February 29, 2008

Jar City.

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."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:43 AM

It's a Free World....

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.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:40 AM

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

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.

Her Name Is Sabine

Bonnaire cuts back and forth between the young and the older Sabine, and though it may be partially due to the typical sadness of comparing youth with age, we never quite get over the surprise of seeing the more radiant girl. Bonnaire keeps herself to a minimum but it is clear she is hugely important to her sister. We leave the film grateful that she remains in the picture, even at a distance, and wondering how we would - if we could - handle something like this. As sad and depressing as the subject may be, the film is one of the more enriching and encompassing about autism - about the handicapped of any kind - that I've encountered. I think this is due to the clarity Bonnaire brings to her topic. She does not sermonize but rather shows and tells with concern and economy (the documentary lasts only 85 minutes). Her Name Is Sabine will be shown at the IFC Center on Sunday, March 2, at 3:30; it will screen at the WRT venue on Saturday, March 1, at 1:30 and Wednesday, March 5, at 8:45. On a happy, if surprising, note, the movie has also been picked up for distribution by Film Movement.

Let's Dance

Let's Dance! On the basis of the two films I've seen by director/co-writer (with Florence Seyvos) and sometimes actress (Backstage, Kings and Queen) Noémie Lvovsky, this talented woman, now in her mid-40s, likes to deal with profound subjects in a relatively lighthearted manner. This is not the same thing as doing "deep" in a "shallow" way, for Ms Lvovsky manages, as in her 2000 film Les Sentiments, to treat love and infidelity with the seriousness they deserve, using a crack cast in counterpoint with a chorale, of all things! And she keeps us amused, delighted and on our toes, wits-wise, at least.

In her new film, Let's Dance (Fait que ça danse!), she comes closer to keeping us literally on our toes, since there is occasional dancing going on: by her lead actor, the great Jean-Pierre Marielle and, in films clips, by another "great," Fred Astaire. (Lead actress Valeria Bruni Tedeschi gets to wiggle a bit as well). Once again, Lvovsky offer us little things like life, death, aging and the Holocaust, done with a light touch that still manages to take note of the darker side - without falling over into it. This is a gift, and if I am not as blown away by Let's Dance as I was by Les Sentiments, I still highly recommend it as an antidote, if only a temporary one (rather like life itself, but shorter) to "the end."

Let's Dance!

What makes this movie especially enjoyable is its ensemble cast. In addition to Marielle and Tedeschi, there is Bulle Ogier, as M Marielle's now semi-senile wife; Sabine Azema is his newest girlfriend; Arié Elmaleh as Tedeschi's quiet but staunch boyfriend; and a truly lovely actor, Barkary Sangaré who, though I have seen him in Les Sentiments, as well as Claire Denis's Trouble Every Day, stands out here in a whole new way. This group does wonders in bringing Ms Lvovsky's film to imaginative life, and there is one scene in particular that I think will remain in your memory. It shows an event that we have often witnessed on film - and if we are lucky enough, in life - but never, I think, quite like this. More than anything else in the movie, it reflects what I imagine to be the Lvovsky philosophy clearly and without the tendency to simplify and sentimentalize that occasionally hovers about some other of her events (life is to dance!) - but does not, fortunately, sink the film. Instead, the director keeps it, its cast and us all dancing.

Let's Dance will be shown at Rendez-Vous's WRT venue on Friday, February 29, at 1, Saturday, March 1 at 9:15, and at the IFC Center on Sunday March 2 at 1 pm.

Love Songs

Love Songs "I love no one but you!" sings Louis Garrel to his love (looking and acting about as charming and sexy as I've yet seen him). Trouble is, he's singing it to two women simultaneously. This should give you a clue as to the transgressive nature of Christopher Honoré's very clever, bumpy and ultimately winning Love Songs (Les Chansons d'amour). Most of the songs here are about love, alright, but often their purpose is to help the characters come to terms with grief. Untimely death occurs early on, and the movie - which is very concerned with love and sex (and our current uses of them) - spends most of its time trying to figure out how these fit into the grid that one's life, these days, is laid out upon. And how death affects family members, as well as lovers and friends. Being French, of course, the thoughts, actions and ideas on display look almost nothing like that we get from American movies.

You may be put in mind of some of the films of Jacques Demy (for whatever reason - grief, perhaps, and the appearance of Chiara Mastroianni - I was reminded periodically of the late Françoise Dorléac), though the music and lyrics by Alex Beaupain are definitely 21st century in their rhythms and concerns (one love duet is even sung via cell phone). Not nearly the entire dialogue is sung, however (as it is with Demy), and there are nods aplenty to past movie musicals, which only adds to the charm and "movie-ness" of the goings-on.

The musical is a fairly resistible genre, at least for many, as it calls for an even further suspension of disbelief than other genres, by having characters who sing - in addition to all the other "unreality" in which movies abound. By bringing the musical into our new century, then making it small and intimate, Honoré risks some alienation from his audience. I experienced a degree of this along the way, particularly early on, yet little by little I was draw into the "life" created by the writer/director and his composer/lyricist (who walked away this past week with a César award). The songs, by the way, existed prior to the movie: Honoré built his film around what was already there, rather than having Beaupain do the reverse, and it works so well that I doubt you'll care to pull out the chicken/egg theory here.

Love Songs

In addition to the increasingly surprising Garrel and the increasingly grounded and graceful Mastroianni, the ensemble includes Ludivine Sagnier (A Secret) and Clotilde Hesme (whom you'll remember as Garrel's amour in Regular Lovers) as the girlfriends, Brigitte Roüan as the mother, and Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet (also one of this year's César winners) as the very insistent young man who throws the Garrel character quite a curve. We are left, in the end, again mulling the odd course and conditions of love. This time, however, you may feel yourself, as I did, a few inches above the ground, in something approaching a state of grace.

Love Songs will screen at Rendez-Vous in its WRT venue on Sunday, March 2, at 1 pm and Tuesday, March 4, at 1 and 6:15 pm, and at the IFC Center Monday, March 3, at 7:30. Love Songs is one of the four Rendez-Vous films (so far) to be picked up for theatrical distribution, this one by IFC Films and Red Envelope Entertainment. It will debut in theatres on March 21.

[Love Songs screened at Cannes.]

Paris

Paris In its own way, Cédric Klapisch's Paris is as much a love letter to the city of lights - and life - as was last year's Paris je t'aime. There are nearly as many characters here and a plethora of stories, but only a single director - though a very good one. Klapisch (Russian Dolls, Not for or Against, Un Air de famille) loves ensembles, and to judge from the many fine performances he draws from his disparate casts, they love the opportunity to work with him - many of them for a second or third time.

Confession: due to last-minute emergency and the NYC subway system, I missed the first 15 minutes of the press screening. Still, after taking my seat, within 30 seconds I'd become involved with the characters on-screen and after viewing the remaining 115 minutes, I feel entitled to recommend Paris as a "don't miss" experience: for its beauty, its acute sense of opportunity and heartbreak, and one performance after another that offers some of France's best actors at their peak. (I will plan to see that first quarter-hour at the official screening later this week - and will probably sit through the whole movie again. It's that enjoyable.)

Klapisch loves to twine people and events together, and one of his stronger points is that he does not push these connections. Consequently, some of the characters are joined more firmly - by family ties, love interest, employment - than others. This makes for a movie that jogs along at a regular pace, sometimes speeding up or slowing down for a little detour (one of the wittiest is a computer-animated dream/nightmare experienced by the architect played by François Cluzet, of last year's Tell No One).

Paris

The stories take in a young man (Romain Duris) with a heart problem both literal and metaphoric; his sister (Juliette Binoche) and her offspring; the architect's brother (the great Fabrice Luchini, most recently of Molière), a professor of history who becomes fixated on a young student; a lonely vendor in an outdoor market (Albert Dupontel) and a uptight bakery owner (Karin Viard), among many others. Every actor is on point, but Luchini, in particular, is extraordinary. That face of his, used equally effectively for humor and pathos, mirrors so much so beautifully that he keeps you entranced, and the scene in which he "dances" is as funny and amazing as anything I've witnessed in some time. (The lovely Mélanie Laurent, from last year's Don't Worry, I'm Fine, makes a fitting foil for Luchini's libido.) In addition to the characters who already live in Paris, the film acknowledges some emigrants who desperately want to come there.

As the movie proceeds, a bit of flatness intrudes now and again. Because many scenes seem to have the same weight and length, over two hours and ten minutes, some longueurs occur. But almost immediately, the bounce is back. To his credit, Klapisch is not one of those overly cute filmmakers given to tying up his loose ends. Whatever happens to these people, you are left at the finale with a strong feeling of affirmation. Not a bad way, these days, to exit a movie theater. Paris will be shown at Rendez-Vous's WRT venue on Saturday, March 1, at 6:15 and Tuesday, March 4, at 3:15. The IFC Center screens it on Sunday, March 2, at 5:45.

Roman de gare

Roman de gare "Never assume," someone has told us, "because it makes an ass of u and me." In his new film Roman de Gare, 70-year-old veteran French director Claude Lelouch (Un Homme et une femme, Les uns et les autres, Hasards ou coïncidences) makes asses of us all - to our great delight - by leading us into seemingly intelligent assumptions and then pulling the rug out from under them. Working at (or very close to) the top of his form, this formidable writer/director adds petite doses of mystery, suspense and fear to his usual romantic comedy routine (with the accent firmly on the romance), taking us on one of his trips into quintessential movie-movie-land, French style. In the process he also graces us with one of the most unlikely - and exhilarating - pair of lovers the screen has seen in some time.

God knows this fellow understands the importance of casting. All these actors must have been Lelouch's choice: I could find no mention of a casting director among the film's many credits. Fanny Ardant as one of France's most famous and popular novelists? Perfect. Dominique Pinon, who has provided delights from Diva to Delicatessen and beyond, is here given the opportunity of his career and he runs, jumps and takes off into the stratosphere with it. In the third pivotal role is a newcomer to me, Audrey Dana, a beautiful woman just approaching middle age whose character grows from bubble-head into something rich and wonderful (she was nominated for a César this year, deservedly). The entire supporting cast, just as well chosen, delivers with finesse.

How does Lelouch manage it? Well, he's been at it so long (49 projects in 47 years) that I suppose he could make a movie blindfolded and with one arm held behind his back. Yet I don't think he's become lazy. If anything, he's growing more economical. Roman de gare lasts only 103 minutes, while one recent film (And Now... Ladies and Gentlemen from 2002) went on for 133. His latest is filled with lovely, subtle moments (note how he manages to show us a prison escape). And if the first two-thirds of the film are tip-top, I must admit to guessing the climax some time before it appeared. Still, the denouement had me in love with movies - and life - all over again, a result Lelouch achieves in his films more often than not.

Roman de gare

I admit to finding some of this director's early successes awfully simple (A Man and a Woman, for instance: that repetitive Francis Lai score!). But Lelouch and his work have grown in stature and wisdom, as befits a talented fellow who keeps trying so energetically. Long may he film.

Roman de Gare, a fine opening night choice for Rendez-Vous (I'd call it European - rather than American - mainstream), shows at the WRT venue on Friday, February 29, at 6:30 and 9pm and at the IFC Center on Saturday, March 1, at 7. Not surprisingly, it has been picked up for theatrical release by Samuel Goldwyn Films. Movie lovers looking for a fizzy, spring pick-me-up will find it in NYC and LA theatres on April 25.

A Secret

Un Secret There have been countless films detailing the treatment of Jews during WWII; if history is any guide, there will be many more - Holocaust deniers or no. Documentaries such as Hiding and Seeking, The Sorrow and the Pity and Shoah have shown us individual stories and the "big picture" about as well as can be imagined, while narrative films from Berri's The Two of Us to Spielberg's Schindler's List and Koltai's Fateless have attempted something similar with varying degrees of success. At this point in time, most inveterate moviegoers bring to any Holocaust story so much filmic baggage that we could unpack and set up housekeeping for months, if not years. Little wonder, then, that so many of us approach any new Holocaust story with trepidation: What more can we learn? How much more horror must we watch?

With his new film A Secret (Un Secret), Claude Miller - always an economical and subtle director (Garde à vue, L'Effrontée, Class Trip, Alias Betty and La Petite Lili) - appears to have understood our feelings and our baggage and made better use of these than many more heralded directors. Yes, it's the same old story, this time set in France, yet Miller has made a movie that is fresh and vital, with fewer clichés than seem possible, given the subject matter. We flip back and forth in time (interestingly, most of the color is drained from the present: what's more real and important is the past) as we meet four generations in an extended family of French Jews.

Un Secret

There are no concentration camps scenes, save a brief few moments of newsreel footage (the usual) that provoke something shocking and angry from our protagonist. It's this sort of thing that makes Miller, for my money, such a special director. And he accomplishes it again and again throughout his film, combining personal passions with history and the larger picture in an elliptical but meaningful way that enriches the characters on display, the society of which they are a part, and us viewers who understand better, thanks to this film, how and why all of it mattered. Like his character Louise, wonderfully played by Julie Depardieu, Miller, as director and adapter (from a novel by Philippe Grimbert), observes events honestly and with feeling but does not judge. For a Holocaust film, A Secret is remarkably quiet and measured. Yet, by the finale, the emotional wallop it packs - together with a profound sense of sadness and loss - makes this movie the equal of any of its predecessors in the genre. With much more economy, too: the running time is just 100 minutes plus credits.

A Secret, was nominated for eleven Césars this year: best film, actress (Cecile de France), supporting actress (Depardieu and Ludivine Sagnier), direction, writing, editing, cinematography, music, costumes and production design. Only Depardieu walked away with her award, though all the nominees were more than worthy. This film was shown once during the FSLC's recent NY Jewish Film Festival and will be shown during Rendez-Vous at the IFC venue on Friday, February 29, at 7:30 and at the WRT venue Saturday, March 1, at 3:45 and Sunday, March 2 at 6 pm. Shockingly enough, it so far has found no theatrical distribution.

Shall We Kiss?

Shall We Kiss? Do we have a budding Marivaux on our hands in actor/writer/director Emmanuel Mouret? Without, that is, the famous 18th century playwright's rhymed couplets and sensibility to class differences. It's been quite a while since I've seen a movie this wise in regard to the delights and dangers of love and infidelity - as well as to the unfortunate consequences of the disconnect these create between the body and mind. In Shall We Kiss? (Un baiser, s'il vous plait) Mouret has constructed a splendid trifle that sports a consistent tone, even as it moves from comedy into something sadder and more real, briskly whipping philosophy, morality and romance into a very appealing, even moving soufflé.

Two people meet; sparks are set off. But before they can complete even that first kiss, one tells the other a story and off we go into Scheherazade territory. The story, at first silly and romantic, at midway morphs into something deeper. Mouret and his well-chosen cast keep their train from hopping the track and lead us, by the end, into a state of wisdom tinged with sentiment and regret.

The ensemble, in which every one of the six principals shines, includes Virginie Ledoyen, who uses her slightly pinched beauty and intelligence to excellent affect; Italy's Stefano Accorsi, who, after Blame It on Fidel and now this, may yet become one of France's finest actors as well. Julie Gayet uses her particular beauty and intelligence to ground the film in moral terms, while Mouret himself (even if he's a bit less of a looker than his compatriots) comes through quite nicely on the comedy end. Frédérique Bel (from Russian Dolls) is a blond beauty with a sweet, silly voice who proves the wisest of the group, even if she has neglected to memorize her boyfriend's unlisted phone number, and instead keeps it on her cell. Finally there's Michaël Cohen, whose character offers perhaps the least distinguishable characteristics, yet Cohen nails the role via his handsome face and his never-pushy, soft and romantic manner. We identify and come to care for all these characters, despite - in fact, because of - their hypocrisy and fallibleness. The work of Mourtet and his fine ensemble make this possible.

Shall We Kiss?

Speaking of the possible, it is almost impossible to imagine an American counterpoint to this film - something so deft, subtle, unpushed, witty and true. Comparisons may be odious, but the romantic comedy-cum-philosophy is a genre in which the French, god bless 'em, continue to excel. The FSLC's Rendez-Vous series often offers an example of the genre; this year's is up there among the best. Shall We Kiss screens at the WRT venue on Friday, March 7, at 5; Saturday, March 8, at 1:30; Sunday, March 9, at 8:45. It shows at the IFC Center Thursday, March 6, at 7.

Those Who Remain

Those Who Remain Looking for a novel way to meet a possible new mate? You could do worse than sample Those Who Remain (Ceux qui restent), writer/director/actress Anne Le Ny's enthralling and empathetic account of two middle-aged people, whose lives intersect because their significant others are both undergoing heavy-duty cancer treatment in the same hospital. I do not mean to make light of a situation (nor, certainly, does Ms Le Ny), which, in Hollywood hands, would immediately take on a meet-cute aura, all too soon followed by the requisite happy - or worse, tragic - ending. Instead, we are treated to a couple of adults, acting and thinking like problemed adults - and bringing their adult audience (this is not a movie for kids) along with them.

Although she's written a couple of films (and performed in many more), this is Le Ny's first go-round as a director. Clearly, watching and listening, she has learned via proximity. And now, oh, the things she sees! Instructed to give her uncle a kiss, a child bends over a bathtub and sneaks a glimpse at his nether region; two adults argue whether or not a one-year-old can actually walk yet - while the kid is doing just that in the background. Many of the director's loveliest moments are visually layered, with the action occurring on several planes at once, so that your eye will need to move fast from layer to layer to catch it all. Fortunately, Le Ny quiets down often in order to concentrate on her two lead characters, marvelously played by veterans Emmanuelle Devos and Vincent Lindon. If this pairing immediately brings to mind last year's La Moustache, the characters in Those Who Remain are so different and the actors so completely immersed in their roles that within moments you'll forget all about that earlier movie, interesting though it was.

Those Who Remain

In addition to the two leads, there are a number of other important subsidiary characters, from hospital workers to family members, all of whom are given their due. Most surprising, perhaps, is the manner in which Le Ny handles the two cancer patients: a wise choice that allows our sympathy for and understanding of the protagonists to better flourish. If, as the movie winds down, its sense of discovery lessens and events become a bit more predictable (the final moment in particular), this first-time filmmaker still manages to honor her characters and us viewers by providing a timely look at life, death and various kinds of love, leavened along the way with humor, sadness, irony and wit, all with wonderful specificity. Those Who Remain will be shown at the IFC Center on Saturday, March 1, at 1:45 pm and at the WRT venue on Thursday, March 6, at 1; Saturday, March 8, at 6:30; and Sunday, March 9, at 3:45.

Trivial

Trivial There is usually a ringer in every French festival and I am afraid that, this year, the booby prize goes to Trivial (La Disparue de Deauville). If this film is any indication, its director and co-writer (with Jacques Deschamps), Sophie Marceau, is much better off in front of the camera than behind it or with pen in hand.

Her movie begins in both flashback and present time sequences and indicates that we will be served with murder, missing persons, family secrets and the like - all of which we finally get, though not with any particular wit, wisdom, style or pacing. Everything here is served second-hand, from the visual effects (Marceau tries them all: the circling camera, the stop motion, the bleached palette and the blood-red this and that) to the plot ploys (Is she an apparition or reality? Is he crazy, or just crazy like a fox?) to the - oh, god, no - car chase. That last is offered midway through the movie and is simply ghastly. Inserted into the midst of all the noir-ish nonsense, it comes off as utterly stupid and even offensive, since it tries to be funny at precisely the wrong time (to be fair, the movie offers no right times), goes on for what seems like forever, and, though executed professionally enough, looks not even second-hand but third, maybe fourth.

In the male lead Christopher Lambert appears old, dirty and wizened (until - spoiler ahead - he suddenly spruces up for a happy, romantic ending. You're surprised? I doubt it), and Marceau, as the female lead, looks gorgeous, second only to Isabelle Adjani in the annals of French actresses who never seem to age. The supporting players include some oldsters-but-goodsters like Marie-Christine Barrault, Robert Hossein and Judith Magre, along with Marilou Berry, whom I have not seen since Agnès Jaoui's Look at Me). All to no avail. (Barrault has one particularly embarrassing scene in which her over-acting, coupled with Marceau's over-visuals, goes straight into the annals of camp.) Only the nicely serious Simon Abkarian, as Lambert's partner/friend, and Nicolas Briançon as the real "victim" of the story, manage to rise above the film itself.

Trivial

According to Variety, this one was a dud at the French box office, and I should think it would fare no better over here. It certainly does Rendez-Vous no credit, though its English title, rather than the more pertinent French one, may indicate that the moviemakers knew all too well what kind of product they were delivering. Trivial plays at the IFC Center on Wednesday, March 5, at 7:30, and at the WRT venue Thursday, March 6, at 8:15 and Friday, March 7, at 1:30.


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.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:56 PM

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 08.

Roman de gare 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 four five of this year's films - Roman de gare, Heartbeat Detector, Her Name Is Sabine, Love Songs and The Grocer's Son - take heart. All will be receiving a theatrical release (which undoubtedly means a later one on DVD as well) in the next couple of months. And now, in alphabetical order... the films!

Ain't Scared

Ain't Scared "Private life" cannot exist in the projects outside Paris, and this, as much as anything, condemns the residents to their hellish fate. Or so it seems in Audrey Estrougo's unsettling and powerful debut film Ain't Scared (Regarde-moi), in which everyone knows everyone else's business. When peer pressure is all and no one is able to rise above mass mediocrity (or worse), doom is likely sealed. While the breaking of the color barrier in same-sex friendship and opposite-sex amour seems healthy and a big step forward, eventually this, too, goes down to defeat.

We spend only a brief time in these Parisian suburbs that have been much in the news over the past few years. While the movie jumps ahead a few months for its finale, the events that unfurl seem to take place within a single day. In that 24 hours or so, we get to know this group of teenagers, and to a lesser extent their siblings and parents - emotionally more than intellectually. It seems that emotions count for everything here, and while I am all for an "open" emotional life, the movie becomes more frightening as it moves along because Estrougo makes the viewer aware that emotions are nearly all these kids possess. Clearly, this is no kind of foundation upon which to build a life.

Initially the writer/director seems to be giving us a plain, in-your-face, documentary-style narrative. Slowly, it becomes clear that she has a much more complicated plan: Lines of dialogue and events are repeated and seen from different perspectives so that what occurred before and after an event becomes more apparent. This enriches our comprehension so that, little by little, we better understand this emotional life and identity of many of the characters. Moments and objects from these lives - two boys dancing, t-shirts, and especially a blond wig - become almost iconic in Estrougo's hands. Her style is never showy, however: no Tarrantino-esque editing and clever-than-thou repartee. In fact, much of the kids' dialogue is cliché-ridden. But so strong is the director's sense of where and how to place her camera, and so fine are the performances of the ensemble, that we are soon wrapped in these characters, for better, or mostly, for worse.

Ain't Scared

As good as was the César winner of a few years back, L'Esquive, I think Ain't Scared is the stronger movie. Its reach and range may be less, but it places you inside the emotional lives of its characters as few other films have done. Estrougo gives sexual role playing - among the boys and the girls - the weight and the negativity it deserves; seldom has it seemed more overbearing and destructive. What else is there for these kids, the movie seems to ask? In the final scene, there is a moment of unexpected solidarity that is as creepy as it is profound. This movie will stay with you. Ain't Scared will be shown at Rendez-Vous's Walter Reade Theater venue on Sunday, March 2, at 3:30 and Wednesday, March 5, at 1:30; at the IFC Center venue, it will be shown on Tuesday, March 4, at 9:30 pm.

[Ain't Scared screened at the Berlinale and Daniel Kasman reviewed it for the Auteurs' Notebook.]

All Is Forgiven

All Is Forgiven One of the goals of the series is to bring to the attention of film buffs the work of new French directors - such as the first full-length feature written and directed by Mia Hansen-Løve, All Is Forgiven (Tout est pardonné). In it, we meet a French-German family that, around midway point in the movie, is fractured by separation and divorce. During the remainder, father and daughter are reunited.

Ms Hansen-Løve is also an actress who has appeared in Olivier Assayas's Les Destinées and Late August, Early September, and I believe she may have retained some of Assayas's sometimes flat, un-italicized technique. She certainly loves the countryside, offering us some exquisite visuals of it, and she has assembled a very photogenic cast, among whom the stand-outs are Constance Rousseau (quite a find!), Marie-Christine Friedrich and Paul Blain (handsome son of the handsome late actor Gerard Blain). What Hansen-Løve has not done is construct her movie with any more than a rudimentary sense of pacing and storytelling. It moves along with a consistent clunk, clunk, clunk.

All Is Forgiven

There is a sudden surprise along the way but little explanation of why this event has occurred, which perhaps does not matter much in the overall scheme of things. But the details that a writer/director chooses to include, as well as leave out, are important, I think, and considering that this film lasts only 98 minutes, Hansen-Løve might have given us a good deal more than the somewhat obvious clichés - family gatherings, partings, returns, etc. Nothing seems false, mind you, but neither does it seem particularly trenchant or specific. And most of the dialogue is flat. Again, this is believable, in its way, but less interesting and character-precise than it might have been. (The Rendez-Vous program lists the movie as running 105 minutes; perhaps the seven minutes that may be missing from the version I watched made all the difference.)

I will be interested to see what Hansen-Løve does next, however, and do not regret seeing her movie, which was a co-winner of the 2007 Prix Louis Delluc for Best First Film and has been nominated in the same category for this year's César. All Is Forgiven will screen at Rendez-Vous's IFC Center venue on Thursday, March 6, at 9:30 pm and at the WRT on Friday, March 7, at 8:45 and Saturday, March 8, at 4 pm.

[All Is Forgiven screened at Cannes.]

Fears(s) of the Dark

Fears(s) of the Dark Rich, inventive, black-and-white animation (of the sort that puts to shame the neither-fish-nor-fowl, million-dollar color stuff that makes Robert Zemeckis's Beowulf such a bore) gets a go-round in Fears[s] of the Dark (Peur(s) du noir). This most interesting compilation of stories - some are self-contained while others wrap around the movie in strange and witty ways - is artful, often gorgeous to look at, and clever in the manner in which it makes its points and ties things together. What it is not is scary. At all. Which is fine by me. I'll take my scares in live-action movies, thank you. Perhaps I am no longer able to be frightened by animated films. I recall being so by Disney's Fantasia when I saw it as a very young boy, but the flat, two-dimensional artwork on view in this movie, I should think, will appeal more to animation connoisseurs than to folk looking for a fright. Yet there is plenty to enjoy for ancillary reasons.

Fear of insects, transformation and the "other" highlight Charles Burns's contribution. Highly story-heavy, it tracks a quiet young man who one day discovers and captures an odd insect, continues his life, first at university, then in a relationship - via which he eventually learns that, regarding the insect, it was actually the other way around. The animation, hard-edged and comic book-like, is eerie indeed, as is the story - which is also lots of fun.

Marie Caillou and Romain Slocombe offer their take on needles, imprisonment and Japanese samurai, among other fears. The animation here is airier and more bizarre. Fears are tapped but more glancingly, I think, than in Mr Burns's installment.

In their rich and all-over-the-place contribution, Italian artist Lorenzo Mattotti and Jerry Kramsky (who works closely with Mattotti and lives in Italy) deal with fears of monsters, dreams, magic and... oneself. I must admit to drifting off somewhat during this installment, which had a kind of hypnotic effect on me. I'd like to see it again after downing a large cup of coffee.

The section that comes closest to the title moniker belongs to Richard McGuire and Michel Pirus. This duo track a poor fellow who wanders from a snowbound landscape into a dark house, occupied by a perhaps not so friendly female and from which there appears to be no escape. The use of black and white is in some ways the most stunning - witty, bizarre, clever and creepy - of all the segments.

Fears(s) of the Dark

The two other installments come and go throughout the movie, wrapping around it and offering, in the case of Blutch (a pseudonym for artist Christian Hincker), fear of canines - particularly those of the killer kind. You might call this section "gory," except, as animation, it comes off much less so than any number of "slasher" movies many of us have seen. The animation is quite interesting, however, with a nearly-complete gray-scale spectrum that only the Mattotti/Kramsky section approaches elsewhere in the film.

Wittiest of all are the wrap-around/on-and-off bits provided by Pierre di Sciullo, who mixes very funny text/narration (dealing with the everyday fears of our modern times: social, political, environmental) with equally witty black-and-white geometric visuals. One can, it seems, be just as afraid of what lies ahead in broad daylight, once we've gotten out of bed in the morning, as of those other, more obvious and clichéd fears.

One more artist is mentioned in the press book for the film: Etienne Robial as artistic director. I don't think Robial is responsible for any individual segment, but more likely, he helped bring the movie together. In any case, if you are an animation aficionado, I don't imagine you'll want to miss this black-and-white feast. Even if you're only so-so on the subject, there's enough in the 78-minute running time to warrant a visit. Fears[s] of the Dark screens at the IFC Center on Saturday, March 1, at 9pm, and at the WRT venue on Saturday, March 8, at 9 and Sunday, March 9, at 1:30.

The Feelings Factory

The Feelings Factory Differences between French and American films get another heavy-duty workout in Jean-Marc Moutout's The Feelings Factory (La Fabrique des sentiments). Imagine - or better, remember - the numerous American films you've seen over the years that use the ploy about dating services guiding two people toward romance. Prepare now to enter a very different world, one in which the characters possess, in their arsenal of enticements/weapons, everything from philosophy to anger, physical sickness to sudden surprise - and above all, a self-awareness that is sometimes staggering, even if it, too, is not enough to guarantee success.

Our main character is Eloise, played by Elsa Zylberstein (Mina Tannenbaum, La Petite Jérusalem), an actress who specializes in bringing to life intelligent, full-spectrum women. She does her job extremely well. Consequently, we get to know Eloise in depth: her physical problems, mind-set, imagination, desires and needs. We also get to know, less well but well enough, a couple of the men in whom she becomes interested, one of these splendidly detailed by Jacques Bonnaffé, an actor who comes perilously close to the French "Everyman." (He's made some 80 appearances over nearly three decades, including in The Page Turner and Poison Friends in 2006, Lemming and Cote d'Azur in 2005. He's always excellent, yet I never recognize him until the credits roll.)

The Feelings Factory

There is a lot of context to The Feelings Factory: workplace, family, friends and especially the dating arena. As director and co-writer (with Olivier Gorce and Agnès de Sacy), Moutout penetrates character and the current scene with vigor and originality, showing us more of what we don't expect and less of what we do. And then comes the finale, which, for some, will be a deal-breaker. It will certainly provoke a lot of well-earned discussion, including what happy relationships might actually entail. (Don't even try to guess what M Moutout has up his sleeve; let's just say it's about as far from Claude Lelouch-land as it's possible to travel.) I suspect that the seeds for this harvest were planted all along the way, but I'll have to see the film again to be sure. In any case, and for better or worse, I'd call this one oddly memorable and Ms Zylberstein aces - as usual.

The Feelings Factory will be shown at the IFC Center Sunday, March 2, at 8:45. It will screen at the WRT venue on Tuesday, March 4, at 8:45; Wednesday, March 5, at 4 and Sunday March 9, at 6:15.

The Grocer's Son

The Grocer's Son Like taking a vacation the French countryside and meeting people there of whom you grow extraordinarily fond, The Grocer's Son (Le Fils de l'epicier) is an unalloyed pleasure, start to finish. Writer/director Eric Guirado pulls you steadily into his story of a young man from the provinces, somewhat alienated from his family, who has moved to Paris. When his father is taken ill, he returns home, accompanied by his pretty, young neighbor, on whom he has a crush. Back in the countryside, his life - and the viewer's - slowly begins to expand.

While American audiences will have almost no reference to the kind of work the family does (the father has for years driven a van around the farther reaches of his territory, delivering groceries and sundries to the folk, mostly seniors, who have no shopping available to them), even French audiences, I suspect, have had little experience of this - which gives the movie an ambience both exotic and homey and may account for its surprisingly strong showing at the French box office.

This is only Guirado's second full-length feature, yet he has a wonderful sense of pacing, storytelling, characterization and, best of all, the ability to avoid unduly "pushing" anything. His movie unfurls leisurely yet never drags, so filled is it with remarkable detail and interesting people. In his leading actor, Nicolas Cazalé (Le Clan, Le Grand Voyage), Guirado has found an actor who possesses a terrific mix of inwardness, reticence and sex appeal, and who, like the movie he inhabits, never pushes. And Clotilde Hesme (also in this year's Love Songs) complements Cazalé beautifully: She's as sprightly and buoyant as he is reserved. The parents, well played by Daniel Duval and Jeanne Goupil, don't say a whole lot, but their characters, too, grow in the course of the film. Among a fine supporting cast, it's a pleasure to see the great Liliane Rovere (Safe Conduct, Seaside) as both the most troublesome and, in her way, the most appealing of the customers on the route.

The Grocer's Son

The Grocer's Son may remind you a bit of The Girl from Paris, shown at Rendez-Vous a few years back. Both films take city folk into the country, where we learn and enjoy, and both feature fine performances all around, though I would call Guirado's work much more of an ensemble piece. It can be seen at the IFC Center on Tuesday, March 4, at 7 and at the WRT on Wednesday, March 5, at 6:30; Thursday, March 6, at 3:15; and Friday, March 7, at 6:30.

Breaking news: Guirado’s movie has just been picked up by Film Movement and will have a limited US theatrical release, followed eventually by another on DVD.

Heartbeat Detector

Heartbeat Detector For those who hold the belief that most corporations are evil incarnate and, further, that their personnel department / human resources / call-it-what-you-will is somehow at the heart of the matter, the new film Heartbeat Detector (La Question Humaine) should provide a number of Ah-hah, told you so! moments. Yes, yes: I realize that the ostensible "hero" of the movie is the personnel director of the corporation - in this case a German multinational chemical company. And while this fellow, played with his usual subtlety and deference by the fine Mathieu Amalric (My Sex Life... or how I got into an argument, Kings and Queen and the recent Diving Bell and the Butterfy, for which he just won the Best Actor César), comes to distrust his bosses, his job and very nearly everything around him on his quest for understanding, at the film's beginning, he is pretty much already 'round the bend. But then that may be the point that director Nicolas Klotz and writer Elisabeth Perceval are making here: We're all of us 'round the bend because we've been listening our entire lives to the crap/conventional wisdom put out by fascist power brokers to keep us on course. Theirs, of course.

If I make this movie sound like some sort of screaming screed, it is not. It's relatively quiet, considering that it could easily be lumped into the mystery genre (What's going on here and who is telling the truth?) - yet there is little sense of menace. But how could there be when it's the entire environment - job, friends, you yourself - that is responsible for what's going on? How can you be menaced by your own life? Well, you can. Heartbeat Detector is full of strange and interesting connections, made by visuals, sounds and music but mostly by ideas and history.

Heartbeat Detector

We're back to the Holocaust again. Yet, as with Claude Miller's A Secret (even more so here), this is nowhere near your typical Jews-in-danger story. Instead, what makes its mark most indelibly is the shocking disconnect during this period of history between the technical understanding of, say, the construction of a van and for what purpose that van will be used, between someone simply doing his job and of what that job consists. This disconnect has rarely been brought home better than it is here. And yet the method used by Klotz and Perceval often involves someone reading a transcript, accompanied by visuals so simple that you find yourself forced to listen. The finale, in fact, is nothing more than quiet speech on the soundtrack against a black screen. Still, I suspect that you'll be listening (or, as I was, reading the subtitles) intently.

I find it interesting that a film this unusual and relatively rigorous is to receive a theatrical release. But let's not do the gift horse thing. Red Envelope Entertainment and New Yorker Films have picked up Heartbeat Detector for a release on March 14. Meanwhile, at Rendez-Vous, it will be shown at the WRT on Friday, February 29, at 3:30 and Sunday, March 2, at 8:45, and at the IFC at Saturday, March 1, at 3:45.

[Heartbeat Detector screened at Cannes.]


Continued here.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:43 PM

Fests and events, 2/28.

True/False "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.

Films From the New Europe "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.

Il Conformista "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."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:41 PM | Comments (2)

New Line. Fade to Black.

New Line "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).

Posted by dwhudson at 2:18 PM

The Unforeseen.

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."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:05 AM

The Other Boleyn Girl.

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."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:00 AM | Comments (2)

February 27, 2008

Criterion's The Last Emperor.

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.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:42 PM

Shorts, 2/27.

Independent Cinema "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.

Cool School 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.

Girls Rock! 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:

  • Ella Taylor on Vivere: "I like writer-director Angela Maccarone's ambition, but her technical ingenuity exceeds her grasp of potentially complex emotions, which get stuck in a groove of mawkish self-pity."

  • Julia Wallace on Beyond Belief: "This slack-paced doc, which follows Patti Quigley and Susan Retik, two soccer moms who lost their husbands on 9/11, as they raise money for widows in Kabul, is earnest and moving, but it meanders its way through a story of dubious dramatic interest."

  • Aaron Hillis on Bonneville: "Three middle-aged Mormon ladies from Idaho tie scarves around their heads, don sunglasses, and fly across the American landscape in a convertible like they're Thelma and Louise, yet this rarity in cinema - a graying cast in a female-bonding adventure - couldn't be more dull-humored or predictably maudlin without just calling itself The Bucket List 2."

Penelope

"Ridley Scott is to direct a film about the 1986 Reykjavik ballistic missile summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev," reports the Guardian. Michael White wonders who might play the leads.

Also, Sheila Whitaker: "James Quinn, who has died aged 88, was best known for his tenure as director of the British Film Institute (BFI) from 1955 to 1964. This period gave cinema its high profile: the London film festival was established in 1957; the National Film Theatre was built on the South Bank; a lectureship in film studies was established at the Slade School of Fine Art; television was added to the BFI's remit and its first festival of world television was held in 1963, although this was probably ahead of its time."

And Sanjoy Roy lists his favorite films featuring critics.

Another list from Kurt Halfyard at Twitch: "ten modern testaments to tears or perhaps endurance tests of empathy."

And suddenly, the Cinema Strikes Back writers pop their best-of-07 lists on us.

Johnny Ray Huston's got a list, too, sparked by A Walk into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory's engagement at the Roxie Film Center. At Pixel Vision, he recalls more Factory-related features.

"I consider Roadblock to be Charles McGraw's best film noir," writes Steve-O at Noir of the Week.

My Liar For the Los Angeles Times, William Georgiades talks with Rachel Cline about her second novel: "My Liar centers on two women in their 30s: Annabeth Jensen is an insecure film editor in between jobs who meets glamorous director Laura Katz at a party. The two form a friendship that becomes a partnership when Laura hires Annabeth as an editor on her new independent feature, Trouble Doll. At the heart of the narrative is an act of betrayal. A third character, David, is Annabeth's doomed boyfriend, a librarian turned late-night DJ at KCRW. The fourth character would be Los Angeles in 1994."

Patrick Z McGavin talks with Cristian Mungiu about 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days for Stop Smiling.

AJ Schnack gathers comments on and raises questions about Michael Moore's plans for a "Doc Night in America."

Kevin Lee has a problem with Mick LaSalle; a comment that follows calls out Stephen Hunter.

Kimberly Lindbergs wishes Elizabeth Taylor a happy 76th.

"The history of UA is one of the great artistic triumphs on screen," declares Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent.

Online viewing tip. Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay has the trailer for The Fall, "Tarsem's long awaited, long in production second feature." Which is being "presented" by David Fincher and Spike Jonze.

Online viewing tips. William F Buckley, Jr on YouTube. "Mr Buckley's greatest achievement was making conservatism - not just electoral Republicanism, but conservatism as a system of ideas - respectable in liberal post-World War II America," writes Douglas Martin in the New York Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:18 PM

City of Men.

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.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:19 PM

Fests and events, 2/27.

Apparition Church "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.

Second Skin

"Of all the documentaries premiering at this year's South by Southwest Film Festival, we're probably most excited about seeing Second Skin [site], an up close and personal look at the lives of seven MMORPG (Massively multiplayer online role-playing game) players and the fictional worlds they inhabit." Austinist's Matthew Smith talks with producer Victor Piñeiro. Via Matt Dentler. Earnest Cavalli talks with him, too, by the way, for Wired.

Karina Longworth's SXSW preview today: Natural Causes. And Chris Garcia has more SXSW news.

Michael Guillén has begun posting reviews from Cinequest 08. So far: Around the Bay (site) and La Antena (The Aerial). The festival runs through March 9.

Still Life "On the same day in 2006 that Zhang [Yimou] (born 1951) premiered in China his Curse of the Golden Flower, Jia Zhangke (born 1970), the most important 'Sixth Generation' director, opened his Still Life, a blustery act of provocation," writes Gerald Peary in the Boston Phoenix. "The films couldn't be more different. Zhang's lavish action-romance costumer is the most expensive Chinese picture ever. Still Life, which plays at the MFA March 6 - 16, is tough, lean, pessimistic, documentary-like."

"On Wednesday, April 30, the San Francisco International Film Festival, with Platinum Sponsor Vanity Fair, will present its annual Directing Award to Mike Leigh, whose history with us stretches back to 1986 when the Festival held this country's first retrospective of his gritty and unsparing, often bitingly funny work."

In the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Dennis Harvey previews this weekend's Cinema Piemonte.

For indieWIRE, Michael Gibbons files a dispatch from Brazil focusing on how the country's reacting to the Berlinale awarding Elite Squad its Golden Bear.

And Daniel Kasman wraps his Berlinale coverage.

At Screengrab, Phil Nugent rounds up more goings on in New York, San Francisco and Seattle.

Online viewing tip. Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay has "Why Film Festivals Don't Work," a video that explains the thinking behind From Here to Awesome.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:03 PM

Chicago 10.

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.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:06 AM | Comments (1)

February 26, 2008

Fests and events, 2/26.

The Killers "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.

Elite Squad 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."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:01 AM | Comments (1)

Cineaste. Spring 08.

Reading Brokeback Mountain 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.

Oliver Stone Collection 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:

  • Rahul Hamid on Persepolis: "Through the caricature of her countrymen, [Marjane] Satrapi sends the subconscious message that she and other moderate Iranians are Westerners at heart. Although for some this may be a pleasant-to-watch liberal salve for strained Western sensibilities, I would recommend buying the books."

  • Robert Koehler on Funny Games US: "The arguably courageous attempt by [Michael] Haneke to effectively smuggle his polemical work of antigenre into the commercial mainstream of American movies is almost certain to be undone by the very forces he has openly despised, and perhaps no amount of critical explication will reverse it since the movie - by its position inside a genre that it nevertheless wants to subvert - is being sold as something that it's not."

  • Herb Boyd finds "a few troubling things about The Great Debaters that go beyond its predictability," but approves overall.

DVDs:

Posted by dwhudson at 4:59 AM

Criterion's Pierrot le Fou.

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.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:45 AM

February 25, 2008

Chop Shop.

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."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:59 PM | Comments (4)

Shorts and fests, 2/25.

The Gates 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:

Marfa Film Festival

Barton Fink "Barton Fink may remain the key Coen Brothers film, the gateway to all their concerns, such as language, social hierarchies, and the ability to weave tales," proposes DK Holm, blogging for the Vancouver Voice.

At Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Cullen Gallagher enjoys a 1935 comedy: "What makes Baby Face Harrington stand out is not its clever satirizing of gangster movies, nor its status as a mid-period film of director Raoul Walsh, nor its cast that reads like a 'Who's Who' list of underappreciated character actors, but that its very premise is about the elevation of these 'character actors' to star status: the foregrounding of what is normally merely background ephemera."

With his novel Monster, 1959, David Maine "has concocted a sly, minimalist pastiche of monster-movie clichés, rendering them with perfect mimickry," writes Janet Maslin.

Also in the New York Times: "[T]he victory of Sony's new Blu-ray high-definition disc over a rival format, Toshiba's HD DVD, masks a problem facing the studios: the overall decline of the DVD market," report Brooks Barnes and Matt Richel.

Related: The Economist on how Hollywood's fears are keeping it from reaping the potential rewards of online distribution. Via Steve Bryant.

I Am Legend "In narratives that have long-fascinated the American imagination, heroes of color sacrifice themselves so that white characters may live more freely, implicitly absolved of the original American sin of racial oppression." In PopMatters, Derik Smith riffs on I Am Legend and Barack Obama's candidacy.

Logan Hill profiles Christina Ricci for New York.

Online browsing tip. Vanity Fair posts its "Hitchcock Classics" portfolio.

Online viewing tip #1. Gabriel Wardell has Jimmy Kimmel's response to Sarah Silverman.

Online viewing tip #2. Chris Anderson discusses his Wired cover story, "Free!" Via Fimoculous, also pointing to Jad Aburmrad's "Video Digest" for the Morning News.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:22 PM

Frieze. March 08.

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.

Re-make/Re-model "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.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:02 PM

February 24, 2008

Oscars. Winners.

No Country for Old Men "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:

"[T]he show was so overstocked with clips from movies - from this year's nominees and from Oscar winners going back to 1929 - that it was like a TV show with the hiccups," writes Tom Shales in the Washington Post.

Initial reactions in general: Aaron Dobbs, Jim Emerson, Jonathan Lapper, David Poland, Gabriel Shanks and Anne Thompson.

They live-blogged it: Ty Burr and Wesley Morris; Nikki Finke; Christian Hamaker; Peter Hartlaub; the House Next Door; Glenn Kenny; Harry Knowles; Jason Kottke; Mick LaSalle & Co; Joe Leydon; Lou Lumenick; Jeffrey Overstreet, Nathaniel R and Television Without Pity.

And of course, here's the full transcript of the GreenCine live blogging event (click "Replay").

"Oscar turned 80 tonight, and his birthday party, aka the Academy Awards, had the tone and pace suitable to an octogenarian's temper," writes Time's Richard Corliss.

"Logically, the so-called Foreign Language Film Oscars category should be eliminated, and all films regardless of language (as for performers) should qualify for all the awards," argues Ronald Bergan. Also blogging for the Guardian, Ken Levine: "We ended the writers' strike for this? Jesus!" Also: "Is there now a chance - and a danger - that Tilda the magnificent maverick could become mainstream?" wonders David Thomson.

Jon Stewart learned a few things from his first time out and was pretty good this year, argues Aaron Barnhart.

"There was a strong appetite for normalcy this year, and the Oscars mostly delivered, partly by not deviating from a big tent philosophy in which all categories were treated equally and homage to the lions of Hollywood was assumed to be of general interest," writes David Carr.

"So what happened?" asks ST VanAirsdale at VF Daily. "Was the writer's strike just too much to overcome? Was the extinguished beacon of Vanity Fair's Oscar party an insurmountable psychic burden for all involved? Was it just an off year? Indeed, I'm putting last night together one minute at a time—literally, in fact, thanks to Mahalo Daily, which offers this short, handy highlight reel for delicate memories."

David Edelstein evidently took notes throughout the evening and the result is a pretty amusing email to Lynda Obst.

Premiere has a linkage roundup. Glenn Kenny: "Good gosh, there's just no pleasing some people. You give 'em pageantry and they complain that there's too much pageantry, it's too long, the pageantry is boring. You give 'em brevity and you get Finke's 'This wasn't an Oscars. This was a slightly longer version of the Golden Globes.' Great. You know what. I really hope they do bring Pilobolus back next year."

Flickhead captions a few photos.

FishbowlNY rounds up reviews of Stewart's night.

"Hollywood is always a lopsided reflection of the political situation we're in," writes Cintra Wilson in Salon. "In this sense, performing artists, classically a fairly high-strung, hypersensitive lot, have always been pretty effective canaries in the cultural coal mine. What they've been telling us, lately, is that we have a very, very sick culture on our hands." Oh, and she writes about the Oscars, too.

"Like Martin Scorsese last year, the Coens are beloved of film critics and movie geeks but not necessarily mass audiences," writes Shawn Levy. "But Hollywood is running out of unsung heroes to award with prizes."

"What do you think about [Brad] Renfro being shut out of Oscar's 'In Memorium'?" asks Kim Voynar at Cinematical.

"The peculiar and sometimes tense dynamic between the Coens and the media is not a vaudeville act, or a false front," writes Andrew O'Hehir. "It's driven, in large part, by the private relationship between them. I still don't think No Country for Old Men is anywhere near their best work, but, you know, so what? Here's a news flash: Oscars get given out for all kinds of funny reasons. Those guys have made good and great films and almost no bad ones. Long may they wave."

Scott Kirsner wonders why the Academy won't let people watch the YouTube clips from the telecast they so obviously want to see.

Among Yair Raveh's highlights: "Isn't is incredible to realize that the roaring monster of a man that was Daniel Plainview was actually played by a soft-spoken, shy and gentle pirate sporting a haircut worse than Anton Chigurh's?"

Bill Maher's entry at the Huffington Post, in full: "My favorite movie of the year was the one about the heartless con man who's obsessed with finding oil. Its called No End In Sight."

David Carr gathers quotes worth noting.

Michael Sippey started "iveblogging reading some of the liveblogging of the oscars." Then, he stopped.

ST VanAirsdale hands out "The 2008 Oscar Liveblog Awards."

Updates, 2/26: "The three-plus hour show plunged to a record-low average of 32 million total viewers, according to early figures from Nielsen Media Research," reports Scott Collins. "That's a 21% dive from last year's ceremony, hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, and the least-watched Oscars in more than 20 years. It sank even beneath the mark set by the 2003 Academy Awards show (33 million), which was marred by the run-up to the US-led invasion of Iraq."

Also in the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan argues that those who still watch do so not to find out who'll win but to wallow in their emotional outbursts when they do.

"[T]here is more to No Country's Oscar supremacy than the Academy getting over the Coens' hermetic weirdness," writes the Guardian's Andrew Pulver. "Principally, you would guess the film's success is largely down to voting demographics. No Country's basic message is that old geezers are wiser than young geezers: a theme perfectly attuned to the silver-surfer generation that comprises the Oscar votership."

Stop the presses! "With attention focused on glamour and celebrity, little of the reality of daily life in the US found expression in the broadcast," reports Hiram Lee at the WSWS.

Bob Turnbull shares his random notes.

"Here's one writer who can stay on strike for good, as far as the Siren is concerned: the one who decided it would be a kick to mock Sunrise during the Oscars." Similarly, the Boston Globe's Ty Burr.

Updates, 2/27: "I need the Oscars," writes Michael Musto in the Voice. "I need the unmitigated joy of seeing four people lose in every category."

"I went completely crazy when Tilda Swinton won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar on Sunday night," writes Nick Davis. "Jubilation crazy. Rhapsodic crazy."

Dennis Cozzalio comments on that one - and other awards, too.

The Oscars need a "face-lift," argues Patrick Goldstein. "Like the evening news broadcasts, the Oscar is a relic, a cobwebby holdover from a bygone media age when Big Events earned Big Audiences. Those days are going, going, gone.... In an era where everyone's lives are twice as busy and their attention span has been cut in half, it is simply suicidal to put on a pokey three-hour-plus award show."

Also in the Los Angeles Times, Deborah Netburn asks editors and bloggers how the Oscars might be saved.

Variety's Anne Thompson finds a few post-Oscar nuggets.

Nathaniel R's been having fun.

Online listening tip. For NPR, Madelaine Brand talks to a few comedians about livening up the show.

Update, 2/29: "There is good news and bad news about the 80th Academy Awards," writes Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman. For him, the bad news is No Country's four wins. The good news, though, may be longer lasting: "It isn't just that the calibre of filmmaking is improving; it is also the case that the Academy is acknowledging this creative shift, just as it did in 1968 (when the counter-cultural hits Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate made the cut) and 1975 (when The Towering Inferno resembled a damp squib next to Chinatown and The Godfather: Part II)."

Posted by dwhudson at 10:07 PM | Comments (14)

Oscars. Live!

Oscar 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").

Posted by dwhudson at 3:23 PM | Comments (1)

Shorts, 2/24.

RR "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."

Transsiberian 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:

  • David L Stern reports from Kazakhstan: "Call it, if you will, the Revenge of the Borats. Flush with oil profits, led by a prideful autocrat, this emerging petro-state is experiencing a cinematic boomlet led by KazakhFilm, the state-run movie company. Mongol, which was financed privately and directed by a Russian, is the country's first Oscar nominee, a visually lush work that depicts the early years of the Asian steppes' most famous ancient leader with graphic battle scenes to make Sam Peckinpah blush."

Little Flower of East Orange

In a strange piece for Newsweek, Richard B Woodward argues that There Will Be Blood is a mess because Paul Thomas Anderson wrote it as well as directed it.

"Economics in Motion Pictures." If you're in the 11th or 12th grade and you think you've got an essay on this topic in you, see the Dallas Fed's contest announcement. Via Tim Hanrahan, who's got a few ideas in the Wall Street Journal's Real Time Economics blog. Via Paul Krugman, who suggests one more.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly Some of Jean-Dominique Bauby's friends are not happy with the liberties taken in the telling of the now-famous story in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Beth Arnold talks with them for Salon. Related: Andrew Gumbel profiles Julian Schnabel for the Independent.

Which is where James Mottram talks with Brian De Palma.

United Artists won't turn 90 until next January, but it's celebrating now. David Thomson tells the story behind the studio. Also in the Guardian: Ronald Bergan remembers cinematographer Edward Klosinski.

And: "The names of directors Richard Lester, Ken Russell and Tony Richardson conjure up a time, in the 1960s and early 70s, when British films were refreshing, lively and innovative. The Oscar-winning cinematographer David Watkin, who has died of prostate cancer aged 82, made almost as much of a contribution to this rich period as they did, particularly on the eight films he shot for Lester."

Cinematical's Kim Voynar talks with No End in Sight director Charles Ferguson.

Anita Pallenberg and Keith Richards Lynn Barber meets Anita Pallenberg for the Observer. "I am officially here to talk about Anita's role in a film called Mister Lonely directed by Harmony Korine." But of course, the Stones aren't exactly going to go unmentioned.

FilmInFocus is running a bit from Peter Cowie's 2006 talk with Jeanne Moreau.

Online listening tip. Rob Davis talks with Mike White about Year of the Dog and with Marjane Satrapi about Persepolis.

Online viewing tip. David Edelstein and Alex Gibney discuss Taxi to the Dark Side on Bloggerheads.tv.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:34 PM | Comments (8)

Order of the Exile @ 1.

Jacques Rivette 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:45 AM

Books, 2/24.

Book of Dreams "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.

Smiling in Slow Motion "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 Sheltering Sky 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:00 AM

Anticipating SXSW, 2/24.

Harlan Ellison's Dream Corridor 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:51 AM

February 23, 2008

Spirit Awards.

Film Independent's 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:27 PM

Sight & Sound. March 08.

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."

The Naked Prey "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."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:18 PM

Césars. Winners.

Césars "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.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:20 PM

New-York Ghost. Film issue.

New-York Ghost "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."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:56 AM

February 22, 2008

Reminder. Live-Blogging the Oscars.

Oscar 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:27 PM

Interview. Stefan Ruzowitzky.

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.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:17 PM

State Legislature.

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."

Posted by dwhudson at 10:27 AM

Fests and events, 2/22.

Joan Churchill "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.

The Unseeable "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.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:53 AM

Anticipating SXSW, 2/22.

Crawford 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:

David Redmon and Ashley Sabin are following up Kamp Katrina with Intimidad (site), a doc about a couple living on the border between Texas and Mexico. Karina Longworth interviews them at the SpoutBlog.

And this just in: More from Karina Longworth, who talks with Barry Jenkins about Medicine for Melancholy (site), a "beautifully shot examination of 24 hours in the lives of a boy and girl who hook up at a party in San Francisco, Jenkins's film has already been compared to certain other handmade movies about the personal dramas of lost urban youth. But Melancholy is politically engaged and formally ambitious in ways that films of this budget level often are not. More than a relationship drama, it's a portrait of the city in which its set, a grafting of tentative romance onto the city's very real, very rocky terrain of race, class and cultural conflict." Earlier: Michael Guillén.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:18 AM

Shorts, 2/22.

Film Comment: No Country for Old Men / There Will Be Blood "'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."

Donnie Darko "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:

  • Jennifer 8 Lee's got a list: "City Room, after polling experts, friends, family and the guy in the next cubicle, picked out a list of films (one for each decade) which, like Michael Clayton, seemed to capture the contemporary New York of the eras in which they were made."

Charlie Barlett

"In a recent story in the Nation, Chris Hayes used 2,200-plus words to argue why progressives should back Sen Barack Obama," notes Brian Cook in In These Times. "I'll use only seven: Obama's favorite TV show is The Wire. It's certainly true, as Hayes noted, that Obama, like every presidential candidate, won't be saying one word about the prison-industrial complex or the disastrous consequences of the 'war on drugs.' But it's heartening to think that at least he's tuning in to one of the few public forums that fiercely drags such issues into our consciousness."

Conrad Veidt Conrad Veidt has Erich Kuersten at Bright Lights After Dark thinking "that the twisted end product of sexual repression can actually be beautiful; longing even at its most wretched and stunted can still be transfigured into art."

New blog on the block. David Cairns's Shadowplay, via Girish.

Rob Humanick's VHS Blog-a-Thon is on through February 28.

Adam Ross's interviewee of the week: Ed Hardy Jr.

Online quick snicker. Cory Doctorow's got one at Boing Boing.

Online gander. "More Stars Than There Are in HUAC" at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger....

Posted by dwhudson at 8:20 AM | Comments (2)

The Edge of Heaven in the UK.

The Edge of Heaven "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.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:38 AM

February 21, 2008

Be Kind Rewind.

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.

Vue Weekly: Michel Gondry "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.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:37 PM

Shorts, 2/21.

Tobacco Road "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.

These Are the Times 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."

An Ordinary Spy 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."

Walter Benjamin 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."

Jellyfish "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.

The Woman in the Window 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:39 PM

Fests and events, 2/21.

The Round-Up 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.

The Legend of the Suram Fortress "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.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:15 AM

The Counterfeiters.

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."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:44 AM

February 20, 2008

The Signal.

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.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:19 PM

Shorts, 2/20.

Cahiers: Redacted "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.

Tokyo Drifter 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:17 AM | Comments (2)

Fests and events, 2/20.

Earth and Ashes "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:

Wolfsbergen

  • Daniel Kasman reviews Inside, the highlight of which is evidently Béatrice Dalle, Ulrich Seidl's Import/Export, "all influences, no inspiration," and: "[W]hile the contents and progression of [Nanouk] Leopold's Wolfsbergen seem nothing particularly worthy of attention, it is in its cast—exemplary in their ambiguousness; there are almost no caricatures here—and most especially in the direction of the film that the scenario gains its weight, its solemnity, its emotion."

  • Acquarello on Luis Estrada's A Wonderful World, "a dense, darkly comic, and provocative, if mean-spirited sardonic fairytale on the politics of poverty, charity, globalization, and social reform."

  • For Gleb Sidorkin, writing in the Tisch Film Review, Andrei Zvyagintsev's The Banishment is "an incredibly beautiful strip of celluloid and contains some of the best acting by children of any film in recent memory."

Paddy Johnson catches the Oscar-nominated animated shorts for the Reeler: "Considering the range of animation technique - puppets to broadcast design to painted animation - it's hardly surprising that the first question I had exiting the theater was why anyone would attempt to determine 'the best' animated short when the skill sets and results are so entirely different."

At SF360, Eve O'Neill files another entry in her SF Indiefest diary.

For Vince Keenan, it's still two films a day at Noir City Northwest.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:31 AM

February 19, 2008

Shorts, 2/19.

Waiting for Fidel "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.

Michael Clayton

Patrick Radden Keefe in Slate on Michael Clayton: "[B]eneath the expertly deployed suspense lies something more interesting: an indictment of the mercenary universe of white-shoe law firms and a devastating - and unusually accurate - look at the demoralized lives of the lawyers who work for them."

For the Los Angeles Times, Patrick Goldstein profiles producer Scott Rudin, who "makes films he believes in. Perhaps that's why No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood, the two Oscar best picture contenders with the darkest, most uncompromising vision, share a common denominator - Rudin's role as a producer of No Country and executive producer of Blood." Via Movie City News.

So, Daniel Day-Lewis in Blood: Greatness or... not? Kathleen Murphy and Jim Emerson, pro and con, respectively, hash it out at MSN.

Brian Orndorf talks with director Jon Poll about Charlie Bartlett at Hollywood Bitchslap.

"For Deleuze, the plane of experience is about motion, movement, and images. There is no subject, and no ideology. There are no "correct" ideas or images, just ideas and images." Ted Pigeon offers excerpts from Negotiations.

Online listening tip #1. Slavoj Zizek: Embedded in Ideology: The Case of Cinema. Via infinite thØught.

Online listening tip #2. Ed Champion talks with Steve Erickson, author of Zeroville.

Online viewing tip #1. Kevin Lee has video of Jonathan Demme introducing a screening of Hal Ashby's Harold and Maude.

Online viewing tip #2. Chip Kidd's "5 Experiments in Form and Content," via Jason Kottke.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:33 PM

Fests and events, 2/19.

Terence Davies Trilogy 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:52 PM

Interview. Jay Jonroy.

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."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:11 AM

The Duchess of Langeais.

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.)"

Posted by dwhudson at 1:55 AM

DVDs, 2/19.

Joan Crawford Vol 2 "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.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:50 AM

February 18, 2008

Shorts, 2/18.

Marcos Ana 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?"

Blood Simple

And the New Yorker's also brought out Pauline Kael's 1985 review of Blood Simple; scroll down and read on, unless you'd like to see, too, what she had to day about Peter Weir's Witness that same week.

For New York, Logan Hill profiles Chop Shop director Ramin Bahrani.

"Rife with such pungent musings, Hollywood's Hellfire Club is as morbid (and morbidly amusing) as that amazing Drew Friedman artwork on the cover," writes Ray Young.

Dennis Cozzalio highly recommends U2 3D, "probably the best movie out there right now."

Whether or not you find the very idea of Step Up 2 the Streets at all interesting, its director's story certainly is. David M Halbfinger tells it in the New York Times.

The latest list from the AV Club: "22 film remakes dramatically different from the originals."

AJ Schnack notes the "launch of Cinelan, a short film content producer and publisher, which comes on the scene with the backing of an impressive roster of filmmakers and partners, including commitments from noted filmmakers Steve James, Morgan Spurlock, Jessica Yu, Eugene Jarecki and Ross Kauffman. Each will make short films for Cinelan and serve on the company's advisory board."

Online listening tip. Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot discuss their favorite film soundtracks on Sound Opinions.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:21 PM | Comments (2)

Fests and events, 2/18.

Yeast 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 "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.

gravida 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:07 PM

Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1922 - 2008.

Alain Robbe-Grillet
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."

Liberation: Robbe-Grillet 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:21 AM

Oscars countdown.

Oscar "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."

NYO: Oscar Week 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:

  • "To glance at the Academy Award nominees for lead actor is to get a quick but thorough lesson in the major themes that dominated American movies last year," writes Carina Chocano. "Almost to a man, Daniel Day-Lewis, Johnny Depp, George Clooney, Tommy Lee Jones and Viggo Mortensen played avenging anti-heroes in an immoral, amoral or morally relativistic world. They were grim, compromised and pessimistic, embodiments of the queasy morass we find ourselves in and a reflection of the national mood. To glance at the Academy Award nominees for lead actress is to get nothing of the sort.... Either the roles are archetypal in a way that Oscar voters recognize as 'worthy,' or the nominations feel like an attempt to honor a film or an actress for impressive box office returns or a nostalgic comeback."

  • "In voting for Michael Clayton, Hollywood would in essence be voting for itself, voting for thoughtful, adult studio films crafted in the heart of the system," argues Kenneth Turan. "I can't think of any other movie-making constituency that needs more help right now."

  • Dennis Lim: "To commemorate the occasions when the academy does get it right, here are a half-dozen best picture winners (in reverse chronological order) that have not only held up over the years but can also be found in decent-to-excellent DVD editions."

  • Mark Swed profiles Marion Cotillard.

  • "Two films that featured their stars in multiple roles - Lindsay Lohan's I Know Who Killed Me and Eddie Murphy's Norbit - combined today for a near-sweep of the 28th annual Golden Raspberry Awards, a feat that may leave them feeling as if they wound up in a dumpster," reports Lee Margulies.

Critics for the Observer set the odds. And for Rachel Cooke, There Will Be Blood "stands apart from such frivolous competition, a ravenous beast prowling at the edge of a particularly lavish and decadent party."

"A very British invasion: UK hails its 21 Oscar nominees." Jonathan Romney and Neil Norman report in the Independent.

Big Oscar roundup at the House Next Door.

Nick Davis makes his predictions. So does Newsweek's David Ansen.

AS Hamrah has a preview in n+1.

MovieMaker contributors lay out their predictions.

Jim Emerson at MSN: "Your Oscar speech: How not to blow it."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:58 AM

Brooklyn Rail. Feb 08.

Brooklyn Rail "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:

  1. The periphery of American society is fossilizing dangerously.
  2. Biology is destiny.
  3. Bereft of sage advice from adults until far too late, sex is becoming monstrous for the younger generation.

After summarily addressing these points, the film picks up a story that makes broad points succinctly and develops characters who act like humans, and talk about themselves mercifully little. It does this all while riffing successfully on all of the mutilated women conventions of horror and pornography.

Sarah Kessler on Caramel: "Those of us dying for a decent woman's film may now—at least temporarily—curtail our pining."

Radio On "Radio On represents a melancholy requiem from another time, another place," writes Rudy Wurlitzer. "Inside its relentless alienation the bleak compositions of its ruined and soulless landscapes become isolating and yet strangely elegiac; a hypnotic and intimate embrace relating image to language to sound, with no one expression upstaging the other. The film becomes a circular spiral turning in on itself, a rhythm that transcends the whole notion of what it means to go anywhere in particular."

"Some artists torture themselves striving towards perfection: Stanley Kubrick, say, or Joseph Heller, who spent eight years writing Catch 22. Not [Woody] Allen. He churns out crap film after crap film in the hope that, one day, he'll get lucky." And Sophie Gilbert's hoping Cassandra's Dream will be his last set and shot in London.

David Wilentz on the Japan Society's Dawn of Japanese Animation series: "These are not the direct antecedents of anime or prototypes of Speed Racer. The series features films from the late 20s through the 40s that are more parallel to the early cartoons of the west."

I've been wondering who'd raise this point and when. Turns out it's Tessa DeCarlo here and now, reviewing The Bucket List: "Ever since Barack Obama emerged as a serious candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, it's been clear that not least among his many qualifications for high office—his intelligence, good looks, oratorical skill, and political smarts—is how neatly he appears to fit the stereotype of the Redemptive Black Friend."

Even the Rail can't resist the list-making urge. Before David N Meyer elaborates on his "Eleven Best Films of 2007," he slaps down a couple of other people's favorites: "Tim Burton chose a flashier set of hammers with which to pound us over the head, but Sweeney Todd remained, like There Will Be Blood, inert on the screen, dead on arrival, forcing us away from the story, turning us into mere spectators. The best films 2007, whether brilliant or moronic, offered sufficient embrace to make us all participants."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:18 AM

February 17, 2008

NCTATNY. Sally Potter.

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.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:33 PM

Interview. Cao Hamburger.

Coa 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:37 PM

Wrapping Berlinale 08.

Berlinale 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.

United Red Army

The consensus among many who caught it, Dennis Lim and myself included, is that Koji Wakamatsu's United Red Army was the most significant viewing experience at the Berlinale this year. Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook: "Bookended by an encyclopedia's worth of archive footage, title cards, dates, events, and names, the film sets the rigor and tone of the students' intensified isolation and political self-cleansing with a historical background as extensive and detailed as Wakamatsu's eventual - and total - submergence into cabin-fevered radicalism in the throes of creative self-destruction."

Also: "Wonderful Town, the promising first film by Aditya Assarat, has a great amount of outer spirit, though what it truly lacks is an expressive inner life."

Meanwhile, Blake Ethridge actually got to meet Wakamatsu.

Il y a longtemps que je t'aime (I've Loved You So Long) "may sound like the stuff of a Lifetime movie, but Kristin Scott Thomas's performance kept me from fleeing," writes Jürgen Fauth. Also: "A trashy pageant that delivers what it promises, The Other Boleyn Girl is also the perfect prequel to Elizabeth; the final image of the former seems custom-made to line up with the first scenes of the latter." And: "I can tolerate capable entertainment dressed up in historical costumes, but I found the affected minimalism of Ballast difficult to sit through."

Reminders of publications with special Berlinale sections: indieWIRE, Variety and the Hollywood Reporter.

And there's been more coverage at Cineuropa.

Blogging the German-language press: angelaufen.de and film-zeit.de.

More in German: Thomas Groh and Ekkehard Knörer.

Updates, 2/18: "In 2008, yet again, it was anything but a pleasure for a critic to have to sit through the films in the festival's Competition section," writes Ekkehard Knörer at signandsight. "Only on paper did things look rosier this year, with the return of lost son Erick Zonca, Johnnie To's pet project, Martin Scorsese's opening concert film and a general avoidance of the usual mass of pseudo-political clap-trap of which the creative director and head of the selection board for the Competition, Dieter Kosslick, is so enamoured."

"The trouble this year was that the Ingredient X - the vital catalyst that causes a film to begin foaming and bubbling to thrillingly unpredictable effect - was in short supply, at least judging by the route I took through the program," blogs Phil Hoad for the Guardian before writing up (and occasionally down) a couple of handfuls of films.

"Jean Epstein's 1926 silent film Mauprat is a wonderful discovery, thriving with unexpected, lovely impressionism to tell a seemingly old-fashioned story of brigands, unrequited love, wrongful accusation and amour fou," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "A number of the film's stylizations are particularly striking for the era."

Another page from the Auteurs' Notebook and Daniel Kasman: Götz Spielmann's Revanche "shows just how successfully one can transpose the plot and character based drama of Hollywood to the refined style of European art-house cinema without hampering it with a sense self-importance."

Updates, 2/19: "Yousri Nasrallah's Aquarium - the only Arab entry in all the Festival's sections - was screened on Friday in the presence of Nasrallah and Hend Sabry, the lead actress in the film," notes Samir Farid in the Al-Ahram Weekly. "This screening was attended by almost all the Arab participants and by many Berlin-based Arab diplomats, including the Egyptian ambassador.... Following the Berlin screening of his film, Nasrallah received more than one invitation to participate in other international film festivals, including the Tribeca in New York to be held next April, the Taormina Festival in Sicily next June and the Abu Dhabi Festival next October." Related: Derek Elley's review for Variety.

"Mike Leigh films frequently patronise their characters, but never so painfully as in Happy-Go-Lucky," blogs Helen Oldfield for the Guardian. Whereas Madonna's Filth and Wisdom "wasn't so bad. I went with the lowest of expectations - always an advantage if you want to enjoy a movie, and so I did."

Updates, 2/22: Patrick Z McGavin has more - and more - for Stop Smiling.

Jürgen Fauth wraps up his festival with reports on the films he caught on Days 10 and 11.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:55 AM

Shorts, 2/17.

The New Wave 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:

Revolutionary Road

Los Angeles Times books editor David L Ulin considers "what makes the current crop of books-to-movies so compelling, the idea that Hollywood may be developing a more consistent approach to literature. For me, this is a matter of sensibility, of complexity and nuance, the way these works take on bigger issues, the uncertainties and irresolution that mark our passage through the world."

Also: John Horn meets Sarah Polley and Rachel Abramowitz profiles Brad Bird, whose next project is 1906, a live-action drama set in the San Francisco earthquake of that year."

Medicine for Melancholy Michael Guillén previews Medicine for Melancholy, slated for SXSW: "Whether the film's meandering mode will engage audiences enough to pay attention to the subtle thematic traction underscoring its casual demeanor is the crucial pivot; but, whether it succeeds or fails, I must commend those themes and hope audiences will take the time to feel them out and to think them through."

On Wednesdays in Los Angeles, from February 20 through March 26: Film Independent's Director Series. Thanks, Jerry!

Back in the New York Times: "Men who fall from grace are treated with gravity and distance, while women in similar circumstances are objects of derision, titillation and black comedy," notes Alex Williams in a piece on tabloid coverage. "Some celebrities and their handlers are now saying straight out that the news media have a double standard." And for Ada Calhoun, Andrew Morton's Tom Cruise: An Unauthorized Biography "feels about as reliable as the tabloids and yet, astonishingly, somehow meaner."

Online listening tip. The Errata team on 12 films.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:53 AM | Comments (1)

February 16, 2008

Shorts, 2/16.

Bidoun "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.

Independent: Selma Blair 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:

For Stop Smiling, Andrea Gronvall talks with Martin McDonagh about In Bruges.

What does the triumph of Blu-ray over HD DVD actually mean, if anything? Sean Axmaker looks into it.

Online downloading tip #1. Arthur Magazine, Issue 28, via John Coulthart.

Online downloading tip #2. Giles Deleuze's Cinema 1: The Movement-Image and Cinema 2: The Time-Image, via wood s lot.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:22 PM | Comments (4)

Fests and events, 2/16.

Violent Saturday "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.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:50 PM | Comments (3)

Berlinale. Bears and other awards.

Berlinale 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."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:20 PM | Comments (1)

Berlinale Dispatch. 4. Katyn.

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.

Katyn

Why single out Katyn in a war epic? It's tragic and dramatic, and Polish officials spent decades denying it. And yet more Poles died in Soviet camps after the invasion than were executed in Katyn, and Russian troops were given orders by the NKVD to seize (and in many cases kill) the clergy and educated elite of every town that they occupied in 1939. Also, as the Nazis retreated back to Berlin five years later, just as Poles were rising up in Warsaw against them, the approaching Red Army stopped and stayed a few kilometers away on the east bank of the Vistula River rather than intervene in a way that would have saved hundreds of thousands of Polish lives, and saved most of Warsaw, which was burned along with its inhabitants.

If that weren't enough, vast sections of what had been Poland became part of the Soviet Union after the war - these were some of the very same regions that were overrun by Red Army troops as part of the deal with Hitler in 1939. The Russians eventually did get what they wanted.

With an exception or two, all the Poles that I ever met in the 1980s and since knew these facts, and had no illusions about the Soviets. Yet the Polish government denied them as long as it felt that it needed to.

Since 1990, Katyn has been accepted as a national tragedy, and volumes of documents confirm that. You will see some of those documents appear in English, and more attention paid to the massacres now that the film is a finalist for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. (It is curious that such a film would get the Holocaust-sensitive Academy's nomination. At no point in the film is there ever a mention of the Jews who were being slaughtered in Poland at the same time.) If the film wins, it won't be for any cinematic virtues. The script is all over the place, that facts are assumed (as they would be in an epic repeating an oft-told story for an audience that already knows it well), and the significance of this story today isn't always clear. Was this Poland's "greatest generation," as American pop mythologists might call it?

If the film's only effect is to show a massacre and to call it just that, then this is already a welcome event, even though the movie is a far cry from the early work (Ashes and Diamonds, Samson, Kanal, The Wedding, Landscape After the Battle, Promised Land, etc) that made Wajda one of Europe's great directors. And those films were made at a time when making them in Poland really took courage.

Katyn should also remind us that genocides aren't always called by that name, even when the evidence is overwhelming. Would the same Academy whose members nominated Katyn for an Oscar nominate a film about the Armenian Genocide, which George W Bush now seems to think did not happen? Screamers, by Carla Garapedian with System of a Down, comes out on DVD later this month. Watch it for a modern approach to depicting gaps in memory that is an encouraging alternative to Wajda's clumsy teleplay. We know what Poland's excuse was for so many years in denying the facts about Katyn. What is America's in denying another genocide?

- David D'Arcy

Katyn

To David's comments, I'd simply add that the most debilitating problem with Katyn is its screenplay. The core of the project is the sequence toward the end depicting the actual executions of the officers - and it is indeed as horrific as it needs to be. But the roughly 90 percent of the rest of the film leading up to decrescendo-ing from that sequence is, unfortunately and unnecessarily, the rote stuff of countless WWII dramas. Wives and mothers wait for their men in uniform to come home - and then suffer the shock of the bad news the audience has known all along. A surviving officer cooperates with the Soviets, tries to drown the voice of his conscience in vodka, and then, once drunk, speaks the unspeakable at a bar before walking outside to blow his brains out. Attempts at resistance by one young woman and one young man are brutally put down. Sadly, all this comes off as a hodge-podge collage of war movie clichés.

Wajda these days is reminding me a bit of another well-intentioned European, Volker Schlöndorff - though, of course, the past glories of the former are richer than those of the latter. Still, in the past couple of decades, both directors have taken on projects so inherently honorable as to seem irreproachable. They aren't, exactly; when the telling doesn't measure up to the story, that story is somehow tarnished after all.

- David Hudson


"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.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:12 AM | Comments (2)

February 15, 2008

Berlinale, 2/15.

Berlinale "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."

Festivals 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."

Julia "[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.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:32 PM

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.

The Last Supper

"Now Peter Greenaway, the iconoclastic British filmmaker, has been granted permission to wheel in projectors and bring to life the hidden stories he sees in the masterpiece."

Also in the Guardian:

The Bank Job

Brian Darr's been busy. But he's finally gotten around to that list: "My top ten new-to-me and new-to-Frisco films of 2007 are as follows, in alphabetical order with superficial commentary but more substantial links."

On that note, the Skandies have now counted all the way down (or up) to #1: There Will Be Blood.

Another list? Ok: Dan Sallitt's "favorite Japanese films of the last decade."

And another, via several folks out there: Tom Roston's "Top 10 Sexiest Documentaries."

"Bollywood is still ignored, regardless of quality or success," tsk-tsks Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman. "Part of the problem is that the distributors have no incentive to appeal to a wider audience when their fan base is so loyal and lucrative. The pictures are rarely screened for critics, which is why I visited a London multiplex to see two current Bollywood hits, Sunday and Taare Zameen Par: Every Child Is Special." Related: Laura Irvine at SF360 on the best spots to see Bollywood features in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Le Doulos Le Doulos "is made of elements Melville said he came to love in the B&W American crime movies of the 1930s: shadows, night, trench coats, guns, tough guys, cigarettes, slinky dames, cocktail bars, crooked cops, betrayal, loot and a plot shutting out the world and confining the characters within their own lives and space," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Jason Scott claims that The King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters is "loaded with falsehoods. And by loaded, I mean packed, and by packed I mean like the last Japanese subway car before they have to shut down the line." Via Megan McArdle at the Atlantic.

In the New York Times:

  • Caryn James has an overview of the documentary feature category in the Oscar race. "This year all five nominees [No End in Sight, Operation Homecoming, Sicko, Taxi to the Dark Side and War/Dance] are politically charged, four are about war, and amazingly, only one feels like homework. Spurred by global conflict and by technology that allows filmmakers to turn out movies in months rather than years, these works carry urgent messages. With their pointed arguments, though, this year's nominees also raise an inescapable question: Can they have any real political impact?"

  • "It would be a mistake to assume that the 10 movies nominated this year for best live-action and animated short film in the Oscar sweepstakes are the kind of cinematic amuse-bouches often shown before the main feature at film festivals," writes Stephen Holden. "Most are not trifles, and some range from 30 to 40 minutes long." More from Sam Adams (Philadelphia City Paper), Kevin Crust (Los Angeles Times) and S James Snyder (New York Sun).

David & Layla
  • Matt Zoller Seitz: "The star-crossed romance David & Layla tells of a beautiful young Iraqi Kurd named Layla (Shiva Rose) who is threatened with deportation from her adopted home, Brooklyn, and pins her hopes of staying on a suitor named David (David Moscow), an American-born agnostic Jew who has a public-access cable show about sex and is trapped in an unsatisfying relationship with a snooty fiancée (Callie Thorne of the television series Rescue Me)." More from S James Snyder in the New York Sun.

  • Jim Shepard reviews Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood, "which focuses on the nominees for the Academy Award for best picture of 1967: Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night (the eventual winner) and Doctor Dolittle. Yes, you read that last title correctly. For [author Mark] Harris, a columnist at Entertainment Weekly, that array is not just a historical 'collage of the American psyche' but also well beyond diverse, 'almost self-contradictory'; a movie like The Graduate was seemingly designed to demolish the values on display in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. The generational divide could not have been starker, and the central issue was what an American movie was supposed to be."

At Not Coming to a Theater Near You: Eva Holland on It's All Gone Pete Tong and Victoria Large on The Signal

For indieWIRE, Howard Feinstein talks with Stefan Ruzowitzky about The Counterfeiters.

For Filmmaker, Ray Pride talks with Tamara Jenkins about The Savages.

Adam Ross's interviewee this week: Nate Yapp.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:09 PM

Fests and events, 2/15.

Beyond the Frame 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.

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

The Year My Parents Went on Vacation.

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.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:19 PM

February 14, 2008

Berlinale, 2/14.

Berlinale 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."

Sparrow

Signandsight runs a second Berlinale roundup, this time featuring Ekkehard Knörer on Elite Squad, Anja Seeliger on Sparrow and Christoph Mayerl on Elegy and There Will Be Blood. Click each writer's name to see much more festival coverage in German.

For Spiegel Online (and in English), Siobhán Dowling interviews Parvez Sharma (A Jihad for Love) and David Gordon Smith takes part in a group interview with Errol Morris (Standard Operating Procedure).

Jürgen Fauth's got first impressions of Hong Sang-soo's Night and Day, "every bit as ineffably profound and amusing as his previous films," Standard Operating Procedure, "a much more difficult film to embrace," and Jesus Christus Erlöser, "a document of Klaus Kinski's infamous 1971 performance at Berlin's Deutschlandhalle." Also: "I'm shocked to report that [Madonna's directorial debut] Filth and Wisdom isn't bad at all." And "Quiet Chaos is a sweet crowd-pleaser, but the film, which is based on the novel by Sandro Veronesi, earns its emotions." Then: "Robert Guédiguian's Lady Jane is a dark misfire that left me cold." Plus: "Without apparent conflict and traditional drama, Megane is nonetheless full of pleasures, laughs, sensory delights, and an unexpected profundity that sneaks up on you."

Caos Calmo "Italian filmmaker Nanni Moretti has moved to defuse criticisms from the Roman Catholic church over a sexually explicit scene in his latest picture," reports the Guardian. "Moretti's role in the drama Caos Calmo (Quiet Chaos) has been described as 'vulgar and destructive' by a representative of the church, sparking a media storm in his homeland."

Also: "For those who knew [Derek] Jarman, Isaac Julien's documentary is an unsettling experience," writes Jon Savage. "Based on a long interview conducted in 1990 - with considerable foresight - by the producer Colin McCabe and director Bernard Rose, it brings the subject right in front you, as if reborn: alive, not very well, but fizzing with ideas, memories, polemics and the occasional sharp comment. Most of all, there is his distinctive laughter, gurgling through time." More from Andrew Pulver. Related: At the SpoutBlog, Karina Longworth explains what frustrates her about Derek.

And then there's Mark Brown on Filth and Wisdom: "Everyone was expecting a turkey from the woman whose previous movie experience has included starring in Swept Away and Shanghai Surprise, and by general consent, it was. Despite her lofty ambitions, the first morning screening was greeted by a smattering of applause and a general sense of disbelief." Adds Peter Bradshaw: "Madonna has been a terrible actor in many, many films and now - fiercely aspirational as ever - she has graduated to being a terrible director."

"A gentle magical-realist breeze blows through wintertime Belgrade in Ljubav i drugi zlocini (Love and Other Crimes), the feature debut of Stefan Arsenijevic," writes european-films.net editor Boyd van Hoeij; also: "'Enormous crowd-pleaser' and "directed by Mike Leigh' were not phrases this critic ever thought he would be putting together in the same sentence, but Leigh's Berlinale Competition title Happy-Go-Lucky is exactly that." Plus more and more great photos from Fabrizio Maltese.

"I may be getting a bit frustrated with Guy Maddin's more blatantly autobiographical progression away from the exquisite fiction of films like Careful and Archangel to the autobio trilogy of Cowards Bend the Knee, Brand Upon the Brain! and the new My Winnipeg," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "But while the return to more mother-based melodrama and hockey references definitely wears thin, there is no denying that Maddin is pushing himself as an artist, as well as the expanses of his unique form of early-talkie pastiche with each one of these films."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:28 PM

Shorts, 2/14.

It's So French! 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.

Walker, Austin Chronicle, New York Press

For a New York Press cover story, David Blum lays into New York Times show biz reporter Michael Cieply for his coverage of the just-ended writers strike: "In Cieply's view, the chief WGA negotiators had taken an excessively hard line on its demands, showing a lack of understanding of how Hollywood was supposed to work. He was annoyed by the strong-arm tactics of the union's West Coast executive director, David Young, and the seeming intransigence of the WGA's leadership in the face of management's clear willingness to compromise." Then, in a sidebar, he adds, "Cieply describes a series of events in an omniscient voice that suggests multiple sources; however, he usually doesn't identify those sources by name or even let readers know he's gathered his facts from interviews with interested, often biased, parties to the events he describes."

Meanwhile, in the New York Times:

The Spiderwick Chronicles

Matt Zoller Seitz's "5 for the Day" at the House Next Door is a Valentine's Day special: "Declarations of Love." But for Dave Itzkoff, today's Vampire Day.

Entries to return to (or for right now, for those of you not in the throes of festival fatigue): David Bordwell, Jim Emerson and the Self-Styled Siren.

Back in the New York Press: Armond White on Bless Their Little Hearts and Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins.

Giuseppe Sedia talks with Bong Joon-ho for Koreanfilm.org.

You'll have seen these trailers: Pineapple Express and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

More online viewing from Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay: "Here's 'Flashing Lights,' a strange and violent video for the Kanye West song directed by West and Spike Jonze."

Online viewing tips. The Guardian's Kate Stables rounds up a batch of Valentine's Day shorts.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:56 PM

Fests and events, 2/14.

Film Comment "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.

Noir City "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."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:32 PM

Jumper.

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.'"

Posted by dwhudson at 2:13 PM | Comments (3)

February 13, 2008

Berlinale, 2/13.

Berlinale 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:

Posted by dwhudson at 3:59 PM

Shorts, 2/13.

Pierrot le Fou 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.

Not the Girl Next Door 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."

Lope de Vega "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:

Stanley Kramer "Sony's new Stanley Kramer Film Collection - containing five films that he produced, two of which he also directed - will not do much for his reputation, though to be fair, it also doesn't adequately convey the scope and topical ambition of his early career," writes Dennis Lim.

Also in the Los Angeles Times: "Directors like Rob Marshall, Bill Condon, Adam Shankman and Tim Burton might be the latest filmmakers to craft engaging cinematic musicals, but, back when sound was new to the art form, it was German emigre director Ernst Lubitsch whose breezy, clever style and sophisticated story lines redefined the genre," writes Susan King.

And Claudia Eller and Richard Verrier have the story we've all been waiting for: "The strike is over."

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir offers a different sort of DVD roundup, "a one-stop shopathon for relatively new and highly eccentric discs from the darker tidepools of the pop-culture economy."

Chris Barsanti is anticipating eight big movies due in 08.

"David Bowie has sung on two tracks on actress Scarlett Johansson's debut album, a tribute to singer Tom Waits," reports the BBC.

In the London Review of Books: Michael Wood on No Country for Old Men.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:30 PM

Fests and events, 2/13.

The Duchess of Langeais 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:43 PM

Diary of the Dead.

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.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:37 PM

Kon Ichikawa, 1915 - 2008.

Kon Ichikawa
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.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:44 AM | Comments (2)

February 12, 2008

Berlinale, 2/12.

Berlinale 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:

Revanche "A meandering first half gives way to a spectacular psychological portrait of the deafening silence of pain and loneliness in Austrian writer-director Götz Spielmann's Revanche," writes Boyd van Hoeij. Also at european-films.net, more terrific photos by Fabrizio Maltese.

"Jacques Doillon arrests a strange, almost uncanny kind of intimacy from his new film, the almost-masterpiece Le Premier venu (Just Anybody)," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. Also: Audrey Estrougo's directorial debut Regarde-moi.

Patrick Z McGavin sends his first dispatch at Stop Smiling.

At indieWIRE: Shane Danielsen on Julia, Transsiberian, Leo and the Wakamatsu retro.

Twitch's Todd Brown listens in on the buzz.

Spiegel Online reports on Patti Smith's multimedia presence in Berlin at the moment.

And then, great news from our good friends at Benten Films: They'll be bringing Matthias Glasner's stunning Der Freie Wille (The Free Will) to North America on DVD. Longtime readers may (or of course, may not) remember that this was my favorite film to screen at the Berlinale in 2006.

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

Shorts, 2/12.

Pictures at a Revolution "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:

  • "Lubitsch's precise, highly stylized direction of actors, his genius for concentrating the maximum amount of narrative information in a few carefully chosen shots and symbolic details, his masterful sense of ellipsis (presenting only the most important story points and leaving the rest to the viewer's imagination) — all these devices and more had emerged during Lubitsch's silent-film period, and by 1929 had already been enshrined as 'the Lubitsch touch.'" Dave Kehr on how "the four musicals directed by Ernst Lubitsch in the early years of sound - The Love Parade (1929), Monte Carlo (1930), The Smiling Lieutenant (1931) and One Hour With You (1932) - helped define what talking movies would be." More from Eric Henderson in Slant.

  • "Who Won the Writers Strike?" asks David Carr. Related: The Los Angeles Times' Patrick Goldstein is sorting through the winners and losers as well. More from the Independent's Laura LaMura.

  • Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes report that "emotions are finally settling down in the entertainment industry's bubbling cauldron of labor disputes. This calm holds the promise of three years without strike threats, picket lines and the loss of Americans' favorite television shows."

  • Meanwhile, Stuart Elliott: "Madison Avenue, assessing the aftermath of the writers' strike, is optimistic that there can be long-term benefits from the disruptions suffered during the 2007 - 8 broadcast TV season."

  • "Following in the footsteps of Peter Jackson, the director of the Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings trilogy, heirs to JRR Tolkien, the author of the books on which the films are based, are suing New Line Cinema for failing to pay them at least $150 million, which they say they are owed as part of the movies' gross receipts," reports Motoko Rich.

  • "John Alvin, who created memorable images for movie posters, billboards and advertisements, including the two fingers touching above the Earth's surface for E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, died on Wednesday at his home in Rhinebeck, NJ," writes Dennis Hevesi. "He was 59."

For Vanity Fair, Patricia Bosworth revisits Norman Mailer's films.

Sergei Paradjanov "[Sergei] Paradjanov is one of the most hermetic, arcane and completely original artists in cinema history, and his films do not resemble those made anywhere else, by anyone," writes Michael Atkinson for IFC News.

Acquarello on Jonas Mekas.

Anthony Kaufman reports on "a group of closely affiliated directors and producers, revolving around Paul Mezey's Journeyman Pictures, with a steadfast dedication to a handcrafted, humanist cinema. As writer-director Azazel Jacobs says, 'If you put all of Paul's films together, it would say one clear, intelligent statement about humanity and the need to stay vital and sensitive.'"

Also in the Voice:

Early takes on Jumper: Michael Guillén and Neil Young.

The Yiddish Policeman's Union Jeffrey Overstreet looks ahead to the next projects the Coen brothers'll be tackling: Burn After Reading, Hail Caesar and an adaptation of Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union.

At Cinema Strikes Back, David Austin previews the Japan Socieity's series, Dawn of Japanese Animation, running tomorrow through Saturday in New York.

Via Movie City News, Tim Teeman's interviews in the London Times with screenwriters: Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love; David Hare (The Hours), John Hodge (Trainspotting); Lee Hall (Billy Elliot).

"The Hollywood Musical Done Right." Terry Teachout in Commentary on Sweeney Todd, via Bookforum. Related: Christopher Benfey in the New Republic.

For Film International: Daniel Garrett on Brokeback Mountain.

Still going strong at Big Media Vandalism: "Black History Mumf."

Mike D'Angelo pauses during this year's Skandies countdown to add up past nominations.

DVD roundups: Sean Axmaker (MSN), Bryant Frazer and Peter Martin (Cinematical) - and from Kimberly Lindbergs, the first part of a list of favorite DVDs of 2007.

Online viewing tip. Peter Knegt posts Tilda Swinton's BAFTA acceptance speech.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:31 PM | Comments (1)

February 11, 2008

Berlinale Dispatch. 3.

David D'Arcy on a documentary and a presentation of work by Jack Smith.

Gilbert & George 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?

Jack Smith 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:30 PM

February 10, 2008

Interview. Tony Gilroy.

Michael Clayton 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:04 PM

Roy Scheider, 1932 - 2008.

Roy Scheider
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.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:02 PM | Comments (1)

Berlinale, 2/10.

Berlinale "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.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:22 PM

Shorts, 2/10.

Baftas 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:01 PM | Comments (4)

Berlinale Dispatch. 2.

David D'Arcy reviews two documentaries at the festival.

Infinite Border 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.

Sharon 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:45 AM

February 9, 2008

Berlinale, 2/9.

Berlinale 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:56 PM

Shorts, 2/9.

Taking Off 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:

Movie City News lists the winners of the 28th London Critics' Circle Film Awards.

Francine Stock conducts the Guardian/BFI Southbank interview with Julian Schnabel. Related: Peter Bradshaw on The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

Bob Balaban Rob Christopher talks with Bob Balaban for the Chicagoist.

At Stop Smiling: José Teodoro on 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. And Sean Axmaker posts his full interview with Cristian Mungiu at his own site.

At FilmInFocus, Rachel Boynton (Our Brand is Crisis) recommends "Five Political News Sites."

Tim Lucas celebrates Videodrome at 25 and remembers Spanish director Carlos Aured, 1937 - 2008.

Ray Pride notes the passing of Eva Dahlbeck, 1920 - 2008.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:53 PM

Berlinale. Lake Tahoe.

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."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:16 PM | Comments (12)

Berlinale. Musta jää (Black Ice).

Musta jaa 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:05 PM | Comments (2)

Berlinale. Zuo You (In Love We Trust).

Zuo You 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:53 AM

Ezra.

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.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:51 AM

Berlinale. There Will Be Blood.

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.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:48 AM

WGA + AMPTP. Tentative deal.

WGA,E "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.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:26 AM

February 8, 2008

Berlinale, 2/8.

More quick takes from me tomorrow; meantime...

Berlinale 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:03 PM | Comments (2)

Shorts, 2/8.

Breakthrough Performances in Film "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.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:57 PM

Fests and events, 2/8.

Sidney Lumet 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:50 PM

London to Brighton.

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."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:44 PM

The Band's Visit revisited.

The Band's Visit "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.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:42 PM

February 7, 2008

Berlinale Dispatch. 1.

Quick impressions of the opening night film, three shorts and one unclassifiable.

Shine a Light 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.

Green Porno 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."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:26 PM | Comments (5)

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.

Derek Jarman 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.

Isaac Julien and Tilda Swinton 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.

Edward II 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:05 AM | Comments (5)

Senses of Cinema. 2007 World Poll.

Senses of Cinema 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:14 AM

February 6, 2008

Shorts, 2/6.

Agnès Varda "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.

Absurdistan 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."

Jumper 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:

Bab'Aziz

Dan Sallitt saw Michael Clayton "on Saturday night and fell a little bit in love with it - it's probably my favorite American film of 2007.... I am not indignant at the restrained reaction to this amazing movie in my usual circles. On the contrary, I'm forced once again to wonder whether 'amazing to me' bears any relationship to 'amazing.'"

"Quiet City is an exquisitely filmed fairytale of New York, centering around a pair of twentysomethings," writes Jette Kernion at Cinematical. "Jamie (Erin Fisher) arrives in NYC from Atlanta to spend the weekend with a flaky friend who never shows up to meet her. She asks directions from a stranger on the street, Charlie (Cris Lankenau), and they end up having dinner together, discovering they get along very well. They spend a day having fun around the city. You can't watch a man and woman who become fast friends like this without wondering whether they'll hook up, which provides a small amount of suspense. But you get so caught up watching these people and their friends that the romantic potential hardly seems to matter most of the time." Related: Maya Singer talks with director Aaron Katz for the style file.

"The four Ernst Lubitsch musicals collected in this box set mark a transitional period in his work, a bridge from perfectly judged silent films like So This is Paris (1926) to the risky, spare achievements of later movies like To Be or Not to Be (1942) and Cluny Brown (1946)," writes Dan Callahan at the House Next Door. "Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald are the nominal stars of this early talkie series, either together or paired with other players, and you just have to accept and even embrace the former's full-frontal 'ooh la la!' chortles and the latter's not-yet-calcified operetta hauteur if you plan to make it through these pictures alive."

Gunnar Fischer For the Washington Post, Adam Bernstein profiles cinematographer and frequent Bergman collaborator Gunnar Fischer.

J Robert Parks gets around to his "Top 10 (and then some) of 2007." Meanwhile, Evan Davis has wrapped up his long-running best-of-07 series.

Joe Leydon remembers Barry Morse, 1918 - 2008.

Online browsing tip. Bob Willoughby's photos snapped on the set of The Graduate.

Online listening tip. Leonard Lopate, Richard Corliss and John Belton discuss Duck Soup, Dr Strangelove and Dave.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:45 AM | Comments (6)

Fests and events, 2/6.

Anna May Wong "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."

Charles Burnett 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."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:02 AM

SF IndieFest, 2/6.

SF Indiefest 08 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:38 AM

February 5, 2008

DVDs, 2/5.

The Barrier of Flames "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.'"

Delinquent Girl Boss: Blossoming Night Dreams "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.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:46 PM

Fests and events, 2/5.

F is for Phony 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:17 PM | Comments (1)

Vanity Fair. Nice pix, no party.

Vanity Fair: Hollywood 08 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."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:42 PM

SXSW. Features lineup.

SXSW 08 "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.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:20 AM | Comments (3)

February 4, 2008

Bright Lights. 59.

Bright Lights 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."

The Living End 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.

Charles Boyer "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":

    L'Age des Tenebres
  • With L'Âge des Ténèbres, Denys Arcand is unsparing in his satire of the super-bloated Quebec bureaucracy, the nanny state par excellence in action," writes Neil Rogachevsky.

  • Megan Ratner: "In 4 Months, 3 Weeks, & 2 Days, lies inform every word of dialogue; all bets are off and you're on your own. The performances enhance the camerawork and the spare script. [Cristian] Mungiu's first-rate achievement is to have made a film both accurate to a specific place and time and a timeless illustration of the DNA-level damage such repression can wreak. It signals the arrival of a filmmaker of the highest order."

  • Reviewing I Am Legend, David L Pike considers the "many interesting effects [that] ripple out from the need to reconcile [Will] Smith's star persona with the film's debt to [the] seminal cycle of 70s paranoia and pop-apocalypticism."

  • Erich Kuersten revisits Death Proof: "Like the best of 'cult cinema,' it offers pleasures both transgressive and visceral, and like the best of 'art cinema,' it offers deconstruction of same, even as it's roaring along at 200 mph."

Alan Jacobson praises the "triumphant blend of content and filmmaking brio" in Jesus Camp.

Festival reports: Cleo Cacoulidis from Thessaloniki and Robert Keser from Chicago.

Gary Morris turns in another terrific edition of "Little Stabs of Happiness (and Horror): Random Short Reviews of the Worthy and the Worthless in Recent and Old-School Cinema."

"Revival Room":

    Bloody Mama
  • Roger Corman's Bloody Mama "casts the Barkers' struggle as an inversion of the American success story, pitting an intensely determined, violently antisocial, self-motivated, and self-enclosed group against the 'civilized society' around them," writes Gary Morris.

  • "On the surface, each of the three vignettes of the richly complex Mystery Train (1989), [Jim] Jarmusch's first foray into color, is connected in being about aliens making their way in Memphis, trying to reconcile their foreignness with perhaps the most mythically 'American' city," writes Alan Jacobson. "But a closer read reveals more because with a work of art as at once compelling and obfuscated as this film, clues offer rare help in discerning meaning."

  • "For all its historical significance as one of only six all-black films made during the Hollywood Studio era, The Green Pastures (1936) has been largely neglected by criticism," notes GS Morris. "[Playwright and co-director Marc] Connelly intends not a realistic portrayal of the souls of black folk, but a comforting, nonjudgmental, harmlessly tolerant religion that can provide a balm for his increasingly agnostic generation. He achieves this dubious purpose by locating his God in a kindly Uncle Tom - 'hearty, submissive, stoic, generous, selfless, and oh-so-very kind.' With his Uncle Tom God, Connelly crafts a religious vision that can satisfy his spiritual needs while affirming his own white liberal racism and defending the white, middle-class status quo."

  • Lili features Leslie Caron's "most touching performance, and it shows the intelligence of her technique both as a dancer and as an actress," writes Dan Callahan.

And Gordon Thomas has a massive DVD roundup.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:43 AM

In Bruges.

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."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:01 AM | Comments (2)

Tribeca, 2/4.

Tribeca Film Festival "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."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:36 AM

Awards, 2/4.

Oscar 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.

La Soledad "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.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:09 AM

Shorts, 2/4.

Paste 100 "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.'"

Phantom Lady 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:

"A random sampling of the citizenry would most likely (if years worth of polling, and a general lack of public outrage, can be believed) come up with a good number of people who may not like torturing all them Middle Easterners," writes Chris Barsanti at Filmcritic.com, "but hey, it's an ugly world... It's for those people in particular that Alex Gibney's deeply unsettling documentary Taxi to the Dark Side should be required viewing, though just about any citizen should feel the film worthy of their time."

Someone Behind You At Koreanfilm.org, Kim Hyun Kim finds Someone Behind You to be "yet another rip-off of Tale of Two Sisters, with a chunk bitten off from Death Note thrown in for a good measure."

CJ7 is Stephen Chow's "loving tribute to Hollywood's Cinema of Spectacle, particularly the sci-fi genre," writes The Visitor at Twitch. "Despite its shortcomings, CJ7 is still a very entertaining, hilarious movie. But then again, it has come to the point where every Stephen Chow movie is an event."

Online viewing tip. Andy Horbal joins Kevin Lee in an audio commentary on a scene from Nikita Mikhalkov's Burnt by the Sun.

Online viewing tips. Ian Schafer's got the Super Bowl ads; via Movie City News.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:58 AM | Comments (1)

Fests and events, 2/4.

Portland International Film Festival 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:23 AM

February 3, 2008

"Diversity Training."

"This year, reality is finally catching up with Hollywood," writes Joshua Alston in Newsweek:

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton

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."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:31 PM

Park City Dispatch. 9.

Plot Point 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.

Nerakhoon 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.

American Teen 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.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:01 AM

Park City 08. Index.

Sundance 08 There'll be another dispatch or two, but for now, nearly all the films that screened at this year's Sundance and Slamdance festivals that'll rack up entries of their own here now have.

Sundance

Dramatic Competition

Documentary Competition

World Cinema Dramatic Competition

World Cinema Documentary Competition

Premieres

Spectrum: Dramatic Section

Spectrum: Documentary Spotlight

New Frontier

Park City at Midnight

In dispatches from Park City, Brian Darr considers documentary shorts, Blue Eyelids, James Benning and more shorts and docs; David D'Arcy sets off a little storm over Roman Polanski and offers quick takes on In Bruges and Ballast; and Cathleen Rountree picks out her favorite docs.

Online viewing tip. The Object.

And then, the awards.

Slamdance

Slamdance

Awards.

Finally, this "Cleaning up" entry, dozens of other films are noted with pointers to comments that caught my eye at the time.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:33 AM

February 2, 2008

Park City 08. Cleaning up.

Sundance 08 What follows, basically, are honorable mentions, odds and ends worth pointing to that have gathered since the Sundance and Slamdance film festivals opened a couple of weeks ago but haven't really snowballed into a full-blown entry.

Sundance

Dramatic Competition

  • August: "Austin Chick's drama is about the lengths people will go to cling to illusions they love," writes Matt Singer at IFC News. "[Josh] Hartnett skillfully anchors this mostly impressive drama, which captures its pre-9/11 New York City milieu with wit and nuance." The Reeler talks with Chick; Shawn Levy and Ray Pride talk with screenwriter Howard A Rodman.

  • "Much like last year's Lars and the Real Girl, The Last Word is a very conventional and mostly successful romantic dramedy that comes packaged in an outlandish premise," writes Ryan Stewart at In the Company of Glenn. "In this case, we're led to believe that Evan (American Beauty's Wes Bentley, still sporting that mass-murderer stare) is a freelance writer who supports himself by crafting the suicide notes of clients who are planning their final departure as calmly and carefully as a routine business trip to Palo Alto.... There's hardly anything exceptional about the film, the writing and directing debut of longtime camera operator Geoffrey Haley, but it's also hard to pin down flaws." IndieWIRE interviews Haley.

  • The Mysteries of Pittsburgh "is an off-target, surprisingly weightless adaptation of Michael Chabon's beloved 1988 novel," writes Steve Ramos in indieWIRE. "Pittsburgh has no flow, no depth and no emotional heft." For the Los Angeles Times, Chris Lee talks with writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber, whose Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story was a surprise box office smash in 2003: "'I guess it's the anti-follow-up,' Thurber shrugged, biting into a croissandwich at a Hollywood diner days before leaving for North America's preeminent indie film fest. 'It's a novel I have loved since I read it in '95. And I wanted to use whatever momentum, whatever juice I had, to make something that wouldn't have gotten made otherwise.'" Online viewing tip. At Zoom In Online, a "Meet the Artists" interview with Thurber.

  • North Starr: IndieWIRE interviews writer-director Matthew Stanton. Online viewing tip. At Zoom In Online, a "Meet the Artists" interview with Stanton.

Documentary Competition

  • "A personal interrogative doc, more Morgan Spurlock than Doug Block, Christopher Bell's Bigger, Stronger, Faster uses his family's experiences with steroids as the in point to tackle the larger roles of body perception, performance inhancement and competition in contemporary American culture," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "The voice of the film, delivered via Bell's narration, can be hackneyed and a bit too cute, but on the whole Bell mounts a surprisingly sophisticated argument - surprising because he's a first time feature-maker, surprising because it's clearly on Bell's agenda to please his crowd, surprising because this is a film that uses footage from Rocky 4 to make its thesis argument - that steroid criminalization amounts to hating the player whilst willfully ignoring the dynamics of the game." It caught the IFC's Alison Willmore "completely by surprise" as it "heads way beyond the bounds of the average outrage doc." IndieWIRE interviews Bell. Online viewing tip. Zoom In Online's "Meet the Artists" video with Bell.

  • "The Recruiter (formerly called An American Soldier) is a sober and sobering documentary about the Army recruiting office in a small town in Louisiana, paying special attention to the star recruiter and a handful of his latest recruits, eventually following them through basic training," writes Rob Davis for Paste. "It's a fair movie about an important aspect of the war that I don't remember seeing onscreen except for a brief segment in Michael Moore's [Fahrenheit 9/11]. Online viewing tip. At Zoom In Online, a "Meet the Artists" interview with writer-director Edet Belzberg.

  • The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo: The Reeler talks with writer-director Lisa F Jackson. Online viewing tip. At Zoom In Online, a "Meet the Artists" interview with Jackson.

World Cinema Dramatic Competition

Máncora

  • "When MTV Latin America honcho Ricardo de Montreuil made his first film, La Mujer de Mi Hermano, I thought (and wrote): Here is a man who ought to be making TV movies for Lifetime or Telemundo," writes Eric D Snider at Cinematical. His follow-up, the generic coming-of-age story Máncora, is more of the same - selfish, gorgeous people having sex and lying to one another while undergoing a bland process of self-discovery."

  • "When Mermaid opens, I fully expect it to become one of those beloved foreign films that people I know gush over while I bite my tongue," writes the AV Club's Noel Murray. "[T]he relentless wackiness is, well, relentless."

  • Perro Come Perro: For Noel Murray, again at the AV Club, it "doesn't make up in voodoo-enhanced local color what it loses in generic plotting and state-of-last-year's-art cinematography."

  • "Although this is a story about a broken relationship, there's as much comedy as tragedy in the tale," writes Kim Voynar in Cinematical. "Riprendimi would be a great pickup for arthouse distribution; I only hope that it doesn't get bought for an English remake starring a big name cast, because it's a really lovely film just as it is."

  • "In July 2006, war broke out between Israel and Lebanon," Erik Davis reminds us at Cinematical. "Unable to adequately process what was happening to his home country, Lebanese director Philippe Aractingi decided to pick up his camera and start shooting ten days in, with no script and only the vague nugget of a story in his head. The end result is Under the Bombs, a fictional tale set against the backdrop of a very real battle." This is "an intense, yet beautiful story about two strangers who come together with one common goal: seek out the truth."

World Cinema Documentary Competition

  • "I was blown away, with some restraint appropriate to the material, by Alone in Four Walls, Alexandra Westheimer's shockingly beautiful and shockingly apolitical documentary about a juvenile hall in Russia," writes David Poland. "The film doesn't have the dramatic flourish of Born Into Brothels or Deliver Us From Evil, but it is complex documentation. And the images... my God... some of those images are the kinds that feature filmmakers dream of creating." And Dennis Harvey in Variety: "Quietly involving pic lands somewhere between social plea and minimalist, aestheticized slice of institutional life."

  • Be Like Others: "Tanaz Eshaghian's brief-but-thorough film captures the ambivalence of the patients' families and the well-meaning arrogance of their doctors, but its real coup is in catching up with a few of its subjects one year later," writes the AV Club's Noel Murray. The Reeler talks with Eshaghian; so does Jesse Ellison for New York's Vulture.

Recycle
  • Recycle: "There's not much to this slice-of-life doc, which follows devout Muslim Abu Amar as he wiles away his days hauling garbage, watching TV, working on a book about Islam, and talking politics with his buddies," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "A critic friend I dined with afterward hated this movie, but I found it endlessly fascinating."

  • "Set against the backdrop of China's Three Gorges Dam project, which aims to harness the power of the Yangtze River to help meet the country's growing need for electricity, Up the Yangtze examines the climate of political and social change in China through the lives of two young people," writes Kim Voynar at Cinematical. "The stories of the Yu Shui and Chen Bo Yu are interesting enough by themselves, but what particularly makes Up the Yangtze a fascinating work is how filmmaker Yung Chang addresses the larger societal issues facing China today by following these young peoples' personal journeys." IndieWIRE interviews Yung Chang. Online listening: Kevin Buist has a quick interview with Yung Chang for the SpoutBlog.

Premieres

Death in Love
  • Death in Love: The Reeler interviews writer-director Boaz Yakin.

  • Diminished Capacity: IndieWIRE interviews director Terry Kinney.

  • "The Escapist, directed by Rupert Wyatt, is a high-octane, efficiently told story from the UK about a prison break, with just the exciting bits, no boring setup, scrambled chronologically into a complex web of suspense," writes Rob Davis for Paste. "Swifter, grittier, and louder than the typical jailbreak movie - no one will mistake it for Bresson's contemplative A Man Escaped nor Darabont's sentimental Shawshank Redemption - The Escapist still falls firmly within the tradition of underground break-outs." IndieWIRE interviews Wyatt.

  • "Imagine The Bucket List reconceived as a New York art installation, with some free-love shenanigans thrown in for good measure, and you'll have a faint idea of what to expect from actress Amy Redford's uneven but occasionally entrancing filmmaking debut, The Guitar," writes Justin Chang in Variety. "A moodily offbeat chamber piece carried along by Saffron Burrows's delicate, somber performance as a dying woman who locks herself away to spend her final month in luxurious isolation, this beguiling wisp of a film charms and maddens in equal measure, and as such boasts commercial prospects roughly in line with those of the average street musician." The Reeler and indieWIRE talk with Redford. Online viewing tip. Zoom In Online's "Meet the Artists" video with Redford.

  • "Hamlet 2 was one of the first - and biggest - sales at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, claimed by Focus Feaures for a reported $10 million," notes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "And after finally seeing it... I had one of those moments where one feels totally disassociated from the second half of the phrase 'show business.'... Maybe Focus have bought themselves the next Little Miss Sunshine, a wacky, sprawling-cast comedy that will have a lively, lucrative life after the festival. But after watching Hamlet 2 - a shoddy and indulgent mass of bits from other movies with a shapeless, shameless performance by British comedic actor Steve Coogan as its unfixed center - I wasn't thinking of Little Miss Sunshine or Once or any of the other Sundance success stories of the recent past. I was thinking of Happy, Texas - the most recent and memorable example of a big-money Sundance sale where the excitement about the film crumpled as the movie descended from the elevations of Park City."

  • "Based on the book by Chris Cleave, Incendiary follows a grieving mother (Michelle Williams) as she attempts to come to terms with a terrorist bombing that takes the life of her husband and young son," writes Erik Davis at Cinematical. "Some have criticized the book for taking advantage of the London bombings, however it was written before that attack and even arrived in bookstores on that same day. Bridget Jones's Diary director Sharon Maguire takes the helm here, bringing us a daunting multi-layered story that begins with a bang (no pun intended), but then slowly falls apart when it doesn't have time to tie up loose ends."

  • A Raisin in the Sun: IndieWIRE interviews director Kenny Leon.

Sleepwalking
  • "Sleepwalking stars Charlize Theron - but she disappears from the screen for about two-thirds of the film," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "It's set in the American West - but shot in Canada. It's about family, pain, loss, renewal - all of which are discussed, and discussed more elegantly, in other films at Sundance this year. It even has what's become a fairly standard-issue Sundance finale, as a character hits the open road with a bright future ahead of them, aside from the murder rap in their rear view mirror. It's not that Sleepwalking is bad, per se; it's just that it's inert, a space-and-schedule filler that can now put the words 'Sundance Premiere Selection' on the DVD box when it goes straight-to-video." Matt Singer at IFC News: "What an appropriate title for a movie that seems to be working solely from a checklist of Sundance movie tropes."

  • "[Alan] Ball is a creator of ensembles, and in the last third of the film, when his script (adapted from Alicia Erian's autobiographical novel) finally finds a way to cram all these people into the same house, Towelhead finds some satisfying depth and texture," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "In particular, it's [Toni] Collette and [Peter] Macdissi's characters, and their battle over Jasira's future, who are the heart and soul of the picture, and who don't get nearly enough screen time together. Up till then, though, there's a well-intentioned, young-adult-novel drabness to Towelhead."

Spectrum: Dramatic Section

    Birds of America
  • "Dysfunctional families and indie films go together like peanut butter and chocolate, and Birds of America, directed by playwright Craig Lucas, has dysfunction in abundance," writes Kim Voynar at Cinematical. "It's not quite funny enough to appeal as a rom-com, nor quite darkly comedic enough to satisfy.... [I]t just ends up feeling more like a film fest snack than a meal." The Reeler talks with Lucas.

  • "Directed and co-written by Randall Miller, Bottle Shock is exceedingly eager to please - to a fault, perhaps, depending on your palette," writes Rob Nelson at indieWIRE. "In the end, where a blind taste-test brings "the future" of winemaking (and a spiffy blazer for Pine's reforming hippie), Bottle Shock, albeit true, isn't a ripe grape so much as pure American corn."

  • "A constant haze of icy mist and cigarette smoke brings director Tom Hines's emotionally raw relationship drama Chronic Town beautiful grimness and undeniable power," writes Steve Ramos; IndieWIRE interviews Hines.

  • "Early on, Love Comes Lately is a queasy combination of cute and sour, but gradually the Singer sensibility starts to take hold, and the question of when the writer’s art ends and his life begins starts to become genuinely compelling," writes the AV Club's Noel Murray. The Reeler talks with writer-director Jan Schütte.

  • "Taken as a low-key cross between Garden State, The Waterdance and Cronenberg's Crash (now there's a weird combo), there's a good deal to like about the weird but well-intentioned Quid Pro Quo," writes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. The film "has some pretty insightful things to say about the nature of being 'disabled,' and it does so with a good deal of humor, style, and understanding." The Reeler and indieWIRE talk with writer-director Carlos Brooks.

Spectrum: Documentary Spotlight

  • "A two-man mission to document the world's endangered tongues becomes a fleet-footed study of human communication and its limitless structural and functional possibilities in The Linguists," writes Justin Chang in Variety. "Fascinating insights about the many uses and varieties of human communication... compensate for pic's routine ethnographic approach and sometimes too-swift editing." IndieWIRE interviews the team. Online listening tip. So does Kevin Buist at the SpoutBlog.

  • "Finally saw one that blew my doors off last night," announces the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "Young@Heart, British filmmaker Stephen Walker traveled to Northampton, Mass, to film the Young@Heart Chorus, a vocal choir whose average age is 80 and whose choice of material includes songs by The Clash, James Brown, Sonic Youth, and a lot of Talking Heads." He's got video, too, of the post-screening discussion.

New Frontier

  • "My favorite film this Sundance, the one that works best for me and which I think displays the most directorial talent and ambition, is Half-Life by Jennifer Pang," writes Michael Ryan at Hammer to Nail. "It is an extremely compelling, visual film and I can't wait to see it again so that I may better understand the mysteries of its formal magic."

Hell Ride
  • "Hell Ride, which [Quentin] Tarantino executive produced and Larry Bishop wrote and directed, is a salute to the ridiculous biker movies that Bishop frequently acted in back in the late 60s and early 70s," writes Eric D Snider at Cinematical. "With titles like The Savage Seven and Chrome and Hot Leather, these were pure grindhouse cheese, and Hell Ride is either a parody of them or an adoring tribute. The line is always fine when it comes to a Tarantino project - does he really like these movies, or does he only like them ironically? - and here it's nearly invisible."

Park City at Midnight

  • Adventures of Power: "Wow," marvels Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "You just don't expect to see a movie this awful playing at the Sundance Film Festival (even if a good deal of the film was shot in Utah)." The Reeler interviews writer-director Ari Gold.

  • "[N]ot until the final third does Ellis really get the movie moving, right before stinging the audience with a final twist that's not quite as profound as it means to be, but is unsettling enough that I began to wonder if The Broken would play better the second time through, when all its scenes of nothingness would become more meaningful," writes the AV Club's Noel Murray. "Unfortunately the movie is really frustrating," writes Quint at AICN.

  • At the IFC Blog, Alison Willmore finds Olly Blackburn's Donkey Punch to be a "gratifyingly nasty midnight movie." IndieWIRE interviews Blackburn.

Slamdance

Far Out

  • Far Out: "In 1972, a flamboyant producer's Hollywood party takes a strange turn when an uninvited guest comes for more than sex and drugs." At Filmmaker, Brandon Harris introduces his interview with director Phil Mucci, whose The Listening Dead "wowed audiences at Slamdance 2007."

  • "I was looking for a story that would allow me to gradually transition to narrative filmmaking using the language I had learned making documentaries," Tao Ruspoli tells Eric Kohn in indieWIRE. Kohn: "Whatever the language, Fix has a magnificent visual panache, glimmering with the neon hues of Beverly Hills. The talented cast of emerging professionals ([Olivia] Wilde was recently cast alongside Jack Black in Year One) compensate for a simplistic quest-based plot."

  • "Frontrunner tells the story of this Dr Massouda Jalal, an Afghani medical doctor and mother of three, who ran for the Presidency of Afghanistan," writes Brandon Harris, introducing his interview with director Virginia Williams for Filmmaker. "As a children's advocate, [Jalal] defied the murderous Taliban regime, and amidst death threats and bomb attacks, continues to work for progressive political policy in the troubled state."

And for Filmmaker, Brandon Harris talked with:

Posted by dwhudson at 3:41 PM

Sundance. Goliath.

Goliath "Goliath, co-directed by brothers David and Nathan Zellner, is an experimental film in appearance, tempo and most importantly spirit," writes Steve Ramos at indieWIRE. "Goliath is a wonderfully strange movie, experimental realism at its best that near its end attempts to be ordinary. This raises one question for the talented Zellner Brothers: What's so bad about being strange?"

"It's totally self-assured in its idea of comedy and doesn't back down for a second," writes Don R Lewis in Film Threat. "Goliath isn't for everyone but if you want to laugh and see something completely different in a comedy, you can do no better than a Zellner Brothers film and Goliath fits the bill.... With three prior shorts at the festival, they return with a feature that is simultaneously deadpan, stark, strange, realistic, and amusing. Goliath further establishes their comedic talent and distinctive vision."

Updated through 2/3.

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

Online listening tips. James Rocchi talks with the Zellners for Cinematical; so, too, does Kevin Buist at the SpoutBlog.

Update, 2/3: Goliath is "full of the sort of comedy that springs from sincere, writhe-in-your seat discomfort," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "It also manages to be profane yet profound - when [David] Zellner explains to his ex the exact physical details of a moment of infidelity, he's simultaneously clueless, shameless and truly sorry.... It feels less like a great dramatic performance than a great portrait of a documentary subject - which, of course, means it's a great performance."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:51 PM

Sundance. Smart People.

Smart People "Smart People takes two frequent cinematic stand-bys, the dead spouse movie and the fractured family film, and manages to execute both of them with no small amount of skill," counters James Rocchi at Cinematical. "Unlike PS I Love You or Dan in Real Life, the loss of Lawrence's wife is neither operatically omnipresent or glossed over; it's just always there, always sad, always real. And unlike Little Miss Sunshine or many other 'dysfunctional family' films, Smart People isn't slathered with wacky, zany characters. Everyone onscreen is human, and the film's full of small, deft character touches that feel unforced." And he talks talks with Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church.

"Here's another indie that feels like it's been workshopped into inertness, featuring a cast of famous faces who seem to be quietly congratulating themselves for appearing in a movie that 'really says something,' even though it's only speaking to a rarified circle of Hollywood types who confuse clichés with meaning," writes the AV Club's Noel Murray.

IndieWIRE interviews Murro.

Online listening tip. For Cinematical, James Rocchi talks with Quaid, Parker and Church.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:28 PM

Sundance. Just Another Love Story.

Just Another Love Story "The Danish film Just Another Love Story takes the classic film noir genre and gives it a good, hard twist," writes Sara Vilkomerson in the New York Observer. "Writer-director Ole Bornedal and cinematographer Dan Laustsen create stunning and often surprising visuals that you'll remember long after the movie is over."

"Jonas [Anders W Berthelsen] starts the film off narrating, Sunset Blvd-style, from a spreading pool of blood on the sidewalk," writes Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog. "How he finally ends up there, through a process of third act leaps of logic and over-the-top plot developments, turns out to be disappointing, but much of the briskly stylish film that precedes it isn't."

"My gut reaction is that this is 85 minutes of an enjoyably unusual drama, plus 20 minutes of excess," writes Eric D Snider at Cinematical. "But on the other hand, it could be that the finale is the only reasonable conclusion to what's happened so far. Either way, it's a movie you can sink your teeth into, something a bit different from the norm."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:12 PM

Sundance. Henry Poole Is Here.

Henry Poole Is Here "Henry Poole is Here has the undeniable power of a sentimental pop song, and much of its mood comes from which songs were chosen for the handful of interludes," writes Rob Davis for Paste. "Rather than being embellishment, the musical montages may be this film's spine, and whether I roll my eyes at one more tender music video or tear up like a baby probably depends a lot on how fried my nerves are going in.... It's a sweet and simple movie, dumb as a concrete culvert and unexplainably touching."

"Because it's billed as a more personal project for Mark Pellington after a string of interesting, idiosyncratic thrillers (Arlington Road, The Mothman Prophecies), Henry Poole Is Here is all the more disappointing," writes Robert Koehler in Variety. "Pic's tendency to lecture on the power of faith and religion and on the demerits of science seems to assume an almost childlike audience that needs to be spoon-fed Pablum. This tale of a single man whose medical death sentence is reversed in part by a neighborhood of believers won't advance the profile of the always-likable Luke Wilson, and Christian moviegoers will have to show up in great numbers to keep the film from being doomed to something far less than sleeper status."

"Because his grief and search for meaning was rendered so sincerely, I felt the filmmaker was still giving me the respect to decide for myself," writes Michael Ryan in Hammer to Nail. "Some may 'choose to believe,' others like myself will remain skeptical."

John Horn talks with Pellington for the Los Angeles Times. Following the death of his wife in 2004, "Pellington first let go of a movie he was scheduled to direct (Firewall with Harrison Ford). 'I couldn't get out of bed, let alone direct a movie,' he says. Then, after a long recovery and meetings with bereavement groups, he started reexamining screenplays he had considered making, looking for more humanistic stories. 'My personal experience,' he says, 'had changed me.'"

Posted by dwhudson at 12:48 PM | Comments (1)

Sundance. Yellow Handkerchief.

Yellow Handkerchief "Yellow Handkerchief arrives as yet another indie road flick featuring characters very different from one another on the outside, but similar on the inside," writes Cinematical's Erik Davis. "It's pretty to watch (thanks to great camerawork from Chris Menges), but the film never really soars above 'That was a nice moment,' and into must-see territory. However, superb performances from the four leads lend Handkerchief enough charm to leave those watching with a smile... and an odd desire to visit Louisiana."

"This very sweet and pretty movie (lost love, new love, redemption, etc) stars William Hurt, Maria Bello (who is so the Sundance girl this year), Kristen Stewart (who is just a few steps behind Amy Adams on the road to superstardom) and Eddie Redmayne (who is also seemingly in everything all of a sudden)," writes Sara Vilkomerson in the New York Observer. "We liked it well enough, and were blown away by the audience response to it. However, some seasoned Sundance types sniffed that they didn’t think it had a shot."

"Actually, what sounds like just another weepy Reader's Digest story... takes on real gravitas in [director Udayan] Prasad's hands, fleshed out by its four-person cast," writes Peter Debruge in Variety.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:46 PM

Sundance. Slingshot Hip Hop.

Slingshot Hip Hop "When Public Enemy rapped about a 'fear of a black planet,' they probably had no idea they would one day be a source of inspiration to Arab kids living in Israel and the West Bank - ones who saw their own struggle against the oppressive Israeli government as paralleling that of the urban black kids against American racism," writes Eric D Snider at Cinematical. "What [Slingshot Hip Hop] lacks, though, is a cohesive theme or story line. An introduction to the Arab rap movement is all well and good, but it's not enough - an introduction is only the first part of a story, after all."

"Tamer Nafar, frontman of Israel-based group DAM (whose single 'Who's the Terrorist?' became a significant hit) and unofficial father of the movement, explains how American rappers such as Tupac influenced their Arab counterparts," writes Justin Chang in Variety. "[Director Jackie] Salloum doesn't skimp on personal stories or footage of the suffering inflicted by the Israeli occupation, but pounds home the point that art is more constructive than violence."

Slingshot "features a bevy of great music and spotlights a truly sobering irony," notes Mike D'Angelo at ScreenGrab. "In a genre that thrives on collaboration - name any significant hip-hop single of the last few years that doesn't include the word 'Feat.' - it's hard to create and sustain a movement when you're not permitted to travel ten short miles to meet the peers who've inspired you."

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

Posted by dwhudson at 11:59 AM

Sundance. Otto; or Up With Dead People.

Otto; or Up With Dead People "Otto doesn't just take the pre-established conventions and break them down; Otto breaks them down, turns them over, sets them on fire, and then has sex with them. Gay sex," notes Jim Rohner at Zoom In Online. "You see, Otto (Jey Crisfar) is a gay zombie who thinks, talks, and debates whether he even wants to eat humans."

"Given that gay film-makers have a long history with the genre - from James Whale to Clive Barker to Chucky creator Don Mancini - and the fact that much of the gay community has been consumed by a blood-borne epidemic for close on 30 years, it's a wonder a gay zombie film hasn't come along before," writes Matthew Hays in the Guardian. "But [Bruce] LaBruce says his inspiration had less to do with HIV infection and more to do with that staple of the zombie sub-genre, consumerism in a postmodern state. 'Vampires were the go-to metaphor for Aids in the 1980s,' says LaBruce. 'Films like The Hunger were big. I like the idea of zombies, because they just wander around aimlessly, their souls gone, mindless consumers.'"

Bruce LaBruce blogged his stay in Park City for CBC.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:32 AM

Sundance. Traces of the Trade.

Traces of the Trade "When filmmaker Katrina Browne discovered that her family, the De Wolfs of Philadelphia, was one of the country's largest importers of slaves for 200 years, she decided to make a film as a personal attempt to come to terms with her own hidden history," writes Rob Davis for Paste. She discovers that it's "hard to find an individual or institution who wasn't touched by the trade. Browne obviously has good intentions, but the film often feels like a group of white folk trying to assuage their own discomfort, and the journeyers frequently comes across as insultingly naive."

"Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North is a prime example of someone making a film with her heart in the right place, but with very little actual purpose," writes Eric D Snider at Cinematical. "It might as well be a home movie that you show only to relatives."

IndieWIRE interviews Browne.

"Browne's cousin Tom DeWolf is the author of Inheriting the Trade, his personal story of the family's journey." And POV talks with him.

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

Posted by dwhudson at 11:15 AM | Comments (1)

Sundance. Fields of Fuel.

Fields of Fuel Fields of Fuel "segues from a first-person history of its maker, an Australian-born alternative fuel activist, through a history of the fossil fuel industry to an upbeat final section that demonstrates the feasibility of converting to alternative fuel sources, most notably, biodiesel fuel that can be manufactured from everything from vegetable oil to, one day, algae," writes Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker. "As a filmmaker, [Josh] Tickell knows how to cleverly structure non-fiction subject matter."

Kim Voynar at Cinematical: "Tickell lays out the case for biodiesel as the fastest and most sustainable means to reduce our country's dependence on oil: Henry Ford and Rudolf Diesel both designed their engines to operate on vegetable oil, but the increasing dominance of the oil barons, in particular John D Rockefeller, says Tickell, killed biodiesel before it had a chance to get off the ground, laying the framework for the oil dependence that drives everything from home heating to how we get around."

"[T]heatrical seems as likely as Saudi Arabia switching to solar power," predicts John Anderson in Variety. "But film's sentiments are clean and very, very green."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:10 AM

Sundance. A Complete History of My Sexual Failures.

A Complete History of My Sexual Failures "Directed by and starring Chris Waitt, [A Complete History of My Sexual Failures] follows one man's journey to fix his love life," writes Erik Davis at Cinematical. "Early on, Waitt tells (and shows) us how, in fact, he's been dumped by every single girlfriend he's ever had. And there's a lot of them; at least 15 or 20." And he talks with Waitt.

"With a mix of Borat and Michael Moore, A History of My Sexual Failures can certainly find an audience," suggests Jason Guerrasio for Filmmaker.

"It's as wince-worthy and funny as you might have heard already, but it's also kind of full of shit," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny.

The AV Club's Noel Murray: "I hated it more than anything I've seen all week - Good Dick inclusive."

Posted by dwhudson at 10:07 AM

Sundance. The Black List.

The Black List "Under the combined control of the director and esteemed photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and the film critic Elvis Mitchell, The Black List offers 20 abbreviated interviews with influential black Americans from every corner of society," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "The final product is an inspiring mosaic that speaks to what it means to live as a black American, and serves as a meditation on how far we have to go as a nation in correcting the inequities that persist to this day." Says Mitchell: "As an African-American, one of the reasons I wanted to do this was to see something I had never seen before - an honest and insightful acknowledgement of the breadth and depth of the black experience in this country. Honestly, that's something you don't see in the mainstream media today."

"The real relevance of this film, politically and socially, is that it's not a series 'experts' talking about black culture, the impact of poverty, or how swell it is that these people overcame being African-American to succeed in their films," writes Kim Voynar at Cinematical. "Race is an issue that's discussed by the subjects, of course, but it's talked about through the lens of personal stories and black culture."

"The idea of art as both inspiration and personal mentor recurs throughout The Black List, whether it's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar talking about meeting Miles Davis, former Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash delivering an appreciation of Jimi Hendrix or Toni Morrison describing how she was steeped in literature since early girlhood," observes Justin Chang in Variety. "'Writing is mine,' the Pulitzer-winning novelist declares at one point, and if anything connects the film's diverse voices, it's that sense of personally owning one's individual talents, of excelling without boundaries."

More at the site.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:04 AM

DVDs, 2/2.

Lubitsch Musicals Don't take a pass on Eclipse's set of Lubitsch Musicals, advises Glenn Kenny: "How often do you see light quasi-operettas rife with sexual innuendo these days, right? Among other things, the set is an education in a particular form - I mean, you knew that the Marx Brothers' Duck Soup was an anarchic political satire, but did you also know that it was a pointed parody of the very type of popular film presented here?"

"In an era of sagas like The Sopranos, The Wire and Six Feet Under, told over weeks and years, Berlin Alexanderplatz would seem easier to swallow," writes Andy Beta in Stop Smiling. "Yet what makes watching Berlin Alexanderplatz such an exacting endeavor is how it gets honed down to a single tale, dictated steadfastly, gathering speed like a glacier. Not once does it stray or divert from its path."

"Vanishing Point is above all else a film about impetuousness," writes Rumsey Taylor at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. Also, Two-Lane Blacktop.

"Produced by Aaron Spelling, The Mod Squad desperately wanted to prove that it wasn't the work of the network TV establishment, even though it very obviously was," writes David Browne in the New York Times. "It was happy to exploit the 60s underground much the way Hair did on Broadway during the same era." At the same time, the show semaphored signs of "the demise of the 60s dream, a slow death that The Mod Squad came to embody."

Robert Cashill offers a list of 2007's noteworthy DVDs.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:12 AM

Shorts, 2/2.

Me and Orson Welles "Claire Danes has joined the cast of Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles, an adaptation of the period coming-of-age novel by Robert Kaplow," reports Stuart Kemp for Reuters.

More from Adam Dawtry in Variety, where Michael Fleming reports that Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland) will direct Bobby Fischer Goes to War once he completes State of Play.

"RKO has announced that they're setting up a production company to remake eight classic, Val Lewton-produced thriller/horror films over the course of the next two years." Karina Longworth has details and comments.

Odienator nabs Big Media Vandalism from Steven Boone - at least for the duration of "Black History Mumf!"

Uncounted Uncounted: The New Math of American Elections "takes a sprawling issue - the hazards of vote fraud and paperless, unverified electronic voting - and gives it the punch of a conspiracy thriller, using livid examples and sharp production values to portray a clear and present danger to democracy." The Nashville Scene's Jim Ridley meets its maker, David Earnhardt.

"Jia Zhangke's excellent Still Life has received a lot of appreciative and thoughtful commentary since it opened at the IFC Center on January 18," writes Dan Sallitt. "I have just a few thoughts to add to the ongoing discourse."

"Either there has been a terrible outbreak of inflation in critical praise, or we are living through a remarkable era of cinema," writes Mark Lawson. "What's noteworthy about the current golden age of cinema - which, when the histories are written, will surely rank with the 40s and the 70s as one of the three key periods - is that everyone is around to see it."

Also in the Guardian:

  • Gordon Coates meets a batch of dedicated film collectors: "The truth is that most rare-film collectors chase their quarry by licking stamps, sending and copying DVDs. But there is a small and noble band of people willing to figuratively don a balaclava, grab the bolt cutters and risk a prison sentence to bring an obscure print into their collection."

Battle for Haditha
  • Jason Wood talks with Nick Broomfield about Battle for Haditha. Related: Derek Malcolm and Nick Roddick in the Evening Standard.

  • Helen Pidd interviews Ellen Page, while Cath Clarke considers the fates of young actresses that have preceded her.

  • "Considering that tastes are fickle, and subject to the change that the BBFC acknowledges; considering that social consensus on what constitutes 'unacceptable' violence or sexual explicitness is a myth - what is grotesque to one person may be simply comical to another; considering that we can all exercise private censorship by controlling what we do and do not watch; and considering that no horror film, no matter how grisly, can out-gross the evening news - is it not time to ban the banners?" asks Lionel Shriver. "Surely true embrace of modernity would eliminate the BBFC altogether, and thus give Britons over the age of 18 credit for being grown-ups."

  • The Old Vic's production of David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow features Jeff Goldblum, Laura Michelle Kelly and Kevin Spacey. Simon Hattenstone talks with Goldblum.

  • "What the theater likes, or can handle, is plays about Hollywood in which the people are crazy and shameless." A brief history from David Thomson. Also, the lasting impact of Eisenstein and Battleship Potemkin.

  • Peter Bradshaw asks, "How soon is too soon for a movie based on a news story?" Also, "What would it be like if the Baftas really were for British films only? Would that be so terrible?"

  • And: "[S]mall independent cinemas in Britain, often showing their own alternative repertory schedule, have shown that they are tough survivors. And there is something not merely charming but intriguing and sometimes weirdly exciting about going to a tiny cinema, especially when there is hardly anyone else there: it is as if it's your own secret place."

  • The fashion world on film: a quick guide from Hadley Freeman.

  • News bits: "Charlize Theron is talks to play Hollywood actor and inventor Hedy Lamarr... Emily Blunt is in talks to play a Texas woman who finds herself forced to look after a young girl who has become separated from her illegal immigrant mother.... Josh Hartnett will play a nameless, vengeful drifter in the 'spaghetti-Western-samurai-gangster mashup' Bunraku."

"I would argue careful attention is requisite in watching an Eric Byler film, whose cadences are exploratory, circumabulating around the doubts and fears of the lovelorn with wary curiosity." Michael Guillén talks with him about Tre.

"Fundamental issues of ethnic and religious identity and the agony of exile are at the heart of Live and Become, an intermittently compelling swatch of recent Israeli history filtered through the experience of an African immigrant," writes Stephen Holden.

Also in the New York Times:

  • "For what it is - a romantic comedy about the rivalry between a jealous ghost and a flaky psychic for the love of a veterinarian - Over Her Dead Body is not bad," writes AO Scott. Also, "the dispiriting, uninspired sameness of romantic comedy strikes me as something of a scandal." An overview of the genre and its sad state.

  • Rocky and Rambo, John McClane and Indiana Jones, they're all back. "But something more than advances in star grooming and special effects is behind this peculiar phenomenon," writes Dave Kehr. "If our movie stars are refusing to age, it's in part because we won't allow them to. The natural life cycle of the leading man has been drastically curtailed."

Kathleen Turner: Send Yourself Roses

Austin Chronicle: Gary Clark Jr In the Austin Chronicle, Melanie Haupt talks with John Sayles and Gary Clark Jr about Honeydripper.

"Alain Resnais's 1961 Last Year at Marienbad remains one of cinema's glorious enigmas, endlessly compelling and intriguing," writes Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times. More from Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat: "Besides its influence on films like The Shining, Mulholland Dr and The Usual Suspects, Marienbad can be seen as a precursor to The Matrix, with the latter's cat doppelgangers, frozen crowds, and internally constructed environments. Marienbad's fluid reality is almost like cyberpunk before there was cyberpunk."

AICN's Moriarty finishes off his marathon list of 24 favorite films of 2007.

Geoffrey Macnab finds Hollywood's over-reliance on CGI these days "deeply alarming" - "Is it time to begin a campaign for "real" films?" Also in the Independent, Chris Sullivan talks with Daniel Day-Lewis.

For the Washington Post, Kevin O'Donnell reviews Kathleen Tracy's Sacha Baron Cohen: The Unauthorized Biography: From Cambridge to Kazakhstan: "[T]he whole thing seems dashed off."

"It is fair to say the success of the Southern Documentary Fund (SDF) is partly due to its proximity to both Full Frame and Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies," writes Neil Morris in the Independent Weekly. "But, for five years SDF has evolved from an invention born out of necessity into an independent, influential name in the regional documentary community."

Online snicker. Ward Sutton: "Striking Screenwriters Drafted to Make Iraq War Less 'Boring.'"

Online viewing tip. You've seen it already, but who knows, maybe you're in the mood for it again: What's Sarah Silverman been up to lately?

Posted by dwhudson at 8:58 AM

Fests and events, 2/2.

French Film Festival "The well-oiled machinery that is the Palace-run French Film Festival in Australia unloads a shipment of new films each year onto an audience all too eager to soak up the sophistication." Matt Riviera previews this year's edition.

Claude Lelouch's Roman de gare will open this year's Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, reports Dade Hayes in Variety. February 29 through March 9.

Don't Look Back "How appropriate that, as Dont Look Back wheels its way into New York's Film Forum, I'm Not There is still commanding one of the theater's other two screens; it's as if DA Pennebaker's film lined itself up perfectly with the prism of Dylanology created by Todd Haynes," writes Zachary Wigon at the House Next Door. "What's important to remember, of course, is that it is actually Haynes who is reading Pennebaker, not the other way around.... Interesting, then, that Pennebaker presents a similarly divided (and divisive) Dylan." More from Michael Joshua Rowin at Reverse Shot: "Dylan was so far ahead of the game in '65 that he already understood the best way to undermine any 'natural' relationships between sound, image and performer - long before the ubiquity of music videos and the complicated intersections between art, performance, and commerce they would inherently embody and exacerbate."

"Each year, the international slate of films at the Museum of Modern Art's Documentary Fortnight can feel like a nonfiction follow-up to the museum's Global Lens survey in January," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "This year's edition, newly bundled with two Academy-based series under the streamlined banner Doc Month, again trots the globe, but one of its strangest pleasures comes from rather close to home." And that would be To My Great Chagrin: The Unbelievable Story of Brother Theodore. The series runs February 13 through March 3.

The Reeler shouts out an overview of New York's "February Events Madness!" Plus, Miriam Bale on MoMA's weekend program, Introducing Bert Williams.

Berlinale "A growing legal controversy is threatening to discredit Luigi Falorni's child soldier drama Heart of Fire a week before its premiere at Berlin Film Festival." Ed Meza has the story in Variety. The film is one of two German entries in the Competition, so the papers here are weighing in left and right.

Michael Guillén is still all over Noir City 6, which wraps tomorrow.

Sundance 08 "First Trip to Park City." A terrific photo essay from Brandon Harris is recovering from his Park City experience and takes a moment to "briefly point out just how wonderful Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden's Sugar is, and just how artistically, intellectually and emotionally bankrupt Clark Gregg's Choke turned out to be."

Five Things They Took Away from the 2008 Sundance Film Festival: David D'Arcy and Jason Guerrasio.

At SF360, Dennis Harvey presents "a somewhat random list of things that were good (or at least memorably bad) about the Sundance class of ought-eight."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:56 AM | Comments (1)

Burt Reynolds Blog-a-Thon.

Burt Reynolds "Has it really been more than 30 years since he was larking it up on Carson's couch, or tear-assing across the South in that black Trans Am, or navigating the rapids of the Cahulawassee River, or posing - grinning, naked and hairy - for the centerfold of Cosmopolitan magazine?" asks Larry Aydlette, host of the Burt Reynolds Blog-a-Thon I've come across via Peter Nellhaus's piece on 100 Rifles, with its admiring nod to Soledad Miranda.

And Larry Aydlette follows up his opening entry with another on Semi-Tough, "more memorable than North Dallas Forty and even Reynolds's The Longest Yard."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:29 AM | Comments (1)

February 1, 2008

Rotterdam. Awards (and other recent items).

Rotterdam 08 Via Variety's Michael Jones, a list of winners from the International Film Festival Rotterdam, starting with the three VPRO Tiger Award winners:

Updated through 2/2.

Also:

The Sky, the Earth and the Rain

"It's a week into the Rotterdam Film Festival, and the one title that keeps popping out of the mouths of inebriated critics is The Sky, The Earth, and The Rain," writes R Emmet Sweeney at IFC News. "The Sky is the major discovery of the festival." Then come takes on Wonderful Town, Garin Nugroho's Teak Leaves at the Temples and Cargo 200.

Kees Geuze at Twitch on Paul Krik's Able Danger: "I went into the theater expecting a political pamphlet played by some left wing activists, but instead I saw a very well made film noir movie about a 9/11 conspiracy theory."

"Quiet, touching and poetic are not normally terms associated with vampire films, but there are no better words to describe Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In) from Swedish director Tomas Alfredson," writes Boyd van Hoeij at european-films.net.

Update, 2/2: "Able Danger the movie takes the real-life mystery of the intelligence operation and uses it as the basis for a spirited and blackly comic neo-noir set all over Manhattan and Brooklyn," writes Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay, who shoots a few emails back and forth with self-financed (and now, "broke") director Paul Krik.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:27 PM | Comments (1)

AV Club. Film Poll.

AV Club "Part of being a movie-lover... is learning to live with marginalization," writes Scott Tobias. "Sometimes that isn't easy, especially when you come to the stinging realization that more people have seen, say, Alvin and the Chipmunks, than all of the films on your Top 10 list combined. That's part of why putting together the AV Club Film Poll is such a pleasure: It's one thing to champion great films with quixotic fervor year after year, but another to learn that your readers are right there with you, waist-deep in chaff, seeking out the best cinema has to offer."

Pages of readers' comments on the top ten follow. Oh, and #1: No Country for Old Men.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:33 PM | Comments (6)

Artforum. Feb 08.

Artforum Feb 08 Throughout the 70s it was heresy for an artist to insist on the primacy of his or her subjectivity," writes David Salle. "When Julian [Schnabel], along with other artists of a similar age, emerged at the end of the decade, the collective attitude amounted to one big Bronx cheer for the pieties and anemias of a generation drifting out to sea on a leaky raft of 'conceptual' precepts. In 1978, he took a hammer to a box of china to make a ground for his painting, and, believe me, that blow made a big echo, at least all along West Broadway.... Julian's aesthetic has always been about the freest and most surprising juxtaposition of images and an ability to see images and pure form as part of the same continuum. What set his work apart was his use of a fragmented, physically demanding surface, which gave his version of free association a kind of flickering, tentative quality that insists on the materiality of the painting. In [The Diving Bell and the Butterfly], we can feel the same aesthetic impulses at work.... Subjective experience and narrative come together in his movie's astringent and luscious gaze."

"Since the late 1990s, [Omer] Fast has established himself as one of the most active of a number of practitioners, including Stan Douglas, Harun Farocki, Aernout Mik and Clemens von Wedemeyer, who use film and video installation to reflect and rearticulate the truth regimes regulating contemporary image production," writes Tom Holert. "Fast's practice might indeed be characterized as being 'designed to handle certain kinds of problems,' namely, the malleability of meaning in the interstices within and between recorded image and recorded speech. In this regard, The Casting is probably his most accomplished work to date. Over the course of its fourteen minutes, he succeeds once more at 'unsettl[ing] the elements that make moving pictures move, from the sound to the subtitles' (to cite an article on Fast by critic Jennifer Allen that appeared in these pages in 2003)."

Mike's World: Michael Smith & Joshua White (and other collaborators) is a retrospective recently on view at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin and now headed to the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia in April. And Smith, by the way, has been selected for this year's Whitney Biennial. Among the thoughts the work has sparked in David Joselit: "If Warhol is right that sex and parties are the only social events that still require physical attendance, then every other interpersonal activity can in theory be phoned in or, in the mode of our present moment, conducted online, via 'social networks' such as Facebook and MySpace. Even before the advent of virtual twenty-four-hour-a-day sociality, Warhol and Smith both recognized that parties (and perhaps sex, too, though on this subject both are reticent) sustain a public sphere on life support—one suffocated by the mediation that characterizes most ordinary interactions."

And check out the Top Ten from Raqs Media Collective.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:53 PM

Build a Ship, Sail to Sadness.

Build a Ship, Sail to Sadness "A low budget musical, highly improvised, shot on consumer video and blown up to film?" grins Karina Longworth in the SpoutBlog. "I'm there. I've been wanting to see Laurin Federlein's Build a Ship, Sail to Sadness since reading write-ups of its premiere at Rotterdam a year ago, followed by a number of conflicted but not necessarily dismissive reviews from LAFF."

Updated through 2/2.

"Commencing abruptly, shaped with jump cuts, and built around improvised conversations between Vincent (Magnus Aronson) and a varied cast of Scottish Highlands locals playing themselves, the film's opening scene serves as an inoculation against any possible ill effects from the 69 minutes of provocatively cheesy-looking and raggedly timed deadpan events to come," writes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun.

"It wears its roughness as a badge of honor and is all the funnier as a result," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times.

Earlier: Aaron Hillis in the Voice.

Update, 2/2: For Paul Schrodt, this is "a movie every bit as cumbersome and trying as its title" and it "has the distinct mark of self-indulgence."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:08 AM

Praying With Lior.

Praying With Lior "No film critic would dare print a negative word about a film as well-intentioned as Ilana Trachtman's affable, purposely enriching documentary Praying with Lior; the reassuring news is that they'd have no reason to," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE.

Updated through 2/2.

"Shot over three years in a close-knit Jewish Reconstructionist community in Philadelphia, Praying With Lior documents the extraordinary life of Lior Liebling, a rabbi's son with Down syndrome and an obsessive love of prayer," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "Patiently and delicately, Ms Trachtman teases out the tricky dynamics of a family dealing with a disabled child."

"Subject matter notwithstanding, the film stands as essentially the most finely made home video ever released into theaters, and though budgetary limitations were likely the cause for the film's low-rent aesthetic, its nature is one perfectly complementary to the material," writes Rob Humanick in Slant.

"Ms Trachtman's film is as much about its title subject as it is about the hundreds who gather to celebrate his entry into adulthood," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "As we watch him jubilantly climb onto the bima, welcomed by smiles, cheers, and tears, Praying with Lior does more than offer us a portrait of a special young man. It discards the clichés and condescension of so many mainstream religious films to help us see the power of faith in action."

"When Lior finally brings the room to its knees, nailing the Torah reading at his Bar Mitzvah, it is a highly emotional, affecting moment - truly an underdog weeper for the ages," writes Michelle Orange at the Reeler. "I only wish the 80 minutes that preceded it had been as powerful."

Earlier: Julia Wallace in the Voice.

Updates: "I too have prayed with Lior," writes Stuart Klawans in the first of hopefully many pieces for Nextbook. "Christianity, I suspect, is the influence behind much of the current movement toward Jewish spirituality," he proposes:

Experience persuades me that Trachtman has brought [Lior] before American Jews at the least likely moment and the most opportune: when large numbers of ostensibly smart and successful people don't believe in much of anything, yet yearn so much for some kind of spiritual experience that they're willing to believe through someone. If this means that Lior is being used, then there's no harm done, so far as I can see. Trachtman's documentary shows how this boy - now a young man - has gained from the loving Jewish community around him, just as that community has gained from him. To the degree that movie audiences constitute a community, that circle of mutual support may now expand.

"Ultimately, Praying With Lior is a film more about family dynamics than spiritual ones, though the two can't really be separated in the Liebling household," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club.

Updates, 2/2: At Cinematical, Nick Schager finds the film "far less interested in sermonizing or converting disbelievers as it is in showing organized religion and family to be similar social systems of inclusion. Which is not, however, to say that this heartfelt film is a one-note sunshiny tale, since director Trachtman has the good sense to observe Lior and those around him with equal measures of effusive empathy and journalistic inquisitiveness, capturing not only Lior's vociferous piousness but also the complex familial dynamics that surround him. Refusing to pigeonhole or preach, it touches upon numerous points of interest - the difficulties of raising special-needs children, the emotional support supplied by religious rites of passage and everyday customs, the selflessness of parents and siblings - and, in doing so, provides a complex, compelling depiction of the intrinsic relationship between love for God and one's kin."

"[I]n the most effective moments of Lachtman's film I basically didn't think about his family's Jewishness or what I did and didn't understand about their theological beliefs," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "They seemed like Americans wrestling with loss, hope and uncertainty."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:14 AM