualified to document that change than the director Jia Zhangke," writes Martin Tsai in the New York Sun.

"'Still Life was made like a documentary,' Jia told the Reeler in an interview conducted while he was in town for last fall's New York Film Festival screening of Useless, his follow-up real documentary.... 'I think of my films in Beijing, and then go to my old province, Shanxi," he said. "I feel that Beijing is not representative of a Chinese city; it's a very special city, but my old province is more representative of how people live and go about their daily lives in China.'"

Updates, 1/15: "The world's oldest civilization is in some respects the world's newest—which is why Jia Zhangke, the pre-eminent cine-chronicler of contemporary China, could well be the most contemporary narrative filmmaker on earth," writes J Hoberman. "More observer than director, Jia is concerned with how it feels to be in a particular environment. His films are predicated on a sense of everyday social flux and, more than any I've seen, they provide some sense of China's seething interior."

Also in the Voice, Anthony Kaufman talks with Jia and hears news of his next project: "Next month, Jia begins shooting a new dramatic project, 24 City, which will continue to reflect on the way China's breakneck pursuit of the future steamrolls its past. Spanning 50 years, the story chronicles the lives of workers in a factory that will be demolished to make way for a skyscraper. 'And for those who live in the skyscraper, they will have no memory of what was there before,' he explains. 'It's almost like China is eating its tail. It's going forward, but what it gets in return is disproportionate to what it loses.'"

"As with his earlier Unknown Pleasures and The World, Jia Zhangke's masterful Still Life is shot on digital video and skirts the line between documenting its nation's transitional woes as it moves towards promised free-market independence, and creating fictional narratives around these events," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "Yet those descriptions can't begin to illustrate the delicacy with which Jia surveys the scene, or the miraculous mixture of hope and despair that seems to spring from every moment he captures.... What's most extraordinary about Jia's exquisite compositions is how fragilely rendered they are; Jia's technique may be rigorous, but it never feels stringent, and character and setting always come before aesthetic rigidity, as with the work of Olivier Assayas or Maurice Pialat."

Updates, 1/18: "Antonioni's influence on Mr Jia is pronounced, evident in the younger filmmaker's manipulation of real time and the ways he expresses his ideas with images rather than through dialogue and narrative," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "The drifting, rootless men and women in many of his movies, and the wide-open, nominally empty landscapes through which they on occasion wander, further underscore the resemblances between the filmmakers. Even so, when Mr Jia's characters roam through the crumbling town in Still Life - which is being demolished in anticipation of an engineered inundation - it's impossible not to think even further back in cinema history to Rossellini's postwar films, like Paisan and Germany Year Zero, works in which the director's moral position is etched into every human face and fallen building."

"Still Life balances elements from across Mr Jia's past work, which, with the shift in focus away from the young, makes it his most successful and distinctive film for its particular alchemy," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "It gets the anomie of his 90s films without drowning, and finds a visual scheme more eloquent than the translucent glitz of his last drama, 2005's The World, which was overwhelmed by its metaphoric location, a Vegas-like town of replica landmarks. Veteran of more than a dozen festivals (and winner of the Golden Lion at Venice), Still Life has finally wended its way to theaters here, and rises to the top of the must-see list of this young year."

"Like all of Jia's work, it suggests that China may as well have an 'under construction' sign covering the entire country while it concentrates on the people left behind, rather than yuppies benefiting from the rise of capitalism," writes Steve Erickson in Gay City News. "This approach impresses initially as a directorial tour-de-force. Its deeper meanings emerge only later."

"Still Life acts first and foremost as a pictorial recording of a landscape in tremendous transition," writes Daniel Kasman. "For all its surface simplicity, the film is immense in what it records, in the changes it documents, in its deadpan humor and whimsy (including a half-built structure that turns into a rocket ship, references to John Woo's A Better Tomorrow and particularly lovely concluding shots), in its the reticent sorrow, and in its openness for a future after the Three Gorges Dam."

Update, 1/20: "A meticulous record of a vanishing world - Mr Jia's cinematographer, Yu Lik-wai, surveys the wreckage with slow panning shots that evoke the horizontal expanse of Chinese scroll paintings - Still Life is an act of commemoration and of stoic protest," writes Dennis Lim in the New York Times. "'I don't start from a political standpoint,' Mr Jia said. 'But if you make a film about China right now, you have to talk about the politics and the changes that are affecting people.'... At 37 he has amassed a body of work - seven feature-length fiction films and documentaries - that is remarkable for its formal ambition, ethnographic richness and moral weight."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:48 AM

Cassandra's Dream.

Cassandra's Dream "If it can't be determined which [Woody] Allen has shown up - the Greek dramaturge or Borscht Belt shtick-meister - then the film that follows is bound to be a tedious affair," warns Chris Barsanti in Film Journal International. "In a nutshell, this is the first and most serious problem with his newest London effort, Cassandra's Dream, an alternately portentous and trivial drama about a couple of scheming brothers who get in over their heads when a morally compromised relative makes them an offer they can't refuse."

Updated through 1/18.

"The third entrant in Woody Allen's now ended European sojourn, Cassandra's Dream proves the weakest thus far of the de facto quadrilogy that also includes Match Point, Scoop and next summer's Vicky Cristina Barcelona," writes Robert Levin at cinemaattraction. "This past summer Allen eulogized Ingmar Bergman in a New York Times Op-Ed, and it may be no coincidence that his latest feels like a warmed-over, superficial version of one of the Swedish master's morality plays. It's a stern, serious movie that explores weighty themes regarding death and moral turpitude, but it weaves through them hastily and without the nuance usually characteristic of the director."

David Denby, writing in the New Yorker, finds it "stalled by overexplicitness and chattiness, and, as in the past, I'm not convinced that [Allen] has a good ear for British speech. Londoners tend to talk glancingly, but these two brothers, like anxious New Yorkers, spell everything out, argue over every point—the same scene seems to be playing over and over in different locations. Still, Cassandra's Dream has some fine moments."

"Would that Allen stopped playing by his own presumptuous and unimaginative training book," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "Another retread for the filmmaker, Cassandra's Dream may as well have been called Match, Point, Set, only this one has Allen evincing an even shoddier backhand."

At Cinematical, Ryan Stewart passes along news that Allen and Scarlett Johansson will be teaming up again, this time for a segment in the omnibus film New York, I Love You.

In Variety, Ed Meza reports on Constantin Film's decision to skip a theatrical release in Germany and go straight to DVD.

Online listening tip. Scott Simon talks with Allen on NPR.

Earlier: Reviews from Venice and Toronto.

Updates, 1/15: "Cassandra's Dream isn't an aggressively bad movie like the tone-deaf Scoop and Hollywood Ending (2002); it's merely a monotonous one that lacks the mordant humor, Highsmithian intrigue, and rippling sexuality that made Match Point his strongest work in a decade," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice.

"In standup comedy terms, he's not really writing new material, he's just reshuffling how he delivers his old stuff, and his delivery, in this case, is agreeable, if fairly predictable," writes Matt Singer at IFC News.

Update, 1/16: "While [Ewan] McGregor and [Colin] Farrell both give terrific performances here, all of their scenes for the latter half of the movie boil down to some variant of 'We have to do this' / 'I don't think I can do this' banter that quickly grows tiresome and repetitive," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "[Tom] Wilkinson's appearance in the film is all too brief, but the intense scene in a rainy park (wonderfully shot by Vilmos Zsigmond) in which he lays the facts for his nephews and demands their allegiance gives the film a much-needed jolt of adrenaline."

Update, 1/17: "The ideas at play here are less interesting and less developed than those of a film like Match Point, whose distinctly earthbound, morally disordered and completely random universe had no room for anything as hackneyed and high-flown as hubris or karmic retribution," writes the Reeler. "What holds the shaky girders of this film - which itself seems to reach beyond its means - together is the development of the rift between Ian and Terry, largely driven by Farrell's increasingly tormented performance."

"It's wearying to watch Allen's murder obsession when he doesn't know how to dramatize morality," sighs Armond White in the New York Press.

"[T]ake a step or two back from Allen's overfamiliarity, plus the unevenness of his recent films, and it becomes clear that taking him for granted is foolish." Dennis Harvey writes up a top ten for SF360.

"MTV recently spoke to Allen about the rumors regarding another possible project with muse-of-the-moment Scarlett Johansson," writes Jessica Barnes at Cinematical. "Turns out Page Six had it all wrong and there is no New York, I Love You film that will reunite the actress and director for the third time in a row." Well, actually, the film is in the works, but maybe without Allen's participation.

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

Updates, 1/18: "Cassandra's Dream, Woody Allen's latest excursion to the dark side of human nature, is good enough that you may wonder why he doesn't just stop making comedies once and for all," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Like Mr Allen's instrumental visual style - lots of two-shots, simple moves - Mr McGregor's easygoing turn takes time getting used to, partly because, as is almost always the case with this director, the actor seems to have been left to his own devices. But the performance sticks like a knife. It delivers force and feeling, as does Mr Farrell, whose gentleness has rarely been used so effectively."

"It has gotten to the point where it's almost impossible to review Woody Allen's movies," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "They've become practically forces of nature, dreary, drizzly affairs that show up unbidden on the landscape. I know no one who looks forward to them; I know few people who even bother to see them....Pictures like the preachy Match Point and now Cassandra's Dream leave a medicinal, metallic aftertaste. I sometimes suspect Allen's true aim is to leave us either feeling punished and ground down or comfortably superior to the characters on-screen. Neither makes for great art, or even for piddling art."

"[L]ove it or hate it, Allen has crafted something unique," argues Bilge Ebiri in Nerve. "Cassandra's Dream is not a realistic film, but it's not trying to be.... [E]ven in the twilight of his career, Allen remains a master of tone."

"Perched uncomfortably between thriller and melodrama, it's a film that hints at possibilities that are left unfulfilled," sighs Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times. "It follows a fairly predictable plot that at times threatens to be energized by the introduction of a twist, only to return to a narrative path so straight that it signals its intentions scenes in advance."

For the AV Club's Scott Tobias, "the Allen of today is a husk of his former self, and his apathy and disengagement are painfully apparent."

"The relentless monotony of the film's inevitable conclusion leaves the audience to hope that the film's one relief - the final credits - will come sooner than it seems," writes Meghan Keane in the New York Sun.

"One of the surprises is the presence of an original score by Philip Glass," notes the LA CityBeat's Andy Klein. "Since the mid-70s, Allen has almost always used preexisting music on his soundtracks, occasionally supplemented with incidental music from longtime collaborator Dick Hyman; he has never used a composed, orchestral score before. Glass's work is creepy and ominous from the beginning; it helps keep the tension up through the film's first third."

"There was a time in his career when Allen's lurches toward seriousness seemed to a lot of people unearned," writes Richard Schickel in Time. "He himself satirized that take on those films as early as 1980's Stardust Memories. But he's over 70 now - difficult as that is for some of us to believe - and he has fully earned the right to address us in any voice he chooses. Here its volume is turned down low. But if you lean in a bit you can hear it saying intricate and interesting things about the way class, character and morality operate in a realistically rendered milieu that is new for him and, in the context of this movie moment, quite gripping for us."

"Allen's text may be coroner-cold, but his camera is having a lot of fun," writes Steven Boone at the House Next Door. "The prowling, watchful, slightly mocking eye that he perfected long ago in Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors and Husbands and Wives (one of the great 'handheld' movies) is still kicking here. Thankfully, Allen's cast appears to be having just as much fun - or at least meeting the challenges he presents in several virtuoso ensemble scenes with sleeves rolled up."

"Cassandra's Dream is not unredeemably bad," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "MacGregor and Farrell hack away at their implausible dialogue with admirable intensity (though when Terry starts to descend into mental illness, Farrell touches his limits as an actor)." Still, "These characters not only don't talk like working-class Londoners, they don't talk like anyone, except maybe a sententious drunk spinning theories about 'life': 'It's funny how life boils down to this.' ' Life is nothing if not totally ironic.' 'The whole of human life is about violence.' ' Funny how life has a life of its own.'"

For Eric Alt, writing in Premiere, this is "an experience that not only feels nothing like Woody Allen, it feels like nothing at all."

Cineaste has gone ahead and posted Cynthia Lucia's interview with Allen from its forthcoming Spring issue.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:17 AM

Filmmaker. Winter 08.

Filmmaker Winter 08 Making your film, if you could've had 10 percent more of something, what would it be? Filmmaker asks five directors with films slated to premiere at Sundance: Pietra Brettkelly (The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins), Mark and Jay Duplass (Baghead), Boaz Yakin (Death in Love), Alex Rivera (Sleep Dealer) and Tom Hines (Chronic Town).

"With his recent films (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, which he directed, No End in Sight, which he executive produced, and now his new Taxi to the Dark Side), Alex Gibney is filling a void in our American media landscape," writes Scott Macaulay, introducing his interview. "His visually stylish, improbably witty and sadly informative films take the disparate shards of recent news cycles and connect the dots, creating grand politico-historical narratives from what the powers that be would like to characterize as 'isolated incidents' and 'one-time events.'"

Damon Smith talks with 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days director Cristian Mungiu, who tells him, regarding his fellow Romanian filmmakers:

I think we're perceived as a generation or a new wave because we got recognition pretty much at the same time, and we belong to the same age group. But if you watch the films, there are major differences in the way we see and consider cinema. There are things which are common, but not in all the films. And probably this reaction to the cinema of the late 80s and early 90s generated a feeling of getting back to reality and presenting things as they are - not in this metaphorical, intricate kind of way in which these other people were making their films. Apart from this, we are quite diverse. If we were to write an aesthetic document, it would be difficult.

There Will Be Blood "There Will Be Blood is one of the most fully-formed, mature films ever made that deals with America's fossil-fuel economy, the myth of Westward expansion, and the tensions that exist in a capitalist society whose leaders cross party lines by claiming to have an allegiance to, first and foremost, God and Christ," writes James Ponsoldt, who finds Paul Thomas Anderson reluctant to discuss his film in such terms. "Do you know John Cameron Mitchell? I asked him to be in the film, in a small part, but he couldn't do it. He finally saw the film and sent me this great message I have to share with you. He says [Anderson reads a text message off his cell phone], 'Besides everything about love and family, it's amazing to see the actual moment when the unholy modern Republican coalition was born. Will it die the same way? Hmmmm.' Better his words than mine."

"2007 might well go down as the year the trend really accelerated," writes Michael Goldman in a piece on the state of the conversion to digital projection.

"[W]hile the WGA and the Hollywood studios duke it out over Internet residuals, many independent filmmakers are simply trying to figure out how to generate any kind of distribution income from the Net. And for these independent filmmakers, the biggest issue is how precisely to navigate today's fragmented world of digital distribution so that revenue even becomes a possibility." Lance Weiler maps the varied routes.

"Less a standard film reference volume than an obsessive and admittedly daunting lifelong labor of love, Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas's mammoth study, Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark, is easily the most elaborate - and potentially intimidating - cinema book of the year," writes Travis Crawford.

Michelle Byrd remembers St Clair Bourne: "As the filmmaker who always documented the great leaders and movements in the African-American community, St Clair spent a good deal of his time as a mentor and educator for those of us disconnected from our history."

And Sharat Raju: "I want to believe there are more people like Mali [Finn] working in the film industry. My fear is that she is the exception, not the rule."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:13 AM

Golden Globes.

Golden Globes "Amid the barest hint of star power at a Golden Globes ceremony derailed by striking screenwriters, Atonement captured the award for best drama and Sweeney Todd won for best musical or comedy on Sunday," write David Carr and Michael Cieply in the New York Times, where Alessandra Stanley reports on what it was like to zap between NBC, E! and the TV Guide Network. Basically, it was "a bizarre showdown."

At any rate, here's the full list of award winners.

Online viewing tip. Jamie Stuart's We got it. They want it.

Updated through 1/15.

Updates: Eugene Hernandez writes a thank you note to the striking writers: "By going on strike and forcing the cancellation of the Golden Globes this year, you reminded the movie industry and film fans alike how pointless the event ultimately is."

"The Globes and the Oscars live or die by the amount of celebrity firepower they are able to muster," blogs the Guardian's Xan Brooks. "Remove the big names and the pretty dresses and you're left with a bald, corporate press conference that has the advertisers clamouring for a refund."

"The Hollywood Foreign Press becomes a more laughable and pandering award-bestowing organization every year, and the awards not-handed-out tonight - with its seven Best Dramatic Picture nominations and the Best Musical/Comedy Picture category proving more than ever before how inane it is to automatically have those two broad genres combined - were no less absurd than any other year, and possibly more so," writes Aaron Dobbs.

"This has little impact whatsoever on the Oscar race," adds Variety's Anne Thompson. But the Hollywood Reporter's Ray Bennett's not so sure.

"It seems the Hollywood Foreign Press was in the mood to knock a few kings down; frontrunners suffered generally, with No Country For Old Men (losing Best Picture and Director) and Juno (losing Picture and Comedy Actress) taking the biggest hits," writes Gabriel Shanks. "The big question has to be: with the Globes ceremony being so completely unwatchable, will they still carry significant weight with Oscar voters?"

Whether Oscar goes for Julie Christie, Marion Cotillard or Ellen Page, "history will be made." Nathaniel R explains.

At Hollywood Bitchslap, Rob Gonsalves offers a few thoughts on "What They Mean for Oscar (or Don't)."

"But it wasn't really an evening of movies," blogs David Poland. "It was an evening of weird."

Jeffrey Wells "is hereby delivering a resounding thumbs-down to NBC's decision to play games."

Live bloggers: David Carr, Nick Davis, Rebecca Winters Keegan and Karina Longworth.

Glenn Kenny offers a "Golden Globes Palate Cleanser."

"To be clear, this event involved a bunch of reporters listening as a bunch reporters revealed the victors of a contest run by a bunch of reporters," Troy Patterson reminds us in Slate.

"[T]he job of most HFPA members is to cover the entertainment industry, not to write film reviews," adds Time's Richard Corliss. "They should be voting on Most Cooperative Actor, Least Obstructive Publicist, Best Free Hors d'Oeuvres (Premiere or Junket)."

Updates, 1/15: "The windy speeches, the tears of joy, the fashion miscues, all arrayed over remarkable superbeings in gossamer frocks are what people turn the television on for," writes David Carr in the New York Times. "Without pomp, there is no circumstance, at least in Hollywood."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:09 AM

January 13, 2008

Shorts, fests, lists, 1/13.

Alphaville "In the 40 or so years separating Alphaville from Demonlover it has become evident that the no-place of Godard's dystopia, with its labyrinth of corridors and lobbies, was already one big non-place in waiting. The presence of the future that Godard was keen to capture back in 1965 has since taken shape as a global non-place crossing continents and time-zones." Chris Darke is not resorting to hyperbole here. The extract from his book Alphaville running in the preview issue of Visions of the City opens with the chilling vision, quite real, of the rich in São Paulo watching a live video feed of their maids getting patted down and searched as they head back to their own homes from Alphaville, the actual name of not just one but 30 gated communities in Brazil. Via wood s lot.

"Mr Chabrol, might you be a communist?" asks Daniel Kothenschulte in the Frankfurter Rundschau. "I was never a communist," the director answers, "because I was always an anti-Stalinist. Nonetheless, I was a Marxist. Of a certain kind, that is, since I've always believed that Marxist theory is pretty pacifist. Because it enables real social relations that would lead to harmonic development once the class conflict has been overcome, giving way to true cooperation. I've always found that interesting. No, I was never a communist, but the militant communists outside of the East bloc were always affiliated with this idea. There was a feeling of belonging, of cooperation that I liked. I was more of a sympathizer." Via signandsight, which translates another paragraph for you.

"In France and a good part of Europe, [Arielle] Dombasle is an institution, known for her parts in Eric Rohmer films, for having the smallest waist in Paris, and now for a singing career covering American 1950s love-songs and Latino classics that have earned her a massive following in Turkey," writes Angelique Chrisafis. "But to the English-speaking world, she is simply the other half of Bernard-Henri Lévy, the controversial French philosopher whose famous white shirts unbuttoned to the navel have immortalised a stretch of tanned hairy chest that is forever France."

Also in the Guardian:

No Country for Old Men

  • "Cormac McCarthy has been called a great American ham, a biblical hysteric, an apocalyptist, a recluse and a misogynist," writes Jason Cowley. "To me, he is simply the greatest living novelist writing in English." Plus: The Coens have a thing for weird hair. "So is it another 'return to form,' of the sort the Coens are periodically adjudged to make, or something more mature and significant, a sobering intrusion of 'real life'?" asks Andrew Anthony in the Observer. "If No Country for Old Men isn't a masterpiece, then it will certainly do until one gets here."

  • Damon Wise: "The trouble with Walk Hard is that, for a rock'n'roll spoof, it's nowhere near as funny as the real thing."

  • John Patterson: "I see that nepotism is alive and well in Hollywood."

Ramin Setoodeh hosts this year's Oscar roundtable for Newsweek. Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, James McAvoy and Ellen Page all say "they wouldn't cross the picket line to attend the Oscar telecast next month if the Writers Guild of America is still on strike. What will happen if there are no Oscars? 'The world will end,' joked McAvoy, who stars in Atonement. 'It's official. We were told so.' Added Jolie: 'We'll all go to George's house.'"

Also, Cathleen McGuigan previews PBS's The Complete Jane Austen, "a 10-week series of films based on all six novels."

Rachel Cooke revisits an unseemly chapter in the life of Ronald Reagan and comments on the ongoing writers' strike: "Irrespective of the strike's wider economic impact (£252 million so far [nearly $500 million]), or of how many people are in the process of losing their livelihoods (all scripted TV will cease production by next week, having finally exhausted supplies of episodes written before the strike began, with the probable loss of 15,000 jobs), this is as serious a battle as any that has been fought in the creative industries in the last 50 years; it has consequences far beyond the shores of America, and far beyond the glossy world of movies and network TV."

Also in the Observer: "Am I alone in thinking it repellent, not to mention hypocritical, of people to try to make moral capital out of the proposed Madeleine McCann movie?" asks Barbara Ellen. And Susan Smillie reports on the fallout of the Arts Council announcing "the most radical funding shake-up in its history: 194 organisations and individuals would have their grants substantially cut or completely withdrawn."

Esotika Erotica Psychotica Mike Kitchell expands Esotika Erotica Psychotica, adding archives, articles and more to come.

"Though not as powerful as ['unsung genius' Jerry Schatzberg's] Panic in Needle Park, or as artful as Puzzle of a Downfall Child, Street Smart is a wonderful bit of 80s sleaze (with a funk soundtrack featuring Miles Davis) that is a fond adieu to the Times Square of yore," writes Filmbrain.

"A couple of days ago I heard that the UK based filmmaker Pete Middleton made a feature called Driftwood for $200." So Sujewa Ekanayake got in touch and interviewed him.

And via Sujewa, Tim DiCillo looks back on Johnny Suede: "Later that day Marcia flipped me a head-shot and informed me the next actor didn't have much on his resume.... I took another look at the photo Marcia had handed me and said, 'What the fuck, bring him in.' The actor's name was Brad Pitt. Call me an idiot if you want but I was certain of 2 things the moment he walked in: 1. He was Johnny. 2. He was going to be a star."

"One might say that with Eklavya: The Royal Guard - India's submission to the Foreign Language category of the Academy Awards - director Vidhu Vinod Chopra has developed the genre of the 'melodharma,'" writes Michael Guillén, introducing his interview.

David Pratt-Robson: "Whereas the visuals in Colossal Youth seems fixed in every possible way, like images of dead men talking in a dead world, the soundtrack is always in flux, completely lively: whatever sense of bareness is raised by the views of lonely men talking against white-washed homogenized spaces is negated entirely by the alternate sense of a close community, never seen, just behind these walls."

Overcoming his initial hesitance, Dan Sallitt dusts off a 1980 article on Hitchcock.

Johnny Depp's performance in Sweeney Todd "is stunning in every dimension: dramatically, psychologically, physically and, yes, vocally," argues Anthony Tommasini. "His ear is obviously excellent, because his pitch is dead-on accurate.... Beyond his good pitch and phrasing, the expressive colorings of his singing are crucial to the portrayal. Beneath this Sweeney's vacant, sullen exterior is a man consumed with a murderous rage that threatens to burst forth every time he slowly takes a breath and is poised to speak."

Also in the New York Times:

Last Year at Marienbad

"Steve Buscemi and Stanley Tucci are starting a film, TV and commercial production outfit," reports Variety. Via William Speruzzi, who notes that one of their first projects will be an adaptation of Gay Talese's Unto the Sons for HBO.

Glenn Kenny recalls his "early days as a freakishly young cinephile."

The Hollywood Hellfire Club "A special event for the release of the terrifically entertaining new Feral House book, The Hollywood Hellfire Club (with a beautiful cover by Drew Friedman), will be held on January 15 at the Silent Movie Theatre in Los Angeles at 8 pm," notes Mark Frauenfelder at Boing Boing.

Though the festival itself opens on February 7, SF IndieFest is throwing a Benefit/Launch Party on Friday, January 25 at Rickshaw Stop.

For Stop Smiling: Michael Joshua Rowin on Chameleon Street, Nick Pinkerton on Under the Volcano and Margaret Barton-Fumo on Fantastic Planet.

Jeff at Movie Morlocks on William A Wellman's 1931 Safe in Hell: "When you see this film, you can understand why the Production Code was created."

"Market share with a commodity product like sugar water is a fine notion. Market share with a one-off variable cost product like a movie is financial suicide." Jon Taplin sends a memo to Hollywood: "Stop Making Movies." Via Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker.

Planning on screening The Price of Sugar anytime soon? Starz Denver Film Festival Artistic Director Brit Withey will tell you about a letter you'll most likely get from a law firm. No worries: the cease and desist is not aimed at you.

Lists:

  • At Hollywood Bitchslap, William Goss writes up a big fat list of the best and worst of 2007.

Once

Charlie Wilson's War, "saturated with ferocious anti-communism, is a defense of neo-colonialism and the right of American 'democracy' to intervene wherever it likes around the globe," argues Joanne Laurier at the WSWS. "Its relatively minor amusements are like chocolate icing on a poisoned cake."

Interviews in the Independent: Stephen Applebaum with Charlize Theron and Deborah Ross with Timothy Spall.

In Der Tagesspiegel (and in German), Markus Hesselmann finds a Wim Wenders very upbeat on the future of cinema in the 21st century.

Online browsing tip. Quiet Resistance: Russian Pictorial Photography, 1900 - 1930s, via wood s lot.

Online listening tip. Spout's FilmCouch #52. Joe Swanberg and Ronnie Bronstein discuss Butterknife and Aaron Hillis and Keith Uhlich have a knock-down, drag-out over I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.

Online viewing tips. "PSST gets designers, animators, and directors together for collaborative film projects every year," writes Brittany at the DVblog.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:44 PM

Slouching towards Park City, 1/13.

Sundance 08 Sylviane Gold profiles Martin McDonagh, whose In Bruges opens Sundance on Thursday: "The hit-man-on-the-lam scenario may be shopworn, and so are the odd-couple and fish-out-of-water devices. But fans of Mr McDonagh's theater work, set mostly in the Irish countryside from which his parents had emigrated, know that he creates stock situations only to subvert them. 'It's the anarchist in me,' he said. Don't expect anything familiar."

Last year, "the sellers made out like bandits, clocking astronomical sales of $53 million on 20 titles," writes Variety's Anne Thompson. "Given paltry box office grosses of $34 million on the 14 titles that did get released, you'd think that buyers would face this year's annual mating dance in 2008 with some trepidation. Certainly the price for documentaries, horror pics and dour Iraq downers will likely drop. But history may repeat itself."

And from her blog, she points to Lauren AE Schuker's overview of this year's offerings in the Wall Street Journal.

"Come Thursday, about 45,000 parka-wearing people will flock to this tiny, former mining town nestled in the Wasatch mountains," writes Monica Corcoran in the Los Angeles Times. "But according to the visitors bureau, there are only 23,000 "pillows" for all those well-coiffed heads. And these lopsided lodging logistics cause more confusion and headaches than the altitude sickness."

IndieWIRE carries on interviewing directors with films at the festival.

Back in the New York Times, Jennifer V Hughes meets the makers of The Linguists, screening in the noncompetitive Spectrum: Documentary Spotlight. The film "tells the story of [Gregory DS] Anderson, the director of the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, and K David Harrison, a linguist at Swarthmore College, and their quest to document ancestral languages like Chulym in Siberia and Sora in India."

At the AV Club, Amelie Gillette offers some advice on how to "Sundance-ify Your Movie."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:55 PM

LAT. Sneaks 2008.

Righteous Kill "Studios are currently consumed with Oscar campaigns for last year's films, and the ongoing writers strike leaves the slate for 2009 uncertain. Happily, 2008 promises to deliver a plethora of movies to keep audiences in the moment." Rebecca Ascher-Walsh opens the "Sneaks 2008" package in today's Los Angeles Times.

"In Righteous Kill, opening this fall, Pacino and De Niro at long last share the screen for a significant amount of a movie's running time," writes Mark Olsen. "Coming from new studio Overture Films and directed by veteran Jon Avnet (Fried Green Tomatoes) from a screenplay by Russell Gewirtz (The Inside Man), the latest outing with these legendary actors finds them playing a pair of grizzled New York City cops. With its serial killer through-line and undercurrent of kinky sex, the film could come across as a grubby, late-90s erotic thriller were it not for the two stars who have three Oscars between them, making Righteous Kill something akin to watching two virtuoso jazz musicians work their way around an old standard." Trailer. Slated to open April 12 in New York and April 18 everywhere else.

Chris Lee: "'Car-Fu - that's what the boys were calling it,' said Speed Racer producer Joel Silver, speaking for the notoriously media-averse Wachowskis, the dystopian auteurs behind the blockbuster Matrix trilogy. 'Cars fighting in the air.'" Trailer. May 9.

"LA is getting a superhero that's perfect for the city," Iron Man director Jon Favreau tells Geoff Boucher, who decides, "That's true. In Iron Man, a Marvel Comics character who dates to 1963, the City of Angels is getting a hero who is sleek but self-centered, fabulously rich but morally compromised and (most fittingly) built for speed but bad for the environment." Trailer. May 2.

Also: A talk with Nick Nolte about The Spiderwick Chronicles: "I've been getting in touch with my monster." Trailer. February 15. Plus, a quick chat with Christopher Nolan about The Dark Knight. Trailer. July 18.

Get Smart "'I've always envisioned myself as a major action star,' deadpans 45-year-old [Steve] Carell.... Many A-list comedians, including Will Ferrell and Jim Carrey, expressed interest in starring as Max during the project's nine-year development, but it wasn't until Carell signed on that Get Smart gained traction," reports Cristy Lytal. Trailer. June 20.

"Christina Ricci's new film, Penelope, has a lot of parallels to the actress' own journey to self-discovery and self-acceptance - minus the pig snout, of course," writes Pamela Chelin. Ricci: "My view more is that I just feel really safe in the world because I feel like everybody knows me. So it all seems like a neighborhood, just my big neighborhood." Trailer. February 29.

Susan King talks with Abigail Breslin about "making the family film Nim's Island in Australia." Trailer. April 4. Plus, a few words with Michel Gondry about Be Kind Rewind. Trailer. January 25. And with John Krasinski about George Clooney's Leatherheads. Trailer's at the site. April 4.

"In mid-November, about two weeks into the Writers Guild strike, a handful of high-profile projects that were originally intended for filming and release this year were delayed because studios, stars, directors or writers felt that the screenplays were not quite ready to shoot." Jay A Fernandez surveys "what you won't be seeing in 2008."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:28 AM

January 12, 2008

Edward Klosinski, 1943 - 2008.

Edward Klosinski
Polish cinematographer Edward Klosinski, who worked with Oscar-winning director Andrzej Wajda and director Krzysztof Kieslowski, has died, the national filmmakers' association said Monday. He was 65....

The AP.

Updated through 1/13.

I spent long hours studying how Vermeer, Rembrandt, Hogarth, Turner or Hoppner built their paintings. The world can be described in many ways, but the question is: why do certain ways of representing the world become more strongly embedded in the memory than others? I realized that I liked natural light the most, only not entirely natural but slightly deformed. All within the boundaries of realism, but not an illusion of reality. That is how Sven Nykvist, Gordon Willis and a few others work.

Klosinski in 1994, as quoted in a profile by Ewa Nawo for culture.pl.

Update, 1/13: "Klosinski photographed White in a manner that is at once en suite with its companion films while also striking a distinctly different attitude, more earthy and realistic, depicting its director's homeland as a humble country that magic can reach only from within," writes Tim Lucas.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:45 AM | Comments (1)

Dusty Cohl, 1929 - 2008.

Dusty Cohl
Dusty Cohl, a man whose charisma and confidence were instrumental in bringing the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to Toronto, died at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre Friday afternoon at the age of 78 after a long struggle with cancer.

Adam McDowell, National Post.

Dusty Cohl made an enormous difference in my life, saving a first-time visitor to Cannes from bewilderment, introducing me to everybody, and then plopping me down in the middle of the excitement of creating the Toronto festival.

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times.

I first met Dusty aboard his Floating Film Festival.... The Floater was Dusty's way of bringing [all his friends] together. On a boat. With movies. And food. And sun. And booze. And cigars. It was and always will be known as Dusty's party.
Jim Emerson.

He could be an ornery old cuss... but his heart was as big as any. A truly gentle soul covered in charming sharp edges.

David Poland.

On a personal, intimate level, he helped countless people - rich and poor - to get things done, and feel good about themselves doing it. He was the fixer, the inspiration, the catalyst.

Bruce Kirkland, Sun Media.

If any of us, when we die, have friends who say words as lovely about us as those who knew Dusty say about him, we'll have lived good lives.

Kim Voynar, Cinematical.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:48 AM | Comments (2)

January 11, 2008

Shorts, 1/11.

Berlin Alexanderplatz "Appropriately for Fassbinder's fifteen-hour masterpiece, the process of coming up with a design for Berlin Alexanderplatz was epic." A terrific entry from Eric Skillman at Criterion's On Five, complete with samples of designs that didn't make the grade. For more, see his own Cozy Lummox. Ed Howard, in the meantime, has been watching and blogging his way through Alexanderplatz.

Will you happen to be anywhere near Smithville, Texas, tomorrow? Think you might want to be an extra or even a "featured" extra (you might get to speak a line or two) in Terrence Malick's next film, Tree of Life? Chris Garcia has some information you may be interested in.

David Bordwell's recently spent some time in NYC with Amos Poe and describes, among other things, one of Poe's latest projects, "a city symphony, a lyrical tribute to the looks and sounds of New York. It joins the tradition of Walter Ruttmann and Dziga Vertov, as well as Paul Strand's Manhatta (1921) and Jay Leyda's Bronx Morning (1931). It also reminds you that Poe has roots in the downtown avant-garde. In 1972 - 1975, he often watched works by Jonas Mekas, Stan Brakhage, Michael Snow, Bruce Baillie and Jack Smith at Millennium Film Workshop, and he made films for its Friday night open screenings. As a result, Empire II carries premises of lyrical and Structural cinema into the digital era."

David Pratt-Robson examines "Shadow Play in Early John Ford."

From Hell to Texas "Henry Hathaway deserves more attention," argues Dan Sallitt. "Granted that many of his films are not up to the standard of his best; granted even that his very best films may still leave a bit of room for uninflected Hollywood conventions to play out. Still, his reputation as a competent craftsperson seems all wrong. Hathaway doesn't merely execute other people's ideas: there's a distinct Hathaway tone that can transform the material it operates upon."

"Christian Bale is in negotiations to join Johnny Depp in Michael Mann's upcoming Public Enemies," report Josef Adalian and Michael Fleming in Variety. Via Vulture, which has more news of what's up-n-coming, including this from Fleming: "Director Paul Greengrass has set Amy Ryan and Greg Kinnear to star alongside Matt Damon in the untitled Iraq war thriller that [began] shooting [on Wednesday] in Spain."

And Tatania Siegel reports that Salma Hayek's coming back to work, joining John C Reilly in Paul Weitz's "horror drama" Cirque du Freak.

"Despite its somewhat misleading title, Scream... and Die! (1973) is an interesting film directed by José Ramón Larraz that is well worth a look if you enjoy unusual European thrillers," suggests Kimberly Lindbergs.

At Movie Morlocks, kjolseth turns to the printed word for further insight into Horrors of Malformed Men.

"Directed by Jeffrey Jeturian (this is his seventh feature), The Bet Collector will be familiar to anyone who spends time trolling the film-festival circuit," writes Manohla Dargis. "Shot hand-held in smudgy digital video, the movie borrows the wavering, no-frills, fly-on-the-wall visual style (and make no mistake, it is a style) that, partly because of those influential Dogma-ticians Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, has become a tiresome cliché in fiction as well as in nonfiction film." But "Jeturian and [screenwriter Ralston] Jover are far too busy guiding us into their story, their ghetto, their world, with its wretched poverty and despair, its police corruption and sudden, horrifying violence, to allow Amy either to flower fully or to wither on her own personal, individual terms."

Also in the New York Times:

  • "[W]hile I am happy (or at least willing) to take my children to the latest animated or tweener-star-driven 'family' movies - with their singing chipmunks and chirpy Loch Ness Monsters - we gravitate more and more toward age-inappropriate fare, exploring the grown-up realms of PG-13 and even, sometimes, R," writes AO Scott. "Some of these films may be too hot or too rough, but for that reason they may also be just right."

Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination
  • Lynda Roscoe Hartigan's "mammoth catalog" Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination "accompanies the first retrospective of the artist's work in 26 years, a deliciously bountiful exhibition curated by Hartigan and recently on view in Washington, San Francisco and Salem," writes Leah Hager Cohen. "If you missed it, this book really is the next best thing: thorough, lavish, disturbing, beguiling."

  • Striking writers and the Weinstein Company have struck a deal "similar to the one reached last week by United Artists," report Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes. "According to [Harvey] Weinstein, the deal contains provisions that will allow it to be superseded by any agreement ultimately reached with the major companies through their bargaining group, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers." In a separate piece, Cieply shifts the NYT's take on the strike a tad, writing that the WGA's "militant tactics may be creating fissures within the guild. In particular, some writers wonder whether they are actually doing more harm to themselves than their opponents."

  • "[T]o hear it from [Chris] McGurk, the former vice chairman of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and Danny Rosett, [Overture Films'] chief operating officer, what distinguishes their company are an ownership structure and a business model that allow them to set their sights relatively low," reports David M Halbfinger.

  • Neil Genzlinger on The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: A VeggieTales Movie, a self-described "faith-and-values-based property."

"Some years ago, Tom Wolfe called on novelists to abandon the cul-de-sac of modern 'literary' fiction, which he saw as self-absorbed, thumb-sucking gamesmanship, and instead to revive social realism, to take up as a subject the colossal, astonishing, and terrible pageant of contemporary America. I doubt he imagined that one of the best responses to this call would be a TV program, but the boxed sets blend nicely on a bookshelf with the great novels of American history." For the Atlantic Monthly, Mark Bowden profiles David Simon, creator of The Wire.

In the New York Sun: Teeth opens next week; Steve Dollar talks with director Mitchell Lichtenstein and star Jess Weixler.

The Apocalypse Code "Russia's boom has also revived the fortunes of the country's film industry.... The Foundation for the Support of Patriotic Film was established in 2005 by a pair of associations representing veterans of the military and secret services." And, as Alexander Osipovich reports in the Wall Street Journal, the movie they pumped $15 million into, The Apocalypse Code, isn't exactly a critical darling. Via Bookforum.

"The Original Generation X brought us post-punk and cyberpunk, heavy metal and hip hop and hardcore, DIY and zines, Seinfeld and The Simpsons, Master of Puppets and Pulp Fiction and Do the Right Thing, Microsoft and Apple. Howard Stern, Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Arsenio Hall, Rosie O'Donnell and Conan O'Brien are OGXers; so are the Hollywood Brat Pack and the New York (literary) one; and Jean-Claude Van Damme, Mel Gibson, Bruce Willis and Steven Seagal; and Jonathan Franzen, Rick Moody and David Foster Wallace; and Al Roker, Katie Couric and Matt Lauer; and Madonna, Prince, Bon Jovi and the Jackson 5. Plus: Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee." Joshua Glenn goes back to work on his "Generational Periodization project."

When The Diving Bell and the Butterfly "premiered in New York and Los Angeles this past fall, it received torrents of critical praise that I found both astonishing and baffling," writes Godfrey Cheshire in the Independent Weekly. "It is not a negligible film by any means, but seeing the New Yorker's David Denby hail it as the 'reinvention of cinema' - only one of the extravagant laudations it received - left me wondering if we'd seen the same movie. I spent several days discussing this with two friends who were also in the small cadre of dissenters on Diving Bell, and various reasons were bandied as to why so many critics would go bananas over such a middling movie."

"Not, perhaps, since the 'what-is-that-astronaut-doing-in-a-Louis-XIV-bedroom' finale of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey has a movie's ending so provoked and polarized viewers." The movie is No Country for Old Men, and, in the Los Angeles Times, Glenn Kenny argues: "The more one examines the differing parts of No Country - starting from its title, which is from the Yeats poem Sailing to Byzantium - the more its seemingly off-kilter ending makes sense, revealing itself as the only possible ending for the picture." Related: In the London Times, Stephen Dalton "meets those elusive pimpernels of the anti-interview, the Coen Brothers," and the Telegraph's Lucy Cavendish talks with Kelly Macdonald.

Honeydripper "may have slipped through the cracks of December's big-ticket releases (most of them showing-off bad intentions), but it's easily [John] Sayles's best film in a good while," writes Armond White in the New York Press.

"The differences between cinephiles and suburbanites with toddlers aren't as great as they might appear," suggests Richard Prouty at One-Way Street. "Both groups are concerned with pleasure and social capital. They just simply talk about these topics in different ways."

In the Guardian, Emine Saner says hello to Jason Isaacs.

Control For the London Times, Kevin Maher profiles Control's Sam Riley.

Lou Lumenick's made me laugh out loud.

Online slow-scrolling tip. Tom Sutpen posts another miniseries at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger...: "movie directors and the means of production."

Online listening tips. Jerry Lentz reminds me that Francine Stock's got some good programs coming up - and archived - for the BBC.

Online viewing tip #1. David Poland lunches with Saoirse Ronan.

Online viewing tip #2. Jürgen Vogel stars in Die Welle, opening in Germany in mid-February. Todd Brown's got the trailer at Twitch.

Online viewing tips. Ray Pride's Apichatpong Weerasethakul collection.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:49 PM | Comments (1)

ACE. Nominations.

ACE Via Edward Copeland, the American Cinema Editors' nominations for the 58th Annual ACE Eddie Awards.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:30 PM

ADG. Nominations.

Art Directors Guild The Art Directors Guild has released its list of nominations for its Excellence in Production Design Awards. Besides the television and commercials categories, there are 15 feature film PDs nominated, divided into three groups: Period Film, Fantasy Film and Contemporary Film.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:49 PM

Maila Nurmi, 1921 - 2008.

Vampira
From the trustworthy Arbogast and various other online sources comes the sad news that the iconic horror hostess and actress Vampiria (aka Maila Nurmi) has passed away at the age of 86. If you've read my blog long enough, you're probably aware that I have a deep affection for horror hosts and I greatly admired the lovely Vampiria. She was the original bad girl of late night TV and paved the way for many other men and women to follow in her footsteps.

Kimberly Lindbergs.

Updated through 1/17.

And she also points to: Vampira's Attic, the official site; her YouTube channel; and the Wikipedia entry.

Updates, 1/12: "A shapely creation forged from elements of the 'sick humor' that was arising at the time from the beatnik culture (making her a sister to Lenny Bruce and Brother Theodore), Vampira's own sense of humor was dry, droll and devastatingly unpredictable; no one else could get the upper hand with Vampira around," writes Tim Lucas. "She was simply too cool for the graveyard."

"'Who is your favorite photographer?' she inquired," recalls C Jerry Kutner at Bright Lights After Dark. "'Man Ray,' I said. 'Oh yes," she responded, 'I modeled for him.' Her lovers included Marlon Brando, Orson Welles and James Dean.... I once loaned Maila a copy of Carl Jung's Man and His Symbols. In particular, I wanted her to read the chapter on the 'anima,' Jung's term for female archetypes - witches, goddesses, vampires, saints, etc - that are actually fantasy projections of the inner male psyche, i.e., of the male's unacknowledged feminine aspects... After returning the book Maila declared, 'I am an anima.' I have written about Maila previously here and here."

"Erotic, sarcastic, unwholesome, kind of mean, regal for no-good-reason, certainly weird, and stuck watching murky PRC and Monogram movies in the middle of the night (in short, our ideal lady), Vampira was an early camp avatar for straight culture; she's the missing self-aware, cooly ironic link between Maria Montez and Mystery Science Theater 3000," writes Chris Stangl.

At If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger..., Tom Sutpen posts quite a photo and a few words.

Update, 1/13: Tom Sutpen's got a clip of Maila Nurmi talking about her affair with Welles.

Update, 1/17: John McElwee has a great overview of her life and career at Greenbriar Picture Shows.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:32 PM | Comments (1)

Fests and events, 1/11.

Norma Rae The WGA is putting on a film festival for members, and its lineup is obviously a sign of the times," notes Variety's Michael Jones. "The fest will run this Sunday at the Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum."

A Fool There Was screens at London's Barbican on Sunday and, in the Guardian, Kira Cochrane looks back over the life of Theda Bara, "the original on-screen vamp, the woman who made performances such as that of Louise Brooks in Pandora's Box, Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity and Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction possible."

In the Independent, Charlotte Cripps previews ICO Essentials: The Secret Masterpieces of Cinema ("ICO" stands for "Independent Cinema Office," by the way). The series starts out at the Tate Modern (January 18 through 21) before heading out on a national tour. "All of the themed programmes, including Modernity, Pop, Play, Expression and Protest, collectively explore the ways in which the artist's film has influenced popular culture at large," writes Cripps.

"[A]s [Rick] Moody (who will introduce Tuesday's Lincoln Center screening [of The Ice Storm]) commented in an afterward of a recent edition of the novel, the movie is the fraternal twin of the novel," notes Miriam Bale at the Reeler. "He recalls crying at the end of the his first viewing of the film, partially out of relief that the film was so good that he wouldn't have to fake pleasantries but also because, 'I had successfully given away my book, and this was a bittersweet thing.'"

Television Delivers People, on view at the Whitney through February 17, "tries to put in perspective the changes wrought by the DVR, YouTube and, more recently, the writers' strike" and "combines television-obsessed works from the 1970s, 80s and 90s with fresh material from young artists for whom the “idiot box” is just one of many interactive screens," writes Karen Rosenberg in the New York Times.

Water Flowing Together "Water Flowing Together, screening this week at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Dance on Camera Festival, moves gracefully between Jock Soto's roots on a Navajo reservation and his 25-year reign as one of New York City Ballet's principal dancers." Joel Lobenthal in the New York Sun.

"A prime example of the merits of 'festival cinema,' Argentine director Rodrigo Moreno's El Custodio is good enough that I wish it could break out of that circuit and reach a wider audience, but that's not likely to happen," writes Steve Erickson in Gay City News. "After playing MoMA's New Directors/New Films series last spring, El Custodio returns to the museum." As part of Global Lens 2008, running through January 24.

"With films that run the gamut from traditional hand-and-rod manipulation to more modern stop-motion animation, the festival reflects [Ricki] Vincent's catholic philosophy about the nature of puppetry." In the Austin Chronicle, Josh Rosenblatt previews Saturday's first ever Puppet Parts Film Fest.

"This year's Human Rights Watch Festival at the Museum of Fine Arts examines the success and failure of vox populi in various countries around the world, highlighting issues that Americans might bear in mind when they cast their own ballots," writes Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix. January 16 through 20.

"The most popular Israeli film this year says much about Israel's ever-contradictory state of mind," writes Judith Miller in the New York Sun. "Beaufort, which opens January 18 as one of the centerpiece films of the 17th annual New York Jewish Film Festival, is an antiwar war movie about courage and cowardice, obedience and rebellion, heroism and survival." More from Bill Weber in Slant: Director Joseph Cedar's "dully earnest chronicle doesn't shun politics completely... but drowns the specifics of historical circumstance in generic minutiae." More on the festival overall from Ben Gold at the Reeler.

The program for transmediale.08, Berlin's festival of art and digital culture running January 29 through February 3 (though the exhibition remains open through February 24), is online.

"After getting off to a great start last year, the Berlinale's special program Culinary Cinema will be held for the second time from February 11 to 15." Also, the European Film Market carries on growing and: "At the fifth Berlinale Co-Production Market (February 10-12, 2008), a selection of 35 film projects from 25 countries will be presented. Their producers are looking for international investors and co-production partners."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:18 PM

Lists, 1/11.

Southland Tales "Welcome to our annual 11 Offenses, a proper wake-up call from the end-of-year lovefest that found us waxing on the greatness of contemporary cinema, as well as the only list you're likely to see that doesn't feature There Will Be Blood," announces Reverse Shot. "With a year as great as 2007 behind us, it took all we could muster to get out the knives and sharpen them up, but how could we deny our fans the pleasure?"

Anne Thompson lists Variety's "Ten Directors to Watch."

"Now, just to wrap up this whole 2007 wrap-up thing, I'm going to recommend some movies and (in munchable blurbs of 150 words or less - I hope) give you some idea of what I liked about them, without meaning to over-sell them." Jim Emerson presents a "Blurb-a-thon 2007."

At Twitch, Peter Martin revisits his year at the movies.

Scott Tobias's favorite movie year: 1955.

Wings of Desire Andrew Bemis posts a top ten - for 1987.

Noel Vera has updated his 07 list as well as his ongoing list of Filipino films available on DVD.

At Cinematical, Jeffrey M Anderson lists seven "Great Films That Run Less Than 80 Minutes."

In his latest "Indie 500" column for the House Next Door, Vadim Rizov lists a "Top 10 of 2007 + remainders."

"Top Ten Best Ever," Peter Ferland, McSweeney's.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:53 PM

Books, 1/11.

Tom Cruise For the New York Times' Janet Maslin, Andrew Morton's "overall impression of [Tom] Cruise makes sense." Tom Cruise: An Unauthorized Biography "describes a controlling, fervent figure ('He was like a walking light bulb,' recalls one observer) whose personal needs dovetailed with the strict hierarchical structure of his newfound faith and who, at some point, decided to dedicate himself wholeheartedly to proselytizing spiritually, emotionally and politically on its behalf."

At Slate, Juliet Lapidos offers a "handy guide straight to the good parts." Pretty amusing stuff, actually. Sorry, but it is. There's the bit, for example, when Cruise is "complaining that he had studied all these years and the whole faith was about space aliens."

For the New Republic, Isaac Chotiner talks with Ian McEwan about Atonement, Saul Bellow, "the Internet, atheism, and why his books are still scary."

Making Waves "Geoffrey Nowell-Smith's Making Waves: New Cinemas of the 1960s is a brief and concise overview of a complex era," writes Michael Buening at PopMatters. "But while useful as a primer, this slim volume leaves out so much I sometimes wondered what it hopes to accomplish." Via Bookforum.

"Two new books, Stephen Lowenstein's My First Movie: Take Two and Cinema of Obsession by Dominique Mainon and James Ursini, set out to explore the age-old connection between art and fixation," writes Josh Rosenblatt in the Austin Chronicle. "Though Lowenstein's book may sound like the less sexy of the two, with its tales of wide-eyed young filmmakers struggling to get their visions on film and then angling for success, it's actually the one with the best chance of raising readers' temperatures."

Mark Schilling's No Borders, No Limits: Nikkatsu Action Cinema is "an extremely helpful introduction to a genre and studio whose fame has lagged behind the quality of its productions," writes David Austin at Cinema Strikes Back. "Expect Nikkatsu's reputation to grow with the ever-increasing waves of classic DVD releases and the current touring retrospective."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:33 PM | Comments (1)

Docs, 1/11.

Nonfiction "At the Berlin Festival next month, when audiences watch Errol Morris's new documentary about the American abuses at Abu Ghraib, they will be confronted with dramatic reconstructions of some of the most notorious incidents that took place in the benighted Baghdad jail." In the Independent, Geoffrey Macnab talks with documentarians about "the truth that a newsreel or a bald statement of 'facts' can't convey. The nagging question is just how far documentary-makers should be allowed to manipulate events in their pursuit of this truth, however they define it."

Monika Bartyzel passes along news from Variety that Zeitgeist Films has picked up Chris & Don: A Love Story, Guido Santi and Tina Mascara's documentary on the relationship between writer Christopher Isherwood and artist Don Bachardy. Also at Cinematical, Erik Davis asks, "So, Did Morgan Spurlock Really Find Osama Bin Laden?"

Let's Get Lost "The spanking-new 35 mm print of Let's Get Lost, Bruce Weber's 1988 cult documentary, underscores the otherworldly beauty of the film - a lush, black-and-white valentine to jazz legend Chet Baker," writes Ernest Hardy in the LA Weekly. More from Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times: "The images of a frail Baker (only 58) are a shocking contrast to the footage of him as a young James Dean lookalike, yet they are both such powerful and indelible alternate realities that it's hard to say which one wins out." At the Nuart for a week, starting tonight.

"Next weekend, the award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney will see the long-awaited theatrical release of his torture documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side, as well as the premiere of Gonzo: The Life & Work of Dr Hunter S Thompson," at the Sundance Film Festival." Nicolas Rapold talks with him for the New York Sun.

Audience of One "Audience of One manages, as the best docs will, to tell a resonant, character-driven story that makes us think, all the while laughing and cringing." For in the Austin Chronicle, Anne S Lewis talks with director Michael Jacobs. The film screens Wednesday at the Alamo Drafthouse @ the Ritz.

"Powerful, moving and disturbing, the documentary Nanking depicts the horrific events that occurred in the Republic of China's then capital in late 1937 and early 1938," writes Kevin Crust. "If the Westerners' accounts are compelling, the interviews with the Chinese are heartbreaking." Walter Addiego, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, agrees. But also in the LAT, Robert W Welkos talks with the filmmakers.

"Millions (A Lottery Story) is not so much about six lottery winners as about six people who I watched with growing fascination and affection," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Annie Wagner in the Stranger: "Unlike Autism: The Musical or Temple Grandin's memoirs, you see the kid first, and the autism second. Billy the Kid is about liking KISS and kittens, about the role of poetry and professional wrestling in contemporary life, about not being able to get even the thing you thought you were settling for. It's heartbreaking."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:59 AM

Times and Winds.

Times and Winds "Times and Winds is a film bewitched by the rhythms of everyday life in a remote Turkish village," writes Ed Gonzalez in the Voice. "Director Reha Erdem sees pain and love the same way he does the moon and sun - as constant, illuminating forces - and his camera pushes forward as if on an axis, peering at family and communal experience through the impressionable eyes of three pre-adolescents."

"This is definitely one for the arthouse snobs, but it's also a surprisingly sensitive look at the inner lives of bored, rural Turkish youth," writes Armin Rosen in the L Magazine. "The children are as complex as the social and physical landscape they're set against, and the film slowly amounts to a rich, compelling whole."

Updated through 1/13.

"For all its beauty," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times, "you couldn't describe Times and Winds as uplifting, and its attitude toward childhood is not sentimental in the manner of similarly minimalist Iranian movies. Its vision of people in thrall to religious ritual and living at the mercy of nature may be poetic, but it is no idyll."

At Anthology Film Archives through January 17.

Update, 1/13: "If I tell you that it's a lovely, lyrical film about children's lives in a remote Turkish village, with long contemplative shots of natural beauty, that sends you in one direction," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "If I haul out comparisons to art-house heavyweights like Abbas Kiarostami and Theo Angelopoulos, that may send you in another. Let's say that from the first frames of Times and Winds I felt completely captivated, and that Erdem's shots of curtains blowing in a window, or three men having an argument in a field, have a hypnotic power that's not easily summarized."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:14 AM

Early words on Cloverfield.

Cloverfield Everyone's pointing to Harry Knowles's rave for Cloverfield; now, at Cinematical, Erik Davis is also readers: "Which Knowles Quote will Paramount Use in Future Cloverfield Advertisements"? Erik's also got a big Cloverfield linkage roundup.

"It's amazing in that it's so short (by my watch about 74 minutes without credits), and yet so fierce," writes Jeffrey Wells. "This movie is REM madness. It is Guillermo del Toro on a tab of brown acid with a little crack thrown in."

Updated through 1/16.

In the New York Sun, S James Snyder follows the trail of online crumbs dropped by the PR campaign.

Update: "Paramount Pictures has given Premiere.com two brand new Cloverfield TV spots as online exclusives."

Update, 1/16: "Cloverfield originated with Abrams wanting to reenergize the monster movie, to bring into the 21st century the creepy-fun flicks [JJ Abrams] had enjoyed as boy; not the charnel-house blood baths of current horror films but rather such enigmatic thrillers as Ridley Scott's Alien, David Cronenberg's The Fly and John Carpenter's The Thing - movies that surpassed any supposed limitations of the genre," writes Mark Olsen in the Los Angeles Times. "'Cloverfield is meant to explore the very real and obvious fears we are all living with everyday,' said Abrams, 'to let the audience have the experience but in a much more safe and manageable way.... I believe there are a whole lot of people who want to have that kind of catharsis and who don't necessarily want to see documentaries about the very issues they are grappling with internally.'"

"Lower your expectations greatly and you won't be too disappointed in JJ Abrams' production Cloverfield," writes Grady Hendrix. "Technically compelling it manages to wring at least two goosebump moments out of sheer filmmaking skill alone, which is a good thing because the story, acting, actors, plot and pretty much everything else couldn't wring goosebumps out of a lumpy goose."

Also at Twitch: "Cloverfield is really a love story with a monster added in for good measure," writes The Visitor. "It's essentially about a guy who gets on an amazing race across Manhattan to save the girl he slept with, while a gigantic monster rampages in his path."

Keith Uhlich revisits "Top Movie Monsters" at UGO.

Quint to AICN readers: "Yes, I've seen the movie and yes it is good. But for the love of God I hope you guys lower your expectations."

"Watching it, you're struck by how American cinema is still struggling to process the events of 9/11," blogs Shane Danielson for the Guardian. "What Cloverfield does best is build a sense of catastrophic dread, much as Abrams did on TV with Lost."

"Since the ideal way to see Cloverfield is to know as little about it as possible, let me say right off the bat that the movie is exciting, terrifying and breathlessly entertaining," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "You should go see it and then come back to read the rest of this review, which contains a lot of spoilers."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:06 AM

First Sunday.

First Sunday "In a way, First Sunday is part of a tradition of African-American cinema that goes back to Oscar Micheaux and Spencer Williams in the 1930s and 40s; the new film's ambivalent heroes who see the light, obvious villain and bawdy humor were very much part of the playbook for those cinema pioneers," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "Unfortunately, the two-dimensional melodrama and hit-you-over-the-head messaging from those old movies (as well as from early talkies by low-budget filmmakers of all races) remains very much in evidence as well."

"Ice Cube, not exactly a mirthful performer, requires an antic sidekick, and he has a pretty good one here in Tracy Morgan," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "First Sunday sometimes feels more like a script read-through than like an actual movie, but its warmth is likely to carry you through the stretches of cliché and tedium."

Updated through 1/17.

"Leaving aside the actual quality of the work, the peculiar career trajectory of Ice Cube - from gangsta rapper to indie-film icon to action hero wannabe to family-comedy superstar - is surely one of the most fascinating cultural phenomena of our time," suggests Bilge Ebiri in Nerve.

"The movie is designed to be uplifting and inspirational, but everything about it is tired and listless," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "It doesn't so much make you feel the spirit as drain it out of you."

"At first, the movie is over-anxious - trying too hard to squeeze out the laughs, pump up the soundtrack, ingratiate itself with the audience - and the straining is abrasive," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. "But once [director David E] Talbert gets distracted by keeping the plot clunking along, the comedy eases into relaxed sideline banter."

"The change in direction that First Sunday takes from gritty and funny to smarmy and sanctimonious is harrowing enough to induce sensibility whiplash," writes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun.

For the New York Observer's Sara Vilkomerson, this is "a movie that wants to be a screwball comedy, a caper and a feel-good inspirational tale all at once but feels fairly predictable (but not in a comforting rom-com way) and, more often than not, is not so funny."

At Slant, Nick Schager finds this to be a "generally awful replication of [Tyler] Perry's typical blend of heartwarming melodrama and broad, stereotype-mining humor."

"First Sunday pits the street against the church, but somehow, affable mediocrity wins the day," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club.

Chris Lee talks with Tracy Morgan for the Los Angeles Times.

Patrick Walsh talks with Talbert for Cinematical.

Update, 1/17: "First Sunday isn't about moral ignorance or how scandalous ghetto thugs can be; instead, Talbert observes the difficulty of social communion," writes Armond White in the New York Press. This doesn't make it "a great movie (it surely is not that; far from the class of Sounder or Akeelah and the Bee), but it is a rare film that recognizes complex facts of social existence."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:04 AM

There will be, yes, even more Blood.

I drink your milkshake! Jürgen Fauth launches I drink your milkshake!

"[I]n the aptly titled There Will Be Blood, [Paul Thomas] Anderson tells the familiar story not as he's received it from earlier films (much as he's studied them) or even from his putative source, Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel Oil!, but as a kind of social realist peyote vision," writes Stuart Klawans in the Nation. "Utterly fluid yet coming at you in flashes, based on events of a century ago yet intensely present, the film seems as tangible as its desert hills and steam-powered machines but as unfathomable as Daniel Plainview: a rumbling abyss of a man, who will tell you he doesn't like to explain himself."

Updated through 1/16.

"Rather than the mutual diminishing that adaptations share with their source texts, Oil! and There Will Be Blood provide a unique sort of dialectical insight," writes David Lowery. "Neither one sheds light on the other, but in concert they expose something of the inner process by which Anderson created such a formidable, unwieldy and wholly original piece of work."

The Oregonian's Shawn Levy on Daniel Day-Lewis: "Spewing palaver and rage, sucking the vitality out of friends and strangers alike, forcing the Earth itself to do his bidding, he's larger than life (and maybe even death) and absolutely unforgettable. It's the most memorably gigantic screen acting since Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs and maybe since the heyday of De Niro, Pacino, Nicholson and Hoffman in the go-go 70s."

At Bright Lights After Dark, Erich Kuersten revisits DDL's performance in Gangs of New York.

Update, 1/12: Craig Keller "did not care for the motion picture."

Update, 1/13: A snippet from Peter Stanford long interview with Daniel Day-Lewis for the Observer: "It sounds so presumptuous to talk about it but I had a strong sense of the power of Paul's unconscious in his script and in his work. And it appealed very much to something in mine, and I never chose to define it or analyse it in any way whatsoever. He honestly told unblinkingly the story of one man's life from the first scene to this outrageous conclusion. I couldn't begin to imagine where some of that had come from because it didn't always appear to have a logic, and yet it appeared to me to have its own innate logic."

Updates, 1/14: James Ponsoldt talks with PTA for Filmmaker.

"It's the kind of film that Pauline Kael surely would have written an almost-rave for, pointing out its 'excesses' and 'shortcomings' and loving it all the more for not having so hedged its bets," writes Zach Campbell. "Still. I'm not convinced the film is more than half-baked, conceptually and thematically, and I feel as though Anderson were really sure of how he wanted to say something meaningful but spent less time on the meaning that supplied that... meaningfulness."

Plainview is "just there, a fact of life, a veritable American landscape all to himself, and like the landscape (which Anderson also views with a majestic but never merely pictorial eye), he has to simply be taken for what he is. What this all amounts to is a character study that rigorously denies the psychological dimension in favor of the sheer physical facts of the character's existence." Ed Howard also revisits PTA's Hard Eight.

"'What's it about?' may be the wrong question to ask about There Will Be Blood, which pulls Oil! inside out: while the film traces the growing mental and moral corruption of its two antagonists, it is never 'about' exposing capitalism or religious hucksterism," writes Miriam Elizabeth Burstein. Via Chuck Tryon.

"With There Will be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson has made a self-conscious bid to join the ranks of the Great American Filmmakers," writes Dave McDougall, but the film "seems largely like a series of ideas rather than a set of interwoven ones. Anderson's focus on visuality and tableau dims his characters' psychology."

"Anderson's film is like a vision of notes he took on a Great American Epic, ideas and angles introduced but rarely followed through," agrees Daniel Kasman. "It is not that the film moves at a montage-like clip as does much of Anderson's two mega movies [Boogie Nights and Magnolia], but rather the narrative touches down at telling details, small and large, to suggest something of Daniel Plainview and the world he represents, and then moves on to another idea, rarely finishing the first."

Update, 1/16: For Stop Smiling, Patrick Z McGavin talks with cinematographer Robert Elswit and production designer and art director Jack Fisk.

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

January 10, 2008

LA Weekly. FYC.

Away From Her The LA Weekly's conducted interviews with three performers and one director who shouldn't be overlooked this frantic awards season. Adam Nayman: "Julie Christie may well earn a bookend Oscar for her performance as a woman in the grip of Alzheimer's disease in Away From Her, but it's the veteran Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent, playing Christie's stoically heartbroken husband, who anchors the picture."

Ella Taylor: "Spend half an hour with Christie, and you'll experience her ambivalence about Hollywood and almost everything else. Plainly shy and gun-shy, the actress hates being interviewed as much as she hates speaking in public. But as luck would have it, we had met two weeks earlier at a panel discussion about Away From Her, with Christie, her genial co-star Gordon Pinsent and a preternaturally confident [Sarah] Polley. Only Christie looked as though she was expecting to be shot at dawn."

Tim Grierson: "Released last February - a fact of timing that usually squashes a movie's Oscar chances - Breach has remained an underdog awards contender thanks to [Chris] Cooper's sterling lead performance as real-life FBI agent Robert Hanssen, a seemingly model government operative until he was arrested in early 2001 (and later convicted to life in prison) for selling US secrets to the Russians."

Scott Foundas: "As all the retrospective acclaim suggests, Zodiac has life in it yet, and seems sure to endure in the cinematic fossil record longer than many of the past year's celluloid causes célèbres. (Atonement, hello?) That's okay by [David] Fincher, who already has another film - an adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald's reverse-aging novella The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, starring his Se7en and Fight Club collaborator Brad Pitt - in the editing room."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:20 PM

WGA. Nominations.

Writers Guild Awards "The Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) and the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) have announced nominations for outstanding achievement in writing for the screen during the 2007 season to be honored at the 2008 Writers Guild Awards held on February 9, 2008, in Los Angeles and New York."

The nominees:

Updated through 1/11.

Original Screenplay:

Adapted Screenplay:

Documentary Screenplay:

Update, 1/11: The awards show's been called off, reports the New York Sun.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:19 PM

Film Comment. Jan/Feb 08.

Stellet Licht Last issue's Film Comment cover boy just edges out this issue's in this year's poll of dozens of top-o'-the-line critics. It's No Country for Old Men with 754 points over There Will Be Blood with 743. And what a season for upsets. Hardly a surprise that Carlos Reygadas's Silent Light (175 points) tops the list of "Best Unreleased Films of 2007"; but Hou Hsiao-hsien's Flight of the Red Balloon comes awfully close (171).

Now FC wants your votes. And "rants, raves or insights on the movies of 2007." There will be prizes. As incentive, they're uttering the magic word: Criterion.

Perhaps the list to get most excited about, though, is "Terra Incognita: 18 Films to Look Out For."

The highlight of the online offerings from this issue will be Robin Wood on George Romero' Living Dead movies, the occasion being Diary of the Dead:

Diary of the Dead

Romero's universe is certainly not a Christian one (the occasional religious references are always negative). Rather, we have an accidental universe, an unholy mess, an experiment not even from the familiar mad scientist but from some strange, blind, confused demiurge that didn't know what it was doing but, in its blind fumblings, produced a species that may be responsible for the death of all life on this planet within the next few hundred years....

Looking back over the five films, one is struck by an inherent contradiction: one cannot believe that they were planned as a sequence, each having its own individual characteristics (there are no carry-overs from one film to the next). Yet the more one reflects upon them the more one is struck by an inherent logic in the overall structure, a logic confirmed by the remarkable new film: the first four in the series cover and demolish, systematically, the central structures of what we still call our civilization, establishing Romero as the most radical of all horror directors.

Chris Norris reviews Koen Mortier's Ex-Drummer, a "cinematic descent into squalor, brutality, and debasement from the cheery European nexus that gave us Man Bites Dog, Funny Games and the stylish nightmare Irreversible."

The Man from London Chris Chang's call for distribution is issued this time for Béla Tarr: "The festival-circuit party line has proclaimed The Man from London as subpar Tarr. So what? Surely the counterargument is that minor Tarr is superior to most other things."

Back to the "Online Exclusives." "[W]hile Transformers was one of the better action films this summer, it missed its chance to become a landmark in digital effects filmmaking by playing safe," argues Patrick Hebron.

The full, "uncut" version of Harlan Jacobson's interview with Francis Ford Coppola is here: "A happy death is that I will be so lost in all the wonderful things I've gotten to do in my life that when I die, I'm not going to notice it."

Claire Denis "has made five strikingly transformative videos for two Sonic Youth songs," writes Daniel Stuyck. "The collaboration makes sense. Both parties thrive on a rather alchemical combination of elements in their work, cherry picking ingredients from both the experimental and mainstream."

Nicolas Rapold looks back on the highlights of the 25th Turin Film Festival.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:14 AM

Film Quarterly. Winter 07/08.

Film Quarterly "Of the films I watched this quarter, I was particularly engaged by André Téchiné's new drama, a rumination on the nonconformity of life and art whose title seems to me to be provocative." Introducing the new issue of Film Quarterly (and thanks once again to Girish for the heads-up), editor Rob White offers a quick take on The Witnesses - and announces a film review prize to coincide with next year's 50th anniversary issue.

"It is conceivable that a city in Eastern Europe today could become what LA was at the beginning of the twentieth century: a huge backlot for studios," notes screenwriter and director Greg Marcks. "As a result LA, and the studios themselves, may be on the way to becoming a financial, planning, and marketing center rather than the place where movies are physically made."

"As the video-game genre most tightly linked to a cinematic tradition, survival horror upsets some of the assumed differences between cinema and games," writes Irene Chien. "Survival horror draws on the reflex-activating power of fear rather than paralyzed gawking."

Beth Mauldin offers a quick overview of several books: The Afterlife of America's War in Vietnam: Changing Visions in Politics and Screen by Gordon Arnold; History Films, Women, and Freud's Uncanny by Susan E Linville; Screening Politics: The Politician in American Movies by Harry Keyishian; European Film Industries by Anne Jäckel; East European Cinemas, edited by Anikó Imre; and Historical Dictionary of French Cinema by Dayna Oscherwitz and Maryellen Higgins.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:55 AM

January 9, 2008

Shorts, 1/9.

Maude and Juno "So how did we go from Maude to Juno? If American screenwriters are currently in the grip of Keeping-My-Baby-itis, what was the epidemic's sociocultural tipping point?" asks Joshua Glenn at Brainiac. "After several days of online research, during which I scoured TV.com and the Internet Movie Database, not to mention the websites of anti-abortion, feminist, and pro-choice organizations, I've got a few answers." Background (with clips, the works): Parts 1, 2 and 3.

Filing an entry for Artforum's "Diary," Andrew Hultkrans recalls Saturday's celebration of J Hoberman's 30-year run at the Village Voice. AO Scott, "looking like a close relative of Thomas Frank," interviewed Hoberman onstage at the Museum for the Moving Image: "AO then posed the film critic's dilemma: underpaid cheerleader or serious historian? J responded that there is a such a thing as film culture, and it should be treated with the same spirit of inquiry and breadth of analytical reference as any body of history."

In the Valley of Elah "has been criticized by those who inspired it. In fact, Lanny Davis's true story is more harrowing than a fictionalized account could ever be." For the Independent, Rob Sharp talks with Davis "the short life and horrific death of his son, who had been a specialist with Baker Company, a prestigious section of the US Army, and of how he is still fighting for the truth."

Ben X "Ben X, Belgium's submission as Best Foreign Language Film for the 2008 Academy Awards, is about an autistic boy named Ben who retreats into the computer game fantasy world of Archlord to escape bullying." Michael Guillén talks with director Nic Balthazar. Also: A talk with director Özer Kiziltan and screenwriter Onder Cakar about Takva.

In the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Max Goldberg recommends The Violin, "a plainly appealing sleeper that picked up major festival awards from Cannes to San Francisco as well as major props from star director Guillermo del Toro (quoted as saying, 'In The Violin lies the future of Mexican cinema')." Adds Dennis Harvey at SF360: "It's a superb movie - and also something of a throwback, as it consciously recalls the 1930s-50s 'Golden Age of Mexican Cinema' highlighted by such dramatic realists as early visionary Fernando de Fuentes and Spaniard Luis Buñuel in his Los Olvidados expat period."

Back in the SFBG: "Persepolis is at once history lesson, timely look at fundamentalism's most tragic elements, and insightful peek into that most relatable of topics, the confusing spiral of young adulthood," writes Cheryl Eddy. Related online viewing tip: A Link TV interview with Marjane Satrapi.

"Does your evaluation of a film change over time?" asks Girish. "Are there examples of 'revisionist evaluation' of films or filmmakers in your viewing history?"

Via Bookforum:

  • "The very technology that provided cinema its 'complicated' façade has also provided cinema with its epitaph!" exclaims K Hariharan in the Hindu, looking ahead to a more liberated and diversified art in the 21st century.

  • For the Boston Globe, Mark Shanahan talks with Alice Kelikian, chair of the film studies program at Brandeis University, who tells him, "Today, film studies has to include visual culture as a whole: photography, video, animation, even reality TV. The varieties of media, digital and otherwise, change endlessly, and we need to comprehend the revolution."

Sleaze Artists

Multi-part reading: Thom at Film of the Year on Hollywood and WII in 1942: parts 2 and 2; and Raymond De Felitta on Singin' in the Rain: parts 1, 2 and 3.

"[D]oes Nosferatu deserve its reputation as one of the signature works of pre-sound cinema?" asks Tom Huddleston. "It lacks the emotional weight of Murnau's own Sunrise, or the globetrotting, epic scale of his Faust. It didn't revolutionise the form to the extent Potemkin or Birth of a Nation did, nor does it create a unique, instantly recognisable other world such as those seen in Metropolis or The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. It is on the surface a more straightforward, simpler work than any of these, relying on more primal human responses: fear, revulsion and dread. And yet it endures, its reputation undimmed."

Also in Not Coming to a Theater Near You: My Winnipeg is "an amalgamation of dubious fact and outright fiction, in which [Guy Maddin] continues to probe our vexing attachment to our memories with his signature cinematic style," writes Chiranjit Goswami.

"I'm Not There is affective as well as intellectual, and that it feels 'intimate' even though it is all clearly distanced - or, better (to risk a Blanchotian formulation) that it makes us feel the intimacy of that very distance," writes Steven Shaviro.

"Unlike other radical directors [Fassbinder] had no interest in social realism," notes Owen Hatherley in the Socialist Worker. "Instead, his films are stylised, often cold and glossy, unafraid of glamour and artifice. The lack of counter-cultural machismo was intended as a more insidious, stealthy way of getting a left wing message across - a critical, alienating misuse of Hollywood devices deployed as a political weapon."

Talks in the Los Angeles Times: Gina Piccalo with Angelina Jolie and Michael Ordoña with Javier Bardem.

The Reader Nicole Kidman's pregnancy wouldn't ordinarily be a Daily-type item, but as Michael Perry reports for Reuters, it does mean that she's pulled out of Stephen Daldry's adaptation of Bernhard Schlink's The Reader. More than a few Berliners are disappointed Kidman won't be filling the celebrity news hole left by Tom Cruise once Valkyrie finally wrapped, but as Variety's Ed Meza and Michael Fleming report, a replacement's already lined up: Kate Winslet.

At Cinematical, Ryan Stewart, noting that Phillip Noyce will soon be directing Scarlett Johansson in Mary, Queen of Scots, wonders whatever happened to his Amelia Earhart biopic that was to star Hilary Swank. Also, a peek at Diablo Cody's screenplay for Jennifer's Body, a horror movie about "a high-school sex bomb and all around homecoming queen type who is also possessed by satanic forces."

"Everyone loves Saul Bass," writes Jaime Morrison. "I recently came across some commercial work he'd done for television in the 50s, and upon doing some google-sniffing to search out more information, was surprised to find none of it was already represented on the web. With that in mind please consider the following images my small contribution to the digital remembrance of all things Bass." Via Coudal Partners.

New blog on the block: La Daily Musto.

The NYT tracks fallout from the writer's strike: As Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert return (Bill Carter and Jacques Steinberg; more from Salon's Heather Havrilesky), the Golden Globes awards ceremony shrinks to a news conference (Michael Cieply and David Carr).

Also in the NYT, Charles McGrath profiles Keira Knightley.

Google and Panasonic are teaming up to make Internet-enabled TVs, Reuters reports.

Online listening tip #1. DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus and campaign consultant Tad Devine are on the Leonard Lopate Show to discuss Primary, Tanner 88, The War Room and Primary Colors.

Online listening tip #2. Nathaniel R talks with Marisa Tomei.

Online viewing tip #1. Michael Atkinson points to "the full and final version of the CBS pilot I co-wrote, co-produced and co-created last year (getting mileage out of those WGA-designated credits), Babylon Fields."

Online viewing tip #2. David Poland lunches with Tim Burton.

Online viewing tips. Jerry Lentz forges on.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:12 PM | Comments (1)

Other fests, other events, 1/9.

International Film Festival Rotterdam< "Lamb of God, the fiction debut of Argentine docu helmer Lucia Cedron, will open the International Film Festival Rotterdam on Jan 23," reports Ian Mundell for Variety. The fest runs through February 3.

As MoMA's Goran Paskaljevic retrospective opens (it'll run through the end of the month), John Anderson talks with the filmmaker and with Sarajevo Film Festival programmer Howard Feinstein, who tells him that Paskaljevic "frequently sensationalizes his metaphors and situations, and lacks the oomph and knack for magical realism that charges the films of Serb apologist Emir Kusturica. Yet in the world of Serbian cinema, where denial is endemic, Paskaljevic is the only feature film director to have addressed, however, slightly, the subject of atrocities committed by Serbs against Bosnian Muslims. The others are preoccupied with feeling sorry for themselves and despising NATO for bombing them during the offensive in Kosovo."

Wee Willie Winkie Dan Sallitt names his picks for the best of the Ford at Fox series running at the Museum of the Moving Image from Saturday through February 24.

"The tantalizing winter 2008 leg of the Stranger Than Fiction documentary series launched Tuesday at IFC Center, where host Thom Powers welcomed director Peter Raymont and author Ariel Dorfman for the New York bow of his latest doc A Promise to the Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman." And ST VanAirsdale talks with Powers and Raymont.

"The world premiere of Adam Brooks's romantic comedy Definitely, Maybe will open the 2008 Santa Barbara International Film Festival," notes Brian Brooks at indieWIRE. January 24 through February 3.

At ScreenGrab, Phil Nugent rounds up goings on in Berkeley and New York.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:07 PM

Berlin & Beyond + The Edge of Heaven.

The Edge of Heaven In her preview of Berlin and Beyond: New Films From Germany, Austria and Switzerland, Nicole Gluckstern focuses on tomorrow night's opening film, The Edge of Heaven: "After exploring the tenuous alliances of family and homeland in 2002's Solino and the complex, at times violent bonds of love in 2004's Head-On, [Fatih Akin] meditates on death's unanticipated capacity to unite the living in his newest film. The slow pace and nonlinear construction of his latest offering might initially surprise audiences looking for the visceral force of his previous movies, but it's a surprise worth following to the film's introspective conclusion."

Updated through 1/11.

Nicholas Kulish profiles Akin for the New York Times and, as Ian Mundell reports in Variety, the Belgian Film Critics' Union has awarded its Grand Prix to Heaven. The film opens at New York's Film Forum on May 21. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes.

Back in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Cheryl Eddy reviews the shortish doc Heavy Metal in the Country: "Andreas Geiger turns his camera on his hometown of Donzdorf, Germany, a tidy little village containing half-timber houses, oompah band-loving old-timers, and the hugely successful metal label Nuclear Blast."

Update, 1/11: "The relationship between Germany and its eastern neighbor, Poland, informs my favorite work in the program (based on a sampling of about a third of the lineup)," writes Michael Fox at SF360. "In Robert Thalheim's partly autobiographical And Along Come Tourists, an aimless, nerdy German arrives in Auschwitz to fulfill his civil service obligation. Mocked by the Poles he meets, and treated like a half-wit servant by the elderly Jewish survivor in residence, Sven's blah life brightens when a pretty local girl befriends him. Tourists is a modest movie, yet it has profound things to say about the German response to the Holocaust in the 21st century."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:00 PM

Lists and awards, 1/9.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? "Did you know that the Kansas City Film Critics Circle is the second oldest critics group in the country?" asks Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "Yep, they've been voting for their favorites since 1966, which is when they gave Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? their highest accolade." This year, they're going for There Will Be Blood.

Slant's Ed Gonzalez posts the 2007 Online Film Critics Society winners. Picture: No Country for Old Men.

Saluting the "Best Acting of 2007" (Female and Male), PopMatters opens a three-day frenzy: "The Best TV, Film, and DVD of 2007."

"It says something about 2007's cinematic offerings that even I Know Who Killed Me, the movie that seems to leap to everybody's mind when the year's worst is mentioned, had exciting baggage waiting to be unpacked," writes Fernando F Croce. His #1's a tie: Death Proof and There Will Be Blood.

Music, books and, yes, movies. A delightful list from Kenji Fujishima at the House Next Door.

"The A-Z of cinema," compiled by Horatia Harrod and Marianna Walker for the Telegraph, counts 26 ways we still love the theatrical experience. Pretty nifty stuff, actually, via Ryan Stewart at Cinematical.

Art Fag City's best and worst of the Web.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:25 PM

DVDs, 1/9.

Ace in the Hole Ace in the Hole is among the AV Club's "Best DVDs of 2007."

"A little-noticed treasure fell into the laps of movie-lovers amid the hullabaloo of year-end top 10 lists and Oscar bait," writes Nicolas Rapold. "Frederick Wiseman's massive, moving chronicles of America, its people, and its institutions have long been elusive after initial television broadcasts and theater runs, unless one was willing to scour library collections. But the recent release on DVD of 23 documentaries by the great filmmaker finally makes widely available an essential piece of movie history and American society and culture."

Also in the New York Sun, Gary Giddins: "It's an Ed Gein world, or maybe it just feels that way because I have been making my way through the alternately macabre and campy catalog of Dark Sky Films, the DVD company that has taken the lead from Anchor Bay and others in offering a savory stew of low-budget American detritus, gialli, assorted Euro-trash, neglected television, and many altogether admirable movies with a bent disposition. What sets Dark Sky apart is the care it gives lost drive-in discards as well as respectable genre classics - care that indicates an occasional touch of corporate wit."

"Cornel Wilde is an interesting case as an actor-turned-director, an act for which he has received no respect," argues DK Holm in a review of The Naked Prey for the Vancouver Voice.

Sean Axmaker's list of "Dream DVDs" has become one of the most popular pieces ever run at GC's main site. Wishing's fun. Now at Cinematical, Jeffrey M Anderson writes up a "DVD Wish List for 2008" and Glenn Erickson, the "DVD Savant," has just revised his year-old wish list.

Jim Emerson: "In celebration of the DVD release of David Fincher's Director's Cut of Zodiac (only a few minutes longer - I'm not sure what has been changed or added), here's a scripted scene, from an undated draft, that you won't find in any version of the movie."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:17 PM | Comments (2)

Slouching towards Park City, 1/9.

Sundance 08 "Next week, the global film industry will turn to Park City, Utah for the Sundance Film Festival. But does Sundance, in turn, look back at the rest of the globe? The answer, of course, is sort of." Anthony Kaufman presents a list of "10+ International Films to Watch at Sundance 08."

And indieWIRE carries on interviewing about one director a day - directors, of course, with films at Sundance.

Cinematographer Ellen Kuras's directorial debut, Nerakhoon (The Betrayal), a documentary about a Laotian immigrant whose "family was ravaged by the extension of the United States's Vietnam War efforts into Laos in the 1970s," will see its premiere Sundance. The Reeler talks with her about the film and about working with Michel Gondry, most recently on Be Kind Rewind.

Online viewing tip. James Israel has the trailer for Goliath, the Zellner Bros feature headed to premiere at Sundance.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:12 PM

Berlinale. Competition, round 2.

Berlinale "Almost two-thirds of the programme for the Competition of the 58th Berlin International Film Festival have now been confirmed," reads the announcement which adds nine more titles to the previous eight. This round is all either world or international premieres:

Elegy

The festival runs February 7 through 17.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:56 AM | Comments (1)

The Business of Being Born.

The Business of Being Born "The Business of Being Born is a passionate ground-level examination of home childbirth, anchored in a scene in which its executive producer, Ricki Lake, the actress and former talk-show host, gives birth to her second child in a bathtub," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "That graphic scene, and several other unblinking sequences of home birth attended by a midwife, are intended to erase any stigma from the situation.... The Business of Being Born is not overtly political. Its feminism is palpable but unspoken."

Updated through 1/13.

In the Voice, Julia Wallace senses "an obliviously upper-class, sanctimoniously yuppie-crunchy slant to the whole production. Still, [director Abby] Epstein and Lake have crafted an absorbing, thought-provoking inquiry into what modern birth has become and how to make it better."

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Epstein "about the need to change the perception of birth practices, how her own pregnancy affected the film, and her childhood obsession with The Wizard of Oz."

Updates: "Yes, there is footage of a number of women giving birth (most of it not terribly explicit, if pornographically intimate) and the pendulous breast count is off the charts, but The Business of Being Born is remarkable for the way it handles those difficult scenes with a mixture of delicacy, gravity and humor, capturing the exultancy of a moment so human it is almost mundane, yet so transcendent that it is almost more than human," writes Michelle Orange. The Reeler also brings back Jennifer Merin's April interview with Epstein.

"Doctors periodically appear to provide less one-sided thoughts on the hospital-vs.-home birth issue, but The Business of Being Born so often presents that choice as between powerless terror and ecstatic harmony that it weakens its more cogent points, such as the deleterious role played by insurance companies and doctors' selfishness in creating an environment inimical to offering a woman options in the decision-making process," writes Nick Schager at Slant.

Updates, 1/11: In the New York Sun, Bruce Bennett finds the doc "lucidly presents the well-researched thesis that America's current epidemic of newborns delivered by cesarean section (up some 50% in the last decade), and the cultural and medical marginalization of midwifery and home births, are a boon for American insurance companies and the medical establishment, not for mothers and babies."

"As issue docs go, The Business of Being Born is about as well-put-together and non-aggravating as the genre can get - which isn't saying much, but it's still a small victory," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club.

"The blatant bias only hurts the documentary," argues Liz Nadybal in Nerve.

Jennifer Merin talks with Lake for the New York Press.

Slate's Dana Stevens finds Born to be "a generous-spirited tribute to the practice of home birth.... Unfortunately, the movie is also a propagandistic brief on behalf of the home-birth movement that's so selective in its presentation of information that it makes Michael Moore look like a fat lady in a blindfold holding a pair of scales."

Update, 1/13: "Lake and Epstein are not in fact trying to stigmatize other women's choices about how and where to give birth," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Instead, they're trying to introduce an entire universe of history and information that should inform those choices, and that the medical establishment has virtually erased from American memory. Whether the bizarre character of American healthcare overall can ever be changed is an open question, but no one, male or female, pregnant or childless, who sees The Business of Being Born will ever see the hospital maternity ward as a normal environment again."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:45 AM

Liberty Kid.

Liberty Kid "There's not a single wrong note in Liberty Kid, Ilya Chaiken's poignant drama about marginal lives strained to breaking by the aftermath of Sept 11," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "Gently nudging her story in unexpected directions, Ms Chaiken never allows her small budget to show: from Eliot Rockett's beautifully lighted photography to the ease with which the actors inhabit their roles, everything about this film feels effortless."

Updated through 1/13.

"What is initially infuriating about Liberty Kid - the winner of last year's New York International Latino Film Festival - but gradually becomes invigorating, is the way Ms Chaiken crafts a micro-story of a macroevent, and helps to put an exhausted subject into fresh relief," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun.

"The actors remain superb even as Chaiken triple-underlines every-thing in the bittersweet denouement," writes Nathan Lee in the Voice. "Kudos to Kid, nevertheless, for having something worth saying in the first place."

"Inspired by Chaiken's numerous interviews with veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom, this bildungsroman and neighborhood piece is undermined by the generic choice of urban cultural archetypes and hackneyed storylines," writes Andres Wilson in the L Magazine. "However, digressive vignettes and the exploration of the concept of liberty, and its ostensible social limitations, add some much needed depth."

Updates, 1/11: "What begins as a run-of-the-mill urban drama about two guys from Brooklyn turns into something more epic and resonant," writes Bilge Ebiri in Nerve.

"Like Charles Burnett's Watts working men and women, Chaiken's characters seem doomed by a future that's at once personal and political, but Liberty Kid still strains for the lyricism and intricate drama of a film like My Brother's Wedding," writes Paul Schrodt in Slant.

Update, 1/13: "This terrific little indie may or may not propel its director and stars to bigger things, but it's yet another good, no-budget work from New York indie kingpin Larry Fessenden and his production company, Glass Eye Pix," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "Give that man a MacArthur fellowship? Or at least some damn money."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:31 AM | Comments (2)

January 8, 2008

Docs, 1/8.

Senator Obama Goes to Africa "[W]e feel it is in the best interest of the Gene Siskel Film Center to postpone the screening of Senator Obama Goes to Africa until after the election," exec director Jean de St Aubin tells Chicagoist's Rob Christopher. "Screening the film at this time could jeopardize our not for profit status."

The Chicago Reader's JR Jones writes that the doc, "which screened as a work-in-progress at the Chicago International Documentary Festival last April, is a rather dry but nonetheless illuminating look at the freshman senator, already an international star, as he tours the African continent in August 2006":

Excitement surrounds Obama even at that point, and to his credit he takes advantage of it to call attention to problems. In Kenya he and his wife get tested for HIV/AIDS, and in a speech he denounces the country's political corruption. From there the Obamas travel to Kibera, a gigantic slum on the outskirts of Nairobi that Obama first became acquainted with when he toured the continent by auto with his sister, Auma, in 1987. In Chad he visits a camp for Sudanese refugees and hears stories of Janjaweed atrocities, and in Cape Town, he criticizes the South African ministry of health for its inadequate response to the AIDS crisis.

The Price of Sugar "The Reeler dropped by the Bryant Park Hotel Monday night to take in a standing-room only screening of The Price of Sugar, Bill Haney's chronicle of illegal Haitian immigrants locked into servitude in the sugar plantations of the Dominican Republic. Following the controversial Father Christopher Hartley on his parish rounds - revealing medieval levels of squalor, pestilence, malnutrition and extreme poverty in the bateyes where crops are harvested - and his ongoing social justice crusade for his parishioners, Sugar crafts a graphic, damning critique of its namesake industry." And ST VanAirsdale talks with Haney.

Bruce Handy in Vanity Fair on Chicago 10: "If you want to know what it felt like to live through 1968, America's annus horribilis, this is the place to start.... [Brett] Morgen makes you feel the queasy anxiety coursing through the streets: it's the sensation of America rending itself in two. Current relevance TBD."

At IFC News, Matt Singer is "of the opinion that Schwarzenegger's legacy in both the political and cinematic arenas is worthy of far more serious discussion" than he finds in Running With Arnold.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:44 PM

Fests and events, 1/8.

London Short Film Festival The 5th London Short Film Festival is on through Sunday.

"Five Nordic contenders for this year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar are playing at Scandinavia House this week, including the latest offerings from some of the region's hottest filmmaking talents," writes Martin Tsai - more from ST VanAirsdale at the Reeler. Also in the New York Sun, S James Snyder on what makes New Directors / New Films (March 26 through April 6) "essential to the year's movie conversation, standing alongside Sundance as one of the pre-eminent places for new filmmakers to get their work seen not just by audiences but by critics and distributors."

"For the last ten years New York City's Art in General has been host to an annual Video Marathon - a weekend-long intensive look at the state of video art," writes Caitlin Jones for Rhizome. Highlights of this 10th Anniversary Edition include Ed Halter's lecture on "the utopian hopes and mundane realities of public access television, the question of 'fan-dom' and subjectivity, underground VHS bootlegging as proto-file-sharing, criticism of art and comedy, and the challenge of defining the term 'artist,' and in particular, 'video artist,'" using Jeff Krulik's