February 29, 2008
Jar City."A blockbuster in its native Iceland, adapted from Arnaldur Indridason's 2000 bestseller, this somber, sinewy police procedural by the talented actor-writer-director Baltasar Kormakur (The Sea) could pass for an episode of CSI: Reykjavik, only with less high-tech gimmickry, more pavement-pounding, and a head-clearing view of crime as anything but a cool diversion," writes Jim Ridley in the Voice. The New York Times' AO Scott finds Jar City "intricate and pointed, conjuring a haunting, satisfying puzzle out of violence and chaos.... The emotions at the heart of this philosophical detective story are dark and tangled, like the grisly surprises that seem to be buried under every floorboard." Updated through 3/3. For Grady Hendrix, writing in the New York Sun, it's "incomprehensible" that it was such a hit at home, "mainly because it makes Icelanders look like a bunch of creeps... It's a sharp little thriller, but on the big screen, with its looming close-ups of every broken blood vessel, stained sweater, and yellowing tooth, it plays more like a horror movie." "A 30-year-old brain in a jar ultimately functions as a key plot point, but it's also an apposite metaphor for Jar City itself, a film whose moral and sociological concerns are hemmed in both by obstructive aesthetic self-consciousness and genre clichés," writes Nick Schager at Slant. "Kormákur gives signs of trying to rethink the genre, but he's starting too far down the line," writes Sam Adams at the AV Club. "Jar City makes a game try at building a new house from old lumber, but the rot is already in the wood." "Miles away from the David Fincher school of by-the-numbers solutions, the movie finds its center in murky ambiguity," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. Earlier: David D'Arcy. Update, 3/1: "[T]his is not just a fictional story about a couple who lose their four-year-old girl to a brain tumor, nor just a tale about the search for a murderer and his motive, but an intriguing blend of the two, overlaid by a Big Brother that takes the form of the nonfiction, controversial deCODE Genetics Inc, a company specializing in genetic research that, several years ago, received access to all medical files in the Icelandic government's database," writes Lauren Wissot at the House Next Door. "Jar City is so perfectly paced, taut and engrossing that you barely notice when the two stories seamlessly intertwine - at a sickly, yellow-lit, sci-fi spooky place called Jar City, the final resting place for the brains of the deceased. And this is also where the script becomes deftly, tightly twisted, with seemingly innocuous threads intricately woven through in unanticipated ways." Update, 3/3: "Jar City is comic, disturbing and affecting by turns, and often all at the same time," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Tremendously acted and shot with memorable confidence, Jar City deserves a much wider release than it's apparently going to get."
It's a Free World...."Beginning this weekend, the Brooklyn Academy of Music will pay tribute to IFC Films," notes Martin Tsai in the New York Sun. "Aside from highlighting sneak previews of upcoming films from Gus Van Sant, Claude Chabrol, Hou Hsiao-hsien and Christophe Honoré, the series will feature the American premiere of Ken Loach's It's a Free World..., which will apparently skip the usual IFC Center pit stop and head straight to video on demand under IFC Films's new Festival Direct banner." "This being a Loach film, it's also a cruel world, populated by capitalist tools and fools, schemers and dreamers of every stripe, accent and ethnicity," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "In It's a Free World... it's the war of all against all yet again, this time with fistfuls of filthy pound notes and mouths crammed with speeches and broken promises." "The problem with It's A Free World..., as with a lot of Loach films of late, is that in spite of strong performances and a taut narrative, the whole endeavor plays more like a position paper than a movie," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Still, It's A Free World...'s dilemmas are undeniably thought-provoking. When [Kierston] Wareing is forced to tell a group of workers that they have to keep working for no pay or risk never getting paid at all, the situation is overly pointed. It's also true." In the L Magazine, Benjamin H Sutton gives it four Ls. Earlier: Reviews from Venice.
February 28, 2008
Rendez-Vous, part deux.Seems the Daily can't handle this preview in one fell swoop, so here's the second half of James Van Maanen's overview of this year's Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. Updated through 3/5. Her Name Is Sabine Chastening for a number of reasons, not least because it's a fine reminder that celebrities of the Hilton/Spears ilk may occur less frequently than imagined, and at least may be balanced by the sort of celebrity who puts her pedal to the metal of a movie like this. Her Name Is Sabine (Elle s'appelle Sabine) is the first film from actress Sandrine Bonnaire, a documentary about her autistic sister Sabine. Already you're running for the hills. Okay: I might have headed there, too, had I not been determined to see every program in this year's festival. Barely a few minutes into the film, however, I was hooked. Over the years, Bonnaire has done her own cinematography - of Sabine, family, friends and health care workers - and while she may not be hired in place of Christopher Doyle or Philippe Rousselot, she's done a commendable job of showing us what we need to see with care and thought. The result is a horror story, during which your frustration level is likely to grow exponentially, coupled to the kind of wrenchingly sad experience that comes from seeing a surprisingly beautiful young girl turn into an overweight, drooling, sedated... You get the picture. Bonnaire and her family are nothing if not insistent. They try it all. Though it takes years and years before Sabine is even diagnosed as autistic, the diagnosis is nowhere near specific. Everything seems fudged, as perhaps it must be until we know a lot more than we now know about this disease. Along the way, the mother of another autistic patient tells us of the time she ingested her son's drug by mistake and we learn just how powerful and hampering these drugs can be. Necessarily so, perhaps, but at what price to the patient? But then, what a price all those - family, friends, workers - who want to remain in the picture must also pay.
Back to Part 1.
"The title of the mini-festival is no tease," writes Michelle Orange in the Voice. "If you thought Sarkozy marrying and promptly impregnating his supermodel/songstress lover was a thick slice of drama à la Française, the country's directors - never known to fall short in that category - have outdone not only their leader but themselves." Acquarello reviews Shall We Kiss?, The Feelings Factory and All Is Forgiven. Update, 2/29: "Beyond its entertainment value, Paris embodies the centrality of the city to French cinema," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "It has been the setting for so many of the series's films, including this year's, that it is impossible to imagine Rendez-Vous, or French cinema in general, existing without it." Updates, 3/1: "All Is Forgiven is so resolutely modest that it took me a while to realize what I was seeing was closer to Yi Yi than another purposefully small-scale festival movie," writes Vadim Rizov at the House Next Door, where he also recommends Fear(s) of the Dark, which "kicks Persepolis's ass." Then: "Unremarkable but smooth, Roman de gare] is a trip back to the good old middlebrow days," while "Those Who Remain putters along agreeably enough." Marcy Dermansky is far more enthusiastic about that one. Updates, 3/4: More from acquarello: Let's Dance, La Question humaine and Love Songs. At Twitch, Todd Brown notes that Fear(s) of the Dark has been picked up by IFC. Update, 3/5: Acquarello on Ain't Scared and Un Secret.
Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 08.Roman de gare opens this year's Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. All in all, 15 films will be screening at the Walter Reade Theater and the IFC Center in New York through March 9, and James Van Maanen previews every one of them here and now. A few notes follow. Serial killers and grocery delivery men, missing fathers and autistic children, the Holocaust and speed dating, the new Lelouch, the new Klapisch and someone - Emmanuel Mouret - who reminds me at least of a possible new Marivaux: They're all here, along with so much more (including a first-time program devoted to animation), in the Film Society of Lincoln Center/uniFrance's 13th annual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. Sponsored by Société Générale Private Banking and TV5 Monde (with additional support provided by agnès b, LVT Laser Subtitling, Sofitel and the French Cultural Services), Rendez-Vous remains the place to be for foreign film buffs and Francophiles from this Friday, February 29, through Sunday, March 9. Each new year appears to increase the status of the series, in which many of the screenings quickly sell out. Ticket prices are now the most expensive on the FSLC chart: $12 per ticket for the general pubic and $8 for seniors and FSLC members. (One interesting guideline to the popularity of Rendez-Vous is that its 10 am press screenings are often more heavily attended than many of the public screenings for other programs!) This year's roster includes 15 films, all of which I managed to see prior to opening day - so here's a heads-up on what to expect and what, if you're lucky enough to cadge a ticket, you should try to see. If there is no masterwork in this 13th edition (as there was in the recent Spanish fest: Jaime Rosales's Solitary Fragments, a work of art that just this month won Spain's Goya award for Best Film and Best Director), this year there are so many really good movies that choosing among them will be as difficult indeed. Ten of the films, for my taste, reach the Don't-Miss level: Ain't Scared, The Grocer's Son, Heartbeat Detector, Her Name Is Sabine, Love Songs, Paris, Roman de Gare, A Secret, Shall We Kiss? and Those Who Remain. Another three are well worth seeing: Fear(s) of the Dark, The Feelings Factory and Let's Dance. While I'm happy to have viewed the first film by actress Mia Hansen-Løve, All Is Forgiven, the quality of its screenplay and conception did not seem up to the level of the others. And one film (which I often find to be the case at Rendez-Vous) seems so out of place as to approach the ridiculous. This year it's Trivial (talk about your don't-go-there titles!), in which Sophie Marceau appears, to little effect, both in front of and behind the camera. Selecting the Rendez-Vous roster must be a tricky task for program director Richard Peña, who always manages to include a splendid and bracing range of ideas and themes, directors and actors. This year is no exception, and while there may be less of an emphasis on the workplace or immigration, you'll find everything from the kind of frisky/frothy yet morally grounded romantic comedy at which no one beats the French (Shall We Kiss?) and a singular view, narrative-style, of corporations and the Holocaust (Heartbeat Detector) to a funny, life-affirming look at a group of French seniors (Let's Dance). If you cannot obtain tickets to
Fests and events, 2/28."Over the past month, we've been soliciting thoughts on the world's top documentary festivals from a variety of filmmakers and industry figures," writes AJ Schnack. "We combined their honest takes (anonymity was assured) and our own research to form what we hope will be an annual survey of the 25 Top Festivals for Documentary Films." He's got the top 10 today; more follow tomorrow. Update, 3/4: Parts 2 and 3. "True/False officially begins tonight, but as is tradition, the festival hosted a special preview screening last night for students at the University of Missouri," reports Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "The film was ...an Alternative to Slitting Your Wrist, and it was a perfect pick for the young crowd." Also: "Lynn Shelton's second feature, My Effortless Brilliance [site] stars Sean Nelson of the band Harvey Danger (whose biggest hit, 'Flagpole Sitta,' was memorialized in a ridiculously popular web clip last year) as Eric Lambert Jones, a novelist whose self-obsession costs him his relationship with his oldest friend." And she's got four questions for Shelton. "With communism's collapse and globalization's bloom, Eastern and Southern European cinema has inevitably had to remake itself. But in what image?" asks Robert Abele in the Los Angeles Times. "In Films From the New Europe on Friday and Saturday, USC's film school and its Visions and Voices humanities initiative will showcase an eclectic sampling of post-Cold War movies addressing that question." Tomorrow and Saturday. "Much like Dog Day Afternoon did two decades later, Violent Saturday gives the bank robbery an ensemble touch, with a story set in the kind of petite town that opens up nicely to vignettes," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "Most of the movie consists of build up, but the payoff makes it worth the wait." Tomorrow through March 6 at Film Forum. "As the grass gets greener (or Edmonton's hairline of snow slowly recedes, at least) and St Patrick's Day approaches, this weekend's Irish Film Festival at Metro reminds us there's more to the old country than imitation Irish pubs and artificially colored beer." Brian Gibson in the Vue Weekly. Craig Phillips sends word of a March 7 screening of Citizen McCaw in Santa Barbara. The doc chronicles a raucous clash between the editor and the publisher of the Santa Barbara News-Press. "One of the greatest movies ever made, Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist is also one of the most influential, beloved by filmmakers around the world," blogs Shane Danielson for the Guardian. "Now it's opening again in a new print at BFI Southbank, before touring nationally." The Sarasota Film Festival (April 4 through 13) has announced its lineup; the Circuit's Michael Jones has got it and notes that a question or two has been raised about the opening night film, The Deal. This week's Austin Chronicle is all about SXSW Interactive. Online viewing tips. At ScreenGrab, Scott Von Doviak selects the "Five Most Intriguing SXSW Trailers: Documentaries."
New Line. Fade to Black."New Line's 40-year run as an independent studio ended Thursday when Time Warner said it would fold the company into Warner Bros," reports Variety. Erik Davis (Cinematical) and Nikki Finke have more. Updates, 2/29: Reports: Brooks Barnes (New York Times) and Claudia Eller (Los Angeles Times). Updates, 3/1: Commentary: AO Scott (New York Times) and Anne Thompson (Variety).
The Unforeseen."The sanctity of private property versus the long-term health of the land - in Austin, the site of [Laura] Dunn's extraordinary new documentary, the battle has taken on the trappings of holy war," writes Jim Ridley in the Voice. "An Alamo of blue-state liberalism besieged by the reddest of red-state doctrinaires, the Texas capital is literally an oasis: a river-fed island of green atop a precious fresh-water aquifer, surrounded by arid scrub. As the setting for a showdown between tree-huggers and flag-wavers - which happened when a sprawling 1990s development deal threatened the city's beloved Barton Springs - it's as metaphorically rich as the Wendell Berry poem that gives The Unforeseen its title." Updated through 3/1. "The film is more sobered than alarming, yet it's hardly defeatist," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "An impressionist's portrait of contemporary American economic life, The Unforeseen is for nature both a paean and an elegy, and for contemporary American nonfiction a challenge, in both scope and aesthetic." "It's a compelling story, but one which slips away from Dunn as she becomes obsessed with hammering the point home," writes Raphaela Weissman in the New York Press. "What is subtly illustrated in the beginning by animated projections of developments snaking their way across maps of Austin is heavy-handedly force-fed to us at the end by an interview with a doctor who explains how cancer spreads throughout the body. Get it, slow audience? It's a metaphor." "One comes away from this film not in opposition to development per se but against extremism: the extremism that says private property is everything and the public be deuced," writes Harvey Karten for the Arizona Reporter. PBS has interviews and clips. Earlier: Craig Phillips. Updates: "With the nation and the world weathering the current storm of economic turbulence and the possibility of a full-blown recession - due at least in part to the ticking time-bomb that was America's Wild West of a subprime mortgage market - many will view Laura Dunn's mesmeric documentary The Unforeseen with a mixture of fascinated dread and I-Told-You-So self-righteousness," writes Chris Barsanti in Film Journal International. "By the time The Unforeseen is done, it's proven to be nothing less than an eye-opening lesson in much of what's wrong about how we live today." Steve Erickson talks with Dunn for Film & Video. Updates, 2/29: "It's a terrible scenario, a familiar one too: big business versus little people, nature versus culture, civilization and its discontents. Working with the cinematographer Lee Daniel (who shot many of the Austinite Richard Linklater's films), Ms Dunn does an estimable job of marshaling a wealth of facts and figures through a seamless profusion of charts, talking heads, news reports, old photographs and beauty shots, including numerous aerial images," writes Manohla Dargis, who also notes in the New York Times that "Dunn has a penchant for poetic drift - images of sun-dappled flora and folk, gurgling water and children — that tends to fuzz up her story and point.... With the polar ice caps melting, I want more than poetry and blame. I want a plan." "The Unforeseen resonates with a liberal Christian perspective, marked by the value of forgiveness," writes Steve Erickson, this time in Gay City News. "That quality is one of the most remarkable things about the film. Dunn's documentary is also striking in its commitment to honoring the beauty of the nature whose fragility it depicts." "[T]he film employs decidedly dreamlike tones and lush, organic textures even as it dishes out the facts and stats, bearing far more in common with the likes of The Thin Red Line and The New World than the entertaining but emotionally rigid An Inconvenient Truth," writes Rob Humanick in Slant. "Ultimately, The Unforeseen concludes that growth is a vexing concept - one that sounds positive but causes systemic strife," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "At one point, Ms. Dunn probes the very metaphor of growth with some nature photography that shows the word's other manifestations. Though a bit trite, it's intended as a moment of wondrous contemplation, a mode familiar to Terrence Malick, who in fact originally recruited Ms Dunn to undertake the documentary." "Author William Greider, who explains how banking deregulation precipitated the savings-and-loan crisis, points out that growth isn't necessarily negative, an observation Dunn illustrates with a shot of a butterfly crawling from its cocoon," notes Sam Adams at the AV Club. "But shortly thereafter, she's filling the screen with pictures of cancer cells." For Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, The Unforeseen is "one of the most extraordinary accomplishments in recent American nonfiction filmmaking. It hits hard as to facts, and opens its eyes to inexpressible mysteries. It strikes a clear moral and philosophical stance, and then - as part of that philosophical stance, actually - reveals its villain as a tragic and sympathetic figure." Updates, 3/1: "The Unforeseen neatly encapsulates the problems of the contemporary political non-fiction film: its importance as social document is everywhere countered by its poverty as cinema." Andrew Schenker at the House Next Door. Rob Humanick, this "the first great film of 2008."
The Other Boleyn Girl."Directed by Justin Chadwick from a script by Peter Morgan (The Queen), The Other Boleyn Girl is a brisk feminist melodrama that is, historically speaking, a load of wank," writes David Edelstein in New York. "Of course you should never judge a book by its cover, nor a film by its release date," writes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "And yet it's no surprise that The Other Boleyn Girl is perfectly dreadful. Riddled with loud unintentional laughs and inexplicable filmmaking decisions, it rivals Elizabeth: The Golden Age as far as bodice-ripping, historically nonsensical lunacy goes. But at the same time it remains far too glum and uptight to ever truly qualify as camp, existing in a muddled unentertaining limbo." Updated through 3/1. "With much of its story already known, Boleyn must rely on its leading ladies to keep us interested, but neither [Scarlett] Johansson nor [Natalie] Portman convince us that they are sisters - or British for that matter - and get mired in Chadwick's melodrama," writes Doug Strassler in the L Magazine. But for Chuck Wilson, writing in the LA Weekly, "they come alive in The Other Boleyn Girl, as if being bound up in costumer Sandy Powell's exquisite gowns has freed them from the tighter constraints of their own beauty. When Chadwick and ace cinematographer Kieran McGuigan move in close on Mary's and Anne's faces - and that's the abiding action of the movie - the actresses practically tremble with inner life, and who'd have expected that?" "The Other Boleyn Girl teeters hilariously between feminine empowerment and high camp, but it definitely won't bore you," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "Chadwick goes for a romantic effect in this royals melodrama, pouring on the chiaroscuro and sweeping strings under the 'love' scenes," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "But its success depends upon seeing the Boleyn girls as privileged noble victims. No doubt this mawkish post-feminism is a commercial reflex following Princess Diana's tabloid martyrdom." The Los Angeles Times' Rachel Abramowitz sees a trend: "In the next year, moviegoers will also get to see Emily Blunt as a young Queen Victoria, Keira Knightley as Georgiana, the 18th century Duchess of Devonshire, and Johansson, again, this time as Mary Queen of Scots. That's on top of The Tudors miniseries on Showtime and Helen Mirren and Cate Blanchett in cinematic renditions of the Virgin Queen." Online viewing tip. A Borders video interview blowout. Thanks, Jerry! Update: "It's got all the required upholstery, meticulous costumes, and pretty castles, but of the stars, only Johansson's innocence occasionally convinces when director Justin Chadwick goes in for the tempestuous close-ups," writes Bill Weber at Slant. "The movie's last-ditch attempt at valorizing family loyalty after a couple hours of miscarriages, queasily averted incest, and beheadings is trumped by an epiphanic final shot of toddler and future queen Elizabeth." Updates, 2/29: "It's a marvel that something that feels so inert should have so much frenetic action," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Shot in high-definition video with a murky brown palette (perhaps to suggest tea-stained porcelain and teeth), the film is both underwritten and overedited." "In its pulpy, soft-focused way, The Other Boleyn Girl is almost feminist, showing how the matter-of-fact royal traffic in women grinds down the sisters and their horrified but powerless mother (Kristin Scott Thomas)," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "But feminist subtext aside, the movie is primarily an excuse for ogling some blue-chip actor-flesh." "For a film about lust, it's oddly chaste: Neither Mary's couplings with Henry (gauzy, soft-focus affairs conducted to murmuring strings) nor Anne's (a quasi-rape) could properly be called 'sexy,'" writes the New Republic's Christopher Orr. "And the film's tidy moralism might have been borrowed from an after school special in which the Good Girl and the Bad Girl vie for the love of a Popular Boy - only with more miscarriages." "Art-directed in gloomy House of Tudor colors, The Other Boleyn Girl offers high-toned pulp for those who like to imagine themselves superior to ranch-colonial Desperate Housewives, and who don't like to feel so guilty about the pleasure they get from vicarious lust and treachery," writes Jim Emerson. "Movies like this are designed to let the art-house crowd revel in marginally educative vulgarity without getting their sensibilities dirty." "My personal experience of historical films has been a happy one," writes Antonia Fraser in the London Times. "In 2006 I was lucky enough to have my biography of Marie Antoinette made into a film of the same name, written and directed by Sofia Coppola." She's happy with the results; and with this movie, too. But Brandon Harris finds it "overly slick, empty-headed, bodice-ripping rubbish from start to finish." For Salon's Stephanie Zacharek, it's "the most sterile of bodice-rippers, a genteel soap opera in which the sex and intrigue are so muted, so tasteful, that they practically blow off the screen in a scattering of dust." The AV Club's Tasha Robinson finds it "a fitting prequel to the Elizabeth movies: It's pretty, passionate, and full of historical poppycock." "Not content to be a mildly diverting royal bodice-ripper, it spirals out of control into the kind of overwrought dramaturgy that's out of its league," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. Gill Pringle profiles Portman for the Independent. "No question that Portman's and Johansson's faces merit microscopic attention, but the film has a cramped feeling that turns every urgent, conspiratorial confidence into an italicized shout," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "That's a shame, because the movie has some excellent supporting skullduggery by Mark Rylance as the Boleyn girls' father, as well as a truly imperious turn by Kristin Scott Thomas as their mother. (She also played Johansson's mother in The Horse Whisperer.)" Updates, 3/1: "With its orgy of colorful costumes and golden rays of sunlight streaming in from every window, The Other Boleyn Girl is two-hours of trashy eye-candy that, while fast and loose with the truth, functions as a perfectly adequate divertissement in a time of year when studios tend to unleash their worst," writes Andrew Grant for Premiere. "You know what? Just read the Wikipedia entry on Anne Boleyn," suggests Mike Russell. "Not only is it more illuminating than The Other Boleyn Girl, chances are you'd be able to write a more entertaining script from it than the one used by director Justin Chadwick."
February 27, 2008
Criterion's The Last Emperor."In the 1980s, when the Chinese government granted Bernardo Bertolucci unprecedented access to the Forbidden City, an entire nation that had been ignored in popular world cinema suddenly became a new frontier for Western viewers," writes Andrew Chan, at the House Next Door. The Last Emperor "became an international hit and a whirlwind success at the Academy Awards... But behind the silk veils and looming structures of Bertolucci's biggest blockbuster remains one of the strangest mainstream epics imaginable, a film that wears its compromises of style and perspective on its sleeve." "Last Emperor is most decisively a lesson of nobility: The most destitute in a society is nobler than the one living in unimaginable privilege and wealth," writes Arthur Ryel-Lindsey in Slant. "In this way, Bertolucci's most awarded film is also his signature." "It's tempting to dismiss the film as mere pageantry, a sumptuous one-of-a-kind tour through the Forbidden City that makes up in ornate costumes and exotic ritual what it lacks in historical or emotional resonance," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "The new four-disc Criterion edition makes an imposing and mostly convincing argument for the film as a truly great epic, one which attempts to capture the political turmoil that gripped 20th-century China without getting too reductive or bogged down in minutiae." Peter Becker responds to queries about the aspect ratio of Criterion's release: "This is the way the filmmakers want the film to be seen." Glenn Kenny, who's impressed with both the package and the film, elaborates - while Sean Axmaker delights in all the extras.
Shorts, 2/27."Amos Vogel is arguably the person most responsible for contemporary New York City film culture," writes Cullen Gallagher in the L Magazine. "'Amos was doing his thing at the peak of conformist white-picket-fence Eisenhower America, people wanted something different,' says Paul Cronin, director of the 2003 documentary Film as a Subversive Art: Amos Vogel and Cinema 16, recently released on DVD as part of DK Holm's book Independent Cinema. 'This notion of popular culture was kind of irrelevant; there was just culture.'" "Without question, José Mojica Marins is one of the true mavericks of the fantastic cinema, a truly unique filmmaker and one of the genre's most assertive personalities." Tim Lucas's essay appears in Jose Mojica Marins: 50 Anos Carriera. Now online: Sam Kashner's Vanity Fair piece on the making of The Graduate. "If Abel Raises Cain is a little thin at points - we never learn exactly how [Alan] Abel was able to make a living for so long as a not-for-profit hoaxer, nor where the funding for his more elaborate ruses came from - it's also an invigorating and often hysterical look at a gifted comic and the nation of dupes he continues to use as his medium." Joe Keohane in Slate. The Circuit's Michael Jones notes that Arthouse Films is putting its catalogue on iTunes. Go on, click their name. There's an amazing selection here. "For a filmmaker who supposedly makes the same (or similar) films each time around, Hong Sang-soo has grown remarkably with each of his last films," writes Daniel Kasman, who caught Night and Day at the Berlinale. "From Tale of Cinema's quietly devastating self-reflexivity (and self-reflection) to Woman on the Beach's focus on Hong's female characters and even greater nuance in the entwining of relationships and plot, Hong has now taken the same jump as Hou Hsiao-hsien, making a film overseas in France. And with this new location, treated in the same low-key, modest way as all of Hong's vacation spots, drinking restaurants, and spare apartments, the director has achieved a wonderful subtlety in the small rhymes and structures in his often mirroring and doubling stories of personal frustration and sexual desire." Anne Feuillère talks with Cédric Klapisch about Paris for Cineuropa. "Before BitTorrent, it was the forbidden, it was sin, it was legendary." Katherine Follett catches up with Cocksucker Blues and writes at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "There is, in fact, everything you'd expect, imagine, fear, or hope from rock stars at the top of their game. Drugs, T&A, celebrity cameos, TVs accelerating earthwards at 32 feet per second per second. But it all ends up being a lot less cool than it sounds." On a roll lately: A Film Canon. In the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Cheryl Eddy talks with Shane King and Arne Johnson about Girls Rock!, which they hope will inspire more all-girls rock 'n' roll camps throughout the country. "Semi-Pro's much better than Blades of Glory, which wasn't nearly as good as Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, which was a little better than Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, which was almost as funny as Old School, which was better than everything else Will Ferrell had done up to that point - except maybe Dick, which nobody saw and even fewer remember," writes Robert Wilonsky. Then, after catching his breath, he adds, "Seems this is what it's come down to with Ferrell: grading his movies in various shades of enh as each one blends into the next till they're all one giant gray blob of feh. Which sells short the semi-funny Semi-Pro - essentially Major League clad in 1970s short-shorts, topped with a few 'fros for fun. Still, you seen one Will Ferrell sports comedy, you're good. Too bad you couldn't have started with this one." Eli Goldfarb in the L Magazine; Nathan Rabin talks with Ferrell for the AV Club. But also in the Voice:
City of Men."Set in Rio de Janeiro, City of Men is a quasi-sequel to the international smash City of God and has a similar mix of grit and bleached-out stylization," writes David Edelstein in New York. "But the director, Paulo Morelli, isn't an action virtuoso like his predecessor, Fernando Meirelles (who co-produced here).... City of Men is clunky and often contrived, but there's something haunting about fatherless boys in a blighted place fumbling to teach themselves what it means to be a man." "Essentially a Rio-set Afterschool Special, the film unimaginatively diagnoses favela violence as an illness wrought by fatherless rearing," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. Updated through 3/5. "City of Men presumes to be about young men's struggles to survive - and escape - a home where forces out of their control exert continuing negative influence," writes Nick Schager. "However, between Morelli's contrived plotting and empty aesthetics, all the film really proves is that God's cruddy, exploit-rather-than-enlighten legacy continues." "Paulo Morelli directs capably, with a heavy dash of MTV-generation flair: hyper-saturated colors, close-ups of skin glittering with sweat, and a constant patter of gunfire that undergirds the soundtrack like a steady heartbeat," writes Julia Wallace in the Voice. "The film's focus on the humanity of the slums' inhabitants makes the violence that dictates their lives all the more unbearable, and their survival of it all the more miraculous," writes Mary Block in the L Magazine. IndieWIRE interviews Morelli. Updates, 2/28: "At its smartest, City of Men suggests that Brazil is one big dysfunctional family and points out that simply being a father doesn't make you a good one; a final plot twist about Ace and Wallace's fathers recalls Greek tragedy," writes Steve Erickson in the Baltimore City Paper. "City of Men, while plunging the viewer into an infernal milieu - one representative of the sort that more and more of the world is sliding toward - finally employs despair and chaos as a method of putting the persistence of hope in greater relief," writes Josef Braun in Vue Weekly. "[F]or all the tragedy and brutality, City of Men is shaped by the uneven, difficult rhythms of fathers and sons, the boys' determination to connect across years of pain and legacies of revenge," writes Cindy Fuchs in the Philadelphia City Paper. "Breathlessly marshaled to and fro by the screenplay's contrivances and an overeager camera, the actors aren't able to establish themselves as personalities beyond what their inherent veracity allows," writes Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE. "Each scene falls over onto the next - and though there's nothing inherently wrong with taking that tempo, it takes a defter filmmaker than Morelli to keep the beat." Updates, 2/29: "Where City of God had the hard-boiled attitude of an exposé filmed on site with hand-held cameras and rapid jump cuts, City of Men is a more conventionally structured melodrama," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "The nihilism of the first movie has been softened enough to suggest that this culture of violence may not be quite so extreme as the earlier movie portrayed. Amid the organized sociopathy in which allegiances are continually shifting, and people are literally shooting one another in the back, true friendships are perilous but not hopeless undertakings." "The movie plays more like a series finale than a stand-alone feature, but if it leads viewers back to the consistently excellent television series, it's valuable even just as an advertisement," writes Bryan Whitefield at ScreenGrab. "Mr Morelli's film is a vivid and believable portrait, albeit somewhat overstuffed," writes Darrell Hartman in the New York Sun. "In this case, that soundtrack is no match for the cacophony of intersecting dramas that take over the screen." "City of Men has its share of problems, but being too entertaining isn't one of them," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "There is plenty of violence and death, but the pace is slowed considerably to explore the human connections and relationships that are also at stake," writes Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times. "In a way, Meirelles' continued presentation of these favela stories allows for the Rio slums to appear celebrated and glorified, much like the comparable urban gangster films made in the US, only in a more hopeful light," writes Christopher Campbell at Cinematical. "It can't be argued that City of Men necessarily makes the favelas look like a nice place to live, but there is something fantastical about it due to the framing of the film." Update, 3/2: Josh Getlin talks with Morelli for the Los Angeles Times. Update, 3/5: Online listening tip. Ed Champion talks with Morelli.
Fests and events, 2/27."When I got in touch with Paul Festa to find out if I might take a look at his 2006 film, Apparition of the Eternal Church, in which a group of people listen to a piece of organ music by Olivier Messiaen and describe their reaction, I introduced myself as a film critic first and then, more importantly, as a full-blown Messiaen obsessive," writes Nathan Lee in the Voice. "'Join the club,' came his knowing reply." Screens tonight "with live organ accompaniment at St Bartholomew's Church as part of a centenary celebration program that includes the New York premiere of Messiaen's 'Fantaisie' for violin and piano, with Festa himself manning the bow." Also tonight: A free preview screening of Kimberly Peirce's Stop Loss in Chicago. The Reader's JR Jones has details. Back in the Voice, J Hoberman: "It's been half a century since A Face in the Crowd had its premiere, but there's a sense in which this 1957 Elia Kazan flick remains the founding movie of postmodern times. Election years make it only too evident that our popular culture and electoral politics are symbiotic; A Face in the Crowd was the first to dramatize it." Budd Schulberg and Patricia Neal will be on hand for a screening at Film Forum on March 5. Somewhat related: Peter Nellhaus on The Arrangement.
Chicago 10."If the [1968 Democratic] convention was a tragedy, the trial was a farce," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Revisiting events at once overly familiar and impossible to imagine, [Brett] Morgen's impure mix of documentary footage and rotoscopic computer animation is unrelenting Sturm und Drang. Chicago 10 has a deliberate and irritating absence of context but a full appreciation of antics." "It's like seeing images from 1956 Budapest, except it's the streets of the city I've lived in most of my adult life," writes Ray Pride in Newcity Chicago. "Almost, just almost, the fragments of historical material are pungent enough, iconic enough, to stand out against the underwhelming animation. It ain't Boondocks, an accomplished feat of animation which is also far more incendiary and subversive while beguiling the eye." "Chicago 10 is a reminder of a time when the counter-culture was out on the street making noise - a history lesson so removed from our present political climate it feels almost like science fiction," writes Jeremiah Kipp in Slant. "Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair and a producer of The Kid Stays in the Picture, produced Chicago 10 with Mr Morgen," writes Adam Liptak in the New York Times. "He said it was the product of political frustration in the early days of the Iraq war - an anger that has infused his monthly editor's note and the contents of his magazine - and an attempt to rouse young people to action. 'I became incredibly upset,' he said, 'that this young generation of Americans seemed to have no interests at all in the origins of the war in Iraq, the rightness of the war or the possibility of ending the war.'" "Though by all accounts it is scrupulously accurate in its details, some of the original participants take exception to its revolution-can-be-fun angle," notes Phil Nugent at ScreenGrab: "This is an Abbie Hoffman story." says Tom Hayden. "Abbie was a great rebel, but there is a danger in theatricalizing history." To which Leonard Weinglass adds, "The film is entertainment, but it is not a political education." (It should be noted that the idea that the trial could best serve its political purposes as an example of living satire also dates back to the time of the trial itself; as early as 1970, just months after the trial ended, Bantam published a paperback collection of comic highlights from the court transcripts. It was titled The Tales of Hoffman and included a chortling introduction by the radical "political critic" Dwight Macdonald.) "It's safe to say that no one has ever seen a historical documentary shot quite this way - live-action mixed with animation, grainy archival footage juxtaposed with polished Hollywood impersonations," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "'But that's exactly the point,' Mr Morgen said. 'You want audiences to experience this story, not just to sit through a dry recital of the facts.'" Collider talks with Morgen, and Karina Longworth is struck by how much his next project, "a Courtney Love-approved documentary about Kurt Cobain," resembles AJ Schnack's Kurt Cobain About a Son. The Boston Phoenix's Peter Keough tells Morgen he has a few problems with Chicago 10. And the Reeler talks with Morgen, too. Earlier: Reviews from Sundance 07. Updates: "As restless and flashy as the radicals it valorizes, Chicago 10 is an apocalyptic dispatch from the past refashioned as a slick flyer for the present," writes Elbert Ventura in Reverse Shot. "With both eyes trained on his audience, Morgen frames his movie as a piece of agitprop, an antiwar exhortation to dormant youth, complete with contemporary rabble-rousing songs (Rage Against the Machine, Eminem, Beastie Boys). The result is less history written with lightning than by lightning: the occasional flash illuminates, but a lot of times you're just left in the dark." "In all respects, Chicago 10 is maddeningly uneven," writes Benjamin Strong in the L Magazine. "Morgen isn't interested, as a conventional documentarian might be, in critiquing 1960s ideology. Ultimately, the film scans best as a Rorschach exam, testing the limits of your patience for unreconstructed hippie nostalgia." Updates, 2/28: "Morgen displays obvious admiration for the Yippies' festive mentality in the shadow of authority, but he makes a valiant effort to avoid treating them as relics," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "Important questions are raised, but for all the boldness of its design, Chicago 10 falls short of providing a solution." Salon's Andrew O'Hehir talks with Morgen. So does Jamilah King for Pixel Vision. "The cultural rift in America that year makes today's red state/blue state divide look rather like a petty marital spat, and Sirhan Sirhan's shooting of Kennedy, coming a scant two months after King's death, pushed everything into near-apocalyptic territory," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "You'd never know that from Morgen's film, though it does have its moments; how could it not, given the epochal nature of the events covered and the fascinating personalities involved?" "2008 is not this generation's 1968," declares Christopher Campbell at Cinematical. "Without acknowledging the obviously apparent intent, Chicago 10 is actually appreciable as one of the most creative and entertaining documentary films in years. And it could indeed be viewed as significant on its own, if we let it exist as such." Updates, 2/29: In a cover story for the Chicago Reader, JR Jones reminds us, "The Democrats are still feeling the aftershocks of '68 today. Back then, only 13 states held Democratic primaries, and Humphrey skipped them all, taking advantage of the party machinery to wrap up the nomination. That fueled the rage of the demonstrators, and as news of their being beaten and gassed filtered into the International Amphitheater, delegates approved a convention plank to reform the nominating process." A succinct history of the consequences of that reformation follows, and then: "You won't learn any of this from Chicago 10, because Morgen isn't interested in measuring the distance between 1968 and 2008 - he wants to erase it." Which, he finds, isn't necessarily a bad thing. The film is "actually packed with information, its barrage of colorful images culled from both amateur and news footage." Then: For those of us who weren't there, one revelation of Chicago 10 may be the character of the crowds that turned out to oppose the war. Some fit the description of radical freaks, but most seem like normal middle-class taxpayers.... The record Democratic turnout at this year's primaries and the nearly one million people who've donated to the Obama campaign demonstrate once again that the movement empowers the leader, not the other way around. For dramatic purposes Morgen focuses on ten people, but the real story is the tens of thousands. "It is a narrow, glib dollop of canned history, an affirmation of received thinking rather than a challenge to it," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Squandering 40 years of hindsight, Mr Morgen is content to trot out the tired mythology of the era one more time. His mélange of styles and techniques shows visual ingenuity, but not much in the way of historical insight. He takes the intricate, frequently self-contradictory theater of the New Left at face value, and panders to the credulity of the audience by breathing new life into old clichés. Groovy! Power to the people!" "Morgen's stated goal of firing up young viewers elides the fact that, at the time of the trial, the five key defendants already represented an older generation, with many younger anti-war activists entrained by the militant posturing of Weathermen, or perhaps rededicating themselves to cultural activism, environmentalism, feminism, or gay liberation," writes Ioannis Mookas in Gay City News. "Politically engaged young people today, it seems, might sooner be wont to pass a spare hour stumping for Obama than waxing nostalgic over a thrilling display of legal vaudeville that, on balance, wasn't terribly decisive." "[I]t haphazardly attempts to both provoke boomer nostalgia and contemporary apprehension while harkening to heroes from 90s pop music and motion capture animation in order to attract youth audiences the filmmakers assume would ever be drawn to material of historical or social importance," writes Brandon Harris. It in the process it shirks off the responsibility to deliver something more comprehensive, ideologically cohesive and clearly relevant to the here and now that Morgen seems to at pains to address. Not for lack of curiosity, Morgen's inability to connect our politically fraught times to the past leaves the whole project with a sense of overwrought miscalculation." "To round out the modern feel, the director also assembled an impressive pool of voices (Mark Ruffalo, Hank Azaria, Nick Nolte, Jeffrey Wright, Dylan Baker, Liev Schreiber and, in a valedictory performance, Roy Scheider as Judge Hoffman) and secured the rights to an iPod-ready playlist of tunes by the likes of Rage Against the Machine, the Beastie Boys and, for some historical relevance, the MC5 - which often turn this montage-laden project into so much glorified MTV fodder," writes Steve Dollar in the New York Sun. But for the Los Angeles Times' Carina Chocano, "The director wants to bring recent history to life for people who weren't around to witness it, and in that he succeeds pretty admirably." For the AV Club's Tasha Robinson, it's "a hugely entertaining piece of pop fluff." "The irreverent attitude of Chicago 10 is in synch with the times it portrays," writes Jim Emerson. "As an activist documentary with a contemporary agenda, it doesn't pretend to be 'objective' (whatever that means), but to find inspiration in the passion and irreverence of its heroes." Online listening tips. James Rocchi talks with Morgen for Cinematical; and Morgen's a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show. Updates, 3/1: "What makes Chicago 10 such an arresting experience is that Morgen truly doesn't give a damn about providing historical context," writes Mike D'Angelo. "He's filmmaker enough to assume that you already know the pertinent details - and that if by some chance you don't know them, you shouldn't be learning them from a goddamn movie." More interviews with Morgen: Sara Cardace (Vulture) and Eric Kohn (indieWIRE). Update, 3/5: "Despite its gimmicky attempts to appeal to non-boomers, Chicago 10 is still weirdly enjoyable," writes Gary Moskowitz in Mother Jones.
February 26, 2008
Fests and events, 2/26."Burton Stephen Lancaster (1913 - 1994) was one of the most paradoxical figures in Hollywood history," writes Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent. "Depending on the account, he was either a vainglorious and very hammy movie star or a sensitive and subtle actor; a sports-loving jock or a man of culture who had once wanted to be an opera singer. Some contemporaries talk about how tough he was to work with. Others revere him and credit him with launching their careers." The Lancaster season is on at BFI Southbank through March 24. "The 7th edition of !f, the Istanbul Independent film festival, ended today and has confirmed the event's rising importance in the country's cinematographic landscape," blogs Agnès Poirer for the Guardian. "Shadowed for a long time by its elders, including the Antalya and International Istanbul festivals, launched respectively in 1964 and 1976, the young festival is the fruit of a Turkish cinematic renaissance." More from Kerem Bayrak at indieWIRE. Pitchfork previews a slew of music-related films screening at SXSW between March 7 and 15. Karina Longworth puts a set of questions to Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie director Jay Delaney - and she's on her way to the True/False Film Festival, which runs Thursday through Sunday. Stefan Steinberg begins a series at WSWS on this year's Berlinale. Of the Golden Bear-winning Elite Squad, he writes: When criticism is raised of his film, director José Padilha wants to have it both ways. Against accusations that his film glorifies the work of the elite squad he responds by pointing to those sections of his film that reveal the dehumanising training of the unit, as well as the squeals of protest by leading Brazilian police officers over the negative presentation of their own police units in the film. But the fact remains that the film is dominated by the standpoint that the extremes of violent crime and social decay in Brazilian cities can only be dealt with through muscular, authoritarian measures. Part of the problem, the film seems to argue, are pot-smoking, pacifist, middle class students. The vicious denouncement by an enforcement officer of a young student as a piece of scum, "like the whores, the pimps, the abortionist..." is left unchallenged in the film as a whole. Parallels are then drawn with There Will Be Blood, for which Paul Thomas Anderson won a Silver Bear: "Padilho stresses the political relevance of his movie; Anderson is desperate to play it down in his. It appears as if their films are worlds apart, but in fact they do share a common denominator - their misogynistic view of the world." But Errol Morris's Standard Operating Procedure - another Silver Bear winner - "is an important film."
Cineaste. Spring 08.Putting together a syllabus for a course at Dartmouth - Queers, Queens, and Questionable Women: How Hollywood Shaped Post-War GLBT Politics and Vice Versa - Michael Bronski was amazed "at not only how brief, and fast moving, the history of specifically queer criticism has been, but also how protean it has been." His brief history begins with "the brilliant, and now largely forgotten by younger queer writers and academics, Parker Tyler," and takes Richard Dyer, B Ruby Rich and Vito Russo into consideration on his way to the present: "Academic queer film studies now finds itself in the sometimes awkward position of responding both to a need to continue to professionalize its work as well as to wrestle with the changing state of the market, which is now utterly different than it was a decade ago, never mind three decades. This cultural shift is, to varying degrees, apparent in the three volumes of recent queer film writing under review." And they are: The View from Here: Conversations with Gay and Lesbian Filmmakers, The Cinema of Todd Haynes: All That Heaven Allows and Reading Brokeback Mountain: Essays on the Story and the Film. Also in the new issue of Cineaste, the Editors appreciate "the humor, clever dialogue and engaging performances" in Juno and Knocked Up, but they "also worry not only about critical arguments that seem either willfully blind or shockingly naive about the mediating role of cinema in our culture, but also about the aversion to abortion as an important issue." Which leads us to the interviews, though Richard Porton's with Cristian Mungiu is headlined, "Not Just an Abortion Film." And of course, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days isn't. As noted earlier, Cynthia Lucia talks with Woody Allen about Cassandra's Dream; and David Archibald talks with Stefan Ruzowitzky about The Counterfeiters. Also available as a PDF: Gary Crowdus's December 1987 conversation with Oliver Stone. Recently in theaters:
Criterion's Pierrot le Fou."Seen today, particularly in the crystal-clear, brightly saturated print offered on the Criterion disc, Pierrot le Fou remains a great movie, masterly on a number of levels: the subtle abstraction supplied by the red, white and blue color scheme (the colors of the French flag, of course); the postmodern ease with which it mixes and matches genres, moving from shootouts to improvised musical numbers; its rich network of high and low cultural references, from Louis-Ferdinand Céline to children's comic books; its theme of alienation from a lost, natural world and banishment to a universe of cheap consumer goods and advertising slogans. But Passion (1982) in the Lionsgate set is no less great." In the New York Times, Dave Kehr points out the many changes - geo-political, changes in moviegoing and in Jean-Luc Godard himself - that took place between the release of Pierrot le Fou in 1965 and the period represented by that box set (1982 to 1993). Update, 2/27. "My love for Pierrot le fou is so fresh, so passionate, so alive and so completely unabashed that I feel a little like a silly schoolgirl with a terrible crush on the cute new boy in class," confesses Kimberley Lindbergs. Besides great pix and comments (followed by readers' comments), she's got a gallery and a tune. "Pierrot le Fou is a road movie, a crime fantasy, a cultural satire, a tale of consumerist alienation and bourgeois apathy, and a femme fatale noir in Technicolor and CinemaScope, shot in the bright sunlit canvas of broad daylight," writes Sean Axmaker for TCM. "It might be a good entry point for Godard neophytes, made at a moment where he could still celebrate American directors like Frank Tashlin, Nicholas Ray and Samuel Fuller (who makes a cameo) and rage against American foreign policy, maintaining an uneasy balance of experimentation and accessibility," suggests Steve Erickson in ScreenGrab. "Riotously anarchic, almost casually violent, and technically masterful, this is a great crime picture by any measure, and leaves you, well, breathless over how much Godard accomplished in his early and arguably most fertile period," writes Jon Danziger at digitallyObsessed. "Where the Criterion vaults ahead [of other editions] are in the 2nd disc of supplements," notes Gary Tooze at DVD Beaver. Earlier: Dennis Lim in the Los Angeles Times and Glenn Kenny's "Annotated Bibliography," parts 1, 2 and 3. Update, 2/27: Ray Pride has a bit of online viewing.
February 25, 2008
Chop Shop."Ramin Bahrani's Chop Shop is a low-budget vérité triumph, set in Queens beyond the sight of baseball fans in nearby Shea Stadium," writes David Edelstein in New York. "Bahrani's concentration is close to supernatural as he tracks the young, prepubescent Ale (Alejandro Polanco) from job to soul-numbing job, some legal, some extralegal, to the point where you're forced to suspend altogether your moral judgments and watch with a mixture of pain and awe." "As in his stunningly assured debut, Man Push Cart, Iranian-American director Ramin Bahrani uses Chop Shop not to sentimentalize the travails of one of NYC's multitudinous, ignored underclass, but to discover, as Arthur Miller once said of The Bicycle Thief, 'Everyman's search for dignity,'" writes Michael Joshua Rowin at indieWIRE. "Or in this case, Everyboy's. Comparisons to Italian Neorealism in general and De Sica in particular (Shoeshine comes most immediately to mind) will inevitably keep surfacing in reviews and discussions of Chop Shop, so it's important when calling upon these references to emphasize the moral attitude of that movement as well as its gritty, unadorned style." Updated through 2/29. Nick Dawson talks with Bahrani "about his distinctive creative process, making the camera invisible, and Queen Latifah movies." Earlier: Nick Schager in Slant and reviews from Toronto. Updates, 2/27: "Mr Bahrani was born in the United States and lived for a while in Iran, his parents' native country (and [co-writer Bahareh] Azimi's), and the influence of recent Iranian cinema on Chop Shop is unmistakable," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "The oblique, naturalistic storytelling, the interest in children and the mingling of documentary and fictional techniques - these have been hallmarks of the work of Abbas Kiarostami and Jafar Panahi, but they are rarely deployed with such confidence or effectiveness by American filmmakers." "Chop Shop derives much of its value from the sense of being found, not made," writes Nathan Lee in the Voice. "As signaled by the transparent naming of his characters, Bahrani inflects his drama with documentary, grabbing sights and sounds directly from the street in a dexterous update of neorealist strategies." Also: Lisa Katzman talks with Bahrani. And so do Logan Hill for New York and Lisa Rosman for indieWIRE. "Whatever its artistic roots may be, Chop Shop, along with Bahrani's almost-undistributed debut, Man Push Cart, announces the arrival of a director radically out of step with the dominant conventions of American moviemaking, one who blends a social-realist vision and a passion for cinematic poetry," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Chop Shop is driven by a sense of impending doom," writes Marcy Dermansky. "Alejandro is such a good kid and the adults in his world take everything he has to offer and give little in return. Much to the film's credit, Bahrani doesn't provide the expected tragedy; instead, Alejandro wakes up to face the next day. And the next. You're left to wonder, what will he do, come winter." "Anyone who goes into Chop Shop expecting some kind of stealth statement about class divisions in American society will probably be disappointed because Bahrani, unlike those Italian neorealist directors of old, isn't all that interested in social criticism," writes Kenji Fujishima at the House Next Door. "Poverty and loneliness, he seemingly acknowledges at the outset, is a fact of life; his focus is more specifically on how poor individuals try, don't try, or fail to work out of it. In other words, he's more interested in universals than in topical relevance, and it is on that universal level that both of Bahrani's films gain their emotional resonance." Updates, 2/28: "[T]he confidence with which Mr Bahrani plunges us into the milieu is paired with an odd anxiety when it comes to plot details and dialogue," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "Some of the most stilted lines and transitions aren't even necessary to convey what's happening, while frantically glued-together sequences sink the movie's meandering final third. Similar weaknesses kept Man Push Cart from achieving its potential." Aaron Hillis talks with Bahrani for IFC News. Update, 2/29: "Shot with breathtaking immediacy and featuring casts of non-professionals in real-life locations, Bahrani's films give narrative shape and compelling character shadings to documentary worlds," writes Bilge Ebiri at ScreenGrab. "The result is something that feels like a new language being born, even though it owes a conscious debt to both non-fiction filmmakers like Shirley Clarke and realist narrative masters like John Cassavetes and Vittorio De Sica. Which is all just a fancy way of saying you really, really should not miss Chop Shop."
Shorts and fests, 2/25.Previewing The Gates, Richard Lacayo recalls meeting David and Albert Maysles back when they were editing Running Fence in the 70s: "What I realized even then was that Christo and Jeanne-Claude were a perfect Maysles subject. They've always insisted that the social processes involved in getting their work approved and built - all the bureaucratic hassles, community forums and press conferences - were an integral part of their art. And the Maysles love all those processes." Word is, Warner Bros wants a pretty thorough reshoot of Spike Jonze's adaptation of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. "[T]his is bad news for those who were looking forward to Spike Jonze making a Spike Jonze film," write the folks following such developments at Where the Wild Things Are. Via Mark Hooper, who recalls the full troubled history of this adaptation for the Guardian. Bourne 4? Yep. Jessica Barnes has details at Cinematical. Festival roundup:
Frieze. March 08.In the new issue, frieze co-editor Jörg Heiser notes that about 100 yards separate that set of stone steps in Philadelphia Rocky runs up triumphantly and Marcel Duchamp's Étant donnés: 1. La chute d'eau, 2. Le gaz d'éclairage: "This connection between [Sylvester] Stallone's famed filmic moment and Duchamp's final work would be negligible if it wasn't for the fact that the figure in Étant donnés holds up a lamp; a gesture that corresponds with Rocky's. In their own ways, both frame the contradictions of the American Dream – its desires and frustrations, its confusions of sex and power – as seen through the eyes of an expatriate French artist and the son of an Italian blue-collar immigrant. Polly Staple considers "the shifting nature of public art" via the examples of Pawel Althamer's Film, Seth Price's essay "Dispersion" and Paul Chan's New Orleans production of Waiting for Godot. Peter Doig writes this month's "Life in Film" column; you do have to register to read it, but it's free. Doig and a Trinidadian artist, Che Lovelace, run the StudioFilmClub in Port of Spain. They've chosen some fine films, have a dedicated audience, and what's more, Doig paints posters for most of the films they screen. In Trinidad. Sounds like a life. "You could argue that [Roxy Music] - never a world stadium act, never a commercial success at the [David] Bowie level - were nonetheless crucial in defining so much of the attitude and aesthetic that are mainstream Postmodern UK," writes Peter York. "And you could go on to argue that their particular kind of dandyism was socially conservative and even contributed to the Thatcher mood. You could argue all those things, but Michael Bracewell doesn't in his book Re-make/Re-model (Art, Pop, Fashion and the Making of Roxy Music). He knows the readers can do that for themselves. He starts from the assumption that Roxy Music's first album is very important in the great scheme of things, and that his readers know it." "Since 2006, Hongjong Lin has been re-imagining [George] Psalmanazar in a series of new guises, from architect to linguist," writes Douglas Heingartner after telling the story of the 18th century impostor. "And in his video installation Yeeha Formosa (a pun on the original Portuguese name for the island [of Taiwan]), exhibited during the recent International Film Festival Rotterdam, Lin reinvented Psalmanazar as an international fashion designer." Also: Brian Dillon on Donald Barthelme, Ross Wilson on Walter Benjamin, Tirdad Zolghadr on class and, of course, much more.
February 24, 2008
Oscars. Winners."No Country for Old Men, Joel and Ethan Coen's chilling confrontation of a desperate man with a relentless killer, won the Academy Award for best picture on Sunday night, providing a more-than-satisfying ending for the makers of a film that many believed lacked one," write David M Halbfinger and Michael Cieply in the New York Times. "No film ran away with the night, however, as the 80th Academy Awards gave a bruised movie industry a chance to refocus its ever-inward gaze on laurels instead of labor strife." "The show, with Jon Stewart as host, seemed less polished than usual but not much more spontaneous," writes Alessandra Stanley. And here's the list of nominees and winners. Updated through 2/29. A Los Angeles Times photo gallery parades "the highlights - and lowlights - of the three-hour, 22-minute love-fest." Another pairs shots of the winners and what they had to say. Also:
Oscars. Live!It's Oscar Night and GreenCine's live-blogging event begins at 4:30 pm PST (7:30 pm EST) and rolls on until the last dog dies. Filmbrain's joined the roster of featured commentators and host Craig Phillips is ready to feature your commentary, too. If you're reading this a bit early, you can kill the time before the action begins by playing with the New York Times' "The Ebb and Flow of Movies: Box Office Receipts 1986 - 2007" interactive doohicky. Via Greg Allen. Update, 2/25: And here's the full transcript (click "Replay").
Shorts, 2/24."As with Ten Skies and 13 Lakes before it, James Benning's new film RR forms great ideas and unexpectedly voluptuous beauty out of modest and strict means, content, and style," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. Also: "I'm not sure [J'entends plus la guitare (I Can No Longer Hear the Guitar)] is any more or less distinguishable from Garrel's other films, or more or less personal. Instead, it is another Philippe Garrel film, which may already say it all—or, at least, say enough. In other words, a masterpiece much like the rest." Filmbrain recounts the struggle to get into a screening of Brad Anderson's Transsiberian at the Berlinale. Turns out it was worth it, since the film "is a brilliant genre exercise in white-knuckle tension and suspense that avoids the grand third-act set piece that has become practically obligatory these days." Jesse McKinley profiles NBA superstar and movie producer Baron Davis. Stacy Peralta tells him that Davis was crucial to realizing Made in America, Peralta's doc about gangs in Los Angeles. "Davis acted as a liaison to the neighborhoods where a white, 50-something ex-skater like Mr Peralta might not be exactly welcomed with open arms, especially when bearing a camera." Also in the New York Times:
Order of the Exile @ 1.Order of the Exile: Concerning the Films of Jacques Rivette celebrates its first anniversary with its heftiest update yet. For starters, there's a 1981 interview with Rivette conducted by Serge Daney and Jean Narboni, appearing in English for the first time, thanks to Louisa Shea. David Pratt-Robson, assisted by Jeremi Szaniawski, translates two pieces by Rivette, "On Abjection" and "The Kill." Another quick punch comes via Andreas Volkert. Liz Heron translates Rivette's "Age of metteurs en scene," which appeared in Cahiers du cinéma in 1954. Sally Shafto has something of a Rivette primer, "Noli me tangere: Jacques Rivette, Out 1, and the New Wave." Craig Keller translates excerpts from Jean-Marc Lalanne and Jean-Baptiste Morain's March 2007 interview with Rivette for Les Inrockuptibles.
Books, 2/24."Only Fellini could dream this: 'Sophia Loren has drowned in her bathtub. Weeping, I'm the one who has to tell Carlo Ponti.... I note that he has a wig of thick hair on his head, and that he looks pretty good with it on.'" For Vanity Fair, Bruce Handy previews The Book of Dreams. David Mamet is "the greatest American playwright of his generation," declares Jeremy McCarter, but Ira Nadel's David Mamet: A Life in the Theatre isn't the biography we need: "The definitive biography will need to cut more finely, separating not just successes from failure but success from success. Mamet has written a scathing play about sexual politics, Oleanna; the screenplay for a brilliant and (I'd wager) timeless political satire, Wag the Dog; and an uproarious courtroom farce, Romance. But these all pale next to American Buffalo and Glengarry Glen Ross." What's more, "the definitive Mamet biography will above all need to give a full accounting of his voice. Mamet, according to [Gregory] Mosher, 'worked the iambic pentameter out of the vernacular of the underclass.' For all the comparisons to [Harold] Pinter, there is nothing like Mamet's profane poetry in modern drama." "Relying almost exclusively on secondary sources, Nadel has constructed a very shaky edifice upon which to discuss Mamet's singular career," agrees Marc Weingarten in the Los Angeles Times. Back in the New York Times: Upton Sinclair "flirted with Hollywood for most of his long life," notes Anthony Arthur, who lists several of the writer's projects ranging from 1914 through 1967 as well as his friends: Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks Sr and Sergei Eisenstein. "But Sinclair, the author of more than 90 books, never made the big movie strike he hoped for." Now, of course, There Will Be Blood. "What is there about Oil! that has made it, by proxy, such a gusher?" Related: Jennifer Schuessler at Paper Cuts. "I've never been a fan of [Derek] Jarman's art or even his films, many of which feature in a new exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery," writes Michael Collins. "As a native Londoner with a link to the neighbourhood that Jarman made his home in the 1970s, and with a passion for the Kent coast around Dungeness where he lived in the years before his death in 1994, I prefer his diaries (Modern Nature, Dancing Ledge, Smiling in Slow Motion) and the early Super 8 footage in which he documents his impressions of these landscapes." Also in the Guardian: Simon Callow on Patrick Newley's The Amazing Mrs Shufflewick: The Life of Rex Jameson and Michael Coveney on Michael Munn's Richard Burton: Prince of Players. The Observer's Philip French recalls meeting Paul Bowles and becoming an advocate: "I once tried to persuade John Boorman to film The Sheltering Sky, and even offered to collaborate on the screenplay, but he thought it was unfilmable. Fortunately Bernardo Bertolucci didn't agree." Charles Matthews on Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood: The conventional way of writing about five movies would be to devote a section of the book to each. But [Mark] Harris does something more difficult and far more illuminating: He weaves together the stories of how each movie was conceived, crafted, released, critiqued and received. He writes about the five or six years in which the filmmakers, some of them old pros and some of them rank novices, struggled with a studio system in collapse, an audience whose tastes and enthusiasms seemed wildly unpredictable, and a culture being transformed by volatile social and political forces. Related online listening: Harris is a guest on On Point. Back in the Washington Post: "Charlotte Chandler's new book, Not the Girl Next Door, tries to refute the image of [Joan] Crawford as a domestic fiend by telling the star's side of the story as gleaned from extended interviews with her in the mid-1970s," writes John Epperson (Lypsinka). "Perhaps it's very Joan Crawford of me to expect a book to be tidier and more disciplined (imagine the neatness hell that Crawford put her editors and co-authors through when she wrote her own books, A Portrait of Joan and My Way of Life), but I will give in to my (possibly neurotic) desire for perfection and report that a fully satisfying Crawford biography has yet to be written." And Mark Athitakis reviews Dennis McDougal's Five Easy Decades: How Jack Nicholson Became The Biggest Movie Star In Modern Times and Eric Lax's Conversations With Woody Allen: His Films, the Movies, and Moviemaking.
Anticipating SXSW, 2/24.Dreams with Sharp Teeth (site), "titled after the author's omnibus edition, shows [Harlan] Ellison twice circa 1981, in an upfront interview and during one of many occasions when he scripted a short story entirely on display in a bookstore window," writes Matthew Sorrento in Identity Theory. "While such footage would be essential in covering Ellison, we are in good hands to know that [director Erik] Nelson shot the footage himself as a young man and has been documenting the author ever since." "Jumping freely from coast to coast, Bi the Way (2008 [site]) examines the apparent trend in bisexuality in the new millennium," writes Flickhead. "The commenting writers, clinicians and analysts vary in age, but the 'test case' participants are all under 30 - as are [filmmakers Brittany] Blockman and [Josephine] Decker." Cinematical's Erik Davis is weirded out by the trailer for A Necessary Death. Online listening tip. James Rocchi talks with Michael Lerman, co-writer and co-director of the SXSW Emerging Visions selection Natural Causes.
February 23, 2008
Spirit Awards.Juno has won Best Feature, Best Female Lead (Ellen Page) and Best First Screenplay (Diablo Cody) at this evening's Film Independent's Spirit Awards. The Savages picked up two awards, one for Philip Seymour Hoffman and another for Tamara Jenkins for her screenplay. For a complete list of the winners, take your pick: Cinematical or indieWIRE. Updated through 2/25. Before the winners were announced, Kim Voynar posted a fine overview of probably the most interesting category: "The five nominees for the John Cassavetes Award at this year's Film Independent Spirit Awards are a diverse lot representing five very different films: Chris Eska's August Evening [which won], Stephane Gauger's Owl and the Sparrow, Aaron Katz's Quiet City, Jeff Nichols's Shotgun Stories and Chris Smith's The Pool. indieWIRE spoke with each of the nominees about their acclaimed films, their backgrounds, and their future plans. The prize honors the best of the low-budget films produced each year, singling out five films each made for under $500,000." Updates, 2/24: Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay comments on the winners and the show itself. AJ Schnack's got pix from the scene. Update, 2/25: Matt Dentler spent two and a half hours on the red carpet with Alison Willmore - and he's got pix.
Sight & Sound. March 08.The Frat Pack's in the cover of the new issue of Sight & Sound and Henry K Miller roots out the origins by tracing the many ways Indiewood and Saturday Night Live/MTV have cross-pollinated. For example: The resemblances between The Cable Guy and Fight Club were not down to personal connections between their makers or to direct influence, but to some more diffuse generational synchronicity. Nonetheless, the comedic tradition [Jim] Carrey, [Ben] Stiller and [Judd] Apatow had all been schooled in flowed through [David] Fincher's film. With its rituals and para-situationist pranks, Tyler's 'Project Mayhem' is as much fraternity as terror cell, and Fincher himself has cited National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) as inspiration, Bluto duking it out with Jake La Motta for paternity rights. Edward Norton has characterised the film's controversial second half as 'so obviously about what goes wrong when a bunch of frat boys start taking themselves too seriously' - and much the same is true of the film that gave the Frat Pack its unfortunate name, Todd Phillips's Old School (2003). David Thomson on Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist: "[H]ere is the thing that's striking in a film from 1970: Clerici is not brave, reckless, outgoing or charming but is ingrowing, cold, a snob, a coward, a tragic figure who shrugs off his own pain with constant assumptions of superiority. He is a fascist. And I think it's worth noting, if only historically, that there are ways in which the shock of The Conformist - and no one was really ready for it - enabled the ocean-liner team spirit of a film that came only two years later, and for which Al Pacino might have been advised to study [Jean-Louis] Trintignant (I'm just guessing)." Kim Newman on Diary of the Dead: "While many film-makers have taken the suspense mechanics, gore or panicky-nasty characters of [Night of the Living Dead] as models, its satirical social commentary, which reappears here, remains [George] Romero's own." "Criterion's handsome high-definition digital transfer, boasting a tumultuous mono mix and fully revealing the film's Panavision vistas for the first time on video, goes a long way towards promoting The Naked Prey as an important chapter in the history of independent US filmmaking," writes Tim Lucas. "Michael Atkinson's notes are a forceful defence of a truly hellbent film which, he writes, is 'not quite politically correct' but 'caring nothing for aesthetics and everything for surviving [its own] experience.'" Catherine Wheatley on The Edge of Heaven: "Billed as the second instalment in [Fatih Akin's] 'Love, Death and the Devil' trilogy, it offers a technically accomplished and deeply compassionate meditation on loss and consolation, as its mosaic narrative follows the intersecting lives of six characters travelling between Istanbul and Hamburg." Mark Sinker on Helvetica: "[W]hat's lovely about Gary Hustwit's documentary is that it not only gets across the passions, absurd and detailed, that shape this world [of fonts and such] (passions about effects few of us can name and some never notice at all) but also sketches a timeline in changing technologies and fashions over a half-century."
Césars. Winners."Edith Piaf biopic La môme (La Vie en Rose) from Olivier Dahan went home with five Césars, the French national film prizes, yesterday evening, making it the biggest winner, but it was Abdellatif Kechiche's immigrant tale La graine et le mulet (The Secret of the Grain) that was the real winner, going home with four Césars including Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay." Boyd van Hoeij has more at european-films.net.
New-York Ghost. Film issue."The Ghost's yearly film issue features writing by Luc Sante - Craig Keller - Victoria Nelson - Jason McBride - Toni Schlesinger - Christoph Huber - Ed Park - B Kite - D Cairns - Bill Krohn - and more. (Actually no: that's it!) Read about some of the best American and foreign movies of 2007, plus video treasures, and the Guy Maddin movie none of us will ever see."
February 22, 2008
Reminder. Live-Blogging the Oscars.As we head into the weekend, I wanted to drop a reminder that on Sunday night - Oscar Night, of course - GreenCine will be staging a live-blogging event hosted by our own Craig Phillips and featuring commentators such as Karie Bible, Erin Donovan, Vince Keenan, Stacie Ponder, Agnes Varnum and a few surprise stoppers-by. And of course, you. Right on up to Sunday night, keep up with goings on all over with the Oscars countdown.
Interview. Stefan Ruzowitzky.The Counterfeiters, nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Foreign Language Film category, is based on true events: the Nazis planned to destabilize the American and British economies by flooding the markets with fake dollars and pounds. And they enlisted prisoners in concentration camps to counterfeit the bills. This presents a dark dilemma to the prisoners: cooperate and survive - or sabotage the project and possibly pay with their lives. "I don't think there is the right way to behave in a situation like that," director Stefan Ruzowitzky tells Michael Guillén. Meantime, reviews are still being collected here. Update, 2/25: And then, the Oscar: "Ruzowitzky hopes the international success of his critically acclaimed The Counterfeiters will push Austrian officials to take the country's film industry more seriously," reports Spiegel Online.
State Legislature."Opening at Anthology Film Archives this Friday, the hypnotic, beautiful State Legislature clocks in at nearly four captivating hours. It's another seminal entry in [Frederick] Wiseman's lifelong project of depicting the inner lives of American institutions, and it's also a remarkable affirmation of the 78-year-old filmmaker's continuing relevance and creativity." Bilge Ebiri talks with "the legendary documentarian" for New York. "State Legislature is an impeccably constructed illustration in depth, ceaselessly alert and cumulatively profound," writes Nathan Lee in the Voice. "Given the subject, spells of monotony are to be expected; vital as they are, the mechanics of workaday democracy lack the obvious dramatic voltage of, say, Domestic Violence (2001). Given the particular tenacious genius of Wiseman, however, even the most listless passages here (water policy, zzzz...) produce unexpected sparks." "Shot during the 2004 legislative session (and on 16-millimeter film), the 217-minute documentary constitutes the latest chapter in Mr Wiseman's decades-long inquiry into American institutions from schools to prisons, an inquiry that is at once a detailed and expansive vision of a modern bureaucratic state and its people," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "This is democracy in action from the ground up, wholly unheroic and absolutely mesmerizing."
Fests and events, 2/22."MoMA's Documentary Fortnight 2008 continues this weekend with the first of two sidebars devoted to Joan Churchill, the pioneer female director / cinematographer who produced a prolific body of work in the 1970s, when both professions were almost exclusively male," writes Rich Zwelling in the Reeler. When the Independent asked Colin MacCabe to write an obituary of Derek Jarman - well before the man was to actually die, it turns out - he realized that "an obituary without images seemed inadequate," he recalls in the New Statesman. "We agreed to spend a day recording in images his own account of his life, which I would then use in future to make a film obituary. This footage would eventually form the basis of Derek, which goes on show this month at the Serpentine Gallery in London." And the exhibition, curated by Isaac Julien, will be on view through April 13. The Film Panel Notetaker talks with Ed Pincus and Lucia Small about The Axe in the Attic, screening at the Museum of the Moving Image on Saturday. "Effectively (intentionally?) playing the scares for laughs and eschewing the oversaturated confectionary palette of his two previous films - Tears of the Black Tiger and Citizen Dog - Thai director Wisit Sasanatieng's third feature The Unseeable maintains a menacing enough atmosphere, primarily through a fantastic haunted country house and its surrounding compound, the shift to a shadowy grey-green palette, and a cascading 'wait there's more!' finale." Michael Guillén begins his coverage of the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. March 13 through 23. Vince Keenan's double-barrelled reviews keep on coming from the just-wrapped Noir City Northwest.
Anticipating SXSW, 2/22.Crawford [site] is a smart and absorbing documentary about the changes within the small Texas town George W Bush moved to while running for President in 2000," writes Flickhead Ray Young. "No one since Richard Nixon has divided the American people as sharply, and Bush extended his bulldozing effect to neighbors he never knew in a remote corner far beyond his station. Director David Modigliani, here making his feature debut, captures roughly six years' worth of the heat and heartbreak in Crawford in the President's chaotic wake." "First a traveling museum exhibition and book, Beautiful Losers [site], is now an unique documentary celebrating the independent and DIY spirit that unified a loose-knit group of American artists who emerged from the underground worlds of skateboarding, graffiti, punk and hip hop," notes the Hype Wire. Hollywood Bitchslap's series of interviews conducted in anticipation of SXSW rushes onward:
Shorts, 2/22."'You really think No Country for Old Men, that movie was better than ours!' [Paul Thomas] Anderson hooted. 'C'mon, do you really believe that?' The Bagger was flattered that anyone cared about his opinion on films, even if it was someone who kept telling him that he knew nothing. Mr Anderson laughed one more time, clapped the Bagger on his back and wished him on his merry, misguided way." As Michelle Orange might put it, Zachary Wigon drops the S-Bomb in a piece at the House Next Door on "the effusive critical praise of No Country" before dropping another: The critical reaction to the Coen Brothers' film was symptomatic of the same kind of post-ideological shifting that Zizek referred to in his numerous examples [in "Passion In The Era of Decaffeinated Belief"] - it was symptomatic of criticism shifting its emphasis from content to form, from dominance over the work of art through interpretation to submissiveness beneath the work's formal powers. To submit to a film's aesthetic workings without thinking about what those workings imply, as [AO] Scott so happily did, is to turn off the critical faculties of one's mind. It is the same kind of turning-off that allows propaganda films, which can contain reprehensible content but gorgeous stylization, to work so powerfully. Stuart Jeffries meets Bernardo Bertolucci: "Significantly, it was during the making of The Conformist that Bertolucci went deeply into Freudian analysis. Up to that point, his earlier films such as Before the Revolution, The Spider's Stratagem and even The Grim Reaper, had been made under Godard's influence. Do you feel you grew up in making The Conformist? 'Completely. At a certain moment I had to be careful not to be imitating, not to be a forger, to do Godard fakes. I think it's not only my experience but the experience of a lot of people of my generation.'" Also at/in/etc the Guardian, David Thomson on Jennifer Jason Leigh; and Chris Wiegand introduces a series of clips from La Dolce Vita. "Since 1985, with his first novel, Days Between Stations, and now with Zeroville, his eighth - and best - novel, [Steve] Erickson has been a singular voice in American fiction, for my money our most imaginative native novelist," writes Charles Taylor in the Nation. Zeroville is "about what happens when the idea of movies as communal experience gives way to the idea of movies as private obsession." "In embarking on the mammoth, open-ended project that is The New Cult Canon, I face the scary and exhilarating prospect of a journey with no set course and no planned destination, but there was never a question that I'd be leaving port with Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "To my mind, Donnie Darko is the quintessential cult movie of the last 20 years." The Telegraph draws up a list of "the 100 best films" of all time. "Like strange desert creatures, a little girl and her blind grandfather emerge from storm-shifted sands, dust themselves off and set out on a journey with no map or timetable in Bab'Aziz: The Prince Who Contemplated His Soul, a film steeped in Sufi mysticism and as transcendent as that opening sequence," writes Sheri Linden in the Los Angeles Times. Passion & Power: The Technology of Orgasm "may lay it on too thick with its You Go, Girl! message, but in the end it does bring to life a remarkably amusing and strange secret history," writes Tamara Strauss in the San Francisco Chronicle. In the New Statesman, Ryan Gilbey reviews My Blueberry Nights, "a below-par film from Wong Kar Wai," and The Boss of It All, which "has a devilish central idea, and a bone-dry comic tone reminiscent of [Lars] von Trier's masterful TV serial The Kingdom." And Sheila Johnston talks with von Trier for the Telegraph, where Sukhdev Sandhu reviews the same pair of films. Christian Johnston is in Lebanon, shooting a film "about a group of armed foreigners who come to Beirut and almost set off a factional war by mistake." Robert F Worth reports from a nervous set. Also in the New York Times:
The Edge of Heaven in the UK."Fatih Akin, whose Head-On (2004) is one of the great films of the decade, returns to scour the same vexed ground of exile and migration in The Edge of Heaven," writes Anthony Quinn in the Independent. "His obsession with the relationship between Germany and Turkey (his roots lie in both) is becoming as intense as Sam Peckinpah's with the US and Mexico, only with less blood and whisky." "This is an intriguing, complex, beautifully acted and directed piece of work, partly a realist drama of elaborate coincidences, near-misses and near-hits, further tangled with shifts in the timeline - and partly an almost dreamlike meditation with visual symmetries and narrative rhymes," writes Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian. Updated through 2/24. In the Evening Standard, Derek Malcolm notes that of Akin's five features, "This is his least melodramatic and most assured." "As in Head-On, fate dominates proceedings, but there’s no escaping the contrivances of Akin's script," writes Dave Calhoun for Time Out. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes. Updates, 2/24: "If you dislike The Edge of Heaven you could, as I've suggested, sneer at the use of coincidence," writes Philip French in the Observer. "If you think well of it, as I do, you will accept it as a carefully patterned narrative of parallels, echoes and fateful encounters that reflect on the relationships between father and son, mother and daughter, on the themes of duty, obligation, sacrifice and redemption, and above all on the nature of family, exile, roots and national identity." And, as noted above, Catherine Wheatley reviews Edge for Sight & Sound.
February 21, 2008
Be Kind Rewind."Like his previous feature The Science of Sleep, Michel Gondry's gently outlandish Be Kind Rewind is a fantasy about fantasy - a fragile, somewhat precious celebration of DIY filmmaking and cult-film consumption that, given its gaps in logic, spectators are more or less obliged to mentally assemble on their own." J Hoberman in the Voice. "Be it whimsy overload or muddled politics, Be Kind Rewind contains reminders of the limits of this brilliant artist," writes Elbert Ventura in Reverse Shot. "That the movie still enthralls is a testament to the fact that Gondry's starting point - an aesthetic in which each frame bears its maker's sensibility - is miles ahead of where most filmmakers aspire to be." Premiere's Glenn Kenny finds Rewind "slight and finally unconvincing, alas.... Part of the problem's the writing: Gondry's just not that good at it." And here, "one feels he wants you to buy something he himself can't be bothered to believe in." Updated through 2/25. "Gondry's comedy, which can't seem to get either [Mos] Def or the normally robust [Jack] Black out of second gear, is never able to transcend the illogical underpinnings of its plot and its numerous anachronisms, no matter how much fanciful whimsy the gifted Frenchman and his collaborators can conjure from the settings and their performers," writes Brandon Harris. "If it weren't so genuinely ramshackle, Be Kind Rewind would be a terrific, brainy thesis film masked as shabby, pop fantasy lark," writes Vadim Rizov in the Reeler. "Gondry-lovers will want more from their boy, Black stalwarts will definitely want better for theirs." "To call the narrative shambling and the acting amateurish is not wholly an insult, because Be Kind Rewind is determinedly unslick," writes David Edelstein in New York. "Gondry, like many French-born filmmakers, has the Big Deconstructionist Idea. He's exploring the gulf between the democratization of moviemaking and the daunting amount of money, technical resources, and personnel it takes to make anything that the mainstream audience will want to see. He's also showing how far a little bit of wit and humanity can go." "In good whimsy - [Pushing Daisies], say, or Amélie - you have colorful art direction, larger-than-life characters, and charming but not particularly realistic situations, but it all works because there's a core of believability to the storytelling," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "And then there's bad whimsy, which brings us to Be Kind Rewind. Bad whimsy has all the great art direction and nutty plot setups, but they all get shoehorned into a real-world context, whereby the characters can only exist in this bell jar of kookiness by acting like they've all had frontal lobotomies." "The surprisingly nostalgic sight of VHS boxes is the most poignant thing in Michel Gondry's Be Kind Rewind," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "It's like the closetful of stacked-away board games in The Royal Tenenbaums: the detritus of our youth or of once-shared passions.... Like Tim Burton turning the biopic Ed Wood into the loony story of communal activity, Gondry uses his nostalgia for the outmoded form of movies-on-videotape to reinforce a sense of social solidarity." "A George Méliès for the age of infinite possibilities, Michel Gondry, like the music-hall conjurer turned f/x pioneer of cinema's infancy, takes 'the magic of movies' as a literal proposition, a matter of process," proposes Mark Asch in the L Magazine. "While the film does have a sweetness to its goofball comedy that is often quite warm, the 'heart' that a perfectly cast Mia Farrow laments is missing from most movies is here missing as well," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "This idea that people are capable of creating their own entertainment that not only they enjoy but other people can enjoy [is what drives this film]," Gondry tells the Vue Weekly's Brian Gibson. "And in the process they become really creative and they change the course of pop music or art or whatever. It's been going over and over in music. And I was imagining this phenomenon happening in film." "It's a film that seems unwilling to go an inch out of its meandering way to impress you or make you smile, which may be why it's such a surprise when it occasionally manages both," writes Rob Davis in Paste. Paul Matwychuk: "This is what you call a movie with its heart in the right place - it has an affection for the mongrel, homegrown culture of those pockets of the United States into which the corporations haven't yet penetrated that reminded me of those great Jonathan Demme movies of the 70s and 80s: Melvin and Howard, Citizens Band, Something Wild, Married to the Mob. For the New Yorker's Anthony Lane, the film's got "a charming conceit, designed as a paean to the ramshackle; sadly, every minute of Gondry's film is irrefutable proof that charm is not enough." "The established phenomenon of fan fiction has found new life in the intersection of film and the internet, spawning a vast parallel filmography of no-budget, DIY doppelgangers." Ryan Gilbey in the Guardian on Rewind and Son of Rambow. Sara Cardace (Vulture), Brett Michel (Boston Phoenix), Keith Phipps (AV Club) and Nicolas Rapold (New York Sun) all interview Gondry. Online listening tip. Spout's Kevin Buist and Paul Moore put ten bucks on the table and call up Gondry. Earlier: Reviews from Sundance. Updates, 2/22: "Sweet-natured and likable as the movie is, it never really delivers on the promise of its ingenious premise, which hints at a subversive retelling of mainstream Hollywood movies but stops short at goofy homage," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "It is propelled by neither the psychology of its characters nor the machinery of its plot, but rather by a leisurely desire to pass the time, to see what happens next, to find out what would happen if you tried to re-enact Ghostbusters in your neighbor's kitchen," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Gondry isn't an especially skilled storyteller," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club. "The film has energy but no real pace. The characters don't grow so much as hang around, and his script frays into a bunch of loose strands. But the visual wit, game performances (including a glowing turn by Melonie Diaz as a neighbor roped into small-scale movie stardom), and overflowing humanity have more than made up for the shortcomings by the time the film finds a final moment that's simultaneously abrupt and magical. And clearly not designed by committee." "It absolutely is not a rib-tickling movie-movie mashup, featuring affectionate, hilarious takedowns of movies you love and movies you love to hate," warns Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. The point, rather: "All of us have had our imaginations so thoroughly colonized by corporate entertainment product that to set ourselves free we have to exorcise it all first." Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian: "If you can imagine a movie-maker who sustained a career while never leaving his teenage bedroom - putting each completed film outside the door on a breakfast tray for his mum to collect on her way down to the kitchen - then you can imagine the work of Michael Gondry." "This is a movie that takes place in no possible world, which may be a shame, if not for the movie, then for possible worlds," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. Steve Erickson talks with Gondry for Film & Video. Update, 2/23: "Be Kind Rewind, while erring just this side of too adorable for its own good - it's nothing if not enjoyable for once again showcasing Gondry's ingenious guerilla filmmaking tactics - is still a bit of a setback," writes Michael Joshua Rowin for Stop Smiling. "Gondry may be a one-of-a-kind visualist, but he's far from a seasoned writer, and even with his new film's grassroots bid for racial harmony and take-back-the-neighborhood organizing there's something missing here on basic levels of character and story that prove Be Kind Rewind more a wishful nostalgic fantasy than the playful assaults on reality that have defined Gondry's previous efforts." Update, 2/25: "[T]he most striking holdover from Gondry's work as a short-form director is his miniature montages - such as the vanishing memories in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and the delusional dream sequences in Science of Sleep," writes AJ Goldmann, who also interviews Gondry for the New Republic.
Shorts, 2/21."I think [John] Ford is a great filmmaker, but I'm not used to thinking of him as a philosopher," writes Dan Sallitt. "And yet the most likely way to resolve the dissonances of Tobacco Road is to postulate that Ford simply has an unusual tolerance for the vicissitudes of the human condition." In 1925, make-up meant encasing the face in grease and powder before stepping out into blinding carbon-arc lights. The Self-Styled Siren quotes a passage from Mary Astor's A Life on Film and follows up with a few delicious biographical tidbits. Side to the Siren: Vanity Fair's just handed its "Proust Questionnaire" to Joan Fontaine. "If Columbia had renewed its copyright on schedule, would this film be so widely admired today?" David Bordwell on His Girl Friday and the critical reassessment of Howard Hawks: "Scholars and the public discovered a masterpiece because they had virtually untrammeled access to it, and perhaps its gray-market status supplied an extra thrill. Thanks mainly to piracy, His Girl Friday was propelled into the canon." "With the Oscars coming up, it felt like a great time to look at one of the best movies about movies I know - or, rather, if not necessarily the best, but certainly one of the juiciest." At SFGate's Culture Blog, James Rocchi recommends The Bad and the Beautiful. Trevor Griffiths (site) is best known for having written Reds with Warren Beatty. "He was part of group of new writers including David Mercer, Ken Loach, Jim Allen and Dennis Potter who were associated with Tony Garnett, who brought a new realism to British television in the 1960s," writes Ann Talbot in a profile for the World Socialist Web Site. "In the theater, where much of his work has been done, he is one of a group of politicized playwrights that includes David Hare, Howard Brenton and David Edgar." His latest screenplay, recently published by Spokesman Books, is These are the Times: A Life of Thomas Paine, and Talbot argues it'd make a "great film." An interview accompanies her piece. What "West Wing fans stunned by the similarity between the fictitious Matthew Santos and the real-life Barack Obama have not known is that the resemblance is no coincidence," reports Jonathan Freedland. "When the West Wing scriptwriters first devised their fictitious presidential candidate in the late summer of 2004, they modelled him in part on a young Illinois politician - not yet even a US senator - by the name of Barack Obama.... What's more, the West Wing had the Republicans choose between a Christian preacher - a pre-echo of Mike Huckabee - and an older, maverick senator from the American west whose liberal positions on some issues had earned the distrust of the party's conservative base: a dead ringer for John McCain." Also in the Guardian: David Jenkins wonders why, in an age of crystal clear digital sound, we can't understand what actors are saying. Jenkins's major offender: Philip Seymour Hoffman. "One particular subtext in all [Wes] Anderson-[Owen] Wilson collaborations recalls the work of Oscar Wilde - that is, life, through the medium of creativity and troubled genius, imitates art," writes Will Lasky at 24 Lies a Second. "Mapping the idea of 'life imitating art' onto Owen Wilson's biography and Wes Anderson's films reveals their startling convergence." Paul Haggis and Michael Nozik have optioned Joseph Weisberg's CIA novel An Ordinary Spy. Josh Getlin looks into it for the Los Angeles Times. David Fincher will direct an adaptation of Charles Burns's graphic novel, Black Hole, reports Variety's Tatiana Siegel. Via New York's Vulture, which has more up-n-coming news. Meantime, goldenfiddle points to Rick Kleffel's review of the novel. Chris Barsanti is a bit taken back by "Warner Bros' announcement yesterday that they were backing a two-part live-action adaptation of Akira, set to star Leonardo DiCaprio whenever he takes time off from his next Scorsese film." From a special issue of Transformations on "Walter Benjamin and the Virtual: Politics, Art, and Mediation in the Age of Global Culture," Catherine Russell on "Dialectical Film Criticism: Walter Benjamin's Historiography, Cultural Critique and the Archive" and Kristen Daly on "The Dissipating Aura of Cinema," in which she quotes Amos Vogel: What kind of art is this that depends so heavily on the nature of its presentation, and to which access in a form close to its "original" becomes ever more impossible? What shall we do with the evanescence of film stock?... It is as if King Lear were available only one day per decade in one city per continent, in 50th-generation, pirated, Hong Kong copies of which entire pages were missing, individual paragraphs not quite readable, portions of characters obliterated with frustrating intimations of potential greatness; the stuff of Borges, of Kafka, of Marquez. Via Bookforum. "There are a variety of exercises in logic one can run though to demolish the theory that violent entertainment correlates to violent activity," notes James Rocchi in the Huffington Post. Among them: "Economically and demographically similar audiences are watching these films, and yet, viewers in other nations aren't making the leap to arming themselves and shooting people as the final possible act of film appreciation." "Ramin Bahrani looked ecstatic when his sophomore feature, Chop Shop, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last year," notes Eric Kohn, who talks with him for the New York Press. "Turning around to face the cheering crowd, the New York–based filmmaker was greeted by an enthusiastic Abbas Kiarostami, the Iranian auteur whose neorealist aesthetic had a profound impact on the 37-year-old Bahrani." "Israeli films serve as both conscience and instigator, possibly because artists are able to exert influence in a country of just 7.3 million people," writes Michael Fox at SF360. "But Israeli movies have been exposed to even bigger audiences in recent years, garnering praise, prizes and distribution deals on the international festival circuit. With the current and imminent release of The Band's Visit, Beaufort and Jellyfish in the US, on the heels of last year's Close to Home and The Bubble, the wave has reached our shores." FilmInFocus interviews Brandon Harris of Cinema Echo Chamber. "Taxi to the Dark Side uncovers no smoking gun," writes Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper. "But better than any recent film, it demonstrates how the combination of hoo-rah slogans and amoral leadership translates into atrocity on the ground." Also, an interview with Alex Gibney. Time's Joel Stein has had George Clooney over for dinner. Naturally, he's still getting over it. You can watch Clooney climb into his attic, too. Also: "George Clooney swears he has never lost an Oscar pool." Check out his picks and the pretty amusing quips that introduce them. Steven Shaviro weighs in on the Daniel Plainview debate: "Everything that [Stephanie] Zacharek deplores about the performance is precisely what, to my mind, makes it so great. Day-Lewis's performance 'lacks spontaneity, fire, life,' because Daniel Plainview as a character is entirely devoid of these attributes. He's an empty shell, a hollow man, a mask without a face, a collection of annoying tics and raging drives with no interiority behind it." "Here is a movie to stop the auteur theory dead in its tracks," offers Scott Foundas in the Voice. "Clearly, the British-born [Pete] Travis was recruited for Vantage Point on the basis of his excellent 2004 debut feature, Omagh, which restaged the events leading up to and following a devastating 1998 car bombing on a crowded retail street in the titular Northern Irish town. Produced by Paul Greengrass, and conceived as something of a companion film to his own Bloody Sunday, there wasn't a moment in Omagh that rang false. There's not a single one in Vantage Point that rings true." Kyle Ryan talks with Amy Ryan at the AV Club. More on Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood: David Ansen (Newsweek) and Mary Kaye Schilling (Los Angeles Times. In the Independent, Stephen Applebaum revisits the Cruising brouhaha. "[T]he Internet movie download era is more distant than pundits think, for four colossal reasons." David Pogue lists 'em in the New York Times. Online viewing tip #1. At Shooting Down Pictures, Girish Shambu comments on The Woman in the Window and the cinema of Fritz Lang in general. Online viewing tip #2. "Tight dresses and rhine-stone rings, drinkin' up the band's beers..." Flickhead's got Joni Mitchell backed by an all-star band in their prime. Online viewing tips. At retroCRUSH, Robert Berry's got clips of the 25 "Greatest Duets of All Time." Via Fimoculous.
Fests and events, 2/21.Miklós Jancsó will be in London on the weekend of March 14 through 16 to talk about his work at a series of screenings. The next day he'll be in Cambridge and then, on Wednesday, March 19, in Edinburgh. "This is a must-see event for UK cinephiles, and a rare opportunity to engage this formally innovative, politically and poetically adventurous filmmaker," writes Doug Cummings, who has details at Masters of Cinema. "The Film Society of Lincoln Center and Museum of Modern Art this morning announced the line-up for the 37th edition of New Directors/New Films," and ST VanAirsdale's got it at the Reeler. March 26 through April 6. "Separation is the myth and the reality of Ritwik Ghatak's cinema. His work screams it, shouts it, sings it in image and sound." In the Boston Phoenix, Chris Fujiwara previews Politics and Melodrama: The Partition Cinema of Ritwik Ghatak, running tomorrow through Sunday at the Harvard Film Archive. "Last year's Nevermore Film Festival eschewed the flesh-carving, bone-crunching gore of mainstream cinema's torture-porn craze in favor of psychological terrors to die for," writes Kathy Justice in the Independent Weekly. "This year's lineup is a continuation of the festival's preference for subtlety and nuance in horror." Tomorrow through Sunday. "Even when they put [Sergei] Paradjanov in the gulag, he still drew on scraps of paper and made beautiful dolls from mailbag sacking. He couldn't stop the flow of ideas and images that poured from his innately visual mind; but the state tried its best, destroying his health and ensuring that he completed only four features in the last 26 years of his life, which should have been his creative prime. These four movies are the primary focus of LACMA's welcome retrospective of Paradjanov's breathtaking mature work." John Patterson previews the series for the LA Weekly. Tomorrow through February 29. "Metro's annual Prairie Tales is consistently reliable in sharing a courageous set of films and videos that deserve to be witnessed with a clear eye, as hard as it may be to achieve," writes Jonathan Busch in the Vue Weekly. "The program provides a satisfying window into the uniquely Albertan filmic sensibility, a heavily debated blend of cityscapes, history, smooth topography, loneliness and oil. Like last year and the one before that, it's a selection with a preference for films that locate a specific personality at the centre of fresh ideas and visions." This Saturday. Karina Longworth's latest SXSW preview at the SpoutBlog: Bootleg Wisconsin. Director Brandon Linden tells her: "My concept of it would read something like this: 'If a Swedish director watched too many Naruse films drunk and then decided to do a near silent remake of Brief Encounter in a Midwest outlet mall you would have my film.'" The Voice's J Hoberman takes note of the Tribute to IFC Films at the BAMcinématek from February 29 through March 6. "If there is a kindred spirit to Jacques Nolot's Before I Forget a stark and brooding portrait of aging, mortality, and loneliness, it is probably Ventura Pons's contemporary film, Barcelona (A Map), a rumination on architecture and empty spaces as a reflection of internalized, decaying emotional landscapes," writes acquarello. Film Comment Selects runs through February 28.
The Counterfeiters."At its best - and queasiest - The Counterfeiters asks disturbing questions more commonly found in the survivor literature of Primo Levi or Bruno Bettelheim than at the movies," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "Without resorting to the crassly relativist reversals in Paul Verhoeven's idiotic Black Book (treacherous resisters! sensitive Nazis! who knew?), [director and co-writer Stefan] Ruzowitzky quietly asks what counts as moral behavior under fascism, and whether or not one's first duty is to survive." "Nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, The Counterfeiters manages to be devastating without a hint of sentimentality," writes Raphaela Weissman in the New York Press. "Ruzowitzky's straightforward approach to this unusual story and cinematographer Benedict Neunfels's documentary-style immediacy transcend the now well-worn Holocaust genre, bringing another side of the tragedy into unflinching focus." Updated through 2/22. "Though once Holocaust dramas were considered something of a tough sell, for art-house crowds this genre is the closest thing to a known quantity," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "And Ruzowitzky's technique is as predictable as his subject... [W]hat else would one expect from the director of the gross-out German horror flicks Anatomy and Anatomy 2? Exploitation, it seems, comes in many forms." "On its own limited terms, it's watchable if unedifying," writes Robert Cashill. "As an Academy Award nominee, it's a phony." For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Ruzowitzky "about the movie's moral complexities, his Nazi grandparents and rescuing his school play aged 10." The Reeler meets Ruzowitzky as well; and Robert W Welkos profiles him for the Los Angeles Times. Earlier: Reviews from the UK; and Bill Weber in Slant. Updates, 2/22: "The Counterfeiters is a swift and suspenseful thriller, and perhaps a little too entertaining for its own good," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "I suppose that is a built-in dilemma of the Holocaust movie as a genre. Filmmakers either try to take the full, horrible measure of the subject, at the risk of overwhelming or alienating a modern audience, or else, in trying to make the story bearable, they subvert its truth. The Counterfeiters, in the manner of its flawed, fascinating hero, tries in good faith to navigate this ethically treacherous ground. That it succeeds more than it fails owes something to Mr Ruzowitsky's skill and good sense, and even more to his lead actor's instinct and conviction." "While Ruzowitzky's script occasionally suffers from the theatrical instinct to give each character his big breakdown - the chance to overturn or break something in a frenzy of despair - the story is tightly woven and urgently drawn," writes Michelle Orange in the Reeler. "The Counterfeiters' look at the mechanics of currency duplication is fascinating, but the real drama of the film is the conflict that develops between Sorowitsch [Karl Markovics] and another member of the team, printer Adolf Burger (August Diehl)," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "Markovics largely rescues the film with his mesmerizingly layered, steady performance as a man who solves the problem of compromise by refusing to admit that he's compromising," writes Tasha Robinson at the AV Club. "Like Schindler's List, it's a Holocaust movie... with hope," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "It's serious, but it's also conventional and commercially slick." "The contest between the idealist and the survival artist seems to me the heart of this movie," writes Richard Schickel for Time. "The former is willing, even eager, to sacrifice all of his fellow prisoners (or should we call them his colleagues?) for his principles. The latter insists that a man's first duty is to live, which is the natural precondition for - perhaps - doing something useful later, should the opportunity arise. I'm with Salomon. When you're dead, you're dead."
February 20, 2008
The Signal."If Paddy Chayefsky and Newton Minow had ever bonded over too many cocktails - secretly spiked by Neil Postman - the result might have been The Signal, a grungy warning to anyone who would rather watch than engage," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in Reverse Shot. "Exuberantly merging sci-fi, horror, and black comedy, three writer-directors each take responsibility for one third of the narrative; and if the outcome is more zealous than lucid that's not to say the experiment lacks merit. There's nothing like the combination of low budget and high anxiety for liberating the id." Updated through 2/22. "It seems there's a new, derivative horror movie hitting the multiplexes every week these days, drawing the usual audiences who know exactly what to expect and like it that way," writes Dennis Harvey at SF360. "Here's hoping they find their way to The Signal, which has something those movies don't: Originality." "[T]his uneven but impressive shot-on-digital shocker earns a marker in the mausoleum of apocalyptic horror - a genre that's proving (un)surprisingly durable in the new century," notes Jim Ridley in the Voice. "Employing its interlocked multipart narrative more convincingly than anything Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu has done since Amores Perros - the appearance and recurrence of characters in each other's stories seems organic and unforced - The Signal borrows the most potent trope from the late-90s Japanese horror craze: the transmission of unspecified evil along the electronic teats plugged into every surge protector and car jack (TVs, radios, cell phones). Amusingly, The Signal - a radar blip at South by Southwest 2007 and a fanboy word-of-mouth sensation ever since - is busy insinuating itself into households using the same methods: MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube." At FEARnet, Scott Weinberg talks with directors David Bruckner, Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry; producer Alexander Motlagh; and actors AJ Bowen, Justin Welborn and Scott Poythress. Online listening tip. Ed Champion also talks with the cast and crew. Updates, 2/21: "The recent commercial success of Cloverfield showed that Hollywood could easily exploit 9/11 anxieties for entertainment value, overruling the need for narratives exploring the frighteningly intangible threat of media saturation," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "Fortunately, there's The Signal, the brilliant independent production from a close-knit gang of Atlanta-based filmmakers released this week. It takes this frequently neglected issue to task with McLuhanean efficiency, but it's also one badass horror film." And the Reeler talks with the group. Updates, 2/22: "A union of three 'transmissions,' each the work of one of the individual filmmakers, The Signal combines Pulp Fiction-style multi-plot storytelling with dystopic satire and enough body rending to satisfy the most discriminating torture porn enthusiasts," writes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "Nevertheless, The Signal sparks with its own original energy even as it revisits and indulges its influences." In the New York Times, Matt Zoller Seitz briefly considers the three parts of The Signal. More from Jim Emerson.
Shorts, 2/20."Finding the original sources for Redacted is a difficult task," write Stéphane Delorme and Jean-Philippe Tessé, blogging an ongoing project for Cahiers du cinéma. "Only approximations come out of our genealogical study: tracking down images to their source is tantamount to a grand fishing party. For every big fish (the full text of the imprecating young punk on YouTube,) we came across multiple schools of fish, of micro-films shot by American soldiers unconsciously aggregating in motifs and sub-genres. In the end, the crossing of this war in images is closer to Jackass than Platoon." "There should be no question that Godard has been to his medium what Joyce, Stravinsky, Eliot and Picasso were to theirs - utterly unique, rule-rewriting colossi after whom human expression would never be quite the same." Michael Atkinson reviews Pierrot le Fou for IFC News: "Of the Godardian 60s, this effervescent, self-mocking, effortlessly iconic masterpiece may be the filmmaker's quintessential work, the ultimate commentary on how life and movies fuck and spawn spectacularly beautiful children." He then segues into Hélas pour Moi, part of that new box set and "a creative nonfiction essay, built from multi-layered tableaux of random incidents and gestures and dramatic dialogues and arguments with God on love, devotion and memory, which to Godard all translate to regard for The Past, and our pitiful disregard for it." Written by Dave Eggers and to be directed by Sam Mendes, This Must Be the Place is "a light-hearted movie about a couple on a road trip around America in search of a new home," according to Francesca Martin. Also in the Guardian, Ronald Bergan: "Quantum of Solace, the title of the new James Bond movie, got me thinking on film titles in general: the good, the bad and the ugly." And: "Is Naked Britain's most under-rated film?" asks Ben Meyers. Harry Knowles passes along word from Spike Jonze: That Where the Wild Things Are clip floating around out there has very, very little to do with what the movie will look like. Related online viewing: Again, the "Flashing Lights" video, but this time with commentary from Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog and Brandon Soderberg at No Trivia. Timothy Sun at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "To view Tokyo Drifter as just an especially rambunctious yakuza riff on the American gangster film is to deny half of its genealogy - the film is as much a western as it is a gangster film." In Newcity Chicago, Ray Pride contemplates the many shifting forms of contemporary glamour. Salon's Stephanie Zacharek chimes in on an ongoing debate: "The tragedy of [Daniel] Day-Lewis's performance in There Will Be Blood is that it defies the naturalism that made him a great actor - and I use the word 'great' unequivocally - in the first place, as if he'd decided that naturalism is boring, that it no longer presents a challenge for him." Meanwhile, in Slate, Jan Swafford reviews the soundtracks for Blood and No Country for Old Men. The Philadelphia Weekly's Sean Burns gets irritated by "the crummy, incredibly annoying Vantage Point." With Indiana Jones returning this summer, Rob Gonsalves at Hollywood Bitchslap looks back at other series that have been revived throughout cinematic history. "The ricochet effect from the Hollywood writers strike might be more far-reaching and long-lasting than first thought," reports Elizabeth Guider for Reuters. One economist estimates that Los Angeles County's out about $2.5 billion. Online browsing tip. The Leonard Schrader Collection of lobby card, as introduced by Peter Biskind in Vanity Fair. Via Movie City News. Online listening tip #1. At Music for Robots, Mark is mightily impressed with Brad Breeck's anthem for the film One Too Many Mornings. Online listening tip #2. For NPR, Mike Pesca talks with DA Pennebaker, Albert Maysles and Robert Drew about their 1960 collaboration, Primary. Online listening tip #3. Stephen Fry launches a series of "Podgrams." Online viewing tip #1. Issa Clubb posts a couple of clips that won't make it into the documentary that'll be included on Criterion's release of The Ice Storm. Online viewing tip #2. Ray Pride's found a 1975 NBC profile of Francis Ford Coppola.
Fests and events, 2/20."In the autumn of 1996, the newly installed Taliban decreed that moving pictures were heretical and had to be destroyed. This was obviously very bad news for Afghan Film, the Kabul-based organisation that both promoted Afghan cinema and housed the Asian republic's entire film and TV archive. One hundred and eighteen of its 120 employees fled; the two who remained, lab technician Khwaja Ahmadshah and a colleague, resolved to risk their lives in defence of cinema." In the Guardian, Erlend Clouston tells their story and previews the Reel Afghanistan festival starting tomorrow in Edinburgh. "Terence Davies is coming to town. For anyone who loves the cinema, this is news of paramount importance - and MGM-level musical magnitude." In anticipation of Closely Watched Films: Terence Davies (through February 27 at the Pacific Film Archive), the San Francisco Bay Guardian's Johnny Ray Huston places a call to the director. In the SF Weekly, Jennifer Maerz presents "he Let's Get Killed guide to getting your Noise Pop rock 'n' roll film fix." February 26 through March 2. From the Film Comment Selects series, running through February 28:
February 19, 2008
Shorts, 2/19."Castro's out the door, so the introductory title for our new DVD of the Day feature is a no-brainer," writes Phil Morehart at Facets Features. "Waiting for Fidel is a documentary classic that unfortunately fell through the cracks. Luckily, Facets' exclusive DVD label picked up the slack a few years back to re-introduce this essential film to the masses." Kimberly Lindbergs's marvelous "Favorite DVD Releases of 2007" list is now complete. "Jude Law, Johnny Depp and Colin Farrell will appear as Heath Ledger's character in [Terry Gilliam's] unfinished film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, the BBC has learned." "For better or worse, [Larry] Clark has created at least two signatures: the raw, unflinching imagery of the Tulsa photographs, and the meandering, observational, but seldom illuminating style of his films." Sean O'Hagan talks with him for the Guardian. For the Independent, Karen Wright talks with Isaac Julien about Derek. Earlier: Brian Darr.
Fests and events, 2/19.At ScreenGrab, Phil Nugent has details on Closely Watched Films: Terence Davies at the Pacific Film Archive (tomorrow through February 27) and Six Films by Sergei Paradjanov at LACMA and (Saturday through February 29). The New York International Children's Film Festival "one of the biggest events of its kind in the world, with tickets selling out weeks before the first film reaches the screen," notes Steve Dollar in the New York Sun. February 29 through March 16. "For today's SXSW Preview, we're taking a look at Present Company, the latest film by Frank V Ross," announces Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "Frank, who appeared in this episode of Butterknife, had two films in last summer's New Talkies program at the IFC Center, and like Quietly on By and Hohokam, Company is a lo-fi character study about the everyday traumas survived by young people far removed from urban hipster culture." The festival runs March 7 through 15. "Evening Class contributing writer Michael Hawley reviews the lineup for this year's San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF). Along with Brian Darr's own anticipations over at Hell on Frisco Bay, local audiences should be primed for choice." March 13 through 23. "The 51st San Francisco International Film Festival (April 24 - May 8) announces a highly anticipated special event of the Festival - Black Francis of the Pixies performs the world premiere of his newly composed original score for the 1920 German expressionist silent film masterpiece The Golem. The program premieres at the historic Castro Theatre on Friday, April 25 at 9:30 pm." From Film Comment Selects, acquarello's take on Grant Gee's Joy Division. For Kamera, Thessa Mooij looks back to Rotterdam. Online listening tip. Orphans: A Film Symposium will take place at NYU from March 26 through 29. Founder and curator Dan Streible is a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.
Interview. Jay Jonroy.Jay Jonroy's David & Layla, currently playing in New York, has been tickling audiences in various US cities since it launched its tour of theaters last July. David D'Arcy introduces his interview with the director: "Jonroy's feature debut is a romantic farce with an American Jewish man and a Kurdish refugee of the Halabja gas attacks of 1988 as its protagonists. The script is based on a true Jewish-Kurdish romance, and the real David and Layla are happily married in Paris. In Jonroy's version, David (David Moscow, who played the child in Big) is a neurotic Jewish guy whose fitness-addict fiancée is predictably more interested in kick-boxing and stretching than in sex. He encounters Layla (Shiva Rose) on the street while filming for a cable show, and the ball gets rolling, with lots of meals and discourses on food and sexual pleasure. It will do wonders for your appetite."
The Duchess of Langeais."Jacques Rivette returns to the rigorous formalism and claustrophobic interiors of La Religeuse [The Nun] to create a refined, bituminous, and cooly smoldering tale of seduction, obsession, and manners in The Duchess of Langeais," writes acquarello. "Like Truffaut's The Story of Adele H, Rohmer's The Marquise of O, and Rivette's own The Nun, this Balzac adaptation is a costume drama that bristles with measured passion," writes Fernando F Croce in Slant. "Masterfully wrought and superbly acted (especially by [Jeanine] Balibar, who excels at Antoinette's increasing hunger for emotional violence), the film is a piercing pas de deux that excoriates romance even as its doomed characters are consumed by it." Updated through 2/22. "Rivette has pared the story down so that there isn't a wasted frame," writes David Edelstein in New York. He "has aged into one of cinema's most ingenious minimalists." "[W]hile it's often hard to stomach the whiplash-inducing pace Rivette sets for the story, it's part of the sly, self-mocking nature of the narrative to mix tragic romance with barbed humor," writes Simon Abrams at Twitch. Earlier: Reviews from Toronto - and Steve Dollar (New York Sun), Bryant Frazer, Phil Nugent (ScreenGrab), Andrew Sarris (New York Observer), Nick Schager and Benjamin Strong (L Magazine). Updates, 2/20: Nathan Lee in the Voice: "'A vast melodic phrase,' Rivette once wrote, 'a continuous arabesque, a single implacable line which leads people ineluctably towards the as yet unknown, embracing in its trajectory a palpitant and definitive universe.' He was writing about Roberto Rossellini, but the words serve as well as any to describe the elusive enchantment of his own mise-en-scène." "For much of the film, I was impressed by Rivette's ability to present characters who were both boldly up-front about their passions and desires, and yet too distant to be empathized with," writes Zachary Wigon in the Tisch Film Review. "However, by the film's end this admiration turned to puzzlement." Updates, 2/21: "The first masterpiece of 2008 - at least by American release date standards - the latest film from master French director Jacques Rivette is a masterful, multilayered, sometimes enigmatic work of dark irony, an assured tragicomedy of manners and more," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "The rhythms are slow, yes, but they have an undeniable, almost perverse pull. This is aesthetic bliss on a dizzyingly high level." "If one of the more popular New Wave directors (Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol, Rohmer - even Nouvelle Vague student [André] Téchiné) had directed The Duchess of Langeais, it might have emphasized Antoinette and Armand's sensual feints," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "But Rivette sticks to the melodrama of manners, as if observing a war of social proprieties. Each rendezvous - or missed meeting - of the would-be lovers becomes a game of one-upsmanship. These people are trapped in conventions that they adhere to more than anybody else. They're tragic 19th-century fools - figures from an unfamiliar age who test a modern audience's patience." "Is it wrong to be more entranced by the floors the actors are dancing over than the dance?" asks the Vadim Rizov at the Reeler. "Duchess isn't all bad, but it runs too short on surprises - once the premise is laid out, there's little to do but wait for the worst." "A once damningly oddball second-tier New Waver, Rivette's continued vitality and lissome touch has made him ripe for rediscovery," writes Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE. "And no director has depended more heavily upon his women; the genius attributed to him is really his chemistry with Juliet Berto, Emmanuelle Beart in her more malleable years, or Bulle Ogier (who appears in Duchess, along with Michel Piccoli, for old time's sake) - what they pull out of him, and he them. Balibar, whose tremulant, doe-like loveliness has never been so well admired, is one of his best, fluttering with concentrated life every moment she's on-screen." Updates, 2/22: "Jacques Rivette's Duchess of Langeais seems to me a nearly impeccable work of art - beautiful, true, profound," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Much is often made of [Rivette's] abiding interest in the theatrical - certainly in evidence here - but this doesn't preclude an interest in life. It deepens it." "The picture is stiff and awkward in places - even Rivette's signature meditative camerawork feels more static, less fluid, than usual," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "But the picture has an unsettling, haunting quality that I haven't been able to shake." "In an intellectual sense, The Duchess of Langeais comes to a devastating place, but the emotion is a little absent," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Like Rivette's camera moves, Duchess is restrained and tasteful. As [Guillaume] Depardieu tells one of his comrades about his fitful love affair, it's 'not a book, but a poem.'" "Rivette eschews the Brechtian, modernist touches a director like Manoel de Oliveira might have brought to Balzac," notes Steve Erickson in Gay City News. "Even his French New Wave compatriot Eric Rohmer's The Romance of Astree and Celadon goes further in updating its source material by including deliberate anachronisms and a hip sexual fluidity.... By offering such a faithful interpretation of an old-fashioned vision of love, The Duchess of Langeais challenges us to ponder whether our own relationships might not be equally tortured." For Mike D'Angelo, writing at ScreenGrab, this is one " superlative, expertly calibrated battle of wills.... Rivette matches the author's emotional precision with one subtly stunning composition after another, buttressed by a handful of short yet heartbreaking lateral pans that move us from master to close-up without the violence of a cut. (It's the cut afterward that draws blood.)"
DVDs, 2/19."More than 30 years after her death, Joan Crawford continues to exert a fascination that has little or nothing to do with her gifts as an actress, a fact that is one working definition of the term 'movie star.'" The New York Times' Dave Kehr reviews the second volume of Warner Home Video's Joan Crawford Collection. More from Dan Callahan in Slant. Dennis Lim talks with Alex Cox about Walker, "one of the boldest and strangest political films ever made for an American studio." More from Jeremiah Kipp in Slant. Also in the Los Angeles Times, Sheri Linden on Kurt Cobain About a Son, "a work of startling intimacy." Mike Everleth on Codex Atanicus: "[Carlos] Atanes proudly follows in the footsteps of fellow Spanish surrealist filmmakers Luis Buñuel and Fernando Arrabal and has crafted a trio of bizarrely demented short films that eschew comprehensible plots, character motivation and just plain logic. They're also all a hell of a lot of fun." DVD roundups: Sean Axmaker (MSN) and DVD Talk.
February 18, 2008
Shorts, 2/18.Pedro Almodóvar "is to film the tender autobiography of a communist poet who spent 23 years in prison during the darkest years of the Franco dictatorship," writes Elizabeth Nash in the Independent. "Marcos Ana, now 88, was 19 when General Francisco Franco had him thrown in jail in 1939.... Yesterday, Ana told El Pais newspaper that he and the flamboyant filmmaker, 58, had formed a close friendship 'like in the finale of Casablanca.'" Related: For those who read Spanish, Almodóvar's piece accompanying the El Pais interview. "Help a Good Filmmaker Do Some Good." Shawn Levy explains. "For those of us who have followed Julian Schnabel's larger-than-life career as an artist for nearly thirty years, watching his new movie The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a doubly extraordinary experience," writes Sanford Schwartz in the New York Review of Books. "It is a film that presents a nightmarish and almost unbearable medical case history that has been handled with humor, a lyrical deftness, and a remarkable absence of sentimentality; and if you have more than a passing sense of Schnabel the person and his work as a painter, your mind is running at the same time on a parallel track, one full of amazement and almost disbelief that, with no apparent training in theater arts or the directing of actors, or even a feeling for photography, he has turned himself into a sometime moviemaker - this is his third film - of such drive and sensitivity." David Denby has a longish piece on No Country for Old Men: "Watching the movie, you feel a little like that gas-station owner - impressed, even intimidated. That's a strange way to feel at a Coen brothers movie. For almost 25 years, the Coens have been rude and funny, inventive and tiresome - in general, so prankish and unsettled that they often seemed in danger of undermining what was best in their movies. Have they gone straight at last?"
Fests and events, 2/18.Karina Longworth launches a series of entries at the SpoutBlog previewing films lined up for SXSW by presenting a set of questions to Yeast director Mary Bronstein. As part of the Brooklyn Independent Cinema Series, Michael Tully presents - tonight! - "The Best Short Films of the 21st Century." Via Brandon Harris. "Roman Polanski will be feted by the Turin Film Festival, the indie event headed by Italo helmer Nanni Moretti, who is using his clout to boost its profile," reports Nick Vivarelli for Variety. The two directors met on the set of Quiet Chaos, the feature recently screened in Competition at the Berlinale starring Moretti and featuring a delightful cameo by Polanski. Michael Jones posts the "Top five things about the 3rd annual Redcat International Children's Film Festival in downtown LA, running now through March 2." At the SF Indiefest, Michael Guillén gets a kick out of Stuart Gordon's Stuck. "Passion & Power, the Technology of Orgasm, opening this week at the Roxie New College Film Center and the Smith Rafael, gives Rachel Maines's entertaining academic book on the subject a new life onscreen," writes SF360's Susan Gerhard, who talks with filmmakers Wendy Slick and Emiko Omori "about the passions behind their project, as well as using jellyfish as a metaphor and the unexpected audiences taking a shine to the film." Update: At Hell on Frisco Bay, Adam Hartzell highly recommends Passion, one of his favorite films of 2007. Simon Abrams's latest takes from the Film Comment Selects series at Twitch: Olivier Assayas's Boarding Gate and Alex Cox's Searchers 2.0. More from Brandon Harris: "A lower key, appealingly absurd riff on the same erotic, globalization era techno thriller he first brought us in 2002's explosive Demonlover, meta-auteur Olivier Assayas' newest fun house of pomo woman in trouble mess Boarding Gate is nothing if not art cinema made fun and sleazy. Fortunately it's so much more." Meanwhile, acquarello contrasts Nanouk Leopold's Wolfsbergen with Jaime Rosales's Solitary Fragments. Vince Keenan carries on filing dispatches from Noir City Northwest. Online listening tip. Milos Forman is on the Leonard Lopate Show, talking about the retrospective at MoMA. Online viewing tip. "In the past decade, more websites have brought attention to young filmmakers by mounting online short film festivals, and the currently-in-progress Now Film Festival is no exception," writes Paul Clark at ScreenGrab. "There have been a number of worthy films to date, but the best of the lot thusfar is this week's featured short, Lucas McNelly's gravida." Online viewing tips. Seemingly hours worth of Trailers for films screening at SXSW.
Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1922 - 2008.Alain Robbe-Grillet, the French writer who pioneered the so-called "new novel" genre in the 1950s, died Monday at the age of 85, the Academie Francaise (French Academy) said.... In a series of essays published in 1963 Robbe-Grillet developed the theory of the "new novel" which sought to overturn conventional ideas on fiction-writing.... He was also associated with the "New Wave" of French filmmaking, writing the screenplay for Alain Resnais's L'Annee Derniere a Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad) and making several films under his own name. The AFP. Updated through 2/25. See also: Books and Writers, Mark Hamstra (Scriptorium), Mike at Esotika Erotica Psychotica on Slow Slidings of Pleasure, Thomas McGonigle (interview for Bookforum, 2003) and Wikipedia. Online listening tip. Robbe-Grillet reads "Jealousy" (1957) at Ubuweb. Updates: "Were Robbe-Grillet's convoluted narrative strategies merely subterfuges to excuse what the literary critic Roger Sale called (when writing of another controversial novelist, John Hawkes) a 'vile imagination'?" A must-read entry, top to bottom, from Glenn Kenny. Kimberly Lindbergs recommends Robert Monell's entry on Robbe-Grillet's films and a bibliography. Mike at EEP: "His work has forced me to think about narrative in a way that I undoubtedly would have taken a longer time to come across; and his visual-textual collaborations have been particularly pertinent to the development of my own work." Updates, 2/19: "It was Robbe-Grillet's example that taught me, more than either Burroughs or Ballard, that a novel can be a psychological playground where the narrative possibilities are limited only by the author's own imagination and capacity for candor," writes Tim Lucas. "The emphasis placed by Robbe-Grillet's films on nudity, sadomasochism, fetishism, ghosts and vampires have led them to be included in written overviews of Eurohorror such as Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs' Immoral Tales - an identification that the filmmaker resented and resisted.... He also insisted throughout his career that there was no psychological content in his objectivist fiction, stories that were allegedly about places and things rather than people. But, as his fan Vladimir Nabokov happily brayed in response, 'Robbe-Grillet's claims are preposterous!' - their entire substance is psychological, in the best possible tradition." In his autobiographical trilogy, "he restates, more moderately this time, his youthful grievances about realism in fiction and the cinema, but concedes that the imagination has its virtues, that it is not going to wither away in favor of science," writes John Sturrock in the Independent. "Indeed he now claimed that fantasising in novels or in films is good, if it stops us acting out our fantasies in life itself." "The turn to autobiographical writing was a polemical gesture aimed at keeping the spirit of controversy and invention alive, and in Robbe-Grillet's hands this shows as a mix of frank confession, half truths, fiction and overt fantasy," adds the London Times. "[A]s Roland Barthes perceived so early on in the author's career, Robbe-Grillet is a visual novelist for whom perception is intrinsically fascinating but fraught with uncertainty," observes the Telegraph. "In the course of his career he collaborated with numerous artists and photographers, amongst them Magritte, Rauschenberg, David Hamilton and Irina Ionesco. His films contained the same themes as his books: camp eroticism, violence and self-deluding quests through labyrinthine cityscapes. His most popular film was The Trans-Europ-Express (1966), a pseudo-Hitchcockian whodunnit comedy that parodied detective films and international thrillers." These last three are all via the Literary Saloon, which is also collecting remembrances in French and German. Updates, 2/20:"When I was in college, Robbe-Grillet's early novels and the essays that comprised For a New Novel were, for all their severity, extremely seductive texts." And Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay recalls meeting him, too. Mubarak Ali posts an excerpt from The Erotic Dream Machine: Interviews With Alain Robbe-Grillet on His Films and comments on Eden and After, "a film that contains some of the most striking images of all within this catalogue of seductive, haunting, mind-boggling imagery constituting his cinema." Update, 2/23: "Whatever the qualities of McEwan, the Smiths Zadie and Ali, and any other contemporary English-language writer one cares to cite, can it honestly be said of them that they have reinvented the novel?" asks Gilbert Adair in the Guardian. "Even when, in the decades following the nouveau roman, novels of formal experimentation have been published - Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveller (a novel about what it actually means to read a novel), Milorad Pavic's Dictionary of the Khazars (a novel in the form of a dictionary), Walter Abish's Alphabetical Africa (a novel in alphabetical order), John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman (a novel which came complete with its own critical apparatus) - they have tended to be received, generally well, as eccentric one-offs with no significant bearing on the future of the genre. On the whole, the British literary establishment is indifferent, when not downright hostile, to authentically innovatory fiction." Update, 2/25: "His attempts to wrest fiction free from 19th-century constraints like plot and character, and to wrest objects free from imposed meaning, were never entirely popular with readers but had a decisive influence on critical theory and on the art of the novel, as well as on film, art and even psychology," writes Rachel Donadio in the New York Times.
Oscars countdown."There's a reason why this idea that the Oscars have become a snobbed-up, limousine-liberal affair, out of touch with ordinary Americans, never goes away," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "It has a grain of truth, however teensy and elusive, at its core." "We all know that the Oscars are a dirty not-so-little pleasure," nudges David Carr. "We pretend to watch them ironically, but they really are beyond the reach of irony." Updated through 2/24. "This year, apart from some suspicious choices in the Best Song and Foreign Language categories, the nominees are sound, and the length of the writers' strike mercifully forced party planners to ratchet down their sickening displays of gluttony and self-love," writes Gary Dretzka at Movie City News. "Even so, by successfully turning December into the only month that matters, the studios have limited exposure to the worthy finalists to such a degree, only a small percentage of the television audience will have seen the movies in contention." "With two movies - Away From Her and The Savages - dealing with Alzheimer's and dementia, respectively, up for Oscars on Sunday, Alzheimer's experts hope emcee Jon Stewart and the celebrity presenters and winners will avoid any humor about the disease," reports Robert W Welkos. Also in the Los Angeles Times: Rachel Abramowitz profiles Tom Wilkinson. "When Hollywood needs Western desolation, it comes to Marfa." Michael Graczyk visits the town that served as a location for No Country for Old Men and There will Be Blood. Via MCN. Erik Davis launches Oscars Week at Cinematical. Glenn Kenny and Arion Berger begin a week-long dialogue at Premiere, discussing who should win for what and who will win: "Here's how it's gonna work - every day between now and Friday, Arion and I are going to square off on the major categories - Supporting, Screenplay, Acting, Director, Picture." More ongoing Oscar predictions: Film Threat; GH Lewmer and Paul Matwychuk; Craig Phillips; and Slant. Want to try it yourself? "Call it, friendo," dares Yair Raveh. Meanwhile, the Film Experience has issued a modest call for help. "I get a kick from guild awards shows, particularly the art directors, because they not only celebrate the current year's best - No Country for Old Men took the contemporary prize, There will Be Blood the period, and The Golden Compass the fantasy - but they look to the past to honor the pioneers who went before." Variety's Anne Thompson reports on a fun evening out and points to the winners of the Cinema Audio Society's awards as well. Among the winners of the American Cinema Editors' Eddies: "In the film categories, Christopher Rouse won for his work on The Bourne Ultimatum in the dramatic category, Chris Lebenzon won in the comedic category for Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, while Geoffrey Richman, Chris Seward and Dan Swietlik won for Sicko in the documentary category," reports indieWIRE's Peter Knegt. Updates: "Do the Oscars really matter?" Not a new question, of course, but this time it's being put forward by Richard T Jameson, who takes a long historical look at the Academy's hits and misses at MSN Movies. Richard Corliss looks back ten years and picks the nominees who should've won. Spout and the Reeler are throwing an Oscar party - with Oscar cookies! And I'll have another reminder on this one in a few days, but: GreenCine will be live-blogging the night, and of course, you're invited. Updates, 2/19: "Salon writers and special guests weigh in on their favorite performances and movies of the year - and the ones they couldn't stand." "Every year, the Academy tries to stop Oscar films from leaking online. And every year, they leak all the same. I've been tracking Oscar piracy since 2004, but I've decided to up the ante, releasing all the underlying data and extending it to 2003." Andy Baio's got charts, spreadsheets, the works. In Vanity Fair, Peter Biskind looks back to the spring of 1979: "As Bruce Gilbert, associate producer of Coming Home, puts it, 'The war may have been over, but the war over the interpretation of the war was just beginning.' Both movies vacuumed up Oscar nominations - The Deer Hunter nine, Coming Home eight - setting the stage for the war to be refought at, of all places, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in Los Angeles. It was a battle that would echo the real one in its bitterness." "Who Will Drink Whose Milkshake?" David Edelstein and Lynda Obst talk Oscars from now through Friday. Observations on the Oscar race worth following: First, I haven't mentioned Carpetbagger David Carr in general yet, and I certainly should've; second, Little Gold Men, "VF's Daily Guide to Oscar Season," with the VF standing for Vanity Fair. Scott Kirsner lists "Five Oscar Wins That Shaped the Movies." Updates, 2/20: The New York Observer's all excited. Blogging at Filmmaker's site, Nick Dawson argues against the prevailing winds of condemnation blowing around the selection panel nominating films for the Best Foreign Language category: "Persepolis, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and The Orphanage were denied a shot at the Oscar, yet by that stage all three were already internationally acclaimed movies with US distribution deals.... [T]his year Oscar has all but guaranteed us the new films from Nikita Mikhalkov, Andrzej Wajda and Sergei Bodrov - three undeniably great directors - in addition." In the New York Times, Bill Carter talks with an almost eerily relaxed Jon Stewart about having just a bit over a week to prepare to host "the Super Bowl of entertainment shows." More predictions: Erik Childress (Hollywood Bitchslap), Dennis Cozzalio and Bill Gibron (PopMatters). A list from Stephen Salto at IFC News: "Fake Names, Real Oscars: Five Nominees Who Didn't Really Exist." Christian Hamaker for Crosswalk: "Humans are 'by nature objects of wrath' and 'dead in transgressions' (Eph. 2:3, 5) 'There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins,' says the author of Ecclesiastes (7:20).... This year's Oscar nominees show this biblical condition in the extreme." More on Oscar's shorts: Kim Adelman (indieWIRE) and Andrew O'Hehir (Salon). Updates, 2/21: "Every year as we move toward the cusp of Oscar night, a couple of Vue film critics sit down to hash out their responses to the Academy's choices and, more importantly, acknowledge the great work that didn't get recognized in the past year." And this year it's Josef Braun and Brian Wilson. Via MCN: "Scott's Oscar Almanac," a wall chart or something - if your printer can handle it. Online viewing tip. MTV puts Josh Horowitz in an Oscar montage that, as Anne Thompson puts it, is "pretty funny." "George Clooney swears he has never lost an Oscar pool." Check out his picks and the pretty amusing quips that introduce them at Time. Joe Leydon's got a "mild case of Oscar fever" - enough to prompt him to make his predictions. More predictions? Sure: Phil Nugent at ScreenGrab. Updates, 2/22: More predictions: Andrew Bemis; David Carr; the Guardian critics (PDF); Peter Knegt (indieWIRE); and Jeffrey Wells. At InContention, Kristopher Tapley lists the "Top 10 Shots of 2007." Via Anne Thompson. Online listening tip. John Lichman and Vadim Rizov and ST VanAirsdale talk Oscars at the House Next Door. Slate's got something going on with Kim Masters, Troy Patterson and Dana Stevens that's sort of like the "Movie Club," only it's all about the Oscars. The New Republic's Chris Orr explains his predictions. Chicagoist's Rob Christopher's got predictions and a recipe for Pink Panther Punch. The Chicago Reader's critics drop their ballots. Nathaniel R makes his final predictions. Updates, 2/23: "I'm only slightly ashamed to admit that I found myself hoping that the strike would shut the Academy Awards down; that for once, in a year of such cinematic bounty and variety, appreciation for the best movies could be liberated from the pomp and tedium of Hollywood spectacle," writes AO Scott. "It's not that I'm against the spectacle as such.... The Oscars themselves may be harmless fun, but the idea that they matter is as dangerous as it is ridiculous." "As juicy a target as the Oscars are - the bacchanal is like the large-chested blonde in the horror movie who always gets mauled first - they continue to occupy an important and irreplaceable role in our culture," counters David Carr. And you can listen to these two New York Times writers hash it out, too, via an MP3 downloadable from both pages. Via Movie City News. Robert Koehler at filmjourney.org: "Garbage In Garbage Out, or Why the Foreign Oscars Need to be Blown Up." "[T]he docu-Oscar nominees of the last two years tell us something about how heartily sick of George W Bush and his brilliant geo-strategic adventures even the constitutionally controversy-averse human beings of the movie industry have become," writes Andrew O'Hehir. Also in Salon, Stephanie Zacharek and Matt Singer discuss the cinematography nominees - as well as who should have been nominated. More on the nominated docs from Tom Roston at the POV Blog. Craig Phillips rates the nominated screenplays. The Atlantic Monthly points to a piece Raymond Chandler wrote for the magazine in 1948: "Oscar Night in Hollywood." The Oregonian's Shawn Levy states his "Picks and Preferences." Gabriel Shanks lays out his will and should wins, too. More from Mike at Goatdog. "Each art form has its good and its bad years. But whoever collects those cherished golden statuettes, we do seem to be in the midst of a new golden age for movies," argues the Independent. Also: Andrew Gumbel on marvelous Marfa and Hermione Eyre on the exhilarating insanity of Oscar Night. Online scrolling tip. Movie Poster Addict has "a compilation of the posters for all of the best picture winners so far." Via Coudal Partners. Updates, 2/24: The Steak Knives: The Flak Film Also-Ran Awards. In the Los Angeles Times:
Brooklyn Rail. Feb 08."What aberration allows bad artists to make terrific films?" asks John Yau in the latest issue of the Brooklyn Rail. "Why is it that the clichés that make for turgid art become acceptable and engaging when they are translated into celluloid? I am thinking of Julian Schnabel and Jean Cocteau, who, besides being self-aggrandizing artists who have made interesting films (all of Schnabel's films focus on a male hero who must overcome external and internal obstacles but ends up dying young narratives that seem of a piece with his histrionic painting style), also share a misguided obsession with Pablo Picasso." As for Schnabel's latest exhibition, Navigation Drawings, "Paint on canvas and drawing on paper, not to mention conceptual rigor and curiosity, are not among this artist's strong suits. He is good at other things, but not the basics." Josh Morgenthau on Chuck Close: "Distilling her film from over 100 hours of raw footage, [Marion] Cajori builds a powerful emotional and intellectual key with which we can begin reading the hieroglyphics of [Chuck] Close's paintings." Williams Cole talks with Alex Gibney about Taxi to the Dark Side. Jesi Khadivi on The Yacoubian Building: "At first glance, the film is a morality play with high dramatic flourishes. It's shot like television and has the narrative engine of a soap opera. In spite of, or perhaps because of these traits, the film is surprisingly compelling." "Juno is another in a long line of pandering, derivative, indecisive Hollywood films that parade themselves under the guise of indie-cred," argues John Oursler. "In its first 90 seconds Teeth makes every point Juno labors over for its entire 90 minutes," writes Sarahjane Blum:
February 17, 2008
NCTATNY. Sally Potter."Accomplished in dance and choreography, a composer and singer, and most recently a director for the English National Opera, [Sally] Potter has managed to combine multiple practices and disciplines into her filmmaking, creating a handful of nonetheless dissident works that consistently question ideas and images that are de facto in mainstream cinema." Jenny Jediny introduces "The Lyricism of Sally Potter," a special feature at Not Coming to a Theater Near You that includes her own pieces on Thriller, The Gold Diggers and Orlando; Rumsey Taylor on The Tango Lesson; and Beth Gilligan on Yes.
Interview. Cao Hamburger.While some celebrate and others decry the Golden Bear that's just been delivered to José Padilha's Elite Squad, another Brazilian film from the Berlinale Competition lineup last year is currently on screens in New York and Los Angeles: The Year My Parents Went on Vacation. As we saw just the other day, it's garnering quite nice reviews, too. At the main site, Francine Taylor talks with director Cao Hamburger about working with kids and getting the look and sound of 70s-era Brazil just right.
Wrapping Berlinale 08.First, once again, the Forum has selected seven films for repeat screenings over the next two weeks. Second, more entries on individual films are on the way, but in the meantime, all awards-related news and commentary will be noted here, while this entry will serve as a catch-all for overviews, cris de coeur, notes, manifestos and so on, to be updated throughout the week. Updated through 2/22. In earlier entries, I've already noted two overviews, but they're worth mentioning again: Sight & Sound editor Nick James's for the Observer and Dennis Lim's for the New York Times. "[O]ne of the things that Berlinale did particularly well in this, its 58th year, was keeping one eye cocked firmly on the cinema of bygone years while pushing headlong into the future," writes Chris Barsanti in an overview for Filmcritic.com that includes takes on Dusan Makavejev's "1971 neo-Marxist sex satire" WR: Mysteries of the Organism and Kent Mackenzie's "nearly-forgotten 1961 film," The Exiles as well as Isabel Coixet's Elegy, Majid Majidi's The Song of Sparrows, "a treat in every sense of the word," Benjamin Gilmour's debut feature Son of a Lion, Laetitia Masson's Coupable, which "takes a snappy premise and some sharp imagery and seems determined to waste it," Natalie Assouline's Shadida: Brides of Allah, "a rough-hewn video documentary shot inside an Israeli prison holding Palestinian women convicted of assisting or participating in suicide bombings," Eddy Moretti and Suroosh Alvi's Heavy Metal in Baghdad, Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss's Full Battle Rattle, Juan Manuel Sepúlveda's The Infinite Border and Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg. "Overall, this particular critic was rather disappointed and underwhelmed by the 58th Berlinale's film offering," writes Maxine Harfield, who offers her views on the Competition lineup at cinemattraction.
Shorts, 2/17.Dennis Lim has met Jacques Rivette for the New York Times and the resulting piece interweaves need-to-know background on the French New Wave icon as a critic, filmmaker and cinephile with Rivette's comments on the contemporary scene and Jeanne Balibar's fond remembrances of the making of The Duchess of Langeais. As it happens, Dennis Lim also has a piece in the Los Angeles Times today, this one on Jean-Luc Godard, who "was not just a central figure of the French New Wave, he was arguably the definitive filmmaker of the 1960s." All praise due to Criterion's release of Pierrot le fou is given, and then: "Even more essential, though, is Lionsgate's new Godard box, which assembles four of his underappreciated films from the 80s and 90s." And now glance over to the Observer, where Sight & Sound editor Nick James wraps his overview of this year's Berlinale with this: "It used to be that all the world wanted to make American indie cinema; now, many want to make New Wave French cinema. Neither seems a forward-looking option." "The film first impinged on the world at large in February 1960 when foreign journalists reported back to their readers, listeners and viewers on the controversial reception in Italy, where it divided audiences, critics and clerics, and led to Fellini being both spat on and cheered at the Milan premiere." Following Philip French's assessment of La Dolce Vita are a list of "10 facts" about the film and Mark Kermode's list of five films bearing the marks of its impact. Also in the Observer:
February 16, 2008
Shorts, 2/16."Artist William E Jones has made films about a pornstar (Finished), the Southern Californian Latino fans of Morrissey (Is It Really So Strange?) and the unlikely documentary and/or narrative moments within sex films (v.o.), among other hypnotic and subtle works," writes Bruce Hainley, introducing his interview for the new issue of Bidoun. "Through vivid photography, film, and video, as well as considered and considerable prose (see his website: www.williamejones.com), Jones brings to attention modes of being and behaving almost on the brink of obsolescence." In There Will Be Blood, we watch Daniel Plainview "for the myth-history of capitalism, the invisible force whose logic 'speaks' his every action, subverts or destroys his every companion, dominates his environment by draining it dry ([Paul Thomas] Anderson claims he was thinking of Dracula when writing the screenplay), destroys a community by turning it into a city, and eventually leaves his body a withered husk, to flake and die like a leaf in wintertime," writes traxus4420 at culturemonkey. "'I don't like to explain myself.' The film's trappings often resemble the Gothic, the genre of secret histories, but it's all appearance; there is nothing to explain." "[R]eading Oil! in 2008, one is constantly aware of how clever Anderson has been in mining the screenplay from the dense, deep rock of [Upton] Sinclair's novel," writes Mark Lawson. At first glance, you may think you've seen a dozen such pieces comparing the novel with Blood, but this one is primarily a solid backgrounder on Sinclair. Also in the Guardian: Ryan Gilbey meets Chloë Sevigny and Damon Wise interviews Michel Gondry. Andrew Gumbel talks with Selma Blair for the Independent. Girish passes along a query from Christian Keathley, who's "interested in the often uncanny ways in which one film's diegesis trespasses onto another's. Here's an example..." Go read it; it is uncanny. For the Los Angeles Times, Richard Schickel reviews Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood, a "deeply researched, well-written book..., portraying the tidal wave of change breaking dramatically against the sea wall of Hollywood tradition." In the New York Times:
Fests and events, 2/16."Richard Fleischer remains among the least known and least honored of major American filmmakers, in part because of the sheer volume of his output," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. Fleischer "still has not been given a major New York retrospective, but three of his best films will be turning up in the next couple of weeks. The annual Film Comment Selects series at Lincoln Center will include his 10 Rillington Place (1971) and scandalous Mandingo (1975) this week, while Violent Saturday, his 1955 color and CinemaScope film noir, will begin a weeklong run at Film Forum on Feb 29." "I haven't crunched all the numbers on this, but my sense is that the SF International Asian-American Film Festival is currently the best in town at consistently showcasing new work by directors whose films have been programmed there before." Brian Darr explains why this is a good thing indeed. March 13 through 23. "Night one of Noir City was a tribute to a man not credited on either movie on the bill, the blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo." A report from Vince Keenan. For Cinematical, Scott Weinberg talks with "SXSW Master Chief Matt Dentler." Humboldt County will be screening at SXSW, which runs March 7 through 15. For Hollywood Bitchslap, William Goss talks with directors Darren Grodsky and Danny Jacobs. Catherine Breillat's The Last Mistress will open the 51st San Francisco International Film Festival, reports indieWIRE's Brian Brooks. April 24 through May 8.
Berlinale. Bears and other awards.A few of the International Jury's awards wrapping up this year's Berlinale - there's just one more day of mostly repeat screenings tomorrow - will not sit well with many of the people I spoke with or the critics I read throughout the festival, starting with the Golden Bear for José Padilha's Tropa de elite (Elite Squad). Dennis Lim, for example, writing in the New York Times this morning, calls the film "a violent, cop's-eye view of Rio's favela drug wars that registers more as glorification of the fighting than as critique." I don't entirely agree, but again, that's an opinion I've heard and read often this past week. Updated through 2/20. A Silver Bear, the Jury Grand Prix, goes to Errol Morris's Standard Operating Procedure, whose leading proponent is probably David D'Arcy. His four-star review in Screen Daily led to a lively discussion on a cold Thursday afternoon. We heard each other out, though I'm not sure either of us budged much from our original positions. The Silver Bear for Best Director goes to Paul Thomas Anderson, and few will argue with that decision. There Will Be Blood picks up another Silver Bear, too, going specifically to Jonny Greenwood for Outstanding Artistic Contribution (Music), and again: agreed all around, I'm sure. Those of you who read German may be interested to know that the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is running director Tom Tykwer's interview with PTA today. Silver Bear for Best Actress goes to Sally Hawkins for her performance in Mike Leigh's popular favorite, Happy-Go-Lucky. Many have pegged Happy as a frontrunner for the Golden Bear. Considering the contribution Leigh's actors make to his films, and considering, too, how much this one rests on Hawkins's shoulders, this runner-up award is running just about as up close to the top prize as Happy could get without actually taking it. Silver Bear for Best Actor goes to Reza Najie for his performance in Majid Majidi's Avaze Gonjeshk-ha (The Song of Sparrows), a decision I personally find about as bizarre as awarding the Silver Bear for Best Script to Wang Xiaoshuai for Zuo You (In Love We Trust). The Alfred Bauer Prize goes to Fernando Eimbcke for Lake Tahoe, and I'm very, very happy to see him not fly home empty-handed. Meanwhile, "Eran Riklis's Lemon Tree has won the 10th Panorama Audience Award," announces Variety, which points to a full list of awards from a slew of independent juries. Update, 2/17: Filmbrain is so infuriated by the Golden Bear decision, he's entertaining the notion of foul play: "Easily the worst film in competition, this ultra right-wing (bordering on fascist) Police actioner set in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro had nothing going for it, except for its pushy American distributor, Harvey Weinstein.... Did Harvey in any way influence this win? We'll never know for sure, but I'm finding it increasingly difficult to believe this was the result of an honest vote." Seems kind of out-there to me. On the other hand, in a world in which Barack Obama can score zero votes in Harlem, maybe I'm simply naive. Update, 2/18: "For the past two weeks, I had the honor of serving as the jury president for the Berlin International Film Festival's Teddy Awards, the oldest (of two) major mainstream world film festival LGBT film awards." Basil files a report for NewFest. "Brazilian director Jose Padilha, winner of the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival for his movie Elite Squad, hit back at critics on Monday with all the force of its antihero, police captain Nascimento," reports Pedro Fonseca for Reuters. Padilha: "To call the film fascist is to ignore what the word fascist means." Updates, 2/20: Teddy Awards juror Vicci Ho files a diary entry for Variety's Circuit. Reeler ST VanAirsdale talks with both Fernando Meirelles and Paolo Morelli about Elite Squad. Interesting stuff. Meirelles: "[E]ven in Brazil, critics called it fascist. It isn't." Morelli: Padilha's "not condemning the torture. We know it's a bad thing, but the film needs to condemn it. That's how the problem started."
Berlinale Dispatch. 4. Katyn.David D'Arcy on Wajda's latest, a major event in Poland and a nominee for the Foreign Language Oscar, screening Out of Competition at the Berlinale. A few comments and notes follow. It is tempting to see an epic like Katyn by Andrzej Wajda, which played in the Competition at the Berlinale, as a lot of fuss over a matter that was settled quite some time ago. In 1940, after the Soviet army invaded eastern Poland in late September of 1939 as part of its Non-Aggression Pact with the Nazis, huge numbers of Polish soldiers were taken prisoner and shipped East. After the rank and file were sent home, the officers (most from the elite of the Polish intelligentsia) remained confined, and in 1940 some 20 thousand of them were executed under orders from Stalin in the forests of Katyn. Most were shot with a single bullet to the back of the head. Their bodies were bulldozed into mass graves. When the Nazis broke their pact with the Russians and headed East, they came upon the graves and announced the truth to the world, complete with visits from the International Red Cross and services for the dead performed by the Catholic clergy. It was easy for the Russians to undermine what the Germans were saying, in spite of the overwhelming evidence. Official word from Moscow was that the Germans had exterminated the Polish officer corps, just as the Germans had exterminated Polish partisans and thousands of Polish villages, not to speak of industrial killings of millions of Jews from all over Europe in death factories located in Poland. Why take the word of Nazi mass murderers on mass murder? The Russians and the Polish postwar government repeated those lies until the end of the communist period (when they spoke of Katyn at all), although by the 1980s you would hear about it all the time in Polish conversations. No one believed that the Germans had slaughtered the officers, but no one believed much of what the governments in either Warsaw or Moscow were saying. In the 1990s, when Russian documents ordering the execution of the officers were released, the facts were confirmed once again. Boris Yeltsin even issued an apology. And now Andrzej Wajda, whose father was one of the officers killed, has made a convoluted and cumbersome film that dramatizes the story of the killing of the officers and the communist regime's systematic efforts to cover up that killing.
"First work in five years by Andrzej Wajda, Polish cinema's leading eminence grise, doesn't feel like the personal project one might expect from the son of one slain at Katyn," writes Leslie Felperin in Variety. "Instead, this plays almost like an academic master class, meticulously exploring the event's ramifications but only catching full fire at the end." "This is a very Polish story with deep resonance for Wajda's countrymen but it may have trouble attracting a wide audience elsewhere," suggests Kirk Honeycutt in the Hollywood Reporter. Film Zeit rounds up reviews and related stories in the German press. Earlier: Excellent piece by Anne Applebaum in the New York Review of Books.
February 15, 2008
Berlinale, 2/15."Iranian-themed pics won big at the Berlinale's Teddy Queer Film Awards, on Thursday, with two documentaries taking a number of prizes," reports Ed Meza for Variety. And here's the full list of winners as a PDF. And the Berlinale announces the winners of the Crystal Bears, awards in the Generation14plus program. Shane Danielsen, former Artistic Director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, lets the Berlinale have it full blast, both barrels blazing, at indieWIRE. Madonna and the Stones? Fine. "Every film festival, after all, must court the attentions of the press, if only in order to please their sponsors. But when the rest of your program fails to measure up - and this year's most definitely has not - such plays at populism stop looking like the gilding on the frame, and begin instead to resemble the polish on a turd." I was talking with friends about all this today - this year, the core group, give or take, has consisted of Andrew Grant, Jürgen Fauth, Daniel Kasman and myself - and it does seem to me that one possible measure that might help would be to "promote" Dieter Kosslick to General Director or some such, someone who calls the long shots as he's done so well for eight years now (launching the Talent Campus, for example), while creating a new curator-type position for the Competition. In other words, an Artistic Director. "Berlin occupies a singular place on the festival circuit," writes Sheila Johnston in the Telegraph. "Its competition is often - as this year - desperately unexciting, a mix of stately art films and second-rate American dramas.... Yet the sidebar sections are a wild and teeming morass of out-there stuff for which neither Cannes nor Venice would deign to find space." "[A]lthough the red carpet was trod by quite a few stars this year, cinematic gems were rare," writes Naomi Buck. Also at Spiegel Online, Olaf Sundermeyer reports on the remarkable reception Andrzej Wajda's not so remarkable Katyn received in Poland. Related: For Reuters, Mike Collett-White reports that "Wajda said on Friday he had made enough films about war and his native Poland's past and would turn to modern themes instead." "My favorite competition film is Night and Day, by the great South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo," announces Patrick Z McGavin at Stop Smiling. Also, Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky "moves so nimbly it might mistakenly be thought of as light, even disposable; it has depth and weight." And: "Despite the artistry and intelligence behind it, Standard Operating Procedure feels strangely bloodless and unconvincing." "[Tilda] Swinton's performance as the heroine of Erick Zonca's film Julia is an arthouse tour de force," argues James Christopher in the London Times. "The official competition films for the Golden Bear have yet to produce a likely champion, but Swinton is an exceptionally good bet for the Best Actress award." Writing in the Evening Standard, Derek Malcolm agrees with Gavin on Happy: "If the film may seem at first to be about nothing very much, you don't have to look far into it to see that it covers a great deal of ground about how ordinary people live their lives." He also has quick notes on Julia and Elegy. Fabrizio Maltese has more terrific shots at european-films.net.
Shorts, 2/15."For five centuries Leonardo Da Vinci's The Last Supper has stood majestically still on the walls of a Milanese friary, the only disturbance the slow flaking of its priceless paint," writes Robert Booth.
Fests and events, 2/15.Marcy Dermansky and Jürgen Fauth recommend Beyond the Frame: Dialogues with World Filmmakers and note that author Liza Béar "will be making two upcoming New York appearances: February 20, 7 PM at McNally Robinson with Betsy Sussler, editor-in-chief of Bomb; March 18, 8:30 PM at Sugartown and Spoonbill." "The female protagonists of the 36 features, short films and documentaries in the Institut Français's festival of films by and about women in the Middle East, Women's Cinema from Tangiers to Tehran, are as dissimilar as the ten countries in which they were filmed," writes Rachel Aspden in the New Statesman. "Some are the struggling inhabitants of back-country villages or urban slums; others wouldn't look out of place on MTV. The films are equally various, ranging from the experimental to big box office, from kitschy melodrama to bitter protest." February 22 through 28. Shawn Levy has another spurt of reviews from the Portland International Film Festival. Through February 23. "It's hard to make generalizations about a program as broad as the 2008 lineup of Film Comment Selects, which ranges from zombie movies to experimental documentaries," writes Steve Erickson. "[T]he series is far more open to provocation and potential controversy than its big brother, the New York Film Festival." Related: Steve Dollar in the New York Sun on The Duchess of Langeais and Inside. More on Duchess from Nick Schager: "[T]he lush, expressive cinematographic design of Rivette's latest is not enough to energize his torpid early 19th-century tale of frustrated romance." Back in Gay City News: Ioannis Mookas on MoMA's Documentary Fortnight. For In These Times, Pat Aufderheide spotlights some of the best documentaries to screen at Sundance this year.
The Year My Parents Went on Vacation.The Year My Parents Went on Vacation takes place in Brazil in 1970, when the country was ruled by a military dictatorship and its national soccer team, led by Pelé, was making its way toward the finals of the World Cup," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Accordingly, sports and politics both play parts in this film, directed by Cao Hamburger, which filters the tumult and trauma of Brazilian history through the perceptions of a 12-year-old boy named Mauro." "[T]his warmly engaging film benefits from its understated approach (it suggests rather than spells out the political turmoil), and its light, comedic tone never mitigates the drama of the central story," writes Jean Oppenheimer in the Voice. "[T]he more serious things get for political dissidents in Brazil, the more we get involved in Mauro's story," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. For Meghan Keane, writing in the New York Sun, the film "shows both the fragility of youth and its resilience." Scarlet Cheng (LAT) and ST VanAirsdale (Reeler) interview Hamburger. Earlier: My quick take from last year's Berlinale.
February 14, 2008
Berlinale, 2/14.Salon's Stephanie Zacharek files a first dispatch: "The Berlinale has brought me here as a mentor in the Talent Press program, in which eight young critics from around the world - most from countries in which English is not the primary language - are invited to attend the festival and, under the guidance of four 'older' mentors (this is where I come in) file one review or article per day. The participants come from countries including Peru, Nigeria, Poland and Turkey (you can read their work here), and in six days of talking with them and reading their pieces, I've learned more from them than they probably even know." She's also got quick takes on Shine a Light ("self-serving and mechanical"), Standard Operating Procedure ("I can't help being appalled at the way Morris applies such relentlessly tasteful filmmaking to such a horrific subject"), Julia ("insufferable"), Lake Tahoe ("one of those quietly miraculous little pictures that manage to be both minimalist and rich at the same time") and Sparrow ("more a musical than an action movie"). "Most of the European critics came down pretty hard on Petri Kotwica's Black Ice, a film in competition from Finland, but I found this deliciously dark drama about dangerous deceptions to be a good bit of trashy fun," writes Filmbrain. And: "With heavy-handed symbolism and a embarrassingly obvious plot device, In Love We Trust ends up being an uninspired drama that even its strong lead performances can't save. Daniel Kasman and I violently disagree about Jacques Doillon's latest, the pretentious Le Premier Venu (Just Anybody). Twas a time I would have loved this film, but I guess I'm losing patience for French films where characters speak and act in ways that have no connection whatsoever to the real world."
Shorts, 2/14.For the Los Angeles Times, Liz Brown reviews Making Waves: New Cinemas of the 1960s, "Geoffrey Nowell-Smith's brisk, sharp-witted primer on one of the most explosively creative periods of filmmaking," and It's So French! Hollywood, Paris, and the Making of Cosmopolitan Film Culture, "an extremely learned book, citing as it does academic studies and film archive research. In it, Vanessa R Schwartz argues that the exchanges between France and the United States in cinema have long been critical components in the globalization of culture." The Austin Chronicle has a nifty cover package on Marc English Design, featuring Marc Savlov's profile, samples of the work that led to the studio's cover for Criterion's release of Alex Cox's Walker, Raymond Blanton on the film itself (more from Jeremiah Kipp in Slant) and Spencer Parsons: "[P]erhaps more than any previous release, Two-Lane Blacktop reveals limitations in the Criterion approach that sets the bar for home-theatre-centric cinephilia." Also: Spencer Parsons on Zodiac: The Director's Cut.
Fests and events, 2/14."Boundaries of geography, genre and taste are tested and occasionally trampled in the ninth edition of Film Comment Selects, the annual cinema roundup from the editors of Film Comment magazine, which runs through Feb 28 at the Walter Reade Theater," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Such border crossings are common inside the pages of Film Comment, a citadel of intellectually committed, aesthetically adventurous, sometimes prickly, sometimes maddening, sometimes baffling, if invariably lively and passionate cinephilia that is published bimonthly by the Film Society of Lincoln Center. You may want to throw the magazine against the wall on occasion, but it remains essential reading." Related: Bryant Frazer and Phil Nugent (ScreenGrab) on The Duchess of Langleais; and Simon Abrams has a batch of capsule reviews at Twitch. Miriam Bale (Reeler), Bruce Bennett (New York Sun) and Eric Kohn (New York Press) preview MoMA's Milos Forman retrospective. "Once again, the Film Noir Foundation is bringing a week of crime, mad love, death and despair to the citizens of Seattle, this time as part of the SIFF Winter 2008 program," writes Anne M Hockens at the Siffblog. Tomorrow through February 21. "This month the Austin Film Society presents the sequel to one of its most provocative Essential Cinema series programs from last year," writes Josh Rosenblatt in the Chronicle. "Children of Abraham/Ibrahim 2: Films of the Middle East and North Africa picks up right where last February's presentation left off, with rarely seen cinematic visions of a region rich in history and tradition but mired in misunderstanding, poverty, and war." Michael Guillén: "I'm not sure which was more disturbing: catching Adam Wingard's Pop Skull at SF IndieFest or hooking up with the film's producers for a luncheon interview in San Francisco's notorious Tenderloin." The Pan African Film Festival runs through Sunday; in the LA Weekly, Ernest Hardy notes that the films made available for press preview haven't been all that encouraging. Meanwhile, Charles Burnett's Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation, an "epic film about Namibia's campaign for independence from South Africa - almost three hours long, spanning six decades and featuring more than 150 speaking parts in multiple languages and dialects - wasn't available for preview, and as the festival's opening-night gala, with tickets priced at $150 (which includes admission to an after-party), it's likely priced outside the budget of the average filmgoer." SXSW interviews at Hollywood Bitchslap: Marshall Fine, whose Do You Sleep in the Nude? is a documentary about Rex Reed; Joe Maggio, director of the "incidental film" Paper Covers Rock; Daniel Stamm, whose A Necessary Death is "a movie about a documentarian making a movie about a suicidal person."
Jumper."It's impossible for outsiders to know who deserves most of the blame for this dud - its director, Doug Liman, its three screenwriters, its multiple producers or the various studio executives who might have done far too much meddling or not nearly enough," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Running a trim 88 minutes, Jumper engages in the classic quick-junk tradeoff, its brevity coming part and parcel with painful expository narration that undermines Limans's abilities as a visual storyteller," writes Jesse Hassenger in the L Magazine. "Jumper would be lame simply on the basis of its under-written characters and slack attitude toward the hero's adventures..., but the lazy regard for David's [Hayden Christensen] moral crisis, or lack thereof, is pitiful," writes Jeremiah Kipp in Slant. Updated through 2/18. "As a professional pretentious person, it would be easy to harsh on Jumper," writes Grady Hendrix in the New York Sun. "But if I had to pay for my own tickets, this is exactly the kind of fun little movie I'd want to see on a Friday night." The "site-shifting extravaganzas sometimes reach an exhilarating level of near-abstraction," concedes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "So it's too bad that just about everything surrounding the action scenes of the picture is such unmitigated crap." "Though dazzled by its ultra-modern wizardry and the high gloss of its production values, one can also feel the globalist double standard roiling underneath the adolescent-kid fantasy plot," writes James Hannaham in Salon. "Jumper tells us that Americans fantasize about getting rich by stealing and going everywhere they want without restrictions; that they are materialistic, disrespect foreign antiquities, and remain blind to their own and to world history, not to mention current conflicts (the jumpers spend a moment in Chechnya - you bet they're not off to Iraq); and that they perhaps feel only mildly guilty about any of that. OK - who wants to wait here for the world's response to that message?" "Doug Liman is no John Woo," notes the Reeler. But Christopher Campbell leaps to Liman's defense at the SpoutBlog. "Liman's movie candy is philistine, banal and lacks surrealist thrill," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "His sci-fi, quasi-political allegory is like an X-Men or Hulk narrative told from the ass end." "Jumper is all high concept with little invested in characters or story," writes Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times. For the Boston Phoenix, Bret Michel reports on Jumper's visit to MIT - and then pans the movie. Update, 2/15: "Jumper is so lame, undernourished in its characterizations, stillborn in its action scenes, that it inevitably leads the idled mind to wondering how this movie got past the pitch stage," writes Time's Richard Corliss. Jim Emerson, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, finds Jumper "so silly you may find yourself giggling helplessly even as you wish you could magically transport yourself almost anywhere else in the world but where you are, in front of the screen showing it." "[N]o exciting action can cover the film's profound shallowness and repulsive attitude toward everyone but Christensen," writes Tasha Robinson at the AV Club. Updates, 2/18: "Jumper is so in sync with the language of modern action movies that it's possible to look past its soullessness and go with the quantum flow," writes New York's David Edelstein. But it's got the New Yorker's Anthony Lane wishing James Cameron would come back. "Jumper is the kind of movie that formerly defined the direct-to-video market," writes Robert Humanick at the House Next Door. "It barely interacts with itself, let alone the viewer. As far as falling trees go, even the forest animals wouldn’t pay attention to this one." "I've absolutely no quarrel with mindless action movies (Vin Diesel's The Fast and the Furious and Ahh-nold's Terminator 2 are among my guilty pleasures), but there are imperatives to action - tension, suspense, believability - which Jumper director Doug Liman sorely lacks," writes Flickhead. "Upon leaving the theatre, Mrs Flickhead gave her review: 'That was the worst movie I've ever seen.'"
February 13, 2008
Berlinale, 2/13.The Berlinale announces the winners of its Shorts program. Eugene Hernandez reports on Errol Morris's lively press conference that followed the premiere of Standard Operating Procedure, the first documentary ever to screen in the Competition. AJ Schnack rounds up reviews. Also at indieWIRE, Shane Danielsen on Hong Sang-soo's Night and Day, Salvatore Mereu's Sonetaula, Johnnie To's Sparrow, Dennis Lee's Fireflies in the Garden and Götz Spielmann's Revanche. Jürgen Fauth whisks us through two days of viewing and offers observations on Suroosh Alvi and Eddy Moretti's Heavy Metal in Baghdad, Isabel Coixet's Elegy, José Padilha's Elite Squad, Doris Dörrie's Cherry Blossoms, Johnnie To's Sparrow and Koji Wakamatsu's United Red Army. For the Guardian, Mark Brown listens to Mike Leigh talk about Happy-Go-Lucky, "for many, a favourite to win the main Golden Bear prize at the weekend. If it does win, Leigh will become the only living director to take the hat-trick of Europe's main film prizes - he won the Palme D'Or in Cannes with his 1996 film Secrets & Lies and Venice's Golden Lion with his last film four years ago, Vera Drake. The only other directors to have achieved it are Robert Altman, Michelangelo Antonioni and Henri-Georges Clouzot." More from Eugene Hernandez at indieWIRE. Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook on Isabella Rossellini's Green Porno: "The actress/director clearly relishes the strangeness and humor of the subject, and her enthusiasm and preference for the weird - but the boldly, almost childishly simple weird - is infectious." "Berlin has been buzzing since Madonna's private jet landed at the city's Tegel Airport on Tuesday evening," reports Spiegel Online. "The Material Girl's first effort as a movie director is Filth and Wisdom, the story of three young residents of a London apartment who take a series of odd jobs to make ends meet while pursuing bigger dreams.... She said in an interview this week that she asked [husband Guy] Ritchie for his expert advice before she stepped on the set." More on Madonna's press conference today from Brian Brooks at indieWIRE. And from me, well, the F2F chats were a whole lot better than the films today:
Shorts, 2/13.Criterion will be releasing Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le Fou on DVD next week and Premiere's Glenn Kenny offers "An Annotated Bibliography, Pt 1." Updates, 2/14: Parts 2 and 3. "Director of the legendary hip-hop documentary Style Wars, Tony Silver, died last weekend after battling an irreversible brain condition for several years," notes Jen Carlson at the Gothamist. In the Tisch Film Review: Dene-Hern Chen on Citizen Havel, a documentary about "the last President of Czechoslovakia (and the first President of the democratic Czech Republic)." "David Mamet's Speed-The-Plow is infinitely more than a brutal satire on Hollywood," writes Michael Billington in the Guardian. "It is a study of male panic and the denial of redemptive grace. And in Matthew Warchus's exhilarating revival we not only get some bravura, high-octane acting from Kevin Spacey and Jeff Goldblum but a also sense of the ultimate hollowness of an industry, and a society, based on buddy-buddy values." Also in the Guardian, Martin Hodgson: "Steven Spielberg has resigned as artistic adviser to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, in protest at China's failure to distance itself from genocide and human rights abuses in Darfur." And Francesca Martin reports on Martin Scorsese's plans to make a documentary about Bob Marley. Scott Eyman reviews Charlotte Chandler's Not the Girl Next: Joan Crawford, A Personal Biography for the New York Observer: "Am I alone in finding something poignant in this driven, now unfashionable creature? Am I alone in thinking that, at her best, she was extraordinarily effective?" In the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Dennis Harvey talks with Olivia Hussey, "just 15 when she was chosen to play li'l miss Capulet in the 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet," which, he adds, "made underage sex look extremely hot, virtuous, and stick-it-to-the-man rebellious." Plus, Tre: "A semisequel to writer-director Eric Byler's 2002 debut feature, Charlotte Sometimes, this low-key but quietly devastating relationship meltdown in the mode of Harold Pinter and Neil LaBute is his best work to date." For Reuters, Charles Masters: "Jim Jarmusch has enlisted past collaborators Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton along with Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal for his upcoming thriller The Limits of Control." Masters also reports on "the launch in April of a Europe-wide video-on-demand platform bringing together content from 37 film archives and cinematheques across the continent. And the good news for film buffs is that it's free." "Daniel Bruehl (Goodbye Lenin!, The Bourne Ultimatum) has committed to topline 14, to be directed by Andrucha Waddington (House of Sand)," report John Hopewell and Emilio Mayorga in Variety. "Bruehl is up to play Spanish playwright Lope de Vega." In the L Magazine:
Fests and events, 2/13.The House Next Door has put together a walloping preview of Film Comments Selects, the series opening tomorrow and running through February 28. Even if you're far and away from New York and won't be able to attend, a few of these capsule reviews at the very least will be of interest. Related: Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer on The Duchess of Langeais: "Mr Rivette may have been so mesmerized by the profound precision of Balzac's prose that he failed to perceive how boring the literary narrative would be when it was brought to the screen comparatively intact." But Benjamin Strong finds that "Rivette wisely pumps up the irony found in the Balzac original, awakening its dormant class invective." "BAMcinematek has become a reliable curator of Czech cinema with its annual contemporary surveys and its 2006 modernism excavation," writes Nicolas Rapold. "All demonstrate life after (and before) Loves of a Blonde." "One of the films playing the SF Indie Fest is a movie we've all seen before, and yet it's guaranteed we've never seen it like this," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation began as a labor of love, and then became a work of obsession." And Eve O'Neill files a dispatch from the fest to SF360. "My sense is that John Ford's breakthrough 1924 silent The Iron Horse isn't highly regarded by Ford fans, and I didn't have a strong reaction to it when I first saw it years ago," writes Dan Sallitt. "But the Museum of the Moving Image showed a good print in their current Ford at Fox series (which continues through February 24), and, I dunno, suddenly I really like the film. Certainly it seems to me the silent Ford that most conveys the directorial personality that we find in Ford's mature work." John Oursler previews Dawn of Japanese Animation for the Reeler. Through Saturday. The Austin Chronicle has launched its SXSW blog.
Diary of the Dead.Michael Joshua Rowin, writing in the L Magazine, finds Diary of the Dead to be "by far the most self-reflexive, stylistically experimental and politically undisguised of the Dead series. Two colleagues cited it as a moral answer to the unscrupulous first-person video gimmick of 9/11 thrill ride Cloverfield, but Diary might also be an awkwardly conscious consideration of media representation and the ethics of the camera Cloverfield brings to light in its blissfully unconscious way. Not that I mind a zombie movie with a brain (heh heh), [George] Romero's been doing that all along, but Diary is too often lead-footed and heavy handed, more preach than screech, even if critical." Updated through 2/20. "Romero has not grown narcissistic or solipsistic; American society has," writes Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix. "Despite the talky patches, Romero has risen again, and his Living Dead proves a concept too prophetic to die." "[A]s smartly staged, and even emotionally tender as it often is, Romero's latest, with its central and oft-repeated mistrust of the 'new information age,' also can't help but seem a little like the product of aged paranoia - like your pissed-off grandpa, a little preachy and slightly doddering," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. Cheryl Eddy talks with Romero and writes in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: "Romero's smart enough to zero in on a particular problem - Internet-age information overload! - and incorporate it in a story that manages to implicate the viewer at the same time." More interviews: Noel Murray (AV Club and Mark Olsen (Los Angeles Times). Earlier: Reviews from Toronto and Sundance. Updates, 2/14: For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Romero "about his going back to low budget filmmaking, the problem with Hollywood, and Meryl Streep being called yesterday's pizza." "[B]esides an examination of us-against-them and us-against-us politics and a trenchant commentary on the it's-okay-to-torture-under-the-'right'-circumstances mentality that's been foisted on the American public, Diary is one of the most revealing and fascinating critiques of image-making since Michael Powell's Peeping Tom," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "Its execution is far more consistently accomplished and convincing than that of [Brian] De Palma's [Redacted]. And it still manages to deliver eye-popping and gut-spilling galore. It's an ingenious, energetic, angry and extremely plugged-in piece - nice to see from a director who turned 67 this year." "Among the many nuggets of Strangeloveian satire George A Romero's Diary of the Dead mines from its evergreen zombie mayhem, the deftest of them touch on everything from terrorism fears to illegal immigration," notes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. "Indeed, as one radio commentator sagely observes on the film's soundtrack, these zombies are crossing a border that no 700-mile fence can secure." "If Romero feels any guilt over his own 40-year celebration of gore, it's hard to tell: Diary of the Dead features some of the most hilariously gross images since Dawn of the Dead," notes JR Jones in the Chicago Reader. "Romero's legendary skill at weaving social commentary seems forced and a little hypocritical," writes Neil Morris in the Independent Weekly. "Despite his apparent secularism, Romero's work has developed a spiritual streak," notes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. At SF360, Dennis Harvey offers "a chronological reel through highlights to date from the man who's scared the bejeesus out of us for four decades." Updates, 2/15: "If this sounds a little like Cloverfield it is, superficially, though Diary is a lot cheaper-looking, generally smarter-sounding and a whole lot funnier," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "[T]here's a big difference between making a kick-ass zombie movie with a trenchant sociopolitical subtext, and making a dreary, didactic film about the ethics and politics of journalism and non-fiction filmmaking that just happens to have some zombies in it," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "With his latest undead opus..., Romero set out to make the first kind of film, but ended up making the second." "You may not believe in zombies, but the unnamed dread in the air of Diary of the Dead is recognizably believable, because we live with it now." Jim Emerson explains in the Chicago Sun-Times. "[T]he movie suffers from the same malaise Romero diagnoses in society," argues Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "It's just too mediated to be scary, despite its zeal for gore." "Yes, as image-cannibalizing media consumers, we are all zombies, but I'd settle for smaller helpings of purportedly up-to-the-minute critique," writes Nicolas Rapold. Also in the New York Sun, Steve Dollar argues that "the horror genre is quietly experiencing a resurgence of its low-budget, high-anxiety, 1970s vitality." A list from Leonard Pierce at ScreenGrab: "Take Five: Romero Alive!" Online viewing tip. Kevin Sites: "How to Make a Zombie for $50 or less." Thanks, Jerry! Updates, 2/17: "Read enough think pieces anointing you the Swift of the grindhouse and maybe you gild Land of the Dead's well-constructed allegorical lily with Dennis Hopper's conspicuously Rumsfeldian pronouncements," writes Mark Asch for Stop Smiling. "Diary, aside from its po-mo book reports, features blunter-than-ever critiques of American ugliness, fascists-in-fatigues and pot-shooting rednecks lumbering, zombielike, into the flow of the narrative for their close-ups." James Rocchi talks with Romero for Cinematical. Update, 2/20: Aaron Hillis talks with Romero for IFC News.
Kon Ichikawa, 1915 - 2008.Kon Ichikawa, celebrated Japanese helmer whose career spanned more than seven decades, died on Feb 13 of pneumonia. He was 92. Best known abroad for The Burmese Harp (1956) and Fires on the Plain (1959), pics that vividly, if grimly, portrayed the human costs of WWII, as well as the 1964 Tokyo Olympics docu Tokyo Olympiad (1965), Ichikawa was the last directorial giant of Japan's now vanished studio studio system, which reached its peak in the 1950s and early 1960s, before succumbing to the advance of television. Mark Schilling, Variety. See also: Alexander Jacoby's 2004 profile for Senses of Cinema; acquarello; Wikpedia and the BBC. Update, 2/14: Ronald Bergan in the Guardian.
February 12, 2008
Berlinale, 2/12.In the Independent, Kaleem Aftab profiles Mike Leigh, whose Happy-Go-Lucky sees its world premiere tonight at the Berlinale. This is one fun movie, folks, the only real out-n-out comedy to screen in Competition so far, and, personally, I give it a B+. Other tentative letter grades on films for which I'll soon be writing up short entries:
Shorts, 2/12."When Variety, in 1968, printed its list of all-time top-grossing movies, a third of them were 1967 releases," writes Janet Maslin. "And yet, as Mark Harris explains in a landmark new film book, Pictures at a Revolution, the whole industry was poised on the brink of irrevocable change." And the Observer's running an extract. Also in the New York Times:
February 11, 2008
Berlinale Dispatch. 3.David D'Arcy on a documentary and a presentation of work by Jack Smith. Julian Cole's documentary With Gilbert & George (2006) takes us through the schooling and early days of the art duo, and then into a successful career which is based on the notion of two people being one artist. The team bases its approach on giving the public works of art that will entertain and not intimidate them, hence everything from large format multiculturalism to homo-erotic pictures (they don't use the word "gay"), to pretty young boys, to ordinary young men depicted as "patriots" during the days of the National Front, to AIDS activism, to the depiction of their own shit. All of it sells, and it's been selling for four decades. Bear in mind that the fundamental basis for Gilbert & George's work is self-portraiture. They began as sculptors, and as sculptures, painting their faces with a metallic color and singing like animated statues. Later came the pictures, which turned out to be a lot easier and profitable to produce in series than the singing sculptures were. There is much that Gilbert & George anticipated in art world trends. British multiculturalism was one trend, as was self-portraiture. Drawing from photographs put a twist on the Warhol approach, and performing as living sculptures prefigured, for better or worse, the kind of performances that we now have from Vanessa Beecroft (see The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins, which was at Sundance.) At first, the British art establishment ignored them, but we see the couple winning the conservatives over - indeed, they call their brand of libertarianism "conservative anarchism" - and representing the Crown at the 2005 Venice Biennial. They also conquer China. All of this we learn from the artists themselves, and from art world insiders, none of whom has the slightest criticism of the duo, nor the slightest mention of any other artist working simultaneously. Did the duo spring fully formed from the brow of Zeus? Zeus isn't mentioned, either. How can that be? Is every film about an artist a valentine, or an info-mercial, like this one? Later last night, the Forum expanded showed a selection of footage by Jack Smith (1932 - 89), the filmmaker/performer/photographer/artist who inspired everyone from Andy Warhol to Federico Fellini. For all we know, Smith may have inspired Gilbert & George, but they don't admit to any inspiration in Julian Cole's doc. Introduced and restored by film specialist Jerry Tartaglia, the clips and a complete version of Sinbad in Baghdad that Smith shot in Coney Island in the mid-70s show once again that Smith had an odd ability to transform ordinary objects and people into something fantastical. Footage from Smith in costume in Chinatown in Manhattan from more than 30 years ago show him leading little children around in the shadow of New York's Criminal Courts, an ominous building known as the Tombs. The images we see are the products of Tartaglia's many years of preservation work. He told the audience that he has now completed work on everything from Smith's estate that could be called a film, and noted that there is much footage left to preserve, much of it wonderful. With Smith's estate, there is a problem. Smith left his apartment a mess when he died of AIDS in 1989, and the material that was saved was salvaged by friends who were working in spite of the indifference of Smith's family, who had spurned him for his homosexuality decades before that. Performance artist Penny Arcade and Village Voice film critic J Hoberman, as what would later be called the Plaster Foundation, sifted through cat shit and years of newspapers to save the materials in the 6th floor walkup, and put enough order into the mess to create several books and a museum exhibition. Within the last five years, however, Smith's sister reappeared, at the prodding of the filmmakers behind Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis, a bio-doc that played in theaters in 2006, which served the interests of its filmmakers more than it served Smith's memory. Courts in New York have declared that the sister who abandoned Jack Smith is now the owner of the materials in his apartment that she abandoned when she saw them and recoiled in disgust in 1989. Now Smith's sister is asking for those materials back, and the filmmakers of Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis are demanding access to the archive, and suing the Plaster Foundation for that access, which they say was promised them for the making of the film. It's an object lesson in the notion that no good deed goes unpunished. One consequence of this battle is that there isn't money to carry on the complicated restoration of Smith footage by Tartaglia, so there's a limit to what we'll see by Smith in the future. The Forum, with other foundations, has made a commitment to showing the restored Smith work. Now there's a need for a lager institution to step in to deepen that commitment.
February 10, 2008
Interview. Tony Gilroy.Tony Gilroy had been writing screenplays and watching directors turn them into movies for about a decade when he wrote Michael Clayton. For six years, the project simply would not get up off the ground. Then along came Jason Bourne. With the help of, among others, George Clooney, Sydney Pollack and Steven Soderbergh, he was finally able to get Michael Clayton made - and direct it himself. The film was well-received when it premiered at the Venice Film Festival and lauded in Toronto. But when it hit theaters... well, you may have missed it. Now's your chance. It's out on DVD next week, just in time for the Oscars. It's been nominated for seven of those, including Best Picture. And Gilroy's been nominated for Best Director and Best Screenplay. Michael Guillén spoke with him on the eve of its theatrical run.
Roy Scheider, 1932 - 2008.Roy Scheider, a stage actor with a background in the classics who became one of the leading figures in the American film renaissance of the 1970s, died on Sunday afternoon in Little Rock, Ark.... Mr Scheider's rangy figure, gaunt face and emotional openness made him particularly appealing in everyman roles, most famously as the agonized police chief of Jaws, Steven Spielberg's 1975 breakthrough hit, about a New England resort town haunted by the knowledge that a killer shark is preying on the local beaches. Dave Kehr, New York Times. But for some of us, the lean and leathery actor with the bluntly chiseled profile will remain most fondly remembered not for his engaging turn as a small-town sheriff battling a Buick-sized shark, but rather for his drop-dead brilliance as Bob Fosse's stressed-for-success, razzle-dazzling autobiographical alter ego in All That Jazz, the go-for-broke, shoot-the-moon musical fantasia that deserves honorable mention on anyone's list of the greatest and most audacious movies of the 1970s. Joe Leydon.
Berlinale, 2/10."The same reason it is easy to pinpoint the interest in Tan Pin Pin's Invisible City is in fact the same reason the documentary fails: the video, for its unfortunately short running time, seems like a series of sketches for a more carefully crafted feature yet to come," writes Daniel Kasman at the Auteurs' Notebook, a new blog for an intriguing new service, The Auteurs. Also, "there isn't a lot to recommend about Brigitte Bertele's Night Before Eyes, a psychological drama about a German soldier suffering trauma after returning from Afghanistan, so in lieue of a boring takedown, let's focus on the single positive aspect of the picture." "Hamburg-born director Özgür Yildirim takes a classical story of small-time drug dealing spiralling out of control and makes it exciting all over again in his debut feature Chiko," writes Boyd van Hoeij. Also at european-films.net, Fabrizio Maltese's Berlinale photo diary. "Shiver offers a few decent scares but remains safely within genre conventions," writes Jürgen Fauth. "Director Isidro Ortiz relies heavily on the tricks of the trade - an overbearing score, night vision footage, and so forth - but neglects to flesh out his characters, which remain generic." Following that first dispatch, indieWIRE's been posting photos and notes.
Shorts, 2/10.What's this, a list of the Bafta winners, leaked four hours before the ceremony even began? Tom O'Neil seems to have found just that. Via David Carr. Variety's Anne Thompson has the winners of the Writers Guild Awards. "A week after the theatrical release - the series opens in Los Angeles Friday s- the Oscar-nominated shorts will be available individually on iTunes at a cost of $1.99," notes Sam Adams in the Los Angeles Times. James Rocchi is at SF Indiefest and reviews Bomb It! and Shotgun Stories for Cinematical. Mike Russell's got a batch of capsule reviews from the Portland International Film Festival. Through February 23.
Berlinale Dispatch. 2.David D'Arcy reviews two documentaries at the festival. As always, there are themes that dominate a film festival like the Berlinale. One theme that hasn't gone away after years of examination is the border and the movement across it. The Infinite Border looks at immigration to the United States through the Mexican border, where politicians have been going for the last few years to condemn illegal entry into the country and to call for the construction of a fence to keep "them" out. Juan Manuel Sepulveda is looking specifically at migration from the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua through Mexico to the southern US border. These are immigrants who abused by Mexicans before they have a chance to be abused by Americans. And still they come. Most of what Sepulveda is tracking is travel by train, which takes the migrants along routes that were put in place in the 19th century, and the rickety lines pass through remote parts of these countries. It's usually a single track, often with vegetation coming right up to the rails. The trains are all for freight, but people climb on them by the hundreds. The migrants use tree branches that they have broken off for shade, so it looks as if trees are growing on the railroad cars themselves. It beats walking, which is how they would head north otherwise. The travelers are mostly young men - although there are some women - and many of the men have made this trip at least part of the way before. Many talk of being robbed by Mexican police who know that they have money for the journey. The journey itself is enough of an institution that dormitories to house the men who have been stopped along the way have been built and staffed with people who call their families to come and get them. It doesn't stop the flow. Another institution, if you can call it that, is the growing population of disabled migrants who have lost limbs when they fell off the moving trains, and lost their lives when they fell under those trains. We see quite a number of them, living in wheelchairs along the route, as if this is completely normal. One of them, who has lost an arm and at least one leg, still talks of entering the US illegally to work. Hopes die hard. Sepulveda's film ends as you might imagine it would, with a train heading north. In earlier scenes, he visits the border to witness the construction of part of the fence that the US is building to control immigration. Like the migrants' journey, there is an element of the Myth of Sisyphus here. Just as the migrants repeat the march to the border endlessly, until they cross it, the United States builds the wall which will have to extend endlessly - infinitely, as the title of Sepulveda's film suggests - for the barrier to work at all. And we know that it won't stop the migrants. But it will rally those who resent them. Another wall built on resentment figures in Sharon, the new documentary about the Israeli leader by Dror Moreh, a filmmaker who had remarkable access to the right-wing former general for some six years before Sharon's illness in 2006. Moreh focuses on what those who distrusted Sharon still begrudgingly concede to be his greatest achievement - the withdrawal of Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip. Sharon was seen by his reactionary constituency, who supported his murderous war in Lebanon in the early 1980s, to have betrayed his closest allies. Still, Moreh shows us, he stuck to his guns (a pun that undercuts its own imagery here) and made at least a step toward peace, which also involved recognizing that Palestinians could rule themselves. Sharon suffered a stroke in 2006, and there hasn't been much movement toward peace since, no thanks to George W Bush, who supported another Israeli intrusion into Lebanon in the summer of 2006, and who didn't achieve much more than creating traffic jams on his recent visit to Jerusalem. We see Bush and a smiling Condoleezza Rice talking (with all of Rice's signature insincerity) about how getting to know Sharon was getting to know the real man beneath all that flesh and all that accumulated blood. Clearly the filmmaker feels the same way. Sadly, he's probably right. The best hopes for peace in the Middle East, and they weren't much, died with Sharon after the coma that followed his stroke. And in place of peace, we have a wall separating the two populations. Moreh does not address Sharon's views on the future of the Israeli economy or anything else domestic, and doesn't touch the scandals that were all over the Israeli press. He noted that Sharon was cleared of all charges. If this isn't enough for you, and even Moreh in the discussion after his film's premiere admitted that it shouldn't be, there is always the documentary by Avi Mograbi, How I Learned to Overcome My Fear and Love Arik Sharon (1997), in which Mograbi follows the large man around Israel in the hope of getting an interview with him. Maybe Sharon knew that history's judgment would be complicated.
February 9, 2008
Berlinale, 2/9.Todd Brown at Twitch on the Finnish horror film, Dark Floors: "Not a gore fest by any means - it would likely get a PG-13 rating in the US - the film is a tightly plotted, exceptionally well shot thrill ride that sets the rules of its world very early on, lets the audience know what to expect and then executes flawlessly." For an overview of how the German press is taking to the festival offerings - in German, of course - see angelaufen.de (day by day) and film-zeit.de (film by film). A reminder of the trades' special sections: The Hollywood Reporter, Screen Daily and Variety. Cineuropa gets its coverage rolling.
Shorts, 2/9.Milos Forman "shot his first American movie on the streets of New York: Taking Off (1971), a comedy centered, like so many of his films, on the distance between parents and their children," writes Dave Kehr. "Starring Buck Henry and Lynn Carlin as a suburban couple whose teenage daughter (Linnea Heacock) has disappeared into the wilds of the East Village, it remains one of the most closely and compassionately observed films of a tendentious decade and will receive a rare screening as part of a two-week retrospective of Mr Forman's films that begins Thursday at the Museum of Modern Art." Also in the New York Times:
Berlinale. Lake Tahoe.I haven't seen Duck Season, Fernando Eimbcke's lauded first feature, so I don't know if it looks like something Jim Jarmusch might have made early in his career if he'd headed south of the border and shaken off his aversion to very bright light. Lake Tahoe sure does, though. Frankly, for the first ten minutes or so, it's a little irritating. Static wide-angle shots of a nearly empty landscape on the Yucatan peninsula are interrupted by thick swaths of black leader. We hear a car thunk into a pole, for example, but don't see it. You may start thinking: I don't mind this insistence on slowing things down, but give me something to look at for the duration. But you'll also likely find your impatience dissipating soon enough. With his Nissan sedan jammed into that pole, Juan (Diego Cataño) walks into town. Shot: A road way outside of town. Juan (we don't know his name yet; to us, he's still just a young man, probably in his late teens) enters the frame on the right. He walks through... and out to the left. Tone's set. But then he gets into town. He needs his car fixed. His deadpan odyssey begins. We meet a set of amusing characters, none of whom, mercifully, are the least bit quirky - it's not that the danger might not have been present; the film was developed at the Sundance Institute, after all. Gradually, we learn that something heavy and dark has befallen Juan's family. We begin to suspect that the car crash was not an accident - not a suicide attempt by any means; just a kid's helpless lashing out at the world. We begin to develop sympathies; put a crying baby in Juan's arms and that baby's crying will subside. That's the sort of fellow Juan is. Even as the vague tragedy that immediately precedes the story begins to take on weight and form, Lake Tahoe itself seems to grow lighter and more engaging, all at the same time. Juan keeps revisiting the characters we've met during his first rounds, not that he means to. His needs necessitate these returns. The one-on-ones are the bulk of the film; seeing three or more people in the same frame is an extreme rarity. And yes, by the end, he'll have learned that each of these people has got something for him - and vice versa. But by the time this sinks in, Juan and his new friends will have long since won you over.
"An understandable choice for Berlin competition, the film has a striking simplicity and stylistic rigor that should win it awards from passionate admirers of the minimalist genre while keeping larger audiences at bay," predicts Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter. "[B]y the end what began as an exercise in Latin American deadpan comedy a la 25 Watts has developed a firm emotional grip," writes Lee Marshall in Screen Daily. Russell Edwards, writing in Variety, disagrees: "A lazy exercise in cute minimalist humour, low-budget but visually glossy Mexican film Lake Tahoe is so dry and slight that it threatens to drift right off the screen."
Berlinale. Musta jää (Black Ice).Let me follow up that entry on Zuo You by saying: this is how you do melodrama. In Musta jää (Black Ice), Petri Kotwica asks, What if a woman discovers her husband's been cheating on her and sets out to find out more about his lover? And what if she unintentionally finds herself face-to-face with the young woman? And what if she decides on the spur of the moment that, rather than confront her, she's too curious to call off the hunt - and instead presents herself as someone else entirely? Whips up a false identity right there on the spot. And what if the two women become friends...? Like Wang, then, Kotwica starts off with a simple premise. But he insists that matters grow increasingly, deliciously complicated. Organically, too: causes don't always lead to predictable effects, which in turn, sprout further surprises. Sure, he takes it over the top in the third act, but the moments that are so overblown they knock you right out of the film's world are few and far between. Updated through 2/10. Black Ice, which scored six major Jussi Awards (Finland's Oscars, sort of), including Best Picture, has grown on me since I saw it last night. I think I initially underrated it because the look and feel is one barely perceptible notch above common European made-for-TV fare. Which, come to think of it, as I have today, is not bad at all. In terms of technical sheen - and certainly performances as well - popular European television dramas, the thrillers, mysteries and romantic comedies, most of them set in the present day, are not at all inferior to much of what you'll find in suburban American multiplexes on any given weekend. But Europeans occasionally develop certain complexes with regard to those Hollywood movies; they seem to have a certain magic, or more tangibly, a certain international box office appeal that a well-made European domestic drama never will. That magic, I'd argue, is a willful, blissful, blatant and purposeful unreality - plus, and this isn't at all unrelated, it's got a fluid star system plugged into to it as well. Don't get me wrong. I'm not talking about the There Will Be Bloods and No Country for Old Mens of contemporary American cinema. Look instead to Scott Foundas's review of Fool's Gold and then click over to yesterday's box office estimates; that's what I'm talking about. As we left the theater after the screening of Black Ice, Andrew Grant commented that he was already dreading the American remake. If that happens, catch the original beforehand if you can. It's a fun ride. Not profound, not groundbreaking, but damn well done.
Boyd van Hoeij (european-films.net) finds the film to be "a showcase for Finnish acting talent from top to bottom and marks a significant step forward for the writer-director after his debut Koti-ikävä (Home Sick), though the closing reels of Musta Jää dilute its power as a psychological thriller in favour of plot twists and turns more at home in a soap opera." "Black Ice wraps a melodramatic, borderline-silly storyline in a classy-looking, solemnity-rich package and garnishes with impeccable perfs, resulting in an experience not unlike watching a soap opera made by Bergman acolytes," suggests Leslie Felperin in Variety. In Screen Daily, Lee Marshall finds that it "tries to be at one and the same time a Hitchcockian thriller, a horror version of a Feydeau farce, and an intense marriage drama of love, betrayal and jealousy in the tradition of Ingmar Bergman. Although this does sound like an indigestible cocktail, the mood of highly-charged dramatic and sexual tension is so well sustained, the script turns are managed with such bravura, and the three central performances are so mesmerising that Kotwica almost gets away with his hugely ambitious gameplan." FWIW, I don't get the Bergman allusions at all, but fine. Updates, 2/10: "Sometimes it is only the actor who can escape the clutches of a resounding bad - or in this case, mediocre - feature," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Ria Kataja in the Finnish film Black Ice is a particularly noteworthy example, as this is no showboating performance that so-called 'chews up the scenery' and embarrasses a film that cannot keep up with an actorly flurry of Method and energy." "Jealousy and treachery run so deep in this gripping thriller that a few coincidences too many are easily forgiven," writes Jürgen Fauth, who partied down with the Finns til 6 am.
Berlinale. Zuo You (In Love We Trust).Well into Zuo You, one of Wang Xiaoshuai characters remarks that he feels like he's in some soap opera. The woman sitting across from him in the café snaps back: "I don't care." But some viewers, myself included, just might. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with soap operas. For melodrama to work, though, you can't skimp on the drama. I wouldn't want to trip over the intentional fallacy, but that very idea does seem to be what Wang is experimenting with here. Suppose you were to map out a set of simple plot points, open and plain for all to see almost from the get-go, and then marry that story to the long-take naturalism of currently fashionable festival fare? In Zuo You at least, the result is a disappointingly bland neither/nor. Very quickly, the story: a married couple learns their five-year-old daughter has leukemia. Treatment after treatment fails. All that's left to try is a bone marrow transplant. With no other feasible donors at hand, the mother (Liu Weiwei) decides to give her daughter a baby brother or sister. Problem: She's in her second marriage. So is the girl's father (Zhang Jiayi). All four adults struggle with the mother's insistence that this baby be conceived - after artificial insemination fails, too, of course. In interviews, Wang has said, "I didn't want my story to be typically Chinese. My idea is to give the impression of a normal, ordinary life that could have taken place in any country." He's succeeded, and I think he's to be commended for it, too. The obstacle of the one-child policy aside (brought up only briefly as a possible objection from the mother's second husband (Cheng Taishen) to her plans), this Beijing is just one more globalized, pollution-gray, anonymous megalopolis. And the performances - Yu Nan, by the way, plays the girls' real father's second wife - are more than passable all around. Otherwise, Zuo You is a remarkably long two hours.
"The maudlin film manages to stage its series of painful domestic conversations inventively, but long takes that cleverly shift focus were not enough to distract me from the obviousness with which the melodramatic gears are turning," writes Jürgen Fauth. "[W]hile his four main actors deliver diamond performances and the undercurrents of their conflicting feelings are perfectly calibrated, Wang's habit of keeping narrative rhythm at an even keel, the dour colors and the deliberate muffling of emotional intensity make the overall cinematic result a bit anemic," writes Maggie Lee in the Hollywood Reporter. "Sixth Generation director Wang Xiaoshuai presents what can only be described as natural tearjerker material - leukaemia, divorce, infidelity - in the milieu of the Chinese middle class and delivers an uneven picture which attempts the impossible and fails to deliver it long before the final stretch," writes Dan Fainaru for the Hollywood Reporter.
Ezra."No sugarcoating it: Ezra is a difficult film to watch," writes Michael Joshua Rowin at indieWIRE. "It isn't particularly graphic or gory, but its dramatization of children being kidnapped and forced into fighting - or, really, raping and pillaging - by rebel armies in Sierra Leone is extremely upsetting, and all the more terrifying for alluding to greater and more incomprehensible crimes occurring in reality. As directed by Nigerian filmmaker Newton I Aduaka, Ezra is often messy and awkwardly told, but even its amateurishness lends a sort of raw power to its harrowing depiction of dehumanization, exploitation, senseless violence, and the post-conflict attempts at 'Truth and Reconciliation' as promoted by the series of human rights hearings set up to make some sort of sense of the devastation of a decade-long civil war." Updated through 2/14. "Unlike many of its Western-made counterparts, Ezra neither condescends to its African characters (or culture) nor shies away from the grim, brutal violence that dominates so much of the continent," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "Unfortunately, [the] film has its own raft of problems, which eventually conspire to drain its relevant, pressing story... of coherence and intensity." For the New York Sun, S James Snyder talks with Aduaka; so does indieWIRE. Updates, 2/12: "Unsparing, pedagogic, and genuinely compelling, Ezra, like Ed Zwick's 2006 Blood Diamond, supplies context aplenty for the armed children springing up all over Africa, fingering the tainted diamond industry that lines the pockets of Northern Hemisphere profiteers while exacerbating vicious civil wars across the continent," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "The opening primes you to expect one atrocity after another, but half an hour in, Ezra takes a sharp turn in the direction of compassionate humanism," writes David Edelstein in New York. Updates, 2/13: "For viewers in a nation at war whose re-integration programs are inadequate, Ezra's treatment of soldiers' psychology may emerge as its most poignant strength," suggests Benjamin Sutton in the L Magazine. "Mr Aduaka, the film's Nigerian-born director, deserves credit for attempting something that was probably impossible," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Aduaka apparently has more interest in Ezra's psychological disarray than the corruption responsible for it," notes the Reeler. "While I applaud the nobility inherent in the attempt to create a cinematic record of an important piece of history, this is simply a case where a highly skilled director is paired with the wrong story," writes Lauren Wissot at the House Next Door. Update, 2/14: "This is cinema as psychological warfare, and every moment of calm bears the weight of its imminent destruction," writes Benjamin Sutton in the New York Press.
Berlinale. There Will Be Blood.Even though There Will Be Blood finally opens in Germany next week, I wasn't going to pass up on the very first chance I'd have to see it, even if it meant missing one of the umpteen other Berlinale screenings going on at the same time. For months now, I've been watching the reviews come in and, keeping an eye and ear on who's said what, I could hardly stand the wait any longer. After a first viewing, I can't add much to what's already been written in the entries listed at the bottom of this one other than a hearty yes to those who've declared it some sort of masterpiece. Further viewings are surely in store. In the meantime, Blood has opened in the UK; stateside viewers are still sorting through their thoughts; and the German papers are going wild. "This is a dark, uncompromising film, thrillingly original and distinctive, with a visionary passion," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "It is a movie against which all directors, and all moviegoers, will want to measure themselves. Paul Thomas Anderson is doing something new with cinema, and you can hardly ask for more than that." "There may be scepticism about the full-bodied Method style favored by [Daniel] Day-Lewis, where a role is worth playing only if it requires you to translate Proust into semaphore, or survive in the Himalayas for a year on nothing but yak droppings," writes Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman. "But whatever he undertook to play Daniel Plainview..., it was worth it. His performance can be summed up as long, overcast periods interrupted occasionally by all hell breaking loose. He doesn't make us like Plainview, or even understand his emotional cruelty, but we absolutely believe in him." "Is he a great actor - or is he a bit of a ham?" a friend of David Gritten asks. "The answer, surely, is both." Also in the Telegraph, Sukhdev Sandhu finds Blood, "in its imaginative scope and its delirious, almost demented ambition, as bold a film as has been made in recent years." Back in the States, Rob Humanick's just seen it for the fifth time: "What amazes me so much at this point with Blood... is its endless emotional reflexivity, which seems to somehow flourish amidst Anderson's rigid and perfectionist style." David Lowery has problems with it, but that's fine: "I'm not out to make apologies for a film that's at least a little flawed anyway you half it, and yet all the more fascinating for being so frustrating." In German: Thomas Groh; and film-zeit.de gathers several angles from the papers. Online listening tip. PTA was a guest on The Treatment on January 30. Online viewing tip. From Dan Eisenberg, with comments. Earlier: 1/19, 1/11, 1/4, 12/26, 12/19, 12/10 and 12/5.
WGA + AMPTP. Tentative deal."The Writers Guild of America has reached a tentative deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers," reports Stuart Levine for Variety, which has posted a PDF, "Summary of the Tentative 2008 WGA Theatrical and Television Basic Agreement," regarding "resumption of work through May 1, 2011." According to Levine, news was broken at 3 this morning via an email to WGA East members "alerting writers that a deal has been made that 'protects a future in which the Internet becomes the primary means of both content creation and delivery.'" More from John Scott Lewinski at Wired.
February 8, 2008
Berlinale, 2/8.More quick takes from me tomorrow; meantime... The Berlinale's Forum program has a blog going, with entries from filmmakers represented this year. For signandsight, Michael Roberts is translating Ekkehard Knörer's always-excellent diary. Jürgen Fauth, with whom I had the pleasure of hanging this afternoon and evening, is keeping a Berlinale Journal: Parts and 2. Andrew Grant, with whom I mumphed a quick lunch, has posted the first entry in his Berlinale diary. "Though [Leo] starts off strong, it comes apart much like its title character," writes Boyd van Hoeij at european-films.net. Great to see him again today, too. Shane Danielsen files a first dispatch for indieWIRE. "I can confirm with 100% certainty that Chocolate kicks unbelievable ass," notes Blake Ethridge. In German? Thomas Groh. Online viewing tip. The Netzeitung has video of the crowds going wild for the Rolling Stones last night.
Shorts, 2/8."Breakthrough Performances in Film" - a New York Times Magazine multimedia Oscar season special. Times Richard Corliss lists the 25 most important films about race. Kristin Thompson reviews the 2007 Academy Award Nominated Shorts. Darren Hughes offers "a summary of useful ideas from Nora Alter's book, Chris Marker," specifically, observations on Sans Soleil. Dennis Cozzalio defends Pauline Kael. "[L]et's talk a bit about rear projections," suggests Girish. Cathleen Rountree talks with Mary Olive Smith and Amy Bucher about A Walk to Beautiful. Reviews: Rob Humanick (Slant) and Matt Zoller Seitz (NYT). In the Nation: Stuart Klawans on 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Related: Sean Axmaker talks with Cristian Mungiu for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. For Identity Theory, Matthew Sorrento talks with Ilana Trachtman about Praying with Lior. Adam Ross's interviewee this week: Ryland Walker Knight.
Fests and events, 2/8.Film Forum's three-week Sidney Lumet retrospective is now off and running and Reeler ST VanAirsdale collects a wide array of comments - many from people you know - on the man's work. "With José Luis Guerín, the cinema returns to its origin in photography, and the questions the filmmaker poses about his art return to the fundamental relationship between the image and the world," writes Chris Fujiwara in the Boston Phoenix. "In Guerín's magnificent films, which will screen this weekend at the Harvard Film Archive, everything - narrative, composition, montage - exists between two boundaries. On one side, there's an experience that has metamorphosed into myth, so that it's impossible to be sure it ever actually happened. On the other, there's the place where the experience (may have) happened, as it will look after those who lived it have passed through and left." DK Holm is all over the Portland International Film Festival for the Vancouver Voice: Parts 1 and 2. The Oregonian's Shawn Levy is posting away, too. For the Los Angeles Times, Susan King talks with Ayuko Babu, exec director of the Pan African Film & Arts Festival, opening today and running through February 18. "The New York-based film festival CineKink has announced their line-up for this year's event, which runs from February 26 to March 2," notes Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay. Also: Branden King's inside-Sundance report.
London to Brighton."A slice of social realism, a wedge of naturalism, a symbolically freighted fairy tale - at times, London to Brighton feels like all of these combined, which, before it all turns to mush, gives the film the aspect of a fascinating and ambitious pastiche" writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "There's something provocative about [Paul Andrew] Williams's attempt to join together so many conflicting, contradictory influences, even if in the end they manage only to cancel one another out." "I wish I could tell you what moved Williams to make London to Brighton, but the truth is that I don't have the slightest idea," writes Jürgen Fauth. "The film masquerades as grim social realism but contains too many genre beats to convince." "LTB offers a fresh (if grimy) contribution to kitchen-sink realism, but little to the tiresome persistence of vicious British gangster chic," writes Nathan Lee in the Voice. For IFC News, Aaron Hillis talks with Williams, who tells him, "the fact is, 99-point-whatever percent of Americans are not going to see this film. I think it's the sort of film you would have to want to go see rather than, you know, go with your girlfriend on a date and say, 'Actually, let's go see this tiny little British film about pedophilia and gangsters and killing.'" For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Williams "about his instinctive approach to directing, British gangster films, and his decision to quit as director of Wild Things 3."
The Band's Visit revisited."Though it's both a predictable culture-clash comedy and a gentle plea for people of different political backgrounds to 'just get along,' The Band's Visit nevertheless manages to use its central contrivances and inevitable cliches to its favor, and becomes something ethereal and winning," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "Poignant in a way that pokes and prods - a little uncertain of itself - until it pierces through, The Band's Visit is a truly lovely film, as patient and generous with its characters as viewers should be with its delicately latent politics and occasional over-love of eccentric tableaux," writes the Reeler. "Writer/director Eran Kolirin presents the unstriking events of an Egyptian police band's single evening spent in a dead-end Israeli village with a strikingly tender, human eye that belies his status as a novice." Updated through 2/10. "It appears that many critics saw The Band's Visit as overly sentimental," notes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "I don't care. The film's episodic gentleness, I would say, is deceptive." s "The Band's Visit resounds with tenderness and melancholy," writes David Edelstein in New York. "What's missing is even a hint of dissonance. Having established that unnerving political context, Kolirin treats the situation of Egyptians adrift in Israel as if it were, say, Chinese people in a North Miami Jewish condominium. There's no threat - there's barely a nod to the fact that the countries were at war. It's a breeze making the case for universal harmony when all of your characters are neutered." "If The Band's Visit is a parable about Arab-Israeli relations, it's only in the most oblique sense; really, the film's subject is language and the difficult necessity of translation between cultures," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. IFC's Matt Singer finds it "intentionally light, maybe even a little slight, but also unquestionably warm and charming." "Think of Lost in Translation set in a desert and slow-dripped with the sentiment of Il Postino and Chocolat," suggests Jesse Sweet in the L Magazine. Erica Abeel talks with Kolirin for indieWIRE. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes, Toronto and December. Update, 2/10: Online listening tip. Ed Champion talks with Kolirin.
February 7, 2008
Berlinale Dispatch. 1.Quick impressions of the opening night film, three shorts and one unclassifiable. Shine a Light may be a so-so concert movie, but it's a brilliant choice for a festival opener. Why not start things off with a party? For the Berlinale's glamor-seeking sponsors, for the crowds that thronged Potsdamer Platz all afternoon and evening, and for the flash armies of the press, festival director Dieter Kosslick could hardly top the sight of Martin Scorsese, still (and for a few days more) Oscar's director laureate, and the Rolling Stones walking up that red carpet - together. Does it even matter if the movie's any good? Fortunately, Shine a Light is, well, not bad. It'll make an okay DVD and, maybe with the right audience, a reasonably fun night out at IMAX, though to hear those who've seen U2 3D tell it, it's already been blown out of the water as a you-are-there experience. At the site for Shine, you can check off all the names of the top notch cinematographers Scorsese's rounded up to capture all they could over two nights in the fall of 2006; it shows, and what's more, David Tedeschi has done a bang-up job at the editing table. Before Keith Richards jangles New York City's Beacon Theater with the curtain-raising first chords of "Jumpin' Jack Flash," though, Scorsese entertains us with a bit of behind-the-scenes squabbling (he needs that set list!) and nerves - in part because the scenes (most of which are sampled in the trailer) are funny, and in part to imply not-so-subtly that conditions for the shoot were not ideal. The best short sequence here features Bill Clinton, who'll be introducing the band later in the evening. But first he's got to meet the band - again, evidently - and he reveals, as he did in South Carolina in January, how much he's, shall we say, fallen out of touch with the knack: "You wouldn't believe how many friends in their 60s have been calling me up for tickets," he grins to Mick Jagger. Goes over like a lead balloon. The scene crosses over into pure comedy - surely unintentional on the Clintons' part, probably at least a little intentional on Scorsese's - when Hillary arrives with her mother; hands are shaken, pictures snapped (Richards giggles into the nearest ear, "Hey Clinton, I'm Bushed") before one of the organizers informs the Stones that they'll soon be meeting 30 of the Clintons' closest friends. Charlie Watts's face falls: "I thought we just did that." But on with the show. "Jumpin'" jumps but the set starts sagging almost immediately afterward. Things don't pick up for a long while. Jack White disappoints. Christina Aguilera more than holds her own. Buddy Guy reminds us that, as directly opposed to, oh, say, U2, when the Stones play the blues, they're going right back to where they started from. With "Sympathy for the Devil," the band, the crowd, the lights, the cuts, all finally click and soar. But that's awfully late in the game. Short archival clips, all of them expertly chosen and interspersed throughout, almost come as a relief. Now then. Mick Jagger is 65 years old. His face shows every single one of those years, but that hair, feathered since the 70s, and that unbelievably lithe body of his - it's just unfathomable. Watch him twitch, flutter and scamper across the stage like some electrocuted insect and you can't help wondering if maybe he really did make some deal with the Devil all those years ago. Watts goes "phew!" once, but otherwise, he's absolutely on top of every number. Ronnie Wood's got no trouble at all supporting the goings on. It seems left to Richards to play the Portrait of Dorian Gray role in this band. Not that every lick hasn't got that signature swagger; but his voice is going and he's the only Stone who dresses to hide a belly. Part of what makes him great, though, is that he knows. Before launching into "Silver and Gold," he tells the audience, "Great to see you. Hell, it's great to see anybody." Some look at the Stones these days and are embarrassed for them. I don't get it. I'm certainly not the fan I was in junior high, but they do what they do just fine and, more importantly, they still enjoy the hell out of it. We don't cringe when 65-year-old classical or jazz musicians walk out on stage; for that matter, we don't cringe at the idea of Bob Dylan still out there on his never-ending tour. Yes, when Jagger syncs his gyrating hips right up next to Aguilera's, it does give one pause. It's not that she could be his daughter. It's that she could be his granddaughter. That's the difference. This was once the sex, drugs 'n' rock 'n' roll band. But as for the music, if they play well, and they get a kick out of it and audiences get a kick out of it, why not? Somewhat related, though, in a roundabout way: Knowing Elegy will be screening on Sunday, I finally got my hands on a copy of Philip Roth's The Dying Animal, the novel the film is based on, and, probably too late, started reading it on the underground this morning. It's not long before the narrator, a man about three years younger than Mick Jagger, is creeping you out with tales of how he habitually conquers young women in their 20s. He's warding off death, and admits as much. As it happens, the first three short films I caught today, selections from Isabella Rossellini's Green Porno series, are all about the inextricability of sex and death - for insects, anyway. On sets and in costumes that have a handmade, Michel Gondry-like playfulness, Rossellini plays a male spider who slaps sperm on his limbs and sneaks up to the "angry" female, fulfills his Darwinian duty and skedaddles out of there before she eats him. A firefly goes courting, also facing down the threat of getting eaten by faux female fireflies. And a housefly happily humps with a big goofy smile on his/her face and proudly notes that they implant their offspring in cadavers. Here's the jolt in this one: the final image of maggots squirming in a model of Rossellini's own head. Wonder what Berlinale sponsor L'Oréal will think of that one. Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg followed and, having gathered reviews from Toronto, I won't go on about it, but instead simply note that I had a marvelous time and that, as Maddin tries to break the wintry spell his hometown has cast over him and his fellow sleepwalkers, he raises a wide array of bewildering questions - and answers the one central to his predicament. Two rivers form "the Forks," lines directly paralleled with "the Lap" - his mother's. The pull is inescapable. The overlapping shades and tones with Roth's aging lecher, Rossellini's insects and Jagger's jagged face all made for an odd first day at the Berlinale.
I've just seen that Variety's Todd McCarthy has reviewed Shine a Light: "[I]'s a proficient celebration of the band’s great songs, performing skills and durability, and perfectly enjoyable as such."
Park City Dispatch. 10.Brian Darr wraps his coverage of the first big festival of the year, focusing on Derek before pondering the question of which films at Sundance 08 might be best remembered ten or more years from now. A few notes follow. The lights of Sundance have receded in the rear-view mirror by now, well over a week after the screenings ended. But before the festival becomes a too-distant memory, I want to make sure I get a few words down on Derek, which had its world premiere in Park City and is headed next for the Berlinale. This documentary, perhaps the best I saw at this year's festival, depicts the life and art of Derek Jarman nearly 14 years after his death from AIDS complications. Derek is structured around two important pieces of "Jarmanian" history: Colin McCabe's 14-hour interview with the filmmaker in 1990 and an expanded version of Tilda Swinton's 2002 address to her deceased collaborator, found in its original version as an extra on the Edward II DVD, and transcribed in full here. Both of these documents are generously excerpted on the soundtrack, weaving between Jarman's jubilant reminiscences and Swinton's voiceover of august insurgency, all accompanied by a trove of images from the British Film Archive's collection of Jarman's home movies, media appearances, and of course feature film excerpts. A sinuous path is traced, from a middle-class upbringing and Oxford education, to a re-education in the London art world. We hear of milestone film viewings (The Wizard of Oz, La Dolce Vita, Scorpio Rising) and of tales from the filming of Sebastiane, Blue and practically everything in between, including the video for the Pet Shop Boys' "It's a Sin," which Jarman calls "quite honestly one of the best things I've ever done." It all adds up to a moving portrait of just how much artistic electricity can surge through a mere 52-year lifespan. Ethereal echo effects that very occasionally trail off from the end of Jarman's sentences are neither insignificant nor ham-handed; instead they help serve as a reminder that the delightful raconteur we're seeing and hearing exists not as an active participant in the film but as an archival spirit to be edited and otherwise manipulated. It's a subtle but effective method of allowing the audience to mourn as we celebrate a filmmaker's life. There's a great deal to celebrate. Derek makes the case that Jarman is one of the most under-appreciated directors Great Britain ever produced. His name is known and a good number of his films are available on DVD, but he rarely comes up in the critical conversation today. Perhaps this is because, as general interest in both the classical and the avant-garde seemingly wanes, there are fewer modern reference points to a filmmaker who was so deeply committed to both, and to their heretical fusion. Perhaps it's because the decidedly political nature of his work makes it seem dated (or worse, too relevant for comfort). Perhaps it's simply because of his films' approach to sexuality. Unlike other struck-down-too-soon auteurs Fassbinder and Pasolini, Jarman's name has not yet transcended the "gay ghetto" and become fashionable for cinephiles of all sexual orientations to drop. At least, that's the way Jarman appears to this writer, whose cinephilia was predated by the director's life and death, and who hadn't seen a single one of his feature-length films until a couple weeks ago. The festival selected Jarman's Edward II to play as part of its "From the Collection" mini-section, spotlighting films from Sundance festivals past which have stood the test of time. In this case, the 16 years since Jarman, Isaac Julien (director of Derek), Gregg Araki (whose The Living End was the other "From the Collection" selection this year) and other filmmakers appeared together at the "Barbed Wire Kisses" panel organized by B Ruby Rich. Seeing a pristine 35mm print of Edward II, its untheatrical take on Christopher Marlowe's play so unlike anything I've seen at this or any other recent film festival, is what inspired me to catch Derek's final Sundance screening days later. Edward II was introduced by Bob Rosen of the UCLA Film & Television Archive, where the Sundance Collection is housed. He explained that, not only is there a cultural imperative to give special archival attention to independent films, there is a practical imperative as well: films made on low budgets and never mass-distributed are simply less likely to survive with all their elements in presentable condition than studio-backed films for which many more prints were struck. I must wonder which films from Sundance 2008 are most likely to remain in memory 16 years from now; perhaps Lance Hammer's Ballast, which could conceivably be canonized as a Mississippi Delta inheritor to that strain of quiet realism that stretches from Rossellini and Ray through to the Dardennes? The nerve-wrackingly fun Baghead by the Duplass Brothers, which could end up as the mumblecore film to outlast its moment? Perhaps one of the highly-praised films I regretfully missed at the festival, like Momma's Man, Sugar or Man on Wire? I'm not sure. I enjoy imagining that the film that will be shorthand for Sundance 2008 a decade or two from now might be Eat, for This Is My Body, a visionary, heavily symbolic work from Haitian-American filmmaker Michelange Quay. Eat, for This Is My Body builds astonishing, sometimes bewildering set pieces around the theme of the intergenerational legacies of colonialism. It does so with earnestness, but also with a sustaining playfulness of camera, music, and presentation of its mostly non-professional actors (Sylvie Testud being one exception.) Some of the images soar, others are a mirror for the performative aspects of consumption (of a film, even) and can make us feel the need to question what we've just seen, and how we've seen it. It's clearly the work of an artist with an audacious spirit, and I'm excited to see what Quay will come up with for his next project. And I can't help but think that Derek Jarman might approve. - Brian Darr
Derek is "Isaac Julien's heartbreaking and giddily alive biopic about filmmaker, painter, and general renegade Derek Jarman," writes Steven Henry Madoff in a diary entry for Artforum. "Tilda Swinton's gorgeous presence, ripe with immensely articulate and sometimes mournful reminiscences, walks through the film like a grave revenant." "Admirers of this cultured, warm and funny man will find plenty to enjoy in Isaac Julien's film, which rests squarely on a long and candid interview conducted by Colin McCabe, shortly before Jarman's death from an Aids-related ilness in 1994," writes Damon Wise in the London Times. "In it, Jarman talks frankly about his youth, his move into the art world and his accidental break into cinema after working on The Devils as a production designer for Ken Russell. Such memoirs are a breath of fresh air in today's PR-controlled climate, and no subject is off-limits, from his parents to the tricky subject of his sexuality, which Jarman admits was not something he allowed himself to address until the age of 22." "Julien's shrewd strategy of permitting only Jarman himself to be the expert intensified his presence, so much so that it seemed as if Julien and Swinton had rubbed the proverbial lamp and released the genie, bringing Jarman's radical cinema back to life," writes B Ruby Rich in the Guardian.
Senses of Cinema. 2007 World Poll.74 names, many of which you'll recognize, from Acquarello through Deane Williams, have sent their best-of-07 lists to Senses of Cinema. Issue 46 is likely just around the corner, but for now, this is quite a browse.
February 6, 2008
Shorts, 2/6."Agnès Varda has a new film, Les plages d'Agnes, and a sales agent home," reports John Hopewell in Variety. "Currently in post-production, and looking set to be ready for delivery by Cannes, Plages is an autobiographical docu feature by the vet French auteur, whose 1962 film Cléo From 5 to 7 gave a female tint to France's Nouvelle Vague." In David Bordwell's latest entry, a discussion of analytical vs constructive editing segues into a an analysis of a scene in Godard's Hail Mary. "There is no country on earth which gratifies the cinéphile (or cinéaste) more than France," argues Ronald Bergan. Also blogging for the Guardian, Kavita Amarnani: "The possible lifting of Pakistan's ban on Bollywood signals a dramatic twist in what has become a dispiritingly predictable tale of south Asian hostility." And for the paper, Emine Saner talks with Naveen Andrews. At the AV Club, Nathan Rabin has a good long talk with John Cleese. "[Pauline] Kael herself often demonstrated that criticism is autobiography - and her assumption that people emerging from a movie should instinctively and definitively know 'whether they liked it' is a perfect example of that," writes Jim Emerson. At Cinema Strikes Back, Charlie Prince tells the story behind Veit Helmer's Absurdistan - and much of the actual story, too, even though "it's not really about the fundamental story — its fairly easy to spot the inevitable happing ending - but about the creative twists and the laugh-out-loud path the story takes in getting there.... It's whimsical and silly, but it had the Sundance audience roaring with laughter and I suspect even the pickiest of audiences will find it enjoyable." Jürgen Fauth on The Rich Have Their Own Photographers: "Ecstatic worshipers in store-front churches, steel workers in their homes, the down-and-out inhabitants of Buffalo's skid row: social documentary photographer Milton Rogovin was never interested in the well-to-do. Thus, the quote that serves as the title of Ezra Bookstein's sharp and fully realized portrait of Rogovin, now 98 years old." In Moscow, Sophia Kishkovsky talks with the director, Olga Zhulina, and producer, Anatoly Voropayev, of This Kiss Is Off the Record: "The title of the movie might well be 'Love Story: The Putin Chronicles,' yet the producer is curiously adamant that it has nothing to do with [Vladimir] Putin and his wife, Lyudmila. Sure, he was an intelligence agent in Germany and she was a flight attendant before they were married. Yes, Mr Putin has spoken in the past about how he rescued his daughters from a fire. But no, this is not about Mr Putin." Also in the New York Times: "In a battle waged with popcorn, floodlights, chalk and star power, science and art squared off at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology one night last month." Dennis Overbye reports on the screening of a few clips of Jumper at MIT and the discussion of the physics of teleportation that followed. In a clip-sprinkled piece for the Independent, Rebecca Armstrong looks into where more computing power might take Pixar. Over three decades after the publication of Prince Among Slaves, "the amazing, nearly lost tale of an African royal forced into slavery will finally get its due as the basis of a PBS documentary premiering Monday," writes Madison Gray for Time. Bob Turnbull is fascinated all over again by A Perfect Candidate, "the story of Oliver North's run for a seat in the Senate in 1994 representing Virginia." FilmInFocus asks Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (The Boys of Baraka and Jesus Camp) where they go for news online. "Perhaps [Casey] Robinson's familiar script and [Jacques] Tourneur's lyrical filmmaking were simply out of step with developments in war pictures by 1944," writes Thom at Film of the Year. "Perhaps the criticism heaped on Days of Glory reflects desire to see a more accurate depiction of the everyday people who fought and died (or survived) in the war instead of a typical Hollywood picture framed around war events. Or perhaps critics and audiences, fed on war reports, war newsreels and combat report documentaries for four or five years, yearned for Hollywood filmmakers to reproduce the conflict as it really was albeit in a narrative form in the relative safety of the movie theater." And the Ship Sails On "is perhaps the closest Fellini has come to making (as well as parodying) a Visconti film," writes Kevin Lee. Related: the video essay. In the Voice:
Fests and events, 2/6."Frosted Yellow Willows tells the story of [Anna May] Wong's birth in her father's laundry in Los Angeles, her single-minded devotion to the movies, her rise to fame, her dealings with a crazy extortionist who threatened her family, her tireless war work," writes Matthew Sweet in the Guardian. "But it seems confused about how we should now regard her. The film celebrates her as a pioneer, but invites the viewer to despise much of her work - all those 1930s crime dramas in which she plays a gangster's moll, a beautiful assassin or the knife-wielding offspring of Fu Manchu. It offers her as a victim - enumerating the painful moments when she was passed over in favour of western actors with unconvincing makeup, or cast, improbably, as an Inuit or a Native American - yet the footage from her pictures shows that she transcended this status." The doc screens at the National Portrait Gallery on Friday and at the BFI Southbank on Saturday. "The film historian Walter Kerr claimed that: 'No comedienne ever became a truly important film clown,'" notes Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent. "The stars were supposed to be beautiful and glamorous – the object of the gaze. Clowning Glories and Screwball Women, a season of comedy films screening during the festival Birds Eye View, a celebration of women in film, seeks to challenge this hoary old chauvinistic thinking." For the Voice, J Hoberman previews Film Forum's three-week Sidney Lumet retrospective (Friday through February 28) and Anthology's week-long Charles Burnett series (Friday through February 14). Related: Noel Vera on Burnett: "He's no mere realist; he's a poet of realism." In the Philadelphia Weekly, Matt Prigge rounds up local goings on. Wrapping Rotterdam, sudden string of reviews Boyd van Hoeij at european-films.net: Janja Glogovac's "colorful, almost fairgroundesque" L... kot ljubezen (L... Like Love), Rithy Panh's Le papier ne peut pas envelopper la braise, a "heartbreaking portrait" of "women of joy," and Paula van der Oest's Tiramisu, "a sly subversion of the values that the average Dutch men and women pride themselves on: quiet success, careful with money, conformist."
SF IndieFest, 2/6.The 10th San Francisco Independent Film Festival opens tomorrow with Shotgun Stories. As Eve O'Neill notes, introducing her interview with writer-director Jeff Nichols for SF360, the film's "on quite a roll, fresh off grand jury prize wins at both the Seattle and Austin Film Festivals, Roger Ebert's 'great discovery' at the Chicago Film Festival, and now nominated for a Cassavetes Award at the 2008 Independent Spirit Awards." In the Bay Guardian's Cheryl Eddy previews Row Hard, No Excuses and The Bodybuilder and I, while Matt Sussman focuses on This World of Ours, "a youthfully nihilistic, epic, and episodic take on nihilistic youth in 21st-century Japan, represent[ing] the coming out of its writer and director, Nakajima Ryo, not just as a filmmaker to watch but in a larger sense as well. Nakajima made his debut feature after a period of post–high school isolation when he became a hikikomori, one of the growing number of young Japanese who voluntarily cocoon themselves in their rooms for months and sometimes years." Earlier: Michael Hawley at the Evening Class. SF Indiefest runs through February 20.
February 5, 2008
DVDs, 2/5."The films produced by Edwin Thanhouser during the Teens may seem fragile in their faded beauty and quaint devices, but their very age and quaintness become strengths to those of us who admire the style and vigor of silent cinema, when rules were made and broken with each new weekly release." Michael Barrett has an extensive review of a three-volume collection in PopMatters. "I've been watching two recent DVDs on the early history of sound and color," writes Kristin Thompson who, along with David Bordwell, has been revising Film History: An Introduction for an upcoming third edition. Reviews of Discovering Cinema and A Century of Sound: The History of Sound in Motion Pictures: The Beginning: 1876 - 1932 follow, along with comments on the supplements packaged together with The Jazz Singer. "Fifteen years after its release, Groundhog Day seems as strange and singular as ever: a Hollywood romantic comedy that could double as a Zen koan or an existential nightmare, depending on how you look at it," writes Dennis Lim in the Los Angeles Times. "[T]he genius of [Harold] Ramis and Danny Rubin's script is that, unlike most Hollywood films that flirt with the metaphysical, it never attempts to explain how or why its hero is confined to an eternal present.... Seen one way, it's an inspiring parable of human perfectability. Even a jerk like Phil has the potential to emerge finally as a paragon of decency. But the message is, of course, double-edged. It's the kind of transformative feat that might require endless tries, if not several lifetimes." Related: Jason Kottke: "Jamie Zawinski reckons that Bill Murray re-lived February 2nd for at least 4 years in Groundhog Day." As it happens, Rubin comments: "[I]t lasted about ten years." It's an interesting entry, and so are the comments that follow. Via Waxy.org. Dave Kehr in the New York Times on Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors: "With its vision of nature in Dionysian riot, its chorus lines of extravagantly costumed peasants and its shifting point of view, it is hard to tell where ethnography ends in this extraordinary film, and where fantasy begins." Katherine Follett at Not Coming to a Theater Near You on Withnail & I: "It seems that the real power of this film lies not in its extremism, but conversely in the way it sits just at the far edge of reality, the edge that is barely on the savable side of sanity. The craziness is kept in check so that the characters and their situation remain unsettlingly familiar, with a feeling of 'there but for the grace of God go I.'" "This week Media Blasters released the first film in the Delinquent Girl Boss movie series called Delinquent Girl Boss: Blossoming Night Dreams (Zubeko Bancho: Yumei Wa Yoru Hiraku, 1970) on DVD and it's my DVD Pick of the Week," announces Kimberly Lindbergs. "Due to a rather loose script, the film doesn't exactly pack the same powerful dramatic punch that Delinquent Girl Boss: Worthless To Confess had, but the movie still features some really impressive visuals and great musical numbers that more than make up for the writing. Overall it's a terrific addition to the slowly growing stable of pinky violence films now available on DVD in the US and it's sure to impress anyone who enjoys the films of the talented Japanese director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi." In the Voice, Nathan Lee argues that one way into Kent Jones's work on Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows is via his previous approach to John Carpenter. This week's "Foreign Region DVD Report" from Glenn Kenny is all about Marketa Lazarova: "It's not, obviously, as if Frantisek Vasil's film contains the most staggering/jaw-dropping imagery in the history of cinema... it's more that it contains the most consistent succession of staggering/jaw-dropping images." "Seethingly articulate yet lyrically at a loss, [Rocket Science] chronicles a very particular high school tribulation, and yet it's so finely and generously observed that it feels universal," writes Michael Atkinson at IFC News. Also, "Chris Gorak's Right at Your Door is an active demonstration of what can be accomplished with little more than a potent idea." Billy Stevenson on Mr Smith Goes to Washington: "Filtered through [Smith's] eyes, Washington DC takes on the majesty of Ancient Greece, with the Lincoln Memorial as its Acropolis, producing a political sublime that elevates every constitutional pronouncement to a marble incision. This beatification of language completes You Can't Take It With You's transference of culpability from the media to the 'business machine.'" Kevin Kelly on Deep Water: "Finally, a documentary with as many unexpected plot twists and turns as a scripted film." DVD roundups: Cinema Strikes Back, Paul Clark (ScreenGrab), DVD Talk, Bryant Frazer, Peter Martin (Cinematical) and Slant. And of course, always keep an eye on the Guru.
Fests and events, 2/5.As part of its Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Recent Experimental Documentaries series, the Pacific Film Archive is hosting a booksigning tonight. The book: F is for Phony: Fake Documentary and Truth's Undoing, an anthology edited by Alexandra Juhasz and Jesse Lerner. Michael Guillén has an overview of the book and the work of filmmaker and programmer Lerner. The Evening Class is also host to two terrific previews: Michael Hawley on SF IndieFest (Thursday through February 20) and Sergio de la Mora on the Guadalajara International Film Festival (March 7 through 14). Thursday at the Donnell Media Center in New York: Thomas Doherty discusses his book, Hollywood's Censor: Joseph L Breen & the Production Code Administration. Robert Cashill has details. As the Circuit lands in Berlin, Variety's special Berlinale section is off and running. Acquarello has the lineup for this year's Rendez-vous with French Cinema (February 29 through March 7). "The True Glory, the World War II documentary of 1945 to be screened in a new print this Friday as part of the Museum of Modern Art's Oscar's Docs series, is the most expensive documentary ever made," writes Nicholas Wapshott in the New York Sun. "Commissioned by General Eisenhower to record the progress of 'Operation Overlord,' the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe in 1944 by Allied troops, the film took an enormous toll on all who worked on it. Of the 1,400 cameramen involved, 32 were killed in action, 16 were reported missing, and more than 100 were wounded." Paradise Now! Essential French Avant-garde Cinema, 1890 - 2008 at the Tate Modern, March 14 through May 2: "To coincide with the major exhibition Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia, this landmark series presents over 60 films, most of which have never been shown before in the UK." "Building on its reputation as a venue that celebrates both Balkans vitality and US indie versatility, the 14th Sarajevo Film Festival this summer will hold a tribute to I'm Not There director Todd Haynes," reports Nick Holdsworth in Variety. August 15 through 23. A last round of Park City photos from Ray Pride.
Vanity Fair. Nice pix, no party.First, a few online browsing and viewing tips. A slide show of all the covers Annie Leibovitz has shot for Vanity Fair's Hollywood issues since 1995; Kathryn MacLeod's behind-the-scenes pix snapped during this year's shoot; plus, video; and Jim Windolf reports on Art Streiber's Hitchcock portfolio. Meanwhile, Vanity Fair has just announced: "After much consideration, and in support of the writers and everyone else affected by this strike, we have decided that this is not the appropriate year to hold our annual Oscar party."
SXSW. Features lineup."Some 113 feature films are set to screen at the 15th South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Conference & Festival in Austin, TX," announces indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez, and he gets in a few quotes from festival producer Matt Dentler: "What struck me most was how so many of the narrative features depict very regional American stories. Even the East Coast or West Coast stories, are very specific to a neighborhood or subculture. As for the docs, "They aren't just stories about war and politics, they're very personal sagas with very real people center stage." There's a whole slew of very appetizing nuggets in this lineup (posted below as a comment). The Berlinale hasn't even started yet and I'm already itching to get to Austin.
February 4, 2008
Bright Lights. 59.Via Bright Lights After Dark comes new not only of a new issue of Bright Lights Film Journal but also of Film Annex's interview with BL editor Gary Morris, who tells the story behind the journal. Since its launch in 1974, he says, "the magazine has definitely evolved over the years. My ongoing interest in leftist politics, alternative subcultures, and mixing popular and academic voices has expanded it beyond the early auteurist slant, though director studies remain important." So, as a way into Issue 59, let's start with those. "For most of his career, Peter Watkins has had a growing apprehension over the developing 'language' of Western - and now international - audiovisual media, whether generated by a movie screen or a TV set," writes Gordon Thomas. "Entertainments like the Bourne films are drugs, and Watkins calls their delivery system Monoform: in his words, 'the repetitive language that uses rapid "seamless" cuts, and an incessant bombardment of movement and sound.'... In the 19th-century Norway and Sweden, respectively, of his films Edvard Munch and The Freethinker, it's the newspapers that functioned as film and TV, manipulated by humongous corporations, do today. In those days, it was the monarchies pulling the strings. Then came Griffith and the movies." With a newly "remixed and remastered" The Living End screening at Sundance (and soon, in Berlin), Damon Smith met Gregg Araki in Park City for a retrospective chat. "In some sense I had always assumed [Wes Anderson] identified with the alienated powerlessness of Max in Rushmore and Margot in The Royal Tenenbaums, but really it's Max's willfulness, Royal's manipulative sneakiness, and Zissou's and Owen Wilson's whiny controlling streaks that are truly at the lonely hearts of his films," writes Joseph Aisenberg. "They're all spoiled children trying to make the world give them the great wonderful thing they think they want that somehow or other keeps slipping out of their grasps." Then it's onto actors. Justin Vicari remembers Heath Ledger: "The entertainment industry has been known to squeeze blood out of stones; it is a truism that the system tends to breed real-life disasters more poignant and heartbreaking than the plots of the films it churns out." "[S]ince the dawn of movies, eras have been remembered not by their all-too human political and military leaders, but by their movie stars, the goddesses, à la Joan Crawford, Jane Fonda, Madonna - who emblemize the spirit of our peoples, and the sacrificial virgins, à la Janet Leigh, and now Naomi Watts, shadow mother of mirrors for the postmodern 21st century - who symbolize the devouring nature of media itself," writes Erich Keursten. "Like Cary Grant, who might be his younger, pricklier British brother, [Charles] Boyer was happy to provide support for a complex, flashy female co-star," writes Dan Callahan. "Also like Grant, he has been consistently underrated as an actor." As for the, well, synergy, I suppose, of the director and actor: "In his classic 1933 text, now issued as Film as Art, Rudolf Arnheim shows how the unique limitations of film (when compared with lived reality), though commonly viewed as weaknesses of the art form, were in actuality the properties that granted the medium its singular effectiveness," writes Andrew Schenker. "Out of this limited capacity for characterization, directors like Abbas Kiarostami, Tsai Ming-Liang, Jia Zhang-ke and many other of the world's best filmmakers have created a new conception of character, more in tune with the cinema's real capacities, a conception that sets the characters unemphatically into their environments and makes no attempt to provide them with a false complexity that the film would be incapable of sustaining." "In cinema, making up a twin, a doppelganger, or an alter ego is almost a conventional thing to do: as common a ploy as the forging of love letters," writes Lesley Chow in a piece on Two-Faced Woman and Sylvia Scarlett. "But there is another reason why a character might choose to divide: honesty." Andrew Grossman: "Film music is generally misdiagnosed as an aesthetic problem: how does one maximize through music the expressivity of a scene? Rarely is it appreciated for the moral problem that a Sidney Lumet or Satyajit Ray recognized it to be: how can the sparest possible use of music maximize the audience's imaginative interaction with the image?" In a piece on editing, DJM Saunders considers City of God and Central Station; The Man Who Wasn't There and Moonrise; and Good Night, and Good Luck. "The destruction of Pruitt-Igoe exists in American culture as an early moment of crisis for modernist fantasies of the city," writes Amy Abugo Ongiri. "However, popular and low culture had been pointing the direction to this crisis for years through their representation of the abject spaces of the country and the ghetto. In this paper, I draw on two seemingly unrelated, under-celebrated moments of cinema production history - hillbilly sexploitation and blaxploitation - in which those spaces not only figure significantly but are also significantly refigured. I do so not only to consider urbanity's disjunctions but disjunctions in the national imagination that governs representational notions of race, class, and power." "Recent Cinema Roundabout":
In Bruges."In the audaciously violent In Bruges, writer-director Martin McDonagh uses funny and lovable buddy hitmen (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) to explore more agonizing questions of sin and redemption, and the shifts in tone are hard, if not impossible, to reconcile," writes David Edelstein in New York. "At the center of the film is the accidental killing of a small boy at prayer, and while McDonagh gives that act its full due (and then some), there's a disconnect between so shattering a tragedy and the fundamentally bogus genre he's working in. For In Bruges to click, McDonagh needed either to get more real or more fake." Updated through 2/7. "Melancholic music and a torpid pace don't make In Bruges profound, but they are symptomatic of this phony, pretentious crime film's schizophrenia," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "No one wants a movie that tiptoes in step with political correctness, yet the willful opposite can be equally noxious, and, as In Bruges barges and blusters its way through dwarf jokes, child-abuse jokes, jokes about fat black women, and moldy old jokes about Americans, it runs the risk of pleasing itself more than its paying viewers," writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. "Ralph Fiennes's arrival in the third act, as a hot-tempered Cockney thug, represents a serious improvement. Fiennes is one of those screen actors - like Nicole Kidman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Tilda Swinton, Richard Widmark and Ronald Reagan - who are only credible, but unequivocally so, when evil," writes Benjamin Strong in the L Magazine. "Beyond Fiennes, however, In Bruges is remarkable mostly for its lack of originality." Earlier: Reviews from last month when the film opened Sundance; and David D'Arcy. Updates, 2/5: "McDonagh's basic ability is undeniable: he writes carefully wrought duets for dialect, accommodates generous space for his actors to build character, and knows how to pack a scene with ballast," writes Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE. Still: "What the 30s were to the newsman, the 50s the adman, the last fifteen years have been for the killer-for-hire. There are theses to be written to analyze the ubiquity of this figure - in films, television, video games - in the age of global capitalism unbound; I won't attempt one. I only know I've had my fill." "Tolerably well-crafted, In Bruges is also mighty pleased with itself, and not entirely without reason," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. That said, "In Bruges may have won McDonagh the opening night at Sundance and a sweet deal with Focus Features, but six months from now, this very minor pleasure will have about as much traction as the misty city in which it's set." "In Bruges keeps constantly modulating moods, from broad fish-out-of-water comedy to revenge thriller, from soul-searching morality tale to the resolution's near-Boschian horror, which plays like a twisted Belgian version of Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now," writes Jürgen Fauth. "There's a Mametian rat-a-tat to McDonagh's dialogue, but the offbeat humor and the characters' genuine pain and regret feels unique," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. Updates, 2/6: The film's "finale, which piles one bloody absurd epiphany on top of another almost ad infinitum, is where McDonagh lays all his cards on the table - and his characters are the ones who have to pay up," writes Glenn Kenny. "Viewers might not be entirely convinced that the auteur has actually won the hand. But only the most churlish would not admit that he played a pretty impressive game." Erica Abeel talks with McDonagh for indieWIRE. "So, then, In Bruges, a new hit man movie," sighs Robert Cashill. "Neither the best nor the worst of its ilk, it will have to do till the next one comes out, probably in a week or two." Bilge Ebiri talks with McDonagh for New York's Vulture. Update, 2/7: "Martin McDonagh's In Bruges comes as close to redeeming Tarantino's inadvertent spawn as possible, even if the goofy self-parody of the Transporter series' self-mocking ethics is still preferable," writes the Reeler. "Like good stand-up comics with mediocre material, his central trio - Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes - bring energy and verve to a film that almost doesn't deserve it."
Tribeca, 2/4."Nearly a year after a whopping 50 percent hike in ticket prices (among other things) led to my full-page rant in the Post against the Tribeca Film Festival, the festival has done a major about-face and is taking the unusual step of cutting admission prices, as well as consolidating its venues and eliminating screenings as far north as 72nd Street," writes Lou Lumenick. In the New York Sun, S James Snyder argues that "if this year's Oscar race is any indication, Tribeca has Sundance in its sights." The festival runs April 23 through May 4. Update, 2/5: Rob Davis comments: "[T]here's less evidence that the lower-Manhattan fest is aiming to steal from Sundance than be its complement."
Awards, 2/4.At the Film Experience, Nathaniel R is hosting an Oscar Symposium, his third, and this year his guests are Dennis Cozzalio, Nick Davis, Boyd van Hoeij, Kim Morgan, Tim Robey and Sasha Stone. Edward Copeland has the winners of the Producers Guild Awards. Updated through 2/6. "Jaime Rosales won best picture and best director statuettes for La soledad on Sunday at the Goya Awards, Spain's version of the Oscars," reports the AP. Eugene HernandezindieWIRE "reader reiterated that the victory for Rosales' film was a major upset given that The Orphanage sold millions of tickets, while La Soledad was a modest release reaching just tens of thousands of moviegoers." Related: Reviews from Cannes and James Van Maanen's take back December. This entry'll be picking up from "Oscarology, 1/31," last updated on Sunday. Update, 2/5: Edward Copeland's posted the results of his survey of Oscar's best and worst Best Actors. Updates, 2/6: At european-films.net, Boyd van Hoeij notes that Spain wasn't the only European country handing out its national film awards this past weekend. "In Finland, the upcoming Berlinale Competition title Musta jää (Black Ice) from director Petri Kotwica was the big winner with a total of six awards, including Best Picture.... In Denmark, Peter Schønau Fog's Kunsten at græde i kor (The Art of Crying) was the big winner with a total of eight awards." And he's got the full lists of all three hooplas. Jim Emerson shows us his ballot for Edward Copeland's poll.
Shorts, 2/4."Who are the power players in the world of quality cinema? What individuals and organizations make intelligent, well-crafted movies and have the profile, financial resources and/or critical esteem to attract discerning audiences?" Paste's Tim Regan-Porter introduces the "Art House Powerhouse 100: The People Behind the Movies We Love." Online are the lists of actors and directors, adding up to about half the total. The other lists Cinematical's Eric D Snider mentions (cinematographers, producers, festivals) don't seem to be online. Still, a fun browse. Randal C Archibold reports on "one of the more unconventional film and media production schools around, the Wounded Marine Careers Foundation, a 10-week apprenticeship program guided by film industry veterans": Here, a student casually peels off his shirt to reveal indentations and stitches crisscrossing a shoulder nearly obliterated by rifle fire. Another hikes up a pant leg to explain how his prosthetic limb works. And one, in the quiet of a "mess hall," a store house for props, speaks of the nightmares that rob him of sleep. But it is also a place where marines, most them in their 20s, see a path to dreams and a way to overcome their disabilities, with the guarantee of membership in the main production crew union at the end and producers already calling for their services. Also in the New York Times (and via Matt Dentler), Roberta Hershenson's appreciation of and talk with Ruby Dee, currently being nominated and awarded for her performance in American Gangster: "Her own perspective was shaped by her decades of work as an activist, including marching with the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr during the civil rights movement. 'As a nation we are growing some thick skin over some basic tenets that are in danger of being lost to us,' she said in the interview. 'Our democracy is getting threadbare.'" And Charles McGrath "makes a case for pulp fiction that applies to movies as well as to literature," notes Jim Emerson. "1944 was a hell of a year for film noir," writes Steve-O at Noir of the Week. "Really a turning point. The year saw the releases of Laura, Double Indemnity and Murder, My Sweet. The trio would go on to influence the entire body of film noir to come. One film from that year is unfortunately forgotten today by most is the amazing Phantom Lady directed by Robert Siodmak." Eddie Constantine "promises to become another of my grand obsessions," writes Tim Lucas. Plus, related online viewing. "The second film in Mrinal Sen's thematically connected 'absence trilogy' (along with Ek Din Pratidin and Ek Din Achanak) that examine the implications of a person's unexpected disappearance from a middle-class household on the family's moral consciousness, Kharij expounds on the trilogy's clinical and uncompromising social critique of entrenched, dysfunctional bourgeois values and materialistic privilege that have led to indifference, discrimination, insularity, and exploitation," writes acquarello. Barbara Leibovitz tells Rachel Cooke "that the process of putting together Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens brought the two of them closer." Cooke: "[I]t's a satisfyingly thorough and honest film and, with its emphasis on Leibovitz's decade-long reign at Rolling Stone, her photographs of dancers and her fine documentary work, it might remind a few people that there is more to her than wind machines, wigs and body-paint." Also in the Observer:
Fests and events, 2/4.Shawn Levy previews the Portland International Film Festival, opening Thursday and running through February 23. Dan Jardine is covering the Victoria Film Festival, running through Sunday. Bomb It! is Michael Guillén's "'don't miss' pick from the 10th Annual San Francisco Indiefest" - Thursday through February 20. Joe Heim opens a nice Washington Post preview of Our City Film Fest, "a day-long screening of locally based documentaries next Sunday at Busboys and Poets." And that day is this coming Sunday. Via Sujewa Ekanayake. Ellipsis: Chantal Akerman, Lili Dujourie, Francesca Woodman - at the Lund Konsthall from Saturday through April 13. "Sporting over 200 features, 400 shorts, and a few dozen art installations and live performances, Rotterdam had a little something for everyone, from the loud to the quiet, the popular to the obscure, high art to industry." A dispatch from Doug Jones at indieWIRE, where Eugene Hernandez notes that Persepolis took the festival's audience award. Also, DJ Palladino reports on the just-wrapped Santa Barbara International Film Festival: "Though it began with a high-profile studio premiere of Definitely, Maybe, clearly the biggest hit was a locally-produced surf film." That'd be Bustin' Down the Door. Anne M Hockens has the latest Noir City 6 update at the Siffblog. Online listening tip. Rob Davis and J Robert Parks and, half an hour in, Brian Darr discuss this year's Sundance Film Festival.
February 3, 2008
"Diversity Training.""This year, reality is finally catching up with Hollywood," writes Joshua Alston in Newsweek: Now that the candidacies of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are forcing us to examine feelings about race, gender and power, there's much insight to be gained from studying their fictional ancestors. After all, the part of the president of the United States is one of the few that could always be cast as a white male, so any time a woman or a person of color has been put into that role, it was done purposefully. How have our depictions of black and female presidents reflected our feelings about having one? How do they shape our current opinions and comfort levels? And should Obama or Clinton ascend to the presidency, how will the depictions change once we've gone from "what if" to "what now?" He considers 24 and Commander in Chief, mostly; early stabs The Man (1972, with James Earl Jones) and Kisses for My President (1964, with Polly Bergen); Head of State and Prison Break. Related online viewing, via Ray Pride: "Yes We Can."
Park City Dispatch. 9.More shorts and more takes from Brian Darr; also, two feature-length docs that roused lots of interest in Park City last month and one that pretty much slipped out of the spotlight. If you've made a short film that's been accepted into Sundance, one of the first things you might be curious about is whether it's going to play as part of a program of shorts or as a warm-up for a feature. There are advantages and disadvantages of each path. Since there is only a certain subset of Sundance-goers interested in attending shorts programs, as anecdotally evidenced by the shrugs often elicited when I'd compare screening notes with strangers in festival rush lines and shuttles and lead off with enthusiasm for one of these programs, a slot before a feature film may be a better means of exposing your work to the unconverted. But if you want to be able to engage your audience in post-screening Q&A sessions, being part of a collection in which no one film is the focus of attention is the only sure way to go. The New Frontier Shorts program screening at the Tower Theatre, for example, was followed by a lively back-and-forth between the relatively sparse audience and the three filmmakers in attendance. These were Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung, who was gleeful just to be at Sundance with his videogame- and Martha Colburn-inspired pieces Gas Zappers and Because Washington is Hollywood For Ugly People; Tony Gault, who described the background of his tribute to his brother, Count Backwards From Five; and Andrea Fasciani, who explained but did not try to over-explain the inspiration for the bizarre but unpretentious Buyo: a friend with a distinctive voice and an ex-girlfriend who was willing to be in the film as long as her head would not be shown. I only wished Nicolas Provost had been there so I could ask him how he got his footage for Plot Point, a fascinating appropriation of Hollywood narrative techniques to an anti-narrative film. In contrast, Daniel Robin, whose my olympic summer unearthed home movies of his parents on the eve of their involvement in the hostage crisis at the 1972 Munich Olympics, might have been a bit disappointed in the circumstances of the Sundance premiere screening of his short at Park City's Library Center Theatre. Just before the screening, he mentioned that he'd have something to tell the audience about his film, which poignantly marries the previously-undeveloped footage to a voiceover track and to a German-language version of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." But he never got a chance. Presumably any disappointment didn't last long, and must certainly have been wiped out by the time my olympic summer received the Sundance Shorts Jury's top prize. I'm still curious about what it was he wanted to tell us. But that afternoon's Q&A belonged wholly to Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath, whose documentary feature, 23 years in the making, wowed a packed audience that Kuras joked was half-filled with filmmakers she'd worked with before in her Sundance-studded career. Nerakhoon (The Betrayal) illustrates the inextricable intersection between the personal and the political. It's a chronicle of a family forced to flee the world's most heavily-bombed nation, Laos, and find an uneasy refuge in the country responsible for those bombs: the United States. The family's crime-ridden Brooklyn neighborhood is described as "Hell on Earth" by the mother of subject and co-director Thavisouk Phrasaveth, and there is plenty of footage in support of that sentiment. But just as in life, it's impossible to predict the turns Thavisouk's family life will undertake, which makes it all the more remarkable that cameras are there to document so much, so beautifully. Especially impressive are a series of shots taken in Laos, simulating the family's escape through the wilderness and across the Mekhong River into Thailand. I found myself reminded of a Scott MacDonald quote I'd recently unearthed while researching a piece on George Kuchar for the upcoming edition of Senses of Cinema. In the July 1997 issue of The Independent Film & Video Monthly, MacDonald wrote that "no contradiction necessarily exists between witnessing social/political horror and a love of the image, and indeed, these two concerns can be fundamentally synergetic." He wrote this in reference to a notorious flare-up between Kuchar and some other attendees of the 42nd Robert Flaherty Seminar, where Kuchar's Weather Diary 1 was shown alongside works of intense political resistance by the likes of Alanis Obomsawin and Merata Mita. In a film like Nerakhoon, sorrow, pain, and regret are so evident that it's necessary that the film be as artful as it is to keep the viewer committed. When this balance between emotion and aesthetics is upended, as it is in Yasukuni, about a controversial shrine to Japan's war dead, it can be unbearable to the point of undermining any messages the filmmakers wish to convey. James Rocchi has a good quote about Sundance and independent film: that they serve as an "escape from escapism" found at the average multiplex. So then, is a film like American Teen an "escape from the escape from escapism"? American Teen follows four Indiana high school students from various walks of campus life, each representing a type familiar to everyone who's seen a John Hughes movie. It goes down smoothly; we're less apt to ask just what makes the institution of the American high school the way it is than to wonder how director Nanette Burstein captured footage of intimate phone calls and naughty text-messaging sessions. Anyone who went to school in this country is likely to relate to the challenges facing one or more of these main characters. Well, at least anyone straight and white. - Brian Darr
Maggie Lee reviewed Yasukuni for the Hollywood Reporter when it screened at the Pusan International Film Festival.